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Big Herbie Kruger is called out of retirement to look into some troubling aspects concerning the death of Gus Keene, a member of the British Secret Intelligence Service. It appears that Gus lived a double life--one as an inquisitor and the other as a magician. Kruger discovery of Keene's secrets forms a terrible trail that leads from the Provisional IRA to the Falklands War.
The eight men and four women had been chosen from over one hundred unknowing candidates. Each had a special skill and all at one time or another had lived in the West, attending universities or technical training colleges. All spoke at least two languages other than their own. All had proved their loyalty. They were called Intiqam—Vengeance.
They had left their country singly over a period of fourteen days. They had already spent two months together, pledging to bring true revenge onto the heads of the Western powers. Intiqam prayed and meditated; had regular visits from instructors who counseled them on the way in which they could pass clandestine messages to one another; learned how they could become invisible in the cities of the West and evade security and law enforcement agencies.
They memorized lists of names and mastered a plethora of detail concerning the cities in which they would operate. Above all else, they were taught the ingenious ways in which they could bring sudden death to individuals and groups of people. Two members of Intiqam were already conversant with the most difficult and dangerous final stroke of the plan that they called Magic Lightning.
The night before the first man left, they stood together and swore that the terror they would take to New York, Washington, Paris, Rome and London would, in the end, make the inhabitants of those cities, and the countries to which they belonged, beg on their knees for mercy.
Their varied, solitary journeys took a further month, each of them taking a completely different route, so that by late March they were together again—one cell in London, the other in New York. The cells each consisted of four men and two women who settled down to a period of waiting so that, after a year had passed, the cells had become integrated within their particular areas, the individuals were known by sight to shopkeepers, neighbors, newspaper sellers and the staff of several banks. They were model citizens. They had become invisible.
It was over a year before the two cells received the message to start the first phase of their campaign. It came on a Friday afternoon, which meant they were to begin at midnight. In English the activating word was Illusion.
Later, on that Saturday, it was calculated that Gus Keene's car left the road—less than three miles from his destination—at a little after three in the morning. He was almost certainly dead by the time the vehicle exploded in the kind of fireball you usually see only in the movies, or on the television news from some war-torn part of this unstable planet.
At the time of this horrible death many things were going on across the world. In New York, because of the five-hour time difference, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera was nearing the conclusion of that night's performance. In his lair, under the Paris Opera House, the Phantom himself suddenly disappeared from a tall ornate chair. There one minute and gone the next. The illusion had been prepared by Britain's foremost magician, Paul Daniels.
Mr. Daniels had never heard of Gus Keene, yet he had met him on a number of occasions.
Even farther away—an eight-hour time difference—in Las Vegas, at the fabulous Mirage, Siegfried and Roy, billed as Masters of the Impossible, were preparing for their first show of the evening. It would be the usual glittering and amazing performance of unparalleled theatrical magic, during which their white Bengal tigers would appear and disappear, an elephant would vanish in front of the audience's eyes and a huge cast, gorgeously appareled, would fill the stage and provide what had become the biggest, most glamorous magic show in the world.
Neither Siegfried nor Roy had ever heard of Gus Keene, yet they had met him on three different occasions.
On stage at the Kennedy Center, in Washington, D.C., the world's most famous illusionist, David Copperfield, was coming to the end of the final performance of a three-night appearance. At the age of thirty-seven one of the legends of magic and the tenth-highest-earning performer in the world, Copperfield now stood downstage, in his familiar costume of Levi 501s and a chambray shirt, telling his audience of the first time he ever saw snow as a child. Then, with calculated choreography and music, he moved to a raised plinth, center stage, while snow appeared to pour from his cupped hands. As this snowstorm began to whirl around him, Copperfield turned to face the audience and jumped farther downstage, only to disappear and become himself as a child, the snow still pouring from his hands. The young boy Copperfield turned his back to the audience, finding himself staring up at the man Copperfield, as the entire auditorium became a raging snowstorm that brought the audience to their feet, their applause mingling with the snow, many of them with tears streaming down their faces, for Mr. Copperfield has the power to stage his illusions in a manner than can produce great emotion.
David Copperfield had never heard of Gus Keene, but he, also, had met him on many occasions.
At three on that Saturday morning Detective Chief Inspector Olesker, of Scotland Yard's Anti-Terrorist squad, lay on a cot set close to a small window in London's Camberwell area.
The DCI, together with a Detective Inspector and a Sergeant, was engaged in watching a house some fifty yards away, across the road. The occupants of the target house had no idea that Olesker's people had spiked two of the rooms and the telephone with listening devices. The Detective Inspector, sitting at a table behind Olesker, had his eyes closed and his hands clamped over a pair of earphones as he listened intently to a conversation between a man and a woman in the second-floor front bedroom across the road. The full text of that conversation was being taped in a small gray van parked a couple of hundred yards down the street.
