Lutzin stood by the river bank gazing indifferently at the small ferry breasting its way across to the other side, his thoughts about those who invested so much confidence in him, predominantly for the sake of their own success, bringing a flicker of amusement to his expression.
"What are you smiling at?" Liza enquired, affectionately.
"Was I smiling — I don't think so."
He dropped down onto the concrete slipway and strolled to the foreshore, there picking his way over small rocks and shingle, carefully making his way to a wooden breakwater fifty yards away. Liza followed.
"For you it was a smile!" she called after him, reproachfully.
"I was thinking about going home."
"Home..! I don't believe it, you would never do that — you have too much freedom here!"
Lutzin sat down on the breakwater, gathering a few small pebbles and weighing them absently in his hand.
"Why not... if I get Filey onto a ship, perhaps I shall go with him... I might find it interesting! All those people who have been relying on me, I should be highly regarded... don't you think, highly praised by the Party? I might even visit my dear father."
He tossed one of the pebbles into the water and watched despondently while the unending waves licked away the last of the ripples.
"You care nothing for the Party or your father," Liza protested, coming nearer; "you will never go back — I know you! And didn't you tell me that both your parents were dead!" she scolded, gently.
"No... I don't think so."
She sat down protectively beside him.
"What do you care really about them," she murmured, peering at him sideways; "nothing at all!"
She was right, of course, he cared absolutely nothing for any of them; the Party especially: the struggle to gain a foothold; the absurd scrimmaging and humiliating pursuits to attain the next level; those at the bottom kept in check by the ones just above, those who had already been bought and corrupted by the taste of status and privilege: the police for instance; themselves no more than a miniature of the same system. But whatever the role or employment, all of them mere cells writhing in the state body; a sewer of fear, laziness, and greed; the only real struggle just to keep a toe on the ladder and heel in the face of the one below... yet all with an eye to the one above..!
"Why should I care... I have no craving to study the hindquarters of anyone!"
"I was not saying that you should... it was you who was thinking of going home."
Liza pushed herself against him, squeezing his arm:
"Then I was right!"
Lutzin smiled faintly:
"If it pleases you..!"
...Communism or capitalism, it was all the same, both systems with their privileged and those who prostituted themselves to become so; those who chose otherwise, despised and hounded, isolated and trampled. Of course, this view was not perfect, he realized, but was not concerned with that... there would always be exceptions. That he had dropped out long ago was proof of it...
"You could go home, though," Liza said, casting a diffident eye to the cloudless blue sky.
"At least you would be safe."
... but not he, Lutzin: he would be a chattel for no-one or any system. He had a compartment all to himself unburdened by false ideals and values, ambition or even greed. He smiled scornfully to himself: he worked only for the distraction it gave him, not as a slave to meaningless concepts or fables, inventions that were simple propaganda to keep the masses in place, working for the good of the few; an opium perpetuated by the evil of self deception, superstition and greed... or just plain stupidity. All of it meant nothing...
"If I wanted to go join the system, why should I need to go home... things are no different here. Communism, capitalism… all the same… all deriving their existence from the same thing, power… only the means is different. Why should I go home?"
The ultimate decision of life and death was often in his hands; what greater power was there than that! Yet even that meant practically nothing.
"The Party would take care of you," Liza smiled, apprehensively.
Lutzin kept silent, the point not worthy of more response other than a slight hardening of the mouth; his mind and eye fixed on the ferry embarking its passengers over the other side. Was he an invalid now..!
They watched it bobbing in the warm sunshine, collecting its next burden of responsibility and setting out cockily across the strong ebbing tide. It pressed forwards eagerly like a puppy, the viridian sun-dappled water dragging at its chubby sides as it waddled slowly over towards them. Lutzin searched among the sprinkling of colourful specks milling beyond its low ramp, happy revellers in bright holiday outfits all clasping bits of luggage and offspring, all excitedly awaited by a similar assortment gathering to search for Mecca the other side.
