Outside the anonymous, cream painted door, Tatiana already smelled the inside of the room. When the voice told her curtly to come in, and she opened the door, it was the smell that filled her mind while she stood and stared into the eyes of the woman who sat behind the round table under the centre light.
It was the smell of the Metro on a hot evening–cheap scent concealing animal odours. People in Russia soak themselves in scent, whether they have had a bath or not, but mostly when they have not, and healthy, clean girls like Tatiana always walk home from the office, unless the rain or the snow is too bad, so as to avoid the stench in the trains and the Metro.
Now Tatiana was in a bath of the smell. Her nostrils twitched with disgust.
It was her disgust and her contempt for a person who could live in the middle of such a smell that helped her to look down into the yellowish eyes that stared at her through the square glass panes. Nothing could be read in them. They were receiving eyes, not giving eyes. They slowly moved all over her, like camera lenses, taking in.
Colonel Klebb spoke:
`You are a fine-looking girl, Comrade Corporal. Walk across the room and back.'
What were these honeyed words? Taut with a new fear, fear of the notorious personal habits of the woman, Tatiana did as she was told.
`Take your jacket off. Put it down on the chair. Raise your hands above your head. Higher. Now bend and touch your toes. Upright. Good. Sit down.' The woman spoke like a doctor. She gestured to the chair across the table from her. Her staring, probing eyes hooded themselves as they bent over the file on the table.
It must be my zapiska, thought Tatiana. How interesting to see the actual instrument that ordered the whole of one's life. How thick it was–nearly two inches thick. What could be on all those pages? She looked across at the open folder with wide, fascinated eyes.
Colonel Klebb riffled through the last pages and shut down the cover. The cover was orange with a diagonal black stripe. What did those colours signify?
The woman looked up. Somehow Tatiana managed to look bravely back.
`Comrade Corporal Romanova.' It was the voice of authority, of the senior officer. `I have good reports of your work. Your record is excellent, both in your duties and in sport. The State is pleased with you.'
Tatiana could not believe her ears. She felt faint with reaction. She blushed to the roots of her hair and then turned pale. She put out a hand to the table edge. She stammered in a weak voice, `I am g-grateful, Comrade Colonel.'
`Because of your excellent services you have been singled out for a most important assignment. This is a great honour for you. Do you understand?'
Whatever it was, it was better than what might have been. `Yes, indeed, Comrade Colonel.'
`This assignment carries much responsibility. It bears a higher rank. I congratulate you on your promotion, Comrade Corporal, on completion of the assignment, to the rank of Captain of State Security.'
This was unheard of for a girl of twenty-four! Tatiana sensed danger. She stiffened like an animal who sees the steel jaws beneath the meat. `I am deeply honoured, Comrade Colonel.' She was unable to keep the wariness out of her voice.
Rosa Klebb grunted non-committally. She knew exactly what the girl must have thought when she got the summons. The effect of her kindly reception, her shock of relief at the good news, her reawakening fears, had been transparent. This was a beautiful, guileless, innocent girl. Just what the konspiratsia demanded. Now she must be loosened up. `My dear,' she said smoothly. `How remiss of me. This promotion should be celebrated in a glass of wine. You must not think we senior officers are inhuman. We will drink together. It will be a good excuse to open a bottle of French champagne.'
Rosa Klebb got up and went over to the sideboard where her batman had laid out what she had ordered.
`Try one of these chocolates while I wrestle with the cork. It is never easy getting out champagne corks. We girls really need a man to help us with that sort of work, don't we?'
The ghastly prattle went on as she put a spectacular box of chocolates in front of Tatiana. She went back to the sideboard. `They're from Switzerland. The very best. The soft centres are the round ones. The hard ones are square.'
Tatiana murmured her thanks. She reached out and chose a round one. It would be easier to swallow. Her mouth was dry with fear of the moment when she would finally see the trap and feel it snap round her neck. It must be something dreadful to need to be concealed under all this play-acting. The bite of chocolate stuck in her mouth like chewing-gum. Mercifully the glass of champagne was thrust into her hand.
