the Ringing cedars of Russia
Vladimir Megre English translation by John Woodsworth

Book 5. Who are we? (2001)

Our reality


The woman who opened the door for us was attractive and alluring. Thirty-something, feminine and shy, pleasingly plump. No, she wasn’t fat. Her body preserved and even accentuated all the man-enticing curves — which were hardly obscured under the sheer gown she was wearing. Her childlike voice and welcoming smile at once made us feel at home.

“Hello there, travellers! Come on in, come on in. Svetlana told me about you. She said you’d like to see the town, and then go to a restaurant and have a great time!”

“That’s just the ticket! We want to do all that, and of course with you, my lovelies,” Vladislav blurted out. ‘And how’s my dear Svetlanka — still out partying, eh what?”

“Now when would we have time to go out partying, and who with? Seems the rest of us have to wait a lifetime...” “Why wait? See here, I’ve brought a pal along. He’s from Siberia, and he’s one-hundred-per-cent entrepreneur!”

She straightened her tight-woven braid and raised her timidly lowered eyelids to reveal a sparkling pair of eyes that looked as though they could be full of passion and desire. She offered me her hand.

“I’m Lena.  Hello!”

“Vladimir,” I introduced myself, shaking her cream-puff hand.

While Lena got some coffee ready for us in the kitchen, Vladislav and I washed up and then took a look around her

two-room apartment. I really liked her flat. The layout was pretty much like any other flat, but hers looked especially clean and cozy, well cared for. Everything was arranged in place, no clutter. The bedroom featured turquoise flowered wallpaper and matching curtains with frills. This colour, also picked up by the rug and the counterpane on what looked like close to a king-size bed — together with the tidiness of the room — had a soothing effect. The bed especially was truly inviting.

We sat ourselves down in comfortable armchairs in the other room, which was a little bigger. Vladislav switched on a rather expensive-looking tape player, and asked me:

“Well, what do you think of her?”

“Jolly good. I’m just wondering, how come she’s not married?” “How come millions of other women aren’t married? Haven’t you heard? There’s not enough of us — men, that, is — to go round!”

“Sure I’ve heard it, but she’s not just everyone. She’s really nice, and she’s managed to make a cozy nest for herself here.” “Yes, she has. She gets a decent salary She’s a top hairdresser. Not just a hairdresser — a stylist to boot. She goes in for competitions, and as for her clientele — let’s just say she has more than one wealthy lady waiting to pay good money for her services.” “D’you think she sleeps around?”

“No way Svetka2 said that back when they were in school together, Lenka took up with this dim-wit from the next class up. Then after they finished school she dumped him, but he kept after her for the longest time, and picked a fight with anyone who tried to go out with her. There were quite a few lads he and his pals left in a pretty bad way — right before her eyes. He even got hauled up on delinquency charges. She felt sorry for him and never testified against him. She always claimed she wasn’t fully conscious and couldn’t remember. So *

'Svetka — like Svetlanka, an informal form of Svetlana.

they were only able to get him once — for beating up on some lad who had a high-placed daddy”

“Then maybe she’s frigid — maybe she doesn’t need a man?” “Frigid? I should say not! Didn’t you notice the way she looked at you with those eyes of hers? Like a boa-constrictor sizing up a rabbit! She was ready to jump into bed with you right off!”

“Don’t exaggerate.”

“Now don’t you go with your faultfinding, just enjoy yourself. Carpe diem! We agreed we were going to relax and have a good time, so let’s just relax and have a good time.”

Lena brought in cups of coffee on a beautiful tray She had changed into a body-hugging sun-dress and had put on a bit of makeup. Looking even better than before, she suggested:

“If you’re hungry, I can throw something together.”

“No,” replied Vladislav “We’ll eat at a restaurant. Ring up one of the better places here and reserve a table for four.” While we sat and drank our coffee, Lena telephoned a restaurant and reserved a table with some manager she apparently knew quite well, as she used the familiar form of address,3 instructing him:

“Try to find a good spot — I’m coming with some very nice gentlemen.”

