Snow Wolf 1
I had come to bury the dead and resurrect ghosts, and so it seemed somehow appropriate that the truth and the lies of the past should begin in a graveyard.
It was raining that morning in Novodevichy Cemetery, and I was burying my father for the second time.
It isn’t often that a man gets to be buried twice, and as I stood alone under the dripping chestnut trees I could see the black Mercedes come in through the cemetery gates and brake gently to a halt near the grave. Two men stepped out, one of them middle-aged and gray-haired, the other a bearded Orthodox priest.
It’s a tradition in Russia to uncover the coffin before it’s buried, a chance for friends and relatives to kiss their dead and say their last goodbyes. But there would be no such tradition observed this wet day in June for a man who had died more than five decades before, just a simple ceremony to finally acknowledge his passing.
Someone had placed a red-flowered wreath beside the grave, I remember that, and then I saw the flashes of forked lightning illuminate the gray horizon and heard the cracks of thunder.
The Convent of Novodevichy lies south of Moscow, an ancient sixteenth-century Orthodox church surrounded by whitewashed stone walls. Five golden cupolas stand on top, and beyond the gates that lead to the cemetery is a maze of narrow roads, overgrown with weeds and crammed with marble headstones and ancient vaults.
Until a few years ago, the cemetery had been closed to the public. Khrushchev’s grave was nearby, a massive monument of black and white marble. Stalin’s wife and her family off to the right. Chekhov. Shostakovich. Grand marble edifices to heroes of the Soviet Union and writers and actors, men and women who had left their mark on Soviet history. And my father, an American, was strangely among them.
And as I stood there in the pouring rain under the wet trees in the corner of the cemetery, I saw the gray-haired man from the Mercedes put up his umbrella and speak quietly with the priest, who nodded and went to stand under one of the trees a short distance away.
The gray-haired man was in his late forties, tall and well built, and he wore a smart blue business suit under his damp raincoat. He smiled warmly as he came toward me.
“A wet day for it, wouldn’t you say?” He offered his hand. “Brad Taylor, US Embassy. You must be Massey?”
The handshake was firm and as I let go I said, “For a while there I was afraid you wouldn’t make it.”
“Sorry I’m late, I got held up at the embassy.” He took a pack of Marlboro cigarettes from his pocket and offered me one. “Smoke? I hope it doesn’t seem disrespectful?”
“No, it doesn’t, and thanks, I don’t mind if I do.”
He lit both our cigarettes and looked back over at the priest as he arranged his white vestments under his black raincoat and removed a Bible from his pocket, almost ready to begin.
Taylor said, “Bob tells me you’re a journalist with the Washington Post. Have you ever been to Moscow before, Mr. Massey?”
“Once, five years ago on a brief assignment. What else did Bob tell you?”
Taylor smiled, showing a row of perfectly white and even teeth. “Just enough so I wouldn’t be at a loss when we met. He said you were a friend of his from way back, when you were at boarding school together. And he said to make sure everything went smoothly for you while you’re in Moscow. Bob seemed very anxious about that.”
Taylor went to say something else then, but hesitated and looked back just as the priest had made himself ready, lighting a small censer of incense before he came over to join us.
Someone had left a fresh marble slab against one of the trees, and I could make out the simple chiseled inscription in Cyrillic letters.
Born: January 3, 1912
Died: March 1, 1953
Nearby was an old unmarked stone slab that had been uprooted from the grave, green with lichen and weathered by the years. There was another one still lying on the ground, marking a second grave beside my father’s, looking just as old, and out of the corner of my eye I saw two gravediggers wearing capes standing a distance away under some trees, waiting to go to work and erect my father’s headstone.
And as I stood there, I realized how suddenly everything had come together. One of those twists of luck that seem to conspire now and then to make you believe in fate. A week ago and over five thousand miles away in Washington, I had received the phone call from Langley, telling me they had arranged the funeral ceremony and that Anna Khorev would meet me in Moscow. It had taken three days to finalize the details, and by then I could hardly contain my excitement.
The Orthodox priest stepped forward, shook my hand, and asked in perfect English, “Shall I begin now?”
