I watched The Blue King disappear in the rear view mirror as my apparent saviour drove at speed down Old Street.
An uncomfortable silence filled the car. This mysterious man clearly wanted to say something to me and I had plenty of questions for him, such as
“Who are you?”
“Not important right now” he replied without disturbing his attention on the road.
“Okay. Where we are going?”
“Also not important” he said bluntly “Just relax you’re safe now.”
His tone was far from reassuring but I persisted in ensuring I got all my questions in at this early stage.
“Are you taking me home?”
He sighed “You shouldn’t go home” .
He added nothing more which led me to contemplate whether I had made the right decision getting into his car.
I gazed out the window and into the murkiness of the night. There was little illumination and what there was offered only a fleeting glimpse of revellers making their way home or seeking out a place to get another drink; I doubted The Blue King would be open to cater for that final indulgence.
I asked no more questions of my saviour and instead just stared into dark nothingness as I tried to process the events of the night. Did Mr Karpinsky die? Did I kill him? Will I still get paid my wages, rent was due after all. I shuddered at the thought of my Landlord’s alternative means of payment.
Lost in thought I had not realised that we had travelled all the way into central London. The car came to a gentle stop outside a grandiose building; the gloom of the night made it difficult to witness it in all its gothic splendour.
The mystery man, who still hadn’t told me his name, exited the car, took the time to do up the button of his impeccably tailored suit before walking briskly round to my side and opened the door. He offered his hand which I nervously took as he gently escorted me out the vehicle.
I followed him up a few stone steps to an imposing set of double wooden doors. He used the large wrought iron door knocker, one crashing knock seemed to cause the door to open magically.
As the door slowly opened I was presented with a long hallway, a regal red carpet stretched as far as I could see. Paintings of old men sporting different moustaches looked down at me, each with their own expression of disapproval that a woman dare walk these halls. Not just any woman, a working class girl of all things; as I walked further down the hall I half expected the paintings to shake and fall off with unrepentant fury.
Despite the unwelcoming interior I felt comfortable. The cold silence in the car had left me wondering if my apparent saviour had more sinister intentions. However seeing the splendour of this place made me realise he wouldn’t kill me here. No way would they allow the blood of a girl from the East End to stain these expensive carpets.
We turned right into a large room, red leather chairs were neatly positioned around large circular wooden tables, much more lavish than the ones in The Blue King.
Some of the chairs were occupied, all were men and all were dressed in tailored suits. An elderly gentleman was asleep in one chair, his drink precariously balanced in his hand.
Some acknowledged my saviour as he walked in with a nod of recognition which he politely returned. None acknowledged my presence; they chose not to see me although I had no doubt they were mentally drafting a letter to the management regarding that time they let a common woman into this place.
My mysterious companion escorted me to the far corner where he gestured for me to sit in one of the large leather seats. Catching the objecting glance of one of the older patrons I gently lowered myself into the seat, my hands sliding across the silky leather armrests. I half smiled wishing my family could see me in a place of such extravagance.
‘Look at our little Molly in such a posh place’ my Nan would have said before running to tell the neighbours. But the smile quickly faded as I reminded myself of the circumstances that led me here.
Lost in that daydream I hadn’t noticed that a man had approached our table, although he was quickly dismissed by my companion with an order of two scotches.
While waiting for the drinks he cocked his head to one side and looked me up and down, the awkwardness of this compounded by the realisation of how short my skirt was. I instinctively made the futile attempt to lower it below my thighs.
The silence was broken by the sound of two glasses of scotch being placed on the table. I picked up the glass and without any care that it’s content probably cost more than what I earned in a month at The Blue King swigged the whole thing down.
My companion smirked and ordered a replacement with a wave of his hand.
“Well you’ve had quite the evening, haven’t you Miss Jones” he said
Wiping the remnants of scotch from my lips with the back of my hand I replied “Is he dead?”
“Mr Karpinsky? Oh he is dead for sure”
“Did I kill him?” I asked
My companion smiled, “Intentionally? No. Seems Mr Karpinsky’s heart couldn’t take the thrill of being in your company Miss Jones”
I grabbed the glass from the table and holding it with both hands rested it on my lap. I watched as the amber liquid swirled in the expensive cut glass. With my head bowed I meekly said “So I’m not in trouble?”
“Oh you’re in big trouble Miss Jones”
I lifted my head up, the tears forming in my eyes were met with the outstretched hand of my companion, maybe partly to calm me down or perhaps this place had rules against ‘women making a scene’.
“You see Mr Karpinsky is not a nice man” he continued “His associates are not the sort that would be sitting around prepared to wait for the results of an autopsy that would show he died of natural causes. No, they’d be determined to find the young woman who ran away”.
“I was scared. I panicked”
“That may very well be the case but the associates of Mr Karpinsky aren’t the sort to listen”
I took a swig of my drink, the taste of the alcohol an antidote to the tears I was trying to fight back. “Why am I here?” I asked
“I told you Miss Jones. I can help you. I can keep you safe.”
“How?” Given that my companion was now in a talkative mood I wanted to get a response to all my unanswered questions I had raised in the car.
He didn’t respond quickly, instead he took a sip of his drink allowing the alcohol to swirl round his mouth before speaking.
