Bret put his wire-frame glasses into their case and leaned back to take a good look at me. 'You want to tell me what the hell you're getting at?'
'They did everything except sing the "Internationale", Bret,' I said. 'And it wasn't Trent who did anything indiscreet. He played it close to the chest. It was the KGB man who came on like he was auditioning for Chekhov.'
'You're not telling me that these three guys were just pretending to be Russians?'
'No,' I said. 'My imagination doesn't stretch to the idea of anybody who is not Russian wishing to be mistaken for a Russian.'
'So you think these guys staged the whole thing for your benefit? You think they just did it to discredit Giles Trent?'
I didn't answer.
'So why the hell would Giles Trent confess when you confronted him?' said Bret, rubbing salt into it.
'I don't know,' I admitted.
'Just four beats to the bar, feller. Okay? Don't get too complicated. Save all that for Coordination. Those guys get paid to fit the loose ends together.'
'Sure,' I said. 'But meanwhile we'd better send someone along to turn Trent's place over. Not just a quick glance under the bed and a flashlight to see around the attic. A proper search.'
'Agreed. Tell my secretary to do the paperwork and I'll get it signed. Meanwhile assign someone to it - someone you can rely on. And by the way, Bernard, it's beginning to look as though we might have to ask you to go to Berlin after all.'
'I'm not sure I could do that, Bret,' I said with matching charm.
'It's your decision,' he said, and smiled to show how friendly he could be. Most of the time he was Mr Nice Guy. He opened doors for you, stood back to let you into the lift, laughed at your jokes, agreed with your conclusions, and asked your advice. But when all the pleasantries were over he made sure you did exactly what he wanted.
I was still thinking about Bret Rensselaer when I finished work that evening. He was different from any of the other Department heads I had to deal with. Despite those moments of brash hostility, he was more approachable than the D-G and more reliable than Dicky Cruyer. And Bret had that sort of laidback self-confidence that you have to be both rich and American to possess. He was the only one to defy the Departmental tradition that only the D-G could have a really big car, while the rest of the senior staff managed with Jaguars, Mercedes and Volvos. Bret had a bloody great Bentley limousine and a full-time uniformed chauffeur to go with it.
I saw Bret's gleaming black Bentley in the garage when I got out of the lift in the basement. The interior lights were on and I could hear Mozart from the stereo. Bret's driver was sitting in the back seat tapping his cigarette ash into a paper bag and swaying in time to the music.
The driver, Albert Bingham, was a sixty-year-old ex-Scots Guardsman whose enforced silence while driving resulted in a compulsive garrulity when off duty. 'Hello, Mr Samson,' he called to me. 'Am I parked in the way?'
'No,' I said. But Albert was out of his car and all ready for one of his chats.
'I wondered if you would be taking your wife's car,' he said. 'But on the other hand I guessed she'd be coming back here to collect it herself. I know how much she likes driving that Porsche, Mr Samson. We were having a chat about it only last week. I told her I could have it tuned up by a fellow I know at the place I get the Bentley serviced. He's a wizard, and he has a Porsche himself. A secondhand one, of course, not the latest model like that one of your wife's.'
'I hear you're getting a Volvo,' he said. 'Just the right car for a family man.'
'We're too squeezed in my wife's Porsche,' I said.
'You'll be pleased with the Volvo,' said Albert in that tone of voice that marks the Bentley driver. 'It's a solid car, as good as the Mercedes any day, and you can quote me on that.'
'I might quote you on that,' I said, 'if I ever try trading it in for a Mercedes.'
Albert smiled and took a puff at his cigarette. He knew when he was being joshed and he knew how to show me he didn't mind. 'Your wife wanted to drive Mr Rensselaer in her Porsche, but he insisted on the Bentley. He doesn't like fast sports cars, Mr Rensselaer. He likes to be able to stretch his legs out. He was injured in the war - did you know he was injured?'
I wondered what Albert could be talking about. Fiona had arranged to go to Tessa's and sort through some house agents' offers. 'Injured? I didn't know.'
