Authors: David Annandale
For Margaux, always.
And to the memory of Douglas Payne.
This is a book whose existence owes more than these acknow-ledgements can express to the love and support of my family members in Canada and in England. My thanks, for putting me up (and putting up with me) as I traipsed around on my research trips, to Douglas and Hazel Payne; Joan Payne; and Stuart, Val, and Claire Payne. For always being there, thank you to my parents, Eric and Eleanor; to my sister, Michelle; and to my brother, Robert. For many shared hours of watching horror films, and for keeping me on my toes, and for the wonderful intangibles of family, my thanks to Kelan Young and Veronica Young. And for
(and quite a bit more besides), thank you to my wife, Margaux Watt.
My thanks also to my agent, Robert Lecker, who is making so much come to pass for me.
Finally, special thanks to everyone at Dundurn and Snowbooks for making the dream of this book a reality, and to Allister Thompson and Anna Torborg for the superb editing. The story in these pages is dark, but the story behind them has been a joy.
The first lesson.
The night was a slick of oil. The darkness clung and smothered. Beneath it was a roil of sick colours. The slick was thinner in town, more diluted. A false comfort.
Pete Adams sat in The Leaping Stag. The Friday night carvery was in full swing. The night was blasting wind and squalls of rain, and the patio was closed. Adams sat next to the French windows. He would have preferred to sit in the centre of the pub, but the weather had called one and all to warmth and companionship. The Stag had been crowded since early afternoon. His plate was heaped high with beef, ham, turkey, and buffet vegetables, and he wouldn’t leave until he’d eaten. That was the deal he had made with himself. He almost laughed. He was delaying the inevitable, and his tactics were pathetic. He poked his fork into a piece of turkey, turned it over, but didn’t eat. He wasn’t hungry. He sipped his Boddington’s instead. He savoured the taste, already missing it.
Someone told a good joke two tables over. A birthday was happening, and there was a round dozen friends sitting together, their laughter rising over the collective, hearty roar of the pub. Adams soaked up the noise and loved it more desperately than the ale.
John Porter stopped by Adams’s table. Outside, the wind gusted hard against the doors, rattling them. “You’re in for a blustery walk home, Mr. Adams,” the Stag’s owner commented, then laughed, a deep baritone sound bouncing in the echo chamber of his chest. He always laughed as if his every statement, no matter how banal, were a punchline.
Adams’s smile was pained, but he treasured the guffaw, held it close, a precious gift. “Oh, I think I’ll manage,” he said and kept the wince from his eyes.
The second lesson.
“Your daughter misses you,” his wife said.
The line worked. Richard Gray felt the guilt of long absence, felt it as a sharp tooth in his lower chest. He couldn’t tell from Lillian’s tone if she were making a point or just stating a fact. He didn’t know if she wanted him to feel the tooth. The difference hardly mattered; the tooth struck home. “I miss her,” he replied, after clearing his throat. “I miss both of you.”
“Then come home.”
“I can’t. Not now.” He was calling from a makeshift office in the town of Abéché, in Chad. He still had the smell of the refugee camp in his nostrils, that blend of malnutrition, disease, desperation, death. He would be back there in the morning, doing what he could, which felt like nothing, and the next day he would be off again with Patrick Hudson, into the Darfur region of Sudan, where the stench was stronger, where the blend was hatred, rape, murder. Genocide.
Where is God?
he kept asking Hudson, his faith turning slippery.
We’re here, aren’t we?
Hudson answered, firm and sure even with his eyes wide open. Gray envied him, needed his strength, and couldn’t abandon him now. Not now.
Lillian sighed. “I understand, but ...” She paused. Her tone was kind, which only made things worse. She took a breath, and asked, “If not now, when? Do you really think things are going to improve?”
UN resolutions. International agreements. The Sudanese government making commitments. Intervals of lull and false-spring hope. And then the butcher machine revving up once more. How could he think the curtain would ever be brought down over the slaughter?
If not now, when?
He’d been here almost two years, home to England only for Christmas. Jill was fourteen now. He was seeing her grow through time-lapse photography. If he stayed away much longer, would he return to find his child gone, replaced by a distant woman? Right now, she missed him. Then his mind was flooded again with images of distended bellies and eyes weeping thick and milky tears. He couldn’t leave now. Not now.
