After only a few steps Marina stopped short, feeling suddenly dizzy. She stepped aside from a tour group approaching the church door and sank down on a low stone wall. The scrap of paper crackled between her trembling fingers and she shoved it, suddenly and violently, deep into her coat pocket.
Despite her brave words to Mark, Marina hadn’t fully believed that it was possible to follow a treasure trail this old and this far from home. At least in part – and she had only barely admitted this to herself – she had made this trip as an overdue homage to her mother and aunt, the strong women of her childhood. So often they had reminisced about the short and privileged years before fleeing St Petersburg in advance of the Bolsheviks. In their memories, each day was full of sunlight, music, and dancing. Marina had hoped that by returning to where they had once been so happy, she would find it easier to come to terms with their loss from her life.
Marina closed her eyes against the low winter sun as she leaned her head back on the wrought iron railings. The bitter cold of the metal struck through her thick hat and jolted her upright again. Slowly she drew the scrap of paper out again and peered closely at the spidery script. “I’ve never been good at puzzles,” she thought. “And I wish I’d paid better attention to all the saints.”
Marina opened her guide book and turned to the T section of the index. There was nearly a full column of sub-headings under ‘Trotsky’. Her eyes scanned down the list and stopped disbelievingly at ‘Peter and Paul Fortress’. Flipping to the correct page in the book, she read eagerly about how Trotsky had been incarcerated in the legendary Peter and Paul Fortress and discovered that his cell was still open to visit. She laid the small clue paper on top of the book and re-read it. “Ask Peter and Paul for guidance,” she murmured. This must be it!
A shadow fell across the page of the book and Marina glanced up. A tall figure stood between her and the sunlight. It was impossible to discern the face as a voice spoke, in English. “Are you all right? I noticed you seemed faint.”
Marina stood up, closing the guidebook and tucking it into her bag. “Yes, thank you. I felt a bit odd for a moment but I’m fine now, ready to continue my sightseeing. But thank you for checking; you’re very kind.”
“My pleasure,” the man replied. “So where will your sightseeing take you next?”
“I want to explore Peter and Paul Fortress, actually,” Marina said. “I don’t suppose you know what direction it’s in, do you?”
“I do, yes. Do you have a map? I will show you.”
Marina pulled out the guide book again and unfolded the map in the back. As she did so, the tiny piece of paper escaped the pages. Marina tried to catch it but it fluttered to the pavement, from where her benefactor scooped it up. He glanced at it before returning it to her palm.
“You speak Russian?”
“Only a tiny bit,” Marina replied repressively, turning the map towards him. He carefully outlined a route with a gloved finger. Thanking him for his assistance, Marina turned in the direction he’d pointed and began to walk. As she reached the corner, she glanced behind her and saw his gaze still fixed upon her.
Even late in the day, the fortress was busy with tourists and Trotsky’s cell — Cell 60 — had a queue of people waiting to peer inside the spartan room. Finally it was her turn. But this was not like the church where she could duck under a railing, even if there had been any promising artifacts in sight. Eagerly Marina scoured every detail of the cell: the single, narrow bed, the collapsible plank table, and the arched, high window that gave light but no view.
She pressed herself closer, raking every surface for a clue, and muttered bitterly, “What did I expect? To see a new clue painted on a cell wall?”
She raised her eyes to the small window at the far end of the room. Gradually, something struck her. Of the several small panes that made up the whole, one of them was marred. The light coming through it seemed to be refracted differently from the other panes. Marina craned further forward but couldn’t make it out. Conscious of the crowds pressing in behind her, she whipped out her phone and took a photo, focusing carefully to ensure the windowpanes were captured clearly.
Marina turned and pushed her way back out through the crowds and into the chilly corridor again. She opened the photo and zoomed in on the picture. She’d been right! There, on the lowest pane of the window, some lines had been scratched. It looked like a number.
“300,” breathed Marina. “What am I supposed to do with that?”