- Finland, 24th December. Christmas Eve
phone call had come in the small hours of the morning.
"Be at the gas station in Vaalimaa tonight",
the Baroness had said, 'he'll be there'.
Dan hadn't asked any questions.
would go anywhere to meet Vadim, no matter where. Back
into hell or across the frozen Afghan mountains on his
own. Or just to the Finnish border. As long as he'd
two years. Twenty-two months and five days since their
last night in Kabul, six-hundred-and-eighty-four days
since Vadim had been taken, and he had nothing but memories
and a string of lapis lazuli beads.
had arrived at the UK embassy in Helsinki four days
previously, and expected to stake out for longer, when
the call had come from Dubai with the reassurance she
would board a plane immediately and was on her way.
hrs, and Dan was standing in the freezing cold, waiting.
They had warned him not to move away from the car and
to stay still until the prisoner had crossed the open
space. Temperature far too many degrees minus, almost
worse than the Afghan mountains. Wrapped in thick clothing,
he climbed out of the car the moment the second vehicle
arrived, while the Baroness remained inside, and so
did the driver. He stood, together with a couple of
agents a few steps away, who had come in a third car,
parked further away. Body shivering in the cold, but
he felt none of it. Nothing mattered but his eyes straining
to see in the darkness, following the moving shadow.
man. One man. Only ever the one.
car stopped. Outside, darkness - and electric light
of a gas station. A truck idled there. Vadim saw the
driver's breath mist. Surrounding it, forest. They'd
driven past icy lakes. Vadim knew the landscape from
a tactical exercise.
car stood there, lights pointing in their direction.
People in heavy coats. Waiting for something. Vadim
felt a sudden tension and it didn't leave him. The car
seemed an extension of the cell. A place that was safe.
Outside only darkness. And light he didn't know how
to deal with.
out already", huffed the driver, and Vadim opened
the door. He swung his feet into the ankle deep snow,
then straightened. Closed the door at the next sharp
stuffed his hands into the pockets of his coat - army
issue, ironically, if he could still feel irony. He
stood there, unsure what it all meant. Not an execution.
Or was it? One of his victims demanding payback? That
was alright, he figured.
other car still stood there, and he forced himself to
walk towards it and whatever it meant.
yards, maybe fifty-five. Open, unprotected space. A
million places for a sniper all around. Vadim expected
to feel the impact of a bullet, every step took him
into a kill zone, and he pulled his head deeper between
his shoulders and simply expected the bullet to hit.
Expecting was better than the fear.
in the beam of the other car's headlights. Seeing almost
moved on, step after step, listening to the too loud
sound of snow, keeping his eyes lowered, but moved towards
the car. He felt nothing. No expectation, no true fear,
the only thing that was real was the cold surrounding
him and biting into his face and ears. He didn't wear
brought him through Leningrad, Vyborg, past Lake Ladoga.
This was Finland. Or the border of it. Winter War. A
tactical disaster. Nothing of that mattered - echoes
of something he'd known as a child.
yards. Vadim looked over his shoulders, but no car window
was open, nothing pointing at him. He turned back to
face the other car. Moving through the snow was hard
work - virgin snow, reaching to his knees in places.
He swerved to the side to get out of the light and move
to the driver's side.
yards away. He stopped, looking at the car.
Dan's voice almost broke, unsure if it even carried
through the freezing night. His hands at his side, clenched
into fists, he could not move, nor think, not even feel.
The knot in his stomach as frozen as his twisted guts.
Twenty-two months and five days. Pain, fear, emptiness,
hatred and numbness, hope and loss, bribery and hope
once more. Almost two years, and Dan barely dared to
try and picture the other's face, as it moved back into
looked up, seeking, for a moment, then saw the tall
figure - looking at him. Dan. Dan McFadyen, SAS, lover,
enemy, everything. Remembered, but only with his mind,
and faint, like aged photographs, emotions. Looked at
the man and knew he'd loved him and knew every hair,
every inflection of the voice, remembered sex and pledges
and thought that there had to be something,
an echo, a deeper, more profound memory, something deep
and powerful and overwhelming, but there wasn't.
knew the man, but he felt nothing. Cauterized.
he said and kept looking at that face, the dark eyes,
long lashes, strong features, and thought he looked
better than he remembered, but still, there was nothing
but a faint wistfulness.
" Dan could do nothing but repeat the name,
finally able to move out of his frozen stance. Not the
cold that had made it impossible to move, but the
what. Uncertainty? Fear, yes, fear that it was all a
dream and that in the end, after almost two years, they
had killed Vadim after all.
he saw the features at last, could make out every line
and angle in that face. Vadim's head shaved, his face
stubbly, looking gaunt. Drawn, haggard, and far too
thin, the weight loss even visible through the thick
greatcoat. Like a survivor, one of them. One
of the few prisoners of war who'd made it out of the
flooding back to him when he saw the too-pale face,
an onslaught of emotions, and he smiled at last, the
sheer overwhelming burst of feelings bubbling up from
deep inside, like a geyser, ready to burst. "Vadim."
Holding his hand out to the other, beckoning, he knew
they were watching and he did not dare to take a step
voice finally broke completely, "Oh fuck, Vadim!"
glanced over his shoulder, but nothing moved in the
other car. He heard the machine start up again. They
were ready to leave. No joke, no trick. Or was it? He
paused again, then moved towards Dan, knew the man would
cover him if anything happened. Noticed the hand, wasn't
sure what to do with it, but moved closer, then again
looked at the other car as it slowly moved across the
snow to turn, the tyres crunching the frost glazed snow.
Then the lights were gone, and it was just this car,
and the gas station. And it was very cold.
is it?" said Vadim, still not comprehending.
kept his hand where it was, for a while longer, then
dropped the arm, untaken. Moving the last step forward,
after a glance at the agents who had been hovering at
the fringes and who nodded. "You are free."
It wasn't enough, though, Dan had to say the name again,
and again. As if giving voice to the name would make
it all true, and would anchor everything in reality.
"Free, Vadim." His arms raised to embrace
the other. "At last, Vadim, at last."
nodded, glanced again over his shoulder, then back into
the face that was suddenly close. He stood still, felt
the embrace that tightened, and raised his arms to close
them around the other's back, greeting him like friends
or family. Human. Touch. Felt suddenly too much, too
close, far closer than anybody had been in a long while,
and he felt his heart pound at the hug. He closed his
eyes, but that was worse, so he stared at the price
sign of the gas station, couldn't make out the numbers,
but could read Markka. Finmark.
seeing you." It was. A sense of relief,
but almost too much. Claustrophobic, couldn't cope with
that emotion anymore. Didn't know what to say. "All
all way from Kabul?"
didn't let go, couldn't read the signs of the stiff
and unmovable body in his arms. Too long, too much,
and he couldn't let go. Not now, not anymore, not ever.
Looking up, he smiled into Vadim's face, breath misting
between them. "No, I have been in Dubai since the
middle of last year." So much time, so much lost.
Saudi Arabia. They'd have to fly there. Another long
way, but at least not Kabul.
are staying at the embassy in Helsinki, only a short
ride away." Dan tried to kiss Vadim, but somehow,
something stopped him the very last moment. Didn't dare
to and couldn't explain why. So fragile. Vadim, alive.
exhaled, knew he should want to kiss, but he didn't
feel a thing, none of the movements meant anything,
no touch, no word, it all rang hollow and unreal.
into the car, it is fucking freezing." Dan was
still smiling, couldn't stop it.
