A Perfect Spy

A Perfect Spy

A Perfect Spy 58

  Belinda went back to London and took an Open University course in journalism, though none in silent killing. Eventually, in her thirty-seventh year, she launched herself upon the hazardous path of fashionable liberal causes, where after encountering several Pauls, she married one, and had an unruly daughter who criticised her for everything she did, which gave Belinda the feeling of being reconciled with her own parents. And Pym and Axel embarked on the next leg of their pilgrims’ voyage. In Berlin, a brighter future awaited them, and a maturer treason.

  c/o Colonel Evelyn Tremaine, D.S.O.

  Pioneer Corps, ret.

  P.O. Box 9077


  To His Excellency Sir Magnus Richard Pym, Decorations The British High Mission


  My dearest Son,

  Merely a note which I hope does not Inconvenience you on your way to the Top, since none should expect gratitude until it is his turn to stand before the Father of us all which I expect to be doing at an early Date. Medical Science being still at a primitive Stage here, it appears notwithstanding that this Cruel summer is likely to be the writer’s Last, despite Sacrifice of alcohol and other Comforts. If you are Sending for Treatment or Funeral be sure to make out cheque and envelope to the Colonel, not Self, as the name of Pym is Persona non Gratis to the natives, and anyway may be Dead.

  Praying to be Spared.

  Rick T. Pym

  P.S. Am advised that 916 Gold may be had in Berlin at knockdown price, the Diplomatic Bag being available to those in High Position seeking opportunity for informal Reward. Perce Loft is at old Address and will assist for ten percent but watch him.

  Berlin. What a garrison of spies, Tom! What a cabinet full of useless, liquid secrets, what a playground for every alchemist, miracle-worker, and rat-piper that ever took up the cloak and turned his face from the unpalatable constraints of political reality! And always at the centre, the great good American heart, bravely drumming out its honourable rhythms in the name of liberty, democracy, and setting the people free.

  In Berlin, the Firm had agents of influence, agents of disruption, subversion, sabotage and disinformation. We even had one or two who supplied us with intelligence, though these were an underprivileged crowd, kept on more out of a traditional regard than any intrinsic professional worth. We had tunnellers and smugglers, listeners and forgers, trainers and recruiters and talent-spotters and couriers and watchers and seducers, assassins and balloonists, lip-readers and disguise artists. But whatever the Brits had, the Americans had more, and whatever the Americans had, the East Germans had five of it and the Russians ten of it. Pym stood before these marvels like a child let loose in a sweet shop, not knowing what to grab first. And Axel, slipping in and out of the city on any number of false passports, padded softly behind him with his basket. In safe flats and dark restaurants, never the same one twice, we ate quiet meals, exchanged our goods and gazed upon each other with the incredulous contentment that passes between mountaineers when they are standing on the peak. But even then, we never forgot the bigger peak that lay ahead of us as we raised our vodka glasses to each other and whispered, “Next year in America!” across the candlelight.

  And the committees, Tom! Berlin was not safe enough to contain them. We assembled in London, in gilded imperial chambers appropriate to players of the world’s game. And such a bold, diverse, brilliantly inventive cross-section of our society’s leaders we were, for these were the new years of England, when the country’s hidden talent would be winkled from its shell and harnessed to the nation’s service. Spies are blinkered! went the cry. Too incestuous. For Berlin we must open the doors to the real world of dons, barristers and journalists. We need bankers and trade unionists and industrialists, chaps who put their money where their mouths are and know what makes the world tick. We need Members of Parliament who can supply a whiff of the hustings and utter stern words about taxpayers’ money!

  And what happened to these wise men, Tom, these shrewd no-nonsense outsiders, watchdogs of the secret war? They rushed in where even the spies might have feared to tread. Too long frustrated by the limitations of the overt world, these brilliant, unfettered minds fell overnight in love with every conspiracy, skulduggery and short cut you can imagine.

  “Do you know what they’re dreaming up now?” Pym raged, pacing the carpet of the service flat in Lowndes Square which Axel had rented for the duration of an Anglo-American conference on unofficial action.

  “Calm yourself, Sir Magnus. Have another drink.”