Rosa Klebb stood over her. She lifted her glass merrily. `Za vashe zdarovie, Comrade Tatiana. And my warmest congratulations!'
Tatiana stitched a ghastly smile on her face. She picked up her glass and gave a little bow. `Za vashe zdarovie, Comrade Colonel.' She drained the glass, as is the custom in Russian drinking, and put it down in front of her.
Rosa Klebb immediately filled it again, slopping some over the table-top. `And now to the health of your new department, Comrade.' She raised her glass. The sugary smile tightened as she watched the girl's reactions.
Numbly, Tatiana got to her feet. She picked up the full glass. `To SMERSH.' The word scarcely came out. She choked on the champagne and had to take two gulps. She sat heavily down.
Rosa Klebb gave her no time for reflection. She sat down opposite and laid her hands flat on the table. `And now to business, Comrade.' Authority was back in the voice. `There is much work to be done.' She leant forward. `Have you ever wished to live abroad, Comrade? In a foreign country?'
The champagne was having its effect on Tatiana. Probably worse was to come, but now let it come quickly.
`No, Comrade. I am happy in Moscow.'
`You have never thought what it might be like living in the West–all those beautiful clothes, the jazz, the modern things?'
`No, Comrade.' She was truthful. She had never thought about it.
`And if the State required you to live in the West?'
`I would obey.'
Tatiana shrugged her shoulders with a hint of impatience. `One does what one is told.'
The woman paused. There was girlish conspiracy in the next question.
`Are you a virgin, Comrade?'
Oh, my God, thought Tatiana. `No, Comrade Colonel.'
The wet lips glinted in the light.
`How many men?'
Tatiana coloured to the roots of her hair. Russian girls are reticent and prudish about sex. In Russia the sexual climate is mid-Victorian. These questions from the Klebb woman were all the more revolting for being asked in this cold inquisitorial tone by a State official she had never met before in her life. Tatiana screwed up her courage. She stared defensively into the yellow eyes. `What is the purpose of these intimate questions please, Comrade Colonel?'
Rosa Klebb straightened. Her voice cut back like a whip. `Remember yourself, Comrade. You are not here to ask questions. You forget to whom you are speaking. Answer me!'
`When. How old were you?' The hard yellow eyes looked across the table into the hunted blue eyes of the girl and held them and commanded.
Tatiana was on the edge of tears. `At school. When I was seventeen. Then at the Institute of Foreign Languages. I was twenty-two. Then last year. I was twenty-three. It was a friend I met skating.'
`Their names, please, Comrade.' Rosa Klebb picked up a pencil and pulled a scribbling pad towards her.
Tatiana covered her sobs. `No, never, whatever you do to me. You have no right.'
`Stop that nonsense.' The voice was a hiss. `In five minutes I could have those names from you, or anything else I wish to know. You are playing a dangerous game with me, Comrade. My patience will not last for ever.' Rosa Klebb paused. She was being too rough. `For the moment we will pass on. Tomorrow you will give me the names. No harm will come to these men. They will be asked one or two questions about you–simple technical questions, that is all. Now sit up and dry your tears. We cannot have any more of this foolishness.'
Rosa Klebb got up and came round the table. She stood looking down at Tatiana. The voice became oily and smooth. `Come, come, my dear. You must trust me. Your little secrets are safe with me. Here, drink some more champagne and forget this little unpleasantness. We must be friends. We have work to do together. You must learn, my dear Tania, to treat me as you would your mother. Here, drink this down.'
Tatiana pulled a handkerchief out of the waistband of her skirt and dabbed at her eyes. She reached out a trembling hand for the glass of champagne and sipped at it with bowed head.
`Drink it down, my dear.'
Rosa Klebb stood over the girl like some dreadful mother duck, clucking encouragement.
