The Final Escape

The CIA and Air Force did their best to steel Belenko against one danger that was foreseeable.

No matter how knowledgeable, perspicacious, intelligent, and helpful an escapee from the Soviet Union may be, there inevitably arrives a time when his special knowledge is exhausted. The initial, intense drama that binds interrogated and interrogators together personally and intellectually in a common cause sooner or later must end. The Americans who have been daily or frequent companions, who have formed for the Russian a kind of spiritual lifeline in a bewilderingly strange society must disperse and depart for other duties. And the Russian must begin a new life which only he can finally forge.

The KGB habitually warns military officers, Soviet civilians allowed abroad, and its own personnel that should they defect, "The Americans will squeeze you like a lemon, and once they have squeezed you dry, they will throw you into the garbage like a peel." Unless the transition from dependence to independence is accomplished adroitly, the Russian may feel that he is being thrown away. The consequent sense of abandonment, betrayal, aimlessness, and [188] loneliness can cause disabling depression or destructive paranoid behavior.

Throughout the months of interrogation, Gregg, Anna, Peter, and others strove to gird Belenko for the transition by frankly explaining what it eventually would entail, exposing him to differing facets of American society, and giving him practical knowledge. Anna stimulated him to think about making the kind of choices, large and small, which are mostly unnecessary in the Soviet Union. To illustrate, she asked: Do most Soviet citizens have to decide which apartment or house they will rent or buy, where they will shop, which type of clothes to wear, which television station to watch, which newspapers to read, which brands of products they prefer, where they will vacation, which route to take when traveling, in which motel or hotel they will stay, which theater to attend, which make of car they will drive and where they will buy it, which physician will treat them?

No, of course not. In that country you take whatever they will give you, whatever you can find. You don't choose. They choose. Or luck chooses.

The CIA deliberately waited until the end of the interrogations to prepare Belenko financially. He never asked for or about money; he worked and gave sedulously of his own free will. By waiting until all had been given, the CIA tried to connote to him its appreciation that neither he nor all he brought was for sale. Nevertheless, both fairness and U.S. national interests required handsome recompense. The value of Belenko's contributions, as everyone who knew of them agreed, was inestimable, and however indifferent he was to money, he deserved reward. Successfully and healthily integrated as an American, he would remain an asset to the military and intelligence establishment for many years. His success in the United States would tend to invite future defections; his failure, to deter them.

Hence, the CIA told Belenko that the United States felt it owed him a debt. Considering the sacrifices of status and career he had made to give so much to the United States, it would be unfair to ask him to start in a foreign country with nothing. Accordingly the CIA had established an [189] irrevocable trust, to be managed by competent financial experts, that would yield him a generous income for the rest of his life.

With this guaranteed income, Belenko could live anywhere he wished, do virtually anything he wanted without having to earn a living. He could enroll in a university and take a degree in any of the subjects that had engrossed him as an adolescent medicine, biology, psychology, physics. He could open some kind of shop to exercise his mechanical aptitudes and interests. He could make his way into commercial aviation. Or he could do nothing except fish, hunt, read, and fly his own private plane.

Belenko was grateful for the offer and the way it was made, but it did not overjoy him or resolve any of the issues that most concerned him. Although he came from a society where scarcity obsesses most people with materialism, he was one of the least materialistic of men. He did not have a pair of shoes until he was six, wore the same shirt and trousers for five years as a teenager, and, aside from his uniforms, never owned a suit until the Japanese gave him one. After marriage, he purchased a television, refrigerator and furniture, not for himself but in hope of pleasing and making a home for his bride. He felt no impulse now to compensate or overcompensate for past deprivations; he still aspired to live by the code of Spartacus. He did cherish the Air Force flight suit and the Navy flight jacket; he did want a car because in America it was a necessity and an instrument of freedom. Otherwise, he did not covet material possessions.

The superabundance he saw in the United States intrigued and excited him because of what it signified a system that had already produced what the Soviet system all his life had promised but was light-years away from delivering. Before attempting to create a place, a purpose, and freedom for himself within the American system, he needed to discover and understand how and why the system worked.

They are not throwing me away like a lemon. They mean to be fair, to be kind to me. But I must find my own way. I must prove I can make my own way. I will accept [190] their offer, and it can be my parachute if I fail. But until I see whether I can survive myself, I will take only enough money to start.

Partly consciously, partly unconsciously, Belenko determined to explore the United States through Soviet eyes, to assess it according to all he had been taught in the Soviet Union. Though already persuaded that much of what he had been told was false, he thought that the Dark Forces had exposed him only to the best and that he should first examine the worst. The worst in the Soviet Union, outside a concentration camp, was a farm, so he announced that he wished to work for a while on a farm.

Fine, said the CIA. It would try to help him obtain a job as a farmhand. First, though, he must undergo a complete physical examination; then he should spend a month or so in a quiet university environment improving his English and learning more about how to navigate socially on his own.

For the physical, Belenko flew with Gregg to Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio. Having been looked at by a physician almost every day of his life as a Soviet pilot and thoroughly examined every six months, he considered the venture pointless and boring.

