Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2044331-MANHATTAN-Chapter-3
by Storyo
Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Action/Adventure · #2044331
A harrowing tale of Soviet and Japanese espionage in the WWII U.S. atomic bomb project.


Steven Overholt

Chapter 3: Amerika

Sergey had never before felt this claustrophobic. He thought about the time when, at the age of 15, he had tunneled out of St. Petersburg's Kresty Prison. He'd been cast into that hellhole as a "rabid young revolutionary" by Tsar Nicolas and had liberated himself using guile, ingenuity, and makeshift digging tools. While in prison he had been under the tutelage of fellow prisoner Leon Trotsky, whom Stalin had ordered murdered in 1940 as Trotsky was living in Mexico. It was that brutal event that first opened Sergey's eyes to Stalin's true nature.

There was also the time when, on a mission, Sergey had hidden in a locker for two days. But with a shudder he recalled the closest he had ever come to feeling this confined: That was when he'd been grabbed from his apartment in the middle of the night by the NKVD secret police. Bound tightly, then heaved through the air by a couple of thugs into the trunk of a sleek black sedan. That had occurred before the war and right after Russia had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany. After being crammed inside the trunk for 18 hours--the last six roasting like a goose under the August sun--he had been tossed into a dank, dark cell for over two years. Then Hitler attacked Russia and America became, instead of an enemy, an ally of convenience. Suddenly Sergey's knowledge of American culture had become useful, though it remained always a serious liability on his life.

No, Sergey thought, there's nothing that compares to the stinking confined spaces of a Soviet submarine; walkways lined with latrine buckets waiting to be dumped; crew that hasn't bathed since who-knows-when, and me with my fear of drowning.

Since he had transferred two days ago from a destroyer to a sub uninspiringly named L-3, Sergey had spent most of his time languishing in his quarters. In the stifling confines he could not avoid the wildly swinging wrecking-ball of losing Anna. His destruction was complete and it was real: a tornado that vacuumed up all the sorrow he could find and then hurled it out again, splattering blackness across the walls around him, stabbed by shards of his splintered soul. The whole mess got sucked in again and again, in an endless empty cycle of grief. He sat for hours and steeped in it until it felt good to feel bad, just as he also steeped in the stench of the body sweat and body fluids of 52 angry young men.

Abruptly he stood, then sat down, banging his elbows to his knees, squashing his face against his hands. Stubble prickled his palms like Anna chafed his soul. New emotions punched through. Resentment. Anger. How can she be so disloyal? I would have never turned her out. After an eternity of churning in another maelstrom, he stood, straightened his uniform, and spoke: "You're dead to me. I'll send money for the children, but you're dead to me now."

Outside his quarters, there was foul tension among the crewmembers, fresh off their sinking of the German refugee transport Goya in the Baltic Sea. That incident killed perhaps 7,000 civilians--women and children drowned screaming for life and flailing in the icy waters. Captain Konovalov and most of the crew felt that the Germans had it coming, but some of the junior officers and men considered it mass murder. Between bouts of his own depression, Sergey decided not to think about it. He had orders to carry out, as well as a most unpleasant fate to avoid if at all possible. I need to focus on my own troubles right now, not the past problems of strangers--and of the enemy, no less--even if civilians. My head would explode if I did that, there's been so much suffering in this world.

After three days spent mostly below the waves, surfacing only long enough to recharge its batteries every 24 hours, and just before the moonless midnight of June 10, 1945, the L-3 surfaced in service of Sergey's mission 300 meters off the coast of Nova Scotia, its shoreline bluffs barely visible in the dim starlight. After prowling south watching for a signal--three fires evenly spaced and decreasing in size from north to south--the sub came to a halt at the pre-arranged location. Sergey gripped his duffle bag on the deck of the L-3 and awaited the rowboat that was to take him ashore. He welcomed the fresh air, though frosty, as it blustered in from the iceberg-strewn North Atlantic. Captain Konovalov, scanning the whitecaps through his binoculars, first reported the approaching craft at about 100 meters out as it zeroed in on the flashlight beacon shone by one of three crewman atop the L-3.

