Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
EYE OF THE NEEDLE
ALSO BY KEN FOLLETT
My thanks to Malcolm Hulke for invaluable help, generously given.
EARLY in 1944 German Intelligence was piecing together evidence of a huge army in southeastern England. Reconnaissance planes brought back photographs of barracks and airfields and fleets of ships in the Wash; General George S. Patton was seen in his unmistakable pink jodhpurs walking his white bulldog; there were bursts of wireless activity, signals between regiments in the area; confirming signs were reported by German spies in Britain.
There was no army, of course. The ships were rubber-and-timber fakes, the barracks no more real than a movie set; Patton did not have a single man under his command; the radio signals were meaningless; the spies were double agents.
The object was to fool the enemy into preparing for an invasion via the Pas de Calais, so that on D-Day the Normandy assault would have the advantage of surprise.
It was a huge, near-impossible deception. Literally thousands of people were involved in perpetrating the trick. It would have been a miracle if none of Hitler’s spies ever got to know about it.
Were there any spies? At the time people thought they were surrounded by what were then called Fifth Columnists. After the war a myth grew up that MI5 had rounded up the lot by Christmas 1939. The truth seems to be that there were very few; MI5 did capture nearly all of them.
But it only needs one . . .
It is known that the Germans saw the signs they were meant to see in East Anglia. It is also known that they suspected a trick, and that they tried very hard to discover the truth.
That much is history. What follows is fiction.
Still and all, one suspects something like this must have happened.
Camberley, Surrey, June 1977
IT was the coldest winter for forty-five years. Villages in the English countryside were cut off by the snow and the Thames froze over. One day in January the Glasgow-London train arrived at Euston twenty-four hours late. The snow and the blackout combined to make motoring perilous; road accidents doubled, and people told jokes about how it was more risky to drive an Austin Seven along Piccadilly at night than to take a tank across the Siegfried Line.
Then, when the spring came, it was glorious. Barrage balloons floated majestically in bright blue skies, and soldiers on leave flirted with girls in sleeveless dresses on the streets of London.
The city did not look much like the capital of a nation at war. There were signs, of course; and Henry Faber, cycling from Waterloo Station toward Highgate, noted them: piles of sandbags outside important public buildings, Anderson shelters in suburban gardens, propaganda posters about evacuation and Air Raid Precautions. Faber watched such things—he was considerably more observant than the average railway clerk. He saw crowds of children in the parks, and concluded that evacuation had been a failure. He marked the number of motorcars on the road, despite petrol rationing; and he read about the new models announced by the motor manufacturers. He knew the significance of night-shift workers pouring into factories where, only months previously, there had been hardly enough work for the day shift. Most of all, he monitored the movement of troops around Britain’s railway network; all the paperwork passed through his office. One could learn a lot from that paperwork. Today, for example, he had rubber-stamped a batch of forms that led him to believe that a new Expeditionary Force was being gathered. He was fairly sure that it would have a complement of about 100,000 men, and that it was for Finland.
There were signs, yes; but there was something jokey about it all. Radio shows satirized the red tape of wartime regulations, there was community singing in the air raid shelters, and fashionable women carried their gas masks in couturier-designed containers. They talked about the Boer War. It was at once larger-than-life and trivial, like a moving picture show. All the air raid warnings, without exception, had been false alarms.
Faber had a different point of view—but then, he was a different kind of person.
He steered his cycle into Archway Road and leaned forward a little to take the uphill slope, his long legs pumping as tirelessly as the pistons of a railway engine. He was very fit for his age, which was thirty-nine, although he lied about it; he lied about most things, as a safety precaution.
He began to perspire as he climbed the hill into Highgate. The building in which he lived was one of the highest in London, which was why he chose to live there. It was a Victorian brick house at one end of a terrace of six. The houses were high, narrow and dark, like the minds of the men for whom they had been built. Each had three stories plus a basement with a servants’ entrance—the English middle class of the nineteenth century insisted on a servants’ entrance, even if they had no servants. Faber was a cynic about the English.
Number Six had been owned by Mr. Harold Garden, of Garden’s Tea and Coffee, a small company that went broke in the Depression. Having lived by the principle that insolvency is a mortal sin, the bankrupt Mr. Garden had no option but to die. The house was all he bequeathed to his widow, who was then obliged to take in boarders. She enjoyed being a landlady, although the etiquette of her social circle demanded that she pretend to be a little ashamed of it. Faber had a room on the top floor with a dormer window. He lived there from Monday to Friday, and told Mrs. Garden that he spent weekends with his mother in Erith. In fact, he had another landlady in Blackheath, who called him Mr. Baker and believed he was a traveling salesman for a stationery manufacturer and spent all week on the road.
He wheeled his cycle up the garden path under the disapproving frown of the tall front-room windows. He put it in the shed and padlocked it to the lawn mower—it was against the law to leave a vehicle unlocked. The seed potatoes in boxes all around the shed were sprouting. Mrs. Garden had turned her flower beds over to vegetables for the war effort.
Faber entered the house, hung his hat on the hall-stand, washed his hands and went in to tea.
Three of the other lodgers were already eating: a pimply boy from Yorkshire who was trying to get into the Army; a confectionery salesman with receding sandy hair; and a retired naval officer who, Faber was convinced, was a degenerate. Faber nodded to them and sat down.
The salesman was telling a joke. “So the Squadron Leader says, ‘You’re back early!’ and the pilot turns round and says, ‘Yes, I dropped my leaflets in bundles—wasn’t that right?’ So the Squadron Leader says, ‘Good God! You might’ve hurt somebody!’”
The naval officer cackled and Faber smiled. Mrs. Garden came in with a teapot. “Good evening, Mr. Faber. We started without you—I hope you don’t mind.”
Faber spread margarine thinly on a slice of wholemeal bread, and momentarily yearned for a fat sausage. “Your seed potatoes are ready to plant,” he told her.
Faber hurried through his tea. The others were arguing over whether Chamberlain should be sacked and replaced by Churchill. Mrs. Garden kept voicing opinions, then looking at Faber for a reaction. She was a blowsy woman, a little overweight. About Faber’s age, she wore the clothes of a woman of thirty, and he guessed she wanted another husband. He kept out of the discussion.
