Select Excerpts From The Trojan Spy
by Gaither Stewart
Punto Press Publishing, 2012
The Cold War spy, Anatoly Nikitin, describes the spy as the eternal child who lives a fairytale. He tells his young protégé, the German-Italian, Karl Heinz, that though convictions and ideology count, in the long run the spy’s disease consists of skepticism and cynicism and the good life which replaces ideology. The spy is only troubled by the ambiguity of concepts like loyalty and treason. Treason against whom?
“Too much loyalty is a curse,” Nikitin’s STASI-KGB handler, Borya, warns. “The object of loyalty can change but loyalty as a quality stays the same.”
In modern times a rejuvenated Nikitin’s believes in the existence of a Grand Old Man who organizes terrorism for evil ends. He believes one man and human intelligence can unravel the mystery of terrorism and change the world. But the system proves to be too powerful.
“America,” Nikitin says, “doesn’t need a cause as much as it needs an enemy. Causes are abstract and America doesn’t like the abstract. Enemies are concrete. America needs terrorists as it once needed the USSR. No country benefits more from terrorism than the United States of America. One more Twin Towers and the USA will be the total police state.”
C E N T A U R S
CENTAURS are an exotic race, part horse and part human. On ancient Greek vases centaurs are depicted with the torso of a human joined at the waist to the horse’s body. Half-human and half-animal, the mythological centaur is trapped between his animal and spiritual natures and therefore destined by their nature to solitude. Human and animal, indissolubly united for all eternity. In Greek myths centaurs are also imagined simply as wild untamed horses. Mainline civilization of ancient Greece went to war with the centaurs, mythological wars with centaur peoples now viewed as emblematic of the struggle between civilization and barbarism. Inevitably the centaur image continues to intrigue painters and writers. In modern fiction the centaur, in some places aggressive and violent, in others noble and loyal, appears as the very symbol of fantasy.
The Greek word, Kentauros, is itself of obscure origin. Etymologically, Ken-tauros has to do with “piercing of bulls.” Perhaps, as in bull-fighting, the word was associated with chaos and unbridled passions. It is curious that in non-mainstream Greek mythology there are two races of centaurs, one good, one evil, something like the idea contained in obscure verses of Genesis suggesting two races of men, one good and the other, a deviant strain, an evil or rogue race. Humans, after all, have proven to be a bad mixture.
The figure of the centaur thus creates a sense of timelessness on one hand and unpredictability on the other. In perpetual movement, centaurs appear like countless film frames that somewhere, somehow, fit together. But perhaps, never. Thus you wonder what meaning to attach to the centaur. Perhaps its destiny too will remain forever a mystery.
Hakim’s VW blew into the air about three kilometers above Assisi, on the road leading up Mount Subasio. Sergio, the Carabiniere, told me the Italian secret services cleaned up the scene so that it seemed it never happened. Hakim’s and Nikitin’s bodies vanished in the explosion and fire. Only a few personal effects were recovered. Experts determined the plastic explosive was American-produced Composition C, molded by hand and detonated by a remote appliance. It is available on American and Middle Eastern arms markets.
BEFORE coming to Perugia, I’d been blissfully immune to external fears. Opa’s villa on the Wannsee was a virtual fortress, secluded and shielded from the outside world. Fear never entered there. That life ends at all was for me only a theoretical consideration until I’d met Nikitin. I had never even seen a dead person. Death was something that overtook others. Today, I can’t help but dwell on all the death that interrupted my humdrum life. And fear lives in me. Fear does not go away. The Group volatilized on Mount Subasio woke me to the real meaning of terror. The earth shifted under my feet. What was I supposed to do now?
STANDING next to the open car door he presses a well-traveled leather satchel against his chest. He looks over the piazza. Nothing unusual is happening. An elderly couple with shopping bags passes near him. A group of teenagers with knapsacks on their backs mills around the station entrance. Traffic is heavy, but fluid. Tirano looks neither Italian nor Swiss. As each time he has passed through, the town seems remote from the rest of the valley.
He locks the car. Strikes out for the station. His soft shoes hiss on the cobblestones. His raincoat flaps. Though a big man, he makes little impact on the open zone. He doesn’t appear to hurry but an attentive observer would be surprised how nimbly he maneuvers through the traffic.
