A Meeting of the Minds
Boris Razumov was there two hours early, just to be sure. It was pleasant to sit facing the great arched window at the Washington National Airport, watching the planes take off and land. There were many DC-6s, a good many Lockheed Constellations, and an occasional Vickers Viscount belonging to Capitol Airlines. The stewardesses came to and fro in their becoming uniforms, and it saddened Boris to realize that he seemed never to have any reason to seduce a stewardess. Despite various thoughts, some of them happy, his mind kept returning to the business at hand.
The man who was coming seemed, for some reason that was obscure to Boris, to have confidence in him. But it would be better if he didn't, if he expected nothing! This was a man who had never been outside the Soviet Union. He was used to giving orders and having them obeyed instantly. Would he realize that he couldn't do that in America? And, then, there was the matter of the woman. She already showed signs of being difficult, and there was nothing Boris could do if she was. Very likely, he would be held responsible for her behavior.
As a big Constellation swooped gracefully in, touched and bounced, and then slid smoothly along the runway, Boris decided to go for a drink. The west was so different. Here in Washington, everyone tried to get as close as possible to a powerful man. They were overjoyed if he called them by name, and, if he needed something done, they tripped over each over in their haste to do it. In Russia, even before 1917, there were men one didn't want to know. One tried to fade into the wall when they approached. Even a smile was dangerous from such a man. Who knew what might come next? Well, it was too late now!
When the passengers filed into the lounge, Boris had no difficulty at all in recognizing a man he had never met, one whose picture he had never seen. The eyebrows alone would have done it. Highly arched and as black and distinct as any drawn with a grease pencil, they were what distinguished the Mongols from the Chinese, the Turkic tribes, and all the other peoples of high Asia. The face, unmistakeably Asian, was long and bony with a quiet questioning look, as if the spirit behind it wanted to clear up a few misunderstandings before moving on to current business. The man himself was dressed in a brown business suit with a handkerchief folded in his pocket, and he had picked out Boris even before entering the lounge.
Boris' first feeling was that it wouldn't be so bad after all. Comrade Kublaikov had a smile, perhaps a somewhat wintry one, and he made small talk in an excellent Russian that was accented only lightly with the tones of certain obscure languauges. Boris asked Kublaikov what he thought of America. There was, at first, no answer at all. The other man, about Boris' height and only a little older in appearance, stretched his taut wiry body as if he had been a great cat just let out of a cage. He then smiled and said,
"I haven't seen much, only airports. But it hardly matters. There may soon be nothing left to see anyway."
The visitor seemed to know the way to the baggage claim, even without being able to read the signs, and Boris scuttled after him.
The visit of Kublaikov-Mikulin, and Elizaveta's insistence that Tom be present at their meeting, had forced Boris and Tom into communication of a sort that they would not otherwise have engaged in. They had lunch the day after the eminent visitor's arrival, and Boris said to Tom,
"He gives me, as you say, the creeps. Thank God, the ambassador's entertaining him today."
"What's he like?"
"You realize immediately that he's not a European, really not even white. But he also doesn't seem Chinese, or anything as alien as that. He understands our world, and he talks lightly about destroying it."
"Did he say anything about meeting with Elizaveta?"
"Yes. He said that he would give her her instructions and make arrangements for her return."
"You didn't tell him that she won't meet alone with him?"
Boris smiled and said,
"Tom, this would be like bringing bad news to Genghis Khan. Why not let her tell him herself?"
"It sounds as if he might go beserk. Well, I've already had a couple of scuffles this summer. I guess I can keep him from attacking her or anything."
"But can you keep him from seducing her in Russian while you're sitting there, and then getting her to ask you to leave?"
"I guess not."
"Remember that she was his mistress for some years. He knows what touches her, and neither you nor I could equal him in her eyes."
"But, Boris, the minute he sees me, he'll realize that she's told us about his visit. Won't he see that as betrayal on her part?"
