(AUTHOR NOTE: If you find yourself at any point confused as to the context behind this story, you will want to read the story that precedes it in this conveniently-placed hyperlink.)
The only Western-style fast food restaurant chain in the whole Mechanocracy.
The only real competitor to our own home-grown Shashlik Kingdom, known better as 'the Shash'. They say Katya's was really big before the Great War, filling the market gap after the American restaurants pulled out. I still don't know how it survived the nukes, but I don't doubt it has something to do with the stoicism that's practically become a trademark both of our kind and this wretched city. Maybe it's just a knock-off of the original that arose to capitalise on patriotic nostalgia.
Whatever the case, Katya's joint in Khamovniki District is our go-to for lunch away from home. If the first thing to come to mind when you think of 'lunch' is lab-grown meat drowned by an equally synthetic pileup of cheese, ketchup, mustard, pickles, tomatoes and way more lettuce than is actually necessary, the entire culinary catastrofuck concluded by slapping it between two synth-wheat buns. But I for one have always gone by one rule: if I'm told it's food, I eat it, I enjoy it and it doesn't directly kill me, then it's fucking food, and no tofu-munching pot-smoking chud monkey is going to lecture me otherwise.
Same reason I carry around a tube of nutrient paste – everyone else says it both tastes like and is as cheap as dirt. I find the taste to be like cat puke blended with bird shit, with shavings of mouldy cheese tossed in for good measure. It sometimes even has little fluid pockets in the paste for extra fun. At the same time though, one tube of nutripaste can last me three days, and a hundred-millilitre tube sets me back just seventy-five kopecks.
Since we're discussing food, Katya's sounds like a good place to properly introduce Yevtaliya Orekhova, the plump girl with the teal hair swooped to one side. Everyone in our class used to call her Malvina, because she looks a little like the eponymous puppet from Buratino. Don't let the looks fool you, though. She's ditzy enough to make a wasted paratrooper on August the Second look like he knows what he's fucking doing. And in her mind, the most terrible instrument of torture ever devised by the human mind is the treadmill. A more fitting nickname for bad days, we've discovered, is 'The Beast' – because she eats like a horse, drinks like a fish, smells like a wet dog, has the temperament of a goat and her bedroom's a pigsty.
"Right!" I shout out from the shotgun seat of Sveta's car, rubbing my hands together as we roll into the drive-through. "Who's paying?!"
"You are, I believe," Zina answers from behind me.
It is my turn as well: Talya paid last time, Tanya the time before, then Zina, and before that it was Sveta.
"Oh fuck, I am..." I feel my face drop like a lead dirigible, and I think my eyes are starting to water. You're about to find out why as we drive up to answer to the pimple-faced squeaky teen manning the speaker.
"Welcome to Katya's, may I take your order?"
"I'll have a number six with cheese," I say. "Hold the pickles. No drink."
"Give me a number four, extra mustard, large cherry Ganja," Sveta announces.
"I'll just have a number five with a medium coke," Zina enunciates.
"I'll have a number six, two number fives with extra mayo, a number three large, two number twenty-nines, a number one with cheese, and an extra-large strawberry compote," Yevtaliya declares.
There's a pause as every single head in the car turns a suspecting smirk to her. She looks around, confused as to why everyone's giving her the evils.
"Anything else?" the cashier enquires.
"That will be all," Zina sternly informs him, still glaring at Yevtaliya as we proceed to the tills.
"You had better eat every bite of that, or I'm gonna whale on you like the Japanese!" I point my finger to Talya and menace. Considering how I'm forking out for a banquet apparently, I'm fucking serious.
"She bloody will eat everything as well – that's the worrying part!" Sveta bursts into laughter.
Reassured by her jest, albeit marginally, I prepare the barcode on my wrist to pay, making a mental note to do more odd-jobs for Johan to help heal the battering my wallet's about to take.
Rule number one of adult finance: debit, never credit. Well, credit's fine if you know what to do with it, but the vast majority of Homo sapiens is simply too stupid to realise that 'credit' is in fact not a synonym for 'free money'. Those who don't realise it become to the banks what antelope are to crocodiles – and these two relationships are far more similar to each other than you'd first think.
"Sorry if I caused a problem..." Talya seems intimidated by my prior threat.
"Hey, don't worry about it – I'm just fucking with you!" I gently bump her in the side to reassure her with a smile. "Though you need to put that brain of yours into gear a bit. Think!"
