I was in Moscow meeting a business contact for a possible sale of a little mechanism we made that he wanted to use for a kitchen appliance. These things were reliable and would last forever. It wasn’t one of our big selling or normal line items, but it would be lucrative if I could sell this guy ten thousand or so of them. We did mostly government stuff, but one of my engineers came up with this thing to fix his wife’s stand mixer and patented it. He’s making a fortune off of them, but then, so am I. Anyway, Uncle Sam said to go ahead, they didn’t see a problem with the Russians getting their hands on a food mixer transmission, so I was going to get Ralph a couple of bundles of money, if I could. Ralph promised to stay with me a few more weeks if I did that for him. We both laughed when he said that.
He came to work for my mother as a young man and wouldn’t leave us if his life depended on it. He sweet talked her into a promotion plan that left him making well into 6 figures and two months off every year. He’s an avid fly fisherman, spending a lot of time in the streams and rivers of the great northwest. He’s also the smartest person my mother ever met, her words. I was jealous, but she was probably right. He took over as our Director of Advanced Research from Mother when we lost her many years ago.
My contact agreed to meet here again tomorrow evening after he talked with his people, and walking out of the restaurant, I saw a little girl reaching into a refuse barrel outside a restaurant. I looked over at her. The gentleman I was with said I shouldn’t bother with her, as she was street trash, but when she looked at me, I saw something. Something in her eyes. It sounds crazy, but I saw a flash, a surge of feeling of some sort, and they spoke to me. She smiled at me. “What is your name?” I asked her, in English, hoping she would understand. Many young people in Russia speak English.
“I am Zvezda. Zvezda Orlov.” I knew enough to know her first name translated to Star. Orlov, I found out later, means Eagle.
I introduced myself to her and reached out my hand. She jumped back like I was striking her. I kept my hand held out. “Chuck. Chuck Matthews. Don’t be afraid. I just noticed that you are a pretty girl and I wondered what such a doll as you would be doing in a Moscow street looking through trash cans.”
“I am not afraid of anything. I am certainly not afraid of you. I am looking.”
“Might I ask what you are looking for?”
“No. I must go.” She turned to walk away.
“Star!” She turned back to me, head cocked. How would a silly American man know about Star from Zvezda? “I hoped that would get your attention. Could I talk to you for a minute or two, then you can be on your way?” There was a bench by the building next to the restaurant. I waved toward it as to have her take a seat. She did. “Zvezda, are you looking for food? Do you have a home? Is there any way I can help besides handing you money, not knowing if someone else will get it?”
“Why do you care about little orphan Russian girl, big American man with money?”
“May I be honest with you and you will listen from the heart and not from the mind of an angry young teenager?” I was getting to her. Her eyes moistened. She knew she was being a little bitch. She knew also that it was to protect herself from predators. She was about to be told that I was not one. Let’s see what she does with that information. “Your eyes.” She cocked her head again. “When you turned to look at me. When Zargoff told me not to mind you, that you were street trash, you turned. Your eyes. There is something in your eyes. Star, are you in school?” She shook her head. “Do you want to be?” She nodded. “Star, you must be completely honest with me now. Do you know honest? The truth? Complete truth. Can you do that? I am not the police. I am an American business man. You have something in your eyes that calls to me. I need the truth.” The tears started. “Do you have a home?” She looked at me for several seconds. Looking, intently, directly into my eyes. She wiped her tears. She shook her head. “Do you have a family?” She looked at me again. I was sure she wanted to know why I wanted to know. She was afraid to ask. She shook her head. The tears began again. “Would you like to talk about it?”
“Why you want know? I need find something for eat. I am already burn here.” She held her tummy.
“Take me to a café. Somewhere you are comfortable. Star, do you have clothes, a place to stay at least? Some cover, a box, a stairwell. It will be cold in a month and you will die if no one takes you in.”
“Look my eyes again. Look. You are not make me whore for you?”
I looked directly at her. “No. I don’t need a whore. I can find a date. I just want to help one person tonight. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe for all tomorrows. I can’t fix everything, but maybe I can fix one thing tonight. Just one. Then someone else can fix another, until everything wrong in the world is fixed.”
