The Spy Who Never Was Part 2
A Wicked Uncle story for Storynory.
Story by Bertie.
Read by Richard.
Jemima & Russian official by Jana.
This is Richard and I’m back with the second part of our story, The Spy Who Never Was. If you heard the first part, you’ll know that Jeremy and Jemima are convinced that their Uncle Jeff is a spy. Their mum has confirmed that he had an interesting adventure in Russia when he was young, but the details are a secret. The kids have finally pressured their uncle into revealing all, and this is what he told them.
“I was 22 years old, and I wanted to see the world. Your dad by then had done all the sensible stuff that I had failed to do. He had gone to a good university, got a good degree, and found a steady job as a civil servant. I asked him what kind of work he was doing, but when he started to explain my eyes just glazed over. He made it sound so dull!
I wasn’t at all sensible like him. I had flunked out of school and had a string of jobs. I worked as a gravedigger, a labourer on a building site, a trainee pancake flipper in a cafe that was shut down after all the customers got food poisoning - that sort of thing.
Whenever I saved up enough money, I went travelling, and one spring I headed off to Moscow, the capital of Russia. Most visitors to Russia back then had to stay in an official hotel, but I had met a girl, who knew somebody in Russia, who managed to get me an invitation to stay in a flat as a paying guest.
My hosts in Moscow were an old lady who owned the flat and her grandson Costya who was about my age and spoke some English. The flat smelt of cabbages, because the old lady was always cooking cabbage soup and fried potatoes. But we were in a great location, on the Boulevard of Flowers, near the Circus, and the weather was just perfect. The sun was shining, and the trees were in blossom. Lots of people were out and about going for strolls along the garden boulevards, presumably just glad to be enjoying the warmth and the light after the long dark winter.
Costya knew plenty of people whom he called his ‘connections’. Anything I wanted, he could arrange with a few phone calls. He was able to sneak us into museums without a queue, find tickets to the ballet for a few roubles, and buy large tins of black beluga caviar from the back door of a restaurant.
He showed me around Moscow, and what an amazing city it was! Of course we had to walk around the famous Red Square. That’s where you can see the craziest cathedral ever built, called St Basils, painted in all sorts of wild wild colours and swirly patterns - and next door is the red walled Kremlin, where the Russian Tsars, like Ivan the Terrible lived. It’s like a fairytale castle with golden domes and slender towers.
I bought souvenirs in the flea market, including a fake German camera and a set of Matryoshka dolls that fit inside each other. We drove out to Sparrow Hills to see Moscow University which is inside a sort of square shouldered skyscraper from a dream about another world. And then Costya took me to the Russian banya for a sweltering hot sauna. You sit in the steam, sweating like a pig, and beat your back with birch twigs, then you dive into an ice cold pool. It sounds mad, but you leave feeling great and very hungry.
Most evenings we ate at home with Babushka, but sometimes, when we had had enough of cabbage soup, sour cream, and fried potatoes, we went out.
On some occasions we met up with his cousin Maria, a very pretty red-headed girl who was the friend of a friend that had helped arrange my trip.
One evening we went to a restaurant in a grand old hotel that had seen better days. I had to slip the doorman $10 to book a table. It was a good investment. The waiter brought bottles of crimea champaign, pancakes called blini, and all the caviar we could eat. Later on there was dancing and music, and Maria and I were getting on really well.”
At this point in the story, Jemima briefly interrupted to say: “I know - I bet Maria was a spy - the pretty Russian girl is always a spy in the movies.”
“Well your right,” said Uncle Jeff, “about the girls in the movies, at any rate. But this was real life, and it all flew by too quickly. I had a wonderful, fun-filled experience, but it was over in a flash. When it was time for me to go home, Costya and Maria drove me to the airport. Just as I was warmly wishing them goodbye, Maria asked me if I could take a present to her friend in London. This friend was the one who had arranged for me to stay with Costya and so I was glad to do the favour. She gave me a little package, all wrapped up. I could feel that it was most probably a book.
On my way to the plane, a Russian official inspected my bag. “What is this?” she asked, pulling out the large tin of beluga black caviar that might have looked like a landmine on the x-ray.“Just a present for my mum,” I said innocently. She confiscated it because it was more caviar than I was allowed to take out of Russia.
“Well enjoy the caviar,” I said. “I’ve got a plane to catch.”
“Just one more minute,” she said. “What is this?” She was holding the present that Maria had given me.
“A gift for a friend,” I said.
