Read Blame It on the Bossa Nova Online

Authors: James Brodie

Tags: #Fiction, #spy, #swinging, #double agent, #fbi, #algeria, #train robbery, #Erotica, #espionage, #60s, #cuba, #missile, #Historical, #Thrillers, #spies, #cia, #kennedy, #profumo, #recruit, #General, #independence, #bond, #mi5, #mi6

Blame It on the Bossa Nova (10 page)

BOOK: Blame It on the Bossa Nova
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*****

 

Things got worse. Not in any dramatic sense, just worse in the sense that an extension of my current living pattern was by definition a worsening. The night with Pascale had whetted my appetite but ultimately left me depressed. Drinking seemed like a good idea and the next time I went to the off-licence, I looked along the dusty shelf at the top, behind the counter, where they kept all the drinks that no one ever asked for, and walked out of the shop with a bottle of Jim Beam.

The news about Cuba had been slowly building up but it still seemed to me then to be a product of U.S. paranoia. On the television news they said that the U.S. longshoremen wanted to stop all cargos from Russia getting into Cuba. It seemed as good a way as any of starting the Third World War.

I was beginning to feel a sincere affection for the bottle of Jim Beam and some sense of true gratitude towards the original Jim Beam when Christopher arrived. He walked into the room in the manner he walked into every room, as if he’d been trained by revolutionaries to act as temporary surrogate monarch in the event of public disquiet after the fall of the House of Windsor. He was followed by Frank who had his own style of relaxing in alien surroundings, more homespun and less affected.

“We’ve come to take you out of your drab, grey, little world,” said Christopher. I thanked him cautiously, in sympathy with the idea but unable to show enthusiasm until I knew which form the relief was going to take. I preferred the hues of anthracite and the industrial revolution to some of Christopher’s roads to freedom. Frank noticed my hesitance.

“Come on Alex, this guy’s trying to corrupt me. You be my chaperon.” He let out his great uncivilized laugh and it occurred to me that as it is the way of nature to hold up mirrors, that there was probably a wild animal hanging out somewhere in the backwoods of North Carolina that emitted similar sounds.

“Where are we going then?” I asked, reaching for a donkey jacket I’d bought earlier in the week at a government surplus shop.

“A place where you won’t need that. For God’s sake Alex are you always such a slob? Haven’t you got a proper jacket and a tie?” Love’s ardour had cooled. However I was in no mood to make this a test case in the history of the Youth Revolution. I went and got the requisite articles of clothing.

As the car swept over Albert Bridge, through its fairyland decoration, Christopher tooted at two young girls walking across. They looked up then looked away.

“They want you, Chris,” I said.

“D’you think so, Alex” he replied without a trace of irony.

Kings Road, Hyde Park Corner, Marble Arch. Chris pulled the car to a halt in Edgware Road, a street I’ve always found inhospitable in ambience. It was a gambling club, not the sort James Bond goes to, but quite well set-up, with a table downstairs, three more upstairs and a bar. We sat down at it. There was a guy already there. Frank did an exaggerated look of shock when he saw him and then indulged in a bit of horseplay, pretending to go for a gun as if in a western.

“Not playing tonight Dimitri?” said Christopher. Frank was busy explaining the way he wanted a cocktail done to the barman. The drinks were passed round, mine tasted terrible.

“Jesus, Frank, what is it?”

“Amaretto di Saronno, with a little something added. Why, don’t you like it?”

“It’s fucking horrible,” I said, for some reason in a deliberately course voice.

“Dimitri, this is Alex,” said Chris. We shook hands.

“Dimitri does something very secret at the Soviet Embassy... I hear Yevtushenko’s in Cuba, Dimitri. Is it nice there at this time of year?”

“Jesus, Chris, lay off,” said Frank. “... Dimitri and I come out to relax. Cut out the shit stirring, eh Dimitri.” He slapped his ideological enemy on the back. He seemed capable of establishing a remarkably uniform rapport with all human beings.

“Christopher when are you going to introduce me to that beautiful girl who lives at your place when she’s got no money? Why not send her round to Uncle Dimitri, eh?”

Christopher laughed deprecatingly but contentedly.

