The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness


6.30 pm, 9th July 1999

'Follow those cars!' yelps Stuart at the swarthy taxi-driver, who does not bat an eyelid but swings the wheel sharply around.

'What is happening?' asks Rakim confusedly. 'It would be safer to go the other way - those are mafiya cars, Stuart.'

'I'll explain later!' Stuart says. 'Get out now if you're worried - but I have to stay after them, it's very important.' He thrusts a handful of dollars at the cabbie who makes them disappear without seeming to have noticed them at all.

The Libyan students peer alarmedly at the rate the grey buildings are racing by outside the window, and decide that staying in the car may be the less dangerous option.

In the Square, meanwhile, Kris pulls out her camera and starts snapping busily away, although given the dimness she is not too sure how well the pictures will come out at this distance. Grace meanwhile scurries for a telephone box and starts chattering excitedly in Russian into the receiver, informing the police of what is transpiring.

The firefight is over very quickly, with the guards on the mausoleum itself all down, and those on top of the Kremlin wall ignoring the whole thing. Mikhail Botkin (for it is he) and his goons spill out of the cars, an two of them unload a large wicker basket affair from the back of the van.

'We wait here,' says the taxi driver suddenly, glancing at Stuart in the rear-view mirror, and he pulls over sharply by the side of the Moscow City Museum, at the edge of the square, throwing all his passengers together. As Stuart starts to protest, he adds pleasantly 'Unless you are wanting to be killed,' pointing out the large numbers of guns being carried by the mafiya types.

Kris comes over to the taxi, having caught sight of Stuart's dreadlocked features peering lemur-like through the grimy window. 'Best keep out of sight for the moment,' she says conversationally. 'Any room for me and Grace in there?'

'Will be extra fare,' chips in the taxi driver.

Kris sees the license dangling from his mirror: Marevich Ahrgabad Moudlyakov. 'Maybe not, then, it looks a bit cramped already. We'll keep an eye on what happens here.'

She glances rather disparagingly at the worried students, as Grace comes over slowly. 'That was strange. The police said they'd come and see, but they didn't sound very excited.'

'What did you say?'

'I said "Red Square, people killed, hurry!" - that sort of thing.'

'That is not really news,' says Rakim bravely. 'It happens every day somewhere.'

Katrina glances around with a resigned look on her face. With a well-practised sigh, she somehow manages to convey impatience, frustration and weariness. One word hisses from between her teeth: 'Men.'

Shifting the automatic to her coat pocket, she sets off down the street, muttering darkly under her breath, only to stop abruptly after no more than fifty yards. Leaning against a telephone box is the unmistakable form of Jeffrey's Harley, with the only slightly more mistakable form of a small child perched on the seat making vigorous bbrrming noises.

Katrina, approaching, jerks her head in the universal motion that means Scram - for a second it seems the urchin will argue, but then it notices the five-dollar bill protruding from Katrina's fingers, wisely decides to cut its losses, and with a snatch is gone.

For a second a smile ghosts across her lips, as though she is remembering something familiar. Delving quickly into her bag she removes a makeup bag, flipping it open to reveal a lipstick, perfume, eyeshadow, blusher, spanners, screwdrivers and a collection of small knives. Whistling quietly, she efficiently disables the steering lock and hotwires the Harley. Bike security always was a joke.

Throwing everything back into her bag, Kat straddles the bike, reaching into an inner jacket pocket to retrieve a pair of sunglasses and donning them one-handed in a practised manner. 'It's after dark, I'm on a high-performance bike in Moscow, and I'm wearing sunglasses. Sweet!'

A red tail light vanishes in the direction of Red Square.

'Here, have some more of this wine.' Gino urbanely pours for the tour guide Galina. She has now reached the slightly drunken state that he hopes will induce compliance.

'Thank you! You are very kind. Are all Americans as kind as you? We were told when we were children that the West was the home of selfishness.'

'You wouldn't be too far wrong, there,' muses Gino, thinking in particular of his cousin Paulie. 'but listen - Lenin's body! I've been hearing all these exciting rumours about it!'

'Oh, yes, there have been a lot of stories. People have been healed by it, one old woman was restored her sight. These Germans, they are measuring it now, to measure how magic it is.'

'Has there been any other… odd… interest in it?'

'That depends what you mean by odd. The Party are always interested in it, of course. And the Army are guarding it. But I have not seen any other strange groups of people snooping around it, if that is what you mean.'

The mafiya trundle the wicker basket into the mausoleum, and a few minutes pass, while others of them watch the square warily. The sounds of police sirens are heard off in the distance, and a sense of urgency develops.

