- Moscow, 19th February
bag over his face started to dry. Vadim could almost
breathe normally again. Thought he could smell the lingering
terror of whatever poor bastard had worn this before.
Sweat, tears, a rank smell like dried vomit.
tied behind his back. They made him walk. 'They' were
a group of men that had been with him since he had regained
consciousness. His mind kept working, kept to survival
routines. Determine number of aggressors, angle of attack;
learn what he could about them and their tactics in
dealing with him. He smelled cigarette smoke when they
lit up, and could feel their fingers on the restraint,
checking whether he had conjured up some Spetsnaz magic
that would enable him to flee.
didn't even know where he was. Or when. No way of keeping
time, it was dark, he could hear them talk, but they
were guarded. The plane could have landed anywhere.
The car could have gone anywhere. They could have marched
this place was, it was cold. And they poured water over
the bag, every now and then, just to keep him on his
toes. No real torture. They were just being unpleasant.
Vadim didn't allow any other thought while they were
close. Focused his mind and senses on the present, on
every movement, every word. They were obviously military
- Interior Ministry, so, strictly, comrades.
smart and disciplined enough to not give him any clues.
Disorientation was a factor. They wanted to keep him
guessing, and that meant he had to discipline his mind;
rationale against chaos. He remained cold, focused on
keeping his body running and not allowing panic to set
in. He'd be tougher than they'd anticipated. He wasn't
Spetsnaz for nothing, and an officer on top.
could still feel Dan, though. Could still taste him,
feel the echo on his body. Inside. The burn from the
cut was the clearest sensory input he had, and that
was where his mind focused.
breathing, listening to the boots of his captors, and
his own steps. Down stairs, a door was opened, he was
pushed inside. The door was closed. Kept him in that
passed, an hour, maybe more, reminding him of the random
cruelty in the barracks.
crawled up from inside, something dark and bitter. Wasted
opportunity. They hadn't made it, after all. The stolen
time, the secret emotions, the vows and pledges
had changed nothing. He just couldn't escape. He'd tried,
and it all had hinged on some fat-ass bureaucrat who
had dug out that visit to London and the suspicious
killing. Not that it mattered, not that he'd do that
again, but maybe he had raised his own profile by meeting
the man from the Foreign Office. Maybe that was the
missing link, maybe that had come up in their search.
Maybe he had acted suspicious.
should have run away - vanished. He'd been trained to
survive hundreds of miles behind enemy lines. He could
have found a way into Europe, could have found a way
into Britain - the coast was long and ragged, people
had even swum the distance. But to live like a criminal
on the run, always hunted, always with the fear he was
wanted for murder, or as a Soviet spy?
was KGB in Great Britain. He couldn't meet another Russian
without fearing to be sold. And he wasn't easily mistaken.
Not because of the remaining token fame, but the fact
he didn't really fit in, drew too much attention. They'd
recognise him, and then hunt him down. He just didn't
want to live like an insect scurrying under a rock every
time something moved. Had dared to hope for a clean
cut, a new start, honesty and honour - well, as much
honour as he could preserve in all this.
he could only work out where the mistake had been. Had
they been too careless in trying to have a little normality?
The Colonel? And if they'd known - why strike now? Only
to make it as painful as possible? Had something the
Baroness had done stirred up interest and drawn the
KGB's baleful attention? It could even be an inter-agency
thing. The KGB didn't like the GRU. A political manoeuvre,
one bureaucrat saying "fuck you" to another.
usual doublethink did not apply, did not yield results.
He had no idea why, or how, or when, or what next. He
had worked too long towards this one slim chance, had
dared to imagine that other life, and seeing it now
vanish into nothing, there was no replacement. He'd
thrown away the life he'd had, trusting on Dan to reel
him in, pull him in, secure and anchor him. The rope
was severed, and he was hurtling into the void. Disoriented,
aching in too many places, memories.
door opened again, and men entered.
atmosphere changed at once. No word was spoken, nothing,
but Vadim tensed and felt a punch just below the solar
plexus, a vicious, insanely painful hit. He doubled
over, thankful it hadn't been to the groin, and amused
at that thought while his stomach seemed to want to
spill everything he'd not eaten in the last hours, or
day. As if that had been some kind of signal, there
were more punches and kicks, while Vadim collapsed,
desperate to breathe and not vomit, the pain sharp enough
to forbid every memory.
was called 'warming up'. Soften the prisoner up for
be too gentle, the cunt's spetsnaz. They can take a
and more pain, but not repetitive, every kind of pain
different, sharp, pounding, tearing, blunt, crushing.
Dark red and lightning coloured, unable to say from
where the next impact would come. Vadim was tensing
only to pit the remaining strength of his muscles against
theirs, knowing which side would win, but focussed on
keeping as much of himself intact as possible.
screamed with what breath he had left, sobbed, allowed
them to hear the pain - it didn't cause them to stop,
but maybe misled them about his real state. He needed
to keep his wits together, despite the raging pain.
Fighting a silent fight to preserve the core.
it stopped, like they'd lost interest. Random, completely
random. Disorientation. Surprise, and excessive, determined
force. And, above all, cunning. The three principles
on which the might of the Soviet Union was based.
door opened again, and hands grabbed him and forced
him to stand. Vadim swayed, feet seemed to have to find
a position where he wouldn't stumble, which took a while
as his body's least concern was balance now. He was
coughing, every breath made his ribs hurt worse, and
there seemed nothing he could do to ease the pain or
to not cause pain to flare up. His ears rang, breath
heaving, fighting nausea, swallowing bile.
that that is settled, I think it's time for the paperwork",
said a man.
turned towards the voice. At least nobody he knew. Not
the Colonel. A stranger. KGB? He had no idea who'd deal
with his case.
loosened the rope or whatever kept the bag close to
his throat, and pulled it off.
uniform, a suit. Dark hair, some grey in it, he estimated
the man to be in his fifties. Bad news. That meant he
had plenty of experience. Eyes the colour of dark amber.
A trick of the light.
the man was standing too close. Vadim looked away first,
to appear meek and intimidated, and to not provoke the
bastard into believing he wasn't 'warmed up' enough.
you are most likely aware, there are several ways we
can proceed from here, Vadim Petrovich." The man
pointed towards the desk behind him, where an open file
long had the man been in the room? Had he really just
arrived, or merely opened and closed the door to mislead
looked up again, and gave a nod to acknowledge he listened.
He wanted to ask questions, but he knew he wouldn't
get any answers, and by showing them what he wanted
to know, he'd open himself for an attack. Be stone,
be wood, be no longer human. No curiosity, no fear,
no worries. No guessing.
is my task to make you sign a full confession. The question
is, how we will arrive at that point." The man
gave a self-ironic smile, as he let the other sentence
hang in the air. Not when, not if. How. "This is
meant to tell you that you are directly responsible
for that road. It is your choice - and you will have
time to make a good, solid, tactical as well as human
decision. We'll give you enough time to think about
silence invited a question. Oddly, Vadim felt himself
slip into the same kind of irony. Odd, to share that
with the man who was set to break him. And even odder
to appear civilized while he could hardly stand up straight.
His lower back hurt. The quads shook from the effort
and the bruising, not to mention the ribs. Nothing broken,
but bruised in too many places. "Why the beating
it a rite of initiation", said the interrogator
with a smile. "There is a lot of anger about your
treason. Certain elements would rather not bother with
the questioning and confession and shoot you while you
make an escape attempt."
eyes narrowed. He didn't like that irony, nor the way
the man spoke. Too smart, too academic. What had he
expected? A beginner? Dan had tortured him on instinct,
used a few effective tricks of the trade, which eventually
worked, on a younger man, one that had had something
to lose. Of course he'd broken, and he assumed he'd
break again. But oddly, he wasn't scared. Now that the
pieces were on the table, and decisions were made, all
that he really had to do was somehow get through it.
It was not the terror of not knowing, not the humiliation
of begging. This was their set of rules, and they'd
play the game according to them. There was nothing he
had to do, and nothing he could do. No alternatives.
It was inevitable.
cost the state dearly. You are a traitor, and you will
confess to it. When we present you to the judge, you
will be very different from what you are now. We will
have turned you from the inside out. These ruffians
behind you can't wait to beat you up again, but that
is a very crude method, and you are physically in prime
shape. Wearing you down will take time. Of course, there
are other methods, and it is, admittedly, a challenge
to break a masochist."
jaw muscles tensed. He wasn't quite sure what the man
was playing at. He assumed he was just prodding and
checking for something that betrayed a weakness, a soft
spot, to put a dagger in. Tried to open him up, gauge
reactions. Nothing but probing.
had time to prepare, and I've seen the evidence. Don't
deny it, we both know you enjoy pain."
evidence? Anything in his file? No. The hotel room had
been bugged. That was the only logical explanation.
Masochist. There were too many kinds of pain to answer
that question conclusively. And it was just an insult,
casual, and meant to humiliate.
I could use more force than you can withstand, and break
through the physical threshold. But we both know that
your mind is more fragile than your body, and that is
where I will get you. I will break you in ways that
you cannot defend against and will be unable to repair.
I will kill the man that lives inside the flesh. You'll
be walking and breathing dead. And you will never forget
what I did to you."
mind. Drugs? Fear? What was that method? Dan had focused
on his body, breaking his ability to resist, and compromising
his ability to survive and make it back to his unit.
interrogator smiled. "This is also about revenge
for the damage you did, but the main reason is to get
you to confess. Once you are ready, there will be the
trial, and then we will execute you. You can choose
to end your own suffering at any time. Just tell me
you'll sign, and it will all end."
That was punishable by death. "I meant
are you telling me this?"
are an intelligent man - well above average, as expected
of course. I am only making sure you are aware of all
your options." Pause. "This is not something
the British spy had."
tensed, a betraying motion that came from somewhere
inside his body, and reignited the pain, taking his
breath for several long moments. Dan.
man looked at him with all the emotion of a piranha.
"To satisfy your curiosity, Daniel McFadyen died
on the way to the British embassy. He was shot by a
sniper. Headshot. Instantly dead. He didn't suffer.
If they'd been able to pick him up from the hotel, they
were perfectly capable to place another ambush. It was
likely. Dan. Dead. Vadim's body filled with cold, heavy
metal, sapping his strength. And he had felt fucking
pity for himself while Dan was dead. His opportunities,
his life, when Dan had been slaughtered. His heart raced
and the nausea came back full force, rolling through
him in waves.
need to see his body.
shook his head, remembered the agonizing wait after
the car bomb, the despair and pain.
need to see the body.
interrogator was lying. He'd attempt to inflict pain.
Attack his mind. Begin destroying him. And Dan was an
obvious angle. If it hadn't been for the doubt that
was creeping under his skin. It was likely. Possible.
interrogator nodded to the men standing at the door.
"Bring him to his cell." He took a few steps
back, all the time meeting his gaze. "Remember,
you can end it any time."
