Ilze Berzins

Chapter 7

As usual she was sitting on her stool, making her distinctive chattering sounds as she watched birds perched on electrical wires at the window. But now she was hungry. Time to get him up.

She leapt from the stool to the futon and, purring loudly, she started to rub her forehead on Arsy’s unshaven chin. Next came the kneading and the sandpaper tongue kisses which did the trick. With a groan Arsy opened his eyes. Pulling the fat tabby to his chest he gave her a brief cuddle.

“Good morning, Minka! I have so much to tell you, but first coffee.”

Rolling out of his futon Arsy grabbed his sweat shirt. It was getting cold. Early November. His mind went back to the beautiful Svetlana and the message she had delivered. It wasn’t good news. In fact it was terrible news but he’d think about all that later.

The cat yawned and started to sway her tail. With a muted yowl she leaped  up to her feeding station and waited for her bowl of milk and the sardines she had ordered for breakfast.  Minka needed her strength. Today would be the day she’d make short shrift of that Noir who was probably already skulking by the door.

* * *

Arsy’s home studio was originally an attic. During soviet times the attic was common usage. The people who lived in the house could use it for storage or to hang up their wash (you can imagine the conflicts and shit fights…)

After 1991 the apartments were privatized. Some Latvian guy  more or less took it over (blats). He then sold it to an American Latvian who thought it could make a nice studio. The American had started renovations but then someone filed a claim in court. It turned out that the attic had not been properly privatized and so the American was given the boot.  Enter business man Juris Lapins. He was expert at bribing court officials and easily gained ownership of the attic. It suited his purpose to let Arsy live and work in it. But now there was trouble in paradise—if you can call the primitive digs a paradise.

Arsy was comfortable in his studio. The floor space was not great but it had running water with sink and toilet. Very primitive but doable and it was his own.  Not like the leftovers from soviet times when the bathroom was shared. He had a small space heater for those cold days and colder nights. His only furniture was a futon he had found which someone had discarded, two stools, one for himself and one hopefully for an eager young student who would model for affection. That and a rickety old table on which he had a  hot plate to make coffee or soup.

Most of the room was taken up with his paints and canvases he tried to sell on the street, at fairs and to tourists. Plus his special corner where he labored at producing replicas of old masters—all forgeries. These canvases brought in the money and took up most of his time and expertise.

From his studio he had a view of rooftops and other tall buildings. He loved his the large windows facing north and which also allowed a peek at the east.  Drop cloths and newspapers served as carpet on the beat-up wood floor. The place smelled of turpentine and linseed oil, though he himself preferred liquid based acrylic. Certainly no old master used acrylic but for his modern knockoffs acrylic paint did the job.

The ground  floor of the house on Maskavas Street was divided into three commercial spaces: a Narvesen—one of a chain of Norwegian convenience stores, a launderette and an unoccupied cubby hole waiting for a tenant. The main floor was the domain of Madame Zenunda, a well-known tarot card reader along with the formidable Noir. The old lady did well. She had two rooms and a bathroom to herself. She had succeeded in scaring away the tenant of the other room. Her neighbor had been superstitious about the “spell” Madame Zenunda had cast on her.

* * *

Sipping on his morning coffee Arsy sucked on his first cigarette of the day (he allowed himself only three). Had he been too hasty giving up his day job? His studio was now in jeopardy and, even worse, Juris was not happy about his most recent Rozentals. “You know those nosey art experts. They will not be fooled. No way can I pass this around. You yourself will have to find some rich foreigner—some Latvian American who has admired Rozentals in books but never examined the real stuff.”

Arsy squinched his eyes shut against the smoke from his cigarette. Rich foreigners didn’t grow on trees. In the summer he’d see them gawking at landmarks in Riga and sitting in expensive restaurants. He’d seen some of them at Sam’s even though it wasn’t really a high class joint. But now in November? He would have to go fish at the airport for those expats coming for the November 18 Independence Day commemoration. And that was a daunting task. The commute itself was  tough and, besides, these days the airport was heavily surveyed by security. He would have to chat up some female guard to be able to hang around. That part was easy. But what to do when he saw a target?