  “Calm myself? When these lunatics are seriously proposing to plug themselves into the Soviet ground control, talk a MiG over American airspace, blow it out of the sky and, if the pilot by any chance survives, offer him the choice of being put on trial for espionage or staging a public defection in front of the microphones? That’s the defence editor of the Guardian newspaper speaking, for Christ’s sake! He’ll start a war. He wants to. It will give him something to report at last. He was backed by a nephew of the Archbishop of Canterbury and a deputy director general of the BBC.”

  But Axel’s love of England would not be spoiled by Pym’s prissiness. Through the passenger window of a self-drive Ford from the Firm’s carpool, he gazed at Buckingham Palace and softly clapped his hands when he saw the royal pennant fluttering in its arclight.

  “Go back to Berlin, Sir Magnus. One day it will be the Stars and Stripes.”

  His Berlin apartment was in the centre of Unter den Linden, on the top floor of a sprawling Biedermeier house that had miraculously survived the bombing. His bedroom was on the garden side so he didn’t hear their car pull up, but he heard their spongy footsteps on the stairs and had a memory of the Fremdenpolizei stealing up Herr Ollinger’s wooden staircase in the early hours of the morning that policemen like the best. Pym knew it was the end, though of all the ways he had imagined the end he hadn’t expected it to come this way. Fieldmen feel those things and learn to trust them, and Pym was a fieldman twice over. So he knew it was the end and in a quiet way he was neither surprised nor disconcerted. He was out of bed and into the kitchen in a second, because the kitchen was where he had been concealing the rolls of film for his next rendezvous with Axel. By the time they pressed the doorbell he had unrolled six reels and exposed them, and touched off the instant-ignition code pad that he had hidden in an oilskin inside the lavatory cistern. In his clear-eyed acceptance of his fate, he even contemplated something rather more drastic, for Berlin was no Vienna and he kept a pistol in his bedside locker and another in a drawer in the hall. But something about the apologetic way they murmured “Herr Pym, wake up, please,” through the letter box discouraged him, and when he looked through the peephole and saw the amiable shape of Police Lieutenant Dollendorf and the young sergeant at his side, a shaming awareness came over him of the shock he would cause them if he took that path. So they’re pulling a soft entry, he thought as he opened the door: first you spread your wolf-children round the building, then you put in Mr. Nice Guy by the front door.

  Lieutenant Dollendorf, like most people in Berlin, was a client of Jack Brotherhood, and earned a small retainer by looking the other way when agents were being hustled back and forth across the profitable stretch of Wall in his district. He was a cosy Bavarian fellow with all the Bavarian appetites, and his breath smelt permanently of Weisswurst.

  “Forgive us, Herr Pym. Excuse the disturbances, so late,” he began, smiling too broadly. He was in uniform. His gun was still in its holster. “Our Herr Kommandant asks that you come immediately to headquarters on a personal and urgent matter,” he explained, still not touching his gun.

  There was resolution in Dollendorf’s voice as well as embarrassment, however, and his sergeant was peering sharply up and down the stairwell. “The Herr Kommandant assures me that everything can be arranged discreetly, Herr Pym. He wishes at this stage to be delicate. He has made no approach to your superiors,” Dollendorf insisted, as Pym still hesitated. “The Kommandant has high respect for you, Herr P

  “I have to dress.”

  “But quickly, if you are so kind, Herr Pym. The Kommandant would like the matter dealt with before he has to hand it over to the day shift.”

  Pym turned and walked carefully to his bedroom. He waited to hear the policemen following him, or a barked order, but they preferred to remain in the hall, looking at the Cries of London prints, courtesy of the Firm’s accommodation section.

  “May I use your telephone, Herr Pym?”

  “Go ahead.”

  He dressed with the door open, hoping to overhear the conversation. But all he heard was: “Everything in order, Herr Kommandant. Our man is coming immediately.”

  They walked down the broad stairs three abreast, to a parked police car with its light flashing. Nothing behind it, no late-night loiterers in the street. How typical of the Germans to disinfect the entire area before arresting him. Pym sat in the front with Dollendorf. The sergeant sat tensely behind. It was raining and two in the morning. A red sky was seething with black cloud. Nobody spoke any more.

  And at the police station Jack will be waiting, thought Pym. Or the Military Police. Or God.

