Page 6

 Tim Powers

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"There's a jacket on the floor," she said. "When I dogleg through Pall Mall, ditch yours and put it on. Not now."
She made a fast but controlled left into the narrower corridor of Basingstoke Road and sped between the briefly glimpsed gray stone porticoes of St. James's Palace and Lancaster House, and then turned left again into the westernmost block of Pall Mall. Hale was gripping the strap on the inside of the passenger door.
"Now," she said, her gaze darting from the cars ahead to her mirrors and back as she juggled the Peugeot rapidly across the lanes. "Glasses and a moustache in the jacket pocket." Hale smiled nervously at the notion of a false moustache, but his face went blank when, after a beat, she added, "Iron anchor in the inside pocket."
He heard his own voice say, "Shit." With his feet braced against the floorboards he shrugged out of his coat without conspicuous contortion, wondering remotely if he would ever get the coat back and if his test questions would still be in the pocket if he did, but his attention was on the gray wool jacket he now snatched up from the floor; he squeezed the lapel, and even through the cloth his fingers found the heavy iron shape of the looped Egyptian cross, properly called an ankh. And he was bleakly sure now that the route his driver was tracing would be widdershins, a counterclockwise circle, and that it would loop right around Buckingham Palace to end in Whitehall.
"And lose the tie," she said. "You'll be getting on the back of a motorcycle pretty prompt here."
They were speeding up St. James's Street now, past gentlemen's hat and shoe shops, but as he obediently pulled loose the knot of his tie, Hale didn't look out through the windscreen nor at his driver; he was staring blindly at the fascia panel, remembering the ankhs that had failed to work as anchors for the men he had led up the Ahora Gorge below Mount Ararat in '48, on the night that the starry sky had spun like a ponderous unbalanced wheel over their doomed heads. He was certain now that this new year's business would have nothing to do with any recognized Soviet residents in London, nor with factions that could possibly still be on the active force at SIS.
He pulled his necktie out of his collar and undid the top button of his shirt. "I wish I could 'lose the tie,'" he said, his voice sounding childish and frightened in his own ears.
This was going straight back to what had been the most-secret core of espionage in the first half of the century, the hidden power he had become dimly, fearfully aware of only in the last three and a half years of his service, after Berlin in '45; the operational theater that it had been mortally perilous even to know about, more restricted by far than the German Ultra traffic had been during the war, or the Soviet Venona decrypts after; this had been the concealed war that, ironically, facilitated its own concealment simply by being beyond the capacity of most people to believe.
Like someone tonguing a carious tooth to see if it still ached, he asked himself if he still believed it.
He sighed finally and focused on the traffic, and then glanced around to be sure they were in fact passing the Tory Carlton Club, and Brooks's. "They let buses drive in St. James's Street now?" he asked.
"Just in the last year or two," said the woman at the wheel.
He remembered Theodora saying, I hardly know where I am in London these days. Me too, Jimmy, he thought. And how do you suppose things are in Erzurum, Al-Kuwait, Berlin? Even Paris?
He was to learn later that the old police station in Temple Lane had been exploded across the flower beds of the Inner Temple Garden by a November bomb; but even at nineteen and in the dark he had known at once that the dimly seen hut he'd been driven to in the police van was a wartime makeshift. Its roof was a semicircular arched sheet of corrugated metal, and as he was marched up to the door, he saw that the building sat like a sled on bolted steel beams in the middle of a patch of cleared pavement, a hundred yards from the pillared entry arch and raking cornices of St. Paul's Cathedral-the big St. Paul's, at this end of the ride, Christopher Wren's masterpiece, its dark dome seeming to eclipse a full quarter of the cloudy nighttime sky.
And even in his despairing panic he shivered at the sight, for he had motored past St. Paul 's Cathedral when he had been a student at the City of London School-and only the top of its dome had been visible then above the close-crowding newer buildings. Now it stood alone in the center of a bomb-cratered plain of low uneven walls, itself miraculously undamaged, like a durable mirage from a previous century.
