Chapter 15, by Elizabeth Shipp

The apartment door creaked as two suit-clad men eased it open. The air was cool in the small, shadowed room. The dark of the apartment proved to be both a blessing and a curse, as one of the men bumped into a low piece of furniture with his shin, and sent it scraping across the floor.

“Vasya, would you quit that noise!” the older and more serious of the two muttered urgently. “You know we’re supposed to be quiet, and with you acting like a noh kyu in a china shop, everyone around will hear us!”

“Ah, Karlyusha, how am I supposed to avoid the furniture if I can’t see it? And besides, we’re on the ground floor. Who will hear us moving around upstairs from them? No one, I tell you.”

“Just be quiet, and let’s get to work. I’ll fingerprint the kitchen, you take the living room here.”

Karel Tanovich Khlebnikov, or Karlyusha as his younger and impetuous partner called him, moved quietly into the kitchen. His eyes fell on the dusty countertop with disappointment as he considered the difficulty of fingerprinting anything with that much dust already on it. Ah, the cabinets, those should be easy. All of the dishes Uke had owned were stacked neatly in the cabinets, he could see them through the glass doors. With that collection of surfaces, he should have no trouble getting Uke’s fingerprints, as well as anyone else’s who had been anywhere near the cabinets. He pulled a small bottle of charcoal powder and a soft brush out of the black grip he had brought with him, and set to work.

In the living room, Vasili Ivanovich Sumasedsky had already set to work. Moving methodically around the room, he had deposited fingerprint powder on nearly every flat surface he could find. As he neared the final corner, partially hidden behind the door, his eyes lit up at the sight of a telephone and answering machine. Was it...yes, the light was blinking! They might actually have some useful information here! His gloved fingers found the volume slide on the side of the machine, and he bent over to hear the message play back.

“Hi, Uke, it’s Wiley. I finally found out where you need to take the key-- it has to be delivered to Crystal Lock. Let me know if you need any other information, you’ve got my number.”

Crystal Lock, Vasili thought. Well, it’s not much, but it’s something. I’ll make sure Karlyusha hears this before we leave. He turned away from the machine, after liberally dusting it with fingerprint powder, to start collecting prints. As he swept the beam of his flashlight across the table on the other side of the doorway, his eyes widened. No prints. The doorknob...none. The magazine on the coffee table, the table itself, the video of O Sensei’s last demonstration, the TV remote, the front of the VCR, the phone, the lightswitch...all of them, with no prints. Not even smudges! With a sinking feeling, he paced silently into the kitchen.

“Er, Karlyusha...” he whispered.

“Don’t tell me, no prints out there, either. All of this glass, and not a single print. Not even on the icebox, not even on the milk carton in the icebox. Not even on the beer bottles. It’s like someone wiped the entire place clean. All of it!” Karel’s voice rose in frustration, and he winced at the echoes off of the wall.

“It’s almost as if she was what we were warned about. Do you suppose-”

“No, I refuse to believe that she moved everything with ki, and never had to touch anything. I will not subscribe to that!”

“Well, you need to listen to the answering machine tape. And we need to check the other rooms. Maybe there’ll be prints somewhere else in here.”

“Ah, Vasili Ivan’ch, why are we doing this? Don’t you ever start to think that it might be more fun to just be a normal citizen, and be able to look at the stars and see how beautiful they are, and not exist in the shadows like we do? Wouldn’t life be better then?”

“Karlyusha, all you need to do is just look right here at the end of this neuralyzer and-”

“Would you put that thing away! That is not a joke!”

“You never let me flashy-thingy anyone. You always get to do the fun stuff. When do I get to flashy-thingy someone?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t want you to start zapping by practicing on your boss! Wait a minute, my pager just rattled.” Karel unclipped his pager from his belt, and groaned when he saw the code displayed.


“They want us to report in person.”

“So, we go back to Washington, eh?”

“No. Moscow.”


Back to Chapter 14...
Moscow? I've got to go along!

I'm leaving. Now. And you can't stop me!