Chapter III.

2 Oct

Suzdal, with hundreds of examples of old Russian architecture, was a tourist mecca in 2065. Showing off its old buildings had become its economic lifeblood. Churches, monasteries, and wooden houses from centuries past were its main attraction. Tourists from the entire world visited in order to view these attractions. There were crowds of visitors everywhere.

Underground hotels burrowed below the surface of fields that had once been farms. Nothing was permitted to damage or obstruct the skyline of the bulbous onion domes, the famed kokoshniki of old Suzdal, named for the traditional headdress of Russian peasant women. The skyline was a strange, unique one here.

The city, on the banks of the Kamenka, had its own kremlin surrounded on three sides by the river. Centuries-old wooden walls and towers rose from the protective ramparts. Wood had been the primary building material of the 17th and 18th centuries, when they were constructed. At the southern end, old wooden villages had been reassembled into a museum of traditional architecture. The izba houses with aspen-shingled roofs; the log churches, barns, windmills, and bathhouses were from an age long past. No metal nails, only wooden pegs and moss had been used by the builders. There was nothing like this anywhere else in Russia.

The churches of Suzdal came in pairs. The summer building was cooler, high-vaulted, and more richly decorated. Winter churches were smaller, simpler, and meant to be warmer. The two structures were always close to each other, displaying their opposite traits.

Blue onions, gold stars, green spheres, and horseshoe domes rose into the sky. David Klimov gazed at them in wonder as his maglev train slowed to a stop at the peripheral station on the edge of Suzdal.

The syshchik took his mind back to his immediate assignment. He was not a tourist, he reminded himself. Could he pick up the trail of Sara Milova in this museum community? That was why he had traveled here.

The poezd came to a halt and passengers began to climb out. He was among the last to leave. His reservation was for the Suzdal Hotel, the largest and best-known. He hailed an electro and told the driver to collect his baggage and take him there. In half an hour, he was resting in his room at the underground facility. No windows or views here. He was six floors below ground level. Above, the old wooden town was pristine for the floods of visitors.

The detective sat and pondered for awhile. How does one locate a particular fortune-teller in this city? he asked himself.

Consult the telefibra directory, he told himself. David reached for the receiver beside his chair and pushed the button for the number index for business and service listings.

What should he look under? Fortunetelling was not a trade anyone would advertise in this enlightened age of science, he advised himself. Those who practiced that ancient skill would today hide under some euphemism. They would be protecting themselves from charges of fraud.

Character analysis, that might be the cover.

David dialed the directory and sent in two words: character analyst.

A warm, soft woman’s voice spoke. “Irina Antova, No. 75777.”

The voice faded away and he dialed the number he had received.

“Hello,” said the detective once someone turned on the distant receiver.

“Yes?” asked a dry, gravely alto voice.

“Is this Irina Antova, the analyst of character?”

“Who is it?”

“A person with need for your talents. An urgent need. Can I make an appointment to talk with you? It is important we meet as soon as possible.”

“You say there is urgency?” asked the woman in an apprehensive voice.

“Indeed. It is vital that I see you at once. Today, if you are free. My business with you cannot wait. I will pay for your time, of course.”

For a moment, there was no reply.

“I can grant you a session this afternoon. Is 4:30 suitable?”

“Yes. And at what address?”

The harsh voice gave a street and a number. “It is an underground apartment on a tunnel street,” explained the fortune-teller.

“I will be there on time,” promised David, closing off his receiver.

The street, like its neighbors, Kupala and Notioka, bore the name of a pagan Russian god. Klimov found the stairs that led to the tunnel beneath Yarunova Street. The lighting was dim and uncertain. The smell of mold drifted into his nostrils. This was not a prosperous part of Suzdal, it was evident. The rented flats were on three separate levels of the tunnel. He climbed down to the bottom floor and started to hunt around.

The door he was after was at the end of a long corridor. His first knock caused it to open as if in anticipation of his arrival.

The woman was not at all what he had expected. She was not a white-haired crone. Short and thin, but with a solid figure under her black dress. Her face was darkly tan, making her cloudy blue eyes shine all the more.

The two sized each other up. Then she invited him in. The voice was now a different one from what he had heard on the fibrafon. It was a fluid and warm one.

“Come in,” she told him. “Sit down at the table over by the flowers, please.” She pointed to two chairs at a plain, empty cardtable.

As he crossed the room, he caught sight of a shadow rushing along the inner hall of the apartment.

“That’s my mother,” explained the tanned woman. “She took your call.”

“But you are the one who carries out the character readings, I take it.”

“You comprehend things quickly,” she foxily smiled. “Please sit down.”

He did so, along with her. They studied each other a moment.

“Everything I know, I learned from my mother,” she pleasantly revealed. “From early childhood, I have studied and practiced this craft.”