“I will have to open it,” replied the official, and she started to unwrap it. I wondered if she wanted to keep the book. Did she look like the reading type? I felt sad because I didn’t want to let Maria down by losing her gift for our mutual friend. I could picture the official sitting with her feet up at home, shovelling heaps of caviar into her mouth with a spoon, and turning the pages of the book.
The gift inside the wrapping paper was indeed a book, but not the type I was expecting. It was a fat notebook. The official leafed through the pages examining the handwriting. I didn’t understand a word of course. Russian cyrilic letters are just swiggles to me.
“You say that this is a gift?”
“It’s a very nice present. This book is full of secrets.”
“What sort of secrets?” I was innocently thinking that they might be secrets about how to get rich, or do magic spells, or restore lost hair. “Top secrets,” she said.
Suddenly the kopek dropped. “You mean like, secret secrets?”
“Very secret secrets. You will have to come with us.”
I had not noticed that there was an ‘us’ until then, but somehow two more uniformed officials had appeared. I had no choice but to walk with them into a little office with a small table and two chairs. I went inside. They closed the door behind me. And locked it.
I sat on my own and waited, and waited. I waved at a mirror, thinking that perhaps somebody was watching me from the other side.
At first I was most concerned about missing my flight. An hour went by, and I knew that it must have taken off without me. It was then that I began to worry that I might have landed in a spot of bother. .. a great BIG spot of bother! This unpleasant suspicion only grew stronger when some sinister looking guys in badly fitting suits collected me. They drove me back into the city and took me to a large gray building. Inside I was interviewed by more official types. I had no doubt that I was chatting with the KGB, as the infamous Russian secret police were known back then.
They demanded to know where I got the notebook. I didn’t want to say, because I didn’t want to drop Maria in it. I made up a story about how I bought a copy of a novel, The Master and Margarita, at the market, and the market lady wrapped it up for me. Even as the words came out of my mouth, I realised that the story sounded like a load of old rubbish.
Then they started asking me about my brother, your dad. What was his job?
“I really don’t know,” I said truthfully. “I’ve asked him once or twice, but when he starts to talk about it, I get bored and stop listening. Anyway, why do you want to know about him? He’s safely back in England, and he’s totally innocent of everything. He’s never stolen so much as a sweetie.”
I could see from their irritated expressions that I was not getting a lot of belief from my new Russian friends. I really didn’t like disappointing them, but what did they expect me to say? That my brother and I were both licenced to kill on Her Majesty’s secret service?
They sent me back to my cell - not much bigger than my bed, which was full of bugs and flees. I kept myself fit by itching and scratching!
Most days they took me upstairs for about an hour to ask me all the same old questions and demand that I sign a confession written in Russian. They gave me a pen and said:
“All you have to do is sign here, and we will let you go home.”
I refused. I’m not that stupid.
And then, after what must have been a week or so, when the guards came to collect me, they said I was going to court to be charged.
“What’s the crime?” I asked.
“That’s up to the judge to decide,” they said.
I was handcuffed and shackled around the ankles with chains. I must have looked a frightful sight, unshowered, unshaved, unchanged, and itching with flea bites, as I shuffled into the courtroom and a dock that was built like a cage. I could see through the bars that the room was full of people staring back at me. I know what it feels like to be a monkey in the zoo. And that’s when I got the biggest shock of all of my entire life.
I was joined in that cage by another prisoner.
“Dad!” exclaimed the kids. “What was he doing in Russia?”
“That’s what I wanted to know,” said Jeff. “You? What are YOU doing here?” I asked him.
“I’ve landed in a spot of bother, just like you,” he replied.
But that didn’t really tell me anything. What was he doing in Moscow? How had he got there? Why had he got there?
A Russian militiaman shook his baton to tell us to be quiet. The judge sat down at his desk and for the next half hour they held a meeting about what to do with us. All the talk and all the papers were in Russian. I couldn’t understand a word of any of it. At the end the judge made a stern speech to us, like he was giving us a proper ticking off, and we were led away. As we went out I whispered to your dad, “See you in Siberia!”
And I was only half joking. We weren’t separated yet, though.
We were both bundled into the back of the same van.
As we sat down, your dad sighed and said. “Well this is another fine mess you got me into.”
“Now, now, that’s hardly fair, Nigel,” I replied. “Did I ask you to show up in Moscow?”
“I flew out to try and help you. Mum is worrying herself sick.”
“But why did the Russians throw you in the slammer too?” I asked. Your dad looked more sheepish than I had ever seen him before. “OOOH I know,” I said, realising for the very first time… it all made sense all of a sudden. “I get it now - it’s something to do with that job of yours,” I said.
