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Marina Peters, whose grandparents, Vlad and Marina Petrov, emigrated to England from Russia in the 1930s, is a likeable and quietly ambitious single young woman working in the Communications Department of the Royal Navy’s Portsmouth Base, a member of the Dockyard Commodore’s staff.
Nikolai Aldanov is a handsome 35-year old widower and a Lieutenant in the Russian Navy who has been corresponding with Marina through an online dating site for some time. The pair have been sharing details of their lives, common interests and histories and have struck up quite a friendship.
When Marina arranges to meet her Russian Lieutenant in person, she has no inkling of the unexpected consequences of her date, as she is introduced into the ruthless world of international espionage.
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Eventually, the big day came. It was about noon on a Wednesday when Marina stood on the sea wall, waiting for her first sighting of the visiting Russian ships. It was misty in the Solent area as she looked expectantly into the distance, past the four dark grey, formidable stone Spithead sea forts dating from the Napoleonic wars. And then, at around the time she had expected, she spotted the small group of three ships appearing first as dots in the distance and then heading slowly in a line past the Isle of Wight and through the Spithead channel. She gave a tentative wave as the dark grey frigates passed her eager gaze and moved out of sight and into the harbour entrance.
She had not slept well, through anxiety perhaps, but the sea breeze had helped to awaken her spirits. She had taken the day off from work, and, with her mind spinning, she began to walk briskly towards the Dockyard. Along the way, she recalled the naval history of Portsmouth as she passed Battery Row and Sally Port, then the Cathedral so well restored after its bomb damage in World War Two. Then onwards to the impressively modernistic new development of Gunwharf Quay, with its shops and restaurants, and the soaring and dramatic feature of Spinnaker Tower, a symbolic feature visible from miles away.
Her walk took her along The Hard and past more historic landmarks such as the Keppels Head Hotel, from where the impressive stone and brick Dockyard gates came into view. As usual, the area was busy with coaches and tourists on their way to view the historic ships, and looming above it all was the towering building which housed the Commodore, his staff and the various administrative departments necessary to manage the work of the Dockyard.
In its heyday, the docks and jetties were usually full of naval ships, large and small, but the combination of defence cuts and modern naval operations meant there were now large spaces where once there had been aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers and minesweepers – either moored or undergoing maintenance in the dry docks.
Within an hour of arriving in the harbour, the three Russian ships had tied up safely alongside the South Railway Jetty – the place where the cruiser Ordzhonikidze had famously berthed when it brought the Soviet leaders, Brezhnev and Khrushchev, to Britain on their official visit in 1956 for talks with Prime Minister Anthony Eden (and where the veteran frogman Commander “Buster” Crabb had lost his life in mysterious and controversial circumstances while trying to carry out a secret spying mission on the ship’s propulsion system).
Marina was unaware of this piece of Portsmouth’s naval history as she walked on through the activities of a still bustling dockyard, where tourists mingled with vehicles, dockyard workers and sailors. She found her way to the three Russian ships, and there, at long last, was the dark grey shape of RS Admiral Essen.
A uniformed Russian sailor was standing guard at the foot of the gangway and, in careful, simple English, she enquired about Lieutenant Nikolai Aldanov. He saluted politely as he recognised the name of one of his own officers and called to another sailor on deck. Marina waited, her heart thumping with a combination of excitement and anxiety, as the guard sent a messenger to find him.
After what seemed like a lifetime, she at last recognised her handsome officer in his smart, gold-braided uniform and peaked hat coming down the gangway to greet her. She had thought a hundred times about this moment and how she would welcome him – a hug, a handshake, even a kiss?
There was no time to make that decision. When they were just a couple of steps apart, a large black car drew up on the quayside, very close to them. Two men emerged silently and quickly ushered them both into the back seats, locked the doors and drove off at speed.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Marshall was a journalist in his early career, working for local and national newspapers and then the BBC before moving to Visnews, the international TV news agency (now ReutersTV) where he became General Manager. This drew him into the satellite broadcasting business, first in the UK and then in the USA for 12 years. In the UK, he served as Chairman of the Royal Television Society; and in the USA he was elected to the Satellite Hall of Fame for his pioneering work in the satellite business.
On his retirement, back in his native West of England, he began writing again and has worked as author or editor on a dozen books – on space flight, on travel and then two biographies. And now he has drawn on some of his past experiences to write a first novel – partly inspired, he says, by his promixity to the tragic Novichoc poisoning events in Salisbury. He has enjoyed writing “spy fiction” so much that he is already working on a sequel to this story about Marina and her “Russian Lieutenant.”