Cover image for The madness of July
The madness of July
Naughtie, James, 1951- , author.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : The Overlook Press, 2014.
Physical Description:
392 pages ; 24 cm
"Will Flemyng was trained as a spy for a life behind enemy lines, but now he is in politics--and rising to the top. But when a bizarre death starts to unravel some of the most sensitive secrets of his government, Will is drawn back into the shadows of the Cold War and begins to dance with danger once more"
General Note:
"A thriller"--Jacket.

"First published in the UK in 2014 by Head of Zeus Ltd"--Title page verso.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library FICTION Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Clarence Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Clearfield Library FICTION Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
Eggertsville-Snyder Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Kenmore Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Orchard Park Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Julia Boyer Reinstein Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
City of Tonawanda Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



The Madness of July is set in the late 1970s, and takes place during six sweltering days in the month that gives the book its title. Will Flemyng was trained as a spy for a life behind enemy lines, but now he is in politics--and rising to the top. But when a bizarre death starts to unravel some of the most sensitive secrets of his government, Will is drawn back into the shadows of the Cold War and begins to dance with danger once more.Buffeted by political forces and the powerful women around him, and caught in interlocking mysteries he must disentangle--including a potentially lethal family secret--Flemyng faces his vulnerability and learns, through betrayal and tragedy, more truth about his world than he has ever known. Masterfully weaving together espionage, political intrigue, and family drama, James Naughtie has written a spy novel for the ages, worthy of comparison to the finest work of Charles McCarry and Robert Littell.

Author Notes

Educated at Aberdeen and Syracuse Universities, JAMES NAUGHTIE has worked for the Washington Post and The Guardian . Since 1994, he has been a radio and news presenter of the Today program, on the BBC 4 radio network. He is the author of The Accidental American: Tony Blair and the Presidency . The Madness of July is his first novel.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Former MI6 operative Will Flemyng has successfully transitioned into a ministerial post in the Foreign Office. He enjoys the game, but it's July, the historically daft season in British politics, and he is unsettled because the shrewdest of his colleagues sense that something disastrous is about to happen. The trouble begins when an American spook is found dead, stuffed into a cupboard in the House of Commons. Worse, he has Will's phone number in his pocket. Will must return to his old craft to protect himself, his party, and the sometimes-shaky special relationship with the Yanks. Although the novel is billed as a thriller, first-novelist Naughtie, a veteran journalist covering British politics, seems determined to obscure the nature of the threat Will faces. Naughtie's tells, the important bits that spur action, often come via snatches of truncated dialogue that offer multiple possible meanings, and the tells may be buried in inside-baseball-style dialogue about arcane government practices. Even well-read Anglophiles will wonder just who is doing what to whom, but many will find the process of sorting it all out well worth the effort.--Gaughan, Thomas Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Reporter Naughtie (The Accidental American: Tony Blair and the Presidency) makes his fiction debut with a nuanced, character-driven spy thriller set over six days in the late 1970s. When a clerk stumbles on a dead American in a House of Parliament cupboard, trouble ensues because on the body are the name and phone number of ex-spy Will Flemyng, now a minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. During a weekend trip to his boyhood home in Scotland, Will meets with his brother Abel Grauber, a U.S. political operative who has taken their mother's maiden name to distance his career from the careers of Will and their other brother, Mungo, who has unearthed a secret that could rip apart already strained family bonds. Copious amounts of dramatic dialogue speeds the story along. While the plot rambles at times, the slow discovery of who is trying to destroy Will-and why-is irresistible. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Unlike thrillers that focus on spycraft, this debut novel from a British political affairs journalist digs into the psychology of secrets hidden in the crevices between diplomacy and espionage. Will Flemyng, a cabinet minister in London, wants only to get out of town on a hot July day in 1976. Suddenly, he glimpses facets of several puzzles. A dead American is found in a closet in the Palace of Westminster, home to Britain's Houses of Parliament. The ambassadorship to Washington, DC, is open, with rabid competition among the candidates. Will and his two brothers, whose hearts are in the Scottish Highlands, learn that their dear mother was not a faithful wife. A rape accusation from two decades ago ripens to vengeance. The pressure builds because Will intuits that these threads are part of a single web. VERDICT Naughtie, whose love of Scotland shines in his lyrical and affectional portrait of the Highlands, writes insightfully about the plight of men at the highest reaches of power when passionate ambitions joust with common sense. Readers on this side of the pond may struggle a bit with elements familiar to a British audience, but perseverance will reward them with the satisfying resolution of a sophisticated conundrum. For mood and atmosphere, Alan Furst's novels come to mind and for tension and pace, think of the British TV series MI-5.-Barbara Conaty, Falls Church, VA (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



For Ellie This edition first published in hardcover in the United States in 2014 by '... I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men.' F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby The characters in this story, like their governments, are imaginary. Only the cities and the highlands of Scotland are real. People The British Will Flemyng, minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London Francesca Flemyng, his wife Mungo Flemyng, historian, his brother Lucy Padstowe, civil servant, his private secretary Paul Jenner, secretary to the cabinet and head of the civil service Jonathan Ruskin, cabinet minister in charge of government coordination Janus Forbes, defence minister Harry Sorley, secretary of state for education Tom Brieve, foreign affairs adviser to the prime minister, 10 Downing Street Gwilym Crombie, private secretary to the government chief whip Jeffrey Sparger, Elias McIvor, ministers Chief Inspector Jarrod Osterley, metropolitan police special branch George Denbigh, clerk, House of Commons Sam Malachy, officer in the secret intelligence service, MI6 Arthur 'Babble' Babb, the Flemyngs' caretaker at Altnabuie, Perthshire Aeneas MacNeil, a priest Archie Chester, a doctor The Americans Abel Grauber, diplomat, US mission, United Nations, New York Hannah Grauber, his wife Maria Cooney, chief of a department of US intelligence, Washington Zak Annan, Barney Eustace, her assistants Joe Manson, an operative for Maria Guy Sassi, CIA officer Jackson Wherry, US embassy, London Bill Bendo, liaison, US mission, West Berlin THURSDAY ONE Will Flemyng took cover. The falling willow branches shielded him from view and he watched Lucy weave through the encampments of deckchairs in the park, passing him unawares. He was close enough to hear her humming a tune as she steered a course towards the office, beyond the trees. But Flemyng stood rock-still in his hideaway