Plugging a Leak
As they slid into the pew, Tensy seemed somewhat worried.
"We've got houseguests again, one of Reggie's aristocratic English ladies and her husband."
Jones took a sip of coffee, and replied,
"You've coped with that before, haven't you?"
"Oh yes, but I was left alone with the husband last night while Reggie and Cecilia went somewhere. The husband, Cedric, got quite drunk."
"Did he try to rape you?"
"Well short of that. I was able to fend him off. But then, perhaps in order to impress me, he started talking. And talking. Before he was through, he spilled all the beans."
"About his wife?"
"And the other ladies. All three of them are spies. They're controlled by Reggie."
"We did think that. But you wanted Reggie not to know that you knew."
"That's the trouble now. Cedric may tell his wife that he's blabbed to me. Then, of course, she'll tell Reggie. If he, or his boss, thinks that Cedric has told all sorts of people, they might decide that Reggie's been compromised. If so, they'd probably recall him to England. Without me."
"Tensy, there are all sorts of gaps in that chain of reasoning. For one thing, Cedric couldn't be in the habit of letting secrets out, even when drunk. He and his wife wouldn't have lasted this long if he had. You must have made a very strong impression on him."
"Even so, what if he tells his wife?"
"No sane man would. Tell her that he got drunk with another woman and let her secrets out?"
"Well, Cedric does seem to be sane most of the time. But some people do go in for those confessions."
"Englishmen like Reggie don't. Unless this Cedric is the total opposite ....."
"No, he's not Reggie by a long shot, but he's not normally a fool and braggart."
"That's one gap in the chain. More important, I don't think Reggie has the slightest intention of leaving you. No matter how many corporate hostesses he tries out to assure quality control."
"Well, most women do worry. If we don't get a brand-new proof of affection every day, we think the men don't love us anymore."
"I guess nothing can be done about that. Did Cedric tell you what the ladies spy on?"
"They've all three seduced Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan."
"Wow! The people I know in Washington often mention him. He seems to be the Republican who can block the Truman adminstration plans when he wants to."
"Yes. Even more than that. Since Dewey lost two presidential elections, he's out of the running as leader of the party. So it's as much Vandenberg as anyone."
"Isn't he known for isolationism?"
"Not anymore. And he was never stupid like Homer Capeheart and Claude Hickenlooper, the leading isolationist politicians across the state line in Indiana."
"Are there really people with names like that?"
"Homer and Claude. I can imagine them with big pot bellies, suspenders, and straw hats."
"They probably do wear suits in the senate, but they bring with them a backwardly rural consciousness. In one disscussion, I think it was Hickenlooper who said that he'd never praise anything Russian. And that included the Russian armed forces. So then he was led to conclude that the Soviet Union poses no threat. From that, it followed that we really don't need any defense forces ourselves."
"There's a real isolationist."
"Also an idiot. Vamdemberg has to deal with people like that in his own party, but he recognized fairly early the conflict between isolationism and anti-communism. The anti-communism has been gradually winning out."
"Where do Reggie's ladies come in?"
"At first, it was to get him to support Truman's providing military aid to Greece to fight their communists. According to Cedric, one of the ladies mostly wrote the speech Vandenberg gave in the senate in favor of that policy."
"Isn't it amazing that they put three separate women on to him?"
"I suppose it's just a measure of his importance."
"Do they get together and compare notes on his various sexual appetites?"
"Probably. They're professionals."
"I can imagine one of them, half-undressed, looking at him back over her shoulder and giggling as he chases her around the room."
"Are you sure that isn't your fantasy, Jones? The senator may go in for only the most refined sensuality."
"I bet he doesn't."
"Well, of course, there probably is a certain earthiness. These ladies may be aristocratic, but one assumes that they can become as indelicate as the situation requires."
Tensy paused as she munched her cookie, and continued,
"Apart from sex, there's the charm and sophistication. I enjoy Cecilia and Felicity particularly. Any politician would soon realize that they could help him compose a speech. In fact, English women of their sort would be more literate than the average American speech writer. Vandenberg started out as the editor of a small-city newspaper, and he'd naturally be quick to take advantage of that kind of talent."
"They probably lug their portable typewriters with them when they go to see him. That would also be good cover. I've never heard any kind of rumor."
