When satisfied that every useful piece of information had been extracted from the three Britons in his custody, General Biriuzov ordered the three Britons in his custody executed. “Shot while trying to escape,” since there was no one to trade them back to, and the affair was best swept under the rug.
He had had second thoughts about disposing of them so quickly after meeting with Browning, but not third thoughts, for which there were no use. His actions could not be undone. In any case, the emissary from “Her Majesty’s Secret Service” had presented him with more pressing questions in the story he had to tell, and then the request he had to make.
Biriuzov didn’t doubt Stephenson’s story. He was also open to the action his colleague had prescribed, since the man they were talking about had violated some of his country’s most precious secrets.
Of course, that didn’t mean he thought Stephenson had told him everything. He suspected that the man also knew something about the team that stole the ellipton from the first set of thieves – perhaps more than something. But he decided to let that matter lie for now.
His secretary called, letting him know that his appointment had arrived and was waiting to see him.
“Very well. Send him in.”
The door opened.
“Comrade Colonel Zuyev, it is good to see you,” Biriuzov said. “Please sit down. Tea?”
“Yes, thank you Comrade General.”
The General called for it, and then as they each drank their cups, Biriuzov lavished praise on his subordinate for his initiative and skill in pursuing the matter of the ellipton (to which Zuyev replied with appropriate modesty), and then explained the practical facts of the situation.
As he no doubt remembered, Biriuzov told him, he took over the custody of Zuyev’s prisoners at the base and arranged for the completion of their interrogations.
“Subsequent researches have shown that the mastermind of the theft of the ellipton was this man,” Biriuzov added, presenting Zuyev with a file.
“Retired Air Commodore, Lord Christopher MacDougal,” Zuyev read aloud. “But just a man? Not the British government?”
“Whatever the British government’s interest, it seems to us that he acted on his own,” Biriuzov explained. “Even so, he is beyond the reach of British law. Political considerations also make capturing him on British soil and removing him forcibly very problematic. In any event, that course of action no longer seems as profitable as it did earlier given that other information has come to light. However, we cannot permit him to continue to operate as he has, and his assassination has been ordered by the appropriate authorities.
“I would like you to undertake this mission.”
Zuyev was surprised at being asked to do this, but promptly assured the General that he was prepared to carry out his orders immediately.
Afterward it was just an issue of details, following which Zuyev departed his office. Not everything he had said was the truth, but he didn’t think anything he was keeping from Zuyev would hamper him in completing his task. It was all very clear-cut: get in, liquidate MacDougal, get out. And he had no doubts about Zuyev’s appropriateness to the assignment. His familiarity with the situation, and his previous assignment to Britain for a stint aside, he was capable, and sincere, or he would not have caused Biriuzov the headaches he recently had. Still, Biriuzov had meant what he said to Comrade Stepanenkov about keeping a tighter rein on him. He would do this job, and then there would be others for him, the man kept busy in ways that would put his talents to their best use.
“From each according to his abilities,” the phrase went, Biriuzov remembered. There was not only justice in it, but wisdom too, one that Stephenson shared. During the General’s posting in London Stephenson had spoken to him of “creative minorities,” and the work they did in moving a culture forward – the idea of an English historian named Toynbee, he’d learned. Creative minorities faced a special burden in this land, where inertia was in the blood of far too many of his people, even as they found themselves placed in a position with special burdens and special opportunities.
Their creative minority had failed them miserably in the last several years, but he was going to do what it took to clean up the mess, and with MacDougal’s fate decided he turned his attention to other matters on his plate. He had to find a satisfactory successor to General Shadrin. There were reports on the continuing tension in Moldova and the possibility of Romanian intervention, German policy toward the ongoing war in the Balkans, that ex-Air Force General stirring up trouble down in the Caucasus, the hints of Turkish neo-imperialism across their lost southern republics. . . they just went on and on.
The headaches in his position were endless, and the prospect of a comfortable retirement seemed more attractive all the time, but Biriuzov preferred coping with them himself to leaving them to someone else. He supposed it was that sense of responsibility Stephenson had talked so much about. That kind of talk may have been ninety percent reactionary mystification, but it was tough for anyone to escape completely, least of all the people that gave World Communism the theory of the “vanguard party.”