First published in hardback in 1980 by Robert Hale Books
ONE: The Brief
TWO: The House That Teague Built
THREE: Enter Hadley
FOUR: The Bullet
FIVE: And into the Fire!
SIX: A Truce
SEVEN: Hello Carlo, Goodbye Hadley
EIGHT: The Patros Queen
NINE: The Launch
TEN: Werner Show His Colours
ELEVEN: Day two at sea.
TWELVE: Ten Years in Ten Minutes!
THIRTEEN: A Final Act
“…They were good years to be a spy…” Kim Philby
“Another drink, Mister Ryderbeit?”
The girl looked pretty enough but she had just committed the cardinal sin. I just nodded. I can be as petulant as the next man when it comes to having one’s surname mispronounced. Any fool knows that Ryderbeit is pronounced RyderBATE. And as a globe-trotting airline stewardess she, if anyone, should have known better. I’m nobody’s vegetable! Besides which I was in a foul mood. Not her fault, of course, the foul mood. But she hadn’t helped. And when I’m in a foul mood, control freak that I am – or like to think I am – I tend to take it out on the nearest body.
Then I remembered that Burgess, who was the cause of my ill temper, was still making that same mistake after over four years of prompting. But he does it out of spite. Come to think of it almost everyone makes that mistake. Could that be why I don’t have many close friends?
The girl smiled primly and wafted back down the aisle. She did have a lovely backside however. And nobody’s perfect, are they? But Burgess was something else again. Plenty on the negative side, probably nothing on the plus side. His most recent nasty was to con me into this job. What was it he had said? A few days holiday in the sun? I let my thoughts wander back a touch.
Burgess had telephoned me about four in the morning. Yesterday it was.
Deep in my thoughts, I felt the drink being placed in my hand. I took a slurp.
Yesterday. Christ! Seemed like a year. Call it a small party he’d said. Impromptu. That should have given me a clue. Burgess never threw parties. Even small ones. And it was good and small. Just Burgess, me, and this military-looking gent with the problem that Burgess had slipped into my court before I’d realized it.
I was tired. Burgess knew this and took advantage of the fact. Casual, he was. Another uncharacteristic hint that I failed to pick up. A couple of undernourished whiskies, some inane small-talk and then the slammer. At five-a-bloody-clock in the morning!
“George has got this double agent swanning about one of his stations.”
I’d nodded politely, sympathetically, as befits a man of my dubious temperament. Which was all very well, but I should have been on the ball.
“Yes,“ went on Burgess returning my nod, “and we’ve been asked to sort it out…Let me top you up.”
I remember holding out my glass and saying something like, “Oh, really?” All agog with disinterest.
“Mmm…“ said Burgess clinking his glass chummily on mine and lapsing into a momentary spasm of deep thought. “Our fame spreads!“ Then he shoots a warm smile over at the military gent on the couch. “The higher echelon seems to think that it’s important enough to warrant a Class-A operation. I have to send my best man…You’re looking tired. Still, you’ll be off the register for a bit, won’t you? Holiday or something?”
I had slurped my drink and made a few affirmative noises. Burgess had hit the nail on the head. I thought about the cottage in Devon. It was the damn drink that scotched me. That and the tiredness. As I was conjuring up images of a gently lapping river full of fat, accommodating trout, Burgess was pumping me full of stories of double-agents and how much nicer the weather would be in Greece at that time of year. And I, in my stupor, was agreeing with him hook, line, sinker, trout and all, Then I was bundled out his door with an, “I’ll call you in an hour or so with the details. In the meantime get your head down. You look a bit peaky.”
I was back in my poky flat before it all clicked into place. Too late then, of course. Some party! And I hadn’t exchanged two words with the military gent. The rest is history. Burgess had spoken, may he rot in hell-fire.
I looked up. It wasn’t Burgess doing the talking any more. It was the nice-bottomed stewardess.
“We’re starting our descent into Athens, sir. Would you like another drink before I close the bar?”
I looked down at the empty glass in my hand. Empty, for Christ’s sake! I couldn’t remember drinking the stuff. I handed her the glass as if it were made of frozen nitro and mumbled a no-thanks. Then I heard Burgess’s voice again. We were in his office this time.
“There are two very good reasons why it has to be you. The first is that you came to us from INTERNAL. And since it was never made public that you changed horses that will be your cover.“
“You can be shot for that! “ I said.
Burgess frowned. “For what?”
“Going behind the lines dressed as someone else.”
Burgess tutted. But he didn’t rise to my attempt at humour. My humour can be something less than humorous at the best in times. I sometimes mix it up with ironic sarcasm. He went on: “It’ll be something like Bangkok, except that here we don’t know who it is. But there’s not many of them to screen. It’s only a mail-drop, after all.”
“Hang on a bit,” I said, doing some frowning of my own, “Are you saying that I’ve got to do the sniffing too?”
Burgess nodded. My frown deepened. I could feel it pulling my eyebrows down. I said, “You do have a few pointers though…”
He shook his head and dashed on. “Roberts will be your trigger-man again. He’s out there already. He’ll contact you at the airport.”
I grunted. Shit, Roberts again! Roberts was bad news. He’d cracked up in Bangkok. He’d used his gun right enough and his aim was as good as ever. But I had had to lead him to the job. Literally. And afterwards he had cried like a baby and told me that he was through. I should have put that in the report. I should have done a lot of things. But I hadn’t. And now, down there, was an unknown double-agent and, God help me, Roberts!
Here was Burgess again. “You’ve got a choice from perhaps five men. Can’t be more specific about the numbers because I don’t know. And we don’t require an arrest. When you find him, kill him! The big man wants this mail-drop cleared post-haste. But keep your INTERNAL cover. That’s important. Let Roberts do the dirty work. That’s what he’s paid for. And no frills. If Roberts has got to do it in broad daylight and leave the body in the gutter, then so be it.”
I’d said that I understood. But I’d lied. I did not understand at all. Burgess normally insisted on every frill that was available. Here was something new. Though I’ve never done a job for the section that had not involved a corpse or two, they have – had !- always, without exception, had to be nice corpses. Accidental-death type corpses. Or corpses that are never found. That’s what E.L. trades in most of the time. Corpses.
