Welcome to Episode Fourteen of our nightly audio adventure, The Secret Agent - written by Joseph Conrad in 1907 but one of the most quoted books on the planet in the fall of 2001. In tonight's episode, having putting a scare into Mr Verloc, the Assistant Commissioner goes to the House of Commons to report to the Home Secretary on the involvement of senior figures at the Russian Embassy in the Greenwich Park bombing. On his way home he stops in at the home of the great lady who has become the society patroness of the celebrity terrorist - very much a phenomenon of our own time, when eminent figures take up the cause of Omar Khadr and the like. As it happens, at tonight's salon, the First Secretary of the Russian Embassy is also present:
'He has been threatening society with all sorts of horrors,' continued the lady, whose enunciation was caressing and slow, 'apropos of this explosion in Greenwich Park. It appears we all ought to quake in our shoes at what's coming if those people are not suppressed all over the world. I had no idea this was such a grave affair.'
Mr Vladimir, affecting not to listen, leaned towards the couch, talking amiably in subdued tones, but he heard the Assistant Commissioner say:
'I've no doubt that Mr Vladimir has a very precise notion of the true importance of this affair.'Mr Vladimir asked himself what that confounded and intrusive policeman was driving at.
As the Assistant Commissioner hints, he's trying to give the First Secretary an opportunity to withdraw discreetly from London. As you may recall, there was quite a lot of that from various prominent Saudis flying out of Washington hastily after 9/11. Then as now, the degrees of separation between the unrespectable bomber and the most respectable diplomats are not as many as one might wish. The scene ends on the steps of the "Explorers Club" - a thinly disguised version of the Travellers Club, where to this day respectable Britons host senior foreign ambassadors.
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