I met Gabe Lambert on my first flight to Russia, although I would later discover this wasn’t the name he was known by. He waited while I went to the first class galley to score stoneware mugs for the fresh, black coffee I’d just made.
Abi raised an eyebrow as I ransacked her galley, emerging with two mugs. “You got a mouse in your pocket?”
“More like a wolf in the galley.”
Her laughter followed me through the first class curtain into main cabin where I maneuvered through the minefield of body parts dangling in the aisle.
I slipped by him into the back galley and set down the mugs. Carefully. He made me nervous. I felt like I’d had a triple shot of espresso and I hadn’t even had a cup of shitty airplane coffee yet.
“That wasn’t necessary,” he said as I poured a cup and handed it to him.
“No, it wasn’t,” I agreed, pouring my own. “But spend enough time traveling and you realize it’s the little details that make a difference.”
“Like a friendly smile?”
I smiled on cue. “Or knowing what happened to the nonexistent blanket.”
I raised my mug and took a sip.
“I might be able to help you with that,” he said.
I wasn’t sure what he meant by that; moreover, I was kind of busy in my own head checking him out.
He’s maybe late 30s, shaggy brown hair, not hippie shaggy but definitely overdue for a haircut and his stubble is more than a day’s worth. His eyes aren’t quite hazel but they’re not green, more like olive with gold flecks. He doesn’t look like a missionary or a businessman which leaves hunter, adventurer or KGB… No, can’t be.
“You mean, help find the missing blanket?”
He nodded. The man’s got a tremendous poker face because I know he’s messing with me.
I, on the other hand, do not.
Now, I’m not as obvious as the eastern Europeans who don’t even try to hide their emotions. I could pull off the fake-smile-while-I-stab-you-in-the-back-spit-in-your-coffee West coast superficiality the East coasters despised but I generally gave my skepticism away with the one eyebrow raise. I swear it’s part of my autonomic nervous system.
“Are you a detective? I know what it looks like– Me hiding behind the curtain on an ice bucket. I’m not a run away. I really do work here.”
At this, he did laugh. A beautiful, throaty laugh interrupted by a ‘Harummph!” sound from beyond the curtain.
I was about to do my apologetic I’m-sorry-but-not-really whisper when he turned toward the person and spoke quietly.
In fluent Russian.
I almost dropped my fucking coffee mug, I’m so turned on.
Gabe turned back toward me and I quickly set my mug on the counter.
“Here…” I yanked open another cart and pulled out a second ice bin, pushing it to the opposite side of the narrow galley and closer to the door exit. Then I flipped a tray over the opening and indicated he should sit.
Not only would his being next to the exit block some of that cold air, it would also prevent me from having to step over him in my skirt if someone rang a call light. Can’t be flashing the goods when we haven’t even kissed yet.
“You can stow away with me.” I closed the curtain behind him.
GABE LAMBERT, MI:2
Turns out, Gabe had the skills to track down the missing blanket.
This piqued my interest.
“I’m not a detective per se… You’ve heard of MI:6?
“British intelligence operations.”
Gabe nodded. “Most people recognize MI:6 as foreign intelligence. I’m MI:2 —
We’re responsible for implementing international redistribution of laundry items. We secretly remove items from your washing machine, insert spyware, and replace the item in various nooks and crannies that serve our need for intelligence gathering. Socks happen to be a favorite because they hold equipment nicely and already have a reputation as deserters…
He gave me the eye. “Told you I could help you.”
By now, I was laughing so hard, I snorted.
Pretty, I know.
“You’re hilarious. Spies usually aren’t very funny. And you don’t have an accent.”
He shrugged, “When in Rome…”
“C’mon, tell me the truth. Are you taking your stand up routine to Magadan?”
All traces of humor vanished from his face. I was instantly sorry I’d asked.
“Have you ever been?”
I shook my head.
Gabe fell silent. When he spoke again, his voice was subdued and he spoke quietly so I had to strain to hear over the engines.
MAGADAN: The mask of sorrows
Magadan was a vast labor colony in the days of the Gulag system, enforced under Soviet rule.
Prisoners from all over the country were transported through Magadan to get to their jail assignments or forced labor camps, some rivaling Auschwitz.
Inmates had been convicted of everything from murder to uttering anti-Soviet jokes.
Once in, it was nearly impossible to get out…
Dwell on the past and you’ll lose an eye
But the proverb goes on to say: “Forget the past and you’ll lose both eyes”
~ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago