Diffused light tinged with red filtered into the narrow passage, hazy with smoke, setting the scene for what would forever be known to us as The Red Den of Sin– The doorway to everything and nothing I’d expected.
There was no decor save the bodies snaked with tattoos and little more strewn about on minimal furniture in various poses only the drunk and drugged can manage.
The red light was like a beacon for runaways, escapees, and every other sort of societal renegade sampling newfound freedom, including a corner table of card players who managed to flick a glance from protecting their stash of rubles to us as we arrived overdressed and unprepared in the doorway.
In an opposing corner, the Shadow Man stood detached from the scene with his back to us, identified only by the cigarette smoke curling above his head as he spoke with a man sitting before him whose face we also could not see.
Harsh Russian words exchanged over the music, causing quite a few curious eyes to slink our way and hold with interest, perhaps (I imagined) even hunger.
The Red Den of Sin: Enter at your own Risk
Only moments before we’d stood in an abandoned room full of shadows, a room we never should’ve stumbled upon behind a blood red door.
The Shadow Man had watched us for an unknown period of time before he uncurled from the far wall in a lanky, unhurried manner, the luxury of a man with no cares and fewer concerns. Only the halo of smoke gave his position away as he stepped into the shadows.
For a moment, his silhouette hung in the dim light and his head cocked at an angle in what could only be an indication we should follow.
Then, he was gone.
We would’ve taken the opportunity to instead beat a retreat through the red door had it not crept shut with a solid “click” just then. Someone grabbed for the door knob too late and it rattled uselessly in its cradle though not quite as loudly as Betty Lou’s resounding, “Shit!”
Despite the warning I heard Captain Dave sounding behind me, I felt responsible for getting us into this and thus, responsible for getting us out.
I went where The Shadow Man had gone.
Into the Dark
His trail was not hard to follow for one accustomed to the punk scene whose signature was black ink, smoke and shades of indifference.
Snippets of unintelligible language mixed with a familiar rising tempo prompted me to take a hearty gulp of Stoli’s nearly as large as Betty Lou’s (okay, maybe twice as large).
Drinking Russian Vodka when offered was a sign of comradeship–
At least we all had that going for us.
And maybe a few American dollars.
Plus Captain Dave’s leather flight jacket.
The point is, we had things to barter with. The Underground existed because it embraced what societal norms did not and here in the Far East Bank of Russia? That was us.
We were Westerners in fucking Siberia, the last place to feel the hammer and sickle of Communism lift its oppressive shadow. We had all deadheaded up to Alaska on a flight the day before (yesterday?) from California and I still had the tan under some pretty heavy eyeliner to prove it.
Now, here I was on a strange planet trapped in the Russian Underground and what in the name of freedom were the Reds listening to?
Depeche Mode. Like, total 80s music they were probably just hearing for the first time.
I knew every damned word and I was ready to belt out the lyrics and sing for our freedom if I had to, God Bless America!
Yea, you know the Stoli’s was doing its job and doing it far better than a rational mind ever could.
I think that’s right about when the crew caught up with me, having another drink in celebration of what the Stoli’s had revealed.
Into The Red Den of Sin
More Stoli’s seemed like a good idea but a better one came and that’s how I found myself charging into The Red Den of Sin. The scene unfolded before me in surreal fashion, like an old black and white film splattered with blood rolling across the lens of my vision in slow motion.
I moved toward one of the few tables and plunked down the Stoli bottle as if it was a
Despite my healthy buzz there was plenty enough to share and I suppose the crew figured it was probably the one good idea I’d had since coming upon this place (I did see Betty Lou take another slug and Abi, not a big drinker, did the same).
One by one they plunked their bottles on the table with mine.
Only the First Officer Steve held back which was good thinking on his part in terms of crew resources — We’d definitely need some for the pain if things went sideways.
About this time, Captain Dave might’ve stepped forward with a mask of bravado to offer a perfectly plausible explanation for our presence except the man we could not see stood up. He moved out of the shadows toward us.
I expected some sort of Godfather figure and much like The Red Den of Sin, he was both everything and nothing I expected.
If I didn’t think I was in love before, I certainly was now despite the fact he looked angry, if not outright dangerous.
It was Gabe.