John Savage in therapy: an interview

Leigh Turner
Leigh Turner

John Savage: ‘I won’t talk more about what happened that winter in Moscow. It’s between me, the Office and – I guess the Russians know the whole story. Moscow was worse for Clare than it was for me, from the start. She suffered most. She’s dead. I’m alive.’

John Savage, formerly First Secretary, British Embassy Moscow: Transcript of trauma counselling, session 12

Note by Dr Bergbaum, MBACP – Snr Accred, interviewer: compared with the abuse of the earlier sessions (‘psychobabble,’ ‘PTSD onanism,’ ‘waste of ******* time,’) interspersed with silence, the subject seemed calm and open to discussion.

Bergbaum: ‘So, John, it’s good to see you again.’

JS: ‘Don’t give me that crap. We’re both being paid to sit here.’

B: ‘Let’s get to work.’

[Prolonged silence.]

JS: ‘Either way, I’m here. Obeying orders. Let’s get this over with.’

‘Sure, I’m being paid to listen. Your people think it would help you to talk to me about Moscow. But making things better gets me out of bed in the morning. I’m independent of your employers. I want to help you.’

‘Good for you. They’re my ex-employers.’

‘There’s no shame in trauma. Or bereavement.’

‘I don’t need help. The dreams have stopped. Mostly.’

‘Tell me more about the dreams.’

1992 Moscow statues

[Subject shakes head.]

‘Your employer has a duty of care. They need to make sure you’re as well as possible. Before you move on to something else.’

A provocation

‘The Office threw me out. Fired me.’ [First eye contact from subject. Sits up, squares shoulders. Physically appears fit, strong.] ‘Gross misconduct. Like I’d stolen something, or fiddled my expenses. It was a set-up from start to finish. A provocation, the Russians call it. A bull’s eye. Clare was collateral damage.’

‘Are you ready to talk about the truth? What really happened?’

‘You saw the video. The one in the woods. Me, and my agent. The whole world saw it. Gross misconduct, sure. How about “suicide dressed up as aggravated murder filmed live by hostile surveillance operatives”?’

‘That is their version of events. Propaganda. Fiction.’

‘There’s an HD version. You can hear the sound as I pull out the scalpel. You can see the blood spurting out. They don’t show her trying to give me the blade in the first place. They don’t show her naked legs, her bare feet, in the snow. It was minus twenty-five. They don’t show the carpentry nails.’

‘I have not seen the video.’

‘Yeah, right.’

‘How does their action make you feel?’

‘I won’t talk more about what happened that winter in Moscow. It’s between me, the Office and – I guess the Russians know the whole story. Moscow was worse for Clare than it was for me, from the start. She suffered most. She’s dead. I’m alive.’

‘What do you feel when you think about Clare?’

‘I like to think of her in Greece. Before we returned to Moscow for the last time. I have a picture. When everything was still normal.’

‘That’s good. What else?’

Fresh bread

‘The smell of fresh bread. I’d made breakfast. That morning. Before I left her for the last time. To go to – the place I went. Where it happened.’

‘Fresh bread.’

‘Fresh bread inside, fresh snow outside. I wasn’t thinking about Clare. I was thinking I would leave footprints in the snow. Me and – the person I was meeting.’ [Subject appears distressed.] ‘I wasn’t thinking about the woman I loved when I left her, I was thinking about my sodding work. My work killed her. I killed her, and the kid. I went out to work and left Clare alone.’

‘Her death was an accident.’

‘Clare killed herself. She blamed herself for what happened. Because she made that phone call after I left the flat, in Moscow. They were listening, of course, they recorded it, a joke about me going to see some woman. Afterwards they used it on their stupid video. Millions of viewers actually thought it was hilarious.’

‘It has been twelve months since you left Moscow. You have been on sick leave. You have had time to think about things. We have talked about the healing process. How do you feel about going back to work?’

‘Fine. I’m fine. It’ll be a different kind of work. Less stressful.’

‘The point is, you’ve made progress, John. You’re ready to go out into the world. To live again.’

‘Live again? Really? You call this living? How can I live again if I can’t love? How can I love again after what happened to Clare? Sure, sign me off. Say I’ve made progress. You’ve done your best. You’ll be paid. But no amount of crap therapy can erase the past – or bring Clare back. Let alone poor bloody —— ‘ [codename of agent redacted].


Note: the interview recorded here took place twelve months after the events in Moscow that led to the subject being dismissed by the Secret Intelligence Service on a charge of gross misconduct; and eleven months after the death of the subject’s wife, together with the couple’s unborn child.

John Savage: where to find out more

The above exchange, written specially for this blog, refers to John Savage’s experience in Moscow ten years before events in Ukraine described in my unpublished novel, “A Killing in Sevastopol”. In that novel, Savage is posted as a Foreign Office diplomat to the British embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, with unexpected consequences.

Several years after his posting in Ukraine, Savage is posted to the British Consulate General in Istanbul, where the events described in my Istanbul thriller “Palladium” take place.

John Savage, together with Helen Gale, the hero of my Berlin thriller “Blood Summit“, will return.

For a look at all my books, browse my Amazon author page.


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