Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Interview

Edward Parks, junior reporter of X magazine sat in a corner of a nondescript cafe along Toltsky lane just 2 blocks away from the famous Red Square. Sipping from a steaming cup of coffee, Edward shot a quick glance at his watch and resisted the urge to fiddle with the tape recorder, positioned discreetly beside the serviette. After months of corresponding through different email accounts and countless calls on public payphones, he, Edward, was finally going to meet Greta Sharpovich,estranged wife of powerful oligarch and crime kingpin, Nicolas Raczeky. Greta had incriminating evidence about Nicolas's connections and just how many politicians and government officials were under his payroll. News which would shake the entire Russian establishment to its core and be one helluva scoop that would guarantee his promotion should he pull it off.

"Mr Parks?" Edward was startled out of his reverie by a gentle tap on his shoulder and a parka clad woman donning a pair of Gucci sunglasses, her burnette hair partially hidden under a cream coloured shawl, Prada bag tucked under arm. "I'm Greta", the woman replied before Edward could answer; sliding into the opposite seat and motioning to the waiter for coffee. Greta removed her glasses, revealing a pair of hazel eyes, cold and piercing, which she used to examine the reporter briskly before bursting out in mirthless laughter.

"You're disappointed. I'm not dressed like a woman with a devastating secret, not like one of your femme fatales in your spy thrillers. You expected me to be in black, collar upturned, with a felt fedora hat and leather gloves complete with sunglasses? I'm afraid you've to be satisfied with these." She declared, waving in the direction of the sunglasses.

Her english was impeccable, the enunciation perfect save for a slight spanish accent. Edward coughed apologetically, feeling foolish for his initial reaction and even more so that the interviewee had read him so well. A reversal of roles did not bode well. "I was intrigued," she went on. "To see the kind of man who would want an interview with me. It takes a very brave man to make enemies with Nicolas Raczeky. Or a stupid one." Another clinical smile. "But you are supposed to be interviewing me, please start."

Greta wrapped her hands around the steaming cup."So why didn't you go to the police or the main magazines or newspapers?" Sighing, she replied "Nicolas is a very powerful man, nearly half the police force is under him, the rest can simply be bought off with money, the same goes for the newspapers and magazines, he has people in them. So you were the perfect choice. Of course I had to make sure you weren't one of his lackeys."

"Your husband suspects you?" "He doesn't suspect, he knows but he doesn't know how."
Flicking open her handbag, Greta fished out a cigarette which she lit deftly before drawing on it long and hard.

"So how did you get that evidence?" "I can't go into that yet.. Let's just say he got careless and I have my resources too." She exhaled into Edward's face who resisted the urge to reach over and stub out the offending irritant. "But surely he'll try to stop you?" he queried. "You mean kill me? He would have, a long time ago if I had not warned him that the evidence would be released simultaneously to contacts worldwide if I was uncontactable for 24 hours." "But you haven't such a plan in place right?"

Greta exhaled and stared hard at Edward. "Alright you're shrewder than I gave you credit for. Yes I have no such plan in place. Otherwise I wouldn't be here, would I?" " So why bet your life on the hope that Nicolas believes it?" "I do Not hope!" she snarled, distaste evident on her face. "It is a calculated risk. I started betting my life a long time ago, marrying Nicolas was a bet, exciting and fun but dangerous." She took a sip, flicking the ashes into a grimy ashtray.

"But recently he has become desperate and impatient. He sent his toyboy Boris to kill me last friday."
"Er, what happened?"
"I killed him."
"Your bodyguards killed him?"
Greta gave an exasperated wave of her hand. "I understand English. I killed him. I have no bodyguards." "But how?" " With a gun. Boris came after dinner, he was so painfully obvious. I may be 40 but I have not lost all my beauty or charms. And Boris was only too happy to fulfil a dying woman's request, to have a tete a tete in the bedroom and die happy. Nicolas had good taste. I was almost sorry. Almost."

