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    Volume 11, Issue 4, November 30, 2016
    Message from the Editors
 Lenin's Nurse: Notes for a Dissertation by Chris Barnham
 Gazer by Karen Osborne
 The Yuru-chara of Hector, NY by Morgan Crooks
 Childe Roland by Sidney Blaylock, Jr.
 Mered's Lament by Chris Walker
 Editors Corner: The Quantum Cop by Lesley L. Smith
 Author Interview: Grayson Towler


Lenin's Nurse: Notes for a Dissertation

Chris Barnham

       '. . .it was said and printed that the Red Guards. . .had killed some of the ministers in cold blood. . .An astounding jumble of rumours, distortions, and plain lies. All these stories were swallowed whole, even preposterous tales of sacrifice and fanatical Bolsheviks who bathed in or drank human blood, such as the notorious revolutionary fighter referred to as Veta B. . .'
       --John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World, New York, 1919 (uncorrected draft)

       "Priceless stuff. Now I see why you stuck at it after Moscow."
       Daniel drapes his flamingo body across the train seat while he reads my notes. He looks like he could be in his usual perch in the senior common room. We are fifteen minutes out of Croydon and already rattling through open countryside beneath steep hillsides furred with trees.
       "Everyone said you were losing it. But I told them, don't underestimate Will's creativity."
       We shoulder our packs and step out of the train at Penshurst station, descending a ramp onto a quiet country lane. Daniel says, "Your little detour isn't going to take too long is it, Will? You promised me lunch in the Spotted Dog."
       "The path goes right by the cottage. It won't delay us much. Even if there's anyone there."
       "Pity if they're not. I've been looking forward to hearing you explain your, ah, quest."
       It takes us half an hour to walk to the village. Daniel keeps up a constant stream of chatter. Next week he's playing golf with the chairman of the research grants committee, has he told me about his invitation to that reception at the House of Lords, pity I didn't get invited, but never mind, it will come.
       "Shame your Zoe couldn't come today," he says. "Always lovely to see her."
       Lovely, I think.
       A hot wind blows into our faces. Whenever we step out of the shade, I feel my skin evaporating in fierce sunlight. I drank a whole bottle of water on the train but my mouth already feels as if it is lined with dry denim.
       We don't pass anyone, which is good. I thought it best to keep away from the roads. We approach Penshurst across fields baked yellow by the August heat and finally through a churchyard. Most of the gravestones around the church are old and faded. Daniel can't resist reading aloud from the stones. He stops at one and squats.
       "Christ! Look at this: the children of Frederick and Martha Cowell. Three of them, all died between May 1876 and February 1877, aged eight years, ten years and six months. Nothing like a bit of history to make you glad you live in the present."
       He walks on and I read the lines of verse at the foot of the Cowell children's stone:
       'Blessed are the dead, no weal or woe
       Can touch them when from us they go
       And we that are left long more and more
       To join the loved ones gone before'

       We emerge into a narrow lane. On the far side there is a wooden gate in a high hedge. Beyond, a gravel path leads between rose bushes to the front of a two-storey house. All of the windows are blind with internal shutters, throwing back the sunlight as if from a mirror.
       This is it: the childhood home of Charles Oates.
       "Born in 1882 in the village of Penshurst in Kent, Charles Oates went to a boarding school in Ramsgate from 1893 to 1900. Oates trained in theology at Cambridge but never entered the Church. Instead he got a job in a merchant bank, Olivant's, in the City of London. This position opened up the right sort of connections for someone interested in a political career, and Oates was selected to fight for the marginal seat of Beckenham, south London, when the sitting Liberal MP died in 1912. Oates was elected, and became one of the youngest Tory MPs at the time. He served the constituency until his death in August 1917.
       Oates enlisted in the early years of the War, volunteering after recovery from a bout of ill-health that may have represented some kind of nervous breakdown. There were unsubstantiated rumours that Oates had become inappropriately involved with a young woman whom he had met in the course of his Parliamentary duties. Their relationship appears to have caused a mild scandal at the time.
