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Authors: Graham Greene

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BOOK: The Confidential Agent
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One of the men in the back began to wipe his forehead. ‘God damn!' he said.
They swerved left down a by-road from Southcrawl. He said, ‘When they told me you were being taken care of, you could've knocked me down with a feather.'
‘You're not detectives?' He felt no elation: everything was starting all over again.
‘Of course we're not detectives. You gave me a turn in there. I thought you were going to ask for my warrant. Haven't you any sense?'
‘You see, detectives are on the way.'
‘Step on it, Joe.'
They ricocheted down the rough path towards the sound of the sea. It came more boisterously up at them now every minute: the noise of surf beating on the rocks. ‘You a good sailor?' one of the men asked.
‘Yes. I think so.'
‘You need to be. It's a fierce night – and it'll be worse in the Bay.'
The car drew up. The headlights illuminated for a few feet a rough red chalk track and then ploughed on into nothing. They were at the edge of a low cliff. ‘Come on,' the man said, ‘we've got to hurry. It won't take them long to tumble to things.'
‘Surely they can stop the ship – somehow.'
‘Oh, they'll send us a wire or two. We radio back that we haven't seen you. You don't think they'll turn out the Navy, do you? You aren't all that important.'
They led the way down the steps cut in the cliff. In the little cove below a motor-boat bobbed at the end of a chain. ‘What about the car?' D. asked.
‘Never mind the car.'
‘Won't it be traced?'
‘I dare say – back to the shop it was bought at this morning – for twenty pounds. Anyone who likes is welcome to it. I wouldn't drive a car like that again, not for a fortune.' But it seemed likely that a small fortune had been spent already, by Mr Forbes. They puttered out of the cove and immediately met the force of the sea. It smashed at them deliberately like an enemy. It was not like an impersonal force riding in long regular breakers: it was like a madman with a pickaxe, smashing at them now on this side, now on the other. They would be lured, into a calm trough, and then the blows would come one after another in rapid succession: then calm again. There wasn't much time or chance to look back; only once, as they bobbed up on what seemed the top of the world, D. caught a glimpse of the floodlit hotel foundering in the far distance, as the moon swept up the sky.
It took them more than an hour to reach the ship, a dingy black coaster of about three thousand tons flying a Dutch flag. D. came up the side like a piece of cargo and was immediately shipped below. An officer in an old jumper and dirty grey flannel trousers said, ‘You keep below for an hour or two. It is better so.'
The cabin was tiny and close to the engine-room. Somebody had had the forethought to lay out an old pair of trousers and a waterproof: he was wet through. The port-hole was battened down, and a cockroach moved rapidly up the steel wall by the bunk. Well, he thought, I am nearly home. I am safe . . . if it was possible to think in terms of safety at all. He was safe from one danger and going back to another.
He sat on the edge of his bunk: he felt dizzy. After all, he thought, I am a bit old for this kind of life. He felt a sensation of pity for Mr K., who had dreamed in vain of a quiet life in a university far behind the lines – well, at least he hadn't died in an Entrenationo cubicle in the presence of some sharp oriental like Mr Li, who would resent the interruption of a lesson he had paid for in advance. And there was Else – the terror was over: she was secure from all the worse things which might have happened to her. The dead were to be envied. It was the living who had to suffer from loneliness and distrust. He got up; he needed air.
The deck was uncovered, and the wind whipped the sharp spray against his mouth. He leant over the side and saw the great creamy tops rise up against the galley lights and surge away down into some invisible abyss. Somewhere far off a light went on and off – Land's End? No, they couldn't be as far as that yet from London and Mr Forbes driving through the dark and Rose waiting – or Sally.
A voice he knew said, ‘That'll be Plymouth.'
He didn't turn: he didn't know what to say. His heart had missed a beat like a young man's; he was afraid. He said, ‘Mr Forbes . . .'
‘Oh, Furt,' she said, ‘Furt turned me down.' He remembered the tears on Western Avenue, the look of hate on the hill above Southcrawl. ‘He's sentimental,' she said, ‘he preferred a gesture. Poor old Furt.' In a phrase she dismissed him; he moved back into the salty and noisy dark at ten knots.
He said, ‘I'm an old man.'
‘If I don't care,' she said, ‘what does it matter what you are? Oh, I know you're faithful – but I've told you I shan't go on loving a dead man.' He took a quick look at her; her hair was lank with spray. She looked older than he had ever seen her yet – plain. It was as if she were assuring him that glamour didn't enter into
business. She said, ‘When you are dead, she can have you. I can't compete then, and we'll all be dead a long, long time.'
The light went by astern: ahead there was only the splash, the long withdrawal, and the dark. She said, ‘You'll be dead very soon: you needn't tell me that, but
 . . .'

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BOOK: The Confidential Agent
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