The Writers Voice
The World's Favourite Literary Website

Traitor

by

Stephen Collicoat

'Andrew Dagan is dead. He died in his shabby, two-bedroom flat off the Imre
Prospect Plaza in Moscow. He was 85 years old.

'Andrew Dagan's death brings to a close a colourful chapter in the
voluminous
and often largely unwritten story of the Cold War. The defection of Dagan, a
brilliant mathematician working on top secret defence work for the United
States to the Soviet Union caused, in the view of many experts, irreparable
harm to American interests at a critical point in history. Indeed it was
(who? check source: Ike, JFK, Acheson?) who later wrote that he would have
accepted the desertion of three Divisions of the US Army more gladly than
the defection of Andrew Dagan.'

My words are like those Army Divisions, the journalist thought. Neat,
well-ordered, highly disciplined. 'No talking in the ranks! Heads up! Stay
in time!' They march out of my mind onto my terminal screen and then onto
the sub-editor's screen. A few minor changes and they'll be grouped into the
newspaper and from there enter the readers' eyes and into their minds. Then
come the counter-attacks. Letters to the Editor. Spluttering, 'I was stunned
at your writer's ignorance. Surely, everyone knows that.' The
recriminations, 'As the brother of the deceased, I was deeply hurt by..'

The journalist shrugged, returning to his keyboard.

'But Dagan was not an American. Born in the sleepy New South Wales wheat belt
town of (check name and especially spelling).'

Words, Dagan thought. They always snare you in the end. Harsh words like
hammer blows. Traitor. That's the word the press will use to bury me. But I
never sold the Americans' secrets. The Russians were well advanced in their
knowledge of my field. Much better than anyone in the West believed. It
didn't take them long to realise that I wasn't much of a prize. They kept me
because my defection threw the Yanks off their stride. Besides, when they
had me what could they do? I had only two years of potentially good work
ahead before Nicky died and I lost interest. Most of that time was wasted in
partying, because they feted me for a while. Surely a traitor has to believe
in something to betray a cause? I was never a communist. I found their
politics ludicrous and the system hypocritical. Just a different bunch of
thieves picking the pockets of the poor. I only believed in Nicky. I came
here, throwing everything up to join my lover. But who cares about that now?
I'll enter the history books as a Fuchs or a Quisling.

Words are always a snare. I won't purposely lie to you. But don't expect
that I shall - that I can - always tell the truth.

'That's the gloomiest bear I've ever seen!' Nicky giggled. Nicky, Andrew and
Sergei were in Nicky's small car driving back to Moscow. The bear - five
years old but small for his age - sat in the back seat, looking stolidly out
the window.

'Of course, he's gloomy,' Nicky agreed. 'Russian bears are always gloomy.
Imagine being Russian and unable to drink vodka!'

'Doesn't bear thinking about!' Andrew punned.

'How did I finish up with the bear beside me?' Sergei complained. 'He takes
up most of the seat and he stinks.'

'The smell's from the sores on his legs,' Andrew considered. 'The chains
have worn away the flesh and the wound is suppurating. You'd smell too if
you'd gone through what he's suffered.'

'This is silly,' Sergei persisted. 'It's one thing to buy a performing bear
in a village and I agree it was horrible to see the way he was treated, but
why not let him free in the forest? Why bring him back to the city? How's he
meant to live in your flat?'

'I want to make sure those wounds heal properly,' Nicky said. 'Anyway, how's
he meant to live in the forest during winter? He was probably born in
captivity. Humans, Heaven help him, are the only creatures he's used to.'

'Then you should have thought of that before you bought him' Sergei replied
tartly. 'Besides you paid that old peasant far too much. You should have let
me bargain him down.'

Nicky shrugged. 'Whatever.' He glanced in the rear vision mirror. 'You know,
he's not bad looking for a bear.' The bear, who they had named Dmitri,
caught his gaze, staring back with small dark eyes that seemed to stare into
Nicky's soul. It made him feel uncomfortable. 'Let's try him out in the
flat. I promise that when it's spring and there's something to eat I'll
release him into the forest.'