Vadim clung to English, didn't want to speak Russian,
but the other language was unwieldy and soulless. Dan
opened the door for him and he got in, could smell smoke
in here. Dan was a smoker. "Sorry, I'm just tired."
OK. No problem, Vadim." Again the name, Dan could
not get enough of it.
driver had stayed in the car, and so had the grey haired
lady, who was turning in her seat when Vadim got into
the back, with Dan sliding into the warmth beside him.
de Vilde smiled, holding out her hand. "Major Vadim
Petrovich Krasnorada," emphasis on his rank, as
if they had never stripped it off him, "I am honoured
to meet again the man that Dan loves."
was a reaction now, a moment of fear, intense and flashing
across Vadim's brain. Power. The kind of power that
could destroy people. Remembered old fear, embarrassment,
humiliation, and didn't understand why she offered her
hand. He felt trapped, then felt his muscles relax.
No power. No resistance. No struggle. He had no chance
to fight. "I
am honoured, Ma'm." Took
her hand like it was a thing of spikes and poison, forced
himself to hold it and lowered his gaze.
You pride yourself on honour? And isn't that the greatest
of your delusions?
Baroness shook Vadim's hand, but something crossed her
face like a flash, unseen by Dan. She let go of the
large hand quickly, as soon as politeness decreed possible.
"I would like you to meet a few people who have
helped to ensure your freedom." She smiled, "Of
course, no one has done more towards your release than
Dan, but I believe that goes without saying." She
nodded to the driver, who began to move the vehicle.
The chains on the tyres gripping fresh snow, as he carefully
true," Dan interrupted, "without the ambassador's
help, anything I did would have ended up in nothing."
He placed a hand onto Vadim's arm. Just resting, connecting.
"Thank you, Ma'm." Dan smiled and she merely
nodded with a smile of her own.
could only nod. Too much. Too much information, and
too close, the car crammed full of people and each single
one enough to restrict his breath.
was when Dan suddenly remembered, "Are you hungry?
Or thirsty? I am sorry, Vadim, I keep forgetting the
most profound things. I'm just so bloody overwhelmed.
We have some food here, though, and a flask with tea
and one with coffee. Oh, and some water." He couldn't
take his eyes off the other, though, not even when he
peeled his hands out of his gloves or took the hood
from his head, pulling the hat off, and shaking his
dark hair, longer and wilder than ever.
Coffee. Water. Three choices. And Vadim didn't even
know whether he was actually thirsty. Tea. Snow outside
and tea worked. "I
" Looking around,
saw their eyes on him like they expected him to do something,
say something, eyes strangely hungry and demanding and
oppressive. Relax. You have no power whatsoever.
am calling the shots. All you have to do is listen to
me and take in what I tell you, and answer my questions.
swallowed. "Tea, please. Not hungry
think so, no." Looked at her first, as if she would
give an order, then at Dan. Knew something was wrong,
despite the lack inside, the hollow place behind his
brow and inside his chest, and his guts felt frozen
and brittle with dread.
of course." Dan almost spilled the hot liquid over
his hands when he tried to fill the cup. Didn't know
why his hands were trembling, nor why his focus was
shot to shit. "There you go." Staring at Vadim
while handing the flask's cup.
Vadim took it, carefully, and balanced it on his knee.
He changed the grip and lifted it, sipping the hot tea,
hoped that would help, but the sip of tea was like a
stone in his guts.
couldn't take his eyes of Vadim, watching him drink.
Couldn't believe this was true. Vadim was alive, yet
the truth was that he sat right there, next to him.
"Can I touch you?" Suddenly, murmured. Didn't
know why the hell he'd even asked and hadn't just done
it, but the other felt like a stranger.
looked up. Maybe that would break the spell. Maybe it
wouldn't. Too close. But not his decision. Had the feeling
he owed that, had no right to resist because Dan had
every right to. Looked at the lady who had turned back
to face the windscreen and the night, busying herself.
What would she think? What was she thinking? It was
important, somehow, to know that. He looked at Dan.
raised his hand, only his fingertips touching Vadim's
face, stroking gently along the somewhat stubbly cheek
and jaw. His fingers were cool, he had only started
to warm up. "You lost weight, Vadim."
resisted the notion to take the hand and hold it - so
it didn't touch him. It felt awkward and odd and claustrophobic.
Couldn't read the words. Did that mean he looked bad?
Ill? Did Dan criticise? He just couldn't read it, not
the tone, not the touch.
murmured as he smiled, "But you're real."
don't feel real. I feel nothing. Vadim looked at Dan,
and wanted to get out of the car, wanted to move, but
knew he had to endure the feeling of being trapped.
He glanced at the ambassador for any sign of displeasure.
me." And who am I? What's
left of me. "And
you. Your hair is long."
hand moved along the jaw, coming to rest on Vadim's
shoulder. A minute twitch of his eyes, feeling something
something wrong. Something
to feel. "Aye, it's been growing a bit." His
hand sliding off the shoulder, slowly, down the chest
which stopped breathing until the hand came to rest
on one once massive thigh. "You used to like it
long and wild." He smiled, once again refused to
acknowledge a nagging irritation, concentrating on only
one sensation: of Vadim being back. Almost two years,
and he still could not believe it, but his heart was
thawing like glacier ice, the full force of emotions
beneath the turquoise-shimmering surface, waiting to
closed his eyes, tried to escape, but couldn't keep
them closed, couldn't trust a world that was entirely
hostile or wrong or unfamiliar. Alien. Finally connected
the facts. "How
did you do it? How did you
something didn't feel quite right for Dan, but he could
not bear to dwell on it. Of course, it made sense that
Vadim was distant. Almost two years and the Lubyanka
bribes, but mostly diplomatic bitchfighting." He
grinned when the Baroness let out a small cough in the
eyes were immediately on the woman ambassador and another
wave of dread hit him. Wasn't there any way to get out
of this car? "I'm not sure I understand",
he carefully put together, concentrating on the conversation,
trying to find words, and most of all thoughts, but
his mind felt empty and desolate.
quite simple." Dan's hand still resting on Vadim's
thigh, connected-connecting. "We know there was
too much opposition against the KGB from inside the
Soviet Union, and the KGB was too weakened to push through
an execution based on insufficient evidence and a confession
duress." Dan just couldn't
say it. Not that word, not 'torture'. "So, we gathered
the funds to
" he shrugged, "ach well,
you could say 'persuade' the fuckers. The UK had you
long cleared by then and offered asylum, all we needed
to do was discuss the conditions of your release."
Haggling the price, offer and counter-offer, refusal
and hard-arsed fights. The Baroness and her contacts
had had a field day.
you are." Dan nodded and smiled.
was good. He wouldn't be hunted anymore. He could rest.
Vadim was nodding to himself at that thought. Cleared.
Not guilty. Well, guilty, but pardoned. "How much?"
What's the value of the rest of me? Idly curious, not
bitter, nothing, detached, like talking about a painting's
value that he would never be able to afford.
a quarter million." Dan made a joke out of it,
The number was vast. Vadim's mind stumbled over that
amount, couldn't understand how he could possibly be
worth so much, how anybody could demand so much money.
worth every money in the world to me, aye?"
rip-off", murmured Vadim. The interrogator likely
had got a piece of that, but above all, the faceless
men he'd never seen, that just signed and gave orders.