The basket is trundled back out, and loaded into the van once more. Then all the mafiya pile back into their cars, and the little cavalcade sets off into the evening.

'Go!' exclaims Stuart, striking Mahmoud firmly on the shoulder. 'After them!'

Mahmoud slams the Lada into gear and accelerates forth, his gold teeth gleaming brightly in the street light. As he screams out of the square, five police cars scream into it, and two of them instantly U-turn and come after the taxi.

Katrina turns the engine off and coasts into Red Square, alerted to the police presence by the flickering red and blue lights. She sees Kris and Grace skulking uneasily by the phone box outside the museum. The tough bird and the serious old lady, she thinks to herself. Grace is her favourite of the operatives she has met so far: smart, quiet and thoughtful. That's what she'd like to grow up to be. And she has a lot of time for Kris, as well. She has clearly overcome great adversity and come through it relatively unscathed.

'You two been working late?' She knows how these intellectual types like staying after hours, from watching Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She briefly explains how Jeffrey and Jeremiah have disappeared. 'What's been going on here?'

Kris fills her in on the attack. She had been intending to use her first aid skills on the shot soldiers, but the police are tidying them away and do not look as though they need much help in that department. 'Let's go over anyway, we might be able to get some pictures.'

Grace looks doubtful, but leads the small group over to the police cordon. The mausoleum is swarming with police, and a troop truck has just arrived and is disgorging further soldiers - presumably to replace the shot ones. 'Could we see inside, please?' she asks innocently in Russian.

She is answered by an extremely annoyed torrent from the policeman, and a shooing gesture. She retreats to Kris and Katrina. 'Er, I didn't quite catch all of that, but I think it was something like "this is the scene of a very serious crime, not the time for tourism", or something like that.' The number of guns and uniforms about the place mean that a sneaky peep is also out of the question.

'Did you see how all the soldiers on the wall just ignored it all, though, and they still are ignoring it? I wonder if they were on the take. Even so, it seems a bit obvious.'

'They're wearing a different flash on their shoulders,' says the sharp-eyed Grace. 'They must be from a different regiment.' She makes a careful note, to ask Alexey later. 'That soldier who was shooting back, the one who wasn't killed instantly, they must have finished him off - look.' A bullet-riddled body is being brought out of the tomb. 'That's a pity - I was hoping to try and get some sense out of him, later.'

Katrina looks at her in surprise, but says nothing.

'Well, look, we might as well head off now,' says Kris tiredly. 'They've doubled the guard on the mausoleum now - we're not going to be able to see anything else tonight.'

As they walk in the direction of the Manezh and the nearest taxi-rank, Grace's phone rings.

Mahmoud floors the accelerator, trying to keep up with the mafiya as they barrel across the bridge behind the Kremlin. Then he flings himself to the seat, stamping on the brake, throwing all his passengers into their respective footwells, as a burst of automatic fire from the rearmost Mercedes rakes the Lada. Everyone is showered with broken glass as the little car careens into the crash barrier with a solid crump. The chilly Moskva river gurgles by underneath.

There is silence, but for the receding sound of the mafiya vehicles, and Stuart dares to take a breath.

Then the police cars arrive.

'Oh, no,' says Soraya quietly.

After printing out the last of a dozen messages, Ned leans back from his computer and stretches tiredly. Several empty boxes of cookies and crumpled wrappers lay at his feet. Ned reflects on the irony that over the last two hours, he's learned more about SITU's secrets than he has since first joining the organization almost a year ago. Ned stands up and walks to the printer, brushing crumbs off his shirt front as he does so. Reading through the pages of messages, he shakes his head in amazement. Extraterrestrial beings here on Earth, working to enslave or destroy humanity, attempting to genetically engineer a genetic human and alien hybrid. Sounds like an X-Files storyline, he reflects. Only more original.

Just then, his stomach rumbles. Ned checks his watch and decides to run out for a quick supper. But first, he needs to arrange for Grace Ndofir to look at those books. Ned kicks himself mentally for neglecting to mention it to her on their cab ride back into central Moscow from the Novotel. Why on Earth the rest of the group decided to stay out in the boonies is beyond him.

An old, black-and-white television is blaring in the background. Onscreen, there's a grey-haired mystic waving his hands in a dramatic fashion. Ned picks up his cell phone and dials Grace's phone number. 'Dr Ndofir? Ned Numenor. Please forgive me for bothering you, but there's a matter of grave importance that I think you can help me with. I've got two books with me, relics perhaps you'd call them. They're written in some language I can't read, and I know they're connected in an important way to my previous SITU investigation. I would be deeply grateful to you if you'd be so kind as to stop by my apartment to look at them.'

