By Esther Rapaport

By Esther Rapaport

The watchtower that soared to the fifth floor of Nikolai Rosenberg’s estate was designed to elegantly blend into the scene. It looked like another architectural adornment on the sprawling luxury estate. But once inside, it became apparent that it was a full-blown watchtower, with all the accoutrements: two massive screens, one transmitting images of what was happening below in real time, and one serving as a huge database of images, names, and addresses. The walls were forty centimeters thick, the windows were barred and bulletproof, and five firing loopholes were situated opposite the weak points in the wall that surrounded the house. Nikolai Rosenberg was very good at protecting his possessions and his life.

The two armed guards who regularly sat in the tower had already chased away unwelcome guests, but they greeted the blue Volga now slowing down in front of the estate with folded arms.

“It’s them,” one of the guards said, studying the screen on the wall to his right. The images of the car projected on the database screen were identical to the one now driving below. Beside the image of the vehicle were three headshots: the editor of the Segodniya newspaper, writer Vasiliy Antonovitch, and the editor’s chauffeur.

“Send their pictures downstairs,” the guard on the right said. “They should check them close up. I can’t see the faces well enough from here …” He turned to the screen next to him and tried to maximize the images to the largest size possible, but the faces of the passengers were still too blurry. “It looks like them,” he finally said. “But I wouldn’t bet my life on it.”

After a few seconds, the iron gate in the wall opened, and the car glided into the gated complex. It took almost a full minute for the guards below to identify the passengers with certainty, and they opened the next gate.

“A prison,” Vasiliy Antonovich hissed, but he fell silent as the Volga drove into a breathtaking, illuminated lane. The trees lining both sides of the lane towered above them, and their leafy branches intertwined with one another, creating a canopy of ice dotted with tiny electric bulbs. Glistening white and clear icicles glittered in the strong fluorescent lights against the nighttime sky. No one in the car said a word until the car emerged from the blinding lane.

“A very specific kind of prison,” the editor observed dryly. “And I believe you wouldn’t object to living here.”

The vehicle advanced a bit further before being stopped by a uniformed man. He instructed the passengers to emerge from the car, and the driver was directed to an underground parking lot. Antonovich and the editor had to follow the uniformed man by foot.

They stood opposite the main entrance to Rosenberg’s palatial home. Vasiliy Antonovich reflected on how foolish it had been of him not to visit here before writing his silly article. It would have enabled the end product to be much, much richer. “Here you go,” their escort indicated with a broad sweep of the hand.

The two climbed the marble stairs, lined on either side with silver animal sculptures that squirted water in a series of patterns. The water spilled into small waterfalls and drained into an artificial river that encircled the house and disappeared behind it.

Their escort stopped in front of closed oak doors. “Forty minutes,” he said. “Every additional minute will cost you parking for your car.”

The editor didn’t say a word and was the first to enter the spacious corridor. Vasiliy followed.

Sitting at the head of a massive, carved table, on which rested only a bottle of clear liquid and a tray with a few crystal glasses, was Nikolai Rosenberg. By contrast to the grandeur of the tremendous hall, he sat on a simple wooden chair with a high back. He remained seated as he offered his hand in greeting.

“Good afternoon,” he said to the editor, ignoring the writer. “Please sit down. I’m sorry I didn’t come out to greet you. My back has been bothering me for the past two days.”

The editor sympathized politely and then said, “Mr. Rosenberg, when we made this appointment, your secretary asked what it would be about.”

“That’s correct,” the white-haired billionaire agreed, lacing his fingers together.

“Did you receive our reply?”

“Indeed,” he said in the same tone of voice.

“Then please allow our former reporter to explain himself.”

Rosenberg cast a fleeting glance at Antonovich and then nodded.

Esther Rapaport is a prolific author whose novels include Diamond in the Rough, Divided Attention, Behind the Scenes, Without a Trace, Dance of the Puppet, Blood Brothers, and The Kenya Conspiracy. She resides in Israel. Stay tuned for the next installment in next week’s Five Towns Jewish Times or visit 5tjt.com for more.

 

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