Аннотация: First chapter of Karabaris in English. It would be very kind to get feedbacks about quality of translation.
Karabaris, the Scourge of Tyrants
To my parents
Karakuluchi Hasan Turger kicked a motionless body. A torturer eager to please his master grabbed a tied prisoner under his armpits, but it was clear even without his help that the man wouldn't be able to speak anymore. The spy's blue eyes burned with madness.
`I told you just to question him, didn't I?' the Turk's voice sounded toneless, but it didn't delude the executioner. The officer was enraged.
`I'm sorry, effendi. He turned out to be too weak'.
Karakuluchi stroked his groomed moustache regaining his temper. The executioner bent in a low bow and kept silence.
`For how long have you been doing this, Ali?'
The executioner bowed even lower.
The janissary's voice rose to a shriek.
`Five men! I've lost five men to capture him! Reaya! Kafir!' his eyes shot daggers at the fat man in front of him.
`You! The fat pig! I knew some of them my whole life!'
He clenched the handle of his kilij.
The torturer flopped down on his knees and then spread on the floor in front of his enraged master touching the floor with his forehead. The officer went berserk with fury. His fingers closed tightly around the hilt of his sabre were turning white ... A minute passed... Then another one...
Karakuluchi's face was changing, his anger slowly fading.
`Allah, be His will done, taught us to forgive wrongdoers... That's why I won't kill you today...'
The executioner blew out a sigh of relief.
`But!' the janissary's voice was ringing. `If this piece of meat doesn't speak before Cumartesi, on Pazar you'll be standing next to him waiting for your execution! Do you hear me, Ali?!'
Ali Azik, the executioner, whined and reached out to touch the soles of the janissary's yellow babouches, but the officer dodged and kicked the fat man kneeling on the dusty floor in front of him.
`You have three days!'
The 15th of July, 2006. Budva, Montenegro.
Inhale-exhale... inhale-exhale... inhale-exhale. One intake of breath, one steady sway of arm, leg kicks. Effortlessly and swiftly he was swimming through the warm azure water of the Adriatic Sea.
Twenty meters more away from the swarming beach Alex turned to backstroke. The salt water allowed the swimmer to float easily. It felt good... The young man recovered his breath and dived. The sea strived to push his body back to the surface, but the swimmer was tough. His muscular legs and arms worked steadily to bring him down to the bottom. His fingers touched the pebble. He jumped out of the water like a cork from a bottle of champagne holding a fistful of sea-smoothed stones in his hand raised high above his head.
`I told you! Told you!' Nelly never bothered to restrain her emotions showing all her feelings blatantly. A sixteen-year-old beauty jumped about waving her towel in triumph.
Innokenti Makarych winced but didn't say anything. He liked the peace and quiet of his life on the yacht too much to interrupt it with quarrels with his hot-tempered granddaughter.
Alex swam closer to the yacht and caught the rail of the ladder going down to water.
`I bet Master that you would touch the seabed!' the girl blurted cheerfully.
He smiled and grasped her outstretched hand. It was good to know that someone cared about him.
It was sort of amusing to know someone needed him... Some six months ago Alexey Potemkin's life was a matter of interest only to his dorm mates and maybe the dorm's head and a commissar from the local military mobilization office.
Drying himself with a big soft towel the young man looked over his shoulder.
A tall silver-haired old man.
...That's how Innokenti Makarych looked like when they first met. It happened in the reading hall of a new library. The student was delving in volumes with recollections of the Time of Troubles contemporaries when a stranger came up to him and asked what Alex thought about a certain book. They plunged into a conversation that marked the beginning of their unusual friendship.
Innokenti Makarovich (or Makarych, as the old man preferred a simpler folksy variant of his patronymic) Zavolyuzhniy, an old hereditary sorcerer and witch doctor as he called himself, practiced divination and communication with his clients' late relatives. Channeling and search of missing people brought him a modest income and some connections, but at the same time his activities caused him jitters, troubles, resentment and threats from the men of consequence.