"What do you mean?" she's a little confused.
"If someone else is paying for a meal, it isn't a ticket to go nutso!" I explain. "Your mama pays for all your nice things, but I gotta work hard for my pocket money!"
She pauses, the same kind of pause a philosopher would make when confronted by a really difficult realisation.
"I ... think I understand," she concludes after a moment.
"Good girl," I smile.
"You can... you can have one of my burgers if you want," I notice her proffering one of her number twenty-nines, a single-stack cheeseburger lathered with baconnaise and salad. The look in her eyes tells me the offer's genuine.
"No, no – it's your heart that's going down the shitter, not mine," I jest at her, trying to suppress a chuckle. "Enjoy your meal!"
Yevtaliya can be a bit of an ass sometimes, and her lack of forethought can bug the hell out of us – as you've just observed. But I go easy on her because she never means it. She just doesn't understand, and she sometimes forgets. But whenever she does fuck up, she's quick to apologise and does what she can to set it right. That's just how she is. And honestly, I wouldn't have her any other way. Her innocence is a pleasant respite from the cavalcade of pricks, bitches, cunts and asshats I have to put up with every other day.
Speaking of asshats, the radio's playing again. Zina likes to listen to the Iskra newscast for some reason, and now that the war in the Baltics is over, we're all tuning into it. A bunch of overhyped, state-sponsored populist garbage, if you ask me – I know it because Anzhela listens to it as well. From the sounds of it, they're talking about the aftermath of the latest Baltic escapade. We're on our way to Gorky Park, our usual haunt for lunchtime. I've already gotten started, my choice of drink being one of the beers we keep in a cooler in the trunk.
"Pffff," Sveta blows venom. "Bunch of fuckers..."
"Whaddya mean by that?" I turn and state. "You know we've won the war, right?"
"What, you think they didn't just slaughter their way through them?" Sveta addresses me, glancing at me as she focuses on the road. "You've heard the shoe-bangers! That Kaffarov guy – kill half of humanity to save the other half! Who does he think he is? Did he cover himself in purple paint before going on the radio that day?!"
"Who the fuck cares?" Zina shrugs with indifference. "They're just a bunch of potato farmers!"
"They're PEOPLE!" Sveta reminds her as stern as she can. "And now they're technically our compatriots! Perhaps that 'Crimson Seraph' you so adore could learn that for her-"
A brilliant jolt forward interrupts our political debate, and Yevtaliya only just grabs her tub of compote before it spills. For such a large, simple girl, she's got reflexes that even I'd kill for.
"What the hell was that?!" asks Zina.
'That' was a yellow, black-striped hot hatch drifting around the corner right in front of us, completely disregarding the fact that he's driving on a public road.
"Thanks for almost getting us killed, you idiot!" Sveta growls at the car ahead.
My heart leaps into my mouth when I see the driver of the yellow hatch wave his hand at us in a wanking motion. I see purple flames dance in Sveta's augmented eyes as her face creases into a vicious snarl. We all lurch backward as she slams her foot on the accelerator pedal and winds down the window, pulling up just behind the hatch as Yevtaliya reaches for her drink again.
"YOU WANT A FUCKING GO?!" Sveta screams at the offending driver, swinging her fist out the window. "COME ON, YOU FUCKING COCKSUCKER!!! I'LL SHIT DOWN YOUR FUCKING THROAT!!! YOU STUPID MOTHERFUCKER!!!"
"Get your dickbeater back on the wheel!" I bump Sveta in the ribs. "You want the wolves to pull us over?!"
'Wolves'. That's what we call the politsiya – the cops, the pigs, the fuzz. The de-jure law of the land.
And then all hell breaks loose as the hatch slams on his own brakes, causing us to budge into the back of it with a violent thud. I end up face-planting an airbag, precluding me from breaking my nose on the dashboard. Worst of all, Yevtaliya's compote finally runs out of luck and she ends up with a lap-full of blood-coloured beverage.
"Oh, COME ON!!!" she squeals, and I can already see tears welling up in her eyes.
The emergence of two burly lads and a girl from the car ahead of us, however, reveals that a tub of spilled compote is about to become the least of our problems. They only get worse when I notice the boys wearing bright yellow jackets and ushanka hats, while the lass has a yellow boob-tube and a luminescent blonde mohawk about half the size of Sveta's.
