Authors: Evelyn Anthony
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The Avenue of the Dead
A Davina Graham Thriller
For Isidore and Blanche again.
The daffodils were out in St James's Park. Brigadier Sir James White walked from his flat in Westminster to his office in Queen Anne's Gate during the fine weather. He looked a typical soldier, striding briskly along with his umbrella swinging in time, smartly dressed in the civilian uniform of dark suit and bowler hat. Passers-by, had they noticed him at all, would have been surprised to learn that he was well into his sixties. Even more surprised that the innocuous Ford Transit which idled along the route behind him contained two Special Branch men following the brigadier on his morning walk to work, and that both were armed.
He turned into Queen Anne's Gate and said good morning to the security men on duty. The old-fashioned passenger lift trundled him up to the first floor; his secretary was in the outer office; they exchanged smiles and greetings. He hung up his hat and hooked the umbrella over the arm of an antiquated coat stand and went into his office. A comfortable, unpretentious room, with a leather-topped desk, hunting prints and a watercolour of a lawn meet in front of a large pink house. A Persian rug crawled across the carpet to the despair of the cleaners; a series of mahogany cabinets stood against one wall, and a small VDU computer looked self-conscious among the stolid traditional furnishings. Four telephones and a sophisticated intercom system lay on his desk, one telephone coloured bright green. It gave him direct access through a scrambler to the Prime Minister.
A man turned away from the window as James White came in. He was tall and thin, with a bony, wax-coloured face and light eyes. His demeanour was gloomy.
âGood morning, Humphrey,' the brigadier said. Humphrey Grant was his deputy, a title that conveyed some of the power he enjoyed in the secret world of the Secret Intelligence Service. His attendance so early meant trouble, and James White knew it. He settled at his desk, opened a packet of his distinctive cigarettes and lit one. The brand was his private joke â Sub Rosa. The pervasive smell of Turkish tobacco drifted up Grant's nose and he grimaced. He hated the habit; he was fastidious and tidy to the point of obsession.
Ash and the detritus of smoking were filthy enough without the danger to health and the unpleasant smell of tobacco. But not even he, from his position of special privilege, would ever dare to protest to his chief about anything he did.
âThere's the usual Thursday morning pile-up, I see,' James White said. âPeople
leave things till just before the weekend â I can't understand it. What have you got for me, Humphrey?'
Grant settled his long body into a chair. âReport in from Hickling in Washington,' he said. âI put it on your desk.' He settled down to wait while his chief found the papers and began to read them. Grant was always in the office by eight-thirty. He had the United States desk, and the previous day's telexes came direct to him. The brigadier put down the report.
âWe've got to do something about this,' he said. âThe ambassador has coped with it remarkably well but it's got out of hand. If there's truth in what this damned woman says, we'd better find it out before our friends at Langley do.'
âShe drinks,' Grant said, his narrow mouth tight with disapproval. âThat makes it dangerous to believe a word of this.'
âIt's less dangerous than ignoring it,' James White said. âEdward Fleming is one of the President's closest personal friends â he's just been made Assistant Under-Secretary of State. Any hint of unreliability, any breath of scandal â my dear Grant, Fleming is British-born; if he turned out to be a rotten egg it would seriously damage our relationship with the new administration. I saw the Prime Minister last week, and she said we had a closer tie with the United States than at any time since the war. She never says anything without a motive, that woman. The message was loud and clear. No meddling in American spheres of influence, no rivalry of any kind. If she'd known about this' â he tapped the report â âshe'd have thrown a fit. Here's the English wife of one of their top men, going to the British Ambassador and accusing her husband of trying to kill her. And of being a Russian agent!' He paused and Grant waited. âIf there's any truth in it, we have to deal with it quickly and quietly. Better for us to go to the CIA and tell them Fleming is not to be trusted, than have them find out first.'
âWe might even have to deal with him ourselves,' Grant murmured. âWithout telling anyone.'
