CODENAME IVAN

© 2013 Cosmo
cosmonaut@hush.com

This Story is works of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

These stories are copyrighted by Cosmo, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.


Chapter 12: Resolution

I awoke to the shrill and insistent effusion of birdsong filtering through the fragile fabric of the tent. I stirred and looked around. Daylight was just starting to seep through the gap in the tent flaps, casting a dull eerie half-light over the sleeping figures that were still huddled warmly into their sleeping bags. My sleeping bag felt awfully tight, as though I had been shrink-wrapped into it. I realized it was because Vladik was in my sleeping bag with me. He was on his side, facing away from me. He must have burrowed his way into my sleeping bag at some point during the night and zipped us both up together, so that I woke up to find myself spooning him. I remembered Vladik's copious tears from last night, and briefly pictured his pretty face in turmoil and distress. That image contrasted starkly with the sight of him looking so restful and at peace right now. His cute blond head was somewhere down by my chest and his face was turned slightly into the pillow, with his little butt jutting into my abs. I knew I was soon going to have to get up for a pee. But before I disturbed him, I took a few moments to appreciate this juxtaposition. I just had to take in the sight of this cute little boy, as I was pressed tight against his slight little frame.

I wriggled out from the open top of the sleeping bag, leaving Vladik as he was, and he moaned sleepily, loath to be disturbed. He grizzled a little, unconsciously resentful of the disturbance. I let him snuggle back into the warmth my body had left behind and pulled the flap of the sleeping bag up to cover him up again. Lying there, swaddled in the folds of my double sleeping bag, his eyes were gently closed, his face expressionless, and his little ruby lips parted ever so slightly so that his teeth were just visible beneath his cute little overbite. He was absolutely adorable. Perhaps our rapprochement was now going to let his true nature shine through and he would finally allow himself to get close to me. I hoped so. I felt very drawn to this little boy. At this moment I knew that I loved Vladik. Perhaps I loved him every bit as much as I loved Yura. I only hoped that my heart had enough capacity to love them both.

When I was done peeing, I came back into the tent, and Anton was awake. He looked quite content, sitting up slightly, propped up on his elbows, his pretty hazel eyes a little puffy, and his long mousy hair mussed up from his sleep. He looked undressed without his glasses. He was looking around surveying the two boys who were still sleeping, evidently reassured that Vladik was still with us. We exchanged glances and smiled. It was funny how we always thought in unison. It was like I could tell what was going through his mind and he always knew what I was thinking too.

I sat down cross-legged next to Vladik and softly stroked his blond head as he slept.

"Don't be too hard on yourself," said Anton.

"What?" I asked, looking up, not immediately understanding what he meant.

He jerked his head at Vladik.

"Don't blame yourself," he said.

"I let him down," I said, regretfully, looking down at the comatose boy next to me.

"No. You didn't," said Anton, with a note of impatience.

"But, if it wasn't for me..."

"If it wasn't for you, those boys wouldn't have had the time of their lives," he interjected.

"I almost regret bringing them now," I said, a little downbeat, "We nearly lost Vladik."

Anton fumbled about on the groundsheet next to him and found his spectacles, putting them on hastily. Then he refocused on me, as though, with his vision now clear, he was able to put his thoughts in order.

"You're only saying that because you haven't seen the changes in them like I have. You haven't seen what those boys were like when they were locked up all day, drugged, beaten, starved... Do you know what they had to do? Do you know what it was like to watch those boys perform when they were already physically exhausted? To do the most extreme and obscene things to themselves and each other? To perform on demand like circus animals? I watched them do all sorts of degrading things, cruel and painful things, all in the name of porn. Do you think the men who did that cared about them? Do you think anyone has ever cared about those boys as much as you?"

I looked across at Anton with total incredulity, somewhat taken aback by his impromptu lecture, and more than a little overwhelmed by his frankness. I looked into each of his spectacle-framed eyes and was blown away by the insouciance of his description, especially the candid way he alluded to the changes he had seen in the boys. And he should know. He was once one of them.

