'This is pure chagga, ground just before it was brewed.' He said it calmly but nodded to acknowledge my little attempt to annoy him.
'Well, he didn't turn up,' I said. 'We can sit here drinking chagga all morning and it won't bring Brahms Four over the wire.'
Dicky said nothing.
'Has he re-established contact yet?' I asked.
Dicky put his coffee on the desk, while he riffed some papers in a file. 'Yes. We received a routine report from him. He's safe.' Dicky chewed a fingernail.
'Why didn't he turn up?'
'No details on that one.' He smiled. He was handsome in the way that foreigners think bowler-hatted English stockbrokers are handsome. His face was hard and bony and the tan from his Christmas in the Bahamas had still not faded. 'He'll explain in his own good time. Don't badger the field agents - that has always been my policy. Right, Bernard?'
'It's the only way, Dicky.'
'Ye gods! How I'd love to get back into the field just once more! You people have the best of it.'
'I've been off the field list for nearly five years, Dicky. I'm a desk man now, like you.' Like you have always been is what I should have said, but I let it go. 'Captain' Cruyer he'd called himself when he returned from the Army. But he soon realized how ridiculous that title sounded to a Director-General who'd worn a General's uniform. And he realized too that 'Captain' Cruyer would be an unlikely candidate for that illustrious post.
He stood up, smoothed his shirt, and then sipped coffee, holding his free hand under the cup to guard against drips. He noticed that I hadn't drunk my chagga. 'Would you prefer tea?'
'Is it too early for a gin and tonic?'
He didn't respond to this question. 'I think you feel beholden to our friend Bee Four. You still feel grateful about his coming back to Weimar for you.' He greeted my look of surprise with a knowing nod. 'I read the files, Bernard. I know what's what.'
'It was a decent thing to do,' I said.
'It was,' said Dicky. 'It was a truly decent thing to do, but that wasn't why he did it. Not only that.'
'You weren't there, Dicky.'
'Bee Four panicked, Bernard. He fled. He was near the border, at some godforsaken little place in Thüringerwald, by the time our people intercepted him and told him he wasn't wanted for questioning by the KGB - or anyone else, for that matter.'
'It's ancient history,' I said.
'We turned him round,' said Cruyer. It had become 'we' I noticed. 'We gave him some chickenfeed and told him to go back and play the outraged innocent. We told him to co-operate with them.'
'Names of people who'd already escaped, safe houses long since abandoned . . . bits and pieces that would make Brahms Four look good to the KGB.'
'But they got Busch, the man who was sheltering me.'
Unhurriedly, Cruyer finished his coffee and wiped his lips with a linen napkin from the tray. 'We got two of you out. I'd say that's not bad for that sort of crisis - two out of three. Busch went back to his house to get his stamp collection. . . . Stamp collection! What can you do with a man like that? They put him in the bag of course.'
'The stamp collection was probably his life savings,' I said.
'Perhaps it was, and that's how they put him in the bag, Bernard. No second chances with those swine. I know that, you know that, and he knew it too.'
'So that's why our field people don't like Brahms Four.'
'Yes, that's why they don't like him.'
'They think he informed on that Erfurt network.'
Cruyer shrugged. 'What could we do? We could hardly spread the word that we'd invented that story to make the fellow persona grata with the KGB.' Cruyer walked across to his drinks cabinet and poured some gin into a large Waterford glass tumbler.
'Plenty of gin, not too much tonic,' I said. Cruyer turned to stare blankly at me. 'If that's for me,' I added. So there had been a blunder. They'd told Brahms Four to reveal old Busch's address, then the poor old sod had gone back for his stamps. And run into the arms of a KGB arrest squad.
Dicky put a little more gin into the glass, and added ice cubes gently so that they would not splash. He brought it, together with a small bottle of tonic, which I left unused. 'No need for you to concern yourself with this one any more, Bernard. You did your bit in going to Berlin. We'll let one of the others take over now.'
'Is he in trouble?'
Cruyer went back to the drinks cabinet and busied himself tidying away the bottle-caps and stirrer. Then he closed the cabinet doors and said, 'Do you know the sort of material Brahms Four has been supplying?'
