It was after hours, and even if the room they were seated in hadn’t been soundproofed, Smiley knew that he wouldn’t hear a sound from outside. He was seated with his back to the door; directly opposite him was Control, leaning over a pile of papers on the desk and smoking steadily. To his right sat Peter Guillam, looking politely interested but betrayed by his slightly glazed eyes, and to his left was Bill Haydon, lounging as always with his feet on the table, picking at one of his nails.
The room remained silent as Control flipped slowly through the papers, his eyes moving across them once and then twice before he swapped to the next one. Ten minutes had already passed in this fashion, and a further five elapsed before Control finally sat up straight, stacking the papers in a pile and pushing them to the side. He stared at Smiley for a long moment, and even Haydon, sensing the look, spared Smiley a quick glance before going back to his nails. Guillam snapped himself out of whatever bored trance he had been in, but Smiley didn’t move from the position he had settled himself into from the moment he had sat down. He watched Control evenly, waiting for the man to speak. Finally, he did so.
“What the bloody hell do you mean, you were trapped in an elevator with Karla?”
A snort from Haydon; Control didn’t even spare the man a glance.
“I’m not sure how else I can explain it,” Smiley replied patiently. “The elevator stopped working, while I happened to be inside it. Karla was also there.”
“It was definitely him?” Control asked. “No mistake?”
“I can assure you it was definitely him.”
“Stranger things have happened,” Haydon put in.
“If they have, I’d bloody well like to hear them,” Control snapped.
Haydon smiled, and went back to his nails.
The order was given as soon as Karla was shown into the room, and while the hard-backed chair looked less than comfortable it was a relief to simply sit down. Karla didn’t even try to make himself comfortable, keeping his back rigid in order to allow the discomfort to keep him alert; just because nothing serious had come of the situation yet didn’t mean he was out of danger. He didn’t give the two men opposite him the satisfaction of seeing him look around the room; such actions would only make them think he had a reason to look for an escape route, so instead he glanced at them both and then settled for staring at Kulik, the superior of the two.
“I must admit that this situation is most strange,” Kulik said, tapping his finger on the closed but well-thumbed folder on his desk. Somewhere behind him, Karla heard the door close. It didn’t lock, which he filed away as some small relief. “What would you call it?”
“A dreadful coincidence,” Karla answered, his voice even.
“Mm,” Kulik said. “You have a lot of explaining to do, at any rate.”
“I don’t believe that there’s much more for me to say,” Karla said, moving his gaze to the file on the desk before looking back to Kulik. “I wrote everything down in the statement, just as you told me to. I can assure you the details are accurate, and I am sure that you will find plenty of testimony to the strength of my memory.”
“Then I am sure you will have no problems at all in recalling to me the exact same story,” Kulik replied, his voice almost conversational but his gaze hard. Karla met it sternly.
“Get me my cigarettes and I’ll be quite happy to go over the entire thing again,” he said, and Kulik was either feeling generous or simply didn’t want to be here any longer than necessary. With a nod at Petrov, seated beside him, a pack of cigarettes slid across the table, and Karla took his time reaching for them and lighting one with a gold lighter that he had mercifully been able to keep. He saw Kulik’s eyes linger for a moment on the English lettering; Karla snapped the lighter closed and pocketed it again before he could get too close a look.
“I suppose you want me to start from the very beginning,” he said, once he had taken a few satisfying drags on the cigarette.
“That is generally how these things go,” Kulik said shortly.
“Very well,” Karla said pleasantly. “I’ll see what I can remember.”
Much to Kulik and Petrov’s frustration, it turned out that Karla could remember every detail, and unlike them, was in absolutely no hurry to leave.
“You’re absolutely sure you didn’t see him before this point?” Control asked, smoking a fresh cigarette.
“No one was following you?”
“I followed all relevant procedures and nothing caused me alarm. It’s possible I may have missed something, but it is highly unlikely.”
“Not to mention if they were planning something against him so serious that Karla was there, I doubt old George would be talking to us right now,” Haydon pointed out. He had stopped picking at his nails but his feet were still up on the table; he was laying back against the back of his chair, looking up at the ceiling, his hands folded across his stomach.
“Recall the moment you realised it was Karla,” Control said, shooting a brief look at Haydon, who must have felt the glance because he smiled at the ceiling.
