Mid June, Bloomsbury, London, England
IRINI EXCITEDLY DESCENDED the wide stone steps between the classical Greek columns, of the British Museum. She then hurried across Russell Street, through the Victorian frosted, curlicued glass and mahogany door of the Museum Tavern and made her way thru the bustling pub to the bar, where Helena sat sipping a glass of white wine.
"I'm in! I've got the job in the museum." She had come directly from her final interview.
Her friend congratulated her and called to the barman, "A bottle of Moet and 2 glasses please. A celebration is in order here."
"Be right there luv" In a flash he produced a gleaming ice bucket and 2 sparkling flutes, popped the cork and poured the bubbly. "Anything else luv?"
"We're fine now, thanks." He promptly left to serve another customer. They chinked glasses in celebration of Irini's new job and both gulped down a fair swallow.
"So, what did you want to see me about so urgently, Helena?"
"We're going to lift the Parthenon Marbles from the Museum for Greece. We need you in the team. Are you in, or out, for that?"
Helena filled the astonished silence with an offhand shrug: "Nick, steal, whatever…" Irini took a gulp of Champagne and stared dumbfounded at her new closest friend and mentor, emerald eyes betraying cascades of emotions behind them.
* * * * *
Under Helena's tutelage Irini was emerging from her chrysalis of typical youthful insecurities. A few weeks back Helena would not have thrown down such a bold-faced challenge. But she had sensed in her a suppressed yearning for extravagant adventure and played to it.
Irini touched Helena's hand. "Thanks for encouraging me to make that job application across the street. It's my dream come true, but I see now that you had an ulterior motive"
"You rated the position. My small contribution was simply to notice the fact."
"For me there's much more to it than that, Helena. Your twenty years in the Greek spy game have given you remarkable insight. Thank you for sharing it with me."
"Intelligence Service, my dear, we don't admit to spying anymore, eh?"
"Certainly…if you say so…but I do seem to recall the odd tale, from your very own lips, and not that long ago, about company secrets lifted, another's protected--sounded pretty spyish to me."
"My dictionary defines 'espionage' as 'spying', yes?"
Helena mused to herself that her protégée had acquired sharp teeth of late. It was a necessary part of the process, so she conceded the point with a smile.
The two had met in the refectory of the London School of Economics, arguably the pre-eminent university of the social sciences in the world. Helena had deliberately taken her 20-years-of-service early retirement from the Greek intelligence services to clear the cobwebs and seek a different life as a mature student--but instead had failed to shake off a looming obsession--a treacherous criminal enterprise of supreme difficulty. She had tried--God knows, she had tried--to sublimate it with books, class papers, and new friendships, Irini among them.
But the subject under discussion with all three of her young friends inevitably came around--and her mental fixation always returned--to the Marbles. The fact that they shared her passion hadn't diverted her. On the contrary, they often offered their own deeply emotional cries of outrage, and they weren't even Greek, except for Irini who had a Greek mother and a Welsh father.
Had Helena secretly hoped the subject would fall on the moral ambivalence of deaf ears and so let her off the hook? Their unexpectedly passionate agreement and support for the developing vision of lifting them from the museum had deeply moved her and shocked her with a fresh insight. She had not slept for some days but was not in the least tired and felt more alive than at any time in a life of living beyond herself.