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A Perfect Spy
John le Carré
A Perfect Spy 44
Brotherhood heard Sir Kenneth’s clock chime twelve. He was jotting fast. Concentric fantasies, he repeated to himself, defining the truth at the centre. He had reached the passage he was waiting for.
“. . . said he was in secret work. That didn’t surprise me, who isn’t these days? . . . Said there was this Englishman he worked for, called him the Brotherhood. I don’t think I listened to all of it, to be honest. There was the Brotherhood and there was this other chap. Said he was working for both of ’em. They were like two parents for him. Kept him going. I said bully for you, if they keep you going, you stick to them. Said he had to write this book about them, put the record right. What record? God knows. He’d write to the Brotherhood, write to the other chap, then he’d take himself off to a secret place and do his number.” Brotherhood heard his own patient murmur in the background. “. . . Well maybe I got that one a bit wrong then. Maybe he was going to hunker down in his secret place first and write to them from there. I wasn’t listening to all of it. Drunks bore me. I’m one myself.”
Prompt from Brotherhood.
Renewed prompt from Brotherhood.
Sir Kenneth indistinct: “Said he was his runner.”
“Who was whose runner?”
“Pym was t’other chap’s runner. Not the Brotherhood’s. The other fellow’s. Said he’d crippled him somehow. Pissed, I told you.”
Brotherhood again, riding him a little harder: “. . . name for this person?”
“Don’t think so. Don’t think it stuck. Sorry. No, it didn’t.”
“And the secret place? Where was that?”
“Didn’t say. His business.”
Brotherhood let the tape continue. Avalanche as Sefton Boyd lights himself a cigarette. Cannon-blast of the front door being slammed open and shut again, signalling Steggie’s petulant return.
Brotherhood and Sir Kenneth are on the landing.
“What’s that, old boy?” Sir Kenneth very loud.
“I said, so where do you think he might be?” says Brotherhood.
“Upstairs, old boy. That’s what you said.” In his memory’s eye, Brotherhood sees Sir Kenneth’s pouch face approach close to his own, smiling its downward twist. “Get a warrant, maybe you can have a look. Maybe you can’t. Don’t know. Have to see.”
Brotherhood heard his own heels clumping down Sir Kenneth’s stairs. He heard himself reach the hall and Steggie’s lighter footsteps mingle with his own. He heard Steggie’s pointed “Good night” and the clatter of bolts as he unlocks the door for him. Followed by Steggie’s muffled shriek as Brotherhood hauls him out of the house, one hand over his mouth, the other at the back of his head. Then the thump as he taps Steggie’s head against the plaster pillar of Sir Kenneth’s gracious porch, and his own voice, very near to Steggie’s ear.
“Have they done this before to you, have they? Put you up against a wall?”
A whimper for an answer.
“Who else is living in the house, son?”
“Who was on the top floor this evening, back and forth in front of the window?”
“It’s my room!”
“I thought you two would share the bridal chamber.”
“I’ve still got my own room, haven’t I? I’m entitled to my privacy, same as he is.”
“Nobody else in the house at all?”
“Not all week?”
“No. I told you. Hey, stop!”
“What’s the matter?” says Brotherhood, already halfway down the path.
“I haven’t got my key. How do I get back in?”
A clang as Brotherhood slams the gate.
He phoned Kate. No answer.
He phoned his wife. No answer.
He phoned Paddington and wrote down the times and places along the route of the night sleeper from Paddington to Penzance via Reading.
For an hour he tried to sleep, then returned to his desk, pulled Langley’s folder towards him and stared yet again at the eaten-out features of Herr Petz-Hampel-Zaworski, Pym’s presumed controller, lately of Corfu. “. . . Real name unknown . . . query member Czech archaeological team visiting Egypt 1961 (Petz) . . . query 1966 att. Czech Military Mission East Berlin (Hampel). . . height 6 ft., stoops, limps slightly with left leg . . .”
“There was the Brotherhood and there was this other chap,” Sefton Boyd had said. “They were like two parents for him. Said he was his runner.”
“You brought it on yourselves,” he heard Belinda say. “You invented him.”
