X worked as a stripper in a bar popular with politicians and mafioso. It was wise to play dumb, dancing and fawning while the men talked, caressing her back or her buttocks as they discussed the state. She would pretend not to speak their language, and register nothing as they spoke of coups and genocides. But X had a mind like a cassette. And in the early morning, after her shift would write the details she had gleaned, who what where. A black notebook, black ink. Dates, names. Sketches of faces. She knew every robbery, every missile, before it came. The content of the press twelve hours before. Who would kill whom. And elections, fixed as they were. She bet money on the winners, and won, buying herself gifts with the proceeds, or stashing it in a bank.
No one pays attention to girls who dance. You are a body beneath a wig. Tits and fake tan. Lip gloss and stockings. A body without a mind. A face which is interchangeable with the others.
The name-tag on her make-up bag said Clothilde.
One day a man came to her apartment. He said he was with the service, Clothilde did not believe him, but he offered money for information, and spoke with a British accent. A light grey suit and a side parting. Taller than average, a cold smile, but not unpleasant.
“Is Clothilde your real name?” he asked,
She shrugged, sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t,
“What do you want with me?”
“My people are in danger,” he said,
“Who are your people,” she asked, he didn’t look like a peasant, a man protecting his village, or maybe he did, maybe beneath the suave that’s what we all are.
She sent him away with nothing.
He followed her for a week.
One day she came to him, looking him up at his hotel.
“One of my clients spoke of you,” she said, “he knows you’re here, and he knows you are following a girl, we’re both in danger.”
He shut the door and walked around the room, checking, checking, but for what, bugs, spies, devices?
“You’re angry with me,” he said, her narrowed eyes and the furrows of her brow said so,
“I didn’t ask for this,” she said,
“You’re a gambler not a spy, I know,” he said.
They made love and in the morning she agreed to help him. “I can fly you out of here,” he said, “if you help me.”
He fixed a microphone to her lingerie and sent her to see her client. “Evidence,” he said, “gather evidence.”
The client was a fat man wanted for warcrimes, Clothilde danced, and he drank and bragged, her face blank,
“She’s dumb this one,” he said to his friend, “doesn’t speak Russian,” Clothilde danced, he ran his fingers through her nylon hair.
He spoke of bodies, and blood, where, when but not why.
Clothilde could feel the sweat on her skin, swaying, she wanted to leave,
“What’s the matter my dear, are you squeamish?” asked the fat man,
Clothilde ignored the words and ground her body in a dumb dance,
He clapped once, and said something in Russian, a square man entered and took Clothilde by the arm, dragging her outside into the snow.
Throwing her hard against some trashcans, “do you speak Russian bitch?” he yelled, Clothilde played dumb, the cold crept into her body,
That man, she though, that English man, the angel of death,
“Please, I’m just a gambler,” she said in her native tongue, some dialect the square man recognised, and laughed at, perhaps he even believe her.
He raised the gun and squeezed the trigger at the same moment a red mandala appeared on his forehead, his bullet grazing Clothilde and hitting the trashcan with a metallic clatter,
The Englishman grabbed Clothilde, his grip harder than the square man’s,”I hope you got the evidence,” he said, holding her and marching her to a car, silver against the snow.
She nodded, he threw a coat over her legs and started the car, driving her out of the city and to an airfield on the outskirts of town.
“Are we safe?” she asked, seeing the plane before them,
He smiled a cruel smile, amused at her faith, or her naivety. They climbed the steps into the plane.
“No one is ever safe,” he said, “we live for one second at a time.”