20th Century England’s “Fourth Man” was of a decidedly inferior but highly cultivated mold who could excite little or no enthusiasm.
Oh, his family, the Blunts, had reason to boast, even in Edwardian society when the British monarchy under the German Hannoverian line of Guelfs (who due to the unfortunate German connection later decided to take the English name of Windsor) figured much less than it had ever been in popularity, that it had socialized with various royals.
But Anthony Blunt’s prospects held good, thanks to this royal connection, when he entered college at Cambridge. Here he found himself in the society of aristocratic young men whom he already knew, and who, more importantly, knew him and his “royal connection.” It took no effort, with his family name, to gain full acceptance in Cambridge’s best society.
So well set up, and so early on, life, for Anthony Blunt, proved a boring affair, with little or no challenge. Not that he was hot-blooded and desirous of challenge.
Just the same, any man would like some indentifiable purpose, some reason or cause to live for. Anthony was no different. But what purpose was there to his life?
Sex, alcohol, money, political power, social standing, business, sportscars, mountain climbing and exploration--what really interested him? He really didn’t care for any of those things, though they were consuming passions of almost everyone he knew around him.
Besides, he had already got, with his family’s well-padded purse, everything he could want along those lines—and then it was only satiation for him.
No, the only thing he really cared about was art, but it wasn’t as an artist, it was the interest of a cataloguer of artistic productions, the interest of a thorough-going archivist and art historian. As for creating art, the very idea made him uncomfortable. Besides, why create it? There was so much already on the shelves. What was needed was someone like himself, who liked to make neat lists and outlines, putting art into its various periods, and organizing paintings and other kind of artwork by artist, “school,” and date. So he set out to be an art historian and archivist, aiming at the office of Royal Surveyor of the King’s Pictures. It was a quiet role, with considerable prestige. With its vast collections, the Royal Family could offer with such a position all the career and work he could want in life. The position also came well-paid, and sometimes a knighthood was thrown in if the Surveyor did a particularly good job.
He liked the idea of serving Art as a civilized man would do in, say, as aristocratic, religiously-inclined Romans served Isis in the higher circles of pre-Christian Rome. Not slavishly, with blind faith, blind obedience of the common, unwashed masses--not at all. No, he would serve Her with his highest esthetic sensibilities, refined taste, and cultivated intellect!
It relieved him of the rather grubby business of “making money,” or joining in the rather undignified fray of the corporate world. As for government, he would have liked a position, perhaps, in the Foreign Service, but never as the victim of the democratic, voting process.
Imagine, his likes having to pander to the sweating, noisy, rude electorate? No, he didn’t like putting himself out in the rude jostle and glare of public life.
For him the quiet, cool, cloistered precincts of a monastery would have been ideal, no doubt, only he was too much of a Darwinian and a skeptic in religion to go that route. What other choice had he, with his solemn, withdrawn, introspective temperament, but service to Apollo, the god of beauty and the arts?
Though his solemnity would not seem quite so admirable as he aged and turned even more Olympian and aloof, quite a few young men at Cambridge found him strangely appealing. To them—such young and hot-blooded fellows as Donald McLean-—a most handsome and brilliant-headed blond—Guy Burgess, flamboyant and an active member of the Fraternity of Sodom, Kim Philby, as well as others equally well-connected and rich—Anthony was a knight, born out of his time, a sort of cool casting from a left-over mold of the Middle Ages. What could best characterize this select group of fashionable, young, and clever high brows? They were so in tune with each other’s likes and dislikes, you could not have improved on their homogeneity.
Never the man to let opportunity pass him by, Guy Burgess seduced as many of this circle as he could, and then revealed he was also a recruiter, working for the Soviets as a spy. This really captivated the young men at Cambridge during the early 1930’s, all eager to embark on what they hoped would be distinguished careers worthy of their distinguished family names. Burgess’ offer of exciting, somewhat dangerous work intrigued them.
They all heartily detested Fascism (or thought they did, because Fascism denied them the high positions they felt were their due in society, putting chicken farmers and school teachers in the highest offices, and so forth!), and since their government under Chamberlain weakly pandered to Adolf Shickelgruber, Chancellor, then Dictator of Germany, they wanted to do something, anything, “for conscience’ sake.”
Spying for Shickelgruber’s arch enemy, Soviet Russia, was a siren’s call (though they wouldn't acknowledge the fact that Russia was even more hostile to class and privilege than Nazism. Fight Fascism and opposing their own government promised them excitement, and if not public honors, it more than made up for them with a deliciously secret camaraderie.
