This is the thirty-second part of a fiction serial, in 772 words.
“I told Mrs Lee I would talk to the men in the conservatory, so I could smoke. I also took a bottle of vodka and a glass through there, as I was sure I was going to need fortifying. They intoduced themselves as Richard and Quentin, no surnames. Stuffy, pallid-skin types, with dead eyes. It seemed Quentin was the main man, as he kicked off the conversation by telling me that I was still subject to my signing of the Official Secrets Act back when I joined. As Richard took notes in a large folder, he added that there was no statute of limitations on that, and I was not to speak to anyone about anything unless they worked for MI6. Before he could say anything else, I let him have both barrels. I screamed at him about how I had been ignored and disposed of, and how they hadn’t even bothered to reply when the Russians had asked them to agree to my release. For what must have been at least an hour, I swore like a trooper at them, and asked them to explain how I had come to be dumped in Odessa, then Moscow, then Leningrad, without any intervention on their part. Why had I never been exchanged, when I knew full well that such exchanges were frequent? And how dare they scatter my dad’s ashes on some muddy bank on the Thames. I went on for so long, Mrs Lee brought a pot of tea in for them, and they had long finished that before I stopped talking”.
Helen saw me taking notes, and paused until I looked back at her.
“Quentin told me it was unfortunate that things had turned out the way they had. I just hadn’t been important enough to exchange, and until they heard from the Russians that I was in St Peterburg, they had no real idea where I was. He went on to say that I would be given a house to live in free of charge on the south coast, that all my bills would be paid, and my pension would be paid until my death, with another fifty thousand lump sum to be deposited in my account once I had moved to Hastings. Unfortunate, that was the word he used, Martin. My life written off with that simple word, unfortunate. Then he passed me a card with a phone number written on it, telling me that I could order anything I wanted by ringing that number, including my cigarettes and favourite vodka. I would only need to spend money on clothing, personal items, and any food I decided to buy in addition to my order. It would be delivered in seventy-two hours, stocks permitting. I had to break for the toilet, and while I was up there, I decided I would get nowhere with those two, so I would appear to play their game, bide my time, and publish my own story later to shame them. Talking of which, I do need the toilet. Won’t be long”.
She settled back in her chair, lit a cigarette, and started smiling as she remembered that day.
“When I came back, Quentin started asking me lots of questions about my time over there. He wanted names that I could remember, wanted to know what they had asked me, and more importantly, what I had told them. He seemed perplexed when I told him there had been no interrogation, very few questions, and that I had stuck to my story about being a Foreign Office translator throughout. He obviously didn’t believe me, and exchanged a look with Richard that said more than words. Then he changed tack, asking me to describe the prisons I had been kept in, the appearance and names of the Wardens, anything I could remember about locations. I gave him crumbs, Martin. Bits and pieces of incomplete details, pretending not to remember much after fifty years. That was all those bastards deserved, after leaving me to rot for most of my life. Quentin knew about the parcels that had been sent in, and tried to justify those as ‘taking care’ of me. He asserted that I knew what I was getting into when I completed the training course in Scotland, and that it was all just a part of ‘The Great Game’. I had heard that phrase used before, and I didn’t accept it as an excuse. Then they suddenly stood up, and said they would be back on Tuesday morning”.
As she lit a cigarette, I sensed she was pausing for effect.
“But they never came back, Martin. Not ever”.