Selections from The Trojan Spy

Selections From The Trojan Spy
by Gaither Stewart
Punto Press Publishing, 2012

Introduction

The Cold War spy, Anatoly Nikitin, describes the spy as the eternal child who lives a fairytale. He tells his young protégé, the German-Italian, Karl Heinz, that though convictions and ideology count, in the long run the spy’s disease consists of skepticism and cynicism and the good life which replaces ideology. The spy is only troubled by the ambiguity of concepts like loyalty and treason. Treason against whom?

“Too much loyalty is a curse,” Nikitin’s STASI-KGB handler, Borya, warns. “The object of loyalty can change but loyalty as a quality stays the same.”

In modern times a rejuvenated Nikitin’s believes in the existence of a Grand Old Man who organizes terrorism for evil ends. He believes one man and human intelligence can unravel the mystery of terrorism and change the world. But the system proves to be too powerful.

“America,” Nikitin says, “doesn’t need a cause as much as it needs an enemy. Causes are abstract and America doesn’t like the abstract. Enemies are concrete. America needs terrorists as it once needed the USSR. No country benefits more from terrorism than the United States of America. One more Twin Towers and the USA will be the total police state.”

C E N T A U R S

CENTAURS are an exotic race, part horse and part human. On ancient Greek vases centaurs are depicted with the torso of a human joined at the waist to the horse’s body. Half-human and half-animal, the mythological centaur is trapped between his animal and spiritual natures and therefore destined by their nature to solitude. Human and animal, indissolubly united for all eternity. In Greek myths centaurs are also imagined simply as wild untamed horses. Mainline civilization of ancient Greece went to war with the centaurs, mythological wars with centaur peoples now viewed as emblematic of the struggle between civilization and barbarism. Inevitably the centaur image continues to intrigue painters and writers. In modern fiction the centaur, in some places aggressive and violent, in others noble and loyal, appears as the very symbol of fantasy.

The Greek word, Kentauros, is itself of obscure origin. Etymologically, Ken-tauros has to do with “piercing of bulls.” Perhaps, as in bull-fighting, the word was associated with chaos and unbridled passions. It is curious that in non-mainstream Greek mythology there are two races of centaurs, one good, one evil, something like the idea contained in obscure verses of Genesis suggesting two races of men, one good and the other, a deviant strain, an evil or rogue race. Humans, after all, have proven to be a bad mixture.

The figure of the centaur thus creates a sense of timelessness on one hand and unpredictability on the other. In perpetual movement, centaurs appear like countless film frames that somewhere, somehow, fit together. But perhaps, never. Thus you wonder what meaning to attach to the centaur. Perhaps its destiny too will remain forever a mystery.

1

Hakim’s VW blew into the air about three kilometers above Assisi, on the road leading up Mount Subasio. Sergio, the Carabiniere, told me the Italian secret services cleaned up the scene so that it seemed it never happened. Hakim’s and Nikitin’s bodies vanished in the explosion and fire. Only a few personal effects were recovered. Experts determined the plastic explosive was American-produced Composition C, molded by hand and detonated by a remote appliance. It is available on American and Middle Eastern arms markets.

***

BEFORE coming to Perugia, I’d been blissfully immune to external fears. Opa’s villa on the Wannsee was a virtual fortress, secluded and shielded from the outside world. Fear never entered there. That life ends at all was for me only a theoretical consideration until I’d met Nikitin. I had never even seen a dead person. Death was something that overtook others. Today, I can’t help but dwell on all the death that interrupted my humdrum life. And fear lives in me. Fear does not go away. The Group volatilized on Mount Subasio woke me to the real meaning of terror. The earth shifted under my feet. What was I supposed to do now?

2

 

STANDING next to the open car door he presses a well-traveled leather satchel against his chest. He looks over the piazza. Nothing unusual is happening. An elderly couple with shopping bags passes near him. A group of teenagers with knapsacks on their backs mills around the station entrance. Traffic is heavy, but fluid. Tirano looks neither Italian nor Swiss. As each time he has passed through, the town seems remote from the rest of the valley.

He locks the car. Strikes out for the station. His soft shoes hiss on the cobblestones. His raincoat flaps. Though a big man, he makes little impact on the open zone. He doesn’t appear to hurry but an attentive observer would be surprised how nimbly he maneuvers through the traffic.

After buying a local newspaper and two one-way tickets—one back to Lecco on Lake Como and one to St. Moritz—it’s “All Aboard!” The Red Train is poised like a missile pointed north. The doors bang shut. The tram-like train lurches forward, gearing up for the magical Alpine climb.

Anatoly Nikitin glances at his watch and smiles to himself—his timing is still good. It is two minutes after noon. From the interior platform he takes a quick view inside the old-fashioned coach, done in the wood and brass and velour he likes. By habit he appraises the car’s passengers. Yob tvoyu mat! he thinks—he’s lost his ability to single out individual faces in an instant. Down the aisle and over the legs of a fat woman to a window seat. Opposite him, the couple from the piazza stare into his eyes. Coincidence? Coincidences mean danger. Lunch bags are opened on the couple’s laps. He focuses on their faces. They look authentic but they’re not as old as he’d thought.

Nikitin’s metamorphosis is underway. He is melding in with the passengers, with the train, with the Alpine world. He is the typical Italian off to visit St. Moritz for the day. He feels he is one of them. He is one of them. Just as he did in Russia, as he did in Germany and France and Italy, Anatoly Nikolaevsky-Nikitin-Nikolaev-Schmidt becomes his surroundings. A question of time and place. Borya’s first lesson—no matter in what role you are, be as much yourself as possible.

