Special thanks to blackrandi for the invitation to participate in “The Magical Mystery Tour.” It was a great opportunity to try something different. I typically don’t write graphic sex and that remains true here. I normally thank everyone up front, but those acknowledgements are at the end of this story, as they are a bit more extensive than usual.
Prologue: With Josef Stalin’s death on 5 March 1953, an epic struggle for the control and future of the Soviet Union commenced. Four major players emerged very quickly: Stalin’s presumed successor, Central Party Secretary Georgy Malenkov; the hardline Stalinist, Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov; The ruthless head of the MVD Internal Affairs and MGB State Security, Lavrentiy Beria, and the respected, but displaced, Party Secretary Nikita Khrushchev. These were hard men shaped by the Revolution and the Great Patriotic War, each with a different vision of the future. They quietly fought for Chairmanship of the Party and near absolute power. On the heels of 25 million war dead, and more killed in purges, the Soviet Union was a place of uncertainty and terror. Fear of a military coup, or even another civil war, this time between the Army and the State Security Forces ran through the country.
In such dangerous times, even a mouse may tip the balance.
Die Maus im Labyrinth
The Mouse in the Maze
Ankara: 23 April 1953
“There were no heroes at Stalingrad. Only survivors and the dead.”
The chill silence of a graveyard settled instantaneously over the room, the fine white tablecloths suddenly resembling nothing so much as burial shrouds, covering unnamed corpses in the stark cruel cold of winter.
The Russian was nearly perfect, but the accent was very German; the voice, even and firm, never wavered. The interpreter stood motionless, completely unsure what to do. I saw the Embassy Political Attaché freeze with his mouth open, like some kind of bizarre fish. He’d proposed the toast as an honor to me, one of the few female Heroes of the Soviet Union, and he was completely unprepared for the German’s response. He was absolutely stricken, terrified to make eye contact with me. Useless, like all political officers. I’d even seen that exact stunned expression before.
Stalingrad: 28 December 1942
I staggered past the masses of soldiers in their dull yellow-brown uniforms, mostly sitting on the cold concrete of the factory floor with their squads, listening intently, or at least pretending to listen intently to the “Zampolit,” the Political Officer responsible for the morale and revolutionary purity of the soldiers of the unit. At first, none of them noticed me, especially Zampolit Pavov, who was so entranced with the sound of his own voice, at his own pointless yammering, that even when soldiers began to turn away from him to watch me, he didn’t notice.
It wasn’t until I stepped into the cleared area around him that he really noticed me. I must have looked like hell. My shredded and burned uniform, the flash burns on my face, the singed hair half-gone, and the ball of gory rags I was holding against my stomach seemed to render him speechless.
He fought to recover from his shock with his usual tactic, mockery. “Tovarishch Kornilov, returned to seek shelter so soon? If you’ve even managed to kill two of Hitler’s soldiers, bring back two tags, I’ll personally put you in for a medal.”
I began to laugh. The pain and emotion of the eternity I’d spent in this hell finally breaking through. The laugh was disturbing, even to me, and I felt like it was never going to stop. I took eternities to get it under control, then I reached into my coat pocket and began dropping German identity tags in front of him. Fifty-three tags clinked like leaden bells as they hit the ground. I had one more, still on its chain around my neck and I lifted it up. “Then you can put me in for twenty-six medals, Tovarishch. There were more, many more, but some of them were bad soldiers; they weren’t wearing their tags. Maybe you want me to go kill another to make it twenty-seven medals?” I unslung and dropped Papasha, “Papa,” on the ground in front of him; there were three bullet holes in the receiver of the submachine gun and the barrel sleeve was half crushed. The drum magazine fell loose and rolled a few inches in a wobbling drunkard’s path, like a child’s toy, before falling over. “I will need a new weapon, though.” The laughter came back dark and vicious, twisting around me in spinning madness. I unwrapped the blood-soaked rags from my right arm and held up my mangled hand. “And if I could get a new hand, it would make it much, much simpler.”
