Declare, p.58
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       Declare, p.58

           Tim Powers
 
Page 58

 

  The jewelry, Elena noticed finally, was a string of gold rings around the woman's neck; and interspersed among the rings were holed lumps of steel and gold. Elena had seen many Muscovites with stainless-steel teeth-dental porcelain was scarce.

  The woman rocked her head to the south, staring intently into Elena's eyes-and Elena's face was suddenly hot, for the gesture and the look had somehow conveyed an urgent sexual invitation, if not an order. One of Elena's molars was gold, and she could imagine it strung among the lumps and the rings on the woman's breast.

  But Elena turned away and ran down the Arbat Street sidewalk, skidding on the ice and fearful of pursuit but somehow taking comfort in the grid of electrified streetcar wires that made a net overhead. When she stopped under the harsh neo-Gothic pillars of the Foreign Ministry and looked back, the woman had not moved-or only a little, perhaps: surely she seemed a little closer, a little bigger against the background of gray buildings, than she would have if she had not moved.

  And the next day, when Elena checked the display copies of Pravda, the Cyrillic symbols for "Moroz" were at the bottom of the list of Moscow council members.

  She walked on past the newspaper display and then turned up a side street to the left, away from Moroz's office.

  She felt like a swimmer out far past any thing to cling to, with the bottom leagues away below her flailing legs. If Moroz had been arrested, how could she safely find out? If he had been, she herself would surely share in his ruin. Her faith in the Party was subsumed in her terror of Beria-Each morning the NKVD executioners were given their rifles and their vodka, Cassagnac had said only three months ago, and after they had shot their dozens and bulldozed them into pits dug by convict labor, they went back to the guardrooms and drank themselves insensible. And even more recently Marcel Gruey, Lot, had told her, Cassagnac said that this generation of the Soviet secret services will be killed in their own turn before long, and that the next lot is likely to be more reasonable. But how could she take any evasion measures here? She had no contacts, she didn't know the city, the nearest border was more than three hundred miles away at Latvia, and she didn't even speak the language yet beyond a few utilitarian or slangy phrases.

  She simply walked, east down the Gertsena street toward the medieval bastions that studded the gray Kremlin wall. She saw several police officers-mostly women in blue skirts and berets, directing traffic-but it wasn't uniformed figures that would threaten her. And she saw old women bundled up in coats and scarves, shuffling along the sidewalks in heavy felt boots, sweeping the snow into the gutters with crude brooms. Elena envied them their secure identities.

  She had walked past the northernmost towers of the Kremlin. The buildings she passed were pillared palaces now, and she knew one of them was the Bolshoi Theatre-but she hurried past without looking up at the Corinthian columns, and tried to step along in a businesslike way as she made straight for the shadows of a cobbled pedestrian underpass.

  When she came up into the gray daylight again on the far side, she heard music-a song that Marcel Gruey had sometimes sung, an American song called "The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe"-echoing out across the snowy sidewalk from a hotel whose name she was able to figure out phonetically: Metropol. The clarity and imprecision let her know that the music was being produced by a live band rather than a radio speaker, and she hurried across the street and up the hotel steps. If she could meet some man, and get him to take her home, she could at least establish a temporary shelter from which to reconnoiter.

  A moustached old man at the door mumbled something to her, and when she cocked her head inquiringly, he said, in English, "Thirty cents. " Uneasy that he had so instantly identified her as a foreigner, Elena gave him a ruble coin and hurried past him-into a corridor that opened on an ornate nineteenth-century ballroom, with a fountain and a marble pool out in the middle of the polished wood floor.

  At the checkroom she handed her overcoat across the counter. Three girls in lumpy ski pants arrived right behind her, chattering in Russian, and they began hopping on one foot and the other to pull the pants off, afterward smoothing the dresses that they had worn crumpled up under the pants. Elena's face went cold and expressionless to see two men in Red Army uniforms stepping up the hall now-but they were laughing as they took off their overcoats. Clearly they too had come simply to dance.

