Declare

9,201
07.03.2019

He held the remainder of the deck out toward Hale. "Now find yours."

Hale's scalp seemed to have stopped bleeding, and he shoved the handkerchief into his overcoat. He took the cards and stared at Philby's exposed cards as he slowly shuffled through the deck. Philby could have selected a two, three, and five for his hole cards, giving him the perfect low hand, if he wanted to go that way. Hale couldn't even construct a hand that would beat it. Or Philby could have chosen three Aces for his hole cards, which would give him four of them-a high hand Hale couldn't possibly beat.

But Philby could not have assembled a hand that would assuredly win both ways. The best he could do for that would be the Ace-to-five straight, and Hale could have three more nines hidden, and the four-of-a-kind would beat the straight.

Hale began laying out the cards he had had showing in 1948: the three, the seven, the ten, the nine.

The declaration alone would be the verdict-if they both chose in the same direction, Philby would win.

Hale coughed to conceal an involuntary sigh. All delusions aside, he knew which way he had to declare.

Hale chose three cards at random for his hole cards and wedged them under his knee. Beyond Philby he saw that several of the old drunks had got up and were shambling away, doubtless troubled by the itchy resonance of the supernatural attention that Philby had summoned by speaking the name of Solomon.

Philby was digging in a pocket of his trousers. "I'll fetch us six kopeks, for the declare," he said breathlessly. When he had pulled out a handful of coins and begun fingering them, he squinted up at Hale. "Don't you wish it were our birthday, today, instead of Elena's, and we could read each other's minds?"

"I think we can anyway," said Hale.

Philby frowned, and suddenly Hale guessed that Philby had assembled the Ace-to-five straight, and arrogantly meant to declare both ways-confident that Hale would declare for low, that Hale would choose the good chance of immortality over the uncertainty of Elena's dubious reception.

"She hates you, you know," Philby said quickly. "In Beirut she learned that you had supposedly killed that Frenchman, that Cassagnac fellow. She told me-word of honor!-that she meant to kill you."

"I don't doubt it," Hale said, reaching across to select three coins from Philby's palm. He shook them inside his cupped hands like dice. "I'm willing to put it to the test."

Philby forced a hearty laugh. "There spoke bluff! She's forty-she hates you-and there is an infinity of other women in the world." His gaze focused past Hale then, and he drew in a sharp breath. "Ach, and now the groundlings have arrived."

Hale made himself look around slowly, and he was afraid he would see the peculiar hats of the KGB-but the figures that had shambled into the park were thin, pale-faced men and women in shabby overcoats. Hale saw tweeds, and tartans, and even an unmistakable Old Etonian tie. These were the Gray People, the ring-road birds. I could be a king among that sad population, Philby had said. They made no sounds, and almost seemed to ripple with the breeze.

For Philby to declare low here would be the equivalent, in the context of this crowd, of Arthur pulling the sword from the stone. It would be declaring, To hell with love, and eventual payment of the death I owe to God. I willingly choose this existence of bitterness, envy, and cherished lies, on the condition that I can be assured of it for eternity.

Hale was certain that it was what Philby would choose, would have to choose, now that Hale's own decision had been made to seem problematical. If Philby were forced to choose between love and grubby security, the course of his life would have left him no alternative but to choose grubby security.

"I'm willing to put it to the test," Hale said again. He slid two coins into his right fist and held it out.

Philby rubbed his hands together for nearly a full minute, baring his teeth in a grimace of indecision-and then at last he made a fist and struck it hard against his chest. "Mea culpa!" he whispered.

"Declare," said Hale, opening his hand to show the two coins.

Philby lowered his hand pronated, and he opened his fingers and let the single kopek drop into the grass.

The air seemed to twang, a released tension felt in the abdomen rather than heard.

All Hale had won, after all this, had been the right to go meet Elena, as he had planned to do all along.

"The r-roots," Philby was gabbling, "wh-wh-where are the roots?"

