Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the James Tait Black Prize, the LA Times Book Awards, the Galaxy National Book Awards and the CWA Gold Dagger.

Excerpt 3 - A Meeting with the Cossack

"Something to drink?" said the Cossack, heading for the sideboard.

"Just one," Paolo said.

"Okay", I said.

"No thanks", said Vyacheslav Alexandrovich.

Paolo knew him from the previous time he'd worked with us, but I'd only met him once before, at the beginning of the winter, when we signed him up for the oil terminal job. He was a short, pale man, with thick hair, thick Soviet glasses and worried eyes. I suppose if you wanted to you could say he looked like a sort of compressed or stunted version of me.

The vodka bottle was shaped like a Kalashnikov. The Cossack picked it up by the butt and poured four large shots. When he held my glass out towards me I saw that his cufflinks were miniature dollar bills.

"Something to drink," he said to Vyacheslav Alexandrovich, telling him not asking, as he gave him the glass he hadn't wanted.

"To us!" said the Cossack, knocking his back in one, then wiping his mouth on the back of his funeral-black sleeve. Paolo and I clinked and drank. It was top quality, smooth, no after-burn, almost no taste.

Vyacheslav Alexandrovich took a sip and smiled thinly.

"Drink it," said the Cossack, not smiling.

Vyacheslav Alexandrovich took a deep breath, like a diver going under, and downed it. Afterwards he gasped, his mole eyes blinking and watering behind his glasses.

The Cossack laughed and slapped him on the back. They must have been about the same height, but the Cossack had a heavy prison-weightlifter build, and Vyacheslav Alexandrovich was all slouch and paunch, with one of those ill-fitting bodies that are somehow fat and skinny at the same time. He shot forward, then steadied himself and tried to smile again.

"Well done," said the Cossack. "So, let's sit down."


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