Mrs. Garden turned on the radio. It hummed for a while; then an announcer said: “This is the BBC Home Service. It’s That Man Again!”
Faber had heard the show. It regularly featured a German spy called Funf. He excused himself and went up to his room.
* * *
Mrs. Garden was left alone after It’s That Man Again; the naval officer went to the pub with the salesman; and the boy from Yorkshire, who was religious, went to a prayer meeting. She sat in the parlor with a small glass of gin, looking at the blackout curtains and thinking about Mr. Faber. She wished he wouldn’t spend so much time in his room. She needed company, and he was the kind of company she needed.
Such thoughts made her feel guilty. To assuage the guilt, she thought of Mr. Garden. Her memories were familiar but blurred, like an old print of a movie with worn sprocket holes and an indistinct sound track; so that, although she could easily remember what it was like to have him here in the room with her, it was difficult to imagine his face or the clothes he might be wearing or the comment he would make on the day’s war news. He had been a small, dapper man, successful in business when he was lucky and unsuccessful when he was not, undemonstrative in public and insatiably affectionate in bed. She had loved him a lot. There would be many women in her position if this war ever got going properly. She poured another drink.
Mr. Faber was a quiet one—that was the trouble. He didn’t seem to have any vices. He didn’t smoke, she had never smelled drink on his breath, and he spent every evening in his room, listening to classical music on his radio. He read a lot of newspapers and went for long walks. She suspected he was quite clever, despite his humble job: his contributions to the conversation in the dining room were always a shade more thoughtful than anyone else’s. He surely could get a better job if he tried. He seemed not to give himself the chance he deserved.
It was the same with his appearance. He was a fine figure of a man: tall, quite heavy around the neck and shoulders, not a bit fat, with long legs. And he had a strong face, with a high forehead and a long jaw and bright blue eyes—not pretty like a film star, but the kind of face that appealed to a woman. Except for the mouth—that was small and thin, and she could imagine him being cruel. Mr. Garden had been incapable of cruelty.
And yet at first sight he was not the kind of a man a woman would look at twice. The trousers of his old worn suit were never pressed—she would have done that for him, and gladly, but he never asked—and he always wore a shabby raincoat and a flat docker’s cap. He had no mustache, and his hair was trimmed short every fortnight. It was as if he wanted to look like a nonentity.
He needed a woman; there was no doubt of that. She wondered for a moment whether he might be what people called effeminate, but she dismissed the idea quickly. He needed a wife to smarten him up and give him ambition. She needed a man to keep her company and for—well—love.
Yet he never made a move. Sometimes she could scream with frustration. She was sure she was attractive. She looked in a mirror as she poured another gin. She had a nice face and fair curly hair, and there was something for a man to get hold of. . . . She giggled at that thought. She must be getting tiddly.
She sipped her drink and considered whether she ought to make the first move. Mr. Faber was obviously shy—chronically shy. He wasn’t sexless—she could tell by the look in his eyes on the two occasions he had seen her in her nightdress. Perhaps she could overcome his shyness by being brazen. What did she have to lose? She tried imagining the worst, just to see what it felt like. Suppose he rejected her. Well, it would be embarrassing—even humiliating. It would be a blow to her pride. But nobody else need know it had happened. He would just have to leave.
The thought of rejection had put her off the whole idea. She got to her feet slowly, thinking: I’m just not the brazen type. It was bedtime. If she had one more gin in bed she would be able to sleep. She took the bottle upstairs.
Her bedroom was below Mr. Faber’s, and she could hear violin music from his radio as she undressed. She put on a new nightdress—pink, with an embroidered neckline, and no one to see it!—and made her last drink. She wondered what Mr. Faber looked like undressed. He would have a flat stomach and hairs on his nipples, and you would be able to see his ribs because he was slim. He probably had a small bottom. She giggled again, thinking, I’m a disgrace.
She took her drink to bed and picked up her book, but it was too much effort to focus on the print. Besides, she was bored with vicarious romance. Stories about dangerous love affairs were fine when you yourself had a perfectly safe love affair with your husband, but a woman needed more than Barbara Cartland. She sipped her gin and wished Mr. Faber would turn the radio off. It was like trying to sleep at a tea dance!
She could, of course, ask him to turn it off. She looked at her bedside clock; it was past ten. She could put on her dressing gown, which matched the nightdress, and just comb her hair a little, then step into her slippers—quite dainty, with a pattern of roses—and just pop up the stairs to the next landing, and just, well, tap on his door. He would open it, perhaps wearing his trousers and under- shirt, and then he would look at her the way he had looked when he saw her in her nightdress on the way to the bathroom. . . .
“Silly old fool,” she said to herself aloud. “You’re just making excuses to go up there.”
And then she wondered why she needed excuses. She was a grown-up, and it was her house, and in ten years she had not met another man who was just right for her, and what the hell? She needed to feel someone strong and hard and hairy on top of her, squeezing her breasts and panting in her ear and parting her thighs with his broad, flat hands, for tomorrow the gas bombs might come over from Germany and they would all die choking and gasping and poisoned and she would have lost her last chance.
So she drained her glass and got out of bed and put on her dressing gown, and just combed her hair a little and stepped into her slippers, and picked up her bunch of keys in case he had locked the door and couldn’t hear her knock above the sound of the radio.
There was nobody on the landing. She found the stairs in the darkness. She intended to step over the stair that creaked, but she stumbled on the loose carpet and trod on it heavily; but it seemed that nobody heard, so she went on up and tapped on the door at the top. She tried it gently. It was locked.
The radio was turned down and Mr. Faber called out, “Yes?”
He was well-spoken, not cockney or foreign—not anything, really, just a pleasantly neutral voice.
She said, “Can I have a word with you?”
He seemed to hesitate; then he said: “I’m undressed.”
“So am I,” she giggled, and she opened the door with her duplicate key.
He was standing in front of the radio with some kind of screwdriver in his hand. He wore his trousers and no undershirt. His face was white and he looked scared to death.
She stepped inside and closed the door behind her, not knowing what to say. Suddenly she remembered a line from an American film, and she said, “Would you buy a lonely girl a drink?” It was silly, really, because she knew he had no drink in his room and she certainly wasn’t dressed to go out; but it sounded vampish.
