Spy Girl: A Man of French Letters
I arrive at City Airport. The check-in lady squints at my passport. Maybe she knows something. A few drawn-out minutes pass and she hands it back. Perhaps she’s just short-sighted. Or half-witted.
“This will be no normal mission, it’s a literary affair”, the memo from HQ said. “Tolstoy and KGB will be involved. He has sandy hair and will be wearing a suit.”
As useful as an eye-infection, that last bit. It’s going to be like picking a needle out of a sewing box.
I land in Paris and the driver takes me to Pavillon des Lettres. A slick, newly opened hotel just a stone’s throw from Sarko’s Elysée Palace. Maybe I’ll catch a glimpse of Carla, as she flits from tea at Le Bristol to her afternoon botox session.
Things start to become clearer: the hotel’s motto is ‘it’s a literary affair’. So no book bonking required. Each of the 26 rooms is named after an author, running from A for Anderson (Hans Christian) to Z for Zola.
He must be in T for Tolstoy. I drop my bags in Voltaire before slipping out for a wander. The room has a luxury-cum-literary feel to it, with Voltaire’s words stenciled on the wall above the expansive bed. It’s traditional, but modern, with shelves full of novels and an iPad in place of the room directory.
I say wander, but there’s nothing aimless about the beeline I make for Angelina’s on Rue de Rivoli. There’s only one option here and it’s a jug of hot chocolate. If Ken doll were a drink this would be it: dark, smooth and deliciously thick.
Another must-see before I get down to business, is the new Hermes store. Converted from a 1935 swimming pool, the vast floor space is still tiled but there’s much more cashmere than lycra. A long, narrow bag catches my eye. On closer inspection I see it’s a baguette bag. Perfect. Always needed something ladylike to carry my pistol in.
Complete with my new BB (baguette bag for the non-initiated), I return to the hotel. The receptionist hands me a letter. I open it in the privacy of my room. It says: “AGENT, DROIT, SOCIETE, PUBLIC”. I type the four words into my iPad.
They are from the 1793 ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen’. The human rights document from the French Revolution. Peculiar. I turn it over and pull out my lipstick case with inbuilt UV light. On the bottom left corner some invisible ink appears, it says: “MÉTRO”.
Back to the iPad. I wonder what old Steve Jobs would think of his invention being used for the purposes of her majesty’s secret service.
En route to the métro, I linger for a moment outside Tolstoy. I can hear the buzz of the television. He’s definitely here. Paris’s métro is more spacious than London’s and the city is a lot smaller, so in no time at all I find myself staring up at the letters on the curved walls of Concorde station.
I slip on my code-breaking aves, sit on a bench, cross my legs, and gaze up at the wall as though in une petit rêverie. Letters fly up the lenses, every now and then one is selected and pulled aside.
The message is clear. I head straight for Le Mini Palais, a new restaurant situated in Le Grand Palais. This is where chic Parisians dine. It’s all fur coats, big hair and face lifts.
She’s waiting by the bar. Dressed in black and carrying an expression of complete disdain.
“You are late.”
“Bonsoir”, I answer.
“My ex-husband eez a rogue! He eez trafficking zee hookers into Le France from zee Russia. Zut alors! Mais oui, he will be toffee if you mention KGB.”
I drink my lychee martini in one, and we bid adieu with a couple of air kisses.
I call the hotel reception and ask for a message to be delivered to the occupant of Tolstoy: “KGB at 8pm, 25 Rue Grands Augustins, Saint Germain.”
“Eez zat all madame? Shall I say oo zee message eez from?”
I put down the phone.
There isn’t much room on the narrow, dimly lit road. Black cars start arriving and pull up silently outside number 25.
He arrives unaccompanied. That’s not to say unarmed. I clutch my BB closer to my side and slip into a doorway. He saunters along. I jump out of the shadows and point my pistol towards his temples.
He starts to reach for his gun, but the sound of electric windows distracts him. Half a dozen barrels point at him from the surrounding cars.
The chase is over. I leave the admin to Paris’s undercover policemen. As they drive off I feel a twinge of hunger. Might as well give KGB a go. Stands for Kitchen Galerie Bis, and I hear the scallops are to die for. SPY GIRL