This is the fifth part of a fiction serial, in 810 words.
After breakfast, I headed into the shopping centre. Finding a branch of a chain of electrical retailers, I bought the cheapest video camera and tripod they had for sale. A basic model that I got the young salesman to show me how to use. While there, I bought enough memory cards to last me the week, perhaps longer. I had decided my phone wasn’t going to cut it. The recordings didn’t last long enough, and I had insufficient memory to store the hours of talking I was expecting to hear from Helen.
Besides, I wanted to get her speaking about it on some decent video footage. Watching her was going to be more convincing than listening to her.
On my salary, it was an unwelcome expense, but I had already decided that if Magee refused her book offer, I would write it anyway, and hopefully submit the video to a documentary company too. All I had to do now was to get her to agree to be filmed. Walking back to her house, I stopped off and bought some pastries, and a cup of black coffee for myself. It seemed pointless taking any hot drinks for her, as she only seemed to drink vodka.
Timing it to the second, I knocked on her door at exactly eleven o’clock. I was surprised that she answered almost immediately.
“Come in, Martin. What have you got there? Cakes? Oh good. I hope that coffee isn’t for me, can’t stand the stuff these days”.
She wandered off, trailng smoke from her cigarette. I was not expecting her to have suddenly dressed up nicely, but the sight of her in a pink dressing gown, barefoot and hair standing up, confirmed that she really was not bothered about what she looked like. Some damp strands of hair at least suggested she had showered, but I wasn’t completely sure about that.
Once we were sat in the two chairs, and her tumbler was filled with vodka, I showed her the video camera and tripod, asking for permission to film her. “I don’t care. To be honest, I had expected you to bring a cameraman or photographer from the start. Can I have that Cinnamon Twist? I love those”. I pushed the bag of cakes over as I set up the camera. She had eaten three of the four before I was ready to begin. I had to keep averting my eyes, after discovering that she was naked under the ill-fitting dressing gown, which kept gaping across her chest.
“Scotland. I think we had got to Scotland, right? Well, I had expected some secret agent stuff. Guns and things. Demolition charges, hand-to-hand-combat, Judo. You know, all the things you see in the films about spies being trained during the war. The reality couldn’t have been further from the truth. I was the only woman, in a class of ten. We had two instructors, one was a military type, and the other one looked like a friendly bank manager. Both of them had been agents in France during the war, but you would never have known that from looking at them. John Holdsworth didn’t appear. I didn’t see him again for a long time”.
I wanted to ask her more about the training, but didn’t need to. She told me anyway.
“It was mostly about how you acted. You had to learn to be nonchalant, pretending you were over there to do your job, and knew nothing about spying. One day, they took us into the nearest town, and we had to follow each other in pairs, trying not to be spotted. Then we would swap, and try to avoid being followed. At the end of the day, the instructors told us what we had done wrong, and showed us how to do it better, with a role-play exercise in the grounds of the training centre.
Can I have that Belgian Bun if you are not going to eat it?”
Having to go hungry wasn’t a hardship. After all, I had eaten a big breakfast. I nodded, and paused the recording as she wolfed down the bun. That was followed by a vodka refill, and another cigarette.
“The spy bit mainly concerned microfilm. We were shown how to use the tiny cameras involved, and we had to do lots of practice at dead-letter drops. That could involve anything from using a newspaper left on a park bench, to passing a bank-note with a microfilm folded into the crease. But they were obsessed with following, and being followed. We had to do that over and over, until we could easily spot someone following us. Not that we did anything once we noticed them. We just had to know, you see?”
When she left to use the bathroom. I reviewed the video footage on the flip-out screen. It was great stuff.