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

7 Comments:

Blogger lucy pepper said...

I thank my lucky stars that I got to do mine early on!

nice one, cream. :)

2:34 PM  
Blogger wendy said...

Yeah - this just gets more and more complicated....marvellous Cream...super!

6:48 PM  
Anonymous guile said...

good read! :)..

3:58 AM  
Blogger Guyana-Gyal said...

HELLLLLLLLP. BIG PANIC TIME NOW.

i have to catch up on the story so far then think of what to write. i will try not to be too long.

eek.

eek.

eeeeeeeeeeeeeeek.

1:40 PM  
Blogger tristan said...

this episode's writer may need medical help to remove tongue wedged in cheek

and another thing ... where's the next episode ?

6:21 AM  
Blogger Guyana-Gyal said...

I know, I know, I'm holding up the story. argh.

I had to read chapters 1 - 17 THREE times to get the 'facts' right...I thought I did, then re-read and had to re-think. I am sloooow.

Go ahead, curse me, abuse me, it will help me write faster. It will, honest. I'm writing, I'm writing. Honest.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Clare said...

Ooh, loving the period detail.

4:35 PM  

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