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A whole mahamanvantara later, he was shaken gently awake. 'Come on, sir,' coaxed Wriste, 'if you don't eat your breakfast now you won't feel like lunch. ' Hillier could smell coffee. He ungummed his eyelids, then retreated from the light a space so as to make a more cunning and cautious entry into it. He knew that he ought to expect to feel dry-mouthed, headachy, sore-limbed, but he did not yet know why. Then, knowing why, he found himself feeling well and surprisingly energetic. The energy had been pumped in for some urgent purpose. What was it? He was, he noted, in his Chinese pyjamas, the 'happiness' ideogram stitched on the breast pocket. On his bed-table he saw money, foreign money. The bearded face of an American president looked sternly at him. Dollars, a lot of dollars. He remembered. Oh, God. 'Oh, God,' he groaned aloud.

'You'll feel better after this lot,' said Wriste. 'Look.' He arranged pillows behind Hillier, then, as Hillier sat up, placed the tray before him. Frosted orange-juice; a grilled kipper; bacon and devilled kidneys and two fried eggs; toast; vintage brandy marmalade; coffee. 'Coffee?' said Wriste. He poured into a cup as big as a soup-bowl from two silver jugs. Hillier's tissues soaked in the healing aromatic warmth. Healing? It was not his body that required healing. The mingled coffee and milk were a little too light for Miss Devi's colour. A television camera lurched on to last night, presenting it brightly lit and in full detail.

'That man,' he said. 'That woman. Have they gone yet?'

Wriste nodded. 'Quite a little diversion it was. A helicopter whizzing over the recreation-deck and a ladder coming down and then these two going up. I thought his weight would drag the bloody thing down, but it didn't. Light as a fairy he went up, luggage and all. He waved to everybody. Oh, and he left a sort of a letter for you.' Wriste handed over an envelope of an expensive silky weave. It was addressed, discreetly, to S. Jagger Esq. 'Some of these tycoons looked a bit sheepish. That's real big business, that is, when a helicopter comes to take you off in the middle of a cruise.'

Hillier read: 'My dear friend. The offer still stands. A letter sent to Cumhuriyet Caddesi 15, Istanbul, will find me. Miss Devi sends her palpitating regards. Keep out of harm's way when the ship reaches Yarylyuk. Seek sanctuary in the Captain's private lavatory or somewhere. The authorities were grateful for the warning. They cabled their gratitude and promise of a tolerably substantial emolument in Swiss francs. Apparently there is a scientific conference on at the Chornoye Morye Hotel. Redoubling of precautions. What a devil you are! You must not die, you are too useful. Affectionately, R. Theodorescu.'

'Bad news is it, sir?'

'Abuse,' invented Hillier. He put the letter in his pyjama-pocket, drank off his icy fruit-juice and began the kipper. Wriste, sitting on the bed, pouted as if to suck in more. Hillier obliged. 'That money is in payment of a gambling debt,' he improvised. 'He's a big man for betting. He bet me I couldn't make Miss Devi.'

'And then he got nasty, did he?'

'A bit. A very nasty customer. It's a good thing you came in when you did. What made you come in?'

'I seen this Indian bint sending off a cable. I wondered a bit about that, seeing as you was supposed to be making a sesh of it, as I thought. I thought this big fat bastard could get nasty. So I came along and could hear him on to you.'

'I'm very grateful,' said Hillier. 'Would two hundred dollars be of any use?'

'Thank you, sir,' said Wriste, swiftly pocketing three hundred. 'A queer sort of a bugger in more ways than one. He was after that young lad, you know, the one that knows it all. Patting him and that. I don't know whether he got anywhere. Too clever for him that lad, maybe. But he gave this lad a present before he went. I seen him do that, patting him. A nice little parcel in the ship's-store gift-wrapping. But this lad didn't open it, least I didn't see him. Too upset he is. His dad's had it, they say. Won't be long now.'

'And how is the prospective widow?' Hillier forked in devilled kidneys.

'Nice way of putting it, sir. Crying her eyes out whenever she thinks of it, then going off for a sly snog with this Spanish confectioner bloke. At least that's what they say he is.'

'And the daughter?'