       He took part in the Third Battle of the Ypres Salient, known as Passchendaele. Oates was however not killed in combat. He was found dead by another soldier in the early hours of the 15th of August 1917. His throat was cut, apparently by the razor that was found in his hand. His comrades said he had been sitting alone writing late into the night. He had paper and pens with him, but no notes or letters from that last night were ever found..."
       -- Paul Seymour, A House in Uniform: Members of Parliament in the First World War, unpublished thesis, London 1972

       The door opens immediately after Daniel knocks, as if the dark-haired woman was waiting behind it. Her pale face is unmarked by the slightest shine of sweat, in contrast to the glistening tomato of Daniel's face, and no doubt my own.
       "We're terribly sorry to trouble you," Daniel says. "My friend here wanted to telephone or write but he didn't have the number, nor know who to write to. But this is the old rectory?"
       "That's what the sign on the gate says. I've never had cause to doubt it."
       "I apologise for the intrusion," I say. "You see, I need to talk to the person who owns this house."
       "We're not planning to sell."
       "Oh, it's nothing like that. Forgive me, I'm a historian." I fumble in my pocket for one of my cards.
       "My name's Daniel Westbridge." Daniel holds out a hand to the woman, who shakes it after a moment of hesitation. "Professor of History at Cambridge University. My colleague here is William Benedict. This house cropped up in Will's research. We were planning a country hike, so we thought we'd drop by."
       "Ellie Beckton," the woman says. "The house cropped up?"
       "Someone who used to live here came up in my research," I say before Daniel can speak again. "It would be helpful to find out what I can about the history of the place."
       "I don't think I can help you."
       "It's just a long shot," Daniel says. "But Will's got a bee in his bonnet about it."
       "We wouldn't take up much of your time," I say. "Just a few questions and we'll leave you in peace. Unless there's a better time?"
       "Are you on your own?" The woman looks past us at the gate and the lane beyond.
       "Just us," Daniel says. "We're keen to get on for a pub lunch, so we won't keep you long."
       "Yes, we can't afford to get lost," I say. "No one knows we're out here. I'm just interested in anything you can tell us about former occupants."
       "I don't think there's much I can say." She has eyes so deep brown that the iris is hard to distinguish from the pupil, giving her a piercing dark stare. She's not quite as I expected. "But come in out of the heat and have something to drink."
       "Communist leader, and new ruler of Russia, Vladimir Lenin survived an assassination attempt in August 1918. He was shot in the arm, jaw and neck. The long civil war taxed his health further and he suffered his first stroke in May 1922. He continued to dictate papers to his wife Nadezhda Krupskaya until further strokes left him mute and bedridden. He died on January 21, 1924.
       For much of this later period, Lenin was attended by his personal nurse. Little is known about this woman and her origins, other than that she was not a native Russian, recently arrived in Moscow from western Europe. She was rumoured to have played an important role in communications with Communist Party General Secretary, Joseph Stalin, (who was of course to become Lenin's eventual successor) in view of the strained relations between Krupskaya and Stalin."
       --Richard Benson, Testament of Failure: From Lenin to Stalin, Cambridge, 1998

       The woman leads us into a reception room smelling faintly of wood smoke. The cool of the interior is an immense relief. She brings tall glasses of iced water and she and I sit opposite each other on matching armchairs. Daniel arranges himself across a sofa which wheezes out dust as he drops into it.
       "Please tell me what this is all about. I'm intrigued." She speaks with the faintest hint of an accent, suggesting time spent in Europe, long ago.
       "It's very good of you to talk to us, Ellie," Daniel says. He looks around the room, taking in the shelves of ancient-looking books and the large painting above the fireplace. "There's probably nothing in this, but William gets these hunches. The rest of us just have to humour him."
       And steal the best ideas so that you get the Chair I should have had.
       Daniel doesn't mention that.