He gave a humorless laugh. Maybe he should consult Madame Zenunda. He had sweet talked the old lady meeting up with her on the communal back stairs when she was putting out her trash.


Chapter 6

Vika shivered with anticipation. This was going to be an adventure! She had traveled extensively but this was her first trip to what had once been called eastern Europe–recently updated to northern Europe. Which sounded better to her. She could just as well be going to Scandinavia. In fact, that’s what she had told her friends who had no clue where Latvia was. And who though eastern Europe was filled with unwashed masses of peasants toiling on the land, drinking, eating garlic and wearing headscarves.

What excited Vika was new people, new places. The moment she saw Simone and Eggy waiting for her at Riga’s International Airport she instinctively knew that these were to be her Latvian guides. She was relieved to see such nice looking people. No one else had that polished look. Most of the people in the terminal looked like happy families picking up relatives or folks holding up signs searching for businessmen or aquaintances.


Eggy blew out breath in a soundless whistle. Here she was in the flesh! His casual Facebook friend turned client. A beautiful wealthy client at that.

She was certainly striking. Her posture was that of a runway model. As was her air of confidence. She had chosen a soft silk ivory-colored blouse, camel skirt, and jacket. Sheer hose, black heels with red soles, a small black leather tote bag to carry her passport, tickets, itinerary and essentials every woman must have. On display were also her diamonds – in her ears, on her ring finger and on the tennis bracelet Bernie had given Vika for her “varda diena” (Vika made sure all holidays in both cultures were celebrated – with diamonds of course.)

Simone felt a little frisson of anxiety. How will she be able to keep up her own appearance as they shop and take walking tours?  Yes, today she was glamorous, but everyday?

Bowing slightly, Eggy extended his hand. He looked elegant in his one and only suit, the formality softened by a masculine scarf draped loosely around his neck.  Obviously his mother hadn’t taught him to wait until the lady extended her hand first. No matter. Vika took his hand and smiled sweetly while thinking: Isn’t he supposed to kiss my hand or something? This is Europe, for God’s sake!

Eggy returned her smile. Vika held her breath. He had the most mesmerizing eyes she’d ever seen. A clear, bright, blue which subtly suggested intimacy – but not too much.

To her surprise she didn’t even mind that he wasn’t wearing a gold Rolex. He was tall and slender with a mass of salt and pepper hair and a trendy “lady pleaser” patch of hair just below the lower lip. She wondered if he was a jazz musician or just a trendoid carry-over from the 1950s and 1960s.

Vika turned away in confusion—a feeling she  wasn’t accustomed to.  Usually men melted encountering her sensuality and sex appeal. Now it was her turn to melt.  She didn’t at all like this unaccustomed feeling. Surreptitiously she checked for a wedding ring. Didn’t see one.

The spell was broke. Wreathed in smiles, Simone approached with her bouquet. She looked very classy with her new hair (no longer grey but a champagne blonde) and her professionally applied makeup. She wore an amber broach on her beautiful patterned scarf, which she wore over a beige jacket. It was to be Vika’s introduction to upper crust elegance, and today Simone had carried the look.

Vika was glad for the distraction. She turned to Simone before she embarrassed herself ogling Eggy and graciously accepted the exquisite bouquet  of mixed deep red & white flowers, bound with natural jute and wheat stems.

“Thank you, or rather, paldies,” Vika said demurely. “I don’t really speak the language. It’s so kind of you both to greet me. The flowers are such a wonderful surprise!”

Simone chimed in eagerly. “Is no problem, I speak English. And Eggy speaks some– just enough to get into trouble!”


The right words were said. With that, they all laughed politely and proceeded to baggage claim.

* * *

The short Italian who had spoken to Vika on the flight was very pleased that he had gotten a good look at her  greeters.  She had paid no attention to him or anybody from the flight.

The short dark-haired Italian without the Rolex was a nobody. He was glad of his obscurity. It was good to be a fly on the wall. After all, he had his orders: remain   invisible and file your reports.





























