Ice Picks In The Dark: Leonid The Iceman
On a business assignment for Mother Oil one time, I had made what I thought was a short stopover to take a mail drop from 74Maxine for Elstree. Nothing special. Some kind of new whiz-bang encryption algorithms from IBM based on number and text streams. No alerts. Nothing.
I was staying in an inconspicuous room at the Splügenschloss [http://www.alden.ch/en.html[, near the Lake (Zurich), eating inconspicuous meals and drinking inconspicuous wine. Apparently, there was an elephant in my room and nobody told me.
After this dinner, I took one of my nightly walks.
Next day, I found out that I had somehow become “an object of interest” to the infamous Col. Leonid (LEO-nid) Ivanovich (e-VON-o-vitch) Lunev (LOO-nev) whose KGB instruction classes at Dzerzhinsky Square on murder using the common icepick were often boycotted by students who objected to the demonstration killings of dogs and cats—and the occasional drunk from Gorky Park. He was a murderous, devilish concoction of evil.
I have absolutely no clue why I was picked and never could get a line on why from friend or foe. I’m an unimportant contractor, not a regular! What’s to be gained?
There may have been a typographical error by his clerk somewhere—“Frederick” instead of “Fredrich”——or maybe Leonid just picked me out of the crowd for practice——-or for fun. But, I wouldn’t have known Lunev if I found him floating in my soup.
SIDEBAR: If you have Mussorgsky’s “The Great Gate of Kiev,” play the part with the tinkling musical steps. Apropos.
I had just turned left into a typical downtown street packed with middle-class flats, but no car park; cars were stashed on sidewalks and both sides of the street. It was almost dark when I got to a large construction site on my left. Must have been a couple acres+ (a hectare?), with a 2-meter [6+foot] high wood wall around it and a wooden boardwalk.
Just then, the hair on the back of my neck bristled. That is not a good omen! That had only happened a couple times before and I always heed the warning. I stopped and listened. Nothing. Some music somewhere. Some people laughing somewhere.
Since that time in Taipei when the lights went off in my China Air flight, I always try to carry my compact but incredibly bright flashlight. About the size of a pack of cigarettes. And my 2-pound folding telescoping umbrella-cum-bludgeon.
No shooter; this is supposed to be a civilized neutral country.
I sprayed the light slowly over the nearby parked cars. Nothing. S hone it on the boardwalk and found only mud slop. Walked over to a gap in the safety wall that stretched from waist-high to the sky and sprayed the light back and forth 180˚ into the hole. A 2 foot-wide catwalk was attached to the far side of my wall. A forest of bare steel 9 millimeter round reinforcing rods jutted up out of the hole 20 feet below. Nothing else.
Just as I turned around to see if I had been followed, I must have caught my topcoat on a large nail or something sharp because I got a terrible, terrible pain in the middle of my back!!? My curses must also have caused some sleeping birds to fly because there was a commotion out of sight beyond the wall!!
I reached around my back and felt a big tear in my $200 London Fog topcoat. And something wet. Goddam, it was blood! Wait…………..Wait…………. Take a deep breath. Get your shit together……………. OK, which way is the hotel—or a police car—or a telephone? OK let’s go.
Somehow I found my way back to my hotel?! I thrust my bloody hands toward the night clerk, then turned to show him my bloody back. He may have fainted. Other staff helped me to my room and undress my upper body.
My London Fog was ruined and I also ruined a couple of washcloths and towels sopping up the blood on my back. I sat on the edge of the bathtub, rather than drip blood on the carpet and bed.
Amazingly, the desk clerk and a young man identified as the house doctor appeared at my open door in about 2? minutes.
In his best Germanic bedside manner, Herr Doktor was unsympathetic. “You were in a barfight, yah?”
“No, I was walking past the construction site around the corner and must have caught myself on a large nail or something. You should notify the police that there is a very dangerous hazard on that sidewalk!”
“Humph! The Polizie are already there!” “Well, tell them!!!” He didn’t reply.
After he had caused me incredible pain with his incessant poking about in my wounded back, he relented, bandaged it and washed his hands. He went to my telephone and spoke into it in unintelligible rapid German. “So ein Stuss![what a load of garbage!] Vas? Yah! Yah! Ist hier! Hier!”
