For some reason Bella Stavisky, unlike the other excited Zermatt tourists, detested snow. It brought with it too many unpleasant memories of her youth. Yes, it was pretty she supposed in a fanciful sort of way as it silently descended from the leaden skies. Only later to be followed by slush and ice swept up in the debris of modern society.
Her three years as a ‘guest’ of the Tsar’s police as a young girl in the sub-arctic climate of Archangel had hardly endeared her to the cold either. Yet she, unlike so many others of her family and her faith had survived.
She had grown up in the Urals region where the snow arrived like an uninvited visitor bringing in its embrace the fear of bone-numbing cold, chilblains and always hunger.
Yes, hunger seemed to arrive regularly bringing its deadly grip on her own family. As she was to remember only too well that proverbial wolf was never lurking at their exposed farmhouse door, but in there with the family as the main course after they had killed (just about) skinned and devoured its flesh. Even the tail and teeth and nails had been prepared as a gruesome gruel that she and her brother Leon gulped down like water. And sometimes after the meal, there would be splinters of bone lodged between their teeth. But not before their father had taken his own share and sometimes their meagre portions as well.
He had reigned over that hovel with his fists and feet and any other weapon that came to hand when he was in an alcohol haze. Their mother a simple woman was weak as milk usually seeking comfort in prayer from her gaudy painted icons. Bella recalled only too well that it was alcohol and religion that shared the Stavisky home. Neither brother or sister had benefited from either.
Bella would later taste those hunger pangs many times in the stinking prisons of the Tsar and in his penal camps in Siberia where she and her brother Leon had been dispatched in their youth as so-called political agitators. It was there in its damp cells that they had made the acquaintance of a certain Joseph Stalin or Koba as the pair always preferred to address him.
Both the Stavisky children had two valuable assets that would serve them well in the coming turbulent years of the 20th century. He with cunning and strength in delivering pain that he delighted inflicting and usually slowly when ordered by his political superiors. She being blessed with beauty and strength that she would use liberally in gaining what she wanted or needed for herself or the party.
The family then every six months would journey on their faithful buggy to Prem and once there to sell or barter their stored grain. It was usual for Bella and her brother Leon to wander into the town there seeking out the shops and gaze at the unobtainable food, toys and clothes. Whilst there, father sold his wares and purchased his alcohol supply.
On one such exciting outing they quite by chance heard a speaker declaring the benefits of socialism. Both Bella and her brother remained memorised listening to him proclaiming a future, a wonderful workers’ paradise of unlimited utopia and more importantly food!
When they excitedly returned home that day he had offered them some small political books to read. They gratefully accepted. Their mother after glancing through them called them blasphemous. Their father called them rubbish and immediately dispatched them into the open fire grate. They resolved then never to share any literature again with their stupid parents.
But the brother and sister persisted in learning more and by their early teens they had deserted home forever when their mother collapsed and died.
They then journeyed together to Prem where they enlisted into the burgeoning Bolshevik’s cause or the permanent revolution. Their political die had been cast. And neither would ever forsake or betray its political agenda.
Pre the revolution both brother and sister were now recruited full time and after arrests were frequent guests at the Tsar’s numerous prisons. Through years of struggle, they progressed through the party’s promotional apparatus.
By 1920 both were serving officers in NKVD and proud of it. Bella later being invited to visit Stalin’s office there made the acquaintance of his second wife Nadezhda.
The two women were very different temperamentally, but both shared a deep conviction and belief in the survival of the party. In the early 1920s, when she died under suspicious circumstances, Bella for the first time since her mother’s death, shed many tears. But always in the privacy of her bedroom. She resolved then never again would she allow emotion to enter her life.
Leon who through his enthusiasm and enjoyment in removing enemies of the party was invited frequently to enjoy the benefits of the party and grasped what he could with his calloused hands.
He would be invited to Stalin’s summer country dacha, there to be seen in tennis shorts loping a volley to Molotov or Beria in the mixed doubles.
“No rest for the wicked” Stalin joked.