Grace sounds her usual calm self. 'I think we're quite close to your location now, Ned. Perhaps we should meet up.'

The arrangements made, she has just closed her phone when it rings again. It is Gino. 'Hey, Grace - what's happening? I've just had the dullest dinner -'

Grace swiftly updates him on the happenings in Red Square, aware that Kris is pulling at her elbow. She closes the phone quickly. 'What is it?'

'I think we should stop using these phones, you know. They're analogue - they could be being monitored.'

'I suppose Alexey couldn't get digital ones,' sighs Grace.

'But perhaps as it is analogue, we could locate Jeffrey by his?'

'How - with some sort of scanner device?' Grace asks hazily. This is rather outside her area of expertise.

'We could try just ringing it,' suggests Katrina, as they approach the door of Ned's apartment.

'And as the book of Job says: "he saith among the trumpets, ha, ha",' continues Jeremiah Fulk, who has for once found a rapt audience for his ramblings. He is expounding on the virtues of the horse as a mode of transport, as contrasted with motor vehicles. The two policemen nod politely.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey is explaining that he is here on an ecumenical mission from his parish. At the name of Father Zukhov, the officer interviewing him exchanges a knowing glance with one o fhis subordinates, and the other man leaves the room.

'Here is a copy of our parish newsletter,' says Jeffrey, spreading it out on the desk, indicating the articvle he wrote on vampirism in Transylvania - one of his best pieces, he thinks to himself with a faint sting of pride, for which he is instantly sorry. 'I'm fascinated by these paranormal phenomena - aren't you? So I came to Moscow to see Lenin's tomb, of course.'

'Then why were you in Bedrischskaya? It is far from the tourist places, and from Sukhov's church.'

'Er, I was just giving a young lady a lift, actually. I'd never met her before today, but she's interested in the paranormal too.'

At that point his phone, which is sitting on the desk among his other belongings, rings.

Jeffrey looks at it and at the officer, who merely holds his gaze, chewing on the end of a toothpick, and allows the phone to ring.

'A mighty clangour among the heathen,' mutters Jeremiah.

The phone stops after a minute or so, and everyone seems to relax slightly.

'I'm very keen on Country music, too - are any of you?' continues Jeffrey brightly. He starts to hum the first few bars of 'Achy Breaky Heart'.

There is a pause, then 'Here,' the police officer says slowly, 'we like both kinds of music. Country and Western.' He smiles, and pulls out from under his desk a rhinestone-spangled Stetson.

Katrina frowns and closes her phone. 'No answer. Oh well…'

Grace is poring over the books, her impassive face not betraying the excitement she feels. 'Very interesting, Ned. May I take these back to the hotel, to study them properly?'

'No!' exclaims Ned sharply, clutching at the books. He attempts to calm himself as he realizes everyone is staring at him. 'Er, that's to say, I'd rather not, Grace… I'd like to keep them close by me, if that's OK.'

'Oh. Well, of course. Well, I have a little familiarity with this language - I could probably attempt a translation for you, if you like, but that would require quite a long period with the books - a few days, at least.'

'Can you just give me an idea now of what they're about?' asks Ned plaintively.

'They seem to be collections of spell rituals, as far as I can tell,' says Grace paging rapidly through the ancient volumes. Katrina sneezes loudly as clouds of acrid sulphurous dust issue forth. 'Might I ask where you, or your family, came by these?'

'I don't know, to be honest,' says Ned frankly. He takes the two books back and starts to wrap them up again, thinking that it might be worth getting Vera to show them to Zukhov. But he is sure that Grace knows more than she is saying - he has a strong feeling that she is concealing something from him.

Vera has acquired a short, black evening dress by an Italian designer for her dinner with Zukhov. The dress is provocative, but not over the line. Well, not too far over it.

Vera did not come to Russia to buy dresses. However, when the sales lady asked if 'mademoiselle' had brought an appropriate evening coat, Vera was in trouble. The mink was magnificent. Full length, even at Vera's height. Cut in a military fashion, but with a huge collar that cleverly doubles as a hood. It was expensive as hell, and the sales lady said she would ship it back to the US after Vera had worn it that evening. Diamond earrings, black heels, a large silver bracelet on her left arm and a narrow one on the other. Vera takes her umbrella but leaves the pieces of the mobile phone in her room. She has had to use the room phone to call Ned for an update on the afternoon's events, explaining that her mobile was suffering from 'a manufacturing defect'.

