conference centre was beginning to fill up. Vadim gently
pulled the shirt from under the suit's cuff, briefly
checked the cufflinks were immaculately in place, and
watched the crowd. The same everywhere, wherever they
did the 'circus'. Men from their mid-thirties, more
often in their fifties, often well-fed, gleaming with
lametta. Their 'clients'. At least no Konstantinov,
no repeat of the Nelson episode. He'd had quite enough
of life/work complications.
coffee and the snacks were inadvertently excellent.
All creature comforts were available, that included
the hookers lingering at the edges of the conference.
Vadim thought sometimes these meetings were more about
getting away from the usual routine than the actual
group came in. Several large, bullish men, and Vadim
thought shit, Russian army, that was what they looked
like these days.
familiar weight of a well-known hand descended onto
his shoulder, and Dan's scent as he leaned down, standing
behind the seated Vadim. "Funny how they made it
safely through to another regime and ideology, aye?"
Murmured, Dan grinned.
huffed. "I'd be surprised if the army had changed
at all. It was always completely its own entit..."
He stared at the man. Lesha, absolutely no doubt. His
eyes, his lips under the peaked cap, in the full regalia
of a Russian ... general. "Holy fuck. He
up?" Dan straightened up, looking towards the group
as he leaned on the cane. "You know one of them?"
Alerted, even though Vadim's reaction hadn't been alarmed.
nodded. "Alexei Ivanovich Petkov. The ... general."
or foe?" Quietly, as Dan made his way to sit down
on the leather settee, beside Vadim.
Vadim looked up, then his eyes darkened. "I have
a long time?" Dan leaned back, lighting a cigarette
with the new expensive lighter Vadim had given him.
Slim, sleek, silver.
were both raw recruits. We'd joke we'd both become generals.
Seems he won." And I got nothing. Nowhere. Just
myself. What I always was. Even then. But there stood
the career he'd tossed away to became what he was. He
didn't regret it. It just stung to see it right there,
on his old friend.
be above a general, given the chance." Dan exhaled
the smoke slowly. "But there's only really one
way to find out if he is a friend, aye?" Looking
at Vadim with a smile that despite the expensive tailored
suit in the highly professional surroundings was nothing
Vadim stood again, saw Lesha talk to one of the men
around him, noticed he'd got a paunch from, no doubt,
sitting at desks most of the time or maybe the good
life, even if he looked a bit worried, not very well
rested. Maybe too much work. Too many worries under
the new regime. Moscow licking its wounds, a former
superpower brought low and crumbling, threatened from
all sides - and within. It paid to be a freelancer,
and when it did, it did so well. Vadim kept looking
at him, until Lesha noticed him.
old friend looked him up and down, then passed through
the group of men around him, and offered an outstretched
hand. "Vadim Petrovich."
hesitated at the slightly more formal address than he
had been used to from Lesha. "General." Reacting
wrong, increasing the distance dictated by title and
age, now. To be on the safe side.
saw the programme and I thought, I know that strange
name." The general smiled. "'How a superpower
fought and lost'? That's a good title."
was watching from his seat, within earshot, but without
making himself known. The powers of observation had
never left him, and he noticed the once dark hair, seemingly
still full beneath the cap, glimpses of silver at the
temples, expressive brows and the fairly pale eyes shaded
by dark lashes. That man had been stunning, once. He
leaned forward to flick ash into the ashtray, wondering
what kind of 'friend' the man had been. Fitting a mould
too well, and he smiled slightly to himself.
I would like to invite you for a drink after the panel
discussion. I can imagine it getting 'heated', a drink
will be welcome." Lesha, or Alexei Ivanovich, continued,
unfazed, smooth. "Are you free?"
Sir, of course."
man." Lesha patted his shoulder, then moved on,
and Vadim was left with a strange feeling he couldn't
quite put into words. He sat down next to Dan again.
"Not sure that answers the question, really."
scratched his chin. "No, that clearly doesn't.
The guy's either terrified or an arsehole." Quiet
enough not to be overhead.
communist brother kiss went a bit out of fashion ..."
Vadim frowned. "Shit. Now I'm nervous." He
glanced over his shoulder, but the general and entourage
They can't get you here." Dan frowned, stubbing
the cigarette out. "No one can touch you."
inhaled. "But Lesha? Terrified? I hope not."
on what kind of friend he was and depends on if he knows
the accusations." Dan countered carefully.
paled. "Shit. We weren't ... we were comrades.
