SPY – Memoirs of a student spy…continued

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any persons, living or dead is purely coincidental. Inspired by true events. Names, dates and locales as well as Standard Operating Procedures and tradecraft have been changed to protect the innocent, and in the interests of national security.

By Dr. Michael Lim The Travelling GourmetTM

A lot like eating peanuts…

PARIS, FRANCE

Brasserie Lipp 151, Boulevard Saint-Germain 75006

MICHEL (not his real name) lounged comfortably in his chair. We were in the Brasserie Lipp in the City of Light. Paris, ever so beautiful in the summer, and the Lipp, a very famous grand brasserie de Paris patronised by the rich, powerful and famous, diplomats, high ranking French government officers and sometimes movie stars. We sat inside and Michel had his back to the wall. The sour Maitre d’ seemed to be an old pal and showed him immediately to our corner table. Michel was a big man, somewhat overweight. He was born in the French speaking area of Switzerland some 80 meters from Geneva. He spoke 6 languages. That was very good, because the menu of the Brasserie Lipp is all in French. At that time, my French was not that good. I liked the place. It was my first time there. Bright tulip like lampshades, dark mahogany wood panels and shining brass.  A picture of Picasso, the crazy but famous artist, hangs over his favourite seat. Ernest Hemingway and movie celebrities and Parisian elite come here too.  The 1920s ‘art deco’ decor and burly waiters wearing black waistcoats, bow ties and long white aprons make you feel you have travelled back in time. I observed that the black clad French waiters were quite rude to the American tourists from New York or Oklahoma, and spoke only French to them. However, to Michel and I they were very deferential and very respectful…

Michel looked like everyone’s idea of a favourite uncle. Dressed up in a Santa Claus outfit, he would look the perfect “Ho! Ho! Ho!” Santa…benign and benevolent with rosy, chubby cheeks and bushy eyebrows. Michel was no Santa Claus. He killed people professionally. He was an assassin. One of the best. He worked as a contract agent for the Company. It always irritates me when people get it wrong and say James Bond is an agent of MI6. Well, James Bond is not an agent. Bond is an intelligence officer. Same with the Company, Michel was an agent, not an officer…because only US citizens can become officers, after numerous tests, background checks and Polygraph (lie detector) examinations. Casually looking around, Michel  smiled harmlessly and remarked in French, “Alors, bon appetit mon ami!” He loved the Millefeuille in the Brasserie Lipp, one of the best in Paris. I looked at mine. It looked good, smelled good and by God it was bloody good! The serving was very generous, comprising a big hunky slab of two layers of  vanilla-flavored custard cream sandwiched between three layers of light puff pastry. The top was well dusted with powdered sugar and embellished with zigzags of sweet and fragrant caramel.

Michel’s casual look around was really a recon to make sure no one was in earshot. he leaned over and confided softly to me,

“You know, killing is a lot like peanuts…”

I looked at him and asked foolishly, “Why?”

Michel chuckled, a deep throated chuckle that came deep from his inner being. He was always very jolly. “You know, Derek, peanuts are good…when you eat peanuts you can’t stop at one!” He paused…a caezura and carried on, “Mon ami…that’s why killing people is a lot like peanuts.”

The blood chilled in my veins. He talked about killing as casually as others talk about buying a loaf of bread. It was surreal.

Michel continued cheerfully, suddenly changing the subject, as if suddenly realising that he had talked too much, “They say the President of France comes here for the Millefeuille…ahhh…merveuilleux!”

I was in Paris on assignment and Michel was my mentor. I did not anything about my assignment. Everything was on a need to know basis. “What the hell!” I thought in Hokkien, chewing on the crispy flakes of the creamy cake. I had seen the price list and as long as the Company was taking up the tab, it was AOK with me. We ate in silence. Fragrant coffee…strong and black was our tipple. I suddenly recollected my first meeting with Marcus in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

I was jogging around the Town Moor when quietly another man jogged alongside. He smiled, did a little salute and sped ahead. A short while later, I found the tall, lean man sitting on the grass in the Japanese “Seiza” position. “Hi!” he said and waved me over.

I was not sure what he wanted and smiled quizzically.

“You’re Derek.”

I was taken aback. “Yes.” I nodded. A little puzzled, I added, “How do you know?”

Marcus smiled and said nothing. The cold wind blew across the desolate moor. It is so cold sometimes it seems to freeze your bone marrow. There were no humans around, apart from us and only a few cows, chewing the curd. The cows ignored us as Marcus spoke.

