Dissidentsby Neal Shusterman
Moving to Moscow from Chicago isn't easy, especially if your mother is the US Ambassador. Derek must be well-mannered and presentablethere are parties to go to and state dinners to attend. but Derek has decided to break all the rules and risk everything to reunite a beautiful Russian girl with her dissident father living in exile. That means traveling
Moving to Moscow from Chicago isn't easy, especially if your mother is the US Ambassador. Derek must be well-mannered and presentablethere are parties to go to and state dinners to attend. but Derek has decided to break all the rules and risk everything to reunite a beautiful Russian girl with her dissident father living in exile. That means traveling hundreds of miles by train to the Romanian border.
With the help of some young Muscovites, Derek begins a perilous journey. But he has a lot more to confront along the way than just the KGB. He must first face up to his mother and come to terms with the ghost of his dead father if he's ever going to succeed.
"The Russian setting and the romance between the ambassador's son and a Soviet dissident's daughter will attract those looking for an involving read..."A.L.A. Booklist
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1st ed
- Product dimensions:
- 0.56(w) x 8.50(h) x 5.50(d)
- Age Range:
- 12 Years
Read an Excerpt
What's Wrong with This Picture?
Derek was not about to let a simple change of address disturb his daily routine.
It was three o'clock, and at three o'clock it was time to play basketball. And so, equipped with his Sony Discman CD player, his Chicago Bulls jacket, and his Spalding leather basketball, Derek ventured out into the streets of Moscow.
Early in April, 1989; a bright and chilly day. In high spirits and with more energy than he was expected to have, Derek strode through the crowded streets, ignoring an incredible headache that never seemed to go away. He wandered between the rows of gray buildings in search of a court to play on, and maybe even someone to beat in a nice game of one-on-one. In the week that he had been in the Soviet Union, he had yet to come across a basket.
Today, Derek made his way toward the center of the city and found himself in yet another small park that seemed designed solely as a haven for the dark bronze statue in the middle of it. Although most of Moscow's parks were crowded and pleasant, this one was not. There were cold, uninviting benches by the paths, and only one was occupiedan old woman with big red cheeks and a heavy coat sat there, looking only a bit more content than the statue.
Derek bounced his ball across the cobblestone path of the park, dribbling carefully, because cobblestones made basketballs very unpredictable. He dribbled in circles, hopping to and fro, and managed to elude all the imaginary opponents before him.
"Ferretti takes the ball downcourt," he said for his own amusement. "Fifteen seconds left in the game, the Bulls down by one. Can Ferretti pull it off?"
The old woman looked at him as if he were crazy. He dribbled and turned, losing possession of the ball when it hit a crooked stone. He raced after it, catching it before it bounced off the path. "Ferretti regains possession of the ball with ten seconds left!" The old woman continued to stare at this spectacle, drawn in, no doubt, by the excitement of Derek's play-by-play sportscast. Derek faked to the right and drove toward the statue.
Before him, in the center of the small park, the dark bronze statue loomed like a frightening guardian of a mysterious culturea man with a domed, bald head and a neat, pointed beard. Without looking at the face, Derek would have known who it was. All he had to see were the long coat and the dignified position of the hands, placed just so. It was Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the most revered Comrade of them all.
Lenin, Derek had noticed, bore an odd resemblance to Oz, "the Great and Powerful." This was an observation he kept to himself, however, since such a comparison could get him into a great amount of trouble. Not only with the Soviet Union, but with his mother, who was infinitely more dangerous than the Kremlin.
"Five seconds remaining in the game! Can Ferretti do it?"
The look of power and determination in Mr. Lenin's face made him a wonderful opponent for Derek. Staring the statue in the eye, he dribbled low, using peripheral vision. He faked to the right, faked to the left. The statue was not deceived. Derek held the ball, then passed it to the statue. It bounced off the statue's chest, back to Derek, and Derek drove around Mr. Lenin to score. So much for stonewall defense.
"The crowd goes wild!" yelled Derek. "He's done it! With one second remaining, Derek 'Fireball' Ferretti sinks the final basket and says 'lights out' to Lenin's Red Brigade!" Derek cranked up the volume of the Discman CD player, which was already blasting into his brain, and began to sing along to the hard-rock tune.
The old woman with the red cheeks let her jaw drop open. She seemed about ready to have a coronary. Derek saw her mumble something to herself in annoyance.
Derek glanced back at Lenin the Great and Powerful, solemn guardian of all things Soviet. Lenin glared back down at Derek as if to say, "We are not amused by American teenagers dribbling basketballs and singing loudly in public."
It was as Derek was leaving the small park that he caught sight of it: a big black sedan way down the road, moving along with him, following his every move so obviously that it was almost a joke. It crept along like a slow black bull.
Derek was being followedbut today he was determined to shake them off his tail.
Derek faked to the right, and ducked down a thin cold alley. The alley did not see much light and was still filled with patches of old hard snow. It had a damp smell to it, like all alleys. It could have been an alley anywhere in the world. It smelled like New York City, or Chicagothe two places where Derek had spent most of his fifteen years. Oddly enough, he was less frightened of the alleys here than of those back in the States.