E.L. is our designation, by the way. And E.L. is not about detective work (see above); it is about rubbing out agents who have become unstable for one reason or another. We get handed a name and are left to get on with it. The donkey work would have already been done, either by the section involved or INTERNAL. E.L., I think, is the big man’s condensation of the word Elimination. But I could be wrong. And the big man I refer to is Burgess’s boss, who could be anyone. To put us in a nutshell; we are what happens when something gets too dirty for INTERNAL to risk dealing with. As socially acceptable as the plague but, to Burgess’s growing happiness, a number in the little black books of almost every department of Military Intelligence.
Just by-the-by; I was respectable myself once, believe it or not. A happy, hard-working field man for C.I.6. Then some bright spark – not to dwell too long on a boring subject – thought that I would be of more use to INTERNAL. We killed people there, too. Sometimes. But mostly we just had to prise the baddy out of his burrow and hand him over for trial. I was good at that. Prising, I mean. Then, to end this short biography, one fine spring morning I get sent to Burgess’s warren and, without so much as a by-your-leave, I’m up to my armpits in E.L. That was four years ago. Lesson over.
I looked out of the window, and there was southern Greece stretched out below us. Nothing down there yet but parched-looking hills. But it looked like beautiful weather out there.
Burgess was saying: “Roberts will have the lie of the land sussed out by the time you get there and he’ll leave instructions on the airport notice board.”
“Information,” I said dully, “Roberts will leave information on the notice board. Roberts does not give me instructions! There’s a subtle difference.”
Burgess hadn’t liked that. He doesn’t like to think that his boys don’t love each other madly. Burgess can get stuffed. Roberts had already got off lightly in my book. If he thought that he had authority to dish out instructions he would really fall apart. These played-out trigger-men are all the same. Played out! Then I tried again to convince Burgess that I was no longer a winkler of baddies out of holes. But he would have none of it. Pedantic git!
We were landing at last. I shoved Burgess to the back of my mind.
Athens Airport was hot. And it was dusty. I’d been through there before, doing things for C.I., but I’d never caught the summer. It was a bit of a shock to the system. Two minutes after leaving the plane I was sweating like a porker.
Roberts was there all right. I saw him hovering about outside the wire as I entered the terminal building. I tell you now that he did not look like everyman’s idea of the cold-blooded killer. He is – was, rather (poor sod’s not with us anymore) – a wan little chap who always managed to look half dressed. Too many bones and not enough skin. But I can’t talk. I’m an ugly sod myself. But I’m a long way from the scrap-heap. That’s if I’m ever asked, of course.
When I finally made it through the red tape, Roberts was nowhere to be seen. Then a taxi draws up. He’s in it. And there was only the one. This seemed odd. Perhaps I should have looked at the notice board. We shouldn’t really travel together. Not done, and all that. I dropped my suitcase on the ground and lit up a fag whilst having a cagey peek up and down the road. Definitely just the one taxi. I glanced over and saw Roberts jerk his head. So, not wishing to over-dramatize the situation, I walked over.
“Shoot.” I said as I slid in beside him, “Only try not to take me literally!“ Quite pithy, I thought, all things considered.
Was that a smile? Probably not.
“I wanna thank you, Jackie.” Roberts muttered as the taxi pulled away. Jackie – Jackson, for my sins – is my first name, so there was no reason why Roberts shouldn’t use it. I forget his first name. When I’m not calling him Roberts, I just call him chum. Or matey. Or whatever.
“What for, chum?”
He looked down at his spindly hands. He was embarrassed. I have to admit it, though I shouldn’t, I felt sorry for the old blighter. “Oh, that! “ I said magnanimously “Forget it.”
Roberts shook his head. “I won’t forget it.” He kept his eyes on his hands. “I might have been beached.”
“And for that you thank me?” The man’s a fool, I thought. I’d give my back teeth to get my demob papers all legal. That’s another trouble with this business; you never get to resign when you feel like it. But Roberts was not thinking straight. If I’d reported the Bangkok thing the way it happened he would not just have been beached; Burgess would have had another of his two-man teams give him the old heave-ho. Goodnight, nurse! It’s an odd business, this. Best left alone if the choice is there. While Roberts was studying his thumbnails Burgess was droning on in my mind.
“I’ll tell you why Athens is so important…“ I’d asked him, just for something to say. “…it’s because everyone has got a mail-drop there. It’s a beehive now that the Lebanon is closed. All the big outfits go through there and all the little ones are chasing after them. Devil of a job to keep a finger on every pulse. And that, so I gather, is what the colonel (remember the colonel?) needs to do. And he can’t do it if he’s got a spanner in his works.”
“Okay. But what’s the colonel’s speciality?” I thought I’d ask. It would have been out of character for me not to ask those kinds of questions.
Burgess replied in his usual manner. “None of your damned business! None of mine either, come to that. We’re just the janitors, remember?”
That’s us. Muck-shovellers extraordinary. Everybody’s plaything and nobody’s friend. Ask anyone about us and they’ll spit on the ground, if not on you. Justice? You’re joking.
“It seems,“ went on Burgess, without waiting for a reaction, “that the colonel has lost track of a couple of his top men. Queer goings-on, and all that. And all roads lead to his Athens drop.”
I thought about this. Then, after due consideration, I said, “So there’ve been some queer goings-on. Fascinating stuff. But hardly grounds for yelling double-agent. If – “
Burgess raised a hand and sighed hugely. “No ‘ifs’! We’ve been given the brief and that’s that. Besides, the conclusion is theirs. You make your own mind up when you get there.”
I shrugged. “Message received, Chief. So where is the drop? I mean a little more precisely than Athens. Or do I have to guess at that, too?”
Burgess, showing a remarkable turn of patience, ignored my gibe. “The front is a paper shop in the Astoria Hotel. The top man there is called Hadley.”
“What’s his security clearance?”
“A damn sight higher than yours.”
Why did I bother asking? “Fair enough. Others?”
“Here is the second reason why it’s you going and not someone else. Remember Teague? Pat Teague?”
Groan. I sure as hell remembered Patrick Teague. Another in the Roberts’s mould. He’d dropped me in it somewhere. Beirut, I think it was. Back in the C.11 days. The details escaped me for the moment. But it had been a nasty business. Perhaps, I thought, I could get to even the score. “What’s he doing there?” I asked, straight-faced.
“Communications number. Runs his transmitter up in the mountains. Place called Pretmia. You’ll have clearance to use that radio to report back direct to me. Every day! Use the Class-A scramble code. Make today day-one in the sequence. Got it?”