"Don't beat yourself up about it," he said, "You've done more for those boys than anybody."

He got up, almost dismissively, as though that was his final word and he would hear no more about it. That was one of the things I liked about Anton. He always made me feel so much better.

He paused by the tent exit and looked back, raising his eyebrows questioningly.

"Coffee?"

I nodded slowly, smiling assuredly.

Whilst Anton made the coffee, I got up and went down to the lake for an early morning dip. Our location by the lakeside didn't have the sandy beach, nor the privacy of the cove, but it was still early, so I figured it was safe for a quick skinny dip whilst there was no one around. I stripped off, slowly wading into the water, steeling myself for the shock of the cold water. It was icy cold and made my skin tingle all over.

I swam out to where the water was a little deeper and splashed about on my own for a bit. I submerged myself a few times, bracing myself as I came back up, spluttering the water out of my face. As I did so, I could see Anton coming down towards the lake with Yura and Vladik. They were all wrapped up in big bath towels, no doubt anticipating another bout of skinny dipping. But it had turned a lot colder. It was not going to be as warm as the afternoon we had spent at the cove and I didn't expect we could sustain it for very long.

Anton had brought down a steaming mug of coffee for me and an armful of large towels. I eased myself over to the bank and rose out of the water, dripping wet. I wrapped one of the towels around me and cupped the hot mug of coffee to me gratefully. I went and sat up on the grassy ridge which marked the periphery of the sandy bank, where the ground fell away sharply as it tapered down towards the water's edge. From up there I could keep an eye on the boys as they swam. I draped the towel around my shoulders and drank the coffee almost greedily, revived by its warmth. As I drank, the boys went running into the water, shrieking from the cold, but seemingly undeterred. They splashed about manically anyway, still determined to horse around and have fun. Anton was standing by the water's edge, watching them, and he turned and looked up at me purposefully from below.

"See," he called up to me, as though to reiterate his earlier point, "They're having the time of their lives."

I could only smile back down at him, reassured.

Anton then discarded his towel and went running into the water. He quickly threw himself in, diving under the surface in one swift movement, and swam out to where the boys were playing. I watched them playing together for a good long time, engaging in their usual antics of splashing each other, jumping about and trying to pull one another under. The more time I spent around Anton, the more I liked him. The boys did too. And I saw Anton do a lot of really quite affectionate things. As I watched him with the boys, there were some quaint little gestures that seemed to strike a chord with me for some reason. It was clear that we had all become quite attached to him.

I was still sitting up on the grassy ridge finishing my coffee when Anton and Vladik came running out of the water, breathless with exertion and shivering from the cold. But they were still laughing uncontrollably from their energetic games, giggling and chortling and evidently having fun. They left Yura out in the water alone, amusing himself by diving down towards the bottom of the lake. It wasn't very deep, probably about eight feet. He would tip himself up on the spot, so that you could see his little feet kick briefly just above the surface before submerging fully under the water. He was quite an accomplished diver and for the moment seemed quite content just splashing about on his own.

Meanwhile, I watched how Anton interacted with Vladik and I sensed a budding liaison between these two. Anton had already indicated that he had a particular affection for Vladik and he was very caring and thoughtful and gentle towards him. Anton wrapped a big towel around Vladik and gave him a quick, brotherly little hug. Then they sat down on the sandy soil to dry off. They were talking quietly, and Anton was yammering away in that quiet, reassuring, affectionate tone of his. They sat quite close together, facing each other, and Anton had an arm outstretched, resting on Vladik's shoulder, all the time talking confidentially to him. I could see Vladik nodding in agreement, passively acquiescent to whatever it was Anton was asking of him. Then there was one thing in particular which Anton did, which I thought was especially endearing. I watched Anton reach for the packet of cigarettes that he had placed on the ground beside him. He took two cigarettes from the pack, lighting them both in quick succession, and gave one to Vladik. He did it in a very distinct, thoughtful way that reflected his natural altruism and affection. It was apparent in the way he strategically turned the filter tip towards Vladik as he handed him the lit cigarette. It was such a considerate gesture, with powerful overtones of John. It was eerie, but also strangely delightful. For me, it was little gestures like that which truly revealed what was in people's hearts. And as I watched him, watched the way he moved, observed his demeanor, his expressions, his overall presence, I finally worked out why it was that I felt so strongly drawn to this boy. It was because he reminded me so much of John.