Friends. We were close, but ... I never touched him.
I had a crush on him, yes, but it never went beyond
..." Lying and killing for each other. More than
he'd shared with Dima, come to think of it. Yet Dima
was still a 'brother', still loyal.
smiled. "Then it depends on what he thinks about
a - the accusations and b - men who love men."
fell silent, and lowered his gaze. That was true. It
came down to the matter of being gay and what Lesha
thought of that. He checked the time on his watch, saw
nothing, then checked again. They still had ten minutes,
but they could get settled in. The thought still lingering.
Drinking with the general. That could mean anything.
Lesha had remained noncommittal, and Vadim realized
he was scared that Lesha would tell him to fuck off,
between a drink or two. "Panel discussion."
on, then." Dan briefly touched Vadim's thigh. He
got up, leaned for a second on the crutch, before they
headed to the room, side by side.
discussion went on for longer than expected. Whenever
Vadim's eyes went to Lesha, the general listened, interested,
head slightly tilted, sometimes rubbing his chin in
a thoughtful gesture, always concentrated. The discussion
was lively, especially in light of the current developments
in the region, and it wasn't quite that straightforward
to get out of the room and to the bar. When they finally
did, Dan understood without too many words, and left
Vadim on his own at the bar, while he sat down in a
leather club chair within earshot. Sampling a Speyside
whisky, he flicked through one of the many newspapers.
Lesha showed up eventually, without his flock of bully
boys. Dan glanced up once, studying the man, before
he returned his fake attention to the paper. All he
could hope was that this general wasn't an arsehole,
ideas", said Lesha in Russian and ordered - not
vodka, but wine.
inhaled deeply and nodded, saw in the bar mirror that
his jaw muscles had tightened. "You mean 'outrageous'?"
Answering in Russian, aware that his command of the
language had suffered from disuse.
Lesha gave a nod to the bartender. "Certainly thought-provoking."
smirked. "Mincing words, Vadim?"
the absence of anything else to mince." Vadim felt
sudden anger rise in his throat. "Why are you here?
It's not like you haven't heard these theories before.
I thought they were fairly widely discussed."
less candidly. We are trying to learn from our mistakes.
There are commissions, archives ... our military historians
are tackling the subject."
not sure a wolf should write the wolves' history."
the lamb instead?"
you could have a lamb and wolf committee, and then they
present the findings to the President." Vadim shook
his head. "Fuck. That's not how I wanted to meet
thought so." Lesha leaned against the bar, studying
Vadim. "I could have imagined much better situations
for that, but time wasn't gentle."
nodded. "How's the career going?"
too bad. A lot of trouble - money is short, certain
ethnic groups are volatile as ever ... very little really
changes outside Moscow."
know whom I'm talking to." Lesha gave him a wry
smile. "And you're now a private security specialist.
You must be making a lot of money. I have an idea of
the fees you're charging - very impressive. I'm glad
you are well-secured."
grew too old to remain a mercenary." Vadim lowered
his gaze. With a patriot like Lesha, the word mercenary
equalled prostitute. "I'm not playing, Lesha. I
am getting too tired."
inhaled. "I can imagine."
these words, Lesha fell silent. Vadim sensed the disapproval,
and he knew that his old friend was gone. Lesha wasn't
the man whose life he'd saved. He was being civil and
went through the motions, but there was nothing left.
No common ground.
you have any questions? About the past?" Vadim
are you asking?"
get the feeling we won't meet again. I believe in tying
up loose ends ... entirely possible you have something
on your mind that you'd like to see resolved. Then let's
do it - because I'm tired, and I could be lying in bed
and getting rested up instead."
looked at him for a long, long moment. "One thing."
Come on. Ask me."
you kill the officer? I mean ... did you cause him to?"
shook his head, for a moment. That was the question.
Not 'did you do it', not 'were you a traitor?' but 'did
you kill the bastard who almost killed us?' He looked
Lesha in the eye and nodded. "Yes. And I'd do it
again, and a hundred times more. The bastard very nearly
killed both of us, and he got what he deserved."
