And this Günther Bachmann fellow from Berlin—who was he, exactly when he was at home?
If there are people in the world for whom espionage was ever the only possible calling, Bachmann was such a person. The polyglot offspring of a string of mixed marriages contracted by a flamboyant German-Ukrainian woman, and reputedly the only officer of his service not to possess an academic qualification beyond summary expulsion from his secondary school, Bachmann had by the age of thirty run away to sea, trekked the Hindu Kush, been imprisoned in Colombia and written a thousand-page unpublishable novel.
Yet somehow, in the course of notching up these improbable experiences, he had discovered both his nationhood and his true calling: first as the occasional agent of some far-flung German outpost, then as a covert overseas official without diplomatic rank; in Warsaw for his Polish; in Aden, Beirut, Baghdad and Mogadishu for his Arabic; and in Berlin for his sins, while he cooled his heels after fathering a near-epic scandal of which only the sketchiest outlines had ever reached the gossip mill: excessive zeal, said the rumors; a blackmail attempt too far; a suicide, a German ambassador hastily recalled.
Then cautiously, under yet another name, back to Beirut, to do once more what he had always done better than anyone, if not necessarily according to the book—but since when had "the book" been necessary equipment in Beirut?—namely to trawl, recruit and run, by any means, live agents in the field, which is the gold standard of real intelligence gathering. Eventually even Beirut became too hot for him, and a desk in Hamburg seemed suddenly the safest place—if not to Bachmann, then to his masters in Berlin.
But Bachmann was never the one to be put out to grass. Those who said that Hamburg was a punishment posting didn't know what they were talking about. Now stuck in his mid-forties, he was a scruffy, explosive mongrel of a man, stocky in the shoulders and frequently with ash on the lapels of his jacket until it was brushed off by the egregious
Erna Frey, his long-standing workmate and assistant. He was driven, charismatic and compelling, a workaholic with a knockout smile. He had a mop of sandy hair that was too young for the crisscross wrinkles on his brow. Like an actor, he could blandish, charm or intimidate. He could be sweet-tongued and foul-mouthed in the same sentence.
From A Most Wanted Man by John le Carré. Copyright (c) 2008 © by David Cornwell. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc, NY.