Having finished their cigarettes, Anton and Vladik waited for Yura to come back out of the water. Then, Anton and Yura wrapped their towels round them and clambered back up the steep bank and towards me on the grassy ridge. They left Vladik, who was still down by the water's edge and seemed to be kicking the soil around on his own.

"Vladik wants to talk to you," said Anton, with a cryptic smile, as he and Yura walked past me on their way back to the tent.

Yura had a mischievous grin on his face, as though he was already privy to whatever it was Vladik wanted to discuss. I looked puzzled for a moment, but didn't question it.

I secured the big towel tightly around my shoulders and went down to where Vladik was standing by the edge of the lake. As I came up behind him he was staring into the rippling water, looking quite thoughtful and introspective.

"Hey little buddy, Anton says you wanted to talk to me."

He looked around and nodded, pursing his pretty lips anxiously as he turned to face me. His golden hair was sticking up in wet, stubby little spikes. He appeared a little uncertain, and settled on gazing at the ground. His diminutive little body was glistening with droplets of water, the white towel secured around his waist contrasted against the slightly tanned tone of his young skin. He shuffled his bare little feet in the sandy soil nervously.

"Mark?"

"Hmm?"

"I'm sorry I was mean to you," he said, still looking down.

I was struck by the sincerity of his words. I knew he was being genuine, even though I half suspected that Anton had put him up to this. But I played it cool.

"That's okay," I said, "No need to apologize."

"Still, I wasn't very nice."

He looked up meaningfully.

"I didn't mean those things I said."

"I forgive you," I said, making it sound inconsequential, "But I think I owe you an apology too."

He looked quizzical, lowering his eyebrows.

"I'm sorry about what happened yesterday," I said, "I hope you forgive me."

"It wasn't your fault," he said, "It was mine."

Now it was my turn to look quizzical.

"You offered to go with me remember?" he went on.

Of course he was right. It had been against my better judgment that I allowed him to go into that restroom on his own.

"Even so," I said, "I do feel bad about what happened. I'm sorry I wasn't there for you."

"That's okay," he said, with genuine absence of malice.

There was a pause and he looked at me appealingly, with the most adorable expression.

"So... are we friends?" he asked, pursing his lips hopefully.

I smiled benevolently, at that moment feeling nothing but an intense love for this boy.

"We were never enemies," I said.

He shuffled his feet some more, as though trying to tramp down some imaginary outcrop in the soil. He was thinking it over, assimilating our conciliation, and hesitantly drawing it out. He was silent for a while, patently wavering over what to say next. Then, looking down nervously, he spoke again.

"Mark?"

"Yes?"

He held his arms out in supplication, looking up with a resigned expression, inviting me to hug him. I stepped across and embraced him tightly. I rubbed his bare back in a gesture of love and affection that was absolutely exquisite. I enjoyed the fact that he was starting to allow me physical contact with him. Holding Vladik so close like that felt good. His damp little body was lithe and slim in my arms.

We stayed like that for a few long seconds, appreciating this special little boymoment together. I ruffled Vladik's golden hair affectionately. And while we were entwined like that, he spoke, with his sweet head muffled against me.

"Mark?"

"Hmm?"

"How come you've got so much love inside you?" he asked.

What an extraordinary question!

Sometimes I was struck dumb by the questions these boys came out with. I was momentarily stunned by its sheer depth and in particular by his choice of phraseology, as though love were some commodity that we could each manufacture.