He stared at Lesha, who sat there, visibly shocked,
and Vadim suddenly knew that Lesha, all his life, had
rationalised that the officer's suicide had been an
accident, that Vadim couldn't have had anything to do
with it, but there had been nagging doubt. That was
stood. "Thanks for the drink, general." And
looked after him, alerted, but when he stood up he didn't
follow, took instead the couple of steps towards the
man who'd remained seated at the bar. "General
Petkov?" Leaning casually on the cane, Dan studied
general glanced up and nodded, speaking English. "Mr
McFadyen. Please, have a seat." He looked to the
barman and nodded towards Dan, in the universal gesture
of 'on my tab'.
was clearly surprised, hadn't expected the polite reaction.
"Bhunnabhain, please." He nodded to the bartender.
Sitting on the bar stool, he leaned the cane against
the bar. "I hadn't expected you to remember my
have a knack for details. Very useful in my position."
The general smiled. "And you were cited as the
co-author of an analysis that kicked up a bit of dust
in certain circles."
that. Vadim has a knack, too. That's to turn my ramblings
into readable sentences." Dan smiled politely,
lighting another cigarette after offering one to the
general. "Would have never thought he was an intellectual,
back then." He raised one brow in a most minuscule
way, testing the waters.
could even be poetic, sometimes. Some way with language,
and an unorthodox thinker. Finding solutions, even if
it meant tricking his way out." The general sipped
you think that has changed?"
You caught me. I don't know how much he has changed.
That was how I knew him, as a recruit in the same barracks,
and when I moved on to become army, and he special forces,
and then later, in that unspeakable country."
The whisky arrived and Dan took a sip of the smoky smoothness.
"Afghanistan, that's where we met." Not having
a clue how much and what the general knew.
tricked me when he faked a heroin addiction, to win
a few weeks away from any superior's eye. I invented
orders for him, or rather, requests, that were duly
granted. That was in the mid-eighties. That was the
last time I saw him. A desperate man, a proud man who
begged me for protection, which I granted him, of course.
He'd saved my life when I was a recruit. He ... killed
a bullying officer. Only we thought it was suicide.
But just now, Vadim admitted to it. Twenty years later.
No. Closer to thirty years."
shook his head slowly. "Yes, that's the way he
is. Protecting those who are closest to him. His friends,
comrades." Dan took another mouthful, relishing
the taste of home. "Do you know why he 'tricked'
you in the eighties?" Pondering for a second, but
there was nothing to lose, only to gain. "I was
dying. Torn apart by a suicide bomb, lying in a hospital
in India. He came to see me. A friend amongst enemies."
Looking steadily at the general. Friend, lover, who
cared. Perhaps he was getting diplomatic in his old
age. "Vadim is the most loyal man I know."
I didn't doubt he did it for the ... most honourable
reasons." The general took off the cap and sat
it next to himself on the bar. "I trusted him that
much. And it's a shame we lost him. There are many who
think that, but only now some begin to speak about it.
I doubt he'll ever get pardoned ... There won't be a
friend's hand stretched out in brotherhood towards him,
and his reputation is eternally tarnished with those
ghastly suspicions and the trial, but there are elements
that think what happened to him is ... a disgrace."
disgrace? That's the biggest understatement ever. He
never betrayed anyone or anything. But yes. He was and
is homosexual." Dan watched the general over the
rim of the glass. "And does that warrant torture?"
general's brow darkened. "Personally, I don't think
it warranted torture." Giving a weary, bleached-out
smile, he continued: "But I don't condone his lifestyle.
Is that the word? Lifestyle? I am not intending to insult
you - or him."
huffed a humourless laugh. "'Lifestyle'? What's
there to condone? It's not a choice."
is always a choice involved. Especially with somebody
as cerebral as Vadim. He has made certain decisions.
But it's illegal in the army, and in our country. Still,
if he'd kept quiet about it, he could have ... followed
his leanings. But instead, he stood in a court room
and said what he'd done with a man, and an enemy, was
not a disgrace. You don't think that the military could
just take that challenge, pat him on the shoulder and
let him go for it?" The general looked unspeakably
but that's Vadim for you. Standing up for what mattered."
The love. Their love. Dan shrugged, letting it
pass. The general would never understand and when it
came down to it, he didn't give a shit anymore about
those who didn't understand. "I just have to wonder,
is there anything of the friendship left?"
..." Lesha sighed. "He saved my life. I thought
we were friends, but whether that was real or ... I
that's what it is." Dan inhaled the last drag of
smoke. "You wonder if he wanted you sexually, or
if he was a friend, and if the one excludes the other."
general nodded, mute.
afraid in that case," Dan smiled wistfully as he
stood up, "you'll never find out unless you are
Vadim's friend." Taking hold of the cane, he nodded
politely to the general. "Thank you for talking
to me, but now I have to leave you, because, you see,
I love Vadim Petrovich Krasnorada, and I need to check
how he is."