The look on his face was utter shock. He half turned to look into the shadows behind him. A figure stood up and stepped forward. “Commissar...”
The stern man stepped past him as if he didn’t exist. I felt my knees give as the shock and exhaustion finally overcame my willpower; and so, Commissar Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev caught the slight form of the collapsing, badly wounded, half-starved, half-scorched scout directly in front of the official photographer sent to capture the political speech. That picture would appear in poster after poster, right next to the picture of that gaunt peasant girl being awarded the discreet gold star of a Hero of the Soviet Union by Stalin himself.
Ankara: 23 April 1953
I couldn’t afford to let this devolve into arguments and tension. I stood and raised my glass in my left hand and spoke across the silence. “Very well. To the survivors and to our Hallowed Dead.”
Across the room, the tall German in his perfectly tailored tuxedo raised his glass in a precise toast and gave a single, respectful nod. “The Hallowed Dead.”
I could feel the room relax as glasses came up and the rest of the room intoned the same toast. I looked out over the crowd. The Ambassador gave me a look of appreciation. Our hosts, the Turkish government, hadn’t missed the gesture, and that might help him in his mission of forging an agreement between our two nations. With the death of Stalin, and our retraction of territorial claims, there might be a chance of forming some tentative bonds to counter the massive American influence in Turkey, but that could hinge on the least of issues.
Issues, perhaps, like an angry Hero of the Soviet Union calling out a German businessman over a battle fought ten years ago. I’m sure the Ambassador wondered if the whole incident was calculated to cause problems, maybe even engineered by the Americans for that very purpose.
A few rounds of meaningless toasts later, I sat to eat my meal, some indescribable Turkish dishes that no doubt cost enough to feed a small town. They weren’t really to my liking, but I’d learned long ago to eat what I was given without complaint. Better to eat anything than starve. Hunger is a monster that lurks in everyone. As bad as it had been at Stalingrad, I’d heard Leningrad had descended into far, far worse. Rumors of murder and cannibalism were echoed in the haunted eyes of the people when I’d visited shortly after the end of the Great Patriotic War.
I watched, aloof, as the meal ended and music began. Despite the lectures and indoctrination, I could tell the younger girls of the Embassy staff were eagerly anticipating the music and the dancing. Unlike me, most were wearing lipstick and even other types of make-up. It was surprising that the Embassy let this kind of thing go on; everyone knew it was far too easy for bourgeoisie niceties to sway the mental purity of the young and easily influenced.
A few minutes after, some type of dessert, made of who-knew-what, one of the servers brought over a small tray, and set it in front of me. A small black bottle with a gold leaf label trimmed in cherry blossoms sat next to a liqueur glass and a small note card. I looked at the fanciful figures on the label, amazed at the sentimentality. “From the German, Madame. I am supposed to carry your answer back to him.”
I smoothed the note with the back of my scarred right hand and looked it over.
I have been given to understand that you fought at Stalingrad. I would like to extend my apologies for any affront my words may have caused you. Please accept this offer from my personal reserve. I respectfully extend a request that you grace me with a dance so that I may be certain you are not offended.
With Deepest Apologies,
Kurt von Fuchs
Gracious enough, I supposed, but there was a slight issue. I looked up at the server. “I’m afraid you will have to inform Herrn Fuchs that I accept his apology, but that I’ve never learned to dance.”
The server poured a measure of the Kirschwasser into the liqueur glass before departing with his message. There was a golden brown tint to it, probably from years of aging in charred barrels, something I’d been given to understand was quite rare for the cherry brandy. It was smooth, slightly smoky, with a hint of cherries, and just a touch sweet. It was decadent enough that I glanced at the Political Attaché, who was too deep in conversation with one of the embassy secretaries to spare the time to watch me.
Just as I finished savoring the drink, the tall lean blonde figure of a man loomed over me.
“Yes. Herr Fuchs, I presume?” I stood to face him.
He reached out in greeting, and seemed utterly unsurprised when I extended my left hand. I, on the other hand, was taken completely off guard when he gave a very formal deep bow and kissed my hand instead of shaking it as I’d expected.
