Thursday, July 06, 2006

Chapter Eighteen

When Alma reach up in she hotel room all she pepper an’ sauce dry out from she. Foof. Just so. Every ounce of bravado that she been fulling up she self with them past weeks…gone.

She collapse on the bed. Crawl up to the top and scrunch up sheself tight, tight into a ball. She start to tremble like a li’l dawg-puppy that get a solid whipping.
“Oh my precious, my precious,” she rock and mumble to sheself like how them mad people on the street does do, and she hug up she pillow like it was she baby. “If I find you again, I’ll never let you go…”

Suddenly she realise. All along she referring to the egg as she precious thing, when all this time she precious thing was she li’l love chile Selwyn.

She mutter even more now. “I have to think, I need a plan…I must find a way to escape with my boy. And the egg. I need the egg, it’s worth a fortune, I need this egg, that egg, any egg, to help me start a life again with my boy. Tomorrow, when I meet Gregory at the port with Selwyn, I must escape with my boy and the egg. But Gregory will follow us. I need a plan, I have to think…”

But everytime she try to think…kkkgghhcrunck…she mind grind like a computer that ketch a bug and can’t work no more.

“This must be a dream, a bad dream,” she mumble. “No woman wide awake would give up everything for a man like Pyre.” She remember clear, clear now what she did thinking before she see that Pyre show.

Could there really be anyone with a draw so strong that she’d abandon her husband and child? Surely nothing could tempt her away from her son, or encourage her to hurt him.

Yes, that is what she did think then. Then, she life did boring. Had no zing, no thing to keep she heart-string tie up to Lonnie own. Then, she been rrrripe like a juicy yellow mango, ready for a man to pluck she. Mm-hm, she been ripe an’ ready for affair with any man.
But...What if she fell in love here tonight, with this actor?

That is what she did thinking on the way to the Pyre show. She did so bored with Lonnie, any hot man woulda do, any man who coulda sex she up good. So bored she been that quick and easy, for any man, for Pyre the crook, she give up everything. Family and family heirloom. Give up the egg that supposed to bring big fortunes.

“Bloody egg!” Alma sit up and glare at the egg as if was the egg fault. She pick it up, cup it. And do something she ain’t do in weeks. Cry long, long, living eye-water.

“How I wish I were back in my old life with Selwyn and Lonnie. Oh, how I wish I had another chance to sort out my problems with Lonnie…wish I’d never met Pyre…” she bawl.

The egg start to tick, tick, tick in she hand. Then it start up one loud humming and vibrating like some small plane ready to take off. The egg get hot, hot, hot.

Woy! Alma drop the egg so fast. Was just like this the egg did tickin’ an’ hummin’ an’ vibratin’ when it transport she and Selwyn here to old-time Russia. At the Faberge Exhibition, when the egg did start to hum and she grab Selwyn hand, for one quick second, for some strange reason, she did wish she could get away to old-time Russia.

She stare at the egg. And start to think for real now.

Suppose she use the egg to transport sheself back to she old life with Selwyn and Lonnie? Suppose she forget this whole affair, and she life was boring as ever, and everything repeat itself? Suppose she go back to she old life, and Pyre return…and Portugal and Brussels and the chase happen all over again?

by Guyana Gyal

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Chapter Seventeen

The ship docked at 9 am.

Alma strolled to the top of the gangway just as two deckhands began securing the ropes.

The captain had arranged for her to go ashore first. The rest of the passengers assumed that she was the captain’s wife. After all they had dined and then danced together all evening. They had even been seen kissing by the forecastle.
The sky was deep blue and cloudless over St. Petersburg. All along the quayside a multitude of dock workers busied themselves, loading, moving and unloading schooners and barges.

The deckhands finally secured the gangway to the ship. Alma carefully made her way down. Halfway she looked up to the bridge. The captain waved. She gave him an affectionate smile and proceeded to get off the boat.

A steward followed down with her suitcase and summoned a coach driver.
“Take the lady to Hotel Saint Stanislav!”

The driver opened the rear door. Alma climbed into the stifling vehicle as he placed her suitcase in front of her.

“Be careful with your personal effects, Madame. There are so many thieves here!”
Alma smiled and thought of the egg hidden right next to her heart.

The streets were jam-packed with carts and street sellers. Pedestrians crossed back and forth with very little regard for the speeding carts and horse-drawn landaus.
Two horses pulled the coach at breakneck speeds through tunnels, alleyways, back streets and narrow lanes. Alma caught a few glimpses of St Petersburg’s daily life whenever they slowed down to negotiate a bend or u-turn.

Twenty minutes of frenzied gallop led them to a huge, ornate iron gate. A guard spoke to the driver and waved to the gate keeper to open up. The hotel forecourt stood at the end of a mile-long tree lined drive. The building, an old imperial palace had been turned into a hotel after the war.

A porter in bright Russian attire rushed down the steps to greet Alma.
“Good morning Madame. Welcome the Hotel Saint Stanislav. I hope you enjoyed the crossing.”

“Yes, thank you!”

She paid the driver and gave him a handsome tip. The porter relieved him of Alma’s suitcase and led her into a cool and sumptuous lobby. Alma was truly amazed at the amount of marble that adorned floors, walls and ceilings.


As soon as the porter closed the door, Alma went out onto the balcony. The view was truly breathless.

“This is indeed a room with a view!” She thought aloud.
Huge gardens surrounded the hotel. In the distance over the red roofs and whitewashed buildings, the Gulf of Finland glistened in the midday sun. Anchored ships awaited their turn to enter the port.

“I could be anywhere around the Mediterranean.” She thought.
A knock on the door spoiled Alma’s reverie. She went back into the cool suite and opened the door to a footman holding a note.

“For you, Madame.”

She thanked him and quickly tore the sealed envelope.
It read “Meet me at the restaurant at 9pm. Please ask for Count Astrakhan.”


After a short siesta she slipped into a huge bubble bath.

“What the hell am I doing here?” She wondered. “From a quiet English suburb, after a month on the road I find myself in bloody Eighteenth Century Russia… Let’s just hope I can save my Selwyn!.”

It had all happened so quickly.

Seconds after Alma and Selwyn had found their bearings and realised that they were in good old Russia, two horsemen grabbed her son and galloped away leaving her dumbfounded at the sudden turn of events.

One of the horsemen doubled back and shouted in perfect English: “If you want to see your son again, take the egg to Hotel Saint Stanislav in St Petersburg by the end of the week.”

Clutching the egg she painstakingly made her way to Primorsk where she boarded an overnight boat. The captain proved very generous after Alma had promised to be very open-minded about sharing his bunk for the night. He even gave her a handful of roubles and a suitcase full of ladies clothes. Most probably left by one of his many female escorts.


At 8.55pm Alma headed for the door in a smart lilac dress.
“He can fucking wait,” she said as she went back into the room and poured herself a shot of Vodka. She contemplated drinking it but decided against the alcohol.
“I need to keep my wits about me.”

At 9.10pm she reached the ground floor. A bus boy dressed in Russian regalia pointed to the restaurant.

“Le restaurant est par là, madame.”

“Merci.” She replied realising that she had read that in the centuries before the revolution, the aristocracy almost always used French service staff.

Gigantic brass chandeliers hung from a most ornate ceiling. The walls were decorated with intricately carved wooden screens, colourful mosaics and rich fabrics.

Scores of waiters mulled round the huge tables that filled the restaurant. A hushed marketplace murmur hung over each one. Diners of all sexes, sizes and colours busied themselves with food, drink and chatter.

The headwaiter approached Alma and pointed to a table at the far end of the immense room. One lone figure stood up and waved.

Alma thanked the waiter and walked off, shrugging off on her way the watchful gaze of the male diners.

The man, in his sixties, smartly dressed welcomed her with a wide smile.
“Welcome to St Petersburg. My name is Count Astrakan, but please call me Gregory.”

“Please call me Alma.”

She sat down and the count followed suit.

“What would you like to drink, Alma?”

“I’ll have some water if you please.” She replied. “I need to remain sober with this stranger.” She thought.

The count ordered water for both of them and settled back in his chair.

“Tell me, how did you come to own the egg, Alma? Do you have Russian blue blood running through your veins?”

“I have no idea how my grandma came to own it. All I know is that ever since Pyre took a liking to it, I have had nothing but bad luck!” She snapped. “All I want is my son back. You can have your egg as soon as I have Selwyn ….”

“Come, come, dear Alma, you are in no position to dictate, here. You are way over your head with this business!”

Gregory looked at his watch and continued: “At this very moment, your son is in the hands of our very efficient secret police!”

“What am I to do exactly?”

A waiter interrupted the count’s answer by leaning between them to serve the drinks.

“Are you ready to order, sir?”

“Not yet! Leave us alone!” he snapped.

He turned to Alma and said: “Give me the egg and I will arrange for your son’s release. You mess about and I’ll make sure that he rots away in one of our famous jails!”

Alma looked at him and thought: “He’s playing hard, this guy! Let’s see what he thinks of this.”

“I do not have the egg on me. I left it with a ship’s captain. He will not give it to anyone until my son and I have crossed over to Finland.”

The count nearly choked on his first sip of water.

“You must be kidding me! I could have you cut into tiny pieces and fed to your dearest son for the rest of his life, you stupid woman!”

He was seething. “You have no idea where you are, lady! This is a closed country and I can make it hell for you!”

Alma thought: “If you had been able to you would’ve done it already! So stop the shit!”

“I can assure you Gregory, that if you lay one fucking finger on either my son or me, the only egg you’ll see is the one dripping on your face! What will your bosses say when you tell them that you don’t have it?”

From his reaction, Alma knew that she had just gained the upper hand.
“This is the deal: I want you to arrange for my son to meet me at the port tomorrow at nine to catch the first boat out of this hell hole.”

She got up, turned on her heels and headed for the staircase up to her room.

By Cream - Screamers

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Chapter Sixteen

“Alma! Calm down…it’s alright, my darling, it’s alright…”

Derek whipped his pink Argyle pullover from around his neck and draped it lovingly across Alma’s shoulder. He looked at the sweating security guard.

“I’m sorry, sir. My girlfriend has OCD. She takes that bloody kitchen timer everywhere. You ever tried shagging to a tick tick tick? Not easy.”

The guard blinked. His pork-pie face flickered uncertainly. He looked from Alma, shivering and muttering, to Derek. Cool, calm, suave.

“It’s not on Sir. Not on at all. Just won’t do, kicking up such a fuss. Could have caused chaos….”

“Yes, of course, Very disruptive. That’s why we’re on our to Brussels…we have an appointment with Dr Schenkelbenker….hopefully he’ll sort out my precious love..”, Derek stroked Alma’s cheek.

She glared at him, opening her mouth. Derek bent down and dropped a kiss on her lips.

