A Perfect Spy

A Perfect Spy

A Perfect Spy 32

  Still disdaining these and the many other noble sacrifices of his subordinate, Wexler has embarked on a disastrous paragraph about “incorporating our general awareness of the Czechoslovak methodology in regard to the servicing of and the ah communication with their agents in the field.” An impressed silence follows while the meeting mentally paraphrases.

  “Ah, you mean tradecraft, Harry,” says Bo Brammel, who never could resist a quip if he thought it would adorn his reputation, and little Nigel next to him restrains his laughter by patting down his hair.

  “Well, yes, sir, I guess that is what I do mean,” Wexler confesses, and Lederer to his surprise feels a yawn of nervous excitement pass over him as the tousled Artelli takes the stage.

  Artelli uses no notes and has a mathematician’s frugality with words. Despite his name, he speaks with a slight French accent that he disguises beneath a Bronx drawl. “As the indicators continued to multiply,” he says, “my section was ordered to make a reappraisal of clandestine radio transmissions beamed from the roof of the Czech Embassy in Washington as well as from certain other identified Czech facilities in the United States, throughout the years ’81 and ’82, notably their consulate in San Francisco. Our people reconsidered skip distances, frequency variations and probable reception zones. They backtracked over all intercepts of that period though we had not been able to break them at the time of their original transmission. They prepared a schedule of such transmissions so that they could be matched against the movements of eligible suspects.”

  “Hold on a minute, will you?”

  Little Nigel’s head snaps round like a weathervane in a gale. Even Brammel shows distinct signs of human interest. From his exile at the end of the table, Jack Brotherhood is pointing a .45-calibre forefinger straight at Artelli’s navel. And it is symptomatic of the many paradoxes of Lederer’s life that of all the people in the room, Brotherhood is the one whom he would most wish to serve, if ever he had the opportunity, even though—or perhaps because—his occasional efforts to ingratiate himself with his adopted hero have met with iron rebuff.

  “Look here, Artelli,” Brotherhood says. “You people have made rather a lot out of the point that every time Pym left the precincts of Washington, whether on leave or in order to visit another town, a particular series of coded transmissions from the Czech Embassy was discontinued. I suspect you are going to make that point again now.”

  “With embellishments, yes, I am,” says Artelli pleasantly enough.

  Brotherhood’s forefinger remains trained on its mark. Artelli keeps his hands on the table. “The assumption being that if Pym was out of range of their Washington transmitter, the Czechs wouldn’t bother to talk to him?” Brotherhood suggests.

  “This is correct.”

  “Then every time he came back to the capital they’d pop up again. ‘Hullo it’s you and welcome home.’ Correct?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Well turn it round for a moment, will you? If you were framing a man, isn’t that precisely what you would do too?”

  “Not today,” he says equably. “And not in 1981 or ’82. Ten years ago, maybe. Not in the eighties.”

  “Why not?”

  “I wouldn’t be that dumb. We all know it’s standard intelligence practice to continue transmitting whether or not the party is listening at the other end. It’s my hunch they—” He stops. “Maybe I should leave this one to Mr. Lederer,” he says.

  “No you don’t—you tell it to them yourself,” Wexler orders without looking up.

  Wexler’s terseness is not unexpected. It is a feature of these meetings, known to everybody present, that a curse, if not an outright embargo, hangs over the use of Lederer’s name. Lederer is their Cassandra. Nobody ever asked Cassandra to preside over a meeting on damage limitation.

  Artelli is a chess-player and takes his time. “The communication techniques we were required to observe here were out of fashion even at the time of their use. You get a feel. A smell. A smell of age. A sense of long habituation, one human being to another. Years of it maybe.”

