Shadow of the Jaguar - thriller extract

The man whom Peter Craig found waiting for him in the little pillared hall of the Wanderers’ Club was fifty-five, or thereabouts, medium height, grey-haired and worried-looking. A typical civil servant, thought Craig (quite mistakenly). He wondered what this sudden invitation was about.

‘Trencham?’ he asked tentatively.

‘Yes. Glad to meet you, Craig. Dennistoun has told me a lot about you. Let’s go down to the bar.’ Sir William Dennistoun was the Senior Police Adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Officer, and Craig’s boss. He had told Craig that a man named Rodney Trencham wanted to meet him over lunch. And that was all he would say.

As they went downstairs to the small bar that overlooks the Carlton Terrace gardens Trencham said, ‘I expect you know this Club?’

‘Pretty well. Lots of my former colleagues in the Colonial Service are members. I belong to the Oxford and Cambridge, down the street. Bill Dennistoun was a bit secretive about this meeting. Said you’d tell me everything when we met.’

Trencham glanced at him. ‘I’m one of the MI6 recruiting officers,’ he explained simply. Curiouser and curiouser, thought Craig.

The bar was full of members and their guests—overseas civil servants, foreign diplomats of all colours, a sprinkling of publishers, bankers and lawyers, and a brace of gaitered bishops. They seemed to have catholic tastes in what they drank, from Guinness through pink gin and vodka Martinis to champagne, which the barman kept accessible on ice under the bar. Trencham found a free table in the window, fetched drinks and sat down by Craig on the window-seat.

‘It’s good of you,’ he began, ‘to see me at such short notice. You must be full of preparations for your Peruvian trip.’

‘Routine stuff,’ said Craig, ‘except that I’ve never been to Peru before. I’m to give the police and security people in Lima some lectures on our ideas of counter-guerrilla techniques. Then they’re going to take me upcountry to show me some of their problems—I’m looking forward to that—and then home in about a fortnight.’ He sipped his pink gin. ‘I don’t think the Peruvians have very much to learn from me. They’ve done a pretty good job. No guerrillas left, so far as I know.’ He glanced sideways at Trencham. ‘But perhaps you’re better informed.’

‘No, it isn’t that. I’ll explain.’ He lowered his voice. ‘I’m not sure whether you know anything about the way we recruit people into my Service?’

‘No idea. I haven’t had much to do with your colleagues, as I expect you know. I was a Colonial policeman until a few years ago, and if there was any intelligence needed we either got it ourselves or from the other side of the house—MI5.’ He smiled. ‘So far as I know, MI6 officers suddenly appear, already trained, and equipped with their little bottles of secret ink and Minox cameras.’

Trencham disapproved of this frivolous approach. He looked at Craig’s dark, lined face and the slightly mocking smile. He looked older than his age, which was thirty-five, according to the security report. A rugged, taciturn sort of chap, he thought—but Dennistoun had seemed to think the world of him. ‘Recruiting and training them is a long process, believe me, and there’s a heavy fall-out. Which is why it’s so annoying when we find someone who we can see is going to be very good, but not yet—and we have to turn him down. Like Jack Warne.’

‘Who’s he?’

‘Age twenty-two, came down from Magdalen last year with a respectable second in Modern Greats. At the moment he’s doing a year as a British volunteer in a settlement in the Andes.’

Craig frowned. ‘You mean—that’s his cover?’

Trencham almost choked over his gin and tonic. ‘Good God, no! That’s the first point I want you to get quite straight. If we reject someone—a promising youngster like Warne, for example—well, we reject him. We don’t say, ‘Go and get some experience of the world and come back in a few years’ time.’ If he wants to do that, it’s up to him, but he gets no encouragement from us. And least of all any sort of intelligence mission. The risk of his doing something silly would be quite unacceptable.’ He pointed to Craig’s empty glass. ‘Same again?’

‘No thanks. That was fine. What you’re saying is that young Warne has done something silly, and entirely off his own bat?’