Chapter 5

Arseniy tried to make a beeline for his favorite seat near the back door of the bus. It wasn’t easy. Today the bus was full and he was forced to shoulder his way through a motley crew–all bound for the working class area of Maskavas Street. He almost gagged at the potpourri of smells—the stink of wet leather, unwashed bodies, stale tobacco, garlic and musky cheap cologne.

Head down he worked his way through the bus, jostling and elbowing and fending off curses—until, to his horror, he suddenly lost his footing. Stumbling and flailing he wound up kicking over a huge shopping bag. Which belonged to someone. An angry woman. He knew he’d get it. And sure enough. Rough Russian argot assailed him, plus a swift blow to his shin. God, he hated people!

Deflecting some of the shoving and pushing, he finally wedged himself into a seat next to a snoozing man. The old man reeked of alcohol. Far from being his favorite seat Arsy was relieved to have somewhere to sit. Almost immediately, despite conversations (mainly in Russian) buzzing all around him, he entered his happy place. Never mind. One day soon I’ll have a car of my own and maybe a large apartment on Elizabetes Street. Yes! Just you wait and see.

Arsy shut his eyes. His thoughts settled briefly on the woman who had been waiting for him outside of Sam’s, the one who had trailed along beside him. He vaguely knew her from the restaurant and thought that her name could be Simone. What a talker she was! But a useful talker. His instincts told him that she could well play a role in his most recent project. I’ll keep her in mind, he said to himself and moved on to revisit his plans for a better future.

The time had come. His days working as a waiter were now over. He had already given his notice. He would simply drop in to pick up his paycheck from Sam’s, then vamoose out of there. These days he needed more time to spend in his studio.

Arsy was still wearing his waiter’s wear – black trousers and a white shirt but had put on a scruffy windbreaker and a ball cap since it was November, getting cold  and always about to rain. He knew that people stared. He stood out in any crowd. He was young — tall and muscled and handsome and usually a smile from him eased every situation. But not this time and not on this bus. He was used to women ogling him when he worked at Sam’s but crowded buses were another matter.

He smiled to himself. It won’t be long now. Won’t be long. Those words had become his mantra. Pretty soon he was going to let the world know what he had discovered. A new Janis Rozentals—a lost masterpiece, the ultimate sleeper! The painting had been found, he would declare, rolled up and hidden under floorboards in an apartment which had just been renovated.

For some reason, riding on a bus always helped him think – and plot. From his knapsack he pulled out a book that was holding him spellbound. Forging Ahead. It was a book about Tony Tetro, a California artist known as the world’s greatest living art forger. He’d love to meet Tony Tetro—who had even fooled Prince Charles. It wasn’t an ideal time for reading but just holding the book gave him a thrill. He had another book in his knapsack. Five Ways To Spot A Fake. This he had studied assiduously.

His Rozentals “discovery” was a credible story. When Latvia had been invaded by either Germans or Russians the pillage of everything precious had taken place. In the ensuing chaos, Latvians scrambled to salvage whatever they could, hiding their treasures, wherever they could.

Arsy had researched the work of Rozentals and had chosen a painting as obscure as possible. Not one of the monumental much-loved works that were prominent in books and catalogues. None of those would do. He had even managed to find an old canvas from the late 1800s. Some nondescript art but excellent to be worked over to become a Rozentals masterpiece.

Lost in his fantasies about Tony Tetro and Prince Charles, Arsy almost missed his stop. An intake of breath and with one quick movement he jumped off at just the right moment. But disaster ensued. Losing his balance he collided right into a fat lady with incandescent orange hair. There was a dog with her. Yelps and barks and snarls and an earful of Russian obscenities peppered him like hail.

The miscreant’s teeth had sunk deeply into his trouser leg, narrowly missing his flesh. And wouldn’t let go. Arsy kicked and shouted but to his amazement the dog wouldn’t let go. His adrenaline pumped. He was ready to grab the little fucker and throttle it to death. What a scene! His good pants too. A huge rip. If he had a gun he’d shoot both of them dead.

