engines hammered and strained, the overloaded steamship--Ukrainian manganese
for Turkish mills--was slow as a snail. A good idea, they thought, lying
on their sides, front to back, his hand on her breast, the sea rising
and falling beneath them.
Serebin had boarded the Svistov at the Roumanian port of Constanta, where
it called briefly to take on freight--a few crates of agricultural machinery
cranked slowly up the rusty side of the ship--and a single passenger.
The docks were almost deserted, Serebin stood alone, a small valise at
his side, waiting patiently in the soft, southern dusk as the gangway
Earlier that day there'd been fighting on the waterfront, a band of fascist
Iron Guards pursued by an army unit loyal to Antonescu. So said the barman
at the dockside tavern. Intense volleys of small arms fire, a few hand
grenades, machine guns, then silence. Serebin listened carefully, calculated
the distance, ordered a glass of beer, stayed where he was. Safe enough.
Serebin was forty-two, this was his fifth war, he considered himself expert
in the matter of running, hiding, or not caring.
Later, on his way to the pier, he'd come upon a telegraph office with
its windows shattered, a man in uniform flung dead across the threshold
of the open door, which bumped against his boot as the evening wind tried
to blow it shut. Roumania had just signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany,
political assassinations were daily events, civil war on the way, one
poor soul had simply got an early start.
Dinner, in the freighter's wardroom, had gone on forever. The diplomat,
Labonniere, a dry man with a fair mustache, labored away in university
Russian--the weather, quite changeable in fall. Or the tasty Black Sea
carp, often baked, but sometimes broiled. The Bulgarian captain did not
make life easy for him. Yes, very tasty.
It had been left to Serebin to converse with Madame. Was this on purpose?
He wondered. The wife was amusing, had that particular ability, found
in Parisian women, to make table talk out of thin air. Serebin listened,
spoke when he had to, picked at a plate of boiled food. Still, what could
any of them say? Half of France was occupied by Germany, Poland enslaved,
London in flames. So, all that aside, the carp. Madame Labonniere wore
a cameo on a velvet ribbon at her throat, from time to time she touched
it with her fingers.
On a shelf in the wardroom was a green steel radio with a wire mesh speaker
at the center shaped like a daisy. It produced the transmissions of a
dozen stations, which wandered on and off the air like restless cats.
Sometimes a few minutes of news on Soviet dairy production, now and then
a string quartet, from somewhere on the continent. Once a shouting politician,
in Serbo-Croatian, who disappeared into crackling static, then a station
in Turkey, whining string instruments and a throbbing drum. To Serebin,
a pleasant anarchy. Nobody owned the air above the sea. Suddenly, the
Turkish music vanished, replaced by an American swing band with a woman
singer. For a long moment, nobody at the dinner table spoke, then, ghostlike,
it faded away into the night.
"Now where did that come from?" Marie-Galante said to Serebin.
He had no idea.
"London? Is it possible?"
"A mystery," Serebin said.
"In Odessa, one never hears such things."
"In Odessa, one plays records. Do you live there?"
"For the moment, at the French consulate. And you, monsieur? Where do
"In Paris, since '38."
"Quelle chance." What luck. For him? Them? "And before that?"
"I am Russian by birth. From Odessa, as it happens."
"Really!" She was delighted. "Then you must know its secrets."
"A few, maybe. Nobody knows them all."
She laughed, in a way that meant she liked him. "Now tell me," she said,
leaning forward, confidential. "Do you find your present hosts, congenial?"
What was this? Serebin shrugged. "An occupied city." He left the rest
7:20. Serebin lay on his back, Marie-Galante dozed beside him. The world
winked at the cinq-a-sept amour, the twilight love affair, but there was
another five-to-seven, the ante meridiem version, which Serebin found
equally to his taste. In this life, he thought, there is only one thing
worth waking up for in the morning, and it isn't getting out of bed and
facing the world.
From Marie-Galante a sigh, then a stretch. Fragrant as melon, warm as
toast. She rolled over, slid a leg across his waist, then sat up, shook
her hair back, and wriggled to get comfortable. For a time she gazed down
at him, put a hand under his chin, tilted his head one way, then the other.
"You are quite pretty, you know."
He laughed, made a face.
"No, it's true. What are you?"
"Oh? Spaniel and hound, perhaps. Is that it?"
