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Authors: Ken Follett

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Thrillers, #General, #Espionage, #Unknown




To Al Zuckerman

It must be appreciated that the only difficult part of making a fission

bomb of some sort is the preparation of a supply of fissionable material

of adequate purity; the design of the bomb itself is relatively easy ...

-Encyclopedia Americana


There was a time, just once, when they were all together.

They met many years ago, when they were young, before all this happened;

but the meeting cast shadows far across the decades.

It was the first Sunday in November, 1947, to be exact; and each of them

met all the others-indeed, for a few minutes they were all in one room.

Some of them immediately forgot the faces they saw and the names they

heard spoken in formal introductions. Some of them actually forgot the

whole day; and when it became so important, twentv-one years later, they

had to pretend to remember; to stare at blurred photographs and murmur,

"Ah, yes, of course," in a knowing way.

This early meeting is a coincidence, but not a very startling one. They

were mostly young and able; they were destined to have power, to take

decisions, and to make changes, each in their different ways, in their

different countries; and those people often meet in their youth at places

like Oxford University. Furthermore, when all this happened, those who

were not involved initially were sucked into it just because they had met

the others at Oxford.

However, It did not seem like an historic meeting at the time. It was

just another sherry party in a place where there were too many sherry

parties (and, undergraduates would add, not enough sherry). It was an

uneventful occasion. Well, almost.

Al Cortone knocked and waited in the hall for a dead an to open the door.

The suspicion that his friend was dead had grown to a conviction in the

past three years. First, Cortone had heard that


Ken Faileff

Nat Dickstein had been taken prisoner. Towards the end of the war, stories

began to circulate about what was happening to Jews in the Nazi camps. Then,

at the end, the grim truth came out

On the other side of the door, a ghost scraped a chair on the floor and

padded across the room.

Cortone felt suddenly nervous What if Dickstein were disabled, deformed?

Suppose he had become unhinged? Cortone had never known how to deal with

cripples or crazy men. He and Dickstein had become very close, just for a

few days back in 1943; but what was Dickstein like now?

The door opened, and Cortone said, "Hi, Nat."

Dickstein stared at him, then his face split in a wide grin and he came out

with one of his ridiculous Cockney phrases: "Gawd, stone the crowsl"

Cortone grinned back, relieved. They shook hands, and slapped each other on

the back, and let rip some soldierly language just for the bell of it; then

they went inside.

Dickstein's home was one high-ceilinged room of an old house in a run-down

part of the city. There was a single bed, neatly made up in army fashion;

a heavy old wardrobe of dark wood with a matching dresser; and a table

piled with books in front of a small window. Cortone thought the room

looked bare. If he had to live here he would put some personal stuff all

around to make the place look like his own: photographs of his family,

souvenirs of Niagara and Miami Beach, his high school football trophy.

Dickstein said, "What I want to know is, how did you find me?"

.94111 tell you, it wasn't easy." Cortone took off his uniform jacket and

laid it on the narrow bed. "It took me most of yesterday." He eyed the only

easy chair in the room. Both arms tilted sideways at odd angles, a spring

poked through the faded chrysanthemums of the fabric, and one missing foot

had been replaced with a copy of Plato's Theaetetus. "Can human beings sit

on that?"

"Not above the rank of sergeant. But---"

"They aren't human anyway."

They both laughed: it was an old joke. Dickstein brought a bentwood chair

from the table and straddled it. He looked his friend up and down for a

moment and said, "You're getting fat."



Cortone patted the slight swell of his stomach. 'Ve live well in

Frankfurt-you really missed out, getting demobilized." He leaned forward

and lowered his voice, as if what he was saying was somewhat

confidential. "I have made a-fortune. Jewelry, china, antiques-all bought

for cigarettes and soap. The Germans are starving. And-best of all-the

girls Will do anything for a Tootsie Roll." He sat back, waiting for a

laugh, but Dickstein just stared at him straight-faced. Disconcerted,

Cortone changed the subject. "One thing you ain't, is fat."

At first he had been so relieved to see Dickstein still in one piece and

grinning the same grin that he had not looked at him closely. Now he

realized that his friend was worse than thin: he looked wasted. Nat

Dickstein had always been short and slight~ but now he seemed all bones.

The dead-white skin, and the large brown eyes behind the plastic-rimmed

spectacles, accentuated the effect Between the top of his sock and the

cuff of his trouser-leg afew inches of pale shin showed like matchwood.

Four years ago Dickstein had been brown, stringy, as hard as the leather

soles of his British Army boots. When Cortone talked about his English

buddy, as he often did, he would say, "The toughest, meanest bastard

fighting soldier that ever saved my goddamn life, and I ain!t shittin!



