by Clark Nida, serialised here by permission of the author.
Fever sunk down into his chair, seeming to deflate. “I could do with another drink. I suppose there’s no chance of tea…?”
“Sorry, no tea-making facilities down here. It’ll have to be water.” Alan went and fetched two beakers full. They clicked their plastic beakers and downed the water like scotch-on-the-rocks.
“I don’t get it, “said Alan. “Where do the ‘damn-fool Brits’ come in?”
“By letting the cat out of the bag – in the stupidest way you can imagine.” Fever leaned forward. “A month ago, a certain Cabinet minister had a glorious frolic in a friend’s swimming pool with the KGB resident from the Russian embassy – and a girl they were taking it in turns to sleep with. The girl’s been as leaky as a sieve. Her minder was overheard saying to her ‘God – get those two in bed either side of you and you could start the Third World War!’”
He leaned back again. “The trouble is – he wasn’t altogether joking. But he couldn’t have known just how close to the truth he was.”
“How do you know all this?”
Fever seemed on the point of telling him, but he let his breath out in a long slow gasp. “I just do.”
“That’s terrible!” said Alan, judging it wise to string the patient along. “So, having let the cat out of the bag, as you put it – they’re just going to hush it all up?”
“Full marks, young man! Molodétz! The Russians have suspected it for a while. Now they know. They know where – and they know how.”
Fever tossed the magazine back on the pile. “Can you imagine it? Floating nuclear weapons drifting to-and-fro on the Berlin waterways? Not to mention trundling here and there in the tunnels under Berlin… do you happen to know Berlin at all?”
Alan shook his head like a robot. He’d only once been abroad – and it wasn’t to Germany.
“The Autobahn weaves here and there in underground tunnels, with total disregard as to whether it’s in the Allied or the Russian zone. A strategic nightmare for the Russians. And Berlin’s within ICBM range of Moscow. A far cheaper First-Strike Capability for the USA than a space-platform, eh?”
Fever paused and studied Alan’s face. The boy was looking stunned.
“Well, three days ago the leak was plugged. Result – one red-faced cabinet minister, one weeping girl. Now MI5 knows everything. The Russians know everything. Only the Yanks are still in the dark.”
“Well – aren’t they going to find out soon enough?”
“MI5 is doing everything it can – and I mean everything – to stop them getting wise. Which just happens to be why I’m here. They reckon they’ve got to keep the whole business quiet until the Russians have shored-up their strategic defences, so they’re pouncing on anyone and everyone who knows the slightest thing. Meanwhile the Russians and their East German stooges have made secret preparations to do what they know they’ve got to – and they’re all set to do it tomorrow. All in a single night!”
“Why – build a huge great wall all around West Berlin! To keep the fifth-column bottled-up inside.”
Thud! Alan felt as though he’d been hit in the neck with a clod of turf. The man was a raving nut-case after all!
Alan tried to keep his face straight. But the joke was on him. Up to that point he’d been able to believe everything the patient had said – it chimed so well with what Mackie had been telling him. But the preposterous idea of building a wall right round West Berlin in a single night was like a trapdoor opening under his feet.
What a let-down!
Well – it served him right for encouraging the patient. But Mr Fever certainly had the gift of the gab. Had he been right, the possible consequences were staggering. The USSR would shut its wide-open nuclear back-door in panic – and the USA, finding out, would panic too. Both sides would hit the button marked “WW/III” – and by Monday they’d none of them be there.
Fever didn’t notice Alan’s change of mood, or else he chose to ignore it and continue pouring out his fantasy. “After that – well! The shit will really hit the fan. And that’s supposing the world avoids having an all-out nuclear war.”
Alan nodded in silence. Swallowing down his laughter, he didn’t dare let his breath out. He began to redden.
“Pontecorvo?” Fever ranted on. “Vassall? Klaus Fuchs? This will be a far, far bigger thing. The USA will never again trust Britain with nuclear secrets. There’ll be egg all over some very senior faces. Heads will roll – you’ll see. If the government lasts out the year it’ll be a bloody miracle. It’s gonna be the biggest scandal to hit the headlines since… since…”
At that very instant the doorbell shrilled.
Both men leapt to their feet. How could anyone be outside the front door – at this time of night? It took Alan a second or two to remember he hadn’t been out to lock the gate. Shaking his head he snapped his fingers.
But the patient’s mouth had fallen open. His eyes stared out.
Alan said “I’m sorry… it’s another admission – and I’m all on my own down here. I’ll have to lock you in your room. It won’t be for long…”
“No, Nurse, it’s not another admission.” Fever’s voice was quiet but hoarse. “They’ve come for me.”
Alan shook his head vigorously as he urged his patient towards Room One. “No – believe me, it’s an emergency admission. They’d have phoned us to have you ready for them if they were coming to take you away.”
“They’ve come for me, I tell you!” bellowed Fever. “They must have been listening-in to everything we’ve said. Now they’re determined to silence me properly!”
“Mr Fever – you mustn’t run away with the idea someone’s coming to kill you!”
“Did I say ‘kill’?” Fever shut his eyes. “It’ll be something like ECT. Something to wipe my mind clean like a slate…”
The keys fell out of Alan’s hand with a smash. He stood looking down at them, his eyes flicking up at the patient. This was the moment of danger. If he bent down for them, Fever could kick him in the face, grab the keys and run…
But it didn’t happen. Fever backed into the cell. Alan shut the door and then snatched up the keys. Again the front doorbell shrilled. This time the button was held down for several seconds. They were really getting impatient out there.
Alan got the front door open, not without a struggle in his haste. Standing on the threshold was an ambulance-man. The same one who had brought Mr Fever there in the first place.
“Another admission…?” began Alan – but the man cut him short. “Is the patient ready for us?”
Alan’s jaw sagged in amazement. “What you are talking about? He’s only just arrived…!”
…to be continued.