The Eighth Sister by Robert Dugoni Read Online (FREE)
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Zarina Kazakova stepped to the glass doors of Belyy Dom, the Russian White House, and peered out at the leaden sky threatening to suffocate Moscow. It was not if the sky would unleash the first flurry of snow, but when. Meteorologists had forecast evening temperatures below zero, and as much as six to eight inches. Zarina sighed at the thought of another difficult winter as she forced her fingers into the soft fur of her mittens. Bogdan, one of the guards, stood near a metal detector with his body angled to peer out at the cloud layer darkening by the minute. “Pokhozhe, chto eto budet dolgaya zima, Zarina.”
“When is it not a long winter?” Zarina replied in Russian. She intended her question to be rhetorical, and Bogdan, a true Muscovite, did not bother to answer it. They both knew “long” did not accurately describe Russian winters; “oppressive” more readily came to mind.
“Do you have plans this evening?” Bogdan asked. He wore his somber green-gray military uniform beneath his equally somber wool coat. His peaked cap sat square on his head.
“I always have plans,” Zarina said, being purposefully vague and hoping to discourage Bogdan before he got started. In her early sixties, she had her mother’s genes—just a sprinkle of gray in her auburn hair and skin as smooth as a woman half her age. Her mother had emphasized good living to be the key to a Russian woman keeping her looks, the one thing she truly possessed and thus needed to carefully guard. Zarina dressed impeccably, and she had never undertaken two of Russia’s national pastimes—smoking and drinking excessively, especially vodka. She’d also been single since her divorce, and it seemed every man in Belyy Dom knew of it.
Bogdan smiled. “You’re dressed as if to go out.”
Indeed. Her heavy winter coat and rabbit-skin collar matched the fur of her ushanka, which she pulled snug on her head, the earflaps lowered to protect against the anticipated wind and cold.
“Can I only dress this way for a date?” Zarina asked. “Hmm?” She pulled the muffler over her mouth, not interested in Bogdan’s response, and moved toward the door. “Dobroy nochi.”
“Spokoynoy nochi,” Bogdan replied, wishing her a peaceful night as he pushed open the door for her. Zarina stepped into a gusting wind hurtling up the Moskva River with the fury of an approaching freight train. Tonight’s storm would be fierce.
She navigated the concrete steps and hurried across the courtyard, head down. After passing through the ornate gate, she stepped onto Krasnopresnenskaya Nab, marching along the bank of the river to her bus stop at the corner of Glubokiy Pereulok. The deafening roar of buses and the blare of horns in Moscow’s twenty-first century “Putinstan” echoed above the wind, commuters scurrying to get home before the first flurry of snow. At the bend in the Moskva River, the Hotel Ukraina, a hulking mass of Stalinesque excess, dominated Zarina’s view. Stalin had commissioned seven such buildings following the Second World War to glorify the Soviet state and to impress the West, which was busy building skyscrapers. The persistent rumor was the dictator had also similarly designed each of the seven to confuse American bombers, if they were ever to fly into Moscow. Given the paranoid propensity of Russian leaders, Zarina believed the rumor.