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Authors: Evelyn Anthony

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BOOK: The Tamarind Seed
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‘Yes,' she said. ‘Yes, it's me. I've been trying to get you.…'

‘Don't talk,' he cut through her. ‘Just listen and keep it cool. I know what the score is; I got back this morning and the message was passed on. I'm flying up tonight, I understand it's urgent, is that right?'

‘Oh yes,' Judith said. ‘Yes, terribly. Please come tonight.'

‘I take it it's our friend who wants to see me?'

‘Yes,' Judith said again. Never mind what Sverdlov had told her; she had forgotten it anyway. All she wanted was for somebody at the Embassy to see him and get the machinery moving.

‘Okay then.' There was a peculiar note in his voice; if he hadn't been such a flat, phlegmatic man, she would have said it was excitement. ‘Get him to take a walk with you this evening. Go up Fifth and pick up a cruising cab on the corner of Park; 9.30 sharp. You both get in and I'll be in it. Have you got that clear? Corner of Park, 9.30 tonight.'

‘I've got it,' Judith answered. She could feel Sam Nielson waiting in the inner office, fuming while she talked. He was going to fume even more when she put through a call to Sverdlov.

She didn't go back and ask permission. She dialled the number Sverdlov had given her and was put directly through to him. He was still in the UNO Embassy.

‘I can have dinner tonight,' she said. ‘Will you pick me up after work—6.30?'

‘With pleasure. Is it going to be a party?' She could imagine the damnable twisted grin. She was so glad to speak to him and find everything normal that she gave a nervous laugh. ‘Yes, it is. I've just fixed it all up.'

‘How did you sleep?'

‘Not too well. How did you?' To hell with Sam Nielson; she could hear him clearing his throat angrily behind her, his papers rustling as he threw them down on his desk.

‘Not as well as if I had been with you,' the voice mocked. ‘Insomnia is bad for the health. We must do something about it.'

‘Six-thirty,' Judith said. ‘I won't be late. Goodbye.' She hung up and then she went back into Sam Nielson's office.

‘Mr. Nielson,' she said, ‘I'm awfully sorry about the interruptions. Something very important came up for me. But it's all right now. There won't be anything more.'

Loder had got off the plane, after an all-night flight, worrying about the appalling prospect of his chief's suspicion like a dog digging frantically for a buried bone. A grade one traitor, working for the K.G.B. Passing information of the most confidential nature. That Arab Israel peace move had been a real diplomatic time bomb; it should have ticked away in secret until it was due to go off in the face of Soviet influence in the Middle East. Instead it had blown up in the hand, so to speak, damning the chances of a truce between Egypt and the Jews for a long time to come. Whoever the bastard was, Loder already felt a personal hatred for him. He respected the agent working for his own side, though this attitude didn't deter him from the most drastic action against them; his complaint was that often the action wasn't drastic enough. But for the paid double agent, the traitor working for the enemy, Loder had a pathological hatred and contempt. Blackmail was no excuse to him; there was always a moment when the guts to refuse were there or they weren't. As for the ideological traitors, the atom scientists giving their secrets to the oppressors of half Europe—Loder would have put a bullet through the lot of them.

Who the hell was it this time? Was it really an Englishman, following the shameful tradition of the ones that got away, that damnable trinity of dirty traitors? Loder sat up in his plane seat, his anger growing like a pain in his insides. He came into his office looking as tired and ill tempered as he felt. And that was when the Ambassador sent for him. The Ambassador was a man who couldn't help overawing other people. He was a very tall, well built man, with a habit of looking down at anyone to whom he was speaking. It was quite unconscious, but Loder found it difficult. He wished more than once during the interview that the Old Man had been away and he was speaking to Stephenson.

