Sole Agent – Chapter 3

At the Armed Services Club the food was excellent and after oysters, a sole, a steak and a sticky pudding, which Ferreira insisted he should try, Craig was glad to settle down with a cup of strong black coffee and a cigar and allow his digestion a chance to catch up. This was the moment to get Ferreira interested in the missing girl. The Portuguese had shown clearly his pleasure in seeing Craig again and talking shop. Politics had been avoided by common consent, but Ferreira was much interested in Craig’s account of his experiences as a lecturer at the police Academy in Chile and they had swapped stories of developments in forensic science, Craig glanced at his watch and saw that time was running on.

‘Vicente’ he said, ‘I have a rather odd request to make. I dropped into the Embassy this morning—’

‘Naturally. To hear the latest horror stories about the sinister PIDE, no doubt?’

‘No, it was just a matter of routine—and they hadn’t got any horror stories, anyway.’ He finished his coffee. ‘It was something not up your street at all—but when the Head of Chancery heard I was to have the pleasure of lunching with you he wondered whether you might be kind enough to have some routine enquiries made without letting anyone know.’

‘Anyone? Oh, you mean the press?’

‘Yes.’

‘But why?’

‘The daughter of one of the staff has disappeared.’

‘Disappeared? But they should have informed—Oh yes, I see. They don’t want the press to get excited. But that’s all very well, Peter. If they’re not told quickly—but of course you know this as well as I do. Is there a special reason for secrecy? Who is the girl?’

‘Daughter of the Defence Attaché.’

Ferreira started. ‘Do you mean Amanda Harcourt?’

‘Yes.’

‘When did she—as you called it—disappear?’

‘Last night. From the moment she left a party at the French Ambassador’s.’

‘Is it so very unusual for this young lady to stay away from home for the night?’ There was a curious edge to Ferreira’s voice.

Craig looked at him in surprise. ‘I suppose so. Her parents are very worried, and so far as I know she wasn’t back in time for a luncheon at the Residence where she should have been—so to speak—on duty.’

‘I see,’ said Ferreira vaguely. He looked thoughtful. ‘I’ll see what I can do. Have some more coffee?’

‘Thanks. How is it you know the girl, Vicente?’

‘I don’t, except from her record,’ said Ferreira wryly.

There was a pause. Then Craig said quietly, ‘I think you’d better tell me what you know, if you don’t mind. Perhaps it would help.’

Ferreira leaned forward and spoke earnestly. ‘Listen, Craig. You’ve only got an hour or two before your ship leaves. Just keep out of this. You can’t do any more. You’ve done what the Embassy asked; now leave it to me. I’ll put out a general enquiry at once and, believe me, there’ll be no publicity. If she’s found your Head of Chancery will be told immediately by Protocol Department. That’s the proper channel, and he must know it perfectly well. Just tell them that, and go off to your boat.’ He stood up.

Craig groaned. ‘Sit down, Vicente. Of course that’s what I should like to do, but you know I can’t. You said the girl has a record. You can’t mean—well, just loose-living.’

‘We are stricter about that kind of thing in Portugal, said Ferreira primly. But his eyes met Craig’s too boldly.

‘No, it isn’t just that, is it? Come on now. Tell me as a friend.’

Ferreira considered, taking his time. Then he said: ‘All right. I’ll tell you as a friend for your own information only. Is that clear? You won’t act on what I say except by agreement with me?’

‘Agreed. What has the wretched girl done?’

Ferreira drew on his cigar, then laid it down and spoke in a quiet official voice. ‘Brigadier Harcourt was posted here two years ago. At that time his daughter was still at the University of Oxford and only came to Lisbon during vacations. She is a gay, attractive girl and she quickly made friends in the diplomatic corps and among the families of our land-owning and aristocratic society. She has long fair hair, and we Portuguese are very susceptible to blondes.’ He added caustically, ‘You have only to visit our expensive and wholly illegal brothels to realize that.’

