An hour later, Kuznetsof was joined in his room by Roland Carmichael, a dashing, young, handsome reporter for The London Sentinel.
“My word,” Carmichael said in a British accent as he reviewed a document that had been marked with a bold, red CLASSIFIED stamp. “I must say, Mr. Kuznetsof, when you contacted me, I feared perhaps you were simply a disgruntled employee, a man with a grudge who wanted to vent about how he’d been mistreated but you certainly are the real deal…and you’ve brought the goods.”
“I would not waste your time,” Kuznetsof said as he sipped a brandy. “I have spent many years in the service of my country. Past presidents have come and gone. Some good. Some bad, but none have been as bad as Popov.”
Carmichael looked up from the document. “Our publication has never shied away from writing stern editorials against President Popov’s draconian policies but here, you’ve provided concrete, undeniable evidence that he personally ordered the extrajudicial murders of countless critics and dissidents.”
Kuznetsof moved his hand around and around, watching the brown liquid in his glass swirl about. “Much lip service is paid to the so-called freedoms of the new Russia but in truth, there is very little difference from the Soviet Union of old.”
The reporter pulled out a notepad. “You will, of course, personally corroborate these documents?”
“Yes,” Kuznetsof said. “I was in the room on many occasions when the president ordered these illegal executions.”
Carmichael straightened his tie. “I’ll be honest, sir, the end result of this story will be a Pulitzer for me, but I am quite concerned for you. When this all goes public, your life will be…”
“Forfeit,” Kuznetsof said. “I know.”
“I just want to make sure you understand,” Carmichael said. “I have no association with the British government. I can’t offer you any protections nor can I guarantee your safety.”
“I understand,” Kuznetsof replied. “I have wanted to come forward for many years but I feared for my family. My son has been studying in the United States for quite some time and when my wife passed last year, I realized there was nothing holding me back from performing a higher duty – not the one I owe to my homeland but the one I owe to all of humanity.”
Carmichael wrote that statement down. “That’s very noble.”
Kuznetsof polished off his brandy and stood. “Pardon me,” he said as he headed for the room’s mini-bar. “I need a refill on my liquid courage.”
Carmichael pulled out a silver flask out of an inner pocket in his suit coat. “Will you do me the honor? As it just so happens, we journalists also find ourselves in need of a wee nip of liquid courage from time to time.”
Kuznetsoff smiled and sat back down on the plush, white sofa. He held out his glass while the young man reached across the coffee table and poured.
“Scotch straight from Glasgow,” Carmichael said as he returned the flask to his pocket. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
The defector sniffed the aroma of the liquid in his glass, then sipped. He swirled the liquor around in his mouth for a bit, enjoying the taste before finally swallowing. “I suppose it doesn’t.”
“Now then,” Carmichael said as he flipped through the pages of another classified document. “Was the military ever involved?”
Kuznetsof fumbled through his briefcase and pulled out a document. He flipped through the pages before he set it down on the coffee table and pointed. “General Meknikov’s signature. He is, what you might call, the president’s bag man. He was involved in many of the assassinations, although Popov was very clever.”
“How so?” Carmichael asked.
Kuznetsof burped. He made a fist and lightly pounded his chest. “Pardon me. Popov does not trust any of his top men and accordingly, makes use of many hit squads that operate independently of one another. Many are not even in the employ of the government but rather, are compensated through a complex system involving shell corporations and payments exchanged through drop offs and middlemen.”
“It sounds like the president covered his tracks well,” Carmichael surmised as he poured through a ream of banking records. “Perhaps too well?”
“To a casual observer, it looks like…” Kuznetsof grimaced. He clenched his teeth and grunted but it was of little use. A loud, baritone fart escaped his cheeks. “Oh my…”
Carmichael’s eyes widened in surprise. Seconds later, the smell of rotten sulfur wafted up his nose. He lifted his tie and used it to cover his nostrils.
“Bozhe moi!” Kuznetsof said. “I apologize, comrade. I am so sorry. I don’t know what…perhaps my nerves are shot. The past few days have been grueling and…”
The reporter waved off his interviewee’s lamentations. “It’s quite alright, good chap. Happens to the best of us. Please, continue.”