It was an unedifyingly cold night in mid-March when they met, maybe a year before Operation Testify. The subsequent fall-out of the Operation had turned the Circus and, by extension, Peter Guillam’s personal life, into an unbearable quagmire of complexity and unanswered questions. But the year before Testify, he met Richard.
Philip and Pam’s house was an exercise in almost studious middle-class nonentity, slumbering in the Sussex suburbs too far from London to be convenient and too close to Epping to be considered idyllic, regardless of what his friends no doubt thought of their home. It was red-brick and cream-painted, and they insisted on serving the kind of grimly inexpensive cocktails that almost everyone Guillam worked with would have winced to taste.
But Philip and Pam were friends, and no matter if Guillam would rather have gone to one of those parties where everyone was getting increasingly younger than him and picked up an art student, he’d grown up with Philip. He wasn’t ever wholly sure why Philip had married Pam – something to do with religion, they were both Presbyterian although in an unobtrusive enough manner – and somewhat bewildered as to why he was still friends with Philip beyond a certain lingering nostalgia.
He took the invitation and drove down to Epping too fast with his seatbelt buckled resentfully. The night was pricked with the occasional wink of frosty stars, obliterated by rolling interludes of restless clouds, and the budding branches of trees laced through each other like fingers, their silhouettes softened by the slow coming of spring. The Porsche tore a strip down a quiet road that ran between two fields and the ghostly shape of startled sheep fled from the car, their white rumps shaking as they went.
The drive stuck in his memory more clearly than the conversations preceding the dinner; Philip had about him the way of a country pastor without any of the missionary charm some of them affected, and was quite capable of boring Guillam into a stupor within a few sentences. It wasn’t that one found his presence or conversation irritating so much as they failed to hold anyone’s attention and half-way through one realised that one had instead been examining Philip’s sister’s watercolours or staring vacantly out of the window while nodding.
It probably did him good, Guillam thought. That was probably why he kept talking to Philip.
On this particular evening, this very Presbyterian pair of schoolteachers had scraped together a collection of their notably single friends within a certain age bracket. It was immediately discernible from the way that Frances Denby had cat hairs on her red dress and no interest in her flat gray eyes that she was about as enamoured of this misguided act of charity as Guillam was. Pam and her garish blue eye-shadow manoeuvred the four selected recipients of their pity about (in order to ensure everyone had “met” each other) with all the finesse and subtlety of a drill sergeant.
“And this is Richard Crook,” Philip said firmly, planting the other potential husband in front of him as much as if he’d physically lifted and dumped the man there. He said it with such a hard look – Richard Crook, not Cook – that for a moment Guillam had wondered if he knew.
It wasn’t like the sixties, when men slipped about barely-shrouded in code that was hardly code at all, and kicked and waited and kicked again like an unborn child, a thing whose time has almost come but not yet come out, waiting for the Wolfden report to come to a conclusion. It wasn’t like when Guillam was a young man, a younger man, veering between ‘dare not speak its name’ and ‘bloody well had better not speak its name or its going to get its teeth knocked in’ with the usual Great British Hypocrisy that allowed blind eyes to slither away over anyone useful (until they weren’t useful any more: poor Turing).
No, now there were pubs, and police raids, and the reeling disorder of a world that feels some delicate bedspread has been peeled back to reveal something below they’d rather not have seen. Guillam could hardly help feeling that if the majority of the country was going to be that upset about two men exchanging one off the wrist in a B-road lay-by, they would be dropping dead from apoplexy at the activities of the great and the good.
“Richard teaches at Pam’s school. Richard, this is Peter Guillam,” said Philip.
The lampshade on the overhead lamp was a grotesque balloon of opaque paper and metal hoops, and if it didn’t have Made in Taiwan stamped across the bottom curve in faint gold letters he would have taken it for some over-favoured gift of self-construction from a student.
“Peter does something with the government but he’s never really explained what,” said Philip.
