Vic was a little early, but he was far from the first to arrive. Vicki, Toni, and Wanda had come down earlier on the train, and, talking with Swede, there was a gentleman who was introduced to Vic as Harold Newby. He seemed friendly, and Vic stood with him as Swede brought him a drink. Vic wasn’t sure what the drink was, but supposed that it was whatever people were supposed to drink at parties.
It was easy to identify Mr. Newby as an American southerner by his speech, and he turned out to be a Virginian. He also explained to Vic, in a humorous way, that he had been Swede’s commanding officer during the war. There were a few stories about Swede, which were entirely consistent with the Swede that Vic knew. Newby added, as something of an afterthought, “Swede later married a much more accomplished woman than I would have expected.”
Just then, the accomplished woman came into the room, rushed up to Newby, and hugged him enthusiastically. This was evidently their first meeting in some time. Vic began to wonder. Had Newby, from his wartime knowledge of Swede, expected him to marry an empty-headed woman? While Vic had never thought Joan in the least empty-headed, he had little idea of the direction in which those accomplishments lay.
The next to turn up were Elizabeth and Katarina, the latter with a cast and sling on her left forearm. Vic’s first thought was that Prince Todd had bopped her, but he did know that she was now living separately in an apartment in town. She said that she had tripped on the unfamiliar stairway in the dark and fallen. It didn’t sound very plausible to Vic, but he was used to surprises from Katarina. Whatever had happened, she was quite subdued, speaking mostly with Elizabeth.
At this stage, Vic was one of three men among six attractive women. Pretending to be the judge at a beauty contest, Vic ranked the contestants: Katarina, Wanda, Elizabeth, and Joan, Vicki, and Toni in a tie. But, of course, that was ridiculous! He found himself enjoying the attentions of all, and it was clear that Swede and Newby did as well. If this was what parties amounted to, he found himself quite happy to participate.
Frank Collins and Ormsby arrived almost together, and, as the only one who knew them, Vic introduced them around. Collins was obviously good at parties, and Joan, as hostess, took pains with him. Vic already knew that each was curious about the other, and it looked as if each was finding out what the other one wanted them to know. A few sideling glances indicated that they were talking about Vic himself. He suspected that Collins was advertizing him as a good young mathematician, but he wasn’t quite so sure what Joan would say about him in return.
Ormsby would have been the odd man out, but Vic had told Vicki enough to make her curious about him. It also looked as if Katarina, with plenty of natural curiosity of her own, meant to engage him.
While this was going on, Toni sidled up to Vic in the clear space in which he was standing. He knew that she had wanted to meet Swede, the man who caused so many injuries, and, having had the chance, she said to Vic, “Your Swede is everything you advertized. We had men like that in Poland, but I haven’t met one for a long time.”
“Are there cultural connections between Sweden and Poland?”
“We’re just across the Baltic from one another, and there were Swedish invasions of Poland. As always, some men liked the conquered country better than their own, and remained.”
“So there’s another Polish culture quite different from the Daquise one.”
“Yes, indeed. There are Polish rowdies, I think many in America. Didn’t you meet them there?”
“There are lots of jokes about Poles being crude, and there are also a lot of Polish football players. But I didn’t hang out with them.”
“No. You’re working on civility. However, it’s no accident that you can fit into the Daquise, and also have friends like Swede. Besides, you may be partly Polish yourself!”
“This Mr. Newby is also a friend of Swede’s, but he’s entirely different.”
“He strikes me as an army man, a colonel or general, out for an evening in civilian dress.”
“He was Swede’s commanding officer in the marines. How did you know that he was military?”
“The posture, for one thing, and the incomplete smile.”
“The mouth, but not the rest, or vice versa. Remember, my father was an officer, and I grew up among them.”
“It must be almost ten years since Swede was in his unit.”
“I think this man, Newby, is still serving. The war-time officers revert to something else when the war’s over.”