  The Kommandant rose to receive him. Dollendorf and his sergeant had faded away. The Kommandant considered himself a man of supernatural subtlety. He was tall and grey and hollow-backed, with staring eyes and a narrow rattling mouth that operated at self-destructive speed. He leaned back in his chair and put his fingertips together. He spoke in an anguished monotone to an etching of his birthplace in East Prussia that was hanging on the wall above Pym’s head. He spoke, in Pym’s calm estimation, for about six hours without a break and without appearing to draw breath, which for the Kommandant was the equivalent of a quick warm-up before they got down to a serious discussion. The Kommandant said that he was a man of the world and a family man, conversant with what he called the “intimate sphere.” Pym said he respected this. The Kommandant said he was not didactic, he was not political, though he was a Christian Democrat. He was Evangelical but Pym could rest assured that he had no quarrel with Roman Catholics. Pym said he would have expected no less. The Kommandant said that misdeeds were a spectrum that ran between pardonable human error and calculated crime. Pym agreed, and heard a footfall in the corridor. The Kommandant begged Pym to bear in mind that foreigners in a strange country frequently felt a sense of false security when contemplating what might strictly be regarded as a felonious act.

  “I may speak frankly, Herr Pym?”

  “Please do,” said Pym, in whom by now a fearful premonition was beginning to form that it was Axel, not himself, who was under arrest.

  “When they brought him to me, I looked at him. I listened to him. I said, ‘No, this cannot be. Not Herr Pym. The man is an impostor.’ I said. ‘He is trading upon a distinguished connection.’ However as I continued to listen to him, I detected a sense of, shall I say, vision? There is an energy here, an intelligence, I may say also a charm. Possibly, I thought, this man is who he says he is. Only Herr Pym can tell us, I thought.” He pressed a button on his desk. “I may confront him with you, Herr Pym?”

  An old turnkey appeared, and waddled ahead of them down a painted brick corridor that stank of carbolic. He unlocked a grille and closed it behind them. He unlocked another. It was the first time I had seen Rick in prison, Tom, and I have made sure ever since that it was the last. In future times, Pym sent him food, clothes, cigars, and, in Ireland, Drambuie. Pym emptied his bank account for him, and if he had been a millionaire he would have bankrupted himself rather than see him there again, even in his mind’s eye. Rick sat in the corner and Pym knew at once that he did this in order to give himself a bigger view of the cell, for ever since I had known him he always needed more space than God had given him. He sat with his great head tipped forward, scowling with a convict’s sullenness, and I swear he had closed off his hearing with his thinking and hadn’t heard us coming.

  “Father,” said Pym. “It’s me.”

  Rick came to the bars and put a hand each side and his face between. He stared first at Pym, then at the Kommandant and the turnkey, not understanding Pym’s position. His expression was sleepy and bad-tempered.

  “So they got you too, did they, son?” he said—not, I thought, without a certain satisfaction. “I always thought you were up to something. You should have read your law like I told you.” Slowly the truth began to dawn on him. The turnkey unlocked his door, the good Kommandant said, “Please, Herr Pym,” and stood aside for Pym to enter. Pym went to Rick, and put his arms round him, but delicately, in case they had been beating him and he was sore. Gradually the puff began to fill Rick up again.

  “God in heaven, old son, what the devil are they doing to me? Can’t an honest fellow do a bit of business in this country? Have you seen the food they give you here, these German sausages? What do we pay our taxes for? What did we fight the war for? What’s the good of a son who’s head of the Foreign Office if he can’t keep these German thugs away from his old man?”

  But by then Pym was bear-hugging Rick, slapping his shoulders and saying it was good to see him in whatever circumstances. So Rick took to weeping also, and the Kommandant delicately removed himself to another room while, reunited, each pal celebrated the other as his saviour.

  I don’t mean to disappoint you, Tom, but I do honestly forget, perhaps deliberately, the details of Rick’s Berlin transactions. Pym was expecting his own judgment at the time, not Rick’s. I remember two sisters and that they were of noble Prussian stock and lived in an old house in Charlottenburg, because Pym called on them to pay them off for the usual missing paintings Rick was selling for them, and the diamond brooch he was getting cleaned for them, and the fur coats that were being remodelled by a first-rate tailor friend of his in London who would do it free because he thought the world of Rick. And I remember the sisters had a bent nephew who was involved in a shady arms racket, and that somewhere in the story Rick had an aeroplane for sale, the finest, best-preserved fighter-bomber you could wish for, in mint condition inside and out. And for all I know it was being painted by those lifelong Liberals, Balham’s of Brinkley, and guaranteed to fly everyone to Heaven.