'Economics intelligence. He works for an East German bank.'
'He is the most carefully protected source we have in Germany. You are one of the few people ever to have seen him face to face.'
'And that was almost twenty years ago.'
'He works through the mail - always local addresses to avoid the censors and the security - posting his material to various members of the Brahms net. In emergencies he uses a dead-letter drop. But that's all - no microdots, no one-time pads, no codes, no micro transmitters, no secret ink. Very old-fashioned.'
'And very safe,' I said.
'Very old-fashioned and very safe, so far,' agreed Dicky. 'Even I don't have access to the Brahms Four file. No one knows anything about him except that he's been getting material from somewhere at the top of the tree. All we can do is guess.'
'And you've guessed,' I prompted him, knowing that Dicky was going to tell me anyway.
'From Bee Four we are getting important decisions of the Deutsche Investitions Bank. And from the Deutsche Bauern Bank. Those state banks provide long-term credit for industry and for agriculture. Both banks are controlled by the Deutsche Notenbank, through which come all remittances, payments and clearing for the whole country. Now and again we get good notice of what the Moscow Narodny Bank is doing and regular reports about the COMECON briefings. I think Brahms Four is a secretary or personal assistant to one of the directors of the Deutsche Notenbank.'
'Or a director?'
'All banks have an economic intelligence department. Being head of that department is not a job an ambitious banker craves for, so they get switched around. Brahms Four has been feeding us this sort of thing too long to be anything but a clerk or assistant.'
'You'll miss him. Too bad you have to pull him out,' I said.
'Pull him out? I'm not trying to pull him out. I want him to stay right where he is.'
'I thought . . .'
'It's his idea that he should come over to the West, not mine! I want him to remain where he is. I can't afford to lose him.'
'Is he getting frightened?'
They all get frightened eventually,' said Cruyer. 'It's battle fatigue. The strain of it all gets them down. They get older and they get tired and they start looking for that pot of gold and the country house with the roses round the door.'
'They start looking for the things we've been promising them for twenty years. That's the truth of it.'
'Who knows what makes these crazy bastards do it?' said Cruyer. 'I've spent half my life trying to understand their motivation.' He looked out the window. Hard sunlight side-lighting the lime trees, dark blue sky with just a few smears of cirrus very high. 'And I'm still no nearer knowing what makes any of them tick.'
'There comes a time when you have to let them go,' I said.
He touched his lips; or was he kissing his fingertips, or maybe tasting the gin that he'd spilled on his fingers. 'Lord Moran's theory, you mean? I seem to remember he divided men into four classes. Those who were never afraid, those who were afraid but never showed it, those who were afraid and showed it but carried on with their job, and the fourth group - men who were afraid and shirked. Where does Brahms Four fit in there?'
'I don't know,' I said. How the hell can you explain to a man like Cruyer what it's like to be afraid day and night, year after year? What had Cruyer ever had to fear, beyond a close scrutiny of his expense accounts?
'Well, he's got to stay there for the time being, and there's an end to it.'
'So why was I sent to receive him?'
'He was acting up, Bernard. He threw a little tantrum. You know the way these chaps can be at times. He threatened to walk out on us, but the crisis passed. Threatened to use an old forged US passport and march out through Checkpoint Charlie.'
'So I was there to hold him?'
'Couldn't have a hue and cry, could we? Couldn't give his name to the civil police and send teleprinter messages to the boats and airports.' He unlocked the window and strained to open it. It had been closed all winter and now it took all Cruyer's strength to unstick it. 'Ah, a whiff of London diesel. That's better,' he said as there came a movement of chilly air. 'But he's still proving difficult. He's not giving us the regular flow of information. He threatens to stop altogether.'
'And you . . . what are you threatening?'
'Threats are not my style, Bernard. I'm simply asking him to stay there for two more years and help us get someone else into place. Ye gods! Do you know how much money he's squeezed out of us over the past five years?'
'As long as you don't want me to go,' I said. 'My face is too well known over there. And I'm getting too bloody short-winded for any strong-arm stuff.'
'We've plenty of people available, Bernard. No need for senior staff to take risks. And anyway, if things went really sour on us, we'd need someone from Frankfurt.'