and stayed calm. His life had so often involved the deception of friends. When she had gone, he slipped from the fountain of greenery that protected him, and a few steps took him over the little bridge and away. No one stirred in the crowd around the lake and not a single duck rose from the water. He left them slumbering into the deep afternoon, turned his back on Whitehall and let London swallow him up. Sam would be punctual, reaching their rendezvous at the appointed minute and moving on if Flemyng didn't appear. He had in mind the last scribbled words on the postcard he had destroyed in the early hours of the morning: 'Don't dawdle.' They were playing their old game. That meant there was danger, and his second encounter came less than three minutes after Lucy disappeared. He had crossed the Mall and climbed the steps at the other side, eagerness lengthening his stride and speeding him up. As he turned the corner, a government car slowed down alongside him, pulled up and parked a few yards ahead. He couldn't turn back without risking a scramble. Knowing the back of that head and the cut of the spade beard, he prepared himself and felt a flicker of fear that surprised him. The passenger heaved his bulk out of the rear seat, spotting Flemyng as he straightened up, and pushed a government red box out of sight. 'Will!' Jay Forbes could always summon up cheeriness from the depths. He steadied himself on the pavement with one hand against the car, and boomed, 'Whither?' 'Hi, Jay. Lunching, I assume?' Flemyng smiled and raised a hand in greeting. He swung his jacket over one shoulder. 'Not going for a swim, that's for sure.' Forbes grinned. 'On patrol. You know me.' He took a step forward and leaned closer. 'Ball-crushing cabinet committee. I was called in. Jonathan Ruskin chaired it - God knows why - but at least he gave your Foreign Office lot a bollocking. Defence sails on, thanks to the Russians playing around. Nothing like having a frisky enemy. Hardly had to say a word.' He laughed and his eyes gave Flemyng a slinky scan from top to toe, unblinking. He seemed to balance his weight on one foot in an ugly pirouette, drops of sweat springing from his broad brow. His cream shirt was too heavy for the heat, and he wore a purple brocade tie. 'What brings you out in the sun?' he said, and didn't wait for an answer. Swinging round, he gave a merry wave and steadily climbed the steps to his club. There was a rattle of glass from the tall door as it closed behind him. Flemyng took a moment to get back into his stride, caught between on-and-off affection for an old friend and alarm. He concentrated on breathing regularly, and crossed the street to stay his course without looking back. By the time he reached the next corner he had found a rhythm, and was a picture of calm. His rich blue linen suit seemed to brighten with the sun and his polished black shoes caught the light. He was tanned and slim. A man of style and purpose, on the move. Summer crowds swarmed and chattered around him, yet for Flemyng the winding down of the dog days brought claustrophobia, and the contrary suspicion that he was adrift on a wide sea with a spreading horizon, maybe lost. Despite the status he had achieved and the famous confidence that was his shadow, he felt creeping over him the fear that Sam had stirred up. Striking across Soho, he wondered if he'd be recognized. Strangers were fine; friends worried him more. His route steered him away from places where they might be lunching, or spilling out from a familiar bar. He had plotted a course around obvious dangers, trying to turn the city's byways and surprising angles to his own purpose and safety. It had to be a walk. Government cars turned a few heads, and ministerial drivers were the princely chatterers of Whitehall, alert to the slightest trembling in the web, and reading the political runes with a deadly eye. Their ears picked up in an instant the enticing beat of a private crisis. He thought of Forbes's man watching their encounter on the pavement from the car, his eyes turning to the mirror and away again. Will Flemyng savoured his rivalry with Forbes, his opposite number at Defence, each of them climbing the ministerial ladder at the same pace, with a seat in cabinet the prize for the first to haul himself up to the next rung. Although he carried the weight of his name - Janus Forbes had borne the two-faced jokes on his back since schooldays - he could lighten a room with his high-octane bonhomie. And for Jonathan Ruskin, of an age with them in his mid-forties but already in cabinet and entrusted with the right to roam in the corridors of every government department, he felt less jealousy than an outsider might have expected. The secret friendships of politics persisted, and it was helpful to be close to the minister who was the first to carry Ruskin's dread but alluring label, the Co-ordinator. 'I'm the pioneer,' Joanthan had said on the night he was appointed in a chaotic ministerial reshuffle the previous year, 'but I won't be the last to do this job.' In the street, Flemyng checked his watch. He was now at the game he and Sam had learned together, when they walked the same frontier - checking faces, watching for the one that turned away too quickly, remembering the old rule that when you sensed the absence of the normal, there was trouble round the next corner. With an actor's ease he established a comfortable pace and pressed on. Lifting his head, for a moment he thought a woman coming towards him might have clocked him as her eyes came up to meet his. Elegant, distracted. He broke his step, and cursed silently. She slid past him with no more expression than a ghost's. Then the touch of a dream, like a whisper of silk. The passer-by had a hint of his mother's spirit - something about the walk? For a moment or two, in the Soho steam enveloping him, Flemyng felt the whisper of a breeze from home, coming down from the hills and up from the burn that cascaded past the woods on its way towards the loch. A happy picture flashed in his mind's eye, of his mother in contentment, perched at her easel in the wide first-floor window on the southern gable of the house to catch the last of the sun, her shadow fading gradually into the dusk of an early-autumn day. Mungo and Abel were with him, and they walked three abreast up the rise from the loch towards Altnabuie, where a flicker on the bow window of the drawing room told them that Babble was lighting the fire. Soon they would be together in their favourite room and could draw the evening around them. They would sit down at the old orrery, setting off its mechanism and watching the brass planets and moons weave their courses in perpetual peace. The bright idyll faded as quickly as it had appeared. 'Happy days,' he said, and realized that he had spoken louder than he'd meant to. A barrow boy on the corner laughed, unbuttoning his shirt and scratching himself in the heat. Flemyng raised a hand in friendly farewell and hurried across Oxford Street, which he disliked more than any other in London, striking westwards for a few minutes. He looked at the sign on the corner. Harley Street, Sam's choice. Just in case, Flemyng carried on to the next turning, where his discipline faltered for a moment. At the last, when he should be keeping on the move, he paused. Fame and privacy clustered together at the door of every mansion block around him, each with its ladder of shining brass plates bearing a list of the doctors busy inside, the top men, whose names were whispered among the desperate rich and the lonely, and accorded by them an intimate celebrity. The greatest secrets were so often the greatest boasts. 'Lost?' A friendly voice, welcome in any other circumstances. No one he knew, and no one who knew him, because there was no giveaway smile. A guy on the street in helpful mood, no more. An innocent. 'No, but thanks. On my way, that's all. Just enjoying the warmth.' Flemyng pulled a dark blue handkerchief from his breast pocket and wiped his brow. 