All then laughed as more vodka was demanded which was brought with lashing of caviar served on silver dishes that once graced the Tsar’s dinner table. They were indeed, remarked Beria to Leon ‘the new tsars, the new masters of all we survey’. And none dared challenge this statement.
However now in Zermatt’s cool seasonable climate, Bella felt far from refreshed and that somehow she had failed in searching for the truth. Perhaps disappointed about not knowing what had really happened to her missing brother. Then a feeling of unease rested upon her shoulders from previously gleaned party information passed to her in Moscow.
All seemed to point the accusing finger of suspicion to Himmler and this man Kyper, whom she had observed that evening in the restaurant with his wife and another man. The brief meeting and exchange of words in the restroom only confirmed that the woman was a foolish spoilt woman, a class of bourgeoisie she despised. Maybe this man Kyper had played a pivotal role in her brother disappearance but in obtaining any proof of his involvement had still to be confirmed. She felt angry and frustrated as her demeanour now darkened like the descending expected night sky.
Now as she thoughtfully walked back to the Pension Sonata, she decided to participate in a bottle of Bollinger Nocturne with Max the hotel proprietor.
She had delighted the evening before in hearing the numerous stories he related and events of the founding of the early days of the party’s establishment. And of his many supposed encounters with Lenin.
Max had then reminisced about that famous party conference then held in Zemmerwald in 1915. And hadn’t he himself been there alongside other excited European socialists including Trotsky?
‘A brave new world was arriving and it would be theirs simply for the taking. Rather like plucking a ripened red apple from a tree,’ so wrote the poet Zinokofisky, the party’s then poet in residence later to be discovered in a ditch with several bullets in his skull.
Yes Max had served his party with distinction and dedication Bella realized. And with the use of his pension, he could provide anonymous shelter to needy comrades. His late wife, he had confessed to Bella, had known Lenin’s wife Krupskaya and had taken diction from Rosa Luxembourg. He also claimed that Lavrenti Beria had stayed and enjoyed an overnight stay before travelling on his way in disguise to Rome. He had registered as Herr Wilder a respected film producer before he had an arranged audience with Pope Pius XI. There was talk Max confided, with an inebriated wink to Bella, that he had been reliably informed that comrade Beria been bestowed as an honoured cardinal!
On now entering the hotel lobby, Max was busy discussing something that interested him with one of his waiters. There were it seemed some tentative plans to decorate one of the lounges into a Spanish themed tapas bar and progress was underway. He turned and enquired if Bella had an enjoyable evening. In fact, he hoped to discuss his future Spanish themed creation to Bella later. Although Max had served his party loyally according to his standards, he never privately described himself as a man of the people rather like so many other prominent party members. In fact, he enjoyed this privileged life far too much to ever forsake it nor that he wished to. Privately he was just a committed paid up ‘bloated’ capitalist.
“Money” he had been heard to utter. “Well, I simply love the stuff’.” And with his proposed plans for a tapas bar with castanets and guitars and for its future success (the first actually in Zermatt), he hoped now he was on to certainty and not a catering catastrophe. And it might just inspire further financial creativity he hoped and more importantly further expand his healthy bank account.
In fact, he had long ago decided he would depart from this cold climate for the comfortable climate of Brazil and to a hidden fully staffed hacienda but not just yet. He had long ago placed all available finances into his wife’s name. She had conveniently for him disappeared years before, but that did not concern Max for his future intentions. Hadn’t he successfully forged her signature to such perfection that even she would have believed it was her own. And especially to be used on all important bank transactions, especially withdrawals. Yes, he thought as he frequently congratulated himself, he had put away a sizeable nest egg. And none would be allowed to crack its shell.
“Not really” Bella replied to enquiry. “But maybe later Max, we can share a bottle of wine with some pastries and you can tell me all about the good old days of the revolution” she laughed.
Although she was now suffering some debilitating depression, she hoped his cheerful company might raise her sagging spirits.
“It will be my pleasure,” he said with a beaming smile “and I regret your evening was disappointing … however, I do look forward to joining you later … oh, by the way, this letter was delivered just a few hours ago by a courier.”