  “Well now that’s very special pleading,” Nigel exclaims, quite angry, and continues to sit bolt upright before keeling towards his master, who appears to be trying to shake his head and nod at the same time. Mountjoy says “Hear, hear.” A couple of Brammel’s supporters’ club are making similar farmyard noises. There is hostility in the air, and it is forming on national lines. Brotherhood says nothing but has coloured. Whether anyone apart from himself has noticed this, Lederer does not know. He has coloured, he has lowered his fist, and for a second he appears to have dropped his guard entirely. Lederer hears him growl, “Fanciful twaddle,” but misses the rest because Artelli has decided to continue.

  “Our more important discovery relates however to the types of code in these transmissions. As soon as we had the notion of an older type of system, we subjected the transmissions to different analytical methods. Like you don’t immediately look for a steam engine inside the hood of a Cadillac. We decided to read the messages on the assumption they were being received by a man or woman in the field who is of a certain generation of training, and who cannot or dare not store modern coding materials. We looked for more elementary keys. We looked in particular for evidence of non-random texts that would serve as base keys for transposition.”

  If anybody here understands what he’s saying, they are not showing it, thinks Lederer.

  “When we did this, we at once began to detect a progression in the structure. Right now it’s still algebra. But it’s there. It’s a logical linguistic progression. Maybe it’s a piece of Shakespeare. Maybe it’s a Hottentot nursery rhyme. But there is a pattern emerging that is based upon the continuous text of some such analogue. And that analogue is in effect the codebook for those transmissions. And we feel—maybe it’s a little mystical—that the analogue is—well, like a bond between the field and base. We see it as having almost a human identity. All we need is one word. Preferably but not necessarily the first. After that it’s only a question of time before we identify the rest of the text. Then we’ll break those messages wide open.”

  “So when will that be?” says Mountjoy. “About 1990, I suppose.”

  “Could be. Could be tonight.”

  Suddenly it becomes apparent that Artelli means more than he is saying. The hypothetical has become the specific. Brotherhood is the first to take him up on his innuendo.

  “So why tonight?” he says. “Why not 1990?”

  “There’s something very peculiar going on with the Czech transmissions overall,” Artelli confesses with a smile. “They’re throwing stuff out at random everywhere. Last night Prague Radio put out a world-wide spook call using some phoney professor who doesn’t exist. Like a cry for help to somebody who’s only in a position to receive spoken word. Then all around the clock we get Mayday calls—for example a high-speed transmission from your Czech Embassy here in London. For four days now, they’ve been bumping high-speed signals into your mainline BBC transmissions. It’s as if the Czechs had lost a kid in the forest and were shouting out any messages that might conceivably get through to him.”

  Even before Artelli’s echoless voice has died, Brotherhood is speaking. “Of course there’s a London transmission,” he declares vehemently, laying his fist on the table like a challenge. “Of course the Czechs are stirring it. My goodness, how many times do we have to put this to you? For two damned years, there have been Czech transmissions in any part of the globe where Pym sets foot and they do, naturally, coincide with his movements. It’s a radio game. That’s how you play the radio game when you’re framing a man. You persist and you repeat and you wait till the other fellow’s nerve cracks. The Czechs are not fools. Sometimes I think we are.”

  Unbothered, Artelli turns his twisted smile to Lederer as if to say, “See if you can impress them.” At which Grant Lederer allows himself an irrelevant memory of his wife Bee splayed above him in her naked glory, making love to him like all the ange
ls in Heaven.

  “Sir Michael, I have to start at the other end,” Lederer says brightly in a prepared opening, straight at Brammel. “I have to pick up in Vienna just ten days ago, if you don’t mind, sir, and track back from there to Washington.”

  Nobody is looking at him. Start wherever you must, they were saying, and get it over with.