Silly boy. “Anyone else I might know?”
“The only other name I have is of the runner. Man called Peters. Glean more from Hadley. Now listen, Hadley will be under the impression that you are nothing more than an INTERNAL ferret. Don’t disappoint him.”
“Perish the thought.” I said, with a silly grin on my face.
Burgess had not liked that either. Flippant, he’d called it. Stupid beggar.
“I’ve got a room in a pensione a couple of doors up from the hotel. I can fix you up there too if you like.”
This was not Burgess. This was Roberts woken from reverie. I told him that I’d heard what he’d said and added, “Since I don’t have to hide in the woodwork on this one I reckon I’ll go for a room in the hotel. Live it up a bit.”
Roberts shook his head. “Full! I checked for you.”
Somehow I thought at the time that he should not have done that. We weren’t supposed to know each other. And we were already riding in the same cab. But it was too blasted hot for an inquest. I just sighed.
Correction. It was not just hot, it was scalding. The road ahead was palpitating and little whirlpools of dust flared up in whatever sea-breezes managed to drag themselves bodily over the sand to the road. It was about this time that I became aware of this funny feeling. Right down in the depths of my belly. Nothing that I could put a finger on. Just this odd feeling that I’d overlooked something. Perhaps it was just that we were not being as furtive as we should have been.
I said, “What else have you got for me?”
Roberts seemed to drag himself out of the doldrums, “Funny business,“ he began.
“Queer goings-on.“ I put in.
Roberts looked at me sideways before continuing. “There’s this bird. She and Teague have got something going between them. I was up giving Teague’s place the once-over and she visits him. Stays for a bit, then leaves. Didn’t think much about it then. Then she turns up again opposite the hotel. Just standing there under the trees. She’s tailing Hadley, I’m sure. Twice she was there. Each time Hadley shows up she shows up. And she’s always got a camera in her hand.”
It could be something. I said: “What’s she like?”
Roberts pursed his lips. “All right, I suppose. Greek, I think. You want me to check her out for form?”
I sighed. “Answer to your question: No. I’ll do the checking from here on in, not that I’m ungrateful for your efforts. And the answer I would have preferred for my question might have gone along the lines of: dark, shoulder-length hair, swarthy features with a mole on the end of her nose, or what-have.you. Snap out of it, chum. It’s too hot to start a stud farm!”
Roberts’s eyebrows joined hands. Then the penny dropped. “Oh, sorry. Well, just about the way you described her except for the mole. About twenty, I guess. Well built. You couldn’t miss her in a crowd. And too bloody young for Teague. You’ll get a surprise when you see him.”
“And you’re sure she was tailing Hadley?”
At least it gave me a starting point. I said: “Where are we going?”
“I’ll drop you off near the hotel. Perhaps you can – ”
I held up my hand. “Never mind that, batman. I’ll drop you off then cut along up into the mountains.“ I figured that I might as well hold the reins from the word go. Provided of course that we hadn’t already passed the word go.
Roberts did not seem to be put out. He just said, “Teague?”
“Right. Anything else I should know before we split up?”
He shook his head. “Only the girl.”
“Okay. What’s the address of your pensione for when I need you?”
“Number forty-three. First floor. Same street as – ’
“As the hotel. I know.” Then I heard Burgess’s voice in the back of my mind.
“Your man could be any of them. When you have him nailed down, don’t wait for contact with me. Just give Roberts his orders. If you’re wrong, there won’t be too much harm done!
You see? Every rule in the book was being broken on this one. But then, are there really any hard and fast rules in this game?
Pat Teague handed me the glass. I took it and, foolishly, put it to my lips. The smell should have been enough. But after the gruelling climb from where I had left the taxi I needed something. I could well have done without the drink. It tasted like horse-liniment and it burned like acid. But it was a logical follow-on to the surroundings.
The village of Pretmia, several miles from Athens and perched like a wart on the slopes of the scruffiest mountain I’d ever come across, was squalid. What people I’d seen in the village were squalid. Teague’s hut, just outside the village in the donkey-droppings belt, was squalid. And, you’ve guessed it, Teague was squalid. Roberts had been right. Teague was a changed man. He had never been a suave character but a decline like that in so few years was eerie.
When the drink finally hit the bottom after a hot trip down I cast a watery eye around the interior of the hut. It was little more than a hovel with windows. A dirt floor. Though the thing on the ground could once have been a reed mat. A couple of dusty pictures on the (chortle) walls. And a ladder leading up to what I supposed was the bedroom. I took another pull at the drink and looked at Teague.
He was a bent man. The shock of jet-black hair was no more. In its place was a sunburned bowling-ball. And his face. Jesus, the face! He was old, like old old. Yet he was no more than ten years my senior, give or take a year or two. And his hands shook. Though I guessed that most of the shake was due to a surfeit of the liniment. It was no wonder that I hadn’t seen any horses. Plenty of donkeys. But no horses. They probably didn’t live that long.
Teague sat on this assortment of nailed together slats of wood that masqueraded as a chair and patted himself with a dirty, sweat-sodden handkerchief. I’d decided to keep the matter of the girl under my belt until later so there were not many preliminaries. Teague came right out and said:
“I know why you’re here, Jackie.“
“You do?” Something in his voice told me that he was discounting the INTERNAL front. I hoped not.
“I’m not that far gone,” he said, “I’ve been expecting it, hoping for it, for a long time. But Hadley doesn’t know who you are with.”
“Who am I with?” This was not good.
The hands shook faster. “You’re on the E.L. squad.” Poor old Teague. He’d just sealed his appointment with Roberts. “Am I?” I said harshly.
He did not speak for a while. He just sat there dabbing himself with that filthy rag. I was wondering if there was any point in denying it when he went on:
“It’s been a while hasn’t it, Jackie. Remember the old days? They were good times. Plenty of money. Good living. Not like now. Not like this.“ He jerked his head vaguely.
Let’s get to it slowly, I thought. I waved a holier-than hand at nothing in particular and he seemed relieved that I’d dropped the other subject, which I hadn’t. He went on:
“Oh, it’s not as bad as it looks. Close. But not quite. This is the way that bastard Hadley wants it. It’s supposed to be all part of his new station image.”
On impulse I said: “Are you bad, Pat?”
