Escape from Krasnoyarsk.
Tsarina stepped out of her overfull bath, picked up the warm, fluffy bath towel from the towel radiator, wrapped it round her tall slender body, walked into the bedroom and stared at the window. It had finally stopped snowing. Grabbing her fur coat from the chair she dropped the towel and slid her arms into the ample bulk of her favourite coat and pulled it tight around her waist.
Stepping lightly over her clothes, where she had dropped them on the floor, she walked around the end of the bed to the window and flung it wide open as far as it would go.
The stuffy warm air of her bedroom rushed out into the cold Siberian night. Leaning out of the window she filled her lungs with the pine scented air.
At this northerly latitude the sun set early and looking west she saw its red orb glimmering through the lingering clouds. Where the sun shone through, it turned their edges gold.
The storm had left a covering of snow on the spruce trees and blanketed the ground, obliterating the tracks of the evening travellers. Looking down to the hotel car park she saw the tops of the cars hadn’t escaped the onslaught of snow either.
She was glad to have rented the Mercedes 4x4, without it she wouldn’t have been able to get out into the countryside to do the interviews with the local businesses that her magazine had arranged; and now she was finished, articles typed double space, spell checked, emailed back to London and safely out of her hands.
Now what was she going to do with the next few days before she flew back to London and her dreary day job, if only the snow had been heavier and she could get snowed in, fat chance she thought.
Reluctantly she leaned back into the room and shut the windows, now sporting a fresh sheen of ice on the inside from the hot steamy air from the bathroom and got dressed for dinner.
Thankfully there was no formal dress code, so she pulled on her slacks and a thick polo necked woollen jumper, did her makeup, brushed out her long blond hair and went down to dinner.
‘Hello Tsarina, did you finish writing your travel article?’
‘Oh—good evening Major Thornton. Yes, I just emailed it to my editor in London.’
‘So now you’re free to do what you want?’
‘Not quite, I have to fly back on Sunday. I’m booked on an Air France flight Sunday morning.’
‘Well, that gives you tomorrow to do some sightseeing.’
‘After all the driving I’ve done this last week I doubt I’ll be driving very far, probably the only driving I will be doing will be to the airport Sunday morning and that will be that.’
‘Well how about a spot of dinner, that is if you haven’t already eaten?’
‘No, I was just going in to the dining room.’
‘Mind if I join you?’
She would have preferred to have eaten alone, she was well aware of travelling salesmen stories and Thornton fitted the bill exactly, even if he was Major Thornton.
‘No, not at all,’ she said reluctantly, ‘I do plan to turn in early this evening though.’
As the words were out of her mouth she realised what she’d said and quickly added, ‘I’ve my expenses to do and there’s a report I have to compile for Intourist, they’re who I work for in London and they’re sticklers for reports, typical bureaucrats.’
She was pleased to see the cloud of disappointment form on Thornton’s face.
‘Ready,’ she said, ‘I hear they do a superb venison steak.’
‘Sounds great, can’t speak a word of the lingo and just point at the menu, been drinking soup all week.’
Tsarina looked at his waistline and doubted he’d been drinking soup all week.
They walked into the almost empty dining room and stood waiting to be seated. The waiter placed them at a large table in front of a blazing log fire.
‘Should have eaten with you before, wouldn’t be so hungry,’ said Thornton laughing, ‘and it’s just plain John Thornton now—I retired a few years ago, just do a little private consultancy work now and again.’
‘Oh, I see.’
‘I expect you’ll be off home to your family on Sunday then?’ said Thornton.
‘You mean Pinkie and Perky.’
‘Pinkie and Perky?’
‘My cats—I live alone.’
‘Oh—sorry, didn’t mean to intrude on your personal life.’
‘That’s OK; I’m resigned to the single life—I don’t mind anyone knowing.’
Mindful of her dinner date she kept to still water, while Thornton drank a whole bottle of Dom Perignon champagne with his dinner and finished with a large glass of expensive cognac.
They finished their dinner and walked out of the dining room, Tsarina to her bedroom and Thornton to the reception desk.