  A different Lederer has broken loose inside him and he greets this version of himself with pleasure. I am the bounty hunter, shuttling between London, Washington and Vienna with Pym perpetually in my sights. I am the Lederer who, as Bee vociferously complained when we were safe from microphones, took Pym into bed with us every night, woke sweating with self-doubt in the fitful hours, woke again in the morning with Pym once more firmly between us: “I’ll get you, boy. I’ll nail you.” The Lederer who for the last twelve months—ever since Pym’s name began to wink at me from the computer screen—has tracked him first as an abstraction, then as a fellow screwball. Has posed with him on spurious committees as his earnest and admiring colleague. Shared jolly drunken picnics with family Pym in the Vienna woods, then rushed back to my desk and set to work with fresh vigour to rip apart what I have just enjoyed. I am the Lederer who too easily attaches himself, then punishes whatever holds him tight; the Lederer who is grateful for every wiry smile and casual pat of encouragement from the great Wexler, my master, only to round on him minutes later, lampooning him, degrading him in my overheated mind, punishing him for being yet another disappointment to me.

  Never mind that I am twenty years Pym’s junior. What I recognise in Pym is what I recognise in myself: a spirit so wayward that, even while I am playing a game of Scrabble with my kids it can swing between the options of suicide, rape and assassination. “He’s one of us, for Christ’s sake!” Lederer wants to scream at the sleeping potentates around him. “Not one of you. One of me. We’re howling psychopaths, the both of us.” But of course Lederer doesn’t scream that or anything else. He talks sanely and wisely about his computer. And about a man named Petz, also known as Hampel and Zaworski, who travels almost as much as Lederer and exactly as much as Pym, but takes more trouble than either of us to conceal his tracks.

  But first, in the same perfectly balanced and dispassionate voice, Lederer describes the situation as it had stood in August, when it was agreed on both sides—Lederer casts a respectful glance towards his hero Brotherhood—that the Pym case should be abandoned and the committee of investigation dissolved.

  “But it wasn’t abandoned, was it?” Brotherhood says, not bothering this time to give warning of his interruption. “You kept a watch going on his house and I don’t mind betting you left a few other meters ticking too.”

  Lederer glances at Wexler. Wexler scowls into his hands to say keep me ah out of this. But Lederer has no intention of fielding that ball, and waits boorishly for Wexler to do it for him.

  “The determination on our side, Jack, was that we should capitalise the ah existing appropriation of resources,” Wexler says reluctantly. “We opted here for a gradual reduction of a—ah phased and undramatic running down.”

  In the silence Brammel gives a sporting smile. “So you mean you did keep the surveillance going? Is that what you’re saying?”

  “On a limited basis only, very low key, very minimal at all levels, Bo.”

  “I rather thought we said we’d all call off our dogs at once, Harry. We certainly kept our half of the bargain, I know.”

  “The ah Agency decided here to honour that agreement in spirit, Bo, but also in light of what was deemed operationally expedient having regard to ah all the known facts and indicators.”

  “Thanks,” says Mountjoy and tosses down his pencil like a man refusing food.

  But this time Wexler bites back and Wexler can do that: “I think you may find your gratitude is well placed, sir,” he snaps, and pushes his knuckles combatively across the tip of his nose.

  The case of Hans Albrecht Petz, Lederer continues, surfaced six months ago in a context that at first sight had nothing whatever to do with the case against Pym. Petz was simply another Czech journalist who had appeared at an East-West conference in Salzburg and been talent-spotted as a new face. An older man, withdrawn but intelligent, passport details supplied. Lederer put his name on watch and signalled Langley for a routine background check. Langley signalled “nothing recorded against” but warned that it was irregular that a man of Petz’s age and profession should not have come to notice. A month later Petz surfaced again in Linz, purportedly to cover an agricultural fair. He didn’t hobnob with other journalists, didn’t try to ingratiate himself, was seen seldom at the tents and contributed nothing. When Lederer had his press readers comb the Czech press for contributions by Petz, the most they came up with was two paragraphs in the Socialist Farmer, signed “H.A.P.,” on the limitations of Western heavy tractors. Then, just when Lederer was disposed to forget about him, Langley came back with a positive identification. Hans Albrecht Petz was identical with one Alexander Hampel, a Czech intelligence officer, who had recently attended a conference of non-aligned journalists in Athens. Do not approach Petz-Hampel without an authorisation. Stand by for more information.

  Hearing himself say “Athens,” Lederer has a feeling that the air pressure has dropped inside the safe room.