Before he spoke again, he listened to the sounds of home on the other end of the line. Lillian was on her cell, and he could hear traffic. “Where are you?” he asked.
“On our way back from Hammersmith. Jill was at a concert.” They had a flat in Chelsea.
“Do you think you could swing by the office?”
“Richard, it’s very late.”
“I know. I’m sorry, but there are some papers we need faxed before we cross back into Sudan, and ... please?”
There was a moment of silence instead of a sigh. “All right.”
“You aren’t going to get yourself killed, are you?”
Adams stood up. As he shouldered his way to the cash register, Roger Bellingham touched his elbow. Adams stopped, exchanged a long look with the old man. Bellingham’s eighty-five-year-old eyes were sunken with the exhaustion of decades of resistance to the undertow. He searched Adams’s face, and his lips pursed slightly, as if recognizing an unavoidable truth. “Do you want company?” he asked.
Adams couldn’t answer at first, his throat closing at the magnitude of the offer. “Do you still have a choice?” he asked.
Bellingham hesitated, looking even more tired. With a struggle, he said, “Yes.”
“Then stay here.” Adams shook his head. “But thank you.”
There was a parking spot on Chiltern Street, across from the building that housed Ties of Hope. Lillian pulled in. “Are you coming up?” she asked Jill. Jill shrugged but opened her door and climbed out of the car. Lillian almost spoke to her daughter’s silence, but held back. Jill wasn’t being sullen. That wasn’t her style. She was upset. She shuffled across the street, playing with the lighter she had brought to the concert, flick flick flick. Lillian replayed her end of the phone call in her mind and bit her lip. She could hear now the underlying accusation in her tone, and realized her frightening choice of words.
You aren’t going to get yourself killed, are you?
What a stupid thing to say. What a stupid way to end the call. No
I love you
to reassure Jill. Idiot.
She’s still a child. Fine way to frighten her
Lillian got out of the car and followed Jill to the building, pulling her keys from her purse.
Adams paid for his untouched meal. “Have a good night, then,” Melody Searwood said as she handed him his change.
“Good night,” Adams said and lingered over her face an extra second. He focused on one lock of her long red hair. It curled against her cheek and stopped a mere tickle away from the corner of her mouth. He loved that detail and held it tight as he stepped out into wind.
Lillian squinted at the keys. Little of the streetlamp’s light reached the shadows of the doorway. “Will Dad be okay?” Jill asked.
“You know he will be,” Lillian answered, speaking a lie and a command. She found the right key and let them in.
The storm had no rain, but it had voice. It roared at Adams as he walked down Hawkesfield Road, away from the Stag. It pushed at him, flapped his clothes, and made his eyes tear. And somehow, he still left Roseminster behind faster than usual. The night thickened.
The brainchild of Patrick Hudson, nurtured by Richard, and blessed by the Anglican Church, Ties of Hope had grown out of the two men’s missionary work. Hudson had the dream; Richard had financed it into being. They had both sweated it into something that clung tenaciously to the idea that it was changing reality for the better. When she wasn’t worried for Richard or missing him, Lillian admired the dream. She loved and smiled at the sight of the two friends in full flight. Hudson was a head shorter than Richard and looked half his weight. It wasn’t that Richard was overweight; it was that Hudson was so thin, he ran serious risks in a stiff breeze. Hudson’s light brown hair was wild curls. It and his beard framed his face with a permanent explosion of surprise. Richard, darker, was clean-shaven and close-cut. His suits were conservative. Jill teased him for being a stuffed shirt. Richard responded that he liked his shirts stuffed. When he and Hudson were together and disappeared into the shared mental space of their projects, Jill would walk through their bubble and make pointed comments about Jeeves and the Hippie. Lillian couldn’t fault her daughter’s powers of observation.
Lillian sometimes joined in the teasing, but she didn’t joke about Ties of Hope. Oxfam with a faith component: that was how Hudson had described his vision. World Vision without the coercion. Lillian knew he still wasn’t wild about the name, but was making do. He had first come up with Clasping Hands, which Jill had immediately converted into Grasping Hands. Ties of Hope, though awkward, seemed immune from Jill. Once, Lillian had seen something lurking in Richard’s eyes, and she had thought he was going to make a crack. He’d been back for Christmas, and things overseas had not been going well. The joke, Lillian had thought, was going to be bitter, but Richard had held it in.
She and Jill took the stairs to the third floor, turning lights on as they went.
