Friday, January 1, 2010

Another excerpt

Well, seeing as how I haven't made any progress on a short story, here's another excerpt from the novel:

Casimir trudged up the steps of the shabby municipal building in Leningrad, pulling his collar tightly around his neck to ward off the early autumn chill. The building was gray, dingy, and faded, like the bureaucracy it held, with only faint suggestions of the glory and grandeur of the Soviet in years past. With the union essentially dissolved, the place seemed anachronistic, out of sync with time and space. The collapse of the Russian economy didn’t help matters, and maintenance and repairs had been all but forgotten on the ancient edifice. Still, it was a familiar sight; Casimir ordinarily visited this place every few months, to report to the Producer. This meeting was sudden, unprepared, out of sequence, but Casimir called ahead after disembarking from the plane form Oslo, and he knew Anatoly would be waiting for him.

As Casimir entered the lobby through ornate wooden doors, Anatoly Molotov was just coming down the hallway, beaming warmly at his younger colleague from Moscow. Molotov, a distant cousin of the cold war hero, was now an old man, well into his 70’s but still vigorous, alert, and active. Molotov favored the traditional military uniform, with its red piping and oversized service cap, and Casimir always smiled to himself when he saw him. It seemed that the old man had shrunken with age, the uniform hanging more loosely each time he visited, the service cap even larger when compared to the old man’s body.

“Casimir, my son, it’s good to see you again,” the old man greeted him, grasping his arm and pulling him close for a traditional hug and feigned kiss on each cheek. Casimir responded in like manner, knowing the old man’s traditional habits, and happy to respond in a similar manner. “It’s a month early for our regular meeting, but I’m always happy to see you,” the old man continued. “Come to the office, I’ve gotten a wonderful present, hand rolled Cubans, you’ll enjoy one with me, will you?”

Casimir smiled and nodded. He loved the old man like his father, even more so because of their special understanding with each other. Molotov, while looking every bit the part of a Hero of the Revolution, was a very modern man. He was pragmatic, rarely cynical, understanding of the changing roles in society, and politics, and Casimir always felt comfortable with him, able to discuss subjects in the most frank and honest manner. The old man clutched his younger colleague’s arm closely as he led him down the hall to his office.

The office itself was, for the most part, spartan and drab, containing just the usual 1950’s government-issue furniture, the ever-present portrait of Lenin hanging on the wall. However, the far side of the room was set up as a sitting area, with two overstuffed leather club chairs, a low table, and a Kurdish rug, the only concession to warmth and comfort. Anatoly led Casimir over to this sitting area. Anatoly would hear nothing of business until he could offer Casimir a large Cuban cigar, and pour him an icy vodka.

“I read your report about the recent blowouts, Casimir. I don’t see anything particularly threatening, “Anatoly commenced, lighting his cigar and exhaling a plume of fragrant pale blue smoke. “You’ve always managed to contain these incidents admirably in the past, and I have every confidence you’ll be able to cope,” the old man explained. “But that is obviously not why you’re here today, my son. First, tell me about Nataly, is she all right?”

Casimir nodded. “As beautiful as ever, Baba,” he replied, using the affectionate nickname for his mentor. “She doesn’t seem to age, at least in my eyes. I look at her, and see the young girl I married long ago. She sends her regards, of course, but was unable to accompany me on this trip”

“A diamond, Casimir, you found a diamond when you found her, I’m sure of it,” Molotov beamed. Pliskin smiled to himself, remembering the folksy expressiveness of his family from so long ago; these cold war soviets are not so far removed from the farms and villages, he thought to himself. “I’m so glad to hear she’s doing well. I’ve always been concerned about her, since back when… well, you know what I mean,” Anatoly said.

“I know, Baba.” Casimir replied solemnly. He didn’t like to be reminded by others about Katrina, even though the thought of his young daughter was constantly on his mind. It was so long ago that she died, victim of a genetic digestive tract defect, back in the days when Soviet medicine was even more primitive than it was now. The memory of his young daughter was bittersweet, but these days, Casimir had to fight to keep her image fresh in his mind. The image he saw more often was that of Nataly’s face, at Katrina’s deathbed, contorted by overbearing grief. He could do nothing for Katrina back then, but there was much he could do for Nataly, to somehow make up for their daughter’s loss. Casimir didn’t really know if western medicine could have saved his daughter, so thin and wan near her death. But Casimir knew that Nataly was convinced she could have been saved in the west. Anatoly was not the Producer in those days, and Dobrynin, the old asshole, wouldn’t allow Casimir to seek western help for his daughter. Casimir’s long preparations for retirement to the West had little to do with his own desires, but much to do with doing justice by his wife. Nataly would never again feel secure in Russia, and her dream of emigrating to the United States would do much to heal the wounds of that terrible time in their lives.

“I’m sorry, my boy. I didn’t mean to remind you of unpleasant things,” the old man apologized.

“Nonsense, Baba, you cannot remind me of things that are omnipresent in my mind, anyhow. Besides, you know all about my retirement plans. It’s all for Nataly, Baba, and you know I owe you an enormous debt of gratitude for understanding why I eventually need to do what I’ve told you. Without you, I could never do for her…”

Anatoly interrupted him. “It’s what we are doing for her, Cas. I love you both as if you were my own children, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for that lovely woman. But enough of that; I’ve grown sentimental in my old age, when I should really keep my focus on present affairs, and stay as sharp as I can until… well, you know.” Casimir smiled to himself; the old man was indeed sharp as a tack, and had always been. But the old man was also always a sentimentalist. Casimir sometimes wondered how Anatoly could have risen to the position of Producer; the job demanded the hardest of hearts at times, and Anatoly could indeed be tough when it was required.

