Today's Reading

If she were alone, Lyudmila's mouth would curve with contempt. Defectors! Really, they're such a nuisance. They know too much, they're altogether too eager to be of service. Don't they understand that defection means retirement? What use can a defector possibly be? He's already given up all his information. He can't go back to his home country for more. His only value is publicity—the triumph of Soviet intelligence. Otherwise, he's just a drain on the state. You have to find him some job that will keep him out of trouble. You have to give him a nice apartment and access to luxury Western goods, so he doesn't complain. You have to keep a close eye on him, to make sure he's not getting restless and disillusioned.

In fact, Lyudmila can think of only one defector whose assimilation has gone smoothly, without any headaches for her—a happy, contented Soviet citizen with his happy, contented family.

Almost as if he can read her mind, Burgess stubs out his cigarette and says, "By the by, how's Digby coming along?"

Lyudmila gives him a hard stare. "HAMPTON," she says, with emphasis, "has been a model citizen. He and his family are now living in Moscow. He serves us as an academic and adviser on matters of international affairs."

"Given up the booze, has he? That's what I hear."

"Where do you hear this?"

He shrugs as he lights another cigarette. "Here and there. Well, that's fine news. He and I were chums for a moment or two, back in London. Good chap, for an American. Wife's a trifle uptight for my taste, but the children were charming."

"Yes." Lyudmila checks her watch. "Now, if you'll excuse me, Comrade Burgess, I'm afraid I have other demands on my time this afternoon. My colleagues will arrive shortly to continue the debriefing."

Burgess props the cigarette in the ashtray and stands to shake hands. He is, after all, an English gentleman.

LYUDMILA makes her way to her afternoon appointment, which is of such long standing that she doesn't have to think about her route as she navigates the Moscow streets. She thinks instead about Burgess—so pleased with himself, so delighted to have created such an international ruckus. The world's press is in the middle of an apoplexy right now over the missing English diplomats, and Burgess is enjoying every moment.

Still, for all his faults, Burgess has always been loyal. More mercenary than the others, to be sure, but only because he has expensive tastes and a Foreign Office salary. He's provided a wealth of priceless information over the years. Not once has any of that information proved false. Nor did he display so much as a hint of the classic signs of deception, throughout the course of the interview.

Lyudmila has to conclude—provisionally, at least—that he doesn't know anything about the ASCOT operation, including its existence.

Which only goes to support her hypothesis. This operation, after all, seems to have as its objective the systematic exposure of Soviet moles burrowed within the most secret inner corridors of Western intelligence—all those Burgesses and Macleans and Philbys and Hisses, so carefully recruited and managed over years and even decades.

It stands to reason, therefore, that it's being conducted from outside the formal intelligence service, by some renegade officer or officers who—like her—have finally learned to trust nobody.

A man code-named ASCOT.

And the agent whom ASCOT has boldly sent into Moscow, into the heart of the Soviet state, to uncover the traitors, one by one.

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