Tag Archives: fiction

Sveta Wonders Why Nic Plays With Her


The result of playing and practicing chess for so long was restless and ill-tempered tossing and turning in bed. Normally it would take Sveta just a few minutes to fall asleep; more and more her days were empty, and she was left with nothing more taxing than imaginings of the outside world as she embraced the freedom of dreams. A certain knowledge that she was safe from the outside world of drunks and hooligans, behind her sturdy two doors, and five floors and a concierge between the violence of the street, tended to envelope her at night. It was as if she was able to click off the anglepoise spotlighting and x-raying the horrors beyond her door, and the darkness was ignorance to the illumination before.

But there was no release from the game. Or rather there was no release from one problem the Nic had posed. She enjoyed the intellectual challenge of chess puzzles, and this was a recent one, from a game she should have been aware of. An advanced white rook, d7 was attacking the black king c8, and was meant to be able to go on to win, with a pawn to assist against black’s remaining bishop and pawn. The rook, more mobile than a solitary bishop, should make short shrift in the situation, but Sveta could not see it. The black pawn was diagonally adjacent to its bishop, offering only a rook gambit for a pawn at best, the poorest option available on the board. Over and over in her head she moved the white king and the rook, the pawn immobilised behind the black pawn. Her closed eyes drew light from somewhere, and the monochrome 2D pieces moved bottom to top, right to left and back.

Eventually she lay still, and accepted that sleep was a horizon, and she could remain stationary and take the moment without stride, or she could chase helplessly, never fatiguing to the point of collapse. With one realisation came another – her rigid routine mattered little. It had been weeks since she left the house, the university had all but given up on her (had she not been so senior in such a small department, it was almost certain that she would have been asked to stand down some time ago) and if she desired she could have spent all night solving and setting questions with Nic. In the three days that they had been playing, Sveta was yet to turn to the computer and be met without response from him. She sensed he either didn’t want to or had no reason to work. Sad that he should seem to spend so much time playing chess, but no sadder her than her life. She resolved to try to find out more about him tomorrow, rather than just the quiet online formalities that they were clearly well versed in.

Arriving At Volgograd Station


Arriving Volgograd

Nic leaned out of the window feeling the air fresher on his face than he expected. The Baku “Express” was about halfway to its ultimate destination and he’d had none of the trouble warily predicted by those that had never used the train. The Azeri train guards, truly Caucasian with clipped moustaches, who had regarded him with amusement throughout the journey, grinned and nodded when he pointed to the floor and asked, “Volgograd?” He sought further confirmation with the childish Cyrillic scrawl that he had copied from his guidebook which made them laugh from their bellies. A little embarrassed that he had not just shown them the book, he stuffed the paper into his pocket and set about readying his backpack. The late morning sun was bright through the coupe window and Nic felt like a pioneer. There was a true sense of some inspiring adventure before him. It bathed him with new found peaceful anticipation instead of the bile that had leeched into him during much of the journey so far and he was surprised to note that he was not at all worried about finding the driver who was to take him directly south to Elista, the city home of City Chess.

The train slowed to oil tanker rate, and during the last 200 metres it was difficult to notice that it was moving at all. This served to maintain the calm, and with a surprising lightness Nic bounded from the train and onto Russian soil, the door held open for him. He reached up behind him and shook hands with the two still smiling guards leaning to meet him halfway. It had been a tiny education for all. He fished his cheap sunglasses from his pocket and threw his head back to take the sun on his face. Then he just stood. He didn’t know where to go and really didn’t care.

He dropped the ‘pack to the floor and perched on it, the weight of his body taken more on his haunches and flat feet. Ignoring the no smoking signs, he licked the microscopic holes on the speckled brown filter of a Marlboro Light to marginally increase the strength. Once the end was glowing he sucked in deeply, imagining the cloud filling his lungs and blew out with the satisfaction of a deep breath rather than a nicotine hit. In fact he gained satisfaction from expelling the noxious fumes, but that did not stop him from poisoning himself once more. He stared at the carriage, 3 metres from him. Looking at all the parts, he went back to the time when a friend of his, a train driver, took him on an illicit journey.