As the rowboat pulled alongside, Sergey was unable to get a good look at the rower's face, since the man was facing the back of the boat. Something doesn't look right, Sergey thought. I don't remember Igor being that big, even with a heavy coat. The man just didn't seem to be his friend Igor Gouzenko. Sergey began walking along the deck to get a better look. A bright light flashed from a bluff about half-kilometer north along the shore, and a silvery shaft of light pierced the blackness and began sweeping the waves. Captain Konovalov stood transfixed for several seconds, then roared urgent orders while the three sailors scrambled for the turret. Sergey, bending to take a closer look under the rower's wide-brimmed hat, recoiled. That's not Igor! Just as the flight reflex began to flicker in his mind, Sergey felt the hard shove of a boot on his backside, tumbling headfirst into the rowboat. The sub pulled away full-speed-ahead and began to dive as the sweeping searchlight closed in.

Knocked nearly senseless, Sergey lay for most of the journey to shore at the bottom of the boat, eyes rolling. Groggily, he finally sat up rubbing his forehead. Barely able to see his captor in the darkness and through blurred vision, Sergey composed himself a bit and inquired: "Where is Igor," making his best attempt at nonchalance.

"He was late leaving the embassy. Important business," the man huffed between long, hard strains against the oars. "He sent me to pick you up. Huuuuh. He should be here shortly. Huuuuh. Maybe even up there on shore already. Huuuuh. I'm Maxim."

"Maxim who? Sergey prodded.

"I cannot say. Huuuuh. You should know that," came the curt reply.

Sergey, however, knew what awaited him on shore, and it was definitely not Igor. He formed a plan: I'll wait until we're nearly to shore, then throw him overboard and drown him. I can't use my pistol; not with that searchlight up there. Unable to swim, Sergey waited until he was sure the water was shallow enough to stand in. But he also had to be far enough from shore so that any rescuer would have a hard time reaching Maxim before he expired under the waves.

Staring at the man's back rocking rhythmically with each stroke, Sergey waited until Maxim leaned fully back, then pounced like a tiger across the boat, catching him completely unaware as he grabbed him around the neck and twisted back, attempting to flip him over the gunwale. Maxim, though, held tight to the oars, and instead of flying overboard, landed backwards atop Sergey. Struggling on his back under Maxim's great bulk, Sergey reached around the man's head to gouge his eyes. Without forward motion, the craft quickly washed sideways to the breakers and rolled violently, throwing them both into the icy water just as Sergey's probing fingers hit home.

As Sergey plunged in, he jolted stiff in the frigid water, but then oriented himself upright and thrust his feet down to stand up. Oh God, where's the bottom!? He barely had time to panic before feeling a great hand on top of his head, pushing down with shocking force. Just after he went under, his feet touched the rocky bottom. Thinking quickly, he let himself be sunk without resistance until he was fully crouched, then shoved off as hard as he could, guessing at the location of Maxim's jaw and aiming his head for that point, connecting with a loud CRACK, opening a wide gash as a sharp pain ripped across his skull.

Gasping for the surface, Sergey sputtered as his head emerged, gulping a huge helping of bloody seawater. Again without footing, he was quickly taken under once more, this time grabbed by the front of his coat. He lashed punches into Maxim's stomach and groin, who was unable to defend himself while using his other hand to tread water. Just as Sergey's world began to spin out of control, his mind fighting desperately against the burst of his lungs aching for breath, Sergey felt the iron grip release. This time he instinctively pulled several strokes upward and toward shore before being caught and thrust under again like an untended bobber. But this time, no matter how hard he twisted, grabbed, and punched, he could not break free. The spinning and lung-bursting came much more quickly than before. Sergey's panic raged far wilder. This is it. Anna, I love you. Alexei, you are still here with me. He sent his last thoughts out through the ethers to his beloved life partner and deceased son.

