It was an old wooden boat built for fishing. I sat in the back with the other passengers, crossing the Strait of Mull to Iona.
A cormorant splashed near the boat but came up without a fish. I was worried about the story and the money I wasn't getting for it. I didn’t even try to get an advance. It was all loose ends and paranoia. CIA and ex-Special Forces were there. It made the newspapers, but people's memories are short. They were there in the Libyan desert. Jim Fick told me what he knew, but he didn’t see the whole picture, even though he was there. Maybe Teller could help.
I squinted across the water at Iona. It was low with white sand beaches and a village. The afternoon sun shone on the sand. The water around the pier was bright green and deep blue. I stepped off the boat and followed the tourists on to the pier. I walked past them, sightseers hiring bicycles and buying drinks or looking for a toilet. A big, bald-headed guy in a windbreaker looked at me as if he knew me and turned away. I stopped at a carriage for hire to ask directions from the girl who operated the rig.
"Do you know where a man named Teller lives?"
"Up the hill," she pointed. "I'll drive you there for two pounds."
"Thanks, but I'd rather walk," I said. She shrugged.
I walked up the white gravel road past a ruined stone building. Crows sat on top of the roofless walls. Outside the village, the roadside was covered with wildflowers. The houses sat well back from the lane. In the pastures by the road, sheep grazed, shorn of their wool with raw red marks and Merthiolate where the shearer had shaved too close. At the end of the lane I came to a wide gate. The land fell slowly to the sea. A flag marked a golf hole at the lower end of the pasture, in the middle of no green whatsoever. At my right on a slight rise and with a larger hill behind sat Teller's house. I went through the gate. I could see a small face looking out a window, a lace curtain pulled to one side. Teller's cottage was made out of stone. The door and window frames were painted a cheerful shade of blue-green.
The door opened as I raised my arm to knock. I was looking down at a wide-eyed little man with an enormous head and a clipped mustache. He looked like the troll in Mother Goose.
"You must be the writer," he said.
"Yeah. Jack McGlashan."
Teller ushered me in and shut the door. The man was dressed neatly, as only small men can be dressed neatly, in a tweed suit and wool tie, despite the midafternoon heat. I felt slovenly in my blazer and khakis, as if I should be wearing a tie, too.
"I appreciate your seeing me.”
"It's nothing. Sit down, please," and he motioned to an overstuffed chair with a lace antimacassar on it. "I was making tea. Would you like some?"
Teller disappeared into the kitchen. While he made tea, I surveyed the room. A geranium sat on a table in front of the window. A desk stood along one wall. No papers lay on the desk surface. On the wall above the desk I saw a photograph of a pleasant-faced woman flanked by two very plain girls in their early twenties. An uncomfortable-looking Victorian sofa sat opposite his chair. I wondered if this was the kind of place where ex-spies usually lived.
Teller returned with tea and cakes and saw me staring around the room.
"My late wife's family is from Iona. They all moved away. My wife and I came here for years, in the summer. Now I am here alone."
Teller set the tea tray on the table.
"Cream or lemon?"
Teller smiled and handed me the tea. He poured cream into his and sat down on the Victorian sofa, his back straight, scrutinizing me.
"You saw George Cruikshank?" Teller asked, as I got out my notebook and began thumbing through it.
"Yeah. Your old boss tried to discourage me from coming. He said you were a hermit."
"George is an old spy." Teller crossed one neat leg over the other. "Misleading people is a habit."
"Cruikshank said he wrote to you but that you never answered."
"Yes. I never wrote back. George never placed his trust in me. Trust is so often misplaced, you see?"
"I don't think he likes Americans," I said.
Teller sipped his tea. "I've read your essay on the political uses of terror," Teller said.
I nodded and said, "I heard you were stationed in Turkey in the Seventies?"
“That, as they say, is ancient history. This is 1991. How could my work of ten and twenty years ago be of interest to you?”
"Do you remember anything about a man named Stoat, Major Charlie Stoat?"
