Flying back to London from Berlin, Leamas reflects that he has failed in his career and been beaten by Mundt. He knows that his bosses have never liked him, but they did not fire him before because he was effective at his job. He thinks about the man who has beaten him. Mundt had worked as a low-level spy in London before returning to Berlin to become head of operations in the Abteilung (the East German spy service). After that, Leamas’s agents began to be killed off, one after another, on Mundt’s orders, up until the latest killing of Riemeck.
Leamas feels that he has let down those who he had pledged to protect: the Western intelligence program, and the many agents he directed during his tenure as the head of the Berlin station. He does not know what will become of him without a network of agents, since he has dedicated his entire life to his career.
Leamas is a short, strong man of around fifty who dresses simply. He has a tough, unrefined look, like he could cause trouble and wasn’t raised as a member of the British upper class. He divorced his wife, and never sees his teenage children. Leamas is picked up at the airport by a man from Personnel named Fawley, who is a member of the upper class and dislikes Leamas. Leamas asks if he is going to be fired, but Fawley says he should wait to hear from Control (the head of the British secret service).
Leamas, unlike most of the spies who work for the Circus, the British intelligence service, is not highly educated or brought up with impeccable manners. He has no loyalty to a class, and no loyalty to a family. He is used to being treated with some disdain by other members of the Circus like Fawley.
At the Cambridge “Circus,” headquarters for the British spy service, Leamas meets with Control. Control is courteous and complains about banal topics like the cold and the secretaries. Control says it’s a shame that Riemeck was shot, and says that Elvira must have turned him in. Leamas does not ask Control how he knows about Elvira. Control begins to question Leamas about his personal reactions to the deaths of his agents, and then asks Leamas if he feels burnt out. Leamas says that is up to Control to tell him. Control says that spies live without sympathy “out in the cold,” but, even when they are on the job, they cannot always remain so detached. Leamas recalls images of chaos he saw during his service in the Netherlands during World War II.
Control is a member of the British upper class. When he talks about uncomfortable topics, like the emotional struggles that Leamas may experience while living without any human connection, Control falls back on his upper-class manners to dispel the awkwardness of the topic. But this attitude is unfamiliar to Leamas, who does not trust Control enough to ask him a straightforward question about how Control knows Karl had a mistress, Elvira. Leamas is unused to talking about his own emotions, but they are clearly raw, because talking about the deaths of his agents brings back memories of the war.
Control says he wants Leamas to “stay out in the cold a little longer,” and then begins to talk about the morality of spy work. He says that they justify the wicked things they do through dishonest comparisons of the West’s ideals with the East’s methods. Leamas is bewildered by this philosophizing.
Leamas does not think about the irony of using illiberal, immoral methods in the fight to defend a liberal social order. He sees this as a part of spy work for both the Communists and the West and does not care to ponder whether the two sides are really so different.
Finally, Control gets to the point: he wants Leamas to stay “out in the cold” to help to take out Mundt. Leamas asks why, since they have no other agents to protect in Berlin. Control says that is not quite true, but he does not elaborate. Control asks Leamas whether he drinks a lot, and Leamas says he drinks more than most. Control asks Leamas what he knows about Mundt; Leamas says that he knows that when Mundt was a spy in London he killed one of his agents, the wife of a man from the British Foreign Office. Control says that Mundt is an ex-Hitler Youth, not a principled Communist. Control then tells Leamas to speak to George Smiley, whom Mundt once tried to kill, and Guillam: both men worked on Mundt’s case in London. Control invites Leamas to come to his house for the weekend while his wife is out of town.
Leamas is being sent on a mission to protect someone from Mundt, but Control does not see it as necessary to explain who this “Special Interest” is. By keeping information like this secret, Control gives himself more power over Leamas. Control does not use many words to describe Mundt, but he suggests that Mundt is not loyal to any particular ideology, only to winning whichever brutal struggle he is fighting. As a man from East Germany, Mundt has shifted from the Nazis to the Communists, pursuing his own career advancement. (The details of Mundt’s time in London and his attempt to kill George Smiley appear in Le Carré’s first novel, Call for the Dead.)
Control asks Leamas again if he is not too exhausted to take on the mission. Leamas says he wants to do it, if it means he will get to see Mundt killed. Control asks if Leamas really hates Mundt or if he is just nauseated and depressed by all the suffering and killing he has seen. Leamas does not respond to this, saying only that he wants to get Mundt. Control tells Leamas not to mention his new mission to anyone. In fact, he says, Leamas should act as if the Circus has treated him unfairly.
Control has given Leamas the first hints of the undercover role he will need to play to go after Mundt. Leamas is going to be asked to play up his alienation, but also to act as if he has been mistreated and is losing his loyalty to the organization he has pledged his life to work for.