A former special forces soldier with the AFFP (Armed Forces of the Federation of Planets) Cas Dragunov now finds himself trying to make a living flying cargo on the rust-bucket of a ship he has inherited from his brother while avoiding trouble from the various organised crime factions in the frontier sector.
An Unwanted Inheritance
Cas Dragunov #1
Cas Dragunov knew his brother’s plea for help could only spell trouble.
Nikolai created more messes than he could ever clear up, but family was family, and Cas couldn’t turn his back on him. Alas, he arrived on Dormero Station to find Nikolai dead, but his debt to local crime boss, Valen Massio, very much alive.
On the hook for the money, Cas is stuck working for Massio to pay it off. It’s a simple job, all he has to do is deliver the package that got his brother killed, while evading both Massio’s bloodthirsty rival and the Federal Security Service.
Piece of cake, right?
Find the book at your preferred ebook retailer here
Also available in paperback here
Nikolai Dragunov was a mess. Even without the benefit of the mirror that had been set in front of him he would have known that. What made him feel worse than his physical condition was the knowledge that it was entirely his own fault. He could blame no-one else.
One eye was swelled shut and the other, surrounded by a circle of blue, yellow, and black bruising, threatened to do the same. Blood ran down his face from his forehead, eyebrow, cheek, nose and lip, so much blood that it hid the cuts and bruises marring his features and made it hard, if not impossible, to tell where most of it was coming from.
The rest of the body that hung limply in the grasp of two men who were the very stereotype of thugs – the sort with just enough intelligence to understand who was it was they were supposed to beat up – was marked with the same signs of a beating as the face.
His other senses might be misfiring because of the beating he had received, his hearing, however, was still working well enough for him to pick out the approaching footsteps over the noise of his ragged breathing. He was even able to tell that the footsteps belonged to more than one person, one of whom was of a size with the thugs holding him; the other footsteps weren’t so audible, but Nikolai had no need to hear them clearly to know who one of them belonged to.
The owner of the soft footsteps was as quiet as his walking, he rarely spoke much above a whisper; he didn’t need to be loud, however, he had power, and that meant bigger men, noisier men, fell silent to hear what he had to say.
Nikolai had little chance of escaping the grip of the two men who held him – even if he had been healthy and at the peak of his strength and fitness, which he had not seen for the better part of twenty years, he doubted he would have been able to break free; he wasn’t even confident he could have done so if he had been held by only one of the thugs – and he didn’t even try, he did, however, attempt to straight up and appear less wretched.
It was a futile effort, only a lengthy shower and a significant period in a medical unit would improve his appearance.
Soft, beige, leather shoes, elegant and expensive, and far more familiar than Nikolai liked, moved into range of his one working eye and came to a stop no more than a foot and a half from him. The effort sent pain shooting through his bruised and battered body, but he forced his head up, so he could look the man before him in the face.
Valen Massio looked down on Nikolai Dragunov for almost a minute without saying a word. What am I to do with you, Niki?” he asked finally, a trace of disappointment in his voice, though his face was bland. “I have been nothing but generous to you, kind beyond my nature. Many would have called me a fool, if they dared, for the chances I have given you, yet you slap away the hand of friendship I hold out to you, and then you spit in my face.” He shook his head in dismay. “That is worst of all, that is unforgivable. All else I could have forgiven, or at least turned an eye that is blind to, but you, you do not know to quit when you are ahead.”
“I’m sorry, Mr Massio,” Nikolai mumbled through lips that felt twice their normal size. “I’m sorry, it’ll never happen again. Please, give me one more chance. Please.”
“But I already did, Niki,” Valen Massio said. “That’s the problem.” He stepped back quickly to avoid a droplet of blood that fell from Nikolai’s nose, it splashed onto the pristine floor of the room, where it, like the rest of the blood that had fallen from his body, contrasted with the almost sterile cleanliness of the room. “You came to me for a loan to help you pay off some of your many debts, and I, out of the goodness of my heart, in remembrance of the debt I owe you, gave you that loan, even though you already owe me a considerable amount. Had you taken the money I gave you and paid off your debts, as you said you would, we wouldn’t be here now, but you didn’t, did you.”
“No,” Nikolai admitted, dropping his head in shame as he shook it. “I’m sorry,” he sobbed.
“Look at me, Niki,” Massio instructed in his quiet yet firm voice.
When Nikolai didn’t do as he was told the thug on his left took hold of him by the hair and pulled his head back until he was looking up at Valen Massio again.
