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By David Gardiner

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The first thing of which he was aware was a smell of disinfectant and the echoing voices of young women far away, chatting and laughing. His head seemed heavy on the pillow, his thoughts dull and sluggish . With an effort he opened his eyes. He could see a fire-extinguisher and some kind of transparent plastic tubing looped over a bracket on the wall. The effort of focusing was enormous so he gave up and allowed himself to drift back into a dreamless sleep.

The second time he woke there were two nurses leaning over him, one in a grey uniform, the other a dark blue. Dark Blue addressed him in a kindly tone. “Hello Mr. Chenkov. You’re in hospital and there’s nothing to worry about. You’ve had an accident but you’re going to be fine. Can you hear me all right?”

He found it easier to nod than to speak. He seemed totally devoid of energy. “Oh good,” Dark Blue replied in the kind of voice people use for children, “We’re pleased to have you back. Just get some sleep, don’t worry about a thing. We’ll be in to see you again in a little while.” Then like a fade-to-black in a film, they were gone.

The moments of consciousness increased in frequency as time went by. How much time it was impossible to tell. As well as the nurses he was visited by a dark haired woman with big sorrowful eyes who was wearing something different every time she appeared, but always looked tidy and respectable. She claimed to be his wife, Anna. She called him Ivor. That’s who he must be then, Ivor Chenkov. Both names seemed completely foreign and meaningless. At first he lacked the energy to worry about what was going on, but as his body returned to relative normality and he was able to sit up and eat solid food, the strangeness of it all began to bother him a lot.

The dreams began at the same time as his waking consciousness returned to something resembling normality. They were mostly dreams of childhood, long summer days spent among trees and paths through woods, with a small clear river where he could see tiny fish darting around in shoals. He had a companion and they laughed and chased one another and climbed trees, but he could never quite see the boy’s face. Some of the dreams though were very much darker. He was locked in a small empty room, like a walk-in closet, but without a door. He explored every inch of the walls, one by one, and could never find the way out. These were merely dreams, though, he could dismiss them from his mind. It was the total lack of real memories that he found alarming.

“Please tell me,” he whispered conspiratorially to the nurses, “who am I? How did I end up here? What exactly has happened to me?” They were reluctant at first, and referred every question to a serious-looking middle-aged man with grey-flecked hair and a goatee beard who visited about twice a week. Then, presumably having obtained his permission, they began to open up more. Ivor began piecing things together.

Apparently what he was going through was nothing unusual. When people suffer a head injury they forget things. They need time, sometimes a lot of time, to get it all back. Some bits might never come back. The man with the goatee beard, whose name was Dr. Sullivan, listened to his questions and his anxieties and the contents of his dreams and told him a great deal about his condition, at least in general terms.

After he went home with Anna he read books about it, and visited websites, and joined an online head injury support group. Everybody told him he was having a very normal recovery. And they always added that things could have been a great deal worse. Ivor wondered if anybody had ever been made to feel better by being told that things could have been worse.

It would be quite a while before he could return to work, they told him. The concept meant nothing to him, he didn’t even know what work it was that he had done. The most embarrassing aspect though was living with Anna. She seemed a pleasant enough woman, good-looking for her years, kind, attentive and well-meaning, but he didn’t know her and was embarrassed about sharing her bed and living so closely with this total stranger. She seemed ill at ease with him too, and at times quite depressed, which was entirely understandable, but she was obviously determined to carry on. There was a forced cheerfulness overlying the depression that he found a barrier to real contact. He presumed that he must have had some kind of sex life with her before, but felt no arousal now, or even, If he was honest, very much affection. Just that wretched awkwardness. He had been more at ease with the nurses. He would not have admitted it but it was a relief when she went off to work each morning and left him to the Internet and the TV and the never-ending walks around the nearby streets and the parks. He liked walking, and it was high summer, with the manicured suburbs looking their best.

He was hesitant about asking her questions, for he could see that it added to her distress, but she was his only reliable source of information about his former life. Because his memory let him down so frequently he found that he needed to write her answers in a notebook, but tried not to do it in front of her. He felt like an actor who was a very slow study trying to learn an exceptionally difficult part. At least he did not have a deadline, there would be no first night. Slowly, painfully, as a complete outsider, he built up a dossier on this other person named Ivor Chenkov and the life he had led.

The happy dreams of childhood became less frequent and the dreams of imprisonment almost constant and ever more dark and elaborate. Sometimes it would be a cell with bars on the windows, with the forest and the river outside and the boy whom he knew to be his friend playing by himself, netting fish far away by the riverbank. Sometimes he would be trapped in a dark cave where water dripped from the ceiling, completely alone. He seemed to spend all of his time searching for an exit, which was never there.

Dr. Sullivan, turned out to be his principal ally and support. They continued meeting twice a week, and their conversations ranged from Ivor’s dreams over the generalities of head injuries and the particulars of Ivor’s situation. To Dr. Sullivan it was completely familiar territory, he could be matter-of-fact about it all.