Kenton referred to himself as a “basher”, and as far as Nic could work out, he was essentially an extreme trainspotter. The extreme part was that to tick the engine from his list, Kenton had to ride up front. Nic wasn’t sure whether Kenton had become a driver because of this obsession or whether the obsession had overcome him once he had begun his career. In either event, Kenton had been travelling through Nic’s local station late one evening, and had promised to call to see whether he had wanted to make the three hour round trip with him. Nic decided to give it a go and he and another friend, Bruce, had jumped on the Class 38 train as Kenton slid it through the station at about the same pace as the Baku Express had docked minutes before. It was dark, sometime after midnight and once the diesel engine had got its full head of steam back up, or whatever it was that diesel engine’s had to do to get to a decent pace, Kenton had let Nic drive. There was nothing to it, the most demanding act was to sound the horn before entering the tunnel (against the rule book at that time of night, but this was once-in-a-lifetime stuff), an act which in itself elicited child-like excitement. The fun of the horn was replaced with the horror of an alarm ringing directly behind him. It was a full 1960s fire alarm and it wrenched Nic from reverie and planted him firmly in terror. Kenton responded by coolly stuffing a canvas glove between the bell and the hammer and explained that “this old thing is forever doing that.” The adrenalin breaking down in Nic’s system was making him nervous and after Bruce had declined taking the controls, muttering something about the Titanic, Kenton took over once more.

“Why don’t you two look at the engine?” he suggested above the roar, and with a nod the two of them had headed out of the door behind them and into the engine. Directly into the engine. The noise was incredible, really louder than anything either of them had heard. Bruce punched Nic on the shoulder to get his attention, and although he was clearly shouting from just a metre away, Nic could hear nothing but the din. He turned away from Nic and motioned to the other end of the roaring lump of iron, encouraging Nic to follow. He instinctively knew that this was because he knew he wouldn’t follow and now he felt compelled. With great cloaks of claustrophobia enveloping him, Nic made his way along the chamber, back pressed against the wall as if it offered some protection and arrived at the back where Bruce had already opened the back door. It was like a Bond movie, looking out over the roofless carriages that carried the cargo, a bright moon behind them slightly to the right. They just stood there for a while, appreciating the wind, the terrific feeling of movement and the receding countryside. It was exhilarating and calm all at once.

And that was what Nic felt now. The peace of just sitting and smoking belied the knots in his stomach. He was pinching the end of his smoke and flicked it at the gears and gauges underneath the carriage, and it landed perfectly still on some horizontal bracing between wheels. Pleased with this exceptional omen, the knot slipped straight and he got up, wrestling the backpack happily into place as he did. The driver that he had managed to arrange should be easy enough to spot, a Kalmyk with his distinctive Mongol features amongst a crowd of Russians. He could not make out the size or design of the place as he strode across the tracks, but walking through the building he was impressed by the high ceilings and marble walls. It was lighter than Lviv and less modern than Kyiv, but typically Russian. It seemed that everyone was travelling with a plastic, gingham, zip-up case, of the type used for laundry back home, but used for pretty much everything here. He kept up his determined pace to the front of the station and at the top of the stairs outside took some water from his bottle and settled on his haunches to have another cigarette and see if he could spot someone. Resting back against his pack, against the wall, Nic surveyed the crowd and judged that it should be simple. The sun was on his face and he thumbed the half smoked stick into a crack in the pavement before tossing the butt into the bin. As he stood up, someone was in front of him, speaking to him in Russian.

“Ya ne govoryu po-russkiĭ,” he spluttered under his breath. As it fell from his lips, he confused himself wondering whether he had just lied, by explaining he didn’t speak Russian in Russian. Before the thought could take hold the stranger was speaking English no better to him.

A Pint With Gavin James Bower


It would be easy and lazy to review Dazed & Aroused, by Gavin James Bower, as an easily written, lazy pastiche of Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero. And whilst the similarities are evident, and the author himself has spoken at great length about the influence the book has had on his novel, very few reviews of Orwell’s 1984 began by referencing the fact that it was a direct take on Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. It simply isn’t an issue.

But let’s not get caught up in the name checking of the greats. Bower’s book is an accomplished, wry take on the world of modelling. For a debut novel, written in the first person, the simple assumption to make would be that this is more memoir than fiction. Not so, says Bower when we meet in a West End pub to discuss this book and his next, Made In Britain.

