What happened after that night felt like a dream from which Van was unable to awaken. Remnick started having his secretary leave voice mail messages with long lists of things to do for him – passport, shots (shots?!?, clothing to wear so in case he gets interviewed on CNN he’ll look like a New Yorker correspondent, languages (got any?) and seemingly hundreds of other details. Since he had the worst hangover he’d ever experienced, he was in no mood for all this detail chatter. So after six calls, he turned off the machine, and then unplugged his phone. He sat on his couch with an icebag on his head, trying to sort out what he’d done, and how to get out of it. At about 6, he plugged the phone back in and turned his cell phone back on. The cell immediately began to ring. He looked at the screen and saw it was Maida. He was definitely not in the mood for any conversation with his mother, so he let that go through to voice mail. Guess his trip to her condo in Jupiter was out. He’d send her an e-mail, letting her know.
At 8, feeling somewhat better, Van fixed a frozen dinner in the microwave and started searching the ‘net for everything he could find about Ukraine, Donetsk and such. By 10, he had begun to rationalize that maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad. There was a cease fire in effect at the moment. The western part of the country was quite pleasant. Lviv (pronounced like le view) in the far west appeared to be a beautiful city, with lots to see and do. Remnick had promised him a driver and interpreter. The likelihood of surviving this – and it furthering his career after a very short time – appealed to Van in a big way. He replayed the messages from the secretary and started making lists. He sent the email to Maida, indicating he had a work assignment, and would have to postpone his visit.
In a week’s time, he was actually prepared to travel to Ukraine. He’d selected an outfit to wear for potential interviews featuring a khaki shirt with epaulets, comfortable khaki cotton pants and a black, down-filled jacket. When the clerk had asked if he wanted the safari-type hat to go with his outfit, he laughed and said he was going to eastern Europe, not Africa. The clerk replied that he understood from relatives that Odessa’s catacombs were quite interesting to explore. Van thanked him for the tip, and made a mental note to ask about that when he was introduced to his interpreter and guide.
The night before he was to leave, all was ready: his bags packed, badge identifying him as a New Yorker foreign correspondent, travel visa, and plenty of reading material for the 15 hour flight to Kiev. He was flying First Class on Lufthansa on an Airbus A-380 from JFK to Frankfurt and then on to Kiev. The ticket cost over $11,000, but since the magazine was paying for it, no big deal. He intended to stay up late that night, as his flight didn’t leave until around 4 PM the next day and he wanted to try to adjust his circadian rhythm a little to match the new time zone – something he’d read on-line regarding international travel. But at a little before ten, his cell phone rang again. It was Maida. He picked up, and tried to sound quite positive. They talked a bit about how much she regretted not seeing him, and asked where he was off to. His reply was a simple, “Oh, overseas. Lots of fun in beautiful places.” When Maida pressed for more details, he said he was going to Odessa. Since she had no idea where that was, there was no argument. “OK, honey, have a good trip and send me a postcard! Ha ha..” and she hung up. Van rolled his eyes, thinking about sending Maida a postcard from Donetsk. It might have some interesting vistas.
At around 2 am, he finally laid down on the bed and closed his eyes. After a fair amount of tossing and turning, he finally fell asleep, but not a restful sleep. Images of war kept injecting themselves into his psyche. He saw burning buildings, dead bodies and heard the sound of automatic gunfire getting closer to where he was. Then, in another brief snatch of a dream, he saw the plane he was on being blown up in the sky, with himself floating gracefully to the ground, and landing on his feet. Amused by this turn of events, he turned around to see men in ski masks with AK-47’s pointed at him. He awoke, and tried to go back to sleep.
At around 5 am, he was half awake and half asleep, determined to try for another couple of hours of rest. That was when she appeared. Kitty walked into his bedroom, and sat on the side of the bed. She just looked at him trying to sleep, and put her hand on his forehead. He awoke, looking at her and seeing her serene and beautiful eyes. “What do you want?” Van asked. Kitty was silent, just continuing to stroke his head. She spoke, with a voice that sounded as though it was deep in a well, with a tinge of New York accent. “I want to know what you think you are doing, going on this trip. This is lunacy, you know.” Van said, “Well, I’m sure it’ll be fine. I’m old enough to take care of myself, and besides, you’re a fine one to talk about putting yourself in harm’s way. What about you?” Kitty nodded, saying “What happened to me was a terrible thing. What is about to happen to you will be worse. You will start to understand…everything. Living it is different than writing about it. Don’t you think?” As Van was about to reply, he opened his eyes and saw the room was empty. Van thought about what Mary Ann had said about Kitty visiting her in her dreams. She said that Kitty was there until she wasn’t needed anymore. For some reason, that conjured up an image of Nanny McPhee to Van, and he chuckled. So apparently Van needed Kitty, and she came to warn him to be careful. Well, careful was his middle name when it came to preserving his own hide. There was nothing to worry about here – he had no desire to experience that adrenaline rush Dexter spoke about. He was going to go there, write about some crazy guys running around, playing army in ski masks, have his picture taken with some flaming back drop, and then get the hell back to New York. Sounded like a good plan at the time.