After buying a local newspaper and two one-way tickets—one back to Lecco on Lake Como and one to St. Moritz—it’s “All Aboard!” The Red Train is poised like a missile pointed north. The doors bang shut. The tram-like train lurches forward, gearing up for the magical Alpine climb.
Anatoly Nikitin glances at his watch and smiles to himself—his timing is still good. It is two minutes after noon. From the interior platform he takes a quick view inside the old-fashioned coach, done in the wood and brass and velour he likes. By habit he appraises the car’s passengers. Yob tvoyu mat! he thinks—he’s lost his ability to single out individual faces in an instant. Down the aisle and over the legs of a fat woman to a window seat. Opposite him, the couple from the piazza stare into his eyes. Coincidence? Coincidences mean danger. Lunch bags are opened on the couple’s laps. He focuses on their faces. They look authentic but they’re not as old as he’d thought.
Nikitin’s metamorphosis is underway. He is melding in with the passengers, with the train, with the Alpine world. He is the typical Italian off to visit St. Moritz for the day. He feels he is one of them. He is one of them. Just as he did in Russia, as he did in Germany and France and Italy, Anatoly Nikolaevsky-Nikitin-Nikolaev-Schmidt becomes his surroundings. A question of time and place. Borya’s first lesson—no matter in what role you are, be as much yourself as possible.
But still, in the long run, it’s the seeming that counts. From the start, each of his diverse lives has been dedicated to seeming. Seeming to be someone else. Seeming to be something else. Assuming new and seductive identities. Separating and sectioning his life in order to pass through the cracks and faults from one dimension to the other.
‘My legends are all over the place. No anchors. No roots.’ He has always been susceptible to the seduction of the secret world. Secrecy as an end has been his game. A life of roles. Seeming to be someone else for so long that he sometimes forgets who he once was. Who he really is.
ALONGSIDE the climbing highway the Red Train runs placidly, indolently. Abruptly, a line of cars and trucks stops on the road. Behaving like a tram, the train crosses the highway and runs along the right side of the road.
‘Borya’s doing too,’ he thinks. ‘Borya, the creator of legends.’
Admittedly he’s had the best teachers. Masters all, the creators of his legends. Nikitin—Moscow born, Communist schoolteacher father, Italian Communist mother, top schools, Europe’s languages.
Another life, another legend, and he morphs into Schmidt, born in Sudetenland, landholder parents off to Gulag after Soviet occupation.
He is also Nikolaevsky, vanished and erased from French birth records.
He is Nikolaev, resettled in Italy with maternal relatives.
Again road traffic stops. The train crosses back to the left side of the highway. He looks down from his window at a truck driver waving his arms in exasperation. Now they gather speed. Trusty Red Train. Train of his life.
Buon giorno, to the silkily overdressed fat lady. Buon giorno, to the elderly couple. Now fully in his Italian mode, he settles back. Newspaper open on his lap. Briefcase on the floor between his feet. The absent-minded professor off to the mountains. Scan the headlines, the local news of the Valtellina, the wonderful name of the misty valley crushed between Alpine ranges. ‘Valley of oblivion.’
Though a trimmed beard and long steel gray hair lend his face strength, his hollow cheeks and sunken eyes make him appear gaunter than usual. He has been traveling since the day before. Fatigue is a harsh taskmaster; and demands extraordinary vigilance.
Stormy winds had swept over the north German highways. It had rained hard during his transfer from Linate Airport to Milano Centrale. It was still raining when his train pulled into Sondrio up the valley. Still, his tweed jacket, gray pants and loose-hanging green raincoat look fresh in the sunshine of the new day.
At the Swiss border his transformation is complete. He’s a Valtellina native off for a visit to St. Moritz. Nearly irrepressible his urge to lean across to the couple and introduce himself—Antonio Nikolaev at your service. A cursory border control and the Red Train begins climbing again, along ridges, through tunnels and across mountain bridges. He looks up from his newspaper, gazes at the surging Alps and the blinding glaciers in the distance and again lets his eyes glide like a mild Adriatic wave over the car’s passengers. All too young or too old to concern him. Tourists from Tirano. Swiss returning home from shopping in Italy. Everything and everybody in their proper places. The normality of it all. He too looks normal, an everyday person about everyday business.