"I had a good teacher," I said, "I had someone who was prepared to show me love when I was young, someone who took me in when no one else wanted me, and showed me what it was like to really love another person. Just think how fantastic this world would be if we all had teachers like that."

Vladik stepped away, breaking our embrace and looked up at me, somewhat overwhelmed. His expression told me that my answer was far deeper, far more profound and rather more protracted than he'd bargained for.

I decided to sit down on the sandy soil, hoping that Vladik would follow suit. He sat down next to me, and we were silent for a few moments, very thoughtful, mellow and relaxed. Both of us stared out across the silvery waters of the lake, watching how the early morning sun was reflecting off the rippling surface.

"Sometimes I can't help being mean," Vladik explained, "I think about my life and I ask myself why these things happened to me."

Then he turned and looked at me.

"Mark? Is there something wrong with me?"

I turned to him rather abruptly.

"No little buddy! You mustn't think that!"

"So why do I always feel like I want to hurt people?"

"Because you're angry," I said, "And you have a right to be angry."

"It just makes me feel like..."

"Shouting, hitting people, breaking things?" I said, completing the sentence for him.

He looked back at me with a wondrous look on his face, and started nodding slowly, almost as though he was surprised that I understood exactly what he was trying to convey. He was suddenly curious.

"How do you know?"

"Because I went through it too," I said, shifting closer to him.

He allowed me to put an arm around his shoulders and he snuggled into me, looking around at me with a questioning look.

"I was angry too," I went on, "When I was homeless and alone, selling my ass to scrape a few bucks, and struggling for food and warmth and shelter."

His little jaw was wide open as he stared up at me.

"You were a rent boy?"

"Yeah, a street kid," I said, plainly, "doing whatever I had to do to survive."

"When?"

"When I was only a little older than you are now."

He stared at me for a very long time, fixing me with a piercingly intense look of his green eyes, and I could detect his sweet head processing this information. Something told me that I had just risen by several hundred points in his estimation.

As Vladik was assimilating this information, I waited for another question, but it never came. Instead, he stared for a good long while and then just decided to snuggle into my embrace and relaxed, allowing himself to digest this startling revelation, and enjoy this precious little boymoment with me. His silence indicated that there was no need to say any more. We sat there for a good few moments longer, wordlessly thinking our own thoughts, and I knew that when we were comfortable enough to sit in a warm embrace without feeling the need to say anything, it denoted his acquiescence. At this point I knew that Vladik had finally accepted me.


Those few momentous days we had spent at Crystal Lake proved to be something of a turning point for all of us. I had got to know Anton a lot better and he was a lot more attached to the boys. I was reconciled with Vladik. Even Yura and Vladik seemed closer. The highs and lows we had shared had brought us all closer together. There was a mutual affinity there, a kind of brotherhood that was forged by the joint experience. So I guess the trip had served some purpose, and it had definitely cemented the bonds between us. We came back from Crystal Lake stronger and all the more united.

My rapprochement with Vladik continued to flourish when we returned, even after we had settled back into the routine at the house. It was apparent in the way he was clingy and attentive around the house. It was as though, now that his resentment of me had been banished, he wanted to be close to me all the time. He was particularly demonstrative and affectionate, thus vindicating my expectations that, despite the challenges this boy had faced, he was actually very sensitive and loving. Once he had let go of his truculence and hostility, his natural charm was able to shine through. He was actually a kind, considerate and very likeable little boy.

Anton and I also felt a lot closer after Crystal Lake. He spent a lot of time at the house with us. I knew he didn't enjoy going back to his apartment alone, and I told him he was welcome at the house any time. Not only did he help me around the house with meals and day to day chores, but he also spent most of his leisure time hanging out with us.

Of course, the inevitable obligation of contacting Yura's father also had to be dealt with. We were both aware that it had been put off long enough. So, no sooner had we got back from Crystal Lake, Anton set the wheels in motion. Truthfully, Anton could have done it at any time, but he judged when it was the right time to bring it up. I could tell he had been waiting for the opportunity, and we agreed that I should be there when he did. Thereafter, the suddenness with which things progressed with Yura's father was frighteningly quick.