He reached below the counter and retrieved the sealed document handing it to her. He had earlier held it up to the light bulb looking for information but the envelope was too padded. She glanced at the heavy envelope from Moscow, then she sighed. She hoped they were going to arrange for her to have a few extra days in searching for her missing brother and perhaps some hopeful relaxation time. He handed her the keys to her room ordering one of the waiters to accompany her.
Max watched as she departed from the hallway. He then walked over to the fireplace and sacrificed two pine logs to the crackling flames. There certainly was a distinct chill in the air he thought. Then he decided to go quickly to the wine cellar in search of a chilled bottle of Bollinger or if not perhaps a German bottle of reliable Blue Nun.
Yes, he thought to himself life is so good as he de-corked a selected bottle. He could almost hear the trout jumping in his private hacienda lake. He then decided to perhaps change into a clean shirt before meeting and hopefully impressing Bella. He had always enjoyed a receptive audience after all.
Arriving upstairs in her room Bella kicked off her shoes and wrapped a silk dressing gown around her shoulders, she was suddenly feeling chilled. She then seated herself at the small desk and reached for her suitcase. She would postpone the luxury of a hot bubble bath until later she decided. She smiled as she recalled she had never enjoyed this indulgence until she was sixteen years old. Up until then, and only in the summer, would she swim in the local rivers and lakes where she was born.
Bella had been schooled in the art of security espionage at the Soviet Academy in Kiev. Now as she carefully opened the heavy letter with a nail file a second folded sheet fell into her lap. She decided to ignore it and placed it onto a small occasional table. She then concentred on deciphering the scrambled words set out before her.
She was trained to use the section code called ‘three apples’ and by using this system she decoded the message from her chief in Moscow a certain Comrade Marina Krupskaya. For the next twenty-five minutes, she toiled in translating the message. Then finally the assembled message was clear.
‘You must terminate your search for brother. Stop. Request your report back to Lubyanka.
A toxicology course has been arranged. Stop.
The coded name for her Station Chief.
She decided she would reluctantly depart in the morning and maybe do some local shopping first. Then searching for the other flimsy sheet of paper she opened it with care and was surprised that it had come personally from Koba (Stalin) and its message after the laborious translation was simple and surprising and direct!
‘Terminate Max Alexander Belov pension proprietor. Stop
Suspected of being a paid informer of the British MI6. Stop
Perform your task immediately and then leave Zermatt on the
final train leaving for Berne at 23.00 hours. Stop
Then await further orders. Stop. You will be contacted. Stop
Destroy this communication. Stop
She slumped into her chair shocked at this unexpected sudden surprising request. Previously she had offered no hesitation in performing her direct orders. Sometimes she even delighted in that she had personally been requested to undertake a command for the party and for its survival of course. But never had she hesitated. Now she was slightly confused, but not defiant. She would comply with her orders. Didn’t she always.
She read the words slowly several times thinking this could not be true? She even checked her worn codebook. But every time the order read the same. Had there been a mistake in the transmission? She wished Leon could offer his advice. But of him or his whereabouts, nothing had been heard leaving her level of concern rising each day.
She hoped but doubted that there had been a blunder from the Moscow central command. She had always realised her superiors were ruthless in their requests, offering no opportunity to question their decision but only to obey.
She stood up then decided she needed to prepare to undertake the order that had been thrust upon her. She decided she must be professional. As in previous orders to exterminate an enemy of the state, there must be no survivors, except herself.
She walked to a cupboard and selected a sturdier pair of laced walking shoes. She might just need the assistance of the ridged soles to gain a grip on the perhaps slippery bathroom floor.
The impending departure of Max from this world she hoped would be rapid. On the other hand, she had noticed he was a large well-muscled man capable of defending himself especially during the early days of the Revolution or so he claimed. She now hoped some of that toned muscle had melted away to flab. She would soon find out.
As she changed into more comfortable clothes she speculated if his decision to cross from the hotel industry to the secretive world of espionage had been for ideological or maybe financial reasons? But it was not for her to theorise just to carry out her orders which she had been highly trained for. A slow burn of excitement began to creep across her coiled body. She was ready although part of her body was experiencing fatigue.
