“Take one from this list, and one from this, and mash then in the form of X meets Y, like you were marketing your book…” Sounds simple enough. First I crossed out all the titles on the lists that okay, I knew, but didn’t know the story in any detail, having either not read the book or seen the film. That left me 8 on one list and 11 on the second, have started with 20 on each. There’s a lot of popular culture I know of, rather than know!
I got James Bond meets Toy Story. Yes, I could work with that, I thought. Then I thought.. actually, Toy Story is James Bond meets Playschool (or your own pre-school kids’ toys programme), isn’t it? After a little more thought I decided my collection of foreign costume dolls, started with the ones my father brought back from his business trips, and continued on my own travels, could be brought into play…
2000 words was a bit of a stretch though!
“Your choice is clear, Olga Vorashivnaya. Either you take the Conundrum machine and hide it in your innerspace, or your entire family is … e-l-i-m-i-n-a-t-e-d.”
The black-coated speaker sneered at her folksy shawl and rounded body. She was all painted up for her hearing today, but it had had no influence. What the Block wanted, the Block got. There was no hiding place. The cold war had been in progress for nearly fifty years now. The Block was winning – wasn’t it?
Olga shuddered and accepted the Conundrum machine, with its oily smell and tacky letters. If anyone could protect it, she could. She smiled reassuringly at her family, all lined up in size order, as she made her way back to her place. How would they cope without her protection?
“Don’t worry, Matryoshka,” the eldest whispered. “I’ll take care of them.”
So brave, Olga thought, and wiped away a saplike tear.
She slid back into her small apartment, standing room only. The overcrowding was atrocious, although the changes seem to have stabilised. Her neighbour, a Greek shepherd, looked lost forever without his sheep but did his best in the circumstances. His overcurled moustache gleamed as black as it had the day he moved in. She couldn’t see him giving her any help, though. They’d never said a word to each other.
Two doors down was the blonde Dutch bombshell in her demure blue costume and apron. Those clogs could be helpful, they would take the weight if she could just manoeuvre it out of the back of the block, through the secret passage that led to the electricity substation. Between them, Hans, the Dutch bargee who hadn’t seen a canal for forty years, was leaning against the Swedish blonde, all wrapped up in her thick woollen skirts and scarves. Maybe she could hide Olga under her skirt and help her get away. Yet, how to broach the subject when everyone in the Block could hear every conversation?
On the other side of the Wall, the Native Americans held a war council.
“There’s nothing for it but to bring in some outside aid,” the Inuit said. “The Brits are best placed.”
“Not the limeys, please. They’ll start the tea party thing all over again.”
“Yo, or bring in the damned frenchies and they’ll go renegotiate the Noo Orleans purchase all over again!” The Creole woman was included in the Native American party as a matter of courtesy.
“The Spanish girl might help.”
“She’s too busy with her castanets and her dancing.”
“It’s good cover, especially if we make any noise.”
“The Mallorcan one would be better, very stable, polite. Observant, too, I’ve noticed her. Always has her eyes open.”
“No, the temperament won’t work if we’re dealing with the Russkies. Too excitable. Same goes for the Italians.”
“I’ve always found Signora very helpful,” the Creole woman interjected.
“Yes, but she won’t do anything without her man, and he’s always singing to his gondola. If he stops, they’ll smell a rat.”
“No, the Brits will have to do. Go and see them, Felix.”
Felix took the assignment with a shrug of his shoulders. Left to themselves, the NAs would generally come up with a plan. The plan was usually: “leave it to Felix.” Good thing he’d been thoroughly trained. He slid the glass partition back and launched himself into a fast plane, landing moments later in the British section.
“Passport, please,” the lovely Welsh girl lilted at him.
Felix picked out a small piece of paper from the floor and handed it to her.
“Thank you, you may pass,” she said, dropping it again.
Works every time, he said to himself. Shame she’s so dim.
He merged with the multinational crowd, Indians, Australians, even the odd kiwi. The kiwi was made of soapstone. He slipped past a Gurkha on duty but lacking one eye, and into the MIX building.
“Felix, what a lovely surprise!” Miss McPenny greeted him, rising from her desk and showing off the slit in her elegant kilt.
“No time for that, McPenny, we have to save the world, you know.”
“Sure. What else is there to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon? Is the old man in?”
“Yes, but he’d better not hear you…” McPenny was interrupted by a pint-sized Scotsman opening the door.
“..And just who are ye callin’ auld?” he demanded. “I’ll have ye know ah’m nay aulder then yew!”
“I’m sorry, J, just jesting, you know. American humour.”
“Pah! Concentrate now, Felix, ah’ve got a new partner for ye… meet Ms O’Hennessy.”
“Wow, I’m mighty pleased to meet you, honey!” She was a sight for sore eyes, long luscious brown hair billowing round her shoulders, and a great figure in that outfit. Must go in for that up-and-down dancing they did.
“The name’s O’Hennessy, not honey,” she said sternly, with a cut glass Oxford accent. “I’ve heard all about you, Mr Lighter, from your ex-partner.”
“Well, then, no harm done, I’m just what you expected.” He grinned his suavest grin at her.
“When yew two children have stopped playing games…,” J said sternly. “I can brief ye on yewer assignment.”
“Oh, yes, assignment,” said Felix, turning to the red-headed J, who was bristling behind his bagpipes.
“What did your Native Council tell you about the threat?”
“Oh, everything, I sat in on the discussion.”
“Och, nooo, and after I gave them the strictest training in security breaches, too.”
“So, you want me and Hennessy here –“
“O. O’Hennessy,” she interrupted.
“Me and O – to go in covertly, find where they’re hiding the Conundrum machine, and get it out again.”