It was perhaps a couple of days later that Anton raised the issue. I will never forget the look on Yura's face when Anton told him about his father. It wasn't the reaction I expected. It was typical of Yura, of course. It was a very mature and measured response, and I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.

We were relaxing over a game of pool in the games room, down in the basement of the house. I was standing at the pool table with Vladik, showing him how to hold the cue and how to judge the angles to calculate the rebound off the cushions, much like I had done with Yura when we were first bonding together. Meanwhile, Anton and Yura were standing back, pool cues resting upended on the floor, watching us, and they were talking.

"You do have a father, and he wants to meet you."

That was all Anton said. And as we continued circling around the table, half absorbed in the technicalities of the game at hand, he explained to Yura how he had managed to track this man down on the internet, and how they had been in communication with each other, and how his father was excited on learning that he had a son which he knew nothing about. Vladik and I hung back, just watching.

Yura raised his eyebrows and looked across at me, while Vladik was bent over the table taking his shot. There was a moment of hesitation where I was uncertain about how Yura was going to react. It might have gone either way. But I should never have doubted Yura. He took it in a good way, seemingly pleased about this discovery. He smiled, appearing delighted at the thought of it.

"Who is he? Where is he?" Yura asked, still holding the pool cue in his hand.

"His name is Roman. He lives with his wife and his son in Saint Petersburg."

"He has a son?"

"Yes. Nikita. He's six. His mother is called Natalya."

"So I have a brother?"

"Yes. Your half brother."

Yura looked across at me, a little smile on his lips.

"Oh Mark, it's just like I imagined. I have a brother!"

Anton shot me a strategic glance which said, "So far so good," and I grinned affirmatively.

"You want to see the pictures?" Anton asked him.

"Sure," said Yura, nodding enthusiastically.

We all went to the little study upstairs and Vladik and I hung back while Anton took Yura over to the desk and booted up the computer. I sat in one of the armchairs by the bookcases and Vladik chose to sit on my lap. It was quite deliberate. There were three other armchairs he could have opted for, but instead chose to sit with me - another example of how he seemed to want to stay close to me all the time. I put my arms around him and he leaned back, flat against my chest, resting the back of his head on my shoulder. My hands were resting lightly just over his solar plexus and I could feel him breathing, his little body pulsing lightly with silent breaths. I enjoyed a tentative little boymoment with him as we watched Anton and Yura from across the room.

Yura sat in the swivel chair at the big oak desk, anxiously staring at the computer screen. Anton stood behind him and leaned over, and within a few clicks of the mouse, he was able to access the photos that Roman had emailed to him. There were pictures of the whole family, Roman with Natalya and Nikita. Roman was very obviously Yura's father. He had those eyes - the same supernaturally blue eyes that were distinctive and unique. He was perhaps in his late twenties or early thirties, with the same black wavy hair as Yura and the same perfect, classic facial features. He was extremely handsome.

Then Anton showed him the pictures of Roman's wife. Natalya was Kazakh, perhaps a little younger, with prominent, aquiline, Mongol features. She was tall, slim, proud, and very beautiful. Not surprising, therefore, that their little boy Nikita was also exceptionally beautiful. He was lucky. His visage was an attractive fusion of the best of his mother's angular Mongol features, the privileged end product of their merged genes, complete with the epicanthic folds of her eyes, though somewhat softened by his father's more European looks. Of course he also had that extraordinarily unique eye color, the same eyes as Yura, with that piercing hue of cobalt blue, and he had a cheeky, mischievous expression on his elfin-like face. He was such a pretty little thing.

