It’s cold at the gulag – colder than it was in the city where there were still buildings to hem the heat in. Freddie toes the snow around his shoes, balling his hands into his pockets as he waits for the gate to open.
‘This is Frederick Trumper,’ the assistant director, Paul, is saying – shouting into the intercom, ‘Freddie Trumper and Global Television.’
‘You are – from the Guard Service?’
‘… Moscow – You are not –’
‘Tell him we’re here on Molokov’s sanction,’ their production coordinator calls across the drive, her voice echoing uncomfortably in the silence of the taiga. Freddie spends the spare few minutes it takes Paul to parse this together surveying his surroundings. The taiga is very dense, and very white. Over the tree line he can just make out the smokestacks of the industrial district, but for all he can imagine they could be entirely alone in the world.
The intercom crackles thoughtfully.
He’s been in Europe for a week now on a special assignment from Global. A documentary shoot about Russia under Soviet rule. Walter had been eager to give him the project to work with (and Freddie had been less than to divulge his meeting with Anatoly in Bangkok). It had all worked out for the best.
They have already travelled through Murmansk and Tallinn. There they had shot a lot of stock footage of the scenery and interviewed some ex-prisoners for padding.
When they get to Moscow, the head of operations at the Border Security Service asks him how he liked the gulags.
‘The Design Bureau was nicer,’ he replies. He doesn’t dare call it a “sharashka.” Commies don’t like it if he calls it a “sharashka.”
Being inside the gulags has so far been like touring all of Russia’s most gloomy mausoleums in one shot. Obviously the mortality rate for prisoners was nowhere near to being as high in the eighties as it was in the forties, but Freddie knows people. (And by people he means Gregor Vassy.)
At least he can console himself with the knowledge that someone out there had a worse run of the sixties than he did.
So he trades in his signature white suit for a tweed one, dons the glasses he hasn’t worn since high-school, and tells the world what it’s like to be Russian. But his big problem is, the only living Russian he knows and cares about is over 4000 miles away. And Freddie’s only five years younger than him.
INCOMING (MALE, RUSSIAN) [19:22]: Hey, it’s me.
OUTGOING (MALE, AMERICAN) [19:22]: Hey.
INCOMING [19:22]: How is your crusade going? Have you managed to singlehandedly expose us Ruskies’ plot to destroy the world?
OUTGOING [19:23]: Ha ha.
(Определенно наш мальчик - AM )
Someone is tapping his phone. He’d be frightened if it wasn’t so obvious. If he makes one crack about Boris Yeltsin or the perestroika and his line is mysteriously cut off. Communism may have been abolished in Russia but people are still just as paranoid as they were before.
He has a mind to talk to Paul about it but one look from their production coordinator Jeanette silences him. If he does talk to Paul, he only launch into a tirade about how hard it was filming in North Korea, and about how all they saw of Hoeryong was a couple of outhouses on flyover. That he should be grateful.
Last time Paul had gone into one of those, Freddie had snidely pointed out that North Korea is still under a fascist regime. The look he had received couldn’t be described as merely withering. Withering implies that what you’ve said is stupid.
They tour the Lubyanka which is still getting used to being a border security service. It’s hard to find a place to film that isn’t being moved around or painted over.
‘Here I am inside the Lubyanka Building –’ he will say, and a renovator shoves him over.
‘ – The center of operations here in Moscow,’ he says, and a renovator walks through the frame.
At least in the holding cells it is quiet.
WDC: Can you describe the Lubyanka to us at all?
GV: Big. Was yellow with, uh, green walls. The rooms were – all cold. It was always very cold in that place.
WDC: Were you kept in a cell?
GV [shaking his head]: No, no. Uh – how do you say? Box? A sealed box? No bars. No windows. Very dark.
WDC: And was it cold in the box too?
GV [frowning]: Well – yes. Of course.
The atmosphere in the basements and on the ground floor is the same as it was in the gulags. Freddie drags his fingers across one of the cots, and the metal still feels damp with a life ended. The stench of bleach is almost unbearable.
‘How many cells you guys got down here?’ Jeanette asks plaintively.
‘Thirty, thirty five,’ one of the guards replies.
Paul lets out a low whistle.
‘We have a joke down here in Moscow,’ says the guard, ‘that the Lubyanka is the tallest building in Russia.’
‘You can see all of Siberia from its basement.’
The floor is tiled black and white like a courtroom, but standing there all Freddie can think is that there is no justice in this world. Better a chessboard, then.
Stepping out of the prison, Freddie feels his gut twist in dismay. He hasn’t played a real game of chess since he left the States. Since he left Anatoly.
Outside it’s a clear, bright day, the sunshine glistening off of the snow. The Spasskaya Tower stands like a great bloody spike piercing through the blue. Paul jostles the cameramen.
‘Grab some footage of that, will you?’
OUTGOING [20:32]: A man from the Guard Service told me a joke today.
INCOMING [20:32]: Was it any good?
OUTGOING [20:33]: You wouldn’t have laughed.
It’s dark by the time they’ve finished filming, and Russia is cold as ice when it’s dark. He nicks his finger on his cigarette lighter but doesn’t feel a thing, and as he’s examining the blood welling under his nail, he hears a familiar, American voice.
‘Freddie? Freddie Trumper?’
In the years between meeting Florence and winning the championship in Reykjavik, Freddie returned to America to get his masters in journalism – at Florence’s pushing. It had been an unremarkable period in his life, spent mostly sitting at the back of the auditorium, planning chess games, and handing in barely passable essays.
But it had put him in contact with some colorful people.
‘Platt, oh my god.’
The man is small – smaller than Freddie, even – with round, shiny eyes and an all-teeth grin. He had always reminded Freddie a bit of a shark. Not a great white but one of those snub-nosed little bottom feeders. That was Platt James.
‘Fancy seeing you here,’ Platt’s saying, and those eyes are searching, searching.
‘Yeah, I’ve, um.’ Freddie sticks his thumb in his mouth and sucks away the blood. ‘I’ve been here for a little over a week,’ he mumbles.
‘No fucking way, man. No fucking way. Moscow?’
‘We landed in Murmansk and took the long route down.’
‘No shit. Is it a chess thing? I heard you were, uh –’ Platt jiggles his hands about, ‘— into that stuff.’
Very perceptive of you, Platt, Freddie thinks, but he manages to keep his face neutral when he says, ‘Filming, actually.’
‘Ooh,’ the small man sounds grave, ‘That must be difficult.’
‘It’s been better.’
‘Yeah,’ Freddie frowns, ‘How’d you –’
Platt waves a hand again, ‘I’ve been interviewing some expats with ties to Walter and that lot. Think I heard them mention you.’
There’s something off about that that Freddie can’t quite put his finger on it. He lights a cigarette and offers Platt one. The other man shakes his head.
‘Me,’ Freddie takes a well-deserved puff, ‘I just started.’
They stay like that for a moment, one smoking, one not, the Spasskaya no longer like a great bloody spike but the image of Soviet glory all lit up in the night.
Platt shifts in his loafers.
‘… Where’s your Ruskie friend at?’
It takes Freddie a beat to realize he’s talking about Anatoly. How he knew about Anatoly, Freddie doesn’t want to know, but it makes him straighten his spine.
‘Mr. Sergievsky was unable to gain a working permit here in time for shooting. He’s staying behind in the States.’ He doesn’t like the way his voice sounds.
Platt smiles like the cat he is, his reply unspoken in the air between them.
Unable or unwilling?
Freddie takes a drag on his cigarette. ‘How have things been for you since Columbia anyway?’
Platt sucks his teeth.
‘So-so. Got married, got divorced. Married again,’ he furrows his brow thoughtfully, ‘I don’t know where she is now though.’
