This is the sixth part of a fiction serial, in 797 words.
“Being the only woman, I was also taken to one side and told how to act over there. I was to be amenable to flirting, but not to instigate any. There was a lot of talk about diplomatic receptions, formal dinners, attending exhibitions, and important meetings. I was to act like an interpreter at all times, be in the background, unassertive. They brought in a female former spy to talk to me about it, and I was amazed to discover that she had been operating in Paris all through the war. Her name was Letitia, and she had a lovely air of faded elegance about her. She had spent almost five years pretending to be a French noblewoman, entertaining German generals, and feeding back information though the network. I was impressed. If I could do a quarter as well as her, I would consider that to be an achievement”.
Helen paused to scratch her head violently, taking the opportunity to light another cigarette, and top up her glass of vodka.
“The day before I left Scotland for home, a young woman came to my room. She told me what I should buy in England before taking the flight to Moscow. I would need lots of pairs of stockings, as there were almost none to be found there except for awful woolen things. Sanitary products were essential too, as they were still in the dark ages where periods were concerned, apparently. Any decent underwear should be taken with me, unless I wanted to end up in a vest top and bloomers. And shoes. She suggested lots of pairs of shoes. According to her, women’s shoes in Moscow were clumpy affairs, and mostly made from fake leather at best. I would be travelling on a Diplomatic Passport, with some other Embassy staff who were changing over with those already in post. I would be allowed two good sized suitcases, and there would be no baggage checks at either end. I started to feel a bit special, Martin. Do you see that?”
I nodded to agree that I understood.
“The aircraft was a De Havilland Comet, very swish, and there were only sixteen of us on board. When we arrived in Moscow, we were met by a delegation who shook our hands and kissed our cheeks very firmly. It was a big deal for the Soviets, and one of the officials made a long speech, which I have to tell you was badly translated by his interpreter. They ushered us through into the terminal, to a function room laid out with delicacies and lots of drink. I was nibbling on caviar canapes and drinking vodka from large glasses, before being whisked away onto a coach with the others by one of the Embassy bores. They were not much fun those types, believe me. I ended up in a small apartment block over the road from the Embassy, the whole of which was rented by the British government. My so-called apartment was one room, a double bed, two chairs, a small table, and a basic kitchenette in the corner. A door led off that into a bathroom that had a shower over the toilet, and a basin that was so close to the toilet bowl, I had to pee sitting sideways. These days, they would call it bijou, or a studio flat, I suppose”.
She got up again, and returned with a packet of Jacob’s Cream Crackers, starting to eat them with no cheese or butter on them.
“At least it was bigger than my room in my parents’ flat, and I was so tired I slept soundly all night, even with no dinner. I had instructions to report to the Embassy the next morning at nine, and ask for a Mister Whittaker. George Whittaker took my fancy at first sight. Tall, smartly dressed, and with dark hair. He had an urbane manner, and reminded me somewhat of the actor Cary Grant, except that George had a rather large moustache. He told me he was a military attache, a euphemism I understood from training. I sat in his office giving him the glad eye as he ran through the list of my supposed official duties for the next month. Then he told me the reality, which that I was to go on all these interpreting jobs and keep my fngers crossed that I was approached by a Soviet spymaster. Once that happened, he would begin to feed me just enough genuine information to get them interested”.
Pausing to wash down a mouthful of cracker crumbs with half a tumbler of vodka, she smiled.
“Then he told me to go to GUM and buy a very warm coat and hat. He said, it is going to get very cold here, young lady”.