       I wonder about Ellie Beckton's age. When she answered the door I would have put her appearance at no more than thirty, hence Daniel's attempts to turn on the charm. But now I notice tiny lines in the pale skin around her mouth and eyes. I take a sip of my cool water, which tastes a little odd; chalky, as if the cottage has its own well sunk into the downland earth rather than relying on the mains supply.
       "My specialism is Russian history," I say. "The 1917 revolution, Lenin and Stalin and all that."
       "I've heard of them."
       "It's a well-trodden field. Not long ago historians thought we knew all there was to know about those years: the Revolution, the Civil War, Lenin's death and Stalin's dictatorship."
       "I'm puzzled what connection you think there could be with this house." Ellie Beckton holds her glass in both hands on her lap, like a ceremonial candle.
       "I'll come to that. But a bit of background might be helpful?"
       "Chandler version, eh Will? Not the Proust," says Daniel over the top of his glass.
       "The collapse of the Soviet Union meant access to a huge volume of sources that were thought lost or destroyed, or which no one even knew existed."
       I take another long draught of water and wipe my forehead with the back of a wrist. Ellie Beckton has not drunk any of her own water. Daniel is smiling at her the way he does with Zoe.
       "I was looking into the last days of Lenin. There were rumours that he was weakened by some kind of unidentified wasting disease, which gradually sapped his strength, despite all medical help. There was speculation about possible poisoning."
       "Who would want to poison him?" Again that slight hint of an accent in her voice. 'Poison heem'.
       "In Europe in 1923? Who wouldn't? But the speculation isn't serious. Lenin was too well protected. In any case, I was mainly interested in the mystery woman who was closest to Lenin in those final days. She appears here and there in the sources."
       "Didn't Lenin have a wife?"
       "The loyal Krupskaya," Daniel says. He flashes me a sly smile, possibly thinking about the not so loyal Zoe.
       "He had a nurse who was with him constantly in those final days." I watch Ellie Beckton over the top of my glass.
       "And she's the one you're studying?" Nothing moves in her face.
       "Surprisingly little is known about her, for all that she was close to a man whose life has been so intensively researched. Her name was Elizaveta Bekhradnia. Apparently she came from Hungary. It isn't known when she first arrived, but she appears to have been in Moscow during the 1917 Revolution, according to descriptions of a fierce young woman called Veta, described as being in her late twenties."
       "If it's the same woman," Daniel says. "Is there any more water, Ellie?" Ellie Beckton disappears briefly to the back of the house. Daniel watches her go and says, "Do you think she's lonely out here in the sticks?"
       "Maybe she's not your type."
       He grins. "I'm broad-minded. You know me."
       Report of court proceedings. Heard Before the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR. Moscow, August 19-24, 1936
       (ProsecutorVyshinsky examines the accused Yakovlev on the plot against Comrade Stalin. At first the accused denies some of the evidence, but he quickly accepts the proof of his guilt.)
       Yakovlev: I have heard it said that some comrades have spoken of me meeting disgraced members of the Trotsky faction to plan an attack on Comrade Stalin, but there can be no proof of this.
       Vyshinsky: We have the sworn testimony of several witnesses, including Comrade Bekhradnia, one of Stalin's closest aides.
       Yakovlev: It's lies. I have never met this Bekhradnia.
       [Disturbance in the body of the Court and short recess] On resumption, Yakovlev continues.
       Vyshinsky: The Court understands that you wish to correct your mistaken earlier testimony.
       Yakovlev: That is correct. In fact I spoke several times to Comrade Bekhradnia. I knew her from her service under the former Chairman, Lenin, and trusted her.
       Vyshinsky: Trusted her enough to confess details of the plot you were involved in.
       Yakovlev: Yes. I know now that her loyalty to Comrade Stalin was secure and she quickly revealed the plans. I very much regret my part in this aggression against our revolutionary leadership.

       "After Lenin's death, Bekhradnia drops out of sight," I say as Beckton returns with a jug and fills Daniel's glass. "That wouldn't be so unusual; the history of Soviet Russia in that period is riddled with exiles and imprisonment. So far as anyone knew, there was nothing more to be known about Elizaveta Bekhradnia, and no evidence on which to draw."
