Excerpt for Tri-Colored Cats by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Tri-Colored Cats


Published by Il’ya Milyukov at Smashwords


Copyright 2018 Il’ya Milyukov


Part 1: The Stripes


Chapter 1


I took a step through the ladder quickly and looked around the surrounding area out of the tail of my eye. Far away on the horizon, there were some buildings, interspersed with numerous sparse trees. Nearby, about half a kilometer, also was located a large number of different-sized constructions, apparently belonging to this airport. And very close, at a distance of ten meters from the plane, there were a few people in strict dark clothes and three cars, two long ones, limousines and one sedan-type. And among them I saw her.

She was looking me straight in the eyes and smiling. Actually, all the others who were standing on the field next to her, were looking at me at that moment too, though maybe not only at me, but at all of us, because three more people were going down after me, but the first moment it seemed to me that these two, probably, dozen eyes were looking straight at my face. I also smiled broadly and raised my right hand, greeting them. The people, located below, five or six men of about the same, middle, age and a very young woman, of a short stature and delicate constitution, who looked twenty years old, also happily waved and walked in the direction of the airplane.

While my feet were taking a few steps through the metal stairs, I was trying to remember how many times I saw her exactly – only one or two yet. And exactly «I saw her» rather than «we saw each other», because I don’t suppose that, but, on the contrary, I’m almost one hundred percent sure that she haven’t even noticed me then – we were encountering for one or two seconds, not more. So, that, back in the headquarters great hall – I remember that exactly, but that, when guys and I were coming out to the street, and near the vehicles there were some, as we knew that, foreigners – here I don’t know, it was she or not.

Hello! – I said aloud, having finally stepped from the ladder onto the runway concrete.

Hello, – uttered one of the men in response, a tall with grey hair.

«I can tell – he’s a diplomat», I thought. And then it was resounded from all sides together, what is more, both in the Russian and English languages:

Hello!

Hello!

Good afternoon!

Hello!

How are you?

We, who got off the plane, stood opposite people meeting us, I found myself very close to chubby big man of an average height, shook the stretched hand strongly, and the grey-haired, still looking me in the face, immediately began to speak:

My friends, meet. Andrey Mikhaylovich, this is Tom McPherson of the United Nations, – and then turning to the burly, he said in English: – Tom, this is Andrey Mikhaylovich Polozkov, our expert.

Yes, I’ve recognized him immediately, – a big man happily rumbled in response. Everyone laughed, and I, it seemed, was trying to smile even wider.

Okay, that’s good, – the diplomat continued. – Valentin Ivanovich, – he turned to Valya Pavlov, – this is – Michael Waters, the human rights organization «Amnesty International». Michael, – again in English, – this is – Valentin Ivanovich Pavlov, our expert also.

Good afternoon, nice to meet you, – a tall, thin man, standing next to Valya, repeatedly shook with his and Valya’s clenched hands.

Okay. Alexander Petrovich, – the grey looked at Troechnik, and then he looked at an athletic handsome man who fixed that’s wrist by his claw, – this is – Jeffrey Knox, the human rights organization «Human Rights Watch». Jeffrey, this is Alexander Petrovich Tugarinov, our expert.

The giant didn’t say anything thus, and broke into a smile once again, and, it seemed to me, his hand has squeezed the Troechnik’s one even stronger. «A former colleague, exactly», flashed through my mind.

Finally, Andrey Ivanovich, – the grey-haired stood between Andrey Ivanov and the uncle with a thick hair combed back, – meet Lawrence Mikhaylovski, Princeton University. Larry, and this is – Andrey Ivanovich Ivanov, our expert.

Pleased to meet you, Mister Ivanov, – happily replied he.

And I’m very pleased, – said Andrey Ivanovich in English.

Do you speak English?! – astonished Lawrence Mikhaylovski.

Well, very little, – Ivanov smiled.

Everyone laughed for a second again, and then our MID-man again quickly glanced at everybody, who was around him, and then he turned to the only member of an opposite sex standing among us:

Gentlemen experts, – he said to us, – let me introduce you, though, this lady needs no introduction – Gina Robertson. A famous actress, as well as the human rights activist and philanthropist. Gina, meet Andrey Mikhaylovich Polozkov, a military expert from Russia, – he turned his head toward her and uttered that again in English.

Somehow, she was very close to me. I took her hand in mine, squeezed it slightly, then lifted her hand to my lips and touched a warm and soft skin by them. Then I looked up again, said «Hello» in English, and attentively looked at her.

I had never seen such beautiful women in my life, I was sure of it. She was just lovely, the blonde with a height of less than one hundred and sixty, not higher, probably, than one meter fifty-seven centimeters, of a type that I did always like. She had a lovely face, an oval one, but not too elongated, a slightly pale one, a thin, with not quite probably correct, but nonetheless charming girlish features, and, in my opinion, completely without any makeup. She had a lovely body, figure, which could be guessed without any work even under this strict suit – a thin one, but obviously athletic, a petite, but with marvelous hands, with long, slender legs and with large, high and round breasts, which were beyond praise. She had lovely long light brown hair more than shoulder-length, laid in a simple, but, in my view, in a really splendid hairstyle, just the one that has also always been to my liking – a straight hair, combed to the side. The smell, emanating from her, was lovely too, this scent of an expensive perfume, which I had probably never felt in my life, but now clearly understood that this is it indeed. Even the clothes, which she was dressed in, were lovely ones, and although I could never stand girls in suits, at least in jackets, this particular was just right to her, and the trousers were even more. But her eyes were the loveliest.