Imagine, what fun it would be-—carrying on the harmony and brotherhood of their Cambridge days indefinitely! Bonded by the tie of school and then spydom, they would have each other forever! What a lark it seemed to their thinking back in the thirties. Naturally they signed up!
Since they could not learn much in ordinary business or financial circles, the Cambridge spy group, which more and more was directed by the able Anthony Blunt, managed to enter various units of the British intelligence network. Anthony began service with M15, Burgess with the BBC, and Philby, though a journalist at first, joined M16, while McLean got on splendidly with the staff of the British Embassy in Washington. In these various positions, they served their masters in Moscow very well from the 1940’s on.
McLean was the group’s star performer at the game, for he furnished Dugashivilli American and British plans for Europe, capping it with information on the supersecret Manhattan Project that was America’s attempt to make an atomic bomb. Then as the Cold War got going in earnest after the war’s end, McLean’s information remained vital, for he continued to relay America’s plans to Moscow.
With Anthony’s blue-blooded dislike of "philistine" and "unrefined" Nazism, a system he found admirable in many respects except that it refused to acknowledge class distinctions that were so vital to forming the right kind of society, it was primarily a matter of culture and class that decided it for him--he couldn't be Fascist and deny his own breeding and lineage. Though he was leaving M15 to take royal appointment as Surveyor of the royal art collection, he was happy to take a parting assignment just after the collapse of Shickelgruber’s regime, when Berlin fell to the Russians. It was not the Nazis that M15 was sending him to spy on. It was the Royal Family itself that had come under intense M15 scrutiny. Ex-King Edward, titled Duke of Windsor after his abdication, had committed himself to the international peace movement popular in certain circles, though in an unusual way.
He had gone so far, with his high connections, to interview Shickelgruber extensively prior to the outbreak of war. But how extensively? M15 was most curious about that.
What details would Nazi Gestapo records reveal on the Duke’s conversations with Shickelgruber? Was the Duke a “rotten, shameless” traitor, as M15 suspected. Had he given secrets to the Nazis, which had served Britain ill in the coming world war? After all, while still King, he had been privy to Britain’s war machine and all its secret projects, even the progress of the vast underground war factory Britain had spent billions of pounds on. .
Put in touch with the British high command’s generals over in Germany, Anthony Blunt was accorded every convenience as he searched out the Gestapo headquarter’s top secret files and even the Abwehr’s. What he learned, he may or may not have forwarded in substance back to Ml5, but he learned a great deal about the Duke of Windsor’s activities in prewar Nazi Germany, enough to blackmail the Windsors, since there was enough evidence to show that the Nazis wanted to kidnap the Duke and Duchess in Spain and make them its king and queen. Imagine, a Nazi-controlled Spain with the Duke and Duchess as its nominal heads!
The scandal that would have rocked the British Monarchy, rocked it quite off its foundations! The tabloids would have branded the Duke and Duchess traitors, and the worst thing would be that the Royal Family knew but had chosen to say nothing. Whatever their reason, the Duke was their Achille’s Heel, and to cover his perfidy up was as good as making themselves accomplices to the crime. Treason of such a high order, if publicly exposed, would have drawn the anger and outrage of the entire nation down upon the Duke and his fashionable, American devorcee wife. England had been known to execute crown heads for treason. What then if a duke committed treason? Was his head any more sacrosanct?
King George was dead, and his daughter Elizabeth became Queen. Times had changed, and Anthony reviewed the situation in Britain and the world and must have decided to let sleeping dogs lie.
Why? Exposure of the Duke’s treasonous tendencies would have placed his career at stake as Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures. All sorts of unpleasantness might come out of the trial, and he himself might have to be called as a witness. Then, even if that horror didn’t happen and he kept his private life, the Duke’s exposure might even provoke a spirit of spy-hunting in Britain, and he had nothing to gain in that event, as a KGB spy in second decade of service.
The Cambridge-KGB spygame played almost to 1950 without a hitch. But an American FBI agent discovered that a mole code-named “Homer” was working for the Russians over in Washington. Donald was revealed in a process of elimination, and Kim Philby, notified, sent Burgess to help him out of the country. By 1951 McLean was scheduled for interrogation, but by then Burgess had everything arranged. He and McLean flew to Russia, leaving Philby in a bad light, for it was known that he was a friend of both defectors. They arrived shortly after Djugashvilli died, succumbing to a massive stroke and brain aneurysm and, some whispered, chloroform-soaked pillows applied to the face of the prostrate monster.