Hale stood up and looked at his watch-he had twenty minutes to get to St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square, a bit more than a mile away to the east. "Two are in a high cupboard in the kitchen at the journalists' hotel on the Sadovaya Samotechnaya, behind an old wooden tray; the other is in the bookstore next door to the Ararat Restaurant, behind the red-leather collected works of Marx. You can unleash Machikha Nash on me if you don't find them. Oh, and-" he held out his hand. "Here are your two kopeks back."

"Keep them," snarled Philby, "to be p-put on your eyes, after you're d-d-dead! What can you h-have left, thirty summers, at the m-most? And the last duh-duh-dozen of them impotent, s-senile! How many is th-thirty? Three prints of your h-hands in mud!"

Hale had turned and was striding away across the grass, and behind him Philby raised his voice nearly in a scream: "While I'll be y-you-youthful still, d-drinking claret, reading Shakespeare, f-f-fathering children! You l-lost here, today, Hale! Don't doubt it! You l-lost!"

Hale paused at the alley and looked back. Kim Philby was sitting on the bench, still shouting, but he was surrounded now by the Gray People, and seemed as insubstantial as any of them.

Enjoy the illusion of immortality, thought Hale sadly, O my brother. The amomon djinn will die as soon as you digest it. If I've got thirty years left, you've got twenty. Two prints of your hands.

"You l-l-lost!" came Philby's voice, sounding thin and birdlike at this distance.

Hale smiled tightly as he turned away.

No, he thought as he hurried down the sun-dappled cobblestone alley toward the lanes of Spiridonovka. Whatever the outcome, I declared high.

Hale made himself walk, rather than run or even jog, down the wide quarter mile of paving stones toward the fantastic spires of St. Basil's Cathedral on the hazy middle-distance horizon. His watch showed only eight minutes to noon, but he was wary of the Soviet Army honor guards in their gray fur hats and gray uniforms with bright red collar tabs and epaulettes. Clusters of Army guards marched across various empty quadrants of the square, and individual guards stood like buoys at the widely separated corners of the line of Moscow citizens that stretched like a boundary fence across the square, enclosing the concrete bleachers and terminating at the temple-like mausoleum in which Lenin's preserved corpse could be viewed. In the eleven days he had been in Moscow, Hale had twice seen these guards knock a person out of the line and pummel him to the stones for some apparently minor violation of security, and he didn't want to attract their attention today at all.

It was far too late now to pull the long, quilted sleeves back through his overcoat and put it on correctly; it would take some minutes to walk all the way past the longest, bleacher-spanning segment of the mausoleum line, and he would have to march the whole distance with the pink-satin lining-side of the garment out, looking like a performer in some crude satire on Chinamen, or Tibetans. And it was the fashion among the stilyagi, the stylish young Moscow hooligans, to go about anarchistically hatless; but at least Hale's graying hair and ludicrous coat would save him from being mistaken for one of them.

Hale had not eaten for more than twelve hours, and the vodka he had drunk with Philby was making him dizzy. A hundred yards away to his left rose the gray stone arches and towers of the GUM department store, as sternly grand as the Houses of Parliament; far off ahead of him to his right the Saviour's Tower stood up from the brick-red Kremlin wall, incongruously crowned with a giant red star; and straight ahead, its bulbous blue-and-gold striped domes looking like bellied sails on a sultan's ship of state, St. Basil's Cathedral loomed on the broad, gently rippled sea of paving stones.

Hale was trying desperately to convince himself that Philby would not send KGB agents down here to arrest him and Elena. Hale knew that Philby had been a turned agent, working for the SOE against the Soviets, since 1951; and at a KGB trial he could testify that Philby had cooperated in the Declare sabotage of the Rabkrin expedition on Mount Ararat a year ago. Surely the mere accusations would be likely to get Philby into trouble!-and Theodora had said that Philby was not highly regarded by the Soviet authorities these days.

Like any competent agent, Hale had his passport and money in his pockets-along with the Scandinavian Air tickets, two seats booked on a flight leaving tomorrow morning from Vnukovo Airport, bound for Stockholm. He couldn't use his-perhaps he could give one to Elena, if she needed it.

Then a thought occurred to him that almost brought him to a halt-what if Elena had also incurred the wrath of the Heaviside Layer angels by participating in the destruction of the Black Ark last January, and what if she had tried since to fly above 10,000 feet? Hale had only survived the djinn-attack on his Air Liban Caravelle turbojet in February because the crippled plane had been able to land in the Persian Gulf.