Such large, just huge, blue-grey eyes, I had not ever seen before, and I couldn’t ever imagine them. They were calling, luring, chaining and sinking, like in these stupid songs. That was something incredible. We were looking at each other like that, probably, not more than one second, I was smiling from ear to ear, she was responding me by even a broader smile, but her eyes had fascinated me first, last and all the time. She turned to the others, they also began shaking her hands, began saying something, apparently, exchanging greetings, but I didn’t no longer hear anything at all. Her eyes still were in front of me. They were in front of me actually, because she hasn’t disappeared anywhere, but has moved away from me for the only one, probably, step, being turned to me with her left profile, so I kept seeing her face, but it wasn’t like that yet. I’d like to look in her irises again. From close. As they said in the classics.

Very well, – uttered the grey again. – So you met. Now let me introduce you our staff: Sergey Anatol’evich Makhov, our consul, Vladimir Sergeyevich Nikiforov, attache, Russian mission to the UN. Your humble servant, Dmitry Alekseyevich Kanev, secretary of the mission.

We shook hands with the fellow countrymen. Miss Robertson was moving her gaze from one to another, smiling and still standing half a meter from me.

Please, – Dmitry Alekseyevich invitingly waved his hand, – it’s time to go to the city. Valentin Ivanovich, Andrey Ivanovich, Alexander Petrovich, follow us. And you, – he addressed to me, – as a personal guest of Miss Robertson – please follow her.

Please, – repeated attache Nikiforov after his chief, pointing at the sedan this time.

I was a little stunned, but, in fact, I had been waiting something like that. Of course, a personal invitation, especially from a famous person, a movie star, involves, probably, everything, but for all that time I somehow didn’t occur that we’ll go with her from the airport to the city in the car. That’s it, a diplomatic move. They could think up anything yet!

We found ourselves around the car, my coeval tried to open a rear door on the left, but I beat him to it:

No-no-no, thank you. I do it myself.

Okay, – he smiled in response.

How do you do, – I said to the driver.

Hello, – the answer was.

I sat down in the seat, gently slammed the door, and from the right side of our car sat Miss Gina Robertson, a famous Hollywood actress and human rights activist, philanthropist, and just a heavenly beautiful girl – she settled in a back seat, and Vladimir Sergeyevich Nikiforov, attache of the Russian mission in the UN, who was the last person interesting me now – sat next to the driver. They both were half-turned toward me, as if they wished to ask something very much, and at the same time the car started and quickly began to pick up.

Gina gave me her hand and uttered in English slowly:

Let’s introduce each other again. Gina Robertson.

And her voice was rather high. But even that, hell yeah, seemed to me magnificent and wonderful.

Let’s introduce each other again. Gina Robertson. I will translate if you don’t mind, – repeated Nikiforov and smiled, still looking me in the eyes.

No, no, of course I don’t mind, – I said, taking Gina’s hand, – I just wanted to try to talk with Miss Robertson in English. I hadn’t spoken English with anybody ever.

Of course, please, – he agreed and immediately addressed to Gina in her words: – Miss Robertson, Mister Polozkov wants to talk to you in English.

Oh, – she smiled broadly, – of course, sure!

And you, – immediately interposed I, – help me then, please, if I’ll have something I couldn’t say.

Of course.

My name is Andrey Polozkov, – I pronounced in English, trying to speak very slowly, – nice to meet you, Miss Robertson.

Please, – she laughed, – just Gina.

Well, – I smiled in response, – I’m Andrey.

How was your flight?

Fine, thank you, – this phrase was uttered by me, in my opinion, the way it had been taught to say back in the second grade.

Are you hungry? – she asked.

To be honest, I was very hungry. And thirsty too. But in response, I uttered for some the reason:

So-so.

So-so! – Gina laughed. – I like you, Andrey! And your English is very good! Where did you learn English?

Well, at school… And then at the institute. And I visited… – and then I’ve with horror realized that I don’t know how to be «tutor» in English.

A tutor, – said Vladimir Sergeyevich.

Right, – I uttered.

Oh, that is very good. The reason I’m asking you whether you are hungry or not, – Gina continued, still grinning widely by all her thirty-two white teeth, – is because as soon as we arrive at the hotel, we will have lunch. You do not mind, do you?

Of course not, – I shook my head, – I remember, I was told about this. My… experts.

These men, who arrived with you? – she specified.

Yes, – I agreed, – there’re my friends. During the war. And now.

No-no-no-no! – Gina raised her hand. – Not a word about the war now!

Okay, – I said. I wasn’t really going.

We will discuss it later, – she added quickly, – but now let us discuss some other issues.

Of course. With pleasure.

That is very good. We will have lunch later, and now tell me – are you feeling okay? I mean, after the flight?

All right, Gina, thank you, – then I smiled in my turn.

Have you ever been on an airplane before? – she asked.

Yes, I did. But… it was a long time ago. When I flew for the last time.

Her next question was a little strange:

Is jet lag really bothering you?

What jet lag? – I didn’t understand.

A time zone difference, – immediately explained Nikiforov.

Oh, clear, – I uttered in Russian, and turned back to Gina. – No, I’m not worried, thank you.

Fine, – she said, – and do you have a motion sickness? In a plane or in a car?

For some reason, I decided to smile broadly:

No-o… It was a long time ago. Also. When I was in a kindergarten.

She grinned in response:

Okay. I tell you honestly – I was collecting some information about you, so I’m asking all this. Are you visiting the United States for the first time?

Yes, – I said.

I see, – she squeezed and then released her hand. – Let me remind you what we shall have in the course of the day. First, as soon as we get, there will be a dinner, – in fact, she said not «a dinner» but «a lunch», as far as I remember, again from the curriculum, but a general sense should be, of course, «a dinner». – Then we will go on a tour of the New York City, it shall be up to the evening. At eight o’clock in the evening there will be a press conference. After that, at ten o’clock in the evening, there will be a dinner, and then, until two hours tomorrow – there will be a free time. I guess I did not miss anything. Right?

Yes, of course, – I’ve remembered like the same.

Her next question again put me into a deadlock a little, because she uttered:

What would you like for lunch?

