"Perhaps it was."
"Are you telling me, Andrew, that you can't tell me what you do because of my politics?"
"I'm telling you that I need to be very careful with what I tell you, old chap, because of your politics. In fact, I'm taking quite a risk just by meeting with you."
"So I should be flattered."
"You should be."
"Then I am. I'm sincerely flattered. Now, tell me: What can I do for you?"
"Same old Winterbotham," Taylor said. "Too impatient for his own good."
"Same old Taylor," Winterbotham answered. "Too fond of games for the sake of games."
"We're living in a new age now, Harry. We're fighting a new kind of war. Games are what we do."
Winterbotham waited for elaboration.
"We're always looking for qualified men," Taylor said, "to help us win the games we play."
"What sort of games, exactly?"
"Ah!" Taylor smacked his hands together. "That's the rub, isn't it? The nature of the game is the game. I can't tell you anything without telling you everything. And I can't tell you everything, old chap, until I'm satisfied that you're on our side-completely."
Winterbotham drained the mug in his hand. "My time may be worthless these days," he said, "but it's all the time I have. You know whose side I'm on, Andrew. Get to the point."
"You don't understand, Harry. If I tell you what we're up to, here, then there's no turning back. Either you're with us or you're not. And if you're not..." He hesitated, looking at the fire.
"If I'm not?"
"If I choose to bring you into this and it doesn't work out, you could not be allowed to ... remain at liberty."
"And I've no wish to deny you your liberty, old chap."
"Of course not."
"So I would need to be absolutely certain, before I could tell you any more, that you are the right man for the job-that you will do whatever is required of you."
"I suppose," Winterbotham said, "that I couldn't promise that until I knew what would be required of me, could I?"
Taylor shook his head. "That won't do."
"It's the best I can offer."
"Then I've wasted your time. I'm sorry to have brought you out here. Although I did enjoy the game."
He stood up suddenly and began to move toward the front door, leaving his drink by the chessboard.
"I'll have Fredricks take you back. And I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention-"
"This is hardly fair, Andrew."
"You can't expect me to offer my services if I don't know what I'm volunteering for."
"Perhaps not. Well, then, I'm sorry to have-"
"Surely you can give me a clue."
"I'm afraid not."
He opened the front door, paused, and then turned to look at Winterbotham.
"Have a think on it, Harry," he suggested. "Colonel Fredricks will give you my card. Ring me if you change your mind."
Winterbotham looked back at him for a moment, without moving. Then he stood, formally, and buttoned his tweed jacket. He stepped out past Taylor without saying a word, and made for the car by the side of the road.
Taylor closed the door behind him.
The man who had been listening from the next room stepped in.
"I told you," the man said, "he doesn't want to have anything to do with it. He just wants to sit it out."
Taylor shook his head. "Bloody hell," he said.
Reprinted from A Gathering of Spies by John Altman by permission of Putnam Pub. Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by John Altman. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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