Bella Stavisky was suddenly aware of a shadow standing, somehow looming over her, and turning she looked into Leonard’s face. His stubble seemed to have spread she noticed that was highlighted in the fading London afternoon light.
“Come, Lt. Colonel Stavisky, we both have important business to discuss” he informed her politely as they now deserted the silent garden. Then patters of pulsating raindrops assaulted the pool somehow yet again causing panic to the confused fish even more.
Further congratulations were lauded upon her by the waiting clapping staff of the legation inside the building. A few even requested a signed autograph to which she was happy to comply. Is this what fame is like she wondered?
Then accompanied by Leonard she returned to the residence’s smoke-filled dressing room to return her borrowed uniform and place the awarded medal into Madam Olga’s nicotined fingers for safekeeping. It would days later be returned to Moscow in the regular diplomatic bag and there placed into her official file held in the Lubyanka fortress that she knew so well.
Leonard now accompanied her to the embassy’s so-called ‘safe room’ located in the gloomy basement. Concrete fitted lead-lined shields deflated any enemy listening devices it was hoped.
Once inside the dimly lit vault and almost devoid of air they sat opposite each other with fixed bare tables and chairs. Two bleak photographs were displayed on the whitewashed walls. One depicting ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’, the other facing was of an unsmiling portrait of ‘Ivan the Terrible’. Both these historical misplaced depictions added more to the claustrophobic conditions of this secured venue rather than enhance it its grim facade.
For Bella who had always feared any confined spaces since childhood and of course placed in the arctic prison years before, all of these surroundings now reminded her of a dank cobwebbed tomb. She was suddenly anxious to quickly conclude their business and depart from its crowded confines.
Yet the world she knew was a jungle always at war with itself. With most of humanity just observing and the few being responsible for bringing about its destruction through manipulated wars and other pastimes. Eventually, there were never winners only losers.
What had that old nun spoken many times to her years before when they shard a cell: And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars’ (Matt 24.6).
The overhead bulb now somehow displayed a strange jaundiced shadow onto Leonard’s partially shaded face. She wondered how she looked herself in this unnatural light. She shuddered to think.
She desperately needed to be free from this cell now. The walls somehow seemed to be crowding in upon her. She needed to escape its embrace. But first, she realised there was official work to be completed. She took several deep breaths to calm her nerves. And waited for Leonard to begin. He then spoke in a slow moderated tone: “Well Bella what do you think of your chances in obtaining those important naval plans?” Leonard enquired as they settled down.
“I don’t think Lenny, I always try to deal in facts and observations” Bella answered in a combative manner,” always the professional?” he laughed.
“The world my dear Lenny was built by professionals, it is the amateurs who are always destroying it with us cleaning up their mess afterwards.” She retorted quickly: “So…what are my orders?” she then quickly demanded hoping to finalise the briefing and escape this damp vaulted tomb.
He extracted a sheet of folded paper on which were her typed final orders from Moscow Central. He unfolded it and began to read enunciating certain crucial words: “From Cipher 41329: Operation Um 8.
The designated Agent BZ 99667 (Bella) will tearfully inform the requested chosen contact (Alex) that there is now great urgency in receiving those important maritime plans.
The urgency in the report concerning the agent’s fictional brother is that a final warning has been received by her from the casino operators. And that his life is now in a critical state of danger. The core of the threat is that her brother will be executed. Emphasise to him that these are dangerous men and without scruples!
When the contact hopefully arrives with the requested government plans at the accommodation of agent BZ 99667, it is expected he will hope/or expect after the photographs have been taken, to immediately return them safely to the British admiralty. Perhaps the following morning.
It is advised that agent BZ99667 offer to the nervous young man a suitable refreshment that will contain unknown to him a mild sedative prepared by the embassy physician. This will allow the photographs to be taken by the operative without haste.
