4.5 Deja Vu All Over Again

By 3 am, everyone was either drunk and still singing, or had already gone to sleep. Kharkov continued to talk, virtually non-stop until then. Van could barely keep his eyes open. At last, Kharkov said, “I think I’ve said enough for one night. Do you have somewhere to sleep tonight?” Van could barely put a coherent thought together to respond. “I’m not sure; probably not. Remember, you kidnapped me away from my interpreter.” Kharkov wearily replied, “That was for your own safety. Zaki’s men will shoot anyone they find talking with us. So I wanted to be sure Zaki saw you being taken by force. I will be happy to take you back where you were when we took you, or you can spend the rest of the night here.”

Van opted to stay the night there. There were mattressesmattresses on the floor in the room behind them. He lay on the mattress, which smelled of urine and dirt. Within minutes, he was sound asleep, and slept until well past 9. When he awoke, only Yuri remained behind. Surprisingly, Van had no headache, or any sign of a hangover. He attributed that to the full meal he had, and the coffee that accompanied the liqueur.

Yuri wrapped his mouth again with duct tape, and covered his face with a kerchief. Van put himself in the back of the van, and Yuri drove him to a side street, a block away from Zaki’s headquarters. When the coast was clear, he opened the door and let Van out, removing the kerchief, but not the duct tape. Van walked back to Zaki’s headquarters, and walked up to the guard at the door. It was the same one that had been there the day before. The guard took Van up to the second floor office. Zaki was there with Bohdan, and several other men, one of whom Van recognized as the waiter from last night’s meal at the Pushkin. They were engaged in a spirited discussion – apparently about some tv showUkrainian television show that featured attractive women available for dates. When Van walked in, all conversation stopped. Bohdan jumped up, and led Van to the table. He sat down, and Bohdan carefully removed the duct tape from around Van’s mouth. This time there was no painful snatch at the end.

Bohdan asked, “Are you OK? Did they hurt you?” Van replied, “No. They just wanted to talk about their perspective on the war. I’m OK. I just need a shower and a change of clothes.” Van had brought along a backpackbackpack with toiletries and a fresh shirt and pair of jeans. The pack was sitting in the corner, thoughtfully brought in by the interpreter. Bohdan led Van to the other room, which was actually part of someone’s apartment. Van showered, brushed his teeth, and put on a fresh khaki shirt and jeans. He felt immensely better for having done so.

When he returned to the office, Zaki continued to eye him suspiciously. “We shoot collaborators, you know,” he said. Van replied, “Yes, I was told that by Red Sector. But I am not a collaborator. I am a journalist, trying to cover this story for American media. That is all I am. Now, if we can finish up this interview, then Bohdan and I will be on our way back to Kiev.” Zaki continued to look askance at Van.

The remainder of the interview was stiff and awkward. Bohdan kept signaling to Van to finish up. Apparently, even he was beginning to get nervous. With the last piece of information written down in the notebook, Van went to his backpack and picked up the Canon EOS Canon cameradigital camera provided to him by the New Yorker. He took aim, and pressed the button, capturing the images of Zaki and two of his associates, none of whose faces were covered. Within seconds, the men grew agitated, and then started shouting in Ukrainian. One of them grabbed the camera, desperately trying to open it – as though it had film in it. Frustrated by his inability to remove the offending picture, the man weapon pointerpicked up his weapon and pointed it at Van. “Whoa, whoa – hold it fella. Let me show you how to delete the picture.” Bohdan quickly translated, and held the camera to the side so Van could press the delete button. He showed the picture dissolving and then disappearing. Bohdan hissed at Van, “I told you not to take pictures. These men do not want to be subjected to Right Sector’s death squads. Please – don’t do that again.”

Van agreed he would not take any more pictures. He had several he’d taken of the men of Right Sector. Zaki pulled the camera to himself, and asked Bohdan to show him what was on it. He saw the photos, but appeared not to recognize any of the faces except Kharkov’s. So, you were in the presence of the great Dmitri Kharkov. Why am I not surprised? He is a fascist pig, and a ruthless murderer. I don’t understand why he let you return to us. Unless he thought we would take care of the problem for him.” Van said, “Problem? What problem is that?” Zaki motioned to one of the men whose picture Van had taken. He grabbed Van and held his arms behind him, attempting to lift him off his feet. Van struggled with the man, but was finally overcome. Van was taken to the opposite side of the building, and locked in a room. Van thought, “Damn. This is like deja vu all over again, to quote the great deja vu picYogi Berra. I just keep getting taken prisoner by all sides in this conflict. I hope Bohdan can talk them out of this.”

