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
To my great relief Christopher turned out to be promiscuous. His tastes were catholic - men, women, straight, bent, with endless variations on a theme. I could never have hoped to detain him even if that had been my aim. But in friendship he was generous. From the induction course one graduated to his large circle of friends and acquaintances who could call or drop in on him at any time without warning. He might tell you to fuck off, but it would be without malice and one could call again. For me it was the perfect situation. And so after an intense ten days at the end of September when he had me believing that he wanted to make me the centre of his universe for ever and a day, all the hard work was done. Naturally there was no need for me to bore Toby with details of the facility with which all this had been achieved. It was far more uplifting for him, I reasoned, to be allowed to continue to cherish the image of me closing my eyes and thinking of the Soviet Union, crying myself to sleep, a lonely wretched ball of humanity, etcetera, etcetera. He was happier that way, so was I, and so was my bank manager.
I was in the flat fiddling with the controls of the tele reaching to those uncharted regions, the knobs on the back panel. It was a process of trial and error - empirical knowledge. A sort of compression in time of the same experience that the Mediaeval master masons underwent over a period of four centuries in perfecting the Gothic style. Eventually I got a tolerable picture. John Logie Baird would have been well pleased. I went to the larder and got out my two remaining quart bottles of pale ale and settled down in front of the box. My control over the medium wasn’t so great that I knew whether or not it could pick up ITV so I steeled myself for the Black and White Minstrel Show to be followed by Perry Mason and another lost weekend. I was trying to look up the skirts of the Television Toppers as they did a garden swing routine when the phone rang. It was Toby. He wanted to meet me in Richmond Park the following afternoon.
“Jesus. Do we have to go all the way out there?”
“Yes, I’m afraid we do.” His tone was clipped, very much the employer addressing the employee.
“Alright.” I restrained the urge to ask if Pascale would be there.”.... What time?”
“Where? It’s a big park.”
“The car park in the centre.”
“Why? Is that the hardest part to get to?”
The phone went dead. I went back to fall asleep in front of the tele.
No taxis passed the flat for ten minutes after I had started waiting so I made the mistake of going by public transport. It’s always an experience to ride on buses; one sees the species in an entirely new light. The Sunday service is poor and I had a connection to make at Clapham Junction but by quarter past two I got off the bus outside Rosslyn Park rugby club opposite Barnes Common. I always underestimate travelling times, especially when walking is involved and I’d badly miscalculated again. It was a hell of a trek just to get to the park gates. It had seemed a pleasant idea to walk it, but from the gates I couldn’t even see the main car park. Before long I had to leave the path and cut off through the long grass heading for a clump of trees on the horizon. I hadn’t realized how out of condition I was. I was perspiring freely and breathing hard as I walked up to Toby at three o’clock. He was leaning on the boot of a Morris Oxford and was alone.
“I was beginning to think you weren’t coming,” he said. It was his standard form of greeting.
“So was I. Next time choose a boozer.”
“There’s a reason we’re meeting here.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“Let’s walk,” he said. This was too much.
“For Christ’s sake give me a break. I’m not in a position to go anywhere at the moment.” He took the point and we stood and looked at the Sunday throng and the scenery for ten minutes. His face bore an expression that said it was ten minutes of his life he was never going to see again. After a while I nodded and we walked off down a path that headed vaguely for the Isabella Plantation, the pretty little wooded estate in the centre of the park.
“How’s it going with Bryant?” he asked suddenly.
“Bryant?” I queried disingenuously. “... Oh!” Realization.
“... You mean Chris. Oh, great.”
“You’re seeing him then?”
I nodded ambiguously.
“Anyway, don’t kid me you didn’t know,” I added.
“I don’t. We’ve kept well clear of you since we last saw you.”
“We’d post that anyway. That’s still the retainer. I told you, we’re talking about big money.”
“Good,” I said, “... because at the moment I think you’re a bit light on payment.”
“That’s no problem.”
“It is to me,” I said. We hacked on a bit further through the ferns, now turning golden and sweeping up and down the gentle slopes like the light swell of the sea. Once all of suburban south west London must have looked like Richmond Park. It must have been quite something.
“What d’you think of him?” said Toby.
