Books... BOOKS
Keeping Secrets Cover Image
Buy now

Keeping Secrets

Keeping Secrets


K.A. Bachus

©1992, K.A. Bachus

USA, 1969

A tiger sleeping, a shark submerged, a fighting man in suit and tie, Vasily kept his nature hidden, kept everything hidden because that was his nature.

Nadine saw him in the beverage aisle but paid no attention. She shopped for groceries. At checkout, he put three cans of cola and three bags of potato chips on the conveyer behind her. She reached for the divider stick and placed it after the last of her vegetables.

She glanced at the good-looking man behind her, wearing a suit—a suit mind you—in a grocery store. His sand-colored hair looked unruly and the pale grey eyes did not smile. He paid with a twenty-dollar bill, giving it to the cashier with a hand missing two fingers. She paid attention to that.

There was no sign of the prison years in Vasily’s face, only in his right hand.

It took time to organize her checkbook and find her keys. When Nadine hoisted the last bag into her cart, he was walking ahead of her out of the store. She still had the bank to do, then the post office, and if the weather stayed cool enough not to melt the frozen food, she might fit in a stop for gas. She reached her car and saw him get into the rear seat of a black Mercedes backed into a spot in the next row, directly behind her. She opened the tailgate of her station wagon and began taking bags from the cart, using each turn to surreptitiously inspect the car behind. The outlines of two more people were silhouetted in the tinted windshield. Why didn’t they drive away? Probably handing out the colas and chips.

The Mercedes driver touched the gear lever.

"Not yet," said Vasily. "Follow her." He made no move to open the bag of snacks.

Both men in front turned to look at him. The taller one, Louis, glanced at the bag on the seat next to Vasily. He was thirsty.

They left their question unspoken but fully understood.

"I want her." Vasily said by way of explanation. He still did not open the bag.

The gaze from the driver’s royal blue eyes demanded more. Misha wanted a fuller explanation.

Vasily shrugged. "Just once."

Misha sighed and started the car without comment. They tailed the station wagon to the bank, then the post office, and finally a gas station. She bought fifteen gallons of gas, at twenty-eight cents a gallon, and handed the cashier a credit card. Louis saw the number on the card while he paid for the few drops he’d put into the Mercedes. He examined her unobtrusively while she explained a pinging noise to one of the mechanics and wondered what Vasily could want in her. Nice enough, he decided, but a bit too ordinary for his taste.

The mechanic called in his boss and the woman explained the ping again. This was taking a while. Louis went back to the car where he was delighted that Vasily had opened the bag. He popped the can of cola Misha handed him and drank greedily.

Vasily sat behind Misha, legs stretched across the seat, his back against the door and an open bag of chips balanced on his lap.

"Aside from the moral implications …" said Misha.

Louis swallowed and interrupted; whatever the conversation had been, it begged for interruption. "Moral implications? Are we philosophers now? Theologians even?"

He got the long blue stare from Misha. He countered with raised eyebrows.

"She is quite obviously married," Misha said finally.

"Yes. She has her husband’s credit card." Louis opened his bag of chips.

Vasily stopped eating momentarily. "I would never dare to touch your Katya, if that is what worries you, Misha. You know I have too much regard for you." And for your skill with a knife, he added to himself.

"Marriage has never mattered to any of us before, including you," said Louis. "If you want to discuss philosophy, let us decide if it is ethical to shoot the target tomorrow before he has had his breakfast. Perhaps he should enjoy one last meal."

"That is not what I am saying." Misha’s face had reddened, a rare occurrence.

"Leave him alone, Louis," said Vasily. "He is tense because it is his turn and he will have to cut the target. The clients insist the target’s associates learn of it. You know what a mess it can be."

There is no more effective visual aid to understanding than copious amounts of blood.

"I am not tense because of tomorrow." Misha caught himself too late; the words were already gone. He corrected, lamely, "I am not tense at all," then recognized a lost cause and turned caustic. "I wonder how you will get the woman to agree, Vasily? Or will you add rape to your list of ethical grey areas?"

Misha got away with the snipe because it would be his turn next day. The other two were treading lightly.

Vasily shrugged. "I will ask her."

Discussion turned to ideas on how to get Vasily into a position to ask her. They dismissed as over-dramatic Louis’s suggestion that they lean from a car window and shoot out her tires on a lonely road.

