We are together alone on the floor of Natasha’s Dolphin Square apartment. She has closed the curtains and sat on the opera glasses to attract my full attention. In doing so, she ended our nighttime pursuit of spying on the behaviour of others.
Natasha will join my operation Swaling. She’s signed the papers. The proposition they contained was sparsely described. I must initiate her further. She is in her nightdress. I’m in my dishevelled work clothes. The first thing that she’d unbuttoned after inviting me to stay the night was my personal firearm. After being dropped to the floor it had been pushed under her bed where a gun should never be.
Halfway through peeling me out my shirt, opera glasses and open curtains had called us to the lives of more interesting couples across the quadrangle. By night, entitled establishment VIP’s showed off their young male companions brazenly. We’re on the case again. In the summer, I’ll be going to Tangiers where the decadent vacation. In the meantime, Natasha can be busy in London.
“Leicester Square to be more precise, to Playworld which is close to Theatreland and the gentlemen’s clubs of London. A world of one-armed bandits, amusements and gaming machines,” I tell her.
“Oh, a business proposition, Worth. How do I pay my way in?” She was teasing me about my father being in trade.
“A particular kind of business propositioning,” I replied. “The amusement arcade attracts youngsters and those who prey on them. If a business, the meat business, and tender meat at that.”
“You want surveillance? Been done before and didn’t work. Memories lapse, surprise, surprise. Witnesses contradict each other and themselves. These elitists have too much power, Worth, the cases just fall apart.”
“Besides the technology I’m taking to Morocco, a second thing has changed,” I told her confidently, “Infiltration. Intelligence gathering. Put somebody in on the inside. Permission’s been granted to send someone. A volunteer. You.”
“Perhaps I’m missing something, but I’m not in the demographic,” she pulled her nightdress over her head showing the nakedness beneath, “I do seem to be a girl.”
After covering herself again she saw me with my eyes firmly closed, pretending to be sick on the floor. She asked me if I needed a bucket or a needle to poke my eyes out with?
“What I do need, for legal reasons, is someone over the age of twenty-one who looks well under the age of twenty-one. You’ll do. Think of a performance at The Globe where the girls played boys.”
She called me a Philistine, reminding me that boys played girls in Shakespeare and that I had confused the bard with Pantomime.
“Appropriately,” she added with scorn.
“Oh no, I’m not.” I couldn’t resist.
She stood, and turned to her fitted wardrobe, sliding its door open with a palm. This time she took off her nightdress altogether, letting it fall to the floor before finding a pair of tight jeans. Unfolding them with a flick of the wrist, she pulled them over her feet and all the way up to her hips. She put on a t-shirt. Tucked tightly into her waste her hips looked even narrower. The garment’s shoulders were tugged to baggy loose. Her small breasts disappeared inside the material. She bunched her hair, had a better idea and set it free again. Her style was short start to with, if pushed around the back of her ears she became more boyish still.
“Lose the ears studs,” I told her.
“Only one of them. You are out of touch, Worth.” She smiled but was unhappy with the t-shirt.
“More of an underneath-er,” she declared.
She took a step towards me and carried on from where she’d left off when we’d been in her bed. Unbuttoning my shirt, she put a hand inside the garment and rubbed my chest hair for no other reason than she appeared to enjoy the sensation. Off came my shirt. Natasha pushed her arms through the sleeves and began doing up the buttons. As she fiddled with the collar I felt obliged to inspect her top lip. Some short, downy, bleached strands of hair sat there.
“Some boot polish?” I whispered. “On top of some moisture.”
We kissed. She pulled herself away for me. The shirt didn’t feel right on her. Sleeves were adjusted, the tuck altered. Now perfect, she drew her nose along its upper arm.
“And the smell’s right too.” She smiled some more, “Like to join in the fun?”
She chose a skirt hanging on a rail and threw it at me. It was a bit small. Being slender she was narrower about the hips than me. I held it by the waist and tugged. I might just be able to. She snatched it from me,
“You weren’t going to were you?”
