The Zalozhniy Quartet
Katya Backstory Chapter 4
8am Dakhadaev Street, Makhachkala, April 22nd 2009
The next morning, Katya felt refreshed, the swim and exercise had got her blood flowing and loosened some muscles. She went for an early run around the exercise yard, probably her last for a while.
Aleksi drove them back to the GRU office before 9am, taking a roundabout route. The office was quiet, no-one in. He showed her the spare clothes cupboard and Katya selected a shapeless dress and white headscarf. Clothes helped her get into a cover. Until she was dressed in the role, it just felt like faking. Looking at the drab peasant in the mirror she finally felt she was Lalita Daudov. Widow, early 30’s. Arrested on suspicion of terrorist activities. She wasn’t sure the headscarf was right, black maybe for mourning? She tucked the black one into a pocket of the dress.
Aleksi saw her, and his eyes narrowed. “Maybe you can do this.” He gently turned her jaw to look at the livid bruise that had developed, in the shape of his hand, on her left cheek.
She looks at him earnestly, “I need that bruise, there’s no way Lalita would be arrested and questioned without a scratch. It’s part of my cover.”
“It’s not what I hoped for the evening.”
“I’ll see you at the hotel tonight in Grozny. Does it have a pool?” she asked.
“Yes it has a pool, only the best for the powerful people in Grozny.”
He turned grabbing plastic ties from a desk, “Let’s arrest you.” he sighed.
The truck jolted constantly, and they had not left the city roads yet. Katya sat on one side, Nurzhan on the other. The other woman had been silent while they had been loaded on.
She was wearing a dirty dress and black headscarf, hands tied like Katya.
Katya decided her approach was to get to the revenge. That’s where Nurzhans’ passion lay, the only thing of value left to her. Katya had laid out the trail of breadcrumbs in her mind that opened her up. All Katya needed was her to take the first crumb. She thought back to the day she left Makhachkala, and as Lalita, began to softly cry.
Nurzhan watched her for a few moments, debating internally. The she said “What is it dear?”
Over the next hour, Katya lured her in, and gained her trust.
1pm Chechnya, April 22nd 2009
Nurzhan looked at Lalita, “They will probably let you live.”
“I will carry on your mission, and my mission. Our men will not have died without vengeance. I will kill for us both.”
“Thank you Lalita, I will see you in pa..”
A huge explosion rocked the van, it slewed heavily, both women were bounced around, thrown onto the floor. The van tumbled sideways, metal walls became the floor, battering them hard. The back door twisted and burst open, flooding daylight and smoke inside. The truck rolled over twice more, then stopped, rocking and groaning.
Katya came round, upside down, arms pinned painfully underneath her, still tied. She rolled and awkwardly found her feet, the floor of the truck sloped and she smelt petrol and oily smoke. Her ears are ringing.
“Nurzhan! Are you ok?”
The other woman was crumpled in a heap, Katya knelt, and leaned over, putting her cheek over Nurzhan’s mouth, feeling and listening for breath. She felt nothing. Nurzhan was bleeding heavily from her forehead, she’d hit it hard, maybe on the edge of the metal bench. Katya turned her back to Nurzhan, grabbed two handfuls of her dress, and dragged her towards the open door, but fabric snagged on damaged metal.
“Nurzhan! Wake up! We’ve got to get out!”
Her hearing was starting to return, and she could hear staccato shots, automatic weapons fire. She halted, unsure if it was safer inside or outside. Maybe it was the soldiers firing? It didn’t sound close, but every sound was muffled. Her training kicked in, a cold wave flowed over and through her, and everything snaps into focus.
There was a sharp, twisted piece of metal bent up from the truck floor by her feet, Katya crouched and started sawing the plastic tie between her wrists. The chemical smell got stronger, stinging her throat. Bullets rang against the outside and a low growl grew louder, below the truck floor. Metal pinged and pinked. The plastic took long seconds to cut through, she looked at Nurzhan’s body, thinking. They must be rebels outside, male, Islamic probably. Prepared ambush. But on the main road to Grozny? Her hands came free, and an idea came to her.
Thirty seconds later, the firing had stopped, and she could hear shouts in Russian. The truck was thick with acrid smoke, and she blindly jumped out of the back door. Hitting the ground awkwardly, she turned it into a roll, and kept rolling fearful of shots. She finished face-down on a grass slope, eyes streaming.
A dark shape moved on the road, uphill, but she couldn’t see clearly.
“Stay!” it shouted in Russian. “Don’t move!”
“Don’t shoot! I’m not Russian!” Katya screamed hoarsely in Chechen. “Please help me!”
The fresh air helped her eyes clear, up the slope was a dirt track, not the highway. The truck poured thick black smoke into the air, the front twisted and ruined. A soldiers’ body hung out of the side window.
More dark-wrapped rebels appeared, bearded, dirty and fierce. Katya kept pleading in Chechen, and they didn’t shoot, though they didn’t drop their guns aimed at her. A rebel with a long beard, older and heavier than the others, arrived and peered down at her. The other rebels backed slightly away from him. The leader, Katya thought.
“What is your name?” he spoke in Chechen, a deep bass.
“Nurzhan” said Katya, in her best Chechen accent. She tried not to pause as she judges his reaction to her lie. “There was another prisoner called Lalita. The Russians were taking us to be interrogated in Grozny.”
The leader ordered one of his men to check the back of the truck. Reluctantly, one of them wrapped a cloth over his mouth, and briefly stuck his head in the back of the truck. He nodded in confirmation. Katya was wearing Nurzhan’s headscarf now, their dresses were shapeless and probably indistinguishable to the men. She had put her headscarf on Nurzhan, then snapped her neck, just in case.
Two of the fighters guarded her, others lugged the bodies out of the truck cab.
“This one’s still alive!” a rebel by the cab shouted.
The soldier looked to be badly wounded and burned, barely conscious. The rebels would torture him, she was sure. She also needed to gain their trust, find another way in. She got up quickly.
“Let me kill him please Commander” she called out, in Chechen.
He was conversing with another rebel beside the truck. His dark eyes searched her face. “Why?”
“I want to kill Russians, they killed my husband. I tried but failed before. You have given me a second chance to avenge. Inshallah.”
He pulled an automatic from his waistband, checked it, ejected the magazine and threw it to her. There was one bullet left in the breech. She caught it, deliberately awkwardly.
The gun was heavy and cold. She’d trained extensively with guns, it was required. She was going to shoot a Russian soldier? One of her people? She strode over to where the soldier lay groaning. Two rebels were standing over him, one tall. They moved back, out of her way. Everyone else had gone quiet, watching.
“Go on then.” The leader said.
Katya raised the gun trying to remember how she’d handled them before training. Lalita would be familiar with hunting rifles, but not pistols. She pointed the gun with a straight arm, and sighted the weapon on the soldier’s face. She saw him properly for the first time, he was breathing heavily. Short fair hair, matted and bloody. A young face, maybe 25? He resembled, a little, a Ukrainian she trained with, Ivan. His nose was similar. Her hand was genuinely shaking. It was her or him. The trigger was stiff, but she squeezed it, tighter and tighter. It just stopped. No shot.
“Safety! She forgot the safety!” The rebels laughed .
Reddening, she pushed the safety catch off with her thumb, and while they were still laughing aimed and pulled the trigger. The gun kicked, the soldier’s head jerked back, hard into the dirt, blood and mud exploded. She had killed a patriotic Russian soldier.