Alex's memory didn't register the exact moment when he started to work for his new acquaintance. The psychic had practically no interest in things going on around him, but he desperately needed a person who would gather information on new clients for him. Not for work, no! For strategic purposes: it's common knowledge that the most important thing in a good job is not to get into troubles. A single mention of a service to a criminal or some gang can ruin even the most spotless reputation and cost the sorcerer all his respectable clients who would be warmly welcomed by his numerous rivals. That's why Master decided to have an extra member in his team, a young educated man well-grounded in Internet technology and other high-tech fads.
Now Zavolyuzhniy had two assistants: Nelly and Alex.
While it was natural for Nelly as the psychic's only granddaughter and a medium (a gift inherited from her mother) to help her grandfather, a student without a paranormal gift or extraordinary talent was quite a strange choice of an aid to a sorcerer. As much as Alex valued himself he measured his skills reasonably enough and had a down-to-earth approach to life. That's why he asked to clarify his functions as Master's assistant immediately after he was approached with the job offer.
The old man didn't hesitate for long. He didn't like to lie.
Zavolyuzhniy said that beside Potemkin's knowledge he was attracted by the young man's unusual aura. It was somewhat strange, irregular. Master claimed that with a single glance at a person he could describe his past and predict his future: his victories and defeats, his deeds, choices and, consequently, his probable destiny. The image he saw reminded him of a tangled net with a hundred of knots, or a lock of clotted hair. His main task then was to help his client to get rid of these knots and to disentangle from a difficult situation. But Alex's net had a visible gap as if someone took a part of his life away without leaving anything in return.
Potemkin was puzzled with such an answer but not for too long... It took him a short while to ponder over the offer which he finally accepted with enthusiasm.
Now it was time to enjoy all the perks of his new job.
The guy stretched out with pleasure in the shade of the deck tent.
...Brilliantly blue sky, transparent water, tasty food, lots of sunshine and no worries - that definitely was a perfect holiday.
He smiled and turned to lie on his stomach on a see-through deck to enjoy the sight of undersea life. Deep under water he could clearly see the pebble covering the seabed. A dive seemed enough to reach the underworld kingdom... A dream...
`Master, I found quite a nice villa for you... The atmosphere and all that... The tiles are as ancient as a mammoth's poop... Well, you'll be pleased,' the last phrase was obviously out of place. Especially from such a weasel as Seryozha Burlov.
Potemkin and Burlov exchanged unfriendly looks. The sorcerer's assistant and the client's representative were not overfond of each other.
Nelly, on the other hand, liked Sergey. He was a tall, handsome, powerfully built man every girl dreams of.
`Any chance your villa has a decent bathroom?' she was flirting desperately with the burly guy, but he kept ignoring her attempts.
`Didn't check on that. But there is a cool room with old rugs and a pile of antique stuff. A real deal to furnish the place'.
`Your place, maybe,' Zavolyuzhniy corrected. `For my work a room in a hotel would do pretty well'.
Occasional sharp remarks were all the old psychic could allow himself to voice.
The situation was pretty tense.
In spite of the sun, the sea, the luxurious yacht and apparent freedom no one of them felt totally free. However, this point deserves a closer attention.
...A month ago unusual visitors knocked at the door of Zavolyuzhniy's modest flat. Extraordinary individuals were not rare among the sorcerer's clients, but this very job proved to be really peculiar.
Serious boys in immaculate suits and heavy shoes turned out to be from a certain commercial organization that needed a special type of help. Well, that was not a one-of-the-kind situation... But the services that Sergey Burlov's anonymous boss wanted to get were unusual even for a sorcerer.
Not that he wanted to get something impossible, quite the opposite. The old man and his assistants were to become a part of a mere scam.