Philby proved amazingly cool-headed in a tight spot, and he remained in London’s limelight, denying in press conferences as late as 1955 that he was a KGB spy. For a while that kind of cheerful denial served to keep off the wolves-—at least until 1963. But everyone suspected him, that he was the third to be identified from the group, and so he defected in 1963.
Meanwhile, the Surveyor kept quietly at his post, giving advice to the Royal Family on art purchases as well as inspecting the art collections in the royal palaces and seeing to their welfare. In 1962, while on a tour of Buckingham Palace’s collection, attending the Queen herself on the tour as she view some new purchases newly hung, he paused after the Her Majesty retired for a photograph session. It wasn’t something he had desired, but Buckingham Palace’s press corps could not be put off indefinitely. He had appeared with the Queen, so he must submit to the ordeal that such high privilege carried with it—exposure to rude questions and the glare of flashing bulbs.
“What is that bloody pitcher to your right, guv’nor?” one particularly ill-mannered socialist, Cochney journalist shouted as Anthony, anxious to retire into the shadows, made to go. “Tell our bloody readin’ public just why that pitcher’s worth thousands of pounds! Tells us why you can go starving babies so they can’t get enough milk in order to cover up these bloody walls, when the royalties already got hundreds of pitchers just like this--!” And he continued, using the most barbarous, scatiological term for artworks, usually reserved for certain unmentionable body parts.
Anthony, annoyed at being detained, was even more annoyed by the sentiment—imagine, “starving babies” for Art’s sake? Where had the man got such an idea? Everyone knew the Royal Family used no public monies for its acquisitions. These artworks were purely private holdings.
He turned back, to maybe say something that would have put the man in his place, but the question was only a put-on, as it turned out, for the camera flashed in his face, and the journalist got his picture. It came out of the wash a fine, full-bust of the man, capturing Blunt’s aloof, Olympian, detached, and rather chilly, reptilian eyes staring out at the rude world that had just annoyed him.
The picture? The socialist paper, with utterly no interest in highbrow art, cut it for space, leaving only the frame and a slice of canvas. Nobody in the outer world got to see that it was “Fall of Troy and the Flight of Aeneas’’—an original work attributed to a well-known master depicting Troy in flames, the Trojan Horse standing within the city walls, the Greeks sacking the fabled city, and the Trojans valiantly losing-- a romantic work that was popular enough in the art world to be forged and copied, ever since the 1920’s, when a copy was sold by an adroit London dealer for 40,000 pounds to a particularly big sucker, an American buyer and gangster called Diamond Leggs, kingpin of a New York-New Jersey syndicate, who should have known better.
A year later M15 called Blunt in for interrogation, and he confessed he was the “Fourth Man.” He did so without reservation or quibbling. What else could he do as a gentleman? By this time, he had decided that his Cambridge spy game was a rather sordid affair among excitable and over-enthusiastic undergraduates, and even shabbier as the years extended into their adult stages when youthful ardors ought to have cooled down. Why he had continued with it so long, he could not tell anymore? He had enjoyed his career of service with the Royal Family as their Art overseer and advisor so much, he regarded his spying days as a folly of youth, not something he would ever choose to indulge in again. Unfortunately, the sins of youth tend to bear unpleasant consequences long into middle and later life, he was finding out to his misgiving.
Would M15 expose him? Would he be publicly exposed, tried, and executed? It was unthinkable, but possible. Yet he knew he was such a fixture in the public’s mind, so closely connected with the Royal Family, that M15 would think twice rather than expose him now. To do so was to undermine and perhaps destroy the Windsor Monarchy. Were they prepared to risk that? He wagered not. So he told them everything about his own connections with the KGB, and revealed his accomplice’s names and their work on behalf of the Soviets.
He found out soon that M15 took good notes in the interview, but he sensed there was little urgency or real interest in the details he gave. Why? he was wondering as he answered the questions. Then he realized that they had already decided to shelve his case. He was being documented, just in case, but as a case, he was a dead letter.
