He had never even bothered to try to learn Russian.
Truly he had always imagined that he would live undercover-know, not think it-for the rest of his life; that he would one day return to England with Eleanor, and there attend cricket matches, write for the Times, send his sons to Winchester and Cambridge. He had won his Commander of the British Empire in '46, and that was only two ranks below being knighted! And he would always have been warmed, as he watched the Derby from the Members' Stand at Epsom or drank malt whiskey with the lawyers and journalists in the Garrick Club, by the secret knowledge that he had done more to undermine this capitalist decadence than any other Soviet spy in history.
He had to tilt his head now, to see down the gorge past the fluttering fur fringe of his parka. The action reminded him of trying to see with the bandage on his head, back in Beirut.
Nicholas Elliott, who had been Head of the SIS Beirut Station until Peter Lunn had taken over in October of last year, had returned to Lebanon thirteen days ago. He had telephoned Philby the next day, a Friday, and proposed a meeting at the flat of Lunn's secretary. Philby's head had still been taped up with gauze then, and when he arrived at the flat the first thing he had said to Elliott had been, "You owe me a drink. I haven't had one since I did this to my skull on my birthday, ten days ago." Not strictly true, any of it-his skull had been cracked by Miss Ceniza-Bendiga's.30-caliber bullet, and he had been drinking like a champion ever since-but Philby had been smiling confidently as he spoke, holding out his right hand. Only three days had passed since Andrew Hale had frightened and insulted him on Weygand Street, and he'd been eager to numb the smart of that humiliation in reminiscences of braver, grander days.
Philby and Elliott had become friends at War Station XB in St. Albans during the war, and later in Broadway the two SIS men had worked together at trying to design a non-Communist postwar Germany -though, unknown to Elliott, Philby had seen to it that all the proposed agents were safely killed before the war ended. In 1948 it had been Elliott who had found a Swiss nerve specialist for Philby's second wife, after her incautious curiosity about Philby's work with Burgess had begun to cause her to lose her mind; and later, in the dark winter of '51, after Burgess and Maclean defected and Philby was suspected of complicity, Elliott had been Philby's staunchest defender in Broadway. Eventually Elliott had helped Philby get journalism work with The Observer and The Economist, and had steered a lot of under-the-table SIS work his way, mainly so that Philby wouldn't starve.
But on that Friday afternoon in Beirut nearly two weeks ago, Elliott's eyes had been cold behind his horn-rimmed glasses, and he'd said, "Stop it, Kim. We know what you've done. You took me in for years-and now I'll get the truth out of you, even if I have to drag you to Ham Common myself. I once looked up to you-my God, how I despise you now. I hope you've enough decency left to understand why."
Well, it had been the SIS confronting him at last, hadn't it-and, as Hale had said, they were offering immunity in exchange for Philby's full confession. You will pretend to cooperate, Hale had told Philby, but you will not tell him about the Ararat operation, and you will not return to England. And so Philby had flippantly conceded his guilt and typed out a rubbishy confession, admitting only to having spied for the Comintern and claiming to have quit in '49, when the Attlee government's reforms had "disproved Marxism." God!
But it had all gone down well enough with Elliott.
Elena Teresa Ceniza-Bendiga had sidled up to Philby at the Khayats Bookshop in Avenue Bliss the next day, and over the stacks of Life and Paris Match she had told him that the SDECE was prepared to exfiltrate him to France right then, from the bookstore; a news delivery lorry was in the alley behind the shop, its engine idling. He had put her off, said he needed to clock in with Mammalian first, and had got her to agree to meet him again by the Pigeon Grotto on the cliffs at Chouron Street, that evening-and then he had gone back to the Normandy Hotel and told Mammalian that the French SDECE agent Ceniza-Bendiga was in Beirut, and that she had approached him with a defection proposal; he told Mammalian when and where he had agreed to meet her, and he had then gone upstairs and got drunk alone in his room.
Philby had not seen Elena since then. Perhaps Mammalian had killed her-Philby hadn't asked.
Nicholas Elliott had taken Philby and Eleanor to dinner that night at Le Temporel, and both men had tried to talk and laugh as if their old friendship had not been a betrayal from the start. Poor Eleanor had sipped her wine nervously, glancing from her husband to Elliott and back, clearly aware of the forced tone. In the men's room Philby had passed Elliott two more typewritten pages of chicken-feed confession.
