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
“The stupid bastards. The silly stupid bastards,” said Pascale. Toby said nothing but looked glum. I said nothing. Pascale poured herself another drink and I helped myself to a whisky then remembered I’d been drinking rum. Suddenly conversation was in short supply.
“Well, I’ll be making tracks then,” I said gaily.
“Yes, yes, of course dear boy,” said Toby, obviously glad to get rid of me now that he’d done his business. It was evident that he never had nurtured hopes of any kind of relationship between us. This seemed to me to be a bit of an up in the air kind of way to leave things.
“So we’ll be meeting again then?”
“Of course.” He seemed abstracted. “I’ll phone you tomorrow. Fill you in on all the details.” I hovered nervously. It seemed to me that if I was to benefit from this deal, now was a good time to start. I was skint. The drift of my thoughts must have communicated.
“I won’t insult you by offering you money now,” he said.
“Oh Toby. I think we know each other well enough for me not to be insulted by a little thing like that.” A little grudgingly, I felt, he took out his wallet and peeled off four fivers.
“A small retainer,” he said. “...To show our good will.”
I looked across to Pascale but our parting appeared to hold no special significance to her, so I left with a brief nod to both of them, and seconds later I was rubbing shoulders with stupid idiots hell-bent on seeing the Elgin Marbles or a Pharaoh’s tomb.
I made my way to the French pub in Soho, the York Minster. Things were really lively there and I knew the crowd but surprisingly their merrymaking jarred on me. By the time I got back to Battersea Park I was in a depressed state but not pissed. I don’t get drunk very easily; my personality does not undergo metamorphoses. I suppose it’s because I spend so much time exploring its farthest recesses, that my sub-conscious holds so few surprises for me when it is revealed unexpectedly through drink.
The gates of the park were closed. I slumped into an armchair in the living room that gave a view of the tops of trees and the London sky. I was furious with myself for taking all that shit from Pascale and Toby. What for? A few measly quid? They knew what they could do with it. I didn’t need it that badly. Fuck Pascale. Fuck Toby. The more I thought about it, the more unreal it seemed. Who was the guy again? Christopher Bryant? And had I actually agreed to put it on the line for him? Or at least, give him the come-on. That’s what I understood. Jesus Christ! And I’d been sober at the time. Well I was sober now and they could stick it. It was the five hundred pounds that had done it. Five hundred minimum he had said. But the more I thought the more I realized I didn’t need anything like five hundred pounds to get to Greece. Fifty would do it and money to burn. Once in Athens things would be taken care of, and then something would turn up. I could give English lessons, sell my blood if it came to it. But the trouble was I was skint. I felt in my pockets. I had three crumpled pound notes and a great weight in coppers out of the twenty that Toby had given me. And that was all I had in the world. I lay back and closed my eyes but meditation has never come easily so I opened them again. I saw the interior of the flat and a message flashed from my brain. There must be money here, somewhere. Half hidden, half casually deposited. There must be money in this dwelling place.
I stopped searching at three a.m. The place looked as if it had been turned over by the flying squad. On the table in front of me was four pounds eighteen shillings and elevenpence. I turned off the lights and went to bed.
Again I was awakened by the telephone ringing. Again it was Toby.
“How the hell d’you know my number?”
“Let us keep some of our little secrets old boy.”
“You keep saying that to me and one day you’ll get punched in the mouth.”
He chuckled. “Really Alex, you’re too violent.”
He told me all the details he hadn’t told me the day before. The day that had been reserved for getting principles sorted out. He told me shops I could go to where I would be given new clothes without the embarrassment of having to handle money. He told me lots of things I didn’t find very interesting but he told me they were important. He told me things to say and things not to say, things to do and things not to do. And finally he told me the time of my appointment with Christopher Bryant.
Names etched on brass give a reassuring message of permanence and respectability. I had a selection of them to look at on the front door as I waited for the receptionist to open it. Christopher Bryant’s sat snugly in the centre of the group. Harley Street waiting rooms have a depressing uniformity; above the neo-Adam fireplace was a mirror; the curtains and wallpaper had the drabness that can only come with extreme old age. On the table in the centre were copies of Country Life and Punch. I sat on one of the hard straight-backed chairs placed round the perimeter of the room. In an armchair by the window was a woman, about fifty, in a navy blue suit. After a while a nurse came and called her and she disappeared. I sat alone in the room, slightly apprehensive, as many must have sat there before me, but I’m sure not for the same reason.
