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Chapter 14: New Year's Eve

Cass was picked up by Pen and Sergey on the Sunday evening.

“Why do you drive a Hybrid?” Cass asked Sergey.

“It is company car, they gave it to me. I don’t know,” Sergey sounded embarrassed. When Pen had introduced him to Cass, he had long hair and was involved with environmentalism. It was Sergey’s little rebellion against his paymaster the oil company.

They pulled up to a nondescript Edwardian terrace in Chelsea. It was sweet and immaculately kept.

Ivana opened the door, swept up her two granddaughters and hurried everyone through to the living room with kisses and hugs. Vassily leapt up from the sofa, bear hugging his brother with noisy back slaps, kissing Pen and Cass on the cheek, and dangerously hurling his nieces in the air and catching them.

Anastasia, Vassily’s wife, nodded an expressionless greeting from the sofa. They all nodded reverentially back.

Cass looked around the living room. It looked like Cath Kidston’s wet dream. Ivana was an Anglophile. The house was a vision in cream, duck egg and expensive chintz. She purposely lived in Chelsea, because “Why would I live in Mayfair! I already have apartment in Moscow. I come to England to speak English.”

Wine always made Cass’ Russian better. She had two glasses of champagne in quick succession and then attempted to engage with Anastasia.

“Are you having a nice time in London?”

“I miss Moscow,” Anastasia retorted flatly. “We have such parties there at New Year. Opulent parties. Father was disappointed we had to come to England.”

“Oh, well it is very nice to see you here.”

“You English are always so polite,” said Anastasia getting up from the sofa and joining Vassily. Anastasia was bored with the company already. There was nothing special here, nothing opulent. Just lying grey English people, which her Father had warned her about. She could not wait to get back to Moscow. She could feel herself becoming fat by just being in this boring little country.

Realising she was defeated, Cass tried to help Ivana in the kitchen. Everything was serenely under control. There were wafts of dill and salmon coming from the Aga. Cass thought it weird that Ivana knew how to use one. Cass was pretty sure an Aga mystifies most British people.

Ivana looked at her, laughed and waved a packet of long thin cigarettes at her. They snuck out side into the cold air and light up.

Ivana inhaled with a feline look of satisfaction. “How are you my darling? You look tired, and you have lost weight,” Ivana purred maternally. Cass just thought that she was the coolest person she had ever met.

“So, so,” Cass said noncommittally. “Thank you for inviting me. The food smells wonderful.”

“Yes,” laughed Ivana. ”Fortnum and Mason are wonderful for the lazy cook. I could not believe they made me a Kulebaika.”

Cass was not too sure what that was, but said it smelt wonderful.

They both drank some more in the kitchen. Ivana seemed reluctant to rejoin the family. She spoke in English to Cass. “I would like to speak to you about purchasing property. Your firm does this?”

“Well, yes,” Cass scratched her head absentmindedly. It was her little tell. She did this even as a child when she did not want to talk about something.

“We need someone we can trust. I have heard about someone in your firm. His name is Julian Bauer. Is he good? You know what is going on in Russia, don’t you?” asked Ivana.

Cass knew that The Great Russian Kleptocracy was out of control. The Russian Bear was sick, injured and most dangerously broke. So the Kleptocracy was warmongering, annexing and using violation on human rights to distract from the rearmament and mobilisation.

“I am not going to talk about politics here. Nastia’s father is St Petersburg FSB, so no politics at dinner, you understand don’t you.”

Cass almost spat out her drink,”You call Anastasia, NASTIER!”

“Is that what you took form this conversation?” Ivana put her glass to her lips and raised an eyebrow. Then she smiled and murmured, “But yes it is funny. Suits her.”

“Yes, Julian Bauer is a partner at my Firm. I don’t know him but he is supposed to be good at Tax or something. He has nothing to do with property. That is what I do, you would need to speak to Caroline my boss.”

“I met Julian a few years back in Moscow. He is very charming. So English. I liked him. I am going to deal with you and him,” she said as if the deal had been done. Cass did not have the heart to tell her that it did not work that way. Ivana patted the back of Cass’ hand, “I trust you Cass, we are family.”

Ivana pirouetted around the kitchen to the fridge, produced some caviar blinis and another bottle of champagne and returned to the rest of the family.

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