A Barman Considers the Past
A sharp blast of air from the door made the night manager of the pub look up, and right away he recognized the spy, who came in from the cold night to this overheated room. Christ, they were all here tonight: Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy. It was like some kind of bloody children’s game, he thought. No, he corrected himself: No child’s game. Our game. The game we used to be in on.
The spy sat down at the bar and ordered a whiskey. He watched the others through the large mirror behind the bar, who watched him back in turn—the looking glass war, as the barkeep liked to call it. For it was a delicate truth, but they were not all absolute friends these days. The spy had been a traitor to them all once, though give him his due, the bartender thought, he had been our kind of traitor. He’d done the thing that any of them would have. He had not exactly been a perfect spy, though, and had ended up a most wanted man. The barman wondered what had finally brought him here, like some kind of secret pilgrim. Maybe he was seeking absolution.
Ah, what poor sods they all were when it came down to it, himself included. There had been a murder of quality since the old days, a real decline in standards. These days everyone called him John the Square—behind his back, of course, but he knew anyway, because bartenders, like writers, do end up digging out everything. But these pups now hadn’t known him back in the day. Pity he’d never married, but then none of them had. No, they’d all remained single, hadn’t they, single & single again. There had been that girl, the little drummer girl, what was her name, Karla maybe, who had gone the rounds of a small town in Germany they’d all been stationed in at the time. Right, she sold time shares—it was all coming back to him. He remembered there was some place near the eastern border, the Russia House she’d called it, always trying to get people to buy in. He couldn’t remember, maybe some of them even had. They’d all fought over her, anyway: Tinker the naïve and sentimental lover, while our spy here had been a sort of chaste knight, acting in the guise of the honourable school boy he had probably even been once. The bar manager himself had been more the constant gardener type, tending the soil of their relationship and biding his time. But that hadn’t worked with her either.
Tonight “the Tailor”, perhaps reacting to the presence of the spy at the bar, seemed to be on some sort of sad, nostalgic mission. Song burst from him, a warrior’s dirge, a lament. The barman wondered if it wasn’t some kind of call for the dead, a summoning. He shivered, half wondering if Smiley’s people would answer it, gone to Hades as they all by now surely had. The Tailor was drunk, but he really had been a tailor, a good one—it wasn’t just a code name. He had been the tailor of Panama once, if reputation was anything to go on. Of the nine tailors in town—but the night manager caught himself up short.
The nine tailors. He shook his head ruefully as he wiped down the bar. Now that was another story altogether.
by Seana Graham (with apologies to John le Carré)
This story was written for a challenge Brian Lindemuth conceived and posted over at Do Some Damage. The contest has been extended till 9/28/15, so you still have time to come up with an idea.