‘Do you have any idea what you’re doing?’ I exclaimed. ‘You will infuriate so many people, you will have so many new enemies, you cannot even imagine! Look, you have an apartment in Valencia, so go there and write – don’t do it in Russia! And please, make several copies of your book and documents, and store them among reliable friends. And make complete backups each week – your computer might be hacked.’
As usual, Nikita pushed back against my tirade. ‘There are no computer files – I’m writing with pen on paper. I want to thank you again for your lovely fiftieth birthday present, this beautiful Montblanc pen. I’m writing my book in longhand – just like Balzac!’
‘But why are you doing it in Russia?’ I said again.
‘Calm down – I’ve only jotted down about fifty pages of notes. No one could possibly perceive that to be a threat,’ argued Nikita.
‘In that case, please take pictures or scans of all your pages, for your own security and for backups!’ I yelled.
But Nikita had no intention of taking my advice, or of leaving his home at the Ozero Krugloye resort ten miles outside Moscow, where he lived with his 85-year-old mother. He planned to spend the rest of the winter at home with her, working on his book. And he had no intention of making any copies – unlike me, he was not a paranoid alarmist and thought he was living in a normal country.
A few days later, on 14 February, I was working on my manuscript when I received a text message from Nikita’s number: Гриша, Никита умер ('Grisha, Nikita has died'). I immediately called back, and his wife Anna answered. We wept and talked for over an hour.
‘Do you know where his book is?’ I asked Anna.
She didn’t know what I was talking about.
‘OK, maybe not a book, but where are the handwritten pages that he’s been working on for the past few months?’