- Kabul, 19th February
the Baroness stood in front of Dan's chair . "What
happened, the KGB took Major Krasnorada? Are you sure?"
sat crouched and in pain, a mess, despite having been
cleaned and bandaged up. Some of the injuries had to
be stitched, others were held together with butterfly
clips. The worst was the headache, his forehead bruised
and the skin split, it made it hard to think, while
all he could think of anyway was the sight of Vadim
being bundled into the car.
Ma'm, there is no other explanation. Vadim is spetsnaz,
and he admitted to being part of the Interior Ministry.
Who else would have kidnapped him? They were Soviets,
their uniforms just like the troops that had been sent
to kill me."
pulled a chair closer before taking a pad of writing
paper from the desk, together with her fountain pen.
Sitting opposite to him, she leant forward. Clear eyes
narrowed, fully concentrated on every word he said.
"Tell me all that happened, Dan, from start, to
finish. Tell me about last night and this morning, and
tell me all you believe has been of importance since
you met Major Krasnorada. The more I know the better
will I be able to ascertain the situation." She
nodded at him, but Dan glanced warily at her paper and
pen, while holding his aching head. The painkillers
hardly touched his sore body.
not worry," she added, "all that you tell
me now will remain between us. I give you my word that
I will help you, as I promised before. I will help you
as much as I can."
thought he had never seen her face so determined and
fierce. "No one is trying to kill one of mine,
Dan, without me retaliating. Not even the KGB."
despite the pain he was in, he sat and talked for hours,
telling her everything, except for the one truth: how
it all started. No one would ever know about a night
in Kabul, nine years ago.
- Moscow, 13th December, ten months later
the door opened, and the fear came back. Startled like
a wild animal, Vadim didn't resist as the guards took
his arms, forced him against the wall, tied his hands
back, and put the sackcloth over his head. It was so
he wouldn't recognize any other prisoners, he assumed.
Always the same. A year or two, or thereabouts, he didn't
know. Keeping track of time was too difficult, it had
felt like an eternity. Often, he was too exhausted to
keep his calendar. Lately, he didn't remember to. Couldn't
remember whether he had marked the day down already
or not. Felt they screwed with the times when the light
was on at the end of the corridor, with the rhythm of
what were supposed to be his meals. No steady rhythm
to his sleep, his awakening, no rhythm his body could
remember or hold on to. Didn't know whether he woke
up from something outside disturbing him, or from the
usual five o' clock routine. Had no way of telling.
It felt like there had never been anything else but
this in his life.
pushed him down the corridor, back into the room. Not
a word was spoken. Nobody ever spoke a word. There were
no signals from any neighbouring cells. He was alone
in that hole, alone. Cold. The darkness and numbing
silence only torn when they interrupted his sleep, when
they emptied a bucket of water over him, to wake him
and to increase the misery. He spent days tied down,
chained up like a dog, for no other reason but to make
life miserable and not allow a dulling of the discomfort.
Sleep deprivation. Hunger. Cold. He knew the methods,
but they still cut to the bone.
they dragged him out for a beating - the cell was too
small for more than two or three men, and hardly offered
enough room to kick a prone figure - he was usually
blinded as well. He found he hungered for a human face,
a human voice.
that was denied.
didn't resist, didn't fight, couldn't, it seemed he
was standing beside himself, with only rudimentary control
over that body. Things happened to him. He didn't care
much - it was all cold, hunger, pain, fear, but even
the fear was dulling into a nameless, leaden dread that
felt completely impersonal. Those were not his emotions.
And they were of no consequences.
reached the room. Any room. Pushed him inside, somebody
kicked him in the legs, and Vadim collapsed onto his
knees, fell onto his side, and it took focus to try
and get upright again. His sense of balance was fucked.
They removed the sackcloth. The light was too bright.
He wasn't used to light any more. It hurt his eyes.
Nothing that didn't hurt.
felt a hand touch his neck, and felt grateful for the
touch, a moment of warmth, a moment of non-pain. Felt
the warmth of another body close, and leaned forward,
head resting against what had to be a leg.
think we're almost there", murmured the interrogator.
The only human voice that he heard that was not a memory
or his own voice. Vadim didn't quite believe it, but
his memories and dreams were washed out these days,
had lost all colour, all strength, didn't have anything
left. Reality wasn't much better. The hole had taken
all strength, all memories, and left nothing but the
dread. He knew he'd been stripped of all that, but didn't
actually know what 'it' was or signified, knew it had
hand was still there, a surreal touch. Vadim had no
idea what it meant, only that he wanted it to stay.
He knew this man had him brought here, and that he'd
been hoping it would be this man and not the beating,
and that he wanted the man to talk to him, whatever
he said, whatever insult, whatever cruelty, this world
had become so small that this man more than filled it
understand it was a long, hard way for you, my friend",
murmured the man, the voice came closer as the man crouched
in front of him, hand still there. Vadim carefully opened
his eyes. The brightness of the lamp was partially blocked
by the body. A small mercy.
eyes looked into his, concerned, it seemed, and Vadim
felt vague regret at that concern, but didn't know why.
Studied the man's features, the clean shaven cheeks
and chin, without taking anything in. He couldn't concentrate
on any thought, couldn't make sense of anything, felt
afloat and removed. Couldn't hold that gaze.
think you're easily ready to sign the confession now."
didn't understand. "What."
you want to rest? You look tired, my friend. Tired and
worn. All this can end, and you will never be cold,
or hungry, or afraid."
would be good, thought Vadim.
only have to sign this. Come, I'll help you." The
man helped him up and steadied him, and helped him walk
towards the desk. There was a thick file on it, and
Vadim felt a distant echo of something good inside.
His hands were freed, and he steadied himself against
the desk, as the man gave him a pen.
sign your full name."
took it, saw his hand with the pen shake so hard that
the tip made small noises against the paper. He knew
this was important, but he didn't understand what it
had been important for. If this meant it all would stop,
good. No more hole, no more pain. Sounded like bliss.
tried to concentrate, his name was long, and he hadn't
used it for a long time. Not important. He wasn't sure
about the spelling.
that's it. Krasnorada", said the
man, and seemed pleased and friendly. "So much
hard work. You'll soon be able to rest." The man
took the pen from his hand and turned him around at
the shoulder, again looking into his eyes. "You're
almost there. Aren't you glad?"
nodded. "No more
" Faltering. Found
words almost as difficult as thoughts. Wasn't sure what
he'd said aloud and what he had thought, or whether
there was, in fact, any difference.
No more of any of this." The man smiled at him,
kind, it seemed.
I'm very tired." It was easy to feel relief. He
remembered to have missed something, books, people,
voices, sleep, food, but it was all good now. He'd be
able to rest, and that was the one remaining thing he
still wanted. He looked into the man's eyes and felt
a strange gratitude for enabling that, for taking care
of him, for the touch.
man shuffled the paper into the file and closed it neatly.
"Take him to the new cell. He has to be presentable."
- Dubai, 12th January
I need to talk to you." Baroness de Vilde's voice
and face were grave, and Dan felt a sucker punch to
his guts at the seriousness of her tone.
nodded, undoing the zipper of his light jacket. He'd
finished the recce according to his maxim that no protection
was as valuable as the recce beforehand. "Of course,
Ma'm. Will you give me a few minutes?"
she nodded, "I shall see you in my private study."
watched her leave, frozen to the spot. He knew; didn't
want to know. The dread was settling into his bones
as if flash-frozen. Forcing himself to finish undressing,
before washing face and hands in the small bathroom
adjacent to his room. He felt like throwing up as he
stood over the sink, hands gripping the cool porcelain,
unable to look into the mirror. That was it, then. It
had to be.
year, almost one year later. Eleven months, and they'd
fought for Vadim's release, with the Baroness doing
most of the work. Proposed exchange of political prisoners,
covert offers of bribery - money, advantages, anything
they could possibly offer, but it had either not been
enough, or the hatred had run too deep. The KGB hadn't
let go of Vadim, no matter what the Ambassador and her
contacts had tried, and regardless of the crumbling
might of the Soviet Union. The vast empire was pulling
itself apart, torn into pieces by a force from within
its own bowels.
months, and the Baroness had given him information about
the Lubyanka, the treatment of prisoners by the Interior
Ministry, to make him understand what was probably being
done to Vadim and what psychological changes that would
cause, but he'd found much of it too painful to read,
unable to deal with the unknown and the helplessness,
wishing nothing more than a chance to fight the grey
men that kept their hold on Vadim. She never ceased
to keep Dan updated of anything that was going on. Progress
or not - and mostly the latter.
Ambassador had been called away from Afghanistan during
those months, to move to the United Arab Emirates, residing
in the embassy in Dubai, taking Dan and all of her core
staff with her.
had been doing his job in the air conditioned rooms
of embassies and offices, or outside in the heat. Clinging
to his duties, pushing his fitness, while his mind was
unable to cope with anything but the memory of Vadim.
Even jerking off had become impossible, the oppressiveness
of not-knowing too great, and the pain of hope unbearable
- amongst the growing hopelessness.
a year, and she had done all she could, using contacts,
attempting negotiations, but in the end all efforts
were reduced to the sick feeling in Dan's guts and the
fear that this was it: the worst. The final. The end.
few minutes later Dan was knocking at the door of the
Baroness' study. A small affair, this room. Warm wood
and polished brass, the complete opposite to the vast,
cold magnificence of her public office.
was looking at him for a moment, with that calm and
unwavering gaze, once he had sat down in front of her
desk. When she spoke, her voice was quiet. "I have
received a fax from my contact in Moscow, it is the
copy of an official document."
stared at her face, not at the paper in her hands. He
couldn't bear it. The cold fist in his stomach was twisting
his guts because he knew deep down what the document
said, had always known it. All she did now was verifying
what he had refused to accept. Too late. He'd run out
of time, reality was right there, in her hands.
gently pushed the fax towards him, across her desk.
"I believe you can read it. It is in Cyrillic."
shook his head, refused to take the paper. "Please,
no." Defeated, he had no choice. Putting up a façade
of bravado? Not any more. "Do you know what it
nodded, folding her hands on top of the edge of the
paper, which hung limply over the desk. "Yes, my
contact supplied a summary in English."
does it say." The words tasted of death and ashes
in Dan's mouth.
inhaled, no more than a minor pause, before she inclined
her head in a measured nod that told him she understood,
and would take on the task. Placing the reading spectacles
that hung on a gold chain around her neck onto the bridge
of her nose, she pulled another piece of paper close
and began to read.
Petrovich Krasnorada has been sentenced to death for
the crime of High Treason to the Soviet Union. He has
signed the confession of having delivered sensitive
information to a British subject and member of the British
Special Forces, whilst in the employ and confidence
of the Soviet Army. Vadim Petrovich Krasnorada will
be executed at 0500 hrs on February 7th 1990."
put one hand over the paper, palm down, and took the
specs off her nose, looking at Dan. Her voice never
wavered, but it was low and soft. "I am sorry,
is not true." Dan's own voice had lost all inflexion.
leant forward, gently, as if talking to a disturbed
child, without sounding patronising. "Dan, it is
true. It is official. He will be executed."