Yura spent a good long time staring closely into the computer screen as Anton scrolled through the photos. And he was making little comments and cooing at what he observed. This was all new and wonderful to him, and he was delighted by it all. There were photos of the family in their garden, playing and hanging out together. Nikita with a big mop of windswept hair and a toothsome smile, kicking a ball on the patio, riding his bike on the lawn and jumping into the pool. There were a few of Roman and Natalya together, obviously very much a couple, and a few of Roman with Nikita, easily lapsing into a comfortable closeness, nuzzling openly, and demonstrably affectionate. I couldn't begin to imagine what a strange sensation that must have been for Yura, trying to envisage just what these people meant to him, what they represented. For his part, Yura seemed to cope with this revelation quite well. So well, in fact, that I wondered whether he fully understood the implications of it all, and the extent to which it could potentially change his life.

After looking at all the pictures for a good long time, studying each one with curious fascination, Yura looked around with a delighted expression.

"Look Mark, that's my dad!"

I nodded enthusiastically, happy for him, overjoyed at the look of wonder on his face, but inside my heart sorrowed. It was a good thing that Vladik was sitting on my lap, his blond head obscuring my face, so that none of them could see the tears that were gathering in my eyes.


Yura's eleventh birthday was fast approaching. Anton told me that they never observed birthdays at the children's home. It was hardly likely that the pornographers had ever celebrated them either. So in fact, in his short life, Yura had never really had a proper birthday. Somehow, that saddened me so much that I decided we were going to make this a birthday for Yura to remember. Elena was instrumental in coming up with ideas, having had the benefit of her own experience as a mother. She had a fifteen year old daughter. Even Nikolayev wanted to contribute. On my next visit to HQ he handed me a little calling card with just a name and a number on it and asked me to give this guy a call. When I asked what the guy did, Nikolayev simply said "Let's just say he'll make your party go with a bang." I was intrigued.

Now that the pressure had eased somewhat, Nikolayev seemed a lot more relaxed. The media were now focused on Moscow, and Zhukov was keeping them at arms length. Our side of Operation Ganymede was almost complete. The pornographers had been arrested and all that remained was for the Moscow City Police to finish preparing their case and getting set for trial. It was still a very hot story for the media, and would probably continue to be for some time. It would peak again when the trial was underway, and would probably not recede from the media spotlight until those men were convicted and behind bars.

I was surprised that when I had reported back to Nikolayev about what happened at the lake, he did not lecture me or fly into a rage. He simply listened. Then I was able to witness first hand just what an important and influential man he was. He made a few select phone calls and within a matter of minutes had arranged for me and Vladik to be interviewed regarding what happened. I was fairly confident that the two guys who had molested Vladik at the lake would be apprehended. I was able to give good descriptions of them and their car. Vladik's recollection was patchy, but still pretty conclusive. Nikolayev passed it all to the local sheriff's department. Regarding Vladik's attempt at running away, I could have kept quiet about it. But I didn't need to. Anton was able to atone for my actions and eloquently described how I had dealt with it, adding that there wasn't anything more I could have done.

I liked the way that Anton was welcomed by Nikolayev. When it became clear that Anton had inside information that could be useful, he was treated as something of a valued witness. He was allowed to sit in on the next big meeting at HQ and was afforded a great deal of respect and admiration. Elena was certainly very courteous and warm towards him, and Nikolayev was respectful, if not overly avuncular. Nikolayev even took me aside afterwards, as we were coming out of his office, evidently impressed by this young man.

"He's a smart kid," he said, "We could use a guy like that."

The people from Children's Services eventually got their way, and a big case conference took place where some decisions were going to be made about Yura and Vladik's future. It had been avoided long enough and they were under pressure to decide what to do with the boys. They had not been happy with the arrangements for Yura and Vladik from the outset. They continued to assert that the boys should really have been placed with trained foster careers until their cases were resolved. If it wasn't for the security risk, my role in Operation Ganymede would never have been necessary. But now that Operation Ganymede had moved into its resolution stage, the danger was deemed to have passed, or was at any rate seen as minimal.

