Connie Sachs' life had developed such as a flower in late spring. Born young and fragile, needing the utmost care and attention, support, and rather similar to everyone else. But as she matured, grew into adolescence and discovered the world after and before wars, that's when people began to take an interest. You see, she was like a sunflower – radiant, charming and pretty. Oh, she was pretty; had boys following her around the block, falling to their knees to hear her speak, and sending the most beautiful varieties of flowers to her home. She surrounded herself in beauty.
As her teenage years passed, as did the endless boys and dances and dalliances down the local pub, Connie's beauty did not diminish nor did they entice the world. But they still enticed a few. Notably, Carl Fields, local stud, normally found with two cigarettes in his right hand, his left in the pocket of his jeans, and astride his motorbike. And for all her beauty, Connie lacked common sense.
She remembers him clearly even now – at the bottom of her box where she keeps all of her memories, all of her lovely boys, there's a picture of Carl Fields. Again with the jeans and motorbike, but also sporting a bandana, crappy sunglasses from the bloke down the market and a crucifix. No, he wasn't religious, no one in those days was, but he thought it made him look cool. He was cool. And Connie, with all her worldly wisdom, thought so too.
So they went dancing, and he introduced her to the rallies, the drugs, and the whole concept of sex, drugs and rock n roll. And there was no one to stop her – mother had died years ago from tuberculosis, and dad had been killed during the war. By November 1938, thoroughly and irrevocably in love with both Carl and the world he introduced her to, she was pregnant. The marijuana, speeding down the motorway at 100 miles an hour, her heart pumping wildly, long brown locks trailing across her porcelain cheeks, all came to an end.
And new things came about, but there was no one to notice any of it. Inside their little shabby hole that she called home, there was shouting and screaming, and slaps and hits, punches and bruises, burns and cuts. The most memorable time was when she told him she was carrying a baby, his baby, and his face fell. She thought he was pleased, albeit a little shocked.
It was her turn to be shocked when he slammed her dainty little body against the wall and roared, "You whore! You fucking whore!" in her face, spitting the foul stench of tobacco into her eyes. He punched her in the stomach, and when she cried he told her to shut the fuck up and punched her again. "I'm not having a kid now, I don't want one or fucking need one!" he had told her, kicking the shit out of her when she fell on the floor. And after that didn't work, he kept tormenting her. He called her slut and slag and bitch, went out and got drunk, locked her inside the house. He threw boiling water down her arms and broke her nose when she complained.
Two months after she told him, Carl let her out of the house, and shoved her into a hand-built car with his alcoholic best friend and told his mate, Tom Tarr to "take the bitch and make sure she ain't got that bump when she gets back". Tom did as he was told.
They went to see Dr Allen, working in a hut in the alley behind Woolworth's. All she can remember was that there was an awful lot of needles and carbolic soap involved. Well that and the searing pain. The pain was irrefutable; forget all the times Carl had yanked her around by her hair, kicked her and twisted her limbs – that was bliss compared to this. It felt like someone had set her insides on fire, or poured acid into her blood. It was searing, blistering agony.
When she got back to the apartment, Carl was gone, and Toby Tarr told her he was sorry before screeching away in his tin pot motor. She crawled up the stairs, ignoring the pitying and disgusted stares from other residents – "an abortion, what a one" "awh no Phyllis, that boy of hers was giving her a hard time"– and collapsed onto her flea bitten sofa and waited for the pain to go away.
It never really did, but after four days of wailing into rotten pillows and throwing up vicious acidic substances into the bathtub, Connie managed to pour a bowl of cereal down her throat, and swallow. She sat at her three legged plastic table in what you could call a kitchen, and did not cry. She couldn't bring herself to. The only thing she could think about was her mother. She had died on the living room sofa in 1929, in front of ten year old Connie who was only just old enough to understand what was going on. Mama, mama wake up; mama please come back, mama!
She lingered for days, living on remnants in the broken fridge, food she found in the back of the mouldy cupboards. It was only until there was no water, and the landlord turned up and evicted her, that Connie really lost all hope. Her hair dampened, became infected with lice and grease. Her skin lost all pallor, grey bags underneath her lacklustre eyes becoming more and more prominent with every missed meal. Her bones were visible under translucent, filthy skin. She walked around London, desperate, a beggar woman at 20 years old.
When the war started, she found work at a weapons factory. She cut off her hair into a tousled bob, knowing it would just get caught in the machines. She worked tirelessly, but she was just empty. She stayed for six years until they didn't need her any more, at which point she was 27, once against radiant after having been trampled by a boot, but vacant. She had saved her money and enrolled at a local college, finishing her education and learning basic technician skills. Connie even got to see the first computer, room-sized, and learnt that deduction and understanding go hand in hand in any worthwhile job.