Men who had ordered the interrogator to do what he'd
do you mean?" Dan leaned forward, crossing the
narrow space between them.
face twitched. "Quarter of million pound. That's
" too much. Too much for what's left of me.
The most expensive beef on the market. More than a thousand
pounds per pound of flesh, easily.
than that." Dan shook his head, leaned back in
the seat. "Don't worry, money means nothing. It's
what money can do that has meaning, and you are here,
alive, and free." His hand stroked Vadim's thigh,
the niggling worry soothed by the limousine's quiet
purr as it navigated the winter landscape towards Helsinki,
while the Baroness sat quietly in the front, studying
shuddered, remembered the interrogator who'd sneer at
him, who'd tell him what a disappointment he was, and
what a waste of breath. Just that creeping darkness
inside, crawling, and coiling, and Vadim wanted nothing
but to escape that thought, but he couldn't sleep, couldn't
rest. He stared outside into the snow, the calm landscape
seemed like a good place to be, nothing but darkness
and snow. No people. No expectations.
fell silent, just watching Vadim. Looking, always looking
and touching. Moving closer until his thigh touched
the other's, his hand still on skin-warmed cloth, and
his shoulder against Vadim's. He didn't know what he
wanted, if it was touch, kiss, taste, as much as sex,
but he knew that it was reassurance that kept him close.
That, and the vast amount of emotions that began to
force their way to the surface. He was quiet for a long
time, until he murmured, "I never stopped loving
I did. The thought hit Vadim, and he closed his eyes
again. He just didn't feel anything, but he remembered
what it had been like to feel, and that, now, was the
worst torture. Guilt and loss and utter numbness that
covered everything in oppressive silence. He nodded,
not wanting to speak, unable to either answer as expected,
or feel as expected.
said nothing, once again, just smiled. Giving space,
and giving time. The once impatient youth had turned
into the man who could outwait the Afghan mountains.
If he had to, and if it was worth it.
rest of the drive took place in silence except for the
hum of the engine, until the car began to slow down,
close to a large building with many lights. "We
are here," the Baroness craned her head, nodding.
"Just a small gathering of friends, who have all
helped to get you out, Major. They would like to shake
your hand and welcome you to Britain."
of course." Obligation. Duty. Vadim would do as
ordered, do what she wanted, just couldn't resist anything
now, not even raise objections.
gates opened and Vadim saw the flags and big cars, and
that was the embassy, then. British flag. He left the
car, stood there, looked at her, and then at Dan for
clues. Expected to be ordered to change, make himself
presentable, felt more insecurity when he thought of
all these people. Her friends. Presenting to them what
was left of Major Krasnorada. What an anticlimax, what
stepped close. "Come with me?" Odd, to ask
this as a question, but he felt somehow insecure around
Vadim. This Vadim. The thin man with blond stubble
in his face and shorn head. Smelling of mothballs and
dressed in a loose army coat and scuffed boots.
voice suddenly broke again, and he had to clear his
throat, glancing at the Baroness, who thankfully jumped
into the awkward gap. "Would you like to refresh
yourself, Major?" She smiled, a gloved hand and
fur-coated arm pointed towards the embassy, brightly
lit, the staff waiting. "There are comfortable
looked towards the building and nodded. "Of course."
Confirming an order. Refresh. Shave. Shower. Change?
'Major' sounded wrong. Like she called him 'Prince'
or something else that wasn't part of him. He had no
idea why, was it mockery, he couldn't decide, and didn't
have the strength to ponder it.
moved ahead, kept his gaze lowered, followed Dan who
led the way towards the 'facilities' - and the whole
place reeked money, and class, and prestige, and status.
He felt lost, displaced, wrong, and felt another wave
of nausea and fear. Felt like an impostor, like he deserved
nothing of it, like he was a complete alien and somehow
people fooled themselves about him.
bathroom held clothes and there was a shower and shaving
kit, a far cry from two days ago in prison, being told
to 'clean up'. He needed incredible amounts of concentration
to shave, avoided his own eyes in the mirror. He looked
positively horrible, scared, haunted, deathly pale.
Not even a shadow of himself. He looked like his own
was waiting outside, had changed into a suit. Even though
he still didn't like these things, he'd become part
of the machinery and accepted the material necessities.
Looking at the Baroness when she came towards him. "What
do you think, Ma'm?" He couldn't help it. Insecurity
coiling in his guts, while his heart was about to overflow
with emotions that had dug their way to the surface.
looked up at him, considering, smiling in the end and
patting his arm. "Give him time. This man has just
suffered through almost two years of imprisonment
and much, much worse. Give him time, Dan. Time and space.
As we have talked about."
but it's hard."
nodded, "I understand, but right now you are the
strong one, so it is you who has to take control
of yourself to make it easy on him."
will. I'll do anything, but Vadim is completely distant.
It's as if he didn't even recognise me. I feel like
treading on thin ice around a stranger, while the real
Vadim, the man I know and love, is lurking somewhere
it is so." She smiled a little. "I have arranged
for a very good psychiatrist to meet him. He specialises
in such cases and has worked with the British Legion
and PTSD sufferers. He is, in fact, a medical Officer
in the Forces. I hope he will be able to help with whatever
psychological effects Major Krasnorada suffers from."
She patted Dan's arm once more. "In the meantime,
give him space and time, the love won't vanish suddenly,
or will it?"
Dan shook his head, violently, "it won't. No chance.
Not now and not ever."
then," she smiled, "in that case, I shall
see both of you at the dinner table."
left him standing, and he watched her leave. Deep in
thoughts while waiting for Vadim.
gave himself the most superficial glance in the mirror
as he closed the last button. He looked like jailbait.
Only the tattoos missing. Opening the door when all
he wanted was to return to the shower and let the hot
water run over him. Friends. Meet. Presentation. No
way to run, no escape. Just get through it, on the other
opened the door, saw Dan look up, smiling - look right
at him and Vadim couldn't read the expression on the
other's face. Shock? Irritation? He closed the door
behind him and turned. "I'm ready", he said,
to say anything, just to get through it, do the motions
was just a small gathering - middle aged and old people
in expensive clothes, relaxed and comfortable, still
with an edge of
distance, or something else
and they looked at him with that same mix of expectation
and was it hunger? Disdain for the homeless beggar who
owed them so much.
wanted to turn and run away, allowed people to shake
his hands, felt close to bolting every time somebody
came towards him, smiling, introducing names and faces
that his mind just couldn't process. All the same, one
whirl of expectations and coded messages, he didn't
belong here, it all felt wrong, out of place, like he'd
stepped from the audience onto the stage while a play
was in progress and everybody played along as if that
was part of the script.
could only nod and say words like "Thanks",
and "me, too", and "nice meeting you",
and hoped it would be alright and he didn't disappoint,
didn't invite mockery or shame. Looking at the Ambassador
every now and then who was gracious and steered the
conversation along lines and rules that Vadim didn't
understand but he guessed she made sure everything was
was there, too, at his shoulder, reaching out to touch
his arm, his back, a touch that seemed awkward as well,
and full of something that burnt like acid. Vadim remembered
sex, but it seemed far away, like he somehow shared
the memory of a different body, and kissing or holding
was a bizarre thought after
a predator, nothing else. You are incapable of any gentle
emotion. For you, it's breaking and taking, or being
broken and being taken. You do not understand anything
else but brutality, and thus the only thing you can
do is brutalise and being brutalised
and was he looking forward to living in Britain, asked
somebody, and Vadim blinked, losing something vital
for a moment, and nodded, shook his head, said "forgive
me" and moved away, turned, saw Dan follow and
didn't want him to be close because
you are not human. You're deluding yourself, but you
are not human and have no right to the company of humans
because you are nothing but an animal on the prowl,
rabid, and awaiting to be shot like you deserve
Dan looked at him with that hope and
it was, but it made everything worse, because he just.
had carried the bags to the taxi, the suite had been
booked. Vadim only signed the paper, wrote his first
name in Cyrillic, then stopped, paused, crossed the
name out, then wrote it in Latin. English transcription.