Just as he was blacking out, but not before he had filled his lungs with frigid seawater, Sergey felt a tight grip on the back of his collar and a mighty heave up to the surface. Angry shouts rose above the crashing waves and he soon felt sand and gravel grinding under his backside. He was hauled a few meters onshore and swiftly flipped on his stomach, facing downhill toward the sea. Powerful hands pushed up along his back. Snorting and choking, Sergey hacked up acrid seawater, forming a rivulet that slowly sank into the sand, leaving behind a glistening outline of mucous foam.

Igor Gouzenko, bent over Sergey after having arrived late at the rendezvous site and rescuing this one friend from the death-grip of another, realized with a start that the foam should not be glistening on this moonless night. He stared up to a point of light projecting its silvery beam from a headland about a half-kilometer north. "Help me get him up," he urged, panicky, as Maxim stood to the side, two hands pressed firmly against each side of his jaw. With a snap and a muffled scream he shoved it back into place.

Igor watched dumbfounded as the searchlight swept back out to sea as quickly as it had swept in. If I was that searchlight operator, I would have pulled the light away too, so I didn't alert my prey, Igor considered.

Maxim stepped closer, and as Igor rolled Sergey on his side, kicked Sergey squarely in the stomach. Sergey sprayed a retch of vomit and seawater across Maxim's boots. "There; I helped him get rid of some more water," Maxim taunted through gritted teeth.

I guess he had that coming, Igor admitted. "Come on. We have to assume we've been spotted," he advised in a low voice.

"Igor, is that you!?" Sergey choked.

"Of course it's me, you idiot. I told you I'd be here. You nearly got yourself killed. Maxim, how many men have you snuffed with your bare hands?"

"One too few!" he offered, busting loose an impish laugh, tugging Sergey up by the arms and then heaving him across his back. Sergey's torso swung limply upside-down as Maxim carefully picked his way up the rocky bluff, sometimes in a three-point crawl, while Sergey dribbled saltwater from his mouth and clothes and blood from his split-open head.


By the time Maxim arrived at the top of the bluff, Sergey had recovered enough to insist: "Put me down." Maxim obliged, and Sergey, taking a couple of woozy stumbles after being flipped right-side-up, followed Igor to his car. Waiting there, to his great surprise and even greater dismay, was the woman he had hoped to avoid on this trip: Julia, who was both Igor's wife and Sergey's former flame.

"Ohhh, look at your head," she exclaimed, stepping forward from her lean against the front fender, Igor's flashlight illuminating her jade-green eyes.

"I believe you know my ex-wife," Igor said, staring at his foot kicking the ground and fully expecting Sergey's stunned reaction.


"Yes, my darling; it's a long story and sometime we'll talk about it. But right now I've got to look at that nasty cut, we've got to stop the bleeding. Igor, can't you find a handkerchief or something?" As Igor turned away, Julia cupped her hands around Sergey's face, stood on her tiptoes, and bent his head down to inspect the gash in his scalp. She gave him a quick kiss on the forehead, dropped back to her heels, and stared straight into his eyes. Hands still caressing his face, she twice slowly nodded, eyes welling.

He couldn't kiss her now; if he started, he could never stop. Yet, it was a relief when Igor turned back their direction.

As Sergey lay in the back of Igor's car a few minutes later, he felt awkward having his head on Julia's lap while she applied pressure to stop the bleeding, even if she and Igor were now divorced. Maybe it's because they're divorced; he wasn't really sure. His eyes, however, followed the gentle sway of her bosom. It jostled her long black hair as the car bumped along a gravel road at the beginning of a long drive to Ottawa. Her dye job, he knew, could never hide a personality that vied with her naturally flaming-red locks. As he lay, lost in his memories, he couldn't help but reach up and touch the distant past--running its silky softness through his fingers and drifting off to sleep.


In Ottawa the next evening, Sergey, Julia and Igor sat after dinner at a Formica-topped table with chromed steel legs, crowding the kitchen of the Gouzenko's modest home. Sergey looked approvingly at the remains of the best meal he had had in years: roast goose with mashed potatoes, a very fine red wine from California, of all places, and even a homemade cherry pie with ice cream for dessert. While the Soviets had been on near-starvation rations, he realized, the Canadians had only had to cut back a bit. Hiding a twinge of envy for his friend and his fortunate posting, he thanked his hosts profusely, speaking over the big-band reverberations of Glenn Miller's Chattanooga Choo-Choo chugging in from the living room.

