MOSCOW — A midnight blue Cadillac, its headlights knifing through the gathering dusk, drove from the prison on tree-lined Lefortovo Street past a line of gray-clad police.
In the shadows, dark-jacketed KGB men watched closely as the car pulled to a nearby curb, and, at 8:46 p.m. Friday, a slightly built man with stubble on his chin leaped out of the right rear door.
Nicholas Daniloff, released after 13 days in a KGB jail, thrust his clenched fists over his head and let out a Tarzan-like yell of joy.
As Daniloff yelled, he pounded on the car roof in happiness. He looked thinner and more drawn than before his arrest. But, when asked how he felt, he simply let out another cry of relief.
Colleagues of the veteran Moscow correspondent, all massed near the prison gates, gave a roar of welcome in response and lights from television cameras suddenly brightened the gloomy scene.
Then, as reporters and photographers shouted questions and rushed to his side, Daniloff's dignity reasserted itself.
"Let me speak--let's get orderly here," he said. The crowd of journalists fell silent. Nearby, Soviet citizens walking in the chill September evening stopped to watch as Daniloff, two weeks ago a hard-working but obscure journalist known mostly to his colleagues and followers of Soviet affairs, held an impromptu press conference.
Since then, Daniloff has become an international figure. The KGB accused him of spying, but President Reagan declared him innocent and demanded his release.
Clad in his favorite white cable-knit pullover, tan corduroy pants and a light blue shirt, Daniloff brusquely denied that he ever worked for the CIA or any other intelligence agency.
He thanked the Moscow press corps for writing about his case, adding, "You annoyed the authorities in prison a little but, never mind, it all worked out." And he even thanked Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, as well as Reagan, for agreeing to his conditional release from prison shortly before important Soviet-American negotiations.
Daniloff, ever the serious-minded journalist, said it would be too bad if his case torpedoes plans for a possible summit meeting this year.
"I am not a free man," Daniloff said, recalling that he may still face trial. "But I changed one hotel for a much better hotel--and I am looking forward to it immensely."
Then he got back in the Cadillac, with an American flag on its right front fender, and was driven majestically through the darkened Moscow streets to the U.S. Embassy, where he was to be debriefed and spend at least one night.