It seemed to have the desired effect. Without speaking, he came slowly toward her. He did have hair on his nipples. She took a step forward, and then his arms went around her and she closed her eyes and turned up her face, and he kissed her, and she moved slightly in his arms, and then there was a terrible, awful, unbearable sharp pain in her back and she opened her mouth to scream.
* * *
He had heard her stumble on the stairs. If she’d waited another minute he would have had the radio transmitter back in its case and the code books in the drawer and there would have been no need for her to die. But before he could conceal the evidence he had heard her key in the lock, and when she opened the door the stiletto had been in his hand.
Because she moved slightly in his arms, Faber missed her heart with the first jab of the weapon, and he had to thrust his fingers down her throat to stop her crying out. He jabbed again, but she moved again and the blade struck a rib and merely slashed her superficially. Then the blood was spurting and he knew it would not be a clean kill; it never was when you missed the first stroke.
She was wriggling too much to be killed with a jab now. Keeping his fingers in her mouth, he gripped her jaw with his thumb and pushed her back against the door. Her head hit the woodwork with a loud bump, and he wished he had not turned the radio down, but how could he have expected this?
He hesitated before killing her because it would be much better if she died on the bed—better for the cover-up that was already taking shape in his mind—but he could not be sure of getting her that far in silence. He tightened his hold on her jaw, kept her head still by jamming it against the door, and brought the stiletto around in a wide, slashing arc that ripped away most of her throat, for the stiletto was not a slashing knife and the throat was not Faber’s favored target.
He jumped back to avoid the first horrible gush of blood, then stepped forward again to catch her before she hit the floor. He dragged her to the bed, trying not to look at her neck, and laid her down.
He had killed before, so he expected the reaction—it always came as soon as he felt safe. He went over to the sink in the corner of the room and waited for it. He could see his face in the little shaving mirror. He was white and his eyes were staring. He looked at himself and thought, Killer. Then he threw up.
When that was over he felt better. He could go to work now. He knew what he had to do; the details had come to him even while he was killing her.
He washed his face, brushed his teeth and cleaned the washbasin. Then he sat down at the table beside his radio. He looked at his notebook, found his place and began tapping the key. It was a long message, about the mustering of an army for Finland, and he had been halfway through when he was interrupted. It was written down in cipher on the pad. When he had completed it he signed off with “Regards to Willi.”
The transmitter packed away neatly into a specially designed suitcase. Faber put the rest of his possessions into a second case. He took off his trousers and sponged the bloodstains, then washed himself all over.
At last he looked at the corpse.
He was able to be cold about her now. It was wartime; they were enemies; if he had not killed her she would have caused his death. She had been a threat, and all he felt now was relief that the threat had been nullified. She should not have frightened him.
Nevertheless, his last task was distasteful. He opened her robe and lifted her nightdress, pulling it up around her waist. She was wearing knickers. He tore them, so that the hair of her pubis was visible. Poor woman, she had wanted only to seduce him. But he could not have got her out of the room without her seeing the transmitter, and the British propaganda had made these people alert for spies—ridiculously so. If the Abwehr had as many agents as the newspapers made out, the British would have lost the war already.
He stepped back and looked at her with his head on one side. There was something wrong. He tried to think like a sex maniac. If I were crazed with lust for a woman like Una Garden, and I killed just so that I could have my way with her, what would I then do?
Of course, that kind of lunatic would want to look at her breasts. Faber leaned over the body, gripped the neckline of the nightdress, and ripped it to the waist. Her large breasts sagged sideways.
The police doctor would soon discover that she had not been raped, but Faber did not think that mattered. He had taken a criminology course at Heidelberg, and he knew that many sexual assaults were not consummated. Besides, he could not have carried the deception that far, not even for the Fatherland. He was not in the SS. Some of them would queue up to rape the corpse. . . . He put the thought out of his mind.
He washed his hands again and got dressed. It was almost midnight. He would wait an hour before leaving; it would be safer later.
He sat down to think about how he had gone wrong.
There was no question that he had made a mistake. If his cover were perfect, he would be totally secure. If he were totally secure no one could discover his secret. Mrs. Garden had discovered his secret—or rather, she would have if she had lived a few seconds longer—therefore he had not been totally secure, therefore his cover was not perfect, therefore he had made a mistake.
He should have put a bolt on the door. Better to be thought chronically shy than to have landladies with duplicate keys sneaking in in their nightclothes.
That was the surface error. The deep flaw was that he was too eligible to be a bachelor. He thought this with irritation, not conceit. He knew that he was a pleasant, attractive man and that there was no apparent reason why he should be single. He turned his mind to thinking up a cover that would explain this without inviting advances from the Mrs. Gardens of this world.
He ought to be able to find inspiration in his real personality. Why was he single? He stirred uneasily—he did not like mirrors. The answer was simple. He was single because of his profession. If there were deeper reasons, he did not want to know them.
He would have to spend tonight in the open. Highgate Wood would do. In the morning he would take his suitcases to a railway station checkroom; then tomorrow evening he would go to his room in Blackheath.
He would shift to his second identity. He had little fear of being caught by the police. The commercial traveler who occupied the room at Blackheath on weekends looked rather different from the railway clerk who had killed his landlady. The Blackheath persona was expansive, vulgar and flashy. He wore loud ties, bought rounds of drinks, and combed his hair differently. The police would circulate a description of a shabby little pervert who would not say boo to a goose until he was inflamed with lust, and no one would look twice at the handsome salesman in the striped suit who was obviously the type that was more or less permanently inflamed with lust and did not have to kill women to get them to show him their breasts.
He would have to set up another identity—he always kept at least two. He needed a new job, fresh papers—passport, identity card, ration book, birth certificate. It was all so risky. Damn Mrs. Garden. Why couldn’t she have drunk herself asleep as usual?
It was one o’clock. Faber took a last look around the room. He was not concerned about leaving clues—his fingerprints were obviously all over the house, and there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind about who was the murderer. Nor did he feel any sentiment about leaving the place that had been his home for two years; he had never thought of it as home. He had never thought of anywhere as home.
He would always think of this as the place where he had learned to put a bolt on a door.
He turned out the light, picked up his cases, and went down the stairs and out of the door into the night.
