The wind was gusting out of the Carpathians. It was the type of weather the local people knew well, and had learned to respect. A nearby grove of chalky birches rattled together like shivering skeletons driven by strong breezes, growing stronger then weakening as if directed by a giant metronome.
Two men, one tall one short, approached in the distance trudging through yesterday’s snow. Their black felt hats and long black leather coats easily identified them as members of the once dreaded KGB. The peasants living in the Ukrainian countryside had come to fear them as they did the devil himself, and for good reason.
The two seemed guided by the thin trail of smoke rising from the remaining embers of what had once been a prized dacha. An unburned section of roof remained sugar-caked with frosted snow and decorated with newly formed icicles that were starkly outlined by a dreary aluminum sky. Behind the still smoldering remnants of the building stood a steep cliff, which in better days protected the small house from frigid winter winds.
They appeared to be searching for something as they walked. On closer inspection the dwindling importance of their once powerful organization was evident from the frayed collars of their shirts and cuffs protruding from their ill-fitting coats. A few years ago, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the KGB represented the cream of Russian bureaucracy, with tentacles reaching throughout the world. Now in the new economy, many of the top people had become redundant. Even the organization’s name had been changed to the SVR (Russian Foreign Intelligence Service) in an attempt to better represent the times.
“Here is sukin sya (that son of a bitch),” the short one called excitedly to his taller companion. Soon both men were staring down at a body partially covered by drifted snow. The man’s head lolled grotesquely on his shoulder, his hair providing a dramatic contrast with the fallen snow. Looking closer they could detect a frozen trickle of blood that was barely apparent on his unshaven chin.
The taller of the two kicked the body with his worn shoe. “Well, he is certainly dead alright.” Bending over he closed the man’s eyes in an act of unlikely compassion.
“Do you think he fell from the cliff,” the other asked?
“It’s possible; he was always drinking, ever since he came to us. But I would rather think that someone broke his lousy American neck. I wish I had the chance to do it. You can never trust a double agent. Once a spy always a spy.”
“Well whoever told us we would find him here was certainly
the other replied, going through the dead man’s pockets.
“Does he have any money?”
“Not anymore” was the answer as he gave half of what he found to
his towering companion. “We will take his passport and watch back with
us so they will know that we found him. What should we do with the
“Let the wolves take care of him. There are plenty of them in the dead zone. It’s better than he deserves. Come on lets get out of here. It could still be contaminated. Anyway it will be dark now before we get back to town. Hurry I need vodka, lots of vodka.”
“Only after we call Kiev” counseled the more prudent of the two
they set off in the direction they had recently come.
It began to snow once more as the pallid sun started to set. The descending flakes camouflaged the men’s dark clothing, and seeped through the thin soles of their shabby shoes. The stand of white birches they passed just minutes before had become invisible. The chill wind penetrated their bones, as they thought about the call they had to make.
While they walked, the blowing snow quickly covered their tracks. Soon, it was as if the Russians had never been there.
Many miles away in a darkened hotel room another man waited for another telephone call. The room was lighted only by the blinking neon lights outside his window, advertising the dwindling pleasures of the now darkened streets. In the distance, an ambulance raced through town with claxon caroling its eerie two-tone melody familiar to Europeans, but unnerving to Americans.
Gazing through the cloudy pane, he could barely make out the dimly glowing lights of the revolving giant Ferris wheel that had come to symbolize Vienna’s past, as well as its future.
The man had been waiting patiently for his call to go through that would announce his long awaited return home. He had kept the room dark out of practice on the theory that the scarcity of light would allow time to pass more swiftly. Now he was beginning to doubt the validity of his rationale.
After a time, he turned stiffly away from the window and his thoughts. Bending over the room’s single bed he fumbled with the clasp on his worn suitcase. Tucked discretely among his carefully folded clothes was a still unopened bottle of Stolichnaya he had purchased at Odessa’s duty free shop. Certainly the vodka would make the time pass more quickly and, if nothing else, perhaps tonight it would bring a less troubled sleep. He broke the seal and poured an ample amount into the room’s only glass, before returning once more to the frosted window.
By now the Ferris wheel had stopped for the night, and only a few
faint lights flickered in the distance. He raised his glass in a silent
toast to old times and old friends, and his thoughts raced back to that
golden day in October when he was first contacted by the Agency. "Was
where this all began?" he wondered, pouring himself another drink....
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