She smiled. “You are crazy American. Promise not to hurt me. Look in my eyes and say you not hurt Zvezda Orlov or make whore for you.”
“Zvezda Orlov, I will not hurt you and I will kill the man who tries to make you his whore, even if that is me. I really do want to help one person tonight. That person is you, Star.”
“Come. Eat. You will buy. This Star has no kopeck, no ruble, and no dollar.” She took me to a place a couple of blocks away; to a much more common restaurant. More of a Denny’s compared to a Ruth’s Chris like I was at with Zargoff. I had coffee and a piece of pie while she had a sandwich. Her jacket came off, sweatshirt hood back and down, and I was able to see Star, Zvezda, in the light. The girl was beautiful.
“Can we talk while you eat?”
“You have no home?” She shook her head. “You have no family?” She shook her head. “Do you have any clothes, papers, things of yours?” She looked at me and smiled. She nodded. “What do you have, hon?”
“One night after polizie come and find mother dead, I sneak in home and take things I need to run. Things to remember mother and father. I have dress. I have pants, one more. I have shirt, one more. I have shoes, pretty shoes, two of them. And I have I think American girl call delicate. Some more. I have book of things I think and I write. Momma told me to always write and never lose my book. I have papers of birth for mine and death of mother, but not of father, and I have passport from year ago when mother take me to Majorca to find father. We get there, see him be made dead, we come home, mother dies. I run.”
“Star. I’m sorry, Zvezda, how old are you?”
“No worry, I am old enough to take care of the Star.”
“How old, Zvezda? Do not stop with the truth now.”
“I am now sixteen years. Star, Zvezda, you change. One then other. Pick only one.” She looked at me, intently. “You will let me go? Not hurt me? Not make me the whore? You promise. Truth.” She stared directly into my eyes.
“I will let you go. I will not hurt you. I will not make you my whore. I promise. The truth. But I don’t want to let you go. I want to help you.”
“How you help Russian orphan girl? You give meal and smile and walk away, happy man?”
“Think you can handle high school in the country of the Great Satan?”
Her eyes watered again. “You are not to joke like that. You make me American whore instead, no?”
“No. I want to make you an American girl. Interested?”
“I have to be your whore?”
“What is this with you and whores? I don’t need a whore, and I’m not a pimp. I make things. I sell things. Those things are not little girls.”
“Zvezda is not little girl.”
“OK, fine. Those things are not big girls.”
“Better. Why Zvezda? Why you help me? I am nothing.”
“Your eyes, darling girl. Your eyes.”
“Mister Chuck Matthews. Tell me now. Look at my eyes. Tell me you not hurt Zvezda.”
“Zvezda Orlov. Once again, I will not hurt you. Let me help you. Please.”
The tears fell again. I took a napkin to her cheeks. This girl was really pretty.
“I have nothing but little box. If take you to my box you promise not take my only things?”
“I promise. Have you had enough? I ask, because if you take me up on this, Star, you will never be hungry again, and you will never again look in a trash can for food.”
She took the last bite of her sandwich and a drink of her soda, then I paid the bill and we walked out. We had gone several blocks, then up an alley, and it was me getting a bit worried. “Zvezda, are you setting me up to get robbed?”
“No, Mister Chuck. I do not know bad men. I run from bad men. They are maybe still look for me. I do not know. They kill my father, my mother see. They kill my mother, I run. Not stop yet. I tell polizie, they tell me to go to orphan home. Until sixteen. I will not do. No. They find me, they kill me. Polizie do nothing, not even want to know who bad men are. No one help. But, Mister Chuck, I am alive. Here. My box.”
It was a large fire extinguisher box with a padlock on it. She had a key. The whole thing had been painted an off red brownish color and matched the wall it was on. Ingenious. She had laid a large tile on top with a small rock under the back of it next to the wall to waterproof the box so water wouldn’t seep into it from the top seam. The kid was bright. Cute, pretty, and bright. Doesn’t get much better than that.
“I know you don’t trust me yet, but…” She touched her finger to my lips.
“It does not matter. You have not kill me yet. You promise with clean eyes you will not whore me. You tell me you will feed me. I have, what you say, nothing loose.”
