/ Language: English / Genre:thriller

Mexico Set

Len Deighton

The second novel in the trilogy. Bernard is sent to Mexico in order to "enrol" the East German Erich Stinnes.

Len Deighton

Mexico Set

The second book in the Bernard Samson series, 1984

Thanks are due to the following for permission to quote lines from 'Bye-Bye Blackbird':

The Remick Music Corporation, New York and Detroit, and E.M.I. Music Publishing, London. Copyright © 1926, 1948

1

'Some of these people want to get killed,' said Dicky Cruyer, as he jabbed the brake pedal to avoid hitting a newsboy. The kid grinned as he slid between the slowly moving cars, flourishing his newspapers with the controlled abandon of a fan dancer. 'Six Face Firing Squad'; the headlines were huge and shiny black. 'Hurricane Threatens Veracruz.' A smudgy photo of street fighting in San Salvador covered the whole front of a tabloid.

It was late afternoon. The streets shone with that curiously bright shadowless light that precedes a storm. All six lanes of traffic crawling along the Insurgentes halted, and more newsboys danced into the road, together with a woman selling flowers and a kid with lottery tickets trailing from a roll like toilet paper.

Picking his way between the cars came a handsome man in old jeans and checked shirt. He was accompanied by a small child. The man had a Coca Cola bottle in his fist. He swigged at it and then tilted his head back again, looking up into the heavens. He stood erect and immobile, like a bronze statue, before igniting his breath so that a great ball of fire burst from his mouth.

'Bloody hell!' said Dicky. 'That's dangerous.'

'It's a living,' I said. I'd seen the fire-eaters before. There was always one of them performing somewhere in the big traffic jams. I switched on the car radio but electricity in the air blotted out the music with the sounds of static. It was very hot. I opened the window but the sudden stink of diesel fumes made me close it again. I held my hand against the air-conditioning outlet but the air was warm.

Again the fire-eater blew a huge orange balloon of flame into the air.

'For us,' explained Dicky. 'Dangerous for people in the cars. Flames like that, with all these petrol fumes… can you imagine?' There was a slow roll of thunder. 'If only it would rain,' said Dicky. I looked at the sky, the low black clouds trimmed with gold. The huge sun was coloured bright red by the city's ever-present blanket of smog, and squeezed tight between the glass buildings that dripped with its light.

'Who got this car for us?' I said. A motorcycle, its pillion piled high with cases of beer, weaved precariously between the cars, narrowly missing the flower seller.

'One of the embassy people,' said Dicky. He released the brake and the big blue Chevrolet rolled forward a few feet and then all the traffic stopped again. In any town north of the border this factory-fresh car would not have drawn a second glance. But Mexico City is the place old cars go to die. Most of those around us were dented and rusty, or they were crudely repainted in bright primary colours. 'A friend of mine lent it to us.'

'I might have guessed,' I said.

'It was short notice. They didn't know we were coming until the day before yesterday. Henry Tiptree – the one who met us at the airport – let us have it. It was a special favour because I knew him at Oxford.'

'I wish you hadn't known him at Oxford; then we could have rented one from Hertz – with air-conditioning that worked.'

'So what can we do…' said Dicky irritably '… take it back and tell him it's not good enough for us?'

We watched the fire-eater blow another balloon of flame while the small boy hurried from driver to driver, collecting a peso here and there for his father's performance.

Dicky took some Mexican coins from the slash pocket of his denim jacket and gave them to the child. It was Dicky's faded work suit, his cowboy boots and curly hair that had attracted the attention of the tough-looking woman immigration officer at Mexico City airport. It was only the first-class labels on his expensive baggage, and the fast talking of Dicky's Counsellor friend from the embassy, that saved him from the indignity of a body search.

Dicky Cruyer was a curious mixture of scholarship and ruthless ambition, but he was insensitive, and this was often his undoing. His insensitivity to people, place and atmosphere could make him seem a clown instead of the cool sophisticate that was his own image of himself. But that didn't make him any less terrifying as friend or foe.

The flower seller bent down, tapped on the window glass and waved at Dicky. He shouted 'Vamos!' It was almost impossible to see her face behind the unwieldy armful of flowers. Here were blossoms of all colours, shapes and sizes. Flowers for weddings and flowers for dinner hostesses, flowers for mistresses and flowers for suspicious wives.

The traffic began moving again. Dicky shouted 'Vamos!' much louder.

The woman saw me reaching into my pocket for money and separated a dozen long-stemmed pink roses from the less expensive marigolds and asters. 'Maybe some flowers would be something to give to Werner's wife,' I said.

Dicky ignored my suggestion. 'Get out of the way,' he shouted at the old woman, and the car leaped forward. The old woman jumped clear.

'Take it easy, Dicky, you nearly knocked her over.'

'Vamos! I told her; vamos. They shouldn't be in the road. Are they all crazy? She heard me all right.'

'Vamos means "Okay, let's go",' I said. 'She thought you wanted to buy some.'

'In Mexico it also means scram,' said Dicky driving up close to a white VW bus in front of us. It was full of people and boxes of tomatoes, and its dented bodywork was caked with mud in the way that cars become when they venture on to country roads at this rainy time of year. Its exhaust-pipe was newly bound up with wire, and the rear panel was removed to help cool the engine. The sound of its fan made a very loud whine so that Dicky had to speak loudly to make himself heard. 'Vamos; scram. They say it in cowboy films.'

'Maybe she doesn't go to cowboy films,' I said.

'Just keep looking at the street map.'

'It's not a street map; it's just a map. It only shows the main streets.'

'We'll find it all right. It's off the Insurgentes.'

'Do you know how big Mexico City is? The Insurgentes is about thirty-five miles long,' I said.

'You look on your side and I'll look this side. Volkmann said it's in the centre of town.' He stuffed. 'Mexico, they call it. No one here says "Mexico City". They call the town Mexico.'

I didn't answer; I put away the little coloured town plan and stared out at the crowded streets. I was quite happy to be driven round the town for an hour or two if that's what Dicky wanted.

Dicky said, "Somewhere in the centre of town" would mean the Paseo de la Reforma near the column with the golden angel. At least that's what it would mean to any tourist coming here for the first time. And Werner Volkmann and his wife Zena are here for the first time. Right?'

'Werner said it was going to be a second honeymoon.'

'With Zena I would have thought one honeymoon would be enough,' said Dicky.

'More than enough,' I said.

Dicky said, 'I'll kill your bloody Werner if he's brought us out from London on a wild-goose chase.'

'It's a break from the office,' I said. Werner had become my Werner I noticed and would remain so if things went wrong.

'For you it is,' said Dicky. 'You've got nothing to lose. Your desk will be waiting for you when you get back. But there's a dozen people in that building scrambling round for my job. This will give Bret just the chance he needs to take over my work. You realize that, don't you?'

'How could Bret want to take your job, Dicky? Bret is senior to you.'

The traffic was moving at about five miles an hour. A small dirty-faced child in the back of the VW bus was staring at Dicky with great interest. The insolent stare seemed to disconcert him. Dicky turned to look at me. 'Bret is looking for a job that would suit him; and my job would suit him. Bret will have nothing to do now that his committee is being wound up. There's already an argument about who will have his office space. And about who will have that tall blonde typist who wears the white sweaters.'

'Gloria?' I said.

'Oh? Don't say you've been there?'

'Us workers stick together, Dicky,' I said.

'Very funny,' said Dicky. 'If Bret takes over my job, he'll chase your arse. Working for me will seem like a holiday. I hope you realize that, old pal.'

I didn't know that the brilliant career of Bret was taking a downturn to the point where Dicky was running scared. But Dicky had taken a PhD in office politics so I was prepared to believe him. 'This is the Pink Zone,' I said. 'Why don't you park in one of these hotels and get a cab?'

Dicky seemed relieved at the idea of letting a cab driver find Werner Volkmann's apartment but, being Dicky, he had to argue against it for a couple of minutes. As he pulled into the slow lane the dirty child in the VW smiled and then made a terrible face at us. Dicky glanced at me and said, 'Are you pulling faces at that child? For God's sake, act your age, Bernard.' Dicky was in a bad mood, and talking about his job had made him more touchy.

He turned off the Insurgentes on to a side-street and cruised eastwards until we found a car-park under one of the big hotels. As we went down the ramp into the darkness he switched the headlights on. This was a different world. This was where the Mercedes, Cadillacs and Porsches lived in comfort, shiny with health, smelling of new leather and guarded by two armed security men. One of them pushed a ticket under a wiper and lifted the barrier so that we could drive through.

'So your school chum Werner spots a KGB heavy here in town. Why did Controller (Europe) insist that I come out here at this stinking time of year?' Dicky was cruising very slowly round the dark garage, looking for a place to park.

'Werner didn't spot Erich Stinnes,' I said. 'Werner's wife spotted him. And there's a departmental alert for him. There's a space.'

Too small; this is a big car. Alert? You don't have to tell me that, old boy. I signed the alert, Remember me? Controller of German Stations? But I've never seen Erich Stinnes. I wouldn't know Erich Stinnes from the man in the moon. You're the one who can identify him. Why do I have to come?'

'You're here to decide what we do. I'm not senior enough or reliable enough to make decisions. What about there, next to the white Mercedes?'

'Ummmmm,' said Dicky. He had trouble parking the car in the space marked out by the white lines. One of the security guards – a big poker-faced man in starched khakis and carefully polished high boots -came to watch us. He stood arms akimbo, staring, while Dicky went backwards and forwards trying to squeeze between a white convertible and a concrete stanchion that bore brightly coloured patches of enamel from other cars. 'Did you really make out with that blonde in Bret's office?' said Dicky as he abandoned his task and reversed into another space marked 'reserved'.

'Gloria? I thought everyone knew about me and Gloria,' I said. In fact I knew her no better than Dicky did but I couldn't resist the chance to needle him. 'My wife's left me. I'm a free man again.'

'Your wife defected,' said Dicky spitefully. 'Your wife is working for the bloody Russkies.'

'That's over and done with,' I said. I didn't want to talk about my wife or my children or any other problems. And if I did want to talk about them Dicky would be the last person I'd choose to confide in.

'You and Fiona were very close,' said Dicky accusingly.

'It's not a crime to be in love with your wife,' I said.

'Taboo subject, eh?' It pleased Dicky to touch a nerve and get a reaction. I should have known better than to respond to his taunts, I was guilty by association. I'd become a probationer once more and I'd remain one until I proved my loyalty all over again. Nothing had been said to me officially, but Dicky's little flash of temper was not the first indication of what the department really felt.

'I didn't come on this trip to discuss Fiona,' I said.

'Don't keep bickering,' said Dicky. 'Let's go and talk to your friend Werner and get it over and done with. I can't wait to be out of this filthy hell-hole. January or February; that's the time when people who know what's what go to Mexico. Not in the middle of the rainy season.'

Dicky opened the door of the car and I slid across the seat to get out his side. 'Prohibido aparcar,' said the security guard, and with arms folded he planted himself in our path.

'What's that?' said Dicky, and the man said it again. Dicky smiled and explained, in his schoolboy Spanish, that we were residents of the hotel, we would only be leaving the car there for half an hour, and we were engaged on very important business.

'Prohibido aparcar,' said the guard stolidly

'Give him some money, Dicky,' I said. 'That's all he wants.'

The security guard looked from Dicky to me and stroked his large black moustache with the ball of his thumb. He was a big man, as tall as Dicky and twice as wide.

'I'm not going to give him anything,' said Dicky. 'I'm not going to pay twice.'

'Let me do it,' I said. 'I've got small money here.'

'Stay out of this,' said Dicky. 'You've got to know how to handle these people.' He stared at the guard. 'Nada! Nada! Nada! Entiende?'

The guard looked down at our Chevrolet and then plucked the wiper between finger and thumb and let it fall back against the glass with a thump. 'He'll wreck the car,' I said. 'This is not the time to get into a hassle you can't win.'

'I'm not frightened of him,' said Dicky.

'I know you're not, but I am.' I got in front of him before he took a swing at the guard. There was a hard, almost vicious, streak under Dicky's superficial charm, and he was a keen member of the Foreign Office judo club. Dicky wasn't frightened of anything; that's why I didn't like working with him. I folded some paper money into the guard's ready hand and pushed Dicky towards the sign that said 'Elevator to hotel lobby'. The guard watched us go, his face still without emotion. Dicky wasn't pleased either. He thought I'd tried to protect him against the guard and he felt belittled by my interference.

The hotel lobby was that same ubiquitous combination of tinted mirror, plastic marble and spongy carpet underlay that international travellers are reputed to admire. We sat down under a huge display of plastic flowers and looked at the fountain.

'Machismo,' said Dicky sadly. We were waiting for the top-hatted hotel doorman to find a taxi driver who would take us to Werner's apartment. 'Machismo,' he said again reflectively. 'Every last one of them is obsessed by it. It's why you can't get anything done here. I'm going to report that bastard downstairs to the manager.'

'Wait until after we've collected the car,' I advised.

'At least the embassy sent a Counsellor to meet us. That means that London has told them to give us full diplomatic back-up.'

'Or it means Mexico City embassy staff – including your pal Tiptree – have a lot of time on their hands.'

Dicky looked up from counting his traveller's cheques. 'What do I have to do, Bernard, to make you remember it's Mexico? Not Mexico City; Mexico.'

2

This was a new Werner Volkmann. This was not the introverted Jewish orphan I'd been at school with, nor the lugubrious teenager I'd grown up with in Berlin, nor the affluent, overweight banker who was welcome on both sides of the Wall. This new Werner was a tough, muscular figure in short-sleeved cotton shirt and well-fitting Madras trousers. His big droopy moustache had been trimmed and so had his bushy black hair. Being on holiday with his twenty-two-year-old wife had rejuvenated him.

He was standing on the sixth-floor balcony of a small block of luxury apartments in downtown Mexico City. From here was a view across this immense city, with the mountains a dark backdrop. The dying sun was turning the world pink, now that the stormclouds had passed over. Long ragged strips of orange and gold cloud were torn across the sky, like a poster advertising a smog-reddened sun ripped by a passing vandal.

The balcony was large enough to hold a lot of expensive white garden furniture as well as big pots of tropical flowers. Green leafy plants climbed overhead to provide shade, while a collection of cacti were arrayed on shelves like books. Werner poured a pink concoction from a glass jug. It was like a watery fruit salad, the sort of thing they pressed on you at parties where no one got drunk. It didn't look tempting, but I was hot and I took one gratefully.

Dicky Cruyer was flushed; his cowboy shirt bore dark patches of sweat. He had his blue-denim jacket slung over his shoulder. He tossed it on to a chair and reached out to take a drink from Werner.

Werner's wife Zena held out her glass for a refill. She was full-length on a reclining chair. She was wearing a sheer, rainbow-striped dress through which her suntanned limbs shone darkly. As she moved to sip her drink, German fashion magazines, balanced on her belly, slid to the ground and flapped open. Zena cursed softly. It was the strange, flat-accented speech of eastern lands that were no longer German. It was probably the only thing she'd inherited from her impoverished parents, and I had the feeling she would sometimes have been happier without it.

'What's in this drink?' I said.

Werner recovered the magazines from the floor and gave them to his wife. In business he could be tough, in friendships outspoken, but to Zena he was always indulgent.

Werner raised money from Western banks to pay exporters to East Germany, and then eventually collected the money from the East German government, taking a tiny percentage on every deal. 'Avalizing' it was called. But it wasn't a banker's business; it was a free-for-all in which many got their fingers burned. Werner had to be tough to survive.

'In the drink? Fruit juices,' said Werner. 'It's too early for alcohol in this sort of climate.'

'Not for me it isn't,' I said. Werner smiled but he didn't go anywhere to get me a proper drink. He was my oldest and closest friend; the sort of close friend who gives you the excoriating criticism that new enemies hesitate about. Zena didn't look up; she was still pretending to read her magazines.

Dicky had stepped into the jungle of flowers to get a clearer view of the city. I looked over his shoulder to see the traffic still moving sluggishly. In the street below there were flashing red lights and sirens as two police cars mounted the pavement to get around the traffic. In a city of fifteen million people there is said to be a crime committed every two minutes. The noise of the streets never ceased. As the flow of homegoing office workers ended, the influx of people to the Zona Rosa's restaurants and cinemas began. 'What a madhouse,' said Dicky.

A malevolent-looking black cat awoke and jumped softly down from its position on the footstool. It went over to Dicky and sank a claw into his leg and looked up at him to see how he'd take it. 'Hell!' shouted Dicky. 'Get away, you brute.' Dicky aimed a blow at the cat but missed. The cat moved very fast as if it had done the same thing before to other gringos.

Wincing with pain and rubbing his leg, Dicky moved well away from the cat and went to the other end of the balcony to look inside the large lounge with its locally made tiles, old masks and Mexican textiles. It looked like an arts and crafts shop, but obviously a lot of money had been spent getting it that way. 'Nice place you've got here,' said Dicky. There was more than a hint of sarcasm in his remark. It was not Dicky's style. Anything that departed much from Harrod's furniture department was too foreign for him.

'It belongs to Zena's uncle and aunt,' explained Werner. 'We're taking care of it while they're in Europe.' That explained the notebook I'd seen near the telephone. Zena had neatly entered 'wine glass', 'tumbler', 'wine glass', 'small china bowl with blue flowers'. It was a list of breakages, an example of Zena's sense of order and rectitude.

'You chose a bad time of year,' complained Dicky. 'Or rather Zena's uncle chose a good one.' He drained the glass, tipping it up until the ice cubes, cucumber and pieces of lemon slid down the glass and rested against his lips.

'Zena doesn't mind it,' said Werner, as if his own opinions were of no importance.

Zena, still concentrating on her magazine, said, 'I love the sun.' She said it twice and continued to read without losing her place.

'If only it would rain,' said Werner, 'It's this build-up to the storms that makes it so unbearable.'

'So you saw this chap Stinnes?' said Dicky very casually, as if that wasn't the reason that the two of us had dragged ourselves four thousand miles to talk to them.

'At the Kronprinz,' said Werner.

'What's the Kronprinz?' said Dicky. He put down his glass and used a paper napkin to dry his lips.

'A club.'

'What sort of club?' Dicky stuck his thumbs into the back of his leather belt and looked down at the toes of his cowboy boots reflectively. The cat had followed Dicky and looked as if it was about to reach up above his boot to put a claw into his thin calf again. Dicky aimed a vicious little kick at it but the cat was too quick for him. 'Get away,' said Dicky, more loudly this tune.

'I'm sorry about the cat,' said Werner. 'But I think Zena's aunt only let us use the place because we'd be company for Cherubino. It's your jeans. Cats like to claw at denim.'

'It bloody hurts,' said Dicky, rubbing his leg. 'You should get its claws clipped or something. In this part of the world cats carry all kinds of diseases.'

'What's it matter what sort of club?' said Zena suddenly. She closed the magazine and pushed her hair back. She looked different with her hair loose; no longer the tough little career girl, more the lady of leisure. Her hair was long and jet black and held with a silver Mexican comb which she brandished before tossing her hair back and fixing it again.

'A club for German businessmen. It's been going since 1902,' said Werner. 'Zena likes the buffet and dance they have on Friday nights. There's a big German colony here in the city. There always has been.'

'Werner said there would be a cash payment for finding Stinnes,' said Zena.

'There usually is,' said Dicky slyly, although he knew there would be no chance of a cash payment for such a routine report. It must have been Werner's way of encouraging Zena to cooperate with us. I looked at Werner and he looked back at me without changing his expression.

'How do you know it really is Stinnes?' said Dicky.

'It's Stinnes all right,' said Werner stoically. 'His name is on his membership card and his credit at the bar is in that name.'

'And his cheque book,' said Zena. 'His name is printed on his cheques.'

'What bank?' I asked.

'Bank of America,' said Zena. 'A branch in San Diego, California.'

'Names mean nothing,' said Dicky. 'How do you know this fellow is a KGB man? And, even if he is, what makes you so sure that this is the johnny who interrogated Bernard in East Berlin?' A brief movement of the hand in my direction. 'It might be someone using the same cover name. We've known KGB people do that. Right, Bernard?'

'It has been known,' I said, although I was damned if I could recall any examples of such sloppy tactics by the plodding but thorough bureaucrats of the KGB.

'How much?' said Zena. And, when Dicky looked at her and raised his eyebrows, she said, 'How much are you going to give us for reporting Stinnes? Werner said you want him badly. Werner said he was very important.'

'Steady on,' said Dicky. 'We don't have him yet. We haven't even positively identified him.'

'Erich Stinnes,' said Zena as if repeating a prepared lesson. 'Fortyish, thinning hair, cheap specs, smokes like a chimney. Berlin accent.'

'Beard?'

'No beard,' said Zena. Hastily she added, 'He must have shaved it off.' She did not readily abandon her claims.

'So you've spoken with him' I said.

'He's there every Friday,' said Werner. 'He's a regular. He works at the Soviet Embassy, he told Zena that. He says he's just a driver.'

'They're always drivers,' I said. 'That's how they account for their nice big cars and going wherever they want to go.' I poured myself some more of Werner's fruit punch. There was not much of it left, and the bottom of the jug was a tangle of greenery and soggy bits of lemon. 'Did he talk about books or American films, Zena?'

She swung her legs out of the reclining chair with a display of tanned thigh. I saw the look in Dicky Cruyer's face as she smoothed her dress. She had that sexy appeal that goes with youth and health and boundless energy. And now she knew she had the right Stinnes her pearly grey eyes sparkled. 'That's right. He loves old Hollywood musicals and English detective stories…'

'Then that's him,' I said, without much enthusiasm. Secretly I'd hoped it would all come to nothing and I'd be able to go straight back to London and my home and my children. 'Yes, that's "Lenin"; that's the one who took me down to Checkpoint Charlie when they released me.'

'What will happen now?' said Zena. She was short; she only came up to Dicky's shoulder. Some say short people are aggressive to compensate for their small stature, but look at Zena Volkmann and you might start thinking that aggressive people are made short lest they take over the whole world. Either way Zena was short and the aggression inside her was always bubbling along the edges of the pan like milk before it boils over. 'What will you do about him?'

'Don't ask,' Werner told her.

But Dicky answered her, 'We want to talk to him, Mrs Volkmann. No rough stuff, if that's what you are afraid of.'

I swallowed my fruit punch and got a mouthful of tiny pieces of ice and some lemon pips.

Zena smiled. She wasn't frightened of any rough stuff; she was frightened of not getting the money for arranging it. She stood up and twisted her shoulders, slowly stretching her arms above her head one after the other in a lazy display of overt sexuality. 'Do you want my help?' she said.

Dicky didn't answer directly. He looked from Zena to Werner and back again and said, 'Stinnes is a KGB major. That's too low a rank for the computer to offer much on him. Most of what we know about him came from Bernard, who was interrogated by him.' A glance at me to stress the unreliability of uncorroborated intelligence from any source. 'But he's senior staff in Berlin. So what is he doing in Mexico? Must be a Russian national. What's his game? What's he doing in this German club of yours?'

Zena laughed. 'You think he should have joined Perovsky's?' She laughed again.

Werner said, 'Zena knows this town very well, Dicky. She has aunts and uncles, cousins and a nephew here. She lived here for six months when she first left school.'

'Where, what, how or why is Perovsky's?' said Dicky. He was German Stations Controller. He didn't like being laughed at, and I could see he was taking a little time getting used to Werner calling him Dicky.

'Zena is joking,' explained Werner. 'Perovsky's is a big, rather run-down club for Russians near the National Palace. The ground floor is a restaurant open to anyone. It was started after the revolution. The members used to be dukes and counts and people who'd escaped from the Bolsheviks. Now it's a pretty mixed crowd but the anti-communist line is still de rigueur. The people from the Soviet Embassy give it a wide berth. If a man such as Stinnes went in there and spoke out of turn he might never get out.'

'Really never get out?' I said.

Werner turned to look at me. 'It's a rough town, Bernie. It's not all margaritas and mariachis like the travel posters.'

'But the Kronprinz Club is not so particular about its membership?' persisted Dicky.

'No one goes there to talk politics. It's the only place in town where you can get real German draught beer and good German food,' explained Werner. 'It's very popular. It's a social club; you get a very mixed crowd there. A lot of them are transients: airline pilots, salesmen, ships' engineers, businessmen, priests even.'

'And KGB men?'

'You Englishmen avoid each other when you are abroad,' said Werner. 'We Germans like to be together. East Germans, West Germans, exiles, expatriates, men avoiding tax, men avoiding their wives, men avoiding their creditors, men avoiding the police. Nazis, monarchists, communists, even Jews like me. We like to be together because we are Germans.'

'Such Germans as Stinnes?' said Dicky sarcastically.

'He must have lived in Berlin. His German is as good as Bernie's,' said Werner, looking at me. 'Even more convincing in a way, because he has the sort of strong Berlin accent you seldom hear except in some workers' bar in the city. It was only when I began to listen to him really carefully that I could detect something that was not quite right in the background of his voice. I'll bet everyone in the club thinks he's German.'

'He's not here to get a tan,' said Dicky. 'A man like that is sent here only for something special. What's your guess, Bernard?'

'Stinnes was in Cuba,' I said. 'He told me that when we talked together. Security police. I went back to the continuity files and began to guess he was there to give the Cubans some advice when they purged some of the bigwigs in 1970. It was a big shake-up. Stinnes must have been some kind of Latin America expert even then.'

'Never mind old history,' said Dicky. 'What's he doing now?'

'Running agents, I suppose. Guatemala is a KGB priority, and it's not so far from here. Anyone can walk through; the border is just jungle.'

'I don't think that's it,' said Werner.

I said, 'The East Germans backed the Sandinista National Liberation Front long before it looked like winning and forming a government.'

'The East Germans back anybody who might be a thorn in the flesh of the Americans,' said Werner.

'But what do you really think he's doing?' Dicky asked me.

I was stalling because I didn't know how much Dicky would want me to say in front of Zena and Werner. I kept stalling. I said, 'Stinnes speaks good English. Unless the cheque book is a deliberate way of throwing us off the scent, he might be running agents into California. Handling data stolen from electronics and software research firms perhaps.' I was improvising. I didn't have the slightest idea of what Stinnes might be doing.

'Why would London give a damn about that sort of caper?' said Werner, who knew me well enough to guess that I was bluffing. 'Don't tell me London Central put out an urgent call for Stinnes because he's stealing computer secrets from the Americans.'

'It's the only reason I can think of,' I said.

'Don't treat me like a child, Bernard,' said Werner. 'If you don't want to tell me, just say so.'

As if in response to Werner's acrimony, Zena went across to the fireplace and pressed a hidden bellpush. From somewhere in the labyrinth of the apartment there came the sound of footsteps, and an Indian woman appeared. She had that chin-up stance that makes so many Mexicans look as if they are ready to balance a water jug on their heads, and her eyes were half closed. 'I knew you'd want to sample some Mexican food,' said Zena. Personally it was the last thing I'd ever want to sample, but without waiting to hear our response she told the woman we would sit down immediately. Zena used her poor Spanish with a fluent confidence that made it sound better. Zena did everything like that.

'She can understand German perfectly and a certain amount of English too,' said Zena after the woman had gone. It was a warning to guard our tongues. 'Maria has worked for my aunt for over ten years.'

'But you don't talk to her in German,' said Dicky.

Zena smiled at him. 'By the time you've said tortillas, tacos, guacamole and quesadillas, and so on, you might as well add par favor and get it over with.'

It was an elegant table, shining with solid-silver cutlery, hand-embroidered linen and fine cut-glass. The meal had obviously been planned and prepared as part of Zena's pitch for a cash payment. It was a good meal, and not too damned ethnic, thank God. I have a very limited capacity for the primitive permutations of tortillas, bean-mush and chillies that numb the palate and sear the insides from Dallas to Cape Horn. But we started with grilled lobster and cold white wine, and not a retried bean in sight.

The curtains were drawn back so that air could come in through the open windows, but the air was not cool. The cyclone out in the Gulf had not moved nearer the coast, so the threatened storms had not come but neither had much drop in temperature. By now the sun had gone down behind the mountains that surround the city on every side, and the sky was mauve. Pin-pointed like stars in a planetarium were the lights of the city, which stretched all the way to the foothills of the distant mountains until like a galaxy they became a milky blur. The dining room was dark; the only light came from tall candles that burned brightly in the still air.

'Sometimes London Central can get in ahead of our American friends,' said Dicky, suddenly spearing another grilled lobster tail. Had he really spent so long thinking up a reply for Werner? 'It would give us negotiating power in Washington if we had some good material about KGB penetration of anywhere in Uncle Sam's backyard.'

Werner reached across the table to pour more wine for his wife. 'This is Chilean wine,' said Werner. He poured some for Dicky and for me and then refilled his own glass. It was Werner's way of telling Dicky he didn't believe a word of it, but I'm not sure Dicky understood that.

'It's not bad,' said Dicky, sipping, closing his eyes and tilting his head back to concentrate all his attention on the taste. Dicky fancied his wine expertise. He'd already made a great show of sniffing the cork. 'I suppose, with the peso collapsing, it will get more and more difficult to get any sort of imported wine. And Mexican wine is a bit of an acquired taste.'

'Stinnes only arrived here two or three weeks ago,' said Werner doggedly. 'If London Central is interested in Stinnes, it won't be on account of anything he might be planning to do in Silicon Valley or in the Guatemala rain forest; it will be on account of all the things he did in Berlin during the last two years.'

'Do you think so?' said Dicky, looking at Werner with friendly and respectful interest, like a man who wanted to learn something. But Werner could see through him.

'I'm not an idiot,' said Werner, using the unemotional tone but exaggerated clarity with which a man might specify decaffeinated coffee to an inattentive waiter. 'I was dodging KGB men when I was ten years old. Bernie and I were working for the department when the Wall was built in 1961 and you were still at school.'

'Point taken, old boy,' said Dicky with a smile. He could afford to smile; he was two years younger than either of us, with years' less time in the department, but he'd got the coveted job of German Stations Controller against tough competition. And – despite rumours about an imminent reshuffle in London Central – he was still holding on to it. 'But the fact is that the people in London don't tell me every last thing they have in mind. I'm just the chap chipping away at the coal-face, right? They don't consult me about building new nuclear power stations.' He poured some warm butter over his last piece of lobster with a care that suggested he had no other concern in his mind.

'Tell me about Stinnes,' I said to Werner. 'Does he come along to the Kronprinz Club trailing a string of KGB zombies? Or does he come on his own? Does he sit in the corner with his big glass of Berliner Weisse mit Schuss, or does he sniff round to see what he can ferret out? How does he behave, Werner?'

'He's a loner,' said Werner. 'He probably would never have spoken to us in the first place except that he mistook Zena for one of the Biedermann girls.'

'Who are the Biedermann girls?' said Dicky. After the remains of the lobster course had been removed, the Indian servant brought an elaborate array of Mexican dishes: refried beans, whole chillies and the tortilla in its various disguises: enchiladas, tacos, tostadas and quesadillas. Dicky paused for long enough to have each one identified and described but he took only a tiny portion on his plate.

'Here in Mexico the chilli has sexual significance,' said Zena, directing the remark to Dicky. The man who eats hot chillies is thought to be virile and strong.'

'Oh, I love chillies,' said Dicky, his tone of voice picking up the hint of mockery that was to be detected in Zena's remark. 'Always have had a weakness for chillies,' he said, as he reached for a plate on which many different ones were arranged. I glanced at Werner who was watching Dicky with interest. Dicky looked up to see Werner's face. 'It's the tiny, dark-coloured ones that blow your head off,' Dicky explained. He took a large, pale-green cayenne and smiled at our doubting faces before biting a section from it.

There was a silence after Dicky's mouth closed upon the chilli. Everyone except Dicky knew he'd mistaken the cayenne for one of the very mild aji chillies from the eastern provinces. And soon Dicky knew it too. His face went red, his mouth half opened, and tears shone in his eyes. He fought against the pain but he had to take it from his mouth. Then he fed himself lots and lots of plain rice.

'The Biedermanns are a wealthy Berlin family,' said Zena, carrying on as if she'd not noticed Dicky's desperate discomfort. 'They are well known in Germany. They have interests in German travel companies. The newspapers said the company had borrowed millions of dollars to build a holiday village in the Yucatan peninsula. It's never been finished. Erich Stinnes thought I looked just like the younger sister Poppy who's always in the newspaper gossip columns.'

There was a silence as we all waited for Dicky to recover. Finally he leaned back in his chair and managed a rueful smile. There was perspiration on his forehead and he was breathing with his mouth open. 'Do you know these Biedermann people, Bernard?' said Dicky. He sounded hoarse.

'Have an avocado,' said Werner. 'They are very soothing.' Dicky took an avocado pear from the bowl and began to eat some.

I said, 'When my father was attached to the military government in Berlin he gave old Biedermann a licence to start up his bus service again. It was one of the first after the war; it started the family fortune, I suppose. Yes, I know them. Poppy Biedermann was having dinner at Frank Harrington's the last time I was in Berlin.'

Dicky was eating the avocado quickly with his teaspoon, using it to heal the burning in his mouth. 'That was bloody hot,' he confessed finally.

'There's no way you can be sure which are hot and which are mild,' said Zena in a gentle tone that surprised me. 'They cross-pollinate; even on the same plant you can get fiery ones and mild ones.' She smiled.

'Could these Biedermann people be interesting to Stinnes?' said Dicky. 'For instance, might they own a factory that's making computer software in California? Or something like that? What do you know about that, Bernard?'

'Even if that was the case, no point in making contact with the boss,' I said. I could see that Dicky had focused on the idea of Silicon Valley and it was not going to be easy to shake him off it. 'The approach would be made to someone in the microchip laboratory. Or someone doing the programs for the software.'

'We need to know the current situation from the California end,' said Dicky with a sigh. I knew that sigh. Dicky was just getting me prepared for a sweaty week in Mexico City while he went to swan around in southern California.

'Talk to the Biedermanns,' I said. 'It's easier.'

'Stinnes asked about the Biedermanns,' said Werner. 'He asked if I knew them. I used to know Paul very well, but I told Stinnes I knew the family only from the newspapers.'

'Werner, you didn't tell me you know the Biedermanns,' Zena interjected excitedly. 'They are always in the gossip columns. Poppy Biedermann is beautiful. She just got divorced from a millionaire.'

Dicky looked at me and said, 'Better you talk to Biedermann. No sense in me showing my face. Keep it informal. Find out where he is; go and see him. Would you do that, Bernard?' It was an order in the American style: disguised to sound like a polite inquiry.

'I can try.'

Dicky said, 'I don't want to channel this through London, or get Frank Harrington to introduce us, or the whole world will know we're interested.' He poured himself some iced water and sipped a little. He was recovering some of his composure, when suddenly he screamed, 'You bastard!', his eyes fixed on poor Werner and his head thrust forward low over the table. Werner looked perplexed until Dicky, still leaning forward with his head almost on his plate, yelled, 'That bloody cat.'

'Cherubino, you're very naughty,' said Zena mildly as she bent down to disengage the cat's claws from Dicky's leg. But by that time Dicky had delivered a kick that sent Cherubino across the room with a howl of pain.

Zena stood up, flushed and furious. 'You've hurt her,' she said angrily.

'I'm awfully sorry,' said Dicky. 'Just gave way to a reflex action, I'm afraid.'

Zena said nothing. She nodded and left the room in search of the cat.

'Paul Biedermann is approachable,' said Werner, to cover the awkward silence. 'He arranged a bank guarantee for me last year. It cost too much but he came through when I needed him. He has an office in town and a house on the coast at Tcumazan.' Werner looked at the door but there was no sign of Zena.

'There you are, then,' said Dicky. 'Get on to him, Bernard.'

I knew Paul Biedermann too; I'd exchanged hellos with him recently in Berlin and hardly recognized him. He'd smashed himself up driving a brand-new Ferrari back to Mexico from a drunken party in Guatemala City. At 120 miles an hour the car had gone deep into the roadside jungle. It took the rescuers a long time to find him, and a long time to cut him free. The girl with him had been killed, but the inquiry had glossed over it. Whatever the truth of it, now one of his legs was shorter than the other and his face bore the scar tissue of over a hundred neat stitches. These infirmities didn't help me overcome my dislike of Paul Biedermann.

'Just a verbal report. Nothing in writing for the time being. Not you, not me, not Biedermann.' Dicky was keeping all the exits covered. Nothing in writing until Dicky heard the results and arranged the blames and the credits with godlike impartiality.

Werner shot me a glance. 'Sure thing, Dicky,' I said. Dicky Cruyer was such a clown at times, but there was another, very clever Dicky who knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it. Even if it did sometimes mean giving way to one of those nasty little reflex actions.

3

The jungle stinks. Under the shiny greenery, and the brightly coloured tropical flowers that line the roadsides like the endless window displays of expensive florists, there is a squelchy mess of putrefaction that smells like a sewer. Sometimes the road was darkened by vegetation that met overhead, and strands of creeper fingered the car's roof. I wound the window closed for a moment, even though the air-conditioning didn't work.

Dicky wasn't with me. Dicky had flown to Los Angeles, giving me a contact phone number that was an office in the Federal Building. It was not far from the shops and restaurants of Beverly Hills, where by now he would no doubt be sitting beside a bright blue pool, clasping an iced drink, and studying a long menu with that kind of unstinting dedication that Dicky always gave to his own welfare.

The big blue Chewy he'd left for me was not the right sort of car for these miserable winding jungle tracks. Imported duty-free by Tiptree, Dicky's embassy chum, it didn't have the hard suspension and reinforced chassis of locally bought cars. It bounced me up and down like a yo-yo in the pot-holes, and there were ominous scraping sounds when it hit the bumps. And the road to Tcumazan was all pot-holes and bumps.

I'd started very early that morning, intending to cross the Sierra Madre mountain range and be in a restaurant lingering over a late lunch to miss the hottest part of the day. In fact I spent the hottest part of the day crouched on a dusty road, with an audience of three children and a chicken, while I changed the wheel of a flat tyre and cursed Dicky, Henry Tiptree and his car, London Central and Paul Biedermann, particularly the last for having chosen to live in such a God-forsaken spot as Tcumazan, Michoacan, on Mexico's Pacific coast. It was a place to go only for those equipped with private planes or luxury yachts. Getting there from Mexico City in Tiptree's Chewy was not recommended.

It was early evening when I reached the ocean at a village variously called 'Little San Pedro' or 'Santiago', according to who directed you. It was not on the map under either name; even the road leading there was no more than a broken red line. Santiago consisted only of a rubbish heap, some two dozen huts constructed of mud and old corrugated iron, a prefabricated building surmounted by a large cross and a cantina with a green tin roof. The cantina was held together by enamelled advertisements for beer and soft drinks. They had been nailed, sometimes upside-down or sideways, wherever cracks had appeared in the walls. More adverts were urgently needed.

The village of Santiago is not a tourist resort. There were no discarded film packets, paper tissues or vitamin containers to be seen littering the streets or even on the dump. From the village there was not even a view of the ocean; the waterfront was out of sight beyond a flight of wide stone steps that led nowhere. There were no people in sight; just animals – cats, dogs, a few goats and some fluttering hens.

Alongside the cantina a faded red Ford sedan was parked. Only after I pulled in alongside did I see that the Ford was propped up on bricks and its inside gutted. There were more hens inside it. As I locked up the Chewy, people appeared. They were coming from the rubbish heap: a honeycomb of tiny cells made from boxes, flattened cans and oil-drums. It was a rubbish heap, but not exclusively so. No women or children emerged from the heap; just short, dark-skinned men with those calm, inscrutable faces that are to be seen in Aztec sculpture: an art form obsessed with brutality and death.

The smell of the jungle was still there, but now there was also the stink of human ordure. Dogs – their coats patchy with the symptoms of mange – smelled each other and prowled around the garbage. One outside wall of the cantina was entirely covered with a crudely painted mural. The colours had faded but the outline of a red tractor carving a path through tall grass, with smiling peasants waving their hands, suggested that it was part of the propaganda for some long-forgotten government agricultural plan.

It was still very hot, and my damp shirt clung to me. The sun was sinking, long shadows patterned the dusty street, and electric bulbs, which marked the cantina doorway, made yellow blobs in the blue air. I stepped over a large mongrel dog that was asleep in the doorway and pushed aside the small swing-doors. There was a fat, moustachioed man behind the bar. He sat on a high stool, his head tipped forward on to his chest as if he was sleeping. His feet were propped high on the counter, the soles of his boots pushed against the drawer of the cash register. When I entered the bar he looked up, wiped his face with a dirty handkerchief and nodded without smiling.

There was an unexpected clutter inside; a random assortment of Mexican aspirations. There were sepia-coloured family photos, the frames cracked and wormeaten. Two very old Pan-American Airways posters depicted the Swiss Alps and downtown Chicago. Even the girlie pictures revealed the ambivalent nature of machismo: Mexican film stars in decorous swimsuits and raunchy gringas torn from American porno magazines. In one corner there was a magnificent old jukebox but it was for decoration only; there was no machinery inside it. In the other corner there was an old oil-drum used as a urinal. The sound of Mexican music came quietly from a radio balanced over the shelf of tequila bottles that, despite their varying labels, looked as if they'd been refilled many times from the same jug.

I ordered a beer and told the cantinero to have one himself. He got two bottles from the refrigerator and poured them both together, holding two bottles in one hand and two glasses in the other. I drank some beer. It was dark, strong and very cold. 'Salud y pesetas,' said the bartender.

I drank to 'health and money' and asked him if he knew anyone who could mend my punctured tyre. He didn't answer immediately. He looked me up and down and then craned his neck to see my Chevy, although I had no doubt he'd watched me arrive. There was a man who could do such work, he said, after giving the matter some careful thought. It might be arranged, but the materials for doing such jobs were expensive and difficult to obtain. Many of the people who claimed such expertise were clumsy, inexpert men who would fix patches that, in the hot sun and on the bad roads, would leak air and leave a traveller stranded. The brakes, the steering and the tyres: these were the vital parts of a motor car. He himself did not own a car but one of his cousins had a car and so he knew about such things. And on these roads a stranded traveller could meet bad people, even bandidos. For a puncture I needed someone who could make such a vital repair properly.

I drank my beer and nodded sympathetically. In Mexico this was the way things were done; there was nothing to be gained by interrupting his explanation. It was for this that he got his percentage. He shouted loudly at the faces looking in through the doorway and they went away. No doubt they went to tell the man who fixed flats that his lucky day had finally come.

We each had another beer. The cantinero's name was Domingo. Awakened by the sound of the cash register, the dog looked up and growled. 'Be quiet, Pedro,' said the bartender and edged a small plate of chillies across the counter towards me. I declined. I left some money on the counter in front of me when I asked him how far it was to the Biedermann house. He looked at me quizzically before answering. It was a long, long way by road, and the road was very bad. Rain had washed it out in places. It always did at this time of year. On a motorcycle or even in a jeep it was possible. But in my Chewy, which Domingo called my double bed – cama matrimonial – there would be no chance of driving there. Better to take the track and go on foot, the way the villagers went. It would take no more than five minutes, maybe ten. Fifteen minutes at the most. If I was going up to the Biedermann house everything was okay.

Mr Biedermann owed me some money, I explained. Might I encounter trouble collecting it?

Domingo looked at me as if I'd just arrived from Mars. Didn't I know that Senor Biedermann was muy rico, muy, muy rico?

'How rich?' I asked.

'For no one does what he gives seem little, or what he has seem much,' said the bartender, quoting a Spanish proverb. 'How much does he owe you?'

I ignored his question. 'Is he up at the house now?' I fiddled with the money on the counter.

'He's not an easy man to get along with,' said Domingo. 'Yes, he's up at the house. He's there all alone. He can't get anyone to work for him any more, and his wife is seldom with him nowadays. He even does his own laundry. No one round here will work for him.'

'Why?'

Domingo put the tip of his thumb in his mouth and upended his fist to show me that Biedermann was a heavy drinker. 'He can get through two or three bottles of it when he's in one of his rages. Tequila, mezcal, aguardiente or imported whisky, it's all the same to him once he starts guzzling. Then he gets rough with anyone who won't drink with him. He hit one of the workmen mending the floor; the youngster had to go to the dispensary. Now the men refuse to finish the work.'

'Does he get rough with people who collect money?' I asked.

Domingo didn't smile. 'When he is not drinking he is a good man. Maybe he has troubles; who knows?'

We went back to talking about the car. Domingo would arrange for the repair of my tyre and look after the car. If the beer-delivery truck arrived it would perhaps be possible to deliver the car to the Biedermann house. No, I said, it was better if the car remained where it was; I'd seen a few beer-delivery drivers on the road.

'Is the track to the Biedermann house a good one?' I asked. I pushed some money to him.

'Whatever path you take, there is a league of bad road,' said Domingo solemnly. I hoped it was just another proverb.

I got my shoulder-bag from the car. It contained a clean shirt and underclothes, swimming trunks and towel, shaving kit, a big plastic bag, some string, a flashlight, some antibiotics, Lomatil and a half-bottle of rum for putting on wounds. No gun. Mexico is not a good place for gringos carrying guns.

I took the path that Domingo had shown me. It was a narrow track made by workers going between the crops and the village. It climbed steeply past the flight of stone steps that Domingo said was all that remained of an Aztec temple. It was sunny up here while the valleys were swallowed in shadow. I looked back to see the villagers standing round the Chewy, Domingo parading before it in a proprietorial manner. Pedro cocked his leg to pee on the front wheel. Domingo looked up, as if sensing that I was watching, but he didn't wave. He wasn't a friendly man; just talkative.

I rolled down my shirt-sleeves against the mosquitoes. The track led along the crest of a scrub-covered hill. It skirted huge rocks and clumps of yucca, with sharp leaves that thrust into the skyline like swords. It was hard going on the stony path and I stopped frequently to catch my breath. Through the scrub-oak and pines I could see the purple mountains over which I'd driven. There were many mountains to the north. They were big, volcanic-looking, their distance – and thus their exact size – unresolved, but in the clear evening air everything looked sharp and hard, and nearer than it really was. Now and again, as I walked, I caught sight of the motor road that skirted the spur and came in a long detour up the coast. It looked like a damned bad road; I suppose only the Biedermanns ever used it.

It took me nearly an hour to get to the Biedermann house. I was almost there before I came over the ridge and caught sight of it. It was a small house of modern design, built of decorative woods and matt black steel, its foundations set into the rocks upon which the Pacific Ocean dashed huge breakers. One side of the house was close to a patch of jungle that went right to the water's edge. There was a little pocket of sandy beach there, and from it ran a short wooden pier. There was no boat in sight, no cars anywhere, and the house was dark.

A chainlink fence that surrounded the grounds of the house had been damaged by a landslide, and the wire was cut and bent up to provide a gap big enough to get through. The makeshift track continued after the damaged fence and ended in a steep scramble up to a patch of grass. There were flowers here; white and pink camellias and floribunda and the inevitable purple bougainvillaea. Everything had been landscaped to hide the place where a new macadam road ended at the double garage and shaded carport. But there were no cars to be seen, and wooden crates blocked the white garage doors.

So Paul Biedermann had taken flight despite the appointment I'd made with him. I was not surprised. There had always been a streak of cowardice in him.

I had no difficulty getting inside the house. The front door was locked but a ladder left on the grass reached to one of the balconies. The sliding window, secured only by a plastic clip, was easy enough to force.

There was still enough daylight coming through the window for me to see that the master bedroom had been tidied and cleaned with that rigorous care that is the sign of leave-taking. The huge double bed was stripped of linen and covered with clear plastic covers. Two small carpets were rolled up and sealed into bags that would protect them from termites. Torn up and in the waste-paper basket I found half a dozen Mexico City airport luggage tags dating from some previous journey, and three new and unused airline shoulder-bags not required for the next. The sort of airline bags that come free with airline tickets were not something that the Biedermanns let their servants carry. I stood listening, but the house was completely silent. There was only the sound of the big Pacific Ocean waves battering against the rocks below the house and roaring their displeasure.

I opened one of the wardrobes. It smelled of moth repellent. There were clothes there: a man's cream-coloured linen suits, brightly coloured pants and sweaters, handmade shoes – treed and in shoe-bags embroidered 'P.B.' – and drawers filled with shirts and underclothes.

In the other wardrobe, a woman's dresses, expensive lingerie folded into tissue paper and a multitude of shoes of every type and colour. On the dressing table there was a photo of Mr and Mrs Biedermann in swimsuits standing on a diving board and smiling self-consciously. It had been taken before the car accident.

The three guest bedrooms on the top floor – each with separate balcony overlooking the ocean and private bathroom – had all been stripped bare. Inside the house, a gallery that gave access to the bedrooms was open on one side to overlook the big lounge downstairs. All the furniture was covered in dustsheets, and to one side of the lounge there was a bucket of dirty water, a trowel, some adhesive and dirty rags marking a place where a large section of flooring was being retiled.

Only when I got to Biedermann's study, built to provide a view of the whole coastline, was there any sign of recent occupancy. It was an office; or, more exactly, it was a room furnished with that special sort of luxury furniture that can be tax-deducted as office equipment. There was a big puffy armchair, a drinks cabinet, and a magnificent wood-inlay desk. In the corner there was that sort of daybed that Hollywood calls a 'casting couch'. On it there were blankets roughly folded and a soiled pillow. A big waste-bin contained computer printout and some copies of the Wall Street Journal. More confidential print-out was now a tangle of paper worms in the clear plastic bag of the shredder. But the notepads were blank, and the expensive desk diary – the flowers of South America, one for every week of the year in full colour, printed in Rio de Janeiro – never used. There were no books apart from business reference books and phone and telex directories. Paul Biedermann had never been much of a reader at school but he'd always been good at counting.

I tried the electric light but it did not work. A house built out here on the edge of nowhere would be dependent upon a generator operating only when the house was occupied. By the time I had searched the house and found no one, the daylight was going fast. The sea had turned the darkest of purples and the western skyline had almost vanished.

I went back up to the top floor and chose the last guest room along the gallery as a place to spend the night. I found a blanket in the wardrobe and, choosing one of the plastic-covered beds, I covered myself against the cold mist that rolled in off the sea. It soon became too dark to read and, as my interest in the Wall Street Journal waned, I drifted off to sleep, lulled by the sound of the waves.

It was 2.35 when I was awakened by the car. I saw its lights flashing over the ceiling long before I heard its engine. At first I thought it was just a disturbed dream, but then the bright patch of light flashed across the ceiling again and I heard the diesel engine. It never struck me that it might be Paul Biedermann or any of the family coming home. I knew instinctively that there was danger.

I slid open the glass door and went outside on to the balcony. The weather had become stormy. Thin ragged clouds raced across the moon, and the wind had risen so that its roar was confused with the sound of the breakers on the rocks below. I watched the car. The headlights were high and close together, a configuration that suggested some jeep-like vehicle, as did the way it negotiated the bad road. It was still going at speed as it swung round the back to the garage area. The driver had been here before.

There were two voices; one of the men had a key to the front door. I went through the guest bedroom and crouched on the interior gallery so that I could hear them speaking in the lounge below.

'He's run away,' said one voice.

'Perhaps,' said the other, as if he didn't care. They were speaking in German. There was no mistaking the Berlin accent of Erich Stinnes, but the other man's German had a strong Russian accent.

'His car is not here,' said the first man. 'What if the Englishmen arrived before us and took him off with them?'

'We would have passed them on the road,' said Stinnes. He was perfectly calm. I heard the sound of him putting his weight on to the big sofa. 'That's better.' A sigh. 'Take a drink if you want it. It's in the cabinet in his study.'

'That stinking jungle road. I could do with a bath.'

'You call that jungle?' said Stinnes mildly. 'Wait till you go over to the east coast. Wait until you go across to the training camp where the freedom fighters are trained, and cut your way through some real tropical rain forest with a machete, and spend half the night digging chiggers out of your backside. You'll find out what a jungle is like.'

'What we came through will do for me,' said the first man.

I raised my head over the edge of the gallery until I could see them. They were standing in the moonlight by the tall window. They were wearing dark suits and white shirts and trying to look like Mexican businessmen. Stinnes was about forty years old: my age. He had shaved off the little Lenin-style beard he'd had when I last saw him but there was no mistaking his accent or the hard eyes glittering behind the circular gold-rimmed spectacles.

The other man was much older, fifty at least. But he was not frail. He had shoulders like a wrestler, cropped head and the restless energy of the athlete. He looked at his watch and then out of the window and then walked over to the place where the tiles were being repaired. He kicked the trowel so that it went skidding across the floor and hit the wall with a loud noise.

'I told you to have a drink,' said Stinnes. He did not defer to the other man.

'I said you should frighten Biedermann. Well, you've frightened him all right. It looks as if you've frightened him so much that he's cleared out of here. That's not what they wanted you to do.'

'I didn't frighten him at all,' said Stinnes calmly. 'I didn't take your advice. He's already too frightened. He needs reassurance. But he'll surface sooner or later.'

'Sooner or later,' repeated the elder man. 'You mean he'll surface after you've gone back to Europe and be someone else's problem. If it was left to me, I'd make Biedermann a number-one priority. I'd alert every last KGB team in Central America. I'd teach him that an order is an order.'

'Yes, I know,' said Stinnes. 'It's all so easy for you people who sit at desks all your life. But Biedermann is just one small part of a complicated plan… and neither of us knows exactly what the plan is.'

It was a patronizing reproach, and the elder man's soft voice did not conceal the anger in him. 'I say he's the weak link in the chain, my friend.'

'Perhaps he is supposed to be just that,' said Stinnes complacently. 'One day maybe the Englishwoman will put you in charge of one of her crazy schemes, and then you'll be able to ignore orders and show everyone what a clever man you are in the field. But until that time you'll do things the way you're ordered to do them, no matter how stupid it all seems.' He got to his feet. 'I'll have a drink, even if you don't want one. Biedermann has good brandy.'

Stinnes passed below me out of sight and I heard him go into the study and pour drinks. When he returned he was carrying two glasses. 'It will calm you, Pavel. Have patience; it will work out all right. You can't rush these things. You'll have to get used to that. It's not like chasing Moscow dissidents.' He gave the elder man a glass and they both drank. 'French brandy. Schnapps and beer are not worth drinking unless they come from a refrigerator.' He drank. 'Ah, that's better. I'll be glad to be back in Berlin, if only for a brief spell.'

'I was in Berlin in 1953,' said the elder man. 'Did you know that?'

'So was I,' said Stinnes.

'In '53? Doing what?'

Stinnes chuckled. 'I was only ten years old. My father was a soldier. My mother was in the army too. We were all kept in the barracks during the disturbances.'

'Then you know nothing. I was in the thick of it. The bricklayers and builders working on those Stalinallee sites started all the trouble. It began as a protest against a ten per cent increase in work norms. They marched on the House of Ministries in Leipzigerstrasse and demanded to see the Party leader, Ulbricht.' He laughed. It was a low, manly laugh. 'But it was the poor old Mining Minister who was sent out to face them. I was twenty. I was with the Soviet Control Commission. My chief dressed me up like a German building worker and sent me out to mix with the mob. I was never so frightened in all my life.'

'With your accent you had every cause to be frightened,' said Stinnes.

His colleague was not amused. 'I kept my mouth shut; but I kept my ears open. That night the strikers marched across to the RIAS radio station in West Berlin and wanted their demands to be transmitted over the Western radio. Treacherous German swine.'

'What were their demands?' asked Stinnes.

