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The valley was calling. Emerald-colored rivers, like threads, passed, smoothly in some places, playfully in others, through rice paddy squares, groves, and meadows. It seemed to be seeking the city flickering in the distance. Above the city, a temple of spectacular beauty was floating high in the air. Dew pearls, glistening and iridescent in the rising sun's rays were transforming the valley into an enormous sparkling diamond.
Sergey stepped off the ledge and flew. Never before in his life had he experienced such joy from flying. His limber body was gliding through the air streams, feeling the might of the wind within his every cell. Villages and fields flowed past, far down below... “My God, it is so beautiful! Does it really exist?” The temple was beckoning to him, getting closer and closer. Sergey was inexorably drawn to it. As if some mystery of his life was connected to it.
“Sergey, are you still sleeping?”
“Yeah. How did you know?”
“Alright. No time for small talk. The hunt is on. I'm waiting for you at the Third. The car is outside. Be careful.”
“Come as fast as you can. See you.”
“See you,” Sergey ended the call, and, by an old habit, scanned his surroundings with his consciousness. Well, well, well, are you ready to finish me today?! Haha! Perhaps, you weren't warned about who you're dealing with. So that you won't fear too soon. Should I even bother arresting him? Neh. Don't feel like it. We're short on time. And there's no need. Knock yourself out waiting for me downstairs, sucker. Maybe something will come your way.
Sergey looked at the Buddha smiling at him from the wall, then looked at the renounced Lao Tzu. He bought the portrait of Buddha on silk, along with “The Tale of Yue Fei” in a small old shop on the outskirts of Shanghai. A wizened Chinese man had appraised Sergey's appearance and especially his selections. “Young man, I see you’re following the paths of our Teachers. Life is not easy. Only a sincere one can accomplish what's due. The sacrifice of Yue Fei is not for you. You must live and accomplish what you came into this world for.” His words were insightful, and his voice sounded far off, while his intelligent eyes gazed deeply into Sergey, giving him the feeling that the man saw much more than what was on the surface.
Only now was Sergey beginning to understand the prophetic words of the old man.
I must survive. What happens next is not my concern. I was taught everything for a reason. It must all be necessary.
Then, the Chinese man disappeared into the back of the store, returning with a bundle, carefully tucked under his arm.
“My son painted this portrait. He is a Taoist, living in the mountains." The old man unrolled the bundle. Staring back at Sergey were the young, wise eyes of Lao Tzu, seated on a rock by a rushing mountain river. Water flowed like nectar from the joined palms of the wise man, nourishment for those seeking freedom and knowledge. The portrait radiated peace and tranquility. “My son saw him like this in his meditation and painted him. Before he left, he asked me to give this portrait to someone who I felt would gain from it. Please take it. You may be European, but your soul is filled with the essence of the East. There aren’t many like you here. Good luck!”
Slowly, Sergey woke his body up, stretching gently, like a cat, and then walked in a handstand to the bathroom. Twenty minutes later he was standing in the middle of his half-empty room. It seems to me I won't be back here for a few years. What should I take with me? Two sets of clothes, a pair of sneakers, several books, concealing makeup, wigs and, a voice recorder, and a set of various weapons all went into a large bag that was custom made for Sergey in a shop in Shanghai. Packed portraits of Buddha and Lao Tzu went on top.
“That's all. Goodbye, my sweet nest.” Sergey stood for a moment, attempting to absorb all the good that had happened to him here. "Just look at that goon. He's waiting where most of them are waiting: in front of the main entrance. Rodriguez is so dumb. Really dumb."
Sergey walked out to the balcony. February's late morning hadn’t set in yet. The sky was black, and an icy wind blew wet snow into his face.
Sergey's dark figure separated from the third-floor balcony and smoothly landed on the sidewalk. Leningradsky Avenue was not yet awake with the usual sounds of cars honking and trams clanging. Sleepy janitors were shoveling snow from entrances to apartment buildings and shops. Sergey raised his arm high in a signal, and it wasn’t long before a car stopped in front of him. “Hey buddy, will you give me a lift to Strogino? I'm in a hurry.”
Leshka opened the door.
”You're alive! Where is the driver?”
“He's outside of my house. Any news?”
“Batya is waiting.”
“Please call Venya and have him return to the garage. He must be tired of waiting.”
“Good morning Gleb Mikhailovich,” Sergey entered the small room that served as an office. The Bureau of counternarcotics affairs rented the apartment under a fake name for confidentiality purposes. Occasionally, the apartment was also used for hosting protected witnesses and colleagues from the Interpol.
”Tsarev, come in. Here is the deal,” The chief, “Batya” as his subordinates called him, raised his eyes, inflamed from lack of sleep. “Tsarev, you are priceless to us. We're proud of you. Did you notice anything today?”