"Fat? No," Dickstein said. "This country is still. on iron rations, mate.

But we manage."

"You've known worse."

Dickstein smiled. "And eaten it."

"You got took prisoner."

"At La Molina."

/"How the hell did they tie you downT'

"Easy." Dickstein shrugged. "A bullet broke my leg and I passed out. When

I came round I was. in a German truck."

Cortone looked at Dickstein's legs. "It mended okay?"

"I was lucky. There was a medic in my truck on the POW train-he set the


Cortone nodded. "And then the campHe thought

maybe he should not ask, but he wanted to know.

Dickstein looked away. "It was all right until they found out I'm Jewish.

Do you want a cup of tea? I can't afford whiskey.-

"No." Cortone wished he had kept his mouth shut. "Any3

Ken Folloff

way, I donI drink whiskey in the morning anymore. Life doesn't seem as short

as it used to."

Dickstein's eyes swiveled back toward Cortone. "They decided to find out

how many times they could break a leg in the same place and mend it again."

"Jesus." Cortone's voice was a whisper.

That was the best part," Dickstein said in a flat monotone. He looked away


Cortone said, "Bastards." He could not think of anything else to say. There

was a strange expression on Dickstein!s face; something Cortone had not

seen before, something-he realized after a moment-that was very like fear.

It was odd. After all, it was over now, wasn't it? "Well, hell, at least we

won, didn't we?" He punched Dickstein's shoulder.

Dickstein grinned. "We did. Now, what are you doing in England? And how did

you find me?"

"I managed to get a stopover' in London on my way back to Buffalo. I went

to the War Office . . ." Cortone hesitated. He had gone to the War Office

to find out how and when Dickstein died. "They gave me an address in

Stepney," he continued. "When I got there, there was only one house left

standing in the whole street. In this house, underneath an inch of dust, I

find this old man."

"Tommy Coster."

"Right. Well, after I drink nineteen cups of weak tea and listen to the

story of his life, he sends me to another house around the comer, where I

find your mother, drink more weak, tea and hear the story of her life. By

the time I get your address it's too late to catch the last train to

Oxford, so I wait until the morning, and here I am. I only have a few

hours-my ship sails tomorrow."

"You've got your dischargeT'

"In three weeks, two days and ninety-four minutes."

"What are you going to do, back home?"

"Run the family business. Irve discovered, in the last couple of years,

that I am a terrific businessman."

"What business is your family in? You never told me."

"Trucking," Cortone said shortly. "And you? What is this with Oxford

University, for Christ's sake? What are you studying?"

"Hebrew Literature."

"You're kidding."



"I could write Hebrew before I went to school, didn't I ever tell you?

My grandfather was a real scholar. He lived in one smelly room over a pie

shop in the Mile End Road. I went there every Saturday and Sunday, since

before I can remember. I never complained-I love it. Anyway, what else

would I studyT'

Cortone shrugged. "I don't know, atomic physics maybe, or business

management. Why study at all?"

"To become happy, clever and rich."

Cortone shook his head. "Weird as ever. Lots of girls here?"

"Very few. Besides, rm busy."

He thought Dickstein was blushing. "Liar. You're in love, you fool. I can

tell. Who is she?"

"Well, to be honest . . ." Dickstein was embarrassed. "Shes out of'reach.

A professor's wife. Exotic, intelligent, the most beautiful woman I've

ever seen."

Cortone made a dubious face. "It's not promising, Nat."

"I know, but still Dickstein stood up. "Youll see

what I meam"

"I get to meet her?"

"Professor Ashford is giving a sherry party. Im invited. I was just

leaving when you got here." Dickstein put on his jacket

"A sherry party in Oxford," Cortone said. "Wait till they hear about this

in Buffalol"

It was a cold, bright morning. Pale sunshine washed the cream-colored

stone of the city's old buildings. They walked in comfortable silence,

hands in pockets, shoulders hunched against the biting November wind

which whistled through the streets. Cortone kept muttering, "Dreaming

spires. Fuck."

There were very few people about, but after they had walked a mile or so

Dickstein pointed across the road to a tall man with a college scarf

wound around his neck. "Ibere's the Russian," he said. He called, "Hey


The Russian looked up, waved, and crossed to their side of the street He

had an army haircut, and was too long and thin for his mass-produced

suit. Cortone was beginning to think everyone was thin in this country.

Dickstein said, "Rostov's at Balliol, same college as me. David Rostov,

meet Alan Cortone. Al and I were together in Italy for a while. Going to

Ashford's house, Rostov?"


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