One of the major shareholders of the company Zavolyuzhniy was told about had fallen asleep in the Lord not long before. Although Sergey opted for `kicked the bucket' in his story the meaning of the term remained the same. The man died, and his dumb blondie of a wife, or a widow to be more exact, turned out to be a tough chick. Instead of contenting herself with the dole from the rest of the shareholders she started to talk about an independent audit, her late husband's papers and archive and demanded astronomical sums of money. The situation was aggravated by the interest that a certain foreign consortium showed in the assets of the deceased. An impasse as Burlov put it. On the one hand, they couldn't opt for the 1990s-style gangster variant with the stupid doll being made away quietly and the ashes of her husband' papers being scattered on the grave of the unfortunate spouses. On the other hand, the shareholders were most unwilling to pay her the money she demanded. So they needed an original plan, an `elegant' and simple solution to their problem. Finally, they came up with a certain idea.
The widow, a sturdy fifty-year-old from Nefteyugansk, turned out to be an adept of occult science and other unscientific nonsense. She happened to resort to the services of a divinator and according to some gossip remained completely satisfied with the result. Burlov, who was entrusted with the task to deal with this problem, found the psychic who had impressed the stubborn dame and according to some more gossip had a certain influence on her. That's how Zavolyuzhniy got involved into the scam.
The client's idea was simple: since the widow was a no show in Russia and preferred to live at foreign resorts under protection of a security agency, the op was to be carried out there. The bait for the woman to swallow was the old sorcerer with whom Burlov's men were to organize a casual encounter. The rest of it was even simpler: the old man was to manipulate her into thinking that she should sell her share to the good guys from the company and not to the bad ones from abroad, the woman would get hooked and everyone would get their big prizes!
It was a murky plan... But there was no choice. The shareholders played good guys only when they dealt with their former fellow's widow. The reasoning they used with the psychic was accompanied with a peculiar sound of a hammer being cocked and rustling of some green notes.
So, they were basking in the warm Adriatic sun for almost a week now while Burlov's agents were preparing for the next stage.
The widow heard a thoroughly orchestrated gossip that a renowned sorcerer was on holiday at the seaside, and then the agents made sure she heard the name she recognized with delight. So now they had only a few technical moments to take care about.
She called him first. They agreed to meet on Sunday. According to Burlov, all they had to do was to find a proper place and to rehearse the show.
The psychic winced. The widow asked to arrange a communication session with her late husband. That meant she was going to ask him for advice.
The 17th of July, 2006.
Yesterday night they explored the setting.
On closer examination, the old villa situated at the foot of the Bloody Tower in the centre of Herceg Novi didn't look as a fashionable residence. It was a dilapidated house with a small garden located in a narrow street. The gate crowned with bison horns led into a courtyard paved with ancient tiles. There was a smell of Time... Ancient time, to be more exact. The house had three floors with three rooms on each. There was also an annex to the main building that used to serve as a stable, but at a certain moment in the past someone transformed it into a workshop. All that didn't add to the image of a thriving sorcerer's residence. A least Zavolyuzhniy thought so. But Burlov ignored the old man's grumbling.
Serbian women hired a day before cleaned the neglected house up. The spotless floors were shining, the furniture and stairs gleamed with polish, the ceilings and walls showed their original colour. Heavy curtains and clean draperies disguised timeworn windows and cracked plaster that needed more time and effort to repair.
Burlov swaggered about as if the whole house makeover was a result of his own hard work. However, the renovation really was something to be proud of as now the house looked completely different.
`Innokenti Makarych, the show time is tomorrow evening. So make yourself comfortable and get into your character'.
Burlov gestured at one of the rooms.
`My boys bought some stuff you may need for dИcor... Um...like candles... Some old books in Latin... Some other crap.
The old man sneered.
The client's representative paused for a second to see his reaction. Then cleared his voice and added:
`I hope tomorrow everything goes smoothly... without any tricks'.
He made a second lingering pause.
`Seryozha, dear! What a nice blazer you have!'
Nelly fluttered out from behind her grandfather's back and hugged the stunned muscleman.
`Uh... that's... er...Versace...'
