01 11 / 2012
A little after midnight on the morning of December 30th, 1916, British SIS Lt. Oswald Rayner stood on the artificial banks of the Moika River with a pocket watch in hand, waiting for a man to die. “Five minutes!” He snapped the watch cover closed. “Feel anything?”
“I don’t,” Prince Yusupov said. Grand Duke Pavlovich and retired politician Purishkevich muttered their agreement in Russian. “No new prestige,” Yusupov said. “No reward.”
“You said was task!” Pavlovich yelled in broken English.
“Shut it! He should’ve drowned.”
“He isn’t dead,” Yusupov muttered, “unholy monk.”
“It’s the cat o’nine lives—nine lives!” Rayner said.
“He should be dead.”
“Count them off goddamnit. There was the cyanide—one death!”
Yusupov nodded hurriedly. “There was the evisceration.”
“Guseva’s attempt before the war?”
“Belly stab. She tried to cut out the cat on Iliodor’s orders but hooked his innards.”
“That’s two. How many shots to the back?”
“Three!” Purishkevich said.
“Five deaths! I shot him in the head. Six.”
“I brained him,” Yusupov said.
“Twice. Once when he went for you, once in the blanket.”
“Eight then, and drowning in the river makes nine.”
“He should be dead,” Yusupov repeated.
“What the hell did we miss?” Rayner spat into the icy water. “Fucking monk!”
Purishkevich, nominally the head of this conspiracy, said something to Yusupov sharply. Prince Yusupov replied in a hushed, rapid tone. Rayner couldn’t understand the words, but he knew roughly what was being said. This was a marriage of convenience. The remains of the London cult wanted revenge, and the Russian mystics wanted to rid themselves of a traitorous banker. Now that they’d thrown their quarry into the water and left him alive, Purishkevich would want both an explanation and a scapegoat. Their alliance would dissolve.
“Listen up!” Rayner yelled at the bickering noblemen.
“What?” Yusupov asked irritably.
“We’ve failed, but we aren’t doomed. The police won’t hold me during the war. Yusupov, you and Pavlovich have too much power. Push for house arrest, and I’ll do the same through diplomatic channels. Tell Purishkevich that he’ll be left out of any accounts of the murder attempt. The monk didn’t know him, and Buchanan will supply an alibi if he needs one.”
“This is your plan?” Yusupov asked dumbly.
“Do you want to run up and down the river looking for a half-frozen man?”
“No.” Prince Yusupov was young and healthy but ultimately out of shape. Even standing outside in the cold was taking a visible toll on his demeanor.
“Good. Then get out of here, and hope Rasputin dies from exposure.”
“Gods willing,” Yusupov said, “and may the cat o’nine lives be lost in the snow.” He started passing instructions to Purishkevich in Russian.
Once they all knew their roles, the conspirators dispersed into the night.