Copyright 2018 Cindy Brandner
THE PALLADIAN FAÇADE of White’s Club in St. James, rose above Richard’s head, its dormered attic windows and famous bow window where Beau Brummel had once sat and allowed London to gaze upon his magnificence, giving it an air of far more raffish times. Originally a chocolate house and then an infamous gambling den, it had, over the years, morphed into one of the most exclusive gentleman’s clubs in the world. It was also—and more pertinently to Richard’s visit this afternoon—the unofficial meeting place for members of the British Intelligence community. His observation of the building itself was strictly a matter of memory, for the entire building was shrouded in a thick December fog. As Dickens had once said—Fog everywhere—fog up the river and down, on the marshes and in the yards, fog wrapped in tendrils around the sails of ships, fog sheathing bridge and boat alike, fog hovering near firesides and settling in the lungs of pensioners. There was so much fog that Richard felt like he was wading through the streets in a clog of wet wool. He stepped in through the doors of White’s, happy to be out of the fog and into the warmth and luxury of the club.
Richard had long been a member of White’s; his entry having been guaranteed by his boss’s endorsement. In theory, he rather objected to the snobbery of a private gentleman’s club, in practice, it was a good place to conduct business.
The man he had come here to meet, waited for him in the coffee room, where the fog, thick and creamy, curled and purred against the long rectangular windows and gave the room an aura of cozy secrecy. He sat in repose, though in truth Richard had never seen the man ruffled in the slightest degree. Beautifully cut suit, neatly cut iron grey hair, body as lean and well-ordered as that of a whippet, and a look of studied bemusement on his ascetic face. Not many men put the fear of God in Richard these days, but this one still did. A holdover, he supposed, from his training days.
He wended his way through the plush chairs and small tables. One could almost hear the conversations which had been conducted here over the last few hundred years—conversations which had changed the balance of global power, had seen empires rise and fall and had, he thought, tugging at his tie a little, likely resulted in the deaths of more than a few.
When he arrived at the table, the man indicated the chair opposite, and then proceeded directly to the point, as was his usual way of doing business.
“I want you to bring one of your agents in from the cold,” he said.
“Which one?” Richard asked, undoing his suit jacket before sitting down across from the man he privately referred to as the Grey Man, for his ability to blend into his surroundings regardless of the environment. The man took a sip of his pink gin before replying.
“Our little Irish golden boy.”
Richard felt a spark of panic. There was only one man to whom that description could apply, and he was only a slightly less difficult bastard than the man in front of him. James Kirkpatrick, who had been off their radar for three years, and Richard had hoped, off their books for good. He supposed he ought to have known better. James Kirkpatrick had been one of their best operatives. Charming, intelligent, ridiculously good looking, with connections to a variety of spies, crooks, thieves and shady operatives all over the continent, as well as overseas, he’d been an asset the service couldn’t resist recruiting. They’d used a woman to draw him in, and the result had been rather mixed, to say the least. They had landed James Kirkpatrick, but they’d also had to cover up an affair with a Tory MP’s wife, and a child who had learned only a few years ago—at the age of twenty, no less— that James Kirkpatrick was his father.
The second James Kirkpatrick—Jamie’s grandfather—had worked for them also, during the war years, though Richard, despite spending near to a fortnight going through old files, had never found out exactly what it was the man had done for them. Which told him it had been highly classified, and likely highly dangerous. There had been a scandal surrounding him as well, for he’d left his wife and lived with a Gypsy woman until his death but hadn’t ever divorced the wife.
The man sitting across from him now, knew all this firsthand, for he’d known the grandfather as well as the grandson, in fact he’d been Jamie’s first handler. Something had gone awry in that relationship though, beyond the scandal, for he knew neither man felt warmly toward the other. Richard held the man’s gaze—which was needling its way over his face now, assessing, he thought, how much Richard knew about Jamie’s current circumstances.
The man’s name was Oliver Hughes, and within the SIS, he was legendary. He was widely considered one of the greatest spies British Intelligence had ever put out in the field. He sat back now, pinstriped suit immaculate, plum tie a rare blaze of colour for him. Richard considered that he must be celebrating the season, though trying to imagine this man with a home and a family, sitting down to a Christmas meal was frankly beyond him. He thought of him as always here, in this club, pink gin in hand, flawlessly cut suit always the same, the man himself only animating when someone needed something, or when, God help them all, things went cock-eyed. The latter of which was, Richard feared, the reason for his summoning.
