Settings
A Perfect Spy

A Perfect Spy

A Perfect Spy 24


  “I’m really glad,” said Tom.

  “Now then. That letter of his he wrote to you. The long one that came after he’d gone. Did it talk about things like that?”

  “I don’t know. I haven’t read it all. There was a whole lot of stuff about Sefton Boyd’s penknife and some writing in the staff loo.”

  “Who’s Sefton Boyd?”

  “He’s a boy in the school. He’s my friend.”

  “Is he your dad’s friend too?”

  “No, but his father was. His father was in the school too.”

  “Now what have you done with this letter?”

  Punished himself with it. Squidged it up till it was tight and prickly and kept it in his trousers pocket where it jabbed his thigh. But Tom didn’t say that. He just handed the remnants gratefully to Uncle Jack, who promised to take proper care of them and talk everything over with him next time—if there was anything that needed talking over, which Uncle Jack very much doubted that there would be.

  “Got the envelope, have you?”

  Tom hadn’t.

  “Where did he post it from then? There’s a clue there, I expect, if we look for it.”

  “The postmark was Reading,” said Tom.

  “What day?”

  “The Tuesday,” said Tom unhappily, “but it could have been after post on Monday. I thought he was going back to Vienna on Monday afternoon. If he didn’t go to Scotland, that is.”

  But Uncle Jack didn’t seem to hear because he was talking about Greece again, playing what the two of them called report writing about this weedy fellow with a moustache who had shown up at the cricket ground in Corfu.

  “I expect you were worried about him, weren’t you, son? You thought he was up to no good with your dad, I expect, although he was so friendly. I mean, if they knew each other that well, why didn’t your dad ask him home to meet your mum? I can see that would have bothered you on reflection. You didn’t think it very nice your dad should have a secret life on Mum’s doorstep.”

  “I suppose I didn’t,” Tom admitted, marvelling as ever at Uncle Jack’s omniscience. “He held Dad’s arm.”

  They had returned to the Digby. In the great joy of his release from worry, Tom had rediscovered his appetite and was having a steak and chips to fill the gap. Brotherhood had ordered himself a whisky.

  “Height?” said Brotherhood, back at their special game.

  “Six foot.”

  “All right, well done. Six foot exactly is correct. Colour of hair?”

  Tom hesitated. “Sort of mousy fawny with stripes,” he said.

  “What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

  “He wore a straw hat. It was hard to see.”

  “I know he wore a straw hat. That’s why I’m asking you. Colour of hair?”

  “Brown,” said Tom finally. “Brown with the sun on it. And a big forehead like a genius.”

  “Now how the hell does the sun get under the brim of a hat?”

  “Grey brown,” said Tom.

  “Then say so. Two points only. Hatband?”

  “Red.”

  “Oh dear.”

  “It was red.”

  “Keep trying.”

  “It was red, red, red!”

  “Three points. Colour of beard?”

  “He hasn’t got a beard. He’s got a shaggy moustache and thick eyebrows like yours but not so bushy, and crinkly eyes.”

  “Three points. Build?”

  “Stoopy and hobbly.”

  “What the hell’s hobbly?”

  “Like chumpy. Chumpy’s when the sea is choppy and bumpy. Hobbly is when he walks fast and hobbles.”

  “You mean limps.”

  “Yes.”

  “Say so. Which leg?”

  “Left.”

  “One more try?”

  “Left.”

  “Certain?”

  “Left!”

  “Three points. Age?”

  “Seventy.”

  “Don’t be damn stupid.”

  “He’s old!”

  “He’s not seventy. I’m not seventy. I’m not sixty. Well only just. Is he older than me?”

  “The same.”

  “Carry anything?”

  “A briefcase. A grey thing like elephant skin. And he was stringy like Mr. Toombs.”

  “Who’s Toombs?”

  “Our gym master. He teaches aikido and geography. He’s killed people with his feet, though he’s not supposed to.”

  “All right, stringy like Mr. Toombs, carried an elephant skin briefcase. Two points. Another time, omit the subjective reference.”

  “What’s that?”

