The House of Rumour A Novel - By Jake Arnott


the fool

I still look up to the stars for some sort of meaning. As a kid I thought I was seeing the future. Space, this was where we were headed, I was sure of it. Now I know that it was always the distant past I gazed at. With the light pollution over LA at night it’s sometimes hard even to trace a constellation.

As a science fiction writer I dreamt of other worlds and other possibilities. We saw such changes it seemed that fantasy itself had conjured them into being. Now the space shuttle has just been cancelled and for the first time in fifty years America no longer has a working manned space programme. It’s become old-fashioned, that foolish optimism we had about reaching faraway stars and planets.

Yet I look up at the heavens with some sort of hope. I think of the Voyager probe, still travelling over thirty years into its mission, still responding to its ground control and sending data back from the far reaches of our solar system. It’s on its way out into the galaxy. So we did launch a starship, after all. Unmanned, of course, but maybe hope is unmanned.

As above, so below.

The past becomes more uncertain than the future. I am of the generation that filled pulp magazines with cheap prophesy. Now the events in my own lifetime seem more fantastic still.

For example, an obituary has just appeared in a British newspaper:

‘The Times, Tuesday, 24 September 2011. Sir Marius Trevelyan GCB, CMG, diplomat and intelligence officer, died on 30 December, aged 91. He was born on 12 February, 1920. Marius Trevelyan’s long and distinguished career in the art of deception was characterised by his taciturn nature and an essential modesty. An acknowledged genius in counter-intelligence and disinformation, he was one of the last of the cold warriors for whom discretion was not merely the better part of valour but the very name of the game. A testament to this is his brief entry in Who’s Who, in which his career is simply given as “HM Diplomatic Service” long after MI6 and its departmental chiefs had been officially identified.’

Five paragraphs giving discreet details of his career in the Intelligence Service follow, then an intriguing conclusion:

‘In November 1987, Trevelyan was questioned by Scotland Yard detectives over a brief sexual encounter he had had with a male transvestite prostitute who was later found dead in suspicious circumstances. Official concern over this affair stemmed from a series of allegations by the prostitute, known as Vita Lampada, including a claim that he had acquired a document containing official secrets from Trevelyan. In the event, Ministry of Defence officials satisfied themselves that this episode had constituted no threat to national security.’

What does this curious fragment of history have to do with me? Well, the ‘document’ mentioned is almost certainly the one in my possession. A manuscript that carries a fascinating narrative; an artefact with a provenance that is quite a story in its own right. Passed and palmed like a marked card in a shuffled deck, it somehow ended up in my hands. I became the custodian of a mystery, even though mystery was never really my genre. I’ll leave it to others to give you the whole story, but here are the facts surrounding the matter.

Marius Trevelyan first worked for British Intelligence during the Second World War, serving with the Political Warfare Executive, an organisation specialising in counter-intelligence and disinformation. He was part of black propaganda operations around the time of the curious episode involving Rudolf Hess: the Deputy Führer who flew to Scotland in the spring of 1941, a crucial point in the war. In 1987, Trevelyan was brought out of retirement by the Service to compile a report on the suicide of Hess in Spandau prison that year.

Enter Vita Lampada, a transsexual hustler who picked up the retired spy in Mayfair. They went back to Trevelyan’s flat. There’s a good reason why prostitutes call it ‘turning a trick’. Vita was something of an unstable element; he or she was a wild card, a joker in the pack. Vita stole Trevelyan’s briefcase with the aforementioned document. Now this wasn’t the official report on Hess, but some sort of personal account of the case.

Vita had convictions for fraud, had fed stories to the gossip columns and was even known to have indulged in blackmail on occasion, but she was way out of her depth here. She played a game with the press as she had done in the past