“Fucking shut it Alma. OK? Just put that egg in your gob and shut it. Or else.” His hissed threats did the trick. Alma closed her mouth and did the only thing guaranteed to set them free. She cried. A small, sad tear trickled down her cheek. Then another. And another. She gasped, shuddered, and let the floodgates open. Soon, her howls and sobs filled the air.

“Oh bloody hell. She’s a nutter. Sir, just take her and get lost. I don’t want any more trouble. You just keep that woman under control. I have a bacon sarnie and a nice cuppa waiting for me and I don’t intend to skip it…get out of here, go on…get!”

The guard hitched up his trousers, covering his flabby white belly and turned, losing interest in the loopy cow.

Derek dragged Alma to a row of seats and shoved her into one.

“Nice going Alma. Well fucking done. You nearly lost that egg….you almost landed us in jail. Just pull yourself towards yourself and get a grip, you dumb bitch.”

Through her wet lashes, Alma stared up at Derek.

“Hmmm. Mr Smooth has an interesting dark side,” she thought. “Not so much of the fresh lemony, Blond anymore. I’d better watch him.” She tucked the egg backed into her bra, smoothed her hair and smiled tremulously.

“I’m sorry Derek. Really. I don’t know what came over me. I don’t even have PMS. It’s just been such a crazy few weeks.” She sighed, turned her mouth down sadly and lowered her head, the very picture of abject despair.

“Right. Let’s get moving. Our flight is boarding.” Derek pulled Alma up, slipped his arm firmly through hers, smiled again sweetly, and tugged Alma firmly towards the gate.


Alma stared down at the English Channel. Tiny boats appeared motionless, dotting the blue water, minute white wakes a fuzzy blur. She leaned back in her seat, closed her eyes and thought about the egg. It freaked her. It HAD been ticking. It had also been very hot. What was going on with that damn egg. The ticking had stopped, and settled into a dull vibration. She could feel its warm buzz against her breasts.

Sighing, Alma opened her eyes. None of it made any sense. She reached forward and yanked out the in-flight magazine from the seat pouch. Flicking through it, she glanced at the articles. Yawn. Dull. A piece about Dr Who, the time traveller.

Time travel? Puhleeese. Who cares? She put the magazine on her lap.

As the pages fell silkily, she looked over at Derek. His eyes were closed, his mouth hung slackly. A small puddle of drool had collected in the corner of his thin lips.

She looked back at the magazine. The pages had fallen open on something incredibly sleep-inducing.

“Quantum Physics Explained….”

Does the thought of quantum physics send a chill down your spine, just like the words calculus, differential equations, and -gasp- organic chemistry? You may not even think that quantum physics is a serious science, like the more familiar…..

Cripes. I don’t need this…she was about to turn the page when a phrase seemed to leap up off the smooth white paper and slap her in her face.

“….the world of these subatomic particles is a very bizarre one, filled with quantum probabilities and organized chaos….”

Bizarre. Yes. Her life was bizarre. The egg was bizarre. Bizarre. Chaos. Yes.

A light switched on in Alma’s brain. She closed her eyes again, and let the electronic waves in her mind hum and undulate. The answer to the riddle was tantalisingly close. So close. She placed her hand over the egg. Immediately, she felt the vibrations increase. The buzz became a frantic tick tick tick…her hand burned. Alma snatched her hand away, opened her eyes and began to read the article.

“…..The electrons don't orbit like planets; they form blurred clouds of probabilities around the nucleus…..”

“….What quantum physics does is give us the statistical probability of the electron's location at any one moment….”

“….Quantum physics even plays a part in blackholes, where regular physics is thrown out the window and then some!”

“Ladies and Gentleman, the fasten seat belts light has been switched on. Kindly return to your seats and prepare for landing. Make sure your hand baggage is safely stowed in the overhead lockers.”

Derek opened his eyes. He looked at Alma. She seemed far away, a dreamy, quizzical expression on her face.

“Alma? “…..He snapped his fingers. “Alma? “

She looked at him, a small smile playing weird games with her lips. Almost as she knew something he didn’t.

“Yes Derek?”

“When we get to the Faberge Exhibition, I want you to stay close to me. No tricks. Understand? Just keep your mouth zipped.”

“Yes Derek.”

The hall was a crush of smelly, noisy humanity. Alma stuck close to Derek. Well, actually, she felt glued to him. He had his arm around her waist and dragged her along as he went from stand to stand, looking at the magnificent display of jewelled eggs.

He stopped suddenly, staring intensely at someone standing just 10m away. A tall, long-legged woman.

Alma gasped. Olga!

She looked around for Oppenheimer. Yes…there he was, the stinking fat slob. Alma slipped behind Derek, hiding her face. She trembled. Holy Schmoly! Now what. How was she going to get away.

A child’s voice pierced her wild thoughts.

“Daddy? Dr Who is the telly in an hour. I want to see Dr Who. Daddy?”

Alma froze. Selwyn. That was Selwyn’s voice. What the hell?

She peeped furtively around Derek’s shoulder. Yup. It was Selwyn. Her beautiful Selwyn. And Lonnie. Bloody hell. Lonnie. She stifled a giggle. Lonnie had gone to seed. His trim frame was blurred with a layer of pudge. Thin sandy hair flopped weakly over a tomato red face and oh cripes…he had on an in-your-face red shirt with green flowers, a pair of baggy khaki shorts…and sandals. Socks and sandals. The archetypal Brit abroad.

Alma wondered fleetingly what shed ever seen in him. Bleugh. But Selwyn. Oh her lovely baby boy.

A plan formed in her mind. A wild flight of fantasy. But maybe…just maybe….

“Woke up this morning
Everything I had was gone.”

The song flashed through her mind. Gone. She had nothing left to lose.

With her free hand, Alma removed the egg from her bra. Immediately, it grew hot and began ticking…louder and louder…tick tick tick tick….

She wrenched free from Derek, dashed towards Selwyn, grabbed his hand and ran.

Chaos ensued. Derek, Lonnie, Olga and Oppenheimer ran after her. Alma ran wildly, frantically, through the sea of people. Screams, shouts, yells….tables knocked over. She ran on.

The egg was screeching its tick tick song. Alma lifted her arm, holding the glowing egg aloft.

The room spun. She gripped Selwyn’s hand tightly.

Tumble tumble tumble…

A shocking flash.

Stunned, Derek and his crowd of followers froze. They crashed into each other. A Laurel and Hardy farce. Except it was real. Alma was gone. Vanished into thin air. With the egg and Selwyn.

“Mum….mummy….you did it… penetrated the Matrix…”

Alma sat up. Where were they? She felt dizzy, disoriented.

Glancing around, she saw they were in a field. Surrounded by wild flowers, hedges, a babbling brook. No telephone wires. No electricity pylons. No sounds of cars. Just birds. Water gurgling. And voices. Harsh, foreign voices.

She stood up slowly, and peered over a hedge. 20 m away was a group of caravans. Traditional gyspy caravans. Ragged, shabby children dashed in and out of the vans. Women, dressed in bright traditional dresses fussed over an open fire. A man played a fiddle.

In the distance, A saw a town. Minnarets, spires, onion domes.

She looked down at Selwyn.

“No sweetheart. Not the Matrix. Time. We’ve penetrated time. And we are about to find some of the answers to this mad mad riddle. I think, my love, that we are in Russia. Two hundred years ago. When this egg was made.”

She held the egg up. It was cool and quiet. Settled.

Selwyn smiled.

“Well done Mums.”

by Wendy who came to the rescue!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Chapter Fifteen

A suffocating sense of déjà vu rolled over Alma as she lined up at the same airport gates, waiting to be processed into the same boarding lounge. No doubt to sit in the same uncomfortable plastic chairs and drink the same lukewarm tea (obviously, not exactly the same tea, she thought, unless they have some very efficient recycling systems here). Her brain felt spongy and unfocused, and she found herself yawning and dragging her feet.

There was one difference, of course. This time, she was not a lone traveller, but trailing after the unlikely Derek Blond, falsetto super-spy. Who, apparently had ways of finding things out. Alma looked him over with bleary eyes. Shiny shoes, neatly pressed raincoat folded over one arm, pink Argyle sweater knotted around his neck. He took her elbow in one manicured hand and steered her to the end of the queue.

A thought surfaced slowly in her fogged mind.

“Derek, how did you find the egg in my bra?”

“Shhh! Not so loud! The walls may have ears!”

“There aren’t any walls. This is a huge airport building.”

“Er…fair comment.” He seemed strangely flustered.

“Did you use one of those X-ray machines?”

“Ooh, no!” Derek spluttered in horror. “You would have noticed that! It would have aroused your suspicions in an instant! No, we merely scanned your bosom and ran it through the mammo-comparator program (adjusting for height, perceived weight and nippular elevation).” His left eyelid twitched, just a fraction, and he cleared his throat loudly.

Alma considered his statement. There was an anomaly somewhere. She could almost hear little cogwheels turning and ideas clicking into place. Something Derek had said…

A sudden blaring alarm made her jump. Ahead of her, a bored security guard was explaining to a skinny Goth that, while she may have removed her earrings, nose stud and seventeen bracelets, she must still have a sizeable chunk of metal about her person, which would need to be removed to stop the alarm sounding. Perhaps a private room, if Madam’s metalware was intimately attached?

Metalware! That was it!

Alma had gone through airport security yesterday, through the X-ray machine, and the alarms hadn’t gone off. Why hadn’t the egg been picked up? How criminally lax! A sense of righteous indignation boiled up in Alma’s stomach, evaporating her fogginess and torpor. Throwing off Derek’s restraining hand, she bore down on the nearest security guard.

“You! Yes, you in the blue. Where were you yesterday when I came through with THIS in my bra? It’s metal, isn’t it?” She whipped the egg from its hiding place and brandished it at the hapless man. The bright metal glittered in the airport lights, and she gripped it fiercely, digging at its hard surface with her chipped nails.With her free hand, she clutched the guard’s collar, and began shaking him furiously.

“What if it had been a bomb?” screamed Alma. “What if I were an insane bomb-throwing maniac? What if this were TICKING?”

“Er…Madam…” choked the security guard, struggling and sweating.

“What? What?” shrieked Alma, aggressively waving the egg under his nose.

“It IS ticking!”


By Dr Forte, Ginger and Non-Ginger Cat.

Illustration by Julie Oakley.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Chapter Fourteen

Lonnie looked up from his plastic glass - vodka and tonic – which was wrapped in a ghastly perma-cold thingy that he had come to consider to be one of man’s great inventions. He looked blankly at his son. The artificial grass beneath his feet made him feel itchy. Selwyn was sitting in the middle of a plastic swimming pool. The water was only a few inches deep. The temperature of the water must be unbearable by now, Lonnie thought. A faint drone from a television set could be heard from where he was sitting, in his mother’s backyard.