Dan shook his head, jumped out of the chair, which wobbled
precariously. "It is not true that he was a traitor.
The confession is a lie!" Pacing away from the
desk, then back again, hands behind his back in fists,
felt as if they were bound, wrists crossed. "He
never told me anything, and neither did I. Never!"
Spinning around to face her once more, agitated. "Do
you understand, Ma'm? It is a lie, he never betrayed
his country." Closer, until his thighs hit the
edge of her desk and the fax went tumbling to the floor.
didn't flinch, silently looking up and into his face,
you believe me, Ma'm? Do you believe that the confession
is a lie?"
She nodded once, calmly. "Yes, I do believe you,
I have no doubt." Her voice was firm, the softness
gone, yet the warmth still lingered. "A confession
under torture is not permissible in court." She,
too, stood up, hardly reaching the height of Dan's shoulders.
"But, Dan, the Soviet Union is not Britain, and
the KGB is not Scotland Yard. The Soviet state is a
crumbling empire, torn and ravaged, unsure of itself
and frightened to the core. A false confession extracted
by the KGB is the least of its bothers."
they can't do this! What about your connections, the
bribes, politics, diplomacy, promises from the West?"
He was desperate, and he knew it. Knew, too, that it
was hopeless and knew the answer before he heard it
from her mouth.
can do it, Dan, and they will."
clenched his heart in a vice grip, squeezing until blood
rushed in his ears, drowning everything but the need
to rage and scream, wreak havoc on what came into his
hands, smell blood and taste destruction.
It cannot be, they can't do this!" Shaking his
head violently. "I cannot let go. If I did, Vadim
would die twice. I can't let go, Ma'm. Not yet. Not
as long as he is still alive." His eyes wild, fists
slamming onto her desks, towering over her, but she
never flinched. "I was taught to never leave a
comrade behind!" Dan opened his mouth wide as if
to scream obscenities, the only way to let out the anger
and anguish, and
suddenly deflated. Nothing.
No sound. Shoulders sagging, he lowered his gaze.
know." Dan's voice was once more ashen. The burning
rage had died, flames suffocated by that pain for which
he had no name. A vacuum inside of him, sucking him
dry of all his strength and energy, expended throughout
the last year, fighting for Vadim's survival.
know, Ma'm." Repeated, Dan stood, rejected.
didn't say anything for a long time, until she stepped
away from the desk and came to stand in front of Dan.
there is anything I can do for you," her cool,
elegant hand found its way to his shoulder. Resting
there for a moment, "anything at all, Dan, please
there was nothing, and he shook his head. Nothing at
all anymore, it was over. Nothing he could do nor say,
his head came suddenly up, looking at her,
there is. Ma'm, there is one last thing I need to do."
His face expressionless. "Can you get me the address
of Vadim's ex-wife? I tried to verify the address he
gave me, but she appears to have moved."
brows raised merely a fraction, but she did not query
his request. "I will."
you, Ma'm." He turned, hands once more in fists
behind his back, leaving the room.
- Moscow, 9th January
you understand what I am saying, Vadim Petrovich Krasnorada?"
stood there, looked at the judge's face, knew the guards
were there to punish him for any seeming disrespect.
The interrogator was there, too, sat close, like an
attorney, maybe to make sure he didn't make a mistake.
Vadim looked at the man, who gave him one of those reassuring
smiles. Vadim looked at the judge again. "Forgive
me. I am
not here. I'm beside myself. I have no idea what you
are saying, but I'm trying so hard. His face twitched,
and he looked straight ahead at the man. The judge.
am sorry, Sir."
judge stabbed the paper with a long bony finger. "You
signed this confession?"
you did disgrace yourself with a British subject?"
subject. A man. A silhouette in the darkness of a cave.
Breath misting, joining.
repeat the question: "Did you or did you not disgrace
yourself with a British subject?"
looked up again, felt his hands twitch, tension coming
up from his chest as he stared wide-eyed at the man
in front of him, suddenly saw the interrogator stand
and lean towards him. "Vadim. Don't worry, you'll
be safe. I know it's hard, but we have to get through
there anything wrong with him, comrade Konstantinov?"
interrogator shook his head. "Despite comrade Krasnorada's
many failings, he's still Afghantsy. They often bring
certain conditions with them when they return."
he is fit to stand trial?"
It is a temporary, if recurring condition."
then. Did you understand my question?"
asking whether you disgraced yourself with Daniel Ewan
McFadyen while serving in Afghanistan", said the
interrogator to help him.
Ewan McFadyen. I didn't know he had a second name,
Vadim thought, and felt his shoulders tense, his body
shaken from something inside, something powerful, like
an earthquake. Dark eyes. Huffed laughter. That man's
body close to his, moving, holding him, reaching inside,
opening him up and making him whole.
I did not."
did you just say?" The judge leaned forward, there
was an alarmed flutter of unrest in the court room.
The interrogator looked at Vadim with all the intensity
of some of their talks, suddenly awake and sharp.
did not disgrace myself with that man." Every word
felt like it had to be pushed out.
saying you didn't have
a physical relationship
with that man?"
are contradicting yourself", said the interrogator
near his ear. "That is not appreciated."
looked at the judge. It didn't matter. The sentence
was set, and there was no use fighting, but that lie,
that couldn't remain in the room. "I did
have sex with that man. But it was not
huffed the judge, and went on with proceedings.
McFadyen. He'd hated to be called Daniel. He'd tell
all these men here to fuck off and leave them in peace.
Vadim felt a small smile tug at the corner of his lips.
I never had that brand of courage. I wish I had. I just
have to get through this, and then it's over.
answered "yes I did", whenever the judge looked
at him. The confession was long, exhaustive. Rape, murder,
collaboration, sabotage, weapons trafficking to rebels,
conspiracy, whatever. High treason, yes, that, on top.
Nothing touched him anymore. He couldn't focus, and
it was of no importance. That one thing had been, but
it just slipped away.
sentence was as expected, and they brought him away,
to the cell, not the hole. They didn't wake him from
his sleep, and the beatings had stopped, too. There
were voices on the corridor, but Vadim found it too
hard to focus on any of the words. It wasn't about him.
- Hungary, 27th January
got out of the taxi, thankful for the small mercy that
almost everyone seemed to speak at least some words
of English. He could get along well in a few major European
languages, fluently in Russian, even in Pushtu and Arabic,
but he'd never learned Hungarian and sure as hell had
no incentive to do so.
was strange to see the country in sunshine, Dan felt
the weather should have been dreary grey with blankets
of dirty snow, but this January had turned out to be
a freak month in Budapest. How apt. Still cold, though,
growing rapidly colder now that the sun was setting.
Both hands in his jeans pockets, he pulled his shoulders
up to his ears, not used to winter anymore. After active
service in Afghanistan he'd been working for the Baroness
in a country that burnt with heat. Focussed on nothing
but Vadim's survival, and now
this. It would
be over. No more future, no more fight nor focus.
looked at a piece of paper, checked the address before
putting it back into his pocket, feeling the familiar
smoothness of the lapis lazuli beads against his fingers,
warmed by his body. Dan lifted his head with a deep
breath into the crispy air and stepped into the magnificent
building with its fading beauty, that served as the
training complex. The entrance was deserted, whoever
was meant to be manning the desk nowhere to be seen,
thus he walked unhindered around the corner and found
himself in front of a double door. One of them stood
open, allowing the view into a large rectangular room
with golden brown wooden floor, shining with polish,
and several tall windows all along the wall, mirroring
the inside against the falling darkness. Dan stepped
inside, saw two slender white-clad figures with fencing
masks work miracles of elegance and deadly skill into
the air. One of them could only be her.
beep sound from the electric system, the green light
lit up on the box at the floor they were both connected
to, as Katya's epee impacted, and both fencers straightened
and took a step back. Taking off the masks one-handed,
they faced each other on the piste and both lowered
their blades, masks tugged under the arm. Then shook
hands with the bare hand. "Good one." Rubbing
the inside of her elbow, where he had scored a point.
disconnected the electric system and put the epee down.
She was dying to get out of that heavy white jacket,
damp with sweat. Pulled the glove off first and stuffed
it into the mask, set both down on the bench and pulled
the zipper down to her chest to take the cable off.
She spied a movement near the entrance, Szandor noticed
her glance and turned as well, wiping his face with
stood near the entrance, tension residing in his stomach.
He feared his request was asking too much, but he had
to try it. Less than two weeks now. Ten days, and seven
hours, to be precise. He could probably make out the
minutes, if he checked his watch. When the mask came
off the female, recognition hit him immediately. He'd
seen the photo, the wife, the children. He'd been right,
it was her. Hands still in his pockets, he crossed the
room with measured steps.
Katya, he looked like a tourist. "This is not open
to the public", she said in English. "But
I am sure you can see the 18th century stucco if you
find the caretaker and pay for his tea."
looked at the tourist as he stepped closer, and she
could just see that Szandor would give him the full
guided tour just because of his looks. Dark handsome
strangers with an interest in his hometown, and Szandor
was in love. Like Szandor was in love at the drop of
a hat. They had shared a fencing career, and they had
shared Vadim. The basis for a life-long friendship.
swallowed hard, then shook his head. "No, I'm sorry.
I'm not here for the stucco." He glanced over at
the man, wary. They were both carrying weapons, but
he could take them down. No threat, not against a killer.
took the right hand out of the pocket, but the left
one remained. He'd found it best with civilians to hide
the scarred hand for a while. Often the one in his face
was too much, causing at least some morbid curiosity,
but he didn't expect this one to bother. Acknowledging
the man with a glance, he came closer, stopped in safe
distance, looked at the woman again. Yes. No doubt.
It was her.
believe I am looking for you. Katya
know what name she might have taken on now. Had she
kept the old one or assumed another? "Krasnorada?"
Even speaking the name out loud hurt. Hurt so deep inside,
it made him shudder.
kept looking at him, then a glance at her training partner.
"Thanks for the play, Szandor." In English,
cool enough to work as a bucket of ice water even after
an excellent bout.
waited till the Hungarian had left, and kept looking
at the man. "Somehow I do not believe you are a
reporter writing about the Olympics at Montreal, and
you do not look like you want to take private lessons.
Or do you?"
the way he favoured that leg, an imbalance or an old
shook his head at her question. "You are correct
and I am neither." No, woman, I am the man who
came here to beg. "I came here
took another breath, wondered if that horror inside
would quieten eventually, "I came here to ask you
felt the lapis lazuli beads against the fingers of his
left hand, while the other brushed a strand of hair
out of his face. "I am Dan McFadyen." He missed
his knife, cursed airport security and lack of diplomatic
baggage. Its comforting presence no longer near his
wrist. Bare. Naked to a truth and its consequences.
