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The International Writers Magazine:Dreamscapes - Spooks of '67

An Honourable Act
Mark Cunliffe

Harry trudged bitterly up the marble steps of the imposing house and pressed the buzzer. It was gone eleven at night, he was tired and his feet hurt. They were wet too, as a result of a hole in his shoe letting in the ice-cold dirty rainwater. The rain had unrelentingly hit London for the best part of a week now and Harry felt like he’d taken every harsh cold drop.
As he waited for the tannoy Menzies had installed at the door, clearly to ward off the likes of him, he wondered if he could claim shoes as expenses back at the department. After all, that’s what they seemed to use him for; footwork.
Right now, he’d rather be doing any other type of footwork than this. Shivering, he clung to his Macintosh and pressed the buzzer again. Knightsbridge, he thought surveying the tree-lined suburb lit burnt orange by its street lamps. Definitely not a neighbourhood for Harry, this was for ‘good stock’, no room for a grammar boy made good. Some fellas have all the luck Harry thought and then stopped short.
Luck can run out.

Finally the door opened, revealing a man who looked exactly like the picture in his file back in the department, except for the dressing gown of course. He cut an imposing figure, tall and bear like, with receding fair hair.
"Mr Menzies? Mr James Menzies?" Harry asked stepping from foot to foot on the step as much out of awkwardness than to ward off the cold.
"Yes" Menzies asked hesitantly.
Harry flashed his ID card "I’m from the ah, the office"
Davis looked him up and down. He shot a glance from side to side in case the neighbours were out, ready with the instamatics. When he felt safe, he replied not altogether welcoming; "Well I suppose you’d better come in."

Harry couldn’t begrudge the man his manner; it had gone eleven. There were places Harry would rather be; he didn’t want to be bothered either. But in the pecking order, he came last, and here was were he had to be, and all told, seeing Menzies up close, he knew he’d rather be in his own shoes tonight, hole or no hole.

He was escorted into the kitchen and was offered a seat at the large wooden table there. The kitchen itself was bigger than Harry’s entire flat. "Would you like tea or coffee? The kettle is on" Menzies asked.
"Coffee please, black," Harry confirmed and produced a hip flask from his raincoat. He shook it a little to offer Menzies who replied in the affirmative. Moments later Menzies sat down with two steaming mugs of black coffee to which Harry poured ample measures of the brandy from the flask.
"I take it this is urgent?" Menzies asked "It’s so interminable that the department have you at their beck and call twenty four hours a day. Still it's what they pay you messenger boys for isn’t it?"
"It is rather urgent." Harry confirmed ignoring the slight and showing no emotion "Its to do with ‘Pilgrim.’"
"Pilgrim?" Menzies said and for a second is features looked puzzled before giving in to mild irritation. "They’ve sent you on a wrong one I’m afraid, ‘Pilgrim’ has nothing to do with me, I’m no longer on the Berlin Desk but even if I was, that’s being dealt principally by the old man and someone in the field, chap called…"
Harry cut him short. "I know who was running ‘Pilgrim’, it was me, he was my ‘Joe’. I’m afraid I’m not just a messenger boy," he explained with a wry smile. "Despite my accent, to the contrary." He pulled out two Gitanes. Placing one on the table, he lit the other for himself, using the brief cloud of blue smoke to survey Menzies reaction.
"Ah, well I see" Menzies said, "Or rather I do not. I mean, it’s good to meet you dear boy, but I’m at a loss as to what I can offer to you, I just handled the paperwork coming through from field johnnies like you here at London Central. I was moved off Berlin last week so have had no contact since and even before then I came into very little contact with those files."
" ‘Pilgrim’ was killed coming over the wall around about this time last night." Harry said dully, checking his watch to confirm. Menzies allowed his jaw to drop a little at the news, before taking a drag on his cigarette. "Adam Klaus" Harry began, "that was ‘Pilgrim’s real name, died in a hail of bullets not a hundred feet away from me." He looked up at Menzies, allowing the lamp on the ceiling to hit the lenses in his glasses. The glare made Menzies look away and hurriedly stub out his smoke.
"You were there?" Menzies said.
Harry nodded. "Two hipflasks ago," he said cynically and began to pour more brandy into the mugs. "Why the move off Berlin Desk?" he asked.
"Departmental change, you know the drill." Menzies replied.
"Bit of a demotion surely," Harry said, sipping his coffee
"Not especially," he replied a little wounded. It obviously rankled, thought Harry. "You know what the old man is like, never keeps anyone in the same place for long," he concluded with a smile that just didn’t cut it for Harry.
"The only move the old man ever offered me" Harry said sardonically, "was the move from ‘the glass house’ into this line of work."
"I see" said Menzies casting his eye over Harry, taking him in all over again. "So your shall we say nefarious activities in your army days marked you out as potential?"
"Yes" Harry replied, before adding stone faced; "Does your nefarious activities mark you out for demotion?"

