The Moscow Wire

by Steve Silkin

 

 

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Stainton, newsroom. ... Oh, hi Jack. ... OK, I guess, all things considered. ... Yeah, itís cold. How did it go in Algiers? ... Yeah, I heard Henry was real upset about it. ... Of course it was upsetting. Iíd be upset too if my driver were shot outside my house while I was having breakfast. I couldnít believe it when I heard. ...

I know. Sokoloff. You donít have to tell me. Every time I see the guys from the Times and the Journal they say: Hey, Ed, kill anyone today? ... What would you say? I tell íem itís early yet, gimme some time. ...

Well, yeah, I did file it, thereís no arguing about that. But when I ask accounting to cut a check, they shouldn't wait three weeks before they start thinking about it. My sources need to get paid, and they need to get paid on time. ... I know thatís not how it used to work, you donít have to tell me, but things have changed. Everything here changes every day. It isnít 1980 anymore. You know what it was like. Youíd get nothing until it was official. Now everybody talks, inside the Kremlin, outside the Kremlin, anywhere, everywhere. It's crazy. But if you want the news, you pay for it. ...

Raslovich was a good source. He gave me some great scoops. The munitions explosion in Vologda, remember how far ahead we were on that? ... And he only asked to get paid for the last one, the nuclear sub, the Whiskey, the one that got stuck on the rocks off Norway. And we were way out ahead on that one, too. Great headline in that French paper, remember? Whiskey on the Rocks. I loved that. Anyway, I kept telling him: The check is in the mail. ... Actually, I donít know if they have that expression here, probably something like it. But I meant it literally. So he waited. He was patient. Three weeks, four weeks and still nothing. When he stopped asking, I thought the check went through. He didnít call me with Sokoloff until the fifth week. He called me at nine one morning. He said Sokoloff was dead. And I saidto myself: This is a big deal. Sokoloff is one of the last of the old guard in the cabinet, one of the last holdovers of the Brezhnev years. And heís got the army. ... Defense minister since 1980, but heís held undersecretary positions since í67. ... Yeah, a major change, depending on who replaces him. I asked if he were sure, if heíd heard it from two independent sources, just like you would. He said yes. ... Of course I asked who they were, but he couldíve just made up the names and the titles. ... Yeah, maybe if Iíd checked I would have found out, but this is still the Kremlin and the KGB, chances are they wouldnít be listed. Itís not Philadelphia City Hall, you know that, there isnít a directory you can pull out and get the number for the city manager or the police chief. Anyway, I asked Raslovich if he thought there was going to be an official announcement soon. He said he didnít know, maybe they would be trying to keep it quiet. Remember, I thought he had two sources, I didnít know he hadnít been paid. ... Yeah, Iíd called accounting. Marla told me she'd sent the check the week before. ... No, not to me, I would've known that it didnít come. To his brother-in-law in London. He does his hard currency banking for him. ... Yeah, I shouldíve done that, too, I shouldíve asked Raslovich if he got his money. That wouldíve been smart. In hindsight.

Anyway, I called Slawinska at the Polish Embassy. I knew him from Warsaw, he was always straight with me, or as straight as he could be. Was he press officer at the Foreign Ministry when you were there? ... Oh, then he must have come after you got the foreign editor job. Slawinska said he hadnít heard anything about Sokoloff. Then Slawinska called me back in half hour and said he couldnít confirm one way or the other. But I asked Slawinska if my guy was wrong, if Sokoloff wasnít dead. So he called me back in five minutes, right away, and said nobody could say for sure that Sokoloff was still alive. It sounded like confirmation to me. The way I see it is I got set up and then went with the story with a partial confirmation. I take my share of the blame. ...

Of course Slawinskaís answer wouldnít have been good enough normally, but remember, it might have been a set-up because the check didnít go out when it should have. ... No, I said I accept my share of responsibility but everybody else has to accept theirs, too. I wouldnít have been set up like that if Raslovich got his money. ...

Wellman wants to write me up? Oh, come on, heís only been managing editor for two months. Youíve got to explain to him what itís like here. Everything changes every day. And there wasnít a write-up for the Neves thing in Brazil. ... Yes, but not all that different. The Brasilia bureau filed Neves as dead, too,and he wasnít dead yet. ... Thatís what they claim, that the intern had put the story into the live file instead of the hold file by mistake. Blame the intern. The results were the same. We filed the bulletin Sokoloff-Dead and then we had to write a Bulletin Kill, and they filed the bulletin Neves-Dead and then they had to write a Bulletin Kill. And their guy was the president. The whole country was waiting for that guy to croak since he stroked out on election night. Mine was just a defense minister nobody cared about except me. ...

Thanks. Iím not asking for any special consideration, I take responsibility for my mistakes, but fairís fair and thereís enough blame to go around on Sokoloff, too. ... Yeah, I know Neves died the next week. But weíre all going to die, so eventually Iíll be right on Sokoloff, too. And nobodyís seen Sokoloff since Raslovich called him in dead. And the Kremlin has every reason right now to say heís alive even if heís not. So maybe my source didnít burn me. ...

Hell yes, I asked him what happened. One day he says itís true, Sokoloff's dead, and the next day he says he doesnít know. Thereís no telling. I asked him if he set me up, he swears he didn't, but you never know. I hear that's how they do things here.I need a little margin for error here, Jack, what with glasnost now. Itís unchartered waters. ...

Oh, right, Iím glad you reminded me. Gromov. ... Yeah, heís done a lot for us over the years, at least since Iíve been bureau chief and even before, from what Iíve heard. What it is, is this: His son. The kidís 11, and heís got this blood thing, they think it could be treated in the West, easy. But here, itís gonna kill him, the kidíll die. ... Oh, believe me, I know we donít usually get involved in stuff like this. But because of his connections -- and those connections kept us up and running sometimes, remember, when nobody else had electricity, we could keep filing -- Gromov can get his kid to Helsinki for a weekend, with his test results, X-rays and everything. ...

They already tried that, they tried sending it all to a hospital in Paris, but the guy said he needed to see the kid. Apparently itís a pretty rare condition and nobodyís going to want to recommend a treatment unless they examine the kid. So if we could get a specialist, a blood guy, in Helsinki to see him and tell us what medication he should be getting, we could get it from the doctor in Paris and you could send it here in the pouch. And itís a kid, Jack. I wouldnít ask if it was just some old drunk. Itís a kid, címon....

Great, thatís all I ask, see what you can do and let me know as soon as you can and Iíll tell Gromov. ...

†††††††††† Absolutely, do come when it gets a little warmer. Itís wild here these days. Like I said, this ainít Moscow like anyone remembers. The nightlifeís way better. You go into any bar in any hotel, the women, itís insane, the only English they know is: Yes. They say yes to everything. You wouldnít believe it. Weíd have a really good time. ... OK, thanks a million for looking out for me on the Sokoloff thing. Like I said, itís crazy here. Iím still trying to figure out whatís going on. Everything here changes every day. Take care.

 

 

 

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Steve Silkin is a Los Angeles writer. He has completed a collection of short stories, The Telescope Builder, and two novels, Matt & Mariko and The Cemetery Vote.

 

 

Archived at http://lit.konundrum.com/prose/silkins_moscow.htm