The Zalozhniy Quartet
Katya Backstory Chapter1
11am Orphanage No. 2. Makhachkala, Dagestan, June 1990
The policeman knew he was condemning both kids to a beating. Another beating. Deep down he worried the punishment might be worse than a beating, but he kept that thought buried whenever it tried to surface. The state had put these people in charge of the orphanage. The children had broken the law.
“This time it was,” he glanced at his notebook " a briefcase containing money, a calculator and some paperwork. It was their sick child routine, the girl pretended to be ill and while the victim helped her, the boy ran off with his bag."
“Oh! They are such naughty devils! I will punish them again.” Alena Balk sat opposite him in the bare kitchen. Officially her husband ran Orphanage No.2, but in reality she did all the work. The husband took a very hands-off role, except for punishments.
“Since Luka went away to Moscow they have gone wild.” she continued.
He thought it was more likely that since Luka, the eldest of the three, had been taken off into some government programme, the younger two children had not got wilder, just easier to catch. They had always been wild. All three were on the road to become criminals, and more bruises weren’t going to change that.
“Alena, you need to see if you can separate them, get the boy into that programme or apprenticed somewhere, and get the girl promised to someone, learning cooking and sewing. In a few years she’ll need to find a husband and make a home.”
“Oh, they don’t do what I tell them to do. Their little gang, whispering and lying about me.”
He shut his notebook. He can do no more. “Well, if you find the briefcase or the papers, let me know.” The money would never be returned.
“Oh yes, they will tell me where it is.” Alena said.
2:25am Cocoon Club, Frankfurt, 19th April 2009
Katya’s phone buzzed on the table, clinking against empty glasses. Any ringtone was drowned by the pounding music, but Katya saw the screen light up and frowned. She shouldn’t have brought it here, she wasn’t expecting any calls. Very few people had the number, and two of them were here with her. Smiling at Herr Raeder, who had been trying to tell her a joke for several tedious minutes, she leant forward to see who was calling. Number Blocked.
“Excuse me – I’m sorry” she mouthed, and held up the phone. Raeder nodded slowly through a drink and drug haze, and turned to his colleague, his joke uninterrupted and unheard. He was the designer of a new security software thing. She didn’t understand his work, but she did understand him and his need for experiences he didn’t get from his family or work.
Katya answered the phone before voicemail took it, “A minute!” she said in German. She walked out of the booth and into the VIP toilets. The music dropped to a distant thudding.
“Who is this?” she said.
“Hello Katerina, this is your Uncle Bruska. There is a family emergency, can you talk?” Their German was passable, but accented.
Katya went cold, trying to sober up, focus. Bruska was a codeword. With the phone to her ear, she crouched down by the expensive black marble sinks and checked there were no feet visible under the four cubicle doors.
“Yes, I’m listening.” Crouched down she could see coke smears on the marble sink surround. She wiped a finger through the dusty remains, and rubbed it on her gums.
The phone clicked in her ear and then the deep voice of Colonel Brestin, speaking Russian.
“You need to come home now, it is important.”
She stood up straight, it seemed inappropriate to talk to her superior officer crouching on a toilet floor. She moved over and pressed her back against the entrance door, cold metal helping her focus. No-one could enter without pushing her.
“Yes sir. Herr Raeder trusts me now, and we have leverage, a couple of days and I’ll be done…”
He cut her off. “Your mother is very ill. There is a seat for you on a flight back tonight. You will be on it.”
“But I’m so close here now, just a couple of days and it’ll be done. I’ve spent months working on him and this mission!”
“Do not argue with me.”
Katya bit her lip. “No, sorry, of course not. It’s just a waste of my work and time to leave now, they trust me, and I can get the information, and …” Her arguments petered out, Brestin remained silent, she could sense his fury without sound.
“I hear and obey my orders, Colonel.”
She levered the SIM out of the phone and chucked it in the hand towel bin, and left the club without being seen by Herr Raeder or his colleague.
3:30am P262 road, Chechen-Stavropol Krai border, Russia, April 2009
The construction lorry thundered along the dark highway, shedding dust and dirty water. Moonlight picked out bent metal spiking out of the rubble in the back.
As its headlights approached the border crossing, sleepy soldiers roused themselves out of the customs hut, and stood by the manual barrier across the highway. The barrier would be no obstacle to several tons of truck, but it slowed and stopped anyway, brakes wheezing.
The sergeant heaved himself up onto the running plate next to the drivers’ door, as the window slowly wound down. There was a brief conversation, then the sergeant waved the barrier to be raised and dropped heavily back to earth.
The truck crunched gears, the engine revved and it crawled forward, under the raised barrier, heading north. The 40kg of Afghan heroin, hidden deep in the waste, would travel on by many different vehicles, finishing up in veins in London, Amsterdam and Frankfurt.