I was in the Somewhere Bistro, north side of Jibek Johlu, nursing my third Baltika Zero beer, watching the snow outside flutter aimlessly down. I wasn’t in any hurry: last night’s supper was all I had waiting for me back home.
Natasha sat behind the long wooden bar, straight black hair, more curves than a mountain road, wearing a T-shirt whose slogan I’d never tried to read beyond the first line. Probably because after that, the lettering got so much smaller.
Three kids, students, two guys and a girl, sitting further down the bar had invited me to join them, but they were too young to know anything and I was too old to care. None of us were wearing masks and the only kind of social distancing I practice is to do with preferring my own company.
I debated a fourth Baltika. And then the gunman burst in.
Young, scrawny, baseball cap the idiot way round. Terrified eyes. One of those beards that look like someone coated a length of string with glue, rolled it around the floor of a barber’s salon, then hooked it over both ears.
The Makarov in his hand shook like a pine tree in the first autumn gale. He wasn’t wearing a mask either. Just what I needed; a virgin robber, all too ready to shoot off.
We all froze like statues: I’ve never yet met a beer worth dying for. Especially a non-alcoholic one.
Natasha knew the drill, I guess it wasn’t her first time. She slid the money box onto the bartop, flipped the lid open so he could see the notes.
The boy switched his gun from left to right hand, reached out for the box. One hand for the gun, one hand for the money, but he really needed more practice to use both.
It’s not easy to half-drown someone in a squat toilet. Not easy, but not impossible, and I’ve had a little practice.
Five minutes later, flashing blue lights stained the dark outside. I looked at my watch, headed out the door, made for home. The snow was still drifting down through the glare of the streetlights. I wasn’t looking forward to eating warmed-over mutton and rice: I’ve had too much practice.
‘A KILLING WINTER’, the first in the Akyl Borubaev series of crime novels, was called ‘Even better than Child 44’ by Anthony Horowitz, and ‘storytelling of the highest quality’ by the Daily Mail. It was voted one of the top 40 crime novels of the past five years by the Sunday Times.