‘Hm,’ Platt shrugs, ‘I guess.’
His eyes positively flash in the darkness.
‘How would y’feel about grabbing lunch tomorrow? My treat. I know this great place on the Tverskaya.’
Part of Freddie – the part that still gets flustered around Anatoly – bristles at the prospect of a date. But that’s not what this is. Thinking of Platt, Freddie can’t imagine any of his marriage troubles have stemmed from those sorts of problems.
All this stuff about Global’s got him on edge is all. Walter hadn’t mentioned anyone else being out in the field, and Freddie can’t imagine Walter hiring someone like Platt anyway. Platt’s dislikeable. (So is Freddie but Freddie is a world-class chess champion.)
‘No,’ he says, and Platt frowns.
Freddie jabs his cigarette at him. ‘I don’t know what you’ve got planned, but whatever it is can stay the fuck away from me and my boss.’
‘What the hell’s this got to do with Sergievsky?’ Platt snaps, some of that old temper rising to the surface. Interesting how he assumed Freddie was talking about Anatoly too. (He was, but – well, Walter’s his boss.)
‘Forget about it,’ Freddie says, and he can see from the look on Platt’s face that he is most certainly not going to forget about it. There’s something else there, though. Beneath the surface. Something more insidious than just plain old anger.
‘You’re a fucking spaz,’ he spits, and then he actually spits. On the ground.
‘Go jerk it and cry, asshole.’
Platt hisses at him and stalks away, little feet barely sinking in the snow. Freddie thinks that he’d rather pull his own teeth out than eat dinner with that man.
Of course, it’s only when he gets back to his hotel room that what he’s done begins to sink in. He wipes a hand over his mouth and feels the stubble there. His eyes smart. He mustn’t have looked too good today. Probably looked like an easy target.
The first thing he does is call Walter and ask him if anyone named Platt James is working for him. Walter says, ‘No. What the fuck kind of name is that?’
The second thing Freddie does is throw up.
Leant over the porcelain bowl, staring at the Pollock painting of his own insides, he thinks: This has to be about Anatoly. There is no other option.
If Florence were here she would tell him, ‘Stop freaking out. You’re being overemotional.’ He had hated Florence for what she had done to him – really hated her – but goddamn if she hadn’t been the guiding light of his life.
He slides to the cool bathroom floor (“cool” is a redundant word. Everything in Russia is cool) and cradles his head in his hands.
There is a knock at the door.
‘Jeanette.’ His voice is completely wrecked. Thankfully Jeanette doesn’t seem to take any notice.
‘We’re catching the train up to St. Petersburg tomorrow. Just thought I’d say.’
‘Novgorod cancelled on us so we’re skipping the north leg up a week.’
‘Shit.’ There is nothing he wants less right now than a long, third-class train ride. ‘What time?’
‘We leave at five.’
Double shit. ‘Look, Jeanette,’ he sighs, ‘I’m really tired, so do you think we could postpone till…’
‘Global’s not paying you to look pretty, Trumper. Ass down in the lobby at five.’
Jeanette’s heels click on the tiled foyer as she exits the hotel room, and Freddie sighs. It’s not that he doesn’t like Jeanette – in fact, she reminds him a lot of himself when he was that age – punchy and difficult – but… Well, it’s hard to like anyone when they’re working for Walter.
They had needed the money. More specifically, he had needed the money. Anatoly had some winter dacha he was eager to return home to, but Freddie wouldn’t stand for it. He isn’t sure if it was out of his fear of Svetlana, the animosity he felt towards Anatoly’s people in government, or just the animosity he felt towards Anatoly’s people in general. Perhaps it was some peculiar mixture of the two.
He still has recollections of the drills he was made to go through in elementary school. Duck and cover. He remembers thinking: how’s a table gonna protect me from a nuclear bomb? What if he got melted to the table? What if that’s how they were going to find him?
(He also remembers, less clearly, an old man from the Ukraine coming to tell them about his time spent during the Purges, and afterwards, in Kolyma. ‘The guards would call us zeks,’ the man had said, and Freddie’s eyes had been on his scars and on his hands, ‘But after Stalin heightened the workload, they found a new name for us. They called us dokhodyaga.’)
(Freddie didn’t like to think about that, when he was sat across the board from Anatoly. Anatoly’s hands would be in his hair and on his hips and he would think that if he thought about those camps any more than he already did, he’d go insane.)
But now he is here, in Russia, where there is no one he loves enough to quell the churning in his stomach. He passes building upon building upon building and any of them could be gulags. Any of them pieces in the big chess game played by the Dalstroy in the east and, on a larger scale, by Joseph Stalin, dead on the floor of his house in Kuntsevo with urine dripping down his knees.
Here, if accusations start flying Freddie will be unable to just hit whoever is saying them and storm back to his hotel room.
(He can still hear Platt’s voice very clearly in his head. Where’s your Ruskie friend at? What the hell’s this got to do with Sergievsky?)
Here, there are people who know things about Freddie, in ways that make him more uncomfortable than he’s been in years.
WDC: You were kept in an experimental design bureau.
GV: A sharashka, yes.
WDC: This was because of your considerable intellectual background?
GV: I was professor of architecture at the Cornivus. They needed people who could – think. Think very well.
WDC: Would you say that the conditions in the sharashkas were better than those in the labor camps?
GV: They were better than the gulags.
WDC: From what you saw…?
GV [resolutely]: Much better than the gulags.
The train ride isn’t as bad as he’d thought it would be, but it still takes too long. Freddie didn’t sleep a wink the night before and it’s impossible to lean his head against the window. Across the carriage, Jeanette and Paul have both tipped their heads back, Paul dribbling softly onto Jeanette’s shoulder. He can’t do that, though. The light shuttering in through the window won’t allow it. So he has to be content with the steady rumpatta-rumpatta of the train’s transit and whatever entertainment he can get from his magnetic chess set.
The taiga lowlands whip past outside, so much more denser and thicker than what he’d seen of Mongolia on flyover. At one point, when they’re stopped at yet another quaint little gingerbread town, he hears the little girl behind him gasp and Freddie feels his pulse quicken.
‘Eurasian brown bears,’ Paul says, smirking. Freddie doesn’t remember him waking up. ‘They’re fucking everywhere.’
Freddie looks at the thing with interest. The walling of the station won’t allow it to attack anybody, but he can still see it, perched up on one of the rocky crags weathered into the mountainside. These people, though, they go about their business as if it is invisible to them.
‘Jesus Christ,’ Paul mutters, and closes his eyes again. Freddie slips back into his seat, into the confines of his anorak.
Russia is beautiful, yes. But it’s an isolated beauty, and a bitter pill to swallow after seeing the way Anatoly’s eyes lit up upon walking into one of the shopping malls on Fifth Avenue. ‘These are all – American stores?’ he’d said.
The guy barely even knew what a hamburger was for chrissakes.
When they arrive at the gulag outside Gatchina, the gates are open and there’s a woman waiting for them. ‘My name is Yelena,’ she says, but her nametag reads Kireyev. ‘I am proprietor of this establishment.’
‘Jeanette Christian,’ says Jeanette, shaking her hand, ‘I’m the production coordinator at Global. This is Paul Able and Freddie. Freddie Trumper.’
Kireyev looks over Jeanette’s shoulder at him. She looks the way Freddie had always imagined middle-aged Russian women would look. Stout. Frowning.
‘You are chess player?’
Freddie summons up a wintry smile. ‘I’m taking a break.’
‘You do not look like chess player.’
‘Well, the ride over here was a little bumpy.’
Kireyev makes a dismissive sound, Russianate. ‘Still. You do not look like chess player. Chess players, they are clean and tidy. You have not shaved. You are pig.’