All it took was a fierce kick with the other foot and the dog let go. Snarling and barking and cursing the duo disappeared down the derelict street.

Brushing himself off Arsy proceeded to his studio. It was dark by now. How he couldn’t wait to get out of this neighborhood! Potholes, missing pavement, graffiti on almost every shabby building. The sidewalk was muddy and littered with cigarette butts and other detritus. People shambled by. Some in a rush, others seemingly in a daze. It was always dangerous at night and Arsy was glad he was packing a switchblade.

Without any more unfortunate encounters he had arrived safely at his doorstep. A discrete sign next to the doorbells announced Arseniy Roban Art Studio. Just as he was reaching for his key he received a text on his phone. It was from his  business associate—a former KGB officer who owns multiple apartment buildings in Jurmala and lives in a gated mansion overlooking the sea. Arsy envied the lifestyle. He had never been invited inside. Perhaps soon that would no longer be the case.

Svetlana has something for you. She’ll wait by your door.

Arsy looked up from his phone and immediately his eye was caught by a sensational vision—a true beauty, not so young but soo glamorous. He needed to believe in beauty. Even to believe in love. His mood changed instantly. There was so much ahead for him – beautiful women, trips abroad, a house in Jurmala.

He felt like using his famous line: I’d love to paint your portrait? But her expression stopped him cold. She stared at him with a forbidding frown. But also with a tiny contemptuous smile on the side. Tall, blonde, his type. He could tell that underneath the light coat she had a great body. Surely not an escort. He wouldn’t pick her up. Not worth it. Even after a short dalliance it was always hard to get rid of them.

He was surprised when she spoke. Her voice was low and very cold.

“I have something for you.”

Oh God! He had made a mistake! Why had Juris sent this knockout and not one of his regular male “associates?”










Chapter 4

Destiny was kind. Arseniy was not on duty at Sam’s. More likely he was enjoying his day off – perhaps reading, listening to music or exercising at a gym somewhere in Riga.  Simone refused to think that her young Adonis could possibly be with a woman. The fact that Arseniy hardly knew Simone existed didn’t deter her from believing that one day soon they’d be an item.

Having found out when his shift ended, one day Simone had followed him out of the restaurant. He had been polite and the two of them walked along Dzirnavu Street before Arseniy said bye and hopped on a bus. A friend of Simone’s had seen the pair and, observing her cloying body language, assumed they were lovers. She never corrected that notion.

First thing tomorrow she’d fix herself up, reinvent herself — warm light Swedish blonde highlights, expertly styled hair (short and sassy), manicure and a pedi. She had good skin, good bones and decent teeth — the type of healthy natural beauty that many Latvian women enjoyed. Ageless. Well, not exactly completely ageless, but at fifty-four she could, with her lithe voluptuous body, still project a certain sex appeal.

Sam’s was sensationally popular. Even though the restaurant was full of jovial people, it didn’t feel crowded. And it was not too loud. Perfect for what Egmonds had to say to Simone. They would be discreet but didn’t have to whisper. Besides, the non smoking policy was largely ignored. Egmonds liked that.

Simone scanned the room quickly, impressed by the diversity of the nicely dressed, but not stuffy, clientele. She heard English and  Latvian being spoken but Russian hadn’t yet reached her ears. Which was a good thing. It added class to the place. She knew why her friend preferred Sam’s to Osiris—and not just for the easy smoking policy. This place was fun and lively. Osiris was tiny and a tad pretentious.

On their way over Egmond had mentioned that there was a secret doorman who had a knack for discouraging the vatniks – as he liked to call Russians.

After an ice cold vodka cocktail with little amuse gueles on the side, she cheerfully wished Egg bon appetite before digging into her Chicken Paprikash with Spaetzle. (She liked to call her friend Egg, sometimes even Eggy, when she was in a good mood.) This feast had set her spirits soaring.

Egg had ordered a merlot. She wondered, How can he afford it? But had Egg not hinted that there would be serious money to be made? Once their plan was put in motion, that is.

Egg was not given to sentimental attachments. Divorced years ago, father of an unknown number of children, he was giving romance a long holiday.

