Major, KGB. Overweight. Has a predilection for hashish cigarettes, which accounted for his discoloured teeth. Small, cold dark eyes pierce subordinates. Approaching retirement.
Thick pillows flounced on either side of him, Kasayiev sat up in bed and jabbed at the dozen or so pickles surrounding the Russian crabmeat and mayonnaise. ‘Damned pickles with everything!’ He swore, eyes heavy with lack of sleep.
Though he was still verging on irritability, the breakfast went down well, washed all the way with jet-black Turkish coffee. His teeth crunched the tiny cool pickles. He ate them only because the doctor said they helped break down body fats. He preferred Spanish onions, though. He belched and realised that he’d come a long way since those far-off days in Spain.
He remembered the day well, 16th September, 1936. As a recruit of six months’ experience, he had arrived in Spain at the age of sixteen together with fifty other pilots. To fight for the Republicans.
A lump still rose in his throat as he recalled first seeing his own I-15 Ilyushin standing on the airfield: the Spanish dubbed the I-15s Chato, snub-nose – yet he had thought it the most beautiful creation on earth – and all his!
His fellow-pilots had difficulty curbing his youthful exuberance. He dearly wanted to slaughter the Nationalists, to blast their Fiats, Heinkels and Junkers.
But training-classes demanded his time and attention. Recognition classes; strategy; and, laughably, he was expected to teach Spaniards to fly as well. Him, with only a hundred hours under his belt.
Then came his first kill. His heartbeat quickened at the memory. He had been dawdling negligently when he spotted a squadron of nine Fiats above him, appearing from behind a bank of cloud. The dryness of mouth and rapid pulse-rate came back to him as if the events had only happened yesterday. He had slammed the throttle wide open and climbed to meet the enemy, the exhilaration of surprise attack quashing any fears he harboured. He didn’t have time to be afraid.
Yanking the stick hard over, he kicked on the rudder-bar and was abruptly swinging in behind the formation as it slid past. A Fiat drifted into his sights and he fired, wide eyes peering with a mesmerised glaze through his goggles as the bullets flashed and sparkled on the enemy’s wings. Then tracer lanced past his cockpit and he knew fear; pure survival-instinct hauled back on the stick, and the craft frantically bounced higher. He glanced back. The Fiat was nosing earthwards, blazing furiously, and his heart soared. He never did recall landing.
That kill had been his introduction to the slaughter of battle. It seemed so clinical, far removed from the hand-to-hand fighting on the ground.
By the time the Italians attacked Madrid in March 1937 he was a hardened veteran of the skies. Together with his compatriots, he systematically cut the Italians to ribbons, strafing endlessly as the poorly led rabble became bogged down in the mud left by recent rain. It was sickening to begin with, but after the ninth or tenth run in, it became automatic, merely capricious target practice. The Barcelona highway was littered with burning transport and hundreds of corpses, creating their own bottleneck, enabling the Chatos to deliver their death-blows at will. Carnage was too mild a description of their efforts.
Blood-lust figured in Kasayiev’s life from that moment. He reveled in inflicting pain on his women in Madrid and particularly relished the death of an enemy especially if he could see the poor pilot futilely beating off the flames as his plane plummeted.
Much of the credit for the Italians’ rout was attributed to Commander Berzin, head of the Intelligence Directorate of the Soviet General Staff and codenamed ‘Goriev’ whilst in Spain. Berzin became Kasayiev’s hero.
So late in 1937 he was shattered when he learned that Berzin had been recalled to Moscow under a cloud. Berzin faced charges of being a Trotskyite; the tribunal found him guilty and he was shot, as were so many high-ranking officers in Stalin’s senseless purges.
With the memory of Berzin’s execution constantly in his mind, Kasayiev determined to keep his nose clean and actually distinguished himself. Throughout the years of 1937-38 the great purges kept most officers in thrall; many were grossly unhappy at the prospect when the Soviet hierarchy decided to recall them on realizing that the Republicans’ cause was lost.
But Kasayiev was not among those singled-out for purging. Instead, he found himself halfway around the world at Langchow, embroiled in the Soviet-Japanese conflict, flying his I-15 amidst the twisting mêlée of a hundred aircraft. He acquitted himself in countless sporadic duels with the Mitsubishi ASMs. But he soon discovered that his beloved I-15 was quite inferior to the Japs’ Nakajima Ki27s: he was shot down but survived with only minor wounds.
It was while recuperating that he allied himself with a sallow character in the Intelligence Section, Lieutenant-Colonel Lobanov.
He then remembered his hero, Berzin, and guessed correctly where the real power lay. Not in a soldier’s hands, nor an airman’s, nor a sailor’s. But in the Secret Service.
On his return to active duty he repeatedly requested a transfer to Intelligence and finally, in 1942, he was successful and joined the NKVD in time to fight the Nazi menace.
He had committed some vile things in his time, mainly to satisfy his gross appetite for blood. But nothing he had perpetrated could match the vileness of those Nazi pigs.
Kasayiev’s fingers trembled at the memory of the concentration camps he had personally seen. And he lit a hashish cigarette to calm himself.
As the hemp coursed through him and did its work, he cursed his susceptibility.
Every time he reminisced on his career, he came round to his numerous encounters with the Gestapo. He should know better by now.
Whenever he came across an ex-SS man – usually working in another Security Department, such as the First Chief Directorate or Department V – he couldn’t refrain from revealing his naked hatred.
***On November 26, The Prague Papers are released, published by Crooked Cat. It is based on a manuscript handed to me by an MI6 agent, Alan Swann. It needed some knocking into shape, as it had been a collaborative effort by a select group of agents, all intent on telling the story of Tana Standish, psychic spy, whose career spanned 1965 to 1988. They asked that her story be told as fiction.
Certain information was divulged in order for me to write the book; yet some has been concealed to date. This is the third secret file to be released ahead of the book. Others will follow.