He was put in contact with Bill Haydon for the first time in 1967. Anderson from Sarrett had left him a message, telling him it was absolutely vital that he talk to Haydon before Thursday, because Haydon had information regarding the North Africa operation. The words North Africa deeply stunned Peter for a moment before he remembered what year it was. He put in the call; they spoke for roughly ten minutes.
In 1967, he was still not entirely aware of the Circus’s purpose: of course, he was not senior enough to know. He was never senior enough. All that mattered was that the Circus was to be obeyed and abided by. The Circus held their meetings on the fifth floor in a glass room with a glass table and probably they sat on glass chairs and waved around words made of glass. They drank hard liquor from glasses too.
Bill Haydon seemed professional. He was quick to dispense the secrets he was technically not supposed to be revealing. He knew of Peter’s work and knew where he had gone to school. Peter knew he was smoking during their call because the sifting gravel smell of smoke underlined his words; his voice was a low-baritone. (The first boy who Peter fell in love with also had a beautiful baritone voice. They met very briefly and later Peter found out he died abroad in Vietnam near the end of 1955. It was the reason why he opposed the war and had objected to it in the most discreet of ways.)
“Mr. Guillam, do you plan on languishing with the Scalphunters for the rest of your life?”
The question threw him off. He said as much.
“If the opportunity arose, would you leave?”
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s not a matter of understanding.”
“Thank you, Mr. Haydon.” Hanging up, he realized a note had been dropped on his desk. It was written in clean cursive by a man. There was a time and a location for an early evening rendezvous. Peter sighed, picked up his briefcase, and took the stairs down to the front desk, passing the Debs, passing by Jim Prideaux and his ominous hands, and all the while he couldn’t forget the quality he’d heard in Haydon’s voice and he knew it was terrible; completely, irrevocably so. This was in 1967.
That night, he picked up a whore near Charing Cross. He didn’t care for whores; when the talk at the office turned to brothels he excused himself or joined in very noncommittal. Peter Guillam was not unattractive but it was understood that he was a private man. The whore reminded him of a movie star and that was why he had noticed her. She looked about twenty-two and had short hair like Louise Brooks. It wasn’t until they’d reached the hotel room that he made the connection. “Anna.”
“You remind me of someone called Anna.”
“No. No, I’m not married.”
“A man like you?”
“I’m not fit for marriage.”
The girl eyed him, an act he found stripping and uncomfortable. She removed her fur-lined coat and set it over the table. There was no chair. These rooms never had chairs. She went into the washroom to re-apply her lipstick and Peter smoked, suddenly nervous. He did not want to sleep with her and had never planned to. He was willing to pay her for her trouble. He almost wanted to apologize.
She was wearing a cotton blouse and a high-waist skirt. She reached for her cigarette case and he lit one for her. “So?” she said, blowing smoke. To be perfectly honest, she looked like the girl who might have lived next door and ran away from home the moment she turned fifteen to become a stage star only to end up a model who posed nude for photographers. Something angry; something made of resolution, aches, and ashes. Peter reached for his wallet.
When Peter was twenty-three he spent the summer in Marseille. It was a languishing year, one in which he’d lost a lover, gained another, and busied himself with the lesser known works of Van Gogh. The phase (for there is no other way to describe it) was one of many, and he spent his fair share of time in bookstores, rummaging through dusty bins, smoking cheap Spanish imports.
He had his own room, which was big enough for a metal-frame bed, a desk, an armoire, and a wash table. There was a window he always kept open. It faced westward, toward a row of shops and cafés designed to attract the American tourists. Earlier that year Elvis Presley had had his picture taken at one of the gelaterias.
He took up letter writing after reading a great deal of Montaigne. But he wasn’t sure who to send his letters to, so he addressed them to Anaïs and stored them in the desk in his room on Rue Honnorat.
It was the summer he took up with a boy called Elliot who was visiting from Amsterdam. Elliot was slightly taller and older. He had studied law in school; currently he was out-of-work and trying to be a writer. They spent afternoons caressing and touching each other on Peter’s bed and afterward he wrote excerpts, in the hope that some would be suitable for a book he planned to title In the Time of Gentle Sighs.
“Tell me, how does this sound? ‘That night I saw you and I have changed because of it. It strikes me as appalling how people can impress on one another. We are made of flesh and blood and emotion and we can be hit and gutted and indented and pressed and broken. We are in solid form. We bend like sandbags; float whimsically like balloons on a windy day. Lately I’ve been thinking about this and it frightens me so much, more than anything else.’”
Peter kissed him and held him close. It was the last time he would have such luxuries.
(“Let’s go see a picture.”
“Let’s jump into the ocean and swim.”
“Let’s kiss each other all over.”
Haydon confronted him about it in 1971, though probably he had known earlier. All he had to say was: “It must be so easy for you, being a spy,” and Peter’s body went cold and still. He felt as if he were stuck in between stages and he could neither return nor set a foot forward. He felt twenty and caught in public with his trousers pulled down. Humiliated, he looked away.
He said: “It really wasn’t so difficult. You never cared much for the Debs. You’re awfully quiet. It was not so much of a leap.”
“Debs are for Roy Bland and the other senior boys,” spat Peter Guillam, who was never senior enough. “Everyone knows that.”
“There are many responses in mind I have for that.”
He always used to be so angry, and a lot of times it was to a degree his body could not process. He thought his perilous thoughts and became angrier with no exit in mind until everything boiled over and he sat upright, motionless, stupefied. It was dangerous. So he thought about how it came to be and why it had happened. In 1973, he met a schoolteacher called Richard, which was as disastrous as it was beautiful. He never loved anyone as he had loved Richard because Richard was intelligent, understanding, kind, and so fucking clueless. He preferred Richard to be clueless. Richard was smart, intellectual, unwittingly lost. He was stability. He cried after Richard left, as he had never cried when Elliot at last departed or when the whore he called Anna slipped on her shoes and called him names. He had never cried with Haydon, neither when Haydon had thrown him against the wall nor when he greeted him hello the next morning. A part of him detested Haydon’s privilege and power. A man who could have everything, who would not be bothered to pick up the pieces. But he also admired Haydon, full of contempt and violence. That was the worst of it.