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Continued from Cold War - Part I
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.
"I will take you there myself," replied Valenta. "I will inform them you were mistakenly detained by us and that you should therefore be allowed to cross back over without delay."
"You can do that?"
"Of course," came the confident reply. But despite the bravado Valenta knew this plan posed some risk. For the most part she was certain she could bluff her way through it but there was also a wild card in this game that needed to be taken into account. This unknown factor was the officer who happened to be in charge of the checkpoint at the time. These were military personnel and the last thing she wanted to encounter was one of those tough old war veterans who resented the KGB's dominance over the army. While the man obviously would not be so foolish as to directly refuse her he nevertheless might be suspicious enough and gutsy enough to stall them in order to either call headquarters, or worse, her boss Colonel Marov and ask for confirmation. This of course simply would not do. This was still another reason for her choosing the early morning hours to make the attempt. At that hour the checkpoint was more likely to be manned by deer-eyed wet noses than by experienced, no-nonsense men. And while Valenta might not have to explain her actions to her underlings but she most certainly did to her superiors. In spite of what she had told Rachel she was in the end an interrogation officer. As such she did not have the authority to release the girl unilaterally. Rachel's question had been a very astute one. How would she explain the girl's disappearance to Marov?
The conclusive answer was that as things now stood it would be impossible for her to explain. Therefore she would have to manufacture an explanation. To do that she would need the unwitting help of a third party. She would need what the Americans called a "fall guy." Quickly her nimble mind ran over the night duty roster. Her candidate should be someone young and therefore lacking in savvy. It would help if this person was not too bright and maybe easily flustered. Someone...Kruger! Yes, she thought. Hans Kruger. He will be perfect.
Valenta had no illusions about the intricacy of her plan. It was straightforward, simple--crude even. She
would be relying heavily on her rank and prestige to pull it off. It would be Kruger's word against hers and
as such it would be no contest. Kruger would be doomed. Did she have any regrets about her planned cold-hearted
sacrifice of a man she barely knew? Of course not. To Valenta's way of thinking it not only was necessary for
her own preservation but there was also the added benefit of ensuring that one less German bastard would be
around to pollute the earth. She did hate them so!
Valenta Alekseyev checked her watch. It was now five minutes until ten. With a nod toward the sofa she said, "It will be several hours before we can proceed. I suggest you make use of that time by getting some rest."
"You kiddin'?" Rachel asked, incredulously. "Who can sleep at a time like this?"
"Please, Rachel," Valenta coaxed, her voice almost gentle. "You must try. You will need your mental faculties sharp for what lies ahead."
"Okay," said Rachel, struck by the sudden softness of her voice. "I'll...try. If you...say so."
"Good girl," smiled Valenta. Still Rachel hesitated. "Go on," Valenta quietly urged her. "I will wake you when it is time."
Rachel stood up and turned toward the sofa. However she made no attempt for it but instead hesitantly turned back to Valenta. It might be stupid of her--even dangerous...but she had to know. "Why are you doing this?" she asked. "Why are you helping me?"
"Isn't it obvious to you by now?" Valenta answered. "However improbable it may seem I believe you and I are...connected in some way. I do not mean just through the dream. There was a very strong feeling that surged through me the first moment I saw you. I felt strangely...glad to see you. I was and still am confused by this. But this much I do know. You are not my enemy, Rachel Clark. You never were and you never will be. Seeing you is now is almost like looking at some long lost friend." Valenta bored her eyes in on the petite woman. "Look me in the eyes and tell me you do not feel the same way."
Rachel blinked and bowed her head. "Yes," she said, her voice not much more than a whisper, "I do. That's why--why it hurt so much when...when you..."
In a totally reflex action Valenta reached out and gently lifted up the girl's chin with the crook of her finger. Just like in the dream! was the surprisingly thrilling thought that simultaneously came to both of them. Realizing this, Valenta quickly drew away her hand and with a nervous smile said, "You have received your answer, capitalist. Now rest."
"All right..." began Rachel. She stopped short and smiled feebly. "May I--may I call you Valenta?"
Her brilliant eyes shining, the KGB major looked at her and said, "My sisters used to call me Val. You can too if you like."
To Rachel this was a supremely touching gesture. "I would like that very much--Val"
Per Val's wishes, Rachel then trudged over to the sofa and eased her aching body down upon the cushions. Ahhh, she
thought, closing her eyes, this feels soooo goooood! The sofa was old and rather hard but she did not care. After
that cold concrete this felt like a feather bed. Now that she was halfway comfortable, she discovered she was more weary
than she had originally believed. Maybe I could use a nap, she thought. With great care she rolled over on her side
and tucked her arm back under her head. Through drooping eyelids she watched Valenta sit down in her vacated seat and
prop her feet up on the desk. Rachel had never seen anyone like her. The Russian projected such an aura of power
and not just because of her chilling profession. As she drifted off to sleep she thought back to that electrifying moment
when Valenta so gently touched her face. For her it had been an enthralling, almost sensual feeling. She found herself
wanting to experience it again. Ohh, Val, she thought, finally succumbing to Sleep's power, what are you doing to me?
Before long her mind had transported her back to that familiar dusty road. Except this time the dream was
different. This time she was not merely observing the two soulmates as they shared their intimate moment.
This time the tall one was holding her! It felt so right, so very right. It was a wonderful dream--
one that she liked infinitely better.
Leaning back in the old chair, Val pretended not to notice as Rachel drifted off to sleep on the sofa. The fact of the matter was, however, that by now she could barely take her eyes off the girl. She was so lovely! As she sat there she could feel Rachel's eyes on her as well. Not wishing to make eye contact and perhaps initiate more conversation, Val was content to steal furtive little glances Rachel's way. Even now she could not quite put her finger on what was happening inside her. She had already conceded she was attracted to Rachel. Is she to me? she wondered. But was there more? Could it be? Could it be she was falling in...love? Is such a thing possible between two total strangers?
This was certainly like nothing she had ever felt before. As an instrument of the Party she was well aware of their belief that such relationships were decadent, morally disgusting--evil. But were they? Val was beginning to have her doubts. After all, what could possibly be evil about the feelings being evoked in her by this beautiful young woman? And for that matter what could be evil about wanting to be near her, to...touch her. Not a thing, Val concluded. Not a damn thing! The Party is wrong. This is not evil. With a touch of wistfulness she thought, It is too bad we will never have the chance to explore these feelings.
Deep within the recesses of her mind the outline of an idea began to take shape. It was simple enough, arrived at quite logically by her powerfully analytical brain, yet nonetheless just as profound for her as the realization that she cared for Rachel. If the Party is wrong about this they could be wrong about other things as well.