"What the FUCK did you just call us?!" the lead guy shouts back at us. "Cocksucker, was it?!"
"Oh shit," I recognise the get-up immediately. "Those guys are from bloody Chasovaya! Sveta, don't do anything-"
In my daze I have failed to notice that a berserk Sveta has already gotten out of the car and marched up to the offending driver.
"You pair of shit-stabbing dickheads had better have been getting a blowjob from that broad there to excuse him driving like a twat!" she shrieks in the guy's face.
"...stupid," I finish my sentence in a resigned tone.
Leave it to Sveta to walk up to a gopnik two heads taller and twice as broad as her and call him a faggot to his face. She did the same thing on her eighteenth birthday. That's partly why she woke up with a black eye the next morning. This time, however, she can't excuse herself because she's sober. Otherwise we wouldn't be on the road.
For context: the Chasovaya Club is one of the larger street gangs operating in Moscow and are Yakimanka's main contenders. They're based in the old Airport District. Most are just testosterone-laden boys looking for fun, and our rivalry with them is more friendly than anything else. Both of us are more concerned with sticking it to the fuckheads from Arbat District, a bunch of assholes to the northwest of Yakimanka who think that, just because their district once held the Kremlin (or so they happily state), they can stake their claim to wherever they please. It took a whole gang war a few years back to get them to back down after they walked into Yakimanka, but after thirteen of them were sent back to Arbat in coffins after an altercation at a bar resulted in guns being drawn, they got the memo.
Over the river, making a claim to the Kremlin is a pretty serious one, and you'd better be prepared to back it up with firepower. Why? After all, most kids who think of themselves as 'gangsters' are just your average chain-smoking, boozing, sunflower seed-munching teenager clad in track pants who loiters around bus stops. But the ones you really don't want to fuck with are the skinheads.
For most Muscovite gangsters, it's just a phase. The vast majority of 'em settle down after they turn eighteen and get signed up for military service, where they'll spend a year. After that, they either carry on in the professional army and make a career that way, or they come back home. They work their lives in some menial job, whether in a factory or a hydrofarm or wherever else they're needed. And when their cheaply-produced cybernetics finally give out sixty-odd years later, they're scraped off of wherever they've dropped dead, their augs get recycled and their remaining organs get plucked out and shipped off to some hospital larder.
The skinheads are a different breed entirely. These guys are real hardcore ideologues, with military-grade cybernetics and training from their years of service to the nation. I hear some of those in Chasovaya are ex-GRU SpetsNaz, which represents a small problem if Chasovaya and Yakimanka ever get into a turf war.
Remember I mentioned I had to intervene to stop Sveta from going to prison for murder? Considering she and these gopniks look like they're about to try and kill each other, I get this really crappy feeling my diplomatic skills are about to come in handy again.
"You dumbass bunch of boy boofers almost got us fucking killed by driving like wankers on a public bloody road!" Sveta continues to rage at the driver.
"Well, maybe if you were paying any attention to the damn road ahead of you, you'd have seen us coming from a mile off and slowed down so you wouldn't have budged into us!"
"WHAT?!" shrieks Sveta. "Did your mama not teach you to not drink from the bottles under the sink, or have you managed to refine retardation into a skill?"
"Can we please talk this out like civilised human beings instead of boors?" I say as I approach the two of them, getting between them.
"Boors?!" Sveta snarls at me before pointing to the driver. "Tell that to this prick! You saw what they did! I thought you'd be backing me up!"
"I AM backing you up," I assure her in a calm tone. "If you start a fight here, the cops will book all of our asses. And if that happens, you in particular are in the shit, because aren't you on your last warning about starting fights? If nothing else, surely a few small time boys ain't worth going to jail over!"
"Small time?!" Now the driver has turned his anger to me, balling his fists. "I ought to show the lot of you what 'small time' really means!"
"Yeah, and how do you plan to do that?" I gesture back to Sveta's car, with Zina and Talya getting out for fresh air. "There's four of us and three of you, and I'd say the odds would be in our favour even if the numbers were equal – especially since you're on our turf. But that's besides the damn point! Let's just sort out this mess like civilised human beings, swap insurance deets, and be on our way without anyone getting the shit kicked out of them or going to jail."