"I am your ex-husband's lover."
took a step back, as fluid as was to be expected. Only
sign of shock was the way the blood left her flushed
face in an instant.
are the one they caught him with?" They had said
it was an enemy. That name sounded American, or English.
"The trap they set for him?"
narrowed. She reached for the epee again, which, even
blunt, was still a piece of steel. People had died when
it slipped past the mask and went through the throat.
watched her reaction, the expression of shock, the narrowing
of eyes, the signs of anger. And more. She had no chance,
but he could see she would try. Formidably so.
His arm hung loose at his side, the other had never
left the pocket. "I am that man." What else
to say? To beg, already? He would.
stared at him, face pale with anger, eyes dark blue,
blond hair tied back still for the fencing. "You
can be proud then, to have destroyed a man I thought
was indestructible." Teeth bared, another step
back. "You found the one weakness that he had,
and cut his throat with it. Good work. And tell the
CIA or whoever you are working for, that I am disgusted
by the way you did this."
flinched visibly. Her words more deadly than the epee
could have been. Felt like a dog, crouching in the dirt,
head down, tail between the legs, enduring the kicking
and beating. "I understand," he did, hated
her for it, "but you don't. No CIA, no MI5,
no ulterior motive."
his throat. Destroyed. Disgusted. Would Vadim hate
have known Vadim since 1980." Dan realised it would
make no difference, except for making it worse, but
the truth was not a whore and could not be bought.
ex-husband was deployed in Afghanistan in that year."
As if that alone made it impossible. "I cannot
see in what other capacity you could have met. He did
possess sensitive operational information. You imply
it was a personal matter, which is highly unlikely.
Do you follow me?"
but the truth, and how he wished that truth would prostitute
itself: elusive, brutal, beloved and hated. "I
was his enemy and he was mine, aye." His gaze dropped
once to her hand on the hilt, then back to her eyes,
unwavering. "There was hatred, but it changed.
I'd tell you I was sorry if I were, but I'm not. Not
for anything throughout the last ten years."
shook her head, pressed her lips together, and refused
to say anymore. A hint of pain showing. Then, voice
cold: "He had a brilliant career in front of him.
Granted, now that it all changed and was squandered
He could be a powerful man now, and you
exposed him to the world. I don't believe for a moment
he committed treason, but they do, and they will kill
him for it, just as a signal." A deep, calm breath.
"I know he had his 'bitches' in the army. I am
not stupid, and women talk."
word a slap, each sentence a knife cutting deeper than
his own blade had ever cut Vadim. Then the last word.
misunderstanding. Not of who was who and
who did what but of what they had. "Bitch?
You think I am his bitch?" Not 'was', no, not yet.
Refusing to accept the inevitable before it was time
in ten days and
took another half-step away and was within fencing distance.
"I don't believe for a moment you were anything
else. Anybody else would not have destroyed him like
looked at her, square on, did not flinch. He could kill
her, right now. Epee or not, but he only shook his head.
"It doesn't matter what you think. Whatever."
He didn't believe she could hurt him any more than this.
"Will you do me a favour? He does not know if I
am alive. They had KGB killers
spetsnaz set on
me." Why would she care. Why indeed.
gaze did not change. "What kind of favour?"
Jaw muscles tightened.
get a secret message to him. Via his father." Asking,
too much, but he had to ask. His jaws worked while he
stalled, touching the beads in his pocket. Fierce pride
of survival. "To let him know before he dies that
I nailed the fuckers. To tell him that I love him."
Would she understand the importance? And what good would
the message do?
Death. He should have owned Vadim's death; should have
slit with a blade or pulled the trigger back in Kabul.
blinked, opened her lips to say something, then, frowning,
moved to the side, leaving the piste, the epee
still in her hand. As if to mull over what he had said.
believe I am still in touch with Pyotr? After his son
has broken my arm?" She looked up, pulling the
zipper of the jacket fully down, fiddled around with
the d-strap that held the jacket, and pulled it off,
revealing a white plastic chest protector on top of
a white t-shirt. Took off the plastron that only protected
her left shoulder and side, then the protector and wrapped
everything into a thick roll.
I do believe that you are." Dan stood still but
his eyes followed her every movement. "After all,
you got out of Russia just in time." His gaze had
gained an edge, but his voice remained the same.
in time'. That is one way of putting it." She slipped
into a light sweater. "Pyotr is heartbroken. His
only son. The mother is dead. And Vadim
of these things. I imagine the KGB talked to him as
well. Can you imagine what that means to an old man?
Do you have a family, Mr McFadyen? Can you even for
a moment imagine what you did to us?"
brows rose. Attack, fire, near-defeat, not even a counter
attack. "What I did? Do you believe that
Vadim fell victim to me?" But then she thinks
you are his 'bitch'.
resigned to fight the notion, but the mere thought that
what he felt - this motherfucking love that would not
stop - was nothing but a 'butch' and his 'bitch', that
thought was cutting deeper with every minute.
a manner of speaking." She pulled the sweater down,
reached for loose dark training trousers and pulled
them over the white shoes, sock and britches she still
wore. "Intentions are one thing, the outcome something
else entirely." She glanced up. "But maybe
you want to tell me about your intentions?" She
stuffed the kit and weapon into a long bag and zipped
intentions. Dan looked at his hand, the right one. If
only he knew. To tell Vadim, to try and let him know,
hurt him in the process? To make waiting for
death even more painful? He shook his head, said nothing.
maybe tell me about Vadim in Afghanistan. He didn't
speak about it. He said he didn't want to scare me."
A smile, measured. "I am not easily scared."
want to know what Vadim was like in Afghanistan? What
he did?" Dan looked up, studying her. What an insane
notion. What was he going to tell her? 'I met your ex-husband
that night he raped me. I wasn't impressed.' Or, 'I
saw him splatter children's brains over the dead bodies
of their mothers, he is a good sniper.' Or perhaps,
'he begged for a soldier's death after I tortured him
and he broke down, sobbing. He begged, because of you,
his wife, you and your children. His family.'
perhaps, about the man he then became? The man who had
cried at his hospital bed and with whom he had almost
shared a life like lovers?
Dan shook his head once more, eyes narrowed for a moment.
What a fucked-up situation. Perhaps he had been wrong
all along, perhaps he should just fuck off and never
return and forget about the whole thing. Perhaps it
was an insane wish to tell Vadim he was alive and he
loved him; had fought for him, would forever fight,
if only he could. "If he did not tell you about
the war himself, then I would betray him if I told you."
He stood his ground, yet he would beg. Beg like Vadim
had, ten years ago.
intentions? For him to know before he dies that I love
him, always will, and that I am alive and will continue
to fight for him as long as there is anything to fight
for. I would do anything," Dan's dark eyes became
more intense, "anything at all for him."
he is all I have. My home, my life, my sanity. Without
him, I merely function, kept in check by a dangerous
job and a woman's authority. Duties. Nothing beyond
duties. No life, just existing, but you wouldn't understand
how empty I am inside.
eyes grew speculative, thoughtful, and she remained
silent for long moments. "I would much prefer to
continue this conversation somewhere else. Besides,
I need a shower."
nodded. What else? He'd follow her like a dog on a leash,
hoping for a scrap of mercy.
left the training room and she led him outside, crossed
the old-fashioned courtyard, and headed up narrow stairs.
This part of the building was currently under repair,
everything covered with thick plastic foil to prevent
snow or rain from creeping in. She stepped into a corridor
that smelt of paint, and opened a door.
followed, walking behind her in silence, both hands
in his pockets. Beggars couldn't be choosers, he'd follow
her anywhere as long as he had a reason to hope she
might accept his plea.
entrance was painted white, narrow, too many shoes,
fencing shoes for teenagers in a pile. She picked up
a small bunch of letters, then lowered her bag as if
this was much more important, looked at him and proceeded
into a small living room that had a view on the other
side of the court, where she fenced.
you have tea or coffee?" She went into the kitchen
to stuff the fencing gear into the washing machine,
added detergent, and started a programme.
He was looking around, took in the shoes. Vadim's children.
Strange, so difficult to imagine that woman and his
lover. Still standing, she hadn't asked him to sit and
he felt unwanted, unwelcome and uncomfortable in her
went through the motions to take the coffee machine
from a cupboard, wiped it down quickly, added coffee
powder from a glass jug, water from the tap, switched
the button, then looked at him again, quizzically. "Please,
have a seat." Either remembering her manners, or
hospitality. "I need that shower." She headed
off down the corridor, in an afterthought took the letters
with her. Locked the door and a few moments later, the
sound of water.
sat down at the table, awkward, tense. Wondered what
in the flat spoke of Vadim, if anything at all. Needed
a cigarette badly, craving the nicotine just to function,
but he couldn't bear asking her for permission to smoke.
He looked around the kitchen without touching anything,
listening to the gurgle of the coffee machine and the
ticking of the clock. Every tick, every movement of
the hand, every second was bringing Vadim closer to
the end. He hadn't known that pain could be so intense,
and it was growing by the day.
she returned he sat in exactly the same way as before.
Stiff, upright, back straight.
came out when the coffee machine was gurgling steam,
face reddened, hair pulled up and fastened with a metal
comb. She didn't meet his gaze when she stepped into
the kitchen, instead headed straight for the coffee
machine again. "Milk? Sugar?" Her voice seemed
much more husky now, and she was distracted, the sharp
focus had been drained.
Dan looked up, watched her, studied every motion, "three
spoonfuls, if possible."
looked like she might have cried in the privacy of the
shower. She put the hands on the work surface, straightened
her arms, head lowered. "I could make you pay for
this." Her voice still vibrating with something.
Her lips pressed together for a long moment. "I
guess I will."
you pay for this. Her words hit his core. What had
he expected? To smile and ask and be met with understanding
or, at the worst, to beg on his knees? Pay. He would.
However much she wanted. Money? "I don't understand."
failed to get pregnant. My clock is ticking, but I want
another child. The last one." She took two mugs
with one hand, the ceramic clicking together as her
hand shook. She pressed her teeth shut and set the mugs
down hard. Needed a minute as if trying to remember
where the sugar was. Stared into the open cupboard for
a long moment. "The letter from my gynaecologist.
The insemination failed. I am not pregnant." She
found the sugar in another glass jar, unscrewed the
lid, measured three spoons, forcing herself back to
precision as she poured the coffee into one mug, stirred
for him and set the mug down in front of him, now looking
into his face. "That is the only thing I want.
automatically reached for the mug, didn't see it, just
stared at her, tried to make sense, failed. Nothing
made sense, nothing except the time moving - unstoppable
- towards the end.
does that have to do with me?" He looked at her
straight on, face mere inches away.
own face was nearly without expression, maybe a hint
of anger. "You are a man. I believe children happen
when a sperm fuses with an egg." She stayed exactly
there, did not move closer, did not pull away. "You
seem healthy enough, and being a homosexual does not
make you infertile." Her eyes held a challenge,
and now she moved away, like a fencer having scored
a point. "Szandor is a friend, but he is out of
penny dropped slowly for Dan, far too slowly. "You
can't be serious." Impossible to believe, he must
have misheard her. His scarred hand curled around the
mug. "You can't
you can't want that."
gently shook her head, then sighed. "You think."
