Читать онлайн "The Unlikely Spy" автора Сильва Дэниел - RuLit - Страница 15

 
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Officially, Vicary held the rank of a major in the Intelligence Corps, though military rank meant next to nothing inside the department. Much of the staff routinely referred to him as Professor, and he had worn his uniform just twice. Vicary's manner of dress had changed, though. He had forsaken the tweedy clothes of the university, dressing instead in sharp gray suits he purchased before clothing, like almost everything else, was rationed. Occasionally, he bumped into an acquaintance or old colleague from University College. Despite incessant warnings by the government about the dangers of loose talk, they inevitably asked Vicary exactly what he was doing. He usually smiled wearily, shrugged his shoulders, and gave the prescribed response: he was working in a very dull department of the War Office.

Sometimes it was dull, but not often. Churchill had been right-it had been time for him to rejoin the living. His arrival at MI5 in May 1940 had been his rebirth. He thrived on the atmosphere of wartime intelligence: the long hours, the crises, the dismal tea in the canteen. He had even taken up cigarette smoking again, which he had sworn off his last year at Cambridge. He loved being an actor in the theater of the real. He seriously doubted whether he could be satisfied again in the sanctuary of academia.

Surely the hours and the tension were taking a toll on him, but he had never felt better. He could work longer and needed less sleep. When he did go to bed he dropped off immediately. Like the other officers, he spent many nights at MI5 headquarters, sleeping on a small camp bed he kept folded next to his desk.

Only the ill treatment of his half-moon reading glasses survived Vicary's catharsis-still smudged and battered and something of a joke inside the department. In moments of distress, he still absently beat his pockets for them and thrust them onto his face for comfort.

Which he did now, as the light over Boothby's office suddenly shone green. Vicary pressed the buzzer with the reflective air of a man about to attend the funeral of a boyhood friend. It purred softly, the door opened, and Vicary stepped inside.

Boothby's office was big and long, with fine paintings, a gas fireplace, rich Persian carpets, and a magnificent view through the tall windows. Sir Basil kept Vicary waiting the statutory ten minutes before finally entering the room through a second doorway connecting his office to the director-general's secretariat.

Brigadier Sir Basil Boothby had classic English size and scale-tall, angular, still showing signs of the physical agility that made him a star athlete at school. It was there in the easy way his strong hand held his drink, in the square shoulders and thick neck, in the narrow hips where his trousers, waistcoat, and jacket converged in graceful perfection. He had the sturdy good looks that a certain type of younger woman finds attractive. His gray-blond hair and eyebrows were so lush the department wits referred to him as the bottle brush from the fifth floor.

Officially, little was known about Boothby's career-only that he had served in Britain's intelligence and security organizations his entire professional life. Vicary thought the gossip and rumor surrounding a man often said more about him than his resume. Speculation about Boothby had spawned a veritable cottage industry within the department. According to the rumor mill, Boothby ran a spy network during the First War that penetrated the German General Staff. In Delhi, he personally executed an Indian accused of murdering a British citizen. In Ireland, he beat a man to death with his pistol butt for refusing to divulge the location of an arms cache. He was an expert in the martial arts and used his spare time to keep his skills sharp. He was ambidextrous and could write, smoke, drink his gin and bitters, or break your neck with either hand. His tennis was so good he could have won Wimbledon. Deceptive was the word used most often to describe his play, and his ability to switch hands midmatch still confounded his opponents. His sex life was much talked about and much debated: a relentless womanizer who had bedded half the typists and the girls from Registry; a homosexual.

In Vicary's opinion, Sir Basil Boothby symbolized all that was wrong with British Intelligence between the wars-the wellborn Englishman educated at Eton and Oxford who believed the secret exercise of power was as much a birthright as his family fortune and his centuries-old Hampshire mansion: rigid, lazy, orthodox, a cop in handmade shoes and a Savile Row suit. Boothby had been eclipsed intellectually by the new recruits drawn into MI5 at the outset of the war: the top brains from the universities, the best barristers from London's most prestigious houses. Now he was in an unenviable position-supervising men who were more clever than he and at the same time attempting to claim bureaucratic credit for their accomplishments.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, Alfred. A meeting in the Underground War Rooms with Churchill, the director-general, Menzies, and Ismay. I'm afraid we've got a bit of a crisis on our hands. I'm drinking brandy and soda. What will you have?"

"Whisky," Vicary said, watching Boothby. Despite the fact that he was one of the most senior officers in MI5, Boothby still took a childlike pride in dropping the names of the powerful people with whom he met on a regular basis. The group of men who had just gathered in the prime minister's underground fortress were the elite of Britain's wartime intelligence community: the director-general of MI5, Sir David Petrie; the director-general of MI6, Sir Stewart Menzies; and Churchill's personal chief of staff, General Sir Hastings Ismay. Boothby pressed a button on his desk and asked his secretary to bring Vicary's drink. He walked to the window, lifted the blackout shade, and looked out.

"I hope to God they don't come again tonight, bloody Luftwaffe. It was different in 1940. It was all new and exciting in a strange kind of way. Carrying your steel helmet beneath your arm to dinner. Running for the shelters. Fire-watching from the rooftops. But I don't think London could endure another winter of a full-fledged blitz. Everyone's too tired. Tired and hungry and ill-clothed and sick of the petty humiliations that go with being at war. I'm not sure how much more this nation can take."

Boothby's secretary brought Vicary's drink. It was on the center of a silver tray, resting atop a white paper napkin. Boothby had a fetish about water marks on the furniture of his office. He sat down in a chair next to Vicary and crossed his long legs, pointing the polished toe of his shoe at Vicary's kneecap like a loaded gun.

"We have a new assignment for you, Alfred. And in order for you to truly understand its importance, we've decided it's necessary to lift the veil a little higher and show you a little more than you've been allowed to see previously. Do you understand what I'm saying to you?"

"I believe so, Sir Basil."

"You're the historian. Know much about Sun-tzu?"

"Fourth century B.C. China is not exactly my field, Sir Basil, but I've read him."

"Know what Sun-tzu wrote about military deception?"

"Sun-tzu wrote that all warfare is based on deception. He preached that every battle is won or lost before it's ever fought. His advice was simple: Attack the enemy where he is unprepared and appear where you are not expected. He said it was vital to undermine the enemy, subvert and corrupt him, sow internal discord among his leaders, and destroy him without fighting him."

"Very good," Boothby said, visibly impressed. "Unfortunately, we'll never be able to destroy Hitler without fighting him. And in order to have any chance at all of beating him in a fight, we have to deceive him first. We have to heed those wise words of Sun-tzu. We need to appear where we are not expected."

Boothby rose, went to his desk, and brought back a secure briefcase. It was made of metal-the color of polished silver-with a set of handcuffs attached to the grip.

     

 

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