The Zalozhniy Quartet
Katya Backstory Chapter 6
1am City Centre, Grozny, April 23rd 2009
The Land Rover braked to a stop, reversed a little then the engine died.
Someone got out, Blondie Katya assumed, and beeped the alarm. Katya waited as long as she could, legs and arms aching from cramp. From the little she could see they were parked on a street, somewhere with streetlights and drains.
She counted to 200, then again just in case, breathed in deeply and let herself down from the spare tyre holder below the boot. The tyre was probably still rolling down the mountain. She had been face down, inches from the ground as Blondie drove cross-country back.
Katya pressed the bell button at Aleksi’s room in the Grozny City Hotel. The receptionist had nearly freaked out as she walked in, bloody and sooty.
The security viewer darkened, and Aleksi was standing at open the door, a towel round his waist.
“Katya! What the hell happened?” he looked more shocked than the receptionist,
“Let me in and I’ll tell you.” As she entered, she noted his gun was hidden behind the door.
Over two neat minibar vodkas and both packets of peanuts, Katya recounted the events of the day, mostly. She left out killing the soldier and that she believed the chemist was in the city. She knew what she had to do, and doesn’t need his help or opinion on that. When she reached the end, he downed his drink.
“They didn’t say you’d been attacked, they just said that prisoners were being processed, and I could see them tomorrow. I assumed you would be OK for a night. I didn’t know.” He was shocked.
“I guess they aren’t boasting about losing a truck, and probably don’t know the details themselves yet. But there are leaks, someone in the FSB was giving them information. And I’m guessing the lorry load was heroin.”
“Yes, makes sense. The payment for the chemist. The rebels get it from Afghanistan and the Chechen mafia distribute it. Makes a lot of money.”
“Blondie wasn’t Chechen, his accent was Russian.” Katya glanced around the room. "Have I got a room? Where’s my case? "
“It’s in my car, I’ll go get it. No room.”
“I’ll shower here then.”
While Aleksi went to the car, Katya examined herself in the bathroom mirror. It was good to be back in a decent hotel. The room still felt new, it must have been rebuilt or refurbished after the war and had no time for wear and tear.
She showered for a long time, scrubbing dirt off. Bruises and cuts stung in the hot water, some she hasn’t noticed before. She exited the bathroom wrapped in the other towel. Aleksi had come back and pointed at her bag on the luggage stand. She finds knickers and a T-shirt, and a pistol.
“You take the bed, I’ll sleep on the sofa.” he said. He was folding a blanket over the sofa. It was clearly too small for him.
Last night seemed like a month ago, and she was exhausted and hurting.
“Please, Aleksi, sleep in the bed.”
Katya sank down on the soft mattress, put the pistol on the bedside table and was asleep before Aleksi has time to enquire further.
8:45am Grozny City Hotel, Grozny, April 23rd 2009
Katya slept deeply and woke with a start to see Aleksi, showered and suited putting a large breakfast tray on the table.
“Morning, I ordered breakfast to the room, I didn’t think you’d be presentable for the restaurant.”
She sat up, right shoulder and legs sore. “Thanks, but I need to get moving. I need to meet the FSB head in Grozny. He needs to know about the information leak in his organisation.”
“I agree, and I’ve already spoken to him, he’s Feliks Modin, this morning. I’ve not said what about, but just set-up a meeting. There’s a party at Khadyrov’s villa tonight, we’re invited and we’ll get some time alone with him then. So you should rest today.”
She was trying to remember a dream she’d had, but it evaporated as she chased the memory. “No rest, I’m going to explore Grozny, try to find a clue to the chemists location.” It wasn’t a complete lie, but was more lie than truth. What was she going to do when she found the chemist?
“If you’re up to it, but don’t push yourself. Call me if you get any leads, I’m going to the office, I have a cover to maintain and construction stuff to pretend to manage. I’ve also told the Aquarium you’re not dead. My last message my have given them the wrong impression.” He smiles.
“I’m not sure death is a big exaggeration.”
He left, and Katya ate breakfast, showered again and spent time camouflaging her various bruises and cuts. She checked her pistol, ammunition and tucked it into the waistband of her trousers.
There were only a few high buildings in Grozny. To get line of sight to the mountains would require a high, clear vantage point. Like the top floors of this hotel. She flirted with the reception desk guy, who confirmed that a suite was booked for the FSB. In the name of a Major Zlotnik on the top floor.
A long shot, but a good place to start looking.
