their protection. .. or because it made it easier for the authorities to
keep an eye on them. Both, probably.
His roommate was lying on the bed reading a guidebook. He was sharing
the room with Greg Whitehead, the other captain in the group. .. and the
place was almost certainly wired for sound. The Federal Bureau of
Security–or whatever the old KGB was calling itself now–would be
interested in any conversations the two of them might have during their
“I’m going downstairs, Greg,” he told Whitehead, picking up his jacket
and shrugging it on. “Maybe stretch my legs.”
“Okay, Matt. Watch out for the roaches.” They’d flushed a few already in
the room’s antiquated bathroom, and they put Florida’s finest to shame.
.. not quite strong enough to take on a healthy cat, they’d decided, but
large enough to require respect.
At least, Tombstone thought as he pulled the door shut behind him, they
had their own bathroom; lots of Russian hotels still believed in
communal toilet facilities down the hall. Outside, the floor concierge,
one of the small army of women hired by Russian hotels apparently for no
other reason than to keep an eye on the comings and goings of the
guests, eyed him narrowly and suspiciously from her chair by the
elevator. He nodded pleasantly, then took the stairs instead of the
elevators, which neither looked nor sounded trustworthy. The stairwells
were dark and filthy, stank with the mingled odors of mildewed rags and
urine, and were lacking fire doors, but at least he didn’t run the risk
of getting stuck in one. The woman barked something in Russian at him as
he started down the worn concrete steps. .. probably something in the
nature of “You’re not allowed to do that!” or “Official use only!” but
he ignored her and kept going. Let her yell. Tombstone could handle
being flung off the bow of an aircraft carrier at 150 knots with
complete aplomb, but Russian hotel elevators were something else.
He was going to be very glad to get back aboard the Jefferson.
“Hey. .. you American? You want fuck?”
The woman was small, blond, and painfully thin, dressed in a tight gown
that tried to display her breasts but succeeded mostly in displaying how
skinny her arms were, while the heavy eye makeup and lipstick emphasized
her hollow cheeks. She stood squarely in the open doorway to the
stairwell, blocking his way.
“You want. .. fuck?” The obscenity was less shocking on her lips than it
was pathetic. “Or do other things. Five dollars?”
“No,” Tombstone said.
“I suck you, two dollars.”
He felt pity, and a moment’s stumbling uncertainty. Should he just brush
past this pathetic creature? Or offer her a few dollar bills as he would
a beggar? Glancing past her shoulder, he saw a crowd of other women
waiting in the corridor just outside the stairwell, all thin to the
point of gauntness, dressed in clothes intended to be provocative, and
wearing what they must imagine was sexy-looking makeup. And they were
all watching his encounter with the first woman with predatory gleams in
Shit. If he tried handing the woman money for no service, that bunch
would descend on him like a wolf pack, targeting him as an easy mark.
Better to shake his head no and shove past the woman without another
And, he told himself, it might be best to avoid situations here where he
was alone and could be cornered somewhere away from the main drag.
Tombstone was under no illusions about his ability to fend off an attack
by a half-dozen desperate women.
It was a sobering encounter. He’d known the Russian economy was bad, but
no written description could have prepared him for the sight of those
pitiful human wrecks accosting men in the hotel’s stairwell. He steeled
himself to walk past the women outside without meeting their watching
eyes. He wished there was something he could do to help them. ..
something other than actually doing business with them, which he knew
would be dangerous on several counts.
But there was nothing he could do, nothing anyone could do.
The Yalta Hotel’s lobby represented an unpleasant compromise between