  “Mr. Toombs. You know him, I don’t. Don’t compare one person I don’t know with another I don’t know.”

  “You said you knew him,” said Tom, very excited to catch Uncle Jack out.

  “I do. I’m fooling. Did he have a car, your man?”

  “Volvo. Hired from Mr. Kaloumenos.”

  “How do you know that?”

  “He hires it to everyone. He goes down to the harbour and hangs about and if anyone wants to hire a car Mr. Kaloumenos gives them his Volvo.”

  “Colour?”

  “Green. And it’s got a bashed wing and a Corfu registration and a fox’s tail from the aerial and a—”

  “It’s red.”

  “It’s green!”

  “No points,” said Brotherhood firmly, to Tom’s outrage.

  “Why not?”

  Brotherhood pulled a wolfish smile. “It wasn’t his car, was it? How do you know it was the bloke with the moustache who hired it when two other blokes were riding in it? You lost your objectivity, son.”

  “He was in charge!”

  “You don’t know that. You’re guessing it. You could start a war, making up things like that. Ever met an Auntie Poppy at all, son?”

  “No, sir.”

  “Uncle?”

  Tom giggled. “No, sir.”

  “A Mr. Wentworth a name to you?”

  “No, sir.”

  “No bells at all?”

  “No, sir. I thought it was a place in Surrey.”

  “Well done, son. Never make it up if you think you don’t know and ought to. That’s the rule.”

  “You were teasing again, weren’t you?”

  “Maybe I was at that. When did your dad say he’d see you again?”

  “He didn’t.”

  “Does he ever?”

  “Not really.”

  “Then there’s no fuss, is there?”

  “It’s just the letter.”

  “What about the letter?”

  “It’s as if he’s dead.”

  “Bollocks. You’re imagining. Want me to tell you something else you know? That secret hideaway of your dad’s that he’s gone to. It’s all right. We know about it. Did he give you the address?”

  “No.”

  “Name of the nearest Scottish town?”

  “No. He just said Scotland. On the sea in Scotland. A place to write where he’s safe from everyone.”

  “He’s told you all he can, Tom. He’s not allowed to tell you any more. How many rooms has he got?”

  “He didn’t say.”

  “Who does his shopping then?”

  “He didn’t say. He’s got a super landlady. She’s old.”

  “He’s a good man. And a wise man. And she’s a good woman. One of us. Now don’t you worry any more.” Uncle Jack glanced sideways at his watch. “Here. Finish that up and order yourself a ginger beer. I need to see a man about a dog.” Still smiling, he strode to the door marked toilets and telephone. Tom was nothing if not an observer. Points of happy colour on Uncle Jack’s cheeks. A sense of merriness like his own and everybody absolutely fine.

  Brotherhood had a wife and a house in Lambeth, and in theory he could have gone to them. He had another wife in his cottage in Suffolk, divorced it was true but given notice willing to oblige. He had a daughter married to a solicitor in Pinner and he wished t
hem both to the devil and it was mutual. Nevertheless they would have had him as a duty. And there was a useless son who scratched a living on the stage and if Brotherhood was feeling charitable towards him, which oddly enough these days he sometimes was, and if he could stomach the squalor and the smell of pot, which he sometimes could, he would have been welcome enough to the heap of greasy coverlets that Adrian called his spare bed. But tonight and for every other night until he had had his word with Pym he wanted none of them. He preferred the exile of his stinking little safe flat in Shepherd Market with sooty pigeons humping each other on the parapet and the tarts doing sentry go along the pavement below him, the way they used to in the war. Periodically the Firm tried to take the place away from him or deduct the rent from his salary at source. The desk jockeys hated him for it and said it was his fuck-hutch, which occasionally it was. They resented his claims for hospitality booze and cleaners he didn’t have. But Brotherhood was hardier than all of them and more or less they knew it.

  “Research have turned up more stuff about the use of newspapers by Czech Intelligence,” Kate said into the pillow. “But none of it’s conclusive.”