'He was in submarines. He broke his kneecap falling down a companionway - that's a sort of ladder on a ship - and it was reset while they were at sea. A sub doesn't return from patrol for a little matter of an ensign hurting his leg.' Albert laughed at the irony of it all.
Where had Rensselaer gone with my wife? 'So you nearly got an evening off, Albert.'
Gratified to see I hadn't climbed into the driving seat and fled from him, as most of the staff did when he started chatting, Albert took a deep breath and said, 'I don't mind, Mr Samson. I can use the overtime, to tell you the honest truth. And what do I care whether I'm sitting at home in my poky little bed-sitter or lying back in that real leather. It's Mozart, Mr Samson, and I'd just as soon listen to Mozart here in an underground garage as anywhere in the world. That stereo is a beautiful job. Come over and listen to it if you don't believe me.'
They couldn't have gone far, or Albert would not have brought the Bentley back to the garage to wait for them. 'Much traffic in town tonight, Albert? I have to go through the West End.'
'It's terrible, Mr Samson. One of these days, it's going to lock up solid.' This was one of Albert's standard phrases; he said it automatically while he worked out an answer to my question. 'Piccadilly is bad at this time. It's the theatres.'
'I never know how to avoid Piccadilly when I'm going home.'
Albert inhaled on his cigarette. I had given him the perfect opening on his favourite topic: shortcuts in central London. 'Well - '
'Take your journey tonight,' I interrupted him. 'How did you tackle it? You knew there would be heavy traffic . . . when did you leave . . . seven?'
'Seven-fifteen. Well, they went for a drink in the White Elephant Club in Curzon Street first. They could have walked from there to the Connaught, I know, but it might have started to rain and there'd be no cabs in Curzon Street at that time. The table at the Connaught Hotel Grill Room was for eight o'clock. No place for a big car like mine in Curzon Street. They're double-parked there by seven on some evenings at this time of year. I got there via Birdcage Walk, past Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park Corner . . . a long way round, you say. But when you've spent as many years driving in London as I have you . . .'
I let Albert's voice drone on as I asked myself why my wife told me she was spending the evening with Tessa when really she was having dinner in a hotel with Bret Rensselaer. 'Is that the time?' I said, looking at my watch while Albert was in full flow. 'I must go. Nice talking to you, Albert. You're a mine of information.'
Albert smiled. I could still hear Così fan Tutte from the Bentley's stereo when I was driving up the exit ramp.
I watched her as she took off her rain-specked headscarf. She wore a silk square only when she wanted to protect a very special new hairdo. She shook her head and flicked at her hair with her fingertips. Her eyes sparkled and her skin was pale and perfect. She smiled; how beautiful she seemed, and how far away.
'Did you eat out?' she said. She noticed the dining table with the unused place setting that Mrs Dias had left for me.
'I had a cheese roll in a pub.'
'That's the worst thing you could choose,' she said. Tat and carbohydrates: that's not good for you. There was cold chicken and salad prepared.'
'So did Tessa find another house?'
Alerted perhaps by my tone of voice, or by the way I stood facing her, she looked into my face for a moment before taking off her raincoat. 'I couldn't get to Tessa's tonight. Something came up.' She shook the raincoat and the raindrops flashed in the light.
'Work, you mean?'
She looked at me steadily before nodding. We had a tacit agreement not to ask questions about work. 'Something Rensselaer wanted,' she said, and kept looking at me as if challenging me to pursue it.
'I saw your car in the car park when I left but Security said you'd already gone.'
She walked past me to hang her coat in the hall. When she'd done that, she looked in the hall mirror and combed her hair as she spoke. 'There was a lot of stuff in the diplomatic bag this afternoon. Some of it needed translation and Bret's secretary has only A-level German. I went over the road and worked there.'
Claiming to be in the Foreign Office as an explanation of absence was the oldest joke in the Department. No one could ever be found in that dark labyrinth. 'You had dinner with Rensselaer,' I said, unable to control my anger any longer.
She stopped combing her hair, opened her handbag and dropped the comb into it. Then she smiled and said, 'Well, you don't expect me to starve, darling. Do you?'
