The Ring of the Queen

Part XV

There are always going to be ridiculous rumours.

- Kim Kardashian

Aloshya closed the store so that we could all leave together. There were people there working who wondered what on Earth was going on, but he didn't seem to be a bit concerned about it. He explained to them that it was an emergency, and that was all that he was going to say.

I didn't know what to think, which was becoming my normal mode at this point. The one thing that I couldn't understand was how did everyone seem to know more about this than me? I also wondered how Aloshya seemed to know about me and he also seemed to know that the President was looking for me. How did he know that? I was beginning to think that I was being lied to by someone. I wasn't sure who, but it seemed to me that one of these guys was playing me and Tania. For all I knew maybe they both were.

We went to where Aloshya had his vehicle parked and climbed into a four-wheel drive thing that looked something like an SUV. It was enormous and looked menacing to say the least. It was black and had a grill on it that looked like it could take out a bear if it got in the way. The further into this misadventure I got, the more uncomfortable I got. I couldn't exactly explain it, but I felt like I was being kidnapped, and I didn't realize it.

"Where are we going again?" I asked.

"My apartment," Dr. Zemecki replied.

I leaned over to Tania. "Does this seem the slightest bit wrong to you?"

"What do you mean?" she replied. "They are trying to help you. Do you realize what kind of trouble we're in here?"

"I know that I'm the bumpkin here, but how do we know we can trust these guys?" I whispered to her. "How did this Aloshya guy know that the President was looking for me?"

Tania simply stared at me for a moment. "I don't know. I never thought about that."

"We don't know where we're going. We don't know if the President has anything to do with anything. These guys could be crazy. We don't know," I persisted.

"What's bothering you?" Dr. Zemecki asked.

"All the unknowns," I said.

"Stacey!" Tania exclaimed, swatting me on my shoulder.

"Sorry, but it had to be said," I replied. "How do we know that the two of you aren't just a couple of nuts?"

"You don't," Aloshya answered.

"Exactly. You could be a couple of serial killers for all we know. Now, how did Aloshya know that the President was looking for us?" I asked.

"My cousin works for him," Aloshya said. "He is part of his personal security detail."

"Does your cousin have a name?" I asked.

"Sergei," he replied. "He was part of the FSB, and was chosen for the detail two years ago when the last man in that position had to leave, because he had lung cancer."

"I see," I said, not knowing where to take my inquiry from there.

"See?" Tania said. "Now, will you quit worrying."

"She is smart," Aloshya said. "Stacey, do not let anyone tell you to quit worrying. Worrying means you are cautious and smart. You are a stranger in a strange land in a very unusual situation. You shouldn't trust anyone. I would think that you were extraordinarily naïve if you blindly followed perfect strangers in Moscow. Ask a thousand questions. Ask a million questions. Be sure you have all the answers you need. I won't be offended."

"See," I said to Tania. "All right, Aloshya, how did you find out so quickly from your cousin? And, why was he telling you?"

"Articoli is sort of what you would call a front in America. I make contact with literally thousands of people that belong to the Tsarist Movement here in Moscow and the surrounding areas. I am, what do you call it, a go between. So, I get direct information from my cousin and share it with the others in the movement. So, when the President started looking for you, Sergei texted me."

"Now, that makes sense," I said. "So, Dr. Zemecki, where is your apartment? And why are we going there?"

"My apartment is on old Arbat Street," Dr. Zemecki replied. "I sublet it from Peter, the man I told you about. Peter stays there in the spare room when he's in town, and I get it for a great price. I didn't want to get anything too permanent, because I don't know how long I will be living in Moscow. Peter will meet us there as soon as he can. He has connections that can help you."

"How far is Arbat Street?" I asked.

The vehicle pulled into a parking lot behind some old looking buildings on a dimly lit street.

"We're here," Dr. Zemecki said.

We climbed out of the vehicle and went through the back entrance of a building. The parking lot was dark like a closet. I could see a glow coming from the front of the building that indicated to me that the front of the building was well illuminated. I wondered what was happening on the other side of the building.

