Partly as a companion to a new piece they have on some secret Cold War-era drug experimentation, and partly just because stories about spies never grow old, the New Yorker put up for free a John Le Carre piece from 2008 titled “The Madness of Spies.” It’s a nice toss of cold water (as Le Carre can do so well) on our more fervid imaginings about what secret agents get up to.
Le Carre describes going on his first-ever undercover mission in 1952, driving with a senior spy (the “Air Intelligence Officer”) to Austra’s border with Czechoslovakia, where a Czech air force officer should be waiting with secret information. He packs a gun, on orders from the A.I.O., who says, “Think of it as part of you.”
They stop at a bar to play pool:
The gun was indeed part of me: so much so that I had ceased to notice its presence on my hip. Stooping to address the ball, I was startled by the clang of a heavy metal object striking the tiled floor, and looked around to identify the source. Finally, I saw the Browning lying at my feet, but by then the inn had emptied itself of customers and landlord. I retrieved it, returned it to my waistband, and picked up the briefcase.
“Abort,” the A.I.O. ordered, pausing only to finish his beer.
This would never happen to Jason Bourne.