Even before the ramp was completely down, the exchange was taking place: a melee of smiles and expectations, all but one of them given to the conquest of enjoyment. He plodded off slowly and stood to one side, his gaze finally alighting on the two who were there to meet him.
Lutzin raised a hand feebly in acknowledgement, then climbed reluctantly to his feet, some air of discontent in his appraisal of the large man who was now finding his way precariously across the foreshore towards them.
The man was middle-aged and turning to fat, the smile on his face disarming and apologetic as he struggled with a small case and coat in one hand to dab his forehead with the other. Lutzin eyed the sweat stained shirt with apprehension, his own discomfort becoming ever more real:
"Only you, comrade?" he said, without welcome.
The man stumbled up before him, smiling and extending his hand:
"Yes, just me, Volka Katze — do we need more!"
"Perhaps not but probably yes, four at least..."
He accepted the hand indifferently, his gaze preferring the people on the ferry, relieving his eyes and probing for faces that should not have been there.
"But perhaps you enjoy a challenge... I trust so! This is Liza."
Liza smiled warmly and took his hand:
Lutzin turned away and wandered a short distance to the edge of the water, standing there with his back to them and facing the estuary. Katze hesitated before following, leaving Liza gazing after him in sympathy while she now waited diplomatically in the background.
"Do you see the island out there?" Lutzin said.
"To the right of the little sails?"
"That is where our man is... guarded by at least two others and probably more."
Katze looked thoughtful and lowered his case to the shingle:
"Mmmm, it's quite a long way out — do we have a boat?"
Lutzin paused, regarding him with a faintly cynical expression:
"I should say that it's about three miles out..." He gave a small polluted smile; "too far to swim! Obviously, we shall have to get one if we can. But I doubt that that will be the greatest of our worries. Are you really suited for such an operation? Have you done this sort of work before?"
"Oh, yes, many times — have you!"
Lutzin's expression saddened, gazing stoically at the man's bristly red face and gleaming forehead, his own body never sweating but owning an acute sense of smell which made the odours of others always a constant peril; further encourgement to abandon this one for another, to send him back for a replacement; thus ensuring, also, that he should receive a proper education! The man was obviously inferior.
Katze smiled amiably:
"I am sorry, Herr Kirilov; but you should not doubt my ability."
"But I do, comrade, and I would have preferred some small assurance to the contrary."
"What can I say! I am well used to the work, otherwise, why should I have been chosen?"
Lutzin nodded slowly, half conceding the point:
"That may be so... but you must understand from now on, Herr Katze, that I do what I think is best. If you are not willing to respond positively, irrespective of whether it pleases you or not, then..!"
"Yes, I was mistaken; my attitude was wrong... the journey perhaps. It will not happen again. Do you have a plan?"
"Yes... we shall all dress up and pretend that we have come to read the gas meter!"
Lutzin smiled, but more intimately this time, indicating that it was only a joke:
"I think we should go to the hotel now... you can then wash and freshen up? You have some other clothes with you in your bag... a shirt perhaps... some clean underwear?"
They made there way in silence back to the slipway and then up a steep hill to where Lutzin had parked the car; each in turn taking a look back at the ferry attempting to raise its ramp against late arrivals. Lutzin in particular, his discriminating eye searching for any amongst them who might have been loitering.
"Would it be possible for him to have left the island without your knowledge?" Katze said, conversationally.
"Of course: there is only Liza and myself... how can we be everywhere? We cannot be certain, even, that he was there in the first place — we have to go and look!"
Lutzin unlocked the car and climbed in, making himself comfortable before releasing the other doors.
"He has a post box in the village," Liza explained as they waited; "I saw two of his men and followed one of them inside. I spoke to the woman in there afterwards and it seems that everyone around here knows them; the strange bunch that live on the island! It was too simple... not a clever place for anyone to hide out really."
Katze nodded, gravely:
"A small community,"
"I congratulate you, M. Kirilov."
She laughed and climbed into the front seat:
"Oh, it was very easy... they stood out like holes in black stockings!"
Katze laughed and squeezed himself into the back seat, the small car pulling away while he was still trying to close his door.