- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
In everything that Viktor Pavel did, there had to be a formula, a recognizable plan he could follow, and so, a week before the trip, he had prepared a list of articles he intended taking with him.
Now it lay on the bed, alongside the suitcase, which was scruffy and chipped by age and travel, but retained against a replacement because a new one would be cardboard and the one he had was leather.
Pavel had travelled to the West before. He knew the comparisons at airline terminals and the professional assessments of hotel porters. Leather – even battered leather – earned respect. And Pavel had come to enjoy respect.
Against each item on his list was a tick, confirming its place in the suitcase. He made one final, careful check, then folded the list neatly before discarding it in the wastepaper basket. He closed the case, checking each lock and strap, and placed it near the door, then turned back to the room, inscribing its detail in his mind.
The children smiled at him from the double-framed photograph. Georgi had a shy, almost embarrassed look on his face, aware that the army uniform didn't fit properly and that the bagging collar would annoy his meticulous father.
Two thousand miles away, thought Pavel. Two thousand miles from the safety of Moscow, hedged by its missile complex, way down near the Chinese border at Alma Ata, the tension area, the most dangerous place to be. If trouble came it would be there, sweeping across the border. What was it Lin Piao had said? – 'We could fight upon the bodies of three million comrades and still win.' Something like that. Now Lin Piao had gone, but the Chinese attitude remained.
Pavel shuddered. Georgi would be there, if it happened, fear destroying that smile. It wouldn't matter then whether the uniform fitted or not. He picked the frame up, rubbing his thumb across his son's image, wiping away imagined dust.
Valentina, named after her mother, looked selfconsciously at him from the adjoining frame, her face plump from the Russian diet, the expression an artificial grimace before the camera lens she had been unable to forget. He recognized the dress, the white starched cuffs, the severe black skirt.
He had been to the academy that day and watched her play, stiff with pride, and accepted the praises of her teachers and bought her champagne in celebration afterwards in the chandeliered dining-room of the Hotel Metropole and almost cried when she had said with the intense, easily bruised sincerity of an eighteen-year-old, 'I'll be as famous as you, one day, Daddy. One day I'll make you proud of me.'
Impulsively he kissed both photographs and then, although it hadn't been on the list and Valentina would miss it that night, he unlocked his case and slipped the picture folder into the protective wrapping of his other suit.
'Only another thirty minutes.'
He turned at his wife's warning. They had been married for nearly thirty years and she knew to be late upset him and made him snap irritably at the chauffeur.
He smiled, recognizing the protection in her voice. Darling Valentina ... too much love ... too much trust. He felt inadequate, unworthy of her devotion and the emotion began building up until he had to squeeze his eyes shut, his hands gripped tightly at his sides as he fought for control. He couldn't afford emotion like that, not for a long time.
'Better hurry,' she prompted.
He began walking to the door, pausing at the glass-fronted cabinet where she had displayed his awards, the meaningless pieces of metal she dusted with so much pride each day, the minor decorations he had forgotten lying like pebbles on a beach, his twice-given Order of Lenin, the certificate of the Hero of the Soviet Union. Rubbish, he thought. Worthless tin rubbish.
He took the case out into the lounge of their apartment, a rambling collection of rooms, where, because of his position and prestige, they lived alone, spared the difficulty of sharing their flat with another family, like other Muscovites.
She stood waiting with his raincoat and held on while he shrugged to get it comfortable, like he always did, a familiar, intimate ritual.
Valentina Pavel was quite short, barely reaching her husband's shoulder, and like many middle-aged Russian women, her figure had begun to overflow into fatness. She wore her greying hair strained back in a bun and very rarely used makeup, only when she had to attend official functions with Viktor. Valentina Pavel liked attending receptions and banquets with her husband. Sometimes, at the end of an evening in which everyone, even the President and the First Secretary and occasionally a foreign ambassador, had stopped to exchange a few words, each showing respect and deference to his genius, she felt blown up with pride, like a balloon. It became their own, special joke that she needed the corset into which she had to force herself to contain her pride, not her figure. Always she made the joke and always they laughed together, like children with a familiar secret.
She was utterly sure of her husband and his love for her and her awareness of the envy of others was her only conceit.
From her husband, Valentina Pavel had only one secret. She wanted to die before him because she knew she could never endure the loneliness of not having him. It was the only selfish thought she had ever had and occasionally she felt guilty about it. But she still hoped it would happen.
She saw the wetness of his eyes now and thought she recognized the reason and was grateful.
'Be careful,' she said.
'You know I will.'
'Do be careful,' she said again.
He kissed her, unable to reply.
'Oh, nothing,' she said.
They were silent for a moment, then she said, 'Come back safely ...'
The pause was heavy, artificial almost.
'... and quickly.'
