Trudging through the last of the Moscow snow, Mr. Thomason and I said no word to each other. At first, I found such absence of noise tranquil; after a while, it became pointless as the white noise drowned out my thoughts.
“Oh, come on!” I finally cried. “We’ve got to talk sometime if we’re going to get our facts straight before we arrive at our destination. I know it’s digging up the buried past and difficult for you, but this needs to be done. After all, our actions in the here and now could very well save at least one life. Your truths are crucial to solving the mystery.
Richard halted. “To solve the mystery? Right.”
I was grateful that he had actually agreed to take an arbitrary walk with me in the first place. It was too much to force him to speak. We continued on in silence.
“You know everything?” he finally said. “Even about Del, and all that jazz?”
I adjusted my collar and stared at Richard. “You’re not really a friend of the Karkroffs, are you? That word is a bit of an overstatement.”
He swallowed and continued shuffling along. When he gave no other sign that my words had hit ground, I added, “I’ll let you tell the story. I think that would be fairer. Of course, it would fill in the logistic blanks for me.”
“Don’t say that. Do you really think my past could solve the mystery?”
“Where are we going?”
“I’ll tell you when we get there,” I replied. “It’s deep on the outskirts of Moscow. You have time. Chronological would do it.”
Richard nodded. How much more did I have to say? Luckily, he seemed convinced by this final exclamation of mine. “You do know all, then. Okay….
“At one time, as you well know by now, I was the tutor of the Karkroff children, cooking and living in that house as Ms. Peterson does now. It was back then when I noticed the lady, Mrs. Karkroff, youthful in her looks to my eyes, though it cannot have been more than a year or two ago that I was employed. I must say that it wasn’t hard to get her attention. Three months into my employment and we were arranging to meet up in her bedroom the once a week Mr. Karkroff went to play poker, a ploy he though his wife knew nothing of. He, I’m pretty sure, had no clue of the affair. I had only wanted amusement from her; she was a stunning woman, despite having had two offspring. We were bored, that’s all.
“Some time later, a young Russian girl came to the street when I had just finished my lessons for the day. She looked lost, so I asked her what the matter was. She replied that she was not lost, no, but that she was asking around the houses of the district; she said she was returning to her home-town, intent on a reunion with her family. That was all.
“Back then I was less rusty with my Russian. I was awestruck by the way she spoke, gently, warmly to me even though we knew nothing of each other. More beautiful than Maripose, more glamorous than this family I worked for, and in that meeting, she became my world. When she came to ask for her family, she left with my heart. And so, I neglected Maripose to search for the girl.”
Richard swallowed his voice again, rubbing his hands together in patterns. As we trudged onwards, I a foot in the lead, he shoved them into the pockets of his coat before continuing.
“She was easy to find. The hotel I searched first, one I knew well from having stayed there whilst I had been searching for employment, declared that a girl of that description had checked in under the name Delaina Rusav. I was so lucky. Just the formation of her name was dainty and a quiet reflection of that girl I had met.
“We met up regularly after I contacted her, but it was also true that I did not neglect my duties as tutor. Del was delighted to see me, receptive and jolly. We fast became friends. And more. I loved her so much. When I asked her about the link in her surname with that of singer Marina R, Del honestly confessed that her parents had told her that she was adopted and had left her with one surname and a yearning for knowledge. It turned out, you now, that Marina was her half sister, and willing to accept her in. I didn’t know about Petre then. Seeing Marina at your inquest was the first I heard about both events. That explains my surprise, doesn’t it?”
I nodded. That made sense. “You didn’t seem too surprised at Delaina’s lack of contact.”
“I had no chance to be.”
“Mrs. Karkroff found out,” he replied sadly. “She was so angry at my lack of attention-lavishing that she, somehow, found out about Delaina. She must have had me followed. I’d often hear her on the phone…. I think she was using another man as her private detective – and still to be adored by. There was no way to tell; Maripose held all the cards. She still does. By the time the truth was out that I was going to spend my money and time on another woman, she had found some excuse to fire me from my teaching position – something along the lines that I had made a move towards Elsie. There was nothing I could do.
“I continued to date Delaina, but after a while it became hard to stay in Russia with no money. The next thing I knew – about to leave, hence why I had brought my brother over to discuss work back home – I found myself back in the Karkroff lounge, hearing the news that my girl was gone.”
I nodded one final time, listening to the crisp snow crunch underfoot. Having swept the limp curls from my eyes, I shoved my own hands in pockets; even with their gloves, my fingers felt frozen. By now, the roads were touched with ice. I guessed Richard was used to it.
“So, where are we going?” he repeated. “To the outskirts?”
I shuffled forward more quickly. “I just…I have an idea.” Then I realised I was talking to thin air.
“Taxi!” called a voice from behind.
I spun around to see Richard beside the road, one hand thrown up as a taxicab settled in the road.