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.’Charlie regarded her cautiously.Again he’d tried to avoid anticipating this encounter, but he had not expected it to be like this, so openly and consistently hostile.‘In a Europe more unstable than it has been for fifty years, I considered many of the opinions naïve.’‘Explain naïve!’‘There were suggestions, in at least three theses, that because of the end of the Cold War – whatever that was – intelligence services could be scaled down.’‘“Whatever that was”,’ she quoted, questioningly.Quick on her feet, judged Charlie.‘Why don’t you define the Cold War for me?’‘Why don’t you define it for me?’ she came back, easily.Shit, thought Charlie.‘Simplistic, because there was a Wall dividing Berlin and physical barriers between Eastern and Western Europe.Newspaper shorthand: spy-writers’ cliché.’‘What did you think it was?’Shouldn’t have let her be the first to speak.‘I didn’t think it was anything,’ said Charlie, lobbing a difficult return.She frowned and he was glad.‘You’re not making sense.’‘You know I am,’ insisted Charlie.He’d had her running about: not exactly broken her serve but getting some of the difficult returns back over the net.‘The coming down of the barriers doesn’t matter, in reality?’ There was an uncertainty in her voice, beyond it being a question.‘Not our reality.’‘Tell me what our reality is,’ she demanded, gaining confidence.‘What it has always been,’ said Charlie.‘Finding out the intention of other governments and other world leaders, in advance of it becoming obvious, so that our leaders are not wrong-footed.Which means we now have to learn the intentions of more than a dozen separate governments of countries that used to be the Soviet Union but now consider themselves independent: the Russian Federation – which is also splitting up internally – most of all.And Czechoslovakia.And Poland.And Hungry.And Bulgaria.And how East is really going to integrate with West Germany.And whether communism is going to collapse in China, as it’s collapsed everywhere else.And what a close-to-bankruptcy America that thought it was the world’s policeman until Vietnam is going to do, now that it’s lost the black hat, white hat simplicity.And which bulging-eyed, Third World despot is going to channel the four or five million he hasn’t already put into his Swiss bank account into buying a nuclear device to threaten the next door neighbour Third World despot too busy at the time putting United Nations and pop concert famine aid money into another Swiss account.And then there’s the Middle East …’She didn’t bother with an answer.Her sigh was dismissive enough.‘The Director told you there were to be changes? That there was no longer room – nor intention – for special relationships?’‘Something like that.’‘So this is reorganization time.’Charlie abruptly felt a deep, gouging hollowness.‘Am I being retired?’Patricia Elder held his look for several seconds before lowering her head over the written account of Charlie Muffin’s entire career as an intelligence officer.Remaining head-bent, she said: ‘We couldn’t risk your being retired.Beyond our control, until it was too late.’There was a distant snap of hope, a spark in the darkness.‘What then?’The dossiers got another momentary pat.‘You were good: bloody good.’Past tense, Charlie noted.‘So?’‘You’ve still got something to contribute.By teaching others.’‘Teaching!’‘Not the manual stuff: there are staff colleges for that.Or your insubordination, either.There’s no place for that in the sort of service the Director-General and I envisage.I want you to teach selected officers what isn’t in the manuals …’ She allowed herself a smile: one tooth crossed slightly over the other in the front.‘You’re so very proud of being a survivor.Instruct the new people how to survive, as you did for so long.’Charlie was listening, of course – to every word – but his mind was way ahead of what she was saying.Over, he realized: his operational life was over, being ended right here with matter-of-fact efficiency by a woman who considered him an anachronism.A dinosaur.The hollowness was still there but different now: it was an empty helplessness, at having taken away from him something he never thought he’d lose.Charlie had never liked feeling helpless.‘I’m not sure I’d be any good at it.’‘You’ll have to learn,’ she said, impatiently.‘I could decline?’ suggested Charlie, who never in his life had refused any assignment, because the job was not one in which a person could refuse.She pushed the files to one side of the desk, with further impatience.‘In which case you could be assigned to Records: see a lot of boxes and folders like these.Or Archives.Same job except that the boxes and folders are older.Or department or safe-house security, the sort of thing usually allocated to retired military personnel.You’ve probably met a few of them in the past.’He had, Charlie remembered.Upright, polished-booted men in gate-houses or hallway cubby-holes, trying to imbue a meaningless existence with a sense of urgency, automatically calling everyone ‘sir’ and standing to attention.Charlie had actually thought of them as dinosaurs.‘Or I could retire, if you’ve no further use for me.’‘You haven’t been listening!’ she said, curtly.‘I didn’t say we’ve no further use for you.The opposite.I said you still had something to contribute.You’re not eligible for retirement, which we wouldn’t accept in any case.I also said I want you in a position I can control.I’m not risking you as a wild card: offering yourself as some sort of commentator on intelligence on television or in newspapers, like all those supposed experts who emerge whenever espionage becomes newsworthy and don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.’Charlie opened his mouth to argue her wild-card nonsense, but changed his mind because there wasn’t any point: she wasn’t going to be persuaded to any opinion other than her own.Instead he said: ‘I thought Henry Wilberforce got slavery abolished in the 1800s.’Patricia Elder gave another of her heavy sighs.‘I’ve told you what your new role is to be in this department.’There was no point in arguing.He had to take it: give himself time to think [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]