He stepped toward the grave and started to pray as he swung the censer of fragrant incense, chanting the prayers for the dead in Russian.
It was all over in no time at all, and then the priest withdrew and went back to the car. The gravediggers came over and began to place the fresh headstone on my father’s tomb. Taylor said, “Well, I guess that’s it, except for your lady friend, Anna Khorev. She arrived early this morning from Tel Aviv. That’s what kept me.”
Taylor lit us both another cigarette. “I guess Bob explained the ground rules.”
“Sure. No photographs, no audio recorder. Everything is off the record.”
Taylor smiled. “I guess that about covers everything. The place she’s at is in the Swallow Hills outside Moscow. Belongs to the Israeli Embassy, one of their staff houses they vacated for the meeting.” He handed me a slip of paper. “That’s the address. They’re expecting you, and the appointment is for three this afternoon.” He hesitated. “You mind if I ask you a question?”
He nodded over toward my father’s grave. “Bob told me your father died a pretty long time ago. How come you’re having this service here today?”
“All I can tell you is my father worked for the American government. He died in Moscow in 1953.”
“Did he work for our embassy here?”
Taylor said, confused, “I thought Moscow was out of bounds to Americans during the Cold War, except for those working in the embassy. How did your father die?”
“That’s what I’m here to find out.”
Taylor looked puzzled and he went to say something else then, but suddenly thunder cracked above us and he glanced up.
“Well, I’d like to stay and talk, but duty beckons.” He crushed his cigarette with the heel of his shoe. “I’ve got to take the padre back. Can I give you a lift someplace?”
I tossed away my cigarette. “No need, I’ll find a taxi. I’d like to stay awhile. Thanks for your help.”
“Whatever you say.” Taylor put up his umbrella. “Good luck, Massey. And I sure hope you find whatever it is you’re looking for.”
• • •
This is what I remember.
A cold, windy evening in March 1953. I am eight. I am in my dormitory in the boarding school in Richmond, Virginia. I hear the footsteps creak on the stairs outside, hear the door open. I look up and see the headmaster standing there, another man behind him, but this man isn’t a teacher or staff. He’s wearing an overcoat and leather gloves, and he stares at me before he smiles weakly.
The headmaster says, “William, this gentleman is here to see you.” He looks meaningfully at the other two boys in the room. “Would you leave William alone for a while?”
The boys depart. The headmaster withdraws. The man comes in and closes the door. He’s broad and hard-faced, with deep-set eyes, and looks every inch a soldier with his tight-cropped haircut and polished brown shoes.
For a long time he says nothing, as if he finds what he’s about to tell me difficult, and then he says, “William, my name is Karl Branigan. I was a colleague of your father’s.”
Something in the tone of his voice puts me on my guard, the way he says “was a colleague,” and I look up at him and ask, “What’s this about, Mr. Branigan?”
“William, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you. It’s about your father . . .he’s dead. I’m sorry . . .truly sorry.”
The man just stands there and doesn’t speak again. And then I’m crying, but the man doesn’t come toward me or touch me or offer any comfort, and for the first time in my life I feel utterly alone. A little later I hear his footsteps go down the creaking stairs again. The wind screams and rushes outside the window. A tree branch brushes against the wall, then creaks and snaps. I call for my father. But he doesn’t answer.
And then a scream from deep inside me, which echoes still inside my head, a terrible cry of grief, and I can’t stop my tears.
I remember running after that. Nowhere in particular. Out through the oak doors of the school and across damp, cold Virginian fields, grief heavy as stone in my heart, until I found the cold river that ran through the grounds. I lay on the wet grass and buried my face in my hands and wished my father back.
It was later that I learned something of my father’s death. They never told me where exactly he had died, only that it was somewhere in Europe and it had been suicide. The body had been in water for weeks and it wasn’t a pretty sight for a young boy, so they hadn’t let me see it. There was a funeral, but no more explanations or answers to my questions because no one bothers to tell a child such things. But years later those unanswered questions always came back: Why? Where? It was to take a long time to learn the truth.