She threw it over her shoulder and laughed.
“Not such a repressed prude are you?”
Then she froze.
“Footsteps,” she said.
I couldn’t hear a thing but on Natasha’s side of the argument, it was the middle of the night, the corridors were empty, the building silent, a keener ear than mine took precedent. Plus, she had her faultless female intuition. A knock at the door made us both jump.
“Hide,” she whispered, “I’ll see to this and then I’ll see to you.”
I squeezed her arm affectionately as she pushed past. She paused beside the front door and glanced my way, giving me time to squat down and roll under her bed. From the modest space between its iron frame and the floor, I could hear the front door being unbolted and pulled open as far as the door chain would allow. Embarrassingly for both of us, Natasha was part undressed and part dressed as a boy. She hid her body, leant into the opening and only showed the right side of her face to the caller. From an unhelpful angle, I could see nothing other than Sydney the draft excluder’s beady python’s eyes and could only hear a mumbled voice from the other side of the door. Natasha replied loudly, repeating what she was being asked as she answered.
“No, Worth isn’t here. Why would he be? Try his room.”
Realising I could only hear one side of the conversation, Natasha tried to fill me in as best she could. Perhaps a little too obviously sharing a cover story with a nearby accomplice.
“You’ve been to his room but he didn’t answer? What? You forced an entry and the appartment was empty?”
“Well, you should have left something for him. Why are you bothering me?”
“Too important to leave is it? Give the letter to me, I’ll pass it to him first thing in the morning at work.”
“I don’t care if he has to sign. I’ll sign. Or you can always wander around London all night looking for him, in the coldest April ever.”
There was some resistance from outside.
“No, you f_____ can’t come in and check my f_____ flat, f___ off.”
There was more resistance from the caller. Size ten boots seemed to be tapping up and down impatiently in the corridor. Possibly two pairs? Meanwhile, my resistance was fading. A strange day and an even stranger night meant that I had been awake for almost a complete twenty-four hours. Squashed beneath the bed springs I was close to my gun. Shouldn’t be left there. With difficulty, I tucked it into my trousers. By breathing in dust from the floor I was in danger of giving myself away with a rough cough. I noticed something. What was it? Concealed right next to the wall. A pair of binoculars. The silly girl did have some. Why had we been faffing about with opera glasses? My breathing deepened. My eyes were closing. No matter what the drama at the door, I fell asleep.
When I woke, I didn’t know where I was. I tried to remember about the previous night and couldn’t. As my head was buried in my hands on a carpet under a bed, it was dark. I thought I might have died. Then I thought, that they might have thought I’d died, and had buried me, and I’d come back to life in the coffin. Momentary panic. Who are they? Natasha and a Queen’s Messenger arguing at the door last night. I remembered where I was.
I shuffled around, pointed myself in a better direction and had to cover my eyes to a shaft of light pouring across the floor from Natasha’s notorious half-opened curtains. I imagined her in the bed above me, invitingly nice and warm. I recalled something about ‘seeing to me later’. I crawled out. My lungs, escaping from the dusty carpet, awarded me an early morning coughing fit. No such luck. Not only was her bed empty, but Natasha was one of those irritating people who started the day by making an immaculate bed, expectant suspicious character asleep beneath or no expectant suspicious character asleep beneath. On her desk, I spotted a handwritten note.
“Fell asleep looking for the chamber pot? You’re not back home now. Although, soon…. Oh, and get out of my flat. Don’t use my shower. If you must use the bathroom, leave the seat down. Keep out of my kitchen. If any of my clothes smell of you when I get back, you’re dead. The QM’s letter in hidden in our special place, you never know who’s about these days. Good luck, love Natasha.”
Special place? I didn’t realise we had a special place. Whatever she meant by that, there was a message from the Queen nearby which needed to be found fast.
To be continued…….
© Always Worth Saying 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file