I do not mention that I'm two seconds away from shitting a mountain. I mean, we can all defend ourselves to a decent enough degree to deter all but the most persistent rapists, it's true. I own a decent switchblade, Yevtaliya keeps a baseball bat around, and Sveta has a battle-worn knuckleduster. Zina not only has a combat knife, she also knows a bit of systema. But taking on Chasovaya boys isn't my idea of fun, even if we outnumber these jerks. For all I know, they could be keeping a Kalash in that car, and that's without mentioning the backup they may have on speed-dial. Did I mention a skinhead will break your spine over his knee just for being a baseliner?
"Yeah, you're right Sonya," Sveta finally relents after a couple moments to take a breather. She turns about and starts to make her way back to the car alongside me.
"Yeah, it ain't worth ruining your makeup over a fender-bender," the driver comments well within our earshot.
"Excuse me?" Sveta whips her head around and glowers at the driver.
"Didn't you hear your friend?" he continues with a venomous smirk on his face. "You mess with us, you'll get fucked to death in prison. So scrape yourself up, get back in your jalopy and take your little piggy with you!"
He points a fat, gloved finger over to Yevtaliya, who's standing around oblivious as ever. Seeing the finger cutting across the road in her direction makes her jump.
"Me?" she asks, looking around to see if there's anyone else.
"No, fuckin' Santa Claus!" the other Chaso boy answers. "Though with your waistline, it ain't hard to see how there might be confusion!"
"Get back in your car, fatty, and take your milk and cookies with you!" the girlfriend continues the mockery.
As the two guys burst into laughter, Talya finally realises that they're talking to her. We all notice the look of horror on her face as she starts to well up.
"Hey, that ain't very nice..." she quietly informs them, withdrawing into herself.
"Hey, you cunts had better stop calling her fatty!" Sveta snarls as she starts to roll up her sleeves.
"Oh yeah?" the girlfriend mocks us, hands on her hips as she steps up to her. "And what are you bitches gonna do about it?"
"You wanna know what we're gonna do about it?" I speak in a low voice as I approach her myself.
"Yeah, I do," she tilts her head and smirks, flaunting her curves. "But don't get little piggy over there to sit on me, she might ruin my perfect figure!"
I do not answer with words. But the grin on my face flows up my cheeks as I raise my beer bottle...
The faces of the two boys stretch as the bottle crashes down onto her head like a hammer. A piercing scream issues from her mouth, trails of blood and beer running down her face from where shards of the shattered bottle have buried themselves into her skull.
I have my misgivings about starting a fight with members of an established gang, for reasons I elaborated on just a minute before. But Yevtaliya's one of us. And we always look after our own. We've now made it very apparent to these three pricks that the girlfriend's figure has just become the least of her immediate problems.
Clearly pleased by this sudden turn, Sveta immediately sets upon the horrified driver like a panther, landing a jaw-shattering right hook to the side of his head and sending him spinning onto the front of his car. She grabs the stunned lad by the hair and repeatedly bangs him face-first into the bonnet, leaving a bloody imprint of his horrified visage in the metal. I hold back his wounded girlfriend and choke her out with my free forearm while Zina delivers a volley of uppercuts into her stomach.
Sveta throws the driver onto the floor, the back of his head smacking into the road, and swaps positions with Zina as I launch the girlfriend towards her. Now Sveta's straddling the girl and laying into her face with that knuckleduster of hers, giving her a mean black eye, breaking her nose with a hideous crunch and knocking out a few teeth as Zina proceeds to deliver a few heartfelt kicks to the driver's ribs with her metal toe-capped boot.
The last remaining thug, seeing the girls batter his mates, falls into a confused panic as I turn my attention towards him, brandishing the smashed bottle by the neck like a dagger. He spins around on his heel and tries to escape – right into the clutches of Yevtaliya and her bat.
Judging by the gut-churning crack that resounds, followed by a piercing effete scream as he's literally swept head over heels onto his back, the blow's shattered every single bone in his shins. This isn't some smarmy aluminium bat either – this one's solid, sports-grade steel. And Yevtaliya's a big lady. It wouldn't surprise me at all if that leg had to be amputated.
"CALLING – PEOPLE – FAT – IS – NOT – VERY – NICE!!!" the big gal snarls, each word in her sentence representing another blow to the thug's sides.
