Read Red to Black Online

Authors: Alex Dryden

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Espionage

Red to Black

Red to Black
Alex Dryden

To ‘J’ and to the
Russians who want their freedom

‘…On a huge hill, Cragg’d, and steep, Truth stands, and he that will Reach her, about must, and about must go’

John Donne



I DON’T KNOW WHO I’M writing this for but perhaps…


I MET FINN for the first time back in January…


NANA’S DACHA AT BARVIKHA had always been my home, in…


IT WAS NOT ONLY my father who was delighted when…


THE KRASNOZNAMENNIY INSTITUTE, or KI, was where women trained for…


DEAR RUSSIANS, very little time remains to a momentous date…


FINN GETS UP, walks over to the window, stretches, and…


WHEN FINN AND I had met a year before, at…


IN THE SPRING of the year 2000 Vladimir Putin moved…


IN THE AFTERGLOW of our mild hysteria, I walked alone…


WHEN I’D GOT OVER the shock of Patrushev actually appearing…


AS I SIT now in the vault at Tegernsee, I recall how…


AFTER FINN’S SHOWDOWN with the embassy’s head of station, he…


THE HEAT OF BODIES in the gasthaus at Tegernsee was…


FINN PREFERS TO WALK. Even when he was in Moscow…


FINN WAS BACK in London on the first Eurostar train…


FINN RETURNS HOME that afternoon after his lunch with Adrian.


FOR TWO WEEKS Finn criss-crosses southern Europe, from the Russian…


ON A FINE CLEAR SUMMER MORNING, when the outlines of…


I WAKE ERRLY the next morning unable to sleep, the worst…


AT THE BEGINNING of September 2001, just after we lost…


AFTER MORE THAN A YEAR without contact between Finn and…


TWO THINGS HAPPENED in the following seven days that changed…


I MOVED INTO FINN’S LIFE and his apartment in Camden…


THERE ARE SEVEN OF US sitting in the Café des…


THE PHOTOGRAPHS LIE SPREAD OUT on a burgundy-coloured coverlet that…


ON THE MORNING of the meeting, it is innocently bright,…


THE DRESDEN FILE gives us five names,’ Finn says. He…


THE PLANE LANDED at Scheremetyevo airport north of Moscow at…


I DON’T KNOW what time it was–sometime after midnight certainly–when…


FINN CAUGHT THE TRAIN to Frankfurt, with or with the…


I RETURNED TO LONDON two days after Vladimir had taken…


AT THE END OF APRIL, Finn told me we were…


FINN AND I FLEW to Bucharest one early morning in…


I WOKE UP IN BED. I didn’t know where I…


FINN’S EXCITEMENT is so naive. The almost boyish enthusiasm he…


IT IS JUST MORE THAN a week later. Finn and…


FINN SAID HE WOULD CALL twice a day until he…


THERE IS ONLY one photograph of Mikhail in the public…


writing this for but perhaps it’s for you. If that makes it sound like a confession, you may wonder what I’m expecting in return. A small part of me, I admit, seeks forgiveness, or at least understanding. But that part of me is less important than the forgiveness I wish to give myself, and which I find elusive.

I am writing to draw a line under the past, with its rot creeping into the present. I know now that if I had done this a long time ago, the present would never have been postponed and things would be different today.

In one of his more fatalistic moments, Finn said to me: ‘Anna, you know our story can never be written.’

‘Why not?’ I asked him.

‘Nobody would believe it,’ he said.

But I’m here now, sitting in a medieval vault in a house in Tegernsee on the southern borders of Germany, reading Finn’s story-our story- and I’m aware that all I have between me and the hostile forces that swim up at me from the pages is the Contender
handgun and the twelve rifle shells on the table by my hand. And now that I’ve found these notebooks of his, or books of record, as he calls them, buried in this vault along with all the other material of our secret profession, I see his fatalism was short-lived. As I sift through the piles of notebooks, oddments, scraps and sheets of paper, documents and microfiches-their edges stained with cellar dampness-with only the heat of an oil burner to keep me warm, I can see that he has practically written our story himself.