“I had returned to the hotel, as I already mentioned,” Smiley said, now looking at a point just above Control’s right shoulder as he replayed the details in his mind. “It had been raining heavily and so I crossed the foyer with my head down. The elevator was already waiting and I hurried into it, eager to get to my room and find dry clothing. I didn’t see who approached the elevator properly – only the legs, and not clearly. My glasses had been covered with rainwater and I was drying them on my tie. As a result, I was still looking downward, and my vision was incredibly out of focus.”
Smiley paused, wondering for a moment if he could have been reasonably expected to recognise Karla from his feet, and decided that it was probably too much to ask.
“I am not sure how Karla didn’t recognise me, as I didn’t look up until after the elevator doors had closed,” he continued. “But I am quite positive he didn’t recognise me because had he done so I don’t think he would have got into the elevator with me. At the very least, I would have seen some kind of reaction in his body language, but there was none.”
“Do you think that could mean that the entire meeting was planned?” Control asked.
“Unlikely, as nothing came of it.”
“I dried my glasses as best as I could and put them back on, and rearranged my clothing back into place. It was then that I became aware that my companion was staring at me, and quite unashamedly so. I looked up to meet the gaze, wondering why it was necessary, and immediately saw that it was Karla. It had been many years since we last met, but I recognised his eyes instantly. He was leaning in the corner of the opposite wall, smoking, and simply watching me.”
“He registered no shock at all?”
“Uncertain. It’s possible he could have done, but had composed himself by the time I noticed him.”
“And what about yourself?”
“I imagine I briefly appeared very shocked, but managed to regain my own composure almost immediately.”
“Do you think he saw this reaction?”
Smiley paused, and when he spoke again, his voice was deadpan, his only other option aside from outright annoyance.
“It was raining heavily, so I was glad to be inside,” Karla said, and to his amusement practically felt the mood in the room lift slightly. “The rain had been coming heavily for some time so all of my clothing was soaked, and also it had been impossible to light a cigarette, which had been grating on me. I paused briefly when I came into the hotel’s foyer and resumed walking at a slower pace as I tried to locate my cigarettes, and I was inspecting them closely to see if any had been damaged by rainwater as I walked over to the elevators. Usually I prefer to take the stairs.”
“And why didn’t you this time?” Kulik asked, as though the very mention of a change in his preferences was enough to brand Karla a traitor.
“My shoes were soaked through, and I was made uncomfortable by their squeaking as they walked.”
“Your shoes were not waterproof?”
“They were suffering from some wear and tear around the soles, and all the walking I had been doing worsened them to the point they were letting in rainwater. Not a problem usually, but as I mentioned before, the rain was coming down especially hard.”
“Perhaps it’s time to invest in some new ones,” Petrov said, mostly to himself, but Karla wasn’t there to let him get away with it.
“Perhaps I will, when absolutely necessary,” he replied pleasantly. “But right now they mostly do their job, and I couldn’t possibly justify spending money on something new and pointless.”
Petrov sucked in his lips, and Karla turned back to Kulik, satisfied.
“The elevator was already there as I approached, but I only saw it from my peripheral vision,” Karla continued. “I was distracted by lighting my cigarette. I succeeded in lighting it as I stepped into the elevator and the doors closed as I turned to lean against the wall. It was at that point I noticed who I was in the elevator with.”
“And that was?”
“George Smiley, of the British Secret Service. I recognised him immediately, though it had been many years at that point since I last saw him.”
“And for the record, when was the last time you saw him?”
“He met me when I was imprisoned in Delhi after the radio codes were broken. He attempted to persuade me to defect, and did a very poor job of it, too.”
“Again for the record, a brief summary of what the two of you discussed then?”
“I said nothing,” Karla replied promptly, before taking a long drag from his cigarette. “He said a lot. I was able to find out a lot about him from that encounter, and because of this I can’t say I was overly intimidated to find myself stuck with him.”
“When did he notice you?”
“He was either cleaning or drying his glasses and spotted me when he put them back on. He looked rather shocked, but recovered quickly.”
“Did he say anything to you?”
“Did you say anything to him?”
“Aside from his expression and your looking at him, did either of you acknowledge the other’s presence?”
“No.” Another drag of the cigarette; Karla exhaled smoke as he spoke. “As a matter of fact he was typically British about it. He simply looked back at the doors and ignored me. I assumed that would be the end of it, but then the damn thing stalled.”
