An Ambassador No More

February 25, 2008
By Elizabeth DiGangi, Westerly, RI

Out his study window, all Ambassador Henry Cliff could see was swirling white; so much snow made the separation between earth and sky indiscernible. He was used to the cold, though, having grown up in North Dakota. Russia’s winters had not yet proved to be worse than those at home.

He turned when a loud knocking made him veer off of memory lane. “Yes?”

The heavy wooden door creaked open, and a short, plump, balding man came inside holding a stack of papers and a bottle of liquor. Henry smiled and accepted the files, watching as the short man replaced his nearly empty bottle of cognac. He thanked the man in Russian when he’d finished, and the latter made a short bow and exited the room. Henry, meanwhile, sat down at the desk and began poring over the document, which provided him with an overview of Russian activities. The lines on his face deepened—he sensed deception engraved in every word. The summary gave the impression that nothing out of the ordinary was going on, but Henry knew better. Stalin didn’t trust the US government one whit, not after Truman dropped the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to force Japan to surrender and end the war. It was only November of 1945, and international tension over the bombs was still high, if not greater than before.

He found some blank paper and put a piece into the typewriter on the right side of his desk. After addressing it to President Truman, he began to write:

"I am afraid the situation in the Soviet Union is worsening for us. I just read a summary of Soviet political, military, and economic activities, and there is good reason to be suspicious. According to what I just read, everything is proceeding as it has been since the end of the war. However, on my own time, I have performed discreet investigations as to the USSR’s interactions with other countries, and I regret to inform you that some materials that could be utilized in the creation of nuclear weapons are being obtained by Stalin’s people. There have also been an increased number of scientists living at communist headquarters.

"Soviet troops have been leaving every day, destined for Eastern European countries. They are demanding that communists control the police in Hungary, which will only lead to a communist takeover. In Romania, the naming of a new Prime Minister will occur soon, and the Red Army is still occupying the country. The Soviet forces are oppressive, and I fear they will force the King of Romania to name a communist prime minister. Yugoslavia, too, now has a communist leader, but he refuses to take orders from Stalin, so there may be hope for that country.

"I am not sure what is going to happen, but I do know Stalin will not give up on his plan to spread communism to the world, simultaneously toppling capitalism. We must begin to fight this battle with the conservation of democracy. And if he is, indeed, beginning to develop nuclear weapons, he could be spelling doom for the West. We need a network of spies set up here in Moscow, along with other major Soviet cities, in order to discover Stalin’s plans for the world. I am already doing as much as I can; if I were to attempt to gather any more information than I already have, the Soviets will undoubtedly find out."

Henry signed the message, and then placed it neatly on the desk. He stood, stretched, and walked over to the table with the fresh cognac, determined to have a drink before leaving to send his message to President Truman. He poured a glass of liquor and sat down in the nearest armchair, once again gazing out the window. Night was fast approaching; the setting sun was casting a great shadow across the blanket of clouds and snow. He took a sip of his drink, then another, and another. Suddenly his vision blurred, his limbs were leaden, and a thick fog enveloped his mind. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t see, he couldn’t speak, and he couldn’t think. Then he was sinking into the dark abyss…
The glass hit the floor, staining the thick carpet, while Henry lost consciousness and became nothing more than a limp body.


First he sensed vibrations pulsing through his entire body; upon regaining more of his awareness, he realized he was lying on the floor of something that was moving, and there were people nearby speaking in brazenly loud Russian. He could only breathe through his nose because he was gagged, and he felt thick ropes encircling his wrists, ankles, and torso. Finally, Henry managed to crack his eyes open. He was in the dingy apartment of a train car, traveling at top speed to who knows where, surrounded by communists. Fear twisted his insides when he recognized Lavrenty Beria watching him intently; the head of Stalin’s secret police would not be here if things weren’t extremely bad for Henry. He closed his eyes and began to pray, knowing a struggle would be useless against these monsters disguised as men.

He could have lain there for minutes or hours before the great machine slowed and stopped. He didn’t open his eyes until someone kicked him: Beria. The man was staring down at him gleefully, like a child when his parents hand him his first baseball bat. Henry stared back, attempting to salvage what dignity he could…which didn’t amount to much. Two very large men in humungous fur coats moved nearer to him, then simultaneously bent over and lifted him off the floor. In a brief spasm of panic the ambassador squirmed against their hold, but they only gripped tighter.

The sound of Beria’s cold laughter made him freeze. He spoke in heavily accented English, which Henry mentally translated as: “Joseph Stalin does not appreciate you sticking your nose into our business, and then telling your president to infiltrate us with spies.” He held up the pages of Henry’s intended telegram to indicate how he knew what he was talking about. “Now you will pay. Возьмите его к воде,” he added to his cronies. Henry had picked up a little Russian since he arrived, but didn’t know any of that phrase; not understanding only heightened his fear.
The giant thugs carried him out into the bitter cold, where Henry’s teeth began chattering—he could already feel frostbite overtaking his nose, lips, ears, and fingers. It was pitch black, so he had no idea where they were going, and it wasn’t long before he was shivering uncontrollably. Henry was still only wearing a suit, and being outside in the nighttime during the Soviet winter without heavy fur clothes (like what the rest of the company was wearing) was a death wish. He could feel them traveling downhill, and wondered where in the world he was being taken. He had enough sense to know they were in the middle of nowhere, but why didn’t they just leave him in the snow?

The thugs stopped moving, and Henry thought he could hear water lapping up against a solid surface. They put him down for a minute and tied something to his feet, then picked him up again. Something heavy was dangling from his ankles, and they might have snapped if one of the thugs hadn’t been supporting the weight. He felt like the bottom of his stomach had fallen out when he heard Beria say, “Have a nice swim. Бросьте его.”

He was thrown into the air, and flew downward for a few seconds before hitting the surface of the ocean with a large splash. He immediately flailed and thrashed against the ropes restraining him, fighting the weight dragging him down, while frigid water flowed into his nose and made him choke and icy daggers stabbed at every part of his body. In no time at all, Ambassador Henry Cliff of the United States of America was a lifeless corpse, sinking to the bottom of the Barents Sea.

His vital message to President Truman would never be seen again, either.

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