"Half Russian aristocrat, half Bolshevik Jew. A dog of our times, apparently.
"Burgundian, mon ours, dark and passionate. We love money and cook everything
in butter." She leaned down and kissed him softly on the forehead, then
got out of bed. "And go home in the morning."
She gathered up her coat, put it on, held the front closed. "Are you staying
in the city?"
"A week. Maybe ten days. At the Beyoglu, on Istiklal Caddesi."
She rested her hand on the doorknob. "Au revoir, then," she said. Said
it beautifully, sweet, and a little melancholy.
Istanbul. Three-thirty in the afternoon, the violet hour. Serebin stared
out the window of a taxi as it rattled along the wharves of the Golden
Horn. The Castle of Indolence. He'd always thought of it that way--melon
rinds with clouds of flies, a thousand cats, rust stains on porphyry columns,
strange light, strange shadows in a haze of smoke and dust, a street where
blind men sold nightingales.
The Svistov had docked an hour earlier, the three passengers stood at
the gate of the customs shed and said good-bye. For Serebin, a firm handshake
and warm farewell from Labonniere. Sometime in the night he'd asked Marie-Galante
if her husband cared what she did. "An arrangement," she'd told him. "We
are seen everywhere together, but our private lives are our own affair."
So the world.
So the world--two bulky men in suits lounging against a wall on the pier.
Emniyet, he supposed, Turkish secret police. A welcoming committee, of
a sort, for the diplomat and his wife, for the Bulgarian captain, and
likely for him as well. The Surete no doubt having bade him good-bye at
the Gare du Nord in Paris, with the SD--Sicherheitsdienst--and the NKVD,
the Hungarian VK-VI, and the Roumanian Siguranza observing his progress
as he worked his way to the Black Sea.
He was, after all, I. A. Serebin, formerly a decorated Hero of the Soviet
Union, Second Class, currently the executive secretary of the International
Russian Union, a Paris-based organization for emigres. The IRU offered
meetings, and resolutions--mostly to do with its own bylaws--as much charity
as it could manage, a club near the Russian cathedral on the rue Daru,
with newspapers on wooden dowels, a chess tournament and a Christmas play,
and a small literary magazine, The Harvest. In the political spectrum
of emigres societies, as mild as anything Russian could ever be. Czarist
officers of the White armies had their own organizations, nostalgic Bolsheviks
had theirs, the IRU held tight to the mythical center, an ideology of
Tolstoy, compassion, and memories of sunsets, and accepted the dues of
the inevitable police informers with a sigh and a shrug. Foreigners! God
only knew what they might be up to. But it could not, apparently, be only
God who knew.
from Blood of Victory by Alan Furst Copyright 2002 by Alan Furst.
Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.
1939, as the armies of Europe mobilized for war, the British secret services
undertook operations to impede the exportation of Roumanian oil to Germany.
in the autumn of 1940, they tried again.
Blood of Victory, a novel rich with suspense, historical insight,
and the powerful narrative immediacy we have come to expect from bestselling
author Alan Furst. The book takes its title from a speech given by a French
senator at a conference on petroleum in 1918: Oil, he said,
the blood of the earth, has become, in time of war, the blood of
1940. The Russian writer I. A. Serebin arrives in Istanbul by Black Sea
freighter. Although he travels on behalf of an émigré organization
based in Paris, he is in flight from a dying and corrupt Europespecifically,
from Nazi-occupied France. Serebin finds himself facing his fifth war,
but this time he is an exile, a man without a country, and there is no
army to join. Still, in the words of Leon Trotsky, You may not be
interested in war, but war is interested in you. Serebin is recruited
for an operation run by Count Janos Polanyi, a Hungarian master spy now
working for the British secret services.
to cut Germanys oil supply rages through the spy haunts of the Balkans;
from the Athenée Palace in Bucharest to a whorehouse in Izmir;
from an elegant yacht club in Istanbul to the river docks of Belgrade;
from a skating pond in St. Moritz to the fogbound banks of the Danube;
in sleazy nightclubs and safe houses and nameless hotels; amid the street
fighting of a fascist civil war.
of Victory is classic Alan Furst, combining remarkable authenticity
and atmosphere with the complexity and excitement of an outstanding spy
thriller. As Walter Shapiro of Time magazine wrote, Nothing can
be like watching Casablanca for the first time, but Furst comes closer
than anyone has in years.