Bella Stavisky arrived at Victoria Station and was welcomed by her embassy contact answering only to the name of ‘Serge’. His face rather resembled a bloated frog after a debauched pub crawl, with his hair smeared back by goblets of pomade.
She herself had experienced a miserable voyage on the overcrowded ferry, with the channel being angry and unforgiving as it battered the boat unmercifully. She hoped one day a bridge or better still a tunnel might be commissioned and constructed by either the English or the French or by both but really she did not care, she just wanted to stand on dry land again and appreciate its comfort.
When the order arrived unexpectedly from Moscow to Switzerland, her instructions were direct and precise:
Proceed immediately to London, England. Stop
Imperative you obey. Stop. You will be contacted at
Victoria station. Stop. Your contact will answer to the
name of Serge and the greeting will be ‘how is your
Uncle Vanya’? Is he still suffering from arthritis? Stop.
You will answer, yes, sadly still in his left knee. Stop.
A boisterous sloppy Slav in a blue striped suit straining at the buttons was indeed waiting for her. He offered the greeting to which she replied. He had, he informed her with an exaggerated bow, arranged some suitable accommodation for her in Streatham a suburb of South London. There she was later briefed by him in the pleasant converted flat, with the information that her future employment had been quickly arranged by a sympathetic Labour member of Parliament. She was informed that her workplace would be in the prestigious House of Commons library.
This Serge explained with a shrug would be a brief arrangement he hoped until she was able to somehow to gain access to the Prime Minister’s personal office or socialise with his staff.
Her understanding and pronunciation for the ‘difficult’ English language had been noted and had convinced Moscow and ‘Koba’ especially that she would be perfect for this undercover role.
Basically, she was to extract any crucial Government information for Moscow’s sole benefit. Her Moscow party handler would coordinate this mission and assist in all difficult matters. He also left for her perusal a Collins English/Russian dictionary of which she would attempt to hopefully teach herself ten new words a day. Much to her surprise, she discovered she had an aptitude for learning the difficult English language and its quirky colloquialisms.
Within a matter of weeks, Bella found herself confined in the cramped library offices rather reminiscent she thought of the feared Party’s secret police Lubyanka headquarters in Moscow. Her allocated task was to read and glean any information whilst scouring most European newspapers applicable to the government’s interest. Then using an aged steel ruler but never scissors, she had been informed she was then to extract suitable articles for office filing into ancient metal cabinets. Then to be used as requested by enquiring members of parliament and their researchers or journalists.
Overseeing the daily task in the supervision of this establishment was the formidable Miss Torrington who immediately took a noticeable dislike to Bella. This prickly spinster had ruled this domain for years with the help of assorted volunteers who arrived and just as quickly departed. Her tiresome questioning as to where Bella had previously been employed, what her qualifications for this position were, as well as how had she managed to gain employment when the post had not been advertised without her knowledge? She could not understand it. This seemed to concern this wearisome woman with suspicion and a tad of jealousy. It soon began to grate on Bella’s nerves the daily watching and questioning something she realised would have been done about this suspicious spinster and her removal if she was to succeed at her task. She later brought up the problem with Serge who replied jauntily with a sly grin, “leave it to me comrade it’s already in hand.”
Within a week the suspicious spinster had suffered an unfortunate accident in the London underground. Having suffered a fall onto the track and losing a leg and an arm under an approaching train on the Westminster Line.
Sadly Bella was informed by the Deputy Speaker of the House, that the poor lady would not be returning. But could she possibly manage until a replacement was found? Of course, she could and she thanked him for his faith in her office capabilities. Later a collection was arranged for this unfortunate lady with the final sum of £12.6 shillings being collected. It was decided to send her some flowers with a get well soon card. A beautiful display of roses and tulips also chosen by Bella herself from a local florist recommended by Serge and was later duly delivered to the ailing lady. Bella felt it was the least she could do for the poor woman!
Bella was now able to modernise the office without supervision as well as gaining useful information on the personal and public life of the members of Parliament and all to passed on secretly of course by a dead letterbox to the ubiquitous Serge.
Her diligence in offering to volunteer to work at weekends to update the antiquated filling system was noticed and appreciated by the Deputy Speaker of the House and his Irish wife Megan who had never cared for the patronising attitude of Miss Torrington anyway.
