Version Thirteen

By Martin Baker

A searing thriller that pitches the oil industry against the arms trade

Chapter Ten

YAVLINSKY WAS EARLY. Samuel could see the tall figure in his dark-grey, military-style overcoat stomping up and down outside the main entrance of the Tretyakov Gallery in Pyatnitskaya Ulitsa. It was an easy, if chilly, walk from Samuel’s hotel. He was getting used to the cold now. In fact, he enjoyed it in a perverse sort of way.
Yavlinsky spotted Samuel and waved. He was standing in front of a statue of the founder of the gallery. The Pavel Tretyakov icon was mounted on a high plinth; arms folded, Tretyakov glared down with the icy superiority of the professional aesthete. Japanese and American tourists, come to marvel at the museum’s treasures, scurried about the courtyard in happy oblivion.
The façade of the building was quite unlike anything Samuel had ever seen before. It was as though someone had made a huge model of a 19th-Century artisan’s house using materials of pink and amber marzipan, stuck an onion-dome tower in the middle of it – and then cut the whole thing in half.
“Ah, Samuel,” said Yavlinsky with his customary grin. “Punctual as ever. Shall we walk as we talk?”
He unfolded his arms and gestured towards a pair of large wrought-iron gates leading to spacious gardens beyond.
Samuel stood for a moment before the frontage. A two-metre thick band of white stone filled with dense Cyrillic lettering perched on top of the walls of pink-and-red stucco brickwork. It looked as though the façade was an unsuccessful piece of camouflage for a giant greenhouse.
“Unusual, isn’t it?” smiled Yavlinsky. “I used to loathe it, but now I like it. Designed by Victor Vasnetsov in 1902, in what they call the revival style. Not that it revived the fortunes of the house of Romanov in any significant way. Please.”
Yavlinsky gestured towards the gates once more. He and Samuel fell into step on the tired, impacted snow. Moscow had not seen a significant fall for days.
Samuel looked at the lettering on a large yellow rectangle on the gates, his eyes screwed up in the effort of translation.
“The Garden of Sculpture of the Era of Totalitarianism,” offered Yavlinsky helpfully. “After the fall of the Romanovs we threw them and their gods out. This is where the Communist icons are to be found. As you know, we are fond of icons in Russia.”
They passed through the gateway and Samuel saw himself confronted by a huge, heroic-looking figure.
“Kalanin,” said Yavlinsky, nodding towards the fierce-looking four-metre tall figure exhorting the main picture gallery to rise up and seize control of the means of production. “Over there you will find a Lenin or two, and a Dzerzhinsky. We have discarded their ideology, but they are not forgotten.”
“Why not?” asked Samuel “I thought this was the New Russia."
“It is. But the values are eternal: strength and stability. Peter the Great, Lenin, Stalin and our modern leaders – they share a great deal. The difference is that some tolerate private enterprise, others do not. The big similarity? None tolerates opposition.” Samuel and Yavlinsky sat on a bench underneath a huge bust of Lenin.