Craig stirred uncomfortably. ‘But you’re not suggesting—?’

Ferreira laughed. ‘I wish it were only her morals we had to complain about. She’s a highly intelligent young woman with dangerous ideas in her head. Dangerous to my country.

‘Oh Lord, so that’s it. She’s been talking revolutionary socialism or whatever is the latest cry at Oxford.’

‘The dangerous thing is that she doesn’t talk adolescent politics—at least, not in public. In diplomatic circles—where I have reliable informants—’ he frowned at Craig’s smile. ‘It’s not funny, Peter, whatever you may think. As I said, in those circles she has never attracted any attention to her political views. But in private—ah, that’s a different matter.’

‘What do you mean—in private?’ asked Craig impatiently.

‘I’m trying to give you the whole picture. Among the more irresponsible of our rich young men is Joao Gonçalves Costa, who comes from one of our oldest and most respected families. His father is the Navy Minister. Young Costa is a firebrand. He is the head of a group of young men, mostly of the aristocracy but including some university lecturers and a few officers in the Armed Services, who have been plotting revolution for the past few years. We know all about them.’

‘Well, then?’

‘It was just talk—an escape of steam. To take action against them, with all the important names involved, would have caused more scandal and upset than it would be worth. So we decided to wait.’

‘And Miss Harcourt?’

‘She began by being a close friend of Joao Gonçalves Costa. Then he began to take her to meetings and she suddenly became an active member of the movement.’ He made a gesture of exasperation. ‘And transformed it. She tightened up their security, so that we couldn’t bug their meetings any more. She actually found one of the mikes herself,’ he added in an aggrieved voice, ‘and pulled it out of the wall and showed it to them.’

Craig was finding it difficult to keep his face straight. ‘That must have been a riot,’ he suggested, in a shaking voice.

‘It was. And it was she, with young Costa to back her up, who prevented the whole movement from disintegrating on the spot.’ He shook his head. ‘How a bunch of well-born young Portuguese could take orders like that from a woman—it astounds me! It just shows how effete they’ve become.’

Craig pulled himself up in time. ‘I realize how serious this is. If the Embassy had had any idea, I assure you—But how do you know all this? You said she found the mike.’

‘I have a good informant,’ said Ferreira shortly.

‘Some young officer,’ jeered Craig, ‘who agreed to play rather than be posted to Portuguese Africa?’

Ferreira ignored the remark. ‘After that they only met in private houses or out in the country, and at infrequent intervals. And under strict security control. She used to read them extracts from books about the famous Soviet cases—Klaus Fuchs, Greville Wynne, the Lonsdale network and so on—they’re all full of information for amateurs. Miss Harcourt became a sort of female guru. They used to make a joke about it—“Manda Amanda”. ‘

‘Oh my God! “Amanda gives the orders”,’ said Craig thoughtfully. ‘The fat is in the fire. What a bloody fool the girl must be!’

‘That’s not the word I’d use,’ said Ferreira viciously.

‘And then?’

‘She told them to drop all their silly ideas of blowing up my Headquarters and so on. Their only effective weapon, she said, was illicit propaganda, and that is precisely the programme they’ve followed since she left them.’

Craig felt a wave of relief. ‘She left them? She came to her senses, then? Thank God for that! She’s got nothing to do with the movement now?’

‘I’m not sure. Something happened last Christmas. Either, as you say, she realized that she was heading for trouble, or she fell out with young Costa. Or perhaps she was telling them the truth when she said she had no time to spare. She left Oxford last summer and came to live here with her parents and study Portuguese. She had learned other languages at Oxford, I think, and she had decided to add ours and sit for the interpreter examinations of the United Nations Organisation. I gather they’re very exacting?’ He looked at Craig.

‘They certainly are,’ said Craig thoughtfully. ‘To get up to that standard in a new language would mean a lot of work. And at least the girl seems to have character. Did she stop seeing young Costa?’

