Have you ever heard the one about the newborn baby that killed a man? His name is Aleksandr Belikov. Was. Is. Could still be.
Buried underneath an askew chunk of concrete in one of the worst parts of Murmansk, Russia, underneath snow and dirt and worm colonies and probably a dislodged chunk of a plutonium device that could level the entire Vegas strip, the one remaining Polaroid of my father is rolled up like a cigarette and protected from the elements and God's prying eyes. If not for that Polaroid, I could invent what the man who gave birth to me looked like. I could give him a Sid Vicious style set of liberty spikes, if I'd wanted, or maybe an Adonis physique.
Maybe I'd give him blue eyes, but probably not. Mum said I got my father's eyes; stripping them from her would be the worst of sins.
You could get caught sinning a lot in Murmansk, but you never got caught. The cops knew my father. How couldn't they? How could they not recognize my dad, when every time they looked down to take a whiz they saw his blood, spattered across their hands from where they'd killed him to cover their own tracks, saw the chalk on their fingertips where they haphazardly marked an outline of the way his body fell with two bullets in the head, his eyes - my eyes - demolished and flecked with lead inside their sockets, the chalk outline that got filled in like a Crayola coloring book by the snow that you could never drink once it melted because Murmansk's ground was toxic to the touch if you put your tongue to it.
The place I was born polluted you. If not physically, it got you emotionally; if not emotionally, it got you mentally; if not mentally, it got creative.
The cops knew my father, so I never got caught caught sinning in Murmansk, which is good. If she'd lost me, Mum would have starved to death, frozen inside our cave of a one bedroom apartment where to keep warm she shoved me under the bed every night and positioned old junk she fished out of back alleyways so that I had just enough room to breathe through the porous little Rube Goldberg contraption that was our sleeping arrangement. If anyone every broke in, Mum said, they'd think she was just a hoarder, wouldn't rifle through all the garbage by her bed to look for me. They'd just off her and then I could move on.
American children, they counted sheep every night to doze off. Me, I counted blood and ###### and semen stains on the bottom of my mother's mattress, my mother so frail and fatless like a post-plucked chicken that you couldn't even see where her outline ended and the rest of the mattress really began. American children, with pillows. And blankets. The good life. Me, going to sleep smelling burnt out cathode rays from old TVs, dead animals, and what could have been asbestos.
The good life. The bad life.
Matt Summers. Aleks Belikov.
The first person to ever call me Aleks was my Mum, and for the longest time I hated it. I think this was kinda what made the name stick, because just to needle me my mother, a total mouse of a woman, all 5'4 and brunette and maybe 110 pounds tops, she called me Aleks or Aleksei every single day after that until I left Russia. My mother was beautiful. Physically, emotionally, mentally, creatively. Just an absolute goddess.
I called her by her real name - Katerina Belikov. She was never Mum to me until I became an adult, oddly enough, she was always Katerina. It felt natural, and unlike a lot of moms, who would have beat the snot out of me until I submitted, she stuck with Katerina. And I stuck with Aleks. And we stuck together, Katerina and Aleks, until the day that I was recruited into the Russian Mafia. She hated the very concept, hated the idea of me doing anything more than petty thievery, but in the end I convinced her that it was all for her. She and I, together. We could escape Murmansk.
Give it time, Katerina Belikov, I had cooed into my mother's arms as she hugged me and cried and cried and cried before my initiation, and they will sing your song across the world.
They'd told me at the initiation that night that my family was second nature from here on, that Katerina Belikov was now my family through blood only. They'd told me that from here on out, Bratva was my family. I was amongst equals, a shadow amongst the shadowiest, and I was now as perfect as I was anonymous. Bratva was my God; believe in Bratva, and we would live together, forever. A family.
Family. People you love.
Christine Marie. Rebekah Fell. Matt Summers.
And then the Colonel came calling, and even amongst Bratva the Colonel must have been a little bit feared because when he said he needed a liaison, I was offered up like a post-plucked chicken, like my mother before me, and I was on the first plane to America. At customs, they asked me my name, and my heart skipped a beat. What was my name?
"My name is Aleksander English."
Aleksandr Belikov. Aleksander English. Aleksander Dragunov. Aleksei.
They all start to sound the same after a while, so it was really of no consequence which name I used. That said, there was something about the anonymity of Aleks English that I dug. Plain, yet masculine. Sexy. Something to be remembered. You could find a movie star named Aleks English, see him get nominated for Best Actor at the Oscar's, your heart wouldn't skip a beat because Aleks English just sounds like an actor.
Starring Aleks English, as James Bond. Can you imagine people losing their minds if a Commie Ruskie pinko like Aleks English played James Bond? It would've almost been worth it.
Katerina couldn't handle it: with no Aleks around, coke, codine, mollies, spice, amps, all of these became Mum's family until eventually her mind was so shot that at any given moment, she was liable to forget everything about herself, where she was, the situation at home and abroad, everything.
Except her Aleksei.
She's clean, now. Or, at least, she was when we talked at Christmas. Mom was always fragile; I'm not sure what her resolve is like. I'd like to think the best. She deserves nothing but.
Speaking of the best, Rebekah's rushed me into the trauma wing of the hospital now, and I can tell we must be a sight because she's explaining herself even as doctors rush over, gurney already done up and waiting for me. Rebekah.
I have to say her name. Thank her. Tell her I still care. That I'm still her Aleks, if she needs me to be.
Someone's speaking, a male doctor with a low, assuaging Southern accent. Why do Southern accents always sound hotter on chicks than on guys? And why do girls from the South get hotter the farther South they live?
For a second, I wonder where Christine was born. Then I realize that, for a second, I don't know where Christine was born. Mississippi, right? South Carolina?
Christine Marie. My Southern belle.
Not twenty minutes ago, we kissed for the first time, and it was a rush: not just because she was sucking away my memory and powers, because she was, but because it was genuine. Passionate. Caring.
There's tubes and fluids everywhere as my condition tries to stabilize. Black unconsciousness is gnawing away at me, its teeth sinking into me. No, wait. Those are IVs.
No, no, no, don't you dare stick that ###### tube there--
Unconsciousness doubles down, all or nothing. I don't have the hand to back my poker face; my bluff falls as I slowly start to give up the fight. Aleks, the master pickpocket, the dashing Russian thief. The quitter.
Beeps, urgent orders all around me. The beeping of medical monitors. Is that Rebekah, crying, in the distance?
Which one am I again?
And then, just like the ending of the Sopranos, it all cuts to black.