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«Quiller Bamboo», ADAM HALL

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Chapter 1: Hyde

It was 1:59 a.m., when the telephone woke me and I rolled over and answered it and Tilson said they wanted me there right away and I told him no, it was too soon.

The line went silent and then Tilson came back on again — I suppose he'd turned away to talk to someone.

'Fully urgent,' he said.

The raw chill of a November fog came drifting through the open window, and I could hear a taxi throttling up along Knightsbridge in the distance.

'I've only been back ten days,' I said.

Tilson's not often starchy but he said, 'I think you know what fully urgent means,' and rang off, so I got up and spent five minutes in the bathroom and went down to the car with my teeth clean but the stubble still there and brought the Aston up to a steady fifty along Piccadilly and went through the red when there was nothing coming and picked up a panda near the Ritz: he closed in and got his lights flashing but I didn't take any notice and he dropped back as he got the call from the dispatcher — Tilson had covered me as I knew he would, because 'fully urgent' means that everyone's got to move.

The panda took up escort station behind me as far as Whitehall and then peeled off when I got to the building and saw Holmes manning the door.

'Mr Hyde's office,' he said and got me into the lift.

'What's it about?'

'Not absolutely sure. He wants you at the Foreign Office.'

'So what am I doing here?'

'Briefing, clearance.'

'I've only just got back. I told Tilson.'

'Now you can tell Mr Hyde.'

We got out of the lift and went along the corridor with Holmes looking quiet and nervy, so I didn't ask him anything else. There were a lot of phones ringing behind the closed doors and Diane came out of Signals and darted into Codes and Cyphers with some papers in her hand, dropping a sheet and picking it up and not even seeing us as she went in there.

Someone else came out of the signals room and I heard a lot of beeping going on, more than usual at this time of night.

Holmes turned his head. 'How much sleep have you had?'

'Few hours.'

'Look in on me later if you want to. I've got to put a fire out in here.'

He went into Signals and I kept on going. Not strictly a fire: someone had come unstuck in the field, Beirut, Sri Lanka, Bogota, you name it, and he was lighting up his mission board for help.

Tilson was alone in Hyde's office, talking on one of the phones; by the look of him they'd dragged him out of bed too. I felt the adrenaline flushing the skin because I hadn't seen this kind of panic at the Bureau for months, but I was not going out again after only ten days, and they couldn't insist. Tilson nodded for me to have a chair but I stayed on my feet and went across to the window and looked at the street three stories below, deserted in the lamplight.

'I don't know,' Tilson said on the phone, 'it's only just come up. Quiller's here now, you should know; better tell Mr Shepley.'

I looked up at the reflection of Tilson's bland lopsided face in the window. In this place Shepley was another name for God.

'Do you want him briefed and cleared first, or is he to go along to the FO right away?'

I didn't really mind what the answer was, since I was going back to bed in any case. I was technically at rest, which meant I'd got another twenty-one days before they could sign me up again and send me out, and I was going to spend at least a week at Norfolk wallowing in the luxury of sauna baths and Swedish massage and meditation to bring the nerves down to their normal pitch, plus a bit of refresher training with Kimura-sensei in the dojo and some close combat work to get the reflexes back in tune.

They're holding a board open,' Tilson said on the phone, 'and they've brought Dawson in from Paris — he knows the kind of signals we're liable to get from Hong Kong.'

No way. Not Hong Kong. Norfolk. There was a drunk down there in the street, tottering with tremendous care along the pavement, holding on to the railings for a bit and then shoving off again.

Tilson cupped the phone and said, 'Are you still under any kind of treatment?'

'Yes.'

'What for?'

'Shark bite.'

'What's your condition?'

'Look,' I said, 'we've got to talk.'

Tilson took his hand away from the mouthpiece. 'Yes, but I'll tell him the situation, or leave it to Mr Hyde.'

The drunk was on a course forty-five degrees in error, and when his foot slipped off the curb he went down like a felled tree and lay with his head in the gutter.

'No,' Tilson said, 'it began as a simple request for asylum.'

I went across to the desk and picked up one of the other phones and pressed 9 and got the dial tone and pressed 999 and told them. Someone looked in at the door and Tilson shook his head and they went out again.

'I don't frankly know. We got it from MI6. They said they don't want to touch it.'


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