The sky was a dull grey that did Col Thomas Morgan's dark blue MG MCT MG sports model no favours as it trundled though the sleepy London streets towards Westminster. A Sunday morning in October 1969, what could be finer? A few more hours kip wouldn't have gone amiss of course, and it hurt that Samantha hadn't returned his calls so the rarity of a night in his own Mews flat had to be spent single in a King sized bed. Yes, he could have headed to the clubs, but it just didn't seem to have the same appeal as it had a few years ago. The music could be endlessly long, and the brief period where his smart militaristic jackets and blazers happily co-incided with popular fashion had faded from view as quickly as it had crept up on him in the first place.
This was a troubling recollection. Wasn't it more or less his job not to let anything creep up on him under any circumstances? Remember that time in Haiti with the the poisonous snakes in his golf bag? Or the black clad assassins silently gliding along threads of steel above the streets of New York as he clung to the fascia of the Empire State? He had tried telling that story to Samantha at the ridiculous nightclub she had insisted taking him to last month but her eyes had glazed over and before he got to how his life had been saved through his spring activated titanium spiked shoes she had wandered off across to the edge of the stage where five ludicrously hairy men were caterwauling about elves or something of equal inanity.
It was still early enough to get a parking space right outside of headquarters. Well, not headquarters exactly, but sub annexe 8 of headquarters, where all the "special" agents had been redeployed to have them reporting out of the one office for efficiency.
The office was hidden below street level, under the facade of a genteel tearoom. Until recently the subterranean level was accessed by stepping in to the adjacent red phone box, dialling 666, and descending in a one person lift through the false floor, but then someone...Morgan concentrated...it was that young oik in the raincoat and thick glasses...had pointed out in his cockney nails on a blackboard accent that it was much less suspicious to walk in though the front door of a cafe to have a cup of tea that to go in a phone box and bloody disappear.
Personally, Morgan thought it rather more suspicious that a tearoom would be open at nine o clock on a Sunday morning, and he rather missed the phone box trick, but his was not to reason why.
As he approached the lace and doily decorated glass of the front door, he was startled as an area of refuse at the corner of the shop front unfurled and put out a hand. Nestled in between the empty boxes and general rubbish awaiting collection, presumably sleeping off the excesses of a Saturday night spent singing about goblins or god knows what, was an unwashed bearded hippie of the type that made Morgan want to click his heels together, activate the spikes through the front of his spats, and send this peacenik home.
"Hey man," mumbled the face that was more hair than skin, "Want to know the secret of the universe? Don't even need to cross my palm with silver, brother, these are the days of the open hand, we have no secrets here." His ragged arm outstretched hopefully notwithstanding.
Without turning his head, Morgan grasped the handle to the teashop door, which clicked open pleasantly, setting him up with time for a parting shot before the customer warning bell perched inside the frame chimed haphazardly.
"No secrets? My dear chap you couldn't be any more wrong". Ding ding. Yes, he still missed his phone box but having had the opportunity to deliver a little bon mot that would sound excellent if they were being recorded, he felt happier.
There was a decent pretence at breakfast going on, with a handful of customers and an almost equal number of waitresses. Morgan wandered about for a few moments, making a play of studying the menu, just in case, before heading behind the counter and through to the stockroom, where, to his immense irritation, the door took no less than three attempts before it recognised his voice activation code.
As far as he could tell from the log book in the reception area (a total misnomer, since there was no one there to receive him, meaning more previously prepared wit was going to waste), he was the only person that had signed in to the building that morning. The Major, who had summoned him, was either late - unheard of, but these were strange times - or had not left since arriving last night.
Morgan was looking forward to seeing the Major again. It was not often that he was asked to take instruction from the Major directly so he knew it must be important. But he also knew how much the Major enjoyed the perks of command, and he could reasonably expect that after a cursory chat to meet requirements, the better part of the day would be spent being briefed on the golf course, then on to Downing Street for lunch with a cabinet minister, or prime minister quite possibly, it had happened before. Maybe he could get a message to Samantha to meet him there.
He strode purposefully enough along the empty metallic corridors, but what was the purpose if no one else was there to see it? The place was dead, it was as if the enemy had already occupied and no one had noticed, or cared. Room after room was empty, some with open doors, some open doors showing open filing cabinets and open files. These are the days of the open hand, we have no secrets here.
He wondered if he needed a change of career, but then caught himself. That was where the trouble always started, after all. Look at his fellow agents, what a shower they had become. Drake went on holiday and never came back...went mad in Wales or some other such nonsense...Steed had gone native, hanging about with all his sweet young things, chasing clowns and mad scientists, more concerned with getting the right kind of velvet on the collar of his suit than the big picture. And as for the new crop, all the ridiculous departments known by a single letter only, like those degenerates over at "S", or a tortuous acronym twisting the English language to get something suitable enigmatic such as the laughable NEMESIS. Of course, he was under no illusions. No doubt his fellows felt equally well disposed toward him.
He knocked on the door of the Major's office, and was rewarded with the familiar bark. "Oh do come in Morgan, we haven't got all day."
He stepped through, starting with "Do you know Major, they are making disposable hippies nowadays..." but this trailed away to nothing as he registered the empty chair behind the similarly bereft desk.
Off to the side of the desk was a rather rickety phone table, on top of which a small speaker was relaying the Major's voice. This was new, and like almost everything else that had come along in the last three years, Morgan did not like the look of it one bit.
"Morgan old boy," boomed the speaker, giving evidence of the power if the voice behind it, "I have a job for you. An unorthodox job , I grant you, but one which will mean a great deal to me personally if you take it on, do you understand?"
Morgan did understand. "Am I to take it, Major, that this job is...ah...off the books, so to speak?"
"Oh now, don't get the wrong idea!", the Major hurrumpted, "It's official business, all above board and what not, but not everyone has to know our business, do they? Some business works best as a secret. That is what you are after all, isn't it Morgan? A secret sort of agent?"
Morgan was pleased the Major had put the words "sort of" in the middle of the job description. It made it sound a little less ridiculous.
"So pick up your passport and get to Heathrow. There will be instructions for you there."
"But what's my cover?" This was altogether too quick, where was the dossier, the preparation, the planning?
"Oh, no cover needed Morgan. That's the beauty of it. For this one, you can go disguised as yourself."
"I don't follow."
"Yes you do Morgan, and that's why I know you will carry out my instructions to the letter."
"But what's the mission? Who's the target?"
"Tell me Morgan," crackled the speaker, rather sinisterly, "What do you know about a girl called Samantha?"
Everywhere he goes he stays a stranger
END OF PART ONE
Col Thomas Morgan Will Return