That evening, Lena took us on a ride in her car to see the sights of the city and its environs, ending up at the restaurant.

An obliging doorman in a richly adorned uniform opened the door for us with a gallant sweep of his hand. The Maitre D’ escorted us to a table on the far side of the dining room. It was indeed a nice spot, on a slightly raised floor, with a good view of the whole restaurant and the stage. The dining room with its beautiful plaster mouldings on the walls and ceilings, indicating a rather expensive establishment, was already

!'familiar form of address — similar to tu instead of vous in French.

almost filled to capacity. Probably only the wealthy could afford to enjoy a meal here. We decided we would hold nothing back — we ordered the most expensive hors d’oeuvres, some good wine and a bottle of vodka for me.

The orchestra struck up a dance tune — some kind of tango. Vladislav immediately suggested we all take to the dance floor, and we started off. Lena’s womanly body swayed cozily and comfortably in my arms. Already a wee bit tipsy, I was even more intoxicated by the fragrance of her perfume, not to mention those spariding eyes of hers. Her lowered eyelids lifted from time to time to reveal a tender gaze, burning, as it seemed, in anticipation of forthcoming passion. And then they lowered once more, as though embarrassed all of a sudden.

By the time we got back to our table, all my sense of being a seeker on the straight and narrow vanished out the window. I felt good and light-headed, and I was grateful to Vladislav and Lena and everything in general. So, it was possible to live a good life, as long as one didn’t dig into it too deep, but simply enjoyed its benefits.

I poured everyone a glass of wine, vodka for myself. I was just about to propose a toast when Vladislav interrupted.

After dancing with his Svetlana he looked very nervous for some reason. He immediately lit a cigarette, carelessly dropping the ashes into his salad. Without waiting for anyone else he took a large gulp of wine and didn’t say a word, only fidgeted in his chair. I was on the point of picking up my glass and proposing my toast when he started muttering:

“Wait, something’s come up... Something serious. Let’s step out for a bit. We gotta talk.” And without waiting for my reply he rose sharply from his seat. “You birds stay here and swap a bit of gossip. We’ll be right back.”

We went out into the spacious restaurant lobby Vladislav beckoned me over into a far corner by the fountain and in a sour, muffled voice spat out:

“She’s a bitch! You were right... A damned bitch!”

“Who’s a bitch? If you’ve had a falling out with Svetka, then don’t spoil the evening for others.”

“Not Svetka... Lenka’s set us up, or rather set you up, though I’m in for it, too. I’m gonna stick with you.”

“D’you mind telling me just how she could set me up, or set us up? Who or what for?”

“Svetka told me while we were dancing. I’d been telling her all about you, and she felt sorry for you... As soon as she saw you... And while we were dancing she told me the whole story” “What story?”

“Lenka’s a bitch. Some kind of sick masochist. A pervert. You can see how men fall for her, she flirts with them, and then she takes them to this restaurant. She invariably gets a table reserved through her friend there, and that lackey right off contacts this mafia bloke.”

“What mafia bloke?”

“That dim-wit over there, the one she got to know in school. I was telling you how even when he was younger he and his chums would beat up on anyone taking her out. And now he’s making like a kind of local gang boss, running some sort of racket. Anyway, she knows that as soon as she asks for a certain table through her pal there, he’ll automatically contact this mafia bloke. And right here in the restaurant, or more often afterwards in some secluded spot he’ll lie in wait with his thugs and beat Lenka’s companion half to death. The whole business is supposed to take place right before her eyes. She gets a real high from it, maybe even starts to ‘come’. Svetka says it’s already a disease with her. She once admitted to Svetka that these scenarios can even sometimes give her an orgasm.” ‘And the dim-wit, what does he get out of it?”

“Who knows what he does it for! Maybe he loves her like he did before. Maybe he too gets some perverse pleasure from it. Svetka says Lena pretends she’s ‘out of it’, and then after the scene’s over he takes her home and spends the night with her. And goodness knows what they do there in her flat.”

“So why doesn’t he just go ahead and marry her?”

