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
“Good,” he mused absent-mindedly. I wondered whether he was still brooding over the machinations of U.S. foreign policy, or seriously re-appraising my suitability for the job. Eventually he broke the silence.
“You see, I don’t think you realize what a mess the world’s in.”
I had some idea things could have been in better shape, but I let him continue.
“... Everyone’s running scared. Macmillan’s shitting himself. Everything he touches turns to shit. He’s staked everything on this Common Market application, and he didn’t even want to do that. Kennedy forced him into it because he wants to get Polaris off of Kennedy.”
“Polaris is a nuclear missile, launched by submarine - Expensive toy. Macmillan wants it - Christ knows why - Imperial prestige, and all that, fading glory - I don’t know.... You’re not meant to know any of this by the way. Don’t go shooting your mouth off down the boozer or you’ll have MI5 down on you like a ton of bricks. It’s what’s officially known as the Independent Deterrent....Anyway the British Government is prepared to pay seven teaching hospitals, seven hundred and fifty kidney machines and fifty thousand OAP deaths a year through hypothermia to get hold of it - Some people say it’s a bargain, I don’t know. Kennedy wants us in Europe to bolster NATO, it’s all part of his European defence strategy. He doesn’t give a fuck about the internal strains that puts on poor old Supermac. Try explaining about the problems of New Zealand lamb to a four star general from Arkansas. If that isn’t bad enough - and this is really secret - Carrington’s cocked it up again.”
“Remind me again, who’s Carrington?” I knew he was something high up in the war machine.
“First Lord of Admiralty.”
“Ah yes, that’s right.”
“After Portland and the Krogers they told him to get his finger out. Well, it’s happened again, you’ll hear all about it soon enough. It’s just a cipher clerk we got hold of. On its own they could get away with it, but on top of all the rest.... You see they keep promising to get all the rotten apples out of the barrel, but the trouble is, the barrel’s rotten too... And on top of all this the press don’t want to know since the Telegraph and the Mail got done for two hundred and seventeen grand. They run away from stories now. And I tell you, there’s a lot to run away from.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
“Because I’m not sure whether you’re stupid, or you just don’t care.... And I want to give you the choice. Not only that, I don’t want you backing out of something half way through, running to mummy and saying you didn’t know what was going on.... ‘Cos you see, the Tory Party’s coming apart at the seams, the country’s coming apart at the seams. And a lot of people are going to get very nasty when the shit starts flying. And I’m dropping you right into the middle of it.... It’s not a game. You could get hurt. I haven’t conned you by the way. Everything I said was true. You could earn really big money for very little effort - Take this by the way - If you still want it.” He casually passed me a brown envelope. I looked briefly inside. It was stuffed full of fivers, at least three hundred quid’s worth. “... But you could get hurt. And if you do there are no come-backs. That’s part of the deal. Understood?” This, then had been the purpose of the lecture. Now that the contract was to be implemented the final clause had to be spelled out. I thought for a while but there was still no choice. It’s hard to comprehend danger, fear and political intrigue in Richmond Park on a Sunday afternoon.
“Understood,” I said. The suave, urbane face of Toby that had receded during the transmission of hard facts returned as we walked back down the hill to the car park. He began to introduce into the conversation esoteric information with regard to demographic trends among the fallow deer population of the park. It was wasted on me. I, for my part, made efforts to reassure him not only of my undiminished enthusiasm for the cause, but also my new found ideological commitment.
“Who’d have thought they’d have the nerve to repeat the old Guatemala ‘54 trick, eh Toby? ........ Banana Republics are one thing. Banana Sub-Continents are something else again.” It was wasted on him. We turned a corner at the end of the ferns. I could see the car park and his Morris Oxford, and standing next to it, smoking a cigarette, Pascale. As we approached her I saw that as usual her thoughts were occupied somewhere other than present time and space.
“I have explained the situation to our young friend, and he is still interested,” said Toby giving a resume to any listeners who had missed the last episode.
“It looks as if we’re going to be going to parties together,” I said to Pascale in a fresh schoolboy manner.
“It seems that way,” she said.
“Better brush up your dance routines. I’ll give you some lessons if you like.”
“I don’t think that will be necessary.”
“You and me together Pascale. We could take on the world.”
She showed her enthusiasm for this vision by walking round to the other side of the car and getting into the front passenger seat.
“Time to be off then Old Boy,” said Toby, now fully recovered from the effects of the tutorial.
“You couldn’t drop me at the bus stop could you?”
“‘Fraid not. Bad security.”
“Just testing,” I said. “I wouldn’t have wanted any other answer.” I watched the car wind its way down towards the Robin Hood Gate. I watched it get smaller as it put distance between us. Inside it was Pascale. Our five minute meeting had reminded me of her characteristics, her body, the way she moved, her indifference, hopefully calculated. There was no doubt about it, she was becoming more gorgeous by the second.
“Yes.... Who is this?”
“You’re a friend of Sandie’s?”
“A friend of Chris’s?”
“I’d like to meet you sometime soon.”
“Sure....... Who are you?”
“Could you come to the House tonight?”
“Any particular house?”
“The House of Commons.”
“Sure..... What time?”
“Is ten o’clock alright.... I’ve got a Division earlier.”
“If you wait at the entrance to Dean’s Yard I’ll send someone to pick you up.”
“Well...... see you later, then.”
“It is who I think it is, isn’t it?”
“Sure..... see you later........” I put the Mingus ‘A Night in Tunisia’ LP onto the turntable of the Dansette record player, savouring what I took to be its anarchic crescendos. I wanted to be loose for my confrontation with the Establishment.