He looks down at his clothes uncomfortably.
‘I’m not what I was ten years ago, I’ll admit that.’
Kireyev crinkles her nose.
‘You are here to see the gulag.’
Paul smacks his hands together and rubs. ‘Yes.’
‘This is not gulag anymore.’
‘Well, obviously –’
‘But certainly you’re facilities must still in some way resemble –’
‘Is tin factory.’
Jeanette’s eyes widen for a moment, round like saucers, then narrow. ‘Oh. Right.’ She fishes around in her bag for her papers and hands them over to Kireyev. The Russian woman snatches them away and holds them up to her nose.
In the distance, Freddie can see a group of construction workers standing around a fold out table. Their little styrofoam cups of coffee steam in the cool air. Cigarette butts smoke behind their ears. Builders are the same in every country, Freddie supposes. It’s an oddly comforting thought.
As he’s thinking this, Kireyev grunts. She’s obviously reached the point in the letter that everybody, eventually, reaches.
‘You are here on – Molokov’s sanction?’
Molokov. Omniscient, omnipresent Molokov. Paul’s smile is like a zipper left half open. Smug but bitter.
‘Yes. That’s him.’
Kireyev frowns at him.
‘You will find nothing here.’
Paul makes a gesture to the cameramen, who jostle their equipment as if they’re toting guns. ‘We’ll take whatever we can get.’
She’s right, of course. There is nothing for them here. Floor plans, walls half knocked down. There is no stench of bleach here. No heat of life.
Freddie sits beside Jeanette against her wall; her legs in her pink stockings somehow look a lot cleaner and healthier than his own, plumper. Her hand brushes against his and it’s warm.
‘I’m sorry about the train ride Freddie. We made you come all this way for nothing.’
Freddie clears his throat. He doesn’t trust himself to say anything.
‘Tonight we’ll stay in St. Petersburg. Tomorrow we’ll take a rent-a-car down the leg we’ve already done and keep driving south to Omsk. It’ll add two days onto our trip but it’s better than waiting around here for the rest of the crew.’
Freddie rubs his eyes.
‘How long have you been doing this for, Jeanette?’
‘Doing what for?’
‘Working. For Global.’
‘Um.’ Jeanette breathes in deeply through her nose, squints. ‘Five years. Six. I… It’s hard to remember.’ She seems very sad. ‘I’ve been everywhere, y’know? Berlin. Micronesia. I was even in Vietnam, during the war. I was working for a newspaper. I’ve been everywhere but I don’t remember anything.’
‘I remember too much.’
Jeanette looks at him, and the sun is so bright against the back of her head that her face is like an empty black hole.
‘Let’s go get some coffee.’
When he checks into his hotel room there’s a slim white envelope waiting for him at the concierge’s desk. Marya Sergievskaya, wanting to know if he can come out for dinner tonight. We have a standing reservation, she writes, at a very nice restaurant.
For a moment he thinks it might be Anatoly, their handwriting is so similar. He lies back on the bed and taps the card against his teeth, thinking. He remembers Anatoly mentioning the twins being born sometime in the early seventies. That makes Marya – what? – eighteen? – nineteen? If she’s anything like her mother she’ll be beautiful.
He doesn’t think that Paul would stand for him running off with a beautiful young girl for the day. Which is exactly what makes him decide to do just that.
Marya has an unkempt, earthy sort of beauty that reminds Freddie of her father and instantly puts him at ease. He knows nothing about proper Russian food so he lets her set the menu and order the drinks. She is eighteen. She is studying sociology at the university in Moscow.
‘But I am here in St. Petersburg to see the Mariinsky.’
The restaurant is more than nice. It’s the kind of place where they take your jacket at the door and pull out your seat for you. Last time Freddie had eaten in a place like this, he’d been in Merano. There, they knew him, and they’d fed him for free.
Here nobody knows him. At least, not in the ways that count.
Just as Marya begins to fiddle with the soup ladle, they are joined by another face. This one is taller, paler. A sleepy looking girl with Anatoly’s moles but none of his soft smiles.
‘Yana,’ Marya cries, and Freddie feels a twinge of dismay. She has Svetlana’s eyes.
‘I am late,’ the older girl murmurs, waving away a waiter’s offer to pull out her seat. Her accent is a lot thicker than her sister’s, and when she removes her hat Freddie is surprised to find her once beautiful hair cut short. Like Annie Lennox, he thinks.
‘I hope you do not mind that I have invited a guest to our Friday dinner,’ says Marya, and Yana turns those Svetlana-grey eyes on him. Freddie suddenly feels acutely, remarkably uncomfortable.
‘And you would be?’
‘This is Frederick Trumper, Yana. From Global Television.’
Freddie doesn’t smile, but on the inside he’s a little pleased that his reputation precedes him, even now.
‘That would be me.’
‘The man who has filled his head with all these warped ideas of American democracy.’
‘Yana,’ Marya chides, and Freddie is finally released from her intense gaze.
‘I did not want to come,’ the older girl mutters, unfolding her napkin, ‘There was a meeting at the PU and I had to leave early.’
‘Yana is a student here at the Polytech,’ says Marya, not without some degree of pride.
Yana crinkles her nose.
‘Polytech is just an excuse to stay in St. Petersburg. I am here for the people.’
‘A procommunist?’ Freddie suggests, sipping his tea.
‘An activist,’ Yana deadpans.
‘Keeping Russia Russian.’
‘Do you have issues with the communist plight?’
‘Issues doesn’t describe what I feel towards your people.’
‘And yet you are friends with my father.’ Yana’s upper lip quirks. ‘How do you explain that?’
‘Technically your father isn’t a part of the Union.’
‘But from what I gather, he will be. Soon.’ The samovar arrives, but Freddie’s vision has narrowed down to this single point. ‘Tell me, Mr. Trumper – when my father finally returns to his family, will you be joining him? Or will you be finding a new ass to kiss?’
‘Yana,’ Marya warns, again, but her tone is no longer chiding.
‘If you knew what I’d done for your father,’ Freddie snaps, ‘You’d keep your mouth shut and eat your strogonov.’
Yana purses her lips and frowns at him. Around them, the restaurant clamors onward.
‘You say “warped,”’ Freddie says, and he can see the pain in Marya’s eyes.
‘How exactly are my ideas of democracy “warped”?’
‘They are American.’
‘And does that make them backward?’
‘Everything American is backward.’
‘You know, for someone who’s never been there, you sure seem to know a lot about my country.’
‘I know enough.’ Yana is being careful to keep her voice level, but her hands, they shake. ‘I know that it had enough money to send a degenerate pig like you to Reykjavik, and I know that it had enough to tempt my father away from his friends, and from his family. It has enough to keep him there, but he will come back if he knows what is good for him. Your country may be great but –’
‘Thank you for admitting that –’
‘— Russia was a great kingdom before America was nothing but a hole in the ground. I’m not admitting that it. I’m simply stating the facts. Russia is a democracy. It’s your country that’s got it wrong.’
Poor Marya, she is glancing around the restaurant as if people have heard them. Suddenly Yana pushes her chair out – so forcefully that it scrapes on the hardwood floor.
‘I can’t eat with him,’ she says, and Marya’s hand is on her arm, on her neck.
Yana shakes her head, and the peach fuzz of her hair silvery in the candlelight. ‘Nyet.’
When the exit the restaurant, Freddie is shocked to find it still light out.
‘White nights,’ says Marya at his questioning glance, ‘Sometimes the sun doesn’t set here for weeks.’ She smiles at him, her eyes dampening. ‘I really am sorry about Yana.’
