A Mercedes made its way slowly down the dirt road from the village, followed
closely by a chase vehicle, a metallic gray Land Cruiser filled with bodyguards.
Neither car had license plates, and the workers watching the scene play out
understood this to mean that the people in them were too important to be stopped
by the police. The Mercedes half turned so that it was astride the road and
stopped a dozen meters from the kneeling prisoner. The rear window wound down
the width of a fist. The Oligarkh
could be seen peering out
through dark glasses. He removed the cigar from his mouth and
the naked prisoner for a long while, as if he were committing
and the moment to memory. Then, with a look of unadulterated
malevolence on his face, he reached out with one of his crutches
tapped the man sitting next to the driver on the shoulder. The
door opened and the man emerged. He was of medium height and
thin, with a long pinched face. He wore suspenders that kept his
trousers hiked high on his waist, and a midnight blue Italian
draped cape-like over a starched white shirt, which was tieless
buttoned up to a very prominent Adam's apple. The initials "S"
"U-Z" were embroidered on the pocket of the shirt. He strode to
chase car and plucked a lighted cigarette from the mouth of one
bodyguards. Holding it away from his body between his thumb and
third finger, he walked over to the prisoner. Kafkor raised his
saw the cigarette and recoiled, thinking he was about to be
with the burning tip. But S U-Z, smiling faintly, only reached
and wedged it between the lips of the prisoner. "It is a matter
he said. "A man condemned to death is entitled to a last
"They . . . damaged me, Samat?" Kafkor whispered huskily. He
could make out the shock of silver hair on the figure watching
the back seat of the Mercedes. "They locked me in a basement
in sewage, I could not distinguish night from day, I lost track
they woke me . . . with loud music when I fell asleep. Where,
it to me if there exists an explanation, is the why?" The
man spoke Russian with a distinct Polish accent, emphasizing the
O's and stressing the next to last syllable. Terror tortured his
into baroque grammatical configurations. "The endmost thing I
would tell to nobody is what I am not supposed to know."
Samat shrugged as if to say, The matter is out of my hands. "You
arrive too close to the flame, you must suffer burning, if only
others away from the flame."
Trembling, Kafkor puffed on the cigarette. The act of smoking,
and the smoke cauterizing his throat, appeared to distract him.
stared at the ash, waiting for it to buckle under its own weight
so they could get on with the execution. Kafkor, sucking on the
became aware of the ash, too. Life itself seemed to ride on it.
Defying gravity, defying sense, it grew longer than the unsmoked
of the cigarette.
And then a whisper of wind coming off the river dislodged the
ash. Kafkor spit out the butt. "'Poshol
ty na khuy," he whispered,
articulating each of the O's in "'Poshol."
"'Go impale yourself on a
rocked back on his heels and squinted in the direction of
the copse of stunted apple trees on the slope above him. "Look!"
blurted out, vanquishing terror only to confront a new enemy,
"Up there!" He sucked in his breath. "I see the elephant. It can
be said that the beast is revolting."
Excerpted from Legends by Robert Littell. Copyright 2005 by Robert Littell. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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