Allowed his freedom, Anthony returned home and went back to work for the Queen as if nothing had happened. When he was finally exposed in 1979, after the secret had been kept for fifteen years, it was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who informed Parliament that Sir Anthony Blunt (for he had received his knighthood) was the “Fourth Man,” the chief figure in the Cambridge spy ring. The Daily Telegraph, Sun, Daily Mirror, The Times, and other papers and tabloids howled with headlines such as “TRAITOR!”, “INFAMOUS SPY!”, “FOURTH MAN IS NAMED!”, “KGB AGENT PROVOCATEUR TO LOSE KNIGHTHOOD!”, “THE FOURTH MAN, QUEEN’S AIDE EXPOSED,” “SIR ANTHONY FREDERICK BLUNT, K.C.V.D.—MOLE FOR THE REDS!” Even the lurid: “QUEEN TAKES ANTHONY BLUNT THE ASP TO HER BREAST—BITTEN, THE MONARCHY EXPIRES!”
All this would have been shattering to the normal man’s psyche, except that Anthony Blunt fully expected it, and knew they could do nothing more than rant and rave. There would be no undignified defection and flight to Russia by the aging, art-savant Blunt. He held a trump card, and nothing had happened to him in 1964, and nothing, even with Margaret Thatcher’s announcement of 1964’s finding, would happen to him now.
Oh, his knighthood was stripped from him. But he received immunity from prosecution, in exchange for all his 1964 information, and this served him now. He was allowed to retire quietly as he could to his home, with his name blackened all over Britain, of course, but a measure of dignity gained by his public confession: “It was an appalling mistake,” he told the British public.
But he had acted out of youthful idealism. “This was a case of political conscience against loyalty to country. I chose conscience.” That soothed a lot of civilized people who might have demanded his speedy trial and execution. Most every man had committed certain “youthful indiscretions.” Why wasn’t spying for Russia to be considered one of those? So the aging British public, grown liberal in mind over the years since Shickelgruber, reacted.
Brilliant that was, pleading “youthful idealism” as the prime reason his “appalling mistake,” for his choice of KGB over homeland! Put that way, only a mean-spirited person would rise up to condemn him to punishment in the hell flames of Dante’s inferno. And he knew the thin-crusted, highly sensitive egos of the English public well, that no one would want to see himself or herself as “mean-spirited.” Britons, faced with it, would rather turn inside out than go down in the annals of the nations as “mean-spirited.” Rather suckle all the traitors at its collective breast the society could produce than be exposed before the world as “mean-spirited”!
However, government agencies, especially in the bloodless, intelligence branches, were less contemporary in outlook than the current generation, and as a general rule tended to view things far less sentimentally and sympathetically. British-born KGB spies, when exposed, should be liquidated quickly and quietly. They were embarrassments, if they were allowed to escape punishment and continue on with their lives as if nothing had been revealed.
The enduring “old-boy network” of Cambridge had served Blunt well, keeping his KGB connection secret for as long as it had. Immunity from prosecution also helped. Only he had never told the public one signal fact: it was immunity gained from superior knowledge. He knew what they did not know, in great detail, and he was quite prepared to reveal what he knew about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to the world, if pressed hard enough. Since he had served the Royal Family most of his adult life, he preferred not to harm them, but “if push came to shove,” well…a man was obliged to protect his own interests.
Whether in 1964 at the Ml5 interrogation or in 1979 at Thatcher’s exposure of him, M15 took the point, that the fox had a last, very nasty trick up on the hounds to play.
Badly wanting Blunt’s lying, self-serving, traitorous hide for betraying his country in some of the most perilous times of her long existence but not wishing to sacrifice the Royal Family for such a scumbag of duplicity, a family who had suffered decades of grief over the foolish acts of unprincipled peace-activists in the Family—who would go so far as to sell Britain out to its chief enemies for the sake of preserving peace!—M15 chose to let sleeping rats lie.
Anthony lived a good, long life considering his regrettable notoriety. He watched Guy Burgess go first, dying in Russia in 1963. In 1983, a few months before Anthony died, Donald passed over in Russia. Kim Philby? Defecting in 1963 to Russia, the charming old boy was still busily at work in active employ by the KGB and living rather high on the troika, thanks to the Soviets’ almost overwhelming gratitude.
