Peter Guillam’s life is made up of things that will get him killed.
He knows this.
He is an intelligent man, and was once a clever boy: quiet without being shy, always picked in the first half of the class for games (yet never first or second), with a meticulous nature that generally made up for a lack of true ingenuity.
He is precisely the sort of man you can find by the dozen within the walls of the Circus. Once they would have been the smart, healthy, yet unmarriageable sons of the aristocracy, the boys who will protect the country yet never inherit the family home. They would have been men of god or of war. Today they are devoted and scarred enough to be both.
The only lasting relationships of a spy are with cigarettes and scotch. This is a common joke among men like Bill Haydon, and a very unamusing reality among many others. Peter uses neither drug with the sort of fervent devotion he sees in his superiors, but he suspects that one day he might.
For now, these alone are his failings: curiosity, loyalty, and a predilection for older men. There are only three, and they are forgivable. The Circus loves curious boys with a passion. It recruits them from Oxbridge and the other good schools when they are bright-eyed and awash with idealism. It teaches them how to kill and how to spit in the face of torturers. Curiosity and loyalty will take him far, right off the edge of some cliff he will never even realise is there.
He knows this.
Homosexuality is not officially approved of by anyone at the Circus. Which is to say, it is never mentioned. They know, of course. They know everything about him, and the little fact of sharing his life and flat and bed with another man is not something that could ever have been missed. But no one has ever mentioned it. For an institution that recruits mostly men, mostly from public schools, it would be impossible to let it stand against him.
Besides, more spies have been duped and crippled and killed by pretty girls than anyone cares to remember. At least he is dutifully, boringly monogamous, and immune to the charms of numerous Soviet former ballet dancers. And, he thinks on dreary days in the record room, being a queer in modern London means living an entire life of successful deception. It’s good practice.
The day after the night Bill Haydon is taken away in handcuffs, Peter sits alone in a not particularly good pub in London’s west end and reflects on just how bloody clever he is.
He’s still doing much the same thing two weeks later. There’s nothing to go home for but clothes and a shower, and he’s beginning to see the attractiveness of a partner at the bottom of a pint glass, murky and consoling.
Unfortunately he’s not a good enough drinker to knock himself out before he gets to the vomiting stage. It’s very unprofessional.
“You’re Smiley’s man, now,” Ricki Tarr says. Ricki, now there’s a drinker. By the time he finds Peter, though, he’s mostly sobered up. Only his eyes are still lost, just a fraction out of touch with the cold hard reality of the day. “Or do we call him Control now?”
Peter gives a non-committal shrug. Smiley had been Control’s man, quiet and capable. It’s the sort of honour that makes enemies. It doesn’t take much to ensure that his new position of respect within the Circus doesn’t go to his head. In fifteen years or so, if he’s still alive, there will be a new crop of Ricki Tarrs and Peter Guillams staring at him in lifts and corridors, wondering what it would take to break hm.
Smiley’s made sure that he’s already been broken in the worst possible way.
He’d met Richard the way he’s “met” many contacts over the years, rounding a corner and limbs thudding into limbs, papers all over the pavement, ledger half in a muddy puddle with a soggy packet of fags. He’d been just as flustered and polite and pink with both cold and embarrassment as he had pretended to be on occasion after occasion. But when he’d bought Richard a coffee as an unneeded apology, there had been no secrets he wanted from him, no danger that either one of them might wind up shot. Richard had smiled easily, warm fingertips on Peter’s frozen ones, and Peter had almost managed to learn how to relax.
Richard had never known precisely what he did, just something boring involving mountains of paperwork in the civil service, and that was just as well. Peter could never talk about it, and Richard never seemed very keen on talking about his own job, possibly because it was simply too mundane for words. (Peter had gone through his flat once, just in case, but there had been none of the incriminating evidence he really hadn’t wanted to find.)
One Christmas he’d thought about taking Richard to the office party, even though no one could sit through Santa Stalin and think his job was entirely normal. He’d gone to Richard’s accounting firm, introduced vaguely, and had a puzzlingly good time. But he had imagined the man he loves in a room with the likes of Bill Haydon, all sly wit and uncomfortable jests, and even Smiley himself… He’d gone alone and eaten Christmas cake with a fork and tried not to drink too much champagne. He’d have faded into the paintwork if he possibly could.
“Chin up, Peter,” Bland had said, and gone off merrily whistling as though he just might have penetrated to the depths of Peter’s very soul, or simply been passing on meaningless holiday cheer. The man has always given Peter the shivers.
