"How soon must I vacate the apartment?" Kim asked Mark Pleshakov.
"There's no urgency," Mark told her. "However, I don't think you'll want to stay there any longer than absolutely necessary when you see the new living quarters I've arranged for you."
"What?" Kim was shocked. She'd envisioned a bleak period during which she'd have to disappear into the mass of exiles roaming from place to place, staying wherever they might happen to end up at the end of the day until forced to move on to somewhere else.
"It's a luxurious penthouse suite near my main office. I've decided to offer you a position as my personal assistant, and from your new living quarters it will be a swift and easy transit to my office."
"But sir, I'm an actress...I don't really possess any clerical skills..."
"That's not a problem at all." Mark smiled kindly. "The position I have in mind for you will involve mostly filing, interoffice mail and light bookkeeping, for which I'm prepared to provide thorough training."
"But...why? Why are you being so kind to me?"
"Colonel Denisov was one of our most valued and trusted agents. We all feel his loss very deeply. The best way I could come up with to honor his memory was to see to it that the loved ones he left behind are well provided for."
"I'm greatly indebted to you," Kim mumbled, still scarcely able to take it all in.
"Think nothing of it," Mark said generously, smiling and patting her shoulder.
Unaccustomed to heavy physical labor as he was, Andrei's muscles were soon aching, and his hands were covered with blisters. He looked around at the other men who worked alongside him, some of whom had been in this hellish place for five or even ten years. He couldn't understand how anyone could survive for that long under such harsh conditions. He saw how they hoarded food, hiding it either in their own clothing or another unlikely place. Never in his life had he ever dreamed that he'd have to be so fiercely protective of a single crumb of bread.
The cabbage soup he'd eaten earlier had barely put a dent in his appetite, and it was still many hours before the workers would be fed again. One must get used to it eventually, Andrei supposed, although he couldn't imagine how.
"You're pregnant, all right," the nurse told Kim. "A little over a month, I'd say. I'll prescribe some prenatal vitamins for you, and we'll set you up for an ultrasound appointment as soon as possible."
Kim just nodded. Inside she felt a mixture of shock, fear, and above all, wonder. A little piece of Andrei had survived after all, and was safely nestled deep inside her body. A tangible manifestation of the love she and Andrei had shared. Despite her overwhelming sorrow, Kim felt hope for the first time since learning of Andrei's fate. Soon she'd be busy preparing for her child's arrival, buying nursery furniture and cute little outfits and booties, choosing a name. All of that would certainly take the edge off the aching emptiness she felt inside.
She couldn't help but wonder what had become of Andrei's body. She had asked Mark about it, and he had told her that if no one in the Soviet Union claimed the body within a certain period of time, it would be buried in a pauper's grave. Kim desperately hoped that the former had been the case rather than the latter. She couldn't bear the thought of the body of the man she loved simply lying in some bleak section of some lonely field, abandoned and forgotten, in a country halfway around the world, where she couldn't even visit to tidy up and leave flowers from time to time.