It was a long time, time enough to forget Uncle Otto's smoked salmon and coffined ham and his niece's unpleasantness, before Roper and I met again. When we did meet again, he was, over-fulfilling his wife's prophecy, a real doctor, not just, like horrible dead Goebbels, a man with a first degree. He rang me up at home, very breathy and very close to the telephone, as though it were an erogenous zone of Brigitte's. Urgent, he said. He needed advice, help. I could guess what it was going to be. Wieder wieder wieder. Ach, the lovely bloody Mondschein. I suggested a Soho restaurant the following evening. A German restaurant, since he liked German things so much. There Doctor Roper, white hope of research in cheap rocket fuel, got very drunk on sparkling hock and moaned and whined. His wife was playing away. And he loved her so much still, he said, and he'd given her everything any decent woman could- 'What exactly has happened?' There was a vinous touch of satisfaction in my voice; I could hear it and it was hard to suppress.
'He was in the house one night when I got back late, a great red German lout, and he had his coat off and his shirt open, a big fair hairy chest, and he was drinking beer out of a can and he had his feet on the settee, and when I walked in he wasn't one bit abashed but just grinned at me. And she grinned too.'
Abashed. "Why didn't you bash him and kick him out?'
'He's a professional wrestler.'
'Oh.' I had a swift vision of Roper on the ropes, neatly cat-cradled in them, a parcelled crucifixion. 'How did all this start?'
'We took this house, you see, and it's in a fairly slummy part of London, because houses are the very devil to get in London but-'
'You've been in London long?'
'Oh yes.' He stared at me as though his coming to London had been headlined in the more reputable newspapers. 'Hard to get, as I say, but the Department helped and we didn't want a flat any more, and Brigitte said that she was to be an Englische Dame with stairs to go up and down-'
'Come to this wrestler.'
'We went into a pub for a drink, you see, in Islington it was, and then there was this big blond man talking bad English with a very strong Germar^i accent. She spoke to him, talking about Heimweh – that's homesickness, she was homesick, you see, for somebody to speak German to, and she found that he came from about thirty miles from Elmshorn. So that was it pretty well. He's under contract to wrestle in England or something and he said he was lonely. A very big man and very strong.'
'Wrestlers usually are.'
'And very ugly. But we had him back for supper.' Roper spoke as though ugliness would not normally get you an invitation. 'And very – you know, absolutely no intelligence, with this big grin and his face all shiny.'
'That was after eating, I take it?'
'Oh no, all the time.' Roper was growing as obtuse as his wife to the tones of irony or sarcasm. 'But he did eat like a pig. Brigitte cut him more and more bread.'
'And she's rather taken to him, has she?'
Roper began to tremble. 'Taken to him! That's good, that is. I came home one night, late again, very tired, and you know what I found?'
'You tell me.'
'On the job.' Roper's voice rose. His hands clenched and unclenched. They seized the sparkling hock and poured a sizeable tremulous measure. Then, panting, he said, loudly so that people looked at him, 'On the bloody job. I saw them. His big bloody muscles all working away at it, enjoying it, and she was there underneath him crying out Schnell schnell schnell.' The solitary waiter, a German, took this for a summons and started to come too. I waved him away. To Roper I said: 'Oh no.'
'Oh bloody yes. And even he had the bloody grace to see this was all filthy and wrong and he didn't grin this time, oh no. He slunk out, carrying half his clothes. You know, it was as though he expected me to hit him.'
'You should have knocked the daylights out of him,' I said. An improbable idea. 'And so that's the end of that. I never thought that marriage would work, somehow.'
He looked at me wet-lipped. Part of his dithering now seemed out of shame. 'But it did, you know,' he mumbled. 'It took me a long time to forgive her. But, you see, seeing them like that -1 don't quite know how to put this. Well, it gave us a new lease of life, in a way.'
I understood. Horrible, but life remains life. A new lease of. 'You mean, even though you were tired coming back home at night, you were able to-'
'And she was sort of penitent.'
'So she should be. If I ever caught any wife of mine-'
'You wouldn't understand.' A flash of drunken sweetness peered, then went. 'You're not married.'
