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
“Traffic bad, was it?” said Toby. This was all beginning to irritate me.
“I had no idea you were so concerned for my welfare.”
He made clucking noises which I imagined were intended to soothe me, and put a large rum in my hand and nodded to a silver tray on a coffee table where among other objects there was a bottle of Coke. I wondered whether a blanket would be placed over the tray and I would be made to write an inventory of every object I could remember. The place stunk of big money - Renaissance cigarette lighters designed by Benvenuto Cellini, really expensive Persian carpets on parts of the floors where you could walk on them. There wasn’t a hollow elephant’s foot with umbrellas stuck in to be seen anywhere. I was impressed.
“You left so early last night. It was such a shame. I felt we were only just getting to know each other.” In the face of overpowering charm I normally revert to inarticulate mumbling. I did so now.
“I know Pascale was disappointed you left so early, weren’t you Pascale?” She did not look disappointed, nor would she confirm his statement. She just took another swig of her drink and stared moodily at the Rococo electric fire.
“Yeah, well I had to go.”
“Such a shame. Such a shame.” Another brief silence, a distant cousin of the ones I had experienced the day before.
“Have you seen the Brecht?”
“At the Court?”
“What a pity. I’d imagine you’d like Brecht - Do you?” There was a certain urgency in the question that surprised me.
“Yeah....by and large.”
“I thought you would.” He preened himself as if he had scored a debating point.
“Didn’t I tell you he would, Pascale?”
“Ask him to name one of his plays.” She looked up at me as she spoke, conveying her deep loathing.
“Now, Pascale that isn’t worthy of you, really it isn’t.”
“I’m sure it’s not, Pascale,” I said and went to look out of the window. I didn’t need this scene after the night before. What I really needed was Jeeves, to prepare one of his wizard concoctions.
“Alex knows them alright; of course he knows them.... Mother Courage, Arturo Ui, Man Is Man..... What d’you take him for?”
I was touched by his fear of the depths of my ignorance.
“Yeah. All those..... They’re great.... I like those ones.”
Pascale got up and poured herself another scotch, then sat down again.
“Why don’t you crack another little joke about Cuba?” she said. Although her French accent was recognisable her confidence in the language made it sound like just another regional dialect.
“What about Cuba?” I said. “Is it that important to you?”
“Yes it is.” She looked steadfastly at the electric fire.
“Oh Jesus Christ. Not another political nutter,” I thought.
She was too good for that. There always had to be something to spoil it.
“And deep down I’m sure it’s important to Alex,” chimed in Toby.
“Yes. Deep down,” I said.
“Somewhere,” she murmured.
“Oh come on Pascale, this is unfair. In your eyes Alex stands accused and judged on the strength of superficial appearances and a few flip comments.” Basically I agreed with him, but I wasn’t so keen on the superficial appearances.
“Perhaps you’re right,” she conceded. “I’m sorry Alex, if I put you off.” She stood up, leaned across and kissed me on the cheek. “It was naughty of me. I won’t do it again.”
“That’s OK,” I mumbled.
“You forgive me. That’s good.”
“Yes. It is good,” said Toby, ever the bridge-builder.
“We all care for the suffering of our Cuban brothers,” he intoned as if challenging me to disagree.
“I have this recurring dream,” I said. “It’s always the same. I see peoples of every class, colour and creed joining hands to form a worldwide fraternity of love and comradeship.”
“I told you you were wasting your time with him. He’s a berk,” said Pascale rising again, but this time going to the window just as I had done a few minutes previously. The word ‘berk’ sounded strange on French lips but I was more concerned that it was being applied to me. I would normally have felt either anger or irritation, but both these reactions were muted by my awareness that I was beginning to feel an enormous physical attraction towards Pascale. Her insult gave me the excuse to look at her frankly. She leaned provocatively back against the wall, looking sideways out of the window. She had a good figure. For the first time I studied her face in depth.
Her mouth was dropped slightly open revealing her teeth, which I was pleased to see were all intact. Her eyes were either hazel, green or grey, I couldn’t make out which, and in their constant movement, now casual, now urgent, they suggested to me a nervous intelligence either hunter or hunted.
“Perhaps you’ve never had that dream,” I said, going for broke and trying to sow the seed of doubt that I might have been sincere. She ignored my comment and I looked instead across to the courtyard of the Museum, which was full of a considerable number of tourists.
“Look at those idiots, searching for history in the Elgin Marbles or a Pharaoh’s tomb.... The idiots. It’s right in front of them on their TV screens.”
These sentiments sounded to me as if they would be better on the lips of Françoise Hardy in a Hollywood imitation new wave film, should any such animal ever exist. Their content didn’t excite me but there was a beautiful sincerity and intensity in the way she spoke. The atheist envied the believer and I felt even more attracted to her. At that point I decided I would do everything in my power to have an affair with her..... But at that moment in time it did not appear to be imminent.
“Have you never seen the Elgin Marbles, Pascale?” asked Toby.
“That’s funny. Neither have I. Something in common at last,” I suggested.
“They’re well worth seeing,” said Toby.
“Why did he bother to bring them in the first place?” said Pascale. “I always thought they looked better on the Parthenon .... The Greeks think so too.”
“The Turks were using it as an ammunition dump at the time,” said Toby. “I think on balance he was right to take them.”
“A tricky moral dilemma,” I said. There was a short silence.
“Do you ever have any of those - moral dilemmas, I mean?” said Toby. It was a genuine question.
“Not normally, no. I must admit. My conscience always acts in a purely advisory capacity.”
“Lucky you,” said Pascale. But Toby looked thoughtful.
“Can I be candid?” he said suddenly.
“For God’s sake don’t bother, Toby,” said Pascale quickly, “...He’ll cock it up for sure.”
