An evening in Berlin – By Never118
Agent Fiona Gemston, often unimaginatively nicknamed Gemstone by the other agents in the field office, hurried down the wide street as quickly as she could. Things would have been easier if the office had allowed her to wear her riding boots, but she had been told she had to look, to all intents and purposes, like a middle-class woman out for a stroll in the middle of central Berlin.
It wasn’t too hard, although her olive-skin and dark hair marked her out as different to the other women in the street, most of whom were fair skinned and blond. And they could all walk in heels, whereas Fiona had never really mastered that art, and certainly hadn’t ever mastered the art of walking quickly in them on cobbles that had been torn up by marauding T34 Russian tanks.
She was a recent transfer to the Berlin office, fresh from the North African front where she was no longer really needed, and was probably doing more harm than good given that North African males no longer under the tyranny of the Third Reich were certainly not supposed to be fraternising with attractive women from England. She had been brought to Berlin because she was frightfully good at infiltration and a specific type of spy work, but needed a little finessing (apparently).
So, a few weeks after the German high-command had surrendered, she had been sent to Berlin to train in the finer points of spy work for SOE. In particular, a lot of the chaps at the office had decided she needed to brush up on her secretarial and tea-making skills until she had poured the contents of a particularly fine bone china teapot down one man’s trousers in irritation at his hands wandering to her bottom for the third time in five minutes.
After that, they had taken her more seriously.
The heels, however, were probably their form of revenge.
Fiona sighed and adjusted her handbag on her shoulder, pushing her hands into the pockets of her three-quarter length grey coat which was belted around her waist. She looked over her shoulder, looking around the street quickly like they had been teaching her to, and was pleased to see that the man she had thought had been following her was actually just about to sit down at a small café and was already talking to the waiter.
As she turned her attention back to the street ahead, she caught a glimpse of herself in one of the rare, intact windows on a store front and paused a moment, pretending to look at the window display, rather than at herself. She had done well, she thought, to dress appropriately. A simple cream silk blouse with a wide collar, full sleeves, and French cuffs, tucked into her black satin pencil skirt with a high waist decorated with buttons on either side, and a pair of simple black high heels. The chaps at the office had told her, more than once, that a woman in her position in Germany at this point wouldn’t have been wearing what, ultimately, looked like military jackboots. She had been forced to agree with them, although she wouldn’t tell them that. She had pulled on a grey coat with deep pockets, and, to keep out the cold, she had tied a black and white silk scarf around her neck as a cravat, and, even if she did admit it herself, she looked like quite the well-heeled lady about town.
It was, she thought, just a pity that she wasn’t actually just out for a stroll in Berlin. Instead, she was having to track down and interrogate a scientist that SOE command needed her to verify, and, if it happened to be the right man, she was supposed to escort him in to the office personally. It seemed a slightly grubby sort of business, this current arms race of running around the streets of Berlin, talking to people in doorways and making deals about families and dependents and mistresses and who could be shipped out of Germany and when in order to keep them away from the Russians. Last we had heard, Fiona thought, we were on the same side in this blasted thing. Entering into a race with the Russians over who could recruit the most scientists from the old Third Reich laboratories before they all disappeared struck her as a tad unseemly. Especially as the Russians had an unfair advantage, having reached Berlin first.
Her target today was one of them. A man who had, apparently, made contact with the Americans about defecting to help them with the Manhattan Project before the end of the war, and then they’d dropped their new wonder-bomb and forgotten about him for a few months until SOE wire intercepts had suggested the Russians might want him.
Then, of course, everybody had become very interested in Professor Werner Van Krupt, and suddenly he had become Fiona’s job when somebody had spoken to some of his old colleagues and found he had a weakness for younger women with dark hair and exotic good looks. She hadn’t been entirely sure how to take that last part and had decided it was probably the boys in the office making fun of her again, so she had poured tea down the chap’s shirt when he told her just for good measure. Although she had then felt guilty about it and offered to wash his uniform for him afterwards. He hadn’t taken her up on it, which she considered a small victory of sorts.
The address they had given her was relatively close, which meant a limited amount of walking in those blasted heels, and she was enjoying the walk, even if some of the remains of the bombed out shops and houses were a little depressing.
Thankfully, though, the Russians hadn’t been too hard on this part of Berlin.
She checked her watch and hurried along the road a little, aware that she was running behind schedule and that the chaps back at the office would, no doubt, give her a ribbing about it if she was too late. She made her way quickly through the streets and alleys, following the map in her head she had memorised, and eventually found her way to the correct street.
As she approached, she found her mind wandering to the particular circumstances of her task. She wasn’t entirely sure why the SOE had taken on the job at all, given that it was the Americans that wanted Krupt brought in. Given that they were also in Berlin, and in fact their offices were closer to this street, it would have made more sense for the OSS to run the operation themselves. Still, she mused, at least it got her out of the office and practising her skills out in the real world. Or at least, as real as a bombed out ruin in Central Europe could be.
