Chapter XV.

9 Oct

Sara’s face was still sooty as she drank the herbal chai that her escort had ordered for her. He stared boldly at her, not taking even a sip of his own tea. There was too much on his mind just to think over what she had herself been through.

She sensed the psychic force radiating from his eyes and mind. “Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked, setting down her cup.

He was unable to avoid fumbling about for a brief time.

“I am so happy that none of our members were injured, Sara,” he mumbled unevenly. “The only word we had as we returned was that there had been an explosion of some sort and that the building had caught fire. What were we to think? You can imagine the alarm and confusion in my mind, Sara. Someone might have been killed, for all I knew at that time.”

A shadow fell on her unwashed forehead. David saw it and gave a slight shudder as she began to tell him what was on her mind.

“People die in fires,” she moaned. “That is common. I guess it was my good luck to survive my brush with death today.” She gave him a trancelike look. “The flames were less than three feet from where I was picking up and carrying collections of records to the stairs coming down from the second floor. I could have died up there in the attic, David. That was how great the danger there was for me.”

The detective looked away, toward the front door of the nearly empty traktir.

A force in his mind leaped out of control. All inhibition disappeared. His right hand stretched away across the table and touched hers.

“You need some rest at once,” he tenderly suggested. “The House of Razum is now full of fire inspectors and blocked off. Why don’t you come to my hotel and use the room I have? I can find another place for myself. That would be easy to arrange.”

He stared into her sooty face. What could she say to this idea that had sprung into his brain?

Her lips began to move slowly. “Yes,” she muttered.”I think that I will do so. My clothes can be sent to me tomorrow. Thank you for your consideration, David. I appreciate your kindness and sympathy.”

After a few minutes, he paid the bill and the two of them left the traktir.

The detective moved to the door leading to the hotel corridor.

“When do you think it would be best for me to return, Sara?” he asked her with some hesitation. “Would around eight-thirty be alright? We can then go out and have ourselves a late supper, if you wish.”

“Fine,” she said in a tired voice reflecting her exhaustion.

“Have yourself a good nap,” he smiled at her. “I have some things to take care of right away.”

Yes, like my former confederates of the enemy party. The pair with whom I came to Yaroslavl with.

Klimov hurried down to the hotel lobby. Should he call Lev Tronich or Irina Antova on the hotel fibrafon and excuse himself for the evening? They had to have learned of the fire by now. Did they have knowledge of how it originated and who was responsible? Were they somehow involved in the crime?”

No, he could not stand to have to make up a story of where he himself had been at the time of the conflagration.

David stopped at the front desk and asked the clerk for a piece of cellulose and a writing pen to use. A brief note would be a way of avoiding a great deal of immediate explanation by him. He began to scribble the first line of his excuse for that evening.

At the precise moment he finished his note, a familiar voice sounded behind him. “David, I am so glad we found you here.”

Placing the pen down on the front desk, he spun himself around.

The voice was that of Lev Tronich, Mayor of Suzdal. Beside the giant bruin stood Irina Antova, silent and demure.

“We returned to Yaroslavl as soon as we learned of the tragedy,” she reported.

“Tragedy?” scowled Tronich. “You call it a tragedy? The fire was a bolt of lightning sent down from heaven. It was grom and molnia from above, if you ask me. The Razumniki are very fortunate that more damage was not done, or that no one lost their life.”

“You have seen the house?” inquired Klimov.

“Irina and I just walked past the building before returning to the hotel.”

David glanced at her, then spoke once more as he looked at Lev Tronich.

“Viktor Razum suspects that his enemies used a chemical fire-flare of some kind to ignite the roof of the house. That would indicate that arson was committed and points a finger of suspicion at his local opponents within the Psychic Tsekh. That is what I heard him say to the fire investigators. The place was insured and there will be inspectors there from that company as well.”

Tronich suddenly changed the subject.

