Thursday, May 19, 2011

Afternoons in Chelyabinskaya

For a militant organization, the FSHA did its own good work. The Free Service Humanitarian Agency was nothing like its namesake and for two years out-of-work ex-servicemen, driven by a mad cause, wreaked bloody havoc on the streets of Moscow.
The problem with having to face these ex-KGB is that while you're still a recruit, they've known all the tricks for so damn long, they can predict your moves before you can say St. Peter. I sneezed slightly in the cold. It's not that I don't like the Muscovite winter, but that being stuffed into an icebox with nothing but a shirt for company does not do wonders for your nose. Or any other part of your body, either.
Bless the man who invented cigarettes. I found the vendor, my contact.
'Zdravstvujte, Vitaly. How is business?' I'd gotten the man to open up but a month past. Mother Rus has a mistrusting people.. but maybe I should say slow to trust.
'Vy dumaete, chto vashe vyjasnenie izmenit jeto?' " Vitaly never spoke in anything but a clipped, curt voice. He was from Kiev, and only St. Peter knew how friendly people there were. But even so, Vitaly was a good man to talk to, he would often go around telling me the best way to earn a poltinnik.. but I followed babushka's advice - "boroda ne delaet filosofom." A beard does not a philosopher make. Babushka was wise. It is a pity my parents had none of her wisdom, or I would not have stood here today, waiting for an ex-KGB to make his move in broad daylight in this temperature, in the middle of Chelyabinskaya Street. I do not know what foolishness the menedzher was possessed of, but whether I wanted a part of it was not my decision to make.
So I stood, smoking, much like the ox waits for the farmer at dawn.

'Blast the syn shljuhi who thought he could do this to my shop!' With a few more choice curses, Vitaly stared in the direction the van had gone, a numberless vehicle that was no doubt going to drive out of Moscow. No checkpoint would stop staryj volk, old Anton Galgamov. Not now.
How had he done it? Two minutes back, my brain told me, and summarized the sudden, and incredibly subtle methods of Galgamov.
'Zdravstvujte, syn. Mozhete vy predostavljat' jetomu stariku sigaretu, da?'
'Sigaretu? Da, da..' I told the persistant old man. Here in Moscow not many will refuse the dedushka something trifling. I gave him the cigarette, smelling alcohol on his breath. He thanked me, borrowed a lighter from Vitaly and lit it. I noticed the ungainly walk of the old man, how he tettered on his toes. He bumped into the counter, and I pretended not to notice him slipping one of Vitaly's better cigars into his pocket. I like Vitaly, but like to pull his leg- and see it pulled, which is better, far more.
'Starik? Staraja lisa,' I told him, in a tone quiet enough for Vitaly's ears to not hear. The old man smiled, and for a moment, the smile chilled me, as cold as a fjord.
'Staryj volk,' he replied, and calmly dropped his filthy jacket to reveal a tailored suit. At the same time I realized my mistake, Vitaly 's store exploded in smoke, and I fell. Four policemen waiting for Anton Galgamov dropped like bullets before they could react, and a dot on my chest told me that our hidden sniper.. was actually his hidden sniper.
'Pass my complement to the menedzher. He has hired a boy instead of a man. Do svidanja.' And I fell, as the taser hidden in my pocket went off. Out of the corner of my eye, Anton Galgamov stepped out of the smoke, no longer the bent old dedushka but a tall, imposing man before whom even the menedzher would bend.
I took advantage of the smoke, and levelled my Nagant at his back, squeezing off three shots. The syn shljuhi sniper would be blinded, but this was no joke. Whoever he was, used a submachine gun- levelling off shots to the left and right. It was chance that I escaped the first ten.
Galgamov, wary old wolf, twisted around with all the slipperiness of a greased pig, and dove to the right, behind Vitaly's still smoking shop. To my annoyance, the cigarette was still on his lips, along with a contemptous smile. I dove behind it as much to avoid the gunner's view as to catch him. Something smashed into my head with all the force of a bear's slap. And I have been slapped by a bear. You don't live on a farm in the wilderness and not run into one. But somehow I managed to move with the blow, instinct more than training, falling down to the street, on one hand, and pivoted, falling down onto my back.
My aim could not miss, and Galgamovs' fury told me I had scored a shot.
Then a rain of submachine bullets ripped nail-size holes in him, and Galgamov, more startled than angry, fell, breathing his last.
I wondered- when did his blood fall on me? I reached out to an itch on my shoulder... there was a hole there. Two snipers. Svin'ja, I berated myself. The sniper had caught me, after all. My right arm went numb, my revolver fell from my fingers to the snow below, and fell, adrenaline flying away like a snake's skin.. and out of the smoke, two men, dressed in black greatcoats, their faces concealed by masks and infantry hats, lifted the corpse out.. and into a waiting Gazelle, black and grave, a funeral van. As the second one walked in, I saw all that I needed- a symbol. Two crossed sabers, and a blue moon.
The street was suddenly quiet.
And in the darkness of the van, a face lifted itself to the window, and smiled contemptously.
Galgamov's body had not shed a drop of blood. But to all eyes, Galgamov was dead.
Mission accomplished, the americans like to say, in their funeral suits. Here Mother Rus teaches us- the bear won't fall until your last arrow finds its throat.
I would find him. I would kill him. Or I would die.
FSB did not authorize target killings for no good reason... and Galgamov.. would be good hunting, our “staryj volk”.

Zdravstvujte – Hello
'Vy dumaete, chto vashe vyjasnenie izmenit jeto?’ – You think your asking me will change it?
Poltinnik – fifty kopecks (currency)
Boroda ne delaet filosofom – A beard does not a philosopher make.
Menedzher – Manager
Syn shljuhi – Son of a whore
Staryj volk – Old wolf
'Zdravstvujte, syn. Mozhete vy predostavljat' jetomu stariku sigaretu, da?' – Hello, son, you would grant an old man a cigarette, yes?
'Sigaretu? Da, da..’ ­– Cigarette? Yes, yes..
Dedushka- Grandfather
'Starik? Staraja lisa.’ – Old man? Old fox.
Svin'ja - swine