“I didn’t think there was anything that I could say,” Smiley answered. “It isn’t exactly the situation where you can make small talk.”
Guillam snorted and Haydon smiled at the ceiling again, but Control simply frowned.
“While I do like the occasional reminder that you have a sense of humour somewhere, Smiley, I don’t think that now is the appropriate time.”
“He made no attempt to speak to you, either?”
“None, though he did continue to stare at me.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“I think he wanted to make me feel uncomfortable.”
“You don’t think he was doubting who you were?”
“Absolutely not. I think he was doing it for quite the opposite reason, actually. I think he wanted me to know beyond all reasonable doubt that he absolutely did know who I was, and he was watching my every move. I didn’t see the need to engage with such behaviour, and so I decided instead to look at the doors and alight the elevator as soon as it next stopped. Unfortunately, when it did decide to stop, it was between floors.”
“Wonderful,” Control said, letting the papers fall closed with a soft slap. “You had no idea why this was?”
“None. Of course it crossed my mind that it might have been planned, and for a brief moment I did fear for my safety, but I could tell from the way Karla shifted that he was also surprised by the turn of events. I believed it was simply a delay at the time, but after twenty seconds had passed I resigned myself to the fact that the elevator was clearly in some distress.”
“Nothing much happened for some time after that. I had been on my feet all day and was growing increasingly uncomfortable, so I backed up to enable myself to lean against the wall. I could see Karla out of my peripheral vision, who finished his cigarette and sighed before – rather maliciously, I might add – stubbing the butt of his cigarette out on the oak of the elevator’s interior. It left quite a nasty mark.”
“How long do you think until there was any change in the situation?”
“I’m sure they were playing cards in no time,” Haydon contributed, but this time Control didn’t bother to shoot him so much as an annoyed glance.
“I believe it was five minutes before anything changed, and it was in the form of Karla moving away from the wall and approaching the doors. He stared at them for several seconds and then lit up another cigarette, and then he stared at the doors some more and finally turned away, shrugged at me, and went back to his corner where he proceeded to sit down and make himself comfortable. I didn’t react, though I recall feeling rather frustrated with him. I felt as though I were the only one overly concerned about the situation, and decided that I may as well try and do something about it.”
“And what was it you decided to do?”
“There was an alarm connected to the elevator as a kind of distress signal. It wasn’t a very grand attempt, but it was all I could do to press it repeatedly and with much annoyance.”
“You just sat on the floor?” he asked, not for the first time, and Karla nodded slowly.
“Yes. I was tired. It had been a long day and I had been on my feet for most of it. I knew it would be some time until assistance reached us, and I didn’t see the point in standing. What kind of point would I prove? Smiley is hardly of the temperament or shape to try and cause me physical harm. I felt perfectly safe sitting down.”
“And what of Smiley?”
“He stood there for two minutes, before spending a minute violently jamming the distress button, and then he went back to standing.”
“It didn’t occur to you to try the button?”
“It did, but it was closer to Smiley and I assumed he would reach the same conclusion.”
“You didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to leave.”
“I suppose I had already subconsciously resigned myself to a long wait.”
“So you decided to sit and wait for help that wouldn’t come unless it was summoned?”
“As I said, it was closer to Smiley.”
“Did you not wish to approach him?”
“We were in an elevator,” Karla said bluntly. “I don’t think any space could qualify as ‘not approaching’ him.”
“So you simply assumed he would do it.”
“I thought it would be common sense, considering I doubt he was comfortable being in there with me.” Karla flicked some ash from his cigarette and then gave a small smile. “He is much more unnerved by me than I am of him. Yes, I will admit that part of my behaviour was designed to unnerve him.”
“And why would you take the time to do this?”
“Partially for entertainment, as I knew it would be some time until we were released. But the main reason was to simply keep him unnerved. An enemy is no threat so long as he is not allowed to become sure of himself.”
Both Kulik and Petrov looked as though they wanted to say something to that; Karla was highly satisfied when they remained silent.
“Nothing came of the call immediately, of course,” Karla continued, once he had savoured the silence. “In fact, we had no idea if anyone had even heard it. I supposed it would be an hour at least until we found out if it had been successful or not, and until then it was a case of waiting. Luckily, we seem to both be very patient men. After a couple of minutes, Smiley sat down as well, and neither of us spoke.”
