And here’s a new short story which, since it isn’t that short, we are publishing in two parts, so it’s easier for you to read it ( it’s a well-written story, trust me, take your time to read it, you won’t regret it). And now some information about the author: Mark Graham lives in the country near Louisburg, North Carolina, with his wife, Christa, and five children. Land Run is his first novel. Mark is currently working on his next novel set in Ukraine.
For additional up-to-date information on Land Run please check out his blog: http://www.landrunbook.blogspot.com/
and his website as well: http://markgraham.tateauthor.com/
Mark’s book is published through Tate Publishing, a mainline publishing house.
THE PATRIOT (part 2)
When they were on the road again the man informed Dima that he had two hours to kill before his dinner. He asked him to take him somewhere where there were no people or noise and said that he could keep the meter running. Dima suggested a section of the beach with an abandoned shipyard where it was often quiet and the cell phone reception was still good.
“Sir, can I ask. What business you do?”
Dima watched the man walk to a broken and graffiti painted boardwalk bench, sit and start dialing his cell phone. The solitary state he saw there seemed to fit the man, a cold and friendless object. Dima found his thoughts returning to Afghanistan again as he habitually rubbed at the tattoo on his upper right arm. This day was becoming very unhealthy for him – he could feel it. He could just ditch the man since he had paid at every stop they made. He wouldn’t really lose anything, just anything more. And maybe he could stop at the Market on the way home and catch a few rides to help cover the loss. But something compelled him to remain, something other than the money. Dima wondered if maybe he hated himself as much as the he did the Lieutenant. He caught his own confusion – This man is not the Lieutenant. I’m losing some reality. He lit a cigarette and began to calm himself. This far out, he knew the wind would be a problem for the man’s cell phone reception. He took satisfaction in that while he sat down in his taxi to call his wife.
“Katya doesn’t answer her phone,” she said right away.
“She is always running out of Bee-Line cards. Go to the store and email her. You know she is at the hotel ten times a day using their internet.”
“Yes. I will.”
“You are crazy today. She is fine. Please,” he laughed. “My American is back. Bye.”
Dima drove them to Sova by way of his daughters’ kiosk. She wasn’t there, was probably on break and at the hotel to check her email. When they parked the man gave him American dollars. Dima hesitated before taking it, knowing this would mean something.
“I need you to watch from across the street. Maybe 20 minutes and then I will come out to smoke. I’ll give you an envelope to take back to the courthouse. Understand?”
Dima nodded, noticing the large size of the tip.
The trip back to the courthouse was quick. Leaning against his taxi, Dima took a final drag on his cigarette and took in, as well, the details of the building. An odd faded green with ornate white trim. The front façade was about 1950, Stalin-Georgian, and the real building behind pre-Bolshevik. He walked tiredly up the gray stone steps and through the chipped-paint goliath wooden doors. As he entered the great hall his eyes were drawn to the double staircase pressed against the far back wall, the black iron handrails leading to the visible second floor hall from both sides. The ceilings were much higher than he had been used to seeing in government buildings. The open space was a shrine to the former days, the Soviet years. The tall, draped, deep-red window curtains and blood-red display table-clothes set against the dark browns of the wide-board flooring and custom hand-carved paneled walls. Those walls were a museum of military history. Soviet heroes with uniforms hidden somewhere under the medals. Dima had 30 years to reflect on his war and wondered just then who they thought was buying this crap. He guessed that he once must have.
Looking to the packet in his hand for the first time he read, Ministry of Records. He found directions on the wall and climbed the stairs to the upper hallway. Down the hallway he found the door, a more modern entry to an office that brought him into the mid-1970’s. The woman behind the pressed board counter took his packet without looking up from her ancient computer monitor. She opened the paperwork and for a lack of anything to consume his mind, he read some of the paper in her hands. Suddenly, he was interested. The first name of a woman was much repeated. It was Katya. He leaned forward to fish for a last name but his movement caught the eye of the seasoned bureaucrat and she quickly shuffled the papers into an official manila folder. All worries about his Katya came rushing in on him.
“Excuse me, what was the last name for Katya on that form?”
“It is not for you. I know, I issued the form to the petitioner this morning.”
“Right. But I work for him. Please, what was the last name?”
“What is the petitioners’ name?”
Dima hated himself. Why didn’t I know a passenger’s name? I should have demanded to know his name. I always know their names!
“The Marriage certificate is filed. We are closed now.”
“You are very sweaty. We are closed,” she said, and then stood and walked deliberately to a back room.
Marriage? Dima fought to keep his thoughts straight as he half-ran out of the building. He searched, groped for the next steps. The train in an hour. Dubai? Wait…why a hotel room when the train leaves today, leaves now?