When she had the time Bella would be invited by certain Parliamentarians to such famous landmarks in the London social life such as Henley on the Thames to view the traditional regatta, and by a retired Home Secretary to dine as his guest at the famed Bullingdon club. One junior cabinet minister accompanied her to the Wimbledon finals and somehow obtained seats for the last night of the Proms at the famed Royal Albert Hall.
She discovered the inclement English weather and the inconvenience of never knowing what to choose to wear a nuisance. And to always definitely remember to take an umbrella that Serge reminded her about for convenience and her possible protection.
Yet all of this socialising was an arranged smoke screen orchestrated by Moscow to spy and obtain all incriminating information. Her appointed embassy handler Serge would frequently arrange a meeting at Harrods to indulge them both in that establishment’s famous afternoon teas saying through a stuffed mouthful of salmon: “If the capitalists can spoil themselves well why can’t we? But please don’t inform HIM in Moscow.”
He then winked conspiratorially at her surprise in him even mentioning such a dangerous name and in the hallowed hallways of Harrods. Bella rightly reasoned that his use of this careless idle talk would lead him to further warnings and recriminations from Moscow.
Soon afterwards Serge’s days in London were to be curtailed when after falsifying his expense account, he was recalled and arrested in Moscow, then tried for treason and dispatched to Siberia. With several hundred others in unheated cattle trucks, Harrods for him must have seemed like a distant dream as he stared sadly through the slates in the cattle truck en route to Siberia. He would definitely not be strolling down the streets of Moscow ever again or sampling a salmon sandwich.
Bella ever-inquisitive has discovered a small colony of delightful antique bookshops situated in the populous Charing Cross Road. And to her pride, many dog eared copies concerning the writings of both Marx & Engel’s were placed on the creaking shelves. Some were displayed with faded annotated pencil remarks in Russian and she wondered by whom? On enquiring about these books to a young male assistant, she was informed that one such book on display had been apparently authored by Lenin himself when domiciled in London in 1903-5. Living then under an unlikely alias near Kings Cross station as Doctor Jacob Richter.
Bella, of course, was aware that Lenin and maybe Stalin and other ambitious revolutionaries had traipsed around Europe for many years before the revolution. She was surprised at how many of the highly-priced hardbacks had apparently not been opened or read. Their spines remained still unbroken.
The young student mentioned an area of London known as Clerkenwell Green. Oliver Cromwell the Lord Protector had owned a house there she was informed and the area and its notoriety were even documented by Shakespeare in his play Henry VI. And he believed there was perhaps a private political library which might be of some interest her if she had a curiosity for historical local politics.
According to this friendly rather obliging Irish student named Callum, Lenin it seemed had frequently visited this particular building to edit several editions the party paper ‘Iskra’ in 1903.
One weekend she decided to go and search out this quiet unspoilt area of London. Once there she easily located this large imposing historical building situated opposite the tree-lined green. She decided however not to enter the front entrance being somehow aware that all entering visitors might be watched and photographed by the British secret police. Her connection to the home of British democracy i.e. parliament might just jeopardise her employment there. But instead, she was content to just simply walk on the same streets that Lenin and ‘Koba’ had walked themselves long ago.
Suddenly the weather was spoiled by a sudden shower that splattered onto the grey flagged pavement. She immediately erected her trusty umbrella and searched for a passing bus to transport her back to central London.
She had also purchased from one of the other numerous second-hand bookshops for some reason, a small American paperback entitled: ‘How to make the workplace a happy fulfilled place’ authored by the American millionaire and later movie mogul Cleaver Costello. The book offered many advantages to adapt to the benefit of the working office and its all-important employees.
‘An easily managed office means contented workers with greater production where every person should and could benefit financially. Encourage and aid medical insurance for staff. Profit-sharing schemes should be introduced and encouraged’ wrote Costello in the introduction to his book (now sadly out of print.)
Some of his suggestions which Bella happily adopted with the assistance of the Deputy Speaker’s obliging wife were original ideas such as better lighting is ‘always a must’. Nobody should ever toil in the dark. Your employees are not nineteen-century coal miners!
