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WATERSHED (“Enter the Spooks” )

Yuri returned to London and went straight from Waterloo Station to report directly to Mr. Smith in his office at the ‘Yard’. Yuri never used his boss’s real name; both preferred the use of ‘Jack’ as suitably anonymous. The name also suited Mr. Smith’s youthful image and unorthodox style. Jack ran his hand over his thinning sandy hair and kept his pale blue eyes fixed intently on Yuri during the report. The information that was leaked to Yuri, concerning a plot to contact the Duke of Windsor, fitted well with other material that had come to him. Jack Smith stated that he was going to pass it up to their masters on the Olympian heights as ‘unconfirmed but possible’. It required a top-level decision

Events moved quickly, for on the following day Yuri was told to bring his passport and a few travel items in a small valise, and be at Croydon Airport ready for a 10:00 am departure. A commercial flight still connected London and Lisbon on a daily schedule. By common consent the Luftwaffe and RAF did not interfere with civilian flights to neutral countries. The De Havilland aircraft filled slowly as the checking of papers proceeded painstakingly, but finally they were cleared for take-off. At the last moment Jack Smith, accompanied by a slim pale man, boarded the aircraft.

Jack did not show any signs of recognition to Yuri. At Lisbon Airport, Jack and his companion left together, in the only available taxi. Yuri squinted in the unaccustomed brightness of a Lisbon summer, searching without success for another taxi. Almost immediately one drew up at his side with a passenger; and she called to Yuri, in English, that she would be happy to share a ride into town. Yuri gave his valise to the driver, and joined the lady. She gestured towards the departing cab that carried Jack Smith, and remarked that they were going to the Excelsior Hotel, but that Yuri would have less grand accommodation at the Prince Henry. Having enjoyed her moment of surprise she added that she was Margot Floutier, cultural attaché at the embassy. She offered a firm square hand in greeting.

“Cultural Attaché?” repeated Yuri, “it’s more likely that Lisbon Head of Station sent you to pick me up.” Yuri could believe that British Intelligence in Portugal might provide some logistical support for visitors from other agencies, but the thought of some Cultural Attaché meeting him with handouts on Shakespeare’s plays seemed most improbable.

“Well of course he did,” Margot agreed without hesitation. “You do not know the form here. We cannot have enthusiastic coppers upsetting the locals. Every country with an interest in the war has their agents here. We know each other, and give each other a wide berth. That way no one gets hurt, we can get on with our work, and the Portuguese do not get all huffy about their neutrality being infringed.”

Yuri studied Margot. He liked what he saw. Her face was not beautiful, but the level gaze from her wide-spaced gray eyes, and her complete lack of artifice bespoke sincerity. A straight shooter.

“You will be marked by the opposition if you are seen with me,” Margot stated. “Hotels are too public, but we do need to talk, and soon, so,” she rummaged in her handbag and found a small card, “come to my apartment at this address after dinner, about nine.”

Yuri grinned at the invitation and pocketed the card, together with some Portuguese money she had added. The taxi stopped at the entrance to the Prince Henry Hotel, and as Yuri prepared to leave she said, “Despite what you may read in the adventure novels, this will be strictly business. There are some things I will not do for King and Country.”

All through dinner Yuri could think of nothing else but those steady gray eyes and her small grin that was always ready to break out.

Strictly business it was, for it was Jack Smith that opened the door of Margot’s apartment. He was nursing a scotch, and made a gesture of inquiry for Yuri’s choice of liquor. Yuri had interrupted a tense discussion, which resumed immediately. Jack was insisting that they approach the Duke of Windsor immediately, perhaps that evening. Margot was firmly arguing for caution. She mentioned that another member of ‘the firm’, on airport watch, had seen a senior member of the Foreign Office arrive, later identified as Timothy Burton. The Embassy had no knowledge of his visit; a most unusual occurrence for a F.O. dignitary to be travelling unofficially. Therefore; Margot maintained, they should keep a watching brief until the players and motives could be established. Jack flopped into a wickerwork chair that was positioned to catch the evening sea breezes that fitfully billowed the curtains on the balcony. He slumped in apparent fatigue.

