A Perfect Spy

A Perfect Spy

A Perfect Spy 10

  How he had got himself into this pass, how he had acquired the training that was to stand him in such fine stead in this, his first clandestine operation, was pretty much the story of his life this far, which was ten years and three terms of boarding-school old.

  Even today, trying to trace Lippsie through Pym’s life is like pursuing an errant light through an impenetrable thicket. For Perce Loft, now dead himself, she was simply deniable—“Titch’s figment” he called her, meaning my invention, my fabrication, my nothing. But Perce the great lawyer could have made a figment out of the Eiffel Tower after he had banged his nose on it, if he needed to. That was his job. And this despite the testimony of Syd and others that it was Perce himself who first had the use of her, Perce who had introduced her to the court back in the dark ages before Pym’s birth. Mr. Muspole, that marvel with the books—also now passed on—understandably backed Perce up. He would. He was up to his neck in the business himself. Even Syd, the one surviving source, is not much more helpful. She was a German Four-by-Two, he said, using the affectionate cockney rhyming slang for Jew. He thought she came from Munich, could have been Vienna. She was lonely, Titch. Adored the kids. Adored you. He didn’t say she adored Rick but in the court that was taken for granted. She was a Lovely and in court ethic that was what Lovelies were there for: to be seen right by Rick and to bathe in his glory. And Rick in his goodness had her learn secretarial and qualify, says Syd. And your Dorothy, she thought the world of Lippsie and taught her English, which was meant, says Syd—after which he clams up, remarking only that it was a shame and we should all learn from it, and maybe your dad worked her a bit too hard because she never had your advantages. Yes, he admits, she was a looker. And she had a drop of class to her which some of the others, let’s face it, didn’t always have, Titch. And she loved a joke till she started to think of her poor family and what had been done to them by those Jerries.

  My furtive record checks have not been more enlightening. Finding myself with the run of Registry during a stint as night duty officer not too many years back, I chased Lippschitz, first name Annie, right through the general index but drew a blank on all spellings. Old Dinkel in Vienna, who heads up the personnel side of the Austrian service, recently ran a similar search for me when I spun him a story; so, on another occasion, did his German counterpart in Cologne. Both reported no trace.

  In my memory, however, she is anything but no trace. She is a tall, soft-haired, vital girl with large scared eyes and an air of flounce about her stride, nothing happening slowly. And I remember—it must have been a summer holiday in some house where we were temporarily sheltering—I remember how Pym longed more than anything to see her naked, and devoted his waking hours to contriving it. Which Lippsie must have guessed somehow for one afternoon she suggested he share her bath with her to save hot water. She even measured the water with her hand: patriots were allowed five inches and Lippsie was never less than a patriot. She stooped, naked, and let me watch her while she put her hand’s span in the tub, I’m sure she did, and brought it out again: “See, Magnus!”—showing me the wet spread hand—“how we may be sure we do not help the Germans.”

  Or so I fervently believe, though try as I may I cannot to this day remember what she looked like. And I know that in the same house or one like it her room was opposite to Pym’s own across a corridor, and that it contained her cardboard suitcase and photographs of her bearded brother and solemn sisters in black hats and silver frames which stood like tiny polished gravestones on her dressing-table. And there was the room where she screamed at Rick and warned him she would rather die than be a thief, and where Rick laughed his brown rich laugh, the one that went on longer than it needed and made everything all right again until next time. And though I do not remember a single lesson, she must have taught Pym German because years later when he came to learn the language formally he discovered that he possessed a repository of information about her—Aaron war mein Bruder. Mein Vater war Architekt—all in the same past tense to which she herself by then belonged. He also realised still later in life that when she had called him her Mönchlein she had meant her “little monk” and was referring to the hard path of Martin Luther—“little monk, go your own way”—whereas at the time he had thought she had cast him as the organ-grinder’s tethered monkey and Rick as his organ-grinder. The discovery raised his self-respect no end, until he realised she had been telling him that he must get along without her.

  And I know she was in Paradise with us because without Lippsie there was no Paradise. Paradise was a golden land between Gerrard’s Cross and the sea, where Dorothy wore an angora pullover for her ironing and a blue ulster for her shopping. Paradise was where Rick and Dorothy fled after their runaway marriage, a Metroland of new beginnings and exciting futures, but I don’t remember a day of it without Lippsie flouncing somewhere at the edge, or telling me what was right and wrong in a voice I didn’t mind. One hour eastward by Bentley motorcar lay Town and in Town lay the West End and that was where Rick had his office; the office had a big tinted photograph of Granddad TP wearing his mayor’s necklace, and the office was what kept Rick late at night, which was the infant Pym’s best thing because he was allowed to climb into Dorothy’s bed and keep her warm, she was so small and shivery even to a child. Sometimes Lippsie stayed behind with us, sometimes she went to London with Rick because she had to qualify and, as I now understand, justify her own survival when so many of her kind were dead.

