All Nicolai could think of as he approached the small oak reception desk of the Poltava hotel, was the luxury that a long hot bath would afford him. His journey had been a long one, but thankfully, so far, uneventful. The Poltava, although looking run down, appeared homely. Nicolai reflected on the thousands of workers who must have passed through her doors, when the shipyards were in their heyday. A door swung open to Nicolai’s right and a young maid carrying a tray full of crockery scurried past, quickly disappearing through a swing door adjacent to the reception desk. The reception desk appeared abandoned. Looking around for any further signs of life, Nicolai approached the desk and rang the enquiry bell. The door adjacent to the reception desk swung open once again. Nicolai looked towards the door with expectancy. It was only the maid. This time laden with a large pile of towels. She headed for the stairs, her chin resting on the top towel in the pile, to stop them from overbalancing.
“Excuse me?” Nicolai called after her.
But she was gone, without even so much as a sideways glance.
Nicolai was just about to ring the desk bell once more, when a craggy faced man emerged from behind the desk, wiping what appeared to be the remnants of his latest meal from his face.
“Can I help you?” he asked, nonchalantly producing the register from a drawer and placing it on top of the desk.
“Yes, I would like a room for the night, together with a good hot bath.”
“just for the one night?” the man asked, flicking over the page of the register.
“Yes, I’m going to the shipyard tomorrow, looking for work.”
Turning the register around and at the same time pushing it towards Nicolai, the man replied in a rather indifferent voice,
“In the present climate, you will be lucky!”
Nicolai picked up a pen from the desk and began to write, Alexander Kurgan.
Turning around, the craggy faced man began to lift a key from a small wooden board.
“Room number five and the bathroom is two doors down the landing.”
Picking up his tool box Nicolai ascended to the first floor and quickly found his room.
The room was sparsely furnished, but he didn’t care. He quickly lay down his toolbox and stretched out thankfully on the well worn single bed.
‘I wonder how Tanya is doing in America?’ he thought.
In minutes he was sleeping soundly.
Nicolai awoke with a start, as the door of the adjacent room slammed shut.
Looking at his watch, he realised that he had only slept for just over an hour. But he felt partly refreshed. A good bath now and he would be ready for the arduous hours ahead.
Walking down the landing he heard laughter coming from the room adjacent to the bathroom. Smiling to himself, he tried to play down the seriousness of the events which lay ahead of him.
The comfort of the bath seemed to cocoon him and all of his cares seemed to float away. After a good twenty minute soak, he got out of the bath and began to dry himself down vigorously with a large bath-towel. His body began to tingle.
Dressing quickly to keep warm, Nicolai’s thoughts began to turn to food. He was starving. Opening the bathroom door slightly, he suddenly remembered his jacket, and was reaching back for it on the clothes hook adjacent to the wash basin, when he heard voices below coming from the reception desk. Pushing the door almost shut, Nicolai peered through a narrow quarter inch gap and saw two men, both in their mid-thirties, looking and speaking very ‘official like’, to the man on the reception desk. The receptionist pointed up to the first floor; the two official looking men looked up in unison.
Nicolai quickly but quietly closed the bathroom door. Turning he put on his jacket and headed for the bathroom window.
‘Thank God, it isn’t locked,’ he thought, as he gently lifted the sash window. Looking down, he could see the flat roof of a ground floor building just below him. Rolling his body over the window ledge, he grasped hold of the bottom of the window frame and lowered himself to within a few feet of the roof below. Dropping the last few feet, he rolled down the roof and crashed on to some dustbins outside the kitchens below. The noise was deafening!
Nicolai quickly scrambled to his feet, but stumbled almost immediately. Grasping hold of a nearby wall, he pulled himself up once more. His body was racked with pain. He seemed to ache everywhere. Throwing himself over the wall, he stumbled off into the encroaching darkness. It was dusk. Reaching down to his left thigh, which stung badly, Nicolai could feel the warm stickiness of blood and his left elbow ached like mad.