11:30am Grozny City Hotel, Grozny, April 23rd 2009
Katya pushed the cleaning cart out of the elevator on floor twenty. The penthouse floor. The hotel corridor was similar to the other floors, but there were only a few doors, widely-spaced. She wheeled the cart slowly down the corridor pretending to study a blank piece of paper, hiding her face from the camera in the ceiling of the elevator alcove. At the door to Suite 4, Katya pressed the bell button, and stepped back, holding two rolls of toilet paper.
The security viewer flashed light and dark as someone watched, and the door cracked open. A old man’s face.
“We said no cleaning” In Russian.
“Sorry sir, the manager said you might need some more toilet rolls.”
“What? Do we?”
“Just in case you run out, sir” said Katya, holding the stack of rolls forward. They were wider than the door opening.
“Um, alright, I suppose we don’t want to run out. That would be embarrassing.” He disappeared, rattled the chain and the door swung wide.
Katya entered, leaving the trolley in the corridor. He was an old man, rheumy and, even in the dim light of the room, she could tell he was a sickly colour.
He stayed by the door, holding it open as she went past. The main room had a couple of sofas and a large TV. Two doors lead off, both open, she can see a bed through one and a bathroom behind the other. She entered the bathroom, dropped the toilet rolls and drew the pistol. She waited, poised, listening, watching out the open bathroom door to see if anyone else appeared or made a sound. There was only one toothbrush. No-one and nothing moved in the rest of the suite. A book was splayed open on the coffee table. He had been reading. Dostoevsky.
She walked back into the main room, keeping the gun behind her back. As she approached the door, he gave a half-laugh, “Thank you, saves me an embarrassing call later.” He was educated, middle-class. Traditional.
As she came level with him, she whips the gun up, presses it hard to his cheek, and pushed the door shut, out of his hands. There was fear in his eyes now and also something else.
“Sit down” she barked. She kept the gun trained on him while locking the door and putting the chain on.
He sat down on the sofa, by the book. Old and frail, his hands shaking. His skin made him look ghostly.
“You are Gavril Globenko, a chemist from Nukus?” she asked.
“Yes, yes I am. Who are you?”
“I am justice, traitor. Tell me why you agreed to do it?”
“Traitor!? No, I am no traitor. I have served properly all my life.”
“Was it money for your family? Or drugs for your liver?”
He squinted at her curiously, "Who are you? Are you American? CIA? "
“I am a military intelligence officer of the GRU”
He smiled, relieved.
“Good! I am working for Russia, we are on the same side! There has been a mistake, please check with your superiors!” He sounded genuine.
He couldn’t have made contact with Chechen resistance secretly, and travelled here alone. He could barely stand without help.
“Why did you come to Chechnya, Gavril?” she asked, more softly.
“I was ordered to, by the KGB, er I mean, the FSB. The secret police. They wanted me to provide my knowledge to the rebels, to attack enemies of Russia. Then they will find a place for me at the hospital in Novos. Please check, there has been a terrible mistake.”
“They brought you here, and put you up in this hotel. Where are your family?”
“My wife is safe, the FSB have been taken her into protection, in case of threats.”
Katya dropped her aim, and sat down on the other sofa, facing him. He was a pawn in the bigger game, and was telling the truth, as he knows it.
“I don’t know what’s going on Gavril, but someone in the FSB is using you. The rebels will kill Russians, that is their enemy. I am sent by our government to stop you. You are, a traitor.”
“But Major Zlotnik ordered me, he knows.” His face already grey, shaded further.
“Was this Zlotnik the one who called last night?”
“Yes, he came and set-up the camera and then spoke to me on the TV thing with the rebel.” He waved a hand to the corner of the room.
“The rebel you spoke with killed two Russian soldiers yesterday, I was there. He is an enemy of Russia, and so is Zlotnik”
Confusion and fear clouded his face, then sadness.
“I am a fool. My wife always said I was only clever with chemicals.”
“Can you call your wife?”
“No, I am not allowed to until it is over. She is safe isn’t she?”
Katya thought she was already dead or would be soon. “Have you made any novichok weapons yet?”
“Only a small sample, a few ounces, to prove it is effective. I have shown one of the rebels the process, but they are not capable of manufacture yet.”
“Where is the sample now?”
He pointed at the bathroom.
Katya blanched, “It’s here?”
His eyes widen. “It is perfectly safe until it is mixed, I am not a fool. It’s in the pots by the sink.”
In the bathroom were two plastic pots, unmarked, unremarkable. Katya gingerly picked them up, one was light and rustled, the other sloshed with liquid.
“Gavril, I am going to sort this out, but I need you to do two things.”
She had orders to kill him, but also an oath to protect Russia. Someone in the FSB here was trying to kill Russians, not just leaking information, and she had a party to attend.