'What's the area?'
'I think you'll need tropical kit.'
'Oh my God.'
'It's a shame,' he smiled amiably, 'in winter they send you to Warsaw, don't they?'
--Adam Hall, The Tango Briefing (1973).
The Warsaw Document by Adam Hall (1971).
Quiller is dispatched by Bureau control to assist tyro spook Merrick in forging links with Polish anticommunists on the eve of a historic East-West summit in Warsaw.
....a director puts his ferret to work in the way he chooses, shows him the hole and shoves him down it and stands back and crosses his fingers.
....Mission-feel is never wrong: it's the specialised instinct you develop as you go forward into the dark like an old dog fox sniffing the wind and catching the scent of things it has smelled before and learned to distrust; and in the concealing darkness the forefoot is sensitive, poised and held still above the patch of unknown ground where in the next movement the trap can spring shut.
....the opposition had a programme running, its engineering as smooth and massive as the iron wheels that rolled past here on their predestined rails; and that I was in its path.
Egerton didn't know what it was but he knew it was there and he'd sent me to find it and blow it up.
Quiller finds himself pursued by Warsaw cops and a KGB contingent led by Colonel Foster.
....Foster....once an Old Etonian and now a hero of the Soviet Republic with an alloy medal somewhere in the top drawer with his handkerchiefs and cuff-links', a rumour about a Hungarian woman, 'a simple daughter of the proletariat content to share his uneventful life'.
When it looks like Quiller has finally turned the tables on the opposition, he plans to take Foster back to London.
Hall archly observes:
....He didn't want to go to London; there were people there who'd believed they were his friends and he had something in common with all shabby men: he couldn't face his creditors.
The final two-thirds of The Warsaw Document is essentially Quiller the ferret going through the maze of Warsaw, trying to figure out what his control has really assigned him to do. And all the while evading Polish police and the KGB.
On of Hall's most spectacular coups in this long to-and-fro is a hand-to-hand fight between Quiller and a cop in a train station lavatory.
….At close quarters a gun is highly dangerous. The danger is present before it leaves the holster, since it gives a feeling of power, of superiority, thus leading to false confidence and the impression that no serious effort has to be made, that the conflict has already been won. The danger increases tenfold once the gun is in the hand because only one hand is left free for useful work; at the same time the psychological danger remains present: it is felt that the mere sight of the gun will intimidate the opponent to the extent of rendering him powerless, quite incapable of movement. If, at this stage, the opponent decides to move, the danger becomes so great that it dominates the situation and can no longer be averted. The simple act of moving confounds the strongly held belief that no movement will in fact be made, and the surprise has the proportions of severe psychological shock.
Kimura's first rule is grilled into new trainees until they're sick of it but later it saves their lives: when threatened by an armed man, do nothing until he comes into close quarters.
It's usually easy enough because he likes to frisk you and then you can go to work. In this case I was lucky because we'd walked into each other and the distance was perfect. The gun was in his hand but that was all: his index hadn't settled inside the trigger guard and he was nowhere near horizontal aim. In another tenth of a second I would have had to use the routine deflection drill designed to get the body clear of the bullet but I didn't wait for that because the noise would alert the nearest patrols.
I chopped upwards against the wrist-nerve and the force swung him partly round as the gun spun high and hit the glazed tiles of the ceiling and that was all right but he was already hooking for a kite blow and I knew I'd been wrong: he hadn't been relying a hundred per cent on his gun - he'd just thought it might be the most convenient way.
I went down first and he dropped and tried for the throat so I used the knee and he rolled and corrected and I thought it was probably kaminari, a bastardised form of kung fu, because he got very busy and couldn't relax the tensions so it was easy until the speed of the blows began foxing me and I had to go for a straight classic hand-edge for the shoulder hoping to numb and not succeeding the first time and not getting the chance to do it again because he was on to it and pulling clear and coming in again with a series of horribly fast kites that burned at the muscles while I hooked at what I could reach: windpipe, groin, plexus, trying for blows and then for locks and not getting them as I should.
