Despite such a clear threat to my security and freedom, I did not change my mind about going to Moscow. Two days before the event, Irina left the city to spend a couple of days at her mother’s cottage. Before that, I left a copy of the manuscript at her house and instructed her what to do with it if I was detained.
On September 2nd, 1981, I got into the sleeping car of the Red Arrow train. There was already a young couple there and just before the train left, a breathless passenger stumbled in and announced that he had had a daughter and that we should drink to that. He took out a bottle of Armenian brandy, juice and decent snacks. “Unfortunately, I can’t back out of this business trip,” he explains, “we’ll take a quick one for the health of the newborn.” Only after my arrest did I realize that it was all staged and that all three of my companions were KGB officers, and the brandy was drugged with sleeping pills. In the morning I woke up when the train was already standing at the station’s platform. My first thought was what was happening and why had I overslept. The gentleman who treated everyone to brandy yesterday stood nearby and tugged at my sleeve. “Get up, we arrived a long time ago …”. I was lying on the top berth and this attention from a stranger was getting annoying, but he was persistently offering me tea: “Here, take a couple of sips, it will make you feel better…”. To get rid of him as soon as possible, I took a few sips from the cup, but this was my second big mistake. The KGB officer pre-poured emetic into this tea, which reacted badly to food.
“Thank you … let me pack my things,” I was getting nervous.
“Okay, okay … I’m leaving. Have a nice stay in Moscow,” the fellow traveler stepped out of the compartment and closed the door. I quickly packed my things up, but the WC in the carriage had already been closed and there was no choice but to leave the carriage without washing myself.
On the platform, I felt that something was wrong with me. I was a little dizzy and could not rationally analyze what was happening, it wasn’t a regular hangover. “Okay,” I thought, “I should go somewhere to have a cup of coffee, go to the restroom and wash myself.” Knowing that there was nothing suitable at the train station, I went to Leningradskaya Hotel, a five-minute walk away from the train station, where I could definitely have a coffee and use a decent bathroom, since the hotel was rated as Intourist. I did not notice that two people in plain clothes were following me. I was looking clean-cut – wearing a leather jacket and jeans with an imported bag on my shoulder. It was no big deal to get into the Intourist hotel in the morning – the doorman opened the door for me and asked nothing. I’d been there before and knew where all the services were located – there was a cafe on the ground floor selling good coffee and various sandwiches. As soon as I took the first sip of coffee, I felt that everything was about to burst out of my stomach. I had barely managed to run up to the washstand before I threw up and felt weak. “What is this … and why?” I sat in a chair next to the cafe entrance to decide what to do next. However, my thoughts were interrupted by the two followers who appeared from nowhere.
“Citizen, you are disrupting public order,” one of them said politely.
I looked at them sightlessly and, to get rid of them, answered in English. “What do you want? I don’t understand”.
“Are you a foreigner?” One of the men was surprised. His partner yanked him and whispered in his ear. “Drop it … He’s playing around, he’s no foreigner…”.
Seeing that it was no use to pretend to be a foreigner, I answered in Russian now, “What have I violated and who are you?”
“We are wardens keeping order at this hotel,” the second man explained and showed his ID.
“Okay, what do you want from me?” I still wasn’t thinking clearly because of some chemical agents, and there was no chance of any escape.
“We must go to the police station to verify your identity,” the man explained, “come with us.”
I didn’t argue, and only then did it occur to me that the whole newborn performance in the carriage, the late wakeup in the train by a passenger and not an attendant, the mysterious vomit and these gentlemen were pieces of the same puzzle and that I wouldn’t be back home soon. I got up from the chair and left the hotel with these ‘wardens’.
Near the hotel, the ‘wardens’ were play-acting, attempting to look for a car to take me to the police station. Soon we got into a black Volga, and they put me in the back seat. For some reason, we drove towards Kyiv railway station instead of the nearest police station, and we drove a good twenty minutes. At the police station I was asked to show the contents of my bag.
“I don’t quite understand,” I told the police, “what do the contents of my bag have to do with my, as you say, disruption of public order, although I did not disrupt it.”
“That’s the procedure,” they answered me.
“That’s a strange procedure. In that case, inspect it yourself,” I put the bag on the table and sat down. The policemen opened the bag and took an immediate interest in a sealed envelope with the following inscription: “To the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR, Staraya Ploshchad, Moscow”.
“What’s in it?” the captain asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied, wanting to fool him a bit longer, “someone gave it to me in Leningrad.”
“Can you open the envelope?” The captain asked.
“Why?” I found the whole situation amusing.
“To see what’s in there,” the captain explained, “it might be pornography.”
“Does the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR take interest in pornography?” I didn’t miss a chance to tease them.
“The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR takes no interest in pornography,” the captain said through clenched teeth, “but it can be planted on us.”
“What for?” I grinned, “to compromise the Central Committee? I think you’re wasting your time. If you’re interested in the envelope, nobody is stopping you from opening it.”
“Open it,” the major nodded to the captain, watching the scene. When they opened the envelope, they found a manuscript there. Flipping through it and skimming a few lines, they looked at each other and rendered their verdict.
“That doesn’t fall within our jurisdiction. We will contact the KGB, and you rest for now.” However, it didn’t take the KGB long to come. Most likely, they were sitting in another room at the police station and were waiting for the right time.