... course." Looking chastised, maybe, or just
uncomfortable, or maybe Dan had hit a nerve, point blank.
to leave, Dan stopped, glancing back. "And that
is our choice." He gave a brief smile. "Good
night. And ... tell him about the disgrace thing. If
will, rest assured."
left towards the elevators, shaking his hand to free
the lapis lazuli beads that had caught themselves in
the cufflinks. It didn't take long before he reached
the suite, calling out softly as he opened the door.
was sitting on the bed. He'd shed the jacket of the
suit, the tie, too, lying at his feet like a dead snake,
white pristine shirt several buttons open, reaching
past the pecs. He was sitting there, staring into an
empty glass, a bottle of duty free whisky at his feet,
and he hadn't bothered with the screw top. "Am
I?" he asked. "Russian?"
if you're drinking whisky instead of vodka." Dan
made a light-hearted joke despite knowing damn well
that this was no light-hearted matter. A swift glance
at the bottle, one quarter empty, quite unlike Vadim
these days. Pulling a chair close he sat down in front
of Vadim and dropped the cane. Leaning down to take
the bottle, pry the glass out of Vadim's hand and refill
it. "I guess it's a bloody good question, though,
if you are Russian or not."
Yes it is."
a large mouthful, Dan handed the glass back to Vadim.
"Perhaps I should look for another nickname for
you, aye? What do you think?"
stared at the glass again. "Don't know. Few nicknames
I've ever liked. Certainly not 'Vadya', even if Jean
never got that."
quirked a small grin. "What about 'light of my
feel very bright just now, sorry." Vadim took another
sip, but at the same time reached over to touch Dan's
shoulder. "I'd drink piss if it made me less Russian."
right now?" Dan remembered the time Vadim had refused
to speak Russian. "Or is that a really stupid question
to an obvious answer?"
easier to be Russian when there are no other Russians
around. Once they show up, I want to be their enemy
... or at least something else."
nodded, placed a hand on Vadim's knee, squeezing once.
Blue stone around his wrist, blending into the darkness
of the fine wool of Vadim's suit. "The general
asked me to tell you that many believe, now that they
dare to speak out, that what was done to you was a disgrace.
closed his eyes, then got up, Dan's hand slipping off
his leg. Pressing his lips together. His back was taut,
neck rigid, and he wasn't breathing, fighting the surge
of emotion at those words. "That's ... that's why
Craning his head back, half-twisted on the chair, Dan
looked at Vadim incredulously.
Vadim turned around, eyes blazing. "The bastard
feels guilty because he didn't repay me."
anything, the confusion grew, until it hit Dan. "You
mean, because he didn't save you when you were imprisoned?"
a fucking general." Vadim inhaled deeply. "Don't
tell me there was nothing he could have done. The bastard!"
swivelled round to fully face Vadim again. "You
really think so? It took the upper ranks of the British
diplomacy, and they still failed. Besides, was he a
general then? What do you think would have happened
to anyone who spoke out for you, back then? Do you really
think his career would have survived another day?"
Vadim shook his head, lowered it again, the anger deflating,
but not leaving him. "Doesn't mean it's not guilt.
On some level."
I can see that, and it wouldn't surprise me."
tossed back the whisky. "Or he just wanted to look
at me. Look me in the eye. Hear me say things that would
have got me into a mental institution if I had been
high-ranking and stupid enough to say these things."
the fuck?" Dan reached for the glass, pouring himself
a large measure. "First of, what things would that
be and secondly, who the fuck do you think he is, getting
you institutionalised? That's absurd. The guy has no
handle on you. No one has."
inhaled, forced himself to breathe and fight down the
whirl of emotions, ranging from anger to paranoia, to
hurt pride, fear, regret. Too much. He couldn't think
clearly anymore, and it wasn't the alcohol. "What
... what now? What do I do with him?"
you need to do anything with him? Why don't you just
let him go. Didn't seem to be a friend to me."
Dan drank most of what he'd poured.
him go." Vadim stared at the door. Would be for
the best. This man wasn't the Lesha he'd known, saved,
cared about, lusted for. It hurt. The memory was still
there. Of the young soldier in the rain, pale, lips
blue, shuddering violently, uniform soaked with rain.