"A flat tire would be convenient, though," said Vasily.

As Nadine jabbered and gestured, trying to convince the mechanic there really was a ping, Misha walked up to the candy machine near the shop entrance. He pulled a handful of coins from a pocket, letting a few slip through his fingers. They landed chink, chink on the pavement next to her car, some under the car, beside a rear tire. He bent to retrieve them and stood again as she turned. He did not smile.

Now that was the best looking one of the set. No doubt about it, nothing could beat him, the blond one at the candy machine. She’d now seen all three out of that Mercedes and this one won her private beauty contest—or should that be handsome contest?—hands down. Except, she didn’t like his eyes. Too blue, too cold. That man could kill, she thought, and she shuddered.

The dark one had his own attraction. Tall. That’s always a plus in a man. Well, not always. Neil’s brother was tall, and a real nerd.

The thought of Neil made her ache. She started the car.

Back to the tall one. Hello, my name is Nadine and my husband has several mistresses, so I am taking applications for the post of sugar daddy. Would you be interested in applying? You look like you could afford me, and you look like I would enjoy all the attention you care to give me.

She thought about the slightly wide mouth, slightly, but  not too much, thick lips, just thick enough to show that his kiss would be inescapable and unforgettable. The car seat got warm.

Her mind bounced again, stuck like a record scratch, on the missing fingers of the first man. How did that happen? She wanted to know. Wanted to know him.

Maybe he ached the same way.

Rats. She’d lost them. They weren’t following her after all. Maybe that was good. Could be they were related to Neil’s bummy buddies, the ones who would kill him someday. Oh, she was sure of that, but Neil didn’t listen to her. Would he listen to one of his girlfriends? She wondered.

Nope. These guys were way too classy for Neil. She had enjoyed their company behind her car, sparking small fantasies. Or big ones, as the case may be. It was probably good they weren’t following any more. The chances of three sophisticated men developing a passion for a short middle-class housewife whose husband was a philandering bum … the chances of that happening in a healthy and wholesome way—Nadine knew what she wanted and what she shouldn’t want and these two things matched exactly—those chances were slim. Very slim. Slimmer than she was when Neil announced his latest love and she went on a two-day depressive eating binge. Five pounds made her favorite slacks tight. Cleared the complexion, though. She checked her face in the rearview. No wrinkles yet. Neil’s latest was thirty-five.

My husband is going out with an older woman.

She re-focused past her new haircut—straight, smart lines at the side, a bit of fluff on top—and checked the road behind. No Mercedes. Rats. She shouldn’t have bought the double Dutch cream fudge. It was calling to her from a grocery bag in the back.

No, it was not the ice cream calling. A different noise, clang, clunk, clang made her slow. The noise slowed. The car shuddered. She pulled off the road onto a forest preserve parking lot. No one sat at the picnic tables. A pale blue sky floated far above the circling trees, but the tables around the little parking area stood in shadow.

The tire was flat, all right, and the groceries blocked the way to the spare. She began unloading. It was easy to hear a car coming because the forest was so still. Even the birds seemed to be off work today. Would they be back in the nest at five? Or would they have to work late with some thirty-five-year-old slut that …

She looked up before the approaching car rounded the last curve. Should she catch the driver’s eye? Should she accept help? No, she could change her own tire. It would be safer. She finished unloading, ignored the sound of the approaching car, tried to look nonchalant about being stuck alone near a deserted forest. Not creepy at all. She adopted the body language of 'I do this every day,' and 'strictly routine' and 'I’m expecting twenty people for a picnic any minute now.'

Please don’t stop. Please don’t be a homicidal maniac.

She froze at the sound of a heavy vehicle’s tires grinding over the gravel behind her.

Other than the lump in her throat and the nagging suspicion that she’d put a streak of dirt across her nose, other than these, she had no feeling when the back door of the Mercedes opened and the first man, the one missing two fingers, walked toward her and offered to help.

"I will be here only one night," the man said as he loosened the lug nuts on her wheel. "Will you meet me for a drink?"

She told herself she said yes because she wanted to ask about his hand and his accent and she wouldn’t let it go any further.

O God. Who am I kidding? What about my stretch marks?