‘My informant says he has never mentioned her name during the past three months, and he seems very unhappy about it. As far as I know they haven’t met. But I can’t quite believe,’ he added slowly, ‘that she wouldn’t want to know how their project was going. Cristo Rey,’ he exploded, ‘it was her creation however ill-conceived and wild and—and un-Portuguese. They’re not just going to criticize the regime; they are going to distribute, clandestinely and all over Lisbon at the same time, leaflets slandering every member of the Government, including even the old Admiral for good measure; their families, their business associations, girl-friends—every bit of dirt they can lay their hands on. Or invent.’

‘But how can they distribute it all simultaneously without being spotted? It would need thousands of sympathizers to make it effective.’

‘Rat-traps,’ said Ferreira tersely. ‘With time-fuses.’

‘Good Lord, the old SOE trick. You balance a stack of leaflets held by a weak rubber band, on the trap—the backbreaking kind—with a time-fuse to set it off. And you put it on the outside sill of a high window—’

‘Lavatories,’ said Ferreira sombrely, ‘so that you can’t see it from the inside. One distributor could set a dozen without any difficulty.’

‘But the fuses? They can’t buy time-fuses in the shops.’

‘There’s a photographic delay trigger which has settings of up to an hour,’ said Ferreira. ‘They were going to buy several dozen of those. They don’t lack money.

‘Was that her idea, too?’

‘Yes. She thought that one up.’

‘And timed for—?’

‘Timed for nine o’clock in the morning, when the street-cleaners have finished and the traffic is thick. And there’s usually a morning breeze.

‘It’s clever,’ said Craig.

‘She’s a clever puta,’ said Ferreira bitterly, ‘with a dangerous turn of mind. I’d give a lot to get her inside for a few hours.’

‘When is the project planned for?’

‘Easter Day, with all the tourists up early to see the processions, the crowds going to mass and the middle-class leaving for picnics in the country. Perfect!’

‘But damn it! You can stop it.’

‘I hope so. If we can learn from our agent when and where the printing will take place we’ll move in and take the whole stock. And burn it on the spot—I’m not going to take any chances. And of course pick up the men who work the machines and put them inside. It’s a pity we can’t risk waiting to pick up the distributors with their stacks of leaflets. But they’ve been chosen very carefully and some of them even we—the PIDE—can’t touch without special ministerial authority. I daren’t let it get as far as that. Even one of those leaflets, if it got into the hands of the foreign press, would be a major disaster, and when we act we’ll do it without any publicity, so as not to give the foreign news-hounds a trail to follow.’

He paused, and looked grimly at Craig. ‘I’ve told you too much, but it’s important that someone on your side should know. I couldn’t tell your Embassy without blowing my informant. And remember that I have your word that you’ll take no action whatever on this information without my agreement.’

‘Yes,’ said Craig, ‘that’s what I said. Now let me get this clear. Although you feel—and bitterly, I. can understand that—that Miss Harcourt is largely responsible for this plot, you have no evidence that she has any connection at present with the whole operation.’

‘No evidence. I suspect she’s still in touch with young Costa, but that’s all. They have some meeting-place I don’t know about, because it wasn’t used for their so-called political meetings. All I know is that last summer they both disappeared for weekends at a time—they became very clever at shaking off the trailers we put on Joao Costa. I assumed they had become lovers.

‘Oh, for God’s sake! Do you mean to say that Costa is still under surveillance?

‘Of course. He’s the head of the group.

Craig exclaimed. ‘But look, Vicente. The girl can’t be found. She might be with him.’

‘You must leave that to me.’

‘Of course. But couldn’t you find out, now, what young Costa has been doing since last night. Don’t you see, it might give us the solution to the whole problem?’

‘And what happens then, Peter? If I find the girl is still meeting this traitorous young hothead in secret, do you realize what that means? If this is so, will you give me your solemn word that she will leave Portugal within twenty-four hours and not come back?’

