Chapter 57, in which a nervous Russian gets a break
PEERING OVER THE BRINK
Just a few days ago Yevgeny Kasparanov thought he would never see the inside of this office again, that a cell in the basement of the Lubyanka would be his new address until a suitable work camp in Siberia was found. Instead, Proykiev is dead, the St. Thomas operation is back in full swing, and he is meeting with the General Secretary to discuss the progress of Operation Anadyr. Just another day on the roller coaster that is political life in the Soviet Union.
“You’ve had an eventful week, Yevgeny Nikolaievitch.”
“To say the least.”
“And now the world will have an eventful month.”
“What progress is there on Cuba?”
“Our tactical progress is something we should all be quite proud of. Your plan has been executed nearly flawlessly. There have been problems with some of the launch sites, but we’ve been able to find suitable alternatives in short order preserving our target capabilities. It’s quite remarkable, really.”
“And once all is in place?”
“Ah, that is now the question that few dare to utter. How is it you are so bold?”
“I feel certain I speak with a man who shares my point of view.”
“That may be so, but the hardliners may yet have their way.”
“Where are the Americans?”
“We’ve heard nothing yet. We have to assume a level of reconnaissance that is likely putting the entire matter squarely before them, but we do not know how much they have detected. There is the small team on St. Thomas. The ones who did your bidding.”
“An amazing turn of events.”
“They’ll turn their attention to your professor now.”
“Undoubtedly, but he is at least a step ahead of them.”
“He has a remarkable capacity for survival.”
“And if he succeeds where Anadyr cannot?”
“I should think their leadership would be relieved. It may cause terror among the people, but this, after all is our goal, is it not?”
“Success for Schnelling equals leverage for our country around the world.”
“Or American fury.”
“A calculated risk, but one that does not involve nuclear weapons.”
“I hope we’re right about that.”
The General Secretary pauses. The view of the West that this man is a simple, blustering peasant is one he carefully cultivates. In reality he is as comfortable in the world of seemingly disjointed abstract thought as he is in the world of blatantly crude application of naked power. And at times he considers himself the lone voice of reason among a group of leaders characterized by a dangerous mix of paranoia, megalomania, and a penchant for intrigue. But so long as he remains in power, he feels certain he can engineer a return from the looming nuclear brink with the Americans. What they’ll do in response to a biological attack on their homeland is quite another matter. There is no precedent upon which to draw to gauge their potential reaction. Pearl Harbor? By 1962 it’s almost quaint to think in terms of conventional warfare.
“And how is your young family, my friend?”
“We are all well, as well as one can be in these uncertain times.”
“You should spend more time with them.”
“My wife understands, but I’m afraid I’m practically a stranger to my daughter.”
“Go home. The world will turn without you for a day or so. There will be plenty to do later in the week. For now, we can’t do much more than wait. So go home, tend to your family. Rest for the days ahead.”
Yevgeny Kasparanov, delighted to be once again in the obvious good graces of the man who, for the moment, is the single most powerful man in the Soviet Union, stands and offers his hand to the General Secretary.
“Thank you. I will.”
They shake hands. Kasparanov leaves, and the General Secretary returns to contemplating the enormous map of the world adorning the entire west wall of his outsized office.