“Absolutely nothing was exchanged between the two of you?” Kulik demanded, apparently still sore over Karla’s earlier comment.
“Nothing at all. We sat in silence. In fact, for some time I thought Smiley had fallen asleep. He appeared to be so, but then I noticed that his eyes weren’t fully closed. I’m not sure what he was doing, but he was quiet and unmoving while doing it, so I was left to enjoy my cigarettes. I smoked three before Smiley finally moved. By that point I believe twenty-five minutes had passed.”
“What did Smiley do?”
“He took off his coat and jacket. It was getting very warm in there. He is much heavier than I am. I assumed he was feeling the heat before I was, as I was still rather comfortable.”
“I wouldn’t call sitting on the floor of an elevator in the company of an enemy operative comfortable,” Petrov mumbled.
“I have been in much worse situations, Comrade Petrov,” Karla told him pleasantly.
“And what then?” Kulik interrupted. Karla turned his attention lazily back to his superior.
“We went back to sitting,” he said, and stubbed out the cigarette.
Smiley turned his gaze to Haydon, seeing the man was still watching the ceiling, amused. He seemed to sense Smiley’s look because he turned his head to meet it, giving him a most conspicuous wink.
“Good Lord,” Guillam muttered, and shook his head. Smiley simply turned his attention back to Control.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing you’ll find in there, sir,” he said. “We sat in silence for some time. I passed the time by trying to recall if there was anything in the elevator’s mechanics that I could possibly manipulate to get it going again, but my knowledge was likely outdated and I didn’t want to make the situation worse. The best I could do would be to prise the doors open, but we were between floors and there would have been nowhere to go.”
Control gave an acknowledging grunt, put the papers down, and surprisingly leaned back in his chair. Smiley thought the man looked almost lost for words, which must have been a first in Smiley’s impressive memory.
“I can’t bloody believe this,” Control eventually said. “What kind of ridiculous situation is this? Of everyone on earth, you happened to get stuck in a four-by-six section of the planet with fucking Karla.”
“I assure you, sir, that no one is as frustrated with the situation as me,” Smiley said.
“And possibly him,” Guillam put in, and exchanged an amused look with Haydon.
“So you were both sitting silently, and Karla was smoking, and roughly twenty-five minutes passed this way?” Control recounted. “Alright. Why not?” He shook his head. “What happened next?”
“I was growing increasingly uncomfortable because of the heat, as I mentioned before,” Smiley continued. “I leaned my head back against the wall where it was marginally cooler, and right above me I spotted a hatch. I immediately knew it would be an access hatch in and out of the elevator, and after a minute’s deliberation I concluded that we could both fit through it, Karla certainly and me with some effort and perhaps a bit of luck. The problem would be getting up there in the first place, because the ceiling would have been a jump even for a man of average height, and I of course am not of average height. Karla is even shorter.”
“And this is when you decided to speak to him?” Control asked. To Smiley’s left, Haydon looked as though he could barely contain himself. “Haydon, if you’re going to continue giggling like a child, I will ask you to leave.”
“Sorry, sorry,” Haydon said, finally kicking his legs down and sitting up straight. “It’s just quite the image, isn’t it?”
“It is admittedly not a debriefing I ever thought I would have to give,” Control said. “Regardless, it must be done. Smiley, if you will.”
“I addressed him in German,” Smiley continued. “As far as I am aware, Karla speaks many languages, English included, but considering we were in Germany and I assume both of our cover identities were German, I thought I may as well keep up the act. I fully admit I was not expecting any verbal response, and of course I didn’t get one.”
It took all of Smiley’s effort to not let the bitterness make itself evident in his voice; thankfully he managed to swallow it down and deliver the line exactly as he had the rest of them.
“I told him that there was potentially a way out above us, but it would require some measure of cooperation in order to use it. Karla looked at me, looked up at the hatch, and went back to smoking. By this point I was increasingly warm and uncomfortable, and was not in the mood to try and persuade him to engage with me. We went back to silence.”
“So you had no interest in trying to get out?” Kulik asked.
“Not at that point in time. You must understand that this is my sworn enemy, Comrade Kulik. It would take especially dire circumstances for me to swallow back my dislike, especially in regards to something that would require extreme physical contact. How do I know that he wouldn’t stage an accident?”
