Home > The Cellist (Gabriel Allon #21)(8)

The Cellist (Gabriel Allon #21)(8)
Author: Daniel Silva

“It needs work,” said Sarah.

“Who did you have in mind for the job?”

“Since you weren’t available, I was hoping I could convince David Bull to take it on.”

“I thought he was in New York these days.”

“He is. I had lunch with him before I left. Such a lovely man.”

“Have you discussed it with him?”

Sarah shook her head.

“Who else knew about the sale to Viktor other than Julian?”

“No one.”

“And you didn’t let it slip at Wilton’s?”

“I’m a former intelligence officer and undercover operative. I don’t let things slip.”

“And what about Viktor?” Gabriel persisted. “Did he tell anyone that you were coming to Cheyne Walk last night?”

“With Viktor, I suppose anything’s possible. But why do you ask?”

Christopher answered on Gabriel’s behalf. “He’s wondering whether the Russians were trying to kill two birds with one stone.”

“Viktor and me?”

“You do have a rather long track record when it comes to Russians,” Gabriel pointed out. “It stretches all the way back to our old friend Ivan Kharkov.”

“If Moscow Center had wanted to kill me, they would have made an appointment to see a painting at Isherwood Fine Arts.”

Gabriel directed his gaze toward Christopher. “And you’re sure the contaminated documents were in fact delivered by Nina Antonova?”

“We didn’t see her place the bloody things on Viktor’s desk, if that’s what you’re asking. But someone gave them to Viktor, and Nina is the most likely candidate.”

“Why didn’t Jonathan mention her name this morning outside Number Ten?”

“National pride, for a start. As you can imagine, there were red faces all round when we realized that she’d slipped out of the country even before we started looking for her. The home secretary is planning to make the announcement tomorrow morning.”

“But what if Sarah is right? What if Nina was deceived into delivering those documents? And what if Viktor managed to warn her before he died?”

“She should have called the police instead of fleeing the country.”

“She doesn’t trust the police. You wouldn’t either if you were a Russian journalist.”

Gabriel’s phone pulsed with an incoming message. He had been forced, at long last, to part company with his beloved BlackBerry Key2. His new device was an Israeli-made Solaris, reputedly the world’s most secure mobile phone. Gabriel’s had been customized to his unique specifications. Larger and heavier than a typical smartphone, it was capable of fending off remote attacks from the world’s most sophisticated hackers, including the American NSA and Russia’s Special Communications Service, or Spetssviaz.

Christopher eyed Gabriel’s device enviously. “Is it as secure as they say?”

“I could send an email from the middle of the Doughnut with complete confidence that HMG would never be able to read it.” The Doughnut was how employees of Britain’s GCHQ referred to their circular headquarters in Cheltenham.

“May I at least hold it?” asked Christopher.

“In the age of Covid? Don’t even think about it.” Gabriel entered his fourteen-character hard password, and the text message appeared on the screen. He frowned as he read it.

“Something wrong?”

“Graham has asked me to come to dinner. Apparently, Helen is making couscous.”

“My condolences. I’m only sorry I won’t be joining you.”

“You are, actually.”

“Tell Graham I’ll take a raincheck.”

“He’s the director-general of your service.”

“I realize that,” said Christopher, staring at the beautiful woman draped across the overstuffed chair. “But I’m afraid I have a much better offer.”

 

 

7

Eaton Square, Belgravia


When Helen Liddell-Brown met Graham Seymour at a drinks party at Cambridge, he told her that his father worked for a very dull department of the Foreign Office. She did not believe him, for her uncle served in a senior position in the same department, which was known to insiders as the Firm and the rest of the world as MI6. She accepted Graham’s proposal of marriage on the condition he take a respectable job in the City. But a year after they wed, he surprised her by joining MI5, a betrayal for which Helen—and Graham’s father, for that matter—never quite forgave him.

She punished Graham by adopting stridently left-wing politics. She opposed the Falklands War, campaigned for a nuclear freeze, and was twice arrested outside the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square. Graham never knew what horrors awaited him in the post each night when he returned home from the office. He once remarked to a colleague that if Helen were not his wife, he would have opened a file on her and tapped her phone.

If it was her secret strategy to derail his career, she failed miserably. After serving for several years in Northern Ireland, he took control of MI5’s counterterrorism division and was then promoted to the rank of deputy director for operations. It was his intention, at the conclusion of his term, to retire to his villa in Portugal. His plans changed, however, when Prime Minister Lancaster offered him the keys to his father’s old service—a move that surprised everyone in the intelligence trade except Gabriel, who had brought about the set of circumstances that led to Graham’s appointment. With the Americans turning inward and torn by political divisions, ties between the Office and MI6 had grown exceedingly close. The two services operated together routinely, and critical intelligence flowed freely between Vauxhall Cross and King Saul Boulevard. Gabriel and Graham saw themselves as defenders of the postwar international order. Given the current state of global affairs, it was an increasingly thankless task.

Helen Seymour’s acceptance of her husband’s ascent to the pinnacle of British intelligence had been grudging at best. At Graham’s request, she had toned down her politics and placed some distance between herself and some of her more heretical friends. She practiced yoga each morning and passed her afternoons in the kitchen, where she indulged her passion for exotic cooking. During Gabriel’s last visit to the Seymour residence, he had heroically consumed a plate of paella in violation of Jewish dietary laws. The chicken couscous was a rare triumph. Even Graham, who was skilled at moving food around his plate to create the illusion of consumption, helped himself to a second portion.

At the conclusion of the meal, he dabbed the corners of his mouth deliberately with his linen napkin and invited Gabriel to join him upstairs in his book-lined study. A draft blew through the open window overlooking Eaton Square. Gabriel was dubious as to the efficacy of such precautions, believing they simply facilitated the transfer of the virus from host to unwitting recipient. He glanced at the wall-mounted television, which was tuned to CNN. A panel of political experts was debating the American presidential election, now only three months away.

“Care to make a prediction?” asked Graham.

“I believe Christopher will propose marriage to Sarah sometime in the next year.”

“I was talking about the election.”

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