* * *

After ordering coffee and glancing quickly at neighboring tables he turned his attention to Simone.

“You’re not having anything more to drink. Now, pay careful attention.”

Simone shook her head as if to clear it. God only knew she had been looking forward to cognac or brandy. But c’est la vie. She downed the little bit of wine left in her glass, moved a tad closer and focused.

“I’ve told you how all this started, right?”

Simone murmured an uh-huh and nodded her head.

“On Facebook,” she said with a wry little smile. “At first I couldn’t believe it. I thought this Facebook was just for kids. My aunt Velga likes Draugos and she—”

“Never mind your aunt!” Egg held up his hand cutting her off. “Now, listen carefully.”

A waiter was approaching their table with the coffee. Good strong hot coffee. Just the thing to enjoy with a smoke. Simone was tempted to bum a fag, but resisted.

Before taking a sip Egg lit up another cigarette and hunched over. With his dark leather jacket and intense eyes he looked like a pal of Tony Soprano about to put out a contract on somebody.

He again looked around to make sure no one was listening. His his voice went down a notch, almost to a whisper.

“We’re not doing anything wrong. No one is going to get hurt. It’s just a golden opportunity to make some cash. She has plenty while we … well, you know how it is.”

Simone knew. She scrunched her face up just thinking of the hardships—sharing a tiny flat with her aunt Velga who gave her bits of money for looking after the old lady. Aunt Velga was in her eighties but still spry enough to clamber down all those stairs and go sit in a nearby park. Even in winter she did this. But she left all the household chores to her niece.

As she sipped on her coffee Simone felt a chill– no one is going to get hurt sounded ominous.

“So, you’re going to move on this lady you met on Facebook. What if she has a bodyguard?”

“You’re crazy,” Egg snapped.

He glowered at her. She could be so stupid. “You’re reading too many of those crumby detective novels. Watching too much TV. No one travels with a bodyguard.”

Simone glowered back. “But you said she was rich. What does her husband do? Does she even have a husband?”

Egg rolled his eyes. “I don’t care about her husband. I know she’s travelling alone.”

“Arriving when?”



Her face crumpled. Tomorrow was Simone’s make-over day. Still, maybe she could squeeze in the hair salon early in the morning.

“Yes, you heard me. Tomorrow. Buy some nice flowers. We’re meeting her flight at seven in the evening. I rented a car.”

Simone released a little sigh of relief. Seven! This would give her plenty of time for her hair. Perhaps even  a new outfit. And flowers of course.









Chapter 3.

Simone whirled around.

“Where the hell did you come from!”

Panic had turned to rage. She shot out her hand to hit him. But Egmond was quick. It took less than two seconds to paralyze her in an armlock.

She doubled over, screaming. “Stop! Let go!”

“Not so fast! What’s wrong with you? Are you crazy?”

Egmond wasn’t going to wrestle her to the ground. He released her arm then     turned away. He pulled a crumbled pack of cigarettes from his pocket, extracted one and planted it in his mouth. He inhaled deeply then let out a stream of smoke which enveloped him like a shroud.

Simone rubbed at her arm. Her headscarf had come lose and her hair hung in stringy wet strands across her face.

She reared back at him.

“Idiot! What are you doing sneaking up behind me!”

Simone’s shrill voice echoed throughout the decrepit courtyard. A window on the first floor opened. People were always fighting, getting drunk, having sex. Nothing special. With a loud bang the window closed.

It was pitch black in the narrow deserted entrance way. The rain had started up in earnest again and a bedraggled cat crossed in front of them. A black cat probably but who could tell in this darkness. With a tail flick the animal vanished into the safety of the disrepaired front door — which hung ajar summer and winter.

The cigarette had calmed him. “Let’s at least get out of the rain. Come inside and I’ll go upstairs and get us an umbrella.”

Simone couldn’t let go. “You’re late!  I’m freezing and you promised to meet me instead of leaving me alone in this dark dungeon you call a courtyard!”

“Calm down. I had an errand to run for Paps. Now step inside and I’ll be back in a flash.”