“It’s tremendously dull,” Guillam assured him. “All that matters is that your taxes are being squandered appallingly on keeping me in unbridled luxury.” The joke would probably have worked a bit better had he not been wearing a suit which was worth more than Pam’s car, although he wasn’t sure if they’d know that.
“Department of Education, then,” said Richard Crook, with the same irony.
He was as bent as Guillam, that much was certain right away, and it made him once again paranoid that Philip had somehow seen through the occasional blonde-bobbed girl with nice legs that he brought along to these dinners, or the string of brunettes. Stuffing two queers into one intended marriage-grooming dinner was either extraordinary bad luck or deliberate planning; Guillam tried to cast a surreptitious eye over Francis and Louise for confirmation but he’d never been very good at spotting lesbians who weren’t nearly in drag.
“Of course, why else would Philip and Pam hold me in such unwarranted esteem?” he asked, extending a hand for Richard Crook to shake.
He had soft, slightly damp palms, and a quirk in his smile that made Guillam wonder in spite of himself – and with a small shock at the clarity of the thought – what those palms would feel like on his cock.
Guillam spent the rest of the evening obsessively trying to chase-without-chasing after Richard Crook. Part of it was a game; keep away from in-depth conversation with Francis without looking as if he was avoiding her, keep Pam convinced that he was sincere and straight, and find some way of talking Philip’s unexpectedly enigmatic schoolteacher into bed with him without looking as if he was even taking an interest.
The chase: art students were always disappointingly easy. Often the disappointment manifested itself in a bad case of an itching scrotum, for art students weren’t just easy with him.
Pam had served avocado for a starter. Guillam remembered that because he’d found himself almost incapable of not laughing at this single act of blissful unawareness. She had coasters under the wine glasses that looked as if they’d been woven by tramps.
By the end of the night, sloshing pissedly toward the door with the intention of making himself sick once he got to the end of the cul-de-sac and therefore lessening his chance of driving into a lorry on the way home – rejecting utterly the invitation to borrow their spare room – Guillam had done what he felt was his utmost to corner his quarry in any sense other than the physical.
He was pleasantly surprised to find he actually quite liked Richard Crook; he was clearly intelligent, and not in the dreadful philosophising sense of some of the more vocal inebriated art students. He was sarcastic without being cynical, and charming without being unnecessarily smug. He did have an appalling set of sideburns but Guillam was keenly aware that no one was perfect.
On the doorstep he clapped hands to shoulders in an awkward goodbye with his childhood acquaintance, and thought, Come on, do something in Richard Crook’s direction as hard as he could without making himself look constipated. Pam kissed him on the cheek, reeking of vodka martinis.
As Richard caught Guillam’s hand to shake it in a vigorous, excellent-to-meet you motion and Pam and Philip were duly distracted in wishing farewell to Louise, he hissed, “Either put your eyes back in your head or give me a lift home, for Christ’s sake.”
And it was a ride, and only a ride, that night. Guillam drove at speeds that made Richard say, “Do you always drive like this or are you just in a hurry to get rid of me?” with his hand conspicuously close to but not quite touching Guillam’s leg.
He was – inured to art students who were all too quick to open up and girls who gave him the run-around on the assumption that he’d eagerly pursue the final goal with unbending tenacity – confused and somewhat put out when Richard politely but firmly closed the door behind him and said only, “Well you know where I live, now.”
Which meant that now the chase was on in earnest.
The problem with having the ability to track down almost any piece of information about the ordinary citizen was that there was endless temptation to do so; almost everyone who worked at the Circus had, at some point or another, checked out whomever they were seeing under the guise of “security”. One couldn’t be too careful, after all – maybe the pretty little thing one had picked up was working to squeeze secrets out of one – and usually in these cases any spare lamplighters knocking around could be prevailed upon to do a little of the footwork.
Guillam, of course, didn’t have this luxury.
He’d never told anyone at the Circus – it would have placed too much at risk – apart from Haydon. Haydon had only shrugged and said, “Aren’t we all?” with a rueful smile before ignoring him in favour of grimacing at his coffee. Guillam had always managed to forget, in his elevation of the Circus’s golden boy to the same pedestal that the rest of his generation had placed the man upon, that Bill affected a little queerness as part of his artistic mystique.