“What difference does it make to you why they don’t get married? I tell you, it’s like Lenka’s sick! Like she doesn’t want to let go of her youth. You get married, and all you’ve got is humdrum everyday life. This way she gets her high, but what high would she get in married life? She’s sick, Svetka says. What’s it to us? We gotta think of ourselves, how to get outta this now.”

“Let’s just leave the restaurant, since you say they might contact that mafia jerk.”

“Too late. He’s already here with his henchmen. Watching us... Svetka says the first thing he’ll do is come over to our table, and very politely ask to have a dance with Lenka. If her companion says okay, they’ll have a dance. Otherwise, he’ll calmly walk away. But it all ends up the same — they lie in wait and then beat him half to death. If there’s any valuables, his henchmen will grab them. I’ve already given my Rolex to Svetka. If you’ve got anything like that, let me give it to her too for safekeeping.”

“I don’t have any valuables. Tell me, how come they’re not afraid of the cops?”

“Listen, I tell you they’ve got it all set up... He’s got a lawyer... Not only that, but they can make the whole situation look like they were protecting the woman from a rapist.” ‘And that means Lena won’t testify?”

“She’ll shut up, the bitch, fake a memory lapse, like she was in shock or had a fainting spell... It’s all my fault. We’ve landed in this pile of crap, but I think I have an idea. I’ve got an idea. Let’s pretend to start something, pick a fight, get into a row with each other, so the police will come and take us away. Better to spend a night in the drunk tank and pay a fine than end up scarred for life!”

“No, no way. I’m not going to punish myself for their sakes. Can’t we go out through a back door, then you could ring up Svetka, order a taxi to go and collect her?”

“We shan’t make it — they’re already sitting out there. If we leave, they’ll only come after us and bring us back. We’ll get it doubly hard in that case. And then they’ll claim we were trying to run off without paying our bill.”

“If there’s no escape, then let’s go all out — sky’s the limit! At least play on the nerves of these bastards. It’s a shame the evening’s spoilt — I was having such a good time.”

“How’re we gonna ‘go all out’? Tell me, how?”

“We’ll go and get really soused, then we shan’t have a care in the world. Let’s pull out all the stops, while we still can. Only don’t let on that you know — don’t get nervous in the meantime.”

“What d’you mean? I’m not afraid for myself — I’m worried about you.”

“Let’s go.”

We returned to our table. The spacious and luxurious restaurant sparkled with the grandeur of the ladies’ refined attire, and the jewels adorning them were to all appearances genuine. A lot of the still very young beautiful girls in the company of their suave escorts also sported fancy jewellery. These were the so-called ‘new Russians’ out for a good time.

But they are Russia too. Which meant that here was Russia herself out for a good time in a way she alone was capable of. With daring and pizzazz. And the pizzazz will most certainly show itself in due time, even if for now everything is done with decorous grandeur and luxury.

As soon as we sat down at our table, I filled our wine-glasses to the brim and proposed a toast:

“Here’s to satisfaction! Let each of us sitting here tonight bring at least a moment’s satisfaction to those around us. To satisfaction!”

Vladislav and I emptied our glasses, while the women drank half of theirs. I edged my chair right up to Lenka’s, put my arms around her right away, rested my hand on her half- exposed cleavage and whispered in her ear.

“You’re beautiful and cute, Lena. You’d make a terrific wife and mother!”

Initially feigning embarrassment at my embrace and my hand upon her breast, she made an attempt to withdraw, but not a serious attempt. On the contrary, she began inclining her head toward me. Thus the game was afoot — playing by their (or her) rules. And I played along as best I could, without really thinking about why I was doing it, as though rushing headlong, ever closer to a sad result for someone’s (or some dark forces’) sport. And the result came.

From a table beside the stage rose a stout-looking fellow with a neck like a bull’s. He stood there for some time, star-ing at us. Directly the music began he buttoned his jacket and confidently strode over to our party’s table.

But half-way across the floor he suddenly stopped and began to stare just as hard in the opposite direction. And throughout the room many heads turned in the same direc-tion. A number of couples even got up from their chairs in astonishment. I too followed their gaze, and nearly fainted from shock.

