When a dark-haired, broad-faced young man walked up to the Honorable Desmond Bernard in the public room of the Aristophanes Club in Washington D.C. and silently presented him with no less than a fresh Cuban Cohiba Robusto, the old spymaster couldn’t hide his delight. He turned the thick, firm cigar over and over in his gnarled fingers, already enjoying the sight and smell of a real Havana masterpiece.
“Well, young fellow,” Bernard said, “this is a pleasant surprise. You know, since they retired me out of the CIA, I have few pleasures that trump a good smoke.”
Bernard glanced around slyly. Many U.S. Marshalls and senior FBI agents also frequented this club and the Cuban cigar was, technically, contraband. Deftly, he worked the distinctive black and yellow paper ring off the cigar and slipped it into his jacket pocket. “For my collection,” he said, with a wink.
The young man nodded.
“I suppose I shouldn’t ask where you obtained my favorite kind of cigar,” Bernard said. “But if you don’t mind, I would like to know who you are and how you were directed to me. Unless you should like to sit outside in the garden -- it is a beautiful day out there.”
The young man glanced through the tall windows which displayed a large, elegant and sunlit garden outside the room. After a moment, he turned back, smiling. Dressed in a coarse tweed suit with a dark gray tie, he sat down opposite the former head of CIA’s Russia Desk.
“Thank you, sir. This room good for conversation, yes?” The young man touched his chest with fingertips. “My name is Dimitri Merkushin. I am archivist for Russian Republic with job of researching certain... activities during Cold War of Shmert Spionam, KGB and Stasi. I now concentrate on events during year 1969 involving attempted defection of Ukrainian Pitor Yulenski -- and yourself.”
While Bernard’s bushy white eyebrows rose, he showed no other response -- except to thumb a slim Dunhill lighter and carefully fire-up the prize cigar. Bernard leaned back in his chair and let his eyes rove over the high, carved ceiling of the public room as he exhaled a blue-white stream of smoke. His sigh was audible.
“Nothing like a real Cuban, eh?”
Dimitri pulled a worn notebook from the inner pocket of his jacket and flipped it open to a page crowded with Cyrillic characters. “Our record of such defection is, how you say it... unfinished. I like to know story from your side, to complete history. There is rumor he was killed by KGB, was big mistake. We need to know is true or no. To compensate family.”
Desmond Bernard smiled at him. “You’ve chosen your bribe very well, young fellow. And it so happens that the top-secret classification of this affair expired just over a year ago, although I may choose to withhold certain details for my own purposes.” The retired secret agent blew another dense smoke ring toward the tall windows of the public room as he gathered his memories.
“I was sitting outside the Café Turco,” Bernard said, “a coffee shop near the Cathedral of St. Antony of Padua in Istanbul, smoking a Montecristo Especial. It was the European sector of town. Greek architecture and those narrow-gauge trolley cars rattling by. Just after noon that day, Pitor Yulenski walked past me. A young man, not unlike you in appearance, he stumbled in front of me but caught himself and walked on. However, there was now a newspaper on my table -- a common piece of tradecraft known as a ‘brush pass’.
“When I finished my espresso, I went back to my flat with that newspaper tucked under my arm. Folded inside it was a handwritten letter. My Russian was quite good in those days and I read that this man, Pitor, was an engineer, educated in Moscow, who hated Stalin and the Kremlin for killing his family in Ukraine. Pitor wished to defect, but would only be in Istanbul for two weeks and after that he didn’t know when the next opportunity might arise.
“He asked that I meet with him in the old souk, at the shop of a spice merchant. There, the KGB agent who was assigned to follow him could be lost in the crowds. Ah, the old souk at night! The mystery of the Orient, the intrigue of the bazaar, the danger of darkness. Intoxicating to anyone with a sense of romance.
“I worked my way through the maze of shops, the tangle of carts, avoiding pickpockets and beggars. I went into one musty little bookshop and walked right out through the back door. As I emerged, I wore a different jacket and hat, and I had discarded a false moustache. One had to assume that one was being followed at all times.
“Around ten p.m. -- 22:00 to you -- I found the address Pitor gave me and entered the spice shop. I was greeted by a riot of scents: black pepper, saffron, coriander, cumin, clove, and others I couldn’t identify. The owner was an ancient man with a stringy white beard, wearing a dark red fez and a long djellaba, stained with the residue of many meals. He nodded to me and said, Es salaam alékum.
