An aging Soviet missile scientist named Rosov Pietrov goes missing from his home in Leningrad. The Russians need to find him and assign the spy master Andre Peshky to resolve the matter.
But the British have intercepted Russian signals traffic.
Harry Thornton, an owl lover and a functionary in the British spy service takes it upon himself to cap his long career by bringing Pietrov to the West.
Meanwhile, the Americans have intercepted British signals traffic, and send a young special forces Army officer, Paul Bastia, to find Pietrov.
The search for Pietrov focuses on the divided city of Berlin.
Ever fascinated with the divided city, I wrote this novel in the 1980s, and published it then in both the US and the UK. More than 30 years later, I have gone back into it, and tampered slightly. It's a rare treat for an author to be able to do that with an earlier work, to bring so many years of storytelling experience to make it better. I did it because I've always liked this story, and because Berlin in those days is unforgettable.
Today, reunited Berlin is a vibrant, fabulously sophisticated, cultural city. But in those days, when American tanks at Checkpoint Charlie stared down Russian tanks, the Wall that cut the city in half was a stark, daily reminder that the Cold War had frozen over.
This novel is about that.
It's about the divided city at the very height of the Cold War, about two pawns in a complex chess game that nobody could ever win, and about the foolishly dangerous games that the world's powers played there.
The wonderfully talented best-selling author Nelson DeMille was generous enough to call this book: ""A fast paced, yet marvelously complex story."
PIETROV AND OTHER GAMES: http://amzn.to/1EtRaC3
The excerpt below finds Harry Thornton in his room at the Kempinski Hotel on the Kurfurstendamm, trying to recreate his long-gone glory days with the spy service, by sending himself a coded message to avoid paying his Berlin contact (Ursing) for finding Pietrov.
© Jeffrey Robinson 1985, 2015
He thought again about the deal with Ursing.
Payment after the second one. It worked then. Maybe it will work now. Maybe if I send Ursing on a wild goose chase to find someone who doesn't exist, he’ll turn over Pietrov without asking for money in advance. Then, once I have Pietrov safe in London, with Ursing still looking for this mythical person, the proper payments can be made.
There was a cardboard folder on the desk, with envelopes and hotel stationery stuffed inside. He sat down, took several sheets and a ballpoint pen and started to make a list.
He’ll be a Russian, of course. Name... Ivan? Good name, yes, Ivan.
He tried to remember if he had ever met any Ivans because it was always best to use a real person in a situation like this.
He thought back to his Moscow trip with Bathgate. What was their driver’s name? He couldn’t remember.
What’s an even better Russian name. How about Senyk? Of course. Vladimir Senyk. Why not? He’ll do as well as Ivan anybody else.
Now he had to decide just who Senyk should be.
Occupation... scientist? Double agent? Spy? No, nothing like that. It’s got to be something simple. Something real. Taxidermist? That was certainly real, but would Ursing ever believe that the British government was willing to pay to help a taxidermist defect?
He pondered that for quite a while.
- Senyk, Taxidermist. It’s just wild enough that Ursing could well believe it.
He continued writing his notes.
Value to GB? This is the difficult part. Why on earth would Her Majesty’s government be willing to pay to help someone get to the West when all he did was stuff dead animals?
Harry pondered that for a long time.
The obvious answer is, our taxidermist has something the British want. Like what? Secrets. But secrets of what? How about... No.
He changed his mind. Instead of secrets, he decided to use the two Czech girls model.
Ursing will believe that because he’ll remember that it happened before. He won’t question it happening again. We’ll make it a personal matter. We’ll make Senyk related to someone. We’ll use the House of Lords. Or perhaps a minister. Or, how about the PM? My God... this is getting better all the time. We’ll go all the way with this. Senyk will be related to the PM, on her mother’s side, of course.
He was very pleased with the way this was working out.
Value to GB... family of...
He crossed that out and tried to come up with another way of putting it.
How about, strictly personal? Yes, we’ll classify the matter. strictly personal/strictly secret.
He looked at that.
Even better, strictly personal/strictly secret-CEO.
Cabinet eyes only.
He liked that phrasing best of all. It added a tone of mystery.
And I won’t actually tell Ursing everything about this. I’ll lead him along so that he himself comes up with bits and pieces of the puzzle. Basic O-Level psychology. If Ursing thinks of it himself, he’ll be more inclined to believe it.
Next came, whereabouts?
He settled on, East Germany.