There, making her way from the main entrance to the stage was none other than Anastasia! And not a single person could be left unastonished at her sprightly — I would have to say: defiantly sprightly — step, not to mention her outfit!

And what an outfit it was! She was still wearing her old but clean cardigan, skirt and mother’s kerchief, but this time they looked as though the world’s most celebrated fashion designer had come up with a super-ensemble especially for her, outshining all the other women’s attire that had seemed to me so refined and fashionable up ’til now.

Perhaps it seemed that way on account of the fact that her usual clothing was supplemented by some rather unusual jewellery, or perhaps it was her posture, or the manner in which she carried herself?

Prom Anastasia’s earlobes hung (as though clipped on) two little green twigs with fur-like needles. Her head was encircled by a garland of grasses woven into a braid, keeping in place a thick golden shock of hair. Over her forehead a little flower, burning bright as a ruby, had been woven into the band. And she was wearing makeup — there was just a tint of green shadow above her eyelids.

She had on the same skirt as before, but with a slit almost to her thigh. Around her waist was a belt made from a kerchief and tied with a knot. The incredible ensemble was topped off with an extraordinary, superfashionable purse, into which she had transformed her bundling cloth. Folding the cloth in half, she had tied two of the corners to one end of a bark- covered stick and the other two corners to the other end, and then used a little grass belt she had woven to fasten it all together into a kind of hippie-style handbag. And to top it all off she strode with a freedom and confidence that models and supermodels could only dream of.

Upon reaching the dance-floor, where a few couples were launching in to some kind of a quick-paced dance, Anastasia all at once spun gaily around several times in time with the music, whereby every limb of her supple body bent and twisted with beautiful, fluid movements. Then she arched her arms over her head and clapped her hands with a delightful laugh, and all the men in the room responded in enthusiastic applause.

As she then headed for our table, two alert waiters approached her enquiringly, and I could see her gesturing in our direction. One of them picked up an elaborately carved wooden chair and followed her. As she walked past Lenka’s friend with the bull neck who had been about to head over to our table, Anastasia paused for a bit and looked him straight in the eye. It almost seemed as though she gave him a wink before heading over to us.

There I was sitting with my arm around Lena, watching the proceedings with open-mouthed astonishment. None of us were talking, only staring.

Anastasia approached our table as though nothing unusual had happened, and greeted us as though she were an expected guest:

“Hello and good evening! Hello, Vladimir! If you will allow me... You will not mind if I join you for a bit?”

“No, of course not, Anastasia — do sit down!” I began, recov-ering from the shock of her arrival. I rose to offer her my seat, but the obliging waiter had already put the additional chair in place. The second waiter moved my plate to one side and, setting a clean plate in front of Anastasia, offered her a menu.

“Thank you,” she responded. “But I am not hungry at the moment.”

Reaching into her hippie-style purse, she brought out a cluster of berries wrapped in a large leaf — huckleberries and cranberries. Putting them on a plate in the middle of the ta- • ble, she invited us to help ourselves.

“How did you happen to show up here all of a sudden, Anastasia?” I asked. “Have you been taking in the restaurant scene lately?”

“I came to visit you, Vladimir. I had a feeling I would find you here, and so I decided to come. I am not imposing on you?”

“You’re not imposing at all. Only what’s with the fancy get- up? And the makeup?”

‘At first I did not have any makeup or fancy clothes, but when I tried to enter the restaurant, the doorman would not let me in. He let others in, and bowed to them as he held the door open for them, but he told me:

“‘Outta here, sister, this ain’t your local greasy spoon!’

“I stepped aside to a more shaded place, and watched to see how others managed to get in. I realised they were wearing different attire and did not walk the same way I did. I caught on to it all quite quickly. I found two twigs handy that had fallen from a nearby tree, split them with the ends of my nails and attached them to my ears as decoration. Look!” Whereupon Anastasia turned sideways to me and showed me her invention. “What do you think — did they turn out well?”

“Very well indeed.”