I paused for a moment, hardly thinking about the answer, and then said blankly:

What do you mean? Well… I don’t know…

I mean, – Gina made a calming gesture by her hand, – what would you prefer?

Look, I really don’t know… – a perplexity wasn’t hurrying to let me go. – I think… nothing special. How to… Let it be a surprise, I guess.

She laughed again, squinting her eyes:

I like you, Andrey! Definitely. Look, I still want to find it out from you fully – you said you have never been in the Yu-Es, right?

Yes.

And you did not go overseas up to this point, right?

Correctly, – I affirmed.

But you told me a few minutes ago that you had already flown on a plane, – so that took place within Russia, am I not mistaken? – it was beginning to look like a real interrogation a bit.

All right, – I nodded, – that’s right.

You see, I was just very interested to know that, – she explained. – Do you actually like to travel, well, I mean, to go somewhere else and… so on. That is, how you feel about all that. Do you understand me?

Yes, of course, – I said again, not thinking too much. – I like to travel and… I always liked it.

Gina lightly slapped her knee by her hand and exclaimed:

You see! And did you want to visit the United States before that?.. The New York City?

Yes, I did, – I confirmed.

I knew that! – she rejoiced, raising her right hand. – I knew that you are interested in my country.

And you are interested in my country, Gina, – I made a compliment in return.

That is right. So what do you think – how are you here? – I wasn’t sure that was what she said, and, generally speaking, the question was clearly with some trick, because for any such assessment there was, in my opinion, too little information, so I asked another question:

What do you mean? Very good, I think.

I mean weather, – she gestured out the window, – is it not too hot?

No, not very hot, – I uttered, – but, if honest, I’d like that it was… less hot.

That is what I thought, – Gina looked at me, – that you don’t like the heat.

I like the rain. Strong, – and then I remembered how will be «a hard rain» in English, – a hard rain.

That is just great. I also like when there is a heavy rain.

With that, she laid her legs and looked me over. I, in my turn, also looked her over from the eyes to the chest, from the chest – to the feet, from the feet – to the hands, and from them – to the hair. And I was trying not to do it too fast.

That is quite true. By the way, what was your weather like?

To tell the truth, I never mind talking about the weather, unlike the most people I know. Especially when my companion is just stunningly beautiful. So I said:

Well, it was hot too. When we flew.

It’s interesting, it’s also hot in your city. Actually, I should tell you, – Gina looked away, – I was very surprised, I thought there, in Siberia, is very cold, including the summer… Look, Andrey, you do surprise me – where did you learn English so well yet?

The greatest interest was written on her face again.

Well… I already told you… – I looked down too, but then looked up, – at school… studied… by the way, the Amer… well, your movies helped, and computer games.

She laughed again, almost silently this time, and then continued to look at me expectantly, so I paused for a moment too, but then found the right word to say and resumed:

Tell me, please, do I have this accent, about which I heard a lot – how is it called correctly, I don’t remember – South? Or Texas?

Then my coeval Vladimir Sergeyevich, who had kept silence for a long time, broke out with a quiet laugh. Gina shook her head:

You are absolutely right, Andrey. This accent is called southern. But your accent is not such, yours is probably British. What did you hear about it?

That most of my… have got it, – hell with them, these linguistic swamps! Just as one classic put it!

«Compatriots», – rescued Nikiforov.

Yes, – I added.

That is also true, that is right, – she reassured.

Well. So here is… Look, Gina, – one more thought struck me, – so did you recently return too? I mean… from Russia?

Yes, – she shook her head again, – a few days ago.

Look, it’s great.

Having uttered that, I’ve suddenly seen through the window, though, it seemed, I looked there before that already, that we’re going not through the airport now, but through some very broad highway with a concrete fence along its roadsides and a green grass on both sides of it. The skyscrapers were still looming on the horizon, but now they seemed a little bigger.

«New York, New York», – I said quietly.

Do you know this song? – with some great surprise asked Gina.

Of course. It is very well known.

Listen, Andrey!.. Wow! – this time a real delight was written on her charming face. She was turning it from me to Nikiforov and back. Nikiforov spread his arms to the side and gave me a face like «We weren’t born yesterday!».

This song was just in the Ti-Vi series «ALF», – I uttered, – I heard it there.

Do you know «ALF» too?!

At this point Vladimir Sergeyevich and I broke down and laughed out loud. Gina laughed after us, but her appearance was still expressing an extreme joy mixed with astonishment.

That’s awesome, – she said, if I understood that phrase right. – Andrey, why have you and me never met before?

And we could, by the way, – I interrupted, – I think we met… in our city, right? If I’m not wrong.

That’s right. I saw you… – she uttered a word, and I was cold-shouldered for the third time, because I didn’t absolutely know its meaning again!

Where did you see me? – I decided to get out of cold water.

At a military base there, in the Novosibirsk city, – explained Gina. – We met twice.

That’s right, – I said, – twice. But we decided not to talk about the war.

No, of course not, – she smiled again. – Tell me: are you twenty-eight years old?

Twenty seven. Twenty-eight will be soon.

Yeah! – she was delighted again. – I am twenty-seven too! That is great!

That’s great, – I agreed, – and when is your birthday?

In March, – she said. – On the third of March, – then again, it seems, that something happened with her, because she changed solemnity, which haven’t hold on her face for even a couple of moments, to the widest smile in the world again and exclaimed: – Andrey, you are so sweet yet! Mister Nikiforov, he is so sweet, is not he?!

Absolutely, – confirmed the attache.

And she was also very sweet. It’s perfect that she is «Miss» but not «Mistress». I looked at her again and uttered:

Gina, can I ask you a question?

Please, – although what was said by her was «Be my guest» literally, – any.

Are you really an actress?

Oh, yeah.

I ask because, – I continued, – that, unfortunately, I didn’t see any movies with you.