Ivor learned that his family history had been quite exotic. His father had been a Russian chess champion, Yaraslav Chenkov, who had defected to the West in the 1950s after defeating the American challenger for his title. He had settled down with an English widow who held American citizenship, and they had lived in New England. A few years after Ivor’s birth they had separated and he had come to real England with his mother, who had remarried and had a further child, a daughter. He was able to find out without much trouble that both of his parents were dead. About his half sister he was able to discover nothing. He wondered if he might have inherited any chess talent himself. Most of all he wondered why it meant so little to him, why none of it triggered the tiniest recollection.

After a few days of his aimless daytime life, a snippet of conversation on an afternoon TV show became the very first thing to trigger a faint memory. It was a discussion about the film Casablanca, an argument over whether anybody had actually said the words “Play it again, Sam” which had entered popular mythology. It was the name “Sam” that hit him like a slap in the face. There had been somebody named Sam in his past life. That name was more significant to him than Ivan or Chenkov or Anna. He couldn’t be more specific but he was certain that he was right. Perhaps he had found the first link in the chain. He wrote the name in his notebook and circled it many times until the pen began to cut through the page.

Ivor’s childhood dreams were beginning to take precedence over the imprisonment ones again. He had played in a tree-house, and wandered among guests at a barbecue in the huge grounds of what he now knew to be Yaraslav’s house in New Hampshire. The dreams were becoming more like memories, the images clearer and more constant. If he returned to that house now he was sure that he would be able to find his way around its grounds, walk to the rope swing that overhung the little stream, perhaps find a clue to the loneliness that he always felt in the dreams, even when the house was crowded with people.

He learned all he could about the accident that had wiped all these things from his mind. Ivor had been driving on a country road late at night and had been involved in a head-on collision with another car, whose driver had not survived. There was no way of determining blame, but the other driver’s blood had tested positive for alcohol and for cocaine, so it was naturally assumed that he had been the one who had lost control. What had Ivor been doing on that road? What had been the purpose of the journey? Nobody seemed to know, which heightened his curiosity about the incident. Rightly or wrongly he felt that the key to everything must lie with that ill-fated drive. Anna seemed to tighten when he asked her about it. “No, Ive,” she assured him, “nobody knew where you were going or why.”

A mistress? Storming off after a row? A secret meeting? Some kind of double life? There had to be a clue here. He waited for a better moment, when they had eaten and were relaxing, and raised the subject again: “Is that true? Do you really have no idea?”

She swallowed hard. “I can think of… possibilities, naturally, but no, I don’t know. Have you got ideas of your own about it? Things you can remember”

He shook his head. “Can you take me to the exact spot?”

“What… right now?”

“Maybe tonight. When it’s dark. If it’s dark it should look the same. Maybe I’ll remember something.”


Ivor sat by Anna’s side and stared at the piece of road for a long time. There was very little to see. It was a corner on a narrow unlit country road with a warning sign for the coming bend. There were trees and fenced-off fields on either side, and a small farmhouse with lights in its three windows just visible directly ahead, between the trees on the crest of a hill. An unremarkable fragment of rural Essex. He was about to apologize for asking her to drive him to the spot, when the first flashback occurred. It was nothing more than a momentary recollection of two dazzling lights approaching him. The first image that he had been able to regain from his entire life prior to the accident. “I’ve remembered something,” he told her with a childish excitement, “Lights. Bright lights coming towards me.” She squeezed his hand and smiled. It was the first time he could recall seeing her smile.


Dr. Sullivan was interested in his breakthrough but less encouraging than Ivor had hoped. “It’s quite unusual for events close to the accident to come back first,” he explained. “Often they’re the last thing a person in your situation is able to recall. It makes me wonder if it could be a false memory.”

Ivor shook his head. “I’m certain it’s real,” he insisted. “When I close my eyes and think about it, I can see it very clearly, even now. I can see the three lights of the house in the distance, the road sign for the bend, and then the lights of the other car coming towards me.”

Sullivan nodded approvingly. “And what do you do then?”


“Yes. You’re driving a car and another one is coming towards you fast. What do you do? Do you swerve? Do you brake?”

Suddenly, Ivor realised something that had not occurred to him before. “I’m not driving,” he whispered, “I’ve got no control. I think I must be in the passenger seat.”


The young policewoman called Ivor back to the desk from the chair where he had been waiting and told him that Sergeant Francis would see him now in the interview room. He entered the sparsely furnished cubicle and sat down opposite the jovial policeman.

“How are you now, Mr. Chenkov?” He greeted him.

“Much better, thank you. Sergeant, there’s something I need to ask you.” He hesitated. “My memory has been coming back a little, and there’s something about that night that doesn’t seem to fit in.”


“Sergeant, is it remotely possible that there were two people in the car?”

