By JET & Lory
Beta read by Danae
Written for PetFly by Richard Maxwell
internal thought in italics
The steps of the large cathedral nearly dwarfed their occupants. The well-wishers thronged around the proud parents of the child wrapped in a brightly colored blanket and cradled in her mothers arms. Behind them, the cathedral walls rose high into the air, its spire seemingly touching the clouds. The little girl gurgled in delight at the smiling faces peering at her, and her mother glowed with happiness as she nodded her appreciation to family and friends. Behind them stood the proud father, his face wreathed in a smile. A childs christening was a time for happiness, joined with hope for the future, and this joyful group was filled with both.
No one heard the fathers quick intake of breath or the mothers sudden gasp. As if caught on slow motion film, first the father, then the mother, crumpled to the cathedrals cold stone steps. As the mother dropped to her knees, she clasped her baby girl tightly in her arms. Her dark brown eyes were frozen wide with surprise as she stared out into nothingness. A red stain slowly spread across the breast of her blue dress. Behind her, the same bullet had torn into her husbands chest, and his lifes blood also seeped out onto the gray granite of the cathedral steps. By the time a relative quickly rescued the child from her mothers arms, both parents were dead.
The celebrants-turned-mourners quickly slipped away, knowing full-well that any of them might be the next targets. For those who opposed the rebels, it was a dangerous time.
I never learned to read Cyrillic, so the banner hung suspended between giant columns at the Cascade Cultural Arts building had no meaning for me. One thing I could understand though, was the crowds aura of anticipation as they waited to hear todays featured speaker.
Damn! It was already beginning. I could hear the amplified words coming from the loudspeaker as we hurried toward the plaza in front of the Center. Today, the familiar voice Father Kasporev began, a great man emerges from the darkness of our homeland to join his comrades in the light of God and community. His face shone with his fervent belief in the words he spoke to the crowd. He is a poet, yes, but also a saint of the dispossessed a prophet of the imprisoned the broken, the poor left behind. He is the voice for those who cannot speak. Most of all, he is a conscience for those who have none!
I call back over my shoulder, Hey, will you guys hurry up? I dont want to be late for this! Jim and Micki Kamerev are only slightly behind me, but as far as Im concerned, the distance might be a mile. The speaker today has intrigued me for years; I certainly dont want to miss this opportunity to hear him speak. With those long legs of his, how can Jim move so slowly?
When did you get into Russian poetry? Jims caught up with me now. See? He can move when he wants to.
I dont slow my steps as I explain. Dimitri Gordievsky is more than just a poet, man. I mean, his gulag diaries are a primary source on neo-tribal adaptation.
Micki comments, When you meet him, Blair, youll see -- Dimitri is a very simple man.
She looks so taken with just the mention of the man. Of course, she has reason to be. Oh, yeah, sure. Just your everyday Nobel Prize winner. What could be simpler than that?
We pass the fountain flowing in the center of the crowd and find a place to stand near center of the throng lining the steps of city hall. Father Kasporev is smiling broadly, and his voice grows louder as he speaks. To mark the opening of Cascades Russian arts festival, he will read from his works. Please welcome our guest of honor - Dimitri Gordievsky!
A slim man in his mid-forties with brown hair and beard approaches the microphone, shaking hands warmly with Father Kasporev as the priest backs away. Gordievskys expression is friendly and approachable as he faces the applauding crowd, and I decide that I like this man Ive read about for so long. Thank you, Father, for your kind words. But you embarrass me. I am no saint. I am just a mirror who reflects the frailties of our imperfect world.
Jim stands beside me, with Micki on his left. Before long, Im wrapped up in Gordievskys inspirational words. The only time I snap back to reality is when Jim bends lower to whisper in my ear, Hes got the right ideas, Chief. Glad you talked me into coming.
Sometimes Jim really surprises me. From his attitude, youd never think he cares about politics, but when I glance up at him, I can tell hes genuinely moved by Gordievskys ideas. Me, too, man, I say quietly. Then, my attentions drawn back to the podium.
Gordievsky has finished his prepared speech and is asking the crowd, Perhaps there are a few questions?
The bullet captured the sun, its glare reflecting off the smooth surface
to send out small, shimmering shards of light. Father Kasporevs tinny voice filled
the room, amplified by the high-tech radio resting beside the man dressed in black.