Teller sipped his tea carefully.
"I remember a Stoat. The rank may be his own invention. I recall a low-level CIA operative. He was what they call a scalp-hunter. Such men work on contract, doing nasty business. He was for a while in Turkey and the Middle East."
"There's a U.S. warrant out for his arrest. He was convicted in absentia of selling arms to terrorists in Libya. They never caught him. Do you have any idea where he is?"
"When last I heard, he was with the CIA in Afghanistan, supplying weapons and training to the Mujaheddin against the Soviet Union. Now, who knows? If he is on the run, as you say, he may be moving around under cover in Europe. An old colleague of his may be protecting him."
"A CIA field officer," Teller said, clasping his hands around one knee. "They worked in Turkey together. Let me think. His name is Rand, as I recall."
I wrote down the name.
“Is there anything you can tell me about him?”
Teller shook his head slowly. “All I know is his name, false probably. More tea?”
“No thanks.” I was dying for a beer.
"Is there anyone I could talk to about Rand?"
Teller thought for a minute. "You won’t get anything from BND, that is the German Secret Service, or BKA, their counterintelligence unit. DIGOS, the Italian anti-terrorist unit might help, but they probably would not know anything. There is MIT, Turkish Military Intelligence. Or Mossad--the Israelis. I’d try Mossad first. Here, I'll give you a name."
Teller wrote in my notebook.
"Is there anything else?" I asked.
"I'm afraid not." Teller stood. "Would you like to walk down to the water?"
We went outside.
“This sure is a pretty place,” I said.
“The All-Mover’s glory penetrates through the universe, and regloweth in one region more, and less in another,” Teller replied. I looked it up. The line is from Dante.
We walked down toward the beach in the late-afternoon sunshine.
"You're not married?" Teller asked, looking at my left hand that had no ring.
"I was married. I have a ten-year-old son."
"I myself have two daughters. Each in her way takes after my late wife. They are very beautiful--one dark, one fair. I don’t see them often. They live very far away."
I thought of the photograph of the troll daughters above the desk in Teller's parlor.
We had almost reached the stony shoreline. Teller pointed toward the cove.
"The very spot where Columba landed to build the church in Scotland. From Iona, Celtic Christianity spread throughout the north of Britain. St. Columba came here to do penance for killing hundreds of people in Ireland. I have not murdered so many, but I am here too."
We stood looking westward over the Atlantic Ocean.
"Be careful," Teller said. "If you need me, let me know."
“Thanks. I'll tryl.”
As I left, I saw the bald-headed guy in the windbreaker, taking pictures from the road above us of the beautiful seashore where we stood.
It was close to five when I walked back to the village. The road I was on went toward the old abbey,where I passed tourists on their way back, hurrying to catch the last ferry to Mull. I decided then to stay the night on Iona.
Past a bookshop that looked as if it used to be a barn, I saw the abbey. It was just there, in a slow process of restoration. There were no post card kiosks or refreshment stands. I walked over to a sign that said "St. Oran's Chapel, eleventh century" and opened the gate, there to keep sheep in rather than people out, and went down a short path to the chapel. I sat down in one of the rush-seated chairs and tried to make my mind go blank, but I kept thinking of monks that used to worship there in the bone-cold, rainy weather that held the island much of the year. After a few minutes I got up and went out. I explored the cloister and went into a workshop where gravestones had been taken for restoration. I wondered if any of the stone Celtic crosses had marked the graves of Macbeth and Duncan.
When I came out, I saw three little girls sitting on a bench in the garden, feeding white pigeons. The birds sat on the girls' hands and shoulders waiting for treats of bread. The girls giggled and talked in whispers so as not to frighten the birds.
The girls’ mother smiled at me in a cold sort of way. She was tall. Her blonde hair, pulled back with a headband, hung to her shoulders. She wore a blouse of deep blue and a white cotton skirt.
Quit staring at married women, I thought. But instead I walked over to her.