The address was for a small set of flats above a bakery, which, surprisingly enough, hadn’t been looted recently and had two large, rather grumpy looking Russian soldiers standing outside it, with their rifles slung on their shoulders and cigarettes dangling from their mouths. She felt a jolt of nerves as she moved towards them and saw them reposition themselves to take a look at her. She slid her hand deeper into her pocket, her fingers curling gently around the grip of the Walther PPK pistol she had slipped into her pocket before leaving the office. She took a deep breath as she drew level with the soldiers. They looked up at her, but both seemed to look away just as quickly and neither of them seemed bothered about asking her for her identification papers.
She was slightly irritated by that. She’d done a particularly good job of forging them.
She walked past the two soldiers, offering them both a smile and a greeting in flawless German. Neither man seemed to hear her, and she walked down the alley between the bakery and its neighbour, a bombed out tailors, towards the entrance to the flats.
The alleyway was dimly lit by a buzzing electric bulb hanging above a small door with peeling paint. Fiona slipped through quickly, quietly annoyed that the door lock hadn’t required picking because she was especially good at that particular skill, and found herself in a dimly lit, tiled lobby. She knew she needed to be on the top floor, which was good because it limited the number of other properties that could overhear their business, but did mean she had to pass through each of the other floors to get there.
She made her way up the steps quickly, hunting for flat seven. She found it, tucked in the corner of the block, and hurried to the door, quickly checking she wasn’t being watched or followed. As she reached the door, she heard two muted thumps from behind it, then what sounded like a grunt, and then it was silent. She looked around the corridor again, checking she wasn’t watched, and then raised a hand and knocked at the door gently.
She thought she heard voices, quiet and urgent, but couldn’t make them out and couldn’t work out if it was coming from flat seven, or from one of the other properties. She knocked again, a little harder. Hearing footsteps behind the door, she retreated a little, her hand closing again around the grip of the Walther in her pocket. She felt her nerves rising.
She had run operations before, several times, in fact, but nothing where the stakes were as high as this. She bit the inside of her lip nervously as the door chain rattled and the latch turned. She held her breath and the door opened, and revealed something she wasn’t entirely expecting, and something that certainly hadn’t been mentioned in the briefing notes.
The person at the door of the flat was a woman, certainly not a man named Werner Van Krupt, and she certainly didn’t look old enough to be some sort of atomic scientist. Although, she thought, the file had said the Professor had an eye for the ladies. The woman in front of her was small, maybe five foot three, with long, straight chestnut hair that fell just below her shoulders, large grey eyes, and full lips. She was very thin with small, pert breasts and long legs, and she wore a silver silk blouse with capped sleeves, a grey wool pencil skirt that reached her knees, and a pair of black leather boots that reached her knee. The thing that really stood out, though, were the freckles that ran across her nose and cheeks. While she was a stunning woman, the file had said Professor Van Krupt has a taste for ‘exotic’ ladies, and this young lady looked positively English.
Which was the other confusing matter. The office hadn’t mentioned anything about an operative being on site. Before Fiona could say anything, however, the woman reached out, gripped her upper arm, and ushered her inside.
“Quickly,” she said, closing the door behind them. “You must help me,” she added, her voice entirely devoid of a German accent at all, sounding much more like the home counties of England. Fiona raised an eyebrow.
“Hang on a minute,” she said. “Who are you? Where’s the Professor?”
“He’s not here,” the woman sighed in exasperation. “Isn’t that obvious?”
“Well, it is now, yes,” Fiona replied. “Who are you? The office didn’t say anything about anybody else being here when I arrived,” she added.
“That isn’t really important right now,” the woman told her quietly.
“I think you’ll find it is,” said Fiona irritably. She wondered about using the pistol in her pocket, but thought against it. This woman was an unknown quantity, but she could deal with those perfectly well. “Fine, then,” said Fiona, walking slightly further into the flat with the woman leading the way. “What do you need help with?”
“I need your help finding the Professor,” said the woman.
“And why would I do that?”
“Because the chaps in the office said you might need a hand,” said the woman. “I’m Agent Smith,” she added.
“Smith? Really?” Fiona asked.
“Never mind. How do I know you are who you say you are?”
“Not likely, my dear,” said Fiona. She sighed and produced the pistol and thumbed the safety. It made a loud click. “Right. I need to call somebody. Let’s make sure you can’t interfere with that,” she said.
“That really isn’t necessary,” the woman said.
“I rather think it is,” said Fiona.
“What are you going to do?”
“Put your hands behind you,” said Fiona carefully. “I’m going to cuff your hands behind your back, and then we’ll see what the office has to say about this.”
“This is silly, Agent,” said the woman.
“If you worked for the office, you’d know my name.”