“Nothing to lose.” I chuckled at the incorrect but funny wording.
“Zvezda Orlov have nothing to lose.” She smiled, catching the difference.
“Let me see your papers.” She handed them to me and with my little penlight, I looked. Damn. A passport. “Let’s go. My hotel. And, no, Star, I’m not making you my whore. I need to make a call.”
We went to the hotel, getting funny looks from just about everyone we passed. It was pretty obvious the American guy just picked up a homeless girl off the street and was going to try to keep her. That’s what the smirks said anyway.
“Give me your best clothes.” She did, and I called the laundry people and told them I had an emergency I needed taken care of. I handed the clothes off to a lady from housekeeping and got a promise they would be back before midnight.
We laid the rest out and looked. A torn-up towel. Inside it, there was her book. A nice pink eight by ten diary with a clasp to keep it closed. The dress was a floral A-line. It was nice, but it needed a good cleaning and pressing. “Momma’s. She was pretty in dress and the high shoes.” The shoes, two pairs of four-inch pumps, one round toe and one peep toe, both conservative, black and taupe, respectively. I tried the shoes on her and asked her to walk in them. She did, and very well. They fit her. Almost. They would next year, for sure. They had just a touch of room in them. Insoles would fix the problem, then she’d be able to wear her mother’s shoes. I think that’s what she wanted.
The under clothes, delicates, as she called them, were just plain jane cotton panties and bras, but I noticed then, that the jacket that she was wearing was covering a pretty nice physique, too. The bras were not for a little girl. She was right about that. I don’t know European sizes, but Miss Star had large breasts for a young lady.
I gave her a robe and took her to the bathroom. They had little soaps and shampoos and all that. I left a comb out on the counter if she wanted to use it.
“Shower, and I mean clean yourself well. Understood?” She nodded. “Tomorrow, we shop. Clean. Very, very clean. Questions?” She shook her head. She was frightened. “Zvezda, I’m leaving, closing the door, and not coming back in. You shower and clean, then put on the robe and come out. OK?” She nodded. “Then you can show me what’s good on TV until your clothes come back.” She smiled. “Are you hungry?” She looked at me but didn’t answer. “How long since you had any fruit and vegetables?” She shrugged. “I’ll fix us up with a snack. Go, clean.” I closed the door and left. The water started. I thought for a minute she might run, but we were on the sixth floor and there was no window in the bathroom. Good, she’s my captive!! What a naughty thought.
I made a phone call. That call should precipitate another, and with any luck, someone would contact us tomorrow, ask to see our identification, and help us with a visa for entry to the US. Stephen, my lawyer of record, advised me that Russian citizens no longer needed permission to leave the country and could enter without a problem on their own passport, so this was all about getting her to the United States in my care.
It was every bit of twenty, maybe twenty-five minutes, when she came out, hair clean, wet, and combed down straight. Face clean, robe covering everything else. Except her feet, but I saw those when she tried on the shoes. I sat her on the bed, pulled the chair over and took her feet into my lap. I’d never done this for another human being before, but I trimmed her toenails.
“Now I trust Chuck. Not whore man. I talk with whores on street. They tell me of men they with, and men work for. Never story of help feet. You not whore man. Chuck, you really take me America? Is true, or tease orphan?”
“Star, Zvezda, I’ve already called for help. I want to take you home. I asked you to be honest. I asked you to tell the truth. I’ve told my people everything you said, and what I want. We’ll see, but I want to help you to a new life. You are a very smart girl, Zvyozdochka moya, and I want to help you succeed, to do well in life, my little star.”
The tears fell again. “Not since Momma do I hear of little star. No more, Mr. Chuck. No more nyet. I am yes. Da. Yes, for you. Just not believe orphan and American man meet and life can begin again once more. No fear of dead, hungry, frozen cold. I will be alive.” I finished her feet and let them down to the floor holding her legs. Smooth legs. Smooth as a baby’s ass. I rubbed her calves. I looked at her. She smiled. “Chave.”
“Yes, Chave. Cut hair gone.” I had to laugh. Lurid thought of where hair might be…. No, Chuck, don’t ask. Do not go there!!!