"A rumor would be deadly. You can imagine the outcry if it were known that British spies were influencing American foreign policy in this way."
"Drew Pearson would eat it up."
Tensy shuddered at the mention of the name, and blurted out,
"He's the one whose wife is actually named 'Luvie'. They're both execrable."
"He just about destroyed the secretary of defense, James Forrestal. In fact, it was probably Pearson who drove him to suicide."
"I'm sure I'll have a nightmare about Drew and Luvie tonight."
"He hates any kind of internationalism. Really, any kind of informed foresight."
"Well, there haven't been any leaks, except with Cedric last night."
"And I guess that was because he was drunk. Perhaps he should be made to stop drinking altogether."
Just then, some older ladies came into the church and acted in a way that seemed odd to Jones. He assumed that their behavior had something to do with prayer, and he and Tensy hid the remains of their food and drink in a large bag she had brought.
Once outside in the cold, she did up her coat and said,
"Now that we know that Reggie's a spymaster, these church meetings of ours seem entirely appropriate."
"Yes. There have to be channels of information that are secure. Heike and I have one in Washington."
"Do you go to churches?"
"No. We drive around in her car."
"That's okay. But I have trouble thinking deeply and driving at the same time."
"So does Heike. She banged a parked car on the fender last week."
"Did she stop and leave her name?"
"I told her it would be simpler to keep going."
"Ah Jones, I continue to have confidence in you."
The very next morning, there was an invitation to lunch from Reggie. This, too, was at his club, in fact in a secluded nook in the dining room. Reggie was more Bertie Woosterish than usual, even to the point of a "What ho, old chap." Jones, by now knowing the pattern, ordered and sat back to wait. Reggie said,
"You did expect Tensy to tell me all about Cedric's drunken debauch, didn't you?"
"Yes. She keeps being afraid that you might go back to England without her, but I tell her I'm sure you won't."
"Quite right. Even if I were forced to go back, which is extremely unlikely, I'd take her with me. We'd then return to America at the first opportunity. I remember telling you that I feel at least as American as British at this point."
"Yes. But I gather that you have much more influence in your English capacity."
"She did tell you about the senator?"
"In some detail."
"In my view, our operation there has considerably benefited both countries. Are you in agreement?"
"I do believe in the policy of containing the Soviet Union with conventional forces. I guess I'm a Trumanite."
"So am I. Mr. Truman wouldn't approve of our methods if he knew, but he certainly appreciates the support he's getting from the senator."
As Jones nodded agreement, Reggie drank some water and continued,
"The only problem is that the urge to impress Tensy was strong enough to undo Cedric. This is how leaks and rumors start."
"How do you stop them?"
"We can deal with Cedric. Who are you going to tell?"
"Apart from yourself and Tensy, the only person I'd tell anything of this sort to would be Heike. And that only if it advanced one of our projects. We have our own secrets."
"What are your general aims?"
"At present, we're using whatever influence we may have on the side of the army, as opposed to the air force or submarine force. It's the army whose primary mission it is to defend the containment perimeter everywhere."
"Well, Jones, that's the position we've tried, rather successfully, to present to the senator."
"Yes. Heike, of course, is aware of the general political situation, but it wouldn't help her to know how the senator has reached his position. There are, of course, some ideas, and perhaps facts, which could usefully be put to him."
"That's an interesting possibility. I'd have to be in agreement with the ideas, of course."
"I wonder how you feel about our Strategic Air Command's leader, General Curtis LeMay, and his willingness to beat the Soviets to the draw, as he puts it."
"Ah, yes. The short answer is this: An American first strike might well degrade Soviet power enough to preclude any return strike that would be very dangerous to America. However, with what they have left, the Soviets could be expected to destroy Britain, and probably the rest of western Europe. I'm still British enough not to countenance that."
"The army general I work for is also opposed to an American first strike. I suspect that it has less to do with preserving England than with the fact that the army would have no role to play and no way of claiming victory."
"Of course. It's always like that."
"However, General Smith, forceful as he is, has come up against someone he can't seem to move at all in LeMay."
"As it happens, I'm somewhat acquainted with LeMay. In the last stage of the war against Japan, some RAF people were allowed as guests on board the B-29s. I happened to be on the one that dropped the second atomic bomb. I'll tell you about that some time. More to the point, I had a couple of conversations with General LeMay."
