The Spy Who Came in From The Cold

“Not for the moment,” Peters replied, pouring him some more whisky. “We’ll discuss it again of course, with names and dates.”

There was a knock at the door and the woman came in with lunch, an enormous meal of cold meats and bread and soup. Peters pushed his notes aside and they ate in silence. The interrogation had begun.

Lunch was cleared away. “So you went back to the Circus,” said Peters.

“Yes. For a while they gave me a desk job, processing reports, making assessments of military strengths in Iron Curtain countries, tracing units and that kind of thing.”

“Which section?”

“Satellites Four. I was there from February fifty to May fifty-one.”

“Who were your colleagues?”

“Peter Guillam, Brian de Grey and George Smiley. Smiley left us in early fifty-one and went over to Counterintelligence. In May fifty-one I was posted to Berlin as D.C.A.–Deputy Controller of Area. That meant all the operational work.”

“Who did you have under you?” Peters was writing swiftly. Leamas guessed he had some homemade shorthand.

“Hackett, Sarrow and de long. De long was killed in a traffic accident in Fifty-nine. We thought he was murdered but we could never prove it. They all ran networks and I was in charge. Do you want details?” he asked drily.

“Of course, but later. Go on.”

“It was late fifty-four when we landed our first big fish in Berlin: Fritz Feger, second man in the D.D.R. Defense Ministry. Up till then it had been heavy going–but in November fifty-four we got on to Fritz. He lasted almost exactly two years, then one day we never heard any more. I hear he died in prison. It was another three years before we found anyone to touch him. Then, in 1959, Karl Riemeck turned up. Karl was on the Praesidium of the East German Communist Party. He was the best agent I ever knew.”

“He is now dead,” Peters observed.

A look of something like shame passed across Leamas’ face.

“I was there when he was shot,” he muttered. “He had a mistress who came over just before he died. He’d told her everything–she knew the whole damned network. No wonder he was blown.”

“We’ll return to Berlin later. Tell me this. When Karl died you flew back to London. Did you remain in London for the rest of your service?”

“What there was of it, yes.”

“What job did you have in London?”

“Banking section; supervision of agents’ salaries, overseas payments for clandestine purposes. A child could have managed it. We got our orders and we signed the drafts. Occasionally there was a security headache.”

“Did you deal with agents direct?”

“How could we? The Resident in a particular country would make a requisition. Authority would put a hoof-mark on it and pass it to us to make the payment. In most cases we had the money transferred to a convenient foreign bank where the Resident could draw it himself and hand it to the agent.”

“How were agents described? By cover names?”

“By figures. The Circus calls them combinations. Every network was given a combination: every agent was described by a suffix attached to the combination. Karl’s combination was eight A stroke one.”

Leamas was sweating. Peters watched him coolly, appraising him like a professional gambler across the table. What was Leamas worth? What would break him, what attract or frighten him? What did he hate; above all, what did he know? Would he keep his best card to the end and sell it dear? Peters didn’t think so: Leamas was too much off balance to monkey about. He was a man at odds with himself, a man who knew one life, one confession, and had betrayed them. Peters had seen it before. He had seen it, even in men who had undergone a complete ideological reversal, who in the secret hours of the night had found a new creed, and alone, compelled by the internal power of their convictions, had betrayed their calling, their families, their countries. Even they, filled as they were with new zeal and new hope, had had to struggle against the stigma of treachery; even they wrestled with the al most physical anguish of saying that which they had been trained never, never to reveal. Like apostates who feared to bum the Cross, they hesitated between the instinctive and the material; and Peters, caught in the same polarity, must give them’ comfort and destroy their pride. It was a situation of which they were both aware; thus Leamas had fiercely rejecte4 a human relationship with Peters, for his pride precluded it. Peters knew that for those reasons Leamas would lie; lie perhaps only by omission, but lie all the same, for pride, from defiance or through the sheer perversity of his profession; and he, Peters, would have to nail the lies. He knew, too, that the very fact that Leamas was a professional could militate against his interests, for Leamas would select where Peters wanted no selection; Leamas would anticipate the type of intelligence which Peters required–and in doing so might pass by some casual scrap which could be of vital interest to the evaluators. To all that, Peters added the capricious vanity of an alcoholic wreck.

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Categories: LaCarre, John