As he seemingly reluctantly let my hand go, I responded as dryly as I could. “That’s a rather sentimental and outdated gesture in our world Herr Fuchs.” I knew my admonishment hadn’t quite come off as stern enough, but at least the Embassy staff at my table registered it. The male members of the staff seemed indignant; the female staff seemed to be rather more interested than judgmental.
“Perhaps so. Proper manners seem to be another casualty of the late conflict.” He gave a sad half smile. “I’m afraid I came over to ask you to reconsider your refusal of a dance.”
“And I’m afraid, I’ve never had the time to learn to dance, so...”
“That is unfortunate, and we will have to rectify that immediately.” He nodded towards my medals “Surely no Hero of the Soviet Union would fear something as simple as a dance.” Before I could reply, he pulled me smoothly away from my table and began leading me to the dance floor.
I glanced around, my uniform was very much at odds with the crinoline, lace and silk that dominated the floor. “I seem to be a bit out of place, Herr Fuchs.”
“Pardon me.” He carefully positioned my left hand on his right shoulder, placed his left hand at my waist gently and took my maimed and twisted right hand carefully in his left without batting an eye. “This is the closed position for the waltz.” He pulled me a little closer than I’d expected and smiled. “You do not need the fancy silk gowns; your gold star speaks volumes of your worth. You outshine them all.”
He began to lead me around the floor, talking me through simple steps. I caught the Ambassador watching intently, concerned, perhaps, that I would disembowel my dance partner with a dessert spoon. I was well aware of my reputation, well aware of the impact my arrival had on the Embassy staff. I could practically smell their fear.
When I’d arrived at the airport, I’d been greeted by the Ambassador himself and regretfully informed that I would have to attend the Turkish government’s National Sovereignty Day dinner. An unavoidable complication it seemed; the Turkish government might take it as an affront if any Embassy personnel refused to attend. My lack of a suitable dress was of no concern; my dress grey uniform with its red piping and all my medals on display would even be preferable from the Ambassador’s point of view. He simply told the Turkish government that a Hero of the Soviet Union was being sent to honor their day of Independence from the Colonialist powers.
It didn’t matter that I told him I had highest priority orders, or that I probably had less than two days to finish this.
In any case, not going wouldn’t help, since nearly the entire Embassy staff, less the guards, would be at the dinner. At least I could further my investigation by observing the staff. My quarry, whoever it was, would almost certainly be at the celebration.
Whoever he was. I was almost convinced my quarry was a man. Not because I didn’t think women could be brutal; I knew all too well how dangerous a woman could be. Many would point to me as an example of that. The ones that didn’t point to me just didn’t know about me. I hadn’t known myself, once upon a time.
Stalingrad, 24 August 1942
1077th Anti-Aircraft Regiment - North of the Tractor Factory
“Fire, dammit. Fire!” The slow hammer of the 37mm anti-aircraft gun began, as it slammed flak round after flak round into one of the steel beasts leading the wave of infantrymen. I could see the shots crash into the monster over and over, scattering screaming fragments up into the sky from the armored hull, brilliant star-bound meteors. Other guns were sweeping the ranks of grey clad infantry with much greater effect, tearing horrible vivid crimson swaths through them. The Starshina, Lyudmila Drago, glared at me red-faced and furious. “Private Kornilov! You miserable little ‘mushe!’ Get your pathetic ass moving and bring more ammo. Now, Goddammit, Now!”
Shocked from my stupor, I pushed my too-large cap back from my eyes where it always fell, then I started to sprint and got three steps before the exhaustion caught the breath from my lungs and left me gasping. I staggered and began to lurch much more slowly. I’d been dragging boxes of ammunition for two days; there just wasn’t anything left anymore. Behind me, I could hear Starshina Drago bellowing angrily, fearlessly, “Where’s the motherfucking Infantry!?”
