The woman looked completely out of place as she entered the pub. She had tried her best to dress inconspicuously, but her creaseless blouse and plain jeans tucked into knee-high leather boots made her stand out like a sore thumb among the crowd. She kept her head down as she hurried across the room, relying on her hair to obscure her features. As promised to her by her advisor, there was a wooden door hidden in a dark recess at the back of the pub which she gently knocked on. She turned and looked over her shoulder, but everyone seemed to have lost interest in her, and were focusing on their drinks instead.
A panel in the door at eye-level opened, and the woman found herself looking at a pair of bright blue eyes before the panel was slammed shut again. She heard the sound of locks and bolts being used, and then the door opened. She stepped through wordlessly into a plain, simple room containing a desk and two chairs, before the door was shut firmly behind her by the man who had opened it.
“Take a seat, ma’am,” the man said, “he will be here soon.”
“Thank you,” the lady said politely before perching on the edge of a chair, clearly agitated.
To the right of the desk was another wooden door, which promptly opened.
“Ah, Lady Mansfield-Hope, I was wondering when you would arrive,” a man in a smart tuxedo seated in a wheelchair tried to glide elegantly through the doorway, but caught one wheel on the narrow doorframe, and had to reverse to free himself. He positioned himself opposite her, and apologised for his ungainly entrance.
“You’ve been expecting me?” Lady Mansfield-Hope asked, clearly perturbed by this statement, having accepted his apology.
“A woman of your intelligence and beauty would not marry a man like Lord Mansfield unless there was something to be gained by the marriage, or more specifically, his death. I am only surprised that you did not come sooner” the man replied.
“I thought it would be suspicious should he die too soon after the wedding,” the woman had regained her composure. “I would prefer to discuss this matter further with Agent 48 himself, if you please.”
“Madam, I am Agent 48,” came the reply.
“But-“ she uncomfortably gestured towards the wheelchair.
“I charge extra for ableism,” Agent 48 retaliated. “Speaking of which, let us first discuss prices.”
“Money is no object here, I will pay what you ask.”
“In that case then I will ask about the job at hand,” the man leant back in his chair, calm and composed as if planning a murder was nothing to him.
Half an hour later, Lady Mansfield-Hope exited the pub, and went to find the chauffer in a nearby café.
Agent 48 waited on the platform for his train, getting soaked by the incessant rain, while he waited for the ramp he had booked the week before to be brought to him. It was on his third visit to the coffee machine that he asked a member of staff about the ramp, who proceeded to inform him in a patronising manner the process of booking a ramp for future occasions. Agent 48 informed the staff that he knew the procedure well enough, having used it many times before, and that he was concerned with how to access the ramp he had already booked, not how to book one. It was bad enough that he had to book a ramp in advance, which prevented spontaneous travel altogether, but to yet again face the lack of a ramp at the train station made Agent 48 snap.
“It may surprise you that wheelchairs aren’t made with the ability to levitate, but I’m afraid to inform you that this is the case. So, if you could find someone with a functioning body to put out a ramp, allowing my dysfunctional body to ascend the insane foot-long gap between the platform and the train, I’d be grateful. What exactly is the point of going to the trouble of booking a ramp, which by the way is more complicated than a power outage at an electricians’ convention, if a ramp never appears?”
Eventually, after much more detailed and heated discussion, a porter with a ramp showed up, mere minutes before the train was due to leave.
“Sorry,” he shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly, clearly not concerned about his lack of punctuality, “I was on a fag break and saw an old friend.”
Once Agent 48 had been reprimanded for making a fuss about nothing, he boarded the train and manoeuvred through the tight doorway and into the carriage, only to find a pram in the one wheelchair space in the carriage. The porter left him to deal with the angry mother alone, who refused to move her pram despite notices saying that in the case of wheelchair users, she was obliged to do so. Agent 48 decided to sit outside the dingy bathroom in the space between carriages, having people clamber over his feet as they went past. He noticed that it was always him who received the tuts and looks of disapproval for blocking the way, particularly when the snack trolley was brought through, but being used to this it didn’t bother him too much. He was merely glad that when the train pulled into his station, a porter was ready with a ramp on the platform for him, a rare occurrence.
After this, Agent 48 had to wait for an accessible taxi, watching people climb in and out of inaccessible cars while he waited. Eventually a wheelchair taxi pulled up, and once he had managed to convince the able-bodied people trying to climb in that he needed the adapted car, he was strapped into the vehicle. As inevitable as it was to ask the taxi driver what time his shift finished, the taxi driver asked why he used a wheelchair.
“I kicked the last person who questioned my disability,” Agent 48 said in a deadpan voice. The rest of the journey was spent in silence, bar the exchange of money at the end of the trip.
Once Agent 48 had found the ramp, he entered the hotel and checked in at an overly tall desk before being told that his room was on the top floor. He went to the lifts and waited, with his luggage in a heavy sports bag balanced precariously across his knees. He was glad that he had allowed extra time for all the hold-ups, as was his standard protocol.
