Tessa toyed with the necklace again. 'I got to know him last summer. I met him at a dinner party given by some people who live down the road from us. He had tickets for Covent Garden - Mozart. I forget the name of the opera, but everyone was saying how difficult it was to get tickets, and Giles could get them. Well, it was heavenly. I'm not awfully keen on opera but we had a box and a bottle of champagne in the interval.'
'And you had an affair with him,' I finished it for her.
'He's a handsome brute, Bernie. And George was away watching the Japanese making motorcars.'
'Why not go with him?' I said.
'If you'd ever been on one of those trips that car manufacturers provide for the dealers, you wouldn't ask. Wives are superfluous, darling. There are hot and cold running girls in every bedroom.'
Fiona poured champagne for herself and Tessa, and said, 'Tess wants to tell you about Giles Trent. She doesn't want your advice on her marriage.' This admonition, like all such wifely admonitions, was delivered with a smile and a laugh.
'So tell me about Giles Trent,' I said.
'You were joking just now, I know. But Giles is older than you, Bernie, quite a bit older. He's a bachelor, very set in his ways. I thought he was queer at first. He's so neat and tidy and fussy about what he wears and what he eats and all that. In the kitchen - he has a divine house off the King's Road - all his chopping knives and saucepans are placed side by side, smallest on the left and biggest on the right. And it's so perfect that I was frightened to boil an egg and slice a loaf in case I spilled crumbs on the spotless tiled floor or marked the chopping board.'
Tell me how you first discovered he wasn't queer,' I said.
'I said he wouldn't listen to me,' Tessa complained to Fiona. 'I said he'd just make sarcastic remarks all the time, and I was right.'
'It's serious, Bernard,' said my wife. She only called me Bernard when things were serious.
'You mean it's wedding bells for Tessa and Giles?'
'I mean Giles Trent is passing intelligence material to someone from the Russian Embassy.'
There was a long silence until finally I said, 'Shit.'
'Longer than I have,' I said. 'Giles Trent was lecturing at the training school by the time I got there.'
'In Berlin he was in Signals at one time,' said Fiona.
'Yes,' I said. 'And he compiled that training report for interrogators. I don't like the sound of that. Giles Trent, eh?'
'Giles Trent doesn't seem the type,' said Fiona. All the ladies had a soft spot for the elegant and gentlemanly Giles Trent. He raised his hat to them and always had a clean shirt.
They never are the type,' I said.
'But no contact with field agents,' said Fiona.
'Well, let's be thankful for that at least,' I said. I looked at Tessa. 'Have you mentioned all this to anyone?'
'Only to Daddy,' said Tessa. 'He said forget all about it.'
'Good old Daddy,' I said. 'Always there when you need him.'
Mrs Dias came in bearing a large platter of shrimp fried in batter. 'Don't eat too many, sir,' she said in her shrill accent. 'Make you very fat.' The Portuguese are a lugubrious breed, and yet Mrs Dias was always smiling. I had the feeling that we were paying her too much.
'You're wonderful, Mrs Dias,' said my wife, smiling, although the smile faded when she recognized the shrimps as those she'd set aside in the kitchen to thaw for next day's lunch.
'She's a treasure,' said Tessa, taking a sample of the fried shrimp and burning her mouth so that she had to spit pieces of shrimp into her paper napkin. 'My God, it's hot,' she said, pulling a face.
'We'll manage now, Mrs Dias,' said Fiona airily. I twisted round to see Mrs Dias standing at the door watching us with a big smile. She disappeared into the kitchen again. There was a cloud of smoke and a loud crash which we all pretended not to hear.
I said to Tessa, 'How do you know he's passing stuff to the Russians?'
'He told me,' she said.
'Just like that?'
'We'd started off in the middle of the afternoon drinking at some funny little club in Soho while Giles was watching the horses on TV. He won some money on one of the races and we went to the Ritz. We'd met a few friends by then, and Giles wanted to impress everyone by giving them dinner. I suggested Annabel's - George is a member. We stayed there late and Giles turned out to be a super dancer. . . .'
'Is this all leading up to something he told you in bed?' I said wearily.