HENRY II was a remarkable king. In an age when the term “flying visit” had not yet been coined, he flitted between England and France with such rapidity that he was credited with magical powers—a rumor that, understandably, he did nothing to suppress. In 1173—either the June or the September, depending upon which secondary source one favors—he arrived in England and left for France again so quickly that no contemporary writer ever found out about it. Later historians discovered the record of his expenditure in the Pipe Rolls. At the time his kingdom was under attack by his sons at its northern and southern extremes—the Scottish border and the South of France. But what, precisely, was the purpose of his visit? Whom did he see? Why was it secret, when the myth of his magical speed was worth an army? What did he accomplish?
This was the problem that taxed Percival Godliman in the summer of 1940, when Hitler’s armies swept across the French cornfields like a scythe and the British poured out of the Dunkirk bottleneck in bloody disarray.
Professor Godliman knew more about the Middle Ages than any man alive. His book on the Black Death had upended every convention of medievalism; it had also been a bestseller and published as a Penguin book. With that behind him he had turned to a slightly earlier and even more intractable period.
At 12:30 on a splendid June day in London, a secretary found Godliman hunched over an illuminated manuscript, laboriously translating its medieval Latin, making notes in his own even less legible handwriting. The secretary, who was planning to eat her lunch in the garden of Gordon Square, did not like the manuscript room because it smelled dead. You needed so many keys to get in there, it might as well have been a tomb.
Godliman stood at a lectern, perched on one leg like a bird, his face lit bleakly by a spotlight above—he might have been the ghost of the monk who wrote the book, standing a cold vigil over his precious chronicle. The girl cleared her throat and waited for him to notice her. She saw a short man in his fifties, with round shoulders and weak eyesight, wearing a tweed suit. She knew he could be perfectly sensible once you dragged him out of the Middle Ages. She coughed again and said, “Professor Godliman?”
He looked up, and when he saw her he smiled, and then he did not look like a ghost, more like someone’s dotty father. “Hello!” he said, in an astonished tone, as if he had just met his next-door neighbor in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
“You asked me to remind you that you have lunch at the Savoy with Colonel Terry.”
“Oh, yes.” He took his watch out of his waistcoat pocket and peered at it. “If I’m going to walk it, I’d better leave now.”
She nodded. “I brought your gas mask.”
“You are thoughtful!” He smiled again, and she decided he looked quite nice. He took the mask from her and said, “Do I need my coat?”
“You didn’t wear one this morning. It’s quite warm. Shall I lock up after you?”
“Thank you, thank you.” He jammed his notebook into his jacket pocket and went out.
The secretary looked around, shivered, and followed him.
* * *
Colonel Andrew Terry was a red-faced Scot, pauper-thin from a lifetime of heavy smoking, with sparse dark blond hair thickly brilliantined. Godliman found him at a corner table in the Savoy Grill, wearing civilian clothes. There were three cigarette stubs in the ashtray. He stood up to shake hands.
Godliman said, “Morning, Uncle Andrew.” Terry was his mother’s baby brother.
“How are you, Percy?”
“I’m writing a book about the Plantagenets.” Godliman sat down.
“Are your manuscripts still in London? I’m surprised.”
Terry lit another cigarette. “Move them to the country in case of bombing.”
“Half the National Gallery has been shoved into a bloody big hole in the ground somewhere up in Wales. Young Kenneth Clark is quicker off the mark than you. Might be sensible to take yourself off out of it too, while you’re about it. I don’t suppose you’ve many students left.”
“That’s true.” Godliman took a menu from a waiter and said, “I don’t want a drink.”
Terry did not look at his menu. “Seriously, Percy, why are you still in town?”
Godliman’s eyes seemed to clear, like the image on a screen when the projector is focused, as if he had to think for the first time since he walked in. “It’s all right for children to leave, and national institutions like Bertrand Russell. But for me—well, it’s a bit like running away and letting other people fight for you. I realize that’s not a strictly logical argument. It’s a matter of sentiment, not logic.”
Terry smiled the smile of one whose expectations have been fulfilled. But he dropped the subject and looked at the menu. After a moment he said, “Good God. Le Lord Woolton Pie!”
Godliman grinned. “I’m sure it’s still just potatoes and vegetables.”
When they had ordered, Terry said, “What do you think of our new Prime Minister?”
“The man’s an ass. But then, Hitler’s a fool, and look how well he’s doing. You?”
“We can live with Winston. At least he’s bellicose.”
Godliman raised his eyebrows. “‘We’? Are you back in the game?”
“I never really left it, you know.”
“But you said—”
“Percy. Can’t you think of a department whose staff all say they don’t work for the Army?”
“Well, I’m damned. All this time . . .”
Their first course came, and they started a bottle of white Bordeaux. Godliman ate potted salmon and looked pensive.
Eventually Terry said, “Thinking about the last lot?”
Godliman nodded. “Young days, you know. Terrible time.” But his tone was almost wistful.
“This war isn’t the same at all. My chaps don’t go behind enemy lines and count bivouacs like you did. Well, they do, but that side of things is much less important this time. Nowadays we just listen to the wireless.”
“Don’t they broadcast in code?”
Terry shrugged. “Codes can be broken. Candidly, we get to know just about everything we need these days.”
Godliman glanced around, but there was no one within earshot, and it was hardly for him to tell Terry that careless talk costs lives.
Terry went on, “In fact my job is to make sure they don’t have the information they need about us.”
They both had chicken pie to follow. There was no beef on the menu. Godliman fell silent, but Terry talked on.
“Canaris is a funny chap, you know. Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr. I met him before this lot started. Likes England. My guess is he’s none too fond of Hitler. Anyway, we know he’s been told to mount a major intelligence operation against us, in preparation for the invasion—but he’s not doing much. We arrested their best man in England the day after war broke out. He’s in Wandsworth prison now. Useless people, Canaris’s spies. Old ladies in boardinghouses, mad Fascists, petty criminals—”
Godliman said, “Look here, old boy, this is too much.” He trembled slightly with a mixture of anger and incomprehension. “All this stuff is secret. I don’t want to know!”
Terry was unperturbed. “Would you like something else?” he offered. “I’m having chocolate ice cream.”