Ten days ago when my mother died I went back to the rooms where she had lived and embarked on the ritual of going through her things. There were no tears, because I had never really known her. We hadn’t seen each other much over the years, a card or two, a brief letter once in a while, because we had never been that close, not the way I had been with my father. My parents had divorced soon after I was born, and my mother had gone her own way, leaving my father to bring me up.
She had been a dancer in one of the Broadway shows, and knowing my father even the little I did as a child, I always guessed they had never been suited.
She rented a small apartment on New York’s Upper East Side. I remember the place was in disarray. An untidy single bed, a single chair, some empty gin bottles, and a bottle of blond hair dye. Letters from old boyfriends and some from my father, held together with elastic bands, kept in an old tin box under her bed.
I found the letter from my father. Old and faded with years, its edges curling and the color of papyrus.
It was dated January 24, 1953.
Just a line to let you know William is well and doing fine at school. I’m going to be away for a time, and if anything should happen to me I want you to know (as usual) there’s enough money in my account to see you both through, along with my service insurance. Dangerous times we’re living in! I hear they’re building air-raid shelters on Broadway because of the threat from the Russians.
I’m keeping well and I hope you are. One more thing, should anything happen to me: I’d be obliged if you’d check the house, and if you find any papers lying around in the study or in the usual place in the cellar, do me a favor and pass them on to the office in Washington. Will you do that for me?
I read through the other letters out of curiosity. There was nothing much in there. Some were from men, notes sent backstage from someone who had seen her in the chorus line and liked her legs and wanted to buy her dinner. There were a couple more from my father, but none that hinted at how they might have once loved each other. I guess she destroyed those.
But I thought about that line in the letter about the papers. The house that had been my father’s was now mine. It was an old clapboard place he had bought when he and my mother first moved to Washington, and after he died it ran to ruin for a long time until I was old enough to tidy it up. It had taken me years to get it back into shape. There had once been a steel Diebold safe sunk into the floor in my father’s study in which he used to keep documents and papers. But I remembered his saying once that he never trusted safes, because they could always be opened by someone determined or clever enough. The safe was long gone, and the room refurbished. But I didn’t know of any other place he might have used.
So the day I got back from sorting my mother’s affairs I went down to the cellar. It was a place I rarely went, filled with long-forgotten bric-a-brac that had belonged to my parents and boxes of stuff I’d kept over the years and had promised myself I’d get rid of. Remembering the study safe, I shifted the cardboard and wooden boxes around and checked the concrete floors.
I found nothing.
Then I started on the walls.
It took me quite a while before I found the two loose red bricks high in the back wall above the cellar door.
I remember my heart was pounding a little. I wondered whether I would find anything, or if my mother had long ago already done as my father had asked, or if she’d ignored him as she so often did. I reached up and pulled out the bricks. There was a deep recess inside, and I saw the large yellowed legal pad lying there between the covers of a manila file, worn and faded.
There are some things that change your life forever. Like marriage or divorce or someone on the end of a telephone telling you there’s been a death of someone close in the family.
But nothing prepared me for what I found behind those bricks in the cellar.
I took the old pad upstairs and read it through. Two pages had been written on in blue ink, in my father’s handwriting.
Four names. Some dates. Some details and sketchy notes, as if he was trying to work something out, none of it making much sense. And a code name: Operation Snow Wolf.
My father had worked for the CIA. He had been a military man all his life and had worked in OSS during the war, operating behind German lines. That much I knew, but not much else, until I found that old yellow pad.
For a long time I sat there, trying to figure it all out, my heart and mind racing, until I saw the date on one of the pages, and it finally clicked.
I drove to Arlington National Cemetery. For a long time I looked at my father’s grave, looked at the inscription.
Born: January 3, 1912
Died: February 20, 1953
I looked at those words until my eyes were on fire from looking. Then I went and made photocopies of the written pages I’d found and delivered the originals in a sealed envelope to my lawyer.
I made the call to Bob Vitali an hour later. He still worked for the CIA in Langley. We were both the same age and I figured he was due to retire.
“Bill, it’s been a long time,” Vitali said cheerfully. ‘‘Don’t tell me. There’s a school reunion, right? Why do they always have these things when you’re just about getting over those days? The amount of money that place in Richmond cost me in shrink’s bills . . .”
