Gerald Seymour


The Aeroflot was eighty minutes late.

For 'operational reasons', the girl at Information explained. Eighty minutes late out of Moscow, and she had that sweet Swiss haughty stare which seemed to say that he was lucky the damn thing was airborne at all.

Alan Millet stood close to a television monitor screen that would tell him when the Ilyushin was on final approach. He might seem calm, but it was a sham. He was nervous and excited.

The passenger would be in the back seat of the tourist section, in the centre of three, with Security on either side.

Sometimes the passenger was handcuffed for the length of the flight, sometimes only until it had left Soviet airspace, sometimes just up the aircraft steps at Sheremetyevo.

He looked at his watch. There was time for another coffee, but he had already been three times to the coffee shop. He would wait. He would watch the passengers as they came through the silent-opening glass doors. His passenger would not be delayed by baggage collection. Just a grip bag, a holdall, or a plastic sack. There wasn't much to bring, where this one was coming from. The Security men would stay on the aircraft, and there would be some insult or jibe, then their noses would be back into their magazines, the stewardesses would bring them another drink, and they would prepare themselves for four hours flying time back to Moscow.

Letters and figures raced across the width of the monitor screen. The Aeroflot was announced. He felt a dribble of sweat on the skin at his back.

It was good of the Deputy Under Secretary to have sent him. There could have been a Consul despatched from the Berne embassy, there could have been a local Century staffer. Better that it was Alan Millet, that it should be he who sealed the file on Michael Holly.

Alan Millet had thought many times of Michael Holly in the months since those first sparse reports had seeped into Century House from the camps at Barashevo. It had seemed so bright, so promising, the opening of the Holly file. But the brightness had been scrubbed clear and all because a man had been struck by coronary failure in his cell in a London gaol.

Millet lit a cigarette, drew once on it, dropped it, and crushed it under his foot. He walked towards the 'Arrivals' door. It would not be hard to identify the passenger.

Chapter 1

The distance between the steel-faced door and his bed mocked the man. A few moments before he might have quarried the strength to crawl across the floor to the door, might have gathered the will to beat his fists below the spy hole. But the chance had gone. He lay on his tousled blanket and the soft pillow, and the pain in him swelled and blustered like an autumn stormcloud.

There was always a light burning from the ceiling of a cell for men like him. Bright in the evening, dimmed in the night after lock-up. A dull light now, but his eyes fastened on the wire webbing around it, as if that small bulb was a talisman.

A terrifying loneliness because he could not reach the door, and his voice had fled in defeat from the surging agony that consumed his chest and left arm, and that ebbed at the pit of his throat.

His mind was alive. Thoughts and memories competed with the crushing weight on his upper ribs, the pressure of a pitiless binding that pinioned him to his bedding. Thoughts of the screw who would be sitting in his cubicle at the end of the landing with the central heating pipe against his feet and his newspaper on the table. Memories that were laced in a foreign tongue, wreathed in foreign smells, dinned by foreign sounds, wrapped in foreign tastes. The thoughts and the memories were the intruders because the pain was creeping wider and would win.

There was no one to listen for his whimpered call. He was isolated from the living, breathing world of a thousand souls who eked out their existence beyond his cramping cell.

He wrapped his arms across his body, squeezing at the pressure that engulfed his heart, as if he might spirit away the growing wound.

But he was no fool, this man. He knew the meaning of the pain. A few brief hours earlier, he could have described to his companions in the exercise yard or the Recreation hall the classic symptoms of the cardiac attack. Often they came to him as a counsellor, tapping at what they regarded as his superior knowledge. He told one man of the treatment necessary for hernia and abscess, he told another man of the letter he should write to the solicitor who had acted in defence, he told another how he should conduct himself at the next visit with the wife who was being bed-humped by the lorry driver next door… All the cons came to his cell.

They asked and he answered. He would know the sign posts of the coronary. It would have been expected of him.

He lay very still on his bed because movement aggravated the pain and his legs were useless things.

A man lying in an upper-landing cell of Her Majesty's Prison, Wormwood Scrubs, and watching death scurry closer.

Just a small snapshot kept him company, a wallet-sized picture stuck to the cream-painted brickwork beside his face. A woman with fluffy blonde hair that had been combed before the wind caught at the strands. A woman in a short-sleeved blouse and a dowdy grey skirt. The photograph had been sent to him after conviction and sentence, after the stripping of his cover. The photograph dug out his buried history. The woman posed before the red-stone mausoleum containing the few earthly remains of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. He had taken her there on the last day before he had left Moscow. A spring day with summer closing on them quickly, and they had made the pilgrimage down the steps into the hushed sepulchre, made themselves a microcosm of the slow shuffling queue. Afterwards, when the sunlight had again recaptured them, he had positioned her so that the edifice of the tomb peeped over her shoulders. He had used the foreign-made Instamatic which his position permitted him to purchase in the Foreign Currency shop at the hotel down from the square. When they had brought him to this place and slammed a door on his freedom, she had sent him her photograph. Pretence had no more value.

He gazed at the photograph, looked on it, loved it.

He would not see the woman again. He would see nothing of the past again. Not the wastelands of Sheremetyevo airport, nor the Lubyanka offices behind the curtain of guards, nor the primly ordered sleeping- quarters of the training camp at Ryazan, nor the small flat on the outer span of the Prospekt Mir. It was only a small flat, but adequate for a man who travelled, and for his woman who would wait a year or a month for his return, or eternity. A good woman, laced with Georgian temper… and the pain ripped again deep into his chest, and he gasped, and his voice rattled a call for help and his body was swept in wetness.

He heard the footsteps far away on the landing. Steps that paused and halted. The screw was checking the spy holes.

Sometimes he would look into each cell, sometimes into the first three, sometimes a random selection from all those on the landing.

Shit. So unfair.

Three years in this place, three years of desiccating boredom, and they kept saying that soon he would go, and he had dreamed of nothing beyond the aircraft and the car to his flat, and the body of the woman who had stood before the Mausoleum for his camera. And now he would be cheated. No sound from the landing. The screw might have returned to his cosy room, he might have opened one of the other cells and stepped inside to take a cigarette with a lifer.

On this landing all men were solitaries. Why should he bother to peep through the other spy holes, at men

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