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Authors: Robert Gott

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The Serpent's Sting (35 page)

BOOK: The Serpent's Sting
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‘My God. You people will put any of us at risk to get what you want. You were willing to put Mother in danger, let alone Cloris and me, just to prevent Albert Taylor exposing you as an Intelligence agent.'

Brian bridled.

‘This wasn't about me, Will. Albert Taylor knew who all our agents were. He knew about the Northern Australia Observer Unit. You know as well as I do that that is particularly sensitive information.'

‘Which you've just revealed to Cloris.'

‘I meant that he knew precisely where those men are. He knew their positions. Would he have sold this information? He'd have sold his own mother. He just hadn't found anyone to sell it to yet.'

‘Tell me, Brian, did you know who he was when he turned up at Christmas lunch?'

Cloris was listening with rapt attention.

‘No. I thought he was an American soldier, just as you did. My notes for that day mention Anthony Dervian and Harlen Quist only in passing.'

‘Your notes? You take notes?'

‘It's my job, Will. I'm new at it, but I'm good at it.'

I stood up. Acid began to rise from my gut into my throat. I stared down at Brian. Mother's perfume came off him, and his face was disfigured with poorly applied lipstick and blotchy powder.

‘Albert Taylor wasn't actually a traitor, was he? He was a pimp and a drug pedlar, but he wasn't actually a traitor.'

‘He was a deserter and a potential traitor.'

‘You killed him for a crime he
might
have committed? Your conscience can accommodate this?'

‘There's a war on.'

‘So all conscience is suspended.'

‘I need to use the lavatory,' Cloris said.

‘It's upstairs on the right,' Brian said. ‘Are you all right, Cloris?'

‘Oh yes. I do feel a little odd, as if I might be sick. It's the shock, I think.'

She hurried out of the room.

‘Yes, ma'am. It's right up there. I'll go on ahead and turn the light on for you.' This was an American voice.

‘How many people are in this house right now, Brian?'

‘Half a dozen. They'll all be gone as soon as the truck arrives to collect Taylor's body, which is in the kitchen at the moment. You don't know any of these people. Strachan and Radcliff will be briefed in the morning, and you won't be hearing from them. Captain Holtz will already have been briefed. This investigation is over, and it was successful. And you were a part of that, Will.'

‘Why do I feel so shitty?'

‘Because you're a decent man.'

‘And decency is a weakness that Intelligence can exploit, but which it won't reward.'

‘That isn't true. You're about to make a great success in
Private Lives
.'

‘It doesn't feel like a reward when I know now that Williamson's don't want me, but were instructed to take me.'

Brian shrugged.

‘It'll be a hit. They'll make a lot of money. They'll be happy enough then.'

‘Who's your lover, Brian?' I shot the question at him, hoping to shock him into an admission. He remained unperturbed. ‘Albert Taylor knew,' I added.

Brian raised his eyebrows in surprise, and this declined into an expression of concern.

‘His informant must have passed on a rumour.'

‘Who is she, Brian? Is it Nigella Fowler?'

He leaned forward in his chair, and with conspiratorial quiet he said, ‘Close, Will, very close, but no cigar.'

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank
Helen Murnane, who reads early drafts with patience and wisdom, and whose suggestions always turn out to be pitch perfect and which, if ignored, would result in a poorer book; Henry Rosenbloom, my publisher and editor, whose eye and ear are superbly tuned to infelicities of tone and plot; Greg Pyers, a fellow writer and friend, who loves talking about writing as much as I do; Ted Gott, my brother and champion, who reads my stuff with unbridled enthusiasm; and my parents, Maurene and Kevin, who brought us up in a world of books, and never said, ‘You can't read that.'

BOOK: The Serpent's Sting
11.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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