And here I was engulfed with a cold wave for the fourth time during those few minutes, because she uttered a sentence, the meaning of which I didn’t understand once again, but was ready to swear that in Russian that would sound like: «Oh, you lose nothing».

And in what movies did you shoot?

Various, – she said cheerfully, – comedies, dramas… thrillers.

And science fiction? – I didn’t stop.

No, – then she grinned. – Andrey, let us talk about it later too. Better tell me: how do you feel about press conferences?

Positively, – I said.

That is very good, – Gina, it seemed, was looking me over from top to toe. – There will be a press conference today, at eight o’clock in the evening. With you and your friends. Do you remember about that?

Of course, I remember, – I wasn’t quite sure what she was trying to say.

And are you ready for this? – I guess, for this exact press conference.

What do you mean? – I haven’t understood that, honestly.

Gina crossed her legs, looked at Vladimir Sergeyevich and again spoke very slowly, still looking at me searchingly:

Let me try to explain this to you. There will be a lot of journalists. Some of them like to ask all sorts of silly questions. It can embarrass you and your friends, especially considering the fact that you are… you are from another country and you are not fluent in English. Do you understand? You should be ready for this.

It began a kind of coming home to me.

Do you want to say that… I just can’t please some of their questions?

That is it, – she said, – you must be prepared for this fact.

But now I don’t know what questions I will be asked, – I smiled.

Of course, you do not know. How could you know that? – she asked.

Gina! – I laughed. – One day, a few years ago… Vladimir Sergeyevich, – I added quickly, in Russian, looking at Nikiforov, – now I may need your help again. So, a couple of years ago, I saw with my own eyes, how one man, my former… friend… Vladimir Sergeyevich, how to say «a colleague»?

«A colleague», – said the latter in English.

My former colleague from work, – I resumed, turning to Gina, who was still looking at me with great interest, – talking to a journalist, had to learn by heart not only all of that’s questions, but all of his answers too.

You are kidding me, – she shook her head.

Seriously, – I continued to smile, – so stupid questions – it’s not so bad, in my opinion. This, as we say in Russia … Vladimir Sergeyevich, how to say «It happens»?

«It happens», – with a smile, translated Nikiforov.

That it happens, – I repeated, looking in the beautiful eyes. – Did you see the cartoons about Carlson?

About Carlson? – Gina asked.

Yes. Who lives on the roof. The writer Astrid Lindgren.

Oh, yes, I remember, – she breathed in relief. – You are a very brave man, Andrey.

I smiled, deciding to specify nothing about this, but a moment later another idea came to my mind:

Gina, may I ask one more question?

Of course, Andrey, – she bared her sparkling white teeth again.

Why… Why did you invite me? I mean… one me, particular me, – I found the right word.

I have heard a lot about you lately, – she explained, – so I decided to meet you personally. You got me very interested, Andrey.

Thank you.

You are welcome, – she controlled herself well, but I blushed, in my opinion,.

We were definitely passing through a borough. Outside the car all that was like in the movies about this city, but the skyscrapers haven’t become visible at all now. Houses were clustering, it seemed, close to the roadway, numerous passers-by were hurrying through sidewalks, and traffic lights were twinkling with all their lights.

«The Big Apple», – I uttered.

Yeah, – Gina looked through my window, – do not worry, we will reach the hotel soon.

Is it in the center? – I asked.

Gina looked at me uncomprehendingly.

Is the hotel located in the downtown? – asked my question Vladimir Sergeyevich.

Ah, that’s it. That’s right, a downtown, I forgot.

Of course, – she said.

This is where all the skyscrapers are? – I asked again.

Of course, yes! – she again burst into laughter, shaking my right shoulder with her hand. – Andrey, you are just superb! You are so cool! Cool! Do you understand?

Of course, I understand. Not «cool», but «cool».

She was laughing, throwing her head back.

That’s just awesome, listen, – she repeated, without weakening her hug.

Thank you, Gina, – I said, squeezing her other palm, – I really like you too.

She left my collarbone alone and added:

The place, where the skyscrapers are, is called Manhattan. We are going right there.

Manhattan, of course, I’ve heard, – I fixed my eyes on her, – I also remember the Wall Street.

It is not far from there.

Do you know New York good? – in fact, I was probably going to say anything else.

Well, pretty good, – she bared her teeth with a sly smile, – frankly, I would suggest we go for a walk around the city, after the lunch and before the start of the press conference. You have to remember, we were recently talking about that. What do you think?

I’ll be very happy.

That is wonderful, Andrey. Where would you like to go?

I… I think, in the Central Park? – not very confidently pronounced I.

Well, – she nodded. – It is just near the hotel.

I looked at her sweet, white smile, and I thought that I’ll want to even purr soon, probably. Yes, that was definitely not a concurrence – all of those accidental encounters, glances, gestures and other signs of destiny, which I never believed in and wasn’t going to believe now. Though God knows, on the other hand, anything can happen – coincidences, of course, doesn’t exist, but you’re constantly amazed every day too. Perhaps.

We stopped at the next intersection, a sun beam, reflected from the glass, suddenly hit my face, and then some other idea struck me. At the same moment Gina said:

I think that you have something to tell me. Am I not wrong?

No, you’re not wrong. I… want to say that I changed my mind.

What did you change your mind about, Andrey? – she asked.

No-no, don’t worry, – I laughed, – I’m talking about… a walk in the Central Park.

Don’t you want to go there more? – Gina got upset.

No, I do, – I looked down, and then back at her. – We’ll go there for sure. But first we… I think, let’s go somewhere else.

Andrey, you don’t cease to amaze me all the half an hour I’ve known you, – Miss Robertson again burst into her ringing laugh, – although, to be honest, that is why I decided to meet you. Where do you propose to go?

I want to go to the place where the World Trade Center was.