The night sky was quiet, and no searchlights swept across the patchy clouds; but the BUSINESS AS USUAL signs he had seen earlier in the evening, and the brave radio program music he had heard echoing out of gutted shops, seemed intolerably gallant and sad when recalled to mind on this viciously broken landscape, and the breath caught in his throat to imagine this supremely British old church, this heart of London, surrounded by walls of roaring flame as it lately must have been.
"In you go, Ivan," said one of the policemen, gripping his upper arm.
After being ducked through a pair of velvet blackout curtains Hale had found himself in a little office lit by unshaded electric bulbs dangling from the curved ceiling, and in front of a tall desk or lectern he was unshackled so that each of his fingers in turn could be rolled on a stamp pad and then pressed onto squares printed on a card-an unusual procedure in a standard arrest, he believed. A teakettle hissed on a tiny electric stove in the corner.
A white-haired officer was standing behind another desk, leaning forward with his hands flat on the blotter. "You're being detained, Mr. Hale," he said, speaking straight down at the desk, "for subversion and espionage. Treason too, I expect." He looked up and stared across the little office at him, and even the shivering, distracted Hale could see the glitter of suspicion in the man's narrowed eyes. "I'm told that you're to be handed over to the Special Branch section of Scotland Yard within a few hours, but that we're to formally charge and question you first. A redundancy. And there was a directive an hour ago that the Metropolitan police were not to be involved in your apprehension, though Covent Garden is properly in their jurisdiction, not in ours. Yours is a damned peculiar case, young man."
"Yes, sir," said Hale in a humble tone, in fact cautiously grateful that the man had not mentioned resisting arrest.
For a few minutes then Hale perched on a chair in front of the officer's desk and answered questions, but they were all to do with the schools he had attended and his membership in the Communist Party. Twice Hale had ventured to say that he had only gone to tonight's meeting in King Street to meet a girl from one of the Oxford women's colleges and that he hadn't known anything about the missing Air Ministry document, but his interrogators had each time just nodded and repeated a question about the Party meetings at Oxford, or his stint in Haslemere College in Surrey, or about the technical magazines he had subscribed to.
Eventually the questioning was done, and he was told that since he was apparently to be handed over to officers of the Special Branch soon, he would simply be shackled to a chair here in the station in the meantime and not driven over to the holding cells in Ludgate Hill. The officers even offered him a cup of tea, but he refused, fearing that his hands would shake too badly to hold a cup.
And so for several hours Hale dozed in a stout chair against the curved ceiling-wall, jolting awake whenever the wind outside knocked the wooden shutters against the window frame over his head or when involuntary twitches rattled the chains that connected his ankles to the chair legs; much later two men were brought in and booked for looting, having grabbed some bottles of brandy and a couple of bicycles from a boarded-up shop in Eastcheap, and Hale watched with morbid interest as they were curtly interrogated and then sent away under stern guard to the Ludgate Hill cells.
Hale almost envied them. He was fairly sure that his imminent transfer of custody must have been arranged by the James Theodora person he had spoken to on the telephone last year, but he had no idea at all what the man's response to this detainment would be. Why the apparently deliberate confusions in the details of his arrest? Chained to a chair in a police station, charged with subversion during wartime-so far from his bed in Magdalen College, so very many cold dark miles and years from the old box bed in Chipping Campden!-Hale wasn't able to quite dismiss the possibility that Theodora would simply have him taken away somewhere, under the fog of contradictory paper-work, and killed.
If there was any solace to be derived from the Communist philosophy in the face of death, Hale had not studied Marx deeply enough to find it; but at the same time the feverish Our Fathers and Hail Marys that droned in his head and even twitched his lips from time to time seemed to lack some crucial carrier wave, so that they propagated no farther than the inside of his skull.
He awoke from a deeper sleep when his chair was shoved aside by two men who unlatched the shutters and folded them back with a businesslike clatter; and he was squinting against the bright daylight as they unshackled his ankles and brusquely hoisted him to his feet.
"Time to go, Ivan," one of the men told him. "The Special Branch lads are here for you."