'Well, yes. We went back to this dear little place he has off the King's Road. And I'd had a few drinks, and to tell you the truth I thought of George with all those Oriental popsies and I thought, what the hell. And I let Giles talk me into staying there.'
'What exactly did he say, Tessa? Because it's nearly half past eight and I'm getting hungry.'
'He woke me up in the middle of the night. It was absolutely ghastly. He sat up in bed and howled. It was positively orgasmic, darling. You've no idea. He howled for help or something. It was a nightmare. I mean, I've had nightmares and I've seen other people having nightmares - at school half the girls in the dorm had nightmares every night, didn't they, Fi? - but not like this. He was bathed in sweat and trembling like a leaf.'
'Giles Trent?' I said.
'Yes, I know. It's hard to imagine, isn't it? I mean he's so damned stiff-upper-lip and Grenadier Guards. But there he was shouting and having this nightmare. I had to shake him for ages before he awoke.'
Fiona said, 'Tell Bernie what he was shouting.'
'He shouted, "Help me! They made me do it," and "Please please please." Then I went and got him a big drink of Perrier water. He said that was what he wanted. He pulled himself together and seemed all right again. And then he suddenly asked me what I'd say if he told me he was a spy for the Russians. I said I'd laugh. And he nodded and said, well, it was true anyway. So I said, for money, do you do it for money? I was joking because I thought he was joking, you see.'
'So what did he say about money?' I asked.
'I knew he wasn't short of money,' said Tessa. 'He was at Eton and he knows anyone who's anyone. He has the same tailor as Daddy, and he's not cheap. And Giles is a member of so many clubs and you know how much club subscriptions cost nowadays. George is always on about that, but he has to take business people out, of course. But Giles never complains about money. His father bought him the freehold of this place where he lives and gave him an allowance that is enough to keep body and soul together.'
'And he has his salary,' I said.
'Well, that doesn't go far, Bernie,' said Tessa. 'How do you imagine you and Fiona would manage if all she had was your salary?'
'Other people manage,' I said.
'But not people like us,' said Tessa in a voice of sweet reasonableness. 'Poor Fiona has to buy Sainsbury's champagne because she knows you'll grumble if she gets the sort of champers Daddy drinks.'
Hurriedly Fiona said, 'Tell Bernie what Giles said about meeting the Russian.'
'He told me about meeting this fellow from the Trade Delegation. Giles was in a pub somewhere near the Portobello Road one night. He likes finding new pubs that no one knows about except the locals. It was closing time. He asked the publican for another drink and they wouldn't serve him. Then a man standing at the counter offered to take him to a chess club in Soho - Kar's Club in Gerrard Street. There's a members' bar there which serves drinks until three in the morning. This Russian was a member and offered to put Giles up for membership and Giles joined. It's not much of a place, from what I can gather - arty people and writers, and so on. He plays chess rather well, and it began to be a habit that he went there regularly and played the Russian, or just watched someone else playing.'
'When was the night of this nightmare?' I said.
'I don't remember exactly, but a little while ago.'
'And he's told you about the Russians on several occasions. Or just that once in the middle of the night?'
'I brought it up again,' said Tessa. 'I was curious. I wanted to find out if it was a joke or not. Giles Trent remembered your name, and he knows Fiona too, so I guessed that he was on secret work of some kind. Last Friday, we got back to his place very late and he was showing me this electronic chess-playing machine he'd just bought. I said that he wouldn't have to go to that chess club anymore. He said he liked going there. I asked him if he wasn't frightened that someone would see him with this Russian and suspect him of spying. Giles collapsed on the bed and muttered something about they might be right if that's what they suspected. He had been drinking a lot that night - mostly brandy, and I'd noticed before that it affects him in a way other drinks don't.'
By now Tessa had become very quiet and serious. It was a new sort of Tessa. I'd only known her in her role of uninhibited adventuress. 'Go on,' I prompted her.
Tessa said, 'Well, I still thought he was joking, and I was just making a gag out of it. But he wasn't joking. "I wish to God I could get out of it," he said. "But they've got me now and I'll never be free of them. I will end up at the Old Bailey sentenced to thirty years." I said, couldn't he escape? Couldn't he get on a plane and go somewhere?'