Not daring to look round, he pressed on until he reached the rear corner of the hotel. He could now hear voices behind him. His body wanted to give up and rest, but he had to go on. Holding on to the side wall of the hotel for support, he made his way forward to the front corner of the hotel. Peering cautiously round the corner, he saw a Lada parked at an awkward angle outside the hotel entrance. Suddenly a devastating thought crossed his mind…
‘I’ve left the computer disk in the toolbox, back in the bedroom!’
What little energy he had left seemed to leave him. He was feeling very low.
‘I’ll not even make it to the other side of the street,’ he thought. His mind as well as his body was beginning to give up.
Meanwhile, the two FIS men had forced their way into Nicolai’s room and were frantically searching the rest of the hotel, having only found a toolbox. Eventually they found the open bathroom window and began to search for Nicolai at the rear of the kitchens.
Nicolai, meanwhile began to slowly make his way painfully across the front of the hotel towards the parked Lada. There was nobody with the car. Looking round he gingerly opened the boot lid and climbed in, closing it carefully behind him.
Just to let his body rest felt like heaven.
Another vehicle screeched to a halt outside the hotel. Nicolai could hear the sound of car doors slamming and boots running up the hotel steps. He closed his eyes and tried to blot out the pain which racked his body.
To Nicolai, it seemed as if hours had passed, but in actual fact it had probably only been fifteen of twenty minutes, when the sounds of voices and footsteps began to reappear. Unable to move in the boot of the car, Nicolai could only make out a few words here and there. From the odd snippet of conversation between the men outside the hotel, it was obvious that a large scale hunt was on for him.
Nicolai’s body shivered as voices approached the Lada. The rear passenger door was opened and the rattle of tools on metal could be heard, as a large metal toolbox was slung on to the back seat. He knew instinctively that it was his.
Driving off, Nicolai winced as the car lurched over the many potholes in the road. Even over the noise of the engine, he could hear parts of the men’s conversation. They intended to carry on the search for him into the night, searching all hotels in the town and posting lookouts at strategic junctions.
The car braked suddenly, throwing Nicolai into the back of the rear seat with a thud.
“Stupid animal!” the driver shouted, as a dog ran into the path of the car.
Luckily for Nicolai the noise of the rattling tools drowned out the noise he made in the boot.
After what seemed like an age, the car finally stopped. The car doors slammed shut and Nicolai could hear the sound of footsteps receding into the distance.
Nicolai sucked in a huge gasp of air. Without realising it he had been holding his breath when the car stopped. His body was still aching badly. He was still ravenously hungry and his mouth had gone dry with thirst.
Listening intently for any sound he puled a penknife from his pocket and started to work on the boot lock of the Lada. With the Lada not having the best reputation in the world for engineering, the lock soon flicked open. Peering out cautiously Nicolai lifted the lid of the boot slightly. There was nobody in sight. They were parked in a side street on a car park, between what looked like an official government building and a hotel.
‘First things first,’ Nicolai thought, as he lowered himself to the ground and crept round to the rear passenger door, ‘I’m glad the FIS are aloof enough to think that they don’t have to lock their car doors.’ Slowly he pulled the handle towards him and inched the door open. Reaching in he flipped up the toolbox lid and felt about inside until his fingers came to rest on his cigar tin.
‘Thank God it’s still in the toolbox,’ he thought.
He didn’t raise his head, but kept it low, so as to avoid being seen. Quickly he placed the tin into his inside jacket pocket. Taking a deep breath he stood upright and began to walk towards the hotel.