The sergeant pursed his lips. “Well now, there’s an interesting one. The passenger seat didn’t take as much force as the driver’s seat. But we didn’t find any evidence of another person. No blood or traces of clothing or anything. I suppose someone could have been completely uninjured and left the scene of the accident before we got there, but it’s highly unlikely. It does happen occasionally though. One person gets cut to pieces, another walks away without a scratch. Why? Do you think you had a passenger that night?”

“No, Officer. I think I was the passenger.”

“Ah, now that possibility I can rule out. You were still in the driver’s seat when we got there, the air bag was jammed into your ribs and your blood was all over the front of the car. You couldn’t have been placed in that seat after the accident. You were the driver all right.”

Ivor gave a slightly disappointed nod. “Thank you, Sergeant.”


After encountering this dead end, Ivor 2, which was the name he mentally adopted so that he could distinguish clearly between his pre and post accident self, switched his investigations from the facts of Ivor’s life to Ivor’s personality. A lot of the material he had read spoke of personality change resulting from head injury. Had this happened in his own case, he wondered? The first indication that he was on to something was Anna’s reaction to the question—she started to cry. His own reaction surprised him too. He embraced her for the first time.

“You’re a lot nicer,” she told him when the tears had subsided, “Ivor wasn’t a very nice person.” He waited for her to continue but she needed more encouragement.

“In what way? Tell me about him.”

“I’m not supposed to do this. Dr. Sullivan said that I mustn’t allow you to think of yourself as two different people. It seems head injury victims often do that. They become schizophrenic, refuse to acknowledge the person they used to be. It’s something he doesn’t want me to encourage.”

“Anna, I don’t think you realize how little I understand about… my life…” he had to stop himself from saying Ivor’s life “before the accident. I’ve got to have the facts if I’m ever going to make sense of it.”

She continued to embrace him and to his surprise he found that he liked the sensation. “You were quite a harsh person. There was no… softness about you. You were confident, and decisive, and you never talked about your feelings. You were secretive about things and very difficult to get close to. The truth is, I didn’t know the old you much better than you do yourself… now.”

He took the information in and turned it over in his mind. He was tempted to ask why she had ever wanted to marry a man like that, but decided to let it pass. He came up with a better approach.

“What about my work. We haven’t talked much about that. I used to work in some kind of finance office, didn’t I?”

“You were the financial director of the London operation of a big American company. I never understood what it was all about but you were an important man.”

“I think I would like to go back there. Pay them a visit, see if it jogs my memory.”


Ivor’s visit to his previous place of work was an eye-opener in many ways. People were deferential, not just out of politeness but he suspected out of fear. He was the head of a whole department that occupied an entire floor in a very imposing building in the commercial heart of the city. His former office was enormous. He had no idea what the department existed to do. Everybody enquired how he was and when they could expect him back at work. He told them he had no idea. That wasn’t entirely true—in his heart he knew that he would never be able to come back here and do whatever it was that Ivor 1 used to do. He felt like a child who had been invited to come to work for a day with his father to see how Daddy spent his time. The world that these people inhabited was to him completely incomprehensible.

Socialising with people who meant nothing to him, whose names slipped from his memory as soon as they had introduced themselves, was a wearing and stressful experience. He asked to be left for a moment to sit at his old desk, expecting to be left alone. He buried his head in his hands, but when he looked up an attractive young woman of vaguely Indian appearance was sitting by the side of the desk. Her eyes were soft and her presence unthreatening. “I suppose you must be my secretary?” he enquired gently.

“Yes, Mr. Chenkov. I’m Baljeet. Can I do anything for you? Can I get you anything?”

He looked at her and thought for a moment. “There is something you could do for me that would be absolutely invaluable. You could tell me truthfully what kind of man I was when I sat at this desk and did whatever it was I used to do. I don’t want to be flattered, I want the absolute truth.”

Her eyes flickered as she met his gaze. “Sir?”

“I mean it, Baljeet. It’s all gone, you see. The man you knew, your old boss… he doesn’t exist any more. You can tell me about him without holding anything back. It would mean a lot to me.”

With a little more encouragement, Baljeet began to talk. Ivor 1 had not been an easy man to work for any more than he had been an easy man to be married to. The office had not been a happy place. The company made its money by asset-stripping: buying failing enterprises and selling them off piecemeal, finding ways around redundancy payments and pension commitments, bankrupting their creditors and throwing their loyal employees on to the scrap heap. Ivor 1 had been a genius at this game, he had made more money for his company than anybody else they had ever employed. His ruthlessness had been legendary. His nickname had been “The Terminator”.

A lot of this did not really surprise Ivor 2, it fitted in with the way people seemed to react to his presence and regard him. But he did learn one thing that he could not have predicted. Baljeet approached the subject very carefully and unwillingly, probably imagining that she was being lured into some kind of trap, but with Ivor 2’s gentle encouragement she eventually let him know that there had been irregularities in Ivor 1’s book-keeping to which the company turned a blind eye. Put crudely, he was skimming off the top. Where millions are changing hands, the occasional hundred thousand can be lost in the small print at the bottom of the auditor’s report without anybody losing too much sleep. At the level at which Ivor 1 operated it was almost expected. A successful company is not going to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs just because it hides away a little cache of gold dust at the bottom of its nest.

