Authors: Gerald Seymour
An imprint of harrperCollinsPublisbers
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.
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 who slept or played with themselves or read trash books? Why bother to look in on a man whose chest was crushed by a granite weight?
He called again and could not hear the reed voice. There was no echo from the shining white tower of the corner lavatory, nor from the oakwood table made by an earlier generation of prisoner, nor from the metal chair, nor from the books, nor from the transistor radio. A silence kept company with his short bursts of breath, and he thought he could hear the perspiration running to the pits of his arms.
He was dying and there was no witness.
The footsteps dragged closer to his door. Measured, confident steps. No way to stop the pain, and his body could not outlast the hurt. They would find him dead. They would stand in the cell and talk in quiet, controlled whispers of his age, fifty-one years. They would speak of his weight, seven kilos over. Of his smoking, two packets minimum a day. Of his exercise, the least that he could escape with. Of his eating, all that was put before him, and wiping up with bread the slicks of fat left on his plate. Textbook abuse and textbook penalty.
To die alone, that was an obscenity. To die without a hand to hold.
The footsteps reached his door.
The man tried to move on his bed, he failed. He tried again to shout, and there was only the thin wheeze of his breath.
There was the scrape of a drawn bolt, the hiss of a turned key in an oiled lock, the tinkling of a light chain cascading loose. He saw the face, shadowed by the steep black peak of the cap. Ironed shirt, pressed uniform, polished boots, bright splash of a medal ribbon. The man saw all of that and could not speak. A voice was directed towards him, there was the command for an answer. Slowly he moved his head as if that were a gesture of respect in itself. The moving of his head brought new agony, and his cheeks twisted. The uniform spun into a blur as it stepped back into the brightness of the landing. The man heard the voice, registered the urgency.
'Mr Jones . . . It's Demyonov . .. grey as a bloody battle-ship. Reckon it's one for the medic...'
Another set of pounding feet.
Another shadowed face at the door. Another strident call, and the man could not respond.
'Come on, Demyonov, let's have you. What's the matter?
Lost your bloody voice for once?'
His lips fluttered. There was a kaleidoscope of thoughts in his mind, and none could slide to his tongue. He peered back at the men at the door, and his eyes bled for attention.
'Get the medical orderly, and I should say a bit of speed about it.' Mr Jones was senior duty officer. The 'cons' stood up when Mr Jones came into their cells. He liked to say that he ran a tidy landing. No messing, no back talk. But the man could not rise, could not speak, and the burden of pain overwhelmed him.
'Not feeling so good, Demyonov? Well, not to worry.
Medic's coming over to have a look at you. You're a bit grey, I'll say that.'
From far down on the bed he heard the voice. He stared at Mr Jones's knees, and saw the careful darn of a short rip beside the knife crease. He remembered that it was said that Mr Jones had a kindly way with him. The cons reckoned there was a softness hidden behind the booming mouth and florid lips. The cons said that he'd learned a garrulous friendliness when he was young and had done shifts in the Pentonville death cell. They said that when things were really grim, like hideous and worse, that then Mr Jones could make himself almost a human. The old cons reckoned he'd have had a bright word for the lad who was being tripped through the door and up the steps and onto the platform as the clock chimed. He'd heard all those things about Mr Jones. You heard everything about everybody when you'd done three years in the Scrubs.
He raised his eyes. He saw the care of the afternoon shave, the eruption of worming veins on the cheeks, the nervousness flickering at Mr Jones's mouth.
'Don't you worry, Demyonov, Medic's on the way. Can't have you going under, can we? Not when you're going home. Well, that's the talk, isn't it?' The Medical Orderly was puffed by the time that he reached the cell door. The warder stayed outside, and the Orderly took Demyonov's fingers from Mr Jones. It was a cursory check, the wiping of the damp sheen from the prisoner's forehead, an open hand laid across his chest, two fingers on the wrist for the pulse.
'I'm going to get the Doctor in.'
'Drag him in from home?' queried Mr Jones.
'I'm not taking the rap for shifting this one . . . '
The Orderly turned from his patient to the warder in the doorway.
'.. . Get yourself down to the telephone, tell Admin that I want the Doctor. Make sure he knows who he'll be seeing, that'll bring him fast enough. Better get the Deputy Governor up too, but the Doctor first.'
And then there was nothing to do but wait and watch.
The Orderly crouched over the bed, wincing at the man's pain, and Mr Jones paced on tip-toe the short length of the solitary cell, and both wondered how long he would last. If he moved the man and killed him, he'd be subject to inquiry and inquest; if he let him be and allowed him to slip, the brickbats would fall as hard. This man above all others.
Everyone knew him in the Scrubs. Oleg Demyonov . . .
described in chorus by the Attorney General and the Lord Chief Justice as the most dangerous individual threat to the security of the state of the last decade. A pudgy little bugger, overweight and balding, ready with a riposte to anyone.
Hold out, you little creep, hold out until the Doctor gets here. It was cold in the cell. Had to be, because for the last two years they'd shut the central heating down earlier. Not that Demyonov was shivering, he'd enough on his plate without feeling the chill of a January evening. The Orderly was cold, only the short white coat over his shirt, and his ears strained for sounds on the iron staircases.