Sitting with legs crossed in one of the Savoy's high-backed chairs, Vera looks like the princess of someplace. The huge mink coat hangs open, draped over her and the chair, the umbrella with its mace-like handle in her left hand like some huge, evil looking sceptre. Everyone who passes through the lobby seems to linger a little to stare at her. But, Vera is reduced to mortal status once Zukhov enters the Savoy. The man has presence to spare and every eye focuses on him as he strides around the lobby and greets people he has never met before until he catches site of Vera.

Zukhov stops several feet from Vera and extends both hands to her. 'Miss Good-Child, how kind of you not to keep me waiting. I like your coat very much!'

Vera says nothing at first, but places both her hands in his, allowing the priest quickly to kiss each. She recovers her umbrella, and they head for the cab stand outside the hotel. 'So where am I taking you, Father?'

'You look so lovely, my dear, and I want this to be a night to remember,' Zhukov says. 'We are going to eat in a stable. A horse stable, to be precise. If it was good enough for Our Lord to be born in, it is good enough for you and I to eat in.' And the Russian laughs for the first four or five blocks of the trip.

The restaurant, known as 'Merschman', is inside what was originally a huge stable, built in the 1850s. Around the time of the revolution it continued to serve as a stable, a prison, a sometime hospital and ultimately a retirement home for elderly railroad ticket collectors beginning in the 1960s. Some time after the socialists were driven from power, the retired railway workers also were driven away, presumably by a lack of heat and light, according to Zukhov. Eventually the crumbling building was bought by a group of chefs who created a massive restaurant. 'Happily the straw was removed,' Zukhov continues. 'And each party gets a "stall" to sit in. As you can see, Miss Good-Child, you and I are sharing this space only with the table and chairs. No horses. No chickens. Unless you order either with peas and potatoes!'

The black bread is rustic, crude and wonderful. The potato soup is prepared in a light modern style. Vera rather hoped the priest would order wine, which might loosen him up a little, but tonight both of them drink bottled fizzy water from Italy. In the moments before the main courses arrive Vera breaks from chit-chat and pursues her real interests.

'Late this afternoon, according to my uncle, a group of gangsters, I suppose, attacked Lenin's tomb,' Vera begins. 'They killed at least one guard, but I don't know to what purpose. Do you know what they were after, and did they take what ever that was?'

Zukhov sits upright sharply. 'So, it is that time. I did not think anyone would move yet. The Germans' results must have been positive.' He sips reflectively at his water. 'They have taken the body, of course. It is a very valuable item, I suppose. The German scientists have been testing it, you know.'

'I may have another problem,' Vera begins. 'Two professional acquaintances of my uncle, and therefore concerns of mine, have disappeared despite efforts by they and their group to keep in touch. Frankly, I am hoping they have been taken away by your police or perhaps your immigration authorities, but I can not say why they would have been picked up. I also am concerned that something more criminal may have occurred. But, how can I know. They are English and I am not, so someone else is approaching their embassy about an official inquiry. Their names are Jeffrey Fanlight and Jeremiah Fulk. I believe Fanlight has some business here related to his church. If they are being held by the authorities, can you find out where and perhaps see if they are in good health?'

The priest nods. 'I will look into it for you. But if they are in that Lubyanka, they will not come out quickly. I know Priest Jeffrey, he is a good man of God, if a little naïf. His faith will sustain him.'

'Father, you said you could tell me more about the cult of Lenin and the interest from some quarters in his corpse and the tomb once I had seen it all,' she says. 'Since then I have received a less-than-subtle warning that my uncle's research on the corpse or the tomb could threaten his safety. What could he find that is so dangerous? And if there is something very dangerous, perhaps you can tell me how to protect my uncle? He will insist on continuing his work.'

'It is as I say. If the Germans' results have shown the body to be important, then powerful people will want control of it. And here in Russia, powerful people are more powerful than they are in the West. You would not see our President standing trial over some little girl's story against him. People who want the body will see anyone else who wants it, or who wants to know about it, as an enemy, and they will be ruthless, in the Russian way,' says Zukhov, breaking a piece of bread for emphasis and biting it with his strong, yellowish teeth. 'If he is mad, as you say, perhaps Allah will protect him - that is what the Muslims believe. That the mad are particularly beloved of God. No-one can harm or take advantage of them without suffering for it.'

