Chapter 30 of The Holy Lance, a fantasy thriller

Svetlana escapes! But she's not out of the woods yet. Comments are welcome.

Chapter 30

Svetlana Krazavitskaya listens at the door to her suite of rooms. She hears nothing so she carefully, silently opens the door Alexei failed to lock and steps into the hall. She just as quietly closes the door behind her. To her right is the staircase she ascended when she was first brought to the dacha. To her left the hallway continues for another ten meters before dead ending. There is, however, a window at the end of the hall. She decides the window may provide a more secretive means of escape than the stairwell. The carpeted hallway mutes the sound of her footsteps as she heads quickly for the window.

She inspects the window. Its two leaded-glass frames both open outward from the middle. She pushes the latch on the left frame up to unlock it, and waits for a moment to see if she can hear anything sounding like an alarm. Confident that her movements have not been detected, she cranks the window open. She peers down. A sidewalk runs along the base of the building three stories below. A small garden with two benches in it extends about 20 meters from the sidewalk before giving way to a grove of birch trees. A narrow ledge, no more than 10 inches wide, sits below the window marking the top of the second story and the bottom of the third. She looks to the right. The wing of the dacha continues for about another five meters; at the corner the building’s brick façade gives way to large interlocking blocks of sandstone running from the ground to the roof’s eave, each block protruding more than an inch from the exterior wall. If she can get to the blocks, she might be able to use them as a ladder to the ground. She sees no other options and is instantly resolute.

She contemplates her shoes: slip-ons, with hard leather soles. She slips them off and tucks them into the tight back pockets of her black jeans. She takes a deep breath, lifts a leg over the windowsill, and feels with her bare foot for the ledge below. The ledge supports her foot with scant room to spare. She climbs the rest of the way out of the window so that both feet are now on the ledge. She holds onto the window to avoid putting her full weight on the ledge. She closes her eyes, says a quick prayer, and releases her grip on the window. The ledge holds her slight frame without giving way.

She takes a small, cautious, sliding step towards the corner, keeping the front of her body pressed against the wall and her right hand in contact with the window frame. She manages to get past the closed right pane, and now is no more than three meters from the corner. She freezes momentarily, terrified that her weight will shift and that she’ll fall backwards to her death. She presses against the wall as tightly as she can and resumes sliding her feet along the rough ledge, inching her way to the corner. She is almost able to grab one of the sandstone blocks when her left foot snags painfully on a stray piece of sharp masonry on the ledge. She has to lift her now bleeding foot to continue. Her heart is racing and her hands begin to sweat. She takes another deep breath and lifts her left foot while simultaneously reaching desperately for a protruding sandstone block at the corner. She has it!

Once her left hand is secure, she brings her right foot to the corner where the ledge intersects with the blocks, reaches around the block with her left hand, and stops. As she hoped, the blocks extend just far enough from the dacha’s outer wall to provide a descending set of narrow ledges she might be able to grip with her fingertips and toes. She has to try. Turning back is simply not an option.

She begins to make her way slowly down the wall, one block at a time, feeling for each block’s protruding edge with a bare foot before moving her opposite hand from one block down to the next. She gets past the top of the second floor before her arms begin to tremble from the strain of her painstakingly slow descent. Her feet are now at a height equal to the top of the first floor. She stops, her face pressed against the sharp corner of a cool sandstone block. The strength is almost gone from her arms, and she feels likely to lose her grip with her next step down. Instead of taking the step, she uses all of her strength to push back from the building, falling down and away, heading straight for the sidewalk below.

Her bare feet land just beyond the sidewalk and inside the manicured lawn of the garden. Her momentum causes her to fall back onto the damp ground with a thud. She tries to brace her fall with her arms, but before she can, her head snaps back and hits the lawn. She struggles to breathe, certain that her lungs or back or something has been crushed by the fall. She rolls onto her side and pushes herself upright gasping for air. Suddenly she can breathe! She almost laughs as she realizes she merely had the wind knocked out of her. She stands, amazed that her body seems otherwise uninjured, and bends over, gasping and filling her lungs as quietly as she can. Once she is able to breathe normally, she pulls her shoes out of her back pockets, puts them on her bare, scraped feet, and bolts for the birches.

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He carries a tray with dinner for the dacha’s third floor guest on his left shoulder. He knocks on her door. Hearing no answer, he pulls a key from his pants’ right pocket to unlock the deadbolt. His key slips easily to the right and he realizes the bolt is already unlocked. He puts the key back in his pocket, knocks again, and enters.

“Dinner, madam,” he calls as he sets the tray down on the coffee table. Still no response. He waits for a moment before deciding to investigate. He peeks into the bedroom. Nothing. The door to the bathroom is open; he walks over to inspect it. It, too, is empty. He takes one last look around the suite of rooms before picking up the phone and dialing 11 for security.

“She’s not in her room. . . . Yes, I’m certain. . . . Less than a minute ago. . . . As you wish.”

As ordered, he leaves the tray on the coffee table, heads out of the room, and closes, but does not lock, the door.

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A man dressed in gray slacks and a black leather jacket stands across the street from Alexei Kotuzov’s apartment building. He smokes a cigarette. A car pulls up to the building. Svetlana Krazavitskaya gets out of the car.

“Thanks for the lift,” she says before closing the door. She walks as fast as she can into her apartment building.

The man across the street waits for 30 seconds, puts out his cigarette, crosses the street, and enters the building. He pushes the elevator button to ride it to the 7th floor.

When he arrives at Kotuzov’s apartment, the door is slightly ajar. He slowly pushes the door open and enters cautiously. He hears the shower running and notices steam is pouring from the open bathroom door into the bedroom. He pulls a pistol from a shoulder holster and a silencer from his jacket pocket. He attaches the silencer to the pistol as he walks silently towards the bedroom. He crosses the threshold into the bedroom.

Krazavitskaya steps out of the kitchen with the phone, disconnected from its cord, in her right hand. She sneaks up behind the armed man and brings the phone crashing down on the back of his skull. He collapses face first onto the floor of the tiny bedroom. She drops the phone when she notices the pistol in his hand. She kicks his leg to make sure he is still out cold. Satisfied on that point, she ties his hands behind his back and ties his feet together with the phone cord. As she finishes, he groans and starts to come to. She grabs the weapon from his hand and pistol-whips him, knocking him out again. She closes the bedroom door and locks it by putting a kitchen chair up against it and jammed under the door handle. She tosses the gun on the floor and runs out of the apartment, uncertain of where to go, who can help her, or what fate might await her around the next corner.