Page 22

 Tim Powers

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Hale blinked at the man, who was apparently a colonel. "Yes?"
"Damn you, you will address me as sir!"
"Yes, sir, sorry. Henry Corliss, sir, can provide-"
"Describe the Communist spy network that smuggled you out of England."
"Sir, I must insist that you contact Henry Corliss-"
"Insist?" The colonel thumped his fist on the table, spilling a glass of water. "I insist that you answer my question!"
One of the other officers, a younger man, leaned forward. "This is wartime," he said in a helpful tone. "You don't get to have your solicitor present."
"I don't want him as a solicitor," Hale said loudly. The involuntary raising of his voice, and a sudden chill in the pit of his stomach, startled him; and for the first time it occurred to him that he might be in some enduring trouble here. And he was horrified to realize that hunger and anxiety and lack of sleep had brought him very near to tears. Where the hell was Theodora? "I don't even need to talk to him," he went on more quietly. "Sir. But he'll be able to...point you toward an explanation of all this."
"Where and how did you get the Philippe St.-Simon passport?"
"I don't think I can answer these questions," said Hale. The dripping of the spilled water onto the wood floor was distracting him. "Please get in touch with Corliss." He wanted to wail, Ask James Theodora, of the Secret Intelligence Service!-but he kept remembering Theodora's order: Don't tell anyone about me, nor about your secret purposes. Not even Churchill.
A sickening punch to the kidney knocked Hale right down onto his knees and forehead and the fingertips of his manacled hands-one of the soldiers who had been in the truck with him had apparently walked up unheard from behind and got a signal from someone at the table-and now Hale was sobbing helplessly and drooling onto the cold floor. His nose had started bleeding, and blood and saliva streaked his chin when the soldier hauled him back up onto his feet.
"Who is your Party contact in England?"
The younger officer again spoke, in his helpful tone: "Spies can be executed in wartime, without the necessity of a trial."
A man in a plain business suit who sat at the end of the table and had not spoken yet now crushed out a cigarette and said quietly, "Let him rest for now. We can talk to him again later."
Hale was marched off to an emptied room that had been converted to a makeshift doctor's office, with a wheeled metal cabinet and an upright set of green-enameled scales in the corner and eye charts on the wall, and finally the manacles were unlocked and his hands were freed. The soldier stayed in the room while a man in white coveralls asked Hale if he had any family history of tuberculosis or insanity, and listened to Hale's chest with a stethoscope, and then asked Hale to read letters off the eye chart; finally Hale was escorted to a room with a barred window and a narrow, military-looking bed, and locked in.
He hadn't eaten anything since a quick sandwich in the Lisbon embassy lobby the day before, and with frail bravado he thought he would have endured another punch for a cigarette, or many more punches for a tall glass of brandy; but as soon as he lay down on the bed, his cumulative exhaustion seemed to fall onto him like the rubble of a bombed house.
His last, fragmented thought was of Elena, bravely bound for Moscow, and it might have become a prayer if his consciousness had not been almost instantly snuffed out.
When a guard shook him awake, it was dark outside the window.
Hale was not manacled again, but neither was he given anything at all to eat, before being led back to the green-baize-draped table in the stripped dining room; but a padded office chair had been wheeled in to face the table. Hale gratefully sat down in it and squinted at the faces of his interrogators in the electric lamplight.
The civilian in the business suit was the first to speak. "We did send a man to talk with your solicitor, Henry Corliss," he said. "And Mr. Corliss expressed only bewilderment at your activities. He was not able to suggest any contacts nor to 'point us toward an explanation,' as you claimed he would, and he is not willing to represent you in this action."
Hale didn't let his expression change or his shoulders sag, but he was hugely relieved; obviously the only reason Corliss would have failed to mention Theodora was that Theodora himself had ordered him not to. So Theodora was, as he had promised, aware that Hale had returned to England. If I can't meet you, wait for me.