This had to be the stupidest thing Nadine had ever done, agreeing to meet a man at a bar. She should have stayed home to eat ice cream. She had crammed into her short black skirt and the fifty-dollar cream-colored blouse her sister sent at Christmas. Make-up—perfect. She used the 'evening' setting on her make-up mirror.

So had every other woman in this hotel bar. Many showed off bits and pieces of themselves, all of which looked a hell of a lot better than most of her bits and pieces.

O God. He’s not here. O thank God. He’s not here.

She had forgotten the powerful attraction in his eyes. What color were they? A mixture, or none at all. Interesting enough to be remembered, but she couldn’t figure out the color. Light, but not blue. His hair was the same way, light, but not blond. She wanted to comb it for him. He wore it a little long, longer than hers, but it behaved less or he’d lost his comb. Like Neil was always doing. How many hotel rooms had he left it in?

When the man appeared at her table, she noticed he had a quiet smile he didn’t seem to use very often. He bought her a drink, asked her about herself. Where was she from? Did she come from a large family? He was careful not to ask too much, not to pry, but his attention was undivided, all of it devoted to her.

Nadine told him more than she intended, including the children. Surely that would not scare him away from a simple drink at happy hour. She didn’t want to know if he had kids.

She searched his left hand.

"What is the matter?" he said. "Why have you stopped talking?"

"Are you married?" She blurted it, like an accusation.


It seemed to be the truth. He waited for her to go on.

"I … I don’t even know your name."

"Vasily Sobieski." He had not asked hers and still did not.

"Where are you from?"


Wasn’t that one of those communist countries? Is he a communist? Is it bad if he is? What would Neil say? What is a communist, anyway?"

"Are you here on business, Vas …?"

He helped her pronounce his name but did not answer the question.

They took a table in a dark corner. She saw the other two men from the Mercedes at another table close by. A short, round man with thinning hair and a nervous manner sat with them. Which of these does not belong? No contest.

She had no chance to ask about his hand. He kept the conversation on her, which was not hard to do once she started talking about Neil. She began at the beginning. It took another drink and a half to finish. By then, the band started and talking became difficult, limited to the less noisy spaces between songs. He suggested coffee someplace quiet and took her out of the lounge to the elevator. Was there a coffee shop upstairs?

He put his room key in a slot in the elevator panel marked 'E' and turned it. The elevator moved through all floors without stopping.

Nadine stood in a speeding elevator with a man she didn’t know, on her way to have sex with him. What the hell am I doing? I know damn well what I’m doing.

He leaned casually against the back wall, hands in his pants pockets, coat bunched up at his wrists, watching her decide.

"Is there a time when you must be home?" he asked.

"I … I have a sitter. I told her I’d be home by midnight."

"Your husband is not home?"

"He’s working tonight. He said."

The penthouse was magnificent. So was Vasily. He took his time. Patience seemed his strongest virtue. Nadine had limited experience. There was her high school sweetheart, then the frat brother in college—more of an almost, really—and finally, there was Neil. None of them had patience like this man. His kiss was slow and long and deep and included an exploration, muscle by muscle, hand and body, until she shook where she stood and let him draw her into a bedroom of the suite.

He continued there, past the buttons, past the bra. She sat on the bed, while he stood before her. She could hear the other men come into the next room. It was the thought of running past them with bare breasts bouncing that kept her from leaving when Vasily took off his coat.

There was no physical deformity. There was a gun. Neil would know what kind. He knew all about such things, even  had some locked up in the attic. She shivered when she thought of them being in the house at all, and shivered again when Vasily unstrapped the holster and told her to be careful not to reach toward the gun. He laid it on a bedside table.

"What kind is it?" she asked to make conversation, to stall, to give herself a chance to cool down and regain her common sense.

Vasily smiled, chuckling lightly. "A Makarov," he said before kissing her again. Then, he did not let her cool down.

"How did you hurt your hand?: She felt she had a right to ask as they lay side-by-side in the sheets, after.

"I did not hurt it. Someone hurt it for me." He turned his head to look at her.

The light was still on, but had long since ceased to worry her. Vasily did not seem to notice the stretch marks. She also forgot about them as she looked into the stillness behind his eyes. It was not a peaceful stillness, not the kind that comes when all is done, but the kind that reigns before all is about to be done. It was the ready kind.

"I don’t understand," she said.

