The blanketed windows of the prestigious row of brick townhouses on Arbat Street hid the quick successive flashes from the silenced pistol. Three men lay dead inside the plush walls of number 513 Arbat Place. The living quarters of the Russian Special Operations Directorate, Yuri Frolov, situated slightly over a kilometer of the Kremlin.
The flashes of gunfire signaled the end of the impromptu meeting between the head of the Russian Federations Of Special Forces and the ex-Special Forces captain who had returned from the failed Ukrainian mission and presumed dead.
Lev Zhernakov stepped over the sprawled body of Frolov’s personal guard as he slipped through the door and tread lightly toward the end of the hallway on the building's fourth floor. Ignoring the metal door leading to the stairwell, Zhernakov stopped facing a window set in the end wall. Easing the window open, Zhernakov raised his leg and silently climbed onto the metal landing of the building's fire escape.
Stepping to the side of the opening, he stood with his back to the wall letting his eyes grow accustomed to the darkness on the backside of the tall brick structure. Several deep breaths calmed his adrenaline-fueled heartbeat. The chilled winter air cut through his thin black clothing as he waited, ears strained to detect signs of pursuit.
Hiding the glow from the dial of his watch, Zhernakov cursed at the time displayed. 4:a.m. The Director had proved to be a tougher subject to pry the truth of the failed mission deep in the Ukrainian country then the Russian Special Forces Captain had realized. Even with a gun pointed at his temple, the Director sneered at Zhernakov’s questions.
In the gloom of the unlit alley, Zhernakov stared blankly at the darker blots of fluid on his black leather glove. As seasoned as the old guy was, Zhernakov had extracted the information he was risking his life for by returning to Moscow. But the window for his escape was closing in on him.
With a final survey of the shadows and noises of the deserted alley, Zhernakov climbed lightly down the metal stairs into the depths of the ice-covered lane. A sliver of moonlight reflected off the frozen mounds of snow providing different degrees of shadows for Zhernakov to guide himself away from the apartment of the former Special Operations Directorate.
Using the depths of the shadows to aide his escape, Zhernakov stuck to the thick cover provided by the night and the tall buildings that crowded around as he worked east away from the center of Moscow. Walking briskly, Zhernakov passed from the revitalized quarters of Arbat Street for the poorer, less appealing streets of eastern Moscow.
By five in the morning, the Russian Captain slunk around the alleys of downtrodden tenements, kilometers east of the center of Moscow, the homes of the working poor. Smells of coffee began to mix with the coal-laden exhausts emitted by the tenements heating systems. Lev Zhernakov walked steadily, his eyes studying the curtained windows of the ground floor apartments, his body chilled but ready
Voices sounded out of the dark around the corner of the building. Gliding deeper into the shadows, Zhernakov eased his way to the corner, his back tight to the rough wall, his eyes peering into the winter night.
At the edge of the wall, he waited using his ears to probe the area 90 degrees from his sight. A loud bark of laughter broke the silence closely followed by a muffled reply. Slowly Zhernakov slid his head past the corner as his eyes searched for the source of the noise. A sight Zhernakov had been hoping to find. A small group of men stood huddled around a metal barrel, a fire burning inside warming a group of homeless people struggling to survive the brutal assault of the Russian winter.
Zhernakov studied the group before turning the corner and, with his head shadowed by his cap, approached the men huddled tight around the barrel. Within a couple of meters, he purposely ground snow under boots alerting the strangers of his presence. The men turned in his direction parting as he walked close to the roaring fire.
“A cold night my friends,” Zhernakov said inching closer to the burning barrel with his cold hands extended over the heat.
The cluster of men remained silent eyeing the intruder. “What brings you out on a night like this comrade?” a member of the group asked suspiciously.
Zhernakov lifted his head sizing up each man individually before speaking. “I need a new coat; maybe I can trade with one of you?”
A man slightly bigger then the Russian Captain snorted. “You must have frozen your brain. Who would be crazy enough to give up a warm coat for yours?”
The men looked at each other sharing in the joke. A metallic click cut off the laughter forcing the group of homeless people to reconsider the stranger.
“I have a feeling that you will,” Zhernakov, said sternly, the barrel of his gun pointed at the bigger man’s forehead.
The morning grew chillier as the clock hands rounded past another hour. Zhernakov’s feet felt like blocks of ice as he trudged closer to the Kursk train station. The closer he walked the busier the sidewalks around the terminal became. Mixing with the rush of commuters entering the station, Zhernakov warily let his eyes roam the station's floor tracking every man wearing the army fatigues of the posted guards.
Lev Zhernakov left the safety of the entering crowd and edged into one of the restrooms spread throughout the vast train terminal. Walking directly into an empty stall he latched the door and closing the lid he sat down, his cold fingers fumbling with the frozen boot laces.
Carefully and painfully he removed each boot and set them aside. Wiggling his toes to get the blood flowing he used his hands to rub warmth into his numb feet. Several people came and left the washroom before Zhernakov laced his boots.
