Episode 10 (of 18)
I had but only fleeting acquaintance with consciousness over the next couple days, and when I did I did not like it. I disliked most the ache that seemed to inhabit every constituent part of my being. Every constituent part! Jerome would have laughed, I couldn’t even say with any certainty that I did not have housemaid’s knee! But I knew there was other unpleasant stuff that would have to be dealt with once the ache subsided and I wasn’t ready for that.
So I staggered around the house collecting all the alcohol that I could find and, telling myself that I was self-medicating my way back to sobriety, began to drink, slowly but steadily. This was OK, not great but OK – until it wasn’t and the last bottle of vodka stood half empty (definitely not half full) before me.
I thought I might make a start by listing the things that had to be dealt with:
– Loss of my civil service pension (most of my income). I hadn’t, by this point, had any income for 12 months.
– Replacement of the gearbox in the van.
I decided I’d done enough for one day and thought a little sleep would be in order. But I couldn’t settle and eventually got back up to add the third item:
– The brown paper envelope in my rucksack.
Then I went to sleep.
The brown envelope was stuffed full of used £20 notes. I wasn’t together enough to do much counting but could see that it amounted to many thousands of pounds.
Two days later I wrote a letter to Sir Reginald c/o Monaco harbour.
One month later I was still, as they say, hanging strong, despite now living on very short rations indeed. Reminders from the electric and gas companies joined those from the local council in a growing pile of unopened letters on the table in the hall.
Two months later I drove the van back from the garage, stopping on my way to buy food and supplies. Pulling into my drive I noticed a small dilapidated Fiat 500 parked outside, from which a figure in a bulky trench coat was extricating himself.
A grinning Yuri approached with his hand out to shake mine, ‘How are you Boryslav? Good to see you out and about again. Sorry about the motor,’ he nodded over his shoulder, ‘you can’t get Trabants here for any price.’
I made tea, but Yuri was already filling two small glasses from a bottle he had produced from inside his coat.
‘Sorry Yuri, I’m not drinking at the moment.’
‘Good I like the professionalism, what you Brits call keeping a clear head no?’
‘Look the thing is Yuri I spent some of the money, only a bit, but I was desperate and I’ll pay ….’
‘Excellent, here’s more.’
He handed me another brown envelope, one that seemed if anything bulkier, heavier.
‘We’ve got a new van for you too …. Can’t have you driving round the Solent in that old thing,’ he tilted his head towards the window, ‘people will recognise it and we can’t have that.’
Then from his briefcase he withdrew a thick wad of paperwork. ‘We need to go through this …. Your agent number is 9981 ….’
‘Wait!’ I almost shouted, I had been here before, but this time the stakes ….
‘What’s your number?’
‘You must memorise it.’
I must have been staring somewhat blankly at him for he suddenly sharpened his tone.
‘Boryslav Golinski pull yourself together, you are working for the world’s premiere intelligence service now. Please don’t prove Sir Reginald right at this point!’
‘It’s easy, 9 times 9 equals 81 …….. got it?’
Then he went through the relevant legislation, the role of the KGB, and my responsibilities within it. Needless to say there was nothing to sign.
‘Now we drink!’
He gave me an outline of the brief, explaining that a more detailed one would be provided by my handler, someone called Svetlana. It required an analysis of the irregular tidal movements (sic) in The Solent and the implications for shipping, both commercial and military. Yuri was keen to point out the proximity of the naval base at Portsmouth and seemed to imply that his superiors were suspicious that there may be a link between the two.
Two glasses in I had a bit of a go.
‘But they’re just tides; they just go in and out ….’
Yuri collapsed in laughter. ‘You’re good you know, I can’t think why they let you go,’ then he added ‘Why are there 4 tides not the normal 2? Why do they play cricket on Brambly Bank?’
‘I don’t know …’
‘Exactly, that is why we need to find out.’
I tried a different tack, ‘But I don’t know anything about tides I …’
‘Don’t make me cross’ he barked, ‘We know all about your involvement in the Solway Review, the plan to move the nuclear sub base from the Clyde and MI6’s strategy to undermine the Government. You are the expert, stop crapping on and just get it done. You’ll be well paid ……. Every month… Svetlana will bring the envelopes on her visits.
He refilled the glasses ……….
As he got up to leave he wrote a phone number on a scrap of paper, ‘This is your one and only contact number. You give the operator your agent number and we will call you back. Memorise it!’
I put it somewhat distractedly in my pocket.
— x —
I liked Svetlana from the moment her be trenchcoated form swept cheerily into my hall. She was warm, engaging and laughed a lot; at the situation and at me (although I liked to think some of it was with). Another bulky brown envelope made me a bit anxious, especially as she cautioned me not to try and deposit large amounts into my bank account.
‘Do it in small amounts … as payment for your articles and stories.’
‘My articles and stories?’
‘Oh, sorry … we need to go through your cover identity.’
She handed me two passports, one Russian, one British, both in the name of John Smith and both with a most unflattering photo of me.
‘No …… no …’ I spluttered.
‘You must Boryslav, you are not safe with your own name, too many know about you.’
‘No … it’s the name.’
‘What’s wrong with it, it couldn’t be more English.’
‘It’s the name of my son.’
‘Oh!’ slightly flustered she checked through the file on her lap before exclaiming ‘What a useless organisation,’ and laughed.
‘That’s not what Yuri says.’
She laughed again, her face, I don’t mind telling you, alight with merriment, ‘Oh Yuri, he’s very young, he does talk some nonsense and he takes too many risks. He’s good fun, but never drink with him ……’
I sighed, ‘That’s why I’m in this mess.’
She laughed again ‘Now you’re talking nonsense, you are in this …… er …. situation …. because your country used you for 30 years then spat you out in order to preserve the reputation of one of its ministries and provide cover for one of its senior politicians.’
I stared miserably at her but she laughed again, ‘Come on Boryslav this is going to be fun … let’s get the bastards back! And let me show you where you are going to live, you’re going to love it’
Despite faint mutterings of resistance from me she went on to explain that not only did I have a new identity but I couldn’t stay living in The Close – everyone knew who I was ……. The Service had rented a wooden bungalow for me in a remote corner of a large estate, surrounded by forest and accessed only by a rough track of some 5 miles in length.
‘But what do I tell my family and friends?’
She frowned, flicked through the file again, hesitated then said ‘I’m sorry Boryslav ….. you don’t appear to have many friends …….’
She was right. Since the Tides Review debacle I’d virtually lost touch with the few close friends I’d had …. Not their fault I suppose, I just felt utterly ridiculous, stupid …..
‘What about my son ….. he visits me here.’
She nodded slowly ……. ‘Yes you must maintain that contact,’ she paused, ‘I think we can manage it that he visits … we’ll need to adapt the cover identity for him.’
She brought a long silence to an end by touching me lightly on my arm, ‘Come on Boryslav, cheer up, your new van is waiting for you in the forest, let’s go and look.’
— x —
You might feel that I was a bit ungrateful. These people had, after all, showered me with cash, found a fantastic place for me to live that was miles from anywhere and had bought me the new van that I was now contemplating in my new yard. I just didn’t like the colour, or its shape – it was ‘coach built’ and I have to say that I had become somewhat of an ardent ‘panel vanner.’
‘You seem disappointed Boryslav.’
‘No, no, it’s fine ……’ I ventured uncertainly, ‘it’s just that it looks a bit like an ice cream van.’