Obediently Tatiana emptied the glass. She felt drained of resistance, tired, willing to do anything to finish with this interview and get away somewhere and sleep. She thought, so this is what it is like on the interrogation table, and that is the voice the Klebb uses. Well, it was working. She was docile now. She would co-operate.
Rosa Klebb sat down. She observed the girl appraisingly from behind the motherly mask.
`And now, my dear, just one more intimate little question. As between girls. Do you enjoy making love? Does it give you pleasure? Much pleasure?'
Tatiana's hands came up again and covered her face. From behind them, in a muffled voice, she said, `Well yes, Comrade Colonel. Naturally, when one is in love . . .' Her voice trailed away. What else could she say? What answer did this woman want?
`And supposing, my dear, you were not in love. Then would love-making with a man still give you pleasure?'
Tatiana shook her head indecisively. She took her hands down from her face and bowed her head. The hair fell down on either side in a heavy curtain. She was trying to think, to be helpful, but she couldn't imagine such a situation. She supposed ... `I suppose it would depend on the man, Comrade Colonel.'
`That is a sensible answer, my dear.' Rosa Klebb opened a drawer in the table. She took out a photograph and slipped it across to the girl. `What about this man, for instance?'
Tatiana drew the photograph cautiously towards her as if it might catch fire. She looked down warily at the handsome, ruthless face. She tried to think, to imagine ... `I cannot tell, Comrade Colonel. He is good-looking. Perhaps if he was gentle . . .' She pushed the photograph anxiously away from her.
`No, keep it, my dear. Put it up beside your bed and think of this man. You will learn more about him later in your new work. And now,' the eyes glittered behind the square panes of glass, `would you like to know what your new work is to be? The task for which you have been chosen from all the girls in Russia?'
`Yes, indeed, Comrade Colonel,' Tatiana looked obediently across at the intent face that was now pointing at her like a gun-dog.
The wet, rubbery lips parted enticingly. `It is a simple, delightful duty you have been chosen for, Comrade Corporal–a real labour of love, as we say. It is a matter of falling in love. That is all. Nothing else. Just falling in love with this man.'
`But who is he? I don't even know him.'
Rosa Klebb's mouth revelled. This would give the silly chit of a girl something to think about.
`He is an English spy.'
`Bozhi moi!' Tatiana clapped a hand over her mouth as much to stifle the use of God's name as from terror. She sat, tense with the shock, and gazed at Rosa Klebb through wide, slightly drunk eyes.
`Yes,' said Rosa Klebb, pleased with the effect of her words. `He is an English spy. Perhaps the most famous of them all. And from now on you are in love with him. So you had better get used to the idea. And no silliness, Comrade. We must be serious. This is an important State matter for which you have been chosen as the instrument. So no nonsense, please. Now for some practical details.' Rosa Klebb stopped. She said sharply, `And take your hand away from your silly face. And stop looking like a frightened cow. Sit up in your chair and pay attention. Or it will be the worse for you. Understood?'
`Yes, Comrade Colonel.' Tatiana quickly straightened her back and sat up with her hands in her lap as if she was back at the Security Officers' School. Her mind was in a ferment, but this was no time for personal things. Her whole training told her that this was an operation for the State. She was now working for her country. Somehow she had come to be chosen for an important konspiratsia. As an officer in the M.G.B., she must do her duty and do it well. She listened carefully and with her whole professional attention.
`For the moment,' Rosa Klebb put on her official voice, `I will be brief. You will hear more later. For the next few weeks you will be most carefully trained for this operation until you know exactly what to do in all contingencies. You will be taught certain foreign customs. You will be equipped with beautiful clothes. You will be instructed in all the arts of allurement. Then you will be sent to a foreign country, somewhere in Europe. There you will meet this man. You will seduce him. In this matter you will have no silly compunctions. Your body belongs to the State. Since your birth, the State has nourished it. Now your body must work for the State. Is that understood?'