But still, in the long run, it’s the seeming that counts. From the start, each of his diverse lives has been dedicated to seeming. Seeming to be someone else. Seeming to be something else. Assuming new and seductive identities. Separating and sectioning his life in order to pass through the cracks and faults from one dimension to the other.

‘My legends are all over the place. No anchors. No roots.’ He has always been susceptible to the seduction of the secret world. Secrecy as an end has been his game. A life of roles. Seeming to be someone else for so long that he sometimes forgets who he once was. Who he really is.

3

ALONGSIDE the climbing highway the Red Train runs placidly, indolently. Abruptly, a line of cars and trucks stops on the road. Behaving like a tram, the train crosses the highway and runs along the right side of the road.

‘Borya’s doing too,’ he thinks. ‘Borya, the creator of legends.’

Admittedly he’s had the best teachers. Masters all, the creators of his legends. Nikitin—Moscow born, Communist schoolteacher father, Italian Communist mother, top schools, Europe’s languages.

Another life, another legend, and he morphs into Schmidt, born in Sudetenland, landholder parents off to Gulag after Soviet occupation.

He is also Nikolaevsky, vanished and erased from French birth records.

He is Nikolaev, resettled in Italy with maternal relatives.

Again road traffic stops. The train crosses back to the left side of the highway. He looks down from his window at a truck driver waving his arms in exasperation. Now they gather speed. Trusty Red Train. Train of his life.

Buon giorno, to the silkily overdressed fat lady. Buon giorno, to the elderly couple. Now fully in his Italian mode, he settles back. Newspaper open on his lap. Briefcase on the floor between his feet. The absent-minded professor off to the mountains. Scan the headlines, the local news of the Valtellina, the wonderful name of the misty valley crushed between Alpine ranges. ‘Valley of oblivion.’

Though a trimmed beard and long steel gray hair lend his face strength, his hollow cheeks and sunken eyes make him appear gaunter than usual. He has been traveling since the day before. Fatigue is a harsh taskmaster; and demands extraordinary vigilance.

Stormy winds had swept over the north German highways. It had rained hard during his transfer from Linate Airport to Milano Centrale. It was still raining when his train pulled into Sondrio up the valley. Still, his tweed jacket, gray pants and loose-hanging green raincoat look fresh in the sunshine of the new day.

At the Swiss border his transformation is complete. He’s a Valtellina native off for a visit to St. Moritz. Nearly irrepressible his urge to lean across to the couple and introduce himself—Antonio Nikolaev at your service. A cursory border control and the Red Train begins climbing again, along ridges, through tunnels and across mountain bridges. He looks up from his newspaper, gazes at the surging Alps and the blinding glaciers in the distance and again lets his eyes glide like a mild Adriatic wave over the car’s passengers. All too young or too old to concern him. Tourists from Tirano. Swiss returning home from shopping in Italy. Everything and everybody in their proper places. The normality of it all. He too looks normal, an everyday person about everyday business.

He grasps the briefcase, rises, pardon! pardon! Glides in his feline gait toward the W.C. ticking off each face on the way just to ascertain that his vision and intuition are intact. Been out of the field for too many years. Only yesterday he thought of himself as an unperson. ‘But we’re over that. Today is no ordinary day.’

‘Never stop checking,’ omnipresent Borya used to insist. ‘Check and double-check. Watchers are everywhere. You have to see the invisible watchers. You have to hear the sounds that at first seem inaudible; absorb the color of the voices and the rhythm of action around you.’

His image in the bathroom mirror looks back at him. He turns his head to the left and to the right. Smiles. He’s an Italian tourist. Or, he’s Swiss. Or is he not German? Out of the briefcase comes the old red leather flask. A long drink as in the old days. To mark the tradition. The past, after all, has its beauty and order and fascination. Maybe because it is so fixed, stable and unchangeable we owe it something. Occasionally, for brief moments, he lets himself dwell on it.

The usual stop in Pozzalascio. This moment happened once before in his lifetime. Or in another of his many lives. Or perhaps another moment of another life only reminds him of this moment. How hard to remember what really happened in his previous lives. Boyhood in Russia is a jumble of places and people and languages. At some point he detached and said good-bye to the past. Adieu my past! He claims he was born an adult.

The elderly couple gathers their shopping bags. Arrivederci. Arrivederci. No boarding passengers outside. Yet the town gives him the creeps. The jagged edges of memory. It’s nothing, the young Clifford said. Just the heeby geebies. Once, decades ago, he’d abandoned the Red Train here in Pozzalascio. He sees it like yesterday. A powerfully built olive-skinned man boarded. Alone. Galician, he’d thought for some reason. Watch out for Galicians! Killers all. Care! Watch the out-of-place characters, his spymasters warned. Double-check. Triple-check. At the last minute he’d leapt from the train. He smiled at the memory—off the Galician went to St. Moritz without him.

Now from the window he reads the words painted on the wall of a nearby chalet:

Oggi seren non è

Domani seren sarà

Se non sarà sereno

Si rassenerà

He frowns. Had he noted it before? Or forgotten it? Definitely getting too old for this trade.