A suitable camera for the purpose will be delivered by hand to the agent’s home by agent 661951 (Ninotchka). She will in a nearby room swiftly and carefully photograph the required plans. Then when this operation is completed she will return immediately to the embassy with the camera and film without delay and report to her duty officer. On completion and with the camera and film having been safely dispatched by agent 66195 to the embassy’s political officer (Leonard). The young man will be awakened then take the ‘borrowed’ plans and be advised to quickly return home. The agent BZ99667 will feign a headache or such debility and claim she needs to take to her bed.
The following day the agent (BZ99667) is to attend her place of employment as usual and remove all personal items from her desk. Then at her usual lunchtime, she will leave the building and return to her home in Streatham. She must take all personal items with her from her workplace and wipe down any fingerprints from her desk also cabinets and telephones etc. She will not return. Then on returning home the agent will follow out the same procedure with all personal articles being removed or destroyed. Then with all surfaces will be scrupulously wiped down to remove all fingerprints etc. Great care should always be taken in performing this important task. And in all rooms and cupboards. With front door handles and kitchen, cupboard handles not being overlooked. Care should be taken in the bathroom especially the medicine cabinet. All bottles and tubes to be removed or flushed down the toilet if possible or be taken and destroyed elsewhere.
The agent will finally proceed to the embassy and report to her case officer (Leonard). There to await her new embarkation orders. The agent is not to depart the building during this period.
It has been decided and agreed by the full Politburo that travel papers and letters of transit, as well as a suitable passport, will be given by hand to the agent by her case officer. She will sign for this document.
The name as printed in the newly acquired passport will show that Fraulein Lena Terboven is the official holder of the document. The agent should then familiarise herself with her new name and also practise a suitable signature until she is satisfied.
It has also been decided that the destination and place of residence will be in Stuttgart, Germany.
Full confidence in this agent’s professionalism in serving the U.S.S.R. has been noted. She has, as usual, the full confidence of the politburo. Signed Lt. Colonel S.V.Kirov. Section VI. NKVD.”
“So, there you have it, Bella. You are to read your orders again and memorise them and then return them to me.”
He emphasized the importance of this last order.
“And return them to me. And those are MY orders,” said Leonard arising stiffly from his hard-backed chair and pushing forward to her across the desk the sheet of paper. He collected the paper after she again read it and locked them in a small wall safe.
“Now what do you say we get out of this rat hole and enjoy some well-earned lunch?!”
His welcome suggestion was naturally accepted by Bella with relief. Anything to escape this ‘creepy’ tomb.
Then he walked toward the heavy lined door kicked it sharply and waited for it to open by the bored embassy guard. Then the two departed from the stifling vault, without a word to the waiting guard or each other.
Before they departed the embassy, Leonard again escorted Bella to the domain of Madam Olga and there insisted that she dress Bella accordingly for a visit to the famous West End of London.
After several dress fittings, Bella arrived to display her new attire for Leonard’s approval. Gone he noticed was the shapeless apparel she had displayed when entering the building. Now with a new tailored two-piece silk French haute couture charcoal grey suit, with matching shoes, she had been transformed into an English lady, hoping to enjoy herself.
Leonard was delighted with the transformation and thanked Madame Olga’s artistic skills most profusely with a gift of two packets of Senior Service cigarettes, which she quickly accepted with a servile bow saying.
“Thank you, comrade, and may you live to be one hundred years old and may the last voice you may be permitted to hear be our dear comrade Stalin’s.”
He stifled a smile and thanked her saying softly to Bella: “Let’s get out of here and quickly!”
Later requesting a car from the embassy garage enclosure and choosing a gleaming Vauxhall, he then announced to Bella that he was escorting her to the casino London playground of the rich and not so rich.
They later exited the embassy lower level into the teeming London afternoon traffic. He exuded too much dangerous confidence for her liking as he weaved in and out of the traffic.
“I read somewhere that London is still the most dangerous city in the world to drive in” he suddenly announced apropos of nothing.
“For the driver or the pedestrians?” she asked with a smile.
“Sorry, I can’t remember but it was I believe, in the Daily Mail” he replied lighting a thin cheroot from a gold initialled Ronson lighter. Yet close to his proximity she was suddenly feeling uncomfortable for some reason that she could not explain.