The phone rang. I answered it and got an earful. “She’s wanted in Mallorca as a material witness to a murder there. She saw a murder, Mr. Matthews.”
“I know, Stephen. That doesn’t mean she did it. It was her father. The people involved killed her mother about a year ago, as well. Zvezda, where did your mother die, hon?”
With a really sad look, she told me, “Novgorod. I come here to try to live.”
“You catch that?”
“Yeah. Look, Chuck, I know you well enough to know what you wanted me to do, so I did it. It took all of an hour, but a call to Interpol and a return call an hour later, and you have a deal with them and the US government. If you’ll take her to Mallorca, they’ll let you have her when they’re done, with a refugee visa to come home with you. She’s a witness, a minor, and you can be with her the whole time. I hope you know what you’re doing, sir. Picking up strays…”
“Careful, Stephen. You weren’t exactly at the top of your game when Mom rescued you.”
“Touche’. I need to know when your meetings are over, so we can work on flight clearances and all. I have our people there working on everything now. Any ideas of timeframes yet?”
“No. I’m meeting with Zargoff again for dinner tomorrow evening. I think I’ll take Star shopping tomorrow for a while. Then maybe just keep her with me. She’s quite a lady, Stephen. In any case, we’re supposed to know at dinner tomorrow. If he balks, he balks, and Russian stand mixers don’t get Ralph’s transmission. Their loss. Ralph is already swimming in money and not exactly unemployed.”
“You want to leave there Wednesday morning your time, then? Mallorca in the afternoon? Visit with the police Thursday morning, then home Friday if all goes well?”
“Yeah. Put it in pencil and we’ll start there. Ever been to Mallorca, Stephen?”
“No, but our mothers were there a long time ago. Mom told me about it. You want info on it? Have her email you?”
“Yes. Whatever you can get from Viv would be great. Thanks, Stephen. Gotta go. Snacks are here.” I hung up. Didn’t want him to have the upper hand. Ever.
We had some fruit. She asked me what was happening. Then she tucked into some carrots and celery. Good to know.
“I want you… No, hon, rather, I need you to trust me. You know what a deal is?”
“Deal. When agreement is made. Both sides like.”
“Yes. Trust me. We have a deal. I’m taking you to Mallorca to talk to the police, and then to my home in the U S of A.”
“Safe? Anyone know? I think bad men know everything.”
I called Stephen. “Change of plans. I will call you in the air, and you will have two detectives meet us at the airport, civil fuel pumps, on Menorca. Don’t make that call until we’re in the air, though.”
“Mallorca, Menorca. Major, minor. Mallorca, Menorca. Trust me. I think Zvezda has a point. They followed her mother to a little town hundreds of miles from Moscow. They know people. I only have two guns and about fifty rounds of ammo, so I’m limited. Anyway, that’s the plan. Don’t call them until I’m in the air day after tomorrow, though. OK?”
“Sounds good. A major pain, but be safe,” Stephen said. I hung up and grabbed some grapes.
“No. You tell me TV. So do TV.” I did say that, didn’t I? I tossed her the remote. She knew what to do with it. I’m thinking before she lost everything, she had something.
I went into the bathroom with the other robe, showered, shaved, and came back out, feeling much better. The trip now had purpose. Before, it was eighty to a hundred grand, ten thousand little gear boxes at eight to ten bucks a pop. Best case would be forty grand to make them, forty for Ralph, ten to pay for the trip, and ten for me. Eighty percent of that was still enough to make it worthwhile. It was a fun trip to boost Ralph’s retirement plan. Now there was a young lady involved. Purpose.
I came back out, bed turned down, her under the covers on her side, still in the robe. A knock came on the door. I traded the clean clothes for all the dirty ones and asked for them tomorrow around noon if that was OK. I got a big smile, handed her a tip, and thanked her for her help.
“Here’s your best stuff. For tomorrow, so we can go shopping.” She cocked her head again. “Shopping. A few clothes. Hair brush, toothbrush, deodorant.” I mimicked putting it on my underarms. She laughed.
“Yes, OK. I get now. Shopping. You spend money on orphan. No more jokes. Not be whore?” I shook my head. “Good. I no want be whore. Want be wife and cook morning meal for husband. Good life.” At that, she went back to watching some soap opera looking thing in Russian. “Same as when I see last time. Fun TV.”
