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A Perfect Spy

A Perfect Spy

A Perfect Spy 15


  Hands shoved in his pockets, Brotherhood took a stroll round the little room, poking at Frau Bauer’s photographs of her illegitimate daughter, poring over her shelf of paperback romances.

  “Anything else about me?” he asked.

  “Jack’s had too many miles in the saddle. The Boy Scout era’s over. It’s a new scene and he’s not up to it.”

  “Any more?” said Brotherhood.

  Nigel had lowered his chin into his hand and was studying one small but perfectly formed shoe.

  “No,” said Mary.

  “Did he go for a walk that night? Meet P?”

  “He’d been the night before.”

  “I said that night. Answer the bloody question!”

  “And I said the night before!”

  “With a newspaper. The whole bit?”

  “Yes.”

  His hands still in his pockets, his head high against his shoulders, Brotherhood turned stiffly to Nigel. “I’m going to tell her,” he said. “You want to throw a fit?”

  “Are you asking me formally?” Nigel asked.

  “Not particularly.”

  “If you are, I’ll have to pass it to Bo,” said Nigel and looked respectfully at his gold watch as if he took orders from it.

  “Lederer knows and we know. If Pym knows too, who’s left?” Brotherhood insisted.

  Nigel thought about this. “Up to you. Your man, your decision, your tail-end. Frankly.”

  Brotherhood leaned over Mary and put his head close to her ear. She remembered his smell: tweedy and paternal. “Listening?”

  She shook her head. I’m not, I never will be, I wish I never had.

  “The new committee that your Magnus derided was shaping up to be a very high-powered outfit. Maybe the best potential working relationship at field level that we’ve had with the Americans for years. The name of the game was mutual trust. Not as easy to establish these days as it used to be, but we managed it. Are you going to sleep?”

  She nodded.

  “Your Magnus was not only aware of this, he was one of the prime movers in getting the committee off the ground. If not the prime mover. He even went so far as to complain to me, when we were negotiating the deal, that London was being small-minded in its interpretation of the barter terms. He thought we should give the Americans more. In exchange for more. That’s number one.”

  I have absolutely nothing else to say. You can have my home address, my next of kin and that’s your lot. You taught me that yourself, Jack, in case they ever grabbed me.

  “Number two is that for reasons which I regarded at the time as specious and insulting, the Americans objected to your husband’s presence on that committee not three weeks after it met, and asked me to replace him with somebody more to their liking. Since Magnus was kingpin of the Czecho operation and of several other little shows in Eastern Europe besides, this was a totally unrealistic demand. They’d raised the same objections about him in Washington the year before and Bo had bowed to them, in my view mistakenly. I wasn’t about to let them do it again. I happen not to care for American gentlemen or anybody else telling me how to run my shop. I said no and ordered Magnus to take himself off on mid-tour leave and stay clear of Vienna till I told him to come back. That’s the truth, and I think it’s time you heard some.”

  “It’s also very secret,” said Nigel.

  She waited in vain to be amazed. No surge of protest, no flash of the celebrated family temper. Brotherhood had taken himself to the window and was staring out. Morning had come early because of the snow. He looked old and beaten. His white hair was fluffed against the light and she could see the pink skin of his scalp.

  “You defended him,” she said. “You were loyal.”

  “Seems as if I was a bloody fool as well.”

  The house had turned itself upside down. The thump of shifting furniture came from below them in the drawing-room. The safest place to be was here. Upstairs with Jack.

  “Oh don’t be so hard on yourself, Jack,” Nigel said.

  Brotherhood had sat Mary in the chair and handed her a whisky. You get one only, he had said; make it last. Nigel had taken over the bed and was lounging on it with one suited little leg stuck out in front of him as if he’d sprained it trying to get up the steps of his club. Brotherhood had turned his back on both of them. He preferred the view from the window.

  “So first you go to Corfu. Your auntie has a house there. You borrowed it from her. Tell that bit. Carefully.”

  “Aunt Tab,” said Mary.

  “In full, I think,” said Nigel.

  “Lady Tabitha Grey. Daddy’s sister.”