He grasps the briefcase, rises, pardon! pardon! Glides in his feline gait toward the W.C. ticking off each face on the way just to ascertain that his vision and intuition are intact. Been out of the field for too many years. Only yesterday he thought of himself as an unperson. ‘But we’re over that. Today is no ordinary day.’
‘Never stop checking,’ omnipresent Borya used to insist. ‘Check and double-check. Watchers are everywhere. You have to see the invisible watchers. You have to hear the sounds that at first seem inaudible; absorb the color of the voices and the rhythm of action around you.’
His image in the bathroom mirror looks back at him. He turns his head to the left and to the right. Smiles. He’s an Italian tourist. Or, he’s Swiss. Or is he not German? Out of the briefcase comes the old red leather flask. A long drink as in the old days. To mark the tradition. The past, after all, has its beauty and order and fascination. Maybe because it is so fixed, stable and unchangeable we owe it something. Occasionally, for brief moments, he lets himself dwell on it.
The usual stop in Pozzalascio. This moment happened once before in his lifetime. Or in another of his many lives. Or perhaps another moment of another life only reminds him of this moment. How hard to remember what really happened in his previous lives. Boyhood in Russia is a jumble of places and people and languages. At some point he detached and said good-bye to the past. Adieu my past! He claims he was born an adult.
The elderly couple gathers their shopping bags. Arrivederci. Arrivederci. No boarding passengers outside. Yet the town gives him the creeps. The jagged edges of memory. It’s nothing, the young Clifford said. Just the heeby geebies. Once, decades ago, he’d abandoned the Red Train here in Pozzalascio. He sees it like yesterday. A powerfully built olive-skinned man boarded. Alone. Galician, he’d thought for some reason. Watch out for Galicians! Killers all. Care! Watch the out-of-place characters, his spymasters warned. Double-check. Triple-check. At the last minute he’d leapt from the train. He smiled at the memory—off the Galician went to St. Moritz without him.
Now from the window he reads the words painted on the wall of a nearby chalet:
Oggi seren non è
Domani seren sarà
Se non sarà sereno
He frowns. Had he noted it before? Or forgotten it? Definitely getting too old for this trade.
RED TRAIN—the proper name appeals to his romantic spirit, recalling his father’s stories about the Bolshevik Train of the Revolution. Still just as exhilarating today, the Red Train, as the first time decades earlier. Overlapping, intervening, intersecting, influencing his every thought today, those experiences, he muses, come from both memory and mind, From the start the Red Train liberated him. He feels free here. Free from his former inhibitions. For all these years the Red Train carrying him to St. Moritz has meant secret meetings. It has meant reports and instructions and projects and money and the excitement of secrecy and action … and, intermittently, it has meant betrayals. Who was it said the greatest freedom is the freedom to betray. Was it Borya? Or Clifford? Everyone he has known—starting with his father—is fascinated by ambiguity and betrayal. The little betrayals become so quotidian. But to ordinary men big betrayal remains foreign. Trahison! That’s the word. Borya believes that kind of betrayal harbors something of the divine. The big betrayal is reserved for Borya’s indifferent gods. For the gods the real betrayal is betrayal of what you love. Like learning that your best friend is a liar. Borya warned him not to trust blindly those he admired most, that they can be the vilest of traitors. Constancy is not for the gods, he said. Man is different. Ultimately man wants love. Eternal love. Constant love. Nikitin lets his thoughts flow as they will. Masha’s love was constant. Though love in history, in literature, in life, is condemned to big betrayal, love does not choose betrayal. Logical that for Borya love is perdition. Like Ariadne’s capacity to love one man forever. Her condemnation. Never to escape from her chalk circle.
Oh, their secret lives, always accompanied by the feeling of apartness from real life. As if he and Borya and others like them were on one side of a thin wall, and the others of the world on the other. In retrospect some things still seemed funny though no one on either side of the wall laughed. Secrecy was serious business. Grim faces. Deadly serious faces. But this time is different. Different sensations transport him into unknown realms.
The concept of vendetta is new to him. A test he dare not fail. His is a mission of revenge, this time free of handlers and controllers. A kind of serenity settles into his mind and his spirit, enveloped in the secure warmth of the promise of revenge.
‘Domani seren sarà.’ Tomorrow will be a fine day.