With shaking hands Simone rummaged into her outsized handbag. Luckily she had refilled her flask that very morning. A few deep gulps of vodka, a series of long exhalations and she felt more like herself. It was at moments like this that she really needed a cigarette but she had just quit. Besides she hated the ultra strong brand Egmonds preferred.

* * *

Egmond’s long strong legs had worked wonders. He was back in a jiffy. Smiling ruefully at her appearance he handed Simone a towel for her wet hair. Then unfurled the large umbrella. They had been friends for ages and he was glad that this little melodrama was over.

“Now, let’s get a bite to eat and some nice wine. You certainly deserve it.”

Simone eyed him with suspicion. Thinking he was up to something.

“Meanwhile, darling Simone, put a smile on your face, please?  All is well. ”

Edmond was a good looking man. In his late fifties but still energetic and virile. He knew how charming he was. Usually it didn’t take much to wrap a lady around his little finger. He knew Simone was eager to hear every little detail about the plan he had concocted.

A stray dog growled at them as they left the courtyard and headed for Brununieka Street. Turning right they made for Brivibas. The dog had started barking now and was following them at a distance.

“Usual place?” Simone asked sweetly. The vodka had warmed her and she was hungry for a decent meal.

“No. Let’s go to Sam’s.”

As if punched Simone staggered backwards. “Sam’s?”

“You heard me, darling girl. I love the clientele. Lots of foreigners. Lots of rich foreigners and the food’s good.”

“But Osiris is closer and—”

Egmond’s good humor vanished and he cut her off angrily. “Feel free to forget about it. I’ve let you in on this gig and now you’re squawking. Besides Osiris is not my scene. It’s too much of an arty hangout, filled with hysterical, high-strung, high-maintenance women.

He lit another cigarette and watched her intently. Simone made an ahhh sound. She needed the job—the gig, as he lightheartedly called it. No way was she going to tell him that Arseniy worked at Sam’s. She knew she looked like crap with her wet hair and mascara running. Maybe today (Wednesday) was his day off.

She prayed it was.































Chapter 2

Vika eyed a good looking man in the next aisle of her business class seat on Icelandic Air. He was most definitely her type—probably Italian with thick, dark hair and a handsome profile. The champagne (real champagne; not that ersatz cava) had put her in a romantic mood. She asked herself what she was going to do about it. The balloon above his head said “do not disturb” but Vika only saw that as a challenge.

Vika’s real name was Victoria Berzins Zito. Her husband, Bernie Zito, was the most generous man on this planet–or on any planet, for that matter. When it came to  money there was no end to what he lavished on his princess. “Ya wanna find your roots, doll-face? Be my guest.”

Vika worried that one day he might need to go into the witness protection program and was in a rush to spend as much of his money as she could. She no longer believed that less is more. She had had less years ago. Hadn’t liked that one little bit.

Bernie’s beginnings were humble. Vika didn’t know much about his past. She knew he was from Staten Island and had come a long way. Their  luxurious apartment overlooking Central Park was contemporary, perfect for entertaining Bernie’s many friends.  His work was mysterious, and Vika didn’t pry. In fact, she was afraid to pry. She herself was well known at the day spas and the boutiques. Sure she was social, but also prided herself on keeping her Latvian aloofness.  She was close to her Latvian-born mother Irena—the only one who called her Vika. Her American friends preferred Vicky.

For weeks Vika was over the moon. It sure was exciting to shop for her first trip to the motherland. The women, she knew, were going to be envious of her wardrobe. She liked that. She was a princess. Always had been. And the men, even this new standoffish man on her Icelandic flight, would be entranced.

She focused. There was movement. Dude with the handsome profile was struggling out of his seat. Wobbling a bit he stood up. Bummer! He was short. Heading toward the toilet he gave Vika a glance. She looked away. Vika liked to wear stilettos which made her almost six feet. Still, she wanted to appear feminine and delicate and also liked to stand up straight. Coming back from his bathroom break Dude swung close to Vika’s seat and stared down at her cleavage. She noticed that his wrist was bare of the high end Rolex she used to gage what a man was worth. No Rolex, no class, she decided and went back to her musings.