He wasted a little time accessing the usual records: dentistry, housing rental contracts, hospital admittance, employment, arrests (one, later corrected as a case of mistaken identity, although the circumstances of the arrest, involving as they did Hampstead Heath, suggested to Guillam that there was no mistaken identity involved and that this adequately explained Richard’s current caution). On the front of interviews he was stymied – he could hardly go himself and if he sent someone else he would have to come up with a plausible story; in the end Guillam shoved one of the most junior girls – an ambitious burnished copper-blonde who revelled in the name of Lisa – to go and tail him for a bit.
“It’s probably nothing,” Guillam said, affecting disinterest. “But I thought you might like to get out in the fresh air for a bit and a bit of experience never hurt anyone.” He was senior enough, and Lisa lowly enough, that there was no question of her asking for any more details; there was also little enough change that anyone would care too much about his purloining her for his own use. They would be convinced he was trying to get in her good books on the off chance of a drink.
Lisa spent two days diligently practicing her pavement artistry and came back pink-cheeked and cigarette-scented and very pleased with herself, laden with a notebook full of observations despite being told by almost everyone to rely on her memory where possible.
Guillam, as was his duty, reprimanded her gently for this but praised her for her diligence, invited her for the mandatory drink, barely listened to her flimsy excuse for turning him down, and settled into his chair impatiently to flick through what she’d written.
Lisa had picked up a thorough enough picture of the pubs he drank in, the school he worked at, and the people he had associated with. She’d noted him visiting a chemist but had been unable to determine what he was buying. She had determined that he didn’t have a car, and confirmed his place of residence.
Staring distractedly into the middle-distance as he destroyed Lisa’s notes, Guillam tried to coalesce the information into a plan; he couldn’t just show up at the man’s local as if he’d casually wandered in. Richard wasn’t stupid, he’d already made that clear, and Guillam knew well enough that men of his own profession, in addition to being paranoid, had a certain tendency to assume that the layperson simply didn’t notice their tradecraft. He was keen not to make that mistake.
He was still ruminating on the problem when he arrived at home, swilling it about in his head when the telephone rang and Richard asked him if he wanted to take a walk.
“I got your number from Philip,” he said breezily. “I told him I’d left my lighter in your car.”
“A walk where?” Guillam asked, still temporarily wrong-footed, and conscious that there was no reason for the wire men not to have tapped his home phone line. He was also terribly conscious that if he suggested that he call Richard back and went to ring him from a phone box, he would look a little strange.
“Wherever you like,” Richard said, almost coyly. “The destination’s going to be the same.”
“Then why not cut the walk altogether?” Guillam asked.
“If it’s worth having,” said Richard, “it’s worth waiting for.”
In the cold unravelling betrayal of the Haydon case, the sweeping of rugs from beneath his feet and the nasty, prickling inward-facing scrutiny that took the Circus apart and turned it into a limp and crippled shadow of its former self, the unwanted ejection of Richard from his life had seemed like an almost inevitable consequence of the whole mess. He’d been required to spy on his own, a notion so disgusting to his inadequately-buried sense of schoolboy patriotism that he had broken out in cold sweats before, after, and during. He’d seen the golden boy of the Circus felled and unveiled as containing nothing of the man they thought he’d been. Of course, of course he should have his domestic sanctity and the fragile raft of romantic stability that had begun to underscore his middle age removed, too.
The inevitability of it, as he rationalised it, did very little to keep him from sobbing like a distraught child in his bedroom, alone, that first night. He had gone to sleep a broken man, and woken in the morning a hollow one, initially confused in his groggy predawn stupidity by the absence of Richard’s light whistling snore from the far side of the mattress.
He told himself he had been stupid to get used to it. That he’d been a one-night-stand-man for a very good reason. That a man like him simply couldn’t be tied to one spot – all the excuses, all the reasons with which he’d swept away his various infidelities; the continued art students (out of habit) and the occasional rough-handed stranger (curiosity). They rang as false to him then as they must have done to Richard when he’d offered them.