The Ambassador had been brief. Group Captain Paterson had been to see him over the weekend. He had made a great fuss about a Russian Embassy official who apparently wanted to seek asylum with the West. The Ambassador had advised him that this was not really within the diplomatic province, and he had therefore told the Group Captain to forget about it; this was Loder's sphere of operations. He had made it sound as if the area in which Loder worked were somewhat unsavoury, and that a squalid deal with a Russian prepared to sell out his own people reflected little credit on his Embassy. Loder had gathered up the brief notes prepared by Paterson and gone back to his office at the run. The possibility that it might be Sverdlov was so tempting that he had to discipline himself to read every word the Group Captain had written down. His interview with Mrs. Farrow. Her refusal to give the Russian's name. Her insistence that it was urgent. Very urgent. By Christ, Loder said to himself, if it was Feodor Sverdlov, urgent was an understatement. She had assured Paterson that he was in ‘great danger', the words were italicised as hers, and there was ‘only a week or ten days' to get him away.

Sverdlov. It must be him. That was the reason why he had contacted Farrow in Barbados. Not to pull her in, but to make sure of an escape route for himself. Christ. What a turn-up for the book that would be. Four hundred miles away in New York, Judith had no idea how Loder sweated while he put that call through and asked that one vital question.

‘Is it our friend?' And then the God-given answer. ‘Yes.' Sverdlov it was. The top man; the biggest fish in the United States. He could hardly believe it. And coming to the British, not the Americans. What a kick in the slats for Commander-God-Almighty-Buckley. He had been tormented with a tension headache all day; he swallowed more aspirin with a cup of tea, and composed a long memo to his chief in London. Then he drove out to Washington airfield to catch the airbus to New York.

General Golitsyn decided to go up to New York himself. He had spent the weekend considering the situation and planning what was best for him to do. The position as a whole, and his own in particular, had changed direction so suddenly that at first he had been caught off guard. Sverdlov had cancelled his return to Russia. He had spoken to Golitsyn, informing him as a matter of courtesy that he had altered his plan, and the reason was sufficiently important to outweigh his personal considerations in going back to see his wife. It concerned Mrs. Farrow; his long-laid plan concerning her was about to come to fruition, and he had hinted to Golitsyn that she was far more important than he had anticipated. There was nothing Golitsyn, as a subordinate, could say; he had been informed immediately afterwards by Anna Skriabine that Sverdlov had instructed her to make a tentative booking for Moscow for the week after next. According to her report, he was in excellent spirits. There was nothing Golitsyn could do about it, except send word back home that the suspect was not coming, and so far as he could ascertain, the reasons for delaying were perfectly valid. However, he would check this personally and refer back for instructions.

He took the plane at five, and was in the Soviet UNO office by seven. He was welcomed with deference at the airport, as befitted the nominal head of the Military Mission to the United States; the UNO Ambassador himself came down to meet him in the hall, he was shown upstairs to a luxurious suite of bedroom and private office kept at the disposal of high ranking visitors from Washington or elsewhere. The rooms reserved for the K.G.B. were in another part of the building and they were occupied by Sverdlov. The old man was tired; flying disagreed with him, even a short trip made him feel bad tempered and exhausted. It was time for him to go home and accept the armchair he had resisted for so long. But he had this one service to perform for his country before he gave in and retired.

He had to rid Russia of the Sverdlovs, with their spineless belief in compromise, their decadent flirting with the heresy that it was possible to serve the Revolution of the proletariat without the total destruction of its enemies.

When he asked for Sverdlov he was told that he had gone out. Golitsyn helped himself to vodka. He retained the humble taste of his peasant origins. The staff had sent up a plate of pickled cucumber and black bread, with a dish of salt. The old General liked his vodka with the right accompaniments. The diversities of Western cocktail canapes were not for him. Then he sent for Major Stukalov of the Soviet Air Force. Stukalov was from his home province in the Ukraine; he was a square, fair-haired man in his middle thirties, reputedly very popular at cocktail parties and on friendly terms with many of the UNO diplomats from allied countries. He was one of the best K.G.B. officers in America, and a protégé of the General. Like everyone else he came under the ultimate direction of Sverdlov. He stood at attention in front of Golitsyn.

‘Major,' the General said, ‘I am going to entrust a very delicate matter to you on behalf of General Panyushkin himself.' He bit into the black bread, encrusted with salt, and then swallowed some vodka. The Major's eyes had blinked at that dreaded name. Panyushkin lacked the Himmlerian horror of his predecessor Beria, but he was a man whom his subordinates feared.