Brushing his dirty-blonde bangs back, the man nodded in satisfaction as the bullet was
lowered into the chamber of a high-powered rifle. He felt the familiar tingle of
anticipation creep down his spine and welcomed it. As had happened so many times before,
his body as well as his mind was preparing for the task at hand.
The man took great pride in his professionalism. Killing brought him pleasure, that much he could not deny, but it was the preparation for the kill that truly fulfilled him. Anyone was capable of murder. It took a brilliant mind to plan and execute an assassination and not be caught. Therein lay the challenge, the meticulous attention to detail. The carefully choreographed dance for two that brought him to the exact moment when he would capture his target in his sights, then slowly ease back the trigger. Yes, his target was part of the dance, even if the marked partner never realized his participation, for he considered his victim at each and every step. Yes, a successful assassination was a mental exercise, and the man prided himself on his intelligence. He did not fear failure. He was the best, and he surrounded himself with whatever technological advantages he deemed necessary for success.
Failure was simply impossible.
A young Asian reporter speaks up immediately after the professors
call for questions. Professor Gordievsky, you supported political reforms in Russia.
Now you seem to think the Russian church is the only answer. Why?
Ten years ago, the professor explains, things were so bad even Gorbachev knew we needed democracy. He smiles as though sharing a secret with the crowd. Now they are so bad, any fool knows our only hope is prayer. But the truth is that the same ones who run the gulag, now secretly run the stock exchange. They were thieves then, and they are thieves now! Our Lord died between thieves. He pauses for a beat, his brown eyes scanning the crowd slowly. Perhaps he can forgive them; I cannot.
The crowd erupts in cheers of support as another reporter calls out, Will you name names?
Gordievskys reply is instantaneous. Of course! In America, I name names, yes!
As the crowd applauds, the professor suddenly spots Micki in the crowd and waves. She lights up like a comet at the recognition, and I gesture for Jim to look at Mickis glowing face.
Gordievsky calls to the crowd, Wait! Wait, wait! There is someone who should be up here with me! She is the real reason I and many other Russian writers come to Cascade. Micki, come up! Come up!
Nearly a half mile away, the man smiled at the flowery words of the
speaker. That was another aspect of his job he enjoyed almost as much as the planning.
Knowing that in mere seconds, everything the unsuspecting victim thought was true would be blown away with the force of a rifles bullet. Knowing exactly how long that person had left to live, knowing almost to the breath how many more times his lungs would draw in life-giving oxygen. Knowing the chaos that would erupt after the shot was fired, and knowing that he would already be halfway to safety by the time those present could piece together in their muddled minds exactly what had just transpired.
He chuckled in anticipation. Yes, the knowing was a truly exhilarating power to possess!
His gloved finger flipped a switch on a small machine at his side and a monotonous whirring filled the room. The man turned back to the window.
He had thought of everything.
Raising the rifle to his shoulder, the man prepared to accomplish his mission and the tingling sensation increased dramatically. He smiled again, a tight, cruel expression. He found Professor Gordievsky and centered him in the crosshairs.
It was almost time.
As the crowd turns to her, Micki begins moving toward the podium area. I
cant believe what happens next. It feels like one of those slow-mo scenes in the
movies where time seems to be stuck in molasses. Without warning, Dimitri Gordievsky
staggers backward, clutching his chest. He turns slowly, then he collapses face-down on
the entryway of the building. The crowd falls into a shocked silence, unsure of exactly
whats going on.
Micki seems to sprout wings on her feet as she flies to his side. Jim recovers almost as quickly, but Im trailing them both By the time I reach the steps, shes already kneeling beside the injured man. Shes got one arm behind the professors back, but when she removes her hand, it is covered in blood. Flashbulbs erupted from all sides, creating an eerie lightshow as they capture the grotesque image.
Doctor! Micki screams. Please, someone get a doctor! Somebody get a doctor!
My voice is shaking as I turn to Jim. Looks like someone shot him! I didnt hear anything, did you? Surely there had been some noise, the click of a clip being loaded, the flash of a gun - something - that Jim would have heard.
I stare up at him, waiting for the explanation that never comes. Jim looks to be as in the dark as I am. His confused blue eyes lock with mine. I didnt hear anything. I should have heard something, Chief. What the hells going on here? He waits for me to make some sense of this, but I can only shake my head slowly as the words fail me.