“Oh, so it must be true if it was in the Daily Mail!” she uttered reprovingly. He did not respond just chewed on the lighted cheroot somehow now deep in thought.
She quickly noticed how he somehow skilfully navigated the crowded roads like a practised Roman charioteer of old. Perhaps she speculated, he had been domiciled in London for too long and obviously enjoying the offered fruits of capitalism with relish. She herself always despised being a passenger in any vehicle that placed her own life in another driver’s hands, skilled or not.
Later after enjoying a splendid luncheon at the fashionable Murrells restaurant in Soho, their meal finally being completed by a Martell cognac and a Havana cigar (for him) and with Suchard miniature dark chocolates offered (for her), the portly Senor Murrell arrived to offer a few confidential words to Leonard, who seemed, she noticed, to be rather too well acquainted with this popular perspiring mien host.
She surmised that Leonard had many paid contacts throughout the city and the country. Bella was intrigued when he was offered the bill by just scribbling his name with a flourish saying to her: “It is called an expense account Bella. I find that when my friends and journalists have accepted some free drinks or boozy lunches it certainly loosens their tongues and all to me and our country’s advantage.” She nodded at this subterfuge that seemed somehow to work for his political advantage. She later learned he had many paid dubious contacts working in for him in the red light district of Shepherds Market in Mayfair. But weren’t spying and prostitution known as the oldest professions? she had read somewhere?
The couple then departed for Leicester Square where Houdini himself performed to distinction here on frequent occasions” (https://excatholicsforchrist.com/harry-houdini-the-man-and-his-many-myths). Leonard then announced with a certain pride. And that his great uncle Stefan had then been employed as one of the few magician’s stage assistants that Houdini employed and trusted in those days with his many still unsolved secrets even today still a mystery. His uncle had then helped in constructing the fake false cabinets for Houdini that he always used to perform his stage illusions in the notable cities of the world.
Later his uncle sadly was sentenced to a lengthy prison term for committing that heinous crime of bigamy of a total of three times!
“And can you believe the great man Harry Houdini himself came to visit my uncle in Bentonville prison here in London many times when and if it was possible? And naturally enough the authorities were petrified he would pick the cell door and release a grateful relative. Sadly it never happened but … the funny thing was when he was released, he performed the same marriage ritual all over again within weeks with a fan dancer from Seville can you believe?”
He shook his head in disbelief saying whimsically: “I suppose the old boy liked the spice of matrimonial variety.”
Then he steered her gently through excited matinee crowds towards a discreet casino entrance located in a side street. They then entered causing her to regard the mock trappings with interest. They now being fitted out to a traditional French facade with antique fake gas lights of that era as well as old sepia framed black and white pictures c1900 depicting old Montmartre.
Two doormen of indeterminate ages sported the traditional black & white striped shirts with black berets, blazing red scarves and strings of garlic strung around their necks. And smoking the traditional popular Gauloises cigarettes and probably mainly for effect she suspected. She was always cynical about peoples exaggerated appearances and their sartorial choice of dress.
“We must understand Bella how the enemy indulges itself and if we are ever to defeat them with our Marxist logic we must observe and learn!” announced Leonard with a nonchalant shrug. She wondered if he really believed this statement.
Their slow descent into the casino pit, because that was what it appeared to be, left Bella unprepared as to what lay below her.
An extensive room that displayed no windows. In other words, time would always remain dormant in this fortress of unearned finance. Day or night would never ever be allowed to enter these canvas-covered walls. The concealed fitted lighting was subdued that somehow created an ambience of calming comfort to those entering for the initial visit which of course was the purpose requested by the management to their well-rewarded commissioned architects. A fitted fake Tabriz Persian deep piled carpet she later learned, cleverly muffled any unwelcome sound.
A sprawl of people were laughing and talking with many screaming with whoops of delight and many wailing with disappointment as some won and many lost at the green baize tables. All this barrage of noise had assaulted her unprepared ears. It was an amazing sight to behold.
Amongst this throng of fake bonhomie glamorous waitresses barely dressed floated by as if on wheels with trays burdened with requested drinks and sandwiches. Some wore imitation grass skirts with their offered drinks being served from coconut shells. And with the murals on the wall depicting palm trees and sun-kissed beaches, it was no coincidence that the casino boasted the rather obvious name of ‘The island Oasis.’
All doubts of entering this establishment were denuded at the open green door by the welcoming front of house manager to any first time hesitating customers, announcing rather like a carousel barker of old who proclaimed: “Come on in folks and experience the time of your life.”
Many accepted, few declined and later many regretted it financially. None searched for knowledge or love in this den of dreams but all were willing to be seduced by the addictive scent of money and its alluring possession.
The lighting effect further created a clever Mediterranean vista that promoted this mock island lagoon of repose and enjoyment.
Leonard, Bella had noticed was welcomed as an old friend by the scarred faced men standing stony-faced around the room attired in full evening dress suits. Finished with a buttonhole of fresh white carnations. Some of the customers also seemed to greet him on first name terms as well.
He seemed to be in his element by the welcome adulation of so many. He turned back towards her and circling his arm tightly around her waist he murmured intimately into her ear: “This my beauty is where the capitalists play and idle away their days whilst their downtrodden workers toil in their filthy factories.” Then as he turned to take an offered drink from the tray of a passing smiling and semi-dressed beach girl, Bella elbowed him sharply in the kidney causing him to stumble as he reacted with embarrassed discomfort. A look of surprise appearing his face.
“Not so much of that word BEAUTY my dear comrade … if you don’t mind because” she hissed.
She again poked him gently in the back from her right elbow whispering: “If you address me again by that or any other familiar name or touch me again I will snap your wrist in half … rather like a dried twig!” She had always loathed all false familiarity from men.
She then leaned over and removed the now spilt glass from his hand and replaced it on to another smiling waitresses’ tray as she passed by, but declined one for herself when offered a choice of drinks. Then she said with a wink: “Now MY beauty simply teach me the rules of this ridicules game because it seems to me you have had plenty of previous practice, and possibly in this particular establishment!” she whispered as she playfully poked him with her forefinger into his sternum.
And with the determination and delight of a novice gambler with that so-called ‘lucky streak,’ she amazingly at the end of the evening and under his reluctant guidance pocketed over £50 in winnings. She was elated naturally but greed, as she knew, is an emotional trait that all seem to be blighted with from birth to death. A crutch of delusion. A sin of the flesh she had heard somewhere.
“You know Leonard I’m rather enjoying this game if that’s what you can call it.” She continued: “I could get happily addicted to that spinning wheel that goes round and round and round …!” she laughed to a now downcast Leonard.
His own appetite to search that spinning roulette wheel for financial gain had now deserted him like a fleeing frightened bird from an advancing dangerous tomcat.
By now the room was becoming raucous as an admiring crowd had drifted towards her own table hoping that a slice of her luck might be attracted to them. Now she surmised, it was definitely time to depart with her unexpected winnings.
One of the croupiers said to her with a bow: “We hope you visit us again madam.” “Not if I can help it she replied in Russian.”
As they walked towards the car she exclaimed to the following Leonard … “well that was an unexpected experience thank you for taking me.”
Then safely ensconced in the car Leonard drove her home. He was now all business and talked of securing those requested plans and once again they discussed the delicate operation she had been charged with to obtain them. And then quickly forward them on to Moscow.
Bella alighted from the car. Then she leaned through the open window saying with a flourish: “Oh something for you.” “For me?” answered a slightly inebriated Leonard.
She then proceeded to throw into the car a handful of pound notes explaining: “I think you can make better use of them than I can.” She laughed at his surprised expression as they landed on the passenger seat.
“Arrivederci, Lenny … and be a good boy because you never know who is watching!” She purred at him through the window. He did not respond just nodded and placed the car into gear then straightened his hair.
She then turned and walk away then paused turned back saying to him through the still open window: “Oh by the way… do please have a shave by tomorrow if you don’t mind? You can now certainly afford it my BEAUTY!? So goodnight Leonard.” She blew him an invisible kiss.