Lonnie felt ridiculous in the Hawaiian shirt and shorts he was wearing; his sun burnt skin shining behind his blond body hair. He was wearing a bush hat that an uncle had offered him and that had freakishly survived the fire.

Lonnie wondered if he was ever going to shag anyone whilst he was in Las Vegas. The women he had managed to talk to since he had arrived had all been tourists (convention people or gamblers). No hint or suggestion of a sexual encounter had emerged from these conversations.

“Dad, what would happen if Superman managed to penetrate the Matrix?” Selwyn asked.

Lonnie’s brain took some time to absorb the question. He came to the conclusion for the umpteenth time that he never could understand the boy. It had been disturbing when Alma had been around, but now it was downright scary.

“Superman doesn’t exist, love”.

Selwyn didn’t seem to acknowledge his father’s reply.

The magical aspect of the perma-cold thingy was that he did not have to keep adding ice to his drink. This would have watered it down. And with this kind of heat it wasn’t an issue of drinking faster. He wondered if the company that sold them had a patent.

“Trrrrrring, Trrrrrring”.

Lonnie was always surprised when he heard the telephone ring. His mother’s idea of a good joke was buying a hi-tech phone and choosing a fake classic analog ring tone. He pressed the green “yes” button. It was Alma.

“Hello, Lonnie, is that you? oh my God, I have so many things to tell, but I just couldn’t make sense of it in one go, I’ve been all over the Continent, chased by crazy dangerous people, and now I’ve been arrested, oh I know I’m babbling, but I haven’t slept in ages and fuck, I can’t believe I am talking to you, I miss Selwyn soooooo much and I imagine you hate me, but it just has been absolute lunacy and I don’t know what is going to happen, and they said I could make one phone call and I just wanted so much to hear Selwyn’s voice and talk to him, and then I understood that when they said…”


“What did you say, Daddy?”

Lonnie mumbled something about telemarketers.

At this point Marineide, the Brazilian maid that helped his mother two mornings a week, came out through the kitchen back door, letting the crappy mosquito net and wood door slam shut behind her. She walked towards the plastic deck chair Lonnie was sitting on and replaced the empty bowl that sat next to him on the grass with a new bowl of mixed salty nuts. As usual, she did not say a word.

Lonnie thought she was vaguely repulsive: dark, short, thick thighs, obscenely large mouth. Not at all the type of woman he normally considered to be attractive. However, as she walked away back to the house, he could not keep from staring at her arse. He wondered if it qualified as a “bubble butt”. This concept fascinated Lonnie. He had only recently become aware of their existence. Exposure to American Internet porn was having a profound effect on Lonnie. He had always thought that a large arse was just that: a large arse. It had never occurred to him that a specific type of large arse – the bubble butt – could be a revered and idolized subset within the category of large arses.

“Dad, do you think that Gandalf is more powerful than Dumbledore?”

Selwyn stared at the shriveled skin on his fingers. He felt hot; the water was hot and the air around him was hot, even though he sat beneath the shade of an oversized sun umbrella.


As Lonnie did not respond, Selwyn turned round. His father seemed to have fallen asleep. His drink was on the grass, as if it had been dropped.

Selwyn stood up, stepped out of the swimming pool and walked towards the house, dripping wet.

By Ashitaka

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Chapter Thirteen

Alma sat on the steel chair in the middle of the stark room and looked around her. The walls were covered in what could only be described as institutional snot green emulsion. If she squinted her eyes against the glare of the neon strips above her she could just make out what seemed to be hieroglyphics scrawled into the paint. She wriggled on the hard chair which seemed to be bolted to the floor. She tried to scrape it towards the table so she could lay her head down and close her eyes for a few moments. The chair wouldn’t budge. She looked down; it was bolted to the floor, as was the table and the chair opposite. Alma bent over and buried her face in her hands; she could feel the stress of the past few days building up inside her. She felt that she could shriek like a banshee and throw the total of her intestines up on the floor if just One More Bad Thing happened to her.

She had actually quite enjoyed the flight across the English Channel. She had never travelled first class before on a scheduled flight, usually she had been herded onto one of those drab pay as you go airlines where you have to even pay for the drab coffee and the even drabber sandwiches. It wasn’t until the immigration officer had looked at her, then looked at the passport in front of him and then at her again while riffling through the pages that she had started to worry. Her stomach dropped through her shoes as he started to tap stuff into a computer and politely ask her to stand on the line as she stepped forward to ask him what the problem was. She darned well knew what the problem was, she was travelling on a stolen passport of a Russian academic who she looked nothing like and couldn’t speak one word of Russian apart from Gorbachev, and at that moment she wasn’t even sure who or what that meant.

She was eventually led away to a side room where she was met by a female immigration officer who asked her to confirm her name and reasons for travelling to the UK.

‘You are Olga Ivanova Gubinicha?’ asked the officer riffling through the passport in the sort of irritating way that made Alma believe that they were taught it at immigration officer school

Alma nodded

‘You are Russian?’ the officer asked peering at her

Alma nodded again not wanting to give it all away with her received English pronunciation

‘Ah’ said the officer, who Alma thought looked quite friendly in a bureaucratic kind of way, Alma tried a hesitant smile.

‘You are a….’ she peered again at the passport again…cyrptographer?’

Alma nodded once again feeling panic starting to rise, she was rumbled.

‘Devoshka, ti gavarrete par russkie?’

Alma gulped, she nodded, then shook her head, then nodded again and smiled at the woman who was looking sternly at her,she didn’t look quite so friendly now.
Alma couldn’t help herself. ‘Pardon’ she blurted out, cursing her good manners.

‘Aah she speaks’ said the officer. ‘now perhaps we could get to the bottom of this and you can tell me who you are and why you are travelling on this passport’. Of course Alma did spew her guts but to the woman in front of her and not in technicolour abandon across the floor.

It turned out that Alma’s first mistake was to think that she could have entered the country on a Russian passport. Of course she knew nothing about visa’s and boundaries and borders. She didn’t know that Olga had been travelling through Europe courtesy of her Schengen Visa which of course the UK isn’t a signatory to and Olga, should she have travelled to the UK would have needed a separate visa in her passport.

The second mistake was to think that the immigration officer was a friendly sort, she was nothing of the kind and had grilled Alma mercilessly for over an hour before marching her down to this putrid green room she now found herself in.


Boris and Mr Pyre sat sweating in the hotel room despite the central heating. They were sat on hard chairs watching a small man having a pedicure. Boris actually though it was more entertaining than a lot of the Belorussian TV he had been subjected to over the years. Mr Pyre yawned and dozed.

The small man was called Abilio Quadrilheiro and he was patient and he enjoyed having his weekly pedicure, here in the hotel, without any disturbances. And now here were these two oafs disturbing his afternoon and fouling the chilled air with their sweaty stench, indeed, he sniffed, one of them smelt like he was sweating óleo de combustível - deus proibido!

The twenty year old transvestite finished drying Abilio’s feet and placed them on a fluffy white towel. The old man slipped a wedge of notes into his hands and whispered something into his ear. The young boy smiled and nodded and slipped past the two waiting men with a sly smile on his face.

Abilio turned towards the sweating men and fixed a smile on his face that to Boris looked like the smile of a serpent.

‘So my friends’ he hissed ‘What brings you to my quarto do hotel this time of the day? You have the ovo Russian I hope?

Boris nodded sagely ‘Da da, Abilio, all is well. We have the egg and the angliski devoshka has departed’.

‘Terminally’ the old man asked nodding.

Pyre snorted at this and the gangster looked sharply at him, his eyes clouding.

‘Ah sim sim Mr Pyre our amigo inglês, it is you, is it not, that has bought some calor, some heat on us eh? The old man laughed quietly.

Mr Pyre sat watching the dust motes spin and twist in a beam of bright sunlight that shafted across the room. The gangster turned his attention back to Boris. ‘So my soviet amigo where is the ovo, do you have it, show it to me’. He held out his hands.

Boris shrugged his heavy shoulders ‘The egg is safe Abilio, very safe, we are not here about the egg, we have other pressing business with you. We need to ask a favor’. Abilio placed his hands back on his knees.

‘A favor eh? Well tell me, what is this favor that you need and we shall see’

Ten minutes later Boris and Mr Pyre we back on the streets walking swiftly away from the hotel. As they turned a corner, Mr Pyre looked swiftly back towards the hotel building; he smiled with satisfaction as he saw the grey smoke starting to pour out of one of the upper windows.

Together the two men hurried towards a taxi rank, they had to get to the aeroporto in time to catch the next flight to Brussels where Abilio had arranged a meeting with a very important connection.


In Brussels Oppenhiemer was having a hard time keeping his cool. Firstly he had had to put up with Olga raging about a lost bag and blaming him for picking up scum off the side of the road. Secondly nobody knew anything about the egg, or if they did they were not telling him. Oh he knew that he was a bit of a pariah, viewed as a bit of a rogue, a thief even, but he knew he got results. He had had the egg, it had been in his hands, it existed, it hadn’t been a dream, until that, that dwarf has stolen it from out of Olga’s hands.

He pushed through the crowds of the Espace culturel towards the Faberge exhibitions. It should have been his crowning glory, he should be presenting his find here, opening the egg to find the secrets within, but now it was gone, like a gossamer thread in a breeze, it had spun briefly and beautifully before him and now was gone.

He saw Olga across the room talking to someone who Oppenheimer recognised as the curator of the Kremlin museum. He hung back, hidden in the crowds. Olga was speaking excitedly to the woman, Tatyana , gesticulating and then showing her something on her mobile phone. He edged towards them trying to pick up what they were saying, but the background noise was just too much. Tatyana saw him and muttered something to Olga, who stuffed her phone back into her new bag.

‘Ah ladies’, he said effusively. ‘Privyet Tatyana’ he said kissing her three times on the cheeks as was the Russian way, ‘kak dela’ – how are you, as beautiful as ever hey?

Tatyana pursed her bright red lipsticked lips in a way that could almost have been taken for a grimace; she glanced at Olga, who wrinkled her nose back.

‘Oppenheimer, how nice to see you again’, she forced a smile, ‘I thought you were in Lisbon or somewhere chasing rainbows’.

Oppenheimer shot a look at Olga. What do you mean Tatyana chasing rainbows? This time the rainbow gave up its pot of gold’.

‘So you have the egg’?

‘Ah’ Oppenheimer faltered, ‘no but we know it exists and I will bet my life that it will turn up here’, he looked around at the fabulous exhibits, ‘where else can it go now its out in the open?’

Tatyana shrugged, ‘maybe back to the end of the rainbow once again, who knows?’

‘No’, Oppenhiemer was emphatic, it’ll turn up here I bet my life upon it!’

Olga smiled grimly, ‘let’s hope it doesn’t come to that eh darlink’


Alma was still sitting with her face down in her hands when she heard the door to the room open. She heard someone walk across and stand opposite her. She thought that if she ignored him, why did she think it was a him? She sniffed through her fingers and could detect a lemony expensive cologne wafting towards her. She thought anyway, despite the expensive lemony cologne, that perhaps if she ignored him he would go away.