Julia looked at her watch. "Oh my, it's nearly 9:00, I've got to go meet my contact. Don't wait up; I'll be late. Sergey, please, please won't you wake me before you leave? I couldn't bear it if I didn't get to say goodbye."

"I couldn't bear it either." Sergey shifted in his seat to watch as she grabbed a satchel off the cluttered counter and skittered across the kitchen, making choo-choo motions with her arms and hips. She drew open the door and threw her head back at the start of the word "Chattanooga." Glancing over her shoulder with a bright smile, she bent a leg at the knee, skirt draping over her calf, and posed for a moment like the happy housewives she had seen in magazine ads, then wafted out the door, pulling it shut with a bang.

A quick shriek jolted Sergey and Igor from their chairs. The door re-opened a crack; the hem of Julia's black skirt flitted out the gap, and a giggle sifted in.

Igor turned toward the living room with a frown. "I can't stand this song anymore, I've heard it so many times," he scowled as he hurried to turn off the phonograph.

"Well I love it. I've never heard it before. Play it again!"

Back came a gruff: "I can't hear myself think with that playing. We've got some serious thinking to do."

The instant Igor was re-seated, Sergey leaned across the table. "Isn't it hard living in the same house after you're divorced, even with separate bedrooms?" He looked around nervously, got up and walked quietly to the door, then quickly opened it. As he peered out, he jerked his head back a bit, then cast a furtive glance over his shoulder toward Igor, who was bending to pick up his napkin. Sergey hesitated, then slowly closed the door; but he did not close his mouth, as his jaw hung slack.

"I wouldn't put it past her," Igor nodded toward the door as he straightened back up while Sergey took his seat. "Well, yes, it's awkward, but we're so busy that we're hardly ever here at the same time. We've got to keep up appearances or they'll send her back to Russia. I'm tempted, but she is a help sometimes. Despite all her shortcomings, at least there's that." A dark frown furled his broad face. "I hate her so much, sometimes I'd like to..."

"We need to talk about my mission," Sergey abruptly changed the subject.

"Yes, about that." Igor quickly replied. Then, after a heavy sigh, a long pause, and a deep breath: "Well, I'm afraid I've got some bad news for you about that."

"Bad news?" Sergey drilled an anxious stare.

"Well, yes." Igor began to wrap his napkin tightly around his hand, squeezing his fingers until the tips bulged red, and looked out into the living room. "You see, today the ambassador came to my office. He never does that. He never comes to my office." He looked back to Sergey and began unwrapping the napkin. "That's unheard of. We always get summoned to his office. I knew something must be up. It was just before I came home. I didn't know how to tell you..."

"How to tell me what?"

"Well, it's very strange." Igor pushed his plate away from in front of him, laid the napkin out on the table and began smoothing it with firm strokes.

"Would you leave that alone!" Sergey reached across the table and snatched away the white distraction.

Igor smoothed his hair back on both sides of his balding head. "I'm not going with you. I can't go with you, I mean. I mean, I could go with you, but I've been ordered to report to Vancouver, British Columbia. It's on the Pacific Coast. Now that the war will be with Japan, Russia needs more agents out there. It won't be lax like it is here, Sergey; here where they let me set my own schedule and leave on vague 'missions' for weeks at a time. My assignment with you has been cancelled, and the station chief in Vancouver is a real drill sergeant. If I go AWOL for a few weeks from there it will cast suspicion on all those I work with, every one of them. You know how the system works, Sergey: collective punishment. You should know that better than anyone."

Igor paused, bowed his head, and made the sign of the cross upon his forehead and heaving chest. "God rest his soul, Sergey. God rest his beautiful soul."

Sergey stared numbly into space while he handed the napkin back to his friend, unable to hurt any more than he already did. "Alexei is an angel now. Alexei the angel." He stood abruptly and walked to the sink, staring down its drain hole. "It's not your fault, Igor. Alexei and I both knew what he was getting into."