'What did he say?'
' "And end up in Moscow? I'd sooner be in an English prison listening to English voices cursing me than spend the rest of my life in Moscow. Can you imagine what it must be like?" he said. And he went on all about the sort of life that Kim Philby and those other two had in Moscow. I realized then that he must have been reading up all about it and worrying himself to death.'
Tessa sipped her champagne.
Fiona said, 'What will happen now, Bernie?'
'We can't leave it like this,' I said. 'I'll have to make it official.'
'I don't want Tessa's name brought into it,' said Fiona.
Tessa was looking at me. 'How can I promise that?' I said.
'I'd sooner let it drop,' said Tessa.
'Let it drop?' I said. This is not some camper who's trampled through your dad's barley field, and you being asked if you want to press charges for trespass. This is espionage. If I don't report what you've told me, I could be in the dock at the Old Bailey with him, and so could you and Fiona.'
'Is that right?' said Tessa. It was typical of her that she asked her sister rather than me. There was a simple directness about everything Tessa said and did, and it was difficult to remain angry with her for long. She confirmed all those theories about the second child. Tessa was sincere but shallow; she was loving but mercurial; she was an exhibitionist without enough confidence to be an actor. While Fiona displayed all the characteristics of elder children: stability, confidence, intellect in abundance, and that cold reserve with which to judge all the shortcomings of the world.
'Yes, Tess. What Bernie says is right.'
'I'll see what I can do,' I said. 'I can't promise anything. But I'll tell you this: if I am able to keep your name out of it and you let me down by breathing a word of this conversation to anyone at all, including that father of yours, I'll make sure you and he and anyone else covering up are charged under the appropriate sections of the Act.'
'Thank you, Bernie,' said Tessa. 'It would be so rotten for George.'
'He's the only one I'm thinking of,' I said.
'You're not so tough,' she said. 'You're a sweetie at heart. Do you know that?'
'You ever say that again,' I told Tessa, 'and I'll punch you right in the nose.'
She laughed. 'You're so funny,' she said.
Fiona went out of the room to get a progress report on the cooking. Tessa moved along the sofa to be closer to where I was sitting at the other end of it. 'Is he in bad trouble? Giles - is he in bad trouble?' There was a note of anxiety in her voice. It was uncharacteristically deferent to me, the sort of voice one uses to a physician about to make a prognosis.
'If he cooperates with us, he'll be all right.' It wasn't true of course, but I didn't want to alarm her.
'I'm sure he'll cooperate,' she said, sipping her drink and then looking at me with a smile that said she didn't believe a word of it.
'How long since he met this Russian?' I asked.
'Quite a time. You could find out from when he joined the chess club, couldn't you?' Tessa shook her glass and watched the bubbles rise. She was using some of the skills she'd learned at drama school the year before she'd met George and married him instead of becoming a film star. She leaned her head to one side and looked at me meaningfully. 'There's nothing bad in Giles, but sometimes he can be a fool.'
'I'll have to speak to you again, Tessa. You'll probably have to repeat it all to an investigating officer and write it out and sign it.'
She placed a ringer on the rim of her glass and ran it round a couple of times. 'I'll help you on condition you go easy on Giles.'
'I'll go easy,' I promised. Hell, what else could I say?
Dinner was served on the Minton china and the table set with wedding presents: antique silver cutlery from Fiona's parents and a cut-glass vase that my father had discovered in one of the Berlin junk markets he visited regularly on Saturday mornings. The circular dining table was very big for three people, so we seated ourselves side by side, with Tessa between us. The main course was some sort of chicken stew, the quantity of it far too small for the serving dish in which it came to the table. Mrs Dias had a big gravy mark on her white apron and she was no longer smiling. After Mrs Dias had returned to the kitchen, Fiona whispered that Mrs Dias had broken the small serving dish and half the chicken stew had gone onto the kitchen floor.
'Why the hell are we whispering?' I said.
'I knew you'd start shouting,' said Fiona.
'I'm not shouting,' I said. 'I'm simply asking. . . .'
'We all heard you,' said Fiona. 'And if you upset Mrs Dias and we lose her. . . .' She left it unsaid.