`Yes, Comrade Colonel.' The logic was inescapable. `You will accompany this man to England. There, you will no doubt be questioned. The questioning will be easy. The English do not use harsh methods. You will give such answers as you can without endangering the State. We will supply you with certain answers which we would like to be given. You will probably be sent to Canada. That is where the English send a certain category of foreign prisoner. You will be rescued and brought back to Moscow.' Rosa Klebb peered at the girl. She seemed to be accepting all this without question. `You see, it is a comparatively simple matter. Have you any questions at this stage?'
`What will happen to the man, Comrade Colonel?' `That is a matter of indifference to us. We shall simply use him as a means to introduce you into England. The object of the operation is to give false information to the British. We shall, of course, Comrade, be very glad to have your own impressions of life in England. The reports of a highly trained and intelligent girl such as yourself will be of great value to the State.'
`Really, Comrade Colonel!' Tatiana felt important. Suddenly it all sounded exciting. If only she could do it well. She would assuredly do her very best. But supposing she could not make the English spy love her. She looked again at the photograph. She put her head on one side. It was an attractive face. What were these `arts of allurement' that the woman had talked about? What could they be? Perhaps they would help.
Satisfied, Rosa Klebb got up from the table. `And now we can relax, my dear. Work is over for the night. I will go and tidy up and we will have a friendly chat together. I shan't be a moment. Eat up those chocolates or they will go to waste.' Rosa Klebb made a vague gesture of the hand and disappeared with a preoccupied look into the next room.
Tatiana sat back in her chair. So that was what it was all about! It really wasn't so bad after all. What a relief! And what an honour to have been chosen. How silly to have been so frightened! Naturally the great leaders of the State would not allow harm to come to an innocent citizen who worked hard and had no black marks on her zapiska. Suddenly she felt immensely grateful to the father-figure that was the State, and proud that she would now have a chance to repay some of her debt. Even the Klebb woman wasn't really so bad after all.
Tatiana was still cheerfully reviewing the situation when the bedroom door opened and `the Klebb woman' appeared in the opening. `What do you think of this my dear?' Colonel Klebb opened her dumpy arms and twirled on her toes like a mannequin. She struck a pose with one arm outstretched and the other arm crooked at her waist.
Tatiana's mouth had fallen open. She shut it quickly. She searched for something to say.
Colonel Klebb of SMERSH was wearing a semi-transparent nightgown in orange crepe de chine. It had scallops of the same material round the low square neckline and scallops at the wrists of the broadly flounced sleeves. Underneath could be seen a brassiere consisting of two large pink satin roses. Below, she wore old-fashioned knickers of pink satin with elastic above the knees. One dimpled knee, like a yellowish coconut, appeared thrust forward between the half open folds of the nightgown in the classic stance of the modeller. The feet were enclosed in pink satin slippers with pompoms of ostrich feathers. Rosa Klebb had taken off her spectacles and her naked face was now thick with mascara and rouge and lipstick.
She looked like the oldest and ugliest whore in the world.
Tatiana stammered, `It is very pretty.'
`Isn't it,' twittered the woman. She went over to a broad couch in the corner of the room. It was covered with a garish piece of peasant tapestry. At the back, against the wall, were rather grimy satin cushions in pastel colours.
With a squeak of pleasure, Rosa Klebb threw herself down in the caricature of a Recamier pose. She reached up an arm and turned on a pink shaded table-lamp whose stem was a naked woman in sham Lalique glass. She patted the couch beside her.
`Turn out the top light, my dear. The switch is by the door. Then come and sit beside me. We must get to know each other better.'
Tatiana walked to the door. She switched off the top light. Her hand dropped decisively to the door knob. She turned it and opened the door and stepped coolly out into the corridor. Suddenly her nerve broke. She banged the door shut behind her and ran wildly off down the corridor with her hands over her ears against the pursuing scream that never came.