Ordinarily he did not go to work on Saturday, so the telephone call summoning him to the office came as a surprise. He was in a worrisome mood anyhow, as the result of watching all six episodes of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," which Channel 22 had been running all week at 11 p.m.

That had made him late for work every day all week, but no one had taken notice. Few of his colleagues could receive Channel 22 anyhow, and would have to wait until tonight's uninterrupted performance on Washington's WETA-Channel 26. He had spied on a spy drama, and got away with it; the feeling was corrupt, but not altogether undelicious.

Nevertheless, he had a case of the heebie-jeebies. What could the office want with him on Saturday? He thought of the purge of 1974, when his section chief had been abruptly transferred to the Middleburg branch and told to "horse around with early retirement." That had been on a Saturday, too.

But, he told himself, six hours of John Le Carre-for-television would make anybody paranoid. Six hours of suspicion and betrayal and fear and murder and spies and death and weak tea and tight shoes and umbrellas, all in a workaday world of fatal mundanity. Gadzooks, no wonder he was nervous.

He put on his three-piece suit, watch chain and overcoat and drove downtown. In the empty corridors of his building he could hear his own heels clicking. The only sound was the whir of the heating in the ducts. Unaccountably, it gave him a chill. Show no fatigue, he told himself.

They were waiting for him in the Conference Room, as he had feared, Percy Alleline, posturing with his pipe; the insufferable Toby Esterhase in his expensive clothes; Bill Haydon, pleased with himself, as usual; Roy Bland, unkempt and dangerous. Peter Guillam was holding the door.

"Now we're all here," Guillam said. He closed the door and locked it.

"Bit groggy, are we, old fellow?" Haydon said.

"No, should I be?"

"He can hardly keep his eyes open," Percy Alleline said, puffing a large cloud of smoke.

"What's this all about. Why am I here?"

"Don't you know?" Bland snapped. "Then I shall tell you. Someone has been late for work all week. Bit of a plot to penetrate the "Tinker, Tailor' plot, eh?"

"I haven't an idea what you mean."

"Gentlemen, please." The speaker was a man of ineffable grayness, his face round and intelligent and yet so pale as to be nearly transparent. He wore an overcoat and scarf and an expression of embarrassed distaste, as if his business were unpleasant but necessary. With glacial slowness he took off his eyeglasses, polished them and returned them to his nose.

"What Roy says is true," said the pale man, whose name was George Smiley. "There is a mole in this office.In the dark of night, apparently using a secret UHF loop to decode the distant signal of Channel 22, he has learned everything about the 'Tinker, Tailor' plot. He may use this information to undermine tonight's performance. Regrettably, we cannot allow that."

So they had found him out. Well, it was worth it. What a dreadfully droll series of midnights he had had! Alec Guinness had been superb as the quiet spy-bureaucrat-hero, brought back from retirement to ferret out the traitor in the midst of British Intelligence. In its understatement and drably sinister ambiance, it must be the finest possible television rendering of the particular Le Carre style. Had he betrayed Washington by sneaking a preview from Channel 22 in Annapolis? Who could tell? Loyalty was a Washington commodity that was traded on a futures market he had never understood.

"Tea?" Smiley said.

"Thanks."

"Which episode would you say is best?" Esterhase asked innocently. "I rather fancy Episodes 2 and 3, in which Control is seen losing his grip."

"I don't know what you mean."

"The program is rather unfair to Anne, wouldn't you say?" Haydon commented offhandedly through his nose. "Poor George's wife, I mean. That sleeping-around gossip and such?"

"I couldn't say, really."

Percy Alleline said, "Oh, he's the one all right. Bags under his eyes. It all fits. He's been up late, and up to no good."

"Are we sleepy, just a bit?" Toby Esterhase added.

In fact, the closeness of the room had gotten under his skin. The atmosphere of total ordinariness somehow charged with intrigue and suspicion and old enmities, as only Le Carr could evoke them. The ordinary gone mad. It was simultaneously boring and terrifying, this tension beneath the mask. Despite himself, he yawned.

"There!" said Percy, pointing with his pipe. "The yawn of the mole!"

He broke down for a moment then, but was able to pull himself back together. "But you were all so excellent," he pleaded. "And I intended to watch you all again tonight, I swear it. I've told no one about the plot -- it's so complicated I hardly understand it anyhow. But in fact, doesn't it have something to do with you gentlemen -- who have summoned me out of my Saturday bed in this advanced state of suspicious imagining -- who is the traitor to British Intelligence?"

They fidgeted then, Percy Alleline and Toby Esterhase and Bill Haydon and Roy Bland. Fidgeted and looked at George Smiley, who took off his spectacles, polished them and put them back on.

"I expect you already know which of us he is," Smiley said. "But you see, it would be quite wrong to divulge it now, when all six hours of our spy story will unfold tonight. Then the mole" -- and here he looked at each of his colleagues with sad mistrust -- "will be dealt with, I assure you. In the meantime, I shall have to ask you to come with us."

Smiley was right, of course. He did know who the traitor was. He was one of the men in the Conference Room. He was the one you would perhaps least expect. He was the clever one sitting there, in the conference chair, as if he were waiting for a play to begin. And his name was . . .

Loyal Peter Guillam dove at him then, breaking the spell of calm and jammed a pistol in his neck.

"You see," George Smiley said softly, "that is precisely why you must come with us."

"Can I at least finish my drink?" he said, knowing them to be the real traitor's own words upon discovery. They looked at each other across the table for a moment, mole to mole, and then they took him away.