CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED and EIGHTY-NINE
Thursday morning — 10 a.m.
It was a case of hurry up and wait. Ivan had rushed through getting ready to go only to find out that Tink and Charlie were going with them. While they were efficient, they were still teenagers going on a big International trip. They had made it to the airport just in time to meet their security escorts and get on the plane to Washington DC.
Where they waited.
Ivan couldn’t be certain but he had the feeling that they were waiting for a specific person or persons. When he’d asked, he was told that they were vetting the security staff, waiting for Nash and Teddy — who’d arrived hours ago with Tink and Charlie’s passports — and then it was time for lunch. They were mid-way through a light meal when Ivan saw his entire male Esprit de Corps being escorted in his direction. He had invited them along when he’d emailed to cancel the class. It hadn’t occurred to him that they might actually come. He spied Giovanni greeting Nadia. In a flash, he realized that Giovanni and Nadia had made it all happen so that Ivan would feel more comfortable. The Esprit de Corp men’s infectious enthusiasm lifted everyone’s mood.
When everyone was finally vetted, their passports checked, fed, watered, and walking to the plane when Homeland Security Agent Arthur “Raz” Rasmussen pulled Ivan aside.
“Let’s let them get settled,” Raz had said.
Ivan had lived long enough to know that this was code for “How about we do some more waiting?” But Ivan didn’t dare say anything. He just nodded. He waved for Nadia, Charlie, Tink, Nash, Teddy, and Giovanni to head to the plane. To his surprise, the moment they were near the plane, Raz started walking.
“What …?” Ivan started to ask.
“We want to let them go ahead of us,” Raz said with a grin, “not leave us behind.”
Ivan smiled. Raz stopped.
“I noticed that you aren’t wearing your glasses,” Raz said.
“I’m not sure why, but I don’t get those headaches anymore,” Ivan said.
Raz gave him a quick nod. He took a pair of glasses from his pocket and gave them to Ivan.
“In case they headaches come back,” Raz said.
Ivan was surprised but took the glasses graciously.
“Sometimes, these little PTSD symptoms reappear when we remember,” Raz said. “Talking about difficult times can bring it all back.”
Raz gestured for Ivan to go down the ramp in front of him. Raz followed close behind. Ivan spotted some additional security — a few men and women he recognized and others he did not. Ivan nodded to them and got on the plane.
As always, the sounds, smells, and activity on the plane were overwhelming. The chartered plane was the biggest he’d ever seen. The Esprit de Corps were seated at the back. Sissy’s family and his were seated midway. There was a room at the front of the plane and then, he assumed the pilots were on the other side of his room.
Someone must have said something about what Ivan would be doing because no one batted an eye about him following Raz into the room. Raz pulled the door shut behind Ivan. Surprised, Ivan turned and saw only the door. He turned to toward the room and stopped cold.
“Hello, Comrade,” the man sitting at the table said in Russian. “I thought you were dead.”
“Pyotr!” Ivan said.
Ivan rushed forward. The man stood and they hugged warmly.
“I thought you were dead!” Ivan said in Russian. “What …?”
“Well …” Pyotr sat down gingerly.
“Are you okay?” Ivan asked.
Pyotr hit his leg.
“Lost it,” Pyotr said. “Chechnya. I … well, it seems that we share the same problem.”
Ivan tipped his head to the side.
“We are enemies of …” Pyotr said the name of the man who had threatened to capture Sissy.
“You?” Ivan asked surprised.
“Short story — I was in an area, bombs …” Pyotr waved his hands over his head. “Russian planes. Russian bombs. I was left. Intentional? Unintentional?”
Pyotr lifted a shoulder in a shrug.
“When the planes left, someone I knew from beekeeping — of all things — found me,” Pyotr said. “He said that he’d heard that I was there and had to come look. He lived just across the border. I have been to his farm many times. He returned with a cart and a horse. He kept me alive, safe, until I was ‘rescued.’”