“He’s a well meaning Joe... He doesn’t know what he is himself. Harley Street doctor, friend of aristocracy and the underworld, sexual polyglot. A sort of Post-Hiroshima Renaissance Man.”
“He’s OK. He’s a well meaning kind of guy. I don’t really know him at all. He doesn’t let you get close. He’s got a lot of complexes, keeps the mask close to the face. All we’ve done is wined and dined, gone to the pictures, and a party.” I told Toby my selected impressions of the party.
“Is he keen on you?”
“I don’t really know. I think so, but then again I’m not seeing him ‘til Tuesday, so he can’t be that bothered can he?”
“D’you wonder why we’ve got you to do this?” he asked. Then he asked me if I wondered who he was or what he represented.
“Would you believe that I got you to meet me here, and then come on this walk to make absolutely certain we’re not being spied upon?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Would you believe me if I told you that Christopher Bryant is a spy?”
“No,” I said.
“He is. A very amateur, dilettante spy. He meddles. But he meets people.”
“Who does he spy for? Mars or the Minor Planets?”
Toby stopped abruptly. He was quite wound up.
“Look. If we’re going anywhere together, if you want to see any of your ‘big’ money, get this straight..... I’m not stupid. Everything I tell you is fact, and I’m not telling you for my, or still less your, amusement... got it. I’m telling you because I want it to sink into your egocentric, decadent little brain.... Got it?”
I nodded, this time less ambiguously.
“Alright. I’m telling you. Bryant meets people. Politicians, cabinet ministers even. Newspaper proprietors, generals, admirals - English, American .... Russian. He meets a hell of a lot of people. And they talk.”
“What d’you want me to do? Get to know them?”
“D’you think I want you to work your arse off?” Toby’s attempt at wit took me by surprise. I had discovered an unexpected fluency in a foreign language.
“... No Alex. I’m afraid I can’t rely on them all being queer. Quite the opposite in fact. And anyway, I’m only interested in one, and he’s very definitely hetro.”
“Well thank God for that... What do you want then?”
“You’re about to realize Alex, just how cushy your job is..... They have parties, not like Earls Court. In country houses - House parties. The things that happen, well...,” he paused searching painfully for descriptive inspiration, “...well, they make that party you went to look like South Coulsdon on a calm night. If you’re in with Bryant he’ll take you to them. All you have to do is get Pascale in.”
“And she gets to meet the politicians, newspaper barons.... and the generals and admirals.”
“Perhaps,” said Toby.
“Why d’you have to do this through me? I wouldn’t have thought it was all that hard for someone like Pascale to move in on a set like that.”
“You’d be surprised. It’s not the Hammersmith Palais. You don’t pay three and six on the door... No, it’s better this way. You’re persona grata. Through you there’s a reason. No need for the chance encounter, spilling the contents of her handbag outside the Athenaeum – ‘I’m so sorry Miss, let me help you pick them up.’ That sort of thing went out with the Great War. Today they’d probably tread on her hand.”
“And what makes you think Pascale can carry this off? She doesn’t come across as the good-time girl to me.”
“You don’t know her.” This was true. And it was true and ridiculous as I recognised the sensation in myself that told me I was already jealous at the thought of Pascale making up to other men, military or otherwise. I resented having the image pushed in front of my senses. I became truculent.
“So, alright. I get her in.” I took credit in advance of delivery. “... So what then? They all lie back like babies and give up their state secrets because a pretty girl says yes?”
“Simple isn’t it?” said Toby.
“Simple and unbelievable.”
“Fortunately Alex, man is a very predictable animal. He’s been doing all sorts of stupid things to make girls say yes, and keep saying yes, for centuries. And I think it extremely unlikely that he’s going to change his ways now.” We’d reached the summit of the incline we had been labouring up since leaving the car park. Ahead of us the dusty track wound down through the ferns to a horseride, then continued on the other side. We looked at each other then sat on the bench that commanded the view.
“And what is this information you want to obtain? And who for?” He thought for a moment. For him it must have been terrible, that moment in time when you know you’ve got to make a decision there and then, a decision which all the previous hours or days, or even weeks agonising has left unresolved.