'I suppose Lenin's corpse and tomb has exerted some power over me, in that it has driven my curiosity to great lengths,' Vera says. 'Two closed doors also lead out of the room: apparently there is a fair-sized complex below ground level. What would one find in the complex?'

At this point Zukhov seems to lose interest in the conversation. 'These are not matters to speak of,' he says shortly. 'Tell me, what do you think of our Dinamo Moscow football team - soccer team? Or perhaps you prefer Torpedo Moscow?' He is looking over Vera's shoulder, his gaze fixed.

Vera, taking the hint, opens her handbag and takes out a powder compact. She lightly powders her cheeks, seeing in the mirror that a group of four uniformed Army officers is in the process of sitting at the table behind. She leans close, and says in something closer to a whisper 'I have this feeling there is a great, unspoken secret that has perhaps prompted the authorities to continue to guard his body with walls and guns, long after public interest has suggested his corpse be simply moved elsewhere.'

Zukhov merely looks at her, continuing to stuff his face with bread.

Stuart is not quite clear why it was only he and the Libyans who were arrested, and why the taxi driver was allowed to go free, but the brief journey in the paddy-wagon was a far from pleasant one. The former KGB headquarters, the Lubyanka, is a forbidding, flat-faced building, and the rear is even less prepossessing, tailing off into yards and outbuildings of the ubiquitous concrete. The whole complex is heavily guarded, by armed police rather than soldiers.

He is rather surprised, therefore, to be led blinking into a room full of noise and uproarious laughter. The police captain is waltzing around the room in a stately fashion, to the sound of Crystal Gayle's unmistakable voice singing 'Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue'. Jeffrey is accompanying on finger clicks and thigh slaps, while Jeremiah Fulk is kneeling in prayer in one corner of the room, doubtless seeking deliverance from this fresh new hell.

Introductions are made, Jeffrey telling the captain (whose name is Ivan Belushevsky) that Stuart is a fellow observer of the paranormal, and much to the relief of the Libyans, hands are shaken all round. 'Well, I suppose that I should let you all go now,' says Belushevsky as Crystal is succeeded on the CD player by Loggins and Messina. 'But be careful. This is a dangerous city for those who ask too many questions. If you have seen Vladimir Ilyich now, you should go back to London.'

Stuart wonders whether to discuss the supposed theft of the body with this new acquaintance, but decides that discretion is probably the better part, for now at least. He, Jeffrey, Jeremiah and the students all venture forth into Dzerzhinsky Square to wait for taxis. He is uncomfortably aware that Rakim in particular is looking at him in an inquiring way.

'What that was all about, Rakim, Soraya, Hafiz, Shakila, was that a rich Western capitalist is attempting to steal the body of Lenin, to display as part of a private collection of communist memorabilia.' He glances from one to the other to make sure he has their attention. 'I am working with Interpol, trying to prevent this - we hadn't expected the thieves to act so soon, and my comrades are somewhat unprepared.'

Rakim is overcome with excitement. 'What a swine! Stealing the great Vladimir Ilyich! That's an outrage! We must try and steal him back as soon as we can. I do not know where those mafiya were coming from, but we must be able to find their headquarters. Vladimir Ilyich must not leave Russia!'

Soraya looks slightly more doubtful. 'You are with Interpol? You do not look like a policeman.'

Jeffrey cannot keep from snorting contemptuously, although when Stuart glares at him he manages to cover it as a cough.

'I wouldn't be very good at my job if I did look like one, would I?' asks Stuart reasonably.

Hafiz's hand strays guiltily to the pocket from which Stuart has seen him take large quantities of hash, and he starts to edge away, saying 'Come on, everyone, we must go to our party, remember?' He adds something swift in Arabic.

'I'll come too, shall I?' Stuart starts to say, but realizes disappointedly that an undercover policeman may not be quite so welcome a guest at a student party.

He waves the Libyans away disconsolately, though not before Rakim has promised that he will meet him in the morning to plot the retrieval of the body.

Jeffrey tuts and shakes his head. 'What a tangled web we weave, Stuart. Dear me.'

After dinner, the taxi drops Vera off at the Savoy. It is late, almost 11 pm, but she decides to take a chance on Dr Ulek being available. A rather insincere smile from Vera is enough to get the concierge to disclose the doctor's room number. When Ulek responds to her taps on the door he is at first pleased to see the American woman, but after a moment he remembers he is wearing a dressing gown and pyjamas.