Nicolai’s eyes constantly searched the darkness for any signs of movement in the shadows. Approaching the service entrance of the hotel he paused once again, listened, and peered through the small six inch square window of the rear door. There was a long passage ahead of him, with numerous doors leading off. At the end of the passage Nicolai could see cooks busying themselves, as they ran around like ants preparing the next meal of the day. Cautiously he opened the door and flattened himself against the passageway wall. Gradually he inched himself towards the first doorway. It was open. Glancing inside, he could see what appeared to be the staff cloakroom. Moving on to the next door which was also open, he struck gold. It was the staff rest room. Nobody was in sight, obviously they were all busy working. Slipping inside, he quickly surveyed the room. His eyes fell on a large block of cheese and a loaf of bread on the wooden table in the centre of the room. Walking quickly past it, he approached a small sink with a single tap. Turning on the tap, he cupped his hands, filled them with water and almost threw it down his throat, soaking his face with water. There were cups on the side, but he couldn’t wait. Once he felt his stomach was going to burst, he turned and ripped a large chunk of bread from the loaf and snapped a portion of cheese from the large block. Stuffing the cheese into his pocket, he hid the bread under his jacket, slid out of the door and back into the passageway. Still keeping himself as flat as possible against the wall, he edged his way back to the exit. As he passed the staff cloakroom he hesitated, turned back and re-entered the cloakroom. He soon found what he was looking for - a large overcoat. Throwing it over his arm, he retraced his steps back to the exit.
Once outside, he paused yet again, allowing his eyes to become accustomed to the dark. He only had one chance of escaping detection and he had decided on what course of action to take. Retracing his steps he returned to the Lada, opened the boot and climbed back inside.
Carefully pulling the overcoat over himself, he tucked it underneath his body to keep it in place and assumed the foetal position, to try and keep himself warm. After eating a generous portion of the bread and gnawing on some of the cheese, he began to feel some energy returning to his dilapidated body. Eventually, thankfully, sleep overcame him.
Constantine Irkutsk was a seasoned FIS operative. At fifty-five years of age, what he now lacked in youthfulness, he made up for with experience and initiative. Looking up from his desk, he carefully eyed his two senior men in the field. Alexander Vilnius and Vladimir Kurgan were very good operatives, however, a forty-five year old professor, having no known knowledge of escape and evasion tactics, had quite simply slipped their grasp.
“What efforts are you currently making to capture this, this, old man?”
Although older than the professor himself, Irkutsk was mocking his operatives.
“Sir, we are searching every hotel and moving on to private houses and outlying farms. Every road out of Vorkuta is blocked; we’ll find him, I assure you,” Alexander replied.
“Forget the professor,” Irkutsk retorted, “I’ll take care of him! I want you two to drive to Nardvik, our Naval port on the Yamal peninsula. From intelligence reports, we believe that this professor is attempting to head for there, in order to meet up with an operative from the West. I want this operative and I shouldn’t have to tell you both. Don’t fail me twice!”
Alexander glanced at Vladimir and raised his eyebrows. They both turned in unison and walked out of the room. Once out of earshot from Irkutsk, Vladimir turned to Alexander.
“There goes our Vodka for tonight!” Vladimir stopped walking, expecting Alexander to stop and reply to him.
Alexander kept on walking, “Not necessarily,” he replied, without turning round.
Vladimir ran to catch up with Alexander.
Alexander had now reached the car and was opening the driver’s door to get in.
“What do you mean, ‘Not necessarily’?” Vladimir asked, directing his speech over the roof of the car towards Alexander.
Alexander paused, one foot almost inside the car, and looked back over the roof towards Vladimir.
“Look, we’ve got at least an eight hour overnight journey before we reach Nardvik, I’m sure we can rustle up a few roubles for a bottle of Vodka before we leave?”
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Vladimir smiled, “let’s get going!”
Nicolai had taken in every word. He was elated, yet downhearted at the same time. A free ride to his destination was unbelievable, but could he survive the journey - the aches, the pain? Would the two FIS men open the boot? ‘Still I’ve managed to get this far,’ he thought.
