The smog lay thickly over the streets of London. Mackenzie hated it. That the meeting had to be arranged at eleven in the evening on a night like this did not suit his plan, but that was the way she wanted it and who was he to disagree. The yellow thick air was hanging around when he woke up in the morning. Driving with the car to the office did not come into the question so he took public transport. He was glad to arrive at work safe and sound although he was not sure whether he was safe or not. When he sneezed into his handkerchief he saw the black sooty residue left in the cloth and wondered whether he would survive another foggy winter in London.
“Good morning Mackenzie” said Smithers, his fellow clerk “here is the morning paper”.
“There seems to be some problems in the Soviet part of the world again. The cold war is not getting any warmer.” and Mackenzie decided to read through the latest news himself. In the 1950’s, ten years after the war, the enemies of his country seem to have shifted from Europe to their so-called allies in the North, now known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, although you could call it what you wish, thought Mackenzie, but Russia stays Russia. “Just remains a big question mark on the map of the world” he thought to himself.
He looked out of the window and noticed the yellow strands of the smog becoming thicker and engulfing everything on the street. He usually had a wonderful view of the near bye river Thames, but today even the water seemed to have coloured itself yellow. He was awakened out of his “smoggy” thoughts by his telephone.
“Mackenzie, foreign office” he said and was surprised to hear a female voice at the other end of the line.
“Mr. Mackenzie, I have to talk to you in private, please do not mention I am calling.”
“I will not tell anyone that you are calling, as I don’t know who you are and what you want. Could you please be more explicit” he said, wondering what this was about.
“My name is Valentina and I am calling on behalf of my brother Igor.”
“I don’t understand?” Mackenzie did not know a Valentina and even less an Igor, but realising that the caller spoke English with a broad Eastern accent, he became interested.
“I am Valentina Novikova and my brother is Igor Novikov. He works for the Russian nuclear science authorities and contacted me to say that he will be arriving in Germany tomorrow morning and wishes for political asylum. He mentioned that he met you at a reception in Moscow earlier this year where you exchanged visiting cards.”
Mackenzie thought back and the name struck a chord in his memory. It was one of those “getting to know each other” receptions and he saw a tall slim young man in his memory who told Mackenzie they would meet again very soon and he should remember these words. Now it all came back to him and a Russian nuclear scientist is always a interesting plus for the British secret service.
“Yes I remember our meeting”. Where are you calling from and how can I help?”
“I do not have a lot of time” answered Valentina “I think they have found me and I have to move quickly. I arrived in London yesterday evening on a false passport, but the Soviets have their ways and I can be thankful for the London smog that they have not found me yet. Please let us meet this evening at eleven and do not tell anyone of our appointment – the walls have ears, even those of the British MI6.”
“Where do you suggest our meeting?” asked Mackenzie
“Somewhere where there are many people would be best” said Valentina “I think the Piccadilly Circus would be fine, there are many lights there and we can see each other.”
“How do I recognise you?”
“Mr. Mackenzie, do not worry, I will recognise you. Igor gave me a photo of you.”
“How did Igor have a photo of me, I don’t remember him taking one.”
“Mr. Mackenzie, the Soviets have their ways of finding everything. It is not unknown in Moscow for who you work and where. Believe me there are people near to you that you cannot trust. That is why I have told you not to mention anything until after our meeting.” and then Valentina was gone. She hung up the telephone on the other side and there was just an empty silence on the line.
“Someone you know?” asked Smithers
Mackenzie was pulled out of his thoughts. “Yes Smithers, just an old colleague on the telephone.”
“You look a bit worried Mackenzie, I hope not bad news.”
“We will see Smithers, and now to the work. Anything interesting to deal with today?”
“Well there is actually” Smithers answered. “Our man in Moscow informed that one of the top nuclear scientists has disappeared and it might be that he has decided to come to us.”
“Now that is interesting Smithers. Do you know his name?”
“We have not received so much information up to now but our staff has been alerted at the airports. As soon as we know more we will go into action. I don’t suppose you would know anything.”
“No, no Smithers, it is the first I have heard. Since Burgess and Maclean disappeared and Philby went over, there seem to be spies in every corner of Europe.”
“Yes, you are right. I always thought Philby was such a nice person. It just shows you never know who your friends are” said Smithers.