He was shocked when an Air Force dentist informed him that five teeth recessed in his gums would have to be extracted and seven others filled or capped. Remembering the agony of having had a tooth pulled in Rubtsovsk, he argued vehemently that no such necessity could exist; else the many dentists who had inspected his mouth over the years would have recognized it. The dentist displayed X rays, pointed out the troublesome teeth, and projected the decay and infection that would ensue unless they were removed. An anesthetic induced euphoria, then unconsciousness, and Belenko was bothered for only a couple of days of tolerable soreness.

The painlessness of the procedure, the detection of his atrocious dental condition, the thoroughness with which he was examined, and the immaculate hospital impressed him. Here is a big chance. It's obvious they're good doctors. [191] They should know. Probably they're good men and will tell the truth. Go ahead. Ask them.

No Party defamation of the United States had affected Belenko more than the Soviet descriptions of American medical care. He still believed that medical treatment in the United States was so expensive that unless one was rich or privileged, serious illness or accident meant financial ruin, irreversible impoverishment. The specter of untold numbers of American workers and their families suffering, maybe even dying, because they feared the catastrophic costs of visiting a physician or hospital proved in his mind that at least in one important respect capitalism was inferior to communism, which provided free medical care. He knew, of course, that Soviet medical care often was inadequate and distributed unequally. How else to account for the flourishing medical black market? If one wanted to ensure oneself or a loved one a first-class appendectomy performed under sanitary conditions by a skilled surgeon at night in his office, one made a deal with the doctor. (In 1976 the going rate for a black market appendectomy was 100 rubles.) Still, if one waited and took his chances, medical care was free, just as his dental care had been.

So Belenko put the military doctors through a polite inquisition. Is this a typical American hospital? How much does it cost to stay in a hospital? To pay a doctor? How can a worker afford it? How can someone very old or poor afford it? How much does a doctor earn? A nurse? How long do you have to wait to see a doctor? To get into a hospital?

The physicians enhanced their credibility to Belenko by prefacing their answers with some qualifications. Medical care in the United States way expensive and becoming more so. The rising costs, the causes of which were many, concerned everybody. A disadvantaged minority of Americans probably did not receive care that was adequate by American standards, but the reasons often were sociological and cultural rather than medical or economic. And there were exceptions to the best generalizations they could offer. Then they answered his questions, and their answers flabbergasted him.

[192] What! You mean they pay a doctor twice as much as a fighter pilot? You mean you pick your own doctor, and if he makes you wait too long or you don't like the way he treats you, you go to another doctor? That means he has to try to treat all his patients well, or they'll go somewhere else. And you can sue a doctor or the hospital if they do something wrong.

Wait a minute. Nobody ever told me the government pays for the old and the poor. And nobody ever told me about this insurance. Nobody ever said anything about insurance paying most of the bills. They lied. All these years, they lied, and they knew they were lying!

By some artifice, the CIA arranged for Belenko to audit courses temporarily at a medium-sized southern university, and he, together with a young CIA officer, rented an apartment near the campus. Representing himself as a visiting Norwegian eager to learn about the United States, he mingled among students, inquiring about their backgrounds, how they qualified for the university and supported themselves. He reconnoitered the medical school and noted all he would have to do to become a physician. One weekend he went from service station to service station asking for a job as a mechanic, and two stations offered him part-time jobs. He reckoned that he could earn at least $120 a week while attending school, and it would be much easier to work while attending an American university because no time was wasted on political indoctrination.

In this country, unless you are very stupid, you can go to a university of some kind no matter whether you are rich or poor, male or female, black or white, young or old. If I passed the entrance examination, I could do it. I could be a doctor. Even if I did not receive a scholarship, I could borrow money from the government. Even if I could not borrow money, I could earn enough as a mechanic. I would have to work hard at night and on the weekend and in the summer. So what? I could do it without anybody's help.

Someone in the CIA, through a friend, steered him to a family farm more than half a continent away from Washington. Yes, they needed a farmhand, and they would be [193] pleased to take a young Russian and tell nobody he was Russian, provided he was able and willing to work just like anybody else at standard wages. Belenko was drilled in methods of secretly communicating with the CIA, given emergency numbers, and assured that a call day or night would bring him instant help. Gregg and Peter also gave him their home numbers and urged him to call whenever he felt like talking. And the CIA emphasized that all the money and support he might need were cached in Washington.

Before he left, Anna gave a party for him, serving deviled eggs with caviar, herring, smoked salmon, borscht, onion and tomato salad, piroshki, Georgian wine, and Russian vodka. She played the guitar and sang Russian folk songs, and some of the Americans, all of whom spoke Russian, joined her. They told Russian jokes and stories and danced as in Russia.

Their efforts, however, affected Belenko differently from the way they had intended. What is the matter with you? I'm homesick. I miss my rotten country. Idiot! Don't think like that. That is dangerous.

Belenko arrived by bus at the farm in the late afternoon, and the owner, Fred, his wife, Melissa, and partner, Jake, greeted him on the front porch of the large frame farmhouse painted white with green shutters. Supper, as they called it, was waiting, and after washing, he joined them and their three children around a long oak dining table laden with country food pickled ham, relish, veal cutlets, corn on the cob, fresh green beans with onions and new potatoes, hot biscuits, iced tea, and peach cobbler with whipped cream. Always, in a new social situation, Belenko watched what the Americans did and tried to emulate them, so when they bowed their heads, he did the same. Fred said a brief prayer, and Belenko did not understand it all; but one sentence touched him: "Bless this home, our family, and he who joins us." He thought far back through the years to the cold, barren day when his father had left him on another farm, the kolkhoz in Siberia. The squalid Siberian hut where he had been given milk and bread and the spacious farmhouse with all its largesse were [194] as different as the moon and earth. But the spirit in which he was welcomed at each farm was the same.