Pausing to fish another cigarette from her bag, which was promptly lit, Greta continued, "Then as he was ejaculating, I shot him. It was what you westerners would call a mind blowing climax, yes? I'm sure he died happy."

Edward could scarely believe his ears, this woman in front of him was talking about how she killed a hit man as nonchalantly as if she was discussing her latest manicure. And it didn't help that she was a pretty woman, with a high fashion face as New Yorkers would say, high cheek bones, nicely arched nose and eyebrows, manicured nails, she would have fit right in at West End with ease.

Sensing his discomfort, she held him with that piercing stare and said firmly. "In Russia, to show any weakness is to invite certain death." "So your husband is a homosexual?" Edward fumbled, eager to break away from that unflinching gaze. "No, he's bisexual. He has a mistress, Marianne, a Ukrainean whore, but he enjoys his bonding sessions with Boris. Boris is straight but in Russia money buys anything, especially if your boss is the one paying."

"Did you have any children with Nicolas?" For a moment, the mask slipped and Edward saw her hand tremble, the pain in her eyes before they hardened once again, the mask back in place. "I had a son, Joshka, the light of my life, he was everything his father wasn't: shy, quiet, contemplative with a deep seated sense of right and wrong. Nicolas hated him, he called him a wimp, a bastard, a useless oaf. We fought so hard over him." Pause. A slight tremor entering her voice, Greta continued. "Then when he was 13, Joshka committed suicide because he could not live, knowing he had a murderer and thug as a father, his suicide note said. Nicolas refused to acknowledge his own son and didn't want to bury him. I had to bury him secretly in a church courtyard in St Petersburg. And on that very day I resolved to bring Nicolas down. Nicolas the bastard."

Greta uttered the last sentence with such venom and contempt, Edward half expected her to spit in disgust. Which she didn't of course, Greta was much too cultured for that. Edward couldn't help noticing the way she sat, gracefully poised yet possessing a sense of expectancy, her hand slightly curved, the cigarette wedged between two slender fingers, her immaculate carmine nails gleaming dangerously. Her sultry voice only served to reinforce the image. All in all, a feline creature ready to strike, confident of her sensuality and deliciously dangerous, like some exotic predator.

Greta caught him looking and smiled, "Do my nails fascinate you?" "No it's just that I can't help but picture you as some exotic wild cat, beautiful but deadly, killing the men who fall under your spell with those graceful claws." Edward shook his head. "I'm sorry, let's get back to the interview." Edward regretted the words as soon as he had uttered them. What was wrong with him? He had just managed to commit all the faux pas of journalism in the first fifteen minutes of the interview.

Greta threw her head back and laughed out loud. It was rich and throaty, altogether not unpleasant. When she looked at him again, Edward could see a twinkle in her previously impassive eyes and knew that she was genuinely amused. "You are a funny man, Mr Parks. I had thought you would be a dry old stick like the other journalists I had met before. But no you're not. I, Greta, clawing men to death with my nails?" she chuckled.

"It was just an analogy," Edward replied a little sullenly. God. Stop behaving like this!, he thought furiously. "Ah yes an An-a-lo-gy." Greta rolled the word around in her mouth as if it was an exquisite delicacy. Leaning over and patting his hand gently like a doting aunt comforting a miffed toddler, she continued. "In Russia, guns are a woman's best friends. Behind money of course. They are de rigueur, I never leave home without them." "So you have one on you now? Wait, how many do you have?" "Two, and yes I carry them both. The .7 Beretta in my bag and the .45 Colt on me." She didn't offer to show them and he made no move to ask to see them but Edward was absolutely certain that she wasn't lying.

They carried on with the conversation which soon moved on to the evidence Greta had obtained, evidence which when released would have repercussions throughout the entire world. Edward's eyes grew larger as Greta went on, reciting a litany of the different politburo members under Nicolas Raczeky's payroll, ticking her fingers as she did so. Nicolas's reach was pervasive and he had many influential people under his control. Generals, police officers, secret service officials, politicians, businessmen, criminal gangs, there was practically no aspect of russian society not under his influence. But fissures had started appearing in his criminal empire, one which had corrupted itself such that one filibuster was all that was needed to send it and Nicolas, the man behind it crashing.