I reached the ammo point and found myself staring at Private Tania Alexeev. She’d been pretty once, now she was ghost-white pale, red-eyed, and almost lost in darkness and fear. It was like looking into a mirror. She half-heartedly shoved the sole remaining box towards me. As soon as I grabbed the rope handle I knew we were doomed.
“Is there anything it in?”
“Half a case, Maybe a little less.” Her lower lip quivered and I could see more tears starting from the corners of her eyes. She was a hundred years old now, but she’d been eighteen only two days ago. Just like me. Just like most of us. “It’s all I have, it’s all we can do.” She pointed helplessly back at the empty space behind her.
I strained to drag the case back to my gun, tearing another track though the dirt. Sweat was running into my eyes, burning and mixing with my tears as it ran down my face. The smoke from the guns was suffocating, clawing at my lungs. At first I thought it was just the ringing in my ears, but the sound of our guns was slowing, stopping, as they fell silent through lack of ammo, or disappeared in columns of smoke and fire. The distinctive voices of the German guns were growing louder, closer. I looked back over my shoulder at my gun, at Starshina Drago. She was, as usual, yelling something at me, pointing at me in her righteous fury, and snarling something I couldn’t hear. My last name was the same as the name of a White Russian counterrevolutionary general and I was never allowed to forget that. The Starshina had taken a special interest in making my life as miserable as possible. I was more in terror of her than of the approaching Germans. I struggled to move faster.
I reached the base of the revetment and I could hear the ruddy-faced Starshina clearer. “You worthless little bitch, put your back into it and get that ammo up here!”
I paused, trying to catch enough breath to drag the case up that six-foot slope. Then the world twisted as the gun position became a pyre of flame and I felt myself lifted into the air.
Ankara: 23 April 1953
Herr Fuchs escorted me back to my table, quite formal and correct, carefully seating me before bowing slightly and moving off. The Ambassador’s secretary, Ekaterina, if I remembered correctly, watched him move off with more than a little interest.
“The German is quite...” She cut herself off abruptly, suddenly realizing who she was talking to. “Major Kornilov, I apologize...”
I shook my head and waved her apology away with my left hand. “He was quite proper. He was also quite right. It was best for everyone to make it clear that there was no animosity. And, as it appears apologies require dances, I would rather not have one from you.”
Emotions flickered across her face as she tried to figure out if that was supposed to be humorous. I let her try to figure it out without help, pouring another drink of the Kirschwasser. It was likely to be a long couple of days for many at the Embassy; the overly-pretty blonde girl could have a short head start on it.
The stress was already setting in, I could see them whispering, wondering what a senior Militsiya operativnik, police detective, was doing at the Embassy, particularly one with a reputation for ruthlessness, and near-absolute, sometimes lethal, intolerance for corruption. Only the Ambassador, the Rezident, and the Political Officer seemed unconcerned. Whether that was through valid confidence or through ignorance remained to be seen, though. Ignorance seemed rather more likely, as I doubted very much that any of them were fully aware of just what I was willing to do.
The Rezident moved first, of course. The elderly senior intelligence operative at the Embassy smiled as he approached the table. “Major, I am Anatoly Petrov, First Cultural Attaché. As it is your first visit, perhaps you’d like to take a walk around the grounds here. I’d be happy to show you the fountains.”
This man was certainly dangerous. He’d be no fool; the Ministry for State Security would be very cautious in selecting their man for this assignment. There was far too much to lose, with far too little room for mistakes in Ankara. I hesitated to even think of how many operations he was juggling, how many agents he was running. He was, of course, using the Cultural Attaché position as a cover. The thought of that made me smile, wondering how many concerts and museum openings he had to endure.
I finished my drink and stood. “I think that would be a very good idea.” I paused. “Perhaps, as the Cultural Attaché, you’ll be able to explain just what it was we ate tonight.” I said it a touch sardonically, letting him know I was aware of exactly what he was.
He gave a wry smile. “That’s not quite how it works, Major. I’m here to bring our culture to the Turks, not the other way around.”
He took my arm and we walked slowly out the double doors to seemingly endless terraced gardens, with their winding paths and fountain after fountain after fountain.
