A Real Spy Story: Part Twenty-One

This is the twenty-first part of a fiction serial, in 744 words.

“Well Martin, you don’t want a day to day account, I am sure. Bascially, life in that prison continued much the same for many years. Olga began to be able to have a conversation in English, albeit quite basic stuff. She also confided in me, telling me things about the prison, and occasional insights into her personal life. It transpired that I was the only inhabitant of a twenty-cell block. Regarded as a special prisoner, the guards assigned to me were the more experienced ones, and those considered to be less inclined to be interested in the temptations of life in the West. Olga had been a Young Communist, and was still a party member. She admired Krushchev, as he had been at Stalingrad during the war. She never really understood the Cold War, as we had been allies when the Nazis had been defeated. Like most of the others I met, she blamed America for maintaining the bad feeling against the Soviet Union, and told me she thought that Britain was just an ‘American Puppet’. I was left wondering why she even wanted to bother to learn English, but never asked her”.

Helen lit a cigarette, waiting for me to finish some written notes.

“I became accustomed to the routine. Between the guards and the nurse, I was well-supplied with cigarettes, occasional extra rations, and personal items like tampons, a hairbrush and comb, and small bottles of very strong-smelling shampoo that I used sparingly. But I never got any fruit, and fresh vegetables were rare, also usually overcooked to extinction. They told me they just didn’t have time to queue for the fruit, and in winter it was almost non-existent anyway. And despite the extra slices of bread now and again, I was always hungry, and continued to lose weight. After I had been there for five years, an anniversary confirmed by Alina, my teeth were giving me so much trouble I pulled one of them out with my own fingers, rather than ask to visit that butcher of a dentist. Brezhnev had taken over after Krushchev died, and I was coming up to my thirtieth birthday. I was so much a part of the furniture in that place, they only locked my door at night, just before lights out. After all, even if I escaped, how far would I get?”

She suddenly looked down at her shoes, and there was an awkward silence that dragged on for some time.

“One afternoon, Olga brought a mirror to my cell. She said I couldn’t keep it in case I broke the glass and cut my wrists, but I could look at it for a few minutes while she was with me. I had asked for a mirror for ages, but they had always told me it wasn’t possible. When I looked at myself in that mirror, I felt the tears start to stream down my face. Very soon, I was sobbing uncontrollably, and Olga must have felt uncomfortable, as she took the mirror out of my hand, and left the cell. If it’s okay with you, I think I will leave it there for today”.

That evening as I waited for my dinner in the bar of the pub, I read through my notes. The documents she had already shown me were completely authentic, I was sure of that. Soviet paperwork of the period was usually typed on cheap paper stock, and all the stamp-marks and phrases used were typical of that era. Helen’s sometimes detailed recollection of small details might be hard to believe after such a long time, but if I had spent that long in Soviet prisons with little else to think about, I was in no doubt I would have remembered such things too. The hardest thing to swallow was her naive faith that the British government and her spymaster colleagues would be in the least bit bothered about her, and would have been trying to secure her release in clandestine meetings. But placing that in the context of the times, I understood her thought process completely. Part of me was beginning to warm to her, but I had to try my best to remain detached from the emotions surrounding her life history.

The next morning, I decided to treat her to two real cream eclairs from the baker’s shop, and I even bought her a small bunch of flowers.

When she opened the door and saw the flowers, she wept.

40 thoughts on “A Real Spy Story: Part Twenty-One

  1. The two emotional pieces here: “I was so much a part of the furniture in that place, they only locked my door at night, just before lights out.” Has the sadness only trumped by “…her naive faith that the British government and her spymaster colleagues would be in the least bit bothered about her, and would have been trying to secure her release in clandestine meetings.” Politics and business are hard in this manner, and always will be.

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      1. Thanks you. Spying is a dangerous game, in more ways than one. And outside of the showy exploits of fictional characters like James Bond, it is also completely unforgiving.
        Best wishes, Pete.

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  2. I love to see this moment of tenderness between the two. That doesn’t appear in some of you previous serials. I am glad to see this side of you as a writer no matter where the story goes down the road.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am trying my hand at creating a ‘sympathetic character’ in Helen. I don’t usually do that in my fictional stories. Happy to hear that is working for you, Elizabeth.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. (1) When I was young, the neighborhood kids would pick their allies before engaging in snowball fights. We actually enjoyed the Cold War. But there was one winter when the snow didn’t fall. That was the winter of our discontent.
    (2) “Fresh vegetables were rare, also usually overcooked to extinction.” At least she was given extra slices of sourdough-dough bread before that went extinct.
    (3) Helen was so much a part of the furniture in that place that she got used to being moved around whenever Alina rearranged the furniture in her cell.
    (4) “Mirror, mirror in my hand, who’s the fairest in the land?” (And the mirror crack’d.)
    (5) Helen said, “If it’s okay with you, I think I will leave it there for today. I need to reflect on the horror of that image in the mirror.”
    (6) Bad citation: “Part of me was beginning to warm to her, so I slipped some ice cubes into my trousers.”
    (7) Helen wept when Martin, who was far from inept, swept her off her feet. Naturally, they slept together that night. The next morning, they crêped for breakfast. Needless to say, Helen leapt for joy when she saw the stack of crêpes on her plate. (It’s no wonder then that she kept the flowers!)

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  4. Very sad for Helen to end up in prison like that, after what seemed a short and not particularly distinguished career as a spy. I’m not clear why the Soviets treated her as something special, but I imagine all will be revealed in due course!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They didn’t really treat her as special at all, Audrey. Just locked her away and forgot her. Some of the guards became friends with her because she was the only prisoner they were assigned to. She was being held for a prisoner exchange, but she wasn’t important enough to be exchanged it seems.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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