"Yeah. I'll let him go."
still have the memory. You saved his life, he must have
meant a lot." Dan pushed himself up, taking the
step towards Vadim. "But a friend
is your friend. Hooch would pull you out of a fire,
even if it meant he'd burn." He smiled, tilting
Hooch would." Hooch he'd met not long ago, taken
apart and put back together. Hooch, who had recovered
well from the torture and injury, both mentally and
physically. They'd found new limits, new height, depths.
There was complete trust, the strangest and deepest
friendship Vadim had ever known. Hooch was worth a dozen
friends. Vadim looked at Dan, eyes showing anger and
pain. "I killed a man for him. Lesha. Because he'd
have killed him. An officer. I broke the bastard and
he committed suicide - that way, he couldn't take revenge
on us." Us. Nothing like that had ever existed.
"Guess ... I guess I was in love with him."
and he never paid you back." Quietly, Dan could
see the anger, but could do nothing about the pain,
except for touching Vadim's shoulder. "And never
reciprocated." Wanting to draw him close, but he'd
learned that this didn't always work.
nodded silently, then moved towards Dan, pulling him
into a powerful embrace, hiding his face against Dan's
shoulder, breathing, struggling.
said nothing, just holding, strong and steadfast. So
fucking glad Vadim touched him, wanted him to be there,
hold, and let him inside. Stroking the back of Vadim's
head, fingertips carding through the short hair, he
had his eyes closed and just stood. If he'd learned
anything in his life, then it was patience.
eventually turned his head to kiss Dan's neck. "I'd
be so fucked without you", he murmured, sounding
calm and tired. The alcohol had had time to kick in
think I wouldn't be buggered without you, either."
Dan chuckled low. Turning his head to kiss Vadim's temple.
"What do you say about a hot bath and spa and a
nodded. "I'm game." He finished the bottle,
poured the rest of the whisky into his glass. "Fuck
Russia." Saluting Dan, and then emptying the glass.
and you'll be putty in my hands in a minute." Dan
grinned, then went into the bathroom to start filling
the large tub.
grinned, seemed to grow more pensive for a few moments,
looking at the door, but forced himself to stop thinking
about it. Lesha was dead. Better men than him had died.
Platon. Sasha. For all Vadim cared, Lesha's bullet had
just missed him. Maybe he was luckier in Chechnya or
wherever he worked now.
had a long hot bath, the spa relaxing, and the whisky
mellowing. True to his word, Dan got Vadim into the
bed afterwards, and proceeded to give him a slow and
torturously skilled blow-job, with all the tricks in
the book - and he knew a lot of them.
Vadim fell asleep, Dan was holding him, like he usually
did. Spooning behind him, watching the back of his neck
in the gloom of the bedroom, until he, too, fell asleep.
The past would always be part of the present, but at
least that was true for both sides: the good and the
next morning, after a quick shower and shave, Vadim
and Dan headed back to the breakfast room. Vadim wasn't
surprised to see the Russian delegation sit together
at a table, the general framed by his bully boys. He
studiously ignored the man, but thought he felt his
gaze a few times.
Dan got up the second time to help himself at the buffet,
he caught the general's eyes and nodded with a polite
smile. Wishing "good morning" in Russian,
before presenting his well-dressed back to the delegation
as he loaded his plate once more.
general nodded, entirely civil, no onlooker could have
seen anything amiss, neither distaste nor previous encounters.
Lesha played the role well, thought Vadim, sitting next
to Dan when he returned, sipping coffee, and every now
and then touching Dan's hand on the table.
looked up, smiling, the bullet on its chain around his
neck caught a spark of light as he turned and the collar
of his high-class leisure shirt opened wider. "I
was thinking about going for a stint in the gym and
swim later. Anything you want to do in the meantime?"
Vadim said. "Not sure I got everybody's card last
night." He added a smile to that.
grunted. "Guess that means I still can't let go
of the Maggie-skin yet and have to behave?" A wicked
grin crossed his face, "unless you'd want me to
go hunting for potential fun."
pursed his lips. "Get us some fun. I'm quite in
the mood, and we'd still catch our plane early tomorrow."
It felt reckless, liberating to discuss this with Lesha
in the same room. Not ashamed, or at least not hiding.
"I'll trust your judgement."