"How did he strike you?"
"One has to allow for the fact that there's something wrong with his facial muscles, which gives him a rather unsettling expression. Apart from that, he epitomizes for me a dictum of your General Robert E. Lee: that a general must be prepared to sacrifice, not just some of what he loves best, but all of it."
"That is, his army?"
"In LeMay's case, his air force. He was prepared to sacrifice every last B-29, and every last aircrew, to burn Japan to the ground and render an invasion unnecessary. Not to spare the lives of the invading force, but to show that an air force alone can defeat an enemy and win a war."
"And the point of that?"
"To make it impossible for the army and navy to block the formation of an independent air force. It worked."
"I wonder what ulterior motive he may have now."
"There aren't so many left."
"He may want to destroy communism. That goes well beyond the Truman doctrine of containing it."
"Yes. And, of course, LeMay never counts the cost. It might be the very existence of England this time."
Reggie looked a little pensive at that, but shovelled some liver pate on melba toast into his mouth. He then said,
"There's one other point. Would your friend Heike be satisfied if you just told her that you've acquired a certain political influence?"
"She'd know that it would involve a woman, and she's communicated with Tensy about the journals. I'm sure she'd guess."
"All right. You can tell her that it is Tensy, but that she wouldn't want to talk about it."
"Heike is the soul of tact and discretion. She lived in Nazi Germany, after all."
"Yes. I think that will be satisfactory. Would you like a glass of sherry? It's been rather good lately."
"In deference to Cedric, I think I'll have a coke."
"He and Cecilia left just this morning. They'll be at sea on the Queen Elizabeth tomorrow. Perhaps I'll have a coke myself. It does seem more American."
It was a Cincinnati weekend for Jones. The Melancholy Boys were excited about the launch of Leo's new journal, and it was turning out to be something of a group effort. A tall gaunt young man in industrial relations passed around a mimeographed proposal for a paper based on four points.
1. Roughly five per cent of almost any population is hopeless in the sense of never producing anything of value.
2. The dictators, such as Hitler and Stalin, ordinarily seek to eliminate the wrong five per cent.
3. As regards the bottom five: the violent ones should be segregated in camps in the wilderness, in Siberia or elsewhere; the non-violent ones should be maintained in reasonable comfort and health.
4. The best five per cent of a population must, like Leonidas and his Spartans, be allowed to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. They may not actually be killed, but they will inevitably give up all or most of what they love best.
There was a spirited discussion. In the end, it was decided that the submission should be encouraged on the grounds that it said so many things that most people were afraid to say. There wasn't enough sex to get it banned in Boston, Philadelphia, or Cincinnati, but the people who reacted most violently would be drawn from a broad and variegated spectrum.
It was also decided that there should be a counter- balancing paper promoting communes. It was well known that many had foundered in the past simply as a result of sexual jealousy arising from the sharing of spouses and lovers. As one Melancholy Boy put it,
"There are a lot of people who can't handle it when they see their wife headed for the woods on the arm of another man."
"Some of the people leading the wives to the woods aren't terribly tactful. I once saw a T-shirt that said on it, HOLD MY BEER WHILE I FUCK YOUR WIFE."
This sort of thing was roundly deplored in the group. There were also some suggestions for mitigating the jealousy factor. One suggestion was,
"Every person in the commune should be absoulutely required to periodically make love to every person of the opposite sex."
There was some nodding of the heads at that, and another Melancholy Boy pointed out,
"Then, when you see your wife headed for the woods, you'll be able to think that she may just be performing her duty."
It was generally considered that there might be a paper along these lines, but the group broke up without proposing anything very definite.
Jones, as usual, went from the Pink Room to the river. It wasn't quite as cold on the public landing this time, and the river had gone down a bit. However, it left a layer of mud, perhaps three inches thick, in a strip which extended some twenty feet up the slope from the present water's edge. If Jones had backed his station wagon into the mud, it might well have slid into the river. He wondered idly if, in similar conditions a hundred years previously, heavily loaded wagons with thrashing horses had suffered that ignominy.
Even above the land of mud, the car skidded and spun in the cold slush left by the melting ice. Jones was aware that some people might not have attempted a launch, but considerations of honor seemed to be involved.