“But you can never go home again,” Ivan said.
He gave Ivan the exhausted look of trauma survivors. Ivan nodded.
“And how was the gulag?” Pyotr asked as if he were asking about lunch or possibly a movie.
“I did not lose my leg,” Ivan said.
“You will have to tell me how that happened,” Pyotr said.
Pyotr gestured to Ivan to sit down. Ivan pulled out a chair across from the man. He hesitated a moment before sitting down. As if connected, the plane’s engines revved and started to roll forward.
“You want to know about my leg?” Ivan asked. “For starters — I wasn’t held on a bee farm in the middle of nowhere for God knows how long.”
Pyotr grinned at Ivan.
“How did you get here?” Ivan asked.
“Another beekeeper,” Pyotr said with a shrug.
Ivan wondered if he was referring to Alex Hargreaves, her brother Max, or possibly Delphie. When Pyotr smiled, Ivan knew he would not get more information from the man.
“Your wife? Children?” Ivan asked.
“Dead,” Pyotr said. “No information on how or why. But that is the case with most of the people who knew him before he is what is his now.”
“Your leg,” Pyotr said, “it’s fine now?”
“It hurts some times,” Ivan said. “When I dance too much or stay up too late. I have more problems with my recent injuries.”
“Stabbed?” Pyotr asked.
“I remarried,” Pyotr said. “Nice woman.”
“Beekeeper?” Ivan asked.
“Three girls,” Pyotr said. “A thousand hives. We live in a remote area of Maine. Reminds me of the little farm and farmer who saved my life.”
“He is …?” Ivan asked.
“Dead,” Pyotr said. “Different war. Same problem.”
“I do not get on stage every night,” Pyotr said. “How have you managed to stay off his radar?”
“I’m not sure,” Ivan said. “I’m not in the press that much. I don’t work for one ballet, but all of them. So I’m not in the programs or on the websites. I go, do my job, go home. I saw him once.”
“You did?” Pyotr asked.
“At the Isba,” Ivan said. “But he was the stranger and I was the regular. I slipped out the back without being noticed.”
“So he didn’t see you?” Pyotr asked.
“I’m sure that he thought that I was dead,” Ivan said.
“I have been asked to come to speak with you,” Pyotr said. “To collect what you know and pass it on. It’s unlikely that you will see me after this.”
Ivan gave a curt nod.
“I am doing this as a favor for a friend,” Pyotr said. “Now that I am here, I remember how fond of you I am. Little Ivan.”
“I have never forgotten my dear friend from school,” Ivan said with a smile. “We were both captured like gold by a greedy dragon.”
“I call him ‘The Varroa’,” Pyotr said. “You know it?”
Ivan shook his head.
“The Varroa Mite is a deadly mite to the honeybee,” Pyotr said. “It lays its eggs inside the male bee’s cocoon, causing deformities. Then it latches onto hardworking bees. A hive can survive a certain number of them, but the mites create holes in the shell, the skin of the bee. A deadly virus gets inside and kills the bee.”
Ivan squinted his eyes and nodded.
“This is what he’s like,” Pyotr said. “He latches on to people, stealing their life force. When he is done, he lets go and allows his evil empire to kill them. You and I — we were not lured by riches, but rather he latched onto us until we had taken him where he wanted to go. Then we were left to die.”
Ivan nodded in agreement.
“Much of what you have to say, I already know,” Pyotr said. “Please, speak completely and fully. I will ask questions, but I am here to listen.”
“What will happen to this information?” Ivan asked.
“I don’t know,” Pyotr said. “I believe that some portion of it will be used to rein him in. Some part of it will go to analysts so that they can understand him better.”
“So that you know,” Pyotr said. “I spent four days with the man who is now called ‘Otis.’”
“If we need more time, we can get it,” Pyotr said. “But I think we’ll get what we need in these hours. If not, I will be here on your ride home.”
“Thank you for coming,” Ivan said.
