Out in the Commons yard, in the April drizzle, Khrushchev was raging.
“Oni nasrali na Rossi! Oni nasrali na Rossi! They shit on Russia! They shit on Russia!”
He bellowed at the embassy staff, bellowed at Bulganin, and when his translator moved to get into the Daimler he snatched Rod’s list from his hand and firmly pointed him to the escort car. Troy followed, assuming he meant to simmer alone, but Khrushchev stopped him with a hand on his sleeve.
“No,” he said, almost calm. “Not you. You get in the back.”
The car moved off towards Victoria and Hyde Park Corner —Clark in the front with the driver, the dividing screen fully closed, and Troy in the back with quite possibly the most powerful man on earth, wondering what on earth was coming next. Khrushchev looked out of the window of the moving car, not speaking to Troy.
As they passed Westminster Cathedral he turned his head and ducked to get a look at the looming redbrick tower, but still he said nothing. No tourist question. No tasteless black joke. At Hyde Park Corner he took Rod’s list from his inside pocket and looked at it for a moment or two. As his hand slid the folded paper back into his pocket, his eyes still focused on the street outside, he asked “Who was he? The man with the names.”
“My brother,” Troy answered.
“And where did you boys learn your Russian?”
“At home. In the nursery. From our parents.”
“From your parents,” Khrushchev echoed flatly—it sounded to Troy more like realization, a gentle mulling over, than a question.
“The family name is Troitsky.”
“Aha . . . Whites!”
Khrushchev at last looked at Troy. A glint of triumph in the nutty little eyes.
“No,” Troy replied. “Nineteen-o-fivers.”
“More like Anarchists I think. But that was a long time ago.”
“Indeed. And now?”
“My brother as you will have gathered has made his peace with history and joined the Labour Party—whatever you might think they are Social Democrats, no more, no less than that.”
“I’m a policeman. I have no politics.”
“If a Soviet policeman made such a statement to me I’d have him fired for thinking I was stupid. You don’t think there’s a sentient being on this planet who can honestly say he has no politics, do you?”
Of course Khrushchev was right. Troy knew that. Years ago, in Berlin, not long after the war, a Russian spy had told him that his father had been an agent of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union ever since leaving Russia in the chaos of 1905. Frequently Troy had thought about this. It was something he did not want to believe, and in the end was something he had chosen not to believe. It was certainly not a conversation he wished to have with the First Secretary of that party.
“Where are you from?” Khrushchev asked.
“Moscow mostly. Before that Yasnaya Polyana. It’s near Tula.”
“I know where it is. I’ve been there several times. The place is virtually a Tolstoy museum now.”
“I envy you, Comrade Khrushchev. I’ve never seen it. I don’t suppose I ever will.”
“Come to Russia.”
Troy looked at Khrushchev. He was smiling. Perhaps he even meant it.
“I don’t think that’s possible. My family history is a bit more complicated than I could tell you.”
“Come to Russia,” he said again. “I’ll show you a good time. Better than this dreary traipsing round the monuments of Britain.”
“You’ve met Eden. You’ve met the Queen and the Duke. It hasn’t all been St Paul’s and the Tower.”
“Eden’s a monument. The Royals are monuments.”
Troy agreed wholeheartedly, but felt it was not for him to say so at this or any other juncture.
“Where are the people? Where are the workers?” The fat little hands, with their stubby little fingers spread outwards, emphatically open and empty. “Where are the peasants?”
Khrushchev had a point. The crowds had been thin on the ground from the start. B & K had been somewhat less than mobbed. In anticipation Troy had assumed that the visit would be little different from visiting royalty or a personal appearance by Frank Sinatra or Johnnie Ray—in reality he had almost begun to wonder if the English had been told to stay home, or if, perhaps, Gone With The Wind was showing nightly on ITV.
“I doubt the English have any peasants. And you met a worker on Saturday. You just chose to shortchange him.”
“You mean at Harwell?” Khrushchev was almost shouting again. “The man was an Eden apparatchik! A stooge!”
Quickly Troy weighed up the risk and concluded it was worth it. After all his cover was blown, and with it probably the cover of the entire squad, and he would, no doubt, find himself resuming his holiday with a flea in his ear from the Branch, on the morrow.
“With all respect Comrade Khrushchev, he wasn’t. He was speaking his mind. Quite possibly the only person you’ve talked to this entire trip who has. And I do not mean by that that I question the integrity of George Brown or of my brother, but they, like you, are politicians.”
Troy paused. In for a penny, in for a thousand roubles he thought. If Khrushchev was about to explode again, sobeit. He would be the one to light the blue touch paper, and with any luck he would be the one to retire safely. It really was irresistible.
“If you were to ask me, I would tell you that the trip, for you and for the Marshal, has been a diplomatic contrivance on both sides. Your own side doesn’t want you meeting the people. It’s a waste of their time. They’d far rather you chewed the fat with a dimwit like Eden or exchanged brown bears and harmless pleasantries with Her Majesty. The British don’t want you meeting the people. They’d far rather you were perceived as someone stripped of normal human feeling by the godlessness of Marxism. The last thing Eden wants is you pressing the flesh among the proles.”
Troy paused again. Cobb would surely fire him the minute he learnt that Khrushchev had seen through their pathetic charade? He had nothing to lose, not a damn thing.
“However if that’s what you want, it’s not yet nine thirty and I’m sure something could be arranged.”
Khrushchev twinkled. Mischief rippling out across those chubby cheeks, lighting up the impish eyes.
“An English pub?”
“If you like.”
“A pint of ‘wallop?’”
“That’s what they’re for.”
“We call it the Tube, but if that’s what you want I’d be happy to show it to you.”
Troy looked back at Khrushchev, resisting the grin that threatened to split at any second. The best, surely, was yet to come.
“Ditch the embassy people,” he said. “And we’ll go on somewhere.”
The phrase pleased Troy enormously. He was not at all sure he’d ever used it before or that his Russian rendered it precisely. It was a man’s phrase, Charlie’s phrase, the turn of phrase men like Charlie used to pick up women or to armtwist old mates into drinking longer after tolerance of pub crawling had expired. Somehow it seemed wholly appropriate for the daring into which he now tempted Comrade Khrushchev.