“Consciously, at the time of writing it, it wasn’t me. I took a lot of examples as an observer, of the photo shoots and scenarios that I found myself in and creating characters from there.” After two more sentences, and a draw on his pint of stout, Bower continues, “The disposition of Alex and how he views the world is very much a part of me…”

This isn’t as contradictory as it at first sounds. Bower modelled for “18 months, on and off” and never knew the success that Alex enjoys in Dazed. (“I was never a rich or successful model”). I use the term ‘enjoys’ advisedly. The arrogance and ennui that is so much of his character, the unquestioning acceptance of having a successful look always leaves the reader feeling that the best restaurants are not quite enough, and even partying hard after fashion week is an empty experience. Bower impresses on the point, “In all seriousness, Alex is an extension of me in many ways – a parody.” When discussing the limited amount of drug taking in the book, Bower is “making it up”, a charming reinforcement of the fact of the fiction here.

As we sit outside the pub, the day starts to close and the chilly spring evening takes hold. Royal Mail vans return to their nearby base, sirens wail and rubbish bins are seen to. Over Bower’s shoulder I can see a man pleading for a cigarette from one of the patrons that has ventured outside in the hope of an unmolested smoke. I am relieved when the beggar walks past, happily puffing away. This scene is startlingly similar to a repeating theme in Dazed;

“London is always about juxtapositions, always about that horrible clash – checking your Blackberry and emails on the way to work, whilst stepping over a beggar in a sleeping bag.” I mention that it felt close to being overdone. “Maybe remarking on that is not that clever to point out, but it is there.” Alex gets that there is the poverty there, he sees it, but “he refuses point blank to engage.”

And there it is. Graffiti, clothes, even the silent models are more interesting to Alex than people.

Bower started writing at university in 2002, which led to journalism jobs for Dazed & Confused amongst others. In 2007, suddenly unemployed, he set to paper the story that had been gathering momentum in his mind since his move to London, two years previously. He’s modest about the success of Dazed, and optimistic about writing the screenplay for it, and the forthcoming publication of Made In Britain, his second novel.

Made In Britain is the story of three 16 year olds set in Every Town. Charlie, Russell and Hayley are dealing with their issues, reacting to the world about them. Was it difficult writing about kids of this age? “I don’t know why I’m writing about 16 year olds, maybe it’s a fucking big mistake,” he laughs. There’s disarming honesty to this phrase, but clearly a confidence too. A sneak peak of Made In Britain is available here. Have a look around the rest of the blog; Bower is no Bret Easton Ellis, what he is, is a writer finding his own voice, in his own time.

Spiked


They asked, so who was he to refuse? He was sat as one at a table arranged for 8 or more on a Friday night. There was no reason to be the usual antisocial loner. This might be a chance to try and talk to people again. His enforced loneliness was a ridiculous guard against something that wasn’t there, he told himself. They were Irish lads, celebrating a 30th birthday en masse, and they were just the ticket. They got in the way of the television, but for fuck’s sake, he motored on in his head, his internal conversations and decisions taken in milliseconds, talk, TALK.

Mossie was the birthday boy and easily the most gregarious. Hand out for the shake and an explanation as to why they were there, “My birthday, have a drink, will ya?” Sold. He realised he was four ahead in this bar, but the lads were buzzing and the synapses made the decision, “I’m in, happy birthday.” They’d been somewhere before, he wasn’t ahead at all.

The social geography was awkward. Finding himself at a corner with two of the older boys in the party, and somewhat established as an expert on all things Krakow because of his week long experience, he groped for a conversational entrée. Then he saw the patches on their jackets. They weren’t just older, they were from some different tribe. Instead of asking about their relationship with the birthday boy, he blundered in with “Like the patches, I used to hang with some Outlaws in Cheltenham.”

Synapses snapped – “hang”? Prick, prick, prick. However he was treated with grace and they responded with courtesy, asking about his involvement (which was limited to a few speed based nights in some rock nightclub as it was.)

“To be sure.”

The phrase rattled in his head. What a pure cunt, getting “Da Oirish” shit out to patronise. Utterly unmeant, utterly English. He could try to backtrack but they seemed oblivious. His empty stomach grumbled, his addled tongue conveyed messages that his swimming mind was only half forming. One, Tom, went to the toilet. To escape the horror of one on one chat with the other, Den, he followed – he was just an inch through his beer, the bar was not an option.

In the toilet most of the party seemed assembled and thick as thieves, laughing at the blown up sequence of pictures of a famous tennis player inspecting her Brazilian on the beach so intently that a sharp paparazzo had got his money shot. Turning around after his piss and faltering banter, he spied a crouched figure. He heard a sniff. The crouched figure threw his head back and gagged slightly. A dormant, or rather suppressed, ache spread through him. His legs weakened at the thought, although he was hungry and needed food or something to get him through….