The notebooks certainly contain the facts and, without these facts, my feelings would be drifting in a vacuum, unmoored to the reality that at any moment I may need to use this gun and all my years of training to kill my way out of here. Feelings need to be clothed in reality and the facts–this story–supply the clothes. For days now, I have been reading and rereading Finn’s prose, notes and observations—over and over. I’m reading them sitting in this dark stone vault and my eyes are running from the fumes of the oil burner and I strain in the dim light to follow the thread of a story that began long before I met Finn.

According to one note Finn made, our story begins in 1998, when Boris Yeltsin’s Russia reached its nadir. A later scrawl in Finn’s undisciplined handwriting names 1989 as the beginning, the year the Berlin Wall came down at last. But another, perhaps more thoughtful, observation says that it all started in 1961, when we Russians erected the Wall in the first place.

Whatever the true beginning, however, everything Finn and I have experienced will continue to unfold into a dark and uncertain future, with or without us.

As I read all his disparate and complementary records, the thing that strikes me most deeply about what Finn experienced in his long quest to have the truth accepted in his own country is his sheer obstinacy, the relentless autopilot of individual human endeavour when success seems impossible.

What also strikes me is that Finn’s past has dictated his life, much as my past has dictated mine.

‘You cannot escape your past, Anna,’ he once told me. ‘But you don’t have to live in it. You don’t have to build the present in its image.’

If only Finn had been true to his own belief.

Finn could have had a quiet life. That is the point, I realise, as I sit here shivering in the damp cold. He told me that he chose to pursue this quest, not just for the truth, but to have the truth accepted by his masters in London, and their political masters in the British Government. But did he really choose? Or was it his deep-seated need for acceptance that fed his stubbornness and single-mindedness?

For my part, I know I’m looking for someone or something to find responsible for my own actions, but I can’t escape my part.

Oh yes, Finn could have had a quiet life, a beautiful life. He had a great talent for doing nothing, which he called happiness, but he chose to go alone down the Tunnel, as he calls it here, and I hope I’m not deluding myself when I say he would not regret that now, whatever’s happened to him. For Finn has disappeared and, as I wait for the crash of sledgehammers against the door upstairs, I’m looking for a clue to tell me something, anything that might help me to find him.

There is much, too, about Finn himself in these notebooks which distracts me from my increasingly urgent task. There are details of his internal struggle to understand his motives, a struggle which I never fully understood, and that he never told me, despite the fusion of our love. During all the time I’ve known Finn, he never wanted to bring his own past like an evil spirit into our house. So he wrote it down in the notebooks and buried it with our secret story in this vault, which has hidden many things and many people in its long history.

And there is much in the notebooks about his feelings towards me.

‘There are three distinct spirits in our relationship,’ Finn once said to my grandmother at the dacha in Barvikha. This was back in the freezing winter weeks leading up to the millennium, when perhaps he and I were at our closest, and when trouble seemed far away. ‘There’s Anna, me and the spirit that joins us.’ My grandmother, with her peasant background, was comfortable with the world of spirits. She laughed with mirth and hugged him. Like many people whose lives he touched, Nana loved Finn.

Finn had just given me a charm bracelet. It contained two charms: a rabbit for me and a monkey for him. It was his nickname for me, Rabbit.

‘The silver circle that links the charms,’ he said, ‘is the spirit that joins us.’

‘I’m not sure I believe in spirits,’ I said.

‘I find I can’t do without them,’ he said breezily.

‘How sentimental,’ I replied.

But it was typical of Finn instinctively to sense the language, the context, of whoever he was talking to. Nana appreciated his inclusion of spirits. Nana was very superstitious and, my mother told me, she was also psychic. With her deep grey eyes that glinted over her sharp, hooked nose, she even looked witch-like. When Finn described his relationship with me in this way, she replied as if foreseeing the future.

‘If only that were true,’ she said. ‘If only you, Anna and the spirit that joins you both really were the only three things in your relationship. God bless you.’

At this moment, in the cellar, I pause over another scrap of paper he wrote about us, on some Luxembourg hotel notepad. I’m mes-merised by what he’s written and can almost feel his presence here, through the words.

‘When we make love, and we look into each other’s eyes, I see
the child in you, Anna, the spirit in you, and in those moments you are me and I am you.’

It is these brief, aching glimpses of our intimacy that distract me from my task and, to keep my mind away from such thoughts and focused on the present danger, I sit and listen for the slightest sound. Then I slot the gun’s firing pin into the mechanism and slide a single round of green spot ammunition into the chamber. With this weapon, I can kill a man at over two hundred yards.


