Weekly Writing Challenge: A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words

Roman was “dropped in” thirty years ago. “Dropped” in the spy lingo meant “illegally sent”, the term dating back to the times when spies had been parachuted down to the enemy rear. But no. No parachuting in 1980. Roman was put on a regular Leningrad-Helsinki train as Nikolay Zverev; upon arrival he was slipped a Canadian passport by a passerby with two red flowers wrapped in a local newspaper; then he was ferried down to Amsterdam, where he was given his “final” British passport with all the visas, a stack of 20-pound notes, some Dutch guilders, and the name of his contact in London. He memorized the contact’s name, address and telephone and burned the note. Then, via a web of trains and, finally, the Calais ferry he got off the continent to the Isles. He stopped being Roman in Helsinki, but it was Amsterdam where he became Robert, his new name for years to come.

After two years spent at a closed off village built by the KGB two hundred miles away from Moscow where everyone spoke and acted British he could easily pass for a member of the lower middle class. You’d say he had that kind of chip on his shoulder.  He was actually working as insurance clerk in the village. It was a fake job at a fake company, but then everything else in the village was fake. “As fake as the smile of an American”, was the running joke among the Soviet spies trained there.

For the next fifteen years, Roman – oops!  – Robert would be the perfect sleeper. He was climbing up the ladder in a small defense-related engineering firm, just waiting until he gets sufficiently high to get access to information of real value. After five years in the UK, he met Anna, a lady from York. His mother was Anna. He loved the name. In some two romantic weeks after the first date he proposed. He would have had proposed earlier, but he had to wait for permission to marry to be radioed back from Moscow.

A year later Anna bore him a son. And in three years, a daughter. He wanted to give them Russian names, but knew he couldn’t.

Both have grown into perfectly British kids of a lower middle class family with the ambition of making it up to the higher middle. Robert enjoyed his life. That is, most of the time. Sometimes the contrasting pangs of nostalgia and the “real fakeness” of this life would make him lose his sleep for a couple of days.

It was one of those nostalgic pangs that doomed Robert. Once, walking the kids home from their Sunday music lesson, he found himself (he’d later say, his feet carried him there “on their own”) in front of the Russian Embassy. He didn’t dare to stare at it, to peer inside through the windows behind which he knew his comrades were working to thwart the imperialistic plans of British capitalists. Oh, capitalists they were, what with those meager bonuses for the extra hours he had to put in to become a £16K assistant to the engine construction department boss! He even thought of joining the Labour Party. Moscow said no to that, though. Stay calm and carry on, they said, and thought it funny.  It was, with him spending three hours to decipher the message that every Briton had tattooed on their collective brain!

And then he thought of his Nikon camera, a fancy gadget he bought a week ago. Something he could not even think of buying in Moscow. He’d  not spent his first roll of film yet. He took it off his shoulder and some Japanese tourist was kind enough to take the picture. He and his kids in front of the red bricks of the embassy as if standing with their backs to the Kremlin wall. He didn’t know the MI5 agents were filming the embassy 24/7 from a window on the other side of the street. The senior agent of the two on duty at the time spotted them with a whispered comment, “Can’t believe it! It’s their agent, posing right before our eyes!”.

“Look at the face”, he explained to his partner. “Russians never smile, no matter how many years they’ve been here”.  “And look at the cuffs”, he added. “A Briton would never allow his jacket to cover the cuffs like that”.

The agents would follow Robert to his home, copy his film from the local lab, laugh at his non-smiling face, then check this passport, discover a Manchester builder who died at 30 under the same name, wait for a year to establish Robert’s connections and, finally, arrest him. The photograph would become “Evidence No.1” in court.

He was never exchanged because  Russia stopped caring about British capitalists and their imperialistic plans. Russians have got a few of their own imperialists among them now who owned football clubs and could get any information for tickets to major games. They mostly wanted to know if Her Majesty would agree to surrender her Buckingham Palace to an unidentified Russian buyer, willing to pay any price Her Majesty would fancy to ask.

As of recently, Her Majesty would fancy keeping the Palace to the Crown, and MI5 would not comment on Robert’s whereabouts.

PS This is a story of fiction, written for the challenge (to write a story based on this picture). Please don’t take it seriously. But I still hope you’ve enjoyed it.

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