Excerpt of The Spanish Game by Charles Cumming
(Page 2 of 4)
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"What is the number of the room?"
"Cuatrocientos ocho. Just walk straight through the lobby. Theres
nobody there and they wont stop you or ask any questions. Keep to
the left. The elevators are at the back. Fourth floor."
"Is everything OK?"
"Vale," she says. Fine. "Ill be there in an hour."
B a g g a g e
Sofía is the wife of another man. We have been seeing each other now
for over a year. She is thirty years old, has no children, and has been
married, unhappily, since 1999. To meet in the Reina Victoria hotel
is something that she has always wanted us to do, and with her husband
due back in Madrid on an 8 a.m. flight tomorrow, we can stay
here until the early hours of the morning.
Sofía knows nothing about Alec Milius, or at least nothing of any
hard fact or consequence. She does not know that at the age of
twenty-four I was talent-spotted by MI6 in London and placed inside
a British oil company with the purpose of befriending two employees
of a rival American firm and selling them doctored research data on
an oilfield in the Caspian Sea. Katharine and Fortner Simms, both of
whom worked for the CIA, became my close friends over a two-year
period, a relationship that ended when they discovered that I was
working for British intelligence. Sofía is not aware that in the aftermath
of the operation, my former girlfriend, Kate Allardyce, was
murdered in a car accident engineered by the CIA, alongside another
man, her new boyfriend, Will Griffin. Nor does she know that in the
summer of 1997, I was dismissed by MI5 and MI6 and threatened
with prosecution if I revealed anything about my work for the
As far as Sofía is concerned, Alec Milius is a typical footloose Englishman
who turned up in Madrid in the spring of 1998 after working as
a financial correspondent for Reuters in London and, latterly, St. Petersburg.
He has lost touch with the friends he knew from school and
university, and both his parents died when he was a teenager. The
money they left him allows him to live in an expensive two-bedroom
flat in downtown Madrid and drive an Audi A6 for work. The fact
that my mother is still alive and that the last five years of my life have
been largely funded by the proceeds of industrial espionage is not
something that Sofía and I have ever discussed.
What is the truth? That I have blood on my hands? That I walk the
streets with knowledge of a British plot against American business
concerns that would blow George and Tonys special relationship out
of the water? Sofía does not need to know about that. She has her
own lies, her own secrets to conceal. What did Katharine say to me
all those years ago? "The first thing you should know about people is
that you dont know the first thing about them." So we leave it at
that. That way we keep things simple.
And yet, and yet . . . five years of evasion and lies have taken their
toll. At a time when my contemporaries are settling down, making their
mark, breeding like locusts, I live alone in a foreign city, a man of
thirty-three with no friends or roots, drifting, time-biding, waiting for
something to happen. I came here exhausted by secrecy, desperate to
wipe the slate clean, to be rid of all the half-truths and deceptions that
had become the common currency of my life. And now what is left? An
adultery. A part-time job working due diligence for a British private
bank. A stained conscience. Even a young man lives with the mistakes
of his past, and regret clings to me like a sweat that I cannot shift.
Above all, there is paranoia: the threat of vengeance, of payback.
To escape Katharine and the CIA I have no Spanish bank accounts,
no landline phone number at the apartment, two PO boxes, a
Frankfurt-registered car, five e-mail addresses, timetables of every air-
line flying out of Madrid, the numbers of the four phone boxes
thirty meters up my street, and a rented bedsit in the village of Alcalá
de los Gazules within a forty-minute drive of the boat to Tangier. I
have moved apartment four times in five years. When I see a tourists
camera pointed at me outside the Palacio Real, I fear that I am being
photographed by an agent of SIS. And when the genial Segovian
comes to my flat every three months to read the water meter, I follow
him at a distance of no less than two meters to ensure that he has no
opportunity to plant a bug. This is a tiring existence. It consumes me.
So there is booze, and a lot of it. Booze to alleviate the guilt, booze
to soften the suspicion. Madrid is built for late nights, for bar crawling
into the small hours, and four mornings out of five I wake with a
hangover and then drink again to cure it. It was booze that brought
Sofía and me together last year, a long evening of caipirinhas at a bar
on Calle Moratín and then falling into bed together at 6 a.m. The sex
we have is like the sex that everybody has, only heightened by the
added frisson of adultery and ultimately rendered meaningless by an
absence of love. Ours is not, in other words, a relationship to compare
with the one that I had with Kateand it is probably all the better
for that. We know where we stand. We know that one of us is
married, and that the other never confides. Try as she might, Sofía
will never succeed in drawing me out of my shell. "You are closed,
Alec," she says. "Eres muy tuyo." An amateur Freudian would say that
I have had no serious relationship in eight years as a consequence
of my guilt over Kates death. We are all amateur Freudians now. And
there is perhaps some truth in that. The reality is more mundane; it is
simply that I have never met anyone to whom I have wanted to
entrust my tawdry secrets, never met anyone whose life was worth
destroying for the sake of my security and peace of mind.
Excerpted from Spanish Game
by Charles Cumming. Copyright © 2008 by Charles Cumming. Excerpted by
permission of St Martin's Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.