Heretofore Belenko had thought that corn on the cob was fed only to livestock, and he tasted it with reservation. This is good! I wish I could send some to hell for Khrushchev. All the food was good. His conspicuous enjoyment of it pleased Melissa, and the knowledge he exhibited during talk about farming pleased the men.

He had heard about it; he had read about it; he had glimpsed signs of it from roads and the sky. But Belenko had to experience the efficiency of an American farm to comprehend. His understanding began in the morning as Fred showed him the equipment a tractor, combine, harvester, machinery for seeding, irrigating, fertilizing, an electronically controlled lighting system that caused hens to lay eggs on schedule, automatic milking devices, two cars, a large pickup truck and then Belenko saw, of all things, an airplane.

"Why do you have an airplane?"

"Oh, I was in the Air Force; gunner, not a pilot. But I still got the bug, and it's stayed with me. The plane comes in handy. We can get anything we need in a hurry and look over the whole place in fifteen to twenty minutes. Mostly, though, I keep it because for some reason I just like to fly."

"I understand your feelings."

"You ever fly?"


"Good! Would you like to go up with me on Sunday?"

"Very much."

In a few days Belenko deduced that beyond mechanization, there were two other reasons that enabled Fred, his wife, their children, Jake, and one laborer himself to work the farm embracing several hundred acres of cultivated land plus pasture and woodland. Fred and Jake knew about every scientific aspect of farming veterinary medicine, fertilization, use of pesticides, crop rotation, irrigation. For almost twenty years they had kept meteorological records so they could make their own weather forecasts. They could service and repair all the machinery [195] themselves. Along with Melissa, they were accountants and salesmen. And they worked, hard, carefully, enthusiastically, from sunrise to sunset, taking off only Sunday and sometimes Saturday afternoon. They treat this whole farm as if it were their private plot. Well, of course. That's right. It is.

On Sunday afternoon they took off in a Beechcraft from a grassy landing strip, climbed about 1,000 feet into cloudless sky, and flew in a rectangle, roughly tracing the farm boundaries. Fred ascended to 8,000 feet, described neighboring farms and their history, and then flew over the two nearest small towns. "Would you like to try the controls?"

Belenko nodded. Having flown a Beechcraft in Virginia, he knew its capabilities and limitations, and he banked easily 180 degrees to the left, then 180 degrees to the right, looking to ensure no other planes were in the vicinity.

"You really are a flier."

"Do you like aerobatics?"

"Okay. Go ahead. But remember, we don't have chutes."

The urge was childish but overpowering. Quickly he looped the plane, started another loop, and at the top flipped over, executing an Immelmann with which he had impressed Nadezhda. He rolled, stalled, spun, did every maneuver the plane could safely withstand. At first, Fred laughed and shouted, like a boy on a roller coaster. Suddenly he fell silent, and seeing him paling, Belenko leveled off. "I am sorry. I am acting like a fool."

"No, that's all right. Take her down."

Fred said nothing during descent, landing, or while they lashed the wings and tail to mooring rings, and Belenko was sure he had angered him.

"I'm afraid you have told me something you didn't mean to. You're the MiG-25 pilot, aren't you?"

You are a fool, Belenko! A snotty-nosed fool!

"Don't worry. I won't tell anyone. We thought we'd found ourselves a real good farmhand. I realize now that you'll be moving on. So I'll say only this. As long as I live, you'll have a home on this farm, and you can come and go as you please."

[196] Fred kept the secret, and Belenko continued to labor as an ordinary farmhand, driving the tractor, plowing, seeding, digging irrigation ditches, feeding cows and pigs, helping build a new barn and maintain the machinery. In return, he received $400 a month, free medical insurance, a cottage with a living room, bedroom, kitchen and bath, free meals with the family or all the food he wanted to cook himself, and use of one of the family cars in the evening and on weekends. These all were perquisites promised at the time he was hired.

Having recognized his identity, Fred additionally allowed Belenko to fly with him on weekends and, if he could be spared from work, on cross-country trips. Studying private and commercial aviation in the United States, Belenko concluded that even were he to start as a penniless farmhand, he eventually could become a ranking airline pilot. In Russian he drafted a program entitled "How to Be 747 Pilot My Plan."

He calculated that in three years he could easily save from his wages $12,000 which would more than pay for the 40 hours of flight time necessary for a private license and the additional 160 hours requisite to a commercial license. Once licensed, he would take any job as a commercial pilot, gain the reputation of a skilled, reliable flier, and prepare himself for airline examinations. Then he would work his way upward from copilot on small jets to the 747.

It will take maybe twenty years. But it can be done. Also, private pilots here are very friendly. They will let you fly with them for nothing. So I could get a lot of free flight time.

At harvesttime they employed temporary workers, combines came from nearby farms, and in three days 400 acres of tall green corn were transformed into what looked like a pretty meadow. That was a miracle. No, it was not. Anybody could do it if he had the machines, and the machines worked, and he knew how and was free to do it.

