Chapter 14: Koba’s Tale
My PDA alerts me to an appointment Canda has arranged with the dean of American investigative journalists, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Misha Mostokovitz. I teleport to his comfortable log house overlooking Flathead Lake in Montana where he greets me with a notable absence of wamth.
Mostokovitz is a very old man whose face resembles dried parchment studded with pale blue eyes that miss little and a beaked nose with a wart on it and false teeth that occasionally clack and a voice that rumbles and rasps. “Read your Hitler book,” he says. “Didn’t think much of it.”
“Sorry to hear that,” I say cheerfully. What do I care, after all? I didn’t write it. “What specifically didn’t you like about it?”
“The subject,” he says bluntly. “Too much has been written about why Hitler was such an asshole. Of course, nobody really knows. But not enough has been written about Stalin’s evil. But I happen to know why he was such a monumental prick.”
“Really? And why was that?”
“Irritable Bowel Syndrome. He was constantly suffering from stomach pain and shitting in public. Kept him in a bad mood. Nobody knew about IBS in those days. Aside from that, the Russians had the worst doctors in the world. Uncle Joe was right to distrust them.”
“And you know this, how?”
“From the horse’s mouth, or ass, as the case might be. Let me tell you a story. I’ve been meaning to write it down but since nobody would believe me if I did, I’ve never gotten around to it. But I don’t care if you believe me. You can write it off as an allegory if you like.”
“Please, I’d like to hear your tale and I promise to believe you.”
“Bullshit,” he smiles. “Anyway, this goes back to when I was a cub reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune, the non-Mormon newspaper in Salt Lake City. I have a whole bunch of weird Mormon stories by the way but let me get on with this one.
“The year was 1964 and my editor had assigned me to do a story on the Utah Communist Party, a story, by the way, that got me my first Pulitzer nomination at the tender age of twenty when I revealed that all seventeen members of the Utah Communist Party were undercover FBI agents.
“I was sitting in my favorite bar, lots of them, by the way, in prissy Mormon-pure Salt Lake, when I feel a heavy hand on my shoulder. I look up to see a huge sumbitch smilin’ at me. He was accompanied by an even huger sumbitch who didn’t smile. ‘You are the reporter, Mostokovitz?’ Smiley asked. He had a thick accent but I couldn’t recognize it. Hell, at age twenty, I could hardly tell the difference between a Texas and a Connecticut accent.
“I’m he,” I say, trying be grammatical and at the same time not to look intimidated by a guy who outweighs me by about a hundred and fifty pounds.
‘You write about communists?’
“You speak Russian?”
“I am Russian. Or at least my folks are.”
‘Would you please like to meet a real communist?’
“You betcha. I’m sick and tired of the fake variety.”
‘Come with us.’ Smiley grabbed one of my arms, Grumpy the other and they half-dragged me out of the bar to a waiting Lincoln limo.
They blindfold me and we drive off into what I assume is the Wasatch Mountain range because we are constantly climbing. After about forty-five minutes we turn off on a gravel road that quickly becomes a dirt road at the end of which we come to an abrupt stop. Smiley takes off my blindfold and I see that we are parked in front of a somewhat dilapidated old wood frame house. The big guys lead me through the front door where an oil stove gives off almost more heat than I can bear. Sitting by the stove, face half illuminated by a kerosene lamp, is an old man whose ugly pockmarked countenance causes me to do a double take.
“What the hell? You can’t be?”
“But I am, comrade,” the old man says in excellent Russian, softened only slightly by a Georgian accent.
“Naw, you’re dead. I saw it in the newsreels. And your body is in that godawful mausoleum next to your leader in crime.”
He smiles. (Not a pretty sight I must say. The guy’s teeth are terrible looking and scary, all filed down to points. I suppose he might have had crowns once. ) “A double. I had three of them, you know.”
“I bet you’re the double.”
“Think what you like, comrade.”
“Don’t call me comrade. I’m not a commie.”
He laughs. “If you don’t care to think of me by the name by which I’m known to history, you can call me Koba.”
“OK.” I settle down in an uncomfortable wooden straight-back chair. “Double or not, what the hell are you doing in the U.S.?”
“Fulfilling my world-historical mission. You can’t imagine how boring absolute power becomes after a while so I decided that I would pretend to die and then come to your country to see how much damage I could do. Fortunately, quite a lot as it turns out.”
“And who are these guys?” I ask, indicating the two huge sumbitches.