  Elena shuffled nervously into the ballroom, eyeing the young men who seemed to be without partners. Everybody in Russia seemed to have come to the Metropol-men in coveralls were dancing with young women in wrinkled gowns, helmets rocked on the belts of gyrating soldiers, and even the aproned waiters were tap-dancing as they carried drinks on trays; Elena even heard English sentences, and after peering around spied a table of obvious Britishers drinking watery Zhigulovsky beer. Her first thought, instantly scorned, was to try to give them a message to take to Marcel Gruey, to poor gallant Lot -but she didn't even know his real name, and in any case he was a sadly deficient Communist.

  Elena had just steeled herself to approach a studious-looking young man whose dance partner had been deflected away by one of the Red Army soldiers, when she found herself in the arms of a lean-faced man who smiled at her with steel teeth. "Bless me," the man said.

  She nodded, recognizing the old Paris Razvedupr code: Things are not what they seem-trust me.

  "You'll have to tell us," the man remarked quietly in her ear in French, "how you knew to avoid his office this morning. You were right-he's gone, and so would you have been. We might or might not have been able to get you away from them. But why didn't you simply follow her, when she approached you in her ring yesterday?"

  Elena knew who it was that he must be referring to. "Her ring? The Sadovaya?"

  "With her. . . earring stones? anchor stones?. . . installed around the periphery, at Patriarch's Pond and Gorky Park and the Kursk Station, to keep her from becoming. . . disoriented?" The French word was desoriente, and he laughed as though he had made a joke.

  He had whirled her to an arch on the other side of the high-ceilinged room, and he stepped back and let her last dance step link her arm through his, so that now they were walking down the corridor beyond without having paused.

  Another man was holding open an outside door, and Elena found that she had been escorted down a set of cement steps and into the back seat of a black Ford sedan before she could catch her breath. She wondered if she would ever see her overcoat again.

  The man who had met her on the dance floor glanced at his wristwatch as the car accelerated away from the curb, driving in a counterclockwise loop around the block and then speeding north up the Neglinaya boulevard. "Moroz is probably dead, by now," he said, still speaking in French. "The NKVD has learned about your Palestinian lover in Paris. " He laughed and shook his head. "A Palestinian radio operator! You would be food for Zat al-Dawahi yourself if we hadn't been tracking you closely. Moroz planned to send you to Berlin?"

  "Who are you?" Elena demanded. "Hiding me from the NKVD-you're not Russians!"

  The driver turned his head around to look at her, and she quailed. Under a wool cap his hairless face was pure Cossack, with high cheekbones and slanted eyes. "We are the oldest Russians," he said harshly in barbarous French, before turning back to the street ahead. "Our organization was old before Lenin returned to Petrograd from his Swiss exile in 1917," he went on, "and Lenin blessed us and committed into our hands the protection of Russia. "

  "The secret protection," agreed her escort. "Stalin and his NKVD hate the measures we take, and so we protect the motherland while hiding in foxes' earths that are secret even to the secret service, true to the old covenant. Andre Marty noted you, in Spain, and would have killed you as soon as he didn't need your wireless telegraphy skills any longer, if we hadn't used the GRU to summon you out of Madrid. Marty wrote a report to the NKVD, in which he said you were particularly dangerous-you were baptized but nevertheless sensitive to the most-secret wo
rld, and you were nearly virgin, still, in '36. " The word he used was vierge, a term often used in speaking of unexposed photographic film.

  "I was a virgin then!" protested Elena; and a moment later she could feel herself blushing.

  "A virgin in the sense of not having killed anyone," her escort explained. "Marty said you had shot a Nationalist soldier, but it was before you had reached puberty, and we think you have probably killed no one else since, and never anyone up close. A soul's first few bloody murders have a sacramental power that must not be spent promiscuously. "

  "We were at war," said Elena now. "It was not a murder!"

  The man shrugged impatiently. "Killing, execution, riposte, establishment of truth. We don't want you wasting any more of your baptized sanctity until you can spend it effectively. " He looked away from her, out the window at the old women sweeping snow from the sidewalks. "And not in Berlin. "

  These are Russians, she told herself; and they apparently want me to perform an assassination. She remembered her sleepless night after shooting the Nationalist soldier at the Sierra de Guadalarrama pass, but she took a deep breath and said, "I am at the command of the Party. "

  "The Politburo consigns you to us with her left hand," dryly said the man she had danced with. "Our headquarters is in the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs on the Kuznetsky Bridge, where we still operate out of the Spets Otdel, the Special Department, of the NKVD. They don't quite know who we are, and our very presence in so secret an institution forbids them to inquire. "