The bell rang and Pavel admitted his driver, nodding towards the single case. As the man left, Pavel reached out and stood for several seconds, his hand gripping her arm until his fingers were white, the pressure bruising her.
'My darling,' he said. And then turned away, abruptly, sweeping from the apartment without looking back. He was quite composed by the time he stepped into the black Zil that was drawn up in its reserved place at the kerbside.
They drove northwards parallel with the river, past the secretly gossiping barbushka at their street brooms. Pavel sat gazing out at the city. It had rained during the night and everything looked clean and freshly washed, like a nine o'clock schoolboy. My city, he thought. My home.
The car was recognized as an official one and the other traffic gave way as they swept over the Kammeni Bridge and then on past the Kremlin. Pavel looked back over the Alexander Gardens at the massive government block, high on its hill. 'There is nothing above Moscow except the Kremlin and nothing above the Kremlin except Heaven.' He recalled the proverb he had learned from his father on the farm near Kiev. I haven't heard that for a long time, he thought. Perhaps people didn't say it any more.
The car cleared the city and picked up speed along the tree-lined route to Sheremetyevo airport.
Dymshits, the Jewish aerodynamicist who had not been abroad before, was allotted the seat next to him on the Ilyushin.
'Paris!' the younger man exclaimed as the plane lifted off, nudging Pavel's arm in his excitement. 'How about that? The women, the food. Wine. Aren't you excited?'
Pavel took several moments to reply, as if the answer needed consideration. 'Yes,' he agreed, finally. 'Yes, excited.' There was even further thought. 'And nervous, too.'
But Dymshits was staring from the aircraft and didn't hear him.
Keeping the habit of the past two weeks, Adrian Dodds went immediately to the single window overlooking one of the innumerable, anonymous Whitehall quadrangles, looking for the pigeon with the broken beak.
The window-sill was empty, like an airstrip with no planes. Adrian sighed, disappointed. No one stayed long, not even pigeons.
He turned back into his office and began his day. He arranged his jacket on a hanger, stored it in the cupboard over the tea-making things and then unlocked his desk drawer. From it he took the felt cushion that protected his trousers from becoming shiny and placed it carefully on his seat, then lifted out his tray containing pens, pencils, paper clips and ink and set it in position at the head of the blotter. My Maginot Line, he thought. Behind the tray, I'm safe.
He was a slight, nondescript man, the sort of person that crowds are made of. He had begun losing his hair when he was twenty-one and still at Oxford and now it receded so much that he was almost bald. It worried him and he combed what little there was left forward, like the senators of ancient Rome. He had considered being fitted with a hairpiece, but then realized that his few acquaintances knew he was bald; they would recognize the wig and laugh at him and he preferred baldness to laughter.
Sometimes, on buses and tubes, he tried to identify people with artificial hair. It was his own, secret game and one that no one else knew about. Occasionally the fixation disturbed him.
Adrian Dodds was a man of no hobbies and little personality who always thought of crushing replies long after he had lost arguments in tongue-tied embarrassment. His genuine kindness was nearly always misinterpreted as lack of character, and consequently he was constantly imposed upon. But, because of his kindness, he rarely protested.
He was proud of one thing, his unrivalled ability to perform an unusual job.
Apart from that, he did not respect himself and knew few others did, either. He had thought of suicide on several occasions and even decided on the method. He would use gas because it would be just like going to sleep and there wouldn't be any pain. That was important.
Adrian didn't like pain of any sort, particularly mental pain. That, he felt, was far worse than physical pain, although apart from visits to the dentist and an appendicitis operation when he was seventeen, he had had little experience of physical pain.
He felt he was an expert at the other sort.
Miss Aimes suddenly bustled into the room. Her entry always reminded Adrian of a bird landing for scraps, alert, head to one side, immediately expecting danger. But not a pigeon. Miss Aimes wasn't a pigeon. A sparrow, perhaps.
She was her customary thirty minutes late and as she did every morning, she said, 'Sorry I'm late.'
And as he did every morning, Adrian replied, 'That's all right, Miss Aimes,' and he knew she wasn't sorry and she knew it wasn't all right. They both accepted that she would be late the following morning and that he would not protest.
'Has he come back?' his secretary asked, primping her grey hair into its rigid ruts over her head. Adrian watched her, convinced it was a wig and that she was really bald. A bald sparrow. Very rare. He really would have to curb this mania about baldness. It was almost unhealthy.
'No,' he said.
'It's been two weeks. I don't think it will. It probably couldn't survive with a broken beak ... couldn't get enough food.'
Adrian knew she didn't care and despised her for it.
'We'll hear about the report today,' said Miss Aimes.
'Yes,' he said. The reminder was unnecessary. Sir Jocelyn Binns, Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, always took two days to consider final debriefing reports, so today was consultation day. Adrian had worn his other suit, the one with the waistcoat.
