had rather a busy day.â
His arm froze, halfway through lifting the glass to his lips. What did she know, and how did she know it?
âYou were seen leaving the base in a very great hurry this morning,â she continued, smiling at his consternation. âLooking rather anxious, according to witnesses.â
Her insistence in calling the research establishment âthe baseâ annoyed him intensely. It sounded so military.
âI thought your lot were all washing their smalls at that time of the day,â he countered. She raised an eyebrow warningly. âI had to go to London at shortnotice,â he countered, wondering how much to tell her at this stage.
âTrouble at mill?â she asked flippantly.
âYou could say that. Security scare. I, er . . . ought to warn you,â he went on hesitantly, âthat we may get some security people coming round here asking questions.â
Belinda stared at him in astonishment, a mouthful of wine unswallowed. She gulped hard, and placed her glass back on the table.
âWhat sort of security scare,â she questioned.
âPapers,â he answered vaguely. âSeems as if someone has copied some classified papers and left them lying around.â
Belinda frowned. âIs that serious? And what do you mean âlying aroundâ? Where exactly?â
Peter hesitated. He was not supposed to discuss the matter.
âIn a rubbish bin,â he stated flatly.
Belinda eyed him thoughtfully for a moment, then she began to laugh.
âItâs not funny, love,â he growled.
âOh, yes, it is,â she exploded. âIâve been telling you to put your work there for years!â
He stared at her forlornly. This woman for whom he still had so much affection, despite the distance that had grown between them, had no concept of the seriousness of the situation, no idea of the thunderstorm of unhappiness likely to burst over their heads at any minute. He agonised whether to tell her about Mary Maclean before she learned about his affair from someone else.
Belinda stopped laughing abruptly. Peterâs face normally expressed a self-confidence bordering on cockiness, but there was no sign of that now. Instead she recognised an emotion sheâd rarely seen there before. Fear.
âCanât you tell me more about it?â she asked with sudden concern.
âNot yet,â he replied firmly.
Anyone observing the MI5 man since he arrived at the Defence Ministry late that morning could have been forgiven for thinking that he did not seem to be reacting very quickly to the disastrous situation confronting the Strategic Nuclear Secretariat. Commander Duncan of the Ministry police had telephoned the Security Service as soon as that morning meeting in the Permanent Undersecretaryâs office had concluded. John Black had arrived within thirty minutes of the commanderâs call, and to Duncanâs annoyance, had insisted on turning one of the senior secretaries in the police section out of her office so that he could use her desk and telephone.
It was as if Black was setting up camp, Duncan thought to himself as he watched the MI5 man unload the contents of his briefcase, including a plastic sandwich box, a vacuum flask and, most extraordinary of all, an ashtray.
âCanât stand those chipped-glass things the Civil Service provides,â Black explained.
His own had a porcelain base and a chromiumplated lid with a knob which, when pressed, spun the cigarette end out of sight.
âIf I conceal the evidence I feel less bad about the amount I smoke,â he joked.
Duncan reckoned Black was in his late forties. He had a square, featureless face, greasy hair cut short at the back, and skin of the grubby grey colour and dead texture that characterises a heavy smoker. His eyes were contemptuous and mocking.
âHow much have you uncovered so far, then?â JohnBlack demanded eventually, his lunch safely stowed