the assassin

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: July 17, 2019

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Submitted: July 17, 2019

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I almost didn't see him—the Tur man huddled against the wall of my apartment building. What if I hadn't seen him? It was dark. I could have walked by and gone inside and never known anything about him. If I had, I wouldn't be on this bus, driving through the middle of nowhere. I wouldn't have Sveeta's face stuck in my mind forever. I did see him though, and he looked like he might be hurt, so I stopped.
He was slumped forward, his head on his knees, his long dreadlocks hiding his face. A ragged backpack lay beside him. I assumed he was a gang member, because only the traditional Tur and the nationalist gangs wear their hair like that anymore. I have made a study of the language, legends, culture and history of the Tur for years because I find it fascinating. But I’m Sevian. So I didn't want to meet a Tur man in the dark on an empty street, especially if he belonged to a gang. The gangs are everywhere these days.
Anyway, I stopped and asked him in Tur, "Are you ok, can I help you?"
He looked up at me, eyes unfocused. "I'm fine."
He wasn’t fine. His face was bruised and he’d done a very poor job of cleaning up a nosebleed. I knelt down beside him.
" You're hurt. I want to help you."
"I'm ok." He staggered to his feet, took a couple of shuffling steps away and stopped, swaying. I jumped to my feet and caught him, helping him balance. He smelled. The odor of stale sweat was enhanced by the cheap cologne he'd try to mask it with, and there were one or two other smells that I only later identified as cow dung and wood smoke. I did think of helping him sit back down and then leaving him. I also thought of calling the police to come deal with him, but for some reason, I didn't. I pulled his arm across my shoulders and helped him through the door and up the stairs to my apartment.
"Take off your jacket. I think you're bleeding from there." I pointed to his shoulder.
He didn't move, just sat there studying my face. "It's only my nose. How did you learn to speak Tur so well?" When he smiled at me I noticed that he was missing his incisors. Some of the traditional Tur families still pull these teeth on their oldest sons. It's an tradition, or superstition, having to do with the belief that the boys were able to transform themselves into wolves if their teeth weren't removed.
"I've studied your language for a long time. Come on, let me see how badly you're hurt." I did take a first aid class once years ago because it was mandatory at my school. I should have paid better attention.
He slipped off his jacket and grinned again when he noticed me looking at long knife in a leather sheath that hung around his neck. His arms, like his face, was marked with scrapes and darkening bruises.
"You should go to the emergency clinic. I'll call a taxi to take you there."
"No I'm fine. Just some bruises."
"You might have internal injuries, or—"
"I told you I'm fine. I didn't come all this way to go to the doctor."
"Ok, then." I wasn't going to try to force him to go anywhere, especially since he had a six inch blade to stick in my throat if he didn't like the turn events were taking.
"What happened to you?" I asked, wishing I’d stayed another hour or two at the library and given him time to take his battered self somewhere else.
"Three guys jumped me a few blocks down from your house. I thought they wanted my wallet so I let them have it. I didn't want to hurt anybody."
"It looks like you're the one who got hurt."
"Well, when I realized they weren't going to stop hitting me after they got my money I knifed one of them. Then they left me alone."
"And—the man you stabbed?"
"I don't know. I don't think he was badly hurt. He ran off with the other two."
"You should—what is your name?"
"Daksha."
"Daksha, you should call the police and explain what happened."
"I can't, I don't have time."
"What do you mean? They'll come looking for you. It would be better if you contacted them first, just to explain what happened."
"No, you don't understand. I'll probably get arrested. After all, I did just stab someone. They'll want to have an inquest or something and by then it will be too late—the President will be dead."
* * *
Daksha told me his story through big mouthfuls of bread, cheese and garlic sausage. "A few days ago I had a dream. I dreamed I was standing in a huge crowd on the grounds of the Presidential Palace. It was just exactly this time of year, still chilly in the morning and the trees were just showing buds. As the dream went along I somehow realized that I was dreaming about this Saturday—the day after tomorrow.The crowd was gathered to hear the president's annual Address to the People. I was near the front so I had a perfect view. They had set up a podium on the open porch at the top of the steps, and hung huge long flags from all the balconies across the front of the palace. First a priest said a prayer to bless the occasion, and then one of the senior provincial governors introduced the president. Everybody cheered, the president smiled and waved to the crowd, and then his body jerked and collapsed onto the platform. I was close enough to see that he'd been shot in the head.