She then prepared herself from what she had learned at the covert institute then situated twenty miles outside of Moscow. There she had successfully succeeded in the art of preparing dead letter box drops extracting information and to, more importantly, spread disinformation, or preparing small incendiary types of explosives which was also in her remit. And to prepare and disassemble a Nagant rifle or a Nambu pistol in six seconds.
But it was her natural aptitude she was later informed to remove all enemies skilfully that captured her trainer’s experienced eye. This prepared her in the guise of a professional killer either by wire or rope, handgun or knife.
She had also specialised and practised the ancient art of Aikido, being personally tutored by a Japanese black belted Master known as Kano. She thought his torturous tutelage superseded his own crafted credentials and skills, with him finally bowing with honoured respect to her natural achievements in the art he had pursued himself for many years.
Bella had briefly studied the art of interrogation. Always abhorring the violent methods she had witnessed herself and had herself been much time subjected to. She recalled what her tutor had confided in her.
“Always try and invade a suspect’s mind. Leave the beatings and nail extractions to the butchers in the pigsty. Be subtle, be smart, know your victim’s mental weakness and you will always be rewarded with results and hopefully a confession.”
Now she prepared herself to perform in less than fifty minutes to dispatch Max to a place where ‘none had ever returned.’ And then later to hopefully herself to depart Zermatt without suspicion directed at her. Sometimes she recalled preparations for departing from a mission were more dangerous than attempting to gain an entry foothold.
She decided she would stage a simple suicide, always a favourite method. This she was optimistic would offer scarce or little investigation of the dead body by the local few gendarmeries. (In 1969 I was myself in Interlaken and noticed that the local police station was only open for business three hours a day).
Then a scenario began to enter her mind and she welcomed its arrival. She then prepared her props rather like an aspiring actress preparing to walk onto the stage and offer a performance to an eager paying anticipatory audience. Only this time there would be an audience of only one.
She walked into her bathroom and ran the water watching its level rise before replacing the plug. Then reaching for the showerhead she unscrewed it and was pleased it had not rusted through with frequent use. She then ripped a generous wad of tissue paper, soaked it and then pushed it into the hosehead, then replaced the showerhead. Then a quick test to show that no water could escape when turned on. Excellent she thought.
When the bath was almost filled, she turned off the direct supply from the tap. She then removed all loose wicker mats as an afterthought from the parquet floor. She noticed as she returned that a flurry of light snow was dancing across the windowpane. Was this a favourable omen or not for what she hoped to achieve in this evenings solo performance? Only time would tell.
Returning to her bedroom she removed from her fake alligator skin attaché case a small unopened bottle of ‘Beluga noble’ vodka. This she occasionally sipped from to settle her nerves. She sipped a few mouthfuls direct from the bottle then replaced the cap. She then searched for her notepad. Located it, tore off a single sheet and searched for an HB pencil stub and then placed both on her case. She would put them to the appropriate use later.
She then left her room and walked into the corridor towards the next room, knocked firmly and when no reply was forthcoming, she smiled and returned to her own room.
She then phoned down to Max and invited him to come up and not to forget the pastries. Then informing him as an afterthought that there seemed to be a problem with the shower. Could he check the water pressure.
Then she sat and waited for his arrival. As in previous years, she was able to separate her emotions many times from her ordered task, although this time she still had doubts about her Moscow instructions. She had become perhaps too fond of Max and hearing his anecdotes of the past.
Then he arrived with a gentle knock. She opened the door with a smile greeted him with a comradely kiss on both cheeks. She had been complimented previously on her acting skills of which she was very proud. And then politely enquired about his family of which he was non-committal. His family and their fortune was one subject he never discussed being a subject he preferred to forget.
He then produced two fluted glasses from his jacket pocket and gently placed the still chilled bottle on to the table. He then reached into another pocket withdrawing a small bottle of clear water then placed it by the glasses. Unknown to Bella, he had suffered for years from a reoccurring peptic ulcer and any alcohol intake only inflamed it. Since then, Max had become much against his will, abstentious of all alcohol.