He continued to stare at the photograph. The down-turned eye-lids. The down-turned moustache. The twinkly eyes. The hidden Slav smile. Who the devil are you? Why do I recognise you when I have never set eyes on you?
Grant Lederer had never stood so high in the world, or felt so rounded as a human being. Justice lives! he assured himself in the perfect peacefulness of his triumph. My masters are worthy of their authority. A noble service has tried me to the limit and found me worthy of my hire. All round him the sealed operations room on the sixth floor of the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square was filling up with people he had not known existed. They came from the remote corners of London Station, yet each as he entered appeared to bestow a glance of kinship on him. As fine a looking bunch of Americans as you’d wish to meet, he thought. The Agency really knows how to pick us these days. They had hardly settled before Wexler began speaking.
“Time to wrap this thing up,” he said grimly as the door was locked. “Meet Gary, everybody. Gary’s head of SISURP. He’s here to report an important breakthrough on Pym and discuss action.”
SISURP, Lederer had recently learned, was the acronym for Surveillance Intelligence, Southern Europe. Gary was your typical Kentuckian—tall, spare and amusing. Lederer already admired him intensely. An aide sat at his elbow with a heap of papers, but Gary did not refer to them. Our quarry, he said baldly, was Petz-Hampel-Zaworski, now known to the indoctrinated familiarly as PHZ. A SISURP team picked him up Tuesday 10:12 a.m. emerging from the Czech Embassy in Vienna. Lederer listened enthralled as Gary noted each tiny detail of PHZ’s day. Where PHZ took his coffee. Where PHZ took his leaks. The bookshops where PHZ browsed. Who PHZ lunched with. Where. What he ate. PHZ’s limp. His ready smile. His charm, particularly with women. His cigars, where he lit them, bought them. PHZ’s ease of association, his apparent unawareness that he was being observed by a field force eighteen strong. The two occasions when “wittingly or otherwise” PHZ placed himself in the vicinity of Mrs. Mary Pym. On one of these occasions, said Gary, eye contact was confirmed. On the other, surveillance was inhibited by the presence of a British pair believed to be the escorts of Mrs. Pym. And thence at last to the crowning moment of the operation and the high point of Grant Lederer’s brilliant marriage and dazzling career so far, when at 8 a.m. local time today three members of Gary’s team found themselves stuck in the rear pews of the English church in Vienna, while twelve more were staked out around the outside of it—mobile units, necessarily, because this was diplomatic-land where loiterers were not well regarded—and PHZ and Mary Pym were placed either side of the aisle. Lederer’s cue had arrived. Gary was looking expectantly towards him.
“Grant, I guess you should take over here. We’re a little out of our depth,” he said, with pleasing gruffness.
As heads at the table shifted in curiosity, Lederer felt the warmth of their interest bear him to new heights. He began speaking at once. Modestly.
“Well hell, I mean I see this whole thing as Bee’s achievement and not mine. Bee is Mrs. Lederer,” he explained to an older man across the table from him, then realised too late that it was Carver, Head of London Station, never a Lederer fan. “She’s Presbyterian. Her parents were Presbyterian too. Mrs. Lederer latterly has been able to reconcile her spirituality with organised religion and has been attending regularly at the Christchurch Anglican church, Vienna, kno
wn as the English church, and frankly just the sexiest little church you ever saw. Right, Gary? Cherubs, angels—more like a religious boudoir than a regular church at all. You know, Mick, if anybody’s name is going up in lights at Langley over this, I guess it should be Bee’s,” he added, still somehow not quite able to get to his story.
The rest came out faster. It was Bee after all and not the surveillance team who had managed to slide out into the aisle after PHZ and stand in line right behind him as he and Mary queued for the Sacrament. It was Bee who from a distance of maybe five feet had watched as PHZ leaned forward and whispered real words into Mary’s ear, and watched again as Mary first leaned back to catch them, then went ahead with her devotions as if nothing in the world had happened.
“So I mean it was actually my wife, my helpmate throughout all of this long operation, who witnessed the spoken contact.” He shook his head in marvel. “And it was Bee again who, the first moment the service ended, raced back to our apartment to phone me right here at the Embassy and describe the whole amazing occurrence, using the domestic codewords the two of us had hashed out together for just such a contingency. And I mean Bee did not even know that an Agency surveillance team was present in that church at all. She just went because Mary was going, as much as anything. Yet she scooped SISURP single-handed by like six hours, more. Harry,” said Lederer a little breathlessly, finding Wexler as he put the finishing touch to his narrative, “my only regret is that Mrs. Lederer never learned to lip-read.”
