A fictional short story by Robert M. Roberts
Olga Ivanov and her seven year old son, Jimitri, were in awe as they peered through the window of the airplane. The city below, with its towering buildings and many houses, stretched for miles. This would be their new home. It was a far cry from the cold impoverished country of the Ukraine.
Although Olga was frightened of this new beginning, anything would be better than living with the abusive, alcoholic husband, Jimi’s father, who they had left behind. She wondered how he would react when he finally sobered up and realized they were gone and were never going to return. Maybe he would kill himself, she thought. No he wouldn’t do that. He would be so glad to be rid of us, he probably wouldn’t even contact the authorities and report us missing, she surmised.
They would never have escaped had it not been for her cousin, Sonjia. She had helped arrange the airfare and visas. Sonjia warned her years ago not to marry the monster, but Olga didn’t listen to her advice. But now, she and Jimi had a second chance. She vowed to herself that she would work hard to pay her cousin back for saving them.
After the plane landed at JFK, they waited patiently at customs. As the agent waved them through, Olga was relieved that the agent didn’t ask her anything since she spoke little English. She saw a woman waving frantically in the distance. As they worked their way through the crowd, she realized it was Sonjia and she was yelling in Russian, “Welcome to America!”
A few minutes after the hugs and heartwarming greetings, they gathered their small bags of belongings and made their way to start their new life in Brighton Beach. ‘Little Odessa,’ it was called, where thousands of immigrant Russians and Ukrainians had resided for generations. America has traditionally been called ‘the melting pot’, and New York City has several pots where different nationalities claim their own little space in the metropolis.
Sonjia was several years older than Olga and had never married. She was happy to share her small, two bedroom flat with the new arrivals. She enrolled Jimi in school and helped Olga find house cleaning jobs.
As time passed, Jimi seemed to be doing well in school. However, Olga found it quite difficult learning the English language and she could only speak a few words. She tried hard to fit in with the people she worked for, but there was such a language barrier. She would pull a picture from her apron and point to it. “This is my son, Jimi. He is a good boy,” she would tell them. Olga did this often and it was obvious to everyone she met that she was very proud of her son.
Olga worked hard and over time and was able to pay Sonjia back for helping her and Jimi come to America. Life was good for them for the first few years until Sonjia suddenly died from a brain aneurysm. Olga and Jimi continued to live in the apartment. Sonjia left them a little money, but that soon evaporated. It was tough to live on the money Olga got from her few cleaning jobs, but she always kept a smile on her face. She often pulled the faded picture from her apron and would say to everyone she met, “This is my son, Jimi. He is a good boy.”
Jimi was now fourteen years old and his life began to spiral out of control. Unbeknownst to his mother, he quit going to school. Olga was never notified that he didn’t attend school. He started hanging out every day at Chertoff’s Deli, which was a mere front for the Russian Mafia. There he met the worst of the worst, but they began to take an interest in the young boy and gave him a few dollars to run errands for their bookmaking and money laundering business. To explain his constant absence and the extra money, Jimi told his mother he had a part-time job after school, washing dishes at the deli.
As time passed, Jimi became hardened and considered himself a tough guy. He bought a menacing knife with a serrated edge that he stored in the lining of his boot, under his pant leg. He was quick to pull it out when he was threatened by an outside foe and therefore gained the nickname of ‘Jimi the Knife’ by his Mafia cohorts. His allegiance to the organization would be tested as he moved up in the ranks.
In the spring of his seventeenth year, he had the audacity to tell his mother that he had graduated from high school and had been promoted to Assistant Manager at the deli. Olga never questioned what he told her. She bought a cake in his honor to celebrate his achievements. “Jimi, what a good boy you are,” she told him in her broken English.
One week later, Jimi stood in the darkness between two buildings. He was just out of sight of the glaring street light. He waited patiently with his knife in hand as the targeted victim approached on the sidewalk. Failing to pay a gambling debt, the husband and father of three was about to pay with his life.
In a split second, Jimi shoved the steel blade into the man’s side. He quickly extracted it and then slit his throat. As his body slumped over in the dark alley, Jimi wiped off the bloody knife blade on the victim’s coat and exited the alley in the opposite direction.
As he made his way home, he stopped in front of a lighted store window and checked for blood on his clothes and hands, but they appeared to be clean. He was kind of surprised that he didn’t feel guilt or remorse, it was the opposite. The first time was exciting and he enjoyed it. After all, he thought, he didn’t know the guy.
Jimi received kudos, as well as money from his mafia bosses and there would be no turning back. Like all organized crime, whether it is Italian, Russian, or whatever, once you’re in, there’s no getting out alive. He knew that. He graciously reaped the monetary rewards for this hit and future hits. He socked the money away, and planned to buy himself and his beloved mother a nice house one day.
There was little news coverage or real investigation of the murder. After all, it wasn’t like it happened in Manhattan. Even after three more killings that year, no one was taken into custody. By definition, three murders suspected by the same perpetrator are normally considered by the FBI as serial killing. But no FBI agents showed up to investigate. It was just business as usual because it happened in areas dominated by organized crime.
The next year, Jimi the Knife was contracted to do another hit on a John Doe who owed the organization money for drugs. Jimi was uneasy about this one because it was to go down in his own neighborhood. He didn’t want his mother to be afraid because of a murder happening so close to home. But there was no other option.
It was shivering cold that night with a heavy mist in the air. Jimi was in wait, hiding in the shadows, just two doors down from a bakery. He was told his victim would be wearing a black hooded coat, and that he stopped at the bakery every week day night a little after 9:00 p.m. for donuts and coffee on his way home from work.
Jimi kept looking at his watch, wishing the guy would show up. He was freezing and fog was settling in, making it hard for him to see. Suddenly, he heard the door bells ring as the bakery door opened. He peeked around the corner and saw a figure in a black hooded coat walking in his direction, carrying a box. As Jimi pulled the lethal knife from his boot, he wondered how he had missed the guy going into the bakery.
The footsteps got closer. Jimi drew back the knife, ready to thrust. Just as the hand carrying the bakery box came into view, he gouged the steel blade with all his might into the victim’s torso. The body immediately fell to the sidewalk, as Jimi’s hand still held the knife.
The hood of the victim’s coat fell back. Jimi stared at the face and screamed, “Mommmm!”
It was Olga’s face staring up at him.
“Why? Jimi, why?” she gurgled.
“I didn’t know it was you!” Jimi’s voice echoed loudly through the streets.
It was too late to help her. She was gone. Jimi cradled his mother’s lifeless body in his arms. As he sobbed uncontrollably, he saw the contents of the open box beside her body. It was a cake decorated with the words, “Happy Birthday, Jimi. You’re a good boy!”