“Come work for me.” he finally said, smiling.
“Why? Do you need a singer?” I asked.
“Something like that.” He paused to take another sip of his scotch before continuing “You ever hear of a band called The Konrads?”
“No. Should I have?”
“No Miss Jones and that is the point”
“Wait. You’re a manager of crap bands no one has ever heard of.” I said laughing “Cos I already have that gig with the worse manager you can think of”
“You really think you can return to Jimmy and The Blue King?” he said raising an eyebrow.
The boldness of my earlier statement quickly faded as I was quickly reminded that I was apparently being hunted by the associates of Mr Karpinsky and the fear returned.
“But how does being in your band keep me safe?” I asked.
“The other people in the band are a very special bunch. They will keep you safe.”
He looked at me but all he was met with was my vacant expression. If he thought I was following what he was talking about then he was very much mistaken. Regardless of me not understanding what was going on he continued.
“What are you? Nineteen? Twenty? Certainly born after the war. You, like many of the population, believe the war is over. We live in peaceful times. But the war was never over. It merely evolved”
“Those who would seek power realised there are other ways of achieving it besides guns and soldiers. And for years they have been working in the shadows attempting to take control without anyone noticing”
“And those of us who would seek to stop them have to also work in these shadows. Secrecy is their weapon of choice. Information the silver bullet of success.”
I took a large swig of my drink hoping to mask the fact I had no clue what he was talking about. My only thought at that time was if this was to be a long story I may get another drink out of it.
“Miss Jones I work for the British Government. The others in this room all play a role in the national security of this country”
I spied the old man snoring away in the chair and my confidence of how secure the country might be quickly dropped.
“The Konrads were an early project of mine to pass on information to our allies without it falling into enemies hands. It was based on earlier work done by my mentor during the war. He devised a way of sending messages encoded within songs. To innocent ears they were just morale boosting songs about meeting again or blue birds over Dover, yet to those behind enemy lines they contained vital information”
“Wait?!” I interrupted “You saying Vera Lynn was a Secret Agent?”
“Something like that. I tried to emulate the same principle with The Konrads but it did not have the same effect. Something was missing. Then I realised in these times you not only needed to pass on information but gather information. And this brings me to you.”
I drained my glass but this time my companion was not quick to offer me a refill “Me? What about me? And should you be telling me all this. I might be an agent for whoever it is we are supposedly at war with. I mean you’re a pretty shit spy if you’re just randomly blurting all this out.”
He smiled “I have done my homework Miss Jones. I know all about you….and your Father. Sorry about what happened to him by the way”
I brushed away any concern I ought to have had that he knew everything about me and concentrated on why he thought I was so special.
“Why me?” I asked.
“Mr Karpinsky was quite a private man. Paranoid as well. Never let his security leave his side. He had good reason to be worried, there were many people after him. I certainly could not get anywhere close to him. Yet tonight he forgot all that just to be with you. So that’s why.”
I stared at my empty glass desperate for alcohol to aid me with processing all this information.
“So you want me to sing coded messages and shag enemies to death?”
He laughed, loud enough to disturb the old guy from his slumber “Miss Jones what happened to Mr Karpinsky was a freak coincidence. However I certainly could use a woman of your talents.”
Part of me doubted there was any truth to what he was telling me. Many guys had lied about who they were to try and sleep with me. James Bond was all the rage and for all I knew this was just some posh bloke indulging in some pretend Secret Agent seduction.
“And if I refuse?” I asked.
He shrugged and finished drink, although to my disappointment did not seek to get another round.
“Then Miss Jones I will simply take you home.” He paused, scanning the room before continuing “Of course what happens to you after that will neither be my responsibility or concern. Maybe Mr Karpinsky’s men will already be waiting for you. That might come tomorrow or the day after but eventually they will find you. And as for The Blue King I doubt that place will ever open again.”
For some reason I didn’t want him to think I was scared even though my heart was pounding and my mind chaotically tried to process the events of that night which had spiralled drastically out of control the moment I stepped off the stage at The Blue King.
This attempt to stay strong was betrayed by me looking away from him and down at my lap muttering to myself “You should have turned left Molly.”
“Sorry Miss Jones?” He said, leaning forward to try and catch my eye “What do you wish to do?”
My head roared in confusion. I wanted to ask more questions but it was clear whoever this mysterious man was he had run out of patience with me.
I still was unsure that he was telling the truth. I may be perfectly safe, that no one was after me and after a grovelling apology to Jimmy I could go back to my job at The Blue King.
The guy in front of me maybe well connected but he could also be an absolute psycho trapping me in a lie for his own nefarious reasons. Secret agents didn’t go round telling strangers they were secret agents. Did they?
I dug my nails into the arms of the leather chair. My instinct was to run, that’s always been my instinct. Just run as far away as I could. But I would eventually have to stop running and if he was right they’d catch up with me.
At that moment the only certainty was the uncertainty of whatever choice I made. What I desired then was simply control, to manage my own destiny; but when your life is swirling around in a chaotic mess control and clarity come in very short supply.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Time to make your choice Molly. I lifted my head and stared him straight in the eye.
“So Miss Jones, what are you going to do?” he asked again.
Exhaling I replied “Get us another drink and I’ll tell you.”