It was comforting that the mud, rather the color of excrement at a time of diarrhea, had a distinctly different smell. It wasn't a very good smell, but it had nothing to do with the human intestinal tract.
It turned out that the mud was just liquid enough to allow a shoe to sink through it, at which point a number of things could happen. The owner of the foot, feeling the cold muck as it sank into his shoe, might well raise his foot suddenly and ill-advisedly. The shoe would very likely come off and remain stuck in position as the person, sliding on one foot, tried to keep from falling full-length. In the best case, the one where the laces had been tied with great care, the shoe would come up with a sucking sound, bearing with it a great gob of mud.
Having experimented gingerly and acquainted himself with these facts and possibilities, Jones collected some of the quantity of driftwood that had been left stranded by the river's descent. By stacking it judiciously, he made himself a little path through the mud. He was then able to pull and push the boat along beside him until it floated. He brought a good deal of mud into the boat with him, but, after all, mud had always been tracked aboard the PT boats.
Since practically every tree had bits of paper and refuse stuck to its lower branches, the aesthetic quality of the expedition was somewhat compromised. The Confederate flag was still flying from the little campground with its soggy tents, but it didn't seem to do much to buoy the spirits of the gentlemen huddled around a fire. They seemed to Jones to be rather depressed, and he called out lustily, wishing them a superb Sunday. One of the men started in surprise, and Jones got no more than a hand flap or two in response.
Jones continued upstream until it began to get dark. He did have a flashlight that he propped on the seat with the idea of warding off tugs and barges. He had hardly turned, and was sliding nicely along with the current, when some mixture of rain, sleet and snow began to fall. Always prepared, he reached behind him for a waterproof jacket with a hood, and also placed a small square of tarpaulin over his lap and legs. Since he was exerting himself less as he went downstream, the extra layer made him a little too warm.
As the night set in quickly, the aesthetics improved. It was no longer possible to see the little bits of paper in the trees, and the various riverside lights began to cast halos. When he finally got back, Jones couldn't find the driftwood path he had created in the darkness. There was nothing for it but to haul the boat, slipping and sliding, up to his car. It took an immense and exhausting effort, and, when he had almost reached his car, he saw a second car which he recognized as Tensy's Packard. She herself was standing with a little decorative umbrella, something Scarlett O'Hara might have carried, at the edge of the mud. Her shoes had sunk entirely out of sight, and Jones could see that she was shivering and crying. He could only imagine that Reggie had decamped and abandoned Tensy.
It turned out to be something else. Tensy blurted out,
"We've just heard from Cecilia. Cedric had a heart attack and died on the ship."
Tensy dropped the little umbrella into the mud and threw her arms desperately around Jones' neck. As he steadied and soothed her, he whispered into her ear,
"It might have been a real heart attack."
She shuddered anew as she shook her head.
"It's because I told Reggie. I killed Cedric."
She was past reasoning, but Jones picked her up, less her shoes, and put her into her car. After tying his boat to his own car, he got into the driver's seat of Tensy's car, mud and all. She said,
"I've been acting as if this were all a game, but it's real. It's real."
"I've killed men directly and violently. You were just part of a chain of circumstances."
"A necessary part. Cecilia loved him."
"Does she know the reason?"
"I suppose not. She wouldn't know what Cedric said to me. She'll go on being a good little agent."
Jones, starting up the car, asked,
"Are you blaming Reggie?"
"Will he have me killed if he thinks I'm a security risk? Will three men abduct me, take me into the woods, and butcher me with knives?"
She was again hysterical, and Jones held her against him as he managed to get the car up the landing. She was obviously wet through, and, when they got to the top, he stopped and found a blanket in the back seat. When he had it around her, he asked,
"Probably at home. I flew off in the car, and I guessed you'd be down here. I've been there for an hour."
Reggie was standing on the porch, and seemed much relieved when they arrived. He didn't seem terribly surprised by all the mud, and dispatched Tensy off to a hot bath under the care of a maid. Jones explained about the mud, and Reggie replied,
"I'm glad she found you. I had no idea what she was going to do."
"She was just standing on the Public Landing in the mud and rain when I got back from rowing. I hope she doesn't get sick."
"She probably won't. She's made of hardy stuff. You look as if you could do with some dry things yourself."
