Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Agent in Place

Helen Macinnes



  Pray for a Brave Heart

  Above Suspicion

  Assignment in Brittany

  North From Rome

  Decision at Delphi

  The Venetian Affair

  The Salzburg Connection

  Message From Málaga

  While We Still Live

  The Double Image

  Neither Five Nor Three


  Snare of the Hunter

  Agent in Place

  Print edition ISBN: 9781781163351

  E-book edition ISBN: 9781781164303

  Published by Titan Books

  A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd

  144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP

  First edition: December 2012

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  © 1976, 2012 by the Estate of Helen MacInnes. All rights reserved.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

  Did you enjoy this book?

  We love to hear from our readers. Please email us at:

  [email protected] or write to us at the above address.

  To receive advance information, news, competitions, and exclusive offers online, please sign up for the Titan newsletter on our website.

  To Ian Douglas Highet and Eliot Chace Highet,

  with all my love

  Helen MacInnes

  If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars


  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  About the Author


  The message had come at eight o’clock that morning as he was swallowing a first cup of black coffee to clear his head and open his eyes. But before he could cross over the short stretch of floor between him and the telephone, the ringing stopped. He started back to the kitchen, had barely reached its door before he halted abruptly. The telephone rang again. Twice. And stopped ringing. He glanced at the kitchen clock. He would have one minute exactly before the third call. Now fully alert, he pulled the pan of bacon and eggs away from the heat, did not even waste another moment to turn off the electric stove, moved at double time back into the living-room, reached the telephone on his desk, sat down with a pencil in his hand and a scrap of paper before him, and was ready. The message would be in code and he had better make sure of each digit. It had been a long long time since he had been summoned in this way. An emergency? He controlled his excitement, smothered all his wondering. Punctual to the second, the telephone rang again. Quickly he picked up the receiver. “Hello,” he said—slow, casual, indifferent.

  “Hello, hello, hello there.” Two small coughs, a clearing of the throat.

  He knew the voice at once. Nine years since he had last heard it, but its pattern was definite: deep, full-chested, slightly husky, the kind of voice that might break into an aria from Prince Igor or Boris Godounov with each of its notes almost a chord in itself. Mischa? Yes, Mischa. Even the initial greeting was his own sign-in phrase. Nine years since last heard, but still completely Mischa, down to the two coughs and the throat-clearing.

  “Yorktown Cleaners?” Mischa was saying. “Please have my blue suit ready for delivery to 10 Old Park Place by six o’clock this evening. Receipt number is 69105A. And my name—” Slowing up of this last phrase gave the cue for a cut-in.

  “Sorry—you’ve got the wrong number.”

  “Wrong number?” High indignation. “The receipt is here in my hand. 69105A.”

  “Wrong telephone number.” Heavy patience.

  “What?” The tone was now aggressive, almost accusing. Very true to life was Mischa. “Are you sure?”

  “Yes!” The one-word answer was enough to let Mischa know that his prize protégé Alexis had got the message.

  “Let me check—” There was a brief pause while a dogged disbeliever riffled through a couple of pages against the background noise of muted street traffic. Then Mischa spoke again from his public telephone booth, this time with sharp annoyance, “Okay, okay.” Angrily, he banged down the receiver for an added touch of humour. He had always prided himself on his keen perception of Americans’ behaviour patterns.

  For a moment, there was complete silence in the little apartment. Mischa, Mischa... Eleven years since he first started training me, Alexis was thinking, and nine years since I last saw him. He was a major then—Major Vladimir Konov. What now? A full-fledged colonel in the KGB? Even higher? With another name too, no doubt: several other names, possibly, in that long and hidden career. And here I am, still using the cover-name Mischa gave me, still stuck in the role he assigned me in Washington. But, as Mischa used to misquote with a sardonic smile, “They also serve who only sit and wait.”

  Alexis recovered from his delayed shock as he noticed the sunlight shafting its way into his room from a break in the row of small Georgetown houses across the narrow street. The morning had begun; a heavy day lay ahead. He moved quickly now, preparing himself for it.

  From the bookcase wall he picked out the second volume of Spengler’s Untergang des Abendlandes—the German text scared off Alexis’s American friends: they preferred it translated into The Decline of the West, even if the change into English lost the full meaning of the title. It ought to have been The Decline and Fall of the West, which might have made them think harder into the meaning of the book. With Spengler in one hand and his precious slip of paper in the other, Alexis left the sun-streaked living-room for the colder light of his dismal little kitchen. He was still wearing pyjamas and foulard dressing-gown, but even if cold clear November skies were outside the high window, he felt hot with mounting excitement. He pushed aside orange-juice and coffee-cup, tossed the Washington Post on to a counter-top, turned off the electric stove, and sat down at the small table crushed into one corner where no prying neighbours’ eyes could see him, even if their kitchens practically rubbed sinks with his.