“Can I take a line from you, please?” He even avoided saying “yous” or “ya” or “ye”. Even congratulated himself in a nanosecond, that internal monologue worked well.

“Its not coke,” said Brian one of Mossie’s inner sanctum, “just speed, easier to bring in bulk,” he winked, but not quite at him, at someone past his shoulder. A blink, small shake of the head and Brian was looking at him directly, offering a rolled 100 Zloty note to his nose.

“I’m meant to be stopping, I’m not meant to be doing this. One night though, I’m not buying it, I’m taking a gift, it’s not against our rules, Sveta won’t mind, Dad won’t mind.” Justification happened in a shorter time than anything else. Mind and body did not work, just as mind and tongue failed. Feigning nonchalance he grabbed at the note, whereas he had instructed himself to pluck it from Brian’s fingers at most, slip it from his grasp at best. It blurred. Desperation hit him and the line went up his nose, a bit sharp.

“Want another? It’s not great.” It went through his mind that he’d not done speed for ages, much less snorted the shit, but the bitterness was horrendous. Lying beneath that thought was “in for a penny……” Shit or bust, fuck it, powder up the nose, high high high high. Racked and ready the next line seemed to be available before he’d finished his lightening thoughts. Left nostril held by left forefinger, head pushed along by the same finger (like a bogus Wigi board), his head went back. Fuck, that hurt. Like coffee gone bad. Hold on. Once before. Ages ago…….

Three months before he’d had a quiet night in. Limes came over with his girlfriend on a Friday and for some reason they’d decided no booze, no pot, no coke, no nothing. Telly was the drug and it was enough for them all. Slightly anxious about sleeping, but happy with trying, they all muttered and half laughed at the shit on the box. At around midnight there was a knock on the door, it turned out to be Lottie and her ex Jake, on the way to a party after a session in the Fountain. Everyone, as always, was welcome, so they came in with their bottle of Bargain Booze vodka and three cans of Red Bull. Not one of the original three would express their relief, allowing it to be disguised as forced upon them. Lottie then retrieved a wrap of powder from her jean’s watch pocket before the drinks were poured, but with a joking warning, “Its not coke, I’m afraid, its K.”

Without a second thought he’d said, “Why not? No other time I’ll be this sober offered it,” and declined the vodka iced in front of him. He bent, crouched over the table that offered up the seemingly tiny lines beckoning him, took the note and inhaled sharply. Ground glass ripped his nostrils, acute hell assaulted his throat. Like bitter, old coffee.

This was the same shit. But with pints on board, how many he’d not cared to count. All he knew was the effect was rapid and he had maybe 5 minutes. The cunts had spiked him, he was furious.



The Auction Room (so far)


Nic steered the Volvo into one of the three remaining spaces. He had left the café with his father at a little past 8 and was surprised to see that the Victoria Rooms were already busy.

“Something good here today by the looks of things, Dad.”
“Only thing I heard of is that Morris Minor. That Keith Davies is after it because of the number plate, so say.”

Keith Davies ran a local coach company, each 72 seater adorned with a number plate that began with the letters “KD”. When he had just three vehicles, the residents of the village from which he ran his empire forgave this conceit, but over the last two years he had won several school-run contracts. His fleet now stood at 7, and neither the yard nor the village could house another mechanised centipede. Someone had told the landlord of the Roses that the Minor was up in the auction, and not forgotten to add the detail of the number plate. It wasn’t long before the great and the good of the village were horrified and word had leaked across the fields to Geoff’s workshop in Highford, an unwanted accompaniment to a carriage clock with a crippled spring.

The heavy doors of The Tank, as father and son referred to the Volvo with an ironic lack of imagination, clunked shut, and they walked to the hall. Directly outside was the Morris Minor of myth, bearing the legend “KD 4736”, picked up and out in silver on the fading grey background of the tin plates. Nic hung back at the large entrance doors, and indicated he was going to roll and smoke a cigarette before going in. His father raised his eyebrows, rolled his eyes and smoothed the last remaining hairs on his scalp in a comically disapproving coordinated move. It was much practiced and Nic always expected it.