'That has a nasty ring to it, Dicky. What kind of someone would we need from Frankfurt?'
Cruyer sniffed. 'No need to draw you a diagram, old man. If Bee Four really started thinking of spilling the beans to the Normannenstrasse boys, we'd have to move fast.'
'Expedient demise?' I said, keeping my voice level and my face expressionless.
Cruyer became a fraction uncomfortable. 'We'd have to move fast. We'd have to do whatever the team on the spot thought necessary. You know how these things go. And XPD can never be ruled out.'
'This is one of our own people, Dicky. This is an old man who has served the Department for over twenty years.'
'And all we're asking,' said Cruyer with exaggerated patience, 'is for him to go on serving us in the same way. What happens if he goes off his head and wants to betray us is conjecture - pointless conjecture.'
'We earn our living from conjecture,' I said. 'And it makes me wonder what I would have to do to have 'someone from Frankfurt' come along to get me ready for that big debriefing in the sky.'
Cruyer laughed. 'You always were a card!' he said. 'You wait until I tell the old man that one.'
'Any more of that delicious gin?'
He took the glass from my outstretched hand. 'Leave Brahms Four to Frank Harrington and the Berlin Field Unit, Bernard. You're not a German, you're not a field agent any longer, and you are far, far too old.'
He put a little gin in my glass and added ice, using claw-shaped silver tongs. 'Let's talk about something more cheerful,' he said over his shoulder.
'In that case, Dicky, what about my new car allowance? The cashier won't do anything without the paperwork.'
'Leave it to my secretary.'
'I've filled in the forms already,' I told him. 'I've got them with me, as a matter of fact. They just need your signature . . . two copies.' I placed them on the corner of his desk and gave him the pen from his ornate desk set.
'This car will be too big for you,' he muttered while pretending the pen was not marking properly. 'You'll be sorry you didn't opt for something more compact.' I gave him my plastic ballpoint, and after he'd signed I looked at the signature before putting the forms in my pocket. It was perfect timing, I suppose.
We'd arranged to visit Fiona's Uncle Silas for the weekend. Old Silas Gaunt was not really her uncle; he was a distant relative of her mother's. She'd never even met Silas until I took her to see him when I was trying to impress her, just after we'd first met. She'd come down from Oxford with all the expected brilliant results in philosophy, politics and economics - or 'Modern Greats' in the jargon of academe - and done all those things that her contemporaries thought smart: she studied Russian at the Sorbonne while perfecting the French accent necessary for upper-class young Englishwomen; she'd done a short cookery course at the Cordon Bleu; worked for an art dealer; crewed for a transatlantic yacht race; and written speeches for a man who'd narrowly failed to become a Liberal Member of Parliament. It was soon after that fiasco that I met her. Old Silas had been captivated by his newly discovered niece right from the start. We saw a lot of him, and my son Billy was his godchild.
Silas Gaunt was a formidable figure who'd worked for intelligence back in the days when such service was really secret. Back in the days when reports were done in copperplate hand-writing and field agents were paid in sovereigns. When my father was running the Berlin Field Unit, Silas was his boss.
'He's a silly little fart,' said Fiona when I related my conversation with Dicky Cruyer. It was Saturday morning and we were driving to Silas's farm in the Cotswold Hills.
'He's a dangerous little fart,' I said. 'When I think of that idiot making decisions about field people. . . .'
' "Bee Four" is Dicky's latest contribution to the terminology. Yes, people like that,' I said. 'I get the goddamned shivers.'
'He won't let the Brahms source go,' she said. We were driving through Reading, having left the motorway in search of Elizabeth Arden skin tonic. She was at the wheel of the red Porsche her father had bought her the previous birthday. She was thirty-five and her father said she needed something special to cheer her up. I wondered how he was planning to cheer me up for my fortieth, coming in two weeks' time: I guessed it would be the usual bottle of Remy Martin, and wondered if I'd again find inside the box the compliments card of some office-supplies firm who'd given it to him.
'The Economics Intelligence Committee lives off that banking stuff that Brahms Four provides,' she added after a long silence thinking about it.