The night harvesting ended, they sat on the front porch and drank cold hard cider. It reminded Belenko of the homemade wine the farmers had given the air cadets and [197] students summoned into the orchards outside Armavir. The mechanism of the mind which often and mercifully deadens memories of the bad blocked out the sight of tens of thousands of apples rotting, of the system that made every harvest a national crisis.

That was a good time. The girls were pretty, the fruit sweet, the farmers friendly. We had fun. I wish I could see Armavir just for one day, hear nothing but Russian just for a day.

In his sleep a terrible vision visited him. Vorontsov was smiling, beckoning, calling, and pulling him from the State Department conference room with an invisible chain wrapped around his waist. "It is time, Viktor Ivanovich. You are coming home. Come with me, Viktor Ivanovich." He awakened shouting, "Nyet, nyet!"

That was a ridiculous dream. You drank too much of that cider. Take some aspirin, and go to sleep.

Reflecting on the nightmare in the morning and vaguely sensing its portent, Belenko undertook to exorcise the causes by assaying his experiences in rural America. You came out here looking for the worst, and what did you find? These farmers, they live better than almost anybody in Moscow or Leningrad. I'm not even sure that Politburo members can buy in Moscow everything you can buy out here in Sticksville. Why, a common laborer on this farm is better off than a Soviet fighter pilot. And you don't have to put up with all that shit, from the first day of school until the last day you breathe. These farmers, they don't listen to anything they don't want to. They just show the government or anybody else the big finger. They are not afraid. They are free people. They say all their guns are for hunting. But they would shoot anybody who tried to deport them or take away their freedom.

And the way they do things works. Look at the harvest! Did they bring in the Air Force and the Army and students and workers from two hundred fifty kilometers away and screw around for weeks and let a third of the crop rot because the machinery broke down and nobody knew or cared what he was doing?

[198] Lied! It's worse than lying. The Party turned the truth upside down. It's the kolkhozniks who are the serfs. No wonder a farmer here produces ten times as much as a kolkhoznik! No wonder they have to buy from the Americans! Don't forget that. Don't forget what you've seen with your own eyes, here and there.

After this analysis and introspection Belenko concluded there was no more to learn on the farm, and he had already recognized an insuperable defect in his plan to obtain pilot's licenses while working on the farm. To fly commercially or even alone and to investigate the United States as thoroughly as he wished, he would have to improve his mastery of English markedly. So when the CIA summoned him to Washington to confer about some sensitive new matters, he decided to leave permanently and immerse himself wholly in language study.

Fred flew Belenko to the airport of a city some 150 miles distant. "Remember, you always have a home."

From a list compiled by Peter, Belenko chose a commercial institute specializing in teaching foreigners seeking high proficiency in English. Peter suggested that before departing, he ought to buy a car, gave him some automotive magazines, and took him to several dealers. You can buy a car in this country as easily as a loaf of bread! Everybody wants to sell me a car! They don't care whether I can pay for it now or not. Just give them a few hundred dollars, and they give you a car. How can they trust people like that?

Driving alone in his new medium-sized sedan, Belenko experienced both another form of freedom and bewilderment as he headed into the South on multilane interstate highways. It's just as Father Peter and Anna said. You don't have to ask anybody permission to go anywhere. With a car and a map, you can drive anywhere day or night, and always you can find fuel and food. How can they afford to let everybody just get up and go anywhere he pleases whenever he wants? What keeps order in this country?

Sunday at the institute was intellectual fun. Most of the students, drawn from all parts of the Middle East, Asia, [199] and South America, were as serious as the demanding instructors who proceeded on the thesis that the secret of mastering a foreign language is sheer hard work. The students had to listen, drill, recite, and converse eight hours daily, take exams after regular classes, and do homework at night. As his command of English grew under this regimen so did his power to indulge his fondness of reading. Periodically he brought home from the public library armloads of books, particularly the works of George Orwell, Arthur Koestler, and Milovan Djilas, which refined his understanding and hardened his hatred of Soviet communism.

But the more he delved into daily American life, the further the fundamental understanding he sought seemed to recede from his reach. Looking for the cheapest apartment available, he rented one in what he was told was a working-class neighborhood. Although not as commodious as that in Virginia, the apartment was by the standards he knew luxurious, and everything functioned: the air conditioning, stove, plumbing, garbage disposal. Talking and sometimes drinking beer with the neighbors, he learned that they indeed were what he would term workers, and not only could they afford to rent apartments like his for $200 monthly, but some actually planned to buy their own houses. From them he also began to learn about labor unions, collective bargaining, and strikes, all of which utterly mystified him.

The Party described American labor unions as subterfuges by which the Dark Forces more handily controlled and manipulated workers. The few strikes reported were represented as impulses of revolution, which, of course, the police lackeys of the Dark Forces would quickly crush, rather than as a form of normal labor relations. When Belenko saw his first picket line, he saw another great lie.

They turned the truth upside down again! What they said American labor unions are is just what Soviet labor unions are. Why, these workers and their unions can shut down a whole factory by just walking out and demonstrating. What would have happened if we had done that at the tank factory? But how can you allow that? How can [200] you allow workers to stop production if they don't think they're paid enough? That doesn't make any sense. It's chaos.