She heard his shoes creak a little, she peeked through her fingers, they were expensive looking brown brogues. He cleared his throat in that way that the British do when they don’t want to be rude, but do actually want your attention, a sort of a ahem noise.

Alma peeked a bit more, she could see the bottom of his trousers, they looked quite nice and the brown brogues really matched them, his socks though were a startling yellow.

He made a noise, not quite clearing his throat this time more like a squeak, like when you just start to open an old garden gate. He squeaked again. ‘Miss eeerrrr miss….’ Alma pushed her face deeper into her hands.

He sat down on the chair opposite and drummed his fingers on the scared Formica in front of him. He squeaked again and then cleared his throat. ‘Miss Alma isn’t it?

She peeked up at him, he looked quite nice, but she’d already been tricked by that witch of an immigration woman who had looked quite nice too. But the lemony after shave was quite nice, so he couldn’t be too bad could he, and his shoes were awfully shiney.

She took a breath and sat up. As she did so she became aware of the egg still in her bra, she immediately returned to her bent over position. She hadn’t been searched yet. If they did they’d find the egg. She fumbled about a bit and peeked up at the man in front of her.

‘Ah Alma’, he said, clearly, he didn’t squeak this time. He stood up and held out his hand.

She looked across at him standing there with his hand out.

‘My names Derek…Derek Blond’

Alma took his hand, it was soft and cool, she wanted to press it to her brow, she wanted to feel normal, she wanted to get rid of this stupid egg, she wanted to see her children, make it up with her husband, she wanted her life back!

These were all the things she blurted out to Derek as he sat there wafting comforting lemony cologne over her. He sat there and listened as he sipped a cup of earl grey that he had had bought in while Alma had sobbed and sobbed and held onto his cool soft hands.

Alma was aware that she was just gabbling on and on and on, but she couldn’t stop herself, it was like the dams had finally given way, the stresses and strains of the last few weeks and just been too much, I mean what was she, just an ordinary 34 year old woman with a kid, things like this didn’t happen to people like her, ‘Did it did it?’ She looked at Derek through tearful eyes.

Derek nodded sagely, then changed his mind and shook his head with a sympathetic look on his face. ‘Er your tea?’ He pushed the battered china mug full of aromatic tea a little closer to Alma. Alma sipped.

‘Who are you?’ she asked slightly irritated, both at her complete and utter wishywashyness and the way he sat there wafting at her, one perfectly creased trousered leg over the other showing three inches of yellow sock poking out of perfectly polished brown brogues – which she noted with a little sense of triumph still had a price ticket on the sole - ‘ha!’

He put his mug down. He squeaked a little, Derek, Derek Blond sorry sorry’

‘Yes I know that, but WHO ARE YOU? Are you the police, immigration or what?’

‘Ah yes, lets just say I’m with the Government for the moment, OK Alma?

‘Well what do you want with me Mr Blond’

He squeaked. ‘Call me Derek’

‘Ok Derek what do you want?’

He coughed, ‘well its like this, we know all about the egg, including the one that’s currently tucked up in your..err, um, br….bus….blouse’

Alma clutched herself. ‘How did you know that?’

Derek smiled ‘We have our ways’, he smiled at her.

Alma started to dislike him again, despite the yellow socks.

‘What’s going to happen to me?’ she asked hesitantly

‘Oh you’ll be ok Alma’, he said, ‘you’re going on a little trip’

‘A trip’? She looked at Derek and noticed that he had green eyes, they looked quite nice as well, with some crinkles at the edges. ‘Where to, who with?’

Derek squeaked and ahemed again. ‘Well you’re coming to Brussels with me?’

Alma squeaked too, ‘Brussels’ she said, ‘But why?’

The egg pressed against her breast like a piglet seeking milk.

‘Can’t I just go to prison’ she groaned.


By Dr Robert Wibble, the saviour of the alma, our precious, our lovely.... Proper job! (private South West England joke)

illustration by Cream!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Chapter Twelve

Boris and Mr Pyre had been arguing for a good five minutes before they
realised that Alma had disappeared, and taken the egg with her. They
had been concentrating so hard on presenting themselves as being
strong and powerful, that they hadn't been able to spare any attention
for anything else. The dissapearance was only noticed when Boris
gesticulated towards where the egg had been, and realised that he was
gesticulating at empty air. They had both jumped up, all pretence of
being cool, calm and collected temporarily forgotten as they searched
the area for their runaway hostage.

It was another five minutes before it occured to them that Boris' car
was missing and a further ten before they had found some transport for
themselves: two old motorbikes that had been forgotton in the back of
a shed until now. The only direction she could have gone was towards
Lisbon so, wobbling slightly as they got used to their new wheels,
they headed east, their animosity towards each other forgotton as they
persued their common goal.

They tore through the streets of Lisbon like men possessed, eyes wide
open, looking for a single, solitary glimpse of anything that might be
the car, the girl or the egg. Eventually Mr Pyre's bike starting to
slow down, and the two men realised that they were both dangerously
low on petrol, and were still no nearer to finding Alma. "I think,"
said Boris "that it's time to call in some extra help."

They found a small café and made use of the bathroom to make
themselves presentable, before steadily, and with great purpose,
walking up to a large hotel in the centre of the city. The bouncers
on the door gave Boris a quick nod, and Mr Pyre a suspicious glance
before allowing them to pass inside. Another large man with a metal
detector at the entrance to the lift insisted that they remove all
weapons before proceeding. Inside the lift a third man pressed the
button for the top floor, inserting a special key card into the
mechanism. The lift rose slowly, a plucky violin could be heard
piping through the small speakers.

Eventually, the lift arrived at the top floor and, with a ping, the
doors opened. Despite their outward cool, calm, collectedness, the
two bad guys were nervous. They were about to ask a favour of the
No.1 guy in the portugese mafia. Such favours were always hard to


"Woke up this morning
Everything I had was gone."

Alma heard the words piped through the speakers of a cheap hi-fi from
behind the counter of the airport coffee shop where she was now sat,
contemplating her next move.

Now that she was at the airport, she was taking the time to think out
her next move. Eventually she decided that she would have to head
back to England, and see if she could find out how George had been
mixed up in all this. Maybe he had left behind somthing that would
lead her in the right direction.

As she walked away from the ticket counter and towards the gate, she
failed to notice that she was being followed by someone dressed head
to toe in black.


by Clair - Life in Reverse

Illustration by Wally Torta

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Chapter Eleven

Having checked up on Selwyn and Lonnie, Alma considered her course of action. Here she was, penniless except for an incredibly valuable artifact, Eastern European hoods chasing her, and a pyromaniac ex-lover cropping up like a bad penny. Well, at least she’d retrieved her treasure from him. She had to sort out this situation and recover some sort of life. And then perhaps she could make it up to Selwyn. Perhaps even to Lonnie, although she didn’t dare even think how that could ever be possible. Somehow the boring security of her former life now seemed so alluring. For one thing, it had contained regular meals and sleep, and fairly continuous proximity to a clean bathroom.

All her life, Alma had been certain of the value of her family treasure. George had painted in the most glowing terms the certainty of its provenance, its gilt-edged credentials, the fact that it was unmistakeably the Real Deal. But the Sun’s headlines had confirmed George was dead, by fire, and since he would have been the most likely fence for Pyre to use, she knew that something serious had happened, and she could no longer trust in what he had told her. She needed information, and she needed it fast.

Alma had ditched the Russian’s car in Lisbon, where she had hung around an internet café until someone left their computer while their time was still running, whereupon she had Googled Fabergé and learnt where she had to go next. Judicious use of her right thumb had now helped her onto the back seat of a black BMW 5-series heading into Spain. She could tell by the actinic smell of car cleaner it had been rented by the occupants, an elegant but snooty Russian woman who was apparently some sort of academic, and her sweating, drawling American passenger. Through the ferocious argument that they were having, which was mainly about why the American had insisted they pick up a hitchhiker, it transpired that they were also looking for a Fabergé egg, an egg they had briefly had their hands on but had lost in an appalling complex scrum to some underworld hood in Lisbon.

“This sounds familiar, how many of the dam’ things are there?” thought Alma, shifting to resettle the egg below her smaller left breast, the one Lonnie had always preferred and cherished as “the tit-ch”. It was now looking somewhat bigger than the other with its uncomfortable ovoid passenger slung beneath. Alma was forced to slump to hide the odd bulge, and this hurt her back. Her eyes were red with exhaustion and her head span, but clearly this was not the time to fall asleep. She pretended to leaf through some Russian fashion magazines she found on the back seat, but her full attention was focused on the edged, tensely hissed discussion taking place in the front of the speeding BMW as they headed towards the Spanish border.

The only thing her fellow travellers agreed on was that the egg they were looking for would probably turn up on the sidelines of the Fabergé exhibition taking place in Brussels as part of the Europalia Russia 2005 events. They assumed, probably rightly, that the attention of the world’s Fabergé egg specialists would be focused on that exhibition, and that sellers, buyers and evaluators would all mill around the sidelines trawling for business. Especially sellers trying to fence what was apparently an eerily vibrating egg.

Olga had suggested flying. Oppenheimer, being a Yank and therefore contemptuous of distance, had decided to drive. Olga suspected it was to stave off that fateful moment when she knew, and he knew, and she knew he knew, and he knew she knew he knew, she would undoubtedly leave his pasty boil-covered bulbous derrière, kicking it, in all its quivering unappetising horror, as far out of her life as her pointy Manolos would punt it. Olga resolved that this act would be as emasculating as possible, not, she sniggered inwardly, that there was much more emasculating to be done. Anyone who rented this sort of car had clearly long ago resorted to material augmentation anyway.

As Alma shared the American’s vast selection of high-fat, high-sugar trip snacks, the first thing she had eaten in over 24 hours, she eavesdropped upon their conversation. Fabergé’s workshop, she discovered, did not make eggs until 1884, the first one being a present from Alexander III for his wife, the Czarina Maria, in the Russian Easter tradition of gifting decorated eggs. As the academics brought each other up to date, she learned about the use of both precious and semi-precious stones from the Urals, about guilloche technique and palladium, about the exquisite variations in enamel colour shading that Fabergé himself developed, the eggs’ commemoration of Russian history such as the opening of the Trans-Siberian railway. She learned about the marks of the supervising goldsmiths, Michael Perchin until 1903 and Henrik Wigstrom therefter, and about Russian assay marks. She learned about the two Imperial eggs photographed but then lost, the twelve further Imperial eggs never even photographed, and the seven non-Imperial eggs, ostensibly commissioned by a nobleman called Kelch.

