The Law-Abiding

A free-lance writer non living in New York City, MARC BRANDEL has four novels to his credit the last two being The Barriers Between and The Choice. He was born in England thirty-three years ago, educated in France. Switzerland, and at Cambridge University, but has become so Americanized in his fourteen years in this country that this is the first story he has ever written with a European background.


IT WAS raining again: the drops slapping against the window of the compartment. At times it seemed to Hallam that it was always raining in Europe. Thinking of Germany, for instance, where he had spent the greater part of the last three years working in collaboration with Army Intelligence, he remembered the cold rain dripping from the eaves of the ruined buildings, the spattering pools among the rubble. And now the driving wetness of England.

The train was beginning to slow for East Croyden. He glanced warily across at the only other occupant of the narrow English compartment. But the wariness was really no more than automatic now. He wasn’t afraid that Radjek would leave the train at Croyden, would try and give him the slip or even contact anyone. He knew only too well what Radjek was going to do. He was going to sit there just as he was, his large head settled back against the embroidered antimacassar provided by the Southern Railway for its first class passengers, Ids heavy lids closed, the infrequent restive shifting of his square reddish hands on his knees the only indication he was so much as aware of Hallam, that he was even awake. He was going to sit there until they got into Newhaven Harbor at nine tonight and then he was going to take his bag from the rack and move slowly and ponderously ahead of Hallam down the station platform, through the customs sheds, and up the gangplank of the Channel boat to safely — carrying the figures he had been sent to England to get securely packed away inside his mind beyond any possibility of detection or recapture. And there was absolutely nothing Hallam could do to stop him.

Disgustedly he turned back to his own window, looking out over the twilit acres of identical red roofs, the row of somehow pathetically cared-for gardens running down to the base of the railroad embankment. A woman in a flowered apron stood in the shelter of a doorway holding a child in her arm. Her hand clasping the child’s wrist fluttered its arm up and down, waving at the train. Hallam raised his own hand in response and then let it fall back beside him. For a moment he hated Radjek with a quite personal hatred.

“It must be such a lonely job,” his sister back in Rhode Island had once said to Hallam. But he had never seen it that way. He loved his job — not for the occasional risks involved; he had as a matter of fact little stomach for that side of it: at forty-two it was a conscious effort of will for him to be even moderately courageous — but for the very reason that it gave him such a sense of belonging. In working against a man like Radjek he could feel he was working for so many people. People like that woman; decent, friendly, standing in the doorways of their ugly little houses waving their good will at passing strangers.

He wondered again if Radjek knew just how safe he was. And was bitterly forced once more to admit to himself that he almost certainly did. It had been a last doomed hope this: to show his own hand, to follow Radjek quite openly since last night, follow him to the station, into this empty compartment. A last hope of scaring Radjek into thinking they weren’t going to let him leave the country. But Radjek hadn’t seemed in the least perturbed, had scarcely even looked up when Hallam entered the compartment. And he must certainly know by now who Hallam was, that he was being followed, must surely have suspected it ever since he landed in England. To Radjek’s kind it would seem unthinkable that a foreigner, any foreigner, shouldn’t be kept under constant watch.

And yet, Hallam thought more hopefully, Radjek had taken this train, this slow halting local instead of the more obvious Channel boat express. Radjek still couldn’t quite believe apparently that it could be this easy: that oven a suspect foreigner might have the right to move freely in a “corrupt democracy,”in England.

But then Radjek hadn’t been at the Yard yesterday when Hallam talked to MacDonald. Good old Mac with his worn, homely face and worried eyes, his fuzzy hair and mustache. Like a little gray panda, Hallam had thought sitting across the desk from him in the small office. There was nothing disrespectful in the thought: it was a habit he had trained himself to, to settle on some simple association of this kind for each new face he encountered. It helped fix it in his memory.

“We’ve checked with our Passport Control people.” Mac pulled a sheet of paper towards him. “Everything in order, I’m afraid. ‘Naturalized Czech citizen. Visitor’s visa issued by the British Consul in Prague.’ Our fault, that. ‘Traveling as the representative of the Continian Aluminum Company.’ A bona fide firm with legitimate business connections in this country.”

Hallam nodded. “You’ve got to hand it to them. They know exactly how to take advantage of every legality they can.”