  Brotherhood took a long pull of his vodka. It was two in the morning. They had been here an hour. “Don’t tell me. The great spy pricks the letters of his message with a pin and posts the newspaper to his spymaster. Said spymaster holds the newspaper to the light, and reads the plans for Armageddon. They’ll be using semaphore next.”

  She lay white and luminous beside him on the little bed, a forty-year-old Cambridge débutante who had lost her way. The grey-pink glow through the grimy curtains cut her into classic fragments. Here a thigh, here a calf, here the cone of a breast or the knifeline of a flank. She had turned her back to him, one leg slightly bent. God damn it, what does she want of me, this sad, beautiful bridge-player of the Fifth Floor, with her air of lost love and her prim carnality? After seven years of her, Brotherhood still had no idea. He’d be out touring the stations, he’d be in Bongabonga land. He’d not speak or write to her for months. Yet he’d hardly unpacked his toothbrush before she was in his arms, demanding him with her sad and hungry eyes. Does she have a hundred of us—are we her fighter pilots, claiming her favours each time we limp home from another mission? Or am I the only one who storms the statue?

  “And Bo’s called in some top shrink to join the feast,” she said, in her impeccable vowels. “Somebody who specialises in harmless nervous breakdowns. They’ve thrown Pym’s dossier at him and told him to assemble the profile of a loyal Englishman under severe stress who is arousing anxiety in other people, particularly Americans.”

  “He’ll be calling in a medium next,” said Brotherhood.

  “They’ve checked flights to the Bahamas, Scotland and Ireland. That’s as well as everywhere else. They’ve checked ships, car-hire firms and goodness knows what. They’ve got warrants running on every telephone he ever used and a blanket warrant for the rest. They’ve cancelled leave and weekends for all transcribers and put the surveillance teams on twenty-four-hour alert, and they still haven’t told anybody what it’s about. The canteen’s a funeral parlour, nobody talking to anybody. They’re questioning anyone who shared an office with him or bought a secondhand car from him, they’ve turned the tenants out of the Pyms’ house in Dulwich and stripped the place from top to bottom pretending to be woodworm experts. Now Nigel’s talking of moving the whole search team to a safe house in Norfolk Street, it’s getting so big. Including the help, that’s about a hundred and fifty staff. What’s in the burnbox?”

  “Why?”

  “There’s a shadow over it. Not in front of the children. Bo and Nigel clam up as soon as anybody mentions it.”

  “Press?” said Brotherhood, as if he had answered her question instead of deflecting it.

  “Sewn up as usual. From TitBits downwards. Bo had lunch with the editors yesterday. He’s already written their leaders for them in case anything gets out. How rumours weaken our security. Uninformed speculation as the true Enemy Within. Nigel’s been leaning his full weight on the radio and television people.”

  “All two stone of it. What about the phoney copper?”

  “Whoever called on Tom’s Headmaster wasn’t family. He wasn’t from the Firm and he wasn’t police.”

  “Maybe he was from the competition. They don’t have to ask us first, do they?”

  “Bo’s terror is that the Americans are launching their own manhunt.”

  “If he’d been American there’d have been three of him. He was a cheeky Czech. That’s the way they work. Same as they used to fly in the war.”

  “The Headmaster describes him as up-market English, not a whiff of foreign. He didn’t come or leave by train. He gave his name as Inspector Baring of Special Branch. There isn’t one. The taxi bill return between the station and the school was twelve pounds and he didn’t ask the driver for a receipt. Imagine a policeman not wanting a receipt for twelve pounds. He left a fake visiting card. They’re looking for the printer, the paper-maker and for all I know the ink manufacturers, but they won’t bring in police, the competition or liaison. They’ll make any enquiry they can think of as long as it doesn’t frighten the horses.”

  “And the London phone number he gave?”

  “Bogus.”

  “I could nearly laugh about that if humour was my mood. What does Bo think about the moustachioed gentleman with a handbag who holds Pym’s arm at cricket matches?”

  “He refuses to take a view. He says if we all had our friends checked at cricket matches, we’d have no friends and no cricket. He’s drafted extra girls to comb the Czech personalities index and he’s signalled Athens Station to send someone to Corfu to talk to the car-hire man. It’s delay and pray, and Magnus please come home.”

