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Whoso would be a man must be a non-conformist. -- Emerson

Gadfly Novels


Excerpt from Little Babushka

Little Babushka
  Amazon Kindle

        Nathan sprinted down the hall, flung the door wide, and dashed into the cloudburst with Aketi close behind. Almost immediately his clothes were soaked. The rain poured down his face blocking his vision, and he wiped his eyes clear. All the excitement caused his blood to surge in his temples. He stopped at the street curb to get his bearings.

        The gutters spouted streams of water, running full. Storm clouds the color of ebony created a barrier that blocked the remaining light from sunset. Streaks of lightning flashed and darted through the clouds, and thunder shook the earth.

        "There!" Aketi pointed.

        Volchak crossed Kaunda Road into People's Garden, his tall figure disappearing behind a grove of jacaranda trees. They raced after him. When they were almost across the street, Nathan noticed him stop, turn, and aim.

        "Aketi, look out!"

        They ducked behind a parked car at the curb. Two bullets struck the vehicle; one into a front fender, the other shattered the windshield. A blizzard of glass showered across the hood and into the street. Another shot buzzed overhead.

        With his left hand bracing the right wrist, Nathan stood up and fired three rounds that chipped the bark on a tree beside the Russian's head.

        Volchak turned and ran through the garden heading for the medieval section of narrow streets and centuries old buildings.

        They chased him through the manicured gardens, past Victoria Guest House, and across Vuga Road. They entered the labyrinth of Old Stone Town, streets twisted and curved without any discernible pattern, nothing more than alleyways.

        The rain pelted them, and Nathan wiped his face and kept running. Lightning flashed exposing deserted streets. Overhanging roofs emptied their drainage directly onto their heads drenching them as if they were standing in a steamy shower. They reached a divide in the road.

        "Which way, Bwana?" Aketi asked, breathing hard.

        "You take the right and I'll take the left."

        Nathan's cheekbone throbbed. When he rubbed it, blood smeared his hand. Another crossroads appeared, and he veered right without thinking. No time for rational thought. Time to trust instinct. He headed north toward the ocean, his shoes pounding the pavement. A sinking fear penetrated him. Maxwell, or whoever he might be, was going to get away.

        A bullet chipped the brick wall next to his head. He ducked inside a doorway and he waited five seconds. When he risked a quick glance, he spotted him. Nathan peppered the area with the final rounds in the clip and missed. He tossed the empty clip into the gutter, and reloaded, jamming the new clip into the handle. He searched the street, but he was gone.

        The slashing rain stung his face, and he cursed when lightning struck a nearby house and thunder echoed across the rooftops. A faint stream of light spilled out in the street from the Green Garden Restaurant. Another bolt of lightning blinded him momentarily. Slick as mud, the cobblestones caused him to slip, and he almost fell.

        His eyes blazed with prehistoric rage, and he rounded two turns recklessly, not caring about his safety. Someone poked their head out of an upstairs window and yelled at him in Arabic. He threaded his way around and through abandoned carts and two-wheeled wagons. Two donkeys, hitched to a cart, hunkered down against the onslaught of rain.

        Nathan dashed into a large plaza, its pavement glazed with moisture. A lone street lamp provided minimal light. On all sides, large imposing buildings blocked his view. When he looked to his right, he saw Aketi appear from another street. They waved, and Aketi trotted over to him.

        "I heard gunfire, you all right?"

        "No," Nathan answered grimly, "He got away. In front of him, a massive church occupied the middle of the plaza.

        "St. Joseph's," Aketi explained.

        "Maybe he's in the church," Nathan said.

        Cautiously, they approached the front entrance. Gothic pillars greeted them on both sides of the entry: frescoes of biblical scenes, bronze metalworks, pointed arches, and ribbed vaults. They walked up stone steps, pulled open one of the tall heavy doors, and entered.

        Inside, a wide arch led into the sanctuary. Above, he noticed round clerestory windows, surrounded by intricate carvings and a wooden ceiling. Every few seconds, lightning flashed, sending brilliant, brief streaks of daylight into the chamber.

