The tip of the cigar glowed under the darkness of the city smog.
With the strong cloud cover, the usual brightness of the city that glowed under the stars, was dimmed and could only shine under the power of its grid.
Overlooking the entire landscape, stood Raphael Silverburn, at the precipice of the roof, his left forearm stretched along the thin silver railing, as he leaned and exhaled rich Cuban smoke out of his mouth.
The roof itself, was an extraordinary testament to the contemporary style of modern architecture, a near completely obsidian affair that merged glass, metal and stone seamlessly to create an incredibly rich, sleek effect. The dark pool was infinite in its’ concept, taking up a North to South strip, allowing guests to swim to the very edge of the glass on either side of the building, and feel like they were floating above the city. Piercing lights accentuated the ripples and flow of the water.
In the centre, was an all glass room, that housed the upper bar, storage area for deck chairs, towels, and other necessities. It was the island in the middle of the pool, with a central staircase, and four compass point pathways that lead to ends of the roof.
The entire design was disconcerting, disorienting and offered little consolation to anyone but the architect himself, Raphael. He himself, was standing at the North East corner of the roof, a glass of Japanese whiskey beside him, on a permanent cigar/drink stand that was styled in a black wolf howling, in which the outstretched jaws would hold his whiskey glass.
At 2 metres and 9 centimetres tall, Raphael cut a monstrous figure in his bespoke suit, with a physique resembling that of a professional fighter. His arms were cast of granite, his legs resembled tough California Redwood trees, and his chest threatened to darken the sun above most people’s head in conversations.
Silverburn’s face was no different either, with a serious, perpetually cruel expression across a chiselled jawline, complete with a highly masculine cleft in his chin. His mouth was a thin line, that barely spoke, and his patrician nose gave rise to exceptionally bright blue eyes, that were offset by dark raven hair, kept tight and neat by an undercut hairstyle.
His complexion was genuinely well tanned, a result of his younger years spent endlessly outdoors, chasing the rush that was the Iron Man Competition in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, being a multiple podium finisher, as well as 4x winner. Even still to this day, Raphael would train consistently, pleased that he was still able to finish the gruelling triathlon in a relatively competitive fashion, despite his encroaching age.
Glancing out at the neighbouring skyscraper, Raphael noted the curious flashes that were coming the 20th floor, illuminating the rooms with brilliant spots of light. Each spark would be tempered with a tinge of red that left little to the imagination of the initiated.
Picking up a pair of binoculars, Raphael Silverburn focused the lens to pierce through the darkened glass of the skyscraper and smiled cruelly as he watched a pane of glass become splattered with crimson flecks.
Checking his expensive Omega watch, with its dark Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional face, Raphael noted the time and placed the binoculars down, to look across the more North West corner of his roof.
Whilst the explosion of the car could not be heard, the dark, oily, black plume of smoke that rose lazily into the skyline of the city was unmistakable. Below him, sirens blared angrily, as police and fire brigade units rushed to the site of carnage, their blue and red lights reflecting brilliantly across the lower levels of the city’s buildings.
Raphael turned sharply on his heels and meandered across to the South side of the roof, casting his sapphire eyes over at the easterly direction. There, he noted through his binoculars that a certain office complex was now ablaze, some distance away. It was burning with a fury, accelerated in its’ anger by strategically placed gasoline. Silverburn could even almost see a figure on his knees, in supplication before the might of the flames that threatened to consume him.
A secondary explosion deep within the guts of the office complex soon enveloped the figure, and there was nothing left of him to bear witness to the effigy of sabotage.
Fool thought Silverburn. He was quite fond of the building and its’ art deco architecture. The combination of handsome limestone and modernist style with curves meeting clean panes of glass was attractive and striking.
More’s the pity thought Silverburn pragmatically, his mind instantly dismissing the sentiment, as he glanced at his watch, turning his attention west.
In another building neighbouring his, Silverburn cast his eyes upwards as he noted a helicopter begin its descent to the roof of the building. To his amusement, he watched as the door opened, and with almost comical timing, a very large, man, in a pin-stripe suit fell out into open space.