“So, Major, allow me to be direct. I haven’t received any communiqués regarding your mission. I’ve received nothing, no information at all as to why an operativnik of your reputation would be dispatched here. Particularly with a credentialing letter signed by Nikita Khrushchev himself.”
Uncle Nikita had taken a special interest in that gaunt peasant girl after the war. He’d taken the time to read my reports from Stalingrad and confirm them with other unit reports. He sensed something in me and sponsored me into the Militsiya, the police force. It paid him back in spades. It turned out that I had the talent and ruthlessness necessary for hunting criminal organizations and destroying them. Drug runners, white slavers and smugglers learned very quickly that to be hunted by me was to be hunted to extinction.
I gave a half-shrug. “That’s not surprising. I am here in pursuit of a criminal matter.”
“And what would that be?”
I sucked in a slight breath; I knew he wasn’t going to like this at all. “A possible kidnapping. Oksana Beria, wife of Vadim Beria.”
“Beria? As in...”
“Yes. He was the nephew of Lavrentiy Beria. First Deputy Premier Beria.” I pretended to admire the elaborate tracery on one of the fountains.
“Was?” From the grim, hollow tone in his voice, it was clear he understood how bad this was.
“Was. Vadim was killed when the wife disappeared. Burned alive in his house.” I glanced over to see his reaction. There was, unsurprisingly for a man like that, none at all.
“You said disappeared. You have doubts that she was actually kidnapped?”
I shrugged again. “There are some questions. There is also a question of a dossier, a collection of letters and papers of some kind.”
“So you are investigating the murder of the First Deputy Premier’s nephew.”
“Not so much, I believe the actual murder is being dealt with, at a higher level.”
Even the no-doubt hardened Rezident let that pass quietly. The First Deputy’s reputed fondness for cruelty and torture was well known to anyone who had the sense to listen. “I see. And this dossier?”
I reached out and touched one of the flowers next to a small blue fountain. “I don’t know for certain. It has become apparent that Vadim was involved in some kind of scheme regarding women and even young girls. Trading them for money and favors.”
“Perhaps the dossier outlines the criminal network?”
“Perhaps. I can’t be certain what is in it. There is a link. One trail leads here.” I decided not to explain that further.
“To Ankara.” He mused thoughtfully, studying a rather ornately tiled fountain covered in complicated colorful floral motifs.
“To our Embassy in Ankara.”
That brought him up abruptly, he stopped walking and stared at me. His face was impassive, but I could tell his mind was screaming through possibilities. “Who?”
“I don’t know, yet. If, in a day or two, I still don’t know, I am to call Secretary Khrushchev and he will send men to take the Embassy apart down to the foundation. It would cause problems with Minister Malenkov, so he’d like to avoid that.”
“I don’t need these complications. The political situation at home since Stalin’s death is ... uncertain. Beria, Molotov, Malenkov...” He glanced at me for a second, trying to guess what I really was. “ ... and your ... patron, Khrushchev. They are all jockeying to come out on top. Malenkov is a puppet and he and Molotov are supporting Beria for now for some reason, but I doubt that will last.”
“I’d think you would be used to the complications and confusion with your job.”
“I’ve never gotten used to it. I commanded a tank division during the war and I was asked to join the Ministry for State Security as a troubleshooter afterwards. I always avoided the damn Commissars and their bullshit.” There was more than a trace of irritation in his voice.
“I always had problems with them myself.”
“They were like lice, more of them every day.” He sighed, shaking his head slowly. “People are going to die over this mess in Moscow. Maybe a lot of people. It’s made the situation here very dangerous; it is worse than ever. The Americans and British are like wolves with the scent of blood in the air.”
“That’s why I am telling you. Of everyone here, you are by far the least likely to be involved. You selling women for profit makes no sense.”
He considered me under lowered brows. “And you need an ally.”
“And I need an ally. And I have learned to take allies wherever I can find them.”
Stalingrad, 12 September 1942
I stood up from my place on the floor among the unassigned soldiers and rushed to the table, stopping at attention. “Yes Comm ... Zampolit Pavov.”