Ivor thanked Baljeet profusely. He admitted that he no longer understood the workings of the company sufficiently well to arrange for her promotion, but if she wanted to leave and look for another job he would give her the most enthusiastic reference she could imagine, on company headed notepaper. His career here was over. It was the best he could do. Baljeet glowed with delight, and he could probably have kissed her without risking a negative reaction. He left for his home with the curious knowledge that he was a wealthy man, if he ever remembered where that gold dust was stashed.


For some days, Ivor’s project stalled. It didn’t bother him a great deal, because things had started to ease in his relationship with Anna, and they were even having tentative, slightly self-conscious sex and drawing comfort from long, intimate embraces with very few words. Anna he found liked to be held quietly until she fell asleep in his arms. More than lovers, Ivor realised, they were becoming friends. After their first love-making Anna had cried and told him that she had not been a good wife, that she had betrayed him, and that she was sorry. Ivor almost laughed. “Thank heavens you had somebody in your life a bit nicer than that shit Ivor!” he responded, and gave her a hearty squeeze.

“You forgive me then? Really?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I forgive you. Go in peace and sin no more. Or if you do sin, at least keep me informed.” She smiled but that sadness was still there, just a fraction beneath the surface.

The next real development came in the form of a phone call while Anna was at work. The man spoke very quietly and had a foreign accent of some kind so that Ivor had to concentrate to make out what he was saying. “I was expecting to hear from you, Ivor.”

“Oh, didn’t you know? I had an accident…”

“But you’re home now, right? You’re better. Your payment is overdue.”

“Payment for what?”

There was a pause. “Are you playing games with me? Please don’t do that.”

Ivor paused for too long, unable to think of anything to say. The line went dead.

It hadn’t occurred to him before how precarious his position was. If Ivor 1’s secretary knew what he had been up to no doubt other people did as well. And it sounded as though one of them could prove it and was a blackmailer. He was so silent and pensive in Anna’s arms that night that by the morning she had got him to tell her everything.

“Surely it can’t happen,” she had argued, “you can’t go to jail for something that another person did?”

“It wasn't another person, Anna. Not in the eyes of the law. I’m beginning to understand what Dr. Sullivan meant. This doesn’t give you a second chance. It isn’t a rebirth.”


The following day was a Saturday so Anna didn’t have to go to work. They spent the time quietly together, cooking, cooperating on a few domestic tasks, and took a relaxing shower together which led to a passionate session in bed. Ivor seemed to have got over his inhibitions at last and it was the best and most tender sex he could remember having.

In the evening, at Ivor’s request, they sat down together at the computer to see what else could be discovered about Ivor 1’s earlier life, beyond the little that he had told Anna.

Although Anna seemed reluctant to delve, and urged Ivan to concentrate more on their future together and less on the past, she was a lot more skilled than Ivor at using the search tools to unearth buried fragments of information. His research notes swelled. His father Yaraslav had been a colourful character in the chess world, though his career had been short-lived. World champion for less than a year, defeated by the American whose title he had won, then the defection and the marriage, and a year later a comeback match against the same man in which Yaraslav had a breakdown of some kind and was unable to continue. It was a long time ago now, and these were tiny incidents during an era dominated by America’s involvement in the Korean War and the beginning of the East/West nuclear stalemate that was to terrify all humanity for so long, but with careful plodding through newspaper archives they were able to follow Yaraslav’s deteriorating mental health and eventual incarceration in a long stay mental hospital a few years before his death in 1988.

Ivor would have been seven years old when he came to England with his mother. But the mother and son had not been celebrities and the Internet contained no reference to them or to the fate of his half sister.

It was while Anna was out of the room making coffee and sandwiches that Ivor happened on the most significant snippet of information of all. When she returned and kissed the back of his neck she found him engrossed in an article from a scientific magazine of the 1990s. It seemed completely unconnected with their research, something about early Russian experiments with steroids for athletes, then she spotted his father’s name and put down the tray.

As well as the enhancement of physical abilities, Russian medics of this period believed that mental performance could be improved chemically. Yaraslav Chenkov, the Russian chess champion, is believed to have been given the drug cotalin, derived from a rare species of Central American mushroom, to increase his powers of concentration. There were allegations made at his divorce that he had continued to use the drug and had even given it to his young son in an attempt to produce a new chess champion. It was side effects of cotalin that were believed responsible for the mental symptoms that caused his breakdown in the 1953 world chess championship and eventually led to…

Anna looked at him, an alarmed expression on her face.

“Cotalin,” he said quietly, “please help me look up the drug cotalin.”


Ivor looked tense as he sat upright on Dr. Sullivan’s leather easy chair. Sullivan rested his head on his knuckles and viewed him with puzzlement.

