Authors: Len Deighton
The third novel in Deighton's "Hook, Line and Sinker" trilogy. Spanning a ten year period (1977-87), Deighton solves the mystery of Fiona's defection – was she a Soviet spy or wasn't she? He also retells some of the events from the "Game, Set and Match" trilogy from Fiona's point of view.
The sixth book in the Bernard Samson series, 1990
together cover the period from spring 1983 until spring 1984.
covers 1900 until 1945.
picks up the Bernard Samson story at the beginning of 1987 and
continues it into the summer of that same year.
starts in September 1977 and ends in summer 1987. The stories can be read in any order and each one is complete in itself.
England. September 1977.
'Bret Rensselaer, you are a ruthless bastard.' It was his wife's voice. She spoke softly but with considerable force, as if it was a conclusion arrived at after long and difficult reasoning.
Bret half opened his eyes. He was in that hedonistic drowsy half sleep that makes awakening so irksome. But Bret Rensselaer was not a hedonist, he was a puritan; he saw himself as a direct descendant of those God-fearing, unyielding nonconformists who had colonized New England. He opened his eyes. 'What was that?' He looked at the bedside clock.
It was very early still. The room was flooded with sunlight coloured deep yellow by the holland blinds. He could see his wife sitting up in bed, one hand clutching her knee and the other holding a cigarette. She wasn't looking at him. It was as if she didn't know he was there beside her. Staring into the distance she puffed at the cigarette, not letting it go far from her mouth, holding it ready even as she exhaled. The curls of drifting smoke were yellow like the ceiling, and like his wife's face.
'You're utterly cold-blooded,' she said. 'You're in the right job.' She hadn't looked down to see whether he was awake. She didn't care. She was saving the things she was determined to say, things she'd thought a lot about, but never dared say before. Whether her husband heard her or not seemed unimportant.
Without a word of reply, he pushed back the bedclothes and got out of bed. It was not a violent movement. He did it gently so as not to disturb her. She turned her head to watch him go across the carpet. Naked he looked thin, if not to say skinny – that was why he looked so elegant in his carefully cut suits. She wished she was skinny too.
Bret went into the bathroom, drew back the curtains and opened the window. It was a glorious autumnal morning. The sunlit trees made long shadows across the gold-tipped grass. He'd not seen the flower-beds so crowded with blooms. At the end of his garden, where the fidgeting boughs of weeping willows fingered the water, the slow-moving river looked almost blue. Two rowing boats tied up at the pier bobbed gently up and down amid a flotilla of dead leaves. He loved this house.
Since the eighteenth century, many wealthy Londoners have favoured such upstream Thameside houses. With grounds that reach the water's edge they are hidden behind anonymous brick walls all the way from Chiswick to Reading. They come in all shapes, sizes and styles from palatial mansions in the Venetian manner to modest three-bedroom residences like this one.
Bret Rensselaer breathed deeply ten times, the way he did before doing his exercises. The view of the garden had reassured him. It always did. He had not always been an Anglophile but once he'd arrived in this bewitching land, he knew there was no escape from the obsessive love he had for everything connected with it. The river that ran at the foot of his garden was not an ordinary little stream; it was the Thames! The Thames with its associations of old London Bridge, Westminster Palace, the Tower, and of course Shakespeare's Globe. Still, after living here for years, he could hardly believe his good fortune. He wished his American wife could share his pleasure but she said England was 'backward' and could only see the bad side of living here.
He stared at himself in the mirror as he combed his hair. He had the same jutting chin and blond hair that his mother had passed on to him and his brother. The same good health too, and that was a priceless legacy. He put on his red silk dressing gown. Through the bathroom door he heard a movement and a clink of glass, and knew it was his wife taking a drink of bottled water. She didn't sleep well. He'd grown used to her chronic insomnia. He was no longer surprised to wake in the night and find her drinking water, smoking a cigarette or reading a chapter of one of her romantic novels.
When he returned to the bedroom she was still there: sitting cross-legged on the bed, her silk nightdress disarranged to expose her thighs, and its lacy shoulder trimming making a ruff behind her head. Her skin was pale – she avoided the sun – her figure full but not overweight, and her hair tousled. She felt him examining her and she raised her eyes to glare at him. In the past such a pose, that fierce look on her face, and a cigarette in her mouth, had aroused him. Perhaps it was a shameless wanton that he had hoped to discover. If so his hopes had soon been dashed.