'The usual: free and secret elections, cuts in the work norms, no punishment for the trouble-makers.' The older man drank some more. He was calmer now that he'd had a drink. 'I advised my people to bring our boys out to clear the streets the way we'd cleared them in 1945. I told them to announce an immediate curfew and give the army shoot-on-sight orders.

'But they didn't,' said Stinnes.

'I was only twenty years old. The men who'd fought in the war had no time for kids like me. The Control Commission was not taken seriously. So they sat up all night hoping that everything would be all right in the morning.'

'The disturbances spread next day.'

'By 11 a.m. on 17th June they were tearing the red flag down from the Brandenburg Gate and ransacking the Party offices.'

'But the army sat on it, didn't they?'

'Eventually they had to. There were strikes all over the country: Dresden, Leipzig, Jena and Gera, even in Rostock and the Baltic island of Rügen. It took a long time before things settled down. They should have acted immediately. Since then I've had no sympathy for people who tell me to have patience because everything will come out all right.'

'And that's what you'd like me to do now?' asked Stinnes mockingly. 'Bring our boys out to clear the streets the way we cleared them in 1945? Announce an immediate curfew and give the army shoot-on-sight orders?'

'You know what I mean.'

'You have no idea what this business is all about, Pavel. You've spent your career running typewriters; I've spent mine running people.'

'What do you mean?'

'You rush in like a rapist when we are in the middle of a seduction. Do you really think you can march agents up and down like Prussian infantry? Don't you understand that men such as Biedermann have to be romanced?'

'We should never use agents who are not politically dedicated to us,' said Pavel.

Stinnes went to the window and I could see him clearly in the moonlight as he looked at the sea. Outside, the wind was roaring through the trees and making thumping noises against the windows. Stinnes held his drink up high and swirled it round to see the expensive brandy cling to the glass. 'You've still got that passion that I once had,' said Stinnes. 'How do you hang on to all your illusions, Pavel?'

'You're a cynic,' said the elder man. 'I might as well ask how you continue doing your job without believing in it.'

'Believing?' said Stinnes, drinking some of the brandy and turning back to face his companion. 'Believing what? Believing in my job or believing in the socialist revolution?'

'You talk as if the two beliefs are incompatible.'

'Are they compatible? Can a "workers' and peasants' state" need so many secret policemen like us?'

'There is a threat from without,' said the elder man, using the standard Party cliché.

'Do you know what Brecht wrote after the 17th June uprising? Brecht I'm talking about, not some Western reactionary. Brecht wrote a poem called "The Solution". Did you ever read it?'

'I've no time for poetry.'

'Brecht asked, would it not be easier for the government to dissolve the people, and vote itself another?'

'Do you know what people say of you in Moscow?' the older man asked. 'They say, is this man a Russian or is he a German?'

'And what do you say when people ask that question of you, Pavel?'

'I had never met you,' said the elder man, 'I knew you only by reputation.'

'And now? Now that you've met me?'

'You like speaking German so much that sometimes I think you've forgotten how to speak Russian.'

'I haven't forgotten my mother tongue, Pavel. But it is good for you to practise German. Even more you need Spanish, but your appalling Spanish hurts my ears,'

'You use your German name so much, I wonder if you are ashamed of your father's name.'

'I'm not ashamed, Pavel. Stinnes was my operational name and I have retained it. Many others have done the same.'

'You take a German wife and I wonder if Russian girls were not good enough for you.'

'I was on active service when I married, Pavel. There were no objections then as I remember.'

'And now I hear you talk of the June '53 uprising as if you sympathized with the German terrorists. What about our Russian boys whose blood was spilled restoring law and order?'

'My loyalty is not in question, Pavel. My record is better than yours, and you know that.'

'But you don't believe any more.'

'Perhaps I never did believe in the way that you believe,' said Stinnes. 'Perhaps that's the answer.'

'There's no half-way,' said the elder man. 'Either you accept the Party Congress and its interpretation of Marxist-Leninism or you are a heretic.'

'A heretic?' said Stinnes, feigning interest. 'Extra ecclesiam nulla salus; no salvation is possible outside the Church. Is that it, Pavel? Well, perhaps I am a heretic. And it's your misfortune that the Party prefers that, and so does the service. A heretic like me does not lose his faith.'

'You don't care about the struggle,' said the elder man. 'You can't even be bothered to search the house.'

'There's no car, and no boat at the dock. Do you think a man such as Biedermann would come on foot through the jungle that frightens you so much?'

'You knew he wouldn't be here.'

'He's a thousand miles away by now,' said Stinnes. 'He's rich. A man like that can go anywhere at a moment's notice. Perhaps you haven't been in the West long enough to understand how difficult that makes our job.'

'Then why did we drag out here through that disgusting jungle?'

'You know why we came. We came because Biedermann told us the Englishman phoned and said he was coming here. We came because the stupid woman in Berlin sent a priority telex last night telling us to come here.'

'And you wanted to prove Berlin was wrong. You wanted to prove you know better than she knows.'

'Biedermann is a liar. We have found that over and over again.'

Then let's get on the road back,' said the older man. 'You've proved your point; now let's get back to Mexico City, back to electric light and hot water.'

'The house must be searched. You are right, Pavel. Take a look round. I will wait here.'

'I have no gun.'

'If anyone kills you, Pavel, I will get them.'

The elder man hesitated as if about to argue, but he went about his task, nervously poking about with his flashlight, while Stinnes watched him with ill-concealed contempt. He came upstairs too but he was an amateur. I stepped outside to avoid him. I need not have bothered even to do that, for he did little more than shine a light through the doorway to see if the bed was occupied. After no more than ten minutes he was back in the lounge telling Stinnes that the house was empty. 'Now can we go back?'

'You've gone soft, Pavel. Is that why Moscow sent you to be my assistant?'

'You know why Moscow sent me here,' the elder man grumbled.

Stinnes laughed briefly and I heard him put his glass down on the table. 'Yes, I read your personal file. For "political realignment". Whatever did you do in Moscow that the department thinks you are not politically reliable?'

'Nothing. You know very well that that bastard got rid of me because I discovered he was taking bribes. One day his turn will come. A criminal like that cannot survive for ever.'

'But meanwhile, Pavel, you suit me fine. You are politically unreliable and so the one man I can be sure will not report my unconventional views.'

'You are my superior officer, Major Stinnes,' said the older man stuffily.

'That's right. Well, let's head back. You'll drive for the first couple of hours. I will drive when we reach the mountains. If you see anything in the road drive over it. Too many people get killed on these roads swerving to avoid eyes they see shining in the headlights.'

4

I didn't sleep again after they departed. I dozed fitfully but imagined I could hear their diesel car returning, with the alternate roars and screams that a really bad surface racks from a small engine. But it was just the wind, and then, as dawn came and the storm passed over, I was kept awake by the screeching and chattering of the animals. They came right down to the water through the thick undergrowth that bordered one side of the house. There was a stream there; it passed close by a window of Paul Biedermann's study. I suppose he liked to watch the animals. It was an aspect of Biedermann's character that I'd not yet encountered.

Dawn shone its hard grey light and made the sea look like granite. I went down to the kitchen and found some canned food: beans and tomatoes. I could find no way of warming the mixture so I ate a plateful cold. I was hungry.

From the kitchen window there was a view back towards the village. That way the sky was light pink. I counted seven vultures, circling very high and looking for breakfast. Nearer to the house there were birds in the trees making a lot of noise, and monkeys scrambling about in the lower branches with occasional forays into the garden.

I would have given a lot for a cup of coffee, but instant powder stirred into cold tinned milk did not appeal. I made do with a shot of Biedermann's brandy. It was everything Stinnes said about it. So good, in fact, that I took another.

Fortified by the strong drink, and one of Biedermann's fancy striped sweaters chosen from his wardrobe, I went outside. The sky was overcast to give a cold shadowless light and, although the black clouds had gone, there was still a cold wind from the ocean. The tyre marks of the jeep were to be seen on the roadway. I followed the new macadam road to the entrance gate. It was open, its chain freshly cut. Despite the borrowed sweater I was cold, and colder still as I circled the house completely, crossed the patio that was sheltered from the wind, and climbed up the hill at the back to the highest point of rock. I couldn't see the road or the village but there was a haze of woodsmoke rising from where I guessed the village must be. I couldn't see any sign of Biedermann or his car. That was the first time I'd noticed the swimming pool. It was about two hundred metres from the house and hidden by a line of junipers planted by some landscape gardener for that purpose.

The pool was big, and very blue. And full length on the bottom, at the deep end, was a human figure. At first I thought it was a drowning case. Wrapped in cheap grey blankets, the figure made a shapeless bundle that almost disappeared in the dark depths of blue shade. It was only when I got past the wooden building that housed four changing rooms and filtering and heating equipment that I was sure that the pool was dry and drained.

'Hey!' I shouted at the inert figure. 'Tu que haces?'

Very slowly the blankets became unravelled to reveal a man dressed in badly wrinkled white trousers and a T-shirt advertising Underberg. One of his bare sunburned arms bore a lacework of neat white scar tissue, and so did one side of his face. He bunked and squinted into the light, trying to see me against the glaring sky.

'Paul Biedermann,' I shouted. 'What the hell are you doing in the pool?'

'You came,' he said. His voice was hoarse and he coughed to clear his throat. 'The others have gone? How did you get here?'

'It's Bernd,' I said. 'We spoke on the phone; Bernd Samson. I walked. Yes, the other two drove away hours ago.' He must have been watching the road. My approach along the track had gone unobserved from wherever he'd been hiding.

Wrapped into his blanket I could see a hunting rifle. Biedermann pushed it away as he bent his head forward almost to his knees and stretched his arms. Then he rubbed his legs and arms, trying to restore his circulation. It must have been very uncomfortable on the hard, cold surface of the concrete pool all night. He looked up and then smiled as he recognized me. It was a severe smile, twisted by the puckered scars that marked one side of his face.

'Bernd. Are you alone?' he said, trying to make it sound as if it meant no more to him than how many cups of coffee to order. His face and arms were blue; it was the light reflected from the painted sides of the pool.

'They've gone,' I said. 'Come and switch the electricity on, and make me a cup of coffee.'

He slung the rifle on his shoulder and climbed up the ladder of the empty pool. He left the blanket where it was. I wondered if he intended to spend another uncomfortable night here.

He moved about like an automaton. Once inside the house he showed me all the things I should have found for myself. There was bottled gas for cooking, a generator for lighting, and a battery-powered Sony short-wave radio. He boiled water and measured out coffee in silence. It was as if he wanted to take as long as he could to defer the start of the conversation. Even when we were both seated in his study, hands clasped round cups of strong black coffee, he still didn't offer any explanation about his curious behaviour. I said nothing. I waited for him to speak. It was usually better that way and I wanted to see how he would start, and even more importantly what he would avoid.

'I've got everything,' said Paul Biedermann. 'Plenty of money, my health, and a wife who stood by me after the accident. Even after that girl was killed in my car.' It was hard to believe that this was the nervous schoolboy I'd known in Berlin. It was not just the strong American accent he'd acquired at his expensive East Coast school but something in his poise and his manner too. Paul Biedermann had become unreservedly American in a way that only Germans are able to do.

'That was a nasty business,' I said.

'I was unconscious three days. I was in hospital almost six months altogether, counting the convalescence. Six months; and I hate hospitals.' He drank some coffee. It was a heavy Mexican coffee that Biedermann had made into a devil's brew that made my teeth tingle. 'But then I got entangled with those bastards and I haven't slept properly ever since. Do you know that, Bernd? It's the literal truth that I haven't slept really well since the start of it.'

'Is that so,' I said. I didn't want to sit there with my tongue hanging out. I wanted to sound casual; bored, almost. But I wanted to know, especially after I'd heard Stinnes and his pal talking about Biedermann as if he was a KGB agent.

'The Russians,' said Biedermann, 'spies and all that. You know what I'm talking about, don't you?' He was looking over my shoulder as if he wanted to see the animals and birds in the trees outside.

'I know what you're talking about, Paul,' I said.

'Because you're in all that, aren't you?'

'In a manner of speaking,' I said

'I was talking to my sister Poppy. She met you at a dinner party at the house of one of the big Berlin spy chiefs. You're one of them, Bernd. You probably always have been. Was that why your father sent you to school in Berlin, instead of sending you back to England the way the other British families sent their kids back there to go to school?'

'Who were they, Paul? Who were those men who came in the night?'

'I didn't see you arrive. I was out with the gun, shooting lizards. I hate lizards, don't you? Those Russkies are like lizards, aren't they?

Especially the one with glasses. I knew they would come, and I was right.'

'How well do you know them?'

'They pass me around like a parcel. I've dealt with so many different Russians that I've almost lost count. These two were sent from Berlin. The one with the strong Berlin accent calls himself Stinnes but he's not really a German, he's a Russian. The other one calls himself Pavel Moskvin. It sounds like a phoney name, doesn't it? I still haven't figured out if they work from Moscow or are part of the East German intelligence service. What do you think, Bernd?'

'Moskvin means "man from Moscow". It could be a genuine name. Do they have diplomatic cover?'

'They said they do.'

'Then they are Russians. The KGB give almost all their people diplomatic cover. The East Germans don't. They work mostly in West Germany and infiltrate their agents among the refugees going there.'

'Why?'

'It's part of the overall contingency plan. East German agents in West Germany are hard to find. They don't need the cover. And in other parts of the world East German networks survive after Russians with diplomatic cover are discovered and kicked out.'

'They never answer any questions. I thought they'd leave me alone, now that I spend most of the year in Mexico.' Not most of the time but most of the year. Most of the financial year; it was a fiscal measurement of time.

'How did you get entangled with the Russians, Paul?' I asked, carefully using his own words.

'What am I supposed to do? I've got half my family still living over there in Rostock. Am I supposed to tell them to go to hell so that they take it out on my aunts and uncles?'

'Yes, that's what you're supposed to do,' I said.

'Well, I didn't,' said Biedermann. 'I played along with them. I told them I'd do nothing serious but I played along when they asked for run-of-the-mill jobs.'

'What did they get you to do?'

'Laundering money. They never asked me to give them money – they seem to have plenty of that to throw around. They wanted Deutschmarks changed into dollars, Swedish kroner changed into Mexican pesos and vice versa, Latin American currencies changed into Dutch guilders.'

'They could have all that done at a money exchange in West Berlin.'

He smiled and stared at something beyond me and drank his coffee. 'Ja,' he said, forgetting for a moment that we were speaking English. He touched the side of his face as if discovering the terrible scars for the first time. 'There was a difference; the money was sent to me in large cash transfers and I had to pass it on in small contributions and donations.'

'Pass it on how?'

'By mail.'

'In small amounts?'

'One hundred dollars, two hundred dollars. Never more than five hundred dollars – or the equivalent amount in whatever currency.'

'Cash?'

'Oh yes, cash. Strictly no cheques.' He shifted uneasily in his seat, and I had the feeling that he now regretted this confession. 'High-denomination notes in plain envelopes. No registered letters; that would mean a lot of names and addresses and post-office forms. Too risky, that sort of thing, they said.'

'And where has all this money been going to?'

He put his coffee on the table and began searching the pockets of his pants as if looking for a cigarette. Then he stood up and looked round. Eventually he found a silver box on the table. He took one for himself. Then he offered the open box to me. It was, of course, that sort of evasive temporizing that armchair psychologists call 'displacement activity'. Before he could repeat the whole performance in pursuit of matches, I threw him mine. He lit his cigarette and then waved the smoke away from his face nervously. 'You know where it's been going to, Bernd. Trade unions, peace movements, "ban the bomb" groups. Moscow can't be seen making donations to them. The money has to come from "little people" all over the world. You weren't born yesterday, Bernd. We all know the way it's done.'

'Yes, we all know the way it's done, Paul.' I swung round to see him. On the side-table there was the bottle of brandy that Stinnes and I had plundered. I wondered if that was what had attracted his gaze when he had stared over my shoulder. He wasn't looking at it now; he was looking at me.

'Don't damn well sneer at me. I've got my relatives to worry about. And if I hadn't koshered their bloody contributions someone else would do it for them. It's not going to change the history of the world, is it?' He was still moving round the room, looking at the furnishings as if seeing them for the first time.

'I don't know what it's going to do, Paul. You're the one that had the expensive education: schools in Switzerland, schools in America and two years' postgraduate studies at Yale. You tell me if it's going to change the history of the world.'

'You weren't so high and mighty in the old days,' said Biedermann. 'You weren't so superior when you sold me that old Ferrari that kept breaking down.'

'It was a good car. I had no trouble with it,' I said. 'I only sold it because I went to London. You should have looked after it better.' What a memory he had. I'd quite forgotten selling him that car. Maybe that's how the rich got richer – by remembering in resentful detail every transaction they made.

He kept his cigarette in his mouth and, still standing, fingered the keys of the computer as if about to use it. 'It's getting more and more difficult,' he said. He turned to look at me, the smoke of the cigarette rising across his face like a fine veil and going into his eyes so that he was squinting. 'Now that the Mexicans have nationalized the banks, and the peso has dropped through the floor, there are endless regulations about foreign exchange. It's not so easy to handle these transactions without attracting attention.'

'So tell your Russians that,' I suggested.

'I don't want them to solve my problems. I want to get out of the whole business.'

'Tell them that.'

'And risk what happens to my relatives?'

'You talk as though you are some sort of master spy,' I said. 'If you tell them you've had enough of it, that will be the end of it.'

'They'd kill me,' he said.

'Rubbish,' I said. 'You're not important enough for them to waste time or effort on.'

'They'd make an example of me. They'd cut my throat and make sure everyone knew why.'

'They'd not make an example of you,' I said. 'How could they? The last thing they want to do is draw attention to their secret financing network. No, as long as they thought you'd keep their secrets, they'd let you go, Paul. They'd huff and puff and shout and threaten in the hope you'd get frightened enough to keep going. But once they saw you were determined to end it they'd reconcile themselves to that.'

'If only I could believe it.' He blew a lot of smoke. 'One of the new clerks in my Mexico City office – a German fellow – has been asking me questions about some of the money I sent out. It's just a matter of time…'

'You don't let the staff in your office address the envelopes, do you?'

'No, of course not. But I do the envelopes on the addressing machine. I can't sit up all night writing out envelopes.'

'You're a fool, Paul.'

'I know,' he said sadly. 'This German kid was updating the address lists and he noticed these charities and trade unions that were all coded in the same way. It was in a different code from all the other addresses. I said it was part of my Christmas charity list but I'm not sure he believed me.'

'You'd better transfer him to one of your other offices,' I said.

'I'm going to send him to Caracas but it won't really solve the problem. Some other clerk will notice. I can't address the envelopes by hand and have handwritten evidence all over the place, can I?'

'Why are you telling me all this, Paul?'

'I've got to talk it over with someone.'

'Don't give me that,' I said.

He stubbed out his cigarette and said, 'I told the Russians that the British secret service was becoming suspicious. I invented stories about strangers making inquiries at various offices.'

'Did they believe that?'

'Phone calls. I always said the inquiries were phone calls. So I didn't have to describe anyone's physical appearance.' He went over to the side-table and picked up the bottle of brandy. He put it into a cupboard and shut the door. It looked like the simple action of a tidy man who didn't want to see bottles of booze standing around in his office.

'That was clever,' I said, although I thought such a device would sound very unconvincing to any experienced case officer.

'I knew they'd have to give me a respite if I was under surveillance.'

'And talking to me is a part of that scheme? Did you tell them about my phone call? Was it that that gave you the idea? Is that why they came here last night?'

He didn't answer my question, and that convinced me that my guess was right. Biedermann had thought up all this nonsense about the British becoming suspicious only after I'd phoned him. He said, 'You're something in the espionage business, you've admitted that. I realize you're not in any sort of senior position, but you must know people who are. And you're the only contact I have.'

I grunted. I didn't know whether that was Paul Biedermann's sincere opinion or whether he was hoping to provoke me into claiming power and influence.

'Does that mean you can help?' he said.

I finished the coffee and got to my feet. 'You copy that list of addresses for me – London might be interested in that – and I'll make sure that Bonn is told that we are investigating you. You'll become what NATO intelligence calls 'sacred'. None of the other security teams will investigate you without informing us. That will get back to your masters quickly enough.'

'Wait a moment, Bernd. I don't want Bonn restricting my movements or opening my mail.'

'You can't have it both ways, Paul. "Sacred" is the lowest category we have. There's not much chance that Bonn will find that interesting enough to do anything: they'll leave you to us.'

Biedermann didn't look too pleased at the idea of his reputation suffering, but he realized it was the best offer he was likely to get. 'Don't double-cross me,' he said.

'How would I do that?'

'I'm not up for sale to the highest bidder. I want out. I don't want to exchange a master in Moscow for a master in London.'

'You make me laugh, Paul,' I said. 'You really think you're a master spy, don't you? Are you sure you want to get out, or do you really want to get in deeper?'

'I need help, Bernd.'

'Where did you hide your car?'

'You can drive along the beach when the tide is out.'

I should have thought of that one. The tide comes in and washes away the tyre tracks. It had fooled Stinnes and his pal too. Sometimes amateurs can teach the pros a trick or two. 'The tide is out now,' I said. 'Get it and give me a lift into the village, will you, before someone starts renting my Chewy out as a bijou residence.'

'Keep the sweater,' he said. 'It looks good on you.'

5

'Muy complicado,' said Dicky. We were elbowing our way through a huge cobbled plaza that twice a week became one of Mexico City's busiest street markets, and he was listening to my account of the trip to Paul Biedermann's house. It was what Dicky called combining business with pleasure. 'Muy bloody complicado,' he said reflectively. That was Dicky's way of saying he didn't understand.

'Not very complicated,' I said. I'd found Biedermann's story depressingly simple – too simple, perhaps, to be the whole truth – but not complicated.

'Biedermann hiding in the bloody pool all night clasping a gun?' said Dicky with heavy irony. 'No, not complicated at all, of course.' He'd been chewing the nail of his little finger and now he inspected it. 'You're not telling me you believed all that stuff?'

The sun was very hot. Towering cumulus clouds were building up to the east and the humidity was becoming intolerable. We were walking down a line of vendors selling secondhand hardware that varied from ancient spark plugs to fake Nazi medals. Dicky stopped to look at some broken pottery figurines that a handwritten notice said were ancient Olmec. Dicky picked one up and looked at it. It looked too new to be genuine, but then so did many of the fragments in the National Museum.

Dicky passed it to me and walked on. I put it back on the ground with the other junk. I had too many broken fragments in my life already. I found Dicky looking at a basketful of silver-plated bracelets. 'I must get some little presents to take back to London,' he said.

'Which parts of Biedermann's story do you think were not true?' I asked him.

'Never mind the exam questions,' snapped Dicky. He didn't want to be in Mexico; he wanted to be in London making sure his job was secure. In some perverse way he blamed me for his situation, although, God knows, no one would have waved goodbye to him with more pleasure.

He began bargaining with the Indian squatting behind the folk-art jewellery. After a series of offers and counter-offers, Dicky agreed to buy six of them. He crouched down and solemnly began to sort through all of them to find the best six.

'I'm asking you what you believe and what you don't believe,' I said. 'Hell, Dicky. You're in charge. I need to know.'

Still crouched down, he looked at me from under the eyelashes that made him the heart-throb of the typing pool. He knew I was goading nun. 'You think I've been swanning around in Los Angeles wasting my time and the department's money, don't you?' Dicky was looking very Hollywood since his return from California. The faded jeans had gone, replaced by striped seersucker trousers and a short-sleeved green safari shirt with loops to hold rhino bullets.

'Why would I think that?'

Satisfied with his choice of bracelets, he sorted out his Mexican money and paid for them. He smiled and put the bracelets in the pocket of his shut. 'I saw Frank Harrington in LA. You didn't know I was going to see Frank, did you?'

Frank Harrington headed the Berlin Field Unit. He was an old experienced Whitehall warrior with influence where it really counted: at the very top. I didn't like the idea of Dicky sliding off to meetings with him, especially meetings from which I was deliberately excluded. 'No, I didn't know.'

'Frank was attending some CIA powwow and I buttonholed him to talk about Stinnes.' We'd got to the end of the line and Dicky turned to go up the next row of stalls; brightly coloured fruit and vegetables on one side and broken furniture on the other. 'This is not just another Mexican street market,' said Dicky, who'd insisted that we come here. 'This is a tiangui – an Indian market. Not many tourists get to see them.'

'It might have been better to have come earlier. It's always so damned hot by lunchtime.'

Dicky chuckled scornfully. 'If I don't jog and have a decent breakfast I can't get going.'

'Perhaps we should have found a hotel right here in town. Going backwards and forwards to Cuernavaca eats up a lot of time.'

'A couple of miles jogging every morning would do you good, Bernard. You're putting on a lot of weight. It's all that stodge you eat.'

'I like stodge,' I said.

'Don't be ridiculous. Look at all these wonderful fresh vegetables and delicious fruit. Look at those great heaps of chillies. There must be fifty different kinds. I wish I'd brought the camera with me now.'

'Does Frank know anything about Stinnes?'

'Ye gods. Frank knows everyone in Berlin. You know that, Bernard. Frank says Stinnes is one of their brightest people. Frank has a fat file on him, and all his activities from one end of the world to the other.'

I nodded. Frank always claimed to have fat files on everything when he was away from his office. It was only when you were with him in Berlin that the 'fat file' turned out to be a small pink card with 'Refer to Data Centre' scribbled on it. 'Good old Frank,' I said.

This end of the market beyond the vegetables was occupied by food stalls. Almost everyone in the market seemed to be eating. They were eating and buying, eating and selling, eating and chatting, and even eating as they smoked and drank. Some of the more dedicated were sitting down to eat, and for these aficionados seats were provided. There were chairs and stools of every kind, age and size, with nothing in common but their infirmity.

Most of the stalls had steaming pots from which stewed mixtures of rice, chicken, pork and every variety of beans were being served. There were charcoal grills too, laden with pieces of scorching meat that filled the air with smoke and appetizing smells. And the ever-present tortillas were being eaten as fast as they could be kneaded, rolled out and cooked. An old lady came up to Dicky and handed him a tortilla. Dicky was disconcerted and tried to argue with her.

'She wants you to feel the texture and admire the colour,' I said.

Dicky gave her one of his big smiles, fingered it as if he was going to have it made up into a three-piece suit, and handed it back with a lot of 'Gracias, adios'.

'Stinnes speaks excellent Spanish,' I said. 'Did Frank tell you anything about that?'

'You were right about Stinnes. He went to Cuba to sort out some of their security problems. He did so well that he became the KGB's Caribbean trouble-shooter all through the early seventies. He's been to just about all the places where the Cubans have sent soldiers; and that's a lot of travelling.'

'Does Frank know why Stinnes is here?'

'I think you've answered that already,' said Dicky. 'He's here running your friend Biedermann.' He looked at me and, when I didn't respond, said, 'Don't you think so, Bernard?'

'Arranging a little money to prop up a trade union or finance an anti-nuke demo? Not exactly something for one of the KGB's brightest people, is it?'

'I'm not so sure,' said Dicky. 'Central America is a top KGB priority, you can't deny that, Bernard.'

'Let me put it another way,' I said. 'Covert financing of that sort is an administration job. It's not something for Stinnes with his languages and years of field experience.'

'Ho ho,' said Dicky. 'Hint, hint, eh? You mean, you chaps with field experience and fluent languages are wasted on the sort of job that administrators like me can manage?'

It was exactly what I thought, but since it wasn't what I'd intended to say I denied it. 'Why the German name?' I said. 'And why does a man like that work out of Berlin? He must be forty years old; a crucial age for an ambitious man. Why isn't he in Moscow where the really big decisions are made?'

'Si, maestro,' said Dicky very slowly. He looked at me quizzically and ran a fingertip along his thin bloodless lips as if trying to prevent himself smiling. Instead of concealing my own feelings, I'd subconsciously identified with Stinnes. For I was also forty years old and I wanted to be where the big decisions are made. Dicky nodded solemnly. He might be a little slow on languages and fieldwork but in the game of office politics he was seeded number one. 'Frank Harrington had an answer for that one. Stinnes – real name Nikolai Sadoff – married a German girl who couldn't master the Russian language. They lived in Moscow for some time but she was miserable there. Stinnes finally asked for a transfer. They live in East Berlin. Frank Harrington thinks a Mexico City assignment will probably be a quick in and out for Stinnes.'

'Yes, he talked as if he was going soon – "when I've gone back to Europe", he said.'

'He said the Englishwoman had put him in charge of one of her crazy schemes, didn't he?'

'More or less,' I said.

'And we both know who the Englishwoman is, don't we? Your wife is running this operation. It was your wife who sent the telex from Berlin that they grudgingly obeyed. Right?'

I said nothing.

Dicky stared at me, his mouth pursed, his eyes narrowed. 'Is it right or not?' He smiled. 'Or do you think they might have some other Englishwoman running the KGB office in Berlin.'

'Probably Fiona,' I said.

'Well, I'm glad we agree on that one,' said Dicky sarcastically. It was only when I heard the contempt in his voice that I realized that he hated working on this job with me as much as I did with him. In the London office our relationship was tolerable; but on this type of job every little difference became abrasive. Dicky turned away from me and took a great interest in the various pots of stew. One of the stallholders opened the lids so that we could sniff. 'Smell that,' I said There's enough chilli in there to put you into orbit.'

'Obit, you mean,' said Dicky, moving on quickly. 'Put you into the Times obit column.' His dinner with the Volkmanns had lessened his appetite for the chilli. 'Our friend Paul Biedermann is going soggy on them. He starts making up stories about British spies telephoning him, and who knows what other sort of nonsense he's been telling them. So they get nervous and Stinnes is sent over here to kick arses and get Biedermann back into line.'

'Is that also what Frank says?'

'No, that's what I'm saying. It's obvious. I don't know why you are being so baroque about it. Maybe it's not a very big deal. But these KGB people like a nice little jaunt to Mexico, fresh lobster salad and a swim in the Pacific to brighten up their working days. Stinnes is no different.'

'It doesn't feel right. Biedermann is rich and successful; he is woolly-minded and flabby with it. He doesn't have the motivation, and he certainly doesn't need the money.'

'So what? Biedermann was frightened for his family. Shall we eat here? Some of this food looks really good. Look at that.' He read the sign. 'What are carnitas?'

'Stewed pork. He's serving it on chicharrones: pork crackling. You eat the meat, then eat the plate. Biedermann wouldn't give that plate of pork for his family, and especially not for distant relatives in Rostock.'

'We'll walk to the end and see what else there is and then come back here and try some,' Dicky suggested. Dicky could always surprise me. Just as I had decided he was the archetypal gringo tourist, he wanted to have lunch at a fonda. 'So what's your theory?'

'I have no theory,' I said. 'Agents come in many shapes and sizes. Some are waiting for the socialist millennium, some hate their parents, some get angry after being ripped off by a loan company. Some simply want more money. But usually it begins with opportunity. A man finds himself handling something secret and valuable. He starts thinking about using that opportunity to get more money. Only then does he become a dedicated communist agent. So how does Biedermann fit into that? Where are his secrets? What's his motivation?'

'Guilt,' said Dicky. 'He feels guilty about his wealth.'

'If you'd ever met Paul Biedermann you'd know what a good joke that is.'

'Blackmail, then?'

'About what?'

'Sex.'

'Paul Biedermann would pay to have people say he was a sex maniac. He thinks of himself as a rich playboy.'

'You let your acute dislike of Paul Biedermann spill over into your judgements, Bernard. The fact of the matter is that Biedermann is an agent. You heard the two KGB people talking. He is an agent; it's no good your trying to convince yourself he's not.'

'Oh, he's an agent,' I said. 'But he's not the sort of agent that a man such as Stinnes would be running. That's what puzzles me.'

'Your experience makes you over-estimate what qualities an agent needs. Try and see it from their point of view: rich US businessman – someone the local cops would be reluctant to upset – isolated house on a lonely stretch of beach in western Mexico, not too far by road from the capital. And not too far by sea from Vladivostok.'

'Landing guns, you mean?'

'A man with a reputation for drinking who gets so rough with his servants that he's left all alone in the house. Wife and children often away. Convenient beach, pier big enough for a big motor boat.'

'Come along, Dicky,' I said. This is just a holiday cottage by Biedermann's standards. This is just a place he goes to read the Wall Street Journal and spend the weekend dreaming up a quick way to make a million or two.'

'So for half the year the house is completely empty. Then Stinnes and his pals have the place all to themselves. We know guns go from Cuba to Mexico's east coast and onwards by light plane. So why not bring them across the Pacific from the country where they are manufactured?' We'd got to the end of the food stalls and Dicky became interested in a stall selling pictures. There were family group photos and coloured litho portraits of generals and presidents. All of the pictures were in fine old frames.

'It doesn't smell right,' I said. But Dicky had put together a convincing scenario. If it was the house they were interested in, it didn't matter what kind of aptitude Biedermann had for being a field agent. Yes, London Central would love a report along those lines. It had the drama they liked. It had the geopolitic that called for maps and coloured diagrams. And, as a bottom line, it could be true.

'If it doesn't smell right,' said Dicky with heavy irony, 'I'll tell London to forget the whole thing.' He stood up straight as he looked at the selection of pictures for sale, and I realized he was studying his reflection in the glass-fronted pictures. He was too thin for a large, bright-green safari shirt. It made him look like a lollipop. 'Is it going to rain?' he said, looking at the time. He'd bought a new wrist-watch too. It was a multi-dial black chronometer that kept perfect time at 50 fathoms.

'It seldom rains in the morning, even during the rainy season.'

'It will bucket down on the stroke of noon, then,' said Dicky, looking up at the clouds that were now turning yellowish.

'I'm still not sure what London wants with Stinnes,' I said.

'London want Stinnes enrolled,' he said, as if he'd just remembered it. 'Shall we walk back to where the pork is? What did you say it's called – carnitas?'

'Enrolled?' It could mean a lot of things from persuaded to defect, to knocked on the head and rolled in a carpet. That would be difficult.'

The bigger they are the harder they fall,' said Dicky. 'You said yourself that he's forty years old and passed over for promotion. He's been stuck in East Berlin for ages. Berlin is a plum job for Western intelligence but it's the boondocks for their people. A smart KGB major left to rot in East Berlin is sure to be fretting.'

'I suppose his wife likes it there,' I said.

'What's that got to do with it?' said Dicky. 'Would I take an intelligence job in Canada because my wife liked ice hockey?'

'No, Dicky, you wouldn't.'

'And this fellow Stinnes will see what's good for him. Frank Harrington thought the chances were good.'

'You talked about all this with Frank?'

'Sure. Frank has to be in on it because Stinnes is based in Big B. Stinnes is very much in his territory, Bernard.' A nervous movement of fingers through curly hair. The worst difficulty is that the Data Centre showed that Stinnes has an eighteen-year-old son. That might prove sticky.'

'Christ, Dicky,' I said, as I came to terms with this bombshell. 'Did you know all this when we left London?'

'Enrolling Stinnes, you mean?'

'Yes, enrolling Stinnes I mean.'

'It looked as if it might go that way.' That was Dicky on the defensive. He'd known all along, that was obvious. I wondered what else he knew that he was not going to tell me about until it happened. 'London Central put out a departmental alert for him, didn't they?' We had reached the carnitas stand by now. He selected a chair that didn't wobble and sat down. 'I'll have mine wrapped in a tortilla; pork skin is very fattening.'

'London Central puts out departmental alerts for clerks who make off with the petty cash.'

'But they don't send senior staff, like us, to identify them when they are spotted,' said Dicky.

'Enrolled,' I said, considering all the implications. 'A hot-shot like Stinnes. You and me? It's madness.'

'Only if you start thinking it's madness,' said Dicky. 'My own opinion…' Pause. 'For what's it's worth…' A modest smile. '… is that we stand an excellent chance.'

'And when did you last enrol a KGB major?'

Dicky bit his lip. We both knew the answer to that one. Dicky was a pen-pusher. Stinnes was the first KGB officer Dicky had ever come this close to, and he hadn't seen Stinnes yet.

'Isn't London proposing to send someone over here to help? This is a complicated job, Dicky. We need someone who has experience.'

'Nonsense. We can do it. I don't want Bret Rensselaer breathing down my neck. If we can pull this one off, it will be a real coup.' He smiled. 'I didn't expect you to start asking London for help, Bernard. I thought you were the one who always liked to do everything on his own.'

'I'm not on my own,' I said. 'I'm with you.' The stallholder was stirring his cauldron of pork and arranging suitable pieces on a large metal platter.

'And you'd prefer to work with your friend Werner, eh?'

I could hear danger signals. 'We were at school together,' I said. 'I've known him a long time.'

'Werner Volkmann isn't even employed by the department. He hasn't been employed by us for years.'

'Officially that's right,' I said. 'But he's worked for us from time to time.'

'Because you give him jobs to do,' said Dicky. 'Don't try to make it sound as if the department employs him.'

'Werner knows Berlin,' I said.

'You know Berlin. Frank Harrington knows Berlin. Our friend Stinnes knows Berlin. There is no great shortage of people who know Berlin. That's no reason for employing Werner.'

'Werner is a Jew. He was born in Berlin when the Nazis were running things. Werner instinctively sees things in people that you and I have to learn about. You can't compare his knowledge of Berlin and Berliners with anything I know.'

'Calm down. Everyone knows Werner is your alter ego, and so mustn't be criticized.'

'What do you want? You can have "lean meat", "pure meat", "meat without fat" or "a bit of everything".'

'What's the difference between…'

'Don't let's get into semantics,' I said. 'Try surtido, that's a bit of everything.' Dicky nodded his agreement.

Dicky, who always showed a remarkable aptitude for feeding himself, now discovered that a carnitas stand is always conveniently close to those that sell the necessary accompaniments. He provided us with salsas and marinated cactus, and was now discovering that tortillas are sold by the kilo. 'A kilo,' he said as the tortilla lady disappeared with the payment and left him with a huge pile of them. 'Do you think they'll keep if I take them back for Daphne?' He wrapped some of the pork into the top tortilla. 'Delicious,' he said as he ate the first one and took a second tortilla to begin making another. 'What are all those pieces?'

'That's ear, and those pieces are intestine,' I said.

'You just wait until Daphne hears what I've been eating; she'll throw up. Our neighbours came out to Mexico last year and stayed in the Sheraton. They wouldn't even clean their teeth unless they had bottled water. I wish I had my camera so you could photograph me eating here in the market. Now what is it again – carnitas? I want to get it exactly right when I tell them.'

'Carnitas,' I said. 'Surtido.'

Dicky wiped his mouth on his handkerchief and stood up and looked round the market square. Just from where we were sitting I could see people selling plastic toys, antique tables and gilt mirrors, cheap shirts, brass bedsteads, dog-eared American film magazines and a selection of cut-glass stoppers that always survive long after the decanters. 'Yes,' said Dicky. 'It's really quite a place, isn't it? Fifteen million people perched at seven thousand feet altitude with high mountain tops all round them and thick smog permanently overhead. Where else could you find a capital city with no river, no coastline and such lousy roads? And yet this is one of the oldest cities the world has ever known. If that doesn't prove that the human race is stone-raving mad, nothing will.'

'I hope you don't think I'm going to walk right up to Stinnes and offer him a chance to defect,' I said.

'I've been thinking about that,' said Dicky. 'The Volkmanns already know him. Shall we let them make the first overtures?'

'Werner doesn't work for the department. You just told me that.'

'Correction,' said Dicky. 'I said that Werner's knowledge of Berlin is not sufficient reason for using him in Berlin. Let's remember that Werner has had a "non-critical employment only" tag on his file.'

'You can be a spiteful bastard, Dicky,' I said. 'You're talking about that signals leak in 1978. You know very well that Werner was completely cleared of suspicion.'

'It was your wife who did it,' said Dicky. Suddenly he was angry. He was angry because he'd never suspected Fiona of leaking secrets, and now I realized that Dicky saw me as someone who had helped to deceive him rather than as Fiona's principal victim.

The sky was darkening with clouds now and there was the movement of air that precedes a storm. I never got used to the speedy effects of the heat and humidity. The sweet smell of fresh fruits and vegetables had filled the air when we first arrived at the market. Now it was already giving way to the smells of putrefaction as the spoiled, squashed and broken produce went bad.

'Yes, it was my wife who did it. Werner was innocent.'

'And if you'd listened you'd have heard me say that Werner has had a "non-crit" tag on his file. I didn't say it was still there.'

'And now you're going to ask Werner to enrol Stinnes for you?'

'I think you'd better put it to him, Bernard.'

'He's on holiday,' I said. 'It's a sort of second honeymoon.'

'So you told me,' said Dicky. 'But my guess is that they are both getting a bit bored with each other. If you were on your honeymoon – first, second or third – you wouldn't want to spend the evenings in some broken-down German club in a seedy part of town, would you?'

'We haven't seen the club yet,' I reminded him. 'Perhaps it's tremendous.'

'I love the way you said that, Bernard. I wish I could have recorded the way you said "tremendous". Yes, it might be Mexico's answer to Caesar's Palace in Vegas, or the Paris Lido, but don't bank on it. You see, if it was me on a second honeymoon with that delectable little Zena, I'd be in Acapulco, or maybe finding some sandy little beach where we could be undisturbed. I wouldn't be taking her along to the Kronprinz club to see who's winning the bridge tournament.'

'The way it's turned out,' I said, 'you're not taking the delectable little Zena anywhere. I thought I heard you saying you didn't like her. I remember you saying that one honeymoon with Zena would be enough for you.' From the sulphurous yellow sky there came a steady drum-roll of thunder, an overture for a big storm.

Dicky laughed. 'I admit I was a little hasty,' he said. 'I hadn't been away from home for very long when I said that. The way I feel now, Zena is looking sexier and sexier every day.'

'And you think talking to Stinnes about Western democracy and the free world will give the Volkmanns a new interest in life,' I said.

'Even allowing for your sarcasm, yes. Why don't you put it to them and see what they say?'

'Why don't you put it to them and see what they say?'

'Look at those children and the donkey and the old man with the sombrero. That would make the sort of photo that wins prizes at the Photo Club. I was so stupid not to bring a camera. But have you seen the sort of price you have to pay for a camera in this country? The Americans are really putting the squeeze on the peso. No, I think you should put it to them, Bernard. You get hold of Werner and talk with him, and then he could go along to the Kronprinz Club tonight and see if Stinnes is there.' He stopped at a stall to watch a man making chiles rellenos, putting meat fillings into large peppers. Each one got a big spoonful of chopped chillies before being deep-fried and put in a garlicky tomato sauce. Just looking at it made me feel queasy.

'Werner will have to know what London is prepared to offer Stinnes. I assume there will eventually be a big first payment, a salary and contractual provisions about the size of the house they'll get and what sort of car and so on.'

'Is that the way it's done?' said Dicky. 'It sounds like a marriage contract.'

'They like it defined like that because you can't buy houses in East Europe and they don't know the prices of cars and so on. They usually want to have a clear idea of what they are getting.'

'London will pay,' said Dicky. 'They want Stinnes; they really want him. That's just between us, of course; that's not for Werner Volkmann to know.' He touched the side of his nose in a conspiratorial gesture. 'No reasonable demand will be refused.'

'So what does Werner say to Stinnes?' On the cobbled ground there were shiny black spots appearing one after the other in the grey dust. The rain had come.

'Let's keep it all very soft-sell, shall we?' said Dicky. His wife Daphne worked in a small advertising agency. Dicky told me that it had very aggressive methods with really up-to-date selling techniques. Sometimes I got the feeling that Dicky would like to see the department being run on the same lines. Preferably by him.

'You mean we don't brief Werner?'

'Let's see how the cookie crumbles,' said Dicky. It was an old advertising expression that meant put your head in the sand, your arse in the air and wait for the explosion.

My prediction that the rain came only in the afternoons was only just right. It was a few minutes after one o'clock when the rain started. Dicky took me in the car as far as the university, where he was to see one of his Oxford friends, and there – on the open plaza – let me out into steady rain. I cursed him, but there was no hostility in Dicky's self-interest; he would have done the same thing to almost anyone.

It was not easy to get a cab but eventually an old white VW beetle stopped for me. The car's interior was battered and dirty, but the driver's position was equipped like the flight deck of a Boeing jet. The dashboard was veneered in walnut and there was an array of small spanners and screwdrivers and a pen-shaped flashlight as well as a large coloured medallion of the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. In contrast to the derelict bodywork of the little car, the young driver was dressed in a freshly starched white shirt with a dark-grey tie and looked more like a stockbroker than a cab driver. But Mexico is like that.

The traffic moved slowly through the heavy rain but it didn't make less noise. There were two-stroke motorcycles and cars with broken mufflers and giant trucks – some so carefully painted up that every bolt-head, rivet and wheel-nut was picked out in different colours. Here on the city's outskirts, the wide boulevard was lined with a chaos of broken walls, goats grazing on waste ground, adobe huts, rubbish tips, crudely painted shop-fronts in primary colours and corrugated-iron fences defaced with political slogans and ribaldry. Despite the rain, drunks sprawled full-length on the pavement and the barbecue fires hissed and flared at the taco counters.

By the time we got near to Werner Volkmann's apartment, the rainstorm was flooding the gutters and making great lakes through which the traffic splashed, and in which it sometimes stalled. There was a constant racket of car horns and engines being over-revved by nervous drivers. The cab moved slowly, and I watched drenched and dirty kids offering dry, clean lottery tickets that were protected inside clear plastic bags. And plenty of well-dressed shoppers had chauffeurs who could hold an umbrella in one hand and open the door of a limousine with the other. I couldn't imagine Zena Volkmann anywhere but here in the Zona Rosa. Within the area contained by the Insurgentes, Sevilla and Chapultepec there are the big international hotels, smart restaurants, the shops with branches in Paris and New York. And in the crowded cafes that spill out on to the pavement are to be heard every new rumour, joke and scandal that this outrageous town provides in abundance.

Zena Volkmann could live anywhere, of course. But she preferred to live in comfort. She'd learned to respect wealth, and the wealthy, in a way that only a poverty-stricken childhood teaches. She was a survivor who'd climbed up the ladder without benefit of any education beyond reading and writing and painting her face, plus a natural ability to count. Perhaps I did her an injustice but sometimes I had the feeling that she would do anything if the price was high enough, for she still had that fundamental insecurity that one bout of poverty can inflict for a lifetime, and no amount of money remedy.

She made no secret of her feelings. Even amid the contrasts of Mexico she showed no great interest in the plight of the hungry. And like so many poor people she had only contempt for socialism in any of its various forms, for it is only the rich and guilty who can afford the subtle delights of egalitarian philosophies.

Zena Volkmann was only twenty-two years old but she'd lived with her grandparents for much of her childhood. From them she'd inherited a nostalgia for a Germany of long ago. It was a Protestant Germany of aristocrats and Handküsse, silvery Zeppelins and student duels. It was a kultiviertes Germany of music, industry, science and literature; an imperial Germany ruled from the great cosmopolitan city of Berlin by efficient, incorruptible Prussians. It was a Germany she'd never seen; a Germany that had never existed.

The elaborate afternoon Kaffee-Trinken that she'd prepared was a manifestation of her nostalgia. The delicate chinaware into which she poured the coffee, and the solid-silver forks with which we ate the fruit tart, and the tiny damask napkins with which we dabbed our lips were all parts of a ceremony that was typically German. It was a scene to be found in the prosperous suburbs of any one of a hundred West German towns.

Zena's brown silk afternoon dress, with embroidered collar and hem below the knee, made her look like a dedicated hausfrau. Her long dark hair was in two plaits and rolled to make the old-fashioned 'earphone' hairstyle virtually unknown outside Germany. And Werner, sitting there like an amiable gorilla, had gone to the extent of putting on his tan-coloured tropical suit and a striped tie too. I was only too aware that my old rain-wet open-necked shirt was not exactly de rigueur, as I balanced the coffee-cup on the knee of my mud-splashed nylon pants.

While Zena had been in the kitchen I'd told Werner about my trip to Biedermann's house, about the Russians I'd seen there and Biedermann's confession to me. Werner took his time to answer. He turned to look out of the window. On a side-table the broken fragments of a cup and saucer had been arranged in a large ashtray. Werner moved the ashtray to the trolley that held the TV. From this sixth-floor apartment there was a view across the city. The sky was low and dark now, and the rain was beating down in great shimmering sheets, the way it does only in such tropical storms. He still hadn't answered by the time Zena returned from the kitchen.

'Biedermann always was a loner,' said Werner. 'He has two brothers, but Paul makes all the business decisions. Did you know that?'

It was small talk, but now Zena was with us and I was undecided about how much to say in front of her. 'Are both his brothers in the business?'

Werner said, 'Old Biedermann gave equal shares to all five of them – two girls and three boys. But the others leave all the decisions to Paul.'

'And why not?' said Zena, cutting for me a slice of fruit tart. 'He knows how to make money. The other four have nothing to do but spend it.'

'You never liked him, did you, Bernie?' said Werner. 'You never liked Paul.'

'I hardly knew him,' I said. 'He went off to some fancy school. I remember his father. His father used to let me steer the trucks round their yard while he operated the accelerator and brakes. I was only a tiny child. I really liked the old man.'

'It was a filthy old yard,' said Werner. He was telling Zena rather than me. Or perhaps he was retelling it to himself. 'Full of junk and rubbish. What a wonderland it was for us children who played there. We had such fun.' He took a piece of tart from Zena. His slice was small; she was trying to slim him down. 'Paul was a scholar. The old man was proud of him but they didn't have much in common when Paul came back with all those college degrees and qualifications. Old Mr Biedermann had had no proper education. He left school when he was fourteen.'

'He was a real Berliner,' I said. 'He ran the transport business like a despot. He knew the names of all his workers. He swore at them when he was angry and got drunk with them when there was something to celebrate. They invited him to their marriages and their christenings and he never missed a funeral. When the union organized a weekend outing each year they always invited him along. No one would have wanted to go without the old man.'

'You're talking about the road transport business,' said Werner. 'But that was only a tiny part of their set-up.'

'It was the business the old man started, and the only part of the Biedermann empire he ever really liked.' A timer began to ping somewhere in the kitchen but Zena didn't move. Eventually it stopped. I guessed the Indian woman was there but banished to the back room.

'It was losing money,' said Werner.

'So, when Paul Biedermann came back from his American business management course, the first thing he did was to sell the transport company and pension his father off.'

'You sound very bitter, Bernie. That couldn't be why you hate Paul so much, could it?'

I drank some more coffee. I began to have the feeling that Zena didn't intend to leave us alone to talk about the things we had to talk about. I kept the small talk going. 'It killed old Biedermann,' I said. 'He had nothing to live for after the yard closed and the company was being run from New York. Do you remember how he used to sit in Leuschner's cafe all day, talking about old times to anyone who would listen, even to us kids?'

'It's the way things are now,' said Werner. 'Companies are run by computers. Profit margins are sliced thin. And no manager dare raise his eyes from his accounts long enough to learn the names of his staff. It's the price we pay for progress.'

Zena picked up the ashtray containing the broken cup and saucer. I could tell that Werner had broken it by the way she averted her eyes from him. She took the coffee-pot too and went to the kitchen. I said, 'Dicky saw Frank Harrington in LA. Apparently London have decided to try enrolling Erich Stinnes.' I had tried to make it unhurried but it came out in a rush.

'Enrolling him?' I was interested to see that Werner was as dismayed and surprised as I had been. 'Is there any background?'

'You mean, have there been discussions with Stinnes before. I was wondering the same thing myself but from what I got out of Dicky I think the idea is to go in cold.'

Werner leaned his considerable weight back in the armchair and blew through his pursed lips. 'Who's going to try that?'

'Dicky wants you to try,' I said. I drank some of my strong coffee and tried to sound very casual. I could see that Werner was torn between indignation and delight. Werner desperately wanted to become a regular departmental employee again. But he knew that being chosen for this job was no tribute to his skills; he was simply the man closest to Stinnes. 'It's a great opportunity,' said Werner resentfully, 'a great opportunity for failure. So Frank Harrington, and all those people who've been slandering me all these years, can have a new excuse and start slandering me all over again.'

'They must know the chances are slim,' I said. 'But if Stinnes went for it, you'd be the talk of the town, Werner.'

Werner gave me a wry smile. 'You mean both East and West sides of it?'

'What are you talking about?' said Zena, returning with the coffee. 'Is this something to do with Erich Stinnes?'

Werner glanced at me. He knew I didn't want to discuss it in front of Zena. 'If I'm going to try, Zena will have to know, Bernie,' he said apologetically. I nodded. The reality was that Werner told her everything I told him, so she might as well hear it from me.

Zena poured more coffee for us and offered us a selection of Spritzgebäck, little German biscuits that Werner liked. 'It is about Stinnes, isn't it?' she said as she picked up her own coffee – she drank it strong and black – and sat down. Even in this severe dress she looked very beautiful; her big eyes, very white teeth and the high cheekbones in that lightly tanned face made her look like the work of some Aztec goldsmith.

'London want to enrol him,' said Werner.

'Recruit him to work for London, do you mean?' said Zena.

'You recruit ordinary people to become spies,' Werner explained patiently. 'But an enemy security officer, especially one who might help you break his own networks, is "enrolled".'

'It's the same sort of thing,' said Zena brightly.

'It's very different,' said Werner. 'When you recruit someone, and start them spying, you paint romantic pictures for them. You show them the glamour and make them feel courageous and important. But the agent you enrol knows all the answers already. Enrolment is tricky. You are telling lies to highly skilled liars. They're cynical and demanding. It's easy to start it off but it usually goes sour some way along the line and everyone ends up mad at everyone else.'

'You make it sound like getting a divorce,' said Zena.

'It's a bit like that,' I said. 'But it can get more violent.'

'More violent than a divorce?' Zena fluttered her eyelashes. 'You're only going to offer Erich Stinnes a chance to defect to the West. 'Can't he do that any time he wants? He's in Mexico. Why go back to Russia if he doesn't want to?' There was something deliciously feminine about Zena and her view of the world.

'It's not as easy as that,' said Werner. 'Not many countries will allow East European nationals to defect. Seamen who jump ship, passengers or Aeroflot crew who leave their planes at refuelling stops, or Soviet delegates who walk into foreign police stations and ask for asylum find it's not so easy. Even right-wing governments send them right back to Russia to face the music.' He bit into a biscuit. 'Good Spritzgebäck, darling,' he said.

'I couldn't get hazelnuts but I tried this other sort; with honey. They're not bad, are they? Why won't they let them defect? They send them back to Russia? That's disgusting,' said Zena.

'Encouraging defectors upsets the Russians for one thing,' said Werner. 'If Stinnes said he wanted to stay in Mexico, the Soviet ambassador would go running along to the Foreign Secretary and start pressurizing the Mexican authorities to hand him back.'

'In which case doesn't Stinnes just say go to hell?' said Zena.

'The ambassador then says that Stinnes has stolen the cash box or that he's wanted to face criminal charges in Moscow. The Mexicans then find themselves accused of harbouring a criminal. And don't forget that someone has to pay the defector a salary or find him a job.' Werner reached for another biscuit.

'This is Mexico,' said Zena. 'What do they care about the Russians?'

Werner was fully occupied with the biscuits. I said, The Russians have a lot of clout in this part of the world, Mrs Volkmann. They can stir up trouble by getting neighbouring countries to apply pressure. Cuba will always oblige, since its economy depends totally on Soviet money. They can apply economic sanctions. They can influence United Nations committees and all the rigmarole of Unesco and so on. And all of these countries have to contend with a domestic Communist Party organization ready to do whatever the Russians want done. Governments don't offend the Soviet Union without very good reason. Providing asylum for a defector is seldom reason enough.'

