“Look, that dog is asking for money!”
Timothy pointed at the thick furred husky with a plastic pot clasped between his teeth.
“Don’t give any money to dog. Is lazy man ask for money.” Anya clicked her fingers and hurried on with her clipboard raised, robbing the dog of its best chance of a meal that day.
The children filed along the snowy pavement with their heads bowed. One of the boys stamped his feet with every step to combat the cold seeping in through his soles. The two girls in front followed the tour leader obediently, silently, with their hands jammed deep into their pockets. Anya gave them a warming smile.
It was only 9 a.m. but this was the second time Timothy had held up the group; earlier it was to question a businessman buying his breakfast, a litre of strong beer. They would never beat the crowds at this rate. They turned right onto the arched bridge that would lead them over the river towards the Hermitage museum.
“Do you know children, that if you look at every exhibit for ten seconds, how long would take your visit?”
Before the children could guess, Anya stopped abruptly, noticing the black and yellow tape across the raised middle section of the bridge. She instinctively unfastened the belt from around her black wool coat widening her profile and trying to block the children’s view, but it was too late. Timothy stood on tiptoes, straining to see what was in the road. “What’s the man doing?” he inquired.
The body on the pavement was sitting bolt upright with his arms clamped to his sides, as if bound to an invisible chair. His face was a fiery blue, his body frozen rigid under wet clothes—he looked like a toppled shopfront mannequin. He probably hadn’t willingly taken a bath in the Neva and then hauled himself up onto the bridge. He had been left there for all to see, another trophy.
Anya hoped, prayed she wouldn’t recognise the face. She steadied herself on the railing and drew breath, drinking in the cold air. She shepherded the group back towards the main road, flapping at them like a swan with wings outstretched. “We must take other way children. This way not open, is closed.” She monitored the little faces as the colour drained slowly from them. The girls in front nodded, with watery eyes.
She quickened her pace and motioned the children to do the same. It would add at least ten minutes to their journey, and she needed the sanctuary of the museum with its audio guide headphones and gift shop trinkets to take their minds off what they had witnessed. At the back of the group Timothy raised his hand hopefully.
“Yes, what is?”
“Can we go back and see to the dog again? I have some money for him.”