The worst came when, in one of his conversations with Smiley after Haydon’s execution (in which Guillam wincingly recognised the hand of betrayed love with as much painful clarity as if he’d pulled the trigger himself), he was told, “Haydon did mention you.”
“Where?” Guillam asked, torn between frozen paranoia and his continued rage at Haydon’s destruction of the whole dream of the Circus.
“Oh, only a note in his desk. Not even sent out, we don’t think.”
Guillam knew then that he didn’t need to ask what the note said, or why Smiley had elected to tell him while he was alone in the fifth-floor office.
Smiley didn’t ask if it was true, or mention it at all; he only took a folded piece of paper from the watch pocket of his waistcoat and passed it gravely into Guillam’s nervous fingers. He didn’t tell him to destroy it, didn’t utter another word – until he said, “I think that will be everything for now, Peter.”
The note, in Haydon’s flamboyant hand, only read, P. Guillam, homosexual. It was part of a larger note – the edges had been neatly torn, and a swooping tail of a lower-case g or y had impinged on the looped ls of his surname.
He knew, Guillam thought angrily as he destroyed the note. He knew because I told him. All those precautions while we were chasing after some damn mysterious mole and all that time he knew and didn’t give a damn because I wasn’t important enough anyway. There had been no need to have Richard leave. None at all.
Guillam had disliked Tarr from the off, for a number of bland reasons which added up to Tarr just being a bastard. He was the new breed, and while Guillam might not be the old guard himself, he felt he had far more in common with the likes of George Smiley and even tiny Toby Esterhaze than he did with someone who had come to some sort of maturity while in prison. He was unbalanced, self-deluding – Guillam acknowledged grimly that the same might be said for them all, for how else did one get through the days – well-acquainted with violence, and prone to criminality. All of which were, in scalp-hunters, only to be expected to one degree or another.
But he disliked Tarr all the same. He took insane risks for the apparent purpose of taking the risk in the first place, and alternated between looking at Guillam with what Guillam suspected was insolently faked apologetic reverence and with open contempt. Their working relationship was close to the bureaucratic equivalent of a boxing match, and Tarr was altogether too fond of falling in with the kind of people who settled even the most basic of arguments with drawn weapons.
Guillam had watched Live and Let Die in Soho alongside a pretty redhead he was supposedly courting as what he twitchily thought of as his “domestic cover”, because “series of beards” sounded preposterous and was what Richard called it. He’d watched with the same incredulity he reserved for all of the series and been struck part of the way through by the thought that to the average human being outside of the Circus and Whitehall, this is what a scalp-hunter specifically would conjure in their mind.
He then tried to imagine Thomas Allenby, Valko Sofianski, or Tarr in the kind of well-tailored and affluent suits Roger Moore was now displayed in, and snorted too loudly at an inappropriate point in the film. Thinking on it – as people beside him looked confused – outside of himself and the now-retired Smiley he couldn’t picture anyone in his line of work dressing that well (and Smiley always looked as if he had been thrust into his clothes without warning, like a dog or a child), but Tarr especially, who exercised the same disregard for the number of people he killed as Bond did, would have been difficult to wrestle out of his blue jeans.
In the post-Haydon era, for which Guillam had tried out numerous personal nicknames and only been able to settle on “bloody awful”, suspicion fell not on people’s personal lives but on the finances, records, and other paper trails they left in their wake. Smiley wasn’t interested in who Guillam did or didn’t sleep with; and yet in this period of relative lenience, when he might have exercised his appetite to his fullest, he found it fell away from him completely.
Richard was, by now, seeing someone else.
“Go away,” he’d said, when Guillam showed up to try to make amends. “You’ve behaved appallingly. I don’t mind – I can tolerate – the perpetual cheating, Lord knows I have over and over, but if you just kick me out without any notice and won’t even give me the slightest idea what the problem is you can bloody will reap what you’ve sown.” He kept the door almost pulled to behind him, and this, even if nothing else had been there to suggest it, said there was someone else waiting for him. “What makes you think you’re entitled to my forgiveness, Peter? Behave like a bloody grown-up.”