In 1950, fully qualified, aged 32 and still clutching onto the demons of her past, Connie Sachs got a job at the Circus. Whilst being a woman, Control had told her, her skills were great and she would be a good addition to the very basic team that made up the British Intelligence Service – alongside George Smiley, a young lad with slicked back hair and a waistcoat, and Toby Tarr. Of course he didn't recognize her, but she kept her distance from him; the only time they spoke was at the Christmas do in 1963 when he told her that one of his old mates, Carl Fields, had been killed during the war. Friendly fire, after attempted desertion. Connie had smiled – he had always been a cowardly bastard.
Sipping tiredly at her stone cold coffee, Connie stared at the grainy footage on her computer monitor, desperately trying to coax the truth out of the machine. She knew there was something wrong with Polyakov, she absolutely knew it. The slimy Russian bugger was all charm and no sense, and she knew that the Circus wouldn't just work with a confederate that did screw-all to help. It wasn't worth the time.
She dropped the coffee back onto her standardized mouse mat, and turned off the main light, trying to get a better view of this tape. She rubbed her eyes and tousled her short hair, not bothering to check her appearance. Whilst this job had saved her life, and maybe allowed her to change into a new person, it had taken all of beauty. Life had taken her beauty, but the long hours, the desperate secrecy, the sheer pressure of trying to protect a whole country, had changed her once dimpled, fresh cheeks into sagging wrinkles and gave her a grey tinge. Oh time had done its work as well, but this job was all consuming. Not just for her, but for everyone.
George, how she pitied him (Anne had left again, and he had retired from the Circus), little Peter (did he really think no one else knew about William?) and Control. Oh Control – he was up the ladder and battier than Mad Cow's disease. But she thought about Control fondly – he was a good man, had given her the job here in the first place, always made sure she was alright; had introduced her to Steven, her late husband. And now he was gone, and that creepy little man Alleline had taken his place.
And there it was! Her hand trembled slightly as she concentrated on the film, rewound it, and watched again – Polyakov, being saluted. Nobody salutes a confederate, not in Russia and not anywhere. She grabbed the telephone next to her desk, anticipation running through her veins and dialled the number for Percy Alleline's assistant.
"Hello, Mr Alleline's office?" came a nasally, warped voice. Connie rolled her eyes, picturing the blonde leggy woman sat behind her desk, desperately seeking the short Scotsman's approval.
"Hello, this is Connie Sachs, IT department," Connie said quickly, excited about her find, knowing with that lovely conviction that she had been right all along, "can you please tell Mr Alleline that he needs to come and see some footage we've obtained of Mr Polyakov."
"Sure, I'll let him know right away." And there was the clipped tone and the plastic red nails, but sure enough, within ten minutes, Alleline and his little (well, big) accomplice Roy bland showed up in her dark office.
"Alright Miss Sachs," Alleline began, resting against her desk, the intimidation apparent, "what have you got to show me concerning Polyakov?"
Connie beamed triumphantly, weathered teeth showing though a thin-lipped smile. She directed Alleline to look at her computer, and Bland lit a cigarette. She had to bite her cheeks to resist telling him not to – she had become accustomed to the stench of tobacco, but that didn't mean she liked it anymore. She hit her space bar, and the film played, for only three seconds. But that was three seconds too long. Polyakov had blown his cover.
She watched Alleline's expression, and felt a surge of panic well up in her. He didn't look shocked, or horrified, or pleased even. He just looked normal. Alleline was the mole. Bland was helping. Polyakov was a spy. They were trying to bring down the British Empire. Oh God, they're going to kill me. Her thoughts whirred dangerously close to her lips, and before Alleline could try and deny it, she burst out, "Look, that's Polyakov being saluted. No one salutes the feds; he's a spy, a Russian spy!"
Alleline visibly pursed his lips and the dismissed Roy. He leaned in towards Connie Fischer, so close she could see the whites in his eyes, and the faint trace of perspiration across his forehead. "You're to leave Polyakov alone."
Despite knowing that she could be killed – why not, it had happened before – Connie couldn't contain herself. "But look, Polyakov's obviously…"
"Enough," Alleline barked, and it shut her up instantly, "You're becoming obsessed with him."
"Maybe it's time you took a break Connie, a permanent one." Alleline swiftly left.
And at five thirty that evening, so did Connie Sachs. She handed in her ID and entry forms, took her bag and coat from the cupboard, and left the Circus. Waddling onto the bus, with blistered feet and shivering hands, Connie felt as lost and empty as she had 36 years ago, having been kicked of Ricki Tarr's father's car and onto the streets.
She sat in a battered, worn seat and emptied her change into her pockets. She gazed mournfully out of the window and headed home, to an ill-advised bottle of whiskey, and perhaps a cigar or two.
After all, this job had saved her, but it had killed her all over again as well.