This story contains graphic language and descriptions of physical and emotional cruelty which some may find disturbing. While the characters here are mine there are vague references to characters copyrighted by Renaissance Pictures that are familiar to all of us. Naturally no copyright infringement is intended in any way.
This one marks two years of suffering from inexplicable dementia and so I would like to thank everyone who has been so nice to me, specifically Maribel, Flora, Mary, Marcella, Sharon, and Wendy.
For Cheryl, in grateful recognition of her unfailing support.
Do not dig a hole to trap somebody else; you yourself will fall into
East Berlin, 1958
The car abruptly screeched to a halt. From her place in the back seat Rachel Clark heard one of the men flanking her grunt as he opened the car door. This was followed a moment later by his vise-like hands seizing her by the upper arm.
"Get out!" an angry voice ordered in German.
Rachel started to comply but evidently she was not obeying quickly enough to suit her captor for just as she was getting out of the car he violently yanked her by the arm. This caused her to lose her balance and she lurched forward. Because her hands were handcuffed behind her back she was unable to break her fall and so she fell heavily on her left shoulder.
The man ignored her soft groan and again jerked her by the arm. "Get up, you clumsy bitch," he snarled.
Someone else, probably the other occupant of the back seat, took her by the other arm and together the two men hoisted her to her feet. They began walking and the movement caused Rachel's shoulder to start to throb even more. Added to this was the fact that for some reason she was having difficulty maintaining her equilibrium as they shoved her along over the rough cobblestones. It would have helped if she had been able to see. Although the hood they had jammed down over her head upon her arrest was loosely fitted, for her it was having a rather suffocating effect. All this worked to make the twenty-five yard walk from the car to the foot of the building steps seem like a much, much longer one.
Even now, as the two men half shoved, half dragged her up the steps, Rachel could not believe what was happening. No more than an hour before she had left an official function at the American embassy on Mittelstrasse. Less than two blocks from the entrance to the American sector at Checkpoint Charlie she had been stopped by two cars, one containing two uniformed policemen, the other three plainly dressed men whom she guessed to be East German secret police. Naturally she had tried to show them her papers. She tried to tell them she was an employee of the American government and was in East Berlin legally but they had ignored her protests. The next thing she knew she had been dragged from her car and handcuffed.
At the head of the steps Rachel and the two men passed through a door. Once inside one of her captors snapped, "Inform Comrade Alekseyev we have made an arrest." She heard a third person begin to dial a telephone. Again the strong hand gripped her by the arm and again she found herself on a flight of steps. Except this time they were leading down. Once at the bottom they made a turn. Immediately she was struck by how much cooler it was here. This was not all for added to this was the unpleasant odor the place. It reminded her of the outhouse her family had used back when she was a girl in rural Ohio.
They walked along for twenty, thirty paces--she was unsure just how far--when suddenly they stopped. She heard a jingling noise followed by first a soft click, and then the unmistakable squeal of rusty hinges as a door swung open. Rachel was pulled forward and stopped. While one of them unlocked her handcuffs someone else removed her hood and for a fleeting moment she was able to catch a glimpse of her surroundings through her blinking eyes. A long, long corridor...three men...several steel doors. Cells! She was in a prison!
"Wait!" she cried, speaking for the first time since her arrival. "You can't do this! I'm an American cit--"
She was not allowed to finish because one of the men forcefully pressed his hands up against her shoulder blades and roughly pushed her into the reeking cell. Rachel stumbled forward and heard a loud clang as the big steel door slammed shut behind her. Although the stifling hood was off she was in effect still blind because the cell was now completely dark. "This can't be happening," she whispered. Turning on her heels, she rushed to the door. "Hey, let me out of here!" she yelled. "There's been some kind of mistake. Let me out!" She tried pounding on the heavy steel door but quickly learned this was an exercise in futility. For about five minutes she stood there, yelling and slapping her palm against the door in frustration.
Suddenly she heard heavy footsteps outside her cell. A key was inserted in the lock and for one thankful moment she thought the mistake had finally been discovered and she was now going to be released. The door swung open and a man's silhouette loomed in the doorway. "My government isn't going to like this one bit," said Rachel, her voice very indignant.
She took a step forward, fully expecting the silhouette to step aside for her. Instead, to her utter horror, she saw the figure drew back its fist. Instinctively she threw up a hand and turned away but it was too late. The fist caught her solidly on the left corner of her mouth and the petite woman saw stars as she staggered backward. By now her knees had turned to rubber and when she collapsed to the floor it was unfortunately the same one she had been pushed down upon outside the car.
"Prisoners are not allowed to speak!" shouted the guard. Lying there on the floor, dazed with pain, she was only vaguely aware of her assailant's approach. With a loud growl he sent a boot crashing against her right thigh. Rachel squalled out in pain and desperately tried to curl up in a ball. She now fully expected him to kick her again but instead the guard turned and sauntered back toward the door. With a sneer in his voice he asked "You're not going to give me any more trouble now, are you? ARE YOU?"
"N-no," Rachel gasped.
The guard slammed the cell door shut leaving the prostrate young woman once more enveloped by the heavy blackness. Rachel helplessly lay there on the floor, her face pressed up against the cold, rough concrete with blood streaming from her split lip and saliva drooling from the corner of her mouth. My God, she thought, this has to be a dream; it must be a dream. She rolled over on her back and feebly wiped the back of her right hand across her mouth. Only then did she realize her mouth was bleeding. Numbly she thought of the handkerchief she always carried but then remembered they had taken her purse. For a moment or two she tried to get up but then quickly thought better of it. At the moment she was simply hurting in too many places for that.
So there she lay like a sack of potatoes. The only sound breaking the thunderous silence was that of her own labored breathing. Why am I here? What do they want? Do my superiors know? What are they going to do with me? These and a hundred other thoughts waded through the muddied waters of her reeling brain.
Rachel had no idea how long she lay there in the total darkness but after a time she became aware of a sinking sensation. She was slowly descending in a very long spiral...down...down...down. As consciousness deserted her she thought, So this is what it's like to die. To her surprise she found she was not afraid.
Rachel awoke to the sound of voices. For one confusing second she was startled by the darkness. Am I blind? she wondered. But once she tried to rise up her aching body howled in protest and it all came back to her. No she had not died and no, those voices she was listening to were not angelic ones--this is unless angels argued over soccer matches in German. Despite the pain, Rachel gritted her teeth and eased to a sitting position. She had no idea how long she had been out. She had no watch--could not see it anyway--but the dryness in her throat and the rumble in her stomach were indications that it had evidently been quite some time.
Slowly, very gingerly she got up on her hands and knees and began to move to find the wall. As she was doing this her groping palms made contact with some kind of coarsely woven material. It was a blanket. It felt like burlap and it smelled like sweat but by now Rachel did not care. It was the first bit of humanity she had encountered since her abduction. Finding the wall, she felt her way back into the nearest corner where she found another object. Running her hands along the rim, Rachel realized it was a bucket. What in the world--? Then its purpose for being there dawned on her. Thank God it's been emptied! she thought.
Rachel moved her toilet out of the corner and wedged herself as best she could between the converging walls. With a soft groan she covered herself with the reeking blanket, pulling it up all the way to her neck. Surely by now I've been missed, she thought, hopefully. But what if she had? She doubted if there was a soul in the American sector that knew she was here. Why had the Germans grabbed her? she wondered. She had not been engaged in any suspicious activity. She had not strayed from the route she was supposed to take. Why then? In the back of her mind she still held hope that they would soon learn their mistake and set her free. However the longer she sat there the less and less likely this seemed.
It was then a disturbing thought came to her. She remembered what the guy had said when they came here. "Inform Comrade Alekseyev..." Comrade Alekseyev? A Russian! KGB no doubt. God, she thought, what if they interrogate me? In both her official and unofficial capacities Rachel had heard chilling accounts of KGB interrogation sessions. Now, sitting there in the blackness, confronted by this very real possibility--hungry, thirsty--Rachel Clark had never felt so vulnerable, so alone, so...helpless.
Of course this was the very purpose of her isolation. For what her captors wanted was to break her resolve, to create doubt, to gnaw away at her sense of self worth. And maybe even separate her from reality a little. Such tactics often worked to make prisoners much more co-operative even before the first interrogation session began.
The hours dragged on. While for Rachel her confinement in this horrid place was distressful enough, her anxiety was further compounded by the uncertainty of what lay in store for her once they finally did get around to her. Twice she was forced to make use of the bucket. By now the gentle rumble in her stomach had been replaced ever sharper pangs. Yes she was hungry--and thirsty too. And it was while she was wishing for a nice big hamburger and an ice cold Coca-Cola that they came for her.
Two uniformed guards came into her cell and lifted her to her feet. She was then escorted back the way she had come. Down the corridor, turning right, and up the steps. Once she considered asking them where they were taking her but the fear of being beaten again stopped her short. At the top of the stairs they turned her down another hallway. They came to a halt in front of the last door on the left and one of the guards knocked on the closed door.
"Enter," a voice answered.
Rachel was ushered into the room and made to stand in front of a bare desk. The room was very sparse. Looking tentatively about, Rachel saw only the desk and two plain chairs, one in front and one behind the desk. There was no other furniture of any kind. The hardwood floor was devoid of any rugs or carpets. There were no curtains in the one large window. A single bare light bulb shone from its porcelain fixture in the ceiling.