       "But you found something." Ellie Beckton is very beautiful, as I expected. It is no surprise that Daniel, who doesn't take much tempting, is interested.
       "I was lucky enough to get funding for a sabbatical trip to Moscow last November."
       "It must have been cold."
       "Imagine the competition," says Daniel. "Well done, Will, for winning that gig."
       I ignore him, keeping my eyes on the woman. "Have you ever been to Russia, Ms. Beckton?"
       "What makes you think that?"
       "You have a slight accent. I hope you don't mind me saying."
       "I've been all over. Hard to say what's mixed up in my accent. Can I get you both some tea?"
       She disappears again into the back of the cottage, leaving behind the memory of her skirt whispering against her legs as she walks out, and a hint of perfume. Daniel stands and looks at the spines of the books on the shelves above the stone fireplace.
        "Not the collection of books I'd expect for a woman like her." He takes down a few volumes. "Never heard of most of these. Languages I don't recognise, probably eastern Europe. A few in Russian."
       "Examining the literature, Professor?"
       Ellie Beckton is back, holding a tray. I didn't hear her. She moves as stealthily as a cat.
       She hands me a cup. She studies my face for a long time before turning away, as if searching for something in my eyes. I catch another ghost of her perfume, something musky with a breath of cinnamon or nutmeg.
       "Some of your books are very old, Ellie," Daniel says. "Quite a collection."
       "Don't be fooled by appearances, Professor. A lot of them were left by the previous owner."
       "The previous owner?" I say. "That's why we're here. You see--"
       "I hope you're not going to cut the story short. I was beginning to enjoy it. The mysterious nurse. Nothing known about her. But you went to Moscow? What happened? It sounds exciting."
       "Exciting for Will, maybe." Daniel runs a finger along a row of books. "Days spent sneezing over dusty papers that haven't seen daylight in decades."
       Ellie Beckton follows Daniel's progress with cool eyes. "I'm sure you do hands-on research as well, professor."
       "Daniel's right." I don't want to hear what he has to say about anything hands-on. "It's mostly quite dull."
       Her eyes shift their gaze to me. "But you found something?"
       "Yes. The name Elizaveta Bekhradnia doesn't disappear after Lenin's death, although traces are hard to find. She seems to have remained close to the Party leadership, because her name comes up occasionally in the 1930s in transcripts of the show trials that Stalin used to get rid of his rivals."
       "She was on trial?"
       "No. She's mentioned by some of the defendants as a close associate of Stalin."
       "Not such a mystery, after all?" As with the water, I haven't seen her drink any of the tea. She holds the cup on her knee as if she's forgotten it's there.
       "Well, there are some odd things about it." I sip my tea and think for a moment. I haven't talked to Daniel about every aspect of the research. "I found references to her much later," I say. "Stalin died in 1953. He had lived a strange life for years and the night of his death was no different. He was up late into the night with some of his close advisers. They left him at four in the morning, with no suggestion that Stalin was in poor health. The story was always accepted that Stalin went to bed after telling his guards to go off duty and not to wake him."
       I think back again to that day in the Moscow archives. Curtains of snow twisted beyond the narrow window as I burrowed deep into the papers I had requested the previous day. The prize find was a file that no one had previously suspected existed; witness statements from Stalin's staff after his death.
       That morning, when I got my hands on the file, I found that it contained a set of completely unrelated papers. Someone had made a mistake. The staff at the archive appeared baffled when I pointed out the discrepancy. They ignored me as they went into an urgent whispered conversation with the supervisor, who offered only a bland apology as he took back the file.
       Before parting with it, I had looked properly for the first time at the record sheet glued inside the front cover, a list of all those who had checked out the file. I had previously ignored the names above mine. Most appeared to be archive staff, none of them recent. But one name stood out. The signature was only partly legible, scrawled in what looked a feminine hand in an elegant, old-school style. The first name clearly began with the letters 'Eliz', before finishing in a scribble. And the surname began with the letter 'B'.
