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By July 4, 2022No Comments


The window at the far side of the room shattered, and slivers of glass cascaded like ice across the floor. Arctic air slammed into the room, as the curtains billowed inwards. It’s at moments like that when your training and reflexes kick in. Even before the first burst had finished, Saltanat was on her feet, reaching for the gun she kept on the bedside table. She aimed her gun at the door; no point in aiming through the window. Anyone who was going to attack would have to come up the stairs, unless they wanted to risk climbing a ladder to the first floor.

Saltanat passed the gun to me, and I waited for the door to explode inwards, watching as she quickly pulled on sweat pants and tee shirt. I passed the gun back to her, did the same, took my Makarov from the shelf above the bed. At close range, if I could see their eyes open in surprise, or even terror, I was as good a shot as I’d ever been.

I crawled towards the door, not caring if the glass splintered there carved up my knees, dragging smears of blood across the floor. Given the amount of A+ I’d recently lost, I decided a little more spillage wouldn’t be the end of the world.

‘Get Otabek,’ I mouthed to Saltanat, but she was already on her way, crouched low, barefoot and uncaring about the glass everywhere. I duck walked out of the room, waited at the top of the stairs. The main door had been locked and bolted when we went to bed, but from the sounds of it, someone was using a police-issue battering ram to smash through the locks. Not professionals; it’s always easier and quicker to smash out the hinged side of a door. They seemed to be making a good job of it through, and I flinched as the door gave way, followed by a fusillade of bullets.

Again, not the work of professionals; it might be what happens in the movies, but in real life, you don’t empty your gun at a target you can’t see. Do that and while you’re reloading, someone smarter than you steps out of cover, takes aim and puts three rounds in a tight circle into your chest.

Right now, I had no way of knowing who we were up against, or how many. The only advantage I had was that I was shooting down, while whoever appeared in the hallway would be shooting up. Amateurs usually fire high, and the recoil drags their arm up higher. I didn’t care if they blew the ceiling about me into a blizzard of plaster; it would only make me harder to target, and I needed all the help I could get.
A mirror on a rod emerged in the doorway, tilted upwards to try and spot me. The problem with those is that you need to look pretty closely at the image to make any sense of what’s going on. I aimed, fired a single shot that shattered the glass. The rod dropped to the tiled floor and a scream bounced off the walls. Sometimes you get lucky and the bullet ricochets into the body of the spotter. Other times, the flying glass carves your initials into his face, perhaps blinds him, takes him out of the fight. One down, who knew how many left.

The string of curses that came up the stairs were imaginative, but I’d been called worse. Any cop who gets upset being sworn at doesn’t last very long on the streets of Bishkek, or anywhere for that matter.
I didn’t turn around as Saltanat joined me, jerked my head towards the shattered door. She nodded, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw that she’d brought an AK-47 from one of the other rooms. I should have felt pity for the men outside; in the hands of an expert like Saltanat, an AK-47 can deliver a hundred rounds in sixty seconds. All that’s left after that are shreds and gobbets of meat. I hoped there would be one person left standing who’d be able to scrape his friends off the gravel.

Another burst of gunfire tore long splinters out of the stairs and handrail, but nothing near enough to cause us problems. Saltanat pumped bullets into the doorway, and even above the noise we could hear screams of pain.

Gun smoke hung in the air and over the bannisters the way mist drapes itself over trees at dawn, the reek of cordite sour and intense rising upwards. I knew it was time for us to leave. The neighbours would have heard the firestorm, hid in their own homes, called the police. I didn’t think my new identity and passport would hold up under a police interrogation.

I looked over at Saltanat, who was holding the hand of a terrified Otabek, his eyes wide and wet with tears, his body shaking with fear. He clung to Saltanat as if the world would end if he ever let her go. I felt a sudden rage at the people who could do this to a small boy who had already suffered more pain and fear than most of us experience in a long lifetime.

Then Otabek staggered back, falling towards me. I caught him, helped him slide to the floor. As always, he didn’t speak. It was only when I looked at him, saw the wound that had torn away part of his skull, exposing a soft jelly of brains, that I realised he would never speak again.

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