"The prisoner, Comrade Major, as you ordered," said the guard, very respectfully. He was addressing a figure standing with his back to them looking out the window. After her many hours in the dark cell Rachel's eyes still had not fully adjusted to the light yet and the glare of light streaming through the big window made it almost impossible for her to make out any detail.
"Wait outside," the figure tersely replied. After clicking their heels and saluting, the guards obediently departed.
As soon as they had closed the door behind them Rachel said, "I wish to speak to the American Consulate."
"You are not to speak unless I address you," the figure replied. The voice was measured, very even. The tone was much like one a teacher would use with a slow student.
"I want to know why I'm being held here," the American persisted.
"I will tolerate your insolence this one time," the figure said, an edge on the voice this time. "However for your own sake do not repeat it."
It was not the perfect English spoken without even a hint of accent that startled Rachel. There was something else. Something that did not seem to fit. Could it be...?
A moment later her suspicions were confirmed. The figure stepped away from the glare of the window and as it turned to face her Rachel Clark, to her utter astonishment, saw the figure was indeed a woman! Rachel could see her very clearly now. She was quite tall for a woman, at least six foot one. The uniform she was wearing was a little loose but Rachel could clearly see the outlines of a powerful, athletic body. She had jet black hair which was severely pulled back. Her lips were full and she possessed cheek bones that would have been the envy of any New York model. She was very beautiful! As far as Rachel could tell she wore no makeup except maybe for the barest hint of color on the cheeks.
But it was the eyes that captivated her. The Major's eyes were such a brilliant azure they seemed to shine with a luminance all their own. Captivating as they were, those eyes were also hard and knowing and exuded a worldliness far beyond their years. They in fact unnerved Rachel, not just because of the fear they inspired but also because they were somehow...familiar. Yes, as unlikely as that seemed Rachel was certain she had seen those eyes, that face, somewhere before. But where?
The Major extended an arm toward the chair beside Rachel. "Sit down."
Rachel sat down and folded her hands in her lap. She knew it was silly but she began to wish her skirt was longer.
"I gather you have been held for quite some time," said the Major, knowing full well she had. After all, it had been on her orders. Still standing, she asked "Would you like some tea?"
"Yes, please," Rachel quietly replied. In her present position she thought the offer a bit ludicrous but at the moment she did not know what else to say.
The Major crisply snapped her fingers and a man, previously unnoticed by her, sprang up from his chair in a corner behind her. The woman spoke a terse sentence to him in Russian and after an obedient nod he exited the room. After he had gone the Major quietly sat down behind her desk. With a cold, unfeeling eye she looked Rachel over in the same detached manner that one might use in selecting a melon. Inside though, her brilliant mind was soaking up every little detail. The subject's identification card said she was twenty-two years old--eight years younger than her. Although this girl obviously took great pains to present herself as a sophisticated woman the Major saw her for what she really was--a babe in the woods. She was a maybe a little short by American standards, pleasingly slim, with long, reddish blonde hair down to her shoulders. Her clothes were stylish and the Major ruefully figured that the bracelet they had taken off her probably cost more than what the KGB paid her for an entire year. Typical spoiled American! she thought. Fuck them and their wealth! Nevertheless for a moment the Major allowed herself to wonder how that beautiful bracelet might look on her own wrist. Rather well, she decided. Since it was already in her possession anyway she decided she might as well keep it. No use letting those damn guards beat her to it. Soon this spoiled little brat was not going to be having any further need for jewelry anyway.
Rachel felt those daunting eyes practically devouring her and despite her best efforts, found herself very intimidated. The next few minutes were like an eternity for her as she felt the Major coolly, dispassionately dissecting her with her unrelenting gaze.
At last the man returned bearing a small teapot and two cups on a tray. He sat the tray down on the desk near his superior. Without averting her gaze from Rachel the Major picked up her cup. Immediately the man began to pour for her, very carefully--not daring to spill a drop. For Rachel he was not nearly as attentive in his duties but nevertheless managed to place a cup in front of her without losing any of the tea.
The Major politely waited while he finished pouring for the prisoner. She then put her own cup to her lips and watched Rachel expectantly as she took a delicate sip. Rachel, however, just sat there. "I assure you it is not poisoned," said the Major, with the barest hint of a smile. "Even if it is German tea."
Rachel closed her eyes and gathered herself. In a very soft voice she asked "Why am I here?"
For a fleeting moment the azure eyes flashed in anger but the Major quickly calmed herself. Though some of her colleagues tended to "lose" themselves in their work she considered that to be very unprofessional. After all, one did not have to act like a raving lunatic in order to crush someone's soul.
In control once again, the Major let out a deep sigh of disappointment. "Very well," she said, "since you refuse my hospitality, we will indeed what is it you Americans say, get down to brass tacks?" Pulling open a drawer, she extracted a manila folder. This she opened up and spread out flat upon the desk in front of her. She then curtly nodded to the man who had now resumed his seat in the corner. Upon her signal he took out a notebook which he then laid upon his knee. His job was to record the session. His first notes were:
Date: 21, Aug
Room 1, Major Alekseyev
KGB Major Valenta Alekseyev picked up Rachel's ID card and carefully looked it over. This was purely for dramatic effect because she had already went through the girl's purse a dozen times. "For the record state your full name please."
"Rachel Olivia Clark."
"What is your position?"
"I'm an German interpreter for the United States Information Agency."
"Prove it," Alekseyev said, in perfect German. There followed a rather lengthy exchange in which Major Alekseyev tested Clark with several long sentences and difficult to master phrases. Although very nervous Rachel responded perfectly each time.
It was then Alekseyev dropped the bomb on her. "Rachel Clark, you are charged with engaging in acts of espionage against the German Democratic Republic."
"What?" Rachel cried. "That's crazy!"
"You are also charged with conspiracy to commit murder of a high Communist Party official and of advocating the violent overthrow of a freely elected government."
"Freely elected" my ass, thought the stenographer. He often wondered how Major Alekseyev could recite these charges with a straight face. But she always did. In his five years at this job, first in Kiev, then Budapest and now East Berlin, he had sat in on many an interrogation and as far as he was concerned it was no contest. Major Alekseyev was the absolute best. In a way he pitied this wisp of a girl now in the Major's sights. She could not possibly stand up to Alekseyev's indomitable will and sooner or later would be crushed like a rotten apple. But not before she had learned what she wanted to know.
"I demand that you let me contact the American embassy," said Rachel, struggling to suppress the quiver in her voice.
"I hardly think you are in a position to demand anything. You are a spy and a murderous one at that."
"I am not a spy," Rachel angrily shouted.
With a condescending little smile Alekseyev said, "Really, Miss Clark, such displays are pointless. Your guilt is undeniable."
"Listen, you," Rachel said, "I don't know what the hell you and these other goons are tryin' to pull but I'm telling you right now it isn't going to work."
Major Alekseyev's response was to simply pull open another desk drawer. This time she took out a single piece of paper which contained one paragraph of double-spaced text. After giving it a cursory glance she leaned forward and slid it across the desk.
"What the hell is that?" asked Rachel, suspiciously eyeing the paper.
"Why, your confession of course," the Russian answered in a pleasant voice. From her tunic pocket she took out Rachel's own pen and tossed it onto the desk. She loved delicious little ironies like this. "Please sign it."
"Fuck you!" Rachel blurted out. "I haven't done anything wrong. I wanna speak to the American consulate."
Major Alekseyev stood up and walked around to the front of the desk. Here it comes, thought the stenographer. Alekseyev parked one cheek of her buttocks on the desk all the while boring her eyes in on Rachel. She picked up Rachel's tea cup and casually dipped the tip of her finger into the tea. Perfect. "You are quite the little tigress, aren't you, Miss Clark?" she purred.
"I'm not afraid of you," lied Rachel, the soft quiver in her voice giving her away.
With a quick backward snap of the wrist Alekseyev emptied the contents of the cup into Rachel's face. The tea was not hot enough not to scald the girl's skin but was still warm enough to cause considerable...unpleasantness.
Rachel shrieked and recoiled in shock. Like the leopard she resembled Alekseyev slid off the desk and pounced on her prey. Quickly taking up a position beside the stunned Rachel, she seized her by the roots of the hair just above the forehead and viciously pulled her head back as far as she could. "You bitch!" she snarled. "You pathetic little worm. You can't fool me, American. I know you for what you are." She bent over and put her face very close to that of her victim. "Your eyes tell me everything. You are not brave at all, Miss Clark. ARE YOU? No. You are a rabbit, that's all. A terrified little rabbit. I, Miss Clark, I am the tigress." Leaning still closer, Alekseyev trailed the tip of her tongue across Rachel's cheek. "And I will devour you at my leisure," she huskily whispered.
She then stood up and, still holding her by the hair, patted her hard on her split lip. Releasing Rachel at last, she announced, "That's enough for now. Get this insidious whore out of my sight."
The stenographer sprang to his feet. Opening the door, he beckoned to the waiting guards. Rachel was still coughing when the took her away. Major Alekseyev caught the stenographer's eye and tilted her head toward the door, indicating that he too should leave.
Alone once more, Alekseyev walked to the window and stared out at the drab buildings. Although she had clearly taken an important first step in breaking the girl's spirit, she was nonetheless not pleased with how the session had gone. Her little stunt with the tongue troubled her. That had been most unprofessional. So why had she done it? To shock the girl? No, she decided. It was not that. In fact she doubted if Clark had even noticed. Then why? If it had not been such an absurd notion she would almost believe it was because she felt sexually stimulated by the pretty little girl. It was not unheard of. She knew well enough that some of her colleagues regularly became aroused while torturing their victims. Some even went so far as rape. If some of these prisoners happened to die while enduring this trauma--well what of it? No one cared. As the elite of the KGB they pretty much had carte blanche to do whatever they pleased.
