Authors: Christopher Nicole
Budapest: January 1945. The Russians have finally fought their way in, driving out the Germans. Five people come together for a brief nightmare period that is to mark each of them for the rest of their lives. Two girls, one who would only hate, one who would have to love. Two Intelligence Officers; one Russian, one British, each already actively engaged in the politics of the
world; the time of the Cold War.
And Alexander Galitsin, the eighteen-year-old Russian soldier, born of a Scottish mother and a Ukrainian father, already destined to be caught astride the gulf that would divide the world.
First published by Hutchinson & Co
Ltd, 1970 Arrow Edition 1971
book is published at a net, price and supplied subject to the Publis
hers Association Standard Condit
ion of Sale registered under the Restrictive Trade Practices Act 1356
© Christopher Nicole 1970
Made and printed in Great Britain
Hunt Barnard Printing Ltd, Aylesbury, Bucks
o og 004970 5
'The condition of man is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.
Part i, Chapter
'Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure; Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure.'
The characters and events in this novel are invented; any resemblance to real characters or events is coincidental and unintended.
MEN AT WAR
MEN AT PEACE 37
A door clanged. It was a sound Galitsin had heard too often during the previous twelve years. Nor did he suppose this would be the last time. He stood up. He was a tall man, heavy-shouldered but otherwise slender for his forty-three years; his face was thin, leaving the square chin and big nose isolated, and his suit sagged into wrinkles. His hair, clipped very short, showed more grey than brown.
He watched the door of his cell open. The prison officer jerked his head. Galitsin had not encouraged friends, on either side of the law, during his stay. They walked down the huge corridor, quiet now, even their footsteps muted
the huge silence of several hundred sleeping men. No formalities for Alexander Galitsin, except the formality of secrecy.
The prison officer opened another door, and Galitsin stepped into the yard. It was a warm night, yet he buttoned his topcoat, pulled his scarf tight. Now he was alone, in the open air, ten feet from the prison officer, twenty feet from the car. It was the largest amount of empty space he had known in twelve years.
He got into the car, sat down, glanced at the man beside him, a large shadow in the darkness. There were two more large shadows in the front. He smiled. Presumably Alexander Galitsin was a dangerous man.
The gates swung open, the car moved through. The headlights illuminated an empty street, a row of drab houses. Once Galitsin had found all of London drab, an arid place, possibly because of its sprawling size compared with the more readily accessible beauty of Moscow or Budapest. But once upon a time all beauty had been readily accessible. ' Where are you taking me?' he asked.
'Heathrow.' The answer came from the shadow beside him. 'There is an early-morning flight to Leningrad.'
'I have never been to Leningrad,' Galitsin said.
'Do you know what is going to happen when you get there?'
Galitsin watched the houses drifting by. 'No,' he said. Perhaps they were beautiful, these houses. Perhaps all houses were beautiful, to someone, and therefore to everyone. Because every house would conceal beauty, of a sort. Beauty in bed, at three o'clock in the morning.
you are not afraid?'
The same question, after twelve years. 'It will be pleasant, to speak Russian again, after all this time.'
The man beside him smiled. 'You always were something of
diplomat, Alexander Petrovich.'
Galitsin turned his head. ' We have met before?'
'Once. A very long time ago. My name is Alan Shirley.'
Galitsin stared into the darkness, could not make out more than the shadow. 'Of course. You were a friend of Nancy Connaught.'
yours, too, if you wish, Galitsin.'
find that hard to understand.'
'Then trust me. Because nothing has changed. Fourteen years ago it was Hungary. Two years ago it was Czechoslovakia. I think it would be a mistake for you to go back.'
'I have a choice?'
Galitsin tried to remember what Shirley looked like. But he had not seen him for twenty-five years. Yet Nancy Connaught had trusted this man. ' What would make the choice possible?'
The man called Shirley offered him a cigarette. Galitsin shook his head. Shirley placed one between his own lips, flicked a lighter. The flame illuminated, just for a moment, the big, happy face. The face of a man who enjoyed his work, Ms life. 'I would like you to tell me about Tigran Dus. Every thing you can remember. Take your time, Alexander Petrovich. It is a long way to Heathrow.'
heard heels striking the cobbles, louder now than the gunfire. He felt his muscles tightening into a string of little balls, consciously relaxed again, rediscovered the cold, seeping through his trousers, the leather of his boots, striking at his belly. Real cold, winter cold. A Hungarian frost. Because he was no longer afraid. He could not make himself get up and walk towards death, but lying at the side of this street he could accept death walking towards him.
The boots stopped beside his head. 'Alexander
Captain Ascherin said. 'He is very young, Comrade Commissar. Too young, perhaps.' Captain Ascherin spoke without contempt, but also without compassion. Captain Ascherin was tired, and Private Galitsin was the sort of problem no commander enjoys.
