While They Sleep

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 19 (v.1) - Learning To Fly

Submitted: April 15, 2016

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Comments: 2

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Submitted: April 15, 2016



The woman who would function as my assistant met me at the helipad.  Galina Gerasimova.  She was much more than an assistant, though.  Galina and her husband Artur were in charge of the entire operation.  The lodge was a happening place. 

The roof had been completed.  Most of the exterior walls were finished and had windows and doors in place.  The west wing was an exception, plastic sheets temporarily covered the openings.

It was the middle of winter and snow was everywhere.  Work on the exterior had been suspended until spring.  Each of the two wings contained guest rooms.  The center of the building contained the kitchen and dining room, a large den with a massive stone fireplace, and a number of offices and meeting rooms. 

Inside, another plastic sheet covered the hallway to the west wing.  The crew spent the winter finishing the interior of the common areas and the east wing.  We slept and ate in construction trailers.

I found out Galina and Artur were good at what they do.  He was the foreman.  She handled the ordering of supplies, managed the equipment, and did whatever else was necessary to operate the facility. 

Both seemingly worked from dusk to dawn, seven days a week.  And were happy about it.  As with the other Russians I had gotten to know, their childhood had been quite different from mine.  We were about the same age.  Although Wales, Alaska was poor by American standards, my youth was nothing like what Galina and Artur experienced, growing up as the Soviet economy collapsed. 

They sent much of their wages to their families.  They were lucky Mr. Dmitryev had hired them.  Even though the new economy was officially open for business, jobs that paid well were scarce.

When I told Galina what I needed, it would show up, by truck or helicopter, six to eight weeks later.  I stored the fishing and hunting supplies in the unfinished west wing.  Artur’s crew installed a huge walk-in gun safe in what would soon be my office.

Even though the kitchen had not been completed, a team of gourmet chefs was already on site.  The trailer they worked in reminded me of an army mess hall, with better food.  Fresh fare was delivered twice a week.  The crew ate well.  For the first time in my life, I began developing a belly.  I resolved to get more exercise. 

I started going on long hikes, carrying a pack and a rifle.  I had already been making notes and drawings of the trails.  I set up campsites, hunting blinds and stands. 

I hunted rabbit, deer, and grouse.  According to my boss, the majority of the clients he would bring to the lodge would not be experienced hunters.  I focused my attention on the more common game.  Prey that would be easy to find and shoot, for a novice. 

Despite the freezing conditions, fishing was no problem in the winter.  It was a simple matter to cut holes in the ice covering the lake.  My popularity at the lodge increased dramatically when the chefs turned the fish and game I brought them into dinner.

Spring came, the snow began to melt, and construction ramped up.  The first visitors would be here soon.  There were trails for hiking, and locations set up for camping and hunting.  The shooting and archery ranges were completed.  The minnow pond had been dug and populated.  I was ready for the guests.

The only thing I was waiting on was the pier.  The carpentry crew was still focused exclusively on the lodge.  That was okay, we could fish from the shore.  For the boat, I built a small, temporary dock by myself.  When nothing else was going on, I did gopher work for the construction crew. 

Work at the Saskylakh mine also resumed with the warmer weather.  On his way there, Mr. Dmitryev stopped by the lodge to check on our progress.  I flew back to Perm with him. There, I met the other members of the security team.

Anatoly was in charge.  Yury was the driver as well as the jet and helicopter pilot.  I would be the utility man.  Our first job as a team was to escort Mr. Dmitryev to Saskylakh.

We flew to Yakutsk, the nearest transportation hub.  For 500 kilometers northwest towards Saskylakh, there was an existing road.  The remaining 900 kilometers had previously been a combination of dirt roads and narrow trails.  Of that, the road crew had leveled, graded, and graveled about 100 kilometers.  The rest of the way, enough leveling and filling in had been done to allow trucks to get through.  But there were stretches that became impassable with rain or snow.

We were in a customized UAZ that Mr. Dmitryev kept in Yakutsk.  He’d upgraded the engine and the suspension, and installed larger tires.  The beefed up vehicle would have its work cut out for it.  There had been a heavy rain the day before.

To our boss, the road was as important as the mine.  It would need to be a safe and reliable passageway for large trucks before the mine could be put into full scale operation.

Progress at the mine was hindered by the remote location and poor access.  At some places we could only travel 10 kilometers per hour, barely faster than walking speed.  Mr. Dmitreyev said trucks carrying heavy equipment often got bogged down.  What should be a one-day drive sometimes turned into two or three days.  More than once, someone got stuck and tow trucks from Yakutsk had to come to the rescue.  That could block traffic on the road, in both directions, for days.

Aside from having to winch our way through the occasional muddy spot, we made it to Saskylakh without any problems.  It is an open pit mine.  The diamonds are relatively close to the surface.  Explosives break up the ore, which is loaded into trucks and hauled to the separation facility.  As the operation progresses, the mine will become a very large, cone shaped hole in the ground, with a spiral road around the edge for the trucks. 