Of course they kept me waiting. Once or twice I hopped across to the statue of a griffin, or whatever it is, in the middle of The Sanctuary, in front of the west front of the Abbey. It was cold. A crowd started to spill out of the Methodist Central Hall opposite, and to dissolve. As I watched, momentarily distracted, a hand was placed on my shoulder. It spooked me. I jumped up and round.
“Mr Marshall?” It was some old guy, not worth taking in.
“..... Follow me please.” He led me under the archway that is the entrance to Dean’s Yard, along a stretch of pavement and up some steps. A porter in the lobby waved us through and we began to climb a narrow flight of steps in an old building that was apparently partitioned off into hundreds of private offices mostly for backbench MPs, I could see by the labels on the doors we passed. We went down a corridor at the end of which was an open door. Light came out, we went in....... A room with three secretarial stations, filing cabinets and trays, papers everywhere - on the floor, on shelves, on cupboards. Seated behind a typewriter but casually swinging his legs sideways and also leaning back, forcing the pivot in the back of his office swivel chair to its extremes, was Ronnie Forsythe, the guy I’d seen through the half open door with Sandie at the party in Earls Court. He was one of those guys with the permanent seven o’clock shadow - but groomed. The image says ‘Successful Businessman, Smooth Hard-Case’. And generally it doesn’t lie. He had the suit and tie to match. I heard the door close behind me and looked round. Old Bones had disappeared but a young guy had taken his place, also smart but this time hard in a different sense - physically. He leaned on the door in the way detectives do in films while their mates are interrogating a suspect they ‘know’ to be guilty. He looked at me as if weighing up my prowess in a rumble. I sat down the other side of the desk to Forsythe. I put my foot on the grate of a fireplace where a fire had been allowed to die a few hours previously and pushed myself back into the chair.
“Alex..?” Part welcome, part question, part accusation.
“Pleased to meet you.” A hand extended across the table and I swivelled round and shook it awkwardly, then went back to my former position. I felt that neither of us was too happy with even this token display of cordiality.
“The future - You.... You’re the future. Our future, the country’s future.... You and your generation.” I didn’t think the gap in our ages was sufficient to justify this Methuselah style approach but I let it go.
“And yet I hardly know you.” Silence. “... You’re a person. You have dreams, aspirations... I expect.”
I mulled over my limited aims.
“....Tell me about them.”
“They’re pretty personal. They wouldn’t interest you.... Really they wouldn’t....” Silence.
“So, you’re a friend of Bryant’s?” There was no love of Chris implicit in the question.
“Uh-huh.” I nodded lethargically. He watched me. Big Ben chimed half past.
“A partner of Bryant’s?”
“Since he practises medicine that’s hardly likely is it?”
“I wasn’t referring to his medical practice....”
“What’s that then?” We spoke with long pauses between. I reached over and tapped his time clock, it was a game of chess.
“Blackmail.” Suddenly we were into the middle game, and me with my pawns not properly developed. I said nothing but turned round to look at the bodyguard.
“He’s surprised, Adrian,” said Forsythe.... I hadn’t figured him for an Adrian.
“Of course he is...” said Adrian. “... They always are.”
It was evident from his demeanour that Adrian considered himself one of those chosen few never taken off guard by the vicissitudes of fate.
“Who does he blackmail?.... You?” I said.
“How could I possibly be blackmailed?” said Forsythe.
“I haven’t the faintest idea.” I said. I could go on like this forever.
“I can do this quicker,” said Adrian and Forsythe smiled.
“Stop wasting my time Mr Marshall. I know your game - Adrian.”
I stood up as he came towards me but I was ill prepared. He belted me in the stomach and then the face, cutting me with a heavy ring he was wearing. Then he put a hand on my shoulder and forced me back into the chair. He remained standing behind me. I wanted to vomit from the blow in the guts and my face seemed to be inflating like a balloon. I could feel blood trickling down my cheek. I sensed I hadn’t really done myself justice. Beyond Forsythe I saw the top of a red bus going past in the street outside, peoples’ faces looking out. I had somehow got the impression that we had progressed to the inner depths of the building, I hadn’t previously taken in the window. Now I could see that we were in a room fronting on to Great Smith Street. It seemed strange that a cabinet minister could supervise a beating up in a backbencher’s office within sight of the public should they choose to look in. I suppose it’s one of the great strengths of living in a democracy - accountability.
I took out a handkerchief and pressed it to my cheek.
He said “I’m sorry, that was clumsy. But talking would have taken so long... Can we just take it as read that I can get this sort of thing organised very easily, and far more comprehensively....” My silence testified to my comprehension.
“... Anything you could get through Bryant’s squalid little activities would be peanuts.... and you take a big risk. You annoy people who generally don’t appreciate being leaned on, however gently..... People like me who can arrange five witnesses to say you assaulted a policeman... What will that get you? Five years? It’s not worth it... There’s dozens of bent Old Etonians in the woodwork. Burgess and Maclean weren’t the only ones. Rentokill will get them in the end... I can assure you it’s far more rewarding to be working for the good guys.”
I had my doubts about the efficacy of Rentokill but I kept them to myself. I looked cautiously round at Adrian.
“It’s alright Adrian, you can leave us now.”
“See you Adrian,” I said ambiguously, but I don’t think he lost any sleep.
Once in a pub in Cambridge, in a part of the town as far removed from dreaming spires as is the underground city of proles in Metropolis from the fresh air, some mates and I jokingly engaged an old working class communist in argument. He was a Stalinist; we had taken the obvious ‘What about the purges? What about Hungary? Whatever happened to Baby Marx?’ line - The Humanists - We cared. He had seen through us. Halfway through our talk after I had made, what I thought, a particularly telling point he rounded on me. “You can be bought, you can be bought.” He’d said it intensely, his face pressed close to mine, but with a twinkle in the eye as he reached to get us all another round. But he’d meant it. And inside me I’d known he was right.