Dust to Blood (Red Slaves #1) - Chapter 1

170 5 0

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright 2012, Tonya Cannariato

I haven’t been home more than five of the past thirty days. As exotic as it sounds to be a staff researcher at the Stone Think Tank, it means I’m doomed to forever be trotting off to investigate my latest commission. Today (whatever today it is when I finally arrive) that commission is somewhere in Moscow, and I’m pretty sure it’s a wild goose chase.

Normally, I have no trouble tuning out the random passengers seated beside me. This time, the woman sitting by the window in our two-seat cluster shames me with her tale of feline rescues that would make a saint shudder. She actually took in a kitten with Spina Bifida and nursed her through a twelve-year lifespan with twice-daily pee and poo expression sessions. Of course, flying almost 5,000 miles together means I get all the dirty details. I had planned ahead with reading material, figuring one good-sized novel, the in-flight movie, meal, and some shut-eye would carry me through 10 hours of sitting. But how do you tell such a well-meaning do-gooder to shut up in the midst of such affecting tales?

On top of which, some crazy twist of fate has seated me next to a woman whose name is only one letter removed from mine. It’s a coincidence Ann noticed as we were sorting out boarding passes and carry-on bags. I’ve always thought my parents just ran out of creativity after the initial effort of gestation, so plonked an “e” at the end of a common name for their naming effort. The oddity of meeting someone whose family name is so similar (she’s a Cosby while I’m a Crosby) almost guarantees other comparisons. I’m glad to see she’s my opposite both in looks and beliefs. She’s a very short butter-ball, with blond hair and blue eyes, and is traveling with her church’s youth group as something of a mentor/adviser, while they make a tour of holy sites in exotic places.

I’ve never been much more than agnostic. I acknowledge the existence of mysteries and a force outside myself, but have never been much on organizations and their doctrines. This is another reason for my suspicion: my boss is a real conspiracy nut. It would be no skin off his nose to manufacture a case that forces me to delve deeper into pseudo-history and related apocrypha. In fact, he would have reams of research for me to read proving that there’s no such thing even as the “coincidence” of sitting next to a virtual name double.

But even as I consider whether he would have had the opportunity to meddle so ridiculously—who has the wherewithal to arrange those kinds of details when they’re already up to their eyeballs in work?—I mentally cringe at the memory of some of his other recent machinations. He’s definitely changed in the past year or so, and much as I might like the potential career trajectory I have working for him, he has gotten a bit creepy.

Which is as good a reason as any to continue to tolerate my worldwide peregrinations—including intrusive neighbors like Ann.

I’m trying to decide if I will need to come up with an excuse to ditch her, since we’ve bonded over the length of the trip. When I tune in to her ongoing monologue, I catch: “I’m so sorry you won’t be able to join us. We have the most amazing travel plan set up. Did you know Moscow alone has over 300 churches? There used to be over 1,000, but when the Communists came to power, they razed so many. It’s a crying shame. We’re still really going to be stretched thin to try to see them all. If I remember right, we’re starting in the Red Square and then moving out to the other districts of the city.”

The pilot’s voice over the intercom briefly interrupts her nattering. “We’re making our final approach to Sheremetyevo, so please check your seat for any items you might have removed during the flight. Enjoy the view of the morning sun lighting up the Moscow River. We know you have a wide selection of air carriers to choose from, so on behalf of myself, and this Chicago-based United flight crew, we’d like to thank you for flying the friendly skies.”