A Clash of Forces by Larysa Rychkova

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Larysa Rychkova

Larysa Rychkova

Larysa Rychkova is a new author, a debutant in the writer’s world, now looking in her later years to achieve a passion she has harboured for many years—to write and publish a thriller. She was born in the former Soviet Union, in the territory of the Ukraine. Although an exceptional student in her study of mathematics and precision work, she was very creative and had a love of the arts. Her university degree in mathematics and computer programming took her to the very Far East of Russia, learning many new skills within the new culture of Russia and dealing with people from different layers of society. After that next chapter of life, and with two children already, brought her to a successful twenty-year career as a director of the government job centre in Ukraine.

With time, her beloved son and daughter, already in higher education, moved to a university in Sweden, achieving their masters degrees in Stockholm, and have since moved to successful careers in London. A very new experience also brought Rychkova to England eighteen years ago as a newlywed with a British husband, where she has settled and begun to write in her retirement.

Who does not like to read, to swim, to travel, to paint? But the most fictional chapters of her thriller, A Clash of Forces, were planned while participating in her love of swimming. Having a huge life, job, experiences, it was easy for her to write intriguing insights in a real Russian’s life, with interesting glimpses about the world where possibly many readers have not been. This story hopefully will eliminate the myth about women from the eastern part of Europe, who search for love, and  also make us believe that sometime someone will invent something which makes our world a greener place and to live without a dependency from current energy sources which will change the world forever.’


A Clash of Forces by Larysa Rychkova

Prologue

The white Yak 42 with blue flashes touched down smoothly on the tarmac at Saratov airport in southern Russia, with barely a squeal from the tires. The roar of the engines filled the air as the pilot engaged reverse thrust to bring the aircraft down to taxi speed.

Outside of the airport, near the arrivals gate, a small crowd had gathered, many carrying flowers for their expected friends and family. They were all trying to catch sight of the passengers descending from the belly of the plane. Everyone was looking for someone and there was a frisson of excitement and expectation in the air.

Towards the back of the crowd an attractive woman in her earlier fifties, was waiting patiently. She had long, glossy dark brown hair, which was curled into an immaculate chignon, and wore a smart, pale green business suit, which perfectly complemented her large green eyes. Looking down at her hands, which were holding five roses, loosely tied with a blue and gold ribbon, she saw that they were shaking slightly which she tried to hide. This might be a very important day in her life—a man she had been longing to meet was due to fly in from the capital.

She carefully checked each new passenger as they emerged from the plane, but she could not see him. Finally, she noticed a man, who looked just like the man in the picture in her handbag—tall and with short grey hair. Her heartbeat quickened…this must be him! Would he recognize her? She had sent him many photographs during the last month—a whole two months of exchanged letters and calls. He must surely recognize her! She waited eagerly for him to appear through the exit gate, lifting the flowers ready to wave, but as he drew closer, a woman with two small children, rushed to embrace him. And he was the last passenger to leave…

A dark wave of disappointment engulfed her, suddenly she just wanted to sit down and not move. She couldn’t believe that there were no more passengers. Where was her much expected man then? When she saw the pilot and the stewardess leaving the plane she approached them and asked if everyone left the aircraft.

The pilot smiled at her and said gently, “Yes, I’m sorry, madam, there’s no one else on board.”

She stood there, confused and disappointed, the only person left in the arrivals hall.

By now it was getting quite late and the place was very quiet. She was numb with frustration and just wanted to sit down and cry. What could have happened? Why hadn’t he come? From his letters, he had seemed to be so genuine and reliable. And now—

What should she do? She couldn’t face returning to her car, where her driver had a bottle of Champagne in a cool bag, waiting for her and her guest. She decided to leave it a little longer so that she could calm down and cool off a bit before the drive home. She didn’t want her young driver to see her unhappiness. After a few moments, she stood up and walked towards the exit, trying hard to conceal her emotions.

As she passed the Information Desk, she stopped to ask about arrivals from Moscow. The bored looking clerk was stuffing a sandwich into her mouth and it was clear that it would be too much of an effort for her to make the necessary phone calls. Lara was insistent and it was finally confirmed that there had been no one called Harrison on the passenger list of any of the flights that day. And no, it would be of no use to call back later.

She breathed deeply and the let the air out slowly. She walked to her car, dumping the beautiful flowers in a bin on the way. Her driver had the door of the car open and immediately saw that all was not well. She managed to give him a neutral smile and said, “Let’s go, there will be no guest tonight.”

