home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | форум | collections | читалки | авторам | add


The flour king snored on, with increasing feebleness, towards his own black sea. Kraarkh kraarkh. Their memento mori tucked away, the voyagers tucked in. The _Polyolbion__ dodged among the Cyclades. Kraarkh. The ham had been cooked in equal parts of chicken stock and muscatel, sliced to the bone, each slice spread with chestnut pur'ee, ground almonds and minced onion. Covered with puff pastry, browned, served with a sauce Marsala. Kraarkh. Milos, Santarin. Roast chicken Nerone, with potatoes romana. Siphnos, Paros. Here the Nereids sing, their hair as gold as their voices. Tournedos truff'es with a sauce bordelaise. Kraarkh. On Sikinos the Nereids appear with donkey or goat hoofs. Steak au poivre aflame in brandy. Master Walters frowned over the coded message. ZZWM DDHGEM. Kraarkh. Ariadne's island. Pommes Balbec. Kythnos, Syros, Tinos, Andros. EH IJNZ. Parian marble, wine, oil, gum-mastic. Kraarkh. Hominy grits. Egg nog ice cream. OJNMU ODWI E. Kraarkh. The Northern Sporades. Sherry bisque. OVU ODVP. Kraarkh. Veal cutlets in sour cream. To starboard, Mytilene, then the Turkish mainland. Kraarkh. Miss Walters, excited by what was to come, quietened her nerves with a sex-book. The _Polyolbion__ delicately probed the Dardenelles. _Swell the march__. Kraarkh with olive potatoes and juniper berries. _Of England's story__ with kraarkh and courgettes. Hillier kept to his cabin because of Clara Walters. This was no time for cramming that honeycomb into his mouth.

Spare bread and cheese and bottled ale fed that mouth which spent much time testing its Russian accent, re-acquiring facility. Wriste was worried: was he perhaps not well? Wriste sat with him sometimes while he ate, telling tales of when he was a muckman in Canberra, a brutal stretch in jail in Adelaide, sheilas on Bondi Beach. The salt of the earth, Wriste. _Of England's story__. Kraarkh. The Sea of Marmara. A mere wave at Istanbul to port: they would be visiting Istanbul on the way back. The Bosporus, Beykoz to starboard. Kraarkh. He was still alive, a mere vat of feebly bubbling chemicals. He might last till Istanbul. It would be easier there to arrange his transport to a British crematorium. The ship moved firmly towards the Crimean peninsula. Yarylyuk smiled equivocally ahead.

Nightfall; landfall. The evening was all plush, studded with Tartar brilliants; the air like soft and snaky Borodin. Some instinct told Hillier to greet his danger in underpants and dressing-gown. His L-shaped cabin was on the port side; from the light or deck-window above the washbasin he could see the harbour nuzzle up without himself being seen. He was in the dark, really in the dark. The horror was that he had no plan. He faced his fate, the fat laughers on deck their fun. There was always something inimical about the approach of land after long days at sea, even when that land was home, whatever home was. It was like the intrusion of the sforzandi of hearty visitors into the quiet rhythms of a hospital ward, or like the switching on of a raw electric bulb as the cosy afternoon of toe-toasting in the shadows, by the hypnotic cave of a Sunday fire, became church-going evening. The quay lights of Yarylyuk were naked enough; the go-downs were ugly with smashed windows. A dog barked somewhere in comforting international language. Tamburlaine and his sons, shabby in washed-out worker's blue, looked up at the British ship: cruel Tartar faces with papirosi burning under ample moustaches. There was a shouting handling of ropes. Hillier heard the gangplank thud down. Some of the passengers cheered. He tried to think beyond the piled packing-cases, trolleys, oil-slicked stones, cracked windows, YARYLYUK in Cyrillic lettering and yellow neon glowing from a roof, to the distant hills, cypress, olive, vine, laughing teeth – sempiternal innocent life, clodhopping dances and flowery folk festivals. He tried, gulping, to think beyond the uniformed and capped smokers, arms akimbo, doing the rump-cleft-freeing knees-bend as they watched and waited. There would be unofficial lights-villas and workers' holiday hostels – to left and right of this way in for foreigners. There would be little boats and regatta yachts with flags. A couple of uniforms strolled into his view. Perhaps they were not so clever here as in Moscow; perhaps Theodorescu's message had been misunderstood or not taken too seriously. These were, surely, decent ordinary _militsioners__ who wanted no trouble-a British whisky in the ship's bar rather, a pen or camera or doll in Tudor silk. Their roubles would be acceptable; British shore visitors would want roubles; no trouble with roubles, no rouble-trouble.

