This is the twenty-fourth part of a fiction serial, in 800 words.
“Martin, I have to tell you I was worried. We drove some way out of the city of St. Petersburg, and I was concerned about the name of where I was going. Penal Colony Four. But on arrival, my fears proved groundless. Spies are not subject to hard or forced labour, and I was quickly housed in a cell on my own, in a small block of six, away from the main camp. That was a row of long huts, which reminded me of the wartime concentration camps. But my accommodation was reasonably modern. I had a sink and a metal flush toilet in my cell, which was as warm as toast inside, heated by steam through radiators. I suppose by modern British standards now, we would call it an Open Prison. But not for me of course. I was the forgotten spy from a Cold War that had ceased to exist”.
Helen poured more vodka, and ate the second eclair before continuing.
“Even the guards were friendly, and I had a personal guard, Natalia. She was allocated to me as she lived in. I was shocked to discover that she lived in a similar cell at the end of my small block, and only went home to see her family once a month. When she was away for three days, I had another Olga. That Olga was very interested in me. She actually asked for my autograph. Can you believe that, Martin? She could also speak some English, and was quick to let me know that I could contact the British Consulate to obtain what she called ‘luxuries’. She was my conduit with the prison governor, who had so far never summoned me to her office. Between Olga and Natalia, I managed to ask for a visit from the diplomat who ran our consulate there. You can only imagine my surprise when someone showed up one day, and Natalia told me I had a visitor”.
It was time for Helen to light another cigarette, and to show me one of the many documents she had saved from that time. It was in Russian of course, telling her that she had a visitor at three in the afternoon, and she had to agree to see him.
“Of course, I agreed, and as you can see, I signed the visitor’s order. I wanted to give whoever showed up a piece of my mind. As it turned out, I spent most of the allotted thirty minutes in a state of shock. When he left, I was crying, and it took weeks for me to get over what I had heard. In the visitor’s room, I was on my own, with Natalia looking on from the corner. I had a good idea that they would record the visit, probably on film, as well as sound. A young man entered, very British, wearing a blue serge suit and a cashmere overcoat. He introduced himself as John Holdsworth. I told him that John Holdsworth would be at least my age, probably older. He winked at me. Winked at me, Martin! He said that they were all called John Holdsworth, and he wanted to know what I needed. I wasn’t dim-witted, even then. He was the new version of a John Holdsworth that was probably long dead. He produced a notebook before carrying on”.
Helen had a severe coughing fit at that stage, serious enough for me to rush into the kitchen and get her a glass of water. But she waved that away and refilled her tumbler with vodka instead.
“I told him I wanted to go home. But meanwhile I wanted books, cosmetics, toiletries, vodka, cigarettes, better food, and some acknowledgement of my situation in an official capacity. He smiled at me like I was some old girl in a care home. ‘Oh, I can easily get you the five everyday things you need, but I am afraid we cannot get you home just yet, and there is no possibility of you being acknowleged officially. Not now, not ever, you must realise that’. Martin, if I had been strong enough, I would have strangled that jumped up bastard. But I was so fixated on a better life in prison, I told him to get me all I needed as soon as he could. Then he left. It took a ridiculously short time. Three days later, I had British paperback books, cartons of cigarettes, chocolate, fruit, and loaves of bread coming in. I had so much, I gave some things away to Natalia and Olga”.
She paused to fill her vodka glass, and down the whole tumbler in one gulp.
But it was too late for my teeth. With so few vitamins after so many years, the following week, they were all removed under anaesthetic”.