Wrapping up the scene in Armenia. One chapter to go! Comments are welcome.
The bodies are gone, the crushed limousines have been towed, and now men and women operating excavators and backhoes work at removing the rubble that was the front wall of Echmiadzin’s only Russian Orthodox Church. They push, pile, and scoop the debris to deposit it into waiting dump trucks lined up ten deep for the task. The street and now barren expanse upon which the church stood a mere 24 hours ago are roped off or blocked by a collection of signs, temporary fences, and local police who a help hardhat crew keep a growing crowd of curious onlookers back from the scene. Just beyond the hastily constructed barrier are several news crews. Some are just setting up their portable transmitters, while others are already broadcasting the news of the church’s bizarre destruction and disappearance below the earth’s surface.
Druzhnikov, who is on crutches, Krazavitskaya, who is smoking nervously, Chebushova, and Brinker stand next to their bullet-riddled rental car nearly a block away, silently watching the aftermath of the strangest event of each of their lives. Save for a few scratches here and there, Brinker and the women are unharmed.
Brinker breaks the silence.
“You think they’ll go after the lance?”
“I don’t see anyone digging. Not yet, anyway,” Druzhnikov notes.
Chebushova laughs at both of them.
“Seriously? Maybe, just maybe, yesterday’s fireworks are a sufficient warning to stay the hell away from that thing, to just let it be. I mean, nothing says, ‘don’t fuck with me’ quite like killing a dozen people with lightning bolts and then swallowing an entire church in a ball of fire.”
“Just asking the question. No harm in that, is there?” Brinker asks with a smile.
Svetlana Krazavitskaya takes a long drag on her cigarette, exhales, and responds to Brinker.
“Someone will try to get it. Forever. That’s just how people are. Someone will think, ‘I won’t make the same mistakes, I’ll use it for good,’ or whatever. It’s too tempting to just let it sit there. Its power is real. Its location is known. It’s just too tempting. Maybe a government, maybe some billionaire. But someone, someone will try. Believe me.”
Not one doubts the truth of Svetlana’s fatalistic assessment and prediction.
“Svetlana, while we’re asking questions, I have one for you. What the hell made you think of running into the church and calling out your boyfriend’s name?”
She drops her cigarette to the pavement and crushes it with her foot before responding to the American.
“I didn’t think about it. I just did it. I have no idea why.”
“I told her to stay put, but she bolted,” Ludmilla recalls.
“I’ve never been good at taking orders.”
“Great timing, no doubt about it,” Brinker adds.
“Perfect! No question. Svetlana, your timing was perfect! And what’s next for you, Brinker?”
“I’ve still got a couple of weeks of vacation left.”
“Nice vacation! A sunburn, three or four shootouts, I’ve lost count, and a preview of Armageddon. Is that what you call this? A vacation?”
“Maybe I’ll just head back to the States and sit behind a desk ‘til I retire. At least it’s safe.”
Druzhnikov smiles as he pats Brinker on the back with his left hand, and shakes his new friend’s hand with his right.
“All right. Don’t forget my Jerry Garcia ties when you get back to the states. And call me the next time you decide to head our way. I’m going to get the hell out of town. Come on, Ludmilla, back to Moscow.”
“What about you?” Ludmilla asks Svetlana.
“Back to school, I guess. Maybe I’ll write a book about Alexei and his crazy friends.”
“No one would believe it,” Brinker quips.
Chebushova gives her a hug.
"Come on, we’ll take you to the airport. FSB will spring for the ticket.”
Druzhnikov turns to Svetlana. He puts his hands on her shoulders. He looks at her as a father might look at a daughter.
“One last word of advice from an old man.”
She returns his look, searching for a bit of wisdom to help her make sense out of a life that seems to have spun completely out of control in ways she could not possible have imagined.
“Whatever you do, wherever you end up, promise me one thing.”
“Name it,” she barely whispers.
He takes a deep breath, shifts his feet, and cocks his head slightly.
“Be careful how you pick your next boyfriend!”