Three jaunty Slavs, not Tartars, passport-stamping men in uniform, stamped past Hillier's light, talking loudly. All intending shore visitors, it had been loudspeakered earlier, must report with their passports to the bar on C-deck. And would there be stripping for the thinner men in a commandeered cabin near by? A coachload was to be sped to the Hotel Krym, where there would be a feast of Crimean oysters, salmon, sturgeon, seethed kid, ripe figs and wine as sweet as ripe figs. Hillier started as his door was suddenly opened, letting in light from the corridor. 'You're in the dark,' said young Alan. His Black Russian announced itself. Hillier drew the runnered curtain across his view of Yarylyuk. 'You can switch on,' he said. Alan was in a decent dark blue shore-going suit with a polka-dot bow-tie. At once Hillier realised why he himself was near-naked. Yarylyuk was going to give him a uniform. 'I've cracked this code,' said Alan.

'Never mind about that now. Where's your sister?'

'She's just finishing dressing. She'll be here in a minute. Look, about this code. The November goddess is Queen Elizabeth I. She came to the throne in November, 1558.'

'1558?' That had something to do with Roper. The family-tree on the wall in Didsbury, Manchester. The ancestor who died young for his faith.1558: an Elizabethan martyr. 'I'm beginning to see,' said Hillier. 'A binary code, is it?'

'If you mean alternate letters belong to alternating systems, yes. In one system the first letter is the fifth, in the other the fifth letter is the eighth. It's quite simple, really. But I haven't had time to do it all. They call you by a different name. I suppose it stood to reason your name couldn't be Jagger. It begins: DEAR HILLIR. That's a foreign-sounding name. Are you sure,' he said accusingly, 'you've been telling us the truth?'

'They may have spelt it wrong. It should be Hillier.'

'I didn't get much further than that. But it's full of apologies, as far as I can see. They're sorry about something or other.'

'Perhaps the amount of my terminal bonus. Anyway, I can have a look at it later. Thanks. You'd do well in this game.' There was a knock at the door and Clara walked in. She looked ravishing. Hillier knew he had been right to go into retirement this last day and more, subsisting on bread and cheese and Russian. Infirm of purpose. She was in a cocktail dress of silver lam'e with cape back and treble pearl-diamant'e collar necklace, her shoes of silver kid. Perfume of an older woman clouted Hillier's nostrils, making him salivate. He yearned for her. Damn work. Damn death. 'How is he?' he asked.

'About the same.'

'And that bitch,' said Alan evilly, 'is going ashore with that muscled Scandinavian bastard, God curse them both.'

'Language, language,' reproved Clara. She shook her head in sorrow at him and then went to sit on Hillier's bunk. Her knees showed; Hillier knew, but did not show, an accession of agony. He said briskly: 'To business. I want a Russian police uniform and I want it now. This means that a policeman will have to be lured in here-'

A loud complaint came from the corridor: 'Making me bloody strip for a short-arm inspection. If that's the condition for going ashore I'm staying on board. Bloody Russkies.' A cabin-door slammed. So Theodorescu's prediction was being fulfilled: a very capable, though bad, man.

'Lured?' said Alan. 'How lured?'

'You have two techniques available. If one fails, try the other. You, my boy, take that camera on deck. The Japanese one-'

'Japanese one?' He looked puzzled.

'Yes, yes. The one you say Theodorescu gave you. Take it without the case, though-' There was a knock at the door. It was Clara who raised her finger to shushing lips. 'Come in,' shouted Hillier bravely. He would bare his chest to bullets; he knew when he was beaten. Wriste peered in, then entered. He was smart for a shore visit, the grey suit natty enough for London, the tie-a vulgar touch that went with the toothless jaws – mock-Harrovian. He said: 'Not dressed yet? Still not feeling so good?' He saw Clara sitting on the bunk and did a Leporello-type leer.