Mr. Dmitryev explained that the equipment now at the site was too small to profitably mine diamonds.  Giant machines, such as draglines and bucket wheels, as well as oversized loaders and trucks, were in use at competing mines.  The largest equipment has to be transported in pieces, then assembled on site.  There was no railroad within 1000 kilometers of Saskylakh.  We had just been on the only road, and it was barely passable in a vehicle designed for rough terrain.

There was a sense of urgency in his voice when he talked about this.  By now I had an understanding of Mr. Dmitryev’s financial situation.  A number of wealthy individuals and corporations had formed an investment consortium.  That was the source of his money.  However, foreigners were not allowed to operate businesses openly in the new Russian economy. 

Valery was the inside man, and the public face of the corporation.  Born and raised in Russia, a man who understood human nature and knew how to navigate through the cutthroat world of business.

I suspected the men bankrolling my boss were just as ambitious, ruthless, and impatient as he was.  I knew the money flowing through his hands will dry up quickly, if the mine did not start producing the profits he promised, and soon.

We made it back to Moscow without any real excitement.  About the only constructive thing I did was hook the winch cable to a tree.  The entire trip, Mr. Dmitreyev talked about the details of the operation.  I got the impression that was for my benefit. 

I had moved up the ladder quickly at Semak Enterprises.  Valery had hinted several times that he hoped the diamond bug would bite me and make me want to delve deeper into the business. 

As far as I was concerned, I couldn’t wait to get back to the lodge.  I had just spent five days elbow to elbow with three other men.  I needed some alone time in the woods.

He probably understood that as well as I did.  Still, he had managed to get his ideas stuck inside my head.  On the long flight back to Moscow, I kept thinking about the road construction between Yakutsk and Saskylakh.

The Sakha region of Siberia was nothing like the mountains where I had battled rebels while in the Army.  But there was plenty of danger.  The region was sparsely populated.  Help would be far away for anyone in trouble.  I mentioned to Mr. Dmitryev that many of the survival strategies we used in the Army would apply to crews on the road. 

Things like caching emergency supplies at strategic locations.  And survival training.  Even in the middle of summer, it can get cold enough at night in Siberia for an exposed person to develop frostbite.  By the time the plane touched down in Moscow, I had another job responsibility.  I would put together an emergency plan for potential problems on the road, manage the caching of supplies, and teach wilderness survival to the drivers, construction workers and miners who travel on the road. 

That was fine with me.  While I was on security detail, I would have to wear a coat and tie.  When my boss was in meetings, I might spend hours standing or sitting outside of a door.  I liked working for Valery, and took my job seriously.  But I realized I was not cut out for that kind of work.  It was boring.  I would have just as soon been peeling potatoes in the kitchen at Ushmun, with my leg shackled to a piece of railroad track.

I jumped at the opportunity to get back in the field.  When I was young, I wondered why Eastwood chose to live in a remote place like Wales.  After experiencing megacities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, and after getting a taste of the world of high finance with Valery, I understood.  You cannot place a monetary value on peace and quiet.  Or, waking up under an open sky.

This was the least exciting job I’d ever had.  When January 2nd rolled around, I realized I’d gone an entire year without getting into a fight or being shot at. 

I also had an extraordinary amount of freedom.  Being a hunting guide, or teaching survival skills to the Saskylakh crews, was more fun than work.  There were plenty of days when I did not have any scheduled responsibilities. 

Then, I would go on long hikes at the lodge, or hunt and fish.  I was always thinking about ways to improve the facility.  I wanted to give each set of visitors a unique experience. 

From time to time, being a tour guide provided moments of excitement.  People hunting or hiking sometimes twist an ankle.  A few folks fell out of the fishing boat.  Mr. Dmitryev was very happy with how I took care of Mr. Rasmussen, when he experienced a heart condition on a bird-watching tour.

Valery told me to pull out all of the stops.  Norsk Jewelers LTD was the biggest diamond retailer in Norway, and had affiliations with companies across Europe and America.  If Mr. Dmitryev could close the deal, Norsk would be our single biggest customer.  Arne Rasmussen was the CEO.  On a warm summer morning, I took him and three associates on a hike in the Ural Mountains.  The boss would be joining us at the lodge that evening.

Before the hikes, I always gave the guests a lecture, and showed them slides of the different species of wildlife we were likely to encounter.  As we walked, I carried a clipboard with a list, and I marked off the plants and animals they recognized.  I had learned from Eastwood, people will pay attention to anything, if you turn it into a game.

It was a beautiful day.  My guests were impressed by my knowledge of the flora and fauna that surrounded us.  Each of them carried expensive cameras. 