When they had all gathered in dry clothes in front of the fireplace with sherry, everything seemed to be under control. Tensy was somewhat subdued, but calm. Reggie explained,
"Of course, I had to tell London. But I told them that there was no leak at this end, and nothing to be concerned about. Cedric and Cecilia were, by that time, about to embark on a British ship. I actually had little idea what might happen."
"I suppose they must have given him some sort of poison to simulate a heart attack. But I don't think even your service can radio a captain of a ship and ask him to have the doctor poison one of the passengers."
"No. They evidently managed to get the right sort of person on board. It must have been quick work."
"And all for one indiscretion."
"It reminds me of the war. One indiscretion, and your landing party suddenly confronts an SS Panzer division with one of those fanciful names. DAS REICH or LEIBSTANDARTE ADOLF HITLER. Or GROSS DEUTSCHLAND. That sort of thing. Was your war like that, Jones?"
"We hardly had any secrets. Japs tried to infiltrate along the coast every night, and we tried to ambush them."
"Cedric wasn't quite the right man. Cecilia is enormously good at the game, but she already had Cedric when she began it."
"Am I good at the game, Reggie?"
"Yes, my dear. Potentially quite good. All it takes is a little experience. I could see that Jones was a natural from the beginning."
"And I suppose that this is just the sort of experience that I've needed. A lesson in the handling of indiscretion."
"Why don't you take Tensy out to dinner, Jones? It's been difficult for her, and I think she needs to be with a thorough-going American just now."
Since Tensy's car was full of mud, they took one of Reggie's big Buicks. It seemed an odd car for him, but Tensy explained,
"He heard of someone bequething his Buick to charity, and he liked the sound of the word. So he got one. It's odd to be married to a man who combines whimsy and mayhem so easily."
Although Tensy's words betrayed some bitterness, her tone was more speculative and less urgent. Glancing over as he maneuvered the car over some ice at the end of the driveway, he saw that she had carefully arranged the full skirt of her gray wool dress on the leather seat, as if setting out for a semi-formal social occasion. With her feet in matching gray pumps directly in front of her at such an angle to almost bend her ankles backward, she looked straight ahead in silence. Only the motion of the car moved her dangling silver earring. Jones asked,
"Do you know why we've been sent off together?"
"Are you wondering whether it's to go to bed together?"
"That did cross my mind. You also seem fixed up even more carefully than usual."
"Which suggests to you that I could be unfixed with the removal of my dress, earrings, and so on. I doubt that Reggie meant to exclude that possibility, but I don't in the least feel like sex."
"No. You do look very nice, but it wouldn't be a good idea."
"You'd have to tell, or choose not to tell, Heike."
"Yes. But I do wonder what Reggie wants."
"On the conscious level, he wants you to calm me down and return me in a more benevolent mood toward him."
"You'll probably become gradually more benevolent in the natural course of things. All I'll have to do is take you to dinner, perhaps with a drink or two."
"Yes. I still don't think I'll let him touch me when I get back, but I don't think he'll expect that. A modicum of civility will satisfy him."
"Will he want to know if we made love?"
"He'll be curious, but he won't ask."
"I see. You seemed to suggest before that he wanted something different from us on some other level."
"Yes. He has only a foggy idea what it is."
"Can you explain?"
"Not yet, Jones. Please take me somewhere to eat, I don't care where."
In silence, and with some unease, Jones drove, taking streets at random. He had no idea where to take Tensy, and, indeed, having wandered into the illy-lit residential streets of the old city, there was hardly anything but the occasional neighborhood bar. Even if she were willing to eat the bar food, the locals would stare and make comments about such an elegant woman.
As it happened, they ended up at the university. Tensy brightened and asked,
"Aren't there little places where the students eat around here?"
"Yes. There's a late night pizza place that I've gone to with Sam and Milton. It's on a back street near here."
Parking on a street named for a German poet, Jones helped Tensy out of the car into the light snow that was still falling. Without mounting up much, it had dusted the uneven brick sidewalk. It was also a little slippery, and she took his arm as they made their way along. It seemed to Jones that he was with a very different woman than any he had encountered before.
The sky was surprisingly light, probably from the reflected lights of the city. On both sides of the narrow street there were three-storey brick houses, built wall-to- wall. Even the snow looked dark and deserted in the deep shadows. Tensy asked,
"Why are there no lights in the windows?"
"It's about ten and they go to bed early."
