Harold learned later that she'd done it while George was gone. George had never known. Despite all he knew about Ann and her many infidelities, he'd never known the worst thing she'd done. Harold didn't know if that was a consolation or not, that George had never known. He let himself toy with improbable fantasies of what might have happened if he had. Tracked Harold down and brought him to England. A different life and a different kind of hiding. Harold would have been good in George's line of work. More likely, though, George would have been deeply wounded for a while and hidden away in his hidden world, bringing out the truth occasionally to torment himself and never doing anything about it, the way he never did anything about Ann's affairs. The more Harold learned about George, the more he was reminded of himself. If there was any temptation to consider that it might have been any of the others—Bill Haydon, for instance, God forbid—all he had to do was look at the picture of George Smiley and be reassured.
Peter told him too much. The old Englishman said so himself, but so much classified material from the Cold War had been declassified in recent years that it was hard to tell how much of any one story one could not tell. Harold had a feeling that was an excuse, that the old man felt he owed something to the man who had been his boss, mentor, friend, hero. So he told Harold too much about the dumpy, quiet, razor-sharp little man who had pulled British intelligence out of the morass it had been plunged into in the 1970s, much that Harold sensed he had never told anyone.
Who better to tell it to than that man's son? Peter kept sliding sideways glances at him, another dumpy, quiet, razor-sharp little man with a face that was almost, but not quite, a mirror to the small photograph now in Harold's inside jacket pocket.
Peter Guillam had shown up out of the blue, tall, thin, in his late seventies or early eighties, his hair still as flaxen as it was silver, his voice deep in his throat and posh-British.
"I had to see for myself," he said. "I hope you'll forgive me for intruding on your incognito."
"I still don't see how you managed it. No one has ever done it before." Of course, no one has ever tried. They think I'm dead.
"Oh, it was no simple task, believe me. But I am Intelligence," the old Circus man said. "And, if you'll forgive me, you did nearly exactly what your father would have done. And I knew him so well."
"At least I come by my paranoia honestly," Harold said dryly.
"In our business, it's not paranoia. I'm sure you've guessed it was Ann who told me about you, just before her death."
"She's dead, then."
"I'm sorry—I'd assumed you knew. Last year."
Harold tried to consider what he felt on hearing of his mother's death and decided he felt nothing.
"How did you end up meeting Ann, if you don't mind my asking?" Peter asked after a silence had assured him that Harold was not going to indulge in an American display of emotion.
Harold decided he did not mind. This whole meeting with Peter Guillam of the British Circus had a vague, dreamlike air, and the topic of conversation was particularly unreal. He might have had a British life. He wondered if he would have liked it any better than the American one.
"A few years ago I went searching for my birth parents. I was at a time of life at which it is good to know of genetic predispositions, and I was also working on a project which made it useful to have a test case." He didn't tell Guillam that he'd realized later those were only excuses to hide his real reasons from himself, and that his real reasons involved a beautiful artist named Grace and a friend named Nathan who gave him the courage to face himself, his past, his identity, or rather identitylessness, and the fact that anyone who came in contact with him as a child promptly gave him away. Even if you could put these things into words, you didn't say them.
"I did the usual searches, only in my own way, using my own programs. It was really exceedingly easy, even in a closed adoption. Sealed files are very easy to get into, even when you're not technically Intelligence. Ann might have been married to British Intelligence, but she wasn't British Intelligence, though I gather she thought she'd been very clever."
"Ann was a stupid cow," Peter said in so casual a way that it was more shocking than if he'd used the ripest of language.
"That may be. It did, however, necessitate a trip to England, because there had been a paperwork mixup. I could not be sure which of two English women had given birth to me. Both were Circus wives, both had given up baby boys for American adoption early in 1954, both without listing a father's name. I had to meet them both and find out more background information. Naturally I didn't tell them what I was really after. I posed as a writer writing a book about the great days of British Intelligence, my interest piqued by all the declassified documents from WWII and the Cold War. The first woman was inconclusive, but the second…"
"It was Ann," Peter finished for him.
There was more he could never bring himself to tell anyone. How he had never intended to meet his mother, only the first in a long line of women to give him away. How when he meet Ann Smiley, he had not expected her to be so beautiful and so ravaged by an unhealthy lifestyle. How, illogically, he had not expected her to be old. How he had not expected her to sit silently through his spiel and then say flatly, "You're my son."
How he had said automatically, "I'm sorry, Lady Ann, but you must be confused."
