Chapter 1: Prologue
Two boys sit on a bench on a cold evening in Leningrad. The taller one offers the other his coat. The shorter one kisses him.
A third boy watches in the bushes as they run their fingers through each other’s hair. He lifts a camera and takes a photograph.
A man burns the photographs in his office and doesn’t tell a soul.
Two boys cry when they think the other is dead.
Two men forget about each other.
Two men shake hands on stage and feel completed for the first time in fifteen years.
wrote this in a hurry, i'm going to edit it later :)
Florence Vassy did not often ask Freddie for much. She had never expected love from him. In truth, she didn’t know where she stood with him. She had played chess with the man for fifteen years, and in all that time she’d never learned a thing about him. She supposed that was what made him such a brilliant player. He revealed nothing.
The first time he’d even shown a weakness to her was one morning at school, barely a month after they’d met. He was on the verge of tears, and when she asked him what had happened, he told her his friend had died.
He had never elaborated on that until fifteen years later, in their spacious hotel room in a little mountain village in Italy.
After the chess players shook hands, they were swept backstage and didn’t have another chance to meet. Florence and Freddie were immediately driven to their hotel, where they checked in and made themselves at home. Freddie was fidgeting and hadn’t stopped since he’d first set eyes on the opponent. Florence couldn’t say she blamed him. She’d never heard of Anatoly Sergievsky, but he wasn’t something she wanted to miss.
‘Are you going to tell me what’s going on?’ she said, eyebrows raised.
Freddie’s face was flushed. ‘I…’
‘It’s that man, isn’t it?’ Florence prompted. ‘Sergievsky? Do you know him?’
Freddie ran a hand through his hair. ‘Look, this is going to be hard to explain.’
‘Then hurry up.’
‘Alright. Anatoly – the Russian – I do know him. He’s the… the friend of mine I told you about when we were kids. I met him at a chess tournament in Russia and then I got a letter saying he’d been killed. And now…’ A broad smile found its way on his face. ‘And he’s alive. Florence, he’s alive! Anatoly Sergievsky is alive!’
Florence laughed. ‘So, what are you gonna do?’
‘Freddie, I hate to break it to you, but you have to beat him.’
Freddie’s eyes became round. He leapt up and began pacing the room animatedly. ‘Yes, yes, but if I just… I’m sure I can… there’s gotta be some way to-’
‘Hey, calm down,’ Florence soothed. ‘Sleep on it. I’ll contact his manager in the morning, tell him the circumstances, and we’ll see if we can arrange a meeting between the two of you.’
Freddie stopped pacing and kissed her. ‘Thank you.’
‘Now go to sleep,’ Florence insisted. ‘The flight from New York really took it out of you, I can tell. You need your rest.’
But when Freddie tried to close his eyes, he could only see Anatoly’s face, fifteen years older than he'd last seen him.
Before dawn, Florence woke up, sat down at the coffee table by the window, and began working on how best to arrange a meeting with the Russians. She checked her rulebook to make sure a meeting between champions was within the rules, before she began work (with a hot mug of coffee to keep her going).
When Freddie awoke quite a few hours later and saw her busily at work, a cigarette in one hand and a pen in the other, he felt a stab of guilt. I don’t deserve her.
She looked over at him when he sat up. ‘What time is it?’
He checked his watch. ‘Ten.’
‘Good,’ she said. ‘I’m going to call his manager and see what we can arrange. His name’s-’ She fumbled through the papers on the coffee table. ‘-Alexander Molokov.’
‘What?!’ Freddie shouted, leaping out of the bed. ‘You mean that man standing next to Anatoly on stage, his manager, was that fucking snake?!’
Florence’s expression remained indifferent to his outburst. ‘What are you talking about, Freddie? Do I honestly need to say “use your words”?’
Freddie scowled. ‘He was the one who told me he was dead. He was the one who ruined everything for us. I can’t believe Anatoly kept him by his side…’ His voice trailed off as he realised it was very likely Anatoly did not keep Molokov with him of his own free will.
‘So what do you want me to do?’ Florence asked, leaning back in her chair. Hair a mess, arms crossed over her chest, breathing cigarette smoke in his face – she looked like she could kill a man with a glare.
Freddie sighed and ran a hand through his hair. ‘Look, I just- I don’t know, okay. You’re the manager.’
‘Then I’ll call him,’ she said decidedly. ‘Our rules are that the two of you meet in a private room with no listening devices.’
Freddie had to go into the other room as Florence made her call, he was so anxious about the outcome of the discussion (and because he’d rather not think about Molokov).
‘Freddie?’ Florence called. He returned to the room, shuffling his feet. She was still holding the receiver. ‘He says you can have one meeting free, and then you’ll have to start paying.’