This bordered on being a revelation for her. Everyone needs something to believe in and Valenta Alekseyev was no different. As a youngster she had believed in her parents. After their death her allegiance was over time transferred to the Communist Party. Make no mistake, she was no longer one of those bright eyed idealists that found the Party so appealing. The war had destroyed that part of her forever. As a Party apparatchik she knew better than most just how suffocating life under Communism was for everyone. Indeed, repression was her stock and trade. But still, despite its obvious flaws Valenta had eventually come to if not embrace Communism, then at least accept it. And why not? Everything she had achieved in life was directly attributable to the Party. It had taken her under its wing, so to speak. It had nurtured her and entrusted her with considerable power and responsibility. In turn Val had been unflinching in her faithfulness--some might say savagely so--to her duty.
That is, until now. Now, in order to secure the freedom of the spellbinding young woman sleeping so peacefully just a few meters from her, Val was suddenly willing to risk her reputation, her status, maybe even her life. Was this skinny little wisp of a girl really worth risking the loss of everything she had worked so hard for? Yes, Val grimly concluded. Yes she was.
Some time later Val checked her watch. 2:10 A.M. Kruger is on duty now, she thought. I will give him some time to settle into his routine before summoning him. She took out the Luger and her mind wandered back to that summer night in '42 when it had first come into her possession. She remembered the look of shock and horror on that German officer's face as she stabbed him in the heart. This unlucky fellow, a boy really, was the first of very, very many to die by her hand. Even now she did not feel any guilt and certainly not any remorse for all those deaths. To her the murdering pigs had only gotten what they so justly deserved. In fact her only regret regarding her participation in the war was that she had not been afforded the opportunity to kill even more of the bastards.
Idly she dropped the magazine from the Luger and inspected it. She then expertly popped it back into place and, glancing tentatively at the still sleeping Rachel, quietly pulled the slide back in order to cock the pistol. She then returned it to its former hiding place. I should wake her now, she thought. She needs to be ready for when Kruger comes. But instead of rising from her seat Val simply sat there staring at the young woman with a faint smile affixed to her lips. Ten minutes more, she thought. Let her sleep ten minutes more.
"Rachel." The American was awakened by the gentle nudge of a hand on her shoulder. "Rachel," she heard a firm, clear voice repeat.
"Huh?" Rachel sleepily murmured.
"Wake up, Rachel. It is almost time."
Remembering where she was now, Rachel eyes snapped open and quickly glanced about the room. She was very tentative in sitting up. "Ohh," she groaned, as she gingerly stretched. "I'm just as tired as before."
Ignoring Rachel's remark, Val's reply was terse and to the point. "Please be quiet and pay attention."
"Yes, Val," said Rachel, properly attentive now.
"You must do exactly as I say."
"Yes, Val. Of course."
At the sight of Valenta balling her right hand into a fist, Rachel flinched slightly and for one horrifying moment she thought she had been the victim of some kind of cruel trick after all. This subtle recoil was not lost on Val and although it was completely understandable, it nevertheless pained her to see Rachel react to her in this manner. "Damn it," she growled. "Stop that. Did I not tell you before I was not going to hurt you?"
"Sorry," Rachel softly replied.
Val put her fist up to her face. "Rub your eyes," she commanded. "Hard."
Rachel furrowed her brow and looked quizzically at the Russian. "Huh?"
"Rub your eyes," Val repeated. "Make them red and watery." The look on Rachel's face as she realized what Val wanted reminded the Russian of one of those beautiful sunrises on the Steppes.
"Oh I get it," said Rachel. "You want me to look sleepy, right?"
"There is hope for you yet, Rachel Clark," Val said, with mock gruffness.
Rachel did as she was bade and after a couple of minutes Val leaned over to inspect her handiwork. With a nod of approval she pronounced, "That will do. Now listen. In a few minutes I will call a man in here. It is imperative that you maintain the proper ahh, attitude shall we say?"
"You mean you want me to play along."
"Yes," said Val, "that's it. Play along. By that I mean do not be surprised when I leave the room. In fact it would be better if you gave the impression you were--"
"Relieved?" asked Rachel, finishing it for her.
Forcing herself not to smile, Val squinted one eye and looked askance at her. "Exactly," she replied. "Now while I am gone he will be walking you around the room ostensibly to keep you awake. Give him the impression you are very tired, that you are physically and emotionally spent."
Rachel nodded and said, "I can do that."
"There is more. When you are alone with him I want you to address him directly in German. Plead with him to help you. Tell him you will do anything, with emphasis on the 'anything,' to get out of here. Tell him your father is wealthy and will reward him handsomely if only he will get you out of East Berlin."
"I get the picture," said Rachel.
"Can you tell me why?" asked Rachel.
The beautiful inquisitor now found herself obliged to make a confession of her own. "This is strictly for my benefit," Val told her. However for the sake of Rachel's conscience she did not elaborate.
For Rachel's part Val might be leaving her in the dark regarding the details of her scheme but she understood perfectly her overall intent. Val would not be crossing over with her. Pondering this, she felt a sense of disappointment. More than that, she felt strangely...sad.
Her glum contemplation was interrupted by Valenta's voice. "There are a couple of more things."
"It will be necessary for me to handcuff you and put you back in the chair. And..." Here Val hesitated.
Sensing her discomfort, Rachel urged her to go on.
"To give your pleas further credence I am going to, to have to..."
"Rough me up?" asked Rachel.
"Only a little," Val assured her, grateful to Rachel for her insight.
Rachel smiled at her and with great warmth said, "You do what you have to do." But please come with me, she left unsaid.
Valenta nodded silently and walked out of the door to Interrogation Room Number Two and down the hall toward the head of the stairs. Reaching her destination, she sharply called out "Thomson!" to the guard on duty at the door below.
"Yes, Comrade Major?"
"Send Kruger up to Room Two!"
"At once, Comrade Major," came the immediate reply. Thomson might not have recognized Val out of uniform or her without her customarily tightly bound hair but he damn well knew the voice.
That done, Val strode quickly back to the room and waited. Less than two minutes later she and Rachel heard Kruger's polite rap on the door. Val gave Rachel a slight nod to get ready and snapped, "Enter!"
"You sent for me, Comrade Major?" asked Kruger, rather timidly. This was a memorable moment for him. In the eight months since his being assigned here this was first time the vaunted Major Alekseyev had ever bothered to speak directly to him. Like everyone else who had seen her this evening he could not help but notice how different she looked. However pretty she might be, she was nonetheless still Major Alekseyev and he was a little jittery to be in her forceful presence.
"Kruger," she said, sternly, "I have a job for you."
"Yes, Comrade Major?"
God! she mused. I would like to have a ruble for every time I've heard that. Aloud she said, "No doubt you read the log book and noted that I am running a sleep depravation exercise here."
As a matter of fact Kruger had not read the log but he certainly was not going to tell her that. "Yes, Major," he lied. "I immediately noted it when I came on duty."
Lying bastard! thought Val. "I am going to take a break now," she told him. She dug her hand into her pocket and produced the key to Sprenger's handcuffs. Unlocking Rachel's restraints, she said, "In the meantime I have decided to allow the prisoner the privilege of relieving herself. Therefore you will take her down to the toilet while I am gone."