‘She is the eldest, and she always loved father the most. I think she thinks you are bad for him.’ Freddie pulls out a packet of Marlboros and offers one to her. Her lips quirk. ‘Nyet.’
‘Well, you don’t look like her,’ he mumbles around the cigarette.
‘A lot of our family was in the army,’ she says, ‘Both of my uncles on Mama’s side. Her father. Papa’s father.’ She flags down a taxi, and Freddie is so impressed by the efficiency with which she does this that he almost misses it when she murmurs, ‘He died when I was quite small. Drowned.’
‘That’s awful,’ he says, but what he’s thinking is, Anatoly never told me that.
‘Yana wants to be just like him. She wants to be a soldier. I think she is… disappointed.’
Marya shrugs her thin shoulders, opens the car door for him. ‘That father wasn’t stronger. That she wasn’t born a boy. I don’t know. She is strange. Not like me.’ This time, her smile is of the deprecating kind. ‘I am very simple.’
‘Still waters run deep,’ Freddie replies, and she scoffs.
‘You hardly know me.’ She takes out a fold of banknotes and pushes them into his hands, kissing his cheek on the way. ‘This is 800 rubles. It should cover your fair. Do svidaniya, Mr. Trumper. And don’t worry.’
Marya spreads her hands, and god, she’s beautiful.
GV: One of the biggest – the biggest troubles with the gulags were the, uh – the guards.
WDC: Were they violent?
GV: No, they – well, yes. Violent. But they didn’t understand. They were not men of learning. They did not know why we had done what we did. Those men, they only exist for country. Andrzej, Bartal and me, we existed for the world.
WDC: And none of you were Russian.
GV: No, uh – [he laughs] we weren’t.
There’s a white Lada Granta parked outside his hotel room. It’s been there for three hours and every half, a man in a trilby hat will get out of the passenger side and cross the road to the general store. He’ll return, smoke a cigarette, and get back in the car. They don’t drive away.
Freddie thinks they might be watching him.
From this height, he can’t tell if it’s Platt or the KGB, but whoever they are, they’re not going away anytime soon. He slips under the cool bed sheets and turns the lamp off. In the darkness, he imagines he can see the Lada’s headlights shining through the kitchen window, ten floors up.
Here, the darkness carries a weight it didn’t before. It’s heavy. All consuming. Freddie lays in his bed and he lets it prickle across his eyes. He imagines that, ten floors down, the man in the Lada is ashing his cigarette. He is looking at the Savior’s. He is looking at the Neva River.
He is looking at Freddie.
OUTGOING [23:15]: You haven’t told anyone about it, have you?
INCOMING [23:16]: About what?
OUTGOING [23:16]: Our situation.
INCOMING [23:16]: Well – There’s not much to tell.
OUTGOING [23:16]: Are you happy?
INCOMING [23:16]: … I guess so.
INCOMING [23:17]: Freddie?
OUTGOING [23:17]: It’s just… Well, as long as you’re happy.
He’s heard the name Kamiński before, Freddie realizes, about halfway between Volgograd and Yekaterinburg. He’s interviewing a woman who had had both of her brothers taken from her during the Purges when she mentions him. They have to stop the camera.
‘Andrzej Kamiński,’ he says, and Paul is scowling at him, ‘Who is that?’
‘Kamiński’s the Polish guy from Chelyabinsk.’
‘A Polish guy from Chelyabinsk?’
‘He lives there.’
‘I want to meet him.’
Jeanette pipes up, ‘You will meet him, in three days. We have an interview.’
‘I want to meet him now.’
The house they’re in is hot and stifling, torn straight out of regency England and pressed down into this frozen wasteland. The Russian woman, she looks between Jeanette and Freddie with a hostility that reminds him of his own mother.
‘What’s brought this on?’ Jeanette asks. Her eyes are worried.
‘He knew Gregor Vassy.’
‘Freddie, if this is about Florence –’
‘It’s not.’ His voice is too loud in the silence. ‘It’s not – It’s just – Gregor… He...'
‘Freddie,’ Paul’s hand is gripping his arm, ‘You’ve been acting weird for a few days now.’
‘They’re out to get me, man.’
‘The KGB. The press. I don’t know. There was a car parked outside the hotel in St. Petersburg.’
‘A car.’ Jeanette and Paul exchange a nervous glance.
Freddie can imagine how he must look right now. Bearded, savage and unstable, wearing the same clothes he’s been wearing for days now. It's a wonder they even let him in front of the camera. Jeanette must be thinking the same thing because, after taking a good long look at him, she sighs and nods her head.
'Okay. Okay, you go on to Chelyabinsk with the crew and Paul and I will finish up the legalities here.'
Paul opens his mouth to protest but Jeanette silences him. Freddie's already halfway out of the room when she whispers, 'Let him have this. I think something might have happened in Moscow to put him on edge.' Then she raises her voice, 'Freddie, I'll be out in a moment to talk to the guys in tech. Just hang tight.'
Freddie vaguely mumbles his assent, all too aware that his feet have ceased to move in time with one another, and that there is a persistent ringing in his ears that has nothing to do with a head cold. This is just like Merano all over again.
For the first time since New York, Freddie wishes Florence were here.
GV: Andrzej Kamiński is most remarkable man I know.
In Chelyabinsk he does not find Kamiński, but he does find Svetlana Sergievsky milling about in the snow outside his house. She's a little woman, dressed all in white, and Freddie doesn't even see her until he is almost on top of her.
'Mrs Sergievsky!' Freddie squawks, staggering backwards into Kamiński's picket fence.
Svetlana takes a long drag on her cigarette.
'It's Vodyanov now,' she says, and - of course, they're divorced. Freddie feels stupid for not remembering. Thank god, he thinks, and then, No. That's not right.
'He has gone to Omsk,' she says, and it takes Freddie a moment to realise she's talking about Kamiński, 'It is the anniversary of his son's death next week.'
'Oh,' he says, 'Oh. Fuck.' He leans against the fence, head spinning. He hadn't considered that Kamiński might not want to talk to him. He hasn't even considered what he might talk to Kamiński about.
'He contracted sepsis from the wounds he sustained in the gulag. His... hands, I believe. They were very damaged.' Svetlana drops her cigarette and grinds it into the snow. She tilts her head up to look at him, her pale grey eyes flashing in the sunlight. 'Viigand is with him. I take it that's who you're here to see.'
'No! No, not at all, I - I'm here on business.' He inclines his chin towards the Global van at the bottom of the drive. Svetlana follows the movement boredly.
'Oh. Is Anatoly with you?'
'No,' Freddie says - too quickly, he's aware, 'I need to speak with Kamiński.'
'He sees no one.'
'He'll see me. Tell him I'm a friend of Florence Vassy's.'
'Oh no, no.' Svetlana jabs a white gloved finger at him. 'You are no friend of her's. She's a good girl, and you broke her heart. It's your fault she's with Anatoly right now.'
'But that's not true!'
'Oh? And how would you know?'
Because I'm sleeping with him! Freddie wants to shout, Because he hasn't seen Florence in years and last Christmas I let him tie me to the bedposts!
Instead he just says, 'Take me to Viigand, then.'
GV: In the sharashka it was difficult to, ah - how do you say? Make alliances?
WDC: You didn't have many friends?
GV: Yes. But Andrzej was always my friend. We were at the Cornivus together in Budapest.
WDC: Andrzej was a chess player wasn't he?
GV: Yes. He taught my - my girl. My little Florencia.
WDC: Little Florencia's all grown up now, yeah?
GV [choked up]: Yes.
In Omsk they find Viigand, blond, pale and severe, and the only thing that hasn’t changed since Bangkok. It takes him a while to recognize Freddie.