“I thought you said he wasn’t in the position to physically harm you?” Kulik said, raising an eyebrow.
“Certainly not through attack or ambush,” Karla answered, flicking the lighter closed. He took a drag of the new cigarette and let his eyes drift upwards slightly, as though imagining the hatch on the ceiling above them. “It wasn’t a small hatch, and I believe even Smiley could have squeezed through with a little luck. However it was quite high up. There was no way that either of us would have been able to simply reach up to push the hatch open, nor would we be able to grab hold of the edge and haul ourselves up even with a jump. It was going to require one of us assisting the other, most likely by allowing one to stand on the other’s shoulders. As I am the smaller and lighter of the pair, it was inevitable to me that I would have to be the one suspended rather precariously in the air. Should Smiley have… accidentally lost his grip on me, it could have been a nasty fall in such close quarters. I didn’t want to take the risk until it was absolutely undeniable that remaining in the elevator would be the worse option.”
“You still hoped that someone in the hotel’s reception might have become alerted to your plight?”
“I hoped,” Karla said. “But I admit it was looking unlikely at that point. Still, I resolved to be patient. Smiley was looking increasingly uncomfortable and I thought it would be beneficial for myself to have the advantage, though I recall it was at this point that the heat began to get to me also, and I had to take off my heavy outdoor coat and, shortly afterwards, my jacket. I was still doing much better than Smiley.”
“Dare I ask?” Petrov said, noting the gleam that Karla knew must be evident in his gaze by now.
“By this point he was sans tie and steadily having to unbutton his shirt,” Karla recalled, with a certain amount of glee. “It was, I admit, rather amusing.”
“Did you make any mention of this?” Kulik asked. “Taunt him in any way? Say anything at all?”
“No,” Karla said. “Not at this point. I just gave him a look, and I think that said everything I needed to say.”
“How would you describe that look?”
“I think in English they would call it a smirk.”
The room had been mostly silent of interruptions for several minutes, allowing Smiley to traverse disappointingly quickly to the bulk of the encounter, which he had been dreading the most. Haydon already looked as though he couldn’t believe his luck, and his excitement was reflected in the twitches of Guillam’s mouth. Smiley fought back a sigh, as well as the urge to sincerely wonder what he had ever done to deserve this. Control, at least, appeared to feel the same way.
“The heat?” he asked, and Smiley took a deep breath and continued.
“Yes. Not to mention Karla is a notorious chain smoker, and there really was nowhere for the smoke to go. I don’t smoke often myself, so I was finding it very irritating. Combined with the heat, I was having some difficulty breathing, and I am ashamed to admit that I was also engaging in an episode of spite.”
“Karla was still mostly clothed,” Smiley said, deadpan. “Perhaps I had turned it into a private competition. Juvenile, I know, but I was highly conscious of showing anything that could be regarded as a weakness in front of him, no matter how trivial.”
“Understandable, I suppose,” Control said, and Haydon took a shuddering breath that sounded like an incredible effort to avoid laughing.
“I imagine he was doing the same thing, because we stuck it out for another ten minutes before it became apparent that we were in danger of some kind of heatstroke,” Smiley continued, barely stopping himself from rushing his pace. “I eventually decided that however much I was self-conscious, it wasn’t worth dying over. I took off my shirt, and apparently Karla waited a minute to make a point and did the same.”
“Did you mention the hatch to him again?”
“No, but he did finally speak. I have no idea why.”
“What did he say?”
“‘I see you’ve been enjoying those great British Sunday dinners’,” Smiley said bluntly, from memory. Haydon made an odd choking sound. “I have no idea why he decided to speak then, or why he wasted it on such a cheap comment.”
“And did you say anything in return?”
“Ordinarily I would have let it slide, but you must understand that I was overheated and very frustrated, and therefore couldn’t let such a comment go unpunished.”
“So what did you say?”
“‘I see you’ve been enjoying Siberia’,” Smiley repeated, and this time it was Guillam’s turn to make a choking sound.
He was quite sure he heard Haydon, in a voice dripping with awe and disbelief, mutter something that sounded a lot like ‘savage’.
“If we go even further back, it could have been easily solved by other departments analysing their intelligence more efficiently and realising that there was going to be a strong British presence in the area over the time period of our operations, but I am not here to point fingers,” Karla said evenly. “Even so, no amount of intelligence in the world could have prepared me for being stuck in an elevator with George Smiley. I had cleared the area multiple times and I saw nothing of alarm. If you would like, I will gladly go over my observations for the day again.”
