*

I couldn’t wait for the wonderful taste of coffee in my mouth, even if it came from the vending machine. The first sip burnt my tongue and palate. I killed my tastebuds. Again.

I needed that hot, bitter, liquid bliss to keep me awake, so I won’t miss my bullet train. Destination? Kazakhstan, a strip of godforsaken blood and kerosine soaked land, the New I.C. Baikonur.

I got hired by Strix United for a top secret job. My paycheck was going to kick my last year’s paycheck’s ass.

The narrow platform was empty.

Walking towards the passenger waiting area, I thought of lighting a cigarette. The seats looked cold and uninviting. The info screen showed 2:40 am. The Kowaljonok Express would arrive at 3:30 am.

Still fifty minutes to kill, so I sat down and stuffed my bag under the seat. I hooked one of my bag’s straps around one ankle. If anybody tried to snatch it, the yank would wake me.

I was battling exhaustion and it was winning. My eyes burned my head ached, my thoughts slow and sticky. It felt like my skull was stuffed with cotton candy.

For the last two days I couldn’t get any sleep, so my body was extremely tempted to fall into a slumber.

I rolled a stolen persimmon between my palm and my jeans. I had it pocketed in the Cafe, where the Strix guy gave me my tickets.

I couldn’t stop myself from yawning. Forty-four hours awake were nothing to sneeze at.

„Hey, Mihail!” A male voice from behind made me jump. I must’ve dozed off. „Where you go?” How could he sneak up on me? I squeezed the paper cup too hard. The liquid burnt the back of my palm and between my fingers. The coffee splashed as the cup hit concrete.

I craned my neck to express my feelings towards the stranger. A bad idea, it dawned on me a second later, but I was sleep deprived. I felt the impact of a fist smashing into my cheek bone. My head tried to fall off, into a black starry pool.

I didn’t see that coming. I groaned… Probably. It stung.

The pain sliced trough the fog of dizziness. Good for me, now I was pissed, and didn’t need to hold back. This guy deserved what was coming, and I had an excuse to let off steam.

I ducked under his next punch and landed a body shot on the lower ribcage. With a growl, he swung his arms like a stuffed grizzly would swat flies. No doubt, he was drunk. I could smell vodka and onions.

I caught his wrist and flung him unto my side of the seats. His surprised howl ended in a tubby whoomph. He smooched the platform.

Man, I could use a cig. From the looks, he was someone’s muscle man, but not the smart kind. Confusing me with some crook, what a jerk. He whimpered, pulled himself into a tight knot. I tried to exhale the fire that boiled my lungs. It wasn’t working.

The man on the ground lashed out, his kick nearly crashed into my knee. For a drunk he was fast, tackling me, sending both of us flying. I smacked his ears.

On my feet, I had him in a head lock. He won’t give up easily, I could tell. “Who is Mihail,” I asked him as calm as possible.

“Dog,” he struggled.

*

“That’s no answer.” I tell the reeking drunk man in my stranglehold. He tugs at my jacket, my fingers. No one gets out of my headlock.

He calls me Mihail. My name is not Mihail.

The polished chrome on the side of the vending machine reflects us, me and Mister Vodka here. We’re dancing, I drag him further up the platform and he shoves me back.

This happens when I’m tired, I get irritable. I overreact.

The purple color of the guy’s head tells me, he’ll lash out. Nearly unconscious, he’ll put all his strength into one final punch. Get there first! I lean my weight unto his, so he has to balance both of us. That keeps him from hitting me, just have to squeeze a little harder.

His saliva drops from my hands on my jeans and shoes. Disgusting. Almost there, just a tiny bit more and he’s cold out. Though he is built like a bull, he isn’t used to violence. I can tell. He has no idea how to free himself. He gasps like a carp in grass. „Pomosh…”

His struggling gets weaker. “Pomosh,” he gargles. Why is he grunting for help?

I feel him relax under my grip, arms dangling. I let him keel over. He falls like a log, a vodka soaked, stupid log.

My cheek stings again, the heat eats my face, blooms into my skull. It’s going to be some nasty bruise. I hope nothing’s broken. My vision blurs a bit, a dark cloud over my eye. The skin around it feels puffy. Dull pain throbs through my eye socket as my fingertips touch it. Shit.

People talk. People get funny ideas. And easy as that, they will call me pansy. This is just great! The screen on the platform shows 3:15. My train will arrive soon.

I can’t let the man lie here. He looks like an attraction.

The Russians aren’t too happy about a foreigner beating up one of their kin. Calling the police will definitely delay me, and I have a first class ticket all the way to Kazakhstan. Besides, I think they give the job to someone else, if I’m late…

“Show up or blow up.” That’s what the funny Strix guy said to me. So, Mister Vodka has to go.

I could ditch him from the other side of the platform, unto the rail tracks. He’d be out of sight… I don’t think somebody would miss him… Much. No worries, I’m the motherly type. I’ll make sure he doesn’t suffocates on his own vomit. Even if he’d merit a kick in the teeth for attacking me. I’ll just drag him behind the vending machine, and leave him there.

And I need some coins for another coffee. Let’s have a look.

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