4

RED TRAIN—the proper name appeals to his romantic spirit, recalling his father’s stories about the Bolshevik Train of the Revolution. Still just as exhilarating today, the Red Train, as the first time decades earlier. Overlapping, intervening, intersecting, influencing his every thought today, those experiences, he muses, come from both memory and mind, From the start the Red Train liberated him. He feels free here. Free from his former inhibitions. For all these years the Red Train carrying him to St. Moritz has meant secret meetings. It has meant reports and instructions and projects and money and the excitement of secrecy and action … and, intermittently, it has meant betrayals. Who was it said the greatest freedom is the freedom to betray. Was it Borya? Or Clifford? Everyone he has known—starting with his father—is fascinated by ambiguity and betrayal. The little betrayals become so quotidian. But to ordinary men big betrayal remains foreign. Trahison! That’s the word. Borya believes that kind of betrayal harbors something of the divine. The big betrayal is reserved for Borya’s indifferent gods. For the gods the real betrayal is betrayal of what you love. Like learning that your best friend is a liar. Borya warned him not to trust blindly those he admired most, that they can be the vilest of traitors. Constancy is not for the gods, he said. Man is different. Ultimately man wants love. Eternal love. Constant love. Nikitin lets his thoughts flow as they will. Masha’s love was constant. Though love in history, in literature, in life, is condemned to big betrayal, love does not choose betrayal. Logical that for Borya love is perdition. Like Ariadne’s capacity to love one man forever. Her condemnation. Never to escape from her chalk circle.

Oh, their secret lives, always accompanied by the feeling of apartness from real life. As if he and Borya and others like them were on one side of a thin wall, and the others of the world on the other. In retrospect some things still seemed funny though no one on either side of the wall laughed. Secrecy was serious business. Grim faces. Deadly serious faces. But this time is different. Different sensations transport him into unknown realms.

The concept of vendetta is new to him. A test he dare not fail. His is a mission of revenge, this time free of handlers and controllers. A kind of serenity settles into his mind and his spirit, enveloped in the secure warmth of the promise of revenge.

‘Domani seren sarà.’ Tomorrow will be a fine day.

***

Yesterday’s sensation was rare, driving southwards on the windswept highway outside Berlin. Something mystical he hasn’t felt since the years at war’s end. It was a spirit he shares with Borya. The divine speaking, Borya would say. If anyone understands Borya, he does. If he understands anyone, it’s Borya. He can’t conceive of any of his lives without Borya in it. This moment, this day, on the Red Train headed for St. Moritz, is a unique occasion to know what he really thinks about anything.

He likes to recall his first trip to St. Moritz, by car that time, decades ago, before he knew of the existence of the Red Train. Sometimes he had flown in. Sometimes he approached the mountain redoubt from the north. But the Valtellina route from the south was as good as it gets. Security switches between trains and cars, and the luxury of resting in his Oblivion Valley retreat. And if need be to escape too.

His mother’s nephew, Bettino, prepared a room for him in the top of his huge family house high on the hill. A crow’s nest hanging over the spires of the village church towering over Sondrio. “Antonio, it’s yours,” his Italian cousin had insisted, never asking him questions. Of all the places in his world, it’s in the Alpine village of Montagna where he feels safest. In the mansard looking over the church, over Sondrio and the valley and toward the chain of mountains to the south. Total security crammed between the Orobic and the Rhaetian Mountains. The security of the sanctuary lying at the end of the world. The security he used to feel when they went to the restaurant in the mountain town of Ponte, a Renaissance maze woven with narrow passages, arches, covered walks and narrow cobblestone streets, and they would sing partisan songs, Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao, removed and detached from spies and intrigue … and from betrayal.

His window looked over the garden of prowling cats, the steeple of San Giorgio, the slate tile roofs of the village, the regular cultivated terraces of green, the red roofs of the city of Sondrio, the Valley of Oblivion, while his memory raced out of control and crazy dreams returned—hollow dreams of the mystery of his almost nonexistent boyhood and babyhood and what seemed to be unreachable unreal worlds.

This time he didn’t drive the Berlin to Munich leg for security reasons. His reason was crazy and personal, something Borya had forbidden him all those decades. It was just to feel the sensation of crossing the now invisible borders of former East Germany, borders persisting in the minds of some of his generation, to feel the presence of history. Past Leipzig and the surrounding industrial wilderness, the former border town of Hof, before he passed back into what was once the decadent West. He’d slowed and concentrated, trying to establish and feel the precise place and time he passed over the old border. Hopeless venture. Nothing remained. The sameness of the unchanging Autobahn, the rivers and the rolling green hills and the mushrooming onion cupolas of the Frankenwald and soon he was passing Bayreuth and the military base of Fulda and Forchheim and Erlangen of the refugee camps of his early days. Always flashing back to him, the familiar towns, the names, rolling and flowing into Bavaria. A mere decade and a half had erased a border and reduced an epoch to empty names.

But a sanctuary? Even perched in his secure rooms high above Sondrio, how could he relax when his goal was St. Moritz? For from the first moment St. Moritz has been the most sinister name of all the names haunting his times.

The Red Train slows to a crawl for the last curve before the plateau of the Engadine. His face pressed against the window, both the front and the back of the train are visible, red cars against the green and gray of the mountains, red cars reflecting off the gray lake. Time stops. How easy to drift back into that fixed past he never knew personally. The Russian past his father recounted. Here, on the Red Train, his father would have seen visions of a steam engine puffing across the steppes and the taiga, the station halts, the speeches of a new race of men, scenes of mysterious armies with indistinct allegiances firing now at the Red Train with the red star on its snout, now at each other.

***

The past. The past of mind and memory.

