It’s one of life’s most fascinating questions—a mystery no one can resist thinking about. Zinovy’s Journey paints an intriguing picture of the future in a new earthly kingdom, where joy pulses through the atmosphere, where the lion lies down with the lamb, and where created beings are given one last chance to learn how to walk in an intimate, joy-filled, trusting relationship with their Creator.
This speculative adult novel is designed not only to entertain its readers but also to challenge their preconceived notions of reality and to lead them, along with Zinovy, on a life-changing journey of self-discovery. It will appeal to imaginative, thoughtful readers who enjoy whimsical trips into fantasy while keeping at least one foot planted firmly on the ground.
Those readers need to be advised, however, that though their feet are planted firmly on the ground, the ground might move at any time, and in unexpected directions.
Nothing can justify tears in children’s eyes.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky
Zinovy Efimovich Kozlov ducked his head as an icy wind, howling off the canal, whipped the scarf from his face and poured its bitter mid-winter chill down his neck. He pulled his collar tighter and quickened his steps, moving around the building, cursing the iron fence that forced him past several closer doors, and ran up the steps into the front entrance of the FSB headquarters.
He avoided eye contact with the ancient plaque above the door. After twelve years of walking under it, he knew the words by heart: “The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood.” The spilled blood part was appropriate, considering the current use of the building. In its forty years of existence, the FSB had shed more blood than the KGB had in twice that time. Zinovy grimaced, remembering the first words on the plaque. All religious relics should be gone by now, but remnants still remained.
A wave of warm air, heavy with the smell of coffee, met him in the entranceway. He pushed past the espresso machine, resisting the urge, and walked down the hall to the small office he shared with two other FSB agents. He opened the door and stepped through, nodded to them both, and walked to his cubicle, unzipping his jacket as he went.
“Your fly’s open, Zinovy,” Vladimir said, rocking back in his chair and hiking his feet up on the desk in front of him.
Zinovy picked up the stack of pink message slips from his desk. “Your mouth’s open, Vladimir.” He flipped through the notes, glancing over them before dropping each into the shredder.
“Why can’t I ever surprise you, Zinovy? You never so much as lift an eyebrow when I tell you something. I’d give a year’s pensionable earnings to see your jaw drop just once.”
“It’s because he doesn’t care,” Markov said. “Zinovy doesn’t care about anything.” He looked at his watch. “That’s why he turns up two hours late for work on Monday morning.”
Zinovy waved a pink slip in the air. “What’s this message from Anton? How did it get here?”
“Special messenger from head office. He said the boss was mad. Seems you’ve been ignoring his phone calls. Not too smart, considering.”
Zinovy headed across the room, stopping to thump Vladimir’s forehead with his finger. “You should zip up your mouth, comrade. If there were anything in that skull, it might fall out.” He turned at the door, giving them both the universal sign of dismissal, and walked out.
Halfway down the hall he spotted her, and his pulse backfired. It always did. Her beauty was heart-stopping. Raven dark hair falling straight to her shoulders, framing a classic face—a Roman nose he used to kiss, and smooth, high cheekbones he’d loved to run his fingers over.
She looked up and saw him, her eyes sending a brief message of recognition before she passed into her office.
He sighed and moved on, turning three more corners in the maze of passageways before he came to his supervisor’s office. General Anton Vasiliev, Director, Special Security Services, Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, St. Petersburg Division. Another plaque he’d rather avoid. He grunted, opened the door and walked in.
The receptionist looked up and arched an eyebrow. “You better wait,” she said, as he headed for the inner office behind her. She punched a button. “He’s here.” She listened a split second, then nodded to Zinovy, but his hand was already on the doorknob.
Zinovy opened the door and reconned the area as he entered. Anton sat at the steel gray desk in the middle of the room, flanked by two tall windows in the wall behind him. Two other men were in the room. Sergei Voronin leaned against a metal file cabinet to Zinovy’s right. Yuri Pronichev stood by the window to the left, his hands in his pockets, looking out into the garden. The video screen on the wall was turned off, the only artificial light in the room coming from the dim fixture overhead in the high ceiling.
Zinovy scowled at Anton, who returned the hard gaze without blinking. “So you come, Kozlov, finally. Your delay is inexcusable. When I send word, you are to come immediately.”
“I’m sorry,” Zinovy said. “I have a hard time remembering you are no longer the rug on the floor beneath the feet of this department.”
Yuri straightened, removed his hands from his pockets and turned from the window. The pock marks on Anton’s round cheeks paled against the red creeping up his neck. He looked down and shuffled some papers on the upper right hand corner of his desk. “You are being given an assignment,” he said. “Urgency is required. You have used up two days of your deadline with your delay in reporting. The job must be done by Friday, this week.”
“Who’s the target, and what’s the reason?”
Anton picked up a file on the desk in front of him. “The reason does not concern you. She is an agent who is no longer useful to us. She has become a security threat and must be disposed of.”
Zinovy stiffened. “She? I don’t do women.”
Anton rose and glared at Zinovy. “You will kill who you are ordered to kill. As always. The gender is irrelevant.” He dropped the file on the desk and pushed it toward Zinovy. “You are to dispatch the target by whatever means you choose.” He sneered. “Do it your way if you like, no blood. Then dispose of the body and bring us photographic evidence that the mission has been accomplished.” He paused. Zinovy stood, unmoving.
Anton said, “You will do it immediately, without further questions or delay.”
Zinovy put his hands on his hips and considered his options. His first choice, preferred but not practicable, would be to put Anton’s broken body at the bottom of the canal.
He picked up the file and flipped it open. The name at the top of the document hit him like a stun gun to the chest. It took a full five seconds for the realization to settle into his brain, another two for the anger to erupt.
