The death of Admiral Sir Miles Messervy, known to some as ‘M’, had been announced to a largely uninterested world a few days before. The lack of attention was far from unexpected. Only forty or fifty people – most of whom were present in the cemetery – would have been able to identify the head of the British secret service, and not even they, or very few of them, had ever known his real name or the exact nature of his work. His career had been sketched out in the short obituary which had appeared in the press. Educated at the Nautical College, Pangbourne and then at HMS Britannia, Dartmouth. Service in the Dardanelles, commander of the battlecruiser HMS Renown, director of Naval Intelligence and then the inexorable rise . . . rear admiral, vice admiral, admiral. Companion of the Order of Bath and, for good measure, chevalier of the Legion d’honneur. He had turned down the post of Fourth Sea Lord explaining, as The Times put it, that ‘there were other arenas in which he felt he could be of greater use to his country’. The secret service was not mentioned in the obituary. Nor was the fact that he had been murdered. It was stated only that he had died suddenly and unexpectedly whilst at the height of his powers. Both the prime minister and the First Sea Lord had paid tribute to his long and exemplary career.
Neither man had made the journey to Gosport although they had both sent representatives. A funeral, particularly a military one, has a way of making every participant look much the same and the crowd of mourners that had gathered in the cemetery were unremarkable, most of them with grey, thinning hair, dark suits, white shirts and black ties, standing in silence, spread out across the green baize.
There were just two women. One was Sir Miles Messervy’s widow, Lady Frances Messervy. She was standing quite still, supported by a young man who was not her son. The two of them had lost their only son in the war. Her face was hidden behind a veil. The other, who had possibly known him better than anyone and who had certainly spent more time in his company, was his secretary, Miss Moneypenny. She was wearing a sleeveless dress with a short-waisted jacket, not black but midnight blue. She did not need a veil. Her face gave nothing away.
Had any journalists been allowed anywhere near the cemetery, they might have been interested in the man with the look and the deportment of a professional butler, standing next to the grave with a single black rose in his gloved hands. His name was Porterfield and he was in fact the head waiter at Blades, the gentlemen’s club to which Sir Miles had belonged. The club, in Park Street just off Pall Mall, has only 200 members and it is a tradition there that should one of them die, a black rose will be sent to the funeral. There is only one place in the world where true specimens are cultivated: the village of Halfeti on the banks of the Euphrates in Turkey. This specimen had been flown in specially and Porterfield had taken it upon himself to bring it to the grave. He’d always had a fondness for the admiral. He had wanted to show his personal respects.
As the hearse had begun its journey from the hospital, two late arrivals had reached the entrance to the cemetery and had fallen into step. The two men, similarly aged and identically dressed, would have been indistinguishable to anyone who did not know them although they came from very different worlds. One was an eminent neurologist, the recipient of a Nobel Prize for his work on psychosomatic disorders. The other was permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence
It was this man, Sir Charles Massinger, who spoke first as they made their way towards the open grave. ‘So what exactly happened?’ he demanded. There had been no greeting, no expression of condolence.
The other man seemed surprised by the question. His name was Sir James Molony and he was something of a rarity in that he’d actually had a close personal relationship with the deceased. He had also been the first person to arrive at the scene of the crime and it had fallen on him to pronounce his old friend dead. ‘It seems that the Russians managed to turn one of his own men against him,’ he said. ‘I’m sure you’ve heard all the hoo-ha about new brainwashing techniques coming out of Korea. I’m afraid I’d always taken it with a pinch of salt, the idea that you can get into. someone’s head. It’s the stuff of John Buchan and George du Maurier . . . at least, that’s what I thought. Clearly I was wrong.’
‘I know what happened,’ the permanent secretary snapped. ‘I have read the file. What I was asking was, how was he able to get away with it? You were there, I understand.’
‘I arrived soon afterwards.’
‘And? This is the second time the department has lost its top man in that very same room. You’d have thought they’d have learned from their previous mistakes.’
Sir James couldn’t argue. M had only been appointed head of the secret service when his predecessor had been shot with a single bullet between the eyes. ‘There’s not very much I can tell you,’ he said. ‘The weapon used was a bulb-shaped pistol loaded with cyanide. Only the Russians could come up with a contraption like that. M had taken precautions – bulletproof screens and that sort of thing – but clearly they didn’t work.’
‘And the man who killed him. He was one of our own!’ It wasn’t a question. It was an expression of contempt. ‘James Bond.’