Something changed in her face again. She immediately stopped laughing, and for a split second even smiling, but a smile, of course, not so wide, returned to her beautiful face a moment later. Then she folded her hands on her laps, and uttered softly:

We’ll go there. I don’t know… I am so glad we met today, Andrey.

My English word-stock, apparently, began to come to an end, because I didn’t know what to say about that. But then our car stopped, Nikiforov looked at Gina, she looked at him, then she turned to the window, and then she looked me over one more time and said:

We have arrived. Once again, welcome to the United States of America. Let’s go.


Chapter 2


Our transport was parked, it turns out, on a rather narrow roadway directly in front of a small concrete path, behind which there were a few stone steps, the platform-ramp and the entrance with a transparent glass door. Raising my head for a moment, I saw that this entrance belonged to a high building of a dark-grey stone, but it wasn’t a hundred stories high at all. Apparently, it’s all somewhere nearby, I thought, okay, finally, I was promised to show the city, so I’ll see it later. Turning, I saw Andrey Ivanovich, Troechnik, Valya and meeting us Americans. Next to them there was a small truck.

That’s right, – I uttered.

Here, you see, – I think, Tom McPherson, who was standing opposite Troechnik, was saying this moment, – is one of the oldest hotels in the New York City.

Andy, look, – Troechnik appealed to me, – he buzzed me all my ears with this hotel while we were going. I heard from him the only – «houtel’», «houtel’».

O-okay, don’t worry, – I smiled. – How did you arrive in general?

Fine. Yes, let us do that! – Troechnik turned to the man standing near the truck.

Of course, – I agreed, – can’t we carry our bags or something?

Nikiforov and the second mission’s employee quickly translated our words to the hosts, we quickly grabbed our luggage, and the whole company walked across the sidewalk to the entrance – the original residents were in front of us, and we – after them. Americans and diplomats helped us to pass the doorman and an outlandish revolving door, and then we came into the hotel lobby.

It was a large room with high ceilings, the carpet in its middle and some large paintings on the walls. My three countrymen and I stayed in the center, looking back, and invited us locals, MID-men and Gina marched to the right. There they also exchanged probably a few words with the employees of this organization, and then they turned around and approached us.

It’s tough here, – pronounced Valya respectfully.

Gina looked at him with a smile. The second UN mission’s employee (what’s his name, eh?) translated to the Americans:

Mister Pavlov said that here is tough.

The residents laughed together. The MID-man looked around, stretched his hand to the side and uttered:

I beg you. We should go upstairs, the tenth floor.

Again, very friendly, we strode to the elevators, and then Troechnik winked at me and said:

Our room, probably, is some super-luxe one…

Yeah, with such windows sized on the whole wall, – interjected Valya.

Andrey Ivanovich responded in a tick:

Well, come on, dear guests. Knock it off.

We looked at each other, while the Americans with diplomats, it seemed, were gazing at us. The elevator was softly humming in the well.

Your room is not «super», of course, but a usual suite, – quietly uttered a senior UN-man, – its windows aren’t very big, but very solid. And the noise from the street is almost inaudible.

Yes, they’re just kidding so, Mister Makhov, – Andrey Ivanovich assured the consul (or counselor? Makhov, there who he is!). Then the elevator’s doors opened, and all the standing started to move into it with their hand luggage, fortunately, there was, it seemed, no less room inside than in the lobby.

Yes, I understand, of course, – he responded, adding in English: – Our guests say they would like to have big windows in their room.

«That’s not quite what they say», I thought quickly, looking around the locals who were smiling in unison, but then the athlete and human rights activist boomed:

You’ll like it. We promise.

Yes, they aren’t going anywhere, Mister Knox, – Ivanov replied in English, – that was just such a Russian joke. By the way, I think you speak a little Russian. I’m not wrong?

Frankly, Andrey Ivanovich also never ceased to amaze me since the day I met him, but now he’s just astounded me. When did he learn English so well? Or he always knew it, but didn’t tell me? There are just some total mysteries of nature. I finally looked at Gina with pleasure and concluded that she understands nothing of that catchword interchange, but involves in a cultural rapprochement with a great interest. She noticed my gaze and smiled with her lips.

Quite a little, – a big man agreed, – I know just a couple of sentences.

Don’t be modest, Mister Knox, – gravely uttered Troechnik, also in English, – you had been studying Russian at the Military Academy yet and then at the university.

I thought that I will get a heartbreak now. How does Sanya know English indeed?! He can’t string a sentence together in Russian sometimes!

That’s right, – reiterated Knox, and then the elevator stopped. – How do you know all this, gentlemen?

We’re of intelligence, – articulated Troechnik cheerfully, – do you know this song – «Raz-vedka na-asha – ve-es’ naro-o-od!..».

Petrovich, become silent, – Andrey Ivanovich looked at him, and then added in English: – I’m sorry, Mister Knox. As you can see, Mister Tugarinov is a great joker. His enemies always hated him for all that.

We stopped in the middle of the corridor. The athlete was blinking with his eyes perplexedly. It was evident that he had never heard that song, and therefore didn’t really understand what he was wanted to say by his recon-colleague. But Troechnik put his paw on that’s shoulder and uttered, again in very good English:

Yes, I’m joking, Mister Knox. Don’t worry. As your folk song goes – «Don’t worry, be happy».

The Americans and we broke into a smile together again, and Gina broke down and laughed.

Yes, jesting is a great thing, – said Sergey Anatol’evich, – and I’m very glad that you understand each other. Gentlemen, we’re there. Your rooms are located next door. Andrey Ivanovich, – he looked at us, – please, be settled. Vladimir Sergeyevich will show you all there now. Mister McPherson, – he turned to the original residents, switching to English, – you, if that, will help our guests too. Miss Robertson, – he addressed to Gina, – I remember that we had agreed with you, so you say everything too, don’t forget, please. Then you follow the gentlemen experts. Gentlemen, we should meet downstairs in fifteen minutes.