Derek emerged from the alley and onto Olimpiyski Prospekt, "Olympic Avenue," a busy street that he recognized. From here he could find his way to wherever he wanted to go, and he knew where he was headed next. The black car spotted him once more as it came around the corner, and Derek hurried down the street to get away from it. Onward to Red Square.
The Kremlin was always great fun. Mainly because of the various reactions of the guards and militiamen as he got closer to Red Square. Some would completely ignore him, while others would make a fuss about his running by, watching him carefully as he passed. They would whisper among themselves in Russian, wondering if this dribbling American was some sort of threat to national security.
To Derek, being ignored was worse than being eyed suspiciously, and the Soviet Union was pretty good at treating Derek both ways. Half the time he was a dangerous spy, and the other half he simply didn't exist.
Derek finally reached the immense triangular fortress of the Kremlin, a walled city-within-a-city. Enclosed within that wall were the ancient buildings and gold-domed churches of the tsars, and the newer Palace of Congresses built by the Communist Party. (If it's a party, Derek once asked, then how come no one's dancing? His translator had decided not to translate that particular joke into Russian.) It was amazing to think that somewhere on the other side of the red-brick towers and walls of the Kremlin, most of the decisions of the Soviet Union were made, so close to Derek and his basketball.
To his right, at the visitors' entrance to the Kremlin, stood two white-gloved guards. For three days, Derek had come up to these two men, dribbling his ball, trying to get a reaction from them. He would dribble in a circle, and between his legs; then he would look at the guards. Nothing. He would dribble high, dribble low, throw the ball into the air, catch it on his index finger, and spin it. No reaction. The guards completely ignored him.
Then, yesterday, Derek dribbled up to the guards, and one of them just stuck out his hand and grabbed the ball away. The guard, who was a full head taller than Derek's five-foot-two, held the ball tightly, looked at Derek with dark brown Soviet eyes, and said two English words, with the heaviest of Russian accents.
"Double dribble," he said. Then he smiled and handed the ball back to Derek. The other guard laughed, and Derek had smiled as well. In the week he had been in the Soviet Union, no Soviet had smiled at him. Not that they didn't smilethey did, but never at him.
That was yesterday. Now Derek had enough respect for those guards not to bother them anymore. Instead, Derek turned left, and dribbled down the half-mile-long Kremlin wall, pressing on toward Red Square. The black car, which had found him again, followed him all the way, staying twenty yards behind.
When Derek reached the end of the Kremlin wall, he could see the huge cobblestone expanse of Red Square, bounded on the far end by Saint Basil's Cathedral.
Derek liked Saint Basil's; it was like no other cathedral he had ever seen. It had tall spires and domes that swirled with bright colorsred, blue, yellow, and greenand each spire was covered with textures that caught deep intricate shadows. Every dome bulged, then tapered, like an onion, and swirled toward a gold crown, topped with a gold cross. The swirling colors of the domes gave the illusion that they were spinning ever so slightly. At first sight, a few days before, Derek had noted that Saint Basil's sort of looked like a weird collection of giant Dairy Queen cones. He didn't tell anyone this, because he didn't want to sound too stupid.
Derek slowed and stopped at the edge of Red Square, holding his basketball, thinking what his next move should be. There were groups of militiamen hanging around as if they had nothing to do. None of them took notice of Derek, but he could swear plain-clothed KGB men were watching him. (The KGB, Derek knew, was like the CIA, only worsewhich was hard to imagine. In most movies, the CIA were the bad guys, unless there were Russians in the movie. Then the CIA were the good guys, and the KGB were the bad guys.)
Derek never had the guts to dribble his basketball in Red Square, mostly because of Lenin's tomb. The red marble monument, which rested by the back wall of the Kremlin, always had a long, snaking line of people waiting to pay their respects to their leader, whose body lay beyond the big black doors of the monument, preserved eternally in a glass casket for all to see. No one would dare to speak near the tomb, much less dribble a basketball toward it; the tomb guards probably had orders to shoot to kill, or something like that.
Still, the idea of dribbling right through Red Square was very tempting. It would certainly be an obnoxious thing to do, but that had never stopped Derek before. He was fifteenhe could still get away with being obnoxious.
It was a scary prospect, thinking of the sort of trouble it could get him into. He had heard the story of some Westerner who had, just for fun, flown a plane over Soviet airspace and landed in Red Square. "He was up the creek-ski without a paddle-ski," Derek's father had said. On the other hand, what was so bad about dribbling a basketball in a public square? But on the other hand, Ralphy Sherman, an old friend from home, had once told Derek that the Russians punish kids by spooning out their eyeballs and serving them for dinner in borscht. (Of course, Ralphy Sherman also claimed that he had swum in molten lava during his trip to Hawaii, so no one much trusted what Ralphy Sherman said, but you never know.…)
Derek turned to see that the black car was nowhere in sight, because no vehicles were allowed in Red Square. If Derek were going to dribble across the square, it was now or never. He took a deep breath, cranked up the music in his ears, and raced off toward the far corner of Red Square.