'Do you think there's any point in putting out any more biscuit crumbs?' asked Miss Aimes.
It had rained during the night, soaking into a messy smear the chocolate digestive bait.
'No, don't bother.'
Miss Aimes stop-started around the office and Adrian watched, seeking the gap near her hairline that would confirm his suspicion. Perhaps it was an expensive wig, very well made. Her father had been a colonel with the Indian Rifles and had left her some money, so she could afford it.
Her tea was dreadful, like it always was, and as he always did, Adrian said, 'It's very nice. Thank you.'
She smiled, knowing he was lying, and he was glad when the buzzer went, indicating Binns was ready. Adrian put on his jacket, advanced beyond his Maginot Line and left Miss Aimes to her nest and her appalling tea.
The Permanent Secretary was very thin and he stooped, self-consciously trying to reduce his height, even when sitting at his desk. Adrian thought of him as a question mark, a perpetual query. It was a fitting metaphor.
Normally he stuttered, but Adrian had worked with him for fifteen years and in the intimacy of the office, the impediment disappeared.
Adrian had come straight from university with his Triple First in modern languages, an oddity in a department used to oddities, a rare man whose mind could sponge up and retain a foreign tongue with the ease of a child parroting an advertising jingle he has heard only twice.
At first their association had been difficult, both men sheltering behind their permanently erected barriers of shyness, but then each had recognized much of himself in the other, and friendship had replaced the diffidence until there now existed a unique rapport between the permanent civil servant and his assistant.
Adrian still kept a respectful attitude, aware his hesitant relationship with the older man was perhaps the only real friendship he had and frightened of losing it through over-familiarity. Always Sir Jocelyn led and Adrian followed.
Only in their work did the order sometimes change and that was necessary because everything began with Adrian. He and Sir Jocelyn processed every defector to Britain from communist bloc countries, establishing their worth and recommending whether or not they were granted permanent asylum. They had worked as a team for a decade, made only two mistakes and were rated the best there was, even better than anyone in Washington.
'Alexandra Bennovitch,' opened Binns, tapping the folder that Adrian had created and which lay between them on the desk.
'Yes,' said Adrian.
'It's a good report.'
'He's important, isn't he?'
'Very,' agreed Adrian. 'He's the most important man ever to have come over, in my opinion. And everything he has said checks out. I've had several meetings with our people, comparing what he told me with what they already know. They are amazed. They had no idea the Russians were so advanced, either on Mars probes or multi-head re-entry rockets.'
'No wonder the Soviets are so bloody mad.'
'What about Washington?' asked Adrian.
'The C.I.A. are like dogs on heat,' chuckled Binns. 'We get calls about three times a day.'
'I think Bennovitch will choose to go there eventually,' said Adrian. 'He's reasonably happy here at the moment, but it's just excitement. It'll soon wear off. When he begins to think he'll realize America is the only place for space science, despite their economies.'
'Is he frightened?'
'Very,' said Adrian. 'He's a bumptious man, but he's very aware of his worth. He'll only go out for about fifteen minutes each day and then insists that both men with him are armed.'
'Could we learn everything about the Russians' space plans from talking to him?'
Adrian pondered the question before answering. 'No, I don't think so. He worked as a team ...' He paused, then said, 'There were times when he was talking when I was reminded of the relationship between you and me ...' and Binns smiled.
'There is another man,' continued Adrian, 'Viktor Pavel. He's the navigational expert, basically, but he was the leader, the real genius. We've known his name for some time, principally in connection with his revolutionary new inertia guidance system, which our scientists want very badly. So there are gaps in what Bennovitch tells us. But the technical staff think they can fill most of it in. Even so, it'll take time.'
'Several months, I'm afraid.'
Binns shrugged. 'I don't think that detracts from the catch,' he said. 'We'll learn enough.'
The two men sat for several moments, then Binns said, 'I was surprised that the Russians still sent such a large delegation to the Paris Air Show. There's been such a fuss about Bennovitch that I expected them to cancel their contingent completely.'
'I don't know,' said Adrian, 'since the Americans and the Chinese established their links, the Soviets have been very conscious of "face" and of appearing over-sensitive in the eyes of the rest of the world. To have withdrawn would have created an even bigger surprise than going ahead as if Bennovitch's defection wasn't important.'
'True,' agreed Binns. 'Perhaps I'm overlooking the fact that at this moment only about six people, apart from the Russians, really know how important Bennovitch is.'
The secretary brought in tea and both men instinctively stopped talking until she had left the room.
Excerpted from Goodbye to an Old Friend by Brian Freemantle. Copyright © 1973 Brian Freemantle. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted May 22, 2010
Before Charlie. As a first book this is not a stunning read. Brian learned so much writing this book that he has become an outstanding writer of adventure fiction.
DO NOT read this book until you have read of of the Charlie MUffin novels you can lay your hands on.