In the back of a house party in Bayswater, Bill Haydon was sat with a nosebleed.
Ann wanted him to come round. George had been in an awful mood from something gone wrong at the office. Did she even know George was no longer at the office, or was she trying to maintain some dignity in ringing him up?
Months ago, she’d shoved him out of bed, but only after Jerry called to give Bill his cue. Except Jim getting shot was never part of the plan. Bill flew into the Circus with an unrehearsed frenzy, ringing up anyone who would answer on the Hungarian side. He ordered Jerry to pull their marks at the LSE to sit in Sarratt for deportation or whatever Control would allow in lieu of a blindfold and cigarette. He pretended to sleep in his office but the anxiety kept jolting him and he smoked until people were awake for him to ring up and shout down the telephone. Until word reached him back home through Polyakov.
Jim was alive. They would return him when Karla was ready.
And then nothing.
Weeks and months of nothing. Control was out. Smiley was out. Connie, Jerry, all of Control’s people, out. Alleline was in. Bill remained. And the days dragged on without a word. Then finally, in early May, Alleline returned from Sarratt with a spring in his step. It was the same stride from when he finally got Control’s office. And that was all Bill would get.
He went to work and went back home and sometimes stopped by Ann’s to give the impression that everything was normal. Until one day in July, he made for the Oxford Circus station. He made sure to get on the Victoria line towards Camden. He made sure to wait until the right person was stuffed in the carriage with the rest of the commuters. And he made sure to slip out the door and into the crowd of people who would wait for the next train.
“So sorry to break our date, but I’m feeling rather off. Think I’ll stay in tonight. I’ll make it up to you next time,” Bill said from a phone box in Piccadilly, and hung up before Polyakov could reply. By the time the Soviet’s sloppy babysitter realized Gerald wasn’t on the train, he was in Tottenham Hale, and Bill was in Bayswater.
57 Chepstow Place was probably beautiful in its adolescence, but in the death kneels of Swinging London, it was a ramshackle mews crawling with squatters, skinheads, and bohemians. Tonight, the building had been commandeered by a queen from Notting Hill and the rest of her statuesque friends, for a monthly shindig with queers from every class. The landlord considered pink pounds to be as good as any other, and everyone forgot your face, which guaranteed the party would have an unusually long life. Bill was one of the odd ones out in gabardine, and he didn’t make eye contact with the other geriatrics. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been out.
After several rounds of grape and grain, a bump from a generous ginger, and a slow acting barbiturate, Bill Haydon found himself stuck in the toilet with the hostess, who was head and shoulders above him and sniffling every other word from the cocaine she’d taken to counteract the Quaaludes they’d shared. Bill was hypnotized by the red bathroom lights that lit up her glimmering dress with a neckline that plunged to her waist. The dark hair that trailed from her navel to the bulge beneath the gold lamé was better cleavage than any breast.
She wouldn’t drop the subject of Heath’s sexuality and how he was up to more than cottaging. When it was daylight and she was just Albert who emptied the bins at Lord’s Cricket Ground, she knew they were staring at her. There were so many men in suits who wanted to ask her about the next party, and she would make them pay for that information. Bill couldn’t be trapped with someone this paranoid and he rolled out of the toilet to find a seat somewhere alone. He found a park bench shoved against the wall, and he sat down hard, gripping the rail like he would fall into the ceiling if he didn’t hold on. And then his nose started bleeding.
The room was too hot. The children were too loud. He felt like there was a thick pane of glass between him and sensation, and he writhed behind it but couldn’t move his legs. These probably weren’t Quaaludes. That was the risk he took in leaving things to chance outside Chelsea, but he had to get a night off from the babysitters. He sat in the back of the throng, in an unfamiliar place for him to be alone, too drunk, too high, with a nosebleed. When did the mods metamorphosize into these cackling spectacles in glitter make-up and platform shoes? Their voices cried in jubilation as Brian Eno came screaming over the stereo.