“Nobody uses real names,” the woman shot back with a slight sneer, slowly and deliberately turning and putting her hands behind her. Fiona pulled a pair of handcuffs out of her handbag, silently grateful she hadn’t had to explain their presence to the Russians downstairs, and approached the woman carefully. She snapped the first cuff into place, and then the second, noticing the woman didn’t react at all.
“Have a seat,” she said.
“This really is unnecessary,” the woman said, sitting on the drab sofa daintily. She crossed her legs at the knee and glared at Fiona.
“We’ll see,” said Fiona, eyeing her prisoner carefully. “I don’t want you to interrupt, or call for help,” she said. She fished in her handbag and produced a silk handkerchief.
“Don’t you dare,” the woman said indignantly.
“Open your mouth,” said Fiona. “Or I’ll find a way of making you,” she added. The woman glared at her angrily, but opened her mouth slowly. Fiona rolled her handkerchief into a thick wad and pushed the roll into the woman’s mouth, forcing her tongue down and keeping her quiet for fear of pushing it further back down her throat. It was an effective enough gag for while she was on the phone. The woman grunted indignantly and jerked at the cuffs, making them rattle. “Mmmph,” was all that emerged. Fiona watched her, making sure she wouldn’t choke, and then shrugged and walked over to the telephone and lifted the receiver from the cradle. The phone was answered after two rings by a familiar voice.
“Tim’s Stationers,” it said.
“Hello Timothy,” Fiona purred. “Quick question about the pick-up,” she said.
“Go ahead,” the voice said slowly.
“No sign of Mister Pea,” she said. “Met a charming lady here, says she works for you chaps. Any thoughts?”
There was silence on the other end of the phone for a moment. “Name?”
“Smith,” Fiona said, watching the cuffed and gagged woman as she glared at her from the sofa, muttering into the wadded up silk gag in her mouth.
“Ah. Miss Smith. Lovely girl. Take good care of her, eh? Mother’s name, you know. She knows Mister Pea rather well,” the voice said happily. “Something of a family connection.”
“Wife,” the voice said. Fiona narrowed her eyes and shot a glance at the cuffed woman. She was perfectly still and very calm. She also looked far too young to be with the professor, who, last time she had seen a photograph, seemed to be in his sixties, whereas she was in her twenties.
“I see. Bit young for it, wouldn’t you say?” Fiona asked. The woman squealed irritably. She’d clearly touched a nerve.
“Maybe Mister Pea likes that,” said the voice carefully.
“Maybe. Works for you chaps then?”
“Something like that. Might say she does. Must dash. Chaps at the door expecting service.”
“Righto. Cheerio,” she said, putting the receiver down before she got a response. She turned to look at the cuffed woman carefully. She walked over and carefully extracted the rolled up silk gag from her mouth with two fingers and dropped the damp wad of silk onto the sofa. “Professor Van Krupt’s wife?”
“I was going to tell you,” the woman said with frown. Her voice was a little more hoarse, her mouth clearly dry from the gag.
“And you didn’t, because?”
“Because you’d look at me the way you are doing now. He really is rather sweet.”
“And you could be his daughter,” said Fiona with a hint of reproach.
“But I am his wife,” said the woman. “Serena Smith,” she said, wiggling her hands from behind her back so the cuffs rattled. Fiona nodded and fished the key out of her pocket, stepping closer to unlock the cuffs.
“Sorry. Had to be sure,” she said.
“I’d have done the same, I think,” Serena said. “Would you have shot me?”
“I doubt it,” said Fiona. “For a start, that really is a lovely blouse and it would be a shame to ruin it,” she said with a grin. “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on over a nice cup of tea,” she added.
Serena explained the situation quickly as they drank tea from chipped china cups made in a battered old kettle and poured from a cracked teapot, but beggars couldn’t be choosey. Fiona sipped her tea and listened attentively, her coat and silk scarf folded neatly on the chair in the corner, her handbag perched on top of it. “When I arrived home, the Professor was gone. I assumed he had taken his afternoon walk as he often did at this time, but that only lasts about twenty minutes to half an hour. He still isn’t back, and he left over three hours ago.”
“Why are you so worried? Why can’t he just be out for a long walk?”
“He’s an older man. He can’t go for long walks, even with his cane. He has trouble getting around, you see.”
“Why else? That can’t be it,” said Fiona.
“There are Russian soldiers downstairs. Outside the bakery.”
“Yes. What’s so strange about the Russians being in Berlin these days?”
“We aren’t in the Russian occupation zone. We’re close, but not inside it. It actually starts about two streets further down. Nobody challenges it, because they keep the law around here better than anybody else can, but they haven’t moved all day. It isn’t a patrol.”
“What do you think they’re doing?”
“I think they were here to pick up the Professor.”
“Then where did he go?”