Quietly at home, during his last year of life, while he was still thinking about Donald, the group’s dashing Apollo of the arching eyebrows, full lips, and beautiful locks, Anthony received a letter from Moscow. With the butler gone for the day for his mother’s birthday, and his valet ill at hospital with flu, he had to take the mail himself. Was it some kind of crude secret service joke from Kim? How would he dare to be so overt about their past collaboration? The stamp startled him. He stared at Philby’s still boyish, handsome face on the stamp. It reminded him at the same time of poor, lost Donald, who had been a veritable Apollo in blond, classic looks, and how scorching such hidden ardor and passion could be! But the stamp was defective, dated 1988!
At the same time he was staring at the stamp, he felt very dizzy, and couldn’t see anything for a moment or two as he leaned against the doorframe. Before he could see again, he thought he could feel something—-the letter had turned to flames in his fingers. He dropped it hastily, and moved back, almost falling down the steps. His vision cleared just in time, as he saw how close he was to toppling down the long flight of brick steps.
The fallen letter caught his glance. It hadn’t burned up in his hands, though he had felt fire when he held the letter. And when he went to examine the stamp, he saw he was mistaken. The date was 1983, and so he felt relieved, he wasn’t losing his mind after all. But who would be writing him? He looked at the addressee, but the envelope was plain, with no addressee listed.
As if from old habit, he glanced around, his dark eyes darting to see what could be lurking down the street from his town house, but there was nothing, he saw. Nobody seemed interested in his “case,” any more, not even the most rabid, muck-raking tabloids.
Taking the letter, he went back inside, closing the door, and locking it with several locks. He went into his study in the library, and set it down. In his chair he sighed, gathered his strength, felt like he needed a tea but would have to make it himself, so he took a drink himself from a bottle he kept in a drawer in the little table beside the chair. Though it made his heart run, he felt stronger. He took the letter and…again it felt like fire!
He sprang up from the chair as if a scorpion had stung his backside. This time the letter was in real flames—-like a miniature furnace. It was burning right before his bloody eyes, and, yes, there was Philby the Third Man’s smiling, urbane, handsome traitor’s face on the stamp! Curling to ash like a serpent thrown in the fire, the stamp and letter was utterly consumed as Anthony Blunt, the infamous Fourth Man, looked on in growing horror.
Only when it had died out did he come to himself and smash the thing with his heel, as if that would do any good. It made a nasty black smudge on the carpet. He was sorry, instantly, for how would he explain it to the housekeeper and maid in the morning? He had always been at them regarding every least particle of dirt, only to make a huge mess for them to clean up.
But he still retained his ability to think quickly in a tight spot. Yes, he thought, I’ll just deny knowing anything about it. Better, I’ll say an evening guest was trying to be helpful, and was attempting to remove too much ash from the fire place, and some dropped here spoiling the carpet. That ought to suit them!
With this taken care of, he regained his seat and took another drink. He was still there, enjoying the fading glow of the Scotch, when his heart decided for itself that enough was enough, and Blunt toppled over, just as he had nearly done a few hours before on receiving the letter that had self-combusted.
The body was discovered in the morning by the butler when he let himself in, and, strangely, Blunt’s face lay right over the black mark on the carpet. When turned over, his dirty face was photographed for the magazines and papers that would carry the story. He was, by far, the most famous spy of the century after Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs—and his death, though expected at his age, would still sell a fair amount of papers.
Over in Moscow, with KGB office windows curtained off from a grand park of forest-tall trees and Renaissance-style ornamental gardens, Kim Philby read The Times that his employer, the KGB, furnished him, and was surprised to find his friend Anthony’s face staring out at him. The Times was unsympathetic, stating the death and some details of Anthony’s career and KGB work, and there was, clearly, no lamentation going on in Britain over his passing.
Pravda, Izvestia, and the embassy-distributed, English-language magazines, Workers’ Glory, Socialist Utopia, and Soviet Joy, on the contrary, took the story and made prime copy. It was a rather adulatory coverage too, befitting the importance of this great British friend of the Soviet Workers’ Paradise.
Philby read every word of the articles, but learned little he did not already know. Blunt had not been very open with him toward the last, wanting no more to do with public affairs, but that didn’t matter. Blunt’s term of usefulness to the KGB had long been over.
He remained a dear friend from school days at public school and later at Cambridge. As such he would always be valued, as long as one of their elite circle survived.
How could he best characterize their loving little group? It had withstood the tests of time, even the upsetting period when M15 was about to expose and arrest some of their number. Never, ever, since that ordeal fully shook newscasters awake, Kim expected sympathy from his fellow spies for his personal sacrifices. They all knew the risks and penalties of exposure when they signed on at Cambridge.