Adams arrived on the grounds of Gethsemane Hall. He nodded in greeting and acceptance.
They reached the third floor. The call continued to plague Lillian. She was upset for her own sake, now. She wanted to speak to Richard again.
Adams looked at his piles of equipment, stacked up in the library. He was too resigned to feel contempt.
These things happen.
The building was an old one. So were its pipes. Metal gives. Gas leaks. The offices of Ties of Hope were full. Lillian opened the door. Her nose wrinkled at the smell. Jill played with her lighter.
Now he was on the roof of the gatehouse tower. One step, one step, one step, and he was at the parapet. He climbed up. The tips of his shoes hung over the drop. Adams looked out into the night. It was thick with the truth he had climbed up here to flee. He tried to think of the curl of Melody’s hair. He failed. Time to lie to himself one last time. Time to treasure a dream of escape. He took another step.
Two hours after Adams applied his lesson, the phone rang, a bell summoning Richard Gray to a school of his own.
She had left Kansas a long time ago. Now she found that it really was true that there was no place like home. There wasn’t a single place that felt like home. Not anymore, now that Langley was about to turn its back on her. Louise Meacham sat in the office of the secretary to Jim Korda, director of the CIA. She was waiting for her summons and her execution. No place like home.
Not that home itself had ever been where the heart was. Meacham had grown up in Brooklyn, trapped in a walk-up apartment, the walls of which had pulsed with the rhythms of her father’s fists even when he wasn’t actually using them on her mother. Meacham had prayed each night for flight, but her mother, more terrified of the uncertainties of loneliness than the certainties of her husband’s brutality, had stayed. For Meacham, home was where the hurt was. At thirteen, her adolescent fury took the shape of a supreme hope, the longing for the One Good Thing that would make all things well: her mother dead and her father in jail. When it became clear that the One Good Thing was not going to happen, not before it was too late for the children, Meacham learned a lesson that, over the following decades, she grew to think of as the Next Best Thing: know that the world is shit and don’t wait for it to transmute into gold.
At fifteen, she might as well have been forty. She fled, taking her three younger sisters and baby brother. She found work. She held the new unit together. Barely. Menial labour and premature adulthood wore her to the bone, but she applied the Next Best Thing and beat the world into submission. When baby Brad was old enough to look after himself, she finally started college, years late but with a determination that ate up the lost time. She forced the world to give her a life. Pummelled, the world gave in just that much. By the time she had her political science degree, her rage at her parents had transmuted to a cold understanding. But not forgiveness — that would never come. They had died within six months of each other. Meacham found out only when the estate lawyers wrote to her. She didn’t grieve.
Her master’s thesis in poli-sci was a defence of realpolitik so hard-headed it was almost brutal. It came to the attention of the right people. When she was twenty-five, she was recruited into the CIA, and she had thought, until now, that she had found a kind of home. It wasn’t Kansas. It was more like Oz re-imagined by Sauron, but her work and her world-view were a good fit. She went in with no idealism, and so she suffered no disillusionment. She worked her way up, chipping through glass ceilings. By the time she made station chief in Geneva, she was the supreme weathercaster. She could sense shitstorms before they even formed and knew to take cover.
Her system worked to perfection for thirty years. But when it broke down, it broke down all at once. She still wasn’t sure what had happened, but the body count was in the triple digits, and the embarrassment to Washington, which was what really mattered, was enormous. She had walked away, but not fast enough. Ducking the aftermath wasn’t doing her any good. The message to meet with Korda had been waiting for her when she returned to the States. Its wording was curt, its tone dismissive. The implication: she was a small annoyance in the big picture, one to be squashed when she fit into the calendar. She began to think that the one thing worse than
collateral damage was
that you were.
She’d been waiting now for forty-five minutes. Korda’s secretary was a woman fifteen years her junior, but she had told Meacham to sit down as if she were a child summoned to the principal’s office and hadn’t looked at her since. Not a good sign. Meacham, knowing the kind of day this was going to be, had armoured herself for battle. She wore a grey pantsuit. Her eyes were grey. A decade ago, in her mid-forties, her hair had followed suit. She’d let it. The combination usually worked in her favour: grey lady equals iron equals formidable. She’d learned how to disembowel with a look. She’d need all her strength on this day, when she was beneath a peon’s notice. Finally, the secretary’s phone rang. The woman answered and looked at Meacham for the second time. “He’ll see you now,” she intoned.
