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The Hermit

The Hermit There was silence in the Smiling Goat as Mikhail Borozov stood on the threshold, oddly hesitant, and Niko stared back at him, opening and closing his mouth like a hooked fish. Tommy was stuck in the middle, looking back and forth between the two of them and wondering just what the hell was going on. Niko’s meetings never began like this. Though it was his nature to cut in when things grew awkward, to peace-keep, Tommy had the distinct feeling that this wasn’t the time. These two clearly knew each other somehow, though he wasn’t exactly sure until the man in the doorway finally opened his mouth. “Nikolai,” he said simply, in a heavy accent. “Father,” Niko responded curtly. “Ah,” the former sighed, taking a single step inward. “You never call me ‘Papa’ anymore.” Niko didn’t move, still not sure how to take this new situation. “I kind of grew out of it.” Mikhail shuffled on his feet. “This place, it is yours?” He glanced around the pub, his expression unreadable. Perhaps Niko had a deeper understanding of his father’s nuances than Tommy, for he seemed to know exactly how to respond. “No,” he waved him off, finally standing and moving over to a booth, which the elder Borozov took as a sign to join him. “The owner is an acquaintance of mine who lets me use it.” He was still guarded, but the tension in the air had dropped an inch. If he was here to kill him, he would have done so already. And he wouldn’t have come alone. “Would you like a drink?” Mikhail squinted over the bar to the display of various hard liquor beverages against the wall. He nodded, approving at the choices. “Must you even ask? Vodka, if you’d be so kind.” Of course Niko had made sure that Cowell had a good brand of Vodka. He had to, with all the Russians he dealt with. Though Tommy began reaching for a shot glass, Niko leaned over the bar and shook his head. “You might as wall just give us the bottle too.” For the life of him, Tommy couldn’t tell if it was for his father or for Niko. He went back to polishing glasses, but couldn’t help perking up his ears to overhear their conversation. Mikhail poured himself a drink, but left Niko’s glass empty. The younger Borozov sighed to himself and grabbed the bottle, to which his father frowned, but said nothing. Then they sat in silence for a minute, neither looking at the other. “It is a surprise to see you without Lila,” Mikhail began. “She has always hung over your shoulder. Tell me, where is—”

“She’s dead,” Niko interrupted before he could finish. “Ah.” Mikhail looked surprised and maybe even a little confused for a moment before his face fell. “A shame.” He downed his shot of vodka in one go, after lifting the glass up in salute. “How did you find me?” Niko glanced up sharply, changing the subject. Sitting up a little straighter, Mikhail Borozov immediately looked more intimidating. He was not used to being spoken to so harshly, and it showed. Niko was prepared for this, however, and didn’t even flinch. “I’ve been hearing about a new shishka operating out of Ede Valley for months,” he said finally. “But if you must know, I happened to see your face in the crowd outside of that boarding school.” “But that was months ago,” Niko raised an eyebrow. “I have been... waiting for the right time.” “Damn.” Niko shook his head. That was unfortunate. It must have happened that first morning when Cindy had enlisted his help to find Mike. The last day Lila had been alive. There had been reporters crawling all over the place. “So, now you want me to come back home, right?” “You are my only son, the heir to the Borozov family.” “This isn’t Russia, you know,” Niko muttered. “We’re not nobles anymore. What does the family name matter?” “For me, for your uncles and cousins it is everything. They would give anything to be the head of this family.” “Then maybe they should be!” There was silence and Niko stared his father down, daring him to continue. The latter simply sighed. “I did not come here to argue.” Niko’s face fell into confusion. That response was unexpected. His father was many things: authoritative, stern, intimidating. He had to be, to run a mob family. He did not back down, never conceded ground. But things had changed in the last year. More than anything, he just looked tired. Niko sat back again, nearly worried. “I did not come to argue,” Mikhail repeated, regaining a little of his former aura. “And I did not come to bring you back.”

“What did you come here for, then?” Niko huffed, taking a swig of the vodka. “I... I came to tell you how proud I am of you.” ........ “What.” Alright, just what sort of alternate universe had Niko stumbled into? That was not something his father would have ever said. “Who are you and what have you done with Mikhail Borozov?” “Nothing. Nothing at all.” Mikhail shook his head. “I have spent the last several months listening to your legend grow. They say you can acquire anything. You have singlehandedly cut out a large chunk of out... exotic markets.” Niko’s hand lingered near where his guns were, hidden under the booth. “If anyone else had done that, you’d have offed them in a minute.” “I may be on the wrong side of the law, but I am not a monster,” Mikhail frowned. “You are my son. As long as you do not encroach on the guns and drugs, I have no problem with your business.” “Wouldn’t dream of it.” Guns and drugs were a risky endeavor for a small-time operator, anyway. “In fact,” he glanced upwards at Niko out of the corner of his eye, from where he was leaning over his glass. “I’d offer you some help, connections. If you cut the Borozovs into the deal. No strings attached.” Freezing, Niko thought about it for a second. It was a tempting proposal, the Borozovs did know everyone in the business. Of course, it was also a fairly transparent bid to get Niko—and his business—back under the Borozov wing. This was something that wouldn’t be decided by a second’s thought. “Let me sleep on it,” he responded finally. “I’ll let you know soon.” “You know how to find me.” Mikhail stood from the booth. “And with that, it is time for me to leave.” He began to make his way to the door. Niko wasn’t offended; the elder Borozov had never been good at actual conversation, and he’d never been able to talk to Niko at all. “I will,” Niko waved. Before he walked completely out the door however, Mikhail turned one last time. “I am proud of you, Nikolai. And I think, so would be your mother.”

And then he was gone, the door creaking shut behind him. There was silence in the pub for a minute, until Tommy cleared his throat and Niko blew out the large puff of breath he’d been holding in. “Well,” Tommy smiled. “That was certainly something. Probably a good thing Cowell wasn’t here, after all.” “Agreed,” Niko didn’t want to think about that alternate reality. “At least you know when to keep your mouth shut.” “You, uh, wanna talk about it?” Tommy asked. “Not really.” “Alright, alright,” Tommy stuck his hands in the air. “Then I’ll just leave you with this: that is certainly not the worst fatherly reunion I’ve ever seen.” But Niko wasn’t really paying attention anymore. Instead he was looking at the ground where his father had stood just a moment before. There was a scrap of paper resting on the carpet. “What’s that?” Tommy craned his neck over the bar to see. “No idea.” Niko reached down to pick it up, and then took a minute to read it. “Well?” Tommy asked as Niko started chuckling. “Here,” he said, placing the strip on the bar. “See for yourself.” In a fast, chaotic scroll were only a few simple words: “To find Niko: The Smiling Goat, Ede Valley.” It was signed simply by two letters: “L. F.”

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