“No, I would not like,” Kulik snapped. “I’m asking you why you thought such a juvenile comment was necessary!”
“It probably wasn’t necessary,” Karla said, shrugging a shoulder. “But I was hot and irritable and couldn’t resist trying to get a rise out of the man.”
“And did you get one?”
Karla’s face darkened. “I suppose I did.”
“What did he say?”
Karla took an aggressive drag from his cigarette. “I don’t think it’s overly important.”
“And I think it is,” Kulik said firmly. “You’re going to refuse to reveal what an enemy operative said to you during a prolonged encounter with no other witnesses? It wouldn’t make a very good report, would it? I’m sure you’ve seen enough of prison, though I dare say that refusing to reveal such information would have you facing something else entirely.”
“Like a firing squad,” Petrov muttered, and Karla turned an icy glare on him.
“Thank you, Comrade Petrov, I did gather that,” he said. He was satisfied to see that he had injected enough ice into the look that Petrov could barely meet it.
“Answer the question,” Kulik said briskly.
“He said,” Karla began, before repeating the words in English and then in Russian for Petrov’s benefit, “‘I see you’ve been enjoying Siberia’.”
Petrov and Kulik exchanged glances, and Karla took another strong drag of his cigarette and glared at the clock above Kulik’s head.
Haydon snorted. “Buff him out?”
“Yes,” Smiley confirmed. “Without his clothing he is positively tiny. I could count every rib easily, and even see that several of them had been badly broken in the past.”
“Well, you know how they are over there,” Haydon said, waving a hand. “Heavy handed, aren’t they? Gulags and beatings and what have you.”
“Evidently so, and apparently even Karla has fallen foul of them several times,” Smiley said.
“How do you know it was several times?” Guillam asked.
“Some of the scars were older than the others.”
“Scars?” Haydon this time.
“He was quite covered,” Smiley recalled. “Not extensively, as in there was plenty of unmarked skin. But he was covered in a great deal of scars. Some were odd and I couldn’t quite place what they were from – perhaps serious grazes from being pulled or dragged over something? – but most of them were very clear. His wrists were quite a mess just below of cuffs of his shirt, clearly from restraints. His chest was covered in small burn marks, some cigarettes, others clearly from electrocution. There were a lot of neat lines, too – obviously deliberate cuts. Quite nasty to see, especially on someone so tiny. It’s a wonder they didn’t turn him into an incoherent mess.”
Haydon raised an eyebrow and tilted his head slightly, and Control seized his opportunity in the brief pause after Smiley had stopped speaking.
“While this is all fascinating, Smiley, it isn’t directly relevant to the topic at hand.”
“Apologies,” Smiley said neutrally. “I simply find it easier to accurately recall events when I don’t have to leave large gaps, and I admit that I was rather taken aback.”
“Did he seem uncomfortable?” Haydon asked, and Smiley was certain that Control rolled his eyes.
“Not overly,” Smiley said. “But he did notice I was looking, and met my gaze rather defiantly. I thought about looking away, but decided not to. It would have felt rather submissive, so I made a point of looking for several more seconds and then went back to leaning my head against the wall. The hatch was just visible through the haze of smoke.”
“And this is when you made the second suggestion?” Control asked, determined to get back on track.
“Yes,” Smiley confirmed. “I said that we could continue to sit and argue, or we could try and get out through the hatch. I pointed out that clearly neither of us were comfortable, and that getting out of a stuck elevator did not exactly constitute treason.”
“And he responded this time?”
“Almost. He gave a grunt, and went to grab his cigarettes. It was then that it became apparent that there was a problem.”
“If by that you mean I decided it was time to exit the lift, yes,” Karla said calmly.
“And you hadn’t considered cooperating before?”
“No. I was quite happy to wait.”
“What changed your mind so suddenly?”
“I went to get another cigarette and realised that I only had two left,” Karla said simply. “As you know, smoking is my main vice. There was no possible way that I would have been able to endure a wait of indefinite length without suitable access to cigarettes, and I wasn’t about to try. I put the packet away, not wanting to squander them there and then, and asked Smiley what he suggested we do.”
“And his response?”
