I. The Beginning
From the start Ruth Evershed hadn’t been thrilled about the plan and, in retrospect, she had to admit that this wasn’t anything that had changed at any point during or after its execution.
“You grow with your assignments,” Harry had stated succinctly, before adding, “Good luck!” and vanishing into his office.
The thing was she shouldn’t have to be on a mission in the first place. She wasn’t some agent Adam was running but an analyst. An operative working from behind a desk and not trained for the field. Still she had boarded that plane in Palma, which was supposed to take her back to Heathrow.
Five days on the island had been her first holiday in six years. Five days filled with taking in the culture of the place, strolling through umbrageous narrow alleys with their little shops and galleries then relishing the warm yellow sun while sitting outside in a little café sipping on a cool gin and tonic.
It could have been perfect. However, the anticipation of the flight home had been spoiling her mood to a certain degree.
Not that she was contrary to the idea of expanding her experiences. Anything to stay away from GCHQ. Nevertheless, to Ruth it seemed that asking her to meet with an internationally known terrorist on a plane was a little bit extreme. Even for Adam.
Clearly, he should have sent Fiona. Of course that last unfortunate mission took place only a few weeks ago and naturally Adam wanted her to rest and heal before sending her out in the field again. And he still should have sent Fiona because Ruth was not trained for this. Something that became painfully obvious now.
“In the face of them keeping us hostage for the last forty-eight hours I’m wondering what their demands are,” said the woman who had introduced herself as Laura.
But Ruth knew her real name. It was Irina Derevko. And judging by the Russian’s caustic smile Ruth figured that she didn’t buy her name was Susan either. It reminded her a bit of online dating where people still didn’t let go of their aliases when they met in real life. The comparison evoked a giggle Ruth had to suppress.
“What worries me, I’m not sure they have made any demands yet,” Ruth replied mutedly, her jaw tense.
After the hostile takeover thirty minutes into the flight, the plane had changed course for the Arabian Peninsula where they had landed in Aden to refuel. That was almost two days ago and to date nothing had happened. Fear was palpable in the muggy cabin. A few rows back a baby cried. Passengers were hanging in their seats, exhausted and dehydrated. The Russian, however, had never lost her poise, which commanded Ruth’s admiration.
Before, when they were conceded a scanty meal, she came to notice it for the first time. Watching her from the corner of her eyes, Ruth observed Irina peeling an orange, carefully taking the zest off in long cuts then dividing the fruit into perfect parts. No juice was spilt. Not even when Irina picked up the pieces with her graceful fingers and brought them to her perfect lips. Not when she put them into her mouth and took a sweet bite.
Suddenly Ruth became aware of her staring. It left her uncomfortable even though she hadn’t been caught. Instantly she looked back at the table in front of her. But the ragged paring on the tray was a sore reminder of her own ineptness.
“To tell you the truth, I can’t help thinking –” she started.
“That this has something to do with you being on board?” Irina finished for her, a certain amusement displayed around the corners of her mouth. “Now unless your superiors are so sick of you that they’re willing to risk a plane full of British tourists, I think the chances are pretty low.”
“You know very well I was talking about you,” Ruth whispered, agitated.
For a moment Irina turned her gaze away from the aisle and looked at Ruth, the middle and index finger of her right hand thoughtfully resting on her lips, her chin slightly supported by her thumb.
“The thought has crossed my mind,” Irina admitted, still watching closely.
It seemed to Ruth the Russian thought of her as incapable and somehow that bothered her. She could feel her facial features harden.
“So what do you intend for us to do about this situation?” she challenged boldly.
It wasn’t how she felt and secretly she was afraid Irina could smell her fear. Or at least feel the beads of perspiration that ran down her thigh that was pressed against the hot skin of the other woman’s leg. There was something lingering in the air between them, a certain friction that went way beyond dread. And it was hard for Ruth not to avert her eyes.
“I’m not sure there is anything left to do,” Irina finally said.
The muscles in her face softened a little, leading Ruth to believe that her impudent persistence had earned her some respect. But this satisfaction was short-lived. A sudden riot in the front of the cabin set off a distraction. Doors unexpectedly opened, the gangway was lowered. On board came a woman, dressed in military costume, her long black hair brushed back into a severe bun.