“So there it is.” Mac slid the report back into the folder on his desk. “If he wants to leave the country I don’t see how we can stop him. I mean we can’t go around breaking our own laws, can we? We can search his luggage of course. Might even stretch a point and make a search of his . . . person. Though we don’t like to do that if we can help it.”

“Wouldn’t do any good anyway.” Stretch a point, Hallam thought. And if the positions were reversed? Radjek’s kind wouldn’t consider it stretching a point to commit murder in broad daylight. “He hasn’t a thing on him,”he continued. “Not a scrap of paper or a note of any kind. It’s all in his head. That’s why they sent Radjek. Because Radjek would understand what those figures meant. He wouldn’t even have to memorize them exactly — only their meaning.”

“I see.” Mac pulled a rough-textured black pipe from his pocket and began to till it. “Just, how important are they?" he asked after a moment. “Not precisely a closed secret, would you say? Anyone doing the same experiments could get the figures for themselves.”

“Sure. Sure, they could. Only it took your boys twenty-eight months and they had the best equipment in the world. Twenty-eight months that we’re just handing them on a platter the moment Radjek leaves the country tomorrow.” Hallam stood up, his own self-disgust suddenly overwhelming. “Right in front of me,” he said. “Right there on a public bench in the bang middle of Hyde Park with me sitting within twenty feet of them. Can you imagine! All the time I’d kept thinking Radjek would have to go to Harwell himself, or they would have to smuggle copies of the figures out to him. It never even occurred to me, pinhead I am, that was how they would do it, that was how they had planned it all along. Word of mouth. I hadn’t even seen that was why they sent Radjek. A scientist. Far too important a man for them to risk unless they were absolutely sure what they were doing. And that whole hour. That whole hour they were sitting there, Radjek and Hart, I didn’t suspect a Goddam thing. Me! I didn’t even know who Hart was.”

“Not your fault, that.”If there had been any sympathy in Mac’s voice Hallam couldn’t have borne it, but it was a mere statement of fact. “We didn’t know about Hart ourselves until just before his death.” He shook out the match he had been holding to his pipe. “Extraordinary, a fellow like that, isn’t it?” he went on. “Hart, I mean. Oxford man. Senior science scholar. Brilliant record. Went all through the war. Comes of a good family too. You can imagine what this has done to them. His sister was in here this afternoon. Awfully nice girl, got a special citation for her work during the Blitz, night ferry service up and down the river. She just sat there, fidgeting with the clasp of her handbag, saying ‘Isn’t there anything I can do to make up for my brother?'" Mac reached gloomily for another match. “Beats me,” he admitted. “Men like Hart. What makes ‘em do it, do you think? Not money. Kind of a disease, I suppose.”

Hallam turned back to his chair and sat down. “Why did Hart kill himself?" he asked. “Did he know you were after him.'”

“No.” There was a look of sadness in Mac’s honest, worried eyes that might almost have been taken for pity. “No, we can be pretty sure he didn’t. Do you know what I think?” he continued. “It was because of them. Radjek’s lot, I mean. They didn’t trust him. I don’t mean to say they killed him. It was suicide all right. But they were through with him. They let him see they didn’t trust him any longer. And after all he’d done for them the realization was just too much for him. He had betrayed his own country, his family, everything he had been brought up to believe in, and suddenly he had nothing left, nowhere to turn.”

“Look.” In his urgency Hallam leaned forward and rested his hands on Mac’s desk. “Suppose I was willing to swear, go to court and swear Radjek was in touch with Hart. Wouldn’t that be enough for you — at least to detain him?”

“Could you swear what they talked about ?”

“No.” Hallam shook his head. “No, I guess for all I can prove they talked about the weather. But we both know they didn’t.”

“That’s not enough, though, is it?”

Hallam did not answer and after a moment Mac asked frankly: “Look here, what’s your particular interest in Radjek? Is there anything you people can prove against him;”

“Not legally.” Hallam fell for a cigarette and lit it. “We think . . . Hell, we know he’s the coördinator of a group of agents working in the States. That’s why I was sent here after him. We knew he was after those figures and we hoped we could get something on him here. Something that would stick in your courts.” His own anger with himself crept into his voice again. “And now that he’s got the figures on top of everything else we can’t even stop him leaving the country.”