Over the years she had interrogated hundreds of people, men and women of all ages. Never had she felt like she had today with this one. There was...something...about her. Something she could not quite put her finger on. Valenta remembered those frightened green eyes. She had definitely found them intriguing--almost...familiar.
The Major shook her head. "No, Valenta," she chided herself. "That is crazy. You could not possibly have met this Clark before." Behind her there was a knock at the door. "Enter."
"Excuse me, Comrade Major." It was Ernst Bruner, the local head of the secret police or Stazi in this district. While it was he and his men who handled most of the work of ferreting out the enemies of the GDR, cases like this one remained the special province of the KGB. Although technically only an "advisor," no one had any doubts about who the master was here. As the second highest ranking KGB officer and the highest one involved in day to day affairs, Major Alekseyev was in everything but name head of operations for this district.
Albert Bruner was a hard man. As a panzer officer during the war he had survived three horrific years fighting the Russians on the Eastern Front. In his subsequent career with the East German secret police he had been witness to and participant in countless brutal acts. He himself had personally handled the elimination of dozens of the GDR's enemies. No one who knew him would ever call him diffident.
Yet he feared this woman. She had never given him cause to do so but nevertheless he feared her. The brilliant, beautiful Russian had an almost...feral quality about her. Despite this, as males are wont to do, he often wondered what it would be like to make love to her. Or was that a misnomer? He doubted "love" would have very much to do with it. As far as he could tell she was incapable of either giving it or receiving it. What was that vulgar term the Americans loved so much? Fuck? Yes, that was it. He would like to fuck her. Actually though, he figured the far more likely scenario would be that she would fuck him. This bothered him not in the least. The fact that she was powerful just made her all the more desirable.
Bruner swallowed to relieve the dryness in his throat. "The American, Comrade Major," he said. "Are there any special measures you wish to implement with her?" "Special measures" was a catch-all phrase for any number of unpleasant things that might be inflicted on Clark.
Alekseyev closed her eyes and pinched the top of her nose at that point right between her eyes. "No," she replied. "I do not think that will be necessary at this time." She glanced at her genuine Swiss watch--another "gift" from a prisoner. It read 10:10. "Bring her back her at 5:00," she ordered.
"Yes, Comrade Major."
"Oh, and do not wake her should she fall sleep. And see that she gets some water."
"Yes, Comrade Major."
"No food though," she warned him.
"As you wish, Comrade Major."
Bruner took his leave and Alekseyev turned once more to gaze out the window. Something else besides her own impulsive behavior, something which she could still not quite put her finger on, was nagging at her. This is not like you, she thought. By now you usually have these little problems sorted out. Not this time however. What is it with her? Walking over to the desk, she idly picked up the girl's ID card and again scanned it...Rachel Olivia Clark, born July 16, 1936.
Suddenly an inkling of insight came to her like a tiny ray of light penetrating a dark room. It was her date of birth that was significant. Of that she was certain now. But why? That remained as yet unclear to her. No matter, she thought. It will come in time. She put the ID card back in the folder and, placing a hand to the back of her neck, began to massage there with her strong fingers. Try as she might, she could not put the American out of her mind. Then, much to her surprise, she suddenly found herself wondering what it would be like to kiss her.
Alone in the darkness of her cell, Rachel cautiously touched the tender skin where the hot tea had splashed her. Even now she could not believe that...that woman had done that! To her it was the final confirmation of what she had been told upon her arrival in East Berlin three months ago, specifically, these Communists were animals. Obviously they were not going to notify the American government they were holding her. She was totally own her own. God! How am I going to get out of this? she wondered, running a hand through her tangled hair. They could kill me and no one would ever know.
What she could still not understand was what had made the Reds focus on her in the first place. What could possibly make them think I am a spy? Or a murderer for that matter? True, her real work for the American government entailed more than just translation duties but by the very nature of her job she was limited to West Berlin.
Her cell door swung open and there again was the menacing silhouette. Rachel instinctively shrank back further into her little corner and drew her knees up under her chin. Leave me alone! she silently pleaded. This time the guard came no further than the door. In his hand was what looked to Rachel to be a small, rectangular object. Crouching down, he placed the thing on the floor inside the cell. That done, he silently exited the cell, pulling the heavy door shut behind him. For a few moments Rachel remained sitting in her defensive posture. Slowly she got down on all fours and charily began crawling toward where she thought the object was.
When she reached the general vicinity she began to carefully sweep her outstretched arm across the rough concrete. After a couple of attempts her wrist bumped into something and when it did a wet substance splashed on her arm. Water? Rising up on her knees, she took up the cup with both hands. Wisely she resisted the temptation to just slurp down whatever was in the cup. Can't trust these bastards, she thought. Instead she placed the cup under her nose and gave it a good sniff. Next she ever so delicately put the cup to her lips and took a very tiny sip. It was water! It tasted bad and it probably was not very clean but it was wet and at the moment that all that mattered to Rachel. Now that she knew it was water she still refrained from simply gulping it all down. The last thing she wanted was to become choked and maybe end up coughing most of the precious liquid back up.
So she drained the contents of the cup in several short sips. After each one she pushed the water from side to side in her parched mouth, savoring every drop. There--at that moment--Rachel Clark would not have traded that smelly water in her battered steel cup for the finest champagne in Paris.
In her office Alekseyev eased down onto her plush sofa and, reclining, stretched out her long legs. It was now 3:00 PM and already it had been a long day for her. Besides the little American she had interrogated two others, one of whom was a middle-aged man accused--no that was not the word--guilty of sedition. The "criminal" was a Polish national whose front had been as a violinist in a small theater orchestra.
Unfortunately for him Alekseyev loathed the Poles almost as much as she did the Germans. Her hatred emanated from both ends of the spectrum here. She despised the Germans, naturally enough, for the monumental suffering they had caused her country during the war. The Poles, as she saw it, were one of those feeble peoples whose eternal fate was to cower in the shadow of their more powerful neighbors. They were weak. Alekseyev hated weakness with a passion few could understand. She had seen first hand the evils weakness wrought. She had seen it in 1941 when the Fascist hordes brushed aside the pitiful attempts by the inept Red Army to stop them, sweeping over Mother Russia in a black tide of death. It had taken four long, bitter years to exterminate the Nazi vermin but both she and her country had emerged with a new found sense of power. Alekseyev had come to believe it had been fated to be so. After all, did her very name not mean "strength?" All the world now feared the USSR and had she a mind to flex her muscles there was no power on earth that could stop her.
Alekseyev respected the Americans. She did not fear them, but the respected them nonetheless. They were strong and had a undeniable ability to increase that strength many times over if they so desired. She knew there were those who considered the Americans "soft." To her this was utter nonsense. Had they learned nothing from Hitler's mistake? He too had smirked at them and called them soft. But one had only to look at their history to know differently. The Americans could be just as ruthless as anyone else. The Negroes they had enslaved, the native peoples they had crushed, the Mexicans whose land they had stolen, the Filipinos they had hunted down like dogs--all would attest to that. America's whole history was one of crushing whatever happened to get in its way.
We should be partners, thought Alekseyev. We and the Americans. With our combined might we could slice up the world like a big fat pie. None would dare oppose us. Unfortunately the Americans and their fawning allies have taken it upon themselves to block us at every turn. No matter. Sooner or later we will prevail.
As for the violinist, his confession came after she had "broken" him in more ways than one. For a time the insolent man had dared to insist on his innocence but after she systematically, one by one, broke each of the fingers on his left hand he had come around nicely. For such a criminal there would be no medical attention and so his talented appendages would henceforth never be anything more than twisted stubs. This was of no consequence to her. After all, violinists were not much in demand in the "corrective labor colonies." Now with the names she had obtained from him they would be able to move against the rest of his malignant little cabal.
Alekseyev stretched an arm across her eyes to block out the light. Again her thoughts turned to Clark. It was strange but she found herself hoping she would not be as stubborn as the Pole. Regardless, she would be joining him on the prison train back to Russia but still and all she rather hoped she would not have to hurt the girl. This troubled her. Why should she care? The little bitch was just another lamb to be taken to slaughter. Or was she?
"Be careful, Valenta," she muttered, under her breath. "In your line of work indecision can be a dangerous thing." Just before she drifted off to sleep a lone thought managed to penetrate the thick defensive wall her soul had meticulously built up over the years to hold back her emotions. Rachel. What a lovely name.
The American with the lovely name was asleep when they came for her. Once more they hauled her aching body up the steps and down the dimly lit corridor leading to the interrogation room. Inside Alekseyev was seated at her desk and this time there was no polite invitation to sit forthcoming from her. She merely looked on coolly as Rachel was shepherded into the room and deposited into her former seat. Even more ominously, the guards did not leave this time. Instead in grim silence they took up positions on either side of the door while the stenographer again dutifully took out his pad.
"We have generously allowed you some time to think your situation over," the Major began. "I trust you have come to your senses. Are you now prepared to confess to your criminal acts?"
