Authors: Len Deighton
She looked round the tiny room and wondered if Martin lived here all the time or whether it was just a safe house used for other meetings of this sort. It seemed lived-in: food in the kitchen, coal by the fireplace, open mail stuffed behind the clock that ticked away on the mantelpiece, a well-fed cat prowling through a well-kept garden. A clipper ship in full sail on the wall behind spotless glass. There were lots of books here: Lenin and Marx and even Trotsky stared down from the shelves, along with his revered Fabians, an encyclopedia of socialism, and Rousseau and John Stuart Mill. Even the tedious works of his father. It was an artful touch. Even a trained security man was unlikely to recognize a KGB agent who was so openly familiar with the philosophies of the dissidents, revisionists and traitors. That was Martin's cover: a cranky, old-fashioned and essentially British left-wing theorist, out of touch with modern international political events.
'It's my son Billy. His throat was swollen this morning,' said Fiona and looked at her watch again. 'Nanny should be taking him to see the doctor about now. Nanny is a sensible girl.'
'Of course she is.' He didn't approve of nannies and other domestic slaves. It took nun back to his own childhood and muddled emotions about his father that he found so difficult to think about. 'He'll be all right.'
'I do hope it's not mumps.'
'I'm watching the time,' he said again.
'Good reliable Martin,' she said.
He smiled and puffed his pipe. It was what he wanted to hear.
It was a long-haired youth who arrived on a bicycle. He propped it against the fence and came down the garden to rat-a-tat on the front door. The canary awoke and jumped from perch to perch so that the cage danced on its spring. Martin answered the door and came back with a piece of paper he'd taken from a sealed envelope. He gave it to her. It was the printed invoice of a local florist. Written across it in felt-tip pen it said: 'The wreath you ordered has been sent as requested.' It bore the mark of a large oval red rubber stamp: 'PAID'.
'I don't understand,' she said.
'Blum is dead!' he announced softly.
'My God!' said Fiona.
He looked at her. Her face had gone completely white.
'Don't worry,' he said soothingly. 'You've come out of it as pure as the driven snow.' Then he realized that it was the news of Blum's death that had shocked her. In a desperate attempt to comfort her he said, 'Our comrades are inclined to somewhat operatic gestures. They have probably just sent him home to Moscow.'
'To reassure you. To make you feel important.' He took a cloth from the shelf and wrapped it carefully round the bird cage to provide darkness.
She looked at him, trying to see what he really believed, but she couldn't be sure.
'Believe me,' he added. 'I know them.'
She decided to believe him. Perhaps it was a feminine response but she couldn't shoulder the burden of Blum's death. She wasn't brave about the sufferings that were inflicted upon others, and yet that was what this job was all about.
She got home after half-past eight, and it was only about ten minutes later that Bret Rensselaer phoned with a laconic, 'All okay?'
'Yes, all okay,' she said.
Bret had heard something in her voice. He was so tuned to her emotions that it frightened her. Bernard would never have guessed she was upset. 'Nothing's wrong,' she said carefully, keeping her voice under control. 'Nothing we can speak about.'
'Are you alone?'
'Usual time: usual place.'
'Bernard's not here yet. He was due back.'
'I arranged something… delayed his baggage at the airport. I wanted to be sure you were home and it was all okay… '
'Yes, goodnight, Bret.' She hung up. Bret was doing it for her sake but she knew that he enjoyed showing her how easy it was for him to control her husband in that way. He was another of these men who felt bound to demonstrate some aspect of their power to her. There was also an underlying sexual implication that she didn't like.
Somerset, England. Summer 1978.
The Director-General was an enigmatic figure who was the subject of much discussion amongst the staff. Take, for instance, that Christmas when a neat panel bearing the poker-work motto 'Only ignorance is invincible' was hung in a prominent position on the wall beside his desk. The questions arising from that item were not stilled by the news that it was a Christmas present from his wife.
His office was a scene of incomparable chaos into which the cleaning ladies made only tentative forays. Books were piled everywhere. Most of them were garlanded with coloured slips of paper indicating rich veins of research that had never been pursued beyond the initial claims staked out for him by his long-suffering assistant.
Sir Henry Clevemore provided a fruitful source for Bret Rensselaer's long-term anthropological study of the English race. Bret had categorized the D-G as a typical member of the upper classes. This tall shambling figure, whose expensive suits looked like baggy overalls, was entirely different to anyone Bret knew in the USA. Apart from his other eccentricities the D-G encouraged his staff to believe that he was frail, deaf and absent-minded. This contrived role certainly seemed to provide for him a warm loyalty that many a tougher leader would have envied.
One of the disagreeable aspects of working in close cooperation with Sir Henry was the way he moved about the country in such a disorganized and unplanned style that Bret found himself chasing after him to rendezvous after rendezvous in places both remote and uncomfortable. Today they were in Somerset. In the interests of privacy the D-G had taken him to a small wooden hut. It overlooked the sports field of a minor public school of which the D-G was a conscientious governor. The D-G had made a speech to the whole school and had lunch with the headmaster. Bret at short notice had had to be driven down at breakneck speed. There had been no time for lunch. No matter, on a hot day like this Bret could miss lunch without feeling deprived.
