Excerpt of Archangel by Robert Harris
(Page 6 of 6)
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By the time the Russian delegates were added in, plus a few diplomatic observers, the
press, and maybe fifty members of the public, the hall was impressively full. Kelso sank
heavily into his place in the second row. Up on the platform, Professor Valentin Askenov
of the Russian State Archives had launched into a long explana-tion of the microfilming of
the Party records. O'Brian's cameraman walked backward down the central aisle, filming the
audience. The sharp amplification of Askenov's sonorous voice seemed to pierce some
painful chamber of Kelso's inner ear. Already, a kind of metallic, neon torpor had
descended over the hall. The day stretched ahead. He covered his face with his hands.
Twenty-five million sheets . . . recited Askenov, twenty-five thousand reels of microfilm
. . . seven million dollars . . .
Kelso slid his hands down his cheeks until his fingers converged and covered his mouth.
Frauds! he wanted to shout. Liars! Why were they all just sitting here? They knew as well
as he did that nine tenths of the best material was still locked up, and to see most of
the rest required a bribe. He'd heard that the going rate for a captured Nazi file was a
thousand dollars and a bottle of scotch.
He whispered to Adelman, "I'm getting out of here."
"It's discourteous. Just sit there, for pete's sake, and pretend to be interested
like everyone else." Adelman said all this out of the side of his mouth, without
taking his eyes off the platform. Kelso stuck it out for another half minute.
"Tell them I'm ill."
"I shall not."
"Let me by, Frank. I'm going to be sick."
"Jesus . . ."
Adelman swung his legs to one side and pressed himself back in his seat. Hunched in a vain
effort to make himself less conspicuous, Kelso stumbled over the feet of his colleagues,
kicking in the process the elegant black shin of Ms. Velma Byrd.
"Aw, fuck, Kelso," said Velma.
Professor Askenov looked up from his notes and paused in mid-drone. Kelso was conscious of
an amplified, humming silence and of a kind of collective movement in the audience, as if
some great beast had turned in its field to watch his progress. This seemed to last a long
time, for at least as long as it took him to walk to the back of the hall. Not until he
had passed beneath the marble gaze of Lenin and into the deserted corridor did the droning
Kelso sat behind the bolted door of a bathroom cubicle on the ground floor of the former
Institute of Marxism-Leninism and opened his canvas bag. Here were the tools of his trade:
a yellow legal pad, pencils, an eraser, a small Swiss Army knife, a welcome pack from the
organizers of the symposium, a dictionary, a street map of Moscow, his cassette recorder,
and a Filofax that was a palimpsest of ancient numbers, lost contacts, old girlfriends,
There was something about the old man's story that was familiar to him, but he couldn't
remember what it was. He picked up the cassette recorder, pressed rewind, let it spool
back for a while, then pressed play. He held it to his ear and listened to the tinny ghost
of Rapava's voice.
". . . Comrade Stalin's room was a plain man's room. You've got to say that for
Stalin. He was always one of us . . ."
". . . and here was an odd thing, boy: He had taken off his shiny new shoes and had
them wedged under one fat arm . . ."
". . . Know what I mean by Blizhny, boy? . . ."
". . . by Blizhny, boy? . . ."
". . . by Blizhny . . ."
Excerpted from Archangel by Robert Harris. Excerpted by permission of
Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this
excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing.