Duplicity Ch. 00bypartial2passion©
A man runs fast through the woods.
The freezing temperatures of the tiny village in central Siberia made it hard to breathe... It actually hurt to breathe. He was covered from head to toe in protective gear. Without it his blood would stop flowing and frostbite would set in.
He'd been running for so long. He wanted to stop but he couldn't. He had a bullet wound to his shoulder; he needed to remove before infection set in. He was glad he wasn't bleeding profusely, his blood was probably afraid of the cold.
Even through his shielded ski goggles, the bright white snow irritated his retinas.
He was sweating inside the suit and his adrenaline pumped as he ran. He couldn't let them see him. He ran until he saw a stream. He found an overbank and slipped through into it.
As he waited his breathing was labored and he knew he didn't have much time left. With each breath he took, it felt like he was inhaling pins and needles. His nostril hairs were frozen. Pretty soon he would get sluggish from the lack of oxygen. The severe cold could easily slip through a crack in his gear.
His shoulder had gone numb from the pain. He hadn't eaten in a day and even then it was just a can of beans from his pack. This morning he washed down 3 aspirin with the last of his water. The aspirin would help maintain blood flow to his extremities and lower his chances of needing amputations from frostbite. What he wouldn't do for a warm bed and a hot meal right now.
He waited an hour in the dugout and hoped to God they left. He slipped out and noticed the sun had gone down.
Now the clock was really ticking.
Oymiakon was the coldest inhabited place on earth. It was known for recording, -70 degree temperatures. His heavy boots crunched on the hard snow as he walked along the side of the stream. He was sure they were gone now.
Ironically to his left was the infamous Road of Bones created during the Stalin regime. The slave laborers were literally worked to death while building it.
One for every meter... they would collapse and die from the horrible work conditions. Each time a person died, they would just leave them on the road. The barbaric soldiers would simply bulldoze the dead into the mixture.
The Road of Bones got its name from the millions of lives forever engraved inside and all around it.
As the scarce sunlight retreated, it left traces of bright rays on that very path. It gleamed as a reminder; you can try to cover up the past but when the light shines it's impossible to forget.
He couldn't be one of them... one of the fallen. He didn't know where the will to survive came from but he just knew there wasn't any other possibility.
The Evergreen trees mocked him as they stood tall and proud; they carried loads of heavy mushy snow and still remained standing.
Tall and proud.
He looked up towards the clear gray sky and the snow covered ground seemed to mesh together. There was an eerie gray light that bounced from the ground to the heavens.
It was disturbingly quiet. No doubt a reminder that nothing living remained.
He squint his eyes and thought he saw a single smoke cloud coming from the distance. His stride became a little more forceful and he swung his unwounded arm a little wider. He would need the extra blood flow if he was going to make it.
When he finally arrived at the small cabin he was glad it wasn't a mirage. Someone was definitely home and he could almost feel the warmth radiating off the house. He found the entrance and door which had been recently salted and cleared of snow. He pounded on the door with the last strength he had left.
No one answered. He leaned against the door utterly tired and sleepy. With no longer having control of his body, his eyes closed and he blacked out.
When he woke he thought he was in hell.
There was a large fire blaring in the distance. Everything was blurry and the heat was suffocating. He felt like he was swallowing burning coals. He coughed and shook as a chill ran through him.
Why was he so tired? He had a throbbing headache.
He felt so sluggish that he couldn't even open his eyes. But he heard mumbling around him, he couldn't make out what they were saying. He fell asleep again.
When he woke the second time, he felt small warm hands hugging him from behind under the thick blankets. Soft small breasts caressed his back and he thought maybe he wasn't in hell after all.
He tried to move but he couldn't. He slowly opened his eyes and realized he was stripped of his gear and clothes, bathed and wore thermal underwear. The fresh scent of soap invaded his nostrils. He could also smell the delicate smell of the woman behind him.
For the first time he noticed his shoulder was patched and wrapped in a long bandage. He had to move quickly because by now they had found his weapons.
It hurt to move his arm but he succeeded. The small hands still clung tightly to him. He heard a small whimper and he was sure he was dragging her to the edge with him. He had yet to see her.
"Pa-roos-key?" An older man asked who was suddenly hovering over him.
"No, I'm American." The wounded man said.
"Ah... American. You are a far away from home comrade but relax... we are friends here." He said in a thick Russian accent.
The wounded man hesitated as he looked at him but relaxed and said, "Dah."