He would have to burn his suit after tonight. There wasn’t a dry cleaner in all of England who could get glitter out of wool, but now free of the obligation to stay collected, he was less fussed about the drink soaked in his waistcoat, and the blood on his shirt.
A waif in a top hat and feather boa ran across the room to join his friends, only to slip on a lemon slice and land hard on his knee. He cried out and they helped him to his feet, but he was more upset about the rip in his tights. The scream reverberated in Bill’s head and it turned into a whining in his ears. Do your best to change the subject.
He couldn’t stop thinking about when Karla invited him to witness an interrogation from behind thick glass and wire fencing. Someone Beria missed, he’d smirked, referring to the unconscious youth strapped to a chair in the cold concrete cell. He’d been given free rein before but after catching an attitude, they decided to leave him in the chair for a few days. With a nod, one of his associates went in to wake him up by grabbing the waste bucket by the door and drenching him in the freezing contents of piss and excrement. He screamed and spit, never getting the taste away from his lips. He shook as the smell and the wet clung to his clothes and dripped from his hair. Karla’s man turned the spotlight back on him and didn’t have to raise a hand. His sharp questions were enough as the youth kept insisting he didn’t know anything.
They worked him for an hour before they beat him. Bill occasionally quipped to Karla like they were at Wimbledon, but Karla was silent like he wanted to watch the match without commentary. He finally left the room and lit a cigarette before someone opened the cell to him. Karla sauntered in, taking his time, smoking his cigarette. He took a seat opposite the youth and let the men continue. He took a moment to cough during an innocuous question about the youth’s Sunday shopping. He didn’t even flick his cigarette when they dragged the boy out of his chair, strung him up by the neck, and let him dangle for a moment before dropping him to the concrete floor, letting him land hard on his knee. Bill never liked the strangled moaning noise they made when the coughing stopped. They never broke his fingers or ripped out his nails. What was the point when they could dislocate the joints and put them back in place until the message took? Why beat him repeatedly when the anticipation of the next blow would be what would cause the most pain?
The questions resumed until the youth could speak normally, let him think that was the worst of it, until one of Karla’s men put a cigarette in the youth’s mouth, pulled out a gun and fired it over his head. The noise made him scream. Karla didn’t even flinch, but he did finally start speaking. He asked questions in a steady voice, but nothing Bill could hear. He must have put ear plugs in before lighting his cigarette. It wasn’t correct to say he was confident the youth would talk. Confident suggested he cared about the outcome. Karla already knew the outcome. And the youth started to talk. He babbled anything and everything he could think of like Karla was his only friend who’d understand.
And in the paralytic haze of the drink and cocaine and pills, all Bill could see was Jim’s face, telling Karla everything. They were doing that to him. Jim was hard as a coffin nail. "As soft as flint" he heard Guillam describe him once, but his suspicion of Control's madness was enough to put a crack in his foundation, and the deeper suspicion that made him turn up at Bill's doorstep before he left would make him crumble before Karla raised a finger. He was outside Bill’s orbit and Bill served at the pleasure of the proletariat. Jim would be kept alive and returned, but that was the only privilege Bill had left. They gave him so many others before. They openly gossiped about Alleline’s wife and Bland’s socialism and Smiley’s blind spot in Chanel No. 5. But they never, ever asked about Jim. Because they already knew.
The strobe lights stopped pulsing and turned into bright steady lights on the dance floor. One of the queens in a voluminous wig rushed to fix it before someone started screaming. But Bill felt paralyzed. It was like a spotlight had been shining over his life the whole time and only now was he aware of its presence. Every drink, every indiscretion, every moment he’d been with girl or boy and every moment with Jim, and they knew about it. It had been over Bill ever since he cursed the Queen and Macmillan for bungling the Suez Crisis and he wouldn’t be part of the national embarrassment anymore. And they embraced him like a brother.