âWe might indeed,' James White agreed softly. âDepending upon what we discover. And I have a feeling â' his cigarette waved to and fro, sketching an imponderable â âI have a feeling that there
something to discover. We have a new man in Moscow. We don't know his signature yet; it's possible that we're seeing it for the first time in this business. The key is that damned woman. Our friend Neil Browning has been chosen to look after her, I see. Well, he won't unlock the puzzle for us. We need an expert for this, Humphrey. Someone who could get a hold on Mrs Fleming without causing any comment. Someone she'd trust. I was reading through the whole file the other day and I noticed something quite extraordinary. And quite fortuitous.' He pressed the switch on his intercom and said to his secretary, âPhyllis, get them to send up Mrs Elizabeth Fleming's file, will you, please? And we might have some coffee.'
Ten minutes later they had finished their coffee, and James White handed the slim beige folder to Grant. The dossier gave the subject's parentage, place of birth, education and early activities before her first marriage to an Englishman who was now senior partner in a merchant bank. Both parents were killed in a plane crash in Kenya soon after the wedding. Beside these facts a name and a few words had been pencilled in.
Grant read them and looked up sharply. âDavina! Good Lord!'
âYes,' his chief nodded. âAmazing coincidence, isn't it? They were at school together. She would be the ideal person to take this on.'
Grant shook his head. âShe wouldn't lift a finger to help us,' he said. âKidson says she's just as bitter as ever.'
âI know,' James White said. âI've talked to him about it. He and her sister tried to reason with her, but she wouldn't listen. Which is understandable in the circumstances. She had a terrible shock. These things take time. She's had a year. The wound must have begun to heal, at least.'
âI doubt it,' Grant said. He didn't like women, but he had been forced into a grudging admiration for his colleague Davina Graham. âShe'll never come back to the service,' he said.
âShe's a very rational person,' James White said. âPerspective must have crept in by now. We need her, Humphrey. We need her to go to Washington and find out exactly what the score is. And I think I know how to persuade her. I'm going down to Marchwood tomorrow.'
Grant stood up. âI don't think you'll succeed,' he said.
White smiled his empty smile. âI have to succeed. No matter how I do it, we've got to have Davina back. Otherwise this Fleming affair is going to blow up in our faces.'
Grant was at the door when he hesitated and turned back. âAfter what's happened, how do we know we can trust her?'
âThat is a point, Humphrey,' the brigadier replied. âJust bear it in mind.'
Davina had been dreading the spring. When she came to Marchwood in the winter, the chill bleakness of the Wiltshire countryside matched the emptiness of her mind and heart. She grieved in harmony with nature, when all living things seemed dead. Now, with the daffodils blazing in the garden and the trees in bud, she could see Ivan Sasanov everywhere. She heard his step on the stair, saw his shadow in the garden, woke from her uneasy sleep to grope for him in her bed and find her face wet with tears. They had come there in the spring, four years ago, adversaries who had left the old house as lovers. They had shared her narrow bed in the room she had used as a child, and she had discovered for the first time in her life what love was like. Four years ago, at the same time as the countryside burgeoned into life and beauty, Davina's life had achieved the full dimension of being loved.
She was sitting by the window in the drawing-room, a popular novel unopened on her knee, looking out into the garden and seeing nothing but Ivan. Ivan laughing at her, Ivan goading her into a quarrel when he was bored in those early days of their relationship. Ivan brusque in his desire for her, gentle and fond in their companionship. And then the final memory of him, the feel of the dying body in her arms, the last whisper of her name. She got up, letting the novel fall to the ground. It was her mother's idea that she should read; she brought back the latest fiction from the public library, and Davina pretended to read because she could retreat upstairs on the pretext of finishing the books in peace. Her parents had been very thoughful, very sympathetic; she was grateful to them both, but it was more politeness than deep feeling. They were kind and doing their best to help her âget over it', as her father phrased it, when she first came home.
âYou'll get over it, my dear. It's been a terrible shock and these things take time. But I promise you, you'll get over it.'
She had heard herself saying cruel, wounding things in reply. âYou make it sound like measles â his blood was all over my clothes.' And then the helpless, hopeless crying, and her mother taking her in her arms as if she were a child, comforting, murmuring words that had no sense but a soothing sound. A year ago, and the spring was mocking her with memories. It had been high summer in Australia when he died.
And now James White was coming down to Marchwood.