'Don't give me all that crap,' I said. 'You left the building with Rensselaer at seven-fifteen. You were in his Bentley when he drove out of the garage. Then I discovered he'd left the reception desk at the Connaught as his contact number for the night-duty officer.'
'You haven't lost your touch, darling,' she said with ice in every syllable. 'Once a field man, always a field man - isn't that what they say?'
'It's what people like Cruyer and Rensselaer say. It's what people say when they are trying to put down the people who do the real work.'
'Well, now it's paid off for you,' she said. 'Now all your old expertise has enabled you to discover that I had dinner at the Connaught with Bret Rensselaer.'
'So why do you have to lie to me?'
'What lies? I told you I had to do some work for Rensselaer. We had dinner - a good dinner, with wine - but we were talking shop.'
She pushed past me into the front room and through into the dining room that opened from it in what designers call 'open plan'. She picked up the clean plates and cutlery that had been left for me. 'You know better than to ask me that.' She went into the kitchen.
I followed her as she put the plates on a shelf in the dresser. 'Because it's so secret?'
'It's confidential,' she said. 'Don't you have work that is too confidential to talk to me about?'
'Not in the grillroom of the Connaught, I don't.'
'So you even know which room we were in. You've done your homework tonight, haven't you.'
'What was I supposed to do while you're having dinner with the boss? Am I supposed to eat cold chicken and watch TV?'
'You were supposed to be having a beer with a friend, and then collecting the children from their visit to my parents' house.'
'Oh, my God! I forgot. 'I clean forgot about the children,' I admitted.
'I phoned mother. I guessed you'd forget. She gave them supper and brought them here in a minicab. It's all right.'
'Good old Mum-in-law,' I said.
'You don't have to be bloody sarcastic about my mother,' said Fiona. 'It's bad enough trying to have an argument about Bret.'
'Let's drop it,' I said.
'Do what you like,' said Fiona. 'I've had enough talk for one night.' She switched off the light in the dining room, then opened the door of the dishwasher, closed it again, and turned it on. The sprays of the dishwasher beat on its steel interior like a Wagnerian drumroll. The noise made conversation impossible.
When I came from the bathroom, I expected to see Fiona tucked into the pillow and feigning sleep; she did that sometimes after we'd had a row. But this time she was sitting up in bed, reading some large tome with the distinctive cheap binding of the Department's library. She wanted to remind me that she was a dedicated wage slave.
As I undressed, I tried a fresh, friendly tone of voice. 'What did Bret want?'
'I wish you wouldn't keep on about it.'
There's nothing between you, is there?'
She laughed. It was a derisory laugh. 'You suspect me . . . with Bret Rensselaer? He's nearly as old as my father.'
'He was probably older than the father of that cipher clerk - Jennie something - who left just before Christmas.'
Fiona raised her eyes from her book; this was the sort of thing that interested her. 'You don't think she . . . ? With Bret, you mean?'
'Internal Security sent someone to find out why she'd left without giving proper notice. She said she'd been having an affair with Bret. He'd told her they were through.'
'Good grief,' said Fiona. 'Poor Bret. I suppose the D-G had to be told.'
'The D-G was pleased to hear the girl had proper security clearance, and that was that.'
'How broad-minded of the old man. I'd have thought he would have been furious. Still, Bret isn't married. His wife left him, didn't she?'
'The suggestion was that Bret had sinned before.'
'And always with someone with proper security clearance. Well, good for Bret. So that's why you thought . . .' She laughed again. It was a genuine laugh this time. She closed her book but kept a finger in the page. 'He's going through the regular routine about the danger of security lapses.'
'I told him about Giles Trent,' I said. 'I kept Tessa out of it.'
'Bret has decided to talk to everyone personally,' said Fiona.
'Surely Bret doesn't suspect you?'
Fiona smiled. 'No, darling. Bret didn't take me to the Connaught to interrogate me over the bones of the last of this season's woodcock. He spent the evening talking about you.'
'And in due course of time he will take you aside and ask about me. You know how it works, darling. You've been at this business longer than I have.' She put a marker in her book before laying it aside.
'Oh, for Christ's sake.'