'Aren't we all? Ta-ta,' came the reply. The ships passed in the night and Flemyng watched him sail off towards the happy tables of the Cock and Lion on the next corner, jacket slung off and trailing on the ground, unseasonal pin-stripes sliding dangerously down his rump, an arm waving high in the direction of a friend who had appeared through the doorway of the pub, two foaming glasses raised in silent salute. Flemyng envied them. Nearly there. First, the phone box on the next corner. He made a pile of coins and dialled, thinking of Mungo making his way to the hall at Altnabuie, maybe having slipped down the iron spiral staircase from his library or come in from the garden with the dogs running ahead and capering at his feet. The line clicked, and his brother's soft voice said, 'Flemyng speaking.' 'Mungo, it's me. We're well, I hope.' 'We are, I'm glad to say, little brother. And all the better for hearing you.' His voice was reassuring. The sun was on the hill, the bees in the lavender. All calm. They spoke for a minute about the heat, stifling London and the cooling shimmer on the loch at home, before Mungo said, 'You are still coming north, aren't you?' His change of tone betrayed a suspicion that something had gone wrong. 'It's why I rang. I may be delayed a little. The weekend should work out, but I can't be sure. You know what it's like here in summer. Politics goes haywire; a little daft. So I'm afraid I can't promise.' 'Please come. I've got all those papers and we do need to talk. They're ready for you.' Mungo was speaking more quickly. 'I will try. Be sure of it.' There was a brief silence, then Flemyng said, lightly, 'One thing... I wondered if you've heard from Abel.' 'Nothing back yet.' Flemyng could hear his brother moving, perhaps sitting down. He was conscious of the echo from the hall. 'I'm sure he'll be in touch.' Flemyng said, 'Of course he will. And I'll be coming home... when I can.' The phone gave three beeps. He looked at his watch, slid another coin in the slot. 'Soon. Try not to worry.' He spent a few seconds more in the box, oblivious to its rancid smells, before he pushed open the door and turned back along the street. Just as the bells on two nearby churches began to sound a ragged sequence on the hour he reached the opening to Mansfield Mews and Sam appeared from behind him. He had the knack of materializing from nothingness. A hand on Flemyng's shoulder and they were moving towards the shadowy side of the street. Sam was broad and beefy these days, shorter than his old friend, his curled russet hair grown longer. He wore black jeans and carried a cracked leather jerkin that made him look as if he was on the run. At first sight he was threatening, but had soft liquid brown eyes. Flemyng believed that most secret servants came in two guises: the silk-smoothies who were quiet and always listening, or the unbuttoned wild boys who were always talking. Each to his own, but sometimes he wished he had been more like Sam. 'Trouble?' he said, without preliminary. 'Of course,' said Sam, giving his toothy smile. Flemyng absorbed his presence, rolling some scenes across his mind like the rerun of a favourite film with chance meetings and scrapes on the battlefield, remembered days of despair and the sound of the tunes of glory they'd sung, long into the night. He thought of Berlin and Helsinki, a freezing border post in the dark, chilly interrogation rooms, and nights on the street. The endless waiting. He was touching the scar that ran from his neck across his chest. 'The war wound?' said Sam, who could remember when it hadn't been there. Flemyng had picked it up in Vienna, of all places, where the spies enjoyed opera and Sachertorte as well as thrills in the street. The Stygian darkness of an underground bar after midnight, a botched handover and a fight springing up from nowhere that left him bleeding and crawling back to the embassy with the thought that he might die before he'd got through his thirties. 'Cherish it. We've all got our mementoes,' said Sam. His were a broken marriage and a dry-out that had left him hollow for a year. With a touch of embarrassment, Flemyng took his hand away from his neck and leaned back against the railings behind him, looking directly at his friend. His own face was cast half in shadow, which emphasized his sharp profile and turned his longish dark hair to jet black. The deep hollow clefts on his cheeks were like two extra scars. The light cast the two friends differently - Flemyng's sharp edges giving him a clear profile, Sam's outline a construction of curves and wobbly lines. 'So?' 'First,' said Sam, 'I know my Will. Worried?' Flemyng sighed. 'I've found out something, old friend, and I wish I hadn't. That's all.' Sam tried a joke. 'That's a change for you.' But there was no response from Flemyng. Sam's shoulders rose as he pressed on. 'If you're wondering why I summoned you to these parts, I have an appointment across the street with a quack of a certain kind. But I don't think I'm going to be keeping it, do you?' He pushed Flemyng's shoulder to turn him slightly, and nodded up the street. He saw a government car. Not a numberplate he recognized, so a driver pulled from the ministerial pool with an anonymous vehicle for a one-off run. No passenger inside. 'Who?' Sam shook his head. 'I'd like to find out - I daresay I will - but we don't want to be seen, do we?' Flemyng dipped his head and Sam led the way quickly round the corner. Before he turned, Flemyng glanced back at the black door of number six in the mews, where the car was parked. No one to be seen. He thought there was a hint of movement at a net curtain on the second floor, then nothing. Head down, he fell into step with Sam, gesturing towards a pub in a side street that looked at first glance like a dead end, but had a narrow lane at the far end if it was needed for a fast exit. He had used it before. 'Let's have a quick one.' Flemyng was alert for signs of fear in Sam but he seemed unrattled, relieved to see his old colleague. 'I'll fill you in quickly. Sorry for pulling you out, but I had to. Walls have ears.' He spoke in a rich northern voice that had never picked up the speech of the south, of any class. The tone was flat, but in compensation Sam's language always danced. 'What's the buzz on the Rialto? In the salons. Hear anything intriguing, anything odd?' He paused. 'Because I do.' They sat down by a window without drinks, but the barman took no notice. Flemyng shook his head. 'About whom?' Sam's smile flashed at him. 'Can't say. But somebody's in trouble.' Our kind of trouble, he might have said. His sunny expression disappeared. 'Out with it,' said Flemyng. 'Something unusual, strange - a watch on somebody, and here's the thing. It's on your side of the fence and not mine, just for once. There's a minister in the middle of this. Breaks all the rules, of course.' He laughed. 'Will, I can't get a handle on it. I'm not sure why, and that's the truth.' Flemyng kept his voice low. 'Leaks? Dirty work?' Sam's head was almost touching his. 'I haven't a clue, old cock. The place is tight as a drum. Hardly a whisper. Scary.' As so often when they had walked the line together, wrestling the Great Bear as Sam used to put it, Flemyng's mind cleared as if it had been cooled and refreshed by a passing shower. Concentrating hard, he gave Sam the question he wanted. 'Why me? What can I do?' Sam's voice was almost inaudible now, and Flemyng could feel his breath. 'This time, for once, I'm not taking from you. I'm giving. OK?' Flemyng waited. 'I heard something yesterday. Just a word muttered in the undergrowth. That's why I scrambled you overnight; got you here fast. Sorry about that.' 'Give it to me, Sam.' 'It could be you.' His hand was on Flemyng's arm. 