“He must have seen them and got spooked. It wouldn’t surprise me. They aren’t exactly subtle, are they?”
“True,” said Fiona. She finished her tea and put the cup back on its saucer, looking around the small room for somewhere to put it and decided, in the end, to just put it carefully on the floor. She glanced, not for the first time, at Serena’s boots and felt a pang of envy. They looked comfortable.
Serena sighed and drained her own cup, standing up and looking towards the window. “Should we look for him? Or wait here?”
“Given there’s two of us,” Fiona said. “I would say we could do both.”
“Good point. Which do you want?” Serena asked.
Before Fiona could answer, there were footsteps in the hallway, making them both freeze. It was Serena who recovered first, hurrying to the door of the flat and peeking through the spyhole. She motioned for Fiona to join her. “It’s a Russian agent,” she hissed quietly. “I’ve seen her before. She’s here for the Professor, I know it.”
“Are you sure? How do you know?”
“It’ll take too long to explain. Have you still got your handcuffs?”
“Yes,” said Fiona, producing them from the waistband of her skirt where she had put them earlier when she had realised she hadn’t got any other pockets.
The lock slipped as somebody used it from outside and then the hallway door opened, pushed by somebody outside, and as it did, Serena moved quickly and sharply. With one hand she tugged the other person into the room, while the other circled around their body, trapping their arms at their sides. A second later, Serena had clamped her hand over the woman’s mouth with strength surprising for such a small, slight girl.
Fiona, shaking off her surprise, took a moment to look the newcomer over. She was the same height as her, with blond hair that fell mid-way down her back, grey eyes, and long legs. Her most striking feature, however, was her long blond hair, so light that it looked almost white, whipping around her face as she struggled against Serena’s hold.
“Quickly,” Serena hissed, a hint of fear in her voice. “Cuff her hands while I keep her quiet,” she said, pushing the door closed with her foot. The woman squeaked into Serena’s hand and continued to struggle, so Fiona stepped over to her quickly, snapping the cuffs around first one wrist, and then the other, locking them in place so the woman’s wrists were pinned behind her tightly.
“Thank you,” Serena sighed, still holding the woman and keeping her hand over her mouth. “Now, go and find something to keep her quiet so I can let go,” she said. “We don’t want her raising the alarm to those soldiers outside, do we?”
Fiona nodded and hurried into one of the other rooms, a bedroom she suspected, and hunted in the drawers. As she had hoped, it was Serena’s room, and so the drawers contained women’s clothes. She found what she was looking for and plucked a white silk handkerchief and a long, black silk scarf with a thick red border and gold detailing from the drawer. She went back into the other room, impressed that Serena hadn’t been moved at all and was still holding the woman in place. Fiona draped the scarf over her shoulder to keep it out of the way, and folded the handkerchief into a thick, tight wad. “Move your hand,” she said to Serena.
Serena did as she was told and as the woman opened her mouth to scream, Fiona jammed the silk pad into her mouth, pushing it firmly back behind her teeth. The woman let out a surprised yelp. Serena clamped her hand back in place to stop her spitting the gag out, and Fiona folded the scarf into a broad band which she held in front of the surprised blond girl’s mouth. Serena moved her hand again and Fiona pushed the centre of the scarf between her teeth and bound the ends tightly at the base of her skull, trapping the wadded up handkerchief in her mouth and gagging her effectively.
“That should hold her,” Fiona said.
“I’ll say,” said Serena. “Impressive. Where did you learn that?”
“I was involved in an operation in North Africa involving a local sheikh and his harem. He liked his girls tied up.”
“You were one of the girls?”
“I was his secretary,” said Fiona with a grin.
“Useful skills,” Serena said approvingly. The woman moaned into her gag as Serena pushed her towards the drab sofa, and Fiona stepped back to look her over. She wore a dark navy blue coloured satin blouse with French cuffs and a wide collar, and a high-waisted houndstooth check patterned pencil skirt with a broad leather belt and high heels. She strained against the cuffs and her gag.
“Have you found any rope in the flat?” Fiona asked.
“I think our Russian friend is a little too mobile,” she said firmly.
It didn’t take long before Fiona had bound the girl’s ankles, knees, wrists, and elbows tightly with the thin white rope they had found, and tied her upper arms to her chest firmly. Serena had been impressed by how quickly she had done it and Fiona was fairly sure she had been watching her carefully to see how she pulled the ropes and knots effectively. As they walked into the kitchen to make more tea, Serena wanted to know more.
“And you learned all of this from your Sheikh friend in North Africa?” Serena asked sceptically. Fiona nodded.
“Not so much a friend as a man we needed on our side. Tribal leader just outside Marrakech. Lots of clout with the local tribes, you see? We needed him to attack Jerry supply lines.”
“What did he get in return?” Serena asked.
“Mostly it was a Rolls Royce and a Jaguar, despite the fact he had no way of driving them through the desert.”
