Bohdan saw the waiter return back to Zaki’s headquarters, looking pale and sweating profusely. Bohdan asked him in Ukrainian where Van was. The waiter replied, “I took care of him. He will take no more pictures of patriots.” Bohdan cursed at the waiter, calling him a dumb fuck in Ukrainian. The interpreter walked out in the street and looked around. He began to walk towards where the van was parked. He looked down a side street and saw into the courtyard of the apartment building across the street. A small crowd of people were gathered, looking at something on the ground. Bohdan went to see what they were observing, and found a dying Van, being cradled by a babusya – a grandmother – with a stricken face. She was trying to stop his bleeding with her apron, but with little success.
Bohdan removed his cellphone and dialed 103. He spoke with the attendant in Ukrainian. Bohdan made a second call, with another short conversation. Within five minutes, an ambulance quietly pulled up, lifted Van’s lifeless body and rushed him to the Donetsk Trauma Hospital. He had lost a significant amount of blood, and was holding on to life by the slimmest thread.
Van awoke hours later in a small, clean room, in a bed with white sheets and with an IV attached to his right arm. He looked around, and realized he must be in a hospital room. He wasn’t dead. This fact both startled and confused him. How had he gotten here? He recalled nothing after Kitty’s visit. Kitty. He looked around for her, but all he saw was a framed picture of a woman in red, waving at a boat on a river. He turned over on his left side, and went back to sleep. He’d never felt so tired in his life.
When he woke up, Bohdan was staring at him, with a bunch of flowers in his hand. Bohdan looked terribly relieved to see him alive. “Whew. I am happy to see you open your eyes. You gave me the scare of my life. I did not think we would make it to hospital. Your face was as white as the sheet that covers you.” Van nodded, still feeling exhausted and ill. “How did I get here?” Bohdan smiled, and said, “I phoned for the ambulance. You had already lost nearly 3 pints of blood. Did you know you have A negative blood? According to the surgeon that treated you, only 6% of the population has that blood type. You were most fortunate there was a donor to provide you with fresh blood.”
Van used his left hand to wipe the sleep from his eyes. He was having a hard time focusing on Bohdan. “Donor? You say I had a donor?” Bohdan nodded. Actually, you had two donors – a father and son. They came immediately to hospital when I phoned them. Each provided you with a pint of blood. The third pint came from the hospital’s stock. But since blood supply in Ukraine is not reliable, it is best to have freshly tested blood from donors.” Van said, “Who did you call?” Bohdan looked sheepish. “I have to be totally honest with you now. Please do not be angry with me, my friend. But that so-called kidnapping by Right Sector was all pre-arranged. Kharkov and my father are close friends. Yuri and I went to school together. I could not think of any other way for you to speak with them. Kharkov and Yuri it turns out both have A negative blood. They were your donors.”
Van was beginning to feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland. So many things had happened to him in the past day and a half, none of which he had anticipated. But now he was here. He was alive, assuming the extra pint of blood wasn’t contaminated with something that would eventually kill him. And it finally hit him: he had a second chance at life. Beautiful, wonderful life. Life with Catherine. Van looked up at Bohdan. “Thank you. Thank you for saving my life. I will forever be in your debt.” Bohdan blushed, smiling shyly. “I believe you would do the same for me. You are my friend.”
Van spent three days recovering in the hospital. Over those three days, he and Bohdan discussed all they had seen and heard, putting together a complete story of Van’s time in Ukraine. Bohdan even produced pictures of Zaki and the other rebels, photographs he’d surreptitiously taken with a small camera that fit in the palm of his hand. His picture of the waiter made Van shiver, remembering the knife and the pain of being stabbed. The doctor explained – with Bohdan translating – that if the knife had been a quarter of an inch to the right, it would have pierced his aorta, and he would have quickly died. Bohdan took Van’s picture in the hospital bed. They finished the article, and with the help of the hospital’s administrative office, e-mailed it off to the New Yorker.
Within hours, the story was picked up by all the world-wide news outlets. Bohdan’s pictures were included, and the waiter identified as Sergei Dyachenko. It turned out Sergei was wanted by Interpol, not only for his activities with Zaki’s rebels, but for identity theft and computer hacking in western Europe. Within hours, Sergei was picked up and removed to Kiev, incarcerated by the Ukrainian government. An international incident involving an American war correspondent, working for a major media outlet, was the last thing the government needed. Justice would be swift and terrible for Sergei.
On the afternoon of the fourth day, Van was dressed and ready to travel back to Kiev. As he was buckling the strap on his backpack, his cellphone rang. He removed it from his pocket and saw it was Catherine calling. With a rush of relief and gratitude, Van said, “Catherine! Is that you? Oh my God, it’s you. I am so happy to hear your voice. She was weeping into the telephone. “I saw on CNN what happened to you. Oh my God, are you okay? You almost died!” Van sat on the side of the bed, and began to cry so hard he could hardly speak. “Yes, I’m okay. Oh Catherine, I have been such an ass. Such a fool. Can you ever forgive me? I love you so much. I didn’t know how much you meant to me until I came close to losing my life. But my greatest regret was not having a life with you.” Catherine cried even harder. “You have no idea what those words mean to me. But you’re sure you’re OK? Are you coming home?” Van’s tears had subsided somewhat, and his mind was crystal clear. “Yes, I’m coming home. And when I get there, I will get down on one knee and do this properly. But for now – Catherine, will you marry me? I love you.” Catherine said, “Oh my God – yes, yes, I will. Yes.” She was now crying hysterically. After she calmed down enough to understand him, he said he’d be arriving in New York at 1:45 PM New York time the next day. He asked if she would pick him up at Kennedy Airport. Catherine agreed – still sobbing – and they ended the call.
The trip back to Kiev was uneventful. When they arrived back at the Intercontinental, Bohdan said goodbye to Van in the lobby. Van hugged the young man, and with tears in his eyes, told him he’d never forget him, and everything Bohdan had done for him. Bohdan replied, “But that is what friends do for one another. Yes?” Van agreed. Bohdan went back to the van, and drove off with a stream of blue smoke following him and the van.
Van caught the Lufthansa flight the next morning, and slept most of the way after the stop in Frankfurt. He walked down the concourse to find Catherine waiting for him, smiling with tears in her eyes. Van walked up to her, put down the backpack, and enfolded her in an embrace that he hoped would go on forever. All he said was, “Thank God for second chances.”