He stepped into the alcove that he used as a dressing room and slid open the mirrored wardrobe door to select a suit from the two dozen hanging there, each one in its tissue paper and plastic bag as it had arrived from the cleaners.
'You have no feelings!' she said.
'Don't, Nikki,' he said. Her name was Nicola. She didn't like being called Nikki but it was too late now to tell him so.
'I mean it,' she said. 'You send men out to die as if you were sending out junk mail. You are heartless. I never loved you; no one could.'
What nonsense she spoke. Bret Rensselaer's position at SIS was Deputy Controller of European Economics. Yet it was a shrewd guess, there were times when he had to give the final okay on dangerous jobs. And when those tough decisions were to be made Bret did not shy from making them. 'You left it a darn long time before telling me,' he said reasonably, while hanging a lightweight wool and mohair suit near the light of the window and attaching the braces to the trousers. He screwed up the blue tissue wrapping and tossed it into the linen basket. Then he selected shirt and underclothes. He was worried. In this quarrelsome mood Nikki might blurt out some melodramatic yarn of that kind to the first stranger she came across. She hadn't done such a thing before but he'd never known her in this frame of mind before.
'I've been thinking about it lately,' she replied. Thinking about it a lot.'
'And did this thought process of yours begin before or after last Wednesday's lunch?'
She looked at him coolly and blew smoke before saying, 'Joppi has nothing to do with it. Do you think I would discuss you with Joppi?'
'You have before.' The way she referred to that Bavarian four-flusher by that silly diminutive name made him mad. No matter that just about everyone else did the same.
'That was different. That was years ago. You ran out on me.'
'Joppi is a jerk,' said Bret and was angry with himself for betraying his feelings. He looked at her and knew, not for the first time, murderous anger. He could have strangled her without a remnant of remorse. No matter: he would have the last laugh.
'Joppi is a real live prince,' she said provocatively.
'Princes are ten a penny in Bavaria.'
'And you are jealous of him,' she said, and didn't bother to conceal her pleasure at the idea of it.
'For making a play for my wife?'
'Don't be ridiculous. Joppi has a wife already.'
'One a day, from what I hear.'
'You can be very childish sometimes, Bret.'
He didn't respond except to look at her with fierce resentment. He deplored the way that Americans like his wife revered these two-bit European aristocrats. They'd met Joppi at Ascot the previous June. Joppi had a horse running in the Coronation Stakes and was there with a big party of German friends. Subsequently he'd invited the Rensselaers for a weekend at a house he'd leased near Paris. They had stayed with him there but Bret had not enjoyed it. He'd watched the unctuous Joppi looking at Nikki in a way that Bret did not like men to look at his wife. And Nikki had not even noticed it: or so she said when Bret complained of it afterwards. Now Joppi had invited Nikki to lunch without going through the formality of inviting Bret along. It made Bret sizzle.
'Prince Joppi,' said Bret with just enough emphasis upon the first word to show his contempt, 'is a two-bit racketeer.'
'Have you had him investigated?'
'I ran him through the computer,' he said. 'He's into all kinds of crooked deals. That's why we're going to stay clear of him.'
'I don't work for your goddamned secret intelligence outfit,' she said. 'Just in case you forgot, I'm a free citizen, and I choose my own friends and I say anything I want to say to them.'
He knew that she was trying to provoke him but still he wondered if he should phone the night duty officer. He'd have a phone contact for Internal Security. But Bret didn't relish the idea of describing the nuances of his married life to some young subordinate who would write it down and put it on file somewhere.
He went and ran the bath: both taps fully on gave him the temperature he preferred. He squirted bath oil into the rushing water and it foamed furiously. While the bath was filling he returned to Nikki. Under the circumstances, reasoning with her seemed the wiser course. 'Have I done something?' he asked with studied mildness. He sat down on the bed.
'Oh, no!' said his wife sarcastically. 'Not you.' She could hear the water beating against the bath with a roar like thunder.
She was tense, her arms clamped round her knees, the cigarette forgotten for a moment. He looked at her, trying to see something in her face that would give him a hint about the origin of her anger. Failing to see anything that enlightened him he said, 'Then what…?' And then more briskly but with a conciliatory tone, 'For goodness sake, Nikki. I have to go to the office.'
