He knew the rats would start eating at his face soon. The darkness almost hid them, but he could see their black bodies circling, their eyes reflecting what little light there was. They were sniffing the air, ready to brave the human smell mixed with that of the pork fat smeared on his face.
He hung from a rafter by a rope tied to his feet, his hands tied behind him, and his head hovering an inch from the straw-covered dirt floor of the stable. He could only wait in a shivering cold sweat, his heart thudding violently, his stomach knotted in anticipation of what would soon come: a rat would move in, the rest of the rats would follow, the excruciating pain would start, and he would take too long to die.
Again and again, he had swung his body and shook his head to scare the rats away. But he had been doing that for hours, and now he was so exhausted that he could only squirm and nod his head. The rats moved closer.
He tried to scream, but the greasy rag tied into his mouth by a rope looped around his head turned it into a muffled screech. Nobody would hear him. Nobody would pass by the stable. Not at this time of night.
Everything had gone so well. He had been exiled here by the Okhrana, the feared Czarist secret police, but only to mislead his fellow revolutionaries. He was an Okhrana agent provocateur, but he also secretly worked for the revolutionary overthrow of the Czar, was a member of a criminal gang involved in armed robberies, and conspired to murder associates. His principles were simple: what profited him was right.
He heard the rats shuffling closer over the straw.
Frantically, his mind tried to deny what his ears and bulging eyes told him. This could not be. When he had arrived at Novaya Uda under guard, a telegram from the Kutais Okhrana had soon arrived at Irkutsk, supporting him: I.V. Dzhugashvili plans to leave. Do not stop him. Render assistance. A telegram bearing a description of him had soon followed:
Iosif Vissarionov Dzhugashvili. Age: 23. Appearance: ordinary. Height: 5 feet, 4 inches. Build: medium. Hair: dark brown. Beard and mustache: brown. Nose: straight and long. Forehead: straight and low. Face: long, swarthy, and pockmarked. Second and third toes on left foot fused together. Nickname: Riaboy.
A rat the size of a cat, its eyes like reflective marbles, sniffed at his nose. He jerked his head toward it and it backed off. Fear triggered his bladder to empty again; he felt his urine soaking into the crotch and waist of his long underwear.
Yesterday the local Okhrana had given him a document identifying him as an Okhrana agent so that he could return to Batum, the Black Sea port near Turkey from which he had been exiled. Last night, as he'd been returning from celebrating with the Okhrana Captain Ivan Rykov, a man stopped him on the road. and said, "A local social democrat wants to have a secret talk with you before you leave."
The man was dressed as a peasant, looked weathered and wrinkled like a peasant, and spoke Russian with a terrible accent, like a foreigner who had been exiled here some time ago. He led Riaboy here, but there was no one waiting.
Hooy na ya-no fucking way. Riaboy's thoughts raced, incoherent, as panic encroached from the fringes of his mind. I could have killed him with one hand. Pizdoon-fucking liar. How could the zasranee do this to me? How could the svolock-- He'd fought. But the man was too strong.
"Why? What did I do?" Riaboy had yelled.
The stranger's green eyes regarded him. "Chto poseesh', to i pozhniosh'. Chto poseesh'," he'd grunted. "As you sow, so shall you reap." Then he moved off to watch from at a distance.
The big rat was back, along with a companion.
Riaboy could barely move his head. Terror gripped him. He felt slippery wetness in the crack of his ass-he'd crapped in his underwear. His mind finally collapsed into hysteria, and frothy saliva blew out of his nose. Only one thought remained: WHY? Why? Why? wh . . . .
The man who in later years would have been known as Joseph Stalin gurgled and moaned. His whole body seemed to jitter in anticipation. The large rat hesitated, then bit at his cheek. The stab of hot pain tore through him, convulsing his muscles, triggering a strangled howl. The other rats moved in; another stab of pain was followed by another, and another, for the rest of his life.
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