"My fingers were torn off under torture, in a prison." He smiled. "They did not know I am left handed. I don’t miss them much."

She stared at him. There were other scars, on chest and abdomen, some round, others jagged. She had the same sensation as in the elevator. She did not know this man. She’d had sex with him, but he was a stranger."

"We inhabit the same planet," he told her quietly, "but different worlds."

While they dressed, he explained about the short round man so she was ready when they walked out into the other room. She guaranteed her silence with a shaky signature on the government form he offered. As if she ever told a secret in her life! The guns now in plain sight on the other two men unnerved her, though. She signed quickly and did not stay for coffee.

The reason Nadine was up when Neil came home that night was because she couldn’t sleep. She took a bubble bath, drank hot chocolate, ruffled the bed with a few tosses, and finally turned herself out and sat in the kitchen to stare at the microwave and think about Vasily.

She heard two sets of footsteps coming from the garage and expected a leggy blonde thirty-five-year-old to follow her husband into the kitchen. Nadine tensed for confrontation. Behind Neil came a short, round, balding man with bulging eyes, and presumably, a government form bearing her signature in his pocket.

This was something so new she had no breath for it.

Neil pretended concern at her being awake so late. He introduced the man named Frank, saying he was a colleague. Frank shook her hand and said "How do you do?" as if they’d never met.

Nadine started a pot of coffee, struggling for enough breath to be minimally polite.

Frank sat at the kitchen table and in a jovial, full voice continued the conversation they must have been having in the car. "So why does the Makarov make you nervous, Neil? You’ve been in this job long enough to know how to recognize an ally."

Nadine froze, spoon poised over the coffee basket. She stared wide-eyed at her husband. He was glaring at Frank, shaking his head vigorously, and waving both hands, palms down.

Frank repeated the gesture. "What does this mean?" he asked innocently.

Neil’s face turned red. "This place is not secure," he said through clenched teeth. He tossed his eyes in the direction of his wife.

"What? It’s just us." The round man’s eyes bulged further in disbelief. "Don’t tell me you don’t tell your wife anything at all when you’re working?"

"I don’t."

"It’s unwise, you know. She needs enough information to know what not to say to people. How do you explain … like tonight … What did you tell her?"

Nadine answered for her husband. "He said he had a girlfriend."

"You what?" Frank was incredulous.

"I did not. I said I had to work late. That’s all."

She wasn’t about to let that stand. "But the phone call, the picture! You let me know … You let me think …"

She began to see the deception clearly and did not like it. "You tortured me!"

Neil answered shout for shout. "I had to. It was the only way to keep you from snooping and then blabbing."

Nadine’s mouth moved, but only every other word could make it out of her throat, like a faucet full of air, spluttering. "I—never—you—secret—me."

Neil, evidently thinking he had the upper hand, decided on an official approach. "Security is essential since they moved me into the new section. Did you think I got that raise for nothing? I can’t afford to have you running around asking questions."

Nadine threw the spoon at him. It caught his attention. She reached for the coffee mug and weighed it in her right hand. Neil began explaining.

"They moved me to anti-terror." He dodged the mug. She picked up another. "You don’t know the killers I have to deal with." This mug shattered on a cabinet behind his ear.

Frank raised an eyebrow, but remained a spectator.

Neil dropped his voice, forced words between his teeth, truthful, straightforward words for the first time, the only words that might stop the third mug from flying.

"I spent tonight with a guy who could cut your throat and go back to his breakfast without washing his hands and he’s on my side. You don’t know what I see."

The couple stood in their kitchen, red-faced, trembling, but silent. Frank got up and turned on the coffee pot.

"Why do you think he led his wife to believe such nonsense?" asked Louis the moment they left American airspace. He handed Vasily a gin and tonic.

Vasily put down his newspaper and took the drink, glancing at Misha in the seat next to him. The operation was over, the adrenaline gone, and Misha had not even finished his whiskey before falling asleep. Their jet hit a pocket of turbulence and the whiskey in the glass he still held sloshed over his wrist, running over the blood that dotted his cuff.

Louis took the glass from Misha’s hand, put it back in the bar and sat opposite Vasily.

"What is your theory, your deep thoughts? Why did he lie to her?"

Vasily took a long sip and leaned his head back against the seat before answering.

"To keep her ordinary."

Neil never learned just how well Nadine could keep a secret.