***Zane’s apartment, Northern VA***
The door had barely closed when Katia was out of bed. She threw on a pair of jeans from her backpack and her most comfortable walking shoes. She had not been able to follow where he had taken her last night. But the capital area was relatively well-served by mass transit. All she had to do was make it to a major street, and getting to Georgetown would be easy. She debated leaving a note for Zane. But what was the point? He would know exactly where she was going.
It had taken her less than tens minutes to find a bus stop and a little more than an hour by bus and Metro to Georgetown. Another fifteen-minute walk brought her to the three-story brick row house that she had often seen but never been inside. Yes, in those difficult times right after…. She had come here frequently. She sat in the park just across the street and watched the house where she knew her friend was raising her son. The only son she would ever have. His son. Zane’s son.
It was a bit after ten. The Senator should be long gone by now. Of course, there would be the Senator’s staff, an elderly couple who had been with the man for years. They filled multiple roles, including gardener, maid, cook, and occasional nanny. But it was the doorman who doubled as security for Anya and Zander that worried her most.
Though she reminded herself the Montgomery’s called him Billy. The Senator had insisted that Zander was too foreign-sounding, so his name became William Zander Montgomery. At least her friend had fought to keep it as his middle name.
Usually, she would wait until Anya left the house. Her friend took Zander to the park for a bit in the late morning before lunch. He had a half-day of kindergarten in the afternoon. Katia had to get to them before that. But did she have the time to wait? What if Anya had altered their schedule in the months since she had last visited?
Katia could not risk it. She opened the wrought-iron gate and walked to the imposing dark wood, double doors. She inhaled deeply and pressed the brass button on the door frame. As expected, it was the doorman who answered. “Yes?”
The man was large, bigger than Zane. She tried to remember his name or any of the things her friend had told her about the man. Former special ops and probably CIA, but his name escaped her memory.
“Hi, I’m a friend of Anna’s. I was in town and thought I’d stop by.” Did she sound as nervous as she felt? Was her smile natural? Her stance too tense? This man was trained to detect such things.
“Did you have an appointment with Mrs. Montgomery?” His face and voice were stern.
She detected movement behind him. A tiny blur of red and blue. “Billy, stop,” she recognized Anya’s voice and called out to her. The man did not like that and stepped forward, his body now completely blocking the doorway.
“Marcus, it’s fine. Kate’s an old friend of mine from university.” The man gave her another of those looks, but she was beyond caring as the minutes ticked away from them all. He finally stepped away from the door and allowed her to enter.
The entryway was impressive. A spiral staircase twisted upwards to the second floor. The floor was marble tile. And the table that sat against the wall was most definitely a genuine antique, not some replica. There were more dark wood doors off to either side.
Anya managed to corral Zander and laughed as she tickled him. “This is a surprise. I was just getting Billy ready for the park. Why don’t you join us?”
Her friend turned to the man, “Maria told me we’re out of Billy’s favorite string cheese. Could you run out for more, please? You know how he gets if they aren’t any in his school bag.”
Katia worried for a moment that even her friend’s talents and training would not be enough with this man. But finally, the man dropped his head and shook it side to side, “Errand boy was not part of this job until you and that kid came along….”
“With things the way they are and Cletus sending Luis and Maria away, we don’t have many options, Marcus. The delivery services are fully booked. Yes, before you ask, I checked. Buy all of his favorites. As much as you can, please.”
The man grumbled some more and glanced in her direction. “We’re fine. I’ve known Kate most of my life,” that much was true.
Kate was shocked to hear the hint of panic in Anna’s voice. But it seemed even here, things were beginning to break down. Was that why the bus and train had been almost empty coming into the city? But she was relieved; if the older couple were not here and this man was out on errands, she would have the chance to speak with Anya without worrying someone would overhear them.
The man finally nodded and walked towards the back of the hallway. Katia opened her mouth, but Anya shook her head. With Zander in her arms, she walked to the keypad next to the door and punched in a code. Then she motioned with her blond head for Katia to follow her.
They climbed the staircase; her friend opened the second door to reveal a fully outfitted playroom. She sat Zander down, and he ran off to the indoor climbing frame. “What are you doing here, Katia?” Anya plopped onto a bean bag chair positioned near the door.
“I need you to pack Zander’s things and yours. We have to leave. I have somewhere safe you can go.”
None of it was coming out like she had planned. Anya might not have scientific training, but she was intelligent as well as beautiful. She had to be for her job. The best way to convince her was logic, so Katia had carefully rehearsed what she would say. But now, she could not remember any of it.
