• 23 Oct - 29 Oct, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

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 talked to him while adoring him 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, and 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 and 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. 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.”

v v v

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 him 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 the entire 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.

to be continued...