In the early 1980s, in the USSR, the monstrosity that was the Soviet state had already begun to die, but it hadn’t yet started its death rattle. Among the millions of dissidents, the KGB had imprisoned an angry, slightly talented poet of little note. Ivan Ratchikakhov became an enemy of the Soviet state merely because he voiced his dislike for it.
+++++This shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Ivan liked nothing, ever, and Ratchikakhov was a bad poet. His poetry failed to resonate with anyone, other than the very angry, and inconsolably frustrated. Among his problems was that he lacked empathy. He was unfamiliar, and thus inarticulate when trying to express human emotion of any description, except anger. He had the anger thing down pat, and in spades.
+++++When the Soviet Union crumbled, ending the Cold War, the gulags jettisoned their dissidents, setting them loose to pursue their happiness in a new, free Russia. That presented a dual problem for Ratchikakhov. His angry poetry was now quite pointless, and he had absolutely no idea what happiness was. With no income, Ratchikakhov emigrated to Brooklyn, where he found work as a porter in his building. There he married and had a son, Gustav.
+++++Given his unlikability, and utter lack of potential for anything other than menial labor, it wasn’t long before Ivan’s anger morphed into blazing resentment. He resented how his life turned out. He resented the fact that he had to live it in a land he would not have chosen. Rather than being grateful for having a roof over his head, and steady employment to keep it there, Ratchikakhov resented everyone he perceived as being responsible for the fact. In his bitter and limited imagination, that would be everybody. The two people nearest at hand to bear this resentment were of course his wife and son. He expressed his disappointment most frequently to his wife and son with a cruelty and brutality unmatched by anything other than its consistency.
+++++Ratchikakhov’s wife, Mariyah, bore it until Gustav was six. Then she fled back to Saint Petersburg, leaving her son to fend for himself. The boy was tough. Years of cruelty will do that to anyone. But, all young Gustav knew was pain. So much so, that it lost its significance. Nothing he did had any effect on the amount, frequency or severity of the torment. It was constant, and yet somehow random. Savagery absorbed without limit or reason, soon became understood by Gustav as a normal condition of life. His only ambition was to one day be the inflictor; as opposed to the target.
+++++Gustav’s own capacity for cruelty began to develop when he was young, first torturing neighbors’ pets. When that failed to satisfy him, he started killing them, in more and more elaborate ways. He experimented with fire. Gustav found the screams enjoyable, but it lacked the satisfaction of cutting or bludgeoning. He was after a motif to satisfy his blood-lust. He was looking for something to make the act of the destruction of another living being, all his own.
+++++While in elementary school, Gustav naturally graduated to bullying. Bigger than the other children his age, what distinguished him from his peers was his willingness to inflict all manner of pain on others. There was nothing he wouldn’t do. He was only limited by his imagination. The bullying had the effect of helping Gustav expand upon that. He liked the fear he inspired in his classmates. High School became a laboratory for his developing viciousness. He hurt a lot of people. He also picked up a nickname. Because of his penchant for violence, and his Russian heritage, he became known as Red Gus. He embraced the name, and the concept.
+++++This burgeoning talent for violence, coupled with Gustav’s utter void of human compassion, soon drew the notice of a local loan shark. Gustav was hired as a Mob collector. This was an over-reach. Because of his legendary lack of compunction, Gustav seldom left his clients with the ability to work. He could not understand that the goal was to scare the victim. If you crippled them, they couldn’t pay anything. His failure facilitated his ascension to the vocation he was meant for.
+++++Sabato Melchiore was the Capo of the Genovese family in Bushwick. He had a use for Gustav. He offered him a job.
+++++“I notice you like to hurt people. Ever think about killing them?”
+++++“All the time. Bill collecting sucked. What’s the point?”
+++++“I think the point is to leave them well enough to go to work, so they can pay their debts. I have something less frustrating, and not nearly as nuanced. Sometimes, I need to make someone dead. I need it public, and messy. I’m sending a message as much as anything else. Interested?”
+++++“Sure,” Gustav didn’t hesitate.
+++++“Don’t you want to know what it pays?”
+++++“You’re going to pay me?” Gustav asked with wonder.
+++++So began Gustav’s career as a hit man. He was good at it, and he loved the work. So well, that he began free-lancing. He started selling himself for short money to anyone that wanted someone dead. He was doing so much wet-work, that he was on the verge of killing more people than cancer. His blood-lust was insatiable, but there was a point to all of this mayhem. Gustav was in search of that one method of murder that he could call his own. He thought he found it when he took that contract from Jimmy Gutless Ciocio. Gustav became more concerned with perfecting his craft, than with his due-diligence. The opportunity to kill blinded him to the huge gaps in the background information the client provided him. Other than the fact that the girl was Ciocio’s ex-girlfriend, he knew nothing about her.
+++++In his quest for the perfect method of murder, Gustav discovered there is nothing as satisfying as the sound of a hatchet being buried in a living skull. It feels good too, he admitted. Like making perfect contact on the sweet spot of the baseball bat. You don’t even feel it. It’s the same with a hatchet and a head.
+++++He was glad he learned to look at his victims’ faces, because it was worth it. They would get that Oh shit look, accompanied by the sound of their bowels giving way in a liquid splat. The uncontrollable twitching, Gustav found amusing as fuck. I really like this method, he thought.
+++++Every hitter had a signature; that one method that was their own. This one was Gustav’s. He used it until he thought he had elevated it to an art form. But his growing fascination led to over-use. Over-use leads to mistakes. The rising blood-lust prevented Gustav from appreciating as much. Other than the exhilaration of snatching the life right out of his many victims, Gustav had trouble appreciating anything.
+++++So he definitely didn’t appreciate the irony of the position he was in at the moment. He had made a canoe of the head of his boss’s niece. He hadn’t known she was Sabato Melchiore’s god-daughter. When the naked and broken body of Celine Abandondo showed up on Decatur Street and Saint Nicholas Avenue, with her head caved in, Melchiore was briefly distraught. When he composed himself, he knew instantly who he had to speak with. Jimmy Ciocio was called Gutless for a reason. Even though his own death was already a certainty, he rolled over on Gustav within seconds.
+++++That is how Gustav Ratchikakhov found himself tied to a chair in a filthy Bushwick basement. The feel of his own urine, warm and spreading down from his lap, pooling at his feet, brought Gustav into intimate contact with the fear had had inflicted upon so many others. When Melchiore picked up the dull hatchet, swinging the tool to get the feel of it, Gustav was forced to concede; I really don’t like this method of murder at all. It was the very last thing he ever thought.

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Michael O'Keefe
Michael O’Keefe is a retired 1st Grade Detective from the NYPD. For twenty-four years, He worked in the toughest neighborhoods in New York, specializing in homicides and other violent crime. He was born and raised in the neighborhoods he likes to write about, where he encountered the colorful characters on both sides of the law who appear in his fiction. He has written two novels and is at work on a third for which he is seeking publication. His debut novel, Shot to Pieces, premiered in early July. Dabbling in poetry, he has had several poems published in the on-line and print magazines The Raven’s Perch, and The Bard’s Initiative. In addition, his first book of collected poems is due for publication shortly by Long Island Gems Press. He likes retirement, but he loved homicide investigation. He would still be doing it if he hadn’t been injured in the line of duty and disabled. He now lives on Long Island with his family, where he writes a little, coaches football, and practices the ancient martial arts of swimming pool and lawn maintenance.
Michael O'Keefe

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