“ Well, after all. Old Chap.” There was a strange, rather likable embarrassment in MacDonald’s gray eyes. “I mean that’s rather what it’s all about, isn’t it? Can’t go around arresting people on suspicion or we should none of us sleep safe in our beds at night. What ?”

“I guess so.” Those English, Hallam thought. He’ll be offering me a cup of tea next.. But he felt a great affection for Mac at that moment. “It’s too bad it doesn’t work both ways, though,” he said. “Too bad a man like Radjek can come over here and take advantage of your decency, your regard for laws he despises you for having.”

“Do you suppose he knows?” There was a sudden sharpness in MacDonald’s voice, a look of bright speculation in his eyes. “I mean do you suppose Radjek himself knows just how safe he is, that we can’t touch him without breaking our own laws? They have funny ideas about other countries sometimes, you know, these people.”

Sure he knew, Hallam thought now, watching Radjek across the narrow aisle of the compartment. Ilis taking this train, this local that stopped at Newhaven Town as well as the Harbor, was no more than an irrational reflex of caution, a way of leaving himself a last out in case he was stopped and questioned.


THE train jolted to a stop, a shower of raindrops shaking loose from its roof, splashing on the platform. A wave of passengers rippled forward from the shelter of a wooden awning, disclosing a row of billboards. “Did you Maclean your teeth today?” The door of the compartment was opened from the outside: a girl entered in a flurry of parting advice. She settled her suitcase on the seat opposite Hallam and turned back to a tall woman on the platform, opening the window and leaning out.

“Have a good time.”

“Oh, I shall. Don’t worry. I expect I shall make an absolute pig of myself.”

“Do. You deserve it, and dear . . .”

“Two eggs every morning. Just fancy . . . I wish you were coming too. It’s too awful to think of your having to stay in England. I wish . . .”

“Don’t, dear. Just try and forget it all. Forget him. Stay as long as you can and have a simply lovely time.”

There was a warning whistle, a moment’s silence as the brake pumps stilled, the slamming of doors up and down the train. The girl stepped back and closed the window, pulling on the heavy leather strap until the single pane slipped into place and held. The older woman’s face moved slowly past. Looking out Hallam saw her turn back to the shelter of the awning. There had been two men in raincoats standing beneath it and in the instant before they were lost to sight Hallam had the impression that they had been waiting for her there. The thought caused him a slight uneasiness, like a word in a cipher that did not quite fit. Why had only the woman come to the door of the compartment?

He watched the girl as she moved briskly about, straightening her suitcase on the seat beside her, folding her coat on top of it, settling into her corner. She was rather pretty in an English way, the softness of her eyes and mouth oddly contrasting with the bones of her face, the firmness of her chin, the long capable hands. So many English people were like that, he thought; all shy apology on the surface and underneath as tough and serviceable as the shoes they made, with that curious indignant toughness that came from their assurance of being always in the right.

The girl had scarcely even glanced at either him or Radjek. Having made herself comfortable she opened a book, a green clothbound book with no wrapper. As she raised it Hallam noticed the red sticker across the bottom of the jacket. Boots Circulating Library. He was aware again of that faint sense of disquiet, as at something that did not quite fit. “Stay as long as you can,” the woman on the platform had said. Then wasn’t it a little strange to be taking a library book with her?

His attention was distracted by a movement in the corridor outside. A man passed, glancing briefly in. Hallam had the impression of a white pointed face beneath an absurdly narrow-brimmed, high-crowned black hat. Like an irritable gnome, he thought. His glance shifted to Radjek. The other had not moved, but looking at his hands, Hallam fell an instant’s stirring of excitement. The thumb and forefinger of Radjek’s right hand were rubbing softly, insistently together. It was a mannerism Hallam had noticed before; it reminded him of a gambler fingering his last chip; and he had come to recognize it as a sign of anxiety. What was it that had disturbed Radjek? The girl’s presence in the compartment? He brought his eyes back to her.

Perhaps it was only the contrast between his hatred of Radjek and his instinctive liking for her, or perhaps something in the girl herself, her air of gentle independence, of hidden reserves; but for a moment looking at her, Hallam was aware of almost suffocating anger. It was girls like this who had stood beside the ack-ack guns in 1940, who had run the little boats up and down the Thames those too bright London nights. Who were now being edged a little closer to a still greater ordeal, an even worse Hell, because of his own stupidity and failure.