Now he, Kim, was the last! Sentiment, if not for a member under arrest and due for some kind of summary execution, was in order. He decided it was time to do something in a proper, ceremonial way. But what? He popped the cork on a bottle and took a glass of Crimean champagne, a bottle of which he kept for Soviet generals who didn’t know anything better.
Because he had used up his best stock at a recent party for high Politburo members and he hadn’t anything French or Burgundian on hand, it would have to do. The glass at least was a very fine collector’s item, blown in Venice in the 15th Century. Being that old, he naturally had paid a pretty sum for it at an antique shop, Moscow’s finest!
How Venetian goblets had ever found their way there—that would be a story in itself! Probably some priceless palace trove, say Catherine the Great’s, confiscated and released by some Communist Party official in order to pad his own pocket? That sort of thing, he knew, happened all the time in the upper circles, and the KGB turned a blind eye—since they did it too!
Yes, he was pleased to work for the Soviets, but he certainly wasn’t obliged to believe any of their extremely dull, ideological nonsense about a “socialist workers’ paradise”! Why, no one above the class of factory and farm workers believed anymore in such a thing—particularly not since the monstrous Dugashivili and his purges that exterminated millions and enslaved millions more in Siberian labor camps!
Getting out Blunt’s gold-framed miniature portrait, the one that showed him in halcyon Cambridge days, with his shirt tieless and romantically cleft at the neck, Shelley-style, and his then abundant hair blowing back from his face. Gazing at it, Philby thought again how Blunt had been a handsome knight in his younger days, and that was the image he wished to retain now that he had gone to a knight’s reward. He raised his fortune in Venetian glass to the picture. But what toast could he make to his dear, departed knight who had once held his hand so fondly as they gazed at the stars and quoted Shakespeare together?
What a splendid drunk that had been by the Avon riverside in midsummer! He hadn’t remembered a thing—except he had waked up once, his shirt and trousers thrown off, and found Blunt was lying by his side, with his arm wrapped protectively around him, holding him so tightly he could scarcely breathe. At least he thought it was Blunt. But, then, it might have been Burgess. Or even McLean. They were all so admirably close-knit in those days!
It called to mind the affectionate, close communion of Roman-arena Christian martyrs, which, of course, they were not in any religious sense, of course! No one he knew and admired gave any credence whatsoever to traditional Christianity. Several times he had chanced to hear “Gospel Truth” being preached by some Baptist evangelical in the streets as he went out for his morning paper, or he had been personally approached by some anonymous “witness” in the subway or when taking a train. You couldn’t stop that sort of thing happening.
In any case, he always managed a covert yawn, believing “evangelical rot” founded in erroneous notions deifying something was purely a product of cause and effect, nature, not the supernatural as Christians claimed, would soon be eradicated from an increasingly rational, educated Britain. Thank God, for the light Darwin had brought to society! Darwin had liberated the mind and soul of Western man.
But Christianity was beside the point, particularly on this day. His mind moved back to the dear subject at hand: Anthony’s passing. He thought quickly, and was about to quote a few passionate, swooning lines from Algernon Swinburne and also A.E. Housman about the futility of life and the passing of valiant youth and beauty and say in conclusion, “To the Fourth Man!” when the wine in the glass—it lit up with little flames!
What? Philby set the glass down fast, but trying not to strike the glass against a solid onyx paperweight carved to represent Jason’s ship the ARGO, spilled it, and some of the wine, still on fire, ran across the gold-veined marble of the Catherine the Great-era desk, heading for the flammable and highly valuable Persian carpet.
Snatching a gold, scented silk handkerchief from his suit pocket, he immediately swatted the flames out. Breathing hard, he stared at the overturned glass. What had happened to set the champagne afire? It was incredible.
Wondering about his own sanity, Philby mopped at his forehead with the same cloth, smudging himself without realizing it.
Hurrying out of the room, he caught his reflection in a very tall, ornate French Second Empire mirror on passing, and saw man’s face that nearly made him jump. For he didn’t recognize his own face—it was so blackened!
His heard nearly turned over. What was going on?
He then realized he had used the same handkerchief he had employed to put out the fire.
Vastly relieved, he went to the all crimson, plushly-padded W.C. , flicked on the over-sized electricity-fitted chandelier that must have been stripped from some Empress Catherine or Peter the Great-era palace in the area, and bathed his hot, sooty face in a marble, gold-fitted basin.
