The Man from St. Petersburg | Chapter 19 of 26

Author: Ken Follett | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 24535 Views | Add a Review

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TEN

When Feliks went out to get the morning paper he seemed to see children every way he turned. In the courtyard a group of girls played a game involving dancing and chanting. The boys were playing cricket with a wicket chalked on the wall and a piece of rotten planking for a bat. In the street, older boys were pushing handcarts. He bought his newspaper from an adolescent girl. As he went back to his room, his way was blocked by a naked baby crawling up the stairs. As he looked at the child—it was a girl—she stood up unsteadily and slowly toppled backward. Feliks caught her and put her down on the landing. Her mother came out of an open door. She was a pale young woman with greasy hair, already very pregnant with another child. She scooped the baby girl up off the floor and disappeared back into her room with a suspicious look at Feliks.

Every time he considered exactly how he would bamboozle Charlotte into telling him the whereabouts of Orlov, he seemed to run up against a brick wall in his mind. He visualized getting the information out of her sneakily, without her knowing she was telling him; or by giving her a cock-and-bull story like the one he had given Lydia; or by telling her straight out that he wanted to kill Orlov; and his imagination recoiled at each scene.

When he thought about what was at stake he found his feelings ridiculous. He had a chance to save millions of lives and possibly spark the Russian Revolution—and he was worried about lying to an upper-class girl! It was not as if he intended to do her any harm—just use her, deceive her and betray her trust, his own daughter, whom he had only just met . . .

To occupy his hands he began to fashion the homemade dynamite into a primitive bomb. He packed the nitroglycerine-soaked cotton waste into a cracked china vase. He considered the problem of detonation. Burning paper alone might not be sufficient. He stuffed half a dozen matches into the cotton so that only their bright red heads showed. It was difficult to get the matches to stand upright because his hands were unsteady.

My hands never shake.

What is happening to me?

He twisted a piece of newspaper into a taper and stuck one end into the middle of the match heads, then tied the heads together with a length of cotton. He found it very difficult to tie the knot.

He read all the international news in The Times, plowing doggedly through the turgid English sentences. He was more or less sure that there would be a war, but more or less sure no longer seemed enough. He would have been happy to kill a useless idler like Orlov, then find out that it had been to no purpose. But to destroy his relationship with Charlotte to no purpose . . .

Relationship? What relationship?

You know what relationship.

Reading The Times made his head ache. The print was too small and his room was dark. It was a wretchedly conservative newspaper. It ought to be blown up.

He longed to see Charlotte again.

He heard shuffling footsteps on the landing outside; then there was a knock at the door.

“Come in,” he called carelessly.

The caretaker came in, coughing. “Morning.”

“Good morning, Mr. Price.” What did the old fool want now?

“What’s that?” said Price, nodding to the bomb on the table.

“Homemade candle,” Feliks said. “Lasts months. What do you want?”

“I wondered if you needed a spare pair of sheets. I can get them at a very low price—”

“No, thank you,” Feliks said. “Good-bye.”

“Good-bye, then.” Price went out.

I should have hidden that bomb, Feliks thought.

What is happening to me?

 

“Yes, he’s in there,” Price said to Basil Thomson.

Tension knotted in Walden’s stomach.

They sat in the back of a police car parked around the corner from Canada Buildings, where Feliks was. With them was an inspector from the Special Branch and a uniformed superintendent from Southwark police station.

If they could catch Feliks now, then Aleks would be safe: what a relief that will be, Walden thought.

Thomson said: “Mr. Price went to the police station to report that he had rented a room to a suspicious character with a foreign accent who had very little money and was growing a beard as if to change his appearance. He identified Feliks from our artist’s drawing. Well done, Price.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The uniformed superintendent unfolded a large-scale map. He was maddeningly slow and deliberate. “Canada Buildings consists of three five-story tenements around a courtyard. Each building has three stairwells. As you stand at the entrance to the courtyard, Toronto House is on your right. Feliks is on the middle staircase and the top floor. Behind Toronto House is the yard of a builder’s merchant.”

Walden contained his impatience.

“On your left is Vancouver House, and behind Vancouver House is another street. The third building, straight ahead of you as you stand at the courtyard entrance, is Montreal House, which backs on to the railway line.”

