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Authors: Sam Eastland

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The officer’s head snapped up. At first, he looked angry, but then a smile crept across his face. ‘Machine bust!’ he said.

The others started laughing now. ‘Machine bust!’ they all began to shout.

Bewildered, Kirov looked at Pekkala.

Pekkala shrugged.

Only when the laughter had died down did the cavalry men replace their rifles in the scabbards.

The officer nodded at Pekkala. He said something in Polish, which Pekkala could not understand. Then he shouted an order and spurred his horse. The troop of cavalry began to move. The men were talking in the ranks, joking loudly and glancing back at the two inspectors, but at a sharp command from their officer, they immediately fell silent. Then there was only the sound of horses’ hooves as they passed on down the road.

The two men were alone again.

‘What was that?’ asked Kirov.

‘I have no idea,’ replied Pekkala.

They walked back to the tank. Scorched metal showed where the paint had been. The engine grille sagged down on to the ruined motor parts, and the tyres had melted into black puddles beside the tracks.

There was no sign of Maximov.

‘I guess he didn’t make it,’ said Kirov.

Pekkala prepared himself for the sight of Maximov’s shattered corpse. He wondered how much could be left of anyone caught in the path of such destruction. But there was no sign of Maximov. Bewildered, as Pekkala glanced around the clearing, it occurred to him that the fire must have consumed the man entirely. In that moment he realised that the Zundapp motorcycle was missing. He saw the line
of motorcycle tracks, disappearing down one of the woodsmen’s trails. Then it dawned on Pekkala that Maximov was not dead at all. He had escaped, hidden by the wall of fire and the roar of exploding ammunition.

‘I misjudged him,’ said Kirov. ‘He died very bravely.’

Pekkala did not reply. He glanced at Kirov, then glanced away again.

They started walking back towards the Emka.

‘How much time do we have?’ asked Kirov.

‘About an hour,’ replied Pekkala. ‘I hope that radio works.’ It was only now that he realised his coat was still smouldering. He swatted at his sleeves, smoke lifting like dust from the charred cloth.

‘Good thing you have those new clothes I bought you.’

‘Yes,’ said Pekkala. ‘Lucky me.’

*

If there was a border checkpoint at the edge of the Rusalka forest, Maximov never saw it. The first indication he had that he was in a different country was when he rumbled through a village and saw a sign for a bakery written in Polish. Since then, he had not stopped. At fuelling stations in the eastern part of the country, he had been able to pay for petrol with the Russian money he was carrying in his wallet. But as he approached the border of Czechoslovakia, the locals stopped accepting Russian currency and he was forced to barter his watch, then a gold ring. Finally, he siphoned it out of other vehicles using a piece of rubber hose.

Now it was the third day of Maximov’s journey. As the Zundapp crested the hill, sunrise winked off his goggles. He
had been riding all night, coat buttoned up to his throat to fend off the chill as he raced across the Polish countryside.

He pulled off the road and looked out over fields of newly sprouted barley, wheat and rye. Feathers of smoke rose from the chimneys of solitary farmhouses.

Maximov could see the little checkpoint at the bottom of the hill and knew that all the land beyond was Czechoslovakia.

Minutes later, Maximov arrived at the border. Like most of the crossings on these quiet, secondary roads, the checkpoint consisted of a hut which had been divided into two, with a red-and-white-striped boom across the road, that could be raised and lowered by the guards.

A bleary-eyed Czech border guard shuffled out to meet him. He held out his hand for Maximov’s papers.

Maximov reached into his coat and pulled out his pass book.

The Czech flipped through it, glancing up at Maximov to check his face against the picture.

‘The Polak is asleep,’ he said, nodding towards the other half of the building, where beige blinds had been pulled down over the windows. ‘Where are you going, Russian?’

‘I am going to America,’ he said.

The Czech raised his eyebrows. For a moment, the guard just stood there, as if he could not comprehend the idea of travelling that far. Now his gaze turned towards the motor cycle. ‘Zundapp,’ he said, pronouncing it ‘Soondop’. He grunted with approval, resting his knuckles on the chrome fuel tank, as if it were a lucky talisman. At last, he handed Maximov his pass book and raised the boom across the road. ‘Go on to America,’ he said, ‘you and your beautiful Soondop!’

It took Maximov another week to reach Le Havre. There, he sold the beautiful Zundapp and bought a ticket to New York. When the ship left port, he stood at the railing, watching the coast of France until it seemed to sink beneath the waves.

*

Pekkala stood in Stalin’s office at the Kremlin, hands behind his back, waiting for the man to appear.

