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Although he knew there was no offence involved, Hugo Altmann was embarrassed by the Finnish habit of rapping a table or bar-top to attract the attention of a hotel waiter.
It unnecessarily accentuated the servility needed to tend the wants of others, he thought, as he looked across the darkened lounge of the Hesperia Hotel in Helsinki to the customer now being served.
But then, thought Altmann, I wear the demeanour of servility like an overcoat on a cold day.
That was probably why the practice distressed him. A sensitive man whose reluctant vocation was cruelty, Altmann was constantly aware of the feelings of others, attuned to their behaviour like a violinist recognizing the chords necessary to create harmony.
Or, for Altmann's purposes, disharmony.
The custom hadn't offended the three men he had been watching for the past hour, he saw. They continued their intense discussion, heads just inches apart, hands in constant use around their faces as if shielding the conversation. It was sad. And very amateurish, thought Altmann, shaking his head.
So they were discovered. And would suffer. Always suffering, he thought, his depression deepening.
The fair-haired one in the middle of the group was the radio officer from the Russian liner Alexander Pushkin, and Altmann had followed him since the man's disembarkation that morning. And never once had he been suspected, he knew. They were like children, he thought, involved in a game without knowing the rules. Only the penalty was adult.
Under cover of the Helsingin Sanomat, which lay rolled up on the table, he exposed the last frame on his infra-red film in the Minnox camera, scooped it and the newspaper into his arms and stood up, checking the bill. Purposely, he left a large tip for the waiter at whom people tapped bar-tops, and left the lounge.
He dispatched the developed prints to Moscow that night.
Two months later, the naked body of the Russian officer was found jammed beneath one of the supports of New York's Pier 90. The Russians already knew who he was, so there was no need for them to inquire into his identity. And the C.I.A. couldn't, because the body had no head or fingers.
The day after the discovery, Altmann bought pictures of the cadaver from the photo-sales department of the New York Daily News. They were important to him: he kept himself alive with such details.
The completed dossier on the affair safe beneath his feet, Altmann dozed contentedly that night behind the protection of eyeshades in the first-class section of the D.C.-10 returning him to Vienna. Seven hundred miles southwards, travelling in the opposite direction, two men slept in equal contentment on an unscheduled military aircraft, after concluding diplomacy in which the slumbering Austrian was so soon to become involved.
Altmann had been so carefully selected for the role that even with his expertise he was unaware of the surveillance from the square-faced, Slavic man sitting two seats behind. Detection would have been virtually impossible anyway, because the unsleeping passenger was just one of an eight-man team, whose observation had not begun until the handover from the previous watcher in the departure lounge of Kennedy airport, and would cease immediately he was superseded upon arrival in Austria.
Hugo Altmann had become a person of consuming interest to one of the most powerful men in the Russian Praesidium. The man was determined, however, that Altmann would not discover how important he was to them.
Because, at this stage, the Russian was uncertain himself.CHAPTER 2
The unmarked Boeing 747 of the Presidential fleet had taken a circuitous flightpath, finally approaching from the south, so it was just before midnight, Eastern Daylight Time, when it landed at Andrews military air-base outside Washington.
The Secretary of State, Blake Dennison, and his companion, currently the American ambassador to Paris, had travelled with a working team of advisers and interpreters, and so six staff Lincolns crocodiled from the shadowed blackness of the arrival building.
Dennison, a peardrop of a man who reflected his Harvard origins with pebble glasses and the crumpled inelegance of the academic, paused at the top of the ramp, inhaled the warm August air and sighed happily.
'Good to be home,' He said.
The ambassador, who was trying to conceal how badly he was suffering from jet lag, grunted and moved past. The Secretary of State's tendency for platitudes annoyed him, particularly when he was tired. Dennison had an aptitude for over-optimism, too. He would have to remember that.
Surprisingly for a diplomat schooled in protocol, he entered the lead car first, staring out through the far window as Dennison followed. The Secretary noticed the apparent rudeness: the man was running a little ahead of his chosen role, he thought.
Because a convoy of six official cars might have attracted attention so late at night, and their mission was one of the utmost secrecy, their vehicle departed immediately. As it left the Air Force compound the two men, separated from the driver by soundproof glass, pulled the curtains and switched on the interior light.
'He'll be pleased,' predicted Dennison. 'Very pleased.'
