The first strange event was when Bob Newman, foreign correspondent, arrived at Heathrow to meet the American guest. He showed his SIS folder to pass through the formalities. Standing by the carousel, he checked the photo sent from Washington. On the back was a written description.
Six feet one tall, weight 190 Ibs, clean-shaven, thirty-five years old. Newman spotted Mark Wendover at once among the crowd waiting for their baggage. Coming up behind him, he laid a hand on his shoulder.
'Welcome, Mr Wendover…'
The American, built like a quarterback, reacted in a most unexpected way. As he swung swiftly round, Newman saw his right hand stiffen in the gesture of a potential karate chop. Newman spoke quickly.
'I'm Bob Newman, here to meet you. Didn't they tell you? We did send a message.'
'Great to see you. Thanks for coming. May I call you Bob?'
'Then I'm Mark. Sorry if I startled you. Haven't had any sleep for over twenty hours.'
'Better watch the carousel…'
'You're right. And here comes my bag…'
They were in Newman's car, driving into London, sitting next to each other when Newman asked the question.
And if I startled you, he thought, you certainly startled me. You were on the verge of launching an attack. Why?
'We're not quite sure what your status is. Cord Dillon, the Deputy Director of the CIA, was in a rush when he phoned and a bit vague about you.'
'I'm vague myself about what to do next. I was with the CIA for five years. It was OK, but too much paperwork for my liking. I did fieldwork too,' he added quickly. 'Shot a saboteur in Denver once. Left the outfit – the Company as some of the oldsters still call it – and set up a private detective agency. That did well – I've left behind a staff of twenty.' He looked at Newman and grinned, but the grin did not extend to his cold blue eyes. 'But that isn't why I'm here.'
'I gather you're here because you have information about the recent suicide of Jason Schulz, top aide to the Secretary of State.'
'Except it wasn't suicide,' Wendover rapped back. 'It was cold-blooded murder, amateurishly disguised to look like suicide.'
Why, Newman was asking himself, don't I feel comfortable with this guy? And why am I sure he's nervous? The traffic had temporarily stopped the car and he looked straight at his passenger.
Wendover had corn-coloured hair, cut very short, a handsome strong face of the type which would appeal to a lot of women. His long nose was broken, which seemed to add to his good looks. He had a wide determined mouth and just enough jaw to suggest strength without aggression.
'If it was an amateurish-seeming job, why is it being called suicide?'
'That's the mystery. The FBI was hauled off the case. Its chief is raging – and mystified. Schulz was supposed to have driven to a park in Washington, walked into a copse, leaned against the trunk of a tree, taken out a gun and blown the side of his head off. He was a very important man in the State Department.'
'So what's wrong?' Newman prodded as the traffic moved again.
'First, Jason's wife swears her husband never owned a gun – and we believe her. The weapon, a Smith amp; Wesson revolver, had the serial number filed off. So, impossible to trace where it came from. Second, he was found slumped at the foot of the tree, still holding the gun. The trouble is, the way his fingers were clutching the gun didn't seem right. More like someone had placed his fingers there after he was shot. Third, no trace of his car in the park. They found it parked in his usual slot in an underground garage.'
'With all that evidence, who on earth called off the FBI?'
'We don't know. It's pretty mysterious.'
'We've booked you a room at the Ritz. If it's all right by you I'll call later and take you out to dinner. Would seven be too early?'
'Just give me time to take a shower. Seven is fine…'
The conversation lapsed until Newman was pulling up outside the Ritz. Before Wendover grabbed his bag he turned to Newman and asked the question.
'Jason Schulz died five days ago. I gather Cord sent me over because Tweed is worried. Right?'
'We can talk about that over dinner.'
He watched Wendover, carrying a heavy bag, leap up the steps to the hotel like a ten-year-old. That doesn't look to be a man who hasn't slept for twenty hours, he thought.
In time sequence the second event occurred earlier the same day. Newman's chief, Tweed, Deputy Director of the SIS, had driven down to East Sussex at the invitation of an old friend, Lord Barford. He had taken Paula Grey, his assistant, with him.
It was late on a brilliant sunny afternoon as he drove between the open wrought-iron gates and into the Barfbrd estate. Paula, seated beside Tweed, gazed at the spacious parkland. The ruler-straight drive extended across to a large, distant Elizabethan mansion. The sun had shone first after lunch and there were still traces of a heavy frost, islands of white on the beautiful lawn, which was an intense green.
'You've known Lord Barford for a long time, I gather?' she remarked.
'When I first joined the SIS he was in command of Special Branch. In those days we found them very cooperative. None of the bitter and stupid rivalry there is between the two outfits today. He's one of the old school. Very wealthy but he felt he had to serve his country. He's very shrewd.'
'Looks like quite a party,' she commented as they drew closer to the terrace running along the front of the mansion. An assortment of expensive cars were parked below the terrace. She counted a Porsche, four Mercedes, a Lamborghini, five Audis and two Rolls-Royces.
As they mounted the steps one of the massive double doors at the entrance opened. A tall man who had to be in his seventies came out with a warm smile. Despite being near the end of March, a bitter north wind blew along the terrace.
'Lord Barford,' Tweed whispered.
Their host had a long head with a beaked nose, lively grey eyes which, Paula thought, missed very little. Wearing a velvet smoking jacket, he advanced towards them.
'Welcome to Barford Manor. It's been too long, Tweed. Who is your delightful companion?'
'Meet Paula Grey, my right arm.'
'I'm pleased to meet you, Lord Barford,' she said as she shook his extended hand. 'If you don't mind my saying so, it's Arctic on this terrace and you're not wearing a coat.'
'Used to it, my dear. I was once shooting bear in Finland when the temperature had gone off the thermometer. Come in, come in.'
He studied Paula, saw an attractive woman in her thirties with a mane of glossy black hair, fine-boned features and a stubborn chin. He went on talking as they entered a large hall and a butler took their coats.
'You must be remarkably efficient and self-controlled to work for this young tyrant.'
'Young?' Tweed laughed. 'Your eyesight must be going.'
Barford stared at Tweed. He saw a man of medium height and uncertain age, well-built without any sign of a paunch and wearing horn-rimmed glasses. He was the man you passed in the street without noticing him, a characteristic he had found useful in his profession.
They were ushered into a large drawing room, luxuriously furnished but with great taste. A number of people seated with drinks on sofas and armchairs turned to look at the new arrivals.