Kim stole out and away, as unremarkable a figure as ever carried his own and a few score thousand other folks' fate slung round his neck.
– Rudyard Kipling, Kim
Ah, Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire, Would not we shatter it to bits-and then Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!
– Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat,
Edward J. FitzGerald translation
Batsford House in Tunbridge Wells had been one of the English country homes that had been turned over to the SOE during the war, and the sweeping green lawn visible from the south kitchen window still showed the humps of bunkers and trenches that had been dug for infiltration practice and to keep German aircraft from landing. A dozen cows were visible in the middle distance now, cropping the grass around the old mounds. The morning sun was shining in brightly enough to show too the heating and water pipes that the SOE had installed along the high stone wall and ceiling, above even the unreachable topmost row of copper skillets, but the old man was grateful for those alterations. Somehow the mess officers had hung too a vast government-issue print of a cow in profile, with dotted lines outlining the various cuts of beef, right up under the ceiling, and no one had ever managed to take it down in the more than twenty years since.
The vaulted eighteenth-century ceiling arched thirty feet above the flagstone floor, and as he struck a match on the windowsill and puffed his pipe alight, Jimmie Theodora recalled several conferences that had been held right in this kitchen, at the battered old table that stretched across more than twenty feet of the space between the window and the huge fireplace. In January of 1944, when the south lawn had been a small village of snow-covered tents, Winston Churchill had met here with Theodora and Bertram Ramsey and Arthur Tedder to privately assess Eisenhower's proposed SHAEF, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force that was to be run by the Americans, and to discuss the most-secret details of Operation Overlord, which five months later had been decisively put into effect as the Normandy invasion. And before that, twenty-year-old Andrew Hale had interviewed Turkish and Russian fugitives at this table, gradually assembling the history of the Russian involvement with eastern Turkey and Mount Ararat. Twenty years later, Operation Declare had finally been consummated and closed, and Theodora had at last been able to retire-at the age of seventy-three!-to tend the gardens here at his old ancestral home.
And now his retirement had been compromised. A cable from the SIS's new headquarters in Century House on the south side of the Thames -Broadway Buildings no longer!-had arrived yesterday, and it appeared that MI5 was involved as well. It all promised no end of bother and embarrassment, and even some faint risk of legal trouble; and personal, face-to-face humiliation, if some hasty sort of establishment-of-truth couldn't be arranged quickly in Helsinki.
In the forty-eight hours since receiving the cable Theodora had not tried to mobilize the old leave-behind networks to arrange it-not, he realized now, because of any admittedly valid doubts about the viability these days of the networks, but because he felt he deserved some degree of humiliation, even of punishment.
Andrew Hale had apparently walked into the British Embassy in Helsinki two days ago. He had dictated a cable to Century House, proposing terms according to which he would take a flight to Heathrow Airport outside London. More than a year after the successful termination of Operation Declare, Hale wanted to return to the United Kingdom.
On reflection, Theodora was not surprised to learn that Hale was still alive. In July of last year the Soviet paper Izvestia had announced that Kim Philby had been made a citizen of the Soviet Union, but Theodora knew too that Philby had been rushed to the Semenskoya clinic outside Moscow on the twenty-eighth of January, for treatment of a gunshot wound. That would have been Hale's work, as ordered. And Hale's had not been one of the burned, frozen bodies that had been recovered from below the Parrot glacier by the Turks last summer. That Hale could have disappeared for a year in the Middle East was hardly a surprising idea. Nor was Theodora surprised to learn that Hale wanted to come home, now, at the age of forty-two; he remembered that in the briefing at Number 10 Downing Street, fifteen months ago now, Hale had proposed retiring after Declare to the Cotswold village where he had grown up.
Hale was approaching the British secret services cautiously. Clearly he knew that he had been slated for verification as soon as the djinn had been slain on Mount Ararat.