When I woke up, I remembered that the annual Address to the People was scheduled for this Saturday. God sent me that dream so I could warn him in time and save his life. It wasn't just a dream—I was seeing something real that hasn't happened yet."
I watched his eager face. His eyes put his entire inner world on display—the confusion, the excitement, the fear. I wondered if mine was equally visible.
"Do you have any more bread?" he asked.
"Here you go."
"Anyway, there's only one bus a week from Duna—that's the town nearest to where I live—to the capital, and it leaves at six in the morning, and it's a three hour hike from my home to Duna, so I just grabbed some money and my backpack and left right then. My father was awake because he'd been up all night with a sick cow. I told him where I was going."
"You came all this way just because you had a dream?"
"Yes, because I had that dream, I can save President Morsav from being killed. I don't know why, out of all the people in the world, God picked me to have it, but He did, so there must be a way that I can do it."
"Do you have a plan?"
"Well, I thought I'd call the chief of the president's security guards, or maybe I could talk to him in person. If I told him about what's going to happen, he could explain to the president and they could cancel the speech, or change the date."
"You won't be able to get the chief of presidential security on the phone."
"I could try."
"Trust me. That's not going to happen in a million years. Even if you did why would he believe you? You didn't actually overhear something, or see something. You had a dream. And you're Tur. The assassin, if there actually is one, probably is too. I don't think you understand the way things are between the Slavs and the Tur here. We hate each other. Those men who attacked you were beating you because you are Tur."
"So I guess I don't have a plan after all." He laughed. He seemed to enjoy laughing at himself.
"Do you have somewhere to go tonight? You can sleep here if you don't." I offered. "Maybe things will look different tomorrow."
It was only after Daksha had curled up with a spare blanket on the couch and I had gone to bed too that I remembered that he had just stabbed someone in a fight and didn't seem overly concerned about it, that he still had the knife and that my bedroom door didn't lock. But that's not what kept me awake.Those things didn't seem important, because when Daksha described his dream I had pictured it as vividly as he did—the crowds, the flags, the podium, the silent bullet that shattered President Morsav's skull. Because I'd had the same dream myself.
* * *
I doubt either of us slept much that night, but Daksha did look a lot better when I came down the next morning. He eased himself up into a sitting position, wincing. "Give me a hand up," he exclaimed as I entered. "I'm as stiff as an eighty year old, but I need to get moving before the police come after me."
"I still think you should call the police. You can explain everything—and you can tell them about your dream. They'll have a better chance of contacting the president's personal security forces than you would."
"Yes, but what if they laugh in my face and decide to lock me up for a few days and Saturday passes?"
That was exactly what would happen. "You will have done your best."
"I don't think so."
"I had the same dream." I blurted it out. His belief in it made me feel ashamed of ignoring it, but I decided that if I didn't tell him I would feel more ashamed still.
Daksha's eyes went wide. "Then that's why I was beaten up last night! God arranged it so I would meet you. I would get dizzy and sit down and you would come along and find me. We would probably have never met otherwise. He's brought us together. We're meant to come up with a plan to save the president together. If you come with me to the police station, they will listen to you. It's a start, at least."
"I doubt it." I honestly did doubt it, but at the same time my stomach turned sick with terror that what he was saying might be true.
"Yes, they will listen to you. You're Slav, not Tur." He made a bitter face. "Don't you think it's worth trying?"
"Worth trying? You mean, worth risking getting put in prison, or killed? Daksha, I'm supposed to be getting married in a few weeks. I'm finishing a PHD program at the University. I..."
At that moment the doorbell rang. Daksha tensed.
"Don't worry, that's Oxsana. She said she'd be dropping by early this morning to show me something."
Oxsana, my fiancee, bounced in with a brochure for a resort back in the hills, a possible location for our honeymoon trip. It was a little hotel out in the middle of nowhere, maybe not far from where Daksha lived. I pictured the wide low hills, rolling like a brown sea with their crop of snow flattened grass, and somewhere in a dip or a valley, Daksha's house, and his cows and his family and everything he loved.
"Oxsana, this is Daksha. He spent the night here because..." I explained everything, the mugging, his dream. As I finished, Oxsana plucked at my sleeve.