Although he got along amicably with his fellow students, Belenko had no close friends among them because he preferred to associate outside the institute with Americans who could educate him about the United States. There was one student, however, whom he delighted in seeing. Maria was an exquisite young woman, an arresting figure in yellow or brightly printed dresses or white lace blouses, a classic Latin beauty with flowing black hair, dark eyes, full lips, and a soft olive complexion. Beyond the beauty he could see, Belenko sensed in her presence the grace and confidence of a lady whose inner security enabled her to laugh, tease, and be at ease with anyone. She brightened his thoughts as a fresh flower might, and sometimes he wondered if the librarian who had benefited him when he was a boy in Siberia might not many decades before have been like her.

In one of the group discussions a young Iranian, who sported a $20,000 Mercedes, orated about the "plastic society" and materialism of the United States, citing Coca-Cola, fast-food chains, neon signs, and trash along the highways as examples. As if challenged to a fight, Belenko instinctively stood up. "Which society led man into the nuclear age? Which society led man into space and the moon? If we were in your country, what would happen to us if we openly said what we thought was bad about it? If this society is so terrible, why have we all come from our own countries to learn here? Why here instead of some other society?"

As he was walking toward his car after class, Maria called to him to wait for her. "I agree with what you said, and I am proud of you for saying it." They began discussing their reactions to the United States, comments from one excited comments from the other, and they stood, each holding three or four books, talking for nearly an hour before Belenko proposed dinner.

Maria ordered rum and Coca-Cola, which Belenko thought a comical concoction. "No, it is not. If that Iranian [201] knew you are supposed to put rum in Coca-Cola, he would not denounce it."

Answering his questions, Maria told him of her background. Her parents owned a plantation in South America, but she had attended a university and resolved to do something worthwhile. The only practical choices that seemed to be available to her as a woman were teaching or nursing, so she had chosen to be a teacher in rural areas, where teachers were most needed. There she had become interested in helping the mentally handicapped and retarded children for whom no organized, scientific programs were offered. Because so much of the research concerning birth defects and retardation was conducted in the United States, she desired to broaden her knowledge of English, and when her parents, anxious to get her out of the countryside, offered her a trip to the United States, she decided to study at the institute.

According to the custom of her class and culture, her parents virtually had arranged for her to marry the scion of a neighboring plantation family. Although she scarcely knew the man and had not yet consented, her sense of duty and devotion to her aging parents made refusal difficult.

She found the United States largely a classless society; at least she had been able to meet and relate to people irrespective of their social origins or economic status. In her opinion, the opportunities in America were limitless, and personally she would have liked to stay. But she knew that all her life she would feel guilty if she did not return to her own land and do whatever she could to help her people.

He asked her to dance, and on the small floor she gently pulled him close to her. "You dance as if you were a prize fighter and I your opponent. Hold me lightly. Or tightly, if you want."

He drove her home and bade her good-night with a handshake. Lying awake, he visualized her dancing and felt her again in his arms. She is as beautiful inside as she is outside. She knows something about life, what is real, what is useless. We think the same. I speak only a few words, and she understands all I mean to say. She is all I [202] ever wanted. But she is going back to her country in a couple of months. I cannot follow her. I cannot ask her to give up her country and stay with me. I do not know what will happen to me. I cannot even tell her who I really am. I care too much for her. I must not see her anymore. To go further will only hurt us both.

Aside from exchanging greetings at the institute, he did not talk with her again until the night of a party at the home of an instructor. Having asked each student to prepare a dish typifying the cuisine of his or her country, the instructor put Maria and Belenko in charge of the kitchen, perhaps because they, along with a young French businessman, were the quickest pupils. The kitchen was hot and crowded, and they were kept busy washing pots, pans, and dishes, but they performed these pedestrian chores as a natural team, each eager to help the other. She reached up with a damp towel and wiped perspiration from his forehead. Once their eyes met, and neither could deny nor disguise the magic between them. Anything with her is joy.

The class collected money to buy the instructor a gift in appreciation of the party and appointed Maria and Belenko to pick out the present. After they went shopping on a Saturday morning, his desire to be with her longer prevailed over his judgment, and he invited her to lunch. It was so easy to talk with her that he found himself expressing thoughts he had never articulated to anyone. "I believe there is a higher purpose in life than just surviving, just having all the possessions and money you need. I don't know what the purpose is. But I think each person has to be free to the purpose."

"Do you believe in God?"

"I don't know. I think there must be something higher than man. But I don't understand what it is. Do you?"

"I want to. All my life I have gone to church. Sometimes the music and quiet are very beautiful to me, and I feel as you, that there is something higher. Then I see things that the church does, and I am not sure. It is said in church that God is love. Maybe that is the purpose. To love someone and be loved by someone."

[203] The drift seemed dangerous to Belenko, and he suggested they go.

"Only if you will make me a promise."

"What is that?"

"The week from tomorrow I am invited to the home of some friends of my parents. They live about forty miles away. Promise that you will take me."

Belenko, blond, fair, blue-eyed, with the athletic bearing of an officer, and Maria, her dark beauty adorned in lace and long white skirt, formed a striking couple, and the Spanish family welcomed them graciously to their American replica of a small hacienda. The host and hostess were especially interested in meeting a Russian. In accordance with the story prepared by the CIA for his use at the institute, he explained that he had fled while serving as a junior official on a Soviet trade mission to Scandinavia. His fresh perspectives of the Soviet Union, which conformed to the antipathies of the host, made him all the more popular.