Introduction of house plants such as chrysanthemums and the ever-popular Spider plants and monstera deliciosa or house monstrosities as one unkind gardening critic had called them in the Manchester Guardian.
Insist an appointed member of staff to bring into the office tea, milk and sugar, but no coffee. And perhaps a rota could be arranged for this?
Access to fresh drinking water should not be ignored with an easily sited rented drinking machine to be installed and maintained if possible.
Bowls of fruit and nuts to be introduced for snacks throughout the day. And a birthday cake for the appropriate staff member and a birthday card. Remember your office signed card may perhaps be the only card given to them (and it will be much appreciated by the recipient. It is as they say the thought that counts.)
Movable smaller colour coded filing cabinets. Comfortable reclining seats. Very important!
Introduction of first names (People are not just numbers or surnames, this is an office and not the armed forces. It is your home away from home and always offer a smile. It really doesn’t cost anything does it?)
The use of tropical fish tanks is also therapeutic and should be encouraged if possible.
Diet was also crucial and could affect workers progress through the day. Unsuitable food can result in sluggishness and tiredness of which the author was empathic in promoting by writing: ‘Remember, dear reader, you are what you eat, do not treat your body like a dustbin but rather like a refinery where food is filtered and used to fuel your body. It is your domain but be selective in what you chose to indulge in.’
Avoid heavy damask drapes that are so familiar to any undertakers office. Instead, experiment with vertical blinds using such restful pastel colours such as duck egg blue.
Bella was also intrigued by his promotion of the pristine punchcard system as advocated by IBM … whoever they were. He also speculated that faster more reliable and accurate electric typewriters would soon one day be standard office equipment, with possible x-ray machines to photograph letters and documents. He was very keen in especially in promoting office wall decoration. This seemed to be his prime passion.
He wrote: ‘Pictures in any office environment are a very important asset. Especially in my opinion the great American landscape artists such as Asher Durand or Thomas Coles, both being my own personal favourites. But any landscapes or seascapes are always a favourable investment in any small office/worker environment. And perhaps a large Turner print could be placed in an entrance foyer? They all offer an opportunity to the office worker to gaze at the natural world beyond their office. The famed Japanese artist Hokusai and his dramatic picture ‘The Great Wave’ is and always has been a special favourite of mine. Some others care for Utamaro but I never did. Years ago I nearly purchased the original ‘Wave’ can you believe.’ But I was unable to place my bid at Sotheby’s in time to secure it. But then again maybe I wasn’t meant to own it anyway.”
“When I was 13 years old my father an Irish scaffolder fell to his death in Michigan, leaving my saintly mother to raise and feed five children. I then aged 14 years old applied and obtained my first employment with ‘The Savannah Insurance Company.’ I had always had a head for figures it seems. There I was a humble office boy engaged in filing the many claims that arrived into the office each day to be processed for payment. I sat for ten hours a day on a high stool with no backrest and all for four dollars a week. It had always been my personal ambition to attend university if possible and study law, but sadly that dream never materialised.
On the wall in that office years ago I remember and maybe placed there to offer us, workers, foolish inspiration, were two reproductions. One of the Arch de Triumph in Paris and the Brandenburg gate in Berlin. And I hated them both. I vowed then I would never visit either of those countries.
Years later with my business connections extending to over twenty-six countries, I visited each one on business and pleasure. And I was also employing over eight hundred people in sixteen countries. But I never set foot on French or German soil. And I had no regrets.
If I was required in the boardrooms in Berlin or Paris, I dispatched one of my eager vice presidents to do the honours. And they naturally relished this opportunity!
Within five years I had purchased the ‘Savannah Insurance Company’ and the building it stood in as well and four other subsidiaries. I never looked back.
I was nineteen years old. I paid the tuition fees for three of my siblings to attend the colleges of their choice and all three graduated. The other two fell away perhaps spoiled and corrupted by the dangerous delights of this fallen world. Sadly neither survived beyond their twenties.
I have been married three times but was never blessed with siring any children, well not that I am aware of. Whose fault this was I do not know, but it’s all irrelevant now. Perhaps as an old gold prospector informed me years ago in Denver, Colorado that I had been perhaps blessed by NOT producing children. Maybe he was right who knows?