'Uh, good evening Miss, Goodchild. I, I…,' the German is struggling for words, and is obviously embarrassed by more than Vera's late arrival. Vera gently pushes the door open with her umbrella. Another young woman is in the room. She is slipping her shoes back on and straightening a skirt even shorter than Vera's dress. She smirks at the American, saying something in German to Ulek. Ulek stammers some answer out. Vera retains her usual icy expression and goes to sit in the room's easy chair, first checking to make sure there is nothing on it that might stain her new coat. The prostitute leaves, giving Ulek a quick kiss on the cheek. And Ulek turns to see Vera. At this point the professor is getting a little angry.

'Doctor, prostitutes are two-a-penny in Moscow, and what you do on your own time is your business,' Vera says in her best business tone. 'Unfortunately, my timing has never been very good. But, if you want to see that one again, I'm sure half-a-dozen hotel employees saw her come and go. Perhaps you could recommend her to your superiors… or your family?'

Ulek glares at her and cries out 'What do you want, please tell me! I thought we were friends?'

Vera stands up and begins to pace, finally walking up to Ulek and pushing him into the chair with the point of her umbrella. He immediately jumps up and begins to voice objections, whereupon Vera closes one hand around his throat, applying most of the pressure by digging her fingers into one side, rather than breaking his oesophagus. He can still breathe, after a fashion, but the pain and shock at Vera's strength quickly show up on his face. She drops him back into his chair. 'Doctor, we don't need to argue,' she says, pacing around the room again. Vera grabs an open, mostly full bottle of scotch from the bed table and tosses it to the professor. Naturally some of its contents spill on him. 'Relax, you'll live longer. Just answer my questions please. I want to know what is so dangerous about your experiments that your Russian officer suggested to me that my uncle's life would be in danger if he hung around too much?'

Ulek shrugs, sipping gingerly at the whisky, as though fearing it might be poisoned. 'Well, we have found a third level nexus, which is very powerful, in Lenin's body. But I would not think this is dangerous. There is some sort of politics going on among the Russians, but we are staying out of it. We make our measurements like good boys.' He takes a proper swig and stares defiantly at Vera.

'Tell me, what was the name of that Russian officer? We talked at length but I can't seem to remember what she called herself at this moment?'

'Captain Dyson, I think. An English name.'

'What would I find if I went exploring behind those closed doors at the back of the tomb?'

'Offices - and other rooms - archives, embalming - nothing very exciting. I have been through the whole facility myself, measuring and placing instruments.'

'What are the next procedures in your experiment, assuming you find what you are looking for each step of the way?'

'We are nearly finished now,' Ulek smiles for the first time. 'We have our results, we must just tidy up the edges. Then we go back to Stuttgart. And it will not be too soon.' He fingers his sore neck ruefully.

'Goodnight Herr Professor,' Vera says, heading for the door. 'I promise I will come to visit you at the tomb tomorrow. I have a feeling we still could be great friends.'

Vera returns to her room, being careful to lock the doors and to keep her umbrella close at hand. She stays up for an hour, half expecting hotel officials to visit if the German complains, but she guesses correctly that trying to explain the prostitute and the alcohol on his clothes would complicate his story too much. Finally convinced that the professor is probably sleeping it all off, or calling another whore, she takes her umbrella to bed and goes to sleep.

The next morning, Ned pockets his phone and zips up his Kevlar vest before leaving the apartment. On a whim, he exchanges his courier pack for a backpack, in which he places the two leather-covered books. He then carefully locks the door and heads for the building's exit.

Ned stands on the sidewalk outside for a moment, wondering where to eat breakfast. Just then, a commotion erupts near the corner. Ned turns, his eyes widening, as he sees dozens of pedestrians diving helter-skelter and leaping out of the way as a battered Lada careens along the sidewalk, twisting and swerving around and among the panicked Muscovites. Ned tenses to leap as the car swerves into a tight half turn and slides sideways toward him. He doesn't move, though and, amid a cacophony of yells and hoots and swirling dust and dirt, the car comes to a halt inches from Ned. All its windows are shattered, and the front right corner is battered and crushed in a way that would surely have spelt a crack to the cylinder block of a flimsy Western car. He is somehow not surprised at all to see Mahmoud look up at him from the wheel, with a cigarette dangling from his lip. There are several rolls of carpets strapped to the roof. 'Come with me now,' Mahmoud says, in his sharply accented staccato English. Ned pauses for a moment, then quickly opens the back door - he worriedly notes what appears to be bullet holes in the door frame - and steps down into the cramped example of Soviet engineering. Mahmoud steps on the accelerator before Ned sits or has closed the door, tumbling him into the seat.

Ned is indignant and mystified. 'What… what the hell is this about? Why are you doing this?'