“I couldn’t trust you with her Dimitri.... Ask me next week, I’ll give it some thought....” Chris and the Russian played around with and developed their fantasy roles as white slavers. It was obviously an important part of their public armour. I was embarrassed for them and as they moved slightly to one side I retreated to the bar, unwilling to witness the baring of such unprepossessing souls. I slipped onto a stool and watched the barman slice up a lemon and put sticks into glace cherries.

“What’s your angle, Alex?” Frank’s sharp question interrupted my reverie of disenchantment.

“What, d’you mean with Chris?”

“Chris, Dimitri, me...... this place. This isn’t your scene.”

“You brought me here, remember?”

“Oh yeah, that’s right. I remember now. You agreed to check your CND badge with the hat girl.”

I let this revelation of his unexpected insight hang in the air. I deliberately said nothing, waiting for him to make the running.

“Don’t waste your time on Chris. He’s small potatoes. There aint many meal tickets coming from that direction.” Was this a sexual or a political proposal? Whichever, it was apparent that Chris’s house-guests had a uniform opinion of his powers of influence.

“What d’you say then, Frank.....?”

He signalled to the barman to re-fill my glass.

“Same again... It aint so bad once you get a taste for it, is it?” This reference to drinks increased the air of ambiguity.

“I don’t know how you can go around with him anyway. Hell Alex, he’s a pervert! - Go to it Chris Baby,” he suddenly shouted.

“..... A pervert, a crum-bum. You’re young, you’re clean. Why d’you want to let him touch you? If I had my way, those sort of guys..... Well, first I’d make it so they had to have an operation - No choice.” His eyes were beginning to glaze over, perhaps in dreams of personally performing the operation, without anaesthetic.

“A little extra money wouldn’t go unappreciated,” I cautiously volunteered. In the background a woman’s sudden laugh momentarily returned our attention to Chris and Dimitri jockeying for pre-eminence in a little group by a gaming table.

“That’s good to hear, Alex, good to hear... I like you Alex. You remind me of a guy I used to know.” I couldn’t make out whether this was a corny wistful reference to himself as a young man or, a guy he used to know - some average guy who he’d met in a bar and had a drink with. Perhaps it had gone further. How was I to know? This was something I didn’t want to develop. Luckily neither did he. “.... You’re on to something, I know that much.... It may be that we can do each other a favour sometime soon.... if you don’t get your paws too dirty, that is... Stay clean, who knows...” He reached his hand into a pocket and passed across an envelope to me. I folded it and put it into my back pocket without looking at it.

“What have I got to do? Write six letters and in three years I get two million threepenny stamps.... Mint condition?”

“Nothing so complicated Alex, Old Boy,” he said in the studied impression of the English Gent that Americans seem to find so amusing.

“What then?”

“There’s a hundred dollar bills in there. Why don’t you guess what I’d like you to do - Hey, that’s it Chris Baby, go to it,” he shouted as Chris momentarily lurched towards us and then receded. I was running through a selection of crisp rent boy put-downs when he added, “.... and I’m not talking about your bum boy games.”

“Course not. A guy like you doesn’t have to pay for it.”

I thought for a while. At a signal from Frank the barman filled up our glasses from the cocktail shaker.

“Just keep an eye on him for me Alex.” He nodded back towards Chris. “... Stay with it. Once in a while let me know any new friends, anything that might interest me, like why he pushed Sandie right in front of Ronnie Forsythe... any little plans he might have for them... Why Ronnie’s gotten so edgy of late.... You know the sort of things.” I was beginning to. Or at least I was beginning to feel that I should know them. Like when the teacher says “Now is there anyone who still doesn’t understand don’t be afraid to put up your hand.” And you never do, because that’ll make you Village Idiot - Official.

“Sure Frank,” I said. “... No sweat.”

This time the wave carrying Chris brought him crashing right into our conversation.

“Frank. Don’t be so bloody boring. Come away from Alex, he’ll only depress you. Come and meet this lovely woman who keeps telling me she’s married.”

“Why Chris, don’t you know she’s only playing hard to get... Just watch the U.S. Navy in action.”