'There are still plenty of defectors, though,' persisted Zena.

'Yes,' I said. 'Many defectors are sponsored by the USA, the way that famous musicians or performers are, because of the bad publicity their escapes make for the communist system. And they can earn their own living easily enough. The remainder have to bring something worthwhile with them as the price of entry.'

'Secrets?'

That depends on what you call secrets. Usually a country provides asylum to someone bringing information about the way the Soviets have been spying on the host country. For that sort of information a government is usually prepared to withstand Russian pressures.'

'And for that reason,' said Werner, 'most of the decent Russians can't defect and the KGB bastards can. Put all the defectors together and you'd have a ballet company and orchestra, some sports stars and a vast army of secret policemen.'

Zena looked at me with her big grey eyes and said archly, 'But if you two are right about Erich Stinnes, he's a KGB man. So he could provide some secrets about spying on Mexico. So he would be allowed to stay here without your help.'

'Would you like to live in Mexico for the remainder of your life, Mrs Volkmann?' I said.

She paused for a moment as if thinking the idea over. 'Perhaps not,' she admitted.

'No, a man such as Stinnes would want a British passport.'

'Or a US passport?' said Zena.

'American citizenship provides no right to travel abroad. A British passport identifies a British subject, and they have the right to leave the country any time they wish. Stinnes will give us quite a list of requirements if he decides to defect. He'd need a lot of paperwork so that he has a completely new identity. I mean an identity that is recorded in such a way that it will withstand investigation.'

'What sort of things?' said Zena.

I said, 'Things that require the cooperation of many different government departments. For instance, he'll need a driving licence. And we don't want that to materialize out of nowhere, not for a forty-year-old with no other driving experience on file and no record of passing a driving test. He'd need to have some innocuous-looking file in his local tax office. He'll want a credit card; what does he put on the application? Then there are documents for travelling. He'll probably want some freedom of movement and that's always a headache. Incidentally he must give us some identity photos for his passport and so on. One good full-face picture will be enough. A picture of his wife too. I'll get the copies done at the embassy.'

Werner nodded. He realized that this was his briefing. I was talking around the sort of offer he would be able to make to Stinnes. 'You're assuming that he would live in England?' said Werner.

'Certainly for the first year,' I said. 'It will be a long debriefing. Would that be a problem?'

'He's always spoken of Germany as the only place he'd ever want to be. Isn't that true, Zena?'

'That's what he's always said,' Zena agreed. 'But it's the sort of thing everyone says at the Kronprinz Club. Everyone is drinking German beer and exchanging news of the old country. It is natural to talk of Germany with great affection. We all do. But when you are offering someone a chance to retire in comfort, England wouldn't be too bad, I think.' She smiled.

I said, 'Dicky thinks Stinnes will jump at any decent offer.'

'Does he?' said Werner doubtfully.

'London thinks Stinnes has been passed over for promotion. They think he's been stuck away in East Berlin to rot.'

'So why is he here in Mexico?' said Werner.

'Dicky thinks it's just a nice little jaunt for him.'

'It's a convenient thing to say when you can't think of any convincing answer,' said Werner. 'What do you think, Bernie?'

'I'm convinced he's here in connection with Paul Biedermann,' I said cautiously. 'But why the hell would he be?'

Werner nodded. He didn't take me seriously. He knew I disliked Biedermann and thought this was clouding my judgement. 'What makes you think that, Bernie?' he said.

'Stinnes and his pal didn't know I was listening to them out at the Biedermann house. They said they were running Biedermann and I believe it.'

'Paul Biedermann has been koshering cash for the KGB,' Werner told Zena. 'And sending it off for them too.'

'What a bastard,' said Zena. The family property in East Prussia, which Zena had failed to inherit because it was now a part of the USSR, made her unsympathetic to people who helped the KGB. But she didn't put much venom into her condemnation of Biedermann; her mind was on Stinnes. 'What's so special about Stinnes?' she asked me.

'London wants him,' I said. 'And London Central moves in strange and unaccountable ways.'

'It's all Dicky Cruyer's idea,' she said, as if she'd had a sudden insight. 'I'll bet it's not London at all. Dicky Cruyer went off to Los Angeles and had a meeting with Frank Harrington. Then he returned with the electrifying news that London wants Erich Stinnes, and he's to be coaxed into defection.'

'He couldn't do that,' said Werner, who hated to have his faith in London Central undermined. 'It's a London order, isn't it, Bernie? It must be.'

'Don't be silly, Werner,' his wife argued. 'It was probably made official afterwards. You know that anyone could talk Frank Harrington into anything.'

Werner grunted. Zena's brief love affair with the elderly Frank Harrington was something that was never referred to, but I could see it was not forgotten.

Zena turned to me. 'I'm right. You know I am.'

'A successful enrolment would do wonders for Dicky's chances of holding on to the German Desk,' I said. I got up and walked over to the window. I had almost forgotten that we were in Mexico City, but the mountains just visible behind a veil of mist, the dark ceiling of clouds, the flashes of lightning and the tropical storm that was thrashing the city were not like anything to.be seen in Europe.

'When do we get the money for finding him?' Zena said. My back was to her and I pretended to think that she was asking Werner.

It was Werner who replied. 'It will work out, darling. These things take time.'

Zena came across to the window and said to me, 'We'll not do any more to help until we've been paid some money.'

'I don't know anything about the money,' I said.

'No, no one knows anything about the money. That's how you people work, isn't it?'

Werner was still sitting heavily in his chair, munching his biscuits. 'It's not Bernie's fault, darling. Bernie would give us the crown jewels if it was only up to him.' The crown jewels had always been Werner's idea of ultimate wealth. I remembered how, when we were at school, various prized possessions of his had all been things he wouldn't exchange for the crown jewels.

'I'm not asking for the crown jewels,' said Zena demurely. I turned to look her in the face. My God but she was tough, and yet the toughness did not mar her beauty. I suddenly saw the fatal attraction she had for poor Werner. It was like having pet piranhas in the bath, or a silky rock python in the linen cupboard. You could never tame them but it was fun to see what effect they had on your friends. 'I'm asking to be paid for finding Erich Stinnes.' She picked up a notepad by the phone and entered the cup and saucer on to her list of breakages.

I looked at Werner but he was trying on some new inscrutable faces, so I said, 'I don't know who told you that there was a cash payment for reporting the whereabouts of Erich Stinnes but it certainly wasn't me. The truth is, Mrs Volkmann, that the department never pays any sort of bounty. At least I've never heard of such a payment being made.' She stared at me with enough calm, dispassionate interest to make me worry whether my coffee was poisoned. 'But I probably could sign a couple of vouchers that would reimburse you for air fares, first class, return trip.'

'I don't want any charity,' she said. 'I want what is due to me.' It wasn't 'us', I noticed.

'What sort of fee would you think appropriate?' I asked.

'It must be worth sixteen thousand American dollars,' she said. So she'd decided what she wanted. At first I wondered how she'd come to such an exact figure, but I then realized that it had not been quantified by the job she'd done; it was the specific amount of money she wanted for something or other. That was the way Zena's mind worked; every step she took was on the way to somewhere else.

'That's a lot of money, Mrs Volkmann,' I said. I looked at Werner. He was pouring himself more coffee and concentrating on the task as if oblivious of everything around him. It suited him to to have Zena giving me hell. I suppose she was voicing the resentment that had been building up in Werner in all the years he'd suffered from the insensitive double-dealing of the birdbrains at London Central. But I didn't enjoy having Zena bawl me out. I was angry with him and he knew it. 'I will see that your request is passed on to London.'

'And tell them this,' she said. She was still speaking softly and smiling so that a casual observer might have thought we were chatting amicably. 'You tell them unless I get my money I'll make sure that Erich Stinnes never trusts a word you say.'

'How would you achieve that, Mrs Volkmann?' I asked.

'No, Zena…' said Werner, but he'd left it too late.

'I'd tell him exactly what you're up to,' she said. 'I'd tell him that you'll cheat him just as you've cheated me.'

I laughed scornfully. She seemed surprised. 'Have you been sitting in on this conversation, and still not understood what Werner and I are talking about, Mrs Volkmann? Your husband earns his money from avalizing. He borrows money from Western banks to pay in advance for goods shipped to East Germany. The way he does it requires him to spend a lot of time in the German Democratic Republic. It's natural that the British government might use someone such as Werner to talk to Stinnes about defecting. The KGB wouldn't like that, of course, but they'd swallow it, the same way we swallow it when they use trade delegates to contact trouble-makers and float some ideas we don't like.'

I glanced at Werner. He was standing behind Zena now, his hands clasped together and a frown on his face. He'd been about to interrupt but now he was looking at me, waiting to hear what I was going to say. I said, 'Everyone likes a sportsman who can walk out into the middle of a soccer field, exchange a joke with the linesmen and flip a coin for the two team captains. But 'enrolling' doesn't just mean offering a man money to come to the other side; it can mean beating him over the head and shipping him off in a crate. I don't say that's going to happen, but Werner and I both know it's a possibility. And if it does happen I want to make sure that the people in the other team keep thinking that Werner is an innocent bystander who paid the full price of admission. Because if they suspect that Werner is the kind who climbs the fence and throws beer cans at the goalkeeper they might get rough, Mrs Volkmann. And when the KGB get rough, they get very rough. So I advise you most sincerely not to start talking to Erich Stinnes in a way that makes it sound as if Werner is closely connected with the department, or there's a real risk that they'll do something nasty to you both.'

Werner knew I was going to spell it out for her. I suppose he didn't want her to understand the implications in case she worried.

I looked at her. She nodded. 'If Werner wants to talk to Stinnes, I won't screw it up for you,' she promised. 'But don't ask me to help.'

'I won't ask you to help,' I said.

Werner went over to her and put his arm round her shoulder to comfort her. But she didn't look very worried about him. She still looked very angry about not getting the money.

6

'If Zena ever left me, I don't know what I'd do,' said Werner. 'I think I'd die, I really would.' He fanned away a fly using his straw hat.

This was Werner in his lugubrious mood. I nodded, but I felt like reminding him that Zena had left him several times in the past, and he was still alive. He'd even survived the very recent time when she'd set up house with Frank Harrington – a married man more than old enough to be her father – and had looked all set to make it permanent. Only Zena was never going to make anything permanent, except perhaps eventually make Werner permanently unhappy.

'But Zena is very ambitious,' said Werner. 'I think you realize that, don't you, Bernie?'

'She's very young, Werner.'

'Too young for me, you mean?'

I worded my answer carefully. 'Too young to know what the real world is like, Werner.'

'Yes, poor Zena.'

'Yes, poor Zena,' I said. Werner looked at me to see if I was being sarcastic. I smiled.

'This is a beautiful hotel,' said Werner. We were sitting on the balcony having breakfast. It was still early in the morning, and the air was cool. The town was behind us, and we were looking across gently rolling green hills that disappeared into gauzy curtains of morning mist. It could have been England; except for the sound of the insects, the heavy scent of the tropical flowers, and the vultures that endlessly circled high in the clear blue sky.

'Dicky found it,' I said.

Zena had let Werner off his lead for the day, and he'd come to Cuernavaca – a short drive from Mexico City – to tell me about his encounter with Stinnes at the Kronprinz Club. Dicky had decided to 'make our headquarters' in this sprawling resort town where so many Americans came to spend their old age and their cheap pesos. 'Where's Dicky now?' said Werner.

'He's at a meeting,' I said.

Werner nodded. 'You're smart to stay here in Cuernavaca. This side of the mountains it's always cooler and you don't have to breathe that smog all day and all night.'

'On the other hand,' I said, 'I do have Dicky next door.'

'Dicky's all right,' said Werner. 'But you make him nervous.'

'I make him nervous?' I said incredulously.

'It must be difficult for him,' said Werner. 'You know the German Desk better than he'll ever know it.'

'But he got it,' I said.

'So did you expect him to turn a job like that down?' said Werner. 'You should give him a break, Bernie.'

'Dicky does all right,' I said. 'He doesn't need any help. Not from you, not from me. Dicky is having a lovely time.'

Dicky had lined up meetings with a retired American CIA executive named Miller and an Englishman who claimed to have great influence with the Mexican security service. In fact, of course, Dicky was just trying out some of the best local restaurants at the taxpayer's expense, while extending his wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Dicky had once shown me his card-index files of contacts throughout the world. It was quite unofficial, of course; Dicky kept them in his desk at home. He noted the names of their wives and their children and what restaurants they preferred and what sort of house they lived in. On the other side of each card Dicky wrote a short resume of what he estimated to be their wealth, power and influence. He joked about his file cards; 'he'll be a lovely card for me,' he'd say, when someone influential crossed his path. Sometimes I wondered if there was a card there with my name on it and, if so, what he'd written on it.

Dicky was a keen traveller, and his choice of bars, restaurants and hotels was the result of intensive research through guidebooks and travel magazines. The Hacienda Margarita, an old ranchhouse on the outskirts of town, was proof of the benefits that could come from such dedicated research. It was a charming old hotel, its cool stone colonnades surrounding a courtyard with palmettos and pepper trees and tall palms. The high-ceilinged bedrooms were lined with wonderful old tiles, and there were big windows and cool balconies, for this place was built long before air-conditioning was ever contemplated, built at the time of the conquistadores if you could bring yourself to believe the plaque over the cashier's desk.

Meanwhile I was enjoying the sort of breakfast that Dicky insisted was the only healthy way to start the day. There was a jug of freshly pressed orange juice, a vacuum flask of hot coffee, canned milk – Dicky didn't trust Mexican milk – freshly baked rolls and a pot of local honey. The tray was decorated with an orchid and held a copy of The News, the local English-language newspaper. Werner drank orange juice and coffee but declined the rolls and honey. 'I promised Zena that I'd lose weight.'

'Then I'll have yours,' I said.

'You're overweight too,' said Werner.

'But I didn't make any promises to Zena,' I said, digging into the honey.

'He was there last night,' said Werner.

'Did he go for it, Werner? Did Stinnes go for it?'

'How can you tell with a man like Stinnes?' said Werner. 'I told him that I'd met a man here in Mexico whom I'd known in Berlin. I said he had provided East German refugees with all the necessary papers to go and live in England. Stinnes said did I mean genuine papers or false papers. I said genuine papers, passports and identity papers, and permission to reside in London or one of the big towns.'

'The British don't have any sort of identity papers,' I said. 'And they don't have to get anyone's permission to go and live in any town they like.'

'Well, I don't know things like that,' said Werner huffily. 'I've never lived in England, have I? If the English don't need papers, what the hell are we offering him?'

'Never mind all that, Werner. What did Stinnes say?'

'He said that refugees were never happy. He'd known a lot of exiles and they'd always regretted leaving their homeland. He said they never properly mastered the language, and never integrated with the local people. Worst of all, he said, their children grew up in the new country and treated their parents like strangers. He was playing for time, of course.'

'Has he got children?'

'A grown-up son.'

'He knew what you were getting at?'

'Perhaps he wasn't sure at first, but I persisted and Zena helped. I know she said she wouldn't help, Bernie, but she did help.'

'What did she do?'

'She told him that a little money solves all kinds of problems. Zena said that friends of hers had gone to live in England and loved every minute of it. She told him that everyone likes living in England. These friends of hers had a big house in Hampshire with a huge garden. And they had a language teacher to help them with their English. She told him that these were all problems that could be solved if there was help and money available.'

'He must have been getting the message by that time,' I said.

'Yes, he became cautious,' said Werner. 'I suppose he was frightened in case I was trying to make a fool of him.'

'And?'

'I had to make it a little more specific. I said that this friend of mine could always arrange a job in England for anyone with experience of security work. He'd just come down here for a couple of weeks' holiday in Mexico after travelling through the US, recruiting security experts for a very big British corporation, a company that did work for the British government. The pay is very good, I told him, with a long contract optional both sides.'

'I wish you really did have a friend like that, Werner,' I said. 'I'd want to meet him myself. How did Stinnes react?'

'What's he going to say, Bernie? I mean, what would you or I say, in his place, faced with the same proposition?'

'He said maybe?'

'He said yes… or as near as he dared go to yes. But he's frightened it's a trap. Anyone would be frightened of its being a trap. He said he wanted more details, and a chance to think about it. He'd have to meet the man doing the recruiting. I said I was just a go-between of course…'

'And he believed you are just the go-between?'

'I suppose so,' said Werner. He picked up the orchid and examined it as if seeing one for the first time. 'You can't grow orchids in Mexico City, but here in Cuernavaca they flourish. No one knows why. Maybe it's the smog.'

'Don't just suppose so, Werner.' He made me angry when he avoided important questions by changing the subject of conversation. 'I wasn't kidding last night… what I said to Zena. I wasn't kidding about them getting rough.'

'He believed me,' said Werner in a tone that indicated that he was just trying to calm me down.

'Stinnes is no amateur,' I said. 'He's the one they assigned to me when I was arrested over there. He had me taken to the Normannenstrasse building and sat with me half the night, discussing the more subtle aspects of Sherlock Holmes and laughing and smoking and making it clear that if he was in charge of things they'd be kicking shit out of me.'

'We've both seen a lot of KGB specimens like Erich Stinnes,' said Werner. 'He's affable enough over a stein of beer but in other circumstances he could be a nasty piece of work. And not to be trusted, Bernie. I kept my distance from him. I'm no hero, you know that.'

'Was there anyone with him?'

'An older man – fifty or so – built like a tank, cropped hair, can't seem to speak any language without a strong Russian accent.'

'Sounds like the one who went with him to the Biedermann house. Pavel, he called him. I told you what they said, didn't I?'

'I guessed it was him. Luckily Pavel isn't really fluent in German, especially when Stinnes and I got going. Stinnes got rid of him as soon as he realized the drift my conversation was taking. I thought that might have been a good sign.'

'I can use all the good signs we can get, Werner.' I drank some coffee. 'It's all right telling him about language lessons in Hampshire, but he knows the real score would be him sitting in some lousy little safe house blowing KGB networks. And drinking half a bottle of Scotch every night in an effort to forget what damage he's doing to his own people, and that he's going to have to start doing it all over again next morning. Hey, don't look so worried, Werner.'

He looked at me, biting his lip. 'He knows you're here, Bernie, I'm sure he does.' There was a note of anxiety now. 'He asked if I knew an Englishman who was a friend of Paul Biedermann. I said Paul knew lots of Englishmen. He said yes, but this one knew all the Biedermann family and had done for years.'

'That description fits lots of people,' I said.

'But it doesn't fit anyone else who's in Mexico City,' said Werner. 'I think Stinnes knows you're here. And if he knows you're here, that's bad.'

'Why is it bad?' I said, although I knew what he was going to say. I'd known Werner so long that our minds ran on the same tracks.

'Because it sounds like he got it from Paul Biedermann.'

'Maybe,' I said.

'If Stinnes was worried about Biedermann, the way he sounded worried from that conversation you overheard, then he's likely to put him through the wringer. You know, and I know, that Biedermann couldn't take much punishment before he started to recount everything he knows, plus a few things he only guesses at.'

'So what could Biedermann tell them? That I sell secondhand Ferraris that keep breaking down?'

'You're smiling. But Biedermann could tell them quite a lot. He could tell them about you working for the SIS. He could tell them about Frank Harrington in Berlin and the people Frank sees.'

'Don't be ridiculous, Werner. The KGB know all about Frank Harrington. He's been "Berlin Resident" for a long time, and he was no stranger to Berlin before he took the job. As for knowing who I work for, we were discussing rates of pay that night Stinnes had me in Normannenstrasse.'

'I think he wants to talk to you, Bernie. He did everything except spell out your name.'

'Eventually he'll have to see me. And he'll recognize me. Then he'll telex Moscow and have them send a computer print-out of whatever they know about me. That's the way it is, Werner. There's nothing we can do about that.'

'I don't like it, Bernie.'

'So what am I going to do – glue on a false beard and put a stone in my shoe to make me limp?'

'Let Dicky do it.'

'Dicky? Are you joking? Dicky enrol Stinnes? Stinnes would run a mile.'

'He'll probably run a mile when you try,' said Werner. 'But Dicky has no record of work as a field agent. It's very unlikely that they'd do anything really nasty to Dicky.'

*Well, that's another reason,' I said.

'It's not something to joke about, Bernie. I know you were painting a rosy picture for Zena yesterday. And I appreciate you trying to set her mind at rest. But we both know that the best way to prevent an enrolment is to kill the enroller… and we both know that Moscow shares that feeling.'

'Did you fix a time and place?'

'I still don't like it, Bernie.'

'What can happen? I tell him how lovely it is living in Hampshire. And he tells me to get stuffed.'

Music started from the big patio below our balcony. Some of the hotel staff were erecting a stage, arranging folding chairs and decorating the columns with coloured lanterns in preparation for the concert I'd seen advertised in the lobby. Sitting under the tall, spiky palmetto trees on the far side of the patio were six men and a flashy-looking girl. One of the men was strumming a guitar and tuning it. The girl was smiling and humming the tune, but the other men sat very still and completely impassive, as the natives of very hot countries learn to do.

Werner followed the direction of my gaze and leaned over to see what was happening. The man strumming the guitar picked out a melody everyone in Mexico knows, and quietly sang:

Life is worth nothing, life is worth nothing,

It always starts with crying and with crying ends.

And that's why, in this world, life is worth nothing.

Werner said, 'Stinnes says he's frightened of this man Pavel. He says Pavel is desperate to get back to Moscow and that his only way of doing that is to get back into favour. Stinnes is frightened that Pavel will make trouble at the first opportunity.'

'It sounds like a cosy chat, Werner. He said he's frightened?' Stinnes was not the type who was easily frightened, and certainly not the type to say so.

'Not like I'm telling you,' said Werner. 'It was all wrapped up in euphemisms and double-meanings but the meaning was clear.'

'What is the end result?'

'He wants to talk to you but it's got to be somewhere completely safe. Somewhere that can't be bugged or have witnesses hidden.'

'For instance?'

'Biedermann's boat. He'll meet my contact on Biedermann's boat, he says.'

'That sounds sensible,' I said. 'You did well, Werner.'

'Sensible for him, but not so sensible for you.'

'Why?'

'Are you crazy? He's sure to have Biedermann with him. They'll cruise out into the Pacific and dump you over the side. They'll say you had cramp while swimming. The local cops are sure to be in Biedermann's pocket, and so is the local doctor who'll issue a death certificate, if that's the way they decide to play it.'

'You've got my demise all worked out, haven't you, Werner?'

'If you're too stupid to see the danger for yourself, then it's as well I spell it out for you.'

'I don't see them going to all that trouble to do something that can be more easily achieved by a hit-and-run traffic accident as I hurry across the Reforma one morning.'

'Of course, I don't know what kind of back-up you'll be arranging. For all I know you'll have a Royal Navy frigate out there, with a chopper keeping you on radar. I realize you don't tell me everything.'

There were times when Werner could drive me to the point of frenzy. 'You know as well as I do that I tell you all you need to know. And if I'm going out to meet Stinnes on this bloody boat I won't even be carrying my Swiss army knife… Royal Navy frigate… Good God, Werner, the ideas you come up with.' Below us the guitar player sang:

… Only the winner is respected.

That's why life is worth nothing in Guanajuato…

'Do whatever you want,' said Werner mournfully. 'I know you won't take my advice. You never have in the past.'

I seem to have spent half my life listening to Werner handing out advice. And engraved on my memory there was a long list of times when I heartily regretted taking it. But I didn't tell him this. I said, 'I'll be all right, Werner.'

'You think you're all right,' said Werner. 'You think you're all right because your wife defected to the Russians. But that doesn't make you any safer, Bernie.'

I didn't understand what he was getting at. 'Make me safer? What do you mean?'

'I never got along with Fiona, I'll admit that any time. But it was more because of her attitude than because of mine. When you married her I was ready to be friends. You know that, Bernie.'

'What are you trying to say, Werner?'

'Fiona works for the KGB nowadays. Well, I'm not saying she's going to send a KGB hit team after the father of her children. But don't imagine you will enjoy complete immunity for ever and ever. That's not the way the KGB work, you know that, Bernie.'

'Isn't it?'

'You're on different sides now, you and Fiona. She's working against you, Bernie. Remember that always. She'll always be working against you.'

'You're not saying that Fiona sent Stinnes to Mexico in the hope that you might come here on holiday? Instead of going to Spain, for which you'd already booked tickets when you read in Time magazine about Mexico being even cheaper. That she did that because she hoped you would spot Stinnes and report it to London Central. Then she figured that they would send me here with an offer to enrol him. I mean that would be a lot of "ifs", wouldn't it? She'd have to be a magician to work that one out in advance, wouldn't she?'

'You like to make me sound ridiculous,' said Werner. 'It makes you feel good, doesn't it?'

'Yes, it does. And since you like to feel sorry for yourself we have the perfect symbiotic relationship.' It was getting warmer in the morning sunshine, and the sweet scents of the flowers hung in the air. And yet these were not the light, fresh smells of Europe's countryside. The flowers were big and brightly coloured; the sort of blooms that eat insects in slow motion in nature films on TV. And the heavy cloying perfumes smelled like an airport duty-free shop.

'I'm simply saying what's obvious. That you mustn't think that you'll continue to have a charmed life just because Fiona is working for them.'

'Continue to have? What do you mean?'

Werner leaned forward. 'Fiona made sure nothing happened to you during all those years when she was an active agent inside London Central. That's what you said yourself. It's no good denying it; you told me that, Bernard. You told me just after they let you go.'

'I said maybe she had a deal like that.'

'But she's not going to be doing that any more. She's running Stinnes – and whatever he's doing with Biedermann – from a desk in East Berlin. Moscow is going to be watching every move she makes, and she's got to show them that she's on their side. Even if she wanted to protect you she'd not be allowed to. If you go out on Paul Biedermann's boat with the idea that nothing can happen to you, because the KGB will play it the way Fiona wants, you might not come back.'

'Well, perhaps this would be a good chance to find out what the score is,' I said. 'I'll go out on the boat with Stinnes and see what happens.'

'Well, don't say you weren't told,' said Werner.

I didn't want to argue, especially not with Werner. He was worried for my safety, even if he was clucking like a mother hen. But I was nervous about what Stinnes could have in store for me. And Werner, voicing my fears, was making me twitchy. My argument with Werner was an attempt to allay my own fears but the more we argued the less convincing I sounded. 'Put yourself in his place, Werner,' I said. 'Stinnes is doing exactly what you or I would do. He is reserving his position, asking for more information, and playing it very safe. He doesn't care whether we will find it easy or convenient to rendezvous on Biedermann's boat. If we don't overcome our reservations, our fears and our difficulties he'll know we're not serious.'

Werner pushed his lower lip forward as if in thought. And then, to consolidate this reflective pose, he pinched his nose between thumb and forefinger while closing his eyes. It was a more elaborate version of the faces he'd pulled at school when trying to remember theorems. 'I'll go with you,' he said. It was a noble concession; Werner hated boats of any shape or size.

'Would Stinnes permit that?'

'I'll just turn up there. We'll say you had trouble with the traffic cops. We'll say they wanted a notarized affidavit from the legal owner of the car you're using. That's the law here. We'll say you couldn't get one, so I had to drive you in my car.'

'Will he believe that?' I said.

'He'll think the cops were trying to wring a big bribe from you -it's common for cops to stop cars with foreigners in and demand a bribe from the driver – and he'll think you were too dumb to understand what they really wanted.'

'When is this meeting to be?'

'Tomorrow. Okay?'

'Fine.'

'Very early.'

'I said okay, Werner.'

'Because I have to phone him and confirm.'

'Codes or anything?'

'No, he just wants me to phone and say if my friend will be able to go on the fishing trip.'

'Good. A lot of mumbo-jumbo with codes would have made me uneasy. It's the way the Moscow desk men would want it done.'

Werner nodded. The guitar player was still singing the catchy melody:

… Christ on your hill, on the mountain ridge of Cubilete, Console those who suffer, you're worshipped by the people, Christ on your hill, on the mountain ridge of Cubilete.

'It's a popular song,' said Werner. 'Did you know that the Cubilete is a mountain ridge shaped like a dice-cup? But why is life worth nothing?'

'It means life is cheap,' I said. The song is about the way that people are killed for nothing in this part of the world.'

'By the way,' said Werner, 'if you could let us have the return air fares you mentioned, I'd appreciate it.'

'Sure,' I said. 'I can do that on my own authority. Two first-class air tickets Berlin to Mexico City and return. I'll give you a voucher that any big airline will cash.'

'It would be useful,' said Werner. 'The peso is cheap but we get through a lot of money one way and the other.'

7

It was still night when we got to Santiago, but there was enough moonlight to see that Biedermann's gate was locked. I noticed that a new chain had been found to replace the one that had been sawn through on my previous visit. There was no response to pressing the button of the speaker-phone.

'If that bastard doesn't turn up…' I said and kicked the gate.

'Calm down,' said Werner. 'We're early. Let's stroll along the beach.'

We left Werner's pick-up truck at the entrance and walked to the beach to watch the ocean. The storms had cleared and the weather was calm, but close-to the noise of the ocean was thunderous. The waves hitting the beach exploded across the sand in great galaxies of sparkling phosphorescence. Everywhere the coast was littered with flotsam: broken pieces of timber from boats and huts and limbs of trees torn apart by the great winds.

Over the salty putrefaction that is the smell of the ocean there came a whiff of woodsmoke. Along the water's edge, at the place where a piece of jungly undergrowth came almost to the sand, there was a flickering light of a fire. Werner and I walked along to see it, and round the corner of the rocks we saw blanketed shapes huddled around a dying fire.

Here in the shelter of the rocks and vegetation there was less noise from the sea but I could feel the pounding surf underfoot and there was spray in the air that made beads of moisture on my spectacles.

Nearer to the fire, perched with his back against a rock, there was a man. Now and then the fire flared enough to show his bearded face and the hair tied in a pony-tail. He was a muscular youth, darkly tanned, wearing old swimming trunks and a clean T-shirt that was too small for him. He was smoking and staring into the fire. He seemed not to see us until we were almost on top of him.

'Who's that?' he called in English. His voice was high-pitched; he sounded nervous.

'We live near by,' I said. 'We're going out fishing. We're waiting for the boat.'

There was a snuffling sound coming from one of the huddled shapes. At first it was a soft warbling muffled by the blankets. 'Shut up, Betty,' said the bearded man. But the sound didn't cease. It became more nasal, almost stertorous, until it was recognizably a girl sobbing. 'Shut up, I say. There are people here. Try and go back to sleep.' The bearded boy inhaled deeply on his cigarette. There was the sweet smell of marijuana smoke in the air.

But the girl sat up. She was about eighteen years old, pretty if you made allowances for the spots on her face that might have been a sign of adolescence or bad diet. Her hair was cut short, shorter in fact than that of the bearded man. As the blanket fell away from her shoulders I could see that she was wearing only a bra. Her body was badly sunburned. She stopped sobbing and wiped the tears from her eyes with her fingertips. 'Have you got a cigarette?' she asked me. 'An American cigarette?'

I offered her my packet. 'Can I take two?' she whispered.

'Keep the packet,' I said. 'I'm trying to give it up.'

She lit the cigarette immediately and passed the packet to the bearded boy who used the joint he'd been smoking to light up a Camel instead. Behind him one of the other sleepers moved. I had the feeling that all of them were awake and listening to us.

'Have you just arrived?' I said. 'I don't remember you being here last week.'

The boy seemed to feel that some explanation was necessary. 'There were seven of us, four guys and three girls.' He leaned forward and used a piece of wood to prod the fire. There were tiny burned fragments of unprocessed film there and the boy prodded them into the ashes until they burned. 'We met and got together waiting for a bus way north of here in Mazatlan. We're back-packing along the coast, and heading down towards Acapulco. But one of the guys – Theo – slept under a manzanillo tree the night before last, and the sap is poisonous. That was at our previous camp, a long way up the coast from here. We made good mileage since then. But Theo was shook. He cut away inland to look for a clinic.' The bearded boy rubbed his arm where the dark suntan was made even darker by a long stain of iodine that had treated a bad cut on his forearm.

'Have you seen a power boat in the last few hours?' I asked.

'Sure,' said the bearded boy. 'It's anchored on the other side of the headland. We were watching it this afternoon. It's a ritzy son of a bitch. Is that the one you're going on? She came up the coast and tried to get into the little pier, but I guess the tide was wrong or something because finally they had to use the dinghy to land a couple of guys.' He turned his head to look at the waves striking the beach. They came racing towards us, making a huge, shimmering sheet of polished steel until the water lost its impetus and sank into the darkened sand.

'We haven't seen her yet,' I said. 'A good boat, is it?'

'That boat's a ship, man,' he said. 'What are you going after – marlin or sailfish or something?'

'We're after anything that's out there,' I said. 'Are you hiking all the way?'

'We thumb a ride now and again. And twice we took a Mexican second-class bus, but along this piece of coast the highway runs too far inland. We like to keep near the ocean. We like to swim, and catching fish to eat saves dough. But it's heavy going along this section. We've chopped our way through for the last five miles or so.'

They were all obviously awake now, all six of them. But they remained very still so that they heard everything being said. I could see that they'd made a little encampment here in the shelter of a rocky outcrop. There were seven back-packs perched up on the rocks and kept fastened against rats and monkeys. Someone had tried to build a palapas, the hut that local people make as a temporary shelter using the coconut palms. But making them was not so easy as it looks, and this one had fallen to pieces. The wood framework had collapsed at one end, and split palm fronds were scattered across the beach. Laundry was hanging to dry on some bushes: a man's T-shirt, a pair of jeans and underpants. A yellow plastic jug was rigged up in a tree to make a shower bath. Two tin plates were bent almost double.

'Someone's tried to eat their plate,' I said.

'Yeah,' said the bearded boy. 'We tried to dig a well without a spade. It's tough going. There's no water here. We'll have to move on tomorrow.'

'Where will you meet your friend?' I said.

The boy looked at me long enough to let me know I was asking too many questions, but he answered. 'Theo decided to head back home. He left his back-pack with us. He didn't want to go on down to Acapulco.'

'That's tough,' I said.

'Those manzanillo trees really burn a piece out of you, man.'

'I'll watch out for them,' I said.

'Do that,' said the boy. The rocks here were volcanic, teeth riddled with cavities so that the sea gurgled and gulped and vented spray that hissed before falling back, in a flash of fluorescent light, on to the sharp, black molars.

'Thanks for the cigarettes,' the girl said very quietly as we moved away. There was another girl alongside her. She put her arm round the girl who'd been crying and, as we moved away, she said, 'Try and go to sleep, Betty. Tomorrow we must move on.'

Werner and I strolled back along the beach and then got into the little pick-up truck. It had four-wheel drive and had managed the final section of road without much trouble. Werner had borrowed it. He had an amazing ability to get almost anything at any time anywhere. I didn't ask where it had come from. He looked at his watch. 'Stinnes should be here any minute,' he said.

'A man like that is usually early,' I said.

'If you've got any doubts…'

'No, we'll hang on.'

'Did you wonder who those people were on the beach? Did you guess they were hippies?'

'I'm still wondering,' I said. I could taste the salt spray on my lips and I polished my glasses again to get rid of the marks.

'What the girl was crying about? Is that what you're wondering?'

'Six people back-packing through miles of scrub but there's seven packs?'

'One belongs to the kid who went looking for the clinic. Hell, you know the crazy things people do.'

'An injured kid abandons his back-pack? That's like saying he's abandoned all his belongings.'

'It's possible,' said Werner.

'And the other six carry an extra back-pack? How do you do that, Werner? Never mind cutting your way through the scrub at the same time. How do you carry a back-pack when you're already wearing one? Try it some time.'

'So what are you saying?'

'If those kids had an extra pack to carry they would take it to pieces and distribute it. More likely – seeing those kids – they would sell it in the local village where a decent pack would get them some stores or something to smoke or whatever they wanted.'

'And the boy had a bad cut on his arm,' said Werner.

'A bad cut in exactly the right place, Werner, the left forearm. And there were cuts on his hand too. Maybe more cuts under the borrowed T-shirt. The girl was sobbing like her heart was broken. And the other girl was comforting her.'

'Someone had taken a shower bath.'

'Yes, and washed one set of clothes,' I said. 'Four men and three girls, sleeping on the beach each night. It's a recipe for trouble.'

'Why dig for water? There must be water in the village,' said Werner.

'Sure. And you can bet that Biedermann didn't start building his house until he found water there.'

'If we're guessing right, we should tell the police,' said Werner.

'Oh, sure,' I said. 'That's all we need, the local cops quizzing us all night and walking all over Stinnes and Biedermann too. I can't think of any surer way of ending any chance of enrolling Stinnes than having him walk into a murder investigation that we've made sure coincided exactly with his expected time of arrival.'

'I don't like the idea of just doing nothing about it,' said Werner.

'Sometimes, Werner, you amaze me.'

He didn't answer. I'd seen him like this before. Werner was in a self-righteous sulk. He thought I should report my suspicions to the police and I had no doubt that he was preparing a lecture to which I would be subjected when he had it word-perfect. We sat in the car, watching the eastern sky lighten and thinking our own thoughts, until, half an hour later, we saw the headlights of two cars bumping along the track towards us.

Stinnes was in one car and Paul Biedermann in the other. One of the cars had got stuck on the final stretch of bad road. Biedermann opened the gate without more than a mumbled greeting and we all drove up to the house.

'I'm sorry about the locked gate,' said Biedermann. There had been no formal introductions. It was as if by tacit consent this was to be a meeting that never took place. The servants must have forgotten what I told them.'

The 'servants' were a man and boy who, judging by the state of their boots, had recently arrived by the footpath that I had taken on the previous visit. They gave us mugs of the very sweet coffee made from the sugar-coated coffee beans that Mexicans like. They wore checked shirts and jeans. One of them was little more than a child. I guessed they were also the 'crew' of Biedermann's motor boat. They treated Biedermann with a surly deference that might have been the result of the drunken rages that he was reputed to indulge in. But now Biedermann was sober and withdrawn. The four of us stood on the patio looking at the sun-streaked dawn sky and down to where a forty-foot cabin cruiser was at anchor a hundred metres offshore.

I took this opportunity to look at Stinnes, and I suppose he was making the most of this chance to study me. It was only his perfect German and the Berlin accent that made it possible for Stinnes to be mistaken for a native Berliner. Such thin, wiry bodies and Slavic faces are common on the streets of Moscow. He'd removed his straw hat and revealed a tall forehead and hair that was thinning enough to show the shape of his skull. His eyes flittered behind small, circular, gold-rimmed spectacles that now he took off to polish while he looked around. He'd been in the sun, and the chin from which he'd shaved a small beard was darkened. But his complexion was sallow and without pigment enough to tan evenly. In the Mexican sun his cheekbones and nose had turned a yellowish brown like the nicotine-stained fingers of a heavy smoker. And his cotton suit – so light in colour as to be almost white – was ill fitting and wrinkled by the car journey. And yet, for all that, Stinnes had the quick intelligent eyes and tough self-confidence that makes a man attractive to his fellow humans.

'Let's get going,' said Biedermann impatiently. He was nervous. He made sure he never met my gaze. 'Leave the coffee. Pedro and his son will make more on the boat if you want it. We're taking food with us.' He fussed about us like a tour guide, leading the way as we went down to the pier. He was telling us to mind the steps and to watch out for the mud or the slippery wooden boards. I looked along the coast to see the hippies on the beach, but it was too far and they were hidden by the rocks. I looked back over my shoulder. Stinnes was at the very rear, picking his way down the steps with exaggerated care, his straw hat, old-fashioned spectacles and creased white suit making him look like a character from Chekhov. Not the muddled, avuncular Chekhov of the Western stage but the cold, arid class enemy that the Soviet theatre depicts.

The sun was coming through the haze now, its yellowish glare like a melted blob of butter oozing through a tissue-paper wrapping. No one had commented on Werner's presence, and I was grateful to him for being there. Either they didn't plan to get rough, or they planned to get so rough that one extra victim would make no difference.

It was named Maelstrom and was the sort of boat that the Paul Biedermanns of this world love. It stood high out of the water with a top deck used for spotting and an awning-covered stern and a big 'dentist's chair' for the man who was fishing. The lounge was lined with expensive veneering and had a stereo hi-fi, a big TV and a wet bar with refrigerator. Steps up from there gave on to a big 'bridge' where a swivel seat provided the captain with a panoramic view through the wrap-around windscreen. There was even a yachting cap with the word 'captain' entwined in crossed anchors and embroidered in fine gold wire. But Pedro the Mexican didn't wear the captain's hat; his long greasy hair would have stained it. He sat at the controls like a long-distance bus driver waiting at a depot. He rested on the wheel, toying with a wrapped cheroot that he never lit. There was a cheap transistor radio jammed behind the sun visor. He tuned it to a local station that played only Mexican music, and then turned the volume down so that it couldn't be heard in the lounge.

The big engines throbbed with a note so low that the sound was less apparent than the vibrations through the soles of my shoes. Stinnes looked round without much sign of delight or admiration. I suppose it was everything a communist hated. Even a lapsed fascist like me found it a bit too rich.

'Now who would like a drink?' asked Biedermann, in a voice that had the cheerful vibrancy of the perfect host. He had unlocked the bar and was pulling various bottles of drink from the cupboard. 'Scotch. Brandy. English gin.' He held up a bottle and shook it, 'Robert Brown – that's Mexican whisky, and if you've never tried it it's quite an experience.'

Stinnes walked across the lounge and very quietly said, 'Better if you took Mr Volkmann back up to the house, Paul. If Pedro shows me the controls I can handle the boat.' It was a typical KGB trick; carefully planned but unexpected. They could not learn spontaneity but they contrived ways to do without it.

Paul Biedermann looked up at him and bunked. 'Sure. If that's the way you want it.'

'It's the way I want it,' said Stinnes. He took off his straw hat and smoothed his sparse hair by pressing the flat of his hand against his skull.

'And I'll take Pedro and his kid too. Or do you want them with you?' When Stinnes didn't reply, Biedermann gave a nervous smile and got to his feet. 'Pedro. Show Mr Stinnes how to manage the boat.'

I was sitting on the far side of the lounge, watching Biedermann carefully. Either he was scared of Stinnes or it was a very good act. Werner was watching the whole scene too. Typically he was hunched in an armchair with his eyes half closed. It was always like that with Werner; he liked to know everything that was going on, and guess the things he didn't know. But he liked to look half asleep. Werner would have made a very successful gossip columnist, except that he would have missed a lot of deadlines.

Stinnes looked at me and, although his expression didn't change, he waited for me to nod before going up to take over the controls. 'And, Paul,' said Stinnes. 'No drinking, Paul. Better we all kept clear heads.'

'Oh, sure,' said Paul Biedermann. 'I just thought somebody…'

'Better lock it away,' said Stinnes. 'You take Mr Volkmann up to the house and have more coffee.'

'Before you lock it away,' I said, 'leave a little something to one side, would you?'

I poured myself a good measure of malt whisky from the bottle Biedermann had put aside for me and sipped it neat. I never really trust drinking water anywhere but Scotland; and I've never been to Scotland.

I heard the whine of the electric motor that brought the anchor up and felt the boat wallow as the current took a hold. Through the porthole I could see the dinghy containing Werner and Paul Biedermann and the two Mexicans returning to the pier. It was being tossed about. I wondered if Werner was feeling okay. He hated the sea in any shape or form. It was a notable gesture of friendship that he should offer to come along.

The engines vibrated right through the boat as Stinnes – sitting upstairs at the controls – increased the revs and engaged the screws. The sound of waves pounding against the hull changed to the noise of water rushing past it, and a large patch of sunlight raced across the veneered bulkhead as Stinnes turned the wheel and headed the boat out to the open sea.

I let Stinnes play with the controls while I continued to drink my malt and ask myself what I was doing out at sea in this floating Cadillac in the hurricane season with a KGB major at the helm. He pushed up the revs after a few minutes, and soon there was the crash of shipped water spewing across the deck, and the boat heeled over so that green ocean dashed against the glass for long enough to darken the cabin. Stinnes corrected the steering, more gently this time. He was learning. Best to leave him alone for a few minutes.

I left him for what seemed a long time. By the time I went across the cabin to pour myself a second drink, I had to plant my feet wide apart because the boat was reeling. We'd reached the point where the cool equatorial stream of the Pacific was affected by the very warm summer currents that follow the coast. I held tight to my drink as I went upstairs to where Stinnes was at the controls. The sunlight was behind him, turning his sparse hair into a bright halo and edging his white cotton jacket with a rim of gold. There was the muffled sound of Mexican music coming from the little plastic radio.

'Suppose I take you seriously?' said Stinnes, greeting my appearance on the bridge. 'Suppose I say, yes I'd like to defect? Is it some kind of joke? Or are you really able to negotiate?'

'Where are you taking us?' I said with some alarm. 'We're out of sight of land.' I had to talk loudly to be heard over the noise of the sea and the music from the radio.

'I know what I'm doing,' said Stinnes. 'Biedermann has radar and sonar and depth-finding gear and every other luxury.'

'Does he have anything to cure a fatal drowning?' I said.

'Volkmann says you have some sort of deal,' said Stinnes. He glanced down at the instruments and rapped the barometer with his knuckles.

'Are you just crazy about Mexican music, or are you waiting for a hurricane warning?' I said. He turned down the volume of the little radio until it was only a whisper heard faintly against the sound of the wind and the throb of the engines. 'There is a deal,' I said. 'Ready and waiting.'

'Why me?' said Stinnes.

I'd asked myself that already and got no answer. 'Why not?' I said.

'Your government has not sent you all this way without a motive, a good motive.'

No mention of Dicky Cruyer, I noticed. Did that mean that Dicky was unknown to him? It could be useful. 'There were other reasons for my being here.'

He looked at me and his face was blank but I knew he didn't believe me. He was suspicious, just as I would have been in his place. There could be no half-measures. I would have to work very hard to land this one. He was like me, too damned old and too damned cynical to fall for anything but innocent sincerity or a cynicism even more profound than his own. 'You are targeted,' I said. 'Starred by London as an exceptional enemy agent.'

The sun was brighter now, coming over his shoulder and falling on the instrument panel so that I could see the controls reflected in the lenses of his spectacles. 'Is that so?' His voice was flat, but I had the feeling he believed me and was proud to be starred by London. This was probably the right way to tackle him. It would be like a love affair; and Stinnes had reached that dangerous age when a man was only susceptible to an innocent little cutie or to an experienced floozy. And the stock-in-trade of both was flattery.

'London are like that sometimes,' I said. 'They decide they want someone and then it's rush, rush, rush. I hate this sort of job.'

'I want no mention of all this in your signals traffic,' said Stinnes. 'Especially not in your embassy signals from Mexico City. I insist on that right from the start.'

I didn't want him to think London was too keen. If Stinnes said no we might have to snatch him and I didn't want him prepared for that sort of development. I kept it very cool. 'We'll have to act quickly,' I said. 'If we don't get everything settled in the next week or so London might lose interest and drop the idea. It's the way they are.'

It was fully daylight now and, although the sun had still to eat through the morning haze, there were no clouds. It was going to be a very hot day. The wind was at about eight to ten knots, so that the waves were lengthening and breaking here and there to make scattered white horses. On the westerly horizon I could see two ships. I watched the compass. Was Stinnes going to turn the tables on me. Were they Russian trawlers, waiting for Stinnes to deliver me to the ship's side, with a KGB interrogation team leaning over the rails? Perhaps Stinnes understood what was going through my mind, for he swung the wheel gently to head well south of them. As he changed the heading, an extra big wave broke over the bow and dashed spray so that the air was full of the taste of it. 'Your people are clever, Samson… Is that your true name – Samson?'

'It's my name. Are they clever?'

He smiled a humourless little smile. 'I'm forty, and still a major. Slim chance now for a colonel's badges. I'm not a wunderkind, Samson. I won't end up a general with a department to myself and a nice big office in Moscow, and a big car and driver who takes me home each night. Even I have begun to admit that to myself.'

'I thought you liked Berlin,' I said.

'I've been there long enough. I've had enough of Berlin. I've had enough of sitting in my cramped little house watching West German television advertise all the things my wife wants and can't get.' Another wave broke across the bow. He throttled back so that the boat just rode the waves with enough power to hold the heading. The boat slid about, tossed from wave to wave, and I had to grab a rail to hold myself steady. 'I'm going to get a divorce,' he said, suddenly occupying himself with the controls so that it seemed to be an aside without importance. 'Did London know anything about that?'

'No,' I said.

'No, of course not. Even my own people don't know yet. The Directorate don't like divorce… instability, they call it. Domestic instability. Anything that goes wrong in a marriage is categorized as "domestic instability". It can be child beating, wife beating, keeping a mistress or habitual drunkenness. It's called "domestic instability" and it gets a black mark. It gets you the sort of black mark that results in long talks with investigating officers, and sometimes leads to a short "leadership course" with political indoctrination and physical training. Wives of KGB officers get to depend on it, Samson.'

'I don't like physical training,' I said. Perhaps London are clever, I thought. Perhaps they did know. That's why they were in such a hurry. I wondered if Dicky had been told. I wondered too how many of those black marks Stinnes was eligible for; not child beating, wife beating possibly, mistress keeping highly likely. He was the sort of man who would attract some women. I looked at that hard, unyielding face, smooth like a carefully carved netsuke handled by generations of collectors, and darkening as elephant tusk darkens when locked away and deprived of light.

'You wouldn't like this sort of physical training,' said Stinnes. 'The KGB Field Officers' Leadership School is nearly one hundred miles from the nearest town on Sakhalin Island in the Sea of Okhotsk. I went there once when I was a young lieutenant. I was part of a two-man armed escort. It was in September 1964. A captain from my unit had been assigned to the school for the four-month course. He was sent there because when very drunk one night he told a roomful of officers that Nikita Khrushchev was not fit to be Prime Minister and certainly should not be First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. It's a grim place, Samson; I was only there two hours but that was enough for me. Unheated rooms, cold-water showers and 'candidates' have to run everywhere. Only the staff are permitted to walk. Not the sort of place that you or I like. The funny thing was that a few weeks later Khrushchev was denounced in far stronger terms and replaced by Brezhnev and ousted.' Stinnes gave a brief, humourless smile. 'But the captain wasn't released. He served his full sentence… that is to say he did the whole leadership course. I wouldn't like to be sent there.'

'It sounds like a strong argument for marital fidelity,' I said.

'Yes, I haven't officially asked for a divorce. I was only thinking about it. But everyone knows that I no longer get along so well with my wife Inge. I am bored with her and she is bored with me and there is nothing to be done except that I must get out before I begin to loathe her. Do you understand?' He looked at me. We both knew what had happened to my wife: she'd become his boss. And he didn't seem like a man who would enjoy working for a woman boss. I wondered if that was a part of the real story.

'Have you got any other children?' I asked.

'No, just the boy, eighteen years old. He is at an age when he realizes how I fall short of the Daddy he once revered. At first it made me angry, then it made me sad. Now I've come to see it as the natural progress of youth.'

'You married a German,' I said.

'I was lonely. Inge was only a few months younger than me. You know that special sort of magic Berlin girls can wield. Sunshine, strong beer, short skirts, long lazy evenings, sailing boats on the Muggelsee. It shouldn't be allowed.' Stinnes laughed, a short dry bitter laugh, as if he still was in love with her and resented it.

'Coming to the West would solve all your problems,' I said. I didn't want to rush him; any suggestion of haste now could make him change his mind. Maybe he would come to us, maybe he was just humouring me, but I knew it was important to keep pressing forwards. I knew what sort of ideas must be going through his mind. There would be so many things he would have to do. There would be good people he'd want to transfer away so they weren't tainted by his treachery.

'What a wonderful offer. How could anyone resist a future without problems.'

'It's your life,' I said. For a moment I didn't care what he did but immediately my professionalism overcame my anger. It was my job to enrol Erich Stinnes and I would do everything I could to land him. 'But say no and I doubt if London will come back to you again. It's now or never.'

'Very well,' said Stinnes. 'You tell your people that I said no. I want that to go to London through your Mexico City embassy in the usual coding.' I nodded and tried not to show my surprise that the Russians had broken our codes. In future we'd have to make sure that everything important went to London via Washington and used the NSA's crypto-ciph B machines.

He waited until I grunted my assent. He knew he'd given me an important piece of intelligence.

'I will report an approach. I won't identify you, Samson. I'll make it vague enough for Moscow to think it's some low-grade local agent trying to make a name for himself. But you go back to London and tell whoever is the desk man on this one that they've got a deal.'

'What will the timing be?'

There are things I have to do. I'll need a month.'

'Yes,' I said. He'd want to get his hands on some secret paperwork, so that he'd have something to bring. He'd want some time with his wife, a last talk with his son, a meal with his family, a drink with his secretary, an evening with old friends. He'd want to imprint them upon his memory. 'I understand.'

I felt the hot sun on my arm; it was on the starboard bow. Only now did I notice that he'd been turning the helm in tiny expert movements that had brought the boat round until it was heading back home again. Stinnes did everything with that same professional stealth. It made me uneasy.

'My people will be impatient,' I warned.

'We all know what desk men are like. You'll keep them warm?'

'I'll try,' I promised. 'But you'd better bring something good with you.'

'I'm not a beginner, Samson. That's what I need a month to arrange.' He got a small black cigar from his top pocket and took his time lighting it. Once he got it well alight he took the cheroot from his mouth and nodded as if confirming something to himself.

If he really intended to come to us he'd be grabbing as many secret documents as he could find, and locking them away somewhere, a Swiss bank vault perhaps. Only a fool would come without having some extras tucked away somewhere. And Stinnes was no fool.

'What sort of material are they looking for?' he asked.

'They'll expect you break a network,' I said.

He thought about it. 'Is that what London says?'

'It's what I'm saying. You know they'll expect it. It's what you'd want if you had me in Moscow.'

'Yes.'

'I'll give you a word of advice,' I said. 'Don't withdraw a net and then come over to us with a list of people who have left no forwarding address. That would just make everyone bad-tempered, and they'll start to think you're still on salary from Moscow. Understand?'

He blew evil-smelling cigar smoke. 'It's a pleasure to do business with you, Samson. You make everything very clear.'

'So let me make this clear too. If you try to turn me round, if you try any tricks at all, I will blow you away.'

8

By midday we'd been waiting nearly three hours, and our plane had still not arrived. Other departures were also delayed. The official explanation was the hurricanes. Mexico City airport was packed with people. There were Indian women clasping sacks of flour and a sequin-suited rock group guarding their amplifiers. All found some way to deal with the interminable delay: mothers suckled babies, boys raced through the concourse on roller-skates, a rug pedlar – burdened under his wares – systematically pitched his captive audience, tour guides paced resolutely, airline staff yawned, footsore hikers snored, nuns told their rosaries, a tall Negro – listening to a Sony Walkman – swayed rhythmically, and some Swedish school kids were gambling away their last few pesos.

Dicky Cruyer had excess baggage, and some parcels of cheap tin decorative masks that he insisted must go as cabin baggage. From where I sat I could see Dicky focusing all his charm on to the girl at the check-in desk. There were no seats available so I was propped on one of Dicky's suitcases talking to Werner. I watched Dicky gesturing at the girl and running his hands back through his curly hair in the way he did when he was being shy and boyish.

'Don't trust him,' said Werner.

'Dicky? Don't worry, I won't.'