“Look; the Duke visited Germany in 1936 after his marriage to Mrs. Simpson. He met Hitler. I am not suggesting anything improper occurred; only that contact was established. They may try to reopen this contact. Now I have brought out Lawrence Oglethorpe, the Duke’s former Equerry from his palace days. They are old friends, he can gain an immediate audience with the Duke.” Jack paused for emphasis, “he carries a message from his brother George, the King ― which must be delivered with all speed.”

It was agreed to move quickly. Margot mentioned that a discreet observation was maintained on the Duke to see if others were trying to make contact. So far no unusual visitors. The Duke followed a blameless round of social engagements. She mentioned that often the Duke strolled in the grounds of his villa after dinner, and was known to sit in the gazebo alone while he smoked. Jack said it would be the perfect time to have Oglethorpe contact him, and volunteered to accompany the Equerry, as protective angel. Yuri was assigned to be backup support outside the villa to prevent any moves by the opposition. Margot was requested to shadow Burton to find out who his contacts were. Upon this agreement, Margot left the room to return with a service revolver wrapped in oilskin. She offered the gun to Yuri with a box of ammunition saying that she had never found a use for it.

Jack left to collect Oglethorpe. Margot suggested to Yuri that, as they had a couple of hours to wait they could sit on the veranda and enjoy the lovely evening. She added they could enjoy the full moon, and finish off the wine. They sat together on a wickerwork sofa and watched the moonlight shimmer on the sea. Below, on the beach, a white line of surf came and went as each gentle wave reached the shore. Somewhere far-off someone was singing a slow plaintive love song. Moved by the romantic setting Yuri placed his arm around Margot and let his hand fall on her bare shoulders. He slid his hand down to the tie that secured the back of her dress. Margot gave a slight shake of her head, and slowly and gently held his hand and moved it to the sofa between them. She squeezed his hand, to soften the rebuff. Yuri gave a quick squeeze in return, and they sat in companionable silence for a while. Margot rested her head on Yuri’s shoulder and they talked of childhood things, and seaside holidays. He felt that he had known Margot for months not hours. He was comfortable with her. She made no demands upon him. He could be himself, without the need to impress, or to play a role. He only came to that realization later. There, on the balcony, he was only conscious of feeling a trusting intimacy that he had not experienced since his boyhood friendships.

“Tell me about your family Yuri”

“It’s funny, as a kid I never liked my Dad. He was always trying to mold me, and I hate that; but now I’m older I realize he had principles, and above all he was loyal to them. So few people believe in anything, and loyalty doesn’t exist anymore.”

“Oh my! World-Weary Yuri!

I’m a believer, and that’s why I am here.” Yuri closed his eyes, and quietly quoted Omar Khayyam;

     How sweet is mortal Sovranty! – think some;

     Others – How blest the paradise to come!

     Ah, take the Cash in hand and waive the rest;

     Oh, the brave Music of a distant drum!

 Margot showed her surprise, “A copper who quotes poetry? And I just thought you were a loner, against the world, but now you are a Renaissance man?”

“One advantage of dropping out of school before the required age of fourteen, is you can study what you want, not what others want you to; so I read-up on poetry and philosophy. I escaped a traditional education.”

Yuri watched Oglethorpe and Smith converse with a manservant at the door of the Duke’s villa. When they were admitted he moved through the darkness, around the house, to a viewpoint of the garden. The Gazebo was faintly outlined by the house lights, and seemed to be in a small clearing. He chose a place where the Gazebo and most of the front driveway were visible, and settled in for a long wait.

The Duke came out from his study immediately he learnt of Oglethorpe’s arrival. He took both of Oglethorpe’s hands in his, and shook them heartily while giving the boyish grin so beloved of the British public. There was no doubt of his pleasure at the visit, so Smith discreetly withdrew and left Oglethorpe to his mission. The Duke quickly turned the conversation from personal matters, by stating he wanted to do something for the war effort.

Oglethorpe began rather diffidently, “We cannot have two Kings on the board, even if one is an abdicated King. It would confuse and divide the British people. You know that many, perhaps a majority of the people love you, and would like you back as their King.”

The Duke raised a hand in protest, “I have made my choice and am happy with it. I would never return as King, but good God Lawrence, I cannot sit on the sidelines.”