He walked back to the hall, and we nodded to each other and then murmured with the opening doors.

Our room was a pretty large apartment placed with the beds, televisions and tables. Presumably, there were several bedrooms, and, perhaps, even bathrooms and toilets. The windows were in situ.

Cool, – said Valya.

Please, come in, – Nikiforov made a gesture with his hand, – there is one bathroom and the other – over there, on the left. If you want, you can change your dress, but we don’t, unfortunately, have much time at all, because they’re waiting for us downstairs.

In terms of? – Valya didn’t understand.

We’ll have dinner, in the restaurant, Valentin Ivanovich. Just don’t say that you aren’t hungry.

I’m more hungry than somewhat, – confirmed he, – I’m famished.

That’s exactly why we couldn’t be late. And all the questions could be discussed over dinner.

We’ll discuss, discuss, – uttered Andrey Ivanovich, taking a bundle from his bag, – this is the bathroom?

Yes, – pointed Nikiforov again.

Good. So, Petrovich, come here, and you go to the second one and change clothes then for sure. Are you listening to me, Valentin?

Yes, sir! – snapped Valya, and added quietly: – Come on, Andy. You’ll show me everything. And will translate.

We followed to the other bathroom, and when we opened the door, we discovered that at least a whole squad of people like us could wash their hands here. Valya winked at me and asked:

Well, what do you think about Gina Robertson?

What do you mean? – I answered with a question.

Well, how – how to communicate with her? Wait a minute – how turn it on properly?

Like this, – I pointed with another tap, – I did like her very much.

«Did like», – imitated Valya, – that’s awesome how she’s beautiful.

You may say that, – I agreed, – but what do you want to say, you’ve heard a lot about her?

Why «heard», Andy, what are you talking? She’s a famous actress yet!

And have you seen her movies?

O-of course! – Valya shook his head as if in a puzzle. – Come on, man. All the girls I know were going crazy about her. And the boys too. How turn it off?

I showed again.

Were they interesting movies? – I asked, taking the soap.

Yes, – said Valya, – so what did she say?

About what? – I asked again.

Well, about everything! What were you talking about?

Um, about, – I shifted my head, – weather, goddamn. Mostly she was asking, and I was answering.

And asking what? – Valya wasn’t calming.

Well, all kind of general issues, Val’ka, – I looked at him, – nothing special. I asked her about movies, by the way, but she didn’t answer.

She’s overmodesting, pain, – he said. – Just like you. You must introduce me to her, sure, okay? Tell her I’m a big fan of her. Only translate everything, okay? Cause I understand nothing of they say.

Move, Valya, don’t worry, – I smiled. – By the way, aren’t you surprised that Andrey Ivanovich and Sanya speak English, it turns out?

Damn, indeed! And didn’t you know that?

No, – I said. – Look, what can you say about how did you get here?

Yes, normally, – uttered Valya, – The Americans were telling us about the city.

Like we were, basically, – I hung the towel back. – Okay, let’s go.

We came back and saw that Ivanov and Troechnik are already dressed and looking at us mindfully.

Let’s pace, – urged Andrey Ivanovich.

I reached into my bag, pulled out a change of clothes and quickly began to undress. Immediately I thought that now, at this moment, everything could happen as in stupid movies and anecdotes – the door opens, she looks in here and sees me without pants. Well, on the other hand, not only me, but Valya also, but the point is that if there wasn’t anyone except me, I’d be very contrary – I would probably not mind it to happen… What the nonsense is crossing my mind, really.

Everybody was dressed in the new now. However, the men and Valya were in the shirts, and I, like, probably, the smartest – in the T-shirt. Ivanov, I think, would like to say something about this, but the room’s door opened, the head fortunately (or unfortunately?) – man’s looked inside, and Vladimir Sergeyevich Nikiforov uttered:

Are you ready? It’s time.

Yes, we are, – answered Andrey Ivanovich.

We went through the door, and then something happened with me. At first I thought that it was like when I’ve got my heart problem, but the feeling was much weaker. It was hard for me to breath in the same way, my head was spinning in the same way and millions of needles were pricking the whole body inside me. But it wasn’t that, and it lasted only a second, and I was very happy of that, as I was glad that, thank God, no one noticed that, it seemed. Then I saw Gina ahead of us among the people in the hallway and understood everything immediately.

She clothed herself in the blue jeans and a white blouse or T-shirt either, with the short sleeves and a small tracery on it – clothes, which, in my opinion, are the perfect fit for girls. Especially with such a shape like hers.

Please follow me, Miss Robertson, gentlemen, – said Vladimir Sergeyevich.

All of us moved to the elevator. «You look great», I was going to tell Gina, but Valya anticipated me, pushing my shoulder and saying quietly:

Introduce me, damn.

Gina, – I said to her, – let me introduce you… Valya Pavlov… I mean, Valentin Ivanovich Pavlov, my friend. Valya, meet Gina.

Hello! – Valya shook her hand.

Nice to meet you, Mister Pavlov, – Gina smiled.

What did she say? – Valya turned to me quickly.

She’s pleased to meet you.

I’m pleased too, tell her. Tell also that I’m a big fan of her. Tell!

Valya… I mean, Mister Pavlov, is glad to meet you too, – I looked at Gina, who was looking up at Valya, – he is your big fan.

Yeah! That’s great, – she turned to me, – and what does «Valya» mean? Is it a diminutive?

What did she say? – eagerly asked Valya again.

The three of us went into the car, where the rest were waiting for us.

Gina asks what your name means, – I uttered, and added in English: – «Valya» – is a diminutive of «Valentin». Do you remember this song, I don’t know exactly who sang – «Let Me Be Your Valen-ti-i-ine»?