  Paradise was a string of shiny racehorses that Syd called “neverwozzers” and a succession of even shinier Bentleys which, like the houses, wore out as fast as the credit they were bought on and had to be changed with thrilling rapidity for yet newer and more expensive models. Sometimes the Bentleys were so precious they had actually to be driven round the side of the house and hidden in the back garden for fear they might become tarnished by the gaze of the Unfaithful. At other times Pym drove them at a thousand miles an hour sitting on Rick’s lap, down sandy unmade roads lined with cement mixers, hammering the big deep horn at the builders while Rick shouted “How are you, boys?” and invited them all back to the house for a glass of bubbly. And Lippsie was there beside us in the passenger seat, straight as a coachman and as distant, until Rick chose to speak to her or make a joke. Then her smile was like holiday sunshine and she loved us both.

  Paradise was also St. Moritz where Swiss Army penknives come from, though somehow the Bentleys and those two pre-war winters in Switzerland become fused in my memory as one place. Even today I have only to sniff the leather interior of a grand car and I am wafted willingly away to the great hotel drawing-rooms of St. Moritz in the wake of Rick’s riotous love of festival. The Kulm, the Suvretta House, the Grand—Pym knew them as a single gigantic palace with different sets of servants but always the same court: Rick’s private household of jesters, tumblers, counsellors, and jockeys; he barely went anywhere without them. In the daytime, Italian doormen with long brooms flipped the snow off your boots every time you went through the swing doors. In the evenings, while Rick and the court banqueted with local Lovelies and Dorothy was too tired, Pym would venture on Lippsie’s hand through snowy alleys clutching his penknife in his pocket while he pretended to himself he was some kind of Russian prince protecting her from everyone who laughed at her for being serious. And in the morning after an early levee, he would tiptoe unescorted to the landing and gaze down through the banisters on his army of serfs toiling in the great hall below him, while he sniffed the stale cigar smoke and women’s perfume and the wax polish that glistened like dew on the parquet as they buffed it with long sweeps of their mops. And that was how Rick’s Bentleys smelt ever after: of the Lovelies, of beeswax, of the smoke of his millionaire’s cigars. And very faintly, from sledge rides through the freezing forest at Lippsie’s side, of the cold and the horse dung, while she chatted away in German to the coachman.

  Back home again, and Paradise was pyramids of polished tangerines in silver paper, and pink chandeliers in the
dining-room and roaring visits to distant racetracks to flash our Owners’ badges and watch the neverwozzers lose, and a tiny black-and-white television set in a huge mahogany case that showed the boat race behind a sky of white spots, and when we watched the Grand National the horses were so far off that Pym wondered how they ever found their way home, but I’m afraid now that Rick’s very often didn’t which was why Syd called them neverwozzers. And cricket in the garden with Syd, sixpence if he didn’t get Titch out in six balls. And boxing in the drawing-room with Morrie Washington, the court expert on the Fight Game, for Morrie was our Minister for the Arts: he had spoken to Bud Flanagan and shaken hands with Joe Louis, he had played conjuror’s stooge for the Man with X-Ray Eyes. And having half-crowns pulled out of your ears by Mr. Muspole the great accountant, though Mr. Muspole was never my favourite; there was too much of making me do arithmetic in my head. And watching sugar-knobs vanish from under Perce Loft’s legal Homburg: they were being turned to figments before my very eyes. And piggybacks round the garden on the waistcoated shoulders of the jockeys, who had names like Billie and Jimmy and Gordon and Charlie and were the best magic-makers in the world, the best elves, and read all my comics and left me theirs when they’d finished them.

  But always somewhere in this pageant I can still find Lippsie, now mother, now typist, musician, cricketer and always Pym’s own private moral tutor, flouncing through the outfield in pursuit of a high catch while everyone yelled “Achtung!” at her, and “Whoopsie, mind the flower-beds!” It was in Paradise too that Rick kicked a brand-new full-size football slap into Pym’s young face, which was like being hit by the inside of all the Bentleys at once, the same leather travelling at the same breakneck speed. When he came round, Dorothy was bending over him with a handkerchief crammed between her teeth, whimpering “Oh, don’t, please, dear God, don’t,” because the blood was everywhere. The football had only cut his forehead but Dorothy insisted it had shoved the whole eyeball deep into his head never to be got out again. The poor heart, she was too scared to dab away the blood so Lippsie had to do it for her, because Lippsie could touch me as she touched wounded animals and birds. I never met a woman since with so much touching in her hands. And I believe now that was what I meant to her: a thing to touch and cherish and protect, after everything else had been removed from her. I was her bit of hope and love in the gilded prison where Rick kept her.