In his mind Nikitin still saw Clifford as the young man he was then. All of them were so young. But so mature, so responsible. The whole world belonged to the young—Borya, Markus, Karl Ludwig, Clifford. The future was theirs. They had to mature quickly. The old men were all dead. Dead in battle, dead in the bombings, dead in the camps, dead in the treks back and forth across Europe and Africa and Asia. It was the American’s first assignment too. Straight out of university and training—‘A finance genius learning to be a spy in St. Moritz,’ Clifford boasted to the young and incredible Franco-Russo-Italo-German, Anatoly Nikitin. Clifford, standing on the front porch of the house in St. Moritz-Suvretta. His great adventure. A paint-smeared sweat shirt, a blond lock of hair hanging in his eyes, bawling at the yapping poodles surrounding him, a beautiful redhead at his side, both at the most twenty-four or twenty-five, the new house empty of everything but telephones and typewriters and copying machines, documents, blankets and pillows scattered over the hardwood floors, a running monologue about juggling bank accounts and dispensing money, important trips cancelled because of the puppies, his gorgeous assistant still illegal in the eyes of Swiss bureaucracy—so opposed to hardened, goal-conscious Borya in the dark secrecy of post-war Berlin.

Unlike Borya, playboy Clifford looked anything but the spymaster he was to become. He was comfortable, everyday, someone Nikitin could know. The first hour of the decades-long relationship of the two spies was Clifford’s rehashing of the all-night delivery of the puppies, getting telephone lines and a residence permit for the redhead. His spy mission and Triple N and the Chadafö network were not yet on the horizon. Espionage was an afterthought—the paymaster giving Nikitin money and off-hand encouragement to spy on the East as they began to learn together what the world of spies was about. Clifford Beecher was also in the becoming phase. Standing on the front steps of the house in St. Moritz, he didn’t know what he was doing or what he was becoming. But like the others of the new world he was to discover unexpected talents. And he too would end up handling spies. His first double agent was Anatoly Nikitin. And Nikitin too discovered untapped talents—his capability for maskings and subterfuges … and for betrayal.

The train window is cold. The wild flowers on the grassy fields outside St. Moritz sparkle like emeralds in the fall sun. Nikitin turns his head toward the window and smiles. It was a mad impulse—when Clifford and the redhead went to the kitchen and he grabbed some stray sheets of pink paper blowing around the room and stuffed them in his pants pocket. They turned out to be copies of lists of names, channels, money carriers, cover companies and bank accounts all over Europe.

Borya had celebrated the lists with him and promoted him on the spot to Major.

The seeming became his obsession. A substitute for reality. Like Borya, like Clifford, like the blurred opaque figures peopling his many lives. His life, like Borya’s, like Clifford’s, is both simulacrum and reality. How easy it would have been to deal with a simulacrum alone, knowing there was a reality in opposition. But when goals and obstacles are both simulacrum and reality, where are you to strike? What can you believe in?

Another of Borya’s lessons.

Borya, the scholar of antiquity. Helen is both simulacrum and reality, for Homer at least. All of Troy is enamored of her and her beauty. To run-of-the mill metals, she is as gold. When after Troy fell, Menelaus stands before Helen with his sword raised, her bare breasts save her. In her eyes too lie the reflection of the defiance and the refusal to yield that inhere in women. The victor stares at her and lets his sword fall. He can’t kill her. How can you kill gold? If Menelaus had killed her, Helen would have continued to live in a corner of the assassin’s mind. Helen is a reflection in the water. In the throes of vendetta Menelaus had to wonder how you can kill a reflection without killing the water. How can you kill water?

‘Oh yes,’ Nikitin thinks, aware he is hallucinating, ‘the victims continue to live in the minds of the executioners.’ Borya had the ability to bring back memory with a mere word from the past. Borya, who could leap from the mind of Menelaus to Helen to Nikitin himself, had that power. Borya said Helen deserved punishment for her duplicity. She first agitated for the ten-year war, she plotted against the Greeks and in her deception she danced with the women of Troy—but then she gave the signal to the Greek warriors to attack. The great betrayal!

The Red Train slows for arrival at the St. Moritz Bahnhof. Nikitin lets his head pitch back against the rest, his eyes closed, hardly breathing, collecting and measuring his courage for the next act. ‘Yes, Helen was both simulacrum and reality. Hers were two incompatible acts. Yet she fulfilled them with serenity and calm. She was a huge moon who shone her light on everyone, on everyone in equanimity. A question of her light. I am Helen. I too am Helen. Her light shines on us all, on all, on all.’

***

From the station he strides faster than usual up the steep Via Serlas. Ears humming, mouth dry, an uncomfortable warmth in his lungs, heart pumping harder than in years before. ‘Via,’ he murmurs to reassure himself, pleased with the use of via for street in this German and Romansch language area. Church bells chime. Two o’clock. Two hours to wait. Just part of the game—waiting.

The smell of the Bratwurst and Rösti that the citizens of St. Moritz consumed at lunch lingers in the air. His eyes wander back to the lake. ‘Lej da San Murezzan!’ He caresses the name. Majestic setting. The sailboats are specks of white against the purple-black snow-capped mountains rising to twelve thousand feet. St. Moritz seems unchanging.

Will he have the courage to do it when the moment arrives? You never know until you have to insert the needle or squeeze the trigger or pull the plug.

***

The concierge at the Palace posed his head at different angles to study him, finally smiled and offered his hand. “Guten Tag, Herr Nikitin, wir haben Sie schon lange nicht mehr gesehen.” His greeting and ‘we haven’t seen you in a long time’ was the same as always.