        Candles glowed dimly. A mahogany railing separated the pews from the altar. Off to the side, protected in a graceful alcove, the Virgin Mary observed them with a compassionate gaze. Behind the altar, Jesus hung in pain from a giant, gnarled wooden cross. Near a wall, a tall Christmas tree blinked with colored lights.

        Aketi knelt and crossed himself before starting down the aisle.

        "I didn't know you were Catholic," Nathan whispered.

        "I'm a very good Catholic, and so are my three wives."

        Nathan smiled. The African version of Catholicism didn't match the Vatican's.

        Drenched to the skin, they descended the aisle toward the altar. Nathan counted seven people praying in scattered areas of the sanctuary. Arabic Christians. Three of them were dressed in traditional desert robes. All the faces were black or dark brown. Along the outer walls, partitions were festooned with beautifully carved African flowers.

        A priest emerged from the shadows and approached them with a benevolent expression on his face. "Welcome to St.Joseph's. I am Father Shabramant. May I be of service?"

        Aketi took charge. "Father, forgive our intrusion and our appearance. We're searching for a very dangerous man, a very bad man. Mkubwa haraka, big danger."

        Nathan added, "a tall white man with a thin mustache and black-rimmed glasses."

        Father Shabramant's eyes drifted down to the pistols they both held. "This is a house of God."

        Reluctantly, Nathan pocketed his pistol but kept his hand on it while Aketi did the same.

        "A man came here yesterday answering that description. He wanted to leave a valuable valise with me. He said I was the only one in Zanzibar that he could trust. Naturally, I couldn't refuse."

        Nathan said, "have you seen him since?"

        "Yes, perhaps three or four minutes ago."

        Nerves jangling, Nathan peered into the shadows gripping the Glock pistol. "Where is he?"

        "He went into the sacristy."

        High voltage surged through Nathan's body. "Where's the sacristy? What is it?"

        "Over there, behind the altar. It's used for sacred items, vestments, chalices. I stored his bag in there for him."

        Nathan headed for the room, but the priest stopped him. "Please, you must leave. This is not a place for violence. What has he done anyway?"

        "Father," Nathan tried to remain calm, "please move aside. We think the man was responsible for my wife's gunshot wounds. She's in the hospital now. His accomplice tried to assassinate Dr. Rohana."

        The priest's face reacted with shock. "Mother of God! May the Lord have mercy on his soul."

        Nathan and Aketi stepped over the mahogany railing, rounded the altar, and reached the sacristy door. He stood to one side while Aketi moved to the other side of the opening. The dim glow of candlelight sliced a wedge of radiance under the door. Nathan turned the handle and swung it open.

        Down on one knee, he risked a quick glance around the edge of the door jam. The room was sparsely furnished: a small table, a chair, and a large ornately carved wardrobe. A candle flickered on the table.

        They entered the room, pistols drawn. Nathan's eyes strayed to the chair. Neatly folded and stacked were a pair of trousers and a shirt. On top, they recognized a theatrical mustache, a wig, and a pair of black-rimmed glasses. From the table, Nathan picked up a passport, opened it, and examined the photo. He read the name: Nigel Maxwell. A slip of paper floated to the floor. He picked up the note and read it aloud. 'If you get in my way again, I'll kill you.' He placed the paper back on the table. "No, you won't you sonufabitch, I'll kick your ass to hell!" Nathan whispered through his teeth.

        Aketi glanced at the photograph in the passport. "Bad man, Bwana, bad man." Aketi whispered. "I know that face, and he isn't from England. He's Yuri Volchak, former KGB. Aketi had been briefed by British intelligence on Soviet operatives in Africa, and he remembered how Volchak had the ability to change identities, faces, and languages like a chameleon.

        Fresh air entered the room from another door slightly ajar. When Nathan swung it open, he noticed a hallway leading to an outer fire exit. When they went outside, the streets were empty. The storm was moving east across the island.

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