Then she mentioned that for some reason the shower was not functioning and she had hoped to rinse her hair later before retiring to bed. Could he please see what the problem was.
“I would appreciate it Max” she cooed.
He naturally complied with her request then removed his heavy tweed jacket, placed it on the chair and walked into the bathroom. Then he reached for the shower control turned the tap to see if any water emerged. Nothing did. Then he reached up for the head to unscrew it from its bracket. He bent over to unscrew the showerhead examining it closely and wondering why a wad of soft tissue had been packed into its head? He was certainly beginning to get suspicious.
Bella, then acting as a striking vicious cobra, slammed the palm of her right hand onto his exposed neck. The shock of this sudden attack brought him crashing onto his knees with his face plunging in and under the water.
She quickly straddled him with a vice-like grip only slowly moving her knee onto the base of his neck her left hand plunging his face further into the bath water.
With her right hand, she felt around for the carotid pulse in the neck and squeezed. Thereby constricting all oxygen and blood flow his body now so urgently needed and craved for.
Max flailed around desperately trying to reach up and stop her but was trapped in her deadly embrace. She knew he would die. He had to die. Then she held his face down in the bathwater and silently counted to seventy-five. She had been instructed in the Academy to count this number but decided to continue with the slow count to an extra twenty. Suddenly minutes before he departed this world the word ‘why’ had escaped from his lips but he was dead before it reached the bubbled surface.
She watched his legs and feet perform a final silent jig of death before they finally ceased. She had noticed this protest of the dying body in the many men and women she had been ordered to dispose of in her chosen vocation. It never changed or ceased to amaze her.
When she was convinced Max was no longer lingering in the land of the living she hoisted him from the enamelled bath and rolled him onto his back then kneeling over him she checked his pulse. As she suspected, nothing. Mission completed and successfully accomplished she sighed.
She took a deep breath and heaved the heavy body into the next room and prepared him for the next stage of her task. She quickly searched the pockets of his jacket and found what she was searching for. A heavy set of different sized keys. She walked to the window and noticed the snow had ceased. This had to be, she reasoned, an encouraging sign for her departure from the Zermatt rail station.
Leaving the still dripping body on the floor and after wiping his face and hair she quietly departed her room and returned again to the next bedroom. Fortunately, the corridor was still empty. Then she selected several keys on the key ring and then after several attempts the resisting door lock clicked open and she stepped inside.
The room was really a mirror image of her own but seemed somehow uncared for perhaps unoccupied maybe unfinished? A putrid smell pervaded everywhere. But it was not only decay but death itself that she knew so well that assaulted her nostrils. It somehow seemed to permeate from the bare walls.
She noticed that various coloured sized cardboard and Parisian hat boxes were piled against a wall. Placed on top was a German army helmet spiked helmet known as a Pickelhaube. What this signified she did not know or where it had come from was a mystery? She moved it to the floor. She would examine the boxes later. An ornate oaken heavy wardrobe when slowly opened, displayed overpriced mink coats men and women’s’ expensive Italian shoes, gentlemen’s Crumby coats from Jermyn Street London, as well as numerous silk ties, scarves, shawls, fitted silk buttoned down collared shirts and expensive haute couture designer dresses and silken underwear both men and women’s.
It now seemed to Bella that Max was a thieving dangerous magpie. As her eyes continued searching the room, pride of place was a prominent single unmade bed devoid of blankets showing only stained sheets now exposed before her. She walked over to the shuttered window and twisted the closed Venetian blind and attempted to try and open it. Then as it finally opened, before her was a disgusting pyramid of dead flies on the sill. This certainly was a used store room and not it seems for paying hotel guests to occupy. At least she hoped not.
For some reason, she now crouched down to inspect what if anything was concealed under the bed. Amongst the dust and debris was a medium sized battered suitcase with numerous peeling seaport destination labels glued on it. She then retrieved it hoping to open it, but it was locked.
