Sergei Kourdakov, a former KGB agent and Soviet naval intelligence officer, defected from the USSR at the age of twenty. A year later we met at my Federal Government office in Washington DC. We were watched and followed. “Even you could be spy,” Sergei whispered. My book, A Rose for Sergei, is the true story of our time together.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Chapter 1 (Part 2)

A Rose for Sergei

Chapter 1
(Part 2)

Fall 1972

While I waited for his return, I leaned back in my chair and enjoyed the view out the windows.  The restaurant was on the top floor of the hotel, and you could see all the grandeur of Washington DC, Georgetown, and Georgetown University right across the Potomac River.  The view was breathtaking at night with the city lights twinkling ever so slightly in the reflection on the water.  It was captivating; I never tired of that view.  In the early evening the city lights illuminated the streets and radiated a soft, peaceful glow over the city.  The lights also helped hide the scary, dark parts of the city, and I liked that.

I wrapped my fingers around the stem of my wine glass just a little too tightly.  It must be a case of “second date nerves,” I thought.  Just take a deep breath and try to relax, I told myself.  I had been on many dates; however, nothing even came close to this.  Sergei was so different from anyone I had ever met, let alone dated.  He was a Russian defector whose past history with the KGB was nothing to take lightly.  It was serious business, and the element of danger was not lost on me.

My thoughts flashed back to security briefings from when I worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).  We were taught to be on the lookout for anyone trying to coerce secret information from us.  These people could be friends or neighbors, someone that you would not ordinarily suspect.  They had a word for people like that…spy.  The thought that Sergei could be a spy did cross my mind, but I knew I had never told him I used to work for DIA.  I brushed those thoughts away for now since I knew I tended to be overly suspicious sometimes.  But then, I always did love mystery and intrigue.

To be continued next week!

Coming Soon!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Chapter 1 (Part 1)

A Rose for Sergei

Chapter 1
(Part 1)

Fall 1972

“Excuse me; I would like to go to the men’s…how do you say in America…restroom?” Sergei asked in his broken English.  “Is that the right way to say that?”

“Yes, that is the right way; you could also say men’s room.  And it’s okay to excuse yourself,” I said.  “It isn’t rude.  I’ll be fine sitting alone a few minutes at the table until you return,” I assured him as I smiled and tried to restrain from laughing.  He was so incredibly polite.  The way he spoke, his broken English combined with his Russian accent, could be very amusing at times.

We were having dinner at the JW Steakhouse at the Key Bridge Marriott in Arlington, Virginia.  My date was Sergei Kourdakov.  He was twenty-one years old, and he had defected from the Soviet Union over a year ago.  He had been a member of the KGB, the Commissariat for State Security or secret police, and a Soviet naval intelligence officer—intimidating credentials for sure.  He was also very good looking, which I found even more intimidating.

I worked as a secretary at the Office of Information for the Armed Forces, a division that came under the Office of the Secretary of Defense.  I was also twenty-one years old.  We had recently met at my office in Rosslyn, Virginia.  Sergei had flown in from Los Angeles and was meeting with Government Officials in Washington DC.  Sergei’s incredible story was making headlines in the United States.  Future plans were being considered for Sergei to record/broadcast his story in another section of our office, the American Forces Radio and Television Service.  My boss was the liaison officer tasked with assisting Sergei.

As Sergei got up from the table and sauntered off in search of the men’s room, I could see that all eyes in the restaurant were on him.  Both men and women stared at him, even the wait staff.  I was not surprised at their seemingly awestruck reaction.  He was very tall with huge broad shoulders and muscular arms that strained at the seams of his shirt, the result of years of body-building.  His stride was confident, purposeful, and he definitely commanded attention.  He stood out in any crowd.

Chapter 1 - to be continued next week!

Coming Soon!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Almost Famous!