Korda was tapping his finger on a report when she walked into his office. “Close the door,” he said. He gave the cover one last rap and folded his hands. “So,” he said. “What are we going to do with you?”
In Roseminster, Lord Richard Gray stood on the porch of St. Rose’s church and shook hands. The last time he had accepted the good wishes of so many, meant in quite this personal way, had been on the same spot, at Jill’s baptism. “Thank you,” he muttered, again and again. The words were as meaningless a rote gesture as the handshakes. Through the suffocating clouds of numbness came lightning flashes of cold, bitter anger. Was he supposed to be receiving comfort from this dog-and-pony show? Did these people really think they were doing him the slightest bit of good?
This is for your benefit,
They came, they shed their tears, and they returned to their lives, relieved that the tragedy was not theirs, that their grief was contained within the period of the funeral service.
The parade finally finished. Gray mumbled his empty thanks one more time, and the last of the mourners filed off. Gray watched him go and couldn’t remember who the man was. One of Lillian’s relatives? An old friend of his? He didn’t care. There was no curiosity. The clouds in his head were dark as well as thick, and they worked to block any thought that wasn’t part of the tangle of misery, loss, and guilt.
“Richard,” Patrick Hudson said.
Gray turned his head. Hudson stood with the Reverend John Woodhead. The concern in Woodhead’s eyes was genuine but professional. Hudson’s grief came the closest to reflecting Gray’s own. “Thank you for the service, Reverend,” Gray said, still on autopilot.
“May God comfort you,” Woodhead said.
The rage was sudden, surprising, enormous. It burned off the clouds and filled his mind with its clarity.
Would He enjoy that? Is that what pleasures His Divine Majesty? To destroy you so He can comfort you?
, Gray thought.
. He would not accept comfort given on such sadistic terms. He held the anger inside, though, and nodded to Woodhead. But he felt the clarity grow sharper yet, approaching epiphany. He turned and walked away from the church.
Hudson joined him. “Where are you going?” he asked.
“Here? I don’t think the police will let you, not yet.”
No, probably not. He’d forgotten about that. He had forgotten that death had come calling on him three times that night, not just two. The third death was hard to keep in mind because it was an irritation, not a wound. He’d never even met Pete Adams, had only spoken two him on the phone a couple of times. The bulk of their contact had been letters or email. He felt regret, but had no room for grief for a man he didn’t know. Not now. “I want to see the place, anyway,” he said.
“I’ll drive you.”
Gray shook his head. “I need the air.”
Hudson fell into step beside him. Gray eyed the stone walls as they walked. It was the moss that drew his attention. It was the detail that drove home just how lush England was. During the endless months in Sudan and Chad, he’d grown used to the desiccation. He associated the desert with death. Here, life was an exaltation of green, the air a nectar of temperate humidity. He was home, but the abundance was almost an affront, not a comfort.
Hudson said, “You looked angry back there.”
“Did I?” Gray answered, giving nothing.
“When John mentioned God’s comfort.” When Gray said nothing, Hudson continued. “I don’t suppose this is something you care to hear right now —”
“You suppose correctly.”
Hudson ploughed on. “Don’t turn away. This is when you need your faith most of all.”
Gray snorted. “And where was God when I needed Him most of all?”
“He’s with you now.” Hudson’s voice was strong with gentle sincerity.
They walked for a minute in silence. Gray didn’t snap back at Hudson. He was too tired, too numb, and coming from Hudson, the words didn’t have the empty-tin ring of platitudes. They never did. Hudson was just enough of an iconoclast that he had always known the priesthood itself wasn’t for him. He still would have made a good one, Gray had always thought. He did make a fine missionary. He was the man Gray had aspired to be, and over the years he had followed Hudson’s example. He had also followed his friend’s dreams. They had done good. They had built Ties of Hope into something real and effective. He had felt what he thought was the genuine warmth of faith. But now? Jean Paul Richter said it:
Every soul in this vast corpse-trench of the universe is utterly alone.
They approached the drive to Gethsemane Hall. The police were still investigating. The barriers were still up. Home was barred to him. Gray didn’t rage. The Hall was home only in the ancestral sense. He’d spent most of his life in the London holdings of the family, and much (too much) of his adult life abroad. But today the fact that he couldn’t enter his own grounds was an echo of the larger barrenness of his return home. London was hardly any better. The flat was huge with the sounds of absences. He’d been staying in Roseminster, at the Nelson Inn, caught in limbo.
