Friday, International Man Of Mystery headquarters
The message was succinct: meet us at three p.m. on Wednesday at the following co-ordinates to discuss a mutually interesting situation.
Our hero scratches the day-old whiskers that litter his chin like weeds on a disused runway. I’ll be there, he murmurs. I’ll be there.
At 04.57, our hero’s wife wakes him by remote control from a distance of 330 nautical miles. Springing out of bed with the enthusiasm of a man testing a pogo stick in a minefield, he clumsily pulls on some warm clothing and heads outside to tend to his wife’s three and a half horses.
Forty-five minutes later he returns to the house. He is cold, grumpy and – courtesy of a misplaced footstep – smells of stale horse urine. This noxious odour fails, however, to deter his dogs from demanding that he prepare their breakfast immediately, and to heck with having a shower first.
A further ten minutes elapse while he prepares the the dogs’ breakfasts, a task to which his culinary skills are eminently well suited. He then showers, shaves, brushes his teeth and momentarily entertains – and discards – the notion that he really ought to take a brush to his barnet.
That done, it’s time to get dressed. As an International Man Of Mystery, even one who is taking the train, he dons the apparel of his profession – coat, shirt, jeans and boots, all in black.
At 06.40 our hero, by now looking like a failed auditionee for the new Milk Tray commercial, fires up his wife’s car and heads for the mirrored windows and chewing-gum ingrained pavements of central Glasgow. He arrives there in good time – just as well as he manages to miss the car park entrance at the first attempt. And the second.
After handing over a large bag of cash to the car park’s manager at musketpoint, our hero saunters along to Central Station to collect his pre-booked tickets. He confidently keys the code into the automatic ticket machine, but to his horror no tickets are forthcoming. All that the machine offers is a cryptic message informing him that his tickets have been partly used.
Scattering pedestrians hither and thither, he bursts into the main ticket office, where the clerk, having singularly failed to spot our hero’s credentials as an International Man Of Mystery, reluctantly lifts his ahead away from the Racing Post and tersely invites our hero to intimate the reason for his visit. Our hero breathlessly explains that he’s been stitched up. A fiend, possibly an enemy of truth, justice and the Armenian way, may even now be sitting on the Edinburgh train, ready to use our hero’s rail tickets to wreak havoc on the East Coast line. There’s no time to spare.
The clerk casually folds his paper in two. Making a feeble effort to suppress a yawn, he asks our hero to repeat what he’s just said. Perhaps, thinks our hero, the clerk’s in league with the ticket-stealing fiend. But just as he’s about to leap the counter to forcibly extract the truth from the clerk, the latter announces in a Raikkonenesque monotone that our hero had punched an incorrect code into the ticket machine. Thus chastised, our hero boards the train and settles in for the journey ahead.
He reaches his destination five and a half hours later, noting ruefully that there had been a marked lack of evil masterminds, debonair jewel thieves and gun-toting henchmen on the train.
Worse still, his journey had passed with a total absence of recognition. Even the sultry damsel who draped herself suggestively over the counter of the buffet car as she waited for her ham and tomato sandwich to be toasted had singularly failed to notice that an International Man Of Mystery was at large.
The meeting, held at an undisclosed location somewhere in Lynch Wood, Peterborough, proceeds much as expected, though our hero is initially somewhat discomfited to note that one of his contacts is also wearing black. There can be only one, he growls inwardly.
Later, as he waits for the bus to arrive, a man wanders over. There’s a glint of recognition in his eyes. He draws level with our hero and stops. His lips move. “Are you….?” At last, thinks our hero, someone sees me for what I am. “…Are you sleeping rough, mate?”
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