I told him what I had found and how I had found it, but not the contents.
“So what? You found some forgotten papers of your old man’s. Sure, he worked for the CIA, but that was a long time ago. Do yourself a favor and burn them.”
“I think someone should come and look at them.”
“Are you kidding? Is this what this call is about?”
“Bob, I really think someone should come and look at them.”
Vitali sighed, and I could picture him looking at his watch at the other end.
“Okay, what’s in there? Give me something I can work with, and I’ll ask around, see if what you found is important. Remember, we’re talking over fifty years. I’m pretty sure whatever you’ve found has been declassified. I think maybe you’re getting excited over nothing.”
“Bob, please come and look at them.”
Vitali said impatiently, “Bill, I haven’t got the time to drive to your place. Give me something to go on, for heaven’s sakes.”
“Operation Snow Wolf.”
“That’s what it says on the top of the first page on the pad.”
“Never heard of it. What else?”
“Like what more?”
“Come over, and look at the pages.”
Vitali sighed. “Bill, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’ll ask some of the Archives boys, and see what I can come up with. See if this Snow Wolf thing rings a bell.” I could hear the impatience in his voice. “Listen, I’ve got a call coming in, I’ll talk to you soon. Be good, man.”
The line clicked dead.
I stood up and went into the kitchen and made coffee. It seemed as though I sat there for a long time, my heart still pounding as I thought about those pages and what they might mean. I didn’t want to tell Vitali everything, because I wanted to know what Langley knew. My mind was ablaze, but I didn’t know what to do next.
It must have been an hour later when I heard the screech of car tires outside. I looked out of the window and saw two black limousines pull up, and half a dozen men step out briskly, Bob Vitali among them.
He looked white-faced, and when I went to the door he said urgently, “Can I come in? We need to talk.”
The others waited outside on the porch while Vitali came into the room with just one other man. He was tall, maybe sixty, distinguished, with silver hair. He had an arrogant look about him, and he didn’t smile or speak. Then Vitali said, “Bill, I guess you figured this is about those papers you found—”
The other man interrupted sharply, “Mr. Massey, my name is Donahue. I’m a section head with the CIA. Bob explained about what you told him. May I see the papers you have, please?”
I handed him the papers.
He looked white. “These are copies!”
Donahue’s tone demanded an explanation. I looked at him. “The originals are in a safe place.”
A muscle twitched in Donahue’s face, suddenly stern, then he glanced at Vitali before reading slowly through the photocopies. Finally he sat down with a worried look. “Mr. Massey, those papers belong to the CIA.”
“They belonged to my father. He worked for the CIA.”
Donahue’s voice was firm. “Mr. Massey, we can argue that point all evening, but the papers you hold are still classified top secret. As such, they are government property.”
“They were written a long time ago.”
“It makes no difference—that classification still applies. Anything in those particular papers will never be made public. The operation referred to in the file was a highly secret and sensitive one. I can’t possibly stress both those words enough. The original papers, please.”
“I’ll make a deal with you.”
“No deals, Massey, the papers, please,” Donahue demanded.
I was determined not to be bulldozed. “I think you’d better listen to me, Donahue. My father died decades ago. I never knew where or when or how he really died. I want answers. And I want to know exactly what this Operation Snow Wolf was that he became involved in.”
“Out of the question, I’m afraid.”
“I’m a journalist. I can have the papers published, write an article, investigate, see if anyone who worked for the CIA back then remembers something. You might be surprised what it turns up.”
Donahue paled again. “I can assure you not a paper in the land will publish anything you may care to write on the matter we’re discussing. The CIA would not allow it. And your investigation would lead absolutely nowhere.”
I stared back at him. “So much for democracy. Then maybe I couldn’t publish here,” I said. “But there are always newspapers abroad you can’t control.”
Donahue went silent, his brow furrowed, and I could see his mind was ticking over furiously. “What do you want, Massey?”
“The answer to those questions. I want to know the truth. And I want to meet the people involved with my father on that mission, whoever’s still alive.”
“That’s quite impossible. They’re all dead.”
