Viktor was angry. Not about the Politsiya agents pounding at the door. This was an anger that had plagued him since adolescence - the anger of the escaped sneeze.
Born into poverty, the youngest of nine, Viktor’s childhood possessed few luxuries. His clothes wore the scars of older brothers; food was scraps he begged for or stole.
But one pleasure, one he needn’t share nor fight for, was a pure, free, unstoppable sneeze. Something he could own.
When he’d escaped Siberia’s frozen steppes for Moscow’s domed cathedrals and mighty processions to forge and betray alliances, he’d treated this natural function almost religiously.
He’d learned to slow his breathing, feel the quiver of nostril hairs, savour the explosive climax.
Now, as an acetylene flame traces a molten rivulet in the steel door, he remembers a particularly satisfying sneeze at the Bolshoi, sat with the Kremlin’s elite.
A lifetime of memories captured in handkerchiefs.
After Viktor had made millions, then billions, exploiting the Soviet Union’s downfall, acquiring and bribing, embezzling and defrauding, this simple comfort still brought such happiness.
But it could be stolen. A turn of the head, an unexpected sound, and the moment was all but lost.
He’d discovered that by closing his eyes and facing the sun, he could often snatch it back from oblivion.
Sometimes his technique failed, and all the wealth that had bought power and changed nations, crushed royalty and empowered capitalists, he’d trade in an instant.
So it was that when the Politsiya broke into Viktor’s panic room, they found Siberia’s richest man surrounded by Picassos and antique Qingbai wares,
Brancusi sculptures and gold-plated AK47s, stood, staring blindly at a fluorescent strip light, desperately searching for that one pleasure that beat them all,
the one craving his wealth could never satiate, the power of the sneeze.