Chapter 11 of The Holy Lance, a fantasy thriller

Chapter 11, in which we meet Chet Brinker's FSB counterpart. As always, comments are welcome.

CHAPTER 11

Since its creation in 1995, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, or FSB, more or less an abbreviation for Federal'naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii, has occupied the historic position, both operationally and geographically of the former KGB. On the operational side, over the course of the 1990s FSB eventually assumed responsibility for most of the work previously performed by the KGB. FSB’s nine directorates whose titles range from “Counter-Espionage” to “Service for Defense of Constitutional Order and Fight against Terrorism” are sufficient evidence of that fact. On the geographic side, one of those nine directorates has the privilege of occupying the infamous headquarters and prison of the KGB, the despised Lubyanka. While it took some time for the bureaucrats and politicians to figure out just what structure would replace the KGB after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, by the second decade of the 21st century reorganization of those agencies replacing the KGB had achieved a degree of stability. As a result, FSB now stands as the primary heir to a long line of brutal Russian and Soviet secret police organizations including the Okhrana, Cheka, and, of course, the KGB.

One obvious lesson from all of this is that the collapse of the Soviet Union has not always resulted in an erasure of the icons of the Soviet era. On the macro level, it has been common for institutional reorganizations that are in reality little more than a name change or two to leave a Soviet organization and its mission largely in place more than two decades after the Soviet Union’s collapse. On the micro level, the men and women who enjoyed relative bureaucratic security under the old regime, after some prolonged hand-wringing, have found themselves performing the same tasks, in the same buildings, and just as often as not in the same offices as they previously performed. And it is not unusual for the interior appearance of government buildings in the modern Russian state to be nearly indistinguishable from the interiors as they appeared prior to 1991. Same old, same old, one might say.

The office of Gregori Druzhnikov at the Lubyanka is one such interior. The drab, light green walls of his office are bare. A single fluorescent bulb lights the room from an aging  ceiling fixture. Two large metal file cabinets take up most of the room not occupied by a desk and chair. In short, it is simple and anything but elegant. Druzhnikov, a child of the Soviet era, is not one to complain, particularly about something that provides him a degree of emotional comfort and connection to what for him was a comfortable past.

Approaching 50 and slightly overweight, Druzhnikov sits reading a thick file with his feet on his desk while he smokes a Tor, an overpriced Turkish cigarette that is one of his few financial eccentricities. He has a hole in the leather sole of one of his brown shoes. He wears a yellow dress shirt that needs ironing, a loosened, stained, outdated tie, and black dress slacks. His gaudy striped sport coat hangs on the back of his chair. The office’s lone window was painted shut years before the office was bequeathed to Druzhnikov. As a result, he always leaves the door ajar to prevent the tiny office from quickly filling with smoke from his pack-a-day habit.

The assistant he shares with half a dozen other agents, Ludmilla Chebushova, is in her mid-20s, attractive, thin, and already a hardened cynic. She knocks on the door jam and walks in carrying a manila file. Druzhnikov continues to read.

“I’m busy,” he says with a wry smile.

“It’s from St. Petersburg. Possible kidnap.”

Druzhnikov continues the ruse of being busy by staring at the thick file in his hands as he talks.

“Are the St. Petersburg police on strike?”

“Someone seems to think you should look into it.”

Druzhnikov closes the file and puts it on his desk. He puts his cigarette out in a thick glass ashtray on his desk, and looks up at her.

“Have you taken a look?”

“I flipped through it.”

“What’s in it?” he asks without touching it.

“The police report, witness statements, photograph of the victim, and a couple of lousy security camera shots. Not very much.”

He motions to Chebushova who hands him the file. As he reads, something in the file catches his attention and his look goes from bored to serious. His assistant notices.

“What?”

“Are you sure it’s not one of ours?”

“FSB? No. It’s not ours.”

Chebushova stands her ground as Druzhnikov continues to read. After a moment he looks up at her.

“Was there something else?”

”No, that’s all.”

“Then why are you still here?” Druzhnikov exclaims with mock irritation.

”I’m wondering why someone wants this file to dead end.”

Druzhnikov laughs.

”Not a very flattering assessment of my abilities!”

“Your abilities aren’t the point.”

“Then enlighten me, Ludmilla. What is your point?”

“It’s your reputation. If you come up with something on this case, you’ll never get any help, and if it’s something important, you’ll need it. So, if this is an important case that someone wants to shove into a black hole, they give it to you.”

“Thank you for your vote of confidence. Maybe I was selected for my expertise.”

They both laugh.

“You have no expertise. An obsession, maybe, but no expertise. I am sorry to say it, Gregori, but you know I’m right. Good luck.”

“I should have you arrested for insubordination.”

“If you have me arrested, then you’ll have no one to talk to.”

Druzhinikov nods in agreement and laughs as Chebushova leaves. He returns his attention to the file, and removes the grainy, black-and-white photograph, a still from a surveillance camera, that caught his eye moments earlier. Even those who know him well would have a difficult time identifying the man in the picture as Sasha Krupsky.