       Fortunately, the trail didn't end there. Later in the day I discovered one of the missing transcripts, misfiled in another volume. It was a report of an interview with Stalin's cook, who must have been very nervous in view of the possibility of poisoning.
       The cook, Lidia Pereprygina, described how Stalin's guards became worried when there was no sign of Stalin emerging next morning but dared not counter the dictator's orders. The only person to enter Stalin's room during the whole day, according to Pereprygina, was Stalin's trusted assistant, who went in for an hour at the end of the day. This woman's name, the transcript claimed, was Bekhradnia.
       Maybe it was the sight of the continued snow flailing down beyond the window, but I remember suppressing a violent shiver when I read this. Stalin was 74 years old when he died. How old was this Bekhradnia in 1953, assuming it was the same woman who had been with Lenin, and before that on the front line of the Revolution in 1917?
       She would have been sixty, at the very least. Yet the references to her in this document gave a sense of a much younger woman. When Bekhradnia came out of Stalin's room, the frightened cook said, she spoke to no one, other than to order that Stalin was not to be disturbed, and hurried away to her own quarters.
       One section of the transcript particularly intrigued me. When questioned by later investigators, the cook Pereprygina had said:
       "...EB needed to change her clothing. Her white tunic was stained red down the front. Witness LP was asked where blood might have come from and said EB later told her that she had injured her hand assisting Comrade Stalin into a more comfortable position. However, Witness LP said that EB had no wound on her hand but traces of blood on her chin and left cheek.
       EB has been unaccounted for since Comrade Stalin's death, and cannot yet be questioned for her own explanation of events. State security officials continue to search for her."

       None of the staff plucked up courage to enter Stalin's room until a guard went in at 22:00 and found the dictator lying on the floor. He was partially paralysed, breathing with difficulty.
       Unfortunately for Stalin, his usual doctors, the best in Russia, had recently been arrested as part of a forthcoming purge and were in prison. The available doctors were unable to agree on a diagnosis. The Soviet leader had lost a huge amount of blood, although detailed descriptions of the scene oddly included little sign of blood on bedclothes or other furnishings. Stalin struggled on for another day and night, without regaining consciousness, before dying.
       "This is immensely fascinating, Will," Daniel says. "But I'm sure young Ellie here has things to do."
       "Not at all." She is standing very still behind Daniel's chair. I didn't notice her move. "We don't get many visitors."
       "But maybe step it up a bit, Will?" Daniel sounds the way he does in the Common Room, after one too many of the college president's ports. He slumps across the sofa as if he is settling in for an evening of football on the television. I wipe more sweat from my brow, although the room now feels cold. The woman has a hand on Daniel's shoulder. I look away.
       "There isn't much more to say."
       "I can see why you would be interested in Stalin's mysterious assistant. And Lenin's nurse," Ellie Beckton says. "But you said you were here because of a previous owner of this house."
       "This is the good bit," Daniel said. His hand rests on the back of hers. "You'll see why Will is the leader in his field. So creative."
       "I found some of Elizaveta Bekhradnia's papers."
       "Really?" The woman steps away from Daniel and resumes her seat, watching me intently.
       "Yes. They were misfiled with some other stuff, but they were clearly hers. There were memos she had signed, and letters addressed to her from Russian officials."
       "And the link with this place?"
       "There were some letters in English. They were written between 1913 and 1917 from a man called Charles Oates, sent to an Eliza Bekhradnia at various addresses in London. His family came from this village and he grew up in this house."
                                                                 The Rectory,
                                                                 4 August 1915
       My Dear Eliza
       As you will see from the address at the top of this page I have returned home to my parents' house while I fight off this fever.
       It must be your absence: I always feel so alive and full of strength when I am with you but since you departed I have been weak, as if each day of your absence I wake up five years older.
       I have thought constantly about our last evening together in my time alone. I am reasonably worldly. Do not think ill of me if I say that I have enjoyed the company of several accomplished young women. But none ever provoked in me the extremity of feeling that I had when we were together that last evening.
