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As the Allied armies prepare for D-Day, "Der Nadel," Hitler's handpicked agent, attempts to escape London with the secret that will bring the Allies down
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Ken Follett is the author of numerous international bestsellers, including Jackdaws, Hornet Flight, Code to Zero, Triple, Eye of the Needle, Pillars of the Earth, and A Dangerous Fortune. He lives in England.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
EYE OF THE NEEDLE
ALSO BY KEN FOLLETT
My thanks to Malcolm Hulke for invaluable help, generously given.
EARLY in 1944 German Intelligence was piecing together evidence of a huge army in southeastern England. Reconnaissance planes brought back photographs of barracks and airfields and fleets of ships in the Wash; General George S. Patton was seen in his unmistakable pink jodhpurs walking his white bulldog; there were bursts of wireless activity, signals between regiments in the area; confirming signs were reported by German spies in Britain.
There was no army, of course. The ships were rubber-and-timber fakes, the barracks no more real than a movie set; Patton did not have a single man under his command; the radio signals were meaningless; the spies were double agents.
The object was to fool the enemy into preparing for an invasion via the Pas de Calais, so that on D-Day the Normandy assault would have the advantage of surprise.
It was a huge, near-impossible deception. Literally thousands of people were involved in perpetrating the trick. It would have been a miracle if none of Hitler’s spies ever got to know about it.
Were there any spies? At the time people thought they were surrounded by what were then called Fifth Columnists. After the war a myth grew up that MI5 had rounded up the lot by Christmas 1939. The truth seems to be that there were very few; MI5 did capture nearly all of them.
But it only needs one . . .
It is known that the Germans saw the signs they were meant to see in East Anglia. It is also known that they suspected a trick, and that they tried very hard to discover the truth.
That much is history. What follows is fiction.
Still and all, one suspects something like this must have happened.
Camberley, Surrey, June 1977
IT was the coldest winter for forty-five years. Villages in the English countryside were cut off by the snow and the Thames froze over. One day in January the Glasgow-London train arrived at Euston twenty-four hours late. The snow and the blackout combined to make motoring perilous; road accidents doubled, and people told jokes about how it was more risky to drive an Austin Seven along Piccadilly at night than to take a tank across the Siegfried Line.
Then, when the spring came, it was glorious. Barrage balloons floated majestically in bright blue skies, and soldiers on leave flirted with girls in sleeveless dresses on the streets of London.
The city did not look much like the capital of a nation at war. There were signs, of course; and Henry Faber, cycling from Waterloo Station toward Highgate, noted them: piles of sandbags outside important public buildings, Anderson shelters in suburban gardens, propaganda posters about evacuation and Air Raid Precautions. Faber watched such things—he was considerably more observant than the average railway clerk. He saw crowds of children in the parks, and concluded that evacuation had been a failure. He marked the number of motorcars on the road, despite petrol rationing; and he read about the new models announced by the motor manufacturers. He knew the significance of night-shift workers pouring into factories where, only months previously, there had been hardly enough work for the day shift. Most of all, he monitored the movement of troops around Britain’s railway network; all the paperwork passed through his office. One could learn a lot from that paperwork. Today, for example, he had rubber-stamped a batch of forms that led him to believe that a new Expeditionary Force was being gathered. He was fairly sure that it would have a complement of about 100,000 men, and that it was for Finland.
There were signs, yes; but there was something jokey about it all. Radio shows satirized the red tape of wartime regulations, there was community singing in the air raid shelters, and fashionable women carried their gas masks in couturier-designed containers. They talked about the Boer War. It was at once larger-than-life and trivial, like a moving picture show. All the air raid warnings, without exception, had been false alarms.
Faber had a different point of view—but then, he was a different kind of person.
He steered his cycle into Archway Road and leaned forward a little to take the uphill slope, his long legs pumping as tirelessly as the pistons of a railway engine. He was very fit for his age, which was thirty-nine, although he lied about it; he lied about most things, as a safety precaution.
He began to perspire as he climbed the hill into Highgate. The building in which he lived was one of the highest in London, which was why he chose to live there. It was a Victorian brick house at one end of a terrace of six. The houses were high, narrow and dark, like the minds of the men for whom they had been built. Each had three stories plus a basement with a servants’ entrance—the English middle class of the nineteenth century insisted on a servants’ entrance, even if they had no servants. Faber was a cynic about the English.