 

Chapter One

She fastened her seat belt, turned on the radio, and stared sadly into the darkness from the speeding car. Random thoughts jangled in her tired brain—what could have happened? She pressed her hands to her temples, as she could feel a headache coming on. She realized, with a sudden, sharp pain, that soon she would be back in her flat, where all her careful preparations, caviar and champagne would be for nothing. The apartment would be unbearably empty and silent.

Lara thanked her driver and took the lift to her eighth-floor flat. Turning on the lights she threw her jacket onto a chair and went into the bathroom. She splashed some water on her face and glanced in the mirror. She saw a mature, but still beautiful face with big green eyes, a small straight nose and sensuous lips. She tried to control her emotions, but tears began to trickle down her cheeks. She told herself that she would be strong, that it was time to sleep and that tomorrow would be better—tomorrow she would be able to cope with the situation, to think rationally.

The next morning, after a fitful sleep she awoke early. She stood up and stretched in front of her full length cheval mirror. Her body was still fit and well-proportioned, both from nature and a life-long love affair with the gym and swimming pools. She had always been determined to remain as slim and active as possible. There was the odd bit of cellulite, but nobody would take her to be in her early fifties. Only an occasional pain in her knees or lower back reminded her of her age. She took a good shower and, still in her dressing gown, had a light breakfast of cottage cheese with honey, fruit, and black coffee. She then put on an elegant grey skirt suit, carefully adjusted her Hermes silk scarf, which her absent guest had sent her as a present from England, and left her apartment building. Her driver was already waiting and opened the car door with a salute and a cheery good morning.

At the main entrance of her office building, Lara jumped quickly out of the car and put the happenings of the previous day out of her mind. She smiled, remembering that she was needed and respected here. Her job was absorbing and challenging—it showcased her talent and determination to find solutions to that part of town’s population who were in search of jobs. Crossing the main hall, she called friendly good mornings to clients waiting for appointments and the various staff members already at their desks. In the light, spacious outer office, which was occupied by her deputy and a lawyer, she checked their plans for the day and hurried upstairs to her own office.

She exchanged pleasantries with her secretary Olga and quickly ascertained that there was nothing requiring her immediate attention.

“There will be a staff meeting in my office in an hour,” she said. “Please ask them to be ready to discuss plans for this week, and I’d like a cup of coffee please.”

When she was alone, she took a deep breath, put her handbag on the office chair, and sat down on the small sofa to plan the meeting.

Concentrating on her work today was proving very difficult, her thoughts returned constantly to what on earth could have happened to her visitor, and why he had not contacted her.

She completed all her routine tasks on autopilot, meetings with employees, checking and signing files, making decisions about budgets. Her thoughts returned again and again to Derek, who had not come.”

He had such a lovely speaking voice, his emails were so sweet, so wise and serious. What had she done wrong? Maybe someone better, someone younger had come along? Who knows? I guess that’s life, she thought. I’ve always had to fight, I shall fight again.

Lara realized suddenly that the day was almost over and she must soon return to her flat—a particularly dismal prospect with no sign of good news.

Once in the car, she asked her driver to take her first to a place on the riverbank where she sometimes liked to spend half an hour looking at the beautiful panorama of the mighty Volga. From bank to bank it was maybe three miles, and in some places you could not see the opposite side. Lara always liked to be near the river, to feel a breeze against her face and feel the energy from the water. Some peace of mind might come near the huge river, which she had loved since childhood.

Back in the car, the traffic was light and she was soon home. Maria, the concierge, was sitting as usual in a cozy corner of the entrance hall, checking arriving residents for security. She was very friendly with Lara and asked about her children, but Lara was in no mood for conversation that day, so she just smiled and said that they were Ok, hurrying on to the lift.

Lara’s daughter, Oleva, had met a Swedish man some years ago through the Internet and, after a short romance, had married him. Lara was happy that everything seemed to be going so well with her beloved child. She believed that her Swedish son-in-law was a kind and reliable man, who would look after her daughter, and as she knew that Oleva was loving and caring there was no reason to worry. Their marriage had every chance of success.

Her son, Alex, had already been abroad for several years, and was at present studying Nuclear Science at Stockholm University. Next year he should complete his Ph.D. And, she hoped, he would find a good job, there were plenty of nuclear power stations in the world, where educated young professionals were in demand.

Her son’s success made his mother proud, confident that he would do well in his chosen field. He had always worked hard and, just a month ago, had called her to share a very special piece of news. During his research work at the university he had discovered the possibility of developing a completely new energy source! It was very early days, and Alex would say nothing more about it as there was still much research to do.