“You are insane,” he bellowed. “You are absolutely insane. This woman is no security threat. She’s a competent agent who does her job with integrity. She’s the last person to be a security risk.” He slammed the file down, sending its contents skittering across the desk and onto the floor at Anton’s feet.
Anton frowned. “Help us to understand this, Agent Kozlov. Are you refusing the order?”
Zinovy leaned down, put his hands on the desk in front of the chief and spoke in his face, enunciating each word. “I will not kill Nadya.”
Then he turned on his heel and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
Anton scooped the papers up off the floor, tossed them back into the file and sat down. He gestured to the two straight-backed chairs lined up against the wall between the windows. “Please.”
The men sat down.
Anton swiveled in his chair to face them. “So, you both want to rise in this department. What do you think? Zinovy has crossed the line. Tell me what is the next logical step?” He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms.
The agents looked at each other, hesitating. Finally Sergei spoke. “It seems strange you would give him that assignment. You should know he would resist, under the circumstances.”
“Of course I knew.”
“Zinovy needs to learn that he is not in control. The last administration was lax. He has had his way for too long. This is a matter of personal and professional discipline. If Zinovy cannot obey an order from his superior—any order—he does not belong in this service. His refusal is tantamount to treason. He will be lucky if he gets away from this incident with his life.”
Yuri hesitated. “I don’t know. Zinovy’s our top agent. I don’t see—”
“Not any more, he isn’t,” Anton said. “As of this moment, Zinovy is nothing.” He paused, allowing the statement to register. “It’s his own fault. He broke the cardinal rule when he mixed his balls with his business. That mistake has destroyed him.”
Yuri frowned. “I don’t think Zinovy will go down that easily.”
“Oh yes? You watch how this will happen. While I’m in charge, discipline will be enforced in this agency.”
Anton looked from one to the other, then he leaned forward.
“So here are your orders. Sergei, I want a tracker put on Zinovy immediately. I want to know every time he hiccups, do you understand?”
“Put it on his Kawasaki. Get the agent in their apartment building to do it. What’s his name? Goldov? Have him fix it in the garage as soon as Zinovy goes home today.”
He turned to Yuri. “I want you to follow up on the woman.” He flipped the file open again and tapped her picture. “Goldov is supposed to be on her already, but you double check. I want to know when she leaves the apartment and where she goes. We don’t want that little chicken to fly the coop.”
He paused, waiting for their response, getting none. “Did you hear me?” he said. “Go, now.”
He ran his tracer around the doorframe and got no signal. Nothing planted there yet. He scraped his Air Force ring across the door. He still had a key, but using it would surprise her into a response, and he wanted her quiet.
The door opened a crack. He shoved it all the way, clapped his hand over her mouth and pushed inside, kicking the door closed behind him. Then he put a finger to his lips. When her eyes lost their terror, he released her and walked across the room to turn the radio up.
“What are you doing?” She spoke with a mixture of amazement and anger.
He gazed at her loveliness, unaffected by the shapeless sweatsuit she’d changed into after her workday, and frowned. “Anton sent me to kill you.”
She stared at him. “He sent you?”
She straightened and the muscles in her jaw tightened. “Is that why you’re here?”
He moved to the side of the window and glanced out, checking for unusual shadows or movement. Then he drew the shade and turned to her. “Of course not. You should know better.”
“How could I know better? You’re a dedicated agent.” Her gaze was penetrating, and his eyes fell. She took a breath. “Then why are you here?”
“To warn you.”
“I don’t need a warning, Zinovy. I knew when I told him I was quitting he would try to kill me.”
“Then we must plan.”
“I’ve made plans.”
“But I must help. It’s different now.”
She shook her head. “No, it’s not.” Zinovy started to speak, but she stopped him with a decided shake of her head. “We’ve been there. There’s no going back.”
He stared at her, unable to accept her words.
She stood looking at him for a moment, then she walked to the kitchenette and continued the task he’d obviously interrupted. When she’d folded the rest of the laundry, she looked up. “Why you?”
He shrugged. “It’s no secret. He hates me. He’s got some power now. He’s using it to screw me.”
“Does he know you’re not going to do it?”
He leaned against the wall and nodded. “I informed him.”
“So now, what about you?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far.” He watched her deft movements as she slipped a stack of dish towels into the drawer. Then he tried once more. “Are you sure you—”
“Yes, Zinovy, I told you.”
He folded his arms across his chest and sighed. Finally he asked,“Is it a boy or a girl?”
“It’s a boy.”
“Did the picture show what he looks like?”
The lines around her mouth relaxed and she almost smiled. “No, Zinovy. His features are still forming.” She studied his face for a moment, then she did smile. “When he’s grown he will look like a Cossack warrior, with a mop of curly dark hair, a stern mouth and a firm chin that some woman will one day describe as stubborn.”
He frowned. “Yes. He will certainly have the firm chin. He has no chance to avoid it.” She gave him a warning look and moved across the room to her bed, smoothing out the wrinkles and tucking the spread under the edge of the mattress.
“When will you go?”
“It’s best you don’t know.”
“Will you contact me?”
She shook her head. “I cannot. You know that. I have to disappear completely.” She carried the small laundry basket to the front door. “If you want to help, give me a head start. Let them think you decided to follow the orders. Tell them I’m dead.”
So that was it. He should kiss her one last time, but the wall between them was thick, impenetrable, so he nodded instead and reached for the door handle. She turned away as he stepped through. His last sight of her was in profile, head bent, dark hair curled around one ear. Her right hand, the one that could have worn his ring, curved protectively around the small mound in her belly that was a part of himself.