Number Six had been owned by Mr. Harold Garden, of Garden’s Tea and Coffee, a small company that went broke in the Depression. Having lived by the principle that insolvency is a mortal sin, the bankrupt Mr. Garden had no option but to die. The house was all he bequeathed to his widow, who was then obliged to take in boarders. She enjoyed being a landlady, although the etiquette of her social circle demanded that she pretend to be a little ashamed of it. Faber had a room on the top floor with a dormer window. He lived there from Monday to Friday, and told Mrs. Garden that he spent weekends with his mother in Erith. In fact, he had another landlady in Blackheath, who called him Mr. Baker and believed he was a traveling salesman for a stationery manufacturer and spent all week on the road.
He wheeled his cycle up the garden path under the disapproving frown of the tall front-room windows. He put it in the shed and padlocked it to the lawn mower—it was against the law to leave a vehicle unlocked. The seed potatoes in boxes all around the shed were sprouting. Mrs. Garden had turned her flower beds over to vegetables for the war effort.
Faber entered the house, hung his hat on the hall-stand, washed his hands and went in to tea.
Three of the other lodgers were already eating: a pimply boy from Yorkshire who was trying to get into the Army; a confectionery salesman with receding sandy hair; and a retired naval officer who, Faber was convinced, was a degenerate. Faber nodded to them and sat down.
The salesman was telling a joke. “So the Squadron Leader says, ‘You’re back early!’ and the pilot turns round and says, ‘Yes, I dropped my leaflets in bundles—wasn’t that right?’ So the Squadron Leader says, ‘Good God! You might’ve hurt somebody!’”
The naval officer cackled and Faber smiled. Mrs. Garden came in with a teapot. “Good evening, Mr. Faber. We started without you—I hope you don’t mind.”
Faber spread margarine thinly on a slice of wholemeal bread, and momentarily yearned for a fat sausage. “Your seed potatoes are ready to plant,” he told her.
Faber hurried through his tea. The others were arguing over whether Chamberlain should be sacked and replaced by Churchill. Mrs. Garden kept voicing opinions, then looking at Faber for a reaction. She was a blowsy woman, a little overweight. About Faber’s age, she wore the clothes of a woman of thirty, and he guessed she wanted another husband. He kept out of the discussion.
Mrs. Garden turned on the radio. It hummed for a while; then an announcer said: “This is the BBC Home Service. It’s That Man Again!”
Faber had heard the show. It regularly featured a German spy called Funf. He excused himself and went up to his room.
* * *
Mrs. Garden was left alone after It’s That Man Again; the naval officer went to the pub with the salesman; and the boy from Yorkshire, who was religious, went to a prayer meeting. She sat in the parlor with a small glass of gin, looking at the blackout curtains and thinking about Mr. Faber. She wished he wouldn’t spend so much time in his room. She needed company, and he was the kind of company she needed.
Such thoughts made her feel guilty. To assuage the guilt, she thought of Mr. Garden. Her memories were familiar but blurred, like an old print of a movie with worn sprocket holes and an indistinct sound track; so that, although she could easily remember what it was like to have him here in the room with her, it was difficult to imagine his face or the clothes he might be wearing or the comment he would make on the day’s war news. He had been a small, dapper man, successful in business when he was lucky and unsuccessful when he was not, undemonstrative in public and insatiably affectionate in bed. She had loved him a lot. There would be many women in her position if this war ever got going properly. She poured another drink.
Mr. Faber was a quiet one—that was the trouble. He didn’t seem to have any vices. He didn’t smoke, she had never smelled drink on his breath, and he spent every evening in his room, listening to classical music on his radio. He read a lot of newspapers and went for long walks. She suspected he was quite clever, despite his humble job: his contributions to the conversation in the dining room were always a shade more thoughtful than anyone else’s. He surely could get a better job if he tried. He seemed not to give himself the chance he deserved.
It was the same with his appearance. He was a fine figure of a man: tall, quite heavy around the neck and shoulders, not a bit fat, with long legs. And he had a strong face, with a high forehead and a long jaw and bright blue eyes—not pretty like a film star, but the kind of face that appealed to a woman. Except for the mouth—that was small and thin, and she could imagine him being cruel. Mr. Garden had been incapable of cruelty.