"Yes, I suppose he'll conclude that she's really gone over to the Americans. He may think that the reports she sends in are written by the CIA. I suppose I'll have to warn him of these things before they meet."
"While you're at it, you might as well convey an invitation. There's a high CIA official whom I work with who'd like him to come over for an informal discussion. You or Elizaveta could be the interpreter."
Boris shook his head,
"This is getting very strange. But, yes, if I get that far without losing my head, I'll convey the invitation."
That evening, Tom called Boris to see what had happened. Boris replied,
"It went better than I expected. I think he must already have suspected that she's gone over."
"But she hasn't gone over, as far as I know. I'm certainly not writing her reports."
"Well, we'll see. He also accepted the invitation from your official friend. Shall we do it all tomorrow?"
The minute Tom picked Elizaveta up, he realized how nervous she was. She looked wonderful to Tom, but she immediately said,
"Could we stop by a shop in Georgetown? I'm having a dress altered, and I've made arrangements to pick it up and wear it."
"Sure. But I don't see how you could look any better."
"A little. But you aren't used to having ex-lovers. One wants to be certain that they'll regret having dumped one."
"According to Boris, he wants you back."
"If it were just he and I, and no politics were involved, I probably would go back to him. But it's impossible now."
"It sounds as if you want me there, not to protect you against him, but to keep you from losing your resolve."
"You're more perceptive than I realized, Tom."
"No I'm not. That was Boris' idea."
"Well, anyway, I do need some support. He's an exciting man and I'm going to have to try to act as if he never possessed me."
The shop was a small one, and the proprietor, a young blonde woman, greeted Elizaveta effusively and enthusiastically. The dress was a dark red silk one waiting on a hangar, and they took it behind the curtain of a fitting room. There was some rustling of fabric, and then Elizaveta came slowly out, the woman fastening her in back. Tom wasn't sure that she looked better than she had before, but the result was certainly impressive. There was still a good deal of fussing to be done in front of the mirror. It fascinated Tom to watch the woman run her hands over Elizaveta, smoothing the fabric, lifting the skirt to see that her slip didn't show, and then giving a few light pats and touches. She said,
"It's too bad you'll have to sit in a car. If it's near here, I'll help you get in."
The car was right in front, and, when Tom opened the door and the woman looked in, she went inside the store and came out with a quantity of brown paper which she arranged on the seat. Then, turning to Elizaveta, she carefully arranged her skirt, saying,
"Keep it that way til you get out and it won't wrinkle."
When they arrived at the Mayflower Hotel, Elizaveta entered on Tom's arm, as if she were a bride about to be given away.
Igor Kublaikov approached smiling and embraced Elizaveta. They indeed clung together for some moments, murmuring in Russian, while Boris greeted Tom. Then, when Tom was introduced, he was amazed at the other's friendliness and consideration. Kublaikov said something quietly to Boris, who translated for Tom,
"Elizaveta and I were together in the past, but that's all finished. You're a fortunate young man."
When they sat down to tea, they talked, as was normal for Russians, of the second world war. Elizaveta had been in a country that was being constantly fought over. Boris had served in an infantry division, and, under questioning from Tom and Boris, Kublaikov related his experiences.
It was at the time, in late 1941, when the Germans had two pincers aimed to converge just behind Moscow. The southern one, centered on the city of Tula, was more than a hundred miles south of Moscow, but it was moving east and north, and was within days of taking Moscow. Napoleon had done that, but this pincer was also on the point of doing something Napoleon hadn't done, destroying the surviving part of the Russian army.
The spearhead was constituted by the Second Panzer Army, commanded by Colonel General Heinz Guderian, the man who had sprung the traps on the French and British at Abbeville and Dunkirk, and who had helped trap a vast Russian army in the pocket at Kiev. It looked as if the half-trained and newly raised Soviet army which sought to replace the captured veterans would go the same way.
