Essence of Fear - Bethany-Kris

PROLOGUE

“NOW, WHAT are you going to do for me, Pavel? Tell me, yes?”

Pav kept a tight hold on the comic book in his twelve-year-old hands as he glanced up from the glossy cover featuring a man in a red cape to see his father staring at him from the driver’s seat. He’d been too distracted by the fact he had a comic book to even realize his father was speaking to him.

He didn’t get comics often.

Rarely, actually.

It wasn’t that his father, Dimitri, didn’t want to give him things, Pav knew. Dimitri gave Pav as much as he possibly could, but only when they were having a good month. Or, that’s how his father always put it whenever he came home with a little toy or a bag of sugary sweetness for Pav.

A good month, son. It’s been a good month for the boss.

Pav never thought his father meant he was the boss, though. Dimitri was always careful to make that clear. Kotovs aren’t anything but scum to use or wipe off around here, yeah? Remember that, Pav.

And he did.

Remember it, that was.

“Well?” his father demanded.

Dimitri’s dark eyes darted from where Pav was sitting in the passenger seat to the big building in front of them. Well, one building. It looked like one of many that was connected to other buildings. A few dark-colored cars were parked haphazardly throughout what might have been a parking lot, but there weren’t exactly lines to designate spots for the vehicles.

Pav had never been here before. Anytime his father worked, Pav stayed with one of Dimitri’s friends.

Looking at the dark, looming building, he wished he could have gone to his father’s friend’s home instead. One was a man they lived with; another was a nice lady with crinkly skin and white hair who always smelled like bread and reminded him of what he thought a grandmother would be like … you know, if he had one.

He didn’t, though.

He didn’t have a grandmother, or even a mother, for that matter. He didn’t even know his mother’s name. Dimitri said the dead should stay dead, especially when the dead was that kind of dead. Pav wasn’t sure what that meant.

But he had a bed that was clean, with sheets that had his favorite superhero printed on them. And he had a few toys that he took special care not to break because he knew to take care of his shit, as his father liked to say. And, of course, he had his dad, too.

His dad who kept him warm, fed, and clothed. His dad who never raised a hand to him and kept him out of trouble.

Pav didn’t want much more.

“Pavel,” his father said. “What did I tell you?”

Pav held tight to the comic and glanced down at the glossy cover again. “Stay here, don’t get out of the car, and be quiet.”

Dimitri’s shoulders relaxed a bit, and his stare softened. Without a word, his father reached over, cupped his head in his large palm, and drew Pav close enough to hug him and press a kiss to the top of his forehead.

“That’s it, my boy. That’s it. I’ll be out in a few.”

He thought he heard the shake in his father’s voice, but he couldn’t be sure. That was the thing about Dimitri Kotov. Even when he was afraid of something, he didn’t show it. He taught Pavel to be brave in that way.

“Don’t you get out of this fucking car; I will be right back.”

His father said it like Dimitri was the one who needed to hear it, and not Pav. He didn’t get the chance to ask his father about it, though, because in the next second, Dimitri was out of the car and slamming the door to their shitty Corolla shut before Pav could even open his mouth.

He watched his father walk toward the building and waited for Dimitri to glance over his shoulder even once. He didn’t.

That was the last time Pav ever saw his father. Walking into the Boykov Compound. Dimitri never came back out.

Not alive, anyway.

• • •

Pav was still clutching to that comic book hours later when he was dragged across the cement floor of the Boykov Compound and tossed at the feet of a man who, from the ground looking up, seemed bigger than a bull.

And the man looked about as irritated as a bull, too.

Sneering a bit at him, the man nudged at the comic book in Pav’s hands with the tip of his shoe. “What is your