The sound of a descending lift and the clanging of shutter gates jarred me back to the present. The door was opened by a nurse I hadn’t seen before and very shortly I was inside the lift heading upwards, reading as always the name and address of its makers and the maximum number of persons it could safely carry. The lift halted abruptly and we crossed the strip of faded floral pattern carpet to a door at the end of the corridor. She opened it and I stepped inside. There behind the inevitable foursquare hardwood desk sat Christopher Bryant: The end of my pilgrimage, the beginning of my penance. He rose, stepped sideways and with practiced ease shook hands with me in greeting. He motioned to a chair and I heard the door close behind as the nurse slipped out. He resumed his seat; behind him through long net curtains I could see a black cast-iron fire escape. It closed my horizon, beyond it was a void. It brought one’s mind back into the room. Inside the room was everything, outside nothing. Bryant looked at me quizzically and, as I had previously prepared, I dropped my eyes nervously in a crude attempt to simulate the confusion of a latent homosexual whose dirty little mind has just been read by someone with x-ray vision. It was one of many poses and gestures I had thought out: My imperfect perceptions of the mannerisms of a queer. Their strength I hoped lay in the overall impression they would combine to create. I regarded none of them as a laser to my soul.
“So what brings you to see me?”
“A friend recommended you.”
“A friend?” His eyebrows arched. I told him a name that Toby had given me. It seemed to satisfy his curiosity.
“How is he these days?”
“Good.... And what is the problem then?” I embarked on my tale of woe; my strained leg muscles, recurring pains years after a car accident, the failure of conventional medicine, nothing apparently wrong, in agony, would try anything - no insult intended - if he could only help. I warmed to my task. Sympathy steeped in self-awareness expressed itself on his face. I had been told he was charming and I could understand why he was considered so. Charm can be conveyed by subtle facial movements. I immediately assumed this was a cynical mask; later I was to be less certain. The resonance of his voice also contributed to his attractiveness. I have often thought it strange that this physical chance can denote a personal quality. It is as if blonde hair indicates compassion. His voice was a weapon, soft and silky, and he used it. He could have made telling the time an immoral suggestion. His face was well suited to complement the tones of his voice and his mastery of gesture, but perhaps the face of anyone so endowed is automatically the right face. His hair was swept back and his eyes were accentuated - large, lively, compassionate, etcetera, etcetera. Their range was great. His nose was long and thin and he had a well proportioned mouth. This I noticed over the first few minutes of our meeting as I played my little game of nervously raising my eyes to meet his, then dropping them down again. He was happy in my discomfort and relaxed in it. He asked me questions about my accident and the pains in my leg; which doctors I had seen, the nature of the attacks. He wrote my answers down as if he was really listening to me. My image of his cynicism, as reported by Toby, made it inconceivable to me that he could be a competent, conscientious doctor. I told him that I had last had a spasm of pain playing squash the previous week. He wrote it down, paused for a second and then dropped his pen on the blotter.
“Let’s have a look shall we?” He indicated the couch.
“So you were at Cambridge were you?” His hands gently probed tiny bones in my foot.
“Not there. The pain’s higher up.”
“That’s alright, relax. We’ll come to it.”
“Yes. Saint Catherine’s.” He eased some ligaments, he tapped others.
“Did you ever meet Matty Connell?” I never had met the guy, although our dissolute lives had run a similar course.
“Our paths never crossed. It’s like that at Cambridge.”
A slight smile, nervously loitering on the edge of his lips revealed that he agreed, with reservations I should never know.
“Ow!” I shouted in pain.
“That hurt?” I nodded. It had.
“That must mean something. I wish I knew what.” He smiled.
His probing continued. I decided to put him to the test. As his hand touched my upper thigh I gently brought my hand down on top of it and looked into his face. He smiled gently at me, placed his other hand over mine and his look changed to something less wistful, more immediate.
“You’re really very sensitive, aren’t you?” he said.
“It was tickling.”