'But why are you trying to make me feel guilty?' I said.
'He's always like this when something gets broken,' said Fiona. 'Unless, of course, he did it himself.'
I shared out what little there was of the chicken. I took plenty of boiled rice. Fiona had opened one of the few good clarets left in the cupboard, and I poured it gratefully.
'Would you like to come and stay with me while Bernard's away?' Fiona asked her sister.
'Where are you going?' Tessa asked me.
'It's not settled yet.' I said. 'I'm not sure I'm going anywhere.'
'Berlin,' said Fiona. 'I hate being here alone.'
'I'd love to, darling,' Tessa said. 'When?'
'I've told you, it's not arranged yet,' I said. 'I might not go.'
'Soon,' said Fiona. 'Next week, or the week following.'
Mrs Dias came in to remove the plates and solicit praise and gratitude for her cookery; these were provided in abundance by Fiona, with Tessa echoing her every superlative.
'Senhor Sam?' To her I was always Senhor Sam; she never said Senhor Samson. 'Senhor Sam . . . he like it?' She asked Fiona this question rather than addressing it to me. It was rather like hearing Uncle Silas and Bret Rensselaer and Dicky Cruyer discussing my chances of escaping from Berlin alive.
'Look at his plate,' said Fiona cheerfully. 'Not a scrap left, Mrs Dias.'
There was nothing left because my share was one lousy drumstick and the wishbone. The greater part of the chicken stew was now spread out on kitchen foil in the garden, being devoured by the neighbourhood's cat population. I could hear them arguing and knocking over the empty milk bottles outside the back door. 'It was delicious, Mrs Dias,' I said, and Fiona rewarded me with a beaming smile that vanished as the kitchen door closed. 'Do you have to be so bloody ironic?' said Fiona.
'It was delicious. I told her it was delicious.'
'Next time, you can interview the women the agency send round. Maybe then you'd realize how lucky you are.'
Tessa hugged me. 'Don't be hard on him, Fiona darling. You should have heard George when the au pair dropped his wretched video recorder.'
'Oh, that reminds me,' Fiona said, leaning forward to catch my attention. 'You wanted to record that W. C. Fields film tonight.'
'Right!' I said. 'What time was it on?'
'Eight o'clock,' said Fiona. 'You've missed it, I'm afraid.'
Tessa reached up to put her hand over my mouth before I spoke.
'Men are like that,' said Tessa. 'You should have said don't set the timer, then he would have set it. I'm always having to do that sort of thing with George.'
Tessa left early. She had arranged to see 'an old schoolfriend' at the Savoy Hotel bar. That must be some school!' I said to Fiona when she came back into the drawing room after seeing her sister to the door. I always let her see her sister to the door. There were always sisterly little confidences exchanged at the time of departure.
'She'll never change,' said Fiona.
'Poor George,' I said.
Fiona came and sat next to me and gave me a kiss. 'Was I awful tonight?' she asked.
'Asinus asino, et sus sui pulcher - an ass is beautiful to an ass, so is a pig to a pig.'
Fiona laughed. 'You were always using Latin tags when I first met you. Now you don't do that any more.'
'I've grown up,' I said.
'Don't grow up too much,' she said. 'I love you as you are.'
I responded by kissing her for a long time.
'Poor Tess. It had to happen to her, didn't it. She's so muddle-headed. She can't remember her own birthday let alone the dates she met Giles. I'm so glad you didn't start shouting at her or want to list it all in chronological order.'
'Someone will eventually,' I said.
'Did you have a terrible day?' she asked.
'Bret Rensselaer won't let Werner use the bank.'
'Did you have a row with him?' said Fiona.
'He had to show me how tough you get after sitting behind a desk for fifteen years.'
'What did he say?'
I told her.
'I've seen you punch people for less than that,' said Fiona, having listened to my account of Rensselaer's tough-guy act.
'He was just sounding me out,' I said. 'I don't take any of that crap seriously.'
'None of it?'
