The Distinguished Assassin, from Ch.1
Aleksei stood in a doorway opposite and waited. How he longed to see Natasha. How he hoped that Ivan Ivanovich and Boris Andreyevich were not right about her betrayal. He did not know what day it was, a workday he presumed. Was she still teaching at the Institution? Was she still painting and drawing? How would she look? Would Katya be with her? Was Katya still dancing? So many unanswered questions.
The wait would be long, he sensed. Aleksei kneeled down, leaned against the side of the building.
Morning turned to afternoon, another few hours passed.
Then the tap of heels on the pavement, a woman’s walk he was sure. Aleksei looked across the street … and yes, he was right. The woman was tall and slender, light brown hair brushed back over her face. Her walk captivated him, the sway of her hips and legs. It was Natasha.
Aleksei stood up. Though he could not distinguish her face yet, he knew it was her. As she got nearer he saw her better. She looked pale, skinny. He found himself longing for her to smile. How he loved that smile! He always hated seeing her unhappy. He felt the urge to run up to her, throw his arms around her. If he did, he would never let go, he thought. For he could not bear to lose her again. And now she smiled, yes, Natasha was happy. She had seen someone. Was it Katya? Aleksei turned his head sharply at this instant, looking back at the entrance to the apartment, searching for her, but instead he, the bastard, stood there, Vladimir Vladimirovich. He held the heavy front door open, his cruel handsome face lit up by the whitish Moscow sky, and next she had reached him and he kissed her, and Aleksei could not bear to look. A few moments later he heard Katya’s voice calling, “Momma… momma.”
Ivan Ivanovich and Boris Andreyevich were right. His wife was betraying him…
The Distinguished Assassin, from The Fourth Kill
Was he a protector or a predator? Aleksei asked, back in his hotel room. He did not know, he thought. He sat down at the bureau, crossed the name of his fourth victim, Smidovich, off the list, then returned it to the brown envelope. After this he stared at his dark reflection in the window: his nose was badly broken, his face bloody, bruising already forming around his eyes after his vicious fight with Smidovich. He’d need to clean himself up. His reputation as a cold-blooded assassin preceded him now, Aleksei knew this. He was distinguishable by his two tattoos: he did not just have the star on his left little finger but also “Kolyma” written on his right hand. For he never wanted to forget the horror of the place and what it symbolized – the very worst of this damn regime’s brutality, its contempt for humanity, for freedom and happiness. He stared at this tattoo, next looked to the telephone, which sat on the bedside table, knowing that it would ring soon enough with details of the fifth job, the next kill. He put his palm to his chest. He could feel his sin in his work, in his heart. Still, he was yet to find God, as Nikolai had hoped and prayed that he would. Was he not most likely to find Him through sin? Aleksei wondered. He doubted it. Rather, it felt like he would never find Him. His morality was skewed, yes, and yet the whole of Russia’s was. He, Aleksei, had become a bad man in a bad country…