His suit flapping wildly, his hands grabbing at nothing, with his cane falling at the same pace as he was, the mob boss sunk like a stone, for all 35 floors. He behaved like a beetle, helpless on its back, scrabbling at nothing at all, his desperate scream transforming into a wail as his terror reached a feverish pitch.
The amalgamation of his weight, speed and velocity in which he struck the ground, almost vaporised the corpse upon impact, the skin lying loosely, broken in a million places, torn in a thousand others and now stretched across a pavement that was swiftly emptied as citizens ran in every direction horrified by the sudden appearance of a concrete pancake.
Pleased with all the work performed in the space of 20 minutes, in all compass points, Silverburn retired back to his North East corner and washed the taste of victory with a deep exhalation of cigar smoke. He stood there, still, against the railing, pondering when exactly his phone would erupt in a flurry of calls.
Within 15 minutes, his phone had buzzed a total of 4 times. Each of them were ignored, and then it would vibrate again, as a text message would enter the ether of digital communication. Raphael Silverburn didn’t bother to answer any of them. They would soon be marching here, upon this roof.
As the last vibration ended on his phone, Silverburn walked back to the glass room, and pressed a single button.
Yeah boss? answered his right hand man.
Company will be arriving soon.
Understood. replied his consigliere curtly.
Silverburn looked down at the table, at the array of drinks, weapons and cigars. Plucking an elegant Heckler & Koch P30 off the table, Silverburn loaded in a magazine, before slipping on a large belt with an array of equipment, from spare magazine holders to first aid kits. Adjusting his blazer, so that it sat loosely over the belt, Silverburn tucked the P30 into the holster on the belt, and picked up a large futuristic looking HK433 rifle, with a holographic sight, magnifier, laser designator and a torch attached to the rails.
With a smooth precision that suggested long experience, Raphael tucked in a magazine, pulled the charging handle, and closed the dust cover, before looking through the red circle and dot combination that came with all EOTech sights. Pleased that the torch was also working, as well as his red visible laser, Silverburn set the rifle down and poured himself a single finger of vodka.
Savouring the burn as the still, clear liquid woke his senses, Silverburn slung the HK433 around his shoulder and under his arm, and moved to the edge of the roof once more.
Flicking the magnifier to the holographic sight, he looked down at the street, some 30 floors below and noted the huge array of vehicles that were coming in.
With amusement, he also noted how the 4 different directions in which they were all coming in by, represented each faction.
Without fear, Silverburn waited a bit longer for them to get closer, before flicking the safety off his rifle.
Controlled aggression were the words that entered Silverburn’s mind as he placed 2 rounds into each bonnet of the lead cars, before stepping back to enjoy the show, letting the rifle hang loosely by his side and picking up the binoculars atop the wolf stand.
Predictably, the Triads were the first to scramble out, as they pulled over in their large SUVs and piled out of the car, staring to the west at the Hell’s Angels who were now dismounting their big bikes, submachine guns in hand.
As the firefight erupted between the two, the MS-13 gang rolled up slowly with their low-slung cars, laughing at the eruption of violence in front of them. Unbeknownst to them, directly opposite, on the south side, were the incoming Bratva mob of Russian fame. They were all driving in with modified Mercedes sedans, their leather jackets barely concealing their illicit weapons.
Silverburn waited with all the patience of a saint, letting the firefight between the 14K and the Angels to reach a crescendo, before aiming the red dot upon a pair of MS-13 gangsters.
He had barely registered their slumped bodies, when he flicked the sight over at the Bratva and took out their lieutenant who was ordering the troops to take cover and was in the midst of riling up their spirits with a pompous speech.
The shocked face of the lieutenant as two 5.56mm rounds punched their way through the top of his skull and exited out his chin, caused all around him to yell in shock and the man’s body had barely hit the floor, when the Bratva looked across at saw the Chinese, Angels and Latin Americans staring at them.
Within seconds, bodies dropped faster than they had ever had in the city’s history, as a full internecine war broke amongst all the biggest gangs. The gunfire was beyond immense, the sound reverberating across corridors of wind and concrete, punctuated only by the screams and groans of the dying and wounded.