“Hardly all of them. There must be someone. One of those four names on the pad: Alex Slanski. Anna Khorev. Henri Lebel. Irena Dezov. Whoever they were. I don’t just want a report secondhand. You could tell me anything you care to. I want evidence. Flesh-and-blood evidence. Someone to speak with who knew my father and the operation and knows how he really died. And,” I said firmly, “I want to know what happened to his body.”
This time Donahue turned terribly pale. “Your father was buried in Washington.”
“That’s a complete lie, and you know it. Look at the copies, Donahue. There’s a date written on the last page—February 20, 1953—in my father’s handwriting. You people told me my father died in Europe on that date. That’s the date on his tombstone—February 20. Now I may be dumb, but dead men don’t write notes. The CIA said my father died abroad, but he was here in this house on that day. You know something? I don’t think you even buried my father. I don’t think you had a body. That’s why you people never let me see it; that’s why you gave me all that bull about his being in the water too long. I was a kid—I wouldn’t question not being allowed to see the body. But I’m questioning it now. My father didn’t commit suicide. He didn’t drown himself. He died on this Snow Wolf operation, didn’t he?”
Donahue gave a weak smile. “Mr. Massey, I think you’re being highly speculative and really over-the-top here.”
“Then let’s not speculate any longer. I went to see my lawyer. I’m having the body exhumed. And when that coffin’s opened, I don’t think I’ll find my father inside. And then I’ll have you and your superiors dragged into a public court to explain.”
Donahue didn’t answer, just went a deep red. He was either totally embarrassed or he wasn’t used to being spoken to like that. He looked briefly at Vitali for support, but Bob just sat there, in some kind of shock, as if he were struck dumb or completely in fear of the man or both.
Finally, Donahue stood up, looking as if he wanted to hit me. “I want you to understand something, Massey. You do that, and you’ll find yourself in a whole lot of trouble.”
Donahue didn’t reply, just kept staring at me.
I stared back, then adopted a more conciliatory approach. “If you tell me what really happened to my father, what harm can it do? I’ll agree to return the papers. And if it’s that secret I’ll agree to sign whatever you want pledging my silence afterwards. Don’t talk to me about trouble, Donahue. Not knowing the truth about my father, being told he killed himself, cost me years of trouble and pain.” I looked at Donahue determinedly. “But believe me, if someone doesn’t tell me the truth, I’ll do what I say.”
Donahue sighed, then looked at me angrily, and his mouth tightened. “I think I should tell you at this point that this matter is no longer within my control.”
“I need to make a phone call, Mr. Massey. A very important one. The person I speak to will have to call someone else. Both these people will have to agree before your demands can be met.”
I looked at him. “Who are you going to call?”
“The president of the United States.”
It was my turn to react. “And who’s he going to call?”
Donahue flicked a look at Vitali, then back at me.
“The president of Russia.”
• • •
The rain had stopped, and the sun shone warmly between broken clouds and glinted off the golden onion domes of Novodevichy Convent.
I looked down at the two simple graves lying in the earth, my father’s and the worn and weathered slab beside it. There was no name and no inscription on the slab, just blank stone, the way my father’s was.
In all Russian cemeteries there are small chairs facing the graves, a place for relatives to come with a bottle of vodka and sit and talk to their departed. But there were no chairs beside these stones; they were forgotten, the ground around them overgrown with weeds and grass.
I wondered about the grave but knew there was no use wondering, even though my mind was already racing. By some instinct I realized there was something about this simple unmarked slab that related to my father’s death.
There was so little I knew and so much to learn. I hoped Anna Khorev would tell me.
I walked back to the cemetery gates and found a taxi, drove back through the hot, crowded Moscow streets to my hotel room, and waited. I lay on my bed and closed my eyes, but I did not sleep.
Now that the rain was gone, the heat lingered like smoke on a windless day.
I had waited over fifty years to know my father’s secret.
Another few hours was nothing.
• • •
The sun was shining on the Swallow Hills, flowers blooming in the gardens of the big wooden houses that overlook the Moscow River. The address was one of the old villas from the tsar’s time. A big, rambling place with a white picket fence and clapboard shutters and flower boxes out front.