"Your children are having fun," I said, looking at her blue eyes.
"Yes." She smiled and looked up at me. "You're American."
"Yeah. And you?"
"We're from London."
"But you're not English," I said.
"Scots?" I asked.
"I recognized your accent. Besides, the English are more reserved. Scots are friendlier."
"Oh, I'm not friendly."
"No." Then she smiled. "My daughters come here every day to feed the doves. The birds gather and wait for them."
"Do you spend the whole summer here?" I asked.
"We come for holiday in June. I take the children out of school.”
The girls came over to their mother. The oldest was about ten, my son Mike's age, the youngest six or so. She introduced her daughters from eldest to youngest.
"This is Susan, and Amy, and Rebecca. This is Mr. . . . I'm sorry, I don't know your name."
"It's McGlashan. Jack McGlashan."
"Yes. This is Mr. McGlashan. Can you say hello?"
They said their howdy-doos and ran off.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Ann Hamilton. My married name is 'Shilling.' My husband and I are separated."
She turned and was about to say goodbye.
"May I walk with you?" I asked.
"I assume you know you've missed the last ferry."
"I know. I thought I'd try the inn up the road. Would you like a drink?"
"It won't be full this time of year." She hesitated over my question, but then she agreed.
"Let me just see the girls home and tell them where I'll be. I'll join you in a few minutes."
"Will they be all right by themselves?"
"It's close by," she said, following the children up the lane.
I walked over to the inn, took a room, and put the key in my pocket. Then I went into the public room for a pint of beer. The room looked out on the beach and the sea and the isle of Mull. It held the clean smell of good beer and peat fire, and I could smell supper cooking somewhere not too far away.
Out the window, the slanted rays of the sun shone on the water and on the mountains of Mull across the water.
When I turned back, she was standing there. She had put on lipstick and now wore a blue sweater around her shoulders.
"You're here," I said.
"How observant you are."
"I wasn't sure you'd come."
She sat down, and I went to the bar and got her a pint of beer.
"I'm glad you're here," I said, placing the beer on the table. "I wasn't sure you'd come."
"I think you said that."
"Did I? Thanks for reminding me." I looked around for something else profound to say. "You've changed your shoes." She was wearing white pumps with heels about three inches long. "They must be terribly hard to walk in."
She gave me a look and said, "What's wrong with them? I find nothing extra-ordinary about them."
"There's nothing the matter with them. In fact, they make you look taller."
"Why? I think I'm already tall enough without the shoes, thank you very much." She took a sip of beer. I was not sure whether she was angry or not. She looked at me askance. "Besides, no one wears shoes as ridiculous as you Americans. Why, just look at those."
I looked at my big feet.
"What's wrong with them?"
"They look like Indian mocassins."
"They're comfortable." I put my feet under the table.
"But they're not proper shoes."
"Touché. I seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot."
"Is that a pun?"
"Yeah," I said, and she laughed.
She sipped her beer and watched me.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"I don't know. I'm a writer." I thought about what else to say. "I used to be married but not any more. I have a son who's almost ten. As I told you, I live in London. Right now I'm writing a piece on terrorism."
She laughed. "Here? There are no terrorists on Iona."
"A man had some information I needed."
"Really. It's hard to believe." She watched me some more while I turned the mug of beer. Then she asked, "Are you happy in your work?"
"Yes, I suppose so."
"Do you write for a magazine?"
"Lots. I send them an idea with an outline and a few pages. If the editors like it, they buy it. If not, I try again. That way I'm free to do what I want."
"And you like being free."
"Yeah, in most ways." I finished the last of my beer. "Do you like the idea of being on your own?"
"What do you mean?"
"You said you and your husband are separated."
"I did tell you that, didn't I?" she said. "Yes, we're separated. I'm on my own. I've been trying to get used to the idea."
"Would you like another beer?"
"Yes. Thank you."
I took up the empty mugs. The barman reappeared and filled two more, and I returned to the table.