The school's surroundings provided a wonderful view of mighty trees, rolling hills and farmland. This was the English countryside that had inspired her great landscape painters: it was brooding and mysterious despite the bright colours. The newly cut grass left a pungent smell on the air. Although not normally prone to hay fever, Bret found his sinuses affected. Of course it was an affliction aggravated by stress and it would be unwise to conclude that the prospect of this meeting with the Director-General had played no part in bringing on the attack.
Through the cobwebbed window two teams of white-clad teenagers could be seen going through the arcane gymnastics that constitute a cricket match. Entering into the spirit of this event, the D-G had changed into white trousers, a linen jacket that had yellowed with age, and a panama hat. He had seated himself in a chair from which he could see the game. The D-G had wiped his piece of window clear but Bret saw the scene through the grimy glass. Bret was standing, having declined to sit upon the cushioned oil drum that the D-G had indicated. Bret kept half an eye on the game, for the D-G referred to it at intervals seeking Bret's opinions about the way it was being played.
'Tell the husband,' said the D-G, shaking his head sadly, 'and it's no longer a secret.'
Bret didn't answer immediately. He watched the left-handed batsman thumping his bat into the ground and waiting for the ball to come. The fielders were well spread out anticipating some heavy swings. Bret turned to the D-G. He'd already made it clear that in his opinion Fiona Samson's husband would have to be told everything: that she was a double agent and was being briefed to go over there. 'I will see her later today,' Bret said. He'd hoped to get the D-G's okay and then he would brief Bernard Samson too. By tonight it would all have been done.
'What are you doing with her at present?' the D-G asked.
Bret walked away a couple of paces and then turned. From that characteristic movement the D-G knew that unless he nipped it in the bud he was going to get one of Bret's renowned lectures. He settled back in his chair and waited for an opportunity to interrupt. Bret had no one else he could explain things to. The D-G knew that providing Bret with a sounding board at frequent intervals was something he could not delegate. 'If we are going to place her in the sort of role where she will pull off the sort of coup we're both hoping for, we can't just leave things to chance.'
'Bravo!' said the D-G, reacting to a stroke that sent the ball to the far boundary. He turned to Bret and smiled. 'We haven't got too much time, Bret.'
'We need ten years, Director, maybe twelve.'
'Is that your considered opinion?'
Bret looked at the old man. They both knew what he was thinking. He wanted Fiona Samson in place before he came up for retirement. Forget the modest, self-effacing manner that was his modus operandi, he wanted glory. 'It is, Sir Henry.'
'I was hoping for something earlier than that.'
'Sir Henry, Fiona Samson is nothing more than an agent in place as far as Moscow is concerned. She has never done anything. She has never delivered.'
'What do you have in mind?'
'She should be posted to Berlin. I want them to have a closer look at her.'
'That would speed things up. They would start thinking of getting her over there quickly.'
'No, they want her in London where the big stuff is hidden.' Bret got out his handkerchief and selfconsciously blew his nose, making as little noise as possible. 'Forgive me, Sir Henry. I think the newly cut grass…'
'Then why Berlin?'
'She will have to do something for them.'
The D-G looked at him and pulled a face. He didn't like these stunts which required that the KGB were given things. They were always given good things, convincing things, and that meant things that the Department should keep to itself. 'What?'
'I haven't got as far as that, Director, but we'll have to do it, and do it before the end of the year.'
'Would you acquaint me with a little of your thinking? Wait one moment, this fellow is their fast bowler.'
Bret waited. It was a hot day: the grass was bright green and the boys in their cricket clothes made it the sort of English spectacle that under other circumstances Bret might have relished. The ball came very fast but bounced and went wide. Bret said, 'Mrs Samson goes to Berlin. During her time there she gives them something substantial…' Bret paused while the D-G winced at the thought,'…so that we have a big inquiry from which she emerges safe. Preferably with their help.'
'You mean they arrange that one of their agents takes the blame?'
'Well, yes. That, of course, would be ideal,' said Bret.
The D-G was still watching the match. 'I like it,' he said without turning round.
Bret smiled grimly. It was an uphill struggle, but that was something of an accolade coming from Sir Henry Clevemore, although it could of course have been prompted by some cricketing accomplishment that Bret had failed to understand. He said, 'Mrs Samson comes back here to London and they tell her to keep still and quiet.'
'That's one year,' the D-G reminded him.
Bret said, 'Look, sir. We can deliver Mrs Samson to them right away, of course we can. She's like a box of nuts and bolts: an all-purpose agent they can use anywhere. But that's not good enough.'
'No,' said the D-G, watching the cricketers and wondering what was coming.
'We must take this woman and clear her mind of everything she knows.'
'I'm already making sure she sees nothing that would affect the Department.'
'How did she take that?'
'We have to make our plans as if she will be interrogated… interrogated in the cellars at Normannenstrasse.' In the silence that followed a big fly buzzed angrily against the window glass.
'It's a nasty thought.'
'The stakes are high, Sir Henry. But we're playing to win.' He looked around the hut. It was insufferably hot and the air was perfumed with linseed oil and weedkillers for the lawn. Bret opened the door to let a little air in.
