Authors: Graham Adams
Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Europe, #France
He shook his head, ‘No this is my first time here, and it’s a bit hidden for me. Does that suit you Eddy?’ He asked the older man, and Edmund nodded that it did.
Victor’s new abode
Victor was positively stunned after his meeting at his little flat in Kensington with the Russian diplomat. He felt a little like Burgess and Mclean or Kim Philby. He had matured considerably since his short time working for the Russian billionaires. He knew that if he had not been on top of his game all the time, then Mikhail would not have made him this fantastic offer. He was also pleased that he was able to persuade Mikhail to wait for the answer until the next day. It was a very important decision and he just needed to take it all in, and not only that, didn’t want to seem like a pushover. Mikhail agreed to meet him at ten at the British Library, as long as they could get a private room to talk.
Another provision that the Russian insisted on, was that Louis must not write any of the questions down that he was intending to ask in the meeting, nor could he make any notes of any answers.
He had two conflicting feelings as he planned the next day’s meeting with Mikhail. In the first one, Victor was impressed that someone, soon to be elevated to the post of Ambassador, would think so much of him, a young graduate without any obvious influence anywhere even in his chosen field. On the other hand maybe it was just because of his relative naivety, that he could be asked to do things, that on the surface seemed to be sailing close to being a bit dodgy.
Victor wrestled with the fact that he knew deep down, if he asked any direct questions of the Russian, he would be met with the usual stone wall answers. So he tried to compose more indirect questions that were subtly loaded and hoped that Mikhail wouldn’t shy away from them. He had chosen the British Library on purpose because he could request a quiet reading room away from prying eyes and ears, and then there was Suzanne. He had met Suzanne during his time with the Russian students on his journey to learn their language the previous year. She was a good friend and he could tell that she wanted more from him. More important than that though, she was the reading room booking clerk at the British Library.
The young man arrived at the Library fifteen minutes early, and sought out Suzanne. She led him up to the first floor to a small panelled reading room and handed him the key. They went inside the room for him to inspect it, and he could see that it was perfect for them. She quickly closed the door and in a second they were in a clinch. As he kissed her she pressed her body against him. In a very short time he guessed what she wanted, as she backed onto the table pulling her mini skirt upwards and him on top. Already she was breathing a little heavier, but he had to break off, the favour would have to be delayed until another time. She smiled at him, face a little flushed.
‘I know there’s no time.’ She smiled, and left him to get his clothes back to respectability.
Victor was just in time, as Mikhail was taking the first steps up to the library entrance. But not the Mikhail Victor had expected. The clothes of the newly appointed Ambassador were just amazing. Torn jeans, faded denim jacket which was unbuttoned revealing a white T-shirt. Emblazoned on it were ‘CCCP’ and a large representation of the Hammer and Sickle. On his head was a white baseball cap with red writing on the front ‘I love NYC’.
As the Russian Ambassador approached, he gave Victor a bear hug, so strong it lifted him off his feet! Victor was well and truly gob smacked, so much in fact, that he was utterly speechless. This was one to tell his children about, one that he never would forget anyway. Mikhail was suitably impressed that Victor had actually been given a key to the reading room, so he took off his baseball cap and went inside. It was not the usual gesture that a ’kid on the block’ would do, which gave away his status somewhat.
During their meeting, there was one question that Victor would have loved to ask him, which was about the ownership of the treasures but knew he would get no answer. He didn’t need to ask another, concerning the transport of them to Paris.
From his studies he knew that the movement of any artefacts was strictly controlled by the British authorities. However movements under the ‘diplomatic bag’ rule could override this especially when authorised by the ambassador himself.
Victor quite frankly was so shocked by the dress code of the person opposite him that in the end he could only ask minor questions. It took all his effort not to burst out laughing. Instead of the question and answer routine, Mikhail took over the meeting and outlined the detail of the transfer, and Victor’s part in it.
The following Monday morning, he was to accompany the removal van which had been loaded the previous night, and taken directly to the industrial site north of Paris. He assured Victor that there was to be no subterfuge in his respect, as he would carry his own passport but have full diplomatic papers to smooth the passage.
All the items on his catalogue were to be shipped, including the ones at the bottom of the list that were still unidentified. He would then supervise all the storage of the items and they were to be placed in the order of the catalogue in their appropriate type. When completed it was necessary for the Ambassador and one other to come and audit the complete layout of the artefacts before any auctions were to take place. He assured Victor that this was no reflection on his honesty, but it was required so that all concerned could see that everything was there.
They had struck an agreement after just over an hour, and Mikhail smiled for the first time in the meeting. At the same time Victor’s relief was fully evident, but he kept his excitement out of Mikhail’s gaze. They walked together to Suzanne’s desk in the main foyer, and handed her the key. She blushed again at Victor and courteously smiled at his strangely dressed guest.
‘I have this feeling Victor, that you have scored there!’ He said, laughingly as they left the building.
Mikhail, I have a question for you, nothing to do with the meeting, is that ok?’ Victor asked, and the Russian looked serious. The young man asked him a favour, to which the denim clad man readily agreed, laughing heartily.
They got out of their taxi outside his local pub in Kensington, and as they walked through the doors the barman recognised him and waved.
‘I think you might enjoy this.’ Victor whispered to his guest. ‘Whatever you do keep your cap on.’
In the far corner of the room there was a table, already in full swing, already laughing at someone’s dirty joke no doubt. Victor recognised the same Russian students that had helped him the previous year. Two of them spotted him and waved him over. He looked at Mikhail, who smiled back knowingly, pushing Victor in his back to proceed; the Russian had already got the gist of what was expected of him.