'All right, forgive me butting in, but there's two blokes in the bar asking for you.'


'Yes, but nice blokes both. Laughing and joking, speak lovely English. They said something about typewriters.'

'And they asked for Jagger.'

'More like Yagger. I just happened to be there getting my passport stamped. I didn't say more than that I'd look to see if you was in.'

'Well, I'm not. Say I've gone ashore.'

'Nobody's gone ashore yet. They've got some kind of FFI thing going on in one of the cabins. A very thorough lot, the Russians. Looking for drugs hidden up people's arseholes, perhaps. I beg your pardon, miss. I do most definitely beg your pardon. I really and most sincerely apologise for what I said then. I just forgot myself. I do most definitely-'

'You've heard of industrial espionage,' said Hillier. 'The Russians are better at it than anybody. Slip me a mickey and then gouge out all my technical secrets. Say,' he said, inspired, 'that I left the ship with a certain Mr Theo-dorescu. You saw that helicopter. A lot of people did. Tell them that.' Wriste discreetly slid his thumb along his finger-ends, three times, rapidly. 'Here,' Hillier sighed. He dug out a hundred-dollar bill from his bunkside table drawer. 'And don't let me down.'

'You, sir? You're my pal, you are. And I'm really sorry, miss. Sometimes my tongue just carries me away-'

'What's FFI?' asked Alan.

'Free From Infection,' said Wriste promptly. 'We used to have it coming back off leave.'

'How about now?' asked Hillier. 'This business now, I mean?'

'That's the funny thing,' said Wriste. 'They didn't want everybody. Just a selected few. They could see I was honest.' He struck a pose and leered. Then, wagging his hundred-dollar bill, he cakewalked out.

'Yes,' said Alan. 'You said something about a camera.'

'Find a solitary policeman and offer it for five roubles. That's mad, of course, but never mind. Just hold up five fingers and say _rubl__. He ought to slaver over a chance like that. And then say you've got the case in your cabin, no extra charge.'

'How do I say that? I don't know any Russian.'

'You disappoint me, you do really. Use gesture. He'll understand. Then bring him in here. He'll be quite willing to come. Any chance to snoop. He won't be suspicious of you, a mere youngster. There won't, of course, be any camera-case. There'll just be me.'

'And supposing it fails?'

If it fails we bring Plan Number Two into operation. Or rather Clara does.'

'What does Clara do?'

'You offer a camera, Clara offers herself.' The two drooped and became what they were, children. They widened shocked and fearful eyes at Hillier. 'It's an act,' said Hillier rapidly. 'Just that, no more. Just a bit of playacting. Nothing can happen. I shall be here in that wardrobe, waiting. But, of course,' he ended, as they still looked at him dumbly and reproachfully, 'you can't really fail with the camera trick.'

'But how do I do it?' asked Clara.

'Do I really have to tell you that? I thought you were interested in sex. All you have to do is to sway seductively and give him a bold look, what they call the old come-hither. You're supposed to know all that instinctively.' Ridiculously, Hillier demonstrated. They didn't laugh.

'All right, then.' Alan didn't look too happy. 'I'll go and start Plan Number One.'

'And the very best of luck.' Alan went out hanging his head. 'Well,' said Hillier to Clara, 'that's deflated him a bit, hasn't it? Not quite so cocky as he was.' He considered sitting beside Clara on the bunk, but then thought better of it. He took the nearest chair instead, crossing his legs, disclosing a bare hairy one beyond the knee, swinging it. There were women, he knew, who pretended that male knee-caps could be sexy. Clara didn't look at it; she looked at him. She said: 'Alan hasn't got a camera.'


'He's never had a camera. He's never been interested in photographing things.'

'But he got one as a present. He said so.'

'Yes. I couldn't understand why he lied. If he'd got one he would have shown it me. He certainly wouldn't have hidden it. What he got from that man he hid.'

'Oh, God. Why didn't he say? This is no time for having secrets from each other.' That touched something in her -not sexology but True Romances. Hillier again considered sitting beside her.