'The one they're after.' TWO Lucy Padstowe, twenty-nine and a woman of steely confidence, was shaking as she put down the phone. Melancholy visited her from time to time; but genuine alarm, the kind that penetrated to the core, was rare. Her habitual calm had been strengthened by two years in charge of the private office, riding the excitements and ploughing through the weary troughs, so the cabinet secretary's words had brought on a tremor of unease that was unfamiliar to her. She closed the door to the inner office and sat behind Flemyng's desk. The window was shut despite the heat, and long white net drapes kept out the glare of the sun. She arranged his papers, embarrassed herself by trying the top drawer of his desk and finding it locked, and started trying to track him down. She'd turn to his network, which was hers as well as Flemyng's, the gift of her ministerial patron to his closest civil servant which shaped her days and coloured both their lives. She took to its byways to try to find him. Ringing Jonathan Ruskin's office on the other side of Downing Street was a natural start. The Co-ordinator sat in an island mid-stream and events flowed towards him. Colleagues thronged at his door, with favours to trade. Although he was a graceful bird of passage in government and a master of the soothing phone call, the barons of Whitehall had a natural resistance to his existence. With the power to break the territorial rules by which officials lived, Ruskin was a constant irritant. For gossip, however, he was always reliable. And around the watering holes of Westminster, he was fun. She rang his office first: 'Lucy in Will Flemyng's office. Has my man dropped in?' - but she got nothing, tried Jay Forbes's private secretary next and felt the tinge of frost that came with Defence, even gave Sparger's people at the Home Office a call despite their minister's serpentine ways, and talked to Harry Sorley's bag-carrier at Education, although she was sure Flemyng would avoid that quarter for the moment. There were two or three others, and a disingenuous call to the press people downstairs just in case. No news. His constituency secretary knew nothing, but begged for a quick word in the afternoon; Flemyng's chairman was agitated. Lucy was lost. She considered her options and after a few moments rang the cabinet secretary's office, aware of her nerves. 'Is Paul around? Lucy Padstowe again. Sorry to come back so quickly, but I need him if he's there.' The line went quiet, a red light winking every two seconds on Flemyng's phone as she waited. Then Paul Jenner himself. 'Have you spoken to Will?' 'I'm sorry, no. I'm sure he'll be here soon. But I'm afraid I have to confess something that I didn't say earlier. I don't know where he's been, or why.' She added, by way of defence, 'Does this sound odd?' 'Not in the least,' said Paul. 'What are you suggesting?' 'Nothing. I'm just saying.' She found herself continuing without waiting for an answer. 'It's natural that I'm a bit worried, given what you said a few minutes ago. Unusual things have been happening.' Her voice was speeding up. 'He's been distracted. Off-kilter. No fun around the office, and you know what he's like.' She rushed on. 'I'm sorry, I know this is a little embarrassing. Private secretaries shouldn't blab.' 'I wish more of them did. Let me know when Will's back. I'll need him here. He's just away from his phone. Some day we'll find a way of tracking them everywhere - can't come soon enough for me - but there's nothing we can do for now. Try not to worry.' The conversation was over. Having wound herself up, the words tumbling out, Lucy felt a heaviness in the room as if time was slowing down around her, forcing her to think. She'd suspected from his voice that Paul Jenner, spider at the centre of her web, was trying to suppress a tremor of his own, which surprised her because his command appeared effortless and the power of his writ was unquestioned, running through every channel of government, from its sacred places to the last secret corner. Nothing bypassed Paul. She pictured him at his vast desk, looking to the high bow window that gave on to the park, his perfectly round grey eyes unblinking while he concentrated. Flemyng said that when he was in that mood it looked like the onset of petit mal ; but Paul never lost control. Back to her minister. One of her assistants had seen Flemyng leave the office about an hour earlier, and told Lucy that nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Jacket over his shoulder, he had traded smiles with her in the corridor as he turned towards the broad staircase to take him down, gesturing to the sunshine outside. His tie was loose, the collar of his pink shirt open. He had told the office that he would need no driver, so Lawrence could have a quiet lunchtime with no fear of a summons. The weather was up and there were personal errands to run, no more than that. The word was a welcome breeze in the private office. 'He'll be buying a birthday present,' someone said. 'No,' said Lucy. 'Covent Garden for lunch, I'd say.' But she wondered why he hadn't told her. In his absence, a lazy air settled on the three rooms that protected Flemyng's own; the tea trolley squeaked to a stop in the corridor, and a little queue formed; leisurely gossip flowed through ministerial offices, each protecting its own oasis. Everyone was trying to enforce the calm, driven on by the heat. Meetings were cancelled across Whitehall, as if to hurry summer along. Little Simon, than whom no one was more junior, was putting together pen portraits of backbenchers due for end-of-term drinks on Monday, writing in loopy longhand because the new electric typewriters ran away with him - and because it was a shirt-sleeve day and lunchtime, with the minister not at his desk, he pushed the boat out, rowing with schoolboy gusto, stripping the guests of their last shreds of dignity. Wife trouble, new boyfriend, money worries, love affairs with the booze... all the chatter he'd heard. It would be filleted and cleaned up in the afternoon, the list rendered acceptable for Flemyng's overnight red box, but no one took Simon aside for a heavy word of advice, which was a symptom of the season, because in sharper, cooler times he'd have been pressed against the wall and filleted himself for his foolishness. But it was hot, and rules were suspended. Summer had come and parliament would rise in a few days. Relief, and everyone felt the beguiling touch of an unexpectedly balmy time. From the office they could sniff the atmosphere beyond the long windows, see the greenery through the scaffolding that had gripped the building for a year and more. Layers of soot and grime were being scraped away and carted off in processions of wagons that left black trails along Whitehall; the inner courtyard held a ring of iron skips filled with decades of pigeon droppings from the roof, and an acrid reminder lingered in every hallway. Some day, they were told, their Victorian palace would shine again, a painting with its bloodless colours restored and cracks healed. But not yet. Lucy wondered how she would explain to Flemyng why Paul wanted to see him. Peering through her window, streaked with dust, she sensed the warmth outside. Taking to the corridor to steady herself, she set off on a clockwise circumnavigation of the building. It echoed to scraping and banging from the courtyard. They were carrying off the skips again. It would have been no reassurance to her as she walked out of the office if she had known that at that moment Flemyng had been lost to the world for a minute or two in the fetid heat of a phone box near Oxford Circus. A hand banged on the door. 'Get on with it!' Then banged again. Flemyng, who had not entirely lost his capacity for embarrassment, burst from the box without ringing Lucy as he'd meant to, and walked quickly to a bus stop with his head down. She would have to wait. He ignored a taxi rank, climbed on the platform of a bus that was crawling towards the traffic lights, and swung through a crowd of Dutch schoolchildren on the bottom deck. It would be a slow haul down Regent Street, and the more welcome for that. The man next to him leaned across. 'I know who you are.' Flemyng's head snapped back. 'Sorry, but I saw you on TV the other night. You weren't bad. Better than the bird in the red dress anyway. A bimbo, that one.' Flemyng said, 'Well, we try our best.' 'Mind you, I can't remember your name. Sorry about that.' 