'How long in the service?'
in had not heard this voice before. He could not put a face to it. The uniform was easy. It would be his uniform, except that the grey-green greatcoat would be better cut, and the man would wear a revolver on his belt, like the captain. But this man would have the power to use his revolver on Alexander Galitsin. So Galitsin could not imagine a face beneath the schlem. He could only think of colours. Sunrises. Sunsets, more reasonably. A brilliant red sky, diffusing into rose pink, streaked with glowing yellow, set in the pale blue of a summer sky. Sunset over Pobredikov. That had happened long ago. And now the colours were overshot with white. White breasts, still full, tattered nipples. White belly, dripping blood. White groi
n, into which the blood drained to lose itself in the tangled
hair. No face. Face hidden in clouds of pale brown hair. No face, and no sound, now.
'Seven months.' Captain Ascherin was a good officer, and knew the
history as well as the habits o
f every man under his command. 'He is just eighteen.'
The commissar said nothing. Galitsin presumed he nodded. It was a suitable moment for him to nod. And now the blue of the sunset was turning to black, as the yellow turned to gold, as the red began to glow. And the white was fading, for a while. His eyes were shut too tight. He was squeezing all the horror out of the sunset, leaving only the harsh certainty that in a few minutes it would be night
And he has been a good soldier?' the commissar asked.
'Up to last night,' Captain Ascherin agreed. 'It happens very suddenly, when it happens. There was a friend, shot through the head. Between the eyes, you know, Comrade Commissar.'
'His father ?'
'Peter Galitsin, An engineer. He died in Finland in 1939. His mother took the boy and his sister to live in Pobredikov, with her mother-in-law.'
'Pobredikov is in the Ukraine.'
'That is correct, Comrade Commissar.'
'And what did you do last night?'
'Comrade Helbach was killed yesterday morning, comrade. I left the boy here. My orders were to advance as rapidly as possible.'
'Cowardice should be dealt with immediately,' the commissar said. 'To leave him here, for a whole night, was wrong.'
'My business is killing Germans’ Captain Ascherin said. ‘
Not Russians, Comrade,' 'Then go and kill Germans.'
Ascherin's heels hit the cobbles, once, t
wice, and halted. 'And the boy?’
The commissar sighed. 'Killing Russians is not my business either, Captain. I have only to see that we all do our duty. Now go to yours.'
Galitsin opened his eyes, gazed at the boots. The polished boots of a political commis
sar. And it was not sunset. It
was not even sunrise, yet.
It was a dark January morning,
and the only light came from blazing Pest. The firing by the river had dwindled.
'This has been
long war, Alexander Petrovich,' the commissar said. 'Stand up.'
Galitsin pushed himself to his knees. The commissar was not tall, but he stood very erect His face was narrow, his nose far too long. His mouth was flat. It was not
compassionate mouth. But Galitsin had never seen a commissar with a compassionate mouth. The red star in the centre of the schlem winked at him.
'On your feet,' said the hard mouth. But the tone remained soft.
Galitsin stood to attention. His eyes were on
level with the star. He wondered if the commissar resented that. He wondered if the commissar resented everything about him. Not only his height and the breadth of his shoulders. The close-cropped, soft brown hair, the line of the square jaw, the uptilting corners of the big mouth, the compassion in the grey eyes. But it was too dark for the commissar to see his eyes.
"You do not look like a soldier, any more,' the commissar said. 'You do not smell like one, either. Where is your helmet?'
'There, comrade.' He tried to speak boldly, and only a whisper came out. 'Pick it up.'
Galitsin stooped, placed the helmet on his head.
'And your rifle?'
'I do not know, comrade.'
'A soldier without his rifle is a eunuch.' For the first time the commissar's tone held contempt 'I will give you five minutes to find yourself
rifle, Alexander Petrovich.' The commissar sat down on the freezing cobbles. 'And it must have a bayonet'
Galitsin ran across the street. There had been severe fighting in the post office. There had been severe fighting everywhere, for weeks, now. The Germans were fighting for Budapest as if it were Berlin. And the Hungarians, naturally, were also fighting for their city. But the fire in the post office had gone out, and there were several of his comrades in there. Gontscharow had been shot through the face. Galitsin knelt, lifted the right arm, prised the fingers from the
frozen rifle butt. Gontscharow had also
been afraid. They had talked about fear yesterday. About how it grows. But Gontscharow had been' killed by a German, going forward. Gontscharow had died like a soldier. And now that his blood had frozen he was not so terrible. Dead men did not smell in winter.
Gontscharow's bayonet was still fixed. Galitsin marched back across the cobbles. Now the noise came from his own heels. He stood to attention in front of the commissar.
'Now I am speaking with a soldier,' the commissar said. 'At ease, Private Galitsin. I wish to know about you. I know that you are eighteen years of age, that you come from the Ukraine, that your father was an engineer who died six years ago, and that last night your courage failed you. Is that correct?'
'It is insufficient evidence on which to condemn you, or acquit you. Where is your mother?' 'Dead, comrade.'
'That is very tragic, Alexander Petrovitch. And she also came from the Ukraine?'
'She came from a place called Motherwell, comrade.'
The thin face drew together, wrinkling like a deep pond disturbed by a catspaw of wind. 'Tell me about her.'