Andrew smiled at the memory. It was one of the few uncomplicatedly happy
times he could recall from those early days in Moscow. The bear had allowed
itself to be clad in a coat, boots were tugged onto his feet and gloves onto
his front claws while a fur cap was pulled low over his face. Then they
smuggled Dmitri up the five dimly lit flights of stairs past the old crone
who fortunately threw open her door too late to watch their progress and saw
only the broad back of their guest waddling awkwardly, assisted by his three
companions. 'Drunkards! Nancy Boys!' she hissed, slamming her door.

'He might be a Russian, but he certainly hasn't any Cossack blood,' Sergei
scoffed. They were at a party in their flat a week later.

'He's no dancer,' Nicky admitted. 'No wonder the peasant was eager to sell
him. Still, you must admit he makes a unique contribution to a social
gathering.'

'Yes, the smell of a bear pit!'

'That's you, not the bear. He doesn't wear the same socks for weeks on end.
What's wrong with you? Gay men are meant to be fastidious.'

Nicky was right. Dmitri was popular, being taken to a number of flats always
disguised in hat, boots, coat and gloves. They took him out in the evening
when the light was poor, yet it was surprising that only once did a
passer-by react. The man walked past, shaking his head, clearly telling himself he'd
imagined what he saw.

Dmitri spent most of his time in the flat gloomily staring through the lace
curtains to the street below, as though waiting for a message. But of course
it couldn't last and one fine spring morning, they drove Dmitri to a forest.

'Well, go on,' Nicky said, reaching across the bear to open the back door.
'Find a mate, have cubs and enjoy the rest of your life.'

'Yes, if you get lucky you'll miss Goldilocks,' Sergei smirked. Dmitri as
though awakening from a long reverie climbed slowly out of the car.

'I'll miss him,' Andrew admitted. 'Where's he gone?'

There was a heavy thump on the driver's window, startling the three men.
Dmitri stood there staring intently. Then he turned and without looking back
shambled into the forest. Almost immediately he was lost to view.

'You're crying!' Sergei said accusingly, 'All because of a silly bear!'

Not for the first time, Andrew realised he disliked Sergei. He wondered why
Nicky remained his friend.

'Bloody silly really. I already miss him like mad,' Nicky muttered. 'He's
better off in the wild. At least I think he is. I just hope we did the right
thing.'

'Do you think I'm politically naive?' It was six months after Dmitri
disappeared into the forest: and almost eighteen months since Andrew had
defected. It was 3 am. The bedroom was hot and stuffy. Andrew longed to draw
back the thick curtains, open the window and breathe in the crisp night air,
but he knew that he'd also hear the snarling dogs that gathered in the long
deserted playground several blocks away.

Nicky turned over, studying the shadowed face of his lover. 'Yes. In many
ways. You're certainly a child when it comes to understanding politics.'

'Why's that?'

'How would I know?' Nicky shrugged. 'Perhaps it's something to do with being
born in a young and largely innocent nation like Australia. A country where
you have never suffered a civil war. Where you can openly speak your mind.
We've learned the hard way, that's a stupid and dangerous thing to do. But
it's more than that. It's also your personality. You're both trusting and
arrogant' He broke off, not wishing to hurt his friend's feelings.'

'No, you're right,' Andrew agreed. 'I used to think that somehow politics
didn't affect me. Because it didn't interest me, I couldn't take communism
seriously.' Both men knew that their flat was almost certainly bugged, but
in Nicky's case, it never seemed to worry him.

'But you must have had some sense of how badly others would view your
defection,' Nicky objected.

'Well, you certainly tried to warn me, but it didn't seem important at the
time.'

'But it worries you now?'

'I won't lie to you. I often feel miserable here. I feel as though the
great, sad weight of Russian history is crushing me. I can't seem to get
started in my new life.'

'Well, I'm sorry you feel that,' Nicky replied with an edge of exasperation,
'But you've cast your die. This is forever.'

Andrew sighed and turned away. It was no surprise he didn't like Moscow. He
remembered a party at Colonel Orloff's flat. Orloff was ostensibly retired,
but was probably still active in the KGB. He was charming and well
connected, but just how Nicky and Orloff were connected Andrew never knew
and was afraid to ask. When they arrived and Orloff had warmly hugged Nicky,
a surprising gesture in someone as outwardly cold as Orloff, the KGB colonel
turned to Andrew with a wintry smile. 'I'm pleased to meet you. Nicky's told
me so much about you. It's good to put a face to his stories. Come over
here. There are several men I'm sure you'd like to meet. You have a great
deal in common.'

'How could Orloff think that?' Andrew demanded later. 'I've nothing in
common with that ghastly crew. What a bunch of losers!'

'Don't read too much into it,' Nicky shrugged. 'Not everything has a
sinister motive. The three you met had similar difficulties adjusting to
life here. They all have interesting histories.'

'I hated the whole evening. Three traitors; a drunk, a queen and a petty
little snob. I don't which one I loathed the most.'

'You're always whining about my friends. You keep saying you want to meet
new people, but when you do you can't stand them.'

'If that's the best Moscow can offer, I should have stayed in Washington.'

'Oh, you're impossible!' Nicky snapped. 'Just shut up and go to sleep! If
you don't want to go to Orloff's, then don't. I'll go by myself. No one will
care if you come, least of all Orloff.'

After a long moment of misery, Andrew impulsively hugged Nicky. 'I'm sorry.
I'm an ungrateful bastard I know. Please make sure nothing ever happens to
you. Without you, I'd be completely alone.'
Nicky winced. There was a deep selfishness in Andrew's love. 'Don't put me
on a pedestal,' he warned. 'There are things about me you don't know and may
not like.'

'I don't want to hear them. Now or ever. About your political connections.
Anything like that.'

'I told you right from the start that I'm not political, but I think some
part of you suspects that I was deliberately recruited to seduce you into
defecting.'

'No, well I don't know. I guess I don't want to think about that.'

'The fact that we're still together surely means something.'

'It means everything to me. I'm not worth much to the Russians am I?'

'No, you're pretty useless. It's a pity you haven't connected with any of
our scientists. You might be pleasantly surprised if you put yourself out
once in a while. You need a challenge. You're mentally lazy.'

'Perhaps I was a bigger traitor than Klaus Fuchs' Andrew said evasively. 'At
least he believed in something.'

'Perhaps,' Nicky yawned. They had retraced the same dreary path a thousand
times before. The truth was that the two men were bored with each other, yet
unwilling and probably unable to change. 'I'm tired of talking. Let's get
some sleep.'

You block out so much as you age, Andrew reflected. Take Dmitri. After
setting him free in the forest, Nicky had never travelled to that area
again.
Cowardice, Andrew supposed. He was probably afraid to find the bear's head
mounted over the bar in some local tavern or far worse see Dmitri back in
chains dancing in some squalid village. Whoever is up there looking after
bears, Andrew prayed please keep poor Dmitri in your care.

He couldn't entirely block out Nicky's memory of course, but he could limit
the daily reminders of his pain. There were no photos of Nicky now visible
in the flat. Another form of denial, but the sight of that youthful face,
once so radiant with joy and promise was unbearably painful. Besides Andrew
found himself resenting Nicky's eternal youth as each day in the mirror he
watched himself growing older, his hair thin, and his skin gray. Crazy to
envy the dead, but there it was. There's was the new adventure, his were the
last gestures of a life that had lost all meaning, if indeed it had ever had
much purpose. And there was anger amid the grief. Nicky was the reason he
had come to Moscow. Now when he was desperately lonely, needing him more and
more for comfort and support as he grew old in this crushingly dismal city
Nicky wasn't there. Nicky was somewhere with Sergei and the fact that they
were both dead seemed unimportant. Such a stupid accident really. Of course,
they had both seen many deaths. Gay men experience so much more tragedy,
suffer the loss of so many young friends than most of the straight
community. But that hadn't happened to Nicky. He was faithful or rather
Andrew was. Hopefully loyalty worked both ways. Now Andrew couldn't be sure.
He would never know the truth.