Received the keys and then up to the suite, while Dan
didn't talk much, just smiled at him, lingering as if
waiting for something, but Vadim didn't have an answer.
He wanted to rest, sleep, just escape.
suite offered every comfort - it was huge, there was
a lot of space, two bedrooms, a shared area. Far more
space than Vadim was used to, he chose the first bedroom,
same size as the other. Dan didn't bring it up, just
put his bag into the other room and told him if he needed
Vadim again couldn't read the tone or
expression, thanked him, glad to have escaped all the
people and all the scrutiny, and that without screaming
or collapsing. He felt he couldn't trust himself or
his reactions anymore.
took another shower, then went to bed, kept a light
burning on the nightstand, heard the toilet flush a
little later and Dan's footsteps outside. Vadim stared
at the door, expected it to open, expected the guards
to come back and beat him up and there was another wave
the fear subsided, there was only. Emptiness. Worse.
He felt like they had scraped him clean inside, reached
inside and had removed all the tissue that kept him
together. He had been moving, felt like lead and mud,
brittle and heavy, and didn't know where to go.
hurt to wait here and know about the other, hear him,
even, and feel the one thing that he hadn't been prepared
to feel. Emptiness. He knew in theory what to feel and
maybe even how, but there was nothing. He couldn't even
mourn it. Like he had used up all those feelings by
just remembering them. He'd seen all those things in
Dan's eyes, the hope, the joy to see him, and that was
worse than being kicked in the teeth. Couldn't share
it. Knew he should, but nothing moved. Felt like he
had lost both legs and tried to walk in his sleep.
were strangers now. To return just to realize that.
Twenty-two months. They had gone through so much, and
these twenty-two months had unmade him. And he couldn't
just pretend to enjoy the kindness or the generosity.
They scared him, like walking into another prison, lifelong
obligation that he was expected to feel. Expected to
succeed. As always. Somebody told him what was expected,
and he had to succeed.
Couldn't look at Dan, couldn't meet his eyes, and felt
like he was dead. At least, if he had been, Dan would
just mourn him and get on with life. If the KGB had
been merciful. If. When. Had been. Could have been.
Vadim couldn't rest, got dressed again in the old clothes
and the coat, only to take in the cold outside and sober
up his mind.
the night air crept in. He felt like bronze, metal,
a statue. Empty. He began walking, tried to get back
into whatever it was that was him by walking. He was
on the next road, three hours later, when he realized
he was cold and he had no idea where he was heading.
Didn't even think about turning back.
was there, somewhere. Gone.
headed on, trudged along a road, until, in the early
morning, a truck moved closer. The driver stopped, offered
him a lift. Vadim didn't speak a word of Finnish, didn't
try Russian, didn't try English, gave him a grateful
nod without feeling gratitude. Got off the truck just
before the Swedish border. No papers.
the borders out in the forest, cold and desolate, snow
blue in the moonlight, shadows darker blue. Found another
truck, hitched another ride. They were friendly people,
those truckers. They listened to late night radio, offered
him something to eat. He didn't speak Swedish, either.
walked off into the forest at one of gas stations, followed
a dirt road as he crossed it.
was very cold by then, welcomed the pain in his fingers
and toes, told him there was still something. Something
basic. On the outside. Was very tired and very cold
and thought about spring and whether they would ever
find him. Stumbled across some low fence, got up again,
saw a frozen lake in the distance, dark blue ice, saw,
nestled against the dark trees, a bungalow.
It didn't take much to open the door. The frame splintered
in the cold, the only sound apart from his chattering
teeth. Small place. He brought snow in, it was no warmer
inside. Deserted. A couch. TV. Small kitchen. Small
bedroom. Somebody's hideaway, a weekend dacha. He closed
the door again, leaned an umbrella stand against it.
Cold. Found the light switch. Nothing. Found the main
fuse, switched it. Started the heating. Was cold. The
bed. Staggering towards the bed, too cold to fall asleep,
too tired to stay awake.
only then, checked out the place. He could leave. Made
sure he could leave. The building was wood, lost heat
faster than a cooling corpse. Found the gas stove, made
tea, sitting in somebody else's tiny kitchen, slumped
on the bench, drank from somebody else's chipped mug.
Saw the mugs hanging from a wooden rack. Mickey Mouse.
Roses. A family.
some more, awoke scared and weak with hunger. Found
rice, cooked rice. Tinned tuna. Ate both with his fingers.
wouldn't get properly warm. Better than the cell.
again, slept as long as he could, lay in somebody else's
bed and stared at the ceiling. Wanted vodka. Wanted
anything, anything but what he had.
he couldn't be human, at least he could be an animal,
concerned only with shelter, food, and sleep.
- Helsinki, 24th-25th December
wanna ... wanna shpeak to the Baronesh. Ish Dan. Dan
McFadyen." Added, remembering her world knew manners,
"Please. I know ish Chrishmas, but ish important."
miracle, they seemed to get her. Perhaps his name carried
a meaning he was not aware of at this moment in time.
Finally hearing the click of the phone.
Before she acknowledged the call.
Dan, why do you call?" Her voice as pristine as
ever, familiar sounds, stability. Unlike the vodka,
which only offered him tears. Too much like the Russian.
do you need shomeone to guard you? Shomewhere
bad? Dangerous? I need to get out of here." He
tried to stop slurring his words, to get his act together,
but the empty bottle on the floor too much of a foe
why do you ask?" Slightly alarmed her voice, but
he failed to notice. Failed to answer, in fact, held
the phone, stared at the wall.
never felt so empty in all his life. Alone. Even emptier
than death had been.
A minute had passed, her voice became urgent. "Dan,
speak to me. What is wrong?"
vision returned in increments. Wall, to table, to floor,
to bottle, to hand.
gone." Empty, dejected.
What do you mean? Dan, you have to explain this to me."
clung to her voice, the unwavering constant. He'd had
just a few hours. Hopes and wishes, all of them had
come true. Almost two years of fighting, never resigning.
Then at last, at long last. How Vadim had stepped out
of the car. Snow breaking-sliding beneath his boots.
never forgotten the eyes. Pale. Ice. Sometimes dark
as a frozen lake, beckoning closer, daring to cross
the thin surface. And he'd always accepted the challenge.
should understand. There was only one, just one who
could have come - and gone.
Her voice again, he'd almost forgotten the line was
still open. "Dan, I send you my driver. You just
wait there. He will pick you up in fifteen minutes."
click, and the line went dead. He put the phone down,
stared at his calloused hand. The good one.
fucking Christmas, Dan.
it was the vodka that made him cry.
- Helsinki, 25th December. Christmas Day
world did not look any better on Christmas day morning.
