End Run.

[This was written for an NYC Short Story Competition. It came second in its group. The genre was Thriller, the location was a birthday party and the item was a sugar cube.]


A Russian spy runs for the border and a new life in the West.



“С днём рождения тебя

С днём рождения тебя

Happy Birthday Dear Anatoly,

С днём рождения тебя”

Sports teams. The same the world over. All testosterone and ego. But that was fine. Better in fact. Cover.

The Moscow Hawks, three-time champions, drawn from all the government departments, were heading to Finland for the final of the inter-government Ice Hockey tournament. The train clattered and rattled as it dragged itself ever westward through the white powdered landscape between St Petersburg and Helsinki. Vodka flowing like a mountain stream. None of this western fight-night abstinence. The captain’s birthday was a time of celebration.

Thrum thrum thrum, Thrum Thrum Thrum. The rhythm of the train provided a backing track to the songs and the shouts of the team as they celebrated the birth of their beloved captain.

Colonel Anatoly Dimitri Sidorov was a twenty-year veteran of the FSB. He had held postings around the globe from Nairobi to London. He’d set up more networks and run more agents than almost anyone in the Kremlin. Head of Section K at the tender age of thirty-eight, he was tipped for great things. He had a young family, daughters Ana five and Inessa three on whom he doted, a wife whose father was a retired KGB General with a datcha on the Black Sea. He was Captain of the Moscow Hawks ice hockey team. A model Russian. An FSB rising star. A man whose name was whispered in the corridors of the Kremlin and perhaps even the Presidential Palace.

But questions had begun to be asked. Copied files, logs incomplete, agents blown. Anatoly’s name had been heard for the wrong reasons. An investigation launched - discretely of course. His rank required a degree of respect even when the whispers amounted to high treason. He’d told his wife he was having trouble at work, that his rapid rise had created enemies. Noses had been put out of joint. Natalya understood, she always understood, she had grown up in the Soviet system, knew how things worked.

“Whatever you hear. It’s not true. I’m a loyal officer of the FSB and son of Russia. This is a witch hunt. We’ve seen it all before. You remember Gregor? Fine officer, brought down by that snake, Valentin.” He’d almost spat the name.

Valentin had worked for him in Counter-Espionage, hard-working, but with a mean and vicious streak. He’d watched him rise through the ranks in disbelief. Valentin thought he was something special, a messiah complex, a chosen one, anointed by God to reclaim the glory of Mother Russia.

The land border with Finland was thirteen hundred kilometres, but for all but experienced mountaineers there were precious few crossing points and each was heavily guarded. The Finland hockey fixture had been very fortuitous. A birthday present perhaps.

Further up the carriage, the team had met some Western Musicians travelling back from a festival in St Petersburg. The sounds of Western tunes and Slavic voices fill the carriage.

“Happy Birthday Anatoly.” A hand gripped his shoulder.

“Spasibo.” Turning Anatoly looked straight up into the cold blue eyes of Comrade Valentin.

“What are the chances of meeting you on the train to Helsinki?” But Valentin’s eyes communicated the chances to be unusually high.

Anatoly had been trained by the best, recruited for his skills and natural aptitude, if he was surprised to see Valentin; if fear was gripping his stomach and twisting his guts, turning the blood in his veins cold in an instant, he showed no sign. No flicker in his eyes, no tremble in his voice. He just dropped another sugar cube into his dark coffee and continued to stir. Perhaps the sweet coffee had helped calm his nerves. He toyed with a second sugar cube between thumb and forefinger.

“Valentin? What’s this my old friend? Just in time to celebrate with me? A drink?” Anatoly produced a bottle of Vodka while Valentin slipped into the seat facing him across the chipped railway table.

“Ten minutes to the border, please have your passports and visas ready for inspection.” The recorded announcement.

“Ten more minutes in Mother Russia.” Valentin said raising his glass in salute while implying that it was anything but guaranteed. “Vashe Zdorov’ye. Happy Birthday once again comrade.” Valentin’s eyes never left Anatoly’s, as if constantly searching for a flaw, a crack that Valentin could begin to peel back. “And how are Natalya and the girls.” The threat was there, lurking under the surface, a pressure point with Valentin pushing hard. But Anatoly has already made that decision.

“They’re fine.”

Pushing the coffee cup and sugar aside, Valentin said simply.

“We know.”

“You know what?”

“We know everything.” Valentin’s eyes were unwavering. “We know you’re the traitor. We know you’re running.” With no response, Valentin slammed his hand down hard on the table. Valentin, it occurred to Anatoly, was under pressure, he couldn’t prove anything and every minute the train got closer to the border, Valentin could see his career slipping further down the toilet. He would be the man who lost the greatest traitor Russia had ever seen. But what could he do? You don’t arrest, delay, or even search a Colonel of the FSB on his birthday, at his party, on the way to a scheduled regional hockey final for which he is the team captain without significant proof. If you’re wrong it would be terminal. It was clear that for all his intimidation, Valentin had nothing. Not yet.

“I know you’ve got it, you bastard. I know it in my bones.”

“Got what?”

“The data card.” Valentin is like a hungry wolf starved of its meal.


***

“And where was it? The micro sd? The Files?”

“Hidden under a sugar cube on the table, right under his nose. As you say… ‘sweet’ da?”

----

Judges feedback:

"End Run'' by Andrew Flower - WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY - {2085} The background of the story is thorough and adds a depth to Anatoly's character. As the plot points progress, the suspense rises. The writing is clean and easy to read. {2100} The flashbacks are successful in changing the pace and providing necessary and interesting context to the present day which enriches the events in current timeline and supports great character development {2059} I absolutely loved the stand-off between Anatoly and Valentin. It was fabulously tension-filled and stakes for both characters were clear. I also loved the background you provided about both men (they both seemed to be well fleshed out). WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK - {2085} To increase impact of the ending author could consider reviewing it through the eyes of the reader. More specifically, also considering ways the existence of the micro sd with the files could be integrate into the story. {2100} I would suggest, instead of writing the sound of the train phonetically (“thrum thrum thrum…”) to describe the sound of the train, you could even try and mimic the rhythm of it through the syllables. That way we’ll get a zoomed in sensory description of the setting which will allow us to connect with it more strongly. {2059} I wasn't quite sure that the beat at the end worked for me personally. It's definitely a fun twist, but I actually wasn't sure that, as a reader, I needed it. I'd encourage you to interrogate that ending a bit. Is it 100% essential? If so, is there any way to stretch out this scene just a little more, so that the ending does not feel so abrupt?



0 views0 comments