"So, what happened between you and your husband?" I asked.
"You first," she said.
"We met in journalism school after I got out of the army. She was ahead of me, but I was four years older because of my time in Special Forces during Vietnam. We got jobs on the same paper in Cleveland. We were competitors. Then when my son was born, she quit work."
"When he was four, she decided to go back to work and put him in daycare. I was tired of the reporting grind and decided to try freelancing. I took him out of daycare and tried to take care of him at the same time. Margot, my wife, didn't go back to the newspaper. She wanted to try television journalism. They made her the weather girl." He laughed.
"You laughed at her?" she added.
"I told you I was stupid. She wanted a job. She said she had to start somewhere. Margot is smarter than I am, but she has no sense of geography. She brought home a huge map of the United States and tried to memorize the location of the states, but she kept confusing Idaho and Iowa. I don't think she ever figured it out. I made fun. Then they made her a news reporter for the station. I was sarcastic. She became more and more competitive with me in a cold sort of way. One day she left, taking my son Mike with her. She got a job as news anchor for a television station in Buffalo. I tried to patch things up, but it was too late." I took a long swallow of beer. "She kept my name, though. Margot McGlashan and the up-to-the-minute eyewitness news."
"You’re bitter," she said.
"She's really very good at what she does. Confronting personal failure is not fun."
I looked at her closely. She really was beautiful.
"What happened to you?" I asked carefully.
"I'm not good at this," she said.
"You don't have to tell me."
"You told me."
"It's not necessary."
"It's all right." I think some of the life went out of her face then. "My husband Simon is a charming man. He’s also been very successful. We met in London when I was in art school. I had just exhibited my first paintings. Marriage was not what I had in mind. He was rich. He was persuasive. I loved him. We were married." She looked out the window. "We used to enjoy coming here." She looked out the window.
"What business is he in?"
"Some EEC but mostly in Asia. He never talks about it. We don't talk. And then, of course, there have been other women."
"Do you still paint?"
"Oh, yes. I've been painting right along, even when the girls were small."
"What kinds of things do you paint."
"Pictures of the girls. Other things."
"I'd like to see them."
She hesitated. Then she said, "I've got some fresh prawns. You could stay for supper, and I could show you."
"Are you sure?"
She looked me over.
I paid for the beer, and we left the inn. She seemed young and happy as we walked up to her house.
"You know I've never done this before," she said.
"Since I've been married, had a drink with a man and invited him to dinner."
"Do you suppose your children will mind?"
"We'll find out, won't we?"
As we turned into another lane, I saw the cottage up the hill It had a view of most of the island. Inside the low fence the garden was full of flowers. I opened the gate and followed her to the rose-colored door made of planks. Inside, the three girls were stretched out on the floor playing Monopoly, chattering non-stop. They looked up only briefly as their mother and the strange man they had met at the abbey came in.
The interior of the house consisted of a living room and kitchen to the front as with Teller's cottage, but with a bedroom to the back left and a sort of studio to the right, both opening off the living room. The doors to both rooms stood open, and I looked into each. In one corner of the living room, circular stairs wound their way up to what I assumed were the girls' bedrooms.
The plaster walls were washed a brilliant white, and the beams above were dark with age and smoke from the fireplace. Instead of a wall separating kitchen and living room, a modern countertop with a shiny oak surface had been installed with cabinets above and stools around the counter.
I found a seat at the counter and watched her as she moved around the kitchen.
"Would you like a drink?" she asked.
"What have you got?"
"A bottle of Tallisker."
"Do you want ice or water? I haven't any soda."
"Straight would be fine."
The sun was beginning to set, and the air outside had cooled. I listened to the sound of dice on the Monopoly board and the laughter and groans of the little girls as their fortunes rose and plummeted according to the fatal numbers and cards of the game. Then I went over and sat down cross-legged on the floor with them.
"That looks like fun," I said. "How do you play it?"