Nicolai had done the best he could in stemming the flow of blood from his thigh and had been fairly successful, but it still ached badly. His elbow seemed to be seizing up, causing him pain every time he tried to bend it. As the car rode off into the darkness, Nicolai wondered what time it was and strained his eyes to try and tell the time from his watch. It was no good it was far too dark. He tried to sleep again but found it impossible. The motion of the car made him feel weary and his eyes became heavy, but he couldn’t drop off to sleep. Each time he started to drop off the car managed to find an appropriate pothole. However, he did manage to find out a great deal about the working and private lives of Alexander and Vladimir. They talked constantly about the Russian Federation and how they thought it would effect their working lives. On the whole they were fairly good men. Both had mixed feelings on communism and the free market economy, but both men agreed that security had to be maintained in a country of approximately one hundred and forty-nine million people.
After what seemed to be three or four hours, the car came to a stop. Nicolai could hear both doors open and footsteps coming towards the rear of the car. Closing his hand around a tyre wrench, Nicolai tensed himself in anticipation. The footsteps stopped and he heard the sound of something splashing in the roadway.
Both men were relieving themselves!
Once both men returned to the car, Nicolai’s thoughts turned to his own groin. After all the water he had drunk he was bursting to go to the toilet. The badly fitting rear lights of the car allowed light to filter into the boot, to which Nicolai had now become accustomed, enabling him to see slightly. Looking around in desperation he pulled up the plastic boot lining, exposing a series of small drain holes. Unfastening his flies he pulled out his penis and started to urinate, aiming for the drain holes, trying desperately to control the flow, so that urine didn’t gush out everywhere. After the first few agonising seconds, he began to feel relief.
‘There’s nothing better…’ he thought.
Alexander and Vladimir had gone very quiet, having run out of things to say to each other. Trundling on into the night, Nicolai managed a glance at his watch. It was just after five o’clock in the morning. The only other break in the journey was when the car pulled off the road to fill up with petrol. It was very cold by now and Nicolai shivered constantly, despite the heavy overcoat. Although the car must have had a heater, none of the heat seemed to filter into the boot.
A few hours later daylight started to appear through cracks in the ill-fitting boot.
‘Surely we can’t be far away from our destination by now,’ Nicolai thought.
Both men had changed seats and Vladimir was driving now, having probably snatched a few hours sleep while Alexander had driven.
Twenty minutes later Nicolai noticed the car begin to slow.
“Alexander. We’re here!” Vladimir shouted, obviously trying to wake Alexander from his slumber.
Nicolai could hear the sound of the car window being wound down. The car came to a stop. Alexander confirmed his own and Vladimir’s identity to the guard on duty, at what Nicolai presumed were the dockyard gates. The car slowed frequently and bounced gently over what seemed like rail tracks. After a few minutes the car finally stopped once more. Nicolai could hear the sound of heavy machinery, and vehicles driving past.
Suddenly both car doors could be heard opening. Both men, had got out to stretch their legs and to take in the fresh air.
Nicolai heard the clang of large containers being moved by crane.
The car rocked slightly as Alexander and Vladimir decided to lean against it for support.
Vladimir stretched his arms wide and yawned, exhaling loudly.
“I’m knackered. How long do we have to wait here?” he enquired.
“I don’t know,” Alexander replied, “Urkutsk just said that we had to be at the container loading facility by early morning, in order to meet two other operatives who would assist and brief us on the area.”
“I wish they would hurry up. I need something to eat; I’m starving!”
Alexander peered through the back window of the car.
“Stick that toolbox in the boot will you. We might need the extra room if we only use one car to reconnoitre the are with the other two operatives.”
Nicolai could hear the back door of the car being opened and heard the clank of the toolbox being lifted out. His heart raced madly. Turning quickly in the cramped boot, he grabbed hold of the tyre wrench and braced his back against the rear of the back seat, pulling his knees up to his chest. The boot sprung open and daylight flooded in. Nicolai strained his eyes as they locked with those of Vladimir. Vladimir was bending over the boot slightly, and his eyes widened in amazement. At the same time Nicolai threw his whole lower body forward with tremendous force, his feet catching Vladimir square in the chest. He was thrown back almost ten feet on to the concrete roadway, landing on his head and neck, which snapped instantly, as he bowled over backwards.