'You know who I mean,' said Werner. 'Don't trust Stinnes.' Werner was sitting on another of Dicky's many cases. He was wearing a guyavera, the traditional Mexican shirt that is all pleats and buttons, and with it linen trousers and expensive-looking leather shoes patterned with ventilation holes. Although Werner complained of Mexico's heat and humidity, the climate seemed to suit him. His complexion was such that he tanned easily, and he was more relaxed in the sunshine than ever he'd seemed to be in Europe.

'There's nothing to lose,' I said.

'For London Central, you mean? Or nothing to lose for you?'

'I'm just doing what London want me to do, Werner… Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die… You know how London expect us to work.'

'Yes,' said Werner, who'd had this same conversation with me many times before. 'It's always easier to do and die than it is to reason why.'

'I don't trust him; I don't distrust him,' I said as I thought about Werner's warning. 'I don't give a damn about Stinnes. I don't begrudge him his opportunity to squeeze a bigger cash payment from the department than any loyal employee ever got. More money, I'd guess, than the wife and kids of any of the department's casualties ever collected. But it makes me wonder, Werner. It makes me wonder what the hell it's all about.'

'It's the game,' said Werner. He too was slumped back against the wall with a plastic cup of warm, weak coffee in his hand. 'It's nothing to do with virtue and evil, or effort and reward; it's just a game. You know that, Bernie.'

'And Stinnes knows how to play it better than we do?'

'It's not a game of skill,' said Werner. 'It's a game of chance.'

'Is there nothing that lights up and says "tilt" when you cheat?'

'Stinnes isn't cheating. He's just a man in the right place at the right time. He's done nothing to entice London to enrol him.'

'What do you make of him, Werner?'

'He's a career KGB officer. We've both seen a million of them. Stinnes holds no surprises for me, Bernie. And, providing you don't trust him, no surprises for you either.'

'He didn't ask enough questions,' I said. 'I've been thinking of that ever since the boat trip. Stinnes didn't ask me any important questions. Not the sort of questions I'd be asking in his place.'

'He's a robot,' said Werner. 'Did you expect him to engage you in a political argument? Did you expect a detailed discussion about the deprivation of the Third World?'

'I suppose I did,' I admitted.

'Well, this is the right country for anyone looking for political arguments,' said Werner. 'If ever there was a country poised on the brink of revolution, this is it. Look around; two-thirds of the Mexican population – about fifty million people – are living at starvation level. You've seen the campesinos struggling to grow crops in volcanic ash or rock, and bringing to market half a dozen onions or some such pathetic little crop. You've seen them scratching a living here in the city in slums as bad as anywhere in the world. Four out of ten Mexicans never drink milk, two out of ten never eat meat, eggs or bread. But the Mexican government subsidizes Coca Cola sales. The official explanation is that Coca Cola is nutritious.' Werner drank some of the disgusting coffee. 'And, now that the IMF have forced Mexico to devalue the peso, big US companies – such as Xerox and Sheraton – can build factories and hotels here at rock-bottom prices, but sell to hard-currency customers. Inflation goes up. Unemployment figures go up. Taxes go up. Prices go up. But wages go down. How would you like it if you were Mexican?' It was quite a speech for Werner.

'Did Stinnes say that?'

'Haven't you been listening to me? Stinnes is a career RGB officer. Stinnes doesn't give a damn about the Mexicans and their problems, except how and when it affects his career prospects. I started talking about all this to him at the club one evening. Stinnes knows nothing about Mexico. He's not even had the regular briefing that all East European diplomatic services give to their personnel.'

'Why?' I said.

'Why? said Werner irritably, thinking I merely wanted to change the subject. 'How could I know?'

'Think about it, Werner. The first thing it indicates is that he came here at short notice. Even then, knowing the KGB, they would have arranged for him to have political indoctrination here in Mexico City.'

Werner shifted his weight uncomfortably on Dicky's suitcase and looked around to see if there was anywhere else to sit. There wasn't; in fact the whole place was getting more and more crowded. Now there was a large group of young people carrying bright orange shoulder-bags that announced them to be a choir from New Zealand. They were seating themselves all along the corridor. I hoped they wouldn't start singing. 'I suppose you're right,' said Werner.

'I am right,' I said. 'And I'll tell you something else. The complete absence of political indoctrination suggests to me that Stinnes is not here to run agents into California, nor to supervise Biedermann's funnelling of Moscow money to local organizations.'

'Don't keep me in suspense,' said Werner wearily.

'I haven't got the answer, Werner. I don't know what Stinnes is doing here. I don't even know what I'm doing here. Stinnes could be positively identified without having me along.'

'London didn't send you along so that you could identify Stinnes,' said Werner. 'London sent you along so that Stinnes could identify you.'

'No anagrams, Werner. Keep it simple for me.'

'What do you think was the first thing that came into his mind the other night when I started telling him about freezers, videos and the acceleration a Porsche 924 turbo gives you from a standing start?'

'Entrapment?'

'Well, of course. He was terrified that I was a KGB employee who was going to provide the evidence that would put him into a Siberian penal battalion for twenty years.'

'Ummm. But he could be sure that I was an SIS agent from London because he'd actually had me under arrest in East Berlin. I suppose you're right, Werner. I suppose Bret had that all figured out.'

'Bret Rensselaer, was it? Of all the people in London Central he's the most cunning one. And right now he's very keen to prove the department needs him.'

'Dicky is frightened that Bret will get the German Desk,' I said.

'Stuhlpolonaise,' said Werner.

'Exactly. Musical chairs.' Werner's use of the German word called to mind the prim formality and the slow rhythm of the promenading couples that exactly described London Central's dance when some big reshuffle was due. 'And Bret has sent Dicky marching four thousand miles away from the only chair, and Dicky wants to get back to London before the music stops.'

'But he doesn't want to return without news of a great success,' said Werner.

'You see that, do you?' I said admiringly. Werner didn't miss much. 'Yes, Bret has contrived a quandary that alarms even Dicky. If he waits here long enough to land Stinnes, Bret will be the man who congratulates him and sends him off on another assignment. On the other hand, if Dicky rushes back there without a conclusion to the Stinnes operation, someone is going to say that Dicky is not up to the job.'

'But you're both going back,' said Werner. He looked round the crowded lounge. Outside, the apron was empty and the regular afternoon rainstorm was in full fury. There was not much evidence that anyone was going anywhere.

'I'm now the file officer. Dicky is writing a report that will explain the way in which he has brought the Stinnes operation to the brink of a successful conclusion before handing everything over to me.'

'He is a crafty little bastard,' said Werner.

'Now tell me something I don't know,'

'And, if Stinnes doesn't come over, Dicky will say you messed it up.'

'Go to the top of the class, Werner. You're really getting the hang of it.'

'But I think there's only a slight chance that we'll get Stinnes over.'

'Why?' I agreed with Werner but I wanted to hear his views.

'He's still frightened, for one thing. If Stinnes really trusted you, he wouldn't tell you to send a negative signal to London. He'd let you tell London anything you liked.'

'Don't tell Dicky I told you about the compromised signal traffic,' I said. 'He'll say it's a breach of security.'

'It is a breach of security,' said Werner. 'Strictly speaking I shouldn't be told that sort of top-grade item unless it's directly concerned with my work.'

'My God, Werner. Am I glad you don't have the German Desk in London. I think you'd shop me if you thought I was breaking security.'

'Maybe I would,' said Werner complacently. I grabbed him by the throat and pretended to throttle him. It was a spectacle that interested one of the nuns enough for her to nudge her companion and nod towards me. I gave them both a sinister scowl and Werner put his tongue out and rolled his eyes.

After I'd released Werner and let him drink some more of that awful coffee, I said, 'You said Stinnes knows I'm kosher on account of interrogating me.'

'That could be a double ploy,' said Werner. 'If you were really working for Moscow, then you would be quite happy to let yourself get arrested in East Berlin. Then you'd be perfectly placed to trap Stinnes.'

'But Stinnes isn't important enough for Moscow to play out that sort of operetta.'

'Stinnes probably thinks he is important enough. It's human, isn't it? We all think we are important enough for anything.'

Werner could be exasperating. 'That's what Hollywood calls "moronic logic", Werner. It's the sort of nit-picking insanity that can't be faulted but is only too obviously stupid.'

'So explain why it's stupid.'

I took a deep breath and said, 'Because if Moscow had a well-placed agent in London whose identity was so closely guarded that Stinnes could not possibly suspect him, then Moscow would not bring him to Berlin and get him arrested just so as to get the confidence of Stinnes so that months later in Mexico City he could be enticed into agreeing to a defection plan. I mean… ask yourself, Werner.'

He smiled self-consciously. 'You're right, Bernie. But Stinnes will continue to be suspicious, you mark my words.'

'Sure, but he'll be suspicious of London and whether those tricky desk men will keep their promises. He won't be worrying if I'm a KGB plant. A man like Stinnes can probably recognize a KGB operator at one hundred paces just as we can recognize one of our people.'

'Talking of recognizing one of our own at one hundred paces, Dicky is heading this way,' said Werner. 'Is the man with him SIS?'

Dicky Cruyer was still wearing his Hollywood clothes; today it was blue striped seersucker trousers, sea-island cotton sports shirt and patent-leather Gucci shoes. He was carrying a small leather pouch that was not, Dicky said, a handbag, or anything like one.

Dicky had his friend from the embassy in tow. They'd been at Balliol together and they made no secret of their intense rivalry. Despite their being the same age, Henry Tiptree looked younger than Dicky. Perhaps this was because of the small and rather sparse moustache that he was growing, or his thin neck, bony chin and the awkward figure he cut in his Hong Kong tropical suit and the tightly knotted old school tie.

Dicky told me how his friend Henry had been made Counsellor at the very early age of thirty-eight and was now working hard to reach Grade 3. But the diplomatic service is littered with brilliant Counsellors of all ages, and a large proportion of them get shunted off to the Institute for Strategic Studies or given a fellowship at Oxford, where they could write a lot of twaddle about Soviet aims and intentions in East Europe, while people like me and Werner actually dealt with them.

'Henry has arranged everything about the baggage,' said Dicky.

There was nothing to arrange about my baggage,' I said. 'I checked it through when we first got here.'

Dicky ignored my retort and said, 'It will go air freight. But because we have first-class tickets they'll put it on the same plane we're on.'

'And which plane is that?' I asked.

Henry looked at his watch and said, 'They say it's coming in now.'

'You don't believe that, do you?' said Dicky. 'Ye gods, these airline buggers tell lies more glibly than even the diplomatic service.'

'Haw haw,' said Henry dutifully. 'But I think this time it's probably true. There are lots of delays at this time of year but eventually they come lumbering in. Three hours is about par for the course. That's why I thought I'd better be here to see you off.' Henry pronounced it 'orrf', he had that sort of ripe English accent that he'd need for becoming an ambassador.

'Plus the fact that you had to be here because it's bag day,' said Dicky. Henry smiled.

Werner said, 'Bag day?'

'The courier with the diplomatic bag is coming in on this plane,' I explained.

'Even so, your presence is much appreciated, Henry,' Dicky told him. 'I'll make sure the Prune Minister's Private Secretary hears about the cooperation you gave us.' They both laughed at Dicky's little joke but there was a promise of some undefined help when the opportunity came. Balliol men were like that; or so Dicky always said.

I could see that Werner was eyeing Henry with interest, trying to decide whether he was actually employed by the SIS within the embassy staff. It seemed possible. I winked at Werner. He grinned as he realized that I'd known what was in his mind. But we untutored men were like that; or so I always said.

'Dicky says that you're the man who holds the department together,' said Henry.

'It's not easy,' I said.

Dicky, who had expected me to deny that I held the department together, said, 'Henry loaned us the car.'

'Thanks, Henry,' I said.

'I don't know how you managed with that damned air-conditioning not working,' said Henry. 'But I suspect you chaps are going to charge full Hertz rates on your expenses, eh?'

'Not Dicky,' I said.

'Haw haw,' said Henry.

Dicky changed the subject hurriedly. 'Strawberries and freshly caught salmon,' said Dicky. 'This is the time to be in England, Henry. You can keep the land of tacos and refried beans.'

'Don't be a sadist, Dicky,' said the man from the embassy. 'I'm hoping my transfer comes through. Else I might be stuck here until Christmas or New Year. I have no chance of leave.'

'You shouldn't have joined,' said Dicky.

'I mustn't complain. I had an enjoyable six months learning the lingo and I get up to Los Angeles now and again. Mind you, these Mexicans are a rum crowd. It doesn't take much to make them awfully cross.' Henry said 'crorss'.

'No matter. You won't be here for ever. And now you're Grade 4 you're certain to end your career with a K,' said Dicky enviously. It was Dicky's special grievance that equivalently graded SIS employees could not count on such knighthoods or even lesser honours. Everything depended upon where you ended up.

'As long as I don't spill drinks over the President's wife or start a war or something.' He laughed again.

Quietly I asked Dicky if he'd told the embassy about their intercepted signals.

'Ye gods,' said Dicky. 'Bernie has just reminded me of something for your very private ear. Something for your Head of Station's very private ear, in fact.'

Henry raised an eyebrow. Head of Station was the senior SIS officer in the embassy.

Dicky said, 'Strictly off the record, Henry old bean, we have reasons to believe that the Russians are listening to your Piccolo machinery and have learned to read the music.'

'I say,' said Henry.

'I suggest he tells your Head of Mission immediately. But he must make it clear that it's only a suspicion.'

'I don't get to talk to the boss all that often, Dicky. The top brass stagger off to Acapulco every chance they get.' He went to the window and said, 'It's coming in now. She'll turn round quickly. Better get your luggage checked through.'

'It might be a hoax,' said Dicky. 'But we hope to be in a position to confirm or deny within a couple of weeks. If there's anything to it you'll hear officially through the normal channels.'

'You London Central people really do see life,' said Henry. 'Have you really been doing a James Bond caper, Dicky? Have you been crossing swords with the local Russkies?'

'Mum's the word,' said Dicky. 'We'd better get some of these airline chappies to haul this baggage over to the check-in.'

'But where will we sit then?' said ever-practical Werner.

Dicky ignored this question and snapped his fingers at a passing slave, who readily and instantly responded by tipping Werner off his perch and grabbing Dicky's other cases to swing on to his shoulder.

Dicky stroked his expensive baggage as if he didn't like to see it go. 'Those three are very fragile – muy fragil. Comprende usted?'

'Sure thing,' said the porter. 'No problem, buddy.'

'So those Russian buggers are reading the Piccolo radio traffic,' mused Henry. 'Well, that might explain a lot of things.'

'For instance?' said Dicky, counting his cases as the porter heaved them on to a trolley.

'Just little things,' said Henry vaguely. 'But I'd say your tip-off is no hoax.'

'One up for Mr Stinnes,' said Werner.

The TV monitor flashed a gate number for our flight, and we hurriedly said goodbye to Henry and Werner so that Dicky could follow closely behind the porter to be sure his cases didn't go astray.

'Henry did modern languages,' said Dicky, once we were airborne and heading home with a glass of champagne in our fists and a smiling stewardess offering us small circular pieces of cold toast adorned with fish eggs. 'He was a damned fine bat; and Henry's parties were famous, but he's not very brainy and he wasn't exactly a hard worker. He got this job because he knows all the right people. To tell you the truth, I never though he'd stick to the old diplomatic grind. It's not like Henry to have a regular job and say yes sir and no sir to everyone in sight. Poor sod, sweating out his time in that hell-hole.'

'Yes, poor Henry,' I said.

'He's desperately keen to get into our show but quite honestly, Bernard, I don't think he's right for us, do you?'

'From what you say I think he's exactly right for us.'

'Do you?' said Dicky.

Dicky had arranged everything the way he liked it. He'd put his three fragile parcels on to a vacant seat and secured them with the safety-belt. He'd taken off his shoes and put on the slippers he'd taken from his briefcase. He'd swallowed his motion-sickness tablets and made sure the Alka Seltzer and aspirin were where he could find them easily. He'd read the safety leaflet and checked the position of the emergency exits and reached under his seat to be sure that the advertised life-jacket was really there. These airline blighters speak their own language,' said Dicky. 'Have you noticed that? Stewardesses are hostesses; it makes you wonder whether to call the stewards "hosts". Safety-belts are lap-straps, and emergency exits are safety exits. Who thought up all that double-talk?'

'It must have been the same PR man who renamed the War Office the Ministry of Defence.'

I held up my glass so that the stewardess could pour more champagne. Dicky put his hand over his glass. 'We've a long journey ahead,' he said with an admonitory note in his voice.

'Sounds like a good reason to have another glass of champagne,' I said.

Dicky put down his glass and slapped his thigh lightly, like a chairman bringing a meeting to order, and said, 'Well, now I've got you to myself at last, perhaps we can talk shop.'

The only reason we'd not spent a lot of time talking shop was because Dicky had spent every available moment eating, drinking, shopping, sightseeing and extending his influence. Now he was going to find out what work I'd been doing so that he'd be able to persuade his superiors that he'd been working his butt off. 'What do you want to know, Dicky?'

'What are the chances that Comrade Stinnes will come over to us?'

'You're skipping the easy ones, are you?'

'I know you hate making guesses, but what do you think will happen? You've actually met with Stinnes. What sort of fellow is he? You've handled this sort of defection business before, haven't you?'

I didn't hate making guesses at all; I just hated confiding them to Dicky, since he so enjoyed reminding me of the ones I got wrong. I said, 'Not with a really experienced KGB official, I haven't. The defectors I've dealt with have been less important.'

'Stinnes is only a major. You're making him sound like a a member of the Politburo. I seem to remember you were involved with that colonel… the air attaché who dithered and dithered and finally got deported before we could get him.'

'Rank for rank, you're right. But Stinnes is very experienced and very tough. If we get him we'll have a very good source. He will keep the debriefing panel scribbling notes for months and months and give us some good data and first-class assessments. But our chances of getting him are not good.'

'You told me he said yes,' said Dicky.

'He's bound to say yes just to hear what we say.'

'Is it money?' said Dicky.

'I can't believe that money will play a big part in his decision. Men such as Stinnes are very thoroughly indoctrinated. It's always very difficult for such people to make the change-over to our sort of society.'

'He's a hard-nose communist, you mean?'

'Only inasmuch as he knows he mustn't rock the boat. I'd be surprised to find he's a real believer.' I drank my champagne. Dicky waited for me to speak again. I said, 'Stinnes is a narrow-minded bigot. He's one of a top-level elite in a totalitarian state where there are no agonizing discussions about capital punishment, or demos about pollution of the environment or the moral uncertainties of having atomic weapons. A KGB major like Stinnes can barge into the office of a commanding general without knocking. Here in the West no one has the sort of power that he enjoys.'

'But we're offering him a nice comfortable life. And, from what you say about his wanting a divorce, the offer comes at exactly the right time.'

'Giving up such power will not be easy. As a defector he'll be a nobody. 'He's probably seen defectors and the way they live in the Soviet Union. He'll have no illusions about what it will be like.'

'How can you compare the life of a defector going to the East with that of a defector coming to the West? All they have to offer is a perverted ideology and a medieval social system based on privilege and obedience. We have a free society; a free press, freedom to protest, freedom to say anything we like.'

'Stinnes has spent a long time in the upper layers of an authoritarian society. He won't want to protest or demonstrate against government – whatever its creed – and he'll have precious little sympathy for those who do.'

'Then give him a handful of cash and take him round the shops and show him the material benefits that come from free enterprise and competition.'

'Stinnes isn't the sort of man who will sell his soul for a mess of hi-fi components and a micro-wave oven,' I said.

'Sell his soul?' said Dicky indignantly.

'Don't turn this into a political debate, Dicky. You asked me what chance we stand, and I'm telling you what I think is in his mind.'

'So what sort of chance do we stand?' persisted Dicky. 'Fifty fifty?'

'Not better anyway,' I said.

'I'll tell the old man fifty fifty,' said Dicky as he mentally ticked off that question. I don't know why I tried to explain things to Dicky. He preferred yes-or-no answers. Explanations confused him.

'And what about this Biedermann chap?'

'I don't know.'

'He's as rich as Croesus. I looked him up when I got to Los Angeles.'

'I can't see how he can be important to us, so how can he be important to Stinnes? That's what puzzles me.'

'I'll put him into my report,' said Dicky. Although it sounded like a statement of intent, it was Dicky's way of asking me to okay it.

'By all means. I've got the list of people he forwarded the money to. You could probably get one of the bright young probationers to build that into something that sounded impressive.'

'Are we going to do anything about Biedermann?'

There's not much we can do,' I said doubtfully, 'except keep an eye on him, and rough him up from time to time to let him know he's not forgotten.'

'Gently does it,' said Dicky. 'A man like that could make trouble for us.'

'I've known him since I was a kid,' I said. 'He's not going to make trouble for us, unless he thinks he can get away with it.'

'Getting Stinnes is the important thing,' said Dicky. 'Biedermann is nothing compared with the chance of bringing Stinnes over to us.'

'I'll stroke my lucky rabbit's foot,' I said.

'If we do manage to land Stinnes, you'll get all the credit for it.'

'Will I?' I said. It seemed unlikely.

'That's one of the things I told Bret before we left London. I told him that this was really your operation. You let Bernard handle things his way, I told him. Bernard's got a lot riding on this one.'

'And what did Bret say to that?' I found that, if you scraped the ancient airline caviar off the little discs of toast, the toast didn't taste too bad.

'Have you upset Bret?'

'I'm always upsetting him.'

'You've got a lot riding on this one, Bernard. You need Bret. You need all the help you can get. I'm right behind you all the way, of course, but if Bret takes over my desk you'd get no support from him.'

'Thanks, Dicky,' I said doubtfully. It was just Dicky's way of getting me to help him in his power struggle against Bret, but I was flattered to think that Dicky thought I had enough clout to make any difference.

'You know what I'm talking about, don't you, Bernard?'

'Sure,' I said, although in fact I didn't know. I settled back in my seat and looked at the menu. But from the corner of my eye I could see Dicky wrapping his fountain pen in a Kleenex tissue, although we were already at 35,000 feet and if his pen was going to leak it would have leaked already.

'Yes,' said Dicky. 'This one will be make or break for you, Bernard.' He laid the bandaged pen to rest in his handbag, like a little Egyptian mummy that was to stay in its tomb for a thousand years.

Thank God there's no in-flight movie,' said Dicky. 'I hate in-flight movies, don't you?'

'Yes,' I said. It was one of the very few things upon which Dicky and I could have unreserved agreement.

Now that we were above the clouds, the sunlight was blinding. Dicky, seated at the window, pulled down the tinted shield. 'You don't want to read or anything, do you?'

I looked at Dicky and shook my head. He smiled, and I wondered what sort of game he was playing with all his talk of this being my operation. He'd certainly taken his time before revealing this remarkable aspect of our jaunt to me.

We reached London Sunday mid-morning. The sun was shining in a clear blue sky but there was a chilly wind blowing. In response to two telex messages and a phone call made from Mexico, the duty officer had arranged for a car to meet us. We loaded it to the point where its suspension was groaning and went to Dicky's house. Once there I accepted Dicky's offer to go inside for a drink.

Dicky's wife was waiting for us with a chilled bottle of Sancerre in the ice bucket and coffee on the warmer. Daphne was an energetic woman in her early thirties. I found her especially attractive standing there in the kitchen surrounded by wine and food. Daphne had radically changed her image; floral pinafores and granny glasses were out, and pale-yellow boiler suits were in. Her hairstyle had changed too, cut in a severe pageboy style with fringe, so that she looked like the an student Dicky had married so long ago. 'And Bernard, darling. What a lovely surprise.' She had the loud voice and upper-class accent that go with weekends in large unheated country houses, where everyone talks about horses and reads Dick Francis paperbacks.

Daphne was in the middle of preparing lunch. She had a big bowl on the table in front of her and a spring scale upon which half a pound of warm butter was being weighed. Her hands were covered in flour, and she was wiping them on a towel that bore a printed picture of the Eiffel Tower. She picked up a collection of bracelets and bangles and slipped them all on to her wrist before embracing Dicky.

'You're early, darling,' she said as she kissed him and gave me a peck too.

Dicky brushed flour from his shirt and said, 'The plane arrived on time. I didn't allow for that.'

She asked Dicky if he wanted coffee or wine but she didn't ask me. She took a glass from the cupboard and an opened bottle of chilled wine from the ice bucket and poured me a generous measure. It was delicious.

Dicky, rummaging through the kitchen cupboard, said, 'Where are the blue Spode cups and saucers?'

'They're in the dishwasher. We only have three left now. You'll have to use a mug.'

Dicky sighed the way he did when one of the clerks returned to him top-secret papers he'd left in the copying machine. Then he poured himself a mug of black coffee and we sat down round the kitchen table.

'I'm sorry we can't go into the sitting room,' said Daphne. 'It's out of use for the time being.' She looked up at the kitchen clock before deciding it was okay to pour a glass of wine for herself.

'Daphne's left her ad agency,' said Dicky. 'I didn't tell you, did I? They lost the breakfast food account and had to cut staff. They offered Daphne a golden handshake; five thousand pounds. Not bad, eh?' Dicky was pressing his ears and gulping, the way he always did after a flight.

'What are you doing now, Daphne?' I asked.

Dicky answered for her. 'She's stripping. She's gone into it with another girl from the agency.' Daphne smiled the sort of smile that showed she'd heard this joke before but she let Dicky squeeze it dry. 'There's money in stripping, Daphne says.' Dicky smiled broadly and put his arm on his wife's shoulder.

'Furniture,' said Dicky. The lounge is stacked to the ceiling with antique furniture. They'll strip the paint off it and polish it up and sell it for a fortune.'

'Not antique furniture,' said Daphne. 'Bernard already regards us as philistines. I don't want him to think I'm a complete barbarian, ruining antiques. It's second-hand odds and ends, kitchen chairs and tables and so on. No use going round the little shops in Camden Town looking for it. Liz and I go into the country banging on doors. It's rather fun. You meet the oddest people. Apparently you just dip the furniture into caustic soda and the paint falls off. We're starting that next week when I've got some gloves to protect my hands.'

'I tried it once,' I said. 'It was a wooden fireplace. It fell to pieces. It was only fifty years of paintwork that was holding it together.'

'Oh, don't say that, Bernard,' said Daphne. She laughed. 'You're discouraging me.' She poured more wine for me. She didn't seem at all discouraged.

'Take no notice of Bernard,' said Dicky. 'He can't fix an electric plug without fusing all the lights.'

'We won't be selling the furniture as perfect,' said Daphne.

'It's what all the newly weds are looking for,' said Dicky. 'At least it's one of the things.' He gave his wife a wink and an affectionate hug. 'And it looks good. I mean that. It looks very good. Once the girls get decent premises they'll make a fortune, you mark my words. They were going to call the shop "The Strip Joint" but now we hear someone is using that already.'

'You're not very tanned, Dicky,' she said, looking closely at his face. 'Considering where you've been. I thought you'd come back much more tanned than that. Neither is Bernard,' she added, glancing at me.

'We've been working, old thing, not sunning. Right, Bernard?' He picked up the cork from the wine Daphne had served me and sniffed at it.

'Right, Dicky.'

'And I saw Henry Tiptree, darling. You remember Henry. He was at Balliol with me.'

'The one who left the BBC because they were all poofs?'

'No, darling; Henry. Tall, thin, reddish hair. Looks a bit of a twit. His cousin is a duke. Henry's the one who always used to bring you those huge boxes of Belgian handmade chocolates, remember?'

'No,' said Daphne.

'And you always took the chocolates to your mother. Then Henry was posted off somewhere and you made me buy them for her. Belgian chocolates. They cost me a fortune.'

'Yes, and then when we got married you told her the shop didn't sell them any more and you got her Black Magic instead.'

'Well, they cost an absolute fortune,' said Dicky. 'Anyway Henry is in Mexico now and let us borrow his car. And I managed to get a trip to Los Angeles and I got you everything on your list except the pillowcases from Robinson's. They didn't have the exact colour of the sample you gave me. They were more purple than mauve, so I didn't buy them.'

'You are sweet, darling,' said Daphne. 'He is so sweet,' she told me.

'I know,' I said.

'And I got a dozen of those masks the Mexicans make out of old tin cans, and I got six silver-plated bracelets in the market. So that's the Christmas-present list taken care of.'

'I ordered a whole salmon for Thursday,' said Daphne. 'But I can't think of an extra girl for Bernard.'

'I should have told you,' said Dicky, turning to me. 'You're invited for dinner Thursday. Are you free?'

'I imagine I am,' I said. Thanks.'

'And don't worry about an extra girl for him,' said Dicky. 'He's having it away with one of the girls in the office.' There was a note of bitterness in Dicky's voice. Daphne detected it too. She looked at him sharply; for Dicky's affections had wandered lately and Daphne had discovered it. She drained her wineglass.

'How nice,' Daphne said icily, pouring herself another drink. 'What's her name, Bernard?'

'Her name is Gloria,' said Dicky before I replied.

'Is that the one you wanted as your secretary?' said Daphne. She stood with the bottle in her hand, waiting for the reply.

'No, no, no,' said Dicky. 'It was Bret who wanted to foist her on to me but I wasn't having her.' Having tried to appease Daphne, he turned to me and said, 'No offence to you, old man. I'm sure she's a very nice girl.'

'That's perfect,' said Daphne. She poured me some more wine. 'It will be nice to meet her. I remember Dicky saying she was a wonderful typist.' I could tell that Daphne was far from convinced of Dicky's innocence.

'She'll come to dinner, your friend Gloria?' Dicky asked, watching me carefully.

'Gloria? Oh, of course she will,' I said. 'She'll go anywhere for a free meal.'

'That's not very gallant of you, Bernard,' said Daphne.

'We'll be here,' I heard myself saying. I don't know why I say such things, except that Dicky always brings out the worst in me. I hardly knew Gloria. I'd only spoken to her twice, and then it was only to tell her to hurry up with my typing.

9

It was good to be back in London again. First I opened the shutters in every room and let in the afternoon sunlight. I just couldn't get used to going home to a dark, silent house. It seemed such a short time ago that it was echoing with the sound of the children, nanny and Fiona my wife.

For lunch I made myself a cup of tea and balanced the contents of a tin of sardines on two very stale wholemeal biscuits. It was hot and airless in the top-floor room I used as a study. I opened the window and let in the sounds of London on a Sunday afternoon. I could hear the distant cries of children playing in the street, and the recorded carillon of an ice-cream pedlar. I phoned the office and told them I was home. The duty clerk sounded tired and bored but I resisted his attempt to engage me in conversation about the climate of Mexico at this time of year.

While eating my sardines I opened the stack of mail. Apart from bills for gas, electricity and wine, most of the mail was coloured advertising brochures; head waiters leered at credit cards, famous chefs offered a 'library' of cookbooks, pigskin wallets came free with magazine subscriptions, and there was a chance to hear all the Beethoven symphonies as I'd never heard them before. On my desk-pad the Portuguese cleaning lady – Mrs Dias – had pencilled a list of people who'd phoned during her daily visits. Her handwriting was rather uncertain, but I recognized no one there I felt like phoning except for my mother. I called her and chatted. I had a word with the children too. They seemed happy enough but I could hear the nanny prompting them from time to time.

'Did you like it in Mexico?' said Sally.

'It was very hot,' I said.

'Grandma said you'd take us to the seaside when you got back.'

'Is that where you want to go?'

'You've been away a long time, Daddy.'

'I'll take you to the seaside.'

'When?'

'As soon as I can.'

'Billy said you'd say that.'

'I'm sorry,' I said. 'I'm a rotten father.'

'Are we coming home?'

'Yes, very soon.'

It was only after I'd showered and changed my clothes that I noticed the cream-coloured envelope propped in front of the clock. Mrs Dias would naturally think of the clock as the place to which the human eye most readily returned.

Phone me home or office as soon as you return. Many matters to discuss. David.

It had been delivered by hand. The envelope bore a bright-red 'Urgent' sticker and the message was written in ink on a heavy handmade paper that matched the envelope. I recognized the stationery even without the engraved address and the artistic picture of the house that adorned it. The prospect of a discussion with my father-in-law, Mr David Timothy Kimber-Hutchinson, philanthropist, philosopher, tycoon and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, was not my idea of a welcome home. But I couldn't think of any excuse for avoiding it so I phoned him and agreed to drive down to him without delay.

His house was built on a tree-covered hillside not far from the place where the ancient Roman highway of Stane Street surmounted the Downs. It was a Jacobean mansion, so restored over the ages that very little of the original sixteenth-century building remained. But priority had been given to the corporeal things of life, so that the roof never leaked and the plumbing, the heating and the electricity supply always provided a level of comfort rarely encountered in English country houses.

Sometimes I wondered how much money went through his hands for him to be able to run this place with its desirable living accommodation for the servants, a self-contained wing for his guests and heated stabling for his horses. I parked my battered Ford between Kimber-Hutchinson's silver Rolls and his wife's Jaguar. The Kimber-Hutchinsons wouldn't have a foreign car. It wasn't simply a matter of patriotism, the old man once told me; it would upset some of his customers. Poor fellow, he needed handmade shoes because of his 'awkward feet' and Savile Row suits because he wasn't lucky enough to have the figure for ready-made ones. Cheap wine played havoc with his stomach so he drank expensive ones, and because he couldn't fit into economy-size airline seats he was forced to go everywhere first class. Poor David, he envied people like me, he was always telling me so.

David – he liked me to call him David; 'father-in-law' being too specific, 'father' too inaccurate, 'Mr Kimber-Hutchinson' too cumbersome and 'Kimber' a form of address reserved for his intimates – was waiting for me in the studio. The studio was a luxuriously converted barn. At one end there was a huge north-facing window and an easel where he liked to stand and paint water-colours that were snapped up at good prices by executives of the companies with which he did business. Under the skylight there was a large wooden rostrum that was said to have come from the Paris studio of Maillol, a sculptor who'd devoted his life to loving portrayals of the female nude. I'd once asked David what he used it for but got only the vaguest of answers.

'Come in and sit down, Bernard old chap.' He was working on a painting when I got there, but he was not at the easel. He was seated at a small table, a drawing board resting on his knees, while he pencilled in the outlines of a landscape with horses. On the table there were half a dozen enlarged photos of the same view, photos of horses and a sheet of tracing paper from which he'd worked. 'You've discovered my little secret,' he said without looking up from his sketch. 'I always start off from photographs. No sense in not using all the help you can get. Michelangelo would have used a camera when doing die Sistine Chapel ceiling had he got the chance.'

Since David Kimber-Hutchinson showed no sign of revealing more about Michelangelo's frustrated technological aspirations, I grunted and sat down while he finished drawing the horse. Although it was a faithful reproduction of the horse in the photo, David's traced drawing of it looked wooden and stunted. He was obviously aware of this, for he was redrawing the outline to extend its legs, but that didn't seem to improve it.

He was wearing a dark-blue artist's smock over his yellow cashmere rollneck and riding breeches. His face was flushed. I guessed he'd just got back from a canter over the Downs. It was rather as if he'd arranged things so that I would see him tracing his pictures. Perhaps he thought I would admire such acquired trickery more than mere talent. A man could not take credit for talent in the way he could for cunning.

Eventually he abandoned his attempt and put the pencil down on the table in front of him. 'I can never draw horses,' he said. 'It's just not fair. No artist loved horses as I do, or knew as much about them. But even when I use photos I can't damn well draw them. It's not fair.'

I'd never heard him appeal to equity before. Usually he upheld the ultimate justice of market forces and even the survival of the fittest. 'Perhaps it's because you trace photos,' I said. 'Maybe you should trace paintings.'

He looked at me, trying to decide whether to take offence, but my face was blank and he said, 'I might try that. Trace a Stubbs or something, just to get some idea of the trade secrets. Ummm. It's all tricks, you know. A Royal Academy painter admitted that to me once. Painting is just learning a set of tricks, just like playing the stock exchange.'

'They are tricks I will never master,' I admitted.

'Easy enough to do, Bernard. Easy enough to do.' He took off his artist's smock and smiled. He liked to hear that his achievements were beyond other men; especially he liked to be praised about his skills with horses. He was up every morning grooming his horses and he endured the long drive to his London office for the sake of seeing his horses. More than once he'd told me that he liked horses better than he liked people. They never lie to you, horses,' he said. They never try to swindle you.'

He spoke without looking up from his board. 'So you're still driving that old Ford,' he said. 'I thought you were going to get a Volvo.'

'I cancelled the order,' I said. 'I don't need a big car now.'

'And a big car costs money, more than you can afford,' he said with that directness that you could always count upon. 'You should see the bills I pay on that Rolls. I had to replace the fire-extinguisher last month and that cost me seventy-eight pounds.'

'It might be worth that if you are on fire,' I said.

'Have a drink, Bernard. It's a tiring drive from London. How did you come, Kingston bypass? Full of weekend drivers, was it? "Murder mile" they call it, that bit south of Kingston Vale. I've seen a dozen cars crunched together on that stretch of road. The lights change at Robin Hood Gate and they go mad.'

'Coming in this direction it wasn't too bad,' I said.

He went over to an old cupboard that contained jars full of brushes and tubes of paint and bottles of turpentine and linseed oil for the times when he worked in oils. From a compartment in the cupboard he got a glass and a bottle of drink. 'You're a whisky and soda man, as I remember. Lots of soda and lots of whisky.' He laughed and poured a huge Scotch. He had me summed up nicely. 'Teacher's all right?' He handed it to me without waiting for a reply. 'No ice over here.'

'Thanks.' It was a cheap tumbler, not the Waterford he used at his dinner table. This David who painted here in his studio was a different David – an artist, a plain man with earthy pleasures and simple tastes.

'Yes,' he said. 'A big car is no use to you now that you're on your own. The big house will be a burden too. I've scribbled out some figures to show you.'

'Have you?' I said.

He got a piece of paper from the table and sank down on the sofa, studying the piece of paper as if he'd never seen it before. 'You bought the house four years ago, and property has been sticky ever since then. I warned you about that at the time, as I remember. The way the market is now, you'll be lucky to get your money back.' He looked at me.

'Really,' I said.

'And when you take into account inflation and loss of earnings on capital it's been a bad investment. But you'll have to grin and bear it, I'm afraid. The important thing is to reduce your outgoings. Get on to a house agent first thing in the morning, Bernard. Get that house on the market. And find yourself a small service flat; bedroom, sitting room and a kitchen, that's all you need. In fact, I wonder if you really need a kitchen.' When I didn't respond, he said, 'I've jotted down the phone numbers of a couple of house agents I do business with. You don't want to go to the first people you happen upon. Too many Jews in that line of business.' A smile. 'Oh, I forgot, you like Jews, don't you?'

'No more than I like Scotsmen or Saudi Arabians. But I always suspect that whatever is being done to Jews this week is likely to be done to me next week. In any case, I have decided to hang on to the house. At least for the time being.'

'That would be absurd, Bernard. You'll have only your salary in future. You won't have Fiona's trust fund, the children's trust funds or Fiona's salary.'

'The trust funds were used solely for Fiona and the children,' I pointed out to him.

'Of course, of course,' said David. 'But the fact remains that your household will have far less money. And certainly not enough to keep up a rather smart little house in the West End,'

'If I moved into a service flat there would be no room for the children.'

'I was coming to that, Bernard. The children – and I think you will agree unreservedly about this – are the most important single factor in this whole tragic business.'

'Yes,' I said.

He looked at me. 'I think I'll have a drink myself,' he said. He got up and went to the cupboard and poured himself a gin and tonic with plenty of tonic. 'And let me do something about yours too, Bernard.' He took my glass and refilled it. After he'd sipped his drink he started again but this time from another angle. 'I'm a socialist, Bernard. You know that; I've never made a secret of it. My father worked hard all his life and died at his work-bench. Died at his workbench. That is something I can't forget.'

I nodded. I'd heard it all before. But I knew that the work-bench was to David's father what David's easel was to him. David's father had owned half of a factory that employed 500 people.

'But I've never had any dealings with communists, Bernard. And when I heard that Fiona had been working for the Russians all these years I said to my wife, she's no daughter of ours. I said it just like that. I said she's no daughter of ours, and I meant it. The next morning I sent for my lawyer and I disowned her. I wrote and told her so; I suppose the lawyers handling her trust fund have some sort of forwarding address…' He looked at me.

'I don't know,' I said. 'I haven't contacted them. I daresay the department has contacted them but I don't know anything about a forwarding address.'

'Whether she'll ever get my letter or not I don't know.' He came over to where I was sitting and, lowering his voice, he added in a voice throbbing with emotion, 'And personally, Bernard, I don't care. She's no daughter of mine. Not after this.'

'I think you were going to say something about the children,' I prompted him.

'Yes, I was. Fiona has gone for good, Bernard. She's never coming back. If you're holding on to the house in the hope that Fiona comes back to you, forget it.'

'If she came back,' I said, 'she'd face a very long term in prison.'

'Yes, I thought of that,' he said. 'Damn it, that would be the final disgrace. Her mother would die of shame, Bernard. Thank God the story was never picked up by the newspapers. As it is I've cut back on visits to my clubs, in case I see someone who's in the know about such things. I miss a lot of my social life. I haven't had a round of golf since the news reached us.'

'It hasn't exactly made life easy for me,' I said.

'In the department? I suppose they think you should have got on to her earlier, eh?'

'Yes, they do.'

'But you were the one who finally worked out what was going on. You were the one who discovered she was the spy, eh?'

I didn't answer.

'You needn't worry, Bernard. I don't hold that against you. Someone had to do it. You just did your duty.' He drank some of his drink and gave a grim, manly smile. I suppose he thought he was being magnanimous. 'But now we have to face the mess that she's left behind her. My wife and I have discussed the whole thing at great length…' A smile to share with me the difficulties that always come from discussions with women. '… and we'd like to have the children. The nanny could come too so we'd preserve the essential continuity. I've spoken to a friend of mine about the schools. Billy has to change his school this year anyway… '

'I'm keeping the children with me,' I said.

'I know how you feel, Bernard,' he said. 'But in practical terms it's not possible. You can't afford to keep up the mortgage payments on the house the way the interests rates are going. How would you be able to pay the nanny? And yet how could you possibly manage without her?'

'The children are with my mother at present,'

'I know. But she's too old to deal with young children. And her house is too small; there's only that little garden.'

'I didn't know you'd been there,' I said.

'When I heard you were away in Mexico I made it my business to see the children and make sure they were comfortable. I took some toys for them and gave your mother some cash for clothes and so on.'

'That was none of your business,' I said.

'They're my grandchildren,' he said. 'Grandparents have rights too, you know.' He said it gently. He didn't want to argue; he wanted to get his way about the custody of the children.

'The children will stay with me,' I said.

'Suppose Fiona sends more Russians and tries to kidnap them?'

'They have a twenty-four-hour armed guard,' I said.

'For how much longer? Your people can't provide a free armed guard for ever, can they?'

He was right. The guards were still there only because I'd had to go to Mexico. As soon as I got back to the office there would be pressure to withdraw that expensive facility. 'We'll see,' I said.

'I won't see the children's trust funds squandered on it. My lawyer is a trustee for both the children; perhaps you're overlooking that. I'll make sure you don't use that money for security guards or even for the nanny's wages. It wouldn't be fair to the children; not when we can offer them a better life here in the country with the horses and farm animals. And do it without taking their money.'

I didn't answer. In a way he was right. This rural environment was better than anything I could offer them. But the bad news would be having the children grow up with a man like David Kimber-Hutchinson, who hadn't exactly made a big success of bringing up Fiona.

'Think it over,' he said. 'Don't say no. I don't want to find myself fighting for custody of the children through the law courts. I pay far too much money to lawyers anyway.'

'You'd be wasting your money,' I said. 'In such circumstances a court would always give me custody.'

'Don't be so sure,' he said. 'Things have changed a lot in the last few years. I'm advised that my chances of legal custody are good. The trouble is – and I'm going to be absolutely frank with you about this – that I don't fancy paying lawyers a lot of money to tell the world what a bad son-in-law I have.'

'So leave us alone,' I said. I'd feared I was heading into a confrontation like this right from the moment I saw the cream-coloured envelope in front of the clock.

'But I wouldn't be the only loser,' he continued relentlessly. 'Think what your employers would say to having your name, and my daughter's name, dragged through the courts. They wouldn't keep that out of the newspapers in the way they've so far been able to do with Fiona's defection.'

He was right, of course. His legal advisers had earned their fees. The department would keep this out of the courts at all costs. I'd get no support from them if I tried to hang on to my children. On the contrary; they'd press me to accept my father-in-law's sensible offer of help.

Beyond him, through the big studio windows, I could see the trees made gold by the evening sunlight and the paddock where Billy and Sally liked to explore. Money isn't everything, but for people such as him it seemed as if it could buy everything, 'I'd better be getting along,' I said. 'I didn't get much sleep on the plane and there'll be a lot of work waiting for me on my desk tomorrow morning.'

He put his hand on my shoulder. 'Think about it, Bernard. Give it a couple of weeks. Take a look at some of the bills coming in and jot down a few figures. Look at your net annual income and compare it with your expenditure last year. Even if you pare your expenses right down you still won't have enough money. Work it out for yourself and you'll see that what I've said makes sense.'

'I'll think about it,' I promised, although my mind was made up already, and he could discern that from the tone of my voice.

'You could come down here any time and see them, Bernard. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that.'

'I said I'd think about it.'

'And don't go reporting Fiona's Porsche as stolen. I sent my chauffeur to get it and it will be advertised for sale in next week's Sunday Times. Better to get rid of it. Too many unhappy memories for you to want to use it. I knew that.'

'Thanks, David,' I said. 'You think of everything.'

'I do but try,' he said.

10

Despite my tiredness I didn't sleep well after my return from Leith Hill. The air was warm and I left the bedroom window open. I was fully awakened by the ear-piercing screams of turbo-fans, and the thunder of aircraft engines, throttles opening wide to compensate for flap drag. The approach controllers at London Heathrow like to send a few big jets roaring over the rooftops about 6.30 each morning, just in case any inhabitants of the metropolis oversleep.

The radio alarm clock was tuned to Radio 3 so that I could hear the seven o'clock news bulletin and then spend fifteen minutes on the exercise bike to the sounds of Mozart and Bach. Since living alone I'd connected the coffee-machine to a time-switch so that I could come downstairs to a smell of fresh coffee. I opened a tin of Carnation milk and found a croissant in the bread-bin. It was old and dried and shrivelled like something discovered in a tomb of the Pharaohs. I chewed it gratefully. I hadn't had a decent meal since well before getting on the plane. But I wasn't hungry. My mind was fully occupied with thoughts of the children and the conversation I'd had with my father-in-law. I didn't want to believe him but his warnings about money worried me. He was seldom, if ever, wrong about money.

I was outside in the street, unlocking the door of my car, when the girl approached me. She was about thirty, maybe younger, dark-skinned and very attractive. She was wearing a nurse's uniform complete with dark-blue cloak and a plain blue handbag. 'My damned car won't start,' she said. Her accent was unmistakably West Indian; Jamaica, I guessed. 'And matron will kill me if I'm not at St Mary Abbots Hospital at eight forty-five. Are you going anywhere in that direction? Or to somewhere I can get a taxi?'

'St Mary Abbots Hospital?'

'Marloes Road near Cromwell Road, not far from where the air terminal used to be.'

'I remember now,' I said.

'I'm sorry to trouble you,' she said. 'I live across the road at number forty-seven.' It was a large house that some speculator had converted into tiny apartments and then failed to sell. Now there was always a For rent' sign on the railings and a succession of short-term tenants. I suppose it was the sort of place that my father-in-law would like to put me in. She said, 'There is something wrong with the starter, I think.'

I got in and leaned across and opened the passenger door for her. 'The staff nurse is a bitch,' she said. 'I daren't be late again.'

'I can go through the park,' I said.

She decorously wrapped her cloak around her legs and put her handbag on her lap. 'It's very kind of you. It's probably miles out of your way.'

'No,' I said. In fact it was a considerable detour but the prospect of sitting next to her for twenty minutes was by no means unwelcome.

'You'd better fasten your seat belt,' she said. 'It's the law now, isn't it?'

'Yes,' I said. 'Let's not break the law so early in the morning.'

She fastened her own seat belt and said, 'Do you follow the cricket?'

'I've been away,' I said.

'I'm from Kingston, Jamaica,' she explained. 'I had five brothers. I had to become interested in cricket; it was all they ever talked about.'

We were still talking about cricket when I came out of the park and, no right turn being permitted, continued south into Exhibition Road. As I stopped at the traffic lights by the Victoria and Albert Museum she broke into my chatter about England's poor bowling against Australia last winter by saying, 'I'm sorry to have to do this to you, Mr Samson. But you're going to turn west on to Cromwell Road when we've been round this one-way system.'

'Why? What do you mean?' I turned my head and found her staring at me. She didn't answer. I looked down and saw that she was holding a hypodermic on her lap. Its needle point was very close to my thigh. 'Keep your eyes on the road. Just do as I say and everything will be all right.'

'Who the hell are you?'

'We'll drive out along the Cromwell Road extension to London Airport. There's something I have to do. When it's done you'll be free to go wherever you have to go.' She reached up with her free hand and tilted the driving mirror so that I could not see the traffic behind.

'And if I slam on the brakes suddenly?'

'Don't do that, Mr Samson. I am a qualified nurse. My papers are in order, my story is prepared. What I have in this syringe will take effect within seconds.' She still had the West Indian accent but it was less pronounced now, and there was a change in her manner too. Less of the Florence Nightingale, more of the Jane Fonda. And she didn't say 'sorry' or 'thank you' any more.

I was constrained by the seat belt. I could see no alternative to driving to Heathrow. She switched on the car radio. It was tuned to Radio 4 so we both listened to 'Yesterday in Parliament'.

'I'll say this again,' she said. 'No harm is intended to you.'

'Why the airport?'

'You'll understand when we get there. But don't think there is any plan to abduct you. This just concerns your children and your work.' We were driving behind a rusting old car that was emitting lots of black smoke; on the back window there was a sticker saying 'Nuclear Power – No Thanks'.

When we got to the airport she directed me to Terminal 2, used by non-British airlines mostly for European services. We passed the terminal main entrance and the multi-storey car-park that serves it, and continued until we came to a piece of road that leads on to Terminal 3. Despite the yellow lines and 'No parking' signs, there were cars parked there. 'Stop here,' she said. 'And don't look round.' Carefully, and without releasing her hold of the hypodermic or looking away from me, she reached back to unlock the nearside rear door.

We were double-parked near two dark-blue vans. I heard my car door open and felt the movement of the suspension as it took the weight of another passenger. 'Drive on. Slowly,' said the nurse. I did as I was told. 'We'll go back through the tunnel. Then down to the motorway roundabout, keep going round it and back to Terminal 2 again. Do you understand that?'

'I understand,' I said.

'He's all yours,' the nurse said to the person in the back seat, but she kept her eyes on me.

'It's me, darling,' said a voice. 'I hope I didn't terrify you.' She couldn't eliminate that trace of mockery. Some people didn't hear it but I knew her too well to miss that touch of gloating pride. It was my wife. I was numb. I'd always prided myself on being prepared for anything – that's what being a professional agent meant – but now I was astonished.

'Fiona, are you mad?'

'To come here? There is no warrant for my arrest. I have changed my appearance and my name… no, don't look round. I don't want you unconscious.'

'What's it all about?' To keep me driving was a good idea; it limited my chances of doing anything they didn't want me to do.

'It's about the children, darling. Billy and Sally. I went to see them. I waited on the route between your mother's house and the school. They looked so sweet. They didn't see me, of course. I had to watch out for your bloodhounds, didn't I? They both wore matching outfits; acid green with shiny yellow plastic jackets. I'm sure Daddy sent them. Only my father has that natural instinct for the sort of vulgarity that children always love.'

'Have you seen your father?'

She laughed. 'I'm not here on holiday, Bernard darling. And, even if I were, I'm not sure that visiting my father would be on the itinerary.'

'So what is all this about?'

'Don't be surly. I had to talk to you and I couldn't phone you without the risk of being recorded on that damned answering machine.' She paused for a moment. I could hear the deep rapid breathing – hyperventilation almost – that was always a sign of her being excited or nervous, or both. 'I don't want the children's lives made miserable, any more than you do.'

'What are you proposing?'

'I'll give you an undertaking to leave the children here in England for a year. It will give them a chance to lead normal lives. It's perfectly ghastly to have them going to school in a car with two security men and having armed guards hanging around them day and night. What sort of life is that for a child.'

'For a year?' I said. 'What then?'

'We'll see. But I'll promise nothing beyond a year.'

'And you'd want me to leave them unguarded?'

'The department will call them off before long anyway. You know that as well as I do. And you can't afford to pay for such security.'

'I'd manage.' I stopped at the roundabout until there was a break in the traffic and then moved off. It was tricky driving without the rear-view mirror.

'Yes, you'd arrange some sort of protection using your old friends.' She managed to imbue the word with all her distaste for them. 'I can imagine what the result would be. Your pals sitting around getting drunk, and talking about what they'd do if I tried to get the children away from you.'

'And you want nothing in return?'

'I'd certainly expect you drop this absurd business with poor old Erich Stinnes.'

'What has Stinnes got to do with us?'

'He's my senior assistant. That's what he's got to do with us. You won't tempt Erich with any offers of the good life waiting in the West. He's too committed and too serious for that. But I know you, and I know the department. I know you're likely to kidnap him if all else fails.'

'And that would look bad for you,' I said. We were coming to the airport tunnel. I wondered if the sudden darkness would give me a chance to disable the nurse before she had a chance to jab me but I decided it wouldn't. Terminal 2?'

'Yes, Terminal 2,' said Fiona. 'If you persist with this pursuit of Erich Stinnes, I will consider any undertaking about the children null and void. Be reasonable, Bernard. I'm trying to do what's best for Billy and Sally. How do you think I feel about the prospect of not seeing them? I'm trying to prove my goodwill to you. I'm asking nothing in return except that you don't kidnap my senior assistant. Is that asking too much?'

'It won't be my decision, Fiona.'

'I realize that. But you have influence. If you really want them to drop it, they'll drop it. Don't make Erich a part of your personal vendetta against me.'

'I have no vendetta against you,' I said.

'I did what I knew I had to do,' she said. It was the nearest I'd ever heard her get to apologizing.

'You're running the KGB office over there now, are you?'

I could hear the amusement in her voice. 'I'm giving it a completely new organization. It's so old-fashioned, darling. But I'll soon have it in shape. Aren't you going to wish me good luck?'

I didn't answer. At least she hadn't asked me to join her. Even Fiona knew better than that. And yet it was not like her not to try. Was it because she knew there was no chance of suborning me, or because she had other plans – such as kidnapping or even removing me permanently?

'Stop behind this taxi,' said the nurse. It was the first time she'd spoken since Fiona got into the car. I stopped.

'Erich Stinnes will not defect voluntarily,' said Fiona. 'Tell your people that.'

'I've told them that already,' I said.

'Then we won't quarrel. Goodbye, darling. Best not tell the children you've seen me. It will only upset them. And don't report our meeting to anyone at London Central.'

'Or what?'

'Or I won't contact you again, will I? Use your brains, darling.'

'Goodbye, Fiona.' I still could hardly believe what had happened – I suppose she counted on the surprise – and by the time I'd said goodbye the door had opened. It slammed loudly and she was gone. I remembered how she'd broken the hinge on the old Ford by always slamming the door too hard.

'Keep your eyes this way,' said the nurse. 'It's not all over yet.' I saw her look at her watch. She had it pinned to the bib of her apron the way all nurses do.