“Alékum salaam, I replied. With a smile in his rheumy eyes, he pointed to a threadbare curtain that led to the back of the shop. I cautiously made my way through the curtain and into a dark back room where sacks of spice were stored. The flame from a single oil lamp made a dim amber glow, and I could see Pitor sitting at a small table, drinking a demitasse of Turkish coffee and smoking a cigarette held between his thumb and first finger. He motioned me to sit down.
“We spoke in Russian, he with a Ukrainian burr and me with my Muscovite accent. He greeted me briefly and thanked me for coming. He paid someone in the Russian Embassy to learn the identity of an American agent –- and they pointed him to me. He said he wished to defect, that he hated the Kremlin more than the devil and he wanted to put his knowledge of Soviet engineering practices at the service of the west.
“I told him that the United States would indeed offer him asylum, but that we had identified many Russian defectors as KGB agents wishing to spy on us. I told him that I would give him the opportunity to tell his story, but it would be investigated and he would only be allowed to defect if his résumé was good. Pitor became angry and paced up and down in the tiny room, with its mounded burlap sacks of raw spices and dried herbs. He eventually calmed down and returned to the table. He said that he understood the need for caution and would tell me his story.
“I lit a buff Perla del Mar double corona, leaned back and asked him to begin. I must say it was a moving experience to hear his tale. His family had been devastated by the Holodomor, the great famine of 1932-’33, when Stalin forced collective farming on the grain belt of Central Europe and Ukraine. Soviet agents seized the entire harvest of a farm, leaving the peasants nothing at all for their year’s labor, not even a pound of grain. Pitor’s two young uncles had been shot for going out to the fields after the harvest and gleaning a few cups of wheat -- lined up and shot with a score of other children. There were rumors of cannibalism that winter.
“Pitor’s father, Yuri, escaped through the woods and rode an empty railroad car to Kiev, where certain White Russians sheltered him and arranged for him to go to Moscow and attend technical school. Eventually, he married and took up residence. Pitor followed in his father’s footsteps as an engineer and graduated at the top of his class. As a civil engineer, he had worked on or knew the location of scores of bridges and dams in the USSR -- valuable strategic knowledge, should we ever go to war with the Russians.
“His story was by no means unique. Several million Ukrainians and others died in that famine, deliberately caused by the Kremlin under Stalin’s orders. Pitor’s father was the only one to survive from his whole village and he instilled his son with a fierce hatred of the Soviets.
“I told Pitor that I could help him defect but would need to verify his story and make sure that he was not a double agent or mole.
“He agreed and provided me with the name of his father’s village, Kremenchug, and of the White Russian family in Kiev who had helped his father. I said I would meet him in the same place a week hence and give him my answer. He would have to be ready to defect at that time, but I would make all preparations.
“We shook hands and I left the shop with a bag of peppercorns as cover. The next morning, I rose early and sent a coded cable to Langley asking for a full dossier on Pitor Yulenski, as much as we had. Then I transformed my appearance with hair dye, a false beard and the appearance of bad skin and teeth. I dressed as a deckhand in the Russian Merchant Marine and took passage on a rusted freighter that would dock in Odessa that night. It was a frightful risk, but in those days, I believed that I could do anything.”
Dimitri looked up from the notes he was making. “Was not difficult entering Soviet Union?”
Bernard couldn’t hide a smile as he answered, “Well yes, of course. But we had probed and probed all along the Soviet borders and finally we established several places where bribes were effective or security was not so tight. Those were the favored points of entry, especially when we were in a hurry.”
Dimitri nodded and the old field agent continued his narrative. “I won’t tell you exactly how because some of my collaborators and their families are still alive, but from Odessa, by various means, I worked my way up the dark green Dnipro River to the small town of Kremenchug. It was a ruin, a ghost town. Under the current Soviet regime, nothing was done to maintain this village and it looked worse than some areas which had been bombed by the Germans.
“I had a name, Seminovna, but when I came to the address Pitor gave me, on Krasnia street, it was nothing but a pile of rubble. It appeared to be a dead end –- after all that trouble and risk. Across the street, I sat down on a fallen tree to consider my next move. I had several coarsely rolled Toscano cigars in my duffel bag, and I lit one. The gray smoke blew down the street and vanished in the cold wind. You see, I hadn’t considered how a good smoke can be a siren song.
“In a few minutes an old man staggered up to me and begged for tobacco. I nodded and gave him one of my leathery Italians. He lit it with a heavy wooden match and savored the strong aroma. With a nearly toothless smile he nodded and thanked me, returning the way he had come. Who knows how long since he had real tobacco to smoke? From a few steps away, the old man turned back and gestured for me to follow him. While we were always on the lookout for betrayal, I felt some confidence that my sailor’s clothing and open generosity had gained me acceptance.