“What have you been writing here, David?” he inquired, peering at the piece of cellulose on the surface of the front desk.

The detective quickly grabbed and crumpled up what he had written there.

“A note for the two of you,” he said, glancing for a moment at Irina. “I have to return to the house tonight. They expect me to help in sorting out records and documents that were saved. There will also be a lot to do in preparation for the meeting of the local Tsekh tomorrow morning.

“Everyone will be very busy preparing for that.”

“When shall we see you again, then?” stiffly said Tronich.

David quickly thought up an acceptable reply. “It will have to be tomorrow morning,” he explained. “The three of us can have breakfast together here at the hotel. We can discuss strategy matters then, and I should have some valuable information on what Doctor Razum is planning to say or do at the Childrens’ Theater.”

Lev Tronich scratched his thick chin a moment. “That cuts it thin,” he complained. “But we will learn more about what you can find out about Razum’s plans when we meet together tomorrow. Did anything of importance come from your trip to that mental sanatorium with Razum?”

Before he realized what he had done, the private investigator from Moscow blurted out a false “No.”

“Nothing at all?” asked a puzzled Tronich.

“Nothing,” prevaricated the one leaning against the front desk, gazing at Irina with complicated emotions.

I have thrown in my lot with Viktor Razum and Sara Milova, the detective told himself. I have evolved into a liar and impersonator without scruples. This false role of mine is a burden on my conscience.

“Till we see you tomorrow, then,” said the Mayor of Suzdal. He turned to Irina and led her away. She said not a word to David as she stepped along.

Did either of them suspect that he was telling them fictions? David wondered. He decided to take a long walk back to the burned and damaged house of Viktor Razum. His heart and conscience felt as if they were pounding furiously as he made his way from the hotel.

The detective arrived in time to attend a meeting of Doctor Razum’s half dozen top floor leaders for the next day’s crucial Tsekh session. The group sat around the dining room table in the damaged house. They were engaged in the exchange of viewpoints about the fire and its origin.

“The fire department officials were thorough,” began the leader of the psychic movement. “They are doubtful that they will be able to track the culprits who made and planted the chemi-bomb. But you and I know who is guilty. We will face them in combat tomorrow morning at the Yaroslavl Childrens’ Theater. I am confident, because of what was achieved earlier today in the countryside, that our side will prevail.”

Our side, thought Klimov. He sat diagonally across from the leader. But was this to be my side too? he wondered.

Whose side will I finally be on? the investigator who had become an impersonator pondered.

And an answer to the puzzle struck him at once.

He was going to end up on the side of Sara Milova in some way still unknown to him.

Since she was going to be with the House of Razum, he would stand alongside her in tomorrow’s battle over delegates. Not with his friends from Suzdal.

The voice of Razum distracted David from these personal thoughts of his.

“Victory will depend on the precise timing of our moves. The arrival of our allies by electrobus must be a total surprise to our enemies. It must occur at the right moment, neither too early nor too late. We must make sure that everything goes according to the schedule that we set here today. There can be no mistakes or hitches. Is that clear to everyone?”

No one had a word to offer in contradiction.

The leader picked up a sheet of cellulose from the table in front of him.

“Let me give you the individual assignments for tomorrow morning,” he said to the group. It took awhile till he reached the name of David Klimov.

Razum turned and looked directly at him.

“You are to stand upstairs on the circular balcony,” he indicated. “There is a wide window from which the parking area in back of the theater is visible. As soon as you see Ivanov’s electrobus arrive, you are to signal me down below on the main floor. Since you will be behind the main rostrum, I and all of our members and followers will be facing you. As soon as I receive your sign, you can come downstairs for the formal voting. It will be an important, central role that you play. Do you understand it?”

“Yes, I think so,” nodded the undercover detective.

Viktor Razum went on to give the others their assignments.

In fifteen minutes, the meeting ended and the group disbursed with their instructions on what each of them was to do.


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