10. Joe gets unexpected news of Polly from a source he should have expected - Book Three - Fog on the Clyde by A.J. Hall
Joe speared another chunk of tinned ham on the tines of his fork. He munched, contemplatively, flicking through the copy of The Daily Mail which he’d filched from the caretaker’s cubby-hole and which was spread out on the work-bench in front of him. Charlie, of course, took in nothing but the Times (and a weekly copy of the News of the World, with a pretence, for decency’s sake, that it was strictly for the amusement of the kitchen and stable-yard) so it was the first chance Joe had had to find out what the shapers of Middle England’s opinions had produced in response to the tendrils the New Jacobite Brethren had, according to Dex, been extending across all strata of society, in preparation for - what, exactly?
That was, of course, the question. Something big and nasty was undoubtedly in the air, but Joe had as little idea as he had had a fortnight ago about what shape it was likely to take.
The key was Polly, and nothing had been heard from her for over a week now.
Joe scanned the headlines. Business as usual, it seemed. Miners striking in the Rhondda; another fiery Parliamentary oration from Winston Churchill warning against ‘lethal complacency’, to the predictable Cabinet lack of response; yet another German coalition Government had fallen - there was ‘unrest’ reported from the Ruhr; and Il Duce had reviewed his troops in an even more preposterous uniform than he had previously managed - was that really a laurel wreath embossed on a gilded breast-plate?
Joe, flicking past the news sections in an idle quest to find out how the soccer team he had supported with fanatic enthusiam in his boyhood had coped under the burden of his last decade’s complete indifference, would have passed over the Women’s Page without even a cursory glance if Polly’s name hadn’t leapt straight off the page at him.
His eye went to the bold black of the headline.
“A New Dawn For Europe?” it enquired, with a smaller headline below which ran “Mosley Says: Women Of Britain Have Key Role In Birth of ‘Brave New World’ “
His half-eaten lunch forgotten on the work-bench, he tore through the article at speed, and then again at more leisure. And then he let out a low, bemused, whistle.
Franky had been right. If Polly had not succeeded in re-inventing herself as the Court correspondent of the New Jacobite Brethren, she had come pretty close. Of course, Polly had been careful, mindful, as she must be that Mosley was teetering on the brink of treason - indeed, given the subversion of the Fleet signal book, must already have irrevocably committed himself, if he knew anything at all about it. Her tone - relentlessly perky throughout the interview - had been one of nicely calculated scepticism blended with an understated excitement.
And then I saw a new Heaven and a new Earth unfolding before me.
There was nothing in her questions which anyone reading the interview could hold against her in the event that Mosley was - as Joe fervently hoped he would be - arraigned on a capital charge in the next week or so. But anyone could tell that she was feeding him - he groped for the right phrase and then came up with one of Dex’s -
And while Joe was prepared to believe that Polly could be inordinately dense about some matters - specifically, the finer points of human relationships in general, and his with her in particular - he was absolutely certain that she didn’t possess the level of sheer imbecility which her adopted role of adoring handmaiden to the flashy baronet suggested.
Which meant it had to be a calculated pose.
And judging by the smug air of satisfaction Mosley was projecting throughout the interview, he’d bought into it completely, too.
Joe shook his head in reluctant admiration, and scoured the interview again, for any signs that she was trying to convey any clues about what the plot might be about. It was a futile effort. If she’d put any of it into the Daily Mail, the sub-editor had taken it out again.
Joe put the paper down with an undeniable feeling of relief. He wondered if he ought to cable Charlie to tell him to call off the rescue mission; it seemed that Polly was on top of the situation.
And no doubt she’d be along as soon as she’d wrung whatever she needed out of Mosley, all cock-a-hoop with her own cleverness.
He grinned. And then he set aside the paper, finished lunch in a couple of quick bites, washed the ham down with a gulp of tea and turned his attention once more to the delicate job of trying to salvage the set of components Dex had just plonked before him on the bench.