“I’m glad to be here,” Pyotr said. “Now, pretend that we’ve never met. Tell me — where were your born?”
Pyotr turned on the tape recorder and Ivan began to talk.
Thursday afternoon — 12:15 p.m.
“Let’s break for lunch,” the director yelled. “Back at 1:30 p.m.”
Nodding, Valerie let her smile slip. She loved this part and this cast. She knew that she was doing her best work. She’d never been treated this well on a set. Not ever.
Yet, inside herself, she could barely tell the difference between night and day. She shuffled through sleepless, lonely nights and forced herself to be this character all day. Her mind was becoming more and more grim. If she didn’t have to be somewhere during the day, she’d never have gotten out of bed.
Mike was doing fine without her.
Her children didn’t need or miss her.
Her mother, who’d loved her so much, was dead. Her brother distracted and her father …
The world would never miss her.
Valerie shuffled off to her empty, lonely trailer to get out of her clothes for another heart pumping workout designed to turn her obese and disgusting body into something more like a professional actress. Valerie opened the door to her trailer.
Someone was inside.
She might be depressed, but her mother had taught her well. Open the door and smell. You can smell people long before you can see them.
“Show yourself,” Valerie commanded in a voice that no human could no obey.
No one appeared. She was about to go back to the set when she heard a voice say, “Good Lord you’re bossy.”
Valerie took two steps and she was in his arms. Jacob hug was warm and soft at the same time. He smelled like love. He felt like home. When she pulled back, she was crying.
She sucked back her emotions and put on her actress face.
“What are you doing here?” Valerie asked, in a fairly cold, disinterested voice.
Jacob’s eyes scanned her face. Without warming, he pulled her back to him and held her tight. Valerie wept into his armpit. When her tears seemed to fade, he led her over to the trailer’s couch.
“I brought lunch,” Jacob said.
“Oh?” Valerie asked, still sniffing at her tears.
“Casserole from Delphie,” Jacob said.
“Oh God, no!” Valerie said. Despite herself, she laughed. “No, no please. Take it away.”
Jacob laughed. He took out a plastic storage container filled with brownies and another with chocolate chip cookies.
“You know I can’t have those,” Valerie said. “Obese still.”
Jacob pulled a measuring tape from his pocket. Before she could protest, he wrapped it around her waist.
“Look,” Jacob demanded.
“I …” Valerie said.
“We made a deal,” Jacob said. “Look.”
“I was sixteen,” Valerie said, annoyed.
“Look at the tape,” Jacob said.
To get him to shut up, she looked down. The number was two inches less than what she’d agreed was too small when she was sixteen.
“How?” Valerie asked. “What?”
“You haven’t eaten since you got here,” Jacob said.
“I …” Valerie said.
“I checked,” Jacob said. “They said that they haven’t been able to get you to eat anything.”
Valerie stared at him.
“Did they call you?” Valerie asked in a small, horrified voice.
“You called me,” Jacob said. He put his hand on her heart. “I heard you.”
“How?” Valerie asked.
“I flew with Nash and Teddy to Washington DC,” Jacob said. “They’re going to London for one of those dance parties. I was just going to head right back when I heard you. I called Fin and he brought me here.”
He put his hands on her arms.
“I will always come when you need me,” Jacob said.
“Unless you’re in the Sea of Amber,” Valerie said.
“Yes, unless I’m being tortured by some unknown force, I will come to help you,” Jacob said. “Then there was that thing with the crazy fairy queen.”
Valerie grinned at him for a moment before her face fell.
“I’ve been so lonely,” Valerie said. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt like this before. I mean, I thought I knew depression. But that was nothing compared to this. I …”
Jacob’s hazel eyes stayed on his sister’s face while he silently willed her to speak her truth.
“I’ve been thinking of killing myself,” Valerie said. “You know, do a favor to the world.”
Jacob didn’t move. Instead, he held his sister with his eyes. She looked down at her hands.
“Is it like when Mike disappeared and you lost the baby?” Jacob asked.