Shortly, the uniforms came pounding down my corridor with a hundred questions.
The cops got nothing from me because I didn’t know anything. I finally blew them off to get some pain pills from the reluctant Herr Doktor. “Doctor, I hurt very badly.”
“Here, take these—one every 8 hours—no sooner.” Right, I took two. In German, I said: “Thank you very much [vee-len-donk] and goodbye [owf-eed-er-zain]. Shoo.”
Like my late wife, I am what I call a “narcotic dyslexic”. Painkillers do the opposite for me. I was up all night. I raided the minibar for extra relief.
The President? No shit?
About 8 am I was awakened by the dinwah ringing.
I was somewhat incoherent from the dope and booze cocktail.
“This is Mr quack quack, undersecretary to the mugwump. blah. blah. quack. quack. Ambassador [Shaw] would like you to stop by sometime this morning for a chat.”
“Give the Ambassador my regrets. I’m not going out today. I’ve been severely injured on my back and I am just going to relax with a jar of morphine.”
“We know the details of your injury, but the Ambassador will be very, very disappointed. He has a message for you from the President.”
There was a puzzled pause. “Why, the President of the United States, of course!”
“No shit..…is it my birthday?……OK, I’ll see what I can work up. G’bye.”
Marching with William Tell
The Concierge refused to call a taxi for me to go to the Embassy. Instead, he sent me in the hotel’s car, a comfortable 4-door Mercedes.
The driver said he was instructed to wait for me. I declined. It was about 20˚ F and I knew he would conserve fuel by not keeping the engine heater running. “I’ll call when I need you.” I gave him a couple Swiss Francs for schnapps and he left.
The Embassy was obviously housed in somebody’s former palace. It was about 4 storeys high in places, set back from [this street] about 250 feet and surrounded by a stone-paved courtyard, high stone wall, a stone guard house and powered wrought iron gates in a large stone arch.
I fished out my passport ready to show it to the US Marine guard; instead, he said “Not necessary sir, you’re expected”, then saluted me.
Nice. I gave him my British wave-salute and passed through the courtyard door. I hadn’t gone 5 steps when I heard loud music from speakers somewhere.
What? I turned around and looked at the Marine; he was grinning.
I walked on. What?!? That’s The Overture to William Tell—you know, the tune they played on the Lone Ranger radio and TV programs.
It was further than I thought and I was freezing without my shredded overcoat. I looked up at the beautiful building and could see people and faces at nearly every window looking my way. I casually looked around to see if clowns and elephants were following me. Nothing. Maybe a sniper on the roof?
OK. Time to put on my British veneer.
The music was really loud now, but ended on time just as one of the brass-glass French doors was opened for me.
“Hello, I’m Sarah, the Ambassador’s Principal Secretary. Welcome.”
“The Ambassador is upstairs. Please follow me.”
“Slowly, Sarah, slowly. My back was severely injured last night and the pain has just about got me. Or is it the booze I use to swallow my dope? Do you have a house doctor?”
“I’m a Registered Nurse.”
“Get your bone saw and meet me in [Shaw’s] office.” She disappeared.
After introductions, the Ambassador said: “So glad you could come. We have urgent messages for you, and if you have time I’d like you to meet the staff.”
Oh shit. A dog and pony show. I stood leaning on the back of a Queen Anne chair for support. Don’t faint. Stiff upper lip and all that,Old Boy!
“I really would like to stay, Mr Ambassador, but my back was severely injured last night and I am just going to relax in my hotel room with a jar of morphine.”
He laughed. “We know all about your adventures last night. I was up past midnight discussing the evening’s events with the Superintendent of Police.”
Staff tourists were starting to line the walls of [Shaw’s] huge office.
“What adventures? Police? For a nail wound?”
“Well, you must know that terminating Colonel Lunev was a significant victory for our side. Washington is all a-twitter.”
Huh?! I gave him my dumb look and best British stomach acid: “I don’t know what you’re talking about Mr Ambassador. If I did I certainly wouldn’t talk about in public.” I gestured toward the tourists.