Today as I write a new forward for the eighth reprint, I am nearly ninety-nine years old can you believe and I never expected to live this long. I walk three miles, maybe more each day in the rain or snow. I despise gymnasiums and cycling. I have frequently suggested for years that cyclists should pay a low road tax for the maintenance of the roads that they all happily use.
I neither smoke cigarettes or partake of alcohol or coffee. For the last eighteen years, I have never indulged myself with using an escalator and choosing instead to use stairs and never ever to hold on to a handrail.
Nor have I looked into any looking glass. An old monk I encountered in Tibet in 1941 once informed me that ‘life is for the living yet most people are the living dead.’ But always be aware that death is silently approaching to claim you one day. Wherever you are or whoever you are. And it has no favourites. And that old monk was reputed to be one hundred and seventy years old! Enjoy each minute because you will never live it again. And that will I hope to be the epitaph carved onto my own marble headstone when my time arrives to meet my Maker and stand before Him.
(Publishers note: Mr Clever Costello was found dead in a deep snowdrift in Grand Isle, Vermont aged one hundred and seven years old. According to the police officer who located him he was laying on his back with his hands placed over his chest with a beatific smile on his frozen face. He left at probate over $900+ million to be donated to ‘The better life foundation’ which he had founded over sixty years ago. To date one hundred and eighty million copies of his book have been freely distributed worldwide with sixteen reprints.)
Over the approaching summer months, the library now performing under Bella’s supervision was improved with new hardback books, new soft furnishings and plenty of new ideas. She had also proved to be very popular and obliging with her colleagues and more importantly with senior Members of Parliament, as well as their enquiring office staff who requested library assistance for future debates and Royal commissions. She was naturally only too happy to assist in all of these matters.
Previously Serge her handler had informed her that each Friday morning she should visit the local newsagent in the London Road and purchase a popular Scottish magazine named ‘The Peoples friend’ to be placed aside for and collected by a Miss Doyle. The sympathetic newsagent would understand her request and offer her the said magazine. There in the crossword section of the magazine, a brief message would be pencilled in for her next appointed rendezvous with him.
That designated wet morning she entered the shop and waited to be served. Standing in front of her stood a small middle-aged man that she noticed had the left sleeve of his mackintosh pinned up. Obviously a surviving veteran of the last war Bella sadly surmised. But now minus his lost arm. But on what battlefield had he been separated from that lost that limb she could only speculate?
She was then served using the name given to her by Serge. She then paid for the magazine and departed for the bus stop and searched for the bus that would transport and deposit her at the House of Commons. She knew little of Scotland herself only that the weather could be merciless, rather akin to the Siberian deep snowdrifts she had herself suffered with from her own prison years. She somewhere had heard or read about a secretive village known only as ‘Brigadoon’. Serge had laughingly informed her over Earl Grey tea and crumpets in Harrods that both comrade Marx and Engel’s had both visited this village and there hoped to arrange an office to recruit new members.
She was unsure of whether to believe him or not. Plans for a printing press were in preparation he informed her with a wink. Now as she turned to the required page on the crowed noisy bus a rude young girl seated in the front seat turned and put her tongue out at Bella. She simply ignored the child and turned to the crossword page. Then noticed that in the empty crossword unfilled box date and a time had been pencilled in. She then as ordered would later destroy this evidence.
At the following evening at the prescribed time Bella waited in her kitchen for Serge’s arrival bringing further instructions for her from the Moscow bureau. Yet Several early mornings ago a stray but well-maintained cat had entered her opened the kitchen door and introduced himself to her with a whimper of welcome.
She had not then really welcomed him at the time but something about those pleading eyes entered her heart. Later that day she purchased several assorted packets of popular cat food. And that evening she discovered him waiting for her when she arrived home. He followed her into the kitchen meowing and watched her intently as she opened a can, then she placed it into a saucer and watched him squat down then slowly enjoy her choice. He then sauntered into her dining room curled up into the nearest chair washed and promptly fell asleep. She sat next to him stroked his head listening to him gently purring in his slumber and whispered ‘welcome.’ She later that evening for no reason named him Oscar after a long-departed favourite uncle. Now surprisingly she rather hoped he might stay. Well at least for her duration in this country anyway.