“So I quickly made myself a purse, and a belt out of my kerchief, and some makeup from leaf and flower sap. Pity, though, I had to tear a slit in my skirt...”

“You didn’t have to make such a huge tear, practically to your thigh! Just to your knees, that would have been enough.”

“I wanted everything to be as perfect as possible, so they would let me in.”

‘And where did you get the lipstick? That’s real lipstick you’re wearing!”

“That I obtained here. When the man at the entrance opened the door for me, I went over to the mirror in the lobby to see how I looked. Naturally, I was curious. There were some women standing in front of the mirror, looking at me. One of them came over, all excited, and asked me where I got my outfit from. She offered to do a ‘full swap’ — said she would give me her ring and costume jewellery. She even offered me some ‘greenbacks’.

“I explained to her that it would not take her long to put together a dress like this on her own. I started by showing her the clip-on twigs. The other women looked on, and one of them kept saying ‘Oh, wow! Oh wow!’ Another started asking me where she could find magazine pictures and descriptions

of such fashions. And the first one said that if I wanted to ‘turn tricks’ here, she was the Madam and wouldn’t allow any pimps, since her girls are free agents and she’s quite capable of smashing any protection racket.”

“That must have been Anka-putanka,”  said Sveta. “She’s one tough cookie — they’re really afraid of her. If anyone crosses her, she can come up with all kinds of schemes and arrange an ‘incident’ where so many heads will be banged together they’ll really be sorry”

“‘One tough cookie’...” Anastasia echoed moodily “But her eyes are full of sadness — I feel sorry for her. I wanted to do at least something for her. When she started to sniff me over and ask about my perfume, I gave her a little twig containing the essence of cedar oil and showed her how to apply it. She at once daubed it on herself and on her girlfriends, and in return she gave me some lipstick and a pencil to highlight the edges. I could not get it right at first, and we had a good laugh over it. Then she helped me put it on, and said anytime I needed anything, I could come to her. She offered to have me join them at their table, but I said I had only come to see my — ” Anastasia paused in mid-sentence, then continued after a mo-ment’s thought: “to see you, Vladimir, and the rest of you.

“Vladimir, could we take a little walk outside? There is a breeze blowing off the sea — the air is better there. Or would you like to stay here a little while longer with your friends? I can wait until you have finished. Or I — Are you certain I am not imposing?”

“Not at all, Anastasia!” I replied. “I’m really happy you came. It’s just that I was so surprised to see you at first.”

“Indeed? So, perhaps you and I could take a stroll by the sea? Just the two of us, or all together? Which would you prefer?”

“Let’s go, Anastasia. Just the two of us.”

But getting out of there wasn’t all that easy Elena’s friend was heading our way. He too, it seemed, took a while to recover from the unexpected arrival of Anastasia. We should have left earlier — right off I thought to myself, but now it was too late. They had already set their dastardly scenario in motion. And Elena, as though getting herself mentally prepared for it, began sitting up straight, lowered her eyes and made a show of smoothing out her hair.

He came over to our table, but instead of approaching Elena, he went directly to Anastasia. With a slight bow of his head he began addressing her, taking no notice of anyone else. Elena’s jaw dropped in surprise at hearing him ask Anastasia:

“Miss, allow me the pleasure of asking you for this dance.”

Anastasia rose, smiled and responded:

“Thank you so kindly for the invitation. Please, have a seat in my chair. They will miss your company otherwise. As for me, I really do not care to dance at the moment. My... my gentleman friend and I have just decided we would like to go for a walk in the fresh air.”

In obedience to her suggestion he sat down in her chair, not taking his eyes off her for a moment. Anastasia and I headed for the exit.

My plan was to get as far away from the restaurant as possible, go for a bit of a walk as Anastasia wanted, then grab a taxi and go back to my flat. It was around ten o’clock at night. We walked through a shady allee and then down to the rocky seashore.

We hadn’t yet reached the water’s edge when I heard the screech of brakes. I turned around to look. From a jeep parked at the side of the road up above, five tough-looking lads were heading in our direction. As four of them encircled us, I recognised the fifth as the dim-wit with the bull neck — he took up a position just a little distance away. But it was he who kicked off the conversation:

“Hey, pal, you’d better get back to the pub. Your lady’s missing you.”