He licked his lips and looked as if he’d been expecting the question. Then he burst forth like a broken dam. “I’m clean, Jackie. I swear that I am. It’s Hadley! You’ve got to believe that! Hell, I wouldn’t have told you that I knew about you if I was not clean.”
Strangely enough, I believed him. He sat there snivelling and looking as if he was going to die. I waited for him to calm down a bit. For the time being I was going to ignore his little bit of finger pointing, I would find out soon enough what Hadley was or was not. I said:
“What makes you think I’m E.L, Pat. And make it good. I still haven’t forgotten the Beirut fiasco.”
I should have stopped him after his next few words, because he went off the important point altogether. But once he’d dived into it I didn’t have the heart to.
“That wasn’t my fault, Jackie,” he said urgently. “I had the goods on me don’t forget. I figured it was better for the group if I split with the stuff intact. That’s exactly how it was, Jackie. I swear it. I thought I was doing the right thing.” He played with the rag a bit more then went on. “You dropped out of sight after that and we all thought you’d bought it. I felt bad about that. I really did. But then I heard that you’d moved to INTERNAL.
“About six months after that they moved me to Istanbul. Desk job mostly. Usual story. Sifting the stuff that made it through the curtain. Small fry to the Embassy for the pouch and the hot stuff along the line to here. I made the trip myself a few times when we didn’t have a runner available. Then when I hear on the grapevine that they’re thinking of moving me to Athens permanently, I’m chuffed. I was here in the war remember. I know a lot of people. I think that was what clinched it in the end. Anyway, I get here. And everything’s fine until mister-bloody Hadley turns up. He doesn’t take long to – “
I cut in there. “Leave Hadley out of it! Now I’ve had the grace to listen to the story of your life, so you have the grace to answer my question which, in case you’ve forgotten, is: why the hell would you assume that I’m with E.L.?”
The eyes widened a bit and he dragged a hand over his stubbly face. “There’s a lot of talk in the sections about E.L., Jackie.’
I knew that. Hell, I’d done enough back-biting about E.L. during my time in the field. But I was getting impatient with Teague. And he saw that I was. He started gushing.
“There were a hundred things, Jackie. Things that had your hallmark on them. I know you. I know the way you operate. And you know yourself that the drops hear everything that’s going around.”
If this were true I’d have to watch myself in future. Teague saw that I’d accepted a certain amount of his statement. He nodded to himself and the world in general. “That’s how, Jackie,“ he said. “Nothing else.”
The funny thing was that I believed that too. Was I becoming too predictable in my old age? I said: “But how did you know that I was coming here?”
Teague didn’t answer. I prompted him. “Cough!”
He rose up and slopped dismally across the floor. Then he spoke softly. So softly that I had to incline my head in his direction.
“Hadley has a file on E.L.”
“Has he, by Christ!” This was one file that Hadley, if Teague were to be believed, should not be compiling.
“Yes.” said Teague. He plodded back and stood over me reeking of the horse liniment. “I recognized Roberts down town this morning. I was coming out of the drop. He was at the reception desk.”
Is nothing sacred! “And how in hell’s name do you know about Roberts?” This was ridiculous. I couldn’t help wondering if Teague knew what colour underpants I had on. He seemed to know everything else.
He shrugged lightly. “There’s a bio of him in Hadley’s file. The works. Pictures, the lot. And not just Roberts. Half a dozen others too. Nothing on you though. But I knew that you worked together in Bangkok a while ago. I just put two and two together.”
I was silent. It seemed that every man and his horse-trough knew about E. L. and its operations. That gut feeling I mentioned earlier made itself felt again. Teague went on:
“It wasn’t hard, Jackie. Not when you’ve been in the business as long as I have. I smell things.“
I passed up the obvious comment because I was too concerned about my fight against gut-feelings. I tried a new tack.
“Okay, Pat. I’ll assume for the time that you aren’t pulling my plonker. Now answer this, what makes you think that Hadley is the bad boy here?”
Teague looked pleased at the question. “I don’t have to think on that one, Jackie. I know! Hadley is working for the other side. You don’t just have to take my word on that. I…“
He averted his eyes then. I could see his brainbox mechanism churning over but nothing was coming out of his mouth. He looked like Pandora about to open the box. Then he gulped a bit like a dying fish and took another swig at the liniment. At last he breathed life into his voice box.
“He has meetings in his villa.”
I waited for the rest of it. But he looked at me through those watery eyes. “So?” I rasped tetchily. “He has meetings. What kind of meetings, for Christ’s sake! Revival meetings? Committee meetings? What?”
“Jackie…“ His voice wobbled. He was shaking again. I was suddenly annoyed. The whole damn job was falling apart. A fact made worse because it had never really been together. What with an over-the-hill trigger-man and a booze-sodden ex-courier. I succumbed to an irresistible urge and smashed the bottle from his grasp. It shattered noisily against the wall. Teague jumped up as if bitten by a snake. His red-rimmed eyes shot open wide and his mouth worked madly. I stood up, grabbed him by his shoulders and pushed him back down in his seat. The heavy hand was needed. For an E.L. man I had already been far too lenient. I drew back my arm and he cringed away like a lap-dog. I held the position for a moment, then relented, let him go and sat down. Whatever Teague really was, at that moment he was just a scared lush. More gently, I said:
“Look, Pat. I just want to get to the truth. You tell me that you’re not my man, I believe you.“ Lying swine I was “Now let’s cut out the histrionics and get down to brass tacks. What about Hadley and his meetings?”
It took a while. But he eventually got around to speaking to me again.
“For God’s sake, Jackie. This is the killer. Those couriers? The ones that are supposed to have gone missing?”
I nodded. “I hope this is relevant.”
He went on as if he hadn’t heard me. “I’m almost certain, Jackie. I’m almost one hundred per cent bloody certain that they didn’t go missing at all. They’re here. In Athens. Hadley sees both of them in his villa. Regular!”
I felt like a quick frown. “Come again.”
Teague swallowed hard. “It’s been tearing me up, Jackie. And I couldn’t do a damned thing about it. Who the hell would have believed me?”
Totally discounting the possibility that Teague could be right; which would throw everything down the drain, I said, “You said you were not fully certain. So what is it? Supposition? What?”