“Stay with me for a while,” Hudson said. “I don’t think you should be alone.”
“I want to be.” Gray stared through the gate. He couldn’t see the Hall from here. He thought he could sense it, though, a huge weight that anchored the landscape.
“Do you realize,” Korda asked, “what an embarrassment everyone who was in Geneva and is still alive represents? Do you?”
He hadn’t invited her to sit. Meacham said nothing, stood with eyes forward and waited for the rhetorical questions to end.
Smug little bastard
, she thought.
You weren’t there, and aren’t you happy?
Korda was a fat, balding bureaucrat who snuggled securely in his corner of the political game. He wasn’t an intelligence officer. He was a game-player. He was a lousy administrator, but he played the game like everybody else was blind and stupid. Meacham could almost admire him for that skill. He was playing even now. The situation should have been an easy read. Meacham was here to have her career sliced up and handed to her in a paper bag. But she couldn’t tell if Korda’s anger was genuine. She could sense angles being played. She risked a glance at Korda’s face. His expression was doom and damnation, but his eyes were twinkling. Something was making him happy.
Figure it out
, she told herself.
Then work it
. She waited for Korda to speak again.
He opened the report’s cover and pretended to read. “Tell me what you know,” he told her.
What was he doing? Giving her the rope with which to hang herself? “About what?”
Mistake. He glared. “Don’t be coy. Tell me what you knew before the media went berserk.”
“The Deputy Director of Operations was running what I thought was an investigation into terrorist incidents at anti-globalization protests.”
was an understatement. A cluster of dirty bombs had gone off at Davos while it was hosting the World Economic Forum. Right in the middle of the protests. Explosions, bodies torn apart, panic, good times. Most of the resort town was now uninhabitable.
“You didn’t know he was working with the people who actually were responsible for the bombs?” Joe Chapel, the DDO, had been cooperating with a Russian mob king. The story was that the damage had been part of a plan to cause a backlash of support for the World Trade Organization, beef up the WTO’s powers, and bring the organization to heel. Craziness. Might even have worked, though: in the early aftermath, the words “protester” and “terrorist” had become synonyms. Then everything had gone south, and the partners had started killing each other. Chapel was in the hospital, the Russian was dead, and his Geneva corporate headquarters had become a slaughterhouse. Better yet, informed sources were claiming the collusion went all the way to the Oval Office. Unbelievable. So insanely stupid, it was probably all true.
“I didn’t know,” Meacham said. “Not until everything started exploding.”
“I walked away.”
“From the damage? Of course you did.”
“No, from Chapel. He wanted loose ends tied up.”
“You mean cleaned.”
“He was ordering black bag jobs how recently?”
“Up to the day I left.”
“And you disobeyed a director’s order?”
“Because it was stupid.”
Korda smiled. His face broke out in sunshine, and this, Meacham could see, was genuine. He wasn’t pissed at all about Chapel’s fiasco. He was overjoyed. Had he and Chapel been on the outs? If so, the rumours hadn’t reached Meacham in Geneva. But Korda’s pleasure had the kind of purity that only came with the defeat of an enemy. The right moves became clear.
Korda said, “That doesn’t say much about your loyalty to a superior officer.”
You testing me?
“I’m not loyal to nonsense.”
“Some might say you’re lacking a certain quality of patriotism.”
Meacham shrugged. “Then I hope they enjoy singing ‘
Nearer My God to Thee’
when the ship goes down.”
Korda was beaming bright. He was responding to a kindred spirit.
, Meacham thought. “Sit down, Lou,” he said. When she did, he said, “I’ll be honest. It was good that you walked away, but you didn’t walk away soon enough. You’re tainted. We’ve even had to field a couple of media calls about you. Those are really bad optics, because, as station chief, you shouldn’t have any optics at all.”
“Can we skip to the end?” she asked. “Do I still have a career?”
“Still want one?”
“It would be nice to come home.”
Korda nodded. “I think you’re someone I can work with. But don’t get me wrong. If you’re any kind of liability, or even just a perceptual one, you’re toast. That’s the kind of sweetheart I am.
?” He leaned forward. “Two things, then. We need you out of the wrong spotlight. And you have to earn your redemption.”