WHEN FORMER KGB CHIEF Yuri Andropov was named Thursday to head the organizing committee for Leonid Brezhnev's funeral, no serious Kremlinologist was surprised. The signs had been pointing that way for three years, ever since a loan Andropov had applied for to buy the apartment next to Brezhnev's had been approved Since then, Andropov's bosses had granted his request for a brand new Volga sedan. And they had even given him a full extra week's paid vacation that his hadn't asked for.
But the real clincher came last May, when the boys in the Kremlin set out to organize their annual office party in celebration of Karl Marx's birthday. In the hallways of that impressive building on Red Square, secretaries spent their lunch hours gossiping would Andropov or Brezhnev's top assistant Konstantin Chernenko be put in charge of the festivities?
For days, Andropov was nervous True, he reasoned, he had recently spent the weekend at Brezhnev's dacha on the Baltic. That was a good sign. But Brezhnev had also been seeing more and more of Chernenko. The two often lunched together at a little French restaurant near the Kremlin and went out for a drink after work. Besides, Ninushkin, Andropov's aide, had overheard Brezhnev compliment Chernenko on the completion of a business deal with the Canadians. "Much better job than Andropov did on the natural gas business: he lost us that contract." Brezhnev had said.
On the day of decision, though, everything had gone in Andropov's favor. First, Chernenko arrived late for work because of a flat tire. That had been enough to infuriate the boss, a stickler for punctuality. Then Brezhnev complimented Andropov on his new Pierre Cardin suit and suggested they go shopping together in the near future.
So when Brezhnev called the two rivals into his office to dole out assignments for the celebration of Marx's birthday. Andropov felt reasonably confident. As they sat down. Andropov noticed Chernenko was sweating profousely.
"Comrades, here is what I would like you to do for our little party," said Brezhnev after among moment of silence. Andropov and Chernenko waited in apprehension for their boss to continue. "You Yun Andropov, will be in charge of buying the cake and cutting it You, Konstantin Chernenko, will organize the clean-up afterwards.
Andropov had trouble containing his excitement. After all, he had won a major victory against Chernenko. But he managed to keep his composure. "Thank you, Comrade Brezhnev for this great honor We will have a most magnificent cake. And Comrade Chernenko, we shall try not to make too much of a mess for you" With that biting remark. Andropov excused himself and rushed home to tell his wife the good news.
WHEN ANDROPOV FOUND OUT about his promotion on Thursday, he once again hurried back to his lavish four-room apartment on Kutuzkovsky Prospekt. After carefully hanging his western made coat in the hall closet, he opened the bottle of American vodka he had been saving for a celebration. Then he called to his wife who was just taking some laundry out of the Maytag washer-dryer.
"Olga, in the name of Lenin, you won't believe what happened at work today." Andropov exclaimed.
His wife, who couldn't tell if her spouse was happy or upset, came running. The fear of bad news showed in her eyes. "Oh, Yuri, they didn't give you a smaller desk or something, did they."
Andropov chuckled and quickly reassured her. "No, no, it's a wonderful event of the highest magnitude, Guess who was made chairman of the committee to organize dear departed comrade Brezhnev's funeral? Me, that's who. So bully on Chernenko, I've got the chairmanship of the party locked up.
The couple embraced and quickly consumed half the bottle of vodka. Then they snuggled up by the fire and watched Star Wars on their new Sony video machine. For the first time in a long while. Yuri Andropov felt secure.