A Shameful Secret

From the Story Arc: K MOCKBY

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(posted Tuesday, August 17, 2004)

<This letter, written in an elegant and ornate hand, is attached to the front door of a run-down Moscow apartment, addressed to a certain Olga Zholastova>


 


My Dear Friend Olga,


 


I must render my sincerest apologies for not having written to you lately.  It has been a hectic time of late in America, and I have not taken the time to collect my thoughts.  The first thing I would like to let you know is that I am in Moscow at this very minute, and I need very urgently to meet with you.


 


The second part of this letter is something of a confessional.  I have been wracked with guilt for not telling you the full story concerning the nature of our relationship at the beginning.  My duplicity has compounded itself, and I now must do what I can to make amends to you.  The only way I know to do this is to tell you the truth - the whole truth.


 


First I must tell you this - there is much that will sound unbelievable, but I beg your patience in hearing me out.  I was once considered a great hero of the Russian people - I was known by many silly names at different times, but, most recently, have been known as The Red Menace.   I have, for my entire life, struggled against the forces that would undo our people, both internal and external, and my once-mighty strength was somehow drawn from the generous and selfless spirit of our great People.  As our country fell into the hands of cynical bureaucrats and black-market exploitationists, and our way of life became dominated by the thousands of petty ambitions of thousands of petty men, the hearts of our people weakened as well - as did my strength.


 


Whereas once I fought on the vanguard of mighty battles, by 1999, I was reduced to patrolling the streets of Moscow, chasing down pickpockets.  These are the circumstances that led me to the Moscow River in Lomonosovsky district the night of December 29, 1999.


 


Lomonosovsky was, I'm sure you remember, a difficult part of Moscow in 1999.  The lack of police presence was a strong incentive for gatherings of street criminals and other such scavengers.  Because of this, I found myself spending much time in Lomonosovsky, arresting black-marketeers and discouraging local racketeers from plying their poisons on the streets.


 


The winter of 1999 was especially fierce - the savage winds kept all but the most determined and hardy of predators from conducting their dubious business.  As such, I daily patrolled the deserted, snow-covered riverbank, rarely seeing a soul.  I was thus surprised when I one day saw, in the distance, a group of five men approaching a young woman.  Their eyes betrayed their ill-intentions, and they began to catcall the young lady in their thick Komsomosk accent.  When she ignored their harassment, and quickened her pace, they chased and overtook her.  This is when I acted.


 


A trick once taught to me by an old Russian mystic involves folding myself into a shadow, and unfolding from another shadow.  Doing this, I interposed myself between the young woman and her would-be assailants, facing them with a glower.  As was typical with these types of scavengers, they jumped back, startled and confused, terror in their eyes.  I admonished them with a few choice words from another era, and turned to the young lady.


 


She looked, perhaps, 19, and was beautiful, with large blue eyes of the sort that are seen once in a generation, skin of alabaster, and a kind of innocence and sweetness that radiated from her.  I have seen many beautiful women in my lifetime, my dear friend, but this one - this one took away my breath.  I started to ask her name, when I felt a sharp pain in my lower back, radiating from my kidney.


 


My friend, I once stood on battlefields with Cossacks' swords breaking on my skin, laughing while artillery shells shattered on my chest.  But this day, the knife of a common street thug in my back dropped me to the ground.  Red and black swam over my vision as I struggled to stand, scrabbling, slipping in my own blood.  Blows from fists and boots rained down on me, as I dimly heard, as through a tunnel, pleas, and - then dimmer - then vanishing - shrieks.


 


These are the circumstances that led to you finding, in the bloody snow near your apartment steps, the mutilated and desecrated body of your beautiful and beloved daughter, Raisa; next to her the broken body of a strange man in blood-soaked rags, breathing the shallowest of breaths.


 


Three days and millennium later, I awakened in your tiny apartment.  Your ministrations and, most of all, your kindness in the face of the shock and horror accompanying such a tragic sacrifice returned to me my life, tovarisch.  It was your spirit in the following weeks that rebuilt my body.  It was your words - do you remember them? - that rebuilt my determination, and restored my destiny:


 


"Russia is dead - a sacrifice at the altar of the darkness of mens' souls.  Our people gorge themselves on their own corpses.  Our only hope, Viktor, is that, when there is nothing left, the soul of brotherhood - the spirit of something larger - can return to our Motherland."


 


I will be this spirit, tovarisch - this is now my life.


 


This is my terrible truth, dearest friend.  I hope that somehow you may find it in your heart to forgive my shameful, shamed silence up to now.


 


I must ask one final favor of you: I have ascertained that, following my departure from you and from Russia, that you were visited by men looking for me, representing a certain I. Medvedev.  I urgently need any information these men might have divulged in their questioning of you.  I beg you to contact me posthaste at the Marco Polo Presnja Hotel, room 716.


 


Your humble servant and undying friend,


 

Viktor Chernii