Susan, the eldest, gave him a withering look. "This is an American game. Don't you know the rules?"
"I may have once, but I've forgotten. Why don't you tell me?"
Susan and the middle daughter Amy began to explain, both talking at once. The youngest, Rebecca, turned her head from one to the other, listening intently.
"First you roll the dice."
"You move the number of spaces."
"To where?" I asked.
"Just the number on the dice."
"Atlantic Avenue, Pennsylvania Railroad, Indiana Avenue."
"Park Place, Boardwalk, North Carolina Avenue, wherever you land."
"Either someone owns it. . ."
"And you have to pay rent. . ."
"Or you own it, or you can buy it."
"What's the question mark?" I asked.
"It can be a number of things. . . ."
"You can get money or lose money or just advance."
"Or go to jail."
"That's your bad luck --you have to go to jail."
"That's not fair!" I said.
"It's the game."
"You see. . ."
Both Amy and Susan were gesturing at each other and at him, explaining wildly and simultaneously.
"Wait a minute, wait a minute."
"Why don't you give him some money so he can play?" Amy asked.
"Why doesn't he play?" Rebecca piped in.
"No," Susan explained. "You can't start in the middle."
"What about Community Chest?" I asked.
"It's the same as Chance."
"But a different card."
"A different card. I see. And what are all those little houses?"
"If you own all three properties. . ."
"Of the same color. . ."
"You can buy houses. . ."
"Or hotels. . ."
"If you have three houses on each space of the same color."
"I'm confused," I said.
The youngest, Rebecca, looked at me with sympathy, but Amy and Susan thought I was dreadfully stupid. They tried again.
"If you have all of any. . ."
"An entire set. . ."
"What's the advantage?" I asked.
"When you have houses and hotels on a property. . ."
"And someone lands on your space. . ."
"The rent goes up. . ."
"And you get lots of money."
"I see. And when buying all these properties how do you maintain your liquidity?"
"What's that?" the two older girls asked.
"How do you have any money left?"
"And you get money from the bank if you roll the dice and get a good card."
"So, a lot of it depends on luck," he said.
"Oh, yes. Quite a lot."
"Shall we tell him about mortgaging?" asked Amy.
"No," replied Susan. "That's too difficult." I was a slow pupil.
"Well, then there's doubles," Amy added. "If you roll doubles you get to go again, and if you roll doubles again, you get to go again after that. . . ."
"But if you roll doubles thrice. . ."
"You go to jail."
"Oh, no," I moaned.
"We forgot income tax," said Amy.
"Yes, if you land on income tax, it's two hundred dollars."
"Or ten per cent."
"Of what?" I asked.
"Of all your money."
"I guess that's pretty reasonable these days."
"I think I'll just watch you play for a while. It sounds like a lot of fun."
"Oh, yes, it is."
"Thank you very much," I said.
"You're welcome," the girls said and went bouncing on with the game.
"Would you like that drink?" their mother asked.
"Sure." I got up from the floor. She handed me the short glass of whiskey. I watched her as she cut the heads off the big shrimp. The image of an arm with a rose tattoo on it went through my mind. It pressed against the moment. I put the thought away.
"I've fixed the children something of their own for supper. They've suddenly decided they don't like prawns."
She interrupted the girls' game and seated them at the counter for supper, then turned to me.
"Come look at these while it's still light."
In the studio off the living room, a painting in progress stood on an easel near a north-facing window. Several more were leaning against the walls on the floor.
I looked at the paintings. There was one of an old chair in an alcove with two windows looking out at a field with the sea beyond. There was another of a child's bedroom, with a toy chest and toys strewn around. On the floor was a picture of the eldest daughter Susan in tee-shirt and blue jeans, seated on the back of the blue couch in the living room.
I turned to the unfinished painting on the easel. It was a scene of the abbey. The point of view was probably right outside the cottage.
"Wow. You’re good," I said.
"I think I'd better see if the girls are finished with supper. It's almost time for them to be in bed."
