Dressed in white shorts and vests, the cadets gathered in a gymnasium void of equipment. Stripped to the waist, Nikolas held a dagger, trying to affect a muscular pose, but with too much belly and slack muscles. Well, put a pig in a pair of shorts, and it’s still a pig. Hold on to that picture, Jez thought and grinned.
One after another, the cadets attempted to evade an armed strike from the enemy, but not one returned to the outer circle without clutching at a gash. Jez watched nervously. He knew he was fitter than the NCO, and bringing him down for what he’d tried to do to Anna was a fantastic thought; but if he kicked against the system... Whether he’d fully understood what the colonel had said back in his office he wasn’t sure, but he was sure his mentor wouldn’t tolerate aggression towards a senior soldier. And besides, it was clear the NCO was expert at what he was doing. Out of shape or not, he’d beat Jez easily.
A yell from Popov and she left the circle suppressing a sob, clinging to a wound high on her right breast. That was it then, only him and Anna to go.
“Centre circle, Kornfeld,” Nikolas commanded.
He sighed and moved forward.
The corporal, to Jez’s surprise, sheathed his knife and announced, “Athletics, shooting, seems you’re a bit better than good. But you’re a skinny little runt and somehow…”
A sickening thud sank into Jez’s chest and pitched him to the ground.
“…I don’t think this will be your specialty.”
He tried to get up, but Nikolas kicked him in the side and rolled him onto his back. Jez had moved with the blow, but it still left him staring at the ceiling, winded. He needed a breather, but Nikolas came at him again. Jez fought nausea and darted to one side.
“Oh, girlie tactics. I didn’t expect that from a big shot like you. I might have expected it more from Puchinsky. Ah, Puchinsky, yes, you’re up next,” he said, and turned to Anna, grinning, breathing heavily. “And we still have a little debt left unpaid.”
As he considered the words, Jez got to his feet, but his attention had shifted. Nikolas pulled his knife and slashed it sideways. The tip of the blade scratched a red line across Jez’s now slit white vest. The corporal holstered the weapon and flexed his physique, readying for hand-to-hand.
“Come on, Kornfeld, one on one. Do your worst.” He laughed. “You have my full permission to set all your might against me.”
Nikolas suddenly lunged, and the heel of an open-palmed strike knocked Jez heavily to the floor. Somehow he had to keep out of the way, but getting to his feet he was surprised to see the trainer had paled. He’d overdone it with the other cadets and his lack of fitness was there for all to see. A chance presented itself as he took a more casual swipe. Jez followed with gut reaction. The punch flew and he reacted with a nimbleness that left his opponent in slow motion. He grabbed the corporal’s wrist with both hands, made a half turn, held the grip, brought the larger man’s arm onto his shoulder and whipped it down as hard as he could. The limb snapped to the sound of bone breaking and gristle tearing. Then came a shriek, as Nikolas screamed out in agony. Jez stepped back, but a surge of arousal had warmed the pit of his stomach and the stimulus urged him to finish the job. Why not? His career was over after this. He fixed his eyes on Nikolas and moved forward.
“Jez, no,” Anna shouted.
He stopped just as a hulking silhouette emerged from the shadow of a doorway to assist the crippled trainer. Jez returned to the group and joyous murmurs flowed through the circle. Suddenly, he’d become the most popular cadet in the hall.
The man helped the trainer out of the hall and the cadets separated into smaller groups, hanging around, awaiting further instruction. Jez and Anna sat together with their backs against the wall, he staring at the door expecting guards to come and get him any minute.
“I think the others are worried they might all be in trouble,” Anna said.
“Maybe they are, but it’s me who’ll come under fire,” Jez said, voice miserable, emotions much the same.
Anna cleared her throat. “Thanks,” she said, with a softness he hadn’t heard from her before.
“For what?” he asked.
“I know you lost it because Nikolas tried it on with me, and I know how important the army is to you… I’m sorry it had to happen. I’ll always be grateful.” The words were sweet, but the voice was stern.
He was embarrassed, just as when his older brother and sister had ribbed him about looking like a pretty girl.
He had no reason to say it, other than being stuck for words, but he responded, “You’d have done the same.”
She came back at him in a flurry of decisiveness. “No, Jez, no, I wouldn’t. I’m like you in as much as the army is everything to me. But believe me, I wouldn’t have done anything so… irrational. Not for any reason. I would protect my career at all cost.”
He smiled. “Or maybe it’s just that you don’t like me as much as I like you.”
Her shoulders dropped, her face relaxed and her eyes sparkled. “No, it isn’t that. I like you well enough.”
His cheeks were still burning when a cadet from one of the other huts came into the hall.
“I’m at the end of my training and have been told to command this unit for the rest of today. I don’t know how far you’ve all got with your preparation, so we’ll just go out for a run… I want to see you in front of the hut in full kit in five minutes.”
Set against the backdrop of Soviet, post-war Russia, Birth of an Assassin follows the transformation of Jez Kornfeld from wide-eyed recruit to avenging outlaw. Amidst a murky underworld of flesh-trafficking, prostitution and institutionalized corruption, the elite Jewish soldier is thrown into a world where nothing is what it seems, nobody can be trusted, and everything can be violently torn from him.
Genre - Thriller, Crime, Suspense
Rating – R
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