Godliman stood up. “I don’t think so. I’m going to go back to my work, if you don’t mind.”
Terry looked up at him coolly. “The world can wait for your reappraisal of the Plantagenets, Percy. There’s a war on, dear boy. I want you to work for me.”
Godliman stared down at him for a long moment. “What on earth would I do?”
Terry smiled wolfishly. “Catch spies.”
Walking back to the college, Godliman felt depressed despite the weather. He would accept Colonel Terry’s offer, no doubt about that. His country was at war; it was a just war; and if he was too old to fight, he was still young enough to help.
But the thought of leaving his work—and for how many years?—depressed him. He loved history and he had been totally absorbed in medieval England since the death of his wife ten years ago. He liked the unraveling of mysteries, the discovery of faint clues, the resolution of contradictions, the unmasking of lies and propaganda and myth. His new book would be the best on its subject written in the last hundred years, and there would not be one to equal it for another century. It had ruled his life for so long that the thought of abandoning it was almost unreal, as difficult to digest as the discovery that one is an orphan and no relation at all to the people one has always called Mother and Father.
An air raid warning stridently interrupted his thoughts. He contemplated ignoring it—so many people did now, and he was only ten minutes’ walk from the college. But he had no real reason to return to his study—he knew he would do no more work today. So he hurried into a tube station and joined the solid mass of Londoners crowding down the staircases and onto the grimy platform. He stood close to the wall, staring at a Bovril poster, and thought, But it’s not just the things I’m leaving behind.
Going back into the game depressed him, too. There were some things he liked about it: the importance of little things, the value of simply being clever, the meticulousness, the guesswork. But he hated the blackmail, the deceit, the desperation, and the way one always stabbed the enemy in the back.
The platform was becoming more crowded. Godliman sat down while there was still room, and found himself leaning against a man in a bus driver’s uniform. The man smiled and said, “Oh to be in England, now that summer’s here. Know who said that?”
“Now that April’s there,” Godliman corrected him. “It was Browning.”
“I heard it was Adolf Hitler,” the driver said. A woman next to him squealed with laughter and he turned his attention to her. “Did you hear what the evacuee said to the farmer’s wife?”
Godliman tuned out and remembered an April when he had longed for England, crouching on a high branch of a plane tree, peering through a cold mist across a French valley behind the German lines. He could see nothing but vague dark shapes, even through his telescope, and he was about to slide down and walk a mile or so farther when three German soldiers came from nowhere to sit around the base of the tree and smoke. After a while they took out cards and began to play, and young Percival Godliman realized they had found a way of stealing off and were here for the day. He stayed in the tree, hardly moving, until he began to shiver and his muscles knotted with cramp and his bladder felt as if it would burst. Then he took out his revolver and shot the three of them, one after another, through the tops of their close-cropped heads. And three people, laughing and cursing and gambling their pay, had simply ceased to exist. It was the first time he killed, and all he could think was, Just because I had to pee.
Godliman shifted on the cold concrete of the station platform and let the memory fade away. There was a warm wind from the tunnel and a train came in. The people who got off found spaces and settled to wait. Godliman listened to the voices.
“Did you hear Churchill on the wireless? We was listening in at the Duke of Wellington. Old Jack Thornton cried. Silly old bugger . . .”
“Haven’t had fillet steak on the menu for so long I’ve forgotten the bally taste . . . wine committee saw the war coming and brought in twenty thousand dozen, thank God . . .”
“Yes, a quiet wedding, but what’s the point in waiting when you don’t know what the next day’s going to bring?”
“No, Peter never came back from Dunkirk . . .”
The bus driver offered him a cigarette. Godliman refused, and took out his pipe. Someone started to sing.
A blackout warden passing yelled,
“Ma, pull down that blind—
Just look at what you’re showing” and we
Shouted, “Never mind.” Oh!
Knees up, Mother Brown . . .
The song spread through the crowd until everyone was singing. Godliman joined in, knowing that this was a nation losing a war and singing to hide to its fear, as a man will whistle past the graveyard at night; knowing that the sudden affection he felt for London and Londoners was an ephemeral sentiment, akin to mob hysteria; mistrusting the voice inside him that said, “This, this is what the war is about; this is what makes it worth fighting”; knowing but not caring, because for the first time in so many years he was feeling the sheer physical thrill of comradeship and he liked it.
When the all-clear sounded they went up the staircase and into the street, and Godliman found a phone box and called Colonel Terry to ask how soon he could start.
FABER . . . Godliman . . . two-thirds of a triangle that one day would be crucially completed by the principals, David and Lucy, of a ceremony proceeding at this moment in a small country church. It was old and very beautiful. A dry-stone wall enclosed a graveyard where wildflowers grew. The church itself had been there—well, bits of it had—the last time Britain was invaded, almost a millennium ago. The north wall of the nave, several feet thick and pierced with only two tiny windows, could remember that last invasion; it had been built when churches were places of physical as well as spiritual sanctuary, and the little round-headed windows were better for shooting arrows out of than for letting the Lord’s sunshine in. Indeed, the Local Defense Volunteers had detailed plans for using the church if and when the current bunch of European thugs crossed the Channel.
But no jackboots sounded in the tiled choir in this August of 1940; not yet. The sun glowed through stained glass windows that had survived Cromwell’s iconoclasts and Henry VIII’s greed, and the roof resounded to the notes of an organ that had yet to yield to woodworm and dry rot.
It was a lovely wedding. Lucy wore white, of course, and her five sisters were bridesmaids in apricot dresses. David wore the Mess Uniform of a Flying Officer in the Royal Air Force, all crisp and new, for it was the first time he had put it on. They sang Psalm 23, The Lord Is My Shepherd, to the tune “Crimond.”
Lucy’s father looked proud, as a man will on the day his eldest and most beautiful daughter marries a fine boy in a uniform. He was a farmer, but it was a long time since he had sat on a tractor; he rented out his arable land and used the rest to raise racehorses, although this winter of course his pasture would go under the plow and potatoes would be planted. Although he was really more gentleman than farmer, he nevertheless had the open-air skin, the deep chest, and the big, stubby hands of agricultural people. Most of the men on that side of the church bore him a resemblance: barrel-chested men, with weathered red faces, those not in tail coats favoring tweed suits and stout shoes.
