Chapter 34 of The Holy Lance, a fantasy thriller

The cats find the mouse. Comments are welcome

Chapter 34

Across the pond to Tel Aviv, a brutal sunburn, four hours dodging a tail, a gun battle, another hop to Moscow; it all caught up with Chet Brinker about six hours ago. He was about to grab a bit of lunch when he decided to flop down on his hotel bed for a quick forty winks before heading out. He hasn’t moved since. His cell phone, lying on the bed next to him, comes to life, playing the Grateful Dead’s “Sugar Magnolia.” Brinker bolts upright at the ring tone, feels around for his phone, finds it, swipes, and puts it to his ear.

“Brinker.”

“We’ve got a location.”

Brinker recognizes Druzhnikov’s voice.

“Where.”

“Not over the phone. Meet me at the Café Pushkin.”

“What’s the address?”

“Ask your phone. See you in half an hour.”

“Café Pushkin. Got it. I’ll grab a cab.”

Brinker ends the call. He shakes his head and stretches to fully wake up. He heads into the bathroom, splashes some water on his face, and works his hair unwilling to hit the streets of Moscow with a brutal case of early evening bedhead.  

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The Café Pushkin is not, as its classic name might suggest, an ancient hole in the wall stuffed with struggling writers hoping to become the next great Russian novelist while nursing the cheapest item on the menu for hours on end. It’s a recently-opened, upscale restaurant featuring a surprisingly appealing Ethiopian/Japanese fusion cuisine and a lively, evening crowd.

Druzhnikov sits at a table for two reading Novye Izvestia and working through a plate of maherberawi. Brinker sees him as soon as he enters, and walks over to his table. Druzhnikov puts down his newspaper, wipes his mouth with his white linen napkin, and stands up to greet him.

“Have a seat. I’m just getting started. You want a drink?”

As they both sit down, Brinker responds.

“No thanks. Let’s keep this brief. My dining companions aren’t having the best of luck in restaurants these days.”

“Too bad. This is a good one.”

Druzhnikov returns to his plate of mixed meats.

“What did you find out that you couldn’t tell me over the phone?”

“Echmiadzin,” Druzhnikov answers between bites.

“Armenia?”

“Armenia.”

“How can you be sure?”

They both pause as a waiter brings Brinker a menu and pours a glass of water for him.

“Something to drink, sir?”

Brinker waves him off and he departs with a slight bow.

“They’re making it too simple. There’s a construction project that’s been going on north of town since early spring, right after the thaw.”

“And?”

“The construction company is named Sonsrock. You see it?”

“You lost me. I’m a little sleep deprived.”

Druzhnikov chuckles.

“Nice CIA agent. I can’t believe we lost the Cold War to you guys. Peter, the rock of the church. Sonsrock, the Sons of Peter. Peter the Great!”

“You’re right. They’re making this easy.”

“Easy for me, maybe.”

“Okay. Easy for you. Is that it?”

“I made a couple of calls to the local constabulary. They’ve got a fenced off part of the construction site that is strictly off limits.”

“Any satellite shots available?”

“Plenty, once you know what to look for. It’s not a construction site; it’s an archeological dig, no doubt about it.”

“How do we get there?”

“You want to go?”

“Why not? I’ve still got about three weeks of vacation left.”

“Nice vacation. The next flight’s in about two hours.”

“A scheduled airline? Can’t you get an FSB flight?”

Druzhnikov laughs at his new friend’s naiveté.

“I am no more popular here than you are at CIA. No chance. Why don’t you eat? Try the Sushi.”

“I’d be pressing your luck.”

“Suit yourself. If you’re not going to eat, then meet us at the airport in an hour. Siberian Airlines has a direct flight to Yerevan. We’ll pick up a car. It’s only about 20 kilometers from Yerevan to Echmiadzin. I’ll bring the hardware.”

“I’ll be there. I need to check out of my hotel.”

Brinker stands up.

“Wait a minute. You said ‘us.’”

“We might have company.”

“Who’s that?”

“The young lady from St. Petersburg I told you about. I got a call from her. Of course I told her to come to Moscow. We’ll let her tag along. Ludmilla needs a girlfriend.”

“It’s your show.”

Brinker turns to leave.

“Brinker.”

Brinker stops and turns around.

“You owe me another Jerry Garcia tie.”

“No sweat. See you at the airport.”