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She sat in the train compartment and leaned her head up against the window, her right temple bouncing against the glass as the train lulled and swayed over the landscape outside. With each second that passed and each tree that flew by her vision, Zoya grew more aware that she would never see her home again.

She forced herself to keep her eyes dry and hide the truth, that she was now an exile from the only place she had ever known; but her vacant eyes — dry as they were — betrayed her. She stared at everything but saw nothing, only the images of her love back at home, standing in the doorway of their little apartment as if everything was the same, standing there angelically in the rubble of a destroyed dream.

Everywhere Zoya went, Mashka followed. In the street, in the mirror, on the front step, Mashka was there, or at least the memory of Mashka was. Zoya knew it wasn’t real; she knew the Maria she was seeing in her mind was not the Maria of flesh and blood. She knew Maria was long gone now, her Mashka, the girl with the big blue eyes, who couldn’t bear to leave her family, who couldn’t bear to forsake her homeland, even if it meant becoming another number in the body count or being persecuted for loving the wrong person.

Zoya knew this. She told Mashka to flee with her, to run away — France, Belgium, Italy, anywhere — to escape the impending devastation that the Red Army was sure to inflict, the danger of being a woman in love with another woman. That was a forbidden love back home, and Zoya wasn’t even sure where she was going — wherever that was — would accept her love either. But it did not matter now. Here Zoya was on the train, barreling away on this locomotive far away from her life before. Her eyes focused and unfocused as she rolled by. The farther west she traveled the redder the trees seemed to be in this late autumn weather, as though the Bolsheviks were following her the whole time, their colors poisoning the safety she felt on this train traveling away from the toxic epicenter. But home had become grayer and bleaker to her the longer she was there, growing more war-torn in the days before her departure; it was now a dead country to her, as dead as Mashka would soon be.

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Here It Is Quite Quiet

The four dead girls met David Korobkin at his office on a dreary April morning, three months before he read the letter. On paper, they were routine homicides, each with extreme head trauma in apparent gunshot-inflicted injuries. Nothing Korobkin hadn’t seen before. In the seven years he had been head of the regional Criminal Investigations Department, he’d stumbled upon dozens of victims, some as peaceful as a drowned infant in a bathtub, some as gruesome as a burned, stabbed woman he’d found last November. He glanced again at the coroner’s report.

“Mornin’, chief,” said Korobkin’s deputy, Ilya Petrovich, elbowing open the door with an armful of pyshkis. “Hungry?” Korobkin reached for the sticky doughnut absentmindedly as he flipped through the report. “So the slab’s got some girls downstairs, I see,” he said. “You checked ’em out yet?”

Petrovich nodded expectantly, watching Korobkin read the report. “Yeah, just got back. They’re fresh.” Korobkin frowned and flipped the report over: filed Tuesday, April 30. And received, he thought. There was a silence as both men chewed distractedly on their breakfast and Korobkin skimmed through the report carelessly.

Interesting case, he thought, nodding in approval. Four young women under the age of 23. Cause of death: head trauma. No signs of sexual abuse. Identities currently unknown; fingers and faces disfigured. It was the kind of investigation that delighted him.

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