Knight to G 5,” Henricus said. Although, the phone had cut out so it only let through every other syllable. However, Kreshnik didn’t have to hear it; he already knew what his opponent was going to say. It was only a matter of time before Henricus would attempt a Fried Liver Attack; his favorite chess opening. Kreshnik made the move on his own board and leaned his head closer to the speakerphone so he could confirm his next move. He could have made a pithy comment about Henricus’s play, but he didn’t. Instead, he relayed his move and looked through the scope of his rifle.
Kresnik was on the balcony of his tenth-floor apartment. The chess set was on the table to his left, and his Zastava M48 was jury-rigged to a tripod mount to his right. The weapon was aimed at the window of Henricus’s eighth-floor apartment across the way. Through the scope, Kreshnik watched as Henricus studied the board. Henricus checked his watch.
“Can we pick this back up in a few hours?” Henricus asked.
“Flutera stopping by?”
“OK. How’s 1400?”
Both men hung up the phone.
It was almost noon, and Akira would be visiting soon anyway. Kresnik continued to look through the scope and watched Henricus answer his front door. Flutera entered the apartment and hugged Henricus. Even though she had weathered hardship, and gotten older, she still looked beautiful. Initially, Kresnik had felt like a voyeur watching these moments, but after a while it no longer phased him. It had been almost a year since Kreshnik had invoked the blood feud of the tradition of Kanun and now every day was the same.
Eventually, Kreshnik went inside and brewed some tea. Akira arrived soon after, and the two of them settled on the balcony. When Akira saw the rifle, he immediately began to ask questions, and Kresnik filled him on on Kanun.
“So, he’s safe as long as he’s home?” Akira had said and twisted the end of his beard. Akira was not his given name, but a nom-de-guerre he had selected when he joined The French Foreign Legion. Akira and Kresnick had become friends when they were both in Kosovo. Kresnik filled him in on the rules and the details of the blood feud. Henricus had wronged Kresnik’s family; a land dispute, though Kresnik didn’t go into the details. Truthfully, he had forgotten most of the details, but he had presented it as if trying to remember them was too painful.
“The second he leaves his apartment it’s fair game,” Kreshnik said.
Akira paused before asking the next question as if he was digesting the answer.
“How long do these feuds usually last?”
Kresnik went on to suggest sometimes things ended pretty quickly. If the target was eliminated, or the wronged party compensated. Of course, he’d also heard of examples that had lasted for over a decade. He went on to explain the various laws of Kanun, and how they overruled Albania’s legislature. Of course, the practice had fallen off during the rise of Communism but was revived after the regime had been ousted in the early 90s.
If Henricus left the confines of his home, he could be killed. However, people could visit him and bring him supplies. They would be safe. Flutera came by twice a week. Kresnik had not revealed that he and Henricus had grown up together, and Kresnik had almost asked Henricus’s sister, Flutera, to marry him. Once upon a time, he thought to himself. He also didn’t mention a recent encounter when she’d tried to seduce Kresnick and made offers should Kreshnick leave her brother alone.
The conversation stalled as both men sipped their tea. Akira, fascinated, asked if he could look through the scope into the target’s apartment. As he looked through the rangefinder, he continued to ask questions.
“What if he leaves through the back.”
“I’d know. I have a motion-activated camera back there.”
Akira stood up and looked at Henricus.
“What about you?” Akira said.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you ever leave?”
Kreshnik tried to sound like the question had been ridiculous, but the truth was except for necessary trips, he rarely left. He even had his food delivered from the grocery store. Akira stood up again and stretched. This time, he noticed the chessboard resting against the side of the balcony and gestured to it.
“It passes the time,” Kresnik said.
Kresnik had forgotten whether it had been he or Henricus who had suggested playing. Both of them had boards and pieces. They could speak on the phone and keep track of each other’s moves. They never kept score, so Kresnik didn’t know who had won more games, and over time it just became part of his everyday routine. Soon, the conversation with Akira drifted to another topic, and they asked each other about some of their former comrades. Kresnik had lost touch with most of them; Akira had been steadfast in keeping contact. Akira revealed what he knew about their inner circle. They spoke for another twenty minutes or so until Akira said he had to leave, but they would stay in touch. They wished each other well.
When Kresnik sat down again it was almost 14:00. He checked the rangefinder and saw Henricus was alone sitting at the table in front of the chessboard. Kresnick pressed the speed dial and watched as Henricus picked up the phone.
“You ready to continue?” Kreshnik said.