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Authors: Evelyn Anthony

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BOOK: The Tamarind Seed
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There was a hostile glint in the American's eyes when he assembled his documents in front of him, and glanced towards Loder. Loder was aware of the atmosphere. Buckley had got hold of something, and it was not to his British allies' credit. He called him a vulgar anatomical name under his breath.

‘Well, gentlemen, I have here a comprehensive report on how our friend Sverdlov has been spending his time in the sunshine. I'd like to say at this point how much we owe the Barbadian Government; they've been extremely co-operative.'

Nobody said anything; Loder lit a cigarette and waited.

‘So far,' the Commander had a monotonous voice, ‘he's done nothing suspicious. He's behaving just like any ordinary guy having a holiday out of season. He's even got himself a girl friend.' He looked round at them and then stopped at Loder.

‘She's British,' he said reproachfully. ‘He's been wining and dining her every night; they're in the same hotel.'

‘You've got her name?' Loder asked.

‘Sure.' The Commander consulted his papers. ‘Judith Farrow. Widow. Works for Sam Nielson as his P.A.'

Christ, Loder said to himself. That's nasty. I don't like that at all.

‘You think that's why he went over there—to make contact?'

That was the Dutchman, Van Ryker.

‘Could be. Nielson's in a very confidential position. This woman must have access to a lot of top level stuff.'

‘Seems to me,' Loder said, ‘he's a pretty big fish to go all that way to pick up a P.A. One of the glamour boys could have been sent out to do that.'

‘I agree with you,' Buckley said mildly. ‘It's probably just coincidence but it's unfortunate.

‘Not necessarily,' Loder answered agressively. He was out on a limb and that CIA bastard was just about to shake the tree. ‘Don't let's act as if she's passing him secrets already.'

‘Nobody's suggesting that,' Buckley protested. ‘But naturally we have to anticipate.'

‘I think that's my job,' Loder said. ‘If Sverdlov has made contact with a British subject, then I'll take full responsibility for her. I've got to, as I see it.'

‘That's exactly what I hoped.' The Commander was genial again. He had brought the British down, and honour was satisfied. SIS and CIA might work together but there was an acknowledged rivalry. Buckley's organisation had been the butt of sophisticated English jokes because of early failures. The jeers had not been forgotten or paid back in full as yet.

‘Otherwise, there's nothing to report on Sverdlov. He's booked to return here in a week, and so far as we can make out, nobody in his Embassy has been promoted lately. So I don't think there's a change in postings. He's just vacationing with Mrs. Farrow.'

Loder could have punched him on the nose. But he said nothing. He had given an undertaking, and though the Commander might think he was scoring points, he had missed out on the most important one of all. Relief at this omission kept Loder quiet for the rest of the meeting. Mrs. Farrow was certainly personal assistant to Sam Nielson, with access to top level information. But she was also the mistress of Group Captain Richard Paterson, senior air attaché at the Washington Embassy. Buckley would really have had himself a ball if he'd discovered that. For a woman with such a valuable double contact at UNO and the Embassy itself, even Feodor Sverdlov might have gone to Barbados. He left the meeting in a mood of depression. There were times when he reviewed the world situation and all he could see was victory for the other side.

In Britain a man like Sverdlov wouldn't have been allowed to advance. He wouldn't have been given a job that did his talent justice; probably shunted into some piddling post in the middle of Africa, or caged up in London doing bugger-all with other people's paperwork. He thought suddenly that maybe it was this frustration that bred traitors in the service. People needed stimulus; if you were good at something, the surest way to break you was to prevent you from ever doing it.

He had his own idea how to deal with Sverdlov and his kind, but that branch had been closed up at the end of the war. Nobody got hit by a passing car, or fell out of a window any more. They went back to being little gentlemen as soon as Stalin declared the Cold War and began holding civilisation to ransom.

It made Loder sick.

He drove back slowly; the weather had settled into a sullen freeze-up. There was no more snow. Everything was ice-bound and when the thaw set in, the streets would be awash. While he was working he was absorbed—people who disliked him said obsessed, but he always had the same reaction of loneliness when he came back to his empty apartment in the evening.

