The man who comes down from the top tiers with the schedule for Operation Saturn is slighter than Marianne usually pictures the upstairs boys, and younger, too, and when he opens his mouth he swallows his words before he starts. “The, ah—the itinerary—”
“Thank you,” she says, reaching for the file and sitting herself back down at her desk. She unlaces the string holding it together; when she has opened the manila folds and drawn out the copies, she looks up and sees that he is still there, standing rather foolishly and not appearing to know what to do with his feet or hands. “Thank you,” she says again, and he nods, tilting his chin towards the papers.
“It’s all in there.”
Thank you, she thinks, snide enough to keep her from saying it aloud again, and glances over. Right. It’s in order, then, the Americans will be flying into Gatwick, arriving late this afternoon, she’ll send for a car, she thinks, she doesn’t need much of a team—
The instructions continue.
Slowly, she sets down the paper.
Department under 08 suspended from field until further notice. Department under 08 shall receive no new assignations outside of O.S. until O.S. is complete. O.S. liaison cut to 08, 88, 98; rest of department on retainer only.
Hell, she thinks, and she feels the tips of her fingers dig into the edges of the paperwork, making crescent folds around the edges. This is the Carson affair thrown back in my face.
Pragmatism overrides upset, and she catalogues: 88, that’s Grange, that’s good. But they haven’t a 98 anymore, not after—not after the Carson affair; the 98 file has already been burned and purged, its important material now classified and unreachable even to Marianne. She grits her teeth to keep from sighing outright. Looking back up, the man is still lurking at the corner of her desk. She raises an eyebrow.
“Is there something else?”
“Do you have an office for me?”
She frowns. “What’s your serial?”
“Recently assigned to 98 status,” he says, and she looks down at the bottom of the paper and oh, she thinks, oh Christ. “05 sent me here with the itinerary, said—”
“I can guess what 05 said,” she bites into the end of his sentence, and he swallows his words with a visible gulp.
Barely a department, suspended from the field, and I have to babysit a nascent upstairs telltale. Wonderful, she thinks. Bloody wonderful.
She stands back up. “I’m sorry,” she says, “I didn’t get your name?”
“Allen-Burrow.” He offers his hand, which she takes, giving it a perfunctory squeeze. “Edward. 05 said he’d get Jane from records to set the file into yours, if it’s not there already. I was 115 before,” he says, and she drops his hand.
Jesus, she thinks with real anger, this is an insult as much as an attack. They wouldn’t have come down like this on one of their own—on one of their boys. Nowhere near.
“Thank you, 98,” she says. “I’ll get the filing sorted later; have you brought anything further on Saturn?”
“Just the itinerary. Uh—”
“Tallard,” she says. “08 to you while you’re one of mine. Send in 88 on your way out.”
“Where should I—”
“Corner office. 88 should know where it is. She knows as well as I which one’s newest empty.”
She nods and watches him leave. When he’s shut the door behind him, she exhales—hard and shaking and angry, head sinking into her hands.
They’ve stuck her with a high-profile highly-classified operation the details of which they continually insist on withholding, they’ve stripped her team of its backup, they’ve shut her off from the rest of the work and the rest of the force, and meanwhile they’ve shackled her with the promotion of a third-rank agent. One of their boys, she thinks. Couldn’t leave her and Grange well enough alone, even after forcing them to work alone.
She could strangle them. Could strangle the perpetrator of the Carson affair, name as yet undetermined, but it’s not even strictly that woman’s fault, as gratifying as it would be to see that woman found and bound. It’s the upstairs’ doing, and she suspects that the upstairs is breathing a sigh of unfounded relief, the damnable lot of them.
What they’ve done, she thinks, is they’ve strapped her and hers to a cannon perched to fire. Two cannons, even. Two American cannons. And they’ve loved every moment of it.
It is against protocol to plot a coup, and it is very undignified to imagine the untimely death of a group of old men, however pompous and however self-defeating; when her door unlocks, she fairly shoots into a straighter posture, a calmer face. Sylvia Grange flicks her a quick glance and shuts the door.
“Sit down, 88,” Marianne starts. The door latches, and she sighs again. “Grange, we’re not in good standing.”