'Flemyng.' 'That's it. I've always had you down as one of the posh ones. Top drawer. I'm surprised to see you on the bus, Mr Flemyng. Nice, though. You working today?' 'There you are, you see. Taking the bus, taxpayers' interests at heart. Just out for a few minutes.' Flemyng smiled and leaned towards his companion. 'Good to meet you.' They had reached Pall Mall. He took his leave, crossed the street and headed for the park. From the top of the Wellington steps he could see the window of his own office through the trees, three along from the foreign secretary's corner lair. Five minutes away at a gentle pace. Behind the window, Lucy was back at her desk and making another call. 'Francesca, it's me.' 'Hi. What's up?' 'Have you got my wandering minister with you?' 'Wandering?' 'I need him.' 'No. Don't you know where he is?' Flemyng's wife laughed. 'That's a change.' 'Just out, that's all.' She knew Francesca would be alerted by the oddness of the word. Lucy was precise about where her man was, day and night, the dog who was never off his leash. 'Out' carried no conviction. 'Any ideas?' Francesca wondered aloud whether he might be present-hunting for her birthday the next month, then they shared their puzzlement in a moment of silence. 'Probably a quick walk in the park,' Lucy said, unconvincingly. She could sense Francesca treading water. Her voice was deep and smooth. and Flemyng often spoke about its hypnotic effect, her style being elegant and unhurried. She was two years older than him, although she had looked the younger at their wedding the previous summer, and Lucy had concluded early in her time with him that it was from Francesca he absorbed some of the free spirit that enlivened their office. She often thought that in Flemyng's character, gaiety and darkness were always struggling with each other. Without Francesca there might have been more frenzy. Now Francesca said, 'Well, he needs to be back for the opera,' changing the tempo. In her professional role as social manager at Covent Garden - queen bee of the opera party, Flemyng called her - she had become the famed impresario of the interval encounter, and a simple supper she had planned for the private room was getting bigger by the hour. 'The cabinet secretary's office has been on,' she said. 'There are two Americans coming from somewhere, and now it's going to be Paul Jenner himself and two other ministers on top of that. I still don't know who. His office have put it together. All of a sudden it's turned quite... political. They're laying on lobster - the works. Can you warn Will?' 'Americans?' said Lucy. 'Yup. But from where I don't know, if you see what I mean. I expect you've noticed he's been a bit distracted in the last week or two. I don't know how much he's told you.' No response from Lucy, so Francesca plunged on. 'There's a thing going on in his family that seems to be awkward. News to you?' Lucy said that organizing his life in government was difficult enough without families getting in the way, and avoided the point. The conversation made a quiet and quick gear change, without warning, as if they had pushed open a door together. 'Can I be frank?' said Francesca. 'Please.' 'Something else has knocked him sideways, and I'm not sure what it is. You know how much Will enjoys his politics. Now it all seems to be turning sour for him, and quickly. That's what troubles me.' Lucy didn't hesitate, aware that a pause would produce awkwardness. 'I've noticed. Don't know anything about family matters, of course.' By unspoken agreement, as if the conversation needed to be wrapped up before it took on too many complications, they were quick to wind things up. Francesca asked, 'Anything on your desk that might have caused all this, if you're allowed to tell me?' 'Nothing that comes to mind. Pretty routine right now.' Then an offer from Francesca. 'Lunch next week, OK?' 'Please.' Francesca said, 'I'm glad. I'll fix it.' The two women spoke of a sultry weekend, and the unreliability of men who didn't say where they were going, and made cheerful farewells because neither wanted the conversation to drift. Lucy closed the outer door again to get some quiet, ignoring a thick file that she saw being placed on her desk. There was too much uncertainty. Americans turning up, names unknown, to sit with him and two other ministers for a whole evening, and at the bidding of the cabinet secretary. Paul should have told her. She shifted in her chair. Coincidences, Flemyng always said, were never what they seemed. At the Royal Opera House, Francesca was feeling a ripple that disturbed the heaviness settling over everything with the rising heat. She didn't believe the birthday-present story that she'd concocted for reassurance, knowing Flemyng to be a last-minute merchant, but she had needed to confide in Lucy. She leaned out of her window near the top of the building, put both elbows on the ledge, and found a faint stream of fresh air. The crowds of high summer were down below, around the old vegetable market, now empty and a place of bare stone since the last traders had been shunted south of the river to their new home. A place of memories and sweet echoes. Murmurs from the holidaymakers rose towards her. She looked over the rooftop landscape towards the river. It was just an unusual day. Her man had wanted to be out of the office, get some air, have a break. That was all. But Lucy was off balance, which broke the pattern on which they all depended. Francesca let her eyes scan the heads of the crowd below, an anonymous throng, close and yet unaware of her gaze. A singer was practising in a dressing room one floor below, window open, and Francesca listened for a few minutes. The voice was Russian, melancholic, lonely. The phone on her desk was just behind her, and its ringing shook her out of her mood. A secretary from Paul Jenner's office. 'I have the names. They're all looking forward to it. We're so glad Will can make it, and we're sorry to be in such a rush. You know how it goes.' 'That's just how we like it,' Francesca said. 'It's opening-night panic here.' In Whitehall, the pavements were thick with gangs of visitors, the curious and the lost. Crackling commentaries spilled from the open-topped tour buses and a few words floated through the window in Flemyng's inner office that Lucy had decided she must open at last. She was still at the desk, fiddling with a heavy black pen but writing nothing. She didn't know he had arrived back until the door opened and he was standing in front of her. She noticed sweat stains on his pink shirt, and a hint of wildness in his hair. But he smiled. 'Where have you been?' 'I went for walk. I'm allowed to, don't you think?' He was still smiling, hanging his jacket on the coatstand, undoing another shirt button. Looking away as he spoke, he said, 'Anything up? An exciting telegram maybe?' He busied himself with an open red box on the corner of the desk, and she saw the nervousness in his shuffling with the files inside. He closed it and turned the lock with the tiny brass key that went back into his pocket. Lucy was ready. Her tremble had gone, and she was alert to every change in his expression. He was relaxing, but she spotted the effort in masking the tiredness. Lucy said he should sit down, and even gestured to his chair as she stood up from it, in charge again. She took his place in the doorway, turning away to close the door quietly. Spinning round, strands of light red hair sweeping across her face, she sensed that they were both reluctant to break the deep silence. His eyes were fixed on her, and she realized that his concentration had kicked in. 'You're going to have to get to Paul's office quickly,' she said. 'Paul? Quickly?' She watched him lean back and slip one hand into his shirt, touching the scar. 'When you were out...' and she added with a deliberate hint of the cruelty that intimates understand '... wherever you were...' He was utterly still. '... I heard some strange tidings from Paul. And bad, however you look at it.' His hands were back on the desk and she saw that he was trying to hold them still. 