That was when he missed his children most. He hadn't had a letter from either of them for a fortnight. He thought bitterly about his wife; she should have made them write regularly. When he was in Delhi and these moods of desolation hit him, he used to sit down and get drunk. He went into the kitchen and made tea. Another affliction of living in America was the tea bag; Loder drank Lap Sang Su Chow, which would have astonished his old associates. He took a tray into the bedroom, and stood with the cup in one hand, looking at himself in the mirror. He had no personal vanity. He knew that there wasn't one of the Embassy staff with a brain as good as his, with the exception of Fergus Stephenson, the Minister, and the Ambassador himself. But women weren't interested in brain. They liked brawn.

‘A real scruffy Civil Servant, that's what you are.'

He grimaced at himself in the glass.

‘Much chance of you going to the Caribbean and finding yourself a nice bird …' He turned away, to finish his tea and go to bed. He wondered what Feodor Sverdlov was doing at that moment. It was a bitter thought on which to fall asleep.

CHAPTER THREE

‘Will you and Mr. Sverdlov be in to dinner, or are you going out again?'

The manager of the hotel was a pleasant mannered man in his early forties with a neat black beard; he mixed freely with the other guests, and some of the younger women fancied him. In reality he was living with a tall, big-breasted Barbadian Negress. The insipid Canadian wives and the odd English girl on the look-out for a quickie romance on holiday didn't interest him in the least. The rest of the staff were laying bets on whether Mrs. Farrow and the Russian were shacked up together every night. The manager said not; he knew everything that went on in his hotel, he knew exactly who visited between bungalows at night and who slipped in for an hour in the afternoons. Sverdlov and Mrs. Farrow were not among them. They were causing comment, but this was no bad thing. It kept the guests amused. Neither of them mixed with anyone else, they avoided the noisy gatherings at the bar. They dined together and either retired to a table by the edge of the sea to drink coffee, or else went for a walk by the shore. The night watchman reported that both of them came to the pool in the early hours and swam in the moonlight. On the manager's instructions he spied on them, but each went back to their own bungalow and stayed there. Even without the telephone call from the Police Commissioner, the manager would have been intrigued by the situation.

He made a regular report of Sverdlov's activities at the end of every day; he asked no questions of the Commissioner. He was managing the hotel on a work permit. Had he refused to assist the police by watching Sverdlov, he had no doubt that his permit would not have been renewed.

He smiled at Judith, making himself especially friendly. She looked quite different from the tired, unhappy girl who had arrived just over a week earlier. Sun, sea and a man. It was an old formula but it certainly worked. He repeated his question. ‘Will you be in to dinner this evening?'

‘I think we're going to the Coral Reef,' Judith answered. ‘Mr. Sverdlov says there are some fire-eaters in the cabaret.'

‘There are indeed,' the manager said. ‘They're coming here for our floor show on Friday. I hope you'll stay here for dinner that night—we've got a great steel band.'

‘I'm sure we will,' she said. At that moment the Russian came up behind her.

‘We should go now,' he said to her, ‘before it gets too hot.' He ignored the manager, who started to say good morning. He noticed that Sverdlov took her by the arm.

‘Here is the car,' he said. Judith looked round for the Austin Traveller he had used for their last trip to Bridgetown.

‘Where?' she said. ‘I don't see it.'

‘This one—don't you like the pretty roof?' He stood beside her, laughing, delighted with his surprise. He had changed the closed saloon for one of the ridiculous flighty little Minimokes with their striped canvas canopies. They had seen them racing through the crowded road, bumping along like toys, the passengers almost spilling out.

‘Oh, Feodor—you got one! You are really crazy—but I'm so glad you got rid of that other car.'

He got in beside her and switched on the engine. ‘You said you wanted to ride in one, so I telephoned. Hold on to the rail, or you might fall out.'

Judith looked at him and shook her head. ‘Stop ordering me about, I'm not an idiot,' she said. ‘Anyone would think I was a child, the way you go on. I can take care of myself, you know.'

‘An emancipated woman,' Sverdlov said. ‘They all want to be equal and carry their own luggage. Very unattractive; you are not like that. Please keep hold of the rail.'

