an excerpt of a rather long short story 'Recuerdos'
Near the hotel entrance just before crossing its threshold, Sam with his back to the reception counter, swerved from side to side and squeezed his body between Paul and the entrance post, as if he was in a hurry for some reason – as he moved forward he pushed an envelop into Paul’s coat pocket.
A cab was waiting already in front of the entrance. While he was shaking his operator’s hand Paul asked him: ‘Shall I see you to the airport?’ It was the right move, they had to show their pursuers they had nothing to hide
‘Thanks, I won’t get lost…’ Was Sam’s answer with much disdain, and he went straight away to the waiting cab.
Paul watched the cab driving a few seconds, trying to get a glimpse of a following car – but nothing, it looked as if his operator is riding without an escort.
They know that he’s bound for the airport, they’re waiting there, to see him off… He summed that little riddle up and turned about to walk on, without any idea where to. As he strolled on the broad pavement, he thought of reaching the Red Square as any other tourist would do; and he is some six weeks in this majestic capital already, and he hasn’t seen it yet. He might check surveillance meanwhile. It might revive my spirits a bit, watching their difficulties in tailing stealthily an object matter on a huge empty square…
‘Sprechen zie Deutch?
‘No I don’t speak German.’ Paul answered surprised, watching the lovely features of the young woman that accosted him. He was accosted several times already by good looking young women who turned to him in hesitant English. This one except her original style of approach had an extremely captivating smile, exposing her even white teeth and a thin line above of dark red gum – and her exceptional full and red lips. He could not ignore her and walk on, as he treated her few colleagues, on previous occasions.
‘You’re a Frenchman then?’
‘No I’m American.’
‘I see, lost your group? I’m a tourist guide.’ She hastened to declare with that alluring smile of hers.
‘Natalie of the Red Square I presume, the one that certain French singer misses so much…’ Paul suggested laughing.
‘Oh I know and love this song.’ She answered with a sweet chuckle. ‘My name is Tania, I’ll be glad to show you around and help you find your way…’
Perfect English, perfect pronunciation of a skilled pro. She doesn’t try to hide it like her predecessors with pidgin English, they think I’m ripe for defection, well they’re dead wrong. Alright I’ll play your little game, according to my rules. ‘Mine is John.’ He said and kept watching her smiling dark blue eyes.
‘Oh, nice to meet you John, is there a site that you’d like to see?’
‘Well, I haven’t got the slightest idea yet, but we’ll have to sit somewhere and see.’ I’ve rejected some of those females already, and if I wish to play the dumb tourist that has nothing to hide, I must change tactics – even break the rules, up to a certain limit. He thought watching her exceptional beautiful features, unable to make up his mind whether its his desperate need to beguile his pursuers or the charms of that young woman that made him change his mind.
‘I know a very nice place not far from here, let’s go then.’ She added touching gently his arm and off they went side by side.
She wasn’t tall, her head with her fur cap was hardly an inch above his shoulder; and she wore high heeled boots. An elegant black coat covered her body, it didn’t hide the good figure she surely has. He thought eying her curiously. She caught his look smiling with tight lips. ‘The best things come in small packages…’ She said beaming, as if she read his thoughts.
I’ll be damned, I’ll be rather very careful, she must be the best specimen they have… He thought smiling back to her.
‘We turn here to the left.’ She said looking up to him with a curious smile, checking is reactions.
Has he got so far from his hotel, Paul wondered. He was so buried in his thoughts.
They turned left at the block’s corner, made a few more steps and reached a staircase before the second building, which led to to a cellar. A broad sign in Russian was hanging above it, just like crossing under an arch. Faint notes of sparkling music reached their ears, as they descended the stairs down to the cellar. It reminded Paul the notes of a banjo. Tania squeezed the button at the closed door side; the husky that opened it right away, threw a short glance at Paul and let them in without a word. As soon as the husky turned to shut the entrance door, Paul turned to Tania feigning discomfort: ‘Ask him where’s the service rooms’. She looked up at him with a quizzical look for a second, but turned to husky in Russian. The latter led Paul right away to small cabinet that has served the restaurant’s staff.
As soon as he shut and locked the door behind him, Paul pulled the envelop from his coat’s pocket, opened it and counted the Ruble notes inside it. The usual amount that would last me for a couple of weeks. He thought as he tucked the envelope in his jacket’s left inner pocket, and checked his coat’s pockets making sure nothing was left there. He pulled the niagara cord, waited a few more moments till the noise of the gushing water subsided and came out. The husky was scratching his face looking down, as if he was watching his own shoes, Tania wasn’t there. As he walked along the corridor he could hear a female’s voice singing a slow and sad tune in Russian, accompanied by balalaikas –. A female attendant took his coat off his shoulders at the wardrobe and right after a few more steps he reached the restaurant’s hall. The music and the singer’s voice turned gradually into a stunning crescendo, as Paul watched the restaurant’s hall with it’s dancing square and the tables around it. Tania was seated next to the closest table about two yards away smiling to him, without her fur cap, attired in dark blue uniform that accentuated her beauty and matched so well her dark blue eyes. It took him a friction of a second to recognize her without her cap and coat, but as he was getting near her the singer and the three musicians that accompanied her ended up in a shattering climax; the scarse audience applauded enthusiastically, While he sat down opposite Tania, he turned his eyes back to the singer watching her. She was bowing to the few guests smiling and thanking them time and again. A dark featured buxom, middle aged woman, good looking though.