Nelly kept chattering:
`It's cool! You look really handsome!'
The girl stroked the lapels of his blazer, her big mesmerizing brown eyes gazing into his. Suddenly Burlov blushed, he was obviously embarrassed. He swallowed nervously, made a few steps back and then turned around and made for the door.
`I count on you, Innokenti Makarych! See you tomorrow!'
The young witch giggled behind the gangster's back.
`Look! That's from his pocket,' Nelly gave Alex a folded piece of paper. `Now, who's the smart girl, huh?'
Potemkin unfolded the paper taking a closer look.
`Yeah! You know how to make your living, if not by the sweat of brow, then at the expense of someone else...'
Nelly pursed her lips.
`Interesting...' Alex took another look at the paper. `Looks like an electronic airline ticket'.
`Burlov booked a flight... Business-class... That's posh...'
The girl drew nearer.
`Where is he flying?'
Potemkin paused to think.
`Where?' Nelly tugged on the piece of paper to have a look.
`You'd better ask when'.
`I don't get it'.
Alex pointed at the date in the ticket.
`He flies to Vienna tomorrow... At noon'.
The sorcerer's granddaughter stared at the figures.
`But the sИance is planned for the evening...'
...They found Innokenti Makarych in the main hall on the second floor. He was trying to hang a large beautifully framed mirror on the wall.
`Sometimes even gangsters can be useful. Just look at this!'
In spite of its age the mirror looked magnificent. The time almost didn't touch its golden carved frame while the surface was only a little dim. If not for the half-polished scratch on the lower part of the frame, the mirror would look almost as a new one. Innokenti Makarych held it in his hands trying to put it on the wall.
Nelly interrupted her grandfather:
`Just listen what we've found out about Burlov! He scrapers tomorrow!'
The old man sighed, blinked his short-sighted eyes and sat down.
`Ah! I'm tired...'
`Grandpa, do you hear me?'
Zavolyuzhniy rubbed the nape of his neck.
`I'll have a headache by night'.
`I got it! Got it... Don't worry, everything will be okay'.
That didn't calm Nelly down.
`Are you sure?'
The psychic chuckled.
`I am a sorcerer! Do you mistrust your own grandpa?!'
The granddaughter grinned.
`I trust you...'
She kissed the old man on the cheek and fluttered off upstairs.
`Maybe, we'd better leave the town now?' Alex suggested hesitantly. `Seems they don't trust us. We might get into a trap'.
Zavolyuzhniy kept silent for a long moment.
`No, Alex, we are not going anywhere ... I don't lie when I say I can see the future...'
The old psychic motioned the young man closer.
`If we leave now, our lives will be very short ... If we stay ... Well, it depends...'
`What do you mean?'
`Believe me... We'll be okay'.
`The sun will shine, the sun will burn this dry and dusty camelthorn'.
Potemkin just left his room. Although he felt a bit sleepy he hummed merrily a catchy popular tune.
Nelly, cheerful and energetic as ever, caught up with him at the landing.
`Alex, have you noticed that the ceiling on the ground floor is much lower than upstairs?'
The girl looked puzzled but it didn't keep her from jigging up and down. Sometimes she was literally bursting with energy.
Nelly tapped her foot.
`All the floors look the same from the outside, but inside you can see that on the ground floor the ceiling is much lower'.
She shot him an indignant look.
`Tell me why?!!'
Alex honestly tried to find an explanation. A moment later Nelly seemed to give up hope to get an answer. She just waved a hand and ran away.
An hour later they met again.
Beaming Nelly tapped Potemkin at the villa's gate when he was heading for the beach, and dragged him into a small dusty room on the first floor.
`Here!' she exclaimed triumphantly poking her finger into the wall.
Nelly gave him a foxy smile and ran up to the door. With some effort she pushed the door frame. It suddenly sank and at the same moment a part of the wall slided somewhere sidewards with a loud screech.
`So what do you say to that?' the girl beamed enjoying the effect.
