Krasna Moskva House. 6.00 AM
The piercing sound of the telephone brought Steele back from his dreamless rest. If he had slept, he wasn't aware at all. Suddenly, all his numbness disappeared and was replaced by a sense of complete awareness. Picking up the receiver, he hoarsely asked, "Da?"
"She's here," a strange voice said in accented English.
"Who is this?" Steele demanded to know, but before he could inquire further, the man on the other end hung up.
Steele promptly sat up in the bed, and began dialing the number Bulbakov had given him the day before. The connection was barely established when all of a sudden the line went dead. He tried again, but it was useless.
"Damn!" he cursed as he ran his nervous fingers through his tousled hair. "Damn, damn, damn!"
He rose and dressed quickly, then he gathered his few belongings and rushed out of the room.
Steele didnít go too far though; the door at the end of the corridor had been locked. On the other side of the door, he could see the deskurnaya - the land lady, or "guardian of the morals" as her official title went. The heavy set woman, who was in her late sixties, was sitting behind her front desk reading a cheap paperback novel.
"Pozhalusta, comaradedeskurnaya!" - Please!- Steele shouted, motioning for her to open the door.
The old woman looked at him and shook her head vigorously as she pointed at her wristwatch, indicating it was too early to open the house. Then, without giving him much thought, she turned her back, and resumed her reading.
Steele tried to stay calm. *I have to get out of here!* he thought as he reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and retrieved his lock picks. He didn't have to work too hard on the simple lock, and seconds later he was on the other side of the door.
"Stoi! Stoi!" the woman said, emphatically.
"I can't. Sorry, " Steele replied, as he tried to rush past her.
"Stoi!" the old lady repeated, standing irrevocably in his way.
Steele tried to squeeze to one side, but the corridor was too narrow.
"Look," he said, not caring if she understood or not. "Here's my bloody propkus." He waved the paper under her nose. Then stuffing them quickly in his pocket again, he added, "I'm leaving."
***************** **************** **********************
Pulkova 2- International Airport. 9.14 AM
Murphy stopped pacing and looked at his watch irritably. "I don't believe this! We've been here three hours already!" he said. "What the hell is taking them so long?"
Mildred looked at him and frowned. *He's right. However slow they might be up here, this is ridiculous! They can't be checking our passports for this long.*
She looked at Laura, who lay sprawled over three plastic chairs, sleeping like a baby. *The poor kid must be completely spent*
Mildred realized Laura had been up during the whole flight. When she herself had awoken at landing time, she had found Laura busily folding marked city maps, putting away notepad and pencil and filling out the necessary custom papers for the three of them.
Mildred smiled sadly. "She looks quite peaceful now, doesn't she?" she asked Murphy.
He turned around to look at Laura and his face immediately softened. *She looks like an angel*
"Yeah," he said, noncommittally.
"Yeah," Mildred agreed. "Poor Miss Holt."
Murphy merely nodded and turned back around. *Well, it's all his fault!* he wanted to shout. *We should have stayed home. This whole mess would have never happened if I had stayed in Denver, damn it! *
Mildred saw Murphy walking towards the customs officer and felt a chill down her spine. Nothing good could come out of that. *Well, if we're going to deal with the bureaucrats, it'll be better to let them deal with their own kind,* she thought sourly.
Mildred stood up and walked over to them, hurrying her pace as she heard the conversation rapidly escalating into a heated argument.
"Damn. It it's been three hours!" Murphy told the custom officer in front of him.
The man was staring at him with his eyes filled with hatred. Murphy heard him say something in Russian, but couldnít make any sense of it.
"Do you speak Russian, Mildred?" Murphy asked her.
"No, sorry," Mildred answered, and then went on to signal the officer that they didn't understand a word he was saying.
"I can't believe no one speaks English here, for Christís sakes!" Murphy shouted, totally exasperated.
When Murphy heard the man say "Passport!" he lost the ounce of control he had left.
"You already have our passports. That's why we're stranded here!" he said, bending over to grab th man's lapels.