She moved back to the coffee machine, her precision
back, face thoughtful. "Vadim is Anoushka's father.
I don't think he ever wanted to, not truly. I think
he was trying to fool himself, but Vadim isn't easily
fooled. And I am even less likely to be fooled. I saw
him with Szandor, one night, and I knew then what he
was. But at the same time, I was trying to end my career
with a flash, not a whimper."
took the mug with both hands and raised it. "He
needed all the protection he could get in his position.
If I had been around, they wouldn't have caught him.
He must have grown careless."
careless," Dan muttered, they hadn't been, but
how could he be so sure. "Just
what. What, Dan? India, the hospital, the safe house
and then the hotel. The KGB could have had an easy game.
That last night. He couldn't bear remembering. Too painful.
hands twitched, the coffee disturbed in the mug. "Vadim
has two children. He showed me a picture." Of you,
a girl and a boy. I remember, the baths, the lapis lazuli,
the water, the touches and the smiles. The sex, always
that, lust, but more than that. Much more.
But Nikolai looks a lot like the man we shared for a
while. A pilot that was shot down in Afghanistan before
I could leave Vadim for him. I was naïve."
She shook her head. "We were partners in crime,
Vadim and I."
mouth opened, shut again. Vadim not the boy's father?
Partners in crime? They shared a pilot? "Fuck,
you're fucking sick." Murmured, too quiet for her
to have heard all of his words. Was there anything she
wouldn't do? Not that
that thing she had talked
about before. Impossible.
raised his hand to wipe across his face, coffee forgotten.
She resented him, he'd expected that. She accused him,
and he hadn't counted on how much that hurt.
you do it? Will you talk to his father?" He looked
up once more, straight into her eyes. He was selfish,
and he knew it.
I will break Pyotr's heart." She looked at him.
do you want from me in return." Dan understood
at last, no matter how impossible it was. "How
do you want me to pay." Cold. Business.
Like the coffee cooling in his mug, untouched. One thing
he thought he needed to know, 'did you ever love Vadim?'
but what did it matter. The question remained buried
shrugged. "I understand you will not find a female
body particularly worthy of attention." A thin
smile. "I share nothing with Vadim, after all.
I don't flatter myself on being able to make somebody
like you react. I think that would embarrass us both,
on top of the awkwardness."
hand around the mug tensed, scars and tendons creating
freakish patterns. "Spell it out." Refused
to put the two things together. "Spell out what
the fuck you want!"
Just no, it was impossible, even though he understood
perfectly well. What difference would this be, to a
night, ten years ago in Kabul. "What price do you
want me to pay. Say it."
brow darkened. "You understood me. I know what
you want, and you know what I want and I need it now,
it is the perfect time for conception, I cannot wait.
Can you function with a woman or not?"
want me to be your whore." No question, a statement.
"Your fucking bargain, deal, blackmail or what
the fuck ever, is to fuck yourself on your ex-husband's
lover to add to your collection of soldiers' kids."
He had to put the impossible into words. Fucking Krasnoradas
and their aptitude for 'Nothing'.
hand tensed so hard, the mug spun out of his grip, spilling
across the table. "You fucking bitch!"
crossed the distance as swiftly as she'd ever been and
backhanded him, seething with rage. "Don't you
dare! It was you who ruined him. Don't you forget that."
Her eyes ablaze. "My children are none of your
business. At least I gave Vadim more than death."
face stung, first reaction to defend, attack and kill.
He shook, brimming with rage, fists clenched, fighting
his own instincts. A killer, not allowed to kill. Those
words, more painful than the rape, but perhaps it was
the price he had to pay for the torture.
eye for an eye. A life for guilt and pain for loss.
you are trying to make your children my business."
He jumped off the chair, stood, shoved his hand into
the pocket, fingers gripping the beads in anguish. Couldn't
do it, couldn't bear it. Was that what ten years had
been reduced to? Destruction, death and fucked-up, painful,
looked at him, unafraid. He was strong enough to break
her, angry enough to do it, but maybe being the wife
of a spetsnaz officer had prepared her for it.
more thing: Are you healthy?"
Dark eyes glaring, he couldn't find the words. Nothing
but mockery, anger, impotent rage. "If you mean
if I've got the fucking 'faggot disease' no I haven't
That means we have a deal."
do it. Had to do it.
fucking hate you." His hand came back out of his
pocket, clumsy with anger, and the string of prayer
beads cluttered to the floor, scattering across the
faint clatter distracted her, and she looked at the
beads. Lips opened in clear surprise and there was realisation
in her eyes. He had spoken the truth. The same beads,
probably the same stall on a market in Kabul. Her gaze
flickered to the drawer that held hers, in the living
room. Back to the man, a question in her eyes, some
of the harshness drained. He had destroyed Vadim, but
there had been a day when Vadim had given him those.
Vadim who didn't think much of such tokens.
balked at her reaction, fuck, the beads. Watched her
eyes, followed her gaze. Fuck the bitch. Too late, the
words she'd said would never leave him. He turned his
head when she moved past him to the bedroom, didn't
follow at first. Walked over to the beads instead, carefully
picked them up, stashed them in his inner jacket pocket
this time. Couldn't bear to have anything of Vadim's
anywhere near this
thing. Crime scene. That's
what it felt like.
heavy curtains were drawn, the bed a large, low futon,
black sheets and covers, the room held very little else,
two matching nightstands, an alarm clock, a bookshelf.
She had dropped the bathrobe, her body lean and muscular,
toned, not exactly boyish, soft and rounded in the right
places, but hiding her strength underneath. She stood
at the foot of the bed, facing him, naked, only her
hair done up.
left the jacket draped over a chair in the kitchen,
followed her, forced to accept the deal. He hated her
more that moment than he had ever hated Vadim. Ten years
ago his body had been raped. Today it was his mind.
want you to give me your word. I don't know if I am
even fertile, impossible to guarantee success. Give
me your word that this is my part of the bargain
and that it completes the deal. In return you will talk
to Vadim's father and you will find a way to deliver
a message from me." He took his jumper off, dumped
it on the floor, unbuttoned his shirt. Eyes narrowed.
will ask you for a sample tomorrow", she said.
"That increases the chances. But yes, that's it.
All the fine print." She watched him undress, assessing
the chest, remaining just as calm as she'd been most
of the time. "I will deliver the message, tomorrow."
pushed the shirt off his shoulders, let it drop on top
of the jumper. Revealing a scar that was round, neat,
precise, perfectly on top of the left shoulder, and
the 'V', cut into clear lines of scars on his left biceps.
Scarred face and hand had already been visible, but
not the line of dead ragged flesh that peeked on top
of the waistband of his jeans. "A sample. Where.
sign of any emotion on his face, yet inside raged hatred,
pure, cold, and focussed. He had to function. Refusing
to assess right now how much this was hurting him, how
much terror this truly was. This. This thing.
He had come to beg for mercy, was being used in return.
What had he expected? Dan, you fool.
if you are successful."
made room for him, stepped to the side, keeping her
eyes unfocused for a moment. "If this works, you
will have no obligations, just like any donor. You will
forget about this, and I will not demand anything more.
On your side, you will have no rights. You will not
make contact and if you do, I have ways to make you
pay and claim you forced me."
it?" You fucking bitch. Callous, cold, and just
like Vadim had been, all those years ago. The man you
had been married to. Brains splattered on mothers -
using a desperate man as a tool. Fuck you. Fuck you
to hell and back, and may you rot in all eternity. "Keep
your threats. If you are successful I will not have
anything to do with anything that is yours. Ever. You
understand me? I will never see you again. For your
a muscle moved in his face while he undid the belt and
buttons. Dan bent down to loosen the laces of his boots,
stepped out of them and left them beside the growing
pile. The trousers pushed down, then kicked on top.
Stood naked, commando as usual, the ugly mess of scars
across his abdomen in stark contrast to his dark skin.
All over his body the signs of injuries. On arms, wrist,
thighs, back, chest. Some faint, all worn. A body used
up by a life on the line.
understand." She nodded curtly, accepting the rules,
like the decision of a referee.
won't touch you." He walked over to the bed.
The last woman he'd fucked was a pink-clad big-breasted
giggling bimbo in London.
don't have to." All she needed was a physiological
reaction. She did look at that body, though, maybe remembering
the scars Vadim had carried when he came back to Moscow
to heal up. Maybe wondered about Dan and Vadim together.
How the dark skin matched Vadim's near permanent sunburn.
She shook her head, and went to the bathroom, to prepare
with Vaseline. Gave him time to prepare as well. As
businesslike as in a brothel.
didn't look at her when she left, wouldn't look at anything
at all. Lay down on the futon, on his back. No way he
could close his eyes, his life had taught him that blindness
equated to vulnerability, and he stared at the ceiling,
open-eyed. He didn't want to sully his memories of Vadim,
but couldn't get a reaction. Shit. This was business,
a deal he should be easily able to fulfil. Had had women
before, dozens of them, had fucked himself through the
first thirty-one years of his life.
his cock in a violent, painful grip, self-punishing
and so full of fucking hatred for that bitch, he wanted
nothing but kill. Kill. That was it. Death, destruction,
memories of skin, cut; face, beaten; body, kicked. Caves
and mountains, skies and fires. Dirty hovels in Kabul,
a fuck close to a patrol. Violence and aggression, sweat
and blood, blades and boots, fists and teeth. None of
the other images. No love, no laughter, no tenderness
and no kissing.
was stroking himself, images racing before the inner
canvas of his blindly staring eyes. Getting hard, as
returned, slid onto the bed, a lithe form, moving on
top of him, supporting her weight with legs that were
all sleek rounded muscle, knees open, not even touching
his sides. She seemed almost thoughtful as she took
his cock into her hand, pumped it just to slick it up
as well, deciding to go right for the target, no more
discussion, no tenderness, hardly acknowledging the
other in her bed. It was not required. Lowering herself,
legs strong enough for complete control, eyes cast down
as her body accepted him, jaw muscles tensing again,
focus, concentration, pure brazenness to follow through
with this. Tight, obviously trained, powerful in this
position, then moving, curving her back and pushing
against him, slow, intense, moving into a practised
rhythm with every motion firmly in control.
hated her. Fucking hated every fibre of her. Wanted
to kill her again when she took his cock out of his
own hand, as if it belonged to her. Her tool. Dan never
acknowledged that body on top of his, stared at the
ceiling, grabbed handfuls of cotton sheeting, clenching
the fabric in his fists. Jaw square, body tense. Used.
Again. Had to stay hard, had to come.
Heat. Blade cutting smooth flesh, forming words across
a back. Cunt. My cunt. My fucking cunt.
himself. Her cunt.
moved, hands on her thighs, not touching him either,
a business transaction. Breath firmly controlled even
as her body began to gleam with sweat, just like a workout,
nothing to it, no moans, no sighs, no gasped words.