Nicolai was halfway out of the boot by the time Alexander reacted. The sheer element of surprise had also caught Alexander off guard. He had bent down instinctively to look into the boot and had caught the full force of Nicolai’s tyre wrench in his stomach. Bending over almost double with pain, he tried to turn, lost his footing and fell to the ground. Nicolai was by now out of the boot. Reactions had taken over. He swung the tyre wrench in a huge arc and smashed it down on Alexander’s head. The crack of his skull could be heard like a gunshot. For a second Alexander tried to raise his head from the ground, but his eyes just rolled back in their sockets and he collapsed.
Nicolai’s arms were shaking. He quickly surveyed the area. Luckily for him the vehicular activity had died down. A huge four hundred foot crane swung its load on to the deck of a ship berthed nearby. Hopefully it was far enough away that nobody had seen them. Trying to gather his thoughts, he acted quickly. Both men were obviously dead. He checked Alexanders pulse to confirm the obvious and began to rifle through his pockets, finding a nine millimetre automatic pistol and a FIS pass.
‘These might come in useful,’ he thought to himself.
With a great deal of difficulty, due to his own previous injuries, he managed to bundle Alexander on to the back seat of the car. Next he turned his attentions to Vladimir. He didn’t need to check his pulse. His head lolled at a forty five degree angle from his neck. Grabbing hold of each ankle, he dragged him towards the boot of the car. Nicolai lifted the toolbox up into the boot, pushing it towards the back. Placing Vladimir into a sitting position, with his back resting on the rear bumper, Nicolai straddled Vladimir’s legs with his own, bent down, placed his hands underneath the unfortunate man’s armpits, and with a supreme effort managed to haul him up into the boot.
Nicolai’s whole upper body poured with sweat. Checking Vladimir’s pockets, he found another pistol and FIS pass. Without hesitation he placed these in his pockets with the others.
‘So far, so good,’ Nicolai thought.
The shipyard was huge, with hundreds upon hundreds of metal containers standing in row after row.
After just a few minutes, Nicolai found what he was looking for. A large empty container, which was open. He pulled a large metal bar towards himself, and lifted the bolt securing the two steel doors. Swinging them open he ran back to the car. Jumping into the driver’s seat he turned the ignition. To his relief it started first time. Trying to cause as little noise as possible, so as not to draw attention to himself, he slowly reversed the car, turned, and headed for the container a few hundred feet away. Driving into the container proved no easy task. There was a three inch metal lip at the base of the entrance to it. Obviously some sort of ramp system must normally be used. But Nicolai didn’t have the luxury of one. On the first attempt, the Lada stopped dead in its tracks, as though it had hit a brick wall. The next attempt was more successful. Nicolai gave himself a longer run up and increased his speed. The old Lada sailed into the air as it hit the metal lip and crashed down inside the container, scraping the inner metal side panel. With just enough room to spare Nicolai squeezed out of the driver’s door, closed it, and left the container, carefully re-bolting the large steel doors.
Glancing at his watch, Nicolai noticed that it was eight thirty-five a.m. The shipyard was starting to get busy. Pulling his overcoat collar up, he began to walk as casually as possible along the harbour front. His right hand was resting on one of the nine millimetre pistols in his pocket, which gave him a reassuring feeling.
His instructions had been to head for the northern-most point of the shipyard, where he would be met, near to the harbour-master’s office. He was to remain in the vicinity for a maximum of forty-eight hours, under the guise of seeking work. Nicolai had studied a general map of the area shortly before his trip and knew that north lay in the direction to his left.
The sun was out and started to warm his body slightly. Small boats busied themselves ferrying workers from the Gyda peninsula, across the Gulf of Ob, to the Yamal peninsula and Nardvik. Thankfully Nicolai didn’t stand out from the ordinary, he blended in well, looking much like a shipyard worker would. After fifteen minutes of walking, he decided to take a rest and sat on a nearby capstan, gazing out into the Gulf of Ob, gathering his thoughts.
