It was raining heavily when he took his car to meet them at Dublin Airport. Five, not four, seasons had gone by, and for him they had been crammed with a renewal of work, discipline, obedience. They had been punctual with their message and he had been punctual in replying, but, they had said, they would have to delay coming, they could not get away so easily. He smiled to remember his relief and yet annoyance. He had been discharged dead, after all. Only after death, he had once said, was regeneration possible. He pulled up his raincoat collar and tightened the muffler round his neck: a little throat trouble lately, and that would not do. The flight, it was announced, would be ten minutes late. He had a large JJ in the bar. It had been strange to meet Father Byrne again, that very old man, up from Cork for a visit to his great-nephew, still with a healthy thirst for JJ, less anti-semitic than in the old days, not too sure about the way these ecumenical things were going, but we have to change with the times, my boy. And how is that friend of yours, the clever one, God forgive him, Hoper or Raper or something? He'd heard from Roper, said Hillier, in East Germany. Once apart from his wife but now reunited. Working for the Bolsheviks, did you say? A terrible world, sure. A Godless boy, that was all his science. Wait, Hillier had said.
The aircraft descended from heaven. Umbrellas on the tarmac. And then. The shyness was to be expected.
'To think,' said Hillier, 'I'd been frightened. I suppose I'm a little frightened now. I need a lot of forgiveness.'
'I suppose we do too,' said Alan. 'You don't look all that much older. Thinner, though.' Alan had grown into young man's gravity. He refused a cigarette. Clara was still beautiful.
'Where are you staying?'
'At the Gresham. That's a good place, isn't it?'
'Oh, yes. A film-star place. Jet-set stuff. I can't afford even to drink there.'
The luggage came sailing through on the endless belt. 'Only one bag each,' said Alan. 'We can't stay more than a couple of days. Clara's going to be married.'
Hillier tested his nerves for jealousy then grinned at himself. 'Felicitations, if that's the right word. Who is he?'
She blushed. 'He's a sculptor. But doing very well, really. The GLC commissioned him to do a symbolic group, representing Comprehensive Education. There's plenty of work coming in, honestly.'
'Honestly,' echoed Hillier, as he took one of the two suitcases, fine new pigskin, 'I didn't think for one moment that he was marrying you for your money. Does Alan approve of him?'
'There've been too many smelling around after the money,' said Alan. 'This chap seems all right to me.'
'And who gives the bride away?'
'You may think it funny,' said Alan, 'but at one time we actually thought of you.'
'But Hardwicke insisted it was his job. I suppose 1 should say George – that's what we're supposed to call him. We live there during the vacations. In Surrey. He's all right, but he laughs too much. Of course, he's got plenty to laugh about. He became Chairman, you know.'
'Really? This is my car.'
'I always pictured you,' said Alan, 'with one of these real spy jobs. But that's all over, isn't it? You're respectable now.'
'Not really all over. Not really respectable.'
Atha-Cliath, said the signpost. The road to Dublin was all wet greens. The windscreen-wiper didn't work very well. Hillier asked after their stepmother.
'That bitch? She didn't do too badly, but the lawyers said some nasty things about her. She's married somebody quite different, not her regular boy-friend at all. She was a desirable widow, you see, even though she didn't get as much as she expected. I think they're in Canada or somewhere. He's a Canadian, something to do with typewriters.'
'Not an impostor?'
'I was very young then,' said Alan. 'I knew too much, and it was all quiz-rubbish. Now I start learning, something deep and narrow. I want to specialise in Mediaeval.'
'Interesting. But will it equip you for the running of flour-mills?'
'We both eat bread now,' said Alan, 'but we don't care for it very much. No, somebody else can get on with Walters' Flour, the Flower of Flours. I rather fancy useless scholarship.'
'That's Findlater's Church,' said Hillier. 'Can you see it? This is a terrible place for rain.'
'Why did you come here to live?' asked Clara.
'It's the only place for a Catholic Englishman forced into exile. A Western capital, not too big. The sea. It produced great men. Tomorrow you must come with me to St Patrick's. Swift and Stella, you know. And with the Irish, this is another attraction, history is timeless. Friend and enemy are caught in a stone clinch. It looks very much like the embrace of lovers.'
'Neutral,' sneered Alan. 'It opted out of the modern age. Good God, look at that laundry van. It has a swastika on it, look. Can you imagine that anywhere else in the world?'