“Pascale says I shouldn’t tell you ... To be candid, she doesn’t have a very high opinion of you.”
“Really?” I said in a neutral tone.
“But I think .... Well I think we’ve got to tell you. Because, well we’re paying you and if you know what side your bread’s buttered you won’t drop that side on the carpet .... And also you can be more efficient if you know.” He paused again as if expecting me to put the contrary view. But I never have favoured the dialectic approach to problem solving. He tried approaching it from another angle.
“This Cuba business .... It’s going to get big. It’s going to turn into a crisis.”
“It’s a crisis already isn’t it?”
“This is nothing. Believe me, things are moving now. In a month’s time, maybe less, everyone will be shitting themselves - And with good reason.... I’m not telling you any secrets. You’ll find out soon enough.... That’s why it’s so important that certain people have got the complete picture. And the complete picture is made up of lots of tiny pieces.”
“You’re spying for the Russians then?” I said in a harsh, crude voice.
“Not so loud,” he whispered. “Never say that again.”
We were suddenly disturbed by a group of sparrows, the football hooligans of the bird world, kicking up a tremendous din in a bush five yards from where we were sitting.
“Alright. But you are, aren’t you?.... Jesus, you picked the wrong bloke when you picked me. Didn’t you know I was a raving Trot?”
“A Trot?” For a second the colour drained from his face, then he recovered, slowly. “Ah.... Another of your little jokes Alex.”
He laughed a sick laugh and consoled himself with thoughts of my secret trial after the revolution.
“What’s all the fuss about anyway?” I demurred. “America’s only pursuing the Monroe Doctrine. It’s been doing that since 1823.”
“Look, listen. You know nothing. Got it? Nothing.... Get that into your head and you’re going places. The Monroe Doctrine is a piece of history. Why d’you think the CIA hasn’t sparked off an internal insurrection?”
“The Bay of Pigs…”
“The Bay of Pigs was a half-cocked invasion by exiles - No, answer my question. They could have. Cuba’s crawling with CIA agents. Counter insurgency in Latin America has been a preoccupation of Kennedy’s since his senate days. They’ve got the organisation. I’ll tell you why they haven’t done it. It’s because they don’t want to damage U.S. property.... That’s right. Who d’you think owns the electric light company and the telephone company or the oil refineries.... Private U.S. corporations. That’s how nutty they are. They’re scared of a counter-revolution because they don’t want to damage their own property. It’s hilarious isn’t it?” He was laughing that bitter twisted laughter that is close to hysteria. “.. You see, their dream, the object of their policy, is to hand all that private property back, not only to U.S. citizens but also to Cuban exiles, in perfect working order. That’s what they did in ‘54 in Guatamala after the CIA had kicked out Arbenz. Aren’t they beautiful?” He was still laughing in that way that made me nervous. “Aren’t they so beautiful - The cunts.... Castro’s so scared he only gives his armed forces twenty four hours supply of ammunition. He’s not sure who’s loyal and who isn’t... Unrelenting hostility - that’s the terminology for their policy. It’s got nothing to do with the Monroe Doctrine. It’s linked with Berlin, the whole world. And the joke is, it’s alienating every section of Cuban opinion. There isn’t one Cuban that agrees with U.S. policy - Not even the scum. ... But that’s irrelevant. We’re not bothered about what Cubans think.”
A phrase came back to me.
“The sacrifices of our Cuban Brothers?” I said.
“Oh sure, sure. Of course, of course. But when the editor of Time magazine says ‘If Khrushchev wants nuclear war he can have it,’ - and he’s a moderate, then it becomes clear that even by its own insane moral standards the American Industrial - Military machine is out of control.” Perhaps he was aware that he’d got too carried away, revealed something behind the bland exterior, but anyway we neither of us said anything for a few minutes, but sat just looking across at the copse that formed the perimeter of the Isabella Plantation.
“So... OK Toby, you’ve convinced me. I’ll do it.” I slapped him on the back in a pathetically unconvincing simulation of bonhomie. He needn’t have wheeled out the big guns for me. His first salvo would have sunk me. Besides, it wasn’t in my interests to humiliate him in political debate, even if I were to have the capacity.