"This is useful," Gaddis told him, because he felt that he needed to say something. "This is really useful."
"Well, you get what you pay for, don't you, Professor?" Somers produced a smug grin. "What was hard is that we had other patients to attend to. It was a normal Monday night. It wasn't as if everything could just grind to a halt because MI6 were in the building. Meisner was the senior doctor, too, so he was always moving back and forth around the hospital. At one point I don't think I saw him for about an hour and a half. Wally had jobs all over the place, me as well. Added to that, I had to try to keep the other nurses out of Crane's room. Just in case they got nosey." The path narrowed beside a barge and the two men were obliged to walk in single file. "In the end, everything went like clockwork. Meisner got the certificate done, Crane was wrapped up with a small hole in the fabric he could breathe through, Wally took him down to the ambulance, and the old man was gone by six A.M., out into his new life."
"His new life," Gaddis muttered. He looked up at the darkening sky and wondered, not for the first time, if he would ever set eyes on Edward Anthony Crane. "And that's it?"
"Almost." Somers wiped his nose in the failing light. "Eight days later I was going through The Times. Found an obituary for an 'Edward Crane.' Wasn't very long. Tucked down the right-hand side of the page under 'Lives Remembered,' next to some French politician who'd fucked up during Suez. Crane was described as a 'resourceful career diplomat.' Born in 1916, educated at Marlborough College, then Trinity, Cambridge. Postings to Moscow, Buenos Aires, Berlin. Never married, no offspring. Died at St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington, after 'a long battle with cancer.'"
A light drizzle was beginning to fall. Gaddis passed a set of lock gates and moved in the direction of a pub. Somers pushed a hand through his hair.
"So that's what happened, Professor," he said. "Edward Crane was a dead man, but he was not a dead man. Edward Crane was alive but he was not alive. That was the situation."
* * *
The pub was packed.
Gaddis went to the bar and ordered two pints of Stella Artois, a packet of peanuts, and a double of Famous Grouse. Thanks to Somers, he was down to the loose change in his pockets and had to pay the barman with a debit card. Inside his jacket he found the torn scrap of paper on which he kept his passwords and PIN numbers and punched in the digits while the landlord made a noise through his teeth. With Somers still in the Gents', Gaddis sank the whisky as a single shot, then found a table at the back of the pub where he could watch groups of shivering smokers huddled outside and try to convince himself that he had made the right decision to quit.
"Got you a Stella," he said when Somers came up to the table. For an instant it looked as though he wasn't going to sit down, but Gaddis pushed the pint towards him and said: "Peanuts."
It was just past six o'clock. West Hyde on a Tuesday night. Suits, secretaries, suburbia. A jukebox was crooning Andy Williams. Tacked up beside a dartboard in the far corner of the room was an orange poster emblazoned with the words: CURRY NIGHT - WEDNESDAY. Gaddis took off his corduroy jacket and looped it over the arm of a neighbouring chair.
"So what happened next?"
He knew that this was the part Somers liked, playing the pivotal role, playing Deep Throat. The nurse - the senior nurse, as he would doubtless have insisted - produced another of his smug grins and took a thirsty pull on the pint. Something about the warmth of the pub had restored his characteristic complacency; it was as if Somers had reprimanded himself for being too open beside the canal. After all, he was in possession of information that Gaddis wanted. The professor had paid three grand for it. It was gold dust to him.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...