“Of course, Swede’s no longer in the marines. But he and Joan seem to sometimes help out the government as volunteers.”
“Have you considered the possibility that Mr. Newby, as General Newby, is still Swede’s commanding officer?”
Vic hadn’t, but he wondered as Toni drifted off.
He next found himself in a conversation with Joan, Swede, and Frank Collins. Joan was asking Collins about Russian mathematicians, and he replied, “Some of the very best are Russian.”
“Has the Soviet Union gone out of its way to produce them?”
“Not exactly. There have always been great Russian mathematicians, along with the composers, the chess players and novelists. But the Soviets do manage to make life rather nice for prominent people in the field. In some ways, it’s better to be an academician in Russia than to be a fellow in a college here.”
Swede asked, “Is that a matter of money?”
“That, and privileges that an ordinary citizen doesn’t have. And, then, there are lots of little things. When we publish, we have to cram our results into the absolute minimum of space because the journals are starved for funds. A Russian mathematician can have as much space as he wants. It makes them much easier to read.”
“So a Russian mathematician wouldn’t come to the west even if he were allowed to?”
“Well, I’ve been there, and life is pretty grim for everyone, even if you have a nice apartment, and can shop at the special stores. We’ve had a couple of Russian visitors in Australia, and I think they were tempted to stay.”
“I didn’t know they were allowed to leave.”
“They can visit the third world and China, and we’re perceived as only marginally belonging to the capitalist bloc.”
Vic, beginning to catch on, said to Collins, “If you set up a mathematical institute in Australia, and got the Russians to come, it should be pretty good.”
“Except that no one in Australia is likely to pay for such a thing.”
Joan said, “Our state department might be interested. They like to get talent out of the Soviet Union, even temporarily, and the returning Russians might be an antidote to some of the paranoia there.”
Collins laughed, but Vic wasn’t sure that something of the sort wouldn’t materialize.
After an hour or so, it was noticeable that Vicki, Katarina, and Wanda, seemed to hang together. Elizabeth, hardly older, was more worldly. She came over to Vic in a corner and said, “Things are beginning to come together. Swede and Joan really are American agents.”
“Joan told me that they’re like the British gentlemen who sometimes help the government with little projects.”
“Those are the gentlemen who do things when approached by the services and given explicit requests. Swede and Joan get all sorts of ideas and act on them. However, to avoid embarrassing backlashes, they have to get permission as they go. This Mr. Newby is deciding whether to let them do the things that may get Kate and myself to America.”
“Can you help things along?”
“I’ve been trying to impress Mr. Newby with my reliability and general rationality.”
A little later, Vic came up as Toni was asking Katarina, “My dear, who on earth put that cast on your arm?”
After a brief pause, she replied, “Oh, a doctor who lives near me.”
“It must weigh a ton. It’s about three times as thick as it’s supposed to be, and very rough.”
As Katarina tried to explain that the doctor probably wasn’t used to doing casts, it seemed to Vic that a child would have known that she was lying.
It was when he came together with Joan that Vic remembered that Joan had asked Toni about broken arms, and had also wanted the address of a medical supply house. On impulse, he said to Joan, “Toni doesn’t think much of Katarina’s cast. It’s too thick and not smooth enough.”
“Oh Vic, you are clever! I knew that it wouldn’t be ethical to ask a doctor to help fake an injury, so I got the material and went to work on our young lady. This is just practice to see if anyone noticed anything wrong.”
“The other problem is that I have no idea how to get it off.”
“I don’t think it would be unethical to ask a doctor to help you get someone out of a fancy-dress costume.”
“Yes. I’m just trying to let as few people as possible in on the secret.”
“I’m most of the way in, and Toni is at least half-way there. But she’s very anti-Soviet, and she’d be a good secret keeper.”
“How about Wanda and Vicki?”
“Not as good. Probably not necessary.”
“Are you uneasy to have Vicki know of your own involvement?”