“First of all he looked rather shocked that I was responding to the actual matter at hand,” Karla recalled. “But then he simply pointed up to the hatch and revealed the same conclusion that I had come to earlier: that we could each probably fit, but we would need to assist one another in getting up there in the first place. We devised a plan where I would open the hatch and look out to see if we were close enough to an exterior door to get out of the shaft as well. If we were not, we would have to wait in the elevator, but with the hatch open the elevator would cool down considerably. As there was no longer any reasonable way to refuse, and I was running low on cigarettes and growing increasingly uncomfortable, I agreed.”
“And… how exactly did you orchestrate this?” Kulik asked, his eyebrows vanishing up into his hair again. Out of spite, Karla managed to keep his voice even and completely free of anything that Kulik might want to hear in it.
“I took off my shoes to make the whole thing a little easier,” he said. “We stood under the hatch and looked at it for a moment; I assume we were both wondering if we couldn’t just try and make the jump, but realised it would be pointless. We exchanged a glance of what I believe to be mutual exasperation and disbelief, and then I had Smiley cup his hands together so he could give me a leg up. I’m rather nimble, so from that position it wasn’t entirely difficult to climb up onto his shoulders, especially not with the walls to lean on. From there I stood up and, at a hunch, pushed at the hatch which was luckily not secured in any way. I was able to easily push it up and to the side.”
“Luckily, he kept hold of me.”
“Unusual,” Control said. “So he was standing on your shoulders?”
“Yes. I was supporting him by the ankles.”
“Did you see what he was doing?”
“Not at first. I was rather distracted by some more nasty scars around his ankles, a mixture of restrains and burns, I believe.”
“More gifts from Siberia,” Haydon said, and Guillam sniggered.
“Haydon,” Control said warningly.
“Sorry, sir. I just still can’t quite believe that such a low blow managed to come from George.”
“It was a trying situation,” Smiley said simply.
“As incredible as it is, I for one would like to return home with at least a couple of hours before I have to be back here,” Control said. “So if we could please stick to the relevant points.”
“Of course,” Smiley said, picking up the story again. “When I did look up, Karla was standing with his upper body through the hatch, and I could feel him looking around. I suppose his eyes had to adjust as it was dark in the elevator shaft. After a few seconds I asked him if there was anything, and he told me that there was a door within easy reach, and it looked as though it could be prised open. He was then easily able to lift himself through the hatch with his arms, leaving me in the elevator. I admit I didn’t fully expect him to come back.”
“But he did,” Control said.
“Surprisingly,” Smiley confirmed. “Which lead us to the next problem.”
“How I was going to get up there,” Smiley said simply. “Getting Karla out was the easy part, but as I’ve mentioned, I am much heavier than he is and not nearly in as good shape, which is embarrassing considering how much he smokes. There was nothing tall enough for me to stand on, so the only hope of me getting out would be if Karla was somehow able to pull me up. It became clear that I was probably going to have to wait in the elevator and hope Karla told someone I was in there, but apparently the man is full of surprises.”
“Don’t tell me he managed to pull you up,” Haydon asked, sounding a mix of incredulous and impressed.
“He did,” Smiley said, blinking at him, still not quite able to believe it himself. “He seemed rather distracted at this point, and I wasn’t entirely sure why. It was as though he was in a sudden hurry, and had apparently forgotten our hostility earlier. I heard him walk over the lift’s roof and stop where the doors would be, and then I heard him return. Almost immediately he knelt by the hatch and told me to grab hold of his arms. I thought he was joking.”
“Did you say anything in return?”
“I asked him if he was aware of how much I weighed,” Smiley said. “And he told me quite clearly that he could guess.”
“But you decided to take the risk?”
“I thought that he would either somehow succeed, or I would prove my point. Either way, I was willing to take the risk. It had been nearly an hour by this point and I was quite fed up. I heard Karla scrabbling about and judging by how far he was able to reach down, I suppose he was lying flat. When I got up there I would see that he had braced himself by gripping hold of the cables with his feet, and using that as leverage he was able to grab me by the forearms and pull me up. It took a couple of attempts before I managed to press my feet against the wall and push myself up to the point where I could grab on to the sides of the hatch, and once my arms were through it was simple enough to lift myself into a sitting position and shuffle backwards onto the roof. From there I could see that the door to the next floor was only a foot above where the elevator had stopped.”
