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"Why should I tell lies?" I said indignantly. "Only people who're afraid and have guilty consciences tell
lies. I want to help you catch that snake myself."
"That's the idea, Mandzhura," Vukovich praised me smilingly. "It's the duty of all young workers to
help us. We are dangerous only to the enemies of the Revolution, and the better we work, the sooner we
shall get rid of them altogether."
"You've got a big job on," Nikita put in.
"Yes, to make the whole country free of parasites," Vukovich assented. "Just a minute." And he lifted
the telephone receiver. "Shemetova? Vukovich speaking.., Is the chief there? We'll be round in a
moment, tell him we're coming, please."
The office of the chief of the frontier guard detachment and the district OGPU department glowed in
the soft light of bowl lamps hung close to the ceiling. How strange to find people here, at this late hour,
when all the other offices in town had closed long ago!
The arm-chairs were soft and comfortable; a glass of strong tea steamed on the edge of the big
walnut desk. The chief nodded to us to sit down and with a telephone pressed close to his ear went on
listening attentively.
Soon he got an answer.
"Is that the commandant's office, Vitovtov Brod?" the chief shouted into the telephone. "What's
become of you down there! ... Yes, what happened?... Yes... Yes... Steady, Bogdanov, not so fast, let
me get it down." The chief picked up a sharp pencil and, pressing the receiver even harder to his ear with
his left hand, jotted notes on a pad with his right. "Who led the group?. . . What? That bandit again? Yes,
gone to the right place! Less work for the revolutionary tribunal... Who stopped him?... I see... Yes...
Splendid! Thank him officially on my behalf... What?... Of course... To headquarters at once!...
What?.
Listening involuntarily to this one-sided conversation, I glanced round the big room and, I must admit,
began to feel rather timid. It was the first time I had seen the security chief at such close quarters.
I had seen him before, from a distance, when he rode round the ranks of frontier guards and convoy
troops on his white horse. His face reminded you of ;Kotovsky, who had been murdered only a short
time ago. Lean and erect, a born horseman, pistol belt strapped tight across his body, he would bring his
hand up to the shiny peak of his green frontier guards cap and greet the troops in a cheerful ringing voice,
and the troops of the garrison would answer with a shout that drowned the chiming of the clock on the
old town hall.
And now he sat before us without his cap, dressed in a well-cut field tunic of good cloth. His fair hair
was combed back from a high, slightly bulging forehead.
When he had finished speaking, the chief put down the receiver, surveyed Nikita and me with a quick
glance and said cheerfully to Vukovich:
"Another attempt to cross the border, at Zhbinets. Nine smugglers. And not one of them got through.
The commander of that post, Gusev, is a good man. Dealt with them with his own forces without calling
up the emergency group. Got the ringleader with a grenade."
"What were they bringing over?" Vukovich asked. "Saccharine again?"
The chief looked at his pad and said slowly: "Not much saccharine. Only thirty pounds. A lot of
other trash scarves, stockings, gloves, razors, ties, and even a whole bale of Hungarian furs."
"Who wants Hungarian fur when the winter's nearly over?" Vukovich said smiling.
"Oh, perhaps some profiteer's wife wanted it for her bottom drawer," the chief said. "But something
else was found, more important. In a walking stick that the leader of the gang threw away as soon as the
shooting started, Gusev discovered seventy hundred-dollar notes."
"Seven thousand dollars?" Vukovich replied, making a quick calculation. "Not a bad salary for
someone..."
"We'll get to the bottom of it," said the chief and, abandoning the subject, looked inquiringly in our
direction. "These comrades from the factory-training school," Vukovich reported, "have some important
information about Pecheritsa... Go ahead, Mandzhura." The chief nodded.
I told my story quietly, without hurrying. The chief watched my face keenly with his light penetrating
eyes. Suddenly he raised his hand and stopped me:
"And Pecheritsa spoke Russian to you all the time?" "All the time. That's the funny thing! After kicking
our instructor Nazarov out of school just because he spoke Russian!"
"And he spoke it well, fluently, without an accent?" the chief asked.
"Yes, just like a Russian. If I hadn't known he was a Ukrainian, I'd never have guessed it from the
way he talked."
"We shall have to bear that in mind," the chief said to Vukovich. "That means he may be anywhere in
the Soviet Union by now. Go on, young man." [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]