The touch of cold metal in his back made Murphy restrain himself.
"Mr. Michaels, I suggest you behave in a civilized manner if you want to be admitted into this country," a harsh voice said behind Murphy's back.
Murphy turned around slowly and saw a Soviet Police officer aiming a gun at him. Beside him stood another man, dressed in civilian clothes, who smiled at him cordially. Murphy eyed the second man carefully and then glanced at Mildred, who had returned to Laura's side in an attempt to wake her up.
"I'm Sergeant Sergei Grechko, Saint Petersburg Police Department. I am afraid there has been a problem with your passport and visas," he told Murphy in a more than passable English.
"A problem? What kind of a problem?" Murphy asked incredulously as he looked once more into Laura and Mildred's direction.
Laura wasn't waking up. *Strange,* Murphy thought as he forced himself to concentrate on Grechko.
"Well, it seems that you and one of your traveling companions have had a brief brush with the law enforcement in Spain quite recently. We need to run a check on all of you before we let you roam around our city, you see."
"What!" Murphy exclaimed.
"It's merely a precaution," Grechko insisted as he went over to the customs officer and slipped him a paper with a phone number on it.
"Ask for Comrade Trashkin," he told the man in Russian. "Then let me know when you get through."
Then he returned his attention back to Murphy, saying, "I'm afraid our system is down temporarily. But we will be happy to put you up for the night in one of our finest soukhotz," Grechko finished.
"What?" Murphy yelled, still shocked by the news. "Are you insane? There's no way we-"
The officer who called Grechko to the phone interrupted him, saying something in Russian Murphy couldn't understand either.
"Excuse me," Grechko told Murphy as he moved towards the counter and picked up the receiver.
Grechko switched to Russian. "Major Trashkin, it is Sergeant Grechko, St. Petersburg Police department."
"Ah, Sergeant. Are our visitors there still, or have their propkus been issued yet?" Kira Bulbakov asked over the phone.
"The Americans are getting restless. I don't think we will be able to stall them for much longer here. I've suggested a soukhotz," Grechko said as he looked at Murphy, who was now kneeling beside Laura and getting visibly upset when he, also, failed to wake her up.
"But I'm afraid I won't be able to keep them there too long, either. How much time do you need, Major?"
"A week would be perfect, but impossible. How long can you hold them?" Bulbakov asked.
"I can give you two days, at most. The American Consulate will be hearing of this soon, if they haven't heard already, and they'll start asking questions."
Sergeant Grechko nodded to the phone as he heard Bulbakovís affirmative response and then hung up. He looked at the Americans.
Michaels was still leaning over the young woman, who was still asleep. *Well, she needed that rest,* he thought to himself. *I wonder who these people are? They must be important if the KGB wants them detained for a week, but can't afford to do it properly.*
"Mister Micheals," he called. "Could you come over here? I think I have found a favorable solution."
Grechko saw Murphy looking up and met his eyes in a silent battle. The man's whole body seemed to be shaking with anger as he rose and began walking towards him.
"Did you drug her? Did you drug Laura?" he yelled as he dangerously approached Grechko.
Before Murphy could come too near, the other policeman raised his gun and held him in his place.
"She'll be alright, Mr. Michaels. She's only sleeping."
"You bastard!" Murphy said under his breath as he saw Grechko smile tightly.
********************* **************** ******************
Mayakouskovo Prospekt. 10.36 AM
The caika sped up the road of the roof tiled, cobblestoned part of town. Inside the car, Murphy and Mildred were restlessly and uncomfortably, traveling in the back seat. Laura had been placed in the companion seat, still sound asleep. They were being transported to what would be their new lodgings, courtesy of the Soviet Government. A young police officer who didn't speak any English, or at least didn't seem to understand it, was behind the wheel.
The black car finally reached its destination in the outskirts of Saint Petersburg. The suokhotz-state farm- was very much like a small hotel. Not too derelict, but not fancy, either. But its main advantage over the hotel was that it was well equipped with KGB informants and had the compulsory electronic bugs in every room.