“We know a lot about you…and we want you to work for us.”

“Work? I’m studying Dentistry at the University…”

Marcus nodded, “We know…look buddy…I’ll keep it short. You can’t pay the tuition fees. You owe them a lot of money. If you don’t pay soon…maybe you won’t be able to study to be a tooth doctor no more…”

I said nothing. No one knew what he had just told me except the University’s Finance office and I. So how could he know?

“Work for us, we’ll pay you…and you can pay your fees and continue at college. We’ll train you, teach you everything you need to know. There’s travel too…”

Moving back a bit from him, I asked worriedly,  “Is it illegal? What do you want me to do?” I had read in the papers about stupid students becoming ‘drug mules’ and smuggling heroin from Morocco to England. They inevitably ended up in jail.

“No, no, nothing like that. You’ll be working for the US government. You’ll save lives, you’ll help people.”

“How? What do I have to do? How much do I get paid?”

Marcus smiled wryly and cynically, “You’ll be paid enough to pay your college fees and more. We’ll train you too…Think about it…You jog here most Wednesdays around this time. Maybe I’ll see you next week, and we’ll talk some more…”

Flashback…Paris, France

“Eh bien, l’addition s’il vous plait” Michel said to a waiter in a black and white outfit. It broke my reverie on how I was recruited into CIA. He came back in a short while and Michel paid with cash . The waiter said “Merci beaucoup” very deferentially. Michel always paid in cash, no cheques, no Amercican Express or Diners Club or Visa. Only cash. No paper trail. A short while later, the Maitre d’Restaurant appeared. The Maitre smiled conspiratorally and whispered into Michel’s ear. Michel chuckled heartily but not loudly. They seemed to be best buddies. Maybe the Maitre d’ was CIA too. “My God!” I thought. “Where the hell do these people come from?”

Michel rose and motioned to me in a typical Gallic way, “Allez..” For a big guy he could move pretty fast. I followed him. We left the Brasserie Lipp. A short walk and we got in to a battered dirty Citreon that had seen better days. The French never clean their cars in Paris. There are very few parking spaces so everyone parks bumper to bumper. Th drivers never engage the hand brakes. The simple reason being that when you want to leave, you bump the car in front and behind you to make space so you can drive off. Nobody minds. That is why the bumpers of French cars are super-tough. They have to be. A few good bumps and we were off. “OK, Derek, how do you like the Lipp?”

“Very nice cake…” I replied.

“D’accord!” Michel was feeling benevolent. “You know, the Maitre d’…” He turned and winked at me. I looked at him warily. “Oui, he’s with us…Alphonse is a good man. He killed many Germans in the war…Nazis.”

Michel was feeling talkative. “You know, it is not hard to kill a man. There are many ways. Some more elegant than others.”

Michel turned the wheel smoothly as our car narrowly missed a motorbike. The French like the Italians are crazy drivers. “Do you know why you are with me?”

I shook my head and thought, “I hope he’s not going to kill me…”

“They want me to teach you a few tricks. I like to say TOTT. Tricks of the Trade!” He laughed loudly which startled me greatly. I was somewhat frightened of him. “You know, in Germa, “tot ” means dead.”

“Yes, mon ami, we all get old. When I was young, I was not so fat, you know. I was really fast, really good. I think…maybe, they want you someday to replace me…”

His tone hardened, “You are not Vietnamese, yes?” His eyes were like gimlets.

“No! No! I’m from Singapore.” I replied fast. I had no wish to offend him at all. It is not a good idea to upset a killer.

Michel relaxed and we drove on, “I hate the Vietminh, stinking communists!  {French expletive deleted} I killed many of them…Just listen, look and learn. I’m the best.” Michel made his proclamation without any arrogance. He was simply stating a fact. Later I found out it was true. Michel was the best. I hope he is still alive. He dropped out of sight when he retired from the Company.

Champagne

We were in a remote part of Champagne near Reims. Maison [redacted for security reasons] is a small champagne house deep in the French countryside. It’s quiet and peaceful.

