It could have been anywhere in the world, she thought, but it wasn’t. It was in a city where if anything were to go wrong…
She sighed and came away from the window and looked around the room. It was quite large and expensively furnished. It was one of several she had been visiting in the last three months.
Quite elegant too, as the hotel had its origins dating back to before the revolution in 1917. At least, currently, there would not be a team of KGB agents somewhere in the basement monitoring everything that happened in the room.
There was no such thing as the KGB anymore, though there was an FSB, but such organisations were of no interest to her.
She was here to meet with Vladimir.
She smiled to herself when she thought of him, such an interesting man whose command of English was as good as her command of Russian, though she had not told him of that ability.
All he knew of her was that she was American, worked in the Embassy as a clerk, nothing important, whose life both at work and at home was boring. Not that she had blurted that out the first they met, or even the second.
That first time, at a function in the Embassy, was a chance meeting, a catching of his eye as he looked around the room, looking, as he had told her later, for someone who might not be as boring as the function itself.
It was a celebration, honouring one of the Embassy officials on his service in Moscow, and the fact he was returning home after 10 years. She had been there once, and still hadn’t met all the staff.
They had talked, Vladimir knew a great deal about England, having been stationed there for a year or two, and had politely asked questions about where she lived, her family, and of course what her role was, all questions she fended off with an air of disinterested interest.
It fascinated him, as she knew it would, a sort of mental sparring as one would do with swords if this was a fencing match.
They had said they might or might not meet again when the party was over, but she suspected there would be another opportunity. She knew the signs of a man who was interested in her, and Vladimir was interested.
The second time came in the form of an invitation to an art gallery, and a viewing of the works of a prominent Russian artist, an invitation she politely declined. After all, invitations issued to Embassy staff held all sorts of connotations, or so she was told by the Security officer when she told him.
Then, it went quiet for a month. There was a party at the American embassy and along with several other staff members, she was invited. She had not expected to meet Vladimir, but it was a pleasant surprise when she saw him, on the other side of the room, talking to several military men.
A pleasant afternoon ensued.
And it was no surprise that they kept running into each other at the various events on the diplomatic schedule.
By the fifth meeting, they were like old friends. She had broached the subject of being involved in a plutonic relationship with him with the head of security at the embassy. Normally for a member of her rank, it would not be allowed, but in this instance it was.
She did not work in any sensitive areas, and, as the security officer had said, she might just happen upon something that might be useful. In that regard, she was to keep her eyes and ears open and file a report each time she met him.
After that discussion, she got the impression her superiors considered Vladimir more than just a casual visitor on the diplomatic circuit. She also formed the impression that he might consider her an ‘asset’, a word that had been used at the meeting with security and the ambassador.
It was where the word ‘spy’ popped into her head and sent a tingle down her spine. She was not a spy, but the thought of it, well, it would be fascinating to see what happened.
A Russian friend. That’s what she would call him.
And over time, that relationship blossomed, until, after a visit to the ballet, late and snowing, he invited her to his apartment not far from the ballet venue. It was like treading on thin ice, but after champagne and an introduction to caviar, she felt like a giddy schoolgirl.
Even so, she had made him promise that he remain on his best behaviour. It could have been very easy to fall under the spell of a perfect evening, but he promised, showed her to a separate bedroom, and after a brief kiss, their first, she did not see him until the next morning.
So, it began.
It was an interesting report she filed after that encounter, one where she had expected to be reprimanded.
It wasn’t until six weeks had passed when he asked her if she would like to take a trip to the country. It would involve staying in a hotel, that they would have separate rooms. When she reported the invitation, no objection was raised, only a caution; keep her wits about her.
Perhaps, she had thought, they were looking forward to a more extensive report. After all, her reports on the places, and the people, and the conversations she overheard, were no doubt entertaining reading for some.
But this visit was where the nature of the relationship changed, and it was one that she did not immediately report. She had realised at some point before the weekend away, that she had feelings for him, and it was not that he was pushing her in that direction or manipulating her in any way.
It was just one of those moments where, after a grand dinner, a lot of champagne, and delightful company, things happen. Standing at the door to her room, a lingering kiss, not intentional on her part, and it just happened.
And for not one moment did she believe she had been compromised, but for some reason she had not reported that subtle change in the relationship to the powers that be, and so far, no one had any inkling.
She took off her coat and placed it carefully of the back of one of the ornate chairs in the room. She stopped for a moment to look at a framed photograph on the wall, one representing Red Square.
Then, after a minute or two, she went to the mini bar and took out the bottle of champagne that had been left there for them, a treat arranged by Vladimir for each encounter.
There were two champagne flutes set aside on the bar, next to a bowl of fruit. She picked up the apple and thought how Eve must have felt in the garden of Eden, and the temptation.
Later perhaps, after…
She smiled at the thought and put the apple back.
A glance at her watch told her it was time for his arrival. It was if anything, the one trait she didn’t like, and that was his punctuality. A glance at the clock on the room wall was a minute slow.
The doorbell to the room rang, right on the appointed time.
She put the bottle down and walked over to the door.
A smile on her face, she opened the door.
It was not Vladimir. It was her worst nightmare.
© Charles Heath 2020