Hale had decided at some point that he could tell all of his story except for his conversations with Theodora and the "secret purposes," which he was certain were the pieces that were connected with his New Year's dreams: the dreams themselves, and the "Palestine" rhythms that had transformed his wireless sending and led him and Elena on their weird predawn clochard walk to the end of the ile de la Cite, and the night of the accelerated Moscow signal and the scorched floor. He was even looking forward now to questions about his Communist contacts.
But the direction of their questions had changed. "What," asked the old colonel, "did you discuss with James Theodora, on the morning after your arrest in Covent Garden?"
Live your cover, Hale thought. "With whom? Sir?"
"The man who accompanied the Special Branch operatives-he talked to you alone, walked with you through the bombed area by St. Paul 's Cathedral."
"Oh, that gentleman. He told me that my scholastic career was over, but that I might avoid the full consequences of my...error, if I would abandon the Communist Party and cooperate fully with the Special Branch."
"And you convinced him that you would; convinced him so thoroughly that he took full custody of you in the name of-his legal authority, and allowed you to return to your college alone."
"Yes, sir."
"But you were lying to him, weren't you? Instead of cooperating, you made contact with the Party and fled the country with their help. Is there any way to conclude that Theodora was not a naive fool?"
"I wouldn't know, sir. He seemed intelligent enough. Perhaps he knew I would run, and had me followed."
"Theodora 'seemed intelligent enough,'" said the civilian dryly. "When had you met him before?"
"I never did, sir, before that morning."
"I should tell you," the civilian went on as he lit a cigarette with a gold lighter, "that James Theodora has been relieved of his duties and may even face criminal charges." He exhaled a plume of smoke that glowed in the lamplight. "Why have you for twelve years now been getting monthly payments from Drummond's Bank?"
"Those are payments from my father," Hale said promptly. "At least that's what my mother told me. They weren't married."
"Who is your father?"
"My mother never said, sir. She would never speak of him."
"He was a Catholic priest, wasn't he?"
"That was the opinion of our neighbors, sir. My mother never said."
From the hall behind Hale came a man's cultured drawl: "It was Jimmie Theodora who told you to joe-join the Com-Communist Party, wasn't it, Mr. H-Hale?"
Hale knew before he turned around to look that he had heard the voice before, but under some peculiar, disturbing circumstance-in the radio-amplified buzzing of les parasites? in a dream, in a nightmare?-and so he was not completely startled to recognize the smiling, dark-haired man who now slouched into the electric light, his suitcoat rumpled as if from recent constriction under an overcoat and his dark brown hair flattened at the top and dusted with snow over his collar. He appeared to be in his early thirties, though his features were already heavy with evident dissipation.
It was the man Hale had dreamed about two nights ago, who in the dream had walked down a sunlit beach toward Hale, speaking in bird cries, and had subsequently split apart into two men.
Braced by the familiarity of the voice, Hale was able to meet the man's intense stare without any change in his worried, earnest expression-though before the man strode around to the front of the room Hale did furtively button his coat to hide the ankh belt buckle. But his heart was thudding in his chest, for he now realized how very profoundly he had been hoping that all of this morbid and alarming dream stuff would prove to have been left behind in Paris.
Hale glanced levelly past the newcomer at the men behind the table; the civilian nodded and said, "Answer Mr. Philby's question."
"I didn't meet Mr. Theodora until after I had been arrested, sir," said Hale in a voice no shakier than it had been before. "It was a friend from CLS, who was attending one of the other Oxford colleges, who suggested I join. He was a member already."
Philby nodded genially. "You're all C-Communists these days, aren't you? Jimmie p-probably didn't even have to suggest it. Why was it the sss-the City Police, rather than the Metrop-po-politan force, that detained you in Covent Garden?"
Hale lifted his hands and let them fall. "I have no idea, sir." There was a sheen of sweat now on the Philby man's forehead, and Hale wondered if he always stammered.
"I don't believe your father is a C-Cath-cth-a priest," said Philby. "Was he, is he, in the s-secret service? Drummond's is the preferred secret service bank. Theodora could h-h-hardly be your father-who is?"
"I don't know," said Hale clearly.
