Unmask the Devil
Mashka lay back in the bed staring at the textured roof above. Her eyes wandered through the random pattern, pretending that it was some sort of maze, as she wished that Iosif would hurry up and arrive. At last she heard his voice down the hall.
“Where is room 203?”
“Oh, you must be her father? She told me to keep an eye out for you. First room on the right.”
When he entered the room, Mashka was sitting up waiting for him. “You think quickly.” he complimented. “That was a clever idea with the cover story.”
“I thought it would be less awkward than saying you are my college professor. Did you bring clothes?”
He handed her the bag. “I hope that will work.”
She pulled it out and glanced over the contents. “This is fine. Now close the curtain, turn around, and stand guard.”
After he had followed her instructions, she began slipping on her clothes. The cloth was very comfortable. She frowned. A little too comfortable.
She noticed a receipt lying at the bottom of the bag. Picking it up, she glanced at the price total. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head. The total read 3,675 roubles.
“Almost done in there?” he asked.
“Da, I‘m decent.” she replied.
He pulled the curtain back. She was now wearing black slacks, a slim, black fur-lined coat over a white blouse. But all he noticed was the face staring at him like he had just grown another head.
“Do you not like it?” he asked.
She blinked for a moment then replied, “I love it. But where do you get the money to spend almost four thousand roubles? I will never be able to pay you back!”
Iosif shrugged, “I‘m a professor and I have no one else to spend the money on. You have the receipt so you can return them if you wish.”
“I see,” she conceded. “Spasibo.”
“We should be going,” Iosif gestured for her to exit first. “Oh, but before that,” he shuffled in his pocket, “I tried to find a red headscarf like you usually wear, but I could only find a white one.”
She silently took it and tied it on, nodding to him in appreciation. They walked out of the room and down the hall. She kept her head low to avoid being recognized by one of the nurses.
When they were nearly at the exit to the parking lot, Iosif decided to break the silence. “So, where should I take you?”
“My house would be fine, if you are willing to go that far. Traffic is bad though,” Mashka replied quietly.
“I don't have any other engagements, so I can take you home.” He said warmly.
Mashka's ears started ringing. She pulled away, quickly taking a step back. “You just lied! Where are you really taking me?” she demanded.
“What are you talking about?” His face, the picture of confusion, as he moved towards her.
She backed away further and shook her head.
Turning to face her fully, he took off his glasses and his face transformed from the awkward professor, to that of the cold eyes of a soldier.
Mashka bared her teeth angrily. “I'm right, aren't I? You've lied to me more then once, too! I just didn't realize I could tell before.”
Iosif sighed wearily. “That’s unfortunate. I was hoping to do this quietly, young lady.”
She turned to run, but as soon as she moved, he grabbed her arm and swung her, so her back was to the wall. She tried to push him away, but he put his other arm against her collarbone and pushed her up, so her feet were dangling several centimetres above the ground. She gasped from the sharp pain of his elbow jabbing her shoulder. His face was only a hand-breadth away, his piercing grey eyes daring her to struggle.
“Really, Yuri? I'm gone for one second and there you are troubling a young lady.” a female voice said.
Mashka turned and saw the woman with shorn brown hair. 'Dasha!?' she thought in surprise.
The new arrival continued. “I should really keep better tabs on you,” she looked at Mashka patronisingly, and spoke in a tauntingly sweet voice, “Greetings, Gzha. Sharova, You are surprised to see me, da? Oh, and you can call me Anya.”
Mashka was terrified. Nothing made sense. Out of reflex, she began squirming but Chekov's grip did not loosen. Just as she passed over the brink into panic, pain rushed through her body.
Chekov's stern expression quickly changed to wonder, when he saw Mashka’s fair blue eyes turn brilliant amber and the pupils elongate into slits. Her mouth opened in a growl, revealing sharp fangs, as she glared challengingly.
Anya was too far away to notice the changes in Mashka's face, but she felt that something was wrong. Then she saw that Mashka's dangling hand had four-centimetre-long claws sticking out of the fingertips. “Yuri, let go of her. Now!” she screamed.