Dan woke curled up on the couch in one of the visitor
rooms in the embassy, and someone had placed a blanket
over him. A crystal carafe with water and a fine glass
stood on a mahogany table beside him on an inlaid tray,
together with a packet of tablets that looked like alka
seltzer and aspirin.
tried to sit up, groaned, his head was pounding like
a whorehouse on a Saturday night. Clutching his forehead,
he managed to get vertical, stabilising himself for
a moment. Peered at the tablets, didn't give a damn
what they were as long as they provided some relief.
three words hammering through his mind. Worse than the
headache, more debilitating than any hangover. Dan reached
for water and pills, popped a handful, washed them down
with the water. He wiped his hand across his face, tried
to brush away a moment of acute embarrassment, remembering
tears, crying in front of her, he had been unable to
stop it. Shit. Couldn't be helped. Pushed the memory
closed his eyes, listened to the pounding in his head,
at least it told him he was alive. Everything else empty,
numb and terrifyingly lost. He'd stepped across the
threshold of pain, even Vadim's hour of execution and
the bitch's blackmail seemed to pale. He hadn't learned
how to cope with such hurt and its magnitude was overwhelming.
So he shut off, forced everything down, and locked away
any feeling. Better to be dead inside.
was sitting with his head in his hands, blanket half
thrown onto the floor, when a knock on the door disturbed
his abject misery. The door opened after a moment, he
could hear heels clicking across the parquet, coming
closer, until they stopped right in front of him. He
knew who it was before he even looked up.
believe you could do with a strong coffee." Baroness
de Vilde sounded just as ever. Nothing seemed to perturb
the precise consonants and elongated vowels.
took the bone china cup from her hands, tried to smile
his thanks, failed, gave up pitifully. Too empty. "Thanks,
Vadim was gone.
coffee was black, strong and overly sweet, just as he
liked it. Funny how this upper-class lady had turned
into the closest to a friend he had ever had.
drank the first few sips in silence, while she pulled
one of the lounge chairs close. Sat down and watched
him patiently. As ever pristine and elegantly dressed.
Impossible to imagine her with her feathers ruffled.
looked at her; the scruffy, worn-out soldier with fucked-up
body - and the grey-haired lady, epitome of British
peerage and perfection. His gaze transfixed on her hair,
as stiffly coiffed as always, wearing the grey helmet
of superiority with inimitable style. The corner of
his mouth twitched, but then he remembered seeing her
once in disarray. He'd never found out what she had
been shouting before his body succumbed to agony and
met his gaze with unwavering calm. "Dan, are you
still adamant to be put to work in the most dangerous
place I can find?"
took his time, waited until the mortar attack in his
head subsided, before carefully nodding.
hands folded in her lap, she nodded, a simple gesture.
"I thought you would." She smiled briefly,
tinged with an odd melancholy. "I have never known
you to waver once you have made a decision. However,
I do feel I have to enquire about the wisdom of your
can't Ma'm." He tried to shake his head, aborted
the movement when a wave of nausea rolled over him.
can't what, Dan? Please explain."
can't stay here, can't go on. I tried to explain last
night but I guess I was too drunk." Dan dropped
his aching head into his hands, staring straight ahead
onto the floor, while she waited, patiently.
Lifting his head gingerly after a long silence, "I
can't even explain what is happening inside of me. Don't
know if there is more hurt or pain, or fear, or anger,
or if there is simply absolutely nothing."
still just listened, her intelligent eyes resting with
a gentle expression on Dan's weary appearance.
there is just nothing. Nothing at all."
Dan's gaze slid off her face, until it dropped onto
the ring in her lap. The engagement ring. Love lost,
never found. Perhaps she would understand? "I can't
go on. I haven't got the strength anymore." He
murmured, never lifting his eyes. "Not right now."
nodded gently, leaning forward to place her finely manicured
hand onto his own that had been lying forlorn on his
knee. This time he turned his hand and simply took hers.
Holding those elegant fingers in his own calloused ones,
and taking strength from the touch.
could search for him for you, I would find him."
She said very quietly after a long while, but he knew
from her voice that she was as aware of his answer as
Please don't." Dan finally lifted his head, still
holding her hand, just for a little while longer. "I
can't. I can't do this again. I just can't." The
sense of utter defeat permeated his being: body and
mind, and every thought he was still capable of.
understand." And he knew that she did. Knew from
her slight nod, her strangely sad smile, and the way
she squeezed his hand before letting go of it. "I
have already made some enquiries and I can assure you
that there are places where your expertise will be more
than welcome, and the financial reward is substantial."
shook his head slightly, carefully. He was not interested
in money, could not care less. Just away, away from
there, even if it meant leaving the only true friend
he had ever had. Yet the prospect of active duty, of
living on the edge once more, gave him something other
than the empty abyss inside. He felt himself pulled
towards a purpose that promised more than just bottles
of booze and a sad excuse for an ex soldier who had
got fucked over by the world and resented its existence.
you, Ma'm. I knew I could count on you." He meant
it. Meant more than the words seemed to convey, but
brings forth loyalty in return." She smiled, alluding
to a day, almost three years ago.
was just doing my job, Ma'm", Dan replied, his
nod being the equally standard reply - they both knew,
a wordless understanding.
emptied the coffee, ignored the churning in his bowels
and the creeping sickness that accompanied the hangover.
are you looking to relocate, Dan?" Returning to
the focus of their conversation, she held out her hand
for the empty cup.
handed it to her, did not hesitate a moment with his
answer. "As soon as possible. I cannot bear to
be here any longer."
I understand," and once again he knew that she
did. "I will arrange for you to be on a plane before
the New Year." She stood up, smoothed her skirt.
"I was told that Iraq is the most dangerous place
to be in 1990." Adding, quietly, "If this
is what you want."
Ma'm. It is where I need to be."
nodded, her expression inscrutable as she turned, but
stopped, slowly retraced her steps and for a moment
her carefully guarded features changed into the concerned
face of a friend
don't get yourself killed, Dan."
looked up and nodded, a silent promise. No suicidal
missions born out of desperation.
he could help it.
- Sweden, 27th December
bright light in his eyes. Vadim awoke startled, squinting
against the light that made him remember harsh words
and a faceless silhouette, the interrogation room. He
rolled to the side, fell onto his knees, heard somebody
speak, startled, moved away. He was breathing hard,
body forced into a reaction it hardly remembered how
was cold, cold and hungry and felt like a bear prodded
from the cave. Not awake, couldn't react while the stress
pounded in his ears. Felt helpless. His hands were untied.
He could move, could stretch, could stand up.
said something, the torch was lowered, and he saw two
men stand in his camp, looking around with obvious distaste.
It was cold inside, cold enough for their breath to
mist in the room. Uniforms. Young, fresh faces.
said something. He didn't understand, just looked at
him, the one with the torch. The question was repeated,
the one behind the first one - they must be police,
thought Vadim - said something and unbuttoned the leather
holster, all obvious for him. Vadim knew that language.
The other cop asked something, then took handcuffs from
his belt. He was taken into custody. Again. Vadim looked
at the gun, saw how the cop saw that glance and pulled
the weapon. Taking no risks.
stood up, slowly, the one with the torch stepped up,
indicated for him to turn around, Vadim did, a hand
between his shoulder blades pushed him to the wall,
insistent. They took his wrists and closed the cool
metal around them. He was patted down, the coat, the
trousers, they even checked the boots and his collar.
