I woke up in the strange room with the sun, having forgotten to pull the heavy curtains over the light draperies. I took a quick shower and dressed, today in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a light jacket with good walking shoes. We had time to kill, and I wanted to see the area where my family had lived.
I had breakfast downstairs, a traditional Russian breakfast including Bliny, a thin pancake, and fried eggs. I read an English-language paper and checked my phone for messages while I was waiting for the Father to arrive. “More coffee, Ma’am?” The young waitress was standing there with the pot.
“Please,” I said. As she walked away, I thought about what might have happened if my Mom hadn’t gone to my father for help. Would we have found a way to scrape by? Would I have been given up for adoption anyway? My Mom was young and beautiful, even with a child she might have found love.
Hell, I could have ended up alone here in Sergiyev Posad, waiting tables. Not a long stretch from what I ended up doing back in Minnesota, except with a more modest uniform. My destiny had changed remarkably; instead of being a struggling server trying to go back to school, I might end up as one of the richest women in the world. It excited and scared me at the same time, but that future was a long way off in the court system. I looked up and saw Father Kempechny arrive. The waitress brought him to the table along with some biscuits and jam and another coffee. “Good morning, Father,” I said as he sat down.
“Good morning, Jessie. Sleep well?”
“Yes, thank you.” He took a bite of his biscuit. “What is the plan for today?”
“Lots of walking, I’m glad you brought good shoes,” he said. “I thought I would show you your hometown and some of its sights. We’ll start by going to your Grandmother’s house.” I was so excited, so we quickly finished the food. The pancakes dipped in honey were amazing, and I was really enjoying my stay here. I grabbed my purse, which had everything I needed; all that was left in the room was my suitcase and some clothes. I left a good tip for the girl and walked out behind the Father, who was greeting people as he walked.
“You know a lot of people, Father,” I said as we made our way down the street. When I was introduced, it was simply as Natalya, daughter of a former parishioner. Since most conversations were in Russian, I just stood and smiled until we moved on. The hour it took us to arrive at the row house was really only ten minutes of walking, the rest was him meeting with his parishioners and others he knew. When you are a prominent priest in the town for decades, you know people.
Finally, we were at the door. The homes on this street were two-story, with stairs and a small porch in front and an alley behind. The Father produced a key, opening the door and entering. “We can go in?”
“Yes, the owner is a friend, and he let me borrow a key when I told him a former resident was visiting and wanted to see it.” I entered the home, taking off my shoes and placing them next to Father’s at the door. The home was not big or fancy; built in the fifties, it was Soviet functional. Lots of concrete and plaster, no big windows, no fancy appliances. The kitchen was small and functional, a few cabinets and appliances and a small table with two chairs. “It’s not much, your Grandmother couldn’t afford much, and you Mom was too young or too busy caring for you and her to have a good job.”
“I know how she feels,” I said. The big house and luxuries of my adoptive mother’s life had gone away after he died, and she struggled the same way. Smaller houses, poorer neighborhoods. A tear was dripping down my face as I looked out the window at the street. “Can I see my room?”
“Come upstairs.” There were two bedrooms and one bath upstairs; nothing fancy, the rooms were small and smaller. The room my mother and I must have stayed in didn’t even have a closet, it had one window and a double bed would take up half the room. I looked around and we went downstairs. “The basement?”
“Utilities and storage, it’s unheated. Not worth going down.” Instead, he moved towards the kitchen and unlocked the back door. I followed him out, there was a small landing then wooden stairs leading down to the alleyway. “Down there at the base of the stairs is where they left your mother’s body. They made it look like an accidental fall broke her neck, but I knew the truth. I recovered the tape recording from her purse after they left, then went back to you. I could never let them find you, and I know they tried for months. They waved reward money around and no one took it. You family was not rich, but they were good people and the ones seeking you were not.”
I moved slowly down the stairs, feeling the cold steel and concrete where my Mom had laid after her death. I couldn’t stay, I was crying too much, and I rushed back up the stairs into the kitchen and allowed my tears to flow onto his black clothing. “Cry all you want,” he said, “That’s why priests wear black. It doesn’t show.”
I took a few more pictures with my phone, then he locked up and we went back out on the street. We stopped at the restaurant five blocks away, the one he said my Mom worked at after returning home. We continued our walking tour of the town, the church and the local sights; by the time the sun was getting low, I was starving. I smelled it before we arrived, it was what Father said was a shashlychnaya, a traditional restaurant specializing in skewered meat cooked over a wood fire. I pulled him inside, taking a table near the open pit grill in the center of the small place. “The food is called shashlik,” he explained as he ordered in Russian. “It is mostly pork, but beef, chicken and veal are also used. The meat is marinated overnight, then skewered and placed over the grill. Fresh herbs are tossed on to give a little extra flavor.” I didn’t care how it was made, as it smelled amazing and tasted better. We ate the tender meat with fresh bread, stewed cabbage and a local Russian beer. The meal flew along as he told stories of his childhood, and I told him stories of my life after I was sent to America with new parents.
Finally, it was time. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to stop by my apartment briefly before I take you back to the hotel. I have a few more photographs I’d like to give you.”
At this point, I was more than happy to walk off the big meal. It didn’t take long to get back to his street.
I was woken up by Sergey in the hotel, since he was the only one who spoke any English. “Did you find Jessie?”
He shook his head. “You’ve slept enough, and it’s almost time for dinner then we need to relieve the men on stakeout. So far, nothing at the cemetery and the good Father has been gone all day.” I quickly got dressed, and we walked out of the hotel. We purchased some food at a street stall, and that and thermoses of coffee would have to get us through the next eight hours. When we were two blocks away from the apartment, we saw the car the other Pack member was watching from. Getting in the back as Sergey got in the front, I listened as he spoke rapidly in Russian. When they were done, the man got out and I moved into the front seat. We had a good view of the front of the Father’s apartment.
“What did he say?”
“It’s been quiet. He picked up the smell of another werewolf an hour ago, male in his thirties, parked a half block from the apartment and walked off. He didn’t follow him since he didn’t appear to be a threat. Other than that, no sightings of the Father or Jessie.” He pulled the sandwich out and started to eat as he opened the thermos of coffee.
The sun was almost down when I saw something up the street. That wavy raven-black hair, it was something I’d never miss. “They’re here,” I said as I watched them walking down the sidewalk towards us. Sergey got on his phone, making a few calls. “Ivan is coming back since there’s no point watching the cemetery now. He’ll take a spot a few blocks the other way.” He looked at me seriously. “Have you been trained in surveillance?”
“No,” I said.
“Then keep quiet and do what I tell you. The key is to stay close enough to track them, but far enough away not to be noticed. You don’t look at them directly, you’re just walking or sitting, acting natural. Since she knows you, try to stay to shadows and out of her line of sight.”
They were getting close, and I was glad the sun was behind us.
They were a half-block away from his apartment when there was a bright light, a loud noise, and the shock wave rocked the car from the explosion.