'If you don't believe me, darling, ask Bret.'
'I might do that,' I said. She waited until I got into bed, and then switched out the lights. 'I thought there was protein in cheese,' I said. She didn't answer.
Dicky Cruyer was in Bret Rensselaer's office when they sent for me on Wednesday. Cruyer had his thumbs stuck in the back pockets of his jeans and his curly head was tilted to one side as if he were listening for some distant sound.
Rensselaer was in his swivel chair, arms folded and feet resting on a leather stool. These relaxed postures were studied, and I guessed that the two of them had taken up their positions when they heard me at the door. It was a bad sign. Rensselaer's folded arms and Cruyer's akimbo stance had that sort of aggression I'd seen in interrogating teams.
'Bernard!' said Dicky Cruyer in a tone of pleasant surprise, as if I'd just dropped in for tea, rather than kept them waiting for thirty minutes in response to the third of his calls. Rensselaer watched us dispassionately, like a passing taxicab passenger might watch two men at a bus stop. 'Looks like another jaunt to Big B,' said Dicky.
'Is that so?' I said without enthusiasm. Bret was jacket less. This slim figure in white shirt, bow tie and waistcoat looked like the sort of Mississippi riverboat gambler who broke into song for the final reel.
'Not through the wire, or anything tricky,' said Dicky. 'Just a call into our office. An East German has just knocked on Frank Harrington's door with a bagful of paper and demands to be sent to London. Won't talk to our Berlin people, Frank tells me.' Dicky Cruyer ran his finger through his curls before nodding seriously at Rensselaer.
'Another crank,' I said.
'Is that what you think, Bernard?' said Rensselaer with that earnest sincerity I'd learned to disregard.
'What kind of papers?' I asked Dicky.
'Right,' said Cruyer. But he didn't answer my question.
Rensselaer took his time about describing the papers. 'Interesting stuff,' he stated cautiously. 'Most of it from here. The minutes of a meeting the D-G had with some Foreign Office senior staff, an appraisal of our success in tapping diplomatic lines out of London, part of a report on our use of US enciphering machines. . . . A mixed bag but it's worth attention. Right?'
'You mean it's a KGB stunt?' said Rensselaer. 'Yes, that's probably it.' Cruyer looked at him, disconcerted by his change of attitude. 'On the other hand,' said Rensselaer, 'it's something we ignore at our peril. Wouldn't you agree, Bernard?'
I didn't answer.
Dicky Cruyer moved his hands to grip the large brass buckle of his leather cowboy belt. 'Berlin Resident is worried - damned worried.'
'Old Frank is always worried,' I said. 'He can be an old woman, we all know that.'
'Frank's had a lot to worry about since he took over,' said Rensselaer, to put his loyalty to his subordinates on record. But he didn't deny that Frank Harrington, our senior man in Berlin, could be an old woman.
'All stuff from here?' I said. 'Identifiably from here? Verbatim? Copies of our documents? From here how?'
'It's no good asking Frank that,' said Dicky Cruyer quickly before anyone blamed him for not finding out.
'It's no good asking Frank anything,' I said. 'So why doesn't he send everything over here?'
'I wouldn't want that,' said Rensselaer, his arms still crossed, his eyes staring at the Who's Who on his bookshelf. 'If this is just the KGB trying to stir a little trouble for us, I don't want to get their man over here for interrogation. It would give them something to gloat over. Given that sort of encouragement, they'll try again and again. No, we'll take it easy. We'll have Bernard go over there and sort through this stuff and talk to their guy, and tell us what he thinks. But let's not overreact.' He snapped a desk drawer shut with enough force to make a sound like a pistol shot.
'It will be a waste of time,' I said.
Bret Rensselaer kicked his foot to swivel his chair and faced me. He uncrossed his arms for a moment, snapped his starched cuffs at me and smiled. 'That's exactly the way I want it handled, Bernard. You go and look it over with that jaundiced eye of yours. No good sending Dicky.' He looked at Dicky and smiled. 'He'd wind up talking to the D-G on the hot line.'