Entering the room, the KGB officers introduced themselves by rank and last name. One of them, with a pig-like face, started reading the manuscript, regretfully shaking his head once in a while. About 15 minutes later he made his conclusion.
“This is a very dangerous slandering of the Communist Party of our country. We must contact our colleagues.” A few minutes later, two more people entered the room.
“Our Leningrad colleagues decided that we should deliver you back to Leningrad, where they will deal with your envelope. We’ll fix everything for you, don’t worry.”
“I have nothing to worry about,” I replied, “I think you should be worried and explain to me on what grounds I’m being arrested.”
“We’re not arresting you, we are detaining you until the circumstances of your trip to Moscow and affiliation with this envelope are clarified.”
“You didn’t have to put on this act, you should have said that you were hunting for this envelope right away,” I summed up.
“That’s not your decision to make,” the KGB officer gave a curt answer. My transfer from Moscow back to Leningrad was quickly arranged. They escorted me to the exit, where two black Volga and seven KGB officers were waiting. “Oh, boy,” I thought, “so many parasites just for me!” I was seated in the first Volga in the back seat between two KGB officers. The second Volga with the other four officers followed. When they pulled away, I felt like a fish out of water, “why are they going so fast?” We speeded across the city at 100 km with the blues and twos on. At some point our Volga nearly crashed into a truck that pulled out to overtake, but the driver barked into the bullhorn mounted under the hood: “Watch it, you fool!” and the truck scuttled to the side in a frightened manner. Nevertheless they brought me safe and sound, as though I were valuable cargo.
At the airport, the car with me drove up directly to the TU-154 airstairs standing on the airfield. The KGB leadership laid down the law here. As we got out of the Volga and were climbing up the airstairs, a funny incident happened. The captain came out of the plane and offered his hand. I shook it, puzzled, and at the same moment the KGB officer went around me and, taking the captain by the elbow, quickly whispered something to his ear. He shrugged confusedly and went back to the plane.
“What’s the matter with him?” I asked the KGB officer accompanying me.
“A very important person from the Foreign Ministry was supposed to fly this flight, he decided it was you …”, the KGB officer explained.
“In that case, it makes me an even more important person, if I’m flying instead of a diplomat, doesn’t it?” I made a malicious remark with pleasure. The KGB officer only made a wry smile and didn’t answer. We sat in the first row – I sat by the window, and the rest of the row was taken up by three KGB officers escorting me. A while later, passengers came on board the plane and tourists from Poland sat in the second row behind us, which unsettled the escort group. KGB officers were clearly afraid that I would start talking with them and it would be impossible to shut me up. I didn’t though. Once we arrived in Leningrad, a black Volga was also waiting for the plane at the airstairs. We were the first to leave, and as soon as I took the first step onto the airstairs, a KGB officer hung on my hand. I looked at him with such a devastatingly sarcastic look that he immediately released my hand.
Another journey accompanied by sirens, but now along Leningrad streets. Then we drove up to the side entrance of the Main Directorate of KGB in Leningrad and Leningrad Region on Liteiny. Entering a room similar to the reception room, I noted a very important detail – the windows were barred. I was invited to go to an office with portraits of Lenin and Dzerzhinsky and a map of Leningrad hanging on the walls. It crossed my mind that they should also have a globe.
“Have a seat,” the KGB officer in plainclothes offered and introduced himself, “Major Stepanov.” I sat at the desk and got ready to listen. “We reviewed the contents of the envelope our Moscow colleagues found,” the major began, “and you claim that this is not your envelope …”
“That’s right,” I nodded.
“Good,” the major continued, “I should warn you that a confession would commute your punishment. It may be limited to a suspended sentence or a warning.”
“Sure thing,” I thought, “they’re already frightening me with prison time.”
After a pause, I calmly stated: “I have nothing to admit. I have not committed any crimes. It is your task to prove what never happened”. The major laid back in surprise. At this moment, an impressive man in a blue suit and tie almost flew into the office.
The major jumped up and said to me, “When the boss enters, it’s our rule to get up.”
I was still sitting and calmly countered, “He’s your boss, not mine.” The person who entered just waved his hand and looked at the major.
The major introduced him, “This is Colonel Tretyakov, Head of the Investigative Department of the KGB Directorate in Leningrad and Leningrad Region.”
The colonel carefully looked at me and gave an earful, “How dare you? Do you think you can do anything? Write a confession to your subversive activities immediately.”
I looked at him in surprise and said, sarcastically, “You forgot to say something else.”
The Colonel frowned. “What did I forget to say?”
“You forgot to say,” I teased him, “‘young man — there is a wall in front of you!’ Remember what the secret police investigator told Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov? To which Ulyanov answered, ‘the wall is rotten, poke it, it will fall apart’ … ”
The colonel’s jaw dropped from such arrogance, he angrily waved his hand. “We’re done with this young man” and jumped out of the office. The major could not come to his senses for a long time and soon our conversation ended.
The KGB officer notified me, “We’re detaining you for three days for now, then we will receive an order of the prosecutor’s office to arrest you and initiate investigation.”
“You know best,” for it made no difference to me.
“You will now be taken to a pre-trial detention center, we will talk again tomorrow,” the major ended the conversation, “they will feed you in the cell.”
“Thank you, I will manage,” I growled.