"That's almost sinister. Perhaps they're up there having sex in dark bedrooms."
"The residents I've seen in the daytime don't look as if they ever have sex. But they certainly produce children."
"Yes. The sex may be rather muted, covered up with bedclothes, with only a few grunts issuing forth."
"That may be how people do it in crowded houses when children are in the same bedroom."
"I dare say. The children may wonder about the grunts, but then grow up to make the same sounds in similar circumstances."
Jones laughed and imitated the sorts of sounds that might be involved. Tensy recoiled from him, saying,
"Those are really horrid and damaging noises, Jones. I'm getting into a mood in which I can hardly imagine why anyone would want to have sex with anyone."
"We could probably invent more attractive noises."
"Is that someone partially concealed behind that house?"
"There is someone. Probably not an assassin."
One of the few gas street lights threw a dim light on an alley entrance some hundred feet away. The man Tensy had seen leaning against the corner of a house remained in position, evidently watching the street. Jones could feel her pressure on his arm, bringing him to a stop. Just then, an old car came up another street, skidded briskly around a corner, and stopped near the man. He moved slouchily to the car and got in. Tensy said,
"I'm in a strange state. Far from waiting in ambush, he was just waiting to be picked up."
"Yes. Even some rather steady people can get panicky in the woods at night when they hear noises in the shadows."
"Are you one of those rather steady people, Jones?"
"Speaking of that, this would be a good street for organizing an ambush."
"Back in your PT boat again?"
"It must have been thrilling in a way."
"Ambushes are quite enoyable when they work out right."
"I've never had anything like that experience. For most of the women I know, adventure means having an affair."
"So far as I know, you don't do that."
"No. Just a couple of months ago, the wife of an English professor invited me to accompany her and two friends on a trip to the Bahamas. She as much as said that they were going to find men."
"Did you just decline frostily or make excuses?"
"It was embarrassing because she obviously thought that anyone married to Reggie would need what they were looking for even more than they did. So I did explain after a fashion."
"Did you get a post-mortem?"
"Yes. My friend found, or was found by, an Italian ballet dancer who had to quit when he hurt his knee. She said that she'd never come across anyone with as much sexual energy. But, even though they went at it all one night, she didn't have an orgasm."
"A lesson learned?"
"Not entirely. She's now thinking of divorcing her husband. I'm not exactly sure why."
"You'd think that an experience would send her back to him."
"Whatever goes on in marriages defies all reason."
The little cafe had the immediate advantage of being warm and dry. Seated next to the front window, they could also enjoy the contrast between their present coziness and the winter outside.
There weren't many customers, but the staff showed no signs of wanting to close. A middle-aged waitress with a lop- sided gait and something wrong with her left eye took their order for a medium-sized pizza with onions, mushrooms, and anchovies. After she left, Tensy whispered,
"Was that pus running out of her eye?"
"Probably an eye infection. We'd better not touch our eyes after touching the pizza."
Tensy laughed a little uneasily, but then more fully. She said,
"Jones, you're awful in a way that actually is uplifting in the circumstances."
"Is that why Reggie sent us out?"
"No. I've worked that out. It's because you spend your life negotiating. With the university and with the place in Washington. And now with Heike."
"Sure. You always know exactly what you want. But you're willing to trade something. You're not an excessively hard bargainer, but you almost always get what you want."
"Don't most people do that?"
"Not most women. We're supposed to do things because we love people deeply. We're caring and helpful, even to people who aren't all that wonderful. Even those of us who've left religion think that we're expected to do kind things without any thought of recompense."
"I wouldn't have given you more than a B plus on that scale."
"A C plus would be more like it. But it's too much for Reggie. He wants me to learn to negotiate the way you do."
"In the present case, he probably thinks he owes you something because of the unpleasantness surrounding Cedric."
"Yes. He's probably back there, sitting in front of the fire and waiting for me to name my price."
"What'll it be?"
"I'm going to be utterly crass and ask for a new car. The Packard was the thing to have before the war, but now it seems fuddy duddy."
"It's also full of mud. No matter how carefully you have it cleaned, it'll never be the same again."
"Very likely. In any case, I think that a journal editor and publisher ought to have a Cadillac convertible."
"They're cold in winter."
"Even so. One has to think of one's image."
is full of mud, and it'll never be the same."