Thomson pointed to the map. “What’s that, in the middle of the courtyard?”

“The privy,” replied the superintendent. “And a real stinker, too, with all those people using it.”

Walden thought: Get on with it!

Thomson said: “It seems to me that Feliks has three ways out of the courtyard. First, the entrance: obviously we’ll block that. Second, at the opposite end of the courtyard on the left, the alley between Vancouver House and Montreal House. It leads to the next street. Put three men in the alley, superintendent.”

“Very good, sir.”

“Third, the alley between Montreal House and Toronto House. This alley leads to the builder’s yard. Another three men in there.”

The superintendent nodded.

“Now, do these tenements have back windows?”

“Yes, sir.”

“So Feliks has a fourth escape route from Toronto House: out of the back window and across the builder’s yard. Better put six men in the builder’s yard. Finally, let’s have a nice show of strength right here in the middle of the courtyard, to encourage him to come along quietly. Does all that meet with your approval, Superintendent?”

“More than adequate, I’d say, sir.”

He doesn’t know what kind of man we’re dealing with, Walden thought.

Thomson said: “You and Inspector Sutton here can make the arrest. Got your gun, Sutton?”

Sutton pulled aside his coat to show a small revolver strapped under his arm. Walden was surprised: He had thought that no British policeman ever carried a firearm. Obviously the Special Branch was different. He was glad.

Thomson said to Sutton: “Take my advice—have it in your hand when you knock on his door.” He turned to the uniformed superintendent. “You’d better take my gun.”

The superintendent was mildly offended. “I’ve been twenty-five years in the force and never felt the lack of a firearm, sir, so if it’s all the same to you I shan’t begin now.”

“Policemen have died trying to arrest this man.”

“I’m afraid I’ve never been taught to shoot, sir.”

Good God, Walden thought despairingly, how can people like us deal with people like Feliks?

Thomson said: “Lord Walden and I will be at the courtyard entrance.”

“You’ll stay in the car, sir?”

“We’ll stay in the car.”

Let’s go, thought Walden.

“Let’s go,” said Thomson.

 

Feliks realized he was hungry. He had not eaten for more than twenty-four hours. He wondered what to do. Now that he had stubble on his chin and working-class clothes, he would be watched by shopkeepers, so it would be more difficult for him to steal.

He pulled himself up at that thought. It’s never difficult to steal, he told himself. Let’s see: I could go to a suburban house—the kind where they are likely to have only one or two servants—and walk in at the tradesmen’s entrance. There would be a maid in the kitchen, or perhaps a cook. “I am a madman,” I would say with a smile, “but if you make me a sandwich I won’t rape you.” I would move toward the door to block her escape. She might scream, in which case I should go away and try another house. But, most likely, she would give me the food. “Thank you,” I would say. “You are kind.” Then I would walk away. It is never difficult to steal.

Money was a problem. Feliks thought: As if I could afford a pair of sheets! The caretaker was an optimist. Surely he knew that Feliks had no money . . .

Surely he knows I’ve no money.

On reflection, Price’s reason for coming to Feliks’s room was suspicious. Was he just optimistic? Or was he checking? I seem to be slowing down, Feliks thought. He stood up and went to the window.

Jesus Christ.

The courtyard was alive with blue-uniformed policemen.

Feliks stared down at them in horror.

The sight made him think of a nest of worms, wriggling and crawling over one another in a hole in the ground.

His instincts screamed: Run! Run! Run!

Where?

They had blocked all exits from the courtyard.

Feliks remembered the back windows.

He ran from his room and along the landing to the back of the tenement. There a window looked out on to the builder’s yard behind. He peered down into the yard and saw five or six policemen taking up positions among the piles of bricks and stacks of planking. There was no escape that way.

That left only the roof.

He ran back to his room and looked out. The policemen were still, all but two men—one in uniform and one in plain clothes—who were walking purposefully across the courtyard toward Feliks’s stair.

He picked up his bomb and the box of matches and ran down to the landing below. A small door with a latch gave access to a cupboard beneath the stairs. Feliks opened the door and placed the bomb inside. He lit the paper fuse and closed the cupboard door. He turned around. He had time to run up the stairs before the fuse burned down—

The baby girl was crawling up the stairs.