       I must see you again. Say it will be possible.
       Your Charles
                                                                 House of Commons
                                                                  9 November 1915
       Dearest Eliza
       I think constantly of our recent conversations. I hope I have misunderstood you.
       'Some must shed their blood so that others live on,' you said. You make the bloodletting of this terrible war sound too much like a good thing instead of an unfortunate sacrifice. I wonder whether you do not sometimes let the influence of your central European ancestry come a little too much to the fore; all those years beating back the Turk with any weapon that came to hand!
       Forgive my teasing. Perhaps it is because of my high spirits since you returned. I was so low in strength and morale while you were away. The doctor was baffled by the persistence of my fever and weakness, for which he could find no cause.
       I improved as soon as you returned; even my mother remarked that after your first visit to my sickbed the colour was back in my cheeks at once...

       "So you think there's a connection," Ellie Beckton says. "You think this Eliza is related to the Russian nurse, or maybe even the same person?"
       "I don't know what they fed him in Moscow," Daniel says. "But that's exactly what William thinks. Some kind of sorceress, who never gets older and flits from country to country buddying up with powerful men."
       "Don't be stupid. I never said that."
       "You don't have to say it, Will. You've had this obsession for months. Just ask Zoe --" He stops himself, sits up straighter.
       "Ask Zoe what?" I need to keep my attention on the woman but I fix Daniel with a cold stare. My tea cup rattles in its saucer.
       "Nothing." Daniel lurches out of his seat and turns back to the bookshelf. His cheeks look like someone just slapped his face.
       "Anything else I should know about your chats with my wife?"
       "Come on, Will. Grow up." Daniel looks around as if he has just woken up, his eyes misty and unmoored. "Look, we should get going, if we're going to be in time for that pub lunch."
       "There is no pub lunch! Why would I want to have lunch with you?"
       Daniel rubs his eyes. His mouth opens and closes without a sound. I want to stand up, but I find that my limbs are reluctant to move. Ellie Beckton sits very still, only her head moving slightly from side to side as she follows the exchange between me and Daniel. Her eyes are dark holes.
       Daniel steps into the centre of the room. "I need the loo, sorry."
       "This way." Beckton is at his side, guiding a sluggish Daniel through a door and into a darker part of the cottage. He stumbles at the threshold and it looks for a moment as if she carries him beyond and out into the shadows.
       This is when I should leave. My arms and legs are heavy but my mind is startlingly clear. I think about the nurse Bekhradnia in Moscow -- of Hungarian ancestry and aged around thirty at Lenin's death and still in her early thirties when Stalin died in 1953 - and the other Bekhradnia, a woman of Hungarian extraction who was also in her early thirties when she met Charles Oates in 1914.
       I cannot prove they are the same woman. Nor can I prove that they are the same as the Veta Bekhradnia reported as being at a Suffragette rally in London in 1907. Nor can I prove a connection with the mysterious Lizzie Beck, the woman seen with Mary Jane Kelly on the night of 8 November 1888. Mary Kelly is usually recorded as the fifth victim of Jack the Ripper, but I wonder who really stole her heart. Lizzie Beck was never seen again.
       The cottage is very still. I have become cold sitting here. I stand and pick up my rucksack. Daniel's pack lies on the floor where he left it. I walk to the door that he and Ellie Beckton went through, but I don't follow them. Beyond the door is a staircase leading up into darkness. At the top of the stairs there is a movement, like someone ducking out of sight. There is a sound coming from up there, someone breathing very fast.
       I back away from the door and move as quietly as I can to the front of the cottage. The front door stands half open. Through it I can see the gate that leads back to the rest of the world.
       I am very methodical in my thinking. It's why I am a better historian than Daniel although he is a professor and I am not. But now I have lost control of my thoughts. I wonder how Ellie Beckton came to be the owner of the cottage that Charles Oates grew up in. I think about Zoe and her meetings with Daniel and how many of her yoga classes really involve yoga.