“As I followed along after him, I asked about the name Seminovna. His yellowed eyes widened and he nodded and beckoned me on again. We rambled up Krasnia Street to an old brick building. There, the old man knocked twice and twice again on a battered wooden door. After a long interval, the door opened and we went in.
“Inside that room was the heart of Mother Russia. The tall, tiled stove glowed with heat, the samovar steamed with fresh mint tea and two long tables were set for dinner with an assortment of cabbage, turnip and beet dishes. The peasants were thin and worn but smiled at me. No one but I had a full set of teeth.
“I gave greetings and they welcomed me into their midst. I asked about the Seminovna family, saying that I had a private message from a relative. Everyone nodded but no one spoke out. I kept a piece of hard cheese in my duffel bag about the size of a fist that I brought out and unwrapped. A hush fell over the room. People stood up and stretched their necks just to see that cheese. An old woman sobbed and tears rolled down more than one face.
“I pushed the cheese toward them and indicated that they should have it. The crowd looked at me with great affection. A handsome woman at the other table stood up and said, I am Ludmilla Seminovitch Druchenko, what do you have to tell me?
“I repeated that my message was for her only. She thought for a moment and then turned to climb a staircase, waiting for me to follow. She took my hand and led me up to the second floor. We entered a bedroom with a single candle burning on a bureau and three crude beds against the walls of the room. Ludmilla sat on one bed, I on another. I told her that I had made the acquaintance of Pitor Yulenski, and he told me that she could vouch for him and his family. In an instant, her bearing changed. Her face reddened. We don’t speak of that family here, she said. Not with strangers. What had they done, I asked with an innocent smile. Traitors! she spat out.
“Now, lowering my voice I asked, Traitors to whom? Stalin or the Tsar? Comrade, she said, I have never known a merchant seaman until today who had such smooth, soft hands. We may be simple people here but we are not fools. Tell me what your real business is or move on.
“This posed a problem for me. Could I trust this woman or was she luring me to be denounced? I noticed that there were no pictures of Lenin or Stalin in this room, or the one downstairs. And there were several Icons, gilded religious artworks, in small frames where the basin and ewer stood on an old pine table. These were forbidden by Moscow.
“I swear to you on my mother’s life, I said, that I am not a Soviet agent. I wish Pitor well and want to help him escape from the USSR. But I must know if he is to be trusted or if he is KGB. And I have never known a woman from a kulak family to wear French perfume.”
“She nodded and spent a moment in contemplation, then she spoke. Yes, she said, I have just come from Moscow to visit my family. I am a teacher of music and I despise the Soviets because my father and brothers have all been sent to the gulag. Their great crime was to own recordings of western music. Especially German music. Beethoven, Brahms, Shubert.
“She said, KGB recruited many from Ukraine because the boys would do anything for a crust of bread. But this boy Pitor and his father Yuri, I never heard that they became spies. I swear to this on my life, whoever you are.”
“I am your obedient servant, comrade Ludmilla. And now let us rejoin the others before they think we are having sex up here. With a delightful laugh, she stood and led me down the staircase. She introduced me to her brooding husband. They had saved one slice of cheese for Ludmilla which showed great compassion. A large bottle of Vodka appeared and made the rounds. The men sang lusty Russian songs till well after midnight. There was much laughter. Strange, I thought, to spend so sweet an evening in the bosom of my enemy.
“Now, I had to travel to Kiev and trace the White Russian family who sent Pitor’s father to Moscow. This would be much harder, since Kiev was a big, cosmopolitan city, and had a large contingent of KGB guarding it from the likes of me.
“By hiding in deserted railroad cars and flagging rides on ancient diesel trucks, I arrived in Kiev and made for a safe house in the Solomyanski District. The safe house was above a café and I signaled my presence by turning my coffee cup upside-down when it was empty, a gesture that drew no notice but was a clear signal to my contact, an old waiter there. On the back of the bill, was a time and place to meet. It would be the next day in the Solomyanskya Cemetery -- another piece of tradecraft as everyone, even the KGB, disliked cemeteries and avoided them.
“However, when I arrived at the meeting place, my contact was lying dead in a ditch, a piece of rope still wound tightly around his neck! I heard a police whistle and the harsh barking of police dogs as they began to close in around me.”
