(Read earlier chapters.)
Reuben was dressed in fresh clothes. He had been allowed to shower and shave. He knew he could use a haircut, but that would have to wait. After being cleaned up, he was subjected to a number of seemingly pointless medical examinations, and was then served a meal.
He sat across the table from Sergei, who was just finishing his food. The food was good, but Reuben had not been able to eat much. A few bites of borsht and some bread was all he could manage. He still felt full from the sandwich and abysmal coffee hours before. It would take a while to re-adjust to eating.
They were in a tiny, cramped room in a building Reuben assumed was some kind of KGB regional bureau office. The city was Rostov. Rostov na Donu, the Russians called it Rostov on the Don apparently distinguishing it from some other Rostov (on some other river) that Reuben knew nothing about. The flight had not been as long as the first one; the airplane was warmer and Reuben had slept. His head was beginning to clear.
The horror of Markku’s bizarre game was already a distant thing. As he had been trained to do long ago, Reuben put away the shock of the violence and even his intense hatred of Markku. He would not forget the latter; he would simply keep it for a more convenient time.
For now, his focus was on Ksenia.
On the way to the airstrip, he had asked one of the guards (as casually as he could manage it) what would become of the two women who survived the game. The guard didn’t answer, but whether that meant that he didn’t know, or that he wasn’t permitted to talk to Reuben, or that he couldn’t speak English, Reuben couldn‘t tell. Once on the plane, he had repeated the question to Sergei in the midst of a series of questions that all addressed subjects he was curious about, but which were not nearly as important to him. Who did Sergei work for? Why had he been brought to Markku? Who was Hamilton? What would become of the other two women? And where exactly were they going?
Of all these questions, Sergei had provided an answer only to the final one. Which was how Reuben knew where he was.
He wasn’t surprised by Sergei’s non-responsiveness, nor by the fact that he had registered no recognition of him. Contrary to Reuben’s memory of how things were, the KGB still existed and Sergei was apparently still an active agent thereof. As such, he would have to be extremely cautious about what he said and did in front of his fellow agents. Reuben had followed suit up to this point, pretending not to know Sergei, either.
Sergei finished his Lunch? Dinner? Breakfast? Reuben had lost all track of time and pushed his plate away. He sat back and lit a cigarette, waving the pack at Reuben.
Reuben shook his head.
Sergei pulled a folded sheet of paper from his pocket and studied it for a moment. He reached in his coat pocket and produced a pen.
“I have questions for you, Mr. Stone,” he said.
“Whatever,” said Reuben.
“Mother’s maiden name?”
Reuben looked at him for a long moment.
“You have got to be kidding,” he said.
Sergei didn’t look up.
“Please to provide answer.”
“Her name was Brissaud. Emmanuelle Brissaud. My father’s name was Julian Stone. They both died in an airplane accident in ”
“Please to provide only specific answer,” Sergei interrupted.
He continued with his questions. “When you were three, four years old you had nanny. What was ”
Sergei registered no reaction. He wrote down Reuben’s answer.
“This nanny had dog—”
“Alfie. He was a Scottish terrier.”
Sergei noted it.
“Am I going to be held here for long?” Reuben asked.
“We continue with questions,” Sergei replied. “Who was first girlfriend?”
It dawned on Reuben that these questions must have been compiled by or with the help of Michael Keyes. In fact, the third question suggested Betty’s involvement.
“Real or imagined?” he asked.
Sergei didn’t respond. He looked at Reuben expectantly, his pen resting on the paper.
The question apparently referred to Suzette, the girlfriend Reuben mentioned several times in his letters home his first year of boarding school. Reuben had never confided to anyone that there was no such person, that he had invented Suzette (along with several other friends) to keep Betty from worrying that he was lonely. But he had long suspected that Betty had seen through his ruse.
“Suzette,” he said after a moment.
He had begun to suspect the old man’s involvement as soon as he saw Sergei. Like Ksenia showing up in Markku’s game, it was just too big a coincidence.