“Cotalin? What on earth makes you ask about that?”

“I’ll explain. It’s a long story. But it really is very important. There’s almost nothing about it on the Internet.”

Sullivan seemed to consider whether or not he would cooperate. Eventually he spoke. “It was one of those humbug drugs that were around when I was a boy. I haven’t heard the name for years. The nearest modern equivalent would be the amphetamines. Students used to take it before exams because they thought it would make them more intelligent. It was something to do with magic mushrooms. But of course like all these things it fried the brain sooner or later. I can look it up for you. Are you sure you don’t want to tell me what your interest is?”

“I think that I may have been given it by my father, when I was very young.”

Sullivan’s expression changed instantly. He went to the bookcase behind him and started to look through a multi-volume pharmaceutical guide. He took a volume back to the desk and read for some moments before he spoke again. “Yes, pretty much as I said. It was never licensed for medical use anywhere, but experiments were carried out, both in Russia and the USA. The way it worked—let me put this in plain language—was by creating partitions in the brain. Cutting off one process from another, so that a person could have superhuman concentration on one task for a short period. When the drug wore off they often couldn’t even remember what they’d been doing.” He looked down at the book again. “It was unpredictable and highly dangerous. It could cause symptoms of psychosis which could recur later spontaneously. Although it was never available commercially there were individuals who manufactured and sold it illegally in many parts of the world. Some of the people who took it entered a permanent state resembling severe autism.” He closed the book. “That means they went off into a world of their own. Probably spent the rest of their lives counting the roses on the wallpaper. It isn’t good, Ivor. A man would have to be a monster to give something like that to a young boy.”

“Is it addictive? Could the boy develop a dependency?”

“Almost certainly. But I don’t think you have to worry about that now. It hasn’t been manufactured anywhere for at least forty years.”


Ivor knew that the phone was going to ring and he wasn’t disappointed. When it did he motioned to Anna and she joined him on the sofa. He held the receiver at an angle so that she could hear too.

“My good friend Ivor,” said the foreign voice, which he now perceived as totally malevolent, “have you recovered your memory yet?”

“Just partially. You have to believe that, it’s true. You’ll have to tell me where we’re supposed to meet… and how much money I have to bring.”

“I’ll be waiting for you at midnight. It’s a double consignment. Bring fifty thousand pounds, used notes. Bring it to the house.”

“The house?”

“You can’t have forgotten that. The house where you had your accident. I’ll be looking forward to our meeting.”

The voice disappeared, leaving the buzz of the dialling tone. Ivor looked at his wife. “Did you hear that? A double consignment. This isn’t blackmail. It’s that drug, cotalin. I’m sure of it. Ivor must have been using it again, or selling it or something. Fifty thousand pounds in cash. How could Ivor have got his hands on money like that, in just a few hours?”

“There’s a safe. Didn’t you know?” Ivor shook his head. She led him to the small room that Ivor once used as an office and lifted a large picture down from the wall. Behind it was the door of a safe with a keypad combination lock.

“I don’t suppose you have the least idea what the combination is?” Anna opened her hands in a gesture of total ignorance.

“Are you going to the house?” she asked.

“What’s the point? I don’t have the money and I don’t want the merchandise. But I might send the police. Try to get him closed down. He’s obviously a dangerous man. The trouble is, I’m not certain that what he’s doing is illegal.” He led her back to the sitting room as he spoke. “You see, cotalin isn’t a controlled substance. It’s just a historical curiosity. It doesn’t appear on any register, or list of drugs. If he’s still making it somewhere, it might need new legislation to stop him.”

“But what if he decides to come after you – to collect this money he says you owe him?”

“Well, if we can open the safe, maybe we can pay him off once and for all. Tell him we have no more need of his services.” He thought hard for a few moments. “There must be some way to open a safe. I mean, I’m the legitimate owner. I’ve forgotten the combination. It must have happened before. Let’s contact the manufacturer…”


There were three of them at the door, a uniformed police officer, a tall stern-looking plainclothes policeman, and the diminutive rotund man whom he knew to be the safe company's master locksmith. They introduced themselves and showed their ID, but Ivor didn’t listen to the names. Anna offered to make tea, which they all declined. He led the little procession into Ivor 1’s office, where the picture was still on the floor revealing the safe door.

“I want you to be entirely clear on this procedure,” the locksmith explained in a formal tone, “even though this is your safe and your house, I am not permitted to open it while you are in the room. The police officers will stay with me during the opening process and will make an inventory of everything found in the safe, which all three of us will then sign. We will ask you to sign the inventory also when the items are returned to you. I will then give you your new combination in a sealed envelope. Is that entirely clear?”

“Yes. Thank you. Entirely.”

Ivor returned to the lounge and waited. Quite a long time seemed to pass. He took a seat alongside Anna. At last the door opened and the three men re-emerged, the locksmith carrying an official-looking form and the uniformed officer a small plain cardboard box.