Dribbling as fast as he could, and keeping as far away from Lenin's tomb as possible, Derek wove in and out of the crowds until they thinned.
A minute later, Derek found himself in the center of the square, alone, just one single American boy bouncing a ball for all of Moscow to see. The cool April wind brushed across his face as he pressed on, moving closer and closer to the far end of the famous square.
As he neared the far corner, an odd sense of accomplishment overcame him. He had actually done it! He must have been the first American ever to dribble a basketball across Red Square. Surely that deserved a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. He wove through the crowds at the end of the square, and raced past St. Basil's (which, Derek noted, not only resembled a bumper crop of Dairy Queen cones, but also looked a bit like "It's a Small World" in Disneyland).
Just when Derek thought he'd got off scot-free, something unexpected happened…something that had to do with his brand-new high-top all-star white leather basketball shoes. Derek was in the habit of wearing his high-tops loose and untied one hundred percent of the time. Of course he always tucked in the laces, but laces never liked to stay tucked in. More often than not, they trailed along the ground behind him. It never bothered him much, except for those rare occasions when he tripped on them. Like now.
Derek went flying head over heels, and the basketball flew out of his hands. The black car screeched to a halt in front of him, and the basketball rebounded off the car door and back to Derek. He grabbed the ball, and stood to face the music.
They had found him, and there was nowhere he could run.
Now he was in for it. Up the creek-ski, without a paddle-ski.
A window squeaked down, and inside the big black car two men wearing reflecting sunglasses peered out at Derek. Neither one seemed too happy.
"Derek," said the man closest to him, "you're a royal pain, you know that?"
"Just keeping busy," said Derek, still bouncing his ball.
"You're driving everyone crazy! Why don't you slow down for once? Just relax!"
"Can't relax! Gotta keep busy!" Derek smoothly dribbled the ball between his legs. Keeping busy was very important. Derek had his reasons, and he didn't have to explain them to anyone. He smiled at the two men in the car. "Wanna play basketball?" he asked, more to be obnoxious than anything else.
The man closest to him took off his glasses and peered at Derek with an American sort of sternness quite different from that of the guards, the old woman, or the statue of Lenin. His name was Jim Briggs, but Derek called him Big Jim. He was from somewhere in the Midwest, had huge shoulders and bad breath. The one driving the car was Harold Welch, the family chauffeur. Harold didn't talk very much. He just carried a gun.
"Your mother won't be happy," said Big Jim.
"Listen, have you ever thought that if you weren't following me all the time, I might not be such a royal pain?"
"It's my job to follow you, Derek," said Big Jim.
Derek began dribbling once more. "I don't need a bodyguard," he said, which was absolutely true, as far as Derek was concerned. So, he was the ambassador's son. Big deal. No other American in Moscow had, or needed, a bodyguard. His mom said it was for his protection, but Derek knew the truth: it was to keep Derek out of trouble. She didn't trust him, plain and simple.
"You don't know the language, or your way around, Derek," said Big Jim, as if he were talking to a small child. That always made Derek angry.
"What are they going to do? Lock me in the Kremlin dungeon, and spoon out my eyeballs? They don't do that stuff," he said. "…anymore," he added.
"Don't be so sure," said Harold-the-Gun.
Derek's eyeballs began to hurt at just the thought of it.
"You should consider yourself lucky," said Big Jim. "How many kids even get to have a bodyguard?"
"Yeah," said Derek, "I'm real lucky." He turned to look at the people around Red Square. Far across was a group of kids on their way home from school. A bit closer were a boy and girl a year or two older than Derek, talking and laughing together. These were people he could not talk to, because he didn't know their language. Even if he could talk to them, what would he say? What would they have to say to him? As long as Derek had to answer to Big Jim and Harold-the-Gun, Derek was afraid he would never find out. If it were up to his mother, he would spend all his life either at home, or at the Anglo-American School. No contact with the outside world. Ever. And it wasn't easy to keep busy when you couldn't even go out into the street.
"All right," said Derek. "Maybe you guys can be useful after all." He spun the ball on his finger. "Tell me where I can find a basketball court."
"The Anglo-American School gym…"
"I don't want to use the Anglo-American School gym," said Derek. "The floor is sticky, and it smells like puke. Why can't I play basketball where the Soviet kids play?"
Big Jim didn't answer him; he just shook his head in the same way the old woman had. Perhaps Americans and Soviets weren't that different, after all. They all seemed to have the same opinion of Derek.
Derek knew for a fact that the Soviets played basketball but, try as he might, he couldn't seem to find a single park that had a basketball court. The Anglo-American School gym, aside from being sticky and smelling awful, was filled with older American and British kids this time of the daykids whom he already disliked. When school started on Monday, after Easter vacation, he'd have more than enough time with them. Now Derek wanted some time to play ball with Soviet kids, and he was getting pretty annoyed that no one would let him.
Still no answer from Big Jim. "It's almost dinnertime, Derek," Big Jim finally said. "Why don't you come with us?"
Derek sighed, tossed the ball in the back seat, and got in. Just like his father had always said, it's impossible to get an answer from someone who works for a government.
Copyright © 1989 by Neal Shusterman
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