“With minimum collateral, Felix. None of yewer gung-ho, shoot-em-up on this one.”
“Yew’ll go armed, of course. But be careful. Try acting like a spy, for once. That goes for yew too, Ms O’Hennessy,” he turned to the Irish girl and gave her a baleful stare.
She smiled brightly at him. Then she turned on her black-booted heels and walked off.
“Say nothing,” the Scot said, holding up one hand. “Just get back in one piece with the machine. Both of ye.”
Felix caught up with O’Hennessy as she waited for the lift. She turned to him. “Where did you leave your plane? This lift’s going nowhere!”
Felix led her further down the corridor. “In here,” he said, finding a secret door at the back of the room.
“Where does this lead?” O’Hennessy asked.
Felix replied with a finger on his lips, which he then pressed against hers. “Later, darling,” he whispered. Her look would have turned his blood to water, had he had any. He leaped onto the wires leading from the lift shaft and slid down. O’Hennessy gave him an old-fashioned look and followed.
“Come on, we can use this route from here,” she said at the bottom.
“Something much better,” she grinned. She grabbed his arm and yanked him onto a small black plate. After a moment’s disorientation, the view from the plate changed. She pulled him off it, and up the wires they had just come down.
“Hang on,” he said.
“Yes, don’t slip,” she replied.
“No, I mean wait… we’ve just come down these.”
“No we haven’t. And keep your voice down, we’re just three levels below the Block now.”
“It’s called wi-fi,” she explained. “Wireless firmware intercept. We’re the firmware, it intercepts us in another place.”
Felix decided to accept the inevitable. Not good for Uncle Sam to be behind in these things. “Of course,” he said. “Didn’t realise you were equipped yet.”
“Oh, I’m fully equipped.”
I bet you are, honey, Felix thought, admiring her cheeks as she went up the wire in front of him. She disappeared. A moment later he did too, since hands yanked him off the wire and into the dark of a cupboard.
“Quiet! You vill give us all your money or ve will place you inseit a cuckoo clock!”
“Oh, Willem,” said O’Hennessy. “It’s only us. And when did you stop being neutral?”
“I get bored,” said Willem, hanging his head. “And I really vant a new pair ov trousers.”
“I’m not surprised,” said Felix. “Yellow leather hasn’t been in fashion for decades. Mind you, if you throw them out now, they’ll be trending tomorrow.”
“Vot are you doing, anyvay? Can I come?”
“No, it’ll compromise your neutrality, but… we could use your help on the way back, would that be ok?”
“Yes, ov course. Are you going to the Bloch?”
Felix looked at O’Hennesssy. “How does he know?” he hissed.
“Where else would we be going?” she hissed back.
“Oh, good,” said Willem. “Give my love to Minka. She’s on security. Tell her I sent you and to let you in.”
“Really?” Felix and O’Hennessy said as one. “Where is she?” added Felix.
“This way, “ said O’Hennessy confidently , but Willem pulled her round. “No, we haf a better vay now. Take these skis. Put them on, so…” he said, fixing the long planks to their feet. “Now, grab this button and stick it between your… exactly. Byee.”
The pair were dragged off the level on the revolving belt and pulled bodily up to the next floor, to the Block. The button lift rounded the top and they slipped off it, right on the roof of the Block. Adapting quickly to their skis they slalomed round some small obstacles and reached the edge.
“We can abseil in,” said Felix, grinning. “Front or back?”
“Neither,” said O’Hennessy, realising his innuendo just in time. “This way.” She led the lecherous agent to the rear of the Block, felt for some handholds, then climbed over and clambered down a ladder. “Stay here!” she ordered as she slipped inside. Felix followed anyway, wondering what a guy had to do these days to get a decent spy joke in.
Inside the Block, O’Hennessy homed in on Olga’s distress. “Are you the carrier?” she whispered. Olga nodded. “Leave with us!” she asked in her most persuasive manner.
“My family…” sniffed Olga.
O’Hennessy slipped out of Olga’s place, and shimmied through the shadows of the Block, hunting for the Matryoshka’s kids. She spotted one, and crept up to her, whispering in her ear. Realisation dawned on the girl, and she followed O’Hennessy back the way she’d come.
“Quick, Olga,” the girl said when she reached the Matryoshka. “Give these people the machine and slip me inside, then we can leave altogether.”
“Altogether – good idea,” said O’Hennessy. “Felix – take this machine and secrete it about your person. Now Olga… great, you’re done already. Good. Now, up this ladder… oh. Felix? Can you carry the machine and the Matryoshka?”
“Can I, heck!” he said with some other words too. The machine was heavy.
“Well then, get the Matryoshka while I tie the machine to something. Oh, here goes……”
She grabbed another wire, and with a sighing noise, swung on it with the machine locked on with a cabletie. “Ok, I’m in the Alps. Now you!”
Felix grabbed the Matryoshka, felt for the cable, and swung, desperately hoping his feet would find firm purchase at the other end. O’Hennessy caught him. The cable jerked, and dislodged the Matryoshka. She let out the smallest possible scream as she fell….
… into the arms of Willem. “You can tell I’m a hero,” he said, setting her down, and pushing her inside. “Do you need her?” he called to Felix and O’Hennessy.
“If she’s seeking asylum with you, that’s fine with us,” O’Hennessy replied, judging the distance to the nearest wi-fi plate. “Are we out of here?” she asked Felix.
“You bet, ma’am.” He grabbed her round the waist, flinging them both onto the wi-fi plate. They emerged in a clinch, lips firmly pressed against the other’s, to fall in a heap at the foot of the Native American Council.
“Felix!” said one shocked squaw.
“Just debriefing the British secret service. Thank you and good night,” he said, firmly closing the door-flap of the tepee.
(c) J M Pett 2015