Belenko had thought they were to stay all day, but after a lavish luncheon Maria eloquently thanked the family, in English for his benefit, and announced that they must depart to prepare for examinations the next day; that was not true.

"Why did you do that?"

"I wanted to be with you."

"We won't be able to be with each other much more. You leave next week, don't you?"

"That is why I want to be with you now. May I tell you something?"

"Of course."

"You will not make fun of me?"

"Certainly not."

"I love you."

"But why?"

"It is the way I feel. I have never had such a feeling. When I am with you or see you or think of you, I am happy. I do not know where you have been or who you were. But I know you, Viktor."

[204] "We will only hurt each other. After a few more days we can never see each other again."

"Do you like me?"

"I love you."

On a Friday afternoon he drove her across the state to the airport from which she would fly out of his life in the morning. Throughout their discussions they spoke rationally, responsibly, bravely.

They realized that genuine love does not spring up suddenly, spontaneously, magically, that it evolves gradually through shared experiences, interests, adversities. They recognized that they had known each other far too briefly to be sure that they were not just ephemerally and romantically attracted. And their backgrounds, their cultures were so different that these differences were bound to assert themselves in the future, no matter how harmoniously they got along now. Of course, Maria could not repudiate her obligations to her parents, her customs, her people and country. She never could be at ease with her conscience or happy outside her own country. No (for reasons he could not explain), he could not live in South America. Should they keep in touch? No, that would only torment them both. Why pursue what never can be? They should be grateful for the lovely friendship they had shared.

After Belenko carried her luggage into the airport motel room where she would sleep until the morning flight, the front collapsed. She sobbed hopelessly, forlornly, as if all her life were ending. "Oh, Viktor, spend the night with me."

By dawn he knew that in her and their love he had found a fulfilling purpose of life. What can I do? I must do what is best for her. She will have a good life without me. I cannot take her away from her family, her people. What can I give to her? I'd better go while I can.

He dressed quickly, quietly, as he had on the last morning in Chuguyevka. "Darling Maria, it is best I just go now. Wherever you are, I love you."

Through the closed door, he heard her crying hysterically. "Solo tu! Siempre, solo tu!"

Shock anesthetized him for a while. Then, on the third or fourth day, the pain struck: ceaseless, incapacitating [205] pain. You found the greatest beauty and purpose life can hold. And you threw it away. And you can never find it again. You will never see her again.

At the institute he ceased to function; he could not concentrate or learn. The instructors concluded that the intensity of study had made him stale and that he had reached a plateau which temporarily bogs down the best of language students, and they recommended he take a couple of months off. If he could afford it, they suggested, he should tramp around the country, practicing English.

Wearing his Navy flight jacket, he drove recklessly toward Washington, receiving three speeding tickets on the way, and pulled up, unannounced, at Peter's house. That house, he previously had noted, because of the necessities enforced by eight children, always was run with the same precision as life on an aircraft carrier.

"Father Peter, I have a plan. You send me back to Soviet Union as agent. Drop me in the Far East; I will show you just where to go through the radar. You think it is so difficult to spy in that country. But I know that country, and I can do it so easily. What you Americans never have understood is that you can buy anything in that country, very cheaply too.

"A judge, only two hundred rubles. Plant manager, five hundred. Militiaman, fifty. What we really want we don't have to buy. I can get you a MiG-23 and a Backfire [a Soviet bomber] for nothing. My friends will fly them wherever I say.

"I know that place; I feel it the way nobody who is not Russian can. I can smell; I can move in it. You give me the documents and a little radio the size of my hand I know from the Air Force you have them; the ones that squeeze and squirt transmissions into seconds and we can talk every day. Let's go! Let's fight! Let's show them the big finger!"

"Are you all right?"

"What do you mean, all right?"

"The idea is preposterous. Even if it weren't you're smart enough to know you're much more valuable here than you could ever be there. It seems to me you are [206] under some emotional duress. I'm your friend. What's the trouble?"

The code of Spartacus, which bound a man to solve his own problems, to rely on himself, to whimper to no one for help, clashed with his honesty, and uncharacteristically he compromised. He accurately reported the institute's advice that he travel for a while, briefly mentioned his relationship with Maria, and confessed to some sadness at her loss.

"Do you love this girl?'

"Yes, I do."

"Do you want us to find her for you?"

"No. It makes no sense. I do not belong in her life."

"Would you like one of us to go along on your trip?"

"I must go by myself."

"All right, but I want the doctors to see you." Physicians, to whom he confided nothing of bis psychological trauma, pronounced him totally fit, and he drove off to explore, discover, forget, and mend by himself.

He first wanted to tour the small towns, backwashes, and heartland cities because they were the milieu he knew best in the Soviet Union. Conditioned to husband every kopeck, he searched out the cheapest lodging and cafes, although large, unspent sums and the interest on them were piling up monthly for him in Washington. He learned that in almost every small town there is a motel or hotel cheaper than the Holiday or Ramada inns, which he deemed luxurious hostelries. These lesser-known family establishments invariably were clean, and you could get an inexpensive meal providing all the protein you wanted.

In a little Appalachian town he took a room in such a motel and asked the woman at the desk where he could obtain ice. "If n you wahnt ais, go dowen the hall and torn laift."