       I know I should go. I should walk down that path and away from the house without a backward glance, as quickly as I can move. I am sure that I will not see Daniel again and that was the whole point of this, wasn't it? I need to move quickly, get home before Zoe comes in and lose the clothes and the pack in case someone remembers two hikers on a train.
       But I'm a better historian than Daniel because I'm more curious. That curiosity helped me trace the Bekhradnia threads through the tangled and grubby cloth of Russian history and follow them back to England before the war. It's how I worked out what Oates and Lenin and Stalin and other powerful men did not. It's what gave me the chance to nudge the cheating Daniel into her arms, like swatting a fat fly into a spider's web.
       And yet the same curiosity makes it hard to walk away in this brief moment of safety. I want to know more. I want to know what happens next and what happened before. I can't let go of the thread. How far back does it go?
       Daniel would never have had the instinct and the persistence to find what I discovered in those archives. But scheming and self-interested Daniel - adulterer Daniel - he would have known when to get away.
                                                                 Ypres Salient
                                                                  August 1917
       Dearest Eliza,
        Truly our times together are like dreams I once had. Can it ever again be how it was?
       The big push has begun at last. Before the attack, our big guns kept up a barrage of the German lines for ten whole days, a never-ending howling and roaring. We sat in our dugouts, waiting for the noise to end.
       In a dream you were with me and the mud and the noise were gone. We were in a garden, in the shade of a cherry tree on a summer's day. Your mouth was on my neck and I felt filled with your love.
       At the moment of attack the crash of big guns stopped with a sudden hush like the world had dropped into a bottomless hole. Some invisible force pulled us from our trenches. Mist hid in the hollows of the no man's land. We ran forward, an army of ghosts.
       Machine guns rattled and the man beside me threw up his arms and went down. I used a small scrap of hedge for cover, my face scraping in the dirt as I crawled to it.
       I thought I saw you through the smoke, beckoning me. I wanted to go to you. Moments later a shell landed where I saw you. I told myself you weren't really there; you hadn't been scattered across the mud. But I would have been, if I had gone to you...

       "Leaving so soon?"
       I turn to find Ellie Beckton close behind me. Something is different about her. She is taller than I thought. I have to look up to meet her eyes. And her limbs look longer and thinner than before, her wrists and fingers long and insect-like, as if she has been stretched on a rack. She is breathing heavily.
       "I've taken enough of your time."
       "What about your friend?"
       "He's not my friend." I take a step backwards, closer to the door. My foot falls into the wedge of bright sunlight coming in from outside and the feel of it on my leg is like the heat from a fast-receding universe.
       "Surely you can't leave without him."
       I take another step back, but she is closer than ever, looming above me. "Where is he?" I don't want to know.
       "Upstairs. Come and see."
       I think about who might have tried to hide traces of Elizaveta Bekhradnia in the Moscow archives. I wonder if it is the same person who was responsible for other gaps in the records; the lack of any birth or death certificates for Eliza or Veta Bekhradnia or Lizzie Beck. If it is, what might that person do when they know what I found? I remember the way Ellie Beckton looked as Daniel and I argued; utterly still as her eyes slid from me to him and back, like a cat watching two sparrows on a lawn.
       "I need to go."
       "But there's so much more I want to hear."
       "I thought--"
       "I know what you thought. You could lead poor Daniel here and leave him with me." Without appearing to move, Ellie Beckton is now behind me, between me and the door. I turn slowly to face her. Her lips are bright red like cherries. Her teeth are chiseled ivory.
       "I'll never come again." The room is suddenly empty of air, making it hard to speak. "I'll destroy all my notes."
       "That will be taken care of," she says. "But you deserve to know more. There are things I can tell you. You've been very clever, finding out so much. So clever." Her hand on my arm is like a steel spring. "But not so clever to tell me about it."
       Over the shoulder of Elizaveta Bekhradnia, the gate at the end of garden looks a long way away.

© Electric Spec