It is hard enough to keep love safe. In my own experience it is prone either to snap suddenly, or to dwindle and fade to a monotonous daily exercise that is not so different from filling the dishwasher or taking the dog for a walk. I have passionately kissed a man at the start of a film while out on a date at the cinema and, by the end, found him physically repulsive to touch. I have also watched other affairs dwindle imperceptibly to the banal, the everyday, the meaningless.

But neither of these fault lines is true in the case of Finn and myself. We have, or is it had? other troubles. Whatever the truth of our love, we allowed too much to come between us. And the past sneaked into any available crack and fissure in our relationship as frost enters the cement courses of a house.

We had the malevolence of others, with their huge forces arrayed against us, but it was we, ultimately, who allowed their hostility to disrupt the peace we might have found.

We had microphones, watchers, tails, people in every corner. We had two of the world’s most experienced intelligence services tracking our every movement. We had shining slivers of time to snatch for last minute walk-ins in hotel rooms across the city. At reception desks, Finn would call me his wife.

‘I’m not your wife,’ I told him at the beginning. ‘I’m a colonel in the SVR. Doing a job, that’s all.’

‘OK. Colonel,’ he might say. ‘Allow me to undo the buttons of your shirt.’


‘Please, then,’ he’d say.

Do I mean that we had the malevolence of others, or do we still have it? Where is Finn? What has happened to him? Is Finn now the past or is he still in the present?

for the first time back in January 1999. Our meeting had been at the Baltschug Hotel, across the Moskva River from the Kremlin. The hotel was to remain a place of good memories for us throughout Finn’s residency in Moscow. As he put it, rather unnecessarily, ‘It was the venue for our first official fuck, Rabbit, endorsed by Her Majesty and the KGB.’

Finn was sitting at the head of the table in a private meeting room at the Baltschug, in his role of Second Secretary of Trade and Investment. He was holding court with a dozen or so business and security acolytes and their boss Pavel Drachevsky, the billionaire aluminium tycoon. Drachevsky had invited some of his managers: his leaden ex-KGB security boss Chimkov; Alexander, the poet, translator and KGB snake who had worked at the United Nations in Geneva for several years; and my friend Natasha, who tried to act in Russia’s confused public relations world as Drachevsky’s PR assistant.

Whether Finn knew the lunch was a set-up or not, he didn’t show it. When I arrived, deliberately late, he looked completely
relaxed. He was sitting in a high-backed chair at the head of the long table. He wore a slightly creased blue suit and a tie, which could have been tied by a schoolboy, with a large thick knot and one very short end. He had brown hair, brushed straight back over his head and greying slightly at the temples, and his face was lined from laughter. His eyes, which changed through various shades of green and brown, depending on the light, as I discovered later, contained a kind of merry amusement that stopped just short of scorn. Finn always seemed to be enjoying himself.

I noticed that he addressed more of his conversation to Natasha, who is very pretty, than to Drachevsky, who was the reason Finn was there and who can’t claim good looks as his forte.

Whether or not Finn knew who I was, I couldn’t tell, but as I entered the room dressed in black leather–it embarrasses me now to recall this–I immediately had his attention. Of course I did. That was the idea. Finn’s reputation for womanising in Moscow was always considered to be the hook to catch him with, despite our consistent failures up till now, and in the crude logic of the KGB it was considered that Finn would be more of a pushover if I, the youngest female KGB colonel, wore black leather.

I took my seat next to Natasha so that Finn would now look at both of us, and the conversation continued in a relaxed and businesslike way.

And then, at the appointed moment, Natasha looked up the table towards Finn. It was all rehearsed. In her lazy seducer’s voice which she and I would practise to our increasing amusement in her apartment over a bottle of wine, she came out with the line we’d told her to say.

‘Tell me, Finn, are you a spy?’

This was the signal for the whole table to stop talking and look directly at Finn. I was supposed to read his face.

There was dead silence. It was a foolish, old-fashioned Cold War moment.

But all I saw in Finn’s eyes was his continued relaxed amusement. And then, startlingly, he put up his hands like a pickpocket caught in the act.

‘How did you guess?’ he said.