"The only thing I will confess to is stuffing my bra with tissue the night I went to the junior prom," retorted Rachel. "And if anybody's a criminal it's you, Comrade." Rachel practically spat the word out. "Any way you slice it what this is is the kidnapping of an American citizen, plain and simple." How did they know I was in East Berlin? she wondered. What she could not know was that this information had been provided to the KGB and the Stazi by a mole at the American consulate.
Alekseyev scooted back her chair and stood up. "Perhaps you do not realize the gravity of the situation you are in, Miss Clark. The penalty for espionage is death. Your one hope for escaping the firing squad is to co-operate with me. You must give me the names of your contacts and reveal how you transferred the sensitive information you helped steal. If you do I will do everything in my power to have your sentence reduced. Since Stalin died my government has become more inclined to be merciful in these matters. Who knows? You might get off with as little as ten years in a labor corrective colony. But before I can do anything you must sign the confession. Otherwise..." Here she let her words conveniently trail off.
Rachel looked at her incredulously and shook her head. "You're a real piece of work, you know that? I told you before I did not help anybody do anything illegal and I damn sure did not conspire to kill somebody. "
So the little rabbit wishes to maintain the brave facade, thought Alekseyev, barely able to suppress a smirk. Well not for long. "Your guilt is undeniable," she said aloud.
"Yeah, you said that before," countered Rachel.
"You must end this charade now," said Alekseyev, her voice becoming much more intense. "The leader of your filthy little nest of rats has already told me everything."
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Rachel, through gritted teeth.
"Liar!" shouted Alekseyev. Taking a quick step toward the girl, she lashed out and savagely backhanded her across the mouth causing Rachel's already damaged lip to bleed once more. Alekseyev then turned back and leaned across her desk. She opened a drawer and out came the manila folder again. Opening it, she took out a small photograph and flung the down on the desk. She then forcefully cupped Rachel under the chin with her strong hand. "Do you deny you know this pig?" she asked, holding the photograph up to Rachel's face. Intently studying Rachel's eyes, Alekseyev noted with great satisfaction that she did indeed recognize the face in the photograph.
His name was Frederick Wessel and Rachel had seen him on exactly three occasions in her life. Each time it had been at one of those fruitless "open and frank" discussions the Russians and the West were always holding. The only reason for Rachel's presence at those meetings in the first place was because the regular German interpreter for the American faction had been slightly injured in automobile accident and she had been asked to fill in. While one could never be sure when it came to their opposites in East Berlin Rachel's impression of Wessel was that he as a very minor figure. Certainly he had not played much of a role in the talks while she was there. As a matter of fact she could only remember speaking to him once and that had been very briefly.
"Ahh, so you do know him," said Alekseyev as she triumphantly released Rachel's chin.
The American pressed a palm to her bloody lip for a moment before replying. "I saw him once or twice."
"I'm sure you did," the Major smirked.
"Look, I only spoke to guy once and that was in the presence of at least twenty of your own fucking comrades," Rachel angrily shot back. I don't care if this bitch breaks me in half, she grimly vowed to herself. I'm not gonna kiss her or anybody else's ass! This was a courageous attitude but in the face of the relentless Major Alekseyev it was one she could not possibly hope to maintain.
"That is not what we were told," Alekseyev coolly answered. "This traitorous bastard has been arrested and has already admitted not only spying for the West but to the vile murder of Comrade Kirov as well." Gregory Kirov, a noted Soviet academician, had been found floating in the Spree River with his throat slit some three weeks before. "Naturally I ahh, insisted that he give me the names of all his accomplices. He was more than willing to comply and..." Here she paused a moment for effect. "...one of those he named was you."
What she did not say was that Wessel had complied only after two of Alekseyev's guards knocked him to the floor and held him down while she crushed one of his testicles with the toe of her boot. His initial stubbornness was why it had taken them so long to get around to Rachel.
"That's impossible!" scoffed Rachel. However deep down she was already beginning to believe it was not. Sooner or later these people could make one say or do anything, she thought. Poor Wessel had probably rattled off every name he could think of.
"Miss Clark," warned Alekseyev, "I am losing my patience. You are guilty of espionage and conspiracy to commit murder. There is no escaping that fact. Sign the confession now."
"No," Rachel quietly replied. "I haven't done anything wrong. If you would only let me speak to...."
Alekseyev's nostrils flared as she again lashed out at the stubborn girl. Except this time it was not with an open hand. She caught the stunned Rachel squarely on the jaw and the girl went tumbling out of her seat and onto the floor.
The Major kneeled down beside the groaning Rachel and gently swept back the girl's bangs with the back of her fingers. "Miss Clark," she cooed, "this is all so unnecessary. All you have to do is confess your guilt. You'll feel much better after you do. And I won't have to be angry with you anymore. I like you." Reaching up, she plucked the confession out of the folder and held it up to Rachel's face. "Please, little one, sign this now and save both of us from any further unpleasantness."
"Up yours," said Rachel, gasping.
"You are being very foolish," sighed Alekseyev, standing up. There were a thousand options open here for KGB Major Valenta Alekseyev; a thousand ways she could inflict indescribable agony upon the helpless young woman. She was a master at it. The two stone faced guards and the stenographer all fully expected that Comrade Alekseyev would now ply her trade with all the terrible efficiency that had already put her on the fast track for rapid promotion within the KGB. But what they did not--could not--know was that inside Valenta Alekseyev a battle had commenced. Inside her forces were now at work that even her analytical mind could not explain. This was be a struggle which would not only determine Rachel's fate, but her own as well.
As a result of her inner conflict she did nothing except lean her buttocks against the edge of the desk. "Put her back in the chair," she harshly barked to the guards. Once Rachel was back in her seat Alekseyev nodded to her and ordered the men to pull her arms around behind the chair and handcuff them together. After they had finished the room became filled with an apprehensive silence. All eyes were on Alekseyev as she stood there leaning against the desk. Her eyes, though, were locked on the curious girl in the chair. What is it about this insignificant girl that intrigues me so?
Then like a bolt out of the blue, the memories all came flooding back to her. I know you! she thought, utterly astonished by this revelation.
For a few minutes she just stood there staring at Rachel. The raging war within her was drawing to a close and one side was emerging a clear winner. Finally, Alekseyev knew what she had to do. She pushed herself erect and as she advanced on her Rachel closed her eyes in grim apprehension. This is it, she thought.
At his seat in the corner the stenographer was puzzled by Major Alekseyev's behavior. This was not like her. Not at all. The unflinching, indomitable woman seemed so...indecisive, even hesitant. What is going on here? he wondered. Is she working on some new method? Possibly, he thought. In the past the Major had proven to be very creative when it came to torture.
Now at Rachel's side, Major Alekseyev put both hands on her hips and spread her feet wide apart. It was a haughty, menacing pose and one that she often used to emphasize her dominance. However at this moment she was feeling anything but dominant. Her well practiced stern countenance would never show it but like Rachel she too was apprehensive. Despite her concern, her nimble mind had already hit upon a plan.
It took Rachel's voice to snap the Major out of her musings. "Well, go on why doncha?" She asked, her voice bitter. "What are you waiting for?"
Alekseyev merely blinked.
"What's the matter, can't make up your mind what you want to do to me next?"
"Shut up," Alekseyev replied, rather lamely.
"You get off on this, don't you? You like hurting those who are helpless, don't you?"
Alekseyev ignored her taunts and merely repeated, "Shut up."
Why is Comrade Alekseyev permitting such insolence? the stenographer wondered. Why does she not punish the impudent little bitch?
"You think you're so tough," Rachel scornfully went on. As she now saw it she had nothing to lose. It was apparent they were going to kill her sooner or later anyway. Might as well at least get some verbal licks in while I'm still able, she thought. "Why don't you turn me loose so we can find out just how tough you really are? How 'bout it, Comrade? Just you and me. Right here."
She had no illusions about fighting the Major. Rachel knew Alekseyev had all the best of it. She was taller, far stronger, much more athletic--meaner for sure--and undoubtedly well versed in how to defend herself. Alekseyev would undoubtedly beat her to a bloody pulp in very short order; or as her friends back home would say "kick her ass." So what? she thought. They are going to do it anyway. For her, right now, the chance to land one good haymaker on the arrogant woman's jaw would almost be worth the additional suffering.
I was wrong about you, Rachel Clark, thought Alekseyev, admiringly. You are brave. With a face as blank as a slab of the purest marble, she declared, "There will be no further interrogation at this time." Glancing at the guards, she said, "Koenig, you are dismissed. Sprenger, you will remain here for the present."
"But, Comrade Major," the stenographer blurted out as Koenig departed, "shouldn't you--"
"Are you questioning my methods?" asked Alekseyev, with a withering glare.
"N-no. Of course not, Comrade Major. I merely--"
"Strange," said Alekseyev, cutting him off again, "I was almost certain that you were."
"I assure you, Comrade Major, that was not my intent," the man pleaded.
"Good," replied Alekseyev. "That is good. You see, it would be extremely disappointing for me to find that one of my subordinates was not as confident in his superiors as he should be." She reached up and began to idly pluck at the top button on his tunic. "Extremely disappointing."
"Comrade Major, I have nothing but the utmost respect for you," he feebly whined.
"Of course. Of course," she purred. "However in the future I would strongly suggest that you attend to your inconsequential little job..." Raising her thumb an inch or so higher, she began to press hard against his wind pipe. "...and allow me to do mine, hmmm?"
"I understand, Comrade Major," he gulped. "Please forgive my impertinence. It will not happen again."
"I am pleased to hear that," she said, releasing him. "Now, you are dismissed."