“GRU bodyguards, Spetznatz trained. Quite lethal, I assure you. This one,” Koba nods in Smiley’s direction, “was a trusted perlustrator of mine for many years. And that one,” indicating Grumpy, “is perhaps the world’s foremost assassin.”
“Swell,” I say with forced jauntiness, “Terrific to meet you guys. What the fuck is a perlustrator?”
“One who intercepts and reads letters. We had tens of thousands of them, reading every bit of mail exchanged among Soviet citizens.”
“Sounds like your worker’s paradise, all right.”
For the next fifteen minutes or so, Koba details his various ailments to me, including his stomach problems, the effects of tuberculosis on his right lung, sciatica, arthritis and on and on. The most unsettling aspect of this dreary catalog, though, was the withered right arm that he displayed. What double would go to the trouble of duplicating that? And anyway, could it even be done?
“So what is it you wanted to tell me?” I ask, sick and tired of hearing him drone on about how totally fucked he is.
“A prediction. I’m good at that, you know. But first another bona fide.”
“Go ahead.” Why he’s doing this I don’t really know. I can’t verify his identity, knowing almost nothing of Soviet history, which my parents had discouraged me from studying, good anti-Bolshevik White Russians that they were.
“I did, in fact, order the assassination of Kirov.”
This makes zero impression on me. “And Kirov was who?”
“Sergei Kirov,” Smiley speaks up, “the Leningrad party secretary. Shot by one Leonid Nikolaev in 1934.”
“Kirov was one of my closest friends,” says Koba. “But it was convenient to rid the party of him so I could use his death as an excuse to eliminate my real enemies, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Bukharin and several thousand others.”
“I guess I’m supposed to be impressed.”
“Only by the fact that no one has ever been able to prove that I ordered Kirov’s assassination and no one ever will.” Later on, when I had the chance to check Koba’s statements out, I found that he was right. Even after the KGB and Soviet Communist Party archives were opened to Western researchers, no evidence was ever found that indicated Koba’s complicity in Kirov’s death.
“You were going to predict the future for me,” I reminded him.
Koba fired up a filthy looking pipe and blew smoke in my direction.“Your country has begun its decline. For the next fifty years you will be embroiled in senseless wars, civil unrest, race riots, and rising violent crime. Your citizens will become increasingly fearful and materialistic. Even sybaritic. What little moral fibre Americans currently possess will vanish completely. And you will cease to exist as a great nation.”
“Sounds more to me like what’s gonna happen to the USSR,” I scoff. “And I should believe you, why?”
Koba gestures at Grumpy who pulls a manila envelope from his coat pocket and hands it over. Koba tears it open and spreads out a series of photographs on the small table between us. “Take a look.”
I pick up the first photo, which is instantly recognizable as Dealey Plaza, with JFK’s motorcade just beginning to move through. Others, evidently taken with a telephoto lens, show in sickening succession the president’s bloody assassination. I didn’t know it at the time but a few years later, after so much conspiracy crap had come out, I came to realize that the pictures had to have been taken from the infamous grassy knoll. I look up at Koba. “So the Soviets were behind it after all?”
He shrugs. “No one will ever find any proof. And, of course, there will be other assassinations, engineered by me, the net result of which will plunge your country into confusion, doubt and distrust.”
“Yeah, well thanks for that, Gospodin Koba. You don’t mind if I just forget all about this happy horseshit?”
Koba smiles. “I don’t mind at all. In fact, I am counting on it. But here is a gift to remind you of our little meeting.” He hands me a smallish black stone on which are carved incomprehensible symbols. “And don’t drag your dick in the tea on the way out,” he concludes with a famous Russian insult.
I grin back. “And fuck your mother,” I reply with the most common Russian insult of all.
“I’d rather fuck yours and all the mothers of America. In fact, I have.”
“They blindfold me again, take me back to Salt Lake and let me off outside my apartment. I never see Koba or his pals again. The older I get the more I think it was all just a drunken dream.”
“Maybe not,” I tell Mostokovitz. “I believe it.”
“Yeah? Well you shouldn’t. Now get the fuck out and leave me alone.”
“As you wish. One question, though. Do you still have the black stone Koba gave you?”
“Naw. I sold it to some crazy puzzle-maker guy in Idaho Falls a few years ago.”
I depart the old man’s house and resume my search for Teddy Teawater and Atlas Shrugg.