This was part of Valenta's plan to frame Kruger. To reach the toilet he would have to take Rachel by the duty desk where the two of them would undoubtedly be seen. This would establish the fact that Kruger and Rachel were indeed outside the interrogation room together. When the time came Val would simply accuse him of criminal negligence in allowing Rachel to escape, thus sealing his fate. After all, who was Colonel Marov more likely to believe? His well connected, highly efficient, highly decorated star interrogator who was in no small way responsible for his own rise in the KGB, or some lowly Stazi officer who was more errand boy than policeman?
"As you wish, Comrade Major."
It was at this moment that Rachel pretended to nod off.
Nicely done, thought Val, approvingly. With a very limp hand she slapped Rachel. Scowling darkly, she yelled, "Wake up, you filthy slut!"
"Ohhh," groaned Rachel. "Pleeease. Let me......sleeeep."
Val caught her by the arm and roughly stood her up. "On your feet, bitch!" she rasped.
"Please," Rachel whined. "Just five minutes on that sofa, that's all I ask."
Little One, you are very good, Val thought admiringly. "Confess to your insidious crimes and you can sleep all you want," she cooed menacingly in Rachel's ear. "Until then we will continue." She roughly cupped Rachel's chin with her hand and shook the girl's head. "Or perhaps you would rather we resume where we left off in our second session, hmmm?"
"N-n-no...please," Rachel implored, as pitifully as she could. "Don't beat me anymore."
Val sneered at her and released her chin with a malicious little shove. "I despise your kind. You make me sick to look at you. You are so pathetic." And so brave. she thought. She glared angrily at the properly impressed Kruger. "Well?" she impatiently demanded. "What are you waiting for? An engraved invitation from Comrade Khrushchev? Get busy!"
Her sharp words were like spurs digging into his flanks. "At once, Comrade Major," he meekly blurted out.
As Kruger took Rachel by the arm Valenta poked her hard in the chest with a long finger. "Give the sow five minutes, Kruger," she snarled. Putting the key in her pocket, she then turned to the door. Four long strides later she was out the door and gone.
Kruger heaved a small sigh of relief and waited for her footsteps to fade away. "Come on," he said as he took Rachel by the arm. He led her down to the first floor and past the duty desk to where the toilet was located. All the way down she had done as Val wanted, promising him the moon and the stars if he would only help her escape. As they passed by the duty desk she made an especially tempting offer to him--her own body. But even to this Kruger said nein.
Once there he pulled open the door. As Rachel was about to step past him Kruger drew his hand back and quite deftly managed to land it squarely on Rachel's left breast.
Rachel never batted an eye. In her perfect German she asked "Have you changed your mind after all? Are you going to help me?
"You have nice breasts," Kruger leered. This "feel" was as far as he was going to go. "For a skinny American."
Yeah? We'll ain't it too bad you'll never seem 'em, Bozo, Rachel thought. However remembering Val's instructions, she glanced nervously about her and said, "You get me out of here and they're all yours."
"What do you think I am?" asked Kruger. "A fool? The Major would have my balls on a plate if I even dreamed of such a thing."
With a big grin Kruger reached in to turn on the light.. What happened next occurred so quickly that Rachel barely had time to flinch. For when Kruger stuck his hand in the door another hand shot out and grabbed a fistful of his tunic. She heard a low grunt and saw the arm retract, taking the startled Kruger with it. With a dull thump Kruger's forehead was smashed into the door facing. The wide-eyed Rachel heard him groan and watched as his knees buckled under him. With that hand still grasping his tunic, he slowly sank to a sitting position on the floor. "Val?" she tentatively asked. "Is that you?"
"Shhh," a voice gently admonished. Val stepped out of the rest room and moved in behind the unconscious man. Kruger, your balls already are mine, she thought. Slipping an arm under each of his armpits, she then pulled him into the rest room. Watching this, Rachel was struck by how easily she accomplished this task. Kruger was no midget. He was as tall as Val and she guessed he weighed at least two hundred pounds. Yet Val had jerked him around like a rag doll and now she was moving him with seemingly no effort at all. Rachel could not help but admire her. Never had she seen a woman like this. She was so intelligent, so capable, so...powerful! Yes, that was the only way to describe Valenta Alekseyev--POWERFUL. What a woman! she found herself thinking.
Val stepped over her victim and before closing the door, took out Sprenger's key and inserted it into his pocket. As she saw it this would be yet another nail in his coffin. As a finishing touch she removed the lid from the tank and stuck her hand down into the cold water. Retrieving the brick inside that some bean counter had insisted be placed there to conserve water, she carefully laid it beside Kruger. She intentionally left the lid to the tank off to make it more credible for her to "deduce" that Rachel must have used the brick as a weapon to render him unconscious. It would be a very effective tool for covering her own tracks. Her work now done, Val wiped her wet hand on Kruger's tunic and quietly eased the door shut. "Come. It is time," she said, taking Rachel by the arm.
No one needed to tell Rachel the gravity of the situation and the last thing she wanted to do right now was upset her imposing companion. However she simply could wait no longer. "Ahh Val?"
"What is it?" Val asked, warily glancing down the hall. Around the corner no more than twenty meters away was the duty desk. Any moment someone might round that corner on their way to the toilet.
"I ahh, I have to...go."
"What do you mean go? Go where?"
"To the bathroom, damn it," the American muttered, through clenched teeth. "I have to pee really bad." Val rolled her eyes upward and softly cursed in Russian. Rachel caught the tone if not the meaning. "Well it's not myyyy fault," she shot back. "You're the one that--"
"All right, all right," Val hissed in exasperation. "Just hurry up, will you?"
The rest room was small, roughly four feet by six feet and to reach the heavily stained toilet it was necessary for Rachel to tip toe over the inert Kruger. Only seventy-two hours before she would have never dreamed such a scenario as this was possible. She would have deemed the very idea of occupying some dirty rest room with a man, unconscious or otherwise, to be beyond ludicrous. It would be insane. But a lot had happened to Rachel in the last seventy-two hours. For better or worse, life for the well to do young woman had changed forever and she knew it.
While Rachel attended to business Val stealthily eased her way down the dimly lit corridor and, reaching the corner, ever so carefully peeked around it to the duty desk. When she saw no one at the desk a sense of uneasiness began to wash over her. If Schultz, the duty officer, was not at the desk then he must be out roaming the building somewhere. That little turd could be anywhere, she thought.
Slipping back to the toilet, she quietly opened the door and stuck her head inside. "Rachel," she urgently whispered. "We must go. Now.!"
"Coming," the girl answered. With panties up and skirt now down Rachel as a matter of course sought to do what anyone would do at this point--flush the toilet. The thing was one of the old pull chain types and it took her a moment or two to decipher how it worked.
Val, who was once more, scanning the corridor, looked back inside just in time to see Rachel grasp the chain. "No!" she hissed. "Leave it."
