The Red Coffin

The Red Coffin by Sam Eastland Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: The Red Coffin by Sam Eastland Read Free Book Online
Authors: Sam Eastland
the windowsill, where a small plant sagged under the weight of bright orange fruits.
    ‘Tangerines?’ asked Pekkala.
    ‘Kumquats,’ Kirov corrected him. ‘It took me months to find one of these plants and more than a year to get it to bear fruit. Are you ready?’
    ‘Kumquats,’ said Pekkala, still trying out the word.
    Kirov reached out and took hold of a fruit between his thumb and first two fingers. Gently he twisted until the ball came away from its stem, then held it out to Pekkala.
    Pekkala plucked the kumquat from Kirov’s fingers and sniffed at it.
    ‘Eat!’ said Kirov, his cheeks flushing red. ‘That’s an order!’
    Pekkala raised his eyebrows. ‘An order, Kirov?’
    ‘I do outrank you.’
    ‘But I don’t have a rank!’
    ‘Exactly.’ Kirov flapped his hand at Pekkala as if he were shooing a fly. ‘Don’t make me ask you again!’
    Pekkala took a small bite, tearing through the thin glowing skin of the kumquat and into the yellowy segments beneath. His eyes closed tightly as the sour taste flooded his mouth. ‘It’s inedible!’
    ‘It’s perfect,’ said Kirov. Then he went back to the window-sill and traced one finger lovingly over the deep green, shiny leaves.
    ‘You need a girlfriend, Kirov. Or a wife. You’re spending too much time with these kumquats. Now please go down and bring the car around front.’
    ‘Where are we going?’
    ‘We have a rendezvous with thirty tons of Russian steel. Nagorski has offered to give us a tour of the place where the tank is being designed. He is anxious to prove to us that the facility is secure.’
    ‘Yes, Inspector.’ Kirov picked up his keys and headed out the door.
    ‘Did you remember your gun?’ Pekkala called to him.
    Kirov groaned. His footsteps came to a halt.
    ‘You forgot again, didn’t you?’
    ‘I don’t need it this time,’ Kirov protested.
    ‘You never know when you will need it. That’s why there are regulations, Kirov!’
    Kirov trudged back up the stairs and into the office. Then he began rifling through the drawers of his desk.
    ‘Have you lost it?’ asked Pekkala.
    ‘It’s in here somewhere,’ muttered Kirov.
    Pekkala shook his head and sighed.
    ‘Ah!’ shouted Kirov. ‘Here it is!’ He held up a Tokarev automatic; standard issue for army officers and members of state security.
    ‘Now go and get the car,’ Pekkala told him.
    ‘On my way!’ Kirov swept past and clattered down the stairs.
    Before Pekkala left the office, he removed the new jacket, replaced it in the box, and put his old coat on again. As he fastened the buttons, he went over to the window and looked out over the rooftops of Moscow. Late-afternoon sunlightshone weak and silvery upon the slates. Crows and pigeons shared the chimney pots. His gaze returned to the plants on the windowsill. Glancing back to see if Kirov had returned, Pekkala reached out and plucked another kumquat. He put the whole thing in his mouth and bit down. The bitter juice exploded in his mouth. He swallowed and let out a gasp. Then he made his way down to the street.
    *
    A gentle rain was falling.
    Kirov stood beside the car. It was a model 1935 Emka, with a squared-off roof, a large front grille and headlights mounted on the wide and sweeping cowlings, giving it a haughty look.
    Kirov held open the passenger door, waiting for Pekkala. The engine was running. The Emka’s wipers twitched jerkily back and forth, like the antennae of an insect.
    As Pekkala shut the battered yellow door behind him, he turned and almost barged into two women who were walking past.
    The women were bundled in scarves and bulky coats. They chattered happily, breath condensing into halos about their heads.
    ‘Excuse me,’ said Pekkala, rocking back on his heels so as not to collide with the women.
    The women did not break their stride. They merely glanced at him, then returned to their conversation.
    Pekkala watched them go, staring at the woman on the left. He had only caught a glimpse of her –

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