The Dacha

Cass felt sorry for Usman as she left him at the airport with their dipsomaniac boss. She worried as she heard a group of youths making comments about brown slaves and suicide bombers. The fact that these young men were extremely fit, looked educated and had all taken part in the worlds most brutal military service, worried her immeasurably. She did not like Usman. He might have been a sexist slightly xenophobic arse but he did not deserve that kind of treatment.

Cass had managed to get her flight changed so she could spend the weekend at Ivanna’s dacha and catch up with her sister and nieces who were visiting their grandmother.

The Dacha was completely different from the blue panel board and white calving idyll. It was a mid nineties bungalow. The décor was boxy unites and sofas with a geometric strip. The open plan living area had a glass table with leather and chrome chairs and life sized porcelain cheetahs sat on either side of the fireplace. She expected to find Gordon Gecko hiding in her bedroom wardrobe.

Cass knew she should not sniff at the timewarp decor, because all this would be on sale in Hoxton for a small fortune in a year and a half time.   Cass hated the way her childhood was now becoming vintage. It made her feel obsolete.

The Friday was fabulously simple, a tasty meal, playing with her nieces and walking through the garden and vegetable patch.   She slept well for the first time in ages and went for a run when she woke up.

When she came back the atmosphere had changed. The girls were being encouraged to stay in the garden. Ivanna was talking hurriedly on the telephone. Penelope explained, “Anastasia’s father called while you were out. He would like to meet you.”

“Why?” Cass was confused. Why would powerful FSB officer want to see her. She had met him at her sister’s Moscow wedding, in one of the limousines and photo stops in the parks. He was not that interested in speaking to her then.

“Zubov needs to talk to you about your work,” Pen looked anxious. “What have you been doing?”

“Nothing,” Cass said defensively. She had not been doing anything in her work, which could be called into question. She was upset that Pen could think she could do something wrong.

“Okay, I believe you,” Pen placated. She saw the hurt on her little sister’s face and wished that Cass would stop being so sulky and oversensitive. Everyone was terrified of Zubov and what he could do. Ivanna always put on a ridiculously simpering voice, whenever she talked to him. Listening to Ivanna on the telephone, her octave change was like nails down a blackboard to Pen.   She remember what Sergey said about people having car accidents. She loved the Dacha and Moscow but Pen made a mental note to spend next half term in London.

By the time Cass got out of the shower, she heard men’s voice in the house. She thought she recognized both of them. One voice, she barely remembered and one from yesterday. It was Semyon’s voice. She felt sick. Had she been played? Was that why he was interested.   Her rage bubbled as she looked at herself in the mirror. She winced when she realised that she was gripping a pair of tweezers hard in her palm. She had broken the skin.

In the living room the throbbing pain in her hand strangely focused her. She did not know what Zubov wanted but the injustice of his inferences, angered her. She had to deal with him calmly. Zubov had that FSB arrogant smirk. He held all the cards.

Semyon could not look at her, suddenly looking a lot smaller that his 6 foot 5. She purposely looked at him longer than necessary, to make him feel more uncomfortable. Cass was not going to make this easy for Semyon.

“Cassandra,” Zubov greeted her, arms wide. He hugged her. She thought of how bears hug and then rip your head off. “Ivanna, tea please, sweet. Cassandra looks like exercise has exhausted her.”

“Cassandra, do you know your name’s story?” Zubov smiled.

“Yes, she was a Trojan Princess,” Cass tried not to sound petulant. “She could tell the future, but Apollo cursed her and no one believed her when she told them how the Greeks would invade.” Cass would be polite but was not going to humor him with the usual deference to which he was accustomed.

“And Janus?” Zubov asked more intently.

“I don’t know? Kentish? Anglo Saxon.”

“I suppose,” Zubov smiled. “ But it is strange that your parents called you this. Janus is the Roman God for the yearend and beginning. It is also the God of War and Peace.”

“Thanks for the Classic’s lesson,” Cass’ irritability was showing through point scoring. It was just what he wanted. She could have kicked herself.

Cass pulled back control and said politely, “It is nice to see you and Semyon again, but I really want to be playing with my nieces. So if we could get on with what you are here for, it would be appreciated.”

“I am here to talk to you about Mr. Bauer. There has been irregularity with money. Funds are going missing and certain people are becoming very upset,” Zubov said flatly. He motioned to Semyon. “Mr Kuibyshev, has been investigating in the Moscow office, but it appears everything is carried out though London.”

“So is that why Semyon wanted to make friends?” Cass enjoyed watching Semyon squirm uncomfortably in his seat.

“I can not answer for Semyon’s actions and methods. But he was instructed to make your acquaintance,” Zubov’s English and accent was excellent. It made him more sinister.

“I can assure you I know nothing about the off shore side of things. I just do reports on property. I am also unclear about why you have not arrested Julian if you think there is something going wrong.”

“You see, my dear,” Zubov smiled a crocodilian smile.” The funds could cause embarrassment to many important people.”

Cass understood his implication and the danger of it, “None of our client’s are politically exposed. We check!”

Zubov tried to fain embarrassment, but it just came across as smugness,” The structures which your firm sets up are complicated. It is difficult to know who your client is. Mr. Bauer is an expert in this onion layering.”

“I will have to tell the managing partner, “ Cass blurted out stupidly, as if the managing partner could do anything to protect her from this situation. “The police need to be told if he is taking things.”

Semyon finally found his voice. He wanted her to stop talking. Zubov was powerful and dangerous and would quite happily shoot the first hostage in the room who stood up to question him. “Cass, you do not understand. These people just want the money back, they do not want to cause any alarm or fuss. You just need to find out where it is.”

“How much is missing? And from which companies?” Cass took the hint. Get the facts. Do not try to be clever.

“The amount which has gone missing is £50 million,” Zubov handed over a list of names on a flow chart. Cass suddenly understood what he meant by “onion layering”.

“You mean Dollars?” Cass corrected him unthinkingly. The off shore accounts were all in USD.

“No. Pounds,” Semyon interjected.

Cass, who thought that 50 Million USD was bad enough, blanched at the prospect, “That is ridiculous, no one needs that much money.”

Bizarrely, Zubov started patting her hand in a fatherly manner,” You are young.”

Cass left the dacha to smoke. It made her feel sick. Semyon joined her. She looked at him darkly through her exhale. He smiled coyly. “You are a dick,” Cass smiled at him.

“I am sorry. I did not mean for this to happen the way it did,” Semyon apologized.

“Well before this point, I quite enjoyed myself,” Cass said pragmatically. “I did not really expect it to turn into From Russia with Love.”

“I do not understand,” Semyon looked confused.

“Sorry, a stupid joke. It is a James Bond film.”

“Oh I thought you were saying you loved me,” Semyon looked relieved.

“No, sorry, my secret FSB friend. Next time rather than sleeping with the person you want information from, just ask them nicely.”

“Oh I wanted to sleep with you, that was not part of my brief,” he smiled again.

“So will I be contacting you? I should really tell the police, he has stolen money.”

Semyon’s sunny tone changed rapidly, “Do not be stupid Cass. Look at your nieces. Look at your sister.” They were playing by the swings at the bottom of the garden happily. “Why do you think Ivanna got you this job, she is frightened. Do not make mistakes. Do not make enemies. These people want the money back, not impounded. They do not understand failure.”

Cass knew this was advice rather than a threat. She nodded and returned into the dacha obediently.