'There's a dead American. And he has your phone number in his pocket.' THREE Half a world away, at the moment when Flemyng got his summons to Paul Jenner's office, the clock on Grauber's kitchen wall in New York was showing eight-fifteen. He set coffee on the hob and quickly took the four steps outside the house for a walk to the bakery three blocks away. Hannah would be up when he got back, kids too, and there would be time together before he headed uptown to the mission and his desk. He wanted to lift his mood after a broken night, and the auguries were good. A storm had powered down the Hudson Valley in the evening and was safely out to sea, leaving a layer of lightness on the city. The skyline sparkled in gratitude, the weight of the last week gone and the air on the move. The freshness encouraged Grauber to find a spring in his step, despite the day ahead. He was above medium height, though not tall enough to stand out, and slim. Against the fashion his hair was cut close to the skull, almost to stubble, and that often gave him a serious look whether he liked it or not. He had the advantage that when he smiled, a dimple on his chin gave him an air of cheerfulness that even suggested frivolity. His outward appearance could change in an instant. But most of the time his jet black eyes under shadowed lids, and lips that were heavier than his finely boned face might have promised, seemed to veer towards gloom. This was misleading but helped at work, where he carried serious burdens. The United States Mission to the United Nations, squatting on the corner of 45th and First Avenue, was heavy duty. On his floor, never visited by outsiders, he led a working life that forced him every day to balance flurries of excitement and exhilaration against the weary conviction that conflict would never end. He worried above all about Berlin and points east, and believed he always would; moving pieces on a board which seemed to stretch to infinity. He'd come to believe that the slow-motion struggle in which his life had been subsumed would roll on beyond him and carry him off in its wake. A few cold warriors on the other side would doff their fur hats to him as he disappeared, as he might do for them; that was how it went. There was little he could reveal of such thoughts to anyone except the few who passed through the third-floor doors with him each morning, and from time to time to Hannah, who had been introduced to some, but only some, of the intimacies of his trade. Yet against the grain of his time Grauber seemed to his friends an optimistic man, with a priestly air of calm. He knew that it was misleading, because his hopes were laced with melancholy more often than he would have wished. And as he stepped along East 20th Street his upbeat morning mood was tested. Not particularly by the shadow of a National Day celebration in the East 80s in the evening at which he was to be the senior American alongside his ambassador, although that would be a trial, but by the planned meeting with an old comrade-in-arms for lunch in one of the faded city watering holes that he treasured: the Oyster Bar in the depths of Grand Central Station. In the night he had spent two silent hours at his study desk worrying over the encounter while Hannah slept upstairs, the dog bundled at his feet and a friendly glass of whisky in hand, from a bottle he seldom opened, playing war games with the conversation they might have. The drink was almost untouched when he slipped into bed. Now as he crossed Irving Place, the memory of the previous night's ball game took hold. The Yankees had been obliterated in a double-header at Cleveland. He knew what awaited him, and he loved the tangy flavour of old New York that it represented, always taking trouble to let the city play to its strengths. There were surprises and turnabouts enough at work; he wanted this place to stay as he loved it, although he would remain an interloper. He got to Lehman's corner, and the guy who always sat at the top of the subway steps caught his eye. 'Go Mets!' Grauber acknowledged the taunt with a grin. Inside the shop, bakery on one side and the small deli on the other, connected by a swinging glass door that allowed husband and wife to rule their own domains, Lehman was more sympathetic because he shared Grauber's commitment. 'Mr Grauber,' he said, the formality an endearment, 'that pitcher!' An unknown voice came through the half-open door to the deli. 'He pitched like my granddad... dead five years.' A rumpled grey head followed the voice. 'World Series, my ass! Forget about it. Excuse me, Mrs Lehman.' No one disagreed and Grauber took the chance to ask for his bread. A round rye as usual, and a long sourdough, which would see them through the next day or two. Then through the door to the deli, where the pickles glistened in their jars and the air was sharp with sauerkraut. Husband and wife swapped places each day, Monday to Saturday, bakery one day and deli the next, which gave their lives a nice symmetry, and pleased their customers who liked the atmosphere of a shop where something was always happening. He asked Mrs Lehman for a particular salami, tied up in its red string bag, which they'd work through in the course of a week. 'Things good?' said Mr Lehman as he passed back through the bakery. Grauber raised a friendly fist. 'Can't complain. Better times coming. Seattle here Friday. Whole new ball game.' The baker inclined his head, and smiled after him when Grauber stepped into the street. He was back on 20th in a few moments, thinking of the box of work he'd locked in his office safe the night before. Nothing too troublesome, although there was a rumour which might be productive about a Czech, new-blown into town, and the mission was alarmed about a secretariat appointment in the wind: the Australian was a disaster, too prone to vodka parties with the wrong gang, and had to be stopped. It was in hand, and a French friend might help. But that could wait, and in the office it would be an easy, catch-up day. Lunch was everything. As he turned the last corner, he almost collided with a neighbour whom he knew by sight. He seemed to be Spanish, though whitewashed by the pallor brought on by a high life that was nearly over. He was accompanied by a tiny dog, decorated with a jewelled collar and trotting fast behind him. The matchstick piston legs reminded Grauber of happy days in Paris when just such a precious animal, the only love of the ambassador's wife, was suffocated on a sofa at the end of a memorable embassy party with one heave of the mighty buttocks of the Norwegian chargé d'affaires, who was never told what she had done. The beast was buried the next day under the magnolia tree in the residence garden, after a night of tears. Grauber smiled. Old times. But Bill Bendo was in town, and Grauber couldn't escape the consequences. By the time he'd crossed the street towards the front door, his brown bakery bag in one hand and the salami swinging from the other, his smile had gone. In a minute he was in the hall of their narrow townhouse. 'Maria called,' said Hannah from the kitchen. Washington. And if it was Maria at that hour, as Hannah well knew, it could be London too. She hadn't waited for him to reach the office. He felt a familiar, welcome prickle of excitement. 'She'd like you to call. Quickly, I guess.' Hannah smiled at him, and nodded. He placed the bread and the salami on the table, and went to the door. 'Back in five. Ten, maybe.' He never called Maria from home. The routine suited Hannah too, because there were parts of his life that could never be shared. He went along the block to Gramercy Park where he had a key to the private gardens, a privilege that came with membership of the National Arts Club across the square, one of his quiet places. He would often spend time in the first-floor sitting room there, under a painting hung near the window. It was calming at bad moments, and in darker times had been a solace to him, bringing the family to mind. He felt the energy and tranquillity of his distant home in all its deep colours and the boldness of the long, familiar brushstrokes. There was a payphone at the corner of the garden where he could safely make a call, but only if it was brief. 