Alma felt a huge prickling heatwave of shock rise from her shoulders and cristle its way across her scalp to culminate in her forehead. Her ears buzzed. If the first egg was not made until 1884, then hers couldn’t be from Catherine the Great, could it? Hadn’t she ruled over a century before? Clearly George had been telling the most enormous porky pies. What else had he been untrustworthy about? Was her egg even genuine? Clearly Pyre and Boris had thought so. She itched to fish it out from the depths of her bosom and examine its gold marks, see which goldsmith had made it, wonder whether it was an Imperial egg after all, or a Kelch egg, and if so, what exotic minerals and metals the mining magnate may have provided for use in its making. But she knew that any eggy glimmer from the back seat would be picked up by her travelling companions, so it remained against her skin, growing warmer by the minute. With the anticipation, Alma could swear she could almost feel it vibrating.

It felt as if it was about to hatch.

For all she was dog tired, Alma could not miss a single minute of the odious sniping between Olga and Oppenheimer as they let slip vital pieces of the puzzle Alma’s life had become. As they changed drivers and filled up in a service station near Zaragoza, Alma ducked into the ladies’ loos and took out her egg. It had been the first time she had had an opportunity to examine it closely since the night she had given it to Pyre. Once safe in the locked stall, she raised the seat, stood on the toilet basin and lifted it towards the dusty flyspecked 40-watt lightbulb.

alma in the bog

It wasn’t hers.

It was close. The enamelling was a similar colour, the goldwork very close, but it wasn’t hers. The paintings were not the familiar faces she had fondly imagined were distant imperial half-relatives, but of a completely different family she did not recognise. From the mark she was able to tell it was made by Wigstrom, so after 1903.
Whose egg was this? Where was hers?

Alma swayed on the toilet basin, nearly slipping. Tucking the egg back under her bra, she lowered herself gingerly back to terra firma. How much more was she going to be able to take? Here she was on the road to Brussels with what was most probably stolen goods concealed in her increasingly grubby underwear. The two people driving her were probably looking for the very same egg. She considered revealing it to them, but she was fairly sure that they wouldn’t be prepared to buy it from her, and she’d be left in the lurch sans money, sans transport, and most of all sans egg. There was only one thing to do, and that was to get to the exhibition and get it off her hands to some willing buyer as soon as possible. It wasn’t as if it were her treasure, her own egg, she rationalised, and she needed the money.

Back on the road, Oppenheimer now driving at a frustratingly slow pace through the darkening night, they continued up the E-15 through Barcelona and into France. Olga had occupied the back seat in order to get some sleep, and Alma found herself up front, listening to the American. His drawl was intolerable, but the information it conveyed was something else, and despite the fact that exhaustion was beginning to make her head spin, Alma could not allow herself to fall asleep.

For it transpired that Kelch, though noble, had never had any money of his own, and gained nothing by marrying the shipping, railway and mine heiress Varvara Bazanova, his elder brother’s widow. In the pre-nuptial agreement, she had kept full control of her assets, and indeed the couple lived apart for most of their marriage, finally separating in 1905, after which Varvara moved to Paris with all her belongings, probably including the seven Kelch eggs, and they were divorced in 1915. Kelch had ended up on the streets after the Revolution, and then disappeared into Siberia under Stalin. Varvara had already lost much of her business during the Russo-Japanese War and then with the Revolution, but even in Parisian exile, she remained a woman of means.

Alma was stunned by this. Varvara seemed to have been quite a businesswoman, a female magnate at a time when Russian magnates were beginning to carve up some of the most strategic mining and transport opportunities in the world, a carve-up only recently resumed after the 70-year hiatus of Communism. Alma was beginning to see Varvara as a sort of cross between Khordokovsky and Veuve Cliquot. She had almost certainly been the source of the Kelch egg orders. What if she had had other eggs made, eggs that concealed information vital to her business concerns, that she had paid the Haus Fabergé to keep off their books? Was this one of them, or was it an Imperial egg? What would Alma’s egg prove to be, if she ever saw it again? She continued to prompt Oppenheimer, trying to extract the maximum information from him without revealing more than a polite interest in a romantic story. But academics love to talk, and Oppenheimer was so deep into the pleasure of hearing his own voice that he never imagined Alma’s interest was generated by anything more than his riveting abilities as a teacher.

In Lyon, as dawn showed the last vines giving way to a starker, more northern landscape, Olga woke up and switched back into the driving seat. Alma found herself the recipient of a frosty silence as the American snored in the back seat with the annoying cyclical irregularity of an athsmatic air conditioner. The Russian pushed the Portuguese-registered rental BMW way past the speed limit through the historical heartland of French silk and industrial financing that forever ties lacy underwear to commercial power in France, and onwards north, towards the iron and coal fields that had cradled two world wars. Olga ignored her passenger, obviously unable to condescend to speak to the grubby and somewhat smelly hitchhiker that Oppenheimer had insisted they take on board. It was no skin off Alma’s nose. She wondered how a Russian academic managed to dress in such vastly expensive designer clothes. Olga had brought a jacket and coat out of her suitcase as they had motored north, and was sporting hundreds of euros’ worth of designer clothing. Alma’s guess was that Olga was probably involved in business beyond the merely academic, business similar to Boris’s, and she’d had quite enough of that. Besides, as the snooty cow wasn’t talking, Alma welcomed the opportunity to get some uncomfortable sleep and, surreptitiously checking the alien egg was safely slung, she lowered her head onto the seatbelt and slept.

She was woken up as Olga pulled up at the petrol station close to the Brussels Hilton just off Place Louise. “Get out, we are here” said Olga roughly, and reached across Alma to fling the door open. Alma tumbled out of the car, and Olga accelerated away down the road and into the hotel car park. She had clearly had enough of smelly hitchhikers. And besides, Olga reflected, when she gave that cellulitic Yankee lump the heave-ho, it would maximise the impact to leave Oppenheimer completely in the lurch, and not with some needy British waif to bolster his corpulent ego.
Alma turned, bewildered and observed her surroundings. It was about nine in the morning, on a very cold and crisp winter’s day, far too cold to be standing on a windswept boulevard in light clothes. Across from where she stood, a very posh shopping area beckoned, gilded warm galleries promising croissants, coffee, clean underwear and some warm top clothes to those who could pay.

Alma swore as she remembered her penniless state. She decided to review her current assets.

One, jewelled egg slung below bra. Check.

Two, clothes she was standing up in. Check.

Three. Rather heavy expensive black Delvaux handbag.


It was at this point that Alma realised she had, as a reflex, grabbed Olga’s handbag from the front passenger foot well as she hurriedly left the BMW.

Oh God.

A wave of fuschia rose from Alma’s toes, covering her entire body. She had never stolen anything before. She toyed briefly with the idea of taking the handbag into the Hilton’s reception, but knew that Olga and Oppenheimer would already be there, checking in on the American’s credit card before visiting the police to report the bag theft. But self-preservation began to assert itself over honesty, and Alma reflected that she would need some warm clothes and food soon, and besides, it wasn’t as if Olga couldn’t cancel her cards immediately.

Alma sat down on a bench and, after a moment in which moral precepts struggled with desperation, opened the handbag. And it was at this moment that Alma’s luck changed for the better. Aside from purse with credit cards, assorted feminine impedimenta, and a small gun, Olga had been carrying about an enormous amount of used non-consecutive €50 notes. And three passports, all in different names.

What kind of handbag contents were this for an academic? Alma reasoned. This sort of cash and spare ID just had to be the results of ill-gotten gains. There was no way Olga would be declaring any theft to the police. Alma’s moral dilemma dissolved. Within the space of four hours, she had purchased a small carry-on suitcase, filled it with clothes, eaten a rather good breakfast, and had found herself a modest but acceptable room at the Hotel des Congrès under an assumed name where she had had the longest bath of her life. Warm, clean and full for the first time since her house had burnt down, she had bundled herself up in her new woollen coat and walked through the fresh air to the Place Royale, where the Fabergé exhibition was being held.
It being the afternoon of a week day, the exhibition was not crowded. Aside from eggs, Fabergé jewellery and other artifacts were being shown, along with detailed explanations of the sophisticated craft techniques that Alma had heard about in the BMW. Alma tried not to hurry suspiciously past the sections that did not cover the eggs, dutifully eyeing the ornate, sumptuous items brought together from museums all over Russia and beyond. After what seemed like an eternity, she finally came to the prize exhibit, a series of nine eggs lent by their owner, the Russian businessman Vladimir Kastelberg. They included the last few Imperial eggs, commemorating events taking place during what was to become viewed as the decline of the Empire.

And there, in a case, labelled as the Fifteenth Anniversary egg, was an almost exact twin of the egg Alma had slung under her left breast. Almost exact, that is, in that it looked too stylised. Too perfect. Just too right.

Alma realised she was looking at a copy of the egg she was carrying, an egg that she now knew had been stolen from the fifth richest man in Russia, a man so close to its President that he might end up governing Kamchatka. In a series of untenable positions, this was the most untenable position yet.

She left the exhibition as quickly and surreptitiously as possible, gathered up her things in the hotel, checked out and took a taxi to Brussels’ Zaventem airport. She had barely taken the top off Olga’s €50 note stash, and now she had scraped back her hair to pass for the rather fuzzy photos, the money and passports would take her just about anywhere she needed to go. She stood in front of the Departures board, the world spread out before her, a plane to any continent within the hour, her mind buzzing. Where should she go? How was she going to unload this unbelievably famous egg, clearly stolen from someone rather wealthy and powerful who would be very interested in getting it back?

And if this was indeed Kastelberg’s egg, where the hell was hers?

By Aunty Marianne

Illustration by Vitriolica

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Chapter Ten

The artifact. The message.

The egg. The code.

Boris drove closer to the building, planning the death of his guards – after they had disposed of the Brits. It made him smile. It made him nefarious.

He entered the grounds. Everything was where it belonged. Mr. Pyro couldn’t burn down a stone building.

“Welcome home, Boris.” Kevin said as Boris entered.

No guards. Boris smiled. He pulled comic big-eyed and surprised face.

“Oh?! Where are henchmen? I left them right here … Where is dog? Hey! Where is dog?! I like the dog!”

Alma mumbled, “Ask moose and squirrel.”

Kevin shrugged. “Hot guns explode. You don’t want me to talk about the dog.”

Alma looked sick. There was a lot of blood in the room, a lot of blood on her.

Kevin raised his right arm … “Shall we cook .. an egg, Boris?”

“Only I know the how to decode it.”

“I suggest you sit down and enlighten us.”

“You expect me to talk, Mister Pyro?”

“No Mr. Boris, I expect you to die!”

Alma stood and walked to the window and opened it. Boris laughed and walked to the table. “I like that one too! But you and I are too ugly to be a Mr. James Bond. Let’s see what we have and talk about setting fire to each other later.”

He put the egg on the table and was discussing terms with Kevin as Alma slipped out the door.

