This is the eleventh part of a fiction serial, in 793 words.
When Helen returned with a large soup bowl full of cornflakes, I was pleased to see that she had got dressed. Well, not exactly dressed, but she was wearing a knee-length cable-knit cardigan buttoned up, and some thick socks that reached her knees.
“I had these drying in the bathroom, Martin. Sorry about earlier. Now, on with Bulgaria. My target, according to Clive, was a Bulgarian interpreter named Desislava Todorov. She had come to notice at some meetings in Sofia, and Clive had information that she was interested in living in the West. As she could speak Russian and English, she had been used in many meetings, and she was going to take part in the trumped-up trade talks in Burgas that summer. Hendricks was sure she would be privvy to lots of information about naval activity on The Black Sea. Do you want to take your coat off?”
It was cold in the house that morning, and I had left my topcoat on after sitting down. I shook my head.
“Oh well, up to you. Anyway, I got to know Burgas before the sheduled meetings, and Clive had given me some information about Todorov. She was almost forty years old, divorced with no children, and during her time in Sofia she had been something of a socialite, appearing at functions, and being seen in clubs around the city. Due to meetings being rescheduled, I didn’t get to meet her until the end of August. It was a fiercely hot day, and the meeting room was only cooled by two fans. I was sweating like a racehorse before the Bulgarian delegation arrived. Then I looked up and there she was. Cool, calm, collected, and stunningly attractive”.
When she paused to spoon in four huge mouthfuls of cornflakes, I watched as the milk dribbled down her chin and onto the cardigan. She carried on without bothering to wipe her face, and the remaining cornflakes swirled around in her mouth like washing in a spin-drier as she spoke.
“It was hard to concentrate on my translation that afternoon. Every time I looked across the table, Desislava was staring at me. When she caught my eye, she smiled, and that made me feel a bit silly and girly. By the time the meeting was over, I had a big crush on her, believe me. On the way out, she put a hand on my shoulder. She said she was pleased to meet me, was looking forward to the next two days of negotiations, and that I should call her Desi. That night, my head was in a whirl. I had never been attracted to a woman in that way before, and it confused me totally”.
Then Helen raised the bowl to her mouth and tipped it up, to get the last of the remaining milk and cornflakes. Before speaking again, she let out a loud belch, and rubbed her chest.
“Sorry about that. For the next two days, I felt like I was in a dream. Desi and I kept grinning at each other across the table, and she was playing a game of not interpreting exactly what was being said by our side. I did some of that too, and it became our shared secret. Both of us knew that it was all nonsense anyway, as the whole pointless exercise had been set up to get us to meet each other. During the afternoon break on the Friday, Desi was outside speaking to me as we smoked cigarettes. She said that one of the Bulgarian men had asked her about me, and told her he wanted to take me on a date. That made us laugh, as the man in question was well over sixty, and weighed about twenty stones. Then she suggested I meet her that evening, and she would take me to a jazz club in a run-down part of Burgas. Of course, I agreed immediately”.
Standing up and carrying her bowl back into the kitchen, she asked if I wanted anything. I told her no, and put the charging cable into the camera to make sure the battery didn’t die on me. She came back with a tumbler full of vodka, and a fresh packet of cigarettes.
“We had such fun at the club. It was mostly outside because of the heat. Only the bar and toilets were in the small inner room. A couple of dozen others were sitting around at the tables, and records being played inside were audible on a speaker fixed to the wall outside. I got a bit drunk, and Desi got me up to dance with her”. Helen paused to light a cigarette, then gave me a knowing look.
“Luckily for me, they played a slow song”.