Marina’s heart was in her mouth as she rushed towards the zoo exit. The clue could only refer to one person in St Petersburg in 1917 – Rasputin. But which of the places associated with him did it mean? She read the words again, focussing on ‘…came to dine…’ Where did he eat on that fateful night in December 1916?
With no idea where to go next she decided to look for a cafe where she could warm up while trying to solve the clue. As she stepped forward to cross the tram tracks a hand grabbed her sleeve and pulled her back. When, seconds later, a tram rattled past, she looked at her saviour and realised she recognised him. It was the man who had helped her find the Peter and Paul Fortress.
‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘I know you will understand when I say how grateful I am. I was distracted and not thinking clearly.’
‘Slow down,’ said the man, guiding her towards a nearby tram stop and making her sit down. ‘I have some English but not so fast, please.’
‘Sorry.’ After sitting quietly for a moment, Marina remembered where she’d been going. ‘Do you know where I could get a hot drink near here?’
‘Yes,’ the man said. ‘There is a cafe just along there’ – he pointed – ‘a few minutes’ walk away. When you are rested we will go.’
‘Do you live in St Petersburg?’ Marina asked.
‘No,’ he replied. ‘I am here on holiday, like you I think. I live in Siberia and staying with my sister Irena.’
‘Your English is very good,’ said Marina, standing up. She needed to get warm and get this clue solved. ‘Where is the cafe?’
They crossed the tram tracks and the busy one-way road and walked in silence until, after a couple of minutes, a dingy looking cafe appeared: Marina hoped this was not the place he had meant. All that was appealing about it was the smell of coffee coming out of the door whenever a customer arrived or departed.
‘This is the cafe,’ he said and her heart sank.
‘I insist on buying you a drink to thank you for saving me earlier,’ Marina said, regretting her words as soon as she spoke and hoping he would refuse her invitation.
‘Thank you,’ said the man, pushing open the door. ‘My name is Ivan. What is yours?’
Knowing how often people had had trouble saying her name on previous holidays – if that’s what this was – she decided to use her middle name. ‘Sally,’ she said, holding out her hand across the chipped Formica tabletop. ‘Pleased to meet you, Ivan.’
The coffee was awful, but it was hot and the seat wasn’t too uncomfortable. Marina took out her guidebook. ‘Do you know anything about Rasputin?’ she asked.
‘Irena took me to the exhibition about him in the Yusupov Palace. He was shot there, but it wasn’t very interesting. Why?’
Marina held her breath as well as her words. Did she want to share her mission with a stranger? Erring on the side of caution, she feigned surprise. ‘Of course! That’s the name. It’s been on the tip of my tongue all day. Listen, I must dash. Nice to meet you. Bye!’
Running out of the cafe she looked around for a taxi. When she spotted one she waved and the driver stopped. ‘Yusupov Palace,’ she said, hoping her pronunciation was going to be good enough.
The driver said something, which might have been her own words pronounced properly, then set off. She didn’t notice Ivan getting in to a taxi, which followed when hers turned in to a side road heading for a bridge across the River Neva.