Sergey turned, kicked his chair, and sat with head down and hands clasped above, elbows on the table, right leg bobbing underneath it like a sewing machine. He let loose four hard breaths in rapid succession, cheeks puffed and face reddening. He looked up and turned white as the realization hit him: Stalin must be on to me.

Just then the door popped open and in walked Julia. She closed it quickly and stood leaning back against it, hands behind her, staring off to the side at nothing, speaking as if speaking to no one. "It's very strange. My contact wasn't there to meet me."

"Maybe she had an emergency," Sergey offered.

Julia snapped her head to address him. "She's always exactly on time. I couldn't wait around too long because it seemed like I was being watched. I just had a funny feeling about it."

"You weren't followed back here, were you? Oh my God! If they find out we're not living in the apartment..."

"Igor! What do you think I am, an idiot? Of course I know what would happen. Stop treating me like some dumb broad. You always do that; that's your problem. And do I need to remind you, Mr. Spymaster, about the time that you..."

"Okay, Okay, why don't you two just stop it! That's not helping anything here."

Igor got up from the table and Julia flinched, stepping behind Sergey, grabbing his shoulders.

Igor glared at her, gritting: "I ought to," tilting his head and shaking it slightly.

"Ought to what?" Sergey challenged.

Igor shifted focus: "I ought to go down to the embassy and check through some files."
He looked at Sergey, then turned and strode toward the door, tossing his head toward Julia, who had moved around the table from him as he did. "I think she's looney, but I have an idea about what may have caused my sudden reassignment. He grabbed his car keys. "Now you two don't do anything naughty while I'm away."

As the door slammed, Julia took two quick steps and bent over Sergey from the side, arms around his neck, head just under his chin, sobbing: "You see? You see why I couldn't take him any longer?" Igor closed his eyes slowly and inhaled deeply of his favorite perfume.

Sergey scooted back from the table and she turned to sit on his lap, arms embracing tighter around his neck, forehead now on his shoulder, tears wetting his shirt. He sat with both hands white-knuckle gripping the rear chair legs; resisting; resisting. She lifted her head, turned more toward him, and pressed her chest against his. "Julia... Anna!"

She pushed away, pressing her hands against his shoulders and staring straight into his eyes with such a look of shock that it took him by surprise. "What?" he asked.

"Igor didn't tell you!? Oh, I didn't think he would." She wiped both cheeks and composed herself, taking a heavy breath and letting it out long while she turned her head toward the window.

Twisting it back suddenly to face him, she deftly employed her training on how to avoid the telltale signs of lying: "Sergey, I have some bad news for you." She threw her arms around him again and drew herself close. "I can comfort you." Just a bit, Sergey relaxed his grip on the chair legs.

"Sergey, Anna is no longer with us. While you were at sea, she was killed by an unexploded bomb. We got the news two days ago. Igor doesn't want you to know because of your mission. He thinks it will distract you, but I know you're stronger than that. You carry on despite anything. You've always been so strong-willed. So obedient to authority, no matter how rotten the authority."

Sergey's hands went limp, hanging like dead weights at his sides. In his mind, he had already lost Anna--already grieved and cried and gotten over it on his own. But now he needed comfort; he was not nearly as strong as Julia had just made him out to be.

After having wrung out the very last acrid drop of sorrow he had in him, he had also already imagined a new life without Anna--A new life just like this, he realized, though now absent the guilt of coveting a friend's wife. As his hands were halfway through their tentative, halting rise, Julia pushed back once more on Sergey's shoulders. He once more gripped the chair, but this time only lightly. She got up and motioned to the living room. "Come, let's put on some music," she beckoned. "You'll really love Glenn Miller's In the Mood, it will take your mind off of things."

Sergey looked around nervously, got up, and walked quietly to the door, then quickly opened it a crack. As he peered out, he jerked his head back, then was shoved against a cabinet behind him as the door was blasted open from the other side and a black-haired man rushed in from the darkness. Sergey bounced off the cabinet and slipped to the floor, putting both feet up as the man lunged. Julia screamed like a banshee. Clearly startled, the man turned around to slam the door. Sergey jumped to his feet. He and Julia rushed the man just as he again looked their way. Julia got there first, and the man dodged a carving knife she swung at his neck, giving Sergey an opening to knee him in the groin. As he doubled over, Julia brought the knife down hard in the middle of his back.