When he had soaped up with the finest gardenia-scented British toilette soap available in Moscow, he felt much better after having replaced the grimy East End chimney-sweep with his own cultured, well-manicured features. Rinsed, with Aramis, Lord Byron’s Cologne applied liberally, he combed his still luxuriant head of hair. Then, examining his looks carefully, he settled down. He saw himself restored to exactly his condition before the strange incident with the champagne.
Deciding it was best to take a few more minutes alone before seeing anyone—after all, he was still commemorating a life-long friend’s solemn passing into the blank nothingness of death—he went and sat down in his office, at an imported, well-padded American sofa that faced a view complete with Classic Greek statuary lining marble pools in turn lined by grand trees, but which was curtained off.
Minutes later, he felt sufficiently calm again to face the world, come what may.
In leaving the office to give final word to his KGB-appointed secretary in the outer office to call his chauffeur to bring the car to the entrance, he turned his deceased comrade’s picture down, and then on second thought took it and put it in his briefcase. It was going “home” with him, he decided. He would keep it to his dying day. THAT was true loyalty, he knew. No one, nothing, not even sake of country, could ever break the glorious old-boy tie! Dear old Guy, Donald, Anthony…except for a bump or two regarding the rather ill-contrived and hasty defections that left him a bit out on the limb with M15 and M16, what sweet and faithful chaps they had been to him! Bosum friends forever! He would never fail them and their love for him, just as they had never played him false!
He climbed in his limousine as the chauffeur held the door open smartly as Philby himself had taken trouble to train him. A red star and hammer on the flag flying on the hood ornament, the big-snouted, glossy black Zim nosed slowly out of the entrance to the KGB “Palace of People’s Security,” and Philby was carried away to his city residence, a KGB reserved suite of hotel rooms that overlooked Red Square, the Kremlin and the domes of St. Basil’s.
As for the instantaneous combustion of the commemorative champagne in Empress Catherine’s Venetian goblet? Philby put it down to the inferior brand and purposely never thought of it again. He treated the phenomenon the same as he treated other unpleasant intrusions from the subconscious. Those intrusions occurred sporadically, whenever hidden compartments opened unexpectedly, though locked and double-bolted. It happened at odd times and infrequent intervals, but he could never escape entirely from being rudely reminded of certain things. Whenever the “closets” in his mind divulged their contents, they revealed flowery surgeries staffed by men dressed in women’s clothes, chattily distributing body parts into various receptacles.
Happening most often when he lay asleep, this scene always brought him sitting up, wide-eyed in the dark of his bedroom, his hand knocking over things as he frantically sought a bottle of sedatives. After all, up to his dying day in 1988, he was just too busy, too pragmatic at spygame playing, to want to spend five minutes time on odd happenings or things that broke the game’s known rules and guidelines. It was only in the moment of dying that Philby, realizing “his time” had come and sensing a yawning abyss opening for him, began wondering whether he had missed anything.
He didn’t have long to wonder, however. An inky black symbol shaped like an ambersand flew at him from, its seemed, just before he would have plummeted into the mouth of the great and fearsome-looking pit. The black symbol encompassed him, like a snake would do, and then transported him up and away—hundreds, thousands of miles, it would seem. He couldn’t, while so helpless, gather his thoughts or even struggle against the ring that had seized on him. Where was it taking him? He wondered. “How dare it!” he finally thought, as he decided to resist the imposition.
A moment later he was dropped rather violently on the deck of a ship!
Stunned, he lay there, and then heaven seemed to shine in warm welcome, as the dear faces of his departed friends clustered in his gaze. “Donald!” he cried. “It is you!” “And Tony luv!” “Guy!”
His friends helped their shipmate to his feet, where he stood, trembling at the shock he had received in dying so quickly and being swept away from his past life to this strange ship! He had a thousand questions, naturally, but the words to express them somehow eluded him at the moment.
Instead, he fainted dead away in their arms, and they laid him back down the deck, so he might absorb the tremendous changes more gradually—not the least of which was their new, two dimensional state.
When he had gathered his senses once again sufficiently, Kim opened his eyes, and was pleased to find Donald was holding his hand and gazing at him with tender care, just like a nurse would do.
“I am all right, my dear boy!” he whispered. “But where are we? What am I doing on board this strange vessel? Is it your Black Sea yacht, Guy? I heard you indulged a taste for yachting after you relocated here. But—but—why are you—and I—as thin as--as--?”