Returning to the key chain she had previously removed from the body she selected a smaller one that might just fit the small scratched lock. It did. And inside were two stiletto blades, an unloaded Canadian colt revolver fitted with a silencer, assorted bullets, a coil of wire with fitted wooden handles that were sometimes used for cutting cheese she remembered, as well as some small ropes and a small used pillow. Seen also were numerous assorted currency bundles of dollars, German marks, French francs and English pounds.
Also, sets of lewd photographs emanating from Port Said in Egypt (of which the English author Rudyard Kipling had written about she had once been informed.) And more importantly a heavy bundle of numerous international passports.
Some loose assorted packets of opened poppy seeds were tied together as well as some shrivelled tulip heads. Several expensive Leica cameras with attached flash equipment and coils of necklaces, some bracelets, dozens of sized rings and with expensive Cartier tank watches and broaches.
This was obviously Max’s future nest egg or his Aladdin’s cave. It seemed it had also been used and prepared by him for a quick getaway if and when needed.
She then placed the faded pillow to her nostrils and could detect aromas such as perfume, maybe alcohol and some form of hospital ether. Used hypodermic needles still showing traces of blood had been discarded, but maybe to be reused and inserted in any frightened victim to silence them. Maybe Max had planned some playtime for himself at Bella’s own expense in the near future and maybe before she vacated his hotel in a wooden box.
Then she noticed an adjoining door that if, when opened, would lead into her own rooms. The stained unmade bed was situated against its frame. She pulled it clear from the wall and inspected the door that was locked. Again she selected several of Max’s keys through her gloved fingers and tried each one in the lock until one snapped open.
Then stepping inside her own room she noticed the dead body of Max on the floor looking forlornly at the ceiling. She turned around and inspected the aged hinges and noticed they had been well oiled – the purpose was obvious. A small drilled peephole finished off his handy work for spying on her and all previous guests who had occupied it before her. Now she suspected Max the monster had deliberately placed her in this particular room so that he could enter and exit whenever he desired. Possibly to examine her items maybe read her correspondence? A voyeur as well as a murderer she decided. Any doubts about murdering him were now quickly expiring. She had certainly performed a welcomed favour for the hotel industry it seemed.
She then managed to pull him through the door and hoisted him onto the bed in his hidden secret room. Perfect so far she thought. Then lifting his right hand she placed a pencil between his stiffening fingers. Then closing it over the pencil stub she held it over a single sheet of paper.
She then wrote only seven words guiding his hand. “Sorry, but I can’t take any more.” Then she placed the note on his bed leaving the pencil on his chest. She reached for the opened wine bottle he had earlier brought to her. She forced open his now gaping mouth and poured a generous amount down his throat, then splashed the remainder around his torso leaving the bottle still clutched into his right hand. She then returned to bring his jacket into the room and placed it on the bed under his head to act as a makeshift pillow. She then paused to survey her work and nodded with satisfaction. No point in rushing this prepared ‘suicide.’ She slowly wiped down all surfaces and handles with a damp cloth. Then returning to the opened suitcase she placed it onto the bed by the body. Then she selected the required passports as well as most of the currency to take with her for unforeseen emergencies. Passports were like currencies always needed and never hopefully out of date.
She briefly considered selecting a gold tank watch for her brother then decided against it. After a second thought, she reached for those sickening pornographic photographs and scattered them around his body. This would certainly offer the investigating police officers something to snigger about and maybe pocket some of them as well for their own pleasures as they investigated this sordid crime.
She decided to leave the displayed case by the bed. She locked the adjoining bedroom door where his body now lay exposed together with those noticed dead flies and returned to her own. This concealed room may now be vacated and unoccupied but a veil of evil had perpetrated everything displayed within its walls and would remain so until discovered sometime by the Swiss police. Bella speculated what numerous nightmares had been arranged here by Max the murderer and pervert. But his days of dominion presiding over his hotel as the favoured ‘mien host’ were now finished. And forever.
