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It was a nine-story apartment complex behind a popular bookstore, about half way between the municipal court and the KGB building. I took the stairs, as though afraid of meeting a familiar face in the elevator. My hands were sweaty, I wiped them with a handkerchief. My head spun. I reached the sixth floor and stopped for a moment. I remembered suddenly a quick remark Anatoly had made during our lunch together. “The millstones of history never stop,” he told me. “It is very important not to get caught between them.”
“So, don’t push me,” I reacted, with a smile.
“In your case it’s a bit too late,” was the answer, “Your hands were already there when I got you.”
And I understood: that’s all they needed, a hand, even a finger, then it was only a matter of time to get my body and my mind squeezed between the millstones to transform me into a flat, blind, obedient human being.
I pushed the red button at the apartment.
“Come in,” resounded from behind the door, “It’s open!”
Anatoly stood next to wall-to-wall bookshelves with an unlit cigar. Tall, handsome, in a tailor-made three-piece gray suit. “Please sit down,” he offered me a chair. “A cigar?”
“I actually quit,” I said hurriedly. “About a year ago...”
“I’ll take that as a no. But don’t ever lie to me again,” he interrupted, exhaling a cloud of smoke to the side. So he knew I still smoked.
“The purpose of today’s meeting,” he said, “is to offer you a job, to point out the advantages and explain the privileges...”
“Are you offering me to betray my own people?” I dared to interrupt.
“I’m not reminding you about your trip to Moscow.”
“I visited a few of my old colleagues.”
“Would you like to listen to the recording of your visit?”
And just like that, I ran out of words.
“You’re not necessarily betraying anybody,” said Anatoly, ignoring my silence. “To defend the interests of your country was never considered a betrayal. I’m not asking you to kill people...”
“I don’t see any difference!”
“I’m not asking you to poison them, to knock their teeth out. Your name will never be pronounced in the interrogation room. If it makes you feel better, you’ll never know what happened to them, how they were punished or if they were punished at all. As far as I see it, you’re a ghost, Lazarus, an invisible man. Our organization is interested in people of certain qualities, and you possess those qualities. We’re also very interested in a certain circle of people with whom you have established a relationship. The information about their plans, thoughts, future moves, and the contents of letters that might be channeled to them from around the world, especially from the United States and Israel, are just a few examples of what can be used.”
“A risk-free job, is it?”
“Nothing is completely risk-free, professor.”
“I’m actually a lecturer.”
“Any interest in advancing?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“To avoid punishment? Not even a slim one, but that would be something to talk about in detail at our next meeting. On Monday. For now I just want to remind you that everything I’ve said is strictly confidential and not for public discussion.”
“My family?” I had to ask.
“It’s for your own good, believe me. Until Monday then?”
“A very productive conversation, wasn’t it?” I tried to joke.
“I’m a soldier under orders, Lazarus,” said Anatoly, following me to the door. “I can do a few things for you if you decide to consider our offer. If not...well, let’s just say that your life and the lives of your close ones will change forever, and not for the better.”
I took the elevator this time. Out of the building, I went to a nearby park and played a couple of timed chess games before my first class.