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Short Stories


By December 19, 2022December 26th, 2022No Comments


I knew I couldn’t call on my colleagues back at Sverdlovsky to help me out. None of them would want to be within a hundred kilometres of a missing Uzbek assassin. It was a case that reeked of possible political trouble, with maybe even the punishment of dismissal or a border crossing posting to the remote Torugart Pass, the dismal and distant route on the way to China. 

Besides that, I was supposed to be focusing on Husam Umarov’s murder, and that was without dragging his wife’s final dive into the equation. I couldn’t call in any forensic help to examine the car in which Saltanat had been sitting; alarm bells would start ringing higher up as soon as police money started being spent. Once again, it looked like I was on my own.

The taxi dropped me back at the car. Or rather, where the car should have been if I’d remembered to lock it. By now, it was probably halfway to Talas or Karakol for a quick change of number plates and an amateur spray job, cash in hand, no questions asked.

I walked through Globus Stores, found an ATM machine near the other entrance, fed it my card. A message flashed up, NO FUNDS AVAILABLE. I tried the ATM next to it, same result. Either it was a fuckup by the bank or somebody was a lot more resourceful than I’d realised. And being penniless didn’t help get Saltanat back.

In the car park, I looked around for any hint where Saltanat might have been taken, found nothing. The wind had picked up in strength, sending discarded till receipts, scraps of paper, fallen leaves into a flurry around my ankles. Grit and dust swirled in the air, stinging my eyes. Walking around, I had the same sense of dread I’d felt when walking into the hospital to see Chinara for the final time, the knowledge that time was running out, death was tracking my footsteps or perhaps even waiting for me to arrive. I felt as if I’d been bled dry by Chinara’s death, knew I couldn’t survive if the same thing happened to Saltanat and our child. My heart sent out a staccato warning, tribal drumbeats announcing a death, perhaps my own.

It was a long walk back to the hotel, but I didn’t want to spend the little cash I had on a taxi. I managed to walk as far as Frunze, decided the pain from being shot hurt too much to save a couple of hundred som, flagged down an old Moskvitch.

The driver obviously knew I’d been injured because he managed to hit every pothole and bump on the way to the Umai, until I considered putting my gun to his head and advising him to drive more carefully. Perhaps he was on a retainer from one of the local hospitals, so much for every fresh patient delivered.

Once I was back at the hotel, bruised and shaken, I found Azar in the kitchen preparing plov, borrowed a couple of thousand som from her, invested in some painkillers from the pharmacy nearby.

Getting up the stairs wasn’t a joyride, and I wondered if somehow I’d managed to get my wounds infected. Certainly my hand felt as if an elephant had danced on it. But when I got to my room, all thoughts of aches and pains were dispelled.

A pair of women’s white lace pants were draped over the door handle, a sarcastic parody of underwear thrown aside in erotic invitation. I recognised them; I’d seen Saltanat put them on only a few hours earlier. And I had a pretty good idea the blood on them was hers as well.

There was no way of finding out if the blood was Saltanat’s or not. Even if I could get the blood analysed, I didn’t know what Saltanat’s group was. I didn’t even know if the blood was human or not, a ploy designed to make me panic about her safety. I used the pencil in my pocket to unhook the pants, opened the door to my room. I couldn’t help wondering if it would ever be our room once again. 

I dropped the pants into the washbasin, tried to ignore the crimson smear that stood out against the white porcelain. It was only then I noticed the envelope slipped under the door. I looked around the room, checking if anything else had been disturbed, if a bomb had been planted somewhere. At that moment, I didn’t really care.

Inside the envelope was a store receipt. It was dated today from Globus Stores, for the purchase of razor blades. The time seemed right for Saltanat’s abduction. A way of proving it was genuine, I supposed, and the threat implied by the razor blades all too real. I wondered if they’d been used to produce the blood on the pants, pushed the thought out of my mind. What was needed was clear thinking if I was to find Saltanat.

There was a phone number on the back of the receipt, a mobile. I couldn’t get the user’s name from Sverdlovsky without raising a flag, so, just as the note intended, I made the call.

The phone rang, was answered with silence.

‘Borubaev,’ I said, my mouth dry.

‘You took your time,’ the voice said, ‘Miss Umarova won’t thank you for that.’

The words were being passed through one of those speech distortion devices that makes every word sound robotic, alters the pitch so you can’t tell whether you’re speaking to a man, woman or child, a local or a foreigner.

‘Where can we meet? And when?’ I asked, keeping my voice calm, professional. Any hint of anxiety or panic would only tell the kidnapper they’d touched a nerve, put more power in their hands.

‘All in good time, Inspector, no need to be impatient. Miss Umarova hasn’t been hurt. Yet.’

‘What is it you want? Money? On an inspector’s salary?’

‘Some of your colleagues have made a lot of money by shall we say extra-mural work.’

‘But not me,’ I said, ‘That’s why I sleep well at night.’

‘Do you, Inspector? I must say, that surprises me.’

Perhaps it was my imagination but I thought I detected mockery in the flat electronic voice.

‘No nagging pain from your wounds? No guilty conscience? No bitter regrets about those things done or left undone? How remarkable.’

‘We’re not in a bar, chatting about old times,’ I said, ‘Cut to it; what do you want?’

‘Direct. Useful in your trade, I imagine,’ the voice said, ‘Whereas I prefer a more, shall we say oblique approach.’

‘Thirty seconds and then I’m ending the call.’

There was silence on the other end, which was split by a sudden scream, cut off as if a hand had been clamped over a mouth. I could hear background traffic, the clatter of a tram, the sounds of the city.

‘I don’t respond well to threats, Inspector. But since you ask, I want information.’

‘About what?’

‘All in good time.’

And then the line went dead.

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