The bridesmaids had something of that look, too; they were country girls. But the bride was like her mother. Her hair was a dark, dark red, long and thick and shining and glorious, and she had wide-apart amber eyes and an oval face; and when she looked at the vicar with that clear, direct gaze and said, “I will,” in that firm, clear voice, the vicar was startled and thought, “By God she means it!” which was an odd thought for a vicar to have in the middle of a wedding.
The family on the other side of the nave had a certain look about them, too. David’s father was a lawyer—his permanent frown was a professional affectation and concealed a sunny nature. (He had been a Major in the Army in the last war, and thought all this business about the RAF and war in the air was a fad that would soon pass.) But nobody looked like him, not even his son, who stood now at the altar promising to love his wife until death, which might not be far away, God forbid. No, they all looked like David’s mother, who sat beside her husband now, with almost black hair and dark skin and long, slender limbs.
David was the tallest of the lot. He had broken high-jump records last year at Cambridge University. He was rather too good-looking for a man—his face would have been feminine were it not for the dark, ineradicable shadow of a heavy beard. He shaved twice a day. He had long eyelashes, and he looked intelligent, which he was, and sensitive.
The whole thing was idyllic: two happy, handsome people, children of solid, comfortably off, backbone-of-England-type families getting married in a country church in the finest summer weather Britain can offer.
When they were pronounced man and wife both the mothers were dry-eyed, and both the fathers cried.
* * *
Kissing the bride was a barbarous custom, Lucy thought, as yet another middle-aged pair of champagne-wet lips smeared her cheek. It was probably descended from even more barbarous customs in the Dark Ages, when every man in the tribe was allowed to—well, anyway, it was time we got properly civilized and dropped the whole business.
She had known she would not like this part of the wedding. She liked champagne, but she was not crazy about chicken drumsticks or dollops of caviar on squares of cold toast, and as for the speeches and the photographs and the honeymoon jokes, well . . . But it could have been worse. If it had been peacetime Father would have hired the Albert Hall.
So far nine people had said, “May all your troubles be little ones,” and one person, with scarcely more originality, had said, “I want to see more than a fence running around your garden.” Lucy had shaken countless hands and pretended not to hear remarks like “I wouldn’t mind being in David’s pajamas tonight.” David had made a speech in which he thanked Lucy’s parents for giving him their daughter, and Lucy’s father actually said that he was not losing a daughter but gaining a son. It was all hopelessly gaga, but one did it for one’s parents.
A distant uncle loomed up from the direction of the bar, swaying slightly, and Lucy repressed a shudder. She introduced him to her husband. “David, this is Uncle Norman.”
Uncle Norman pumped David’s bony hand. “Well, m’boy, when do you take up your commission?”
“What, no honeymoon?”
“Just twenty-four hours.”
“But you’ve only just finished your training, so I gather.”
“Yes, but I could fly before, you know. I learned at Cambridge. Besides, with all this going on they can’t spare pilots. I expect I shall be in the air tomorrow.”
Lucy said quietly, “David, don’t,” but Uncle Norman persevered.
“What’ll you fly?” Uncle Norman asked with schoolboy enthusiasm.
“Spitfire. I saw her yesterday. She’s a lovely kite.” David had already fallen into the RAF slang—kites and crates and the drink and bandits at two o’clock. “She’s got eight guns, she does three hundred and fifty knots, and she’ll turn around in a shoe box.”
“Marvelous, marvelous. You boys are certainly knocking the stuffing out of the Luftwaffe, what?”
“We got sixty yesterday for eleven of our own,” David said, as proudly as if he had shot them all down himself. “The day before, when they had a go at Yorkshire, we sent the lot back to Norway with their tails between their legs—and we didn’t lose a single kite!”
Uncle Norman gripped David’s shoulder with tipsy fervor. “Never,” he quoted pompously, “was so much owed by so many to so few. Churchill said that the other day.”
David tried a modest grin. “He must have been talking about the mess bills.”
Lucy hated the way they trivialized bloodshed and destruction. She said: “David, we should go and change now.”
They went in separate cars to Lucy’s home. Her mother helped her out of the wedding dress and said: “Now, my dear, I don’t quite know what you’re expecting tonight, but you ought to know—”
“Oh, Mother, this is 1940, you know!”
Her mother colored slightly. “Very well, dear,” she said mildly. “But if there is anything you want to talk about, later on . . .”
It occurred to Lucy that to say things like this cost her mother considerable effort, and she regretted her sharp reply. “Thank you,” she said. She touched her mother’s hand. “I will.”
“I’ll leave you to it, then. Call me if you want anything.” She kissed Lucy’s cheek and went out.
Lucy sat at the dressing table in her slip and began to brush her hair. She knew exactly what to expect tonight. She felt a faint glow of pleasure as she remembered.
It happened in June, a year after they had met at the Glad Rag Ball. They were seeing each other every week by this time, and David had spent part of the Easter vacation with Lucy’s people. Mother and Father approved of him—he was handsome, clever and gentlemanly, and he came from precisely the same stratum of society as they did. Father thought he was a shade too opinionated, but Mother said the landed gentry had been saying that about undergraduates for six hundred years, and she thought David would be kind to his wife, which was the most important thing in the long run. So in June Lucy went to David’s family home for a weekend.
The place was a Victorian copy of an eighteenth-century grange, a square-shaped house with nine bedrooms and a terrace with a vista. What impressed Lucy about it was the realization that the people who planted the garden must have known they would be long dead before it reached maturity. The atmosphere was very easy, and the two of them drank beer on the terrace in the afternoon sunshine. That was when David told her that he had been accepted for officer training in the RAF, along with four pals from the university flying club. He wanted to be a fighter pilot.
“I can fly all right,” he said, “and they’ll need people once this war gets going—they say it’ll be won and lost in the air, this time.”
“Aren’t you afraid?” she said quietly.
“Not a bit,” he said. Then he looked at her and said, “Yes, I am.”
She thought he was very brave, and held his hand.
A little later they put on swimming suits and went down to the lake. The water was clear and cool, but the sun was still strong and the air was warm as they splashed about gleefully.
“Are you a good swimmer?” he asked her.
“Better than you!”
“All right. Race you to the island.”