Little did she know. Soap operas were the same all over the world. You could miss six months, a year, and within a couple hours, you’d be caught up.
I fell asleep before her. I had shucked the robe and slept in my boxers. With the blankets pulled up, I didn’t fear any breaches in propriety.
Waking up at two in the morning with a crying, yet sleeping, Zvezda on my chest, startled me but I didn’t jump. I pulled the blanket up over her, cuddled her a bit and quieted her, then went back to sleep after she calmed. The morning was a bit different.
“I am woman now. I sleep with the man. The whores tell me after you sleep with the man, you are woman.”
I had to smile. “Not quite, honey. In one way, we slept together, then when you cried and held me, that was another kind of sleeping together, but we have not ‘slept together’ like the whores have spoken to you about. That kind of sleeping together is the sex between the man and the woman. Making babies and that kind of thing. That is the sleeping together they are talking about.”
“Oh.” She went to the bathroom and closed the door. The toilet flushed, the sink ran, and she came back out. “You say I cry and hold you?”
“In your sleep, honey. You were crying and came to me to hold me, so I snuggled you close and helped you back to sleep.”
“Come here, honey, let me show you.” I pulled her to me in under my arm and held her close. “You cried, so I held you close, and you stopped, then you relaxed, and went back to sleep. Are you OK?” She nodded. “Do you remember why you cried?” She shook her head. I let her back up. And started to get up. She pushed me back down.
“Again. Snuggle.” We did. It felt nice when she melted and relaxed. “I not want to be the whore, Chuck. That is all. I want to be good woman for nice man. Not the whore.”
“I’ll see to it, my little Star. I’ll see to it. You will never, ever, be anyone’s whore. Guaranteed. Promise.”
I took my turn in the bathroom, we dressed and spent the day spending most of the money Ralph may make us. A dress for tonight, matching shoes and a little clutch, a couple skirts, shorts, tops, some trainers, a pair of casual leather high heeled sandals, and some underwear… Some stockings, a few sets of lace, nylon, and silk lingerie, were added. Anything but cotton. Yes, I wanted her to feel special. Her smile as we left the department store told me she did.
Back in the room, we both showered again. As I came out, she was in her new lingerie. I didn’t think I’d see it this soon, but evidently when you sleep with a man, you are a woman. His woman? I’m not going to argue. The new heels, stockings, garter belt, a thong panty so smooth there was no indentation, no trace of it, and her brassiere, now obviously a large C or D cup in lace matching the garter belt and panty. She stepped into her dress, pulling it up, arms through, then looking over her shoulder. “Zip up, nice man?”
I shivered. ‘Nice man’. She had said, ‘I want to be a good woman for a nice man.’ I shivered again as the zipper went up. Why did I shiver? What did I think I was doing? Adopting her and sending her through high school so some pimply faced snot nosed brat could have her? Grow up, asshole. Just let her do it at her own speed. Let her do it. Then she won’t be your whore. She’ll be your good woman and you can be the nice man. I felt a bit small just then. She noticed. I saw it in her eyes. I saw everything in her eyes. She smiled at me and touched my cheek.
Zargoff met us for dinner at the same restaurant. He was stunned to see me with such a beauty on my arm, but I introduced them. “Zargoff, this is Miss Anna Maria Petrov. She hails from St. Petersburg. We met ages ago and touched base last night since I was in country. We go way back. Way, way, back. Anna, this is Mr. Zargoff.”
“No, Chuck. Zargoff is first name. Or more like nick name for you Americans. Zargoff, what might be your last name?” she said in her broken English, then ripped it off in Russian.
“Pushkin,” Zargoff said.
Star looked at me, her eyes accentuating her smile. She put her hand to her mouth in what I saw as mock awe. “His family is of the Royals, Chuck. He may be prince. Pushkin, Orlov, Tolstoy, Demidov, they are all from royalty. I am sorry, Mr. Pushkin, This is not my conversation. Just letting Mr. Matthews know he was in the presence of a person of history. I apologize. Do not mind me. Chuck, may I have the Prosecco, please.”