Paused in between, and Vadim detected disgust. Not smelling
too good. No emotion.
was marched outside, through the blue snow. The lake
glistened with ice. He was hungry. Hungry and cold.
made him get into a car. It was warm. The radio was
on. An English song. It sounded fast. 'Cold on a mission
so fall on back. Let 'em know that you're too much.
And this is a beat uh you can't touch'.
But those were words he understood. He leaned against
the door and went back to half-sleep, not giving a fuck
about anything. He just didn't have the strength even
to wonder. He assumed they'd take him deeper into the
forest and shoot him there.
car stopped on a cobbled market place. A huge Christmas
tree right in the middle. They made him get out, brought
him inside a warm, brightly lit building.
squinted, smelled coffee, saw a few cops look up. The
two men who had brought him in said something, jokingly,
brought him through. One made a phone call, the other
sat him down on a wooden bench and took the cuffs off.
Offered him a plastic cup with coffee, almost in an
afterthought. Vadim took it, warmed his hands, realized
from the way the liquid burned just how cold he was.
cop spoke to him again. He didn't understand the language.
Not that he wanted to. He didn't care. They could shoot
him already. The cop shook his head, asked something
over his shoulder, the other policeman was still speaking
on the phone, and answered. He tried a weak smile, but
Vadim could see he was slightly flustered. Tried a different
language. Nothing. Vadim looked up, then dropped his
gaze. It took too much concentration. He didn't care.
marched him into a cell and there was a flutter of panic
at the tiles and the bunk that was bolted to the wall
and the floor. Vadim didn't like the look of the tiles.
He breathed hard, felt his body react, knew it made
no difference. Knew it made no difference if he was
afraid or not. No power. They could make him yield.
All he did was invite pain.
cop looked at him, and Vadim saw something strange in
the man's face. He was in his early twenties, blonde
hair, almost translucent hair and lashes. Vadim shook
his head. "Nyet." The closest he could get
to asking for mercy.
policeman shouted something down the corridor, and two
more cops arrived. Vadim thought they would force him
in, beat him into submission. So much for daring to
resist. He stepped in, tried to undo the damage. Hoped
they'd see he complied.
they just stood around him, as if regarding an exotic
animal hauled in from the forest. One had a small book
and leaved through it, tried out the sounds in there
... Russian?" In Russian. Vadim looked up, saw
the strange little parade of uniformed men trying to
talk to him. Couldn't quite get why. Why they bothered.
said something, and one of the cops bolted towards the
door. Vadim looked after him. Wished they would shut
the door and forget about him.
didn't. Eventually, a bearded man with glasses showed
up, accompanied by the cop who had left. Vadim suspected
they were bored out of their skulls that they lingered
around. This place did seem very peaceful.
evening", said the man, in Russian. Hardly an accent.
"I'm the local Russian teacher."
understand you are Russian?"
don't understand, thought Vadim. He sat down on the
policemen need to take your personal details",
said the teacher, and he was being polite.
teacher looked confused, then seemed surprised, unpleasantly
surprised. Said something to the cops, who seemed to
cool towards him. Something like: He is a soldier.
are you doing here? Did you run away? Are you a convict?"
He talked to the cops again, nodded. "Listen, Vadim.
Do you understand what I am saying?"
looked up. "Tired", he said.
too. He wanted to lie down and sleep.
should wash and have new clothes", said the teacher.
"They also want to have the doctor have a look
at you. Come. You can sleep later." Talking as
if to a child.
thought that doing what he was told was easier than
resisting. They brought him to another tiled room, and
again that tightness in his chest, the thought that
it would be easy to wash blood away here. Took off his
coat, undressed. He couldn't remember when he had been
naked the last time. Had been much too cold. Had needed
all the blankets and the mattress to insulate.
cop said something as Vadim pulled the jumper over his
head. Dropped it. Didn't have enough focus to fold it.
He didn't think they'd allow him to keep the clothes.
The teacher nodded, then looked at him. "He says
he might have something that fits, but only barely."
Vadim took the shirt off as well, bowed down to open
the boots, let his body do this. It remembered how to
do this. Took less effort. Don't think.
down his trousers, his pants. He was thin he realized
as he opened the belt. The cop gave him some kind of
shower gel, started the water for him. Both left the
room. Vadim stood under the hot water and let it run
down his body. Felt something creep to the surface,
something he didn't want. Forced himself to wash, noticed
the grime under his fingernails, the stickiness on his
body. Washed away. He should make use of the water while
was much warmer than he had expected, and he began to
sweat, felt his heart pound. Felt a shadow of something
large move under the surface. Water. Heat.
nobody came to summon him, he eventually stopped. Saw
his toes, which looked half frozen. Fingers swollen
and discoloured. The wrists. Raw. Swollen. The cold
had been pretty bad.
the towel. It smelled fresh. Dried himself. Kept the
damp towel in front of his body. Remembered he loved
the shower. Loved water. Somebody knocked on the door.
That courtesy was ridiculous. Vadim had no strength
Russian teacher again, and the cop. The latter said
something, nodding approval. The teacher seemed to wonder
whether to translate, then let it be. They gave him
pants and trousers, all too wide, but the length was
right, the jeans comfortable, frayed, soft and firm.
A jumper, knitted, colourful. Vadim was suddenly warm.
He even sweated. Socks. Military surplus.
brought him back into the cell and there was another
man. The doctor, the teacher explained. The whole village
bourgeoisie was there. Vadim did not resist, was prodded,
the man checked on his toes and fingers - he'd keep
them, the Russian teacher said, but it was damned close.
a sharp intake of breath as the doctor was placing the
stethoscope on his back. Said something.
teacher cleared his throat. Said the word. Pizda. Cunt.
talked amongst themselves, then the teacher asked: "Were
shrugged. What did it matter. He waited, breathed as
he was told, then the doctor nodded, said something.
The teacher smiled. "He says you should be alright,
just a bronchitis. Nothing he can do about the rest."
They talked, the doctor left. Vadim sat down heavily
on his bunk, pulled the jumper back over his body.
The KGB had liked that. He shuddered.
you alright?" asked the teacher.
didn't look up. Feared he would see the bars at the
iron door. Wanted to see nothing.
are here for breaking and entering. They thought you
vandalizing. Then they thought you were
a tramp. Well, technically, you are a tramp." The
teacher tried to meet his gaze.
turned his head away. "I don't care about going
to prison." As long as they don't hit me. As long
as I am not alone. It is so difficult to think when
nobody's there. But these people talked an awful lot.
teacher seemed flustered. "They are getting in
touch with the embassy. They should pick you up."
all for nothing. Vadim nodded. He'd almost frozen to
death, he was better off locked away somewhere. Anywhere.
Whatever. He was tired, pulled his legs up on the bunk,
reached for the folded blanket. Heavy wool. Lay down
and turned to face the tiled wall. Felt a shudder run
through his body. The memory of being cold. They would
come and pick him up. They had broken him, and shown
him he could never get up and walk again. Never walk
away. He just didn't have the strength. Not a bone left
in his body.
closed his eyes. Sleep. So tired.
door opened and the cop came in. He kept checking on
him, mostly when Vadim had convinced himself that the
world consisted of this cell and found a strange consolation
in that fact. He could forget about the world outside.
There was a toilet, there was food, and he wasn't cold.