Wriste showed the whole stretch of his hard gums, top and bottom. 'I thought that would come into it sooner or later. You're a man with a purpose in life, you are, I'll say that for you, that you are. A purpose. She lies there on her bunk, reading away. Horrible hot stuff it is, too, all this sex. But sad, you can tell she's sad. Well, it's a horrible damper to throw on what should be all what they call pleasure, but there'll be an empty place at their table from now on. You're welcome to it if you'd like to have it fixed. Them two gone now, and you won't want to be noshing all on your tod.' He looked hungrily at the American president, pouting.

'Would a hundred be of any use?' Hillier paid out this time, then put the wad into his pyjama-pocket, where Theodorescu's letter lay. He had finished his breakfast, and now the pocket seared his heart with guilt. It was time to be thinking about things. His watch said twelve-twenty. Wriste removed the tray; Hillier lighted a Churchill Danish. Wriste said: 'You won't be wanting lunch till about two. You take your time, no hurry about cleaning up here. So I'll be seeing you later.' And he left.

Treason, treason, treason. Treason and treachery. But he had had no choice. Or rather he had had no choice but to make a choice. Could he send warning cables of his own now? Not to Karl Otto's guardians nor to Volruss. It was safer to leave things as they were. How about Department gA? Hillier had a vision of two shadowy men at either side of a table in a hotel room in Lausanne, Theodorescu between them, on the table before him an envelope. Gentlemen, who will make the first bid? And where would the bidding stop? Taxpayers were taxed to the hilt; millions were poured down the drain on obsolescent aircraft and missiles and warheads. Let them bid, let them pay out. And where would the bidding stop? Hillier palpated the wad of a few thousand at his breast. He felt bitter towards Theodorescu. Chickenfeed. He would get that bloody bonus, he would bring back Roper.

How? No longer as Jagger. No longer as anyone. D. Wishart, sanitary engineer; F. R. Lightfoot, pediatrician; Heath Verity, the minor poet; John James Pomeroy-Bickerstaff, IBM-man; P. B. Shelley, Kit Smart, Matchless Orinda – all would have an S on the left flank. He was known for that, the S-man, all over Europe, then. Theodorescu, whom he himself had had no occasion to know, knew all the time. He, Hillier, had been better known than he had known of. His time of usefulness as a spy must be over, known as he was. All he had now was information, quick to grow obsolete with the obsolescence of its referents. Could he set up on his own, a rival to Theodorescu? But Theodorescu had Miss Devi. He wanted Miss Devi now, lying there, writhing in his pyjamas. He looked again at Theodorescu's letter. Cumhuriyet Caddesi 15, Istanbul. That was somewhere near the Hilton. Should he? But, in thrall to Miss Devi, he would be Theodorescu's gibbering instrument, no more.

He got out of bed, stripped to the warm noon, and examined for the nth time the S on his flank. It was burnt deep; the dead skin like a luminous plastic. It could not be disguised, however cunning the cosmesis. He dressed quickly, as to hide the problem from sight, giving himself a cat-lick and a once-over with his Philishave. Then he took a swig of Old Mortality and water and went out on deck. It was a glorious blue day, Ionian, no longer Adriatic. In the distance, to port, lay Southern Greece – Kyparissia? Philiatra? Pylos? Tomorrow they would be in the Aegean, dodging through the mess of islands. Then Marmara's womb, through the vagina of the Dardanelles. Then the Bos-phorus, then the Pontus Euxinus – Kara Dengis to the Turks. The Black Sea. Would his grave be there? He shivered in the sun. Black black black. The sea that supported no organic life below one hundred fathoms. Five enough for him. He thought he saw Roper, twitching, hic-cuping. Why? I was wrong, I was wrong, O Jesus Mary Joseph help me. I take back all I said. I want to go home. Home? For a dizzy moment Hillier puzzled over the word, wTondering what it meant. It spelt itself out for him against the Ionian noon. He saw it as four-fifths of a Russian word. HOMEP- nomyer- number. Home had something to do with a number, a number he felt he ought to know, since it was the clue to going home. It was urgent, this matter of a bloody number. In what way urgent? Had it not come to him last night and had he not tossed it away like an old cloakroom ticket? He was not merely slack; he was corrupt.

