When a Russian warship arrives in Portsmouth Dockyard, a handsome uniformed officer strides down the gangway to meet Marina Peters, an English girl of Russian ancestry, who had discovered him on a dating website. She works for the Royal Navy, so they have much in common.
What they do not know is that their romantic quayside tryst is being observed by agents from MI5, leading to a series of dramatic events involving the security services of the UK and USA.
Marina, a bright and intelligent thirty-year-old career woman, has been seeking something new in her life. So it is with a mixture of expectation and anxiety that she has “waited for her ship to come home”. But what follows is an unexpected introduction into the ruthless world of international espionage.
Like thousands of others over the years, Marina was waiting on the sea wall by the old Semaphore Tower at the entrance to Portsmouth harbour, peering anxiously out to sea. Through the October morning mist, she was looking for that first glimpse of an approaching ship, just as wives and girlfriends had done since the years of sailing ships, always hopeful they were bringing their menfolk safely home.
But unlike all the others before her, Marina was waiting to welcome a man she had never met.
After spending her childhood, schooldays and early working career in South London, Marina Peters now felt at home in Portsmouth, a vibrant and expanding city combining a long seafaring history with modern developments. As she waited, she reflected on how much she had enjoyed the first three years of her new life there and being by the sea. There were all the attractions of the resort area of Southsea – with its seafront and beaches and the ferries chugging their way to the Isle of Wight and Gosport – and the enticing sight of large cruise liners passing through the Solent to and from Southampton. And of course, there was the glamour of the Royal Navy, its ships and its sailors, and the always impressive Royal Marines.
She had made new friends in her office in the Portsmouth Dockyard, went to occasional parties and had started a couple of new relationships with interesting men she met –which had both fizzled out too soon. She signed up to join a local choir group, doing occasional concerts and widening her circle of friends. She enjoyed evenings at the cinema and tried not to become too dependent on the temptations of computer games and online shopping … until one life-changing evening.
Encouraged and intrigued by the experiences she heard about from others in her office, and from stories she read in magazines and newspapers, she decided to explore social media and dating websites.
Soon, she was hooked. Two or three times a week, at home in her small Southsea flat, she sat at her laptop computer late into the evening scanning the “find a friend” sites. In reality, she found very few pictures and descriptions which deserved more than a passing glance … until her attention focussed, one night, on Nikolai Aldanov. He was a handsome 35-year-old Russian, wearing a smart uniform, who said he was a widower with no children. He said he spoke good English and had special interests in literature and history and wanted to meet a lady who would help him to know more about these subjects, particularly from a British angle. But it was Marina’s own Russian ancestry which made her read this entry more than once.
Her grandparents, Vlad and Marina Petrov, were Russian immigrants to Britain in the 1930s. Through friends, they had both found work in the warehouse of a London company in the docklands importing fabrics from Eastern Europe and the Far East. They were ambitious and, after working hard for a couple of years, they had learned enough about the business to rent a small shop, with a flat above, in a South London suburb. And there, with their savings, they started a small shop retailing those imported fabrics.
It became a struggle in the years after the outbreak of war in September 1939, but they were accustomed to difficult times and kept going. They had two sons, Viktor and Anatoly, who were born during the early days of the war, and like so many East London families, they prayed and kept going and their home and business were fortunate to survive the wartime bombing unscathed.
In 1945, they were proud survivors and decided to become British citizens, Anglicising their name to Peters. It was Marina’s father, now Victor Peters, and her uncle, now called Andrew, who eventually followed in their parents’ footsteps and started work in the shop when they left school at 16. The fabrics business had flourished and expanded in the post-war rebuilding of London, and in the 1960s, Vlad retired, and his ambitious sons took over and continued to grow the business successfully.
The Peters family also grew. Victor married Shona, who had become one of his best customers. She was an Irish-born interior designer working in London’s West End, and they settled into a new and comfortable home in the Thamesside suburb of Putney. It was there, in the late 1980s, that all the family gathered to celebrate the arrival of Marina, the new baby who was given her grandmother’s name.
As she grew up, and especially at family gatherings, Marina was fascinated by the stories they told, particularly those about her ancestors’ struggles in the impoverished city of Voronezh in Southwest Russia and how her grandfather, Vlad Petrov, and his wife had decided to seek a new life in Britain. They were ambitious and bold and had heard stories from others in the town about the new opportunities to be found by travelling westwards.
And so, with few possessions and little money, the two of them had journeyed in stages across Europe by trains and buses and, finally, the cross-channel ferry to Dover. From there, tired and almost penniless, they had travelled by bus to seek out their only contact, “the friend of a friend” who lived in south London’s Russian community. These family conversations often went on to recall the story of how much of the home city they had left behind in 1935, had become a battle-scarred ruin in the Second World War; and how
many of their friends and relations back there had perished or were driven out to become homeless in the surrounding areas; and how Voronezh, ignored for many years, had
now been rebuilt into a thriving, modern metropolis. As she grew into her teens, Marina’s ambition to visit her roots grew stronger and stronger.