The Contract

Gerald Seymour

Chapter One

They were last off the aircraft.

The middle-aged man and the boy in his early twenties had not joined the queue of passengers who scrambled along the aisle towards the forward exit. The pilot shut down his engines and the music cascaded from the hidden loud- speakers in the ceiling. The man ignored the buffeting his elbow took on the arm rest of his seat as passengers' bags and belongings and Duty Free parcels pummelled against him. He was engrossed in his book, dog-eared and much consulted, a tome on European birds: his attention was held by the winter markings and juvenile colourings of the Golden, Grey, Ringed and Kentish plovers.

There was nothing he could learn from text or illustrations, but he handled the pages as a widow will consult a much used family Bible.

When he was jolted by a bulging plastic carrier boasting the name of a fur shop on the Rue du Mont Blanc, he looked up, just the once, in irritation. But it was momentary and replaced by the satisfaction of knowing that Heathrow's Customs and Excise staff reserved their closest scrutiny for travellers from Geneva.

They made strange and unlikely companions. The man was round-faced, bald-headed with untidy strands of wispy grey hair settling about his ears. The boy was striking in a muscular, lissom, empty fashion, good looking in an inadequate way, with weather in his cheeks.

The man wore a tired suit with a small tidy darn on the right elbow and his shoes were brilliandy polished. The boy was dressed in sports coat and slacks that made only a casual fit, too long at the sleeves, too short at the legs, a temporary and borrowed habit.

The boy shivered as he waited for the aisle to clear. It was more than five hours since he had been in the water, but the cold still nestled close to his bones and the chill had settled on his skin beneath the singlet and underpants and socks that had been given to him. His hair was damp and slicked down by combing and his nostrils were filled with the static odour of the lake. They had said at the home of the British Consul that there was not time for him to have a bath, they had given him a towel only and told him to be quick, and his drying had been perfunctory because they had looked at their watches and shuffled their feet and talked of the departure time from the airport.

When the cabin behind them had emptied, the man pocketed his book reluctantly and reached between his feet and lifted his briefcase onto his lap and then twisted it about so that the gold indented E II R insignia was hidden against his chest. His hands rested protectively on the handle and he stared back at the stewardess who glanced frequently and nervously into his face and could not summon the courage to query him. The music was switched off. The cockpit door opened and the flight deck crew bowed their way out from the controls. The boy had his hands on the arm rests, ready.

The man bided his time. The stewardess whispered to the pilot, who made a brusque and quiet answer. She shrugged petulantly and opened a cupboard for her uniform coat and hat, and had her back to the door and so did not see the entrance of the British Airways ground crew official into the cabin.

'It's Mr Carter, isn't it?'

'That's right.'

'There's a car and a driver waiting.'

'Thank you.'

The man stood up, stretched his back slowly, wriggled his shoulders, reached up to the rack and pulled down an old fawn raincoat.

'You won't be needing that, sir, it's really been quite nice here the last couple of days.'

'I know that,' the man said quietly. 'I only flew out at lunchtime.' He wondered why he had taken the trouble to deflate the official.

Unnecessary and uncalled for. The boy was still in his seat as if requiring an instruction to move.

'A good flight, Mr Carter?'

'Very smooth, thank you. Come on, Willi, let's be on our way.'

The man led with his raincoat draped over his arm and his briefcase tight against his thigh, and the boy who had no bag and no case was close behind him with his head lowered and shielded as they passed the ground crew official and the stewardess who had her lipstick at her mouth and the pilot who gazed after them in curiosity. They stepped onto the platform that had been manoeuvred to hug the aircraft fuselage, but avoided the tunnel stretching ahead and went through the open doorway and out into the night air and down the steps to the apron. A light wind blustered off the concrete; the man's hair danced and the boy shuddered, and the engine sounds of taxiing aircraft bludgeoned their ears. The man looked around him until he saw the maroon Rover parked in the dense evening shadow of a petrol tanker. He looked back towards the open, lit doorway above the steps and saw the ground official watching them and nodded in gratitude, then walked quickly towards the car. A rear door was open, the engine was idling.

The man let the boy into the car first because that way he would be against the door which could not be opened from the inside. He waited while the boy slid across the back seat. Better safe. And the boy would be on the raw edge of his nerves and his strength and his control. They were all unreliable in the first few hours, those who had crossed the chasm, they were all unpredictable. Better safe, and this boy had been through more than most. The swim had exhausted him, the parting from the girl had bled him. He was docile enough at this moment, but his face was a mask suppressing his emotions. The man could only guess at the turmoil waging in the boy's mind, but he could guess well and his experience told him that the boy should be handled with care, with kid mittens. Whether they came from an out- station of Soviet intelligence or were junior interpreters attached to the permanent Moscow delegation to the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, they all carried the same hallmark. They differed little, the defectors who came over.

'George, this is Mr Guttmann, Mr Willi Guttmann.' Henry Carter eased himself into the car, and circumspectly pulled the door shut beside him. 'Willi, this is George, he'll be helping to look after you over the next three or four weeks while we sort things out, get things into order.'

A large fist snaked backwards from the front of the car and gripped Willi Guttmann's hand. The boy's eyes flickered upwards, but won no smile, no friendship.

'Pleased to meet you, Willi.' A watchful greeting.

'When we've been on the road a bit I'd like to make a phone call, George. When we're down by Cobham or Ripley, I'd like to ring the office.' Carter smoothed his hair into shape, pushed it back from his scalp.

'No problem, Mr Carter. They'll be pleased to hear from you.'

George's familiar bonhomie always annoyed Henry Carter, perpetually irritated him. But then George had been with the Service twenty years, on the payroll since a Cypriot gunman's bullet had put a stop to his Commando soldiering. He was part of the furniture, part of the trappings, part of the team that handled the 'runaways'.

The car pulled away, skirting the Terminal buildings, heading for the Underpass and the Staines Road. Beside him Henry Carter sensed Willi Guttmann's defiant stare through the window.

Four men had come down from the Residence on the hill above Lake Geneva and they stood in the dark on the shingle at the shore line, huddled together against the harsh spattering rain. With them was Geneva's Chief of Police.

Their shoes were soaked, their trousers below their coats were wet and wrapped to their shins. The wind squalls caught at their shoulders, bent their bodies, drilled at the skin on their cheeks. A bitter, clouded April night. Their voices carried to the man who stood apart from them and stared out, expressionless, at the activity on the grey dark water a hundred metres from the narrow beach.

Valeri Sharygin was described on the personnel lists as First Attache to the Secretary of the Soviet delegation to the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament. It was not an arduous post and one designed to consume little of the time of the principal security officer at the Residence. As a senior KGB officer, as a man noted for the

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