I have been tinkering with how to start my prequel to The Shard, set on earth in the year 2138. I wanted to start with my main character, but couldn't figure out a compelling way to do this with the scene that was in my head. So, I typed out this one below. The feedback I got at Absolute Write was that the characters here are not sympathetic, so it left people cold. Well, these characters are not meant to be in any way sympathetic. So, now I am in a quandary. Does this work or not? I mean to follow this chapter with one in which the MC (Georgy's sister Zoya) is walking toward the building where she is supposed to be meeting her brother, only to see him fall to his death.
Another issue a commenter had was that the mobsters acted in a stereotypical manner. However, I had quite a lot of experience with the Russian mafia during the four years I lived in Moscow, including witnessing two mafia shoot-outs. From what I saw, many Russian mafiosi seemed to take pride in being exactly stereotypical! If I want to write a realistic story, I need to make these guys act the way they truly do. I always felt that they had watched too many western movies (Godfather!) and read too much about prohibition-era mobsters.
Moscow, June 2, 2138
Georgy blinked sweat out of his eyes and stared at the carpet, wondering why he had never noticed the delicate pink lines of the rose patterns in the thin matting. He knew he was going to die, but he wondered how painful they would make it and whether his sister might somehow survive.
“Tell us where it is, Georg, and we’ll make this quick for you.”
A strong hand grasped Georgy by his hair and twisted his head around until the salami breath of his inquisitor washed over his face. Georgy winced and glared at the man who, until today, he had thought of as a brother. “I don’t know, Tavik. Don’t know where it is. I swear.”
Tavik grasped Georgy’s face gently with both hands and smiled. He bent close and kissed Georgy hard, first on the left cheek and then on the right. The kind expression didn’t extend to his icy blue eyes. “Come now, my friend,” he whispered. “How long have we known each other? What? Four years? What made you think you could get away with this?”
Out of the corner of one eye Georgy took in the rest of the participants in this little charade. Sitting next to him on the worn tan couch was Sasha, barely out of school, a gang member for less than two months, and naive enough to have trusted Georgy. Now I have killed him, as sure as if I put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Sasha sat ramrod straight, panting and pale. Standing behind the couch nearby was one of the two goons Tavik had brought with him. The other stood a few paces back, holding an old .45 in one hand and looking disinterested.
Georgy met Tavik’s gaze again. “It should have been me, Tavik. Lev should have promoted me, and you know it.”
Tavik raised one eyebrow and slowly stroked his thumbs over Georgy’s cheekbones. “You did this for revenge? Something this stupid because you were passed over?” Tavik dropped his hands and straightened up. “That’s not like you, Georg. You were always smarter than that.”
Georgy turned his head away from Tavik, glancing around the apartment as he did so, searching for any means of escape. The door was not an option -- it was too far away and one of the goons had thrown both of the locks. The balcony door stood open, a gauzy white curtain blowing gently in the cool summer breeze. That wouldn’t do either; the apartment was ten floors up and the courtyard below was concrete. He knew this safe house well, having been the one who chose it.
He puffed out his breath. “Let us live and I’ll find it for you.” Georgy knew that this would never happen, yet he felt a strange compulsion to play out the scene, as if he were an actor in a bad movie. He heard the strain in his own voice, and more salty sweat trickled into his eyes.
Tears streaming down his face, Sasha said, “I knew nothing--”
The goon behind Sasha smacked the boy hard with an open palm and said, “We told you not to speak.”
Tavik leaned down onto the back of the couch and draped an arm over Georgy’s shoulder. “You know we can’t let you live. You know that.” Georgy felt Tavik’s head nodding near his ear. Then Tavik grabbed Georgy’s hair again and forced his head up and down, mimicking his nod. “You know that, right?”
Georgy said nothing.
Tavik let go of his hair and squeezed Georgy’s shoulder again. “I can let your family live, though. I can promise you that. You know you can trust me.”
Georgy had known this was coming, but still an icy blade of panic thrust into his gut. His mother and sister were all he had left in this shitty world. He shook his head. “I’ve seen you make those promises before, Tavik. You always kill everyone anyway.”
Tavik leapt up and clutched his hands to his heart. “Ah! Ah! You have wounded me Georg. You know how much I like your sister. And your mother - she always kisses me and makes me tea. I’ve no desire to harm them, I swear to you.”
Doubt crept into Georgy’s mind, a tremulous thread of hope. Would Tavik truly let them live? He knew Tavik lusted for his sister Zoya. He pursed his lips and shook his head again. It would never happen. Never. Tavik always took care of business.
“No?” Tavik said.
The silenced dragged out and Georgy tried to make his mind blank; tried not to think about what was coming.
The goon to Tavik’s right grasped Sasha at the neck and shoved him forward. Georgy looked over just in time to see the other thug step up and put the .45 to the back of Sasha’s head.
Sasha screamed, “No--”
Blood sprayed out across the carpet in front of the couch. Georgy saw gray bits of brain in the mess, and he choked back vomit. Tears mixed with the stinging salt in his eyes. “Dammit! You bastards! He only did what I told him.”
Georgy’s right ear rang from the sound of the gunshot. He knew no one had heard the blast, not out here in a deserted dormitory in Yugo-Zapadnaya.
Tavik chuckled softly. “Who cares about the kid, Georg?” Tavik sauntered around the end of the couch and crouched down in front of Georgy. He pulled his own .45 from behind his back, thumbed the safety, and jammed the nose into Georgy’s crotch.
Georgy burst into tears, pain and shame warring in his mind. Dying quickly was fine with him, but the thought of Tavik shooting him in the balls was too much. “I can get it,” he blubbered. “I swear! I’ll get it for you. I swear on my mother. Please!”
“You’re going nowhere, Georg!” Tavik shouted. “Tell me where it is right now or I swear...”
“My sister!” cried Georgy. At that moment he loathed himself more than he had ever hated anything. “Don’t hurt her, please!”
“She has it?”
Georgy tried not to nod, but found himself doing so anyway. He wept.
Tavik stood up. “Okay”
Georgy rocked on the couch, hearing one of the goons approaching round the end of the couch, but not caring. He just wanted it all to stop. Rough hands jerked him upright and propelled him forward and out the balcony door. Through his tears Georgy saw crumbling concrete, a flash of blue sky, and then he was falling.