The Lada springs from the sidewalk and cuts sharply to the left onto the street. This time Mahmoud doesn't turn around, but speaks while looking forward. The little car accelerates noisily. 'Your uncle Jake, he is an old friend of mine. He has asked me to take care for you and the others. Moscow can be a very dangerous place, my friend. The khooligani are everywhere. They are collecting… what is it you say, "calling" for the restoration of neo-pagan Slavic Rus empire. Vedic myths are popular among ethno-nationalists who are attracted to mysticism and the occult. This Russian messianism is prophesying a change of epochs. Russian Vedism includes foolish notions of a golden age and an Arctic homeland for the Slavic race, whose genetic purity must be preserved. It is perhaps one of these who took the grey-haired priest and the man from the past.'

Ned has listened intently to Mahmoud, struggling to keep up with this flow of confusing information, forgetting for once to be afraid of Mahmoud's frenzied driving. 'How do you know all this? Where are we going?' The Lada screams around the Ploschad Revolyutsii, cuts against the traffic and turns sharply to the right. Mahmoud slows the car to a gentle pace and drives slowly on the sloping cobbled street past the Historical Museum into Red Square. 'Quiet my friend. It is now time to watch.'

The German scientists have just arrived at the mausoleum, and Ulek, his hair fluttering in the chill breeze, appears to be arguing with the soldiers on duty. All appears more or less as normal, but Ned can just about make out stains on the cobbles. He shudders suddenly, as though someone has walked over his grave. 'Mahmoud, you seem to know an awful lot - can you tell me anything about Colonel Valentina Gruzhkin?'

Mahmoud raises his eyebrows in the rear-view mirror. 'She is in counter-intelligence. You seem to know something about her yourself.'

'The KGB, you mean?'

'That does not exist any more, of course. Not by that name, although we Russians still use it. Now we are supposed to call it FSB, the Federal Security Service. And the other part is called the FSK, the Federal Counter-intelligence Service.'

'Why would they be interested in Ulek, and in Lenin's tomb?'

Mahmoud turns round to look Ned full in the face. 'I said I told your uncle I would protect you, yes? You are safer not knowing these answers.'

Gino meets with Mikhail Botkin later that morning, and hands over the list of curious chemicals that the di Scarlatto family have asked him to obtain. Botkin, who looks tired and is unshaven, runs a thick finger down the list, occasionally pursing his lips. He looks over at Gino. 'Your family have some very specialized requirements, Mr Ferrocco.'

'My uncle's a man of vision,' confides Gino. 'He has big hopes for the organization. Big dreams. I expect you are the same?' He is trying to put aside the unease he felt on finding a small bug microphone device attached tot he lining of his overcoat when he left the restaurant last night.

Botkin grimaces. 'Life is not so easy for us, here. I have only a small organization, as you see. I am the principal, yet here I am working on the ground as well. I do not think your uncle would be out on the streets of New York at night! He would be having people to do that for him. But when you want the barley ground finely, you have to do it yourself, as my grandmother used to say - she was from the Ukraine.'

Gino nods encouragingly, to draw out this chatty mood, and Botkin pours two large vodkas. 'Zdrastvitye! Up your bottom, as you Americans say!

'So these fellows aren't your family then?' Gino gestures at the goons.

'Some of them are - there is Artur, my son, of course.' One of the goons unbends to nod slightly. 'But no, they are more like junior colleagues. They have a stake in the business, we are very cooperative here in Russia. But this means that each organization keeps small. None of us are big enough to take over the country!' He laughs loudly, and pours more vodka.

'You must have quite a few people with you, though, some of them pretty well placed, I should think,' hazards Gino.

Botkin lays a finger along his nose. 'You would be surprised. But these are trade secrets, yes? We have good contacts, too. If a big job comes in, then we may divide it up with our competitors, if they have a strength in an area we lack. So if we were to smuggle arms to the Afghans, we would need contacts with an organization down there. This job for you, these drugs, we can do ourselves, I think, although we may need to look elsewhere for these two items.' He indicates two of the longer chemical names.

'Is that the way you want the business to go? Arms and so on? - keep on just doing jobs to contract for outside clients?'

Botkin sighs. 'No, this is just hands to mouth now. We have bigger plans than that. We, the mafiya as we are called, are the only real organized force in Russia. We are a model - we compete with each other and we also cooperate with each other. We share our profits collectively, but all of our staff are well motivated. The army, the government, the oblasts, none of them can say as much. In the long term it will be we, the mafiya, who run Russia, and the citizens will be citizens of us. We will be good governors and will make everyone rich and happy.'

