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The Boy From Reactor 4

Excerpt: Chapter 1


The Boy from Reactor 4

Anything can happen in New York City. Any dream can be fulfilled.

After a punishing winter, April revitalizes the dreamers. Scarves loosen, steam evaporates. Subways and sidewalks buzz with renewed hope.

Nadia Tesla bounded through the East Village soaking in the scene. Tourists mixed with Ukrainian immigrants and rambunctious NYU students in Japanese noodle shacks and bodacious tattoo parlors. Soon she would have reason to party, too. A man had called. A man had called with the answers she needed

Seventh Street was deserted compared to St. Mark's Place. A pair of black torches illuminated the sign for The Bourgeois Pig with burgundy colored light. Nadia peeked inside the wine bar. Still early, a sparse crowd. The oldest guy looked Nadia's age, mid-thirties. She glanced across the street.

A sliver of a man stood on a corner beside a charcoal garage door, a plume of smoke twisting from his hand. He looked more like a shadow than a person, the offspring of Marlene Dietrich and Checkpoint Charlie, born with a genetic predisposition to survive in the catacombs.

He took a final drag on his cigarette. The tip flamed orange-red. He tossed it to the ground and stomped on it. Inched out of his nook and glanced in each direction as though confirming he wasn't being followed. Nadia wondered if something was something wrong or if he was just a paranoid old soldier. As he limped quickly toward her, Nadia scolded herself. The man was just crossing the street carefully. She was the paranoid one. After the last six months, who could blame her?

"Mr. Milan?" Nadia said in Ukrainian.

He nodded. His peppercorn eyes were kind but steeped in worry. "Nadia Tesla?"

"Yes."

"The mathematician?"

"Well, I majored in math."

He peered over his shoulder again. "The odds are not in my favor."

"I beg your pardon?"

"We have to keep moving. This way."

He pointed toward Avenue A. They walked side by side.

Nadia hugged herself. "Is something wrong?"

"Let's speak in English." His spoke with only a slight accent, suggesting he'd immigrated a long time ago. "You work on Wall Street?"

"No. I used to work for a private investment firm, but my job was eliminated. I'm starting a business on my own as a forensic security analyst." Nadia didn't add that she was starting her own business because she couldn't find another job. There were always too many applicants.

He turned to her and frowned, as though that was the wrong answer. Shrugged and kept moving.

"You knew my father?" Nadia said.

"What?"

"How did you know my father? When you called and offered to meet me, you said you knew my father back in Ukraine. That you could tell me stories about him. Were you in the Partisan Army with him?"

"Oh. That. No. I'm afraid I wasn't being honest."

Nadia stopped in her tracks. "What? What do you mean you weren't being honest?"

"I know of him. But I didn't know him. It was just an excuse to meet you."

Nadia stepped backward. Now she was the one glancing over her shoulder. There was no one behind her. "Meet me? Why?"

"To discuss a matter of the utmost importance."

"Uh, I don't think so." She forced a smile. "I don't know what you want from me, but you've made a mistake."

"No. You must listen for a moment." Milan's eyes shone with intensity. "The fate of the free world depends on it."

Nadia croaked with laughter. The man was nuts.

Her giggling must have sounded rude. Her hand shot up to cover her mouth. "I'm so sorry." She took another step back. "Really, I am--"

Nadia bumped into a display window. A sign said, "Museum Jewelry Reproductions." The name of the store was stenciled in tiny white print: The Shape of Lies.

When Nadia turned back, Milan was a foot away from her, the creases in his face looking like a grid of tunnels. "I beg of you, please--"

A car backfired. Milan collapsed to the pavement.

"Oh my God." Nadia dropped to his side. "What happened? Are you all right?"

Eyes wild, mouth agape, he clutched the left side of his chest.

Heart attack. Had to be a heart attack. Nadia leaned over. Her shoulder bag slid to the ground. She opened his gray sports jacket.

His crisp white dress shirt was drenched in blood.

Nadia screamed. Not a heart attack. He'd been shot. By whom?

A symphony of horsepower rose to a crescendo.

Her head swiveled to the street.

Ten feet away. Big old American sedan. Driver's window open. Barrel of a gun aimed at her.

A finger squeezed the trigger.


© Orest Stelmach


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