'Jesus Trumper,' he says, 'You look like shit.'
Rich, Freddie thinks, Coming from Russian Peter Frampton.
'I'll leave you two alone to get reacquainted,' Svetlana sighs, and disappears into whatever the Omsk equivalent of a Sears is. Freddie wants to protest that he and Viigand were never that well acquainted in the first place, but it seems pointless. Viigand is looking at him with a stiff, uncomfortable expression, his eyes shining wetly.
'Come,' he says, 'Let's get out of the snow.'
They end up in some little tea room on the very top floor of the shopping complex, in the very furthest corner. The walls here are flimsy plywood, leaking around the edges, and it's still freezing cold. Freddie shivers and draws his coat around him, and Viigand watches with something like pity.
'So what are you doing in Omsk this fine morning?' Freddie asks after scolding his lips on the tea.
'I am to monitor the thoughts of the public during this time of transition.'
'Right, right - so you're spying on any potential insurgents.'
'Molokov is worried about men like Andrzej Kamiński breaking away from the state.'
'Oh, I know all about Molokov, believe me,' Freddie says darkly. He reaches across the table and breaks off a piece of black bread, dunking it in his tea. He looks up at Viigand, just as the Russian manages to wipe the look of utter disgust off of his face. 'Still play chess?'
'Not lately. It is not as if anybody would have me after Bangkok.'
'Oh, I don't know. Now that Tolya's left they'd be hard pressed finding anybody to beat you.'
What he's said doesn't register until Viigand is blinking at him, his mouth half open in a question.
'So,' Freddie says, clapping his hands - loud, too loud, 'Svetlana seems to like you.'
Viigand - Leonid Viigand! - manages to blush.
'She is... very charming.'
Freddie feels his heart-rate slow down a little.
'Is she here on business too?'
'Da, she has been offered a teaching position at the State University.'
'Oh? And what's she teaching?'
'Poetry. The Romantics.'
'Right, right. Keats and Byron and -'
'Pushkin,' says Viigand, sternly, 'Zhukovsky. Everything else is - bah.' He waves a hand. Freddie doubts Viigand's read a single poem in his life but, well. His conviction is admirable.
The bill comes and Freddie firmly insists on paying. Viigand watches the whole exchange sombrely from the doorway, snapping things in Russian while Freddie proceeds to cark everything up. On the way back to Svetlana's car, Freddie says, 'You don't think you could get me a meeting with Kamiński, do you?'
'How should I know? What do you English say? - I am not his keeper.'
Freddie must look particularly pathetic today because Viigand can't stay silent for more than ten feet before saying, 'I will talk to Sveta.'
'And in return I promise not to tell Molokov you call her that.'
'And in return I promise not to tell him you call Sergievsky that,' Viigand replies, and Freddie blanches.
'That's not - it's not -'
'Da svidanya, Trumper. We'll call you.'
OUTGOING [21:15]: Saw your old pal Leonid (Сволочь! - AM ) today. He said to say hello.
INCOMING [21:15]: Really?
OUTGOING [21:15]: No. But I could tell he wanted to.
INCOMING [21:15]: Ha ha.
INCOMING [21:16]: When are you coming back?
OUTGOING [21:16]: Probably the twenty-first. Why? Do you want me to come back sooner?
INCOMING [21:16]: No! No, it's just - well, I was wondering about Hastings this year.
OUTGOING [21:16]: ... Right. Right! Hastings...
Placing the phone back on the receiver, Freddie can't help but wonder if Anatoly wants him to come back at all. When he had propositioned Freddie back in New York it had sounded like more of a joint deal. Now Freddie can see that he's merely filling a place Florence had once occupied.
He wonders if they've ever sat down and spoken about that. They've fucked but have they ever really talked? Anatoly had once shown such eagerness for a life here - a life together - and, hell, Freddie might have been okay with that. There are some aspects of Russia he enjoys, after all - excluding the hard liquor.
But now it seems that wherever Freddie goes, Anatoly does not follow.
Freddie rolls over, burrowing down into the duvet. It's so goddamn cold in this goddamn fucking country. It occurs to him, then, that there are better things he could be doing with his time than desperately trying to sleep. So he throws on a pair of jeans and his old Columbia sweatshirt and treks down to the lobby.
At the front desk is a lanky looking teenage boy with a walkman clipped to his belt. Freddie has to shout a few times to be heard over the tinny roar of the music.
'Chto?' the boy grunts, pulling off his headphones.
'Do you know... where I can find... a computer?'
'Eto dva chasa utrom...'
'Da, da,' the boy rolls his eyes, 'Ah... Biblioteka. Biblioteka imeyet komp'yutery.'
'Glupo mudak,' the boy mutters, jamming his headphones back on.
Freddie makes the half hour journey from the hotel to the library in the freezing cold, where he has an even longer argument with a librarian who neither speaks English nor particularly wants to cater to an angry American in the wee hours of the night. But Freddie gets what he wants (he usually does) and pays for ten minutes of usage.
This is what he finds out:
Platt James does not work for Global Television.
Platt James works for High Culture International, a sports magazine based primarily in the U.S.
High Culture International is a tabloid journal masquerading as a respectable magazine.
The latest and most successful story ran by High Culture International was about an Olympic high-jumper caught giving head to a guy in an alleyway in Brooklyn.
You can see where this is going.
Freddie calmly shuts the computer down and thanks the librarian for her time. He puts a coin in the charity box in the entrance hall and exits into the pale and unfeeling night. He doesn't cry, he doesn't scream.
He doesn't even go to a bar and get black out drunk.
What he does do is let one long, shuddering breath escape him, pooling white in the air before him.
When he gets back to the hotel, there's a message from Viigand waiting for him at the front-desk.
Andrzej Kamiński is a small, thick-set man with wide, owlish eyes. He smiles weakly at Freddie from across the parlour before murmuring something to a small, dark-haired woman. Then he approaches and before the Freddie knows what's happening he's enveloped in one of those tight, life-affirming hugs.
'Leonid tells me about you,' Kamiński says, and then, 'How is Florencia?'
Freddie feels his throat close up.
'Fine. She's - fine.'
GV: In the gulag, I did not tell anyone my name. They did not care. It was not like - like Poland. They did not keep lists.
WDC: And you didn't tell them your name in the Lubyanka?
GV: No. No, if I told them my name, they would kill me.
WDC: Because you were a political activist in Hungary?
WDC: But they knew Andrzej?
GV [regretfully]: Yes. And his son, Bartal.
'I think Bartal would not like it here. He was always longing for Hungary, where his mother is buried. But Olga and I had already made life here. You understand how it is... I see no point going back now...'
Kamiński has been talking for over an hour and Freddie has never felt like such an asshole. This man is a friend of Florence's and in a better world it would be her standing here, not him. If he knew what he had done to her... well. The man is old, that is true, but he has an ox-like strength to him. Freddie is certain that he would be on the ground within a minute of confessing.
Instead, Freddie lets him vent. He finds out that Kamiński has not been in touch with Gregor since they were released. He finds out that Florence has not been back to Russia and that Gregor has no desire to either. In a way, Freddie's glad. There is something disturbing about these crossing of wires; Svetlana and Viigand, Platt and Anatoly, the Sergievsky twins. He is certain that if he dug deep enough, he would uncover all the ghosts of his past in this frigid wasteland. Even his own mother.
When Bartal Kamiński and his father were captured, Soviet authorities were unsure at first of what to do with them. Andrzej had an early onset form of arthritis that made it impossible for him to perform the labours that would be required of him in a gulag, and Bartal was too young. In the end, they were sent to a design bureau - a sharashka - where Andrzej was to instruct Russian engineers in the construction of a bridge. It was there that - quite by chance - the family were reunited with Gregor Vassy, who had assisted in the bureau's very building.