“Sorry—–Sorry—–I forgot you people don’t discuss your exploits.
But somebody…..threw Colonel Leonid Ivanovich Lunev, a legendary murderer for the KGB, over a 6-foot high wooden wall and impaled him on steel rebars 20—feet—from—the—wall——in a hole in the ground.”
(The watchman on the construction site apparently saw my light, then saw something fall into the hole. His lantern showed a man impaled on the bare steel rods. I’m told the Polizie were visibly impressed when they arrived on site, although they had to wait until daylight for the crane operator and a fearless ironworker to arrive, and slip Leonid’s body up off his tormentors.)
“The Superintendent of Police would like you to stop by soon and enlighten him as to how that might be accomplished.”
“You and he must have mistaken me for someone else” I acidified.
I could see [Shaw] was becoming irritated.
[Shaw] continued. “The police found an icepick clenched in Lunev’s hand. They couldn’t get it loose! They say they may have to saw off his hand to get him into a coffin!” He laughed.
“Blood on that icepick matched your blood from your towels and your bandages at your hotel. Hmmm?” He wasn’t laughing now.
Whoops………..“Gracious. What a coincidence” said my British sneer.
“Sarah, darling! I had almost given up hope. Did you bring the bonesaw?” I ignore the fuming ambassador. Play for time. Maybe it will focus.
“Don’t need it, sweets. I brought my autopsy bag.” Everybody laughed and several stage-whispered: “They already know each other!?!” What a menagerie. God, the Teletype machines will be smoking today!
I took off my jacket and slung it over Queen Anne and started pulling my shirt up out of my pants.
“Perhaps you’d be more comfortable in a private space?” says [Shaw].
“What for, never seen a half-naked man before?” sez I.
Sarah gasped involuntarily as I raised my shirt. I saw several girls turn their faces away. “That’s a bad one. A 3 millimeter entry wound and 13 centimeter subcutaneous puncture wound parallel to the surface, angled upward just to the left of the spine, above the pelvis. Large multicolored contusions surrounding the wound. My, my….we may need to hospitalize you.”
“No time. No time, Precious. Got places to go and people to see. Do what you can to deaden the pain.” No sooner said than done. Sarah had snipped the upper point of the tunnel and released the pressure and the fluids, then squirted a local pain-killer into the tunnel several places, and rebandaged. She left Herr Doktor’s packing in for drainage and skin support. Wonderful.
“Thank you!!!…….That’s much better!!…….Thank you!!!”
She beamed. [Sarah’s position in the menagerie had just improved 20 points. They were buzzing with girly bullshit.]
As Sarah helped me dress, I looked at her. 5-6? 110 pounds? Thirtyish? Fortyish? Brunette halo hair. Very shapely. Mischievous eyes. Kissable lips. She had been beautiful once but the wheel of fortune had left sadness where the beauty once was.
I would bet she had lots of scratches and scars from those tall twentysomething big-titted alleycats from the Secretarial Pool who were standing along the walls.
I had enough dope and booze in me to feel feisty——she needs a career rocket booster and Mr British is going to give it to her!
After she had helped me on with my jacket, I slipped my hand around her waist, tilted her chin up and gave her my patented 3-second deep kiss that caused the menagerie to gasp. She hadn’t been kissed in a while. She liked it.
“Thank you for being my angel of mercy!” I say loudly.
More stage-whispers: “They really, really must know each other!?!”
[Sarah’s stock is up another 41 points.] Get more paper rolls for the Teletype machines.
Mr Ambassador was having a shit.
Letters; We Get Letters
“Right. Must be off.” I say, shaking a few nearby hands.
“No, not just yet…. please” says the ambassador. “I have important messages for you!”
“From whom?” sez Mr British, playing dumb.
“Well…….The first is from the Director of Intelligence, CIA, who sends his heartiest congratulations on the demise of Colonel Lunev.”
[polite applause from the wall-mounted staff tourists]
“Next…..is a cable from our Secretary of State, who is effusive in his compliments.”
[more polite applause]
“Last…..but not least…is a cable..from the President of. The United States, who is congratulatory….in the kindest terms!!!
[loud polite applause]
“Would you like Sarah to help you compose replies?”
