Read Firebird Online

Authors: Helaine Mario

Firebird

Firebird
Helaine Mario
Zephyr Publishing Inc (2012)

A blend of suspense, mystery, political intrigue and romance, FIREBIRD explores the universal themes of love, loss, courage and redemption.

At its heart, FIREBIRD is the story of a woman mourning the death of her estranged sister, and a man who has sacrificed everything for love of his country.

Dr. Alexandra Marik, a single mother and art gallery curator, is haunted by her past and the sudden, inexplicable death of her older sister. Ivan is a lonely, secretive Russian spy who has been “forgotten” since the chaos of Glasnost. Their lives are about to collide.

It is October, just weeks before the Presidential election. A controversial Senator has replaced an ailing Vice President on the Republican ticket…

Just miles from the White House, the funeral of Alexandra’s sister, Eve, is about to begin, while, in a forest far to the north, the man called Ivan is mourning Eve’s death as well.

Alexandra’s quest for the truth behind her sister’s death will expose a decades old political secret that must be protected to allow Ivan to complete his mission. Her search will test her courage, challenge her concepts of family, surprise her with unexpected romance, and propel her to risk her own life to protect the children she loves.

 

 

 

FIREBIRD

 

by Helaine Mario

 

 

This is a work of fiction.  All of the characters, organizations, places and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Copyright 2012, Helaine Mario

 

 

 

This book is dedicated to

my children, Jessica & Sean

 

my grandchildren,

Ellie, Tyler & Clair Violet,

who fill my world with magic.

Always love books.

 

and to

 

Ron – love beyond words

 

 

 

“And in my dreams I see myself on a wolf’s back

riding along a forest path

to do battle with a sorcerer-tsar

In the land where a princess sits under lock and key

pining behind massive walls.

There gardens surround a palace all of glass;

There Firebirds sing by night.”

 

“Zimniy-put” by Yakov Polonsky

 

 

“The Cold War is over.  The rivalry is not.

The Soviet Union is gone.  But Russia remains.”

 

excerpt from NBC-TV World News Tonight

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

1966

 

“The Curtain Rises...”

 

In a dense and mysterious forest, there are strange and ominous sounds.  Then a dazzling, magical light...

 

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

“Beyond the curtain...”

William Butler Yeats

 

THE ROYAL OPERA HOUSE, LONDON

SEPTEMBER 8, 1966

 

The hunter waited in the shadows stage-left.

The quiver of arrows slung over his shoulder sparked with silver light as his powerful body shifted with impatience.  Soon, he told himself, keeping his eyes on the curtain.  The final curtain will fall, and my new life will begin.

With a whisper, the crimson curtain rose.  The sinister forest on the stage sprang to life.

The conductor raised his baton and violins filled the hall with the haunting music of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.  The hunter stepped aside as the members of the Corps de Ballet rushed past him onto the stage for their curtain call.

As he watched the sweeping bows of princesses and mystical creatures, the audience began a slow, steady clapping rhythm - a tribute to the Kirov Ballet’s historic first performance of The Firebird ballet in the West.

In the shadowed wings on the far side of the stage he could see the two Soviet political officers responsible for the troupe.  Their unblinking eyes never left the dancers.  Six years earlier, Rudolph Nureyev had defected from the Kirov at Le Bourget Airport in Paris.  In the resulting media madness, most of the Kirov’s international tours had been canceled.  But there had been one compelling reason for this performance in London.

The hunter searched the audience of Westerners, then scanned the flushed faces of the dancers.  In minutes, the curtain would come down on their final performance in the West.  Our very own Iron Curtain, he thought darkly.  Freedom on one side.  And on the other...  an old and drafty aircraft that will take us back to the wintry nights of Mother Russia.

It had to be tonight.

Flushed ballerinas brushed against him as they left the stage.  Then, one by one, the principal dancers glided into the spotlight to take their bows.  The Czar and his golden-haired daughter, the evil sorcerer in his flowing black cloak.  Finally, it was Prince Ivan’s turn.

He strode center stage, tall and muscled in his emerald hunter’s jacket.  A brooch of a plumed bird was pinned to the shoulder of his costume, and the gems caught the stage lights, spinning points of glittering fire into the audience.  He stood, proud and still, his eyes sweeping the blur of pale faces.

It had been an unforgettable performance for him.  To be a principal dancer, and not yet eighteen…  His muscles were still loose, hot and tingling with excitement.  He raised his arm with noble dignity and caressed the brooch - his talisman, his passport to freedom - and bowed to the cheering crowd.   Then he turned toward the wings and held out his hand.

The music quickened as, glorious and triumphant, the Firebird flew into the spotlight.  Half magical bird, half beautiful woman, she spun across the stage in a series of dizzying leaps, as shimmering and brilliant as the deep red of her feathered costume.

Her flashing crimson slippers seemed to leave a wake of fire behind her. Shouts of
Brava
! rang in the hall as the audience leapt to its feet, applauding wildly.

He walked toward her.

She seemed to flutter across the stage, her shining eyes locked with his, scarlet feathers cascading down her slender form.  With one last graceful swoop, she dropped into a deep curtsey, gathered a single red feather from her breast, and offered it to her prince.  A magical feather, according to the Firebird’s legend, to keep him from danger.