Val cut Rachel short by reaching in and clamping a strong hand around her wrist. "Come ON!"
Maintaining her vise-like grip, Val led Rachel down the corridor and away from the duty desk. Leaving by any of the building's three doors was out of the question because there was man stationed at these entrances at all times. While she could have easily taken Rachel right out any of these guarded doors with no questions asked this was not a viable option for her. This would have disestablished Kruger's link with Rachel's disappearance and unequivocally attached it her. Naturally she was not about to do that and indeed this was not necessary. For having thought this thing through with her typical thoroughness, she had hit upon a way to get Rachel out of the building unobserved.
Most of the windows on the building's first floor were barred but she knew where there happened to be one that was not. Because the building had no basement the low pressure boiler that provided heat for the place was located in a room on the north side of the first floor. The boiler predated the war and during the inevitable heavy winter's use quite often suffered from bursting tubes. More than once she had angrily gone to the boiler room to upbraid the unfortunate workmen sent to repair it for what she perceived as laziness on their part. The window had stuck in her mind because on a couple of occasions she had seen men passing new boiler tubes through it from the alleyway outside. She knew the head of this alleyway to be something of a blind spot in relation to the two main entrances to the building and this made it in theory ideal for her purposes. If the two of them kept to the shadows, Val figured they should have little or no trouble getting away without being spotted.
All the while as Val was leading Rachel down the corridor and around yet another corner on their way to the boiler room her mind kept coming back to the troubling and very real possibility that they might run into the perambulatory Schultz. Should this happen it would simply be a case of all bets being off. Fortunately they made it to the boiler room without incident.
"Inside," Val ordered, jerking a thumb toward the boiler room door. Rachel did as instructed and after following her in, Val quietly closed the door behind them. The door had no lock which caused the ever circumspect Russian some mild concern but considering the hour she did not really expect anyone to come nosing around there. Without a moment's delay she walked past the decrepit boiler and over to the window. The only light in the room was from the refracted pale glow of distant street lights passing through the glazed window glass. Looking the window over, she was realized it was smaller than she remembered. She readily saw that while the lithe Rachel would have no trouble at all getting through the opening, wedging her much broader shoulders through there would be an altogether different matter. This made for one of the very few times in her life where her muscular, superbly athletic body was not an asset.
The window was of the type that swung open on hinges. After unlocking it, Val slowly opened it and ever so carefully stuck her head outside. She was a picture of concentration as her finely tuned senses gleaned every last scrap of information regarding the darkened alley. All was clear.
"All right," she quietly said to Rachel, "out you go."
Rachel took a deep breath and nodded. "Right."
"I may have some difficulty getting through the window," warned Val. "So when you get down there crouch against the side of the building and don't move till I join you."
"Gotcha," Rachel acknowledged her.
Even for Rachel the window was too small to allow for anything but crawling through. All she could do was stick her head and shoulders past the frame, bend over at the waist, and let gravity do the rest. Fortunately even from the outside the window was not situated too highly. Val wisely held her legs as she descended and in this way she was able to get down onto the pavement with only the slightest of impacts.
For the broad shouldered Val, however, it was another matter entirely. After giving it some thought she decided it would be best to take the opposite approach from what Rachel had done. She knew her trim waist would be no problem and so instead of trying to wedge her shoulders through first she would go out the window backwards, feet first, and allow gravity to assist her in working free.
Her idea worked perfectly. Once she got her shoulders free it was then only a simple matter of dangling on the sill for a moment before dropping the remaining meter and a half to the ground. She hit the pavement with cat-like nimbleness and even as her knees were bending to absorb the impact Rachel was moving in beside her. Despite the all uncertainty and potential for danger Rachel now somehow felt so safe when Val was near. This was an amazing turnabout from only a few hours before when she had expected at any moment to be beaten senseless or perhaps even killed by the fierce beauty.
Touching Rachel on the arm, Val whispered, "Let's go."
"What is it?"
"Thanks. For helping me, I mean."
Valenta reached up and ever so delicately touched Rachel's split lip. "No. It is because of me you are here in the first place, American. And for that I am very sorry."
Rachel correctly guessed that it had been a very long time since Val had apologized to anybody. In the darkness of the alley Val could barely see Rachel's feeble smile as she put her small hand over Val's. "You know, I liked it so much better when you called me Rachel."
With Rachel's gentle touch something began to stir deep within Val, something exciting--thrilling even. Was this...passion? If only... "Very well...Rachel," she uncharacteristically stammered. "And I promise to do everything in my power to make amends to you. I will get you out of here." Had it been anyone else Val's little smile could have almost been described as sheepish when she added, "Sorry about your automobile though. I had it taken apart."
To hell with the car! thought Rachel. Again she repeated her silent plea. Please come with me! More than anything she wanted to say it aloud, to scream it, or simply to just whisper it...yes lovingly coo it into the beautiful Val's ear. Come with me! But she just...couldn't. However despite her perceived cowardice, there was nothing at all to stop her from telling it to her own heart. Val Alekseyev, I'm falling in love with you!
Saying no more, Val stood up and with Rachel firmly in tow, began to stealthily move up the alley. Only a few more meters, she thought. Then we will be in the clear. The junction of alley and street was the most critical point. As they reached the head of the alley and just before they made the turn out onto the sidewalk Val stopped and swept her eyes over the area one last time. The only thing of note in her line of vision was a parked car sitting down the street a half a block away on the opposite side. Satisfied all was clear, she whispered, "Come on. This way."
The two women stepped out onto the sidewalk and turned right. Now that they were out on the sidewalk and into the open Rachel's urge to get away from the sinister place as quickly as humanly possible became almost uncontrollable. As if reading her mind, Val locked her left arm around Rachel's much less muscular right one. In an almost soothing voice, she murmured, "Do not be afraid, Rachel,"
"Is there any chance we could be stopped?" Rachel asked.
At this hour that was a real possibility and no one knew that better than Val. While there was no curfew per se, it was more or less standard practice for the police to stop those moving about the city this late at night and ask them their business. Val, however, was not worried. If they did happen to run into trouble that KGB identity card in her pocket should part those locals like Moses parting the Red Sea. Failing that, there was always the Luger. "That will not be a problem," Val stoically assured her.
For Val it was as though her burden was becoming lighter with each successive step away from headquarters. A few more meters and they would be turning the corner of the block and for all intents and purposes be on their way. The main checkpoint into West Berlin was only a few blocks distant. Just a good stretch of the legs. So far everything was going strictly according to plan. Barring any trouble at the checkpoint, Rachel could be home in less than an hour.
Unfortunately it was here that Val's plan began to unravel. As they neared the corner she saw a black sedan turn out of a side street and approach from the opposite direction. Seeing this as well, Rachel swallowed hard and squeezed Val's arm even tighter. "Remain calm," murmured Val. "If we are stopped I will handle it."
