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Actions & Adventure
History & Fiction
Thrillers & Crime
Romance & Love
Mystery & Detective
Time News Roman
A Perfect Spy
John le Carré
A Perfect Spy 31
Alone, Belinda was much stronger than when protected by her mate. Her face, though dazed, had relaxed. Her gaze had fixed itself steadfastly on a spot a few feet from her eyes, as if to suggest that although she might not see as far as others, her faith in what she saw burned twice as bright. They sat at a round table in the window bay and the Venetian blind sliced the Social Democratic Party into strips.
“His father’s dead,” Brotherhood said.
“I know. I read. Nigel told me. He asked me how it might have affected Magnus. I suppose that was a trick.”
Brotherhood took a moment to answer this. “Not entirely,” he said. “No. Not a complete trick, Belinda. I think they’re reasoning that it could have turned his head a little.”
“Magnus always wanted me to save him from Rick. I did my best. I tried to explain that to Nigel.”
“How save him, Belinda?”
“Hide him. Answer the phone for him. Say he was abroad when he wasn’t. I sometimes think that’s why Magnus joined the Firm. As a hiding place. Just as he married me because he was scared to risk it with Jemima.”
“Who’s Jemima?” said Brotherhood, playing ignorant.
“She was a close friend of mine at school.” She scowled. “Too close.” The scowl softened and became melancholy. “Poor Rick. I only ever saw him once. That was at our wedding. He turned up uninvited in the middle of the reception. I never saw Magnus look happier. Otherwise he was just a voice on the telephone. He had a nice voice.”
“Magnus have any other hiding places in those days?”
“You mean women, don’t you? You can say it if you want. I don’t mind any more.”
“Just somewhere he might have hidden. That’s all. Little cottage somewhere. An old buddy. Where would he go, Belinda? Who’d have him?”
Her hands, now that she had unlocked them, were elegant and expressive. “He’d have gone anywhere. He was a new man every day. He’d come home one person, I’d try to match him. In the morning he’d be someone else. Do you think he did it, Jack?”
“You always answer one question with another. I’d forgotten. Magnus had the same trick.” He waited. “You could try Sef,” she said. “Sef was always loyal.”
“Kenneth Sefton Boyd. Jemima’s brother. ‘Sef’s too rich for my blood,’ Magnus used to say. That meant they were equals.”
“Could Magnus have gone to him?”
“If it was bad enough.”
“Could he have gone to Jemima?”
She shook her head.
“I understand she’s gone off men these days,” she said and blushed again. “She’s not predictable. She never was.”
“Ever heard of anyone called Wentworth?”
She shook her head, still thinking of something different. “Since my time,” she said.
“My time ended with Mary. If there’s a Poppy, that’s Mary’s bad luck.”
“When did you last hear from him, Belinda?”
“That’s what Nigel asked me.”
“What did you say to Nigel?”
“I said there was no reason to hear from him after we divorced. We’d been married six years. There were no children. It was a mistake. Why relive it?”
“Was that the truth?”
“No. I lied.”
“What were you concealing?”
“He rang. Magnus did.”
“Monday night. Paul was out, thank God.” She paused, listening for the sound of Paul’s typewriter, which was tapping reassuringly from upstairs. “He sounded strange. I thought he was drunk. It was late.”
“It must have been around eleven. Lucy was still doing her homework. I won’t let her work after eleven as a rule but she was doing a French mock O-level. He was in a phone box.”
“He didn’t say. He just said, ‘Rick’s dead. I wish we’d had a child.’”
“He said he’d always hated himself for marrying me. Now he was reconciled. He understood himself. And he loved me for trying so hard. Thanks.”
“‘ Thanks. Thanks for everything. And please forgive the bad parts.’ Then he rang off.”
“Did you tell Nigel this?”
“Why do you keep asking me that? I didn’t think it was Nigel’s business. I didn’t want to say he was being drunk and sentimental on the phone late at night just at the time when they were considering him for promotion. Serves him right for deceiving me.”
“What else did Nigel ask you?”
