Chapter 28 of The Holy Lance, a fantasy thriller

Svetlana gets a peek at the new Alexei, and she's not buying. Comments are welcome.

Chapter 28

Dmitri Bogdanov gets out of the front passenger side of a black Mercedes sedan as it comes to a halt at the Stolypin dacha’s front entrance shortly before dusk. He opens the car’s backdoor and motions for Svetlana Krazavitskaya to get out of the back seat. She hesitates at first. After quickly surveying her surroundings, she steps out. Bogdanov immediately grabs her by the elbow and leads her into the dacha. They move quickly through the foyer and climb the marble stairway at its far end to the second story. From there, they follow a thickly-carpeted hallway past several closed, bedroom doors to a paneled stairwell along the back of the dacha. They ascend a flight of narrow, wooden stairs to a locked set of double doors. Bogdanov unlocks the doors. With feigned courtesy he gestures to Krazavitskaya.

“After you.”

She sneers and breezes past him. He closes and locks the doors behind them.

“Third door on the left. It should be open.”

She sees the open door and enters the sitting area of a small suite. The room is furnished with an overstuffed leather chair and sofa on a sizeable Persian rug. A fire burns slowly in the marble fireplace. A large, flat screen television is mounted above the fireplace. Across from the fireplace is a small, well-stocked wet bar. Two leaded-glass windows behind the chair let in the last dying light of the day. The walls of the suite are appointed with varnished pine beadboard above which they are whitewashed. Various generic paintings of generic Russian nobles hunting with their Borzoi adorn the suite.   

“You are to make yourself comfortable. Should you require any assistance, simply pick up the phone.”

He points to the phone next to a silver ashtray on the walnut coffee table in front of the sofa.

“How about if I use it to call the police?”

“It’s not an outside line. Besides, there is no need for that. You are Alexei’s guest. It is his wish that you be here.”

Krazavitskaya laughs.

“This is some sort of joke, right? A prank? Okay, I’ll play along. You run along and fetch Alexei, and I’ll look for the hidden cameras.”

Bogdanov does not respond other than to bow slightly and back out of the room, closing the door behind him. 

↔↔↔↔↔→

Krazavitskaya sits in her suite’s stuffed leather armchair, her feet propped up on the coffee table, chain smoking, and channel surfing. Bogdanov, without knocking, enters and stands at the open door. Krazavitskaya looks at her watch.

“Is this the plan? I watch TV until I die of boredom and then you feed my body to the, what did you call them, the hungry vermin? What a stupid phrase.”

“I apologize for the delay.”

Alexei Kotuzov, still dressed as he was for the meeting of the Sons of Peter, enters. Bogdanov bows slightly and backs out of the room, closing the door behind him. Krazavitskaya stares in amazement at Kotuzov before she bursts into laughter. She stands up and walks over to him until she is inches from him. She smiles, takes a deep drag on her cigarette, and exhales out of the side of her mouth.

“ Alexei! What have they done to you?”

Kotuzov stiffens.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand, Svetlana.”

“You don’t? Have they destroyed all of the mirrors in this ridiculous palace? You look like some sort of stupid doll, a cartoon. Is that really you, Alexei?”

“A remarkable thing has happened, Svetlana.”

“I’d say. Someone threw some money and clothes at you and you caved like a house of cards. Come on, grab your clothes and let’s get the hell out of this creepy place.”

“Such sarcasm will not do,” he scolds lightly.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“This all must seem most odd to you. It did to me at first, too, but . . .”

Krazavitskaya cuts him off.

“I’ll feel more comfortable when I get an evening dress and pearls, right? What are we pretending to be? It looks like fun.”

Alexei clears his throat and continues with formality bordering on gravity.

“There is no pretense here, nor is there any fun.”

Krazavitskaya responds by mocking this new version of Alexei, who a few days ago was a scraggly, ill-kempt student indistinguishable from thousands of twenty-somethings just like him.

“There is no pretense here, nor is there any fun!”

Kotuzov, uncertain how to respond to her insulting tone, remains silent.

“Come on, Alexei, what’s this all about?” she pleads.

“I’m afraid I am not currently at liberty to say.”

“Then why did you send for me? This is not the Alexei I know. If this is it for you, just say so. This is really a pretty elaborate scheme for a breakup. Is that what this is?”

“It’s nothing of the sort. Do you wish to stay with me? I need your answer. I won’t command it.”

Krazavitskaya laughs in astonishment at the notion of being commanded to do anything by Alexei.

“Command it!? How about sharing those drugs you’re taking, huh?”

“I can see that your coming here was a mistake.”

“I didn’t come here, Alexei. I was dragged here, and now I’m leaving. Tell your new boyfriend I want to go back to the city. You’re going to have to play dress up without me.”

“I’m afraid that may not be possible, Svetlana.”

“Is that right? Not possible? I suggest you look at yourself.”

“What? What does that mean? You’re not making any sense.”

“Look at yourself, Alexei. Clearly, anything is possible.”