Dimitri shook his head as he made his notes. “So,” he said quietly, “you were betrayed?”
“Who is blamed for such betrayal?”
“I didn’t know at the time. My main goal was to get away from the dogs. And, strangely, it was the local police who pursed me, not the KGB. Unusual in every way. I believed that Pitor himself had denounced me, because I went to Kiev as he suggested and there I was, running for my life.
“Fortunately, there was a large butcher shop across the street from the cemetery and by charging into the shop and out a side door, I was able to escape. Once the dogs entered the butcher shop, they became uncontrollable and fastened their teeth on sausages, chops and blood puddings, not my carcass.”
“But contact is now dead,” said Dimitri, “and safe house no good. What to do?”
“Reflex and tradecraft saved me,” Bernard replied. “When I came across the dead man in the cemetery, I quickly searched his pockets. In one of them I found a small strip of paper with the name of a family and an address across town in the Pechersky District -- almost on the banks of the Dnipro. Still in my disguise as a sailor, but now using worn leather gloves to hide my soft hands, I made my way toward that part of town.
“My destination was a grand house that must have pre-dated the Revolution. I approached it with some fear, and knocked on the front door. A man in a peasant shirt opened the door and spoke to me frankly, saying Comrade, we have fed the poor all week and there is but little left for those in the family. Please go to one of our neighbors and ask them for alms.
“I believe I shocked him when I spoke in my Muscovite accent and said that I sought news of comrade Yuri Yulenski and his family, and not food -- although I was quite hungry at the time.
“With a look up and down the street, he pulled me inside and gave me a close inspection. I am Johann Kedrovski, he said in a deep voice. Come sit down with me and I will try to answer your questions. Would you like tea?
“I said that hot tea would be very welcome and he waved to a young serving woman. We sat down in a large parlor that was filled with grand furniture now old and worn from decades of use.
“The girl brought in a small silver samovar on a tray and placed it on a low table. She drew out two glasses of tea and handed them to Johann and myself. Eager for warmth, I burned my mouth on the first sip, but it was still delicious.
“As we drank our tea I said, I believe your family gave aid to a young man named Yuri Yulenski about 30 years ago, when he escaped from Kremenchug in the Great Famine. I know the man’s son Pitor Yulenski.
“Johann said, our family has helped many who were in need. I don’t remember the name myself, but let us go upstairs and talk to babusha, my grandmother.
“We trudged up a winding staircase and entered a room off the top of the stairs. In a large bed was a tiny old woman, her face wrinkled and pale. She looked over one-hundred years old and although awake, she gazed off into the far distance like a seer. Johann went up to the head of the bed and gently took the old woman’s hand in his. I lingered at the foot of the bed, in near darkness. He said, Baba, do you know the name Yuri Yulenski?
“The ancient woman blinked and moved her shriveled lips. She spoke in a hushed, crackling voice. He came to us in the Great Famine last year, she said. We sent him to Moscow for school. Johann shook his head. Not last year, baba. Long ago.
“But the old woman paid no attention. He was skinny like a rail, she said, like a wooden board. Big shoulders but no meat on his bones. They were all starving the in the districts south of here.
“Did he stay in touch, I asked? Or was he a plant by the KGB? The old woman shook her head with the petulant expression of a child. Yuri was taken by KGB soon after he arrived in Moscow, she said, and tortured, but then released. He was an innocent country boy!
“From where I stood, I could see out the back of the house from a window next to the bed. I had watched first one then two then five policemen come into view, as they surrounded the house.
“The truth is, I shouted, that you betrayed Yuri Yulenski as you have now betrayed me. No, said Johann, we betrayed no one. Those who were against Stalin and the Soviets always found help here.
“Look out there, I said, pointing out the back window. Johann’s eyes followed my pointing finger and he gasped when he saw the gathered police and their dogs.
“Come with me, he said abruptly and we charged down the stairs two at a time. On the first floor, he opened a hidden door under the staircase and we ducked down a steep, narrow stairway. I pulled a pen flashlight from my duffel bag as we ran down a long flight of stairs into the dank cold of a deep sub-basement.
“Johann ran to the back wall of the clandestine basement and pulled open another secret door, so well concealed that its opening seemed magical, like something in a story of Jorge Louis Borges. Johann pushed me into the opening and pointed straight ahead.