How she got up and rummaged in a drawer and thrust a photograph at him and how he looked into his own face, pudgier, less prominent in the eyes and chin, but almost his own, at his same age. How he looked up and saw his own chin on the old woman opposite him. How he got up and ran away.
"We had two meetings," he said, "and that was how I found out that her estranged husband, George Smiley, was my father, that he was British Intelligence, and that he had died a few years before, after retiring to keep bees and study German literature." And didn't say how he'd felt a shock with the remembrance of the neat row of old German books in his study at home, each one much thumbed-through and clumsy translations carefully revised.
"But I learned little else from her because she was in ill health, and I had to return to the U.S. My partner had made a breakthrough in our project. On my own I learned as much as I could about George Smiley."
Peter gave him a sharp look. "I wonder how much that was."
Harold smiled quietly. "Karla," he said. "Control. Haydon. I don't need to go on, do I? I have my sources, Mr. Guillam, as you have yours."
He didn't say how much he liked of what he learned of George Smiley, how often something seemed to stab him when he considered that he could never know him, how sometimes he couldn't go to sleep at night for wondering whether that man had known and agreed to his only child being given up for adoption to Americans. Did he think he was too busy with his Circus life to deal with a child? Did he want his personal life to be just himself and Ann, his young, beautiful, aristocratic wife? Those nights reminded him of many in his childhood when, against his better judgment, he wondered about the people who had conceived him, if they were better off without him, if they wished they had him back, if they would take him back if they knew that the rich Americans they had given him to hadn't liked him any better than they had and gave him away to Social Services, who gave him away to foster family after foster family.
He didn't say any of those things. He hadn't even said them to Nathan, who never knew he was looking for his birth parents, let alone that he'd found them in a minor British aristocrat and a top British Intelligence agent.
But Peter Guillam, who had spent so long learning the quiet mannerisms of a man very much like the man opposite him, seemed to understand some of the many things Harold did not say. He began to tell him about George Smiley, the things no one can glean from official records, the things only a friend can know. The way George spoke about Ann when he told Peter the story of Karla and the cigarette lighter in the Delhi prison. The way George cried when two British agents were killed on his watch. The way George loathed the telephone, which made Harold smile. The delicacy and finesse with which George could get a story out of a man without even seeming to try. The way you could pass the little man by in the street without seeing him and never for an instant guess that there went a man whose intelligence and skill at the Game made James Bond look like a chest-beating gorilla. (Peter gave Harold another sideways glance at that last.)
Peter finally said, "Why did you never go back?"
"My project was more important to me," Harold said flatly. It gave me a chance to hide, he didn't say. "And then I died." And then the world died. Then Nathan died and the work was gone and Grace was left behind and only pain existed for a long time, and then a different man was left over, like the same man condensed a thousand times out of all the experiences of his life that taught him You Are Alone.
But Peter Guillam understood dying, the way a man on the run died and emerged someone else, and he did not question it.
"Ann wanted to tell you everything. So she told me instead. I was the only one left, and I understood George better than she ever had. It was," Peter said cautiously, "something of a shock to learn George and Ann had had a child. Even more of a shock to find out what Ann had done."
"What did she do?"
Peter gave him another surprised look. "She really didn't tell you much then. You must understand she regretted it later, when it was too late. It was the beginning of her destruction of their marriage."
George was achieving a high position in the Circus in those days, Peter said. When Ann married him in 1945, it was because she thought he would go places. Everyone told her he would go places, when they were first introduced at MI6 after the War. He was such an unimpressive little man, but the people who knew him recognized that beneath the exterior was a man who had what it took. So she married him, thinking her social position could help his, that her influence could turn the quiet man into something dashing. He was besotted with her, she could tell, and she thought she could mold him. Perhaps she had thoughts of the Ministry, of Parliament.
Nothing she imagined came true. Her quiet, unimpressive husband had a will of steel and a kind of coldness of mind, and he was not going to be molded. He became an ignorable, stout, dull, elderly man, perhaps on purpose, because the exterior suited the many roles he had to play. He never stopped being besotted with her, which was so tiresome when he wasn't tall, handsome, and dashing. And even she came second to the Game. She never knew what he was doing, what he was working on, where he went when he left the country for days, weeks, even months at a time. She tried to imagine him in James Bond-like situations in disguise and thoroughly failed; she was more successful and more accurate when she imagined him doing dull jobs, meeting enemy agents in neutral locations and convincing them to defect to the West. She couldn't know how many operations and networks he saved by his successes at those dull jobs.