If she's dead, he told himself steadily, then she won't be here. She may not be here anyway. See to it that you're in the church, at noon.

He pushed back the bunched pink sleeve of his coat to look at his watch-it was twelve right now. The cathedral was still a hundred yards away, and he broke into a jog; but after only a few paces he slowed back to a walk, his heart thudding and his face suddenly chilly.

A dozen men in dark brown uniforms stood in the shade around the cathedral's north arch. Even from this distance Hale could see campaign ribbons on their chests, but their visored caps made them look more like policemen than soldiers. Hale had no idea what agency they might represent; and he wondered if they were on the watch for him.

Hale knew he cut a peculiar figure here; and after a moment he felt a hot trickle of blood run down behind his left ear, and he realized that his brief jog had opened the cut in his scalp.

I can't go in to see if she's there, he thought helplessly. Even if they're not after me, I'd be drawing needless attention to her.

But what if they're after her? If Elena is in the church, lighting the candle she promised to the Virgin Mary, unaware of this dragnet outside, I could at least provide a distraction.

His ribs tingled almost with vertigo at the thought, as if he had been standing on the narrowest, highest coping of the Saviour's Tower, looking up.

He could probably walk past on the right, safely-and then just trudge all the way down to the foot of the Moskva River Bridge. And leave Elena to whatever action was going on at the cathedral. She wasn't expecting Hale, after all, and probably wouldn't welcome the sight of him.

In the end he simply couldn't do it. You didn't go to all the trouble to get yourself sewn up in a mule skin, he thought, and let yourself be carried by the eagle all the way up to the inaccessible peak, just to try to find a way to climb back down.

He walked straight ahead into the shadow of the bulging domes, and when the uniformed men saw that he was going to pass among them, he nodded politely to the ones who were staring coldly at him. Trying to look like a Russian, he stepped between two of them and tapped up the stone stairs as if he had every sort of legitimate reason to be visiting the cathedral. He didn't look back, but only glanced at his watch as he gripped the vertical brass handles of the ten-foot-tall gold-paneled doors. He was only a minute and twenty seconds late.

The doors weren't locked. He pulled them both open, and peered into the chandelier-lit dimness of the vast church.

There was no crucifix visible anywhere on the high walls he could see from the entry, and no pews to interrupt the expanse of polished-stone floor, but the walls and the broad pillars were dense with the frescoed silhouettes of saints and angels and apostles.

There were policemen in here too, a number of them-it was hard to know how many, for each of the tall pillars that stood up from the floor was as wide as a car viewed head-on; but there were at least six of the uniformed figures standing at various points across the dim nave. Hale didn't glance squarely at any of them, but he imagined that the intrusion of his ragged self must have drawn the unfriendly attention of every one of them.

He couldn't just stand in the doorway.

A tiny constellation of candle flames lit the low reaches of the gold walls in a far corner, and when he began slowly walking across the floor toward the glow, he saw three or four black-hooded women kneeling in front of an iron table with the candles arranged on it in ranks. The candles were tall thin tapers, not the short votive candles in jars he remembered from his youth. The place should have smelled of incense and frail missal-pages, but the only scents he was aware of were damp stone and a diesel taint on the cold air that he had let in from outside. At least he could detect none of the rancid oil reek.

Two of the policemen were standing immediately to the left of the kneeling women, almost leaning against the frescoed wall; Hale pretended to be indifferent to them.

He hesitated and stopped when he was still a dozen feet away from the candles, and he stared at the backs of the women; and his heart began thudding even before he was sure that he recognized the figure and posture of the woman closest to the wall.

She was here, she had arrived safely this far, at least, after all the perilous years and betrayed loyalties. Was she about to be arrested now, and taken back to the Lubyanka?

For more than twenty years she had occupied Hale's thoughts and brightened or tormented his dreams, but the only period in which the two of them had known each other, lived and worked and eaten and joked together, had been the three months in Nazi-occupied Paris, at the end of 1941, more than twenty-two years ago.

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