Gino raises his eyebrows. 'That's quite an ambition.' He nods reflectively. 'I heard that there was a bit of biffo going on at Lenin's tomb last night. I thought you boys were the main guns in town, but shooting up relics doesn't seem like the sort of thing you're into. Was it some other mob?' He is conscious of a general stiffening in the room behind him, and a rustling as various unseen goons reach into their jackets, but he wills himself to be still.

Botkin laughs loudly. 'You are a clever man, Mr Gino, a clever man. So I will be good to you. We are not running the country yet, as I say. There are more powerful people than us, and they ask us to carry out contracts, as you know. But one day there will come the time that we do not have to take their contracts.'

As Gino is shown out, he notices a large wicker linen-hamper type affair stashed against the back wall of Botkin's outer sanctum. It is heavily guarded by tense, watchful goons.

Stuart, Grace, Kris and Katrina travel to Red Square with Alexey (Jeffrey stays in the hotel and books flights back to London for the next morning, for himself and Jeremiah). Grace introduces herself to Ulek, while the others stroll innocently into the tomb. The body is lying among its flowers, exactly as yesterday. Apart from a few chips in the marble of the door surround, you would never guess that anything had happened.

Ulek is rather distraught. 'Dr Ndofir - please forgive my rudeness. There is something dreadfully wrong here. Look!' He shows her a fresh printout, all covered in squiggly lines which mean nothing at all to Grace.

'Yes?' she says politely.

'It has gone! Our third-level nexus - dissipated! All we have left are these two second-levels due to the water and electrical ducting.' He shows her a print from yesterday, in which the lines cluster about the location of Lenin's body. Today they seem to be ignoring it completely, as though it were not of interest or significance at all. 'And these soldiers insist that nothing has changed since yesterday! I wanted to open up the body to have a look, but they say no. And here, we were ready to go home to Stuttgart tomorrow, with our beautiful results. And now - ruined!' He is almost in tears.

'Do you have overnight traces showing when this change took place?' says Kris, wandering up in her forthright manner.

Ulek looks at her distractedly, assuming she is a colleague of the renowned Dr Ndofir. 'No… we must take down the equipment every night. Rules. But I know something has happened here - something out of the ordinary!'

'This may be a stupid question, but what exactly is a third-level nexus?' wonders Grace.

Ulek blinks surprisedly at her. 'A locus whose dynamic flux potential is greater than the square of the orthonormal linear coupling coefficient, of course. Using Langmeyer's approximation, that is.'

'Ah, yes.'

Meanwhile, Stuart is expostulating to Katrina and Alexey. 'Look what I found in my telephone in the hotel!' He is brandishing a small electrical device.

'Are you sure that's not just part of the phone?' asks Katrina sarcastically. She has taken an instant dislike to Stuart, identifying him as the perpetual student type, too insecure to grow up and move on. The kind of guy who is anally interested in things, like obscure bands that nobody but other idiots and music shop workers have ever heard of.

Alexey examines it. 'This is a KGB device, but that does not mean it was them who planted it. There are many of these in Moscow. I use them myself.'

'What about the phones you got us - are they KGB issue too?' demands Stuart.

'Those are Western, I got them from a SITU friend in Finland. They should be clean, I think.'

'Are they traceable to us?'

'They are not registered to you, no, just to dummy identities.'

Kris rejoins them. 'Alexey, have there been any ley line surveys of this area?'

'Not that I know of. But Dr Ulek might know more, I suppose.'

'And can you find out what that Colonel Gruzhkin - Captain Dyson - studied at Cambridge?'

'I can try today. Ask me again this evening.'

Ned, still in the taxi with Mahmoud, observe this interplay and also observes Gino and Vera (separately) emerge into the Square. As he observes, he munches on the bag of khvorost (flat, deep-fried cookies) that Mahmoud considerately laid in for him. 'These are very good, Mahmoud.' He thinks he noticed a Dunkin' Donuts shop on Myasnitskaya ulitsa - that would be worth a visit later.

'Nothing but the best for my friend's nephew,' Mahmoud says absently. He is staring out at the soldiers on the Kremlin wall.

'What regiment is this the badge of?' asks Grace, showing Alexey her sketch.

'That is 23rd Infantry, I have a friend there. They were on guard here yesterday, and "Captain Dyson" is of them. But today, you see, is 14th Infantry on guard, the Dnieper Rifles. The same as are on the wall up there, and they were there yesterday too. I wonder why they were changed.'

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