Accepting the burden of having to do all the work, not
making it easier, not making it more difficult, merely
going through the mechanics of sex. Cynical enough to
do it, use a body like any other tool, holding him tight,
giving him what friction she could. Her own control
never shaken, she wouldn't come, it was not required,
merely a somewhat pleasant feeling and mostly hard work.
Dan, it was required. Had to climax or their bargain
would be void. He tried. Stared blind-eyed, focussed
on his inner vision, but it was wrong, all of it, even
the physical sensations. Not enough friction, no violence,
wrong kind of aggression, no feelings, just hatred.
"Shit." Pressed out between his teeth, he
couldn't, couldn't come. "I need
eyes opened, gazing into his face, her own flushed from
the work. She seemed a touch surprised, possibly had
been just too confident in herself and how she thought
things worked. Vadim hadn't given her this kind of trouble,
and the fact Dan's body didn't play by the rules threw
her off balance. "How?" she whispered, as
if speaking could do even more harm now.
got to do the fucking." And the make-believe. The
aggression that would topple him over the edge. His
face distorted by anger, eyes harbouring hatred. "Mustn't
see you. Just fuck a hole. I'll come."
face reddened and she was perfectly still, blood draining
from her features, red spots remaining on her cheeks.
Incredulous, clearly shocked at the thought, eyes showing
insecurity now, a flicker of resistance, even fear.
fists twisted into the sheets, knuckles white, strained
to the breaking point but he could not break. "Kneel."
hair's breadth away from calling it all off, her lips
close to speaking, let's forget about it, sorry, no
way, haha, how embarrassing. Kneel like an animal. She
left his body, jaw tense again, eyes the colour of blue
glass. Pride, resistance, even revulsion. It had taken
much to get that far.
she knelt, body tense with inner struggle. Wouldn't
speak, wouldn't call this sick joke off. Had gone too
far, and would not admit defeat.
turned, knelt behind her, paid no attention to her resistance
nor facial expression. Didn't care about her thoughts.
They had a deal, he'd fulfil it. No matter how.
fucked her, just like that. It was brutal, but not personal.
He was goddamned strong, just like Vadim, but unlike
the other, nothing held him back. Not with this woman.
Fucked a hole and a body, with the aggression of hatred
and the violence of abuse. His own. Not hers. Even though
it was her body that was being penetrated.
touch her except for his hands digging into her hips,
holding her steady for his thrusts. Didn't look at her,
except for a blurred gaze of her back. Stared right
through her, remembered lines of scars across and down
a broad back, a word that had changed its meaning. Didn't
try not to hurt her, didn't give a shit. Fucked her
body with mechanical precision. Silent, except for sharp
breaths. He was quick, wouldn't draw it out, no pleasure
for either of them. Pain and terror, horror and death.
climax was sudden, without warning. It crashed upon
him, as unfeeling as everything that had come before.
Pressing out between panted breath and gritted teeth,
while he sacrificed his sperm into her body. "Fucking
done what she wanted. Hands shaking, barely able to
control the temper. Her whore. She'd used him and his
despair. He fucking hated her and would for the rest
of his life. Hoped she'd never get pregnant, no spawn
of the devil's child.
moved away as soon as it was over, visibly shaken, her
hips bruised, reddening, her strength had resisted him,
but she was no match, and she had felt that, given up
more than she had wanted, still able and willing to
accept the consequences. Knew more about him and Vadim
now than she had wanted.
the bed, she reached for the bathrobe and slipped into
it while getting up, legs shaking from just staying
upright while Dan rolled over the moment he was done,
staring at the ceiling.
turned around to put her hair back together and to not
look at him, doubtlessly still feeling it. "You
" Voice shaky. "Can sleep in that bed.
The covers are
fresh." A gesture to the
bed. She'd sleep in Anoushka's room, on the guest bed
she used when the children were ill.
across the futon, Dan looked at her, straight on. No
expression in his face, no emotion. "I need a shower.
Towel." Must wash off your scent, bitch.
put some on the basket near the shower." She moved
further away, finding it hard to find her strength back.
Play the host so things could be anything less but violence
and fear. "Do you want to eat? I can fix something
quick." Spooked, yes, and she clearly felt how
odd conversation was.
at least hadn't made conversation that night in Kabul.
I don't want anything from you." Dan rolled off
the bed, stood with surprising ease for a man with a
surgery scar across one knee. "I need a hotel.
Will be back in the morning for your sample." He
walked over to the pile of his clothes. "I leave
the text of the message. He'll understand." He
will, unlike you. Fucking bitch.
will call you a taxi." Relieved to see him go,
even if she couldn't admit it. "And call the hotel."
She went to the living room, picked up the phone and
spoke Hungarian for a little. Booking him a room in
a four star hotel in inner Budapest, with a view onto
the river, breakfast included, and dinner, of course.
Glad to see him go, understood she didn't understand;
understood something had happened that she had no words
for. Good to see him go. She and her children. Nobody
else counted at the moment.
watched her leave the room before looking for bathroom
and promised towel. Couldn't bear to get back into his
clothes unwashed, sticky with her, smelling of her,
any memory of her unbearable. It took him precisely
three minutes to wash her scent off his hair and body,
still damp when he emerged and she announced the taxi
would be there any minute. He nodded, no words spoken,
just went back into the bedroom that still smelled of
sweat and sex, to get into his clothes, and he hated
her even more. Sex, he'd never have sex with Vadim again,
nor feel the lust that was so much more than mere fucking.
hurt, but at least it couldn't get any worse anymore,
she'd hammered the dagger home, she'd finished him off.
A dog on the ground, kicked and beaten. Dan huffed while
dressing. He'd never thought he could get that low.
clothed, boots laced, he came back into the kitchen
to take his jacket, looking for the sheet of paper.
"Here." Put it down onto the table. "It's
typed. It's a 'fable'. Make sure it is told exactly
in this way."
nodded, taking the sheet of paper, pulling it closer,
not reading it now, later. She doubted she could read
anything right now. "I promise. I will call Pyotr
as soon as he is home." Keeping her gaze at the
table in front of her, not looking anywhere else. Thought,
maybe, of the lapis in the drawer. Maybe of her daughter.
nodded. He'd fulfilled the worst of his part of the
bargain. It was done. Tomorrow morning was a universe
away. "I wait downstairs." Said nothing else,
turned and left the flat, the jacket over his shoulders.
was empty. Used up. Had almost forgotten his purpose.
hrs the next morning, a taxi pulled up at the same house.
The man who stepped out of it was dressed almost the
same as the day before. Dan glanced up at the building,
then pushed the main door open, remembered it hadn't
been locked. Taking the stairs, one after the other,
a steady pace despite the burning wish to turn back
and leave and never see the bitch again. He had to do
it, had to fulfil the last part of the bargain.
and over with, just like Vadim's life.
hand in the jeans pocket again, he rang the door bell,
waited. Listened for sounds inside.
the door opened, Dan was faced with a girl. Blonde,
hair long, pulled into an overly complicated braid,
hair reaching well past her shoulders. She had Vadim's
eyes, his lips, more delicate, with lipgloss, and nose,
never broken, would never be broken, never reconstructed.
The girl was pretty, and probably knowing it, still
experimenting with the eye shadow, grey and blue mixed
that was somewhere between debutante and a bruise. Shirt
open to where her breasts started, the shirt tight enough
to show the beginning curve. She was already tall. She
measured him with a somewhat disinterested glance she
must have had a lot of practice with, as it looked nearly
almost jumped backwards, managed to have himself under
control with one sharp intake of breath. Fuck. Not that.
A mirror, just younger, so much younger, and female.
Vadim. Fuck. Fuck! How was he supposed to pull through
with the last task of his fucking part of a motherfucking
deal? He'd been raw inside for longer than he could
remember, and the last day had torn him up. Like the
shrapnel, his guts spilled across a landscape of red
dust. And now
that girl was a grenade exploding
in his face.
he's here", she called over her shoulder. "She's
in the bath. Come on in."
stepped inside, he was expected? What the hell had the
fucking bitch told this kid.
turned and headed back into the kitchen, where she sat
down in front of a bowl of muesli. Fresh fruit, yogurt,
oat flakes. Breakfast of champions. She was reading
something, a sheet of paper that had been folded up.
brow darkened, and she looked up. "And? How does
the story end? This is yours, isn't it?"
frowned, eyes narrowing. First instinct to tear the
paper out of her hand, but what did it matter. Vadim.
His daughter. The whole fucked-up family and he himself
the greatest mess of them all. "The mountain lion
dies. End of story."
put the paper down and folded it, displeased. "Then
why is that ending not there? That's not a proper story.
Stories have beginning, and middles, and ends."
Looking at him, nearly accusingly.
ending hasn't happened yet." He glanced at the
door, wanting to get this done and over with. Out. Out!
Had to get out of this fucking place.
glanced towards the corridor, a conspirator's movement,
only so very obvious. "Are you a friend of
Hesitation, and a whisper. "Dad?" as if the
word was not welcome, not allowed. "He taught me
English, you know. He said I can never know who I will
meet and who doesn't speak my language."
could she be so cool and unconcerned. Her father was
I know your dad." I know. I know. "Why?"
Where the fuck was the bitch with the sample vial.
kept one eye on the corridor, listening to the sound
of the bathroom door, eyes then flicked to him. "Because
you're not like the usual friends of my mom." Another
quick glance. "Dad should be here, but she said
it's easier if I remember the good times." She
pulled a face towards the corridor. "And be good
at school." Another, darker, more poisonous look,
the exact same resentment her father could show when
unguarded, when the mask slipped and he showed his feelings.
shrugged. Too close, too similar, too unbearable the
resemblance. "I don't fucking care." Spilled
out, unguarded. Truth. He had no strength left to give
a damn. "Guess that's what kids do. Go to school
and shit like that." He, too, glanced at the bathroom
door. Where the fuck was that bitch. "Treasure
the good times. You never know when you or the other
one fucks up and dies."
frowned. Maybe those language lessons hadn't involved
was a sound from the end of the corridor, and Anoushka
quickly pushed the folded sheet back into its original
position, exactly where Dan had left it the evening
before. Busied herself with the yogurt, cutting up banana
Katya emerged, she remained in the doorway. Seemed to
consider whether to explain who the stranger was, or
the daughter, or leave it, and decided against it. "Go
downstairs, darling, Szandor will take you to school."
that dark resentment, sullen hostility like only a teenager
could feel it. "I'm eating, Mom."
can see that. You go downstairs."
stared at her. "Breakfast is the most important
meal of the day."
are not an Olympian, and you will do as I say."
Katya's voice cool, entirely unimpressed at her daughter's
bad five minutes. "Off you go, now."
watched the exchange in silence. Fucking dysfunctional
'family'. Fitted the father and his lover. Everyone
else as fucked up as them. What about the son? Not Vadim's.