“Probably an irrelevant question,” Haydon said. “But I’m having trouble believing Karla managed that, if he’s as small and skinny as you say he was. Did he seem out of breath at all?”
“Surprisingly, no,” Smiley answered, and even Control looked a little impressed.
“But you’re tiny!” Kulik burst out. “You could pass for a schoolboy if you weren’t so grey!”
“Thank you,” Karla said drily. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“And yet you expect me to believe that you managed to haul what you have repeatedly pointed out as a very overweight man several feet up through the ceiling of an elevator shaft, using nothing but arm strength?”
“Not quite,” Karla replied patiently. “I had braced myself with the elevator cables, which are very thick and can withstand several thousand pounds of weight. Therefore I was also using my leg muscles to support Smiley’s weight. He himself was pushing himself up along the wall of the elevator, and so it was only at the very end, when he was getting through the hatch, that I held the absolute entirety of his weight. He surprisingly moved quickly enough that even as he climbed up the side of the elevator, I was holding him steady rather than actively pulling him.”
“Even so, it’s hardly believable. You must have incredible upper body strength.”
“And leg strength,” Petrov said. “And you certainly don’t look it.”
“Admittedly I don’t look like much,” Karla conceded. “However, as Smiley so kindly pointed out, I did spend several years in a hard labour camp. Such things will increase your strength considerably.”
The other two remained satisfactorily silent, but Karla didn’t feel like letting them escape so easily.
“Lifting was something I did quite often then,” he said, drawing on a cigarette and blowing the smoke out in a ring, as though an illustration of what he said next. “It was logging work, mostly. I would haul around logs that weighed as much, if not more, than Smiley, and I did so for many consecutive months. Twenty seconds of pulling a man through an elevator shaft was nothing in comparison.”
“I suppose it must have done you some good, then,” Kulik said, so spitefully that Karla was certain he had won. He gave a polite smile.
“More than some, Comrade Kulik,” he said pleasantly. “You learn to re-evaluate your priorities in such a place. Hard work teaches and refreshes values, and I emerged thankful for the experience and more dedicated than ever to the cause, as you can see from my records.”
He enjoyed the way Kulik sucked in his lips, as though physically trying to bite them closed to avoid falling for the bait. After a few moments of strained silence, he finally spoke again.
“So what happened then?”
“After that it was rather simple. With each of us taking a door, and both of us being incredibly fed up with the situation, we were able to pull a gap open enough that we could get a proper grip and force the doors open. Then it was as simple as stepping out into the hallway, which was deserted. I had another pack of cigarettes in my room, so I celebrated my release by lighting up one of the remaining cigarettes in my pocket. Smiley caught a flash of the lighter and looked rather disgruntled.”
“Did you show it to him deliberately?”
“Perhaps a little bit. It is always good to remind your enemy that nothing has changed, even after a moment of cooperation.”
“Did anyone else see you?”
“One other person. A maid, apparently cleaning a recently vacated room. She stepped out into the hallway and gave us a rather surprised look. I can’t blame her, considering the scene was highly ridiculous. I was shirtless and shoeless, and Smiley was also shirtless. The elevator doors were open behind us and no elevator was present. She looked rather worried until Smiley explained, and sent her to reception to fetch someone who could recover our belongings. I said nothing to her, and let her assume Smiley and I were together. I thought it would be safer at that point to let her fill in the gaps to whoever was at reception, rather than have people ask questions about either of us. We waited until someone came to acknowledge the problem, and were told we could expect our belongings back the next morning. After that, there was no point waiting around.”
“Did Smiley say anything else to you, either while you were alone or before you parted ways?”
“One other thing,” Karla said, not bothering to hide his amusement. “A far reach, but worth a shot, I suppose.”
“And did you leave without saying anything?”
“Not exactly,” Smiley said, taking off his glasses and polishing them on the edge of his tie. He took his time doing it, replacing them only when Control prompted him to continue. “I did say one more thing to him, partially out of heat-induced delirium and partly because I wanted to acknowledge that I absolutely hadn’t forgotten that nothing had changed.”
“What was it you said?” Control asked, and Smiley glanced at each person in turn before fixing his eyes on Control and answering in a tone of voice that dared comments from any of them.
“I asked him if he was sure he didn’t want to defect. I’m sure Karla would say it was worth a shot.”