They lived what Kamiński calls a "quiet, menial existence" until the day Bartal turned eighteen, at which point he was to be sent to work in a gulag under the Dalstroy. Andrzej had fought, fiercely, for the right to keep him, insisting that Bartal was the only one capable of writing down his equations for him.
In the end, the Dalstroy won out. The ensuing scuffle was so severe that Andrzej was to be punished with a cell box in the Lubyanka.
'I stabbed a man,' Kamiński explained, 'With compass from the drafting table. Gregor helped.'
When Kamiński and Gregor were released in 1990, they went their separate ways. Gregor went to Walter de Courcey and to his daughter, and Andrzej went to Olga Popov, an anti-communist he had met in the sharashka and fallen in love with. It would be another year until Bartal's body was located. He had died in 1975, only a year after he was admitted into the camp.
'They had done horrible... horrible things to him, at the Kraslag. Most of them I do not think they told me about.'
Freddie shudders. Bartal Kamiński was five-years-old when he and his father were captured - the same age as Florence when she had been picked up on the streets of Budapest. Florence would not have survived a gulag, Freddie is sure. Even she is not made of such tempered stuff.
They play chess in an abandoned park, Freddie moving Kamiński's pieces for him. He feels an intense swell of relief, to be playing chess simply for the sake of it. Lately he has found that he is less and less Freddie Trumper, Grand Master, and more and more Freddie Trumper, Global Television.
It's halfway through a game that he's playing rather dismally when Kamiński asks, 'Do you know a man by the name of Anatoly Sergievsky? Rook to D7.'
'I played him, once,' Freddie says coolly, 'For the World Championship in Merano. I lost.'
Freddie worries at his king, wondering if he should continue. He figures there's no harm.
'I saw him again in Bangkok, a year later. By then I was commentating for Global.'
He nudges his own rook two spaces to the left. Kamiński grumbles.
'Te geci... Did you speak with him?'
'I did. I helped him win against your Mister Viigand.'
'Good man. King to F1... What made you do it?'
Freddie obligingly moves the piece.
'I don't know. I was in a weird place then. I'd hated him and hated him and then all at once I didn't.' It seems a great many years ago that he sat across from Anatoly in that park, although in reality it has only been ten. Freddie was most likely drunk - he can't remember, but he can remember that Anatoly had been tired, and lonely, and really very lovely, and that Freddie had been balancing on a knife's edge between punching him and getting on his knees for him.
And there had been a word, a phrase, a question unuttered.
'Freddie...' Anatoly had said, and then he'd never gotten around to it.
Freddie, it's useless.
Freddie, I'm not staying.
'Frigyes, it's your move.'
Kamiński is looking at him expectantly. Freddie blinks away a decade's worth of hopes and doubts and moves his bishop to D4.
'Ah-hah!' Kamiński crows, and moves his pawn, 'Check!'
Freddie stares uncomprehendingly at the board and at his king, standing vulnerable in his little square.
'No,' he says.
Kamiński laughs and picks up his pawn to replay the movement for him.
This man's in mourning, Freddie thinks, Have a little respect.
And then, No. That's not fair. Fuck you.
He recovers his dignity long enough to shake Kamiński's gnarled hand and lead him back to his car. Then he grows sullen again. Kamiński pauses, halfway into the driver's seat, and peers at Freddie.
'You are this Sergievsky man's second now, yes?'
Freddie goes white.
'Who told you that?'
Kamiński sniggers at him again; a dark, Eastern-European laugh like Anatoly's.
'I already know before you come here. Leonid tells me things when he brings me my shopping. I don't know why he does this. Is not like I don't know who he is.'
Freddie smirks. He finds the image of Soviet wunderkind Leonid Viigand demoted to the role of an errand boy oddly endearing.
'Is difficult, winning the trust of a man like that.'
'Oh, I don't know. Viigand just needs a kind word or two.'
'I was not talking about Leonid.'
Freddie feels a part of himself close off. He leans on the car door, suddenly craving a cigarette.
'Whaddaya wanna know, Andrzej? Svetlana been whispering in your ear?'
'No, no,' Kamiński says with a grave expression, 'She is strange girl. She come to Gregor with Florencia, do not even look at me. But now she is here with Leonid and suddenly she wants to file my taxes. But she tell me nothing. Where is Florencia? Do you speak to her?'
Freddie takes a deep gulp of air he hopes goes unseen.
'She's in Szeged. I don't speak to her.'
'Ah. You are in love with her?'
'No,' Freddie chokes, 'No. Once, I think. But not now.'
'Eh. Her loss. Find yourself a nice girl, Frigyes. She solve all your problems.'
'Oh, I highly doubt that. You have a nice day now, Andrzej,' he says, and shuts the door. Kamiński rolls down the window.
'If you see your chess man, you say: Andrzej Kamiński is coming for you.'
Freddie smiles stiffly and waves goodbye.
It's only on his way back to the hotel that he realises he didn't even ask Kamiński about the interview. Or thank him for his time.
God, maybe I am an asshole.
WDC: What did you struggle with the most upon your release?
GV: I do not understand the question.
WDC: Well, uh - did being outside for the first time in sixteen years frighten you at all?
GV [offended]: No. Why ask me these stupid things? Is lófasz. "Am I afraid"? No! I see my girl Florencia - she all grown up. So what? I am happy. She has lived full life. She has loved many people. Me - I have been in a box. I no complain.
WDC: Did you know that she had an ongoing dalliance with one of our own stuff, Freddie Trumper?
GV [grumbling]: Oh, don't talk to me about "Freddie Trumper."
He tries to call Anatoly on his last night in Omsk but the phone goes straight to voicemail. There is something infinitely nauseating about calling somebody only to have your own voice parroted back at you.
'"Hello, you've reached Freddie Trumper, the man, the myth, the legend. If this is about the strange, gangly Russian man that's always following me around, then can you please call him on his phone. Jesus Christ. The shit I put up with."'
Freddie hurls the message machine at the wall, where it lands with a dissatisfying thump, still intact. His heart is beating a tattoo against his chest. That ringing has returned to his ears.
He thinks, maybe, he should get a drink.
INCOMING (FEMALE, BRITISH) [02:11] Hello? ... Hello?
INCOMING [02:12]: Freddie?
(Может быть, это Флоренция Vassy? - AM)
Paul was furious about the interview, of course. 'But then what isn't he furious about?' Jeanette reasons. Evidently she has managed to calm him down on the day long car ride from Yekaterinburg to Omsk. He only gives Freddie a seriously withering stare from across the hotel lobby, and then they're on their way.
'From here we'll go on to Novosibirsk and then pick our way up through the plateau.'
The prospect of another week spent trudging through another endless procession of gulags makes a hard lump form in Freddie's throat. He supposes this is what complete misery must feel like. Jeanette seems to notice his distress and reaches out a warm, pink hand. Freddie shrugs it away with an aggression he usually reserves for the press and for Walter.
On the car radio is Superstar by the Carpenters. He remembers, bitterly, that they had spent that entire month in Calais listening to nothing but the Carpenters. Freddie had absolutely detested all of Anatoly's shitty Russian music, and Anatoly had refused to listen to anything other than acoustic rock. A few tears slip freely down his cheeks, a single, pathetic sniffle escaping, muffled by the roar of the car engine. If Jeanette notices, she doesn't say anything.
He's never been more grateful in his life.
WDC: You know Mr Trumper?
GV: I know he is coward. My girl, she gets her diploma, and where is he? At chess competition, with the Russian. He is hypocrite.
