Mr. Dickson stood in front of an open wardrobe freshly showered in boxers and undershirt. Considering his possibilities for a moment he removed a a coral dress shirt and teal double-breasted suit from padded hangers and put them on. He took a matching bow tie from his breast pocket and skillfully knotted it in place. He closed the wardrobe door after appraising the knot and checking his pristine white hair using the full-length mirror inside.
Jingling his keys in the palm of his right hand after securing the front door of the townhouse he descended three brick steps to the concrete of his front walk. Turning sharply to the right he walked onto his lawn and searched the clusters of carnations planted in neat rows in the dark soil at the base of the foundation. He selected a pink flower and, unfolding a pen knife, neatly severed it from its stem and inserted it through the left button hole of his suit jacket. Pocketing the keys, he returned to the walk and continued toward the street.
As Mr. Dickson waited for his bus he watched Miss. Davis gardening in front of her townhouse, identical to his own. She was wearing a loose halter top to stay cool in the early-summer heat. She left a smear of dirt across her forehead as she wiped sweat from her brow with the back of her hand and waved. Mr. Dickson waved back with a smile.
I should bring Miss. Davis some seeds for her garden. I’d imagine she’d like that.
It was the last day of classes before summer break and the students were tense with anticipation, fidgeting in their chairs like Thoroughbreds at the gate. Mr. Dickson was finishing off a lecture on General Bonaparte, describing the battle of Waterloo and gesticulating wildly with a piece of chalk. He had presented the same lecture once before this year but it is his favorite segment and he decided to finish the year off with it as a treat for his students.
I’m really nailing it, I think I’m getting to them.
Later, he was calling each student in turn to his desk to give them their final grades.
“Mr. Wynn, you’re up.”
A classmate tapped the long-haired teen on the shoulder who, as usual, was sleeping at his desk three rows back. Edward, embarrassed, approached Mr. Dickson who pointed a sharp pencil point at his score in the grade book.
“Hey, thanks Mr. Richardson!”
“It’s Mr.—never mind.”
Back at home, still wearing his teal suit, Mr. Dickson sat in front of a small CRT monitor. He was staring at a small empty chat window in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. Ding. A bubble popped up:
kat1964 is now online.
rdickson44: Hi, are you awake?
kat1964: hi richard, i just got up 😉
rdickson44: Is everything set with your flight?
kat1964: did you get the flight no.
rdickson44: Flight 30, yes, I’ll be there.
kat1964: i’m glad! and, richard…
rdickson44: I’m just happy you are coming to visit, Kat.
kat1964: me too. i need to go, packing.
rdickson44: Of course, I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.
kat1964 is away.
Pulling an envelope from beside the keyboard, Mr. Dickson removed the letter and tapped the folded pages against his hand, a wallet photo fell out. “Katja” was neatly penned in cursive letters in the back corner, he flipped the picture over in his palm and a striking woman in her 40s with shoulder length auburn hair smiled up at him.
Mr. Dickson shifted the bouquet of carnations into the crook of his left arm and stretched his right arm upwards to bring his wrist watch into view. Holding his arm towards the arrivals board he checked the schedule.
14:25 St. Petersburg United 30 On Time
It’s 2:35. She should be here any minute.
With that thought a tone chimed and a stream of people began exiting through a set of double-doors. A crowd of gathering family members and loved ones temporarily obscured his view of the travelers and Richard craned his neck to find a hole to peer through. He caught a glimpse of long ginger hair and stepped forward with his bouquet in hand. The woman sped past, shooting him a pointed look while talking rapidly into her cellular in Russian.
“Sorry, my mistake.”
The crowd began to thin as those arriving coupled in smiling embraces with those waiting and together made their way toward baggage claim. The stream became a trickle and then petered out into a few stragglers.
For a moment, Mr. Dickson was alone in front of the closed double doors. The doors burst open and a group of flight attendants and pilots began to pass by. He stepped in front of a tall dark-haired attendant.
Mr. Dickson dropped the bouquet to his side when he felt her staring at it.
“Are there any other passengers behind you?”
“No, sir, I’m sorry, we’re the last ones off the flight. Perhaps you have the wrong flight number?”
“No, I—thank you for your time.”
Richard held the bouquet beneath the counter, away from the inquisitive gaze of the agent at the window.
“I was supposed to meet someone on flight 30, could you tell me if they missed the flight?”
“Who is the traveler?”
“Katja. Katja Alexandrovna Ivanova.”