He stepped back to avoid a swipe from Mashka’s right hand but he was unable to dodge the left. His skin seemed to peel apart on his cheek and three crimson lines appeared. Mashka was about to dash in for another swipe but Chekhov ducked and rolled and her claws embedded themselves in the plaster of the wall. She yanked them out, ripping off a panel of dry wall in the process which broke over Chekhov's head and rushed past Anya, who only had time to dodge, as Mashka fled through the doors.
Anya hurried to Chekhov’s side. He leaned against the wall, his cheek bleeding profusely. The red fluid dripped off his chin, staining his shirt and tie. Anya touched his face gingerly to examine the wound. When she was satisfied that it was not serious, she hit the button on her radio, “We need backup now! Subject One has made a run for it!”
It was getting difficult to breath in the steam-filled shower room. Though, Aleksei could only tolerate it as he tried to plot his next move. He could not see his assailant, but hopefully, that meant he was not seen either. So, at the moment, there was an impasse.
The situation changed the moment he sensed a disturbance. The steam he was controlling was being intruded upon by a man shaped figure. The sensation was bizarre and foreign to him, it was like the steam was part of his body. For the first time, he actually realized he could feel every nook and corner of the room. He knew exactly where the janitor was, and not only that, he knew how tall he was, where he was pointing his gun, and even details of his posture.
Aleksei could not help the smug half grin spread on his face. This was no impasse. He was in absolute control of the situation now. He waited until the man was a distance from the door, then he caused the steam in the room to flow back towards himself, clearing up half of the shower room, as the mist gathered behind him. The janitor whirled around to see Aleksei rush his hands forward in a pushing motion. The fog flowed by Aleksei’s body and hit the janitor like a giant boxing glove, pushing him all the way into the opposite wall with a heavy thud, and holding him there as the vapour cycled around.
An odd feeling of tiredness came over Aleksei as if to warn him that he would not be able to restrict the man like this for long. So, on the silent count of three he scrambled out of the showers, through the locker room, and back into the hall. To his dismay, he saw the glimmer of fire from the stairs at the end of the hall, and the exit sign had ceased to glow. The fire was between him and the exit and he had to back away from the searing heat. The only way left was up the stairs. If he could get to one of the windows he could climb down a fire escape. He heard the heavy footfalls of his pursuer.
“He's a persistent pest.” Aleksei mumbled as he ran upstairs, silently blessing Gn. Groznyy and his sadistic knee bends.
Aleksei planned on exiting the first fire escape, but the window was closed and the so-called janitor was close behind him. If he stopped to open a window, he would be apprehended. He needed to slow his hunter down. So he dashed further up the stairs, the thudding of the man’s shoes right behind him. Aleksei stretched out his new-found senses, searching for any source of moisture. His hand started dripping, but it was just from the air around him. He reached further and then he felt it. There was moist breeze coming in from a window two flights up. The fire department had arrived and the hoses were spraying heavily on the street side of the building. Even though the fire escape went into the alley, it had still collected water on its flat surface.
Running to the window, he evaporated the puddle on the rusty metal balcony and gathered mist from the surrounding air. He moved the swirling mist and rapidly condensed it on the stairs below him and hopped onto the balcony. As the janitor ran up, he slipped and tumbled on the stairs, hitting the wall on the landing below.
Aleksei heard the thump of his skull against the wall and imagined what the force of it could have done to him. His heart filled with dread. 'Did I kill him?' He leaned in the window looking at the janitor. He was not moving. Aleksei coughed and gasped in horror. 'Oh Bog I killed him!' But a second later, the man moved, turning sorely onto his side. Aleksei’s heart resumed a regular pattern as he recovered from his panic.
Then he heard a radio squawk, “Ey, what is taking so long? The police are starting to arrive in force!”
Looking back at the injured janitor, Aleksei spotted the black top of a radio hooked to the back of his belt. Without further hesitation, he ran down the fire escape. Now he knew there was a second person somewhere in the vicinity he had to worry about.