Freddie nearly had a temper tantrum right then and there. Paying? Just to talk to someone? But for once, he realised shouting would get him nowhere and instead nodded. ‘O-Okay. Maybe we can change the rules later.’
Florence rolled her eyes, because she knew that was how Freddie played every game. But she returned to the receiver. ‘He agrees.’
Freddie felt sick at the thought of what he’d just agreed to, and suddenly meeting with Anatoly seemed like a terrible idea. What if he’s changed? What if he hates me? What if he only wants to meet with me to beat me at chess? What if he doesn’t want to meet me at all? Thoughts of the recent comments he’d made about Soviets at press conferences came flooding back to him and his stomach lurched. He knows I’d never say that about him, right?
‘Hey,’ Florence said in a gentler tone, placing a hand on his shoulder. ‘You okay?’
‘Yeah,’ Freddie lied, wiping his face on his sleeve. ‘Listen, when we get there, make sure Molokov knows that if we find he’s bugged the place, we’re not going to keep meeting his rules. I wouldn’t put it past him. You wanna know why I hate Soviets? Alexander Molokov. That’s the real reason.’
‘The meeting’s at one o’clock this afternoon,’ Florence said, moving away. ‘Get yourself cleaned up. It’s your last free day before the matches begin.’
Anatoly sat in his hotel room, fumbling with his hands. After he’d been announced as the challenger, he knew papers would be going crazy about him. He’d picked up one that morning and been greeted with his own face looking back at him. He’d thrown it away quickly, not least because he couldn’t read Italian anyway.
He’d thought being announced as the new challenger would be thrilling, but it had nothing on seeing Freddie’s face again. He wondered how Freddie had felt, hearing Anatoly’s name read out, seeing him on stage. The same way Anatoly had a year ago, he supposed.
You’re not dead, Freddie had said. What did that mean? Had Molokov told him Anatoly was dead, just as he’d told Anatoly that Freddie was dead? Then there was his second, Florence or something similar. She was beautiful, and it seemed unlikely she and Freddie would remain simply business partners. He frowned. At least Freddie had the power to fire his second whenever he wished. Anatoly, on the other hand, was stuck with Molokov and Viigand constantly watching his every move.
Speak of the devil, he thought as someone knocked on his door. He answered it and was not surprised to see Molokov.
‘Anatoly,’ Molokov said, letting himself into the room. ‘I have good news for you. This afternoon, you have a meeting – alone – with Fredrick Trumper.’
The brief rush of excitement Anatoly felt was immediately replaced with suspicion. ‘Why? What’s going on? What have you done?’
Molokov laughed. ‘Don’t be so quick to jump to conclusions, friend. There is no catch. You’re free to talk with him for half an hour in complete privacy.’ The tone of his voice implied he expected the players to do a little more than talk in that time. Anatoly felt colour creep into his cheeks.
‘Well,’ he said, shifting uncomfortably. ‘Thank you.’
‘Not a problem, my friend,’ Molokov said, patting him on the back. Anatoly wanted to throw him off, to scream don’t touch me, but he didn’t, because he was trained not to.
He would never admit to himself that for fourteen years, he completely forgot that Fredrick Trumper existed. He would forever blame it on Molokov. He would never forgive himself.
Florence nearly had to tell the cab driver to take them back to the hotel. Freddie was fidgeting and told Florence he was going to throw up (thankfully, he didn’t). She tried to calm him down as best she could, but there was really nothing she could say. One thing became quite obvious to her, however – whoever Anatoly Sergievsky was, he was definitely more than just a friend to Freddie.
When they arrived at the designated meeting place, which was really just the conference room at the hotel Anatoly was staying in, Freddie very nearly ran for his life. However, he forced himself to grip Florence’s hand tightly and march himself into the hotel lobby. Florence spoke to the receptionist (although everything she said sounded like TV static to Freddie) and then they were confronted by Alexander Molokov.
Freddie was surprised by how placid Molokov looked. It was hard to believe that this was the man who had destroyed everything Anatoly and Freddie had had.
‘Ah, Mr Trumper,’ Molokov said, shaking his hand vigorously. ‘It is a pleasure to meet you at last.’
Freddie gritted his teeth and fought down the urge to spit a dozen different insults at the man. But then Molokov called over his shoulder ‘Anatoly!’ and when the Russian came into view, Freddie momentarily forgot about everything else.
‘Hi,’ Freddie said, finding himself grinning like an idiot. He watched the colour creep up Anatoly’s neck until his face was a satisfactory shade of pink. Freddie, his anxiety suddenly gone, turned to Molokov, as Anatoly seemed incapable of speech (Freddie was used to them not being able to communicate, so it didn’t bother him). ‘When can we begin?’
‘Whenever you like,’ Molokov shrugged, with the air of someone who knew something Freddie didn’t.