Having appreciated his dumbfounded look she immediately produced a matchbox, several lighters and a piece of an old newspaper from her pockets.
`I tapped on the floor, it obviously has hollows. Then I noticed that a part of the wall also sounds hollow. And then I found it!
`Well... Interesting,' Alexed peeked into the hole. `What's there?'
The girl shrugged.
"Nothing... Seems like someone built a spare storage room. Or a secret chamber,' she drew closer to whisper this into his ear. `I found out that in the late seventeenth or eighteenth century this house belonged to a Turkish executioner. They say this place is soaked with pain and loathing of his victims...'
She made big eyes. Alex grinned and a second later Nelly joined him in laughter. They couldn't associate this popular seaside resort with some long forgotten mysteries.
`Dust, dust, dust ... He could have left at least something... a shoe... or a sabre', Nelly hit the door frame one more time and the hole disappeared.
The next moment the fidget sneaked a peek into the young man's bag and moaned just like a spoiled baby:
`I want to go to the beach too!'
Potemkin swore under his breath. Now he had to take this little she-devil with him.
The evening sИance started a little later than they had planned.
For starters, their client had to leave her Peugeot-406 Coupe somewhere halfway to the villa as it was impossible to drive through the narrow medieval streets.
Then they had to deal with one more unpleasant circumstance. The woman was as drunk as a skunk.
She wasn't actually interested to hear what her late husband's soul had to say about the forthcoming deal. She didn't ask questions. Instead, she was spewing numerous reproaches at her husband, first of all blaming him for keeping back the number of a vault in one of the Baltic banks where he kept some `bling-bling' for a rainy day. Now Nelly, who spoke on behalf of the deceased, had to listen to the choicest swearwords judging by which one could assume that the late oligarch had found himself a wife among the roughnecks at one of his drill sites.
The woman wasn't going to stop yelling at the medium as she craved to disclose her husband's secret.
Alex winced and left the room. While Master was trying to bring his client back on the right track of conversation he wouldn't need Alex's help. That meant he could have a smoke or drink some ice-cold juice.
Potemkin went downstairs (the sИance was held on the upper floor) and entered the room with the secret passage.
`Huh! The flashlight is already here', at a glance Alex registered Nelly's preparatory work.
It seemed that the girl was determined to solve the mystery of the secret passage: she brought a rope, a chisel, a hammer and two flashlights. Alex pushed the door frame. The wall opened. He peeked inside the hole.
At night the place looked creepy.
A shriek rang upstairs.
The young man listened. Silence...Then he heard Master's agitated voice, several pops.
Potemkin rushed upstairs.
The door wrenched open and then the time slowed down...
Alex saw the back of a stocky man dressed in black. Not far from him the small sИance table laid turned upside down. On the floor on the left from the table he saw the client's unnaturally twisted body. Blood was flowing from under her stomach forming a dark pool, her left leg was still moving. At some distance from her Master sat leaning against the wall and nursing the head of his granddaughter lying on the floor near him. One would have said Nelly was sleeping if not for a scarlet stain on her chest. The stain was growing rapidly.
The man in black turned to face the newcomer. A pair of faded eyes looked at Alex from the holes on his knit balaclava. The stranger raised his right hand... and pointed the black muffler barrel at the young man...
Instinctively Alex threw whatever he was holding in his hands and pushed the door with all his might. The massive leaf hit the door-post. The stranger swiftly dodged the flying flashlight and with a smooth catlike movement jumped sideways. One more shot and the closed leaf of the wooden door burst apart with a spray of splinters. Alex rushed downstairs.
`This idiot didn't bring her bodyguard! Left him to ward off the locals from her car. In Montenegro!'
Potemkin dashed along the narrow corridor hearing with horror the steps of his chaser behind him.
`Seryozha! Burlov! Sonofabitch!' both fear and fury flooded him.
The first floor ...
He heard the rustle of gravel from outside. Another killer?!