'What is it?' I said. 'The Aeroflot flight to Moscow or the Polish Airlines flight to Warsaw? That transits in East Berlin, doesn't it?'

'We'll return on the A4,' she said, 'not the motorway, in case you got some brilliant idea about doing something very brave on the way back.'

'I haven't had a brilliant idea for a long time,' I said. 'And you can ask anyone about that.'

11

Bret Rensselaer sent for me that morning. I wasn't there. He sent for me again and continued to send for me until finally I arrived back from my detour to the airport. Bret was in his usual office on the top floor. It was elegantly furnished – grey carpet, glass-and-chrome desk, and black leather Chesterfield – in a monochrome scheme that so well suited Bret's hand-ground carbon steel personality.

Bret was a hungry-looking American in his mid-fifties, with fair hair that was turning white, and a smile that could slice diamonds. Rumours said that he had applied for British citizenship to clear the way for the knighthood he'd set his heart on. Certainly he had never had to pine for the material things of life. His family had owned a couple of small banks which had been absorbed into a bigger banking complex, and that into another, so that now Bret's shares were worth more money than he needed for his very British understated lifestyle.

'Sit down, Bernard.' He always put the accent on the second syllable of my name. Had it not been for that, and the talc he used on his chin and the ever-present fraternity ring, I think I might sometimes have overlooked his American nationality, for his accent was minimal and his suits were Savile Row. 'You're late,' he said. 'Damned late.'

'Yes, I am,' I said.

'Do I rate an explanation?'

'I was having this wonderful dream, Bret. I dreamed I was working for this nice man who couldn't tell the time.'

Bret was reading something on his desk and gave no sign of having heard me. He was wearing a starched white Turnbull and Asser shirt with exaggerated cuffs, monogrammed pocket and gold links. He wore a waistcoat that was unbuttoned and a grey silk bow-tie. His jacket was hung on a chair that seemed to be there only so that Bret would have somewhere to hang his jacket. Finally he looked up from the very important paper he was reading and said, 'You probably heard that I'm taking a little of the load off Dicky Cruyer's shoulders for the time being.'

'I've been away,' I said.

'Sure you have,' he said. He smiled and took off his reading glasses to look at me and then put them on again. They were large, with speed-cop-style frames, and made him look younger than his fifty-five years. 'Sure you have.' So Bret had staked a claim to a chunk of Dicky's desk. I couldn't wait to see how Dicky was taking that. Bret said, 'I just took on this extra work while Dicky went to Mexico. Just because I'm senior to Dicky, that doesn't mean he's not in charge of the desk. Okay?'

'Okay,' I said. It was pure poetry. Just in case anyone thought Bret was assisting Dicky he was going to precede everything he did by pointing out that he was senior to Dicky. But that was only because he wanted everyone to know that he wasn't after Dicky's job. Who could have thought of anything as Byzantine as that except helpful unassuming old Bret Rensselaer.

'So you talked with this guy Stinnes?'

'I talked with him.'

'And?'

I shrugged.

Bret said, 'Do I have to drag every damned word out of you? What did he say? What do you think?'

'What he said and what I think are two very different things,' I said.

'I spoke with Dicky already. He said Stinnes will come over to us. He's in a dead-end job and wants to leave his wife anyway. He wants a divorce but is frightened of letting his organization know about it, in case they get mad at him.'

'That's what he said.'

'Does that fit in with what we know about the KGB?'

'How do I find out what "we" know about the KGB?'

'OK, smart ass. Does it fit in with what you know about them?'

'Everything depends upon what his personal dossier says. If Stinnes has been sleeping around – with other men's wives, for instance – and the divorce is the result of that… then maybe it would blow up into trouble for him.'

'And what would happen to him?'

'Being stationed outside Russia is considered a privilege for any Russian national. For instance, army regulations prevent any Jew, of any rank, serving anywhere but in the republics. Even Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Crimean Tartars and people from the western Ukraine are given special surveillance when serving in foreign posts, even in communist countries such as the DDR or Poland.'

'But Stinnes is not in any of those categories?'

'His marriage to the German girl is unusual. Not many Russians marry foreigners. They know only too well that it will make them into second-class citizens. Stinnes is an exception, and it's worth noting the confidence he showed in doing it. His use of a German name is also curious. It made me wonder at first if he had come from one of the German communities.'

'Do German communities still exist in Russia? I thought Stalin liquidated them back in the forties.' He swung his chair round and got to his feet so that he could look out of the window. Bret Rensselaer was a peripatetic man who could not think unless his body was in motion. Now he hunched his shoulders like a prize fighter and swayed as if avoiding blows. Sometimes he raised his foot to bend the knee that was said to have troubled him since he was a teenage US Navy volunteer in the final months of the Pacific war. But he never complained of his knee. And it didn't give him enough trouble to interfere with his skiing holidays.

'The big German communities on the Volga were wiped out by executions and deportations back in 1941. But there are still Germans scattered across Russia from one end to the other.' His back was still turned to me but I was used to him and his curious mannerisms so I continued to talk. 'Many German communities are established in Siberia and the Arctic regions. Most big cities in the USSR have a German minority, but they keep a low profile, of course.'

He turned to face me. 'How can you be sure that Stinnes is not from one of those German communities?' He tugged at the ends of the grey silk bow-tie to make sure it was still neat and tidy.

'Because he is stationed in East Germany. The army and the KGB have an inflexible rule that no one of German extraction serves with army units in Germany.'

'So if Stinnes applies for a divorce the chances are that he'll be sent to work in Russia?'

'And probably to some remote "new town" in Central Asia. It wouldn't be the sort of posting he'd want.'

'No matter how he beefs about Berlin. Right.' This thought cheered him up. 'So that makes Stinnes a good prospect for our offer.'

'Whatever you say, Bret,' I told him.

'You're a miserable critter, Bernard.' Now he took his reading glasses off and put them on the desk while he had a good look at me from head to toe.

'Forget enrolling Stinnes,' I said. 'The chances are it will never happen.'

'You're not saying we should drop the whole business?'

'I'm not saying you should drop it. If you and Dicky have nothing better to do, go ahead. There are lots of other – even less promising – projects that the department are putting time and money into. Furthermore I'd say it would be good for Dicky to get some practical experience at the sharp end of the business.'

'Is that gibe intended for me too?'

'No reason why you shouldn't get into the act. You've never seen a Russian close to, except over the smoked-salmon sandwiches at embassy tea parties,' I said. 'Stinnes is a real pro. You'll enjoy talking to him.'

Bret didn't like comments on his lack of field experience any more than any of the others did, but he kept his anger in check. He sat down behind his desk and swung his glasses for a moment. Then he said, 'We'll leave that for the time being because there's some routine stuff I have to go through with you.' I said nothing. 'It's routine stuff about your wife. I know you've been asked all this before, Bernard, but I have to have it from you.'

'I understand,' I said.

'I wish I was sure you did,' said Bret. He slumped down into his chair, picked up his phone but before using it said to me, 'Frank Harrington is in town. I think it might be a good idea to have him sit in on this one. You've no objection, I take it?'

'Frank Harrington?'

'He's very much involved with all this. And Frank's very fond of you, Bernard. I guess I don't have to tell you that.'

'Yes, I know he is.'

'You're a kind of surrogate son for him.' He toyed with the phone.

'Frank has a son,' I pointed out.

'An airline pilot?' said Bret scornfully, as if that career would automatically preclude him from such paternity. He pushed a button on the phone and said, 'Ask Mr Harrington to step in.' While we were waiting for Frank to arrive he picked up a piece of paper. I could see it was a single page from his loose-leaf notebook. He turned it over, made sure there was no more of his tiny handwritten notes on the back of it, and then placed it on a pile of such pages under a glass paperweight. Bret was methodical. He ran his forefinger down the next page of notes and was still reading them when Frank came in.

Frank Harrington was the head of the Berlin Field Unit, the job my father had held long long ago. He was a thin, bony sixty-year-old, dressed in a smooth tweed three-piece suit and highly polished Oxford shoes. Seen on the street he might have been mistaken for the colonel of a rather smart infantry regiment, and sometimes I had the feeling that Frank cultivated this resemblance. Yet despite the pale but weather-beaten face, the blunt-ended stubble moustache and the handkerchief tucked into his cuff, Frank had never been in the army except on short detachments. He'd come into the department largely on the strength of his brilliant academic record; Literae Humaniores was said to demand accurate speech, accurate thought and a keen and critical intellect. Unfortunately 'Greats' provides no inkling of the modern world and no clue to the mysteries of present-day politics or economics. And such classical studies could warp a young man's grasp of modern languages, so that even now Frank's spoken German had the stilted formality of a kaiserliche proclamation.

Without a word of greeting Bret pointed a finger at the black leather chesterfield. Frank smiled at me and sat down. We were both used to Bret's American style of office procedure.

'As I said, this is just a recap, Bernard, so let's get it over and done with,' said Bret.

'That suits me,' I said. Frank took his pipe from his pocket, fondled it and then blew through it loudly. When Bret glanced at him, Frank smiled apologetically.

'Obviously…' Bret looked at me to see how I reacted to his question'… you never suspected your wife of working for the KGB prior to your mission to East Berlin.'

'That's correct,' I said. I looked at Frank. He had brought a yellow oilskin tobacco pouch on to his knee and was rummaging through it to fill his pipe. He didn't look up.

'Even if we go back years and years?' said Bret.

'Especially if we go back years and years,' I said. 'She was my wife. I was in love with her.'

'No suspicions. None at all?'

'She'd been cleared by the department. She'd been cleared by Internal Security. She had been vetted regularly…'

'Touché,' said Bret. Frank Harrington nodded to no one in particular but didn't smile.

'If you're making notes,' I told Bret, 'make a note of that. My failure was no greater than the department's failure.'

Bret shook his head. 'Don't be stupid, Bernard. She was your wife. You brought her to me and suggested that I gave her a job. You were married to her for twelve years. She's the mother of your children. How can you compare your failure to know what she truly was with ours?'

'But finally I did know,' I said. 'If I hadn't flushed her out she'd still be working here, and still be passing your secrets back to Moscow.'

'Our secrets,' said Bret Rensselaer. 'Let's rather say our secrets, unless you are thinking of leaving us too.'

I said, 'That's a bloody offensive thing to say, Bret.'

'Then I withdraw it,' said Bret. 'I'm not trying to make life more difficult for you, Bernard, really I'm not.' He moved his small pages about on the desk. 'You didn't ever hear any phone conversations, or find correspondence which, in the light of what we know now, has a bearing on your wife's defection?'

'Do you think I wouldn't have said so. You must have read the transcript of my formal interview. It's all there.'

'I know it is, Bernard, and I've already apologized for going through all this once more. But that interview was for Internal Security. This is to go on your report.' Each year a report on every member of the staff was filed to the Personnel Department by his or her immediate superior. The fact that Bret was completing mine this year was just another sign of the way he was edging into Dicky Cruyer's department.

'To go on my report?'

'Well, you didn't imagine we'd be able to overlook your wife's defection, did you? I'm supposed to report on your… ' A glance down at his notes. '… judgement, political sense, power of analysis and foresight. Almost every report has some sort of mention of an employee's wife, Bernard. There is nothing special about that. The whole British Civil Service has exactly the same system of reports, so don't get paranoid.'

Frank finished filling his pipe. He leaned back and said, 'The department looks after its own, Bernard. I don't have to tell you that.' He still hadn't lit his pipe, but he put it into his mouth and chewed at the stem of it.

I said, 'I don't think I know what you're talking about, Frank.'

Frank Harrington had spent a long time in the department, and this gave him certain privileges, so that now he didn't defer to Bret Rensselaer despite Bret's senior ranking. 'I'm trying to explain to you that Bret and I want this to come out well for you, Bernard.'

'Thanks, Frank,' I said, without much warmth.

'But it's got to look right on paper too,' said Bret. He stood up, put his hands in his pockets and jingled his small change.

'And how does it look on paper now?' I said. 'Without you and Frank putting all your efforts into making it come out well for me.'

Bret looked at Frank with a pained expression in his eyes. He was practising that look, so that he could turn it on me if I continued to be insubordinate. Bret was standing by the window. He looked at the view across the park and without turning round said, 'The department's got a lot of enemies, Bernard. Not only certain socialist Members of Parliament. The Palace of Westminster has plenty of publicity hounds who'd love to get hold of something like this so they could pontificate on 'Panorama', get a few clips on TV news and be interviewed on "Newsnight". And there are many of our colleagues in Whitehall who always enjoy the sight of us wriggling under the microscope.'

'What is it we're trying to hide, Bret?' I asked.

Bret rounded on me angrily. 'For Christ's sake…' He went across the room, picked up his jacket and draped it over his arm. 'Talk to him, Frank,' he said. 'I'm stepping outside for a moment. See if you can talk some sense into the man, will you?'

Frank said nothing. He held the unlit pipe in his teeth for a moment before taking it from his mouth and staring at the tobacco. It was something to do while Bret Rensselaer went out and closed the door. Even then Frank took his time before saying, 'We've known each other a long time.'

That's right,' I said.

'Berlin: 1945. You were just beginning to walk. You were living at the top of Frau Hennig's house. Your father was one of the first officers to get his family out to occupied Germany. I was touched by that, Bernard. So many of the other chaps preferred to be away from their families. They had the plush life of the conqueror. Big apartments, servants, booze, women – everything was available for a few cigarettes or a box of rations. But your father was an exception, Bernard. He wanted you and your mother there with him, and he moved heaven and hell to get you over there. I liked him for that, Bernard. And for much more.'

'What is it you want to tell me, Frank?'

'This business with your wife was a shock. It was a shock for you, and a shock for me. The whole department was caught napping, Bernard, and they are still smarting from the blow.'

'And blaming me? So that's it?'

'No one's blaming you, Bernard. As you told Bret just now, you're the one who tipped us off. No one can blame you.'

'But… Can I hear a "but" coming?'

Frank fiddled with his pipe. 'Let's talk about this chap Stinnes,' he said. 'He was the officer who arrested you in East Berlin at the time of your wife's defection?'

'Yes,' I said.

'And he was the interrogation officer too?'

'I've been through all that with you, Frank,' I said. 'There was no proper interrogation. He'd had orders from Moscow to wait for Fiona to arrive.'

'Yes, I remember,' said Frank. 'The point I'm making is that Stinnes is a senior officer with the KGB's Berlin office.'

'No doubt about that,' I agreed.

'Your wife is now working for the KGB in that same office?'

'The current guess is that she's in charge of it,' I said.

'And Stinnes is certain to be one of her senior staff members, wouldn't you say?'

'Of course.'

'So Stinnes is the one person who knows about your wife's defection and her present occupation. It's even possible that he was concerned with her debriefing.'

'Don't keep going round and round in circles, Frank. Tell me what you're trying to say.'

Frank brandished the pipe at me and closed his eyes while he formulated his response. It was probably a mannerism that dated all the way back to his time at Oxford. This chap Stinnes knows all about your wife's defection and subsequent employment and he interrogated you. Since that time there has been a departmental alert for him. When he's located in Mexico City why does Dicky Cruyer – the German Stations Controller, no less – go out there to look him over?'

'We both know the answer to that one, Frank. Dicky loves free trips to anywhere. And this one got him out of the way while Bret chiselled a piece out of Dicky's little empire.'

'Very well,' said Frank, in a way that made it clear that he didn't agree with my interpretation of those events. 'So why send you?'

'Because I work with Dicky. With both of us out of the way Bret had a better excuse for "taking over some of the workload".' I imitated Bret's voice.

'You're barking up the wrong tree,' said Frank. 'They want to enrol Stinnes. That was a decision of the steering committee, and it's been given urgent priority. They want Stinnes over here, spilling the beans to a debriefing panel.'

'About Fiona?'

'Yes, about your wife,' said Frank. I noticed he always said 'your wife' since her defection. He couldn't bring himself to use her name any more. 'And about you.'

'And about me?'

'How long before the penny drops, Bernard? How long is it going to take you to understand that you must remain a suspect until you are cleared by first-class corroborative evidence?'

'Wait a minute, Frank. Remember me? The one who tipped off the department about Fiona's activities.'

'But she'd made mistakes, Bernard. If you hadn't raised the alarm, someone else would have done so sooner or later. So why not have you tell the department about her. And have it done the way Moscow Centre wanted it done?'

I thought about it for a moment. 'It doesn't hold water, Frank.'

'The way you did it gave her a chance to escape. She got away, Bernard. You sounded the alarm but don't forget that in the event she had time enough to make her escape.'

'There were a few sighs of relief at that, Frank. Some people around here would have done anything to avoid all the publicity of another spy trial. And putting Fiona on trial would have blown a hole in the department.'

'Anyone heaving such sighs of relief is a bloody fool,' said Frank. 'She's taken a pot full of gold with her. No secret papers, as far as we know, but her experience here will be worth a lot to them. You know that.'

'And people are saying that I deliberately arranged her escape?' I was indignant and incredulous.

Frank could see how furious I was, and hastily he said, 'No one is accusing you of anything, but we must examine every possibility. Every possibility. That's our job, Bernard. If your wife was due to go into the bag anyway, why not arrange for you to tell us? In that way the KGB lose one highly placed agent but have another in position in the same office. And the second agent's credentials are gilt-edged; didn't he even turn in his own wife?'

'Is that why they want to enrol Stinnes?'

'I thought you'd understand that right from the start. Bringing Stinnes in for interrogation is the one way that you can prove that everything went the way you say it went.'

'And if I don't bring him in?'

Frank tapped the bowl of his pipe against his thumbnail. 'You're not doing yourself any good by saying that Stinnes can't be enrolled. Surely you see that.'

'I'm just saying what I believe.'

'Well, dammit, Bernard, stop saying what you believe. Or the department will think you don't want us to get our hands on Stinnes.'

'The department can think what the hell it likes,' I said.

'That's foolish talk, Bernard. Stinnes would be a plum defector for us. But the real reason that the department is spending all this time and money is because they think so highly of you. It's principally because they want to keep you that they are pushing the Stinnes enrolment.'

Frank had the diplomatic touch, but it didn't change the underlying facts. 'It makes me bloody angry, Frank.'

'Don't be childish,' said Frank. 'No one really suspects you. It's just a formality. They haven't even put you on a restricted list for secret information. So much of the difficulty arises from the way that you and Fiona had such a happy marriage, that's the absurd thing about it. One only had to see you together to know that you were both in love. Happy marriage; promising career; delightful children. If you'd had constant arguments and separations, it would be easier to see you as the wronged party – and politically uninvolved.'

'And if we don't enrol Stinnes? What then, if we don't enrol him?'

'It will be difficult to keep you in Operations if we don't enrol Stinnes.'

'And I know what that implies.' I remembered a few employees whom Internal Security considered unsuitable for employment in Operations. It was chilling to remember those people who'd had their security ratings downgraded in mid-career. The periodic routine checks were usually the cause. That's what turned up the discreet homosexuals who weekended with young Spanish waiters, and lesbians sharing apartments with ladies who turned out not to be their cousins. And there were younger people who'd conveniently forgotten being members of international friendship societies while students. Societies which had the words 'freedom', 'peace' and 'life' in their articles so that anyone who opposed them would be associated with incarceration, war and death. Or had joined other such innocuous-sounding gatherings, which locate themselves conveniently near universities and provide coffee and buns and idealistic talk from respectably dressed foreign visitors. I knew that such downgraded rejects found themselves working the SIS end of an embassy in Central Africa or checking Aeroflot cargo manifests at London Airport.

'I wouldn't worry about having to leave Operations,' said Frank. 'You'll get Stinnes. Now you understand what's involved, you'll get him. I'm confident of that, Bernard.'

There seemed to be nothing more to say. But as I got up from my chair Frank said, 'I had a word with the D-G last night. I was having drinks at his place and a number of things came into the conversation…'

'Yes?'

'We're all concerned about you and the problem of looking after the children, Bernard.'

'The only problem is money,' I said sharply.

'We all know that, Bernard. It's money I'm talking about. The D-G has looked into the possibility of giving you a special allowance. The diplomatic service has something called "Accountable Indirect Representational Supplement". Only a bureaucrat could think up a name like that, eh? It reimburses the cost of a nanny, so that children are taken care of while diplomats and wives attend social functions. Diplomats also have "Boarding School Allowance". I'm not sure how much that would come to, but it would probably ease your financial situation somewhat. It might take a bit of time to come through; that's the only snag.'

'I'm not sending the children to boarding school.'

'Relax, Bernard. You're too damned prickly these days. No one is going to come Snooping round you to find out what kind of school your children are attending. The D-G simply wants to find a way to help. He wants a formula that's already acceptable. An ex gratia payment would not be the way he'd want to do it. If anyone discovered an ex gratia payment going directly to an employee, it could blow up into a scandal.'

'I'm grateful, Frank.'

'Everyone is sympathetic, Bernard.' He put his tobacco pouch in his pocket. His pipe was still unlit. 'And, by the way, Stinnes is back in Berlin. He's been in the West Sector to visit your friends the Volkmanns… Mrs Volkmann, in particular. I thought you'd like to know that.'

Frank Harrington had had an affair with Zena Volkmann and there was bad feeling between him and Werner that dated from long before. I wondered if Frank was telling me about Stinnes as some sort of reproach to Werner, who'd not reported it. 'Yes, I'll follow that up, Frank. I will have to go to Berlin. It's just a matter of fitting it in.'

I left Frank to tell Bret that he'd done what was wanted. He'd drawn a diagram so simple that even I could understand it. Then he'd written detailed captions under all the component parts.

I went to my office and sent for a young probationer named Julian MacKenzie. 'Well?' I said.

'No, the nurses at St Mary Abbots don't wear the uniform you described and they don't change shifts at eight forty-five. And there is no coloured woman, of any age, known to the residents of the block opposite your house.'

'That was very quick, MacKenzie.'

'I thought it was pretty good myself, boss.' MacKenzie was an impertinent little sod who'd come down from Cambridge with an honours in modern languages, got the Al mark that the Civil Service Selection Board usually reserve for friends and relations, and had been a probationer with the department for a few months. It was a record of achievement made even more remarkable by the fact that MacKenzie, despite his Scottish name, had a strong Birmingham accent. His ambition was such that he would work hard and long, and never ask questions nor expect me to give him signed authorizations for each little job. Also his insubordinate attitude to all and sundry amused me.

'I'd really like to get into fieldwork. How can I start on that? Any hints and tips, boss?' This had now become a standard inquiry.

'Yes, comb your hair now and again, change your shirt every day and introduce an obsequious note into your social exchanges with the senior staff.'

'I'm not joking.'

'Neither am I,' I assured him. 'But, while you're here, what's the last name of that girl Gloria. That typist who used to work for Mr Rensselaer?'

'The gorgeous blonde job with the big knockers?'

'You have such a delicate way of phrasing everything, MacKenzie. Yes, that's who I mean. I haven't seen her lately. Where is she working now?'

'Her name's Kent, Gloria Kent. Her father is a dentist. She's very keen on ballroom dancing and water skiing. But she's not a typist, she's a Grade 9 executive officer. She's hoping to fiddle one of those departmental grants to go to university. And what's more she speaks fluent Hungarian.' He grinned. 'Ambition drives us all. I'd say Miss Kent is hankering after a career in the service, wouldn't you?'

'You're a mine of information, MacKenzie. Is her father Hungarian?'

'You guessed. And she lives with her parents, miles out in the sticks. No joy for you there, I'm afraid.'

'You're an impertinent little sod, MacKenzie.'

'Yes, I know, sir. You told me that the other day. She's working in Registry at present, the poor little thing. It's only my daily trips down there to see her among the filing cabinets that keeps her sane.'

'Registry, eh?' It was the most unpopular job in the department and nearly one-third of all the staff were employed there. The theory was that the computer in the Data Centre would gradually replace the thousands of dusty files, and Registry would eventually disappear. But, true to the rules of all bureaucracy, the staff at the Data Centre grew and grew but the staff in Registry did not decrease.

'She'd like working up here with you, sir. I know she'd give anything for a job with any member of the Operations staff.'

'Anything?'

'Almost anything, sir,' said MacKenzie. He winked. 'According to what I hear.'

I phoned the old dragon who ran Registry and told her I wanted Miss Kent to work for me for a few days. When she came up to the office I showed her the great pile of papers due for filing. They'd been stacking up in the cupboard for months, and my own secretary was pleased to see the task taken off her hands.

Gloria Kent was tall. She was slim and long-legged and about twenty years old. Her hair was the colour of pale straw. It was wavy but loose enough to fall across her forehead, short but long enough to touch the roll neck of her dark-brown sweater. She had large brown eyes and long lashes and a wide mouth. If Botticelli had painted the box top for a Barbie doll the picture would have looked like Gloria Kent. And yet she was not doll-like. There was nothing diminutive about her. And she didn't bow her head, the way so many tall women do to accommodate themselves to the egos of shorter men they find around them. And it was her straight-backed posture – for her use of make-up was minimal – that gave her the appearance of a chorus girl rather than a civil servant.

She'd been sorting out the files for about an hour when she said, 'Will I be going back to work in Registry?'

'It's nothing to do with me, Miss Kent,' I said. 'We're both working for Mr Cruyer. He makes all the decisions.'

'He's the Controller of German Stations,' she said, giving Dicky his official title. 'So that's my department, is it?'

'The German Desk, we usually call it,' I said. 'Everything's in a turmoil up here at present, I'm afraid.'

'I know. I was working for Mr Rensselaer. But that only lasted ten days. Then his Economics Intelligence Committee had no more work for me. I did odd bits of typing for people on the top floor, then I was sent down to Registry.'

'And you don't like Registry?'

'No one likes it. There's no daylight and the fluorescent lighting makes me so tired. And you get so dirty handling those files all day. You should see my hands when I go home at night. When I get home I can't wait to strip right off and have a bath.'

I took a deep breath and said, 'You won't get so dirty up here, I hope.'

'It's a treat to see the daylight, Mr Samson.'

'No one round here calls me anything but Bernard,' I said. 'So it might be easier if you did the same.'

'And I'm Gloria,' she said.

'Yes, I know,' I said. 'And by the way, Gloria, Mr Cruyer always likes to meet his staff socially. Every now and again he has a few members of the staff along to his house for an informal dinner and a chat.'

'Well, I think that's very nice,' said Gloria. She smoothed her skirt over her hips.

'It is,' I said. 'We all appreciate it. And the fact is that he has one of these dinners on Thursday. And he made a special point of saying that he'd like you to be there.'

'Thursday. That's rather short notice,' she said. She moved her head to let her hair swing and touched it as if already calculating when to go to the hairdresser's.

'If you have something more important to do, I know he'll understand.'

'It would sound terrible, though, wouldn't it?'

'No, it wouldn't sound terrible. I'd explain to him that you had some other appointment that you couldn't give up.'

'I'd better come,' she said. 'I'm sure I can rearrange things. Otherwise…' She smiled. 'I might spend the rest of my life in Registry.'

'He'd like us there at seventy forty-five, for drinks. They sit down to eat at eight thirty. If you live too far away, I'm sure Mrs Cruyer will be happy to let you have a room to change. Come to that,' I said, 'you could have a drink at my house and change there. Then I could drive you over there. His house is rather difficult to find.'

I saw a look of doubt come into her face. I feared for a moment that I'd overplayed my hand but I busied myself with my work and said no more.

Dicky's dinner party was very successful. Daphne had worked for three days preparing the meal, and I realized that she'd not invited me for lunch the previous Sunday because she had been trying out on Dicky the same cucumber soup recipe, and the same wild rice, and the same gooseberry fool that she served for the dinner party. Only the boiled salmon was an experiment; its head fell on the kitchen floor as it was coming out of the fish kettle.

There were eight of us. If Gloria Kent had expected it to be a gathering of departmental staff she gave no sign of disappointment at meeting the Cruyers' new neighbours and a couple named Stephens, the wife being Liz Stephens who was Daphne's partner in the stripping business. Dicky couldn't resist his joke about Daphne making money from stripping, although it was clear that only Gloria had not been told it before. Gloria laughed.

The conversation at table was confined to the usual London dinner-party small talk; listing foreign ski resorts, local restaurants, schools and cars in descending order of desirability. Then there was talk about the furniture stripping. The first attempt had gone badly. No one had told them not to try it with bentwood furniture and the first lot of chairs had disintegrated in the soda bath. The two women were able to laugh about it but their husbands exchanged looks of mutual resignation.

The neighbours from across the road – whose schoolgirl babysitter had to be home very early – left after the gooseberry fool. The Stephenses departed soon afterwards after just one hurried cup of coffee. This left the four of us sitting in the front room. Dicky had the hi-fi playing Chopin very quietly. Gloria asked Daphne if she could help with the washing up and, being told no, admired the primitive painting of Adam and Eve that was hanging over the fireplace. Daphne had "discovered" it in a fleamarket in Amsterdam. She was always pleased when someone admired it.

'A damn fine meal, darling,' said Dicky as his wife brought the second pot of coffee and chocolate-covered after-dinner mints. His voice was a fruity imitation of Silas Gaunt, one of the old-tuners of the department. He pushed his cup forward for a refill.

Daphne glanced at him, smiled nervously and poured the hot coffee on to the polished table. I had the feeling that these dinners were nightmares for Daphne. She had been a pushy, self-confident career girl when Dicky married her, but she knew her limitations as a cook and she knew how critical Dicky (onetime President of Oxford University Wine and Food Society) Cruyer could be when he was playing host to people he worked with. Sometimes she seemed physically frightened of Dicky and I knew enough about his sudden fits of bad temper to sympathize.

After a competition to see who could use the most Kleenex tissues to clean up the spilled coffee – which Daphne won by using a large handful of them to conceal and smuggle out of the room a box of very wet cigars – Gloria said, 'You have such a beautiful house, Mrs Cruyer.'

'Daphne. Daphne, for God's sake. It's a pigsty,' said Daphne with modest self-confidence. 'Sometimes it gets me down.'

I looked round to see any sign of the furniture that Daphne had stored in there but it had all been removed. Poor Daphne. Their cars were parked in the street. I suppose all the furniture was now stacked in the garage.

'And lovely to see you both,' said Dicky, passing coffee to Gloria. Dicky put a lot of meaning into the word 'both'; it was almost carnal. She smiled nervously at Dicky and then looked at me. 'Yes,' said Dicky, passing a cup of coffee to me, 'Bernard has talked about you so much.'

'When?' said Gloria. She was no fool. She guessed immediately what was behind Dicky's remarks.

'When we were in Mexico,' said Dicky.

'Mexico City,' I said.

'They call it Mexico,' said Dicky.

'I know,' said Gloria, as if her mind was on other things. 'My mother and father went there two years ago, on a package holiday. They brought back a lot of home movies. That's my father's hobby. It looked awful.' She turned to me and smiled; sweet smile but cold eyes. 'I didn't know you were talking about me when you were in Mexico, Bernard,' she said.

I drank some of my coffee.

Gloria turned her attention to Daphne. 'As long as I don't have to go back to working in Registry, Mrs Cruyer,' she said. 'It's absolute hell.' Daphne nodded. It was brilliant of her to say it to Daphne. Had she said it to Dicky or to me, I think Daphne would have made sure Gloria went back into Registry the following morning. 'Couldn't you ask your husband to let me work somewhere else?'

Daphne looked uncertain. She said, 'I'm sure he'll do what he can, Gloria. Won't you, Dicky?'

'Of course I will,' said Dicky. 'She can work upstairs. There's always extra work to do and I've had to ask Bret Rensselaer to share his secretary with one of the Deputy Desk people. Gloria could help my secretary and Bernard's secretary and do the occasional job for Bret.'

So Dicky was fighting back. Good old Dicky. Share his secretary; that should make Bret retire to a neutral corner and shake the tears from his eyes.

'That would be wonderful, Mr Cruyer,' said Gloria, but she smiled at Daphne. It was becoming clear to me that Gloria had a great career ahead of her. What was that joke about Hungarians going into a revolving door behind you, and coming out ahead of you.

'We're all one happy family in Dicky's department,' I said.

Dicky smiled at me scornfully.

'But we'd better be moving along,' I said. And to meet Dicky's gaze I added, 'Gloria has left her clothes at my place.'

'Oh, doesn't that sound awful,' said Gloria. 'Bernard let me change at his house. My parents live too far away for me to go home to change.'

When we'd said our goodnights and were in my old Ford, Gloria said, 'What nice people they are.'

'Yes,' I said.

'Mr Cruyer is a very interesting man,' she said.

'Do you think so?'

'Don't you?' she said, as if worried that she'd said the wrong thing.

'Very interesting,' I said. 'But I was surprised you got on to that so quickly.'

'He was at Balliol,' she said wistfully. 'All the very brightest people go to Balliol.'

'That's true,' I said.

'Where did you go to, Bernard?'

'You can call me Mr Samson if you like,' I said. 'I didn't go anywhere. I left school when I was sixteen and started work.'

'Not for the department?'

'Sort of,' I said.

'You can't take the Civil Service exam at sixteen.'

'It all happened in a foreign country,' I said. 'My father was the Berlin Resident. I grew up in Berlin. I speak Berlin German like a native. I know the town. It was natural that I should start working for the department. The paperwork was all done afterwards. I never took the selection board.' It sounded more defensive than I had intended it should.

'I got five A levels,' said Gloria proudly. Gone was the femme fatale; all of a sudden she was the sixth-form schoolgirl running home with her school report.

'Here we are,' I said. 'Do you want to come inside and have a drink?'

To my surprise she tilted her head back until it was on my shoulder. I could smell her perfume and the warmth of her body. She said, 'I don't want this evening to end.'

'We'll keep it going as long as possible,' I said. 'Come and have a drink.'

She smiled lazily. She hadn't had much wine or I might have suspected that she was drunk. She put her hand on my arm and turned her face to me. I kissed her on the forehead and opened the door. 'Come along, then.' She giggled and got out of the car. As she slid from the seat her skirt rode up to expose a lot of leg. She tugged at it and smiled modestly.

Once inside the house she sat down on the sofa and again said what a wonderful evening it had been. 'Brandy?' I said. 'Liqueur? Scotch and soda?'

'A very tiny brandy,' she said. 'But I'll miss my last train if we don't go very soon.' I poured two huge Martell brandies and sat down next to her.

'Will your parents worry?' I gave her a decorous kiss on the cheek. 'If you miss your train, would they really worry?'

'Fm a big girl now,' she said.

'You are indeed, Gloria,' I said admiringly. 'You're a wonderful girl.' I put my arm round her and pulled her close. She was soft and warm and big. She was just what I wanted.

'What were you saying about me when you were in Mexico City?' Her voice was dreamy and softened by the way she was nibbling my ear.

'Mexico. You heard what Dicky said. They always call it Mexico.'

She murmured, 'Did you bet Dicky Cruyer that you'd get me into bed?'

'Of course not,' I said.

'You said you'd already had me in bed? Ummm?'

'Good Lord, no,' I said. 'We were talking about staffing. We weren't talking about any one member of the staff in particular. We were talking about the office… the workload.'

She nuzzled her face against my ear. 'You're a terrible liar, Bernard. Did anyone ever tell you that? You are a completely hopeless liar. How did you ever survive as a secret agent?' She was kissing my cheek now. As I hugged her she murmured, 'Admit it, you told Dicky we were lovers.' As she said it she turned her head to offer me her lips and we kissed. When she broke away she purred, 'You did, didn't you?'

'I might have said something that gave him the wrong impression,' I admitted. 'You can see what Dicky's like.'

She kissed me again. 'I must go home,' she said.

'Must you?'

'I must. My parents might worry.'

'You're a big girl now,' I reminded her. But she pushed me away and got to her feet. 'Perhaps some other time,' she said. She was alert now, and I could see she had decided to leave. 'I'll go upstairs and get my bag. But you…' She took me by the hand and pulled me to the front door. 'You will go out and start the car and take me to the station.'

When I showed little inclination to do this, she marched upstairs to get the clothes she'd left there and, over her shoulder, said, 'If I miss my train at Waterloo you'll have to drive me all the way to Epsom, Mr Samson. And that's a miserable drive at this time of night. And my parents always wait up to see who I've been with. I hate to make them angry.'

'Okay, Gloria,' I said. 'You talked me round.' I didn't relish facing the wrath of a Hungarian dentist in the small hours of the morning.

I took her to Waterloo Station in time to catch her train and I returned to my lonely bed.

It was only next morning that I discovered that she'd used the scissors from the bathroom cupboard to cut all my underpants in two. And it was only when daylight came that I could see that she'd written 'You are a bastard Mr Samson' in lipstick on the bedroom window. I spent ages removing the lipstick marks, and hiding my pieces of underwear, before Mrs Dias the cleaning lady arrived. I was not in a hurry to repeat that experience with Gloria. It seemed as if there might be something of deep psychological significance about the retribution she'd wreaked upon my linen for what seemed to me a harmless little joke.

12

'That bloody Werner has been seeing Stinnes,' said Dicky. He was pacing up and down chewing at the nail of his little finger. It was a sign that he was agitated. He was often agitated lately. Sometimes I wondered that Dicky had any nails left.

'So I hear,' I said calmly.

'Ah,' said Dicky. 'I thought so. Have you been going behind my back again?'

I salaamed; a low bow in a gesture of placation, 'Oh, master. I hear this only from Harrington sahib.'

'Cut out the clowning,' said Dicky. He sat down behind his huge rosewood table. He didn't have a real desk in his office; just a few fine pieces of antique furniture including this rosewood table that he used as a desk, a Charles Eames chair for him to sprawl in, and a couple of easy chairs for visitors. It was big room with two windows facing across the park. At one time he'd shared this room with his secretary, but once he'd annexed the office next door for her he spread himself.

'No one tells me anything,' said Dicky. He was sitting on his hard little chair, legs and knees pressed together and arms folded tight across his chest. It was an illustration from a textbook that tells you how to deal with sulking children. 'Bret's determined to take over my job. Now I suppose he's going to cut off all my communications with my stations.'

'Werner Volkmann doesn't officially work for the department. You wouldn't give him any money in Mexico City. You remember I asked you, and you said over your dead body.'

'He's got no right to have meetings with Stinnes without keeping me informed.'

'He can't have had many meetings in Berlin,' I said. 'He's only been back there five minutes.'

'He should have asked permission,' said Dicky.

'Werner doesn't owe us anything; we owe him.'

'Who owes him?' said Dicky con tenuously.

'The department owes him. Werner located Stinnes for us and then you wouldn't okay a payment. What can you expect?'

'So your pal Werner is out to teach us a lesson. Is that his game?'

I sank down deep in Dicky's Charles Eames armchair; it was very relaxing. Little wonder Dicky never got any work done. 'Werner is one of those strange people who like to work in intelligence. He makes a good living from his banking activities but he wants to work for us. You put Werner back on the payroll and he'd be the most enthusiastic agent on your books. Give him a little money and even his wife would start getting interested.'

'She's mercenary. That Zena is very mercenary.'

So even Dicky had noticed. 'Yes, she is,' I said. 'But if they both are seeing Stinnes, my advice is to keep her sweet.'

Dicky grunted and continued biting his nail.

'Zena keeps her ears and eyes open. And Stinnes seems to like her. She might be able to guess what's in his mind before anyone else does.'

Dicky pouted. He was always like this about approving extra payments to any field agents. Normally I would have arranged any discussion about money for some day when Dicky was in one of the upward phases of his manic lifestyle. 'If Werner Volkmann makes a complete cock-up of everything, and he's not on the payroll, I can disown him,' explained Dicky, who tackled every task by deciding how he'd extricate himself from it if disaster ensued.

'I'll take personal responsibility for him,' I said.

Dicky brightened at the idea of that. 'That might be a way of doing it,' he said. The wall behind Dicky was almost completely covered with framed photos of Dicky smiling and shaking hands with important people. This form of self-advertisement, more usually found in the offices of extrovert American film producers, was considered bad form when Dicky first began his collection. But Dicky had made it into a prank, a droll collegiate form of fun, so that now he was able to have his joke and eat it too. One of the photos showed Dicky in Calcutta, while on a tour with Sir Henry Clevemore, the Director-General. It was a large colour photo in a gold frame. The two men were standing in front of a stall displaying crude lithographic posters. By looking closely you could recognize portraits of John Lennon, Napoleon, Marilyn Monroe, Lenin and John F. Kennedy. Somehow I always thought of Dicky as that young man in the photo, smiling at his boss amid a galaxy of successful people. 'I've told Berlin that I want Werner over here immediately. He'll be on the morning plane. I've sent a car to the airport so he will be here about three. We'll sit him down and find out what the hell it's all about. Okay, Bernard?'

'I hope you'll start off by offering him a proper contract,' I said.

'He's not your employee. He can just tell you to get stuffed and phone his lawyer.'

Dicky bit his lip. 'We've just been through all that. You said you'd take responsibility for him.'

'Then let me offer him a proper contract,' I said. Dicky looked doubtful. I said, 'Distancing yourself from Werner in case everything goes wrong might be sound reasoning. But don't distance yourself from him so far that he's out of sight. Don't distance yourself so far from Werner that you'll get no credit if everything goes well.'

Dicky took out a handkerchief and blew his nose. 'I'm getting a cold,' he said woefully. 'It's coming back here after the hot weather in Mexico.'

I nodded. I recognized the signs. When Dicky displayed the symptoms of the common cold it was usually because he was expecting some work he couldn't handle, or questions he didn't want to answer. 'Let me see Werner,' I said. 'Let me draft a contract. Don't bring him up here to the office. Tell me what you want him to do and I'll keep you in touch with him. Run him through me. Then you'll have the best of both worlds.'

'Very well,' said Dicky. He blew his nose again, trying to conceal his relief behind his big white handkerchief.

'But I'll need money,' I said. 'Not a handful of small change; ten grand at least, Dicky.'

'Ten grand?'

'It's only money, Dicky.'

'You're irresponsible, Bernard. Two thousand maybe, not ten.'

'It's not your money, Dicky.'

'That's just the sort of thing I'd expect you to say,' said Dicky. 'You think the department has money to burn.'

'Money is a part of our armoury,' I said. 'It's what we use to do our job. We can conserve the department's money by sitting on our arses and staring into space.'

'I knew you'd have an answer,' said Dicky.

I nodded. I knew it was an answer which Dicky would be noting down for future use the next time the cashier's office queried Dicky's profligate expense accounts.

'Very well then, ten thousand. On account, mind you. I shall want every penny of it accounted for.'

'I think Werner should go over into East Berlin and see what he can find out about Stinnes on his home ground.'

Dicky took his little finger and bit into the nail with a dedication that made our conversation a secondary matter. 'Dangerous,' said Dicky between nibbles. 'Dangerous for all concerned.'

'Let Werner be the judge of that. I won't force him to go.'

'No, you'll just give him the money, and tell him he's getting a contract. And then you'll ask him if he wants to go over there. You're a ruthless bastard, Bernard. I thought Werner was your friend.'

'He is my friend. Werner won't go unless he thinks he can do it without getting into trouble.' But was it true, I wondered? Was I really planning to manipulate Werner in such a cynical way? If so, would I even have realized it without Dicky's rejoinder?

'Ten thousand pounds,' mused Dicky. 'Couldn't I use a windfall like that. I don't know how I'm going to afford the boys' school fees next year. I just had a long letter from the headmaster. I don't blame the school; their expenses are rocketing.'

'The government say that inflation is down again,' I said. I wondered what Dicky would say if he got to hear that I was getting a supplementary 'Boarding School Allowance' and the money for the nanny.

'What do the bloody politicians care?' said Dicky. 'The first thing those bastards do when they get into office is to vote themselves some astronomical rise in salaries and allowances.'

'Yes,' I said. 'To the barricades.' So discontent was running through the ranks of Whitehall, despite index-linked pensions and all the rest of it.

'Yes,' said Dicky. 'Well, I daresay you have your own financial worries.'

'Yes, Dicky. I do.'

'So where shall I tell the driver to dump Werner when he brings him from the airport? You say you don't want to see him up here. And if he's in and out of the East all the time it's just as well he stays at arm's length.'

'Shall I tell your secretary to type out a chit for the money?'

'Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,' said Dicky irritably. 'I said yes. I'm not going to go back on my promise to your precious Werner. Get the chit and I'll sign it.'

I went back to my office with the chit. I wouldn't put it past Dicky to retrieve the signed form from his secretary's tray and start having second thoughts about it. My secretary had gone to early lunch but Gloria Kent was there. I had the feeling that she was slowing down on the filing so she could make sure she stayed upstairs.

'Take this money order along to the cashier's office. Tell them I want a cheque made out to cash. And I want it before lunch.'

'The cashier's office is awfully busy, Bernard,' she said.

'Stay there until you get it. And make yourself a nuisance while you're waiting.'

'How do I do that?' said Gloria.

'Talk to them,' I suggested. 'Or, better still, read all the paperwork you can find, and comment on what payments are going out to whom. That always makes them jumpy.'

'I'm never sure when you are joking,' said Gloria.'

'I never joke about money,' I said.

No sooner had she gone down the corridor than my phone rang. It was the operator telling me there was an outside call from Mrs Kozinski. I was always puzzled in the same way when I heard that name Kozinski. I never thought of Fiona's sister as being Mrs Kozinski, and I certainly never thought of dear old George, my.brother-in-law, with his cockney accent and his terrible jokes, as George Kozinski.

'Bernard here.'

'Oh, Bernard, I've been trying to get you for ages. Your people there guard you so well, darling. How I wish I had such suspicious guardians looking after me. It's like trying to get through to Buckingham Palace. Worse, in fact, because George has several customers in the royal household and I've seen him get through to them in no time at all.' It was the breathless syntax of the gossip column.

'How are you, Tessa?' So it was my amazing, sexy, scatterbrained, wanton sister-in-law. 'Is anything wrong?'

'Nothing I could possibly talk about over the telephone, darling,' she said.

'Oh, really,' I said, wondering if the call was being monitored by Internal Security. After everything that Frank Harrington had told me, it would have been very stupid of me to imagine I was not under some sort of surveillance, however perfunctory.

'Bernard. Are you free for lunch? Today, I mean. Right now, in fact. If you have an appointment, change it. I must see you, darling.' She was able to say this with strong emphasis upon each phrase and yet not convey any note of real urgency. I had the feeling that even if her house was on fire, Tessa would shout a stylish 'fire' in a manner that sounded more fashionable than desperate.

'I'm free for lunch.'

'Super.'

'Where would you like to go?' I knew that Tessa had always got some place she wanted to go to for lunch. Too many times I'd heard her acerbic descriptions of inadequate lunches in unfashionable places.

'Oh.' Only the English middle class have the gliding diphthong that makes them able to say 'Oh' like that. Tessa could make 'Oh' into a Bach cantata. Having had time to think, she said, 'I'm too bored with all these frightfully twee little restaurants run by young male couples who've been to Bocuse on holiday. What about the Savoy, darling? When you get right down to it, it's the only place in London with any real class. Everywhere is full of advertising people these days.'

'I'll see if I can get a table,' I promised.

'The Restaurant, darling, not the Grill. I never see any of my friends when I go to the Grill. Shall we say one o'clock? When you phone, ask for the chef, Mr Edelmann. George knows him awfully well. Mention George.'

'Is it just social, Tessa? Or is there really something special?'

'I had dinner with Daddy last night, Bernard. I must talk to you. It's about you-know-who and the children, darling. I heard about your visit to Leith Hill.'

'Yes, David wanted to see me.'

'I know all about it. We'll have a lovely lunch and we'll talk about everything. There's so much to tell you, Bernard. It seems ages since we last had a proper talk together.'

'And George is well?'

'George is always well when he's making money, darling. You know that.'

'I'm glad to hear he's making money,' I said.

'He has the Midas touch, darling. We've got an apartment in Mayfair now. Did you know that? No, of course you didn't. The change-of-address cards don't go out until next week. You'll love it; it's adorable. And so central.'

'We'll talk about it over lunch,' I said as I spied Dicky coming in.

'Savoy Restaurant, one o'clock sharp,' said Tessa. She was muddle-headed and vague about most things, but she was making sure there would be no mistake about our lunch. I suppose anyone who had the number of illicit love affairs and assignations that Tessa enjoyed would have to be methodical and precise about appointments.

'See you there,' I said.

'Who was that?' said Dicky.

I felt like saying it was none of his damn business but I answered him truthfully. 'Tessa Kozinski,' I said. 'My sister-in-law.'

'Oh,' said Dicky. As I understood it from Fiona, Tessa had had a brief mad affair with Dicky. I watched his face and decided it was probably true. 'I've met her. She's a nice little woman.'

Nice little woman was not the description that usually came to mind when a man met Tessa Kozinski. 'Some people think she's a sex bomb,' I said.

'I wouldn't say that,' said Dicky very coolly.

'Was there something you wanted?'

'Werner. Where shall I send him?'

'Send him along to the Savoy Restaurant,' I said. 'I'm lunching there with my sister-in-law.'

'I thought you were short of money,' said Dicky.

'Werner is joining me for coffee,' I said.

'Oh no you don't,' said Dicky. 'You're not going to charge that lunch. It's not on.'

'The Restaurant,' I said. 'Not the Grill. Tessa never sees any of her friends in the Grill.'

Tessa arrived looking magnificent. She was thirty-three years old but she looked ten years younger than that. Whatever Tessa was doing, it seemed to be good for her. She had wonderful skin and light fair hair that she wore long so that it broke over her shoulders. George's income, to say nothing of the allowance she got from her father, was to be seen in every expensive stitch of the dark-blue Chanel suit, the Hermes handbag and Charles Jourdan shoes. Even the most blase waiter turned his head to watch her as she kissed me with extravagant hugs and sighs before sitting down.

She kicked off a shoe under the table and swore softly as she rubbed her foot. 'What a wonderful table you've got for us. With that lovely view of the river. They must know you.'

'No,' I said truthfully. 'I mentioned George's name as you suggested.'

She smiled dutifully as at an oft-repeated joke. She waved away the menu without looking at it and ordered an Ogen melon and a grilled sole with a small mixed salad. When she saw me looking down the wine list she said, 'Would you think me awful if I asked you to order a bottle of Bollinger, darling? My doctor has told me to avoid red wines and all other sorts of booze.'

'A bottle of Bollinger,' I told the waiter.

'I saw David,' she said. She rubbed her foot again. 'He's an absolute bastard, isn't he?'

'We've never got along very well together,' I said.

'He's a bastard. You know he is. And now he's trying to get the children. I hope you told him to go straight to hell.'

'I wouldn't like him to have the children,' I said.

'I wouldn't allow the old bastard to run a zoo,' said Tessa. 'He ruined my life and I blame him for what happened to Fiona.'

'Do you?'

'Well, don't they say all these spies and traitors are just reacting to the way they hate their parents?'

'It is a popular theory,' I said.

'And my father is living evidence of the truth of it. Who could imagine poor old Fi working for the rotten commies unless she'd been driven to it by David?'

'I'm keeping the children with me,' I said. 'It will be difficult to afford it, but no more difficult than it was for my father.'

'Good for you, Bernie. I was hoping you'd say that, because I'm going to help you, if you'll let me.' She looked at me with a stern expression that I found so appealing. It was impossible not to compare her with the diamond-hard Zena. But despite her sophisticated lifestyle and smart back-chat Tessa was insecure. Sometimes I wondered if her casual love affairs were attempts to reassure herself, just as some people use drink or mirrors. I'd always had a weak spot for her, no matter how exasperating she was. She was shallow, but she was spontaneously generous. I'd find it easy to fall in love with her but I was determined not to. She smiled demurely, and then looked out of the window. The River Thames was high, the water gleaming like oil. Against the current, a string of barges, piled high with rubbish, moved very slowly and were devoured piecemeal by an arch of Waterloo Bridge.

'I'll let you, Tessa. I can use any help I can get.'

'I phoned your mother. She worries about you.'

'Mothers always worry,' I said.

'She said the children are coming back to Duke Street. Nanny is still with them, that's one good thing. She's been wonderful, that girl. I didn't think she had it in her. It's probably very uncomfortable for her, cramped up in that little house of your mother's. Anyway I thought I'd come over to Duke Street with my cleaning woman and get everything ready for them. Okay?'

'It's nice of you, Tessa. But I'm sure it will be all right.'

'That's because you're a man and you've got no idea of what has to be done in a house when two young children are moving in. They'll need the rooms aired, clean clothes ready, beds made, food prepared, groceries in the cupboard and some cooked meals in the freezer.'

'I suppose you're right,' I said.

'Well, of course I'm right, darling. You don't think all these things get done by magic, do you?'

'I've got Mrs Dias,' I explained.

'Mrs Dias,' said Tessa. She laughed, drank some champagne, eyed the waiter and pointed to our glasses to get more. Then she laughed again at the thought of Mrs Dias. 'Mrs Dias, darling, is about as much use as a spare whatnot at a wedding, if you know what I mean.'

'I know what you mean,' I said. 'But Fiona always managed with Mrs Dias.'

'Because Fiona always did half the housework herself.'

'Did she? I didn't know that.'

'Of course you didn't. Men don't know anything. But the fact remains that you'll have to get the house properly organized if you are to hang on to your children. It won't be easy, Bernard. But I'll do everything I can.'

'It's very kind of you, Tessa.'

'I'm determined that David won't get his hands on them.' The waiter brought the food. Tessa held up her glass and said, 'Good luck, Bernard.' Leaning across the table to me, she said, 'Champagne – real French champagne – is not fattening. I'm going to this perfectly wonderful doctor who's put me on a diet.'

'I'm glad to hear the wonderful news about champagne,' I said. 'How fattening is cheap red Spanish plonk?'

'Don't start all that working-class-boy-makes-good stuff. I've heard it all before. Now let's get this straight; I'll send a car to bring your nanny and the children from your mother's house on Saturday morning. George can always find a car from one of the showrooms, and a spare driver.'

'Thanks,' I said. 'Was there something else you wanted to talk to me about?'

'No, no, no,' she said. 'Just about the house. I'll get it in some sort of order. Give me your door key. I know you keep a spare one in your office desk.'

'Is there anything you don't know?' I said.

She looked up and reached across the table to touch the back of my hand with her outstretched finger. Her touch made me shiver. 'Quite a lot of things I don't know, Bernard.' she said. 'But all in good time, eh?'

13

Werner did not arrive at three o'clock. He did not get Dicky's message until after lunch. The plane on which he was due to fly out of Berlin-Tegel had some mechanical malfunction. Since the old agreements specify that German airliners may not use the airlanes between Berlin and West Germany, there was a delay while another British Airways plane was brought into service. When eventually the plane did arrive in London, Werner was not aboard.

Werner did not arrive the following day. I phoned his apartment in Berlin-Dahlem but the phone was unanswered.

By the third day Dicky was uttering threats and dark suspicions. 'But the Berlin office sent a car,' said Dicky plaintively. 'And arranged his air ticket, and had one hundred pounds in sterling left with the driver. Where the hell has the bloody man gone?'

'There's probably a good explanation,' I said.

'It had better be a bloody show-stopper,' said Dicky. 'Now even the Deputy D-G has started asking about Stinnes. What am I supposed to say? Tell me that, will you?' It was not a rhetorical question; he stared at me and waited for an answer. When none came he pulled out his handkerchief and dabbed his eyes. He stood for a moment, breathing deeply as if preparing to sneeze, and then finally blew his nose. 'I still haven't shaken off that cold,' he said.

'A couple of days at home might be the best way of curing it,' I said.

He shot me a suspicious glance and then said, 'It might come to that. I'm beginning to think I might be infectious.'

'Give Werner until the weekend,' I said. 'Then perhaps we should put out some sort of alert or a contact string to find out where he is.'

