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Excerpt from Joseph Kanon’s ‘Defectors’

"Defectors" by Joseph Kanon Credit: Atria

MOSCOW, 1961

It was still light when they landed at Vnukovo, the late northern light that in another month would last until midnight. There had been clouds over Poland but then just patches so you could see the endless flat country below, where the German tanks had rolled in, all the way to the outskirts of Moscow, nothing to stop them, the old fear come true, the landscape of paranoia. Even from the air it looked scrubby and neglected, dirt tracks and poor farmhouses, then factories belching brown lignite smoke. But what had he expected? White birch forests, troika races over the snow? It was the wrong season, the wrong century.

There was no seat belt sign. Simon felt the descent, then the bump and skid of wheels on the runway, and looked out the window. Any airport — a terminal and a tower, some outlying buildings, no signs.

“Sheremetyevo?” he asked his — what? handler? A human visa, someone the Russians had sent to Frankfurt to travel with him.

“No, Vnukovo. VIP airport,” he said, evidently meaning to impress.

But in the fading light it seemed dreary, empty runways with clumps of grass running along the edges, a lone signalman in overalls waving them away from the main terminal. They taxied to one of the other buildings.

“No customs,” his handler said, part of the VIP service.

Simon peered out, his face pressed against the plastic window. What would he look like now? Twelve years. In the one picture Simon had seen, the one the wire services had picked up and sent around the world, he’d been wearing a Russian fur hat, flaps up, and a double-breasted coat, the onion domes of St. Basil’s just over his shoulder, the kind of picture authors used on book jackets. But now it was spring, no heavy clothes to hide behind. He’d be Frank. If he was there. So far nobody, just the empty tarmac, away from the bother of customs. It occurred to Simon then that they didn’t want anyone to know he’d come, shuttling him off to an out building, whisking him away in some dark car like an exchanged prisoner, as if he’d been the spy, not Frank. Maybe they’d anticipated reporters and flashbulbs, the foreign press still fascinated by Frank. The man who betrayed a generation. Twelve years, a lifetime, ago. But nobody had told them. This end of the runway was empty, just two airport workers wheeling a staircase up to the plane. Someone was coming out of the building now, heading toward them, a soldier’s rigid shoulders. Not Frank.

Simon put on his coat and headed for the door, his handler following with the luggage. How could Frank not come to the airport? His brother. And now his publisher, the one Frank had asked for, arranging the visa to come work on the memoirs, an excuse to see him, maybe even explain things, all these years later. Things you couldn’t say in a book, not one that would have to pass his bosses’ vetting. Line by line in some office at the Lubyanka.

From “Defectors” by Joseph Kanon. Copyright © 2017 by Joseph Kanon. Published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc. All rights reserved.


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