The train was beginning to slow again. Hayward’s Heath. The quiet little country station, peaceful as an old print, seemed only to echo his own self-accusations. Did you Maclean your teeth today? Only one stop more now, he thought, Lewes, and then Newhaven, first the Town, and a mile further on the Harbor, and the waiting boat. A figure passed the window, glancing in, moving on down the corridor. Hallam caught a glimpse of the little white face beneath the absurd black hat. The irritable gnome again. He looked at Radjok. His hands were moving once more, the fingers whispering nervously together. He was afraid of something, Hallam decided. But what? What in God’s name had he got to be seared of? All be had to do was walk aboard.

Opposite him the girl closed her book, laying it beside her. There was a thin while celluloid marker, the accompaniment of all Boots Library books, slipped between the pages towards the end, but she had not moved it. Had she finished the book already? He looked at her face. She was staring out of the window, thoughtfully watching the green Sussex fields, the neat hedges, the still trees slip by, but Hallam had the impression of a certain tenseness in her manner now. Like Radjek she might have been nerving herself to something.

Before he could recover from his surprise a signal box slid past the window. Lewes. The train slowed, shuddered, halted, the air brakes panting. Doors slammed shut. There was the sound of men’s voices in the corridor; the train was on its way again.

The girl seemed to drag her eyes from the window and straightened a little in her seat, staring directly ahead of her.


THE voices were approaching their carriage. Two men came into view and halted. At the sight of them Hallam felt a surge of hope. There was no mistaking that air of deferential firmness, of somehow apologetic authority. The two Yard men wore their profession like coats as they stepped into the compartment and stood just inside the door taking in the three passengers.

“Anyone for the Channel boat?” It was the elder of the two who had spoken.

Hallam frowned, puzzled. Then: of course, he thought, his brief hope dying. Money. They have to check your money. You’re only allowed to take out so much.

“Yes, I am.” The girl snapped open her bag and pulled out her passport. “I’m going to Paris.”

The Yard man took it from her, opening it at the first page, reading her name. His eyes hardened unaccountably. “And just what are you going to be doing in France?" he asked.

“Taking a holiday.”

“That all?”

Hallam was incredulous: he had felt a note of menace in the question.

“Plenty of nice places in England for a holiday.” The Yard man gestured brusquely toward the suitcase on the seat beside the girl. “This yours?” Without waiting for an answer he bent down and unfastened the locks. “Or don’t you like England?” he asked, fingering expertly through the neatly piled clothes inside.

Hallam looked at the girl’s face. Within this framework of the English carriage with its oldfashioned upholstery, its fading photographs of Bognor Regis, the English Lake Country, the expression in her eyes filled him with a sense of waking nightmare. He had seen that same expression in men and women’s eyes before; but then it had seemed to him a mere extension of their surroundings: the barrier, the are lights, the booted guards, the little huddle of refugees from the Eastern Zone presenting their papers with that same look of fearful hope.

“Yes, of course I like it. Why shouldn’t I?” Snap. Lock. Snap. Lock. Her voice matched the brittle staccato sound of her fingers blindly opening and closing the clasp of her handbag.

“What’s this?” The Yard man picked up the book from the seal beside her. “European Crossroads. Ilya Ehrenburg. Russian, isn’t he?”

“Yes, but . . .”

“Afraid we’ll have to ask you to come along with us.” He had closed the suitcase and now handed it and the book to his companion in the doorway. “Come on, Miss.”

“But what for? What am I charged with?” The trembling of the girl’s lips was pitiful.

“Not charged with anything . . . yet. Just taking you into protective custody.” There was a nasty, jeering quality in the Yard man’s voice. “Just on suspicion, you might say.”

“Suspicion of what ?” Snap. Lock. Snap. Lock. She was fighting hard to control it, but she was plainly terrified now. Hallam watched her with a kind of sickened fascination, as one might watch some scene in a Grand Guignol pantomime, some scene that bore absolutely no relation to reality. The worn, homely compartment, the quiet English countryside sliding serenely past outside had ceased to exist for him, transformed into grotesque fantasy by the incredibility of what was happening in relation to it.