'What's up?' 'I need you here.' No preamble; no names. 'It's the lunch today.' 'Don't I know it,' she said. 'But straight after. We have troubles of another kind.' So no panic flight, no helicopter scramble from the East Side pad. Grauber would keep his date with Bill Bendo, just rolled in from Berlin. 'I'll get the four o'clock shuttle,' he said. No more. 'Perfect. Dinner at home. Just show up.' They rang off. A game was afoot. Must be. He was now relishing the day, for all its promised difficulty, and the prospect of Washington always lifted him a little higher, Maria's troubles notwithstanding. As he turned east along 20th, the low morning sun was brightening the sidewalk. It signalled a clear and warm day, the sky a duck-egg blue and a breeze of perfect strength freshening the streets. The pretzel seller on the next corner was manoeuvring his metal cart into position and it sent out silver flashes in the sunshine. Grauber speeded up as he reached his own steps and pushed through the door to find Aaron and Michaela up and about, full of summer camp talk, getting their bikes and tennis things and their hiking gear in order. 'There's sailing. Canoes.' Departure was two days away. 'Dad, are you sure we have to take our clarinets?' He would certainly - surely - be back from Washington by the next night, so he could drive them to camp at Kiamesha Lake, a couple of hours north-west of the city. 'Will there be bears?' He drank a quick coffee and gave everyone his news. A short trip. Hannah hugged him. She whispered in his ear, 'Only Washington?' He nodded, taking care to add a little shrug, and grabbed his coat, picked up the overnight bag that he kept ready in the closet, and said he'd take the subway at 23rd to the mission. ''Bye, babe. 'Bye, kids.' He gave them a joint squeeze. 'Think about those bears.' He was at the avenue in less than a minute and, taking in the sunshine again, he changed his mind about the subway, waiting for an uptown bus instead. The traffic was flowing well towards the gentle slope of Murray Hill, and he'd be there by nine. He'd picked up a Times at the bus stop and skimmed the front page, then digested the paper, watching the horizon for any change in the pattern, the cloud no bigger than a man's hand that might yet spread to fill the sky. No puzzle this morning that couldn't wait. He left the bus at 44th and walked a block to the mission, its frontage on First Avenue dappled with sunshine. There was a new pair of security guards when he passed through the door. 'Sir,' one of them said, glancing at his pass, and that was all. Sometimes he had to open his shoulder bag, but not today. The other guard nodded in silence, an efficient and sober exchange, stripped of small talk. Grauber got into the elevator and went to the part of the mission on the third floor where he and his immediate colleagues worked and gossiped undisturbed, without the artifice they practised on the other side of the heavy door. 'Hey! Seen a pitcher lately?' The water cooler was host to a town meeting on the Cleveland disaster. But he wanted to see if there was another message from Maria and slipped away. There was, securely transmitted and left for him to decipher alone after it had chattered out of the printer and a marine brought it to his desk in a square green file, flagged with a yellow tag. 'Priority, sir.' It was a paragraph only. He was not going to London - a relief, because he'd make it to summer camp - but something required his attention and advice, now. There was enough in the message to convince Grauber that Maria, the coolest of cats, was rattled. And, because she knew how to do it, she had dropped in a magnetic word: 'Joe.' At their section meeting, his mind wandered. There was time to take the morning slowly. With the arrival of high summer, the tourists were overwhelming the diplomats. Missions winding down, restive bureaucrats fanning out in the heat to find some shady places. Even for lives governed by the whispers that were his daily bread, the pace was slackening. No one rushed. Scanning the list of meetings for the day, he checked for Brits, from habit, and found none, noting that Her Majesty's permanent representative, his ambassador's opposite number and sailing friend, had left already for a long annual leave, involving a week in Maine (this from a dinner at the ambassador's residence two nights before, duly logged by one of Grauber's assistants along with a sharp account of the conversation) and then three weeks in London and Devon, where he would be forgetting New York. One of Grauber's equivalents in the British mission two blocks north of the Americans, nominally a cultural attaché, was in temporary charge. He was a friend with whom Grauber transacted a good deal of business between their agencies at least once a week. Neither ambassador, perched above them, knew everything. Grauber wore his extra skins with ease. It was like having a second name and gave him a special pleasure. He worked with many who had obligations of secrecy but few enjoyed the extra twists and complications that shaped his life. He cherished the mystery, and in the jumble of intelligence outfits that had been mangled and juggled in rolling reorganizations through the years of scandal it was more difficult than ever to work out where the power lines lay. A question that would once have been laughed out of court - 'who exactly do you work for?' - was apposite again. Byzantium reborn. The more people gave up on trying to work out the lines of communication, the happier he was. He doubted if there was anyone in the mission who knew Maria, where she worked or what she did. 'I enjoy being the second string to your bow,' she would say, with a dirty laugh. 'Or third?' he'd say. Washington churned, and he loved it. He had no worries about his own ambassador, with whom he had a placid relationship, though it was devoid of warmth. Underneath it lay the certainty that the boss, whose white mane gave him a Falstaffian presence but whose diplomatic horsepower was puny, would always be limping miles behind. Grauber preferred the company of those on the other side of the veil. He had no cause to inform the ambassador that he was going to Washington, and every reason not to. He passed a routine morning, telling his secretary that he would be out of town for twenty-four hours, and otherwise saying little. No other details were offered and there was nothing odd about that. He arranged for a colleague to deputize for him at the National Day party in the evening, and fixed a lunch with his British friend for the following Monday - they'd head off-piste to an uptown German restaurant they enjoyed, both of them having done Mitteleuropa time, where there would be no other diplomats. He would need to tune in. There was some reading to catch up with and personnel files to scan, because of a reshuffle near the top of the mission. He'd have views. Then it was time to walk the five blocks to Grand Central to indulge in a lightning shoeshine before he pushed open the heavy doors from the street. He'd contributed to the public campaign to save the old station from the wrecker's ball two years before and longed for an end to its strung-out, dingy decline. The aged Oyster Bar had begun to recover something of the spirit of great days, and he liked to think it would encourage the rest of the building to throw off its despair. He had another reason for choosing it: he would see no friends there, only Bendo. He walked down the ramp from the concourse, the whistle for a departing train sounding at his back, and prepared for a mad city scramble. The garish tiles on the vaulted roof reflected a riot every lunchtime. Diners were buffeted in a storm of instructions and demands, their compensation the feeling of being cast adrift in a city at play - they were seafarers in a speakeasy, sluicing and dredging through Bloody Marys and