Who Can Be Trusted?
Yegor stood nervously in front of the school building. Aleksei still had not come outside and was the only student unaccounted for. He felt sick in his gut as he wondered what could have happened. He hopped up onto a car and scanned the crowd. To his relief, he saw Aleksei run from the alleyway onto the side walk.
Yegor jumped down and shoved his way through the crowd, screaming, “Aleksei! You’re ok!”
As Aleksei entered the throng, he was tackled by his friend who embraced him tightly. Aleksei gasped out to the closest fire-fighter, “Hey! There’s still the janitor in there! He’s on the north staircase!” The fireman nodded and called over to his comrades. Aleksei pushed Yegor away, escaping from the tight embrace.
Yegor stuttered for the first time in his life, “I, I, I thought I l- l- lost you!”
“Atlichna, Yegor, but I need your coat and hat.” Aleksei demanded.
Yegor looked confused at his friend’s odd insensitivity. “Ya ni panimaju…” he said, lost in the peculiarity of the demand.
“There is someone trying to kidnap me,” Aleksei explained, “I will tell you later.”
Still perplexed, but eager to help Yegor took off his blue coat while Aleksei gave him his black one and put on Yegor’s black baseball cap. He wore the bill low to conceal his face, then he gave Yegor instructions, “Now Yegor, stay here and look natural, if someone approaches you just say, ‘I’m Yegor.’ That’s my signal to run.”
Aleksei slipped into the crowd and leaned against a car so he could not be approached from behind. He saw the ‘janitor’ carried out on the shoulders of two firemen. He sighed, glad he was unharmed. Then he saw a well-dressed man approach from down the side-walk, making a beeline to Yegor. Aleksei needed no warning, this was the accomplice.
Aleksei considered his next move. He honestly didn't know what to do. He leaned against the car, acting calm as if the whole situation was boring to him. However his mind laboured furiously.
The man reached Yegor and grabbed his shoulder, “You are coming with me.”
“I'm Yegor,” Yegor yelled, signalling Aleksei.
He was about to bolt, but when the man did not leave Yegor, Aleksei knew he had to find out why. Cautiously, Aleksei advanced into the crowd, pulling the bill of the hat low over his face, and stood only a couple metres away from the two of them.
Yegor was trying to tug back, but stopped struggling suddenly. Aleksei quickly realized the man had a small handgun prodding his friend’s back. The man herded Yegor towards a car parked down the side-walk, away from the commotion. Aleksei needed to think of something. He had not meant for his friend to get this involved. He had expected the man to simply move on. Not having any plan in mind, he trailed behind.
He heard the man speaking quietly to Yegor. “Listen, I know you are close buds with Aleksei. Playing this switch-a-roo is the oldest game in the books.”
“It worked on you, didn't it?” Yegor quipped saucily.
“I'll take none of that from you! You will tell me where Aleksei Sharov is, or I will kill you.” the man hissed.
Aleksei extended his left hand over the long puddle on the roadside and a stream of fog trailed along the ground next to him as he advanced. A dangerous light reflected in his eyes and a strange twitch pulled the corners of his mouth upwards. Not a chance will you lay a hand on my friend!
“Not in public you won’t!” Yegor challenged.
Aleksei quickly tensed his arms.
The man lowered his face next to Yegor’s, “You'd be surprised the-,”
The man was not able to finish the sentence. With vicious intent Aleksei swung his arms forward, causing the ground hugging cloud to rush in like a shark, slamming into the man's left leg. He lost balance momentarily, trying to support himself on Yegor, who took full advantage of the situation, spinning around, and forcing the man to the ground, stomping the gun out of his hand. Aleksei joined his friend and tore the accomplice's radio from his belt, this unplugged the earpiece, allowing the radio to buzz loudly.
“Has subject two been collected yet? We need backup at Hospital Number 31!” the fuzzy, cheery voice called out.
"Police! Help!" Aleksei roared as he and Yegor fled back to the crowd.
They were pursued until they drew near the crowd at which the man slowed down, confronted by two police officers. Aleksei grabbed Yegor, “Did you hear that? I'm subject two! That means subject one is Mashka!” he cried, still glancing at the man standing down the side-walk.
Yegor had never heard Aleksei sound so panicked and agonized. “Calm down! What’s happening? What do they want with you and your sister? And why did they set the school on fire?”
Aleksei was not listening. He yammered on to himself, “Alright, Aleksei, get it together. Think! Mashka is where they need reinforcements. She is probably on the run, proving hard to catch.”
Yegor bobbed his head in agreement, deciding he would get more of the picture later. “They said, ‘at Hospital No. 31.’ That's just a bit north of here.”
“Harasho,” Aleksei replied.
The man was still standing there, talking with the cops. They allowed him to retrieve his wallet and phone. Aleksei noticed him talk on the cellular. He was probably calling for assistance.
“Yegor, this guy is calling for help. The hospital is north of the university on Krestovsky Island. How can we get there in time?” Aleksei asked. “We only have bikes.”
"We could ask the cops to help."
Aleksei glanced back at them. The police we not detaining Yegor's assailant. Something he had said to them had stopped them. "Something tells me the police are just going to slow us down."
“Okay... There’s a bus stop around the corner. I ride it home sometimes and know all the routes.” Yegor said, “And one arrives in about two minutes. It'll take us north, at least.”
