Declare, p.33
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       Declare, p.33

           Tim Powers
 
Page 33

 

  Hale pondered the words anchor, Ankara, Yakor, Lubyanka-and ankh.

  In his capacity as a special agent on loan to the SOE from Section One, he was able to ask for many categories of current files, and he pressed hard to get any information on a female GRU agent who had run a black radio network in Paris in late '41 and who might be known as Delphine St. -Simon. He learned that the French and Belgian Soviet networks, among which he and Elena had worked, had been collectively known to the Gestapo as the Rote Kapelle, which meant the Red Orchestra or the Red Chapel, and that most of the agents in it had been arrested before Christmas of '42; quite a number of them were executed very quickly, because of a German tradition that no executions occur between December 24 and January 6. The rest of the captured Rote Kapelle agents were turned to playback uses, and Hale wondered where Claude Cassagnac had wound up. Information from Moscow was harder to get, and though he read secondhand accounts of many executions in the Lubyanka cellars, none of the victims seemed to have been Elena.

  In the summer of Hale's twenty-third year the London air-raid sirens seemed to wail all day and all night, punctuated by the hammering of anti-aircraft guns and the clatter of shrapnel falling in the streets and the regular window-rattling thunder of the new German buzz-bomb explosions. He slept on a cot in his office, and on many nights when sleep was impossible he would get drunk and join the midnight revelers in Green Park, and in the diffuse white searchlight glow around the army encampment known as the Bomber's Moon he would try to lead the wild spontaneous dancing into a park-spanning clochard-style nothing-right-here step that would shelter the whole city of London from the roaring sky. He succeeded only in exhausting himself enough to make sleep possible, and in the hungover mornings the sirens still wailed.

  But across the Channel the Allies had landed on the Normandy beaches in June and liberated Paris by September, and Rome fell to the American Fifth Army, and the Russians pushed the Germans all the way back into Lithuania and Poland, and American B-17s were bombing Berlin. From his office window Hale could see the vapor trails of the flying bombs in the blue sky, but the lilacs and plane trees and apple trees in St. James's Park were all in vivid bloom as if it were spring instead of late summer, and all the old hands in Broadway Buildings were confident that the war would be over within six months.

  Of course Hale never set foot in the senior officers' bar in the Broadway basement, where the Robber Barons drank and traded old stories and current news, but he did pick up interdepartmental gossip. In that summer he heard rumors that Colonel Felix Cowgill, the head of the counter-espionage Section Five, whose return from New York in February of 1942 had saved Hale from falling under Kim Philby's authority, might be cracking under the strain of his work. According to the office talk, Cowgill had lately summoned all his sub-section heads and told them that he had to go on another consulting mission to the Americas-he hadn't clearly said why, only that private researches of his own made the trip imperative, and he hinted at some huge, hostile service that threatened his counter-espionage department; and he had finished with the puzzling declaration, "My own view is that it has something to do with the Arabs. Wherever I look in this case, I see Arabs!" Cowgill's mysterious overseas mission dragged on for a month and turned out to include visits to unspecified points in the Middle East-but when Cowgill finally returned in late September, he found that in his absence Kim Philby had effectively taken his job away from him: a new section, Section Nine, had been created specifically to penetrate Soviet espionage networks in the imminent postwar world, and the old Section Five was being incorporated into it, and Philby had been made Head of Section Nine. Whatever information Cowgill had found during his trip was now Philby's to deal with or dismiss.

  Cowgill resigned on New Year's Day of 1945, bitterly describing the action as "a birthday present for bloody Philby. " Philby had previously been working at the Ryder Street headquarters of Section Five, in the elegant neighborhood of the Boodles and Brooks's clubs just east of Green Park, but now as a section head he had a fourth-floor office in Broadway Buildings and was a constant figure in the cluttered hallways.

  Hale tried to keep out of his way. Section One, where Hale toiled away in his tiny alcove, was a corridor of cramped offices on the third floor; here Footman's staff assembled summaries of current political intelligence from all the foreign stations, amplified and connected by the researches of people like Hale. Their main "customers" were "CSS & FO"-the SIS Chief and the Foreign Office-but in February Philby got the Foreign Secretary to agree to an expanded charter for Section Nine, and after that Philby too was on Section One's direct circulation list, and everyone knew that Philby's recommendations for postwar budget cuts would be respected.