Oglethorpe resumed, “This place is teeming with enemy agents, and the border with fascist Spain is only a few hours away by car. You could be spirited-off and used by our enemies as a rallying point against the government. Even if you staunchly resist, the world would never know. Your apparent defection would be a major propaganda victory, and could lead to a kind of government in exile. You must move to a safer place, and help our country from there.” He drew an envelope from his jacket and handed it respectfully to the Duke. “It is from your brother, and he sends his very warmest regards.”

The Duke slowly opened the envelope and walked across to a large hanging lamp. He read carefully, and refolded the letter. “The Bahamas; he wants me to be Governor of the Bahamas!” He seemed saddened by the caliber of the assignment.

The two men talked for another hour. Oglethorpe urging the Duke to leave the very next day. At the end of their talk the Duke accepted the post with good humor and committed to an early departure.

Margot knew where Burton was staying, and went directly to the hotel. It was the ‘Miramar’, clean, quiet, and on the edge of town. She watched from her car and was rewarded by the sight of Burton and another man leaving together. The other man, had she but known, was the ‘Greek God’, Major Nolan. The two men were picked up by a private car, and headed towards an area known among diplomats as ‘The Cantonments’, as it housed most of the diplomatic corps’ residencies.

Surprisingly, Burton stopped a few yards from the German Residency, and someone opened the tall wrought iron gates and came out to meet the visitors. This was the most important discovery of her career ― a high level traitor. If she could land this one it would silence the critics, some of whom saw women’s role in espionage as either cipher clerks or femme fatales. She must get closer. At this distance they were merely indistinct shadows.

She slipped quietly from the car, leaving the door slightly ajar. Staying close to the bushes she moved slowly towards a large overhanging tree that would offer concealment. She may have completed her move without incident, but for the moon. That same lover’s lantern she had admired from her veranda an hour or two before now came from behind a cloud and cast its silvery light on the roadway. At that moment Nolan looked in her direction and called that someone seemed to be on the roadway watching them. The man from the Residency, Standartenfuehrer Mueller, was the first to react. Characteristically he solved problems by direct action, he ran swiftly towards the intruder. Margot hesitated; should she bluff it out, return to the car for protection, or run into the gardens and lose him? She chose to run.

The garden sloped steeply downwards. The cantonments were terraced into the hillside to give panoramic views and cooling breezes. Margot crashed through bushes and saplings with her pursuer closing in with each downhill bound. In that headlong flight all her training and natural intelligence was overcome by terror. Branches caught and tore at her hair and clothing; roots snagged and twisted-off her sling-back, wedge-heeled shoes. In a matter of minutes Margot had tripped, and Mueller landed upon her with both feet. She was sobbing for breath and offered little resistance as Mueller searched her roughly, and marched her back uphill using a Ju-Jitsu arm lock. She was taken back to Burton’s car which provided some cover should anyone pass by.

Nolan walked back to her car and returned with her handbag, which he tipped onto the backseat, and pawed through, for clues to her identity.

Margot’s questioning was brief. It was obvious that she had been following them and therefore knew enough to be dangerous. Burton was concerned for his safety and wanted to make a deal of some kind. While they conversed in low tones, Mueller impatiently removed his necktie and looped it over Margot’s neck from behind. The tie was too broad to be the ideal weapon for garroting. Margot twisted occasionally and gulped air. She fought; she clawed, and sometimes momentarily loosened the grip. But always it came back tighter. Burton was horrified. He kept repeating, ‘my God’, and ‘poor girl’. He paced up and down literally wringing his hands. Finally he walked away, as if a little distance would absolve him from the crime. Nolan stared at Margot in disgust. It was not a pretty sight. Margot’s tongue and eyes protruded. She made whimpering and sobbing sounds, and sometimes rasping sucking noises when she managed to suck some air. She did not die quickly.

Margot collapsed to her knees, her head rolled forward, and her involuntary spasms ceased. Mueller gave the garrote several savage jerks to ensure finality. It was not well done he admitted. Then in deference to his associate’s squeamishness he offered to dispose of the woman using her car, if they would follow and pick him up. He took her wristwatch, her only item of jewelry, and money from her purse to give the appearance of robbery. He then slung Margot’s body over his shoulder and strode back to her car, jingling her keys in his free hand.

Mueller dumped Margot’s body in an alley in the red light district, and drove her car to a parking place near the British Embassy. That was Mueller’s idea of a perfect joke and he chuckled throatily several times on the ride back to the Residency.

 


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