This is the ninth part of a fiction serial, in 779 words.
Helen’s face lit up as she continued.
“My first real job as a spy was to Leningrad. Such a marvellous city, have you been?” She didn’t wait for me to reply before continuing. “Colder than a witch’s tit, but simply breathtaking. The Winter Palace, The Peter and Paul Fortress, the inland waterways crossing the city. They used to call it the Venice of the north you know. I was supposed to be doing some interpreting for a visiting government minister, and George thought it was the perfect opportunity to lose my spying virginity. He passed me some tiny film negatives concerning British nuclear submarine plans. He said he had a good idea that the soviets already knew what was in the photographed documents, but my handing them over would show good faith”.
She lit a cigarette, and there was a long pause as she took a trip down her personal Memory Lane.
“The hotel was close to the River Neva, and I had the chance to wander around before the interpreting job the next day. It felt like a place I would loved to have lived in, the grand buildings reminded me of the time when it was built in the seventeen hundreds. Even all the soviet iconography couldn’t detract from the sheer grandeur. Of course, the outskirts had the usual dismal-looking housing, tower blocks stretching for miles, and queues outside shops, but the centre! Oh, that was just wonderful. The meeting I interpreted at was dull, but I spotted Andrei sitting at the back of the soviet delegation, pretending not to notice me. When it was over, I asked to walk back to the hotel in the twilight, and it was not difficult to realise he was following me”.
Realising her vodka glass was empty, Helen held up a hand and stood up to get a fresh bottle from the kitchen. That was my signal to pause the recording.
“I stopped walking near the Finland Station, pretending to fiddle with one of my fur-lined boots. From inside the top, I removed a wrapper from a stick of chewing gum. The microfilm negative was inside it. Carrying on without looking back, I discarded it casually. I knew that if Andrei knew his stuff, he would pick it up. Two days later, I was back in Moscow, a delighted George full of praise for my work. That was it you see, Martin. No shootouts, no drama, no street-light chases on shadowy cobbled streets. I dropped a piece of paper on a street in Leningrad, and became an accomplished spy. A child could have done it. Within a month, I had made five more drops. Leave your coat in a theatre cloakroom with the microfilm in one of the pocket linings. Collect your coat after watching The Bolshoi Ballet perform, and it had gone. Make a visit to the Moscow State Circus, use a coin to release the opera glasses in the seat in front of you. After the show, you replace the tiny binoculars with the negative on the stand. Simple, you see?”
I had questions, but she wanted to keep talking.
“Andrei didn’t make any effort to contact me during that time, though I saw him sometimes. Like the night at the Bolshoi, when he was in a nearby box with a glamorous dyed blonde. One weekend, I was wandering around window shopping and I spotted him standing by the entrance to a Metro station. He smiled at me, and when he was sure I had seen him, he turned and walked down the stairs. I presumed this was some indication I should follow him, and I was right. He led me a merry dance, changing lines, swapping platforms. It was all I could do to stay on the same train. Then in a station well outside of the centre, he got off and walked out onto the street. I followed him to a small park, children were playing on some ancient playground equipment, mothers wrapped up against the cold as they sat and watched their little darlings. He stopped next to a bench, pretending to tie his shoelace, then he took off his fur hat and wiped his head with his hand. As he walked away, I saw a small envelope on the ground and hurried over to pick it up. It contained ten American one-hundred dollar bills, a thousand dollars, Martin. That was a lot of money then, I can tell you”.
Inhaling her cigarette in what seemed to be the wrong way, there followed a fit of coughing that seemed to go on for some minutes.
“I had been paid for spying. That was my first payment!”