The young man lurked into the room where the secret passage was still open. The second flashlight. The door. A push to the switch. The wall slided back with a swish to leave him in complete darkness.
Holding his breath he tried to hear at least anything.
Several steps boomed outside. The killer reached the ground floor. Then a door was shut with a loud bang. The gunman seemed to decide that his last target was trying to hide somewhere in the courtyard.
Alex waited for five long seconds more and got out of the secret room. While the killer was outside he had to help the Master. Time was too precious!
He hurried upstairs to the sИance parlour.
The client wasn't moving anymore. Nelly's pale features sharpened. But Master was still alive! His eyes were half-closed. Point-blank shots left several scorch marks on his shirt. He was muttering something under his breath.
`Innokenti Makarych, we must go! There is a room downstairs, we'll hide there!'
Alex grabbed the old man's hand and a moment later found himself crouching on the floor by his side.
The sorcerer opened his eyes.
Potemkin tried to object but Zavolyuzhniy's fingers clenched tightly around his hand.
`My lifeline ends here, but yours and hers are not...' his cracked voice was fading, the endings of his words hardly audible. `You must make it in time!'
The old man pulled Alex nearer to the dying girl. Then he put his granddaughter's cold hand into his. Alex managed to notice that the psychic himself was leaning against the antique mirror lying on the floor.
Whisper! Whisper! Whisper!
His head burnt.
Alex strained but didn't pull his hand out. Zavolyuzhniy always knew what to do.
He saw circles dancing in front of his eyes...
Somewhere in the periphery of his consciousness he heard Innokenti Makarych saying:
`You'll have time! Save her!'
The last thing he heard was a sound of an opening door.
He was falling into darkness...
Whisper! Whisper! Whisper!
The headache was splitting.
Alex tried to move and understood that he was tied.
He slowly opened his eyes. The light was pleasantly dim.
Across the room near the opposite wall he saw an urchin rocking to and fro on the floor. His bony face was black with suntan, his long grey beard ran down to his waist where a rope was wound to prevent his worn kaftan from falling from his frail body. He kept his eyes closed and was mumbling something in a whisper. Sinister, thrilling whisper!
Alex shifted his gaze further.
`I swear by Allah, you did it!' a fat richly clothed man exclaimed trying to hug the urchin. `You did it! You are a real pir! It's magic! It's worth of Abdul Alhazred, may he rest in peace!
The only thing that Alex knew immediately was that the language the fat man was speaking was not Russian. At the same time he could... understand all the words?!
`Where am I?'
The words of his native language were suddenly too difficult to pronounce.
The fat man gave the prisoner a puzzled look. Potemkin's hoarse voice interrupted the flow of compliments addressed to the urchin that finally stopped quacking.
The pir stood up. He was visibly shaking. Now Alex noticed that under the old man's' worn and ragged kaftan his body was covered with numerous already yellowish bruises.
`Will you keep your promise, effendi?'
The fat man picked up the flaps of his clothes and gave a solemn nod:
`My words are as solid as gold, yazid'.
He clapped his hands. The door opened showing a burly man wearing a leather butcher's apron over his naked torso.
`Show our dear tabib out'.
Alex saw the fat man winking to his hulk of a servant. The man grinned, nodded and opened the door a bit wider. The old man followed the burly scraping his feet along the floor.
The fat man turned to face Alex.
`You scared me, my little kafir! You scared me!'
`Where am I?' he spoke Turkish with a slight accent. Potemkin was surprised to hear himself speaking it. But these were his words, his question!
The fat man's face wreathed in smiles.
`These are wrong words, my dear kafir... Wrong words, wrong question. It is as odd as a baklava served with pilav, my dear...' his broad smile was sincere. But there was something sinister in this evil grin. `We have only one question to answer here, that is who are you?'
The fat man grabbed a pair of tongs from a shelf and leaned over his prisoner's body.
`Now I am going to be careful. Twice, thrice as careful, Allah be my witness! But you... you are going to tell me everything... Everything you know... and don't know!