'All right. So now what's your trouble?'
'It didn't last all that long,' he mumbled. 'It was working late and not eating enough, I suppose. I've been having this bit of tummy trouble, canteen food.'
'This was all right, though, was it?'
'Oh yes.' We'd had Kalbsbraten followed by Obsttorte. Roper, in a distracted kind of passion, as though waging a secondary war at threshold level, had cleaned my plates as well as his own. 'She's been going on at me as an effete Englander, no ink in my pen, no pen at all, only a little Bleistift. Now I've become one of those who encouraged the Jews to engineer Germany's downfall.'
'Well, you always were, weren't you? As an Englishman, I mean?'
'I'd seen the light,' said Roper in dark gloom. 'That's what she used to say. Now she's brought this bloody big blond beast back again.'
'So there was a sort of interim, was there?'
'He was on the Continent, doing a kind of tour. Now he's in London, wrestling in the suburbs.'
'Has he been back in the house?'
'For a late supper. Not for anything else. But I can't vouch for what happens in the afternoons.'
'You condoned it, you bloody fool. They've both got you now.'
'He's not abashed any more. He grins and goes to the fridge to get more beer. She calls him Willi. But the name he wrestles under is Wurzel. On the posters it says Wurzel der Westdeutsche Teufel.'
'Wurzel the mangle.'
'The West German Devil is what it means.'
'I know, I know. What do you want me to do about it? I can't see that there's anything I can do.' But then-and they should have done this before – my professional ears pricked. 'Tell me,' I said, 'do you discuss your work with her at all? Does she know the sort of thing you're doing?'
'Does she ever ask? '
He thought for a moment. 'Only in the most general terms. She doesn't really understand what sort of work a scientist does. She didn't get much schooling, what with the war.'
'Do you bring papers home?'
'Well-' I'd made him just a little uneasy. 'She wouldn't understand them even if she could get at them. I keep them locked up, you see.'
'Oh, you innocent. Tell me, has she any relatives or friends in East Germany?'
'None that I know of. Look, if you think she's on the spying game you're greatly mistaken. Whatever's going on is sexual, you take my word for it. Sex.' This damnable. His mouth began to collapse. The whine came gargoyling out. 'It's not my fault if I get so tired in the evenings.'
'And on Sunday mornings too?'
'I don't wake early. She's up hours before I am.' Now the tears were ready to flood, and I was ready to get him out of here before the fierce fat manageress came. I grinned to myself, remembering Father Byrne sermonising in the dormitory. I paid the bill, leaving all the change, and said, as we left, me supporting his left elbow: 'I can make a professional job of this, you know. Watching them, I mean. And if you want evidence for a divorce-'
'I don't want a divorce. I want things to be as they used to be. I love her.'
We walked down Dean Street towards Shaftesbury Avenue. 'There was a time,' I said, 'when you were always having a jab at authority. Very independent you were, Renaissance man, knocking at all doors. You seem to need to lean on something now. Somebody, I mean.'
'We all need to lean. I was very young and inexperienced then.'
'Why don't you go back into the Church?'
'Are you mad? One goes forward, not back. The Church is a lot of irrational nonsense. And you're a right sod to talk, aren't you?' The Bradcaster way of speech had burrowed deep into us, despite our Southern background. 'Been out of the Church yourself since God knows when.'
'Since taking up this kind of work, to be precise. A question of loyalties. In my dossier my religion is down as C of E. It's safe. It means nothing. It offends nobody. The Department has an annual church parade, believe it or not. When all's said and done, the Pope remains a foreigner.'
'Beat him up,' said Roper, not meaning the Pope. 'Teach him a lesson. You've done unarmed combat and judo and so forth. Knock his teeth in, the big blond swine.'
'In Brigitte's presence? That won't exactly endear you to her, will it? She called me your fiend, remember.'
'Get him alone, then. Outside at night. Back at wherever he lives.'
'I don't see how that's going to teach Brigitte a lesson. The true object of the exercise. Good God, this is really the war all over again, isn't it?'