‘Great!’ Freddie said excitably, taking Anatoly by the arm as Molokov led the way to the conference room.
‘It’s, ah…’ Anatoly began as they walked. ‘It’s good to see you.’
Freddie felt his smile falter. Why was Anatoly so standoffish? Did he really not want to be with Freddie?
They were led into the room. ‘Thirty minutes,’ Molokov said, before slamming the door.
They were alone at last.
This chapter is dedicated to the wonderful SegaBarrett who has consistently offered support on every chapter of this series, and without whom I would certainly not have come this far. Sorry for the hiatus and short chapter, I've been really suffering from writer's block lately. Anyway, enjoy!
At the end of the thirty minutes, Florence made her way into the room as quietly as she could to let them know they had to separate. She found them looking noticeably dishevelled, hurriedly pulling on their jackets.
‘Oh, God, Freddie,’ she groaned. ‘Come on, we’ve gotta go. We can’t risk breaking Molokov’s terms.’
‘Right,’ Freddie said. ‘I’ll see you later, Anatoly, okay?’
‘Okay,’ Anatoly repeated. Florence grabbed Freddie’s hand, dragging him from the room and into a cab.
‘What were you thinking?’ she hissed. ‘I should have known there was something else going on, but I thought even you weren’t that stupid-’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘He’s the enemy, Freddie,’ Florence sighed. ‘Not to mention he’s a man. A Russian man, of all things. You just put yourselves both at risk.’
Freddie pouted his lips. ‘It’s not going to happen again.’
‘Well, you’d better get yourself cleaned up. You have a press conference tonight, remember?’
‘You need to work out how to soften everything you said about Soviets last week,’ Florence reminded him.
‘Everything I-?’ The memories of the distasteful comments Freddie had made about his mystery opponent came flooding back with unprecedented force. ‘Ohh, shit.’
Florence’s lips tightened into a thin line. ‘Yeah. How are you going to explain that to your precious Anatoly?’
Freddie ignored her.
The press conference was a bit of a blur to Freddie. He remembered being practically interrogated about his previous comments and making a few more unsavoury remarks about Soviets (because in truth, there was only one Russian he didn’t have a problem with, and they would be facing each other over a chess board).
He also remembered punching that reporter and storming out in a blind rage.
Now he was lying on his hotel bed while Florence nagged him about his behaviour. ‘Honestly, Freddie, I’m sick of it. You’re pushing me. Why don’t you ask Anatoly to be your second? I’m sure he’d love the opportunity.’
Freddie scowled. ‘Is that what this is about? Are you jealous?’
‘I need to know where we stand.’
Freddie winced, remembering saying the same thing to Anatoly just a few hours earlier. ‘I don’t know, okay? Why can’t we just keep doing what we were doing? That was working fine.’
‘For you, maybe,’ Florence scoffed. ‘You’d better watch it, Freddie. You are this close to losing your second. Or whatever I am to you.’
Freddie turned on his side to block her out. ‘I’m sorry, okay?’
She didn’t answer. Freddie heard the door slam.
Anatoly was still tracing over the marks he went to sleep last night. Never again, he promised himself, and already knew he was lying. How many times had he promised never again?
But Freddie’s different, he thought to himself. I’ve known him since I was a boy.
Molokov had been suspicious, but Anatoly was confident he hadn’t listened in. Instead, they had worked some more on strategy, leaving Anatoly exhausted. He finally went to bed at eleven and recounted his conversation with Freddie in his mind, and fantasised those to come.
He woke up early in the morning and realised Molokov was shaking him. ‘God, Alexander, let me be,’ he snapped before he could help himself.
Molokov gave him a warning glare but didn’t apprehend him. ‘I thought you might like to see the press conference your friend gave last night.’
Anatoly could tell by the tone in Molokov’s voice that he definitely didn’t want to see the conference, but of course, he agreed. Molokov smiled and switched on the television.
Anatoly watched in shock. There was no way that could be… but it was. Freddie, right after their meeting, was making snide remarks about Russians. Molokov handed him a newspaper from a week ago, pointing to a particular article, and Anatoly read it with wide eyes.
“Of course I can beat a Soviet,” Mr Trumper remarked in an interview. “I’ve done it before and I can do it again.”
When asked about why he was so hostile toward Russians, Trumper replied, “They’re snakes. They can’t be trusted. How many times have they cheated against me?”
His manager, Florence Vassy, spoke to this reporter later. “Mr Trumper often becomes frustrated when it comes to chess. Any remarks he makes should not be taken seriously.”
‘I’m sure you understand that he is not an ally?’ Molokov said, leaning in to sneer at Anatoly.
‘Of course,’ Anatoly nodded, repulsed.
‘Good,’ Molokov said, standing up and going for the door. ‘Get ready. The first match is tonight.’