There was a faded black Morris Marina parked around the corner from his flat which looked out of place enough that Guillam knew it must be the one; a glimpse inside revealed someone with a shapeless grey overcoat and an AA road map of the Scottish Highlands folded on the passenger seat. He entertained the childish notion of letting the air out of the man’s tires or scraping his keys over the paintwork and the rather more alarming one of cutting his brake line, but in the end Guillam left the Marina unmolested and drove home in a state nearly as disconsolate as when Richard left in the first place.
Instead of crying in his bedroom he sat as if paralysed for most of the night, and in the morning went to a roadside café somewhere in Buckinghamshire to clear his head. This resulted in a few hours of staring at his breakfast while his cigarette burned down to the filter, leaving with a head no clearer than the one he’d entered with.
In this respect Tarr, it transpired, was as effective as a cold shower and about as pleasant. He returned from gods only knew where in the aftermath of his exploits in Paris – Guillam neither knew nor cared where he’d been – and introduced himself with a scabbed smile that no doubt resulted from more misadventures, and an immediate request for money from the kitty or an advance on his pay. He did this by climbing into Guillam’s car while he was in Boots and lying in the back seat until his return, which did not exactly endear him to Guillam once his heart had stopped battering itself against his ribcage in shock.
“No,” Guillam said automatically, pulling away from the curb too fast. “And why the bloody hell can’t you just meet me in Brixton? Everyone else manages it.”
“Spot of bother,” Tarr said indistinctly in the ingratiating voice he only ever used when he knew he was already in trouble, “bit of a falling-out with Verhoeven. Nothing serious. Probably. Broke his collarbone a bit. Are you sure I can’t have a couple of hundred?”
The sad thing, Guillam thought as he found himself entangled in the mid-afternoon traffic around Pall Mall, was that Tarr was far from the only professional acquaintance he had for whom the phrase “broke his collarbone a bit” constituted a minor infraction rather than the prison sentence it merited in the gray and fuzzy “real world”.
“Where’re you going?” Tarr asked when he got no answer to this. “Brixton?”
“Sarratt,” Guillam grunted, inching forward through the blockade of black cabs.
“Don’t want to go to Sarratt,” Tarr muttered sullenly from the back seat, still lying down – Guillam could see him in the mirror, although he doubted that anyone passing by could. “What you want to head up there for anyway—“
“Because Smiley asked me to,” Guillam snapped. “Does this look like a fucking taxi? Get out.”
But Tarr didn’t budge, and the traffic did, and so Guillam inched forward in front of a bus and swore quietly to himself about the inconsiderate tendency of everyone else in the city to be on the road when he was trying to use it.
“Are you bleeding on my seats?” Guillam asked, nearly stalling the damn engine as some complete bastard pulled out in front of him and almost pranged the nose of the Porsche.
“See, I knew you cared,” Tarr said with heavy sarcasm. “It’s all right, I got it sewed up before I got in, don’t worry. I know a nurse at Middlesex, she deals with this all the time. No problem. Don’t even need to bother the patch-up team at Sarratt, do I?”
Guillam didn’t comment on the hint that Verhoeven and Tarr’s “bit of a falling-out” had apparently involved a knife somewhere along its progression or ask why, when the Circus was being systematically torn apart in search of hidden microphones, foul play, and unnoticed slipping away of funds, Verhoeven and Tarr had elected to have a knife-fight. There was probably a woman involved.
Tarr was bleeding and sulking on the back seat of Guillam’s car. He revised his estimation as he finally got a clear stretch of road in front of him; there was almost certainly a woman involved, and the couple of hundred advance, if Guillam knew Tarr, was a clear requirement for him to run to ground in Jakarta again.
“Why’re they rolling up the networks in Hong Kong?” Tarr asked, as the car became wedged into another jam, finally out of Pall Mall but ensnared in Piccadilly Circus.