“You’re known to have associated with the traitor, Jonathan Hart.”

“But I hardly knew him . ..”

“Come along, now. Come along.”The Yard man made a quick impatient movement towards the door, “Halpert,”he called, “take her outside.”

Still protesting, but with an air of terrified resignation now, the girl stood up, her fingers struggling awkwardly with the buttons of her coat, and followed the younger Yard man out into the corridor. The other stood for a moment looking after her and then slipped her passport into his pocket. There was a dreadful finality in the gesture: he might have been turning a key in a lock.

“Anyone else for the boat?" He turned suddenly on Radjek. “You leaving the country?”

There was no change of expression on Radjek’s heavy face, only the reddish hands moved now with increasing restive speed. He did not answer at once, but his eyes reflected no sign of hesitation, or even of thought. It was simply a moment lost, a moment Radjek might merely have been waiting to pass before replying.

“No,” he said in his flat, dryly factual voice. “I’m only going as far as the town. On business. I’m returning to London tomorrow.”

The words rang in Hallam’s ears like a reprieve. Rewildered as he had been by what had just taken place, shocked beyond words by the Yard man’s treatment of that girl, by the fact that such things could happen here, in England, he was conscious now only of a sense of quite physical relief.

Radjek had committed himself. He wouldn’t dare now try and go aboard that boat-at least tonight. It was only slowly that the full implications of this fact became clear to Hallam. For the moment it was enough to realize that he had been given a second chance, a second chance to meet the harsh demands of his own New England conscience, to do his job, to stop those figures in Radjek’s mind leaving the country at all, ever.

“May I see your ticket, please?”

The large hand stilled on the heavy knee, fumbled with a button, searched an inside pocket.

“ This ticket is for Newhaven Harbor.”The detective turned the small green pasteboard card in his fingers.

“A mistake.” For all the interest in Radjek’s voice he might have been correcting an error in grammar. “The ticket seller misunderstood me.”

“We’ll be coming into the town in a few minutes now.”There was an unmistakable note of warning in the Yard man’s voice. He handed the ticket back and without a glance at Hallam turned and left the compartment, sliding the door shut behind him.

Hallam was alone with Radjek once more. His mind was working desperately, trying to fit things together. MacDonald. What he had said about Hart. The Yard man’s incredible treatment of that girl. “Just on suspicion, you might say. You’re known to have associated with Hart.”Had some confederate of Hart’s come forward then, implicated a whole new group? If so, why hadn’t they arrested Radjek? At least warned him directly not to try and leave the country? None of it seemed to fit.

They were beginning to slow for Newhaven Town. Feverishly Hallam searched his mind for some fact, some detail he might have overlooked that, like the key word in a cipher, would make the whole’ thing clear. And then all at once he had it. The library book.

Hallam did not actually smile, but his relief, his sense of impersonal victory and above all his admiration for MacDonald, to say nothing of that girl, were so great at that moment that if he had been alone he would have laughed aloud.


IT was a quietly respectable hotel on a side street about a quarter of a mile from the station. Above the double glass door a flaking gilt sign announced “The Traveller’s Arms" and below it in smaller letters “Licensed to sell Wines and Spirits.”

Hallam waited outside until he had seen Radjek follow the aging porter in his green baize apron up the stairs and out of sight and then crossed to the desk himself and asked for a room. The gray-haired woman on duty pushed the book towards him and Hallam signed his name. On the line above in Radjek’s brisk, awkward hand was the entry “Konrad Bergen, Sweden" and the room number, 119.

Radjek must he even more scared than he had imagined, Hallam thought with a flush of triumph, to have reverted, so futilely, to a false name.

“Do you have a phone?" Hallam asked. He had an idea Mac might not be very far away, might be waiting at the local police station for this very call, in fact.

“It’s right down the hall, sir.”

Hallam thanked her, making his way past the cheerful murmur of the public bar to the box at the end of the corridor. “Lift receiver and insert two pennies. When your party answers press Button A.” Good old England, Hallam thought. Its own special way of doing everything: to the English the only, the right way. And yet what a good, just way it often was-like Mac’s way of stopping Radjek. He pressed Button A.