This will be delicate. How about if I tell Ursing that Senyk is a dissident. He’ll be part of a dissident movement that has worn thin the patience of the rulers. Not part of the Sakharov group. Maybe the last vestiges of the Pasternak era. Yes, very good. Senyk will have found himself put out to pasture by the current group of dissidents and squeezed by the rulers. Caught in the middle. Considered a revisionist by both. That’s the right kind of stuff. I’ll tell Ursing that as long as Senyk was useful to the movement in the Soviet Union, the PM never wanted to interfere. No, better still, I’ll say that, as long as Senyk felt useful to the movement, he never tried to impose himself on the PM. But now that he’s caught in this bind, he’s contacted her and she feels she cannot let him down.
He reread the list but felt that “Whereabouts - East Germany” was too simple. He crossed out East Germany and wrote Budapest.
Why not? Senyk was there at a convention. Surely taxidermists go to conventions, even behind the Iron Curtain? Yes. And he’s back there now, on his way to East Germany, and the PM wants him out. Very good. Ursing will go for it, I’m sure he will.
Sitting back in his chair, Harry enjoyed the glow of satisfaction that comes from a job well done. He put his pen on top of his notes and looked at himself in the mirror that hung just over the desk.
Like the old days. This is now just like the old days.
He poured himself another Scotch.
Now he reasoned, I’ll need a telex. I’ll need something that looks like it’s in code. That way Ursing will think that I’ve just been informed of this. That it’s Whitehall who is refusing to pay him any money until the PM’s relative is delivered. That way Ursing will think this has a very high priority. I must speak to Daleham.
He dialed and it rang, but still there was no answer.
I don’t know what they’re playing at. Damn.
He thought about eating something, but he didn’t want to leave the phone. He also didn’t want to leave that gun in his room.
Just my luck the maid will look in the case hoping to steal spare change. How could I ever explain such a thing?
He thought about room service and decided that would work perfectly well. Except he wasn’t really sure he had much of an appetite. Maybe later.
He took his address book and looked for Daleham’s home number. Mrs Daleham answered.
“He’s not home,” she said.
“Where is he?”
“Can you find him? This is Mr. Thornton.”
“Oh, ‘ullo, luv.”
I am not “luv”, he wanted to say. She always called him “luv”. One of these days he would tell her, “Madame, I am not your luv.” This time he settled for, “You must reach him and have him ring me right away. He’ll know where to find me.”
She said, “Right, luv. All the best.”
God, how I would hate to be married to a woman like that. Luv and guv and ‘e and me.
He took the phone again to call his wife. “Hello, dear, I just thought I would ring to see how you are.”
She sounded half asleep. “Where are you? What time is it? Harry, is that you?”
“Yes, yes, dear, did I wake you?” He checked his watch. It was only 10.30 in London. “Have you gone to bed already?”
“Oh, Harry, dear, you woke me. I’ve gone to bed early this evening.”
It was 10.30 already? “Well, dear, I’ll let you get back so sleep. Pleasant dreams.”
“Good night, Harry. I think I want to go back to sleep.”
He could use some sleep himself but first he had to get in touch with his office.
Where the hell is Daleham? I need that telex if this is going to work. Why aren’t they following set procedures? How many times have I told them, you must always follow set procedures? Well, at least I’ll follow set procedures. I’ll get a message through to someone.
He rang Senyk’s number. The answering machine came on. “This is the automatic answering machine for V. Senyk. I regret that there is no one here at the present to take your message. You see, none of my birds knows how to answer the phone. However, if you will be kind enough to leave your name, your number and a short message when you hear the tone, either I or one of the birds will ring you back very shortly. That they know how to do.”
“...ah... ” He knew what he wanted to say but the words wouldn’t come out. He hated to be caught on answering machines. “Ah... ”
He hung up.
Ghastly things. So damned intimidating. And why is it that people who own them always make it so much worse by using them for quips and jokes? Damn.
He reached for the phone again and re-dialed Senyk. This time he forced himself. “Yes, hello, this is Harry Thornton speaking...” He felt flustered. “I need to speak to my office.” He couldn’t think of anything else to say. “Thank you.” He hung up.
That should do it, that should be sufficient, he reassured himself. Yet he couldn’t understand where Daleham was and why Kingsley hadn’t passed the message on to him.
I specifically told Kingsley to pass along the message to Daleham. I specifically told Kingsley to tell Daleham to ring me. If I don’t get that telex, Ursing will never swallow the bait.
It was too late to eat a proper dinner although he decided he was indeed hungry. So he called room service to ask if they had any soup.
“Yes, of course we have soup. We have goulash...”
“No, thank you,” he said, “not at this hour of the night. What about a consommé?”
“Yes, we have consommé.”
“All right, please, one consommé for room 227.”
“Will that be all?”
“That will be all.”
Now he went back to his desk and wrote a draft of a telex.
It’s got to look like it’s in code. How about...
The room service menu was within easy reach.
