When the president calls at three o’clock in the morning, Mycroft Holmes is still on Baker Street. He takes the receiver handed him, listens briefly, and touches two absent fingers to the secretary’s desk.
Very good, John, he says.
He rings Moscow, and Cuba does not make the headlines.
Bletchley Park days have left them a set of intelligencers’ rules that skitter and blend and fold over on themselves and demand adherence, always. They dress in suits; they do not sleep; they drink, prodigiously, and avoid intoxication, women, and general untidiness. When Holmes appears, these old cavalry standards grate; they become sources of unease rather than reassurance.
He moves so easy in his tailored Westminster suit between their desks – public school, effortless, familiar – and yet they feel self-conscious in their seats with ties done tight, waistcoats buttoned. The young ones in particular experience a recurring sensation of being left out and cannot place precisely why.
One night, they hear him speaking Russian behind a closed door. Khorosho, tovarishch Sergeyevich, he says, sounding amiable, laughing softly.
The secretary learns to go for tea when he comes in late evenings.
Holmes picks up another telephone, smiling, and beneath their shoes all shined in Charing Cross this morning the ground shifts again. They begin to understand how different this war is from the last.