Lederer had not expected applause. It was in the nature of the community he had joined that there should be none. The pregnant silence struck him as a more fitting tribute.
Artelli the cryptographer was the first to break it. “Here at the Embassy,” he repeated, not quite as a question.
“Pardon me?” said Lederer.
“Your wife called you here at the Embassy? From Vienna? Directly after the happening in the church? On the open phone from your apartment?”
“Yes, sir, and I took her news straight upstairs to Mr. Wexler. He had it on his desk by nine a.m.”
“Nine-thirty,” Wexler said.
“And what were these domestic codewords that she used, please?” said Artelli while he wrote.
Lederer was happy to explain: “Well really what we did in fact was borrow the names of Bee’s aunts and uncles. We have always considered there was a similarity in the psychological profiles of Mary Pym and Bee’s Aunt Edie. So we kind of worked it up from there. ‘You know what Aunt Edie did in church today?’ . . . Bee is very subtle.”
“Thanks,” said Artelli.
Next Carver spoke, and his question did not seem entirely friendly.
“You mean your wife is conscious to this operation, Grant? I thought the Pym case was strictly a no-wives thing. Harry, didn’t we make a ruling on that a little while back?”
“Strictly it is no wives,” Lederer agreed handsomely. “However since Mrs. Lederer has effectively been out in the field with me on this one it would be somewhat illusory to suppose she would not be aware of the general level of suspicion in relation to the Pyms. Well, to Magnus anyway. And I may add that it was always Bee’s contention that somewhere at the bottom of this heap we are going to find Mary playing a very deep and laid-back rôle. Mary is a rôle-player.”
Carver again. “Is Mrs. Lederer also conscious to PHZ? He’s a pretty hot addition to the cast, Grant. He could be a big fish. But she’s in on that, huh?”
There was nothing Lederer could do to stop the colour rushing to his face, or his voice developing its strident edge: “Mrs. Lederer had an instinct regarding that encounter and she acted on it. You want to censure her for that, Carver, you censure me first, okay?”
Artelli again, with his damned French drawl. “What was your domestic codename for PHZ?”
“Uncle Bobby,” Lederer snapped.
“But then Bobby is more than instinct, Grant,” Carver objected. “Bobby is an agreed thing between you. How could you have agreed Bobby if you hadn’t given her the story on Petz-Hampel-Zaworski?”
Wexler had taken back the meeting. “Okay, okay, okay,” he growled unhappily. “Cope with that later. Meantime what do we do? SISURP splits and stays with the both of them. PHZ and Mary. That right, Gary? Wherever they go.”
“I’m calling for fresh horses right now,” said Gary. “Should have two full teams by this time tomorrow.”
“Next question, what the hell do we tell the Brits and when and how?” said Wexler.
“Looks like we told them already,” said Artelli, with a lazy glance at Lederer. “That’s unless the Brits have given up tapping U.S. Embassy telephone lines these days, which I tend to doubt.”
Justice lives, but justice, as Grant Lederer discovered before morning, also dies. His health was found to have suffered a sudden lapse, his appointment in Vienna terminated for him in his absence. His wife, far from receiving the commendations Lederer dreamed of, was ordered to follow him back to Langley, Virginia, at once.
“Lederer overheats and overrelates,” wrote one of the Agency’s ever-expanding team of house psychiatrists. “He requires a less hysterical environment.”
The prescribed calm was eventually found for him in Statistics, and it drove him nearly mad.
The green cabinet stood in the centre of Pym’s room like a discarded fieldpiece that had once been its regiment’s pride. Its chrome was peeling from the handles, a heavy boot or fall had stove in one corner, so that the slightest touch could set it trembling and worrying. The chips had rusted into sores, the rust had spread to the screw holes and underneath the paint-work, causing it to lift in humiliating pimples. Pym walked round it with the awe and loathing of a primitive. It has arrived from Heaven. It is destined to return there. I should have put it in the incinerator with him so that he can show it to his Maker as he intended. Four dense drawers of innocence, the Gospel according to Saint Rick.