I have no answer for him.
An hour later, in Simons office, an answer still eludes me. Our
first stop had been the hospital, where Gordievsky had been pronounced D.O.A. Both the
hospital and station were bustling with reporters anxious to get the scoop on the
assassination of the famous Russian dissident. Sometimes, the results of freedom of the
press turn my stomach.
Now, as I perch on the edge of the conference table in Simons office, Im still struggling to understand why Jim wouldnt have heard something - anything - just before the assassination went down. Sure, there was a ton of noise with the crowd, the traffic, and the general bustle of downtown Cascade in the middle of the day, but such distractions havent stopped Jim before. For once, Im stumped, but if theres one thing I am sure of, its that Simon will be asking for an answer.
Oh, man, when Im right, Im right. Simon slams several newspapers down on his desk with a growl, then sits down heavily in his desk chair. Cascade just made front page center of the Times - that would be the Los Angeles Times, gentlemen - the Washington Times, and the New York Times! The mayors overjoyed by the publicity. Turning his scowl on Jim, he asks, Come on, Jim! You mean to tell me you didnt see or hear anything unusual?
I wince at the question Id known was coming. Jim glances at me quickly for help, but the best I can offer is a little shrug. Dont have a clue, big guy, I whisper, knowing hell hear.
He sighs slightly, then looks at Simon apologetically. I didnt hear a thing, sir.
It just doesnt add up. I blurt out, I dont get it! How many times have you heard a gun being cocked, a trigger being pulled Why not this time?
Jim locks eyes with me for a long moment, and I see the guilt hiding in the shadows of blue. Look, I dont know what to say, Chief. I didnt hear or see anything. If youve got any ideas, Id love to hear them.
I wish I had an answer to ease his mind, but I dont. The realization reminds me almost as forcefully as a punch in the gut exactly how little I really understand about this sentinel business. Sometimes, like now, I wonder what the hell Im doing here. With Jims life in my hands. And me totally clueless.
Simon cuts in, sparing me the embarrassment of admitting in front of him what a idiot I really am. Look, right now we have a high-profile murder with no suspects, no clues, and no motives. While Jims failure to hear the assassin may provide Sandburg with a fascinating theoretical question, its rather like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. I need answers, gentlemen!
Maybe the motive was political, Jim speculates, turning the conversation back to the facts of the case. Gordievsky talked about government corruption without much regard for who might be listening. I would think the assassination was to keep him quiet.
I disagree, and I say so. I dont think so. Corruption in Russia is no secret. I mean, everybody knows whos involved there. It just wouldnt have the impact a similar scandal would here.
Jim, I want you to clear your boards and make this top priority. We need to get our homework done and fast before the feds come in and take over. The way this is drawing ink, the feds will be all over us like a cheap suit. Simon grimaces as he stands and pours a cup of coffee.
The timing couldnt have been more perfect. Its a struggle to stifle my smile as the office door opened, and a man and woman enter. The guy might as well have worn a neon sign flashing FED!
Nice suit, I comment, biting my lip to keep from laughing. I cant look at Jim. I would totally lose it.
The man shoots me a quick look, but obviously dismisses me just as fast. Captain Banks?
Simons smile isnt stifled at all. If theres one thing that man despises, its the feds tromping into his territory. In some ways, police captains are every bit as territorial as sentinels. Now that might make an interesting paper
Agent Mulroney, Simon says politely. We were just talking about you.
The agent acknowledges Jim with a curt nod. Me, hes still ignoring like the plague. Maybe its the hair? Detective Ellison. Meet Inspector Major Katrina Vaslova. Moscow Metro Militia. Inspector Vaslovas Russias official liaison with the Bureau.
The tall brunette steps forward. Her hairs pulled back in a stark bun, and as she glances at me, her eyes have no trace of warmth. She wouldnt be a bad looking woman, if shed learn to smile, that is. Of course, Mulroneys not any friendlier toward me, so why be surprised? Could it be the clothes?
Vaslova nods to Simon and Jim. It is a pleasure to meet you, Captain. Detective.
Hate me or love me, just dont ignore me. I paste on my widest smile and introduce myself. Im Sandburg. Blair Sandburg. Consultant to the police department. Nice to meet you. Grinning at Mulroney, I add, Hi! Mulroneys only reaction is to roll his eyes and look back at Simon. I shoot Jim a quick, but subtle, thumbs-up and am rewarded by the flash of a swift grin that immediately disappears without a trace.