And with that, she walked up the path towards her house as his car accelerated away into the night. Oscar was perched on the garden wall watching her pensively. She invited him and he followed her. She was now exhausted what with the medal ceremony at the embassy and the casino outing, it had been a rather long tiring unusual day.
Later after luxuriating into a deep bath and later towelling herself dry she perched by the open bedroom window and searched the skies. Admiring as always the mysterious heavens and their eternal endless brilliance. A dying comet streaked across the darkened skies before it crashed to earth and died. Yet it somehow reminded her of that lost cathedral of trees in faraway icy Siberia, where she had once betrothed herself in her love forever for Lev for always the love of her life. In her own previous pained life she had gazed she recalled at far too many skies and really they were all much the same. Rather like most people all with much the same but with some noticeable variations.
She felt somehow now drained and devoid of any emotion that sadly had died long ago in that land of the snow. But she had always been isolated from true friendship all of her life. And at her age, loneliness was all that was being offered to her in the coming future. Maybe one day her own life would be nothing more than ending in an empty crematorium. Rather like that dying comet she had just watched hurtling down to its own eventual destruction. Yet life was not a perfect pictured postcard never had been and never would be. You make the most of what was dealt to you she had always believed in any cycle of life.
She briefly thought of Alex, poor boy … that he was … and so innocent. But wasn’t he just another chess pawn in the capitalist equation that she had once sworn to destroy?
That night as she descended into sleep, she speculated that Germany might just offer her the key in learning what had really happened to Leon. She smouldered with constant anger of what might have happened to him and now even more so she would avenge him and harm those who had harmed him.
In her troubled sleep, she dreamed and trembled of being in that crowded smoke-filled Oasis casino and of her ill-gained winnings. Now somehow seen silently cascading down on to the green baize table. Then suddenly from nowhere, a large black cat landed, claws splayed onto the pinnacle of the pile sending the money spilling onto the hushed carpeted floor with its tail. Then the floating currency laid scattered around her feet with none seeming to want to touch or claim it.
She hoped when she awoke this was not a premonition for the failure in requiring and photographing the requested documents.
She had never failed yet in any past sealed orders dispatched from Moscow but as the old hackneyed saying goes, ‘There is always a first time for everything.’ Yes, always a first time.
The following wet October morning whilst she was seated at her desk destroying documents, Bella received two calls.
The first phone call arrived 9.35 and from a breathless Alex who whispered down the line rather conspiratorially: “Hello Bella … how are you? Please listen. I have what you requested, but I must have them back after you have finished what you have to do. I can be with you at 6.30 but I’m rather nervous…”
“Wonderful Alex thank you so much. You are really a lifesaver and I can’t thank you enough from both of us. But that will be fine and if you like we can celebrate with a glass of champagne afterwards. Take care now, see you later my love.”
She hoped this last added endearment might encourage him to see the plan through just in case his faltering courage deserted him. And that could never be allowed to happen!
An hour later perusing the European newspapers and sipping a sugarless black coffee, she noticed an item in the ‘Deutsch Post’ and a photograph taken recently in Munich of Heinrich Himmler seen inspecting his newly commissioned ‘Liebstandarte guards’ (Hitler’s elite bodyguards).
She knew of him of course and of his reputation and his expected anticipated role in the emerging Nazi party of course. But it was the other man standing slightly behind him, his possible number two of command she surmised, he certainly interested her. Because there was something familiar about him that caused her to pause and peer closely at his face being clean-shaven and handsome she supposed in a rugged manner. Then she remembered of course.
She had learned some months ago that this man Walter Kyper had been apparently one of the last witnesses to see her brother Leon alive before he vanished somewhere in Munich. And hadn’t she in fact followed and observed him and his wife in Zermatt on their honeymoon after some passed information concerning Leon. Something told her she might have a possible lead to Leon’s sudden disappearance. She would certainly pursue it in Germany and very soon.