Anya motioned for her to take the seat next to her. Her instinct was to scoop up her son and just run. But between the Senator’s connections and their government, that wouldn’t be the smartest choice. So she forced herself to calm down and take the other bean bag.
“What is happening, Katia? I can’t get any answers from Cletus or my contacts. But obviously, you know something. Tell me the truth.”
She inhaled deeply and clasped her hands in her lap as she watched Zander play so carefree and unaware of the peril they all faced. “The science is too complicated to explain right now. I’m not even sure I fully understand it. But you remember the young girl I’m working with?” Anya’s head bobbed, “Her father is a geologist, a volcanologist. He’s been working on this theory of a string of eruptions that could plunge us into a mini-ice age.”
“And you believe him? That’s crazy, Katia. If something like that were going to happen, don’t you think our governments….”
“Would destroy his reputation? Make plans to protect themselves and their friends? And leave the rest of us in the dark until it was too late?” She reached over and grasped her friend’s hands in hers, “I know that you are smarter than they think. You don’t buy their propaganda anymore either….”
Anya looked over at the little boy who was now playing with a car, “Okay, I admit something isn’t right. Cletus told me to pack our things before he left this morning. And he let Luis and Maria go last night. Gave them money and suggested they visit their family for a while. That’s not like him. But still, this….”
“I know it seems crazzy. Like some horrible science fiction movie. I get that, Anya. But please, Doc, Brent Jacobs and his wife Lauren, the people I worked for, have this place in West Texas. He’s been planning for years. You’ll be safe there. You and Zander. But I need your help. I need you to tell me where the girls are. Where did they place Zoya and Yana?”
“No, nyet, I can’t leave Cletus. Ya lyublyu svoyego muzha….”
“Who are you?”
Of course, Katia recognized the older man standing in the doorway holding the gun. Most people would. The man had run for President more than once. Anya’s eyes clouded with tears. “Please, Cletus, put down the gun. I can explain….”
“Oh, you’ll explain, alright. To the FBI,” the man’s hand shook as he reached into his jacket pocket for his phone. “Marcus!”
The man’s scream elicited one from the boy. Zander’s was several decibels higher and louder. “Shut the little mutt up. Where the hell is Marcus?”
Katia moved away from the man and circled towards the corner where her son was rocking back and forth, his hands covering his ears as he screamed. She noticed Anya moving towards her husband in her peripheral vision. But was more focused on her child. This was precisely what Zane had warned her about. Maybe worse. If Anya could not reason with the man, what would they do?
She was glad that her time with Elise had prepared her for working with autistic children and handling meltdowns. She knew not to touch him. Not now when his senses were already overloaded. Not unless it became absolutely necessary. Instead, she reached for the car he had dropped and held it out for him. Zander grabbed it from her and clutched it to his chest like a stuffed toy with one hand. He continued to rock back and forth as he held his other hand to his ear.
“Who the hell is she? Screw that, who the hell are you, bitch?” Zander rocked faster.
“Please, Cletus, just listen to me. I know how this looks….”
“You’re Russian. My wife is some fucking Russian spy. You’ll ruin me, woman. I’m already a laughing stock. They think I don’t know. But I hear all those whispers behind my back. But it wasn’t my money you were after. It was worse, wasn’t it?”
Anya was crying louder now too, “In the beginning. But I swear, Cletus, I love you.”
The man waved the gun towards her, and it went off. Whether that shot was accidental or a warning, Katia put her body between the man and her son. She never doubted that she would die to protect her children. Zane knew about Yana and Zoya now. She trusted that if something happened, he would find them. She had to believe that.
Anya threw herself at her husband then. She wrapped her arms around the man’s girth. The gun was now trapped between their bodies. The Senator struggled to escape his wife’s grasp, “Get away from me. I want nothing more to do with you. To think I cared enough about you to bring that mongrel brat into my home. I bet he’s Russian too. Isn’t he? What is he? Your kid by some other man?”
“No, please, just let me explain….”
The gun went off again. Though this time, the noise was muffled by their bodies. Both Anya and the man fell to the floor.
Zander screamed, “Mommy,” and ran towards where her friend lay crushed beneath the man’s weight. Her son’s words and the distress on his little face tore at her heart. Anya had been the only mother Zander knew. And right now, both of she and the man motionless. Their eyes closed.
“Mommy,” he cried again as Katia reached for him. They had to get out of here.