Chapter 13 here ... Chapter 15 here
Marc woke up and wondered why he’d done it. Why he’d gently steered Nikki out of the door around 01:45 with no more than a hug and fraternal kiss.
Most ungallant to send a lady away at such a time but Nikki was more than capable, had her car outside and hadn’t shown any signs of demurring.
Still, it was not good. He was surprised, mainly because he knew she had that dentist in Melun and they were close. Nikki was a puzzle.
The phone broke him out of this revery and it was her. He caught the time – just before eleven so she’d only just have finished the job.
‘Marc, they’re having a mid-week sale in Melun but my car is in for service. Would you be a gentleman?’
He sighed. ‘All right. I’ll be round there at ... 13:00.’
‘No, Francine will drop me to you. Are you in the middle of anything?’
‘A coffee. How far away are you?’
‘Look out of your window.’
‘Well, bring her in and let’s have a coffee.’
‘Francine has an appointment,’ she said quickly and rang off.
‘I don’t have an appointment,’ protested Francine.
‘Yes you do. As of now.' Nikki got out with her holdall and went inside.
Alina phoned Hugh. She wanted to meet again and the venue was Giuseppe. A quick conference with Ksenia and it was agreed he had to go. This had to be seen through to the end - Ksenia's own working life was tied up in it.
Totally out of the blue, Alina opened with, ‘Sergei is our brother. Our father is Misha. Ksusha’s father was Sasha.’
‘One moment, one moment. Her father, your father – what do you mean?’
‘Ksusha and us.’
‘Right, right – you mean cousins, we call it.’
‘Ah, now I’m beginning to see. You say her father WAS Sasha?’
‘He - he died seven years ago on a trip on the Volga. He fell overboard one night, from an Omik –’
‘Local cruise boats have the letters OM at the front and so we call them Omiks. Since then, all our money comes from my father - Misha. She says she can’t live without them.’
‘Oy, sorry. I mean ‘it’. In Russian, the word money is in the plural.’
‘You mean Ksusha says she can’t live without her Uncle Misha’s money?’
‘OK – now I have it straight and I have a question I’ve asked many, many times. Why tell me?’
‘I don’t know. I just wanted.’
‘And you brought me here to hear this?’
‘Didn’t you want to know?’
‘Yes, of course, sweetheart. What else do you want to tell me?’
‘Olyesa is crazy about Papa. With Mama not alive, Olyesa usually runs the house.’
‘Whoa. Stop one moment. Your Mama is not alive?’
‘No, she died with Uncle Sasha.’
‘And his wife – Ksusha’s mother?’
‘She died too. They all drowned.’
‘I see. Did – er – Papa also fall in the water?’
‘Sergei is in security, as well as working for Papa. He’s number four, after The Beast.’
‘So who’s number two?’
‘Georges of course.’
‘But Zhenya worked for a different company?’
‘And who was boss of that company?’
‘A foreigner – Mr. Seymour.’
‘So who was trying to kill me – your Papa’s company or Seymour’s?’
‘I don’t know. Was anyone trying to kill you?’
‘Apart from you – many people.’
‘I wasn’t trying to kill you. I just wanted to hurt you.’
Sergei Safin had been kept waiting for forty minutes and he didn’t like this sort of thing at the best of times.
When he was eventually granted the interview, it was to enter a sumptuous office overlooking the Moskva.
On this side of the desk was a woman who seemed to be part of the team and yet not. She was less than respectful to the obese man on the other side and looked expensive, garish, overdressed. This was the wife – he was sure of that. The fingers adorned with thick gold rings were further testimony to that.
‘Ah, Sergei Mikhailovich, this is my wife Irina.’
‘Ochyen priyatno.’ She nodded her acknowledgement.
‘Sergei, my wife needs a driver.’ Deputatov saw the falling face and smiled. ‘Not just any driver. A driver with eyes, ears and the ability to make quick decisions. A man who will do what’s necessary.’
The light dawned in Safin’s eyes and Deputatov nodded approvingly. ‘Then we understand one another. Now, here is what I need you to do.’
America was in the grip of a Florida furore over Dade County votes. Was Bush President? Was Gore? Courts were convened and pronounced; other courts were convened and revoked the judgement. Russia was bouncing back on the strength of oil and gas, determined not to let something like that happen again.