She was out half way down the drive before they knew she was gone and on the main road before they were out the door. In her pocket was one artifact, in good condition, with its rightful owner.

She drove on, not knowing where she was going, with no money and no plan. Escape seemed to be the best course of action.


Las Vegas was hell on earth.

Lonnie stood and breathed in the dry, hot air. Air that nature had ensured would not sustain life. Ground that did not sustain life. Water that had to be trucked or piped in from bloody Saskatoon.

The only conceivable thing worse than having your wife cheat on you, give away your family treasures, destroy the psyche of your over-sensitive and idealized child, and burn down your house was … Las Vegas.

“And here I fucking am.” Lonnie kicked at the ground, but it was baked harder than the 180 degree concrete on which his amazingly fuel inefficient Chrysler rental was parked.

His mother came out to the back yard, “Isn’t it wonderful? It’s like a sauna all day long. And the Americans here, aren’t they a treat?! They drive around all the time and eat hamburgers and … well, they make me feel so exotic! Imagine that, me, exotic? I never thought I’d hear anything like it, you know, people saying ‘What’s it like, living in Yurop, Millie?’ And how does one answer that? It’s like just about anything else, really, you know. I think this place is the odd place, right, but they don’t have a clue and I end up telling them the most normal things and they think it’s just such a treat, you know, such a treat, and they tell me that it’s so strange that we drink so much tea and of course the tea here is iced because, well it’s hot here innit, yeah yeah it is sort of like being in a sauna all day long except this sauna has a view of sorts … well, not much of a view I suppose, mostly just dust and garbage and of course the sun … but it sure seems bigger here doesn’t it, the sun I mean … yes … yes it does seem bigger … like it’s just going to burst and I don’t think I’ve seen a raincloud all week long … or since I arrived here for that matter … and I just love it I talk to people back home and they are just amazed at how much sun there is here but they can’t even conceive of it ….”

Lonnie walked into the house and got some water or tequila or something. His mother had always been a talker but Las Vegas made it worse. At home there was traffic noise and rain and people coming to the door. In the hot vacuum of Las Vegas – there was just Millie. Millie Millie Millie.

Selwyn has withdrawn. He mostly stayed in his room reading comic book versions of The Art of War and Caligula over and over again. Every so often he’d point to a part and say “You suppose Mummy’s here?”

Lonnie wasn’t sure what the appropriate response was to that. None of the Childhood Psychology books covered that. No blogs covered that. And Googling “Caligula and Children” would likely garner a visit from the authorities.

Lonnie was brooding. Millie was talking a mile a minute. Neither of them heard the phone. Lonnie walked into the living room as Selwyn was speaking.

“Yes, yes I understand. Remember, Sun Tsu said that all warfare was based on deception. Bye bye. No, I don’t love you too, I’m bitter. Yes, goodbye Mummy.” Selwyn hung up the phone.

“Was that your mother?”

Selwyn nodded.

“Where is she?”

Selwyn held up his Caligula. “Page 10.”


by Jim

illustration by Karen Winters

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Chapter Nine

The day before in downtown Lisbon………

Oppenheimer Hugo Junior the III sat at the table outside a restaurant in a lane just off the Rua De Prata. The sun was high overhead and he was feeling slightly nauseous. He sloshed the warm olive oil in the dish before him with a spoon. He had asked for a vegetarian soup and what had been placed before him by the smirking waiter was, he was told, Sopa Alentejana, a local delicacy, hot olive oil with an egg cracked into it, a raw egg. He pushed the dish away and looked once again at the puzzle in front of him.

He had never in his whole career as professor of symbolism at the University of Los Angeles been faced by such an enigmatic conundrum. In a simple box in front of him was an egg, but it was no simple egg. It was an elegant bejewelled egg, unlike the mess floating in the rancid oil in front of him, this one was breathtaking. He held it in his hands amazed that it was in front of him; even more amazing was how he had got hold of it in the first place.

Oppenheimer had been searching for this egg since he had first heard whispers of it while doing research at the University of Kiev ten years before; he had followed its trail down ever dark alley, dirty dive and dodgy dealers empty come on since. Until yesterday that is, when he had been approached by a shaky looking Englishman who had simply taken it out of his pocket and placed it on a table in front of him. They had quickly come to terms of a 60/40 split and arranged to meet at a later date.

Oppenheimer spun the jewel in his hands letting the sun catch its faces. It was just over five-inches-tall. Exquisitely detailed paintings depicted the most notable events of the reign of Nicholas II and each of the family members but as Oppenheimer now knew it also contained a secret, a secret message from the maker himself. But Faberge, the old goat, had protected that secret with a code, it was a code unlike anything Oppenheimer had seen before, it was the fabled Faberge Code.

As Oppenheimer perused the egg in the hot sun of the Portuguese summer he was being watched. Across the lane in a small bar sat a diminutive figure sipping a cold beer. As Oppenheimer twisted the egg in his hands the albino dwarf with the rasta locks muttered quietly to himself, ‘its mine it is, the precious, mine’, he sipped his beer , ‘they took it from us they did, yes they did’. The dwarf, whose name was Manoel de Quadros d'Arzilla was for the first time in many many years within 20 meters of the thing that made life worthwhile.

Manoel de Quadros d’Arzilla was following a path that had become evident to him three days ago when he had heard the news that the precious had been found once again. Lost to his family during the Spanish Civil War the bejewelled egg held the secrets of the Romanov treasures. It was a secret that dated to the sinking in 1771 of the treasure ship Vrouw Maria - Catherine’s fabled treasure ship en-route from Amsterdam. Manoel’s family had been trusted servants and confidants to the Russian royal family for decades. His father and his fathers’ father had all been the major domo to the Russian royal family and privy to all their secrets. Manoel’s shoulders drooped with shame as he recalled how his family had failed Alexandra and her family as the Soviets had dragged that cursed family away for execution.

He remembered his fathers whispered instructions. The prized secrets passed on at the dead of night. He remembered his fathers breath tainted with tobacco and the rough local brandy that dulled the pain and the shame. He remembered as a small boy being allowed to look, but not touch, the fabulous jewel his father had hidden in the small Barcos Rabelos that they lived on. He was told; no it was impressed upon him, about the De Quadros d’Arzilla familys sacred duty to the lost Czarena and the Russian people. The secrets made him feel tall.

Manoel sat sipping his beer, staring at the precious as he remembered his father telling him the key to the message contained within each exquisitely enamelled face, the key which would unlock the trinket that the Faberge egg was, to uncover the real treasure within. The egg then tragically lost to them when the Nazi’s bombarded their Barcos Rabelos on the Douro River. The fascist looters took the precious away from them - from him. That they also took the life of his father, mother and sister was of little account now to Manoel who sat quivering in the dark bar.

Oppenheimer’s colleague, the beautiful and brilliant cryptographer from the St Petersburg State University sat opposite him reading a Chad Kroski novel, Sardines And Tuna coincidentaly paralleling the meal she was absentmindely picking at while Oppenheimer stirred the oily mess in front of him.

‘Olginka’ Oppenheimer muttered whirrling the bejewelled egg around in his thick fingers

‘Da, my pushkin’ she folded over the corner of the page she was on and closed her novel fixing her grey green eyes on the fat sweating man opposite her, he appaled her but she smiled anyway.

Oppenheimer visibly winced at the cavalier way she treated her book, folding the page over like that, ‘typical russkie’ he thought.

Olga, this is most puzzling, most puzzling, the panels on this egg seem to be vibrating at a frequency that is probably equal to the sub atomic particle ‘Esturine’ but there I’m guessing’. He raised a sceptical eyebrow at the russian beauty before him.

‘Esturine hmmm’, Olga pouted and fluffed her dark red page boy cut, she crossed her legs with a whisper of silk against silk. ‘Isn’t that vhat they used to deprogram those devoshka’s in Essex last year, my darlink?’

‘Yes, my little pioneer, you are right, now I remember’ Oppenheimer nodded, all thoughts of folded corners and paper cuts fleeing from his mind as he turned his huge intellect towards the object in his hand. ‘But how?’ he muttered. ‘And why?’ He touched very gently each of the exquisite panels, noting how the vibrations changed subtly to his touch. ‘De de dah dah dum’ he hummed along with the vibrations.

‘Olginka, pussycat, what do you think?’ Olga shuddered internally at the use of his pet name for her, they had been together far too long, but she reached across to take the jewel from his hands. She placed the egg on the table and reached down into her handbag to take out a large magnifying glass. Oppenheimer unthinkingly sipped his soup and gagged slightly.

In the bar across the road Manoel saw the opportunity he needed, leaping off his bar stool he rushed across the road as quickly as his stubby legs could carry him, as he ran he chanted his mantra, ‘my precious, my precious, my precious’.

At the table he grabbed the egg and swept the olive oil soup into Oppenheimer’s lap. Olga leapt to stop him but he darted beneath her long Slavic legs, noting en-route that she did wear stockings and was going commando, no ‘la perla’ undies for her, a fact he filed away for future use.

Manoel ran towards the docks clutching his precious to his chest. At long last he could fulfil his destiny, he could crack the code, win the treasure and pay for those leg extensions he had dreamt of for years, and after that quick excursion between Olga’s thighs perhaps a bit of extra cash could be spent on other short parts of his anatomy!

He skipped around a corner his dreads whipping across his eyes, straight into the arms of a large man who smelt faintly of onions, Borsch and Hai Karate.

‘A ah, slowly slowly my malinki pale comrade, it is I, tovarich, Boris and I see you have vhat I have been searching for’

Boris reached down and utilising a soviet version of the vulcan death grip called ‘Trotsky’s de - spatch’ learnt when he was a Spetnatz officer, rendered Manoel unconscious. As Manoel collapsed Boris deftly lifted the precious gently vibrating egg from his pale slightly clammy hands.

Laying Manoel in the gutter, Boris placed the egg in his pocket danced a few steps of a Paso Doble, clicked his heels, and leapt onto a passing tram.

He had a meeting with a fiery customer and a priatna angliski devoshka and it would be bad form to be late!


A few short minutes later Manoel opened his eyes and found himself once again looking up the long wintery slopes of Olgas legs to her jutting pubis. But before his pale pink eyes had properly focused he found himself looking into the face of a highly irritated professor of symbolism who had an oily stain spread across his crotch..

‘Ahh Manoel, you are awake. Alas, I take it you no longer have the egg?’

Manoel tried to look away, he gasped ‘my precious’ and looked down at his hands as if he was still holding the Romanov jewel. ‘I had it professor, you had it, they had it’, he gabbled, ‘it was mine, my father’s sacred trust, it was mine, my precious’ He covered his eyes to block out the sun. ‘The Organizatsiya’ he moaned.

