by Sarah Hilary
Take London. You do know that the whole place is built on plague pits, layers of history like a dodgy lasagne. I never liked London, despite being born and bred.
Prague, you say? Prague was hunkydory until the floods. Since when the tunnels under Mala Strana are like walking through a wall of rotting meat. You might wonder what the British Ambassador’s up to in the tunnels under Mala Strana; please, feel free to speculate.
Moscow, now. Moscow’s got the underground down to a fine art. You can live like a king under Moscow.
Washington? Don’t get me started. They gave blueberry juice with pomegranates. ‘Antioxidants, to combat pollution.’ Well, yippee. Let’s toast the burning of fossil fuels in blue-effing-berry juice that smells like cat pee and doesn’t taste much better.
Ah, Paris! City of lovers. So I told Stephan. Lovely boy, with something of the dappled-doe-kissed-by-the-morning-sun. Screwed by half the spies in the Western hemisphere but we mustn’t talk about that. Hush-ruddy-hush. Official Secrets. Did you sign? God bless her Majesty and pass the port, KY jelly on the side.
Those were good days. Peak of my form, nations at my feet. Not to mention Stephan, mouth like a silk-lined furnace.
‘We all get burned sooner or later.’
Oh… bog off.
In Minsk, coffee. ‘Mr Ambassador…’ I was ready to send it back when I discovered it was laced with 15 year old Armenian cognac. Erebuni, they call it. Kicks like a caffeinated mule.
I said I was interviewing for a new under-secretary. To each his alibi. Apparently buggering under-secretaries went out with the Cold War. Ah yes, and no one wears real fur any more.
‘The trouble with you, Hal,’ they said, ‘is you’re getting too big for your ambassadorial boots.’
‘The gilt’s coming off the gingerbread, old boy.’
Let it come, said I.
All in all, not my brightest hour.
There comes a point where persona non grata starts to have a ring about it, which reminds me. Rome. Treaties of? I wouldn’t wipe my arse on a one of them. They considered me for Abu Dhabi. I said, ‘Thanks but I don’t get on with camels.’ Or sand, for that matter. What’s left of my nose wouldn’t thank me.
So here I am in Moscow once more. They say you can’t go back in this game, not without giving up a rung or two of the ladder. The law of diminishing returns, they call it. They may have something there.
Still, Stephan and I rub along all right in the tunnels. The one-time king and his tarnished prince living in splendid squalor, fur coats and all.
Look us up won’t you, next time you’re in Moskva. Stephan makes a mean Erebuni and I’m good for some tales that’ll curl your ears. Until then, ‘Za vas,’ ‘Chin chin,’ or what you will.
It’s been a pleasure. No really, all mine.
Sarah Hilary won the Fish Historical-Crime Contest with Fall River, August 1892. MO: Crimes of Practice, the Crime Writers’ Association anthology, features Sarah’s story, One Last Pick-Up. Her work appears in Smokelong Quarterly, Literary Fever, Every Day Fiction, Dogzplot and Zygote in my Coffee.