Hugh’s weight training was starting to bear fruit and Viktor Igorovich was delighted to see the expanding shoulders and thickening arms.
His advice was firstly – keep it regular, even if you don’t feel like it. Second - always press a little bit harder than you thought you could. Third – don’t expect any demonstrable size difference for two months.
Hugh started going to a solarium but that only burnt his buttocks, totally unprepared as they were for the first ever ray attack of their existence. Gradually the tan came on and the result was adequate.
He’d been training this day and when he got home, there was a message on the avto-otvetchik, saying that Olyesa was coming over at 10:00, just to talk, she said, that was all. Hugh made various preparations then rang Ksenia, who was at her place.
The first thing Olyesa did was lay a photo down in front of him. It was Alina and it wasn’t good. There was more than one man, considerably more and she wasn’t exactly holding back. All remaining illusions about her fell away at that moment.
There also appeared not to be much loyalty between the two sisters or between anyone else in the family for that matter.
‘Money,’ said Olyesa, ‘purely and simply money. That’s all it ever was with her.’
‘You mean she’s done others?’
Olyesa pulled out a tawdry glossy and threw it to him. ‘Page 32.’
He took a glance, closed it and handed it back to her. ‘You’re both as bad as each other.’
She ignored that and began her tale. ‘We’ve never wanted for anything but it was never enough for Alina.’
‘Tell me about Uncle Sasha.’
‘How do you – ah, Sis has been shooting her mouth off to you. Uncle Sasha never had money. He drank. One night, he fell overboard –’
‘From an Omik – I know – plus your mother, plus Ksusha’s mother.’
‘Sis told you that?’
‘It’s not true?’
‘Sis lies. I love her but you can’t trust her. They’re dead, both from boats, strangely but it was at different times. I’d rather not say how and why.’
She paused, took a sip of coffee, then continued. ‘Oleg, after my – er – shoot – well he came onto me and I was disgusted. So he started on Alina and offered her an obscene amount of money to ‘model’. Ha – model!
Sis stopped telling me anything. The narcotics started soon after and she was so far in, she couldn’t get out. Sergei got her out and sent her to America for treatment - it was a lucky escape.’
She paused and he could have sworn she wiped a tear away.
She took another sip and started to speak again. ‘I want you to understand it all, you see. Sergei had begun the photographic business but had handed it over to Georges – Sirozh had absolutely no idea Alina was involved. Oleg now started to blackmail him, threatening to ‘prove’ to our Papa that he had done all of it.’
‘Are you ashamed of what you did yourself?’
‘Yes and no. It was never shown to anyone, it was kept close, it was only for the blackmail.’
‘Alina’s wasn’t. It was for the whole web.’
‘No, not at first. It was for clients, Sirozh said but then somehow it got to the internet. He swears it wasn’t his doing. The rest - yes - but not that. With Alina, it unhinged her mind - she has absolutely no shame now. I know that sounds good from me but it happens to be true. That’s why I showed you those pics. There’s no doubt in that magazine, is there? I had to show what you were dealing with. Don’t play with my Sis, Hugh – you’ll get burnt.’
Hugh sighed. ‘Olyesa, it’s getting late. I have to work. Thanks for explaining it all but I can’t see what it has to do with me.’
‘Look, you were dragged into it. You deserved an explanation. Bye Hugh.’
She smiled and was gone.
‘What are you trying to do, Nikki?’
‘Mademoiselle, it’s a chance out of this golden cage we’ve built. For both Marc and for me.’
‘Do you love him? Apart from as a sister?’
‘As a sister, yes, of course. As a lover – maybe.’
‘We both want to find that completion to our lives. I’m not all that sure that Marc is the one for you though. You’re vivacious and he’s dour. You love the game, the intrigue, the nuances. Marc likes to get in, do a job and get out. He can be charming, even romantic but he’s work oriented.’
‘I stand to lose the backbone of the Section and its technical wizard in one go.’
Nicolette did not argue; she knew it as well as Geneviève. So there it was.
‘How much progress have you made?’
‘Not a lot. I think Marc and Dilyara are one. I'm patient.’
‘Don’t I know it,’ sighed Geneviève.
Nicolette turned with that characteristic flourish and skipped from the room, nodding to Marc in the outer room and he followed her out. They went to Jules’ café for a late lunch.