There was a fair amount of noon drinking going on on deck, passengers looking out at Greece with Pimms and Gordon's and Campari in their mottled paws. Hillier went to the bar on the recreation-deck and drank very quickly a Gordon's and tonic, then a vodka and tomato-juice, then a very large Americano. Think think think. He saw himself carried safely ashore in the guise of a dead man, Wriste one of the bearers. The uniformed thugs stood to attention and saluted the corpse. He looked more closely and saw it was really a corpse. Roper wept. You've let me down you bastard. He w^ept with self-pity.

Hillier wondered seriously, in his depression, whether he had a worm inside him. His breakfast seemed a whole dawn away. He went into the dining-saloon, seeing tycoons and their women in shorts. Wriste had arranged things. The chief steward pulled back his chair at the table of the Walters family. The children looked pale and peaky. Mrs Walters was holding her mouth-corners down with an effort, occasionally dabbing dry eyes. She sent away a near-untouched plate of goulash with evident regret. No, she would have nothing else. Well, perhaps a little mac'edoine of fresh fruits soaked in Southern Comfort, topped up with champagne. We must keep our strength up. The children sincerely ate nearly nothing. And, added Mrs Walters, some Irish coffee, very strong.

'What news?' asked Hillier softly, as if already at the funeral. This girl – Clara, wasn't it? Was that her name? -was really delightful with her delicate boxer's nose and hair you wanted to eat, insomniac arcs, blue blushes, under her brown eyes. She was wearing an orange and black shift dress with diagonal stripes, a little black stole careless on her lap. She was neither reading nor eating, merely mashing up the buttock of a meringue with a pastry-fork. She was indifferent to Hillier's presence. The boy, in a newspaper shirt, ate a honey mousse in tiny spoonfuls. The woman answered Hillier. She said: 'They don't think he'll last the day out. Very low. In a coma. But he's had his life, that's a consolation. He's had all he ever wanted. We must try and look on the bright side.' Suiting the words, she attacked her mac'edoine.

'What's going to happen,' said Alan, 'to Clara and me?'

'We've been through all this before. What happens to any children when their father dies? Their mother looks after them, doesn't she?'

'You're not our mother,' said Alan truculently. 'You don't care a bit about us.'

'Not before this gentleman, please.' This woman could have a nasty temper, Hillier saw that. He ate some boned veal loin en cro^ute with a noodle souffl'e and julienne of young carrots and celery. He drank a '49 Margaux. The girl suddenly cried: 'Nobody cares. You sit here stuffing yourselves and nobody cares. I'm going to my cabin.' Hillier's heart melted for her as she got up, so youthfully elegant, and made her way out with young dignity. Poor, poor girl, he thought. But he had things to ask. He asked: 'This may seem a callous question, but what do you propose to do when the time comes?'

'How do you mean?' said Mrs Walters, her mac'edoine-filled spoon arrested in mid-passage.

'Funeral arrangements. One has to think of these things. Transportation. Burial. Chartering an aircraft. Getting him home.'

'You can't charter aircraft in Russia,' said the boy. 'You'd have to take the State Line. Aeroflot, I think it is.'

'I hadn't thought about all this,' said Mrs Walters. Instinctively she looked about her for a man, her fancy man. But she stopped looking. Fancy men are for fancy things. 'It's all a nuisance, this is. What ought we to do?'

'Bury him at sea,' said Alan, 'with a Union Jack wrapped round him. That's how I'd like to be buried.'

'I don't think that's usual,' said Hillier, 'not when you're so close to a port. The done thing is-' He noticed that Clara had left her little black stole behind; it had sunk to the floor on her sudden rising. He carefully footed it towards himself, then held it between his ankles. She would get it back quite soon.

'The done thing is what?' asked Mrs Walters.

'To see the purser about seeing the carpenter about a coffin. To see the purser anyway. They may have coffins in stock. A cruise like this must encourage coronaries. Or perhaps you ought to get the ship's doctor to sort things out. I'm afraid I've not had any experience of this sort of business.'

'Well, why do you start telling us all about it, then?'

