The Dante Deception - Chapter Six

The Dante Deception – Chapter Six

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June 1978
Moscow, U.S.S.R.

Three loud raps on the door startled him. Valentin Lazovsky looked up from his dinner, a plate of pierogi Stepan had left in the icebox for him. He glanced at his father, slumped in a moss-colored chair in the next room. Makar’s head twitched at the knock, but nothing more.

Valentin made a fist.

He got up from the table and unlatched all three deadbolts plus the sliding chain, its tarnished metal cold to the touch. The man in the hallway wore a short black jacket and pants. He leaned against the doorframe, one arm casually raised to reveal the knife sheath hung from his belt.

Valentin glared up at him. “What do you want?”

“Your father is expecting me.”

“No, he’s not.”

“I’m here to make a report. Are you sure he’s not in?”

“I didn’t say he wasn’t in.”

The man tilted his head to look into the apartment. “I need to see him.”

The man tilted his head to look into the apartment. “I need to see him.”

“Who sent you?”

“The general.”

I doubt that, Valentin thought. Stepan had gone to the dacha for the weekend, leaving behind three frozen meals and instructions not to go anywhere without a guard.

Valentin looked at the man’s face, moving his gaze from eyes to lips to dimpled chin. Sometimes, when he stared hard enough at his father, Makar’s mouth would twitch. The past five years had taught him just how much of the human body was driven by electrical impulse.

But this one didn’t twitch, not even when telling a lie.

Valentin glanced at the knife—almost nine centimeters, he guessed, like the ones they’d used at the Young Pioneer camp. “All right,” he said. “You can come in.”

The man’s rubber-soled boots squeaked as he stepped inside. “Comrade Lazovsky?” he asked, eyeing the single plate of food on the table.

“That’s mine,” Valentin said. He led the man through the dining room into the fireplace room, and bent over the inert form that still bore his father’s name. “Papa, someone came to see you.”

Makar’s black eyes stared into the distance.

The visitor looked from Makar to Valentin. “What’s wrong with him?”

The visitor looked from Makar to Valentin. “What’s wrong with him?”

Valentin smiled. Now I know Stepan didn’t send you. “I thought everyone knew.”

“I heard rumors, but I didn’t believe them.”

“Good.” Something fluttered in the pit of Valentin’s stomach. His body was trying to warn him, to get him to run, but that was the last thing he wanted to do. “Talk to him, then,” he told the visitor. “If that’s what you came to do.”

The man leaned forward, as if Makar’s ears were broken instead of his soul. “Comrade Lazovsky, the general asked me to come in person to receive your orders.”

One quiet breath raised Makar’s chest.

The visitor turned his head. “Can he even—”

“Of course he can.” With his eyes on the stranger’s face, Valentin whispered in his father’s ear. “Are you listening, Papa? This man wants to talk about Mamochka.”

Makar’s hand twitched. The great bear-like body groaned and leaned forward.

“Tell him again,” Valentin said. “He’ll listen now.”

“Tell him again,” Valentin said. “He’ll listen now.”

The man nodded. “The general received word that the shipment from Astana will be late. Voroshilov is asking questions. He wants to know what to do.”

Makar coughed. The words, when they came, broke like waves over rocks. “What general?”

“Stepan Danilovich. Your uncle.”

“W—what does he want from me?”

“He wants an order.”

“My w—wife is missing. Tell the general I have to find her.”

The man paused. Valentin saw his Adam’s apple bounce as he swallowed. “How long has he been like this?”

“The whole time.”

A muscle in the thug’s jaw clenched. I was right, Valentin thought. The metallic taste in his throat intensified. He licked his lips and smiled. “You shouldn’t have come.”

The thug’s hand slipped toward his knife. “If he’s not the one giving orders…”

The thug’s hand slipped toward his knife. “If he’s not the one giving orders…”

Now, Valentin thought, lunging toward the pot-bellied stove. From the wrought-iron stand, he grabbed the kindling axe. He spun on the balls of his feet and struck a backhand blow, burying the axe in the other man’s calf.

The impact of the strike rattled the bones in his arm and he smiled. Harmony.

The other man yanked the axe from his calf with a grimace. “You think you’re so smart?”

Valentin shook his head. Stepan was smart. Maybe his father had been, too. Look where it got them—their home was being defended by a twelve-year-old boy. “I don’t need to be smart,” he said.

The other man stood between him and the rest of the room, blocking access to the dining room, where there was a knife on the table. His father was useless. He doubted Makar could hear anything over the sound of the voices in his head. But Valentin didn’t need him. In the corner to his left, hidden behind the bookcase, was his old Cossack bow.

The man limped toward him, dragging his wounded leg. “Don’t be afraid, boy. I didn’t come here to hurt you.”

Valentin retreated until his spine touched the window sill. “You reached for your knife.”

“I made a mistake.” The man grimaced. “I thought this was a trap.”

“I made a mistake.” The man grimaced. “I thought this was a trap.”

“It might be. You’re the one who’s bleeding.”

“Who directs your father’s shipments?”

Stepan, Valentin thought. Somehow his great-uncle was managing to run a smuggling ring, raise a boy, hold a position in the General Staff, and do it all under the nose of the Party. He thought of the stew in the icebox, carefully portioned for him by day. Sooner or later, someone would figure out who was running the Lazovsky family empire…and then they’d come for Stepan, too.

He couldn’t let that happen.

He dove into the corner and reached for his bow. The fingers of his left hand closed around its upper limb. He’d left two arrows beside it, firewood shafts tipped with broken knife points. He scrabbled for a shaft as the other man slashed his Achilles tendon from behind.

Valentin swore.

He felt pain and then warmth, like when little boys wet themselves in bed at night.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” the man said. “Hold your hands where I can see them.”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” the man said. “Hold your hands where I can see them.”

Valentin rolled from his stomach to his back, the bow and arrow in his hands. They were only toys, but he’d learned long ago that size didn’t matter. It was speed that killed. He pulled back with his right hand and let the sharpened missile fly. Its serrated arrowhead nicked the artery in the man’s neck.

“Good shot,” the man said. “Too bad you missed.”

“Did I?”

The man frowned and pressed a hand to his neck. Red rivulets coursed through his fingers.

People were much bigger targets than the wrens he’d learned to hit from his bedroom window. While his father met with vory leaders and his mother sighed and moped in the kitchen, he’d had nothing to do but force other creatures to pay attention to him. “Maybe I am smart,” he said.

The other man swayed on his feet, eyes wide with sudden fear. Blood dripped down his arm, spattering the floor beneath him.

From his moss-colored chair, Makar gurgled. “V—Valentin.”

“Hush, Papa,” he said. “I’m playing with my bow and arrow.”

“Hush, Papa,” he said. “I’m playing with my bow and arrow.”

The stranger lurched toward him, arms outstretched. Valentin extended his foot.

The man tripped and crashed to the floor.

He put his foot on the man’s neck, pressing it until the blood began to spurt. He’d read books that described the light leaving a man’s eyes as he died. He waited a few seconds, but the man’s eyes were still bright, dilated with fear as he bled and gasped and flailed.

His dinner was probably cold by now.

Valentin sighed. He still had to prepare, in case there were more men on the way.

He limped into the corner, retrieved his second arrow, and sent it through the man’s right eye.

Tell the World

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I write thrillers, romance, historical fiction, tiara posts, and more. Right now, I'm working on a nonfiction trilogy: Grand Duchess Hilda of Baden, Grand Duchess Elizaveta Mikhailovna of Russia, and Princess Augusta of Brunswick.

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