There was one time they played him a tape of a man haggling with a prostitute and getting cheated every step of the way of a very disappointing blowjob. As they laughed helplessly over his poor English and worse negotiations, Bill recognized the voice as Toby Esterhase. A man so useless to the Soviets they let the English have him, groom him, and let him rise in the ranks to be Alleline’s make-believe mole. It was disgraceful. The refugee was one of the better lamplighters, and he turned out to be just as hopeless as the rest of the Circus. Moscow Centre wouldn’t even use it to burn him. It was just something to play at New Year’s parties.
At the time Bill felt sick for Toby’s weakness, but now he was sweating through his shirt and couldn’t convince himself it was just the drugs. Of course they’d have him and Jim on tape. The times a dinner would turn into drinks and then a night over. Or the blazing rows they’d have over something they’d forget about by the morning. The night Jim got back from an overextended stay in Ljubljana and they spent the whole night talking. He could still smell the washing liquid of the sheets. The freckles on Jim’s brow and the new creases that appeared in his face as he spoke. Bill could always admire him from the other side of the office, but only alone in his home or Jim’s flat could they truly speak. Every minor, intimate detail that normal people kept in the privacy of their hearts, was stamped on audio tape for Moscow Centre.
They wouldn’t ask Jim about it. They would ask about everyone else and let Jim figure it out on his own that they knew.
And it was only out of delicacy to him that Karla wouldn’t allow Polyakov to wave that in his face. The material Bill gave them was good, but Karla would always need insurance on his most valuable asset in the Circus.
Bill dragged himself from his seat and the whole room tipped in orange and violet lights, as the youths in glitter and feathers laughed and writhed to the wailing of Robert Fripp’s guitar. The floor was full of silver platforms and marabou trim coats, and time seemed to slow with every step he took. He had to get out. Take your time she’s only burning. He lurched across the drawing room they’d used for a dance floor, and the sea of youths parted in disgust at the dirty old man who was only trying to leave.
“Make way for Uncle Ernie!” he thought he heard someone shout, and the gales of laughter gathered in clouds over the dancers. The Acid Queen herself shouted at them to be respectful of their elders because they kept the lights on for ungrateful Twickenham twinks like them.
He stumbled into the humid night air and dragged himself into a phone box, leaning on chewing gum, cigarettes, and sick as he lifted the receiver, and dialed a number he never had to look up in his diary.
A plummy voice from BT informed him the number was no longer in service at this time. The phone was gone. The flat was empty. Of course it was. He’d gone with Jerry to clear out anything incriminating. The ferrets gave his furniture to the charity shops and the rest to private rubbish collectors. He felt sick instead of relief he had no personal effects to collect. He prided himself above sentiment. But Jim had a photo of the pair of them on the shelf where he’d put his keys. It was something to come home to and the estate agent’s ‘to let’ sign in the window was the only obituary he’d get. Bill took the photo home, put it somewhere for safekeeping, and already forgot where it was.
If his whole body wasn’t so paralyzed from pills to numb the fucking pain, Bill would have broke down in the booth right there. He slid against the polluted plastic windows, despondent he couldn’t reach Jim, that Jim wasn’t there to take his confession and absolve him. The drugs were that heavy glass and wire that kept the screaming and filth inside his concrete cell. He tried to cry but all that came out through the chokehold of barbiturates, was that strangled moaning noise.
Jim was in his caravan and he couldn’t sleep. There wasn’t even a proper bed to pull out. Just the cushioned seat by the back window. It was only temporary, he’d tell himself. A way to save money until he could find a flat by school, a bedsit, or even a lilo, but this was another night in the only comfortable position he could sleep, after enough vodka to help. He thought he’d die in Lubyanka. The Dip was his plot and with Percy Alleline too cheap for a pinewood box, he’d fobbed him off with an economy caravan and an ancient Alvis, where his body could rest eternal. He should be grateful he got anything, especially when he had nothing left.
Jim wished he could sleep.
But any idiot would know that.