‘You followed us didn’t you, you vorm’ Olga kicked the squirming moaning dwarf with her high heeled pointy Manolo Blahniks

‘Owwww’ he squealed. ‘Stop it, you had my precious, I had to have it, it is my duty’

‘AND. NOW. WE. DON’T AND. THE. MAFIASKI. DO.’ said Oppenheimer enunciating his words properly in a way that was totally alien for an American such was the stress he was under as he bent threateningly over the small pale figure.

‘Manoel you must tell us the secret’ Olga hissed.

‘Never’ Manoel crossed his arms across his body

‘Manoel, Oppengeimer growled, ‘You know I have been searching for this for years and we don’t have the time for this’ Manoel nodded, his lips tightly closed symbolically. ‘I will never speak of it again, I swear on my father’s memory’ Manoel muttered from between the clasped lips.

‘You know that I am a professor of symbolism?’ growled the impatient sweating oil stained fat man, Manoel nodded again; they had met weeks ago when Manoel was contacted by the professor who had grilled him about the precious.

‘You lied to us didn’t you Manoel? Olga poked the dwarf with her pointy shoes once again. Manoel wriggled but remained silent. ‘You know the secret of the egg’ she poked the writhing dwarf again with her foot, ‘tell us you, you peido de cona’.

‘Manoel’ Oppenheimer whispered. Manoel stopped trying to look up Olgas skirt once again. ‘Symbolise this cuzão!’. Manoel slumped backwards blood spraying the tiled walls behind him as the 9mm bullet from the silenced Tokarev pistol crashed through his skull, his pink eyes strangely turning a piercing blue as life left his body.

‘Right Olga… the tram, lets get on it, I have a hunch that it will take us somewhere’ said the professor of symbolism as the beautiful and brilliant cryptographer retouched her lipstick, pouted, hissed ‘poshyol ty' at him and took a small pocket sudoko book out of her handbag while they waited.


By Doctor Rob
Illustration by Dr F.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Chapter Eight

“Woke up this morning
Everything I had was gone.”

The song hit her head again like a brain worm, taking her back to the day she met Pyre. She was close to breaking down. She was lost, not recognizing herself, weak to Pyre, but hating him in the same moment. In that instant, self loathing suffocated her. Through her own means, she had destroyed everything she cherished.

Am I a fool, or what?

Then she smiled the tiniest smile, silently, inwardly. Maybe not everything. Her precious was literally within her reach. And she knew something about it that perhaps Boris and Kevin did not. A very slight advantage. But the memory of smoke crept in just a strong. Where is the fire in this deal? The confidence wavered. Fear hit again, like a wave of nausea.

“I hear this pretty little box is worth half a million, or so thought your late friend, George. Pity he could not join us. I hear he likes a good vodka, just like Mr. Pyre,” teased Boris, as he tossed back a shot.

“The interest you both have in this trinket has, how should I say, triggered my curiosity.” Boris lit a cigarette and let it hang out of the corner of his mouth, bobbing up and down as he smiled at the two. They weren’t so talkative now. Fools.

The clicking release of a safety lock behind their heads caused Pyre and Alma to sit up a tad straighter. Boris’ associates were quiet. Their heavy frames did not evoke even a creak from the worn floorboards of the timber framed farmhouse as the approached the trio. Their guns were not so silent.

“Don’t worry, they are just my body guards. The Organizatsiya is a little paranoid. They didn’t like I was here by myself so they sent Pasha and Mikael. Good guys, I think you call them. Just your typical organizational bullshit. Don’t sweat it.” Boris giggled. “They are gentlemen.” The bodyguards stood like telephone poles.

Don’t sweat it? Alma had become a fountain of hot, sticky sweat. For an instant, her head pulsed with memories of an absurdly different setting. The sweat that trickled down between her shoulder blades was transformed into hot milk, poured over a sheen of olive oil that had coated her body after the most amazing body scrub at a Korean Spa for women. She had gone there with some girlfriends in London, 3 or 4 years before. They had soaked their skins to a loose, pruney pucker, then had every inch of their bodies scrubbed just to the edge of discomfort by strong Korean women. This was followed by the unusual but incredibly luxurious moisturizing treatment of massage with warm olive oil followed by hot milk that trickled into every crack and valley of her body. Afterwards, her skin had felt softer than her silk pyjamas. She could recreate the sensuality of it in her mind. It relaxed her. The sparse oxygen in the room was finally able to reach her brain. Refocusing on the pudgy Russian, she could visualize Boris liking the treatment.

But it was sweat, not milk that darkened her shirt. She could smell her own fear. She glanced at Kevin, who still looked calm. And weary. He knows something I don’t, she thought. It was time to summon her inner Judi Dench. She took a deep breath, primped her expression in her minds eye, and looked at Boris with interest and, she hoped, confidence.

“Boris, you magician! Where did you find my little trinket? Had Kevin sold it to George so quickly?” Glancing to Pyre, Alma drawled, “so much for loving it for me. I think that was my precise language, yet you somehow interpreted that to mean pawning it to that society grubbing George?” Pyre’s face sat ummoved.

Alma added her most desultory, throaty laugh, hoping to sound more confident than she felt. She concentrated on not letting her nostrils flare. Her mother used to say that gave away your emotions. Instead it felt like she was imitating a sniffing bunny, crunching her nostrils inward, rebounding back out. Too bad there wasn’t a mirror and time to practice like she had as a child, creating plays in the living room with her playmates.

“Alma, Alma, you are mistaken. This is not really your trinket. It belongs to the people of Russian. It belongs to us via our beautiful queen, Katherine the Great. You know that.” Boris clucked a few times and gave Alma the look of a fond, but disapproving parent. “You were just taking care of it up till now. All of us Russians are deeply appreciative. And to have such a beautiful caretaker – well, we are fortunate.”

Plucking the cigarette out of his mouth, Boris waved at the taller bodyguard. “Give sweet Alma and I a moment, Pasha. Take Mr. Pyre out for some sun. He is looking pale.”

Boris stood and moved to the seat next to Alma vacated by Pyre, who allowed himself to be snapped into a pair of handcuffs and led from the dark room. A shaft of light lit the room as the two left. She wondered where they were taking him. She wondered if he was in cahoots with these gangsters.

Boris turned towards Alma in a cloud of smoke and onion breath. He readjusted his unseen corset, wincing slightly as it cut into his folds.

“Alma, my beautiful stow-away, what do you know of this trinket? How did it come to you? You must have wonderful stories to tell me. I love stories, don’t I Mikael?”

Alma turned to the remaining bodyguard in time to see a mouthful of gold flash silently in response.

“Mikael is the ‘strong, silent type.’ Lost his tongue. Literally.” Boris smiled. “Makes him a good person to help in, um, delicate situations. Now beautiful lady, have a drink and tell me about your precious. Mr. Pyre mentioned it has been in your family for a long time, no?”

A glass of vodka was pressed into her hands. Why not. Vodka always gave her spine, and helped her acting skills. She downed it in a gulp that barely touched her tongue. Then she thought about her tongue… not something she cared to live without. She ran it over her teeth, then her lips.

“Of course, Boris. After your kindness, I could do nothing but to repay it with a little story. But can we open a window? It’s terribly stuffy here and this story, well, it always excites me – makes me hot.” She fluttered her lashes at both men and feigned a slight swoon. “I need a breeze, ok sweetheart?” She leaned forward towards Boris, hoping her damp shirt was not so stuck as to not fall open a bit to proffer her assets. Sweaty or not, she had great tits.

“Mikael, the window, da?” waved Boris. Grunting, the bodyguard backed towards the window and pushed it open with his left elbow, the gun never losing it’s aim on Alma’s head. A whiff of hot grass and parched earth blew heat, not relief into the room. But at least it gave some hope that if something went wrong, others might hear. “Spaciba, Mikael.”

Alma relaxed back into her seat, allowing herself to sink further and further into her fantasy of a beautiful spy, risking her life for her mission. She took a deep, luxurious breath and let it come out like an invitation to an afternoon delight. She closed her eyes and smiled just at the corners of her newly wetted lips.

andre chapter 8

Something coursed through her. It startled her. Power. She had power. She had control. This was a new game. A spark of electricity traveled the length of her body and she gave a quiver of pleasure.

“Boris, this is one of those stories that I almost never tell.”

“Why my little English dove?” Boris was perked to attention like a wind up soldier. He had stopped fiddling with his fat readjustments and attuned to something different in this woman he had thought was a simpering, spoiled English brat. His voice was soft and sweet. His attention was metallic. It was not for nothing. Boris’ lineage as the grandson of an NKVD founder was legendary with his associates in Moscow. Vain, yes. Soft? No.

Waiting a few beats, she slowly opened her eyes. “No one ever believes it.”

She let the silence fill the room after she spoke, not offering another word. She leaned across Boris to pour another vodka, putting him between her and Mikael’s gun. Her breasts were close to spilling out, like the vodka that splashed over the rim of the shot glass. The second shot went back to her throat, like her breasts back into her shirt. She glanced at the body guard. It’s working, she thought. It’s working.

With a sigh Alma barely whispered “It started well before Katherine…”

by Nancy White

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Chapter Seven

Was she hallucinating?


Alma took a deep breath, raising her hand to her forehead. She felt as if her entire body was being sucked into a burning oven.

Her vision was now blurred; under the midday sun all she could see was the fuzzy contour of Kevin’s face. Was she really looking at him? Was the intense heat getting to her? For what felt like a very long time (but was certainly no more than two or three seconds), rapid images ran through her brain – Mr. pyre’s thrilling performance on stage, his chest against her breasts as they devoured each other in his dressing room , the vivid look in his eyes as her house crumbled down in flames. A violent mix of passion and hatred flowed around her body.

It was then that she felt her wrist hitting his face hard, a movement so sudden it almost seemed to take place before her brain ever got a chance to command her arm into motion. She hit him right on his sore black eye. The punch drained the very last gasp of energy from her. They both fell to the ground.

‘I’ve always liked feisty women’, said Kevin

His James Bond humour did not impress Alma. ‘How dare you? How dare you?’ She was shouting now. ‘You stole from me; you destroyed my family and my home!’ She wanted to be tough, to show him right from wrong, to rearrange all her emotions and place them in the right order. No more of that trembling leg nonsense that comes with juvenile passion.

‘Come on Alma, show some precision when using the English language. If I recall things correctly, it was you who gave me your precious thing; I never took anything away from you. It was you who decided to break your family apart; I would never EVER consider separating a mother from her young child’. A bit of maternal guilt thrown in and I should regain some leverage on this, thought Kevin to himself. I can’t go wrong here.

Alma’s face was toughening up but could feel her chin giving in to a gentle tremble of the lower lip. She thought of Selwyn’s perfectly symmetrical dimples. The way his voice sounded when he said ‘mummy’.

‘Come on babes’. Kevin was now stretching his arm, getting his body closer to hers. ‘It’s just that… you know… the fire stuff… well it’s a long story… difficult childhood, obsessive compulsive father… used to work at a firework joint’. Come on, bring on the tears, you can do it Kev, good old boy, play the fucked up childhood card big time.