“And you were happy to organise his women for him?”
“Well,” said Fiona. “I pretended to. They were mostly local girls, or women who had been put into slavery with him to pay off a family debt. He didn’t really do much with them, but that doesn’t make it okay. I ran the harem for a month while he did what we wanted him to do, all the time grooming one of his men to take over for us. As soon as he was singing our song, SOE command gave the all clear and our Sheikh friend had an accident with the new Webley we’d given him. Terribly sad, obviously,” Fiona said with a fake pout. Serena nodded, clearly impressed.
The captive woman on the drab sofa grunted into her gag and struggled at her ropes angrily as they walked back in. She seemed to be glaring particularly at Fiona, who ignored her studiously. Serena checked the girl’s ropes and then the knot in the gag. “It’s certainly an effective job. We should get out there and look for the Professor,” she added.
“Probably. What about her?”
“I’ll call in the office for a pick up. They’ll want to interrogate her, I imagine. As soon as they do, we can head out,” she said, toying with one of the trailing ends of the silk scarf gagging their captive. The girl mewled into her gag as she realised that she couldn’t get free. Looking at her, Fiona realised just how young she looked. Certainly not old enough to be a field agent, surely. She felt a sudden pang of adrenaline and suspicion. Something hadn’t seemed right from the moment Serena had grabbed the girl as she walked through the door, and now she was mewling and glaring not at her, Fiona realised, but at something behind her.
She feigned a yawn and turned slightly to see what the girl had been staring at and felt her stomach lurch. She had been pointedly trying to get her to look at the photographs on the wall of the flat in their fading frames and chipped glass. She didn’t need to look too closely to realise that all the photographs on the wall showed an older man, his hair greying, even in the black and white, with glasses and a scruffy beard, and his arm around the shoulders or waist of a blond woman who looked remarkably like the bound and gagged girl on the sofa, and nothing at all like Serena, who seemed to be content still toying with her bound captive.
Something was wrong, and Serena was clearly not who she had claimed, and now she had left her gun in the pocket of her coat in the kitchen, and there wasn’t anything else she could use as a weapon. Not even a teaspoon.
Or a full teapot.
The bound girl squealed into her gag as Serena started to stroke her hair and silk-clad shoulders, jerking Fiona back from the photographs. “Should I call in to the office?” She asked, trying to formulate a plan while also staying calm and sounding nonchalant. She realised that she wasn’t achieving any of those things.
“Leave it to me. You watch her,” said Serena, smiling happily and heading for the phone quickly, blocking Fiona’s path to it. Fiona rolled her eyes and looked around quickly, trying to work out what to do. She glanced over at the bound woman, who had calmed down a little now that Serena wasn’t touching her, and tried to give her what she hoped was a reassuring smile. The girl rolled her eyes and sighed heavily.
Serena was talking on the phone now, and Fiona wondered whether she should try to knock her out or something, but realised that her high heels made creeping up on her impossible. She would have to give the chaps at the office hell for that one later, if she got out of this. She looked around for something she could use as a weapon but saw nothing, so started to edge over to their captive. She knew she had a limited opportunity to do anything, especially as she was unarmed, and at a disadvantage given that she still didn’t know who Serena was.
As she finally reached the sofa, she knelt down carefully and held a finger to her lips, looking at the bound and gagged woman carefully. The girl nodded quickly. “I’m going to loosen the gag so I can ask you a couple of questions while she’s busy,” Fiona said. “Be good, okay?” The girl nodded. Fiona reached up and loosened the knot at the base of the girl’s skull, allowing her to loop a finger under the silk scarf and wiggle it out of her mouth. The wadded up handkerchief spilled out a moment later in a dense ball. “Are you the professor’s daughter?”
“No,” the girl whispered painfully. Her voice was hoarse and Fiona felt bad about the stuffing she had added to the gag. How could she have known? She steeled herself.
“Yes. Charlotte Van Krupt or Agent Smith,” the girl said. There was a hint of an accent, German, though she mostly sounded like she was from Britain. Possibly Cambridge. They must have met there, or something.
“Who is the woman in your kitchen?”
“Agent,” the woman croaked. Her eyes wandered to over Fiona’s shoulder and she knew, without looking, that she had lingered too long.
“So. The jig’s up, eh?” Serena said quietly from the doorway. “I’m holding your gun, by the way, so don’t misbehave,” she added.
“Please,” said Fiona, carefully. “I’ll behave,” she added.
“I know,” said Serena. “Put the gag back in her mouth, please,” she added.
“You must,” she said, walking closer. Fiona sighed and looked at the bound girl who was now starting to struggle against her ropes again. “Don’t bother, Charlie,” she added. “It’s no use,” she said. “Gag her, please.”
“No,” the girl sighed.