“Well, I suppose it’s best if we get down to business, “Anatoly said, probably trying to re-establish his professional manner, and not allow his sentimentalism to get sloppy. “Why are you here? Is it time to execute your retirement plan, Casimir? I’ve been prepared for this for a long time, my son, but nonetheless it’s going to be especially difficult without….”

Casimir interrupted him. “I wish that were the reason I was here, Baba. I’ve dreamed of little else in the past few years, and my retirement is coming soon, I can assure you. But right now, we’ve got what looks like a problem. I’m not completely sure, but if my suspicions are proved correct, you and I will both be in a world of trouble.”

Anatoly leaned forward. “Tell me, Cas, what is it?”

Casimir slowly related the events of the past 24 hours, describing the call from the young retired actor near Oslo, the trip to see him, and the astounding revelation concerning the event in southern California. The old man’s eyes widened as Casimir related the story, and Cas couldn’t help but notice that the old man became pale and visibly frightened, shrinking even more in his oversized uniform.

“There isn’t much in the way of evidence, or proof, of your suspicions, Cas. Do you believe it? Has someone compromised the old scene?” Anatoly asked.

Casimir sighed. “I don’t know what to think. All of this could be sheer coincidence; it may be completely unrelated to the Egg Drop scene. Obviously, we’re not going to ignore it. Considering the consequences, I think we are going to have to take some very drastic measures to investigate this situation, and prevent catastrophe, if catastrophe is indeed poised at the precipice.”

The old man gravely nodded, and Casimir thought he detected a visible shake to Anatoly’s body.

“I need your permission, Comrade Molotov,” Casimir addressed him formally, as if to emphasize the gravity of the situation. “I’m going to need to take extreme measures here. Somehow, we need to confirm or deny this situation. If it’s really true, we’re going to have to defuse it. Abort it. But in a way which will not compromise the play in general. I am not sure what I’ll need to do, but I have a few ideas.”

Anatoly looked at him. “What will you have to do?” he asked.

“I might have to perform contract cancellations, on my own, or by my subordinates, without taking the time to clear it with you. I might need to draw from the operating budget to pay off informers, or buy silence. There’s a strong possibility that I’ll have to selectively leak information to our counterparts in Langley. Just enough to enlist their assistance, whether they know it or not. Whatever it takes, I’ll need to act quickly, and won’t have time to consult. You’ll need to trust me, Anatoly, completely.”

The old man sighed. “Whatever you need to do, Casimir. Don’t even think about needing to clear it. We’ve know each other long enough to trust one another, and in this situation, we wouldn’t have any other choice, my young friend.” Anatoly slumped back in his club chair, his brow deeply furrowed, looking to Casimir as if he had aged even more in just the last few minutes.

Casimir pulled his chair closer, resting his hand on the old man’s knee, as if to console him. “Anatoly, if this turns out to be real, and we’re unable to stop the event from happening… are my suspicions correct? I am suspecting that you and I… well, the Politburo will… I’m not sure I can even say it.”

The old man nodded. “If it’s real, and the scene is performed, your life and mine will be worthless, we’ll disappear, your wife will be a widow, and I’ll be nothing more than a memory to my grandchildren. The Politburo will see to that, for certain. Even if the scene isn’t performed, but if the play is compromised, we’re likely to suffer the same fate. Running off to San Diego, like your retirement plan, won’t protect you, my son.”

Casimir snickered. “Anatoly, San Diego is the last imaginable place I’d go, at this point.” The old man chuckled in response to the gallows humor. “The only hope is that we find out what’s behind this, and if it’s real, stop it without compromising the play. It’s our only hope.”

Anatoly paused, and then spoke up, a bit stronger, more determined. “Get Nataly out of the country, Cas. Let’s take no chances with her. It’s too dangerous, if things should go wrong…”

Casimir put his finger to his lips, as if to shush the old man. “I’ve taken care of it. She’s going to Montreal. We have assets there that can help if need be.” Casimir rose, understanding that little more need be said. As Anatoly rose, Casimir took his arm, walking towards the door.

“I know that you won’t leave, Anatoly,” Casimir told the old man. “All I ask is that, if things should go badly… you’ll think about coming to Nataly and me. I’ll make sure you have time.” Casimir knew he was wasting his words, but it was just a way to tell the old man he loved him. Anatoly didn’t need to tell him that he was devoting what remained of his life to trying to end the play, reduce the risk to his fatherland, and to the world. Molotov was the only man left who could possibly convince the Politburo that the economy and effectiveness of the play couldn’t outweigh the dangers of the play in the changing conditions of the twenty first century. Slowly, by cajoling the commisars, through whatever influence he could exert, Molotov was determined to end things, reduce the risk, and perhaps make things safer for his grandchildren. Despite his weary countenance, retirement and rest had no real meaning for this last warhorse of a forgotten era.

Anatoly embraced the younger man. “Good luck, Casimir. I know you’ll do what needs to be done, and you have my complete unrestricted permission. You’re in control now... Perhaps in a week or two you’ll be back here, laughing at unfounded suspicions, drinking Stolchinaya and smoking another Cuban with me. Let’s hope so, anyway.”


  1. I’m glad you posted another. I love these little snatches of the plot, and seeing how consistently Casmir interacts with each new character—you’ve drawn him well!
    And I live the office setting; it's almost monochromatic, but full of ambiance—like an old black and white movie set.

  2. ...not live--love--but you probably knew what I meant.