“What was color of school uniform?”
“Green blazer, with the school crest in gold under the left lapel. Striped blue and green tie. White shirt. Black slacks. Black patent-leather shoes.”
Sergei took his time writing out the detailed answer.
“Describe wedding gift from Michael Keyes.”
The old man. That confirmed it.
“He and Betty gave us some very nice silver candlesticks. They were antiques, about this tall.” He held his hand about a foot and a half from the tabletop.
Sergei wrote down the answer. He put the pen back in his pocket and began to fold the sheet of paper.
“Is that all?” Reuben asked.
“Da. Is all. You wanted more?”
“Well, wait. There was another gift, but I don’t count it.”
Sergei retrieved the pen.
“What was other gift?”
“It was a check for a million dollars.”
Sergei hesitated before beginning to write. There was a gleam in his eye and the beginnings of a smile at the corners of his mouth. For an instant, he was the man with whom Reuben had bantered so frequently at the WorldConneX office in Moscow.
A check for a million bucks. Must be lucky, indeed.
“Why…ah, you didn’t ‘count’ gift? You didn’t consider this to be real gift? Why not?”
“I had already told Mr. Keyes that I wouldn’t accept any money.”
“So you did what? You burned it? Threw it away?”
Although Sergei’s demeanor had not changed from that of the businesslike interrogator, Reuben doubted that these follow-up questions were part of the script. He was just interested in knowing what happened to the money.
“I signed it back over to Mr. Keyes and enclosed it in a Christmas Card. So we were even we had each given the other a million dollars.”
Sergei nodded. He made an addendum to the answer he had written before, then folded the paper once again. He stood up.
“Do you need toilet?” he asked.
Reuben thought about this. He shook his head.
“Good. Then you will wait here.” With that, Sergei turned and walked out the door.
Reuben leaned back in his chair. He didn’t mind. He was used to waiting.
The Rostov Airport was mostly quiet. Reuben stood outside a departure gate flanked by the same two agents who had accompanied Sergei when retrieving him from the compound in Georgia. Sergei had left them standing there an hour or so earlier.
The sun was setting behind the Ilyushin airliner on the tarmac, distinguishable from any plane of western manufacture by the odd clustering of its four engines two on either side of the tail. Reuben couldn’t be sure which day it was that was ending. Had he started out this morning in prison, or was that yesterday? Or the day before that? He didn’t know.
Passengers had boarded the plane some time before. If Reuben read the notice board correctly, it was bound for Istanbul. But it didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
Not yet, at least.
Reuben couldn’t decide whether he wanted to be on the flight or not. He would be glad enough to put Russia behind him (even if it meant flying Aeroflot), but he couldn’t stand the thought of abandoning Ksenia. Especially considering the circumstances under which he had left her. Still, if the old man was able to get Reuben a prisoner out of the country, surely he would be able to do the same for her.
This line of reasoning raised the troubling question of why Ksenia wasn’t with the Keyes to begin with. How had Markku managed to abduct her? It was possible that the old man and Betty had left Russia, but then why hadn’t they taken Ksenia with them? Or maybe and Reuben didn’t really like this possibility the Keyes had never been in Russia at all. Maybe they didn’t even know who Ksenia was.
That didn’t jibe with Reuben’s memories, but then so little did.
Sergei reappeared, a large brown envelope in his hand.
He issued instructions to the two other agents in Russian. They turned and walked away without the slightest hesitation.
“Very well, then, Mr. Stone,” he said. He handed Reuben the packet.
Reuben opened the envelope. Inside was a passport from the Caribbean island of Dominica. The photo was Reuben’s; the name was not. The ticket to Istanbul was made out in the same name.
“So I’m going to Turkey,” Reuben said.
“Da. You will be met there. And you will receive further instructions.”
“Thank you for your help.”
Sergei took a long look at Reuben. His expression was hard and cold.
“Listen very carefully,” he said. “You are lucky man, Mr. Stone. Is not every prisoner who gets this kind of help in leaving Russia. Especially not when he is CIA agent.”