“It is potentially very, very important, mum, but please, put it out of your mind for now. Don’t tell anyone, but one day, I think, you will be very proud of me.”

Lara didn’t take any of this too seriously, but still tucked the information away. She would always be proud of her handsome son whatever he did.

After a quick shower, she lay back on the sofa in her silk dressing gown and switched on the TV to relax for an hour. She felt so emotionally drained that she needed to close her eyes and rest.

Suddenly, opening her eyes she realized that she had slept for nearly half an hour. Feeling somewhat refreshed, she decided to call her friend Alina and tell her that Derek had not turned up.

“…Can you imagine how I felt?! He just didn’t appear! And I still have no idea why. What do you think, Alina?”

“You do realize that some foreign men just like to play games, Lara. We don’t really know anything about your Derek, although, I must say that when I was helping you to translate his emails, he did seem very genuine and I was inclined to trust him more than not. It really is odd that you have heard nothing. Maybe you should try and call him—something might have happened to him?”

Lara was torn by the idea of chasing after Derek and decided to call her son in Stockholm, first.

“Hi, darling, it’s Mama—how are you? I could really do with a little advice from a man of the world.”

She explained about her missing guest and asked if Alex would call him on her behalf. He would do this better as his English was much better than hers. She gave him the number, and hung up, still not sure if she was sad or angry.

A few minutes later the phone rang. “There was no reply, Mum. I think it might be best if you just try to forget him. He doesn’t seem very reliable to me.”

She was hoping for a charming, decent man who would be faithful and devoted to her. She wanted someone who would share her life and whose values were the same as her own. She needed something more than just a good secure job. She wanted to be with someone—her own man! After her first marriage ended in divorce, she had not met anyone with whom she could even consider a lasting relationship—all the decent men were married.

Her circle of friends mainly comprised of powerful business people with good social positions and although they were very understanding and always willing to help her, she wanted love, affection and intimacy—she was aching to give her heart to someone.

Lara breathed deeply, taking the small pile of his letters from her bureau. As she read, she thought he sounded sincere enough…two grown up daughters, neither married yet, but both living with partners—one had a small son.

Derek had been married twice, which did not sound too good, but his last wife had died suddenly, so it was not his fault that he was single again. He certainly came across as an honest, caring man without the usual emotional baggage. And he had a lovely telephone voice—he had even called her princess. Hardly how she saw herself, but flattery is very pleasant for any woman. He seemed to be sincere and wrote beautifully, with a strong, masculine hand. He’d had a business for 26 years, which suggested both ability and stability. Lara didn’t really understand exactly what he did yet, but his company seemed to be doing well, which was the main thing. Everything had looked so promising—except, where in God’s name was he?

She snapped out of her reverie.

What am I thinking about? I really am losing my head! This man failed to show up, without a word, and here I am still thinking about living with him. Am I insane?

It was getting late and she was feeling hungry so went to her comfortable kitchen to rustle up something quick for supper. She was admiring her stylish granite worktops, and thinking about a glass of wine when the phone rang! A call at this time of night was unusual—she ran to the phone, her heart beating wildly.

“Oh, Thank God. It’s you! What on earth happened? Where are you, Derek? Yes, yes…All right—I’m writing the number down now. Don’t worry, everything will be all right. You found me—I won’t let you go now. I’ll call you straight back at your hotel.”

Her face was getting hot and red with excitement, her heartbeat quickened with pleasure, and her hands were trembling a little from the shock of such an unexpected surprise. At last he was here! It was magical. She hurried to the kitchen for a glass of water then grabbed the phone.

“Hello, Derek. I was so worried about you. Where were you? Tell me what happened.”

She was so thrilled to hear his voice that she only partly listened to what he said, and certainly didn’t understand every word. However, despite her excitement, she had a very acute woman’s intuition, and had a worrying feeling that he was not telling her the whole truth, that he was holding something back.

“Derek, it’s very late now and I cannot come to your hotel tonight. If you can wait there alone for a few more hours, I will come in the morning. It is about a two-hour drive from Balakovo to you in Saratov, so I should be there by ten. Is that good?”

“I’ll be fine here till the morning, Lara, but I cannot wait to see you! I am looking forward to it so much. Till tomorrow—sleep well.”