With no response from me, he started up again:

“Hey, you deaf or what? We say you’d better go back to your lady But you got this lady mixed up with another and split. We’re gonna help you back — right this instant.”

The oversized lad standing nearest me took a step closer, and I made a decision.

“Run, Anastasia!” I cried, and decided to let him have it first, and keep them at bay as long as I could so that Anastasia could get away. I tried to land the first blow on the chap approaching me, but he seized hold of my arm, punched me in the solar plexus, and then wham! — right in the face. I tumbled to the ground, right on the rocks. I would probably have landed right on my head, but Anastasia reached out her hand and cushioned my fall.

My head was spinning and I could hardly breathe. I lay there and watched the big fellow’s feet — shod in steel-rein- forced boots — come right up to my face. Uh-oh, he’s going to use his foot on me next! the thought flashed through my mind. Now he came really close and lifted his leg...

Only right at that point Anastasia did what just about any woman would have done under the circumstances — she screamed. But what a scream! It was a regular scream only for a split second. The sound associated with it quickly vanished, and her inaudible scream rose wildly in intensity to the point of shattering one’s eardrums. I could see the lads around us letting some kind of objects fall from their hands as they grabbed hold of their ears. Three of them collapsed to the ground and began writhing on their knees in pain.

Anastasia, having covered my ears with her own hands, kept refilling her lungs with fresh breaths of air and screaming again. Her scream was evidently something akin to ultrasound, causing all our would-be attackers to writhe in pain. They had no idea what was happening, or where this piercing, unbearable sound was coming from. Through her hands I could feel the sharp penetrating sensation — maybe not as strongly as the others, but it still hurt.

Then I noticed a group of women running down toward us from the road. Anastasia stopped screaming and took her hands off my ears, I sat up on a rock. I could see the two Zhigulis6 the girls had arrived in standing beside the jeep.

The women were armed — one was carrying a bottle, another a tyre iron, a third brandished a policeman’s truncheon, while the fourth held a massive candlestick in her hands. Out in front was Anka-putanka, holding in her hands the neck of a broken champagne bottle, while following behind, slowly, came yet another — a plumpish woman clad only in a nightgown, who had apparently come straight out ofbed and hadn’t had time to get dressed. Somehow the Madam-in-charge had managed to sound the alarm and rope all her ‘workmates’ into the task at hand.

The fearsome, dishevelled Anka stopped just a few metres from our little group, which was now picturesquely sprawled over the rocks. Anastasia was the only one of us standing, and Anka spoke to her:

“How now, friend! You’ve got so many lads after you — they wouldn’t be botherin’ you, would they now?”

“I just wanted to have a talk with one of them,” Anastasia calmly replied.

‘And the rest of them — what are they doin’ here?”


“They followed us for some reason. I have no idea what they want.”

“You have no idea? I know what those scumbags want,” replied Anka and burst into a torrent of expletives in the di-rection of Lena’s friend. “How many times have I told you, muttonhead, not to lay a hand on me girls?!!”

“She isn’t one of yours,” the ‘dim-wit’ responded gruffly

“She’s my ‘professional colleague’. That means she’s mine. Got it, you overgrown school-kid? If I see your pimp-snout so much as anywhere near one of me friends, I’ll smash the liv-in’ daylights outta you an’ your cronies. Just remember that! I’m not puttin’ up with a single pimp on my territory — not a single scumbag will I allow. You’re not satisfied with sucking blood from the suits? You wanna be pimpin’ for us too?”

“You’ve gone crazy. She’s not yours. She’s a novice. I just wanted to have some fun with her myself. This time, Anka, you’ve gone too far. What’s all the fuss about her? What’s she to you?”

“She’s me friend. Got that? An’ you’ve got your hands full with that sadist of yours.”

“You’ve gone bonkers! Before you know it every last bird’s gonna be your friend — eh what?”

