The fall and rise…

The International Man Of Mystery was a child of the late 1960s. Dashing, suave and independently wealthy, he wafted across Europe at the wheel of a Jensen Interceptor or Aston Martin DBS.

His was a golden era of Savile Row suits, vintage champagne, exotic locations, obsequious waiters, pantomime villains and beautiful, begowned damsels in distress. Women wanted him; men wanted to be him.

It couldn’t last forever, and it didn’t. Cheap air travel and package holidays opened up Europe to the common man. The exotic soon became familiar and, worse, homogenised – many of the things that gave Milan or Paris or Vienna their unique flavours were trampled under the heavy feet of corporate communism.

For all his capitalistic leanings, that didn’t suit the International Man Of Mystery. Who in their right mind, he reasoned, would willingly eschew the delights of Enzo’s filetta di orata al cartoccio at La Scorpione Rosso or Chez Sebastien’s renowned blanquette de volaille for a slab of beef of questionable origin served in a freshly defrosted bun? The answer served up to him was as emphatic as it was predictable.

Even as he watched his world crumble through flinty eyes, the International Man Of Mystery clung to the hope that he may yet have a role to fill. But it was not to be. The world energy crisis that followed in the tank tracks of the Yom Kippur War hit both old and new money with equal alacrity. Belts were tightened and businesses small and large withered and died.

The world which emerged from the energy crisis was smaller, leaner, nastier. The kaleidoscopic world of the International Man of Mystery was no more. His time was over; it was adapt or fade away. A few, a small few, of his ilk eked out a modest place in the new world, swapping the vibrant colours of carefree existence for the monochrome of commerce. They were the fortunate ones. The rest clung desperately to the flotsam of their old lives, gradually becoming sad, lonely caricatures of their former selves until attrition finally reduced them to nothing more than a footnote in the annals of history.

But for reasons best known to them, the unseen forces that move among us decreed that one International Man of Mystery should survive, sleeping underneath the Eildon Hills until the world once more silently calls his name.

That time has now arrived…

Clad all in black, the colour of the night (and, as his faithful valet Tupper was apt to observe, of the knight-errant), our revived International Man of Mystery regards himself in the mirror. The man who returns his stare is of indeterminate age, tall, athletic and square jawed. His face is clean shaven, his hair worn a little long by contemporary standards. The beginnings of either a smile or a scowl plays on his lips and his eyes are cool, deep, unreadable.

A message booms out on an unseen speaker, calling him to the garage. He arrives there to find a revitalised Tupper standing at the head of a long line of cars. “No Jensens?” asks our man. Tupper shakes his head ruefully. No words are necessary.

Our man wanders over to a gaggle of supercars. Loud, brash and vulgar, they won’t do – an International Man Of Mystery should announce his arrival with a whisper, not a roar.

He regards the pool of German saloon cars a little more favourably. They’re well-built, discrete and almost clinically efficient. But for our man, whose steed must be his friend, companion and suit of armour, they lack soul: Panzer rather than Panza. He walks on.

The ever-patient Tupper watches impassively as car after car is hastily despatched: too garish, too plain, too big, too small, too slow, too American. And then, as Tupper knew he would, our man stops dead in his tracks. His right hand traces the curves of a black coupé, its lines elegant and menacing in equal measure. “Tell me about this one.”

Tupper smiles inwardly. “That, Sir, is an Alfa Romeo GT. Designed by Bertone and powered by a 1.9 litre turbocharged diesel engine.” Our man recoils in horror. “Egad, Tupper. Diesel? Really? Have standards fallen that much?”

“Diesel has come a long way, Sir. Indeed, the majority of new cars sold in Europe have diesel engines.”

Our man scratches his chin. “Hmm. Be that as it may, Tupper, I cannot be associated with anything so…agricultural. What I need is something with a certain nobility.”

Tupper nods. “In that case, Sir, if you’d be good enough to follow me.” He leads our man through a door fashioned out of solid rock, emerging in a verdant pasture bathing in soft sunlight.

A car sits in the meadow, its form obscured by a loose-fitting dust cover. Tupper walks over to the car. Resisting the temptation to say “Et voilà”, he carefully pulls back the dust cover to reveal…a black Alfa Romeo GT.

Our man is unimpressed. “Damn it all, Tupper! What’s the point of showing me the same car again?”

“It’s the same car, Sir, but not the same engine. This one has a 3.2 litre, 24 valve V6 petrol engine. I believe it’s known as a Busso, after its designer.” Our man climbs into the driver’s seat. There’s a key in the ignition. He turns it and the engine barks into life. His eyes sparkle.

Tupper allows himself a small smile. “Your cases are in the boot, Sir. I think you’ll find everything you need.”

“Thank you, Tupper. I seem to recall that Lake Como’s rather pleasant at this time of year.” For the first time, our man smiles. “And if I’m not mistaken, it’s that way.”

Tupper watches the Alfa diminish, cupping his ears to savour the receding howl of the Busso. A tear forms at the corner of his left eye. It’s been a long time, he thinks, but we’re back in business. Oh yes, we’re back.

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