“Just character stuff. Had I ever had any reason to suppose Magnus might have had Communist sympathies. I said Oxford. Nigel said they knew about that. I said I didn’t think university politics meant much anyway. Nigel agreed. Had he ever been erratic in any way? Unstable—alcoholic—depressive? I said no again. I didn’t reckon one drunken phone call constituted drunkenness, but if it did I wasn’t going to tell four of Magnus’s colleagues about it. I felt protective of him.”
“They ought to have known you better, Belinda,” said Brotherhood. “Would you have given him the job yourself, by the way?”
“What job? You said there wasn’t one.” She was being sharp with him, belatedly suspecting him too of duplicity.
“I meant suppose there had been a job. A high-level, responsible job. Would you give it to him?”
She smiled. Very prettily. “I did, didn’t I? I married him.”
“You’re wiser now. Would you give it to him today?”
She was biting her forefinger, frowning angrily. She could change moods in moments. Brotherhood waited but nothing came so he asked her another question: “Did they ask you about his time in Graz, by any chance?”
“Graz? You mean his army time? Good heavens, they didn’t go back that far.”
Brotherhood shook his head as if to say he would never be equal to the wicked ways of the world. “Graz is where they’re trying to say it all started,” he said. “They’ve got some grand theory he fell among thieves while he was doing his National Service there. What do you make of that?”
“They’re absurd,” she said.
“Why are you so sure?”
“He was happy there. When he came back to England he was a new man. ‘I’m complete,’ he kept saying. ‘I’ve done it, Bel. I’ve got my other half together.’ He was proud he’d done such good work.”
“Did he describe the work?”
“He couldn’t. It was too secret and too dangerous. He just said I would be proud of him if I knew.”
“Did he tell you the name of any of the operations he was mixed up in?”
“Did he tell you the names of any of his Joes?”
“Don’t be absurd. He wouldn’t do that.”
“Did he mention his C.O.?”
“He said he was brilliant. Everyone was brilliant for Magnus when they were new.”
“If I said ‘Greensleeves’ to you in a loud voice, would that ring any bells?”
“It would mean English traditional music.”
“Ever hear of a girl called Sabina?”
She shook her head. “He told me I was his first,” she said.
“Did you believe him?”
“It’s hard to tell when it’s the first for you too.”
With Belinda, he remembered, the quiet was always good. If her charges into the lists had something comic about them, there was always dignity to the calm between.
“So Nigel and his friends went away happy,” he suggested. “Did you?”
Her face against the window was in silhouette. He waited for it to lift or turn to him, but it didn’t.
“Where would you look for him?” he said. “If you were me?”
Still she did not move or speak.
r /> “Some place by the sea somewhere? He had these fantasies, you know. He chopped them up and gave a bit to each person. Did he ever give a version to you? Scotland? Canada? The migration of the reindeer? Some kind lady who’d take him in? I need to know, Belinda. I really do.”
“I won’t talk to you any more, Jack. Paul’s right. I don’t have to.”
“Not whatever he’s done? Not to save him perhaps?”
“I don’t trust you. Specially when you’re being nice. You invented him, Jack. He’d have done whatever you told him. Who to be. Who to marry. Who to divorce. If he’s done wrong it’s as much your fault as his. It was easy to get rid of me—he just gave me the latch key and went to a lawyer. How was he supposed to get rid of you?”
Brotherhood moved towards the door.
“If you find him, tell him not to ring again. And Jack?” Brotherhood paused. Her face was soft again, and hopeful. “Did he write that book he was always on about?”
“Which book was that?”
“The great autobiographical novel that was going to change the world.”
“Should he have done?”
“‘ One day I’m going to lock myself away and tell the truth.’ ‘Why do you have to lock yourself away? Tell it now,’ I said. He didn’t seem to think he could. I’m not going to let Lucy marry early. Nor’s Paul. We’re going to put her on the pill and let her have affairs.”
“Lock himself away where, Belinda?”
The light once more faded from her face. “You brought it on yourselves, Jack. All of you. He’d have been all right if he’d never met people like you.”