He looked across at his companion, appraising him. Very good, he decided. Very good indeed. A face the Board of Tourism would have selected to promote all that was good in America, just as it was planned to appear on placards of a different sort in a short time. The stubborn flop of fair hair, already caricatured by a few political cartoonists, hung now over the almost unlined forehead. The oddly pale blue eyes about which the Witches of Washington wrote so fondly in their social columns were bright and alert, even though they were pouched with tiredness. But the face wasn't too boyish, which was a balanced advantage. There were lines around the eyes and full mouth, too, giving James Murray just the proper degree of seriousness. Dennison lit his fortieth cigarette of the day and wondered why Murray was embarrassed by his fatigue: Kissinger had been able to avoid it by judicious cat-naps and so could he, but few people had the ability. So Murray's annoyance was immature.
But it was a minuscule failure, decided Dennison, in a man in whom there were so few defects. A rowing blue from England's Cambridge University, with an Honours degree in business from Harvard, a scion of one of America's first families; a man who possessed the ability not only to make men like him, but to want to be liked by him in return.
In fact, conceded Dennison, the man had everything – respectably earned millions, a liberalism acceptable to the North, coupled with a record against radical change that appealed to the conservative South.
And perhaps the most unblemished record since Gerald Ford.
Dennison was sure of the last fact because six months earlier, before beginning the diplomacy which had culminated in their return that night, he had read the exhaustive F.B.I, file prepared to avoid the election embarrassment of a Nixon, Agnew, Eagleton or Kennedy.
Murray looked across at the Secretary's remark, irritating with scratching sounds the stubble on his chin. There had been ample opportunity to shave on the specially equipped Air Force plane, realized Dennison. So Murray had purposely avoided it, choosing to appear scruffy to impress upon the President how hard and long they had worked. Certainly a professional politician, he thought.
'Aren't you pleased?' queried the ambassador. 'For you it's the biggest triumph yet.'
Most men who had spent the past six days in perhaps the most intensive diplomatic negotiations since Henry Kissinger opened the door to China in 1972 would have accepted his apparently bland remark as an invitation for self-congratulation, judged Dennison. But not James Murray. It would take more than simple tiredness for him to utter an unconsidered remark.
'Of course,' agreed Dennison, matching the caution. He ground out the cigarette that had snowed its ash over his crumpled waistcoat and shrugged deprecatingly. 'But it's my job. And remember, I had the best teacher there was.'
Dennison had worked for four years under Kissinger and was fond of statements indicating that anything he had achieved was minimal compared to that of the man who had perfected global diplomacy in Nixon's unhappy second term of office. Everyone respected men of greatness who remained modest, and Dennison, who had had unhindered success, chose his deference like a Savile Row suit.
Pity he didn't go there for his tailoring, reflected Murray, whose clothing, creased to support the unshaven appearance, was nevertheless immaculate. It was unsettling, too, that the man with whom he was going to have to work so closely in the future suffered so badly from halitosis. Murray turned his head away slightly.
'Do you think the Russians will stick to the bargain?'
Dennison considered his reply. 'Impossible to predict with total accuracy,' he said, with an honesty that Murray noted. 'But they're damned anxious to move those divisions from the Warsaw Pact down to the Chinese border. They're paranoid about Peking.'
'What about the danger of relaxing control in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary?' probed Murray. 'And can they afford a weakness near Yugoslavia when Tito goes? He can't live for ever.'
'No risk,' insisted Dennison. 'The security organization the Russians have established in Eastern Europe is incredible. Even without all those soldiers permanently assigned, Moscow would be aware of any serious dissent within forty-eight hours and could move to crush it, like they did in Czechoslovakia in 1968.'
Over-optimism again, wondered Murray. It was going to be difficult, he thought, learning to rely so utterly upon the opinions of men whose information and reliability he could not personally check. Certainly Dennison's views were those he'd heard on the diplomatic circuit in Paris, and before that when he'd been ambassador to London. But he was still unconvinced. Perhaps he was being affected by his carefully contained uncertainty about what was to happen to him during the next fifteen months. It was almost juvenile, he reflected, that as he approached the goal towards which his life had been motivated for the past ten years he should feel such nervousness. It didn't matter, though. James Murray knew his self-control. The apprehension would go undetected.
'Let's hope you're right,' he said.
It was going, decided the Secretary of State, to be very different working with this man compared to the incumbent President, who picked his teeth with dental floss at state banquets and had cost the Party a hundred thousand dollars paying off the secretary who had stupidly imagined the man's bed would lead to other things besides pregnancy. Murray would make few mistakes. And those that occurred would be difficult to label with his name.
Despite the hour, the President was awaiting them in the small study of the Executive Office building. A coded message had already been relayed over the plane's communication system, and Marvin Bell embraced both of them, standing back from each in turn and clapping his hands into their shoulders. It was a football gesture, recognized Murray. The President was a professed fan.
The President's breath smelled of bourbon and he waved towards a cabinet.
'A celebration,' he announced.