"They've got a visitor, guv'," the Detective Sergeant muttered, and Olesker raised the ultraviolet night binoculars, watching the figure who had arrived quietly in a small Japanese car.
"It's him," Olesker said quietly. "It's Billy Boyle the Bomb Maker; well, how about that?"
They were watching an Active Service Unit of a truly vicious terrorist organization: a splinter group of the original Provisional IRA who called themselves Freedom Fighters of the Irish Republican Army—the FFIRA. These people had cut themselves off entirely from the Provisionals and Sinn Fein, the political wing, and operated by their own rules. They were almost one hundred members strong and appeared to have access to as many weapons and explosives as they needed. The FFIRA had become a poisoned thorn in the side of all the British anti-terrorist agencies.
Detective Chief Inspector Olesker had never heard of Gus Keene, and certainly had never met him.
At three in the morning a man who had known Gus Keene, as friend and colleague for more years than he would have liked to admit staggered around a pretty little cottage a couple of miles outside Lyndhurst, on the edge of the New Forest.
It was only recently that drink had started to affect him. For years he had been able to take vodka for vodka, or whiskey for whiskey, with the best of them, and remain so cold and actively sober that many a suspect had slurred out indiscretions that had finally led to a terrible downfall. Now the man who blundered around the cottage had himself become prey to an entire bottle of vodka, riding lost on a sea of liquor.
He was also prone to deep depressions, conscious that he was no longer connected to the only life he had ever really known. When the Americans had picked him up in long-ago Berlin—a teenager of the ruins—and put him to work hunting Nazis in the camps for displaced persons, happiness and purpose had taken him over. Eventually, the Americans handed him on a plate to the British, who saw a future for this clumsy, ill-proportioned young man. It was then that he grasped hold of the first rung of a ladder in the shadowland of what became the Cold War.
That was over now, even though he had accepted early retirement of his own volition long before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, in order to embrace what ultimately became a loveless marriage. They had called him back for one last delicate job, and when that finished, he became a man of sorrow, anger and bitterness—emotions that ate at him like a cancer and changed him from a hero of the Cold War to a person enmeshed in brooding, vacillating self-pity.
In spite of his bulk, clumsiness and the face of a peasant, he had been a passionate man who had loved—really loved—only twice. One of these loves had betrayed him, the other was gone, while his wife, who was a kind of stopgap, had left him to live with her sister in Germany.
So, he had cut himself off from life, with the bottle for company, memories that scarred his soul and a loneliness that seared his mind and altered his perception of the real world.
On that night when Gus Keene died in the fireball that had been his car, Eberhardt Lukas Kruger finally fell into bed, fully dressed, just after three in the morning, his furred brain already asleep, battered into subservience by intoxication.
At six-thirty the same morning, he was clawed back to consciousness, still unsteady and not a little drunk, by a persistent knocking at his front door. Grumbling and staggering, he swayed down the stairs, unlocked the door and found himself looking into a very familiar face from his past.
"Lord, Herb, you look terrible." Tony Worboys, once, years ago, Herbie Kruger's assistant, now elevated to one of the five Deputy Chiefs at the Office—or the Firm—as the Secret Intelligence Service refers to itself, had been told of his old mentor's disintegration, but still could not believe it.
Kruger's weight had dropped by at least a third, so that his clothes—never a strong point—hung from him, giving the impression that he had purchased them cheaply in a sale, hoping that he might eventually grow into them. The wide goofy smile was not apparent, the skin of his face flabbed and the usual half-mocking, always mischievous glint had left his eyes, leaving them dead, almost like the eyes of a large fish on a slab.
"What you want, Young Worboys?" There was no sign of pleasure in his slurred greeting, and certainly no welcome, even though Herbie called him Young Worboys still, just as he had done all those years ago.
"I need to talk."
"If it's asking me to come back, forget it. For me the war is over."
Perhaps, Worboys thought, the last remark had about it some of the old Kruger style, but even as the idea ran briefly through his head, it was snuffed out by Herbie.
"I don't want to see any of you again. This I mean, Tony, and you know why. I'm finished with it. It's all over. Consummation est. Okay?"
Worboys paused. It was both profoundly sad and depressing to see Kruger like this, a husk of his old self; a man of such former vigor dragged down, with all his energy gone and his physique taking on the form of a wraith. He was reminded of his own father at the end, riddled with cancer, his body and features unrecognizable, redrawn by disease, the body corrupted by nature.
