This is the twenty-ninth part of a fiction serial, in 762 words.
“One regret was that Anna was not working the next morning. Olga came with another guard, handed me a canvas holdall and told me to pack my things. I took just my cigarettes and matches, a hairbrush, and the doll Anna had given me, along with all the paperwork I had accumulated over the years. The documents you have seen, Martin. I had to wear my prison uniform and rubber shoes, no outdoor clothes were provided. Olga accompanied me in the car, which was driven by a soldier who said nothing on the way. When they arrived at the small Consulate office, Olga turned and said. ‘This is where you get out, Renton. And you are not allowed to return to the Russian Federation, ever’. She handed me a large brown envelope containing my original and long-expired passport, along with my Foreign Office identity credentials. The photo on those was taken when I was twenty-one, and I didn’t recognise the young woman looking out at me”.
Helen stopped for the usual refill of vodka and lit another cigarette.
“The car drove off, leaving me standing alone in the street. I was free to go anywhere, but had no money, no valid passport, and I was hungry, as they had not given me breakfast after my shower. I walked up to the office door and pushed a button on the side. I was surprised when someone spoke to me on a speaker above. I had never seen such a contraption. I said I was Helen Renton, and wanted to talk to someone called Desmond. I was surprised when the door clicked open. That seemed very futuristic to me, Martin. I had to walk upstairs, and at a desk at the top sat a suspicious-looking young man who asked me what I wanted. I told him I had been in prison for just over fifty years, I was a Foreign Office employee, and a British Citizen. I added that I had to talk to someone called Desmond. then showed him my old passport and credentials, and he asked me to sit on a chair at the side, as he seemed to have taken me seriously”.
More vodka drinking followed, and I sat waiting for her to speak again.
“Five minutes later, he returned with a middle-aged woman who introduced herself as Nicola Desmond. She looked embarrassed, as well she should have. She asked me to follow her through to her office, and once I had sat down, she asked me what she could do for me. Can you believe that, Martin? Well I can tell you, I gave her a piece of my mind. I did nothing less than ranting, for a good thirty minutes. To give her a little credit, she didn’t interrupt me. When I had finished, I lit a cigarette, and she said, ‘Sorry, there is no smoking here’. I told her to go and F herself, I don’t mind admitting. She left to make some phone calls, then returned with a sickly smile. She said that they were going to put me up in a hotel, find me some decent clothes, and make sure I had all I needed. Then in two days, she would be accompanying me to England on an aircraft, where I would be ‘fully debriefed’. If my mouth had not been so dry, I would have spat in her face, Martin”.
It was obvious that recalling that meeting was upsetting her. I waited as she lit another cigarette, obviously remembering her encounter with Ms Desmond.
“I was driven to a decent hotel, and not long after I arrived in the twin-bedded room, Nicola arrived with a weekend case. She was staying with me until we flew, and produced a far too large dress, and a pair of shoes that were too tight. She was apologetic, telling me she hadn’t been expecting me, and knew almost nothing about my situation. She said that we would be flying back to the military base at Brize Norton, and when we arrived, I would be handed over to John Holdsworth”.
At that point, Helen began coughing heavily. It was some time before the cough calmed down, and she was ready to carry on. Before speaking, she swallowed more vodka, and lit a cigarette. I was tempted to ask her if both were good for her, but said nothing.
“Another John Holdsworth, Martin. I asked Nicola how many there had been, and she smiled”.
At that point, I said I was finished for the day, and started to gather up my notes.