Nicky was his first and last lover. It took the shy Australian several
attempts before he ventured into a gay bar in New York. Another minute
longer and he would have fled, but it was there he met Nikolai Zherkov.
Several drinks, much animated talk and that night the two men made hungry
love in the small hotel room Andrew had rented for a week-long holiday from
his duties in Washington. So was Nicky a KGB officer deliberately targeting
the na´ve, socially inept young man whose scientific work was exciting
international attention? It was feasible, even likely. A young Russian with
plenty of freedom, a vague job title in trade and sufficient funds. But
where was the FBI while their affair developed? Six months after they met,
Nicky announced he would shortly be returning to Moscow.

'But you'll be back,' Andrew pleaded.

Nicky shook his head. 'Not this time. My passport's been cancelled.
Something's upset my masters.'

'But can they just do that? Surely, you were given some hint of what's
worrying them.'

'I think it's us. I think they believe that I'll defect to live with you.'

'Would you?'

'No. I love my country. My family are there and most of my friends. Good
people like Sergei who I've known since school.'

'Then I'm coming with you,' Andrew said When he said it the thought was
impulsive. Having said it however, he suddenly knew that he was destined to
stay with Nicky forever, whatever the cost.

One afternoon, two years after Andrew and Nicky moved into the Moscow flat,
Andrew answered a knock on the front door. Opening it, he found Colonel
Orloff. Although many found Vassily Orloff charming and cultured, Andrew
distrusted him.

'Oh, you must be looking for Nicky,' he answered carelessly. 'You'll have to
come back. He's away.'

'No, I wanted to see you,' Orloff replied quietly. 'May I come in?'

'I suppose so.' Nicky reluctantly led his visitor into the small sitting
room.

'Would you like to sit down?' Orloff inquired.

'No, why should I?' Nicky asked in surprise. He remembered his duties as a
host. 'Do you want something to drink? Tea?' He hoped Orloff would refuse.
He felt impatient with his company.

Orloff shook his head. 'No, thanks.' He paused. 'Andrew, may I call you
that? There's no easy way to say this. Nicky's been in a car accident. I was
asked to tell you.'

'Nicky! But what happened. Is he all right? Where is he?'

'No, he's not all right. I'm afraid he was killed.'

'Oh, my God!' Andrew collapsed into a chair.

'It seems a truck veered into Nicky's lane. It was a head-on smash just
outside Moscow. No one survived.'

'But this doesn't happen to us!' Andrew cried, feeling foolish as soon as he
spoke.

'It happens all too often in Russia,' Orloff responded grimly. 'Narrow roads
that are pitted with holes, slippery with ice and too many drivers who are
drunk when they take the wheel. It might have also been a steering or brake
failure. The truck was very old.'

'Nicky. Nicky,' Andrew groaned. 'I can't bear it.'

'I can only say that his death would have been very swift. He didn't
suffer.'

Orloff went to the sideboard and poured a large measure of vodka into a
tumbler. 'I know you detest this stuff, but drink it anyway. It'll help
steady your nerves and dull the pain.' Andrew feebly waved the glass away.
He hated the fact that of all men, it was Orloff who witnessed his grief.

'There's something else you should know. It will come out at the inquest.
Nicky wasn't alone in the car. Sergei was there as well. He was also
killed.'

'But I don't understand. Nicky told me he'd be traveling alone on some
business. I was going to cook a special dinner for him tonight.'

I'm sorry,' Orloff said.

'Can I see Nicky?'

'Of course, if you insist. It's not a good idea. The truck was large and
both vehicles were probably travelling too fast. The truck crunched the
small
car like a giant stamping his foot.' Seeing Andrew's horrified expression,
Orloff quickly apologised. 'Forgive me. That was thoughtless. I've seen so
much death that I don't always choose the kindest words.'

'You don't need to patronise me,' Andrew said stiffly. 'I insist on seeing
Nicky and Sergei.'

Orloff shrugged. 'Then I'll arrange it with the morgue. Let me call them
from here. While I'm doing that, at least have your drink.'

And Orloff was right. There was no sense of closure from sighting two bodies
mangled beyond recognition. Even their clothes deeply stained and stiff with
blood seemed that of strangers. Only the black onyx ring that Nicky wore
gave him a short, savage thrust of recognition. 'Can I take that?' Andrew
asked. 'It was my present to him.' Orloff shrugged. 'Yes, I'll have it noted
on the record.' But the ring held so tightly to Nicky's finger that he
finally had to give up trying to wrench it off. It felt as though Nicky was
meanly denying him even this comfort.

I was a traitor, Andrew thought. Not so much to America although they had
every right to expect my loyalty. What truth lies in these arbitrary
geographical and political boundaries? I was also a traitor to the Soviets
who welcomed me into their home. I took everything and gave them nothing.
But my deepest betrayal was to myself. I allowed dull habit to become a
tyrant. I've always blamed others, but the fault lies not in the stars but
in us. Another man might have found much to fascinate him in Moscow. I
mistook the cause of my boredom as a place. It wasn't the dreariness of
Soviet life, but the malaise within my soul. I carried the virus across the
border and now it possesses my life. If this was a story, I would, having
realised this, change and find some redemption at the end. How does that
poem go; not too late to seek a newer world?

'Death closes all: but something ere the end
Some work of noble note, may yet be done.'

But I know it's too late, because my nature is weak. I'm too feeble, Ulysses
to bend myself to the oars. Perhaps I always was.

Last week, when I was thinking about all this, I was sitting in my favourite
chair in the lounge watching the snow falling gently on a dull afternoon.
All day, the phone has been silent. I eagerly searched the mail when the
letter flap opened, but it was only the same rubbish. Horoscopes, tarot
readings and young Ukrainian women offering their services. Something
terribly sad about their brazen eagerness. I fell asleep in the
mid-afternoon and had a strange dream. I saw Nicky, Sergei and Orloff
together in Orloff's flat. They were sniggering about how they had
substituted strangers from a car crash at the morgue. 'It was the only way I
could be free from him,' Nicky chortled. 'He had become such a clinging
bore.' Then Nicky and Sergei began making making love to the slow
handclapping of Orloff and I woke with a feeling of helpless rage. Of
course, it was all nonsense, but it made me wonder how much hatred was
embedded in my love. I don't look at Nicky's stuff today. Everything I kept
as a reminder is locked away and I can't bear to see it. I'm proud of one
thing that I did. Nicky kept a private diary, but when he died rather than
reading it to find out the answers that torment me; whether he was a KGB
plant and whether he was Sergei's lover, I burnt the book. Does that gesture
make me strong-minded or just a coward?

No one rings now. The friends we had were Nicky's, not mine. When I made
tentative, awkward attempts to reach out to them, they turned away. I
practiced my aloofness for so long others won't accept that I can change.
Even the faint whiff of desperation that I give off like a slowly rotting
corpse kills attraction.

So what can be said of the rest of my life? I've withdrawn deeper and deeper
into myself in the infinite lassitude of old age. Once I cared that I
betrayed my true self. The man who had so much promise, but let it slip
away. Now it doesn't seem to matter. And that's probably the greatest
tragedy of all. Tennyson nailed my life. 'I am become a name.'

Traitors. Finally, we're all traitors to our youth.

The journalist read through the obituary. He liked the work. Fleetingly he
wondered if it was fair to wrap the complexity of a man's life so neatly in
words. But that's journalism. Swift judgments. Unforgiving deadlines, which
are a cover all excuse for our clumsy and superficial work. A few
memorable phrases to catch the eye, before the newspaper is tossed into the
bin. But who can spend the time seeking out the truth, assuming there is a
different truth to what I've written? It's a job. Don't take it too
seriously or like a tightrope walker, I may begin to fatally distrust
myself.

Ah truth, the journalist smiled. He pressed the key and sent the obituary
into the Chief of Staff's in-box.

Critique this work

Click on the book to leave a comment about this work

All Authors (hi-speed)    All Authors (dialup)    Children    Columnists    Contact    Drama    Fiction    Grammar    Guest Book    Home    Humour    Links    Narratives    Novels    Poems    Published Authors    Reviews    September 11    Short Stories    Teen Writings    Submission Guidelines

Be sure to have a look at our Discussion Forum today to see what's
happening on The World's Favourite Literary Website.