The Spy Who Returned to the Fold
Who is Rosa Kleb? And if she is, what was she doing in East Berlin when the Campbell-Bannerman cabinet fell? For answers to these and other convoluted mysteries of the netherworld of fan Fleming, John Le Carre, and others, observe the following first published work of Mr. Campbell, a young Californian who lived in Germany when his father was Presiding District Judge in the High Commission Courts for Germany. He studied at Harvard and Berkeley, served as a Foreign Service officer in Bonn and Washington, is now a U.S. consul and economic officer in Ethiopia.
by John F. Campbell
HE’S six hours late already. Peter is six hours late.” The American colonel in mufti got up from the table, but Withers remained seated, staring into his coffee.
“Think Til look in on our boys at Checkpoint Charlie and then go off and catch some shut-eye. You should do the same.”
“Peter is coming over tonight. He promised to come over tonight. I’ll stay here and keep the watch.”
The bleary-eyed colonel mumbled farewell as he left the little cafe in the Bülowstrasse, but Withers, occupied with his own thoughts, did not look up. What if They had got Peter? Damn Them; damn their cold efficiency! Peter was his best agent, and this would make twelve good men They had taken from him in as many weeks.
Withers lost his stomach twice that evening. He had lost his stomach fifteen times in the last month. They had caught Peter in the Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse. How like Peter to try to brazen it out disguised as a subway conductor; but how unaccountably stupid of him to neglect the one small detail which had given him away, the lack of a ticket punch. The girl had gotten safely over the Wall, but had probably given Peter away in the process. Why was there always a woman to muck things up?
Withers lost his stomach a third time. It had been absurd to have those two jellied doughnuts with his coffee. He knew how incongruous he, a grizzled, withered, rotund little man of fifty-five, must have looked wolfing down German pastry before the other patrons of the cafe. He used to dislike sweets: as an undergraduate at Balliol he had always passed up his elevenses. Then, in his middle years it was just after Marguerite had left him—he had had a strange craving for pastry. Bismarcks, those round, puffy, sugared pieces of baked dough oozing with jellied sweets, which the Germans with characteristic lack of humor called Berliner, were the best of all.
He wondered about Marguerite — “the Honorable Marguerite” she was now — that ravishing memory that still made him ache in the night. She had last written him two years ago from Cannes, asking for money. He had begun to lose his touch, he realized, when she left him. There had been other women since then: Mandy, the bright, pert little thing he had met at Sir George’s in Mayfair, and then Olga, the frowsy little bespectacled Russian Jewess who worked at the British Museum and had cried the night he left London for Berlin without saying good-bye. She had sensed that he was going; he didn’t have to tell her.
He had lost his touch and lost his nerve just as surely as he was about once more to lose his stomach, Eleven agents blown in the last three months, Peter makes twelve, and that doesn’t count the five delections. The Berlin Organization was breaking up: the structure he had spent two years building had gone rotten at its foundation. And just on the verge of success, just as he was preparing to penetrate the East German Apparat at the highest level. Just as a Jew key agents had been about to move, with some hope of obtaining a majority on the State Security Committee, the project had blown.
That was why Comptroll was calling him back to London. The board of directors had let him play his little game, and he had dropped the wicket. Damn them! Damn the smug directors with their interministerial committee meetings and contingency plans, their petty jealousies and bureaucratic rcd tape. Intelligence work had changed since the war. The little club of Oxford dons that had penctrated the Wilhelmstrasse in 42 had passed from the scene, replaced by a new breed of cold-war administrators. The Service had increased in size twentyfold. The home office in London had become a labyrinth of cubbyholes, compartments, and specialized bureaus, and they were now building a thirty-story skyscraper in St. Giles’s Circus to accommodate an expanded Files and Records Branch.
London was becoming Americanized — he was coming to detest the place. Everyone called you by your first name in the office, and the secretaries and file clerks gossiped over tea or coffee, four times a day, in the basement canteen. To return to home office meant to memorize a new filing system, to familiarize” oneself with a new procedure for classifying and distributing secret reports, and, inevitably, to discover a plethora of new bureaus and departments, each obscenely proclaiming its newfound existence in the unintelligible ostentation of Americanese: “Division of Sociometric Research and Analysis,” “Underdeveloped Areas: Data Processing Sub-Branch,” “Office of Biopsychological Planning/Paramilitary Counterinsurgency Operations.”
BACK at home office, the talk with Pym-Goodman went much as Withers had expected. Comptroll had, of course, been too busy to see him personally. “Getting off another of those damned briefing papers for the Minister,” he had cheerily said over the phone. “Up to the ears in the old paper work, you know, but I do hope we can have that little chat soon. Sending Number Two along to see you . . . throw out some ideas about a new shop we’ve got in mind for you, don’t you know. Keep us briefed.”
So Pym-Goodman, the grinning hatchet man, had come to do his job. Comptroll never had the guts for this kind of thing. There was a new job. all right. “Thinking of putting an experienced man over the motor pool. Just an idea, really, but ADMIN/COMP has put some thoughts together in the form of a memorandum, which I’ve just brought along. A kind of experiment, actually; you’d be breaking new ground for us all. ‘Diversification-in-the-Service’ along the lines of the Roberts Report recommendations. Think you’re just the man to whip Motor Transport Branch back into shape. Horrible civil service blighter who just retired left things in an awful state, absolute scandal, and with your organizing ability we thought Of course it would mean a promotion, not that that s frightfully important, and you’d have a free hand as far as the ADMIN people are concerned.”