Craig was silent for a moment. ‘I should of course have to tell the Ambassador what you have said about her activities. I’m pretty sure he would send her back to England at once, even if she hasn’t got any connection with the plot any longer, provided I convince him that she was involved as deeply as you imply. But—’

‘You could add, which is the truth, that if she is in contact with Costa—even purely private contact—and we bring a charge against him as the organizer of the operation we shall also bring one against her. And diplomatic privilege won’t prevent the story from getting into the press. Knowing a little of Sir Roland’s earnest wish to improve relations between our two countries,’ he added, smiling grimly, ‘I doubt whether he would like that.’

Craig drew a deep breath. ‘That’s blackmail, Vicente, but never mind. I agree. Find your evidence before I leave—and find the girl, for after all I may be barking up the wrong tree—and she’ll be out of the country within the next few days.’ He paused, and hesitated for a moment. ‘I appreciate your position, Vicente. I’ve no doubt you’d far rather that she landed properly in the soup.’

‘Oh no, she’d make too much of a splash. I prefer the simplest solutions. Get her out of the country and you cut out a cancer. I don’t want headlines; I want things nice and quiet.’ He rose. ‘Wait here. I’ll telephone the Surveillance Section.’

* * *

He came back within a minute, walking quickly across the hall, his face dark with anger. But he sat down and crossed his legs casually, for appearance sake, before he spoke.

‘They’ve lost him,’ he said bitterly. ‘Oh, damn! When?’

‘Last night. Costa’s parents were away from home. He told the servants he would dine at home and go to bed early. He asked them to rouse him at six this morning and get his chauffeur round at seven to take him to a riding stable. By eleven-thirty last night all the house lights had been turned out and it looked as if everybody was asleep, so the surveillance car was sent back to the garage by the officer on duty. At twelve-five Joao Costa opened the door of the house garage and came out quickly and quietly in his Country Squire estate-car, leaving the door open. There was one agent left outside—and fully awake, I assure you—but he only has a Vespa and couldn’t keep up. Costa hasn’t been seen anywhere since.’

‘A Squire? That’s the American Ford, isn’t it? A big car, and I think they put anything up to a V8 seven litre into them. Well, it ought to be pretty conspicuous. They alerted the watchpoints on the main roads?’

‘Of course,’ said Ferreira impatiently, ‘but we don’t have them on duty permanently. They were set up and in contact by radio with Surveillance Section by one-thirty.’

‘It looks very much like a planned meeting, don’t you think? I mean, the girl leaves the French Residence at twelve-thirty, he leaves home at five past—just time to shake off followers and pick up the girl as she left. And what’s more, it’s clear she must have known he was coming for her.’

‘Why? I don’t see that,’

‘Because,’ explained Craig, ‘if he was just hoping to waylay her as she left the party he’d have turned up much earlier. He couldn’t have been sure that she wouldn’t leave earlier. Oh, no, he’d arranged it with her beforehand. We’re one step forward, anyway, I think. Find Costa, and we find the girl.’

‘He hasn’t telephoned her recently, as far as we know.’

‘How d’you know?’

‘Not from his home. That’s tapped. I had to get the Minister’s approval to do it,’ he added in disgust.

‘And I suppose her flat—’

‘Not tapped. We have to get special permission, of course, for diplomatic numbers, and it’s only granted for short periods, if at all.’ He paused. ‘So he could have rung her from somewhere else. I’m afraid that’s what’s happened.’

Craig stood up. ‘OK, Vicente. We both act as agreed. I’ll ring you before I go to the boat.’

‘The car’s waiting for you.’ Ferreira put out his hand, and Craig shook it warmly.

‘It’s very good to see an old friend again,’ he said with a smile, ‘especially one who entertains as royally as you do. I’m sorry your young man and our young woman have combined to give you so much trouble, but as far as she is concerned I think you won’t have any more. When she does turn up, she won’t find His Excellency in a forgiving mood—not after what I shall be telling him.’


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