“I…“ He clenched his hands tightly together and rocked back and forth on the chair a few times. He was having a fight with himself. Then, suddenly, he looked up at me. “I’ve only seen them from a distance. But it’s them. I’m…“
He hesitated. And he was lying. The fact stood out from his face like a beacon. “I know,“ I said sarcastically, “You’re almost certain.”
He did a bit more waffling then shrugged. My gut-feeling dissipated. This was lush-talk. It was a stupid idea in the first place. Yet I’d almost believed him. I shook my head.
“C’mon, Pat. You know better than that!”
“But, Jackie…“ He was pleading now.
I tutted. “If you don’t stick to the facts and not what you bleedin’-well think, I’ll put a couple on you. I’m not in the mood!”
He repeated the helpless shrug. I waved the subject aside, cavalier-like, and took out a cigarette and lit up. Teague says, petulantly: “You’ll bloody-well find out, Jackie. And I tell you this; I’m glad you’re here. You don’t believe me now, I know that. But you will. And I’ll be in the clear.”
“What do you mean…in the clear?”
Some water flopped over the dam. “Hadley’s bad. I know that for sure. And it wouldn’t have been impossible for him to pass the buck over to me. Who’d believe my word against his? He’s got a Triple-Crown clearance. What’ve I got? A. V.H.F. radio and sodding little else.”
He was acting like a kid. I said: “They don’t give that kind of clearance to people who are likely to turn into double-agents. You’ve been at the hard stuff too long.”
He looked me in the eyes, defiant. “You’ll see.”
I nodded. “One way or the other. And since we’re on the subject of finding things out, what about this file you say Hadley’s got. Is that supposition as well?”
More defiance. “I saw it. With my own eyes.”
I nodded disinterestedly. “Yeah . . . he left it lying about for the world to see. Right?”
“No!” His eyes blazed for an instant. Then he seemed to withdraw into himself again.
Actually the look on his face was hard to pin down. He looked mixed up, for sure. But he was strangely genuine. Then I thought that I had him pegged. “You did a job on his safe. Right?”
He hesitated, then nodded guiltily. “I had to do something. I felt like I was working for the other side half the time. It’s not easy taking orders from a double-agent.“ The sentence trailed off into obscurity and there was an uneasy silence during which I decided that I really had nothing. And still I kept the question of the girl up my sleeve. I said:
“Let’s move on to greener pastures. How many men does Hadley have on the official payroll?”
Teague looked at me bleakly. Then he sighed deeply, all hard-done-by. “There’s just me and Peters. We use a guy from Corfu for the occasional ferry job. A man called Dino Ferrantis. I knew him in the war.
But he knows nothing from nothing.”
“Okay. How about this Peters. What’s his form?”
Teague shrugged. “Peters is a fairy!”
I sighed. “Apart from his being a fairy, what’s his form?”
“I hardly know him. He’s just out. Weeks only. Ex Special Branch I think. Civvy. He may be in with Hadley, I don’t know. But I’d keep Roberts out of his way.”
We seemed to have dropped out of the realms of fantasy, which felt pleasant. I said, “You don’t think he saw him this morning?”
Teague shook his head. “Don’t think so. Peters was in the office and Hadley was out of town today.” Then he perked up a bit. “I’ll give you a guarantee, Jackie, and perhaps you’ll believe me. Neither of them knows about you – who you are with – so if they find out before you want them to, provided Roberts doesn’t get recognized, then you’ll know where to come looking, won’t you?”
Pretty blatant stuff. And true. On this one Teague received, tacitly, my full marks. Then he said: “Is it all right if I have another drink now?” His eyes were on the soggy patch of liniment and broken glass.
“If you’re brave enough.”
He crossed the room to a tatty cupboard and took out another bottle. As he put the uncorked neck to his lips his hands were shaking madly. His swallow would have done justice to a suction pump. Then he came back and sat down, offering the bottle to me. Wiser now, I waved it away. Teague shrugged and started to get outside of my share. Then we both heard the car drive up outside. Teague stiffened and the neck of the bottle cemented itself in the drinking position. The car door slammed and a girl’s voice called out in Greek. Teague almost swallowed the bottle. His eyes bulged in panic, and still the bottle was stuck to his lips.
The girl was not diabolically beautiful, but she would have done me. And she had a gorgeous body. I’m partial to long-haired women and this one had the longest I’d ever seen. Half of it sprung like some black-watered fountain from the top of her head, joining the rest of it around the almost bare shoulders. There was no bra. Just this tight-fitting denim top that pushed and jostled her breasts out over the top.
She came in the door with a smile on her face, saw me, and the smile wiped itself clean leaving her face with nothing on it but hate. For me. Which was unkind, because I didn’t know her from the proverbial, apart from Roberts’ description of her. And one should only hate someone you’ve at least spoken to for some time.
I looked at Teague who still hadn’t managed to get the bottle away from his mouth. His bulbous eyes flashed over at me, and at last he lowered the bottle. He would have said something, I’m sure, if the girl hadn’t beaten him to it. She let go at me as if I was the very devil. It was in Greek so I didn’t understand a single bloody word. But I didn’t have to. Her expression told the entire story. Teague shouted at her after a bit and she quieted down. And when she was down to a subdued growl he turned to me. I raised an eyebrow. He said:
“I can explain.”
I grunted. “I’m sure you can.“ My thoughts must have been mirrored in my face because he looked suddenly scared.
“It isn’t what you think,” he said.
I was about to ask him what he assumed I thought it was, when the girl pipes up again. This time in English, bless her thoughtful heart.
“I am Ina. I am fren’ to Patrich. Patrich ‘as many fren in Aten’. An’ I know why you are ‘ere…“ She stopped abruptly when she saw Teague’s look of anguish.
What she had said, though, was already said, and it threw a vivid light on the picture. Roberts had been right in that Teague and the girl were in cahoots and, what was worse from my angle, not to mention Teague’s, she must have been told about E.L. by Teague. If that didn’t finish Teague, nothing did.
“She doesn’t know!” said Teague breathlessly. “Not about…about you. Look, Jackie, it’s not like that at all!“ He was almost beside himself now. He lurched to his feet and stumbled over to the girl and grabbed her arm. He spoke to her the way a condemned man would speak to a vicar, for at least a minute, and in Greek. The girl’s expression went through several changes as he spoke, ending in a look of wide-eyed fright. She shot me a glance then breezed out as quick as she’d come in. The car engine roared, tyres screeched, and then there was quiet. Teague, panting, turned back to me.
