MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
From his suite in the Hotel Baltschug Kempinski, Robert Wentworth Hamilton had a panoramic view of the Kremlin, Red Square, and St. Basil’s Cathedral—a skyline of fortress towers and religious spires that proclaimed Russia’s long history of war and peace. Hamilton, a man of great wealth and few disappointments, turned away from the window and tried to focus his thoughts on what to do next.
His secretive business partner, Kuri Basayev, one of Russia’s richest oligarchs, had summoned—Yes, Hamilton bitterly thought, that is the proper word: summoned—Hamilton to Moscow. Basayev told Hamilton he was to await word for a private jet that would take him from Moscow to Turkey, where a helicopter would fly him out to Basayev’s yacht in the Black Sea. There, Hamilton expected, Basayev would try to force him to give up the company he had founded—SpaceMine. The name defined its purpose: mining in space, extracting riches from asteroids. Basayev wanted those riches, and he would do anything to get them.
On Hamilton’s first day in Moscow, he ventured out of the hotel to cross the nearby bridge across the Moskva River, bending into the chill wind. Once in Red Square, he ignored Lenin’s mausoleum and the huge GUM department store. He was drawn as if by a magnet to St. Basil’s. Within the cathedral’s cluster of colorful domes he wandered through a maze of galleries and narrow stairways, stopping at each chapel, praying to what he reverently saw as another manifestation of his own fundamental Christianity.
On his second day, he returned to the cathedral. While standing at the silver casket of St. Basil the Blessed, he was greeted by a white-bearded man in a long black cassock and a tall black headpiece; hanging around his neck was a pectoral cross on a golden chain. The man raised his right hand in blessing, and, speaking in lightly accented English, identified himself as Bishop Nikoli Vosnesenski. “We believe that here our ancestors built a place unlike any other,” he told Hamilton. “It is a place that makes us think of the Heavenly City.”
Hamilton introduced himself as a Christian and said, “Perhaps, after the Final Days, we will meet again in that Heaven.”
“As you may know,” the bishop said, “the original colors of the cathedral followed the depiction of the Heavenly City in the Book of Revelation. God’s throne was of precious stones and there was ‘a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.’”
“No. I did not know that, Your Holiness. But I have great interest in the Book of Revelation and The End Time.”
During Hamilton’s visit to the cathedral the next day, the bishop invited him to join him and his driver on a trip to Krasnogorsk, a town about fifteen miles northwest of central Moscow. There, they visited a small brick church that could have been found on a country road in America. They stood together and gazed at an icon of Jesus. Hamilton told of his belief in the Last Days, the end of time, when God would punish Earth with war, famine, and plague. Then, finally, Jesus would return.
When Hamilton finished his screed, the bishop touched his arm and said, “Look at the eyes of Jesus. They are eyes of compassion. But your eyes are hard and troubled. Why?”
“I am a very rich man,” Hamilton had said. “I should be able to do what I want to do. I am very angry.”
They returned to Moscow in silence. When the bishop dropped Hamilton off, he gave him his card and a Russian bible. “I will remember the eyes of Jesus. Thank you,” Hamilton had said. “And I will have one part of this Bible translated.”
“What part?” the bishop asked.
“The part that tells of the Final Days,” Hamilton had replied. “To me, that is the most important part of the Bible.”
He had hoped that there would be a message from Basayev when he returned to his room. There was no message, and that night he had learned why. On the evening English-language GNN News Hour, the anchorwoman reported that Basayev’s yacht had sunk in the Black Sea. There were no survivors.
Meeting canceled, Hamilton pragmatically thought. He could not mourn for Basayev. Mourning, it seemed to him, questioned God’s plan; life comes and goes by His plan. Those thoughts were crowded out of his mind by a practical realization: He should return to America, but, at the moment, that would not be a prudent idea.
* * *
Now, after a good night’s sleep and his usual ten laps in the hotel pool, he showered and dressed, donning a pair of gray slacks and a white shirt, and shuffled, sockless, into a pair of loafers. He was, at fifty-three, one of the wealthiest men in the world—and one of the healthiest. He prided himself on looking ten years younger, though he was graying, and new furrows appeared when he frowned, which was often. He looked forward to some days of solitude, dedicated to visiting St. Basil’s, perhaps talking with the bishop, and playing out possibilities about his next moves. He believed that he was a smart, decisive businessman whose principal skill was analytical, long-term thinking. He could do that anywhere.
He responded to a soft tapping on his door with the command “Enter!” A maid wheeled in his breakfast of tea and toast and silently withdrew. Propped up next to the gilded teapot was a copy of the Moscow Times, an English-language newspaper. In America, he usually got his news from his iPad or, on occasion, GNN. So a morning newspaper was a novelty to him. On the front page was a story about the sinking of Basayev’s yacht, which, he read, was caused by “a boiler explosion.” Basayev was described as wealthy and secretive, which, Hamilton thought, summed him up rather well.
Hamilton firmly believed that God’s Plan had kept him from Basayev’s yacht and that he was destined to stay alive for some divine purpose. He found himself standing at a window and mingling his thoughts with his recollection of St. Basil’s labyrinth. The cathedral’s spires caught the morning sun and looked to him like the flames of a great fire reaching to the heavens.
Hearing faint sounds of sirens, he lowered his gaze to the streets below. Something was going on. Police in helmets and bulky gear were piling out of vans and stopping traffic at intersections and at both ends of the Moskva River bridge. Cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, and bicycles pulled over to the curbs. Then, suddenly, three vehicles, blue rooftop lights flashing, sped across the bridge, turned and stopped at the entrance of the hotel.
A few minutes later, Hamilton heard a pounding on his door. Annoyed at being disturbed, he threw open the door and was about to yell at somebody when he saw two large men in black suits. The younger of the two said, in stilted English, “Come. See President Lebed.” He pointed to the bedroom and pantomimed putting on a coat.
When Hamilton hesitated, the man brushed past him to the bedroom, took a blue windbreaker from the closet, held it up for Hamilton to put on, and nudged him forward toward the elevator, where a third man in a black suit waited. The four men entered, one of them fitted a key card into a slot, and the elevator descended. The lobby was empty, except for police officers and nervous-looking hotel employees. The three men in black escorted Hamilton to the hotel marquee. The doorman had disappeared. Hamilton shivered, reacting to the cold and not to fear, he told himself. One of the men opened a passenger door to an armored SUV, and Hamilton quickly entered.
Lebed echoed in Hamilton’s head like a mantra that kept him from an angry, panicky reaction to what seemed to be an arrest. He knew little about Boris Lebed, the president of the Russian Federation, who had succeeded Vladimir Putin. He left politics, both domestic and foreign, to people who, as he put it, were paid to keep him from being surprised. This morning he was very surprised.
Copyright © 2018 by William S. Cohen