It had certainly been obvious to Theodora that Hale could not go on being in the picture afterward. Theodora recalled his late-1962 conversation with the leveraged minister who gingerly sponsored the fugitive SOE, after the minister had objected to the idea of killing Hale: Think about it, man! Theodora had said. By agreeing to have Hale send Philby to Moscow with a skin-full of Shihab-shot, the Prime Minister is authorizing a pre-emptive strike against the Soviet Union! That's what it is, if our math is correct. Nobody's indoctrinated for this. We may have to kill you. I may have to kill myself. Even if Hale doesn't succeed, he would be in a position to stir up enough old evidence to make it plausibly clear that we did attempt exactly that-and by demonstrably sorcerous means! The Prime Minister! McCone at the CIA wouldn't give us Manhattan street maps, after that. Hale will be a hero if he can pull off this Ararat operation-but we've killed bigger heroes, famous ones, to keep this a secret.
It had been true then, a year and a half ago, and it was still true now. The SIS interrogation center wasn't at Ham Common in Richmond anymore-with a pang Theodora recalled recruiting Hale into the SOE there, in the corridor outside the kitchen at Latchmere House, in February of 1942-but Hale would have to be lured back, and debriefed, and then given a Cold War hero's retirement: a quiet, painless death, and the undisturbed, enduring disgrace of his last cover.
And Theodora would probably have to face Hale, before it was all over. He remembered the young ex-nun he had found in Cairo in 1924, living in a Misr al-Qadimah flat with her priceless illegitimate child, the issue of St. John Philby's folly; and he remembered meeting that child again when the boy was seven years old, on the day his mother brought him to the SIS headquarters in Whitehall Court. Theodora recalled now that the boy Andrew had nearly passed out from hunger in that interview, having fasted since the previous midnight in order to take his first Catholic Communion. And Theodora could still recall the long conversation he had had with Hale in the ruins around St. Paul 's Cathedral in the late summer of 1941, among the antique wildflowers whose entombed seeds had been liberated by the German bombs.
And Hale had ultimately proven to be worth the long, costly investment. Theodora's battles with eight Prime Ministers and five Chiefs of the SIS, even his brief imprisonment on suspicion of treasonous acts in the first weeks of 1942, had been vindicated: the power on Mount Ararat was killed. And if Kim Philby would eventually die in the Soviet Union, preferably right in Moscow, the Soviet Union would lose the guardian angel that had protected Russia since 1883.
I do owe it to Hale to face him one more time.
At the other end of the enormous stone room, the door creaked open.
"Bring the car around to the front drive, would you, Nigel?" said Theodora thoughtfully, rapping the dottle out of his pipe on the ancient table. To London, to London, he thought-to arrange a spot of humiliation for myself.
"Nigel is still in Southborough," said the well-remembered voice of Andrew Hale. "I'm taking over for him for the rest of the day."
Theodora opened his mouth in a laugh that was too quiet to be picked up by any microphones that MI5 might have installed. "Well, I don't want the car anyway," he said lightly, "now that I think of it. I believe I'll go for a walk in the gardens instead."
Of course he came over early, the old man thought. He learned that from the GRU during the war. I should have expected it.
Theodora noted wryly that his heartbeat was suddenly rapid.
At last he tucked his pipe away in the pocket of his corduroy jacket and looked toward the door.
Hale had apparently been in sunny climes-his face and hands were tanned a dark brown-and his sandy hair was newly gray at the temples. He hadn't shaved recently, and the bristles on his chin were white. No doubt it had been a stressful year. The man was dressed in Nigel's clothes-white shirt, black jacket and tie-though his shoulders were broader than Nigel's, and Theodora doubted that he would be able to button the jacket.
Hale's right hand was in the pocket of the black trousers.
Theodora unbolted the door that led right out to one of the smaller gardens, having to rock the bolt to get it to slide back-probably it had not been opened since 1945-and when he had pulled the door open he walked carefully down the old stone steps, the grass-and-stone-scented morning breeze ruffling his fine white hair.
He heard Hale scuff down the steps after him.
Theodora's boots crunched along the gravel path that led to the sundial. The kitchen sundial at Batsford House was on a mound, and the triangular sections below the iron gnomon were each planted in a different variety of thyme-silver thyme and bright yellow-and-green variegated thyme on the morning slope, darker creeping thyme on the afternoon decline. Theodora stepped up to the crest of the mound, crushing the noon thymus vulgaris, and turned around to face Hale.