“That’s better,” Massio said when he could once more see the mess that was Nikolai’s face. “I don’t like talking to the tops of people’s heads.” He smiled briefly, though there was neither humour nor satisfaction in it. “We’re here because you insulted me; you took my money and then you tried to cheat me. I can forgive a lot of things, Niki, more from you than from most because of the debt I owe you. When you try to cheat me, however, you spit not just on me but on my reputation, and you should know how important that is to me.”
“I would never spit on you, Mr Massio,” Nikolai protested in as strong a tone as he dared use. “Never, not you nor your reputation. You’ve been good to me since I came out here. It wasn’t you I cheated, it was the other gamblers, only them. I was trying to win enough money to pay off everyone I owe, especially you.”
“But you did so at my club. Everyone knows I don’t tolerate cheats in my club, and anyone caught cheating is punished, not just for themselves but as a lesson to others who might be thinking of trying to cheat. I guess you could say you’ve been punished already, certainly no-one who sees you is going to think I’ve let you off light.” Massio ran his eyes over the mess that had been made of Nikolai Dragunov’s face and body. “I’m still left with the problem of your debt, however; what am I to do about that?”
“My…my brother…” Nikolai gasped. Pain lanced through him with every breath, making each inhalation and exhalation torture; it was made worse by the effort of speaking, even though he had only uttered three words. He had enough experience with beatings to be pretty sure that several of his ribs had been broken – cracked at the least – though experience did not make him feel any better about his injuries; nor did he feel any better knowing that once Valen Massio released him he would be able to get treatment, especially pain relief, because it would still be at least two weeks before his ribs were healed.
“What about your brother?” Massio wanted to know. “I hope you’re not about to tell me that your brother will come after me for revenge if I do anything more to you.” A smile curled his lips at that, the very idea that someone might try to get revenge on him was humorous.
Nikolai shook his head quickly, even though doing so made him grimace in pain. “Of course not, Mr Massio, I’d never do that. I just meant…” He had to stop for a few moments while he tried to get the pain, which seemed to be coming from every nerve in his body, under control.
“What did you mean?” Massio asked. “Come on, spit it out before I start to think you were going to say something stupid.”
After a deep breath, as deep a breath as he felt he could take without passing out from the pain, Nikolai said. “I’ll call my brother…he’ll help…help me fix everything… make it all right,” he gasped the words, with every breath he felt as though he was being stabbed. If it hadn’t been for the two thugs holding him semi-upright he was sure he would be curled up in a ball on the floor, possibly crying.
“And why,” Massio bent a little so his face was level with his prisoner’s, “should I trust your brother, whom I have never heard of, let alone met, when you have proven yourself so untrustworthy?” he asked.
“A-F-F-P,” Nikolai struggled to verbalise what he wanted to say. “Cas is with…with A-F-F-P, can be trusted not…not like me. He’ll come…he’ll help; you can trust Cas.” He couldn’t remember a time when speaking had been so difficult for him and he worried that his injuries were more serious than a mangled face and some messed up ribs. As quickly as that worry entered his thoughts he pushed it away, there would be time to worry about that later.
“Does your brother have enough money to clear your debts?” The doubtful look on Massio’s face made it plain how likely he thought that was.
Nikolai was tempted to lie and say yes in the hope of buying himself some time, time to try and figure out a way to come up with the money he owed, time to try and dig himself out of the hole he was in. He wasn’t sure how he had ended up in as much trouble as he was, but he knew how it had started; it had started, as it always did, with a bad run on the cards, and snowballed from there.
He quickly realised that lying was a bad idea, nothing would get him dead quicker than lying. Valen Massio had an uncanny knack for knowing when he was being lied to, and if there was one thing he hated worse than people who cheated in his club it was people who lied to him.
“I-I don’t know,” Nikolai admitted.
“So we’re back where we began, with the problem of your debt. How do you propose to pay it off?”
That was a question to which Nikolai had no answer, though after a few moments he did put forward a suggestion, not that he expected it to be accepted. “I could sell the Aces & Eights,” he said.
Massio smiled briefly. “Do you really think that rust-bucket you call a ship will get you anywhere near the kind of money you need to pay off everyone you owe? It wouldn’t even make you enough to cover this week’s interest on what you owe me.”
From off to one side, out of Nikolai’s limited vision, came a new voice, a female one. “I’ve got an idea how he can pay you back, father.”
Nikolai recognised the voice and felt hope flood through him, washing away the pain. The voice belonged to Alcina, Valen Massio’s only child; if there was anyone who could save him from his current predicament it was Alcina Massio, whose life he had saved soon after moving to the frontier sector to start a new life following his release from the AFFP stockade where he had been incarcerated.
“How’s that, Alcina?” Massio asked.