‘Is there something in me which puts you off, Marc? I need to know.’
‘Au contraire, Moineau. But I love our brother/sister thing and that will disappear if I bed you.’
‘No it won’t. I’ve already seen ahead,’ Marc could well believe that, ‘and I can always return to where we were last week. We really should find out, you know.’
‘Meaning sleep together?’
‘Not necessarily at the beginning.’
‘Why are you pressurizing me, Nikki?’
Hugh prepared for work and was about to leave when there was a phone call. It was Alina herself, from her mobile. ‘What did she tell you?’
‘Alina, do you know what time it is?’
‘We’ll meet later.’
‘Alina, I have to go to work.’
‘Please, just one minute?’
‘Where are you?’
‘Outside your door.’
‘Go to the ‘produkti’ across the yard and I’ll see you in the cafe in three minutes.’
He watched her down through his window and when she was almost at the ‘produkti’, he went downstairs to join her, taking his work things.
‘I want to know what she told you,’ was her opening line.
‘She showed me page 32.’
‘I’ll kill her, I’ll kill her,’ she spluttered.
‘You won’t kill anyone. It’s over, I’ve seen it, that’s the end of it.’
‘I’m so ashamed, so ashamed, I hate her, I hate her.’
‘She did it because you presented her to me as a whore.’
‘But she is; you don’t know her.’
‘I was fool enough, Alina, to let you meet me here but I’m sure as hell not going to hear any more of this.’
‘I knew you’d believe her, I knew you’d take her side. Everyone always does.’ She started a bout of heavy sobbing, clearly looking for a sympathetic shoulder, which Hugh was not offering. She buried her face into her hands, which had the woman behind the counter wondering. A few minutes later she looked up, red-eyed, her mouth and lips just a hard line.
‘Well, Mr. Saint, don’t you know that she was with me when I did those shoots?’
‘Oh, she was there all right.’
‘Then you’re both as bad as each other, as I said to her and now I’m afraid we both must go. Let me call you a taxi first.’
He went up to the counter and arranged that, gave her some money then went to work.
Ksenia and Ludmilla Valerievna were in conference.
Safin had been seen driving Deputatov’s wife and that made him a euphemism for a killer. All Deputatov’s ‘drivers’ were multi-faceted and unprincipled. That put Safin on the opposite side to his family and he seemed to be going the way of Zhenya.
He also had the capacity to blackmail Ludmilla herself and the connection with Timur Shaidullin in Nizhny Novgorod was a further worry. Deputatov’s main assassin, Djamato, was in Russia and something was brewing.
‘I’ve been scratching around,’ said Ksenia and the only thing I can see is that it is related to this Paul Jacobsen whom I know Mikhail is talking to.’
‘It’s a large deal and would put him in opposition to Deputatov and Seymour. Jacobsen has the money and no infrastructure or contacts. Mikhail has the things he needs. Deputatov has made a play for him and wants to include him under his umbrella but the man’s no fool and has done his homework, according to Timur.
He’d have more leverage, Jacobsen, to go the Mikhail Safin route. Sergei going over to Deputatov has altered the equation and I don’t think my brother realizes he’s now a marked man. Djamato in Russia is always a worry and someone’s to be hit for sure.’
‘Ponyatno, Ksenia. There’s something else though. The Parisian connection. There’s money pouring down that conduit and it has some connection with Geneviève Lavacquerie’s section bosses, together with Deputatov, Shaidullin and one or two others we haven’t identified yet, big players at our end, possibly under government patronage, possibly a maverick operation.
Somehow, sanatorii come into this – the medical clinics. Either it’s a commercial operation or these clinics are being used for some purpose, maybe medical. They could be training centres. The one who seems to know about these is Hugh Jensen. You told me what he said to you about the way the world is run. That puts him in danger.’
‘There’s another issue too. Hugh has been seeing my sisters and this has brought him to Oleg’s attention plus Sergei’s. He makes out he’s a political innocent, Hugh but he’s anything but, either by design or accident. There’s Anya, his ex-girlfriend too. What was said at Yelabuga to Sergei was anyone’s guess. Georges is connected to Deputatov and is playing a double game. We know from Hugh that Georges was with Frederika in London.’