It was brilliantly done.

It was certainly not what anyone had expected. It threw the business officials at the party into barely concealed consternation. One or two of Drachevsky’s managers looked around, breaking the injunction to stay staring at Finn, as if they were personal witnesses to a great diplomatic scandal. ‘The Second Secretary of Trade and Investment at the British embassy in Moscow admits to being a spy.’ These managers were almost there, at the interview with ORT News, telling the story of the headline with knitted brows and the melodramatic seriousness beloved by TV interviewees.

But I saw immediately that to look at Finn was not to look at a man who appeared to have confessed to anything at all.

At least silence was maintained in the confusion and the rest of us stayed staring at Finn, hoping, I suppose, to unsettle him. Finn, however, treated us like an audience he had spent hours trying to win. This was his moment of triumph, not defeat, he seemed to say.

‘I’m double O zero,’ he said, and smiled that open, guileless smile that still makes my stomach tighten when I think of it.

There were a few unrestrained grins around the table; Natasha actually laughed out loud. The brain-dead Chimkov and the snake Alexander kept their blank, trained expressions in place. Drachevsky just looked mildly curious. And as for me, I could not help smiling but I resisted aiming it at Finn and looked down at my plate.

The tension, which we thought we would create, but which Finn had effortlessly usurped, was broken. I suspected then that I had been promoted beyond my ability. I was charmed by him.

Finn pressed home his advantage, supremely confident, every inch the willing entertainer. ‘I do know some spies,’ he said, as if to
compensate for the drudgery of his trade job, and again he rocked those managers who, a moment before, had thought they were at a crucial moment in contemporary history.

‘What, here? In Moscow!’ one of them said, outraged.

‘No,’ Finn said, apologetic now that he might have led them to expect too much. His face said how embarrassed he was that he didn’t know any spies actually in Moscow. ‘No, they’re retired now. I only know them socially, I’m afraid.’


Later in the day, Finn called me and asked me to dinner, just as my controllers at the Forest had expected. I accepted, of course. It was my job, after all, but it was easier than I’d feared.

We went to a sushi restaurant which had recently opened up near the church where Pushkin got married; Finn said it was the most expensive dinner he’d ever bought anyone. He’d booked our first room at the Baltschug that night because, as he made clear, he had a discount. I remember I was annoyed by his deliberately aimed presumption. But already he knew I had my orders-we both had our orders-and he decided to make the most of it.

I remember that evening clearly and things Finn said still play over in my mind. He was incredibly indiscreet. He made no attempt to pretend we were anything other than what we were. Looking me in the eye, he said, ‘There wouldn’t be any need for spies if there weren’t any spies, Anna.’ And later, in bed, he said, ‘You’re completely wasted as a colonel, you know. You’re the best honey trap there ever was.’

He knew just how to get a rise from me at that first meeting.

One of the reasons why we’d always failed to trap Finn with the spectacular list of professionals we’d lined up for him was because he was so amused by the idea of honey traps. He’d talk to them for hours in order to waste our time, just as some men want only to talk to prostitutes. In this as in other things, Finn was quite childish
and the girls we threw at him were a source of hilarity and disdain for him.

Afterwards, when we’d made love, he said, ‘You do realise I’m going to have to use you. I can’t kick the youngest female colonel in the KGB out of bed. I’m going to have to sleep with you a lot, if that’s OK.’

‘Keep up,’ I said. We’re not the KGB any more. ‘We call it the FSB these days.’

But Finn always called us the KGB to the end. ‘It’s the same thing, isn’t it,’ he said. ‘It’s just an old dog with a new name. There’s no difference, except that now you’ve all been to business school as well as Honey Trap High.’

‘Are you trying to ruin the evening?’ I said.

He turned to me and it was the first time I saw him not play-acting. ‘No,’ he said. ‘No, I don’t want to ruin anything.’

We made love again, and afterwards it felt so strange, like we were two lovers who’d known each other for years.

‘We’ve met before, I know it,’ Finn said.

‘And in what incarnation would that be?’ I replied.

He held my hands above my head. ‘No incarnation. You were pure dust and so was I.’

I undid his fingers. ‘Why don’t you do something to jog my memory?’ I murmured. But he’d fallen asleep.

Anyway, that’s how I first met Finn.

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