But Bohdan was nowhere around. The day turned into evening. Another of Zaki’s men brought him some bread and soup about 6 PM. At 10, a woman entered and brought him another soupbowl of soup, this time with no bread. The soup was cold and sour. “Why am I being held here?” Van asked the woman, assuming she spoke no English, but thought it worth a try. In perfect English, the woman said, “Zaki has decided to hold you for ransom. Our funds are running low, and he knows the American media are rich, and will pay well for your safe release. So you could be here for some time. You should just relax and everything will be okay.”

For the first time since he’d arrived in Ukraine, Van was afraid. The woman was very matter of fact in her statement, and Zaki had mentioned that they were low on funds since the Russians withdrew. Van’s biggest concern was that this incarceration would drag on for quite some time. He wasn’t entirely sure Remnick and the New Yorker would actually pay a ransom for his return. After all, he was still an employee on probation. Van wasn’t sure what to do.

The woman left, shutting the door behind her. But this time, the door was not locked. Van couldn’t decide if that was the woman’s error, or hint that he should try to escape and find Bohdan so they could leave this vale of misery. Without thinking through what he was doing, Van opened the door and looked out. There was nobody on the stair landingstair landing, and he heard no voices. He walked out of the room, and began to quickly descend the stairs. When he got to the bottom, he became disoriented as to where the outside door was. He could see through the windows that it was starting to get dark outside. He looked around for the exit door, finally finding it at the end of the hall. He walked outside, turned and starting retracing his steps to where he recalled the van was parked. Before he’d gotten ten steps, he heard footsteps behind him. He began to walk faster, but so did the person behind him. Van turned, and saw the waiter from last night following him. Van began to run, desperately looking for the van. Turning down a side street, he entered an dark alleyentranceway to another, old apartment building. He found himself screaming for help – from anyone. He entered a hallway that led to a courtyard. He could see lights in the apartments above – could hear sounds from televisions and people talking. He began to shout, Help me! Help me! Please! People stepped out onto their balconies, looking down at him. But nobody came to his aid.

The waiter caught up with him. He pushed Van down, and hit him in the face. Van’s head hit the pavement, and he felt dizzy and disoriented. That’s when he saw the knife out of the corner of his eye. It was the same boning knife the waiter had used on the chicken. The blade briefly flashed in the light from the alcove. Van tried once more to get help from the people on their balconies. But it was too late. The waiter took the knife, and jabbed it into Van’s ribs, right next to his heart. The pain was incredible. Van gasped, realizing he’d been stabbed. He felt the blood begin to ooze through his shirt and onto the dirty cobblestones beneath him. Van heard a noise to his right, and an babushkaold woman came up behind the waiter, and asked him something in Ukrainian. The waiter turned and saw the woman. She asked him again, but he quickly sheathed his knife and walked away, back out into the street.

The woman bent down to look at Van. She sat down next to him, and cradled his head in her arms. At that exact moment, Kitty appeared from the same direction the waiter had fled. She walked up to him and looked down, calmly and with an appraising eye. Van said, “Kitty,” and then had no more breath to speak. Kitty continued to look at him. The old woman continued to cradle his head in her lap, singing what sounded like a lullaby. Van spoke to Kitty. “Can you believe I got myself in this mess?” But then he realized no sound had come from his lips, as he had no breath with which to speak. Van thought, “I must have a collapsed lung.” Kitty with Van

Kitty’s voice, as before, sounded like it was coming from a resonant well. She said, “Now you know how I felt. I tried to warn you. But you didn’t listen. These people heard you, but no one came. Just like with me. Now you know how it feels to be dying, alone and abandoned. It’s too bad. Perhaps next time, you’ll listen to me.” Van tried to speak, but all he could summon was a wet cough. His shirt was soaked in the back with blood. The woman was attempting to use her apron to staunch the flow. She tried to sooth him, but he knew Kitty was right: he was dying. He thought of the life he could have had with Catherine. He was crying. Soft tears slid down his cheeks. He thought of all the hurtful things he’d done – to his mother, to Catherine – even to Melissa. He regretted all of them. But it was too late to atone. He would die in this God-forsaken corner of the earth. And the only thing he’d be remembered for was one article: “Who Killed Kitty Genovese”, a story about the woman who came to him in his dreams, even now at the moment of his death. As his world faded to black, his last thought was, “It’s like deja vu all over again.” Airport employee stands near an ambulance, which is believed to be transporting Ukrainian activist Dmytro Bulatov, at Borispol airport

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