Reluctantly, Fiona picked up the damp silk ball and held it up, waiting for the bound girl to open her mouth obediently and then pushed the wadded up handkerchief between her teeth. She pulled the scarf back into place between her jaws and tied the knot tightly before turning to face Serena, who was, indeed, holding the Walther pointed straight at her.
“Dare I ask who you are?” Fiona asked.
“You can ask,” said Serena. “I work for an organisation that is rather intent on preventing either side making use of these scientists. I don’t expect you to understand, or approve, but I do need you out of the way,” she added.
“What are you going to do?” Fiona asked, suddenly fearful of where the gun was pointing, wishing she hadn’t left it in her coat pocket.
“Don’t panic. The unit I called in will arrive soon to sort you out. In the meantime, have a seat,” she said.
Fiona nodded and sat on the sofa next to the bound and gagged blond. “Who’s she?” She asked.
“This is Charlie, Professor Van Krupt’s wife. She’s much younger, much better looking, and not German. They met in England at Oxford and fell in love, and the rest is cliché. But they’ve been living here for the last seven years while he works, hence her slight German accent,” said Serena. Oxford, thought Fiona. Of course. “Professor Van Krupt was always planning to defect to you, but we can’t have that, so I was here to intercept him and his lovely wife and use her as leverage to get him to come over to our organisation. Unfortunately,” Serena paused, looking at her captives. “Unfortunately, you were early and the Professor was late. Charlie was bang on time, though.”
“Sorry,” Fiona mumbled.
“Not a problem, dear. Now. Cuffs,” she said. Fiona looked confused. “Cuff your hands behind your back, Agent Gemston,” Serena told her, tossing the handcuffs towards her. Fiona considered arguing, then thought better of it, and reluctantly snapped the cuffs around her left wrist, then around her right behind her back, locking her hands in place. The bound girl beside her squealed in resignation. Fiona looked at her apologetically.
“We won’t hurt her, by the way,” Serena said. “Nothing like your Sheikh. I assure you, the Professor will like working with my organisation.”
Fiona was about to answer when there was a knock at the door.
“Ah,” said Serena. “The boys are here…”
The men who entered the flat were all tall, muscular, and wearing dark combat fatigues and boots, but they moved lightly and quickly. There were four of them, and all four had their faces hidden by woollen balaclavas, which made very little sense to Fiona given that it wasn’t that cold outside, and she had no idea who they were anyway, so there was no need to hide their identity. Two of them pulled her to her feet, and Serena passed them some lengths of rope. First they bound Fiona’s upper arms, winding the rope around her chest and arms above and below her pert breasts, pulling the rope tight so that her chest was pushed forwards. Some of the rope was passed between her arms and her body around the ropes to cinch it tightly in place, making it harder to imagine how she could get out of it.
A moment later, the men removed the handcuffs she had put on herself and replaced them with rope wound tightly around her wrists and then more wrapped between her arms, pinching the ropes around her arms more closely, although she hated to admit it wasn’t entirely uncomfortable. While one of the two men held her shoulders from behind, the other dropped to his knees and bound her ankles and then more ropes around her legs below the knee. As the rope was cinched firmly, Fiona started to feel a rising sense of dread. There was absolutely no way she was going to get out of the ropes as they were tied now. She forced herself not to panic.
“Right, get the Professor’s young wife out of here,” Serena instructed. The men nodded and without a sound, they hurried into the bedroom and returned with a large sheet which they placed on the floor, leaving Fiona stood precariously on her high heels, watching the whole affair as she struggled to stay upright. Charlotte Van Krupt was lowered onto the sheet, wriggling and struggling futilely, and then it was rolled around her body until she disappeared into the folds of white cotton. Some thin cord was lashed around the long bundle where Fiona imagined Charlotte’s waist, ankles, and shoulders, were, and then two of the men draped the long package over one of the others’ shoulders. Without a word, they hurried out of the building, leaving Serena stood in front of her. She had disappeared a moment earlier and returned now with Fiona’s black and white silk scarf in her hands.
“Oh, no,” Fiona said as calmly as she could manage. “No, really, there’s no need for a gag. I’ll sit here quietly and I won’t give the game away,” she said, watching as Serena refolded the thick, lustrous silk into a broad band and then tied a knot in the centre.
“Fair’s fair,” said Serena. “You gagged Charlotte and I,” she said.
“True enough, I suppose. Do you have to use my scarf, though?”
“You didn’t leave much else in Charlotte’s drawers, I’m afraid,” said Serena. “Open your mouth,” she added.
Fiona did as she was told. There was no point arguing. The thick, heavy knot of the gag was pushed between her teeth and the ends drawn back around to the base of her skull and knotted firmly twice. Fiona yelped as the knot slid into place. She was surprised at how little sound came out through the silken knot.
Serena stood in front of her again, her face serious.