“We need to time it just right, so we don’t have to wait at the bus stop.” Aleksei mused, “It should take us about a minute, ten seconds to get there and hop on the bus, assuming it's on time.” Yegor glanced at his watch. They counted down thirty seconds.
The man handed his phone to one of the police officers. As the officer spoke with whoever was on the other end, his demeanour changed. The police looked at one another and then at the boys. One of them approached It surprised him when the two youths bolted to the base of the now extinguished school. The firemen yelled at them, but their orders were ignored by the boys, who retrieved their bikes from the rack and raced down the street. The man broke away from the police and pursued them, their orders to halt unheeded.
Rounding the corner they saw the bus, its tires squealing as it raised itself from side-walk level and prepared to drive away. They yelled for the bus to stop. Halting by the door, they ran in taking their bikes with them.
The bus driver yelled at them, “Hey! No bikes inside, they go on the rack!”
“Sorry sir,” Yegor explained plainly, “We have a gunman chasing us.”
“You think this is funny?” the driver retorted.
Aleksei and Yegor nodded forward, and the driver looked ahead. The janitor's accomplice turned the corner, wielding his handgun in plain sight. The driver stepped on it, leaving the station. All the other passengers stared in shock, and two of them promptly dialled for the police. It was unnecessary since the man was grabbed from behind by the two officers who had caught up with him.
The boys turned to each other removing their coats, switching yet again. Aleksei decided to keep the black hat and put on his black coat. The other passengers began to pay less attention to them. They sat a few seats away from anyone else.
“Why are they after us Aleksei?” Yegor asked.
“Yegor, I want you to head home now. You don't have to get into this.” Aleksei responded.
Yegor firmly grasped Aleksei's shoulder, “You think I'm going to let you go alone? I’m already involved! For the first time in my life I had a gun to my back.”
Aleksei closed his eyes and sighed, his friend had a point. “Very well, you can come along, but when I say to split, we split. I need you to draw them off, if they start following us again. But don't get caught. You're not who they want but I have no idea what they might do if they catch you.”
Yegor finally asked what had been bothering him since the whole situation arose, “Why do they want you? Did you do something? And give me the truth this time! Don’t change the subject.”
Aleksei sighed, “I think they want me because I am atmidokinetic.”
“I can move water vapour.” Aleksei elaborated.
Yegor's expression exuded annoyance, “You expect me to believe this, honestly?”
“Da, I do, because it’s the truth. Look.” Aleksei discreetly showed Yegor his hand. In moments, water beads coated his skin, and then they disappeared into little wisps of mist drifting to the floor.
Yegor was shocked and had to blink to confirm that what he was seeing was real. “That’s amazing… but why would they want it? So you can drip a little?”
Aleksei chuckled, “I can do more than that. How else do you think I could beat Radik and his underlings?”
“And now the same Radik is eating with us.” Yegor added, almost with a groan.
“And I expect you to continue to be nice.”
Yegor nodded grumpily, his eyes still glued on Aleksei’s misting hand.
The next moments were tense as the two youths awaited their stop while visualising where they would end up on the map of the city in the social studies classroom. Aleksei reached up and pulled the bell cord.
“We’ll get off here, spasibo.”
The bus rolled to a halt.
“You should wait here for the police.” The bus driver suggested.
Aleksei nodded, unwilling to speak a lie.
They stepped off and conferred.
“That leaves us about a two and a half kilometres from the hospital.” Aleksei commented.
“We could have gotten closer.” Yegor pointed out.
Aleksei smirked, “But they would be expecting that. From here we can get there in less than three minutes.”
“Crafty fox is being crafty.” Yegor added with a smirk.
They mounted their bikes and pedalled full throttle, though they made sure to obey most of the traffic rules. It all went smoothly, until they made it to the Egyptian bridge on the way to Vasilievsky Island, where the university district was located.
A black sedan, just like the car the man back at the school had been dragging Yegor towards, entered their sights. Through the darkened windows they could see two men in identical suits. They turned onto the bridge and the car followed them.
Aleksei came side by side with Yegor, “We'll need to split up as soon as we cross. We can lose them in the side streets. Meet up at the north-east bridge on Vasilievsky.”
“Atlichna!” Yegor nodded in agreement. “Poka!”
They split up, riding in opposite directions. The car halted as the men considered for a moment, then decided to follow Yegor.
'I’m sorry, friend. I really have not thought this through. And at this point, they must already know where we are going. I did not expect them to figure that we would jump off early. The only way they knew tha--,' he combed his mind, searching for any memory of some suspicious person on the bus. He shook his head, returning himself to the task at hand.
He crossed into one of the streets running north that passed right by the university. He was always impressed by the architecture, but at this moment he only noticed it to orient himself.
His eyes swept through the busy intersection as he suddenly felt exposed before all those people. He zipped along on his bike, feeling for the briefest of moments, to be the focus of everyone’s attention.
With that feeling of exposure, Aleksei considered his pursuers. Who are they? Where are they from? What do they want? They are interested in us, but why?
Everyone, from the tired office worker, to the energetic university students, fuelled his anxiety. The faces of St. Petersburg which Aleksei had come to know and feel at peace around, had all become menacing and threatening.
'Nyet! Stop Aleksei, this is paranoia… calm down.' He forced himself to take a deep breath and relax. 'I need to focus, I need to reach Mashka. That is my priority.'
Gritting his teeth in determination, he wound through the streets, making sure no one was following him. His legs felt like jelly, and his face stung from the cold air. But he pressed forward, his heart in agony, wondering what was happening to his sister.