Authors: Peter Lovesey
On the night of Saturday the 10th instant, a Messerschmitt 110 was reported by our patrols to have crossed the coast of Scotland and be flying in the direction of Glasgow.
Since an Me 110 would not have the fuel to return to Germany, this report was at first disbelieved.
However, later on, an Me 110 crashed near Glasgow, with its guns untouched. Shortly afterwards, a German officer who had baled out was found with his parachute in the neighbourhood suffering from a broken ankle.
He was taken to hospital in Glasgow, where he at first gave his name as Horn, but later on declared that he was Rudolf Hess. He brought with him various photographs of himself at different ages, apparently in order to establish his identity.
These photographs were deemed to be photographs of Hess by several people who knew him personally. Accordingly, an officer of the Foreign Office who was closely acquainted with Hess before the war has been sent up by aeroplane to see him in hospital.
Later that week, a second statement was issued by the German Government:
As far as it is possible to tell from papers left behind by Party Member Hess, it seems that he lived in a state of hallucination, as a result of which he felt he could bring about an understanding between England and Germany.
According to a report from London, it is established that Hess jumped from his aircraft near the town which he was trying to reach, and was found there, injured.
The National Socialist Party regrets that this idealist fell a victim of his hallucinations. This, however, will have no effect on the continuation of the war which has been forced upon Germany.
Dr Karl Haushofer, head of the Geopolitical Institute, Willi Messerschmitt, Frau Hess and others have been arrested.
Cedric Fleming's house was not, after all, in Henley on Thames, but in a hamlet two miles north of the town. It was approached through a wood, using a road so narrow and overhung that only the forewarned were likely to persist to the clearing where several stone cottages stood. A group of three in a terraced row had been converted into a single dwelling which demonstrably belonged to Fleming, because he was leaning out of a ground floor window feeding a small animal.
It ran off to the woods when Dick Garrick's Renault trundled into the rustic scene. âIt was a young deer!' said Jane delightedly. âCedric was feeding it, just like Snow-White.'
Garrick frowned, troubled by the comparison, as the paunchy figure of their editor-in-chief appeared at the door, wearing shorts and a string vest.
âWould you settle for St Francis?' murmured Jane, as Fleming came to meet them. âThat
a fawn, wasn't it?' she asked him.
âFull-grown deer,' said Fleming. âChinese muntjak. Pretty things, aren't they? Some escaped from the herd at Woburn a century or so ago and colonised the woods. We have mink as well. Exotic creatures in abundance, not to mention yours truly. Come in and have a beer. You must be parched.'
He led them through a hallway to a spacious kitchen, where modern appliances stood comfortably with a wooden dresser, cupboards and table of Edwardian vintage. Garrick put in a request for something non-alcoholic, so Jane had the lager that Fleming had taken from the fridge.
Fleming picked a cigar from a box on the dresser and went through the ritual of preparing it.
Garrick asked, âIs anyone joining us?'
Jane said warmly, âGreat! He wrote that terrific series a few months ago on the people who arrange escapes across the Berlin wall.'
,' put in Garrick in a murmur that was almost an apology for his habit of supplying salient information.
âRed had a couple of years as a general reporter, but I think it was before either of you joined the paper,' Cedric informed them. âHe isn't here yet.'
âIs he coming from Berlin?' asked Jane.
âHe flew in yesterday and looked up some old friends in Fleet Street.'
âDoes he have transport? We could have offered him a lift,' said Garrick.
âKnowing Red, I didn't suggest it,' said Fleming cryptically, adding, âHe won't have any difficulty getting here, but he may be late. With that in mind, I asked him to be here by three, although I don't expect to get down to business until four. Are your bags in the car? Let's get you settled in.'
They collected the luggage and re-entered the house from the opposite end.
âSlight imperfection in the design,' Fleming explained, as they went upstairs. âIt is possible, on a rainy day, to go from one end of the house to the other, but it means cutting through bedrooms, so we more usually keep to the original front doors. These are the guest-rooms, then, or three of them. Jane, which one would you like? All have shower-rooms attached.'