I do not speak Norwegian, but Mr. Rasmussen and I were able to communicate in German and English.  He was amazed that I was able to “speak English just like an American.” 

We were three kilometers away from the lodge and I had already made a number of marks on the wildlife checklist.  I was in the lead when I heard the unmistakable thud of a body hitting the ground.  I turned.  The other men were gathering around Mr. Rasmussen.  He was conscious but something was not right. 

Eastwood had made sure I knew CPR and basic first aid.  Over the years, I had dealt with cuts and broken bones, and the occasional bullet wound.  But that was the extent of my medical skills.  Even though no one was shooting at me, I felt a twinge of panic.  I took a deep breath and tried to compose myself.

Mr. Rasmussen was awake, but he was pale and his speech was slurred.  I checked his pulse.  It was weak and irregular.  I suspected something was wrong with his heart.  I felt my stomach churning.  I was responsible, but I did not know what to do next. 

I was in over my head.  The man obviously needed to be in a hospital or an ambulance, and we were a long way from either.  Then, it hit me.

Mr. Dmitryev’s Mi-6 transport helicopter was at the lodge.  Another example of the man’s influence.  Almost all of the Mi-6s in Russia were in the hands of the military or a government agency.  We used it to ferry construction equipment between Saskylakh and the lodge. 

I’d flown in the machine and knew it had a rescue harness and a winch.  We could have Mr. Rasmussen at the hospital in Perm quickly, once we got him in the helicopter.  I explained to the men what I was going to do, then took off running.

A few minutes later, the helicopter was hovering over the trees.  After descending through the branches via harness and cable, I strapped Mr. Rasmussen in.  The helicopter crew took over from there.  They hoisted the patient into the cargo bay, and the aircraft’s twin turboshaft engines carried him to Perm.

I escorted the other men back down the trail.  Galina was on the phone with the hospital when we got to the lodge.  The helicopter had delivered Mr. Rasmussen and he was being cared for.  She had spoken to Mr. Dmitryev in Moscow.  He was on his way to the airport.  And she had chartered a jet in Oslo to bring Mrs. Rasmussen to Perm.  Once again, I marveled at Valery’s far reach.

The helicopter returned to the lodge and picked up myself and Mr. Rasmussen’s companions.  We were sitting in the waiting room at the hospital when my boss arrived.  The mood lightened up considerably after the doctor spoke to us. 

The patient was stable and they were preparing to admit him to a room for observation.  I didn’t understand everything the doctor said.  I asked him to spell the diagnosis.  I wrote atrial fibrillation in my log book and made a mental note to read up on that the next time I was in a library.

The doctor said the medications they gave Mr. Rasmussen made his heart start beating properly again.  He was going to be okay.  They transferred him to a private room.A few hours later, his wife arrived.

I had read most of the magazines in the waiting room when Valery found me.  He seemed quite happy.  “Let’s go for a walk.” 

We went outside.  He said, “I just spent the last hour listening to Arne brag about you.  He swears you saved his life.  Mrs. Rasmussen wants to adopt you and take you home.  I am fairly certain, at this point, you have sealed our biggest sales contract to date.  I know you don’t care about money but I will find a way to reward you for this.”

I said, “I wasn’t ready for what happened.  We need to be more prepared for emergencies.  In the Army, we set up radio relay stations so we could communicate no matter where we were in the mountains.  We need to do something.  I don’t want to be caught off guard again.”

Valery smiled and said, “That is why you will have a job with me as long as you want.  Now, quit feeling sorry for yourself and get back to the lodge.  Figure out the details, then tell Galina what you need.”

The next morning, I woke up feeling unusually relaxed.  I would not understand what was happening until later.  The events of the previous day were a turning point for me. 

Irina had told me many times, I carried the guilt of Eastwood’s death inside my head.  I was at school that day, oblivious, while my uncle died alone, just a few miles away.

Somehow, Mr. Rasmussen became a substitute for Eastwood.  Yesterday, I was there and saw what was happening.  I was able to intervene.  I did what Eastwood would have expected me to do.  It was the first, small step, on a long road toward self-forgiveness.

I immersed myself in my tasks at the lodge and forgot Valery’s promise of a reward.  Until the day he landed at the lodge in the Mi-1 helicopter.  I recognized the model from my days at the air base in Bagram.  It was small and slow compared to the combat and transport helicopters I was used to.  But it was well designed and reliable.

Mr. Dmitryev had taken what I said about emergency preparedness to heart.  He decided the lodge needed a helicopter permanently on site.  I met him at the landing pad.  He introduced me to the pilot. 

“Ivan, I’d like you to meet Oleg Rusakov.  He is a certified flight instructor.”  I shook the man’s hand.  Valery handed me a stack of manuals.  “You’ll need to read these before your first lesson.  Please be careful.  I will be very disappointed if you crash your new toy.”

© Copyright 2018 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.


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