Now hopefully soon after her arrival in Germany there to arrange the acquaintance of this man who had stood very close to Heinrich Himmler in that recent news photograph she now speculated that it should not take too long to motor down from Stuttgart to Munich and once there to locate a few answers from this man she had last observed in Zermatt.
But first things first she must now orchestrate the immediate receiving of those government naval plans and then the next day arrange an imminent departure from England. And perhaps not before time. She had grown tired of the English and their dull ways and topics of conversation being usually the weather can you believe?
When she returned home and after feeding Oscar – she was going to miss the little chap she realised – she settled at the cleared table and started planning.
She first telephoned Ninotchka and requested she bring the latest camera with attachments and definitely infrared lens, and then to familiarise herself in with it. Then from the embassy doctor ask him to prepare a suitable sleeping sedative, but NOT too strong he had insisted.
She phoned Alex and enquired if he had been able to obtain the plans? When the answer was in the affirmative she asked him to please bring them that evening. She would, she explained quietly, be eternally grateful to him in helping her and her suffering, terrified brother.
An hour later Ninotchka arrived slightly breathless but well prepared. Bella hoped for the task of photographing those important plans, then later for immediate dispatch to Moscow.
They walked into the dining room and then Ninotchka placed the heavy Leica camera onto the table for inspection.
“Is it loaded?” enquired a cautious Bella. Ninotchka nodded and mouthed a silent yes. Oscar observed the transactions with no interest before seeking solace, as always, in sleep.
She then left her to familiarise herself with its mechanical trappings. Bella was aware obviously she could not afford any last-minute glitch. This sudden window of opportunity would not present itself again. But she was nervous all the same feeling somehow time was conspiring against her. Perhaps an unwelcome gremlin of doubt was beginning to manifest itself into her exhausted mind. She pushed it aside for now at least. Then as she looked out through the glass she noticed a passing shadow of a bird? Then in the night’s gloom a gothic poem by Poe she recalled from her days at the academy suddenly invaded her mind and for no reason:
‘And the raven never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting,
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door.
Shall be lifted nevermore.’
Was this mysterious winged fowl a messenger bringing bad omens this evening. She certainly hoped not.
She then telephoned Alex, but there being no response, she assumed he was on his way, with she hoped, the required plans. And definitely hoping he had not altered his mind!
She returned to examine the prepared sedative that would be later administered discreetly into a cup of warm sweetened coffee then offered to him. Notably, before those sought Admiralty UB8 secret drawings were photographed. Successfully and quickly she hoped by the waiting Ninotchka in the dining room.
When Alex eventually arrived breathless, flustered and perspiring she quickly pulled him to the hall and embraced him.
“Did you bring them Alex? Oh please say YOU HAVE?” she pleaded over-emphasising the last two words.
“Yes, Bella … oh but I was so nervous when I walked out the admiralty with the plans secured inside my briefcase next to my egg sandwiches” he giggled nervously.
She led him into the small breakfast room and settled him down. He reached into the battered briefcase and extracted a large manila envelope and hopefully with the full set of plans she thought as he eagerly handed it to her.
“Oh thank you Alex” she gushed, “I really never can thank you enough. But first you need to relax my dear and I will make you a strong cup of coffee.”
She walked over to him smiling as she reached for that prized envelope. He offered it to her and she accepted it almost nonchalantly although her heart was pounding. This she thought to herself was proceeding as planned and she was delighted. She then lightly placed it on an occasional table as if it were just a bag of incidental groceries and walked into the kitchen to prepare his doctored coffee. He, of course, remained oblivious as to what was being prepared for him on this last fateful evening of his life.
Later she watched as he sampled the beverage with relish then his eyelids slowly collapsed and his head titled forward causing him to almost drop the held cup and saucer. She skillfully captured it and placed it on the table seeing that most of it had been consumed. Then she departed with the plans into the next room where Ninotchka was still acclimatising herself with the use of the borrowed camera.
Suddenly from nowhere, Oscar who not been noticed, jumped onto the table to see what was happening. Ninotchka uttered a sudden shriek and almost dropped the camera. Bella again moved swiftly yet again and just about caught it.
Ninotchka froze in fear as she looked at the purring cat. Bella realised a catastrophe had just about been averted. She lifted up the cat gently and placed him into the kitchen, then quickly shutting the door she then regained some of her usual composure.
“So are you ready? Hurry! Come on, we must be quick…we don’t have all night you know!”
She waited, her eyes darkening waiting for a swift response. When it arrived no further words were needed. Their task was now rather obvious.
She placed the envelope onto the table, opened it and settled the folded sheets of technical drawings onto the French lace table cloth. She looked at the curious annotations and mathematical equations and sketches of submarines. They meant absolutely nothing to her untrained eye. There were also she noticed unexplained detailed pen and ink measured drawings of supposed airwave symbols.
All the documents were then placed in a straight line. Ninotchka immediately prepared her lenses and camera aperture fixings. She had rejected the included tripod being unsure of how to open, arrange and then secure it.
Bella then returned to the small room to see how Alex was faring and if he was conscious then hopefully prepare to take him home and with the plans.
But to her shock and surprise, Alex was now convulsing revealing an unhealthy pallor. He had slid down onto the floor, his body dancing violently. She knelt down beside him feeling powerless and slightly confused. How had this happened she wondered and what would happen to Alex if this seizure continued what could it medically mean?
She certainly could not summon an ambulance. Or maybe was this perhaps an unexpected allergic reaction to the sedative she had administered to him? Somewhere she recalled in the inner recess of her mind, had he not once mentioned very briefly about a heart condition that he had suffered with since childhood? Foolishly she had overlooked this crucial information. But too late now. She then leaned over and loosened his tie, opened his shirt and then placed a nearby pillow under his head and then called out to Ninotchka.
Within minutes both women were kneeling over the convulsing man.
“What happened?” asked a concerned Ninotchka.
“I don’t know but it doesn’t matter anyway …” her eyes narrowed as she asked abruptly.
“Have you finished photographing the plans, that’s the important thing?” still stroking his face, but knowing somehow the situation was becoming hopeless and that this gesture was useless.
A positive response from Ninotchka caused her to order the young woman to pack up the camera immediately into its leather case and take to an arranged rendezvous.
“Now listen carefully. When you leave here walk up to the main road and flag down the second black taxi that comes along, not the first, then ask to be taken to The Royal Grape hotel in Bowen street. Once there, discretely enter the saloon bar where an arranged contact will be waiting for you and who will recognise you by asking a question. He will then enquire of you: ‘Do you know the way to Meaner Road? You will reply, yes I do just follow the main commercial road, it’s the second turning on the left.’
Then once outside, pass him the camera and everything else then return here. Again flag down the second taxi that comes along and come back here.”
She looked at Ninotchka for conformation that she understood this vital request.
“Understood? Good now go and come straight back and say nothing to anyone about what has happened here tonight. Do I make myself CLEAR?”
Bella’s steely eyes settled upon her with a warning that she would broach no argument today at all!
Ninotchka nodded not really sure of what was happening or expected and departed the house with the prized acquired plans secured into her new pristine leather shoulder bag.
Bella again attempted somehow to revive Alex but by now his face was ashen and she was aware that he was in the final gasping throes of his approaching death. She had witnessed it too many times in the past. Then he suddenly opened his eyes looked at her in confusion before his final breath slowly escaped from his body sounding rather like a punctured cycle tyre.
“Sorry Alex it really was nothing personal, I was only doing my job” she whispered perhaps more to pacify herself or as a form of contrition. Then she quickly prepared for what she must perform next.
She slowly reached into the inside of his suit jacket stood up and there by his wallet was a letter from a London cardiologist concerning an oncoming appointment. But it was Alex’s address she was delighted to discover and conveniently for her that was located in the nearby Clapham area.
She then withdrew several receipts with some rail tickets and seat stubs for the Royal Albert Hall. In another pocket were several small black and white photographs or what the English called ‘snaps.’ One showed a young Alex in gown and mortarboard standing proudly in front of an ancient building in Oxford. Several showed him with a smiling unknown elderly woman. His mother perhaps? But none with his father or any other men. She located the important house keys and placed them to one side.
She then drew a sharp breath as in another photograph she recognised herself! She realised that they showed her arriving and leaving the House of Commons and on different days it seemed. Certainly, by the texture of paper and professional angles, it showed them to be possible covert surveillance photographs. But authorised by who and for what purpose she did not know?
So were maybe the London Metropolitan Police monitoring her movements or was it maybe the internal shadowy Security Service taking an interest in her? She often thought about their interest if any, in her important job at the Commons.
She realised she had just had a fortunate escape but suddenly aware her time and her mission in England was now seriously compromised, and maybe as it turned out, the unexpected death of Alex and the probing into his wallet was a fortunate discovery for her.