In the middle distance, some thirty metres away, a young man in a shapka was wandering among the statuary. There was something furtive in the way he moved. Samuel began to watch him from the corner of his eye, like a bird surveying a potential predator. There was something too dutiful about the young man’s scrutiny of the statuary, something faintly sinister about the way he constantly sidled out of Samuel’s sightline.
Samuel felt a sudden wrenching feeling in the solar plexus – acknowledgement, but not recognition. He looked over directly now. The softly glistening shapka was nowhere to be seen. Had Samuel seen this man at the Pushkin Café? Was he one of Moscow’s jeunesse dorée who had disapproved of his examination of the books?
Samuel exhaled slowly, a dragon’s breath that gradually dissolved and merged with the gelid air. He hadn’t heard from the Black Widow for days. He hadn’t heard from Ksenia either. Why had she gone silent? They’d got what they wanted when he regurgitated the Version Thirteen formulae. As Lenin would have put it, he’d been a useful fool. Yavlinsky broke the reverie.
“We have much to talk about, Samuel. I am interested to hear how you think that the XB Foundation might be able to help my company…. Your foundation’s investment will make me very happy. I like to do business with people I can trust.”
Samuel stopped for a moment and looked at Yavlinsky. The Russian’s bulging eyes seemed bigger than ever behind the thick glasses. Samuel had seen this look many times before, notably during his stint in the bank in Paris. It was avarice, the lust for money. Yavlinsky was pleasant enough, but he certainly didn’t see Samuel as a person at that moment. What he saw was a wheelbarrow full of cash.
Another sigh dissipated on the cold air.
Yavlinsky twisted the circumference of a some kind of medallion; it was a metallic heliotrope that grew into a large shot glass.
“Another triumph of human ingenuity,” smiled Yavlinsky. “We Russians are very clever when it comes to finding ways to drink. This little device is ex-Red Army. A tank commander probably drank from it in the field. Vodka and death in the great outdoors. Care for some?”
“Just the vodka, thanks.”
Samuel knocked back the shot. He closed his eyes and contemplated. Somehwere behind all this, he sensed the mischief of Kempis. Was he really steering Samuel this way, still playing with him?
The vodka was trickling down the back of his throat in a flurry of hot, white fire. Samuel handed the cup back to Yavlinsky, who poured himself another hit.
“To science, and the furthering of human knowledge, our understanding of this wonderful universe and our own very unimportant place in it,” said Yavlinsky. He downed the shot in one.
Samuel’s phone beeped urgently. He glanced at it quickly. A text message from Blandford. That could wait.
Yavlinsky reached again into his overcoat pocket for the hip flask. “I see, by the way, that we have a fan club out there. I assume our young friend in the fur hat is interested in you rather than me?”
“Ah, so I wasn’t imagining it.”
“He’s been looking at that statue over there for several minutes longer than I feel he really wants to. I fear he must be getting rather cold.”
Samuel laughed quietly.
“Well, why don’t you put him out of his misery, Dr Yavlinsky, and tell me what your understanding of all this is? Then he can follow us into a tea room and warm up a little.”
“We have our own central heating,” said Yavlinsky, passing Samuel the military shot glass once more. “Let him suffer a little longer.”
Samuel drank.
“Good. Now, where was I? Well, it transpires that Papp was onto something. I have tried hundreds of variations of this nose-fin design,” said Yavlinsky, tapping the paper on Samuel’s lap. “What you see in the picture does not work, or at least I could not make it work for a drilling blade. I believe however that Papp did create a viable prototype, and tested it without the permission of the Western authorities. This was why he had to be discredited.”
“But the prototype sank.”
“I believe that too. Either it is rusting on the sea bed off the coast of Brittany, or the Soviets found it and stole the technology.”
Samuel looked again towards the mixed copse of fir and silver birch. Beyond the first few trees his eyes met an impenetrable darkness. He could not see the young man in the bearskin hat.
Was there something moving out there? Had a piece of darkness changed tone or shape?
“And I was able to obtain theoretical work done in this country that seemed to assume that Papp was onto something,” Yavlinsky finished with a quick flex of the lips, half-grimace, half -grin.
“Ah yes,” Samuel said, sitting straight up once more. Some of the physics texts he had been so ardently tutored in by Ksenia before his first visit to Tortoise Shell Technology flashed into the front of his mind.
“’Cavitation’,” he began to recite, “’in sharp contradistinction to supercavitation, is a phenomenon that is typically unwelcome in the arena of hydrodynamics. The bubbles resulting from this phenomenon (as work is done on the ambient fluid – see preceding note on Bernoulli’s principle) are intrinsically unstable. They implode as both bubble and the ambient fluid (water, oil, air) slows down. This in turn generates a sudden rise in ambient pressure. The implosion of such bubbles may cause damage to the agents doing the work on the ambient fluid (eg drills, propellers) and related equipment (eg boat hulls and other superstructures).’”
Yavlinsky looked at Samuel with some alarm.
“I thought you weren’t a scientist, Samuel?”
“I’m not. Just a little text book learning,” said Samuel quickly. “When you’re as ignorant as I am of these matters it helps to cram a bit.”
“A strange, old-fashioned expression. It means to learn without understanding. The English education system specialises in it.”
“You English are a strange lot. You send your little boys away from their mothers to be beaten and sodomised and have their heads filled with things they don’t understand. That is a terrible system, no?”
“It’s not that bad, Dr. Yavlinsky.”
“Well, from the little boys’ point of view, some of them come to enjoy the sodomy. And where would Soviet intelligence have been without male homosexual English spies?”
Yavlinsky laughed and slapped his knee.
“Very good, Samuel. Very good. Anyway, now you have your answers.” Yavlinsky nodded in the direction of the man in the bearskin hat, who had re-emerged from behind a statue. “It’s time put your minder out of his misery."
“Do we have any answers, Dr. Yavlinsky? I’m not sure.”
Samuel rose and began to follow Yavlinsky out of the park.
“The answer, Samuel, is that I’m not sure either. But the Soviets had a lot of research on imploding bubbles and the border between cavitation and supercavitation. It’s all about making the bubbles work for you. If you want to have a super-fast submarine, you create the perfect bubble. If you want to have a super-effective drill, you create bubbles that implode the way you want them to. As I told you, Papp’s story was the perfect starting point for the research that led to Version Thirteen.”
They were almost out of the main gates now. Yavlinsky seemed to think their interview was over. He offered his hand in a gesture of farewell.
“Just one thing, Dr. Yavlinsky,” said Samuel after a quick lighthouse survey for the bearskin hat. “When you say ‘the Soviets’, whom do you mean exactly?”
“It ought not to take much guesswork. The interior ministries have specialist information wings, and then there are certain units of outward-looking ministries. The FSB has the power. In the old days, they just had knowledge. Now they are learning how to turn that knowledge into money.”
“Modern-day alchemy,” said Samuel.
“You’re beginning to sound like the oppressed masses. Those who don’t understand the knowledge economy think we make money out of nothing. But you and I understand how it works.”
Yavlinsky took Samuel’s hand, shook it, and bade him goodbye.
“One more thing, Dr. Yavlinsky.”
The tall figure stopped, turned, raised an eyebrow.
"What about your documents? Don’t you want them back?”
“Of course. I shall come to your hotel tomorrow, if this fits with your arrangements. I have a long day and a dinner at the end of it. Investors, you know. Perhaps we can meet later in the evening and drink some vodka together. Toasts. What do you think, Samuel?”
“That would be just fine. Thank you, Dr Yavlinsky.”
The trademark reflexive grin, and then Yavlinsky was on his way, soon swallowed by the evening gloom.

Samuel turned and headed in the other direction, back towards the Hotel Ukraina. Twenty-five metres away, the young man in the shapka waited for Samuel to get to a safe distance. Then he took out his mobile phone and spoke into it softly and urgently.

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