Specialised disciplines are effective within their range but none of them are flexible enough: their patterns are too formalised. Pure karate can stop any amateur attack because it has the answer to every move in the book but there are one or two others and some of the kaminari blows have never been fully understood in the West so that an element of the unknown enters the conflict and there's no time to rethink on the established techniques because this form of attack is tense and fast and accumulative: the aim is to break down the opponent before he's had time to work for any kind of finalising strike or lock.
That's why karate has never been taught at Norfolk. They teach something different there.
I still couldn't use it. His energy was appalling and the blows came chopping wickedly fast for the vulnerable points and I knew that if I left only one of them unprotected for a half-second he'd be in there and finish me. His attack was animal: I couldn't believe that this creature could ever, short of killing it, be tamed; or that, once tamed, it could speak or write with a pen in a human hand. His breathing was like a wolf's, his frenzy producing grunts through the teeth and nostrils, a bestial snuffling, and somewhere in my mind there was surprise that these weren't claws ripping at me, that I touched no fur. Yet his blows were infinitely disciplined.
And suddenly I knew that if I didn't do something quickly he'd break me down and I'd have to be taken to Foster in an ambulance. My arms were losing strength and their muscles burned. I couldn't shift his weight from across my legs.
For a long time, for two or three seconds, I let myself relax, bringing the strikes closer to give him confidence, then twisted and freed an elbow and drove it hard enough to disturb his rhythm and he shifted his weight and I went for a yoshida and brought it off but couldn't hold the full lock because he slipped it enough to sap the leverage and come in again with neck strikes so that I had to roll back and parry them. Light had begun flashing in my head.
A hokku and it threw him and 'I followed with the second stage of the lock but wasn't fast enough and his weight came back and I had to protect again because if only one of his strikes got through it would leave me paralysed. My head throbbed, pulsing to the rhythm of the flashing light, and breathing was difficult now. He fluttered above me, a vague dark shape whose weight increased and bore down and smothered my movements, and its snuffling became excited as the strikes hammered at the crossed shield of my arms and shifted their aim and hammered again and found the target protected but only clumsily now as I lost strength, and worse, lost science. Time was going, no more time. I needed time.
Sorry about that, old boy, but you shouldn't have chanced your arm, these chaps won't put up with it.
Relax and bring him closer. Get the breathing right or it's no go. Relax.
But I was a torch, a body burning, my own light blinding. His blows poured pain into me and the flames burst brighter. There was no time. Then let it be done without time. Now.
Twist. But he was ready and I had to try again and it didn't work but his aim was shifted and I moved the other way and felt purchase available as we rolled with my knee rising hard but not hard enough: it baulked his strikes but he went for a neck lock and I had to stop it because it was a musubi and we are frightened of that one, all of us. Lock and counter-lock and we lay still, the muscles alone engaged, contraction without kinetics, the hiss of our breathing the only sign of life. Then I felt purchase again: my foot had come into contact with the wall of the subway and when I used it he was surprised and the lock went slack and I had time and forced him over and we lay still again but the position was changed and I saw that there was a blow I could use if I worked very quickly.
But I hesitated. Morality came into this and the awareness of what I was going to do was holding me back. This was the jungle but even in the jungle there are laws: a male wolf, in combat with another and sensing mortal defeat, will pause and expose its neck and the jugular vein, tokening submission; and the victor will leave it.
Here the law didn't apply: a vulnerable point had been exposed by chance and morality was out of place because the organism was shouting it down, squealing for survival, and I put the last of my strength into the blow. It wasn't very hard because I was weakened now, but it was effective because it struck the point that Kimura had told us about.
Then I got up and leaned with my back to the wall, dragging air into my lungs while the nerve-light went on flashing in my head. A sound was somewhere, a rumbling, and I remembered where I was, in the railway station of a modern city where men could speak, and write with pens. It seemed a long time since I was here before: an act so primitive had brought a time shift and the past few minutes had been measured in millennia.
The rumbling became thunder overhead and its rhythm slowed: a train was stopping. I would have liked to rest but there'd soon be people here….
The Warsaw Document is a fine thriller filled with ice, snow, and plenty of duplicitous Eastern bloc Cold War atmosphere.
10 January 2018