He gave the cabinet a push and heard a sagging sound from inside as the files slipped obediently to his command.
I should write you witches along his path, Tom. The full moon should be turning red and the owl doing whatever the owl did that was so unnatural when foul murder was afoot. But Pym is deaf and blind to them. He is Second Lieutenant Magnus Pym riding in his private train across occupied Austria, entering by way of that very border town where, long ago, in the less mature existence of a different Pym, E. Weber’s fictitious crock of gold had supposedly awaited Mr. Lapadi’s collection. He is a Roman conqueror on his way to taking up his first appointment. He is oven-fired against human frailty and his own destiny, as you may observe from the scowls of military abstinence he bestows upon the bare breasts of the Barbarian peasant women harvesting corn in the sunlit fields. His preparation has passed with the ease of an English Sunday, not that Pym ever asked for ease. The privileged English assets of good manners and bad learning have never been more to his advantage. Even his murky political affiliations at Oxford have turned out to be a blessing. “If the Pongos ask you whether you are now or ever have been a member of the clan, look ’em slap in the eye and tell ’em never,” the last of the Michaels advised him, over a sporting lunch beside the swimming-pool at the Lansdowne, as they watched the pure bodies of suburban girls wriggle through the disinfected water.
“Pongos?” said Pym, mystified.
“Licentious soldiery, old boy. The War Office. Wood from here up. The Firm is fixing your clearance direct. Tell them to mind their damn business.”
“Thanks terribly,” said Pym.
The same evening, glowing from the best of nine games of squash, Pym was led to the presence of a Very Senior Member of the service, in a plain, forgettable office not far from Rick’s newest Reichskanzlei. Was this the Colonel Gaunt who had first approached him? He’s higher, Pym was told. Don’t ask.
“We want to thank you,” said the Senior Member.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Pym.
“It’s a filthy job, mixing wi
th those people. Somebody has to do it.”
“Oh, it’s not that bad, sir.”
“Look here. We’re leaving your name on the books. I can’t promise you anything, we’ve got a selection board these days. Besides, you belong to those chaps across the park and we make it a rule not to fish in one another’s preserves. All the same if you ever do decide that protecting your country at home is more to your liking than playing Mata Hari abroad, let us know.”
“I will, sir. Thank you,” said Pym.
The Very Senior Member was crisp and brown and ostentatiously nondescript like one of his own envelopes. He had the testy manners of a country solicitor, which was what he had been before answering the Great Call. Leaning across his desk he pulled a puzzled smile. “Don’t tell me if you don’t want. How ever did you get mixed up with that crowd in the first place?”
“No, no, no. Our sister service.”
“In Bern, sir. I was a student there.”
“In Switzerland,” said the great man, consulting a mental map.
“My wife and I went skiing near Bern once. Little place called Mürren. The British run it so there aren’t any cars. We rather liked it. What did you do for them?”
“Much the same as for you, sir, really. It was just a bit more dangerous.”
“In what way?”
“You don’t feel you have the protection out there. It’s eyeball to eyeball, I suppose.”
“Seemed such a peaceful spot to me. Well good luck to you, Pym. Look out for those chaps. They’re good but they’re slippery. We’re good but we’ve got a bit of honour left. That’s the difference.”
“He’s brilliant,” Pym told his guide. “He pretends to be completely ordinary but he sees right into you.”
His elation had not left him when a few days later he presented himself, suitcase in hand, at the guardroom of his basic-training regiment where for two months he reaped the plentiful rewards of his upbringing. While Welsh miners and Glaswegian cut-throats wept unashamedly for their mothers, went absent without leave and were carted off to a place of punishment, Pym slept soundly and wept for no one. Long before reveille had dragged his comrades smoking and cursing from their beds, he had polished his boots and belt-brasses and cap badge, made his bed and dressed his bedside locker, and was all ready, should anybody ask it of him, to take a cold shower, dress again, and read the first of the Day Hours with Mr. Willow before a disgusting breakfast. On the parade ground and the football ground he excelled. He neither took fright at being shouted at nor expected logic of authority.