Now waiting in her dining room for Serge’s arrival a gentle tap on the front door announced his arrival. She walked towards the door and opened it and much to her surprise a young woman stood before her offering her a gloved hand announcing: “Greetings, comrade, my name is Ninotchka Serov.” Bella offered her own hand still surprised and invited her guest into the house. The woman entered cautiously looking around at the room and noticing its furnishings. Then slowly peeling off her kid gloves, she sat down.
She was a young woman with pointed features and with her auburn hair gathered back into a required formal braid. A trace of lipstick was displayed on her cracked lips. She seemed to Bella no older than a first-year medical student. But a look of commitment to her political party and its cause was etched around her eyes and mouth. Her small hands and feet seemed somehow to be out of proportion to the rest of her body. And with a heavy pelt fur coat now loosely draped over her thin shoulders, she seemed almost smothered within its folds as she perched on the edge of the seat.
“Greeting to you comrade but where is Serge?” enquired a puzzled Bella. She never enjoyed surprises when that arrived.
“Alas, comrade, Litsky was recalled suddenly to Moscow some weeks ago to stand trial for corruption charges” she replied politely as she sat back into her chair, her coat having now slipped onto the back of the chair’s armrests.
Bella was surprised but not shocked at this revelation. Naturally, all of those expensive treats at Harrods she reasoned would be obviously noted and later punished by the ever-suspicious diligent financial diplomatic controllers in Moscow.
“Yes, comrade, Litsky is on his way to prison as is only proper for his crime” she announced as if quoting the convicting judge’s sentence.
“Perpetrated against the people of our glorious soviet socialist republic,” she said as a half-smile appeared on her face causing her to further comment. “And as my tutor at the police academy informed us, loyal students, there is always room for one more traitor in the gulag.”
A satisfied look spread over her face as she reached into her handbag to open it saying: “I am now instructed to give this to you. And to remain for a response … if any.” This completed she then began looking about the room with little interest.
Then suddenly announced: “I see you do not possess a chess set. Why? When I was the leader of the junior pioneer group I won the coveted Engle’s prize twice for my skill at the game and I was presented with my golden diploma by no less than comrade Molotov himself. I was only eleven years old can you believe? I was very proud of that diploma you know” she quickly proclaimed with sly satisfaction.
If she expected some praise from Bella it was not forthcoming. Her own interest in this monotonous game of chess was non-existent and unworthy and she refrained from commentating.
Bella only nodded with a vague reply and with little interest, then she quickly invited the girl to “please make a pot of tea” muttering under her breath. “That’s if you know how to?”
Her visitor arose from the depths of her chair, nodded and went in search of the kitchen. Bella needed some privacy and this sudden tea offering really was just an excuse to learn what was in the sealed letter.
She had hesitatingly accepted the offered envelope previously with her coded name printed on it. She now slowly opened it with a nail file and began to read the folded typewritten paper.
TOP SECRET FOR YOUR EYES ONLY
To NYR Ubchi/Rot14.
From Col. Iago Kaganovitch, NKVD Dept 9, Northern Europe
It has been brought to our attention that crucial experimental sea trials are being carried out by Royal Navy technicians in the region of Portsmouth, Lee-on-Solent and Hayling Island. Stop.
This project has been named ‘UM8.’ Stop. The use of the traditional Royal N naval mines with the Hertz horns is to modify and update their immediate uses for defensive and offensive purposes. Stop.
Reports gained so far suggest that the traditional drifting contact mines will be fitted to somehow collapse upon themselves when required. Stop. Then activated to dive to a depth not so far specified. Stop. Later all future manufactured mines will arrange for this purpose we are informed. Stop. These mines are to be fitted with a shortwave frequency battery that can be activated from land or from a nearby merchant ship. Stop. Of aircraft usage, nothing has been confirmed. Stop. It is important for our own naval high command to be able to use immediately these new weapons in the Baltic and the Black Sea and maybe in the Murmansk waters to safeguard the Soviet Republic. Stop.