'We have to be careful about that word "neutral",' said Hillier. 'You don't need bomb-ruins to remind you of wars. The big war can be planned here as well as anywhere -1 mean the war of which the temporal wars are a mere copy.'
'Good and Evil you mean,' said Alan.
'Not quite. We need new terms. God and Notgod. Salvation and damnation of equal dignity, the two sides of the coin of ultimate reality. As for the evil, they have to be liquidated.'
'The neutrals,' said Alan. 'If we could get down to the real struggle we wouldn't need spies and cold wars and spheres of influence and the rest of the horrible nonsense. But the people who are engaged in these mock things are better than the filthy neutrals.'
'Theodorescu died,' said Hillier. 'In Istanbul.'
'Ah. Did you kill him?' It was a cool assassin's question, professional.
'In a way, yes. I made sure he died.'
'I seem to remember there was an Indian woman with him,' said Clara. 'Rather lovely. In his power, I should have thought.'
'I never saw her again. She had great gifts. She was a door into the other world. Does that sound stupid? It wasn't the world of God and Notgod. It was a model of ultimate reality, shorn of the big duality however. Castrated ultimate reality. In one way she purveyed good, that other neutral. But good is a neutral inanimate -music, the taste of an apple, sex.'
'Not an image of God, then?' said Alan.
'Knowing God means also knowing His opposite. You can't get away from the great opposition.'
'That's Manichee stuff, isn't it? I'm quite looking forward to doing Mediaeval.'
They had arrived at the Gresham Hotel. Some little girls were waiting in the rain with autograph-books. They weren't sure whether to accost Clara or not. 'This place,' said Hillier, 'is a terrible place for film-stars.' A porter with a big umbrella saw to the luggage. Alan and Clara went to the reception-desk. 'I'll see you in that lounge there,' Hillier said. 'Among the film-stars. We'll have a drink.'
'On me,' said Alan.
When they came down from their rooms they gaped. Hillier had had his raincoat and muffler taken to the cloakroom. He sat there smiling in a clerical collar. But, a gentleman, he rose for Clara. Clara said the right thing: 'So I can call you Father after all.'
'I don't get it,' frowned Alan. 'You spouting that Manichee stuff. Most unorthodox.'
'If we're going to save the world,' said Hillier, 'wTe shall have to use unorthodox doctrines as well as unorthodox methods. Don't you think we'd all rather see devil-worship than bland neutrality? What are we going to have to drink?' A waiter was hovering, as though for a priestly blessing. Alan gave the order and, when the gins came, signed the chit with the flourish of a flour prince. He said: 'My real bewilderment is in seeing you got up like that. I'm sure it's just another of your impostures.'
'What they call a late vocation,' said Hillier. 'I had to go to Rome for a kind of crash-course. But one of these days we'll meet again on a voyage, and I'll be a real impostor. Another typewriter technician or perhaps a condom manufacturer or a computer salesman. I think, though, I'll be travelling tourist. Otherwise, it'll just be like old times – sneaking into the Iron Curtain countries, spying, being subversive. But the war won't be cold any more. And it won't be just between East and West. It just happens that I have the languages of cold-war espionage.'
'Like the Jesuits in Elizabeth's time,' said Alan. 'Equivocation and all that.'
'But will you kill?' asked Clara too loudly. Some neighbour drinkers, solid Dubliners, looked shocked.
'There's a commandment about killing.' Hillier winked.
'Champagne cocktails,' said Alan with excitement. 'Let's have champagne cocktails now.'
'You a priest,' wondered Clara. Hillier knew what she was remembering. He said: 'The appointment isn't a retrospective one.'
'That's where you're wrong,' said Alan. 'I wasn't such a fool that time, after all. On the ship, I mean. I knew you were an impostor.'
'Samozvanyets,' translated Hillier. 'You remember the man on the tram that night in Yarylyuk?'
'The night I-' It was quiet assassin's pride.
'Yes. He knew as well. And yet everything's an imposture. The real war goes on in heaven.' He fell without warning into a sudden deep pit of depression. His bed would be cold and lonely that night. The times ahead would be even harder than the times achieved. He was ageing. Perhaps the neutrals were right. Perhaps there was nothing behind the cosmic imposture. But the very ferocity of the attack of doubt now began to convince him: doubt was frightened; doubt was bringing up its guns. Accidie. He was hungry. Alan, who could see through impostures, could also read his thoughts.
'We'll have a good dinner,' said Alan. 'On me. With champagne. And we can drink toasts.'
'Lovely,' said Clara.
'Amen,' said Father Hillier.