He ruled his Secret Service with the autocracy of a Tsar. His orders were as absolute and his puishment for disobedience as terrible.

‘I am at your disposal, General. I await Comrade Panyushkin's orders.'

Golitsyn pointed to the vodka. ‘Another glass. There is nothing like vodka. Listen to me, Major. Have you got two men whom you can trust completely? I mean trust as you would trust yourself—as
I
trust you?'

‘Yes, General. More than two, if you need them.'

‘Two will be enough. This is a very serious matter, you understand that the order comes from Panyushkin himself? I am following his instructions.'

He waited, letting the young man stew for a minute. He trusted Stukalov, but he trusted fear of Panyushkin more than any sentimental tie, like his patronage and recommendation for promotion in the past. Fear, not loyalty to him personally, would keep Stukalov from making an attempt to warn his chief.

‘Your two men are to watch Colonel Sverdlov,' Golitsyn said. ‘He has come under suspicion from the Praesidium.' There was silence then; he broke it by clearing a residue of phlegm from his throat and coughing it into a handkerchief.

‘I'm sorry to hear that,' Major Stukalov answered. ‘He can be watched day and night by my two men. I will supervise this personally, General.'

‘You will report to me, and no one else,' Golitsyn said. ‘Panyushkin has placed this in my hands. Sverdlov is due to return to Russia soon. If anything happens to alert him before he goes, I shall hold you responsible, Major. You and your two men. You understand?'

‘I understand, General; I won't fail you.'

Golitsyn said, ‘There's a woman involved with him, a Mrs. Farrow, who works for Nielson, the Canadian lawyer. He is preparing her for recruitment. You might be the right choice as her controller after he leaves. I hear you have a way with women, isn't that so?'

‘I don't know, General. But I can try to direct Mrs. Farrow, if you select me.'

‘She could be very important to us,' the General said. ‘If you run her successfully, you would be promoted. On my recommendation. But we will see, Major, we will see. This is in the future, after Colonel Sverdlov has gone back to Russia. Begin the surveillance as soon as he returns to the Embassy tonight. You can go now. Good night.' He chewed some of the pickled cucumbers and drank his second glass of vodka. He had a head like a boulder. He never got drunk.

The inside of the taxi cab was dark; Sverdlov flagged it down as it cruised conveniently along the kerbside, arriving precisely at 9.30, almost crawling to a halt as it came level with them.

He had opened the door for her, and as she climbed in she saw Loder sitting well back in the far corner. He didn't speak. Sverdlov got in next; they sat squeezed together, all three on the back seat.

‘My name is Loder. I'm from the British Embassy in Washington. I believe you want to see me.'

‘That is quite correct.'

It seemed to Judith that they travelled half a block in complete silence. Sverdlov lit a cigarette, offering the case to her, which she refused.

‘Well then,' Loder spoke first, brisk and unfriendly. ‘What's the score? What do you want?'

‘Political asylum. The usual guarantees, and one extra one: no trade with the Americans. I want to go to England.'

‘I see. I was told you were in a hurry to get out, is that right?'

‘Yes,' Sverdlov answered. He sounded different, the same cold authoritarian who had talked to his subordinate Memenov over a drink. Judith looked out of the window; as far as the two men were concerned she might not have been there. She could appreciate that both of them wished that she weren't.

‘I have to make the move within the next two weeks or I may be prevented from leaving. You have the authority to give me the guarantees I want?'

‘I have full authority,' Loder said. ‘But I haven't committed us to giving you asylum yet. You could cause comlications, Colonel. You could be a big embarrassment in Anglo-Soviet relations. This has got to be considered.'

‘I understand that,' Sverdlov said. ‘But I am not coming empty handed.'

‘I didn't think you were,' Loder answered. ‘Protecting you from your own organisation for the rest of your life isn't going to cost peanuts. What will you bring with you, just supposing we're prepared to offer our hospitality?'

‘One piece of information.'

‘One? One item, is that what you're offering? Come on, Colonel, nobody's going to wear that! I wouldn't waste my chief's time making the suggestion—he'd just tell me to tell you to get stuffed!'

BOOK: The Tamarind Seed
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