He looked over a sheet of paper that might, or might not, have had anything to do with me. “While the 1077th performed in an exemplary manner, I see nothing to indicate that you had anything to do with that.” He looked up at me expectantly.
“We all did our part, Zampolit. I carried ammunition until the last gun was destroyed, as I was directed by my Starshina.”
“You broke and ran?” He said that as a question, but I could see in his eyes what he suspected.
I knew exactly what to say. “We fell back to regroup as our position was overrun.” I stopped for a second. “We ran out of bullets, we did not throw down our rifles.”
In fact, we’d had no rifles. The Starshina, hadn’t thought me or Tania worthy of rifles. I’d run as fast as I could when I saw the dull grey hull of the first German tank crest the ridge, stopping only long enough to pull a crying Tania to her feet and drag her along with me.
We’d made it nearly a half mile to a copse of battered trees before we saw the safety of the new Russian lines just that distance further away. Supposed safety, anyway, it turned out not to be safe at all. Just as we breathed a sigh of relief on seeing the lines, we saw another group of stragglers reach them. We watched in horror as they were forced to their knees and a Zampolit shot each of them in the back of the head. Even though I couldn’t hear the words he was saying over and over, I knew what they were. “For cowardice in the face of the enemy. Death.”
Tania sank to the ground, not really seeing anything, crying in terror. I looked around hopelessly, hyperventilating. Going back meant the Germans, going forward meant execution. I half-fell to my knees on the ground next to Tania.
A moment later a hand grabbed my arm. “Shhh. Come, little girls. Come with Timur.”
I looked up into a round, smiling, Asian face. His uniform was Russian, mostly, although it was almost covered in bits and scraps of cloth, leaves, and even sticks.
He led us down to a hollow in the ground where a dozen similar men sat completely unconcerned with the encroaching battle. He led us through them, directly to a weathered old man with a few scraggly chin whiskers and began talking in a language I’d never heard.
The old man looked at us. “I am Scout Sniper Platoon Commander Seriov. Did you run?”
I nodded stiffly. “We were never given rifles and the big guns were all destroyed, we had nothing to fight with.”
He studied the dirt and smoke residue on our faces. I’m sure he saw the tear tracks as well. “You were with the women that fought on the ridge?”
I nodded again.
He said something and one of the men stood up, picked up two well-worn Mosin-Nagant rifles from a pile, fired them into the ground until they were empty and thrust one at each of us, along with an empty bandolier.
“Timur will guide you to the lines. As long as you have rifles that have been fired, but no ammunition, and you tell them you fell back to find more bullets, they will not shoot you.”
So it was; when we reached the lines, I headed straight for the Zampolit who’d executed the stragglers, holding my empty rifle over my head. “Zampolit! We need more ammunition! More Germans are coming!”
Zampolit Pavov suspected, of course; he suspected everyone of everything, but with so many witnesses to our arrival and to my immediate demand for bullets, he’d been able to do nothing.
Instead of being shot or given ammunition, we’d been sent to wait with new replacement soldiers in a holding area for re-assignment. Tania, much prettier than I, had quickly been asked to act as an aide to the Regimental Commander. She knew what it really meant, but she’d grabbed the opportunity with both hands, grateful to have anything, do anything other than be sent back out to the battlefield.
Now, Pavov was clearly going to offer me the same opportunity; after weeks of mockery, of hints and veiled threats, weeks of commenting on my White Russian name, he was finally going to force me. “We have no requests for Air Defense personnel, so I can send you to a forward unit in the city, or...” He paused looking up at me meaningfully. “I can assign you as a Commissar ... Political Officer’s aide.” I’d learned he’d taken the change from Commissar to “Zampolit” Deputy Political Officer hard; the massive loss of authority when the independent commissars had been subordinated to combat commanders as political officers had angered him to no end, and it appeared I could be a convenient outlet for that anger.