I think that was when I fell in love with Zvezda Orlov. She was a very, very smart girl, and just played the player. He was now on top of the world. Recognized by a socialite underling of his uppity heritage, which sixty years ago would have had him hanging in a town square somewhere.
I ordered some Prosecco for my little girlfriend, though she did not know it yet, or did she. Nice man? I offered some to the ‘prince’, but he ordered vodka, pickles and bread. I looked at Zvezda. She nodded and smiled.
“Mr. Matthews. I have counter offer. You offer ten thousand units at ten US dollars per unit. I need twenty-two thousand units, and will offer eight dollars eighty cents per each.”
“Prince Pushkin,” I said. He laughed, I laughed, Zvezda giggled, “may I make a short phone call first. I need to get a number and a time, then I can answer with intelligence?” He nodded. I stood and walked to the hallway by the bathrooms. I saw Zvezda excuse herself, enroute to the ladies’ powder room, passing by me.
“Not real prince. Prince of butt. He order vodka, pickles and bread to celebrate. Deal is done. Counter nine dollar fifty if you can make. All will be OK. Chuck. Will you be nice man to good woman?” I nodded, smiling, and without making the call went back to the table.
“My people said if we can do nine fifty, we have ten thousand now, and will have the rest, another twelve thousand, in two months. Maybe less. That’s about what they told me would work.”
“I can agree to that. Nine dollar fifty cent for each of twenty-two thousand units. Now we have Russian equal to American Kitchen-Master. All is good. Drink. Ura Nazdarovya.”
Zvezda came back to the table. “I see all well. That is good. Chuck, pour me little Prosecco, please?” I did, but Zargoff poured her a shot of vodka. She took a pickle and piece of the dark bread. “Ura Nostrovia!” and downed it, bit the pickle and the bread. “No more! I am but a young lady. You men must celebrate.” She had his number. We had dinner, I shook with Zargoff, we signed pen and inked copies of the contracts, promising to update with our offices in the morning, and after shaking, headed out. My good woman was helping the nice man out of the building and to a taxi.
“Just a sec, doll.” I dialed my phone. “Stephen, tell Ralph he lost everything. Even that new fly rod he just bought. Then tell him to make twelve thousand more units. Nine fifty each. About a buck more than I thought, and twice as many.”
“Mr. Matthews, have you been drinking?”
“Cuz, I’m in Russia and just closed a deal. Shit happens. Don’t worry, I have a very, very, good woman taking care of me.” Zvezda looked up at me smiling. Unbelievably, in my eyes anyway, she puckered. I kissed her. Shit. I kissed her. “Set me up clearance to leave this God-forsaken place in fourteen hours. I ain’t that bad off and I think I can sweat it out before morning. If not, this good woman can probably fly us to Mallyorcaninia or whatever. She’s proven to be quite capable of everything else.”
“Yes, sir. Noon tomorrow, you will be set up to lift off. I’m telling my mother you called me ‘Cuz’. You will probably suffer for that, but it was your gaffe, sir, not mine. Hold. Mom said to tell you to check your email. Places you could have stayed if it was to be Mallorca. You may want to plan a trip. Nice place. In any case, get some rest. Noon take off tomorrow. Menorca. Talk to you tomorrow.”
“Stephen, thank you. We’ll talk. You’re OK, you know that?”
“That’s what our mothers say and said. Now if I can just convince you.” I heard a snicker.
“Fine. Sat phone. Tomorrow around one Moscow local. I have no idea until tomorrow what time that will be for you. Just please be there for me.”
“As always, sir. I will be.”
Zvezda took me to a restaurant on the way to the hotel. Only a block away. Wow. That vodka was potent. Coffee. American. Two cups. “So, you tell me you will be nice man?” I nodded. “You want good woman?” I nodded. “You hear me in room, all Zvezda wants is to be good woman for nice man?” I nodded. “Chuck, you have wife? Girlfriend? Lover? I will be in way?” I shook my head. Oops. Don’t do that.
“Nice woman, ask lady for coffee to go. Two. Take good man to hotel and in shower with hot water. I have to fly to Menorca tomorrow, and I need to be in tippy top shape. Help me with that and I will buy you a diamond.”