  Now, he thought, opening the Spengler and searching for a loose sheet of paper inserted in its second chapter (Origin and Landscape: Group of Higher Cultures), now for Mischa’s message. He had understood most of it, even at nine years’ distance, but he had to be absolutely accurate. He found the loose sheet, covered with his own compressed s
horthand, giving him the key to the quick scrawls he had made on the scrap of paper from his desk. He began decoding. It was all very simple—Mischa’s way of thumbing his nose at the elaborate cleverness of the Americans, with their reliance on computers and technology. (Nothing, Mischa used to say and obviously still did, nothing is going to replace the well-trained agent, well-placed, well-directed. That the man had to be bright and dedicated was something that Mischa made quite sure of, before any time was wasted in training.)

  Simple, Alexis thought again as he looked at the message, but effective in all its sweet innocence. “Yorktown” was New York, of course. The “blue suit” was Alexis in person. “10” meant nothing—a number that was used for padding. “Old Park Place” obviously meant the old meeting-place in the Park in New York—Central Park, as the receipt number “69105A” indicated: cancel the 10, leaving 69 for Sixty-ninth Street, 5A for Fifth Avenue.

  The delivery time of the blue suit, “six o’clock” this evening, meant six hours minus one hour and twenty minutes.

  So there I’ll be, thought Alexis, strolling by the old rendezvous just inside Central Park at twenty minutes of five this evening.

  He burned the scrap of notes, replaced the sheet of paper in its nesting place, and put Spengler carefully back on the shelf. Only after that did he reheat the coffee, gulp down the orange-juice, look at the still-life of congealed bacon and eggs with a shudder, and empty the greasy half-cooked mess into the garbage-can. He would tidy up on Monday—the worst thing on this job was the chores you had to do yourself: dangerous to hand out duplicate keys to anyone coming in to scrub and dust. When things got beyond him in this small apartment, he’d call for untalkative Beulah, flat feet and arthritis, too stupid to question why he asked here to clean on a day he worked at home. Now he had better shave, shower and dress. And then do some telephoning of his own: to Sandra here in Washington, begging off her swinging party tonight; to Katie in New York, letting her know that he’d be spending the week-end again at her place. And he had better take the first Metroliner possible. Or the shuttle flight? In any case, he must make sure that he would reach New York with plenty of time to spare before the meeting with Mischa.

  As he came out of the shower, he was smiling broadly at a sudden memory. Imagine, he thought, just imagine Mischa remembering that old fixation of mine on a blue suit, my idea of bourgeois respectability for my grand entry into the capitalist world. I was given it, too: an ill-fitting jacket of hard serge, turning purple with age, threads whitening at the seams, the seat of the pants glossed like a mirror, a rent here, some mud there; a very convincing picture of the refugee who had managed at last to outwit the Berlin Wall. (Mischa’s sense of humour, a scarce commodity in his line of business, was as strong as his cold assessment of Western minds: the pathetic image always works, he had said.) And now I have $22,000 a year and a job in Washington, and a three-room apartment one flight up in a Georgetown house, and a closet packed with clothes. Eight suits hanging there, but not a blue one among them. He laughed, shook his head, and began planning his day in New York.”

  * * *

  He arrived at Penn Station with almost three hours to spare, a time to lose himself in city crowds once he had dropped his small bag at Katie’s East Side apartment. That was easily done; Katie’s place had a self-service apartment and no doorman, and he had the keys to let him into both the entrance-hall and her fifth-floor apartment. It was a fairly old building as New York went, and modest in size—ten floors, with only space enough for two apartments on each of them. The tenants paid no attention to anyone, strangers all, intent on their own troubles and pleasures. They never even noticed him on his frequent week-end visits, probably assumed he was a tenant himself. But best of all was the location of the apartment-house between two busy avenues, one travelling north, the other south, buses and plenty of taxis.

  Katie herself was a gem. Made to order, and no pun intended. She was out now, as he had expected: a restless type, devoted to causes and demonstrations. She had left a note for him in her pretty-girl scrawl. Chuck tried to reach you in Washington. Call him any time after five. Don’t forget party at Bo’s tonight. You are re-invited. See you here at seven? Kate. Bo Browning’s party...well, that was something better avoided. Danger for him there, in all that glib talk from eager Marxists who hadn’t even read Das Kapital all the way through. It was hard to keep himself from proving how little they knew, or how much he could teach them.