Despite the late hour, she picked up the phone again and called her secretary

“Olga? I am so sorry to disturb you at home so late. Look, I need to take some holiday. I am going to the Saratov tomorrow, but would prefer to keep it quiet. Please, will you find the letter, at my desk, that needs to go to the Regional Office and make sure it is sent tomorrow? Thanks. I’ll keep in touch while I am away to check on things.”

Lara began to pack quickly, her mood buoyant. She tried various clothes in front of the mirror, smiling to herself, and imagining their first meeting.

***

The day dawned clear and sunny, birds were singing gaily in the trees. The building where Lara lived was on an avenue in the greenest part of town, close to the banks of the river. Normally she did not notice the birds, but this morning her own heart was singing in unison—maybe even more loudly than the birds.

As expected, it took a little over two hours to reach the city of Saratov. The driver, Peter, was quiet during the journey thinking about his own domestic problems. His wife had no job, and he had two little girls to bring up, his salary was barely sufficient to feed everyone. Despite his troubles he could not help but notice that his boss was in an unusually happy mood, singing to herself most of the way. Obviously, something pretty dramatic had happened since last night. Once in the suburbs, she asked that he drop her at the Metropole Hotel and return to the office. She mentioned that she would be taking a short holiday and that her secretary Olga would let him know when to come back. He was very pleased when she also said that she was looking into the possibility of giving him a raise, despite the normal rates being fixed by the government.

As she got out of the car, Lara’s heart was jumping almost out of her chest. This man, whom she had liked instantly from his letters and photos was waiting for her in this very hotel! She had decided that nobody should know about the new man in case she did not get on with him as well as hoped. This was why she had sent her driver back instead of having him drive them both to the airport. She asked the receptionist for Mr. Harrison’s room number and followed her directions to the lift. She checked her hair and make-up in the mirror and trying desperately to remain calm, she went along the corridor to his room.

She knocked in the door and in the next moment the door opened, revealing a good looking, man in his early sixties. He had a short grey hair and was casually dressed in a fawn, V-necked cashmere sweater and matching slacks. He had a charming smile, and opened his arms to embrace her.

“At last! I am so glad to see you!”

He held her back at arm’s length admiringly.

“God, you are really beautiful—so much more so than your photograph. It’s truly wonderful to finally meet you, Lara.”

“Welcome to Russia, Derek—welcome to my country.”

Smiling happily, she put both her hands in his hand and could already feel the passion rising within her from his touch.

 

Chapter Two

A day earlier, shortly after dawn, Derek stepped out of his front door into a light drizzle. The morning was chilly and he wore a fawn windcheater over his slightly old-fashioned business suit. He had on a fresh white shirt and carefully polished black brogues, but was not really at ease in any sort of formal clothing. However he thought, needs must. I have to make a good impression.

He threw his bag into the green Jaguar XJ and backed slowly down the sloping drive onto the road. At that time of day the roads were almost empty, which would cut almost an hour off his journey time to Heathrow. Once he reached the M6 and could cruise at a reasonable speed, he began to relax.

His thoughts were with his new lady friend, whom he was going to see that day. In her photographs she looked sophisticated, elegant, and intelligent. From her letters she gave an impression of warm-heartedness and sincerity. Since his wife had died just over a year ago, he had dated a few women, and even slept with one of them, but none had touched him like this beautiful Russian lady. He desperately hoped that she would be the woman with whom he could rebuild his life. During the past year, he had learned how terrible it was to be lonely. His life felt empty when he came home from work to a cold house, he missed the companionship of a partner, someone with whom he could walk his dogs and go on holidays. He really felt the need of a woman’s touch for himself and his home. Derek was also aware that it was, perhaps, a bit soon to be involving himself in a serious relationship. Maybe he was not entirely ready for another person in his life just yet. May be he was trying to replace one woman with another, and this might be difficult, and even hurtful, for a new person to deal with. Still, he was sure that he had to share his life with someone, if he wanted to feel fulfilled.

Despite the difficulties and dangers, he was already smitten, and embarked on his adventure happy and excited, determined to give it his best shot. He just needed to stop daydreaming, put his foot down, and get to the airport in plenty of time.

As usual the airport was busy. He parked in the long-stay car park and took the bus to the terminal. A few minutes later he was in a short check-in queue and the formalities were quickly dealt with. With some relief he went to the bar and, hot and thirsty, ordered a pint of lager.

“Jesus, if the weather is this hot here, what will it be like in Russia?”

He remember that Lara said that August is normally very warm there. They better have plenty of beer.

His flight was called and he squeezed into the small seat and looked around. There was no one he was inclined to chat with, so he closed his eyes.