  “Sometime member of the Firm,” Brotherhood murmured to Nigel. “There’s hardly a member of her family hasn’t been on our books at one time or another, come to think of it.”

  She had telephoned Aunt Tab as soon as they got back from their drink that evening, and by a miracle there’d been a cancellation and her house was free. They took it, phoned Tom’s school and arranged for him to fly there direct when term ended. As soon as the Lederers heard, they wanted to come too of course. Grant said he would drop everything but Magnus wouldn’t hear of it. The Lederers are exactly the kind of social prop I need to kick away, he had said. Why the hell should I take my work with me on holiday? Five days later they were settled into Tab’s house and everything was absolutely fine. Tom took tennis lessons at the hotel up the road, swam, fed the landlady’s goats and pottered around the boat with Costas who looked after it and watered the garden. But his best thing was the crazy cricket matches on the edge of town that Magnus took him to in the evenings. Magnus said the Brits had brought the game to the island when they were defending it against Napoleon. Magnus knew those things. Or pretended to.

  At the cricket in Corfu Magnus was closer to Tom than he had ever been. They lay on the grass, munched ice creams, rooted for their favourite players and had those mannish chats that were so crucial to Tom’s happiness: for Tom loved Magnus to distraction; he was a man’s boy, always had been. As to Mary, she had taken up pastels because Corfu in summer was really too hot for her style of water-colours, the paint just dried on the page before she could get near it. But she was drawing well, getting nice likenesses and shapes, and playing hostess to half the dogs on the island because the Greeks don’t feed them or look after them or anything. So everyone was happy, everyone absolutely fine and Magnus had a cool conservatory to write in, and inland walks for his restlessness, which came to him first thing in the morning and again in late evening after he had held it off all day. They lunched late, usually in a taverna—and often rather a liquid affair, to be honest, but why not, they were on holiday. Then long sexy siestas while Mary and Magnus made love on the balcony and Tom lay on the beach studying the nudies across the bay with Magnus’s binoculars, so as Magnus put it everybody was getting his pound of flesh. Until one day the clock stopped dead and Magnus came back from a late walk and confessed he had hit a bit of a block with his writing. He just strode in, poured himself a stiff ouzo, flung himself into a chair and said it straight out:

  “Sorry, Mabs. Sorry, Tom, old chap. But this place is too damned idyllic. I need roughing up a bit. I need people, for Christ’s sake. Smoke and dirt and a bit of suffering around us. It’s like being on the moon here, Mabs. Worse than Vienna. Truly.”

  He was sweet about it but he was adamant. He’d been drinking, obviously, but that was because he was upset. “I’m going bonkers, Mabs. It’s really getting to me. I told Tom. Didn’t I, Tom? I said I really can’t take much more of this and I feel a shit because you two are having such a good time.”

  “Yes, he did,” said Tom.

  “Several times. And today it’s just hit me, Mabs. You’ve got to help me out. Both of you.”

  So of course they both said they would. Mary rang Tab at once, so that she could put the house back on the market, they all had a bear-hug and went to bed feeling resolved, and next day Mary packed while Magnus went off to town to do tickets and fix the n
ext stage of their odyssey. But Tom, over washing-up which was always a talkative time for him, had a different version of why they were leaving Corfu. Daddy had met this mystery man at cricket. It was a really super match, Mum, the best two teams on the island, a real vendetta. We were watching it like mad and suddenly there was this wise, stringy man with a sad moustache like a conjuror’s and a limp, and Dad got all uptight. He came up to Dad smiling, they talked a bit, they walked round and round the ground together with the thin man going slowly like an invalid, but he was terribly kind to Dad although Dad got so emanated.

  “Animated,” Mary corrected him automatically. “Don’t talk too loud, Tom. I think Daddy’s working somewhere.”

  And there was this really incredible batsman, said Tom. Called Phillippi. Just the absolute best batsman Tom had seen ever. “He scored eighteen in one over and the crowd went absolutely ape, but Dad didn’t notice, he was so busy listening to the kind man.”