Nic circled the old car, an 1100 cc model in good condition. In fact, it looked to have been loved and cherished and its new owner would surely want to keep it intact. To re-register it would harm the provenance and it was certainly not destined to be the base for a kit car, as was the one his uncle had bought years ago. Stripped down to the chassis, and then rebuilt with fibre glass and canvas, the Magenta had resembled a boxy dune buggy, without the clearance or power, but with a Morris grill. It had taken a year to build, and Nic had distinct memories of flying around country lanes in the red curiosity piloted by the long-estranged uncle. No, whoever bought this would cherish it entirely, unless Davies got his hands on it, which would be a shame. Crouching on his haunches, Nic pulled the roll-up from his lips, leaving some shreds of tobacco on his lips. He pressed the smoke out, spitting the remnants as he did so. He really had no idea what he was looking at, but it passed the time, and he spotted some small bubbles of rust near the rear wheel arch. A small blemish for a car so old. The cigarette dropped into a small puddle and Nic made his way inside.

The hall tapered ahead of Nic, long and wide, to the dais where the auctioneer sat. At that moment, his head was cocked stage right with empty hand pointing in the direction of one bidder, whilst his eyes looked stage left along the arm holding his hammer. He pointed at a portly gentleman, kept white beard and what was left of his grey hair well cut. He was a regular in the rooms, and often went up against Geoff for horological lots. Whilst not as knowledgeable as Nic’s father, this opponent had deep pockets and the kind of unquenchable fascination with movements that picked him out as a regular and formidable bidding foe. Geoff referred to him as ‘Buggerlugs’.

“With you, sir, £18.”

He swung his head theatrically around to face the other bidder. Nic let the scene play out without his attention and scanned the room for his father. It took some time, but he spotted him just a few tables of crap away. Every now and again, this fortnightly sale would contain some pieces of genuine worth, but mostly it was the preserve of bric a brac merchants and car booters. Boxes of loosely related junk sat on the tables; typically there were boxes of weights and scales, books, coins and stamps and of course, watch and clock parts, a box of which Geoff was investigating now. Occasionally there were complete examples in amongst the springs, wheels and cases, but mostly the two of them collected pieces to use for repairs. Unbeknownst to one another, Geoff and Nic held a dusty and dim ambition to construct a watch of their own. Neither had the skill to develop one from scratch, and they were both satisfied with repairing the timepieces bought to them by others, as well as giving new life to some of the busted and ancient examples found in the boxes. In fact, Nic could see his father was more focussed on the box than usual.

“What you found Dad?”
“Not sure really. Could be nothing, let’s grab a coffee and I’ll tell you. Don’t want Buggerlugs over there seeing I’m interested.” Geoff darted his eyes across to the winner of the last lot, his bearded adversary.

In a side room, a man and wife team manned the small stove offering bacon sandwiches and the urn that gave life to granules of instant coffee and bags of own brand tea. Geoff and Nic both had coffee, Nic handing over the pound. They moved to one side and perched on a radiator.

“There’s a nearly complete pocket watch in there, a Russian one,” Geoff said quietly to his son. “There’s something odd though; it’s a Russian face but has got a lot of American parts in the movement. Some of the early Poljots used American movements that went to Moscow with the machinery that Stalin bought. Don’t ask me how I remember. Really got me interested, it has. You just know Buggerlugs will want it. So schtum, ok?”

They stayed there, sipping the hot, cheap coffee. Nic watched the steam swirl above the polystyrene cup and felt for his pouch of tobacco. He placed the drink on the floor and slid a paper from its packet. He held it between his right index finger and thumb, whilst he opened the pouch and clasped that automatically between the little and ring fingers of his left hand. Strands of tobacco were evened along the length of the paper by his thumbs, and after two rolls the paper was sharply folded in on itself, creating a satisfying tube. Geoff had watched the whole process. It never failed to amaze him how his son could complete this dextrous task so effortlessly and with a certain dashing panache. He’d never liked to smoke himself, but was of the school of thought that it was quite attractive in others. Not that he’d tell Nic, as he disapproved of the nihilistic nature of the habit.

Nic returned to the hall to make his way outside, and found that there was an exodus in place. The auctioneer was leading the way, and Nic surmised that the car was the next lot. He turned around to fetch his father, but almost knocked into him as he did so.

“The car’s up now,” said Geoff pointing at the catalogue he’d picked up on the way out of the pitched café.

Outside, the auctioneer topped a three rung set of steps, and began the description of the car, to an audience of fifty or sixty. Keith Davies was across the bonnet from Nic and Geoff and offered £500 as the first bid. Nic saw him as the kind of buyer that liked to get to the point, and this lot was bound to go above four figures; others may have started low in the vain hope of a bargain, but in Keith Davies the auction had a realist.