And yet at first sight he was not the kind of a man a woman would look at twice. The trousers of his old worn suit were never pressed—she would have done that for him, and gladly, but he never asked—and he always wore a shabby raincoat and a flat docker’s cap. He had no mustache, and his hair was trimmed short every fortnight. It was as if he wanted to look like a nonentity.
He needed a woman; there was no doubt of that. She wondered for a moment whether he might be what people called effeminate, but she dismissed the idea quickly. He needed a wife to smarten him up and give him ambition. She needed a man to keep her company and for—well—love.
Yet he never made a move. Sometimes she could scream with frustration. She was sure she was attractive. She looked in a mirror as she poured another gin. She had a nice face and fair curly hair, and there was something for a man to get hold of. . . . She giggled at that thought. She must be getting tiddly.
She sipped her drink and considered whether she ought to make the first move. Mr. Faber was obviously shy—chronically shy. He wasn’t sexless—she could tell by the look in his eyes on the two occasions he had seen her in her nightdress. Perhaps she could overcome his shyness by being brazen. What did she have to lose? She tried imagining the worst, just to see what it felt like. Suppose he rejected her. Well, it would be embarrassing—even humiliating. It would be a blow to her pride. But nobody else need know it had happened. He would just have to leave.
The thought of rejection had put her off the whole idea. She got to her feet slowly, thinking: I’m just not the brazen type. It was bedtime. If she had one more gin in bed she would be able to sleep. She took the bottle upstairs.
Her bedroom was below Mr. Faber’s, and she could hear violin music from his radio as she undressed. She put on a new nightdress—pink, with an embroidered neckline, and no one to see it!—and made her last drink. She wondered what Mr. Faber looked like undressed. He would have a flat stomach and hairs on his nipples, and you would be able to see his ribs because he was slim. He probably had a small bottom. She giggled again, thinking, I’m a disgrace.
She took her drink to bed and picked up her book, but it was too much effort to focus on the print. Besides, she was bored with vicarious romance. Stories about dangerous love affairs were fine when you yourself had a perfectly safe love affair with your husband, but a woman needed more than Barbara Cartland. She sipped her gin and wished Mr. Faber would turn the radio off. It was like trying to sleep at a tea dance!
She could, of course, ask him to turn it off. She looked at her bedside clock; it was past ten. She could put on her dressing gown, which matched the nightdress, and just comb her hair a little, then step into her slippers—quite dainty, with a pattern of roses—and just pop up the stairs to the next landing, and just, well, tap on his door. He would open it, perhaps wearing his trousers and under- shirt, and then he would look at her the way he had looked when he saw her in her nightdress on the way to the bathroom. . . .
“Silly old fool,” she said to herself aloud. “You’re just making excuses to go up there.”
And then she wondered why she needed excuses. She was a grown-up, and it was her house, and in ten years she had not met another man who was just right for her, and what the hell? She needed to feel someone strong and hard and hairy on top of her, squeezing her breasts and panting in her ear and parting her thighs with his broad, flat hands, for tomorrow the gas bombs might come over from Germany and they would all die choking and gasping and poisoned and she would have lost her last chance.
So she drained her glass and got out of bed and put on her dressing gown, and just combed her hair a little and stepped into her slippers, and picked up her bunch of keys in case he had locked the door and couldn’t hear her knock above the sound of the radio.
There was nobody on the landing. She found the stairs in the darkness. She intended to step over the stair that creaked, but she stumbled on the loose carpet and trod on it heavily; but it seemed that nobody heard, so she went on up and tapped on the door at the top. She tried it gently. It was locked.
The radio was turned down and Mr. Faber called out, “Yes?”
He was well-spoken, not cockney or foreign—not anything, really, just a pleasantly neutral voice.
She said, “Can I have a word with you?”
He seemed to hesitate; then he said: “I’m undressed.”
“So am I,” she giggled, and she opened the door with her duplicate key.
He was standing in front of the radio with some kind of screwdriver in his hand. He wore his trousers and no undershirt. His face was white and he looked scared to death.
She stepped inside and closed the door behind her, not knowing what to say. Suddenly she remembered a line from an American film, and she said, “Would you buy a lonely girl a drink?” It was silly, really, because she knew he had no drink in his room and she certainly wasn’...
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Book Description Arbor House, 1978. Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110877951861
Book Description Arbor House. PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 0877951861 New Condition. Seller Inventory # NEW7.1417515
Book Description Arbor House, 1978. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0877951861