The Debriefing

The Debriefing by Robert Littell

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Authors: Robert Littell
Tags: Thriller & Suspense
adds sarcastically, “None of us is nicer than he has to be.”

    “You were talking about the actress,” Stone reminds Kulakov. “You were saying that it was her idea to move in with you, not yours.”
    They are strolling along an unpaved road that winds through the rolling hills near the farm. A civilian with a shotgun cradled in his arms follows discreetly behind. The air is cold, but clear. Kulakov has the collar of his sheepskin coat turned up and his head tucked turtlelike into it. The pace is brisk—too brisk for Kulakov, who has trouble walking and talking at the same time.
    “She didn’t have a Moscow residence permit,” Kulakov explains. “It was either move in with me or go back to Leningrad. Naturally, I preferred her in Moscow. So when she asked, I said yes.”
    “It didn’t strike you as unusual—her asking, I mean? Normally it’s the man who suggests this kind of arrangement.”
    Kulakov actually laughs. “You speak Russian like a native,” he says, “but you don’t really know Russia. There are thousands—maybe even tens of thousands—of people living like Gypsies in Moscow. They have no residence card, and without a residence card they have no right to a job or an apartment. It’s a vicious circle. They can’t get the residence card without the job and apartment; they can’t get the job and apartment without the residence permit. So they move in with friends or lovers and live na levo , as we say—on the left. She worked at a theater company in Leningrad, but she wanted to live in Moscow, so she was hunting for a film studio or a theater that would take her on. Meanwhile she had to live somewhere. It’s as simple as that.”
    Stone walks on for a while in silence. “How did you meet her?”
    “Meet whom? Oh, the actress. I met her at the Actors Union. I was dining there one night with a cousin who is the widow of an actor who looked exactly like Lenin from the back and always played him in films. Galya was at another table—we had exchanged looks two or three times, the way people will. At midnight they turned off the overhead lights to signal everyone toleave. We were lingering over cognacs. Galya walked straight up to me, leaned down and planted a kiss on my lips.” Kulakov smiles bitterly at the memory. “Just like that. She was very—how to put it?—unconventional. When I ran into her again, purely by accident, in the record store on Gorky Street—I was buying some new records to take to Nadia at the hospital—well, you know how it is. One thing led to another. And she asked if she could move in. I was alone, so I thought, where’s the harm?”
    “But things didn’t work out the way you thought they would?”
    Kulakov’s head emerges from his collar; his features are drawn, his eyes half closed and moist. “For which of us,” he says quietly, “do things work out the way we thought they would?” He shakes his head sadly. “Galya was a very beautiful woman on the outside, but very warped inside.”
    “How warped?” Stone asks.
    “Sexually, for one thing,” replies Kulakov. “She made demands that no man could satisfy. And she didn’t hide her lack of satisfaction. She seemed to take pleasure in humiliating me. She boasted about other loves she had known; about what she had done to them, and what they had done to her. She loved to describe things in great detail. No matter how much I tried to please her, it was never enough. She always wanted more.”
    They walk on for a hundred yards without saying anything; ahead, the farm comes into view on a rise: a main house, whitewashed clapboard, two stories, and two smaller outbuildings, one in brick, one in wood. The entire complex is surrounded by a whitewashed picket fence. Four cars are parked in various places around the complex, and two men with shotguns can be seen lounging in the shadows of the buildings. Stone knows that two more, also with shotguns, are playing cards inside the brick building, which serves as

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