“I can’t say a thing,” he replied, nodding with his head to the guards, who it’s just possible might have been able to understand English.
From there on, the standard of our accommodation went steeply downhill, from bad to terrible. They locked us up in the Lefortovo Prison. I was thrown into a cell with three guys covered from head to toe in tattoos, who looked like they would eat me for breakfast. But as it turned out, they were real sweeties, and we got on just fine. Oh, but the clanking, and banging, and shouting, and screaming in that jail. The tin bucket, you can guess what that was for, the cold, and the cockroaches the size of cats!
“So how did you get out? Did you and Dad dig a tunnel?” asked Jeremy.
“Nothing as exciting as that. After a few days they let us go, drove us to the airport, and escorted us onto a flight to London. Very nice they were to us now, even letting us stop to buy a few duty frees. In short, we were booted out and banned from ever returning to Russia. A great relief, I can tell you.”
“Cool,” said Jeremy, “But what on earth was Dad doing there?”
“Well all was revealed to me once we were safely up in the air and flying over Poland on our way home. You see your father’s first job after university wasn’t nearly so boring as he made it sound.”
“Really?” asked Jeremy and Jemima both together, eyes wide open.
“Yes, it’s hard to imagine now,” Uncle Jeff went on. “In fact, nobody would have suspected it back then either! The funny thing is this, the spy agencies quite like boring personality types, who are dependable and know how to keep secrets. When he was still at university, his tutor spotted him as being just the sort that MI5 were after, and quietly suggested to him that he apply for a job. He did an exam, and then some interviews, and got the job, as a trainee spook. Actually I think MI5 are more into catching spies, than actually spying, but you know what I mean.”
“Wow, that’s amazing,” said Jeremy. “I can hardly believe that all these years Dad’s been pretending to be dead boring, when actually he’s a secret agent.”
“Well that’s the thing, he’s not doing that job, not any more,” said Uncle Jeff. “You see, because he was in such a secret line of work, he wasn’t supposed to head off to Russia without all sorts of official permissions from his bosses. In fact, even if he had asked, they would probably have refused to let him go.
But our mother was going spare with worry after I got arrested, and he thought he had to do something to help. He flew out to try and rescue me. Very decent of him, I must say, and quite a risk on his part.
He knew all the right people to contact in Moscow, and even got an interview with the deputy head of the KGB. He did amazingly well. The only trouble was, after he had left his meeting, and he thought it was all going swimmingly well, a black sedan picked him up off the street and whisked him off to jail.
And then, as soon as we arrived safely back home, he phoned into work, and his boss fired him.”
“But that’s so unfair. It wasn’t Dad’s fault that he got arrested!”
“Well apparently his bosses didn’t see it like that. He hadn’t acted in a way that was boring and dependable, as real life spies are supposed to do. He had made a rash decision, broken the rules, and landed himself and his country in a spot of bother - all to try and help me. I am of course, indebted to your dad to this day. He might have been an idiot to do what he did, but it was very brave, very loyal of him. He’s made up for it ever since by leading as boring and blame-free life as possible. Stability, hard work, and patience are his watchwords and he’s got wonderful and well-deserved results. The evidence is you two kids and your lovely mum.”
“And what about the Russian, girl, Maria?” asked Jemima.
“Well your dad and I talked it over, and we reckoned that she was a Russian spy. It was all a set up. The gift of a notebook full of top secrets was all a ruse to land me in trouble. The KGB needed to arrest an English guy because MI5 had caught one of their spies back in London. When your dad flew out to Moscow, right into the spider’s web of intrigue, they had us both. They swapped us - tit for tat - one of theirs for two of ours.”
“See I told you that Maria was a spy!” said Jemima excitedly. “I knew it as soon as you mentioned her!”
“You’re right, you did,” said Uncle Jeff. “Perhaps you should be in this line of work when you grow up! But here’s your first test. Everything I’ve told you is top secret. Don’t tell your mum and dad that I passed it on to you, okay? Remember, if you want to be spies, you’ve got to be boring and dependable - at least don’t go shooting your mouths off.”
And the kids swore that they would not let on to a soul that they knew about their dad’s intriguing past.
And that was The Spy Who Never Was Part 2.
I hope you enjoyed hearing all about Uncle Jeff’s secret past.
Well I must say I do approve of Uncle Jeff’s new mode of transport, because I myself ride an electric skateboard. If it’s something that interests you and you’d like to see more of what an electric skateboard can do, do check out my YouTube channel Sk8oetry in which I electric skateboard in different parts of London while reading poetry.