I suppose youre here, Mulroney, Simon says quickly, to tell me the Bureau is going to be taking over jurisdiction in this case?
Actually, Captain, the Bureau doesnt want this case. We have every confidence in your department.
Jim looks slowly from Mulroney to Simon, his eyebrows arching in disbelief. Simon goes him one better. He actually guffaws.
Thats a good one, Mulroney! The congenial grin vanishes in an instant. What do you want?
If Mulroney is bothered by either mans reaction, he covers it well. We want Inspector Vaslova to assist with the investigation. The victim was a Russian national. She could be invaluable to us. Given the circumstances, we think it would be pretty good politics.
After exchanging a quick look with Jim, Simon agrees. His choices are limited any way. Gracious acceptance is his only realistic alternative. Still, I know how the words gall him. Very well, then. Welcome, Inspector Vaslova. Detective Ellison will fill you in on the details.
Jim gives me his I dont believe this! look, and once more, I can only shrug. I cant even figure out why Jims senses struck out this afternoon; Russian cops and federal agents are way out of my league.
Vaslova nods at Simon and says politely, Captain, I promise to keep a low profile and not to step on how do you say ? Your shoes.
Its toes, I correct her with a smile. Might as well try for a touch of good old American diplomacy here, right?
Yes. Toes. The ice princess hasnt thawed a degree.
So much for diplomacy.
It turns out that Inspector Vaslova has something to offer the
investigation after all. Shes able to identify the type of ammunition used to kill
Gordievsky after Jim admitted that our lab couldnt ID it.
Its a 7.62 dragunov sniper round. Military issue. Our special forces use them. She hands the bagged bullet back to Jim.
Now shes hit on something my partners familiar with. Special forces. As it turns out, it doesnt matter if theyre U.S. or Russian.
Spetsnaz, Jim says immediately.
Vaslova nods. Yes. They have appeared in several recent killings in Moscow.
Jim opens a folder. Ill need to see those files, he comments.
Immediately, the armor goes up around Vaslova. That will be difficult.
I thought we were cooperating here? Jims getting defensive, but its like trying to bash down a brick wall. Talk about the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.
Of course, Vaslova replies coolly. But you see the bureaucracy back home is complicated. She sighs, then adds, I will do what I can.
I jump in to smooth things over. Thats great! See what a little cooperation can do? I mean
I dont get the chance to finish. Micki and Father Kasporev have arrived.
Jim? Micki is dressed in black, and her face is at least two shades paler than normal.
Excuse me, Jim says immediately, making his way to her. Micki, Im sorry I havent called. Ive just been very, very busy.
Its all right, she replies softly. I understand. You remember Father Kasporev from the rally?
I shake the priests hand and Jim nods in greeting. Hi, Father.
We must see Dimitris body, Micki says. He was a deeply religious man. There are certain rites we must perform.
Jim looks to me, and I nod. Ill hand it to him, Jims got a ton of respect for important cultural traditions such as burial rites. Just look at his behavior when Incacha died. Nearly went ballistic trying to get a little respect out of the bureaucracy for the Chopec beliefs.
Jim assures her, Ill see to it that
Vaslova quickly interrupts. I am afraid that will not be possible. Her tone couldnt be much colder if wed been in Siberia.
Thats not your call, Inspector. Jims voice matches hers, degree for degree.
Actually, it is. She holds out a paper for Jims inspection. I read over his shoulder, and it looks legit. This federal warrant issued by your Justice Department gives me the authority to take possession of the body as soon as the autopsy is finished.
Micki snaps, I was not aware that the KGB now tells the Cascade police what to do.
I am with the Moscow police. KGB no longer exists.
Mickis gaze never wavers in the face of Vaslovas intimidation. How silly of me. I meant FSB. Micki looks over at me. You see how easy it is to be democratic, Blair? All you need is to change your initials.
I dont have time to answer. Micki and Father Kasporev turn immediately and leave.
I thought we werent going to step on each others toes here? Jim points out.
Vaslova lowers her head slightly. I apologize. It cannot be helped. She, too, walks away.