A collection of kids of killers, soldiers. Whatever.
knuckles became pointy around the spoon, and she tensed,
but then she gave a sickeningly sweet smile at her mother.
"Yes sir." In Russian, and she got up, a smiling
and pretty girl. "Of course. How stupid of me."
She smiled at Dan. "Nice meeting you." And
with something that was her idea of a curtsey, she left.
No smashing doors.
Dan nodded at the girl, tense, then turned to look at
the woman when the kid had left. "Have you spoken
to Vadim's father?"
moved into the room, cleared away bowl and spoon and
banana peel. "I will speak to him today, for longer,
and explain what I want him to do. The families can
visit if they queue up for long enough, and they can
bring food with them. Half of that is taken by the guards,
but I'm sure Pyotr can make it there. I am only concerned
because he's in the Lubyanka. That's the old KGB prison
in Moscow. It's not
known for humane treatment."
know." Dan hid his shaking hands his jeans pockets.
"I read about it." Maggie and her attempts
to help him understand. Maggie and her relentless work.
Maggie and the final defeat. No bribery, no power, nothing
turned his head, found the kitchen window, stared out
of it. It would be another sunny day. The sky began
to lighten as dawn was approaching. He didn't want to
talk, just get it over with. "Solitary confinement.
Beatings. Sleep deprivation." Eyes never away from
leaned against the sink, arms crossed. Shaking her head
as she thought what to say. "Yes, that's what they
do. They know what he did, but they have no idea what
has been." Audibly choosing the tense
of the sentence. "He fought like a lion. He'll
die just human. The last time I saw him, when
something had happened. He came back from that country,
and I've never seen him in pain like that. His eyes?
How they turn dark? He looked at me, and I knew he'd
rather break his own bones. He said he wanted to keep
me out of trouble. He was planning his escape from his
job, because it started to hurt him. Frankly, I never
thought it would happen. I didn't recognize it at first,
but that night, I finally understood." She shook
her head, remembering Vadim not sharing the name or
nationality of the man that he was leaving her for.
Her, the army, his life. So, this was him. Who else?
knew about the consequences, and still did it. And I
believe that is how he will die. He'll see it, and he'll
still take it, somehow, I don't know how, but I believe,
I know, that Vadim will never flinch from what he did.
He always had good reasons for everything, and not a
guilty moment in his life. That's why I loved him."
had nothing to say. The anguish, the darkening of eyes.
Knew every little thing, each detail, could see it and
feel it. Her love? He didn't care. Didn't matter what
she believed. Yes, Vadim would die, but he'd die broken.
signed a confession." He finally replied. "Admitted
to something he's never done. No secrets, no collaboration."
Just lust, then love. Addiction all the way through.
"They broke him." He paused, his hand shook
while he brushed a strand of hair out of his face before
he buried the hand once more. Never taking his eyes
off the approaching dawn outside.
nodded. "Confession, yes. Regret? I don't think
so. I just can't see him regret anything, or be guilty
of anything. They kill him just because they can't bend
him to their rules. They can break him, but they can't
make him something he isn't. It's not much, but it is
something." She gave a strange smile. "I can't
see you regret anything, either. That's why you're here."
shook his head. "I tried. I fought. So did people
in high places. Bribery. Power. Promises." He paused
again, "Nothing." He had no more words. Empty.
Except for something he'd hidden deep inside. "You
don't know what it is like to be a killer." Dan's
voice was toneless, almost gentle. Like ashes to ashes
and dust to dust. "I have no right to grief."
wouldn't know who could take that right from you, frankly.
Apart from yourself."
held his hand out. Waiting for the sample. He didn't
want to see her as human, easier to just hate the bitch
as an enemy without a face.
me do my duty now." Quietly. "Or I won't be
able to." If you talk anymore I will break apart.
I need to hate you, you have to hurt me like last night,
or your words will cut me open and leave me to bleed
nodded. "Bathroom. It's
in the bathroom."
She turned and started to prepare tea. Not asking whether
he wanted coffee. Decided he'd not accept it, and there
was nothing else to do. "You can just leave it.
I don't want to keep you here longer than necessary."
Voice a hint softer than what the last word implied.
Not looking at him, instead pouring water, and measuring
left without another word, the sound of the bathroom
door opening, closing, then the scrape of the lock.
He stayed in there for far longer than expected, just
a rustle from within, then silence again. He remained
locked inside for over half an hour, several flushes
of the loo before the door opened again and his steps
were heard leading straight to the entrance door.
was gone without acknowledgement nor trace, except for
the sample container that stood sealed and correctly
packaged, inserted in the transportation kit. She had
twenty-four hours before his sperm would have lost its
mobility, and forty-eight before it was useless.
be back in Dubai before then.
- Moscow, between 9th January and 7th February
after the trial, Vadim had a visitor. His father. He
looked aged and worn, and his hands shook with agitation.
Vadim sat there, looking at him, seeing that familiar
face. After a long silence, his father told him about
the family. No words such as 'how are you', no niceties,
his father was an intelligent man, he didn't make things
look better than they were. And they did not speak about
the execution. Vadim was too tired to tell his father
to go home, instead endured his presence like anything
else, knowing it would end, like any other pain.
upon a time, a mountain lion and a tiger escaped a circus.
They had been trained to jump through flaming hoops,
and to stand tall on their hind legs, reaching with
their paws into the air to please the audience.
one day, something happened that set them free. Now
they had nobody to keep them from fighting each other,
and nobody to feed them, and nobody made them stand
on their hind legs and raise their paws high.
went hunting together. There were an unlikely pair,
but so be it. Stranger things have happened. When one
of them was tired, the other would guard his sleep,
and when one was injured, the other would lick his wounds
and hunt for him until he was feeling well again.
need to know that lions and tigers are never friends,
lions hate the tigers' stripes, and tigers hate everybody,
even other tigers, but lions worse, because lions are
so strong and hunt in prides, and tigers think that
that is the wrong way to do things.
there were hunters, and they said that lions and tigers
are not supposed to be friends, that they were not themselves
anymore, that the lion had forgotten how to be a lion,
and the tiger had betrayed his stripes. On one of their
hunts together, the lion fell into a trap. The tiger
tried to free his friend, but he had no hands to reach
down inside the pit and help him out. The hunters couldn't
trap the tiger, try as they might, and the tiger still
roams their old hunting grounds, remembering the gift
of love and friendship.
may die, but friendship doesn't.
is the tiger, Vadim?"
sat there, blinked, saw his father's eyes fill with
tears, and felt a deep and sudden shame, a pain more
intense than breaking ribs.
is the tiger? Please, tell me, who is the tiger? I am
not stupid. Is it true what they say? Did you
I did." He saw his father cry harder, felt that
old resentment well up, the fights they'd had, the disagreements
about even the most basic things in life, above all,
his father's ideas and truths, but most of all the expectations.
Be the best. Work harder. What for?
The tiger can't lose his stripes. Two predators in the
mountains. Friendship. Try as they might. Dan. This
was Dan's story. His past lover. And that, that was
proof that Dan was alive. No sniper. And he had come
to believe what the interrogator had said. It was just
too much time. Dan. Emotions, pleasure, something that
had kept him together.
remembered, and there was relief, at least the other
had made it out alive. Dan was still there, and that
was good. He'd try and keep that thought in his mind
when they'd shoot him. Not a disgrace, at least not
like all other thoughts, this one didn't have any strength
- Dubai, 7th February
Nothing but the weary tick-tick-tick of the wall clock.
Blinds drawn, shutting out the sun except for a strip
of light cutting across the floor like a knife blade
slicing into flesh. How dared the sun shine, it was
barely dawn in Moscow.
sat on the edge of his bed, opposite the wall and its
clock, the black hands moving ever forward. Hour, minutes.
Second after second. Moving. Forward and to the end.
Finality, measured by the unyielding tick-tick-tick.
other sounds, the building as silent as a tomb, with
staff tiptoeing across the hall and whispering in the
corridors. This room, nothing but grave walls, closing
in on him, and only one constant: the clock. Its hands.
Their movement. Relentless and uncaring. Silence, except
for the counting of time. Tick-tick-tick until the end.
more minutes, and seven
would have taken him out of his cell, shuffling towards
one of the execution rooms, down in the bowels of the
Lubyanka. Could he still walk? March proud and tall,
hands were damp, he didn't feel the cold of the A/C
blasting icy air into the dusky room. Sitting motionless,
minutes and forty
would have bound his hands, reached the room. Tiled
for convenience. Scrubbed clean from previous blood,
ready for another slaughter.
eyes were dry. No tears, he'd lost the ability to cry.
minutes and three
would have forced him onto his knees, in the centre
of the room. Blindfold waiting.
was sweating. Cold sheen on clammy skin. His stomach
a tight, painful fist, lodged in his guts. Agony, sharp
and endless. An empty vessel filled with nothing but
loss. No life, no time.
minute and thirteen
would be standing behind him now. Pistol drawn, muzzle
against the back of his neck. Eyes bound, blind.
unblinking eyes fixed on the clock and its merciless
hands that kept moving. His own hand gripping his thighs.
Knuckles white, muscles locked, body as still and dead
as a statue.
Would he feel fear? Or would he be numb? Would the bullet
tear into his brain in terror?
Would he remember him?
lips moved, but no sound. "Farewell."
pain was a never-ending emptiness. Scraped out and left
raw inside. All feelings torn out at their roots, battered
into a bleeding mess. Love broken on the wheel, quartered,
feeding Dan's numbness with pain and ever more pain.
memory, every touch. Every punch and cut. Each kiss.
Vadim's scent and heat, his body clenching around Dan's,
taking and being taken. Never again.
sat immobile, eyes blind. Not a muscle twitched in his
face. The clock didn't matter anymore, and nor did time.
His life empty, a senseless struggle.
live. He'd work. He'd drink. He'd function. He'd die.
must have stood up at some stage, for when the sound
of soft knocks on the door got through to his senses,
he found himself standing in front of the drawn blinds,
an hour later.
The voice behind the door belonged to none other than
the Baroness. Another knock, as softly as before. "Dan?
I need to talk to you. Please."
it was her voice that made him move and the fact she
was his boss, or maybe he simply walked to the door
and opened it, because there was nothing else to do.
A puppet that needed to be moved by a force outside
himself. He looked at her: his unwavering constant.
Same pearls, same twin set, same petite figure and grey
sorry Dan, I didn't wish to have anyone or anything
disturb you, but
," hesitation was not her
manner, but he didn't notice. Unaware of anything at
but I have received information from
Moscow that I cannot keep from you. You would not wish
stepped aside when she entered the room, closing the
door behind her. "Moscow." Flat voice, no
inflexion. Uncomprehending, but then nothing made sense
anymore. Not now, now that it was all over.
Moscow. A phone call from one of my contacts."