  But Chuck—now that was something else again. There was urgency in his message. Could Chuck really be delivering? Last week-end he had been arguing himself into and out of a final decision. Better not count on anything, Alexis warned himself, and tried to repress a surge of hope, a flush of triumph. But his sudden euphoria stayed with him as he set off for Fifth Avenue and an hour or so in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

  By four o’clock he began to worry about his timing, and came hurrying away from the Greek gods’ department, down the Museum’s giant flight of steps, his arm signalling to a loitering taxi. It would take him south, well past Sixty-ninth Street, all the way to the Central Park Zoo. He would use that entrance, wander around the zoo itself to put in fifteen minutes (he was going to be too early for Mischa after all). Now he was thinking only of the meeting ahead of him. The initial excitement was gone, replaced by nervousness, even a touch of fear. It was a special encounter, no doubt about that: there was something vital at stake. Had he made some error, was his judgment being distrusted? Had his growing boredom with those quiet nine years shown in his steady reports? But they were good reports, succinct, exact, giving the foibles and weaknesses of the hundreds of acquaintances and friends he had made in government and newspaper circles. As a member of Representative Pickering’s personal staff, with nine years of promotions all the way from secretarial adviser to office-manager controlling an office swollen to forty-seven employees, and now to the top job of communications director, he had contacts in every major office in government. He was invited around, kept an ear open for all rumours and indiscreet talk. There was plenty of that in Washington, some of it so careless that it baffled him. Americans were smart—a considerable enemy and one that posed a constant danger—that was what had been dinned into him in his long months of training; but after nine years in Washington, he had his doubts. What made clever Americans so damned stupid once they got into places of power?

  The fifteen minutes were up, leaving him seven to walk northward through the Park to its Sixty-ninth Street area. Had he cut the time too short, after all? He increased his pace as he left the desolate zoo with its empty cages—animals were now kept mostly inside—and its trees bare-branched with first frosts. The Saturday crowd was leaving too, moving away from the gathering shadows. So he wasn’t noticeable. And he hadn’t been followed. He never was. But he was suddenly surprised out of his self-preoccupation by the dimming sky. The bright clear blue of the afternoon had faded. It would soon be dusk. The street lights were already on; so were the lamps posted along the paths, little bursts of brightness surrounded by darkening meadows, by bushes and trees that formed black blots over falling and rising ground. Fifth Avenue lay to his right beyond the wall that edged the Park. Traffic was brisk, audible but not visible; only the high-rising apartment buildings, lining the other side of the avenue, could be seen. Their windows—expensive curtains undrawn, shades left unpulled—were ablaze with light. What was this about an energy crisis?

  Strange, he thought as he came through a small underpass, how isolated this park can make you feel; almost as if you were on a lonely country road. The crowd had thinned, easing off in other directions. He was alone, and approaching a second underpass as the path sloped downward, edging away from the Fifth Avenue wall. Now it was almost dusk, the sky washed into the colour of faded ink tinged with a band of apricot above the far-off black silhouettes of Central Park West.

  The underpass looked as grim as a tunnel—a short one, fortunately. Near its entrance, on the small hillside of bushes
and rocks that lay on his right, he saw a group of four men. No, just boys: two leaning against a crag, nonchalant, thin; two squatting on the slope of grass, knees up to their black chins: all of them watching. He noticed the sneakers on their feet. Keep walking and get ready to sprint, he told himself. And then his fear doubled as he heard lightly-running footsteps behind him. He swung round to face the new threat. But it was only a couple of joggers, dressed in track suits, having their evening run. “Hi!” he said in relief as the joggers neared him rapidly.

  “Hi!” one said, pink-faced and frowning. He glanced at the hill. Both he and his friend slowed their pace but didn’t stop. “Like to join us?” the other one asked, thin-faced and smiling.

  And he did, breaking into their rhythm as he unbuttoned his topcoat, jogging in unison. Through the underpass, then up the path as it rose in a long steady stretch. “Race you to the top,” the thin-faced man said. But up there, where the outcrop of Manhattan rocks rose into a cluster of crags, he would be almost in sight of the Sixty-ninth Street entrance. Now was the time to break off, although he could have given them a good run for their money.

  He smiled, pretended to have lost his wind, stopped half-way up the path, gave them a wave of thanks. With an answering wave they left him, and without a word increased their pace to a steady run. Amazing how quickly they could streak up that long stretch of hill; but they had earned this demonstration of their superiority, and he was too thankful to begrudge them their small triumph. He was willing to bet, though, that once they were out of sight, they’d slacken their pace back to a very easy jog. What were they, he wondered—a lawyer, an accountant? Illustrators or advertising men? They looked the type, lived near by, and exercised in the evening before they went home to their double vodka Martinis.

  He finished the climb at a brisk pace. Far behind him, the four thin loose-limbed figures had come through the underpass and halted, as if admitting that even their sneakers couldn’t catch up on the distance between him and them. Ahead of him, there were a man walking two large dogs; another jogger; and the small flagpole that marked the convergence of four paths—the one he was following, the one that continued to the north, the one that led west across rolling meadows, the one that came in from the Sixty-ninth Street entrance. Thanks to his run, he was arriving in good time after all, with one minute to spare. He was a little too warm, a little dishevelled, but outwardly calm, and ready to face Mischa. He straightened his tie, smoothed his hair, decided to button his topcoat even if it was stifling him.