Greta stopped in midsentence and frowned. "There's something wrong." "What? What is?" "That car in front of the cafe has been there for forty-five mins and the driver looks familiar." Edward craned forward to catch a glimpse of a black Fiat, the windows opaque except for the driver seat's window which was rolled down to reveal a man and his passenger nibbling on some pastry."

"How could you tell? Your back is facing them." Without a word, Greta pointed to the two blue tinted glasses of ice water on the table. "Perhaps they're just waiting for a friend?" Edward hazarded, wincing at how feeble it sounded."You do NOT wait forty five mins for a friend outside a cafe on a Monday afternoon," Greta snapped. "Continue talking." She commanded as she whipped out her powder compact and pretended to powder her nose.

Before Edward could continue, Greta stiffened visibly and cursed softly in spanish. Escoria despreciable! "That dog has sent his minions, I recognise them. We must leave Now. We must exit through the back. There is a demonstration going on now, we'll lose them there." Seized by the fierce urgency in Greta's voice, Edward grabbed his tape recorder, leaving a fifty rouble note on the table before hurrying after Greta. He fancied hearing the screech of tyres as the screen door slammed behind them.

Almost instantly, they were caught up in a crowd chanting slogans and waving banners which appeared to Edward given his rudimentary command of Russian to be some protest against the recent steep rises in prices of oil. "Whatever you do, don't look back!" Greta hissed as they ploughed through the crowd. "You must leave Russia immediately. Your life is in peril now that they have spotted you with me. I'm sorry but you knew what you were getting yourself into. Do you have your passport and airticket with you?"

"Yes, but my suitcase..." Edward's head spun, this was like some sort of surreal nightmare, a situation one always read about in Jeffrey Archer or Tom Clancy thrillers. Never did he expect to find himself in one.

"Forget it! They probably know where you're staying and will be waiting for you there. Just ahead is the tram stop, the tram should be here in 3 mins and it'll take you straight to the airport." Edward felt a piece of paper being stuffed into his hand. "When you reach America, call the number on that paper and ask for Sevrige. If you do not get me, fly to Zurich immediately. Go to the Swiss Nationale Banque and dial the last four digits of that number and ask for Anna Sevrige. Hamilton will give you the safe deposit box with the instructions on locating the evidence inside. This is important, can you remember?"

Edward nodded. "Oh your tram is coming, you must hurry. I'm sorry our meeting had to end this way my funny American reporter. I do hope we'll meet again, Mr Parks." Pulling her shawl up over her head, Greta paused momentarily. "Oh and welcome to Moscow. Take care." Greta leaned forward, lips gently caressing his cheek before she melded back into the crowd, her cream shawl soon consumed by the teeming mass of humanity, leaving behind only a lingering fragrance of Chanel N*5.

Edward sat staring out of the window, occasionally touching the spot on his cheek wistfully. She was a likeable woman but eight million dollars was a lot of money. More than he would probably ever earn in his entire life. Hands trembling, Edward dialled the number given together with the mobile phone.

"Raczeky." The gruff voice hit him like a searing brand. Edward yelped and flung the phone so violently out of the window, it hit the ground with an audible crack as it split into two, startling a group of pigeons into flight and the plump old woman beside him who mumbled under her breath and clutched her groceries more tightly.

He would not sell his soul to the devil. Not even for eight million bucks and the least he could do was to help her expose Nicolas, for tough cookie as she was, Greta was vulnerable and time was running out for her. It was as if a huge burden had been lifted from his shoulders. Yes. He nodded, strengthened by his newfound conviction, possible headlines already being entertained and rejected, as the tram trundled on steadily towards its final destination.

====================The End==========================

NB: Written a little over 2 years ago on the now defunct diary-x on one of those boring nights. I rediscovered this again recently on the old desktop. It remains one of my personal favourites.

For Sean.

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