"I've heard of Arbat Street. This isn't how I imagined it," I said.

"This is the back of the building. The front of the building is Arbat Street," Dr. Zemecki said.

I looked up and could see the giant building at the University. We were still very close to the school. I felt uncomfortable again. I thought the idea was to get away. It seemed as though we were going in circles, but not getting any further away. If the President really was looking for me, he wouldn't have far to go. I wanted more distance between me and Yuri Kostov if he was looking for me.

Tania and I followed Dr. Zemecki and Aloshya into the building. The minute we walked in, I saw a hallway that led all the way through the building and had glass doors leading out into the street on the opposite side. It didn't look like an apartment building.

"This doesn't look right," I said. "This looks like an office building, not an apartment building."

Aloshya smiled at Dr. Zemecki. "I like her. She's quick. She has potential."

"The apartments are upstairs. There are shops on the first floor," Dr. Zemecki told me.

Dr. Zemecki led us around a corner to an elevator. We went to the second floor and got off. We walked through a couple of connected hallways until we got to his apartment. It was in the front of the building, so when we all walked in the door, there was light coming from Arbat Street.

When Dr. Zemecki turned on the light, the single light, what I saw surprised me. It looked more juvenile than the dorm room that Tania and I were sharing at the university. There were bean bag chairs, crates for small tables, a stack of crates for a TV stand. There was a cheap floor lamp in the corner of the living room, and it was the only light there. The curtains were basically some rags of material barely covering the windows. The kitchen was merely a kitchenette, and it was old looking and not very clean in appearance. I'd heard of bachelor pads, but the place looked like a real shit hole.

"This place matches your van," Tania said.

"I sleep here. That's about it," Dr. Zemecki replied. "I don't have guests often."

"Imagine that," I said. "Are you sure you aren't serial killers? This is how I always pictured Son of Sam living."

"Look, you don't have to trust me," Dr. Zemecki said, sounding annoyed. "You are perfectly free to leave and figure all this out on your own. I was just trying to help." With that, he opened the door and gestured the option for us to leave.'

"Fine, I will. Tania, let's go," I said. I walked to the door.

Tania walked over to the door where I was standing. "Are you sure about this? I think we should wait for this guy, Peter and see if he can help us. We don't have our passports or anything."

"And maybe we don't have a problem," I pointed out. "These guys say that the President is looking for me, because he wants to rub me out to keep me from taking over his country. Doesn't that sound just a tad bit bonkers to you? Maybe he was coming to the campus to welcome students from other countries to his country. Has that occurred to you? It's not like he recognized me when he nearly ran me over on the street. This bullshit could all be a simple case of a bunch of lunatics and a huge case of paranoia."

"I don't know," Tania replied.

"I'm leaving. I can see the university from here. I'm going back to my room, and I'm continuing my trip," I said. "I've had enough of this nonsense."

Tania looked at the two men standing in the horrible apartment. "I should go with her. We came here together, and we should stick together. But, thank you for all you've done."

"You can't let them leave," Aloshya said as we were walking out the door.

"I can't stop them," Dr. Zemecki replied.

"Are you sure about this?" Tania asked me as we walked to the elevator.

"Are you really ready to believe every word you hear come out of that man just because he's cute?" I asked her.

"It's not because he's cute," Tania replied.

"Then why?"

"Call it a hunch. A lot of strange things have already happened since we got here. Every time something happens, it's weirder than the last thing. I think something is going on, and since I have no idea what it is or what to do about it, I thought I would listen to someone who seemed to know something. Is that so wrong?"

"No, but this is all wrong. I have to get out of here. Maybe I'll decide to come back and trust them eventually, but this seems crazy right now."

I left the elevator, and headed toward the back of the building. Tania stopped me.

"Let's at least go out the front of the building. Arbat Street is a pedestrian street according to the things I read. It's well-lit too. It's got to be safer than roaming around in the dark."

"You have a point there," I said, turning to go out the front of the building. "Let's head out this way and make our way back to the dorm. I need to call my mom again. She has some explaining to do."