Mikhail knew what was expected of him, introducing himself as a Russian dissident
He spoke as loud as he could, and from that moment on, had them eating out of his hands. He told the most outlandish lies to them, that they fell for them, ‘hook line and sinker’. Tears were running down their faces, his deception was opera like; one of the students even invited him to meet his mother.
Before they left they all thanked Victor for bringing his friend with him, and in true Russian fashion they all kissed each other and were gone, leaving the two visitors alone.
‘You are the most surprising man that I have ever met in my life and I shall always...’ Victor’s exclamation was cut short, as over at the crowded bar he saw something that shook him to his boots.
Oleg, (Mikhail) followed his gaze, and his broad grin disappeared into sheer horror. He saw, standing at the bar two young people waiting for an afternoon drink. One of them was a young girl dressed in black with long dark hair. As she turned to the young man by her side, her profile came into view; Lydiya!
Victor pointed to a back door and they moved quickly, Mikhail pulled the baseball cap over his eyes and they tumbled onto the pavement. Victor hailed him a cab, and on the way to his flat he wondered how Mikhail would get back into the embassy dressed as he was. However, filled with good food and plenty of drink he just shrugged in a ‘who cares’ manner.
The following Monday morning, six thirty on the dot found Victor on the doorstep of the block of flats in Kensington, waiting for the removal van. He had all his worldly goods in two suitcases, his passport in his coat pocket and he was ready to go. He didn’t have to wait very long, as the lorry came around the corner and stopped alongside. He climbed the footplate as the door opened, and the co-driver took the cases and pushed them through the grubby green curtains to the sleeper cabin at the back of them.
He tried to engage in conversation, but was unsuccessful so he just stared out the window at the slowly disappearing city. The co-driver passed him an envelope which he opened. It contained the diplomatic papers needed. Looking at the thick document in red script, he recognised the signature in heavy black ink as Mikhail’s followed by the words ‘Russian Ambassador to ‘La Republique Francaise.’ He felt quite proud that such a responsibility had been given to him.
They settled down to the motorway road from Calais to Paris and he contemplated how smooth the British Customs and the ferry crossing had been to get through. When they approached the French Customs an officer waved them down and Victor handed him the document. He snatched it away and walked into the office, Victor could see that the officer was making a telephone call. The officer stood to attention and put the phone down, opened the office door passed Victor the document and saluted as he waved them on. The driver of the lorry said his only words to him.
‘That’s what I call a document!’
They had been on the road for ten hours as they approached an industrial estate and slowed down so that they could spot the sign that they were looking for. Small street lamps were the only light, as all business had closed some hours ago, and apart from the odd security van, the place was deserted.
After what seemed an age, they seemed to be in an even more deserted part of the estate. They were passing buildings that were certainly empty, as some had chains across their entrances, with small ‘for sale’ signs in the middle. At the very far end of a small service road, they approached a large building. There were no street lights in this area. Gloomy was not the word, he thought to himself.
There were no chains blocking their approach and the drive, which was constructed in large concrete panels, had lines of weeds growing between them, some as much as four feet high. Weeds were also growing at the base of the building, especially in front of the huge double doors. The lorry pulled in front of them, and thank goodness the driver didn’t switch off his headlights.
All three occupants, climbed down and the two drivers walked towards the doors as Victor held back, He heard them talking together and one pointed to the lorry cab and the other climbed inside. In a couple of minutes the man jumped back down, carrying a pair of bolt cutters. The double doors were secured by a heavy chain held together with a rusting padlock. The bolt clippers made short work of the padlock and they then slowly pushed each sliding door to the side, revealing a cavernous space like an aircraft hangar. The lorry reversed into the building, and Victor followed it inside. The two men promptly opened the removal van’s back doors and then walked to the front of the vehicle. One of them had a mobile phone in his hand and was talking. In less than five minutes a large Mercedes car drew up in front of the building and they got in.
‘Hey!’ Victor shouted, ‘where are you going?’
‘We’ve done our bit, and now it’s up to you.’ One of the men shouted as the car reversed towards the rear door.
The Mercedes screeched on the concrete and disappeared down the road. Using the dim light of the still lit van, he looked inside the cavernous building, the walls were in good condition, ‘but was this the right place to hold a billion pounds worth of artefacts’ he asked himself.
Halfway down the side of one of the walls, he came across an electricity switch box, which he opened and pulled the lever down. Lights came on in the large space and he could now assess the whole situation at last. He looked towards the gaping doors and noticed that above them were two banks of blower heaters, which looked new. In the corner at the entrance he could see a small block built office and the yellow door was slightly ajar.
Victor opened the door and switched on the light, revealing a cheap office desk and a table lamp. Pushed up to the desk was a small black typist swivel chair, with one wheel missing out of the five. He pulled the chair out from the desk and opened the simple drawers, they were of course empty. He was just about to give up his search, when he noticed that a narrow drawer in the middle of the desk was locked. He pulled hard but it would not give. He then pulled out the side drawers completely, searching in each corner, nothing. Just before giving up he kneeled down, and looked upwards to the underside of the desk lid, and there it was, a small key had been stapled crudely to the panel. Quickly pulling it off, he unlocked the narrow drawer which revealed a sealed manila envelope. He ripped it open but there was nothing inside, but turning it over there were eleven numbers handwritten on the back. He recognised them as a mobile number and dialled them on his phone.