The last work of the great British writer John Le Carré, who raised the spy novel to the heights of art.
“Working with field agents” translated by Ventsislav Venkov, who was published by Kolibri Publishing House, meets Nat – a veteran of British intelligence, who returned to London with his long-suffering wife Prue, convinced that his 47-year-old internship is over.
However, the service assigned him a new task: to take over the Shelter – a non-functioning sub-residency subordinated to the London Directorate – a dump for displaced traitors with zero value, among which only Florence stands out as a “commodity”, targeting the leadership of the “Russia” department and a Ukrainian oligarch. with interests in Russia.
In addition to being a spy, Nat is also an avid badminton player. His Monday opponent, Ed, a mansion and staunch opponent of Brexit and Trump, manages to involve Prue, Florence, and Nat himself in a blood-curdling but darkly humorous story told by one of the greatest masters of the pen of the era.
John Le Carré is the literary pseudonym of David Cornwell – one of the most respected names in the world of spy thriller. Polyphonic novels such as “The Most Wanted Man” and “Traitor to Our Taste” focus on the complex interpersonal relationships of the characters, issues of international security, the danger of terrorism, religious intolerance and neo-patriotism.
“Smiley’s Team” is the triumphant ending of the famous Carla trilogy, which includes the novels “Lady, Pop, Ace, Spy” and “The Honorable Student”. In a radio interview in September 2017, Le Carré explained that one of the reasons he wrote “Spy Legacy” was his desire to “stand up for Europe” on the eve of the referendum, which ended with the so-called Brexit. Most of John Le Carré’s works have talented film adaptations.
British writer John Le Carré (Photo: Getty Images)
John Le Carre – “Working with field agents” (excerpt)
Our meeting was by no means arranged. Neither on my part, nor on Ed’s part, nor on the will of any of the invisible hands that may have pulled his strings. Nor was I his specific goal. No one had pointed Ed at me. They hadn’t watched us, either secretly or openly. He challenged me to an athletic challenge. I accepted it. We played. No agreement, conspiracy or conspiracy. There are still cases in my life – albeit rarer lately – for which there can be only one version. And our meeting was one of them. There was not the slightest hesitation in my account of her, notwithstanding his countless forced repetitions.
Saturday night. I rest on an upholstered deck chair by the indoor pool of the Atleticus Sports Club in Battersea, where I hold the rather pointless position of honorary secretary. The common club hall has a high beam and looks like a spacious cave; it used to be part of a converted brewery, and now offers a swimming pool at one end and a bar at the other, as well as a corridor connecting them that leads to the men’s and women’s locker rooms with showers.
I face the pool, which means I’m sitting at an angle to the bar. And beyond the bar is the entrance to the club, the lobby and only then the entrance from the street. That is, in this situation I can not see who enters the club or has read in the ads in the lobby, book an appointment for the courts or sign up for the club tournament “pyramid”. The bar is busy. Girls and boys are swimming in the pool and tweeting.
I’m on a badminton team: shorts, a T-shirt and my new pair of high-above-the-ankle sneakers. I bought them because of the annoying pain that appeared in my left ankle while wandering in the Estonian forest a month ago.
After several long stays abroad, I can finally enjoy a well-deserved home vacation. Not that there is no cloud hanging over my professional career, but I have vowed not to pay attention to it. I will be laid off on Monday. When necessary, I repeat from time to time. I’m starting my forty-seventh year. So far everything was going well, that was our arrangement from the very beginning, I have no reason to complain.
In this regard, I am beginning to attach more and more importance to the fact that despite my advanced age and annoying ankle I am still the undisputed club champion: very recently, last Saturday, I won the individual title after matches with a bunch of talented young opponents. In general, the individual championship is considered inaccessible territory occupied by fast-footed twenty-something creatures, but I still do not give myself to them.
John Le Carre (Photo: Getty Images)
Here that even today, observing the club tradition, as my newly crowned champion, I won a friendly match over the leader of our rival club from across the river, in Chelsea. And now he – the purposeful young athlete and lawyer of Indian descent – is sitting next to me and sipping a glass of beer in his hand after the battle that has just passed. He made me sweat a lot to the last few points, which I managed to get from his experience and a little luck.