She shaded her eyes to look into the sun. She held the pose for a minute, pretending she did not know how desirable she was in her wet swimsuit with her arms raised and her shoulders back. The island was a small patch of bushes and trees about three hundred yards away, in the center of the lake.
She dropped her hands, shouted, “Go!” and struck out in a fast crawl.
David won, of course, with his enormously long arms and legs. Lucy found herself in difficulty when she was still fifty yards from the island. She switched to breaststroke, but she was too exhausted even for that, and she had to roll over on to her back and float. David, who was already sitting on the bank blowing like a walrus, slipped back into the water and swam to meet her. He got behind her, held her beneath the arms in the correct lifesaving position, and pulled her slowly to shore. His hands were just below her breasts.
“I’m enjoying this,” he said, and she giggled despite her breathlessness.
A few moments later he said, “I suppose I might as well tell you.”
“What?” she panted.
“The lake is only four feet deep.”
“You . . . !” She wriggled out of his arms, spluttering and laughing, and found her footing.
He took her hand and led her out of the water and through the trees. He pointed to an old wooden rowboat rotting upside-down beneath a hawthorn. “When I was a boy I used to row out here in that, with one of Papa’s pipes, a box of matches and a pinch of St. Bruno in a twist of paper. This is where I used to smoke it.”
They were in a clearing, completely surrounded by bushes. The turf underfoot was clean and springy. Lucy flopped on the ground.
“We’ll swim back slowly,” David said.
“Let’s not even talk about it just yet,” she replied.
He sat beside her and kissed her, then pushed her gently backwards until she was lying down. He stroked her hip and kissed her throat, and soon she stopped shivering. When he laid his hand gently, nervously, on the soft mound between her legs, she arched upwards, willing him to press harder. She pulled his face to hers and kissed him openmouthed and wetly. His hands went to the straps of her swimsuit, and he pulled them down over her shoulders. She said, “No.”
He buried his face between her breasts. “Lucy, please.”
He looked at her. “It might be my last chance.”
She rolled away from him and stood up. Then, because of the war, and because of the pleading look on his flushed young face, and because of the glow inside her, which would not go away, she took off her costume with one swift movement and removed her bathing cap so that her dark red hair shook out over her shoulders. She knelt in front of him, taking his face in her hands and guiding his lips to her breast.
She lost her virginity painlessly, enthusiastically, and only a little too quickly.
* * *
The spice of guilt made the memory more pleasant, not less. Even if it had been a well-planned seduction, then she had been a willing, not to say eager, victim, especially at the end.
She began to dress in her going-away outfit. She had startled him a couple of times that afternoon on the island: once when she wanted him to kiss her breasts, and again when she had guided him inside her with her hands. Apparently such things did not happen in the books he read. Like most of her friends, Lucy read D. H. Lawrence for information about sex. She believed in his choreography and mistrusted the sound effects—the things his people did to one another sounded nice, but not that nice; she was not expecting trumpets and thunderstorms and the clash of cymbals at her sexual awakening.
David was a little more ignorant than she, but he was gentle, and he took pleasure in her pleasure, and she was sure that was the important thing.
They had done it only once since the first time. Exactly a week before their wedding they had made love again, and it caused their first row.
This time it was at her parents’ house, in the morning after everyone else had left. He came to her room in his robe and got into bed with her. She almost changed her mind about Lawrence’s trumpets and cymbals. David got out of bed immediately afterward.
“Don’t go,” she said.
“Somebody might come in.”
“I’ll chance it. Come back to bed.” She was warm and drowsy and comfortable, and she wanted him beside her.
He put on his robe. “It makes me nervous.”
“You weren’t nervous five minutes ago.” She reached for him. “Lie with me. I want to get to know your body.”
Her directness obviously embarrassed him, and he turned away.
She flounced out of bed, her lovely breasts heaving. “You’re making me feel cheap!” She sat on the edge of the bed and burst into tears.
David put his arms around her and said: “I’m sorry, sorry, sorry. You’re the first for me, too, and I don’t know what to expect, and I feel confused . . . I mean, nobody tells you anything about this, do they?”
She snuffled and shook her head in agreement, and it occurred to her that what was really unnerving him was the knowledge that in eight days’ time he had to take off in a flimsy aircraft and fight for his life above the clouds; so she forgave him, and he dried her tears, and they got back into bed. He was very sweet after that. . . .
She was just about ready. She examined herself in a full-length mirror. Her suit was faintly military, with square shoulders and epaulettes, but the blouse beneath it was feminine, for balance. Her hair fell in sausage curls beneath a natty pillbox hat. It would not have been right to go away gorgeously dressed, not this year; but she felt she had achieved the kind of briskly practical, yet attractive, look that was rapidly becoming fashionable.
David was waiting for her in the hall. He kissed her and said, “You look wonderful, Mrs. Rose.”
They were driven back to the reception to say good-bye to everyone. They were going to spend the night in London, at Claridge’s; then David would drive on to Biggin Hill and Lucy would come home again. She was going to live with her parents—she had the use of a cottage for when David was on leave.
There was another half hour of handshakes and kisses; then they went out to the car. Some of David’s cousins had got at his open-top MG. There were tin cans and an old boot tied to the bumpers with string, the running boards were awash with confetti, and “Just Married” was scrawled all over the paintwork in bright red lipstick.
They drove away, smiling and waving, the guests filling the street behind them. A mile down the road they stopped and cleaned up the car.
It was dusk when they got going again. David’s headlights were fitted with blackout masks, but he drove very fast just the same. Lucy felt very happy.
David said, “There’s a bottle of bubbly in the glove compartment.”
Lucy opened the compartment and found the champagne and two glasses carefully wrapped in tissue paper. It was still quite cold. The cork came out with a loud pop and shot off into the night. David lit a cigarette while Lucy poured the wine.
“We’re going to be late for supper,” he said.
“Who cares?” She handed him a glass.
She was too tired to drink, really. She became sleepy. The car seemed to be going terribly fast. She let David have most of the champagne. He began to whistle “St. Louis Blues.”