'I still say we should have stayed on the motorway. That chemist in the village is sure to have skin tonic,' I said. Although in fact I hadn't the faintest idea what skin tonic was, except that it was something my skin had managed without for several decades.
'But not Elizabeth Arden,' said Fiona. We were in a traffic jam in the middle of Reading and there was no chemist's shop in sight. The engine was overheating and she switched it off for a moment. 'Perhaps you're right,' she admitted finally, leaning across to give me a brief kiss. She was just keeping me sweet, because I was going to be the one who leaped out of the car and dashed off for the damned jar of magic ointment while she flirted with the traffic warden.
'Have you got enough space in the back, children?' she asked.
The kids were wedged each side of a suitcase but they didn't complain. Sally grunted and carried on reading her William book, and Billy said, 'How fast will you go on the motorway?'
'And Dicky is on the committee too,' I said.
'Yes, he claims it was his idea.'
'I lose count of how many committees he's on. He's never in his bloody office when he's needed. His appointment book looks like the Good Food Guide. Lately he's discovered 'breakfast meetings'. Now he gorges and guzzles all day. I don't know how he stays so thin.'
The traffic moved again, and she started up and followed closely behind a battered red double-decker bus. The conductor was standing on the platform looking at her and at the car with undisguised admiration. She smiled at him and he smiled back. It was ridiculous, but I couldn't help feeling a pang of jealousy. 'I'll have to go,' I said.
'Dicky knows I'll have to go. The whole conversation was just Dicky's way of making sure I knew.'
'What difference can you make?' said Fiona. 'Brahms can't be forced to go on. If he's determined to stop working for us, there's not much anyone in the Department can do about it.'
'No?' I said. 'Well, you might be surprised.'
She looked at me. 'But Brahms Four is old. He must be due for retirement.'
'Dicky was making veiled threats.'
'Probably bluff,' I agreed. 'Just Dicky's way of saying that if I stand back and let anyone else go, they might get too rough. But you can't be sure with Dicky. Especially when his seniority is on the line.'
'You mustn't go, darling.'
'My being there is probably going to make no difference at all.'
'Well then . . .'
'But if someone else goes - some kid from the Berlin office - and something bad happens. How will I ever be sure that I couldn't have made it come out okay?'
'Even so, Bernard, I still don't want you to go.'
'We'll see,' I said.
'You owe Brahms Four nothing,' she said.
'I owe him,' I said. 'I know that, and so does he. That's why he'll trust me in a way he'll trust no one else. He knows I owe him.'
'It must be twenty years,' she said, as if promises, like mortgages, became less burdensome with tune.
'What's it matter how long ago it was?'
'And what about what you owe me? And what you owe Billy and Sally?'
'Don't get angry, sweetheart,' I said. 'It's hard enough already. You think I want to go over there and play Boy Scout again?'
'I don't know,' she said. She was angry, and when we got on the motorway she put her foot down so that the needles went right round the dials. We were at Uncle Silas's farm well before he'd even opened the champagne for pre-lunch drinks.
Whitelands was a 6oo-acre farm in the Cotswolds - the great limestone plateau that divides the Thames Valley from the River Severn - and the farmhouse of ancient honey-coloured local stone with mullioned windows and lopsided doorway would have looked too perfect, like the set for a Hollywood film, except that summer had not yet come and the sky was grey, the lawn brown, and the rosebushes trimmed back and bloomless.
There were other cars parked carelessly alongside the huge stone barn, a horse tethered to the gate, and fresh clots of mud on the metal grating of the porch. The old oak door was unlocked, and Fiona pushed her way into the hall in that proprietorial way that was permitted to members of the family. There were coats hanging on the wall and more draped over the settee.
'Dicky and Daphne Cruyer,' said Fiona, recognizing a mink coat.
'And Bret Rensselaer,' I said, touching a sleeve of soft camel hair. 'Is it going to be all people from the office?'
Fiona shrugged and turned so that I could help her take off her coat. There were voices and decorous laughter from the back of the house. 'Not all from the office,' she said. The Range Rover out front belongs to that retired general who lives in the village. His wife has the riding school - remember? You hated her.'
'I wonder if the Cruyers are staying,' I said.
'Not if their coats are in the hall,' said Fiona.