"Excuse us, I'd like to talk to Peter privately for a minute." She smiled at Daksha, but only with her lips. She snatched my hand and pulled me into the kitchen. As she turned to face me her long nervous fingers wandered up and tangled themselves in her hair. "Why in the world did you let him spend the night here?"
"It seemed like the right thing to do."
"Peter!You don't know anything about him—except that he is heading for trouble. Besides, it was his dream, not yours. If God wanted you to try to save the President, He would have given you the dream."
"Do you really think so? Oxsana—"
"What?" Her lips tightened, her eyes widened, as if she'd already heard what I was planning to say. Maybe I'm not as good at hiding things as I'd like to think. Until Daksha showed up, my dream had been just an uneasy memory. I desperately wanted to keep it that way. I didn't want to think about what would happen if I decided to accept it as Daksha had. I opened my mouth to say "I had the same dream," but I couldn't. Not while looking at Oxsana's anxious eyes. What came out was, "Don't worry about it. Tell me about the resort. It sounds like the perfect place for our honeymoon."
"I don't have time now. I'm going to by late for work." Her voice was tight.
She had time. She was leaving because she was afraid of Daksha. "Then come by this evening. I promise I will ask Daksha to leave. I love you, honey."
Oxsana stuffed the crumpled brochure in her purse. "I love you too." She kissed me. She has to stand on tiptoe to kiss me.
I walked back into the main room. Daksha started talking before I could figure out how to politely tell him to go. "The way I see it, these are my options." He held up three fingers. "One, I get in contact with the president's personal security force and tell them about my dream and the plot. Not likely. Two, I somehow find out who is planning the assassination and manage to foil their plot in time. Impossible. Three..." he paused.
"I don't think you can do anything about it. If God wants the president to be saved, He'll find some other way." I was still pretty sure I believed that, and I hoped Daksha would too.
"Three, I save him with a fake assassination plot. I've figured it all out. We will fill this backpack with bricks and then we can--"
"What in the world are you talking about? Do you realize what's going to happen to you if you even try to fake an assassination attempt on the president? Most likely you'll be shot dead on the spot. If you're really, really lucky they'll let you live and arrest you. Then you will be tortured by the police. They'll tie you up and give you electric shocks until your brain turns to mush unless you give them the information they want about other assassins, other plots, whatever—and you won't be able to because you don't have it. And don't say "we." I have nothing to do with this."
"But you dreamed..." His voice trailed away. The horror in his dark eyes made me feel sick, but I couldn't stop. Oxsana was right. He needed to go before he got us all in trouble.
"You'll never know if your sacrifice was even worth it—I mean, if you make the president leave before the assassination would have happened, you'll never know if it actually would have happened or not." I paused for breath.
"God wants me to do it. I think He wants you to help," Daksha added, almost in a whisper.
The simple, steadfast heros of the Tur were so much easier to deal with between the pages of my  notes for the anthology of of Tur legends I was translating. Now I had one standing in front of me in the real world, and he scared me.
"You need to leave now, Daksha. The way you're talking, I'm not sure I should have even let you spend the night here." I said that, but I was glad I had at least let him spend the night. "My father has a government job that he can't afford to lose—he's got a wife and six children still living at home to provide for. And if something happens to me, what will Oxsana do? I don't want to know what you're planning, and I don't want to see you again."
"Well, thanks for letting me stay the night." He paused. "You speak our language perfectly. You've studied our legends." Daksha gestured to the pile of papers and notebooks on the kitchen table, my partially finished translation of the story of Tiyar, the Tur hero who walked off the edge of the world with the Moon's daughter. He was quiet for a moment, thinking. "I might not go home again, so I'd like you to have this." He slipped a silver bracelet off his right wrist and handed it to me. It was two dragons fighting, their bodies intertwined, their noses nearly touching. Still warm from his skin, the dragons seemed alive and writhing. "It was my grandfather's and then my father's and then mine."
He didn't need to tell me that. I could see from the design it was older than he thought by a century at least. I didn't know what to say.
“It might not be as dangerous as you think. God must have a way. But just in case, if something happens to me, will you let my family know? It’s a long way, but you could just go to Duna and tell someone there and they’ll pass the message on, or maybe someone will be waiting for me. Sveeta will be—" He cut himself off. “Just starting to bloom now." He laughed, embarrassed.
Of course that wasn’t what he was going to say. In Tur, "sveeta" is the little white flower that blooms on the hills as the snow is melting, and it’s also a girl’s name. Tur men think it’s bad luck to mention their wives in front of another man. So Daksha was married. I hoped he didn't have any children.