'Did you phone Frank Harrington?'

'Yes, but he's only just got back to Berlin. And Werner isn't one of his agents. He has no contact number for Werner.'

'Only for Zena?' said Dicky sarcastically. Such caustic remarks about senior staff – let alone their misconduct – were most unusual. I began to wonder if Dicky was running a fever.

Werner phoned me that evening, just as I was about to leave the office. The whole floor was almost empty; Dicky had gone home, Gloria Kent had gone home, my secretary had gone home. The switchboard staff had already connected the outside lines to the duty office but luckily Werner came through on my private phone. 'Where the hell have you been?' I asked him angrily. 'I've had Dicky kicking my arse all round the office about you.'

'I'm sorry,' said Werner. He could be mournful without sounding apologetic. 'But you'd better get over here right away.'

'Where are you? Berlin?'

'No, I'm in England. I'm in that old safe house you used to use… the one near the sea at Bosham.'

'Chichester? What are you doing there, Werner? Dicky will be furious.'

'I can't talk. I'm using a call phone in a pub. There is someone waiting. I'll meet you at the house.'

'It's about seventy miserable miles, Werner. I hate that road. It will take an hour or more.'

'See you then. You remember how to find it?'

'I'll see you there,' I said without enthusiasm.

Bosham, which the English – as a part of their chronic conspiracy to baffle foreigners – pronounce 'Bozzam', is a collection of cottages, old and new, crowded on to a peninsula between two tidal creeks that give on to inland waters, and eventually to the Channel. Here are sailing boats of every shape and size, and sailing schools and sailing clubs. And here are pubs crammed with nautical junk, and clocks that chime ships' bells at closing time. And noisy men in sailor's jerseys who tow their boats behind their cars.

The safe house was not too far from Bosham's little church. It was a neat little 'two up and two down' with a freshly painted weather-boarded front, and bright orange roof-tiles. Even in the years of depressed property prices such little weekend cottages with their view of the boats, and sometimes even a glimpse of the water between them, had kept their value.

Summer had gone but it had been a fine day for those lucky enough to spend it sailing. But now there was an offshore wind and when I arrived and got out of my car the air was chilly and I needed the coat I'd thrown on to the back seat. It was twilight when I arrived. The yellow lights of the houses were reflected in the water and there were still people on some of the boats, folding their sails and trying to prolong the perfect day. Werner was waiting for me, sitting at the wheel of a Rover 2000 that was parked close up against the house. He opened the car door and I got in beside him.

'What's the story, Werner?'

'A black girl… woman, I should say. West Indian. Was married to an American airman stationed in Germany. She's divorced. Lives in Munich; very active political worker, very vocal communist. Then two years ago she became very quiet and very respectable. You know what I mean?'

'She was recruited by the KGB?'

'It looks that way. Last week she came to Berlin for a briefing. I followed Stinnes one evening after I'd noticed him looking at his watch all through dinner. Then I followed her. She came here.' Werner smiled. He was a boy scout. He loved the whole business of espionage, as other men are obsessed with golf, women or stamp collections.

'I believe we met,' I said.

'Came here,' said Werner.

'To England. Yes, I know.'

'Came here,' said Werner. He had the car keys in his hand, and now he tapped them against the steering wheel to emphasize his words. 'To this house.'

'How is that possible? This is a departmental safe house.'

'I know,' said Werner. 'I followed her here and I recognized it. You sent me here. It was a long time ago. I brought a parcel of documents for someone being held here.'

'Is she in there now?'

'No, she's gone.'

'Have you tried to get in?'

'I've been inside. I came out again. There's a body upstairs.'

The girl?'

'It looked like a man. I couldn't find the main switch for the electricity. You can't see much with only a flashlight.'

'What sort of body?'

'The shutters were closed so there was no daylight and I didn't want to trample through the house leaving marks everywhere.'

'We'd better take a look,' I said. 'How did you get in before?'

'Kitchen window. It's very messy, Bernard. Really messy. Blood on the floor. I've left footmarks, I'm afraid. Blood on the floor. Blood on the walls. Blood on the ceiling.'

'What happened? Do you have an idea?'

'Looks like the body's been there a couple of days. Gun-shot wound. High-velocity head shot. You know what happens.'

'We'd better take a look,' I said. I got out of the car. From somewhere near by I could hear merry holiday-makers leaving the pub, their voices raised in song.

As Werner had already found, it was not difficult to get the kitchen window open, but my forced entry was not the demonstration of expertise that I'd intended. Werner did not comment on the way my shoes left mud in the sink and my elbow knocked a teacup to the floor, and for that restraint I was grateful to him.

I let Werner in through the front door and went to the cupboard under the stairs to find the fuse box and put the lights on. Nothing much had changed since I'd last visited the house. We'd had an East German scientist there for a long debriefing session. I'd taken my turn on the rota with him. To alleviate the misery of his internment he'd been allowed some sailing trips. The house brought back happy memories for me. But since that time two Russian air-force officers had been held here. One of them had eventually returned to the USSR. Despite the way in which all such internees were brought here in a closed vehicle, there had been fears about the address being compromised.

Officially the house had not been used for such defectors for some years but, such was the dogged plod of departmental housekeeping, all the arrangements about its upkeep had obviously continued. Not only was the electricity still connected and paid for; the house was clean and tidy. There were signs of use: crockery on the draining board and fresh groceries in evidence on the shelf.

I went upstairs to the front bedroom first. I opened the doors and switched on the light. It was just as messy as Werner had described. The pale-green floral wallpaper was spattered with blood, there was more on the ceiling and a sticky pool of it on the floor. Exposure to the air had discoloured the blood so that it was no longer bright red but brownish and in places almost black.

It was small room, with a single bed made up with loose covers and cushions to look like a sofa. In the corner there was a dressing table with a large mirror in which was reflected the body of a man sprawled across the cheap Indian carpet. He had been thrown forward from a small kitchen chair in which he'd been sitting. The chair was on its side; its back-rest showed bare white wood where a bullet had torn a large splinter from it.

'Do you recognize him?'

'Yes,' I said. 'It's one of our people, a probationer. A bright kid. His name is Julian MacKenzie.' The light shone on a circular disc of plastic and I picked it up from the floor. It was a watch glass with a scratch on it. I recognized it as the one from my old Omega. After it stopped I'd put the watch and the crystal in an envelope and never taken it for repair. I wondered who had found it and where.

'Did you know he was coming here?' Werner asked.

I switched off the light and pulled the door closed on the dead boy. I looked into the next room. It was another bedroom, with another single bed. 'Single bed,' I said, trying to keep my mind from thinking about MacKenzie's body. 'No one could believe that this was a weekend cottage. Weekend cottages are always crammed with beds.'

There was a dressing table in the corner, this time littered with torn pieces of wrappers, some face powder and the smudge marks of spilled liquids. There was a large plastic box on the bed. I opened it carefully and found a set of electric hair-curlers. I closed the lid again and wiped the places I'd touched. A waste-paper basket held a collection of plastic bottles: shampoo, moisturizing cream, hair conditioner, hair colouring and a lot of screwed-up tissues and tufts of cotton wool. There was more evidence of occupation in the bathroom: long hairs in the bath where someone – probably a woman -had washed her hair, and towels draped unfolded on the rack so that they would dry easily.

'That's right,' said Werner. 'It's not like a weekend cottage; it's like a safe house.' He followed me downstairs. I looked round the kitchen. 'Did you discover where the booze is kept when you first got in?'

'There's no booze.'

'Don't be idiotic, Werner. There is always booze in a safe house.'

'There's a bottle of something in the refrigerator.' Werner took a chair and sat astraddle it, leaning his elbow on the chairback, his hand propped under his wide jaw. He watched me, his black eyes glowering under those bushy black eyebrows, and his forehead wrinkled in a disapproving frown. Sometimes I didn't notice what a huge bear of a man he was, but now, his shoulders hunched and his feet spread wide apart, he looked almost like a Sumo wrestler.

He stared at me while I found some glasses in a cabinet and got the drink – a large square-shaped green bottle of Bokma oude jenever – from the refrigerator. It had no doubt come from some sailing trip to the Dutch coast. Still standing, I poured some for myself and one for Werner. He waved it away at first, but when I drank some of mine he picked it up and sniffed it suspiciously before sipping some and pulling a face.

'Poor MacKenzie,' I said. I didn't sit down with him. I went round the room with bottle and glass in my hands, looking at all the pictures, the fittings and the furniture, remembering the time I'd spent here.

'A probationer, was he? He hadn't learned when to be afraid.'

'The black girl was dressed as a nurse. She got a ride in my car. She said she was late for work. She pulled a hypodermic needle on me. The seat belt held me. I felt a bloody fool, Werner. But what could I do?'

'She must have slept in the second bedroom. There is a nurse's uniform in the wardrobe and a box of medical equipment including a couple of hypodermics and some drugs with labels that I don't understand.'

'She said she was from Jamaica. They probably chose her because she has a British passport.' I sat down and put my glass on the table with the bottle.

'Yes, I saw her go through immigration with UK passport holders.'

'But why this house, Werner? If she was a KGB agent, why this departmental safe house? They have their own places, houses we don't know about.'

Werner pulled a face to show me he didn't know the answer.

'I sent MacKenzie off to find her.'

'Looks like he found her,' said Werner.

'You followed the black girl here. What then?'

'I went back to London. Zena was in London, just for two days. I didn't want to leave her on her own. She frets when left alone.'

'You're a bloody wonderful agent, Werner.'

'I didn't know it was important,' said Werner. His flushed face and the anger in his voice were indications of embarrassment. 'How could I guess it was going to turn out like this?'

'But you came back. Then what?'

'The black girl's car had gone. I saw a Ford Fiesta parked down near the pub. It had a radio telephone. I recognized the fittings and the antenna.'

'MacKenzie. Yes. None of the senior staff have the standard radiotelephone fittings nowadays. It's too conspicuous.'

'I climbed in here. I found the body. I phoned you. End of story.'

'I appreciate it, Werner.'

'Smart boy, your MacKenzie. How did he get on to her? She's not easy to follow, Bernard. What did she do that led your boy right here?'

'I don't know, Werner.'

'And he didn't phone in to tell you what he was doing?'

'What are you trying to say, Werner?'

'Your MacKenzie was one of them, wasn't he? It's the only explanation that fits. He was a KGB employee. He told you nothing. He helped them do whatever they had to do, then the black girl silenced him.'

'It's a tempting theory, Werner. But I don't buy it. Not yet anyway. I'd need more than that to believe that MacKenzie was a KGB employee.'

'So how did he track them down? Was it just luck?'

'You saw the body upstairs, Werner. It's not pretty, is it? You and I have seen plenty of that sort of thing, but you went a bit green and I needed a drink. I don't see it as a woman's deed. She fires a gun; splashes a lot of blood. There are screams and cries and a man mortally wounded. She sees his death agonies. She fires again; more spurting blood. Then again. Then again.' I rubbed my face. 'No. I don't think a woman would do it that way.'

'Then perhaps you don't know much about women,' said Werner feelingly.

'Crime passionel, you mean. But this is not the case of a woman who surprises her lover in bed with her rival. This was cold-blooded murder. MacKenzie was seated on a chair in the middle of the room. No evidence of any sexual motive. The bed was not even rumpled.'

'If not the black woman, who?'

'It wasn't done by a woman. It was a man; men probably, a KGB hit team.'

'Killing one of their own people,' said Werner, resolutely holding to his theory.

'If the KGB had recruited MacKenzie at Cambridge and then he was able to get a job in the department, they'd be keeping him in deep cover and waiting for him to get a desk for himself. They wouldn't kill him.'

'So, if he wasn't a KGB agent, whatever secret did your MacKenzie discover that made it necessary to kill him?'

'MacKenzie was no great detective, Werner. He was just a sharp young kid with a brilliant academic record from Cambridge. He wasn't even an ex-copper; no investigative experience, no training, and he wasn't a natural the way you are a natural. He'd never be able to trace an experienced KGB agent to a safe house. He was lured here, Werner. Someone was providing him with clues he had to fall over.'

'Why?'

'It was our safe house, Werner. A closely guarded departmental secret. The KGB bastards wanted to show us how clever they are.'

'And murder your probationer to rub salt in?' Werner was not convinced. He drank some more gin, looking at it after he sipped it as if he thought it might be poisoned. 'Strange-flavoured stuff this…' He read the label. '… oude jenever. It's not like real schnapps.'

'Hollands; it's supposed to taste like that,' I said. 'It was used as a medicine when they first concocted it.'

'You'd have to be damned ill to need it,' said Werner, pushing it aside. 'A deliberate murder?'

'He was seated in that chair in the middle of the room, Werner, His executioner was behind him. The pistol held against the top of the spine. It's the way the Okhrana executed Bolshevik revolutionaries in the time of the Tsar. In the nineteen-twenties the Tcheka hunted down white Russian émigré's in Paris and Berlin. Some of them were killed in that fashion. In the Spanish Civil War, Stalin's NKVD went to Catalonia and executed dozens of Trotskyites like that.'

'But why would a KGB hit team be so theatrical? And what did the black girl come here to do?'

'She came to see me. Or, more accurately, she saw me when she came to London.'

'What did she come to see you about?'

I hesitated about my reply. I poured myself another shot of gin and drank some. I'd always liked the curious malty flavour of Hollands gin and now I welcomed the fiery path it blazed to my stomach.

'You'll have to tell me,' said Werner. 'We're both too deep into this one to hold back any secrets.'

'Fiona sent a message. She says she'll let me keep the children here for a year, but she wants me to prevent the Stinnes enrolment.'

'Prevent it?'

'Not encourage it.'

'Why? Did it really come from her, or is it a KGB move?'

'I don't know, Werner. I keep trying to put myself in her place. I keep trying to guess what she might do. She loves the children, Werner, but she'll want to impress her new masters. She's given her whole life to them, hasn't she, her career, her family, her marriage? She's given more of herself to Moscow than she ever gave to the children.'

'Stinnes is involved,' said Werner. 'The black girl was briefed by Stinnes. I saw them together.'

'Let's not jump to conclusions. Maybe Stinnes isn't told the whole plan. If they know he's seeing you when he comes West they might deliberately keep him in the dark.' I took off my glasses and cupped my hands over my eyes to spend a moment in the dark. I felt very tired. Even the prospect of a drive back to London was daunting. Surely the existence of this safe house must have been something that Fiona had revealed to them. What else had she told them, and what else might she tell them? MacKenzie was upstairs dead, but I still had trouble believing it. My stomach was knotted with tension, and even the drink didn't relax me, or remove from my mouth the rancid taste of fear.

A sudden noise outside made me jump. I got to my feet and listened, but it was only one of the revellers falling over a rubbish bin. I sat down again and sipped my drink. I closed my eyes for a moment. Sleep was what I needed. When I woke up it would all be different. MacKenzie would be alive, and Fiona would be at home with the children, waiting for me.

'You can't just sit here all night draining that bottle of gin, Bernard. You'll have to tell the department.'

'The trouble is, Werner, I didn't tell them about the black girl.'

'But you told MacKenzie to find her.'

'I kept it all unofficial.'

'You're a bloody fool, Beraie.' Werner had always believed that he could do my job better than I did it, and every now and again something happened to encourage him in that delusion. 'A bloody fool.'

'Now you tell me.'

'You make trouble for yourself. Why didn't you tell them?'

'I went into the office fully intending to. Then Bret started droning on, and Frank Harrington was there to play the heavy father. I just let it slide.'

'This is murder. A departmental employee, in a safe house, with KGB involvement. You can't let this one slide, Bernard.'

I looked at Werner. He'd described the situation concisely, and in just the way the KGB operation planners had no doubt seen it. Well, the only thing they didn't allow for is that I might avoid the consequences by keeping my mouth tightly shut. 'That's not all of it,' I said. 'The black girl made me drive out to London Airport. When I was there Fiona got into the back of the car. I couldn't get a look at her but it was her, no doubt of that. I'd recognize her voice anywhere. The stuff about the kids came from her direct. The black girl was with her. She heard what was said, so I suppose it was all KGB-approved.'

I expected Werner to be as astonished as I'd been but he took it very calmly. 'I guessed it might be something like that.'

'How did you guess?'

'You saw the electric hair-rollers upstairs. Rollers to change a hairstyle. There were a lot of cosmetics too. Cosmetics no black girl could use. And hair dye. When you didn't draw attention to them I realized that you knew there was another woman. It had to be Fiona. She came here to make her hair curly, and colour it so she wouldn't be recognized.'

'You're not just a pretty face, Werner,' I said with genuine admiration.

'You don't really imagine you're going to be able to prevent all this emerging from an investigation of MacKenzie's death?'

'I don't know, Werner. But I'll try.' Werner stared at me, trying to see if I was frightened. I was scared stiff but I did everything I could to conceal it.

I wished that Werner would change the subject, but he persisted. 'And when MacKenzie got here he'd be sure to recognize Fiona. That would be sufficient reason why he was killed. They didn't want him to report her. They wanted you to do it. Or maybe wanted you to not report her so that the eventual consequences would be worse for you.'

'Let's not get too subtle. The KGB are not noted for subtlety.'

'You'd better rethink that one,' said Werner. Tour wife is working for them now and she's rewriting the book.'

'Do you see evidence of that?'

'Bernie, she knows that she could never get you to defect, so she's not wasting any time trying. Instead she's doing the next best thing; she's persuading the department that you've already changed sides. In that way she will get you removed from Operations and maybe removed from the department completely.'

'Because the KGB see me as their most dangerous enemy?' I said sarcastically.

'No, because Fiona sees you as her most dangerous enemy. You know her better than anyone. You know how she thinks. You're the obstacle, the one person who is likely to understand what she gets up to.'

Perhaps Werner was right. Just as I was frightened of how Fiona could use all her knowledge of me against me, so I suppose she had the same fear of what I might do against her. The trouble was that, while our marriage had left her well aware of all my weaknesses, it had taught me only that she had none. I said, That's why I don't feel like reporting any of this to London Central. They'll say it's evidence of my being pressured and they'll keep asking me what I was under pressure about and eventually I'll find myself telling them about Fiona meeting me at the airport. And then I'll be suspended from duty pending investigations.' I put the cap on the gin bottle, wiped it clean of prints, then washed up the glasses and put them back. I wanted to be active; sitting there talking to Werner was making me twitchy. 'You can see this place is regularly maintained. Someone will find the body and report through the normal channels. Much better that way, Werner.'

But Werner was unrelenting. 'I'll do whatever you ask, Bernie. But I think you should go back to London Central and tell them everything.'

'Have you left any marks anywhere?'

'A few places. But I know which places.'

'Look at that,' I said, holding up the watch crystal. 'Some bastard planted it upstairs near the body so it would be found by the investigating officer.'

'I saw you pick it up. Yours, is it?'

I nodded and put the watch glass back into my pocket. 'Let's clean up and get out of here, Werner. Suppose we take the flight to Berlin tomorrow morning. Would that suit you? This will be a good time for me to be away from the office.'

Werner looked at me and nodded. I was frequently complaining of the way Dicky absented himself from the office at any sign of trouble. The way in which I was now running away from trouble offended Werner's sense of duty.

'What else?' said Werner suspiciously. 'I can see there's something more. You might as well tell me now.' He massaged his cheek as if trying to keep awake.

It was not easy to hide my thoughts from Werner. 'London Central want to put you back on their payroll. Ten thousand sterling on account; regular monthly payments plus expenses against signature. You know the score, Werner.'

The sloppy cement of Werner's face set into that inscrutable concrete expression he wore to prevent anyone discovering that he was happy. 'And?'

'They want you to take a short reconnaissance into the East and see what you can find out about Stinnes.'

'For instance?'

'His marriage; is it really on the rocks? What is his reputation? Was he really passed over for promotion or is that just a yarn?'

'Is that all?' said Werner with heavy sarcasm. His face was very mobile now, and he moved his lips to wet them, as if his mouth had gone suddenly dry at the thought of the risks. 'Any advice from London Central about how I should go about discovering all the intimate secrets of the KGB? This is not a US base on visitors' day. They don't have press officers over there, handing out typewritten releases and glossy photos you can reproduce without fee, and maps of the military installations in case visitors get lost.' He took a mouthful of the gin. Necessity had overcome his dislike of the flavour.

I couldn't argue with him. He knew more about the difficulties of such a job than I did, and we both knew infinitely more than those people at London Central who were going to sign the report and get the credit. 'Do what you can,' I said. 'Take the money and do what you can.'

'It won't be much,' said Werner.

'The money won't be much either,' I said. 'So don't do anything silly.' Werner emptied his glass and gave me another one of his deadpan faces. He knew I was frightened.

14

I drove back to London listening to Ingrid Haebler playing Mozart piano concertos. I turned the car's tape player up very loud as I tried to disentangle the thoughts and theories whirling endlessly in my brain. Had I been less tired, and less concerned with the death of MacKenzie, I might have taken reasonable precautions when entering my home. As it was, what should have been adequate warning for any man – the mortise unlocked and the letterbox flap still partly open after some hand had gripped the door to push it – did not register upon my thoughts. I walked through the front door and found all the downstairs lights burning.

I walked through the hall. There was no one to be seen in the front room so I pushed the door of the kitchen and stepped back. There was a figure lost in the gloom of the tiny pantry beyond. I touched the butt of the pistol in my pocket.

'Who's there?'

'Bernard darling. I wasn't sure if you were home or not.'

'Tessa. How did you get in?'

'You gave me a door key, Bernard, Surely you remember.'

'Of course.'

'I'm putting frozen soup and fish fingers into the freezer, my love. Your children are coming home tomorrow. Or have you forgotten that?' She spoke over her shoulder. I could see her more clearly now in the dark shadows of the pantry. Her long fair hair was falling over her face as she stretched forward to reach into the freezer, the dark pantry ceiling made a firmament by the glittering diamond rings on her fingers. And around her there was the swirling 'smoke' of frozen air.

'No,' I said. But I had forgotten.

'I spoke on the phone with your nanny. She's a good girl but she'll need food for them. You wouldn't want her to go out shopping and leave the children at home. And she won't want to drag them round the shops.'

'It's very kind of you, Tessa.'

She put the last packet into place and then closed the lid of the freezer chest with a loud thump. 'So what about a drink?' she said. She slapped her hands to remove the crystals of dry ice. She was dressed in a loose-fitting button-through dress of natural cotton, and under it a shiny pink blouse that went so well with her fair hair.

I looked at my watch. It was nearly midnight. 'What would you like, Tessa?'

'Did I see a bottle of champagne in the fridge? Or is that being kept for a tête-à-tête with the gorgeous Gloria?'

'News travels fast,' I said, taking off my coat and getting glasses and the bottle of champagne. I put the contents of the ice tray into the champagne bucket and put the bottle into it with water.

'It's so stylish to have a proper ice bucket,' said Tessa. 'Did I tell you that George bought a solid-silver one and someone swiped it.'

'Stole it? Who?'

'We never found out, darling. It was a party we had for car people. Some bastard stole the champagne bucket. I wondered if they knew it was solid silver or if they just took it for a lark. Oh, yes, I heard all about the exotic creature you took over there to dinner. I had coffee with Daphne.'

'Daphne Cruyer? I thought you and Daphne… That is, I thought…'

'Spit it out, Bernard darling. You mean you thought Daphne and I should be at each other's throats since I had a little fling with Dandy Dicky?'

'Yes,' I gave all my attention to the champagne cork. After some difficulty it opened with a bang and I spilled some before pouring.

'Daphne's not like that, darling. Daphne is a lovely person. I wouldn't have done it if I'd thought that Daphne would be hurt.'

'Wasn't she hurt?'

'Of course not. Daphne thinks it's all a most wonderful hoot.'

'Why would Daphne think it's a hoot for you to have an affair with Dicky?'

'An affair. How romantic. It wasn't an affair, darling. No one could have an affair with Dicky; he's having an imperishable love affair with himself. What woman could compete with Dicky's first and only love?'

'So what was it?' I passed her the glass.

'It was a whim. A caprice. A sudden fancy. It was all over in a couple of weeks or so.'

'Fiona said it lasted nearly three months.'

'Not at all.'

'Fiona had a good memory for that sort of thing. I'm sure it was three months.'

'Well, three months. Don't go on about it. Three months, how long is that? I can't believe Daphne worried. She knew I wasn't going to run off with him. Could you imagine me running off with Dicky? And now Daphne has him right under her thumb.'

'Does she?'

'Of course she does, darling. He's feeling as guilty as hell, and so he should. He can't do enough for Daphne nowadays; he even buys her flowers. Umm, that's delicious champagne. I told you my doctor has put me on a special diet – lots of champagne but no other sort of alcohol and no sugar or fat.' She turned the bottle so that she could read the lable. 'Bollinger, and vintage too. My very favourite champagne. How extravagant you are becoming. Is this something to do with Gloria?'

'I wish you'd shut up about Gloria,' I said. 'That bottle of Bollinger is the last bottle from the case you gave us as a present last Christmas.'

'How silly I am,' said Tessa. 'How too too embarrassing.'

'It was very kind of you, Tessa. And thank you for bringing the food for the children.' I held up the glass as if in toast, and then drank to her.

'But that's not everything,' said Tessa, who had a childlike need for praise. 'I've had their room cleaned, and brought some new toys, and bedlinen patterned with huge dragons breathing fire. Pillows too. You should see them, Bernard. I wish they made them adult-bed size. Dragons; I would love them on my bed, wouldn't you, darling?'

'Talking of bed…'

'Am I keeping you up, Bernard? You look tired. I'm sorry to come over here so late but I can't let my bridge partner down. We were playing until past eleven. And he's the one with the frozen-food wholesale place where I get all this stuff. He put it in the back of his car. It was all packed with dry ice. You needn't worry.'

'I'm not worrying.'

'Can I have a splash more of that champagne?' She poured it without waiting for a reply. 'Oh, there's lots. More for you? Then I really must go home.'

'Thanks, Tessa. Yes.'

We both drank and then suddenly, as if seeing me for the first time, she said, 'Bernard. Where have you been, darling? You look absolutely ghastly.'

'I've been working. What do you mean?'

She stared at me. 'You look positively ill, darling. You've changed. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it. In just a couple of days you've aged ten years, Bernard. Are you ill?'

'Easy does it, Tessa.'

'Seriously, my love. You look frightful. You haven't had an accident in the car? You haven't run over someone or something like that?'

'Of course not.'

'George had a bad accident a couple of years ago and I remember he went quite grey-haired overnight. And he looked as you do; green, darling. You look green and quite old.'

I picked up the champagne and said, 'If we're going to finish this bottle we might as well sit down and talk in comfort.' I led the way into the front room, switched on the lights and we sat down. I said, 'I'm just a bit tired, that's all.'

'I know. All this business with Fiona; it must be absolutely rotten for you. And now, with Daddy making himself an absolute arsehole about the children, you must be having quite a time of it. And money must be a problem too. Daddy says you're selling this house. You're not, are you?' Tessa seemed tired too; at least she was not her usual high-spirited self. She let her hair swing across her face as if she wanted to hide behind it, like a child behind a curtain playing peekaboo.

'Not for the time being.'

'Hang on to it, Bernard. Daddy says it's too big. But it's a sweet little house and you must have a playroom for the children as well as a bedroom. And if nanny didn't have that large bedroom, she'd want a sitting room too.'

'Your father said it was too big because he wants the children with him at Leith Hill.'

'I know. I told him it was a stupid idea.' Her face twitched and for a moment I wondered if she was going to cry but she pushed her knuckle against her face and recovered her composure. 'He'd never tolerate the noise the children make, and can you imagine him playing with them or reading to them at bedtime?'

'No,' I said.

'He just wants the children as ornaments. Just like those suits of armour in the hall, and that ridiculous library, filled with expensive first editions that he never looks at, except when he calls a valuer in to renew the insurance. And then he goes off to tell everyone at his club what a wonderful investment he made.'

'I suppose he has his good points,' I said, more because of the distress she was showing than because I could think of any.

'He keeps them well hidden,' she said, and laughed as if shaking off her sudden bout of sadness. She got to her feet, reached for the champagne bottle and filled her glass and mine before going back to the sofa. Then she slipped off her shoes and, leaning one elbow on the sofa end, tucked her feet under herself.

'Do you want to phone George?' I offered. 'Does he know where you are?'

'The answer is no to both questions,' she said. 'And the answer to the next question is that he doesn't care either.'

'Are things all right between you and George?'

'George doesn't love me any more. George hates me. He's just looking for some way to get rid of me so that he can go off with someone else.'

'Does George have someone else? Does he have affairs?'

'How can I be sure? Sex is like crime. Only one per cent motivation and ninety-nine per cent opportunity.' She drank some wine. 'I can't blame him, can I? I've been the worst wife any man ever had. George always wanted children.' She rummaged through her handbag to get a handkerchief. 'Oh, don't look so alarmed, Bernard. I'm not going to start sobbing or anything.' Despite this assurance she dabbed her eyes and gave every sign of doing so. 'Why did I marry him?'

'Why did you?'

'He asked me. It's as simple as that.'

'I'm sure many other men asked you.'

'George asked me when I was feeling low. He asked me at a time when I suddenly wanted to be married. You wouldn't understand; men never feel like that. Men just get married for peace and comfort. They never feel frightened of not being married the way women do sometimes.'

I was embarrassed by the intensity of her feelings. 'How do you know George has someone else? Has he told you so?'

'A wife doesn't have to be told. It's obvious that he doesn't love me. He has someone else; of course he does.' She wiped her eyes with the handkerchief before looking up at me. She blinked and gave a brave little smile. 'He's taking her off to South Africa.'

'Women always tend to imagine men have other women,' I said. 'If he hasn't mentioned another woman, there possibly isn't one.'

'George might have begun to hate all women. Is that what you mean? Maybe George just wants a bit of peace and quiet away from me? Away from all women. Drinking and laughing with his friends in the car business.'

It was exactly what I thought. 'No,' I said. 'Of course not. But George is very wrapped up in his work. He always has been, you know that. And the economy is still not picking up the way everyone hoped it would. Perhaps he needs to give a lot of thought to his business.'

'You men always stick together.'

'I hardly know George, but he always seemed a decent sort of chap. But you've led him a merry dance, Tess. It can't have been easy for him. I mean you haven't exactly been discreet with these little affairs, have you?'

'And, if you were George, the chance of being in South Africa, a few thousand miles away from me, would be a wonderful opportunity. And certainly not one to be marred by taking a wife along with you. I mean, women are everywhere, aren't they? You can rent them by the hour. Or rent them by the dozen. There are women available from the Arctic to the Pacific, from Persia to Peking.'

'Women are available everywhere,' I said. 'But marriages, reasonably happy marriages, are extremely rare.'

'I've been a fool, Bernard. George has always been a good husband. He's never made a fuss about money, and until last week I never thought of George with other women.'

'What happened last week?'

'Did I tell you he went to Italy, the Ferrari factory, last week? He's been there before and I know the hotel he always stays in. So I phoned them and asked if Mrs Kosinski was staying there. The switchboard girl said Mr and Mrs Kosinski were not in their room but there was another gentleman occupying the second bedroom of the suite if I'd like to speak with him or leave a message with him.'

'And did you speak with this "him"?'

'No, I got scared and rang off.'

'Who was the other man?'

'One of the people from the factory, or perhaps it was George's general manager. He goes along on these trips sometimes.'

'And have you tackled George about it?'

'I tried a little test. He's going to South Africa on some business deal. I've never been to South Africa so I said I'd go with him. He gave me a strange look and said he couldn't change the arrangements, and he is going alone.'

'Is that all?'

'He's going with a woman. Surely that's obvious. He's taking her to South Africa with him.'

'He's always going off on business trips. Are you saying he's always taken women with him?'

'I don't know. I've hardly ever gone with him on a business trip before. It's always so boring to meet all these car salesmen. It was bad enough when he brought them home. All they ever talk about is delivery dates, advertising schedules and profit margins. They never talk about motor cars unless it's rally driving or the Grand Prix. Have you ever been to a motor race, Bernard?'

'I don't think so. I don't remember it.'

'Then you haven't been to one. Because if you'd been to a motor race you'd never forget it. George took me to the Monte Carlo one year. It sounded as if it might be fun. George got a suite at the Hotel de Paris, and a girl I was at school with lives in Monte Carlo with her family. Well, Bernard, I knew I'd done the wrong thing when I phoned my friend and her maid told me that they always leave town when the race is on. Because the noise is deafening and it goes on non-stop day and night. Endless, darling. I put a pillow over my head and screamed.'

'You didn't stay in your hotel room all through the race?'

'I'm not a complete ninny, Bernard. George had the best seats anyone could have. But after the race has been on for ten minutes, there is no way of telling which of the wretched cars is in front and which is at the back. All you see is these stinking little machines driving past you, and you choke on the petrol fumes and get deafened by the noise. And when you try to get back to your hotel you run into the Monaco policemen who are just about the most asinine gorillas in the whole world. It's their big opportunity to scream and shout and push people around and they take full advantage of it. Don't ever go, Bernard, it's absolutely ghastly.'

'I take it that was the last business trip you did with George.'

'And you guessed right, darling.' She looked at me. Her eyes were wide and very blue.

'And now you are convinced that George has found some lady who likes the noise and petrol fumes, and thinks the Monaco police are wonderful.'

'Well, it looks like that, doesn't it? My mother always said I should go with him everywhere. Mummy never lets David out of her sight. She hated the idea of my letting George go away alone. That's always how trouble, starts, my mother says.' Tessa put her face into her hands and wept in a rather restrained way. I felt sorry for her. The weeping was straight out of drama school. But I could see that, beyond the abandoned-little-woman act, she was genuinely distressed.

'It's not the end of the world, Tessa.'

'I've got no one to turn to,' she said between sobs. 'You're the only one I can talk to now that Fi has gone.'

'You have a thousand friends.'

'Name one.'

'Don't be silly. You have so many friends.'

'Is that your polite way of saying lovers, Bernard? Lovers are not friends. Not my sort of lovers anyway. The men in my life have never been friends. My love affairs have always been jokes… schoolgirl jokes. Silly pranks that no one took seriously. A squeeze, a hug, a couple of hours between the sheets in a very expensive hotel room. A weekend stay in the country house of odd people I hardly knew. Passionate embraces in ski chalets and quick cuddles in parked cars. All the flushed excitement of infatuation and then it's all over. We knew it couldn't last, didn't we? Goodbye, darling, and don't look back.'

'You always seemed so happy, Tessa.'

'I was, darling. Happy, confident Tessa, full of fun and always making jokes about my love life. But that was while I had George to go home to. Now I don't have George to go home to.'

'Do you mean…?'

'Don't look so alarmed, Bernard. I don't mean literally, darling. I don't mean that I'm moving in here with you. You should see your face.'

'I didn't mean that,' I said. 'If you leave George you can always use the boxroom. There's a bed there that we've used when my mother came to stay. It's not very comfortable.'

'Of course it's not comfortable, darling. It's a room made for mothers to stay in. It's a horrid, dark little room that would exactly suit a sister-in-law who came to stay, and who might otherwise stay too long.' She gave all her attention to the bubbles rising through the champagne and ran her fingertip down the glass to trace a line through the condensation.

'Sounds like you're determined to feel sorry for yourself.'

'But I am, darling. Why shouldn't I feel sorry for myself? My husband doesn't want me any more, and the only man I've always loved keeps looking at his lovely new watch and yawning.'

'Go back home and tell George you love him,' I said. 'You might find that everything will come out all right.'

'You must be Mrs Lonelyheart. I read your column every week.'

I picked the bottle out of the bucket and divided the last of the champagne between our two glasses. The bottle dripped icy water down my arm. She smiled. This time it was a more convincing smile. 'I've always adored you, Bernard. You know that, don't you?'

'We'll talk about that some other time, Tessa. Meanwhile do you think you can drive home, or shall I phone for a cab?'

'They don't have alcohol at the bridge club, that's the worst thing about it. No, I'm as sober as a judge. I will drive home and leave you in peace.'

'Talk to George. The two of you can sort it out.'

'You're a darling,' she said. I helped her into her smart suede car coat and she gave me a decorous kiss. 'You're the only one I can talk to.' She smiled. 'I'll be over here when nanny arrives. You get on with your work. No need to worry.'

'I'm flying to Berlin in the morning.'

'How wretched for you, Bernard. You won't be here to welcome the children.'

'No, I won't be here.'

'Don't worry. I'll go to Gloriette – opposite Harrods – and get them a superb chocolate cake with 'Love from Daddy' written on the top, and I'll tell them how sorry you are to be away.'

'Thanks, Tessa.'

I opened the front door for her but she didn't leave. She turned to me and said, 'I dreamed about Fiona the other night. I dreamed that she phoned me, and I said was she speaking from Russia, and she said never mind where she was speaking from. Do you ever dream about her, Bernard?'

'No,' I said.

'It was so vivid, my dream. She said I was to meet her at London Airport. I was to tell no one. She wanted me to bring her some photos.'

'Photos?'

'Photos of your children. It's so silly when you think of it. Fiona must have taken photos with her when she went. In this dream she desperately wanted these photos of the children. I dreamed she was shouting down the phone at me the way she did when we were children and she couldn't get her own way. Wake up, she shouted. It was such a silly dream but it upset me at the time. She wanted photos of you too.'

'What photos of me?'

'It was only a dream, darling. Oh, photos of you she left at my house a couple of months ago. She forgot to take them with her one night. Photos taken recently, for your passport, I should think. Awfully dull photos, I think, and portraits of the children. Isn't it odd how one dreams such silly trivial things?'

'Which terminal?'

'What do you mean?'

'In the dream. Which terminal at London Airport did she ask you to go to?*

'Terminal 2. Don't let it upset you, Bernard. I wouldn't have mentioned it if I'd known. Mind you, it upset me at the time. It was very early in the morning and I dreamed I answered the phone and the operator asked me if I'd accept a reverse-charge call from Bosham. I ask you, darling. From what deep dark confines of my brain-box did I dredge Bosham? I've never been there.' She laughed. 'George was awfully cross when I woke him up and told him. If the phone had really rung, I would have heard it, wouldn't I, he said. And then I realized it was all a dream. Mind you, the phone often rings without George hearing it, especially if he's been boozing at his club as he had that night.'

'I'd just try and forget about it,' I said. 'It's not unusual to get strange dreams after something like that happens.'

She nodded and I squeezed her arm. Her sister's betrayal had affected her deeply. For her, as for me, it was a personal betrayal that required a fundamental rethinking of their whole relationship. And that meant a fundamental rethinking of oneself. Perhaps she knew what was in my mind, for she looked up at me and smiled as if at some secret we shared.

'Forget it,' I said again. I didn't want Tessa to worry, and, on the practical level, I didn't want her to phone the telephone exchange and check if there really was a reverse-charge call from Bosham. It could only lead on to inquiries I was trying to avoid. I could follow Fiona's reasoning. By reversing the charges, she made sure the call didn't appear on the telephone bill of the house in Bosham and thus implicate her sister.

I kissed Tessa again and told her to look after herself. I didn't like the idea of Fiona wanting passport pictures of me. She didn't want them to go beside her bed.

I watched Tessa get into her silver VW. She lowered the car window so that she could blow me a kiss. The way the headlights flashed a couple of times, and the direction indicators winked, as she backed out of the tiny parking space, made me wonder if she was telling the truth about the availability of alcohol at her bridge club.

But when I went upstairs to bed I saw MacKenzie sprawled across the floor with his brains spattered over the wallpaper. It was some sort of hallucination. But just for a moment, as I switched on the bedroom light, his image was as clear and as real as anything I've ever seen. It was the shock and the drink and the tiredness and the anxiety. Poor little sod, I thought; I sent him to his death. If he'd been an experienced agent perhaps I'd not have felt so guilty about it, but MacKenzie was not much more than a child, and a novice at the spy game. I felt guilty, and as I prepared for bed I began to suffer the delayed reaction that my body had deferred and deferred. I shook uncontrollably. I didn't want to admit, even to myself, that I was frightened. But that image of MacKenzie kept blurring into an image of myself, and my guilt was turning into fear. For fear is so unwelcome that it comes only in disguise, and guilt is its favourite one.

15

There was a time when Lisl Hennig's house seemed gigantic. When I was small child, each marble step of that grand staircase was a mountain. Scaling mountains had then required an exertion almost beyond me, and I'd needed a moment's rest when each summit was won. And that was how it now was for Frau Lisl Hennig. The staircase was something she tackled only when she felt at her best. I watched her as she inched her way into the 'salon' and berthed in a huge gilt throne, plumped up with velvet cushions so she didn't put too much strain upon her arthritic knees. She was old, but the brown dyed hair, big eyes and the fine features in her wrinkled face made it difficult to guess exactly how old.

'Bernd,' she said, using the name by which I'd been known at my Berlin school. 'Bernd. Put my sticks on the back of the chair where I can find them if I want them. You don't know what it's like to be crippled in this way. Without my sticks I am a prisoner in this damned chair.'

'They are there already,' I said.

'Give me a kiss. Give me a kiss,' she said testily. 'Have you forgotten Tante Lisl? And how I used to rock you in my arms?'

I kissed her. I had been in Berlin for three days, waiting for Werner to come back from his 'short reconnaissance' to the East Sector, but every day Lisl greeted me as if seeing me after a long absence.

'I want tea,' said Lisl. 'Find that wretched girl Klara and tell her to bring tea. Order some for yourself if you'd like to.' She had always had this same autocratic demanding manner. She looked around her to be sure that everything was in its rightful place. Lisl's mother had chosen these hand-carved pieces of oak furniture, and the chandelier that had been hidden in the coal cellar in 1945. In Lisl's childhood this room had been softened by lacework and embroidery as befits a place to which the ladies retired after dining in the room that now contained the hotel reception desk. This 'salon' was where where Lisl's mother gave the fine ladies of Berlin afternoon tea. And on fine summer days the large windows were opened to provide a view from the balcony as the Kaiser Alexander Guard Grenadiers went marching back to their barracks behind their band.

It was Lisl who first called it a 'salon' and entertained here Berlin's brightest young architects, painters, poets, writers and certain Nazi politicians. To say nothing of the seven brawny cyclists from the Sports Palace who arrived one afternoon with erotic dancers from one of the city's most notorious Tanzbars and noisily pursued them through the house in search of vacant bedrooms. They were here still, many of those celebrities of what Berlin called 'The Golden Twenties'. They were crowded together on the walls of this salon, smiling and staring down from sepia-toned photos that were signed with the overwrought passions that were an expression of the reckless decade that preceded the Third Reich.

Lisl was wearing green silk, a waterfall rippling over her great shapeless bulk and cascading upon her tiny, pointed, strap-fronted shoes. 'What are you doing tonight?' she asked. Klara – the 'wretched girl' who was about sixty and had worked for Lisl for about twenty years – looked round the door. She nodded to me and gave a nervous smile to show that she'd heard Lisl demanding tea.

'I have to see Werner,' I said.

'I was hoping you'd play cards,' she said. She rubbed her painful knee and smiled at me.

'I would have liked that, Lisl,' I said, 'but I have to see him.'

'You hate playing cards with your old Tante Lisl. I know. I know.' She looked up and, as the light fell on her, I could see the false eyelashes and the layers of paint and powder that she put upon her face on the days she went outside. 'I taught you to play bridge. You were only nine or ten years old. You loved it then.'

'I would have loved it now,' I protested untruthfully.

'There is a very nice young Englishman whom I want you to meet, and old Herr Koch is coming.'

'If only I didn't have to see Werner,' I said, 'I would have really liked to spend an evening with you.' She smiled grimly. She knew I hated card games. And the prospect of meeting a 'very nice young Englishman' was rivalled only by the idea of spending the evening listening to the-oft-repeated reminiscences of old Mr Koch.

'With Werner?' exclaimed Lisl, as if suddenly remembering. 'There was a message for you. Werner is delayed and can't see you tonight. He'll phone you early tomorrow.' She smiled. 'It doesn't matter, Liebchen. Tante Lisl won't hold you to your word. I know you have more interesting things to do than play bridge with an ugly old crippled woman like me.'

It was game, set and match to Lisl. 'I'll make up a four,' I said with as much grace as I could muster. 'Where was Werner phoning from?'

'Wundervoll,' said Lisl with a great smile. 'Where was he phoning from, darling? How would I know a thing like that?' I think she'd guessed that Werner was in the East Sector, but she didn't want to admit it, not even to herself. Like so many other native Berliners she tried not to remember that her town was now a small island in the middle of a communist sea. She referred to the communist world by means of jokes, half-truths and euphemisms, the same way that 300 years earlier the Viennese had shrugged off the besieging Ottoman Turks. 'You don't really understand the bidding,' said Lisl. 'That's why you'll never be a good bridge player.'

'I'm good enough,' I said. It was stupid of me to resent her remark, since I had no ambition to become a good bridge player. I was piqued that this old woman was able to trap me into an evening's bridge using the same obvious tactics that she'd used on me when I was an infant.

'Cheer up, Bernd,' she said. 'Here is the tea. And I do believe there is cake. No lemon needed, Klara. We drink it English style.' The frail Klara set the tray down on the table and went through the ritual of putting out the plates, forks and cups and saucers, and the silver bowl that held the tea-strainer. 'And here is my new English friend,' said Lisl, 'the one I was telling you about. Another cup and saucer, Klara.'

I turned to see the man who'd entered the salon. It was Dicky's college chum from Mexico City. There was no mistaking this tall, thin Englishman with his brown, almost ginger, hair brushed flat against his skull. His heart-shaped face still showed the effects of the fierce Mexican sun. His ruddy complexion was marked in places by freckles that, together with his awkwardness, made him look younger than his thirty-eight years. He was wearing grey flannels and a blue blazer with large decorative brass buttons and the badge of some cricket club on the pocket. 'Bernard Samson,' he said. He stretched out his hand. 'Henry Tiptree. Remember?' His handshake was firm but furtive, the sort of handshake that diplomats and politicians use to get through a long line of guests. 'What good luck to find you here. I was talking to a chap named Harrington the other night. He said you knew more about this extraordinary town than any other ten people.' His voice was cultured, throaty and rather penetrating. The sort of voice the BBC assign to reading the news the night someone very important dies. 'Extra… awwwrdinary town,' he said again, as if practising. This tune he held the note even longer.

'I thought you worked in Mexico City.'

'Und guten Tag, gnädige Frau,' he said to Lisl, who had been wrinkling her brow as she concentrated enough to understand this sudden onslaught of English. Henry Tiptree bent over to kiss the bejewelled hand which she lifted for him. Then he bowed again and smiled at her with that sort of sinister charm that baritones show in Hollywood musicals about old Vienna. He turned to me. 'You thought I worked in Mexico City. And so did I. Haw haw. But when you've worked in the diplomatic service for a few years, you start to know that the chap you last heard of doing the Korean language course in Seoul will next be seen working as an information officer in the embassy in Paris.' He scratched the side of his nose reflectively. 'No, some guru in the Personnel Department considered that my schoolboy German was just what was needed for me to be attached to you chaps for an undecided period of time. No explanation, no apologies, no time to get ready. Wham, bam, and here I am. Haw haw.'

'Quite a surprise,' I said. 'I believe we're playing cards together this evening.'

'I'm so pleased you're joining us,' said Henry, and seemed genuinely pleased. 'This is what I call the real Berlin, what? The beautiful and cultured Frau Hennig here, and this wonderful chap Koch whom she's told me all about. These are the people one wants to meet, not the free-loading johnnies who come knocking at the door of your average embassy.'

Lisl was smiling; she understood enough English to know that she was beautiful and cultured. She tapped my arm. 'And wear a jacket and a tie, will you, Leibchen? Just to make your old Lisl happy. Just for once wear a nice suit, the one you always wear to see Frank Harrington.' Lisl knew how to make me look a bloody fool. I looked at Tiptree; he smiled.

We played cards in Lisl's study, a small room crammed with her treasures. This was where she did the accounts and collected the money from her guests. She kept her bottle of sherry here in a cupboard otherwise filled with china ornaments. And here, with its prancing angels and winged dragons, was the grotesque ormolu mantel clock that could sometimes be heard throughout the house chiming away the small hours. There was a picture of Kaiser Wilhelm over the fireplace; around it a slight brightness of the wallpaper showed it was the place where a larger signed photo of Adolf Hitler had hung for a decade that had ended with the family home becoming this hotel.

'I think the cards need a good shuffle,' said Lisl plaintively as she arranged in front of her the few remaining counters for which we gave fifty pfennigs each. Lisl's losses could not possibly come to more than the price of the bottle of sherry that between us we'd almost consumed, but she didn't like losing. In that respect and many others she was very berlinerisch.

The four of us were arranged round the circular-topped mahogany tripod table, at which Lisl usually sat to take her breakfast. The four chairs were also mahogany; superbly carved with Venetian-style figure-of-eight backs, they were all that was left of the sixteen dining chairs that her mother had so cherished. Lisl had been talking about the European royal families and the social activities of their surviving members. She was devoted to royalty and convinced of the divine right of kings, despite her frequently proclaimed agnosticism.

But now Lothar Koch had started one of his long stories. 'So what was I saying?' said Koch, who was incapable of shuffling cards and talking at the same tune.

'You were telling us about this most interesting secret report on the Dutch riots,' prompted Henry.

'Ah, yes,' he said. Lothar Koch was a small motheaten man, with dark-ringed troubled eyes and a nose far too large for his small sunken face. Mr Koch had a large gold Rolex wrist-watch and liked to wear spotted bow-ties in the evening. But his expensive-looking suits were far too big for him. Lisl said that they fitted him before he lost weight, and now he refused to buy any more clothes. I'm far too old to buy new suits, he'd told Lisl when he celebrated his seventieth birthday in a suit that was already too baggy. Now he was eighty-five, still shrinking, and he still hadn't bought any new clothes. Lisl said he stopped buying overcoats when he was sixty, Ja, ja, ja. There had been riots in Amsterdam. That was the start of it. That was 1941. Brandt came into my office soon after the riots…'

'Rudolf Brandt,' explained Lisl. 'Heinrich Himmler's secretary.'

'Yes,' said Koch. He looked at me to be sure I was listening. He knew I'd heard all his stories before and that my attention was apt to wander.

'Rudolf Brandt,' I confirmed. 'Heinrich Himmler's secretary. Yes, of course.'

Having confirmed that I was paying attention, Koch said, 'I remember it as if it was yesterday. Brandt dumped on to my desk this report. It had a yellow front cover and consisted of forty-three typewritten pages. Look what that fool Bormann has come up with now, he said. He meant Hitler, but it was customary to blame Bormann for such things. It's true Bormann had countersigned each page, but he was just the Head of the Party Chancellery, he had no political power. This was obviously the Fuhrer. What is it? I asked. I had enough paperwork of my own to read; I wasn't looking for another report to occupy my evening. Brandt said, the whole population of Holland is to be resettled in Poland.'

'Good God,' said Henry. He took a minuscule sip of his sherry and then wiped his lips with a paper napkin advertising König Pilsener. Lisl got them free. Tiptree had changed his clothes. Perhaps in response to Lisl's sartorial demands of me, he was wearing a white shirt, old school tie and a dark grey worsted suit of the type that is issued to really sincere employees by some secret department of the Foreign Office.

'Yes,' said Lisl loyally. She'd heard the story more times than I had.

'Eight and half million people. The first three million would include "irreconcilables", which was Nazi jargon for anyone who wasn't a Nazi and not likely to become one. Also there would be market-garden workers, farmers and anyone with agricultural training or experience. They would be sent to Polish Galicia and there create a basic economy to support the rest of the Dutch, who would arrive later.'

'So what did you tell him?' said Henry. He pinched the knot of his tie between finger and thumb, and shook it as if trying to remove a small striped animal that had him by the throat.

Mr Koch looked at me. He realized that I was the 'irreconcilable' part of his audience. 'So what did you say, Mr Koch?' I asked.

He looked away. My display of intense interest had not convinced him I was listening, but he continued anyway. 'How can we put this impossible strain upon the Reichsbahn? I asked him. It was useless to appeal to these people on moral grounds, you understand.'

'That was clever,' said Henry.

'And the Wehrmacht was preparing for the attack on the USSR,' said Mr Koch. 'The work that involved was terrible… especially train schedules, factory deliveries and so on. I went across to see Kersten that afternoon. It was showery and I went out without coat or umbrella. I remember it clearly. There was a lot of traffic on Friedrichstrasse and I was drenched by the time I got back to my office.'

'Felix Kersten was the personal medical adviser to Heinrich Himmler,' explained Lisl.

Koch said, 'Kersten was a Finnish citizen, born in Estonia. He wasn't a doctor but he was an exceptionally skilled masseur. He'd lived in Holland before the war and had treated the Dutch royal family, Himmler thought he was a medical genius. Kersten was especially sympathetic to the Dutch and I knew he'd listen to me.'

'Why don't you deal the cards,' I suggested. Koch looked at me and nodded. We both knew that if he tried to do it while continuing his story he would get his counting hopelessly muddled.

'It's a fascinating story,' said Henry. 'What did Kersten say?'

'He listened but didn't comment,' said Koch, tapping the edges of the pack against the table-top. 'But afterwards his memoirs claimed that it was his personal intervention that saved the Dutch. Himmler suffered bad stomach cramps and Kersten warned him that such a vast scheme as resettling the entire population of Holland would not only be beyond the capabilities of the German railways but, since it would be Himmler's responsibility, it could mean a breakdown in his health.'

'They dropped it?' said Henry. He was a wonderful audience, and Mr Koch basked in the attention Henry was providing.

Koch riffled the cards so that they made a sound like a short burst of fire from a distant MG 42. He smiled and said, 'Himmler persuaded Hitler to postpone it until after the war. By this time, you see, our armies were fighting in Yugoslavia and Greece. I knew there was no chance of it ever happening.'

'I say, that's extraordinary,' said Henry. 'You should have got some sort of medal.'

'He did get a medal,' I said. 'You did get a medal, didn't you, Herr Koch?'

Koch riffled the cards again and murmured assent.

'Mr Koch got the Dienstauszeichnung, didn't you, Mr Koch?'

Mr Koch gave me a fixed mirthless smile. 'Yes, I did, Bernd.' To Henry he said, 'Bernd thinks it amusing that I was given the Nazi long-service award for ten years in the Nazi Party. But as he also knows…' A finger was raised and waggled at me. '…my job and my grade in the Ministry of the Interior made it absolutely necessary that I joined the Party. 1 was never an active Party worker, everyone knows that.'

'Herr Koch was an irreconcilable,' I said.

'You are a trouble-maker, Bernd,' said Mr Koch. 'If I hadn't been such a close friend of your father I would get very angry at some of the things you say.'

'Only kidding, Lothar,' I said. In fact I remained convinced that old Lothar Koch was an irredeemable Nazi who read a chapter from Mein Kampf every night before going to sleep. But he always showed a remarkable amiability in the face of my remarks and I admired him for that.

'What's all this "Bernd" nonsense, Samson?' said Henry with a puzzled frown on his peeling red forehead. 'You're not a German, are you?'

'Sometimes,' I said, 'I feel I almost am.'

'This woman should have a medal,' said Koch suddenly. He indicated Lisl Hennig. 'She hid a family of Jews upstairs. She hid them for three years. Do you know what would have happened if the Gestapo had found them – echhh.' Mr Koch ran his index finger across his throat. 'She would have gone into a concentration camp. You were a mad fool, Lisl, my dear.'

'We were all mad fools in one way or another,' said Lisl. 'It was a time of mad foolishness.'