Our Soviet scientists need to understand if the newly manufactured mines are purpose-built or converted. Stop. Can they be strategically controlled from both land and sea and maybe air. Stop. Could there be a possible sulphuric acid battery seepage or is there a built-in antidote to prevent this happening. Stop. Can all message commands via airwaves be blocked by other vessels in closed shipping lanes. Stop. Or by nearby aircraft or submarines. Stop. How far has this project proceeded. Stop. What is the estimated cost. Stop. Finally, it is imperative to this arm of government security and on orders from the politburo that we obtain and examine a detailed copy of these English naval sea plans Stop.
You are expected to make this an urgent priority
From: # D10/35/ST5.
THIS COMMUNICATION MUST BE DESTROYED IMMEDIATELY
She finished reading and digesting these serious implications and the demands placed upon her. Then she noticed scrawled below in blue ink writing that she had seen it many times before.
‘B. Plans needed now! K.’
She smiled as she recognised Joseph Stalin’s personal pseudonym addressed to her.
She then folded the letter and placed it back into the opened envelope and slipped it under some history books on an embroidered footstool. It would be incinerated later in the garden. She then walked over to the table, sat down and started to file her nails whilst she waited for Ninotchka to arrive with the requested tea. She was also acutely aware now that she had some detailed preparations to perform in acquiring these secret plans and quickly.
Ninotchka finally arrived balancing a tray of teacups and a plate of biscuits remarking, “I thought you might be hungry.”
Bella shook her head. She had far more important things on her mind and more importantly, she was beginning to realise that she might just need some future assistance from this girl.
“Was it bad news in your letter perhaps from home?” she asked with a hint of concern in her voice?
“No, nothing I can’t handle I suppose. But I might just need your assistance?” She had to be careful before she reeled this girl into her web as an accompanist.
She preferred usually to work alone but something nagged her that this time might not be too favourable to complete her orders … They sat in silence sipping their teas with the biscuits being ignored by both of them.
Her guest having removed her coat now sat demurely her hands crossed as if in silent prayer, her eyes fixed on some point above Bella’s head.
Then from under the dining table, Oscar made an unexpected entrance. He examined Ninotchka and purposely strolled straight towards her. She recoiled as he approached, seeing him preparing himself to jump and settle onto her lap: “Oh, no … I have never liked cats, I hate them, always have!” she recoiled in almost fright at this approaching feline.
Interestingly Bella had only the night before read part of an article in the popular ‘Daily Express’ that cats invariably approached people who do not welcome their advances. This daily task of reading any newspapers had certainly helped her understand the English language and of its regional quirks as well.
Noticing Ninotchka’s fearful face and of her raised feet to act as a barrier, Bella then arose and gently swept Oscar up from the rug and carried him into the kitchen. Then placing him protesting outside the back door she turned, then returned to the dining room. Ninotchka was now standing and looking thoughtfully out of a window at the approaching moon. Somehow a sliver of her young face was framed into a ghostly ethereal light that somehow unsettled Bella for some reason.
Suddenly she was reminded of a young postulant nun’s face that surfaced somewhere from her own mirage of locked memories. She had been ordered to question her in ‘Archangel’ before the woman was sentenced for subversive activities committed against the state. And as she had questioned her in a cold transit office she noticed the woman’s deep brown eyes that somehow radiated an inner joy.
She seemed somehow oblivious as to what awaited her in work camp number 278 located in faraway snowy Siberia. Was it her faith or a fanaticism Bella wondered but she did not care to understand what fuelled this woman’s superstitious beliefs.
“For your crime, you have been sentenced by the Supreme court to twelve years imprisonment. I doubt you will be returning for a long time, if ever and your family may well have forgotten your existence, so I suggest you forget them.” She leaned back in her chair waiting for a response and it quickly arrived: “On major, I won’t be returning from where you and your atheist state have deemed I should be transported to. And of that, I’m sure as well as being sure that you yourself will be unlikely to be there. But where I am destined to go in the future will be a wondrous place where no gold or silver will ever rust.”
Bella had stood up and slapped her hard across the face causing her to fall onto to the stone wet floor.
“Don’t be insolent” she shouted. “Are going you kill me now major?” she simply enquired looking up at Bella and at her holstered pistol? Or will it be a slow death in one of your correction camps?”
The nun pulled herself back into her seat, wiping away the stream of her blood from her damaged cartilage. Bella walked over to the woman and pulled her by her hair towards herself saying: “Sister Nun listen to me … your time of sentence has arrived stand up and … !”