He caught his breath.  Tonight was their night.  He swept down on one knee and kissed her hand.

“I love you, my Firebird,” he whispered in Russian.

“And I love you, my heart...”

His fingers pulled at the brooch pinned to his shoulder.  He touched the bloodstones to his lips, then offered his princely gift to the flickering Firebird.  “Wear this tonight,” he whispered.  “It will protect you.”

The audience roared its approval at his unexpected gesture.

He felt her delicate fingers close over his.  “All is ready,” he murmured, bending to whisper against her cheek.  “Be at the backstage door in ten minutes.”

The Firebird’s eyes flamed at him as she fastened the jeweled pin above her breast.

Overcome by emotion, he hugged her narrow body against his chest. 

“My heart,” whispered the Firebird.  “There is something I must tell you -”

Over her feathered shoulder he saw the dark painted leaves of the Czar’s garden, then a spark of bright flame against the foliage.  His arms tightened, crushing the words from her, as the painted forest exploded into orange fire. 

“Pazhar!” he shouted in Russian.  “
Fire
!”  The stagelights went dark.  Someone knocked against him as the Firebird was dragged from his grasp.

“Tatyana!” he shouted desperately.  He heard her scream his name.  Then he saw the bright red feathers erupt with fire as she was engulfed in flames.

He lunged after her, but something hard hit him across the shoulders and he fell to the stage, dimly aware that he clutched only a broken red feather.   

It wasn’t supposed to be this way
.

Thick black smoke smothered him.  For a moment he felt the heat, searing against his throat.  He lifted his head, saw the heavy beam falling toward him.  Pain knifed through his body.  There was a roaring noise in his ears, a great flash of red light.

He reached out to her as the darkness took him.  “Firebird...”

 

 

 

 

ACT I

 

 

IN A DARK FOREST

 

“appears the dazzling Firebird...”

 

Part magical bird, part beautiful woman, she is terrified - leaping away, but leaving a scarlet feather from her breast as protection against danger...

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

“In the middle of the journey of my life, I came to myself within a dark wood, where the straight way was lost...”

Dante, The Divine Comedy

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 19.  THE PRESENT

 

A driving October rain whipped against the sea of black limousines and ran like tears down the stone face of Washington’s National Cathedral.

Beyond the gothic doors, in the dimness of the nave, Bach’s Funeral Cantata echoed from the vast stone vaulting.  Heads of state, politicians, millionaires and fur-coated celebrities sat shoulder to shoulder, lost in their private thoughts.  In the shadowed aisles, Secret Service agents in raincoats and tinted glasses stood like silent sentinels, their eyes constantly moving over the endless rows of guests.

With the crash of a final chord, the organ fell silent.  Now the only sound was the steady drumming of the rain against the stained glass windows, sad as an elegy.

Alexandra Marik gave up trying to pray and raised her eyes.  To her left, her niece sat as still as one of the marble statues, her delicate hands clasped so tightly that knuckles showed white as bone.  At the end of the row, her sister’s husband, Anthony Rhodes, stared straight ahead, his carved face expressionless.

Just past his shoulder, in the cross of the marble aisles, rested the white-draped casket.  The single red rose set on the lid was as startling as a pool of blood on snow.

The Bishop raised his arms, his vestments a deep purple slash in the dim light.  “And unto dust thou shalt return...”

A soft choking sound came from her niece.  Alexandra slipped off her dark glasses and reached over to clasp the girl’s frozen hands.  “Juliet,” she whispered.  “Hold on, Jules.”

The girl’s stare was stony, her eyes as green as her mother’s.  Very deliberately, she jerked her hands away and tilted her head so that her long hair swung like a gilt shield across her face.

Alexandra turned toward the silver-framed photograph set among massed bouquets of lilies.  Oh Eve, she thought, reaching out to her sister.  How do I help your daughter?  Tell me what to do.

Her sister’s face gazed back at her, red-gold hair windblown, her eyes huge and full of secrets.

The incense and the cloying scent of flowers were making Alexandra dizzy.  She closed her eyes and covered her face with her palms.

“May the souls of the faithful departed...”

You’re in danger, Zan
!

Her sister’s voice, sharp and close, whispered the warning in her head.   It was as clear as the desperate words she’d heard on her cell phone the night Eve died.

A sudden shiver touched Alexandra’s spine, and she pressed back against the wooden chair, trying to breathe.  For days, she’d felt the pale blue eyes on her, known that someone was watching her.  Now, once again, she had the same unsettling feeling.  Had he followed her to Washington?  Was he here now, in the cathedral?

Alexandra searched the shadows of the choir stalls, then slowly shifted in her chair to look over her shoulder.  The faces behind her swam like pale petals on a sea of black water.

She raised her eyes to the high loft, where shards of blue from the round stained-glass window spilled across bent heads.  Where are you?  I know you’re here, damn you
.

A slight movement to her right, there, beyond the pillar.  A glimpse of a tall, elegant black woman in a dark hooded raincoat.  In an instant, emptiness.  She heard a wrought iron gate scrape softly.

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