'It's ghoulish,' said Alan, 'that's what it is.' It was, too, agreed Hillier to himself. Ghoulish was what it was. 'It's as though you don't want to give him any hope at all.'

'One ought to be prepared ' said Hillier. 'John Donne, Dean of St Paul's, had his coffin made well in time and used to sleep in it. Sometimes thinking about a person being dead gives them a new lease. Like Extreme Unction. Like an obituary printed prematurely.'

'I don't want to hope,' sniffed Mrs Walters over her Irish coffee. 'I want to face facts, even though they are painful.'

'You were being a bit ghoulish, weren't you?' said Hillier to Alan. 'That business of the Union Jack, I mean.'

'It's different,' said Alan. 'More like heroism. The death of Nelson I was thinking of.'

Hillier ate his dish of asparagus with cold hollandaise. 'Any help I can give,' he said. 'Any help at all.' The difficulty would be getting the genuine corpse overboard. He'd need help. Wriste? Some plausible story to Wriste about that swine Theodorescu stealing his passport and he just had to get into Yarylyuk to see a man about a Cyrillic typewriter. It would mean a thousand dollars or so. Better not. He could do it on his own, prising the coffin open and fireman's lifting the groaning cadaver to the nearest taffrail. Man overboard. He'd have to go over with dead Mr Walters so that there should be someone live to be rescued. But the corpse would float perhaps. Lead weights? Hillier groaned as he fancied that corpse would groan.

The Walters boy and woman prepared to leave. 'Are you going to the sickbay now?' asked Hillier. He was; she was going to have a large brandy in the bar, needing it, she said, the strain terrible. 'A nice present, was it?' said Hillier to Alan. 'From Mr Theodorescu, I mean.'

'It's all right,' said Alan. 'Just what I needed.' They went. Hillier had some pears porcupine. Then some Lancashire cheese and a bit of bread. Then some coffee and a stinger. He felt he needed to build himself up.

He had no hesitation about going to Clara Walters's cabin, displaying to all the world the innocence of his purpose. He listened at the door before knocking. A sort of sobbing was going on in there, he thought. When he gently knocked, with a steward's discreetness, the voice that bade him enter was denasalised by crying. Going in, he found her just sitting up from using the whole length of the bunk for grief, knuckling an eye dry with one hand, roughly smoothing her hair with the other. 'It's only me,' said Hillier. 'I've brought this. You left it in the dining-saloon.' She raised her face to him, all young and blubbered, taking the stole in distracted thanks. 'And,' he said, 'forgive me for seeming so callous. Eating like that, I mean. With such appetite, that is. I couldn't really help being hungry though, could I?'

'I know,' she said, rubbing her cheek against the stole. 'He's not your father.'

'A cigarette?' He always kept a easeful for offering to ladies. Men had to be content with his coarse Brazilian cigars.

'I don't smoke.'

'Very wise,' said Hillier, pocketing the case. 'I had a father though, like everybody else. I know what it's like. But his death didn't affect me right away. I was fourteen when it happened. A month after the funeral I was afflicted with a very peculiar ailment, one that didn't seem to have anything to do with filial grief.'


'Yes. It was spermatorrhea. Have you ever heard of that?'

Interest glowed faintly. 'It sounds sexual,' she said without pudeur.

'Well, it happened in sleep but without dreams. It was seed-spilling functioning in a void. Night after night, sometimes five or six times a night. It always woke me up. I felt guilty, of course, but the guilt seemed to be the end, not the by-product. Is there anything about that in any of your books?' He went towards the bunk, so as to read the titles of the little library she had ranged on the shelf just above it: Priapus-A Study of the Male Impulse; Varieties of the Orgasm; Pleasures of the (Torture Chamber; Mechanical Refinements in Coition; A Dictionary of Sex; Clinical Studies in Sexual Inversion; The Sign of Sodom; Infant Eros-And so on and so on. Dear dear dear. A paperback on her bunkside table – a blonde in underwear and her own blood – would have been provocative to a man less satyromaniacal than Hillier; these books were more like fighting pledges of her purity, archangels guarding her terrible innocence. Hillier sat on the bunk beside her.