Kublaikov, a veteran of the fighting against the Japanese, was a regimental commander in the 239th Siberian Rifle Division. Just arriving from the east, they had detrained on an open stretch of line near the Oka river. As it happened, they had chosen a spot in between three of Guderian's formations, an infantry division, the 29th Motorized Division, and the 4th Panzer Division. The Germans were closing in at nightfall, and, about midnight, the divisional headquarters blundered into a German division and was destroyed, the divisional commander being killed. There was then a lull in the fighting during which Kublaikov discovered that he was in command of the division. He said,
"It was some twenty five degrees below zero Fahrenheit, and we were much better adapted to the cold and the snow than the Germans. Our uniforms were white, and we even painted our weapons white. In the early hours of the morning we attacked in a snow storm. They may have heard our running feet, but they couldn't see us until they felt the steel of our bayonets."
Kublaikov laughed in happy memory of the event. They broke out of the encirclement, virtually destroying the 29th Motorized Division in the process. He continued,
"There were many victories after that, but that first was the critical one. We found out after the war that it was the next morning, after seeing what we had done, that Guderian decided that Moscow couldn't be taken."
Tom was well aware that Americans knew little of the events that had taken place in the decisive battles of the war in those days just before Pearl Harbor. He was also aware, as few Americans were, that the Russians had numbered casualties, not in thousands, but in millions. The probable casualties of a Red v. Blue seemed horrific to westerners, but, as one could see in Kublaikov's face, not entirely out of proportion to those that the Soviet Union had accepted in the past. Fifty million dead, perhaps, but there would remain some two hundred million.
As if reading Tom's thoughts, Kublaikov said.
"We Mongols are to the Russians as the Russians are to you. We come from a climate which is incomparably more severe than that in which we fought in front of Moscow, and, in the immemorial wars of the mountains and steppes of our region, death in battle was almost the only kind of death for a man."
He then added, in a pleasant tone of voice, what was translated,
"All Mongols compare themselves to Genghis Khan and the men of his Golden Horde. We haven't conquered most of the world the way they did, and, even in saving Moscow from the Germans, we only added the last critical factor. But, still, we think in those terms."
Tom had hardly any idea of what sorts of things could be said to a man like this one, but he asked the obvious question:
"Are you the modern Genghis Khan?"
Elizaveta was translating into Mongolian, not Russian, so that not even Boris could understand. Kublaikov seemed amused and replied, at least according to her,
"My favorite description of Genghis Khan is that of the Persian historian, Juvaini. He was a 'just resolute butcher.' I would say that this applies both to myself and to some of your leaders. We try, of course, to be just. And we have the power to succeed in it. It goes without saying that we're not easily deterred from our objects. As for the last, we no longer kill with swords and spears and see the blood. But we're prepared to kill many times the number of people that Genghis Khan killed."
Comrade Kublaikov smiled brightly. It was time to go to see Mr. Desmond.
It was a nice mid-September afternoon on the patio where Tom had once had breakfast. By this time, he was getting a little used to Kublaikov. He could be pleasant, even charming at times, and it was easy to forget who he was. He was a much smoother man than Khruschev, quite without the peasant boasting and bullying. But he did, in a rather gentle way, talk and think about death and destruction on a massive scale. He didn't, as far as Tom could see, exclude himself from the destruction or look to any safe haven. It was just as he said: a Mongol dies in battle sooner or later, and he was, at forty five or so, already old by the standards of the Golden Horde.
Mr. Desmond was not as relaxed as Tom was used to seeing him. Indeed, that coolest and most elegant of men seemed not entirely sure what to make of this black-haired and black- browed visitor. They nevertheless proceeded to a rather business-like discussion of outstanding issues in Soviet- American relations. Kublaikov raised the subject of the spy planes. Desmond replied,
"I realize that there are objections, but it should be pointed out that the results have soothed American fears and directly resulted in a smaller defence build-up than might otherwise have been the case. We have our hawks and they get nervous when they can't see what's on the other side of the fence."
Elizaveta was again doing the translating, and judging by a certain amusement in Kublaikov's eyes, she seemed to get across Desmond's somewhat playful tone. He responded,
"But, if we know you're looking, we have to build up to deter you. And then you have to build up to match us."
It was a form of the chicken-egg controversy, and both principals let it drop. It was then that Desmond said,
"And then there's the matter of targetting. I'm not sure just who does it for you, but President Eisenhower has insisted that ours all be controlled by one man, General LeMay. Do you know who he is?"
"Yes. He's my opposite number. He's your Genghis Khan."
Kubliakov laughed and Desmond laughed. Desmond then said,
"There's been some confusion over Berlin, and whose target list it might be on. I don't know if you plan to hit it, but LeMay does."
Kublaikov looked hard at Elizaveta and said something that she didn't translate. He then looked pleasantly at Desmond and spoke again for translation.
"You'd destroy the city which, above all others, you claim to be protecting?"
"I wouldn't dream of destroying Berlin, but no one would ask me. On the other hand, LeMay's the only commander who's ever actually used nukes. He didn't hesitate then, and he seems to have had no regrets since. I don't think Berlin would deter him at all."
"We keep hearing about coal mines in West Virginia being used as shelters. I've been told by some of our technical people that someone might well survive a nuclear attack at the bottom of a mine, but he'd do well to take lots of food and many good books because the shaft entrance would be either collapsed or hopelessly poisoned."
That, too, was taken as a bit of a joke by both parties. They were interrupted when Mrs. Desmond appeared and was introduced to Kublaikov. She seemed not to realize who he was, apart from being Russian, and, indicating her husband, she said,
"He manages spies, you know. People come in the dead of the night and tap on the windows, and he gets up and whispers to them. Are you a spymaster too?"
Kublaikov seemed pleased with Mrs. Desmond, and explained that he wasn't with the NKVD. He then gestured toward Elizaveta and added,
"But this lady works for, and is paid by, both the CIA and the NKVD. Such people don't ordinarily live very long, but her charm is so great that we send her flowers instead of bullets."
Elizaveta made a deprecating gesture toward herself as she translated these words, but Mrs. Desmond turned to her in fascination. Kublaikov approached Tom and beckoned to Boris to translate. He said,
"She wants to go to Mexico City, and I'm sending her there on a mission. Can you go with her and look out for her?"
Tom was actually trying to decide whether to go back to Michigan for the fall quarter, but the idea of a vacation with Elizaveta in Mexico was attractive. He indicated that he could probably manage it. Kublaikov then spoke with great emphasis. Boris translated,
"Go soon and stay at least a month. Don't come back until the situation clears. She'll have plenty of money. Let her pay."
As Kublaikov moved away, Tom looked at Boris. Boris shrugged and said,
"Why not take a vacation with a beautiful woman? I would if I were you."
"A bit more than that's involved, isn't it?"
"Well, yes. I can't leave, but, so far as I know, your job isn't like mine."
The party broke up soon after that, and Boris drove them back to Tom's car. Kublaikov said little on the way, but, when they all got out, there was another embrace between him and Elizaveta, this time one of farewell. He then shook hands with Tom, giving him a look that he wouldn't soon forget, and was gone.
When he was alone with Elizaveta, Tom exclaimed,
"He wasn't at all what I expected!"
"I told you. He's partly a Mongol warrior and partly a sophisticated European who can trade gibes with a decadent homosexual like your friend Desmond."
"Desmond isn't homosexual. You met his wife, and he has a daughter besides."
Elizaveta looked at him pityingly and said,
"That means nothing. Boris also agreed with me. We have more experience than you do."
She then changed tone and asked enthusiastically,
"Are we going to Mexico City? Sid's just about to send her children. We could go with them."