" Dan mused while his grin grew. "You
feel up to spending a wad of money on some high class
hooker, or two? Been thinking about it, and not just
because I'm getting older." he winked. "It's
been a lifetime since I last bought a whore, and it
sure as fuck wasn't anything like what I'm looking for
licked his lips, grinning wolfishly. "You just
won yourself a credit card." Reaching into his
pocket, he pulled the black leather wallet out and handed
it to Dan. "Get the prettiest you can get. I don't
mind blowing this time's fee on them."
laughed, "they won't be that expensive,
I'm not getting them gold-coated, after all."
if you don't like their clothes, get them something
nice to wear. Some hookers have a horrible dress sense."
if I had a better dress sense." Dan rolled his
eyes and finished his coffee, then pocketed the business
account credit card. "I'll see you this afternoon."
Standing up, he grinned. "Don't enjoy yourself
too much while I'm gone."
Vadim grinned, watching Dan leave, then his eyes inadvertently
trailed back to Lesha, smile receding, vanishing, until
all he did was regard Lesha from under heavy lids. His
face carefully neutral, stoic, thinking how Lesha had
become exactly what he'd always despised, but in more
senses than one. A bigot, a general, a career officer
who valued the rulebook higher than comrades. Seen from
that perspective, Vadim thought, Lesha was the traitor
in the room. And in a way, that gave him a grim satisfaction.
Lesha stood and left his entourage, and took two steps
closer to Vadim. Probably waiting to be invited to Vadim's
table. You won't get me unprepared this time, thought
regarded him for a long moment. "I have to be at
the airport in two hours, so ..."
there is anything else ..."
can send you the text of the presentation, General,
if you leave me your address. You might find I have
revised it in the meantime. There were a few scholars
I haven't had time to examine." Vadim smiled, baring
his teeth up to the first molars. "It would be
my pleasure entirely."
general paused, but to his credit, his facial muscles
didn't twitch. "That would be very welcome."
He reached into the uniform jacket and found a card.
Official looking. He kept it non-personal. Bastard.
Vadim noticed a mark on his finger, like he'd worn a
ring ... for a long time. Divorced? Who the fuck cared.
looked at the card briefly, but let it lie on the table
cloth. "Have a good trip back, General. Thanks
was about to turn when Vadim added: "And tell the
others I don't care for their pity or what they think
of me. Whatever they think of me, it's true. Whatever
you think of me, it's definitely true. I'm all that,
and I don't give a fuck what you think." Coarse
soldier's Russian, the only language they'd shared,
once upon a time.
nodded, brow dark, but he didn't shoot back. "I
understand. Well, Mr Krasnorada, that was very enlightening."
bet." Vadim stood, took the card to dispose of
it later, and left the room.
was in a rather good mood when he returned in the early
afternoon. He found Vadim sitting in the tea room, sipping
a glass of wine, listening to a guy playing on the piano.
He had a folder with papers in front of him, but he
either hadn't started work, or was finished. He looked
up. "Chopin", he murmured. "Hey, had
a good day?"
successful one, aye, you could say that. Even though
our business account is going to be somewhat lighter."
Dan didn't sit down, just leaned against the chair opposite
to Vadim. "We'll be having 'guests' at seven tonight."
He bared grinned sharply. "I was assured that the
hotel is very much used to visitors of any nature."
bill they charge us, they better be." Vadim leaned
back and grinned. "What are they like? How did
you find them?"
that would be telling." Dan tapped the side of
his nose. "Let's just say that internet, mobile
phone and personal vetting go very well together. Also,
whatever you have heard about Austrians being prissy,
it's not true. Vienna seems to be a positive den of
sin." He grinned, "and for what those guys
I saw each of them personally. Can't
think of anything other than 'perfect'. Not a flaw.