She leaned in and with the panache of a woman twice her age, bit my ear softly and said, “I would do that for kiss, or gold, but diamond is OK, also. Good woman take nice man hotel now. Or like you want, nice woman take good man to room.” She looked at me. “Chuck? Nice man? Kiss good woman, please?”
I did, and our lives together began. A mellow, even a bit high, Chuck kissing a very sober and very intelligent Zvezda. Twenty years his junior.
“Come. I take coffee, pastry, and Chuck home. Try to walk good in lobby.” We made it, she put me in the tub, full of hot water, and poured coffee down me. Twenty-four hours after I met my Star, I knew. I think she knew, too. From different worlds, we were joined, and destined to be together.
This time it was me that fell asleep on her chest. My nightmare woke her up and she comforted me, pulling me to her bosom, fingers in my hair until I went back to sleep. I didn’t think of Marjorie often, but when I did, it was a bit painful. High school sweethearts, she broke up with me, then we got back together as college sweethearts, with another break up in between, then off I went to the military, and the dreaded… Dear John letter. A few years after I got out, she came back to me, but I found out… The truth… She was engaged and playing me for money. Ackkk. It turns my stomach to even think about it. And Stephen wants to know why I’m picking urchins up off the street in Moscow? Pretty obvious. No history. I can love this girl. She thinks I sell ten-dollar thingies. She thinks we’re catching a flight to Mallorca in the morning. She thinks I’m just another nice guy looking for a good woman, and with that criteria, maybe that’s all this is. I win.
We woke. Late. She turned off the alarm when it sounded. It was ten. I felt great, actually. I was lying in the arms of a soft, incredible, loving creature that was running her fingers through my hair and holding me to her.
“Good morning, nice woman.”
“Good morning, good man, but you have wrong. I am good woman, you are nice man.”
“Semantics. If you will give me a good morning kiss, my dear, I would like to take you to Menorca and start the rest of our lives together. What say you?”
She leaned in and kissed me. Softly but lovingly. “Say go to shower and ready to leave. Then I do. Good woman think nice man is good man, too. Chuck. I tell you I am big girl. I am just little girl. I tell you I am not afraid. I am afraid. But not you. Not afraid you. Afraid for life. Be careful me. That is all. Be careful me. Go. We go.”
I went to the shower, cleaned up, and thought about some things in there. “Zvezda, My Little Star, you said last night, ‘Pushkin, Orlov’ and the others were royalty. You are an Orlov, aren’t you?”
“Da, nice man. Chuck, I am descendant, you call, of the royalty. Many, many are. Nothing special. Just to play with him, but he did not recognize me. Chuck, I am afraid of all. I watch. I do not want to go as Momma has gone. Take me to Polizie. I tell them what I see, and who I see, and you take me home?”
“Absolutely, baby. Absolutely.”
We packed and headed out. She was having fun, the weather was nice, she was wearing shorts and high heels and being a woman. Not an afraid little street urchin, but a person. With a future. Her look, her eyes. Again, with her eyes. I saw my future in this little girl’s eyes. The car let us off at the hangar, I paid him and got my suitcases and her bags and walked inside.
“This is airport?”
“Yes, and no. This is AN airport. This is my airplane. The other side,” I set the bags down, walked her out and around the building to show her the terminal with all the big airplanes, and told her, “is where the airplanes come and go and take people places. This one is just for us. You and me. You OK with that?” She shrugged. She was shaking. Shivering. I quickly walked her upstairs and sat her down in the front set of the forward facing club seats. “I’m going to fly you to Menorca. I would like you to be up front with me. I’d love the company. I think you are a really, really great person, Zvezda, and I want you to be with me. I do.”
“OK.” At least she quit shaking.
I took her hand and took her back off the plane. We loaded the luggage, got a couple sodas and some waters from the shop there, then did the preflight. I showed her everything as I checked it. Back inside, I hit the button, locked the door and the stairs up, then went up front. I called her to me and asked her to sit carefully next to me and not touch anything until I showed her what was what. She folded her hands in her lap and smiled. Then she looked at me and smiled. My Star has a beautiful smile.
