Gerald Seymour


News of the arrest spread fast.

There had been, of course, nothing of it in the Party newspapers, nor on the radio, nor on the television news programmes, but then they were not the tried and tested sources. News moved in a different and more circuitous way, a constant process of dissemination. In the queues they heard of it while the sun was climbing high over the monuments and parks and lofty buildings that were the achievement of the regime. Queues waiting for the buses, queues at the food store where there was the delay in the arrival of the fresh baked loaves of the day, queues at the bank before it opened.

The talk of the arrest was neither loud nor furtive – just a subject of conversation amongst a bored and tired people – so that it rippled their lives momentarily, spreading the tedium of the day a little less harshly, easing the personal load because of the knowledge that somewhere in the city there was a being in great trouble, someone with a problem more real and more acute than any that the mass would face that morning, or that afternoon, or that night. And the thought of it sent an eddy of apprehension through those that knew.

They were a few who had seen him taken, seen the cruising black car of the militia come to a sudden halt in the midst of the traffic, the rear doors snap open and the men in the pale-brown uniforms weave a path through the other cars till they had reached the pavement and were sprinting for their quarry. He had walked casually and unaware of the risk till they were on him.

There had been one at his legs, pitching him forward, another to spread out his arms on the pavement, so that if he had had a gun secreted on his person, hidden impossibly beneath his trousers or his light summer shirt, he would not have been able to take advantage from it. A third had stood above him, looming and huge, right arm extended with the cocked pistol aimed into the small of the boy's back. And then they had gone, even as the crowd, unsure and hesitant, had circled to watch. They had bundled him to – wards the car, its rear door open and spanning the gutter, dragged him so that his torso was far in front of his feet. There was no siren, no flashing light, and the curious waited till the accelerating car was again engulfed and lost in the traffic.

Others looked on as the vehicle spun hard, tyres fighting for a grip, and disappeared into the shadowed entrance of the militia station. The noise attracted them, and because of the loss of speed of the car they had had the opportunity to notice for a fraction of a second a face half-buried amongst the uniforms. A face that was white, eyes staring, and with the hair already dishevelled. That there was fear in the boy was clear for all to see, however short the opportunity.

A deep animal fear, and word of it had passed through the city that night, and spread further the following morning.

There were some who conjectured and said that they knew why he had been held. Those that knew of the shooting had heard of the wounding of the policeman far out in the industrial suburbs to the west across the river.

The principal headquarters of the security police in Kiev, capital town of the Ukraine, is a formidable construction. Built close to the seat of power, it is adjacent to Party offices, and within a short walk of the administration centre. There is a wedding-cake decor on the front facade, and it has columns and gently sloping steps and statues, all maintained in a bright and soft-coloured stone by the regular spray of water jets. The legacy of Stalinist post-war rebuilding: but for all that the interior does not match the finery of the facade. Behind the walls no allowance has been made for aesthetics: a functional honeycomb of rooms and corridors and narrow staircase, while deep in the basements are located the prisoners' cells.

At the far end of the buried passage, devoid of natural light, and behind a door numbered '38', Moses Albyov now lay. He rested on a mattress of straw held together by rough farm sackcloth that rustled with each shift of his weight. A slightly- built figure, he had a pinched and concerned face, and dark, straight hair that had been thrown haphazardly in all directions and that needed the attentions of comb or brush. They had taken his shoes and his belt, and his hands held the waist of his trousers – not that he was about to rise and move, but simply through some vague fantasy of protection. His glasses, too, had gone – left on the pavement where they had spilled from his face at the moment they had taken him, probably broken in the short scuffle, certainly abandoned. Without them his sight was reduced, blending the hard lines of the cell walls, causing them to be softer, less cruel. Not that there was much for him to focus on. A door to the front, steel- faced and scratched where others had attempted to achieve a pathetic immortality by carving their names and the date; fearful perhaps of entering and leaving the cell in total anonymity. Only a spy hole, small, circular and reflecting the light of the room, interrupted the smooth surface of the door. No natural light was permitted to enter the cell: illumination was from a low-powered bulb recessed into the ceiling and covered by what Moses presumed was toughened glass embedded with wire mesh. The floor was of roughened cement, as though the workers had wished to be rid of their. job and had hurried their work, leaving it pitted and lined like a ploughed field when the winter frosts have come. Nothing to call furniture, no table, no chair, no cupboard, no shelves. Only the mattress and a bucket that he had moved away to the furthest point from him because of its smell, the odour of vomit and urine and faeces. In the corner, behind the door: it was not far, perhaps seven feet-not far enough to divorce its presence from him, not far enough to shut out the taste that swelled in his mouth.

For company there were the cockroaches. They came fearless and exploratory, and because of the quietness of the cell he believed he could hear their legs, brushing in a gentle passage across the floor towards him. He had thought that the light that burned through the night would have frightened them, and could not believe that creatures so devoid of intellect could recognize his helplessness, but some instinct told them that they had nothing to fear. Once he had brushed two away with his hand and his whole body had trembled in the aftermath of the contact. He could not touch them again, and they had come, sometimes singly, sometimes in their cohorts, to examine him, to ponder their visitor. And as if bored and disinterested they had gone on their way. It is because there is no food, he thought.

His right shoulder still hurt, ached where the bruising had now won through and discoloured the pale skin into a kaleidoscope of blue and mauve and yellow. On the final flight of stairs, and he had not been ready for it. Already down two flights while they held his arms above the elbows, squeezing and firm, and then on the last leg, without warning, the hands had gone and the knee was in the small of his back and he was away, arms flailing in the vacuum, seeking to break his fall against the cement steps that rushed to meet him. Toes in his ribs, a fist in his hair, and he had risen to walk the rest of the passage, stayed on his own feet while they produced the keys to the cell door, made his entry without interference, and stood stock-still in the centre of the floor as the door had shut behind him. That was all the violence they had shown him. Just the once, reckoning in their trained minds what was sufficient to inculcate a message, insufficient to harden his resistance. The footsteps and the casual conversation of the guards had faded, become immersed in the silence around him, and since then, nothing. Not a door slammed, not a raised voice. As if he were immured, cemented away, forgotten.

He could understand what they were doing. Simple if you examined it, applied logic. The process of vegetation, that is what it was all about. They wouldn't talk to him yet; they would wait until they had assembled the dossier, hardened the evidence. When they were ready and not before, that was when interrogation would begin. Stupid if they rushed it So he knew what they were at, why they were taking their time. And he knew what they would be asking of him when finally they had prepared themselves.

It had been decided in the group that he would be the first, because it had been he who had drawn the short straw.

All four had known their role in the attack. Rebecca from the front, asking the policeman for directions and fumbling in her bag for the map, holding his attention. David from behind, his clenched fist landing on the tunic cloth of the man's right shoulder, enough to fell him. Isaac springing from the shadow, hands at the holster flap to prise away the precious pistol, drawing it clear and throwing it abruptly to where Moses stood. When the gun was in his hand the others had run off, deserting the stage.

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