Gina burst into a loud laughter. Everyone stopped talking to each other and turned their heads to us, and Valya grabbed my arm and almost shouted:

Did you tell her? Why is she heehawing?

Nothing very much, – I smiled, – I remembered the song, in which your name was. Val’ka, don’t worry.

Yes, but why is she nickering?!

Gina, why are you laughing? – I asked.

Oh, sorry. I beg your pardon, Mister Pavlov, – she looked at Valya, who was red as a lobster, – your friend Andrey told me about your name, but I have recalled… something wrong. Excuse me.

Sorry, Valya, Gina told she remembered something other, – I translated, – but in fact that’s I confused her.

Well, – got Valya, – tell her – «All right».

All right, Gina, – I said in English, glancing at her once again.

Meanwhile we found ourselves in the lobby again and walked behind Vladimir Sergeyevich Nikiforov, who was stomping somewhere diagonally.

Ask her, maybe she smokes? – Valya uttered quietly again.

Val’ka, what are you talking about?

Well, ask, damn!

Gina, do you smoke? – I asked.

She looked at me with a puzzle, and then she looked at Valya.

I’ve been trying to quit for a long time.

Do you really smoke? – it was my turn to be surprised.

Yes. Unfortunately, – she answered, and we went into the restaurant room.

It was, as it, again, seemed, a huge hangar-like chamber, twice as much as the hall, and it was decorated with various furniture and bar as it was expected. Our company proceeded to the far left corner, in which a large covered dining table, being surrounded by the massive wooden chairs, was sparkling.

Please, come in, sit down, – said Sergey Anatol’evich Makhov who was standing here, – sit down where you see fit, however, we would prefer, Miss Robertson, gentlemen, Andrey Ivanovich, Alexander Petrovich, so that you and our American friends sat nearby. If you don’t mind… I mean… yes, please… Andrey Mikhaylovich, – he looked at me, – pass here, sit down.

I found myself a seat on the chair, which was on the left edge of the table, next to me Gina sat down, which fact I wasn’t surprised, and Valya sat next to her. The rest took their seats as, of course, they wanted to, but on my opposite side, still like at the first moment we arrived here, was a chubby blond Tom McPherson, and on the chair next to him – Andrey Ivanovich Ivanov.

Gentlemen, – Makhov wasn’t losing the initiative, – may I ask a minute of your attention – Mister McPherson wants to say a few words.

Dear guests, guys, Miss Robertson, – he got up and looked us around. – I want to say something. Don’t worry, I’ll be fast.

Makhov was translating his words.

My respected guests from Russia, – resumed Tom, – we’re very happy that you’ve come here today. Welcome to the United States, welcome to the New York City. We thank you that you could find time to come here in this difficult period for your country, and, what is the most important, that you’ve agreed to help us with our problems. We hope very much this assistance will be useful to you as well. That was on behalf of the United Nations, and on behalf of my colleagues and countrymen. And I’d like to say that I was very glad to see how finally a normal human communication begins between you and us, and I hope that’s the only way how should it be in the future, ladies and gentlemen. Mister Ivanov and Mister Tugarinov have showed that us today very expressly. Thank you.

Sergey Anatol’evich has translated the last sentence, and immediately after that the four of us, seemed to be, uttered at the same time:

Thank you!

Thank you, Tom, – said Gina.

And now – good appetite, – uttered Makhov, – so, one more thing – then we’ll go on a tour, don’t forget it, till eight hours, then at eight – I hope, you remember, the meeting with press, well, and after that – we’ll be here in an informal setting again.

All that was interesting, but I was retaining the last sentence, that Gina said. So I leaned to her ear and pronounced quietly:

So do you really smoke?

Yes, I told you, – she smiled, – why are you so surprised?

Of course, surprised! – I said in a loud whisper, – you ask! I was sure that you don’t smoke!

And why I was sure of that – it was difficult to say to myself now.

Don’t worry, Andrey, – uttered Gina soothingly, – I’ll try not to poison you.

I’m not about it! – I waved with my hand. – I just can’t imagine that you… a girl like you smokes!..

Gina looked at me and laughed again. Here Valya asked, taking more meat:

What are you talking about, Andy?

Well, about our bad habits. It’s all because of you, by the way, Val’ka.

So she smokes?

Smokes, smokes, goddamn, – I confirmed and asked Gina again, in English: – And do you drink alcohol?

Then she laughed out loud, for the whole hall:

Andrey, you done well!

So what about it? – I tried to find out.

Well, sometimes I drink. Actually, sometimes I like to drink, frankly speaking. But you, – she turned her head in my direction, looking at me, – they say, don’t drink at all. Is it true?

It’s right, – I affirmed.

But why?

I don’t know, – I confessed, – I just… don’t drink, that’s all.

And you will not drink in the evening too? After the press conference?

No.

Andrey, that’s incredible, – articulated she, – I see that you aren’t lying to me, but that can’t possibly be true. Maybe you don’t want to do it right now, and you will want to drink later?

I thought a moment and uttered:

I don’t think so.

Well, that takes the cake, – she said, chewing, – Okay, we’ll talk about it later. Let’s eat. This is the thing I recommend you, – her hand pointed at the nearest large plate.

Yes, what are you talking about again? – Valya edged into one more time.

There was a discussion about alcoholic beverages, – I looked at him.

Yes? Do you drink? – he, in his turn, looked at Gina.

Drinks, don’t doubt, Valya, – I said, and then uttered, again in English: – Valya would like to have a drink with you.

I’ll be very glad, Mister Pavlov, – she reassured, mopping the salad up, – we also surely need to make your friend have a drink with us, for not to put him in an awkward situation.

What did she say? – Valya surprised.

That she’s very pleased to drink with you this evening and that she would like me to drink with you both.

Come on, stop that! – that astonished him even more. – And you’re not going, as usual? Or you will be? Come on, Andy!

I can’t promise anything, – I stated.