"I don't want ass. I want ice."

"Jes go lik'n I saed."

After a drink he returned to the desk and inquired if the town had a hospital. "Ain't no cause to go to the hospital. Doc will come righ heah."

"I'm not sick. I just want to see the hospital."

Probably persuaded she was dealing with an authentic [207] nut, the woman gave directions, to be rid of him, and at the hospital an intern, upon hearing that he was a visiting Norwegian, volunteered to show him around. It was a small hospital with only thirty rooms, but they were even nicer than those at the Air Force hospital in San Antonio, and the intern's answers were consistent with explanations of American medicine he had received in Texas.

"What are you building out there?" The intern described the functions of a mental health clinic, which in this case would include treatment of mentally handicapped children. Belenko saw a dirty, feebleminded boy of twelve or thirteen wandering the muddy streets of Chuguyevka, a child destined to live his blurred, uncomprehending life unhelped, the butt of jokes and pranks, the village idiot whose purpose was to amuse by his idiocy and make his superiors glad of their superiority. He saw her, too.

Only you. Always, only you, Viktor. Oh, Maria, where are you?

On the road again, he stopped and talked casually with strangers in small Kentucky and Missouri towns; some revelations congealed in his thoughts. Many Americans would rather live in small towns or the country. Why? Because in many ways life is easier and better for them. They don't have to go to the city to buy food and clothes. The government doesn't allocate supplies first to some cities, second to others, third to the small towns, and fourth to the sticks.

And where are all the criminals? Where are the fences? Why, in Rubtsovsk or Omsk or Salsk, if you didn't have high fences around houses like the ones everyone lives in here, and dogs, too, the criminals would loot everything! The Americans, they complain about crime. They don't know what crime really is. Let someone strip the clothes and underwear off their wives or daughters at knifepoint in broad daylight on a street corner just so they can sell those clothes and underwear, and they will begin to understand crime.

In Kansas City, Belenko visited the farmers' market, the greatest, most dazzling assemblage of food and produce he had ever seen, and all so cheap. No residual doubts or [208] reservations could withstand the sight. Before his eyes stretched the final, conclusive proof.

No, this system works. They can produce enough food for ten countries, for twenty countries if they want. If anybody goes hungry in this country, he's just stupid.

From the market he wandered into a seedy section of the inner city and there at last found it something just like in the Soviet Union: a stinking, dark bar crowded with bleary-eyed, unshaved, unkempt drunks growing drunker on beer and cheap rye whiskey. Ah, he knew them well; he had seen them all his life. What he had seen in America usually seemed initially like a mirage; this was real, and he was quite at home.

Sipping a beer, he questioned the bartender. Where do these men work? How do they get off from their jobs in the day? How much do they earn? The bartender, after a fashion, explained the unemployment compensation, welfare, and food stamp programs.

What! You mean in this country you don't have to work even if there is a job for you! You mean the government pays you and gives you food so you can be a deadbeat and sit around and drink all day! Why, the Americans have done it! They have built True Communism! It's just like 1980!

Walking from the bar along a deserted street at dusk, Belenko recognized trouble ahead. Two thugs were eyeing him, wavering in their judgment as to whether they could take him. He knew them well, too. Rather than wait for them, he ran at them and belligerently demanded directions to his motel, which in their surprise they gave.

"How about giving us a quarter?" one said.

"My pockets are full of quarters. But not one quarter I have says deadbeat on it." They turned away, maybe sensing they were confronted by someone who hungered to hit them.

The pristine mountains and cool, pure air of Colorado made him think of parts of the Caucasus, and an indoor skating rink recalled good times skating in Rubtsovsk and Omsk, and he saw Nadezhda gliding toward him, waving.

[209] I would like to see her and my friends just for a day. Skate in the park; go back to the forests; stop by the factory.

Las Vegas, in consequence of Party conjurations, always had been the supreme symbol of the iniquities and depravities of capitalism, surpassing even the famous decadence of Hollywood. He fully expected to see couples copulating and gangsters shooting it out on the streets, while the bloated rich played cards amid sniffs of cocaine in opulently upholstered and cushioned casinos. So what he saw disappointed, then surprised, then beguiled, and ultimately entranced.

He marveled that a city so clean, neat, and spacious could rise in the midst of desert. His motel in the center of the city was inexpensive; but the rooms were elegant in size and appointments, and the swimming pool was splendid. The shows at the casinos were excellent, yet also inexpensive, as were the drinks.

I will just drink this cheap whiskey and watch all the people. Look at them. They are all kinds of people, and they are enjoying themselves. It's like a carnival, not a brothel. Of course, they are foolish to gamble. The chances are they will lose their money. But it's their choice. If that's the way they want to have a good time, it's their business. They lied about this city. They lied about everything.

In the awesome grandeur of Wyoming, Montana, and Washington and the national parks, he saw more lies, for the Party said greedy capitalism had raped, robbed, and emaciated all the land. He stayed a night in a logging town set in a valley by a clear river surrounded by mountains. The climate and the expanses were like Siberia, and he longed for Siberia.

About forty miles outside San Francisco, he started noticing signs advertising all sorts of lodging, restaurants, and nightclubs in the city. That's right. There are no signs outside Rubtsovsk or Omsk or Moscow because there are no places to stay or eat. You stay in the railway station if there's room. Sure, we have signs. They tell how great the Party is, how much the Party is achieving. No signs tell you where to buy sausage.