She walked back to the kitchen then sat down and seriously sketched out her next plan of action. She had never been impulsive of course and decided that Ninotchka would definitely perform an important co-starring role in the plan’s success. Willing or not she definitively needed this girl and quickly.
Five minutes later a feasible plan had fermented and might just succeed if prepared with precision.
Then her mission if hopefully accomplished would finally mean Adieu London ….. and then Guten Tag Stuttgart.
But more importantly, now she decided those original governmental documents would certainly have to be returned intact to the house that Alex had once solely occupied. She would perform that mission herself. Trust no one but yourself her tutor at the academy had always impressed upon her years ago if possible.
But first the disposal of the body.
She climbed the stairs to the spare bedroom, entered, then selected sheets and an old eiderdown to be carried downstairs.
Once downstairs she placed the sheets and eiderdown onto the floor and rolled the body onto both. It took her a little effort. Then she removed all jewellery as well as emptying the pockets of the still-warm corpse.
From the kitchen, she brought in a tin of caustic soda and a bottle of bleach. Then placed her hands into a pair of sturdy rubber gloves, tied a dishcloth over her nose and mouth, then opened the lid and unscrewed the top carefully. And then she proceeded to slowly pour a modicum from each onto the fingers watching it as it blistered and melted the flesh on the exposed fingertips. She allowed it to work its desired effect until all fingerprints had been erased after several minutes. She was rather pleased with herself as she opened the casement window to expel those noxious fumes.
She then noticed a yellow urine stain had appeared across his suit trousers. She was, of course, no foreigner to the decomposition of the human body. But for some unknown reason this time she placed a souvenir Tower of London tea towel over the now sodden suit trousers.
And definitely no point however in making it too convenient in identifying his body as the bleach finished its desired work. If and when the police ever discovered Alex’s remains. But hopefully, not too soon she hoped.
Still wearing her kitchen gloves she rolled a bedsheet tightly around the cooling body then used the heavy eiderdown to secure it. Then collecting a ball of heavy twine she tied the body up tightly into a bundle. When she was satisfied with her finished work she heard a soft tap on the front door. It was Ninotchka returning from her ordered errand. She appeared rather tense.
“Was everything all right?” she enquired suspiciously then after hearing a positive reply she asked: “Have you ever disposed of a body, my dear?!”
Waiting for her reaction she washed and dried her hands. Ninotchka’s eyes were fixed and focused on the bound figure before her.
“No … but I have helped to murder many people either by the gun or knife but never to dispose of them. I always left that unwelcome chore to others” she replied without hesitation.
They both decided to reward themselves with welcomed strong cups of coffee before embarking onto the next stage of the evening clear-up operation.
They then departed the house and walked into the garden. Although the garden was compact it offered the welcomed security of being partially surrounded by tall conifer trees. At the end of the slightly overgrown lawn, hidden under several silver birch trees was a sturdy creosoted garden shed.
This, when she had reconnoitred it earlier, had forced her to admit it would be a suitable place for burial for the final act of the evening’s performance and without an audience.
Now both women were standing uncomfortably in the confined shed. Bella turned to Ninotchka and announced bluntly: “This is where we will bury him. And we are fortunate that the earth is pliable … but now my dear we simply dig.”
She passed a shovel to Ninotchka who looked at the implement it as if were a coiled snake.
Over the next ten minutes, the women toiled and grunted in the confined space.
The topsoil being easy to shovel meant that their grim task was soon finished. The raised floorboards had then been carefully removed with a claw hammer and were placed on the grass.
When the depth was approximately three feet Bella was satisfied with the end result. She then looked around and noticed several tins of weed killer and aerosol. She then uncapped them both and poured the liquid into the open pit. By now the stinging fumes had forced both women out of the crowded shed into the cool of the evening. Both stood breathing in welcoming fresh air looking at the prepared wrapped body placed at their feet.
They then retired into the house and sat in the kitchen. Later after several glasses of Kia-Ora lemonade, they began the laborious task of transporting the leaden body to its final resting place. The evening light was fading which now served their purpose well, Bella hoped, from prying neighbours’ eyes.
They struggled in transporting the body simply because the silken lined eiderdown had caused the bundle to be dropped several times. Finally, the body was kicked un-ceremonially into the soft waiting grave. Then both women shovelled blankets of earth over it. More chemical substances were used to mask any putrefying aromas that would escape the cadaver. Now the wooden floorboards would be carefully laid back into place and laid as quietly as possible. They obviously could not be nailed down simply because the consistent hammering would only cause unwelcome interest from curious neighbours.
Then finally they had finished. Experiencing tiredness and the relief and joy that all was completed. Ninotchka wandered alone in the empty house.
Bella now stood standing alone in the garden, searched the sky for any stars, but the city street lights and the creeping fog prevented few from appearing.
In that bitter cold arctic of long ago, she recalled the light then remained a permanent presence in her confined life. She long ago realised she could now always seek solitude from these her silent, always welcomed, her nocturnal friends.
Later in the kitchen and after fortifying a nervous Ninotchka with coffee laced with brandy, she remarked with a sigh: “Well my dear girl we are finally finished. Don’t worry I will clean up any other business here. And you may now go but please do remember that what occurred this evening stays between the two of us. UNDERSTOOD!” She emphasised these parting words of warning and with raised accusing eyebrows.
“Of course comrade,” she replied subserviently still rather in awe of Bella and by the sinister authority, she exuded since their arranged introduction some weeks ago.
Bella was certain that this threat had been seriously noted. She certainly hoped so!
The two women later embraced with a final few parting words, “until we meet again Proshchay.”
Then Ninotcka turned away and walked towards the door and exited without a backward glance. Perhaps relieved to be leaving the house and that wretched cat!
Now it was time for Bella to return those admiralty plans to the home of Alex and quickly. She searched the street for any activity, relieved to see none, she then pulled on her overcoat.
She then collected the house keys for Alex’s house and placed them into a small holdall shoulder bag. Then she searched for the address using a London street guide and left the house in search of a passing taxi. A light rain shower was settling gently onto the pavements she noticed.
Then discarding her golden rule of not hailing the second taxi she instead flagged down the third. The rain had suddenly now gotten heavy as it danced erratically across the windscreen of the taxi she noticed. She then mentally prepared what she had to do at arrival at the last address Alex would ever occupy.
She hoped there would be no surprises waiting for her there!
Ten minutes later the driver had completed the journey through mainly empty roads and safely delivered his passenger but not to Alex’s house, but a road nearby.
She had alighted, paid the fare and watched the departing cab drive away into the folds of the London night. Then opening her umbrella she walked quickly towards his road skipping over the forming puddles.
A few minutes later she stood outside number 1 Lorenzo Terrace. This small Victorian terrace had certainly weathered the ravages of the years she noticed. She retrieved from her wet overcoat pocket a thin pair of leather kid gloves, noticing that the rain had ceased.
She reached for the house keys and selected one but when inserted it failed to operate the lock. With the second key, she successfully managed to gain a silent entry and with a click the door opened. She pushed gently and entered the hallway then closed the door silently behind her.
Her trained ear listened for any occupants or movements but no sounds invaded her ears. Good, she thought, as she proceeded further into the house.
She turned into the front room but nothing of interest seemed to catch her attention. It all seemed very cosy. A coveted framed Oxford degree occupied pride of place on a mantelpiece. She then entered the smaller room, noticing it had been converted into a convenient work-study. This would be an ideal place to replace the ‘borrowed’ plans she realised. She fitted the stolen envelope into one of the long deep desk drawers and closed it quietly. On a wall shelf were assorted letters, unpaid bills and invoices. Surprisingly a series of unframed photographs of herself and again taken in London were displayed. All it seems taken without her permission. What was going on she wondered and whose hand was behind this decision?
She riffled through the desk drawer, but apart for unpaid bills some cheap paperbacks and a local library ticket, nothing captured her attention. She would return later to take the pictures with her. She left the room and walked up towards the bedroom and then she heard a soft yowl as if someone was talking under bathwater. On entering the room her eyes were immediately drawn to a large basket placed on the bottom of the bed. And there looking at her with eyes the size of saucers were two beautiful mysterious Siamese cats. Their blue eyes twinkled with an intense interest in the arrival of this stranger into their domain and perhaps with an offer of food.
Of course, she realised they must be hungry. She approached them both and surprisingly neither withdrew from her gentle touch but rubbed their soft faces against her open welcomed hand. She immediately accepted their offered affection. What would Oscar think she smiled?
Two silver name discs attacked to their collars announced their names as Suki and Sami. She relaxed and stroked the soft down coats but realised that any daydreaming could become dangerous. And time was not on her side. She then quickly went in search of a needed telephone. She would attend to their needs later.
She paused in the hallway looking at the house phone and decided instead to use a public call box. Security with her was always paramount.