“The weak link. But the saving grace would be that people might not believe her.”
“Okay. Anyhow, it’s all up to Harold Newby at this point. I think he’ll want to talk with you.”
As it happened, the talk occurred later that evening in the billiard room. Newby approached him and said, “I don’t know the game, but we could knock balls around.”
Vic thought it might have something to do with making one ball hit another in such a way that it hit a third. No one else was in the room, and Vic, guessing what was coming, was a little nervous. Here he was at seventeen, with a few weeks of relevant experience, meeting with a man who had been doing God-knew-what for decades. Still, whoever Newby really was, he laughed and smiled, if not in a way that would have pleased Toni. After Vic paused from hitting balls, Newby had something for him to read.
It was a page from the leading Labor Party newspaper, the intellectual one that was only slightly left of center. The story was about the protests at Upper Heyford, and actually included a flattering photo of Alicia Byers. The tone of the story was certainly favorable, even though there was a critical quote from a prominent Conservative MP. Once Vic had read the piece, Newby said, “One point is that such a story appeared in a very respectable and widely read paper. If they hadn’t printed it, no one would have missed it.”
Pointing to the picture of Mrs. Byers, Vic explained that he had met her, and added, “She’s an impressive lady. She and her friends may have had enough influence to get it printed.”
“Quite so. I see that you realize that these things don’t happen by accident. The second point is that this is just one instance of a quite widespread attitude. Any English politician has to be very careful how he answers questions about our air force in this country.”
“I’ve also met one of the pilots and his wife. They’re certainly feeling the pressure.”
“Swede told me about that, and of your introduction of the young lady, Katarina, to them.”
“I didn’t know that she was going to turn up here with a cast on her arm.”
“Fake, of course.”
“I gather that she’s going to pretend to be a victim in a skirmish at the base.”
“No one would think Mrs. Byers capable of breaking the girl’s arm, but any demonstration attracts all kinds of people, some of them pretty rough and rather violent. The story will be that the women’s group has brought such people out of the woodwork, and that the group has lost control of its protest. That’s all we need to change the tone of the newspaper coverage.”
“Joan said it was your decision whether to go forward.”
“I don’t give her orders. She asked my advice as to the likelihood of a misfire or backlash. By the way, do you know who she really is?”
“Just Swede’s wife, I guess.”
“She’s the daughter of a high official in the Eisenhower administration. In fact, her father is one of the principal ones who persuaded General Eisenhower to enter politics.”
“That explains some things. We were talking about Katarina.”
“Yes. I’ve had a talk with her myself, and I take a fairly positive view.”
“She’d be at her best with you.”
“I realize that. However, she’s intelligent, she’s a trained actress, and she really wants to get to America.”
“I didn’t know she was an actress.”
“For a brief time, and in supporting roles, but in legitimate productions. And it’s an act that we need. Someone who’s just come out of an emergency room with a broken arm in a cast, and who shows signs of having been beaten up.”
“But not raped?”
“No. That would require a serious police inquiry. She’ll be the friend of the American pilot and his wife, on her way to visit them when the lunatic fringe of the demonstration mistakes her for an American wife. There will be only one interview with the press, after which she and the other young lady will disappear to America.”
“Into the Witness Protection Plan?”
Newby, laughing, replied, “That’s for refugees from the Mafia and the Soviet services. This is the sort of thing that will disappear from the papers fairly quickly. The women’s protest may go on for a bit, but they’ll lose most of their enthusiasm over what will seem a fiasco and go quietly away.”
As they were about to leave the room, Newby said, “It’s awkward to mention this, Vic, if I may call you so, but your services in this matter are going well beyond anything you might think that you owe Swede. These things turn up, now and again, and there’s remuneration.”
That surprised Vic. He could only reply, “Gee!”
Newby, smiling, patted him on the shoulder and walked off. Vic followed him, thinking deeply.