Two days later Elliott had flown back to London, telling Philby that Peter Lunn would take over the interrogation and make arrangements for Philby's return to England. Lunn had clearly been embarrassed by the spectacle of a Cambridge-and-Athenaeum-Club man confessing to having been a Soviet spy, and Philby had no difficulty in postponing their first meeting for a week-and then on the night of the twenty-third, the Rabkrin expedition had left Beirut.
January twenty-third, Philby thought forlornly.
Now, shuddering in mountaineering boots and a parka on a windy glacier 13,000 feet above sea-level, Philby allowed himself the useless fantasy of reconsidering his decision. He could have stayed with Eleanor, his wife of very nearly four years. Perhaps the SIS and the MI5 together could have protected him from facing "the truth" at the hands of Jimmie's ultra-covert old SOE, in England, at least-but he didn't believe that. According to legend, Declare had dealt with the code-breaker Alan Turing, and T. E. Lawrence, and even Lord Kitchener, drowned off the Scapa Flow in 1916. Philby clenched his mittened fists in frail bravado. Very well, so what if they would have killed him, eventually? Or even as soon as he was released from interrogation at Ham Common? He could have died as a loyal husband and father. If I should die, think only this of me: that there's some corner of England that is forever a foreign land! The thought made a hash of Rupert Brooke's scansion, but Philby smiled at it. And in the eighteenth century Edward Young had written, Death loves a shining mark, a signal blow. But more recently Eugene Fitch Ware had countered it: We fixed him up an epitaph, "Death loves a mining shark." And it was something more like a mining shark that Philby had become, in his furtive career-burrowing, hiding, voracious, without conscience.
And, he was honest enough to admit to himself, profoundly afraid of dying. Meet your Maker…! At least if vile Hale was successful here, there would be a very large-scale dying of djinn. The idiotically ghoulish amomon thistle would be blooming in the wastelands, probably even in Soviet Armenia. And he still had Theo Maly's sealed instructions.
What had Maly called it? A more profane sort of eternal life.
To his credit, he felt, Philby had actually tried to give his children the better sort of eternal life-though admittedly he had been maudlin drunk each time. Did it still count, he wondered now on this cold flank of Mount Ararat, if it was administered by a drunk? A resolutely atheist drunk? With the older four of his children he had found opportunities to spill water onto their heads, and then, while seeming to try to wipe it off, covertly make the feared Papist sign of the cross on their foreheads-he had cringed to do it, and his teeth had actually hurt each time as he had mumbled, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, amen-but in the case of poor young Harry, his youngest son by his previous wife, Philby had eventually resorted to pushing the boy out of a rowboat on the Dog River, near Ajaltoun in the Lebanon mountains, mumbling the hated litany as he'd pulled the boy back aboard and pushed the wet hair out of his eyes, up and then sideways.
And he was always aware of the power of birthdays and anniversaries. The zodiac wheel was in precisely the same position again on such days, and the events they commemorated were in a sense repeated in all their vulnerabilities, renewed in their purposes.
And so of course the Rabkrin expedition had left Beirut on the twenty-third of January! At five o'clock on that rainy evening, with no warning, Mammalian had given him a passport in the name of Villi Maris and ordered him to get into a Turkish truck bound for the Syrian border. "We go now," Mammalian had told him. But Philby and Eleanor had been expected at a dinner at the house of the First Secretary of the British Embassy on that night, and Philby had simply demanded to be allowed to call Eleanor and tell her to go on without him, that he would meet her there later. Mammalian had eventually given in and driven him through the downpour to a telephone kiosk from which he could make the call. When Philby had dialed the number, thirteen-year-old Harry had answered the telephone, and in every hour since then Philby had wished that Eleanor had picked up the extension, so that he could have heard her voice one more time; but in the rain-drumming telephone kiosk, with Mammalian scowling at him over his dripping beard in the open doorway, Philby had only dared to say, "Tell your m-mother I'm-g-going to be late, H-Harry-my b-boy. I'll m-meet her at the B-Balfour-Pauls' at eight." While he had fumbled for words to say more, Mammalian had reached across him and pressed down the plunger.
The next day, the twenty-fourth, would have been Philby's and Eleanor's fourth wedding anniversary.
Till Death do us part, Philby thought now as he blinked rapidly to keep tears from spilling down his cheeks, where they might freeze the snow-goggles to his skin. Thin veils of dry snow were blowing past him down the snowpack slope, like white dust.
Off to his left he could see a couple of the others lumbering out of the nearest tent, looking like polar bears in their hooded parkas and boots. One was Mammalian, the tallest; the other would be one of the Turk Rabkrin agents. There had been no snow last night, and they were standing in the darker, tromped-flat area around the tents. The commandos who had been standing watch slung their white Kalashnikov machine guns and began trudging to the farther tent-hourly rotation of watch, Philby recalled.
"Sutle ekmek!" called one of the Turks to Philby, his voice thin in the chilly air. Bread and milk, and it would be sour milk.
"Ben onsuz yapabilirum," Philby shouted to him across the snow. I can do without it.
"And briefing," called Mammalian over the wind. "Synchronizing our watches, girding up our loins for battle, revelations of secrets not to be divulged down in the lowlands. Come in here."
Philby sighed a gust of steam and plodded back across the wavy snow, planting his boots in the same holes they had made when he had walked away from the tents; and the sky was too overcast for him to throw much of a shadow. Perhaps he was not really walking back to the tent at all.
Oddly, and he smiled wryly at it, he was feeling an extra bit of guilt here-Hale and I didn't finish that poker game in 1948, he thought, but I took the whole pot anyway: I had Senorita Ceniza-Bendiga the next day in Dogubayezit, and I kept Maly's amomon instructions too.
Andrew Hale looked up from his cup of tepid tea when Philby came stamping back into the tent.
Hakob Mammalian was right behind him, followed by the surlier of the two Turks, Fuad.
"Sit," said Mammalian as he ponderously lowered himself into a cross-legged position on the rubberized canvas floor, scattering floury snow from his boots. Philby and Fuad sat down, and the Turk by the little paraffin stove began handing disks of flat bread to Hale, who passed them to Mammalian. Hale was just wearing his tan wool liner gloves, and he could feel that the bread was hot.
"When we were here in '48," Mammalian said, his breath steaming in the razory cold air, "we did not come this high. We did not presume to knock at their door, but called them down to the gorge. We were cautious because of some old stories-St. Hippolytus wrote in the third century that climbers who tried to ascend Ararat were thrown down to the valley floor by demons; and in the fourth century, Faustus of Byzantium recorded the story of an Armenian bishop, Jacob-"
Fuad snorted around a mouthful of the bread. "An Armenian named Jacob!" he said in English. "Was he a saint?"
"He was," said Mammalian imperturbably. "And he climbed partway up the mountain, hoping to see the Ark. Where he slept, a spring burst out of the rocks; we passed that spring in the gorge yesterday, by the cairn of rocks that marks his grave, though the shrine that used to stand there was destroyed in the 1840 earthquake. He too found himself abruptly at the foot of the mountain-but he had been carried there by an angel, who gave him a piece of wood from the Ark and told him that it was God's will that he not attempt to climb the mountain. That piece of wood is today in the Armenian Orthodox monastery in Echmiadzen, in Soviet Armenia. The angel was a Christian one, and knew that Jacob might be killed if he climbed higher. With my own eyes as a boy I saw a demon face staring angrily from the Ark. Perhaps we Armenians are in a privileged position; my father and I were not molested."
"The mountain does not belong to Armenia," said Fuad. "It is in Turkey. Why do you Armenians have it on your coat-of-arms?"
"Does the moon belong to Turkey?" asked Mammalian. "It is on your flag." He gave Fuad a dismissive wave. "But"-he shrugged-"in fact men of many nationalities have ascended to the Ark and survived; and in this century the djinn have been more quiescent, possibly because one of their number is abroad now, in Russia. In 1948 our group on the north side of the gorge was not attacked, but our covering party below the southern cliffs, as well as a British and a French group that tried to sabotage our operation from that side, were nearly all killed-many men were lifted away into the sky, doubtless to be thrown down onto the plain, as Hippolytus described."
Hale passed the last piece of bread, not taking any for himself-the thought of eating nauseated him, and he almost gagged at the thought that the bread smelled like khaki-and he touched the lump in his pocket that was the special derringer he had bought a week ago in Allenby Street in Beirut. He made himself stare back at Mammalian with no expression.