WDC [laughing, uncomfortable]: Well, I happen to know that's not entirely -
Novosibirsk solidifies Freddie's hatred of this dismal country. The buildings are too tall and too grey and too close together; surrounding them is nothing but cold, flat wasteland. If he strains his ears, he is certain he can hear wolves baying in the distance.
Their hotel is miserable and brutalist. The first thing Freddie does when they arrive is strip off and step into the shower, turning the temperature up as high as it will go in the desperate attempt to rid himself of the cold. The floors are concrete, and the radiator mounted on the wall is busted. The cold doesn't go away.
After eating a heavy but plain meal with Jeanette, Freddie retires to the lounge, which is blessedly carpeted. There he fiddles with his magnetic chess set, which he hasn't used since he arrived in Russia, and attracts the gaze of a pretty, middle-aged woman at the bar.
'Ty shakhmatist?' she says.
Freddie opens and shuts his mouth; tries for a smile but ends up simply grimacing.
'Ah - nyet... ya, uh - married. Ya married.'
The woman sighs and rolls her eyes, clearly uninterested.
Freddie is still figuring out whether or not he should feel embarrassed when the hotel's single bellboy arrives at his shoulder, telling him that he has a call.
It's Andrzej Kamiński. They spend a nice few minutes just catching up. There had been a snow storm and Kamiński was worried the Global van might have gotten caught in it. Gently probing the Hungarian, Freddie surmises that he still doesn't know the truth. Maybe he's just lonely. There are no traces of grief in his tone - Freddie wonders if he's truly untroubled, or just putting on a brave face. Or maybe Andrzej Kamiński has grieved enough for one lifetime.
'How - how did you find me?' Freddie asks, before Kamiński can get too carried away.
That means he's in contact with Molokov, Freddie thinks. Fucking Molokov. The last time Freddie saw that bastard had been at a patpong bar in Bangkok. He had been drinking, heavily, and hadn't even registered the group of raucous Russians until he was well into his third glass. Molokov was crowing on about some great plan he had - a plan Freddie would not be brought in on until the following morning - and they had had a group of Thai girls with them. They were all painfully straight, that's what Freddie remembers - or, no. Most of them were. There had been one of two who had abstained from the revelry.
Hell, maybe Freddie should have gone to bed with one of them. A nice, stupid Russian instead of Anatoly Sergievsky, World Chess Champion and serial womaniser. But those pretty Russian boys hadn't known he was there, and the hood of Freddie's sweatshirt had been pulled up over his head. He had been anonymous, unimportant. Only Viigand had seen him, on his way back to the hotel. Viigand, who had a gym mat slung over his back. Viigand who, clearly, abstains from everything.
Freddie wonders of that's where he had gone wrong, somewhere down the track. That instead of wanting the wrong thing he should have just wanted nothing at all.
Kamiński apparently senses the bitterness in Freddie's tone, because he stops in the middle of a story about Olga Popov and asks, 'Is something the matter, Frigyes?'
'No, no, nothing's the matter.'
'You should not lie to me, Frigyes. I will be angry.'
Freddie sighs sharply and leans against the front desk.
'Nothing's the matter, Andrzej.'
'Is girl troubles, I know - man like you-'
'It's not girl troubles,' Freddie says, a little too sharply. Across the hall, the bellboy is glaring at him.
'Okay, okay, is not girl troubles. Whatever you say.'
When it's reached midnight and he has nothing else to say, Kamiński lets out a heavy sigh.
'I go to bed now, Frigyes. Is big day tomorrow.'
'Igen. I give speech at church.'
'Don't know what you stayed up talking to me for.'
'Eh, you are - how you say? - very fucked up. Is bringing me comfort to talk to you.'
'Jó éjszakát, Frigyes.'
When he puts the phone back on the receiver he has to pay the bellboy 400 ruble for the phone bill. The bellboy says, 'You go back to room now,' before zooming away, back straight, ass clenched. Freddie watches him go, wondering if he was an officer before the dissolution.
Girl problems, Freddie thinks, getting into the elevator. Kamiński clearly had thought he was lying, but Freddie had let him go on thinking he had some angry girlfriend back in America because, honestly. What other option did he have?
Better an angry girlfriend than an absent boyfriend.
He thinks, maybe, he should check out the minibar.
INCOMING [05:05]: It's not that I don't - I'm not - I'm frightened, Freddie - about this, about - (Это был приглушен - AM)
OUTGOING [05:05]: Oh, is that what you're frightened of?
INCOMING [05:06]: Freddie -
OUTGOING [05:06]: Because, I don't know if this is news to you, Tolya, but I've been frightened my whole life.
INCOMING [05:06]: I know.
OUTGOING [05:06]: And for the first time in thirty years I don't feel like that.
INCOMING [05:06]: Oh so - so you want me to share that with you? Is that it?
OUTGOING [05:06]: Well gee, I don't know! I'd like you to grow some balls for a start.
INCOMING [05:06]: ... I'm hanging up the phone.
OUTGOING [05:06]: Fine. Fine. You know what? I don't even care anymore. Fuck you and fuck Hastings -
Freddie knows something is wrong the moment the gulag appears on the horizon. It's only as they draw nearer and pass the sign that the significance of the name occurs to him. The Kraslag. Bartal Kamiński's camp.
He feels his heartbeat speed up, a cold sweat breaking out over his forehead. Anton Chekov had once judged Krasnoyarsk to be the most beautiful city in all of Russia but right now all Freddie can see is the Kraslag and the checkpoint drawing ever nearer. This time, in some cruel twist of fate, there is no delay at the gates. Paul has since learnt that citing Alexander Molokov's name will gain them access to virtually anywhere, and wields this knowledge like a weapon.
There is yet another Yelena Kireyev woman who introduces herself with about as much warmth and hospitality as the frozen tundra surrounding them. The gulag is silent and still, like something out of a photograph.
Paul asks if there have been any renovations.
'Nyet,' says the woman, 'No renovation. Only Guard Service.'
'That means nothing's been changed,' whispers a cameraman.
'This is totally gonna boost our production value,' whispers another.
Freddie feels the terror ringing inside of him like he hasn't since Chernobyl.
At a first glance, the Kraslag doesn't appear any different to the countless other factories, warehouses and storage houses across Russia. Freddie lets Paul get his long takes and panning shots and crane views, stands tapping his shoe nervously against the tiled floor. Jeanette notices and frowns at him concernedly.
'Are you okay?' she asks.
Freddie nods, then thinks better and shakes his head. But before Jeanette can say anything Paul appears, ushering Freddie off to one side. He hands him a prompt sheet with a few bullet points about the 1980's dissolution.
'Just make something up,' he says, and for the first time since he took this job Freddie starts to wonder if they really are filming a documentary, and if this isn't some big plan of Walter's and the CIA's to say one last fuck you to the USSR. Is that why Jeanette had been so vague about her life before Global? Vietnam? Who sends a woman alone to Vietnam?
His mind is still running round in circles over this when they come into the belly of the facility that things start to really take shape.
'This is shower block,' says the woman from the Guard Service, with the air of someone who has made this speech many times, 'Here we hose down new prisoners and prisoners who have contamination.'
Freddie takes one look at the dank concrete room, the stains on the walls, and it's like everything he's experienced in the last month has come rushing back to him in perfect clarity. The phone tap and Platt James; the argument with Yana Sergievsky; every single, wretched detail of Andrzej Kamiński's imprisonment and - to top it all off - his ever growing suspicion that the man he loves is leaving him, just as everybody else in his life has ever left before him.
He begins to hyperventilate. Jeanette begins to worry in earnest.
'Freddie - Freddie, Jesus Christ, what's the matter?'
He slurs that she should get him above ground, because he's most likely going to be sick.