“I think we can safely say I’ve won this one, Agent Gemston,” she said.
“Hwwph nnph?” Fiona mumbled.
“My organisation have the Professor’s wife. It’s only a matter of time before the Professor comes over to us,” Serena explained. “I’d say that’s winning, wouldn’t you?”
“Nwww,” Fiona muttered into the silk knot irritably.
“It’s a shame to lose touch, though,” said Serena. “I think I’ll give you a little hint so you can try and find us. Make this interesting. What do you think?”
“Grrmph!” Fiona grunted angrily.
“I thought you might think that way,” said Serena. “Think about this, though,” she said. “Why did the office expect you to find an Agent Smith here, if Charlotte’s name is Van Krupt, and I just happened to know the right name? You chaps aren’t that unimaginative at coming up with cover names,” Serena asked.
“Wmph?” It was a good point, Fiona thought. For the British spy service, using Smith as a cover name would have been a ridiculously bad idea.
“That’s what I thought,” said Serena, with a wink. “I’ll telephone here in ten minutes, and if you don’t answer, I’ll telephone the office for you when we’re far enough away,” she added. Fiona grunted into her gag angrily and tugged at the ropes holding her. “Think on that little conundrum, Agent Gemston. I promise you, it will be something of an eye opener,” Serena told her with a grin. Without another word, she helped Fiona sit as comfortably as possible on the sofa and then walked to the door of the flat, the final man following behind her.
“Tell you what, Agent Gemston,” said Serena. “If you can get free before I call the office, I’ll buy you a cup of tea the next time we meet,” she told her with a wink.
After Serena left, the door closed with a heavy thud and Fiona’s heart sank. She had been flexing her muscles and shifting her weight slightly for several minutes and was yet to feel the ropes give at all. She fought to control the panic that was threatening to overwhelm her and tried to breath normally, which was difficult when every breath reminded her of the thick, heavy silk gag wedged between her teeth. Forcing herself to calm down, Fiona tested her ropes a little further, knowing it would do very little of use, but consoling herself that trying might take her mind off the hopelessness of her situation.
She heard the sound of a truck starting up outside and realised it must have been the Russian truck she had seen on her way in. That being said, Serena Smith and her men hadn’t seemed like Russians. Serena’s accent had been flawless, and the men hadn’t seemed as large, or as aggressive as she’d been led to believe Russian soldiers were.
She tugged again at the ropes and this time struggled to move her arms, painful though it was to force them to move at all against the tight rope harness around her upper arms and chest. She managed to wriggle her hands around her side and could peer at them as she did so, but realised that didn’t really make the situation any better, and in fact seemed to make it seem all the more hopeless.
She sighed and tried to call for help, surprised at how far the gag prevented her from making a sound. It wasn’t so much that it muffled the sound so much as that it had dried her mouth out alarmingly quickly, making it difficult to make anything but the smallest of sounds. She sighed in frustration and felt a tear pricking at the corner of her eye.
She was determined not to give in, however, and thought about standing up. She was about to when she remembered the heels. Hopping in those would be completely impossible, so she carefully let them slip off her feet and onto the floor. Flexing her tired feet gingerly, she sighed with relief into her gag. After a moment or two, her feet were as relaxed as they could be with several coils of rope around them, and so Fiona pushed herself off the sofa and onto her feet, looking around for anything to help her cut the ropes. She gingerly hopped forward a step or two, seeing whether she could do so without any ill effects. Happy that she could balance enough on her stockinged toes and hop, she started to move towards the kitchen, stopping twice on the way as she felt she was about to fall over.
She was beginning to get hot and she could feel her skin getting warm with sweat. Her blouse stuck to her back, cool but cloying at the same time, especially with the added weight of the ropes that wound their way around her body and breasts.
Reaching the kitchen, she hopped carefully to the drawers and, with some grunting and mewling through the silk in her mouth, and more than a little swearing as she struggled to coordinate her bound hands, Fiona started to open the drawers and search through them. The first two contained nothing useful. One seemed to contain screws, string, and strange brass fittings and fixtures as well as a measuring tape. The second had a couple of cookery books.
The third seemed to have the cutlery in it.
Wiggling awkwardly around, muttering words her mother would have been shocked at into her gag, she leaned over the draw and managed to slip her hands inside and feel around gingerly. It would be something of an embarrassment to bleed to death having accidentally cut her wrists on a knife while trying to get free. And the blood would ruin her silk blouse. Eventually, Fiona touched what felt like the blade of a knife and felt around carefully for the handle, a task made more difficult by the fact she couldn’t see what she was doing, and that every time she moved herself a little further back to try and explore the drawer, her bottom nudged it closed another inch.
With a final gasping breath of relief, Fiona pulled a short, sharp knife out of the drawer and weighed it in her hands. It would do the job. She just needed to be careful not to hurt herself in the process.