“This tunnel leads to the other side of the Dnipro River, he said, breathless. At some point it is very small tunnel, and there may be flooding or stagnant water. Go to the Glaz Gusya (Duck’s Eye). You will meet a contact there who will take you to the train station. Ask to buy a ticket to Riga. Say that you wish to see the circus. If the man replies that the dancing bear is dead, tell him where you really wish to go and he will help you. But you must hurry. I hear them on the floor above us now.
“I thanked him profoundly and flew into the tunnel. Johann closed the door behind me and I could hear footsteps somewhere above and the barking of excited dogs. I pushed ahead into the gloom of the tunnel. It stank of roots and decay. There was a pile of half-eaten rats against one wall. Further on, it became colder and I knew I was under the river. The deepest part of the tunnel was flooded as Johann had said, but there were still a few inches of air at the top for me to breathe. My god, that water was cold! As I waded in, it seemed to paralyze my legs and arms, but I kept on.
“I tried to move quickly through the frigid water, but every step was a Herculean effort. Finally the water became shallower and then I was out of it. I felt the slope of the tunnel rising toward the surface. I briefly took off my pants and wrung the water out of them, then did the same to my jacket, shirt and sweater. It was small comfort but better than clothes that were sopping wet.
“At last I came to a wooden door with a glimmer of light around its edges. Finding the latch, I cautiously opened the door and stepped out into the supply room of an underground public toilet. That door closed behind me and vanished into a tile wall. The odor of urine and fear was overwhelming and I nearly choked on the stinging ammonia in the chilly air. I removed my hat, turned the seaman’s jacket inside out to a leather lining, put on a Lenin cap with a short bill and pulled a doctor’s bag out of my duffel, which I discarded into a waste basket near the door. I added a pair of thick glasses and emerged from the filthy pissoir a different man altogether.
Dimitri smirked, “Tradecraft, no?”
“Yes, tradecraft,” Bernard said. “The spy’s bag of tricks and deceptions. Once again it would save my life. Now I had a real puzzle to solve. The Duck’s Eye! What was it? I scouted up and down the Dnipro River but never saw a boat called the Duck’s Eye, or a tavern or restaurant or cinema.
“I spoke to many people who shook their heads. I was becoming worried but when I consulted a map of Kiev, I saw it at once. Trukaniv Island has the shape of a duck’s head facing south in the waterway of the Dnipro River. There’s an oval pond in the head that resembles an eye -- that had to be it.
“It was a heavily wooded area. Police whistles blew in the distance and I realized that I was only minutes ahead of them. At the ‘Duck’s Eye’ pond, I met a man who hurried me into a small boat which we used to cross the river after dark. He pulled on the oars with a practiced stroke. The dark green water of the Dnipro slid under that boat silently and soon we docked. A Lada taxi waited at the roadside. I was put into that cab and it raced to the Darnytsia railway station.
“I found the ticket seller and asked for a ticket to Riga. That’s a long way, he said. Yes, I know but I want to see the circus. Save your money, he said, the dancing bear is dead. Where else do you want to go?
“I told him Odessa and he almost smiled at me. He selected a ticket from a rack full of narrow cardboard stubs. Twelve rubles, three kopecks, he said. I gave him one hundred rubles. He slid the cash out of sight and pushed my ticket under the glass partition. Track number four, he said. Get on the train now and be sure you have papers to show the conductor. He’s KGB.
“Grateful for that warning, I boarded the train, showed the conductor my ticket and my fake travel papers and was left to myself for the rest of the trip back to Odessa. In the warmth of the train, I slept like the dead.
“From Odessa I returned to Istanbul by freight train and after a long, hot bath, checked my dispatches. The reply from Langley was coded and labeled most important. The CIA suspected that a man taking the name Pitor Ulensky was a KGB agent. Someone used an almost identical story in an attempt to defect from East Berlin. I felt sad for the real Pitor, whatever his fate may have been.
“I was at the spice shop a few minutes early that night. When Pitor arrived, I wasted no time telling him that he would not be offered asylum in the West, he would not be allowed to defect because he was, in fact, a KGB agent who wished to become a double agent and spy on the USA. I told him that I had seen through his poorly constructed story and that I had barely escaped his betrayal. Pitor grew very angry. He hated being unmasked as a spy. He became violent and produced a gun, a 9mm Makarov, the standard weapon of the KGB. It became necessary for me to kill him, to keep him from calling the Turkish police. I was also forced to kill the old spice merchant, who hurried in just as I was finishing Pitor. I set up a scenario where it looked as though they had killed each other in a dispute over money. Since Pitor was an active spy, the KGB would simply make it disappear. And there you have it.”