[210] He stayed in another downtown motel owned by immigrants from India. His room was dean, cheap, and had a big color television. At his request a taxi driver dropped him off in the "worst area" of downtown San Francisco. It was a cesspool of garish nightclubs, pornographic shops, prostitutes, homosexuals, transvestites, junkies, pimps, filthy, unhealthy-looking dropouts, and rebels against society. He ate in a hole in the wall and felt as if he were in a human zoo, yet the fried fish, fried potatoes, and coleslaw, for which he paid $1.50, were good.

Two prostitutes, one black, one white, tried to lure him into a brothel, "For thirty dollars, we'll give you a real good tune."

"What do you mean?"

"Don't be stupid. You know. For thirty dollars you can have both of us."

Here the Party was right. The dregs accumulated here were to him as disgusting as anything the Party ever claimed, and such human waste, insofar as it was visible, would be flushed out of Soviet society.

As it was early when he went back to his room, he switched on the television and turned the knob from channel to channel until he saw something very familiar. How wonderful! In progress on the screen was a superb public television performance of Anna Karenina.

There were so many choices. Before, the discovery and contemplation of them had invigorated and stimulated, as did the contemplation of a daring and original move in chess. Now he didn't care. All visions of what could be were clouded, dulled, marred by yearning for what might have been with her.

At a roadside cafe near Odessa, Texas, a Latin girl served him. She was not so pretty as Maria, but she smiled and carried herself like Maria. He bolted his meal and raced the breadth of Texas in fewer than twenty-four hours and sped foolishly, suicidally toward the institute.

Everywhere they had been together he revisited. He drove to the hacienda and en route back pulled off the road and stopped about where she had spoken to him. And now a delirium of irrationality afflicted him. It was illogical, [211] senseless, but in its effects on him, it was as real as a typhoid delirium. He wanted to flee from himself, from her, from America, the extravagant successes of which made it seem now like an alien planet where he never could be a normal inhabitant.

Primordial impulses seized and held and pushed him, and he could not resist them. He wanted to feel the mud of the streets, smell the stink in which he had grown up, be among the desolate, cold huts, hear Russian, be in the land of his birth, his people, his ancestors. He was hearing and being drawn by not only the call of the Mother Country, but the Call of the Wild.

Did they not say all I have to do is telephone and in twenty-four hours I will be in Moscow? Did not Brezhnev himself promise they would not punish me? Can I not fight for my people better by being among them? Is not my duty to be with my people as Maria is with hers? I will do it. I will go home.

He left his flight jacket, his flight suit, and everything else in the apartment and started north toward Washington and the Soviet Embassy.

Great stakes rode with him. His voluntary return would prove to millions upon millions within and without the Soviet Union that the Party was right, that Soviet society was superior to American society, that it was the beacon lighting the way to the future of man. A New Communist Man who had seen and judged, who had been captured and escaped would attest dramatically and convincingly to these truths before all the world.

Crossing the North Carolina border into Virginia, he still was pointed toward the Embassy. But as in all other crises, he tried to be Spartacus, to summon forth the best within himself, to think logically. Why did you leave? Has anything that made you leave changed? Are there purposes in life higher than yourself? Where could you hurt that system most? What could you do back there even if they didn't punish you? Do you really think they would just say, "Welcome home, Comrade!" Who has lied to you? The Americans or the Party? Would Spartacus surrender?

About 2:00 A.M. north of Richmond, the fever broke, [212] and Belenko first knew it when his hands began to shake on the steering wheel. He was so physically weak that he had to rest, and he pulled in at a truck stop.

An elderly waitress with faded blond hair and a face worn by many years gave him coffee and studied him. "Honey, you been smoking?"


"If you're on pot, you ought to let it wear off before you drive anymore. How about some breakfast?"

"Just leave me alone."

"No, honey, I'm going to get you some breakfast. You need something to eat. It's on the house."

Around 4:00 A.M. he leaned on the doorbell at Peter's house, ringing it continuously until Peter, in pajamas, opened the door. Trained to be most poised in the presence of danger, Peter was calm. "I see you're in trouble. Come in."

Slowly, with shame, Belenko told him, taking almost two hours.

"Viktor, I wish you had called me. But I can't criticize you. This is not uncommon. I should have recognized the signs when you were here last month. Now it's over; you are immunized. It would have been a great tragedy, most of all for you. Someday you will see that because you are the way you are and because there is freedom here, the United States is more your homeland than the Soviet Union ever could be."

"I must go tell Gregg."

"Don't worry about that. Get some sleep. We'll let him know."

"No. I must do it myself."

Harassed by early calls from his Pentagon office, behind schedule, and half-dressed, Gregg was irritated by the unexpected appearance of Belenko.

"I have to talk to you."

"Make it quick; I'm late."

After Belenko had spoken for a couple of minutes or so, Gregg picked up the phone and dialed his office. "I won't be in this morning. Call me here if you need me." He [213] listened without comment or interruption until Belenko concluded his recitation of the crisis he had just survived.

"Viktor, I think you're finally free. Let's take the day off and go fly."

As Belenko climbed up over the Potomac estuary and soared above the Chesapeake Bay, he felt, he knew Gregg was right.

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