We were approaching Piccadilly Underground. Roper stopped in the middle of the pavement and began to cry. Some young louts stared at him, but more in commiseration than in the traditional guffawing contempt. The sex-patterns were merging with this new generation. But not for Roper, not for me. Sex was, for us, still damnable. I persuaded him to wipe his eyes and give me his address. Then he tottered off underground to reach it, as though it were somewhere in hell.
I was going to do things my way, not Roper's. At that time my position in the Department, as you remember, sir, was still more or less probationary. It was not yourself but Major Goodridge who gave me permission – treating it rather like an exercise – to spy on Brigitte Roper, geboren Weidegrund, and this Wurzel man. I think I was even praised for initiative. Each afternoon after that Soho meeting I waited outside the Roper residence just off Islington High Street. It was a dingy bleak little terraced house, the windows unwashed perhaps because window-cleaners were too proud to call in this district. The dust-bins stood, all along that street, like dismal battered front-door sentinels. At one end of the street was a dairy, cloudy milk-bottles stacked outside; at the other was a dirty-magazine shop. As this was a working-class district, it was deserted in the day -except for curlered wives in slippers, shopping. Watching was difficult. But I only had to do three days of it. At last the Wurzel man came – muscular, ugly, complacent, dressed in a deplorable blue suit. He knocked, then looked up at the sky, whistling, sure of his welcome. The door was opened, though Brigitte did not show herself. Wurzel went in. I took a walk long enough to smoke a Handelsgold Brazilian cigar. Then, spitting out my butt, I too knocked. And again. And again. Bare feet coming downstairs. A voice speaking through the letter-slit, Brigitte, unswitched to English: 'Ja? Was ist'sf I said, in gruff demotic: 'Registered parcel, missis.' She opened up minimally. Ready for that, I pushed in, feeling the ineffectual counter-push of those large Teutonic breasts (though not seeing, not looking) as she cried after me marching up the stairs. A shout of bemused and part-fearful enquiry answered her. It was like two people playing at Alps. His sound, as well as a rank cigarette-smell, told me where the bedroom was. Poor Roper. The landing was full of books spilling from shelves. Brigitte was panting up after me. I entered the bedroom, crossing to its furthermost corner before turning to face them both. She, now in, clad only in a gaudy bathrobe, recognised me, the fiend. And now I took in the beast on the bed – gross, stupid, totally – like Noah – uncovered.
There was no spying going on here, that was certain. But could one ever be sure? I said very loudly: 'Go on, pig. Out. Out before I you into the street all naked kick, swine.'
He saw I was not the husband. He stood up on the bed, seeking balance as on a trampoline, totally and obscenely bare, his little bags swinging. He gorilla-spread his fat arms, grunting at me. He had some idea of leaping at me from the bed-foot, but I was too far away. And then, as in the ring, the bloody fool, he beckoned me in with his fingers. We were to engage to the crowd's roars and boos. I could see at once that he was fit only for rigged bouts, a throw-seller, spectacular enough with the Irish whip and the flying mare, the flying head scissors, the monkey climb, but no good at all in genuine shoot moves. A script-boy. Cats and big thing after with Tiger Pereira. 'Cats' meaning 'catspaw' meaning 'draw'. The 'big thing' an act of anger or marching off in a huff to the crowd's delight. I knew a little about wrestling.
He jumped from the bed. Brigitte's pots and jars shook on their dressing-table. Good God, I now noticed on the wall a group photograph of the Sixth Form at St Augustine's, Roper and I arm-folded side by side, Father Byrne smiling, damnable sex off his mind that day. And now Wurzel advanced, bad teeth snarling, theatrically terrible. We needed more space really. Relying too much on initial intimidation, Wurzel did not expect my sudden rush with a head-butt to the midriff. His arms were wide open, heaven help him. Surprised, he was taken aback by my rapid hug, from a kneeling position, of his left leg. He was about to chop at my nape, but I was ready for this. I leaned my whole weight and had him on his back, breathless. He was a horrible big soft fleshy feather-bed. I lay on him, his posture Mars Observed. He tried to get up, but I bore down hard. Then I dealt my speciality, a handedge on the larynx, einmal, zweimal, dreimal. By rights Brigitte should have been hammering me with a shoe or something, but 1 saw her bare feet by the door, quite immobile. 'Genug?' I asked. He gurgled what might have been 'Genug' but I gave him no benefit of the doubt. His thick arms lay quite flaccid, more ornament than use. I bit his left ear very viciously. He tried to howl, but coughs got in the way. I rose from the bed of him in a single nimble push, then he was after me, flailing and coughing, trying to howl expressions with Scheiss in them. On Brigitte's dressing-table was a pair of nail-scissors, so I picked these up and danced round him, lunging and puncturing. 'Genug?' I asked again.