“I’m going to be busy for a bit talking to people and taking care of the plane. When we’re in the air I want you to help me call my lawyer, OK?” She nodded.
It was a few minutes before noon when I got clearance from Moscow tower to taxi and leave. When we took off, I peeled off as instructed heading south, and told her, “Baby, that phone up there. Can you get it down for me?” She did and tried to hand it to me. “No, you can do it. Press contacts. Stephen. Press his face. No, doll, use your thumb. Push. Hurt him. KIDDING.” I got a giggle for that.
“Hello. (Pause.) Zvezda. (Pause.) I do not know. In air. Flying. He says push Stephen. (Pause.) Yes, I want meet you also? (Pause.) I am sorry. I do not know. (Pause.) You are cousin. Oh. That I understand. OK. (Pause.) Yes. I repeat. Menorca. Will have names on ground before approach. (Pause.) I do OK? (Pause.) Thank you, Mr. Stephen. He nods. He says we call you later.”
I told her to push disconnect, which of course she did as soon as I told her. A doll. My doll? At this point, I was hoping so.
On final approach to Menorca, she got bold. “Chuck. Can you use good woman? I need nice man.”
“Can we discuss this in a few minutes when thousands of lives and millions of dollars are not at stake?”
“You are nice man. Yes.”
When the aircraft stopped, and she climbed, very carefully out of her seat, she took my cheeks in her hands, kissed me, deeply, and told me, “Good woman has found nice man. No whore talk. Good woman, nice man. Take me to hotel after polizie. I have something for you.”
We waited on the tarmac for Stephen to call us with the names, and then with the cop cars arriving, we felt a little better. Two cars, one with two uniforms in front and one with two uniforms in front and two plain clothed gentlemen in back let me know that these guys might be visitors being escorted on foreign, kind of, soil. I was armed and watching, but it went OK. One was Interpol and one was Mallorcan police. They had pictures, Zvezda identified the ones who killed her father, then the ones, one was the same, that killed her mother. She told them how they saw that she had seen them, but she jumped out the window and ran and cried and ran and cried for over a year, scrounging and being told by the Moscow police to go away. Go find an orphanage, they told her, but they didn’t care. Interpol was interested in that little tidbit. They told us they had enough, asked me for numbers and such where we could be reached, but I balked. The Interpol guy handed me a card.
Then he said, “You just flew in here with a tail number. I’ll do everything I can to keep this low keyed, but, still, I just hope we do some good before…”
“Don’t worry. I was shopping for a plane when I found this one. Thanks for the heads up. I’ll let you know if something comes up.”
I had the plane refueled and we flew to Dublin and spent the night. After the talk with the Interpol guy, we decided not to spend the night there. I let Stephen know.
Dublin was interesting. We caught a ride to the nearest hotel, just wanting to sleep. Dinner in the room, a snuggle, and sleep was what we did. It had been a very long day. In the morning, the Irish sunrise brought a green glow to our eastern facing window. It’s true. I guess, depending on where you are, but the place is green. Seriously green. She held me. Snuggled me. Kissed me.
“Not right. Time not right. I need right. When can nice, good man take orphan girl, not whore, home?”
“Time is changing, sweetheart. We will be home before late tonight. I will make you dinner in my house. In our house. Will that be OK? Our house?” She kissed me and dragged me off to the shower. I saw then the beautiful little girl I found leaning into a trashcan in Moscow. All of her. She was spectacular. A dream walking. A tight, young body with beautiful long legs and round gorgeous breasts. Her hourglass figure was an absolutely perfect example of femininity at its best. She washed me. I washed her. My question about ‘chaving’ was answered. Not completely ‘chaved’. She left a bit. She stayed away from my private and personal areas, so I did the same, but each of us washed our own, openly, with no shyness at all.
We headed out, both highly aroused, yet unsated, enroute to ‘our’ home. We stopped in on a far eastern Canadian refuge for gas and headed home getting into our local airport in the evening. We got the plane refueled, everything put away, then I put her in the car, bags in the back, her eyes wide open, looking around. Her expression didn’t change much, wide eyed in wonder, watching America go by in the side windows. I didn’t see that big of a difference between here and Moscow, but she did.
“It is busy.”