Spineless worms! she disdainfully thought as she watched the shaken man nervously close the door behind him. To her all of them, every last one under her command, was nothing but a spineless worm. She found it more than a little amusing that only Clark, the physically least imposing of them all, had had the guts to stand up to her. No one in years had spoken to her like she had. Alekseyev strolled back to Clark and minutely looked her up and down. For one so scrawny she is holding up rather well, she decided. By now the poor girl must be starving,
Alekseyev checked her watch before turning to address the remaining guard. "Sprenger, have you eaten?" Sprenger nodded that he had. "Good," the Major said. "It will be necessary for you to stay past the end of your watch." Alekseyev trusted no one but the affable Sprenger was the person she mistrusted least.
"As you wish, Comrade Major," said Sprenger. He grinned and added, "I was in no hurry to go home anyway. My wife's mother is visiting."
Alekseyev shot him a fleeting smile to acknowledge his little joke and got back to business. "It is now 5:30. I am going home for a shower and a nap. I will return promptly at 9:00 this evening. These are your orders: you will take the prisoner to Interrogation Room Number Two. You will remain there and keep a watchful eye on our..." She cast an amused glance at the still defiant Rachel. "...little tigress. Now listen. Under no, repeat no circumstances is she to be removed from the room without my authorization, understand?"
Listening to Alekseyev's perfect German, Rachel thought it odd that she would now refer to her as a "tigress." Not only that but the tone of her voice had not been deprecating at all. As a matter of fact it had almost seemed...respectful.
"Perfectly, Comrade Major."
"What is she up to?" Rachel wondered, much as the censured stenographer had before her.
As if reading her thoughts, Alekseyev said, "I have decided we will conduct a sleep deprivation exercise. You know what to do."
"Yes, Comrade Major."
Alekseyev strode to the door. Just before she exited she turned back to Sprenger. "You have my permission to sit but I warn you--do not fall asleep."
"I won't, Comrade Major," Sprenger assured her.
Alekseyev nodded curtly and then she was gone. Sprenger walked over to Rachel and, slipping a hand around her arm, stood her up. "I do not envy you, American," he muttered, more to himself than to Rachel. As he led her out the door he yawned and arched his sore back. Two more days, he thought. Two more days and that witch of a mother-in-law goes home.
Alekseyev absently stuck the key into the lock and pushed open the creaking door to her apartment. As a ranking KGB officer she rated much better quarters than these three small rooms but such amenities were not important to her. She was single and for her this place was perfect. Alekseyev had never really been in what could be called a serious relationship. As a matter of fact in all her life except for the sporadic moments when she was feeling particularly randy men did not interest her all that much. And ever since that KGB colonel back in Leningrad had coerced her into an affair she tried to make herself as unattractive as possible. Fortunately for her he had tired of her after a month and moved on to other pastures. In her mind she viewed men as rivals to be left in the dust and she was not about to act like some silly schoolgirl and turn to mush just because one of them put his sweaty hands on her. As such her sexual liaisons could never be called romantic. It was more a matter of, as she herself sometimes said, "Getting in, getting out, and getting gone!"
But today, touching Rachel's brow--being close to her--something had stirred in her. Something she had never felt before. It was a tingling, exciting, thrilling sensation. She liked that feeling. She remembered wondering what it would be like to kiss Clark. Valenta, she chided herself, you are evil. But how could something that felt so nice be bad? she wondered. Her heart told her it could not.
Since leaving headquarters she had turned the haunting image of the girl over and over in her mind. Fool! she rebuked herself. Why didn't you see it before? Naturally she had initially wondered if her familiarity with the girl's face was not in fact just some unusual coincidence or perhaps even a bit of wishful thinking. But by the time she stepped through the door into her smallish apartment she had reached the conclusion that there were simply too many other things she recognized in this Clark for her not to be the one that had been such a source of comfort for her in what she now always referred to as her "former life."
But were such things possible? If so, how? Of course she was excited by this amazing turn of events but it was also more than a little chilling for her at the same time. For her this bordered on the supernatural and that made her uncomfortable. Things like this did not happen in the real world. Or did they? She had long ago stopped believing in that which could not be explained, or at least she thought she had.
Back in her early days in the old MGB it had been relentlessly hammered into her that not only was abstract thinking of no use to the State, it was also dangerous. After all, were not so many of the State's most troublesome citizens writers, poets and artists and the like? These pathetic dreamers were forever whining about concepts like beauty, and truth...and freedom. For Valenta Alekseyev the only truth was power. You either had it or you were subjected to someone else's. That hard truth had been revealed to her well before her joining the MGB back in 1947. When the Nazi tanks rolled into her village in the summer of '41 they had quickly, ruthlessly driven that lesson home.
Her mother. Her mother had believed in beauty and truth...and God. A lover of music and poetry, she had done her best to instill these same feelings of appreciation in her youngest daughter. And despite her grim life under the Soviet régime she had always believed that life was beautiful and people were basically good and that besides love hope was the greatest of God's gifts to the human race. These things she believed right up until the moment the Germans killed her.
Carefully locking the door behind her, Valenta walked into her little bedroom and then over to her simple three drawer bureau. She knelt down and pulled open the bottom drawer. From under her only good sweater neatly folded up in the back right corner she took out a thin little book not much bigger than her own hand. Its front cover was green and had a heavy crease running down the middle of it. Its corners were so well worn the frayed fibers were protruding from the edges. The book was a collection of poems penned by various pre-revolution poets. By and large the poems were light fare and mediocre at best. Valenta had never really liked them. However it was not the poems that made this tattered little book so precious to Valenta.
In 1940 her mother had presented her with this book as a present for her twelfth birthday. To purchase the little volume she had for months previous to this steadfastly set aside as much as she dared out of the meager money she got for selling her eggs and cheese. With her hands slightly trembling, Valenta opened the front cover. There on the front flyleaf were the words her mother had written so long ago:
To my darling little Blue Eyes on her 12th birthday. My baby, may
your heart always be as light as these poems and may God hold
you in his bosom forever.
With all my love,
"Oh, Momma!" she softly whimpered. It had been a very long time since Valenta had allowed herself to think of that gentle woman who so often sang her to sleep as a child. "I miss you and Poppa so much," she sadly whispered. Reading the inscription for the first time in more than fifteen years, Valenta felt all the old, familiar sorrows welling up within her and as the tears came she closed her eyes tightly in an effort to hold them back.
They were all gone. All of them. Her mother and father, her brother, her two older sisters--all gone, swept away from her forever by the searing winds of war in that apocalyptic summer of 1941. For Valenta that was the very last summer things like trust, and kindness, and unconditional love had been something other than hollow words. Now all that was left of her former life was this ragged little book of bad poems. Although the book was and would forever be her most treasured possession she had not touched it since the war except to either pack it away or put it in its new resting place when she moved. The memories it inevitably evoked had always been too painful for her.
But today something had happened, something which was powerful enough to make her want to brave all the old memories. It was Rachel Clark's doing. Of that she was sure. Turning the book over, Valenta hesitated a moment before slowly opening the book to the back flyleaf. There it was. "Incredible," she whispered. This was why she had summoned forth the courage to take up the little book.
She dropped to her knees, staring in wide-eyed amazement as she alternated first between the image on the front of the page and then one on the back. In those few moments she knew her life had changed. But how? she wondered. And to what end? What do I do?
She got to her feet and started to strip off her uniform. That done, she removed the barrette that was tightly binding her hair. With a couple of shakes of the head she let her long black hair fall down upon her shoulders. When she was a child she and her mother had shared many a happy moment together while the woman brushed that beautiful hair for her. After the death of her family she cut it all off and it was only after the end of the war that she allowed it to grow back.
Valenta was still pondering her course of action as she stepped into her small shower and began to lather her lean body under the weakly flowing water that was never quite warm enough. Her mind was still at work on it when she stepped out and began to dry off the water with her rough towel. Regarding the matter of Rachel, that issue had already been decided. It was no longer a question of "whether" but "how."
Once she was dry she donned her battered old robe and walked over to the small mirror hanging on the wall. There she carefully combed out her wet hair. In her mind Valenta could still hear her mother gently scolding her to stop fidgeting so that she could finish brushing her hair.
It took the rumbling of her belly to remind her she had not eaten all day. As might be expected she was not one to cook much. Most of her food came out of a can and this was how it would be tonight. A warmed over can of soup and a hunk of bread stood for her supper. Poor Rachel, she thought, munching on the tasteless bread, she must be famished by now. Well that will be remedied soon enough, she vowed. And that was how Valenta thought of the girl now. Not "Clark", not "the American," certainly not "the prisoner," but "Rachel."
Her meager repast finished, she glanced up at the clock on the wall. It read 6:30. It's going to be a long night, she thought. I really should try to get some rest. Rising from her chair, she went back to her little bedroom and stretched out on her bed. Before leaving headquarters she had left orders to be called at precisely 8:30. Once more her mind turned to Rachel. This is not all a coincidence, she told herself. Something is happening here. But what? What does all this mean? As she drifted off to sleep the thought came to her that maybe it was up to her to decide what it meant. Could it possibly be that this represented a second chance for her? A chance to start her life over? I don't know, she thought, sleepily. I don't know. I don't......
At last sleep came and from the deep recesses of her mind, rising forth from among the memories of the war, her beloved family, and all the havoc she had wrought on so many lives, it returned. For the first time since she was thirteen years old "The Dream" returned.
