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By July 11, 2022No Comments


Four of them, a team. One of them would have been the driver. Confident of taking us, otherwise he’d have stayed in the car, engine running, for a quick escape. Two of them were dead, puppets with their strings severed, collapsed in the strange configurations the dead assume when the heart stops beating and the light in their eyes goes out.

The other two lay on the gravel, blood spattered around them like paint drops on an artist’s floor. The rounds from Saltanat’s Kalashnikov had hit them low, in the legs, biting lumps out of thighs, calves. One man had most of his left foot shot away, and he stared at his leg in disbelief. The other tried to stop the outburst of blood that jetted out of his thigh. For both of them, it was an end to their footballing careers.

‘You both know you’re not going to make it to a hospital in time,’ I said, and my voice had the rough, scarred quality that comes when you try to conceal a mixture of rage and grief.

‘So we can give you the best possible option,’ I said, ‘Tell me what I want to know, and it’ll be quick. Otherwise…’ I raised my gun, gave them my maddest smile.

‘For fuck’s sake, call an ambulance,’ said the man who would never need to buy more than one shoe again.

‘Secrets first,’ I said, ‘Who organised this balls up.’

Both man stayed silent.

‘I know you’re terrified of him,’ I said, But you should be terrified of me as well, and I’m the one with the gun, and I’m the one who’s here.’

Neither man spoke.

‘Still silent?’ I asked, and without turning round, shot the man with the missing foot in the face. He half-rose, then slumped back on the ground. Part of his jawbone had been hurled half a metre away, close to the wall, and stained yellow teeth snarled though the hole where his cheek had been. He obviously hadn’t been expecting to die quite so quickly, because his mouth remained open in an O of surprise even as his chest stopped rising and falling.

I looked down at the last man at my feet, raised my gun.

‘You’re going to bleed out,’ I said, as matter-of-fact as I could make it, ‘Make it easy on yourself and use your last breaths to tell me what I want to know. Who, why where. All very simple questions.’

‘You’re a cop; you’re not going to shoot a wounded man in cold blood.’

‘You’re right, I would never do that,’ I said, ‘But I’m happy to wipe a piece of shit of the face of the planet.’

He did his best to look tough to the end, but I could see the fear in his eyes, the fear we all have when suddenly we realise that our remaining time isn’t measured in decade or years, or even months or days, but in the time it takes a second hand to sweep around a watch’s face.

‘Fuck off.’

‘Profound last words,’ I said, put my hand next to the barrel of my gun, to get as little blood splatter on myself as possible. He put his hand up in front of his eyes, as if his palm could deflect a bullet. It couldn’t. His head erupted like a watermelon dropped from a fifth floor window.

I looked over at Saltanat, who was kneeling besides Orbek’s body, her face ravaged by grief. She looked up at me, and at that moment I felt more helpless and incapable than I’d felt since Chinara had died.

‘You should have let me kill him,’ she said. 

I didn’t reply.

‘I would have made it last a lot longer, made sure he suffered a great deal more,’ she said, ‘You let him off lightly.’

‘We need to get moving,’ I said, reaching down and patting the dead man’s jacket, ‘He wouldn’t tell us who sent him. Probably too scared.’

I held up his mobile.

‘But I’m sure this will tell us who he’s been reporting to, who’s been giving him orders.’

I pocketed the mobile, reached for the back door of our car.

‘I’ll go and find a blanket or something to cover him,’ I said, staring down at the little boy’s face. Strange how sometimes the dead give nothing away, but then I don’t believe we’d ever known what Orbek had been thinking. He remained as mute in death as he had been in life.

I knew we couldn’t leave him there, let him be submitted to the indignity of cameras, an autopsy, the long wait in the morgue while no one came forward to claim him, and then a simple grave in a remote corner of a cemetery, unmarked, unmourned. 

We wrapped his body, laid it out on the back seat of the car. Saltanat got into the driver’s seat, brushed something that might have been a speck of dust from her eye, turned the ignition key. I wondered why the police hadn’t arrived, decided it was a puzzle to be solved later.

‘Give me a moment,’ I said, and walked towards a tool shed in one corner of the grounds.

I was going to look for a spade. 

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