When he pulls you out of the Maghreb, that’s when you first realise – goodness, what wide palms he has. He’s a dapper sort, younger in the face than you would have expected for someone of his rank, and oddly nervous. He’s furious with you.
“Keep your head down.”
It’s a common refrain, one you’ll hear from him again and again, but that first time - well. You always remember the first.
Old Mister Smiley might have recruited you, but you’ve rarely seen him since, tucked away as he is at Control’s side and you so low down the food chain. No, you answer to Mister Guillam directly, or as directly as anyone in your position can. Always surprisingly well-turned-out is Mister Guillam, especially for a scalphunter, the mark of a gentleman in this decidedly ungentlemanly field. He’s always donned in sensible shoes and well-tailored suits, all done up in greys and blacks, maybe some tweed in summer. You, instead, prefer to be awash with colour, traipsing about in the current fashions like a child. Someone once told you that you tried too hard to be anything except a foreigner. You’re always a long way from home. No wonder, then, that the Mothers take to him with such sweetness; what would you give to have his charm directed your way, and not his ire.
He can’t be too much older than you, you think, but he tries to be, and that’s what tips you off. Very much by the books, is Mister Guillam. A good schoolboy, probably never a prefect, but a middling sort, gets along with everyone, you know the type. Not much for rugger, given his build, but he probably tried hard enough and enjoyed the effort if not the gain. Good with a cricket bat, no doubt, to make up for it. Long legs, probably caught a bowl or six with those. But all in all he’s seems to you to be a genial sort, picked up the old-fashioned way, not on the run like you but from those hallowed Oxford halls. There’s some word that it’s in his blood - that the Guillams and the Circus have a long and famed history - but you don’t know much more than that. There’s no other place for him, you think; even if he wasn’t born to it, he would have been a spy. He’s got history with Mister Smiley, too - who doesn’t? - and eventually he’s at your door, shoulder to shoulder with Mister Prideaux, and what an unholy mess that becomes.
What amuses you is his fastidiousness. Mister Guillam is a man who likes things to be in their place. Everything about him lands a little too on point - forgivable in a military man; conspicuous in anyone else. His smiles are just bright enough, his gaze is just sharp enough. You think you catch him glancing your way more than once, but you can’t be sure. When you turn to face him, he’s always looking away. Perfect in every way. Which is how you know, of course, that he is anything but.
There are a string of jobs in the Eastern bloc and you slip between them cleanly enough. The protocols in place for the dead drops have been painstakingly rendered into your memory for years now, so it’s not your efficiency which is your downfall, so much as your temper. Your mother always thought you were an angry boy, and now it seems you are sometimes an angry man. After the second altercation you receive the verbal equivalent of a slap on the wrist. Mister Guillam’s displeasure is as evident in the curve of his brow as in his words, which vary, but are always delivered low and tightly. “You’re a bloody idiot, Tarr,” he says, and you know it’s true. You’d never deny it.
And yet he surprises you, going out of his way to support your decisions even though on occasion they skirt the absolute boundary of decorum, and it’s enough to make you ashamed of yourself at times. It’s a rare thing, feeling so chastened when you’ve spent your life ignoring the consensus. You feel it a little keenly when you’ve done the thing you ought not do, knowing as you do that it will be him who takes it on the nose, not you. He must hear it a lot, a general air of disdain and disapproval - can’t you get that bugger in line?
(“I used to think—”
“As crass as it sounds I used to think of you as a bomb, ready to go off at the slightest trouble.”
You’ve more in common than he’ll ever admit to, you think. But what he covers in fastidiousness, you cover in other ways. It’s the same thing, you know: the same want, a little unclear at the fringes and a little messy. But that’s good, you think. Desire is a messy thing.
After a job goes awry in Morocco, one of Prideaux’s men pulls you out of a wide body of water and drops you, still soaked through, in the lap of one of Guillam’s own. Not a fellow you’ve seen before, but you know the type by now. Mister Guillam tends to recruit men of his own sort - sensible. Dependable. He gets you cleaned up and on a jet with a passport in your jacket pocket and a half-empty box of Camels, but no bloody matches. You’ve got water in your ears when you take off, and the whole desert under your fingernails. You get no sleep on the flight, and no whiskey either. A decidedly dull affair.
One of the old guard picks you up from the airport, drives you straight over the river and into Mister Guillam’s care, at which point he makes the uncharacteristic decision to take you home instead of pouring you into a hotel room or a safe house. You try to apologise - bloody Tarr, messed it up again, eh, Mister Guillam? - but he just sits you down in a high-backed chair, and pushes a tumbler of scotch into your hands before getting to work cleaning up your face. Can’t be a pretty picture, you think. The fellow in the sand had done a quick job patching you up but it’s Mister Guillam who pulls off his jacket, rolls up his sleeves, and puts his good hands to use. The rubbing alcohol stings and you flinch, but he’s firm and meticulous, and the full force of his concentration is incentive enough to sit still. He puts a hand to your jaw to tilt your face into the lamplight and you think to yourself, yes, it’s true, he’ll make a fine taskmaster some day, but never top dog. Them upstairs think he’s a hound that gets shaken by his tail too often. That’s your fault too, you know.
You fancy you see the remnants of another person in the house, though no-one turns up that evening, and there is only you and Mister Guillam at the table for breakfast. But there’s more than two of everything stacked on the side of the sink, and two papers in the morning even though you know Mister Guillam has a preference for The Times. An extra umbrella by the hat stand, and shoes one size too big by the door. A man like Mister Guillam ought to be more careful, you think, and then you recall the precautions he takes elsewhere and feel something close to pity. It’s all right for you, you reckon. No-one expects you to be a good boy. Even if you get caught, no-one will be too scandalised. But a man like Mister Guillam - no wonder he plays it all so close to his chest.