Driving through England in the blackout was a weird experience. One missed lights that one hadn’t realized were there before the war: lights in cottage porches and farmhouse windows, lights on cathedral spires and inn signs, and—most of all—the luminous glow, low in the distant sky, of the thousand lights of a nearby town. Even if one had been able to see, there were no signposts to look at; they had been removed to confuse the German parachutists who were expected any day. (Just a few days ago in the Midlands, farmers had found parachutes, radios and maps, but since there were no footprints leading away from the objects, it had been concluded that no men had landed, and the whole thing was a feeble Nazi attempt to panic the population.) Anyway, David knew the way to London.
They climbed a long hill. The little sports car took it nimbly. Lucy gazed through half-closed eyes at the blackness ahead. The downside of the hill was steep and winding. Lucy heard the distant roar of an approaching truck.
The MG’s tires squealed as David raced around the bends. “I think you’re going too fast,” Lucy said mildly.
The back of the car skidded on a left curve. David changed down, afraid to brake in case he skidded again. On either side the hedgerows were dimly picked out by the shaded headlights. There was a sharp right-hand curve, and David lost the back again. The curve seemed to go on and on forever. The little car slid sideways and turned through 180 degrees, so that it was going backwards, then continued to turn in the same direction.
“David!” Lucy screamed.
The moon came out suddenly, and they saw the truck. It was struggling up the hill at a snail’s pace, with thick smoke, made silvery by the moonlight pouring from its snout-shaped top. Lucy glimpsed the driver’s face, even his cloth cap and his mustache; his mouth was open as he stood on his brakes.
The car was traveling forward again now. There was just room to pass the truck if David could regain control of the car. He heaved the steering wheel over and touched the accelerator. It was a mistake.
The car and the truck collided head-on.
FOREIGNERS have spies; Britain has Military Intelligence. As if that were not euphemism enough, it is abbreviated to MI. In 1940, MI was part of the War Office. It was spreading like crabgrass at the time—not surprisingly—and its different sections were known by numbers: MI9 ran the escape routes from prisoner-of-war camps through Occupied Europe to neutral countries; MI8 monitored enemy wireless traffic, and was of more value than six regiments; MI6 sent agents into France.
It was MI5 that Professor Percival Godliman joined in the autumn of 1940. He turned up at the War Office in Whitehall on a cold September morning after a night spent putting out fires all over the East End; the blitz was at its height and he was an auxiliary fireman.
Military Intelligence was run by soldiers in peacetime, when—in Godliman’s opinion—espionage made no difference to anything anyhow; but now, he found, it was populated by amateurs, and he was delighted to discover that he knew half the people in MI5. On his first day he met a barrister who was a member of his club, an art historian with whom he had been to college, an archivist from his own university, and his favorite writer of detective stories.
He was shown into Colonel Terry’s office at 10 A.M. Terry had been there for several hours; there were two empty cigarette packets in the wastepaper basket.
Godliman said, “Should I call you ‘Sir’ now?”
“There’s not much bull around here, Percy. ‘Uncle Andrew’ will do fine. Sit down.”
All the same, there was a briskness about Terry that had not been present when they had lunch at the Savoy. Godliman noticed that he did not smile, and his attention kept wandering to a pile of unread messages on the desk.
Terry looked at his watch and said, “I’m going to put you in the picture, briefly—finish the lecture I started over lunch.”
Godliman smiled. “This time I won’t get up on my high horse.”
Terry lit another cigarette.
* * *
Canaris’s spies in Britain were useless people (Terry resumed, as if their conversation had been interrupted five minutes rather than three months ago). Dorothy O’Grady was typical—we caught her cutting military telephone wires on the Isle of Wight. She was writing letters to Portugal in the kind of secret ink you buy in joke shops.
A new wave of spies began in September. Their task was to reconnoiter Britain in preparation for the invasion—to map beaches suitable for landings; fields and roads that could be used by troop-carrying gliders; tank traps and road blocks and barbed-wire obstacles.
They seemed to have been badly selected, hastily mustered, inadequately trained and poorly equipped. Typical were the four who came over on the night of 2–3 September: Meier, Kieboom, Pons and Waldberg. Kieboom and Pons landed at dawn near Hythe, and were arrested by Private Tollervey of the Somerset Light Infantry, who came upon them in the sand dunes hacking away at a dirty great wurst.
Waldberg actually managed to send a signal to Hamburg:
ARRIVED SAFELY. DOCUMENT DESTROYED. ENGLISH PATROL 200 METERS FROM COAST. BEACH WITH BROWN NETS AND RAILWAY SLEEPERS AT A DISTANCE OF 50 METERS. NO MINES. FEW SOLDIERS. UNFINISHED BLOCKHOUSE. NEW ROAD. WALDBERG
Clearly he did not know where he was, nor did he even have a code name. The quality of his briefing is indicated by the fact that he knew nothing of English licensing laws—he went into a pub at nine o’clock in the morning and asked for a quart of cider.
(Godliman laughed at this, and Terry said: “Wait—it gets funnier.”)
The landlord told Waldberg to come back at ten. He could spend the hour looking at the village church, he suggested. Amazingly, Waldberg was back at ten sharp, whereupon two policemen on bicycles arrested him.
(“It’s like a script for It’s That Man Again,” said Godliman.)
Meier was found a few hours later. Eleven more agents were picked up over the next few weeks, most of them within hours of landing on British soil. Almost all of them were destined for the scaffold.
(“Almost all?” said Godliman. Terry said: “Yes. A couple have been handed over to our section B-l(a). I’ll come back to that in a minute.”)
Others landed in Eire. One was Ernst Weber-Drohl, a well-known acrobat who had two illegitimate children in Ireland—he had toured music halls there as “The World’s Strongest Man.” He was arrested by the Garde Siochana, fined three pounds, and turned over to B-l(a).
Another was Hermann Goetz, who parachuted into Ulster instead of Eire by mistake, was robbed by the IRA, swam the Boyne in his fur underwear and eventually swallowed his suicide pill. He had a flashlight marked “Made in Dresden.”
(“If it’s so easy to pick these bunglers up,” Terry said, “why are we taking on brainy types like yourself to catch them? Two reasons. One: we’ve got no way of knowing how many we haven’t picked up. Two: it’s what we do with the ones we don’t hang that matters. This is where B-1(a) comes in. But to explain that I have to go back to 1936.”)--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.