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. You know, you're even more fetching now with your journal editor's self confidence."
"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."
"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 it amazing that they put three separate women on to him? Do they get together and compare notes on his various sexual appetites?"
"I bet they do. These ladies may be aristocratic, but, from what I've seen, they could quickly become as indelicate as the situation required. Then, when they're with the senator, they probably traipse around in spike heels and black garter belts with red roses embroidered on them."
"I guess it's a measure of his importance. To what purpose are they seducing him?"
Tensy paused as she munched her cookie, and said,
"I doubt if it's for fun. Although you never know. Anyhow, Vandenburg was known as a leading isolationist. He was edging towards internationalism on his own, but Reggie's ladies got him to move much farther much faster."
"When the military wants to throw its weight around in a foreign country, he's one of the people it thinks it has to satisfy. But I always assumed that he'd be very straight and stiff, one of those religious Dutchmen from western Michigan."
"He may be that most of the time, but, of course, private lives are another matter. According to Cedric, one of the ladies actually helped him write the speech he gave in the Senate supporting Truman's military aid to Greece to combat their communists."
"That was the policy Churchill sold to Truman."
"Sure. The English were more worried about Greece than we were. Now, our policy is to contain the Soviets everywhere. Vandenberg has been going along with it. He also supported the Berlin airlift."
"Do these ladies do it just with straight sex?"
"That's part of it, obviously. One of them is widely known in spy circles for her skills in bed. And I'm sure the other two are no slouches."
"And this poor Dutch guy has had sex only with super- religious women who lie there like logs. Maybe only with the woman he married."
"The other part is 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, she 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 containment. 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."
"I did wonder how the senator squares this with his constituents. I happen to have known a couple of Michigan Dutchmen, and they wouldn't want to intervene in Greece or anywhere else. They don't care about anything that happens more then fifty miles away."
"They may be so pleased that one of theirs gets in the newspapers that they'll let him do anything he wants."
"So there really aren't any true isolationists? They all want to be famous."
"Every politician knows that. And every spy. Unfortunately, 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, less ferocious than previously, had gone down a bit. But 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 in New Guinea.
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.
When he finally got back in a mist that had turned to rain, Jones was amazed to see Tensy's Packard parked near his own car. She herself was standing with a little decorative umbrella, something Scarlett O'Hara might have carried, at the edge of the mud. Tensy's shoes had sunk entirely out of sight, and Jones could see that she was shivering and crying. Instead of making his usual rather pretty landing, he rammed his boat hard into the slope next to his driftwood pathway. He could imagine only that Reggie had decamped and abandoned Tensy.
It turned out to be something else. She 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 yanking his boat up the slope, he tied it to his car and got in with Tensy, 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 standing 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 for these sorts of things. 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."