Each time the bat rains down, he screams again as he tries in vain to defend himself. Normally, I don't like watching her get violent, but honestly, I think this pathetic waste of gametes deserves it. And it also teaches Yevtaliya not to take shit from anybody except her parents; if the wolves come knocking, I'll take the rap for breaking his leg – assuming Sveta or Zina don't.
"Alright, Talya, he's had enough!" I grab her arm and stop her before she splits the poor bastard's head open. I haven't heard any extra cracks, but judging by his terrified whimpering, a growing wet patch where his crotch's meant to be and the faint stench of piss, I think he has indeed got the memo.
With that I turn around to assess the situation. Sveta has dealt with the now unconscious girlfriend, judging from the absence of most of her teeth, a pair of black eyes and her nose is bent hideously sideways. The driver is crawling along the floor toward the pavement, his head bleeding profusely; a puddle of puke in his wake denotes that Zina has given him a hell of a gut-punting. I'm on him like a hawk, grabbing him by his lengths of blond hair and bringing him so close to my face that our foreheads touch.
"Next time you and that mouthy little whore go to fuck, you tell her one thing!" I howl into his face with the demeanour of a winter wolf, drawing my switchblade and putting the blade to his neck. "I don't give a shit who you're affiliated with – you ever call Talya here a piggy again, I'll slice your fucking throat open from ear to ear! Ya got that?!"
He nods with tears in his eyes.
"Good. And that goes for any of the rest of you who get any bright ideas of its like!"
I punctuate by throwing the driver aside like a ragdoll. He crashes into the side of his car before rolling off the bonnet onto the tarmac.
"Now the three of you, fuck off!" I command with a finger point.
They don't need to be told twice. The last we see of them today as we get into our own car and drive off is the driver trying to help up the thug whose legs Yevtaliya broke with her bat.
I just stopped myself from putting my switchblade to use this time around, thank God, but I don't envy these assholes when the time comes to explain the bruises and broken bones to their parents.
For the rest of the drive to Gorky Park I'm shaking like a leaf in autumn from the adrenaline rush. I'm hyperventilating. That's the first time I've ever drawn my blade in anger. I honestly don't know what I would have done, such was the fury blazing in my veins. I remember when Talya was in high school – the other girls used to pick on her for her weight, and 'piggy' was one of the most common insults they came up with. Memories of her being all alone in the playground while a crowd laughs at her come surging up like volcanic lava for an imminent eruption.
"Someone please for the love of God, say something," I blurt out in a quaking voice, trying desperately to flush out the rage before I take my knife, jump out of the car and murder the nearest hapless pedestrian just to vent.
"I found a melted piece of chocolate down the arm of my couch the other day," Yevtaliya is the first to pipe up.
"What kind of chocolate was it?" I ask her.
"It was a Suvorovsky bonbon," she answers me in a dreamy voice. "I love Suvorovsky bonbons. They're the best."
"Don't tell me you ate it," Zina closes her eyes.
"Well, what else was I gonna do with it – stick it up my ass?" Talya looks at her with genuine confusion in her eyes.
"How long was it down the couch for?" I ask.
"Only a couple of hours," Talya shrugs. "Mama loves Suvorovsky bonbons too, and she bought some for me too as a treat."
"Alright, we can forgive you for it, then," says Sveta.
"Hey, Sonya, you alright?" Talya finally notices that I've been shaking for about five minutes. "You feelin' cold or something?"
"No, it's all good, it's ... it's all fine," I tell her. "Say, you still got that number twenty-nine?"
"Uh, sure!" she reaches into her bag once more and pulls out that baconnaise cheeseburger she offered as compensation for me paying for her feast earlier.
"Thanks," I say as I take it. My breathing is much calmer now and I'm not shaking so much.
Sveta glances over to me, and it doesn't take much more than that to realise what had happened. She gives me a look as if to ask if I want to talk about it. I respond with a smile and open up the newly acquired box to the delicious smell of fast food. I tell you, there's nothing like a culinary catastrofuck to distract me from thoughts of bloodlust...
I found out later that evening that Johan had to pull some strings to bail us out after those skinheads I mentioned earlier turned up at the pharmacy looking for us. He told me it was so tempting to just tell the lot of 'em to fuck off – and we know he and his boys have the firepower to see that they do. But the Chasos buy quite a bit of his merch. So, as a gesture of goodwill, he gave the three kids five hundred rubles each and a fifty-percent discount for the gang the next time they come around to buy.
Looks like I'll be working double-time to make it up to him.