Ladies and Gentlemen, introducing Walter Knowles


Walter Knowles left the Red Star building, pleased that he had finally finished his project watch. It had been just over a month since the factory had been renamed in honour of S.M. Kirov and Walter had taken the chance to furnish and cover the mechanism with one of the new faces. He stood patiently for the route taxicab in the dry cold. His hands appreciated the little warmth and protection afforded by the deep pockets in his coat, and the fingers of his left toyed with the crown winder whilst in the right hand he clutched at a packet of cigarettes. It was too cold to remove his hand, and too cold to pull down his scarf. Hence it was too cold to smoke, no matter how much his chest implored him. His ushanka kept his balding head and small ears away from the worst of the weather, but his eyes stung and cheeks were red.

Looking along the street in anticipation of the shared car, a new and welcome addition to the paved streets of Moscow, Walter took in the scene. Not much had changed, aside from the structure of the factory, since he arrived almost 6 years ago. He remained in the same apartment which was visible just 150 yards away in the direction he was looking, on the second floor above Andrei the cobbler’s shop, identifiable by its weathered blue awning. Andrei had at first taken exception to the “inostranets” that had been presented with the tidy three rooms above the shop on arrival. He had coveted the space for his own family, but once he had discovered that this couple had come to help with the construction of a watch factory further along Voronczovskaja, he appreciated them as artisans. And whilst repairing shoes was seen by many as an important, yet simple vocation, Andrei saw it as nothing less than craftsmanship and took great pride in work that was (in his mind) amongst the best in Moscow, if not the whole Soviet Union. It was only a few weeks after they had arrived in 1930 that Andrei had first spoken to them. His wife, Lana had insisted he take borscht and vodka to them. They could spare no more than a little of the red soup for them, and just enough vodka for the three to toast their arrival in Moscow. Andrei was immediately impressed by the few words that Walter was able to speak in Russian, with formal grammar; at home at the Kremlin perhaps but too correct for the streets outside of the centre.

Over the coming months and years, Walter and his wife Ruth got to grips with the everyday language, both in the factory and with the limited circle of friends they had made, which included Andrei and Lana. The decision to stay after so many of the other workers from Ohio had returned to the Buckeye State wasn’t easy, but in the summer of 1932 Ruth had finally conceived. Without family to speak of back in the States, and the terrible unemployment still cast a shadow over the country. There was job security in Moscow and Walter was respected and in the factory.

The taxi arrived. Walter took a look down the street as he ducked into the back seat with one other passenger. He let his mind wander, staring directly ahead. Moscow was a large, large city compared to Canton, but it was merely a magnified mirror. The poverty that they had left behind was here too, and even as they motored down Pushkinskaya towards the centre, old women and men scavenged. He hoped that by following his head, Russia was the right place in which to bring up little Peter. He had no idealistic leaning towards Communism, but he had a comfortable apartment, was able to provide for his family, and was able to indulge himself and his wife. She wanted the occasional dress, which he could easily afford, and he had been able to afford to build a small camera, now hanging from his neck under his coat. As well as being able to customise his own pocket watch over the years, Walter was satisfied with the small scale engineering that he could take part in. With both his projects he was now heading in to the centre of Moscow, to take photographs of the landmark buildings.

His scarf was still around his lower face and his hands still firmly in his pockets, still no warmer. His eyes had begun to thaw and the veins in his cheeks felt crystallised. He turned a cigarette tip around in his pocket, mistaking it for the crown of the watch. Beneath the scarf he grinned at his idiocy as the car halted near Red Square.

His hand came out of his pockets for the first time in half an hour before he disembarked, to rattle some roubles into the demanding mittened palm of the driver. He closed the door with his hips, and dug into coat to free the camera. As he did so, a young man, a boy really, walked towards him with pleading etched on his Slavic features.

“Izvini, droog?” he said.
“Da?” replied Walter, feeling for the cigarette he was certain he was about to be begged of.
“Do you have a cigarette, pozhaluista?”
“Da” and he reached into his pocket, pulling out his watch by mistake.

In an instant, Walter lost his watch and his camera. The camera was torn from his neck, the watch easily rested from his cold grasp. The boy ran and unencumbered by a great coat, easily made away from the strange American, screaming after him in his native tongue. It was enough to attract attention from the politsiya, and by the time he had explained his loss, in tear soaked Russian, the formal kind that he still had occasion to use, he understood that he would not see the items again.