“Can you imagine my disappointment the next day? I had shown George the envelope full of money, and he took it off me and put it in the safe. He said, ‘we don’t get to keep the cash, old love. That wouldn’t be cricket now, would it. Unless you want to become a real double agent, and risk life in jail back in England’. I don’t know why it hadn’t occured to me that I couldn’t keep it, but when George said that, it made sense. Maybe we could end it there for today? I feel an early night coming on. There will be lots more to come tomorrow, and for some time after that”.
At my hotel, I had a message to ring Magee. He was not in the best mood when I finally got him at his home number.
“You sure about this old girl, Martin? I hope she’s not spinning you a line. I will give you a week, and want to hear something definite that convinces me she’s the real thing”.
The next morning, there was no reply at Helen’s house. After a few tries, I walked down to the seafront. It had turned chilly, and I wasn’t dressed for the cold wind. Deciding to give it another try at Helen’s I walked back that way. She finally opened the door, looking bleary-eyed and wearing a near transparent nightdress that left nothing to the imagination. “Come in, Martin. Sorry, I overslept this morning”. I followed her in, averting my eyes and hoping she was about to go upstairs and put on some underwear and clothes.
When she plonked down heavily into her armchair and lit a cigarette, I concluded that was not her intention. I hardly had time to get the camera running before she was speaking.
“Yes, the money. It kept arriving from Andrei, and George was still putting it in his safe. I had started to become obsessed with the idea that he was going to keep it, and that thought made me really irritated. Things were getting tense, because of the situation in Berlin. It was sixty-one, and the Soviets and East Germans were building a wall to divide the city. The gossip was that this was all some precursor to military action of some kind. George was whisked off to Berlin at a moment’s notice, and Andrei disappeared too, probably to the same place. That was when they decided to send me to Bulgaria. I was too new for the dramas in Berlin of course, and although I could speak and understand a lot of German, I wasn’t up to interpreting there. My Russian would be useless in that city, as the Soviets were not talking to anyone. I need a drink and something to eat, do you want tea?”
I nodded my agreement for tea, and took her time of absence to change the memory card. She returned with my tea, a tumbler full of vodka, and four slices of bread thickly spread with a good half-inch of strawberry jam. My scrambled eggs on toast for breakfast was looking like a decidedly healthy option at that point. She started eating, and carried on talking as she chewed the bread, sipped the vodka, and puffed on what was left of her cigarette.
“Oh, how I loved Bulgaria, Martin. It was warm, sunny, and so relaxed after Moscow. Sofia felt like a Mediterranean city, but the focus of our mission was on Burgas, a seaport and naval base in the east, on the Black Sea. In Sofia, I was shown in to meet Clive Hendricks. He was the equivalent of George in Bulgaria, the head of Security at the embassy, and one of the MI6 operatives concerned with the Black Sea. The Soviet Union was just across the Black Sea from Bulgaria, which had a direct sea route to Odessa. There was also a land corridor through Romania, which of course was friendly to the Soviets back then. Clive had established some kind of false trade delegation over at Burgas, and asked me if I would go there to be an interpreter and see what I could find out about Soviet naval deployments around the larger Black Sea ports. He attached me to his almost non-existent trade delegation, which was only made up of a couple of Foreign Office staffers who didn’t really have a clue what was going on. I went by train, and was shown to their office above a shop in the city of Burgas. They fixed me up with a one-bed flat, and told me to come back the next day to interpret”.
Standing up to reveal herself in all her faded splendour through the nightgown, Helen smiled.
“I need more food. I won’t be a second, I’m just going to get a bowl of cornfflakes”.