The wine cellar deep underground was not peaceful. A man was tied up. Moroccan or Tunisian, he looked Arabic to me. Michel had tied him up well using [redacted] and [redacted]. He was what we call  in the trade ‘hog-tied’. They spoke in French. I could make out what they said and understood some of it. Michel was interrogating him. The man cowered in terror. Michel was calm. It was surreal. It was like back in Paris in the Brasserie Lipp. Michel was normal. He spoke in an even voice. Michel was like he was in Lipp, affable, polite, jovial…

Michel slapped the man. He whimpered and screamed. Michel replied. The way Michel replied was just like how he ordered coffee in the Lipp. “Je vous drai un Cappuccino s’il vous plait.” Here it was more like, “Scream all you like, no one can hear you…”

The man started talking. His words flowed out like water flushing down a toilet. He could not stop. Michel was quiet, a good listener. Michel motioned to me to take notes. So I did. It was a pad made of special paper. It dissolved instantly in water. You could eat it too. They made us eat it at The Farm, during training. It did not taste good. All too soon, Michel looked at me. It was ESP or just good body language…but I knew the man had nothing left to reveal. He was now expendable.

Michel told him in French, ” We’ll take you to a safe place…don’t worry. Everything will be alright…” The man slumped down, dejected but very grateful to be still alive.

Michel walked with me to one corner of the wine cellar. It was by the collection of vintage Bollinger Champagne..I saw a 1928 vintage out of the corner of my eye…There were no words spoken. Terminating someone is serious business…Michel went to a phone mounted on the wall at the far end of the cellar. He spoke to someone on the line. He spoke normally. He could have been discussing a dinner reservation or his family’s summer holiday… Michel walked slowly back to me. His gray eyes looked into mine…probing…”Everyone can kill…in the right circumstances…but not everyone can be a killer.”

It was the moment of truth. Ever since I started working for the Company, I had dreaded this moment. I knew it would come. I had hoped I could earn the money for my University fees by just doing simple jobs, odd jobs…The thought had crossed my mind that I might have to do more…terrible things.

Michel handed me a Beretta, butt forward. It was a Beretta model 70 in .22LR  with hollow point bullets. Favourite weapon of the Israeli Mossad ‘Mivtazah Elohim”. There was a SIONICS sound supressor fitted. No professional calls them silencers. There is no silent gunshot, only sound suppressed shots. It is a very beautiful weapon. Suddenly, I thought of Janet Baxter, a lovely English girl with chestnest brown hair and lovely eyebrows…I loved her…but that is another story.

I walked slowly to the man. I felt nothing. A strange eerie feeling. It is like playing God I guess. He looked at me pleadingly. He whimpered and shook his head…but he knew it was inevitable. “No!” The sound of a sound suppressed pistol is not silent as the movies would have you believe. It is quiet but not silent. As I pressed the trigger gently just like they had taught me at the Farm, the small bullet entered his head. It was 30mm above the spot right between his eyes. Suddenly, I felt it was so hilarious and surreal. I smiled, I grinned. I felt a release…. I took careful aim and fired again into the same bullet hole in his head. I noticed some powder burns. At this point blank range I could not miss. He had a strange look of fear and terror on his face and then he slumped and died. In the movies the person shot always flies back as if hit by a truck. In real life, it does not happen that way. Mostly, they just drop like a sack of potatoes.

“Mon ami, s’il vous plait don’t enjoy it too much.” Michel admonished. I nodded. He had already picked up the two shiny brass casings. Leave no trace was the maxim…Death is not loud and noisy. Death is peaceful actually. There is a serenity about death. A finality. The big sleep. We all have to go sometime.

To be continued…

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About thetravellinggourmet

As a renowned Travel, Food & Wine Writer he has travelled the world in a keen & indomitable pursuit of exotic delicacies & fine wines. His articles have been published in over 20 prestigious publications, both local & international. Dr. Lim has toured and trained in Wine Evaluation & Oenology in most of the world's top wine producing areas from France to Australia. The Travelling Gourmet says, "Gastronomy has no frontier. These are the gastronomic voyages of The Travelling Gourmet. My unending mission. To explore strange new cusines, to seek out new wines and new culinary experiences, to boldly go where no gourmet has gone before...." All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any other information storage & retrieval system, without permission from Dr. Michael Lim The Travelling Gourmet and/or MSN. Material may be works of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents may be true but may also be products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance whatsoever to actual person or persons, either dead or living, events, or locales may be entirely and purely coincidental and unintentional. No part of this website may be used to villify others or for criminal purposes. Interests: Travel, Food, Wines, Cooking, Wine Appreciation, Parachuting, Languages, Music, Reading, Swimming, Hunting, Ballet, Fencing, Archery, Anthropology and more... The Travelling Gourmet is a copyrighted trademark. All rights and photos reserved. No part may be reproduced without permission.
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