Finally, after half an hour, the trap door clicked and Stalin ducked into the room. ‘Well, Pekkala,’ he said as he settled himself into his red leather chair, ‘I have taken your advice and placed the engineer named Zalka in charge of completing the T-34. He assures me that the final adjustments to the prototype design will be ready in a matter of weeks. Zalka has told me that he will be adding several safety features to the original design. Apparently, the test drivers had already started calling it …’

‘I know,’ said Pekkala.

‘I happen to agree with Nagorski,’ continued Stalin. ‘The machine should come first, but we can’t have them calling the T-34 a coffin before it’s even started rolling off the production line, can we?’

‘No, Comrade Stalin.’

‘All mention of Colonel Nagorski in connection with the Konstantin Project has been erased. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, he had nothing to do with it. I have no wish for our enemies to gloat over the death of one of our most prominent inventors.’

‘And what about the boy?’ asked Pekkala.

‘I have given it some thought.’ Stalin reached for his pipe.
‘It seems to me that can all be pushed to the edge, don’t you agree, Pekkala?’

‘Yes, Comrade Stalin.’

‘The killer lurks in every one of us,’ Stalin continued. ‘If it didn’t, our whole species would long ago have ceased to walk this earth. And it would be a waste to throw away a young man who might one day follow in the footsteps of his father.’

‘He has potential,’ said Pekkala.

‘I agree, and that is why I have appointed the boy to be Zalka’s apprentice until the Konstantin Project is completed. After that, he will be enrolled in the Moscow Technical Institute. But I am expecting results. I will be watching. And you, Pekkala, will keep your Emerald Eye on him.’

‘I will indeed,’ he said.

Stalin aimed the pipe at him. ‘I see you have a nice new jacket.’

‘Ah,’ said Pekkala. He looked down at the clothes Kirov had bought him. ‘This is just temporary. I’m having some made up at Linsky’s.’

‘Linsky’s?’ asked Stalin as he hunted in his desk drawer for a match. ‘Over by the Bolshoi Theatre? You know what they say about the things he makes? Clothes for dead men! What do you think of that, Pekkala?’

‘It gets more funny every time I hear it.’

‘Anyway,’ said Stalin, ‘you won’t be needing anything from Linsky.’

‘I won’t?’

Stalin had found a match. He struck it, the tiny stick positioned between his thumb and first two fingers. For the next few seconds, the only sound was the dry rustle of his
breathing as he coaxed the tobacco to burn. The soft, sweet smell drifted towards Pekkala. Finally he spoke. ‘I am sending you to Siberia.’

‘What?’ shouted Pekkala.

‘You are going back to Borodok.’

The door opened. Stalin’s secretary, Poskrebyshev, poked his head into the room. ‘Is everything all right, Comrade Stalin?’

‘Out!’ snapped Stalin.

Poskrebyshev took a long and disapproving look at Pekkala. Then he closed the door behind him.

‘You are sending me to prison?’ asked Pekkala.

‘Yes, although not as a prisoner. Not officially, at any rate. There has been a murder in the Borodok camp.’

‘With respect, Comrade Stalin, there are murders in that camp every day of the week.’

‘This one has caught my attention.’

‘When am I leaving?’

‘In two days. Until then, you may consider yourself on vacation.’

‘What about Major Kirov?’

‘Oh, the Major will be busy here in Moscow, handling his end of the investigation. I have already spoken to him, here in this office, earlier today. Which reminds me.’ Stalin reached into his pocket and then, from his closed fist, dropped four kumquats upon the desk. ‘He gave me these. What am I supposed to do with them?’

‘Kirov didn’t tell you?’

‘He just said they were a gift.’

‘You eat them, Comrade Stalin.’

‘What?’ He picked one up and stared at it. ‘In little pieces?’

‘No,’ said Pekkala. ‘All at once. All four of them. Just put them in your mouth and bite down. It’s a real treat.’

‘Hmm.’ Stalin gathered the fruit back into his hand. ‘Well, I suppose I could give it a try.’

‘I should be going, Comrade Stalin, or my vacation will be over before I am out of the building.’

Stalin’s attention was focused on the kumquats in his palm. ‘Good,’ he mumbled, staring at the tiny orange globes laid out on his palm. ‘Goodbye, Pekkala.’

‘Goodbye, Comrade Stalin.’

As he walked out through the waiting room, Pekkala heard Stalin roar as he bit down on the kumquats and then spat them across the room. ‘Pekkala!’

Pekkala only smiled and kept on walking.

Sam Eastland lives in the US and the UK. He is the grandson of a London police detective.

EYE OF THE RED TSAR

First published in 2011
by Faber and Faber Ltd
Bloomsbury House
74–77 Great Russell Street
London WC1B 3DA
This ebook edition first published in 2011

All rights reserved
© Sam Eastland, 2011

The right of Sam Eastland to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with Section 77 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights, and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly

ISBN 978–0–571–27179–5

BOOK: The Red Coffin
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