The blow, when it comes, is not expected, nor do you think it particularly warranted considering the circumstances. Bloody hell, you think, nursing a split lip and wounded pride, knew there’d be something inside you, waiting to get out. Knew there’d be something.
Prideaux dead. Irina dead. Haydon dead. Mister Smiley, he did alright out of the mess, him being the sort of man with feline luck, landing on all fours so to speak. Mister Guillam, too, though there’s a pronounced pinch to the skin around his eyes, something you can see on your own face when you can be bothered to look at yourself long enough to shave. Smug bastard, you think, lying, yellow-bellied, son-of-a—
If it’s to come to blows, you’ll throw the first punch this time around. It’s not decent, to use a man that way, with no regard for his thoughts or feelings, regardless of his past misdeeds. When did you ever say no to anything asked of you? When did you ever leave without some indication of your eventual return? Didn’t you bring the news straight to him? Didn’t you tread water to do so? And Mister Guillam, he’d looked you in the eye and lied to you, even though you’d never done him wrong, not really, not after everything. That’s the Circus for you, though. Sleight of hand and magic tricks. All the glitter and not one speck of it gold.
Unexpected, then, to find Mister Guillam at your door, still haggard of face, but otherwise well-pressed. Shoes a little rain-splattered, but not dirty, and his lapels flattened neatly under his overcoat. There’ll be some sort of recompense for him, you think, now that Mister Smiley is playing ringmaster, the way old Control would have liked it, the sly bastard. Even from beyond the veil he got what he wanted whilst poor sods like you bled out on English soil. And for what? An empire? What empire?
“Let me in, Tarr,” he says, talking to you as though you’re a boy, “there’s a good chap.”
He looks as worn as you feel, peaky, too. Catch a cold in a week, you reckon. You let the door swing open and listen to him shut it gently behind him. By the time he joins you in the kitchen you’ve poured another bourbon. He refuses; you insist.
“Take it. Take it, Mister Guillam. Don’t be rude.”
“Bloody hell, Tarr.”
“Humour me, won’t you, Mister Guillam?”
He takes the tumbler from your outstretched hand, but doesn’t drink until you raise your own to your lips. In this late light you could be mistaken for friends. Two friends who never speak to one another except to chastise and be chastised in return. Except this time Guillam takes his seat with a rattling sigh and looks at you over the bourbon as though he wants to ask you for something, permission maybe. He offers up no apology, which seems fitting.
“What now?” you ask, once both glasses are empty. You fill them both despite his moue of protest.
“Wait and see,” he says, looking at the liquor, the table, but not at you. That’s okay, you think, the drink making you mellow. “George has some ideas, no doubt, and there’ll be a clear up now that old Alleline has been tupped out.” He says those last words with a vicious clip to the consonants, at once both satisfied and sullen. The liquor must be loosening the tension in his bones. He is not usually so free with his thoughts.
He speaks the way he moves, quietly and with purpose, though he meanders from topic to topic in a manner you are unaccustomed to from him. Gives his first thoughts on you, offers the ghost of a smile the more he drinks. You wonder briefly why he came to you when he could have gone anywhere, seen anyone - wonder, also, if the owner of the too-big shoes was also a casualty to Bill Haydon’s treachery in some way. How easy it would be, you think, to silence him now, to offer up the thing that he will not ask you for. He always was a handsome man.
And it is what he wants; you can see it in the clean line of his shoulders, hunched over towards you as he speaks, gesturing widely. There was some great loss in the north of Africa which cut him sorely, and it’s this he returns to again and again and again once more. Someone was hanged. Someone else was hanged too. It weighs on him. And he has come to you because there is no-one else. When he finally looks up it becomes clear all at once that desire, the messy and troublesome thing that it is, has nothing to do with what he wants from you - because it is not you that he desires so much as what you can offer.
You always were an angry boy, this your mother told you, and even Mister Smiley thought you vulgar with your violence. But Mister Guillam, with his sensible shoes and oft-frustrated moods, he vouched for you nonetheless because he was an upstanding gentleman, the most upstanding he could be, if only to make up in some way for what he considered his other failings. And you, then, are a failing on more than one count, because you are no gentleman. You are an angry man.
You take the glass from him when he looks at you, and you ignore the entreaty. Whatever he has lost, and whatever you have lost, they do not match up. “To sleep with you, Mister Guillam,” you say, not unkindly, but with certainty. There’s a spare room and clean blankets, and in the morning he can ignore you or take breakfast, it doesn’t matter either way. He looks at you, and you think, maybe, now he will ask, now he will voice what he came for. But he does not. He stands, takes his coat, and goes where you lead him, quietly up the stairs and to the end of the hall where you leave him with his hand pressed lightly against the door knob.
“Goodnight, Mister Guillam,” you say, thinking now only of how late the hour is, and how little bourbon is left.
“What would you give, Mr Tarr, to have Irina here? Now?” It’s an honest question, and he looks you in the eye when he asks which makes you inclined to give an honest answer. What could you give, seems a better question.
“Nothing more,” you say. “I’ve given everything that I have, and it hasn’t been enough.”
“And now?” he asks.
You are tired,
Of the always puzzle of living and doing;
And so am I.
— e.e. cummings, you are tired