Ann was angry at him for not being the man she had imagined for herself, and when she became pregnant in late 1953, she was angry at him for being the father of her child, for giving her what would probably be a dull, dumpy child like himself instead of a beautiful, glamorous child she could show off. His child would take firsts in dull things like German literature, not be the hero of the football team. She imagined all this for herself in the months he was gone during her pregnancy.
"She was surprisingly accurate," Harold murmured to himself.
Peter carefully did not respond. "George always played things close to the chest. He never told us he was going to be a father. Ann's mother and sister had both suffered multiple miscarriages, and he wanted to be sure things were going well before he let everyone make a fuss over him. He also, wisely, wanted no distractions while he was working. It was a distraction, several years later, which laid him open to Karla's manipulation of him. He was wiser in those early years, before Ann started betraying him with every man who approached her."
But George was excited to be a father. He wanted a son and had been afraid he would never have one. "I remember those days," Peter said reminiscently. "He had a kind of gleam in his eyes. I thought it was the work—or Ann. I never considered that it was a child."
He went away for an unusually long operation in South America and was ultimately responsible for turning an entire ring of enemy agents into defectors. He returned flushed with victory and found Ann had lost the baby. And after that everything was different.
In reality, Ann had faked a health crisis and went away to a sanitarium, where she gave birth to a healthy baby boy and promptly gave him up for adoption to the first takers, who happened to be an American serviceman and his wife. It was a closed adoption: she was never to have contact with him again or even to know the names of the adoptive parents, nor they hers. She wanted to hurt George, to put what he wanted most as far out of his reach as possible.
"Did she give me a name?" Harold asked quietly.
"No. Or if she did, she never told me. But she did tell me that she found she'd destroyed herself more than George. She played the devoted wife when he came home—gave him an expensive, engraved cigarette lighter for the Christmas he'd missed—"
"The one Karla took?"
"The one Karla took. But it didn't work. She said everything was empty after that. She said she never felt anything but desperation again. The affairs started that year. She didn't even bother to hide them from George, though—or maybe because—they hurt him so much. It was two years later that George met Karla and betrayed so much about himself. In trying to turn the Soviet agent, he unwittingly demonstrated to that agent precisely the right way to keep him distracted from seeing the mole in our midst. I don't think George would have hunted Karla so bitterly later if it hadn't been for that, the manipulation of him through Ann's affairs."
Ann had never told George the truth. In her last few days she wished she had but was not sure it would have been for the best. When George died nearly ten years before, she had not seen him in nearly as long, his choice, not hers. Everything in her life had gone wrong, and, she recognized, it was mostly all her own fault. "Tell him," she said, "that I am sorry and I have regretted what I did nearly every day of my life."
Harold was left with that when Peter Guillam returned to his retirement in England. Left with a mother's regret and an old man's memories of a strangely wonderful father. A story of a man so much like himself and a woman he never wanted to think of again. Knowing the stories didn't change what he thought of himself, as he had thought perhaps it would.
He was left with little more than he had had before. Though he now knew the names of his parents, he didn't know his own name, because he didn't have one. His mother had never given him one. His adoptive parents had given him one, but they took it away again as soon as they shoved him off into Social Services. Social Services gave him one, but it wasn't his. That was why false identities had always been so easy and natural, and now he knew that the false identities were his only real ones. If he ever tried to be a Smiley, perhaps George Smiley, Jr., it would be a thousand times more false an identity than Harold Finch.
He was left with the crystallization of what had always been a nebulous idea, that maybe he wasn't destined to be close to anyone. There had been many good people in his life, people worth holding onto. George Smiley, that one foster brother when he was eight, the foster mother when he was eleven, Nathan, Grace; and they were all gone, and none of them had ever been permanent. It was his fate to go alone through the world. But he was Harold Finch, and he liked alone.
Rousing himself from his thoughts, he checked his watch and went out to run an errand. He was hiring an employee today, a homeless man named John Reese who had just gotten himself arrested.
Author's Note: Though I came to John Le Carré's books through the most recent "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" movie and loved Gary Oldman as George Smiley, as I have begun reading the books I have been strongly reminded of Harold Finch whenever I read George. Hence this story.
But Peter is definitely played by Benedict Cumberbatch (an old Benedict Cumberbatch) in this story.
P.S. I realize, now that I've begun reading "Call For The Dead" that some of my Ann-George timeline facts are wrong. Alas. They'll just have to be wrong.