“He might not Pascale.”
“He would, he would. He’s a berk, can’t you see that. It’s obvious.”
“Perhaps not, perhaps not,” said Toby. He fell into a ruminative silence and I waited wondering whose will would prevail, and how it would affect me.
“Oh for God’s sake ask him then,” said Pascale and she turned away again to survey the ants in the courtyard whom she so despised.
“Are you hard up, Alex?” he said.
“Ah, hard up....” I repeated the phrase as if considering its origins.... “Well.... Yes, er.... I suppose you could say I was.”
He just kept looking at me so I continued. “....That’s not to say I couldn’t lay my hands on a bob or two if I needed it desperately.”
“So you are hard up?” he said, cutting through to the essence of my reply.
“Well, yes. If I had to say, I am either....A... Well off, or....B... Hard up.....B Hard up.” I repeated with emphasis.
“That’s what I thought,” he said. “....Nothing to be ashamed of about that of course. Half the world’s population is at starvation level.”
“I wouldn’t know,” I said. “But if you tell me it’s so, then I’ll believe it.”
“So you could use some money,” he said.
“Yes,” I said. I’d been planning to get away. Some friends of mine were down in Athens. They’d written to me to join them. All I needed was a bit of money. It seemed I was about to get my hands on some.
“And you wouldn’t be too particular about what you had to do to get it?”
“Well I could stretch a point or two.”
“But as you say, your conscience doesn’t rule you.”
“No, but my instinct for self-preservation has permanent right of veto.”
He chuckled. “Well we wouldn’t want you to do anything that would get you into trouble.” It sounded to me as if he would like very much to do something like that. Pascale had turned and was starting to look at me with renewed interest. That made me nervous as well. It occurred to me that this was an important point in the conversation and it was down to me to decide which way it went. There was no argument really; my personal commitment to getting my hands on some quick, hopefully easy, money, and also getting my hands on Pascale, limited my options to one.
“Yeah, I’m interested.” A silence. “You can definitely take it I’m interested....especially now you’ve explained to me how concerned you are about not getting me into trouble.” Toby looked positively relieved, Pascale looked alarmed. She rummaged in a big black bag and lit up a cigarette. I looked at the packet expecting some exotic foreign brand, but to my surprise it was a pack of Lucky Strike.
“Now you’ve done it, Toby. Now you’ve gone and put us all in the shit.” She exhaled dramatically and a blue cloud formed round her shoulders. “...Tell him then.”
“You’ve made a wise choice my boy. Depending on how it goes you could be earning really big money for very little effort.”
“How much if it doesn’t go at all?”
“If you’ve done your bit.... Five hundred.”
“Five hundred?” I repeated.
“Dollars?” I repeated.
“Pounds,” he amended. “... Not bad for just getting to know someone.”
“Getting to know who?” I said hopefully.
“Him.” He handed me a glossy 8” by 6” photograph that had been lying face down all the time on a glass coffee table in front of me. It was a portrait. It looked like a publicity shot of an ageing juvenile lead – three quarter face, overdone on the light and shade, a fine show of wavy hair above a pair of powerful eyes that looked as if they were working hard to convey compassion, wry humour, wistful nostalgia and a handful of other marketable emotions. I turned the photo over. On the reverse side was the stamp of a studio in Maida Vale overprinted by the words ‘PROOF ONLY. NOT FOR SALE’.
“Who is he?”
“Who is he?”
“Harley Street doctor, socialite, friend of the stars,” said Toby.
“Ponce,” said Pascale.
“Is he rich?” Toby made a vague kind of gesture that told me he wasn’t poor.
“Bent as a brush,” said Pascale.
“You speak very good English Pascale. Which finishing school did you attend? And please don’t say University of Life, School of Hard Knocks.” She was to ignore most of my comments in our brief relationship. She ignored this one.
“So what am I meant to do?” I said.
“Get to know him, that’s all,” said Toby.
“How do I do that?”
“We’ll arrange all that. We’ll give you spending money so you won’t feel out of place.... Get you new clothes.”
“And why am I doing it?”
“Because we’re paying you,” said Pascale.
“And why are you paying me?”
“Ah hah aha!” said Toby. “Let us keep some of our little secrets. Would you be reassured if I told you it was for a good cause?”
“I’m reassured already,” I said.
Five hundred pounds doesn’t sound very much these days. But in 1962 it spoke wonderful words to me. It said a first class ticket on the Blue Train out of Paris ....Rome, and on to Brindisi. It said a leisurely sea crossing to Piraeus, and three months idleness in summer climes. So possibly the deal was open ended, but I could handle that, I thought. And if the going got tough I could always pull out. And then there was Pascale.
“Now I can understand your fears Pascale,” I said putting a friendly hand on her shoulder. “... I look far too clean-cut to get involved in this sort of deal.” She looked straight through me but it didn’t hurt and I looked straight back at eyeball to eyeball range. I was falling for her by the second.
“So what’s the deal Toby?” I said.
“All in good time Alex. Today was just to establish principles. We don’t want to feel you’re being hustled into anything. Sleep on it. See how you feel in the morning.”
“No I’ll do it. Once my mind’s made up I carry a thing through.” This wasn’t strictly true but I thought a determined statement would go down quite well at that point, and the taste of retsina was coming on strong.
“The news is on,” said Pascale, and Toby stepped lightly across the room and flicked a switch on a portable radio. The sound of the GMT pips were followed by the well modulated tones of the news reader... “... Earlier today in a speech in Washington Secretary of State Dean Rusk suggested a conference of American Republics to discuss the worsening situation with regard to Soviet intervention in Cuba. Meanwhile President Kennedy has made a request to Congress to ratify the calling up of one hundred and fifty thousand reservists.” He went on to the other headlines and Toby flicked the switch.