(Written in April 2019)
It’s the tail end of a gorgeous summer day in Coyoacán. It’s August 20, 1940; the Communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky and his wife Natalia Sedova are drinking mint tea in the garden of their villa in this rural borough of Mexico City. They’re sitting on a stone bench under the shade of many tall royal palmetto trees, facing the garden of tropical flowers and rare cacti which Trotsky has meticulously cultivated these past few years. Thoroughly-needled tubes of mammillaria glochidiata cacti are backed by a shrub of pink dahlias with thousands of small tongue-like petals. Clucking comes from their nearby enclosure of chickens and the resonant plucking of a guitarrón is heard in the distance.
The stress from years of exile has aged the pair. Both of their hairs have faded to gray and Trotsky has put on a few pounds. The quiet lifestyle of this Mexican villa suits them, however, and it shows in their relaxed apparel. He is wearing a sleek white button-down and gray trousers (having ditched the suit jacket in this climate) and Natalia is in only a thin striped blouse and a long black skirt.
“How is your book coming along?” Natalia asks.
“It’s going well. I’ve started writing about Stalin’s purge of intellectuals in the years since our exile. I would’ve completed a chapter today but we had to talk to that fascist lawyer, so I’ll work more on it tonight.” Trotsky replies.
“He was quite a prick. I bet he’s on Hoover’s payroll.” She takes a sip from her mug. “I have to write an article for the Fourth International, I’ll be sure to make it even more antagonistic than the last.”
Trotsky chuckles. “Good idea.” He checks his wristwatch, sees that it is 5:20, and quickly drinks the last of his tea. “Alright darling, I have to get back to work.”
“You ought to give yourself a vacation after you finish this book, dear.”
He responds with an appreciative smile and touches her hand. He gives her a peck on the cheek then heads back to their house along the stone pathway bounded by shin-high hedges.
Trotsky smiles to himself. What a pleasant day, I haven’t felt this relaxed in a while.
He walks up the short set of steps and ducks slightly as he enters through the low doorway of the central brick house. The brilliance of the outside light is mostly lost in here because of the thick bars they installed over the windows 3 months earlier—after the Stalinist raid that killed one member of this villa and nearly cost Trotsky his life. A bullet hole in the wall to his left serves as a painful reminder. The villa had beefed up its security, but the incident left him shaken. Until today.
Trotsky goes into the kitchen and leaves his mug in the sink. The front door opens as he comes back into the hallway. It’s Joe Hansen, his secretary and bodyguard.
“Hola, Leon. Jacson Mornard is back again; says he has a manuscript for you to read. He seems a bit off today.”
“Ah, I think he’s just peculiar,” Trotsky says. “Let’s go let him in.”
They walk out the door past the garden, towards the villa’s front gate. A guard tower stands on either side of the gate, each manned by a guard with a scoped repeater rifle. The iron gate covers the only gap in the wall surrounding the villa. The thick concrete wall looms more than 20 feet above ground, rendering discrete infiltration unfeasible. They approach the gate and Trotsky sees Jacson wave through its bars.
“Good day, Leon! I wrote an article for a newsletter, would you read it over?” Jacson asks.
Joe yanks on the pulley until the gate opens and the visitor enters the compound. Trotsky understands what Joe meant. Jacson is wearing a raincoat and a hat in spite of the clear weather, and his normally pudgy face looks gaunt and sickly-green.
“Come, Jacson, to my study.” Trotsky dismisses Joe with his hand as he leads the visitor back to the house. The clucking dies down and the guitarrón strikes its final chord as they walk through the garden. Trotsky leads them into the doorway at the end of the house’s dim hallway and closes the door.
Jacson hands him the manuscript.
“Thanks for typing it up this time,” Trotsky says as he sits on a chair at the cluttered table in the middle of the cozy, sparsely decorated room.
Jacson sits on the table to Trotsky’s left. “I think you’ll like it,” he says with a pained smile.
Trotsky pushes the other papers out of the way and begins reading the manuscript. As he flips the page, a flash of movement occurs in his peripherals and a searing pain fills the back of his head. A scream erupts from his mouth as he turns around and sees Jacson on his feet, with a bloody ice pick in his hand and a shocked look on his face.
“You bastard!” Trotsky shouts. Jacson advances but Trotsky is already one step ahead. He grabs the large metal dictaphone off the table and hurls it at Jacson’s head with all of his force. It smashes against his face and forces him—and his ice pick—to the floor. The door flies open as Trotsky’s guards Joe, Charlie, and Harold storm in and start beating the assassin. Everyone knew this day would come eventually and they understand the situation as soon as they smell the metallic scent of blood.
“They made me do it! They’ve got my mother in prison!” Jacson cries out to deaf ears.
“Don’t…kill him,” Trotsky pleads with enormous difficulty. “Let…him…talk.”
He stumbles out the door and several feet more to Natalia’s study, collapsing against the doorway.
She shrieks and runs over to him, placing her hand gently under his neck and feeling the blood gush down from his head. “What has happened!?”
“Jacson,” Trotsky replies calmly. “Now it is done.”
Natalia gently lays him on the floor and runs to her dresser to fashion a bandage out of a shirt. I’ll call an ambulance, she thinks frantically. The Green Cross hospital is close by, he can make it.
But in his heart, Trotsky knows that Stalin has won.
Victor Serge and Natalia Sedova Trotsky: The Life and Death of Leon Trotsky (1973).
John Mitchell (Mexconnect): The Leon Trotsky Museum – Murder and Marxism in Mexico City (January 2001).