Brian Garfield

Kolchak's Gold

John H. Ives

The Ives Literary Agency, Inc.

748 Third Avenue

New York, N. Y. 10017 U.S.A.

May 17, 1973

Dear Jack,

Enclosed ms is not the contracted book on the Sebastopol siege. I may never finish writing that one. Hopefully you will be able to persuade McKay to publish the enclosed as a substitute for it.

The postmark will reveal I’m in Vienna but I shall be in another part of the world by the time you receive this package.

It’s very hard to try to explain, cold, how I came to this point. You’ll understand when you read the manuscript. I’ve backed into a game in which I have no second chances-a game in which I need to make the right move every time while the opposition needs to make the right move only once. I’ve become the quarry of a ludicrous number of security agencies: they want what’s in my head and they’ll kill to get it.

It might be a torrid fiction loosely based on one of my early books-the Donovan/OSS chapters or the study of MI-6 operations. But those were histories and I was only their chronicler. Now I’m the protagonist, and I am running scared. Armchair expertise from researching those cloak-and-dagger histories has kept me alive up to now but it’s the professionals who are pursuing me and I can’t warrant how long my run of luck will last. Two weeks ago in Athens I repeated Heinrich’s trick of 1944 virtually move-for-move, as verbatim as I could recall it; I must have written that one in 1964, the Aeneas book. It threw them off; it was three days before they scented my trail again.

Maybe I shouldn’t have dug in my heels when I did. At times I want to believe I didn’t realize the consequences when I made that decision-that series of decisions, really. If I can persuade myself of that, it takes the onus off me-it becomes their fault entirely, and I their innocent victim. It’s rationalization, contrived to absolve myself; actually I knew what I was doing. I suppose I’m stubborn after all: you were right in your complaints. A man told me, a month or two ago, “If you do this you’ll be an outsider forever, you know. You’re consigning yourself to exile-a blind wandering to an unknown destination. You’re not the type, Harry.” (I’m translating that from memory but it’s close.)

Let me try to picture it for you; you won’t recognize me as the narrator but that’s the point of it. I’m a different man-a better one in some ways, but if I think about it too much I feel cold terror.

‘How I spent my morning’-class theme by Harris Bristow-try this one on your Harvard chums:

This morning for the fourth day I prowled the hotels searching for a man-not a specific man; any foreigner who resembled me at least superficially.

The tourist crush hasn’t reached its summer maximum but the city is preparing for the annual June Festival of Wien and there’s quite a bit of transient activity. Two film companies are shooting big-budget movies here and you find camera-clicking crowds gawking at stars. There’s also a fair gang of up-country aristocrats from their mountain Schlossen, here to catch the tail end of the operatic and symphonic season. Fortunately for my purposes there are also several business conventions and a conference on East-West trade.

So there’s a great deal of traffic inside the hotels and I didn’t feel too exposed. I hit one of the bigger hotels this morning and had a piece of luck.

A number of guests were checking in; porters carried luggage through the fake-marble colonades and I waited in a corner chair like some ludicrous Marx Brothers prowler lurking behind potted palms. My man was in, but not of, a crowd that emerged from the lift-cage.

He separated himself from the group and crossed to the desk. A self-important business type, English or possibly American: fashionably fluffy hair, a hothouse tan, sideburns down to his jaw hinges. He was wearing one of those nipped-in suits that they tailor without regard for a man’s need of pocket space. He had a lightweight raincoat over his arm, the transparent kind that air travelers prefer; there was nothing in its pockets. I sized him up as a movie assistant producer or a youngish hotshot in some burgeoning glamour conglomerate. He didn’t have my tweedy trappings and he was stouter than I am; his shoes made him a couple of inches taller than he was and he still wasn’t quite my height. But Europeans aren’t accustomed to translating feet and inches into visual centimeters so it didn’t matter that much. His face was as square as mine and the hair about the same shade of brown. He had a mustache but that doesn’t matter.

He had an arrogant carriage and he looked careless: the type who wouldn’t be very cautious about his possessions because he could always buy a replacement if he lost anything.

I watched him drop his room key at the, desk. One of the clerks inserted the key in its pigeonhole. From my corner I couldn’t read the number but I made a note of the location of the box-third row, sixth from left.

He went. I waited in the chair long enough to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything and decided to return for it. I felt exposed: every face seemed an enemy. I know they’re close now with their noses to the ground-it’s as if I can hear them breathing sometimes. (A paranoid melodrama: that’s the flavor of it and I can’t help that. Bear with me.)

I went out the side door, slipped into my topcoat and reentered the hotel by the main entrance. I walked straight to the desk. As I approached it I read the mailbox number.

I chose one of the clerks: young, chinless, harried. Not the same clerk who had taken my man’s key. I put myself in front of him and in nondescript High German asked him for the key to 724 and looked impatient. He handed me the key with hardly a glance.

I was sweating. The lift-cage felt like a prison cell. I found his room and let myself in. It was the third hotel in which I’d performed a burglary in four days; I guess travelers are wary nowadays, they carry everything on them: but I counted on my man’s carelessness and that suit of his, the one without many pockets.

Morality is the first casualty of expedient needs, isn’t it. Today I needed something so I stole it. (‘Cynicism is another word for experience.’-Machiavelli, I think.)

I found the prize in the pocket of his Vuitton suitcase. His passport. Canadian, as it turned out. Also a vaccination certificate, an International Driver’s License, a list of traveler’s-check numbers with half of them crossed out; and an emergency fund, three hundred dollars cash.

The passport photo was close enough to get by a busy customs man in a crowd; I could always say I’d shaved off the mustache since the photo was taken. I took most of his money as well: he could afford it, I rationalized, and the Canadian consul would replace his passport quickly enough-he looked the type who’d get things moving for him. He’d have an adventure to relate to his drinking buddies back in Montreal; I had a ticket, to survival.

I know how and where I mean to disappear and where I mean to hide. But getting there’s another thing: I’m likely to get stuck in the flypaper of my own mistakes; I’m still an amateur at this kind of madness.

I left his key at the desk and walked to the AmEx to cash the last of my own traveler’s checks. They were in my own name and if I didn’t pass them now I couldn’t ever do so. I have to assume my pursuers will have traced me as far as Vienna very soon. I cashed the checks for Canadian dollars; maybe that, and the theft of the Canadian passport, will persuade them that I’m going to try to get into Canada and hide there. I doubt it but anything’s worth trying.

My flight leaves early this afternoon; it’s usually a pretty crowded plane as I recall. I’ll stay in the middle of the crowd.

In forty minutes I’ve got to leave this flat, drop this and the ms in the postal exchange and taxi to the airport. By that time the Canadian may have discovered the theft of his passport but there’ll be time wasted while they question hotel maids before a bulletin goes out, and while the passport details filter through channels to the airport desks. By then I’ll be in another country destroying the passport. I have a scheme for obtaining something more like a permanent valid passport in a new name but it’ll take more time than I’ve got now.

Anyhow they may nail me before I get that far. But I’m giving them a run for it.

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