Shit.

He picked her up and dashed through the door into her room. Her mother sat on the dirty bed, staring vacantly at the wall. Feliks thrust the baby into her arms and yelled: “Stay here! Don’t move!” The woman looked scared.

He ran out. The two men were one floor below. Feliks raced up the stairs—

Don’t blow now don’t blow now don’t

—to his landing. They heard him, and one shouted: “Hey, you!” They broke into a run.

Feliks dashed into his room, picked up the cheap straight-backed chair, carried it out to the landing and positioned it directly under the trapdoor leading to the loft.

The bomb had not exploded.

Perhaps it would not work.

Feliks stood on the chair.

The two men hit the stairs.

Feliks pushed open the trapdoor.

The uniformed policeman shouted: “You’re under arrest!”

The plainclothes man raised a gun and pointed it at Feliks.

The bomb went off.

There was a big dull thud like something very heavy falling and the staircase broke up into matchwood which flew everywhere and the two men were flung backward and the debris burst into flames and Feliks hauled himself up into the loft.

 

“Damn, he’s exploded a damn bomb!” Thomson shouted.

Walden thought: It’s going wrong—again.

There was a crash as shards of glass from a fourth-floor window hit the ground.

Walden and Thomson jumped out of the car and ran across the courtyard.

Thomson picked two uniformed policemen at random. “You and you—come inside with me.” He turned to Walden. “You stay here.” They ran inside.

Walden backed across the courtyard, looking up at the windows of Toronto House.

Where is Feliks?

He heard a policeman say: “He’ve gorn out the back, you mark my words.”

Four or five slates fell off the roof and shattered in the courtyard—loosened, Walden assumed, by the explosion.

Walden kept feeling the urge to look back over his shoulder, as if Feliks might suddenly appear behind him, from nowhere.

The residents of the tenements were coming to their doors and windows to see what was going on, and the courtyard began to fill with people. Some of the policemen made halfhearted attempts to send them back inside. A woman ran out of Toronto House screaming: “Fire!”

Where is Feliks?

Thomson and a policeman came out carrying Sutton. He was unconscious, or dead. Walden looked more closely. No, he was not dead: his pistol was gripped in his hand.

More slates fell off the roof.

The policeman with Thomson said: “It’s a bloody mess in there.”

Walden said: “Did you see where Feliks is?”

“Couldn’t see anything.”

Thomson and the policeman went back inside.

More slates fell—

Walden was struck by a thought. He looked up.

There was a hole in the roof, and Feliks was climbing up through it.

“There he is!” Walden yelled.

They all watched, helpless, as Feliks crawled out of the loft and scrambled up the roof to the ridge.

If I had a gun—

Walden knelt over the unconscious body of Sutton and prized the pistol from his fingers.

He looked up. Feliks was kneeling on the peak of the roof. I wish it were a rifle, Walden thought as he lifted the gun. He sighted along the barrel. Feliks looked at him. Their eyes met.

 

Feliks moved.

A shot rang out.

He felt nothing.

He began to run.

It was like running along a tightrope. He had to hold out his arms for balance, he had to place his feet squarely on the narrow ridge, and he had to avoid thinking about the fifty-foot drop to the courtyard.

There was another shot.

Feliks panicked.

He ran at top speed. The end of the roof loomed up. He could see the down-sloping roof of Montreal House ahead. He had no idea how wide the gap was between the two buildings. He slowed down, hesitating; then Walden fired again.

Feliks ran full tilt at the end of the ridge.

He jumped.

He flew through the air. He heard his own voice, as if distantly, screaming.

He caught a momentary glimpse of three policemen, in the alley fifty feet below him, staring up at him openmouthed.

Then he hit the roof of Montreal House, landing hard on his hands and knees.

The impact winded him. He slid backward down the roof. His feet hit the gutter. It seemed to give under the strain, and he thought he was going to slide right off the edge of the roof and fall, fall, endlessly—but the gutter held and he stopped sliding.

He was frightened.

A distant corner of his mind protested: But I’m never frightened!