“Is important, though, for lucky man that he does not…press his luck too much? Da? You know this expression?”
Reuben nodded again.
“Good. Then I tell you this: don’t press your luck, Mr. Stone. I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what is your game. But if any harm comes to Mr. Keyes or his wife, I will find you. And you will be very sorry. Do you understand me?”
Reuben looked around. Apparently Sergei was now talking without fear of being overheard.
“Sergei, it’s me. It really is me.”
“I was not who needed convincing.”
“No, but listen. Your wife is named Marina. Your daughter is Dzhena. And as for your son…you named him Yuri.”
Sergei shook his head, his expression completely blank.
“Ask me anything,” Reuben continued. “Or how about this you went to Monte Carlo with a friend. He told you to always bet on red. When you bet with him, you won. When you bet without him, you lost.”
Sergei laughed bitterly.
“Why you say these things? You want me to think you know me? That will not help you.”
Reuben thought about that. The conclusion was unavoidable.
“It won’t help because you and I have never met. We don’t know each other.”
Sergei didn’t answer.
“Well, is that right?” Reuben pressed.
“You tell me,” said Sergei. “You should know if we have ever met.”
“That’s the whole trouble, Sergei. I remember that we met and that we know each other. But obviously you don’t. And the thing is, I can see how my mind could invent a false history for Russia. It doesn’t explain the visa I was carrying, but put that aside for now. What I can’t see, is how do I know anything about you?”
“Is time for you to go,” said Sergei. “Airplane is waiting.”
“So tell me, do I know anything about you? Or did my mind invent those details, too?”
Sergei put his hand on Reuben’s back and began moving him toward the gate.
“You took my fingerprints and a blood sample,” Reuben continued. “I guess it was to get my DNA. And those X-rays must have been so you could compare dental records. You must have a pretty good reason to suspect that I’m not who I say I am.”
Sergei said nothing.
“That’s why you asked me those questions. Asking about things only I should know.”
“Is time you go,” said Sergei, ushering Reuben towards the gate with more urgency.
“Wait,” Reuben said again. “Wait.”
He planted his feet.
“Why doesn’t the old man believe that I’m Reuben Stone?”
An answer of sorts occurred to Reuben even as he asked the question.
Sergei shook his head.
“That question is not for me to answer.”
“Sergei, am I dead?”
“You must leave now.”
“Or are there somehow…two of me?”
Sergei shook his head, exasperated.
“Why do you talk nonsense? If you are dead, how are you here? If there are two, then one is real and one is not.”
“And I’m clearly not the real one.”
“Clearly you are, if you have been allowed to leave.”
“But you aren’t convinced.”
“No,” Sergei answered. “I am not.”
They had reached the gate agent, who eyed Reuben with bored impatience. The flight had been delayed long enough.
“I wish I had more time to talk to you,” Reuben said. “But listen, I need your help. One of the women that Markku was holding is named Ksenia Privalova. Can you help her somehow?”
Sergei was surprised by the request.
“What can I do?”
“Just, please, get her out of there. She’s of no importance to anybody. Not Markku. Not anybody. She doesn’t know anything. I guess she doesn’t even know who I am.”
Sergei looked puzzled. As before, with the story of the check, his curiosity got the better of him.
“If she is of no use to Markku, he will be rid of her already.”
“I think he probably let her go. But could you make sure? And make sure she got home all right? She lives in Moscow.”
“If you don’t know her, why do you care?”
“She doesn’t know me, but I know her. Just like I know you. Please help her.”
He started to turn towards the gate agent, and then looked back.
“The Sergei I know would help her,” he added.
Sergei looked skeptical. He shrugged again.
“I will look into it,” he said.
“Have a safe trip, Mr. Stone.”
Reuben smiled with gratitude and relief. Sergei would be able to do far more for her than he would have been able to do.
“It’s Reuben,” he said, shaking his head. He then turned to board the plane.Posted by Phil at February 29, 2004 11:59 AM | TrackBack