I stayed to look at the paintings. When I came out of the studio, the little girls were all in the tiny bath off the kitchen. There were sounds of water running in the sink, and the brushing of teeth, with many giggles and cries, and the flushing of the toilet. I thought about my son Mike. I sat on a stool and drank my drink, watching her make dinner.
"Where do you live in London?" he asked.
"Do you go to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park?"
"I like to sketch people there."
The broiling shrimp and garlic smelled very good. I sipped the warm whiskey and smelled the peat of it as I swallowed it down.
"I'm experiencing a profound sense of well-being," I said to her.
"Well, don't get too complacent. Why don't you put out the silverware and light some candles? And the table linens are in that drawer over there."
She pointed to a drawer in the counter. I set the table and then found some matches with the logo of a London bank imprinted on them and lit the candles. I set the matchbook next to my glass.
The little girls emerged with faces scrubbed rosy, wearing almost identical cotton nightgowns. They padded through the kitchen in bare feet.
"Ooo, a candlelight dinner," said Rebecca.
"Come on," said her eldest sister.
The girls trooped up to bed. I had no idea what they thought of my presence. Their mother placed the sizzling shrimp on top of the stove.
"I'll be right back," she said and disappeared upstairs to kiss them good-night.
A bottle of white wine sat on the edge of the counter. I picked up the corkscrew from the counter and opened the bottle and poured two glasses.
I heard her coming down the stairs and turned to watch as she crossed the room.
She served the shrimp with rice and grilled tomatoes, and set the plates at their places on opposite sides of the counter. I raised my glass.
"Cheers," she repeated, and we clinked glasses.
"You certainly are well-organized," I said.
"Thank you. Now eat your supper."
"What's the red stuff on the shrimp?"
"Oh, that's cayenne and paprika. Do you like it?"
We ate in silence for a while.
"Are you going back to London straightaway?" she asked eventually.
"Yes. Tomorrow. Why?"
"I was just wondering."
"When do you go back?" I asked.
"At the end of June."
"I'd like to see you, if I'm still there," I said.
"Where might you be going?"
"Wherever this story leads."
"But I'll be back in London. I have a flat there. May I call you?"
We didn't speak for a while. The silence was awkward.
"Would you like some more wine?" I asked.
We drank the wine.
"I wish we had known each other longer," I said, turning the matchbook from the London bank in circles on the counter, the letters IBIC going round and round.
"But we haven't, have we?"
"No." And then I stretched. "I'm stuffed. Would you like to go for a walk?"
"Yes. I think the stars are out." We left the plates and glasses on the table. "I'll just put the wine in the fridge and blow out the candles," she said.
We went out the door, closing it quietly behind us, like two children sneaking out with their parents asleep upstairs. We walked down the lane and to the left, past the Abbey toward the north end of the island. There was no moon yet, but the stars cast enough light to see by. I found her hand. We walked as far as we could, and at the end of the island we stopped and watched the water and the sky.I put my arm around her waist.
On the way back we both slipped in the dark and burst out laughing. We walked back to the cottage, laughing and shushing each other to be quiet because everyone else on the island was asleep. It was dark as coal without the candles. She switched on a lamp that cast a small incandescent glow.
"Would you like some coffee?" she asked.
"I don't think so," I said, standing close to her. "I think I'd better be going."
"I think you'd better stay." She put her arms around my neck and kissed me.
From upstairs a small voice said, “Mummy, I can’t sleep.” It sounded like Rebecca, the youngest.
“Just a minute, dear. I’ll be right there.” She looked at me. “I could be back in a minute.”
“I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“You’re not very persistent, are you?”
“I guess not.”
“You’re a good man.”
“No, I’m not.”
She kissed me on the cheek.
I asked for her address in London, and she wrote it down for me. She gave me a quick hug, and I was out the door. The moon was up as I walked down toward the inn. Someone besides me was out for a stroll. The sound of footsteps seemed to follow me at a distance.