I stared at him, trying to figure out what to do, what to say. His claim to have no need for replacement air defense personnel was almost certainly a lie. I was aware that I was no beauty, short, scrawny, with almost no figure, plain, with typical Georgian dark hair and eyes. I realized he was enjoying this, enjoying his power over me. If he enjoyed this so much, I knew what it would be like when we were alone, when he could be truly cruel.
I made my decision. “Then I will need my rifle back. Zampolit Pavov.” It was a better and cleaner choice to die at the hands of the Germans.
He stood suddenly, leaning across the table toward me, face darkening, nostrils flaring in anger, but before he could say a word, a familiar voice cut in.
“Pavov! I have need of your volunteer.” Seriov strode forward through the roomful of unassigned soldiers and put a hand on my shoulder.
“You have to...”
“Nothing. I have to do nothing. Scout Sniper Platoon has the highest priority, isn’t that what Colonel General said? I need one; you have one who just volunteered. Simple, no?” Seriov beamed cheerfully, taking a bite out of a piece of black bread in his other hand.
Even so, Zampolit Pavov might have argued, but at least seven of Seriov’s men were casually walking around the outer edges of the room, all smiling, half of them munching on black bread. All of them had the new PPSH-41 submachine guns casually draped across their arms, just coincidentally pointing in Pavov’s direction.
“Take her. But keep her out of here. She doesn’t come back here. Worthless whore of a White. I’ll be amazed if she kills even one German.”
“Not your problem, Pavov. Germans take more killing than scared recruits.” Seriov let his smiling mask slip for just a second, eyes hardening and smile fading. “But you wouldn’t know that, would you?”
Zampolit Pavov sat frozen, glaring hate and anger as we walked out.
I hesitated at the door. “I don’t have a gun.”
“Guns I have. I have lots of them, all kinds. I need somebody brave.”
I coughed in disbelief. “Brave? Me?”
“You stood up to that piece of shit. Germans are much less trouble. You’re allowed to shoot them.” He paused. “I really do need you, and I need you to be brave. I need someone small and brave. Someone who can fit in the ratholes and sewers. I need a scout who can go where we can’t.”
Die Maus und die Falle
The Mouse and the Trap
Ankara: 23 April 1953
I was still going where others couldn’t go, places like Ankara. It was bit of irony, all things considered. I let the Rezident walk me back to my table, then I relaxed the rest of the evening, watching the members of the staff. Mostly, I was watching them watch me.
I’d expected to ride back with the Ambassador, but instead, the Military Attaché, Colonel Ivanov, came over.
“May I offer you a lift back to the Embassy, Major?”
“If it doesn’t offend the Ambassador.” Offending the Ambassador was really only a concern to me if it interfered in what I was trying to do, but I had to at least pretend.
“I checked with him. His wife would like to have at least a few minutes of his time this week.”
We made our way to one of the waiting Embassy ZiS limousines, with its driver.
The Colonel sat across from me in the back, watching as I studied the dash of the limousine. His curiosity won out. “Are you interested in driving?”
I turned back to face him. “Just being cautious. Operativnik are banned from driving, and I have the worst driver in the world. I always wonder if I am going to survive to get where I’m going.”
I shrugged. “He’s a Yakuts, from Siberia. I’m pretty sure he’d never driven a car before he was assigned to me. I suspect he just threatened to kill the license official rather than take a test.”
“I had one of those during the war. Great soldier, terrible driver. He actually managed to run over himself one time. I’m still not sure how he did that.” The Colonel smiled at the memory.
“It sounds like it might be the same man.”
“It might be.” He leaned back in his seat. “So, Militsiya Major, what exactly are you here for?”
I ignored the weak attempt at overawing me with his rank and gave him the same details I’d given the Rezident.
I could see he didn’t like it any better. “And the dossier? What do you think is in it?”
“I don’t know, but it’s important. We know men died to protect it.”