Generally speaking, I thought that Val’ka is somehow too much excited, and I have never, in my opinion, seen him like that. Well, I’m worried too, though quite a while yet. Oh, this Gina!

And Gina, meanwhile, apparently has finished the meal, and looked up at the sitting in front of her and lively talking men.

Mister Ivanov, may I ask you a question? – blazed her smile.

Andrey Ivanovich looked at her and uttered in English:

Please, Miss Robertson. Pour a juice to you?

Yes, if you please, – she moved the glass closer to him. – I want to know from you – what does the phrase… – she turned her head for a moment and frowned, – «es…» «spe-tsnaz gru» mean… «spe-tsnaz gru», right?

«Spetsnaz» means «special purpose», – Ivanov put the carafe back. – It’s Russian Special Forces.

Thank you. And what is «gru»? – she grabbed the glass with her fingers and raised it.

It’s – also an abbreviation, – explained Andrey Ivanovich. – It means… «The Main Intelligence Agency». It’s an Office of the General Staff, which directs these forces.

Um, okay, – Gina made a good sip from the glass and looked back at Ivanov. – You served there in due time?

Yes, – he affirmed, – you’re right.

I see… – she drawled, and then suddenly exclaimed: – Here! I almost forgot one more thing! There was another abbreviation, I’ve heard that many times too… How – «de…» «…be»?

«De-She-Be?», – asked Troechnik, who was looking at them with interest.

Exactly! – Gina grinned. – Thank you, Mister Tugarinov! What does this mean?

In English, it will be… – he paused, and then asked in Russian: – Ivanovich, help me out, I don’t know!

«An Amphibious Assault Brigade», – Sergey Anatol’evich Makhov rescued the fellow countrymen, – or «battalion».

«Battalion», – uttered Andrey Ivanovich instinctively. – This is rapid reaction forces. As a part of Airborne Troops and Marines.

Thank you, gentlemen, – Gina gave them a smile again. – You helped me a lot.

You are welcome, Miss Robertson, – Ivanov smiled in response. – Pour you more?

Yes, please, – she said.

She’s got strange questions, I thought.

Andy, – Valya brought me out of my reverie, – so you won’t go on a tour with us?

No, I’ll go with Gina.

Will you go two? – he continued. – By the way – on foot or by car?

On foot, it’s not far from here, as I understood, – I said, – we’ve agreed so.

Nope, I’m just asking…

And you will go by car? – I took a sip from the glass of juice.

Well, yes. We’ll view sights and stuff…

Same we are.

What are you talking about, may I know? – asked Gina.

About our upcoming trip, – I uttered in English.

Oh, yes, we go now. Are you full, Andrey? – she asked, even though I wasn’t exactly sure that what she said was «full» exactly.

Yes, Gina, thank you.

Very well, – she put her glass on the table, – Mister Makhov, Mister Polozkov and I will take a walk around the city.

Of course, Miss Robertson, as agreed, – Sergey Anatol’evich looked at her, and then at me, – Andrey Mikhaylovich, Miss Robertson will show you the city as you remember.

Yes, – I got up from my chair, and Valya immediately stood up with Gina.

Will we go to smoke? – he asked.

Yes, c’mon, of course, – I pronounced, recalling something. – And I’ll go for the camera whilst. Gina, – I addressed to her in English, – you go to smoke with Valya, and I must go upstairs for a photo camera.

Of course, – she said.

I rounded the table, approached Makhov, uttered «Please, give me the key», took a small bundle, which he handed to me, and quickly left the room. When I was passing through the hall, stairs, some numerous doors, going to the wells, and pressing the call-button, a strange feeling didn’t leave me – as if something is not quite as it should be. Maybe I’m really worried because of the evening meeting? Maybe. She told me to worry, so I began doing that. Or because I’m worried that we’ll go somewhere for a walk with her? Around a large and unfamiliar city. Yes, that’s some kind of stupidity. Hadn’t I seen strange cities or something? But I’m definitely worrying because of something now, that’s for sure, because even loosely putting my hand on the left side of my chest, I can feel a strong heartbeat – there’re, probably, a hundred and forty beats.

The elevator downed, people went out of the cage towards me, I went in, pressed another button and the door slammed. Yes, that’s so slow how it’s creeping! I was about to jump now, if only this iron box flew up, yes, just flew with a ballistic missile speed. Come on, well, pull baker, man! What are you, just barely slowing, as a snail! And I’ll begin to say all this aloud now, according to my old habit, I thought. Well, that’s our floor, seems to be.

I rushed along the corridor briskly, almost dropping into a run. Where’s that damn room, I guess, that’s it. So-oo, we’re trying the key, oh, perfectly, it fits. My bag’s here, I’m not going to take off my shoes now, but where’s my camera? Here it is! We grab it fast. OK, now we shut the door and run back. Maybe it’s better on foot? So, if the elevator again isn’t stay in place, then I’ll probably walk, no, it left nowhere. Well, maybe will it go faster down though? Come on, ah!

That’s like just for me, – I uttered, grinning.

But the car was creeping and crawling. Where I am, in fact, hurrying, I thought. I don’t know. Someone is waiting for me? Well, maybe. Or maybe I’ll wait them there now. I looked at my wristwatch – it was showing thirty-four minutes past three. No, like I’ve done everything quickly. Well!.. Here the elevator has finally stopped. The valves opened, and I saw Gina standing a meter from me.

Are you ready? – she asked.

Yes, – I took a sip dry.

Then let’s move out.


Chapter 3


So you say, you aren’t afraid of the press conference? – Gina half-turned to me, holding the door.

No, I’m not, – I replied.

We walked down the steps and turned to the right.

But were you scared in the war?

Of course, I was, – it seems, that was a trick question again. But she immediately added:

Look, I’m talking nonsense. Then, perhaps, you were feeling nothing but fear? We go right.


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