Jim draws in a quick breath and scrubs his hand across his jaw. Damn it, Chief. Ever get the feeling youre walking a tightrope without a net?
I laugh and slap his back. Every day of my life, man. Every day of my life.
Next step - check out the crime scene. The sight of all that blood being
carefully scrubbed away makes me cringe. I wonder if the worker doing the cleaning even
considers that hes washing away someones lifes blood?
It seems a desecration, somehow, to just scrub away Gordievskys blood so quickly. Its as if they think if they get rid of the evidence of what happened here today, it will all be over. Everyone will forget.
But it wont be over. A life was lost. A great voice silenced forever.
The worker takes a hose and rinses the site. The remnants of blood flow down the marble stairs in a crimson river. What a waste.
You okay, Chief? Jim is watching me carefully.
Yeah, Im all right. Its just so senseless, you know? Gordievsky had so much to teach us, and now I shrug helplessly.
Jim nods. I know. I wish Id had the chance to meet him. He reaches out and brushes my nose gently. Hows it feeling?
What? For a moment, Im confused, then I gingerly probe the still-sore bridge of my nose. It had been little more than a week since our return from Storm Island, and the injury Id received at the hands of Monique was still sore. Its okay. A little tender, thats all. What is it about me and women anyway? Usually its my heart that gets broken. I suppose I was fortunate that this time, it was only my nose. Well, not even broken, exactly, but pretty damn sore, just the same.
As I look around the plaza, I change the subject, ready to do something that will help catch the assassin. Its all we can do. Gordievsky will still be gone, but at least someone will pay. You know, Jim, I dont get it. I mean, even with the crowd here, how in the world can a gun go off and you not hear it?
When Jim doesnt reply, I turn to him and for an instant, I think hes zoned. Hes just standing there, staring up. At what, I dont have a clue.
Jim? I rest my hand on his arm as I try to determine if this is a zone, and if so, how deep is he?
Jim still doesnt answer, but he moves. At least, this isnt a zone. He jogs down the steps and to the street where he points at a brightly colored piece of cloth tied to a high wire. Okay. Obviously this means something to Jim, but Im totally lost. What is it?
Thats a telltale. Sailors use it to tell which direction the wind is blowing.
If I was lost before Sailors?
And snipers. His line of fires this way.
So we begin to jog, following the trail of telltales. First green, then blue, now yellow. If wed been in the jungles of Peru, Jim couldnt have looked any more pure sentinel. Hes totally focused, seemingly unaware of pedestrians and the traffic.
I follow him closely, my own eyes darting around as I watch for cars. Someone in this partnership needs to exercise a little caution, right? Hey, come on, Jim, I say as I jog beside him. I mean, were half a mile away from city hall. Who in the world could make a shot from that distance? Seems obvious to me that whoever left these telltales, it couldnt be our shooter. Could it?
Only the best, Chief.
Finally, he stops in front of a building and stares upward. Top floor, corner window. Theres a small circle cut out of the glass. Thats where the shot came from.
No doubt in that voice. I follow Jim into the building. A set of stairs is directly inside the foyer. You stay put, Jim orders, already two steps up.
I start to protest, then I think better of it. Ive seen Jim in this heightened sentinel mode before, and its not exactly the best time to argue with the man.
The seconds tick by into minutes. I watch the top of the stairs, craning my neck to see the top landing. Nothing.
Cmon, man, I mutter. I didnt argue. I waited like a good little observer. Would have stayed in the truck, if wed been in the truck. Give me a clue here.
I look again. No Jim.
I take a deep breath, then I start up the stairs. On the way, I work out my defense. I didnt hear any shots, man. No sounds of a fight. I figured alls clear and you just forgot to tell me, right?
As it turns out, I didnt need to rehearse after all. I find Jim in a room that most definitely does not fit your definition of normal. The walls are lined with mattresses. Man! This is like a big padded cell.
Jim doesnt turn around from the window. Yeah, or a big silencer. He sounds distracted. I thought I told you to wait downstairs, he adds, almost as an afterthought as he reaches over and picks up something from the top of the cut glass circle.
Whats that? Nothing like changing the subject.
Jim studies the object as he holds it up. Its a Russian coin. Some snipers - usually the good ones - have a signature. This is Yuris.
That takes me by surprise. What? You know this guy? His next words blow me away.
Yeah. We tried to kill each other in Peru.