'You should have been a detective,' I said. She grimaced at me. It wasn't the sort of remark that Fiona regarded as a compliment.
This region of England has the prettiest villages and most beautiful countryside in the world, and yet there is something about such contrived perfection that I find disquieting. For the cramped labourer's cottages are occupied by stockbrokers and building speculators, and ye host in ye olde village pub turns out to be an airline pilot between trips. The real villagers live near the main road in ugly brick terraced houses, their front gardens full of broken motorcars.
'If you go down to the river, remember the bank is slippery with mud. And for goodness* sake wipe your shoes carefully before you come in for lunch.' The children responded with whoops of joy. 'I wish we had somewhere like this to go at weekends,' Fiona said to me.
'We do have somewhere like this,' I said. 'We have this. Your Uncle Silas has said come as often as you like.'
'It's not the same,' she said.
'You're damn right it's not,' I said. 'If this was our place, you'd not be going down the hall for a glass of champagne before lunch. You'd be hurrying along to the kitchen to scrape the vegetables in cold water.'
'Fiona, my darling! And Bernard!' Silas Gaunt came from the kitchen. 'I thought I recognized the children I just spotted climbing through the shrubbery.'
'I'm sorry,' said Fiona, but Silas laughed and slapped me on the back.
'We'll be eating very soon but there's just time to gulp a glass of something. I think you know everyone. Some neighbours dropped in, but I haven't been able to get them to stay for lunch.'
Silas Gaunt was a huge man, tall, with a big belly. He'd always been fat, but since his wife died he'd grown fatter in the way that only rich old self-indulgent men grow fat. He cared nothing about his waistline or that his shirts were so tight the buttons were under constant strain, or about the heavy jowls that made him look like a worried bloodhound. His head was almost bald and his forehead overhung his eyes in a way that set his features into a constant frown, which was only dispelled by his loud laughs for which he threw his head back and opened his mouth at the ceiling. Uncle Silas presided over his luncheon party like a squire with his farm workers, but he gave no offence, because it was so obviously a joke, just as his posture as a farmer was a joke, despite all the discarded rubber boots in the hall, and the weather-beaten hay rake disposed on the back lawn like some priceless piece of modern sculpture.
'They all come to see me,' he said as he poured Chateau Pétrus '64 for his guests. 'Sometimes they want me to recall some bloody fool thing the Department decided back in the sixties, or they want me to use my influence with someone upstairs, or they want me to sell some ghastly little Victorian commode they've inherited.' Silas looked round the table to be sure everyone present remembered that he had a partnership in a Bond Street antique shop. The taciturn American, Bret Rensselaer, was squeezing the arm of the busty blonde he'd brought with him. 'But I see them all - believe me I never get lonely.' I felt sorry for old Silas; it was the sort of thing that only very lonely people claimed.
Mrs Porter, his cook-housekeeper, came through the door from the kitchen bearing a roast sirloin. 'Good. I like beef,' said my small son Billy.
Mrs Porter smiled in appreciation. She was an elderly woman who had learned the value of a servant who heard nothing, saw nothing, and said very little. 'I've no time for stews and pies and all those mixtures,' explained Uncle Silas as he opened a second bottle of lemonade for the children. 'I like to see a slice of real meat on my plate. I hate all those sauces and purées. The French can keep their cuisine.' He poured a little lemonade for my son, and waited while Billy noted its colour and bouquet, took a sip, and nodded approval just as Silas had instructed him to do.
Mrs Porter arranged the meat platter in front of Silas and placed the carving knife and fork to hand before going to get the vegetables. Dicky Cruyer dabbed wine from his lips with a napkin. The host's words seemed to be aimed at him. 'I can't stand by and let you defame la cuisine française in such a cavalier fashion, Silas.' Dicky smiled. 'I'd get myself blackballed by Paul Bocuse.'
Silas served Billy with a huge portion of rare roast beef and went on carving. 'Start eating!' Silas commanded. Dicky's wife, Daphne, passed the plates. She worked in advertising and liked to dress in grandma clothes, complete with black velvet choker, cameo brooch and small metal-rim eyeglasses. She insisted on a very small portion of beef.