  It was in Berlin also that Pym courted your mother, Tom, and took her away from his boss and hers, Jack Brotherhood. I am not sure that you or anybody else has a natural right to know what accident conceived you, but I’ll try to help you as best I can. There was mischief in Pym’s motive, I won’t deny it. The love, what there was of it, came later.

  “Jack Brotherhood and I seem to be sharing the same woman,” Pym remarked impishly to Axel one day, during a callbox-to-callbox conversation.

  Axel required to know immediately who she was.

  “An aristo,” said Pym, still teasing him. “One of ours. Church and spy Establishment, if that means anything to you. Her family’s connections with the Firm go back to William the Conqueror.”

  “Is she married?”

  “You know I don’t sleep with married women unless they absolutely insist.”

  “Is she amusing?”

  “Axel, we are talking of a lady.”

  “I mean is she social?” Axel demanded impatiently. “Is she what you call diplomatic geisha? Is she bourgeois? Would Americans like her?”

  “She’s a top Martha, Axel. I keep telling you. She’s beautiful and rich and frightfully British.”

  “Then maybe she is the ticket that will get us to Washington,” said Axel, who had recently been expressing anxieties about the number of random women drifting through Pym’s life.

  Soon afterwards, Pym received similar advice from your Uncle Jack.

  “Mary has told me what’s going on between you, Magnus,” he said, taking him aside in his most avuncular manner. “And if you ask me you could travel further and fare a damned sight worse. She’s one of the best girls we’ve got, and it’s time you looked a little less disreputable.”

  So Pym, with both his mentors pushing in the same direction, followed their advice an
d took Mary, your mother, to be his truly wedded partner at the High Table of the Anglo-American alliance. And really, after all that he had given away already, it seemed a very reasonable sacrifice.

  “Hold his hand, Jack”—Pym wrote—“He’s the dearest thing I had.”

  “Mabs, forgive”—Pym wrote—”Dear, dear Mabs, forgive. If love is whatever we can still betray, remember that I betrayed you on a lot of days.”

  He began a note to Kate and tore it up. He scribbled “Dearest Belinda” and stopped, scared by the silence around him. He looked sharply at his watch. Five o’clock. Why hasn’t the clock chimed? I’ve gone deaf. I’m dead. I’m in a padded cell. From across the square the first chime sounded. One. Two. I can stop it any time I want, he thought. I can stop it at one, at two, at three. I can take any part of any hour and stop it dead. What I cannot do is make it chime midnight at one o’clock. That’s God’s trick, not mine.

  A shocked stillness had descended over Pym and it was the literal stillness of death. He was standing at the window once more, watching the leaves drift across the empty square. An ominous inactivity marked everything he saw. Not a head in a window, not an open doorway. Not a dog or cat or squirrel or a single squawking child. They have taken to the hills. They are waiting for the raiders from the sea. But in his head he is standing in the cellar flat of a run-down office block in Cheapside, watching the two faded Lovelies on their knees as they tear open the last of Rick’s files and lick their crabbed fingertips to speed them in their paperchase. Paper lies in growing mounds around them, it flutters through the air like swirling petals as they rummage and discard what they have vainly plundered: bank statements written in blood, invoices, furious solicitors’ letters, warrants, summonses, love letters dripping with reproach. The dust of them is filling Pym’s nostrils as he watches, the clang of the steel drawers is like the clang of his prison grilles, but the Lovelies heed nothing; they are avid widows ransacking Rick’s record. At the centre of the débris, drawers and cupboard askew, stands Rick’s last Reichskanzlei desk, its serpents twining themselves round its bombé legs like gilded garters. On the wall hangs the last photograph of the great TP in mayoral regalia and on the chimney piece, above a grate stuffed with false coals and the last of Rick’s cigar butts, stands the bronze bust of your Founder and Managing Director himself, beaming out the last of his integrity. On the open door at Pym’s back hangs the memorial tablet to Rick’s last dozen companies, but a sign beside the bell reads “Press here for attention,” because when Rick has not been saving his nation’s faltering economy, he has been working as night porter for the block.