'Didn't your neighbours know you were hiding them?' asked Tiptree.

The whole street knew,' said Koch. The mother of the hidden family was her cook.'

'Once we had to push her into the refrigerator,' said Lisl. 'She was so frightened that she struggled. I'll suffocate, she shouted, I'll suffocate. But the kitchen maid – a huge woman, long since dead, God bless her – helped me, and we put all the food on the table and pushed Mrs Volkmann inside.'

'The Gestapo men were here, searching the house,' said Mr Koch.

'Just three of them,' said Lisl. 'Jumped-up little men. I took them to the bar. That is as far as they wanted to search.'

'And the woman in the refrigerator?' said Henry.

'When the level of the schnapps went half-way down the bottle we decided it would be safe to get her out. She was all right. We gave her a hot-water bottle and put her to bed.'

That was Werner's mother,' said Lisl to me.

'I know, Lisl,' I said. 'You were very brave.'

Often after such bridge games Lisl had provided a 'nightcap' on the house, but this time she let us pay for our own drinks. I think she was still smarting because my inexpert bridge had won me five marks while she ended up losing three. She was in one of her petulant moods and complained about everything from the pain in her knees to the tax on alcohol. I was thankful that Lisl decided to go early to bed. I knew she wouldn't sleep. She'd read newspapers and perhaps play her old records until the small hours. But we said our goodnights to her and soon after that Lothar Koch phoned for a taxi and departed.

Henry Tiptree seemed anxious to prolong the evening, and with a bottle of brandy on the table in front of us I was happy to answer his questions. 'What an extraordinary old man,' said Henry, after Koch said goodnight and tottered off down the stairs to his waiting taxi.

'He saw it all,' I said.

'Did he really have to become a Nazi because he worked in the Ministry?'

'It was because he was a Nazi that he got a job in the Ministry. Prior to 1933 he was working at the reception desk of the Kaiserhof. That was a hotel that Hitler used a great deal. Lothar knew most of the Nazi big-shots. Some of them came in with their girlfriends, and the word soon went round that if you needed to rent a room by the hour then Lothar – the one with the Party badge on the lapel of his coat – was the right clerk to see.'

'And for that he got a job in the Ministry of the Interior?'

'I don't know that that was the only reason, but he got the job. It wasn't, of course, the high-ranking post that Lothar now likes to remember. But he was there and he kept his ears open. And he closed his eyes to such things as Lisl hiding Werner's parents.'

'And are his stories true?'

'The stories are true. But Lothar is prone to change the cast so that the understudy plays leading man now and again.'

Henry studied me earnestly before deciding to laugh. 'Haw haw,' he said. 'This is the real Berlin. Gosh. The office wanted to put me into the Kempinski or that magnificent new Steigenberger Hotel but your friend Harrington told me to install myself in here. This is the real Berlin, he said. And, by gosh, he's right.'

'Mind if I pour myself a little more of that brandy?' I said.

'Oh, I say. Let me.' He poured me a generous measure while taking only a small tot for himself.

'And I guess you're here for some damned cloak-and-dagger job with Dicky?'

'Wrong twice,' I said. 'Dicky is safely tucked up in bed in London and I am only here to collect a bag of documents to carry back to London. It's a courier's job really, but we're short of people.'

'Damn,' said Henry. 'And I was persuading myself that the worried look on your brow all evening was you fretting about some poor devil out there cutting his way through the barbed wire, what?' He laughed and drank some brandy. From Lisl's room I heard one of her favourite records playing. It was scratchy and muffled.

… No one here can love and understand me,

Oh what hard-luck stories they all hand me…

'I'm sorry to disappoint you,' I said.

'Couldn't we compromise?' said Henry cheerfully. 'Couldn't you tell me that there is at least one James Bond johnny out there risking his neck among the Russkies?'

'There probably is,' I said. 'But no one has told me about him.'

'Haw haw,' said Henry, and drank some brandy. At first he'd been drinking very sparingly but now he abandoned some of that caution.

'Tell me what you're doing here,' I said.

'What am I doing here? Yes, what indeed. It's a long story, my dear chap.'

'Tell me anyway.' I looked at my watch. It was late. I wondered where Werner had phoned from. He was in a car with East German registration. That always made it more complicated; he wouldn't bring that car into the West. He'd planned to return through the Russian Zone and on to the autobahn that comes from Helmstedt. I'd never liked that method; the autobahns were regularly patrolled to prevent East Germans meeting West German transients at the roadside. I'd arranged for someone to be at the right place at the scheduled time this morning. Now I had no idea where he was, and I could do nothing to help him. Lisl's record started again.

Pack up all my cares and woe.

Here I go, singing low,

Bye-bye, blackbird…

'Do you have time to hear my boring life story?' said Henry. He chuckled. We both knew that Henry Tiptree was not the sort of man who confided his life story to anyone. Never complain, never explain, is the public-school canon.

'I have the time,' I said, 'and you have the brandy.'

'I thought you were going to say: I have the time if you have the inclination, as Big Ben said to the leaning tower of Pisa. What? Haw haw,'

'If you're working on something secret…' I said.

He waved away any such suggestion. His hand knocked against his glass and spilled some of his drink, so he poured more. 'My immediate boss is working on one of those interminable reports that will be called something like "Western Negotiating Policy and Soviet Military Power". He will have his name on the front and get promoted on the strength of it. I'm just the chap who, after doing all the legwork, will wind up with my name lost in a long list of acknowledgements.' This thought prompted him to drink more seriously.

'And what will it say, your long study?'

'I say, you are polite. You know what it will say, Samson. It will say all those things we all know only too well but that politicians are desperately keen we should forget.'

'Such as?'

'That eighty per cent of all armaments established in Central Europe since 1965 belong to the Warsaw Pact countries. It will say that between 1968 and 1978 American military spending was cut by forty per cent, and during the same period Soviet military spending increased by seventy-five per cent. It will record how Western military strength was cut by fifty thousand men, while during the same period the East increased its forces by one hundred and fifty thousand men. It will tell you nothing that you don't already know.'

'So why write it?'

'Current theory has it that we must look for the motives behind the huge Soviet military build-up. Why are the Russkies piling up these enormous forces of men, and gigantic stockpiles of armaments? My master feels that an answer can be found by looking at the detailed tactical preparations made by Russian army units in the front line, units that are facing NATO ones.'

'How will you do that?' I asked. Lisl's record was now playing for the third time.

'It's a long and arduous process. We have people who regularly talk with Russian soldiers – on day-to-day matters – and we interrogate deserters and we have reports from cloak-and-dagger outfits.' He bared his teeth. 'Have some more brandy, Samson. I heard you're quite a drinker.'

'Thanks,' I said. I wasn't sure I liked having that reputation but I wasn't going to spare his brandy to disprove it. He poured a large measure for both of us and drank quite a lot of his.

'I'm mostly with your people,' he said. 'But I'll be spending time with other outfits too. Dicky arranged all that. Awfully good fellow, Dicky.' A lock of ginger hair fell forward across his face. He flicked it back as if annoyed by a fly. And when it fell forward again pushed it back with enough force to disarrange more hair. 'Cheers.'

'What will you be doing with them?' I said.

He spoke more slowly now. 'Same damn thing. Soviet Military Power and Western… what did I say it was called?'

'Something like that,' I said. I poured out more brandy for both of us. We were near the bottom of the bottle now.

'I know what you're doing, Samson,' he said. His voice was pitched high, as a mother might speak to a baby, and he raised a fist in a joking gesture of anger. 'At least… I know what you're trying to do.' His words were slurred and his hair in disarray,

'What?'

'Get me drunk. But you won't do it, old chap.' He smiled. 'I'll drink you under the table, old fellow.'

'I'm not trying to make you drunk,' I said. 'The less you drink the more there is for me.'

Henry Tiptree considered this contention carefully and tried to find the flaw in my reasoning. He shook his head as if baffled and drained the brandy bottle, dividing it between us drip by drip with elaborate care. 'Dicky said you were cunning.'

'Then here's to Dicky,' I said in toast.

'Cheers to Dicky,' he responded, having misheard me. 'I've known him a long tune. At Oxford I always felt sorry for him. Dicky's father had investments in South America and lost most of his money in the war. But the rest of Dicky's family were well off. Dicky had to watch his cousins dashing about in sports cars and flying to Paris for weekends when Dicky didn't have the price of a railway ticket to London. It was damned rotten for him, humiliating.'

'I didn't know that,' I said.

'Chaps at Oxford said he was a social climber… and he was, and still is… But that's what spurred Dicky into getting such good results. He wanted to show us all what he could do… and, of course, having no money meant he had a lot of time on his hands.'

'He has a lot of time on his hands now,' I said.

Henry Tiptree looked at me solemnly before giving a sly grin. 'What about another bottle of this stuff?' he offered.

'I think we've both had enough, Henry,' I said.

'On me,' said Henry. 'I have a bottle in my room.'

'Even if it's on you, we've had enough,' I said. I got to my feet. I was in no hurry. I wasn't drunk but my response times were down and my coordination poor. What time in the morning would Werner phone, I wondered. It was stupid of me to tell Werner that he would be going on the payroll. Now he'd be determined to show London Central what they'd been missing for all those years. With Werner that could be a surefire recipe for disaster. I'd seen Werner when he wanted to impress someone. When we were at school there had been a pretty girl named Renate who lived in Wedding. Her mother cleaned the floor at the clinic. Werner was so keen to impress Renate that he tried to steal an American car that was parked outside the school. He was trying to force the window open with wire when the driver, an American sergeant, caught him. Werner was lucky to get away with a punch in the head. It was ridiculous. Werner had never stolen anything in his life before. A car – Werner didn't have the slightest idea of how to drive. I wondered if he'd had trouble in the Sector or out in the Zone. If anything happened to him I'd blame myself. There'd be no one else to blame.

Henry Tiptree was sitting rigidly in his seat, his head facing forward and his body very still. His eyes flicked to see about him; he looked like a lizard watching an unsuspecting fly. A less tidy man would not have appeared so drunk. On the impeccable Henry Tiptree such slightly disarranged hair, the tie knot shifted a fraction to one side and the jacket rumpled by his attempts to fasten the wrong button made him look comic. 'You won't get away with it,' he said angrily. He was going through the various stages of drunkenness from elation to depression via happiness, suspicion and anger.

'Get away with what?' I asked.

'You know, Samson. Don't play the innocent. You know.' This time his anger enabled him to articulate clearly.

'Tell me again.'

'No,' he said. He was staring at me with hatred in his eyes.

I knew then that Tiptree played some part in spinning the intricate web in which I was becoming enmeshed. On every side I was aware of suspicion, anger and hatred. Was it all Fiona's doing, or was it something I had brought upon myself? And how could I fight back when I didn't know where to find my most deadly enemies, or even who they were?

'Then goodnight,' I said. I drank the rest of the brandy, got up from the chair and nodded to him.

'Goodnight, Mr bloody Samson,' said Tiptree bitterly. 'Champion bloody boozer and secret agent extraordinary.'

I knew he was watching me as I walked across the room so I went carefully. I looked back when I got as far as the large folding doors that divided the salon from the bar. He was struggling to get to his feet, reaching right across to grip the far edge of the table. Then, with whitened knuckles, he strained to pull himself up. He seemed well on the way to succeeding, but when I got to the stairs I heard a tremendous crash. His weight had proved too much and the table had tipped up.

I returned to the bar where Henry Tiptree had fallen full-length on the floor. He was breathing very heavily and making slight noises that might have been groans, but he was otherwise unconscious. 'Come along, Henry,' I said. 'Let's get out of here before Lisl hears us. She hates drunks.' I knew if he was found there in the morning Lisl would blame me. No matter what I said, anything that happened to this 'English gentleman' would be my fault. I put the table back into position and hoped that Lisl hadn't heard the commotion.

As I dragged Tiptree up on to my shoulder in a fireman's lift, I began to wonder why he'd come here. He'd been sent, surely, but who had sent him? He wasn't the sort who came to stay in Tante Lisl's hotel, and went down the corridor for a bath each morning and then found there was no hot water. The Tiptrees of this world prefer downtown hotels, where everything works, even the staff – places where the silk-attired jet-setters of all sexes line up bottles of Louis Roederer Cristal Brut, and turn first to those columns of the newspaper that list share prices.

Henry Tiptree had the glossy polish that the best English boarding schools can sometimes provide. Such boys quickly come to terms with bullies, cold showers, corporal punishment, homosexuality, the classics and relentless sport, but they acquire the hardness that I'd seen in Tiptree's face. He had a mental agility, plus a sense of purpose, that his friend Dicky Cruyer lacked. But of the two I'd take Dicky any time. Dicky was just a free-loader, but behind all the haw haws and the schoolboy smiles this one was an expensively educated storm-trooper.

As I crossed the salon, with Tiptree's whole weight upon me, I swayed and so did the mirror, the floor and the ceiling, but I steadied myself again and paused before going past the door that led to Lisl's room.

Her record was still playing and I could imagine her propped up amid a dozen lace pillows nodding her head to the music:

Make my bed and light the light,

I'll arrive late tonight.

Blackbird, bye-bye.

16

It was cold. Featureless grey cloud stretched across the flat countryside as far as the horizon. Rain continued relentlessly so that the last of those villagers who'd been huddled in cottage doorways waiting for a respite now hurried off and got wet. All the gutters were spilling and the rain gurgled down the drainpipes and overflowed the drains. Slanted sheets of it rebounded from the cobblestone village street to make a phantom field of wheat through which occasional motor cars or delivery vans slashed their way like harvesters.

The message from Werner had told me to come to the Golden Bear, and I had come here, and I had waited two days. On the second day a young Oberstabsmeister had arrived at breakfast time. I recognized the dark green VW Passat station wagon. It bore the badge of the Bundesgrenzschutz. For West Germany had border guards too, and one of their jobs was investigating strangers who came to border villages and spent too much time staring eastwards at the barbed wire and the towers that marked the border where people on excursions from the German Democratic Republic got shot dead.

The border guard NCO was a white-faced youth with fair hair that covered the tops of his ears and curled out from under his uniform hat. Tapers,' he said without the formality of a greeting or introduction. He knew I'd watched him as he came in. I'd seen him check the hotel register and exchange a few words with the proprietor. 'How long do you plan to stay?'

'About a week. I go back to work next Monday.' I'd booked the room for seven days. He knew that. 'I'm from Berlin,' I said obsequiously. 'Sometimes I feel I must get away for a few days.'

He grunted.

I showed him my papers. I was described as a German citizen, resident in Berlin, and working as a foreman in a British army stores depot. He stood for a long time with the papers in his hand, looking from the documentation to me and then back again. I had the impression he did not entirely believe my cover story, but plenty of West Berliners came down the autobahn and took their vacations here on the easternmost edge of West Germany. And if he contay the army my cover story would hold up.

'Why here?' said the border guard.

'Why not here?' I countered. He looked out of the window. The rain continued relentlessly. Across the road, workmen were demolishing a very old half-timbered building. They continued working despite the rain. As I watched, a wall fell with a crash of breaking laths and plaster and a shower of rubble. The bleached plaster went dark with raindrops and the cloud of dust that rolled out of the wreckage was quickly subdued. The fallen wall revealed open fields beyond the village, and a shiny strip that was a glimpse of the wide waters of the great Elbe river that divided East from West. The Elbe had always been a barrier; it had even halted Charlemagne. Throughout history it had divided the land: Lombard from Slav, Frank from Avar, Christian from Barbarian, Catholic from Protestant, and now communist from capitalist. 'It's better than over there,' I said.

'Anywhere is better than over there,' said the guard with ill-humour, as if I'd avoided his question. Beyond him I saw the proprietor's son Konrad come into the breakfast room. Konrad was a gangling eighteen-year-old in blue jeans and a cowboy shirt with fringes. He was unshaven but I had yet to decide whether this was a deliberate attempt to grow a beard or a part of the casual indifference he seemed to show for all aspects of his morning ablutions. He began setting the tables for lunch. On each he put cutlery and wineglasses, linen napkins and cruet, and finally a large blue faience pot of special mustard for which the Golden Bear was locally famous. Despite the care and attention he gave to his task I had no doubt that he'd come into the room to eavesdrop.

'I walk,' I said. 'The doctor said I must walk. It's for my health. Even in the rain I walk every day.'

'So I heard,' said the guard. He dropped my identity papers on to the red-checked tablecloth alongside the basket containing breakfast rolls. 'Make sure you don't walk in the wrong direction. Do you know what's over there?'

He was looking out of the window. One hand was in his pocket, the thumb of the other hooked into his belt. He looked angry. Perhaps it was my Berlin accent that annoyed him. He sounded like a local; perhaps he didn't like visitors from the big city, and whatever Berliners said it could sound sarcastic to a critic's ear. 'Not exactly,' I said. Under the circumstances it seemed advisable to be unacquainted with what was 'over there'.

The white-faced Oberstabsmeister took a deep breath. 'Starting from the other side you first come to the armed guards of the Sperrzone. People need a special pass to get into that forbidden zone, a is a five-kilometre-wide strip of ground, cleared of trees and ashes, so that the guards can see everything from their towers. The fields there can only be worked during daylight and under the supervision of the guards. Then comes a five-hundred-metre-deep Schutzstreifen. The fence there is three metres high and made of sharp expanded metal. The tiny holes are made so that you can't get a hold on it, and if your fingertips are so small that they can go into the gaps – a woman's or a child's fingers, for instance – the metal edge will cut through the finger like a knife. That marks the beginning of the "security zone" with dog patrols – free running dogs sometimes – and searchlights and minefields. Then another fence, slightly higher.'

He pursed his lips and closed his eyes as if remembering the details from a picture or a diagram. He was speaking as a child recites a difficult poem, prompted by some system of his own rather than because he really understood the meaning of what he said. But for me his words conjured a vivid memory. I'd crossed such a border zone one night in 1978. The man with me had been killed. Poor Max, a good friend. He'd screamed very loudly so that I thought they'd be sure to find us but the guards were too frightened to come into the minefield and Max took out the searchlight with a lucky shot from his pistol. It was the last thing he did; the flashes from the gun showed them where he was. Every damn gun they had was fired at him. I'd arrived safely but so shattered that they took me off the field list and I'd been a desk man ever since. And now, listening to the guard, I did it all again. My face felt hot and there was sweat on my hands.

The guard continued. 'Then a ditch with concrete sides that would stop a tank. Then barbed wire eight metres deep. Then the Selbstschtissgeräte which are devices that fire small sharp pieces of metal and are triggered by anyone going near them. Then there is a road for patrol cars that go up and down all the time. And on each side of that roadway there's a carefully raked strip that would show a footmark if anyone crossed it. Only then do you get to the third and final strip: the Kontrollstreifen with another two fences, very deep barbed wire, more minefields and observation towers manned by machine-gunners. I don't know why they bother to man the towers in the Kontrollstreifen; as far as we know, no escaper along this section has ever got within a hundred metres of it.' He gave a grim little chuckle.

I had continued to butter my bread roll and eat it during this long litany, and this seemed to annoy him. Now that his description had finally ended I looked up at him and nodded.

'Then of course there is the river,' said the guard.

'Why are you telling me all this?' I said. I drank some coffee. I desperately needed a drink, a proper drink, but the coffee would have to do.

'You might as well understand that your friend will not be corh^ said the guard. He watched me. My hand trembled as I brought tv cup down from my mouth and I spilled coffee on the tablecloth.

'What friend?' I dabbed at the stain.

'We've seen your sort before,' said the border guard. 'I know why you are waiting here at the Golden Bear.'

'You're spoiling my breakfast,' I said. 'If you don't leave me in peace I'll complain to the Tourist Bureau.'

'Walk west in future,' he said. 'It will be better for your health. No matter what your doctor might prescribe.' He grinned at his joke.

After the guard had departed, the proprietor's son came over to me. 'He's a bastard, that one. He should be 'over there', that one.' Drüben; over there. No matter which side of the border it was, the other side was always drüben. The boy spread a tablecloth on the table next to mine. Then he laid out the cutlery. Only when he got to the cruet did he say, 'Are you waiting for someone?'

'I might be,' I said.

'Nagel. That's his name. Oberstabsmeister Nagel. He would make a good communist guard. They talk to the communists every day. Do you know that?'

'No.'

'One of the other guards told me about it. They have a telephone link with the border guards on the other side. It's supposed to be used only for river accidents, floods and forest fires. But every morning they test it and they chat. I don't like the idea of it. Some bastard like Nagel could easily say too much. Your friend won't try swimming, will he?'

'Not unless he's crazy,' I said.

'Sometimes at night we hear the mines exploding,' said Konrad. 'The weight of a hare or a rabbit is enough to trigger them. Would you like more butter, or more coffee?'

'I've had enough, thanks, Konrad.'

'Is he a close friend, the one you're expecting?'

'We were at school together,' I said.

Konrad crossed himself, flicking his fingers to his forehead and to his shoulders with a quick gesture that came automatically to him.

Notwithstanding Oberstabsmeister Nagel's warning, I strolled along the river that morning. I was buttoned into my trenchcoat against the ceaseless rain. It is flat this land, part of the glaciated northern lowlands. To the west is Holland, to the north an equally flat Denmark, to the south the heathland of Luneburg. As to the east, a man could walk far into Poland before finding a decent-sized hill. Except that no man could walk very far east.

Near the river there was a battered enamel notice: 'Halt. Zonengrenze.' It was an old sign that should have been replaced a long time ago. The Soviet Union's military-occupation zone of Germany was now fancifully called the German Democratic Republic. But like Werner I could not stop calling it the Russian Zone. Perhaps we should have been replaced a long time ago too.

I walked on through grass so high that it soaked the legs of my trousers right up to the knees. I knew I would be no nearer to Werner out on the river bank but I could not stay cooped up in the Golden Bear. The Elbe is very wide here, meandering as great rivers do on such featureless terrain. And on both banks there are marshy fields, bright green with the tall, sharp-bladed grass that flourishes in such water meadows. And, although the far bank of the river had been kept clear of all obstruction, on this side there were young willow and alder, trees which are always thirsty. From across the river there came a sudden noise: the fierce rattle of a heron taking to the air. Something had flushed it out – the movement of some hidden sentry, perhaps. It flew over me with leisurely beats of its great wings, its legs trailing in the soft air as a child might trail its fingers from a boat.

A light wind cut into me but did not disperse the grey mist that followed the river. The sort of morning when border guards get jumpy and desperate men get reckless. Only working men were abroad, and working boats too. Barges, long strings of them, brown phantoms gliding silently on the almost colourless water. They slid past, following the dredged channel that took them on a winding course, sometimes near to the east bank and sometimes near the west one. All communist claims to half the river had faltered on the known difficulties of the deep water channel. Even the East German patrol boats, specially built with shallow-draught hulls, could not keep to the half of the river their masters claimed. There were West German boats too; a police cruiser and a high-speed Customs boat puttering along this deserted stretch of river bank.

I spotted another heron, standing in the shallow water staring down. It was absolutely still, except that it swayed slightly as the reeds and rushes moved in the wind. 'The patient killer of the marshland' my schoolbook had called it – waiting for a fish to swim into range of that spearlike beak. Now and again the wind along the water gusted enough to make the the mist open like curtains. On the far bank a watchtower was suddenly visible. An opened window – mirrored to prevent a clear view of the gunmen – flashed as the daylight was reflected in its copper-coloured glass. And then, as suddenly, the mist closed and the tower, the windows, the man, everything vanished.

When I reached the remains of the long-disused ferry pier I saw activity on the far side of the river. Four East German workmen were repairing the fencing. The supports were tilting forwards, thy foundations in the marshy river bank softened further by the heavy rain. While the four men worked, two guards – kasernierte Volkspolizei – stood by with their machine-pistols ready, and looked anxiously at the changing visibility lest their charges escaped into the mist. Such 'barracks police' were considered more trustworthy than men who went home each night to their wives and families.

More barges passed. Czech ones this time, heading down to where the river crossed the border into Czechoslovakia. Sitting on the hatch cover there was a bearded man drinking from a mug. He had a dog with him. The dog barked at a patch of undergrowth on the far side of the river, and ran along the boat to continue its protest.

As I got to the place at which the dog had barked I saw what had attracted its attention. There were East German soldiers, three of them, dressed in battle order complete with camouflaged helmets, trying to conceal themselves in the tall grass. They were Aufklärer, specially trained East German soldiers, who patrolled the furthermost edge of the frontier zone, and sometimes well beyond it. They had a camera, they always had cameras, to keep the capitalists observed and recorded. I waved at their blank faces and pulled my collar up across my face.

I walked for nearly two hours, looking at the river and thinking about Stinnes and Werner and Fiona, to say nothing of George and Tessa. Until ahead of me I saw a dark green VW Passat station wagon parked. Whether it was Oberstabsmeister Nagel or one of his associates I did not want to find out. I cut back across the field where the car could not follow and from there back to the village.

It was lunchtime when I arrived at the Golden Bear. I changed out of my wet shoes and trousers and put on a tie. As I was polishing the rain spots from my glasses there was a knock at my door. 'Herr Samson? Konrad here.'

'Come in, Konrad.'

'My father asks if you are having lunch.'

'Are you expecting a rush on tables?'

Konrad smiled and rubbed his chin. I suppose his unshaven face itched. 'Papa likes to know.'

'I'll eat the Pinkel and kale if that's on the menu today.'

'It's always on the menu; Papa eats it. A man in this village makes the Pinkel sausage. He makes Brägenwurst and Kochwurst too. Pinkel is a Lüneburg sausage. But people come from Lüneburg, even from Hamburg, to buy them in the village. My mother prepares it with the kale. Papa says cook can't do it properly.' Having heard my lunch order he didn't depart. He was looking at me, the expression on his face a mixture of curiosity and nervousness. 'I think your friend is coming,' he said.

I draped my wet trousers over the central-heating radiator. 'And some smoked eel too; a small portion as a starter. Why do you think my friend is coming?'

'Mother will press the wet trousers if you wish.' I gave them to him. 'Because there was a phone call from Schwanheide. A taxi is bringing someone here.'

'A taxi?'

'It is a frontier crossing point,' explained Konrad, in case I didn't know.

'My friend would not phone to say he was coming.'

Konrad smiled. 'The taxi drivers phone. If they bring someone here, and a room is rented, they get money from my father.'

Schwanheide was a road crossing point not far away, where the frontier runs due north, away from the river Elbe. I gave the boy my trousers. 'You'd better make that two lots of Pinkel and kale,' I said.

Werner arrived in time for lunch. The dining room was a comfortable place to be on such a damp, chilly day. There was a log fire, smoke-blackened beams, polished brass and red-checked tablecloths. I felt at home there because I'd found the same bogus interior everywhere from Dublin to Warsaw and a thousand places in between, with unashamed copies in Tokyo and Los Angeles. They came from the sort of artistic designer who paints robins on Christmas cards.

'How did it go?' I asked. Werner shrugged. He would tell me in his own good time. He always had to get his thoughts in order. He ordered a tankard of Pilsener. Werner never seemed to require a strong drink no matter what happened to him, and he still hadn't finished his beer by the time the smoked eel and black bread arrived. 'Was there any trouble?'

'No real trouble,' said Werner. The rain helped.'

'Good.'

'It rained all night,' said Werner. 'It was about three o'clock in the morning when I came through Potsdam…'

'What the hell were you doing in Potsdam, Werner? That's to hell and gone.'

'There were road repairs. I was diverted. When I came through Potsdam it was pouring with rain. There was not a soul to be seen anywhere; not one car. Not even a police car or an army truck until I got to the centre of town; Friedrich Ebert Strasse… Do you know Potsdam?'

'I know where Friedrich Ebert Strasse is,' I said. 'The intelligence report I showed you said that there has lately been a traffic cheeky, at the Nauener Tor after dark.'

'You read all that stuff, do you?' said Werner admiringly. 'I don't know how you find time enough.'

'I hope you read it too.'

'I did. But I remembered too late. There was a checkpoint there last night. At least there was an army truck and two men inside it. They were smoking. I only saw them because of the glow of their cigarettes.'

'Were your papers okay? How did you account for being over there? That's a different jurisdiction.'

'Yes, it's Bezirk Potsdam,' said Werner. 'But I would have talked my way out of trouble. The diversion signs are not illuminated. I should think a lot of people get lost trying to find their way back to the autobahn. But the rain was very heavy and those policemen decided not to get wet. I slowed down and almost stopped, to show I was law-abiding. The driver just wound down the window of the truck and waved me through.'

'It didn't use to be like that, did it, Werner? There was a time when everyone over there did everything by the book. No more, no less; always by the book. Even in hotels the staff would refuse tips or gifts. Now it's all changed. Now no one believes in the socialist revolution, they just believe in Westmarks.'

'These were probably conscripts,' said Werner, 'counting out their eighteen months of compulsory service. Maybe even Kampfgruppen.'

'Kampfgruppen are keen,' I said. 'Unpaid volunteers, they would have been all over you.'

'Not any longer,' said Werner. 'They can't get enough volunteers. The factories pressure people to join nowadays. They make it a condition of being promoted to foreman or supervisor. The Kampfgruppen have gone very slack.'

'Well, that suits me,' I said. 'And when you were coming through Potsdam with papers that say you have limited movement in the immediate vicinity of Berlin, I suppose that's all right with you too.'

'It's not just the East,' said Werner defensively. He regarded any criticism of Germans and Germany as a personal attack upon him. Sometimes I wondered how he reconciled this patriotism with wanting to work for London Central. 'It's the same everywhere: bribery and corruption. Twenty or more years ago, when we first got involved in this business, people stole secrets because they were politically committed or patriotic. Moscow's payments out were always piddling little amounts, paid to give Moscow a tighter grip on agents who would willingly have worked for nothing. How many people are like that nowadays? Not many. Now both sides have to pay dearly for their espionage. Half the people who bring us material would sell to the highest bidder.'

'That's what capitalism is all about, Werner.' I said it to needle him.

'I'd hate to be like you,' said Werner. 'If I really believed that I wouldn't want to work for London.'

'Have you ever thought about your obsession with working for the department?' I asked him. 'You're making enough money; you've got Zena. What the hell are you doing schlepping around in Potsdam in the middle of the night?'

'It's what I've done since I was a kid. I'm good at it, aren't I?'

'You're better at it than I am; that's what you want to prove, isn't it, Werner?' He shrugged as if he'd never thought about it before. I said, 'You want to prove that you could do my job without tarnishing yourself the way that I tarnish myself.'

'If you're talking about the hippies on the beach…'

'Okay, Werner. Here we go. Tell me about the hippies on the beach. I knew we'd have to talk about it sooner or later.'

'You should have reported your suspicions to the police,' said Werner primly.

'I was in the middle of doing a job, Werner. I was in a foreign country. The job I do is not strictly legal. I can't afford the luxury of a clear conscience.'

'Then what about the house in Bosham?' said Werner.

'I do things my way, Werner.'

'You started this argument,' said Werner. 'I have never criticized you. It's your conscience that's troubling you.'

'There are times when I could kill you, Werner,' I said.

Werner smiled smugly, then we both looked round at the sound of laughter. A party of people were coming into the dining room for lunch. It was a birthday lunch given for a bucolic sixty-year-old. He'd been celebrating before their arrival, to judge by the way he blundered against the table and knocked over a chair before getting settled. There were a dozen people in the party, all of them over fifty and some nearer seventy. The men were in Sunday suits and the women had tightly waved hair and old-fashioned hats. Twelve lunches: I suppose that's why the kitchen wanted my order in advance. 'Two more Pilsener,' Werner called to Konrad. 'And my friend will have a schnapps with his.'

'Just to clean the fish from my fingers,' I said. The boy smiled. It was an old German custom to offer schnapps with the eel and use the final drain of it to clean the fingers. But like lots of old German customs it was now conveniently discontinued.

The birthday party occupied a long table by the window but they were too close for Werner to continue his account. So we chatted about things of no importance and watched the celebration.

Konrad brought our Pinkel and kale, a casserole dish of sausage and greens, with its wonderful smell of smoked bacon and onions. And, having decided that I was a connoisseur of fine sausage, his mother sent a small extra plate with a sample of the Kochwurst and Brägenwurst.

The birthday party were eating a special order of Schlesisches Himmelreich. This particular 'Silesian paradise' was a pork stew flavoured with dried fruit and hot spices. There was a cheer when the stew, in its big brown pot, first arrived. And another cheer for the bread dumplings that followed soon after. The portions were piled high. The ladies were tackling it delicately, but the men, despite their years, were shovelling it down with gusto, and their beer was served in one-litre-size tankards which Konrad replaced as fast as they were emptied.

Manfred, the red-faced farmer whose birthday was being celebrated, kept proposing joke toasts to 'celibacy' and 'sweethearts and wives – and may they never meet' and then, more seriously, a toast for Konrad's mother who every year cooked this fine meal of Silesian favourites.

But the party did not become more high-spirited as the celebration progressed. On the contrary, everyone became more dejected, starting from the time that Manfred proposed a toast to 'absent friends'. For these elderly Germans were all from Breslau. Their beloved Silesia was now a part of Poland and they would never see it again. I'd caught their accents when they first entered the room, but now that memories occupied their minds, and alcohol loosened their tongues, the Silesian accents became far stronger. There were quick asides and rejoinders that used local words and phrases I didn't know.

'Our Germany has become little more than a gathering place for refugees,' said Werner. 'Zena's family are just like them. They have these big family gatherings and talk about the old times. They talk about the farm as if they left only yesterday. They remember the furniture in every room of those vast houses, which fields never yielded winter barley and which had the earliest crop of sugar-beet, and they can name every horse they've ever ridden. And they do what these people at the next table are doing: they eat the old dishes, talk about long dead friends and relatives. Eventually they will probably sing the old songs. It's another world, Bernie. We're big-city kids. People from the country are different from us, and these Germans from the eastern lands knew a life we can't even guess at.'

'It was good while it lasted.'

'But when it ended it ended for ever,' said Werner. 'Her family got out just ahead of the Red Army. The house was hit by artillery fire before they would face the reality of it and actually start moving westwards. And they came out with virtually only what they stood up in – a handful of cash, some jewellery and a pocketful of family photos.'

'But Zena is young. She never saw the family estates in East Prussia, did she?'

'Everything was blown to hell. Someone told them that there's a fertilizer factory built over it now. But she grew up listening to these fairy stories, Bernie. You know how many kids have fantasies about really being born aristocrats or film stars.'

'Do they?' I said.

'Certainly they do. I grew up wondering whether I might really be the son of Tante Lisl.'

'And who does Zena grow up thinking her mother might be?'

'You know what I mean, Bernie. Zena hears all these stories about her family having dozens of servants, horses and carriages… and about the Christmas balls, hunting breakfasts, ceremonial banquets and wonderful parties with military bands playing and titled guests dancing outside under the stars… Zena is still very young, Bernard. She doesn't want to believe that it's all gone for ever.'

'You'd better persuade her it is, Werner. For her sake, and for your own sake too.'

'She's a child, Bernie. That's why I love her so much. It's because she believes in all kinds of fairy stories that I love her.'

'She doesn't really think of going back, does she?'

'Going back in time, yes. But not going back to East Prussia.'

'But she has the accent,' I said.

Werner looked at me as if I'd mentioned some intimate aspect of his wife that I should not have known about. 'Yes, she's picked it up from her parents. It's strange, isn't it?'

'Not very strange,' I said. 'You've more or less told me why. She's determined to hang on to her dreams.'

'You're right,' said Werner, who'd gone through the usual teenage dalliance with Freud, Adler and Jung. 'The desire is in her subconscious but the fact that she chooses speech as the characteristic to imitate shows that she wants that secret desire to be known.'

Oh my God, I thought. I've started him off now. Werner lecturing on psychology was among the most mind-numbing experiences known to science.

I looked across to where the birthday party was having the.dessert dishes cleared away, and ordering the coffee and brandy that would be served to them in the bar. But Manfred was not to be hurried. He had his glass raised and was proposing yet another toast. He nodded impatiently at Konrad's suggestion that they retire to the next room. 'The words of our immortal Goethe,' said Manfred, 'speak to every German soul when he says, "Gebraucht der Zeit. Sie geht so schnell von hinnen; dock Ordnung lehrt euch Zeit gewinnen." '

There were murmurs of agreement and appreciation. Then they all drank to Goethe. As they all trooped off to the bar, I said to Werner, 'I never feel more English than when I hear someone quoting your great German poets.'

'What do you mean?' said Werner, with more than a trace of indignation.

'Such ideas would win few converts in England at any level of intellect, affluence or political thought. Consider what our friend just proclaimed so proudly. In English it would become something like "Employ each hour which so quickly glides away… " So far, so good. But then comes '… but learn through order how to conquer time's swift flight.' '

'It's a rotten translation,' said Werner. 'In the context gewinnen is probably meant as "reclaim" or "earn".'

'The point I'm making, my dear Werner, is the natural repulsion any Englishman would feel at the notion of inflicting order upon his time. Especially inflicting order upon his leisure time or, as is possibly implied here, his retirement.'

'Why?'

'For Englishmen order does not go well with leisure. They like muddle and disarray. They like "messing about in boats", or dozing in a deckchair on a beach, or pottering about in the garden, or reading the newspapers or some paperback book.'

'Are you trying to persuade me that you are very English?'

'That fellow Henry Tiptree is in Berlin,' I said. 'He's that tall friend of…'

'I know who he is,' said Werner.

'Tiptree asked me if I was German.'

'And are you German?'

'I feel very German when I'm with people like Tiptree,' I said. Konrad came to the table brandishing his menu. He was looking at Werner with great interest.

'So if Tiptree starts quoting Goethe at you, you'll have a nervous collapse,' said Werner. 'Do you want a dessert? I don't want a dessert, and you're getting too fat.'

'Just coffee,' I said. 'I don't know what I am. I see those people from Silesia. You tell me about Zena's family. I look at myself and I wonder where I can really call home. Do you know what I mean, Werner?'

'Of course I know what you mean. I'm a Jew.' He looked at Konrad. 'Two coffees; two schnapps.'

Konrad did not hurry us to leave the dining room after he brought the order. He poured the coffees and brought tiny glasses of clear schnapps and then left the bottle on the table. It was of local manufacture. Konrad seemed to think that anyone who'd come from 'over there' would need an ample supply of alcohol. But I had to wait until we were quite alone before I could get down to business. I looked round the room to be sure there was no one who could hear us. There was no one. From the next room came the loud voices of the Silesians. 'What about Stinnes?'

Werner rubbed his hands together and then sniffed at them. There was still the fishy smell of the smoked eel. He splashed some of the alcohol on his napkin and rubbed his fingers with the dampened cloth. 'When I went over there I thought it would be a waste of time.'

'Did you, Werner?'

'I thought if London Central want me to go there and cobble up some sort of report I would oblige them. But I didn't believe I could find out very much about Stinnes. Furthermore I was pretty well convinced that Stinnes had been leading us up the garden path.'

'And now?'

'I've changed my mind on both scores.'

'What happened?'

'You're concerned about him aren't you?' said Werner.

'I don't give a damn. I just want to know.'

'You identify with him.'

'Don't be ridiculous,' I said.

'He was born in 1943, the same year that you were born. His father was in the occupying army in Berlin, just as your father was. He went to a German civilian school just as you did. He is a senior-grade intelligence officer with a German speciality, just as you are a British one. You identify with him.'

'I'm not going to argue with you, Werner, but you know as well as I do that I could prepare a list a mile long to show you that you're talking nonsense.'

'For instance?'

'Stinnes has also had a Spanish-language speciality for many years, and seems to be a KGB expert on Cuba and all things Cuban. I'll bet you that if Stinnes was lined up for a job in Moscow it was to be on their Cuba Desk.'

'Stinnes didn't originally go to Cuba just because he could speak Spanish,' said Werner. 'He went there primarily because he was one of Moscow's experts on Roman Catholicism. He was in the Religious Affairs Bureau; Section 44. Back in those days the Bureau was just two men and a dog. Now, with the Polish Church playing a part in politics, the Bureau is big and important. But Stinnes has not worked for Section 44 for many years. His wife persuaded him to take the Berlin job.'

'That's good work, Werner. His marriage?'

'Stinnes has always been a womanizer. It's hard to believe when you look at him but women are strange creatures. We both know that, Bernie.'

'He's getting a divorce?'

'It all seems to be exactly as Stinnes described. They live in a house – not an apartment, a house – in the country, not far from Werneuchen.'

'Where's that?'

'North-east, outside the city limits. It's the last station on the S-Bahn. The electric trains only go to Marzahn but the service continues a long way beyond.'

'Damned strange place to live.'

'His wife is German, Bernie. She came back from Moscow because she couldn't learn to speak Russian. She'd not want to live with a lot of Russian wives.'

'You went out there?'

'I saw the wife. I said I was compiling a census for the bus service. I asked her how often she went into Berlin and how she travelled.'

'Jesus. That's dangerous, Werner.'

'It was okay, Bernie. I think she was glad to talk to someone.'

'Don't do anything like that again, Werner. There are people who could do that for you, people with papers and back-up. Suppose she'd sent for the police and you'd had to show your papers?'

'It was okay, Bernie. She wasn't going to send for anyone. She was nursing a bruised face that was going to become a black eye. She said she fell over but it was Stinnes who hit her.'

'What?'

'Now do you see why it's better I do these things myself? I talked to her. She told me that she was hoping to move back to Leipzig. She came from a village just outside Leipzig. She has a brother and two sisters living there. She can't wait to get back there. She hates Berlin, she told me. That's the sort of thing a wife says when she really means she hates her husband. It all fits together, Bernie.'

'So you think Stinnes is on the level? He has been passed over for promotion and he does want a divorce?'

'I don't know about the promotion prospects,' said Werner, 'but the marriage is all but over. I went to all the houses in that little street. The neighbours are all German. They talked to me. They've heard Stinnes and his wife arguing, and they heard them shouting and things breaking the night before I saw her with a battered face. They fight, Bernie. That's an established fact. They fight because Stinnes runs around with other women.'

'Let me hang this one on you. This business – the arguments with his wife, his womanizing and his being in a dead-end job – is all arranged by the KGB as part of a cover story. At best, they will lead us on into this entrapment to see what we're going to do. At worst, they'll try to grab one of us.'

'Grab one of us? They won't grab me; I've just been twice through the checkpoints. I see no reason to think they are going to grab Dicky. When you say grab one of us, you mean grab Bernie Samson.'

'Well, suppose I do mean that?'

'No, Bernie. It's not just a cover story. Stinnes punched his wife in the face. You're not telling me that he did that as part of his cover story too?'

I didn't answer. I looked out of the window. Already the workmen were back from lunch and at work on the demolition. I looked at my watch; forty-five minutes exactly. That's the way it was in Germany.

Werner said, 'No one would go home and hit his wife just to fit in with a story his boss invented.'

'Suppose it was all part of some bigger plan. Then perhaps it would be worth while.'

'Why don't you admit you are wrong, Bernie? Even if they thought they were going to get the greatest secrets in the world, Stinnes did not punch his wife for that reason.'

'How can you be sure?'

'Bernie,' said Werner gently. 'Have you calculated the chances of my going out to that house and seeing her with a bruised face? A million to one? If we were discussing rumours, I might go along with you. If I had only the reports of the neighbours, I might go along with you. But a man doesn't smash his wife's face in on the million-to-one chance that an enemy agent would take what you describe as a dangerous chance.'

'You're right, Werner.'

He looked at me a long time. I suppose he was trying to decide whether to say the rest of it. Finally he said, 'If you want to hear what I really think, it comes closer to home.'

'What do you really think, Werner?' Now that the last remaining wall was down, they started to bulldoze the rubble into piles.

'I think Stinnes was in charge in Berlin until your wife took over his department. She told you Stinnes was her senior assistant…'

That was obviously not true. If Stinnes was her senior assistant the last person she'd tell would be me.'

'I think she threw Stinnes out. I think she sent him off to Mexico to get him out of her way. It's the same when anyone takes over a new department; a new boss gets rid of all the previous top staff and their projects.'

'Maybe.' I looked at the workmen. I'd always thought that old buildings were better made than new ones. I'd always thought they were solid and well built but this one was just as flimsy as any of the new ones that greedy speculators threw together.

'You know what Fiona is like. She doesn't like competition of the sort that Stinnes would give her. It's just what Fiona would do.'

'I've been giving a lot of thought to what Fiona might do,' I said. 'And I think you're right about her wanting to get rid of Stinnes. Maybe she's decided to get rid of him for good and all.' Werner looked up and waited for the next bit. 'Get rid of him to us by letting him get enrolled.'

Werner closed his eyes and pinched his nose between thumb and forefinger. He said, 'A bit far-fetched, Bernie. She went to England to warn you off. You told me that.' His eyes remained shut.

'That might be the clever part of it. She warns me to lay off Stinnes; she knows that it will have no effect on me.'

'And her threats to kidnap the children?'

'There were no threats to kidnap the children. I was thinking back to the conversation. She offered to let things stay as they are for a year.'

He opened his eyes and stared at me. 'Providing Stinnes was left alone.'

'Okay, but it was all very negative, Werner, and Fiona is not negative. Normally I would have expected her to say what I must do and she'd say what she'd do in return. That's the sort of person she is; she makes deals. I think she wants us to enrol Stinnes. I think she'd like to get rid of him permanently. If she really wanted to stop us enrolling him she'd send him to some place where we couldn't get our hands on him.'

'And killing the boy, MacKenzie. How does that fit into the theory?'

'She had a witness with her all the time – the black girl – and there were others too. That's why she was talking in riddles. She didn't want to see me alone so there was no chance of them suspecting her of double-crossing them. I think the MacKenzie murder was a decision made by someone else; the back-up team. She'd have a backup team with her. You know how they work.'

Werner sat motionless for a moment as he thought about it. 'She's ruthless enough for it, Bernie.'

'Damn right she is,' I said.

He waited a moment. 'You still love her, don't you?'

'No, I don't.'

'Whatever you want to call it, something prevents you thinking about her clearly. If it came to the crunch, that something would prevent you doing what needed to be done. Maybe that wouldn't matter so much except that you are determined to believe that she feels the same way about you. Fiona is ruthless, Bernie. Totally dedicated to doing whatever the KGB want done. Face it, she'd eliminate MacKenzie without a qualm and, if it comes to it, she'll eliminate you.'

'You're an incurable romantic, Werner,' I said, making a joke of it, but the strength of his feelings had shaken me.

Now Werner had said what he thought about Fiona, he was embarrassed. We sat silent, both looking out of the window like strangers in a railway carriage. It was still raining. 'That Henry Tiptree,' said Werner eventually. 'What does he want?

'He doesn't like super-luxury hotels such as the Steigenberger, with private baths, and room service, disco and fancy food. He likes the real Berlin. He likes to rough it at Lisl's.'

'Crap,' said Werner.

'He tried to get me drunk the other night. He probably thought I was going to bare my soul to him. Why crap? I like Lisl's and so do you.'

Werner didn't bother to answer my question. We both knew that Henry Tiptree was not like us and was unlikely to share our tastes in anything from music and food to cars and women. 'He's spying on you,' said Werner. 'Frank Harrington's sent him to Lisl's to spy on you. It's obvious.'

'Don't be silly, Werner.' I laughed. It wasn't funny. I laughed just because I was sitting across the table from Werner, and Werner was sitting there safe and sound. I said, 'To hear you talk, Frank Harrington rules the world. Frank is only the Berlin Resident. All he's interested in is nursing the Berlin Field Unit along until he retires. He's not training his spies to chase me across the world from Mexico City to Tante Lisl's in order to get me drunk and see what secrets he can winkle out of me.'

'You always try to make me sound ridiculous.'

'Frank isn't out to get you. And he's not trying to get me either.'

'So who is this Henry Tiptree?'

'Just another graduate of the Foreign Office charm school,' I said. 'He's helping to write one of those reports about the Soviet arms build-up. You know the sort of thing; what are the political intentions and the economic consequences.'

'You don't believe any of that,' said Werner.

'I believe it. Why wouldn't I believe it? The department is buried under the weight of reports like that. Forests are set aside to provide the pulp for reports like that. Sometimes I think the entire staff of the Foreign Office does nothing else but concoct reports like that. Do you know, Werner, that in 1914 the Foreign Office staff numbered a hundred and seventy-six people in London plus four hundred and fifty in the diplomatic service overseas. Now that we've lost the empire they need six thousand officials plus nearly eight thousand locally engaged staff.'

Werner looked at me with heavy-lidded eyes. 'Take the Valium and lie down for a moment.'

That's nearly fourteen thousand people, Werner. Can you wonder why we have Henry Tiptrees swanning round the world looking for something to occupy them?'

'I don't like him,' said Werner. 'He's out to make trouble. You'll see.'

'I'll ask Frank who he is,' I offered. 'I'll have to make my peace with Frank. I'll need his help to keep London off my back.' I tried to make it sound easy, but in fact I dreaded all the departmental repercussions that would emerge when I surfaced again. And I was far from sure whether Frank would be able to help. Or whether he would want to help.

'Are you driving back to Berlin? I had to leave the car in the East, of course. I'll phone Zena and say I'll be back for dinner. Are you free for dinner?'

'Zena will want you all to herself, Werner.' Surely Frank Harrington would stand by me. He'd always helped in the past. We had a father-and-son relationship, with all the stormy encounters that that so often implies. But Frank would help. Within the department he was the only one I could always rely upon.

'Nonsense. We'll all have dinner,' said Werner. 'Zena likes entertaining.'

'I'm not too concerned about Tiptree,' I said. It wasn't true, of course. I was concerned about him. I was concerned about the whole bloody tangled mess I was in. And the fact that I'd denied my concern was enough to tell Werner of those fears. He stared at me; I suppose he was worried about me. I smiled at him and added, 'You only have to spend ten minutes with Tiptree to know he's a blundering amateur.' But was he really such a foolish amateur, I wondered. Or was he a very clever man who knew how to look like one?

'It's the amateurs who are most dangerous,' said Werner.

17

Zena Volkmann could be captivating when she was in the mood to play the gracious hostess. This evening she greeted us wearing tight-fitting grey pants with a matching shirt. And over this severe garb she'd put a loose silk sleeveless jacket that was striped with every colour in the rainbow. Her hair was up and coiled round her head in a style that required a long time at the hairdresser. She had used some eyeshadow and enough make-up to accentuate her cheekbones. She looked very pretty, but not like the average housewife welcoming her husband home for dinner, more like a girlfriend expecting to be taken out to an expensive night-spot. I delivered Werner to the apartment in Berlin-Dahlem ready to forget his invitation. But Zena said she'd prepared a meal for the three of us and insisted earnestly enough to convince me to stay, loudly enough for Werner to be proud of her warm hospitality.

She held his upper arms and kissed him carefully enough to preserve her lipstick and make-up and then straightened his tie and nicked dust from his jacket. Zena knew exactly how to handle him. She was an expert on how to handle men. I think she might even have been able to handle me if she'd put her mind to it but luckily I was not a part of her planned future.

She asked Werner's advice about everything she didn't care about, and she enlisted his aid whenever there was a chance for her to play the helpless woman. He was called to the kitchen to open a tin and to get hot pans from the oven. Werner was the only one who could open a bottle of wine and decant it. Werner was asked to peer at the quiche and sniff at the roast chicken and pronounce it cooked. But since virtually all the food had come prepared by the Paul Bocuse counter of the Ka De We food department, probably the greatest array of food on sale anywhere in the world, Zena's precautions seemed somewhat overwrought. Yet Werner obviously revelled in them.

Had I read all the psychology books that Werner had on his shelf I might have started thinking that Zena was a manifestation of his desire for a daughter, or a reflection of childhood suspicions of his mother's chastity. As it was I just figured that Werner liked the dependent type and Zena was happy to play that role for him. After all, I was pretty sure that Zena hadn't read any of those books either.

But you don't have to read books to get smart, and Zena was as smart as a street urchin climbing under the flap of a circus tent. Certainly Zena could teach me a thing or two, as she did that evening. The apartment itself was an interesting indication of their relationship. Werner, despite his constant declarations of imminent bankruptcy, had always been something of a spender. But before he met Zena this apartment was like a student's pad. It was entirely masculine: an old piano, upon which Werner liked to play 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes', and big lumpy chairs with broken springs, their ancient floral covers perforated by carelessly held cigarettes. There was even a motheaten tiger's skin which – like so much of Werner's furnishings – had come from the fleamarket in the abandoned S-Bahn station on Tauentzienstrasse. In those days the kitchen was equipped with little more than a can-opener and a frying pan. And glasses outnumbered cups by five to one. Now it was different. It wasn't like a real apartment any more; it was like one of those bare-looking sets that are photographed for glossy magazines. The lights all shone on the ceiling and walls, and the sofa had a scrape draped over it. Green plants, little rugs, cut flowers and a couple of books were strategically positioned, and the chairs were very modern and uncomfortable.

We were sitting round the dining table, finishing the main course of chicken stuffed with truffles and exotic herbs. Zena had told Werner what wonderful wine he'd chosen, and he asked her what she'd been doing while he was away.

Zena said, The only outing worth mentioning is the evening I went to the opera.' She turned to me and said, 'Werner doesn't like opera. Taking Werner to the opera is like trying to teach a bear to dance.'

'You didn't go alone?' asked Werner.

'That's just what I was going to tell you. Erich Stinnes phoned. I didn't tell him you were not here, Werner. I didn't want him to know you were away. I don't like anyone to know you're away.'

'Erich Stinnes?' said Werner.

'He phoned. You know what he's like. He had two tickets for the opera. One for you, Werner, and one for me. I thought it was very nice of him. He said it was in return for all the dinners he'd eaten with us.'

'Not so many,' said Werner glumly.

'He was just being polite, darling. So I said that you would be late back but that I would love to go.'

I looked at Werner and he looked at me. In some other situation, such looks exchanged between two men in some other line of work might have been comment on a wife's fidelity. But Werner and I were thinking other thoughts. The alarm on Werner's face was registering the fear that Stinnes knew Zena was alone because he had had him followed over there in the East Sector of the city. Zena looked from one to the other of us. 'What is it?' she said.

'The opera,' said Werner vaguely, as his mind retraced his movements from Berlin and across the dark countryside to the frontier and tried to remember any persisting headlights on the road behind, a shadow in a doorway, a figure in the street or any one of a thousand slips that even the best of agents is prey to.

'He sent a car,' said Zena. 'I started worrying when it was due to arrive. I thought it might drive up to the front door with a Russian army driver in uniform, or with a hammer-and-sickle flag on the front of it.' She giggled.

'You went to the East?'

'We saw Mozart's Magic Flute, darling. At the Comic Opera. It's a lovely little theatre; have you never been? Lots of people from the West go over for the evening. There were British officers in gorgeous uniforms and lots of women in long dresses. I felt under-dressed if anything. We must go together, Werner. It was lovely.'

'Stinnes is married,' said Werner.

'Don't be such a prude, Werner, I know he's married. We've both heard Erich talking about his failed marriage at length enough to remember that.'

'It was a strange thing for him to do, wasn't it?' Werner said.

'Oh, Werner, darling. How can you say that? You heard me saying how much I liked the opera. And Erich asked you if you liked opera and you said yes you did.

'I probably wasn't listening,' said Werner.

'I know you weren't listening. You almost went to sleep. I had to kick you under the table.'

'You must be very careful with Erich Stinnes,' said Werner. He smiled as if determined not to become angry with her. 'He's not the polite gentleman that he likes to pretend to be. He's KGB, Zena, and all those Chekists are dangerous.'