Unbeknown to David Stobart, as he entered the lobby of the Poltava hotel, in Vorkuta he was following in the footsteps of his contact; Nicolai Lyakhov.
Approaching the reception desk he was greeted by the craggy faced receptionist. Sat on a chair below the level of the desk, was a man in his forties, with heavy set jowls, sucking away at a large cigar. The man’s eyes fixed themselves on David’s trying to out-stare him.
‘Don’t provoke him,’ David thought to himself, ‘he’s got to be FIS.’
Looking away, David studied the register which had been thrust in front of him.
“Are you staying for long?” the receptionist asked.
David’s Russian was excellent, having studied in Russia for two years as a graduate. He had been amazed to be recruited by British Intelligence whilst in Russia and not in England. Having lived in Russia for two years, he had become accustomed to their mannerisms and general way of life. Old habits die hard. They were still a suspicious nation of people.
“No, I’m leaving first thing in the morning, if I can find some transport,” David replied, still scribbling in the register.
The FIS man had risen from his chair and was leaning on the counter, carefully, watching David fill in his details.
“So, you’re from the Murmansk area then?” he said, staring intently at David, “you have travelled a long way. What is the purpose of your visit?”
David didn’t look up, but continued writing.
“I’m looking for work,” he replied mockingly, lifting his head up to stare directly at the FIS man, “because communism has deserted us and the madness of the new open economy is forcing many Russians to leave their homes to look for work!”
The FIS man stepped back a pace, nodding his head and smiling at David.
David continued, spitting the words out, “With communism wa all had employment, food and a roof over our heads; now we are forced like vagrants on to the streets!”
“You are right, of course,” the FIS man replied. “It is a sad state we find ourselves in.”
David turned to the receptionist.
“Is there a garage nearby, where I can hire a car to get me to Nardvik?”
The FIS man sat down and attempted to re-light his cigar.
“There’s one about three hundred yards down the road to your right as you go out of the hotel,” he replied, gesturing with a pointed finger, “but you will be very lucky. He doesn’t have many cars.”
David pocketed the key to room seven, given to him by the receptionist.
“Could you look after this for me until I come back, I’ll only be a few minutes?” he asked, lifting his holdall up on to the counter.
“No problem,” came the reply.
As David began to turn away from the counter, he hesitated, catching the eye of the FIS man, and lifted the palm of his hand up in a gesture of acknowledgement. The FIS man nodded as his eyes smiled back at David.
The tension from David’s stomach had almost gone, he realised, as he walked down the hotel steps. He began to feel a little more at ease.
‘Don’t get too complacent,’ he thought to himself.
Vorkuta was a drab, grey-looking town, with a population of only four thousand, three hundred and twenty-four. It was eight thirty a.m. and the streets were starting to get busy as the locals went about their daily tasks. A queue was starting to form outside the double-fronted bakery shop, one of its boarded up windows a testament to the times. David imagined it being smashed while people argued over queue jumping.
The sound of an engine being revved to its limit greeted his ears as he approached Olenek’s garage. Used tyres were piled each side of the large double doors forming its entrance. Both of the doors were wide open. The concrete floor was littered with patches of oil, which David tried to avoid as he entered.
An old Lada, its wheels removed, stood forlornly, raised from the floor on blocks of wood. Looking further into the garage, he could see an even older car; a Humber Sceptre with its bonnet raised. A man in his fifties , wearing oily dark-blue overalls, was bent over the front offside wing, tugging at the accelerator cable. Noticing David approach, he gave the cable a couple more tugs and stopped, wiping his hands on a piece of rag. He didn’t speak, but looked at David enquiringly.
“Do you have a car that I can hire?” David asked, his mouth half smiling in a hopeful gesture.
Shaking his head the man replied.
“No, I’m sorry.” He pointed towards the Lada. “The gearbox has gone on that one and government officials have taken the other two vehicles I have, I’m not normally this busy. Sorry!”