Alma’s eyes changed and betrayed her. She was now looking at him with a tame glimpse of pity, but mostly her brain was now rewired into being interested in his words. She did not feel like shouting any longer. She was in listening mode.

Nice work, Kev, nice work. You’re in with this one.

‘Alma, you were right on that betrayal stuff though. I should have told you more of that. The early years. Being woken up in the middle of the night and being dragged to the back garden so that my dad could show me his latest wizardry with pyre techniques. Anyway, you probably don’t want to hear this stuff, it’s probably too late now…’

‘I’m listening. Continue’. Alma consciously straightened up her face but the forgiving eyes gave it away. Somehow she was about to make sense of this last week of her life through Mr. Pyre’s little tale of childhood traumas.

‘Me and the old man… you know, we got on well, like a house on fire…’

Alma smiled. She actually stopped herself from giggling.

Oh boy, tears and laughter. Drama and humour. You excel, Kev. You truly do.

‘But the fire trickery was the only real bond he ever developed with me and…’

‘You love birds!’ Boris roaring voice broke off the silence of the dry landscape around them. Alma jumped of shock, she hadn’t seen him approaching. She instinctively drew herself closer to Kevin and he held her. They stood there together, looking exhausted and united in their weakness, facing a v-shaped Russian who did not have the slightest sign of any hangover.

Bloody hotel minbars, thought Alma. No value for money. This guy should still be sleeping that sickening cocktail off. Despite the extraordinary situation she was now in, all Alma could think of was of sharing this silly Boris story with Kevin. Boris, the vodka-pernod-onion-martini-vodka-onion breakfast guy. She really wanted to have mundane chatty conversations, she wanted to turn to Kevin and start her sentences with the line ‘you’re never going to believe what this guy did just this morning’. Instead, she had to face the whole issue of being stuck in the middle of nowhere in Portugal with a British pyromaniac and a Russian ganster. Still, she let a smile out as she retold the Boris story in her inner dialogue.

‘You feeling happy Alma? Want to smile? Come with me, we have lots to smile about. Let’s go inside”. There was something about Boris’s body language that was not quite right. Alma sensed it straight away, but that thought disappeared instantly when Kevin held her hand. They followed him into the house.


It took sometime before Alma’s vision readjusted to the darkness inside. The building was significantly cooler. The window shutters were closed; the only light in the room came from an old metallic desk lamp. At first all she could sense was the smell. A mix of cheap cigars and cigarettes. Then she saw the cloud of smoke hanging in mid air. In the corner of the living room three men of Borisian proportions played cards. They had to be Russian too, Alma thought, as she took stock of their square jaws, broad shoulders and muscular necks. Their torsos showed through tight whitish sleeveless vests; the arms were adorned with tattoos of weapons, impossible animals and Cyrillic characters. The men exchanged looks and downed one shot of vodka each. A bottle lay half empty in the table, the ashtrays piled with cigarette buts and half burnt cigars. She wondered where the round motherly Conceição was.

Boris made a gesture for them to sit down. Alma and Kevin took the double couch; Boris sat in front of them in the one man armchair. The seat gave him instant authority. He opened a brief case and proceeded to place three items on the coffee table.

Alma’s attention was now fixated on Boris movements. She stopped taking clues from bits and pieces lying around the living room. Had she looked more attentively she would have seen stacks of passports on the shelves, home-printed catalogues with dozens of photos of Slavic women, seven or eight heavy sets of keys and four guns.

On the coffee table laid Alma’s beautiful box, two British passports and a copy of THE SUN. ‘MANCHURIAN ARTS DEALER DEAD, KILLER ON THE LOOSE’, read the front page. Alma felt a shiver of fear running up her back and took her hand away from Kevin’s.

Boris reclined on the armchair and produced a roaring laugh. ‘Time to make decisions Alma. Which of these things is more precious to you?’

by Claudia, who has kindly written this while she is having FAR TOO MUCH FUN SKIING AND APRÈS SKIING WITH MR MCGREGOR IF YOU ASK ME
illustration by Natalie d'Arbeloff.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Chapter Six

SCHERLONK went the electronic key card lock of the hotel bedroom door.

SCHLUMP went a plastic carrier bag onto the floor as Boris dropped it, striding through the door in a very good mood.

He breathed a big happy sigh and went to the mini-bar, pulled out a couple of vodka minis, sat in the armchair and drank them down in a one gulp Russian manner.

Alma had been woken from her near-coma by the door opening and was sneaking a peak from under the sheets.

Hmmm, she thought. “Not bad. Won’t be TOO much of a sacrifice”. She sniggered a little silent snigger. She was eyeing his well built tight body and beginning to think naughty thoughts.

Boris sat in the chair for a moment, looked around the room, happily, as though he wanted to tell some good news to someone. He got up. Paced about a bit. Sat down again. Got up. Looked out of the window down to the park. Sat down again. Like a child on Christmas eve waiting for Father Christmas to deliver the goods. Up, down, up, down... rub hands together, grin to self. Ants. Pants.

In her now pretend sleep, Alma sighed heavily, to catch his attention and to try to break into this silly performance of his. It was getting irritating. But she just wanted to watch him for a little bit longer. Suss him out a bit more.

Boris’ attention was caught and he calmed down a little. He went to the bag on the floor by the door and pulled something out of it. Alma couldn’t quite see what it was, but when he started to peel it, while idly looking in the mirror at the room behind him, she saw it was an onion.

“Good God, what’s that for?” Alma wondered, though not for long, as he took a huge bite out of it then polished it off in four more bites.

“Eugh.” she shuddered. “Nice bum though” she thought, trying to compensate for the onion eating. “I could just give that a little squeeze while I’m trying to get him going, won’t take much... I’ll just stick my nails in see what happens and then maybe we’ll .... OH MY GOD, what the flaming pie of hell is he DOING?!” (Alma had a rather verbose inner dialogue).... as Boris stuck some little white earphones in his ears and started to boogie. He started to wiggle that tight little backside of his and as he twirled round, with an imaginary dancing partner in his arms, Alma had a vision of “Strictly Ballroom in Gorky Park”.

Boris carried on in his dancing reverie, in a rather un-gangsterish way. If his colleagues could see him now, thought Alma, in her endless internal conversation with herself, he’d probably end up in the bottom of the Tagus by the morning. She was also trying to desensitise herself to this ridiculous behaviour... how could she shag a foxtrot wannabe?

Boris gave another happy sigh as he tired of dancing, looked out the window a couple more times before taking off the earphones. He looked for a bit more vodka, but as usual, the minibar had just two of everything. He opted for a couple of Pernods and a couple of Martini Rossos. “I feel sick, I feel sick” said Alma’s innards “...going to have to snog that in a minute” they continued... “ gonna be difficult....” they gagged on.... “but gotta get back my precious thing.” they went on... “gonna, gotta? what? why? vodka, pernod, onion, martini, vodka, onion, pernod, onion, onion, martini, ROSSO”... Alma and her innards were in a spin.... she desperately tried to cling onto the image of the tough, dark and handsome Russian gangster she had intended to shag (which was surely going to land up on her list of fantasies if she ever managed to get shagged again in her life) to get her through... she was surprisingly close to getting to the Precious Thing, since it was less than twelve hours since she’d arrived in Portugal....this was all meant to BE in the great scheme of things... she was meant to get the Precious Thing back... she was meant to be doing this superficially sexy Russian - well he DID look like George Clooney from the back - her house was meant to burn down.... oh, god, here I go....

Alma was just about to fake a wake up in a sexy come hither kind of a way, when Boris stretched out his arms, yawned and pulled off his black polo neck. Underneath was a kind of wrapping, no, a corset. “Back trouble” said inner Alma... “I’ll try to keep it gentle then!” inner snigger.

Boris undid the hooks at the back of his elasticated corset. An enormous gut literally spilled out at the front and the sides, in a wave of pure blubber. Taking his jeans off, he left on only his leopard print extremely tight y-fronts and sank back into the armchair.

Alma just said a barely audible “no” to herself and decided that she would have to find another way to keep Boris close. And although Boris fell fast asleep in the armchair, she didn’t sleep for what remained of the night.


As the sun rose, so did Boris (as they all do). Luckily, Alma was already in the bathroom, for that vision would have finished her and any future fantasising about Russian gangsters.

By the time she was out of the bathroom, Boris was dressed. With appalling breath.

“Good mornink, Alma, we’re going for a little drive.... I’ve just got to go to the bathroom, and we’ll be off.


They drove out of Lisbon, into the countryside.

It was beautifully sunny and the air was hot, so to counteract Boris’ Siberian air conditioning, Alma opened her window. She was still completely destroyed from lack of sleep, so drifted in and out of a deep doze as they went along.

After a couple of hours they arrived at a farm in the middle of some deserted countryside. Just olive groves and dry grass all around.

“Conceição!” called Boris and a short but broad women in a polyester wraparound sleeveless housecoat (do you want me to draw a picture?) trotted out of the house.

“Ai! Querido Borisisinho, meu russosinho!” she said as Boris and Alma got out of the car, Alma squinting at the daylight after the darkened windows of Boris’s BMW. “And who is the menina?” she asked kindly.... “ai! you’ll get a cold! you have no shoes!!!!!!!!!! ai ai ai! You must be another little russasinha!”

“No, no,” said Alma “British. And we British don’t catch colds from having bare feet” she continued.. irritated by such nonsense...but she checked herself... “don’t be rude... you haven’t had any breakfast”

“Actually, I’m starving.... is there anything to eat?”
Conceição beamed. “Of course, querida” and ushered Alma into the farmhouse.

“Sit, sit” and Alma sat. The old lady brought to the table some watery slime with oil floating on top and tiny bits of pasta sunk to the bottom and a grey hunk of bread.

“This’ll put some colour back in your cheeks,” she said, “but no, that would mean you’re terribly sick, oh god, I don’t know anymore... shoes, no shoes, hot, no hot, cold water, hot water..... I spend far too much time with foreigners and you’re all a bit crazy.” Conceição went on... though more muttering to herself as she waddled around the kitchen, maniacally finding things to tidy.

“Christ. A looney.” thought Alma.

Boris seemed to have disappeared once she had eaten her greasy water and rock hard bread so, she went off for a walk round the farm to try to clear her head. Lack of sleep was really getting to her sense of reality.

Alma walked through an olive grove wondering what the hell she was actually doing here... since Boris had said almost nothing to her in the car, just repeatedly hummed a little bit of “Love is in the Air”.

She stopped to look closely at a dead lizard on the ground, when someone tapped her on the shoulder. She turned, expecting to see mad Boris.

With a black eye, a tooth missing from the front and a bit of a limp, it was Mr Pyre. Kevin Bloody Pyre.


by Vitriolica
illustration by blogless Pete.