"Know upon whom you press."

This phrase is not often spoken anymore by the Russian Secret Service. There's not as much need to - for even the most evil of organisms must grow or die. The state police for Russia goes back centuries, a creation of the Tsars out of a self-awareness of their disconnected cruelty and the resulting expected backlash. At this point in history the ruling class need have no such fear as the Russian psyche is so self-inflicted with negativity they oppress themselves out of a false sense of patriotism. There's your riddle solved, Mr. Churchill.

Pride for a Russian is in how much abuse one can take. The more cruel a leader the greater the sacrifice. The more one can sacrifice the greater one must be! In futility they trust. How many empty Vodka bottles does it take to fill that hole? But all the while the Russian soul is desperately craving for the acceptance and respect from the West it does not give itself. This is how they are able to perpetually see themselves as victims, illusioned as a permanent lesser people. That gives free reign to the Secret Police to unleash the worst of the country's repressed demons onto the population - as their behavior is the measuring stick of their society's health.

In the 60's, at the height of the cold war, Russia wallowed in both her power and her helplessness. The only thing she fears more than her enemies is not having an enemy (for then who can they blame for their woes?). So they worshiped at the altar of an imagined peril from the West and the always present fear of a population that will one day throw off the yoke of an unjust and undeserving government. For the rulers at that time, this meant little was out of bounds when it came to sacrificing before these two gods.

Looking back, it's now seen the KGB of that era had gotten cocky with decades of resistanceless wins to its credit. It was business as usual when the government official - a very high functionary in the Politburo - and an assassin agent approached Heinrich Koehler [the 'oe' pronounced as a long ā] in a small dank room deep in the heart of East Berlin.

"You recognize this picture? It's of your mother, no? Soon she will know the freezing cold of Siberia in her bones. Your young nephews and nieces will know only the labor camps as their future. Your uncle to whom you still write will know the joys of a cell in Lubyanka [a notorious KGB prison of torture]. Years of tears will flow if you do not do as we say. Can you imagine these things happening?"

The assassin sat never taking his eyes off Heinrich, almost smiling as he heard the hells listed by his compatriot. He had the stench of death about him, a sewer rat who no longer cared in what filth he swam. The killer knew the effect his coldness had on strangers and enjoyed watching them shiver.

"I, I understand," acquiesced Heinrich in troubled tones. Then he received his detailed instructions.

In the language of the day, Heinrich Koehler was a henpecked man. He lived outnumbered with his wife and mother-in-law (who lived up to every stereotype and then some). His wife Lydia knew what she wanted and went after it with ruthless efficiency. She preyed upon the needs of men, eventually trapping Heinrich with a child. Having achieved dominance, Lady Lydia used her husband as a pack horse to sustain her (and her mother too, of course) in relentless suffocation. To hear her tell it the only thing her husband had ever done right was get his promotion to supervisor of the guards at the East Berlin prison where he was employed.

"You've got to be tough!" she implored their only child, Ian. "The world is never changing and you must suck it up if you want to get by!" Ian eventually joined the black market German underworld, providing his mother with forbidden fruit of the West. She couldn't have been more proud. Ian despised his father.

That night in bed, Heinrich heard the Russian official's hissing voice all over again.

"Next week, on your night shift, you will let in my man to these two isolation cells." In those cells were two Russian escapees. Why they had to be killed Heinrich did not know. One thing he did know for certain was the seriousness of the situation having two men such as these involved. After a lifetime spent in devotion to non-confrontation this was his was his worst nightmare. Heinrich would have blood on his hands with or without his cooperation. The only question was whose.

It was also a cruel irony that the only reason he was being pressed to do this was the fact as supervisor he had access the normal guards did not. The one single "good" thing he'd done in his life was now being used against him. That's what happens when you step outside of your circle, fool! Much as he tried, Heinrich could not convince himself of the worthless of the two men's lives even as compared to his own relatives. He tried to stuff the rationalization down his throat but could never fully swallow.

He also could not share his situation with his wife. She and her cohort mother would have no qualms about his cooperating, not even seeing a need to question it. The two prisoners' lives would be gone in the blink of an eye if it were up to the two scheming women. Daylight was nowhere to be found. (Had he lived a few decades later Heinrich would have found a bitter partiality in the #metoo movement with its narrative of only female victimization).

Me too

In his torment, Koehler also failed to realize one other ruthless detail: after the deed was done he'd become a loose end needing cleaned up - permanently.

As the days passed until he went onto the night shift, the official's photographs tortured the prison guard's mind. Having time to imagine the worst only made the pressure more difficult. He wondered if they planned it that way, knowing that time was working in their favor, softening him up. When the night in question arrived he was spent and his will destroyed. He'd have to be tough like the world. He'd have to become like his wife. Grow up, Heinrich! he could hear her demand.

The Iron Curtain was a land of dark secrets. Each soul lived for its failures never to be revealed. But Heinrich's time had come. His current secret being no matter how terrible the nightmares he couldn't fully resolve to the killing of the two men in his care. Heinrich was one of the few guards not hated by the prisoners. He could never lift his hand to abuse them - he already knew what it's like to live life as a prisoner.

The face of the creeping assassin was even more hideous as it delighted in the unrestrained glee of betrayal. Was easy to see his drowning soul lived for these moments of butchering, the crushing of all hope. He savored the telling of his final morsel from hell.

"It's you who will do the killing."

Heinrich stepped backwards as if physically struck. That very much pleased the assassin, his resolute smile giving no quarter.

"No...no..I can't..."

"You must use your gun. It's the only way. Do it for your family. These two men mean nothing."

The real plan was to have the entirety of the killings blamed on the guard, who then dies of a "heart attack." The assassin was there only to clean up the mess. He never could understand the stupidity of people who left themselves so vulnerable. They got what they deserved.

"You don't understand..."

"I very much understand. Do I need make this any clearer?"

"No. No, I understand."

The guard turned to pass through onto the isolation cells. The assassin grinned. The devil was coming to collect a soul that night.

But had the killer not been so smug, so self-assured in the sanction of his blackmail in a godless but blind world, he might of noticed the coming explosion in Heinrich's head. The shame of a lifetime was building steam. That "something wrong" that had plagued and hounded him for decades could no longer be denied. Finally, he decided he was dead no matter what he did.

They reached the first cell. "Unholster your gun," the voice to his right commanded. Heinrich did so. "Now open the door."

Opening the door meant exposure and permanent branding as a lifelong loser. Bad enough to be mocked and ridiculed at home, but now it would be everyone and everywhere - even at work! Heinrich snapped.


The revolver emptied all six rounds into the ordering agent. But Heinrich wasn't killing only him, but every tormentor of the "soft" man who could do no right. He had to preserve that final piece of his soul. Time for the world to grow up. In the corner of his ear he heard hastening footsteps stomping down the hallway.

EPILOGUE: Had it occurred in Russia and not East Berlin there might have been a full cover up. As it was, the photos and the entire story of the botched assassination came to light. The party official who orchestrated it was disgraced and denounced by the very people who ordered him to do it (not for the attempt or methodology, but for failing). Heinrich and his family suffered no repercussions. By losing himself he saved himself (the anti-Obama).

To persecute Heinrich would be to admit the killing of a KGB agent - a chink in their allegedly invincible armor. That could not be tolerated. But Koehler's shot was one heard 'round the Soviet empire, poking a hole in the secret forces' own naivete of the evil of its blanket oppression. A line had been crossed and to keep crossing it would ultimately mean their own destruction. While direct assassinations still continue to this day, the use of ritual blackmail of family members faded in disrepute. In the end, everyone wants to live.

Views: 170

Comment by Tom Cordle on December 28, 2017 at 2:08pm

Well-written and Kafkaesque, although, given the subject matter, how could it be otherwise?


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