The taxi dropped me at the gate, and when I walked up two men in plain clothes, Israeli guards, were standing beside a security hut. They checked my passport, and one of them examined the bunch of white orchids I had brought, then telephoned the villa before they opened the gate for me and I walked up to the front.
Unexpectedly it was a young woman who opened the door when I rang the bell. She wore jeans and a sweater and was in her early twenties, tall and dark-haired and deeply tanned. The smile was warm when she said in English, “Mr. Massey, please come in.”
I followed her into a cool marble hall that echoed our footsteps.
She led me out to the back of the villa. The gardens were dazzling with color, but in the bright Moscow sunshine the place looked a little shabby. Creepers grew raggedly on walls, and the house looked as if it could use a coat of fresh paint.
As I followed the girl across the patio I saw the elderly woman waiting at a table. She was tall and elegant, with one of those chiseled, well-proportioned faces that keep their age so well.
She must have been well into her seventies, but she didn’t look it. She was remarkably handsome. Her face had a Slavic look, high cheekbones, and although her hair was completely gray, she looked like a woman ten years younger. She wore a simple black dress that hugged her slim figure, dark glasses, and a white scarf tied around her neck.
She stared up at my face for a long time before she stood and offered her hand. “Mr. Massey, it’s good to meet you.”
I shook her hand and offered her the orchids.
“Just to say hello. They tell me all Russians adore flowers.”
She smiled and smelled the flowers. “How very kind. Would you like something to drink? A coffee? Some brandy?”
“A drink would be good.”
“Russian brandy? Or is that too strong for you Americans?”
“Not at all. That sounds fine.”
The girl hovered by her side, poured me a drink from a tray, and handed it across.
The woman placed the orchids on the coffee table and said, “Thank you, Rachel. You may leave us now.” When the young woman had gone she said, “My granddaughter. She traveled with me to Moscow,” as if explaining the girl’s presence, and then she smiled again. “And I’m Anna Khorev, but doubtless you know that.”
She offered me a cigarette from a pack on the table, and I accepted. She took one herself, and when she had lit both, she looked out at the view. She must have been aware of my staring at her, but then I guessed she was used to men staring.
She smiled as she looked back at me. “Well, Mr. Massey, I hear you’ve been very persistent.”
“I guess it comes with the territory of being a journalist.”
She laughed, an easy laugh, and then she said, “So tell me what you know about me.”
I sipped the brandy. “Almost nothing until a week ago, when I learned you were still alive and living in Israel.”
“Is that all?”
“Oh, there’s more, I assure you.”
She seemed amused. “Go on, please.”
“You once escaped from a Soviet prison camp after being sentenced to life imprisonment. You’re the only survivor of a top-secret CIA mission, code-named Snow Wolf.”
“I can see your friends in Langley filled you in.” She smiled. “Tell me more.”
I sat back and looked at her. “They told me hardly anything. I think they wanted to leave that to you. Except they did tell me my father wasn’t buried in Washington, but in an unmarked grave in Moscow. He died on active service for his country, and you were with him when it happened.”
She nodded at me to continue.
“I found some papers. Old papers of his he kept.”
“So I’m told.”
“Four names were written in the pages, and they cropped up several times. Yours. And Alex Slanski, Henri Lebel, and Irena Dezov. There was also a line written on the bottom of one of the pages that said, ‘If they’re caught, may heaven help us all.’ I was hoping you could help me there.”
For a long time Anna Khorev said nothing, just looked at me through her dark glasses. And then she removed them, and I saw her eyes. They were big and dark brown and very beautiful.
I said, “That line means something to you?”
She hesitated. “Yes,” she said enigmatically. She was silent for several moments and turned her head to look away. When she looked back she said, “Tell me what else you know.”
I sat back in my chair. “The file cover I found, would you care to see it?”
Anna Khorev nodded. I took the photocopied single sheet from my pocket and handed it across.
She read it for several moments, then slowly laid the page on the table.
I glanced down. I had read it so many times I didn’t need to read it again.
OPERATION SNOW WOLF.
