Michael gives an overview of the book:
The old bureaucrat walked through the dimly lit halls. He didn’t know what was in the majority of the folders he carried, nor did he care. He only knew it was his job to put them back in their storage space. The modern world had long since gone to electronic records. However, no one had the time or resources to digitize these moldy old files. Nearly all of them still had letterhead from agencies that no longer existed, KGB, GRU, whatever. Most of the people he worked for barely knew nor even cared that he or the files existed. The one thing he did know was, bosses were all the same. No matter what political masters they answered to, his life hadn’t really changed.
Whether they called themselves communists or democrats, they were still the same corrupt fools who took the money. At least in the old days, his pension may have been worth something. Now, with prices going crazy, he feared he would probably have to work until he fell over. When he did, it was possible no one would notice for days. For all he knew, they would find him in some storage room half-rotted.
Hardly anyone wanted to see the information stored in these ancient archives anymore. He’d heard a rumor about wanting to fill the whole complex with concrete, similar to what had been done in Romania. But like most things, it had probably fallen off some higher person’s to do list. On the other hand, maybe someone actually decided the information could be useful someday. Although he believed that was about as likely as being given a dacha in the country when he retired.
No, it was more likely the records, like he, had been forgotten. At least he still got his paycheck. He had been there so long; no one else understood the ancient filing system. Occasionally some fool would request an old manuscript and they would need him to search through rooms of cabinets looking for the one that was needed. When they were returned, he would generally wait until a pile of them build up and then just make one trip. The documents requested were always from the unclassified section. No one was crazy enough to request information from the classified side. If anyone did request a classified document, he was required to notify security personnel immediately.
“Ah, this is where most of these go” he said, stopping in front of a non-descript door, one of many on this level. He started jingling through a large ring of keys looking for the right one.
Then he noticed the light in the stairwell. Someone was down in the lower levels, the classified section. He himself hadn’t been down there for years. He had no reason to go. Most of those files were from defunct programs or agencies that no longer existed. He didn’t even think anyone else was in the complex. Who comes three floors underground if they don’t have to? Maybe he should go notify his supervisor? No, the fool would probably not even know who the old bureaucrat was. He would have to take hours just explaining to him who he was and why he worked for him. The name of his boss had changed four times in the last eight months. Once when he tried to contact his boss to discuss a holiday, it took him six hours just to find the right person. He considered just walking away and ignoring the light. No, then if something came up missing, he would be investigated and that was the last thing he needed. Hopefully it was just some idiot who didn’t know the system and had come in and gotten lost looking for a file.
The door to the stairwell was locked. However the light being on made him certain someone was down there. He looked through his keys and found the right one. He passed through the door and started trudging down the metal stairs. The sounds his feet made as they landed on the steps seemed ominously cold. Maybe the concrete would have been a good idea.
When he reached the bottom of the stairs he entered another corridor which looked identical to the one he had left previously. He knew it was different though. These rooms contained files dating back over fifty years. These were files no one wanted released, but were afraid to destroy. As he began walking down the hall, he peered under each door trying to see if a light was on. If he was lucky, the person had already left and he’d be able to get back to his lunch and forget coming down here. None of the doors had identifying markings other than non-descript numbers. Each carried the standard disclaimer about severe penalties and prosecution for disclosure of state secrets.
As he turned a corner at the end of the hall, he saw light coming from under a door. From the moment he saw it he wished he hadn’t. He had no idea what was in that particular room. He had only been in there once, and it was several years ago. In the past, someone from one of the more classified agencies would come them self and retrieve or file the information stored in there. Today, all the agencies associated with that room had been replaced or renamed and now retained their own records. No one had come asking about the files in that room for what, eight years, ten? The bureaucrat had only been shown the inside of the room once in case he had to enter in an emergency. He kept a key to the room, but he had certainly never used it.
As he stared at the key he had never used, contemplating what to do, someone exited the room. He was at least thirty years younger than the bureaucrat. He wore a nice suit and was very well groomed. He had a non-descript folder in his hand which had no markings on it. The old man thought he was most likely one of the new capitalists who had recently gotten rich. The young man was obviously surprised to see him. As he turned around after shutting and locking the door quietly, he almost ran into the old bureaucrat.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you.”
“What were you doing in there?”
“Oh, just gathering some old files for my boss.”
“I’m really not sure, he just gave me this key and told me to come to this room and retrieve some things.”
“I’ll need to verify this. Do you even have clearance to go in there?”
“Of course I do, my superior, a high level official I’m sure you’ve never heard of, wouldn’t have given me the key if I didn’t have the proper clearance.”
“Listen, I need authorization for anything removed from this facility, particularly from this floor, particularly from that room.” He said emphasizing the last portion.
“I see. Well, I’m obviously taking valuable time away from your lunch. If we go through all the trouble of verifying this, neither of us will get anything else accomplished today. My boss only needs to see these files for a few hours. He’s a very impatient man who hates to be kept waiting. I promise to have them back before the end of the day. Perhaps you could go out for lunch and let me pay for it, as an apology for your trouble.”
As the young man said this, he held out his hand as if he wanted the old bureaucrat to shake it. He could see the money inside the young man’s hand. It was more than enough to buy his lunch. It looked to be enough to buy a month of lunches. In the old days, he would have walked away and turned the young man in immediately. This could be a test, or a trap. At one time, he knew these halls were continuously monitored. Today, most of the cameras were broken and no one bothered to fix them. The guard upstairs was a friend of his and was probably asleep anyways.
“All right, but I need them back here before the end of the day, like you promised.” He shook the young man’s hand and quickly pocketed the money.
“Certainly, my friend. After all, we are both just hard working employees answering to our idiotic masters aren’t we?”
“I do understand that” said the old man sourly.
“Fine fine, I won’t wait for you. The sooner I get out of here, the sooner I’ll get these back.” He quickly turned around and hurried up the stairs. The old man watched him go with deep suspicion.
“If he’s a low level employee, I’m Vladimir Putin”. Even if he never brought the files back, no one had been in that room for years. He doubted anyone even had an accurate inventory anymore.
As the young man exited the complex, he was questioned by the guards. His ID immediately ceased them from asking any further questions and let him leave. Visitors were normally searched, he was an exception. His car was waiting for him outside. After getting in the back, he dialed his cell phone as the car pulled away.
“Yes?” said a deep but powerful voice.
“And do you have the information we need?”
“Yes, and it’s more than we imagined.”
“Excellent, were there any problems?”
“Possibly, I ran into some old man while leaving the storage room. I was able to bribe him, but he could be a liability.”
“I know this man” pondered the deep voice. “Perhaps it’s time for his retirement.”
“I understand. I can have it taken care of, and no one will suspect anything.”
“Good. Make sure it is painless, he has always been a loyal servant, despite taking bribes from corrupt officials.”
“I don’t find that the least bit amusing” snapped the young man.
“Sergei, if you can’t laugh at yourself, you have no place in this organization.”
I am an active duty officer in the United States Navy. I have recently published my first novel, "Zhena" with Hearts on Fire Books. It is a spy thriller set in modern times with aspects of the cold war.