She stood, hands clasped in front of her, but even though
he looked at her, he saw nothing. Her words didn't make
please do sit. What I have to tell you might come as
waited for any reaction inside, for a sense of insane
hilarity that anything could possibly be a 'shock' anymore,
but nothing happened. Cold. Numb. He felt nothing. Yet
he sat down, back on the bed. The puppet compelled to
move by following simple orders. He was thankful for
that. "Yes, Ma'm?"
contact, the most reliable one that I have," she
seemed eager to emphasise this point, "he called
me about ten minutes ago. Dan
," again the
uncharacteristic hesitation, but Dan didn't notice.
"Vadim Krasnorada is not dead. He was not
executed. There will be a re-trial instead."
stared at her in complete disbelief. "What?"
was a mock execution, Dan, it was a lie. The re-trial
had been ordered some weeks ago, under pressure of the
political and diplomatic channels that we had used,
but most of all because of interior forces. We had been
right all the time, the Soviet Union is crumbling rapidly,
especially with recent developments in Azerbaijan that
shifted the power balance in Moscow significantly. The
KGB is losing power to the Ministry of Internal Affairs,
and the Ministry is aggressively regaining ground. My
contacts indicate that the Ministry will not let the
KGB execute Vadim. It's an old-fashioned inter-Soviet
power struggle. The pressure is great enough that not
even the KGB could go through with the execution, although
they orchestrated a mock execution to keep face. He
is not dead, Dan, Vadim Krasnorada is still alive."
lie." Dan refused to belief, the sense of hope
that tried to steal inside his mind too cruel to ponder.
Dan," she shook her head, "you have to believe
me, it is the truth. My contact's informants are infallible."
hands were clenching into fists, shaking his head. "You
are lying. Don't fuck with me, Ma'm, don't do that to
me. You are lying, it's all lies! Vadim is dead, do
you hear me? Vadim is dead! Don't you fucking lie to
me!" Agitated, he'd forgotten his manners, speech
and anything, just the numbness inside that was turning
into unbearable pain. Not hope, not this, not the cruellest
of all feelings.
did not flinch at the sudden barrage of profanities.
Still steadfast and strong. "Listen to me, Dan,
you have to believe me. It is the truth. Vadim is not
dead, my contact told me only a few minutes ago."
Dan yelled, hands clenched into fists. "What a
fucking goddamned lie! He is dead, don't you get it?
Done, dead, fucking over. Everything, just over and
done with. Dead, dead, dead! Fucking dead!" He
was shaking his head wildly, his dark eyes burning with
rage. Rage that was fuelled by pain. "Don't do
this to me, don't you fucking tell me he is alive. Don't
you fucking lie to me unless you give me proof, you
hear me? Give me proof!"
Baroness' voice tuned even calmer. "I will, Dan,
I will get you proof." She did not realise what
a mistake she was making when she took a step closer,
placing her hand on Dan's shoulder. "But you have
to believe me, Vadim is alive."
fucking way!" He pushed her hand away and she almost
lost her balance as he lunged forward, as if he were
about to attack. He did not notice when she shrunk back,
for the first time ever in her life. His rage had no
boundaries, and neither his pain, forgetting all but
the knowledge that everything was over and Vadim was
dead and the unbearable agony finally had time and space
to settle, consume him, and eat him alive.
fucking lying, everyone's lying. You said you would
help him, and nothing, fucking nothing! Bastard Britain,
no hope, no help, no chance, just death and pain and
torture. You did nothing, no one did, no one
in this goddamnedmotherfucking country did anything.
No one cared, because what did he have to offer? Just
one measly life and a stupid arse lover who'd devoted
his life to this fucking country and its fucking army.
Orders, duty, just doing what we were told and what
thanks did we get? Nothing! Fucking nothing, just lies
and pain and shit and more lies and
took a breath, yelling at the top of his lungs, "fuck
you! Fuck all of you! Fuck Britain, fuck this country
and fucking fuck the whole damned fucking lot of you!"
was shaking, uncontrolled, completely out of his mind,
while she retreated towards the exit. He paid no attention
when she left and the door closed behind her, had no
notion of anything but the fury and pain inside, which
had spun out of any control. Turning, he slammed his
fist into the nearest thing, the stereo, smashing the
front panel, crashing the whole thing onto the floor.
He swept his arm across the table, every object on it
scattering through the room. Kicking the television,
again and again until the screen broke and a flame shot
out of its back. Took the chair, hit it against the
wall, broken legs slashing into the blinds, its remains
hammering against the window. Destroy! Hurt and kill
and not feel this pain. The hopelessness, the fear,
the things he'd done and said and dreamt of, the memories,
and now - the damned lies.
Dan smashed, kicked, beat and destroyed. The frantic
sound of furniture breaking, objects crashing, fabric
ripping and glass shattering. He took the whole room
apart, until nothing was in its place, and he ended
curled up on the floor, amidst the debris, cradling
his bloodied hands and torn knuckles. He finally cried,
at long last.
the Baroness had been standing, somewhat shaken and
breathing deeply to calm herself, before she held her
hand up to stop several of her staff who came running
at the noise from Dan's room.
leave him alone."
protested but she remained adamant. "It does not
matter what you hear and neither what you think. I wish
this room not to be entered unless it is by myself.
Do you understand?"
the discontent, no one dared disobey her orders.
hour later, Baroness de Vilde made her way back to Dan's
room, which was steeped in silence. Listening for a
moment at the door, she knocked, but no answer. Taking
a deeper breath, she knocked once more, did not hear
anything this time either.
pushing down the handle, she hesitated, listening once
more, but not the faintest sound came from inside. She
had to use force to open the door, it got stuck, hindered
by some of the debris on the floor. Looking around the
trashed room once she was able to step inside, she merely
took one single fortifying breath at the destruction
that lay before her eyes. Nothing was where it had been
before, everything broken and shattered.
closed the door quietly behind her, when her gaze fell
onto the curled up figure on the floor. Huddled into
himself like an embryo, seeking shelter from the outside
waited a moment, but no sound nor motion came from Dan,
and she crossed the chaos, carefully stepping between
the broken rubble, until she could crouch beside Dan's
head, whose face was hidden beneath his hands.
Softly, accompanied by the rustling of paper. "I
brought your evidence." She waited, and still there
was nothing, so she placed her hand once more onto his
shoulder. Applying gentle pressure.
have a fax for you. I leave it right beside you, is
that alright?" For a moment it seemed she would
stroke the dark hair, but then she took her hand back
off the still shoulder, placing the paper next to his
stood up, smoothing her skirt, all the while looking
at him. "I will be in my private study. Whenever
you feel like it. Just take your time."
retreated as quietly from the destroyed room as she
time later there was a knock on her study door, which
opened slowly after she had called out for her visitor
was Dan, just as she had expected, because she was already
gesturing to the leather chair opposite hers.
come in and sit down." She smiled slightly, while
he closed the door, looking like a beaten dog, when
he sat down.
you feel any better, Dan?"
am sorry, Ma'm. So sorry. For everything."
smiled once more, nodding. "I know."
that if she didn't, he would not be there anymore.
accept my apologies," Dan's quiet voice sounded
dead, unlike his usual self. "I don't know what
came over me."
but I do. Pain, Dan, pain is universal and pain makes
us do the most regrettable things."
nodded, looking down at his battered hands, holding
the folded fax sheet.
can pay by instalments for the damage?" Still looking
down, he had never felt so bad for something so uncharacteristic
of himself. "If
if you want me to leave
the embassy, I understand."
am sure we will come to a mutually satisfactory agreement
regarding the financial settlement of the damage, and
I certainly do not wish for you to leave my employment."
She was still smiling, and Dan did not know what he
should feel more thankful for. Her understanding or
her forgiveness for his unforgivable behaviour towards
her. "Thank you, Ma'm."
finally looked up, "I do believe you now. Vadim
is still alive."
following day, Dan was called into Her Excellency's
office, sitting down in the chair in front of her desk,
where she had been waiting for him.
What is this?" Dan looked down at the envelope
in her hand, which she was pushing towards him.
tickets." She leaned back in her seat with a smile,
folding her hands on her desk.
raised his brows questioningly, before picking up the
envelope, peering inside when she nodded towards him.
you need a break, Dan."
you want me out of here?" Pulling out the colourful
portfolio. "Because of
what I did?"
shook her head, still smiling. "No, of course not.
I don't want you out of here and I certainly don't want
to lose your expertise in my employment, but Dan, you
have been ceaselessly working for a year. What happened
yesterday is only proof that you need to get away from
everything for a little while. Call it R&R,"
she inclined her head with a smile, "on my expenses."
the portfolio, he stared at the plane tickets in his
hands with disbelief. "Your expenses?" Looking
at her, wide-eyed, "but why? I just smashed my
room, and I
behaved despicably. I have to apologise
and not receive gifts."
be silly, your behaviour yesterday is entirely excusable
if not understandable. I already told you that I accept
your apology and the settlement of the damage, or do
you wish to query my decision? Do you believe I ever
say anything without meaning what I say?"
he broke her gaze and shook his head. Still so tired,
mentally exhausted, all he could do was murmur, "no,
Ma'm, never." Catching himself the next moment,
a glimpse of the old, irreverent Dan, when he looked
up and added, "unless you're doing smalltalk."
of course, there is that." She chuckled, pointing
with one elegantly manicured finger at the tickets.
"I hope you will enjoy my choice of location."
the other end of the world." Dan frowned.
she nodded, "I do believe that New Zealand is just
the place for you to be right now. Try to relax a little,
no matter how impossible this seems, and enjoy being
on the other side of this big blue planet."
Ma'm, what if anything happens, and what if you need
me to do something, and Vadim. What if
was unable to continue when she leaned forward, shaking
Dan, take a breath. I will keep you updated all the
time. If any developments take place, anything at all,
I will let you know immediately. If you wish, you may
call me daily, but trust me when I tell you, that right
now there is nothing you can do. The KGB has left itself
open for negotiations, and the fact the execution was
not carried out is proof that they are willing to make
a deal. This is my game now, at last, and my
contacts and I will play it well."
smiled, and Dan knew deep down she was right. He was
out of his league, just as he'd been throughout the
entire year. But this time it was less agonising, because
he felt he could leave the job to the experts. Professionals,
just like him, but in a very different field. "You
will keep me updated?"
course, I gave you my word."
guess, that's it, then." Dan tried a smile, confronted
with a small laugh from her.
Dan, don't look so miserable, I am just sending you
for three weeks to New Zealand on R&R. Is that so
cruel of me?"
of course not, Ma'm. No. Thank you." He felt like
a right idiot, trying hard to be grateful, but he was
still so empty and raw inside, unable to muster up any
just smiled at him, leaning back in her chair and looking
up as he gathered the envelope with hotel reservation,
hire car and plane tickets. "Thank you, Ma'm."
are very welcome, my friend."
was then that Dan finally smiled. Friend. Yes.
you for everything."
had reached the door when she called him back, "We
will get him out, Dan."
hand on the door knob, Dan turned his head.