  “How do you know he was so kind?” said Mary with a strange irritation. “Keep your voice down.” There was no light in the conservatory, but sometimes Magnus sat there in the dark.

  “He was like a father with him, Mum. He’s senior to him but sort of calm. He kept offering Dad a ride in his car. Dad kept saying no. But he didn’t get angry or anything, he was too wise. He gentled him and smiled.”

  “What car? It’s just a great big romance, Tom. You know it is.”

  “The Volvo. Mr. Kaloumenos’s Volvo. One man was driving and another man in the back. They kept up with them on the other side of the fence when they went round and round talking. Honestly, Mum. The thin man never lost his temper or anything, and he really likes Dad, you can tell. It’s not just holding arms. They’re friends to each other. Much more than Uncle Grant. More like Uncle Jack.”

  Mary asked Magnus that night. They’d packed, she was excited to be moving, and really looking forward to the Athens museums.

  “Tom says you were harassed by some tiresome man at the cricket match,” said Mary while they enjoyed a rather stiff nightcap after their heavy day.

  “Was I?”

  “Some little man who chased you round and round the ground. Sounded like an angry husband to me. He had a moustache, unless Tom imagined it.”

  Then vaguely Magnus did remember. “Oh that’s right. He was some boring ancient Brit who kept pressing me to go and see his villa. Wanted to flog it. Bloody little pest actually.”

  “He spoke German,” said Tom, next day at breakfast while Magnus was out walking.

  “Who did?”

  “Dad’s thin friend. The man who picked Dad up at the cricket. And Dad spoke German back to him too. Why did Dad say he was an ancient Brit?”

  Mary flew at him. She hadn’t been so angry with him for years. “If you want to listen to our conversations, you bloody well come in and listen to them and don’t skulk outside the door like a spy.”

  Then she was ashamed of herself and played tennis with him till the boat left. On the boat Tom was sick as a dog and by the time they reached Piraeus he had a temperature of a hundred and three so her guilt was unconfined. At the Athens hospital a Greek doctor diagnosed shrimp rash which was absurd because Tom loathed shrimps and hadn’t touched a single one; by now his face was swollen like a hamster’s, so they took expensive rooms and put him to bed with an icepack and Mary read fantasy to him while Magnus listened or sat in Tom’s room to write. But mainly he liked to listen because the best thing in his life, he always said, was watching her comfort their child. She believed him.

  “Didn’t he go out at all?” Brotherhood asked.

  “Not to begin with. He didn’t want to.”

  “Make any phone calls?” said Nigel.

  “The Embassy. To check in. So that you’d know where he was.”

  “He tell you that?” said Brotherhood.

  “Yes.”

  “You weren’t there when he made them?” Nigel said.

  “No.”

  “Hear him through the wall?” Nigel again.

  “No.”

  “Know who he spoke to?” Still Nigel.

  “No.”

  From his place on the bed Nigel lifted his eyes to Brotherhood. “But he phoned you, Jack,” he said encouragingly. “Little chats from out-of-the-way places with his old boss now and then? That’s practically mandatory, isn’t it? Check on the Joes—‘How’s our old buddy from you-know-where?’”

  Nigel is one of the new non-professionals, Mary remembered Magnus telling her. He’s one of the idiots who are supposed to be introducing a breath of Whitehall realism. If ever I heard a contradiction in terms, that’s it, said Magnus.

  “Not a peep,” Brotherhood was replying. “All he did was send me a string of stupid postcards saying ‘Thank God you’re not here’ and giving me his latest address.”

  “When did he start going out?” said Nigel.

  “When Tom’s temperature went down,” Mary replied.

  “A week?” said Nigel invitingly. “Two?”

  “Less,” said Mary.

  “Describe,” said Brotherhood.

  It was evening, probably their fourth day. Tom’s face was normal again so Magnus suggested Mary go shopping while he baby-sat Tom to give her a break. But Mary wasn’t keen on braving the Athens streets alone so Magnus went instead; Mary would do a museum in the morning. He came back around midnight very pleased with himself saying he’d found this marvellous old Greek travel agent in a basement opposite the Hilton, a tremendously cultured fellow, and how they had drunk ouzo together and solved the problems of the universe. The old man ran a villa-renting service for the islands and hoped to turn up a cancellation in a week or so when they’d all had enough of Athens.

