aboard, General Bukharin."
The young woman's Russian accent was nearly flawless, betrayed only
by a hint of the South of her native United States. "It's a
pleasure to see you again."
The general smiled at the dark-haired flight attendant. "You
have been practicing, Grace. Now you sound like you grew up in our
Georgia instead of your own."
"Thank you, general."
For three years, General Gregori Bukharin had been a regular passenger
on the Moscow-Frankfurt flight. Grace looked at his ticket, then
glanced at him.
"You're not in first class tonight?"
"No, my plans changed. I need to get to Germany a few days
"If someone doesn't show, I'll move you up to first class,"
"Thank you, Grace."
Bukharin walked back to Row 22, which was empty. He took off his
winter overcoat and the wide, blue-gray general's hat, and put them
into the overhead storage bin. Stay calm, he told himself.
The general settled into his seat, gave Grace a nod of thanks, then
leaned back and closed his eyes. She studied his face with its strong
Slavic features - he was in his 50s, she guessed, and a handsome
man, the kind who made a woman feel very feminine just by the way
he smiled at her.
She'd read his name in the newspapers and knew that he was in the
Defense Ministry, and she also knew that he wasn't like the other
military officers on her flights; he didn't need stiff drinks or
scared attachés to make himself feel important. Bukharin's
specialty was negotiation, and he must be good at it, she thought
- and even better at the Kremlin's intrigues to have survived since
Bukharin usually asked Grace about her sisters, and she had been
practicing a story about them, in Russian, of course, but this evening
he did not ask. Even with his eyes closed, there was weariness and
tension in his face. Grace walked back to Row 22, took a pillow
from the overhead bin, laid it on the seat next to him, and, as
she moved away, decided to take especially good care of the general
on this flight.
The plane was big, the boarding was slow, and General Gregori Bukharin
could feel the sweat running down his chest and sides. He opened
his eyes and checked his watch - 21 minutes to takeoff, 21 damned
minutes, he thought, come on, come on! He remembered the clock atop
St. Petersburg's Lenin Museum, its hands motionless for more than
60 years, frozen to the moment of Lenin's death. Even Father Time
wasn't safe from this absurd system, he thought.
This is what it felt like to be a child, Bukharin recalled. Every
minute lasts an hour when you're young, you've done something wrong,
and are dreading discovery. He glanced again at his watch - seven
seconds had passed. Bukharin imagined that he could hear each slow
tick. Who was that American writer, he asked himself, the madman
who wrote about madmen? Poe! Yes, Poe would have liked this, Bukharin
thought. Will the traitor live, or will the traitor die?
Pretend it will be two hours until takeoff, he told himself; let
the time come to you. He closed his eyes and tried to move his thoughts
away from the plane. He retraced his route through the terminal
at Sheremetyevo, back along Leningradskiy prospekt, and into Moscow.
No, thought Bukharin, the trip did not start there, today; it began
17 years ago at a small table where a conversation could not be
(End of excerpt)