Philby's pouchy face was still cheerful, but his voice was strident and almost angry as he said, "You were born in P-Phh-fucking- Palestine , allegedly on the Feast of the Epiphany-and you're a, a Ca-tho-lic, Roman variety, Papist!-'Our Father which art in Amman, Hajji be thy name!'-so you m-must know that Ep-p-piphany is when the Three Why-Wise Men arrived at last in Bbbeth!-lehem! just south of Jerusalem, 'following yonder star.'" He took a deep breath and let it out, and then gave Hale a bright, boyish smile. "True?"
Hale remembered telling Elena his own interpretation of the passage she had quoted from the Book of Job: If the world is run according to any rules at all, those rules are beyond Job's comprehension. And beyond mine too, he thought now fearfully; even here at home, in England.
"Uh," Hale said, "Yes, sir." His hesitation in answering had probably not looked unnatural-even the men behind the table were now staring at Philby uncertainly.
Philby sighed, and then went on in a more quiet voice, "Theodora stage-managed your skewed C-Covent Garden arrest, in order to set you up as one of his p-private spies to undermine the Soviet n-networks in France-and he did it in d-d-isobedience to his masters Whitehall."
Hale supposed this was the exact truth; but "not even Churchill," Theodora had said; and ever since his mother had taken Hale to meet his "godfather" in '29, Theodora had for good or ill been his image of the King's Man, the representative of the Crown.
"But I wasn't doing anything the Theodora person had told me to do," said Hale, "and I certainly wasn't undermining the Sov-"
Philby interrupted him: "Theodora's politics calcified in about 1920. You are aware, Mr. Hale, that the S-Soviet you-Union is at present an-ally-of England?"
"Well, exactly, sir," ventured Hale, "though I believe I'm being detained now for working for them, at considerable personal risk, against Germany." It was a fairly cheeky thing to say here, but Hale believed it was in character for his cover.
"You-unspeakable little shit," said Philby. "Do you expect anyone to b-believe that the service's most rabid anti-Communist took c-c-custody of a young Party member and accidentally let him escape to Europe, to work for a Soviet spy network in P-Paris?-with no nn-intentions to impede that n-network's efforts against Hitler, nor to d-damage the fragile alliance between the Soviet Union and Ig-Ig-England?" He took a deep breath and let half of it out, like a marksman preparing to fire. "Is it then your claim that Theodora was so smitten with your willowy figure and blond locks that he freed you in exchange for indulgence in activities with which I suppose upon reflection you cannot be unfamiliar?"
Managed to say that straight out, thought Hale sourly. He opened his mouth to begin to answer, but the old colonel spoke up first.
"Catholic priest or no," the colonel growled, "I doubt Mr. Hale's father was ever engaged in activities prejudicial to the safety of the Realm." Philby turned on the officer with an expression Hale wasn't able to see; but the man went on imperturbably, staring straight back at Philby from under lowered white eyebrows, "And we'd certainly have heard if Mr. Hale had ever been editor of, oh, any periodical like Germany Today."
Bewilderedly, Hale wondered if these things were true of Philby's father and of Philby. Certainly the remarks had been offensively meant.
Philby gave a harsh laugh. "I c-came here to off-to offer Broadway's ass-assiss-assiss-Broadway's help," he said. "Unofficially, as a volatile-damn it-as a voluntary li-aison between the s-services." He waved behind him toward Hale. "This man came out of your-out of Europe through Lisbon, and even as head of the Iberian sub-section in Broadway I c-could have simply taken Hay-Hay-Hale's case right out of your hands. And allow me to inform you, in case you haven't b-been to town lately, that I am presently acting head of the entire counter-espionage section."
The civilian at the table had steepled his fingers and was nodding thoughtfully. "You could have," he agreed, frowning. "I think we would contest it now; in which case the Cabinet Secretary would likely just move to defer the question until the real head of section returns. I doubt your C would argue with that."
"Hale has ob-obviously been doing work for an officer of...for one of our old Robber Barons in Broadway."