“Mr. Chenkov,” the plainclothes man asked politely, “may we talk to you in private?”

“If you like, but there’s nothing I wouldn’t want Anna to hear.”

“As you wish. Would you care to explain to me what this is?”

The uniformed officer handed the cardboard box to Ivor and he gently removed the top. The space inside was divided into square sections by interlocking strips of cardboard, and some of the spaces contained rubber-topped phials of a clear liquid suitable for filling a clinical syringe.

“I think they contain a drug called cotalin. They’re probably extremely old. My father used this substance back in the 1950s and 60s. It made him mentally ill. I’ve no idea why he… I kept them. You’re more than welcome to take them away and dispose of them. They’re just a kind of rather gruesome keepsake, I suppose.”

The senior policeman paused for a moment, clearly uncertain how to respond. “They aren’t on any list of controlled substances,” Ivor continued, “You’re welcome to check them out. They’re just a relic from a very strange period in my childhood. I would prefer that you took them with you. I have no use for them.” He closed the box and handed it back to the man in uniform.

The senior officer looked at him suspiciously but seemed at a loss for a comment. “As you wish, Sir,” he said at last. “As you probably know, the safe also contained a substantial sum of money, some documents, and this.”

Ivor hadn’t noticed that the policeman had been holding a black hard-backed book, like a cash-book or desk diary. He handed it to Ivor, who opened it eagerly and flicked from page to page. “It’s my father’s journal,” he said, as much to himself as to the others, “the only real link with him that I have left. It has great… sentimental value.”


The journal, as Ivor had hoped, filled-in practically all the missing pieces in the jigsaw. It told the story of a former world chess champion obsessed with the events surrounding the moment when, in front of all the world, he had turned into a gibbering incoherent wreck and been led off the platform into obscurity. He was totally convinced that the key to everything lay in finding the purest source of his miracle-drug, certain that all the side effects were the result of impurities. A lot of what Yaraslav had to say was pretty irrational and unsettling, but it was at least consistent. He had lost his own chance, he knew that he would never regain the full power of his own mental faculties, but through his son Ivor he had been granted a second chance. Ivor must be tutored by the world’s finest chess minds, his chess education must start before he is able to read, he must be protected from all distractions, and most of all, he must have a regular and carefully monitored input of the very purest cotalin.

Yaraslav had started to put his programme into effect in New Hampshire where he was living with Ivor’s mother, but the divorce in 1976 took the child away from his influence, or should have. Ivor would have been seven years old. Just about the point at which Ivor 2’s dreams of forest paths and tree houses stopped.

There were a few entries relating to Ivor’s chess progress in England. It was clear that Yaraslav was paying for some kind of tuition, and that the boy’s mother was not preventing this from happening. The boy himself was so enthralled by the game that he no doubt begged and pleaded until she gave in and allowed the sessions to take place. One sentence in particular caught Ivor’s eye in this early section. “I am told that he no longer talks about Sam.” Sam. That name again. Ivor filed it away at the back of his mind.

There was a point just after this at which Yaraslav‘s entries became far less frequent and different in tone. The boy Ivor had reached his teenage years, and had become good enough to represent his school and later his county in club-level chess competitions, but the spark of genius was not present. The last few entries were heavy with Yaraslav’s disappointment. His interest in his son quickly faded. With no rise to domination of the chess world to chronicle, Yaraslav’s interest in keeping the journal soon faded too. In the very final entry however there was a highly significant sentence: “maybe the dose was too low all along”.

From this sentence, it was obvious that Yaraslav had found a way to maintain the supply of cotalin after the boy left America. There was only one way that he could have done this. Through the chess tutor. Between them they had fooled Ivor’s mother and kept him permanently drugged-up with this sinister quack miracle drug throughout his whole developing years.

Ivor was appalled. He searched through the diary for any indication of who the tutor had been. There were one or two clues but no actual name. He was a Russian, somebody Yaraslav had tutored himself for a while before he left that country, and who had later become a Grand Master but never a serious contender for the championship. And of course he had to be somebody living in England. Ivor followed it up in the only way he could think of. He telephoned FIDE, the World Chess Federation, and said that he was anxious to contact his boyhood chess tutor but now that his mother had passed away he had only a dim recollection of who the man was. At first the official he spoke to was suspicious, but on hearing that Ivor was the son of Yaraslav Chenkov his whole demeanour changed and he provided three likely suggestions, complete with contact details. One of the addresses jumped out at Ivor. It was the cottage in rural Essex, a few hundred yards from where he had had his accident.