  “Where do I stand? In the corner?”

  “They’re terrified you’ll pull down the Temple.”

  “I thought Pym had done that already.”

  “Then perhaps it’s guilty contact,” Kate said in her crisp Queen Bee voice.

  Brotherhood took another long swallow of vodka. “If they’d get the bloody networks out. If they’d do the obvious thing, just for once.”

  “They won’t do anything that might alert the Americans. They’d rather lie all the way to the grave. ‘We’ve had three major traitors in three minor years. One more and we might as well admit the party’s over.’ That’s Bo speaking.”

  “So the Joes will die for the Special Relationship. I like that. So will the Joes. They’ll understand.”

  “Will they find him?”

  “Maybe.”

  “Maybe’s not enough. I’m asking you, Jack. Will they find him? Will you?”

  She sounded suddenly imperious and urgent. She took the glass from his hand and drank the rest of his vodka while he watched her. She leaned over the side of the bed and fished a cigarette from her handbag. She handed him the matches and he lit it for her.

  “Bo’s put a lot of monkeys in front of a lot of typewriters,” Brotherhood said, still watching her intently. “Maybe one of them will come up with the goods. I didn’t know you smoked, Kate.”

  “I don’t.”

  “You’re drinking well too, I’m pleased to see. I don’t remember you hitting the vodka as hard as this, I’m sure I don’t. Who taught you to drink vodka that way?”

  “Why shouldn’t I?”

  “More to the point is why should you? You’re trying to tell me something, aren’t you? Something I don’t think I like at all. I thought you were spying for Bo for a minute there. I thought you were doing a bit of a Jezebel on me. Then I thought, no, she’s trying to tell me something. She’s attempting a small and intimate confession.”

  “He’s a blasphemer.”

  “Who is, dear?”

  “Magnus.”

  “Oh he is, is he? Magnus a blasphemer. Now why is that?”

  “Hold me, Jack.”

  “Like hell I will.” He pulled away from her and saw that what he h
ad mistaken for arrogance was a stoical acceptance of despair. Her sad eyes stared straight at him, and her face was set in resignation.

  “‘ I love you, Kate,’” she said. “‘ Get me clear of this and I’ll marry you and we’ll live happily ever after.’”

  Brotherhood took her cigarette and drew on it.

  “‘ I’ll dump Mary. We’ll go and live abroad. France. Morocco. Who cares?’ Phone calls from the other end of the earth. ‘I rang to say I love you.’ Flowers, saying ‘I love you.’ Cards. Little notes folded into things, shoved under the door, personal for my eyes only in top-secret envelopes. ‘I’ve lived too long with the what-ifs. I want action, Kate. You’re my escape-line. Help me. I love you. M.’”

  Once again, Brotherhood waited.

  “‘ I love you,’” she repeated. “He kept saying it. Like a ritual he was trying to believe in. ‘I love you.’ I suppose he thought if he said it to enough people enough times, one day it might be true. It wasn’t. He never loved a woman in his life. We were enemy, all of us. Touch me, Jack!”

  To his surprise he felt a wave of kinship overcome him. He drew her to him and held her tightly to his chest.

  “Is Bo wise to any of this?” he said.

  He could feel the sweat collecting on his back. He could smell Pym’s nearness in the crevices of her body. She rolled her head against him but he gently shook her, making her say it aloud: Bo knows nothing. No, Jack. Bo’s got no idea.

  “Magnus wasn’t interested till he was calling the whole game,” she said. “He could have had me any time. That wasn’t enough for him. ‘Wait for me, Kate. I’m going to cut the cable and be free. Kate, it’s me, where are you?’ I’m here, you idiot, or I wouldn’t be answering the phone, would I? . . . He doesn’t have affairs. He has lives. We’re on separate planets for him. Places he can call while he floats through space. You know his favourite photograph of me?”

  “I don’t think I do, Kate,” Brotherhood said.

  “I’m naked on a beach in Normandy. We’d stolen the weekend. I’ve got my back to him, I’m walking into the sea. I didn’t even know he had a camera.”