By Michael C. White
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Maybe I would get lucky. Before dawn that morning, Zoya and I had crawled to the cemetery’s edge, a half kilometer forward of our front lines. As always we had scouted out the position the day before and had planned on digging in, getting concealed and set up before first light. A sniper’s life is one of careful planning, of concealment, of surprise, of infinite patience, and of course, of much luck. Behind that little hill at the edge of the cemetery was a good position, one that commanded much of the valley to the north where the German lines were.
The leader of the Soviet Union and former KGB head was a reticent subject. Both awkward and aloof, he kept fidgeting during the interview, checking his wristwatch. Elizabeth happened to notice a framed photograph of a tabby cat on his desk. She steered the conversation toward cats, and suddenly this hard-line old Communist who’d ordered the arrests of thousands became as chatty as a schoolgirl gossiping among friends. Yet as Elizabeth glanced around the house, she saw little that hinted at the life of its occupant.
On either side of the road, the brown, desiccated plains stretched out to the harsh blue of the sky. The sheer relentlessness of the landscape called to mind a train ride she’d once made to Kiev for a story. She’d been traveling from Moscow, where she was the bureau chief for an American newspaper, and was on her way to interview one of the leaders of the Rukh nationalist movement. This was back in the eighties when the idea of an independent Ukraine was still a pipe dream. She remembered seeing out her compartment window the Russian steppes unfurling endlessly, their vastness giving her vertigo.