Isaiah ‘Cy’ Oggins was an American working undercover as a Soviet secret agent during the 1930’s, at the height of Stalin’s purges.. After having been recruited in his native United States he and his wife moved to Europe, working as secret agents in France and Germany before ‘Cy’ struck out alone to work out of Shanghai. While in Shanghai he received the message that all of Stalin’s agents dreaded; a summons to report to the Lubyanka Centre in Moscow, headquarters of Soviet intelligence.

‘Cy’ Oggins, NKVD secret agent, in Paris before his arrest.

Every Soviet agent in foreign service dreaded that summons. It might mean promotion, reassignment extraction followed by a few months leave. It probably meant being falsely accused of some trumped-up form of treason, disloyalty or treachery before being tortured until you named other ‘conspirators’ even when there was no conspiracy. With the torture finished and you having publicly confessed your own alleged sins and those of a great many others, you’d be paraded at a show trial, convicted and shot in the back of the head in some grim prison facility if you were lucky.

For the unlucky, two alternatives awaited them. One was the dreaded Gulag, the system of prison and labour camps that made Attica look like a sunshine cruise. The other was to be used as a human test subject by Professor Grigory Mairinovsky, nicknamed ‘Stalin’s Mengele’  head of the NKVD’s poison research program. ‘Cy’ Oggins wasn’t even lucky enough to get one of those equally lethal options. He drew both, serving eight years in Norilsk, one of the USSR’s most notorious Gulag camps, before being brought to Moscow and becoming a guinea pig for the NKVD’s poison guru Professor Grigori Mairinovsky. Mairinovsky, a Professor of pathophysiology, spent his time designing new, ever more toxic compounds for Soviet assassins and drugs for when kidnappings were ordered. Even his doctorate thesis had been on the effects of mustard gas on human skin. Marinovsky was a scientist whose particular brand of science was the most effective destruction of other human beings, a regular ‘Doctor Death.’

Professor Grigory Mairinovsky, known as ‘Stalin’s Mengele.’

Like any scientist he conducted experiments and, like anybody conducting experiments, he needed guinea pigs. Human guinea pigs. Different species being what they are, a substance that was instant and untraceable in a pig or rabbit might well be less-than-lethal in a human or show up on their autopsy report. For Mairinovsky’s twisted genius to achieve fruition he needed human test subjects and plenty of them. Fortunately, being a high-ranking member of Stalin’s secret service at a time when Stalin purged the Soviet bureaucracy on a regular basis and an industrial scale, he was never short of new prisoners on whom to test his new nightmares.

Mairinovsky was based at the simply-named and deeply sinister ‘Number One Laboratory’ or ‘Kamera’ as it was nicknamed. The ‘Kamera’ was the NKVD’s poisons lab and Mairinovsky was firmly in charge thereof. He developed new drugs and poisons, especially poisons, and tested them on his human subjects to rigorous scientific standards. He wanted his assassins to go into the field having only the most effective toxins for their dark deeds. Oggins would be one of thousands who were taken from their cells at either the Lubyanka or Butyrka prisons and brought to the ‘Kamera’ never to leave except via the crematorium smokestack.

By bitter irony that would appealed to the anti-social senses of humour enjoyed by both Mairinovsky and his boss, Lavrenti Beria, Oggins knew he was overdue for release. Having been sentenced in 1940 it was now 1947 and, with a little time off for good behaviour, Oggins was expected to be freed forever from the clutches of Stalin’s enforcers. He was, just not in the way he expected. He’d been told it was one final medical examination to ensure he was fit for release. It was actually his execution.

‘Cy’ Oggins in 1947, shortly before Mairinovsky murdered him with a lethal injection.

Oggins entered the room where his nemesis was already good to go. The syringe was in Mairinovsky’s hand even as his latest unwitting guinea pig, his latest ‘bird’ as he called them, was escorted into the room by two NKVD heavies. Oggins knew nothing of Mairinovsky and suspected even less. As far as Oggins knew he was overdue for liberation. He was about to get it. The US State Department had been aware of Oggins’ position as a Soviet prisoner for several years but hadn’t exactly exerted themselves in trying to free him. Détente with Stalin was the order of the day and pressing the Oggins situation too hard would disrupt that game plan. Besides, the Americans knew all too well of his activities as a Soviet agent. American though he was, it looks as though the State Department didn’t exactly look upon him as one of their own.

Mairinovsky bid his latest subject to lie down on an examination table, asking his name and consulting some papers to ensure he was about to murder the right prisoner. Then he shot Oggins full of curare. Curare is a venom extracted from tropical plants of the Strychnos variety, the same cross-section of plants from which the deadly and horrendous poison strychnine is extracted. It’s a muscle relaxant and its derivatives are often still used by anesthesiologists to keep surgical patients absolutely still when under the knife. It works by paralysing the nerves and muscles, including those that govern the heart and lungs. A strong shot of curare works in around fifteen minutes. Death is both painful and the victim is unable to make any kind of gesture or movement, perfect for scientific experiments and equally perfect for murder as there’s no antidote.

Mairinovsky stood, clipboard in hand, beside Oggins who lay flat on his back unable to move, cry out, gag or even grimace. As the minutes ticked by Mairinovsky meticulously listed and timed the symptoms of Oggins’ death. As each bodily function shut down Mairinovsky recorded it, how long it took, what it looked like. All with an utter and total disinterest in his victim’s suffering. After around fifteen minutes Oggins’ suffering, and his life, were ended. Mairinovsky had claimed his umpteenth victim and filled another page or two on his clipboard. Stalin had claimed another victim for his unceasing purges. And Isaiah ‘Cy’ Oggins? He was finally free of his suffering. Free at last.