The Spy Who Came in Through the Door (Upon Viewing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
It looks like the Russians let us down again.
Of course, it was the bloody Russians letting us down in the first place that put the four of us here, in a second-rate room in a Hyatt Regency that disgraces the words “Hyatt” and “regency”. It was because they couldn’t keep even the semblance of even an evil empire together that we — we being Conti, Ibo, Sol, and myself — lost our jobs in the first place, and are reduced us to doing work like this. It’s all their fault, the weak bastards. Bloody Russians.
I don’t really like to mention it, especially not to Conti and Sol. They’re Americans, you see. CIA and NSC, respectively; grand fellows with quite a tradition in the trade. Their government nowadays likes to crow about how they won the Cold War and brought the Soviets to their knees; all well and good for purposes of hagiographic boasting, but what did it mean to the lot of us? It meant unemployment. It meant we were all out on the dole. Forever countering the Russians for us…well, it was our vocation, of course, our lifelong calling. But it was also all that we had; it was who we were. There was nothing else. We never thought we would actually win. Once it was accomplished, we felt much like an angel might after the final triumph over Satan: jolly well done all round, celebratory dinner at St. Peter’s house, then you wake up the next morning and think, well, hell, what do we do now?
Me, I was the first to go. The sun had long set on the British Empire, and loath as I am to admit it, we at MI6 had long been the handmaidens of the Americans. We put on a brave face, saying that we were the front lines of the war against Communism, but what we were warring over wasn’t so much capitalism vs. Bolshevism as it was American interests vs. Soviet ones. With the Reds gone and budgets that forever needing trimmed to satisfy the punters, we were destined for the chopping block.
Sol and Conti stuck it out a while longer, and a few years back, it looked like they’d be restored to their former glory; the war on terror gave the intelligence community an enemy even more shadowy (and, unexpectedly, even more dangerous) than the Red hordes. But we’d all been raised for something subtler, grander, more finessed; the Great Game. This new war was little more than scrabbling about in the deserts chasing one wog or another from cave to cave. Say what you like about the Bolshies, but at least they’d been gentlemen. They knew the value of the keeping up appearances. These bloody Arabs, it wasn’t proper intelligence work with them. It was like goat-herding. Sol and Conti got out just in time to escape the Yank president blaming their outfits for failing to provide tangible evidence of his own delusions. That’s no way for one of us to be treated, after all we did for the cause.
After that…well, after that, there was nothing. What a sorry spectacle we must have made, sitting in the park feeding the birds like a lot of old pensioners! And this time, we really were feeding the birds; it wasn’t just an excuse to meet a double agent and exchange briefcases. Old habits die hard, I suppose. We’d just cluster on a bench and point out places where we used to swap classified documents with some long-dead Soviet mole; we were no different from the old blokes down at the pub trading stories of the Great War. Pathetic.
Ibo is the one who finally got us out of it. He’d always been the sharpest of the lot. It stings me to admit it because I never thought a darkie would have the brains for this sort of work, but he was a freelancer, playing both sides against one another, his great white eyes always open for an opportunity. He’d not missed a single day’s work, even when the Berlin Wall fell, not Ibo. He’d given us a call, for old time’s sake he said. Old time’s sake, bollocks: it was pity. But we were all too down in the heels to say no. “Imagine it, lads,” I’d say, “a world without intelligence.” Sol would always joke that he didn’t have to imagine it; he’d lived in it his entire life. So when Ibo called us together and told us the opportunities were greater than ever if we’d only learn to think differenly, naturally we jumped at the chance.
It’s not the same, though. Oh, we’re all making good money; we never lack for work, and we get the same class of thrill as we used to do. But this sort of work…it doesn’t seem noble somehow. They call it by the same name (espionage, my arse), but it’s really just glorified stealing. In the old days, it seemed like there was some greater meaning to what we did, a sense that we were engaged in a grand work, and that even if you didn’t really believe in one side or the other, at least there was a difference between the two. Nowadays, it’s just different names for the same side. Assassinating a turncoat, turning a triple agent, making off with the latest cryptography cracks — it wasn’t pretty work, but it made us feel a sense of accomplishment. Now it’s all smuggling pre-release copies of studio blockbusters, dowloading source code, sneaking hidden cameras onto the set of reality shows. There’s plenty of glamor, but no…nobility.
And so here we all sit again, waiting for some flash pinkie-ringed Ukrainian to buzz our room and hand over a briefcase — not one filled with missile plans or the real names of informants or aerial photographs of power stations, mind you, but with bootleg mp3s of the new Jay-Z album, whoever in God’s name that is. And of course he’s late, and of course we all feel like fools, and of course we all know who’s to blame.