Excerpt of The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith
(Page 3 of 4)
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Cowardice lay behind the shameful arrangement. The ecclesiastical
authorities, having rallied every church congregation behind Stalin
during the war, were now an instrument of the State, a ministry of
the Kremlin. This demolition was a demonstration of that subjugation.
They were blowing it up for no reason other than to prove their
humility: an act of self-mutilation to testify that religion was harmless,
docile, tamed. It didnt need to be persecuted anymore. Lazar understood
the politics of sacrifice: Wasnt it better to lose one church than
to lose them all? As a young man hed witnessed theological seminaries
turned into workers barracks, churches turned into antireligious
exhibition halls. Icons had been used as fi rewood, priests imprisoned,
tortured, and executed. Continued persecution or thoughtless subservience:
that had been the choice.
. . .
Jek abs listened to the sound of the crowd gathered outside, the
bustle as they waited for the show to begin. He was late. He shouldve
finished by now. Yet for the past five minutes he hadnt moved, staring
down at the final charge and doing nothing. Behind him, he heard the
creak of the door. He glanced over his shoulder. It was his colleague
and friend, standing at the doorway, on the threshold, as if fearful of
entering. He called out, his voice echoing:
Jekabs! Whats wrong?
Im almost done.
His friend hesitated before remarking, softening his voice:
We will drink tonight, the two of us, to celebrate your retirement?
In the morning youll have a terrible headache, but by the evening you
will feel much better.
Jekabs smiled at his friends attempt at consolation. The guilt would
be nothing worse than a hangover. It would pass.
Give me five minutes.
With that, his friend left him alone.
Kneeling in a parody of prayer, sweat streaming, his fingers slippery,
he wiped his face, but it made no difference, his shirt was soaked and
could absorb no more. Finish the job! And hed never have to work
again. Tomorrow hed take his little daughter for a walk by the river.
The day after hed buy her something, watch her smile. By the end
of next week he wouldve forgotten about this church, about the five
golden domes and the sensation of the cold stone floor.
Finish the job!
He snatched hold of the blasting cap, crouched down to the
. . .
Stained glass shot out from all around the church, every window
shattering simultaneously the air filling with colored fragments.
The back wall transformed from a solid mass to a rushing dust cloud.
Ragged chunks of stone arced up then crashed to the ground, chewing
up the grass, skidding toward the crowd. The flimsy barrier offered no
protection, swatted aside with a shrill clang. To Lazars right and left
people dropped as their legs were knocked out from under them. Children
on their fathers shoulders clutched their faces, sliced by whistling
stone and glass shards. As though it were a single entity, a great
shoal, the crowd pulled away in unison, crouching, hiding behind each
other, fearful that more debris would rip through them. No one had
been expecting anything to happen yet; many hadnt even been looking
in the right direction. The film cameras werent set up. There were
workers within the blast perimeter, a perimeter hopelessly underestimated
or an explosion misjudged.
Lazar stood, his ears ringing, staring at the plumes of dust, waiting
for it to settle. As the cloud thinned it revealed a hole in the wall twice
the height of a man and equally wide. The damage made it appear as if
a giant had accidentally put the tip of his boot through the church and
then apologetically retracted his foot, sparing the rest of the building.
Lazar looked up at the golden domes. Everyone around him followed
suit, a single question on everyones mind: would the towers fall?
Out of the corner of his eye Lazar could see the film crew scrambling
to get the cameras rolling, wiping the dust off the lens, abandoning
the tripods, desperate to capture the footage. If they missed the
collapse, no matter what the excuse, their lives would be on the line.
Despite the danger, no one ran away, they remained fi xed to the spot,
searching for even the slightest movement, a tilt or jolt a tremble. It
seemed as if even the injured were silent in anticipation.
Excerpted from The Secret Speech by Tom Robb Smith. Copyright © 2009 by Tom Robb Smith. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher