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Short Stories


By September 19, 2022September 23rd, 2022No Comments


‘What do you think?’

We were walking down from Kiev Street towards Chui Prospekt and down through the trees of Panfilov Park on our way back to the hotel. Questioning Sayara had left me feeling claustrophobic, in need of air and exercise to clear my head. I scuffed the fallen leaves with my boots, wondered how long it would be before the winter descended upon us.

‘As rapes go, it could have been worse,’ I said, ‘She wasn’t stabbed, cut, beaten to death.’

Saltanat stopped me, grabbed my arm, swung me round to look into her eyes. Her face was tight with anger. The snow flurries had died down, but the wind still lashed across our faces.

‘What do you mean, ‘could have been worse’?’ she spat, ‘What the fuck would you know about it? Only an idiot or a man would say that.’

I prised her fingers from my sleeve, confronted her rage full on.

‘She’s breathing, she’s not brain-dead, the rape kit showed the men used condoms, so she’s hopefully not infected with some disease or pregnant. Most important of all, she’s not on one of Usupov’s morgue slabs waiting for his scalpel to turn her into butchers’ meat. That’s what could have been worse. And believe me, I’ve seen it. More than I care to remember, more than my nightmares allow me to forget.’

Saltanat stared at me, unblinking, finally let her eyes drop. It was probably the gusts of wind and the dust they kicked up that made them water.

‘I know it’s a terrible thing,’ I said, ‘But there was something not quite right about her story.’

I held up my hand to stop Saltanat from speaking, or more probably, beating the shit out of me.

‘I know the rape happened, just as she said, but I had the feeling she hadn’t told us the complete story, that there were one or two details missing in her account.’

Saltanat stared at me, suspicious but also knowing I was a good cop, one who’d conducted thousands of interviews, trained to spot a lie or a conflict with the evidence. Any detective will tell you there’s an inner nerve that vibrates when something feels wrong, when you’re only hearing part of the truth. It might be a pause, a change in body language, a sense of things being covered up.

‘Go on,’ Saltanat said.

‘Good security in the building, probably why the assassination took place in the car park, right?’

‘I guess so. Good for a quick getaway, no lifts or stairs to worry about.’

‘But why did Sayara let the men into the apartment?’ I asked.

‘She thought it was Husan coming home.’

‘And she didn’t look through the spyhole? I don’t know what it’s like in Tashkent, but here in Bishkek, nobody just opens the door without checking first. Nobody, no matter how rich they are, how much security their building has.’

‘Not even once?’

I shook my head. I’d made that mistake once before, in Kuala Lumpur, and it nearly got both of us killed.

‘Everyone locks their door, when they enter, when they leave. Steel doors that can’t be smashed open. Triple locks, spyholes. Some people have security cameras outside with video screens inside. It’s just how it is here.’

‘So what are you saying?’ Saltanat demanded.

‘I can’t prove it, not yet,’ I said, ‘But I think she knew the men who killed her husband.’

Back at the hotel, we sat at the outside bar, sheltered from the wind. Saltanat drank a bottle of Baltika beer while I treated myself to sparkling mineral water. She hadn’t spoken since we arrived back, an air of distance a wall between us. She picked at the beer label with her nail, prising fragments of paper onto the bar top. I didn’t say anything; I knew trying to convince her that I was right would only antagonise her. Better to let her reach the same conclusions as me, and then we could move forward.

‘We’ll have to go back, talk to Sayara again,’ I said.

Saltanat shook her head.

‘She’s family. I won’t have her badgered and questioned like a criminal, not until you’ve got something concrete to back up your crazy idea.’

‘Imagine it could have played out like this,’ I said, keeping my voice calm rational.

‘They’ve been married a long time. Maybe he played around, he had the money. Maybe he stopped paying attention to her, she got bored. Rich housewife at home alone a lot. Nothing to do all day but spend money on designer clothes. She meets someone. Maybe he sees her and is smitten. Maybe it’s a set-up. It doesn’t really matter.’

I paused, took another sip of my water. The memory of an ice-cold vodka seemed impossibly far off, irresistibly near.

‘He’s a younger man, handsome, charming. He doesn’t hide his interest, but he’s not pushy. Wants to know her as a friend, tells her she’s fascinating, a remarkable woman.’

‘This is all a bit male fantasy psychology, don’t you think?’ Saltanat said, dismissing my theory with the same energy she put into tearing the beer bottle label into strips.

‘It’s a theory, that’s all, speculation. Maybe I’m just passing the time, ok?’

Saltanat put the beer bottle to her lips, swallowed.

‘It’s a second chance for her, true happiness like a beacon on the horizon,’ I said, ‘Aren’t we all looking for second chances?’

Saltanat refused to meet my eyes. I thought about reaching over to take her hand, decided against it.

‘Only one obstacle in the way of true happiness. Good old Husan. Good provider, but the spark died a long time ago. Loverboy says leave it to him, he’ll sort it out, deal with her husband.’

Saltanat shook her head, clearly unimpressed by my theory.

‘Ok, maybe the marriage had gone stale. Whose marriage doesn’t after a few years?’

Not mine, I thought, kept it to myself.

‘That doesn’t remotely mean she wants him dead,’ Saltanat continued, ‘A divorce, maybe? There would be enough money in the bank, all civilised, a terrible pity but people grow apart. Why risk prison, why stain your hands with murder?’

‘I’m not saying Sayara wanted him dead. But think about this. We know that Husam did some dodgy business, walked the fine line between big bank deposits and a small cell in a penal colony. What if Sayara didn’t want Husam dead, but Loverboy did?’

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