They reached the corner and, as casually as they could, turned onto the next street. Maybe it's not the police, thought Rachel, hopefully. Val knew better. She had immediately recognized the unmarked car as a model favored by the Stazi. Very few ordinary citizens could afford such a vehicle and therefore she was not surprised when the car turned left at the intersection and came toward them.
"Do not look back," Val cautioned, as she pulled away from Rachel's arm. She did not want to. She liked the warm touch of Rachel's arm against hers but the sight of two women walking arm and arm down an East Berlin street in the middle of the night would be an open invitation for harassment at the very least from the dispassionate Stazi. Behind them they could clearly hear the car slowing down. Undoubtedly it was following them now. "Above all do not appear to be nervous," said Val, looking straight ahead.
However Rachel did not possess Val's steel nerves. To put it plainly she was frightened. Yes, Val had assured her that she could handle this situation but what if something went wrong? What if some unforeseen occurrence happened to throw a monkey wrench into things? In her dismay she even wondered if Val might not turn on her. After all, it would be so easy for her to do so should there be trouble. This was not an irrational fear but in truth it was the one thing Rachel need not have worried about. For had she somehow been given the opportunity to look inside Val's heart she would have known beyond a shadow of a doubt that the enigmatic Russian was committed to securing her freedom. More than that, should would have known that Val was very, very close to committing to her.
Ernst Bruner had been intently watching the two women fixed in the car's headlights and from the very start he sensed something was amiss. Even in supposedly "crime free" East Berlin it was highly unusual to find two women walking down the street all alone in the middle of the night. At first glance he had assumed the tall one to be a man but once he was close enough to see the individual's shoulder length hair he knew better. This only served to further pique his interest. He estimated her to be at least 180 centimeters tall--not your typical fraü. This one, he thought, is tall as......
"Alekseyev!" he muttered, under his breath.
"Is it possible?" asked his driver.
"Yes, I am sure of it," replied Bruner.
"What is she doing walking the street in the middle of the night like some whore?" asked his driver. "And who is that with her?"
Bruner was by now reasonably certain that the other woman was the recently arrested American. "I do not like this," he remarked, with mounting suspicion.
Val heard the faint squeal of the brakes as the car stopped. This was followed by the sound of first one door, then another opening. "Halt!" a voice demanded.
"Comrade Alekseyev?" Bruner called out, advancing toward the women. "Is that you?"
Instantly Val recognized the voice. Bruner! Of all the damn luck! she silently cursed. In all of Berlin he was the absolute last person she wanted to see at this moment "Yes, Bruner," she said, turning to him. "It is me." Summoning up her best authoritative voice, she then asked "What is it you want?"
"What brings you here at this late hour?"
"I might well ask you the same thing," Val retorted.
Bruner shook his head ruefully, "Alas, Comrade, I'm afraid I am an incurable insomniac. Unfortunately the only way I can cope with it is to work." With a very faint smile he asked "And you?"
"I am not in the habit of explaining my actions, Bruner," Val replied, the edge in her voice readily apparent. "But just this once I will say I am conducting a sleep deprivation exercise on this prisoner."
Eyeing Rachel, Bruner said, "She certainly looks none the worse for wear for it. And I must say it is most accommodating of you to turn the exercise into a pleasant little evening walk."
"First you question my presence and now you have the effrontery to question my methods," said Val, her voice dripping with restrained rage. "I warn you, Bruner. This is none of your business."
"Pardon me, Comrade Major," said Bruner, smoothly, "but I believe that it is. Correct me if I'm wrong but it is not our usual practice to attend to these matters out here on the open street now is it?"
You arrogant bastard! Val raged inwardly. He had her in a compromising situation and he knew it. Worse, he knew she knew it else he would have never dared to use that condescending tone of voice with her. "The interrogation and the prisoner are my concern, Bruner," she icily replied. "Not yours."
For Rachel it was almost as if they were discussing someone else. As Val spoke the girl noted they way she casually stepped forward, placing her own body between her and the two men. She expects trouble, she thought, anxiously.
"Then why are you not wearing your uniform?" asked Bruner, digging deeper.
"Brunerrrr," Val warned, ominously. "I have had enough of this." Slowly she raised her hand and inserted it into her trouser pocket up to the first set of knuckles.
But like the bulldog he owned Bruner would not let go. Something was not right here and Alekseyev or no Alekseyev he was going to get to the bottom of it. With an even voice he suggested, "Suppose we go back to headquarters now. I'm sure in the morning Colonel Marov will be most interested in hearing the details of your novel new approach to interrogation." As the opportunistic Bruner saw it there was a whole world of possibilities here--all of them advantageous to him. At long last he had the haughty, captivating, infinitely desirable Alekseyev right where he wanted her. Under no circumstances should the Major have been out here alone with a prisoner. As far as he was concerned it meant only one thing. Surely she could see that with this hanging over her head Valenta really had no choice but to come around to his way of thinking. Now, with his eyes eating up this alluring image of her in the tight slacks with the long, flowing hair falling down on her strong shoulders, he gleefully thought, Bitch, maybe it will be I who fucks you after all! He was positively ecstatic over the possibility of this...huntress becoming his lover. And besides, if she was foolish enough to refuse...well, there was always Colonel Marov. Either way there was nothing but good in it for him. This fortuitous turn of events was what caused him to then say, "But do not worry, Valenta"....Bruner practically gloated over his pronunciation of the name..."I am sure you and I can work something out that will be to our mutual benefit."
"You insolent son of a bitch, I am going nowhere with you," growled Val. "How dare you address your superior in such a disrespectful manner! I'll have your balls mounted on my wall for this!" Slowly she brought up her left hand and fingered the bottom edge of her sweater.
"Pity," Bruner replied, with mock wistfulness, "but I rather you would have chosen to handle my balls in a much more ahhh, gratifying manner, shall we say? I had so hoped you would be reasonable about this." Bruner leisurely reached up under his jacket with the intent of drawing his pistol. Supremely confident in his perceived mastery of the situation, it never dawned on him that the Russian beauty now glaring at him so fiercely, so menacingly, would be prepared for just such a contingency.
In the blink of an eye Val lifted her up the front of her sweater with her left hand while simultaneously grasping the Luger with her right. As she brought the weapon up to eye level she barked out, "Get down, Rachel!"
Rachel Olivia Clark did not have to be told twice. Her heart pounding, she dived to the sidewalk and rolled over into the soft grass of the adjacent vacant lot. The stunned Bruner's hand was still under his jacket when Val's expertly placed 9 MM round slammed through his chest just above where his right arm was crossing his chest. Curiously, his last conscious thought was one of wonderment at why Alekseyev had called the prisoner "Rachel." The head of the German Stazi died before his head hit the sidewalk.
With the most immediate danger now eliminated, Val turned her attention to Bruner's driver. However he was in no position to be a threat to anyone. He had been caught so completely by surprise by this unexpected turn of events that all that was left for him now was throw up his hands and surrender.
