Sunday, October 4, 2009
The End of Leon Trotsky by Bertrand Patenaude
Up on the roof, inside the blockhouse, Joe Hansen was labeling the switches connecting the alarm system to the rooms of the individual guards. Suddenly a terrible cry pierced the afternoon quiet- "prolonged and agonized" is how Hansen registered it, "half scream, half sob. It dragged me to my feet, chilled to the bone." He scrambled out of the blockhouse and onto the roof, searching for its source. Melquiades was aiming his rifle at the window to the study, where there were sounds of a violent struggle. For a brief moment Trotsky's blue jacket became visible as he grappled with someone. "Don't shoot" Hanson shouted. "You might hit the Old Man!".
As Hansen entered the dining room Trotsky stumbled out of his study, blood streaming down his face. "See what they have done to me!" he moaned. Robins entered through the far door of the the dining room with Natalia close behind. She rushed over to her husband, his face now covered in blood. He had lost his glasses. His arms were hanging limp. "What happened? What happened" she asked, flinging her arms frantically around him and walking him out onto the porch.
Hansen and Robins entered the study, which was a shambles. Chairs were overturned and broken, papers and books scattered all about, the Dictaphone had been smashed. There were large pools of blood on the floor and blood spattered on the desk, the books, the papers. The assassin stood in the middle of the room, gasping, his face contorted, his arms hanging limp, a pistol dangling in his hand. Robins struck him on the head with the butt of his revolver, sending him to the floor.
Later, under questioning from police, the assailant began to spin a web of tangled lies about his background, his contacts in Mexico City and his movements before the attack. "It was a veritable maze", said Colonel Salazar. Yet Mercader's account of the the details of the crime had the ring of authenticity. He said he closed his eyes before striking the blow. "The man cried out in a way that I shall never forget as long as I lived. "His cry was 'aaaaaah...' very long. Infinitely long. And it appears to me still in these moments that this cry penetrates my brain."
Trotsky rose up like a madman, Mercader said, threw himself on him and bit his hand. Mercader pushed him away and he fell to the floor but managed to get up and leave the room. "I remained like one demented, without knowing what to do. At this time people entered and beat me". He begged Trotsky's guards to kill him, he said, but they refused. "I want to die."
The sirens died away as the ambulance pulled into the entrance of the Green Cross Emergency Hospital, where a crowd had gathered. Inside they laid Trotsky on a narrow cot. Silently the doctors examined the wound, as Natalia stood alongside her husband. On their instructions a nurse began to shave his head. With a hint of a smile, he said to Natalia, "Look, we found a barber."
Trotsky looked over at Hansen and gestured weakly with his right hand. "Joe, you...have...a notebook?" Hansen leaned against the cot and with the hand he had broken hitting Trotsky's assassin repeatedly in the face, recorded the Hero of Red October's official last words:
I am close to death from the blow of a political assassin, who struck me down in my room. I struggled with him. He entered the room to talk French statistics. He struck me. Please say to our friends that I am sure of the victory of the Fourth International. Go Forward!"
They began to undress the patient. Using scissors they cut away his blue jacket, then his knitted vest, then his shirt, and then they unstrapped his wristwatch. As they began to remove his pants, Trotsky said to Natalia, "I don't want them to undress me...I want you to do it." These words, spoken in a grave and sorrowful voice, were the last he ever spoke to Natalia. When she had finished, she bent over him and kissed his lips. He kissed her back. Again she kissed him, and again he responded. And then one final time.
Trotsky underwent surgery that evening. The doctors trepanned an area of the right parietal bone. Blood and gray matter spilled out from a wound three-quarters of an inch wide and two and three-quarters inches deep. The weapon itself had resembled a prospector's pick: one end was pointed, like an ice pick, the other was flat and wide; the handle about a foot long, had been cut down for concealment. The direction of the attack was from top to bottom, front to back, and right to left. Thus it turned out that his attacker had not struck Trotsky from behind, as was initially believed, which might explain why the victim was able too prevent his assailant from striking him a second time.
Early in the evening of August 21 Trotsky's breathing became alarmingly rapid. Natalia, losing her composure, asked the doctors what it meant. For the next twenty minutes they worked to save the patient, but at 7:25 Trotsky's last struggle ended.
When it was over, Natalia knelt down and pressed her face against the soles of her husband's feet. Until the very end she had waited for him to awaken and decide matters for himself. She would see this happen, though only seven months later, in a dream. She had moved out of their bedroom, and into an adjacent room that had once belonged to their grandson Seva. Trotsky came out of his study, passed through their bedroom and entered her room. He appeared vibrant and was immaculately dressed. His white hair thick and full. His eyes were a piercing blue. He walked over to her, stood there a moment, then said calmly, "Everything is finished".