“Let me explain…”
“You’ve already explained,” I said curtly. I was already getting my orders to Roberts formulated in my brain. Teague grabbed at the sideboard for support. He seemed close to collapse. And, God help me, I decided to give him his chance at an explanation.
“Okay, Teague,“ I said harshly, “You’ve got just this one chance before I set the hounds onto you!”
Teague steadied himself then took a deep breath. “It isn’t going to be easy to believe.”
“Nothing is these days,” I said, not completely unkindly. “But you’re going to have to do some fancy footwork to crawl out of this one. I suppose you do realize just what it is you’ve done. From what the girl said you’ve spread my name and number over half of Athens. I won’t sit still for that. You know damned well I won’t! And that’s not just a threat. It’s got sweet Fanny Adams to do with the group. This is my personal hide we’re talking about. And you’ve nailed it to the bloody wall!”
He shook his head vigorously. “Christ, Jackie! No! I wouldn’t do that. Look, these people she mentioned. They’re…they’re only smugglers. They don’t know anything about the group. I swear it. And they, she, don’t know about E.L. Nothing!”
I reached for my cigarettes. Smugglers, for God’s sake! It was bloody pathetic. I lit up and looked at Teague through slitted eyes. I’m looking at a dead man, I thought. But I let him go on because I was no longer in a hurry.
Teague did not have to search for words now. They came ninety to the dozen. And I was having another history lesson before I even realized it.
“I knew some of them in the war. I was stationed over on Patros. Ina was only a little girl then. But her father, Carlo, did a lot of work for us. They all did. And they’re all good people. So who else could I turn to? They’re friends from way back, and I’d trust them with my life!”
I took another puff at the cigarette. I was amazed at how genuine Teague could sound when he wanted to. He had to be an ace story teller, whatever else he was.
“Like I told you, Jackie, Hadley is working for the other side. But who could I tell? I’m on my own here. A small cog in the wheel. And I’m not getting any younger. If I get booted from the group what am I going to do? So I did what I thought was best. For the group, for the service. I’m innocent, Jackie. I swear I am. Hell, I’d no more cross the colonel than I would fly!”
Once again I’d been decent enough to let him get the dirty water off his chest, but now I figured that time was wasting. I said, “I really am disappointed in you, Pat. I thought you had more gumption.”
Teague gulped and almost choked as he tried some more pleading. “Jackie! Please!” Then he waved his head about a bit before planting himself back on the seat. He blubbered: “Jesus! How can I convince you?”
I allowed a couple of seconds to pulsate by. Then I said, “Convince me that you didn’t get your girlfriend to keep a tab on Hadley.”
Teague looked up sharply, caught out. He opened his mouth. But I held up my hand. “Save it!“ I rose to my feet. I was soaked with sweat and not particularly inclined to hear any more ramblings. “No more first names,“ I said. “No more Jackie this and Jackie that! I had some sympathy for you before. Now I’m sick enough to vomit. Good old Jackie is on the E.L. team now, or had you forgotten? I might have been able to forgive a few small slips, but when you lay my life on the line by breaking my cover to a bunch of smugglers, I draw a very definite line. When I arrived in Athens it was with the sole intention of ending up with a dead body. And it’s going to be yours, you bloody lunatic, yours!”
Teague looked up at me. The tears were streaming down his face. “I didn’t shop you,“ he sobbed pitifully. “I didn’t!”
As I stood looking down at him I felt my stomach muscles constrict. This was not it. It had been too bloody easy. And things just didn’t happen like that. Or, said my subconscious, was I just getting too bloody soft. Whichever way I found myself wanting to believe him. He was tearing his guts out. I flicked my butt end out of the open door and took a deep breath. I turned.
“Then tell me how the girl knew who I was.”
Teague grasped the chance with both hands. He wiped his face with his grubby sleeve and rose shakily to his feet.
“Ina doesn’t know who you are. She thinks you’re one of Hadley’s men. You’re right about her tailing Hadley. I put her on to him because I couldn’t do it myself. But she was just doing me a favour. She doesn’t know about the group, or what his part is in it. She doesn’t even know what I do. I asked her to watch Hadley and she did it. Nothing more.“ It sounded ridiculous and Teague knew it. He came and leant on the door jamb and shook his head. “I can’t explain properly.”
“You’re telling me!”
Teague thumped the wall with his palm then went on: “It started back before those two couriers went missing – supposedly – it would take too long to go into it all, but Hadley wasn’t acting right. He’d get coded messages from God knows where, codes that I didn’t recognize, and I’m the comms number! I can recognize every code the group uses. And he was always seeing strange people. Then, sometime later, he changes the whole system. I wish to God I could explain it properly. But you would have had to be on the spot to have picked up anything. Then Hadley changes the personnel. For no reason. But he must have thought that I was harmless enough to keep around.
“I felt that it was all wrong. I knew it was all wrong! You know how it is when you get a feeling like that. I found myself looking for things. And I found them. Not things that amounted to much by themselves. But all together, over the months, they added up…“ He looked down at his hands. “That’s when I asked Ina to watch him, where he goes and who he sees.“ He looked up at me sharply. “But I didn’t tell her why I wanted this. That’s gospel, Jackie! And she didn’t ask. She did it. And she took the pictures. One of the people on one of them looked like the first courier. It was the courier!”
It’s not easy to put into words how he looked as he stood there wringing his podgy hands together. He was sad, overburdened, beaten and God-knows-what else. All rolled into one overweight human being. He was about as far removed from a Counter Intelligence operative, than I was from a nun. And I haven’t the vaguest idea why I didn’t put a bullet into him right there and then – well, I have, I didn’t have a gun. Burgess’s doing again, only the trigger men are supposed to carry guns. But you know what I mean. In any event I said:
“But your little dolly bird said that she knew why I was here!”
Teague shook his head and grimaced. ‘Words, Jackie. They were just words. If you knew her and her father you’d understand. I’m…sort of…family myself. I…“ He waved this next bit away deprecatingly, if that the word I want; my off-the-cuff vocabulary doesn’t extend past words longer than marmalade. “I . . . I saved Carlo’s life during the war. I think they feel responsible for me. Anyway, you are a European.”
I think that that was supposed to explain it all. It damn well didn’t. I slapped the palm of my right hand a glancing blow on my forehead, the way I’ve seen several Jews do it. Speaks volumes, does that gesture. Teague enlarged.