"I'm Olev," the older man said as his hands pointed to his chest encouraging the stranger to say who he is.
The old man chuckled as he knew the stranger was lying. But from the looks of his gunshot wound and the high tech equipment and weapons he carried Olev didn't really want to know too much anyway.
'Ralph' looked down and the small hands were still clinging to his chiseled abs. He looked around and saw a girl no older than 18 looking up at him with dreamy bright blue eyes. Her freckles ran freely throughout her face as her platinum blonde hair topped her head.
"Don't mind Stacia. She practically begged to heat you up. Since the alternative was either my wife or me we thought it would best if the little one did it."
'Ralph' felt himself grin for the first time in a long time. Of course body heat was the best way to raise a person's temperature especially if there are close to hyperthermia.
He looked at her completely freckled face and in a deep voice said, "Thank you."
Stacia widened her eyes and opened her mouth. But as soon as she found her voice she let out a loud pitch scream.
'Ralph' stumbled back thinking he did something to her. Yup, he still had his headache.
"Oh my God... Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God." She chanted. She gripped the sides of her face as she openly stared at his perfectly carved body distinguishable through the thermal.
He looked at Olev and the old man rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders.
"This is a small town Comrade; we don't have people that look like you. But come you must drink and eat something. I cleaned up your wound as best as I could and extracted the bullet. You are lucky... many have died just being outside in the freeze. Here try on these clothes."
'Ralph' clasped Olev's arm and nodded in appreciation.
Olev gave him some large sweatpants and sweater to wear. The pants were too short on Ralph's tall body but it would have to do. He still felt weak but felt better overall. His shoulder was sore but it was nothing he couldn't handle, he'd been through worse.
Olev's wife, Larissa, placed a large bowl of warm chicken soup and a chunk of bread in front of him and a mug of aromatic tea. As he sat at the modest table, his heart warmed thinking how these people have treated a total stranger.
"Thank you for your hospitality."
Larissa looked at the handsome stranger and smiled. She wondered what his story was but knew her husband would find out. Tall, dark and handsome indeed... He would surely make some woman happy with that tanned body; it looked like it was sculpted by the gods. And those blue-green eyes and long thick eyelashes were any woman's envy.
'Ralph' turned his head to the left and came face to face with Stacia's freckles.
Jesus! She scared the living daylights out of him. This girl was quiet as a mouse. She should go into my profession, he thought.
Olev cleared his throat, "Stacia leave the man alone."
She slowly nodded in a daze; but it was obvious she didn't hear him. She had pushed herself against him that she was almost in Ralph's soup. She inhaled and exhaled swooning over the gorgeous stranger.
"Sorry, we were finally able to see the movie Thor and she thinks you look like a bald tanned version of him."
'Ralph' chuckled and his blue-green eyes glimmered. He looked nothing like Thor. But who cares? This place was so isolated; he was surprised to find a teenager here. But he needed to focus and find what he came for.
"Do you know Mikhail Popov?"
Olev looked at him. His face remained neutral as if debating what to say.
'Ralph' continued, "He's an old friend. I need to speak to him."
"If he is an old friend as you say, you wouldn't mind answering some questions about him."
'Ralph' nodded slightly impressed Olev hadn't given up the information so quickly.
"What is his favorite color?"
Huh? What was this, kindergarten?
"If you know him, you will know his favorite color." Olev said suspiciously.
'Ralph' thought about Mikhail and grinned.
Olev smiled and said, "What is his cat's name?"
"Halle." Ralph replied. The man was obsessed with Halle Berry... all the way from her Catwoman days.
Olev nodded and smiled. "Ok now, what do you want with Mikhail?"
'Ralph' looked at Olev. He didn't even notice Larissa and Stacia had already left the table and gave them privacy.
"He has information I need."
Olev nodded as if he already knew the answer.
"I will take you first thing in the morning. There is a storm coming tonight." Olev said.
'Ralph' thanked him. Olev showed him where he was to sleep and left him alone.
It was a separate part of the house that was well insulated but looked like it was undergoing renovations. He saw the comfortable couch was made into a bed for him with his gear next to it.
He inspected his pack and found all his weapons and ammunition had been untouched. He checked his surveillance and tracking devices. When his stealth laptop booted up, he hacked into the agency with a fake identity. He would have to leave tomorrow, this had to end now. As he was about to close the laptop, the photo of two smiling female faces greeted him. He quickly shut it since he didn't want to let his mind go there.
He then inspected his shoulder. It would heal.