The woman tapped away at her computer keyboard for a few minutes.
“I’m sorry sir, there was no Katja Ivanova on the flight manifest.”
“Are you certain, it’s Ivanova, I-V-A-N-O-V-A.”
She glanced back at her monitor.
“I’m certain, there was no Katja Ivanova on Flight 30.”
Late night on the same day Richard stared at an empty chat window. His computer dinged.
kat1964 is now online.
rdickson44: Did you miss your flight? What happened?
rdickson44: I was waiting for you.
rdickson44: Did you get my money?
kat1964 is now offline.
The Czar Nicholas, naturally expecting that the Gulf of Finland, containing Cronstadt and the approach to St. Petersburg, would be visited by the English and French fleets, was not slow to prepare defensively for such a contingency. As early as November in the previous year, the formation of twenty Finnish battalions of troops had been ordered–to be dressed and equipped by the districts which provided them, but armed from the arsenals at Sveaborg.
Mr. Dickson stuck a thumb in his book and rubbed his eyes. He stared out the small oval window down onto the vast featureless blue of the Labrador Sea. The flight had passed over Newfoundland several hours ago and had been over the water ever since.
He pulled the envelope from the back cover of the book and laid the contents out over his current pages. A name, an address, and a photograph. He ran his thumb across the picture and then suddenly shut the book. Laying back he shut his eyes and tried to get some sleep. St. Petersburg was many hours away.
It took him three tries to find a taxi driver who spoke English and could take him to the address on the letter. As the taxi barreled through traffic Richard peered out the windows trying to take in as much of the city as possible. Pulkovo International Airport sits on the southern edge of St. Petersburg and the destination was in the northern part of the city. As the taxi turned into a roundabout Mr. Dickson was surprised to see the Narva Triumphal Gate, built in 1814 to celebrate the Russian victory over Napoleon. From its top, winged Nike looked down on him from his chariot. Soon after, they crossed the Neva River into the northern part of the city.
Mr. Dickson shoved a handful of Rubles at the driver and asked him to wait but the taxi drove off as soon as he turned away. Richard stood for a while in front of 38 Chkalovskiy prospekt before knocking lightly. After a minute he knocked again, louder. The door opened a moment later and a large Russian man in a ringer T stepped onto the stoop in front of Richard.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Russian. I’m looking for a woman, her name is Katja. Katja Alexandrovna Ivanova.”
The large man answered in heavily accented but perfect English.
“There is no one by that name here, goodbye.”
He turned to go.
“I could go to the Consulate.” Richard interjected quickly.
The large man paused for a moment, visibly thinking.
“OK. Come inside.”
The Russian stood aside just far enough so Richard could squeeze by and then shut the door behind him.
Richard saw the gun when the man turned to leave, tucked into the elastic waistband of his sweatpants.
He examined the entryway while he waited. To his right was a panel with a double-row of stainless steel buttons. The adhesive labels were scratched away and unreadable.
When the man returned Richard noticed he had put a light charcoal blazer on over his T.
Richard followed him down the hall and through a door where a pair of men were engaged in an animated conversation in Russian. They shared a hardy laugh and then turned to Richard. The older of the two men gestured toward a comfortable looking sofa.
“Please, won’t you sit.”
Once Richard was settled, the man sat across from him and rested his elbows on his knees.
“So, you are looking for a woman?”
“Yes, Katja Alexandrovna Ivanova.”
“It’s a pretty name, but I’m sorry I can’t help you. There is no one by that name here.”
“I have a picture.”
Richard pulled out the wallet photo and the man leaned across to accept it. He looked at it for a moment and then called his compatriot over to have a look as well. They conferred for a moment in Russian.
“You know her!”
The older man returned the photo to Richard.
“Yes, we do. She is an actress, she is like Russian Julie Roberts. But her name isn’t Katja. I’m sorry, I’m afraid you’ve wasted your time.”
“I sent money. To this address.”
“There must have been some misunderstanding. How much money did you send?”
“Six hundred eighty nine dollars.”
The older man clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth.
“This money, I should not give you, so you learn your lesson. But I am in generous mood.”
With that he snapped his fingers and the second man pulled out a wad of hundred dollar bills and handed them to the older man. He counted out seven bills and handed them to the large Russian.
The large Russian walked Richard back to the front door before stuffing the bills in his front pocket.
“Goodbye, enjoy your time in Saint Petersburg, do not come back.”