He’d gone home, teeth tingling from the sugar, and let Richard wrap him in a quilt on the couch as they watched News at Ten. Peter can shoot a man dead from fifty paces. Peter can wrestle a man to unconsciousness or rip apart his jugular with a Bic pen. Peter had fallen asleep with his head in Richard’s lap, dead to everything but warmth and trust.
“Seeing anyone, then?” Ricki asks, far too brightly. Their table has somehow accumulated three or four more empty glasses since Peter last looked.
Peter shakes his head no. There’s no point in asking Ricki the same question, and no point in offering platitudes either. Irina had known what had hit her, had died horribly, meaninglessly, and yes it probably had been his fault.
He arches his back, stretching, and blinks some of the haze from his vision. “Do they have crisps here?”
“Cheese and onion.”
Peter decides it’ll do. He finds two packets and tosses one to Ricki. The salt won’t help the dehydration and the oncoming hangover, but maybe the potato will… No, that’s bollocks too.
He munches them as if they’ve done him a personal disservice.
“You should call him,” Ricki says.
Fucking Ricki Tarr. Peter stares at him. “Who?” He hopes Smiley.
“Whoever. Don’t tell me there’s no one.”
“I have no idea what you mean,” says Peter in the dullest tone he has ever imagined.
Ricki smirks. Peter’s known a great many good-looking men during his life, and never wanted to hit any of them as much as Ricki tempts him. He stuffs his fist in the crisp packet instead.
“I saw you once. On the underground. Older guy, right? Financial Times. Don’t tell me you weren’t fucking him.”
Peter doesn’t say a word.
“You happened.” He’d been searching for the most painful thing to say, and it just happens to be the truth.
Ricki runs his tongue over his teeth. “You think he’ll get hurt.”
“He will get hurt.” Peter might have stuck to his delusions and hopes for a future full of puppies and rainbows, but Smiley had pushed him and he’d known Smiley was right.
“Stop being such a bloody martyr. Everyone has wives and girlfriends and mistresses. Even Smiley.”
But I actually love him. The words are there in his mind, bright and painful and forceful enough on his tongue that he has to bite them back and wash down all thoughts with the rest of his pint.
“Why are you here, Tarr?” It comes out harsher than he’d intended.
There’s just enough false levity in Ricki’s smile to break his heart. “Where the fuck else am I supposed to be?”
Peter stands outside the flat on the narrow marble landing for longer than would be normal for anyone but a statue. He’s here. That in itself had been an achievement in the dark, on an unfamiliar bus line, in one of London’s spectacularly horrible rainstorms, and with his head reeling from more than alcohol.
He’d decided to stand still and wait and breathe just to make sure he wasn’t going to vomit on anyone’s shoes. But that had been twenty minutes ago, and although his stomach has settled down and his hair has more or less stopped dripping into his eyes, he’s still standing, still looking at the nameplate on the door, trying to convince himself that he’s in the wrong place.
And if he is, what’s the harm in ringing the bell?
It’s after ten. Richard’s sister must be asleep even if he isn’t. She works at… He racks his brains. Florist? Bookshop? Primary school teacher? Something that means you get up early anyway. He should be getting up early too. Smiley wants to see reports, and won’t want to see him with lidded eyes popping massive amounts of paracetamol.
He squeezes his eyes shut and thumbs the bell.
He’d expected they’d ignore him. He’d expected they’d be out. He’d expected Rachel in a dressing gown and slippers, glaring at him and demanding he leave her brother alone. He’d rehearsed a whole, admittedly jumbled, speech on the way over.
In his trade, there’s something to be said for being prepared for every eventuality. Somehow, in his decision to come here and confront his former lover, he’d omitted the possibility that he might actually have to do just that.
He opens his mouth to say something eloquent, like “um”, but Richard’s already frowning, looking him up and down. “You’re soaked through! Is it really that bad out? Come in… get some tea in you.”
Five minutes later he’s been stripped down and toweled off, wearing a fluffy Marks & Sparks bathrobe on an unfamiliar sofa, hot mug grasped between his hands, some sort of nature documentary on low in the background.
“You’re too good to me,” he finally stutters out. He doesn’t deserve one iota of this boring, comfortable, safe life. He should have had the door slammed in his face. He could have coped with that. He could have stumbled back to the pub and…
Richard’s fingers are warm against his. “I’m just a soft touch. Are you back, then? Do you want me to come back?”
If he were at all a good man, he knows the words would stick in his throat, that there would be tears in his eyes instead of rain. But he smiles instead. “I’ve been an idiot. I love you. Of course I want you back. If you’ll have me.”
“You’ll have double pneumonia, the way you’re going…”
The rest is laughter and hugs and biscuits and the late night news, and one more thing in Peter Guillam’s life that he knows will get him killed.
For tonight, and only tonight, he just can’t bring himself to care.