âThe end one, then,' said Jane, mindful of rainy days.
âRight.' Fleming pushed open a door and showed her into an airy room with green and white blinds at the windows and white mohair rugs on a cork-tiled floor. The wall behind the bed was pine-clad and fitted with a shelf-unit containing paperbacks, wine-glasses and a mini-bar. He deposited her overnight case on the stool in front of the dressing-table. âThere's plenty of hot water, if you want to freshen up. We'll all meet at four in the living-room at the other end.'
âShould I bring my cloak and dagger?'
Fleming smiled and closed the door.
Jane went to the window and looked out. It was barely credible to Jane that she was in the country house of her editor-in-chief, recruited overnight for something big. She had always envied the newsmen sent at a moment's notice on assignments they could never predict. Her work as assistant on the diary never seemed like the real thing. Most of the stories were dreamed up by PR people wanting to push something. This one had the prickle of urgency about it â the summons to Henley, the reporter flown in from Berlin. And she â only heaven and Cedric Fleming knew why â was part of it.
She heard him go downstairs. One slight apprehension had been taken care of by the room arrangements: she was at the opposite end of the building from Cedric. Not that she had discerned even a glimmer of incipient lust in his small brown eyes, but she knew about executives and power and its supposed effect on subordinate women, and presumably so did he. She was the only woman to be invited. Having floated these sexist notions and seen them sink without trace, she felt annoyed with herself. It was no use demanding professional respect if you hadn't the confidence to recognize it when it was given.
She started to unpack. Towards four, she checked her face, freshened her lipstick, and came out of her room. She knocked on the third door along the passage. She was sure Dick Garrick had not been given the room next to hers, because she would have heard movements through the connecting door.
âReady?' she asked, when he looked out.
âCertainly.' In response to Fleming's shorts, he had discarded his tweeds for cords and a shirt. âHow's your room?'
âI wonder if Goodbody's arrived now.'
âSomehow I don't think so,' said Jane. âI have a view of the road, and I haven't heard a car all afternoon.'
They came out of the house and entered it again by the door they had first gone through to the kitchen.
âThis way,' Fleming's voice hailed them from a doorway on the left. âTea or coffee, Jane?'
They stepped into a low-beamed, red-carpeted room lined with books to halfway, and above them white plastered walls hung with cartoon prints by Gilray. One of the leaded windows was open, but the whiff of Fleming's last cigar lingered, asserting his occupancy. He stood at a trolley, coffee-jug poised. He had changed into a faded linen suit that might have been one of Sydney Greenstreet's cast-offs from
Jane took a black coffee and a salmon sandwich.
Fleming told them, âI'm afraid Red Goodbody is late, later than I anticipated.'
âNil desperandum,' Dick Garrick announced from across the room. He had spotted an old sports car, a white MG Midget, zoom into the clearing with two laughing girls in the front seats and a man in a leather jacket perched on the luggage behind them with a hand on each of their shoulders. They came to a screeching halt, sounded the horn, and all got out. One girl's hair stood up from her scalp and was streaked green and blue.
âGoodbody?' Dick enquired.
âBeyond any shadow of doubt,' muttered Fleming.
Jane joined them at the window. Red Goodbody turned to retrieve a well-filled carrier bag marked âBerlin Tegel Duty Free' and an old wicker basket fastened with rope. His jacket was scuffed almost into suede and his cords that once might have been maroon had faded to coral pink. The type, Jane decided, who knows he's good-looking and deliberately cultivates a shabby appearance.
âThen who are the others?'
âIf you'll excuse me, I mean to find out.'
In a moment, Fleming returned with the girls and Goodbody in tow. âThese young ladies were gracious enough to offer a lift to our colleague, Mr Goodbody.'
âWe found him at Heston Services,' said one, almost too convulsed at the memory to get it out. âHe was sitting in the passenger-seat when we got back from the ladies. Cheeky sod. Gloria didn't half lay into him. Then he told us about this pub at Junction 3 that serves Fuller's.'