“What about the Humber?” David nodded towards the car the man had been working on.
“Sorry again,” he replied, “I’ve just finished with the engine. That’s okay now, but the underbody still needs some attention. There’s some welding I need to do to the sub-frame.”
“Maybe I can help,” David said, his hopes rising, “I’m a welder by trade. I normally work in the shipyards, but I’m sure a sub-frame should be no problem. Can I have a look?”
The garage owner pondered over the question for a few seconds. “Okay,” he replied, “the welding gear is over there in the locker. If you can fix it, and do a good job mind you, then I will hire it to you for free, for twenty-four hours.”
“Deal!” David replied, rolling up his sleeves.
“My name is Boris, Boris Olonek,” the garage owner replied, offering his outstretched oily hand to David.
“Kanin, Kanin Berezova,” David replied, shaking the man’s hand vigorously.
“Come into the office first, we will have a drink, yes?” Olonek said invitingly, gesturing towards the tiny eight foot square office in the corner of the garage.
David just wanted to get on with the welding, jump into the car and drive off. Time was pressing, but he had to stay calm. He couldn’t appear too anxious.
“Thanks,” he replied, turning to follow Boris.
Entering the small office David was surprised to see a young boy sat at a desk, surrounded by invoices and workshop manuals, busily trying to piece together a Dellorto carburettor.
Boris looked from David to the boy and back to David.
“My grandson,” he offered, switching on the kettle.
David drank his tea and exchanged pleasantries with Boris and the boy. Boris left the office and returned with a pair of well-worn overalls, which he handed to David. Boris’s grandson laughed as David tried to squeeze into them. They were two sizes too small. The legs were at half mast and the buttons wouldn’t fasten at the top, due to David’s large frame.
The young boy erupted with laughter as David walked out of the office, doing an imitation of a John Wayne walk.
David pulled the trolley containing the two gas bottles over to the Humber. Adjusting the mixture he ignited the welding torch and descended into the pit below the car. Soon he felt movement behind him. He turned his head slightly to see that Boris’s grandson had joined him.
‘Boys will be boys, wherever you go,’ he thought to himself, smiling at the boy.
Happy with a job well-done, David ascended from the pit, followed by the young boy.
Boris approached them both.
“Finished?” he enquired.
“All done,” David replied.
The young boy gave a thumbs-up sign to his grandfather.
Boris looked down the garage towards the Lada and said to David, “We might have to move the Lada, but we may just be able to squeeze the Humber past it? If we have to move it we’ll have to use a couple of trolley jacks. I’ll get the car started.”
Boris went back into the office and unclipped the Humber keys from a small key rack on the back of the door.
The heavy Humber door creaked due to lack of grease as Boris opened it. Climbing into the driving seat, he inserted the key into the ignition. The engine roared into life first time, spluttered and died almost immediately. He tried the key again and again, but the car wouldn’t even turn over.
Flinging open the driver’s door, Boris jumped down from the car and walked round to the bonnet. Quickly finding the catch, he lifted the bonnet up. David joined him although he didn’t really know a great deal about engines.
After a few minutes of poking and prodding, Boris pulled his head out from under the bonnet and turned to look at David, a look of dismay showing on his face.
“One of the pistons has gone!”
David couldn’t believe it. ‘There’s nothing for it,’ he thought, ‘I’ll have to steal a car.’
“Comrade Berezova!” a voice shouted.
David, Boris and the young boy turned towards the entrance.
Looking towards the entrance from the dimly lit garage, David could see the silhouette of a man against the morning sunshine.
“Having problems?” the voice enquired.
Squinting his eyes, David walked forward, trying to put a face to the voice. He knew who it was before he could see his face properly. His cigar smoke preceded him. It was the FIS man from the hotel.
David felt cornered. They were on to him!
‘Just stay calm and think,’ he thought to himself.
“Having problems?” the FIS man repeated.
