In summary: Secret agent Col Thomas Morgan has been dispatched on a flight to an unusual mission that seems to involve his private life in some way. See part one elsewhere on this site.
The book was small enough to fit into his suit pocket without ruining the lining. He had removed it from the case they had packed for him since he knew there was no way he would be able to stomach a newspaper on the flight. The principal disadvantage of knowing what was really going on in the world was that you could easily discern your superiors sticky fingers smearing and distorting the newsprint until The Times resembled a word search puzzle from which you could pick out the few truthful phrases and re-arrange them into something resembling the departmental memo seen earlier in the week.
But now he didn't want to read the book. Why had they chosen this to accompany him? Nothing ever happened by accident. There was a message here and for the first time he did not want to hear it. Were they laughing at him? Or was it another warning? Signs and portents, they were the stock in trade of a good agent. Not the ridiculous visions that some claimed, but the proper understanding of an ordered world, and the keen eye that could pick out disorder, discontent, disharmony.
Maybe there was a code sheet hidden inside? He held the book upside down and ruffled the pages aggressively, trying not to let the white against orange title discomfort him any further than it already had. Nothing. He forced his eyes across the opening sentence. "The cabin passenger wrote in his diary a parody of Descartes - I feel discomfort, therefore I am alive". A cold sweat crept across him, and bled though into his heart. He was losing control of his own environment, being absorbed into a story that had already been written.
Clarity. He needed clarity of thought. The noise of the propellers, the unrelenting chatter of the couple behind him, some idiot singing, the mild pain in the leg broken three times waking up and responding to the change in air pressure. Shut them out. Shut them all out, down, this is not the real, this is a sham, a shameful sham, a sham that is always the same, always the same sham, sham, shamantha, Samantha dancing, Samantha laughing, Samantha undressing in the warm moonlight, Samantha absent in the morning when he reached for her, Samantha, Samantha, Samantha, why not open the door and jump out of the plane?
His eyes snapped open, with a hint of psychotic china doll titled upwards too quickly. It was quieter, thankfully. Most of the the other passengers had reached a comfortable point in their ongoing relationship with the free alcohol being served, and, coupled with a more steady drone now the plane was comfortably through the clouds, were drifting off to mumbling slumber. Clarity, clarity of thought. He rummaged around his subconscious and closed a few doors. Go again.
He recreated the events from earlier that morning, tweaking the odd moment to make it more bearable. Piece by piece he recreated the Major's office, the photographs of his old cricket teams proudly arranged across the walls, the warm leather of his upholstered desk, the imposing blackness of his chair, unaccountably empty, his voice booming out an impersonal speaker in the centre of the desk.
"Tell me Morgan, what do you know about a girl called Samantha?"
That had thrown him. "What? Sorry, what?"
"Samantha, Morgan. Do you know a girl called Samantha or not?"
"I know a girl called Samantha. I know a girl called Emma very well and two called Polly if you are interested."
"Don't get snappy Morgan, this girl of yours is trouble and I think you should be the one one to sort it out."
"Trouble? What kind of trouble? Yes, she's a bit flighty, you know, but they're all like that these days."
"For God's sake Morgan, spare me your advice about girls. Actress, isn't she?"
"Singer mainly...but yes, she has been in a few films. What of it?"
"Location filming? Abroad?"
"Sometimes, look, what's this all about?"
"Secrets, Morgan, secrets that are winging their way across borders, mysteriously turning up remarkably close to where your singing actress belle is plying her trade. And where is she hearing these secrets Morgan? Do you talk in your sleep at all?"
"How dare you! How dare you question my loyalty!"
"It's coming down from far above me, old man. That's why I couldn't be here today. If they had their way you'd be in one of their special interview rooms right now. The way I see it, either this is your mess and you get the chance to clean it up, or you're in it up to your neck and you'll run for cover with our eyes upon you. You'll find a case packed at the door, it has everything you'll need. Good luck Thomas. We may not get to speak again"
The shameful burn he had felt in that room, too unclean to be dealt with personally, under observation like a rat in a box responding to stimuli, was turning to a more righteous flame. They thought he had been consumed in the fire, but he had more substance than they knew.
There was a sudden disturbance at the front of the plane as they began their descent. The two stewardesses who had been cheerfully handing out drinks and food for the duration of the flight were looking rather less cheerful as they tried to restrain a colourfully dressed man into his seat. He was shouting about how famous he was, that he was a member of The Open Hand, baby, that they were number one.
As the plane tilted towards the desert runway Morgan thought about that phrase. He had heard it before, but where and how floated just out of reach. The open hand. That is what he would give them. Full disclosure. Whatever was happening here he would tear the walls right down, prove that Samantha was innocent, and ram their conspiracies back into their smug establishment faces and beyond.
Calmer and more dangerous now, he waited till the majority of his fellow passengers had, often unsteadily, made their way off the plane before himself heading for the door.
Morgan paused at the top of the stairs and turned his face up to the searing sunlight. He had no idea who his contact was, where he was travelling to, how he would find Samantha or what he could say to her if he did.
Behind him he heard the hurried steps of one of the stewardesses.
"Sir, SIR! Don't forget your book." She took a good and slightly too intimate look at the cover as she went to hand it to him.
"Keep it" said Thomas gruffly, barely turning his head.
"Oh no sir, no point," she said, slipping it back under his arm.. "Graham Greene, A Burnt Out Case. I know it well. I think that's a good choice."
Signs and portents. He felt discomforted, alive.