CHAPTER FIFTY-THREE

Korolev could hear the boys moving around upstairs as they worked their way through the first of the offices. Meanwhile, file after file dropped to the floor as he and Slivka went through the cabinet drawers one by one.

“What are we looking for?” Slivka said.

“Anything financial. Accounts, invoices, receipts, estimates, orders, payslips—I don’t know. Anything with a number and a rouble.”

He left Slivka and went on to the other office—the desk was locked and so he went to the dining room and grabbed a handful of cutlery from the table. Two knives lay bent and broken on the floor by the time he got into the drawers, but he found nothing of use in them—just writing paper and some pencils.

He moved onto the cabinets and then the shelves, throwing books and paper around him, so that anyone walking in would have thought there’d been an explosion. But still he came across nothing which looked like it might be remotely relevant.

“Are there offices in the new building?” Slivka asked, coming in.

“There are, but we don’t have time.”

Korolev was finding it difficult to concentrate on anything except the plan they’d made.

“We do, if we’re quick.”

Korolev considered this, then considered the alternative. They’d have to make time.

“Well then, let’s hurry.”

Perhaps it was his tiredness, or the constant fear he’d been living with for days now—but it felt as though he were moving through water as they ran down to the new building. And even though his eyes were telling him he was moving fast, he’d the strong impression that he’d never reach the door he was heading for. He could barely hear the crunch and slide of his shoes on the gravel over the roaring in his ears. Then he was standing inside the doorway, trying to catch his breath.

“You take the doors on the left. I’ll take the right. Let’s be quick, but let’s be careful.”

The first office yielded nothing—patient files, manuals, an entire drawer full of political lectures, a folder full of photographs of Stalin, charts—everything, it seemed, except what he was looking for. He could hear drawers being emptied by Slivka across the corridor.

“Anything?” he called in to her as he moved onto the second door.

“Nothing,” was her reply.

There was a desk in this room, again locked. He looked round for something to open it with and, for a moment, considered using his gun. Then he saw a coat hook on the back of the door and, using all his weight, wrenched it out of the wood that held it. He wedged it into the desk and then used the heavy chair to hammer out the drawer. Pens. A bar of Three Piglets chocolate.

He took the chocolate for Yuri.

The third office had the two terrified nurses in it, both conscious now. These women in their crisp white dresses—if he hadn’t come here tonight it would be his son upstairs looking at them in terror.

“Witches. Devils. Wretches.” He spat each word at them, flinging useless paper to the floor from the drawers as he did so.

“Chief.”

It was Slivka, standing in the doorway. And there was something wrong. She looked as if the breath had been knocked out of her.

“Chief, two cars have just arrived. They’ve found the guard at the front gate. He’s talking to them. They’re closing the place off—they must know we’re here.”

He stood, the sweat turning cold on his skin.

Contents