Valenta Alekseyev awoke to the muted ringing of her telephone. She rolled out of bed and groggily stumbled her way over to the vexing device. Picking up the receiver, she answered, "Alekseyev."
In her ear a stiff voice said, "It is 8:30, Comrade Major."
"Very well." She started to hang up but then suddenly returned it to her ear. "Beck!" she barked out.
"Yes, Comrade Major?"
"I want two sandwiches and some apple juice waiting for me in Interrogation Room Number Two when I arrive. Tell Sprenger it is for me."
"Of course, Comrade Major."
Replacing the receiver in the cradle, she strode quickly back to her bedroom and again went to the old bureau. She did not own much in the way of personal clothing. Too many advantages came with wearing that drab KGB uniform. But she would not make use of it tonight. Pulling open the top drawer, she took out a pair of dark slacks and held them up for inspection. Although she had not worn them in a very long time she knew they would still fit. Since joining the KGB eleven years ago she had gained exactly two pounds.
As she looked them over she allowed the fashionable Rachel would very likely hold her nose at the idea of wearing something so ordinary. However the much more powerful KGB major did not have that option. These were the best she had. To go with the slacks she chose the sweater that had been covering her book. It was a gray turtleneck, very bulky, and perfect for her purposes.
Slipping out of her robe, she pulled the sweater over her head and let it fall down across her firm, unhindered breasts. She then stepped into the old slacks and pulled them up over her long thighs. Besides her uniform boots she had one pair of black slippers and these she put on over her uniform socks. Just that quickly she was ready--almost. Out of habit she picked up her barrette in order that she might bind back her hair like she always did. But after pausing for a moment she put it down again. No. Not tonight, she decided. Somehow she felt it important for Rachel to see her this way. I have to know, she thought.
Rifling through her discarded uniform, she took out the little wallet containing her ID
which she then thrust into her back pocket. After dropping the little book into a brown
paper bag there was only one other thing to do before departing. From under her pillow she
removed a 9MM German Luger. She had owned it since she was fourteen years old when she
stripped it off the very first German she ever killed during the war. Valenta tucked the
pistol into her pants and where it was easily concealed by the bulky sweater. All set now,
she picked up the paper bag and walked out of the apartment. On her way out she plucked
her door key from the nail which served as its resting place.
The walk from her apartment to district headquarters was only three blocks long and this her lengthy strides covered in very short order. A quick jog up the same steps Rachel had experienced so much trouble ascending and she was inside. Before long she was standing at the door of Interrogation Room Number Two. This was a door through which she had passed very many times in her three and a half years in Berlin. Tonight though, her purpose for being here was a much different one. Instead of making use of the room in her normal role as a catalyst for pain and suffering she hoped it would on this night be a place where she could get answers to some very important questions. Questions that had absolutely nothing to do with state security.
Gripping the door knob, she turned the handle and to her extreme annoyance found it locked. "Sprenger!" she snapped. "Open this damned door at once!"
Immediately she heard the loud clumping of Sprenger's boots as he strode heavily across the room. From the other side of the door Valenta heard him say, "I am sorry, Comrade Major," it was locked by mistake." Opening the door he again began to apologize. "I hope you--" When he saw her his eyes widened and his jaw dropped noticeably. Sprenger had never seen the Major like this before. In fact he had to twice blink hard to make certain it actually was her. God in heaven! he thought, very much enraptured by the transformation. She is beautiful!
"What is the matter, Sprenger?" Valenta asked, her voice stern. "Are you ill?" The study of human response to all kinds of stimuli was her stock and trade. She knew very well the effect she was having on him.
"Huh? Ahh no, Comrade Major. I am fine."
"I trust you followed my instructions," she asked, coolly.
"Explicitly," he assured her.
"Very well. You are dismissed, Sprenger. You can go home now." He started toward the door when she said, "Wait! Give me the key to your handcuffs. I may want to make some..." She gave him her best malicious smirk. "...adjustments to the prisoner's position tonight."
"Of course, Comrade Major," Sprenger replied, producing the key.
"It will be returned to you tomorrow," she said.
"As you wish, Comrade Major."
Sprenger took his leave and as his footsteps died away on the creaky floor Valenta
closed the door and locked it once more.
As for Rachel the last three and a half hours had been very difficult for her. The old chair she was sitting in was very hard and the stress on her buttocks was compounded by her inability to shift her weight. Her shoulders were aching, her wrists were sore, she was very hungry and now she was thirsty again. Twice she had nodded off to sleep only to be awakened by the dutiful Sprenger. Just a few minutes before someone else had brought in what looked to be a couple of sandwiches wrapped in wax paper along with a green bottle of something. When her bird dog had deposited the items prominently on the desk in front of her she figured it must be some kind of psychological ploy.
Well if it is, she silently conceded, it's working. God, am I hungry!
And now to make matters worse, she was back!
Valenta stepped over to the desk and laid her paper bag down beside the sandwiches. As she passed by Rachel glared up at her, ready to renew the admittedly one-sided battle. But as had been the case with Sprenger what she now saw stunned her. Except in her case the astonishment was even more profound and for an entirely different reason. It is her!! She wondered now why she had not seen it before but she had a sense it was the hair that did it. These visions of how the long, straight black hair fell down on the woman's shoulders, of how it redefined the shape of her face, were ones very familiar to her.
It took all her self-control to stifle a gasp. Is this some incredible coincidence? she wondered.
Valenta turned just in time to see the shocked look of recognition in Rachel's eyes. It was a look that she had rather hoped she would see at some point. For reasons the Russian did not yet fully understand her heart was suddenly filled with a sense of...hope.
"Tell me, Rachel...may I call you Rachel?"
"I don't suppose I have a whole lot to say about that one way or the other, do I?" retorted Rachel. Wonderment or no, she was still suspicious of the daunting woman.
She is cautious, thought Valenta. She does not yet trust me. I do not blame her. She smiled thinly and replied, "No. I suppose you don't. So tell me...Rachel, do you...dream?"
Ding! went the little bell in Rachel's head. Is it possible she has had the same dream? she wondered. Does she recognize me too? Don't show your hand, Kid, she cautioned herself. This could still all be some kind of clever Commie trick. With that in mind she caustically declared, "Oh yeah, all the time. You wanna hear about the one I had last night in that refrigerator of a cell? I dreamed I was pounding the hell out of this big, tall Russian bitch with a Louisville Slugger. How's that for a dream, honey? Care to analyze for me?"
Little one, you are brave, thought Valenta. She moved over and stood next to Rachel's chair and, drawing herself up to her full, impressive height, looked down her nose at the defiant girl. She was dying to show Rachel the book but she knew that would have to wait until after the Amerikanski had eaten. So she merely said, "I will remove the handcuffs if you promise to, how do you say, level with me?"
"Hmph," Rachel snorted, "You're the one holding all the cards here. And besides, what do you care about my dreams anyway? Is this some kind of Commie trick?"
Shrewd judge of character that she was, Valenta sensed that Rachel's tough talk was hiding a genuine interest in her remark. Clearly the question had struck a chord in her. "No," she answered. "No trick."
"All right, why not? You've got a deal," said Rachel. "Anything to get these bracelets off."
Behind Rachel's back Valenta turned up one corner of her mouth in a very faint half-smile as she inserted Sprenger's key into the handcuffs.
As they fell away from her wrists Rachel rubbed first one, then the other and moaned a soft, "Ahhh." She then began to rotate her shoulders in very small circles in an attempt to ease the stiffness.
Valenta tossed the key onto the desk and then perched herself up on the desk as well. Eyeing the American who was now so intently looking back at her, Valenta became aware of a sensation she had not felt in a very long time. KGB Major Valenta Alekseyev, Hero of the Soviet Union, was actually...nervous!
Trying her best to flash a friendly smile, Valenta turned a palm toward the food. "This food," she said, "is for you."
Rachel looked the offering over with hopeful, albeit wary, eyes but made no move toward it.
With a stiff little nod Valenta smiled feebly at her. "Please."
"What's in the bottle?" Rachel asked, still leery. "Truth serum?"
"You watch too many spy movies," said Valenta. "Actually it's apple juice." In plying her trade she had never needed such exotic means to make people tell her the truth--not necessarily the real truth but whatever truth she wanted to hear at the time.
"How do I know you're not lying?"
"You don't," said Valenta. "However if you insist I will test if for you."
The apparent honesty in her voice was not lost on Rachel. What the heck? she thought. However she was still not completely convinced of the Russian's sincerity. Remembering her first confrontation with Valenta, Rachel slowly, cautiously reached for one of the sandwiches. In her desire to steer clear of the formidable woman Rachel was understandably reluctant to leave her seat to get the sandwich. Unfortunately her reach was not quite long enough and so Valenta, in an effort to be of assistance, picked up the sandwich for her. Instantly Rachel recoiled her leaning body and drew her hand back.
"Please, Rachel," said Valenta, holding the sandwich out to her. "I am not going to hurt you."
Rachel again studied her face for a moment and finally took the sandwich. As she unwrapped the wax paper a wonderful aroma wafted up to her nose. As will happen when one is hungry, the smell of food began to make her a little shaky. Without even bothering to see what was in it she took a big bite out of the sandwich. Bread (A little stale.)...cheese (A little dry.)...and...liverwurst (Which she normally did not like.) The thing was heavenly. Even before finishing the first bite she took another.
"Do not eat too fast," Valenta gently cautioned her. She picked up the liter bottle of apple juice and twisted off the cap. "Here," she said, "drink some of this."
Her cheeks full enough to make a chipmunk proud, Rachel declined the bottle with a wave of the hand. That could wait. Right now she was hungry!
"Slooow down," repeated Valenta.
Rachel managed to get the sandwich down without choking. At Valenta's insistence she paused in her assault on the food and took some of the apple juice. Rachel then set to work on the other sandwich and Valenta leaned back, trying to remain patient while she finished. It was not easy. Her anxiety and sense of anticipation were really building up inside her. What will be her reaction when I show her the book? she wondered. Will she make the connection? Will she think me a fool? Will she think it a trick?
Valenta did not have long to wait because Rachel downed the second sandwich in very short order and finished her meal off with another couple of healthy slugs from the green bottle. Now that something was in her belly Rachel felt capable of taking on the whole world--even if that world right now consisted entirely of this strange woman opposite her. "Okay," she said, wiping the crumbs off her dirty skirt, "now what?"
Valenta licked her lips and as casually as she could removed the book from the paper bag. "I want you to look at this," she said.
Rachel took the little book from her and after glancing at the cover, looked back quizzically at Valenta. "I--I'm sorry, I can't read Russian," she said.
"That is not important," said Valenta. "Turn to the back flyleaf,"
Turning the book over, Rachel did as she requested. What she saw when she opened up the back cover was enough to make her utter a faint little cry of surprise. For there on the yellowed page was an image drawn in pencil of a young woman visible from the waist up it was....her! "My God!" she gasped as she stared at the drawing. "Where did you get this?"
"I drew that when I was thirteen years old," Valenta softly replied. She smiled a little sheepishly and added, "I used to be pretty good at it."
"But...why? I mean, what made you draw...meee?"
"I think you know why," said Valenta. "I saw that look of recognition in your eyes today. You...you have had the dream too, haven't you?" She nodded toward the book in Rachel's lap and said, "Turn the page over."
Rachel did not have to. She knew what was there. "It's one of you, isn't it?"
"Not me," Valenta corrected her. "The other woman in the, in the...."
"The dream," Rachel said, finishing it for her.
"It began the summer I turned eight," said Valenta. She looked hard at Rachel and added, "Right about the time you were born."
"You don't really think that's significant?" Rachel asked. Then, hedging a bit, she added, "Do you?"
"You tell me, Rachel Clark."
"What was your dream?" Rachel asked, growing more excited by the second.
"I had almost forgotten it," said Valenta. "That is, until I saw you. I did not make the connection at first but even so there was something about you that fascinated me greatly."
"You have an odd way of showing it," said Rachel, ruefully rubbing her jaw.
For the first time since she was an adult Valenta said, "I am sorry for that. Truly. I swear to you that before this night is over I will make amends."
Although she still had every reason not to, Rachel found herself believing the Russian. "Tell me about the women in these drawings," she said, quietly.
"I am on a road, a dirt road. This place is strange to me. It is not like the vast, open plains I have known as a child. This place has trees, very many trees, and off in the distance I see mountains. At first it seems I am alone on this road but then I notice two figures approaching from the opposite direction. I advance toward them and as I near I see they are both women. They are strangely dressed. The women in my village would never wear such revealing clothing. I am near enough to see their faces now but yet they do not seem to notice me. One of them is tall, not as tall as I am now, but tall. She has dark hair and carries herself with pride and great confidence. I sense she is a very formidable woman. Of course I did not know it then but as the drawing shows she looks very much like me. However in my dream I do not sense it is me. I am definitely looking at someone else. Her companion is much shorter-even shorter than you. She is fair with hair lighter in shade than yours. She is a little more muscular than you and carries a thick walking stick or something akin to it."
"Like a staff?" asked Rachel.
"Yes, that is the word--a staff. You have already seen my impression of what this one looks like. The big one is leading a fine looking horse and is listening as the little one speaks. In fact it is the little one who is doing most of the talking because except for a word now and then the tall one says nothing. The tall one does not seem to be annoyed at all by the little one's wordiness. In fact she has a faint smile on her lips. With her free hand the little one is making grandiose gestures and I do not know why but is her speech is very animated."
"She's telling a story," Rachel explained. "She loves to tell stories."
"And how would you know that?" asked Valenta.
"I just do."
"I gather you also know the rest then," said Valenta.
Rachel knew it by heart but all she said was, "Tell me the rest of it."
"Well, whatever the fair one is doing, she so gets carried away with it that she hits the dark one in the head with her staff. The tall one is a little irked but not particularly angry."
"It was an accident," said Rachel, curiously defensive.
"The fair one drops the staff," Valenta went on. "She puts the tips of her fingers to the other one's head and gently probes the place where the staff struck. The dark one makes no attempt to stop her and in fact smiles back at her." Valenta smiled faintly at Rachel. "It seems the dark one has a weakness for her."
"They have suffered much in their time together," said Rachel. "For each other and on account of each other. That was always clear to me."
"And to me as well," replied Valenta. "Perhaps that explains what happens next. "The tall one takes the little one's hand. She then leans over and murmurs something to her. I strain to listen but I cannot hear. I am curious. What is she saying?"
Valenta paused for a moment before continuing. "The fair one bows her head but her companion gently lifts it up again with the crook of her finger. Enraptured, I look on and see the little one smile and tenderly stroke the tall one's arm. Not until I am older will I understand this for what it is."
I always knew, thought Rachel.
"They move in closer to each other, the tall one towering over her companion. "And then suddenly they--"
"Kiss," Rachel softly interjected.
"Yes," Valenta said. "They kiss. When I was young this confused me. I had seen females kiss before but not like this. My old grandmother never kissed me the way these two were doing it. They were kissing like those young lovers I used to spy on down by the river."
"They loved each other very much," said Rachel. "Didn't you know that?"
"Not then," replied Valenta. "But now I do." She looked away for a moment and then said, "The dream ends there. It always ended there. She smiled feebly and said, "So, Rachel Clark, what do you think of my little...vision?"
"It is my vision too," Rachel told her. "The horse, the bump on the head, the kiss--all of it. I've had it once at least twice a week, every week, since I was eleven years old. What about you? What do you think it is?"
"I have always been pragmatist," replied Valenta. A faint smile played across her lips as she added, "I have never seen a spirit sign a confession. I believed there was a plausible explanation for everything." She paused and went on, "However I must admit I do not have one for this."
"Why does there have to be an explanation?" offered Rachel.
"Even I recognize it cannot be mere coincidence," countered Valenta.
"I'm not saying it has no purpose," said Rachel. "It's just that maybe we should not get caught up in searching for explanations and focus more on what all this means...as...far as...we're...concerned."
"All right," said Valenta, evenly. "And just what do you suppose that would be? What is the connection between us and two perverted women pawing each other on some lonely road?"
"They are not perverted!" Rachel cried out, angrily rising from her seat. "How can you even say that?" Actually she was as surprised as Valenta by this outburst. But she was not going to back down now.
But what Rachel did not know was that she had just been tricked. Valenta had intentionally thrown out this harsh observation in order that she might draw out the girl's feelings about the kiss. Although nothing could be certain she now knew that at least Rachel was not revolted by the thought.
Her voice softer, Rachel said, "They're lovers. What could possibly be wrong with two people wanting to bask in the radiant glow each other's love, to meld their hearts, their very souls into one? To simply want to be happy? Anyway you look at it love is still love and that can never be wrong." Her point made, she would have been well served to stop right there but she felt compelled to add, "You see the real world does not always fit into our neat little molds."
This was a mistake. To Valenta's cynical ears this last remark was one of foolish smugness. While she understood Rachel was in no way trying to assume an air of moral superiority this was something she simply could not let pass. Her conscience and her memories would not permit it.
Her eyes again grew hard and in a biting tone asked "What do you know of the real world, little girl? Let me tell you about the real world. You think you were hungry just now? That was nothing. Wait until you are so crazed with hunger that you turn your fingers into bloody stumps clawing at ground long frozen by howling winds and minus twenty degree temperatures in the hope that you might--MIGHT--find some rotten turnips underneath. Tell me, have you ever eaten grass or cried with relief because you caught a rat for your supper? Have you ever carried thirty kilograms through knee high snow for two days without stopping? Have you ever held one of your friends in your arms and watched him die, a friend who had been so badly tortured that the only merciful thing to do was kill him yourself? Well I have. That, Miss Clark, that is your real world."
"I won't argue that the world can be a very horrific place," conceded a shaken Rachel. "But surely you don't believe it's all like that."
"What would you have me believe?" countered Valenta. "I was thirteen years old when the Germans came." She smiled ruefully and said, "At the time I and my two sisters were at the flour mill where my father worked. Standing there on the roof of the mill watching their tanks approaching in the distance I remember thinking those black machines looked like grotesque swollen bugs of some sort. And until that moment when we first saw them sweeping across the plain toward us we did not even know our country was at war. Of course everyone there at the mill was stunned by this terrifying sight and most went scattering off in all directions. But my father..." In an attempt to prevent the quiver in her voice from becoming noticeable she paused for a moment in her remembrances of the local millwright that had been such a hero to her as a child.
But she was too late. Rachel detected the ever so subtle crack in the voice and from this gained a small measure of comfort. So, she thought, you are human after all!
"...my father, he did not panic. His only thought now was of his family and how he might protect us. After calling us down from roof he pulled open the trap door in the floor which led down below to the water wheel. He hurried us down to the platform they used when they needed to work on the wheel. Naturally this platform was situated very near the rotating wheel and stood barely a meter or so above the water. But my father did not hesitate. He told Svetlana, my oldest sister, to slip off the edge of the platform and get down into the water. This required getting very near the wheel. I could see she was apprehensive about doing this but she of course obeyed him. Once she was in the water he told her to move back out of sight under the platform. Rayna, my other sister, went next and when it came my turn to get in the water she and Svetlana reached out and steadied me with their arms to make sure I did not stumble. Curiously, at the time I do not remember being particularly frightened by all of this. I did not believe it possible that complete strangers could hate us or want to do us harm. I was not the only one. In many parts of the Ukraine the Germans were initially welcomed as liberators."
She shook her head and said, "How stupid of us!"
As Rachel sat there listening to Valenta relate this she could only imagine the panic the people of that village must have felt. She thought of her own home town and tried to imagine foreign tanks rolling through it. How easy it is to take peace for granted!
"The mill was about two kilometers from our house. Once we were hidden Poppa told us to stay where we were and not make any noise. He said he was going to go home for Momma. I remember as he was climbing back up the ladder Svetlana asked him about Sergei, our brother who was out working in the fields. Poppa just shook his head and said there was no time. When he got to the top he stuck his head back down into the hole and once more said to not move from there until he came for us." Valenta cast her eyes downward and said, "It was the last time we ever saw him alive."
Rachel sat there and said nothing. What could she say? That she was sorry? That would be so pitifully inadequate.
"All the rest of that day we remained there, three wide-eyed teen age girls standing all alone in chest deep water...waiting. Before long we heard what sounded like pops and dull thuds coming from the direction of our village. Having never heard gunfire before we did not know what it sounded like. But soon all was quiet again. Rayna, who always was the brave one, said maybe she should go up on the roof and take a look. I agreed with her but Svetlana adamantly said no; we would do as Poppa told us. Fortunately for Rayna and me we listened to our wise sister because within five minutes we heard the whine of motors. From our hiding place under the platform we clung to each other and each of us said a little prayer. The next few minutes were very, very tense and we held our breath while the motors grew steadily louder. For a few terrible seconds it appeared that the noise and the rumbling of their terrible machines would shake the old mill down upon our heads. Presently, though, the whine began to fade and we realize they have passed us by.
That is--all except one. The great din of motors had become just a faint drone in the distance when all of a sudden we heard one last motor. To our dismay this one did not pass on by. Instead we heard it come very near and then...nothing. They had stopped. Soon we heard voices up above us--first two, then three. To me they did not seem particularly threatening as I can remember them laughing and speaking in jovial tones. Be that as it may we cringed below for who knows how long, not daring to speak or even draw a deep breath while up above they noisily clumped about on the creaky floor. At any moment we all expected one of them to yank up the trap door and descend the ladder.
I could not understand what they were doing up there. Then I saw Svetlana make a grinding motion with her hands and then touch her lips. They were taking the flour. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the clumping stopped. We heard the motor start up again and before long it too faded away in the distance."
Valenta pressed her lips tightly together for a moment before continuing. "By now the light is starting to wane. As I stand there clutching Rayna's arm I think, Surely Poppa will come for us now. But Poppa does not come. Except for the quiet creaking of the old wheel and the gentle rushing of the water the mill is completely still. The sky soon begins to glow a reddish-orange and I do not relish the prospect of being in the old mill after dark. Why does Poppa not come for us?
At last Rayna and I can stand it no longer. We tell Svetlana we are going up. Reluctantly she agrees. Cautiously we lift ourselves up out the water and scale the rickety ladder. Outside the mill all is quiet but from the direction of the village we see a great cloud of black smoke lazily wafting in the sky.
'Oh my God!' Svetlana cries. As fast as our bare feet will carry us we run to the village, or rather what is left of it. Nowhere is there a house still standing. All have been burned to the ground."
"You don't have to tell me anymore," said Rachel, softly.
But Valenta had to. After seventeen years she had to tell somebody. Who better than this girl whom she now so strongly felt drawn to. "They killed them," she continued. "The Germans. They herded everyone from the village into a field and they murdered them. Murdered them all, men, women...children. Our mother, our grandmother, our aunts and uncles, our cousins, all our friends, the schoolmaster...old blind Josef--everybody.
Sifting through the ashes of our house, I found the little green book my Momma gave me. Somehow it had miraculously survived the flames. That, my sisters, and the peasant dress on my back were now all that was left of my former life."
"My God," gasped Rachel. "But what...what about your father?"
With a bitter little smile Valenta answered, "Oh, the Germans did not miss him. We found Poppa the next morning. He was lying face down just a few meters off the very road we had passed over the previous evening. Because of the failing light and our own haste to reach the village we had passed right by without seeing him."
Valenta looked hard at Rachel and said, "That was the day my dream stopped. I never had it again." She pause for what seemed like an eon to Rachel before adding, "Until this evening. So you see, not only did my parents die there but a part of me as well."
"You had it this evening?" Rachel asked, suddenly hopeful.
Valenta locked her intense blue eyes on the girl. "Yes."
"And your brother?" asked Rachel.
"For two years I assumed he was dead," said Valenta. "Then I learned he had in fact managed to escape that day and was serving in the Red Army. He was later killed in Silesia."
"I don't understand," said Rachel. "If he escaped why didn't he come back to look for you?"
"He could have thought we were all dead," replied Valenta. "However the more likely explanation is that he believed his duty was now to his party and to his country--not his family." She looked sadly away and said, "He always was a good socialist."
"Where did you go?"
Valenta answered with a question of her own. "Where could we go? Within weeks we were hundreds of miles inside conquered territory. By November the Germans were at the very gates of Moscow itself. Every day brought grim tidings of one disaster after another. After burying our parents we set out on our own and after a few days were fortunate enough to find what was left of a collective farm located about twenty kilometers from our old village. They needed help, were willing to take us in, and so there we stayed. It was very hard work but at least we had food and a dry place to sleep.
But on the last day of November the Germans came and took everything of value. All the grain, all the pigs, all the chickens--everything. All that was left were a few bushels of beets, some turnips, and a couple of...dogs. And so, with the terrible winter of '41-'42 only just setting in, we soon began to starve."
Valenta closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Svetlana was the first to die. She always was a frail girl and although I did not know it at the time, I later realized she must have been giving me part of her own ration. We lost her shortly after the new year. We were unable to bury her not only because the ground was too frozen but also because we were by this time much too weak for such strenuous activity.
Svetlana was smart, much smarter than me. She was kind, very pretty, and like Momma loved poetry. All the boys in the village were crazy over her. She was the oldest and always took it upon herself to take care of Rayna and little Valenta." Valenta blinked hard. "And she always did, right up until the end. Three weeks later, in that dark, cold barn, I sat with Rayna's head in my lap and held her hand as she died."
The single tear that managed to escape and roll down Valenta's cheek was quickly brushed away. "Rayna was only a year older than me" She held up her hand with her middle and index fingers crossed and said, "We were like that. She was so full of life. She saw the good in everything. I loved her so much. And with her death I vowed I would never love again--not anything or anybody. And so they all died. My whole family. It would have been much more merciful if I had died as well but I...I did not die."
Behind narrowed eyelids Valenta's eyes positively burned. "Within six months I was slashing the throats of German pigs with their own bayonets as they lay sleeping. How was I able to do this you ask?" Rachel heard her emit a bitter chuckle. "Men sleep deeply once they have satisfied their lust."
Rachel understood well enough what that meant. Valenta had slept with them first before killing them. She thought of her own teen age years and how radically different they had been. A comfortable home, a nice family, a wonderful time in school; parties, proms--her own car at sixteen--a college education... She wondered if circumstances such as those Valenta faced would have imbued her with the same powerful will to survive. She doubted it.
"Within a year I joined the partisans and there they taught me how to kill the enemy much more efficiently. When the Red Army came back in the spring of 1944 I joined them and spent the next fourteen months helping to rip the guts out of the German army. For my part in the fall of Berlin I was named a Hero of the Soviet Union. The great Marshal Zhukov himself pinned it on me.
But the end of the war did not bring an end to my hatred. I still needed someone to hate. Who better than the political enemies of Soviet Russia? When I learned the old MGB was planning to increase the number of women officers I immediately enlisted." With a faint, ironic smile she added, "My chances were not hurt any by the good word Comrade Stalin himself was supposed to have put in for me. And since then I..." Here Valenta stopped mid-sentence. Her "work" in the years subsequent to the war was something that was better left unsaid, especially to this impressionable girl. "You must excuse me," she said, stiffly. "It was not my intent to bore you with my past."
Sliding off the desk, she drew herself up very erect and in a very formal voice said, "I am letting you go, Rachel Clark. You have proven your innocence to my satisfaction regarding this matter."
The wave of relief that swept over Rachel was indescribable. Although she had sensed a change in Valenta's general attitude she was understandably reluctant to say or do anything that might yet cause the daunting woman to reconsider her decision. Nevertheless some response was in order on her part and so she meekly asked "How will you explain it?"
Valenta shot her a very wry little grin. "I have never been in the habit of explaining my actions to my subordinates. Still, it will not be what you Amerikanskis call a 'piece of cake.' Your forty-eight hour visa has expired. If you try to cross the checkpoint you will be stopped and detained."
"So what do we do?" asked Rachel, a little apprehensively.
Continued ... Part 2 (Conclusion)
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