'Why don't you forget all about it?' she said. 'It's just not worth it, is it? Killing and spying and kidnapping. Men. A lot of children.'

'Would you like a lot of children?'

'Oh, fancy asking a question like that now. There'd be time for questions like that if you weren't mixed up in all this stupidity. We could have a nice voyage.'

'We shall have a nice voyage when I've finished the job. I promise you. We'll read your sex-books together and drink beef-tea at mid-morning. Or perhaps we'll throw your sex-books overboard.'

'You're laughing at me.'

'I'm not,' said Hillier, not laughing. 'I'm deadly serious.' And then he thought: seriously dead; a serious case of death; prognosis purgatory. He wanted to live. The vowel shifted. A fat letter for a thin one. It seemed a long time since Wriste had talked about his typing sister. 'I think,' said Hillier, deadly serious, 'I could talk about love.' No man, uttering that word outside the heat of urgent need, could ever fail to be embarrassed by it. It was a con-man's word. But with women, even more with girls, it was different. Clara went roseate and looked down at the Line's carpet. Hillier had to give the word a meaning satisfactory to himself. The love he proposed, still marvelling at himself, was the only genuine kind: the incestuous kind. 'I mean it,' he said. 'Love.' And as an earnest of meaning it he covered his knees with his dressing-gown, imagining himself glued by honour to his chair.

'You shouldn't have said it,' flushed Clara. 'Not to me. We don't know each other.'

'It's not a word in your sex-books. If I'd proposed fellation you'd have taken it in your stride. Love. I said love.'

'I mean, there's the difference in our ages. You must be old enough to be my father.'

'I am. Soon you'll be needing a father. And I still say love.'

'I shall have to-what's the word?-Jure him into my own cabin,' she mumbled, still looking down. 'It'll be -what's the word? – more plausible. You don't think ahead, that's your trouble. You just think of hitting him and taking his uniform. There's the time after that. A dirty old man breaking into a young girl's cabin-'

'You needn't choose an old one.' Love. He loved this girl.

'And then when you've gone off wearing his uniform I can scream till somebody comes and then I can say he took it off himself for what purpose everybody will know and then I _lured__ him and got him off his guard and hit him -What would I hit him with?'

'With the heaviest of your sex-books.'

'_Seriously__.' She tamped with excitement. 'What are _you__ going to hit him with?'

'With his gun.'

'Oh.' The proscenium arch had come down. The maniac on the stage had leapt into the audience. 'I hadn't thought he'd be carrying a gun.'

'These men will not be village bobbies. I won't hit him too hard, just enough to give him an injection of PSTX. That produces an effect of great intoxication. If he's already out he'll probably stay out. Splendid. He came in drunk and undressed and then you clonked him with a stiletto heel – do that, you must do that – and then-'

'Then I bundled his clothes out of the porthole to make things more difficult for him. Including the gun.' She was ashine with eagerness to get down to the job of luring a strange man in.

'You're a beautiful and desirable and clever and brave girl,' said Hillier gravely, 'and I love you. And in jail or labour-camp or salt-mine I shall go on loving you. And even when the bullet bites I shall love you.' It all sounded preposterous, like love itself.

'But you'll be coming back. You will come back, won't you?'

Before he could answer, the door opened. Alan came in, very hangdog. 'No luck,' he mumbled. 'Nobody wanted to buy a camera. So I tried a Parker pen, and they didn't want that either. Nor some shirts. Not even my dinner-suit.'

'I don't think,' said Clara, 'young boys wear dinner-suits in Russia.'

'I did my best,' said Alan defiantly. 'I'm not much good at this sort of thing. I'm sorry.'

'Never mind,' said Hillier, kindly, in love. 'It stands to reason that you still have a lot to learn. Let Clara and me take over now.'

'I think I'll go ashore,' said Alan. 'There's this big coach waiting at the dock-gates.' He paused, waiting in vain to be told to be careful. 'I'll be careful,' he said, doubtfully.

'Act Two,' announced Hillier. 'A change of venue, but not really of scene. I'll throw those sex-books of yours through your porthole,' he told Clara. 'We don't want anybody to say you encouraged him.'

предыдущая глава | Tremor of Intent | cледующая глава