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Short Stories


By November 25, 2022November 28th, 2022One Comment


‘Inspector Borubaev?’

A woman’s voice, elderly, dry, rasping and hoarse, as if she’d damaged her vocal cords after decades of shouting. I got the sense of fifty untipped cigarettes a day, a few glasses of vodka after work or maybe even during. But her tone was educated; I could tell I wasn’t dealing with some village babushka.

I looked around the coffee shop, Sierra on Manas, next to the Russian Embassy, just in case I was being watched. As far as I could tell, the only people using their phones were the staff, as usual oblivious of the queue patiently building up. Prompt service isn’t a Kyrgyz strong point.

‘Who wants to know?’ I asked.

‘You are Inspector Borubaev?’

‘Where did you get this number?’

‘I hope we’re not going to carry on dancing like this, Inspector. I have other, more important things to do with my time.’

Terse, professional. I admitted to my identity, asked for hers.

‘That’s really of no importance, Inspector.’

I said nothing, broke the connection. In my experience, if someone wants to talk to you badly enough, they’ll call back, especially if it’s to their advantage. A second later, I realised it might have ben about Saltanat, regretted being so impetuous. My phone rang again.

‘My apologies, we must have been cut off,’ I said, wondering as I did so why her voice seemed familiar.

‘Obviously,’ the woman replied, ‘I would never believe you would be so discourteous as to simply switch off.’

It was then I realised why her voice was familiar. After all, I’d heard her speaking in court often enough.

‘I assume your call is a matter of some importance,’ I said, paused, ‘Ms Sabirova.’

There was a moment’s silence. Guliya Sabirova, one of the country’s leading criminal defence lawyers, known to represent members of parliament, high-ranking government officials and, it was rumoured, the most senior members of the Circle of Brothers elite, the vor v zakone. No one ever won against Guliya Sabirova; indeed, prosecutors would often drop a case when they discovered she was on the opposing team.

A tiny bird-like woman in her mid-fifties, with the air and clothes of everyone’s favourite tetushka, this particular auntie merged seemingly total knowledge and understanding of criminal law in court with a tongue like a razor-edged whip. I was grateful I’d never had to face her cross-examination; I would only have improved her success rate. 

‘I have a client who is interested in the case you’re working on,’ she said, sounding a little surprised I recognised her voice.

‘Whose name is not material to my investigation, I presume?’ I replied.

‘Not in the slightest,’ Sabirova said, her tone telling me it would be useless to press her on the point.

‘Let me call you back from somewhere private,’ I said, switched off my phone. I did my best to collect my thoughts, lit a cigarette, jetted out the smoke towards the ceiling. Looking around, I could see several of the other customers taking offence at my unpardonable liberty, so I stubbed out the offending cancer stick on my saucer.

‘Excuse me?’

I looked up at the waitress who’d brought over my coffee. She’d exchanged the smile for a frown, looked at me as if I was a serial rapist. Slim, pretty, long dark hair dyed blonde, probably popular at college and working part-time to fund her studies or her boyfriend’s motorbike.

‘There’s a problem?’

‘This is a no-smoking area.’

She pointed at the plastic sign on my table, put one hand on her hip in exasperation. I shrugged.

‘I’m not smoking,’ I said, trying out a polite smile.

‘You were,’ she said, and her voice suggested I also kicked stray dogs in my spare time.

‘And now I’m not.’

My smile obviously wasn’t working.

‘I could call the police,’ she said, with all the offended dignity only someone in their early twenties can muster.

I couldn’t help laughing, which didn’t help matters. I watched as she took her mobile out of her pocket. Suddenly, I realised the stupidity of the situation. Saltanat was missing, perhaps dead. An almost-certainly crooked lawyer wanted to arrange some kind of deal. And a barista wanted me arrested.

‘You’re calling the police?’ I asked, my voice quiet and calm in a way that had terrified suspects down in the Sverdlovsky basement.

‘Yes,’ she said, her jaw set in righteous indignation. I could feel my temper about to explode, told myself to be calm. No advantage in shouting, causing a scene.

‘Don’t bother to call them,’ I said, ‘I’m leaving,’ throwing a five hundred som note of the table, letting her catch a glimpse of my gun. I stood up, close enough to her to make her flinch, step back. I headed for the door, turned, looked at her, saw the fear in her eyes.

‘Relax,’ I whispered, ‘I am the fucking police.’

I didn’t even bother to wait for my change; I was too busy wondering where to call Guliya Sabirova.

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