“Where have you been?” Guillam asked dryly. He meant, what kind of idiot do you think would tell you that and haven’t you been paying attention, but Tarr seemed out of sorts enough to take the question at face value.
“Johannesburg,” he slurred, stretching himself out and displaying to the rear view mirror as he did the bloodstain seeping through his shirt. Whoever his nurse was, her dressing had been a poor one.
“What the bloody hell did you drag yourself down there for? That’s not your patch.”
“Fancied a holiday,” Tarr sneered. Which, to Peter’s ear, sounded also like it involved a woman. Tarr had women in more ports than the average sailor, and while he differed little from most field men in this regard, he also somehow had a talent for acquiring women whose company necessitated him leaving at speed, often with someone else’s money burning a hole in his pocket. It was only because Tarr was occasionally an asset to the service that he was a scalp-hunter and not a career criminal.
“Seems you’re going to be bothering the patch-up team at Sarratt after all,” Guillam observed. “Give the new boys something to do, while we’re keeping a low profile.”
“Fuck off,” Tarr suggested, draping an arm over his eyes and fingering the damp splotch on his shirt with blind strokes.
At Sarratt, Guillam dumped a woozy and anaemic but still-swearing Tarr onto the patch-up team and went to talk to those apparently high-strung Inquisitors agitated by the prospect of full-time sharing the place with The Competition. When he returned to his car four hours later, Tarr was sitting in the passenger seat smoking a cigarette.
“This still isn’t a fucking taxi,” Guillam said as he got in.
“I missed the shuttle,” Tarr said with exaggerated contrition. “Having my side sewn up proper, wasn’t I?”
“There’ll be another one in an hour or two,” Guillam said, not bothering to start the engine.
“Don’t be a prick.”
Guillam stared at him for a moment as the car continued to fill with cheap smoke. “Do you speak to all your superiors like this or am I the only one to have the pleasure?” he asked in the end, as a slightly less pale-looking Tarr finished his cigarette and wound the window down laboriously to throw the butt away.
“Sorry to inconvenience you, boss,” Tarr said with mock-obsequiousness. “Going back to Brixton?”
“Good,” Tarr said, tapping his knuckles fitfully on the dashboard. He often tapped things when nervous, and rushed his words. It was an unimpressive display, and the last time Guillam had seen it Tarr had been itching for protection from the entire Soviet service. This time he seemed to have thrown himself too hard into a menial dispute and was overreacting badly to the fall-out, angling – Guillam thought with an internal sneer – to protect himself by positioning himself below his “boss”.
There was something of the dog in him, Guillam thought as he started the engine at last, resigned to Tarr’s continued presence in his car. He was not loyal in the sense that men of principle, men like Jim Prideaux and Control and Smiley and, and Guillam himself were loyal – to the Circus, to their country, to whatever battered ideals they lugged around with them in the suitcase of their hearts – but the way a stray dog is loyal to those who have shown it a little kindness. A poor substitute for a man, weak and prone to biting, but ultimately likely to run home this way instead of that way.
“Was she worth it?” Guillam asked as he pulled down the driveway.
“Dunno what you’re talking about,” Tarr muttered, hanging his head out of the window, presumably to blow the confounding strands of morphia from him.
“Verhoeven just thought he’d perforate you over nothing then, I suppose? I can’t imagine you owed him money,” Guillam sighed. There would probably have to be some form of disciplinary over this, and he knew very well that with Smiley pre-occupied and the hierarchy in a genteel form of turmoil, it was going to fall to him. A polite discussion with Verhoeven and a trip to the Nursery for retraining; tea, biscuits, and a blazing row with Tarr as soon as he’d stopped leaking red all over his shirts.
“Or maybe I was defending my honour,” Tarr said sarcastically, the wind turning his too-long hair into a streamlined mane.
Guillam snorted. “You wouldn’t know honour if it sat on you.”