“Bingo!” he said to Anna as he put down the phone, giving her a playful kiss on the forehead “I’ve cracked it! I know everything now. Who was supplying the poison, why he was doing it, who was paying him to do it—everything. The bits I don’t know I can fill in pretty easily. Ivor never made it as a chess champion so he turned his talents to making money. He was damned good at it, if not entirely honest. He kept on taking the drug because he believed that he needed it, that all his abilities came from it. When his Dad stopped funding his habit he started funding it himself, out of the money he was skimming off the top at work. He had it all worked out. I say ‘him’ but we both know I mean me—but a different me. I don’t care what Dr. Sullivan says, we’re two different people. Then, the accident. Ivor 1 turns into Ivor 2. He has no use for what the drug-pusher is selling. The drug-pusher gets upset. Pretty simple really, isn’t it?”

She nodded, but her heart seemed to be heavy. “Yes, Ivor, pretty simple. What are you going to do now?”

“We’ve got to go out to him, speak to him, pay off whatever Ivor owes and tell him we don’t want any more. The gravy train stops here. If he won’t play ball we’ll threaten him with exposure. I don’t think he’ll want that.”

She nodded. “We don’t have to go right away, do we?”

"We didn’t keep last night’s appointment. I think he’ll phone again tonight. Will you drive me? You can wait in the car, I’ll do the talking.”

Anna seemed very hesitant. “It might be dangerous, Ive. Maybe we should… I don’t know.”

“Trust me, Anna. He wants my money. He isn’t going to shoot me. I’m the goose that lays the golden eggs. And he thinks I’m addicted to that stuff.”

“I… suppose you’re right.”

Anna remained unusually silent for the rest of the evening. Shortly before midnight, the phone rang as expected. “Ivor,” said the foreign voice reproachfully, “you let me down. You didn’t keep our appointment.”

“There were problems, Vladimir. But we do need to talk.”

“So you’ve remembered my name. That’s good. When can I expect you?”

“It’s a forty-five minute drive. Expect me within the hour.”

“I shall look forward to it.”

The phone went dead. Anna watched him closely but still didn’t speak. “You’re upset about this, aren’t you? You don’t think I should go.”

She didn’t reply right away. “Ive, there’s so much about… your other self… that you don’t know. He was such a devious man. He lived such a complicated life…”

“That’s why I’m going, Anna. To end some of the complication. To get myself out of the clutches of this drug-pusher. If we don’t make a clean break he’s never going to leave us alone.”

She turned towards the kitchen, her expression heavier than ever. “I’ll make us a drink before we go,” she said.

“What is this? The parting glass? Aren’t you being a bit melodramatic? This is a good development, Anna. Be happy. Relax.”

She returned with a glass of Ivor’s favourite single malt and a fruit juice for herself. “What will we drink to?” Ivor asked, taking the glass.

She hesitated. “To… loyalty,” she said hesitantly. Ivor laughed and took a generous mouthful. “And long life!” he added jovially.


Ivor felt increasingly drowsy on the journey to Vladimir’s house. The gentle motion of the car made him think of New Hampshire and the tree house moving in the wind. He could see painting things and a few picture books on the crude wooden floor, smell the smoke from Yaraslav‘s barbecue somewhere in the garden below, hear the raised voices of house guests and the laughter of the neighbourhood children. Why didn’t they play with him, he wondered? He had a tree house, and a proper two-wheel bicycle, and a train set…

The car came to a halt and Ivor looked up to see that they were in a small paved courtyard right outside the cottage with the three windows that he had seen from that fateful stretch of road. The front door was open and the slightly hunched figure of an old man was silhouetted in the doorway. He was by no means the stereotypical drug baron. Ivor felt unthreatened. “Wait here. I won’t be very long,” he said to Anna and stepped from the car.

The old man held out his hand in greeting like a long lost friend. “Ivor. Good to see you again. Your accident has left no scars.”

He refused to take the hand that was offered. “There may be no scars but things have changed. We need to talk. Can I come inside?”

“Please do.” He followed the old man into a brightly lit and well appointed sitting room. “Please take a seat. I believe you have a liking for expensive Scotch whisky. I bought some specially for you. I prefer vodka myself.”

“Thank you, I don’t want a drink.”

Vladimir motioned him into an easy chair and sat down in the facing one. He was quite an elegant man, well groomed and with a confident, cultivated air. “I was a good friend of your father, you know.” he offered.

“Yes, I do know.” Ivor paused to collect his thoughts. “Vladimir, there is something I need to make quite clear to you. I have no further need of cotalin. Before my accident it seemed that I had a need for the stuff or at least I believed that I had—but now, that is no longer the case. I’m closing my account with you. Let me know how much I owe you.”

“Closing your account. Goodness me. Such a finality I hear in those words. Are you sure you wouldn’t like that drink?”

“Quite sure. I had one before I came out and it’s made my head a bit groggy.”

“Then I’ll just pour one for myself.” Vladimir got up and poured a generous drink and as he returned he smiled at Ivor like a kindly old uncle and raised his finger. “You should stick to Vodka. Much more pure.”

“Thank you for your advice. Now, have you heard what I said to you?”

Vladimir nodded, a little too enthusiastically. “Oh yes, yes, I heard everything.” He paused. “Now, perhaps you would like to listen while I talk. When you read your father’s diary, did you come across anything about your boyhood friend Sam?”