“Now listen to me carefully,” Irina continued, grabbing Ruth by the wrist. “The information MI-5 wants is on a hard drive in a black leather backpack. It’s in the overhead locker two rows ahead.”
There was an urgency to her voice that startled Ruth who, in a reflex movement, reached down for her handbag. But Irina’s grip tightened painfully around her wrist as she pulled her up.
“Keep the package,” she hissed, referring to the exchange goods. “You were right, this is about me.”
Ruth had never liked the plan. Not its beginning when she was persuaded to exchange intel with a terrorist without backup. Not its middle with them falling prey to hijackers. And certainly not its end where she had to witness a proud woman being beaten, humiliated and dragged off the plane.
But she sensed that what was the end of the story for her was only the beginning for others.
II. The Middle
By midweek Kelly Peyton wondered why it always started to snow when she was about to meet Katya Derevko.
Dirty white clouds raced past a velvet sky. The cutting wind froze her to stone, almost, and made her long for calm. It wasn’t anything she usually hoped for. By and large, there was no storm violent enough to scare her, no weather cold enough to compete with her nature. But the wait was dreary, the prospects dismal. There was nothing that gnawed more on her patience than boredom.
Lighting a cigarette proved to be difficult, but finally the flame stuck. As gravel gnashed beneath the feet of someone approaching, Kelly inhaled deeply.
"Last time we meet, your get-up was a lot more… appropriate," Katya said, scrutinizing the girl.
Insidious, these conversations started, and then engaged the senses.
"I was naked and knelt before you in the dirt," Kelly replied with a coquettish smile.
"Exactly." Her mien expressionless, one could still hear the hidden smirk in her voice.
And then there was no choice, and then there was no sense. Getting into the car and under Katya’s dress, Kelly was well aware of that.
Her hands slipped down the other woman’s backbone, then between her legs where they wished to do more violence. On the grate Kelly warmed her trembling fingers, searing the flesh until it was nice and juicy.
When Katya opened her mouth in pleasure, her teeth gleamed. She grabbed Kelly’s hair, just a handful, and pushed her face down. After months of imprisonment, it was an almost forgotten delight for Katya. And, as she assured Kelly later, sweeter than her niece’s chocolate that had burnt her throat and brought her to sickbay.
Then suddenly it was over. Kelly pushed herself up and leaned back in the driver’s seat.
There was no warmth between them. It reminded her not to forget that there were two sides about Katya Derevko. One was cordial and affable, with her loud laughter, telling anecdotes and tales, while the other was cold, calculating, never taking her eyes off the prize. It was this dilemma that made Kelly admire her. That transformed her into a rolemodel.
“We’re going to Sovogda,” Katya announced, buttoning up her dress.
Kelly’s brows rose in expectation as she looked at Katya, whose face was dark as night withholding a star.
“What do you think we’ll find there?” she asked, starting the engine.
Katya smiled almost intangibly. “The sister who survived.”
III. The End
“I suppose that's what happens in the end, you start thinking about the beginning,“ Sydney said softly, as if speaking up could wake Nadia from a peaceful slumber.
In fact, she was convinced her sister’s dreams were anything but peaceful. And undeniably she was to blame. At least to some degree.
So Sydney carried around a list of guilt she had written down in her mind:
One. She shouldn’t have deserted Nadia when she fell off the train.
Two. She shouldn’t have given their aunt the chance to inject Nadia with poisoned water.
Three. She shouldn’t have strangled Nadia with an iron chain even when their mother insisted.
Irina had killed Elena. And secretly Sydney had to admit there was an equally dark side in her too. One she, unlike her mother, couldn’t justify by revenge for daughters that had been abducted and brainwashed.
“I’m not good at turning the other cheek,” she stated as she lay her head on her sister’s shoulder. “Comes with the job. I guess I have to work on that.”
Then again, all she wanted was for someone to lift her burden. But whenever there was a knock at the door, it was her own heart, and nobody came to see them, and Nadia didn’t wake up.
Ends, naturally, were always shorter than beginnings. They were definitely shorter than the middle section. Sydney was well aware of that and yet she refused to believe that, not only was the chapter closed, but the story was finished. And maybe it wasn’t.