Eventually the old lift reached the ground floor, and a wave of pompous businessmen in expensive suits pushed passed him without so much as a glance. Once again Agent 48 thanked his lucky stars for the benefit of anonymity that came with a wheelchair.
The lift moved slowly up the building, occasionally scraping in a very disconcerting manner as it travelled up the lift shaft. It stopped at almost every floor, sometimes for people who didn’t want to walk up one flight of stairs, and sometimes opening the doors to find no one there, as whoever had called the lift had clearly got bored and decided to walk anyway.
Finally, Agent 48 reached the top floor of the hotel, and he laboured across the thick, woollen carpet to reach his room. He struggled to reach over his bag to insert the key-card into the scanner, which was placed so far up the wall an orangutan would have struggled to reach it. After stretching and straining Agent 48 finally entered the room. His wheelchair only just fit between the bed and the wall, leaving muddy streaks down the crisp, white bedding. With no room to turn around he had to reverse to shut the door behind him, and then he heaved his bag onto the bed.
After sorting out the contents of his bag, he went to the window with his sniper rifle, and watched many important political figures being questioned by journalists as they entered an environmental policy conference across the road. The clasp to open the window was at the top of the frame, so Agent 48 had to use his rifle to undo the clasp before forcing the window open the fraction it could without allowing people to throw themselves, or someone else, out. Finally, Agent 48 set up the rifle so that he was ready to take the shot before covering it with a curtain, giving the appearance that the curtain had been pushed back by a careless guest.
Inevitably, the several cups of coffee drunk in the train station while waiting for a ramp to make an appearance had their effect, and Agent 48 had to use the bathroom. He reversed, leaving more muddy marks on the bedding, and stopped by the bathroom door. This he opened with relative ease, although the door now blocked his route to the window, and with some mishaps, he negotiated his way into the bathroom. Once inside he stretched up to reach the light switch, and then began the struggle of trying not to fall over his own wheelchair while he manoeuvred himself around the room. After about ten minutes Agent 48 made it back to the window, just in time to see Lord Mansfield’s car approaching slowly down the crowded street. He positioned himself carefully, took hold of the rifle, and exhaled. As Lord Mansfield climbed the steps, hindered by over-zealous photographers, Agent 48’s finger hovered over the trigger. He took the shot, and Mansfield fell forwards onto the stairs while the crowd ran panicking in all directions. Another shot sealed Mansfield’s fate, and then Agent 48 fired some more shots to hide the fact that this was a targeted attack, giving non-lethal injuries to two more politicians and one journalist.
Quickly, Agent 48 wiped the rifle to remove any fingerprints, and grabbed a pair of balled-up socks from his open, semi-unpacked bag. He shoved them in his mouth, and then in one swift, well-practised movement, over-turned his wheelchair. He lay sprawled on the floor, and only had to wait a matter of minutes before policemen were hammering at the hotel door, having figured out where the shots were fired from. When the door was not answered it was kicked down, and three policemen practically fell into the room, where they were horrified to discover that a poor disabled man had been attacked by the sniper before he escaped.
Agent 48 was helped back into his wheelchair before being taken to the police station to submit a witness statement, describing how the sniper had followed him to his room and attacked him, gagged him, and had fired the rifle several times before fleeing. He recounted that the sniper had been wearing a mask to disguise his identity, and hadn’t spoken a word. While he gave a statement, his luggage was collected from the hotel on his behalf. The following morning, he left the police station having given all the evidence he could to aid the capture of this fiendish villain, and made his way to the train station which was only round the corner. He was predictably hampered by a few journalists who wanted to hear his version of events directly from him, rather than the edited witness statement released by the police. As requested, Agent 48 remained silent, only breaking his silence to ask a photographer to step aside as she blocked the road crossing.
At the train station Agent 48 had once again to wait for a ramp, and so he decided to visit the newsagents as a newspaper would be helpful for him to remain discrete from the publics’ eager eyes. He expected the headlines to scream of Lord Mansfields’ terrible assassination, but was surprised to find that actually, the majority of the headlines were far more concerned with the attack on the heroic disabled man than the cold-blooded murder of an important political figure. He bought one of the papers, and settled down to read the article on the assassination while he waited for a ramp. The article gave a brief discussion of the previous days’ events, including the fact that no suspects had as yet been apprehended, and a small mention of what all this would mean for Lady Mansfield-Hope was made. However, far longer than Agent 48 deemed necessary was spent focusing on the diabolical nature of a man who would physically attack someone deemed weak and defenceless.
As he finished reading the article a porter arrived with a ramp tucked under his arm, and finally Agent 48 could board the train. It did not surprise him that once again a pram had been placed in the wheelchair space, but this time the mortified mother was more than welcome to accommodate him. Smiling and relaxed, Agent 48 buried himself in the pages of the newspaper, reading the latest about global politics and new scientific discoveries. He had never known such a pleasant commute as this.