What was a formidable force, eager for revenge from each respective gang had now turned into a desperate race for survival and pure bloody-mindedness. There was no retreating, no escaping. Insanity now ruled the area.
Each man with a gun in his hand, was now beyond rational thought. All that was left in his mind was a singular thought: kill or be killed. The moment the weapon went empty, they would fumble for a reload and aim in three directions. To the front, to the left and to the right. When no magazine was forthcoming, they would pick a fresh gun off their dead comrades and use it instead.
The 14K was now whittled down to 2 men scrambling for cover behind a BMW SUV.
The Hell’s Angels had fared the worst, with only 1 surviving member of their chapter, hidden by his large Harley Davidson and the corpses of his brothers.
The MS-13 had 4 men, one of whom was gravely wounded and was doing his best to arm a grenade.
The Bratva were survived only in name by 3 soldiers, their weapons being the biggest of the 4 gangs, and now dominating the field with overwhelming firepower.
It was then, within the space of a single breath, the second last 14K was killed by an unknown shot, of unknown origin.
Another exhalation, and the MS-13 man fumbling with the grenade was shot before he could throw it. As 2 of them tried to retrieve him, they too were shot efficiently, with no wastage of time.
The Bratva stared, confused, before 3 of them died, in the time it took the mind to register that the shots were coming from above.
As the last shot rang out, Silverburn’s consigliere with his small squad of men. walked out of the building that had bared witness to the horrific carnage, and swiftly disarmed all of the last remaining survivors, cuffing them tightly with cable ties and dragging them yelling and kicking into the lobby.
Whilst the consigliere stood with the prisoners, the rest of the men walked out and systematically killed the wounded. Singular shots rang out, as coup de grace headshots were delivered dispassionately, the pleas for mercy or assistance ignored with a pithy scorn.
As the men began to collect weapons in garbage bags, the rumbling of 2 large garbage trucks came barrelling out docking bay of Silverburn’s building, the professional cleaners wrapping up bodies in cellophane and assisting the squad of men with the clean-up.
A few minutes later, they were joined by a convoy of tow trucks that began the slow work of removing all the vehicles involved in the carnage. Millions of shattered glass shards were swept up into bags, alongside thousands of shell casings. Each man and woman that worked the scene was silent, focused and fastidious. They were all professionals, used to Silverburn’s methods and unfazed by the daunting nature of the work. Each person was loyal to a fault and prided themselves on being able to work efficiently and effectively to Silverburn’s ever constant watch.
To be late, or slow in their job, was akin to career suicide. Livelihoods depended on the second hand of Silverburn’s expensive watch and it was to be said, that the last person Raphael had to fire was over 5 years ago.
Naturally, his body was removed by the men and women that were still serving.
The warning was enough.
Don’t be late and you will be rewarded well.
Those words echoed in the consigliere’s mind as he lead the 4 remaining survivors into the elevator that would take him to the infinity pool, where Silverburn was waiting.
He had served Raphael loyally for over 10 years now. Each operation undertaken by the pair was meticulous in its detail and near flawless in its execution. For many years, they had toiled together silently, efficiently and effectively. To announce themselves on the map with such a strong show of force was beyond a statement.
It was an affirmation of their inner belief, that the city needed a better class of criminal.
Silverburn’s outfit was to be that new yardstick in which all would be measured.
However, even this plan confused the faithful consigliere. There seemed to be a strange personal touch to it all. An air of distrust and secrecy, that only Raphael could answer. When the consigliere received the orders, he was incredulous. Such bold action invited challenge and a desire to finally throw away the cloak and dagger the two had long wielded for something much sharper and simultaneously blunt.
Despite his misgivings though, the consigliere did as he was asked. His belief in Silverburn was unshakeable. His boss had never once led the organisation astray. He wouldn’t know how to. Privately, later, when they shared a drink, the consigliere would ask what was the motive behind such blunt action. But for now, he would do as he was told and to the minute.