“Hullo, Mac,”he said a moment later. “Yes, it worked. You did it. That girl was wonderful. . . . Oh, is that who she is? Well, she’s certainly made up for her brother now. She did a marvelous job. Sure, she fooled me. I was all ready for a moment there to denounce England as a totalitarian state. Yes, he’s taken a room at The Traveller’s Arms on West Street. I’m downstairs. All right, I’ll wait for you. About five minutes. Fine.” He hung up and whistling happily under his breath strolled back into the lobby.

“Do you want to see your room now, sir?”

“No, thank you.” Hallam smiled at the woman out of sheer high spirits. “ I’m waiting for a friend.”He walked over to a chair from which he could watch both the door and the stairs and lit a cigarette.

He was less than halfway through it when he first noticed the shoes. They were small, very shiny, very pointed black shoes and they were standing on the top step in sight of where he was sitting, the landing above cutting them off from the rest of the figure. For perhaps half a minute they remained quite still and then slowly and with a kind of conscious deliberation they began to descend the stairs.

The legs of a pair of narrow blue serge trousers came into view, a dark belted raincoat, a sharp little white face, and finally a narrow-brimmed, absurdly high-crowned black hat. It was the irritable gnome from the train.

Without hesitation, but with the same conscious deliberation, the little man continued down step by step until he reached the lobby. Like a hunter, Hallam thought, moving through the forest, afraid of snapping a twig. Like a gambler fingering his last chip.

In an instant Hallam was out of his chair.

The gnome turned and started back up the stairs at his approach, his livid hand moving in a curiously graceful arc towards his pocket. But Hallam was too quick for him. He felt the delicate bones of the other’s wrist like something not quite living in his hands, as he wrenched the gnome’s arm up behind his back. Then his other hand slid into the little man’s pocket. It was a gun he had expected, but instead his fingers wounded themselves on a blade and withdrawing them Hallam found them reddened and viscid with more than his own blood.

He was aware of the gnome’s feeble struggles: aware of them in a sickened, impalpable way that somehow recalled to him the doomed struggles of a dead chicken. His mind fled from them up the stairs into room 119, already knowing what he would find there. It had always been difficult for him to accept violence, even more to practice it.

He brought his hand around grasping the gnome’s thin shoulder with some idea of forcing him before him up the stairs, into Radjek’s room. And became conscious all at once of the lobby beneath them, the raised faces, the suddenly disturbed expressions of the guests. And then the glass door onto the street swung open, and in a moment Mac was beside him on the stairs. With his quiet matter-offact presence, order seemed to reinvade the scene at once.

“Come, come now. Don’t want to cause a disturbance.”There was something absurd and yet wholly admirable in the way the helmeted bobby took the gnome from Hallam’s hands, leading him with quiet certainty towards the door.

“What room?”

“119.”Hallam bounded up the stairs ahead of Mac. In front of him a long corridor stretched towards a window. At its end, to the right, a door bore the number in brass.

Radjek lay face down across the bed. Except for the wide gashes in the dark cloth of his coat where the gnome’s knife had ripped through to the heart, he might have been sleeping.

They didn’t trust him either! Hallam thought with a kind of dazed wonder. They sent the gnome after him to make sure he got on that boat. But then Radjek made his one mistake. The words Mac had spoken the day before came to his mind: “They have funny ideas about other countries sometimes, these people.” In spite of everything, Radjek had never quite been able to believe that any law could protect him. When Mac had had his men stage that scene in the compartment with the help of Hart’s sister, Radjek had been only too ready to accept it as real. And so for a moment he had been afraid. “No, I’m only going as far as the town. I’m returning to London tomorrow.”And after that he had been afraid even to try and leave, thinking those same two Yard men would surely be watching the boat. . . . While all the time he had had nothing, nothing in the whole world to fear—except from his own people. . . .

Hallam’s thoughts broke off, interrupted by a sound beside him.

Mac was standing quite still, staring at the man on the bed, his lips moving in what seemed at first to be a string of indistinguishable curses. And then gradually Hallam made out the other’s words.

“Oh, damn them,”the little Scotsman was muttering to himself. “Damn them. Why do they have to try it here? I don’t care if they murder each other in their own country until there’s not one of them left. Hut damn them, I won’t stand for it here. Here amongst decent, law-abiding people.”