Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
new agency is still based at Lubyanka, a menacing building in central Moscow that long
housed the KGB—it has a small clock on the top floor that the British novelist Tom Robb
Smith once described as gazing over the city like a beady eye.
Any inconvenience seemed worth it, as I did want to meet Kalashnikov if possible (The
inventor died following this trip at age ninety-four). And in any case the authorities were
sure to find out at some point that I was poking around the country. But after Sergei's phone
call, I had a sinking feeling Izhevsk would be the spot where I'd encounter “friends”—my
code word for the thuggish guys who would occasionally follow us.
M Y FIRST EXPERIENCE with Russia's shadowy security services came shortly after I arrived
in Moscow. I hadn't even begun reporting yet, and was taking three intensive months of
Russian-language training. I was sitting at a coffee shop in central Moscow, sipping tea
while studying Russian verbs of motion, when I noticed that I didn't feel my briefcase
touching my leg anymore. Sure enough, it was gone. I asked the security guard at the café
if he saw anything, and he said no, but that he was willing to call the police. I then called
Sergei and Boris, who urged me not to call the police—it would only mean paperwork,
hassle, hours at a police station. In Russia, often, involving the police is far more trouble
than it's worth—especially for an American journalist who may have just been had by one
of their sister agencies.
“David, is there anything important in there?” Sergei said over the phone.
“Not really—my iPod, my digital recorder for work, and two Russian-language books.”
“Boris and I both feel you should just let it be.”
That evening, the phone rang in our apartment. Rose picked it up. It was a woman,
speaking broken English.
“My father. He found a bag on street. Maybe your husband's?”
I was delighted. Rose and I told the woman that we would meet her father the next day
in front of the puppet theater, across the street from our apartment building. The man, in his
fifties with a mustache, pulled up in a silver car right on time and handed me my briefcase.
I handed him flowers and a box of chocolates, as a thank-you.
“Gde, gde? [Where, where]?”I said, pointing to the bag, wondering where he found it.
“Na ulitse [On the street],” he said. He hastily waved good-bye, returned to his car, and
drove off with the flowers and chocolates.
I inspected the bag. Everything was there—that is, except for anything electronic. No
iPod, no recorder. Rose and I returned to our building and both went upstairs to tell Boris
and Sergei what had happened. Boris looked at me, shaking his head back and forth. Sergei
looked suspicious as well.
“David, did you have any identification in the bag—ID, business cards?”
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