Knight Moves

Caravan Jazz Club
Baku, Azerbaijan

The slow, slinky bass groove of the Emil Ibrahim Quartet expanded into the cellar bar like embryonic fluid filling a womb, brush hats punctuating the rhythm with commas instead of periods. In front of the piano-trapset-upright trio, a blonde-haired European woman performed a soft saxophone solo, lyrical woodwind notes offering the melodic equivalent of an unfaithful lover's pleading excuses.

Shant huffed indignantly, barely containing his abject disgust. "These progressives," he noted aloud to his three companions, seated with him at a table in the far corner of the bar. "It is unfathomable that we lost the Crusades to them."

Vartavar nodded in agreement. "Their liberal ways are mealy-mouthed and weak-kneed. I do not like this place; it reminds me too much of America, with its abject permissiveness."

"Quiet, both of you," demanded Diran, the leader of the four, as their dark-haired waitress approached the table, delivering four glasses of Lachryma Christi red wine. After she departed, Diran continued: "We are not here to lament the moral decay of this city and its Shia inhabitants. We are here to acquire the artifact from the mercenary."

"That's another thing," said Shant. "I don't trust this woman, this Black Queen. She is known for her subterfuge, for her talents in misdirection. She may double-cross us."

"I am aware of that," nodded Diran, "and I do not trust her, either. But we are no amateurs. We are the Knights Hospitaller, the rightful Armenian heirs of the true Christian militia, and to cross us is to cross the will of almighty God. Are you telling me that four grown men, empowered by the Lord Christ, cannot handle one godless woman?"

"No, of course not," said Shant, affecting a look of insult to hide his embarrassment. "I fear no female."

"Haro," said Vartavar to the fourth Knight, "you've been conspicuously silent. What is your opinion of this Black Queen?"

Haro said nothing; his face was flush and bloated, his breathing labored. Within seconds, he collapsed face-first onto the table.

The other three Knights leaped from their chairs. "Poison!" exclaimed Shant.

"Find the waitress," demanded Diran. "Now!" The three drew their firearms; the other patrons of the club let out a collective gasp, and the band abruptly ceased playing. The Knights snaked through the tables, checking each female as they passed.

"The kitchen!" yelled Vartavar, pointing to the doorway. They could see the dark-haired waitress looking back at them in fright, and she ran through the door.

"After her!" ordered Diran. They gave chase out of the main floor and into the kitchen, knocking over tables and chairs in their furor.

The waitress ran out the service exit, into the alleyway. Diran, ahead of the other two, opened fire on her as he burst through the back door, winging her in the leg. She stumbled, falling onto her face, and cried out in pain and fear.

The three Knights jogged towards the crippled female. "Impudent whore," said Shant, spitting on the ground next to her as she bled, and shot her in the head, silencing her cries.

Diran sheathed his gun. "Search the body," he said. "She must have the artifact."

Vartavar padded down the bloody corpse thoroughly. "Nothing," he said, visibly confused. "Not even a key or…"

His words were cut off by a sudden bullet to the back of the head. Vartavar collapsed on top of the waitress, dead.

Shant and Diran spun around. Behind them, the saxophonist from the band had a French-issue automatic rifle trained on them. It was the last thing Shant would ever see.

"Son of—" yelled Diran, diving and rolling away from the barrage of fire.

The blonde woman ran down the opposite end of the alley, carrying her saxophone case in one hand as she laid down cover fire behind her with the rifle. She cut left into a cross-street, disappearing from Diran's view. He ran after her, swearing and panting.

The alley was a dead end; in it, a single dumpster sat, across from which stood an Iranian man wearing a polo work shirt from the restaurant next door, carrying a worn duffel bag. He looked up as Diran rounded the corner and passed the sewer plate in the street, putting up his hands as he saw his gun. "No shoot, please!" the man pleaded in broken English.

"Where is she?" demanded Diran.

"Woman in garbage!" yelled the Iranian, pointing nervously towards the dumpster.

Diran raised his gun and riddled the trash bin with bullets. The Iranian cowered in fear, covering his head and retreating to the farthest corner of the alley.

Diran walked towards the hole-pocked dumpster, panting and smirking. "Checkmate, bitch."

His victory exclamation was proven premature by the three bullets that opened up new and rather inconvenient holes in his lungs. Falling to his knees, he looked behind him to the source of the assault — and saw, rising from under the manhole cover, the blonde-haired woman he had been chasing.

She loosed one more bullet into his skull, and the Knights Hospitaller ceased to exist.

"I didn't consider them much of a challenge, myself," said the Iranian man in perfect English, standing again and pulling the polo shirt off over his head.

"Unfortunately for them," said the woman, pulling off her blonde wig to reveal the raven tresses underneath, "they failed to realize that as soon as the information that they provided me with was proven useful, they themselves ceased to be. Still, it was well worth the setup just it to watch you play the hapless decoy, Bijhan."

"You flatter me, Raina," said Bijhan, adjusting his undershirt. "I trust you have the item?"

The Black Queen smirked, opening up the saxophone case, inside which was a side compartment meant for extra reeds and sheet music. She lifted the flap to the compartment, revealing what appeared to be an ancient board game. "Surely, you have my payment as well."

Bijhan nodded. "In here," he said, lifting the duffel slightly.

"Throw it to me," said the Black Queen.

"Raina," said Bijhan, "I'm insulted that you haven't deemed me worthy of your trust yet."

"You may take solace from the fact that you're in very good company," she answered curtly.

Bijhan chuckled, tossing the duffel to her, which she caught in her left hand. She nodded simply, kicking the saxophone case closed and sliding it towards Bijhan with her foot in one fluid motion.

"I suggest we depart before the local authorities arrive," said Bijhan, bending over and snatching up the case quickly.

The Black Queen didn't answer him; by the time he straightened up again, she was already gone.

"Now departing Baku station for Tbilisi, Georgia and points North," sounded the rail car speaker. "Please have your tickets ready as the conductor comes through."

"Ticket, please," said the conductor, holding his hand out towards the passenger in the first seat.

The black-haired woman looked up from the folder she was engrossed in. "Hmm? Oh! I'm sorry." She laughed lightly. "I was so absorbed in what I was reading that I didn't hear the announcement."

The conductor smiled widely. "Not to worry, miss," he said, looking politely expectant.

She nodded affirmatively, closing her folder and setting it gently beside her on top of the duffel bag from which it came, and began to look through her purse, the title on the folder's cover plainly visible:






to be continued…

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License