‘Which ones are in such key positions that if we could take them out of the equation, the situation would stabilize?’
Ksenia looked closely at Petrova. ‘All of them but I’ll play fair. Deputatov is the key man. On a lesser level, Sergei and of course, Hugh.’
‘You’ve forgotten someone, Ksenia.’
‘Yourself. I think we need to get planning.’
Liya was wearing a dark green, one-piece jumpsuit, zipped from a modest black halter neck to just above her crotch and his eyes were rivetted.
‘Hugh,’ she smiled. He brought out the makings for a light supper. ‘This is a pleasant surprise.’ She got straight down to it. ‘I’m worried about Anya. She seems down and we should try to help.’
‘Anya wants me to fill her time while the Italian’s not here. She’s created a situation and won’t let it go. All I have to say on that man I’ve already said.’
‘Hugh, this is the woman you loved, the one you came to Russia for. Friends do things for people. I was hoping you and I could think up an answer.’
‘What can we do?’
‘She admires and loves you. She’ll listen to you. Try to talk her through it because she has no one else to speak to.’
‘All right, when I see her.’
‘Will you make love to me now?’
‘Here’s the zip - pull it down.’ She put his index finger inside the ring. ‘Anything inside is yours.’
‘That’s cruelty, Liya. You know I can’t.’
‘Because I’m married?’
‘Yes. Anyway, how could you do that with me if you’re happily married?’
‘I want to know. No one else would ever know we did it. We can be quick now.’
‘But that’s wrong.’
She came up and put two hands lightly on his shoulders. He stood there and thought about the zip, fighting himself to take his hand away. She showed no impatience at all and gave the impression she’d stand there all day.
He began to unzip her but the moment he saw bare flesh, he couldn’t go through with it but when he tried to do it up, because it was soft material, it stuck. She smiled and did it up.
‘I’ll drive you where you need to go, Liya.’
Viktor had been a tower of strength for Hugh over the length of their friendship but he was a little more averse to accepting assistance in return. Part of that was his demeanour and partly the necessity of admitting there was a problem in the first place.
He’d said a number of times that if he was going to speak of a personal matter, it would be to Hugh. Now he did have such a matter and Hugh visited his friend on Pionerskaya.
Seated, forearms resting on thighs and hands clasped together, head down, it was pretty obvious what was going down.
‘Da.’ Hugh waited patiently. Viktor opened, ‘We haven't split but it’s not far away. The problem's with me. I don’t know - there has to be some spark in some ways and when there’s not, well is it worth the effort?’ Hugh continued to say nothing.
‘It sounds stupid but when a woman phones, if I can instantly pick her voice in the first two words, then that is a possible relationship. With Olya I can’t do that – there’s something very - ordinary in there. I’m not explaining it well.’
‘No, that’s the thing. She’s been excellent and I’ve tried to be good with her but it just doesn’t seem to have a direction. Perhaps it’s the conversation - her world and mine differ so and we find ourselves having to try to converse.’
‘Better you know now.’
‘Better I'd known earlier.’
‘You wouldn’t have known earlier. No, this is a good time to cut it, if it really is that way. Are you sure she feels that way too?’
‘Oh no, that’s the problem - she wants it to continue.’
‘I know what I have to do but that doesn’t make it any easier. Still, it helps being able to talk instead of telling the wall about it.’
‘It’s always better. Can you make a last special effort or do you know deep down that it’s irrevocable? Is there any change she can make, that I could hint to her?’
‘Nope. She’s not doing anything wrong at all. Quite the opposite.’
‘That’s sad, Man.’ They were silent for half a minute, then he said, ‘Come for a soup tomorrow.’
Marc had a pressing invitation to stay with Hugh anytime he came to Shadzhara and he decided to take him up on it this time. Hugh met him at the airport and they did the return trip in less than an hour, apart from stopping off at a café along the way for supper.
At the flat, Hugh gave him a key again and told him to make use of the phone as he wished. He could log in on the PC too. Next day they’d sort out the kind of food he needed – there was a nice shop, Bahetlye and he preferred to buy what they were going to eat rather than guessing at it.
They brought each other up to speed on the politics, the relationships and the implications. For his part, Marc asked Hugh if he could explore, through Ksenia, two names he now handed over. That might tell a lot about the identity of the bigger players who were still in the background at this end and through that, hopefully the players at the Parisian end.
