While Romelle and Brad talked, the Tsar stood in his study with Chavadzy. Unlike Romelle, no invitation was extended for the Okhrana chief to sit down.
"I have had a chat with the young lady, and with the Marine," said the Tsar coolly. "They are together now."
"I am happy to hear that, Sire," answered Chavadzy stiffly.
"In comparing their two stories, I find certain discrepancies in the third version, as told by you to me." The Tsar paced as he talked, his hands clasped behind his back.
"I cannot imagine what discrepancies there might be, Sire. I have told you....."
Nicholas stopped pacing. "You have told me lies, Chavadzy." He looked squarely into Chavadzy's eyes. The Tsar's were cold. Chavadzy suddenly felt like Vladimir on the Moscow Express.
"I know that they are lies, Chavadzy, not because of the Americans, but because I have received reports from the Polish frontier. The Manchu woman in her surgical disguise, whom you said escaped with the ruby from the train...your aide of many years, Vladimir, whom you said betrayed us, and whom you shot and threw from the train...their bodies have been found. It appears that only the poodle got away."
Chavadzy's throat was dry by now. "Sire....."
The Tsar pointed a steady finger at him. "You will speak when I require it! The woman was strangled. No ruby was found on her person, nor in her luggage scattered along the way. Vladimir was not shot, but poisoned. He still had an unbroken pellet in his mouth, of the four he apparently inserted. No ruby was found on him, either. Now, shall I tell you of the dream the American girl said she dreamed in her drugged stupor, in which she saw you pointing a gun and staring through the ruby at your aide?"
There was silence.
"You have my permission to speak, Chavadzy."
The Okhrana chief's throat was too dry for him to utter a word.
The Tsar reached for a decanter on his desk and poured a healthy dose of vodka into a glass.
"Drink, Chavadzy. It will loosen your tongue."
He drank with a trembling hand. The vodka dribbled on his chin.
"Speak, now, Chavadzy. I want to know all the truth."
The Okhrana man obeyed, relating at the end that he had thrown all of the woman's and Vladimir's possessions from the train to avoid a confrontation with Polish police at the frontier.
When he had finished, Nicholas walked to the window and gazed outside. Everyone knew this was the signal that an audience with the Tsar had come to an end.
Flustered, and desperate, Chavadzy could not imagine what to do. Normally, he would have bowed and gone on his way. He waited.
After what seemed an eternity, Nicholas sighed. He returned to his place standing in front of the desk, three feet away from Chavadzy.
"Where is the ruby?"
"In...my...quarters...Sire. Shall I fetch it now?"
"Shortly," the Tsar replied. "We shall make an end of this in a proper way."
Chavadzy gulped. "An end, Sire?"
Nicholas chuckled mirthlessly. "Not yours, cousin, but an end to this affair of the missing ruby. The lady has suffered enough. You are going to set her mind at ease."
"And, then, Sire...?"
"And, then, Chavadzy, you are I are going to start anew."
"Yes, Chavadzy, yours is a lucky star. I still have need of you. You know the way to Dragon's Heart. You know the landmarks, the human contacts, along the way."
The Okhrana chief could not believe his ears. "Sire, you would...trust me...after this?"
"Of course, Chavadzy! After this, you will be the most trustworthy man in my empire. You can be totally trusted to escort these Americans to Dragon's Heart, and the ruby, as well. You are going to offer me a guarantee."
"A guarantee, Sire?"
"Your life, Chavadzy. Surely you know that there is not enough money in the world, or any kingdom far enough away, to save you from execution if I should so desire. Your life is meaningful to you. It is likewise meaningful to me as long as you accomplish what I am sending you to do. I have eyes and ears everywhere, my friend. One false step, and....."
Chavadzy fell to his knees. He did not grovel. Even in his extremity, he was too proud. But he knew he had been spared as few so guilty had been spared before.
"My life, indeed, is yours, Sire," he promised. "Every breath I take henceforth is meant to honor you."
He moved forward on his knees and kissed the Tsar's hand.
"One word more, Chavadzy. I know your reputation for hating Orientals. Remember that only the Manchus, and not all of those, are our enemies. The Mongols, the oppressed Chinese, these are our friends. We shall need them someday as allies."
"Yes, Sire."
The Tsar opened his other hand. On the palm rested a red bead containing the lethal ho-ting-hung.
"A souvenir from Vladimir," he said mildly. "I shall keep it for you. You might need it someday."

Table of Contents · Continue