âThe Queen's Head,' put in Gloria, as if everyone in the room was agog to know. âWe took ages finding it. We were looking on the wrong side of the motorway. If you ask me, he didn't know the pub at all. We were bound to find one called the Queen's Head eventually, weren't we.'
a Fuller's pub.'
âNow, about the little room,' the other girl prompted.
Fleming said darkly, âSecond on the right through there.'
âTa-ta, boys and girls,' trilled Gloria, as they both set off in that direction.
âWell,' said Red, picking up a sandwich. âNow, what are you waiting for, Cedric?'
Cedric Fleming did not respond to Red Goodbody's question, but crossed the room to the window and stood there, staring out. Even when the two girls emerged giggling from the house, climbed into the MG, started it up, revved it into a screeching turn and drove off the way they had come, he did not react. Goodbody, however, was in no way subdued by his host's introspection. He grabbed a handful of sandwiches and toured the room, making himself known to the others. Jane thought him brash and insensitive. He addressed her as âlove' in a manner she found patronising. His clothes were a disgrace and there was beer on his breath.
To compound her feelings about him, he smiled repeatedly, displaying a perfect set of shining teeth. And he had the most extraordinary pale blue eyes shading to green at the edges. She sensed in them the power to ambush a woman's emotions. He knew it, too, and she resented him the more. She noticed that when he spoke to the men, they were as reserved as she in their reactions. His brand of bonhomie was not making the impression he intended. She could not imagine him fitting into any group.
Yet she was bound to admit that some antidote was wanted for Dick Garrick's paralysing earnestness. Red Goodbody may have been a yob, but his arrival guaranteed that the house-party would not be dull.
When Cedric Fleming finally turned away from the window, he lowered his eyes as he started to speak, and the message, too, was faintly deferential in tone: âI've not been very informative about why you are here, and I thank you for bearing with me. I don't mind telling you that I am more than a little apprehensive of your reactions. I want to invite you to work together on an assignment to unravel one of the last great mysteries of the war. You three have certain areas of expertise, but mainly I like what I've seen of your commitment, your energy, and â¦' (he looked deliberately at each face in turn) ââ¦ yes, your temperaments. I picked you as the most likely combination of talent to get to the truth of this story. Let's begin.' He crossed the room to a TV set on the bookshelf with a video-recorder beside it. He touched the controls and a woman tennis-player appeared on the screen.
âIf this is about gays in sport, forget it,' said Red. âSorry, Cedric, but someone thought of it already.'
Cedric's way of dealing with Red was to ignore him. He switched to the video channel, slid a cassette into the recorder and touched a button on the remote control.
The BBC clock appeared on the screen. A voice-over announced the Nine O'Clock News with Sue Lawley. The opening sequence gave way to a long shot of two men emerging from a building carrying a sack. âThe end of the siege in sight,' said the newsreader. âLibyan diplomatic bags on their way out.'
âThe Libyan Embassy siege?' said Dick.
âThis was months back,' said Red.
âHold on,' said Cedric. The headline clips were replacing each other fast on the screen. Libyan families at Heathrow, moving out of Britain. A demonstration against the Ayatollah. President Reagan in Peking.
Then a monochrome still of a strange, staring face, filling the screen. âA birthday in Berlin,' said the newsreader. âRudolf Hess, ninety today and still in prison.'
âPoor devil,' said Dick.
âWhy do they always use that picture?' asked Jane.
âIt's a great shot,' said Red. âOnce you see it, you never forget it.'
Jane conceded that he was right. The look from that dark, hollow-cheeked face pictured in the dock at Nuremberg nearly forty years ago still had the power to disturb. Defiant and fanatical, the eyes expected no mercy.
Cedric said, âI'll move the tape on.' He pressed the search button and the images speeded up. âJust look at the pictures a moment. I'll cut the sound.'
âHess is our assignment?' asked Dick. âWhat's new on Hess?'
Cedric didn't answer. He set the tape to normal speed as the picture of Hess came up again, projected behind the newsreader. Then the screen was filled with a rooftop view of Berlin, dominated by the TV tower in the East.