Olyesa Safina was hit by a dark blue Mercedes in Moscow. She’d been crossing a road at Kitai Gorod and hadn’t seen the car coming.
The funeral was a closed affair but Hugh heard later that day, from Ksenia, that Alina had been inconsolable. ‘You’ll have to be careful, Hugh. No one can find her. We’ve tried everywhere.’
‘Mad as a rattlesnake, Alina,’ he admitted. ‘What do you suggest?’
‘Stay at my place. There'll be protection for both of us there.’
'Not a flight to Klenovaya Gora?'
'No - this is about Sergei, Georges, Uncle Dima, some others.'
'Well, yes. Some strange things are happening right now, things which shouldn't have happened. Things which couldn't have been predicted.'
A tear came to her eye. 'She had no real enemy. You do, I do, Misha does. If something happens to us, it's bad but it's predictable. With Olyesa, we're mystified.'
'They could fire through your windows, lob in a bomb.'
'Not really. From my bedroom and from the living room and kitchen, what do you see?'
'Nothing - the road below, fields on the other side.'
'They'd be firing upwards from the road, anyone in the fields is on private property and can be accosted. Of course a militarized enemy could mount a weapon a kilometre away - there are houses over there and though that road is patrolled, I admit they could do it from there. The type of people we're up against don't want that sort of publicity - the hit and run in Moscow was how they do it.
We have our people either side of me as neighbours and the grandmothers below are paid by us to sniff any trouble. The loyalty question is not that of the section people but the freelancers - the ones I named, Zhenya, Deputatov, those sorts of people. If I'm in danger, it's from them, not from elements in the service. It will be a friendly face who eliminates me, possibly you.
We're as safe in my flat as we would be anywhere else. I'll come to you now in one of our cars. Go to the produkti below and stay in there. Don't go with anyone else.'
Forty minutes later, having shopped in the produkti and now in her flat, they made lunch together.
He loved her, he loved making the lunch with her but he'd always had this thing against being home in the middle of the day. He'd never been able to get his head around daytime television, the lightness of flats during the day - he always felt he should be out working at this time.
And there was university. They knew the score, they knew he was a protected species but still, they had a right to his services and he was, quite patently, not delivering consistently enough. He himself was unhappy not to be there. He liked the routine, preparing, putting in his hours, going across the road to do his work there, going to the Pyramid Cafe after.
This was far too unstable and while it was fine for Ksenia to act this way, here, there, everywhere, for him to also - well, he didn't have the right, in this country, to be making his own rules that way.
He tried to explain that to her, that he understood she'd make it right - or at least Ludmilla Valerievna would - but that there were limits. Surprisingly, she fully understood and apologized. She knew the score fullwell, that his type of business required consistency and reliability.
'I understand. It's a test for us. It won't be forever.'
'Anything good on?'
She went for the magazine and came back, thumbing through it. 'Hmmm - travel show -'
'That will do. I like that sort of thing.'
'It's just started.' She flicked it on from the remote, told him to settle back on the divan and went to make tea.
She came back through with a tray of goodies, unpacked it on the table along with her best white china set, the plate with delicacies, the bowl with grapes, then sat on the divan beside him with her feet up.
He could see this scenario playing out and it had its neanderthal elements. She poured him a whisky and knocked one back herself, then they ate. Anything he reached for and couldn't get to, she got for him.
At one stage, she went out and got the dessert, tea and sweets.
When it was done, she began to clear up, he got up and she put one arm to his shoulder to sit him down.
She came back through, asking if he'd had enough. He said yes thanks, she said good, dropped to her knees on the rug and undid his belt and zip. She tugged at the waist and he got the idea.
She took off her own short-shorts and underwear, then went to work on his member.
At the appropriate moment, she climbed on and that nicely filled in two hours.
It was 16:14 when the call came, he was asleep on the divan as she came through and took it.
She woke him about 17:30 and apologized for not letting him sleep any longer but she'd held off for as long as she could. They had to leave. She'd tell him along the way. This was a personal flight so she'd taken it upon herself, rather than through Ludmilla Valerievna, to contact his university and explain. They hadn't been happy but what could they do?