That final touch was typical Pym-Goodman. Withers reflected, controlling an impulse to lose his stomach on the spot. The insolent cheek Director of Motor Transport, a staff job on the support side for a man whose experience was ail operational, a lower-than-humdrum sinecure with which to pass out his time before retirement age.
They had sized him up with their usual cool rationality: he was played out and could be discarded from the deck. They knew in Personnel Branch that all he had in the world was his salary and Aunt Bertha’s five hundred a year, so Motor Transport it would be. He tried to accept with as much disinterest as he could muster, but his studied insouciance was unable to deter the ebullient idiocy of Pym-Goodman: “Splendid, chap! Quite a challenge for you, you know. Well, expect you’ll want to be getting down to the shop to meet your new people, go through the files, shake a few hands, the old drill — give those dispatchers a little of the old pep: ‘grease up the works, meet the schedules, keep the wheels moving,’ that sort of thing.”
It was six weeks later that: Smithies told him what had happened in Berlin. Smithies picked him up on a Saturday morning at his Chelsea flat for a drive out to Lord’s. He knew when Smithies called in the middle of the week to make the date that he was going to be told, Comptroll, who did not like loose ends, had probably arranged the whole thing.
In the car the two men talked about Berlin before the war, where they had met again after Oxford and become friends. Smithies had been stuck in Plans and Operations since ‘46, and had naturally had a hand in the East Berlin business. It was a surprise, though, to learn that Peter had been working for the other side. Smithies cut off doubts and protests with an authoritative frown. Peter’s girl, he explained, had been the key to the operation. Her orders came directly from Comptroll, with Peter acting unawares as decoy and cover for her.
“And the eleven others they caught?”
“A sad business, that. Some of them were our own people, but the majority of your operatives, I’m sorry to say, were working full time for the other side. Denouncing the lot, through our man on the Politburo who was the girl’s contact, seemed to us at the time a convincing means of covering her activities and at the same time giving Them the illusion of breaking our apparatus.”
“Why was I left completely out in the cold through this?” Withers rasped, his mouth gone dry with frustration, anger, and the futility of it all.
“It would have blown the whole thing, old man, can’t you see. Your behavior with Peter and the others had to be convincing — that was vital to the success of the operation. We simply couldn’t take chances. Don’t you see that if you had known, if you had shown the slightest trace of unnaturalness
well, the show would have been up. And that girl was a gold mine: all the production quotas for the major industries, the refraction indices for the optical plants, the new chemical fertilizer formulas, their biggest stuff. And most important, she was our only means of contact with our Number One, the fellow on the Politburo.”
“I suppose this was all carefully thought out by you P and O chaps?”
“Down to the smallest detail. Damnit, Charles,
I was for letting you in on the thing off the bat, but as things have worked out, don’t you see, Comptroll was right to keep you out in the cold, so to speak. I mean, it was your convincing role with Peter and the others that got us home free.”
But there were other things, things Smithies did not and could not tell him. half-remembered things that came into sudden focus on the larger field of vision as he looked backward. There had been Olga—a clever plant, that. He saw again those worried brown eyes behind the rimless spectacles on the night he had left London for Berlin, and realized that she, too, had been working for the other side, with the full knowledge and probably with the actual connivance of Comptroll. Olga had served to make his later apparent ineptitude “credible” to the other side. And Number One on the Politburo, the master betrayer of them all, which one of them could it be? Withers could never be certain, but it would surely be most congruous with the gruesome logic of it all were Number One to be Werner Kludt, “the Beast of Brandenburg,” the man whose chilling dossier almost upset his stomach the day he came across it in Files and Records. Kludt, Minister for State Security, was believed by the archivists to have been one of the “beefsteak Nazis” of the thirties, “brown on the outside but red in the inside.” Well, what was he now: red, brown, or some kind of hash, or did it really matter in the business of espionage?
It was a hard, grubby, tawdry, messy profession Withers had chosen: down in the political sewers one worked in a muggy, murky underworld, dank and stifling with the garbage of a scummy, rummy age. One tried to get gold out of dung.
Withers, like Comptroll, had always been a romantic at heart. He admired the plaque that hung above the Old Man’s desk, a framed quotation from Hobbes’s Leviathan that summed up the Service in a sentence:
No arts; no letters; no society; . . . continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
But for all his bully romanticism, what made a man like Comptroll tick? Was he really quite what he seemed? There was his odd habit of trusting wogs — lie always hired Bulgarians for the hardest jobs. And there was his curious wife, Lady Molly, one of the middle-aged but still enthusiastic first wave of the first generation of liberated women who learned Esperanto and knew Nancy Mitford and accepted invitations to Pugwash Conferences. Her father had been in the Campbell-Bannerman cabinet, which was suspicious in itself. She was a busy wife a rather too busy wife — if in fact she was really Comptroll’s wife at all. Withers surprised himself, but he continued the train of thought and memory, for it occurred to him that he had seen Lady Molly somewhere she should not have been.
He hunched forward with aching head in both hands as Smithies’ car made the turn back toward the city. The driver, knowing his colleague, expected one of the famous attacks of car sickness. But Withers was not ill. When he straightened up he was even smiling.
For he remembered now the arched, plucked eyebrows, the Gauloise-stained front teeth, the short-bitten fingernails with quarter moons of the small, humpbacked woman selling postcards in the Pergamon Museum; Mrs. Comptroll, Lady Molly, Rosa Kiel), or whatever she called herself, had been in East Berlin when it all happened.
An hour later, safely alone in his flat, a new Withers softly chuckled a command into the receiver of his “safe circuit” Blue Signal telephone: “Get me the Prime Minister.”