A Real Spy Story: Part Twenty-Four

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”.

43 thoughts on “A Real Spy Story: Part Twenty-Four

  1. Great writing of the John Holdsworth characters, takes a complicated topic and explains it all within a few sentences. Sigh… and such sadness that such characters exist as do the Helens of the world. And I find myself rooting and also somewhat happy for her to have ‘achieved’ what she has (still a great mind). Thank you for the great read so far!

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    1. ‘Handlers’ usually use codenames. But when they do not want outsiders to know those, they use ‘generic’ English names. There would have been dozens of John Holdsworths over the years, but Helen was unaware of that until the prison visit, because it was on a ‘need to know’ basis, previously well above her pay-grade.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  2. (1) The metal flush toilet in Helen’s cell was as warm as toast inside, heated by steam through radiators. Don’t hot buns belong in the oven rather than in the toilet?
    (2) Bad citation: “Between Olga and Natalia, I managed to get pleasurably squished.”
    (3) Helen ate a second éclair, proving that certains kinds of lightning can indeed strike the same place twice.
    (4) John Holdsworth is a British agent, not to be confused with Agent Smith from the Matrix.
    (5) Bad citation; “I told him I wanted escape manuals, poisoned cosmetics, explosive toiletries, Molotov cocktails, spyglass cigarettes, wilderness survival food, and a Maxwell Smart shoe phone.”
    (6) Helen had always hoped that Martin would rescue her from Penal Colony 4. But Landau considered that mission to be impossible.
    (7) Helen lost all her teeth. To console her, the governor offered Helen a year’s supply of Russian Gummy Bears.

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        1. Not large numbers. Maybe less than ten from Britain, and probably all men. But I wanted to write a female character. It was usual to keep hold of them for prisoner exchanges, but only if they were important enough to ‘spend’ on an exchange. To a large extent, they were the ‘forgotten spies’, the minor players in a bigger game.
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Many years ago, I read about one man who had been ‘forgotten’ before WW2. He was found in a Siberian work camp after Perestroika, and eventually repatriated to Britain.

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