Lieutenant Commander Hessel of the Royal British Marines hated this part of the job: the “no report” report. Reports of success were easy, of course. Reporting a death was more difficult, but playing the sympathetic, dignified, yet compassionate messenger of ill-tidings was certainly a well-defined role and not so hard to muddle through. But the “no report” could only parry the recipient’s inevitible anguish with a feeble, and all so british, stiff upper lip.
It had been three weeks since the Countess had vanished without a trace. Three weeks since the day when seven covert operatives were found dead in London – well six found dead and one found dying. As part of his briefing Hessel was asked to read the report on the one they called “the Pencil”. When he read the description of the agent’s physical state when his almost-dead body was found, Hessel began to feel nauseous. When he saw the photos he threw up. But as he read on he was amazed – somehow despite the obscenity that had been performed to Armand’s body, the agent had managed to survive over 90 minutes as workmen and a constable worked to pry the elevator doors open.
Armand was essentially dead when the constable, choking back his own bile, leaned in to hear his last word – Armand just didn’t know he was dead. Or if he knew it he was refusing to let go of this world until he could deliver one last message. “Terror” is what he said to the constable before his body convulsed and expired. “Terror” – the constable thought it might be some wierd new cult, although he thought this was the wrong part of town for that sort of rot. But mostly he didn’t think about it – didn’t like to think about what he saw that day – didn’t talk about it with his mates or his wife…In fact he only talked about it once and that was when he gave his report and in doing so he passed on the single word that had given MI6 there only clue to unravelling this knot of murder and deceit.
The briefing went on: Three weeks ago the Countess did not report. But neither did her intercept, of course he had been accounted for (with a blue dart in his neck). She did not meet her taxi, but her driver had been accounted for (with a nasty bit of piano wire). She did not go to the safe house, but the house-matron had been accounted for (three days later under a dumpster) as were the two agents stationed there (or at least enough parts of them to make a positive identification). It went on. A grim business, thought Hessel, but in all this accounting two things were missing, a certain very important valise, and a young Countess – perhaps not important to the case, but certainly important to the man he was about to give “no report”.
Count Pirenzi, the man who was about to receive “no report” lived a life of deceit. To him lies were a reflex. He hid behind veils of lies and from behind that gossamer curtain he used his lies and other peoples to build a powerful shipping empire. He deceived and he lied and he used his position and his power to do favors for the British government, but it was only so that the British government would use their position and their power to do favors for him. Pirenzi had many governments, many allegiances, many friends, many deceptions, and only one daughter. He did not need to deceive to show the messenger, now crossing the clean, freshly scrubbed bricks of his courtyard, the anticipated and expected anguish when the strong chinned Naval officer brought him the latest “intelligence” on his daughter. In his life of deceit only two things were real: his balding head and his love for his daughter. Yes, his anguish was real, but he would have to pretend that he was hearing the news for the first time. He could not reveal that he knew more about his daughter’s whereabouts and her abductor than any maggot from British Intelligence. Information was a benefit of playing for both sides, but as Hessel was about to poignently remind him, every benefit has its price.