I bathed my answer in my best British stomach acid: “No thank you Mr Ambassador. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting any of those gentlemen, so I have no replies.
Sarah would you be so kind as to draft replies for the ambassador’s approval?”
I started to leave. “Oh, Mr Ambassador, there is one thing——–I would appreciate it very much if you would have the Moscow Embassy deliver a large bouquet to Col. Lunev’s family, with my sympathies to them.”
The staff tourists lining the walls were alternately apoplectic and catatonic. Instead of champagne they had gotten vitriol.
The Ambassador never fully recovered from his nervous stammer.
On my way out, I stopped and turned and looked at Sarah. “I knew I should have married you, instead of her!!” [—-What are you saying, fool?—-You’ve already been married 22 years I say to myself!—–But..they..didn’t..know..that.]
“Would you be interested in an field assignment sometime? Out in the cold?”
“Call me” she says, playing along.
[The Stock Exchange had to shut down now, because Sarah’s stock had just volcanoed 122 points.]
The big-titted meows from the Secretarial Pool were contemplating suicide.
As I left the Embassy, Music Man played the Lone Ranger theme again. Louder this time. OK, folks, you want the Lone Ranger, you shall have the Lone Ranger.
I was feeling real goofy from Herr Doktor’s dope, so I pretended I was on a horse, as we kids often did.
I reined in my restless steed..…wheeled about to face the Embassy.…doffed and waved my invisible cowboy hat to the watching crowd in the windows…..wheeled again toward the guardhouse…..whacked Whitey on his hindquarter…..and galloped away fast as could be.
Both U.S. Marine guards were now inside the courtyard trying to stand at attention when I galloped up. They would have saluted, but they were doubled over with laughter.
I never saw Sarah again. I could have. I should have. Might have been happy ever after. Rumor had it some nice guy in Code Section became smitten with her new-found fame and mystery and they bought a B&B somewhere in Provence.
God Bless them both.
The Superintendent of Police recovered nicely after being briefly bamboozled by his interrogation of that insolent! exasperating! American! [who? me? where? what? when? you sure?] who had thrown Leonid The KGB Iceman 2 meters into the air, 6 meters out from the edge of the street and down into Hell.
Koslov and Breznef Say Hello
I decided to forgo the hotel’s transport in favor of hoofing it back to the hotel. Keep an eye open for taxis and beer halls. It was cold but not windy. What the hell, let’s just go for it—–I can’t feel a thing.
As I started across the semi-deserted street about 2 blocks from the Embassy, a black, giant-sized Mercedes sedan with big fat tires raced toward me at about 50? 60? mph and screeched to a stop about 10 feet away. Then it slowly rolled in front of me and a blackened rear window lowered.
Uh, oh. Payback for Col. Lunev and I don’t have a shooter——–
Don’t run and don’t beg!! Stiff upper lip, Old Boy!
A large Russian face smiled out the open window at me. “Bobby! You will catch your death of cold dressed like that. Come. Get in. We will drive you to the hotel. Come on! Don’t be afraid. If you were to be killed, it would have already been done! Come in.” The door opened by itself. I got into the back seats.
“I am Koslov and he is Breznef.” They were huge grinning Russians. Their handshakes swallowed mine. The car raced off toward the hotel. “How about a Wodka? We have our own refrigerator!” They both howled with laughter.
Koslov poured, I drank. “Za va-sheh Zda-ro-v’yeh!” [to your health!] I said. Breznef gave me a cracker with a pile of caviar on it. The Wodka and caviar was magnificent—the best I had ever tasted.
“So, Bobby—did you get satisfactory medical care from Sarah?” He gave me his card. “I can get you to the best doctors in the city.”
“Thank you. She did very well” I say, puzzled.
“So, Bobby—that was a wonderful gesture you made to the Lunev family. He was an animal of the worst kind but that does not mean his family should be insulted at his death. They are nice people.”
“You know them?”
“Of course, many years. Nice people.”
“You think [Shaw] will send the flowers?”
“No, but no need to worry. Your bouquet will be delivered.”
“So, Bobby—how did you do it? The Lunev thing. You can tell us, we won’t tell that ninny [Shaw]!” They roared some more.