Oddly both disoriented and calmed by the glare of the summer morning visible beyond the pulled-back blackout curtains, Hale absently thanked his captors and shuffled across the unworn wooden floor and out into the sunlight. At first he didn't see anyone waiting for him.
St. Paul's Cathedral stood in solitary grandeur out there on the bombed plain, silhouetted by the rising sun like a god's baroque ship arrived too late in a ruined land; the impression was strengthened by the sea smell from the high-tide river that lay somewhere close beyond the broken skyline of Upper Thames Street to the south. Seen in daylight, the humped and pocked ground was a field of purple-blooming wildflowers, and Hale walked a few steps along a path of mismatched masonry fragments trodden flush with the black dirt, blinking downward through stinging, watering eyes at his dress shoes and the cuffs of his recently pressed trousers-wondering for the first time if his Oxford evening clothes would have been quite right for a City meeting of the International Workers' Party.
At one of the Oxford Branch Party meetings, over tea and cucumber sandwiches, he had heard an earnest, white-flannel-clad undergraduate observe that it was a melancholy necessity that all the old English universities be razed when the Proletariat Dictatorship was achieved; and this morning Andrew Hale shivered with a big emotion that could only be grasped-right now, inadequately-as a fierce determination to stop any more English buildings from being knocked down.
"Makes you feel like Macaulay's New Zealander," came a plummy voice from behind him in the open air, "doesn't it?"
Hale sighed and turned around.
The hair was more gray than black now, but Hale recognized the man who had escorted his mother and him into the office of the one-legged colonel twelve years earlier. He must have been fifty years old now. The man was hatless, but his black dinner jacket and white shirt indicated that he too had been out all night.
"A tourist in the future," Hale said, in spite of everything not wanting to seem to have missed the reference, "visiting the ruins of London." He looked past the figure that must have been James Theodora, and he was only vaguely depressed to see three men in coveralls-no, four-standing well back on the far side of the police hut, clearly watching. "I-did write to you," Hale said unsteadily, "about joining the Communist Party. Whatever this is about a missing Air Ministry document-"
"Impromptu is what it is," said Theodora, shaking his head. "Let's walk." He started away eastward against the morning breeze in a long-legged stride, his black coat-tails flapping up below the hands clasped at the small of his back. Hale shrugged, though only the surveillance men could have seen the gesture, and hurried to catch up.
"The old ARCOS raid was the only example they could think of," Theodora said. He squinted sideways at Hale. "Right? ARCOS? 'All Russia Co-Operative Society,' in Moorgate? Huh! Some Communist you are. Well, that's what it was, Special Branch went in hoping to find evidence and found only a lot of burned papers; this was fifteen years ago. Excuse enough to break off diplomatic relations with Moscow, at least. So when we needed a story last night, they just re-enacted the ARCOS raid, but on the King Street headquarters this time. Still, it did get you a police record, didn't it?-verifiable detention, for proper espionage, right in front of the Communist headquarters! You're at liberty right now, but nevertheless formally in the custody of Scotland Yard while you 'assist in the inquiry.' You'll be sent down from Magdalen, of course." He snickered. "Scandal, disgrace."
Hale was dizzy, and when he looked at his formally dressed companion in this field of wildflowers he actually thought of the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. "Not killed," he said.
"Good heavens no, my dear! We'd have had to order you to join the Party, if you hadn't done it on your own. No, you're doing splendidly. We'll even reinstate you at Magdalen one day, if you like-there were some irregularities about your detention last night. The service taketh away, and sometimes giveth back. What else would you like? An Order of the British Empire is entirely feasible. You're too young for a CBE. Tell me about your dreams."
"My dreams?" Hale had to keep remembering his mother's words: ...they're the King's men; they deserve our obedience, because on this surreal morning he could easily have persuaded himself that Theodora was insane; for that matter, he wasn't necessarily confident about his own sanity either. What would happen here if he were to demand a knighthood? Would he be told it was his?-would he believe it was? "I suppose I'd like to be an Oxford don one day-"