Yesterday’s sensation was rare, driving southwards on the windswept highway outside Berlin. Something mystical he hasn’t felt since the years at war’s end. It was a spirit he shares with Borya. The divine speaking, Borya would say. If anyone understands Borya, he does. If he understands anyone, it’s Borya. He can’t conceive of any of his lives without Borya in it. This moment, this day, on the Red Train headed for St. Moritz, is a unique occasion to know what he really thinks about anything.
He likes to recall his first trip to St. Moritz, by car that time, decades ago, before he knew of the existence of the Red Train. Sometimes he had flown in. Sometimes he approached the mountain redoubt from the north. But the Valtellina route from the south was as good as it gets. Security switches between trains and cars, and the luxury of resting in his Oblivion Valley retreat. And if need be to escape too.
His mother’s nephew, Bettino, prepared a room for him in the top of his huge family house high on the hill. A crow’s nest hanging over the spires of the village church towering over Sondrio. “Antonio, it’s yours,” his Italian cousin had insisted, never asking him questions. Of all the places in his world, it’s in the Alpine village of Montagna where he feels safest. In the mansard looking over the church, over Sondrio and the valley and toward the chain of mountains to the south. Total security crammed between the Orobic and the Rhaetian Mountains. The security of the sanctuary lying at the end of the world. The security he used to feel when they went to the restaurant in the mountain town of Ponte, a Renaissance maze woven with narrow passages, arches, covered walks and narrow cobblestone streets, and they would sing partisan songs, Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao, removed and detached from spies and intrigue … and from betrayal.
His window looked over the garden of prowling cats, the steeple of San Giorgio, the slate tile roofs of the village, the regular cultivated terraces of green, the red roofs of the city of Sondrio, the Valley of Oblivion, while his memory raced out of control and crazy dreams returned—hollow dreams of the mystery of his almost nonexistent boyhood and babyhood and what seemed to be unreachable unreal worlds.
This time he didn’t drive the Berlin to Munich leg for security reasons. His reason was crazy and personal, something Borya had forbidden him all those decades. It was just to feel the sensation of crossing the now invisible borders of former East Germany, borders persisting in the minds of some of his generation, to feel the presence of history. Past Leipzig and the surrounding industrial wilderness, the former border town of Hof, before he passed back into what was once the decadent West. He’d slowed and concentrated, trying to establish and feel the precise place and time he passed over the old border. Hopeless venture. Nothing remained. The sameness of the unchanging Autobahn, the rivers and the rolling green hills and the mushrooming onion cupolas of the Frankenwald and soon he was passing Bayreuth and the military base of Fulda and Forchheim and Erlangen of the refugee camps of his early days. Always flashing back to him, the familiar towns, the names, rolling and flowing into Bavaria. A mere decade and a half had erased a border and reduced an epoch to empty names.
But a sanctuary? Even perched in his secure rooms high above Sondrio, how could he relax when his goal was St. Moritz? For from the first moment St. Moritz has been the most sinister name of all the names haunting his times.
The Red Train slows to a crawl for the last curve before the plateau of the Engadine. His face pressed against the window, both the front and the back of the train are visible, red cars against the green and gray of the mountains, red cars reflecting off the gray lake. Time stops. How easy to drift back into that fixed past he never knew personally. The Russian past his father recounted. Here, on the Red Train, his father would have seen visions of a steam engine puffing across the steppes and the taiga, the station halts, the speeches of a new race of men, scenes of mysterious armies with indistinct allegiances firing now at the Red Train with the red star on its snout, now at each other.
The past. The past of mind and memory.
In his mind Nikitin still saw Clifford as the young man he was then. All of them were so young. But so mature, so responsible. The whole world belonged to the young—Borya, Markus, Karl Ludwig, Clifford. The future was theirs. They had to mature quickly. The old men were all dead. Dead in battle, dead in the bombings, dead in the camps, dead in the treks back and forth across Europe and Africa and Asia. It was the American’s first assignment too. Straight out of university and training—‘A finance genius learning to be a spy in St. Moritz,’ Clifford boasted to the young and incredible Franco-Russo-Italo-German, Anatoly Nikitin. Clifford, standing on the front porch of the house in St. Moritz-Suvretta. His great adventure. A paint-smeared sweat shirt, a blond lock of hair hanging in his eyes, bawling at the yapping poodles surrounding him, a beautiful redhead at his side, both at the most twenty-four or twenty-five, the new house empty of everything but telephones and typewriters and copying machines, documents, blankets and pillows scattered over the hardwood floors, a running monologue about juggling bank accounts and dispensing money, important trips cancelled because of the puppies, his gorgeous assistant still illegal in the eyes of Swiss bureaucracy—so opposed to hardened, goal-conscious Borya in the dark secrecy of post-war Berlin.