I will never forget that meeting. It was informal, but difficult. Everyone was relaxed and friendly, but the discussion was awkward. It was interesting too because it was the first time I had seen Nikolayev relinquish responsibility. He allowed Elena to do most of the talking. Elena, as the Family Liaison Officer, more or less took over from this point on, and she almost became the advocate for Yura and Vladik, because they were still the responsibility of the Moscow City Police. I was inwardly relieved about that, not so much because I liked and respected Elena, but because I had no faith in the people from Children's Services. The people from Children's Services didn't come across as being particularly benevolent, even though I did not doubt their good intentions. But I already had the measure of these people. I had met enough of them when I was working with Boyscape, trying to broker deals for the poor boys I was trying to help, to get them rehabilitated and properly assimilated back into society. In all that time I never met one social worker who was even remotely likeable. They were doing a job that required at least a modicum of compassion and humanity, yet they were all humorless and remote - with no inkling of altruism or empathy. They were all distant and cold, as though they had no appreciation of the depth of those boys' suffering. No wonder the boys were unable to establish meaningful relationships with their link workers. The link workers were just drones, there to facilitate the immovable and unquestionable requirements of a faceless entity that had long ago ceased to be cognizant with its own raison d'Ítre.

There were ten of us in the conference room this time, apart from Yura, Vladik, myself, Anton and Elena, there was Nikolayev, the guy from the Russian Embassy, a female social worker from Children's Services, plus Yura's psychotherapist. I wasn't particularly enamored with the social worker. I thought her concerns were misguided and ill-conceived. She was a rather standoffish woman with horn-rimmed spectacles who had all the stiff demeanor of a schoolmarm and spoke in a very condescending way to all of us. As the schoolmarm was talking, Yura smiled at me mischievously from across the table, where he was sitting next to Elena. I too thought it was vaguely amusing. She spoke for a very long time about how her department was concerned that these boys were being 'deprived' of an education because they had missed so much school. She said they were being 'neglected', because the Moscow Police had 'prevented' them from enjoying the benefits of being placed with a proper foster family. What did she know? Those boys already knew more about life than most of the people in her department, who had no doubt learned everything they knew out of a textbook. She kept talking of 'cases' and 'case notes' and 'case files'. Everything with her was a 'case', as though we weren't dealing with real people at all, as though these little boys' lives were just another burden in her 'caseload', mere fodder for her bureaucratic, lumbering regime, another chore which was part of her blind, indiscriminate day to day routine. She may have believed that everything she was doing was in the boys' interests, but in practice all she was doing was satisfying the legislation. And the legislation didn't necessarily take into account what the boys wanted. But then, the legislation had no prescription for two little boys who clearly had a deep emotional connection with each other, and who held a very special place in the heart of the six foot two police officer who had been assigned to protect them. The legislation wasn't designed to deal with that particular peculiarity. Doubtful the legislation would even concede that it could happen.

In the case of Vladik - or Alex as the schoolmarm referred to him - the understanding was that a good foster family would be found for him until such time as he had to return to Moscow. In the case of Yura - or Ivan as he was known to the schoolmarm - Elena explained that we had managed to locate Ivan's real father and that Anton had been in communication with him. She said Ivan had agreed to meet with him.

"Is this true?" asked the schoolmarm, peering at Yura over the top of her spectacles.

Yura glanced at me before answering. I nodded encouragingly.

"Yes," he said, "I want to meet him."

Elena went on to explain that this news had been communicated to Ivan's father and that he was anxious to meet Ivan.

"Provided he is genuine, then of course we would rather have Ivan with his real father," said the schoolmarm, "But he will have to agree to a paternity test, and of course all the usual background checks."

"I'm sure that won't be an issue," said Elena.

"In cases like this," said the schoolmarm, "It is best that we have an initial tentative meeting first of all, a short introduction at a neutral venue, and then if that goes well, we can move on to a home visit and see how things go from there. How does that sound?"

Everyone looked around the table. Yura seemed happy with that and there were general murmurs of agreement. So, in no time at all, the meeting with Yura's father was set up.


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