Sunday, April 11, 2010

4th Death Sentence, continued and completed

I dodged into a courtyard, vaulted over a fence and stumbled through an unlocked door and down a steep flight of steps that led to a wine cellar. Feverish with exhaustion and drugged by the wine’s sweet aroma, I huddled behind a stack of barrels and gratefully lost consciousness.

Once the shooting had stopped, the streets were once again flooded with pedestrians. My bones felt brittle as eggshells, but I knew it would not be a good idea to remain in the cellar. Too many of my comrades had been arrested in their sleep, taken to the Citadel's dreaded “Tenth Pavilion,” and were never heard from again.

An angry hand yanked at my arm. Before I could reach for my revolver, I found Meyer’s soured features scowling at me. Outraged to find me walking the streets wearing my own face, he shoved me into the nearest barbershop and ordered the pitiless removal of my lovingly grown mustache.

Next he hauled me up three unlit flights of stairs to an apartment where another comrade instructed me to take off my clothes and put on a dress, a blond wig smelling of camphor, and a pair of ladies’ shoes that could only have fit a ballerina. To make me feel more comfortable about such idiocy, he also smeared some womanly paint on my face.

Luckily, the apartment had no mirror or I would have I put a quick end to this clown show before they could tell me the news: My name was on a new list of people the Okhrana considered dangerous enough to arrest on sight. If the source was to be believed, I had, in fact, already been condemned to death. 

To me, this could only mean I'd been “whistled out.” I demanded to know by whom. My comrades pleaded ignorance. I kept pressing until they admitted that they didn’t want to tell me. Why not? Because they knew I would go and “Have a word with him.” And why shouldn’t I? Because, as I was sternly reminded, we were a workers’ party with ideals and standards, not a pack of hooligans like some of our more radical competitors.

It didn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to figure out the informer was none other than Left-handed Stepan. Bowing to Party discipline, I applied for permission to kill him. Permission denied. Incensed, I threatened to behave like an “anarchist” -- a label they loathed -- and do the job without their approval.

This moved them to acknowledge that the Party had already passed sentence on him. But, owing to its lofty ideals, it felt obliged to follow a certain “protocol.” To keep things “businesslike,” two professionals had been brought in from Odessa to do the job. In consolation for not being allowed to shoot the man who’d gotten me arrested, I was allowed to go along, but only as a lookout.

Unfortunately, the laws of physics must have been different in Warsaw than in Odessa, because our imported experts seemed surprised to discover that revolver shots made noise, and noise tended to attract attention. As we scattered in different directions one of the shooters, blinded by panic, headed straight into the arms of the police.

And, before I could shout a warning, someone clubbed me from behind.


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