The D-G looked at Bret and said, 'A good thunderstorm would clear the air,' as if this was something he could arrange. Then he added, 'You're making me wonder whether a woman is right after all.'
'It's too late to change the plan now.'
'Surely not?' Even the D-G was feeling the heat. He mopped his brow with a red silk handkerchief that had been protruding from his top pocket.
'Mrs Samson knows what we intend. If we change to another agent our plan is known to her. I have shown her the figures and the graphs. She knows that the skilled and professional labour force is our target. She knows that we want to bleed their essential people and she knows the sort of opposition groups we intend to support over there.'
'Wasn't that a little premature, Bret?'
'It will all depend upon her once she's there. She must understand our strategy so well that she can improvise her responses.'
'I suppose you're right. I wish it was you explaining it all to the Cabinet Secretary next week. All your charts and mumbo-jumbo… You see Bret, if we don't persuade him to go along with the fundamental idea… Do you have an operational name yet?'
'I thought it was better not to ask the Department for an operational name.'
'No, no, no, of course not. We'll think of one. Something that suggests the weakening of the economy without prejudicing the security of our operation. Any ideas?'
'I thought Operation Haemorrhage? Or Operation Bleeder?'
'Blood; casualties. No. And bleeder is an English expletive. What else?'
'Vulgarism with connotations of urinating. But Sinker might do.'
'Sinker then. Yes, of course, Sir Henry.'
'Oh, my God, this fellow is useless. Left-handed and look at the way he's holding the bat.' He turned to Bret. 'You understand what I mean about persuading him to the basic idea?'
Bret understood exactly. If the Cabinet Secretary didn't go for the economic target then they'd start having second thoughts about using Bret. Mrs Samson would be provided with a different case officer.
The D-G said, 'There still remains the problem of the Soviets engaging her for operational service over there. We can't leave that to chance.'
'Agent X has to be created from scratch,' said Bret, having decided that naming Mrs Samson might be creating doubts in the D-G's mind. 'I must deliver to them an agent who is so knowledgeable and experienced in one specific field of activity that they will have to put her in the place we want.'
'You've lost me now,' said the D-G without taking his eyes from the cricket.
'I shall spend this year studying the Russian links with the East German security police, particularly the KGB-Stasi operational command in Berlin. I'll come to you with a complete picture of their strengths and weaknesses.'
'Can you do that?'
'I spent most of last week reading Operational Briefs. Give me a closer look at the command structure over there, and my analysts could build a detailed picture. It will take time but we'll get what we need.'
'Their security is good,' said the D-G.
'We will be trying to discover what they need… the things they
know. I have good people in my section. They are used to sifting through figures and building a picture of what is going on.'
'For economics, yes. It's possible to do that with statistics of banking, exports, imports and credit and so on because you're dealing with hard facts. But this is far more complex.'
'With respect, Sir Henry, I think you're wrong,' said Bret Rensselaer with a slight rasp to his voice that betrayed his tension.
The D-G forgot the cricket and looked at him. Bret's eyes were wide, his smile fixed, and a wavy lock of his blond hair had fallen out of place. Until this very moment he hadn't realized to what extent Bret Rensselaer had become consumed with his new task.
For the first time the D-G began to feel that this mad scheme might actually work. What a staggering coup it would be if Bret really did it: planting Mrs Samson into the East Berlin command structure where she could use their own secret records on protest groups, dissidents and other anti-communists to guide the Department as they planned the economic destruction of the communist regime. 'Time will tell, Bret.'
'Yes, indeed, sir.'
The D-G nodded to Bret. Was it the prospect of moving from a vitally important, but somewhat wearisome, world of committees into the more dashing excitement of operations that had so animated him? Or had the departure of his wife, now seemingly a permanent separation, provided him with more time? Or had the loss of his spouse to another man made it necessary for Bret to prove himself? Perhaps all of those. And yet the D-G had not allowed for Mrs Fiona Samson and the influence her participation had had upon Bret Rensselaer's strength and determination.
'Give me a free hand, sir.'
'But ten years…'
'Perhaps I shouldn't have given a time frame.' His sinuses hurt: he felt an overwhelming need to blow his nose again and did so.
The D-G watched him with interest. He didn't know Bret had sinus problems. 'Let's see how it goes. What about finance?' He turned back to the cricket. The left-handed batsman had hit a superb catch – up up up it went and curved down like a mortar bomb – but luckily for him there was no fielder able to reach it. One fellow ran in for it but was unable to judge where it would land. The ball hit the ground and there was a concerted groan.
'I'll need money and it must not be routed through Central Funding.'
'There are many ways.'
'I have a company.'
'Do it any way you like, Bret. I know you won't waste it. What are we talking about? Roughly?'
'A million sterling in the first year. Double that in the second and all subsequent years, adjusted for inflation and the exchange rate. No vouchers, no receipts, no accounts.'
'Very well. We'll have to concoct a route for the money.' The D-G shielded his eyes with a folded newspaper. The sun had come round to shine through the window. 'Have I forgotten anything?'