At 12.50 just before she departed to enjoy her lunch and do some shopping and never to return, the Prime Minister’s personal secretary arrived unexpectedly to inform her that the Prime Minister rather hoped if possible she could come down to Chequers this weekend if she were free as their guest. It seems his wife had learned about some favourable reviews about the library reorganisation reported in a trade paper. She had also been informed about the streamlined shelves and office reorganisation. Could Bella perhaps perform some of her magic in the Chequers’ library? It was definitely long overdue it seemed.
She naturally agreed and was informed that a ministry car would collect her at 10.30 to drive down to Chequers in Kent. It seemed the Prime Minister and his wife Julia would be delighted if she could also join them for lunch. And later a tour of the famous landscaped gardens would be arranged if she so wished with afternoon tea served afterwards.
All good news arrived sometimes in threes she had once been informed by a dying Orthodox nun herself incarcerated in prison with Bella many years ago. She hoped that sweet old woman was correct in her assertion but doubted she was still alive! She then decided later to treat herself to a facial and perhaps a ‘fiery red’ tint to her hair that would necessitate a rare visit to the hairdresser. She wanted to be noticed and look her best for the performance that evening for the unsuspecting Alex. And the separation from him of those all-important requested plans. That was all that mattered now.
As she walked out of the House of Commons familiar gate she paused as had been her habit of late to talk to the police officer stationed on the gate. She had learned some moths previously that his eldest son Mark-of whom he was very proud-had been awarded a coveted scholarship to the military academy at Sandhurst. She had congratulated him, as he yet again, as always offered to carry her shop purchases to the waiting elevator. She had always declined his chivalrous offer simply because he had now only the use of one arm and she certainly did not wish for him to exert himself using his left arm. That separated other arm now lay somewhere on the western front tragically separated from its owner many years ago he had informed her with a sad smile. On his chest was an empty right sleeve that was pinned just below his polished and well-deserved medals. He himself had long ago accepted privately the simple fact that he was no longer a whole man that he had once been. Now only a damaged replica of a man and would always remain so. Always the first thing people noticed about him was the displayed empty sleeve before they turned to look into his tired eyes. Most had silently and politely ebbed away from him. Not seeking him in any conversation. But now for some reason, this foreign lady he had noticed some months ago had unexpectedly paused. And enquired of how he was that day. It was the first kind words spoken to him in years. Since then he had always considered it an honour and a gesture of admiration to offer to carry her bags and enjoy her morning salutation. It really made his long day before he returned alone to his empty tenth floor flat somewhere in North London. He had no wife now and he had no desire for a pet to welcome him when he returned home. Life really was what you made it. So just get on with it.
Earlier she had noticed a contented overweight black cat observing her passing. He being perched on the sunken plinth of the imposing statue of that famed Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.
A monument that had proudly graced the front of this historic building for over a century and long may it continue to do so she hoped. And she had heard that a death mask of Cromwell the Lord Protector maybe have graced the library at Chequers or surprisingly in Downing Street the Prime Minister’s London residence (https://excatholicsforchrist.com/oliver-cromwell-britains-chief-defender/)
Cromwell’s steely gaze surveyed all before him and it seemed with disdain. Did he find it acceptable what he witnessed each day? He somehow reminded her of Koba, a man destined to perform great things for his people and his country. Of this, she was sure he would succeed. She just ploughed the capitalist soil until it would be swept away in the coming expected revolution. She was simply just a working foot soldier always obeying orders, or so she liked to think about herself.
With one final glance at the silent statue and the so-called parliament, the mother of democracy she walked slowly back towards Victoria station to catch the crowded train to Streatham and hopefully find an empty seat, then later after a luxuriating bath, prepare herself for the expected arrival of young Alex. And she hoped with those sought after requested papers, then afterwards to gently later usher him to the front door offering him a sweet goodnight and a chaste kiss. But she was aware of that old Scottish saying and often quoted ‘The best-laid plans of mice and men go awry.” Later if all went as arranged she would begin preparing for her departure to Stuttgart. Of this new posting, she was most certainly looking forward to. And of course in her personal quest to learn the truth about her brother’s Leon’s disappearance.
To be continued…
Copyright (C) G. Patrick Battell
(All Rights Reserved)