Excerpt of Single & Single by John Le Carre
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Single & Single
This gun is not a gun.
Or such was Mr. Winser's determined conviction when the youthful Alix Hoban, European
managing director and chief executive of Trans-Finanz Vienna, St. Petersburg and Istanbul,
introduced a pallid hand into the breast of his Italian blazer and extracted neither a
platinum cigarette case nor an engraved business card, but a slim blue-black automatic
pistol in mint condition, and pointed it from a distance of six inches at the bridge of
Mr. Winser's beakish but strictly non-violent nose. This gun does not exist. It is
inadmissible evidence. It is no evidence at all. It is a nongun.
Mr. Alfred Winser was a lawyer, and to a lawyer facts were there to be
challenged. All facts. The more self-evident a fact might appear to the layman, the more
vigorously must the conscientious lawyer contest it. And Winser at that moment was as
conscientious as the best of them. Nevertheless, he dropped his briefcase in his
astonishment. He heard it fall, he felt the pressure of it linger on his palm, saw with
the bottom of his eyes the shadow of it lying at his feet: my briefcase, my pen, my
passport, my air tickets and travelers' checks. My credit cards, my legality. He did not
stoop to pick it up, though it had cost a fortune. He remained staring mutely at the
This gun is not a gun. This apple is not an apple. Winser was recalling the wise words
of his law tutor of forty years ago as the great man spirited a green apple from the
depths of his frayed sports coat and brandished it aloft for the inspection of his mostly
female audience: "It may look like an apple, ladies, it may smell like an
apple, feel like an apple" -- innuendo -- "but does it rattle like an
apple?" -- shakes it -- "cut like an apple?" -- hauls an antique
bread knife from a drawer of his desk, strikes. Apple translates into a shower of plaster.
Carols of laughter as the great man kicks aside the shards with the toe of his sandal.
Winser's reckless flight down memory lane did not stop there. From his tutor's apple it
was but a blinding flash of sunlight to his greengrocer in Hampstead, where he lived and
dearly wished himself at this moment: a cheery, unarmed apple purveyor in a jolly apron
and straw hat who sold, as well as apples, fine fresh asparagus that Winser's wife, Bunny,
liked, even if she didn't like much else her husband brought her. Green, remember, Alfred,
and grown above ground, never the white -- pressing the shopping basket on him. And only
if they're in season, Alfred, the forced ones never taste. Why did I do it? Why do I have
to marry people in order to discover I don't like them? Why can't I make up my mind ahead
of the fact instead of after it? What is legal training for, if not to protect us from
ourselves? With his terrified brain scouring every avenue of possible escape, Winser took
comfort in these excursions into his internal reality. They fortified him, if only for
split seconds, against the unreality of the gun.
This gun still does not exist.
But Winser couldn't take his eyes off it. He had never seen a gun so close, never been
obliged to take such intimate note of color, line, markings, burnishment and style, all
perfectly pointed up for him in the glaring sunlight. Does it fire like a gun? Does
it kill like a gun, extinguish like a gun, removing face and features in a
shower of plaster? Bravely, he revolted against this ridiculous possibility. This gun does
not, absolutely does not exist! It is a chimera, a trick of white sky, heat and
sunstroke. It is a fever gun, brought on by bad food, bad marriages and two exhausting
days of smoky consultations, unsettling limousine rides through sweltering, dusty,
traffic-choked Istanbul, by a giddying early-morning dash in the Trans-Finanz private jet
above the brown massifs of central Turkey, by a suicidal three-hour drive over switchback
coast roads and hairpin bends under red-rock precipices to the world's utter end, this
arid, boulder-strewn promontory of buckthorn and broken beehives six hundred feet above
the eastern Mediterranean, with the morning sun already turned to full, and Hoban's
unblinking gun -- still there and still a phantasm -- peering like a surgeon into my
Copyright © 1999 by David Cornwell.
Reproduced with permission of the publisher.