"I guess I'll have to think about it and see if I can get off."
Tom didn't have much more to say on the drive back to Fairmile, and, although Elizaveta made conversation, he, for the first time, felt uncomfortable with her. They parted with a perfunctory kiss, and Tom, driving away, saw her wave from her steps in his rear-view mirror.
When Tom was a part of the way back, he stopped at the gas station where he had once found Elizaveta hitch-hiking. He felt very low, and had a cup of coffee at the cafe which stood beside it. He then placed a telephone call to Elaine Kittredge. Elaine was free for dinner, and it was agreed that Tom would come by to pick her up.
They went, this time, to the Hot Shoppe. As Tom said,
"At least we won't meet Desmond there."
They sat in a corner booth, away from everyone, and ordered turkey dinners. Then, by the time that the food came, Tom had told Elaine everything, secret and non-secret, both personal and public. She responded,
"I know you shouldn't have told me some of the things you have, but I've kept many secrets before. Are you going to Mexico?"
"It's a weird thing. I feel as if I'm being tempted into defecting, and yet no one would seem to object. I'm leaving DRI to go back to Michigan anyway, and there's no reason I shouldn't take a vacation. Mac Hollins certainly wouldn't mind, and I imagine Desmond would tell me to go ahead and report back anything of interest."
"It's the idea that you might save yourself that bothers you."
"That and the fact that Kublaikov wants me to go."
"But he doesn't have a political motive. It sounds as if he just wants you to look after the woman he still loves if everything else is blown to hell and gone."
"Well, you know how serious the situation is. You don't seem to be packing your bags."
"Tom, we're all afraid of looking foolish if we run, and then nothing happens. That's all."
"How would we feel if we ran and everything did happen?"
"I'd feel vindicated, as if I'd done a real smart thing. I'd then just try to pick up a living in whatever part of the world seemed to be left."
"I suppose Elizaveta and I'd end up teaching languages in Mexico. She knows more of them. She'd probably support me."
"But that's all fantasy, Tom. You and I both know perfectly well that you're not going."
"No, there are still some things to finish up here, and then I'll go back to Michigan. I'll be able to write a hell of a paper on what I did on my summer vacation."
Elaine looked pleased, and then grimaced when she encountered the gravy on the turkey. She suggested,
"Let's just drink the coffee, and then go somewhere else to eat."
"Okay, but I'll eat this too. I can eat twice. I did the night we met Desmond."
Elaine was incredulous, but was finally convinced. She then said,
"I know a place that's good where neither of us will meet anyone we know."
The second restaurant was a Mexican one in Silver Spring, and they got all the way through a quite good dinner before Tom voiced his other concern over the tequila.
"I'm pretty sure that Mac is going to leak Goldstein's report and an economic one I had a hand in to the air force."
"And it's supposed to go to the army?"
"Yeah. It will, or already has. But Mac thinks General Taylor will sit on it. I'm sure he's right."
"And these reports will support those who want us to strike now?"
"I'm afraid so."
"And there's nothing going the other way?"
"Well, I did do a little paper setting forth an alternative to a nuclear strike which I thought might appeal to General Taylor. But, of course, papers written by visiting graduate students don't get to the chief of staff of the army. Mac probably just put it in his desk."
"I've never met General Taylor, but I know a way of getting it to him."
Tom was amazed.
"How could you do that?"
"By getting word to him that there's a research paper at DRI that's being deliberately hidden from the army by Mac Hollins. I know someone who I think would tell him that, and I think General Taylor would insist on seeing it."
"If he got the paper and took it seriously, that would get Mac fired, wouldn't it?"
"Probably. Mac's been my friend for years, and I know he's been good to you. But there are bigger things than loyalty in times like these."
"If this came out, it would seem that I was trying to promote myself at Mac's expense, wouldn't it?"
"Certainly. But I've known other seemingly self-serving actions that really weren't."