'I've got apple strudel, and after that I've got chocolates from the Lenotre counter at Ka De We, the ones you like. Praline. Do you want to skip the strudel? What about you, Bernard?'

'I'll have everything,' I said.

'Whipped cream with the strudel? Coffee at the same time?' said Zena.

'You took the words right out of my mouth,' I said.

'Stinnes is playing a dangerous game,' Werner told her. 'No one knows what he's really got in mind. Suppose he held you hostage over there in the East?'

Zena hugged herself, grimaced, and said, 'Promises, promises.'

'It's not funny,' said Werner. 'It could happen.'

'I can handle Erich Stinnes,' said Zena. 'I understand Erich Stinnes better than you men will ever understand him. You should ask a woman to help if you really want to understand a man like that.'

'I understand him all right,' Werner called after her as she disappeared into the kitchen to get the apple strudel and switch on the coffee-machine. To me in a quieter voice he added, 'Perhaps I understand him too bloody well.'

The phone rang. Werner answered it. He grunted into the mouthpiece in a way that was unusual for the amiable Werner. 'Yes, he's here, Frank,' he said.

Frank Harrington. Of the whole population of Berlin I knew of only one that Werner really disliked, and that was the head of the Berlin Field Unit. It did not portend well for Werner's future in the department. For Werner's sake I hoped that Frank retired from the service soon.

I took the phone. 'Hello, Frank. Bernard here.'

'I've tried everywhere, Bernard. Why the hell don't you phone my office when you get into town and give me a contact number.'

'I'm at List's,' I said. 'I'm always at Lisl's.'

'You're not always at Lisl's,' said Frank. He sounded angry. 'You're not at Lisl's now, and you haven't been at bloody Lisl's for the last two nights.'

'I haven't been in Berlin for two nights,' I said. 'You don't want me to phone you every night wherever I am, anywhere in the world, do you? Even my mother doesn't expect that, Frank.'

'Dicky says you left London without even notifying him you were going anywhere.'

'Dicky said that?'

'Yes,' shouted Frank. 'Dicky said that.'

'Dicky's got a terrible memory, Frank. Last year he took one of those mail-order memory courses you see advertised in the newspapers. But it didn't seem to make much difference.'

'I'm not in the mood for your merry quips,' said Frank. 'I want you in my office, tomorrow morning at ten o'clock, without fail.'

'I was going to contact you anyway, Frank.'

'Tomorrow morning, my office, ten o'clock, without fail,' said Frank again. 'And I don't want you drinking all night in Lisl's bar. Understand?'

'Yes, I understand, Frank,' I said. 'Give my best regards to your wife.' I rang off.

Werner looked at me.

'Frank reading the Riot Act,' I explained. 'Don't get drunk in Lisl's bar, he said. It sounds as if he's been talking to that fellow Henry Tiptree.'

'He's spying on you,' said Werner, in a voice of feigned weariness. 'How long is it going to take before you start believing me?'

Zena reappeared with a tray upon which stood my slice of apple strudel, whipped cream, the coffee and a small plate of assorted chocolates. 'Who was on the phone?' she asked.

'Frank Harrington,' said Werner. 'He wanted Bernie.'

She nodded to show she'd heard and she arranged the things from the tray on the table. Then, when she'd finished her little task, she looked up and said, 'They're offering Erich a quarter of a million dollars to defect.'

'What?' said Werner, thunderstruck.

'You heard me, darling. London Central are offering Erich Stinnes a quarter of a million dollars to defect.' She was aware of what a bombshell she'd thrown at us. I had the impression that her main motive in persuading me to stay to dinner was to have me present when she announced this news.

'Ridiculous,' said Werner. 'Do you know anything about that, Bernie?'

Zena gave me no chance to steal her thunder. She said, 'That is a gross sum that would include his car and miscellaneous expenses. But it wouldn't be subject to tax and it wouldn't include the two-bedroom house they'll provide for him. He'll be on his own anyway. He's decided not to ask his wife to go with him. He's not even going to tell her about the offer. He's frightened she'll report him. They don't get along together; they quarrel.'

'A quarter of a million dollars,' said Werner. That's… nearly seven hundred thousand marks. I don't believe it.'

Zena put the strudel in front of me and placed the whipped cream to hand. 'Do you want whipped cream in your coffee, Werner?' She poured a cup of coffee and passed it to her husband. 'Well, it's true, whether you believe it or not. That's what they've offered him.'

'I haven't heard anything about it, Zena,' I said. 'I'm supposed to be handling the whole business but I've heard nothing yet about a big lump sum. If they were going to offer him a quarter of a million dollars I think they'd tell me, don't you?'

It was intended as a rhetorical question but Zena answered it. 'No, my dear Bernard,' she said. 'I'm quite sure they wouldn't tell you.'

'Why not?' I said.

'Use your imagination,' said Zena. 'You're senior staff at London Central, maybe more important than a man such as Stinnes…'

'Much more important,' I said between mouthfuls of strudel.

'Exactly,' said Zena. 'So if Erich is worth a quarter of a million dollars to London Central you'd be worth the same to Moscow.'

It took me a moment or two to understand what she meant. I grinned at the thought of it. 'You mean London Central are frightened in case I discover what I'm worth and then defect to Moscow and price myself at the same fee?'

'Of course,' said Zena. She was twenty-two years old. To her it had the elegant simplicity that the world had for me when I was her age.

'I'd need more than a quarter of a million dollars to soften the prospect of having to spend the rest of my days in Moscow,' I said.

'Don't be evasive,' said Zena. 'Do you really think that Erich will spend the rest of his days in London?'

'You tell me,' I said. I finished my strudel and sipped at my coffee. It was very strong. Zena liked strong black coffee but I floated cream on mine. So did Werner.

Werner rubbed his face and took his coffee over to the armchair to sit down. He looked very tired. 'You can see what Zena means, Bernie.' He looked from me to Zena and back again, hoping to find a way of keeping the peace.

'No,' I said.

'Extending this idea just for the sake of argument,' he said apologetically, 'Moscow would simply want to debrief you in depth. What are we talking about: six months? Twelve months at the outside.'

'And after that?' I said. 'Continuing to extend this for the sake of argument, what would happen to me after that?'

'A new identity. Now that the KGB have that new forgery factory near the airport at Schönefeld they can provide papers that pass damned near any sort of scrutiny. German workmanship, you see.' He smiled a tiny smile; just enough to make it all a bit of a joke.

'German workmanship,' I said. The Russians had been at it since 1945. They'd gathered together the scattered remnants of SS unit Amt VI F, which from Berlin's Delbruckstrasse – and using the nearby Spechthausen bei Eberswalde paper factory, and forgers housed in the equally nearby Oranienburg concentration camp – had supervised the manufacture of superb forgeries of everything from Swedish passports to British five-pound notes. 'Perfect papers and a new identity. Plus an unlimited amount of forged paper money. That would be lovely, Werner.'

Werner looked up from under his heavy eyelids and said, 'Defectors to Moscow wind up in weird places, Bernie. You and I both know certain residents of Cape Town, Rome and… where was that last one: some place in Bolivia?… who have changed their names and occupations suddenly and successfully since the last time we saw them.'

'For a quarter of a million dollars?' I said. 'And spend the rest of your life in Cape Town, Rome or Bolivia?'

'Zena didn't mean that you'd do that for a quarter of a million dollars, Bernie.'

'Didn't she? What did you mean, Zena?' I said.

Zena said, 'No need to get touchy. You heard what I said, and you know it's true. I said that London Central were afraid of what you might do. I didn't say that I felt the same way. London Central trust no one. They don't trust Werner, they don't trust you, they don't trust me.'

'Trust you how?' I said.

Zena touched her necklace and smoothed the collar of her silk jacket, preening herself while looking away across the room as if half occupied with other, more important matters. 'They don't trust me to be their contact for Stinnes. I asked Dicky Cruyer. He ignored the question. Earlier this evening I put the same idea to you. You changed the subject.'

'Do you know for certain that Erich Stinnes has only the one child?' I said.

'Not a child exactly,' said Zena. 'He has just the one son who is eighteen years old. Perhaps nineteen by now. He failed to get into Berlin University last year in spite of having very high marks. They have a system over there that gives priority to the children of manual workers. Erich was furious.'

I got up from the table and went to look out of the window. It was dusk. Werner's apartment in the fashionable Berlin suburb of Dahlem looked out on to other expensive apartment blocks. But between them could be seen the dark treetops of the Grunewald, parkland that stretched some six kilometres to the wide water of the Havel. On a sunny day – with the windows open wide – the sweet warm air would endorse every claim made for that famous Berliner Luft. But now it was almost dark and the rain was spattering against the glass.

Zena's provocative remarks made me jumpy. Why had London not told me what they'd offered to Stinnes. I wasn't just the 'file officer' on a run-of-the-mill operation. This was an enrolment – the trickiest game in the book. The usual procedure was to keep 'the enroller' informed about everything that happened. I wondered if Dicky knew about the quarter of a million dollars. It took no more than a moment to decide that Dicky must know; as German Stations Controller he'd have to sign the chits for the payment. The quarter of a million dollars would have to be debited against his departmental outgoings, until the cashier adjusted the figures by means of a payment from central funding.

Street gutters overflowing with rain-water reflected the street lamps and made a line of moons that were continually shattered by passing traffic. Any one of the parked cars might have contained a surveillance team. Any of the windows of the apartment block across the street might have concealed cameras with long-focal-length lenses, and microphones with parabolic reflectors. At what point does sensible caution become clinical paranoia. At what point does a trusted employee become 'a considered risk', and then finally a 'non-critical employment only' category. I closed the curtains and turned round to face Zena. 'How furious?' I said. 'Is Stinnes furious enough to send his son to university in the West?'

'It's nothing to do with me,' said Zena. 'Ask him for yourself.'

'We need all the help we can get,' Werner told her gently.

'The son has gone to live with Stinnes's first wife. He's gone to live in Russia.'

'You're way ahead of us there, Zena,' I admitted. 'There was nothing about a first wife on the computer.'

She showed obvious pleasure at this. 'He's had only one child. The first wife was Russian. The marriage was dissolved a long time ago. For the last year or so the son has been living with Stinnes and his second wife. He wanted to learn German. Now he's gone back to live with his mother in Moscow. She has a relative who thinks he can get the boy a place at Moscow University, so the boy rushed off to Moscow immediately. He's obviously frantic to go to university.'

'If you were him you'd be frantic too,' I said. 'Secondary-school graduates who fail to get a place in a university are sent to do manual or clerical work in any farm or factory where workers are needed. Furthermore he'd become liable for military service; but university students are exempted.'

'The mother has contacts in Moscow. She'll get her son a place.'

'Is Stinnes attached to the boy?' I said. I was amazed at how much she'd been able to wheedle out of the taciturn Erich Stinnes. 'They quarrel a lot,' said Zena. 'He is at the age when sons quarrel with their fathers. It is nature's way of making the fledglings fly from the nest.'

'So you think Stinnes will come?' said Werner. His attitude to the Stinnes enrolment was still ambivalent.

'I don't know,' said Zena. I could see she resented the way in which Werner had pressed her to reveal these things about Stinnes. She felt perhaps that it was all information that London Central should pay for. 'He's still thinking about it. But if he doesn't come it won't be because of his wife or his son.'

'What will be the deciding factor, then?' I said. I picked up the coffee-pot. 'Anyone else for more coffee?'

Werner shook his head. Zena pushed her cup towards me but my casual attitude didn't make her any happier about providing me with free information. 'He's forty years old,' said Zena. 'Isn't that the age when men are supposed to suffer some mid-term life crisis?'

'Is it?' I said.

'Isn't it the age at which men ask themselves what they have achieved, and wonder if they chose the right job?' said Zena.

'And the right wife? And the right son?' I said.

Zena gave a sour smile of assent.

'And don't women have the same sort of mid-term life crisis?' asked Werner.

'They have it at twenty-nine,' said Zena and smiled.

'I think he'll do it,' said Werner. 'I've been telling Bernie that. I've changed my mind about him. I think he'll come over to us.' Werner still didn't sound too happy at the prospect.

'You should offer him a proper job,' said Zena. 'For a man like Stinnes a quarter-million-dollar retirement plan is not much better than offering him a burial plot. You should make him feel he's coming over to do something important. You must make him feel needed.'

'Yes,' I said. Such psychology had obviously worked well for her with Werner. And I remembered the way in which my wife had been enrolled with the promise of colonel's rank and a real job behind a desk with people like Stinnes to do her bidding. 'But what could we offer him? He's not spent the last ten years as a capitalist mole. If he comes to the West it will be because he is apolitical. He likes being a policeman.'

'Policeman?' said Zena with a hoot of derision. 'Is that what you all call yourselves? You think you're just a lot of fat old cops helping old ladies across the road and telling the tourists how to get back to the bus station.'

'That will do,' said Werner in one of his rare admonitions.

'You're all the same,' said Zena. 'You, Bernie, Stinnes, Frank Harrington, Dicky Cruyer… all the ones I've ever met. All little boys playing cowboys.'

'I said cut it out,' said Werner. I suspected he was angry more because I was present to witness her outburst than because she hadn't said it all before many times.

'Bang, bang,' said Zena, playing cowboys.

'A quarter of a million dollars,' said Werner. 'London must want him awfully badly.'

'I found something in Stinnes's car,' said Zena.

'What did you find?' said Werner.

'I'll show you,' said Zena. She went across to the glass-fronted cabinet in which Werner used to keep his scale model of the Dornier Do X flying boat. Now, like all his aircraft models, it was relegated to the storeroom in the basement, and Zena had a display of china animals there. From behind them she got a large brown envelope. 'Take a look at that,' she said, pulling some typed sheets from the envelope and sliding them across the table. I took one and passed another to Werner, who was sitting on the sofa.

There were five sheets of grey pulp paper. Both sides were covered with single-spaced typing. The copies were produced on a stencil duplicator of a type seldom seen nowadays in Western countries but still commonly used in the East. I studied the sheets under the light, for some of the lettering was broken and on the grey paper I found it difficult to read, but such Russian security documents were predictable enough for me to guess at the parts I could not read or couldn't understand.

'What is it about?' said Zena. 'I can't read Russian. Does that mean secret?'

'Where exactly did you get this?' I asked her.

'From Stinnes's car. I was sitting in the back and so I felt inside all those pockets those old-fashioned cars have. I found old pencils and some hairpins and these papers.'

'And you took it?'

Werner looked up expectantly.

'I put it in my handbag. No one saw me, if that's what's worrying you. Does that mean secret?' she asked again. She pointed to a large, red-inked, rubber-stamp mark that had been applied to the copies.

'Yes, secret,' I said. 'But there is nothing here that makes it worth phoning the White House and getting the President out of bed.'

'What is it?'

'The top heading says "Group of Soviet Forces in Germany", which is the official name for all the Russian army units there, and the reference number. The second line is the title of the document: 'Supplementary Instructions Concerning Counter-intelligence Duties of State Security Organs'. Then there comes this long preamble which is standard for this sort of document. It says, "The Communist Party of the Soviet Union traces the Soviet people's way in the struggle for the victory of communism. The Party guides and directs the forces of the nation and the organs of state security. " '

'What's it about?' said Zena impatiently.

'It's half-way down the page before it gets down to business. These numbered paragraphs are headed 'Instructions for KGB unit commanders in their relationship with commanders of army units to which they are attached'. It says be firm and polite and cooperate… that sort of crap that all government clerks everywhere churn out by the ream. Then the next lot of paragraphs is headed "Duties of Special Departments" and it instructs KGB officers about likely means that imperialist intelligence forces are currently using to obtain Russian secrets.'

'What sort of methods?' said Zena.

'Two of the paragraphs give details of people discovered spying. One was in a factory and the other near a missile site. Neither example is what would normally be called espionage. One is a man who seems to have run into a forbidden zone after his dog, and the other case is a man taking photos without a permit.'

'You're trying to say that this paper I've brought you is just rubbish. I don't believe you.'

'Then ask Werner. Your husband knows more Russian than I do.'

'Bernie has translated it perfectly,' said Werner.

'So you think it's rubbish too,' said Zena. Her disappointment had made her angry.

Werner looked at me, wondering how much he was permitted to say. Knowing that he'd tell her anyway, I said, 'This is a regular publication; it is published every month. Copies go to the commanders of certain KGB units throughout the German Democratic Republic. You see that number at the top; this is number fifteen of what is probably a total of not more than one hundred. It's secret. London like to have copies of them if they can get them. I doubt if we've got a complete collection of them on our files, although perhaps the CIA have. The Americans like to have everything complete – the complete works of Shakespeare, a complete dinner service of Meissen, a complete set of lenses for the Olympus camera, and garages crammed with copies of the National Geographic going back for twenty-five years.'

'And?' said Zena.

I shrugged. 'It's secret, but it's not interesting.'

'To you. It's not interesting to you, that's what you mean.'

'It's not interesting to anyone except archive librarians.'

I watched Werner getting out of the sofa. It was a very low sofa and getting out of it was no easy thing to do, I noticed that Zena never sat in it; she kneeled on it so that she could swing her legs down to the floor and get to her feet with comparative ease.

'I found it in the car,' said Zena. 'I guessed the stamp meant secret.'

'You should have left it where it was,' said Werner. 'Think what might have happened if they'd searched the car as you went through the crossing point.'

'Nothing would have happened,' said Zena. 'It wasn't my car. It was an official car, wasn't it?'

'They're not interested in such subtle distinctions over there,' said Werner. 'If the border guards had found that document in the car they would have arrested you and the driver.'

'You worry too much,' said Zena.

Werner tossed the document pages on to the table. 'It was a mad thing to do, Zena. Leave that sort of risk to the people who get paid for it.'

'People like you and Bernie, you mean?'

'Bernie would never carry a paper like that through a checkpoint,' said Werner. 'Neither would I. Neither would anyone who knew what the consequences might be.'

She had been expecting unstinting praise. Now, like a small child, she bit her red lips and sulked.

I said, 'Even if the Vopos had done nothing to you, do you realize what would happen to Stinnes if they knew he'd been careless enough to leave papers in his car when it came into West Berlin? Even a KGB officer couldn't talk his way out of that one.'

She looked at me evenly. There was no expression on her face, but I had the feeling that her reply was calculated. 'I wouldn't cry for him,' she said.

Was this callous rejection of Stinnes just something she said to please Werner, I wondered. I watched Werner's reaction. But he smiled sadly. 'Do you want this stuff, Bernie?' he asked, picking up the papers.

'I don't want it,' I said. It was an understatement. I didn't want to hear about Zena's crazy capers. She didn't understand what kind of dangers she was playing with, and she didn't want to know.

It was only when Werner had gone into his study that Zena realized what he intended. But by that time we could hear the whine of the shredder as Werner destroyed the pages.

'Why?' said Zena angrily. 'Those papers were valuable. They were mine.'

'The papers weren't yours,' I said. 'You stole them.'

Werner returned and said, 'It's better that they disappear. Whatever we did with them could lead to trouble for someone. If Stinnes suspects you've taken them he'll think we put you up to it. It might be enough to make him back out of the deal.'

'We could have sold them to London,' said Zena.

'London wouldn't be keen to have papers that were so casually come by,' I explained. 'They'd wonder if they were genuine, or planted to fool them. Then they'd start asking questions about you and Stinnes and so on. We don't want a lot of London desk men prying into what we're doing. It's difficult enough to do the job as it is.'

'We could have sold them to Frank Harrington,' said Zena. Her voice had lost some of its assertion now.

'I'm trying to keep Frank Harrington at arm's length,' I said. 'If Stinnes is serious we'll do the enrolment from Mexico. If we do it from here, Frank will want to mastermind it.'

'Frank's too idle,' said Zena.

'Not for this one,' I said. 'I think Frank has already begun to see the extent of London's interest. I think Frank will want to get into the act. This would be a feather in his cap – something good for him to retire on.'

'And Mexico City is a long way from London,' said Werner. 'Less chance of having London Central breathing down your neck if you are in Mexico. I know how your mind works, Bernie.'

I smiled but said nothing. He was right, I wanted to keep London Central as far away as possible. I still felt like a mouse in a maze; every turn brought me to another blank wall. It was difficult enough to deal with the KGB but now I was fighting London Central too and Fiona was thrown into the puzzle to make things even more bewildering. And what was going to be waiting at the end of the maze – a nasty trap like the one that I'd sent MacKenzie to walk into?

'I still say we should have sold the papers to Frank,' said Zena.

Werner said, 'It might have proved dangerous. And the truth is, Zena darling, that we can't be absolutely sure that Stinnes didn't leave it there for you to find. If it all turned out that way, I wouldn't want you to be the person who took them to Frank.'

She smiled. She didn't believe that Stinnes had left the papers in the car to trick her. Zena had difficulty in believing that any man could trick her. Perhaps her time with Werner had lulled her into a false sense of security.

18

I'd known Frank Harrington for a lifetime; not his lifetime, of course, but mine. So when the car collected me from Lisl's the next morning I was not surprised that it took me to Frank Harrington's house rather than to the SIS offices at the Olympic Stadium. For when Frank said 'the office' he meant the stadium that Hitler had built for the 1936 Games. But 'my office' meant the room he used as a study in the large mansion out at Grunewald that was always at the disposal of the 'Berlin Resident' and that Frank had occupied for two long stints. It was a wonderful house which had been built for a relative of a banker named Bleichroder, who'd extended to Bismarck the necessary credit for waging the Franco-Prussian War. The garden was extensive, and there were enough trees to give the impression of being deep in the German countryside.

I was marched into the room by Frank's valet, Tarrant, a sturdy old man who'd been with Frank since the war. Frank was behind his desk, brandishing important-looking papers. He looked up at me under his eyebrows, as a commanding officer looks at a recruit who has misbehaved.

Frank was wearing a dark-grey three-piece suit, a starched white shirt and a tightly knotted Eton school tie. Frank's 'colonel of the regiment' act was not confined to his deportment. It was particularly evident in this study. There was rattan furniture and a buttoned leather bench that was so old and worn that the leather had gone almost white in places. There was a superb camphor-wood military chest, and on it an ancient typewriter that should have been in a museum. Behind him on the wall there was a large formal portrait of the Queen. It was all like a stage set for a play about the last days of the British Raj. This impression of being in an Indian army bungalow was heightened by the way in which a hundred shafts of daylight came into Frank's dark study. The louvred window shutters were closed as a precaution against sophisticated microphones that could pick up vibrations from window panes, but the slats of Berlin daylight that patterned the carpet might have come from some pitiless Punjab sun.

'Good God, Bernard,' said Frank. 'You do try my patience at times.'

'Do I, Frank? I don't mean to; I'm sorry.'

'What the hell were you doing at Lüneburg?'

'A meeting,' I said.

'An agent?'

'You know better than to ask me that, Frank,' I said.

'There's the very deuce of a fuss in London. One of your chaps was murdered.'

'Who was that?'

'MacKenzie. A probationer. He worked for you sometimes, I understand.'

'I know him,' I said.

'What do you know about his death?'

'What you've told me.'

'No more than that?'

'Is this a formal inquiry?'

'Of course not, Bernard. But it's not the right moment to conceal evidence either.'

'If it was the right moment, would you tell me so, Frank?'

'I'm trying to help, Bernard. When you go back to London you'll walk into more pointed questions than these.'

'For instance?'

'Don't you care about this poor boy?'

'I do care. I care very much. What would I have to do to convince you about that?' I said.

'You don't have to convince me about anything, Bernard. I've always stood behind you. Since your father died I've considered myself in loco parentis, and I've hoped that you would come to me if in trouble in the same way that you'd have gone to your father.'

Was this what Frank had been so keen to talk to me about. I couldn't decide. And now I turned the heat on to Frank. 'Is Henry Tiptree one of your people, Frank?' I kept my voice very casual.

'Tiptree? The chap staying at Frau Hennig's?' He touched his stubble moustache reflectively.

Frank was virtually the only person I knew who called Lisl 'Frau Hennig' and it took me a moment to respond to his question. 'Yes. That's the one,' I said.

I'd caught Frank on the hop. He reached into a drawer of his desk and found a packet of pipe tobacco. He took his time in tearing the wrapper open and sniffing at the contents to see how fresh it had stayed in his drawer. 'What did Tiptree say he's doing?'

'He gave me a lot of hogwash. Bur I think hers from Internal Security.'

Frank became rather nervous. He stuffed tobacco into the bowl of his pipe carelessly enough to spill a lot on the otherwise very tidy desk-top. 'You're right, Bernard. I'm glad you tumbled to him. I wanted to tip you the wink but the signals from London were strictly for me only. The D-G told me not to tell anyone, but now that you've guessed I might as well admit it…'

'What's his game, Frank?'

'He's an ambitious young diplomat who wants to have some cloak-and-dagger experience.'

'In Internal Security?'

'Don't sound so incredulous. That's where they put such people. We don't want them at the sharp end, do we, Bernard?'

'And why did Internal Security send him here?'

'Internal Security never tell us lesser mortals what they are doing, or why they're doing it, Bernard. I'm sure he guesses that anything he tells me is liable to get back to you.'

'And why should that matter?'

'Let me rephrase that.' Frank forced a grin on to his reluctant face. 'I meant that anything he told me is liable to get back to any member of the Berlin staff.'

'Is that bastard investigating me?' I said.

'Now don't get excited, Bernard. No one knows what he's doing. Internal Security are a law unto themselves, you know that. But even if he is poking his nose into your affairs, you've no cause to be surprised. We all get investigated from time to time. And you have…'

'I have a wife who defected. Is that what you were going to say, Frank?'

'It's not what I was going to say but, now that you've brought it into the conversation, it is a factor that Internal Security is bound to find relevant.'

I didn't answer. At least I had Frank on the defensive. It was better than him giving me a hard time about MacKenzie. Now that his pipe was filled with tobacco I gave him enough time to light up. 'Yes, you're sure to have them breathing down your neck for a little while. But these things eventually blow over. The service is fair-minded, Bernard. You must admit that.' He sucked at his pipe in short rapid breaths that made the tobacco flare. 'Do you know of even one case of a departmental employee being victimized?'

'I don't know of one,' I said, 'for the very good reason that the lid is kept tightly clamped upon such things.'

'Couldn't have chaps writing letters to The Times about it, could we?' said Frank. He smiled but I looked at him blankly, and watched him as he held the matchbox over the bowl of his pipe to increase the draft. I never knew whether he was so very bad at getting his pipe lit, or whether he deliberately let it go out between puffs, to give him something to do while thinking up answers to awkward questions.

'I might not need back-up on the Stinnes business, Frank,' I said, choosing my words carefully. 'I might want to handle it well away from the city, maybe not in Germany anywhere.'

Frank recognized the remark for what it was; a departmental way of telling him to go to hell. Official notice that I was going to keep the Stinnes operation well away from him and all his doings. 'It's your show, lad,' said Frank. 'How is it going?'

'Did you know that London have offered Stinnes a cash payment?'

Only his eyes moved. He looked up from his pipe but held it to his mouth and continued to fuss with it. 'No. At least not officially.'

'But you did hear?'

'The D-G told me that there might be a payment made. The old man always tells me if such things happen here on my patch. Just by way of courtesy.'

'Is the D-G taking a personal interest?'

'He is indeed.' An artful little grin. 'That's why so many of our colleagues are giving it such close attention.'

'Including you?'

'I came into the service with Sir Henry Clevemore. We trained together – although he was rather older than me – and we've become close friends. But Sir Henry is the Director-General, and I'm just the poor old Berlin Resident. He doesn't forget that, Bernard, and I make sure that I never forget it either.' This was Frank's way of reminding me that I was too damned insubordinate. 'Yes. If Sir Henry is taking a close personal interest in any particular enterprise, I also take an interest in it. He's no fool.'

'The last time I saw him he was in bad shape.'

'Sick?' said Frank, as if hearing that suggestion for the first time.

'Not just sick, Frank. When I spoke to him he was rambling.'

'Are you suggesting that the old man's non compos mentis?'

'He's completely fruit-cake, Frank. You must know that if you've seen him lately.'

'Eccentric, yes,' said Frank cautiously.

'He's one of the most powerful men in Britain, Frank. Let's not quibble about terminology.'

'I wouldn't like to think you're encouraging anyone to think the D-G is in anything but vigorous mental and physical health,' said Frank. 'He's been under a heavy strain. When the time is ripe he'll go, of course. But we're all very keen that it should not look like a response to the government's request.'

'Are the government asking for his head?'

'There are people in the Cabinet who'd like someone else sitting in the D-G's chair,' said Frank.

'You mean some particular someone else?'

'They'll put a politician in there if they get a chance,' said Frank. 'Virtually every government since the war has cherished the idea of having a "reliable" man running us. Not just the socialists; the Tories also have their nominees. For all I know, the Liberals and Social Democrats have ideas about it too.'

'Is it a job you'd like?'

'Me?'

'Don't say you've never thought about it.'

'Berlin Resident to D-G would be a giant step for man.'

'We all know that you came back here to straighten out a mess. Had you stayed in London you could have been the old man's deputy by now.'

'Perhaps,' said Frank.

'Has the idea been mentioned?' I persisted.

'With varying degress of seriousness,' admitted Frank. 'But I've set my mind on retirement, Bernard. I don't think I could take on the job of running the whole department at my age. I've said that if the old man got really sick I'd go in and hold the fort until someone permanent was appointed. It would be simply a way of keeping a political nominee out. But I couldn't do the reorganization job that is really required.'

'That is desperately overdue,' I said.

'That some think is desperately overdue,' agreed Frank. 'But the general consensus is that, if the worst came to the worst, the department can manage better with an empty D-G's office than with no Berlin Resident.'

'The D-G's office is already empty a lot of the time,' I said. 'And the Deputy D-G has an ailing wife and a thriving law business. It's a time-consuming combination. Not much sign of him on the top floor nowadays.'

'And what does the gossip say will happen?' said Frank.

'Now that Bret Rensselaer has lost his empire he's become one of the hopefuls.'

Frank took the pipe from his mouth and grimaced. 'Bret will never become D-G. Bret is American. It would be unacceptable to the government, to the department, and to the public at large if it ever got out.'

'Bret is a British subject now. He has been for some years. At least that's what I've heard.'

'Bret can arrange what paperwork he likes. But the people who make the decisions regard Bret as an American, and so he's American. And he'll always remain American.'

'You'd better not tell Bret.'

'Oh, I don't mean he won't get his knighthood. Actors, comics and footballers get them nowadays, so why not Bret? And that's what he really wants. He wants to go back to his little New England town and be Sir Bret Rensselaer. But he wouldn't be allowed to go back and tell them that he's just become Director-General of MI6, would he? So what's the point?'

'You're a bit hard on Bret,' I said. 'He's not simply in it for a K.' I wondered whether Frank's sudden dislike of Bret had something to do with his becoming a contender for the D-G's job. I didn't believe Frank's modest disclaimers. Given a chance, Frank would fight tooth and nail for the D-G's chair.

Frank sighed. 'A man has no friends in this job, Bernard. The Berlin Field Unit is the place where London sends the people it wants to get rid of. This is the Siberia of the service. They send you over here to handle an impossible job, with inadequate staff and insufficient funding. And, all the time you're trying to hold things together, London throws shit at you. There is one thing upon which London Central Policy Committee and Controller Europe always agree. And that is that every damn cock-up in London is because of a mistake made here in the Berlin Field Unit. Bret only put me here to get me out of the way when it looked as if I might be getting the Economics Desk which he later parlayed into an empire.'

'All gone now, Frank,' I said. 'You had the last laugh on that one. Bret lost everything when they brought Brahms Four out and closed him down. These days Bret is fighting for a piece of Dicky's desk.'

'Don't write Bret off. He won't become D-G, but he's smooth, very bright and well provided with influential supporters.' Frank got up from behind his desk and went over to switch on the lamp that was balanced over his ancient typewriter. The lampshade was green glass and the light coming through it made Frank's pinched face look sepulchral. 'And if you enrol Stinnes there will be a mighty reassessment of everyone's performance over the last decade.' Frank's voice was more serious now, and I had the feeling that he might at last tell me what had prompted this urgent meeting.

'Will there?' I said.

'You can't have overlooked that, Bernard. His interrogation will go on for ever. They'll drag out every damned case file that Stinnes ever heard of. They'll read every report that any of us ever submitted.'

'Looking for another mole?'

That might well be the excuse they offer. But there is no mole. They will use Stinnes to find out how well we've all done our jobs over the past decade or so. They'll be able to see how well we guessed what was going on over the other side of the hill. They'll read our reports and predictions with all the advantage of hindsight. And eventually they will give us our end-of-term school reports.'

'Is that what the D-G plans to do with Stinnes?' I said.

'The D-G is not quite the crackpot you like to think he is, Bernard. Personally I'm too near to retirement for it to affect me very much. But the Stinnes debriefing will leave a lot of people with egg on their faces. It will take time, of course. The interrogators will have to check and double-check and then submit their reports. But eventually the exam results will arrive. And some of them might be asked to see the headmaster and discreetly told to find another school.'

'But everyone at London Central seems to want Stinnes enrolled.'

'Because they are all convinced that Stinnes will show how clever they are. You have to be an egomaniac to survive in the London office. You know that.'

'Is that why I've survived there?' I asked.

'Yes.' Frank was still standing behind me. He hadn't moved after switching on the lamp. On the wall there was a photograph – a signed portrait of Duke Ellington. It was the only picture in the room apart from the portrait of the Queen. Frank had one of the world's largest collections of Ellington recordings, and listening to them was the only leisure activity he permitted himself, apart from his sporadic love affairs with unsuitable young women. 'How it will affect you I don't know,' said Frank. He touched my shoulder in a gesture of paternal reassurance.

'Nothing will come to light that might affect my chances of becoming D-G,' I said.

'You're still angry about Dicky Cruyer getting the German Desk, aren't you?'

'I thought it would go to someone who really knew the job. I should have known that only Oxbridge men would be short-listed.'

'The department has always been like that. Historically it was sound. Graduates from good universities were unlikely to be regicides, agrarian reformers or Luddites. One day it will all change, but change comes slowly in England.'

'It was my fault,' I said. 'I knew the way it worked but I told myself that this time it would be different. There was no reason for thinking it would.'

'But you never thought of leaving the service?' said Frank.

'For a week I thought of nothing else except leaving. Twice I wrote out my resignation. I even talked to a man I used to know about a job in California.'

'And what made you decide to stay?'

'I never did decide to stay. But I always seemed to be in the middle of something that had to be finished before I could leave. Then when that was done I'd already be involved with a new operation.'

'You talked to Fiona about all this?'

'She never took it seriously. She said I'd never leave the department. She said that I'd been threatening to leave since the first time she found out what I did for a living.'

'You've always been like a son to me, Bernard. You know that. I daresay you're fed up with hearing me tell you. I promised your Dad I would look after you, but I would have looked after you anyway. Your Dad knew that, and I hope you know it too.' Frank was still behind me. I didn't twist round; I stared at Duke Ellington dressed in white tails some time back in the thirties. 'So don't be angry at what I'm going to say,' said Frank. 'It's not easy for me.' The photo was of a very young Duke but it had been signed for Frank during Ellington's West Berlin visit in 1969. So long ago. Frank said, 'If you have any doubts about what the Stinnes debriefing will turn up… better perhaps to get out now, Bernard.'

It took me a long time to understand what he was trying to tell me. 'You don't mean defect, Frank?'

'Letting Stinnes slip through our hands will be no solution,' said Frank. He gave no sign of having heard my question. 'Because after Stinnes there will come another and after that another. Not perhaps as important as Stinnes but contributing enough for Coordination to put the pieces together.' His voice was soft and conciliatory as if he'd rehearsed his piece many times.

I swung round to see him. I was all ready to blow my top but Frank looked drained. It had cost him a lot to say what he'd said and so despite my anger I spoke softly. 'You think I'm a Soviet agent? You think that Stinnes will blow my cover, and so I'm deliberately obstructing his enrolment? And now you're advising me to run? Is that it, Frank?'

Frank looked at me. 'I don't know, Bernard. I really don't know.' He sounded exhausted.

'No need to explain to me, Frank,' I said. 'I lived with Fiona all those years without knowing my own wife was a Soviet agent. Even at the end I had trouble believing it. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I think it's all a nightmare, and I'm relieved it's all over. Then as I become fully awake I realize that it's not over. The nightmare is still going on.'

'You must get Stinnes. And get him soon,' said Frank. 'It's the only way that you'll prove to London that you're in the clear.'

'He'll freeze if he's hurried,' I said. 'We've got to let him talk himself into coming. There was an old man who used to live up in Reinickendorf. He was a swimmer who'd been a competitor in the 1936 Olympics but he'd lost a foot to frostbite in the war. He taught a lot of the kids to swim. One year I took my son Billy to him and he had him swimming in no time at all. I asked him how he did it, because Billy had always been frightened of the water. The old man said he never told the kids to go into the water. He let them come along and watch the others. Sometimes it took ages before a child would summon up the courage to get into the pool but he always let them make their own decision about it.'

'And that's what you're doing with Stinnes?' Frank came back to his desk and sat down.

'He'll have to break a KGB network to prove his bona fides, Frank. You know that, I know it, and he knows it too. Stop and think what it means. He'll be turning his own people over to us. Once a network breaks, there's no telling how it will go. Scribbled notes, a mislaid address book or some silly reply to an interrogator and another network goes too. We both know the way it really happens, no matter what the instruction books ordain. These are his people, Frank, men and women he works with, people he knows, perhaps. He's got to come to terms with all that.'

'Don't take too long, Bernard.'

'If London hadn't meddled by making the big cash offer we might have him by now. The cash will make him feel like a Judas. Mentioning the cash too early is the most stupid thing we could do with a man like Stinnes.'

'London Central are trying to help you,' said Frank. 'And that's the worst thing that can happen to any man.'

'It's taking a longer time than usual because we went to him; he didn't come to us. Those idiots in London are trying to compare Stinnes to the sort of defector who comes into West Berlin, picks up a phone and says, let's go. For them you just send a military-police van and start on the paperwork. Stinnes hasn't been nursing this idea for years and waiting for a chance to jump. He's got to be tempted; he's got to be seduced. He's got to get accustomed to it.'

'Surely to God he knows what he wants by now,' said Frank.

'Even after he's decided, he'll want to put his hands on a few documents and so on. It's a big step, Frank. He has a wife and a grown-up son. He'll never see them again.'

'I hope you don't adopt this maudlin tone with him.'

'We'll get him, Frank. Don't worry. Is there anything else you wanted to talk about?'

Frank stared at me before saying, 'No, I just thought it appropriate to tell you personally about the death of your man MacKenzie. The department are keeping it all very low-key.'

'I appreciate it, Frank,' I said. The true reason for the meeting – the suggestion that I might want to walk through Checkpoint Charlie and disappear for ever – was now a closed book, a taboo subject that would probably never be mentioned again.

The door opened as if by magic. I suppose Frank must have pressed some hidden signal to summon old Tarrant, his valet and general factotum. 'I appreciate it very much, Frank,' I said. He'd risked what was left of his career, and a magnificent pension, to fulfil the promise he'd made to my father. I wondered if I would have shown such charity and confidence to him had our positions been reversed.

'Tarrant, tell the driver that my guest is leaving. And have his coat ready, would you?' said Frank.

'Yes, sir,' said Tarrant in loud sergeant-major style. After Tarrant had gone marching off along the hall, Frank said, 'Do you ever get lonely, Bernard?'

'Sometimes,' I said.

'It's a miserable affliction. My wife hates Berlin. She hardly ever comes over here nowadays,' said Frank. 'Sometimes I think I hate it too. It's such a dirty place. It's all those bloody coal-fired stoves in the East. There's soot in the air you breathe; I can taste it on bad days. I can't wait to get back to England. I get so damned bored.'

'No outside interests, Frank?'

His eyes narrowed. I always overstepped the mark with Frank but he always responded. Sometimes I suspected that I was the only person in the world who talked to him on an equal footing. 'Women, you mean?' There was no smile; it was not something we joked about.

'That sort of thing,' I said.

'Not for ages. I'm too old for philandering.'

'I find that hard to believe, Frank,' I said.

Suddenly the phone rang. Frank picked it up. 'Hello?' He didn't have to say who he was; this phone was connected only to his private secretary here in the house. He listened for a time and said, 'Just telex the usual acknowledgement and say we're sending someone, and, if London want to know what we're doing, tell them that we are handling it until they give instructions otherwise. Phone me if anything develops. I'll be here.'

He put the phone down and looked at me. 'What is it?' I asked.

'You'd better close the door for a moment, while we sort this out,' said Frank. 'Paul Biedermann has been arrested by a security officer.'

'What for?'

'We're not exactly sure yet. He's in Paris, Charles de Gaulle airport. We've just had it on the printer. The signal said "Mikado" and that's a NATO code word for any sort of secret documents.'

'What's it got to do with us?' I said.

Frank gave a grim smile. 'Nothing, except that some bloody idiot in London has given Biedermann a "sacred" tag. At present no one in London is admitting to it, but eventually they'll find out who authorized it. You can't put a tag on anyone without signing the sheet.'

'That's right,' I said. I suddenly went very cold. I was the idiot in question.

Frank sniffed. 'And if Biedermann is carrying stolen secret papers while getting protection from someone in London there will be a hell of a row.' He looked at me and waited for my response.

'It doesn't sound as if he got much protection. You said he was arrested.'

'A spot check. No tag could save him from a spot check. But people with 'sacred' tags are supposed to be under some sort of surveillance, no matter how perfunctory.' He smiled again at the thought of someone in London getting into hot water. 'If he's got NATO secrets, they'll go mad. Do you know Paul Biedermann?'

'Of course I do. We were both on that cricket team you tried to get going for the German kids.'

'Cricket team. Ah, that's going back a long time.'

'And I met his sister Poppy here in this house not so long ago. The last time you had me over for dinner.'

'Poppy's a darling. But Paul is a shifty bastard. Didn't you sell him that Ferrari of yours?'

'Shifty? And is that an opinion you've reached since the phone rang?' I asked. 'Yes, I sold him my car. I often wish I'd kept it. He's been through half a dozen since that one, and even with my car allowance I can't even afford a new Volvo.'

'I've always wondered if young Biedermann was in the spy game. He's perfectly placed; all that travelling. And he's egoistical enough to want to do it. But it sounds as if the other side got in first.'

'He's a creep,' I said.

'Yes, I know you hate him. I remember your lecturing me about the way he sold his father's transport yard. How would you like to go to Paris and sort this one out? It will just be a matter of a preliminary talk with the people who are holding him. By that time London will have got hold of whoever signed the "sacred" tag. Whoever signed the tag will have to go to Paris, that's the drill, isn't it?'

'Yes, it is,' I said. I had a cold feeling of foreboding. Whoever had signed the 'sacred' tag would have to go to wherever Biedermann was being held. There was no way out of that; it was mandatory. Anyone who knew I'd signed that 'sacred' tag could make me go anywhere they wanted me to go; all they had to do was to have Biedermann arrested, and put the NATO signal on the line. I hadn't thought of that when making Biedermann 'sacred', and now it was too late to change anything.

'Are you all right, Bernard? You've gone a nasty shade of green.'

'It was the breakfast I had at Lisl's,' I said hastily. 'I can't digest German breakfasts any more.'

Frank nodded. Too much of an explanation. That was the trouble when dealing with Frank and Werner; they knew me too well. That was the trouble when dealing with Fiona too. 'Just hold the fort in Paris until London sends whoever signed that tag. I'm very short of people this week, and since you're on your way back to London anyway… You don't mind, do you?'

'Of course not,' I said. I wondered whether the person who had masterminded this one had known I'd be with Frank today, or whether that was just a lucky coincidence for them. Either way the result was the same. Sooner or later I would have to go to Paris. I was the mouse in the maze; start running, mouse. 'Can you let me have a hand-gun, Frank?'

'Now? Right away? You do come up with some posers, Bernard. The army look after our hardware nowadays, and it takes a day or two to get the paperwork through channels and make an appointment with the duty armoury officer. I could have it by the end of the week. What exactly do you want? I'd better write it down so that I don't get it wrong.'

'No, don't bother,' I said. 'I just wanted to know what the score was, in case I was here and needed a gun some time.'

Frank smiled. 'I thought for one moment you were thinking of taking a gun to Paris. That would mean one of those non-ferrous jobs – airport guns they call them nowadays – and I'm not sure we have any available.' He was relieved, and now he placed a hand on the phone as he waited for it to ring again. 'My secretary will be phoning back with all the details, and then the car can get you to the airport in time for the next plane.' He consulted his gold wrist-watch. 'Yes, it will all fit together nicely. What a good thing you were here when it happened.'

'Yes,' I said. 'What a good thing I was here when it happened.'

Frank must have heard the bitterness in my voice, for he looked up to see my face. I smiled.

19

Charles de Gaulle is the sort of futuristic airport that you might find inside a Christmas cracker that was made in Taiwan a long time ago. Overhead the transparent plastic was discoloured with brown stains, moving staircases no longer moved, carpeting was threadbare, and the imitation marble had cracked here and there to reveal a black void into which litter had been thrown. There were long lines to get coffee and even longer ones to get a drink, and the travellers who liked to eat while sitting down were sprawled on the floor amid the discarded plastic cups and wrappings from microwave-heated sandwiches.

I was lucky. I avoided the long lines. A uniformed CRS man met me as I stepped from the plane. He took my bag and conducted me through customs and immigration, with no more than a perfunctory wave to the CRS officer in charge there. Now he opened a locked door that admitted me to another world. For behind the chaotic slum that the traveller knows as an airport there is another spacious and leisurely world for the staff. Here there is an opportunity to rest and think and eat and drink undisturbed, except for the sound of unanswered telephones.

'Where are you holding him?' I asked the CRS man as he held the door open for me.

'You'll have to talk to Chief Inspector Nicol first,' said the CRS man. We were in a small upper section of the main building that is used by the police. Most of the offices on this corridor were used by the Compagnie Républicaine de Sécurité who manned the immigration desks. But the office into which I was taken was not occupied by a man who checked passports. Chief Inspector Gérard Nicol was a well-known personality of the Sûreté Nationale. 'The cardinal' they called him, and he was senior enough to have his own well-furnished office in the Ministry building on the rue des Saussaies. I'd met him several times before.

'Chief Inspector Nicol; I'm Samson,' I said as I went into his office. I kept it very formal. French policemen demand politeness from colleagues and prisoners alike.

He looked me up and down as if deciding it was really me. 'It's a long time, Bernard,' he said finally. He was dressed in that uniform that Sûreté officers wear when they are not wearing uniform: dark trousers, black leather jacket, white shirt and plain tie.

'Two or three years,' I said.

'Two years. It was the security conference in Frankfurt. There was talk of you getting a big promotion.'

'Someone else got it,' I said.

'You said you wouldn't get it,' he reminded me.

'But I didn't believe it.'

He protruded his lower lip and shrugged as only a Frenchman shrugs. 'So now they are sending you to charm us into letting you have custody of our prisoner?'

'What is he charged with?' I asked.

By way of answer, Nicol picked up a transparent bag by the corner so that the contents fell on to the desk-top. A US passport crammed with immigration stamps of everywhere from Tokyo to Portugal, a bunch of keys, a wrist-watch, a crocodile-skin wallet, a gold pencil, a bundle of paper money – German and French – and coins, a plastic holder containing four credit cards, a packet of paper handkerchiefs, an envelope defaced with scribbled notes, a gold lighter and a packet of the German cigarettes – Atika – that I'd seen Biedermann smoking. Nicol picked up the credit cards. 'Biedermann, Paul,' he said.

'Identification from a credit card?' I sorted quickly through Biedermann's possessions.

'It's more difficult to get a credit card these days than to get a carte de séjour,' said Nicol sorrowfully. 'But there's a California driving licence with a photo if you prefer it. We haven't charged him with anything yet. I thought we'd wait until you arrived.'

'That's most considerate of you,' I said. I put the packet of German cigarettes into my pocket. If Nicol saw me do so he made no comment.

'We always try to oblige,' said Nicol. There is no habeas corpus in French law. There is no method whereby a man unlawfully detained may be set free. The Prefect of Police doesn't need a formal charge or evidence that any crime has been committed; he needs no judicial authority to search houses, issue warrants and confiscate letters in the post. He can order the arrest of anyone without even having evidence that any crime has been committed. He can interrogate them and then hand them over for trial, release them or send them to a lunatic asylum. No wonder French policemen look so relaxed.

'May I see what he was carrying?' I asked.

'He had that small shoulder-bag containing shaving things and some underwear, a newspaper and aspirins and so on. That's over there. I found nothing of interest in it. But he was also carrying this.' Nicol pointed to a hard brown leather case on the side-table. It was an expensive piece of luggage without any manufacturer's labels, a one-suiter with separate spaces for shoes, shirts and socks. I suppose the factory made it to the maximum regulation size for cabin baggage, but it was large enough to get anyone into a lot of arguments with officious check-in clerks.

One compartment inside the lid was intended for business papers. It even had special places for pens, pencils and a notebook. Inside the zippered section there were four lots of typed pages, each neatly bound into varying-coloured plastic folders. I flipped through the pages quickly. It was all in English, but it was unmistakably American in presentation and content. The way in which these reports had been prepared – with coloured charts and captioned photos – made them look like the sort of elaborate pitch that an advertising agency might make to a potential client.

The introduction said, 'The German yard Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werft at Kiel has dominated the market in small- and medium-size diesel submarines for more than 15 years. Two Type 209 (1400t.) submarines are being fitted out and Brazil has ordered two of the same displacement. Work on these will start almost immediately. Two larger (1500t.) boats are already begun for delivery to India. These will not be stretched versions of the Type 209 but specially designed to a new specification.'

Soon, however, the detailed descriptions became more technical: 'The Type 2095 carry Krupp Atlas passive/active sonar in the sail but the TR 1700 also have a passive-ranging sonar of French design. The fire-control system made by Hollandse Signaal-Apparaten is standard, but modifications are being incorporated following the repeated failure of the Argentine submarine San Luis in attacks against the Royal Navy task force.'

'It doesn't look like you've captured a master spy,' I said.

'It's marked secret,' said Nicol defensively.

'But so are a lot things in the museum archives,' I said.

'Never mind the archives, this is dated last month. I don't know anything about submarines, but I know the Russians give a high priority to updating their knowledge of the world's submarines. And I know that these diesel ones are the hunter-killers that would have to be used to find their nuclear-powered ones.'

'You've been watching too many TV documentaries,' I said.

'And I've learned enough at NATO security conferences to know that a report like this that reveals secrets about submarines built in German yards for the Norwegian and Danish navies will get everyone steamed up.'

'There's no denying that,' I said. 'We think Biedermann is a smalltime KGB agent working out of Berlin. Where was he going?'

'I can't tell you.'

'Can't tell me, or don't know?' I said.

'He arrived from Paris in a taxi cab and hadn't yet bought a ticket. Look for yourself.' Nicol indicated Biedermann's personal possessions which were still on the desk.

'So it was a tip-off?'

'A good guess,' said Nicol.

'Don't give me that, Gérard,' I said. 'You say he hadn't bought a ticket. And he hadn't arrived by plane. So he wasn't going through Customs, immigration or a security check when you found the papers. Who tipped you off to search him?'

'Tipped off?'

'The only reason you know all that printed junk is secret is because you were tipped off.'

'I hate policemen, don't you, Bernard? They always have such nasty suspicious minds. I never mix with them off-duty.'

'American passport. Have you told the embassy?'

'Not yet,' he said. 'Where is Biedermann resident?'

'Mexico. He has companies registered there. For tax purposes, I suppose. Is he talking?'

'He helped us a little with some preliminary questions,' admitted Nicol.

'A passage à tabac? I said. It was delicate police euphemism for the preliminary roughing up that was given to uncooperative prisoners under interrogation.

He looked at me blank-faced and said, That sort of thing doesn't happen any more. That all stopped fifty years ago.'

'I was only kidding,' I said, although I could have opened my shirt and showed him a few scars that proved otherwise. 'What's the official policy? Are you holding on to the prisoner, or do you want me to take him away?'

'I'm waiting for instructions on that,' said Nicol. 'But it's been agreed that you talk to him.'

'Alone?'

Nicol gave me a mirthless grin. 'Providing you don't get rough with him and try and blame it on to our primitive police methods.'

So my taunt did find its mark. Thanks,' I said. 'I'll do the same for you some time.'

'It was a tip-off. It was phoned through to my office, so it was someone who knew how the Sûreté works. The caller said a man would be at the Alitalia desk; a scarred face, walks with a limp. A clerk took the call. There's no chance of identifying the voice or tracing the call but you can talk to the clerk if you wish. A man; perfect French, probably a Paris accent.'

'Thanks,' I said. 'Sounds like you've already narrowed it down to eight million suspects.'

'I'll get someone to take you downstairs.'

They were holding Paul Biedermann in the specially built cell block that is one floor below the police accommodation. It is a brickbuilt area with a metal-reinforced ceiling. In 1973 – by which time airports had become a major attraction for hijackers, assassins, demonstrators and lunatics and criminals of every kind – the cell block was tripled in size and redesigned to provide twenty-five very small solitary cells, eight cells with accommodation for three prisoners each (current penology advising that four prisoners together fight, and two get too friendly), and four rooms for interrogating prisoners in secure conditions. Three cells for women prisoners were also built at that time.

Paul Biedermann was not in a cell of any sort. They were holding him in one of the interrogation rooms. Like most such rooms it had a small observation chamber large enough for two or three people. The door to that was unlocked and I stepped inside it and watched Paul Biedermann through the mirrored glass panel. There was all the usual recording equipment here but no sign of its being recently used.

The interrogation room in which Biedermann was being held had no bed; just a table and two chairs. Nothing to be broken, bent or used as a weapon. The door was not a cell door; there was no iron grill or bolts, and it was secured only by a heavy-duty mortise lock. After I'd had a good look at him I opened the locked door and went inside.

'Bernd. Am I glad to see you.' He laughed. The scars down the side of his face puckered, and his smile was so broad that his twisted face looked almost demented. 'Jesus. I was hoping it would be you. They said that someone was coming from Berlin. I can explain everything, Bernd. It's all a crazy mistake.' Even under stress he still had that low-pitched hoarse voice and the strong American accent.

'Easy does it, Paul,' I said. I looked around the white-tiled room but I couldn't see any obvious signs of hidden microphones. If the observation chamber was not in use they were probably not recording us. Finally I decided not to worry too much about it.

'I did everything you told me to do, Bernd. Everything.' He was wearing expensive linen pants and open-neck brown shirt with a scarf tied at the neck. There was a soft brown cashmere jacket thrown carelessly on to one of the chairs. 'Have you got a cigarette? They even took away my cigarettes. How do you like that.'

I offered him the pack of Atika cigarettes. They were his own cigarettes from the things on Nicol's desk. He took one and I put the pack on the table. There was a tacit understanding that he'd get them if he was good. I lit his cigarette and he inhaled greedily. 'Were you carrying all that secret junk I saw upstairs?'

'No,' he said.

'You weren't carrying it? You never saw it before?'

'Yes. That is to say, yes and no. I was carrying it. But I don't know… submarines.' He laughed briefly. 'What do I know about submarines?'

'Sit down. Relax for a moment. Then tell me exactly how you got the papers,' I said.

He exhaled smoke, and waved it away with his hand as if trying to dispel the smoke in case a guard came and took the cigarette away from him. 'I always travel light. I was flying to Rome. I have a holiday place on Giglio – that's an island…'

'I know where Giglio is,' I said. Tell me about the papers.'