Menzies was up from the chair like a shot, screaming ‘how dare you’ and ‘you come into my house at an ungodly hour’ pretty much all Harry expected. He let him have his little rant and sat by calmly, stubbing his cigarette out as Menzies inevitably ran out of steam. Harry looked up at the red-faced tubby figure staring down at him.
"Sit down," he said coolly, his face motionless.
Menzies continued to stare at him, making no motion to take his seat.
Harry sighed. "Sit down before I knock you down." It wasn’t a threat; it was a clearly defined promise of Harry’s next action should he not return to his seat. Menzies could see it in the hooded eyes underneath the heavy framed spectacles. Harry meant business. Slowly and a little ashamed, he sat down, helping himself to another swig of the brandy filled coffee. He grimaced as it burned its way down to the stomach.
All the while, Harry never took his heavy lidded eyes off Menzies. Finally he spoke once more. "Why do you think you were moved? Because the colour of your old school tie matched the décor in the next room?" he wisecracked.
Menzies said nothing, just stared at the grain of the table, blinking occasionally.
" ‘Pilgrim’ knew there was a mole in London Central. That was the news he had for us. ‘Pilgrim’ knew that that mole was you."
Harry noticed that between the blinks, there were tears in Menzies eyes. Regardless, he ploughed on, he hated it, but he had to. "That’s why the old man moved you, we took the gamble that we could still take ‘Pilgrim’ across. After all, you weren’t directly dealing with the paperwork, we made sure of that. But your dirty little fingers get everywhere don’t they, Menzies?"
"Where were you?" Menzies croaked
"Beg pardon?" Harry enquired
"In the war, where did you serve?" Menzies asked. His once plummy strong tone now reduced to one of a sad rasping timbre.
"I wasn’t old enough. I was National Service" Harry replied, unsure of where this was going. The War, he thought to himself, Christ, why did it always revolve around this?
"I was a POW. Second Lieutenant. The Goons used to pick on me, would strike me as a matter of course virtually everyday. My men used to quiver with rage at the sight of it. Men, just ordinary working class men, much like yourself, the usual chip on their shoulder about class back home on Civvy Street, yet there, in Germany they would do anything for me. The beatings hurt me, but it hurt them too."
"Things are different in wartime," Harry tried to empathise, but Menzies was barely listening.
"That’s when I got into communism. All this class nonsense is ridiculous. Its men all united, against authority, against harsh and brutal regimes, don’t you see? Its that what matters!" Menzies babbled, warming to his argument.
"Then why the hell didn’t you defect? Hmm? Surely you knew when ‘Pilgrim’ first came through; surely the demotion gave you an indication. Christ, we opened the bloody door for you and you still stayed put!"
"I love my country" Menzies said thickly. The tears brimming in his eyes "One can still love a country yet hate its politics"
"No one is that free," Harry remarked. The silence hung heavy in the air like the thick blue fug from Harry’s Gitanes. "The department wanted you to flee and let us take ‘Pilgrim’, but you just had to blow the whistle." Harry sighed, he pictured the scared and frightened defector running towards him, almost snapping in two as the bullets cut through him. He began to feel his temper rise, his forehead going white hot, he pulled his teeth back and spat out; "You had to finger him didn’t you? You bastard!" He stopped himself and let out a deep breath. He hated this job right now more than he could ever hate Menzies.
"They wouldn’t have just let me go," Menzies wailed.
"They would, of course they would. The old man and ‘C’ they can’t afford another Philby. They wanted you to go don’t you see?" Harry sighed. He was too tired. Slowly and heavily he placed his hand in his Macintosh and began to pull something out. "You have to go" he said softly.
He placed a chunky service revolver on the kitchen table. Menzies eyes widened at the dull metallic intruder.
"Your comrades won’t come for you now. The Department won’t parade you through the Old Bailey. I’m sorry to say it but this is the only way. I wish there was another but there just isn’t," Harry’s voice trailed off and he inwardly cursed his masters for this task.
"An honourable ac,t" Menzies said finally sniffing back the tears and pulling himself back to some semblance of his old stature.
Harry stood up from the table slowly. He looked down at Menzies and felt pity. He was sick to the stomach. Slowly he pushed the hip flask towards him.
"Goodbye Mr Menzies," he said barely audibly and he left the house without looking back. He could not look back.

The rain had started to fall once more and it was now colder than ever. He shivered so much under his raincoat it felt like he was fitting.

Indoors and the sweat poured from every inch of James Menzies. He ran his wrist across his forehead and with one almighty effort, threw down the contents of Harry’s flask. Shakily his hand reached out for the gun. His eyes screwed tight shut.

Harry was waiting for the green line bus down the road when he heard the gunshot. He let out a loud and fitful sigh. He closed his eyes for a moment and felt nothing and everything all at once. Slowly he picked out his newspaper, unfolded its inky pages and scanned the greyhound results. He had lost every one of his bets.

Tonight wasn’t his lucky night either he thought grimly. Finally the bus came and he hauled himself on. Now, more than ever in his life he was ready to go home. Home to his poky little flat and it’s three bar fire. Sod it he thought, at least he was breathing. Tomorrow morning he would write a chit for a new pair of shoes, the most expensive he could try and get away with. The department could go hang.
© Mark Cunliffe
October 2007

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