Pre-season, the reception room was empty: no phones ringing, no chasseurs rushing about, no tourists asking for information. You didn’t come to the Palace unprepared. Action in the Palace was concealed action, bought action, action hidden behind other corridors and other doors and magic walls. But today was not yet the season for champagne and oyster parties, for gourmet festivals, for snow polo, for the Count von Bismarcks and the Agnelli scions.

“Vielen Dank, Wolfgang.”

For over thirty years the Swiss has been at this desk. Since Nikitin came the first time. Rumors circulate that Wolfgang is filthy rich. Do anything for a hundred francs. Strangle his mother for five hundred. Though Nikitin has never believed he was so ruthless, he always made it a point to tip Wolfgang generously, just in case. The moment he stepped through the entrance doors, the tall, distinguished man in rigorous black had recognized him.

“A real pleasure to see you again, Wolfgang. Still at your chess victories, I assume?”

“I had the good fortune of winning the St. Moritz Cup again last winter.”

“You’re so modest. That must make twenty years running.”

“Something like that. Well, Herr Nikitin, what brings you back to the Engadine after, let’s see, about ten years absence? Am I not right? Stimmt doch? Oder nicht? Still a little early for skiing but it’s hard to stay away from the chadafö, is that not true?”

With the Romansch word he meant not only the Chadafö Grill of the hotel’s luxurious Chesa Veglia Restaurant. He meant the hospitality lodged in every corner of the old hotel. Or did he mean more? The mysterious word brought everything back. The old network, the double games, the upside down world of intrigue.

“Yes. I was nearby and thought I would drop in for a game of backgammon.” Nikitin knew Wolfgang saw straight through him, maybe always had—and into Clifford too. In any case, the concierge’s discretion equaled his chess abilities … as well as his avidity.

“As in the old times, eh? By the way, your old friend is still here. Says he’s retired. His health is not good but he comes in often from Suvretta in the afternoon. Some days he lunches in the Chadafö. And he takes his coffee and brandy in the game room. I believe he has a date here today.”

“So I might see him for a game or two. But Wolfgang, please don’t tell him I’m here. A surprise.”

“Mums the word. As always.”

***

Most places the worst part is the waiting. But up here at the top of the world he has always enjoyed the waits and the intervals and the lazy loitering. Winter and spring, summer and fall, this is his favorite spot: on the shore of the Lej da San Murezzan. The fall sunshine is warm. The wind blowing up the Inn Valley from the north and across the lake is cool. Near the Segelhaus he finds a solitary bench in the sunshine. No one is visible within a hundred meters in any direction. The pleasant out-of-season silence settles around him. Clamping his briefcase between his ankles, he inserts a cigarette in an ebony holder, covers his head with his trench coat and succeeds in lighting it on the first try. A sense of pride at his dexterity fills him. Life’s little pleasures. Surprising then his hidden feelings of self-consciousness: he feels certain if observers saw him promenading on an elegant shopping street or across a ballroom of long gowns and tuxedos or on the grounds of a hilly country estate, they would see in his splendid colors, his rich browns and tans and wooly grays and glistening blacks, the essence of radiant but jaded nonchalance. That conviction is both reassuring and troubling. A matter of age, he thinks. He should walk around the lake a bit but for the moment he needs immobility more than movement, the still and calm, in order to relive the sense of nostalgia for things past that being here provokes. Actually things didn’t begin here. St. Moritz wasn’t at fault. Still, for the man from the East, life had peaked here in the great bowl of the Upper Engadine. So instead of stewing over the near future he decides to permit himself the luxury of rehashing the hidden past of intrigue here on one of Europe’s plushest capitalist

¶¶¶¶¶
Excerpt from Chapter 19

Deluge in Moscow. Skies hung perilously low over the refurbished buildings along Ulitza Tverskaya. Rain lashed the windshield as if dumped from buckets. When it let up he left the taxi near the Hotel Nacional facing uphill toward Red Square. His stiff knees were sore after the morning flight from Berlin and the taxi from Sheremetyevo. The walk to the Arbat would help. But when the skies again burst in cataracts, he limped for shelter into the elegant old hotel where he used to stay on his visits.

“What will you have, Gospodin?” the waiter in the first floor restaurant asked in English.

“I’ll have a hundred grams of vodka and a plate of herring,” Nikitin answered in Russian, embarrassed at being taken for a foreigner. Not that he, the Europeanized Russian, had ever had a love affair with the Russian people, no more than had the Russianized German Borya. His father’s generation of Marxist intellectuals had considered the masses an obstacle to the new society they wanted to create. It was a surprise to feel surfacing in himself the tinge of nationalism of which he thought he was free. It was more a feeling for the boundlessness of the great land, an awareness of its majesty. Maybe all Russians were infected with the same. Soviet Communism now seemed no more than a disguised version of Great Russian nationalism. It must have been present from the start when Lenin planned the Soviet future.

“So what brings you back home?” the young waiter asked on hearing his Russian, grinning contentedly.

“Toska! Nostalgia and a desire to see what’s happening here.” Nikitin pronounced the words he knew the man wanted to hear. Average people wanted to go abroad but they also liked to see exiles return to Mother Russia.

“Are you back to stay?” the waiter asked, spreading glasses and table silver and Moscow breads and a carafe of water on the white linen tablecloth.

“Back to look around first.”