  In Paradise when Rick was in residence there was no night and nobody went to bed but Dorothy, the court’s self-appointed Sleeping Beauty. Pym could join the festival any time he chose and there they all were, Rick and Syd and Morrie Washington and Perce Loft and Mr. Muspole and Lippsie and the jockeys, lying on the floor amid piles of money, watching the roulette ball hopping over the tin walls while TP in his regalia looked down on them, so there must have been a picture of him in the houses too. And I see us all dancing to the gramophone and telling stories about a chimpanzee called Little Audrey who laughed and laughed at jokes that were beyond Pym’s intellectual reach. But he laughed louder than anyone because he was learning to be a pleaser, with funny voices, acts and anecdotes to make himself attractive. In Paradise everybody loved everybody because once Pym found Lippsie sitting on Rick’s lap and another time he was dancing cheek to cheek with her, a cigar between his teeth, while he sang “Underneath the Arches” with his eyes shut. And it seemed a pity that Dorothy was once again too tired to put on the frilly dressing-gown Rick had bought her—pink for Dorothy, white for Lippsie—and come on down and have some fun. But the louder Rick yelled to her up the stairs the deeper Dorothy slept, as Pym discovered for himself when he was dispatched on Rick’s instruction to talk her round. He knocked and had no answer. He tiptoed to the enormous bed and brushed what looked at first like cobwebs from her cheek. He whispered to her, then he tried shouting at her, but with no useful result. Dorothy was crying in her sleep, he reported when he returned downstairs. But next morning everything was all right again because there they were the three of them in bed together with Rick in the middle, and Pym was allowed to wriggle in beside Lippsie while Dorothy went down and made the toast and Lippsie held him gravely to her, and gave him her troubled, moral frown, which I suppose now was her way of telling me she was ashamed of her weakness and infatuation, and wished to cleanse it with her concern for me.

  In Paradise, it was true, Rick roared but never at Pym. He never once raised his voice at me; his will was strong enough without it and his love was stronger still. He roared at Dorothy, he cajoled and warned her about things Pym could not understand. More than once he carted her bodily to the telephone and made her talk to people—to Uncle Makepeace, to shops, and to others who were threatening us somehow, and only Dorothy could appease them, because Lippsie refused to do that, and anyway her accent wasn’t right. I believe now that this was the first time Pym heard the name Wentworth, for I remember Dorothy holding my hand for courage while she told Mrs. Wentworth it would be all right about the money if only everyone would stop pressing. So the name Wentworth was ugly to Pym from early. It became synonymous with fear and an end to things.

  “Who’s Wentworth?” Pym asked Lippsie, and it was the only time she told him to be quiet.

  And I remember how Dorothy knew all the operators’ names at the exchange, and what their husbands and fiancés did, and where their children were at school, because when she was alone with Pym and shaky in her angora pullover, she’d pick up the white phone and have a good chat with them, she seemed to find comfort in a world of disembodied voices. Rick roared at Lippsie too when she stood up to him, and I think now that she stood up to him more as I grew up. And sometimes he roared at Dorothy and Lippsie together, making them both weep at the same time until they all patched it up in the great bed where he had his toast for breakfast and dripped the butter on the pink sheets. But no one hurt Pym or made him cry. I think, even in those days, Pym understood that Rick measured his relationships with women against his relationship with Pym, and found them wanting by comparison. Sometimes Rick took Dorothy and Lippsie skating. Rick wore a black tail suit and a white tie, but Dorothy and Lippsie dressed like pantomime boys, each holding an arm of him, and avoiding one another’s eye.

  The Fall occurred in darkness. We had been moving house a great deal recently, in what must have been a giddy ascent through the local real-estate market, and our palace of the day was a mansion on a hill and the day was a black winter afternoon near Christmas. Pym had been making paper decorations with Lippsie, and I have a notion that if I could ever find the place, if it is not a council estate or a bypass by now, they would still be hanging there exactly as we left them, stars of David and stars of Bethlehem—she taught me the difference precisely—twinkling in enormous empty rooms. First the lights went out in Pym’s vast nursery, then the electric fire faded, then his brand-new ten-track Hornby O electric train set wouldn’t work, then Lippsie gave a kind of shriek and vanished. Pym went downstairs and pulled open the walnut lid of Rick’s brand-new de-luxe cocktail cabinet. The mirrored interior refused to light up and it wouldn’t play “Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah.”

  Suddenly, in the whole house, the brass balls of the barometric perpetual clock were the only thing that had retained their energy. Pym ran to the kitchen. No Cookie and no Mr. Roley the gardener, whose children stole his toys but couldn’t be blamed because they hadn’t his advantages. He ran upstairs again and feeling very cold made an urgent reconnaissance of the long corridors, calling “Lippsie, Lippsie,” but no one answered. From the arched landing window of stained glass, he glared into the garden and made out black cars in the drive. Not Bentleys but two police Wolseleys. And police drivers with peaked caps sitting at the wheel. And men in brown mackintoshes standing round them talking to Mr. Roley while Cookie twisted her handkerchief and wrung her hands like the dame in the Crazy Gang pantomime that Rick had taken the court to see only a week before. People under siege go upwards, I now know, which may explain why Pym’s reaction was to race up the narrow stai
rcase to the attic. There he found Rick in a great flurry, with files and papers on the floor all round him, and he was loading them by the armful into an old chipped green filing cabinet that Pym in all his explorations had never seen before.