She'd also had the nerve, she said, to pack a bag for him, knowing the clothes he liked to wear. She nodded towards the bag, he looked inside and had to admit it was all there.
The buzz came through her pager, they collected their things and went downstairs.
It was a white Volga, a nice touring machine with all that legroom in the back, they climbed in with two of her cushions and two wraps and away they went. Arranging the wrap as a blanket and putting a cushion behind his head in one corner, he took in the driver.
Just beyond Raifa, the Volga turned down a snow-covered track and stopped, turning the lights off. There was silence in the car and then a sudden scuffling outside as if a creature of the night had brushed by.
The drivers changed and a youngish chap got in, the Volga backed out and once more they headed towards Nizhny Novgorod.
The car continued on into the night, snow was banked up beside the road, narrowing the lanes considerably and Ksenia watched the headlight reflect from it. Onwards and onwards they travelled until a half sentient torpor came over them.
At a small town they stopped for fuel but didn't get out. During this time, she told him that Oleg was dead and that Georges had broken cover and shown he was the one behind the trouble - well, much of it anyway.
He didn't ask exactly where they were going.
Later, on a barren, remote stretch, they stopped again and were all able to get out, stretch their legs and stumble through waist-high snow to the bushes. Here, in the stillness of the Russian countryside, the effect was a bit surreal.
Back in the car again, Hugh studied the driver’s impassive face. Did he have Oleg’s blood on his hands? Still, that wasn't his worry.
The first new snowflakes appeared in the air just past Nizhny, town passed town, village after village passed by.
The road was slushy and the noise of the tyres accentuated this. The windscreen wipers sloshed to and fro, the music played, interrupted by the inane hysteria of the two DJs.
And ever onwards the car cruised, on and on and on.
Hugh smiled across at Ksenia; she gave a quick smile back. He reached out a hand and she clasped it in both of hers. They both stared through the front window with its wipers, left and right, left and right. There was nothing else to be seen except the grassy verge slipping by.
About eight kilometres further on, they pulled off onto a parallel side road and parked behind another white Volga. She announced, ‘We change here, Babe.’
Effects were transferred, the drivers changed and they drove back onto the main highway. Small food boxes were given to each – sandwiches, juice and an apple each.
The darkness enveloped them once more, Ksusha shuffled across, placed her cushion against his chest, rearranged her blanket around her feet and spread his blanket across her chest, covering both of them. A bit of wriggling later, she’d found a good position and almost straight away dropped into drowsiness. He looked down at her hair and dared to take some of it in his hands.
The driver took a quick glance and from his angle, Hugh could see the man smile. After some time, Hugh dropped into torpor.
They drove on.
He awoke, stroked her hair, her eyes opened but she said nothing. With both his arms around her now, she interwined the fingers of her right hand with those of his left.
They stopped for fuel again then drove on.
The lights on the outskirts of Moscow were now visible in the distance and they took a series of turns at this point, always moving north, until finally meeting the ring road, also heading north.
Morning light started to fill the eastern horizon and Ksenia stirred first, gathering her blanket, kissing his cheek and moving back to her corner. He whispered, ‘Ksusha, I’m starting to get a feeling about our destination.’
She just smiled.
It became a certainty some time later. They were headed for Sheremetyevo 1 but they never quite reached it because a turn into a branch road led them away from the airport and who knew where to?
The driver knew and, halfway through the next village, they took a couple of turns and pulled up outside a neat little grey-stoned two storey cottage - someone’s dacha.
‘Welcome to my Ludmilla Valerievna’s dacha, Hugh.’
The log cabin had a central furnace and was cosy but he wondered about the wisdom of holing up here when it was obviously connected with her and one of the more likely places.
Food had been brought in, the two upstairs bedrooms were real bedrooms, made up with puffy, fluffy bed linen, the living room was walled with split logs and everything had been left clean and tidy. There was no phone but it didn’t matter because she had her mobile.
Clearly, preparation had gone into this and it seemed they were preparing for hibernation, rather than just holing up for a few days.
She broached the topic over coffee.
‘This is about Georges. It's true he has Moscow people but it's not about Moscow. He feels we're in Shadzhara because sightings of us have been made. We have people who know where he is and they're keeping tabs on him - he feels he's laying the ambush in a few places, with his dozen or so mates - around both our houses, around my grandmother's, around other places.