The elevator doors silently rushed open and the consigliere deposited the four wretched survivors at the base of the bar, where Silverburn looked over at them dispassionately. Nodding his thanks, he raised two elegant fingers and waved them in a circular motion.
The consigliere nodded, bowed and made his way downstairs to commence phase 2.
Looking down at the four men that kneeled before him with hatred in their eyes, Silverburn calmly looked at each gangster in their eyes, seeing their defiance slowly melt into confusion, as each man failed to recognise the impressive giant specimen before them. His sheer size and physique dwarfed theirs and when Silverburn laid a hand on their shoulder, almost placatingly, there seemed to be a huge weight pressing down on their bodies.
Fear instead replaced rebellion. They had all realised that this man who stood before them, was a complete mystery. None of them had heard of him, seen him before or could work out any angle that they could exploit. He didn’t belong to any of their crowd. He was a cut above. A figure even more terrifying than their bosses.
Raphael Silverburn, for all intent and purposes, appeared like an angel of death to them. He had just orchestrated a symphony of death, that had laid waste to the best of their respective forces. Who else could wield such power? Nothing mortal. The giant before them, had to have some kind of supernatural ability. Perhaps he was a descendant of a god?
As each man struggled to come up with conclusions about Silverburn, Raphael continued to silently stare at them all, with no emotion etched across his face. He was as still and mysterious as the Sphinx and nothing else unnerved a gangster more than a person who refuses to display any sign of emotion.
Gangsters by and large, run the gambit of emotions every day. They are thin-skinned, prone to violence and enjoy giving in to emotional whims. This is a result of the environment in which they are grown in, and the scarce hold on life they possess. When you live life on the edge constantly, it is the heart that dictates what the body needs. The brain merely acts as a tool to fulfill that heart’s desire.
Steal, kill, rape, burn, punch …. all of these actions are a direct extension of a heart’s too afraid of death that awaits it around the corner of a house.
To be confronted by a man, with complete mastery over his emotions, especially anger, is as terrifying to a gangster, as a hunter face to face with a vicious tiger that has the drop on him.
A mixture of fear, respect, and the sensation that you have finally fired your last round and nothing will prevent the jaws and fangs from closing over your head.
The 14K Triad kept his eyes downcast unable to match the intensity of the ocean blues that stared coldly back at him. His mind was full of regret and contemplation of the past. He was ashamed of himself.
The Bratva tried to hold an air of superiority, as if his belief in his gang would protect him. The sweat on his forehead betrayed his demeanour. Vengeance filled his mind. One day, this giant would get his and he would be the one to pull the trigger.
The MS-13 gangbanger counted the number of tattoos on his arms, and wondered if he would be accepted into heaven or hell. He was mentally preparing himself for death, but in spite of this, he was afraid. He wasn’t ready, he still had so much to do.
The Hell’s Angel was the most nervous of them all, his stomach already churning through his poor diet and health. Without his fellow bikers, he was powerless. His imagination ran wild, conjuring up all sorts of torture and horrific ways to go. His heart pounded away, almost bringing him to a cardiac arrest.
Raphael Silverburn remained motionless and silent, his eyes probing each man, studying their psyche and taking mental notes. This continued for a long hour, the atmosphere thick and intense with fear and terror, all 5 men not saying a word.
It was then, at precisely the end of the hour, Silverburn looked at his watch and cast an eye at the elevator, which opened seamlessly, before the minute hand completed its’ revolution.
The consigliere entered once more, with 4 more men. Without a word, he placed each respective man in front of their surviving member. Their backs were towards Silverburn, and they could only stare at their underlings.
The survivors’ eyes widened in shock, as they beheld their bosses. Each man was cable tied similarly to them, their clothes bedraggled and there were red marks from repeated beatings.
Despite their appearance though, their bosses were still angry, indignant even. These powerful men were still under the assumption that they were Kings. Not reduced to the peasantry that had died under their watches. This rebellious attitude sparked the flame of loyalty and hope in the survivors.
Then, Silverburn spoke.