At the ticket counter, he inquired about the next train heading east toward Siberia, smiled while he peeled rubles off a roll he removed from the dead Directorate’s pocket and paid for private sleeping quarters. Shrugging deeper into the thick wool jacket, he pulled his cap lower to cover his forehead and found a chair in a crowd of commuters waiting for the Siberian Express.
With his eyes on constant watch, the Russian Captain sat and digested the information he had risked his freedom for by returning to the city where the decision was made to have him and his crew sacrificed while involved in the Ukrainian crisis.
The answer he had dragged out of the Special Operations Directorate had left his head reeling. If he were honest with himself, the deception his crew had died because of would not have surprised him if the director had said the orders were from within the Kremlin. In Russia, one expected to be deceived and betrayed by the Politburo.
The fact that the Directorate was acting on orders from across the ocean and worst of all, from deep within the United States, had shaken him. The mission to destroy the Ukrainian Gas Coop had no benefit for the greater good of the Russian nation.
Inside Zhernakov fumed at the level of betrayal shown by the high-ranking Russian official. A ploy cooked up by an American capitalist foundation designed to pit Russia against its neighbors. The journey from the Ukrainian countryside to discover the truth had already burned up the past nine months of his life. If the rest of his life was spent entering the United States and exposing the men behind this deplorable act, he could live with that.
The train conductor’s call for the boarding of the express train to Siberia sounded throughout the terminal. Pressing his hand against the coat pocket containing the Directorate’s confession and relevant files relating to the botched Ukrainian mission, ex-Russian Captain Lev Zhernakov embarked on the next leg of his dangerous journey.
Cries of agony rose up from the tattered and tired group huddled under the rocks to avoid the scorching desert sun. A fierce wind batters the barren landscape uprooting exposed clumps of shrubs, the only vegetation left on the dying planet.
Another vision. This one, a city in ruin with crumbling skyscrapers, and roads marked with long abandoned vehicles scattered among twisted ribbons of asphalt. Tendrils of smoke drift into the air and mix with columns of flames from ravaging fires. Small packs of humans skitter about the mangled roads scurrying to escape the devastation as the city falls into ruin.
A different vision brings a new nightmare. Global coastal regions reclaimed by the rising seawaters. A family stranded by the flooding water, the father looking on in desperation, the mother cradling her newborn tight to her chest, tears of grief dripping onto the child’s face. The baby’s eyes open and he begins to cry. The boy’s cries grow louder and louder.
Lucas’ eyes shoot open. The baby’s crying is closer now, chasing away the waking nightmares that consumed his mind. Lucas sat perfectly still while his mind wrestles between dreams and reality. Slowly his brain recognized the familiar surroundings of his cabin retreat; his chair positioned overlooking the side of Adams Mountain. Shaking off the remnants of the visions and grounding himself with a longer look at the welcome site of the mountain vista outside the window he walked from the room to check on Alice and their newborn son.
The couple had only returned to the States a few days earlier after their forced stay in the Burundi capital where Alice had undergone hours of emergency surgery to save both her life and the life of their newborn son, the result of the fall from the hilltop. The second day in the hospitable, Alice gave birth to their boy. The premature delivery proved necessary considering Alice’s condition.
Lucas grimaced at the memory of his son, Mathew. The newborn was taken from his mother and rushed from the delivery room to the hospital's prenatal wing where he remained for the following month as doctor’s fought to keep him breathing.
Lucas stayed by Alice’s side as she regained her strength at both the hospital and then as guests of President Nuru. Alice was on her feet and against his pleading divided her attention between their hospitalized baby and her work for the foundation. Several times he reprimanded her for the grueling workload she resumed while recovering. Alice shoved aside his concerns smiling and insisting that the world was still in need of guidance from its Climate Prophet.
One evening as the two sat enjoying the comfort of the President’s private mansion; Alice insisted that Lucas remind her of the events that led to her fall and endangered the life of their unborn child. With reluctance, Lucas began the story at the time of the activist’s clambering onto the small rise leading to the scuffle and her tumble over the edge.
“What will happen to the man? Rawasa. That is his name, correct?” she inquired.
“I’m not certain. I would think that President Nuru will hold the man accountable for the assault of her guards and the forced interruption leading to your hospitalization.” He answered. “I will insist she takes the attack very seriously,” Lucas added sternly, his final words ending the discussion.
A couple of days before the family left the African country; Lucas was rummaging through an English version of the countries national paper. An article buried a few pages in caught his eye.
“Burundi nationalist and tribal chief, Medard Rawasa was discovered by villagers in the early hours of the morning. His body was found dangling from a strut high on a metal tower, a cord tight around his neck. The local constabulary is classifying the death as an apparent suicide but tells reporters that a full investigation will follow …”
Lucas took the news in stride. When the mother of his child more time to recover he would let Alice know that justice had prevailed.
When the mother and newborn were pronounced fit to travel, Lucas made arrangements and returned his family to the house perched amongst the forested countryside in Washington State.
A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.