“Europeans don’t come up here. Hell, no European wants to know me! So…when she saw you she jumped to the wrong conclusion.”
There was no fighting it. I was definitely yo-yoing again. But I said, ”You do realize that it’s going to take a giant effort on my part to believe all this.”
He nodded slowly. “I know, Jackie, I know.”
I lit up another cigarette and we stood there in the doorway, the sun burning down on us, like Tweedledee and his mate. Then a fairly pertinent point crossed my mind. It wasn’t a long journey for it, of course.
“You do realize that you could still have kissed yourself from the face of the earth.“ There was no malice there, just a statement of fact. “Even assuming that you acted with the very best of intentions did you ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe, you were wrong? And that you could have blown the cover of a viable operation? Just how long d’you think your precious colonel would have let you live if he knew that you had one of your cronies keeping tabs on the head of one of his stations? I’ll tell you. Just as long as it took him to pick up a phone!”
Teague dropped his head.
I went on: “You’ve put your life on the line now. Are you positive about Hadley? I mean abso-bloody-lutely one hundred per cent certain!”
Teague looked up at me, his face set like concrete now. “Hadley’s bad, Jackie! I don’t know how, why or with who, but he is bad!“ The resolve oozed out of him then and he dropped his head again. “But I’ve had it, Jackie, finished. I’ve done every damned thing I can do. There’s nothing left in me. It’s up to you now…You do it, Jackie. Nail the bastard!”
I looked at him for a moment wondering why I was feeling the way I was feeling. It’s not easy living with the fact that you feel like a ping-pong ball. Then I flicked the cigarette out onto the dirt.
“Okay, Pat, old son. You’ve just bought yourself a few more hours on this mortal plain.”
The taxi had waited. I gave the driver the address of the Astoria Hotel and off we bumped. It was hellishly hot. I licked my lips and tasted the salt; I was drenched. The only consolation was that my body was not in the state my mind was. I don’t remember a thing about the drive into Athens; I was too busy weighing up the pros and cons of the gospel according to Pat Teague.
In the hotel I went straight to the paper shop, my small suitcase in my hand. And a paper shop is just what it was. Teague had been right about Peters. He was a poof. But he had a helluva handshake for a poof; which was unusual. It was his voice that betrayed his calling.
“Mister Hadley shouldn’t be long,“ lisped this enigma. “In the meantime you had better come along to the hostel.”
“Mmm…“ He rose up from behind the desk and fiddled with a bunch of keys. “Our safe house. Just down the road. No-one there but Rose at the moment, she looks after us, me, rather. She’s okay.” He lifted a paper-back display stand inside the door and locked up the shop. Very professional, for a bookseller. We left.
I swear this guy would have held my hand if I’d let him. I thought of Roberts and Teague. The three of them made a fine trio. Still, I figured, if Roberts cries on this trip he’ll have a willing shoulder to do it on. Intelligence service? Hell, it was more like Noddy in Toyland!
Peters would brook no argument. I was to hang my hat in the hostel. Hadley would have it no other way, he said. He took me straight up to my room. It wasn’t bad. Large, bare and dirty. I would have been glad of the bed if I’d been arthritic. And any Petticoat Lane antique dealer would have looked twice at the washbowl and jug. I did not look twice. I’d the place pegged on the way up the rickety stairs. I threw my case on the bed and waited to see if it would collapse, then followed Prince Charming back downstairs. He introduced me to Rose, who seemed to be a happy enough soul. Scruffy, fat and, I hoped, only superficially dirty. I admit that I did look twice at her. But only to see if she was actually a man in drag. She wasn’t.
“You wan’ ouso?” she asked, deftly picking her ear with a little finger. We both, myself and Peters, nodded. Rose left.
“Ryderbeit, wasn’t it?” said Peters, waving me to the table and planting himself opposite. He’d got the name right, at least. So I condescended to nod. “Mmm,“he went on, studying me closely. “We’ve been expecting a visit from INTERNAL. Better late than never, I suppose.“ He did not seem desperately worried to have an INTERNAL sleuth in his digs. And he should have been. Such a thing normally meant the trembles all round. “You’re here to enquire about our little problems, aren’t you?”
Stupid burk! I wasn’t there for the weather. I nodded and said, sweetly: “You do appear to have one or two.”
The apparition nodded his head, then shook it. “Rum business.”
The bastard was sending me up! Odder and odder. I said: “The colonel is quite worried. Do I get the impression that you are not?”
He leant over the table and patted my arm. “Not up to the likes of me, is it? Let the biggies do the worrying, I say. It’s their job.”
Rose appeared at the table and two glasses of the white stuff were placed in front of us. When she’d gone Peters raised his glass to me.
“Here’s how.“ He took a dainty sip then went on, “Besides, it’s not my domain. You’ll have to speak to Hadley about it.“ The words flowed from between his lips on a current of air. There was no way I was going to like this man, but I was careful to nod agreeably. He looked at me for a moment, during which time the enigmatic smile faded from his face. Then he looked at the glass. There was a lot more going on in that tousled head than he was letting on. Then he caught me looking and the smile zipped back.
“Damned hot, isn’t it.”
I went along with him. “Excruciatingly.“ Then I said: “Busy?”
He chuckled and looked at me knowingly. “Not on your life. Quiet as the grave. Not surprising, is it? What with one thing and the other.”
The other? Yes, I supposed he would know about that. This quick burst of conversation died on its feet. I looked around the room. Nothing to relate; if you’ve seen the inside of one Greek house you’ve seen them all. But it was cool. The thick walls, I supposed. The ouso started working on my system then and I was suddenly back in Burgess’s office.
“Don’t be naïve,“ Burgess was saying, “You know damned well I can’t tell you the whole of the operation. Use your intuition. Get to know the operatives. Your friend Teague can help you there. Just act as if you were still with INTERNAL. What more can I tell you?”
I’d grunted. “Look, if we were talking about somewhere in Berlin I’d know what to look out for. Or if we were talking about the germ-warfare place at Harwell I’d know to take along some plasticine to shove in the hole! You see what I’m getting at?”