I wanted to hug him, but I remembered just in time how scraped and bruised he was. Also I felt too ashamed. "If something happens, I promise I’ll let them know. Go do what you need to do. God be with you."
I watched him out the window until he was out of sight down the street—President Morsav's angel of life. He had washed his bruised face and tied up his dreadlocks in a big green handkerchief, so he looked slightly less wild than when I'd first met him, but with his threadbare jeans and camouflage jacket with a torn, bloodstained shoulder, he looked like—like someone a tense security guard shoots on sight. He was walking to his death, and for one crazy moment I wished I was going with him. After all, we had been given the same dream.
* * *
Oxsana told me not to turn on the television on Saturday, but I did. Every channel was doing a live broadcast of the president's speech. The camera panned the swirling crowd, the road blocks, the security guards stationed along the street. It didn't catch a ragged figure with his dreadlocks wrapped in a green bandana, shouldering a sagging backpack, but I knew he was there. The president's motorcade appeared, six shiny black SUVs and as many police trucks mounted with machine guns. As they approached the main intersection they slowed to a crawl.
Then I saw Daksha. He dashed forward and slung his brick-filled backpack at the front wheels of the first SUV. A security guard shot him almost before it hit the ground.The crowd around him swirled and broke as the impact of the bullets threw him onto his back. Tires squealed and rubber burned as the motorcade screeched into reverse and roared away through the scattering crowd.
I couldn't take my eyes away from the screen. The TV cameras caught every detail. Daksha didn't struggle as two security guards dragged him across the road, his long hair and his arms trailing. A dark stain marked the place where he had first fallen. The guards hoisted him by the ankles and wrists and slung him into the back of the police truck. I think he tried to sit up but one of the guards pushed him down and he fell backwards. I didn't see him move again. I wondered if he felt betrayed, by me, by God. He had to have known his mission would end like this. The camera panned away and then the TV screen went black. In a few seconds, it came back on with a laundry soap commercial. Amid the bubbles and cheery music, I buried my face in my hands and cried.
* * *
The following Wednesday I got on the bus that Daksha should have taken. It was my first trip so far into the hills. I wasn't expecting the bus to go bouncing on and on and on long after the road ended and the mud and ruts began. We almost got bogged down in a few places, the ground was so soggy from the snow melt. At the end of the line, the bus stop in Duna, I got off and looked around, wondering if anyone from Daksha's family would be waiting for him, and what I would say to them if they were.
A Tur girl was the only person there who seemed to be waiting for anyone. She stood still as the wind lifted her hair and the fringes of her shawl. For some reason she looked familiar. Who did she look like? Daksha. She had the same eyes, the same shape of face. No, she didn't look anything like Daksha. She was beautiful. A gust of wind blew her ragged skirt, showing her dirty bare feet and the silver anklets around her ankles. She pushed back the hair that the wind had blown across her face. She must be a sister or a cousin. No, she must be Sveeta. "Hello," I said.
She stood and watched me with her dark deer eyes.
"I'm Peter, I'm a friend of Daksha."
When she realized I spoke Tur, she smiled. "I'm Daksha's wife. Why isn't he with you? Why hasn't he come home yet? He said he'd be back in just a few days."
"You know why he went to the city, don't you?"
"That dream."
"Yes."
"Well, when is he coming home?"
"I don't know how to tell you this...Daksha saved the president's life. He did what he thought was the right thing, even though he knew it was dangerous. But he was shot by the security forces. They didn't understand what he was trying to do. He's dead."
"He's dead," One hand went up to push back the long hair that blew across her face. "He's dead," she said again, trying to make it real.
"I'm so sorry," I said.
Her eyes filled with tears and she turned away from me, looking up at the slope above us. A narrow track wound back and forth up it to the crest.
"Daksha gave this to me, but I think he'd really want you to have it." I held out the silver bracelet. She took it and walked away without looking at me again.
There was nowhere to go and nothing to do until the bus left again, so I sat down on a stone and watched Sveeta as she climbed back up the way she had come, crossing and recrossing the hill, growing smaller with distance. High on the slope she startled a flock of grazing sheep. I watched one of the lambs as it skipped and danced ahead of her on the ridgeline, the early sun turning its muddy fleece gold, until they both disappeared down the other side.


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