She was delayed from completing her final words. As the nun pulled herself up and interrupted Bella saying: “Oh I am now ready major and may God forgive you..”
She finally stood up and Bella shouted to the waiting guard escort her away. She was then escorted to the platform and herded with many other prisoners to those overcrowded unheated cattle trucks. Stencilled onto the side of the wooden grilled carriage were the ominous word Norilsk. A feared destination where few returned and even fewer knew or had heard of its existence.
Was that so long ago Bella now pondered to herself as this unwelcome page of her past invaded her present mind flow?
Now in darkening room in South London, Ninotchka remained passive as if waiting for orders as she returned to her chair. Bella sipped her now cooling tea and spoke to her carefully of what might be expected of her services. But then she suddenly enquired: “Are you married? do have any family?” enquired Bella as she renewed the conversation.
“Sadly no to both questions comrade. I was an orphan placed into orphanage number 279 in Minsk. I do not wish to ever be committed to the bourgeois state of marriage eventually I suppose to become one of those old babushkas you see sweeping away the snow in Red Square. And with definitely NO cats at home waiting for me. She pulled a mock face of disgust.
“Are you sure?” Bella laughed teasing her.
“Absolutely” was her final answer.
Then silence settled on the room with Bella still seriously pondering her future options.
She had rarely operated previously with an accomplice preferring to march to her own drum. Now however because of this urgent cypher from Moscow, she would have to inform Ninotchka of what might be expected from her.
She proceeded with caution as she switched on the occasional lamp that quickly chased away arriving shadows and pulled the curtains together. The two women then talked and planned for over an hour before an exhausted Ninotchka departed now fully briefed of what was to be expected of her. But for Bella sleep would evade her finally only to arrive just hours before the welcomed dawn. She awoke the following morning feeling more exhausted than refreshed.
After a scant breakfast whilst watching Oscar preen himself on the window sill after his fish meal, she prepared herself for her day ahead, then joining the jostling exodus workforce to London. And failed once again to acquire a vacant seat on the bus remaining standing all the way. Ah, the London transport system she sighed.
Because of Bella’s always welcoming smile and helpfulness at the Palace of Westminster, she had become the libraries greatest asset in a brief time. Always eager to aid and assist all Members of Parliament and their overworked researchers, she had also created a designated area with a couch and chairs and a glass coffee table, where invited members could congregate and gossip and watch through the window as the mighty River Thames speed on its relentless journey to join the waiting sea. Once there secure with their drinks, salmon sandwiches and refreshments the Members could sit with ease and discuss Government papers that they were involved in preparing for Parliament’s final approval.
It was also a critical aspect of her work to listen to any loose talk that might aid Moscow. People, of course, relax in an environment where alcohol was generously applied as she well knew. Their oiled tongues usually betrayed any discretion ‘Loose lips sink ships’ was a popular 1942 Government warning. All of what she heard she memorised and recorded.
She herself was the model of discretion and always encouraged and allowed the smiling members to bring their own liquid refreshments with them to the library.
It soon became an important watering hole and later christened as ‘Bella’s Bar’ as one former Defence Secretary awkwardly described it later to the appointed chairman of an MI6 internal Government enquiry several months later. He would later resign his cabinet position. A few weeks later committed suicide on his highland Country estate. It was reported in the Daily Telegraph as “an unfortunate hunting accident.” And then the tragedy of his death in the glens by the picturesque Loch Ney was quickly forgotten.
One such young man who became a very frequent and very welcomed visitor and unwittingly entered Bella’s orbit of interest was Alex Lovesey Smyth a twenty-eight-year-old researcher. He had once nursed ambitions himself to include the prestigious title Member of Parliament after his own name. But it was not to be, having failed far too many constituency Party selections for whatever reason. He instead would be snared unknowingly into Bella’s web of intrigue. And the crucial information she learned was that HE was the senior speechwriter for his master the Present Minister of Defence. Immediately young Alex arrived into Bella’s precision-tuned antennae all his escape hatches would be closed. She then immediately prepared her own plans to lure and secure him into her prepared web and hopefully gain those required secret naval plans.
To be continued…..
(C) Copyright G. Patrick Battell