"Sorry, Herb. Still got to talk to you. It's bad news, I'm afraid."
Big Herbie, now not looking big, or strong enough to swat a fly, opened his mouth to say something, then changed his mind, pulled back the door and motioned Worboys into the tiny hall of the cottage.
For a second Worboys recalled his visit to this same place some years ago when Herb and his bride, Martha—née Adler—one of Kruger's old agents, were married. Herbie had run her in East Berlin, where she had boldly seduced, entrapped and even killed at his bidding. On that last occasion Herb the bridegroom had seemed to fill the hallway, so that he gave the impression of having to crouch and breathe in simply to open the door. Now two of him would have fitted into the space.
Predictably, the living room was untidy and smelled strongly of liquor. Worboys wondered when Herb had last opened a window. "Spot of coffee, Herb? I've come a long way."
"You weren't invited," Kruger snapped. Then, "Coffee, okay," his legs stuttering him off in the direction of the kitchen.
"So, what's the bad news?" he asked on his return with two large mugs of black liquid.
"What about Gus?"
"He's dead, Herb."
"Gus Keene dead? How so? Saw him a couple of months ago. Retired, like everyone but you. Retired and writing his memoirs. Told me so himself."
"We think it was a car bomb. He was driving back to Warminster last night—well, early this morning. Car left the road and blew up. About half a mile from Wylye. He was coming back from Salisbury ..."
"Warminster? What the hell was he doing in Warminster? He'd quit. Retired. Why Warminster?"
"We gave him the old Dower House. Him and Carole. He had the Dower House as part of the golden handshake, don't you remember?"
Somewhere at the back of Herbie Kruger's mind he heard a fragment from one of Mahler's symphonies—the Adagietto from the Fifth, he thought. Beautiful, but drenched in sadness. A year ago he would have recognized it immediately without even thinking, for Mahler's music had been his prop and pillar through all the years of his secret life. A reflection mirrored in the glass of life for him. The very idea of not now being able to place it in context made him suddenly frightened. What had he allowed himself to become?
"I remember," he murmured. "You gave him that crummy little cottage near where was once the main entrance. After all those years that Gus served, you give him a little cottage where he can look at the place he controlled for so long. Very big of you, Tony."
"It wasn't me, Herbie. It was an executive decision. Anyway, he wanted to be there. It was office property and he wanted to be somewhere he could have files officially while he was writing."
"His memoirs, sure. It's the big thing now. You take the golden handshake and the okay to write about your years in secrecy. The coming thing. KGB does it as well, I hear."
Worboys sipped the hot, strong coffee and wondered if this had been a wise move, coming to old Herb, laying the news on him and then suggesting what he had been told to suggest.
"What a good idea, giving him the Dower House," Kruger continued. "Got him under your thumb, right? Got him by the short hairs while he's writing his secret life story."
"I told you, that's what he wanted. He argued that it would be more secure."
Big Herbie Kruger said nothing. For a long time Tony Worboys left him alone, for he offered not a word and seemed suddenly an old man, sitting with both hands around the mug of coffee, his eyes looking out on something that Worboys could never see.
Kruger was, in fact, thinking of Gus Keene and how impossible it was that this man should be dead. Unthinkable. People like Gus did not die. Not at his age. Herbie felt the life running silently from him to join Gus. Citizen Keene. Herbie had called him that when he last saw him. Aloud, he said, "Best Confessor the Office ever had, eh?"
"Best in the world," Worboys agreed, but did not intrude on Herbie's private thoughts.
A Confessor was the way some people talked about those specialists whose job it was to act as inquisitors. Interrogators, inquisitors, confessors—what's in a name? He had even heard them called the men with the thumbscrews, but Gus Keene was certainly the best: a Confessor of Confessors. More. For years he had also been the officer in charge of what the Office called Warminster—the big old house, set in acre upon acre of grounds some six or seven miles outside the garrison town that bore its name. Warminster was, as someone else once said, the place where the Office did everything but kill people. At the thought, Herbie choked, for people had been known to die at Warminster, though it was used for many different things: the training of young probationers, the inquisition of suspects—sometimes highly illegal inquisitions; courses where they topped you up. He supposed they had been topping people up on Middle East targets these days, for he knew that, contrary to the modern perception, the Secret Intelligence Service had been reduced by only one hundred and twenty officers—most of them near retirement anyway—and was pursuing its old role with a new fervor.
"What's in it for me, Tony?"
Worboys looked up, caught Herbie's eyes and saw what he had not seen before. The glint was just visible.
Excerpted from Confessor by John Gardner. Copyright © 1995 Whithington Books, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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