“Can’t get the car going,” David replied, his eyes darting from side to side to see if the man had company.
“Maybe I can help?” The man ushered him outside.
Looking back, David shrugged his shoulders in Boris’s direction, turned and followed the man into the street.
The FIS man glanced around cautiously and pulled David to one side. David’s body tensed; he wouldn’t give up easily.
‘They just want me out of the garage, so they can deal with me,’ he thought.
The FIS man grasped hold of David’s right arm. David quickly pulled it free. The FIS man’s eyes widened, as he took a step backwards and held both his hands up in a submissive gesture.
“Look, I don’t mean to harm you. What’s wrong? I only came over to see if you had managed to hire a car.”
“Sorry,” David replied, “I’m just a bit agitated after all the work that I’ve put into that old car, for it not to start.”
“It’s okay,” the FIS man replied, approaching David more cautiously this time, “I understand, perhaps I can help?” He grasped David’s arm once again and pulled him closer. Bending his head down and lowering his voice, he continued, “As I understand it from your conversation in the Poltava hotel, you need to get to Nardvik, is that correct?”
“Actually, yes I do.”
“Well, it’s against official policy, but I have to drive over to Nardvik myself. You can hav a lift over with me if you like. The only problem is I have to set off almost straight away. What do you think?”
David couldn’t believe it, there must be some deception in this somewhere? Surely he couldn’t be this lucky?
“Oh there is a catch,” the man started to say.
‘I knew it,’ David thought to himself.
“You can share the driving with me!”
David’s whole body began to relax. ‘It would still be very dangerous,’ he thought, ‘this man will probably want to know my life story. Can I fend him off for eight hours without arousing suspicion?’
“It will be a pleasure,” David replied, offering his outstretched hand to the man.
“My name is Yuri Sukhova,” the FIS man said, as he pumped David’s hand.
“Yes, I know… Kanin Berezova,” Sukhova interrupted, smiling.
“Of course!” David returned a knowing smile.
Both men walked briskly back to the hotel. David skipping up the steps as Sukhova lumbered up behind him.
David rang the reception desk bell and was quickly joined by the receptionist.
“Could I have my holdall please, I’ll not be staying after all.”
Regretfully, the man handed David his holdall, knowing that another night’s takings had been taken away from him.
“Thanks. Sorry for any inconvenience.” David turned and joined Sukhova, who was talking in a lowered voice to a cagey-looking character near the doorway.
“I’ll be with you in a minute,” Sukhova said to David, in a matter-of-fact voice.
David understood and moved away to the top of the hotel steps. Both men were obviously indulging in some kind of secretive conversation, which wasn’t intended for his ears.
Within a couple of minutes Sukhova joined him, the other man running off down the hotel steps.
“Let’s go.” Sukhova set off down the steps, anticipating the fact that David would follow him.
After walking a few hundred yards they arrived at Sukhova’s dark-green Lada, which was parked outside the local police station.
“I’ll drive first, you can take over later,” Sukhova said, as he opened the driver’s door. Opening the front passenger door, David removed a clipboard from the seat, placed it on the floor and climbed in. Sukhova looked down at the clipboard, bent down, picked it up and placed it on the back seat. As Sukhova had bent over, David had noticed a pistol underneath his jacket, secured by a shoulder holster. The seriousness of his situation cam home to him.
Glancing at his watch, David could see that it was eleven thirty-seven a.m. He was now well behind schedule, with only approximately another thirty-six hours left in which to meet his contact.
The miles soon seemed to pass by and thankfully Sukhova hadn’t spoken much so far. He was content to suck on one of his large Havana cigars, thankfully with the driver’s window wound down, although some of the smoke still billowed back into the car. David was grateful for small mercies.
Glancing sideways David’s eyes carefully surveyed Sukhova. Although in his forties, Sukhova had once been a powerful man. His chest was broad, without being fat, and his biceps struggled to get out of his ill-fitting sleeves.
‘A man who would not lie down easily!’ David mused thoughtfully.