But now it was time to retrace her steps and replace every item as it should be. In the bathroom, she removed the rolled up soaked paper ball from the showerhead and flushed it down the lavatory. She screwed the showerhead rather easily back into place and tested it to her satisfaction. She then noticed the sodden ball of paper had not been flushed away. She pulled the chain again and watched it finally disappear leaving the bowl clean. Then the bath water was drained removing any evidence.
Then walking back to her room she lifted both unused glasses, wiped them with a handkerchief and placed them into the medicine cabinet over the sink. She removed the small key to her bedroom door and placed in her pocket. Quickly she then wrapped the crumbling pastries in tissue paper and placed them into her case. They definitely would be discarded later. She had no wish to sample anything Max’s hands might have touched. This would appear to the maid arriving in the morning to tidy the room for the next occupant as if nothing was unusual. And there had been no visitors to the vacated room.
She wiped down the bath again and the tiles then turned her attention to removing moisture from the mirror. The raffia floor mats were inspected yet again for some reason. Finally, she tested the showerhead for both hot and cold running water.
No trace or suspicion or evidence would ever be found that would connect Max to his unexpected demise in the bathroom.
She then paused to peer at the reflection of herself in the mirror. Then suddenly the notion arrived to startle her, that she had never been a wife or a mother, nor was ever likely to be one.
Yet she had once known and welcomed briefly the gift of true love into her lonely life. That had been presented to her years ago in one of the prisons that she had occupied.
Then for a few glorious weeks, she had experienced the true love of a Jewish boy named Lev, a then theology student. He was serving a sentence for sedition. There in that prison of pain and despair, they had somehow discovered each other and when possible protected each other. Even sharing with each other their meagre rations. An unbroken bond was forged between the two young lovers.
Then in 1912, a bureaucratic blunder had ruled that they both be dispatched to exile in Siberia. This would be a brief blessing to them both. There together on that protracted journey to the so-called ‘land of the snow’, they had betrothed themselves to each other.
Years before, both Stalin and Trotsky had tasted this forced period of Siberian exile. Then enjoying this unconfined window of the wild, Stalin would spend his days apparently fishing for trout. Trotsky naturally discussing and planning the expected permanent revolution to anyone who cared to listen. Now in that remote countryside where they had arrived and been deposited, Lev and Bella now discovered more about each other’s dreams and desires and their own yearning to share the coming future together. Then one day whilst on their long private country walks together, they discovered a secret silver forest or a ‘cathedral of trees’ Lev had laughingly christened it.
Among the towering splendid birch trees and Peris japonica shrubs, they one day slowly carved their initials on a birch tree and exchanged shaped twig engagement rings.
This silent shaded mystical forest had become their private castle keep where no enemy could or would ever come to snatch them back to the grim reality.
As a senior theology student studying for his rabbinical exams, Lev had desired that he and Bella be joined in matrimony.
“It’s only right” he had informed her.
She had acquiesced of course. Now as they stood under a canopy of tall trees, which he informed her would act as a traditional Jewish wedding. Bella was placed by Lev on his right side. The couple gazed at each other with love and some trepidation.
Then this young man and woman repeated those ancient Hebrew wedding words that have sounded down through the centuries:
“My beloved is mine, and I am his.”
Behold” intoned Lev ” you are consecrated to me with this ring.
He placed the twinned wedding ring on the finger of her left hand. Then both spoke in unison to each other almost as if in a whisper:
“My beloved is mine, and I am his.”
This he informed her was from the sacred Song of Solomon.
They kissed each other slowly as they exchanged their wooden rings yet again and considered themselves always to be in the eyes of God true man and wife. They then slowly consummated their love for each other in a pallet of green moss. Bella would never allow another man to touch her in this ever fashion again.
“My love, my life forever” she whispered to him. He had spoken these words gently and with love to her and she repeated them to him. She nodded in agreement unaware of what their meaning signified.
“Milim lo yekhulot lether et ha ahava sheli elekhil. Ata ha keren or sheli ha ahava sheli”.
Then both fell into a deep slumber entwined into each other’s arms like vines. And the world and its woes vanished like an expiring traditional Victorian London nocturnal fog.
To be continued……
(C) Copyright G. Patrick Battell