Chapter 21 takes us to a dacha outside of St. Petersburg, and introduces us to a few new conspirators. As always, comments are welcome.
In Russia, there are dachas and there are dachas. Most dachas are small, unheated cottages used as a means of escape from the faceless crowds, relentless noise, and foul air of urban life. A small vegetable garden, its care both practical and therapeutic for the dacha’s owner and family, usually occupies whatever land is not taken up by the cottage’s modest footprint. Although larger and more elaborate variations on the dacha theme have become more common since the end of the Soviet era–a sign of opulence cultivated by the emerging middle and upper classes–most are still rudimentary shelters, unfit for habitation for much more than a weekend getaway, or a summer vacation.
However, there are dachas and there are dachas. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party elite enjoyed access to dachas that had more in common with the villas of European nobility than a tiny shack of the modestly successful apparatchik. Stalin, at the top of that elite for 30 years, had use of a dacha that was a sprawling complex capable, for all intents and purposes, of housing the heart of the Soviet Union’s government during much of World War II. The dacha of Fyodor Stolypin, surrounded by 100 acres of forest, is cut from the same cloth.
The Stolypin family built the enormous dacha and several outbuildings on a plot of land well east of the city limits of St. Petersburg during the reign of Tsar Alexander III. The idea was simple: the estate would be enjoyed by countless generations of Stolypins and others of their set. They, like most of Tsarist Russia’s elite, did not anticipate the events of 1917. The family’s enjoyment was cut short when the dacha, the outbuildings, and the land on which they all sit were confiscated by the Communist Party after the victory of the Reds during the civil war that followed the October Revolution.
For the next 70 years, while the Stolypin compound served as a retreat for high-level party functionaries, St. Petersburg slowly sprawled in the direction of its location. Although it is still well-hidden from public view, the E105 highway east from St. Petersburg has rendered the Stolypin family compound, reclaimed in 1991 at the cost of a bribe few Russians could contemplate, little more than a 30-minute limousine ride from the heart of the city.
The lights of the country estate are all on illuminating not only every room in the dacha but the entire compound and the first 10 meters of the surrounding woods. Three silver Mercedes-Maybach S600 Pullman limousines, one after another in rapid succession, pull up to the dacha’s main entrance. As each limousine pulls up, a doorman steps briskly forward to open the rear passenger door, while another awaits the arriving passengers’ immediate entrance through the double oak and etched glass doors of the dacha.
The first limousine disgorges three uniformed colonel generals, officers of the Russian Federation Army, an Admiral from the Federation’s Baltic Fleet, and a Vice Admiral from the Black Sea Fleet. The second limousine delivers two civilians in matching grey slacks, black turtlenecks, and blue blazers. The final limousine contains Stolypin, Bogdanov, Krupsky, and, in their midst and hidden from the view of the others, Kotuzov.
Stolypin takes charge as he and the others step out of the final limousine.
“Sasha, take him around to the side entrance and upstairs to his suite of rooms. Get him cleaned up and properly dressed. There is a closet full of clothes that should fit him perfectly. We can’t introduce him to the others looking like this.
Krupsky hustles Kotuzov around to the right of the main entrance, down a crushed stone path, and up a small flight of stairs leading to a door providing access to the dacha’s two-story west wing. Stolypin and Bogdanov immediately join the others in the spacious main foyer. The dazzling light from the foyer’s crystal chandelier sparkles on the floor of Carrara marble from the Apuan Alps.
“Gentlemen, perhaps a drink before dinner.”
He directs them to a large salon off the foyer. As they file in, Stolypin holds Bogdanov back.
“Dmitri, a word.”
Stolypin waits until the other men are out of earshot.
“It appears an American CIA analyst has stumbled onto the theft of the spear tip.”
Bogdanov reflects for a moment before asking.
“How close is he to us?”
“We don’t know yet. Our man at CIA tells us he’s in Tel Aviv right now, and the plan is for him to leave Tel Aviv in a body bag.”
“He’s pawing through old documents.”
“We should hope that his search leads him to Russia, Fyodor. Keep your friends close; keep your enemies closer, eh?”
“Perhaps you’re right, Dmitri. Perhaps you’re right.”
Without another word, they join the others in the salon.