It’s my misfortune to be roped into the annual safe-house audit. I can’t help but feel that Lady Luck isn’t just ignoring me, it’s more that she’s washing her hair ready for a date with a popular guy, the kind of guy who doesn’t have to schlep around London inspecting half dozen cesspits because his boss told him to.
The service holds a number of residences across the capital that are available to use as safe houses. The differing locations suit the needs of the job at hand. There is no point in trying to be discreet if the close protection detail are seen disappearing into some high street flat above the local chippy.
No, its horses for courses, far better to use a house in the country with high hedgerows and long drives if you’re going to pull up in a fleet of Range Rovers. Besides, troopers are far happier providing sniper cover from a shrubbery than dressing as tramps and loitering outside the local ‘offie.
The majority of the properties are used by field agents as a base whilst on operations within the capital. Unfortunately the nature of our work means that we can’t exactly advertise for cleaners. The recent spell of hot weather will have done nothing to improve the ambience of these dingy abodes, it’s going to be a mix of eau de ashtray with a hint of spent takeaway, I can feel the bile rising just thinking about it. No one volunteers for this job, they’re press-ganged.
The first one is always a shock. The decor is late seventies with a hint of second hand junk shop. Agents use them as a dumping ground for cast off furniture, anything to make their enforced stay a little more comfortable. So you never quite know what you’ll find, we found an inflatable hot-tub once, right there in the front room of a second floor flat, complete with empty beer bottles and dead rat. I am pretty positive that the rat got in of its own volition some time later, but you never can be sure with agents….the pressure of the job and all that.
We sweep for bugs, the electronic kind, checking that ours are still working and that we haven’t acquired any extra, you know, little gifts from the other-side. Next, we check any CCTV cameras mounted on the outside. There’s always a dummy placed at arms length and the focus of the main, which is placed higher up. It’s alway nice to know who’s trying to tamper with your kit.
Before we leave, we try to tidy up and take away as much rubbish as we can. This is more difficult than it sounds. You can’t really be seen carrying out fifteen bin liners and assorted empties in front of the neighbours. Then it’s a quick stocktake of provisions and restock. These are usually the tinned variety, basically anything with a long shelf life. Canned hotdogs seem to go down well, that, and rice pudding although hopefully not together.
The next flat on the list is the creepiest. Amongst the usual oddities is Ivan. Ivan is a former spy of the soviet union, a genuine cold war relic, which is ironic as he’s currently stuffed in a chest freezer in the corner of the lounge. We had liberated the flat from a North Korean infiltration team; there are still a few bullet holes here and there that appeared during the handover negotiations. We had to replace the front window, partly for aesthetic reasons but mainly because the S.A.S used their preferred method of entry, apart from that it’s just as the Koreans left it.
It was a week or so after we.……moved in, when we found Ivan. We can only assume that he’d compromised their location and that they dealt with him as best they could under the circumstances. When hiding a body your options are always limited, and believe me, keeping them whole is much easier than trying to deal with bits, despite what everyone tells you!
All attempts to identify him have drawn a blank. The Russians can’t exactly own up to having lost an asset they didn’t want anyone knowing about, that would raise too many questions. We can’t go and ask them. That would let them know, that we know, what they don’t want us to know. The Koreans certainly aren’t going to help, so poor Ivan is being kept on ice so to speak. We would move him but again, awkward questions. We’d have to explain as to how he came to be in a safe house that we may or may not be in possession of, and currently being used for things we’d rather not discuss in any way shape or form. So there he lies, in an ageing hotpoint super deluxe in a flat in south London…..…admittedly this is mainly at the request of Psy Op’s, who just keep telling us that we’ll never know when a dead Russian will come in handy. Honestly, for them it’s like the cold war never ended.