He was up now. Afloat. Flush with funds. A million pounds, to be precise, tucked nicely into his account at Barclays Bank, thanks to a Venetian painter named Francesco Vecellio and the morose-looking art restorer now making his way across the wet bricks of Mason's Yard.
Isherwood pulled on a macintosh. His English scale and devoutly English wardrobe concealed the fact that he was not--at least not technically speaking--English at all. English by nationality and passport, yes, but German by birth, French by upbringing, and Jewish by religion. Few people knew that his last name was merely a phonetic perversion of its original. Fewer still knew that he'd done favors over the years for a certain bullet-headed gentleman from a certain clandestine agency based in Tel Aviv. Rudolf Heller was the name the gentleman used when calling on Isherwood at the gallery. It was a borrowed name, borrowed like the gentleman's blue suit and gentleman's manners. His real name was Ari Shamron.
"One makes choices in life, doesn't one?" Shamron had said at the time of Isherwood's recruitment. "One doesn't betray one's adopted country, one's college, or one's regiment, but one looks out for one's flesh and blood, one's tribe, lest another Austrian madman, or the Butcher of Baghdad, try to turn us all into soap again, eh, Julian?"
"Hear, hear, Herr Heller."
"We won't pay you a pound. Your name will never appear in our files. You'll do favors for me from time to time. Very specific favors for a very special agent."
"Super. Marvelous. Where do I sign up? What sort of favors? Nothing shady, I take it?"
"Say I need to send him to Prague. Or Oslo. Or Berlin, God forbid. I'd like you to find legitimate work for him there. A restoration. An authentication. A consultation. Something appropriate for the amount of time he'll be staying."
"Not a problem, Herr Heller. By the way, does this agent of yours have a name?"
The agent had many names, thought Isherwood now, watching the man make his way across the quadrangle. His real name was Gabriel Allon, and the nature of his secret work for Shamron was betrayed by subtle things he did now. The way he glanced over his shoulder as he slipped through the passageway from Duke Street. The way that, in spite of a steady rain, he made not one but two complete circuits of the old yard before approaching the gallery's secure door and ringing Isherwood's bell. Poor Gabriel. One of the three or four best in the world at what he does, but he can't walk a straight line. And why not? After what happened to his wife and child in Vienna . . . no man would be the same after that.
He was unexpectedly average in height, and his smooth gait seemed to propel him effortlessly across Duke Street to Green's Restaurant, where Isherwood had booked a table for lunch. As they sat down, Gabriel's eyes flickered about the room like searchlights. They were almond-shaped, unnaturally green, and very quick. The cheekbones were broad and square, the lips dark, and the sharp-edged nose looked as though it had been carved from wood. It was a timeless face, thought Isherwood. It could be a face on the cover of a glossy men's fashion magazine or a face from a dour Rembrandt portrait. It was also a face of many possible origins. It had been a superb professional asset.
Isherwood ordered stuffed sole and Sancerre, Gabriel black tea and a bowl of consomme. He reminded Isherwood of an Orthodox hermit who subsisted on rancid feta and concrete flatbread, only Gabriel lived in a pleasant cottage on a remote tidal creek in Cornwall instead of a monastery. Isherwood had never seen him eat a rich meal, had never seen him smile or admire an attractive pair of hips. He never lusted after material objects. He had only two toys, an old MG motorcar and a wooden ketch, both of which he had restored himself. He listened to his opera on a dreadful little portable CD player stained with paint and varnish. He spent money only on his supplies. He had more high-tech toys in his little Cornish studio than there were in the conservation department of the Tate.
Reprinted from The English Assassin by Daniel Silva by permission of The Putnam Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © March 2002, Daniel Silva. 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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