They end up crouched in the snow side by side - she, Paul, and one of the cameramen - while Freddie moans and stuffs snow into his mouth. His throat feels raw. He wants to weep as he had in the car but is afraid of looking weak in front of these people. (He's afraid of looking weak in front of anyone.)
'Look,' says Jeanette, her pink stockings saturated at the knees, 'I'm going to call Walter when we get to Irkutsk, and see if we can do the rest of this at the studio.'
'Because clearly there's something seriously fucking wrong with you,' Paul adds, and Jeanette hisses at him.
The cameraman proffers up another handful of snow and Freddie stuffs it into his mouth greedily. He wishes that the snow would seep right down inside him, into whatever's causing him to hurt like this. Anatoly had once told him a fairytale about a girl who could hold a piece of ice on her tongue and it would never - you know what, fuck Anatoly, he doesn't know shit.
With what feels like a monumental effort, he drags himself to his feet. Paul, Jeanette and the cameramen remain kneeling on the ground, looking up at him anxiously. The woman from the Guard Service is standing by the door, throughly unimpressed. Freddie sighs.
'Get me the fuck out of here.'
OUTGOING [24:18]: I'm tired, Andrzej (Камински? - AM). But it's more than that. I've been exhausted for so long I've forgotten what it's like to, you know - to want things - to want to do things.
INCOMING [24: 18]: I was the same when they found Bartal.
OUTGOING [24:18]: Does it get better?
INCOMING [24:18]: No. (Trumper что-то говорит. Камински смеется - AM). Frigyes, you are so morbid! What I mean to say is that it does not get better, but you can pretend, and one day you look into your head and you see nothing but what you have been pretending. Suddenly is not pretend anymore. You understand?
'How much alcohol have you had since you arrived here?'
Freddie blinks at the ceiling, the question taking a long time to register.
The Russian doctor mutters something to Jeanette and she sighs. 'How much have you had in the last twenty four hours?'
Freddie's tongue feels like a wad of wet cotton in his mouth. Speaking around it is difficult.
'Uh... I don't know. A bit. A lot.'
The doctor mutters something else and Jeanette snaps loudly, 'Freddie!'
Her voice is like an icepick jutting right into his skull. He glares at her.
'You didn't tell me you spoke Russian.'
Jeanette presses the heel of her hand into her eye.
'I don't, I - I don't speak Russian.'
Freddie looks from her to the doctor.
'Who's he belong to?'
'Is Molokov here?'
'Jeanette - are you a spy?'
'I don't know.' She sighs and closes her eyes for a moment. When she speaks again, she seems to have adopted a British accent, like Florence's. 'Yes, I suppose. I work for the UNSC. My name's Trisha.'
'And all of this has been a farce?'
'Yes and no.' She's very tired now, Freddie can see it. 'The documentary will still air. I doubt it'll get very high ratings but... it'll air. Meanwhile, the World Security Council can rest in peace knowing that the Russian Federation has been sincere in their reformations.'
Jeanette - Trisha - smiles at him tightly. Freddie feels like he might be sick again.
'You have to understand that we couldn't say anything to you without there being an unjustifiable risk.'
'Why?' he asks, hoarse.
'Because you're unstable, Freddie. And so is Russia.' Freddie thinks that Florence would like Trisha. It's a disjointed thought, from some part of him that is not lying prone in a hotel room in the ass crack of Siberia. A part of him that is still capable of humour.
All of a sudden, he is filled with a violent anger.
'Will you let me see Molokov?'
'I suppose so. He's here for you. Just promise not to tell him any of what I've told you.'
She looks so young, Freddie thinks derisively. He's waiting for her to offer him a pinky to clasp. Instead, she barks something at the doctor in fluent Russian and he scampers out the door, scared witless.
Freddie thinks that Florence would really like her.
Apparently before he can leave he has to talk to Molokov, and to Krupin. Grisha Borya Krupin is a very esteemed colleague of Boris Yeltsin's, and a rather avid chess player. He wants to know why Freddie is leaving Russia.
'Because I fucking hate it here.'
Molokov swallows wetly.
'What Mr Trumper means to say is that -'
'No, fuck you, I know what I'm about.'
Alexander Molokov is by no means as regal looking as Anatoly, but he is tall enough that Freddie has to get up on his tiptoes to look him in the eye. He still might be a little drunk but he has a question he needs answered.
'Platt James,' Freddie says, 'Do you know him?'
'But you do know him.'
Molokov makes a vague sound. 'He approached me several months ago wanting to do a story on you and Anatoly. I told him no.'
'Is that so?' Freddie sees Trisha step out of the elevator, body tensed in anticipation of a fight. Freddie drops his voice a signifiant few decibels. 'He's still here. He accosted me in Moscow.'
'I was not aware -'
'Get him out,' Freddie says from between gritted teeth, 'or I go to the UNSC and I tell them all about how you've been tapping my phone.'
'I'm sure that's not...' the Krupin guy begins, chuckling lightly, but stops when he sees Freddie's glare. Freddie is certain that this guy had something to do with the Kraslag, and with the Lubyanka. He doesn't know why or how, but he's certain.
'Freddie,' Molokov says, 'There was once a time we worked together.'
'I know. I used to think it could be like that again but the years have driven it out of me.' Freddie draws him close, as softly as a lover might. 'Stay away from my friend,' he whispers, 'And stay away from his family.'
'Marya and Yana?'
'If I hear you've touched a hair on those girls' heads I'll show you that Russians aren't the only ones capable of war crimes.' Freddie steps back and he smiles, speaking loudly enough so that Krupin and Trisha can hear him. 'I'm sure you understand my motives, Alexander.'
Molokov is pale with anger.
'I hope you have a nice flight, Mr Trumper.'
WDC: Do you remember what you said to Florence when you first saw her?
GV: Oh, I do not say anything. I cry. She cry too. When we are done crying, they make her sign many, many papers. Florencia is very beautiful. Man is looking at her. I think he loves her.
WDC [confused]: Trumper?
GV [shaking his head vehemently]: No, no. Different man. Much more handsome. Dark, uh, [gestures to head to indicate curls] messy. I do not see him again.
WDC: ... When you were done with the papers, did you - did you speak to Florence then?
GV: I did, yes.
WDC: And what did you say?
GV [smiling]: That is for me and my girl to know.
When he lands at JFK, Anatoly is waiting for him in the arrivals hall. There's a brown paper bag in his hand and a newspaper tucked under his arm. He is real, and apologetic, and lovely. Freddie doesn't sob as he had over the phone but he does let Anatoly pull him into a hug with one gangly arm.
'Lyubov moya,' he says, pressing his mouth fiercely into the American's hair.
Freddie feels himself go limp.
'Tolya, god, Tolya...'
Distantly, he hears someone - Paul or Trisha or god know's who - inquire after his health. Anatoly waves them away, a hand placed discretely in Freddie's own. 'He'll see Walter tomorrow.'
Trisha - definitely Trisha - murmurs a goodbye. Only when they are gone does Anatoly draw back and peer at him. His eyes are worried. Beneath them are dark purple bruises like he hasn't slept for days.
'Freddie,' he says, seriously, and now Freddie's crying, 'I am so sorry.'
'I know,' Freddie chokes out, 'I know, I know...'
It's nowhere near what he actually wants to say but right now he can't bring himself to care. It would take a considerable amount of energy to rail against Anatoly now, he suspects - energy he doesn't have. And, looking the Russian in the eyes, Freddie can't imagine getting angry will solve anything.
We're going to sit down, he decides, and talk about this like mature adults.
WDC [standing up]: Thank you for your time, Mr Vassy.
GV [shaking my hand]: Mr De Courcey.