Heaven was a place without pain.
knew by now that the word that people used for this
man was his name. Manke. The young guy who had found
him. Had handcuffed him. Something about that should
trigger something inside, a kind of humour, but Vadim
didn't feel it. He glanced up.
leaned against the wall. Keys on his belt.
to attack him, take the keys and escape. The man carried
enough things to be able to survive. A gun. Keys. A
torch. Radio. This police station had enough to ensure
survival. Bash his face in, take the stuff, run away.
He could even take him hostage.
least he hadn't brought the teacher this time. Manke
talked with hands and feet, and Vadim understood the
basics. His Pushtu and Dari had never progressed beyond
studied him, then shook his head. "Do you speak
English? Maybe a little?"
looked up, and saw that Manke interpreted that as a
have a problem", the cop said. "You don't
exist." He paused, as if waiting for a reaction,
but Vadim merely looked at him. "We got in touch
with your people. The Soviet
uhm, Russian embassy.
It's all a bit of a mess at the moment. But they never
heard of you."
opened his lips, then shook his head and lowered his
gaze. That was it. They had kicked him out for good
and forgotten he had ever existed. Worse than a traitor,
worse than a deserter, and worse than death. It should
hurt, but it didn't. They had wiped their hands off
the boss sent me to ask you your real name."
Vadim felt his shoulders tense, couldn't breathe for
a long moment. He had been a fool to expect that to
stop. He was in their hands, they wouldn't let him go
it's funny you gave your rank and number." The
cop smiled. "Why should you make up a number? That's
the part that doesn't fit. I mean, ex-majors that get
here for breaking and entering. If you were insane,
you'd be the General Secretary. If you wanted to keep
a low profile, why give a rank at all?" Manke shook
his head again. "You wouldn't want to look like
a deserter. No, you are ex-military. And that is where
you have the scars from."
looked up. The reasoning was simple, straightforward,
and betrayed much more common sense than he had encountered
we need to confirm your identity. Any pointers?"
raised his eyebrows, finally hearing him speak. "You
did some substantial damage in that place, like breaking
the door. We are in touch with the owners, and they
should be returning in a week. They are in Sicily, catching
some sun." He shook his head. "Granted, it
kept you from freezing to death."
fault me that, huh?"
laughed. "Are you Vadim Krasnorada? Seriously.
Is that your name? Are you Russian?"
question and answers thing almost became a game. There
had been times when he would have answered something
like "Do I sound like a fucking Ukrainian",
but the time for that kind of joke was over. He just
looked at the man.
I'll call that a 'yes'." Manke nodded. "I
will find out who you are, Major. You are not a ghost.
People leave tracks."
- Sweden, 31st December. New Year
police station was nearly deserted, apart from Manke.
Nobody else in the cells.
this kind of place, they didn't keep drunks in the cells
for long. They were admonished, fined, then they drove
them home. This town dealt with crime by slapping offenders
on the wrist, because there was nothing serious to deal
with. Vadim realized why he had caused a minor sensation
when they caught him. All other offenders seemed to
be neighbours that had had a bad day. And were treated
exactly like neighbours. He wasn't.
was just measuring coffee powder into a filter. Vadim
preferred the smell to the taste, but coffee was always
something one could warm the hands on. Paperwork on
Manke's desk. Nothing that seemed to be connected to
him. Missing people reports, yes, but the one he could
see was about a teenage girl with braces and a ponytail
high up on her head that failed very much to look sassy.
sat down in front of the desk. The calendar, 31st. December,
New Year's Eve in 1990. Everything was falling apart.
Had been for years. He shook his head.
though you seem to like it in your cell, I'm a little
lonely", said the cop, shut the coffee machine
and flicked the switch. It began to make gargling noises.
"You mind being company?"
shrugged. "Do you have food?"
nodded. "Some pizza. Yogurt in the fridge. Uhm.
Beef jerky somewhere in the desk."
nodded. "Will do."
prepped two mugs with tourist motifs with milk and sugar
and sat down. Vadim suspected he had got the New Year's
shift because he had no family or didn't mind.
spent quite a bit of time in the library", said
Manke suddenly. "You know, old-fashioned investigation."
He reached behind himself and dropped a folder on his
desk. Vadim looked up, but didn't touch it. "Not
easy. Did you get kicked out because you threatened
to kill him?"
Maybe. He could feel the old anger stir again.
Onishchenko won a silver medal in modern pentathlon,
'72 in Munich." Manke shook his head. "Not
exactly Olympic spirit."
tried to force it", said Vadim. "Guess coach
knew. But we were on fifth position, and
expected to bring medal." I was desperate to get
a medal, too. I wanted all the work to pay off. He shook
his head. Strange that those thoughts were still there.
After all those years. One shot at glory, and then disqualified
for cheating, sent home.
said Vadim. Dan's people. Call that fucking irony.
must have hurt."
than being shot."
looked as if he had somehow forgotten to gloat about
the fact he had solved the riddle. As if that disgrace,
that humiliation was somehow stronger than the intellectual
victory. Then again, he didn't look like he had gloating
wasn't ready before that", said Vadim, kept looking
at the folder and knew it held photocopies of what Manke
had found. The whole sordid story of a bunch of model
athletes that had been sent packing because they had
acted as if the Olympic spirit was a myth. Winning at
all cost. The Olympics, the Cold War, fucking Afghanistan.
Victory was expected, punishment for failure imminent.
A matter of national pride. "And I never got ready
again after that."
could have sent you to Moscow. That's where you were
shook his head. "That was it. Last one."
leaned back, regarded him. "Do you think you could
inhaled, thought of what the masseur had said. He could
win. Of course. Never impossible, not because of any
of his flaws. It was luck, in the end, blind chance.
He only regretted he hadn't killed the cheater. That
was a worse regret than not getting a chance to at least
try for the medal. He didn't want to answer that question.
It touched too many things. "I'll never find out."
got up again and poured steaming coffee into the mugs,
put both down in the middle of the desk. "An Olympic
athlete. I figured you were some kind of swimmer, but
that takes the biscuit." He gave a laugh that seemed
not at all mocking.
that strange. Lots of", spetsnaz, "paras are
top athletes. Comes with job." And how they had
gloated how easy it was, in the teeth of the Cold War,
to send dozens of trained killers into the enemy's capitals
and get a feel for the places. Just in case they had
to spearhead the invasion. He remembered the questions
by journalists, about his lieutenant rank. They must
have assumed he wore that like some kind of honours
degree. Krasnorada was too pretty to be evil.
nodded. "I was thinking. Why does the embassy no
longer remember you?"
stared into his coffee. Thought he wanted to return
to his cell, or attack this man, take what he could
use and be on his way. The only thing that kept him
from it was that he had no idea where he should go.
It was warm here. He didn't say anything.
First things first. You're in trouble with the law.
I figure I can talk to people, and tell them that they
stand to gain nothing if they press charges. It's not
like you carry a lot of valuables on you. I happen to
know the family, it's a small town. If you're willing
to make a gesture, help with some work, I figure we
could fix this without getting too much law involved.
Because you will not come out on top, Vadim."
law doesn't like people without states. You're as illegally
here as you could be. I guess the embassy doesn't remember
you because they just don't want you back. For whatever
Vadim swallowed hot coffee.
You're a veteran of that war? Did it do something to
your mind? And they threw you on the trash pile, age
forty-one, with no help? Just forgot about you?"
He shook his head. "Shit. That's nasty even by
strength to correct Manke. Close enough. All the other
things made matters only too complicated. Didn't have
to tell him about the crimes, the cleansing, the despair
of the last few years. He had never felt any of those.