The leader’s voice in him was now no longer stifled by fear. And I realised why: while Anka was talking with him, his henchmen had come to, and the short, stocky fellow standing beside the leader was holding a gun in his hands, aimed right at Anka. A second man had his own gun trained on the group of hookers standing behind her.

Here was this group of young women, armed with whatever they could lay their hands on, standing directly in the path of the thugs’ guns. The situation, as it now turned out, was far from being in their favour. One thing was absolutely certain: another moment and their morale would be broken and their bodies maimed, not to mention the loss of their freedom and income. I really felt like doing at least something to influence the proceedings and head off the inevitable dreaded result.

Anastasia was standing beside me, intently observing the situation. I jerked her arm. Putting my hands over my ears, I quickly said:

“Scream, Anastasia! Scream as quick as you can!”

Lowering my arm, she enquired:

“Why scream, Vladimir?”

“Eh? Don’t you see what’s going on? These women are about to get their heads bashed in, maimed for life. Their bluff’s been called. It’s all over for them.”

“Not for all of them. The spirit is still fighting in three of them.”

“But what can the spirit do against guns? They’re done for.”

“They are not ‘done for’ yet, Vladimir. As long as their spirit is still fighting, nobody should interfere. Outside interference may take care of the situation at hand, but it will weaken their self-confidence, and mean that a whole lot of other situations in their lives will not turn out favourably for them. They will come to rely on outside help.”

“Stuff that philosophy of yours, at least for now. Can’t you see the situation’s hopeless?” I fell silent. It was clear Anastasia’s mind was made up. And I thought wistfully: Oh, if only I could scream like that!

Seeing his cronies ready and alert, Lena’s boyfriend (the pimp) spoke up — it was clear from the tone of his voice that he was already feeling he had the situation well in hand.

“I told you, Anka-putanka, you’ve gone too far. But this time we’ve won. So you’d better drop your toys, you little tarts! Drop them, and get those rags off — we’re gonna screw all of you, one at a time.”

Anka looked around at the thugs standing or concealing themselves, guns at the ready, and answered with a sigh:

“Maybe you don’t need all of us — maybe just me’s enough?”

“Ha, ha, bitch! See, nowyou’re singing a different tune,” the leader responded over the laughter of his buddies. “We shan’t be satisfied just with you — we’re gonna teach you all a lesson here. After this you’re gonna be working for us, bitches!”

“An’ jest where are you goin’ to get the stud power to take on all of us?” Anka responded with a laugh. “You’ll be lucky if you have enough for just one!”

“Shut your trap, bitch! We’ll screw all of you, several times over!”

“I doubt that! I bet you won’t be able to take on even one of us!”

“We’ll keep screwing you all night long!”

“You know, sweetcheeks, you’re startin’ to get on my nerves — you an’ your ‘promises’. I don’t believe ’em, I don’t believe you’re man enough!”

“You’ll find out soon enough, bitch! I’m gonna smash that pretty face of yours in!” wheezed the leader, already seething with rage, putting on a pair of brass knuckles as he moved toward Anka.

Anka retreated a bit and called out to her group:

“Step aside, girls!”

The group of hookers took several steps back. Only the sullen plumpish ‘cow’ in the nightdress stood on the sidelines as though rooted to the spot, and when the tall and lanky leader took another step in Anka’s direction, the ‘cow’, who before this had not spoken a word, suddenly said blandly:

“Hey, An — what’re you waitin’ for, An? Let’s get started, eh?”

“Don’t be in such a hurry, Mashka,”' replied Anka, taking another couple of steps back. “Well, go ahead, seein’ you’re itchin’ to get on with it!”


The plumpish Masha, calmly and coquettishly tore open the flaps of her nightdress, scattering the buttons to the winds, exposing not only her bare breast and bikini briefs, but something else as well...

Under her nightgown the ‘cow’ was carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle with a silencer and night-vision telescopic sight. She pulled the bolt, raised the butt stock to her shoulder, pressed her cheek to the stock and peered into the sight.