"Put your hands behind your head," Val ordered. I should kill him, she thought. I should kill him now. Every instinct she had told him she should do so. But she did not kill him. She could not bring herself to do it in cold blood in front of Rachel. Once the girl was safely away Val's own preservation would then take precedence making it an entirely different matter. But for now she was content to merely glance over her shoulder at the still prone Rachel and say, "You can get up now. It is over." As Rachel scrambled to her feet Val nodded toward the driver and said, "The girl is going to search you. If you so much as blink I will shoot you right between the eyes." Having just witnessed her prowess, the driver had no reason to doubt her ability or her resolve. "Check inside his coat," Val said to Rachel.
Not daring to look at the fallen Bruner, Rachel warily edged past him and up the driver. She opened his jacket and ever so carefully she removed the pistol from its resting place in his shoulder holster, Holding onto it as if it were made of dung, she carried it back to Val. "Don't you think we ought to get out of here?" she asked. "Someone may have heard you."
Val had already considered that possibility. Gesturing toward Bruner with the Luger, she said to the driver, "Take him by the arms and pull him back over there into the lot." The driver did as he was told and took Bruner by the arms. As he started dragging him back into the vacant lot Val turned to Rachel and said, "Get into the back seat of the car." Rachel, too, followed her instructions and soon she was joined by the driver who got in behind the wheel and Val who got into the back seat with her.
"You will drive us to the checkpoint," Val ordered.
"Traitorous swine!" the driver blurted out.
Val's response was to press the muzzle of the Luger behind his right ear and push hard. "If you want to keep that," she snarled, "you will shut up and drive."
Ten minutes later they the driver wheeled the car around a corner and there, two hundred meters away, was the checkpoint, the entrance to the American sector of West Berlin. The Americans had dubbed it "Checkpoint Charlie" although Val could never quite understand why. This is it, she thought. But as they neared Val's keen eyes noted an unusual amount of activity around the site--much more than was unusual even at mid-day much less at this early morning hour. Leaning forward to the driver, she said, "Stop the car. Turn the ignition off."
"What is it?" Rachel anxiously asked. "What's going on?"
"I'm not sure," Val replied, her eyes locked on the guard shack now a mere seventy-five meters away. "But something is wrong, that is for certain"
"Any idea what it could be?" asked Rachel.
"Maybe they know about your criminal acts," offered the driver rather smugly, heartened by what he saw up ahead.
"So what do we do?"
"Give yourselves up of course," the driver sneered.
Enough of this miserable son of a bitch! Val angrily decided. Her hand a mere blur she lashed out and cracked him in the back of the head with the butt of her Luger. The unconscious man slumped forward and his body came to rest against the car's steering wheel.
Rachel cringed as she heard the sickening thump of the pistol on the driver's head. "Jesus, Val!" she yelped.
"Quiet," Val shot back. However this was not spoken with the commanding, authoritative voice she used so well but rather with one that hinted of patience and understanding. Val knew Rachel was nervous about this and she understood that. Why shouldn't she feel trepidation about what was happening? Any normal person would. But Valenta Alekseyev was anything but normal. Three years of slaughtering Germans that were more often than not close enough for her to smell them had taken most of that out of her. Her work since the war had taken care of the rest. To her this was just another problem to overcome. Cautiously Val got out of the back seat of the car. Opening the door on the driver's side she pushed the stricken man out of the way with a hard grunt and slid in behind the wheel.
"What are you going to do?" asked Rachel.
"It is too dangerous to attempt a crossing here at this time," explained Val. "There is far too much activity. From the looks of it there has been some sort of incident. That means they will be checking, double checking, and triple checking everybody who comes through there. They may even close it off for a while." She smiled reassuringly at Rachel through the rear view mirror and said, "We will just have to find another way, that's all."
However Val knew this would not be easy. To be sure there were any number of points where a crossing could be attempted but the time factor was now starting to come into play. By now Kruger was probably awake and it was imperative for her own safety that Val be at headquarters first thing in the morning to "straighten" things out. Not only that but Bruner's driver would have to be eliminated immediately, his body and this car would have to be dumped, and then there was the little problem of Bruner himself. His death really complicated things. It was one thing for a guard to be attacked and a prisoner to escape but when this was added to the murder of the head of the local Stazi on the same night a block away from headquarters it made for quite a plateful. This was sure to be brought to attention of their masters in Moscow and she could just hear Marov screaming that he wanted answers. Of course there was always the possibility that she could hide Rachel out in her apartment and try again later on but simply involved too much risk for the both of them. Prying eyes were everywhere and one never knew who might betray them.
"Got any ideas?" Rachel asked.
"One or two," replied Val as she started the car. But the reflexive look of concern she flashed back through the mirror at Rachel spoke volumes.
For Rachel Clark the time had come. To get out of here alive she was going to have to shed the last veil of distrust and secrecy and leave nothing more to hide. If she was wrong it would then mean not only her life but perhaps dozens of others as well. "Val," she began, her voice barely audible, "I know a place."
"Youuu?" Val replied, incredulously. "What would you know about such things?"
Through the mirror Val saw her close her eyes and take a deep breath. What is this? she wondered.
"I--I..don't really...work for the USIA," said Rachel, in a halting voice.
"Oh?" Val asked, raising an eyebrow. She shot the girl an amused smile and said "Don't tell me you work for the CIA after all."
"Well...actually...I..do." There! She had said it. The only question now was how would Val react to this startling revelation.
Val, however remained unconvinced. "Rachel, forgive me but I hardly think you have takes to be a good spy."
"Oh I'm not a spy," replied Rachel. "I am the assistant in charge of running the safe houses in West Berlin. It's my job to place the defectors and see that the houses are stocked, the rent is paid, you know--that sort of thing." She smiled weakly and said, "There's nothing exciting about any of it. It's pretty mundane stuff really."
All good espionage is, thought Val. By now they were out of sight of the checkpoint and moving back east into the city. Before long it would be getting light. They were running out of options. What do we have to lose? she thought. "All right, spy," she said, "so where is this...place?"
Rachel hesitated for a moment as her conscious fought one last little battle. Then it was over and her mind was finally, completely, irrevocably made up. "Go to 146....."
Twenty minutes later Val eased the car up to what looked to be a small abandoned warehouse. "Are you sure this is the place?" she asked.
"This is the place," replied Rachel, opening the door to the car. Before leaving the car, Val checked the driver for signs of consciousness. From the looks of him she figured he was going to be out for quite some time. Walking around to the front of the car, Rachel placed her hands about a foot apart and turned them first one way, then another, sighting under the pale glow of the lone security light.
"What are you doing?" Val asked.
"I've only seen this place from photographs," replied Rachel. "I'm trying to orient myself." At last she had her bearings and off she went, her short strides carrying her swiftly over the graveled lot.
Perplexed, Val followed along behind her, her normally gracefully long legs now awkwardly mimicking Rachel's choppy strides. "Rachel," she asked, "what are we doing here? This place is at least a half kilometer from the border."
