“The Life Saver” by Lina Zeldovich
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, we’ll travel to Russia with Lina Zeldovich, for her story of an imam interrupted late at night. Next week, join us and George Eyre Masters in “Devine, TX.”
A knock on the door interrupted Imam Galim’s late night tea. Resting in his apartment attached to the Qolşärif mosque—the largest mosque not only in Tatarstan’s capital, but all of Russia—he was watching the moon rise over the Kazanka River and the nearby Blagoveshchensk Cathedral.
The stranger at his door had the pale face of a fugitive. “The Russian goons are after me, Imam,” he blurted out, clutching a large duffel bag to his chest, as if holding his most precious possessions thrown together minutes before he left home. “Please hide me!”
For generations, Tatars and Russians lived in Kazan peacefully, the last armed conflict dating back to when Ivan the Terrible stormed the city. But a few weeks ago, a bomb blast nearly killed Father Petr on the cathedral’s steps. Searching for the radical Islamists, Alpha Group—the government anti-terrorist force—had been performing sweeps since, arresting Tatars everywhere.
Hastily, Galim let his visitor in, bringing him into a quiet sitting room laid with thick woolen rugs. But before he could offer his guest a cup of tea, another knock on the door, loud and insistent, summoned him back. This time, it was two Alpha men.
“Father Galim, have you noticed any suspicious individuals around?” they asked. “The word is, the local fanatics aim to finish what they couldn’t the other day.”
Galim stroked his long white beard. “Allah almighty keeps the evil away from this holy place,” he said. “Nothing suspicious passed before my eyes, but I’ll say a prayer tonight to keep us all safe.”
If there was something Galim believed in with his whole heart, it was Allah almighty. As a young cleric he was drafted and sent to Afghanistan—the Soviets didn’t grant waivers to religious scholars. For the next two years he cleared minefields and deactivated every explosive device known to man. He never lost his faith and prayed daily, the only one from his sapper group to return home in one piece. And not only had Allah protected him every time he dismantled a deadly whirl of wires, but he also spared Galim from the inevitable sin of murder. Allah let him save lives instead of taking them.
“Allah may save you, but the cathedral’s another story,” barked one of the Alphas. “Is anyone hiding in the mosque?”
“The house of God is open,” Galim answered. “You can search it if you’d like.”
“And if we search your apartment?”
“All guests are sent by God,” Galim replied calmly. “You’re most welcome.”
The men exchanged glances and left, perhaps to search the Qolşärif mosque. Swiftly, Galim locked the door and hurried back to his guest.
“They’re everywhere, so if the cathedral is your destination, you’ll never make it,” Galim told him. “But there’s a better way, thanks to our ancestors who dug an underground passage during the Russian siege centuries ago. It will take you twenty minutes to reach the cathedral. Then you can take the west fork that will lead you out to the banks of the Kazanka.”
The man regarded him for a few seconds. “Where’s the passage?” he asked.
“You can’t embark on your mission without a prayer,” Galim said firmly, placing his hand on the duffel bag. His guest protested, but as Galim shepherded him into a praying chamber, he reluctantly yielded to the imam’s authority. “Clear your mind and ask Allah for a blessing,” Galim commanded. “The success of your task depends on Him.”
He left the man to the Lord and closed the chamber’s doors.
Then he ripped the bag open.
Inside was a bomb, already wired and ticking. It didn’t take Galim long to comprehend it was to explode thirteen hours from now, during the Sunday Mass. It was a badly built homemade bomb, so Galim wouldn’t dare take it apart. But what he could do was reset the clock.
When his guest emerged from the chamber, Galim handed him the bag and took him down to the cellar, where among the shelves of canned preserves was a door to the underground passage. Then he returned to his kitchen and warmed his tea.
Ten minutes later, just as the pale-faced man would’ve been halfway through the path, a small earthquake shook the city center, rattling buildings and cars. It was as if the earth let out a smoky burp, expelling a plume of life burnt into dirt.
In his last prayer of the day, Galim asked Allah’s forgiveness for the only life he couldn’t save.
Born and raised in Kazan, Tatarstan, LINA ZELDOVICH lives in New York City where she writes fiction in English and poetry in Russian. Her short stories appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Murder New York Style, The Shaker of Margaritas, Deadly Ink, Writer’s Digest Short Story Collection, and other anthologies. She holds three Writer’s Digest awards, including first prize for her Soviet era memoir story, First They Broke My Back. A Columbia University Journalism School alumna, she is a science editor at the Nautilus magazine, and has written for Scientific American, Psychology Today, and other publications. Having finished her belly dancing murder mystery novel, Death by Scheherazade’s Veil, she is working on Scribe in Translation, inspired by her immigrant journey from an ESL student to an award-winning writer and journalist. In her spare time, she enjoys belly dancing and translating the works of up and coming Russian authors into English. www.LinaZeldovich.com
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Mar 24, 2014
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