Burgess had nodded sympathetically, shaking his head at the same time, which couldn’t have been easy. “Sorry, young RyderBEET…“
“…But that’s it! Use your nose to sniff it out. It’s what you’re good at. The colonel wants that station sealed without its cover being blown, even to us. But like I say, if you find out in the course of your work, fine.“ He shrugged. He could see that I was far from convinced so he went on: “Now listen, they did not tell me what you want to know. And the old man asked me not to pry, so I didn’t. You do the same, uh?”
The sod was lying to me. I had known it. But what could I do? I was hooked into something as irregular as a matron’s periods with no way to go but on. I fumed a bit more but it was useless. So I picked up my tickets and warrants from his secretary and left.
My mental flash-back passed and I was whisked back to the hostel. Peters was still there. He hadn’t noticed that I’d gone and come back again, so I didn’t tell him. He was picking his nails with the business end of a nasty-looking stiletto. Not very delicate for a poof. I felt ignored.
“What do you do around here for a giggle?”
He paused mid-dig. Then his eyes wobbled a bit as he put his mind to the question. The answer wasn’t worth the effort. “Oh, there’s bags of night-life, if that’s what you want.” That was it. He went back to his nails.
Insolent beggar! I was tiring fast, mostly because he wasn’t trembling in his shoes by my mere presence. I said: “What time is Hadley due back?”
He interrupted the mining operation just long enough to grab a look at his watch. “Not long now.”
“Where is he?”
The blade tip hesitated. He kept his head down but raised his eyes and looked at me from under those cute lashes. He screamed nancy-boy the more I clocked him. But the look he shot me was far from that. He was telling me that I ought not ask questions, INTERNAL or not. I raised my hands in mock surrender.
“Sorry I spoke.”
The shoulders rose and fell as he let go with a sigh that had been holed up for weeks, then he carried on his fight against filth. I sat there like an idiot for a while. But I’m not much on sitting like an idiot. “You don’t talk much.” I said.
I’d been wrong about the sigh. He had another one just like it down there. And after he’d let me have it the blade flashed faster under the nail then came to an abrupt halt.
“Look, sunshine,“ he hissed nastily, “I don’t ask you silly questions, kindly return the favour. You can have long conversations with Hadley. In the meantime just sit there like a good little boy and be quiet!”
Now I have to tell you that this annoyed me. I decided to push this fairy as far as fairies could be pushed. “What’s the matter?” I asked, in my very sweetest voice, “don’t you like me?”
This guy was fast. I knew that I would have to remember that. The knife was buried under a nail one second, then impaled in the table in front of me the next. I sat there watching the hilt vibrate. Then I said:
“Naughty, naughty, Mary”
I’d weighed him up so I was quicker this time. As his arm shot out over the table I side-slipped on the polished wooden seat and his fist sang past my jaw and, having missed my head, there was only one place for it to go. It connected with the plaster on the wall with a thud and his agonized yowl was a beauty to behold. I stepped from behind the table and braced myself for what was about to happen.
But it did not happen. Peters paused only long enough to see the blood on his knuckles. Then he knocked back his chair with the backs of his knees and moved towards me, his face purple with rage.
Peters froze mid-lunge. I was certain that it had not been me who had yelled his name; I’m familiar with my own voice. And I was right. There was this figure standing in the open doorway, silhouetted against the brilliant sunlight.
“What the hell is this!” It might have been my old sergeant-major asking. The room vibrated from the sheer volume. Peters was holding himself in an impossible position and I must have looked just as bad, crouched there like some demented pugilist. The figure stepped into the room.
It was Hadley. I recognized him from Burgess’s mug-shots. He was immaculately dressed in a white tropical suit and shoes, topped off with a natty Sinatra Derby. I envied him the suntan but I did not envy the livid red scar that ran from the bridge of his nose to the bottom of his chin. The scar had not been on the mug-shot, which shows you how out of date Burgess’s pictorial information was. He lifted his hand and pointed his polaroids at Peters.
“I asked you what the hell this is all about!”
Peters spluttered a bit then straightened and turned to face Hadley. I had to admire his control; he was almost normal when he spoke. “This is Ryderbeit, sir. He…”
Hadley tutted and walked to the centre of the room. “Get back to the office.”
Without a murmur of protest Peters padded to the door and disappeared, closing it quietly behind him. “Well?“ says Hadley, when we’re alone.
I felt I had to comment. “Seems I said the wrong thing. He must be a bit touchy about…ah…”
Hadley humph’d. “Oh, is that it ?“ He slipped the Polaroid’s into his top pocket. The incident seemed to be forgotten. “Who are you?”
I didn’t think it wise to remind him that Peters had already told him. “Ryderbeit, sir.“ Most humble. “INTERNAL.”
Hadley studied me minutely. “So you are.“ Funny how a look can speak volumes. Peters had given me that same stare. Unnerving.
“Yes, well…“ I said. “I was asking Peters some questions when he flew off the handle.” Snitching a bit, that. Satisfying, though.
Hadley planted himself in Peters’ recently vacated chair. “You’ll get used to his ways.” He waved me to sit down. I sat. “He’s a good man for all that.” He went on, “It takes all types!”
“Oh, indeed it does, sir.” Notice all the “sirs”?
He treated me to another of those you’re-a-fish-in-a bowl looks. Then he said: “And you say you’re from INTERNAL“ I think that that was the very first time in my entire natural that I’d really felt extraneous; in the unrelated-to sense of the word. It was as if Hadley was only interested in finding out how big a liar I was. I nodded.
“I think you had notification,” I said.
Hadley Hmm’d thoughtfully. “Ye-es, we did.”
I felt like saying, Well there you bloody well are then!, but I didn’t. I just sat there returning his stare. His fingers were drumming a tattoo on the table-top and the silence was as pregnant as you-know-what. And you know my feelings on silences. For something to do I unpronged Peters’ shivvy and handed it to Hadley hilt-first. It seemed to break the spell. He took it with a nod and slipped it into his inside pocket. Then he said:
“So what do you want to know?”
Deep in my brain I could hear Teague laying on all the garbage about Hadley and what-not. I’m not saying that all of a sudden I believed it, but there was, well, something. I said:
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Jackie Ryderbeit, with licence to kill, is tossed into a cauldron of International intrigue with orders to find and eliminate a double agent. With the help of a booze-sodden ex-courier and an over-the-hill trigger- man he casts for a shark only to find a whale on his line. The story reaches a shattering climax on the blue waters of the Mediterranean after a chase through the confused currents of cross and double-cross.