***

He was awakened by a stewardess, asking if he would like some lunch. He hadn’t eaten for nearly six hours, so he dropped his tray-table and soon finished a rather bland, fiddly meal. In truth he could easily have eaten two had he been offered more, but this was economy class with a very small “e.”

After coffee, listening to the engines low rumble, his thoughts returned again to Lara.

Where is she now? I hope she is as nervous and excited as I am. God, I feel like a drippy teenager again. He was returned to earth with a bump, when he remembered all the obstacles and difficulties he had had to sort out in his factory, before he was able get away. One of the moulding machines was on the blink and a spare part had had to be couriered down from Scotland. Fortunately, it had arrived in ten hours and the problem had been solved. He was lucky to have a reliable workforce and a couple of brilliant workers, so there was no cause for concern. He would call in regularly to make sure that everything was working normally.

There was, however, a much bigger fly in the ointment, which would not be so easy to deal with. He had two grown up daughters from his first marriage. He had divorced their mother many years ago and they both liked to have their say where his activities were concerned. He had always been generous towards them both, probably too generous! The outcome of this was that they now relied on him to supplement their incomes and certainly had their eyes firmly on the main chance should anything happen to him. They had made him feel guilty for destroying their family life, and he had tried to make amends by paying out for every little thing they asked. As a result, he had no savings to speak of and for some years had spent very little on improvements to his own home or even fulfilled any of his own wishes and ambitions. It had even put a strain on his relationship with his second wife who was childless.

Their marriage was not long lasting—and now she was dead.

He was fully aware that a third, new wife would want to make changes to his household and that he would need most of his income to give her the sort of life he would wish for her. He was almost at retirement age now and too old to start saving for the future. He felt a twinge of resentment that his children, who were now adults with life partners, still depended on him for handouts. By now, they should be standing on their own two feet. He had done everything a good father could reasonably be expected to do, but enough was enough, he now wanted nothing more than to enjoy his life with a new lady. Hardly surprisingly, his girls felt threatened by the whole thing, seeing their promised inheritance going down the drain. Derek had explained to them that if he remarried and anything happened to him, only fifty percent of his estate would pass to his new wife, the remainder to be split between them. This did not go down at all well—they were spoiled and greedy, and tried to insist on having all of it.

At this, he had put his foot down and said that his decision would stand, take it or leave it. He knew that this would make future relationships with his children difficult, both for himself and Lara, but thought it would be a price worth paying if he found the happiness he longed for.

He was snapped out of his daydream by an announcement.

“We are about to land at Moscow Sheremetyevo, the air temperature is…”

He left the aircraft, collected his baggage and went through immigration surprisingly quickly considering the horror stories he had heard from others, who had visited Moscow. But he was in Moscow for a second time and did not believe those stories.

He filed out with the other passengers into the huge arrivals hall, where there were people standing on both sides waiting for visitors. Many were holding up signs bearing the names of the guests or clients that they were waiting for. He was somewhat taken aback to see a sign with his name on it, as he was not expecting to be met. He thought it odd, but he walked towards the sign anyway.

“Excuse me, my name is Derek Harrison. Are you meeting someone else of that name or?”

The good-looking middle-aged man wearing a smart grey suit smiled at him “Ah, Mr. Harrison! Yes. I am waiting for you. You’re the guest of Lara Petrova? Good. My name is Nicolai and Lara asked me to meet you and take you to the domestic airport—my car is just outside.”

Derek was slightly confused, but Nicolai’s English was good and he seemed genuine enough. He had also mentioned Lara by name so he must be OK.

Once outside, Nicolai explained that he was an old business friend of Lara’s, now living in the capital. Yesterday she had phoned him and asked if he would kindly give a lift to her friend, who was arriving from England. “She said that her friend, meaning you, spoke no Russian and would need to get to the domestic airport. She thought he might have problems organising a transfer.”

“You do know that your plane to Saratov is from another airport?” he said.

“Yes, I know. It’s very kind of you to help me like this. I’m really grateful, I wouldn’t have had the foggiest idea where that domestic airport is located.”

When they arrived at the car, Derek was slightly apprehensive to find another man sitting in the back.

Nikolai quickly reassured him,

“No problem. This is my friend Vladimir. After I drop you, I have to attend to some business with him. Let me put your luggage in the boot and you can sit in the front and see the sights as we go.”

Derek felt himself relax—his trip was going very smoothly. In an hour he would be on his next plane and two hours after that would meet his new lady friend.