His speech was one of a natural orator. Time itself slowed when Silverburn spoke. The deep intonation, the clear pronunciation and slow delivery of each word held weight. His accent was mysterious, and an amalgamation of English intelligence, American charm and a hint of Russian gutturals.
He chose only to address survivors.
Doubtless, you are all wondering why I have chosen to take up arms against your respective gangs.
Money? Power? Malice? Godhood?
I have no aspirations in any of those ambitions. Your bosses knew that already. I was a rising player in the their game, but had no part to play against or for them. They have heard of me and the power I possess over the city. Yet they kept me a secret, because it galled them to admit that they have lost control over their regions.
Pride prevented them from reaching out to each other in the spirit of cooperation, to crush the common threat; me. Had they swallowed their differences, the corpses of your fallen brothers would not be liquefied and instead you would be enjoy a different type of liquor at each other’s expense. It would be I, who would be disappearing into the depths of criminal history. No one would remember my name. Your respective gangs would have continued your foolish quests and charades none the wiser.
But your bosses fucked up. They did not obey the rules. If you need to injure someone, do it in such a way you do not have to fear their vengeance.
Had they merely left me alone, I would have responded in kind. But your bosses crossed the line. They stole something from me that cannot be replaced. Something so severe and precious that it forced me to shed my cloak of anonymity and placed me into the light of the damned.
However, such matters do not concern you. All that matters is what you shall do next. I am offering you a choice. Please, make a decision within the next minute.
Silverburn nodded at the consigliere and the bonds of the survivors were cut off. As they massaged their sore wrists, Silverburn stood in front of them and placed in front of them, 4 knives.
Then he stood back and watched impassively as the 4 survivors ran through an entire roller-coaster of emotions, as they beheld their bosses’ eyes which were now devoid of defiance and have been replaced with terror and pleas.
Confusion, Gravitas, Fear and Hope. The most toxic combination of emotions that one could experience in a minute.
After half a minute had passed, it dawned on each survivor that Silverburn expected them to slay their bosses, in the tradition of Cain and Abel. Each survivor stared at each other, unwilling to make a choice or a move, unwilling to look at their bosses who were now screaming behind muffled mouths.
They looked at Silverburn who stared back impassively and merely counted down the seconds in his head.
Then the MS-13 gang member stood before his boss and plunged the knife into the man’s throat, arterial blood spraying out and onto the MS-13’s face. He stared at his boss’ eyes, watching the light slowly fade from them, a manic look on his face. He staggered back, unable to comprehend what he had just done, as the body slowly keeled over to the side.
The Hell’s Angel stood frozen in fear as he was unable to move. He could not believe what had just happened. The knife felt like a leaden weight in his hands.
With a vicious war cry, the Bratva copied the movements of his MS-13 counterpart and almost hacked his boss’ head clean off, the knife slicing through the entire throat, causing the remaining skin to fray and tear apart from the weight of the head, as it toppled over, the silent scream behind the mob boss’ eyes captured forever, as it rolled on the floor.
The 14K Triad exploded into action, his hands a blur as he rushed towards Silverburn, a desperate scream cutting through the air, as he moved the knife towards Silverburn’s stomach.
With a speed and ferocity that could only come from a professional fighter, Silverburn brushed aside the outstretched knife hand with a casual bat of his hand, and moved towards the 14K gangster, shortening the distance between them.
As the gangster reacted in surprise at Silverburn’s move, Raphael slammed the hard, callused edge of his hand into the man’s throat, crushing his larynx, causing all oxygen to disappear from his brain.
As the 14K Triad staggered back, Silverburn gripped his neck in a vise-like grip and staring at the boss, shattered all the vertebrae and brittle bones in the gangster’s neck with a sickeningly audible crack.
Without pausing, Silverburn allowed the limp corpse to drop, and without mercy, picked up the knife and stabbed both the boss’ eyes out, before sticking the knife in the man’s throat and coldly allowing the man to bleed out, as he screamed in agony.
Silverburn walked behind the desk and looking at the frozen Hell’s Angel who had still not made a decision, picked up his P30 pistol and blew the brains out of the survivor, with two precise shots that were millimetres apart on his forehead.