‘She’s a gypsy and it’s a famous gypsy song, doesn’t it remind you something?’
Sure enough, love making that’s what that song describes just in its rhythm; and how clever of you to insinuate it, and pretend at the same time as if you may have meant something else… Paul thought
as he watched her beaming face. ‘A gypsy song you say, well yes it’s a lovely tune,’ He muttered clearing his throat. They know exactly in what state I’m as for that delicate matter… Jesus Christ I miss Alicia so much, it’s six weeks now and I haven’t told her a thing. I’ve lost her for good, the fool that I’m. He took a long breath of air into his lungs and poofed it out slowly, watching Tanis lovely face. She must be thinking that I’m pondering what my next step is going to be, should I cross the Rubicon…In other circumstances I would have laughed in her face.
A waiter reached their table greeted them politely in Russian and handed Tania the menu, it was written in Russian of course. Tania raised her eyes to him with a mute but very clear question.
‘You choose and double it.’ Paul told her.
‘I’ll have just caviar, I’m on diet.’ She said with a cheerful laugh. ‘But go ahead tell me what you’d like to eat.’
‘Oh, I’ll just have something to drink a double scotch or…’
‘Let’s have champagne instead and celebrate our meeting.’
‘Okay, it’s a good idea.’ He agreed and kept watching her. She’s sure I’m under her spell. No wonder, she’s a rare beauty and she’s the first one I didn’t reject. He thought somewhat worried, looking around him he noticed that the little group of musicians including the gypsy singer cleared the stage, and were not to be seen anymore. A soft background music hardly audible, reached his ears, some pianist played it in a far corner. Incredible, they’re taking pains not to disturb our ‘amorous chat’. Paul kept thinking amused and worried at the same time.
‘Shall we draw an itinerary, your private itinerary, what would you like to see?’ She asked. The waiter has not returned yet, and Paul ignored her right forearm laid invitingly on the table at easy reach. She had to be cautious yet.
‘I was on my way to the Red Square, as for other sites well…’
‘You’ll have to rely on me then.’
The waiter was back at their table unloading his platter, before Paul managed to answer her.
The waiter smiled to each one of them in his turn, pulled the champagne bottle from the ice bucket, released the cork with the cheerful pop noise, poured its liquid into their glasses. Having put the bottle back in the bucket, he made a courteous small bow and left.
‘Well “nazdrovie”’ Tania declared raising her champagne tumbler.
‘So be it, nazdrovie’, Paul echoed after her, raised his own tumbler and clinked it with hers. Bottled tap water that’s what it is… He thought with scorn as he put down his tumbler on the table. Without wasting anymore time he pulled out his wallet laid a one hundred ruble note on the table, before Tania’s dumbfounded eyes. ‘Sorry I’ve got to meet someone, I’ve almost forgotten.’ He told her rather briskly, got to his feet and left. At the wardrobe a few steps from Tania the attendant had trouble it seemed to find his coat. He could have a look at her pale face, if he would have turned back, but he did not. Nevertheless, he had to wait some five minutes till she finished fumbling in frenzy, and came at last with his coat. They’re desperate, they hope I’ll change my mind…It could have been real fun if I won’t have to pay dearly for it – they were sure no doubt that I’ve given in, they’ll be after my hide now…
The husky at the entrance did not seem hostile or threatening to Paul, on the contrary he stared at him with a puzzled look as if he was wondering “He’d such a chance and he gave it up…?”
Once outside in the cold early afternoon, Paul felt much better. He did not bother to check surveillance, he knew they were behind and in front of him; two crews at least and a car or two. He had a short minute of elation of having won the game, he did not succumb to temptation, beastly urges, out of fear or self pity. It did encourage him a bit his small victory, but it was not over yet. His days in this hostile capital were numbered. He did not think they will bother to bump him off, he was not that important and he was ‘burned’ from the very beginning, he did not manage to harm any of their interests yet. It seems as if they were informed of my arrival long before I’ve boarded the plane that flew me here, though it’s just an assumption – a wild one. He brooded turning thoughts in his mind, as he was walking among the few pedestrians on the broad pavement. After some twenty minutes of a slow pace stroll, he reached the Red Square with the Kremlin towering far off at its end. In comparison to its huge dimensions, it could be termed as empty, he could see a few dots of individuals or specks of tiny groups here and there – the gaps were that broad; it made him smile with satisfaction, he was right they will have to say behind – far behind. He went with a quick step up to the square’s heart, and turned around in every direction, a shade of a smile lingered on his face. Come on use your binoculars, your telescopes, your electronic gadgets, you miserable devils! He almost shouted with delight.