I hope these few simple facts justify, at least in part, my goodwill the moment Ed challenged me, as well as my conviction — even for a short time — that life goes on after the layoff.
We spoke most amicably with my defeated opponent on a subject I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday: our fathers. It turned out that both were avid badminton players. His was the runner-up in the All-India Championship. And mine for a whole blissful season – British army champion of Singapore.
So, as we exchange funny memories, I suddenly realize how Alice, our Caribbean-born receptionist and accountant, is advancing toward me, accompanied by a very tall, albeit inconspicuous, man. Alice is a perpetually breathless sixty-year-old wayward woman with an imposing appearance. She and I are among the longest members of the club – me as a player and she as his main support.
Wherever in the world Christmas found me, we invariably exchanged congratulations – mine playful and hers pious. And when I say “progress toward me,” I mean that he and Alice led me from behind, which required them to pass me first and then make a “circle” to face me – a movement that they performed in comic unison.
“Mr. Sir Nat, sir,” Alice announces solemnly. At first he used the address “Lord Nat” in my address, but tonight I am appealed to a simple knight. “This extremely handsome and polite young man wants to talk to you in private.” However, he does not want to disturb the moment of your glory. His name is Ed. Ed, meet Nat.
For a long time, Ed lay stuck two paces behind her, a nearly two-foot-tall, bespectacled young man with a confused half-smile and a sense of loneliness. And I remember being illuminated simultaneously by two competing light sources: the orange LED strip above the bar, which gave it a stellar glow, and the lights built into the pool behind him, which made his silhouette look huge.
He steps forward and becomes real. Two long awkward steps – left leg, right leg, stop. Alice retires on business. I’m waiting for him to say something. I put a patient smile on my face. At least six feet tall, a pointed nose, black tousled hair peering ephemerally behind the glasses, large brown inquisitive eyes, and knee-length white sweatpants worn mostly by yachtsmen and the sons of the Boston rich. Apparently at twenty-five, but with these features of an eternal student, it is possible that he is much younger or older.
“Sir?” He insists at last, though not with the necessary dose of respect.
“Nat, if you don’t mind,” I correct with another smile.
He perceives what he hears. Nat. Make sense of it. He wrinkles his sharp nose.
“All right, I’m Ed!” He added informatively, repeating for my information what Alice had already said. In today’s England, where I have just returned, no one is called by last name.
“Well, hello, Ed,” I say amiably. – How can I be useful to you?
A new pause, during which he considers my words. Followed by the proverb:
“I want to play against you, you know?” You are the champion. The problem is that I have been a member of the club recently. Since last week, uh. And I signed up for the “pyramid”, as it should be, but to climb the rankings I will need a bunch of idiotic months – his words fly out of captivity.
And he pauses again, looking at us one after the other, first my cheerful opponent, then myself.
“Look now,” he tries to disprove me, though I haven’t disputed any of what has been said so far. – I admit that I am not familiar with the rules of the club, you know? He raised his voice indignantly. “Which is not my fault at all.” But I asked Alice. And she said if you don’t ask him yourself, he won’t bite you. That’s why I came to ask you. – And just in case, if it has not yet become clear to me: – But I could watch you while you play, you understand? And now I would like two or three of those who would. Plus one or two you fell from. I’m sure I can stretch you. And healthy, uh. I will stretch you a lot, to be exact.
What can I tell you about his own voice, from which I have already heard enough to make a judgment? In the eternal British salon game of arranging our compatriots on the public ladder based on their diction, I have almost none, as I have spent too much of my life in foreign lands. But according to the auditory judgment of my daughter Stephanie, a sworn fighter for social equality, Ed’s diction could be considered almost acceptable, meaning that there is no direct evidence of a completed elite private education.
“May I know where you first play, Ed?” – I ask him the usual question for our circles.
“Everywhere.” Where I find a worthy opponent, uh. Then he added, as if thinking for a moment, “I heard some time ago that you were a member of the club here.” There are clubs where you can pay and play. But not this one. Here they want you to become a member first. Live extortion, me if you ask me. And that’s what I had to do. I spilled a lot of fucking money, but keep it going…