“That’s what I mean.... Very sensitive.” I looked at him, startled and then looked down ‘confused’. As that Indian guy in Billy Bunter would have said: ‘The queerfulness was terrific.’
“Don’t worry.... I know plenty of people like you, and they’re all perfectly well balanced.”
“Are they?” I asked almost anxiously, but he didn’t answer.
That seemed to signal the end of the examination. I got dressed and he sat behind his desk. It was as if we were both glad to have it between us. He told me that he could detect nothing drastically wrong with me but that he recommended a few sessions of manipulative treatment, not necessarily with himself, but he would be pleased to undertake it if I wished. I asked what sort of manipulative treatment he had in mind but he was in no mood to pursue the tone of innuendo we had established on the couch. The moment had been acknowledged and now he was the professional Harley Street man and I was a patient with whom he was exchanging innocuous pleasantries prior to being shown the door.
“It looks cloudy. I shouldn’t be surprised if we don’t have rain this afternoon.” Surely he could do better than that. The door closed behind me.
Down in Cavendish Square there was a row going on. A gang of blokes, most of them dressed in bowler hats and fur waistcoats through which their naked arms protruded, were kicking up a fuss and shouting. One of them had a trumpet and was blowing an emasculated version of ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’. Some girls, one or two similarly dressed, the rest in duffle coats or donkey jackets, were encouraging them. As I passed them I could see embedded in the fur a variety of CND badges, they were worn like campaign medals, revealing a hierarchy of active service. Some badges said ‘Cuba Si. Yankee No’. One of their number, detecting in me an alien intelligence shouted ‘Hands Off Cuba’ into my face. The cry turned into a chant which diminished as I turned the corner towards Oxford Circus. The whole effect was to vaguely depress me. The ‘Ravers’ as they were known made a strange contrast with Bryant and his world as it had been portrayed to me by Toby. But they had a bond in the security of companionship; little sub-cultures spinning along adjacent to each other, like twin universes oblivious of the other’s presence.
Back in the flat, with the coming of night my mood had not improved. I tend to wallow in my bouts of introspective depression. Everything was wrong. I had entered into this Bryant adventure light heartedly, not believing it would ever come off, and not greatly caring. But then I’d experienced the shock of realizing that financially I was up against the buffers. Cambridge was a machine geared to creating an endless series of loans; one was embarrassed by would-be creditors fighting in the queue outside one’s door. But London was different. Here was definitely no honey still for tea. And bread and butter was in short supply. Then I’d got the crush on Pascale and everything had pointed to going along with this Bryant business. It was so easy and it unlocked all the doors, perhaps Pascale would even come to Greece with me, so I had agreed to do it. And now, it was obvious to me that I could never deliver on that particular deal. I picked up a copy of the Evening Standard and looked down the jobs page. The only one I reckoned I could stand was barman. I rang a number advertising a part-time job. But the money they were paying was ridiculous - ten bob a night, and was I big? They had trouble at weekends. That was no good to me, but it was all I could do. I put the phone down even more depressed. There was a television in the room, I turned it on but the screen was a snowstorm and, when I tried to adjust it, it turned into an animated Bridget Riley. It had a certain internal dynamism but after four seconds its attraction started to pall. In England, Indian summers have cold nights so I turned on the one bar electric fire. It was the first time I had used it, so hectic had been my social drinking, and I smelt burning as the accumulated dust and fluff of the summer months frizzled merrily away. By now the blackness really got a hold on me. I wandered into the kitchen to make myself a cup of Nescafe and saw a radio on top of a washing machine. It responded to the touch and I turned it to the Home Service. The news was on. The Cuba crisis seemed to have faded away. In Southern Rhodesia some terrorists had got together and called themselves ZAPU. The Z stood for Zimbabwe, said the newsreader, the ‘African name for Southern Rhodesia’. ZAPU promised violence and death until their goal of independence was achieved. I had no doubt that would not be long. An American general, Maxwell Taylor, had made a speech in Saigon. South Vietnam had just been pacified by a string of strategically placed hamlets, built to protect the people against terrorists. Now America could divert its aid into social and economic fields, he said. Edward Kennedy was running for Senate. He was accused by his rival for the Democrat Primary of trading on the family name...... And Stravinsky was going to visit Russia.