Valerie shook her head. For a long moment, she silently stared at her hands.
“It’s worse,” Valerie said. “It feels chemical. It feels like …”
“Like?” Jacob asked.
“Sucking on the end of a tail pipe,” Valerie said.
While her words shocked Jacob to his core, he didn’t dare move. She would interpret any movement as a judgement of her.
“I can’t breathe,” Valerie said.
“I think you have post-partum depression,” Jacob said.
“So?” Valerie asked.
“So that’s not okay,” Jacob said.
“I don’t have time for some bullshit psychology,” Valerie snapped. “I have to get this film done so I can get home to my Eddie! He grows bigger every single day I’m here.”
Valerie threw her hands up in the air.
“I’m missing it!” Valerie said. “I can’t … and … I …”
Valerie weaved. Jacob caught her before she hit the ground. He helped to sit down again. He held his sister against him for a few minutes as she slowly regained consciousness. When she was back, he got up and went to her little refrigerator. He took out one of her favorite juices.
“Drink this,” Jacob said.
“Maybe later,” Valerie said.
“Drink it now,” Jacob commanded.
Valerie leaned back. Jacob’s entire body radiated white light. He seemed bigger and more commanding.
“No need to go all White Hulk,” Valerie said.
Jacob chuckled. She might have complained, but she drank down the juice.
“Fuck,” Valerie grabbed her stomach.
“Cramping,” Jacob said.
“I’m really fucking hungry,” Valerie said.
Jacob turned in place and took their long ago agreed upon meal — plate with 2 ounces of turkey, a cup of mashed potatoes, and mixed vegetables — from her little trailer oven. Valerie chuckled.
“How?” Valerie asked.
“Craft services,” Jacob said. “I called ahead.”
He held the plate out to her with a fork. Nodding, she took it from him and ate every morsel. When she looked up at him, he nodded his head to the right.
Mike was standing next to Jacob.
“What …?” Valerie asked.
“We over ruled your concern about having Mike here,” Jacob said.
“What about Eddie? Jackie?” Valerie asked. “Our babies need a parent.”
“We have lots of childcare,” Jacob said. “The children have lots of loving parents around. Mike and the kids have been staying up in the loft since you left anyway. I know they miss you, and it’s certainly not ideal to have you away from them, but even Dad agrees that you need to get back on your feet so that you can be present for them.”
Mike held out his arms and Valerie rushed into them. Mike held her tight for a moment before pulling back.
“We need to find you a therapist,” Mike said. “And meds if necessary.”
“I don’t know how to …” Valerie started.
“Your PA is supposed to get a list of therapists for us to see if we can find someone to help,” Mike said.
“You don’t need us to lecture you,” Jacob said. “It’s just that post-partum depression is a really serious thing, Val. You need to get help now.”
“Jill didn’t get sick and stupid after she had the twins,” Valerie said, not bothering to keep the self-loathing out of her voice.
“Jill can heal herself,” Jacob said. “She’s the one who brought it up! Plus Mom struggled with it. They think post-partum has a genetic link. It’s probably just something you inherited from Mom.”
Valerie’s head went up and down in a nod. She turned to Mike and then flipped back around to Jacob.
“I don’t want to lose you, Valerie,” Jacob said.
“I don’t want to lose you either,” Mike said.
“Promise me …” Jacob said.
“I will.” Valerie gave Jacob a sincere nod and turned around to hug Mike. When she turned back, Jacob was gone.
Thursday night — 10:15 p.m.
Sissy waited and waited and waited and waited.
She struggled to keep from giving up. She only knew that if she waited just a little bit more and then a little bit more after that and then …
She was standing with her back to the concourse when James Kelly raised his eyebrows and pointed.
Sissy spun around and ran. Ivan caught her and lifted her off the ground. He held her up in a perfect ballet turn before pulling her into his arms. The people he’d traveled with clapped and laughed.
Sissy only saw Ivan.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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