Mid-twenties and exactly what they should be like: too
perfect to be real. By the way, I got us a dark one
and a light one." He winked.
laughed softly. "I guess you know my type fairly
well." Vadim motioned for Dan to sit down, relax,
offered him some of the wine. "Seems like a good
... climax for a less than ideal work assignment."
you did say that hookers don't count, that we'd share
them." Dan smiled and took the wine. "What
are we going to do before seven? Sex is right out, we
don't want to spoil us for our expensive 'guests'."
laughed, "no, you are right. What about going out
for a meal and some sightseeing?"
long as the meal makes up for the sightseeing, I am
Vadim's promise, delivered with a grin, they headed
off into the epitome of Baroque cities. Even Dan was
impressed by some of the architecture, the exquisite
gardens, the marbling and iron work, but after two hours,
he was tired of it and demanded his food. He got it
soon in one of the finest restaurants, with a famous
Viennese coffee to close an excellent meal.
they returned to the hotel they left instructions to
send the 'guests' upstairs to their room, and then retreated
to freshen up. Dan joked that there was no point in
dressing, but Vadim figured that it was them who should
get an eyeful, certainly for the money they paid, and
not the other way round.
the two young men arrived, they were indeed as perfect
as Dan had promised. One dark haired and green eyed,
the other blond and grey eyed, and even the fact that
he'd helped the white blond of his short hair with the
bottle didn't diminish the appeal. Both tanned, both
smooth, and both ready and willing to do anything Vadim
and Dan asked for.
night turned out to be longer than even Dan had expected,
with those two guys truly being worth their money as
they shared each other, while Dan and Vadim watched,
turned on by the beauty and perfection and the professionalism
with which the make-belief seemed more real than real.
Slick, perhaps, too faultless, but they were a treat,
rare and different. When it was Dan and Vadim's turn
to make use of those beautiful men, it was a combination
of watching, taking in the image of the other with one
or two of them, and of taking their fill.
the two finally left in the morning, both Dan and Vadim
were relaxed, sated, and Lesha had become a mere memory.
Another page or two in Vadim's diary.
August 1999, New Zealand
phone rang and Vadim picked it up. He'd been sitting
in the living room, a book on his stomach, a notepad
at his side, the phone within easy reach. He could hear
Dan rummage around in the kitchen. Tea time.
one person who'd speak Russian with him, and he found
himself shift back into the language. "Katya. How
are you?" Almost four years. Four years since he'd
written the letter, told her everything. There had been
no response, and he'd gone on living his life, earning
money, keeping busy, writing whenever he felt the past
become too oppressive. It had been a good four years,
though. Despite the nagging feeling that he should ...
should do something, anything, that there was a connection
that was still bleeding, somehow.
just calling to say happy birthday."
you." He leaned back, closed his eyes, listened
to her terse, strained voice. There was something wrong,
he could tell, but he knew from experience that straight-out
asking her would merely be skilfully parried, and then
there would be a counter attack.
is it, being fifty?"
feel a difference." He did - they both did. The
wear and tear meant there were pains, but the active
life meant they suffered a lot less than anybody their
age bracket they knew. "And how are you? How are
is studying medicine ... she says she wants to become
a heart or brain surgeon."
a clever one", Vadim said, with tenderness. He'd
assumed she'd be good. Cool, self-collected, clever
and perceptive. "And Nikolai?"
he's going through a phase. Boys his age do."
paused. "Military service?"
took care of that." Her voice was steel.
what about Kisa?"
child. Strong-headed." Katya grew increasingly
good to hear. I'm ... glad you called. Been a while,
but ... did you get my letter?"
I've read it just before I called you. I might have
called you earlier, but ... life caught up with me."
things you wrote - it was strange, because I guessed
much of what you told me, but not the extend of it.
I only saw a surface; I never realized how much you
were hurting, how much you wanted to be free, and how
difficult you found it to relate to people."
still loved you and the children. I still care."
Spelling everything out, facing emotions like regret,
love, all that, head-on, communicating, being open.
know." Her voice sounded thick. "I know, and
I thought I'd made my peace with all this. Our marriage,
the children. That you would remain a fond memory, even
though you cast us from your life. I understand now
why you did it, but it hurt, and I hated you."
enough. I deserved that hate." They didn't speak
for what felt like several minutes. "You can't
take defeat, Katya, I know. It was that which inspired
me all those years. Your strength."
I hated your partner."
enough", Vadim repeated. "There's plenty of
that in him, too."
you know you were the only woman I ever loved that wasn't
my mother?" Vadim murmured. "I always wanted
to be the husband you deserved, but I wasn't. I wasn't
made like that, I couldn't be the man you loved. That's
a massive failure. I'm sorry for that. If I had been,
I promise ..."
