Rewritten opening of Ch. 1

The rain came down from the featureless clouds, washing the city of Tashkent, Uzbekistan. In the downtown area, a man in his early thirties and wearing distinctly Western clothes was climbing the staircase of his apartment building. A droning call of a muezzin sounded from a nearby mosque, calling the faithful to afternoon prayers. The nasally song provided an undercurrent of eeriness to the building’s dirty, poorly lit hallways.

The man wrinkled his nose at each new staircase landing. Every floor had a distinct smell. For some it was burned food, for others drugs, but all had a unique flavor that could only be described as extreme poverty. He hated the entire building, but had to weather the dangers if he wanted to reach his room.

At his floor, the man hurried to unlock his door. Several feet away, a teenager was leaning against the wall, smoking and staring at the strangely dressed man.

“Can I help you?” the man demanded.

In response, the teenager pulled the cigarette from his mouth and blew a cloud of smoke into the air. “Got any money?” he asked slowly.

The man reached into his jacket pocket and revealed the grip of a handgun. “Back off,” he said quietly.

An amused glint in the teenager’s eyes, he replaced the cigarette. His hands free, he reached around onto his back, where an AK-47 was hanging by its strap.

The man was speechless for a moment. He hadn’t noticed the assault rifle. “Don’t do it.”

Almost laughing, the teenager flicked the safety to its OFF position. He was about to speak, but his eyes flickered to something behind the man.

Desperately wanting to know what was behind him, the man cautiously turned so that he could still see the teenager out of the corner of his eye. The thing that had distracted the teenager was a woman coming out of her apartment.

The woman, dressed in a burka, stood in her doorway. It looked as if she had started to come out of her apartment, but stopped when she saw the two.  Now she stood motionless, her face invisible, staring.

 

The End

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