It was obvious the Russians had a wiretap on [Shaw’s] office.
We had arrived at the hotel. My door opened by itself, electrically? hydraulically?
I silently grasped their Russian Bear paws—one at a time.
I gave my best big-eyed deadpan shrug. “Dooo?….DooooWhaaat?” They roared again. Breznef fell on the big car’s floor coughing, laughing, giggling.
Outside, I said “Spasiba” [thank you] and “Dos vidaniya” [goodbye], gave them my British-French salute, and they zoomed away screeching, roaring and laughing.
The Lunev Thing
This whole business of “The Lunev Thing”, as Koslov called it, was really starting to eat at me. I’m receiving undeserved cheers from CIA, State Department and The White House, as the-American-who-threw-Leonid-The-KGB-Iceman-2 meters-into-the-air-6-meters-out-from-the-street-and-down-into-Hell and I didn’t know what the frig they were talking about!
I did feel a bit relieved at Koslov’s comment that “He [Lunev] was an animal of the worst kind”, which I interpret as a sigh of Kremlin relief from Col. Lunev’s often embarrassingly horrific, spontaneous and indiscriminate murders.
Maybe I’m now in the clear. I hope so.
Even though my pain was starting to rage again—[I eventually had to do 1½ days in hospital to repair my back]—I was determined to return to the scene of the crime and see what I could find. Do a Sherlock Holmes. Talk to the watchman, et cetera.
OK, how was it done?…………Well, it seems quite by accident, Old Boy.
I walked to the gap in the wood fence, only to find a fresh piece of plywood now covering it. Shit. I found a stone-mason’s wooden table in an open cranny between the last building in the row and the construction site’s wood fence and dragged it over to where the gap in the fence used to be.
What next? I climbed up onto the table and looked over the fence. OK, try to recall what you saw last night. OK…wooden boardwalk…6-foot high wooden safety fence…narrow wood catwalk on the inside face of the fence. Wow! That catwalk is dangerous—no safety rail or anything. Ladders extending up from the pit at both ends of the catwalk.
Wait a minute, I didn’t see that before! The catwalk ends about one meter [about 3 feet+] past where the fence opening used to be. What?!?
A comic-strip light bulb flashed on over my head: THAT’S IT! THAT’S IT!
LUNEV WAS ON THE CATWALK (OUT OF MY SIGHT) AND WAS BLINDED BY MY SUPER-BRIGHT FLASHLIGHT WHEN I SPRAYED IT INTO THE HOLE!!
HE TOOK A WILD STAB AT MY BACK THROUGH THE GAP IN THE FENCE, THEN BEGAN TO RUN TOWARD THE NEXT CORNER, TO TRY TO CATCH ME THERE!!
EXCEPT HE SAILED INTO SPACE INSTEAD OF CONTINUING ON A SOLID WALKWAY!! THAT’S WHY I HEARD WHAT I THOUGHT WERE BIRDS CLATTERING AND FLYING AWAY AFTER I HURT MY BACK!!
HE WAS NEVER ON MY SIDE OF THE FENCE!!!
NOBODY THREW HIM UP INTO THE AIR!!!
OK—–OK——-Simmer down——-That sounds plausible——-but how did he land 20 feet OUT from the edge of the excavation?
The only thing I can think of is that he instinctively kicked off from the wall [his dossier said that he was a trained gymnast] and flipped, hoping for a safe landing in the pit—maybe a platform or a wooden concrete form?
—–He may not have ever known about all those reinforcing rods sticking up.
I think Col. Lunev planned to icepick me under the chin, or wherever, because passersby simply can’t resist looking at construction work through a gap in a fence——even in the semi-dark——–and then drag my dead or dying body through the gap and chuck it into the hole. He didn’t figure on the flashlight!
It appears Leonid seriously miscalculated. He was going to chuck me, but ended up chucking himself. How bizarre is that?!!
Now, do I call Koslov and Breznef, plus the American DoI, State, the Prez, and the rest of Washing-Dick and tell them the (probably) true story?
I LIKE BEING A HERO—ESPECIALLY IF IT’S NOT A DEAD ONE!!
Right on. Right on.