Wait, Grant Lederer told himself. They all hate you. You hate most of them. Be a clever boy and wait your turn. Ten men sat in a room inside a room. In the false walls, false windows looked onto plastic flowers. From places like this, thought Lederer, America lost her wars against the little brown men in black pyjamas. From places like this, he thought—from smoked-glass rooms, cut off from humankind—America will lose all her wars except the last. A few yards beyond the walls lay the placid diplomatic backwaters of St. John’s Wood. But here inside they could have been in Langley or Saigon.
“Harry, with the greatest possible respect,” Mountjoy of the Cabinet Office piped with very little respect at all. “These early indicators of yours could perfectly easily have been dumped on us by an unscrupulous opposition, as some of us have been saying all along. Is it really fair to trot them out yet again? I thought we put all this stuff to bed back in August.”
Wexler stared at the spectacles he was holding in both hands. They are too heavy for him, thought Lederer. He sees too clearly through them. Wexler lowered them to the table and scratched his veteran’s crew cut with his stubby fingertips. What’s holding you up? Lederer demanded of him silently. Are you translating English into English? Are you paralysed by jet-lag after flying Concorde all the way from Washington? Or are you in awe of these English gentlemen who never tire of telling us how they set up our service in the first place and generously invited us to sup at their high table? You’re a top man of the best intelligence agency in the world, for Christ’s sake. You’re my boss. Why don’t you stand up and be counted? As if in response to Lederer’s silent pleading, Wexler’s voice started functioning again with all the animation of a machine that speaks your weight.
“Gentlemen,” Wexler resumed—except that he said “junnlemen.” Reload, aim again, take your time, thought Lederer. “Our position, Sir Eric,” Wexler resumed, with something unpleasantly close to a bow in the direction of Mountjoy’s knighthood, “that is—the ah Agency position overall on this thing—at this important meeting, and at this moment in time—is that we have here an accumulation of indicators from a wide range of sources on the one hand, and new data on the other which we consider pretty much conclusive in respect of our unease.” He moistened his lips. So would I, thought Lederer. If I’d spoken that mouthful, I’d spit at least. “It looks to us therefore that the ah logistics here require us to go back over the ah course a little distance and—when we’ve done that—to ah slot the new stuff in where we can all take a good look at it in light of what has—ah latterly gone before.” He turned to Brammel and his lined but innocent face broke into an apologetic smile. “You want to do it different in any way, Bo, why don’t you just say so and see if we can accommodate you?”
“My dear chap, you must do exactly whatever makes you feel most comfortable,” said Brammel hospitably, which was what he had been saying to everybody all his life. So Wexler went back to his brief, first centering the folder before him on the table then tilting it cautiously to the right, as if landing it on one wingtip. And Grant Lederer III, who has the impression that the inside surfaces of his skin have been afflicted by an itchy rash, tries to lower his pulse rate and his blood heat and believe in the high level of this conference. Somewhere, he argues to himself, there is worth and secrecy and an all-knowing intelligence service. The only trouble is, it’s in Heaven.
The British had fielded their usual intractable, over-fluent team. Hobsbawn, seconded from the Security Service, Mountjoy from the Cabinet Office and Dorney from the Foreign Office all lolled in varying positions of disbelief or outright contempt. Only the placement had changed, Lederer noticed: whereas Jack Brotherhood had hitherto been placed symbolically at Brammel’s side, today that position had gone to Brammel’s bagman, Nigel, and Brotherhood had been promoted to head of the table, where he presided like an old grey bird glowering down on his prey. On the American side of the table they were a mere four. How typical that in our Special Relationship the Brits should outnumber the Americans, thought Lederer. In the field the Agency outguns these bastards by about ninety to one. In here we’re a persecuted minority. To Lederer’s right, Harry Wexler, having cleared his throat not before time, had at last begun wrestling with the intricacies of what he insisted on calling the ongoing ah situation. To Lederer’s left lounged Mick Carver, Head of the London Station, a spoilt Bostonian millionaire considered brilliant on no evidence Lederer was aware of. Below him the egregious Artelli, a distraught mathematician from Signals Intelligence, looked as though he had been hauled from Langley by his hair. And, between them, here sit I, Grant Lederer III, unlovable even to myself, the pushy law boy from South Bend, Indiana, whose tireless efforts in the interest of his own promotion have dragged everyone together this one more time to prove what could have been proved six months ago: namely, that computers do not fabricate intelligence, do not sidle over to the opposition in return for favours, do not voluntarily compose slanders against men in high standing in the British service. They tell the disgraceful truth without regard to charm, race or tradition and they tell it to Grant Lederer III, who is busy making himself as unpopular as possible.
