‘I won’t be quoted, George,’ the Minister warned in his lounging drawl.

‘No minutes, no packdrill. I got voters to deal with. You don’t. Nor does Oliver Lacon, do you, Oliver?’

He had also, thought Smiley, the American violence with auxiliary verbs: ‘Yes, I’m sorry about that,’ he said.

‘You’d be sorrier still if you had my constituency,’ the Minister retorted.

Predictably, the mere question of where they should meet had sparked a silly quarrel. Smiley had pointed out to Lacon that it would be unwise to meet at his room in Whitehall since it was under constant CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE attack by Circus personnel, whether janitors delivering despatch boxes or Percy Alleline dropping in to discuss Ireland. Whereas the Minister declined both the Islay Hotel and Bywater Street on the arbitrary grounds that they were insecure. He had recently appeared on television and was proud of being recognised. After several more calls back and forth they settled for Mendel’s semi-detached Tudor residence in Mitcham where the Minister and his shiny car stuck out like a sore thumb. There they now sat, Lacon, Smiley and the Minister, in the trim front room with net curtains CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE and fresh salmon sandwiches, while their host stood upstairs watching the approaches. In the lane, children tried to make the chauffeur tell them who he worked for.

Behind the Minister’s head ran a row of books on bees. They were Mendel’s passion, Smiley remembered: he used the word ‘exotic’ for bees that did not come from Surrey. The Minister was a young man still, with a dark jowl that looked as though it had been knocked off-true in some unseemly fracas. His head was bald on top, which gave him an unwarranted air of maturity, and a CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE terrible Eton drawl. ‘All right, so what are the decisions?’ He also had the bully’s art of dialogue.

‘Well first, I suppose, you should damp down whatever recent negotiations you’ve been having with the Americans. I was thinking of the untitled secret annexe which you keep in your safe,’ said Smiley,

‘the one that discusses the further exploitation of Witchcraft material.’

‘Never heard of it,’ said the Minister.

‘I quite understand the incentives, of course; it’s always tempting to get one’s hands on the cream of that enormous American service, and I can see the argument for CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE trading them Witchcraft in return.’

‘So what are the arguments against?’ the Minister enquired as if he was talking to his stockbroker.

‘If the mole Gerald exists,’ Smiley began. Of all her cousins, Ann had once said proudly, only Miles Sercombe was without a single redeeming feature. For the first time, Smiley really believed she was right. He felt not only idiotic but incoherent. ‘If the mole exists, which I assume is common ground among us.’ He waited, but no one said it wasn’t. ‘If the mole exists,’ he repeated, ‘it’s not only the Circus CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE which will double its profits by the American deal. Moscow Centre will too, because they’ll get from the mole whatever you buy from the Americans.’

In a gesture of frustration the Minister slapped his hand on Mendel’s table, leaving a moist imprint on the polish.

‘God damn it I do not understand,’ he declared. ‘That Witchcraft stuff is bloody marvellous! A month ago it was buying us the moon. Now we’re disappearing up our orifices and saying the Russians are cooking it for us. What the hell’s happening?’

‘Well, I don’t think that’s quite CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE as illogical as it sounds as a matter of fact. After all, we’ve run the odd Russian network from time to time, and though I say it myself we ran them rather well. We gave them the best material we could afford. Rocketry, war planning. You were in on that yourself – this to Lacon, who threw a jerky nod of agreement. ‘We tossed them agents we could do without, we gave them good communications, safed their courier links, cleared the air for their signals so that we could listen to them. That was the price we paid for running CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE the opposition – what was your expression? – “for knowing how they briefed their commissars”. I’m sure Karla would do as much for us if he was running our networks. He’d do more, wouldn’t he, if he had his eye on the American market too?’ He broke off and glanced at Lacon. ‘Much, much more. An American connection, a big American dividend I mean, would put the mole Gerald right at the top table. The Circus too by proxy of course. As a Russian, one would give almost anything to the English if… well, if one CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE could buy the Americans in return.’

‘Thank you,’ said Lacon quickly.

The Minister left, taking a couple of sandwiches with him to eat in the car and failing to say goodbye to Mendel, presumably because he was not a constituent.

Lacon stayed behind.

‘You asked me to look out for anything on Prideaux,’ he announced at last. ‘Well I find that we do have a few papers on him after all.’

He had happened to be going through some files on the internal security of the Circus, he explained, ‘Simply to clear my decks.’ Doing so, he had stumbled on some CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE old positive vetting reports. One of them related to Prideaux.

‘He was cleared absolutely, you understand. Not a shadow. However,’

- an odd inflexion of his voice caused Smiley to glance at him – ‘I think it might interest you all the same. Some tiny murmur about his time at Oxford. We’re all entitled to be a bit pink at that age.’

‘Indeed yes.’

The silence returned, broken only by the soft tread of Mendel upstairs.

‘Prideaux and Haydon were really very close indeed, you know,’ Lacon confessed. ‘I hadn’t realised.’

He was suddenly in a great hurry to CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE leave. Delving in his briefcase, he hauled out a large plain envelope, thrust it into Smiley’s hand and went off to the prouder world of Whitehall; and Mr Barraclough to the Islay Hotel, where he returned to his reading of Operation Testify.