coast-to-coast all-year-round oysters, cherrystones and little-neck clams, Long Island steamers and striped bass and sturgeon; sinking old-style martinis in frosted glasses; shouting at each other across the room; moaning at children and parents; hurling imprecations at the mayor for letting the city go bust; bawling news bulletins about the Yankees or the Mets, and listening to a pink-haired regular, her face limed with chalk-white powder, imprisoned in a dialogue with herself about awful happenings in the street far above. They poured their energy into the communal cacophony, then sucked it back. Their lifeblood. He had come early to grab a couple of seats at the end of the long bar, just on the rounded corner, where they could put their heads together and exchange words under the canopy of noise produced by the crowd. There would be no fear of silence, no danger of isolation. They were pebbles on a stony beach, secret whisperers in Bedlam. He passed on the Bloody Marys because it would be a long day, but set up a mound of clams and a jug of water. A man next to him was working his way with care into a lobster, poking at the leg cavities with a set of thin blades and spikes. He cracked the claws with a flourish and a happy grunt, sending a hailstorm of shell fragments across the bar. The waiters shouted at each other, made maracas noises with their cocktail shakers. 'Dozen Wainoo, half Moonstone, half Tamagouche. Razors on seven!' The swing doors to the kitchen banged back and forth. 'Gotta go, fourteen! Folks in line.' Then a cry from the door. 'Grauber!' 'Bendo!' Grauber had prepared for the expected show of enthusiasm - their usual locker-room greeting, followed by a bear-hug. Appearances mattered, even now. Bendo was wide and tall with curly blond hair, of Grauber's own age, born and bred in the city. He had four children and a wife called Nancy from Poughkeepsie and had never let a party down in his life. They sat together, clinked glasses, Bendo wheezing and succumbing without protest to a Bloody Mary, ordered their food without discussion and caught up. Summer camp talk, wifely updates. They got through it quickly. Grauber opened gently, though without a smile, giving some reassurance to his friend, but not too much. There must be no mistake. 'We may have a deal. If you're willing.' Bendo pulled a bowl of chowder towards him, carefully. 'So we're wasting no time. Right?' 'Right.' 'But here?' 'Why not?' said Grauber. 'Kind of place we like. Thought we might remember better times. Fellow soldiers for Uncle Sam, all that. That's my question. Willing?' 'To talk?' 'Of course,' Grauber said. Bendo picked up, responding to the pace that had been set. 'Will it help me?' 'More payback for us,' said Grauber. 'Something of value. I guess that helps you. A little, anyway.' 'But not much,' said Bendo. 'We know that.' He was chewing a salt cracker, and dropping his voice as he spoke. 'I'm done.' In a few moments they had travelled a long way. 'Yeah,' said Grauber. 'It's over for you, old friend. The game's up. We've both been waiting for this moment, and it's come.' Bendo waited for more. It was a question from Grauber. 'When they fixed this... encounter, did they leave it to you to work out why?' Bendo spread out both hands. 'They knew I was ready. I'd run out of road. Never thought it would be like this, though. Us. Here.' 'But you knew it would come.' 'The confession? Sure,' said Bendo. 'Just couldn't tell how it would feel.' 'And?' said Grauber, hoping Bendo wouldn't flag. 'Relief?' But he tried a joke, asking if Grauber had brought handcuffs in his bag. Neither of them laughed. 'It's easy to stray,' he said. 'Even when you know there's no way back. We wanted a thrill when we started in this game. We were in love with the danger - me, you too - and we never lose that feeling. It beats away underneath. Always there, promising another adventure. I can hear it now.' With that appeal, Bendo placed a hand on Grauber's arm. He got nothing in return. As his voice had softened, Grauber's had taken on a sharper tone and he shook his head. 'It's going to be easier if we don't play it like that when we have to sit together in some damned room, wherever it turns out to be. You didn't drift, you changed sides, old buddy.' Faced with the fact, they fell silent for a moment. Grauber picked up first. 'And the question why isn't the important one for me - you know that - it's the beginning. Who, how, when? The timeline. All the stuff that's going to help us in other places, with other people. The ones after you who'll come along. They always do.' It was the first cruel jab. Bendo was no longer the guy who'd slipped through the same streets as Grauber, a secret gunner in the same army, but an emblem of betrayal. A miserable statistic, and a wraith of a spy. But he hadn't yet given up asking questions. 'You say we've been waiting. I guess I have. But you - how long?' Grauber looked him in the eye and said, 'No dice'. He listened to Bendo setting off on a detour, trying to steer the conversation up a siding as neatly as he could manage. It was absurd. For a few minutes there was a pretence that their conversation hadn't taken place. Bendo spoke of another audit of European stations going on with the Langley bean-counters in charge, and London was in a sulk. 'Really pissed.' Berlin might scrape through, the island in the east that was still the bulwark and therefore protected to the last. Bendo might have been bred for its charms and demands. He flitted between the soldiers and the diplomats, happy to be neither one nor the other. 'Liaison!' he'd sometimes cry to friends. 'I'm the whore who visits every bedroom, the highest and the lowest. Everyone knows, and they never give it a name. Just let me work the street.' His ambassador in Bonn, with whom he exchanged messages from his Berlin satellite, because that was the propriety that they observed for form's sake, was a diplomatic bird of passage who'd worked clandestinely in an earlier life, and that helped. Knew some useful levers in Washington that he could jerk, a few old debts to call in. 'You? How's Santa Claus?' Grauber shook his head with a thespian's sigh, and he spoke inconsequentially about his own ambassador for a minute. But the atmosphere cooled quickly; Bendo was forced back to earth. 'My time's up. OK. Still have my uses, though, even if I'm going to miss out on all the shit in Poland. That's coming, I promise you, and soon. Got some good lines in there, believe me. Just like us, in the old days. Never again.' Grauber listened to him doggedly treading water, and was touched by the gentle, lingering boastfulness of the boulevardier spy. 'I'll miss it. The city that never changes.' He looked up. 'Going across?' he asked Grauber, playing with the leafy celery stick growing out of his cocktail. 'London?' 'No plans. No reason right now.' Grauber was hunched over the bar, dealing with a softshell crab, his voice almost a whisper. They created their own pool of silence in the crowd. Bendo and he had shared so many secrets since their paths first ran together in Saigon in the full bloom of the war nearly a decade before, and taken them from the heat to the chill of the western front. History between them, ancient and modern. Bendo said, 'I'm a loyal man.' Grauber spoke as if he hadn't heard, the appeal dismissed. 'You're ready for everything that...' he had unwittingly picked up Bendo's fear, and stumbled over the words '... has to happen, whether or not we want it? It'll take time to tell the whole story. Long days.' Bendo, however, wanted to complete his thought and wouldn't leave his script. 'I still think you can bring good out of bad. Always believed that. Keeps me going.' But the answering silence obliged him to answer Grauber. He raised the glass to his lips and said, 'You'll get what you need. Promise.' Grauber replied, 'Names, places, times. I'm trying to make this work for everyone. That's a promise, too.' Excerpted from The Madness of July: A Thriller by James Naughtie All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Google Preview