This time he just stood, panting when not coughing, squinting at me warily. 'I go,' he said. 'I wish mine gelt.' So she took money, did she? 'Give it him,' I said. From the pocket of the bathrobe she drew out a few notes. He snatched them, spitting. I found an even better weapon on the dressing-table – a very long nail-file with a dagger-end. 'One minute to dress,' I said, 'and then out.' I began to count the seconds. He was pretty quick. He didn't bother to lace his shoes. 'And if you give the Herr Doktor any more trouble-' Brigitte's eyes were on me, not on him, I now had time to notice. She bade him no good-bye as I back-punched him, grumbling, out on to the landing. On the landing he saw Roper's books and, very vindictive, he swept his fist along a top shelf and sent some of them bumping and swishing to the floor. I said: 'Smutty swine, you. Uncultured shitheap,' and I kicked his arse, a large target. 'Make a fire, shall we? Burn them all?' He rounded and snarled at me in the landing-dark, so I thrust him downstairs. Bumping against the stairwell wall he dislodged a little picture that had been unhandily nailed not firmly rawlplugged. It was an old-fashioned woolly monochrome of Siegfried, his gob open for a hero's shout, his hand grasping Nothung. This angered me. Who were they in this house to think that Wagner was theirs? Wagner was mine. I banged Wurzel down the last few steps and then let him find his own way to the front door. Opening it, he turned to execrate a mouthful as elemental and nasty as a bowel movement. I raised my hand at him, and then he slammed out.
All this time I had had my raincoat on. Going back upstairs I took it off, as well as my jacket. Entering the bedroom for a new, but still cognate, purpose, I was already loosening my tie. As I'd expected, Brigitte was lying naked on the bed. In a very few seconds I was with her. It was altogether satisfactory, very gross and thorough. I rode into Germany again, a hell become all flowers and honey for the victor. She didn't want tenderness, victim self-elected, also the mother I and the enemy had been tussling to possess. I re-enacted the victory ride three times. Afterwards (it was now dark) she spoke only German to me, language of darkness. Should she make tea, would I like some schnapps?
'Did you always take money from him?' I asked. 'Do you want money from me now?'
'Not this time. But if you come again.'
We shared a black aromatic Handelsgold. 'You'll have to leave him, you know,' I said. 'This sort of thing won't do at all. Go back to Germany. They're building fine new Dirnenwohnheime there. D"usseldorf. Stuttgart. That's your line. A lot of money to be made. But leave poor Edwin alone.'
'I too have thought of that. But here in London is better. A little flat, no Dirnenwohnheim.' She did a theatrical shudder; I felt it in the dark. In the dark, above the bed, Roper and I looked out at our coming world, arms folded; Father Byrne had smiled through the act of light, the act of dusk, the act of darkness. Well, I too, were I Brigitte, would much prefer a flat and a poodle in warm sinful London to one of those cold regimented German whorehouses. I said: 'Have you any money?'
'I have saved some. But if I am divorced I am deported.'
'It's up to you. But for God's sake get out of his life. He's got work to do, important work.' Lying here, right hand splayed on her right breast, its nipple rousing itself from flaccidity, I felt both loyal and patriotic. 'Each of us must do,' I added sententiously, 'the thing that is given us to do.' My cigar had gone out; there was no point in feeling for the matches to relight it. Roper and British science were to be saved. I felt a gush of generosity. 'This,' I said, turning to her, 'can count as another visit.'