“Cloak and dagger man?” asked Clunch.
“My name is Grey, Parma Grey,” I replied, “like a mouse’s back, and I have a cloak, incarnadine in hue, but, alas, no dagger.”
He gave that queer, lopsided grin of his. “Ah, Mr. Grey, immortalised throughout our fair islands. Do come in.”
I followed Clunch into a blue pavilion. The Ministry of Covert Warfare’s idea of keeping a low profile. “Hardly immortalized, I’m supposed to be a secret agent!”
Clunch gave a throat-clearing splutter as he pressed a lift button. “Ah, but immortalized amongst we secret people, the cognoscenti of the garotte and poisoned umbrella!”
I tried to suppress a smug smile as the lift proceeded downwards.
The door opened onto a long corridor and we entered the first room on our left, where I was to be given a briefing on my mission. A huge bald man sat in a huge chair behind a huge desk. His name, appropriately, was Hugo. Hugo Mann.
“Mr. Clunch, please bring Mr. Grey the latest assortment of, er, gadgets.”
Things had moved on since the days of Aston Martin ejector seats and boats that could take off and fly. Now it was all microelectronics, miniature cameras and bio-weapons. But there was still time for what I called ‘fun things.’ Umbrellas that could blow a hole in someone and phones that could burn people’s hands off.
So, I was shown a range of new gadgets, amongst which I rather took a fancy to a laser pen. Innocuous-looking but with enough power to fry an enemy’s eyeballs. “Be sure to keep the safety catch in the ‘on’ position,” exhorted Clunch. Then there was what appeared to be an ammonite, an ancient fossil in two halves, but which had been impregnated with a special kind of plutonium. “Quite harmless,” said Clunch, “but put the two halves together for sixty seconds and … well, you’ll need a fast car to get out of range!”
“You mean …?”
Finally, clutching a briefcase with enough firepower to start – and finish – a small war, I found myself seated and facing the enormous Mr. Mann again. Surely there was some diet he could go on, I thought.
“No there isn’t,” he said, as if having read my mind. “It’s a genetic thing.”
Genetic thing my arse. I’d bet he liked his doughnuts soaked in double cream.
He laughed. ““And brandy. Well, Parma,” he said, jabbing a finger in my direction, “your mission is to wipe out the Taliban.”
“With pleasure,” I exclaimed, “the uneducated swine!”
“You’ll be parachuting into Kabul tomorrow morning.”
“Couldn’t I just go by passenger plane, y’know, incognito?”
Mr. Hugo Mann’s expansive pink face took on a shiny, sweaty hue. “Hmm. That’d mean getting you a ticket.”
“Blimey. Surely the Ministry could manage that!”
“Well, er, I suppose so, if you really don’t want to parachute.”
“Um, I’d rather not,” I said. “You know, there are a lot of insects floating around up above the desert. I don’t fancy a mouthful of flying earwig.”
He stood up, with difficulty, and reached out a huge sweaty paw. “Good luck, Parma, the country, and indeed the world, is depending on you!”
I shook his hand and surreptitiously wiped the grease off on a handkerchief. “Lead on, Mr. Clunch,” I cried, “Afghanistan here I come!”
Taken from the book, Letters from Reuben and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Mirth, 146 pp. Dec 2021
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