Vadim." Some of her old tenderness was in those
words. The tone that she had for him when telling him
he'd let the bath cool because he was too engrossed
in a book. "You were perfect. I never wanted to
hurt you. You'd have let me go with Sasha, I let you
go with Dan. I made you to, even though I didn't feel
he was right for you, but after ... almost twenty years
or so ... you've spent far more time with him than with
me, and I hope it was a good twenty years and you'll
have another fifty years, not regretting anything."
open and honest, calm, strong. "What happened?"
much, Vadim. I'm just feeling like I should pick up
thought I had cancer, but the biopsy came back negative.
Not malevolent. I won't die of this."
felt his breath stall. "Honest?"
honest. But when I got the result, I thought, what if?
What if I'd die a slow death like Szandor, and Kisa
is still a child." You're both not fathers, her
tone said. What of the child.
... glad to hear you're good."
If you want to meet the children ... if you happen to
be somewhere in Europe at some point ..."
him away from those last, dark promises, that he'd refuse
the children as long as she held Kisa hostage. And what
did it actually mean? That he was still standing by
his word after those years, after that monstrous What
If? What if she'd been dying? Would he still have denied
her? "You're not playing fair."
sorry." She might even be, but the old grudge was
still there, and that was a damned shame. "You
still won't ..."
Katya." Despite the fact you could be dead. In
a way, it would be treason, and he'd not go so far after
all those years. "But thanks for the offer. It's
enjoy your birthday."
you." He switched off the phone and opened his
took a while, sitting in silence, before a faint rustle,
deceptively deliberate, announced Dan's appearance in
the doorway. He was carrying one mug of tea and one
called." Vadim straightened, took his coffee, and
sighed. "We're still on square one." He shook
put the mugs down before sitting down on the couch.
"Damn, it's been how long?"
time I was in touch. Nearly four years
is doing alright. Head-strong, she said."
surprise me." Dan smiled at first, then frowned,
"Katya brought it onto herself, but what about
studying to become a doctor, and Nikolai
said he was having a phase, like young men do."
Whatever that meant. Drinking? Girls? Hormones? Rebelliousness?
Nikolai? He was the shyest kid he'd ever known. Him
going 'through a phase' sounded wrong, but what did
he actually know about his children.
should see your kids, Vadim." Dan said quietly,
before having a mouthful of coffee.
No. "Shit. Happy birthday", Vadim murmured,
and Dan got up, laboriously, only to scoot closer, and
to wrap his arm around Vadim, who touched his head to
a party on Saturday to look forward to, and you haven't
even opened your present."
smiled. "No. Sorry."
need to be sorry, I haven't given it to you yet, was
wondering if you thought I'd forget your 'big O'."
Hardly possible with an enormous birthday cake in the
fridge. Dan twisted to get to the back pocket of his
black jeans, and produced a small envelope. Grinning
triumphantly. "Here you go."
Vadim laughed. "Careful. My Big O is just a few
months before yours. Thank you." He opened the
envelope and smiled as he read. Two weeks holiday in
a luxury spa hotel in Tuscany with personal trainer
and beauty treatments. He noticed that Dan had ordered
the treatments for 'two adults', which meant Dan would
subject himself to the same regime. Vadim leaned over
and kissed him. "Sounds good - when are we flying?"
"Sunday." Dan grinned, "but at least
I made it an afternoon flight from Palmy, so we can
recover from the party."
"That's very considerate. Tuscany. You know that's
dangerously close to Rome with all those museums, galleries
and archaeological sites?"
no!" Dan exclaimed in fake horror. "I knew
I shouldn't have done that, it's going to bite me in
the arse. A propos arse, if I let them wax mine, and
if I suffer through that horrendous pain for your viewing,
touching and tasting pleasure, are you going to leave
me in a place with good food and booze while you do
that culture shit?" He grinned from ear to ear.
a deal. Museums are better if I don't get the 'Are you
done yet' question every five minutes. Even though you'd
miss all those naked and semi-naked statues the Romans
liked so much."
you're a bastard, you know that? I don't complain every
five minutes, it's every ten at the most." Dan
laughed, "and I'd rather have a semi-naked Roman
than a fully naked Roman statue." He had another
mouthful of his coffee. "As for naked men, I recall
that you haven't had your birthday blow-job yet. Am
I right? In fact, shouldn't that be fifty, one for each
laughed. "Aren't you a bit optimistic about my
endurance?" He turned and kissed him. "I'll
take one of the fifty, and keep the others for later."
didn't bother to go upstairs, and they found a way for
Dan to enjoy his favourite pastime of all, there and
then, and with never waned enthusiasm.
might be fifty, but they weren't past it yet.