'Look some time for me,' he said. 'You're evidently more learned in sexual matters than I am. But the psychiatrist I went to told me that it was an unconscious assertion of the progenitive impulse, something like that. Mimesis was a word he used. I was acting out my father but turning him into an archetype. Whatever that means,' he added.

She had listened to him with her lips slightly parted. Now she clamped them together and turned their corners down, frowning, dissatisfied. 'I don't know anything,' she said. 'It's all big words. I've tried to understand but I can't.'

'There's plenty of time. You're still very young.'

'That's what they keep telling me. That's what they told me in America. But Alan's younger than me and he was on one of those big quiz shows and he knew all the answers. I'm ignorant. I've not been properly educated.'

She seemed, bouncing on the bunk in petulance, to bounce herself nearer to Hillier. It would be so easy, he thought, to put my arm round her now and say: 'There there there.' And she was ready for crying on the shoulder of a mature and understanding man. But the books above him shouted their battle-slogans: Yoni and Lingam; Sex and Death among the Aztecs. 'What were you doing in America?' he asked.

'It was what they called New Milling Techniques. Mother was dead and they said he ought to get us away for a time. But he thought it would be sinful to take a holiday just then, with her hardly cold in her grave as he put it, and so we went for the New Milling Techniques.'

'And were the New Milling Techniques all right?'

'That's where he met _her__,' she said. 'This one. In America but she's not American. She'd been married to an American, in Kansas it was, and he'd divorced her and he said, my father said, she was a breath of home.'

'So she married him?'

'That was it. _She__ married _him__. For his money.'

'Have you any uncles or aunts or cousins or things?'

'Things,' she said. 'There are some things. That's all you can call them. And they all went to Auckland, wherever that is. And they do something with kauri pine, whatever that is. There's something called a fossil gum.' For some reason, she got ready to cry on this last term, and now Hillier had to put his arm gently about her in what he thought of as a schoolmasterly way. 'They export it,' she now frankly wept. Hillier asked himself what it ought to be. The other arm round, a gentle kiss on the rather low forehead (a protection against too much knowledge, not female animality), then the wet cheek, then the unrouged mouth-corner? No, he could not. He caught a picture of the father snoring towards his death in the sickbay. He felt sickened. Always ready to use people as if they were things, that's all you can call them, and they all went to Auckland. 'Auckland's in New Zealand,' he said. 'It's said to be rather nice there.' That made her cry worse. 'Listen,' he said. 'You and your brother come and have tea with me in my cabin. We'll have a good tea. You've both eaten so little. About half-past four. Would you like that? I have things to tell you, interesting things.' She looked at him with brown eyes awash. He marvelled at himself, Uncle Hillier inviting youngsters to tea. And this delicious grief of hers could so easily be coaxed towards the gentlest and most comforting of initiations. He would not do it; she was not a nubile girl now but a tearful daughter. 'Tell Alan, will you? Tell him I want to let you both into a secret. It seems to me that you're people to be trusted.' Was he one to be trusted, though? The books thought not: The Perfumed Garden had sharp suspicious eyes peering through the flowers. 'So you'll come, will you?' She nodded several times. 'And now I've got to go.' He essayed a chaste kiss on her frontal lobes; she did not turn away. Like dogs the books snarled at him as he left.

He went to the sickbay. He told the orderly on duty there that he'd broken his hypodermic. 'I'm diabetic,' he said. 'Perhaps I could buy one from you.' But he was given one with the fine generosity of a ship at sea. 'How is the old man?' he whispered. No real change, he was told; he might last a long time yet. 'As far as Yarylyuk?' Quite possibly. They could get him ashore. Russian hospitals were good. 'He may live then?' You never could tell. Hillier was relieved at that: one fantastic scheme could be crossed off. There would have to be some playing by ear. Engage first, strategise after. Back in his cabin he restored, with much pain, his face to the face of Hillier. It was the expression more than the physiognomy that was adjusted. Jagger was the name of a function rather than a person. But he must keep the pseudonym. Jagger for the journey, Hillier for home. Home for the elderly, home for inebriates, home for retired spies. As for 'home' _tout court__, he had still to puzzle out a meaning.

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