‘I seem to have heard,' Judith said, ‘that in Russia the women were equal with the men …'

‘Capitalist propaganda,' Sverdlov said; he eased the car to a halt as the traffic congealed at a junction. He turned and looked at her solemnly. ‘All lies,' he said. ‘Some of our women are equal. The rest are normal and happy. You look very pretty today.'

‘You're impossible.' She grabbed at the hand-rail as the little car bolted forward. ‘And always right. Hadn't I better look up the museum on the street map?'

‘I've done that,' Sverdlov said. ‘I know where to go.'

‘I should have known,' Judith bumped against him as they cornered. He glanced sideways at her and the twisted mouth grinned.

‘That was very nice. I like this kind of car.'

He had tried to kiss her the day before. They had driven across the island to see the east coast, where the scenery was said to be very beautiful. Judith had found the savage Atlantic breakers smashing against the rooks a bleak, depressing aspect, and said so. On the isolated road, with a powerful sea wind sweeping round them, Sverdlov had taken a step forward and leaned towards her. She had said ‘No', and walked to the car. He had got in after closing her door, and lit a cigarette, which he gave her. He wasn't annoyed, he seemed to find it amusing. Neither of them mentioned the incident on the way back.

He found the Bridgetown Museum and parked in the shade of a group of Queen Palms. The sun was high, and the sky above was a sizzling blue without a cloud in sight.

‘I really love this place,' Judith said suddenly. ‘I'm having a wonderful time.' She put her hand through his arm. He gripped it against his side. ‘Good,' he said. ‘Good. I'm glad you are happy. Let us go and get some culture. Then I am going to look at the harbour. I am fond of boats.'

It was cool and dark inside the museum, a long rambling building with massive thick walls, which had been a barracks. Sverdlov stood in the middle of the first room, his hands behind his back, looking round without much interest. A glass case in the centre displayed some china plates from the Governor's mansion. Judith had wandered off to look at the smaller exhibits.

‘Look at this,' she called to him. ‘This is fascinating.' He seemed to have been thinking deeply: it was doubtful whether the little Barbadian Museum was the object of his preoccupation. ‘Ah? Yes, I'm coming.'

He found her bending over a fly-blown glass case. A yellowed poster hung above it, advertising the sale of various male and female slaves, and domestic animals.

He was so close to her that their bodies were touching. ‘Look at this,' she said again. ‘“A slave on Haywards Plantation, St. Peter, accused of stealing a sheep, was hanged from a tamarind tree; he protested his innocence, saying that the tree would vindicate him. Since then the tamarind tree has borne a seed in the shape of a man's head. The specimen on the left is a normal seed; the one on the right is from the tamarind tree at Haywards …” Isn't that extraordinary! Look at that seed—it's exactly like a Negro's head …'

‘And you believe it?' Sverdlov asked.

‘Well there's the seed. You must admit it's very odd.'

‘What good did it do the salve? He had been hanged.'

‘I wonder what his owners felt like when they saw those seeds appear on the tree,' Judith retorted.

‘You think they were worried? You think they had a conscience?'

‘Everyone has a conscience,' she said. ‘You must know that's true. After all, your whole ideology was based on righting a basic wrong—some people with far too much and the rest with nothing!'

‘So you think that Marx had a conscience—the expropriators will be expropriated; is that what you are saying?'

‘Yes,' she said. ‘In a way it is. You know when you've done something wrong; your conscience knows.'

‘I know when I've made a mistake,' Sverdlov corrected. ‘That is not the same. I'm interested in your theories. Perhaps I'm converting you to Marxism.' He ran a finger down her bare arm.

‘Stop making fun of me,' she said. ‘And doing that, Mr. Sverdlov, is a mistake!'

‘My apology, Mrs. Farrow. It was the fault of my conscience. It told me it was the right thing to do.'

She let him take her arm and they moved on together through the remaining rooms. There was a collection of beautiful early silver, more china, donated by rich residents on the island, and same ugly, stolid nineteenth-century furniture, including a massive four-poster bed. Then they were outside in the sunshine.

BOOK: The Tamarind Seed
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