ISOBEL FELT SHE had been with the service all her life. When she first joined, she and the other members of the team she worked with were quartered in an old Victorian building, just off London’s Embankment. She began as a secretary, straight from university. “To think I went through a university education to be doing this”, she used to mutter to herself.
But things changed. She progressed slowly and began filing confidential documents. As she became more and more important, it wasn’t long before she was in the field, learning how to be a fully fledged spy. And they all moved into a brand-new building next to Vauxhall Bridge.
Life was looking up. But she longed to be abroad.
Eventually posted to Moscow, she decided to stay there when she retired. She rather liked the anonymity the city offered her Even the austere and massive buildings put up by Stalin were appealing to her. The fact that their scale was something to do with making the people feel small and unimportant had not escaped her, but it never troubled her. Some of them looked like prisons. Others, including St Basil’s famous cathedral near The Kremlin, looked as if they’d been designed by refugees from Disneyland’s studios. The variety amused her.
And she liked the parks. There weren’t very many, but those she knew were peaceful havens of tranquillity; pleasant places which allowed her to escape the dreariness of Moscow in her younger days, and the city’s bustle in her later years.
She hadn’t wanted to work for anybody, or run any errands, when she retired. She was quite content in the placidity of her suburb, and to ride the metro on cold days. Some of the downtown stations were like cathedrals or fashionable hotel lobbies, built in the Stalin era, when Uncle Joe believed that the people should have the best.
She also enjoyed staying at home whenever she felt like it.
It took some persuading on the part of her old boss to get her to carry out one last mission, to hand over a loosely wrapped package, which she assumed contained something of value. Or, at least, of value to the service.
Following instructions as she always did, she arrived at the river crossing she’d been told about. Curiously, the bridge in front of her didn’t seem to go anywhere. There wasn’t much at this end and there seemed even less at the other.
She checked things over in her mind, going over what her contact had told her. She was sure she had come along the right road, and was here at the right time, just as instructed. It was the right day, she had come to the right place. But there was no one around. She didn’t panic – it wasn’t in her nature – but she was somewhat confused. It was all a little odd; as if the world, and her instructions, had turned themselves upside down without warning her.
She was gazing across the river, lost in thought about what what might be over there, when the bushes behind her began to rustle. She wheeled round, instantly alert.
A man emerged who didn’t look like a go-between to her eye, let alone a spy. No overcoat. No homburg hat. Instead, a bomber jacket and jeans. ‘Ordinary’ was how she’d describe him later.
“You have the package?”, he muttered, showing her some kind of badge.
A little scared now, she handed him the loosely wrapped package. She felt oddly less emotional than if she was handing a birthday gift to her father. He took it and turned away, disappearing into the bushes without another word passing between them.
‘Bloody rude’, she thought. He could at least have thanked her.
A moment or two later, she heard footsteps on the bridge above her. Someone was going over to goodness knows where or what was on the other side.
Shrugging, she wondered why she should care. After all, she wasn’t going to do anything like this again. No matter if her old boss did ask her to bridge the gap.