She later located a traditional red call box at the end of the road and phoned a secure number at the Russian Embassy. Within minutes she was connected to the acting duty officer. She repeated her name with the coded password and requested to be placed through to the ambassador’s private apartment. She waited for a few minutes preparing her words. The concerned voice of madam Maisky answered.
“Bella is that you dear?” In the background, she could hear a violin concerto being played and probably from the ambassador’s large prized phonograph collection.
“I’m so sorry to phone you madam but I have come across an unexpected problem that I need to solve before I leave the country in the morning.” She hoped she did not sound too desperate.
She then proceeded to inform the ambassador’s kind wife of her personal concern and responsibility in leaving these defenceless cats alone without food or water. Is it possible she enquired for them perhaps be transported to the embassy this evening? Without hesitation madam Maisky agreed adding: “Of course. We both adore cats Bella and over the years we have had several Burmese and a Persian but sadly no Siamese. Don’t worry Bella I will arrange for them to be collected within the next thirty minutes just give me the address.”
Bella appreciated her kind gesture. Thinking everything was good so far in what was proceeding towards her imminent departure from London.
With that personal business completed she returned to the houses, quickly fed both the purring cats and had a final wander throughout the house. Noting that in the bathroom mirrored cabinet bottles with prescribed heart tablets and other medication also caught her attention. But she dismissed their relevance now, Alex would not be needing them anymore. She had briefly speculated correctly, that the prepared sleeping potion she had given to him earlier had possibly caused a fatal allergic reaction for Alex, bringing on a fatal cardiac arrest leading of course to his premature death…all very sad she thought. She collected the photographs of herself then waited.
True to Madam Maisky’s promised word a discreet white van arrived outside number 1 Lorenzo Terrace within the hour. A young man and an older woman alighted then discretely knocked on the door and entered into the house. Five minutes later they both departed each carrying a heavy wicker basket. Both cats were now happily ensconced on their way to their new home. Bella wished them both happiness for their future.
Bella afterwards finally vacated the house herself. She secured the front door and walked slowly toward the main railway station. On the way there she discretely dropped the house keys as well as Alex’s passport into an open drain, as well as those puzzling photographs of herself that were torn up and dispatched into a serious of other street drains.
Twenty-four hours later she was standing on the welcomed channel ferry to Calais. All evidence of her ever residing in Streatham had been surgically removed by herself and the requested embassy ‘mop up’ squad finishing the task. The channel sea had been choppy she bitterly remembered when she had arrived in England, but now it was still complaining as she departed England
Once on French soil, she boarded a train to Paris. She would later arrange a sleeper on the night train to Stuttgart. Of the few English newspapers, she had been able to purchase, nothing unusual had been reported of any security issues from the admiralty or of the disappearance of a junior House of Commons staff member. So far so good she thought. And certainly, good riddance as well to the unpredictable English weather as she waved goodbye to those famous overrated cliffs of Dover. And would you believe she laughed as it was starting to rain!
As she settled into a booked single comfortable berth she hoped that she was closer to solving the mystery of her brother Leon’s disappearance. This posting to Stuttgart may well help solve the mystery of that of her dear missing brother.
Of that poor naive, departed ambitious man now slowly decomposing under that South London garden shed she would rarely think about him again. Alex sadly was just another victim of the ongoing struggle to seize the soul of the proletariat which would never be halted she had always been informed by Koba and others so passionately.
As she drifted into a well deserved exhausted sleep she heard the porter announce: ‘Mesdames et Messieurs le vautor restaurant est maintenent overte.’
Now she smiled knowing she really was safe in France. Viva la France and onwards and upwards to Germany!
P.S In the mid-1980s, I was attending a friend’s book signing event with my wife Ann in Clerkenwell, London. There I made the acquaintance of an old valued retainer from the then Soviet Embassy. He informed me that both Siamese cats had been happily re-homed in the embassy and made many new friends in their long residence there. Madam Maisky thought the world of them both and even her spaniels grudgingly learned to tolerate the new arrivals. In their final arthritic years and hearing of their failing health ambassador Ivan Maisky requested that they be flown to Moscow to live out their final years with him and his devoted wife. Hasty diplomatic papers were then quickly authorised by the Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko himself no less. And both Suki and Sami travelled safely to Moscow on an Aeroflot flight.
Sadly I can find no information of when these delightful creatures died and where. They would, of course, be the last important connection in the sad unhappy life of Alex Lovesey-Smythe who had owned and loved and pampered them before Bella Stavisky, unfortunately, had walked into his young life and with devastating consequences for him.
To be continued……..
(C) Copyright G. Patrick Battell
31 October 2019