‘Tsarina,’ said Thornton stopping her halfway up the grand staircase, ‘I wonder if you would do me a favour, I realise you said you were going to turn in early, but I have missed my ride to the airport, reception says there are no taxis available and I have to catch a flight to Moscow, unfortunately there won’t be another flight till Monday.’
‘And you’d like me to give you a lift? No problem; I can always do my expenses and report when I get back, it’s only a twenty minute drive.’
‘Great—thanks! I’ll just get my case and meet you out front.’
Tsarina drove round from the car park and waited in her car at the front of the hotel, just as the snow started to fall again. She sat mesmerised watching the flakes slowly cover the car and windscreen
Thornton suddenly appeared with his case and climbed in beside her and said. ‘If the forecast is correct you won’t be using your car tomorrow.’
‘That’s OK—it’s got four-wheel drive, getting around shouldn’t be a problem.’
Thornton opened his briefcase and looked inside. ‘Damn.’
‘What’s the matter?’
‘I’ve left some very important papers in my customer’s office. I don’t suppose we could make a slight detour, could we? It’s almost on the way.’
‘Won’t they have gone home for the day?’
‘No, they always have someone who works late there, due to the time difference between here in Krasnoyarsk and London.’
OK then, lead on McDuff
‘McDuff, my name’s Thornton.’ He said testily.
‘Never mind’ she said smiling to herself; ‘just give me directions as we drive.’
‘Stay on this road, I’ll tell you when to turn off.’
They drove north, out of town till Thornton told her to turn off at the next driveway on the right.
‘Doesn’t look like anyone’s here,’ said Tsarina as they drove into the car park. A sign over the door read Zhukovski Limousines.
‘Turn round and park over by that gate, I’ll go in and see,’ said Thornton
Tsarina kept the engine running with the heater on full and stared through the windscreen at the falling snow.
She watched the flakes of snow drift to the ground and get blown sideways through the fencing that surrounded the car park. It didn’t take long for them to build little drifts against the tree trunks.
She could see Thornton in her rear-view mirror; he seemed to be having trouble opening the door. Finally, after a hefty shove the door opened and he went in.
He’d been gone about ten minutes when two black BMW 4x4s entered the car park and stopped outside the office. A passenger got out of one and went in to the office, Thornton’s customer contact she thought.
She turned back to watch the snow, it was falling very heavily now, completely obliterating their tracks.
‘Can I help you?’
She jumped as her door was opened by a mountain of a man.
‘Hey, close the door—it’s freezing outside. I’m waiting for someone.’
‘Come with me, you can wait inside.’
He grabbed her arm, pulled her out of the car and half dragged her across the car park and into the office reception area. Seven faces turned to stare at her, all male— no sign of Thornton.
‘Found her sitting in her car Boss.’
‘Good work Yuri,’ said the tallest one among them
‘What were you doing?’ the tall one asked.
‘I was waiting for someone.’
‘A friend. Who are you?’
Tsarina looked at Zhukovski, he was dressed, head to foot in Savile Row’s finest. She could though, imagine him dressed head to foot in black leather, black fur hat, a Kalashnikov over his shoulder and a smoking pistol in his hand. He was never a chauffeur, she thought to herself.
‘What’s your friend’s name?’ Zhukovski persisted.
‘John Thornton. Is he here?’
‘He’s upstairs. He, err, had an accident.’
The others laughed.
‘Can I see him?’
‘Sure. He won’t make much sense though—he’s been given something to ease the pain.’
The brute that had dragged her from her car escorted her through one of the office doors and down a long, cold, dimly lit corridor and up a flight of stairs. Another short corridor, at the end of which he stopped at the last door, opened it and pushed her inside.
Thornton was lying on a settee groaning. He was holding a wet cloth to his forehead with one hand and a half-empty bottle of Stolichnaya vodka in the other.
Tsarina heard the door close and the lock click behind her.
‘Mr Thornton! What have they done to you? What’s going on? Who are these people, and why are we locked in?’
‘Hold on . . . give me a minute, my head feels like mush. I’m sorry I’ve got you involved, Tsarina. We must get out of here—they’re going to kill us.’
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