"This is the place," Rachel repeated. "Now shut up and help me find the fuel oil tank."
Following along behind, the supremely formidable Val quizzically looked at the back of diminutive girl's head. Did this little peanut of a girl actually just tell me to shut up? She did!! Walking ahead, Rachel did not see Val's smile. Consciously or not, the message Rachel was sending Val was that she was now totally comfortable in her daunting presence. The Russian it seems, found this very pleasing.
Rachel rounded the corner of the warehouse and stopped for a moment. "There," she said, pointing to a dark silhoutette twenty yards away. That's it."
"I do not understand," said Val. "What is this all about."
Spinning on her heels, Rachel bluntly said. "It's a tunnel, Val. We have a tunnel here."
Val was stunned. Since their discovery four years ago of the tunnel the Allies had used to tap into East Berlin communications resulting in the subsequent propaganda coup, she naturally assumed the West had given up on the idea of trying to dig another one.
Rachel made her way over to the oil tank and began to peer at the ground. Val moved to the opposite side and was about to ask her what she was looking for when the toe of her slipper banged against something metallic. Bending down in the darkness, she touched the object and found it to be a handle of some sort. "Rachel," she said, quietly. "I think I found what you are looking for."
Rachel bent down under the tank and crept over to Rachel.
"There," said Val, pointing into the shadows.
"Yeah," replied Rachel, "that's it, all right."
Val grasped the handle and pulled. The cover swung up revealing a black cylindrical maw extending down into nothingness. Val bent over and peered down into the hole. "Are you sure you can do this?" she asked.
"Sure," Rachel answered, hoping she was exuding an air of confidence. "It's just a hole."
The two of them stood up and for a moment neither spoke. Finally Val said, "You know you will have to abandon this tunnel now, don't you?"
"Yeah," replied Rachel. However neither of them was thinking about tunnels.
Val stuck out her hand and rather stiffly said, "Good-bye, Rachel Clark. Maybe someday you and I will meet again under more favorable circumstances." It was not the best parting line ever given but it was the best she could do with a breaking heart.
Rachel tentatively took the hand and said, "I look forward to it." Come with me, Val!
Val smiled at her and said, "However until then I would advise you not to return to East Berlin. If you do I might not be able to...to let you go again."
Rachel understood very well what she meant and for her it was like the opening a flood gate. "Oh please, Val, she cried, throwing herself in Val's strong arms, "come with me!"
Locked in the girl's warm embrace, Val closed her eyes and gritted her teeth in anguish. "I cannot," she gently replied.
Confused, Rachel pulled back with looked up at her with teary eyes. "But..why? You spent half an hour telling me you had no family left. So what's keeping you here? Come with me, Val. I--I want to be your family."
Val tenderly stroked Rachel's cheek and shook her head. "This is an impossible thing you ask, little one. Can't you see that? We come from two different worlds. Yours is over there, beyond the barbed wire. Mine is here."
"It doesn't have to be that way," sniffed Rachel. "It doesn't have to be that way at all. You can come with me. Val in three years when I'm twenty-five I will inherit ten million dollars. Do you realize what that means? My God, you'll never have to worry about anything ever again. I'll show you the world."
"Is that what you want, Rachel Clark?" Val gently asked. "For me to be your mistress, your...whore?"
"Damn you, Val," Rachel cursed her--not in anger but in sheer frustration at her stubbornness. "Damn you! That's not what I meant and you know it. I want us to build a life together."
"The West is no more tolerant of the kind of feelings we have for each other than the East is," Val reminded her.
"I don't care," Rachel stubbornly replied. "All I care about is you. I love you, Val." She again launched herself into Val's arms. Her voice pleading now, she said, "I love you."
Val gently kissed the girl on the top of the head and squeezed her as tightly as she dared. "I love you too, Rachel Clark." she whispered. "I think we always have loved each other. And we always will."
"Then..then you'll come with me?"
"Shhh," Val answered, cutting her off. "Let us speak no more of this. It will only cause us more pain." This final drawing away from the soft Rachel was the most difficult thing she had done since she buried her parents on that bleak Russian plain so long ago. "You must go now," she said. "I have work to do."
It was no use and Rachel knew it. Val had made up her mind and no one, not her, not even Chairman Khrushchev was going to change it for her. The only one that could do that was KGB Major Valenta Alekseyev herself. Rachel nodded bravely and said, "I will never forget you, Val as long as I live. Never."
"Yes you will," Val tenderly replied. "Once you get back to the West, to the way things were before for you, you will forget about me soon enough. And you know something? You should. I am not someone that you ought to remember."
Rachel wiped the tears from her cheeks and drew herself up to her full height--such as it was. "You can make me leave, Major, she said, "but I'll be damned if you can make me forget you." By the time she got to the end of her defiant sentence her voice was cracking and she barely managed to finish it.
"Good-bye, my precious little tigress," Val said, practically choking on the words. With that she abruptly turned on her heels and began striding back toward the parked car. She could not have resisted the girl a moment longer had she stayed. Her eyes were now so filled with tears she could barely stumble her way over the dark grounds. "I think we have always loved each other." Stopping for a moment in the darkness, Val clumsily wiped the tears from her eyes. She then reach into her pocket and took out the driver's pistol which she then heaved as far as she could into the nearby underbrush. For a moment she thought about turning around in the hope of getting one last glimpse of Rachel but in the end she decided against it. Yes, it was better this way. Of course it was. It was...much...better this... "Oh God!"
Rachel stood there at the opening and watched in sorrow as Val, her precious Val, walked away from her and out of her life. Never had she felt so helpless, so heartsick, so alone. More than once she wanted to run after her and plead with her one more time to reconsider her decision. But she did not. Val had decided--for the both of them. To her it did not seem fair. In the softest of whispers she lamented, "But there's not a Goddamned thing you can do about it, is there?"
All too soon Val disappeared into the gloom leaving the heartbroken girl standing there all alone. With a racking sob she got down and stuck her feet into the hole. She had spoken to defectors who had used this very tunnel and so she was well aware of what was facing her. That this was not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination. She was going to have to crawl on her belly on damp ground for over quarter of a mile. As there were no lights it would be dark the whole way. She would just have to feel her way along. No matter. After what she had been through over the last three days she felt ready to for any challenge now. I can do it, she told herself. Suddenly she corrected herself, changing the I can to I will. Val had done that for her.
Rachel took one last look in the direction of Val's departure. She forced a feeble smile and whispered, "Das Vadanya, my love."
Then she dropped down into the whole and quietly replaced the cover over her. Up above it was as if no one had even been
Rachel Clark sat alone on the cold concrete slab that served as her seat--waiting. For the twentieth time tonight she held her brand new watch up to the pale glow of the distant city lights and checked the time. The watch read ten minutes after four. With a sigh she took her paper coffee cup into both hands and quietly took a sip of the lukewarm liquid. Soon it would be getting light. It's no use, she thought, sadly. She's not coming.