“I knew something would go wrong.” Sylvia shakes her head. “I don’t guess upstairs is being kind about it.”
“I don’t need them to be kind,” Marianne replies. “No use in kindness when king and country is on the line. What I need them to do is let me work.”
Sylvia’s face drops with honest shock. “Are they recalling you from Operation Saturn?”
“No, no—the opposite. We’re suspended from the field, you and I. Just us, you’ll note—they’ve recalled the rest. To redistribute, I suppose, although they claim they’ll be on retainer.”
Sylvia winces. “What, then?”
“We’re an island unto the Americans.”
“Saturn?” Marianne nods. “Well, that’s not so bad.”
“Sylvia.” Sylvia meets her eyes with a rather inappropriately optimistic shrugs, and Marianne frowns. “The Americans, I said.”
“Yes, still. I know there’ll be a bit of babysitting involved, but it’ll still come round to Soviet opposition, and—if we have to be stuck with a single operation, we could do worse than high-profile KGB surveillance.”
I’d be more confident if I had any details about Saturn’s long-range parameters, Marianne thinks, but that’s more indignity than she’s willing to admit even to Grange. “We could,” she says instead, and Sylvia grins, cheek that has turned to charm. Five years in under her, five years of entirely solid work, she’s earned the right to grin as she likes, and if Marianne doesn’t quite return the expression, something wry quirks in answer at the corners of her mouth. “It’s just so maddeningly arbitrary—of all the liaisons, of all the international restrictions possible, this.” CIA men from Christ knows where for Christ knows what. “It drives me.”
“And they’ve given you no commendation for the press coverage?”
Gardner, Marianne thinks with the tincture of unease that she’s not yet been able to shake. Faith Gardner had slipped in all too luckily—lucky for her and lucky for Gardner herself, and Marianne isn’t given to trust luck. Still: “If it hadn’t been for the presswork, it would be worse.”
“What, surveillance of Siberia?”
Sylvia’s mouth tightens, half in shock and half, Marianne thinks with an unforetold surge of appreciation, in anger. “Not really.”
“Well, they’d be pushing harder than they are now. Now they’ve just sent a boy agent to run around in circles under my feet.”
“You don’t think he’s useful?”
“I’m not predisposed toward new faces at the moment.”
“You know,” Sylvia says, rather quietly, with a measure of sympathy Marianne isn’t sure she finds consoling at all, “about Bet, it’s nowhere near your fault—”
“Don’t call her that,” Marianne replies sharply. “That’s not her name. We don’t know her name—and apparently we’ve been pulled from trying to track it.”
Sylvia pauses. “Right.”
“Take the itinerary,” Marianne says. “They’ve sent copies.”
I know no more than my team, she thinks, and she will not panic. She will rather, she thinks, excel.
“And—preexisting comments on our American liaisons aside—”
“Professionalism and courtesy.”
“And courtesy. Lord,” Sylvia half-laughs, “should I be worried about the instructions in here, has upstairs bid us treat the CIA to breakfast? Plate of eggs, cuppa tea, and me?”
“Nothing extraneous.” Marianne grimaces. “We may be in dire departmental straits, but we’re not prostituting ourselves just yet—if the department asks, I shall redact my offer of courtesy and expect you to follow my lead and be nothing if not a terrifying paragon. But before that, I’d like them on our side.”
“A Tallard rebellion.”
“Not measures I take lightly. You if no one else knows it’s to be a caution.”
Marianne raises her eyebrows. “Frankly, everyone outside of Operation Saturn.” They will be watched, she knows, to voyeuristic degrees. It shall take marvelous performance: one she intends to deliver. She shall be as pigheadedly brilliant as she bloody well needs be. “Right now, it would merely look odd to remove us. I’d like us to become essential.”
“I don’t count 98 as inside thus far.”
The department is mine, she thinks to herself, it is my designation how much he shall be told, and how soon. He may pick up stray pieces, but I am not asking upstairs’ boy to bear the weight.
Sylvia grins again. “At least we have someone to drive the car today. He looks like a careful driver, wouldn’t you say?”
At this, at last, Marianne grins back. “Yes,” she says. “That, I suppose we have.”