“He broke off all ties with us, he wants nothing to do with this business anymore,” Richard said, taking a sip of the brandy which he’d ordered as soon as he’d arrived. He took a second to savour it, before continuing; it tasted like a golden apricot dropped from the tree at the perfect moment. “I think we owe it to him to leave him alone, after his time in the Soviet Union.”
“Owe him for what? He got out of Russia alive, after all. He’s had three years to lick his wounds, and from what I can tell he’s not been idle during that time.”
Richard merely lifted an eyebrow at this, though he knew exactly what it was Oliver referred to. Jamie had spent two years in a Russian gulag, and come out with a son, leaving behind a wife who turned out to be a KGB agent. A KGB agent who had appeared again in his life, just when he was moving on with another woman—one with whom he’d had a daughter, now only a month old.
“He doesn’t want this life anymore. I’m not certain he ever really did.”
“It’s James, he finds peace boring. I suspect he’s good and bored by now, after his stint at playing house these last three years, with that American girl.”
Richard rather thought Jamie loved that American girl a great deal and hadn’t been merely playing house with her. That they had a daughter together he knew, but beyond that he wasn’t quite sure about the parameters of their relationship. What he did know is that Jamie had put in a great deal of effort to find the woman’s husband when the man had disappeared some three years previous.
“I’d think you’d have a better notion than me. You had the training of him, after all.”
“No, I didn’t. His first handler was Mordecai.”
Richard’s heart sank a little closer to his toes. He had a feeling he now understood just why this man wanted Jamie pulled back in from the cold.
“Mordecai?” he said, the dismay evident in his voice.
“Yes, Mordecai. He plucked Jamie out from under my tender ministrations right at the beginning and took him under his crooked wing.”
Mordecai was the stuff of agency legend, half chimera, half tall tale, and yet still the greatest spy the SIS had ever laid claim to. Mordecai—he’d only ever needed the one name. If you asked ten different people about him, you’d be the recipient of ten different stories—he was a Sephardic Jew who’d lost his entire family in the Holocaust, he was an Israeli assassin, who’d been instrumental in the Six Day War, he was the Nazi hunter who’d hunted down escaped Nazis and killed them in the streets of Bueno Aires, or—and this one was Richard’s favourite—that he was a lost royal from the Romanov family and the only one to survive the execution of the family in that bloody basement. Richard had no doubt Mordecai had planted the seeds of all those stories, because that was how Mordecai operated. He was like a ghost, more story than substance. Of late though, he’d heard rumours, that Mordecai may have gone rogue. Gone over to the Soviets, hiring himself out to the highest bidder. Even that though, could be a story fabricated by Mordecai himself, and then diffused through his elaborate and very effective grapevine which ran through both Europe and Asia.
“I didn’t know Mordecai ever ran agents,” Richard said. Mordecai had operated by his own rules and was always rumoured to be in some obscure corner of the globe, but he’d never heard of him handling any other agents.
“Officially, he didn’t. But he knew Jamie’s grandfather, and when he heard we were trying to recruit the grandson, he slipped in at the last minute with his usual sleight-of-hand and spirited the boy off.”
Richard paused to take another drink, and to forestall any look of amusement that might cross his face, due to the very idea of something not going this man’s way.
“Needless to say,” Oliver continued, crossing one leg over the other in his usual fastidious manner, “this has caused James to have some rather unique ways of going about the intelligence business. But of course, you know that, having been his handler these last ten years.”
“I’m not his handler any longer though, as you know,” Richard said, putting a slight emphasis on the personal pronoun, so that Oliver might understand that Richard knew he was being manipulated. “He was serious about being done with the service.”
Oliver smiled, and it was not a pleasant thing to witness.
“It’s not a job one can quit, as you well know, Richard. Besides we still have uses for His Lordship.”
“How do you propose to keep him chained to the business, when he wants out?”
“In the time-honoured fashion,” Oliver put his glass on the polished mahogany table. It glowed with the delicate rose flush of the gin. Richard had never seen the man finish a drink. “Blackmail.”