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One of the members of the group suggested that I looked like a Russian secret agent as I stalked around the park observing things. So I wrote this story about a Russian secret agent in the park. The physical description of the agent is, of course, me. But everything else is made up. Honest! Would I lie to you?

Spies in the Park

Oleg left the Russian Embassy and walked to his favourite coffee shop on the waterfront. Every morning at 10.15 Oleg, who was a creature of habit, drank a flat white there and read the morning newspaper. The spy he controlled, a man who worked for the GCSB, was sitting at one of the corner tables chatting to some friends. Neither he nor Oleg acknowledged each other in any way, but when the spy left, Oleg saw that the rings his coffee cup had made on the table were arranged in two side by side figure eights. That meant the spy had left a new collection of information for Oleg at the dead drop in the park.

Oleg decided that he would go and pick up the information package at lunchtime. He quite liked going to the park – New Zealand parks were nothing like their Russian counterparts. Russian parks were wilder and much less well cared for.  Somehow, they did not soothe his Slavic soul in the way that New Zealand parks did.

And so, that lunchtime, Oleg pulled on a black leather jacket over his black tee-shirt, perched a black trilby hat on his head and, with his hands thrust deeply into the pockets of his black jeans, he strolled off to the park.

"Why do you always dress in black?" one of his colleagues had asked him once. "Are you in perpetual mourning?"

"No," Oleg had replied. "It just means that clothes shopping takes almost no time at all, and I never have to make elaborate sartorial decisions when I get up in the morning. I'm always very indecisive when I've just got out of bed. Besides, black makes a nice, natural contrast to my grey shaggy beard. Remember, I grew up in an era of black and white movies and black and white television. I've always felt that there's something very unnatural about colour..."

The park was warm and welcoming. The fountain splashed and chattered and Oleg enjoyed the orange crunch of the autumn leaves as he walked over them. He looked around carefully, checking for possible SIS agents. Once he had the package from the dead drop in his possession, he would be very vulnerable. If the SIS caught him in that situation, he wouldn't have a leg to stand on. Of course as an embassy official, he had diplomatic immunity. He wouldn't end up in a New Zealand prison, but he would be declared persona non grata. And that would result in him being deported back to Russia, with his career at an ignominious end. So he needed to be very sure that he wasn't under surveillance.

There was a woman chasing after a duckling, intent on picking it up and stroking it. She was making cootchy-coo noises as she ran. The duckling wasn't in the least bit soothed by the sounds and it swerved and jinked violently to avoid her. The woman kept reaching out for it, but she missed every time. Over by the stone lions that crouched around the monument a man was sitting on a bench and eating a sandwich. He had a newspaper folded on his lap and every so often he scribbled something in it. Probably doing the crossword, thought Oleg. The lions looked disdainful. Clearly they were solving the clues much faster than the man was.

Oleg headed off towards the hollow tree that he used as the dead drop. He reached in and felt around inside the trunk. His fingers found a small, waterproof plastic box. There we are, he thought to himself. The papers will be nice and safe in that. He took the box out of the tree, ready to put it straight into his pocket and walk out of the park.

And that's when everything started to go horribly wrong. There was a huge weta perched on the plastic box. Oleg hated wetas, those curious New Zealand insects that appeared to be a cross between a cockroach and Tyrannosaurus Rex. This one was about four inches long. It was shiny and brown and plump. It waved its front legs menacingly at Oleg. He was almost sure he could hear it hissing angrily at him. Oleg shrieked and shook the box violently in a vain attempt to dislodge the beast, but it just held on to the box more tightly. It wasn't going to give up its treasure without a fight and Oleg knew that in any fight with a weta he was seriously outnumbered.

Then, just when he thought the day couldn't get any worse, it did.

"Now we've got you bang to rights, sunshine," said a voice.

Oleg looked up. The woman who had been chasing the duckling was standing right beside him, looking stern. Over by the monument, the crossword puzzle man had left his puzzle on the bench for the lions to finish, and he was now walking briskly towards the confrontation. The lady showed Oleg her SIS warrant card. "I think you'd better come with me," she said.

"I have diplomatic immunity," said Oleg, just as the man arrived.

"Much good may it do you," said the man coldly. "Diplomatic immunity means I can't physically search you. But I don't have to. The box you took from the tree is there in your hand as plain as day. You're nicked."

The lady reached out and took the box and its possessive weta from Oleg. For a moment the duckling-chasing persona peeked through her stern facade as she beamed fondly at the weta. "You're a big, handsome boy, aren't you?" she said sweetly, and she stroked its shiny brown head with her finger. The weta arched its back like a cat and looked smug.

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