"You're late in reporting, sir!" Theodora said. "It was in January of last year that I sent you out. I remember saying that I believed you'd be back within the month."
Hale nodded, but he was glancing back at the high south wall of the house, a cliff of uneven tan stones and widely separated windows. "I was here, during the war," he said. "Had no idea it was yours." He glanced at Theodora with neutral, pale eyes. "Batsford, Theodora."
"A widowed Lady Batsford married a cloth merchant Theodora around the time of Waterloo. It used to be grander-one of the bedrooms still has a railing across the middle of the floor, so that any king who might be visiting could greet his subjects without getting out of bed. Two Earls once got into a serious fight in that room, the issue being which of them was to have the privilege of dressing George the Third. Bloody noses, broken furniture-I believe George wound up having to put on his own shirt. And I remember standing right here at night, as a boy-this would have been late '90s, 1900-and looking up to watch the servants carrying torches across the rooftops, as they made their way to the bedrooms in the turrets."
"Of course I've got a gun, Jimmie," said Hale.
"Of course you have," Theodora agreed. "And some sort of proposal, I imagine."
"I trust I'm still…on the rolls. I want to be sent out one more time, and then I want to retire here. Scotland, Wales, I don't care. Ireland, even. I came in through the London Docks yesterday, on a Canadian passport-it was a friend who sent the cable from Helsinki. I wanted to have a chance to discuss terms privately, before a lot of definitions were made, photographs taken."
"Terms," said Theodora.
"Well, I've got it all down in a little book, haven't I? Declare. With enough names and dates to make it convincing; and it's compelling reading too-T. E. Lawrence, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Kim Philby, Noah's Ark. A Belgian solicitor has it, and if a New Year's Day goes by without me having sent him a Christmas card, the whole works will be sent to every newspaper in the United States, and in Europe-oh, and Pravda. When I turn sixty-two, twenty years from now, I give you my word I'll destroy it. By then I doubt anyone will still care."
"Scopolamine," sighed Theodora, "sodium Pentothal. Plain old torture."
"A photograph of myself in with the Christmas card, every year. With a newspaper visible, to establish the date. The solicitor has a large staff, many offices, and he does a lot of international crime work-bodyguards, security-he's tremendously cautious."
Theodora shrugged, conceding the point. "'Sent out one more time,'" he said.
"To Moscow, under journalist cover. SIS can arrange that easily enough. I want to cash out the Machikha Nash account. Khrushchev can be the last Premier of the Soviet Union."
Hale was proposing to kill Kim Philby, his half-brother, and thus set into motion the chain of events that would culminate with the ghulahguardian angel ingesting the Shihab-shot from Philby's buried corpse. "Well, Khrushchev wouldn't be the last anyway," Theodora said, stalling. "I doubt the Soviet empire would come crashing down immediately after the guardian angel was killed, and it doesn't look as though Khrushchev will last out the year. Russia had a bad harvest last year, and he had to use hard currency to buy wheat from the West. The KGB had to become grain brokers, and the KGB head, Shelepin, wants Khrushchev out. Leonid Brezhnev seems to be the likeliest replacement."
"Is my brother covering himself with glory, over there?"
"Well, no. It turns out he's what they call a 'secret collaborator,' not a Soviet intelligence officer, as I'm sure they had told him he would be. He's got a nice apartment, and access to a chauffeur-driven car, but he's apparently drinking a good deal, and his main value to the KGB is that he's still being debriefed, these fourteen months later. The only actual work he's doing is for the Novosti news agency-and his work needs to be translated. He's never learned Russian."
"Cremation is very common in Russia," Hale said. "If he dies years from now, as just an embarrassing old drunk left over from a previous regime, he's likely to be cremated."
And the precious shot pellets will be melted, thought Theodora. I won't live that long, but it would fret me to die thinking that the main operation of my career had not come to full fruition.
"Right now," Hale went on, "the people who vouched for him are still in charge, unwilling to concede that he's nothing but a drunk old Englishman. If he dies a hero's death now, a properly vindicating death, he'll be buried with honors at one of the Moscow cemeteries. Buried."