Unlike Borya, playboy Clifford looked anything but the spymaster he was to become. He was comfortable, everyday, someone Nikitin could know. The first hour of the decades-long relationship of the two spies was Clifford’s rehashing of the all-night delivery of the puppies, getting telephone lines and a residence permit for the redhead. His spy mission and Triple N and the Chadafö network were not yet on the horizon. Espionage was an afterthought—the paymaster giving Nikitin money and off-hand encouragement to spy on the East as they began to learn together what the world of spies was about. Clifford Beecher was also in the becoming phase. Standing on the front steps of the house in St. Moritz, he didn’t know what he was doing or what he was becoming. But like the others of the new world he was to discover unexpected talents. And he too would end up handling spies. His first double agent was Anatoly Nikitin. And Nikitin too discovered untapped talents—his capability for maskings and subterfuges … and for betrayal.
The train window is cold. The wild flowers on the grassy fields outside St. Moritz sparkle like emeralds in the fall sun. Nikitin turns his head toward the window and smiles. It was a mad impulse—when Clifford and the redhead went to the kitchen and he grabbed some stray sheets of pink paper blowing around the room and stuffed them in his pants pocket. They turned out to be copies of lists of names, channels, money carriers, cover companies and bank accounts all over Europe.
Borya had celebrated the lists with him and promoted him on the spot to Major.
The seeming became his obsession. A substitute for reality. Like Borya, like Clifford, like the blurred opaque figures peopling his many lives. His life, like Borya’s, like Clifford’s, is both simulacrum and reality. How easy it would have been to deal with a simulacrum alone, knowing there was a reality in opposition. But when goals and obstacles are both simulacrum and reality, where are you to strike? What can you believe in?
Another of Borya’s lessons.
Borya, the scholar of antiquity. Helen is both simulacrum and reality, for Homer at least. All of Troy is enamored of her and her beauty. To run-of-the mill metals, she is as gold. When after Troy fell, Menelaus stands before Helen with his sword raised, her bare breasts save her. In her eyes too lie the reflection of the defiance and the refusal to yield that inhere in women. The victor stares at her and lets his sword fall. He can’t kill her. How can you kill gold? If Menelaus had killed her, Helen would have continued to live in a corner of the assassin’s mind. Helen is a reflection in the water. In the throes of vendetta Menelaus had to wonder how you can kill a reflection without killing the water. How can you kill water?
‘Oh yes,’ Nikitin thinks, aware he is hallucinating, ‘the victims continue to live in the minds of the executioners.’ Borya had the ability to bring back memory with a mere word from the past. Borya, who could leap from the mind of Menelaus to Helen to Nikitin himself, had that power. Borya said Helen deserved punishment for her duplicity. She first agitated for the ten-year war, she plotted against the Greeks and in her deception she danced with the women of Troy—but then she gave the signal to the Greek warriors to attack. The great betrayal!
The Red Train slows for arrival at the St. Moritz Bahnhof. Nikitin lets his head pitch back against the rest, his eyes closed, hardly breathing, collecting and measuring his courage for the next act. ‘Yes, Helen was both simulacrum and reality. Hers were two incompatible acts. Yet she fulfilled them with serenity and calm. She was a huge moon who shone her light on everyone, on everyone in equanimity. A question of her light. I am Helen. I too am Helen. Her light shines on us all, on all, on all.’
From the station he strides faster than usual up the steep Via Serlas. Ears humming, mouth dry, an uncomfortable warmth in his lungs, heart pumping harder than in years before. ‘Via,’ he murmurs to reassure himself, pleased with the use of via for street in this German and Romansch language area. Church bells chime. Two o’clock. Two hours to wait. Just part of the game—waiting.