Thin as playing cards? Could it possibly be? Yet the fact could not be denied, whenever any of Kim’s friends turned to the side—there it was, that utter absence of girth! Where, then, was their space for internal organs? Where the liver? Where the heart? Didn’t they possess any? What could have happened to them, to deprive them of a full dimension?
The attempt to answer the last question took a particularly long time to covey to Philby, and for the next hours, indeed, several lots of hours, his three Cambridge chums took special care to enlighten him without causing too much of an upset. In the end, though it wasn’t completely satisfying, Anthony’s theory prevailed and afforded Kim most comfort: their reduction to the flatness of playing cards was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physiological deterioration commenced at death. Their atoms had lost significant mass and rejoined at a lower stage of being, which was sufficient to bring up their personalities and mentalities but not their total body mass. Death was a loss of internal chemistry, organs and bone mass—but such was not necessary to a continued, after-death existence.
“You mean to say we can exist in this wafer-thin state and may die a second time, thereby losing more mass or dimensions?” Kim wanted to know.
“Logically, that would follow,” replied the unflappable Anthony, patting Kim’s hand with his own paper-thin one.
Kim thought about this for a while. “I don’t know if I like this after-death existence. I had always thought there would be nothing, but this is something, or close to something anyway.”
Fortunately, there were others aboard, and a captain with duties to exact, so the informal, Cambridge-style philosophizing was not to go on forever. Taken up with meeting the other crew members, discussing the assignments given out by the ship’s master, Kim and his friends soon found little time to spend on philosophy. They couldn’t help but be excited by the whole venture, as it was shown to them.
Once the darlings of the KGB in Britain, the Cambridge spy ring entered into the demands of a fabulous new undertaking, the struggle with a rival “White Ship” which would their contender in a voyage to seek out and capture something called “The Golden Fleece.” Of course, the renowned Cambridge Four hadn’t forgotten their classical educations and knew all about the myth regarding the ARGO and the Quest of the Argonauts—but no one on board could say just what the prize would be, even with that name.
It might be a ram’s fleece turned to gold somehow. But then again it might be just the name applied to something else.
They had to win it to find out exactly what it was. But first they had to beat the crew of the other vessel. How interesting!
Kim, for one, had always had an adventurous streak in him and simply adored classical culture and so couldn’t wait for the contest to begin. That very streak, indeed, had taken him from Britain to Russia, and now to this after-life voyage into the fabulous unknown! It should not come as a surprise, then, that he envisoned himself as a reincarnated, modern Orpheus, the musician of the gods, playing elegant, immortal melodies upon his golden harp-—which was all contained in his delicate, aesthetic Orphic intellect and sensitivity, since he wasn’t a musician in any other sense. What could be more nice? He had his old school chums at his side, albeit a side as slim as an envelope, to share this new adventure with him—that seemed a whole lot better than just decaying into a mass of Philistine worms as he once believed would be his fate.
Kim was, of course, at little disillusioned by the tenor and caliber of most of the crew, which seemed at the best to be described as common, or “rough trade,” in other words, rather thuggish and criminally-inclined shop boys and mechanics and drivers and such, but he knew how to handle such types from long association with the rather brutal elements of the KGB's rank and file who, many of them, played much the same roles outside Russia, and inside the country. All he had to do was identify and use their base instincts and he could control their behavior to his advantage.
Not only was brutal, physical confrontation avoided, but he thereby gained their service, down to cultivating fond but highly transitory relations with the more attractive fellows, if he so desired.
Thanks to his alma mater and the highly competitive academics and debating societies of those days, he knew he could hold his own with the worst of the lot onboard. But if push ever came to shove, then he could always fall back, he knew, on his martial arts training. Yes, he knew he was a man of fine breeding and admirable culture, but with the difference he not only looked chic, he was very dangerous when he chose to be—and in his long career with the KGB had proven that fact to a number of people who had unwisely crossed him.
One such was a young Transylvannian woodsman he had given a poison-laced glass of his finest champagne. How much more interesting than a live study it was to capture in black and white the man’s dying contortions. The montage of pictures he has submitted under an alias later won several prestigious awards at a New York photographic arts exhibition. Of course, not one person viewing the show imagined he was viewing a real poisoning. And since his employer was studying the effects of that particular poison, the benefit to society and the arts was doubled.
Thank heavens the KGB accepted his findings and treated the exhibition when they found out about it as a great joke!