“I know it when it’s sat next to me,” Tarr muttered, and Guillam was so surprised that he couldn’t be sure for a moment that he’d heard him right. He kept his eye on the road for the next half-mile, and drove well above the limit with a sense of mounting unease.
When he glanced to his left, Tarr was staring impatiently at the side of his head.
“Turn off, then,” he complained, and Guillam executed such an abrupt right-hand turn that the Porsche’s tires screeched over the asphalt and the boot fishtailed wildly, throwing them both across the car and smacking Tarr’s head off the windowframe. “Fuck’s sake,” Tarr blurted, apparently rattled.
The Porsche bounced and scraped down the unpaved track into a fallow field, coming to a rest in an otherwise idyllic spray of dead grass that was starting to show signs of life here and there.
“Well?” Guillam asked, keeping both his hands on the wheel as he turned to Tarr, so that he wouldn’t give in to any temptation to punch the man in the mouth.
“News gets around,” Tarr shrugged, defiant in the face of confrontation but looking for all that surprisingly troubled. He tapped his forefingers on his own thigh.
P. Guillam, homosexual. Guillam’s blood ran cold, and he tightened his fingers around the wheel.
“You know,” Tarr said with a filthy grin that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“Evidently I don’t.”
Rather than answer him directly, Tarr made an obscene gesture with his hand and mouth, one which perfectly imitated a ghostly act of fellatio.
Guillam’s anger bubbled up out of his mouth; “Fuck you.”
“That’s the idea,” Tarr agreed, easily. “Simple.”
With the blood currently pounding in Guillam’s ears he wasn’t sure he had heard, but he couldn’t unlock his fingers from the steering wheel sufficiently to give Tarr the smack in the mouth he so richly deserved. “That ‘couple of hundred’ you wanted,” he said in a voice that was weaker than he would have liked, “blackmail money? Is that it? You’re burning me?”
“I owe Verhoeven,” Tarr said, apparently indifferent now to Guillam’s distress.
“And he stabbed you over that,” Guillam groaned in disgust at the pettiness of it.
“More because I punched him in the nuts,” Tarr said with the same brittle indifference. “He wouldn’t shut up about it. Fucking. On and on. And on. And on. Like a little stuck record with one track all about dick-sucking.”
Guillam tried to process the information and came up with the beginnings of a blinding headache and the strong desire to spend the remainder of his life sitting alone in his car with his head in his hands.
They sat in a silence that was very nearly the inverse of “companionable” for so long that Guillam thought he saw the light change above the field. When at last his stomach unknotted itself from its furious tangle enough for his mind to start working again, he said, “Apart from this ‘couple of hundred’, what exactly is it that you want?”
Tarr only shrugged, affecting offense at the question.
Acknowledgement, Guillam thought, pulling his hand from the steering wheel and massaging his tense fingers with the other, a pat on the bloody head. Some indication that his loyalty has been noticed. He stared out over the dead grass heads as they waved in the breeze, and beside him Tarr lit another cigarette.
It was a funny thought, but Smiley had his Fawn – queer little over-eager babysitter in tennis shoes who went into pining grief whenever separated from his master for too long – and fate seemed keen on serving up a much less biddable and far more unwieldy subordinate for Guillam. He wondered if Tarr even saw himself as anyone’s subordinate except for when he was afraid for his life; he was a man used to stealing from the tables of the rich, not polishing their shoes.
And besides, if Fawn ever offered to service Smiley thus he hadn’t heard about it and didn’t even want to imagine it.
Tarr thrust the packet of cigarettes into Guillam’s reverie enquiringly.
“No,” Guillam said, jerking his head away from them as if they were about to collide with his face. “What do you want?”
For his answer, Tarr propped his cigarette in his mouth, grabbed Guillam by the wrist too quickly for him to resist – his hand was not as rough as he might have expected, as it seemed Tarr was indisposed toward real work almost as much as Guillam himself – and thrust Guillam’s palm against his cock with an expression verging on the manic.
“What do you want,” Tarr said, holding his gaze.
Not you, Guillam thought. But then, he didn’t not want him, either.