He scrambled up the roof to the peak and then down the other side.

Montreal House backed on to the railway. There were no policemen on the lines or the embankment. They didn’t anticipate this, Feliks thought exultantly; they thought I was trapped in the courtyard; it never occurred to them that I might escape over the rooftops.

Now all I have to do is get down.

He peered over the gutter at the wall of the building beneath him. There were no drainpipes—the gutters emptied through spouts, which jutted out from the edge of the roof, like gargoyles. But the top-floor windows were close to the eaves and had wide ledges.

With his right hand Feliks grasped the gutter and pulled it, testing its strength.

Since when have I cared whether I live or die?

(You know since when.)

He positioned himself over a window, gripped the gutter with both hands, and slowly eased himself over the edge.

For a moment he hung free.

His feet found the window ledge. He took his right hand from the gutter and felt the brickwork around the window for a handhold. He got his fingers into a shallow groove, then let go of the gutter with his other hand.

He looked through the window. Inside, a man saw him and shouted in fright.

Feliks kicked the window in and dropped into the room. He pushed the frightened occupant aside and rushed out through the doorway.

He ran down the stairs four at a time. If he could reach the ground floor he could get out through the back windows and onto the railway line.

He reached the last landing and stopped at the top of the last flight of stairs, breathing hard. A blue uniform appeared at the front entrance. Feliks spun around and raced to the back of the landing. He lifted the window. It stuck. He gave a mighty heave and threw it open. He heard boots running up the stairs. He clambered over the windowsill, eased himself out, hung by his hands for a moment, pushed himself away from the wall and dropped.

He landed in the long grass of the railway embankment. To his right, two men were jumping over the fence of the builder’s yard. A shot came from his far left. A policeman came to the window from which Feliks had jumped.

He ran up the embankment to the railway.

There were four or five pairs of lines. In the distance a train was approaching fast. It seemed to be on the farthermost track. He suffered a moment of cowardice, frightened to cross in front of the train; then he broke into a run.

The two policemen from the builder’s yard and the one from Montreal House chased him across the tracks. From the far left a voice shouted: “Clear the field of fire!” The three pursuers were making it difficult for Walden to get a shot.

Feliks glanced over his shoulder. They had fallen back. A shot rang out. He began to duck and zigzag. The train sounded very loud. He heard its whistle. There was another shot. He turned aside suddenly, then stumbled and fell onto the last pair of railway lines. There was a terrific thunder in his ears. He saw the locomotive bearing down on him. He jerked convulsively, catapulting himself off the track and onto the gravel on the far side. The train roared past his head. He caught a split-second glimpse of the engineman’s face, white and scared.

He stood up and ran down the embankment.

 

Walden stood at the fence watching the train. Basil Thomson came up beside him.

Those policemen who had got onto the railway line ran across to the last track, then stood there, helpless, waiting for the train to pass. It seemed to take forever.

When it had gone, there was no sign of Feliks.

“The bugger’s got away,” a policeman said.

Basil Thomson said: “Goddamn it all to hell.”

Walden turned away and walked back to the car.

 

Feliks dropped down on the far side of a wall and found himself in a poor street of small row houses. He was also in the goalmouth of an improvised soccer pitch. A group of small boys in large caps stopped playing and stared at him in surprise. He ran on.

It would take them a few minutes to redeploy the police on the far side of the railway line. They would come looking for him, but they would be too late: by the time they got a search under way he would be half a mile from the railway and still moving.

He kept running until he reached a busy shopping street. There, on impulse, he jumped on an omnibus.

He had escaped, but he was terribly worried. This kind of thing had happened to him before, but previously he had never been scared, he had never panicked. He remembered the thought that had gone through his mind as he slid down the roof: I don’t want to die.

In Siberia he had lost the ability to feel fear. Now it had come back. For the first time in years, he wanted to stay alive. I have become human again, he thought.

He looked out of the window at the mean streets of southeast London, wondering whether the dirty children and the white-faced women could look at him and see a reborn man.

It was a disaster. It would slow him down, cramp his style, interfere with his work.

I’m afraid, he thought.

I want to live.

I want to see Charlotte again.

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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