As Lederer listened impotently to Wexler’s floundering, he decided that it was himself not Wexler who was the alien. Here is the great Harry E. Wexler, he reasoned, who in Langley sits at the right hand of God. Who has been featured in Time as America’s Legendary Adventurer. Who played a star part in the Bay of Pigs and fathered some of the finest intelligence fuck-ups of the Vietnam War. Who has destabilised more bankrupt economies in Central America than are dreamed of, and conspired with the greatest in the land from the heads of the Mafia downwards. And here is me, an ambitious jerk. And what am I thinking? I am thinking that a man who cannot speak clearly cannot think clearly. I am thinking that selfexpression is the companion to logic and that Harry E. Wexler is by this criterion circumcised from the neck up, even if he does hold my precious future in his hands.
To Lederer’s relief, Wexler’s voice suddenly acquired new confidence. This was because he was reading directly from Lederer’s brief. “In March ’81 a reliably assessed defector reported that. . .” Cover name Dumbo, Lederer remembered automatically, himself becoming the computer: resettled Paris with a hooker supplied by Resources Section. A year later, it was the hooker who defected. “In May ’81 Signals Intelligence reported that . . .” Lederer glanced at A
rtelli, hoping to catch his eye, but Artelli was hearing signals of his own. “In March again of ’82 a source inside Polish Intelligence while on a liaison visit to Moscow was advised that . . .” Cover name Mustapha, Lederer recalled with a fastidious shiver: died of over-enthusiasm while assisting Polish security in its enquiries. With a fumble and a near fall the great Wexler delivered his first punchline of the morning and managed not to fluff it. “And the burden of these indicators, junnlemen, is in every case the same,” he announced, “namely that the entire Balkan effort of an unnamed Western intelligence service is being orchestrated by Czech Intelligence in Prague, and that the leak is occurring under the noses of the Anglo-American intelligence fraternity in Washington.” Nobody leaps in the air however. Colonel Carruthers does not remove his monocle to exclaim “By God, the fiendish cunning!” The sensational force of Wexler’s revelation is six months old. The sedge is withered from the case and no spooks sing.
Lederer decided to listen instead to what Wexler does not say. Nothing about my interrupted tennis training, for example. Nothing about my imperilled marriage, my truncated sex-life, my total noncontribution as a father, starting the morning they hauled me off all other duties and assigned me to the great Wexler as his superslave for twenty-five hours a day. “You have a lawyer’s training, you have Czech language and Czech expertise,” Personnel had told him in as many words. “More appropriately you have a thoroughly sleazy mind. Apply it, Lederer. We expect terrible things of you.” Nothing about the night hours in front of my computer while I typed my damned fingers off, feeding in acres of disconnected data. Why did I do it? What got into me? Mom, I just felt my talent striding out inside of me, so I got on its back and rode away to my destiny. Names and records of all Western intelligence officers past or present in Washington with access to the Czech target, whether central or peripheral consumers: Lederer cans the whole ridiculous assembly in four days cold. Names of all their contacts, details of their travel movements, behaviour patterns, sexual and recreational appetites: Lederer nets them all in a manic Friday-to-Monday while Bee does the praying for both of us. Names of all Czech couriers, officials, legal and illegal travellers passing in and out of the United States, plus separately entered personal descriptions to counteract false passports. Dates and ostensible purpose of such journeys, frequency and duration of stay. Lederer delivers them bound and gagged in three short days and nights while Bee convinces herself he is making it with Maisie Morse from Collation, who has pot smoke coming out of her ears.