“How did you know I’d read the diary?”

“Well, you’ve had it since you were about fifteen years old, why would you not have read it?”

“Yes, of course, I’m not thinking straight. Sam. Yes, he said something about me not mentioning Sam any more. Something a bit cryptic. Who was Sam?”

“I think you know.”

Ivor’s eyes narrowed. “I’ve had dreams about Sam. I can’t get his name out of my head. He seemed to be there—and yet not there—all the time when I was a boy. His name is so familiar, and yet I can never see his face…”

The old man turned very slowly and pointed to a full length mirror on the wall by the door. Ivor’s stared incredulously. “You mean… that I’m Sam, don’t you?” There was no need for Vladimir to reply. “Of course. You’re absolutely right. I’m Sam, and I was there when Ivor was a boy. I think I’ve known it all along but not understood it. Who am I, Vladimir? Who was Sam?”

He took a generous sip of his vodka before he replied. “Sam was Ivor’s friend. His imaginary friend.”

The colour drained from Ivor’s face. “What are you trying to tell me?”

“You don’t exist… may I call you Sam? You never did, except in Ivor’s imagination. He was an only child and had a very solitary childhood. It was almost inevitable that he would invent an imaginary friend. He talked about you a lot when he first came to England. He would have been about seven or eight years old. Do you want to know why you were called Sam? Ivor saw some TV programme where they talked about Uncle Sam. They meant America of course, but Ivor didn’t know that. Uncle Sam seemed to be a kindly caring person that everyone loved. So he created his own Uncle Sam. It was an interesting creation because most children invent imaginary friends very much like themselves, but Ivor had so little contact with boys of his own age that when he came to invent an imaginary friend he invented an adult. You. Good old Uncle Sam. Not a fully realised adult, as you may have discovered. A child’s conception of an adult. All virtue, no vice. Asexual. A little bit… what shall I say? Intellectually challenged.”

Ivor’s head was throbbing with information that he could not take in, feelings that threatened to overpower him and shut down his mind. He was fighting not just for understanding but for consciousness itself. Darkness was pulling him down, trying to engulf him. “That isn’t possible… Imaginary friends are… imaginary…”

“Quite so, but you have to remember how cotalin works. It creates partitions in the mind. Discrete processes can take place behind individual partitions without affecting one another. It splits one mind into two, or many minds. And what is a human being but the collective name for a group of mental processes? The truth is, Ivor is no more real than Sam, just as I am no more real than Anna, or the president of Russia. We are all just the firings of tiny brain cells, and the pattern of their interconnection. Nobody is more than that, or less than that. But in your case, the miracle of human identity has been set in motion twice within the same human skull. Your head contains two people, Ivor and Sam. It doesn’t really matter which came first, both of them are there now. But there is only one set of motor neurones, only one body. Only one of you can have control at any given time. And the switch, the thing that turns one of you off and the other one on, is this.” He held up a phial of clear liquid, identical to the ones Ivor had seen in the cardboard box. From a desk drawer he produced a disposable syringe and carefully pushed the needle through the rubber top of the phial. “So you see Sam—or Ivor—we can’t close your account just yet. As you are fond of saying yourself, you are the goose that lays the golden eggs.” He pulled out the syringe, held it upside down, and carefully eliminated the air. “As a matter of interest, you didn’t suffer any brain damage from that minor concussion in the car. Your mental state caused the accident, it was not the result of the accident. We had a problem with our supplier, we let things drift for too long. The new supply has only just reached me, in fact. You were trying to function on too low a dose, and because of that, the switch flipped. And at a very inconvenient moment.”

Ivor tried to get up from the seat and found that his legs wouldn’t respond. At last it got through to his sluggish consciousness that the drink Anna had given him was spiked. Consciousness was diminishing like the sand running through an hour glass. The world was fading out.

Suddenly Anna was right in front of him, trying to get to him, watching him with those big dark pleading eyes, while Vladimir held her back. Tears were trickling down her face. “I told you I had betrayed you,” she said quietly, “and you said you forgave me, but you didn’t understand. I never wanted to do this, Ivor. I never wanted to lose you again… I want to tell you everything, before you go. Vladimir is my father, you see. You married your chess tutor’s daughter. And you really are the golden goose. We can’t let Ivor die. He has to live again and get his old job back. People in the West only hear about the rich Russians, they don’t realise how many poor ones there are, how hard it’s been for ordinary people since the Soviet Union fell. Ivor wasn’t just supporting the two of us, he was keeping a whole village alive. So many dependants… good people... innocent people… We can’t let him abandon us. I’m truly sorry. You’re a good man, and I think I even love you a little bit, but that’s the way it has to be.”

Vladimir released Anna who sat on the bed and wept. He walked up to Ivor’s helpless figure with the syringe in his hand. “We won’t be meeting again, Sam. Please, don’t think too badly of us…”