'I have to go to the office.' She attempted to mimic the Englishness that he'd acquired since living here. She was not a good mimic and her twanging accent, that had so intrigued him when they first met, was still strong. How foolish he'd been to hope that eventually she would embrace England and everything English as lovingly as he had. 'That's all that's important to you, isn't it? Never mind me. Never mind if I go stir-crazy in this Godforsaken dump.' She tossed her head to throw her hair back but when it fell forward again she raked her fingers through it to get it from her face.
He sat at the end of the bed smiling at her and said, 'Now, now, Nikki, darling. Just tell me what's wrong.'
It was the patronizing 'just' that irritated her. There was something invulnerable about his resolute coldness. Her sister had called him 'the shy desperado' and giggled when he called. But Nikki had found it easy to fall in love with Bret Rensselaer. How clearly she remembered it. She'd never had a suitor like him: slim, handsome, soft-spoken and considerate. And there was his lifestyle too. Bret's suits fitted in the way that only expensive tailoring could contrive and his cars were waxed, shiny in the way that only chauffeur-driven cars were, and his mother's house was cared for by loyal servants. She loved him of course but her love had always been mingled with a touch of awe, or perhaps it was fear. Now she didn't care. Just for a moment, she was able to tell him everything she felt. 'Look here, Bret,' she said confidently. 'When I married you I thought you were going to…'
He held up his hand and said, 'Let me turn off the bath, darling. We don't want it flooding the study downstairs.' He went back into the bathroom; the roar of water stopped. A draught was coming through the window to make steam that tumbled out through the door. He emerged tightening the knot of his dressing gown: a very tight knot, there was something neurotic in that gesture. He raised his eyes to her and she knew that the moment had passed. She was tongue-tied again: he knew how to make her feel like a child and he liked that. 'What were you saying, dear?'
She bit her lip and tried again, differently this time. 'That night, when you first admitted that you were working in secret intelligence, I didn't believe you. I thought it was another of your romantic stories.'
'Another?' He was amused enough to smile.
'You were always an ace bullshitter, Bret. I thought you were making it all up as some kind of compensation for your dull job at the bank.'
His eyes narrowed: it was the only sign he gave of being angry. He looked down at the carpet. He had been about to do his exercises but she'd hammer at him all the time and he didn't want that. Better to do them at the office.
'You were going to bleed them white. I remember you saying that: bleed them white. You told me one day you'd have a man working in the Kremlin.' She wanted to remind him how close they had been. 'Remember?' Her mouth was dry; she sipped more water. 'You said the Brits could do it because they hadn't grown too big. You said they could do it but they didn't know they could do it. That's where you came in, you said.'
Bret stood with his fists in the pockets of the red dressing gown. He wasn't really listening to her; he wanted to get on, to bathe and shave and dress and spend the extra time sitting with a newspaper and toast and coffee in the garden before his driver came round to collect him. But he knew that if he turned away, or ended the conversation abruptly, her anger would be reaffirmed. 'Maybe they will,' he said and hoped she'd drop it.
He lifted his eyes to the small painting that hung above the bed. He had many fine pictures – all by modern British painters – but this was Bret Rensselaer's proudest possession. Stanley Spencer: buxom English villagers frolicking in an orchard. Bret could study it for hours, he could smell the fresh grass and the apple blossom. He'd paid far too much for the painting but he had desperately wanted to possess that English scene for ever. Nikki didn't appreciate having a masterpiece enshrined in the bedroom, to love and to cherish. She preferred photographs; she'd admitted as much once, during a savage argument about the bills she'd run up with the dressmaker.
'You said that running an agent into the Kremlin was your greatest ambition.'
'Did I?' He looked at her and blinked, discomposed both by the extent of his indiscretion and the naivete of it. 'I was kidding you.'
'Don't say that, Bret!' She was angry that he should airily dismiss the only truly intimate conversation she could remember having with him. 'You were serious. Dammit, you were serious.'
'Perhaps you're right.' He looked at her and at the bedside table to see what she'd been drinking, but there was no alcohol there, only a litre-size bottle of Malvern water. She'd stuck to her rigorous diet – no bread, butter, sugar, potatoes, pasta or alcohol – for three weeks. She was amazingly disciplined about her dieting and Nikki had never been much of a drinker: it went straight to her waistline. When Internal Security had first vetted her they'd remarked on her abstinence and Bret had been proud.