He then shifted his aim, and executed the Hell Angel’s captive boss in the traditional Russian way, with 3 bullets into the back of the head, so that the face could no longer be identified once the rounds exited out the other side.
A punishment even beyond death.
Silverburn looked at the two surviving men, The MS-13 gangster whose chest was heaving from the emotional exertions and furious attempts to wipe the blood of his deceased boss off his face. The Bratva, recognising the execution method, merely stared, shell-shocked at Silverburn, before going down on one knee, in subservience.
Silverburn did not acknowledge the gesture, but merely turned around and proceeded to wipe the blood off his hands at the bar.
The consigliere cuffed both survivors once more, before escorting them out of the building and allowing them to walk away, into an unknown future with an envelope stuffed with bills. He waited until they were out of sight before taking a small cigarette break, for precisely 2 minutes. His hands trembled slightly as he lit the cigarette up and the consigliere scowled at his weakness.
As he climbed into the faithful elevator once more, the consigliere took a ragged breath of clean air, before exiting out onto the infinity roof. In the 4 minutes he had been away, the bodies and blood had already been cleared away and it was just the solitary figure of Silverburn staring out at the cityscape, a whiskey glass atop the wolf’s head once more.
Looking at the bar, the consigliere moved towards the glass of whiskey that Silverburn had made for him, and paused slightly at the neat handwritten note on the napkin left behind. Alongside the note, was the key to a safe that the consigliere knew contained several gold ingots.
The consigliere stared at the figure of his own boss and wondered whether he could do the same as the men did today. Then he realised, he couldn’t. If anything, he would reverse the knife and plunge it into his own stomach before betraying Raphael Silverburn.
He raised a glass to the figure that stood at the edge of the roof, downed the whiskey, before walking back towards the elevator. As he turned, the consigliere saw a small framed photo of a woman tucked away in the corner of the bar.
She was dark, beautiful, mysterious and had an ethereal quality to her.
Disturbed by this new knowledge and aware of what Silverburn had said in his speech earlier, the consigliere gave a sad glance at the giant man on the precipice of infinity and left his boss alone, to grieve.
Originally inspired by a youtube musical compilation that described itself as A playlist for a 19th century villain plotting their revenge this story has evolved into a very long and surprisingly difficult piece to write, with many stop/start attempts over the course of 2 weeks.
I genuinely struggled to create Raphael Silverburn as a formidable character, as the idea of creating a story with the villain as the protagonist proved to be very challenging. I wanted him to be cruel, dark and yet possess some attractive magnetism that is crucial for any main character for a reader to identify with.
I didn’t want to make his motive as simple either, but struggled to find some real emotional hook as to why he was doing the things he was. In the end, the slain spectre of a lover is still something we can all semi-relate to, so I ended up making it more of a mystery why he was performing such wickedness.
I modelled much of the roof setting on the scene in the first John Wick film, where Viggo has his first discussion with Aurelio regarding the physical punishment of his son. I was struck by the lighting, setting and reflective nature in that scene and wanted to emulate such lonely luxury for Silverburn, only with a slightly more Blade twist to it (recall the strange penthouse sequence with Deacon Frost and the vampire familiar).
As an amateur architecture critic, I have always long admired luxury hotels and their infinity pools and I thought of no better way to capture existential loneliness than to depict a single person standing by one, using it for the adverse purpose of internal reflection, when in reality, infinity pools are celebratory in nature.
I would also like to point out, I took elements of Jack Reacher, Mr Big (in the Bond novel, Live and Let Die) and Viggo Tarasov for the characterisation of Raphael Silverburn. The name itself, had to be intriguing as with all villains, and the only way I came up with it, was by researching old English ancestral names, and then playing on the words that were suggested.
Silverburn is completely made up, but has such a lovely way of rolling off the tongue, so I kept it, whilst Raphael is taken from my favourite quartet of names in any mythology; the archangels – Michael, Raphael, Uriel and Gabriel.
This proved long to write, standing proud at 5111 including this note, but I am glad it eventually came to fruition. I hope you enjoyed it!