  “I thought islands were out,” Mary said.

  For a moment it seemed that Magnus had forgotten the reason they had left Corfu. He smiled lamely and said something about not every island being the same. After that, she seemed to lose count of the days. They moved to a smaller hotel; Magnus wrote and wrote, went out in the evenings and when Tom was well enough took him swimming. Mary sketched the Acropolis and took Tom to a couple of museums but he preferred swimming. Meanwhile they waited for the old Greek to come up with something.

  Brotherhood was once more interrupting. “This writing of his. How much did he talk about it exactly?”

  “He wanted to preserve his secrecy. Scraps. That was all he gave me.”

  “Like his Joes. The same,” Brotherhood suggested.

  “He wanted to keep me fresh for when he’d really got something to show me. He didn’t want to talk it out of himself.”

  It was a quiet and, as Mary now remembered it, strangely furtive time until one night Magnus vanished. He went out after dinner saying he was going to give the old boy a prod. Next morning he hadn’t come back and by lunchtime Mary was scared. She knew she should phone the Embassy. On the other hand she didn’t want to start a scare unnecessarily or do anything that might get Magnus into trouble.

  Yet again Brotherhood cut in. “What sort of trouble?”

  “If he’d gone on a bender or something. It wouldn’t exactly have looked well on his file. Just when he was hoping for promotion.”

  “Had he gone on benders before?”

  “Absolutely not. He and Grant got drunk together occasionally but that was as far as it went.”

  Nigel sharply lifted his head. “But why should he be expecting promotion? Who said anything about promotion to him?”

  “I did,” said Brotherhood without a whiff of repentance. “I reckoned after all the messing him around he was about owed it with his reinstatement.”

  Nigel made a neat little note in his book and smiled mirthlessly as he wrote. Mary went on.

  Anyway, she waited till evening then took Tom up to the Hilton and together they explored all the houses opposite until they found the cultured old Greek in his basement, exactly as Magnus had described him. But the Greek hadn’t seen Magnus for a week and Mary wouldn’t stay for coffee.
When they got back to the taverna they found Magnus with two days’ beard, dressed in the clothes he had disappeared in, sitting in the courtyard and eating bacon and eggs, drunk. Not silly drunk, he couldn’t do that. Not angry drunk, or maudlin, or aggressive, and least of all indiscreet, because drink only ever fortified his defences. Courteous drunk, therefore, and amiable to a fault as ever, and his cover story perfectly intact except for one rare mistake.

  “Sorry, gang. Got a bit pissed with Dimitri. Swine drank me clean under the table. Hullo, Tom.”

  “Hullo,” said Tom.

  “Who’s Dimitri?” Mary asked.

  “You know who Dimitri is. Old Greek travel agent who does his beads across the road from the Hilton.”

  “The cultured one.”

  “That’s him.”

  “Last night?”

  “Far as I can remember, old girl, last night as ever was.”

  “Dimitri hasn’t seen you since last Monday. He told us himself an hour ago.”

  Magnus considered this. Tom had found a copy of the Athens News and was standing at the next table intently studying the film page.

  “You checked on me, Mabs. You shouldn’t have done that.”

  “I wasn’t checking on you, I was looking for you!”

  “Don’t make a scene now, girl. Please. Other people eating here, you see.”

  “I’m not making a scene. You are. It’s not me who disappears for two days and comes back with a lie. Tom, go to your room, darling. I’ll be up in a minute.”

  Tom left, smiling brightly to show he hadn’t heard anything. Magnus took a long drink of coffee. Then he grasped Mary’s hand and kissed it and gently pulled her down on to the chair beside him.

  “Which would you rather I told you, Mabs? I was carousing with a whore or I’ve got problems with a Joe?”

  “Why don’t you just tell me the truth?”

  The suggestion amused him. Not cruelly or cynically. Merely, he received it with the rueful indulgence that he would show towards Tom when he came through with one of his solutions for ending world poverty or the arms race.