There was traffic as Dima sped through the asphalt maze of pot-holes. He needed help. Sasha! He’s in deep with the union now, he’ll know. He snatched his Nokia from inside his jacket pocket and dialed, misdialed, swore, then dialed again.
“Sasha. Quick, you will know. What is the Union doing at the Hotel Berdyansk!”
“You know what they do there. It’s about seventy bedrooms.” Sasha laughed.
“No. Look, an American was there this morning. He didn’t get a room. Why the hell was he there?”
“Oh. Okay, they work the Internet Café there. They have girls who do internet dating online with Westerners. Easy money.”
“He filed a marriage license today. But he just got to town!” Dima was honking his horn at anything in front of him now.
“Dima. Sometimes that is the transaction. You don’t want any part of that. You need money? I can get you scheduled on some drops, no problem.”
“That’s not it. No. Okay. Too much to tell.”
He hung up and suddenly got a flash of hope. But no one answered at home. He gave up trying five minutes from the train station and placed the cell phone in his front pocket. He had to commit to the worst possible outcome. Be ready and committed. The task was clear to him now, and simple. Katya would come home with him or he would be going to prison. This is life, he thought. He parked and reached under his seat.
As Dima walked, the station interior released greater light and sound through the windows. And each concrete step up into the entrance was important to him. He was aware of the feel and weight of each step he took. Each movement and sound inside was vivid: the woman arguing with the teller over her compartment assignment, the Polish chatter from the line at the currency exchange, a Babushka snapping at an overactive child, the flick of a lighter and associated smells of smoke in the air. Dima pushed through all the pews and people. Once on the platform, he slowed his pace to match the calm that now filled him, checking each car for the number he had read on the man’s ticket. By the time he reached the train car all his acute senses had melted away. He was no longer in the present. His mind was fully fixed on the impending confrontation he imagined, and in believing with all faith that he was in complete control. Get the girl. Go home.
Once inside, Dima walked, floated, through the aisle. He found the man making up his bunk. The man’s confused expression pleased him and further fueled his confidence.
“What the… What do you want? Was there a problem with the papers?”
Dima didn’t see a point in answering questions.
“Where is Katya?” Dima asked. Get the girl.
“None of your…”
Dima pulled the knife from his inside jacket pocket.
“The bathroom. She’s in the bathroom.” The man backed away, instinctively raising his hands outward.
The news forced Dima from his singular, emotional path, to one that demanded some level of thinking. He pointed for the man to sit as he sifted through the problem. Each Ukrainian rail car had two bathrooms, one on each end. He could ask, but the man could lie. He could walk the man out but then anything could happen, less control. He would wait.
Dima saw the man’s lips moving but didn’t hear him speaking. He saw that he was scared and agitated, but his movements were more like an abstraction to him. Dima was now consumed with the task of waiting. He placed his finger to his lips and the man was stilled. “I may kill you,” Dima said. “It will be quick.”
He heard the footsteps coming and braced himself for the hard, but was ready for the easy. He stepped to position himself beside the cabin door. By training, he could not turn his eyes from the man. As the door slid open he grabbed the long hair from the head he saw as it graced the entrance. Get the girl. He swung the body to the bunk opposite the man, ready to grab her up again. Go home. But she wasn’t his Katya. He saw that the woman was about to scream and so he moved his knife to her. He stood before them both for an eternity.
“Where is this man taking you?”
“America. He is my husband!”
“Show her plane ticket.”
“What?” the man asked.
She read the ticket. Dima could tell she didn’t even know where Dubai was. He watched them argue for almost a minute. Then saw she needed only a little prodding. He waved her to the door with his knife. Still covered in anger and tears, she grabbed her bag, and stomped past Dima. He peered through the window and watched her run from the train, through the station, and away into darkness. He turned back towards the man, relieved that he had not moved, and then backed himself out of the cabin and into the aisle.
“Go home,” Dima commanded.
He reached his taxi and sat for a time watching the parking lot lights flicker their way into solid beams, one by one. He took out his knife, paused briefly to regret the need of it, and then tucked it under his seat. Dima rolled down his window and leaned his head back, taking his cap off for a moment to wipe the sweat from his face. He turned his head to face up in resignation to the stars above. For the first time in many years he smelled the old air of salty sea mixed with fifty years of factory soot. From it he breathed in a moment of comfort. Dima truly loved Ukraine and his city. He gave some thought to his life and his country. How his youthful dreams and those of Ukraine had not quite turned out as planned. He straightened his small icon of Saint Augustine, almost smiled, and thought, Ukraine is corrupt, but she’s still my mother. Dima lit a cigarette, started the engine, and pulled out his cell phone. Twelve messages from home. Dima pulled away from the station before calling.
“Da, I know. Good. Tell her I said she is not to leave the Kiosk tomorrow and I will get her for lunch. And no going to the hotel checking emails.”
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