The smell of the Bratwurst and Rösti that the citizens of St. Moritz consumed at lunch lingers in the air. His eyes wander back to the lake. ‘Lej da San Murezzan!’ He caresses the name. Majestic setting. The sailboats are specks of white against the purple-black snow-capped mountains rising to twelve thousand feet. St. Moritz seems unchanging.
Will he have the courage to do it when the moment arrives? You never know until you have to insert the needle or squeeze the trigger or pull the plug.
The concierge at the Palace posed his head at different angles to study him, finally smiled and offered his hand. “Guten Tag, Herr Nikitin, wir haben Sie schon lange nicht mehr gesehen.” His greeting and ‘we haven’t seen you in a long time’ was the same as always.
Pre-season, the reception room was empty: no phones ringing, no chasseurs rushing about, no tourists asking for information. You didn’t come to the Palace unprepared. Action in the Palace was concealed action, bought action, action hidden behind other corridors and other doors and magic walls. But today was not yet the season for champagne and oyster parties, for gourmet festivals, for snow polo, for the Count von Bismarcks and the Agnelli scions.
“Vielen Dank, Wolfgang.”
For over thirty years the Swiss has been at this desk. Since Nikitin came the first time. Rumors circulate that Wolfgang is filthy rich. Do anything for a hundred francs. Strangle his mother for five hundred. Though Nikitin has never believed he was so ruthless, he always made it a point to tip Wolfgang generously, just in case. The moment he stepped through the entrance doors, the tall, distinguished man in rigorous black had recognized him.
“A real pleasure to see you again, Wolfgang. Still at your chess victories, I assume?”
“I had the good fortune of winning the St. Moritz Cup again last winter.”
“You’re so modest. That must make twenty years running.”
“Something like that. Well, Herr Nikitin, what brings you back to the Engadine after, let’s see, about ten years absence? Am I not right? Stimmt doch? Oder nicht? Still a little early for skiing but it’s hard to stay away from the chadafö, is that not true?”
With the Romansch word he meant not only the Chadafö Grill of the hotel’s luxurious Chesa Veglia Restaurant. He meant the hospitality lodged in every corner of the old hotel. Or did he mean more? The mysterious word brought everything back. The old network, the double games, the upside down world of intrigue.
“Yes. I was nearby and thought I would drop in for a game of backgammon.” Nikitin knew Wolfgang saw straight through him, maybe always had—and into Clifford too. In any case, the concierge’s discretion equaled his chess abilities … as well as his avidity.
“As in the old times, eh? By the way, your old friend is still here. Says he’s retired. His health is not good but he comes in often from Suvretta in the afternoon. Some days he lunches in the Chadafö. And he takes his coffee and brandy in the game room. I believe he has a date here today.”
“So I might see him for a game or two. But Wolfgang, please don’t tell him I’m here. A surprise.”
“Mums the word. As always.”
Most places the worst part is the waiting. But up here at the top of the world he has always enjoyed the waits and the intervals and the lazy loitering. Winter and spring, summer and fall, this is his favorite spot: on the shore of the Lej da San Murezzan. The fall sunshine is warm. The wind blowing up the Inn Valley from the north and across the lake is cool. Near the Segelhaus he finds a solitary bench in the sunshine. No one is visible within a hundred meters in any direction. The pleasant out-of-season silence settles around him. Clamping his briefcase between his ankles, he inserts a cigarette in an ebony holder, covers his head with his trench coat and succeeds in lighting it on the first try. A sense of pride at his dexterity fills him. Life’s little pleasures. Surprising then his hidden feelings of self-consciousness: he feels certain if observers saw him promenading on an elegant shopping street or across a ballroom of long gowns and tuxedos or on the grounds of a hilly country estate, they would see in his splendid colors, his rich browns and tans and wooly grays and glistening blacks, the essence of radiant but jaded nonchalance. That conviction is both reassuring and troubling. A matter of age, he thinks. He should walk around the lake a bit but for the moment he needs immobility more than movement, the still and calm, in order to relive the sense of nostalgia for things past that being here provokes. Actually things didn’t begin here. St. Moritz wasn’t at fault. Still, for the man from the East, life had peaked here in the great bowl of the Upper Engadine. So instead of stewing over the near future he decides to permit himself the luxury of rehashing the hidden past of intrigue here on one of Europe’s plushest capitalist playgrounds.