Snow, ten centimetres deep, covered the top of the black coffin. At 7:00 a.m., just after dawn, a tall man–dressed in a black overcoat and wearing a scarf, gloves, and a black Astrakhan hat–stepped out of a government Mercedes and walked briskly up the snow-covered path to where four undertakers stood by a recently dug, ten-metre-deep, empty grave. The head undertaker greeted the man. ‘We’re ready, sir,’ he said in Russian. The tall man nodded, and watched on as the four men prepared to lower the wooden box down into the cold, black hole. The light snow that had been falling all morning turned into heavy flakes, and settled on the men’s dark clothing in seconds. They brushed the snow from their faces and took hold of the straps that supported the coffin, lifted it up, and lowered it into the grave. Once it had reached the bottom, they released the straps and let them drop with a solid plop onto the top of the coffin. Each picked up a spade and shovelled earth, as fast as they could, from the nearby mound into the hole. It took them five minutes to make the grave undistinguishable from the snow-clad surroundings. The head undertaker dropped his spade. An icy blast blew snow into his face. He ignored it, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small slip of paper. He handed it to the tall man. ‘Please sign, sir,’ the undertaker said.
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