‘Worse. I think he’s still doing it, and I want you to stop him.’ He rose. ‘Let’s have lunch.’

Over smoked trout and filets mignon, with good club claret, in the rather splendid Barry dining room on the first floor, Trencham explained.

When he had finished, Craig said, ‘Let me get this straight. You’re afraid that Warne is up to something which he thinks will make you accept him after all as a recruit for the Service. But your only evidence is a letter he wrote to his mother, saying you’d change your mind when you knew what he was doing. It sounds a bit thin, you know. He might simply mean that he was doing adventurous things, taking risks on mountains—’

‘That’s what he’d do as a matter of course. He was at the base camp on Annapurna when his father was killed. That was four years ago, when he was eighteen.’

A light dawned. ‘You mean his father was Randall Warne, the Everest man?’

‘Yes. And the boy worshipped him. Still does. But the point is that he’s been used to taking that kind of physical risk since childhood. He gets round a cliff face like a goat.’

Craig was puzzled. ‘Is all this just the official record?’

Trencham paused for a moment, balancing a piece of Stilton on a biscuit. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I’ve got a personal stake in young Warne. His mother, Daphne, is my sister. That’s why I’m so concerned. I’d have liked to get him into the Service, and in fact encouraged him to apply, but of course I had to get other people to interview him and put him through the hoops. They all agreed that he had a lot of the qualities we want, but—and it’s a very important but—he’s too enthusiastic and impulsive for an intelligence officer, and has too much sheer unthinking guts. You remember how Richard Hannay described himself—one of the cunning cowards?’

‘I do,’ said Craig, grinning. ‘I’ve always thought it a masterpiece of false modesty.’

‘All right. So it may have been. But we’d rather have cunning cowards than death-or-glory boys.’

‘I see. Could you tell me exactly what he wrote to his mother?’

‘Said he was on to something that would make Uncle Rodney see how wrong he’d been.’

‘Hm. Why is he so keen on getting into the Firm?’

‘His father was with us at one time, dropped into Albania during the War, and nearly got his toes frozen off. I told you. The boy worships his father’s memory.’

‘All right, Trencham. What d’you want me to do?’

‘See Jack, and give him a rocket from me. Find out what he’s been up to, and if he shows the slightest sign of not behaving, you can tell the Embassy everything and get them to have him recalled.’ He smiled. ‘It won’t come to that. He’s a good lad, even if he is a bit headstrong.’

As they went downstairs for coffee in the morning room, a club servant came up to Trencham. ‘A Mrs Warne is on the telephone for you, Colonel. You can take it in the box by the stairs.’

‘Thank you, Peters. Excuse me for a moment, Craig. You’ll find a coffee tray inside the door. Help yourself and find a seat. I’ll join you as soon as I can.’

‘I’ll get you coffee. Sugar?’

‘One lump. Thanks.’

Craig was sitting on a leather settee by the morning-room fire when Trencham joined him. His face was expressionless. He took the cup of coffee and sipped it. ‘She’s had another letter,’ he said between his teeth. ‘Says he’s taped a lot of Indian songs on the little tape-recorder Daphne gave him before he went out to Peru last year—and one of them is specially for me. The damned young fool! He’ll have the Peruvian security on his neck unless he drops this nonsense. He must have penetrated some dissident group, I suppose. That’s the only explanation. He knows I’m not interested in songs, Indian or not. When d’you leave?’

‘Sunday morning. I get to Lima the same day, because of the time difference. How can I get hold of Warne?’

‘I was hoping to keep it out of official channels, because you know what the F.O. are like. Whatever we say, they’ll still think the boy was briefed to go snooping for us. But it’s too dangerous to wait until he comes home next month, when his year’s up. I’ll arrange to get Jack summoned back to Lima—the Embassy can pretend it’s about a job, or something. You’ll have to tell them why you want to see him and use Embassy channels to let me know what happens. I’m sorry to saddle you with this, Craig.’

‘That’s O.K. Glad to help. If he’s awkward, you agree I can get tough?’

‘You certainly may. And I’m very grateful.’

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