Sergey, seeing Julia's knife buried through the man's coat nearly to the handle, grabbed her arm, opened the door, and pulled her through as he looked back and forth trying to decide where to run. "Over there," Julia huffed as she pointed to the house across the street.

"That was Fyodor!" Sergey exclaimed.


"Fyodor. Fyodor Gouzenko."

"I think it broke."

"Broke?" What broke?" Sergey huffed as they sprinted up the driveway across the street.

"The knife. I think it broke. I don't think I killed him."

Sergey threw a glance over his shoulder, seeing nobody behind them.

Julia pulled him along as he slowed down. "Quick. Around back. It's my friends' house. They're in Florida. The key's under the mat."

After letting herself and Sergey in through the back door, Julia ran to the front window and peeked through a crack between the curtains. "He's coming out," she said as Fyodor stumbled out the door on the right side of her red-brick bungalow and onto the driveway alongside it. He looked around, then ran down the street several houses to her right and banged on the driver-side window of a long black car parked along the curb. Fyodor made agitated gestures to roll down the window, pointed toward Julia's house, threw his hands up in the air, then punched through the window before running around and getting inside. The car slowly pulled away from the curb, and Julia ducked as Fyodor and his accomplice came past, their heads turning this way and that.

"He's very good and quite dangerous. He'll find us if we stay here." Sergey assured her, thinking of the puddle they stepped in just before they ran up the dry driveway.

"Why is there a car in the driveway if your friends aren't here?" Sergey wondered.

"It's Martha's dad's. He's too old to drive and they just keep it here. We could take it." Julia swept her hair out of her face with one hand and pointed to the side of the back door with the other. "The keys are hanging right there. She wouldn't mind, not if she knew why I had to take it."

Sergey hustled toward the door. "Let's get out of here. You drive. I better hide in the back. He didn't get a good look at you, but if we pass them and I'm driving, we're done for."

Julia twisted her hair up into a bun, then put the key in the ignition and turned it, only to be met with a sickly: "wuhr, wuhr, wuhr, wuhr." Sergey stuck his head up, but ducked again as he saw in the rearview mirror a set of headlights pass the house and turn into the driveway behind them. Julia glanced from the ignition to the rearview mirror. "I see it, just stay there," she said as she pulled off her glasses and opened the door, walking back to the car with a firm gait.

She strolled up toward the passenger's side, feigning delight as she approached, and leaned in as Fyodor rolled down the window. "Don't I know you?" she asked.

"No," Fyodor quipped.

"Yes, yes. The Soviet Embassy! I work at the bank across the street. You hailed a cab. I don't think you saw me. I was trying to get that cab."

"No, surely not me," he stuttered in his best Canadian accent as he rolled up the window and motioned to the driver. As the car backed out, Julia threw her hands up as if wondering what was going on. With a startle she noticed her and Sergey's wet footsteps still imprinted up the middle of the driveway. A couple of quick steps to the right and she was standing over them vigorously waving goodbye, beaming a big smile and bobbing up and down on her tiptoes.

Fyodor averted his gaze.

"Well, he's not that good," Julia exclaimed as she slid behind the wheel, turning the key and pumping the gas pedal with the same result as before.

"It's probably flooded now," Sergey explained as he poked his head up and shot a glance out the back window.

"You think I don't know that?" came her retort.

Feisty. That's what attracts me, he thought as he opened the door and hurried around front to open the hood. After a few nervous minutes he called: "Try it now," to a welcome, "vroom, vroom, vrooooom." As he was climbing into the car, Julia shifted into reverse, backed out of the driveway, and accelerated down the street.

After a few minutes, Sergey sat up in the back seat, catching Julia's gaze in the rearview mirror. "Well, I guess it's you and me," the two declared in unison. As they erupted in laughter, he climbed into the front.

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