SECURITY, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, SOVIET DIVISION.
VITAL: ALL COPY FILES AND NOTE DETAILS RELATING TO THIS OPERATION TO BE DESTROYED AFTER USE.
UTMOST SECRECY. REPEAT, UTMOST SECRECY.
Her face showed no reaction as she looked back at me.
“So when you read this and the other pages and learned your father had not committed suicide or died on the date you were told, you realized there was perhaps more to his death and went looking for answers?”
“That’s when I was offered a deal. If I agreed to hand over the original pages I’d hear some answers, and I’d be present when my father was given a proper burial service. But I was told that the matter was still highly secret and that I had to sign a declaration promising to uphold that secrecy.”
Anna Khorev crushed her cigarette in the ashtray and said lightly, “Yes, I know all about your friends in Langley, Mr. Massey.”
“Then you’ll also know I was told that it was all up to you, whether you’d tell me what I wanted to know.”
“The truth about my father’s death. The truth, pure and simple, about Snow Wolf and how my father ended up in a grave in Moscow at the height of the Cold War.”
She didn’t answer but stood and crossed to the veranda.
I sat forward in my chair. “The way I see it, my father was involved in something highly covert, something that people are still reluctant to talk about. I’m not just talking about a secret. I’m talking about something totally extraordinary.”
“Because the people from Langley I spoke with still wanted to hide the truth after all these years. Because when my father was involved in the operation, it was a time when the Russians and the Americans were out to annihilate one another. And you’re the only person alive who might know what happened to my father.” I looked at her. “Am I right?”
She didn’t speak, and I continued to look at her.
“Can I tell you something? I lost my father decades ago. A whole lifetime of not having a father to talk to and to be loved by. It was like having a hole inside me for a long time, until finally he just slowly became a wistful memory. I had to live with the lie that he took his own life. And you—you know how and why he really died. And what’s more, I think you owe me an explanation.”
She didn’t reply, just looked at me thoughtfully.
I said, “And I have a question. Why did you want to meet me in Moscow and not someplace else? I was told you escaped from this country. Why come back?”
Anna Khorev thought for a moment. “I suppose the simple truth of it is I would very much have liked to have gone to your father’s ceremony, Mr. Massey, but I considered it your own private affair. Perhaps my just coming here was the next-best thing.” She hesitated. “Besides, I’ve never seen his grave. And it was something I wanted to do.”
“The second grave, the one beside my father’s—it had the same unmarked headstone. Whom does the grave belong to?”
Something passed across her face then, a look like sadness, and she said, “Someone very brave. Someone quite remarkable indeed.”
She looked out at the view of the city, toward the red walls of the Kremlin, as if she was trying to make up her mind, and then she finally turned back to look at me. She seemed to soften suddenly, and she looked down briefly at the flowers on the table. “You know you look very much like your father? He was a good man, a very good man. And everything you’ve said is true.” She paused. “You’re right. All that pain and silence deserve an explanation. And that’s why I’m here. Tell me, what do you know about Joseph Stalin, Mr. Massey?”
The unexpectedness of her question threw me, and I looked at her for several moments. I shrugged. “No more than most. He was a god to some, I guess. The devil to others. Depends on which side of the fence you sat on. But certainly one of the great despots of the century. They say he was responsible for as many deaths as, if not more than, Hitler. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage eight years after the war.”
Anna Khorev shook her head fiercely. “Twenty-three million deaths. Not including those who died in the last war because of his stupidity. Twenty-three million of his own people whom he murdered. Men, women, children. Slaughtered. Shot or sent to die in camps worse than the Nazis ever imagined, by one of the cruelest men this world has ever known.”
I sat back, surprised by the sudden ferocity in her voice. “I don’t understand. What has this got to do with what we’re discussing?”
“It has everything to do with it. Stalin died, certainly, but not in the way the history books record.”
I sat there stunned for several moments. Anna Khorev’s face looked deadly serious. Finally she said, “I guess the story I’m going to tell you goes back a long time, to when it first began in Switzerland.”
She smiled suddenly. “And do you know something? You’re the first person I’ve spoken to about it in over fifty years.”