  C was Stuart Menzies, who was now fifty-five years old, the mandatory retirement age; but Churchill had persuaded him to stay on, and Menzies relied on the ambitious, thirty-two-year-old Philby for day-to-day in-house decisions.

  Though Philby was either jovially derisive or coldly rude to Hale when they passed in the corridors, Hale discovered that the man was generally admired; he reportedly had great personal charm, and women found his stutter endearing, and he was perceived as a welcome infusion of new blood into a service that had for too long been dominated by retired policemen from the Indian Civil Service.

  Hale hadn't seen Theodora nor even received any note from him in more than a year, and it seemed clear that Hale could hope for no career in an agency in which Philby was a rising power; Hale's thoughts were of postwar Oxford, and during slow afternoons he mentally phrased a letter of resignation that he planned to write when the war and the wartime draft should finally be ended.

  In the gossipy corridors of Broadway, Hale was eventually able to monitor the close of the war with an intimacy that the Times couldn't come close to providing. He learned that the American General Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied Forces, was reluctant to accept anything less than an unconditional surrender from Germany, and that this delay permitted the Russians to cross the Oder River; and then Eisenhower refused to allow British forces in Hanover to move east past the Elbe, and instead let the Red Army be the power that took Berlin.

  Germany finally surrendered on May 8, but Hale had known four days earlier that Hitler had committed suicide in a Berlin bunker.

  The war in Europe was over, and in Broadway Buildings a festive, end-of-term mood quickened the steps and brightened the voices of the young clerks and secretaries whose lives had been interrupted by the war, and many of them were glancing through out-of-town newspapers at their desks and talking about the Autumn term at Durham or Hull or Oxford.

  As it happened, though, Kim Philby had been out of the country for two months when Germany surrendered; as the new Head of Section Nine, he had been off visiting Paris and Athens and other capitals of the newly liberated countries, reestablishing the prewar alliances and the old cordon sanitaire against the Soviet Union. Hale postponed writing his letter of resignation, and for now simply kept reading and signing off the fifty-year-old files that were still piled on his desk every Monday.

  And on the morning of June 20 he received crash-priority SOE orders to report immediately to a German city called Helmstedt, at the western end of the Helmstedt-Berlin Autobahn.

  He was flown in an RAF De Havilland Mosquito to a landing strip in newly conquered Gottingen, and then spent a long afternoon riding in a train compartment with half a dozen morose and hungover American soldiers who were returning to Braunschweig from leave time spent in Paris; in the crowded Braunschweig railway station, all the windows of which had been broken out by Allied bombs, he changed to a local line that ran east, and he watched the sun go down over ruined buildings as the train crossed the Oker River on a temporary iron bridge, a stone's throw from the broken piers and twisted deck of a previous bridge.

  Outside of the city limits he glimpsed German civilians in the rubbled lanes carrying big bundles of twigs in perambulat
ors or on the backs of bicycles, and he realized that coal must be scarce-and he probed his conscience for guilt. But crowding out these immediate scenes were memories of panic in the faces of women and old men in London streets, and of feeling the same expression tightening his own eye sockets, when the throbbing motorcycle-roar of a V-1 rocket suddenly stopped-and of the subsequent ten seconds of scrambling for cover, before the air shook with shotgunning glass fragments as the almighty crack of the detonation seemed to reach right down into whatever corner he crouched in and pry the clawed hands away from his ducked head. He could still recall the chemical stink of high explosives, and the horrifying reek of living blood instantly rendered into a spray as fine as perfume out of an atomizer. And finally he took a bleak solace from the fact that he was able to discover in himself no particular satisfaction, at least, at the plight of these defeated Germans.

  Like apparently all German railroad stations, the Helmstedt station platform was crowded with rootless-looking people sitting on luggage and napping or staring or list-lessly eating bread; but at the back of the platform he saw the tall, thin figure of Theodora, and when the now-gray-haired man turned away and walked toward a row of cars on the pavement outside the station, Hale followed at a distance. He lost sight of the spare silhouette between a couple of buses in a row far away from the electric arc lights, and was standing uncertainly on the pavement when a Renault roadster slowed beside him and the passenger door squeaked open.