  Elena never saw her flat on the Izvoznia Ulitza again-she was quartered now in a single-story log cabin in one of the "Alsatias" down at the southwestern bend of the Moskva River, by the Lenin Stadium. The Alsatias were rookeries dating from before the Revolution, tangles of old streets and open sewers that had been slated for leveling and reconstruction before the war had intervened. The Alsatias were a perfect sanctuary for "hooligans"-criminals and deserters-and in fact a fugitive division of Azerbaijan troops had lately taken up residence in Elena's neighborhood, and frequently could be heard firing their Army-issue rifles at the cavalry patrols who enforced the midnight-to-five curfew. Elena's roommates were Betsy, an American-Armenian woman who, lured by the promise of a farm of her own in a new Armenia, had moved from New Jersey to Moscow in 1935 and irretrievably surrendered her American passport, and Pavel, a Roman Catholic priest who was generally too drunk to speak. Elena gathered that they were all working for the same unnamed agency, but it was never discussed.

  The man who had danced with her at the Metropol told her his name was Utechin, and he led her with cheery confidence through the mazes of the Soviet secret world. As his secretary, she went with him to the offices of various commissars and ministers, always having to pass through two sets of padded-leather doors with brass plates over the keyholes, to discuss everything from weapon shipments to the selection of operas to be performed at the Bolshoi. Once she watched him preside over the disposition of a shipment of American Lend-Lease leather-the Army wanted it all for boots, and the Minister of Health wanted some of it for the construction of artificial limbs, while the Minister of Trade wanted enough to make a lot of industrial belting; Utechin later prepared conflicting reports to make each of them imagine that he had got what he had wanted, while in fact a full third of the leather was diverted to partisan groups in Astrakhan and Baku on the Caspian Sea coast, for the construction of assault-coracles-boats powered by outboard motors, each with a. 50-caliber machine gun mounted at the stern. "The hulls have to be animal-stuff," Utechin told her merrily, "for our allies there to be able to distinguish our boats from the Germans'. "

  And he took her on tours of graveyards. In the Vagankov and Danilovskoye cemeteries they shoveled away the drifted snow to note the patterns of little holes punched upward out of fresh graves, and Utechin pointed out that the graves of the affluent dead had more such punctures than those of the poor. "The rich can afford gold teeth and jewelry," he told Elena once as they made a picnic of vodka and hard-boiled eggs and bloodwurst on a snow-covered grave mound. "It's only right that they should be called to give them up at the end. There is too much gold anyway, in our country-teeth from the dead, plating from the old church domes. If our angel wants our gold, so be it. "

  "Nichevo," Elena had agreed bewilderedly, reaching for the vodka bottle.

  He nodded. "Drink more," he told her. "A fledgling agent should live more in drunkenness than in sobriety, in order to achieve distance from the deformity which is bourgeois conscience. "

  The preserved body of Lenin had been moved to Kuibyshev when the Nazis had begun their advance toward Moscow, but Utechin took her to the empty mausoleum, right across the broad expanse of Red Square from the palatial GUM department store. Utechin showed a pass to the guards at the tall portal, and he and Elena walked into the mausoleum and followed a counterclockwise route to a set of descending stairs, then turned right several times to get to the crypt room. Net zero, Elena thought.

  Though it was empty, the glass coffin in the middle of the floor was brightly lit by electric lights. "If the Politburo has any sense," whispered Utechin as he ran his hand over the glass, apparently feeling for pits or scratches, "they will leave him in Kuibyshev. Why tease her with this?"

  Elena was afraid she knew who Utechin referred to-and her suspicion was confirmed only a day or two later, when she received her ideological confirmation at the Spets-Otdel office on the Kuznetsky Bridge.

  Utechin fed her six glasses of vodka before sitting her down in a chair across the desk from him. "You are elevated? Out of the twitching, gag-reflexing body? Good. Listen to me, girl-Mother Russia has a guardian angel, a very literal one. She can take a number of physical forms-you met her in one form, on the Sadovaya ring. In her remote youth she was known as Zat al-Dawahi, which is Arabic for Mistress of Misfortunes, but we call her Machikha Nash, Our Stepmother. . . "

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