'Rensselaer and Cruyer don't think that Brahms Four has been turned - neither does the D-G, you can bet on that. If they thought he was working for the KGB, we wouldn't be debating which member of the London staff goes over there to put his neck in a noose. If they really thought Brahms Four was a senior KGB man, they'd be burying that Berlin System file now, not passing it around to get 'Immediate Action' tags. They'd be preparing the excuses and half-truths they'd need to explain their incompetence. They'd be getting ready to stonewall the questions that come when the story hits the fan.' I took the wine that Tessa had abandoned and added it to my own. 'And they don't have any worries about me either, or they wouldn't let me within a mile of the office while this was on the agenda.'
'What they really think is that Brahms Four is the best damned source they've had in the last decade. As usual, they only came to this conclusion when it looked like they were losing him.'
'And what do you make of this ghastly business with Trent?'
I hesitated. I was guessing now, and I looked at her so that she knew this was just a guess. The approach to Trent might be a KGB effort to penetrate the Department.'
'My God!' said Fiona in genuine alarm. 'A Russian move to access the Brahms Four intelligence at this end?'
'To find out where it's coming from. Brahms Four is one of the best-protected agents we have. And that's only because he did a deal with old Silas, and Silas stuck to his word. The only way they would be able to trace him would be by seeing the material we're receiving in London.'
'That's unthinkable,' said Fiona.
'Why?' I said.
'Because Giles could never get his hands on the Brahms Four material - that's all triple A. Even I have never seen it, and you only get the odds and ends you need to know.'
'But the Russians might not know that Giles couldn't get hold of it. To them he's senior enough to see anything he asks for.'
Fiona stared into my eyes, trying to see what was in my mind. 'Do you think that Brahms Four might have got word of a RGB effort to trace him?'
'Yes,' I said. 'That's exactly what I think. Brahms Four's demand for retirement is just his way of negotiating for a complete change in the contact chain.'
'It gets more and more frightening,' said Fiona. 'I really don't think you should go there. This is not just a simple little day trip. This is a big operation with lots at stake for both sides.'
'I can't think of anyone else they can send,' I said.
Fiona became suddenly angry. 'You bloody well want to go!' she shouted. 'You're just like all the others. You miss it, don't you? You really like all that bloody macho business!'
'I don't like it,' I said. It was true but she didn't believe me. I put my arms round her and pulled her close. 'Don't worry,' I said. 'I'm too old and too frightened to do anything dangerous.'
'You don't have to do anything dangerous in this business to get hurt.'
I didn't tell her that Werner had phoned me and asked me how soon I'd go back there. That would have complicated everything. I just told her I loved her, and that was the truth.
It was cold; damned cold: when the hell would summer come? With my hands in my pockets and my collar turned up, I walked through Soho. It was early evening but most of the shops were closed, their entrances piled high with garbage awaiting next morning's collection. It had become a desolate place, its charm long lost behind a pox of porn shops and shabby little 'adult' cinemas. I welcomed the smoky warmth of Kar's Club, and I welcomed the chance of one of the hot spiced rum drinks that were a speciality of the place no less than the chess.
Kar's Club was not the sort of place that Tessa would have liked. It was below ground level in Gerrard Street, Soho, a basement that had provided storage space for a wine company before an incendiary bomb burned out the upper storeys in one of the heavy German air raids of April 1941. It was three large interconnecting cellars with hardboard ceilings and noisy central heating, its old brickwork painted white to reflect the lights carefully placed over each table to illuminate the chessboards.
Jan Kar was a Polish ex-serviceman who'd started his little club when, after coming out of the Army at war's end, he realized he'd never return to his homeland again. By now he was an old man with a great mop of fine white hair and a magnificent drinker's nose. Nowadays his son Arkady was usually behind the counter, but the members were still largely Poles with a selection of other East European emigres.
There was no one there I recognized, except two young champions in the second room whose game had already attracted half a dozen spectators. Less serious players, like me, kept to the room where the food and drink were dispensed. It was already half full. They were mostly elderly men, with beards, dark-ringed eyes and large curly pipes. In the far corner, under the clock, two silent men in ill-fitting suits glowered at their game and at each other. They played impatiently, taking every enemy in sight, as children play draughts. I was seated in the corner positioned so that I could look up from the chessboard, my book of chess problems and my drink, to see everyone who entered as they signed the members' book.