“Most interesting,” grinned the investigator. “And what shall I call you?”

“Irina,” she informed him. “The sessions are my responsibility. My mother is retired and no longer has clients of her own. Shall we begin? Give me both your hands, please.”

Klimov thrust his two arms forward, laying his hands upward on the table.

Irina took them both into her smaller ones and examined his two palms, first one, then the other.

The detective kept his eyes on the four hands resting on the table.

She looked up and stared penetratingly into his eyes.

“You are a man who has hunted for things,” she distantly mumbled. “There is something in you that has an interest in…mysterious affairs of some sort…I cannot be sure exactly what this means, but…bad deeds and crimes are part of what I see, but you are not an evildoer, not at all…”

Irina bit her lip and hesitated a moment.

“Are you a policeman of some kind?” she fearfully asked.

“No,” he answered. “Not at all.”

Taking deep breathes, he thought rapidly. How could he explain himself to her? Swiftly, his mind began to draw a fictional picture to conceal his true identity. That was the only way he could find to progress forward with her.

“I am a writer,” he blurted out. “You are correct. I do have an interest in criminal matters, because my novels are mainly mysteries about murder and other crimes. It is a current writing project that has brought me to you, Miss Antova.”

The latter drew her hands away from his.

“Then you did not come for character analysis, did you?” Her sky blue eyes flashed white.

The story forming in Klimov’s mind took on a solidarity of its own.

“I came to Suzdal from Moscow because my writing has hit a roadblock. There are matters that concern your profession that are an unsolvable riddle that I cannot deal with alone. The assistance of someone with genuine psychic power has become necessary.” He was now gulping for breath.

“Tell me this,” she demanded. “Why did you travel to Suzdal?”

“I hope to set my mystery story in your city. I am a native Moscovite and do not have familiarity with this province. I lack a feel for the locale that only being here can provide. That is why I made this journey.”

“How did you come to call on me? What exactly are you eager to find out?” She leaned her head forward a bit.

“The answer is simple. Your name was the first in the index of the telefibra directory. I needed someone familiar with the parapsychological scene here in Suzdal.”

“What are the questions that you wish to delve into?” she scowled.

“They have to do with psychic influence by one person over another.”

“What precisely do you want to know?” she said sharply.

“For the sake of the plot I am constructing, I need to know what the mind can accomplish and what it cannot. I am especially interested in the ancient powers of the koldun and koldunia. Will you help me?”

“Come back tomorrow at this same hour,” she whispered softly. “I will tell you what I have decided.”

“Fine,” responded David, rising from his chair. “I’ll find my way out. Till tomorrow, then.”

Would she buy the fictional explanation he was weaving? he wondered with trepidation.

He had devised a plausible story line by the time he returned the following afternoon. He felt no guilt over his deception of Irina Antova. There had been numerous false identities he had assumed over the years in his work. She was also concealing her fortune-telling under a pose of character analysis. He felt justified in his imaginary role of mystery writer. It appeared necessary to him.

Irina wore a dress of scarlet today, he noticed.

“My mother is out shopping,” she told him as he sat down at the table.

“How did you rest last night, Mr. Klimov?” she began.

“Very well,” he smiled. “But please call me David.”

“And you will call me Irina, of course,” she said with a smile.

“I told you about the mystery I am writing, didn’t I?”

“Yes,” she nodded.

“The plot will involve several suspects who are psychics and parapsychologists. I have no personal experience of such people, Irina. They are not easy to find or talk to.”

“So, you came to Suzdal to find local models for your characters?”

“For components and aspects of characters,” he explained. “I never put people in my stories as finished wholes. Only this or that portion of a personality.”

“Yes, I have read that is what novelists do. So, you wish to acquaint yourself with the types active in psychic circles?”

“That is it, exactly.”

“I believe I know how to help you,” she asserted. “You can become a member of the Psychic Tsekh unit in Suzdal. I myself shall act as your sponsor.”

David gazed at her in amazement as she continued. “The Tsekh is a guild of persons devoted to the psychic realm. We have branches throughout all of Russia. I can bring you to a local gathering right this evening. It is an informal meeting, so that a stranger will not disturb or inhibit anyone there. I will introduce you as a prospective new member. Is that satisfactory?”

“Certainly,” murmured David with glee.

“Many members will be happy to be of assistance to you. The Tsekh exists in many towns and cities, even villages of Russia. There are many thousands in our network of members.”

“Where will this meeting be held?”

“At the wooden museum,” she warmly smiled. “In an old log church.”

“A church!” said Klimov in surprise.

“We have members in high clerical and civilian places, David. The Mayor of Suzdal is one of us, for example. I will introduce you to him after the meeting.”

“I can hardly wait,” he told her, his heart pounding fast.

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