  “Athens when?” Brotherhood growls irritably. “How can we follow this stuff without dates?”

  Nigel’s hair has become a sudden and intense worry to him. He is shaping the greying horns above one ear again and again with his immaculate fingertips while he frowns in pain.

  Wexler once more cuts in, and to Lederer’s pleasure he is beginning to shed his shyness and respect. “Athens conference was July 15 to 18, Jack. Hampel was sighted on the first day only. He kept his hotel room the three nights but didn’t sleep in it once. Paid cash. According to Greek records he arrived Athens on July 14 and never left the country. Most likely he went out on a different passport. Looks like he flew to Corfu. Greek flight lists are the usual pig’s breakfast, but looks like he flew to Corfu,” he repeats. “By this time we’re getting very interested in this man.”

  “Aren’t we running ahead?” says Brammel, whose sense of the proprieties is never sharper than in moments of crisis. “I mean damn it, Harry, it’s the same old game. It’s guilt by coincidence. It’s no different to the radio stuff. If we were looking to frame a man, we’d play the same game on them. We’d get some old member of the Firm, a bit tarnished but nothing discreditable, and we’d run him parallel to some poor chap’s movements and wait for the opposition to say ‘W hoo-hoo, our man’s a spy.’ Get them to shoot themselves in the foot. Dead easy. All right. Hampel is trailing Pym around. But what’s to show that Pym’s an active partner?”

  “At that point in time nothing, sir,” Lederer confesses with false humility, stepping in on Wexler’s behalf. “However we had by then established a retrospective link between Pym and Hans Albrecht Petz. At the time of the Salzburg conference, Pym and his wife were attending a music festival there. Petz was staying about two hundred yards from the Pyms’ hotel.”

  “Same story over again,” says Brammel doggedly. “It’s a set-up. Sticks out a mile. Right, Nigel?”

  “It’s awfully tenuous actually,” Nigel says.

  The air pressure again. Maybe the machines kill the oxygen as well as the sound, thinks Lederer. “Do you mind telling us the date when that Athens trace came through?” asks Brotherhood, still on the matter of the timing.

  “Ten days ago, sir,” says Lederer.

  “Bloody slow about advising us, weren’t you?”

  In anger Wexler finds his words faster: “Well now, Jack, we were pretty damn reluctant to present you people prematurely with yet another series of computerised coincidences.” And to Lederer, his whipping boy: “What the hell are you waiting for?”

  It is ten days ago. Lederer is crouched in the communications room in the Station in Vienna. It is night and he has bowed out of two cocktail invitations and one d
inner by pretending a light flu. He has phoned Bee and let her hear the excitement in his voice and he has half a mind to rush back and tell her then and there, because he has always told her everything anyway—and sometimes when trade was poor a little more than everything in order to keep the image going. But he holds on to himself. And though his fingers are frozen in the joints from the sheer tension of it, he keeps on typing. First he calls up the most recent schedules of Pym’s known movements in and out of Vienna and establishes, almost as a matter of course, that he visited both Salzburg and Linz on precisely the same dates as Petz alias Hampel.

  “Linz too?” Brotherhood interrupts sharply.

  “Yes, sir!”

  “You followed him there, I suppose—contrary to our agreement?”

  “No, sir, we did not follow Magnus to Linz. I had my wife Bee call Mary Pym. Bee elicited the information in the course of an innocent conversation, woman to woman, on another matter, Mr. Brotherhood.”

  “He might still not have gone to Linz. Could have told his wife a cover story.”

  Lederer is at pains to concede that this is possible but gently suggests that it hardly matters, sir, in view of Langley’s signal of that same night, which signal he now reads aloud to his assembled Anglo-American lords of intelligence. “It arrived on my desk five minutes after we had the Linz connection, sir. I quote: ‘Petz-Hampel also identical with Jerzy Zaworski, born Carlsbad 1925, West German journalist of Czech origin who made nine legal journeys to United States in 1981, ’82.’”