He took a sheet of Kempinski stationery and drew three columns on the page. In the first column, he listed the words, strictly Personal/strictly secret, and the letters... c, e, o, s, e, n, y, k.
Then he opened the menu to the English translation and started copying down words from it. Salmon next to the first Strictly. Peas next to Personal. Salad next to the second Strictly, and Soup next to Secret.
For the letters he wrote caviar, eel, onions, strawberries, eggs, noodles... and stopped at y.
What kind of food starts with the letter y?
He couldn’t think of a single one.
I’ll come back to it later.
For k he wrote kippers.
Then, in the third column, he wrote the German translations of his chosen English words. Lacks, Erbsen, Salat, Suppe, Kaviar, Aal, Zwiebeln, Ei, Nudeln.
He suddenly remembered Y is for yoghurt. But he didn't know the German word for yoghurt. That ‘s when he realized that he didn’t know the German word for kippers either.
He called room service again. “Your consommé is on the way, sir.”
“Tell me something,” he asked in English. “What do you call yoghurt?”
“Yoghurt?” The boy taking the room service order asked. “I call yoghurt, yoghurt.”
“No, in German. What is the German word for yoghurt?”
“Yoghurt is joghurt. The same as in English but with a j.”
“Ah yes.” He wrote down Joghurt. “And kippers? Do you know what kippers are?”
“Like you have in England?”
“Yes, like we have in England.”
“That is... let me think... Raucherhering.”
So it is, he thought and jotted down that word too. “Yoghurt with a j and Raucherhering. Thank you very much.” Now he had it all.
The next step was to add a few miscellaneous words and numbers.
How about... confirmed menu?
Next to that he put the time... 11 pm.
I’ll tell Ursing this has come directly from 10 Downing Street, with the “p.m.” being the PM’s signature.
He had to smile at how well this was going.
The next problem is that I must somehow get Budapest in there and East Germany too. How about if the message ends, “Begin Hungry, Eat Good.” Yes, that’s it. But no more than that. Shan’t overdo it. Stop there. Quit while you’re ahead. It’s perfect just like that.
He copied the exact message down on another piece of paper so that he could read it to Daleham.
Where the hell is Daleham?
He tried the office number and was surprised, this time, when Daleham picked up the phone.
“Where the hell have you been?” Harry demanded. “What in God’s name is going on?”
“Sorry, guv,” Daleham said. “Just a minor misunderstanding. Nothing serious. Everything is back on track.”
“What kind of minor misunderstanding.”
“Not now, guv,” Daleham said. “I’ll explain another time.”
The hell you will, Harry thought. “You’ll tell me right now. Don’t you understand how serious this is?”
Daleham seemed to hesitate. “Well, all right. If you must know, I mean, I’m never one to tell tales out of school, but it’s Kingsley.”
“What about him?”
“Well... I was just coming on shift and he met me at the door and I didn’t have me keys with me, and when he bent down to get the milk, eggs and bacon, the door closed with the two of us on the outside. We got locked out.”
I don’t believe how clumsy they are.
He sighed. “You got locked out? Why didn’t you have your keys? How did you get in? And what are you talking about, eggs and bacon? Since when do we have eggs and bacon delivered?”
“I didn’t have me keys because the wife... ”
“Never mind,” Harry said, “never mind.” He didn’t want to hear another one of Daleham’s lengthy stories. “Just listen to me. Copy this down as I read it to you and then send it to me as a telex care of the hotel.” He read out the message but had to stop after each word so that Daleham could repeat it and spell it. “Yoghurt with a j”
“Got it,” Daleham said.
“Now read it back to me just to make sure.”
He did. “But what does it all mean?”
“Never mind.” Harry wasn’t going to let anyone in on his secret. “I’ll tell you when I get back. Is there any message traffic on our friend?”
“No sir. But oh, I have arranged for the money to be transferred by wire to you in the morning. You’ll get it at the hotel.”
“All 300,000 marks? How did you...?”
“Sorry, guv, what 300,000 marks? I have written here £6000.”
“Yes, fine, well done. We will be needing some more, but perhaps not right away. I’ll let you know. So... is that all?”
“That’s all, guv. You keeping well?”
“Fine. I’ll speak with the office in the morning.”
Someone knocked on his door.
“I’ve got to go. Goodbye.”
“All the best,” Daleham said.
Harry hung up. It was obvious that Kingsley had failed to pass the message on.
Thank God Daphne and I don’t sound like each other.
It was room service.
A waiter wheeled in a tray and gave him the bill to sign. Harry found a few marks as a tip, signed the bill and locked the door as the waiter left.
He pulled a cover off of a soup bowl and looked at the consommé.
But there was a second cover.
He pulled that off and stared into the plate... two kippers smothered in a mound of yoghurt.