It was still early in the afternoon but the sun was already starting to set when the doctors finally arrived with their entourage. Ivan was somewhat surprised. The head doctor tipped his hat, “I’m sure he’s fine, but procedure is procedure, yes?” He disappeared into the depths of the cottage with the others. A few moments later, one of the men came running out. Ivan disconcerted, reached to stop him. The man turned, his face aghast, “it looks like he has a cerebral hemorrhage, the Secretary, h...he’s…dying!” Ivan’s whole body trembled, “not the Secretary…not now!” Ivan’s face turned to stone, it was all he could do to control his emotions. He was a Soviet Guard, he had never shed a tear on duty, but as he stood there it seemed the vastness of the unruly world came crashing down on him. The Soviets’ protector was going, Ivan felt a lone tear roll down his face, it was just as lonely as he.
Ivan heard his rifle butt drop on the floor as he snapped into action, he raced forward to his fallen leader calling for the other guard on duty. They lifted him gently onto a nearby couch. Ivan ran to call Georgii, “surely he would know what to do.” The phone rang a few times before Ivan heard the soft “hallo” from Georgii. “The General Secretary is in trouble comrade, I think he’s suffered a stroke.” The phone fell silent, Ivan held his breath, “I’m on my way.” The phone clicked as Ivan looked back at his comrade. He pensively replaced the receiver. The next few moments were as tense of moments as Ivan had ever experienced. The short quick breaths from the dictator only heightened the fear that permeated the room. Ivan didn’t want to think about it, but somehow the thought lingered, “what if this was it for the man who had stopped the Nazis?” For hours they waited, Ivan’s ears became as keen as a fox’s and twitched with every noise; the unbearable silence was only broken by the irregular breathing of the man on the couch. Finally there was a knock at the door. Ivan looked down at his watch, it was 3 am. Georgii Malenkov arrived along with Lavrentii Beria. The haughty members of the Politburo stormed into the room. Malenkov glanced at Ivan and barked: “GET OUT! Can’t you see he’s fine? He needs space! Out!” Ivan and the other sentinel saluted awkwardly before beating a hasty retreat. “Of course he was right,” Ivan thought to himself, “The real hero of the Soviet Union was strong and virile, he would pull through.” About an hour later Malenkov and Beria exited, assuring Ivan that the Secretary was fine and would soon be back to himself. After all, this was not the first time he’d suffered a stroke. Comforted but still on edge, Ivan looked at his watch, his shift was almost over again, but something told him he would be hard pressed to sleep today. He decided he’d stay on shift. He wanted to be close to his fearless leader today.
Ivan was getting nervous, all day the cottage had been eerily quiet. Stalin hadn’t emerged from his room all day. Ivan had returned well rested from his break, but now he was restless. He rubbed his hands in the cold and looked at his watch, it was 10:30 pm. He looked up and looked at the other sentinel, he too looked perturbed. Something told him, as unorthodox as it might be; he needed to check on the aging leader. He took a deep breath and walked into the cottage, he saw the leader’s door at the far end of the room, pointedly, he walked to the door and turned the handle. To his surprise and consternation, he found the aged leader on the floor, he waved his hands awkwardly at Ivan and pointed to his throat, the savior of Russia, the great speechmaker was speechless, and so was Ivan.
Ivan Droshchin stood guard at the massive doors to a great cottage, which lay on the outskirts of Kuntsevo, just outside of Moscow, on the banks of the Setun river. It was 5 am March 1st. The doors of the block building opened to reveal the gay sounds of the guests as they merrily made their way home from the dinner party the night before. Ivan saluted as the senior party member gave a big parting wave of goodbye belching midway through it causing the guests as well as himself to guffaw loudly. He shook his head before closing the door swiftly behind him. Ivan liked his job. He’d worked hard to land this job, and he like most others worshipped the head of the Communist Party. He glanced at the other guard on duty, it would be a long day, and from the looks of it the leader would sleep for most of it. Fortunately his shift was almost over. He only worked nights. Ivan checked his watch as he shivered, it was -8 Celsius this morning. “Maybe it will warm up” he thought to himself. Indeed one of the greatest thaws the world had ever known was about to happen.
A hush fell like a sheet of cold ice on the room as the senior member of the Politburo rose to his feet. Everyone could see the gaunt features stretched like butter scraped over too much bread on his fragile, pale face. And yet when he spoke in his high-pitched Georgian accent it seemed like a lion stomped the grounds of the Nineteenth Party Congress. He took a deep breath and then launched his skiff into waters from which he would never return. “I am old, comrades, the time is now quickly approaching when others will have to continue doing what I have done. The situation in the world is complex and difficult. We have just begun our struggle with the capitalist camp, and that which lies ahead of us will test the mettle of the firmest communist among us. The most dangerous thing to do in this struggle is to flinch, to take fright, to retreat, or to capitulate. Cowards do not belong among us, we cannot capitulate. Comrades, we must be strong in this fight against capitalism, and it is you who must carry on the fight.” It was October 16th, as fragile as he appeared few would have guessed what would happen next.