Fifty feet away from her was the entrance to the tunnel that had taken her to freedom and for the last three nights Rachel had returned here, hoping against hope that Val would change her mind. Tonight was her last chance. In one of those ironic twists the Fates love so well Rachel had learned that this very day the tunnel was being abandoned and a great part of it filled back in.
For her part Rachel had not spoken one word of her abduction to anyone. What purpose would it serve? she reasoned. A lot of people would get stirred up over nothing and it might even endanger Val. No sir, there would be none of that. Not if she could help it. She had explained her absence and her bruises by saying she had been injured in a skiing accident.
Val. What a lovely name! As she sat there in the darkness, she already understood that Val was wrong. Never would she never forget her overpowering beauty. She bowed her head and a single tear fell to the ground. My God! I will never see her again. It was for all practical purposes past time. It was too late now. Still, Rachel could not bring herself to go. Just a couple of more minutes, she thought, yawning. In the last three days she had slept exactly four hours. She simply could not get Valenta Alekseyev out of her mind.
Rubbing her eyes, Rachel drew her feet upon the slab and pressed her back against an adjacent steel girder. Just a couple more minutes, she thought again. Just a couple more.....
With the first pink glow of dawn appearing in the eastern sky, Rachel finally succumbed to her weariness and
fell asleep. She thus missed the opportunity to see the tall dark form emerge from the tunnel entrance and, after
carefully scanning the area, advance directly toward her.
"Rachel, wake up."
Valenta Alekseyev stood there bending over the groggy young woman and, grinning broadly, shook her yet again. Same old Rachel, she thought. "Rachel, wake up. Wake up!"
But Rachel did not want to wake up. The dream she was having was too good. In her dream Val was speaking to her and it was amazing! Her voice seemed so...real.
Rachel's eyes snapped open and there, no more than foot away, was the face she would now readily die for. "Oh my God!" she gasped. "Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh, VAL!!" Rachel threw her arms around Val's neck and hung on for dear life. It was as if she feared that if she let go Valenta would somehow disappear and leave her all alone again.
Val tenderly patted the sobbing girl on the back and soothingly reassured her, "It's all right, Rachel. I'm here. I'm here. I'll always be here."
"I thought I'd lost you," said Rachel, weeping. "I--I thought I'd never see you again. What--what made you change your mind?"
"It is all entirely your fault," said Val, in a parody of her own menacing voice. The silly grin then faded and Val said, "I had to see you again, Rachel Clark. I just had to. I--I thought I could live without you...but I can't. So uh, wealthy capitalist, do you think you might be able to find me a job?"
Hearing this, Rachel began laughing and crying at the same time. With a little nod of the head she managed to utter, "I think I can arrange that."
Val dug her arms in under Rachel and easily stood her up. "I have something for you," she declared.
"Oh yeah?" Rachel asked, her nose wrinkling. "What? A tenth party congress commemorative tea set?
"You will never let me live that down, will you?" Val asked, with mock annoyance.
"Damn right I won't," grinned Rachel.
Val thrust her hand into her tattered old jacket and pulled out something wrapped in tissue paper. "Here," she said, "this belongs to you." Rachel eagerly tore open the tissue paper and there was her bracelet. This and her precious little green book were all that she had brought with her. "Rachel I will never forgive myself for what I did to you."
Immediately Rachel understood. "That was why you didn't come with me, wasn't it?" she asked. You were ashamed."
Val stared down at her feet and idly kicked at the concrete slab. "Yes."
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Rachel, firmly. "You never did that to me. That was somebody else."
Val nodded stiffly and said, "Thank you, Rachel Clark."
Reading the unmistakable invitation in Val's eyes, Rachel moved in close and parted her lips in thrilling anticipation of their first kiss. Val's full lips met hers and for the next whole minute they stood there, locked in each others arms and luxuriating in the warm touch of the other's tongue. At last they came up for air and Rachel shook her head as if to clear the cobwebs from her brain. "Hoo," she cried out. Right now her knees felt like rubber.
"You like?" asked Val, grinning evilly.
"Damn Val," Rachel marveled, "is there anything you can't do superbly?"
Val rubbed her chin thoughtfully and said, "We-elll, I can't cook."
Rachel laughed and pecked her on the lips. "This," she said, "is not a problem."
Suddenly her smile faded and she covered her hand with her mouth.
"What is it?" Val asked. "What is wrong?"
"Bruner's driver, Val. Did you..you know?"
Val shook her head. "No, Rachel, I did not kill him. I bound and gagged him and then locked him in the trunk of the car while I made up my mind. Just before I..." Here she awkwardly paused for a moment. This was going to take some getting used to. "...defected I made an anonymous phone call and told the police where he was. He was probably a little thirsty but otherwise I imagine he was none the worse for wear."
"Well I hardly think he will be punished once they find out it was my doing," said Val.
Although these people were not her friends and indeed would have harmed her Rachel was nevertheless relieved to hear this.
Valenta put a hand on Rachel's shoulder. "There is one thing we must reach an understanding on before we proceed any further. I say understanding but actually is a point on which I will not compromise."
"Anything," said Rachel. "Just name it."
"I will not do or say anything to undermine the security of my...my former country. The Soviet Union is the land of my birth. My mother, father and my two sisters are buried there." She bore her brilliant eyes in on Rachel. "I have shamed them enough,' she said. "I will not compound that shame by adding treason to it."
"I understand," Rachel said, very quietly. "And don't worry. Nobody is even going to know who you were. I'll take care of everything."
Her point made Val again smiled and looked up at the late August sky. "Somehow the stars look brighter on this side of the wire," she remarked.
Rachel took Val's hand, kissed it, and pressed it against her cheek. "Welcome to freedom, Major Alekseyev."
Lest the emotion of the moment become too much for her, Val sought to diffuse the feeling with a poor attempt at levity. KGB interrogators were not know for their humor. Patting her tummy, Val said, "So, Rachel, I fed you when you were hungry, do you think you could now return the favor."
Rachel laughed and replied, "Yep. Sure can. And I can do a hell of a lot better than liverwurst and cheese too. How would you like a stack of pancakes and a mountain of sausage for breakfast?"
"We can do this?" Val asked, genuinely curious. "Where?"
"Why, practically anywhere we want. All it takes is money." For Rachel Clark money was not a problem.
"Then I would like pancakes and sausage," Val announced.
"Great," said Rachel, beaming. As she began walking the newest citizen of the free world to the borrowed jeep she added, "And after that we've simply got to do something about your wardrobe, dear. That look rummage sale look might go for fashion in East Berlin but this is the world of blatant narcissism instant gratification. We're going to hit every store in town. We're gonna shop till we drop. We're..."
Val furrowed her brow and said, "Rachel, are you ill? Are you sure you can endure the waiting lines?"
Rachel smiled devilishly her newfound lover and said, "Val, you have got a lot to learn." And from deep within her soul her heart literally sang out, "And we have a whole lifetime together for me to teach you."
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