Not that bad... he was used to being wounded.
The next day after breakfast, true to his word, Olev drove Ralph through the isolated town towards Mikhail. Everything was covered in freshly fallen snow. Olev's sturdy truck seemed to glide above it all. There were houses sparsely placed along the solitary road. They turned a corner and drove into the thick forest clearing. Olev proved to be a quiet man. Quiet but guarded.
"I know your name is not Ralph." Olev said cryptically.
Ralph looked at him and waited to see what else he would say.
"We have a good life here. We don't need any trouble... from anyone."
Ralph glanced at the man who was still in good shape to be in his fifties. His hardworking hands looked like they could tell stories. His strong arms looked like he still did weights. Ralph smirked because Olev somehow sounded like he just threatened him. Ralph decided to change the conversation towards Olev.
"So... is Stacia your only child?" Ralph asked.
"Yes, my wife and I had Stacia later in life. We gave up trying to have a baby and she came like a sign from God to start a new life. Best thing to ever happen to me. She is homeschooled but very inquisitive... Do you have a family?"
Ralph gave him an unreadable expression.
"No, it's just me." He said somberly, his blue-green eyes serious.
"Well, you will one day." Olev said confidently.
Ralph looked out the window and thought back to a time he thought the same way, full of hopes and dreams. He bitterly remembered his scarred past; his stupid mistakes. When he wrapped this mission up, he would take a leave of absence and disappear again.
They arrived at Mikhail's house and it looked more like a large garage than a house, it was painted navy blue. It didn't have any windows. It looked desolate if not for the freshly shoveled and salted path free of snow.
Mikhail opened the door with an automatic shot gun in his hands. Ralph cracked a grin at his old friend, always the paranoid one. You could never be too careful, he would always say. He was one of the few friends Ralph had left from the agency.
He had aged since he'd last seen him two years ago. His black hair now peppered with gray and a couple of extra wrinkled lines adorned his face. He was still tall and lanky and always smoking.
When they reached him, Mikhail took a long drag of his cigarette and exhaled. The white smoke drifted into the frigid breeze.
"You are not dead." He said looking at Ralph.
"Not today. But you soon will be if you keep smoking those things... You've aged old man."
Mikhail chuckled, "Bah! Die of one thing or another... And who are you calling old man? I can still take you. Even though you look like you swallowed some bricks since I last saw you..." he said assessing Ralph's bulging muscles.
Ralph chuckled and they clasped hands and Ralph hugged him with his good shoulder.
"Olev... thank you for bringing him." Mikhail said.
Mikhail looked at Ralph and said, "How did you meet my cousin Olev?"
Ralph's aqua-colored eyes widened. Cousin?
He looked at Olev who shrugged his shoulders and snickered.
Mikhail chuckled and ushered them in still holding the shot gun in one hand. His home was warm and inviting inside. The walls were painted light blue and gray and there were lamps and candles that gave the home a comfy feel. Soft leather couches sat on plush carpeting. If it wasn't for Mikhail's heavy artillery resting on the side wall, it would be a normal home.
After settling in, Mikhail brought them some coffee and Vodka. You know, so they can have a variety.
The graceful Persian cat, Halle, made her appearance, meowed and settled on Mikhail headrest. Mikhail lit another cigarette and pulled his first drag. His glass ash tray balanced on the leather recliner's armrest.
"So my friend, have you found what you've been looking for?" Mikhail said his crystal blue eyes expectant.
Ralph inconspicuously glanced to his right at Olev and then at Mikhail.
"Oh, Olev is alright. He's ex-CIA too. He and Larissa were active during the Berlin Wall fiasco. They've retired since then."
Ralph raised his eyebrows towards Olev in admiration. Olev again pouted his lips and shrugged his shoulders.
Ralph cleared his throat and said, "It seems the agency has changed their minds as to... my invaluable service. It looks like I have to step back into my life and retrieve my only safety net... it's the only way I can clear my name."
Mikhail nodded and said, "Where will you go?"
"It looks like they're headed to Athens." Ralph said.
Mikhail nodded as if he already knew the answer. He looked at 'Ralph' and remembered his story. His old friend looked completely different as he did when he first met him as a new recruit. He had become hardened and somber. Until recently, he was known as a respected agent that was completely lethal. Now, only the lethal part remained. He would help his friend in any way he could.
"This is good; it is time you went back." He said.
A deep uneasy feeling settled in Ralph's gut. It's now or never. Better to face the wrath of your past then to live alone in shame.