Murphy sunk back in his seat after trying for the tenth time to establish some kind of contact with the driver, whose only response was always a brief nod and a grunt.
"This can of sardines sure is moving fast," Mildred said.
Murphy turned to look at the woman. She looked very scared, although she was trying her best to disguise it. Murphy cautiously put his hand on her forearm reassuringly, and when she turned to him, he smiled.
"Too bad we don't know where we are going, uh?" he said.
The caika finally stopped. The driver got out, but didn't open the locks on the back doors. He ran inside quickly and came back after a few moments accompanied by an old deskurnaya. Murphy saw the woman nod in their direction, and then the driver came promptly to open their doors.
Murphy and Mildred stood in the yard for a second. They both looked up and saw the sign in Cyrillic characters neither of them understood.
When the driver motioned for them to enter the building, Murphy asked, "What about her?" and pointed to Laura, who was still sleeping in the front seat.
Mildred saw the old woman, the deskurnaya, speaking harshly at the driver, who answered her at once and then stood in attention. The deskurnaya nodded and then marched inside. When she was gone, the driver relaxed a bit. Making a sign for Murphy to follow him, he then proceeded to get Laura out of the car and into the building.
As she went inside, Mildred's head began to wander. *Dear God in heaven, how are we going to get out of this one? I wish at least Miss Holt had been awake. She'd have arranged things, I think. Whatever drugs those Soviets gave her, they sure are powerful. She's been out for hours!*
Mildred looked around as they were showed into their rooms. She and Laura were sharing a small bedroom with a night stand in between the twin beds and a tattered mat on the floor. A small night lamp with one of its bulbs broken was the only modern commodity of the room. There were no plugs to be seen, no fans, and, of course, there would be no TV or radio. Mildred laughed in spite of herself *TV or radio- Sure! *
It was then that Mildred heard Laura wake up.
Laura stirred luxuriously, as if she were awakening from a long pleasant dream. As her eyes opened, however, she was faced with the stark reality of being in an unknown place. Her eyes desperately searched for a clue as to where she was and finally came to rest on the face of a very distraught Mildred.
"Are you alright, honey?"Mildred asked her as she leaned over her, cautiously looking into her eyes to see if everything was in order.
Laura nodded as she began to sit up. Soon, however, a violent desire to retch overcame her. She gasped and lay down again, frightened.
"Miss Holt?" Mildred asked.
Laura waved her hand, trying to tell her friend it was only a temporary illness.
"I'm ok, Mildred- I just felt sick," Laura said, attempting to rise once more.
Mildred just nodded and waited, since there was nothing else she could do.
"Where are we?" Laura asked shortly, when she was finally able to look around without seeing the room turn upside down.
Mildred sighed. "I don't know. The Soviet police said they had to check out our passports because of what happened in Spain."
"What? How did they know?" Laura asked, interrupting her.
"I don't know, Miss Holt. This is crazy. They drove us up here. We are somewhere outside Saint Petersburg, I guess."
"And Murphy?" Laura asked, frowning.
"He's next door, I think."
Laura got up and went to the door, but couldn't open it. "We've been locked in," she stated, grimly.
"What?" Mildred asked, in shock.
Mildred hadn't heard the lock being set. It must obviously be an automatic door. She walked over and jiggled the doorknob, already knowing it was useless.
Laura, on the other hand, sat on the bed and let her mind roam. *Why are we being held?* she wondered. * No one knew we were coming... No one knew, but maybe someone suspected we would be. But he can't be involved; Mildred just said the police detained us. Oh, God. I'll never forgive myself of anything happens to Murphy and Mildred because of my stupidity. Please, please let this be just a nightmare!*
Laura looked up and saw that everything was quite real. So real, in fact, that she couldn't afford to panic. Instead. she had to find a way out of it.
"Mildred," she said. "Would you mind telling me exactly what happened since we got to the airport?"