Dicky Cruyer thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans, scowled and hunched his shoulders. He didn't like Rensselaer saying he was excitable. Cruyer wanted to be a cool and imperturbable sort of whizz kid.
Rensselaer looked at me and smiled. He knew he'd upset Cruyer and he wanted me to share the fun. 'Go through the Berlin telex and make a note of what references they quote. Then go and see the originals: read through the minutes of that meeting at the FO, and dig out that memo about the cipher machines, and so on. That way you'll be able to judge for yourself when you get there.' He glanced at Dicky, who was looking out the window sulking, and then at me. 'Whatever conclusion you come to, you'll tell Frank Harrington it's Spielzeug - garbage.'
'Of course,' I said.
'Take tomorrow's RAF flight and have a chat with Frank and calm him down. See this little German guy and sort through this junk he's peddling.'
'Okay,' I said. I knew Bret would find a way of getting me to what Dicky called 'Big B'.
'And what's the score with Giles Trent?' I asked.
'He's been taken care of, Bernard,' said Rensselaer. 'We'll talk about it when you return.' He smiled. He was handsome, and could turn on the charm like a film star. Of course Fiona could fall for him. I felt like spitting in his eye.
I caught the military flight to Berlin next day. The plane was empty except for me, two medical orderlies who'd brought a sick soldier over the day before, and a Brigadier with an amazing amount of baggage.
The Brigadier borrowed my newspaper and wanted to talk about fly fishing. He was an affable man, young-looking compared to most Brigadiers I'd ever met, but that was not much of a sampling. It wasn't his fault that he bore a superficial resemblance to my father-in-law, but I found it a definite barrier. I put my seat into the recline position and mumbled something about having had a late night. Then I stared out the window until thin wisps of cloud, like paint-starved brushstrokes, defaced the hard regular patterns of agricultural land that was unmistakably German.
The Brigadier began chatting to one of the medical orderlies. He asked him how long he'd been in the Army and if he had a family and where they lived. The private replied in an abrupt way that should have been enough to indicate that he'd prefer to talk football with his chum. But the Brigadier droned on. His voice too was like that of Fiona's father. He even had the same little 'huh?' with which Fiona's father finished each piece of reckless bigotry.
I remembered the first time I met Fiona's parents. They'd invited me to stay the weekend. They had a huge mansion of uncertain age near Leith Hill in Surrey. The house was surrounded by trees - straggly firs and pines, for the most part. Around the house there were tree-covered hillsides so that Fiona's father - David Timothy Kimber-Hutchinson, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, wealthy businessman and farm owner, and prize-winning amateur watercolour painter - could proudly say that he owned all the land seen from the window of his study.
There is surely a lack of natural human compassion in a host who clears away Sunday breakfast at 10.30. Fiona's father did not think so. 'I've been up helping to feed the horses since six-thirty this morning. I was exercising my best hunter before breakfast.'
He was wearing riding breeches, polished boots, yellow cashmere roll-neck and a checked hacking jacket that fitted his slightly plump figure to perfection. I noticed his attire because he'd caught me in the breakfast room getting the last dry scrapings of scrambled egg from a dish on the electric hot plate while I was barefoot and clad in an ancient dressing gown and pyjamas. 'You're not thinking of taking that plate of oddments' - he came closer to see the two shrivelled rashers and four wrinkled mushrooms that were under the flakes of egg - 'up to the bedroom?'
'As a matter of fact, I am,' I told him.
'No, no, no.' He said it with the sort of finality that doubtless ended all boardroom discussion. 'My good wife will never have food in the bedrooms.'
Plate in hand, I continued to the door. 'I'm not taking it up there for your wife,' I said. 'It's for me.'
That very early encounter with Mr Kimber-Hutchinson blighted any filial bond that might otherwise have blossomed. But at that time the idea of marrying Fiona had not formed in my mind and the prospect of seeing Mr David Kimber-Hutchinson ever again seemed mercifully remote.
'My God, man. You've not even shaved!' he shouted after me as I went upstairs with my breakfast.
'You provoke him,' Fiona said when I told her about my encounter. She was in my bed, having put on her frilly nightdress, waiting to share the booty from the breakfast table.