enough to prepare him for this subtropical Eden.
The Crimea, he decided, was going to prove to be full of surprises.
Most of the Crimea Peninsula, Tombstone had learned from a guidebook
he’d picked up in the ship’s store the day before, was actually hot, dry
steppe, something that did not mesh easily with his mental image of the
vast and sprawling land that was Russia. Like most Westerners, Tombstone
had always pictured Russia as basically cold, in the grip of General
Winter from October through April, and his experience over the
far-northern tundra wastes of the Kola Peninsula in the still-winter
month of March had only reinforced that impression.
He’d known, certainly, that the former Soviet Union wasn’t just ice and
tundra, and the balmy temperatures and crystal blue skies of his first
day in Yalta were enough to convince him that there was more to this
land than Siberian wastes.
In fact, though the northern two-thirds of the Crimea was arid, the
chain of mountains stretching from Balaklava in the southwest all the
way to Kerch in the extreme east created a natural barrier that kept the
southern coast subtropically pleasant. The sun along that coast was
warm, even in early November, and the sea breeze was delightful, cool
and moist and salt-tangy. The climate and the palms reminded Tombstone a
lot of southern California; the south Crimean coast was known, in fact,
as the Crimean Riviera. For decades, the elite of the old Soviet Union’s
vaunted classless society had come to this region on holiday, and the
most powerful of Moscow’s rulers had maintained their dachas and summer
homes here. During the abortive 1991 coup, Gorbachev had been placed
under arrest and held in his dacha estate not far from Yalta, while
events elsewhere in the nation had spun far beyond the reach both of him
and of the coup plotters.
The air of affluence that permeated much of the southern Crimean coast
had marked the region since long before the Soviets had come on the
scene. Czars had kept their summer palaces here, and Lenin had issued a
decree to the effect that the palaces of the Russian aristocracy in the
region should be turned into sanatoria for the people.
The ongoing troubles in Russia, however, had been felt here as well.
From the hotel window, at least, there was actually surprisingly little
evidence of the civil war that had been tearing at Russia’s guts for the
past months. The buildings were intact, there were no soldiers in the
streets, no signs of fortifications or defenses. But the entire city had
a depressed air, a depression of the spirit as well as of the economy.
The region had depended on tourism for capital, but, reasonably enough,
tourism had been in sharp decline for some time now. Most, maybe all, of
the people visible on the street were native Russians; there’d been no
foreign visitors for some time now, not since the attempted
reintegration of the Soviet empire, and the city was showing the absence
of their hard currencies. It looked shabby and a bit run-down. There was
garbage in the streets–something unthinkable in the socialist paradise
that once had employed women to sweep each street with brooms–and many
of the people Tombstone could see from the window looked less like
vacationers than gangs, groups of tough-looking kids in jeans and
T-shirts loitering in public areas with the same swaggering
aggressiveness Tombstone had seen in their counterparts back in the
United States. He’d heard, too, that the region was a magnet for the
darker elements of Russia’s disintegrating economy. The Russian Mafia,
he’d been told, controlled many of the businesses and most of the
business transactions that went on here, while the southern Crimea was a
principal meeting place for Armenians, Georgians, Uzbeks, Tatars, and
renegade Russian military officers engaged in black market trade.
He turned away from the open window and looked over the room he’d been
given. .. clean and pleasant enough, but modest by American standards.
Rooms had been reserved for the United Nations personnel at Yalta’s
largest hotel, the Yalta–a Stalinist horror of concrete in classic
Communist-modernist-monolithic architecture. All of the foreigners were
being kept here, and Tombstone hadn’t quite decided whether that was for
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