As It Seems: A Chill Semester
Nishan "Nikki Sims" Sadoyan
Nicky is a thickly built, hirsute man who stands a few inches under six feet tall. He has a perpetual five o’clock shadow even just after shaving. He looks older than he is—the life of a vagabond stray took its toll before he found his way to Hill Manor Apartments.
Nishan grew up a nomad. His father kept him moving, from one score to the next, across the rapidly changing landscape of the former Soviet Union. He sat in the back of a Lada Niva playing with toys while his father brokered drug deals in Gori. As a teen, he kept a lookout for Russian authorities while his father broke into a house in Moscow. When they came, he ran.
For a while, he bounced around the region on his own, stealing food to get by, squatting in abandoned factories and half-finished “luxury” apartment buildings. Eventually he fell into a smuggling operation and ended up on a ship bound for Canada. From there, he snuck across the border into the United States, and eventually wound up here.
Nishan tried to go legit. He called in a favor with someone he’d known in Chambarak, and got himself decent papers. He got a job, working in a convenience store on the late shift. People liked “Nicky,” and Nicky liked people. Everything was going well, life was boring and predictable and oh, so peaceful.
Until the robbery.
He was there with the fucking gun in his stupid, shaking hand. He was strung out, looking for a score. Nicky knew that was the end of it. A junky like that is more dangerous than a pro—hand over the cash and the pro’ll get the hell out without risking extra charges. “Never trust a junky, Nisha,” his father used to say, so Nicky took the gun away from him. Stupid junky. Now the cops would come, and they’d look too closely at his ID and Nishan would have to move on. Nicky pulled the would-be robber over the counter. He was still beating him when Anton, the store’s owner got there and pulled him off.
The cops never came. It turned out that the store was a front, used by Anton and his associates to launder money. Anton was, as he put it, “diversifying.” And he was impressed with Nicky’s performance. Nishan was told that the robber had died from the beating. A shame, but Anton’s friends could channel Nicky’s temper to more profitable ends.
Nicky started doing odd jobs for Anton. Nothing big, at first. Acting as a black-market gofer wasn’t what he wanted for his life in America, but got used to it. Eventually he graduated to delivering strange, locked coolers that he suspected held more than a few sodas and ice. Finally, Anton sent Nicky out to do collections. He tried to make it simple. Pay the money or get out of town, he offered, but they always strung him along. “I’ll pay you this Friday,” they’d say, but then they wouldn’t have it. They’d cajole and argue and, when that didn’t work, they’d yell at Nicky. Like he was the one who got them so far in debt to someone like his boss. Like he was hassling them, when he had tried to do them a favor. So he hurt them, like Anton wanted.
He started to get used to that, too.
As the pay got better, Nicky moved into Hill Manor Apartments. He paid his rent on time, and kept anything related to work at the convenience store in a lockbox hidden in the back of the freezer. Home was supposed to be quiet, a safe haven away from the inevitable demands Anton made on him. He wasn’t there a week before Janice started coming around, inviting him to poker games and socials. She was a nice person, and her poker game was actually kind of fun, when he could make it.
But that changed in December of 2003…
These days, Nikki keeps moving, haunted by his memories of that night. He tries to stay away from San Kaissa, but happenstance and ill luck tend to bring him back every few years.