glance. “And who are you?” she quietly asked in Italian.
“A friend of Signor Caproni’s.” He stepped into the bedchamber and casually closed the door.
She finished the cigarette, stood, and strutted close, her thin legs taking deliberate strides. “You’re dressed strangely for a friend. You look more like a burglar.”
“And you seem unconcerned.”
She shrugged. “Strange men are my business. Their needs are no different from anyone else’s.” Her gaze raked him from head to toe. “You have a wicked gleam in your eyes. German, no?”
He said nothing.
She massaged his hands through the leather gloves. “Powerful.” She traced his chest and shoulders. “Muscles.” She was close now, her erect nipples nearly touching his chest. “Where is the signor?”
“Detained. He suggested I might enjoy your company.”
She looked at him, hunger in her eyes. “Do you have the capabilities of the signor?”
“Monetary or otherwise?”
She smiled. “Both.”
He took the whore in his arms. “We shall see.”
The Amber Room
St. Petersburg, Russia
The cab jerked to a stop and Knoll stepped out onto busy Nevsky Prospekt, paying the driver with two twenty-dollar bills. He wondered what happened to the ruble. It wasn’t much better than play money anymore. The Russian government openly banned the use of dollars years ago on pain of imprisonment, but the cabdriver didn’t seem to care, eagerly demanding and pocketing the bills before whipping the taxi away from the curb.
His flight from Innsbruck had touched down at Pulkovo Airport an hour ago. He’d shipped the match case from Innsbruck overnight to Germany with a note of his success in northern Italy. Before he too returned to Germany, there was one last errand to be performed.
Theprospekt was packed with people and cars. He studied the green dome of Kazan Cathedral across the street and turned to spy the gilded spire of the distant Admiralty off to the right, partially obscured by a morning fog. He imagined the boulevard’s past, when traffic was all horse-drawn and prostitutes arrested during the night swept the cobbles clean. What would Peter the Great think now of his “window to Europe”? Department stores, cinemas, restaurants, museums, shops, art studios, and cafés lined the busy five-kilometer route. Flashing neon and elaborate kiosks sold everything from books to ice cream and heralded the rapid advance of capitalism. What had Somerset Maugham described?Dingy and sordid and dilapidated.
Not anymore, he thought.
Change was the reason he was able to even come to St. Petersburg. The privilege of scouring old Soviet records had been extended to outsiders only recently. He’d made two previous trips this year—one six months ago, another two months back—both to the same depository in St. Petersburg, the building he now entered for the third time.
It was five stories with a rough-hewn stone facade, grimy from engine exhaust. The St. Petersburg Commercial Bank operated a busy branch out of one part of the ground floor, and Aeroflot, the Russian national airline, filled the rest. The first through third and fifth floors were all austere government offices: Visa and Foreign Citizen’s Registration Department, Export Control, and the regional Agricultural Ministry. The fourth floor was devoted exclusively to a records depository. One of many scattered throughout the country, it was a place where the remnants of seventy-five years of Communism could be stored and safely studied.
Yeltsin had opened the documents to the world through the Russian Archival Committee, a way for the learned to preach his message of anti-Communism. Clever, actually. No need to purge the ranks, fill the gulags, or rewrite history as Khrushchev and Brezhnev managed. Just let historians uncover the multitude of atrocities, thievery, and espionage—secrets hidden for decades under tons of rotting paper and fading ink. Their eventual writings would
Gordon R. Dickson, David W Wixon