Desmond Bernard blew a wide smoke ring toward the windows. How it shimmered and rippled in the still air.
The Russian archivist made notes as Desmond spoke but now he closed his notebook and sighed. “Is remarkable story. Is most remarkable. Except is all lies. Lies and contortions of truth.”
“Distortions?” Desmond suggested.
“Da, da. You decide Pitor is KGB before making such journey. You set out to prove that he is spy, not to find out truth. When you locate Ludmilla Seminovna, she confirm that Pitor’s father escape from Great Famine. But this information not matching your idea, so you kill her in upstairs room and then escape into dark night. So is police searching for you in Kiev, not KGB. And you ignore White Russian family, even though they aid you to escape. You have idea that Pitor must not defect. Can it be because you are KGB double-agent?
“You never once allow defector to leave Istanbul alive. In all records of this time, never one Russian defector come across at your station -- always something happening and they are betrayed, denounced, killed by Secret Police or Turkish police. Most strange, da?”
“That’s a curious premise, young man. And I’m not saying that you are wrong. It would be very clever of me to be a double-agent all this time, don’t you think? But here in the USA, we have a legal system that requires proof before one is punished. And you have no proof.”
Dimitri stood up and collected his notebook and other papers. He nodded at Desmond Bernard.
“Da. What you say is true. I have not proofs to make such a case in court. But leaving out one thing. Full name is Dimitri Merkushin Seminovitch Druchenko. Woman you kill in Kremenchug was my grandmother -- making visit to her family after difficult birth of my father. But, for all so-called tradecraft, you did poor job killing her and she survive two days with broken neck. She told story that you were western agent and she attempt to save one Ukrainian who hate Soviets as much as she.”
“Well then,” said the old CIA agent, “I’m afraid your revenge is rather a dud, isn’t it?”
“Nyet,” said Dimitri. “This cigar you have smoked with such enjoyment contains one gram Polonium dust -- radioactive and toxic chemical. By now, tiny particles of such deadly metal have worked their way into your mouth and throat. Death will be long and painful. And revenge will be complete. Good day to you, Comrade Bernard.”
With that, the young Russian stood up and walked away.
Desmond Bernard called out, “Just a moment, young man.”
“There are one or two items I have left out from my story and I should like to make a complete confession. Since I haven’t long to live now.”
With a superior lift of an eyebrow, Dimitri returned. “Please not to keep me. I have appointment with news outlet to speak of your treachery. Cable news will find story most appealing.”
“Cable news is it, not Pravda? How times have changed.”
“Joke is on you, I think.”
Bernard’s face took on a hardness the young Russian had not seen before. “I have never been a traitor to my country, nor would ever be,” Bernard said sharply. “I have risked my life in the service of the United States more times than I can remember at this age. Secondly, most of your information is wrong. Fed to you by the remnants of the KGB. Events of 1969 were exactly as I described them to you, in every detail. Except that now I realize it was your grandfather, Semnovina Ulenski, who killed your grandmother. He must have believed I was intimate with her in that upstairs room and in beating her to make her confess, he killed the poor woman. It was he who then called the Ukrainian police and nearly had me taken in Kiev.”
“Never!” said the young Russian, his face running pale.
“Dimitri, your people have been lied to for so long, I don’t believe you can recognize the truth. However, you were right about one item. None of those who attempted to leave the Soviet Union through Istanbul ever survived. That’s because it was a scam. A gigantic scam. We routed the ones who wanted to defect down the coast from Istanbul to Gallipoli, where security was a joke. And, if needed, we produced a corpse that roughly matched the defector.
“So I’m afraid your version of events is a bit muddled. Just as your attempt to kill me during our interview.”
“Is too late. Polonium now doing work deep inside you!”
“I’m afraid not, my young friend,” Barnard said. “First of all, we’re taught never to accept anything from a stranger -- especially food, drink or tobacco. Much too easy to drug or poison a man. So, after I slipped the ring off the cigar you handed me, I turned your attention to the beautiful garden outside and in that moment I switched your cigar with one already in my pocket -- nearly identical in size, shape and color -- it is my favorite kind, after all. The cigar I smoked was a harmless Dominican.”
Dimitri looked stricken; he became aware of two large men in suits, one at either side of him, and two more quietly approaching.
“Tradecraft,” Bernard said with a smirk. “Once learned, never forgotten. You will be deprived of your sick pleasure in watching me rot from the inside out. But I will enjoy the sight of you in Federal custody for quite a long while. And a very good day to you, comrade Druchenko.”End