Watching the storm crashing against the windows, he wondered about the caprice of destiny that had brought him back this time. His sentiments were mixed and confused by elapsed time and strange events and sudden changes of history. From afar he hadn’t felt this new Russia, this grabbing, niggardly land he read about, as his Russia. He’d been resigned never to return. He didn’t understand the country, its mood, where it was headed. He had no one here anymore. Masha was lost somewhere. And he had no real desire to look up the distant paternal relative he’d seen only twice back in Soviet times. The science fiction writer, Yury Nikitin, was now making a name for himself after his hardships in the old “socialist realist” USSR. In the same way he’d been divided between two homelands, Russia and Europe—the first, Russia, now unreal, distant, unfamiliar; the other, Europe, real, evident, familiar—he was now divided in his feelings also for the Russia he’d known as a boy and the Russia this land had become. Soviet Russia, for which he’d worked and once believed in, became in his mind greater than the individual human destinies that comprised it. It became something different than what they’d worked for. And it had also swallowed up his Masha. Now, the callousness of this new Russia was in the Moscow air. Or, he thought, maybe it was just the sensation of the emptiness left by the disappearance of the old era. Maybe he should look up Yury again. Born in Ukraine, maybe he’d gone back there in search of a more genuine life. He would like to know if Yury felt New Russia as the realization of his grimmest divinations. Yury Nikitin too was a man between two eras, two cultures: Soviet Russia and modern Russia.

Yet Nikitin still believed, still had faith, that beneath the cynicism of its leaders and the greed of the new rich beat another rhythm, a human Russian rhythm, warm and generous and different from egotistic and self-seeking Europe. Here it was around him, this burgeoning land, noisy, colorful, warm, genial, pressing, maybe closer to the truth of his own life … if his life contained any truth. The land was deep in him, deep in his guts. It was a strange feeling—he could identify with Russia and Russians chiefly as a mass wherein, he believed, was truth. But with West Europeans, in whatever country, he identified only with isolated individuals.

After the rain the people returned to the streets. Suddenly he recalled that Moscovites are the most mobile people on earth. Every centimeter of sidewalks and squares and the new shopping atriums was packed with them. If Moscovites are not on the move somewhere, they’re telephoning. Every second person was speaking on a cell.

He crossed the main street and walked up the short rise to Krasnaya Ploschad, Red Square. ‘Krasny,’ he whispered to himself. Another of those linguistic misunderstandings. The word krasny also meant beautiful. His father’s generation had still thought of Krasnaya Ploschad as “Beautiful Square,” not Red Square. A grim place in Soviet times, it was once again beautiful. On one side, the seat of power, the Kremlin. On the other side, the porticos of GUM, again filled with luxury boutiques as it was in pre-Soviet times when it was The Arcades. And now the reassuring golden cupolas of the white churches and the multicolored towers and Ivan Veliky rose reassuringly over the crenellated ramparts of the Kremlin. Some things return; others remain intact—the renewed colors of the city of two centuries ago—rose, red, yellow, blue, ochre … and the green roofs. The well-dressed women laughing on the streets evoked in him a yearning for the feelings he’d once had for Masha. For better or worse Moscow had changed dramatically since he was last here, during the Perestroika era.

Though the colors overwhelmed him—the dress, the gaiety in the air—something was still not right. There was a kind of uncertainty or an air of risk in the atmosphere, the absence of the sense of security the former police state had guaranteed. He had the feeling that anything could happen from one moment to the next … and that everyone felt it.

In Ulitza Arbat he stopped at a kiosk for a warm pirozhok, just for the nostalgic sensation of eating one on the street. The young Uzbek or Turkmen spoke to him in broken Russian, asking where he was from—Austria? Australia? Nikitin laughed. He was the foreigner; the Uzbek was the Russian.

All around him, his language. It was reassuring to be immersed in his Russian. Kiosks with the Russian press. Advertising signs in Russian. The METPO for the Underground. He was personally magnified by it. He felt a unique sensation of dignity. In this moment, surrounded by his language and his people, he speculated about where he belonged as he never did in Europe. He’d left France for Russia so young that Russia was more than just his parents’ homeland; it was his real birthplace. Yet he felt the difference between him and Russians in Russia.  He couldn’t pinpoint that difference, or define it, but he felt he was the outsider, not the Uzbek at the kiosk. Once, a certain world outlook, a kind of Messianic spirit, had linked him with Russia. But it too had been lost. Practically, there remained only the great language as a link, as his belonging, and perhaps somewhere in him a certain unarticulated idea of Mother Russia. But an abyss separated him from Russian reality. He lacked real roots here. Here, he was a stranger. Abroad, he was a Russian and an exile even if he enjoyed the best of both lives—both European and Russian. Working for Russia he’d always been informed about his country, had visited it, but he had remained detached from its everyday realities. Patriotism for him was a theoretical consideration.

The language’s ubiquity in this moment reminded him also of its dichotomy—the simultaneous hope and the terror people speaking his language had caused—the hope Communism offered the oppressed and the disillusionment of its reality. Still, he knew that the Russian idea of all-human brotherhood lay at the heart of Russian Communism and Internationalism and the appeal of the slogan, ‘workers of the world unite.’ For many peoples of the world neither Russia nor Communism was the enemy. The enemy was and would always be capitalism. Politics was always and everywhere primary. Causes were empty. As he grew up, Stalin was here. And still here when he left. His ghost still lived. Something in the air still smacked of old times. Yet, he consoled himself, not everything in the world was the fault of one side or the other. One side was not all white and the other all black. Man is both: good and evil. Things were never what they seemed.

The Pope in Rome himself said Communism was a necessary evil; evil but necessary to counter rampant incompassionate Capitalism. Still, the beautiful word Communism became rhetorical jargon. Like the beautiful word Democracy. Hadn’t America, with all its talk about the exportation of democracy, emptied the word of meaning? The Pope seemed to be saying that both were false gods. Both were political gobbledygook. Oh, if the Pope had only said they both were cons.