Beautiful, much fabled Riga! Her mother’s birthplace. How awful that Irena refused to take the trip with her. Irena knew she would be disappointed. It certainly wouldn’t be her Riga any more.

Irena wondered if she had done the right thing in turning down Bernie’s generous offer to send his mother-in-law to Riga.  It had been hard to say no. She longed to walk the bridge she loved that crossed the Daugava River. She thought of the old church where her sister was Christened in the Old Town. She thought of her devout Vecmamina reminding her as a five year old to keep her back straight and stop wiggling. Such fond memories! Yes, she was the wild child growing up in an apartment complex on Zakusala. So many memories!

Times had changed. And so had her daughter.

Her once obedient daughter had grown into a seductress. Irena feared Vika would be more interested in playing the socialite than visiting her mother’s memories.

So perhaps she should have gone along to keep her eye on her flighty (flirty) daughter. But more than anything she dreaded to see what Soviet years had done to her beloved Latvia.


Coming back from the toilet Short Dude did not immediately return to his seat. Tearing his eyes away from her breasts (they were real) he appraised the diamonds (also real) Vika was wearing.

“Be careful, young lady. Those gems aren’t something you should flash around.”    How annoying, Vika thought. That condescending, fake humor “young lady” always turned her off.

“Don’t be silly. I live in Manhattan.”

“Riga isn’t Manhattan,” he shot back, his face squirreling into a frown.

Vika snorted derisively. Dude must have read too many chick-jep books. (Vika was literary. She knew that chick-jep meant girl in a jam.)

“I can handle myself,” she replied dismissively and turned her head to the window.







Simone tightened her head scarf–her babushka, she called it. She hated rain. It made everything look depressingly drab and dirty—and, well, sort of grey. Grey was her nemesis. Just the other day her aunt Velga had frowned and looked pointedly at her. “Grey hair is like menopause for the whole world to see. Is that what you want?”  Simone had rolled her eyes.  Menopause, for God’s sake! That was ages ago. Still, she had smiled smugly to herself, knowing that she looked at least ten years younger than her real age—maybe even more. Besides, Simone didn’t give a fig about the whole world. Only Arseniy mattered.

Ruggedly handsome Arseniy was almost two decades her junior. She didn’t even have a pet name for him. Arsy sounded a bit, well, unfortunate–at least to her few English speaking acquaintances. To her horror he had once been taken for Max, her oldest grandson. Hunching her shoulders, huddling down into her old Burberry, she shuddered at the memory.  Arseniy wasn’t the type of man who could see her inner beauty. The grey has to go. 

It was a cold November late afternoon that found Simone trekking through the muddy streets of Riga, heading to Egmond’s apartment house. She really shouldn’t have worn her good shoes.  All that crap on the sidewalk really annoyed her. They were always digging up something, repairing something and taking forever to do it. She especially hated the filthy, dark passage that led to the rundown old building Egmond lived in. It was right behind what was  once a grand Jugendstyl beauty. How little of the grandeur remained! She sighed to herself each time she passed it. Many of Riga’s beautiful old buildings were quite nicely renovated but this one remained forgotten.

It was already dark. Her feet were killing her now and her shoes were all wet. She paced around trying to get warm as she waited at the shabby entrance door for her friend to join her. No way was she prepared to climb up to the sixth floor where Egmond lived with his ailing father.

Why is he late? She looked at her watch and felt the onset of a migraine. This kind of weather always did her in. The frigid mid-November rain was the worst.

It was ten minutes after four o’clock but Eggy (as she affectionately called him) had said he wouldn’t make her wait. Had something happened? Was Papa okay? The old man had asthma.

Where is he! It was so dark and deserted in this derelict old courtyard. She felt a chill descend and pulled the Burberry tighter.

Suddenly she tensed. She heard a sound behind her. So close. She held her breath. Then blew it out with a frightened gasping sound. A dark form moved. Shifted towards her. Panic rocketed to her brain like a cruise missile.

Simone  opened her mouth to scream.

But nothing came out.