  Theodora was at the wheel, and Hale climbed in and pulled the door closed.

  "Ready for action at last, Andrew?" asked Theodora with fatigued cheer as he shifted up through the gears. In the headlamp beams Hale could see only rushing pavement between lightless brick buildings. "Oh good God, I say, you can drive an automobile, can't you?"

  "Yes," Hale told him, hanging onto the door panel strap. "But the war's over. You must have read about it. "

  "The real war didn't start in '39, my dear, and it surely didn't end six weeks ago. Listen, the Soviets have taken a third of Germany and apparently mean to keep it. But away out in the middle of that Red sea is Berlin, moored to the rest of the free world by one long autobahn, and though the Russians have the eastern half of the city, we Brits and the Americans and the French have each got a third of the western half. Hah! God knows how long this equilibrium can be maintained-the Russians might close the highway tomorrow, except for outgoing traffic. Who'd do anything more than protest? Truman? Churchill? Attlee? We've got a safe house you can sleep at tonight, but tomorrow you go down the hole alone. "

  "Down the hole," echoed Hale, though he had already guessed what the phrase meant. For the first time since stepping into the sanctuary of the British Embassy in Lisbon three years ago, he had the sensation of having left his heart and lungs and guts somewhere behind, replaced by a durable emptiness, and his hearing and vision seemed more acute.

  "Down the Helmstedt-Berlin Autobahn, a hundred and four miles to Berlin. You're a London-based scout for an American chemical fertilizers manufacturer, you see, I've got a couple of Yank government pamphlets on the subject you can swot up on. In a nutshell, the Berliners are using plain shit to fertilize their fields-all the nitrogen factories were converted to wartime use for explosives manufacture and then properly bombed. The Yanks are making some nitrate fertilizers, but they need to import ammonia from the French Zone, and coal from ours, which we haven't got any of to spare anyway. The thing is, you've got a contract with an American company in an industry the Russians need. They'll let you pass, into the American sector; we don't want to trouble our own people with this. "

  "This," said Hale.

  "Surveying work, actually. The Soviets are going to be installing a bench mark somewhere in the city tomorrow night at midnight-June twenty-second and twenty-third, the summer solstice, when the plane of the ecliptic will be at its northernmost point for the year, and the eventual noon sun will be directly over the Jabrin oasis in Saudi Arabia. The Soviets are going to put down a sort of reference point in Berlin, a cornerstone for a wall they might build one day. It's a heavy stone, and we've tracked the lorry carrying it all the way from Moscow, and it was in Warsaw yesterday, trundling steadily west. " Theodora was nodding as he stared out through the windscreen. "The Crown needs you to note with precision exactly where they plant the stone. "

  Hale's breath was shallow. "Is it-by any chance-a big, rough, rectangular stone, with a loop carved at one end?"

  "Ah, good lad, you've done your prep this time, unlike the job with the radio magazines back in our youths. Yes, and you won't by any means be the only man in town observing this. . . undertaking. Some will be acting as security for it, some trying to impede it. You just note, and be careful not to be seen noting. When it appears to be starting up, you instantly go into total evasion procedures, am I understood?"

  "Total evasion procedures when it starts up," said Hale obediently. "Understood. "

  The safe house was one of a row of apartments across a gravel yard from the road. The building had not been bombed, but a hole had been cut into the stucco wall to fit a stovepipe through, and when they had got inside and locked the door, Hale saw that a wood-burning stove had been moved in to replace the prewar central heating. An unshaded electric lamp threw stark shadows on the grimy white walls.

  Theodora pointed at one of two cots by the boarded-over window. "That's yours. I'm turning in right now, but I'll give you your reading material and show you where the Scotch is. The alarm is set for six. "

  At seven the next morning, Hale sat in the driver's seat of the Renault, fluttering the throttle pedal to keep the cold engine from stalling. Two cups of hot coffee and a couple of biscuits sat heavily in his stomach, and he was acutely aware of the German automatic pistol that was fitted up among the springs of the passenger-side seat.

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