How Masha used to dislike his feelings of detachment … and rootlessness: ‘There’s not much Russian about you but your name,’ she would say.

‘A name is a lot. A name is truth,’ he would answer.

Yet the name of his father, the name they used in Russia, had been changed so many times since that he sometimes forgot what his real name once was, and it lost its importance.

On any contradictory occasion Masha used to say, ‘Maybe you’re right. Wisdom is not in revolt but in adaptation to circumstances.’

He’d rejected outright such nonsense. He’d lived his life ignoring circumstances and doubtful causes. But he still had his doubts. Things had usually just seemed to happen in his life, without reason, while he bounced back and forth, haphazardly, between places and sides. Just these few hours in Moscow sufficed to bring the existential questions of his life back to the surface; not simply how to live in two countries at once but how to live life? Like Europeans who are forever asking ‘how to live best?’

Or like Russians posing the Dostoevskian question: ‘Why live at all?’

Farther down Ulitza Arbat, on the first floor of a restored building painted greenish pastel, the one color implanted in his boyhood memories of Moscow, Victor Kataev was expecting him. It was a friendly visit. No intrigue. No cover names. Secretaries, offices opening off an L-shaped corridor, doors wide open, signs of new times. Windows opened onto one of the courtyards of the artists’ studios that once made the Arbat the Montmartre of Moscow. His own former life of microphones and tele-cameras didn’t seem to exist in his former homeland. The fifteen or twenty people all speaking Russian left him disoriented.

Victor was a big, successful looking man in his late fifties. He was dressed in Soviet-style jacket and tie, had thick sandy hair and a mustache and the red face of a man who ate and drank too much. This was another man than the agent Borya had known when he was still a young KGB officer working as liaison between STASI and Soviet intelligence.

“So, foreigner, what do you think of the homeland now?”

Victor used an old Russian word for ‘wanderer’ to emphasize Nikitin’s choice of knocking about the world. How often, Nikitin was reminded, he’d abandoned real life for play, reality for illusion, just causes for the ephemeral. How had it come about that he had made so few real fundamental choices? Victor was also posing the question insecure Russians and chauvinistic Americans throw in the faces of their exiles, expatriates, emigrants: was it really worth it, they want to know, uprooting yourself from God’s chosen nation?

“The colors are magnificent,” Nikitin said.

“Is that all you see? Colors, after a lifetime abroad?”

“I see the laughter on the streets.”

“Are you thinking of returning home?”

“Home? Right now I’m on a mission,” he said to avoid the trap.

Yet there was the doubt. Home? What’s that? Where is it? Anyway, the final answer, he knew, was that the place he grew up was no longer home. Unlike his father whose work was with the foreigners in the Communist International, when Nikitin was a boy here his life had been pure Russian. His friends, his schools, his ideas, his concept of history were Russian. But time and circumstance had changed everything. He didn’t know first-hand Russia’s post-war privations. He hadn’t experienced the purges, their sufferings, nor, as Masha defined it, their chameleon-like adaptations. He had become a European.

“At your age,” Victor said and laughed. “But we Russians are always on a mission. Pravda?”

To gain Victor’s full attention, Nikitin told him a bit about his organization, about Berlin and Hakim, Borya and Cliff and the school in Perugia. Victor’s institute was in the same business, he stressed. An exchange of information would help both. Nikitin asked point blank about Maslamah.

“Musa Maslamah? Now that is a very mysterious person indeed. I ran him for several years and I should know,” he said and laughed. “By the way, you can call me by my old cover name of Grisha if you like.”

“What Borya knows about him,” Nikitin said, “is all second-hand. And old. I want to know what’s he really like? What is he in life?”

“I’ve thought about that man a lot. You know, Anatoly Nikitich, he’s like I imagine early Russian Communists were. He’s a man with a mission. A real revolutionary. Devious. He had a way of turning up at opportune places at the right times. We didn’t send him to Iran. He was there ahead of us. We found him there, already in place, ready for us. We had a dozen or so field men in Iran but he was by far the best. He was charismatic and had a powerful sway over people. In fact, sometimes when we met he seemed to be the one debriefing me. That’s how strong he is.”

A young man suddenly burst in the office. He was wearing a black T-shirt with Strawberry Fields written across it. He had an open laptop in one hand and was streaming a huge map of Saudi Arabia through the air with the other.

“Hey, look at this!” he shouted before noticing Nikitin.

“What’s that, Alosha?” Victor asked. “Uh, this is an old friend from Germany.”

The kid said, Hi! in English, barely looking at the old man in the gray suit sitting near the desk. Nikitin read his thoughts. I’m another of the old spies come in from the cold, looking for a job.

“With the last reports from Riyad,” he said, “we’ve pinpointed the whole fucking Bin Laden financial empire. One by one, every bank, every company that ever had anything to do with him. By the way, many of them have an American link. And guess what? Uh,” he paused to look at Nikitin then back at Victor.

“And?” Victor said.

“And every single one of those companies and banks continues to receive and send funds all over the world. Reads like a holding company report.”

“Are there any San Marino banks among them?” Nikitin threw in.

“Well, yeah,” the kid called Alosha said, turning to him. “There are.”

“Do you have inside information on money movements through those San Marino banks?” Nikitin asked.

“It’s one of the easiest systems to get into. I’ve got readings on every single bank in that tiny, uh, a republic, is it?”