I came across a newspaper article from 1972 that was written shortly after Sergei Kourdakov’s arrival in the United States.  I had already met Sergei and the memories of the day Mr. Logie showed me that newspaper article still made me smile.  I recall Mr. Logie breezing through the office as he gently tossed a newspaper on my desk.  “Here, you have to read this article about Sergei.  They even mentioned us in the story.  We’re famous!” he chuckled.  Mr. Logie had a big grin on his face as he tried to keep from laughing.  In an instant he was gone, leaving me to wonder what was in the article.  He sort of reminded me of a gentle tornado, a whirlwind of activity, always stirring things up—but in a good way.  I quietly sat at my desk and read the article about Sergei.  A small portion of that story is below:

* * *

Soviet Defector Gives Impressions of Life in West
August 11, 1972
By Raymond J. McHugh
Chief, Washington Bureau, Copley News Service

Kourdakov has had almost a year to size up life in the West since he leaped overboard from a Soviet trawler in a north Pacific storm last Sept. 3 [1971], and swam to asylum in Canada’s British Columbia.

“My first impression in Canada and now in the United States is how rich everyone is.
. . . here you have it all and you take it for granted.” [Sergei Kourdakov]

Kourdakov, a tall, handsome youth of 21 who looks like he could compete for a Hollywood role, is outspoken about antiwar demonstrators in the United States and the tolerant attitudes of the American and Canadian governments toward political leftists.

Kourdakov also is scheduled for more intensive English language courses to prepare him for North American television and radio appearances.  And he is working with two collaborators on a book that will be published in 1973.

His English is still heavily accented and he slips into errors of grammar and syntax, but he has remarkably little difficulty communicating.

“You should have seen him talking to my secretary,” joked one Washington official.

* * *

When I read that last, single sentence regarding Sergei having no problems communicating with a secretary, I burst out laughing.  I took the paper and went in search of Mr. Logie.  When I handed him the newspaper I questioned, “And you are the Washington official quoted in this news article?”

“Yes,” Mr. Logie replied, “I am.  And you are the secretary I was referring to.”

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Writer's Journey

When I received e-mails from my writer friends, I always wondered why they ended their notes with phrases like, “enjoy the journey” or “good luck with your writing journey.”  At that time I didn’t even know I was having a journey.  I thought you just write and when you are done, well…then that’s the end.  Big sigh of relief at that point.  But I was wrong.  I really wasn’t sure what the phrase “the writer’s journey” meant until I was almost done with writing, editing, and searching for answers regarding my book, A Rose for Sergei.  A year and a half ago I would have said the journey obviously means there’s a beginning and an end to a book, and the time in the middle.

That time in the middle was a journey I never expected to encounter.  It was a very important part of the writing process.  It was also a time of discovery.  The journey was full of surprises and moments of joy.  Most importantly, I had come face-to-face with reliving the day Sergei died.  It was something I had always avoided.  It was a difficult day of writing for me because I had never discussed Sergei after his funeral.

So what else did my journey entail?  When I was almost done with my manuscript I had an overwhelming feeling that I needed to track down my former boss whom I hadn’t spoken with in over thirty-six years.  In doing so I reconnected with him and his now-adult children.  Sharing stories about Sergei with them was important to my writing and I felt like I was a long-lost family member.  Our talks reaffirmed that I needed to write this story.

I was also inspired along the way by the works of other authors.  One of my favorite writers is Orest Stelmach, author of The Boy from Reactor 4 and The Boy Who Stole from the Dead.  Great books by the way!  In the middle of reading his second book I decided to contact him, even though I was sure I would never hear back from such a busy author.  I was thrilled when he wrote me back.  His words and encouragement were uplifting, “I’m so happy for your literary journey – it’s easy to say one wants to write a book, much harder to actually do it.  I wish you great success with the publication of your book….”

During my writing journey I tracked down old copies of Sergei’s book which was published under three different titles (The Persecutor, Sergei, Forgive Me Natasha).  I even found a forty-year-old newsletter tucked away in one of the books.  Was it put there for me to find someday?  Serendipitous?  Perhaps.

My editor daughter said that I would become a better writer by the time I got to the end of my book.  I would like to believe she was right.  And the “middle” of my journey was unexpected—yet, it was everything I could have ever wished for.