 

*****

 

It was more than a week before I heard again from Christopher. When I did it was a phone call to tell me about a party that was coming up the following weekend. I could tell he was excited about it from his manner although he was trying to play it very cool. Ever since I’d first met him he’d never stopped going on about his titled friends and influential connections. As a stud might recount his conquests so Christopher listed his famous cronies. Everyone who met him noticed it and so the impact was largely diminished - “It’s about fifty miles out of town, a friend of mine’s got a country house... Peer of the Realm actually. He said I could bring a few close friends so I thought of you, Alex.”

“Mind if I bring a friend, Chris?”

“You naughty boy, who is he?”

“Not him... her.” A slight silence.

“Is she good looking?”

“Yes.”

“How good looking?”

“A knockout.”

“Bring her then, Alex, bring her.”

I put the phone down and relaxed back into the floral-print armchair, lighting a cigarette. I reckoned I had just earned myself at least a thousand quid if the standards set in Richmond Park were any guide. I toyed with the idea of getting a first class ticket on the Orient Express.

 

As the week progressed a doubt arose about whether the party would go ahead; it was part of the larger doubt about whether the human race would continue. The Cuba Crisis, as it was now called, had been steadily developing since The Bay of Pigs, but round about the end of August it had shifted up a gear and by late October it was in overdrive. In counterpoint, with Athens and the Greek Islands now in my sights, I began to relax, the pressures were receding. I no longer drank desperately but calmly, savouring the flavour, giving the palate a chance.

One night the whole town went to bed talking about the Vassall case, he’d been found guilty and given eighteen years, we woke up to find that Kennedy had made the toughest presidential speech since Roosevelt had declared war in 1941. Prices on Wall Street and in the City crashed, people with yearly season tickets suddenly felt cheated. I rang Toby, who earlier in the month had deigned to give me his number. As I expected he was bouncing off the walls to such an extent that I found it impossible to get any sense out of him. For some strange reason his fury focused on the fact that the NATO allies had not been consulted prior to the speech. I found this concern on behalf of the Western Alliance touching coming from Toby but he was not to be placated. His euphoria of two days previously when I had informed him of my coup had completely vanished.

I went out and bought the papers. The Daily Worker was playing it down, it restricted itself to commenting that the only foreign base in Cuba was owned by the U.S.A. But the adverts page was full of Pro-Cuba rallies. They were planning a big one in Trafalgar Square for the coming Sunday, or for any of the South London Chapter who couldn’t make it, there was one at Mitcham Baths on the Friday evening. I lit another cigarette and tried to imagine Battersea Park without any grass.

 

I’d arranged that Pascale and I would go down with Christopher in his Daimler on the Saturday morning. I’d agreed on the phone with Toby that I would meet her at ten thirty outside Sloane Square Underground. It was a sunny day and I was leaning on a railing watching pedestrians and motorists disputing possession of the road when she arrived. She came up behind me and pinched my bum.

“The Gents’ Lavatories are across the street. Be in the end cubicle in five minutes,” I said without turning round. She said hello. She was wearing a long leather coat and boots, so she looked different from most of the other women in the square who like ducklings still hadn’t shed their fluffy woollen coats at the diktat of the politburo of high fashion. Her dark hair cascaded round her shoulders and the look in her eyes was friendly and coquettish. I instantly felt that spontaneous internal surge that many people describe as a symptom of love. I was pleased she was doing herself justice because I knew Christopher would be impressed and also because it’s always nice to be in the company of a good looking woman. I’d already noticed men looking at her and then looking at me. Partly for their benefit I accentuated the image of our rapport by playing gently with her hair and giving her the smile that has a twinkling star in each eye. I didn’t mention the Cuba business although the news was mixed: U.S. Coastguards had boarded a Senegalese ship, but after searching it had let it continue on its way; a moderating voice in the White House had said that Russian bases in Cuba would be smashed up by force. Russia had mobilised her army, Chou En-Lai had addressed a hysterical anti-American crowd in Peking and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow had been attacked by angry mobs. As a supporting feature China and India were preparing to go to war. But the morning had brought the news that Khrushchev had ordered his freighters to temporarily hold off from entering the zone where they would be searched, and the world was clutching at this straw.

BOOK: Blame It on the Bossa Nova
11.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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