Two weeks minus a day after Ivanov’s proposal, Rubashov senses a tense atmosphere, despite the routine daily events. He strikes up a conversation with 402, who asks if he feels it too. 402 says that this is the night when political differences are being settled: Hare-lip has told him that executions are happening for political prisoners. Rubashov knows that executions happen in cellar basements with a bullet through the neck, though he’s never witnessed one himself. It’s not romantic, but rather a logical consequence. The phrase “Physical liquidation” is used instead of “execution,” making dying a merely technical detail.
Rubashov, too, is a political prisoner, but he knows that he’s being given a grace period in order to decide whether or not to accept Ivanov’s proposals. Rubashov takes a strange kind of comfort in his knowledge of how executions work, especially as he has great apprehension for the unknown. He also acknowledges the role of euphemisms in totalitarian ideology, to patch over the violence enacted.
The silence grows more unnatural. Rubashov stares at his feet and moves his toes, which seem uncanny: he’s suddenly aware of his own body. He wonders about the details of the execution as he smokes a cigarette. He senses the smell of Arlova. Then No. 402 taps to him that No. 380 is to be shot, and to pass it on: Rubashov does so. Rubashov asks who 380 is, but 402 doesn’t answer. He’s shouting for help, 402 relays for him to pass on. Finally 402 says it’s Michael Bogrov, former commander. Bogrov had been Rubashov’s roommate in exile after 1905, and he’d taught him reading, writing, and historical thought: since then he’d received a hand-written letter from him twice a year.
Rubashov’s heightened awareness of his own body, like his periodically recurring toothache, serves to anchor him in individual, material circumstances, as opposed to the abstract logic he’s used to employing elsewhere. The acute sense of particularity and uniqueness is only increased when Rubashov realizes that the faceless, nameless “No. 380” is none other than his old friend and mentor from the past.
No. 402 relays, “NOW,” and along the corridor comes a low drumming, which Rubashov joins. The sound rises, and he loses the sense of time and space. Figures enter his field of vision through the spy-hole, two in uniform dragging a third, his legs trailing and shoes squeaking on the ground, his face turned toward the tiles and mouth hanging open, whimpering. Bogrov suddenly shouts, “Rubashov!” Silence falls.
The prisoners, knowing that they too may soon face what Bogrov is facing now, accompany him in spirit through his final march through the hallways. If Rubashov was ever able to think of punishment and execution abstractly, he’s no longer able to now.
Rubashov lies in bed, thinking about that last cry. He asks himself what they did to Bogrov to make the strong sailor whimper in such a way. He wonders if Arlova too whimpered. He sits up: he’s never imagined her death in such a way. Bogrov’s whimpering has changed the logical equation, which no longer seems to function.