She glanced around for a clock. It had taken her eight minutes to get this far, and all the muscles in her body hurt from a mixture of the firmness of the ropes to the exertion of having to move while so tightly bound. A bit of her wanted to beat Serena to the phone, so she shifted the knife in her hands carefully and angled the blade up, pointing the sharp edge out, away from her body, and started to saw.
“Pllmmph,” she mumbled to herself. “Cmmm wwwnnnn,” she added. Her chest was rising and falling quickly, her muscles screaming for air. The gag made it harder to breathe deeply, and she was beginning to cramp. Another thirty seconds and she felt the rope start to give way. Fiona continued working with the knife, suddenly energised by her success, and felt the ropes start to give a little more.
She looked at the clock. Nine minutes.
“Cmmmm wwnnnn,” she groaned, starting to twist her wrists and pull at the ropes as well as sawing at them with the knife. She really hoped she hadn’t done any damage to her blouse.
A moment later, the first rope snapped loudly, and then something else gave way, and the ropes began to fall slack around her wrists. Fiona pulled firmly, or as firmly as she could with her arms bound to her sides, and eventually pulled her wrists free. On reflex, her hands went to her mouth as best as she could manage and, leaning down a little, she managed to pull the gag out of her mouth, allowing the damp silk scarf to hang around her neck with a gasp of relief.
She was about to untie her legs when she looked at the clock. She had thirty seconds, and she didn’t intend to be caught out by that cow Serena Smith. Bracing herself against the table in the kitchen, Fiona hopped as carefully as she could towards the phone and dropped onto the sofa, still bound at the chest and legs. She carefully lifted the receiver and dialled the number she had memorised.
The phone was answered after three rings this time
“Tim’s Stationers,” the voice said.
“Hello Timothy. Please get in touch with the chaps upstairs, would you? There’s been a problem with the pick up,” she said. “Mister Pea is nowhere to be seen, and now Miss Smith has taken a lift with some unsavoury characters,” she said, breathing heavily.
“I’m sorry, madam,” the voice said. “Did you just say Mister Pea and Miss Smith are not with you?”
“I’m afraid I did,” said Fiona.
“How did that happen?”
“I’d rather not discuss it over the telephone,” she said.
“Quite right, madam,” the voice said. “Come on in and have a word, why don’t you? Have a nice cup of tea and tell us all about it,” she added.
“Thanks awfully,” said Fiona with a rush of relief. That tended to be code for everything being calm and settled, even if there had been a big mistake, and a failure. Evidently they weren’t going to be blaming her. She hoped. “Be there as soon as I can,” she added.
“Splendid,” the male voice said. “Come on in, and we’ll see what can be done about Mister Pea,” he said. “Hurry along if you can,” the voice added.
“Will do,” said Fiona.
She placed the phone on the cradle carefully and sighed, wanting to fall back into the sofa but knowing she needed to get untied. Her legs were beginning to go numb. As she started to attack the first knot, the telephone rang.
Fiona looked around, surprised, and feeling foolish for looking. She wasn’t entirely sure what to do, but thought it might be useful to answer it.
“Hello?” She said, lifting the phone to her ear.
“Ah,” said a familiar, crisp female voice. “I owe you a pot of tea,” said Serena Smith.
“Yes you do, you cow,” Fiona said grumpily.
“Don’t be a sore loser,” Serena said. “Did you figure it out yet?”
“Why the office were expecting a Miss Smith to be on site and I just happened to know the right name?”
“They told me,” Fiona said, irritably. She had finally managed to work the first knot loose and was starting to untie herself, feeling a flood of sensation run back down her legs. “She was recruited at Cambridge to keep an eye on him.”
“Yes,” Serena Smith said. “But not everybody in your Office is on your side,” she added.
“Our chaps seemed to think so,” Fiona said, leaning over to start on the ropes around her ankles, which seemed to come loose a lot quicker.
“That’s the problem with double agents though, isn’t it,” said Serena. “You always think they’re on your side,” she added.
“You really are a pain in the bottom, aren’t you?” Fiona said irritably.
“I try, dear,” Serena said.
“Well, if she’s the double agent you say she is,” Fiona said. “Why did she leave here bound and gagged and rolled up in a bed sheet?”
“Who said she was the double agent?” Serena asked. With that, she hung up.
Fiona dropped the phone onto the cradle and let out an exasperated sigh. This really was becoming quite tiresome, and Serena was certainly quite smug, which was more tiresome than having lost out to her in the first place. She freed her ankles and rubbed some feeling back into them carefully before slipping her high heels back on, wishing she had a different pair of shoes to substitute them for.
This would need to be followed up, she thought. “Although,” she said, out loud, wriggling her arms in their rope harness and finding it surprisingly tricky to move the tight ropes that held her arms to her sides. “Right now I’d settle for working out how I get these ropes off my chest,” she muttered…