It was like he had read about them. None of that was
him. "Let me go. I will just vanish."
shook his head. "You're not Swedish, but I can't
just let you walk out. Without papers, you can't do
any legal work. And how would you feed yourself? Begging?"
inhaled. "Just let me go."
stood, came around his desk, fast movements, much faster
than he had moved before. Vadim's knuckles turned white
as he moved his head to the side. Minimize damage.
stopped. "What the fuck
did they do to you?"
He crouched, seemed to want to reach for Vadim's hand,
but Vadim knew he'd hit him, only to not be touched.
Couldn't stand touch. Rather be hit in the face. "Don't."
raised his hands. "Not touching." He stood
up and pulled back for a few steps, sat on the corner
of his desk. "I'll be in touch with the family.
I'll sort this out. My good deed of the week. Fresh
air and a little work might be actually good for you,
nothing like it to sort your mind out." He sat
back down and looked at the clock on the wall. "And
have a good 1991."
- Kuwait, 31st December. New Year
had climbed into the Herc like a child returning to
the womb. Knew and relished the comfort of familiar
discomfort. Five hours, now, sitting in a cacophony
of engine noise, amidst grey plastic along ceilings
and walls, interspersed with various wiring sheathing
and the odd bit of masking tape. Disconcerting for a
new recruit, comforting for a disillusioned ex-soldier.
been lucky, she'd got him onto the next possible flight
out to Baghdad, on the thirty-first of December, with
nothing but a payload of passengers. Temporary seating
of aluminium framework and red webbing was put in position,
running along the outside and down the central spine
to form four loose rows. Uncanny resemblance to the
inside of a very long Landrover - mega-wheel base. Basic,
but functional. The kind of barren environment that
soothed the emptiness of Dan's agonized mind.
luggage of large bergan and a sports bag with additional
necessities like the vitamin pills and extra nutrients
that he needed for his fucked-up guts, packed on pallets
with rope netting stretched over it, at the back, near
the rear doors of the plane. Out of sight - out of mind.
All he had taken with him was the additional equipment
he'd bought in a military surplus and outdoor shop:
new shades, boots, socks and survival equipment. He'd
left everything else behind, anything connected with
his life before Christmas Eve, even the string of lapis
lazuli beads. The Baroness had said she'd keep them
safe, but he'd told her to bin the trash.
bear the memories, had been tortured by them for nearly
two years, had finally signed his confession.
noise was getting worse the closer they got to the Gulf,
or perhaps it was just his imagination. Dan had tried
to get some sleep, climbing on piles of cargo and rolling
up in his sleeping bag to keep warm, but the thoughts
wouldn't let him. He'd squashed up the yellow ear defenders
and pushed them inside his ear, nodding to the loadmaster
before climbing into his sleeping bag, but even the
familiarity of noise and smell, company of younger soldiers
and hard-assed mercs, hadn't helped to fight the never
ending cycle of questions for which he had no answer.
Round and round in a carousel of pain, the why? and
the where? and the when? and back to the why? again.
couldn't even throw himself into he next suicide mission.
As much as that was against his natural survival instinct,
right now it would beat the endless emptiness and numbing
pain, but he'd given his word. Bloody clever bitch,
that Baroness, she knew him better than he did himself.
Wouldn't get himself killed, but hell, he'd get himself
at least into trouble, to feel anything at all.
loadmaster issued orders, seemed it was time to land,
a quick piss in the bucket before getting to those makeshift
seats, and the plane descended towards Baghdad.
if enemy missiles hit their target while they were circling
down towards the ground? So what. Dan felt nothing.
Tough shit. Occupational hazard. He'd be dead, couldn't
be deader than right now. Impossible superlative of
Herc touched down, vomiting its human load into the
desert. British soldiers, some close security and a
handful of insane fuckers like himself. Dan grabbed
his bergan, strapped it onto his back and snatched the
extra bag. Pushed the shades back over his eyes and
stepped into the glaring sun that caught in the silver
streaks of his hair. An old fucker who was out there
to lose himself in the danger.
fucking New Year, Dan McFadyen."
- Sweden, March
helped with some work when the weather improved. Couldn't
do much at first, tired out too fast, sweating in the
forest, clearing out trees that would be dug up in spring,
chainsaw, axes, piling the wood up. He worked to not
think, with a man and his two cousins, young and very
Manke had told them his mind was broken, they were careful
around him, nobody ever approached from behind or patted
him on the shoulder, instead communication was mostly
hand signs and short orders in Swedish that Vadim learned
to understand. Good food, fresh, much better than what
he had eaten. His appetite returned with his strength,
still the weakest of the bunch, runt of the litter,
and he needed more rest, but it was good to only deal
with logs, to see those guys fool around, having fun
that was not dark at all, just young people joking and
came to visit every now and then, they talked in Swedish
and Vadim felt this strange hope he could just stay,
work in the forest, no people but the men he worked
with, no talk, no thought. But several weeks later,
the piece of forest was cleared, and there was a small
celebration which involved 'oel' - that was beer - and
morning in March, Manke showed up again, in his patrol
car, like he had sometimes brought him clothes, probably
asking around for jumpers and trousers and boots and
underwear, and, small town, had received some used,
but sound stuff. "He says you're a good worker",
said Manke and had a walk around the clearing, breath
misting in front of his face, but Spring made its advance
known. The air smelled differently. The days grew longer.
"And you look much better, too. Putting some muscle
back on, eh?" He paused, but Vadim didn't respond.
"Charges dropped. You're still illegal, or we would
just keep you around. Any chance you could apply for
political asylum? Learn the language
don't want that", said Vadim.
why not? We'd find you something to do."
did you do, Vadim?" Manke turned to face him. "I
can just taste you're guilty of something, but you don't
look like a criminal. Just don't make sense to me, and
I'm a cop, I don't like that."
Dishonourable discharge. Conduct unbecoming."
are pretty words for something that's less pretty, huh?"
inhaled. "I can't remember. It was bad."
shook his head. "If I let you go
you could have walked away often enough, but now it's
as official as we can make it. What are you going to
considered that. Crime. He didn't want to do any of
that stuff here, robbing and killing. Options, but he
didn't want to disappoint the cop. He had considered
joining one of the big tankers, he'd go further down
the coast, find a way to get to the big harbours, Riga,
Rotterdam, be just a pair of hands. They might not care
about papers. Might end up in the tropics, vanish, nameless
like an animal, somewhere. Anywhere. Didn't have the
determination to follow through with that.
considered a bullet, but it was too good a feeling to
lift logs and stand there in the snowy forest, feeling
breath flow freely. As long as he could feel that -
as little as it was - he didn't want to end it. Didn't
have a gun, and didn't like the idea of cutting or hanging.
He wanted to make sure it worked.
Maybe that. If that was the final option. There had
to be ways to get a gun. Find a remote place, leave
even the last people behind, and do it when nobody would
miss him. Nobody would find him.
thing he had to do before he could do that, though.
"Can you make phone call for me? Dubai. Baroness
de Vilde. She's British ambassador. Ask her
she would see me." She had to be the only person
that he could reach and that knew where Dan was. He
had to tell him, sorry, but he still didn't feel, that
everything was over, there were just no emotions, and
he didn't want pity. Couldn't bear being touched in
any way. Hoped Dan would have a good life and find somebody.
He'd deserved better than being walked out on. He had
to admit the guilt, before he could steal away.