“Only remember, Masha, no automatic,” Anka suggested. “This ain’t no war zone. Just one bullet at a time. You know — every bullet costs money”

“Uh-huh,” answered Masha, her eye still pressed to the sight, and fired off five shots, each about a second apart. But what shots they were! The first bullet tore off the heel from one of the leader’s boots, apparently wounding his foot in the process. He jumped back in the direction of the water, limping. The other four shots landed right by each of the thugs in turn. Immediately they began looking for cover behind the rocks, and the ones who didn’t have any cover handy lay face down on the ground.

‘An, tell them to crawl into the water! Or they may get

blasted by a ricochet!” Masha blurted out, her Kalashnikov still at the ready

“You heard her, sweetcheeks! Into the water!” Anka ordered the big thugs already crawling toward the water’s edge, gently reminding them: “Mashenka’s not yet a good enough shot to be responsible for ricocheting bullets!”

A moment later, and all of them, including their leader, were standing waist-deep in the sea.

Ania went up to Anastasia, and for a while the two simply looked at each other, face to face, without saying a word. Then Ania said quietly, with just a hint of sadness:

“You, friend, wanted to go for a stroll with your companion there. So go ahead. It’s a fine evening, quiet, warm...”

“Yes. There is indeed a pleasant air blowing over the city,” Anastasia replied, adding: “You are tired, Ania, perhaps you would care to relax in a garden of your own?”

“Perhaps... but I feel sorry for me girls, an’ I’m still so mad at those... blokes. Say, are you from the country?”


“Nice place, where you live?”

“Very nice. But I do not always feel at peace, especially when things are not going well for everyone in other places, as here right now.”

“Don’t mind them. Come whenever you like... Anyway, I’m off. Gotta work. Have a nice quiet stroll here.”

Ania headed toward the cars, her entourage in tow. As they walked past the ‘cove’ still sitting on the rock, the Kalashnikov lying across her bare knees, Ania said:

“You stay and relax here a bit, Mashenka. Well send a car for you later.”

“I’ve got a client waitin’ — I was with ’irn when you called me. An’ he’s paid already!”

“We’ll take care ofyour client. Well sayyou had an upset stomach. Like, the quality of the champagne wasn’t up to scratch.”

“I had vodka. And only half a glass.”

“Well, then, maybe you ate something...”

“I didn’t have anything to eat — just a bit of candy and some pastries.”

“So that’s it, then — the pastries weren’t too fresh. How many d’you eat?”

“Don’t remember.”

“C’mon — she never eats less than four at a time,” said one of the girls. “Right, Masha?”

“Well, maybe you’re right. At least leave me a cigarette. So’s I don’t get bored out of my skull.”

Ania put a package of cigarettes along with a lighter on the rock beside Masha, and the girls walked on.

“Hey,” came a voice from the water, “you gonna leave this gal of yours here on the rock?”

“She’s stayin’, sweetcheeks, she’s stayin’!” replied Ania. “I told you right off, one of us is enough for the likes of you. You wanted all of us. And now it turns out it’s goin’ to be pretty boring for just one of us to stay here with you.”

“Once this gets out, about how conniving you are...” one of the thugs called out. “Once it gets out... Well, no one will ever want to shag with you again. Even i {you offer to pay them Г

Five muffled shots rang out from the rock in quick suc-cession. And five little splashes popped up in the water, one right beside each of the men standing there, making them re-treat even further out from the shore. Ania turned to them and warned:

“Look, boys, just make sure you don’t rile Mashenka here. When we like someone, we can be sweet and tender. An’ loyal as dogs. When we like someone, understand? No matter who...” And then, as she clambered up the hill toward the cars, she struck up a song in a resonant, wistful voice:

The paths and roads are all overgrown there

, 7тег my near rovers yeet rave mown tv ere.

And the young prostitutes following her picked up on the tone of her voice, on the intonations of sadness and despair:

Overgrown there with mosses and grasses:

He’s taken up with another of the lasses.

Where does he travel, my lover?

It makes my heart only sorrow and suffer.

And off they drove, still singing the song about the path-ways and roads, as they headed back to work.

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