He listened and sighed. “Just criminal bullshit, but the political situation makes this a nightmare. My driver once told me that when elephants fight, mice are crushed. These are dangerous times for all of us. I’ve come up under Zhukov. Beria, as the Chairman, would be a disaster for me. Molotov is supporting Beria, because Beria released his wife from arrest after Stalin died, but there’s something else going on too. Molotov and Beria hate each other ... something just doesn’t make sense. But what can I do?”
I nodded. “That’s why I am telling you. Of everyone here, you are by far the least likely to be involved. You’d have no reason to be involved in any of this, and a real officer would never risk his honor by selling women.”
As we pulled up in front of the Embassy, he nodded sagely. “That makes sense. If you need any help, let me know.”
I had to have a couple of one-sided discussions with Embassy support personnel, and I’d just managed to get up to my temporary office and sit down when the Ambassador came in. He was desperately trying to suppress his anger.
“Major. Perhaps you’d like to explain just what is going on.”
I considered asking him what he meant by that, but it wasn’t really in my nature. “Nobody leaves the Embassy grounds for the next two days, on the authority of Secretary Khrushchev. I gave the guards their orders when I got here. People can come in, but nobody leaves.”
“I think Minister Malenkov will have a different opinion.”
“If so, you won’t know it for a couple days. I ordered the communications center to stand down as well. So unless you plan to overrule Secretary Khrushchev, the lockdown stands. It’s for your own good, really. If we can resolve this quickly, things go back to normal.”
“I have duties to perform, people to visit...”
“I’ve ordered your secretary to clear your calendar until this is over.”
He was furious, but he really was Ambassador material; he managed to keep his temper. His secretary, Ekaterina, had very quickly done as I told her, and I was certain she would continue to do as I’d told her. She was not terribly intelligent, and she was weak in that peculiar way very pretty girls sometimes are; used to being protected and coddled in exchanges for smiles, and in her case, much more personal services for the Ambassador. She’d folded up as soon as I had put pressure on her.
It was, of all things, the lipstick. I’d merely had to mention that her lipstick was quite pretty, and she’d fallen apart.
“I’m so sorry, please don’t arrest me ... Please!” She started shaking violently, her voice quavering. “He likes this color of lipstick ... and I couldn’t keep sneaking it from his wife’s room ... so...”
She continued on to explain the whole pathetic thing. A driver bought the lipstick on the market for her, she carried a few tubes back to Russia every time she visited, never more than three, and she sold them for ten times their value. Making just enough money to make sure her mother and sister didn’t starve to death.
I was rather less appalled by her “criminal activity” than the fact that the Ambassador hadn’t even offered to ensure her family was taken care of in exchange for the intimate services she was rendering him. Then I realized she seemed to be under the impression that those “personal services” were actually part of her job.
I managed, in the course of giving her a stern lecture for her “criminal behavior” and extracting a firm promise not to smuggle any more cosmetics, to disabuse her of her delusion regarding her duties to the Ambassador. I might have mentioned how angry his well-connected wife might be were she to discover Ekaterina’s services to her husband, and how that might have severe ramifications for the Ambassador. When I’d left her there, I’d noticed a sly look under her tears, and knew that at some point in the near future the price of her services was going to go up dramatically as far as the Ambassador was concerned.
When the Ambassador frowned and shook his head, saying, “Minister Malenkov will hear of this eventually and I doubt he will be as tolerant as I am.” I just shrugged.
He paused, no doubt considering the possibility that the political struggle for power in the Party might have a positive outcome for me. “You do, of course have my full support; let me know if you need assistance.”
The Ambassador tried not to storm out of my office, and I smiled to myself, knowing that he’d soon be paying far more for his afternoon treats.
As for his promise of support, I’d learned long ago that you can always find yourself alone.
Stalingrad. 6 November 1942
Seriov’s Scout Sniper Platoon, my platoon, was gone. I’d been out for a two-day reconnaissance when it happened; I was alone, since none of the others could fit through the sewers I was using to get around. And now they were gone; Seriov, Timur, all of them. The weapons, the equipment, everything but my bedroll and pack. A single piece of paper was hidden in the hollow wall where we’d kept the situation reports when we couldn’t get them turned in.