He nodded at Vladimir as he took his seat, but only received a grunt in return. He assumed that his other companion did not speak any English, and settled back to watch the scenery.

For many years, Russia had been on his “to do” list. He had longed to visit the country, especially its great capital. On this, his second visit, he was going to make the most of it.

Nicolai drove carefully as the traffic was very heavy, but from time to time he asked Derek about life in England—prices, politics, the weather—he was a likeable companion and they immediately hit it off. Derek had imagined that the capital would be a huge metropolis but was still surprised as they sped through street after street. Finally, they left the city center and were soon heading through the suburbs on a motorway. He asked how far they were from the airport.

“Quite close, won’t be long.” he said.

The car took the next exit from the motorway onto a secondary road and Derek was suddenly alert.

“Is this the quickest way to the airport?”

He asked, unable to keep a hint of panic out of his voice.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Harrison. Another five minutes and all will be revealed.”

At this, Derek began to really worry. Who were these people? Where were they taking him? He started to sweat—something was definitely not as it should be.

“Nicolai, would you please go straight to the airport? I have a plane to catch.”

Nikolai ignored him and drove on in silence. Derek quickly understood that he was completely helpless. A sixty-two year old with two quite strong looking men—he was now very frightened and just wanted it all to stop. He had no idea who these two really were or what they wanted. But he could do nothing but wait anxiously for their next move. After a few more miles, the car turned between two heavy stone pillars. Immediately beyond was a security barrier, which automatically rose to allow them access. They drove up to the front of a large brown stone house that looked as if it had been built in the last century. Derek hardy noticed—by now he was scared for his life.

Nicolai turned to him.

“Mr. Harrison, we want to assure you that you are quite safe. If we wanted to do you any harm, it would have happened already.

“You have been invited here by a very special Russian organisation—they wish to talk to you about some very important business. I’m sorry, we were obliged to use subterfuge, but we could not afford a scene at the airport. All will be revealed in due course, meanwhile just relax, keep calm, and do as we tell you, and there will be no problems.”

The imposing front door was opened by a muscular looking young man, dressed entirely in black. Once inside, even in his petrified state, Derek was impressed by the sumptuous furniture and decoration. Faux Louis XV chairs and commodes, crystal chandeliers and heavy embroidered curtains. It was more like a small palace than a private house. A young man in a business suit approached them and spoke to Derek in immaculate English.

“Good day, Mr. Harrison. My name is Oleg. I’m sorry that it has been necessary to bring you here in this manner, but, please, understand that you are in absolutely no danger. We would be obliged for your understanding and cooperation. But please don’t do anything stupid,” he added darkly.

“We shall take you to a room, where you can drop your luggage, and then you will have some lunch with Nicolai. After that, my bosses would like to have a chat with you. Don’t worry about the flight to meet your lady that will be sorted out for you tomorrow.”

He was pleasant, but serious and official, without any hint of a smile, he was also obviously used to being obeyed without question.

Despite his conciliatory tone, Derek was still shaking with fear and sweat was running down his back. He had been kidnapped, but why? What had he done wrong in this country? What could they want from him? And what would Lara think when he wasn’t at the airport? He felt totally helpless.

Moments later he was escorted to the first floor and into a spacious room as luxurious as any 5 star hotel he had ever been in. It was beautifully furnished in the same opulent fashion as the downstairs, thick plush carpets and gilt framed paintings on the walls. Derek dropped his bags and took a seat in silence. Nicolai did the same.

“If you need a toilet, it’s through there.”

Derek went to the bathroom, which was as impressive as the other rooms he had seen. He closed the door, not surprised to find there was no bolt, and threw open the window. It was barred on the outside! All he could see was forest. He had heard that there was a massive circle of woodland around Moscow. So—no way to escape, even if he could get out of the house. Despondently he washed his hands and returned to the bedroom.

He was taken down to the ground floor again and then into a large dining room. A waiter approached, invited them to sit down and handed each of them a menu—Derek’s was in English.

Nicolai insisted that Derek choose something to eat although he felt so nervous he wasn’t at all hungry. They finally ordered some soup which, when it arrived, smelled and tasted delicious. They ate in silence. Derek was still very apprehensive, and Nicolai was wondering what orders he might be given concerning his captive.

After lunch they returned to the hall and Nicolai knocked on one of the doors.

“Come in!”

Derek’s heart was thudding his chest, but he stepped forward into the big room, staring around with wild eyes.

“Welcome to our company, Mr. Harrison.”

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