He could fool us all and charter a flight or take the scheduled flight and he would have wheels at this end. We're watching this too but the simple matter is that he'd have no way of thinking we'd both be in this dacha. You would have noticed quite a few Moscow people use these in winter, so we don't stand out.
My feeling is they'll get him somewhere around Shadzhara unless he gets wind of us, in which case he'll go to ground and try to get out of the country. We have six people in dachas around us and they have weapons, we have six others mobile. I'd say we can reason that he won't come and we'll have at least until tomorrow evening before something definite happens. Are you willing to relax for that time - can you?'
He nodded. 'Good. Hugh, in Tenerife, I let you be the maestro. Would you let me during these two days? I'd like to show you how I do it.'
'Let me explain this term to you: 'Is the Pope Catholic?'
'I get the idea already,' she smiled. 'We need to start the banya and cooking. I thought we'd prepare all the food early and have cold cuts and things to microwave in the refrigerator, then we don't have to cook. If I show you our banya and how it's loaded and worked, I'll leave you to do that for a couple of hours while I cook - I need that time with no conversation, to concentrate. May we do that?'
'Say the word, maestro.'
'I'll be in touch with what's happening with the others during that time but I won't say anything unless I need to. Is that also OK? I want the mood happy.'
The food was slow cooking and she'd done various jobs when she came down to check the banya - it was OK and they had plenty of wood.
In the outer room, the dry room, they both undressed and went through to the warmer middle room where the actual washing was done, he took the big soapy sponge from the tub and started squeezing suds over her back, waist, bottom and thighs, watching foamy water trickling down the inside of her thighs to the floor.
She turned round for him to wash her breasts and tummy, then he squatted down to do her calves and ankles. Re-soaping the sponge, he paid particular attention to the space between her legs, then replaced the sponge with his lips and tongue.
Not a word was spoken as he cleaned her out thoroughly, her body swaying just a little.
They went inside the steam room proper to get the body heat up, sitting separately, adjacent to each other and she threw a ladle of water on the coals. The heat became fearsome.
She took his hand and they went out to the anteroom again, she stood him in the middle of the wooden floor slats and washed every centimetre from head to foot, paying particular attention between his legs, which she finished off with her mouth, until she suddenly desisted and he spurted over her.
Still in silence, she washed him again, he washed it off her face and out of her hair, they ladled water, in turn, over each other's heads then went back inside for more heat. Half a ladle of water on, the coals suddenly increased the temperature and both were perspiring freely now.
Looking across at her wet body, he touched each knee with his fingers and moved them apart. He was burning between the legs and now found that inside her was actually cooler, a momentary haven but it had the opposite effect on her of course. Her breasts were glistening wet and rock hard.
The squelch of wet lovemaking in the searing heat, in itself, added to the piquancy and soon she was losing muscle control while he’d settled into a hard rhythm.
With the heat ever so slightly dissipating, they stopped and went out again to wash, throwing more water on the remains of the coals as they went. The washing took on a strange feel to it now, almost ritual, almost respectful, very carnal and then they returned to the heat but this time she sat him back against the tiered bench behind and climbed on, her legs long smooth branding irons.
She became more and more brutal, while he marvelled at her stunning, glistening beauty. She shuddered and came.
They went out to wash again, this time taking ages over the job, a labour of love, no cutting corners, nothing said, just applying herself to the job. She was half in a daze and so was he, as she applied the sponge, resoaped it, applied it and washed, resoaped it, until she reached his nether regions again, which she attended to with her long tongue, she desisted when she felt he might be peaking and let it onto her chest.
He took the same infinite care, washing that, following up with his mouth and time simply stood still. She would stand there forever, until he indicated he was done. When it came to her nether regions, he took the same approach with his tongue and her gasp was the first real noise to pierce the silence, as he plunged as deeply as he could, then pulled back and washed her there with the sponge, over and over and over and over and over and over until her legs began to buckle.
Then they went back into the steam, he put half a ladle on the coals, she knelt on the first bench level and lay her upper body on the second. He mounted her and soon after, she shuddered again and her haunches sank down to her ankles. He knelt beside her, she reached out a hand which he entwined his fingers in. She squeezed ever so hard.
Chapter 13 here ... Chapter 15 here