He poured the whisky himself, carefully handing each man his glass. Practised deference, like that of Dennison, thought Murray.
'So we've done it,' said Bell triumphantly.
'Looks like it,' smiled Dennison. The need for praise was too strong. 'It wasn't easy, but we won nearly all the points,' he added.
Bell immediately saw the man's need. His face became professionally serious.
'We'll always be grateful to you, Blake. Us. And the world. It could mean the Nobel Peace Prize.'
The President had a way of stopping pomposity becoming preposterous, thought Murray. He would have to learn how to mouth such rhetoric without feeling embarrassed, he supposed.
'It wasn't my work alone, Mr President,' insisted Dennison urgently, indicating the ambassador. 'It really was a two-man affair.'
The President, a small man with receding hair who had abandoned the cottage-cheese luncheons and allowed his figure to overflow into fat with the approach of retirement, nodded at the reassurance.
'I'm sure it was,' he said. 'Sure it was.'
It had to be shown that way, thought Murray. But it was true. He had been actively engaged in the negotiations, and the Russians, whom he suspected knew precisely the reason for his involvement, had appeared genuinely friendly towards him. It augured well for the future.
Bell slumped in the high-backed chair which threatened to engulf him and wedged his feet firmly on the desk. It was a theatrical posture and Murray regretted the man doing it. He would have to be careful of things like that, Murray decided. He was determined to become one of the most outstanding Presidents in American history.
'Tell me about it,' the President demanded. 'I want to know everything.'
He nodded towards the open liquor-cabinet.
'Help yourself to more drinks if you feel like it,' he offered, knowing neither man would move without a lead. It was an interesting ploy, decided Murray, committing it to memory.
'We chose the time well,' began Dennison. The date had been the President's choice. A clever beginning, thought Murray.
'The SALT talks have gone on far too long,' continued Dennison. 'Moscow is anxious to reduce its presence in Europe ...' He paused again. Time to be realistic. '... And the fact that a million peasants have died from famine and we have a grain surplus of nearly nine hundred thousand tons helped immensely.'
Bell laughed, too loudly, as if he'd been told a joke for the first time.
'I knew the way to get the damned thing moving was to work through their bellies,' he said excitedly. 'What's the deal?'
'Virtually the one we discussed before we left,' said Dennison. 'We agree to sell our entire wheat surplus. We also provide forty million dollars' worth of farm machinery. And heavy engineering equipment to speed up their oil and natural gas development in Siberia. Our agreement to purchase their excess oil means in balance-of-payment terms that they're getting the grain practically free.'
'And?' probed Bell, beginning to smile, like a child anticipating the conclusion of its favourite bedtime story.
'Perhaps Mr Murray should explain,' said the Secretary of State generously, judging he had taken sufficient credit.
The diplomat seized the invitation immediately.
'The public sessions of the SALT talks continue as at present, just like those at the beginning of the Vietnam negotiations in Paris,' he began. 'But both in Vienna and Helsinki there'll be secret sessions, as there were with Vietnam. Both the Secretary of State and I will take part. That's important for the public announcement when it comes, showing my participation ...'
The President nodded, approvingly.
'... Already we have a broad outline for agreement,' added Murray. It wasn't an exaggeration, he decided. There had been unequivocal indications from Moscow of their agreement. He turned to Dennison, seeking the other man's endorsement.
'... We both gained the impression', he continued, 'that sufficient progress would be possible in the next nine months to make a public announcement just at the moment we envisage ...'
'For almost total troop-withdrawal from Europe, phased destruction of existing missilesites and inspection of the installations?' interrupted the President, anxious that nothing had been overlooked.
'Yes,' said Dennison, answering both men. 'Everything. A complete disarmament package.'
'Jesus H. Christ,' breathed the President, softly. 'Can you imagine the effect of all that? In the year of an election campaign, we'll be able to announce a binding peace treaty with the Russians, a trade-deal that will get all the farmers in Middle America out of bankruptcy and enough business for the engineering industry to guarantee full employment for five years. As if that's not enough, there'll be no more dependence on the Arabs for our shortfall, so we can come out with stronger support for Israel and pick up the Jewish votes here ...'
He hesitated, turning to Murray.
'... And you, the man chosen by the Party to succeed me, will be shown as the person who made the deal,' he elaborated. No one spoke, since they all knew the President hadn't finished. 'It'll be a landslide election,' he predicted.
And you'll go down in history as the international statesman who had the foresight to engineer it, thought Murray. He wondered who would be the recipient of the Peace Prize, Dennison or Bell. Aloud, he said guardedly, 'It sounds a good scenario.'
Excerpted from The November Man by Brian Freemantle. Copyright © 1976 Innslodge Publications Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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