“Victor,” Nikitin said, “can I check out some names from time to time with you? And we could start with our man Musa.”

“Alosha, try this name—Musa Mas-la-mah.”

“Won’t take but a few minutes,” Alosha said, rushing out with his trailing map.

After a hiatus Nikitin asked: “Do you have contact with Maslamah?”
“Not really since Afghanistan. Only for a while after he returned to Cairo, then he turned cold and never initiated contacts with us. But I’ve kept up with him, hoping to link up with him again. But probably it’s late for that now.”

“What do you mean?”

“I believe he’s run by the CIA today. Maybe by Italians and Saudis too. He first started with the Agency in Iran. That was the period we hounded the CIA out of Iran. What a field day for us that was! Since they didn’t know who to turn to, they accepted double agents, in desperation.”

“And Afghanistan? You were run out of there.”

“Touché. Though it didn’t help the Americans much. They fucked up everything they touched. Crazy! Maslamah told me the CIA had no one there who even spoke Pashtu or Persian. Instead, they had many Russian speakers. In Afghanistan in those days you could die for speaking a word of Russian. The Americans drove around in their big Hummers with black windows wondering what the fuck was going on … and speaking Russian. But we still had a friend or two left there. One of them was double agent Maslamah.”

“So what was he doing in Iran and Afghanistan?”

“One of the things I admired about him was how he melded into his covers. Despite his red hair he could be totally different persons according to circumstances, and somehow get by with it. He spouted the creed of the Muslim Brotherhood—the notion of an Islamic state. Naturally they loved that in Iran. And in Afghanistan it paved the way for the Taliban. There’s another thing they fucked up on—the Agency, I mean.

“But that Maslamah. No one knew exactly where he really stood. I doubt he knew himself. He didn’t seem to care much for the Shariah and his version of the jihad was pretty secular. He never answered as to whether Islam would define the state—as the Taliban did, as Iran did—or the state should define Islam. I think of him as an Islamic reformer who sometimes used terrorism.”

“What were his ideas on terrorism then?”

“In general, he didn’t like the word. In the eighties he said that Islam was mortally threatened by imperialism. He ranted against western political domination, but not its hedonism and lifestyle. He’s pan-Arab. But not a religious fanatic. Religious martyrdom disgusted him. And he was contemptuous of theories touting a conflict between civilizations. He believed the West was in the Middle East for one thing—oil. For him Palestinians and Timurs were fighting for liberation. I’m sure he thinks the same of Chechnya and Iraq—liberation conflicts. Islamists are insurgents fighting for survival. They’re freedom fighters. The real terrorists are the states that oppress them.”

“So what happened to him once he got back to Cairo? Has he abandoned the Islamic cause? Did he sell out?”

“I’m not sure. He was picked up by an American our people know only by the name he used then—a certain Randy. We got our hands on a message signed by Randy. Anyway, Maslamah has gotten involved in terrorism. But in selective terrorism, I would say. Our Cairo station reports he’s in contact with a splinter group of Hezbollah. We believe he’s also procuring arms for Chechnya. And recruiting guerrillas.”

“Selective terrorism?” Nikitin repeated. “What do you mean?”

Certainly Victor and his semi-official organization were an American-style outsourcing of the Russian government, Nikitin thought to himself. Certainly he was zeroed in on Chechnya. A lot of experience was available here on Ulitza Arbat, more than the CIA could imagine or even dream of. A reservoir of human intelligence. Still, if Victor was talking, he wanted something in exchange. Nikitin had no qualms about sharing. Sharing and division of labor were the secret to success. Always had been.

“Maslamah’s probably as ambivalent as ever. And still just as influential. He’s paid by some CIA group. The Randy guy, I suppose. Maybe a rogue sector. He’s selective of those cases where his interests and CIA’s coincide. Like terror to block elections in Iraq—he opposes any American-backed system. Palestinian resistance to block peace talks—he wants more land for Palestine. Terror in the Caucasus to thwart our government, terror in Pakistan to keep the military in power to terrorize the people. Terror to make Europe more and more dependent on the USA. Terror to make the Saudis crack down on Osama. Terror to back up the hard-line Egyptian government. Maybe terror in America to justify martial law and Fascism. Many people on both sides want the confusion to continue. Americans want to pump oil as long as possible. Many others, Americans, Europeans and some of us too, are selling arms and raking in enormous profits. And the other attacks—in Spain, Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, London, Chechnya, wherever—justify the eternal war on terror.”
Nikitin looked at Victor in anticipation. Victor was itching to say it: the word the West dreaded. Especially Americans shun the word plot or conspiracy. The East knows it inheres in man.

“And we know,” Victor said on cue, “that attacks like the World Trade Center on September 11 are impossible without solid local help.”

“Do you believe our man is playing a role in this strategy?”

“I’m convinced of it.”

“Uh, Victor Pavlovich, one last thing, speaking of names and covers, Borya suggested I ask you about the name Chadafö. Does it mean something to you besides the name of a restaurant in Switzerland?”

 Victor stared at his feet, crossed his legs and turned a blank look on Nikitin. Then: “Careful here, Tolya, very careful. That is very rogue business as our American friends call it. I can tell you this—I think it’s the cover name for—well, for Americans and maybe Russians too. And it’s financing terrorists and people like Maslamah. Also I suspect it was the last operation of your old handler Clifford Beecher—he created Operation Chadafö.”

¶¶¶¶¶

THANK YOU FOR READING THESE SAMPLE CHAPTERS OF THE TROJAN SPY.

The Trojan Spy is the first volume of the Europe Trilogy.

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