“Philby was one of your friends?” asked Mackenzie
“Not really, but now and again we would play a round of golf together.”
Mackenzie decided to concentrate on his work. He left the office earlier in the afternoon as he wanted to be ready for his appointment in the evening.
The smog did not seem to improve and Mackenzie was glad that his appointment was in a place with plenty of light and people, although he felt that Piccadilly Circus would not be so crowded at eleven in the evening on such a day.
He arrived at their meeting point and saw no ladies on their own waiting. He saw actually very little as even in this well illuminated place the sight was down to a minimum. He suddenly felt someone pulling at the sleeve of his Burberry raincoat and turned to see a form in the smog, although vision was not so clear.
“Mr. Mackenzie, I am Valentina Novikova.”
Mackenzie saw a shape whose face was half covered with a black and red woollen scarf and just two eyes were peering at him through the space left between the scarf and the hat it was wearing.
“I must be quick Mr. Mackenzie, I am being followed. Please listen. My brother will be arriving in Frankfurt with Lufthansa Flight LH4780 at 10.00 o’clock tomorrow morning. Please be sure that he will be met by your man in Bonn, James Cunningham as he is trustworthy. I must now go, and please do not mention anything to your Mr. Smithers about our meeting.
“Wait a minute, how can I be sure that this is true and what does Smithers have to do with it?”
“I cannot stay here Mr. Mackenzie, please pay attention to what I have said. Smithers was more than just a friend to Kim Philby and believe me he is not your friend. Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie and take care” and before Mackenzie could ask more the apparition in the smog disappeared.
Mackenzie made his way home but he was a little worried about this meeting. How did Valentina know about James Cunningham, a man that had been working in Bonn since the war and who knew more about international British affairs than any other working in the German branch of his country’s offices. “It also seems that Smithers is a doubtful person, must have an eye kept on him, but we will know the truth tomorrow when flight LH4780 arrives in Frankfurt” he thought to himself.
The next morning Mackenzie arrived as usual in the office. He wanted to talk to Smithers, but he was not at work. He had called to say he was feeling unwell. Mackenzie looked at the morning paper, but saw nothing interesting at first. He was just going to put it on one side when a headline caught his attention.
“Young woman found dead in the River Thames.
A corpse was pulled out of the River Thames this morning. First impressions were that she had fallen into the river due to the bad visibility from the smog, but further investigations showed that she had been strangled with a red and black scarf she was wearing.”
This arose Mackenzie’s curiosity and he called Scotland Yard having good connections to the higher levels of the police department. He was told that not all was said to the newspapers and it seemed that she must be of Russian nationality as her clothing showed labels written in the cyrillic alphabet. Mackenzie felt very sad as he was sure this must be Valentina. His telephone rang and it was James Cunningham.
“Hello Mackenzie. How are things at your end?” he asked
“Things are happening fast here James. So tell me, was our nuclear scientist on board the LH4780 in Frankfurt?”
“Definitely Mackenzie, together with a lot of useful information for our people. This is a very good thing for us, but tell me do you have someone called Smithers working in your department?”
“I definitely do” answered Mackenzie “he works in my office”.
“Well place him under arrest immediately” answered Cunningham “he was one of the men that helped Philby to escape and he is in contact with the Soviets. I heard that Igor Novikov’s sister is in London and Smithers is a danger for her.”
“Yes James, I think we are too late, she was pulled out of the Thames this morning most probably.”
After the years, the so-called “cold war” became a facet of history, Mackenzie decided to pay a visit to Moscow to see how things had changed. He had a interesting evening with some one-time Russian secret service people exchanging old memories, after all times were different and it was all a thing of the past. One of his Russian colleagues mentioned a spy called Smithers and Mackenzie was listening. It seems that a Smithers arrived in Moscow saying he was the spy that helped Philby to escape. Philby at this time was quite an honoured person in the Russian hierarchy and denied any knowledge of a Smithers. It seems that the Russian government decided that Smithers was an uncomfortable person to have around and he had spent his last years in a camp in Siberia. Mackenzie found that justice always won somehow. He was sad about Valentina, a very brave Russian lady who had helped her brother to escape. And Igor: he was still living in London where he worked as a scientist. He was now married to an English lady and his eldest daughter was called ….. Valentina..
Writer's Forum: Secret Rendezvous