The storm that blew in off the mountain in the black of night left a thick blanket of snow in the yard. On the buildings, it clung to eaves and window ledges, softened the edges of the Grad and made the East Wing look like a Lebkuchen Haus.
From the window of his office, Johann watched the soldiers in ribbon candy uniforms and licorice jackboots diligently work to uncover the spice drop trucks from the powdered sugar snow. He smiled grimly, sipped the last of his cognac, and turned from the window.
Those licorice boots, he thought ruefully to himself, were best for licking.
When news of an attempt on Volgin’s life reached him, the very first thing he did was descend the stairs into the dank catacombs under Groznyj, disable the alarms, and touch the door of the vault, just to be sure it was still there. Lacking the codes and combinations and keys, it was the best he could do, sliding his mangled hand across the dial of the combination lock as gentle as a lover’s touch. The micro film slumbered peacefully in the darkness, secured by three feet of solid steel from every side, and the best security system in all of Russia.
Then, he breathed a sigh of relief.
The journey. He went out in the snow storm just to be sure. Poison. He got the distinct impression that he was not supposed to know, but it was his job to know things.
His expression softened as his eyes lingered over the cat that slept on the corner of his desk, the only thing that remained for him that was truly his own. Lethargically, he trailed his fingers through her silken fur, and she rumbled at being disturbed.
“Motte,” he mumbled, “du hast werden fett.”
It would have been a good day, he told himself. Could have. It had potential. The storm had purged the moisture from the air, and his bad hip was feeling alright. Slowly, the pain in his heart receded as well, gradually. The memory of Molokov was sweet and golden and distant. It shimmered like dewdrops caught in a spider web in the wee hours of dawn.
Something else nagged at his psyche though, and ruined his day vicariously. He checked every pocket of very pair of jodhpurs. He checked his bedside table, and found nothing in the carved mahogany drawer. The pockets of his coats turned up nothing, neither wool greatcoat nor white wolfskin.
The keys to his 9-11 Porsche, his pride and joy, imported straight from the heart of the Vatterland had vanished into thin air.
Motte had not batted them under the liquor cabinet. They weren’t in his desk drawer, or the filing cabinet, or on the reading desk in his private quarters, or even in the refrigerator.
They were simply gone, as though stolen right out from under his nose and the red rocket sat in the steel shipping container, cold and still.
As he stepped into the hallway and closed the office door behind him, he tried to recall everywhere he had been on the last day he had them. First, the mess hall, but the cooks said they had found nothing. Then, it was the office of Lydia Solovyeva in the administrative building, to clear up some questions regarding personnel files. Back to his office to phone in the month’s supply request list from the Cobra Unit.
That, he remembered clearly. Someone had thought it would be funny to scribble, ‘a horse’ at the very bottom of the paper.
The hornet keeper had turned up not soon after that, with the news of a potential witness, and Krauss immediately went to fetch the investigators. Perhaps he dropped his keys in their laboratory, or worse yet, in the hangar that housed giant hornets.
Worse still, maybe they were in the Fury’s laboratory. He found the cosmonaut aloof and friendly that day, contrary to what the Pain had suggested.
Following a rather pleasant conversation with the pyromaniac, he went to a private dinner with a certain Lieutenant Anton Deviatov and after the slivovic everything got all fuzzy. He distinctly remembered that someone had been in a leather skirt and stockings, but couldn’t quite grasp whether it had been him or Antosha. Either way, the sex was good.
No matter though, he told himself as he rounded the corner and pushed open the outside door. He would simply retrace every step he took that day, until he found his missing keys.