“Carol, I need you to file these papers for me by tonight,” Don Evans dumped a large stack of paper in the middle of his personal assistants’ desk, disrupting the paperwork she was already in the process of dealing with. Carol waited until he had marched out of her office, if the small box-room barely able to contain the desk could be called that, and slammed the door without a single pleasantry before sighing and muttering an unpleasant comment about her boss. She glanced up at the clock and seeing the time, resigned herself to another unpaid late night at the office.
As she set to work filing the papers she reminisced about how different her job was to how she had imagined it would be when she started working for MI5. She had honestly believed that her work would take her across the globe, meeting new people and encountering new cultures, with the odd spell of action in between. Yet here she was, stuck in a tiny, over-heated office, filing paperwork and reporting her findings to her superiors at MI5, and guarding the various bugs installed around the office. She couldn’t decide whether this assignment was passed to her because she was a woman, or because she used a wheelchair.
The evening dragged on and Carol watched as the offices around her slowly emptied. As always Don Evans was one of the first to leave; Carol had never seen him stay late under any circumstances, even by just a few seconds. Lights were turned off and chairs were pushed under desks, but Carol remained dutifully in her place, focussed on the task at hand.
By the time Carol came to the final piece of paperwork in need of filing she was so tired and hungry that she could barely concentrate, so much so that she almost missed the importance of the letter she held in her hands. As she was placing it in a folder she noticed the initials printed across the bottom of the last page. I.C.P. They were the initials of an as yet unknown drug lord who MI5 had suspected Don Evans of having an involvement with, but had no evidence up to that point to confirm this.
Carol looked around but no one was nearby, and she leant back in her chair to read the letter. It was utter gibberish. The words were not strung together in coherent sentences, and many were spelt incorrectly. Clearly this was some kind of code.
She placed the letter on her lap with some additional papers and left her office, heading towards the scanner. The bulky machine was sat atop a desk and from the wheelchair it was impossible to see or reach the buttons to operate it. She put the papers down on the desk and hauled herself shakily to her feet, leaning against the desk for support. Carol scanned in all the papers she had brought from her office and switched off the machine. As she went to sit down in her chair, she somehow managed to trip over the footplate and ended up sprawled across the floor, while the now disordered papers fluttered to the ground beside her. She cursed loudly as she sat up, and visibly jumped when the doors to the office slammed open behind her. A security guard came running across the room to her, and for one terrible minute Carol thought he knew that she was a spy.
“Oh god love, I saw your fall on camera, are you alright?” the security guard crouched down to her level, puffing slightly as this was clearly the first exercise he had done in a while.
“I’m fine,” Carol said, trying not to sound audibly relieved, “I’m sorry I’m such a klutz.” She began to gather up the fallen papers as surreptitiously as she could, and before she could protest the guard started to do the same. She wasn’t able to reach the all-important letter in time and the guard remarked on it’s nonsensical nature.
“What the heck are you doing with this?” he asked, perplexed.
“Sending it to my boss so he can see it immediately and inform me on how to proceed,” Carol said calmly, hoping to maintain her cover as the feeble personal assistant.
“Oh,” the guard sounded unconvinced.
“May I have some help getting back into my chair?” Carol asked. She knew full well that she could manage it herself, but was desperate to change topics.
With much huffing and puffing, the security guard lifted Carol back into her wheelchair and handed her the messy stack of papers while asking for the thousandth time whether she needed any medical attention. After politely but firmly declining the offer, Carol returned to her office and closed the door behind her, relieved that the ordeal was over. As soon as she had downloaded all the scans onto her high security data drive and had finally completed filing all the papers away, Carol left the office.
Carol waited in the torrential rain for a disabled taxi and when one finally arrived that could accommodate her wheelchair, she had to endure a further five minutes out in the open while the inexperienced driver figured out how to load the wheelchair into his cab. She bore the predictable comments about working late, the terrible whether, and how exactly she came to be in a wheelchair with an air of indifference, impatient to reach her destination.
Eventually the taxi pulled up to the address she had given, and once again began the merry dance of getting the wheelchair back out of the car. Once she had paid him his fare and received her change, the taxi driver refusing to accept a tip from a disabled woman, she watched him drive around the corner before setting off for the inconspicuous building two streets away. No one was on the street to watch her enter the building and only the bored-looking security guard saw her.
She swiftly made her way up to her real office, relishing in the rare joy of an empty lift, and set to retrieving the data from her data drive on her computer. Within ten minutes she had obtained the necessary data and sent it as an encrypted file to her superiors. Then, as discreetly as she had arrived, she left again.
Carols’ alarm clock woke her up as always at 6 am. Tired, having had very little sleep after a late night at work, Carol wanted nothing more than to pull the duvet over her head and go back to sleep, but she knew that this was no longer an option now that she needed to see her superiors before appearing as normal as Don Evans’ assistant.
As she left her apartment she was glad to see that the rain had stopped, although the heavy clouds seemed to suggest that more was on the way. The moment she got through the door of the secret MI5 office she was whisked up to the director’s office, where she found all of her superiors waiting for her, perusing the evidence she had provided.
“Well Holly, I must say I’m suitably impressed,” the director said as she entered the crowded room, inwardly cursing himself for addressing an agent so casually in front of a large group of staff.
“Thank you sir,” she said calmly, wondering to herself why he would be so impressed when she had been merely doing her job. If anything she had been expecting to be reprimanded for not having provided evidence sooner, but then she remembered that the wheelchair excused her from the standards applied to other employees.
“This evidence is being decoded as we speak and soon we should have more intel to work with. Once we have the contents of the letter we will be able to decide what course of action we need to take, and then we will contact you. For the time being I need you to remain as Carol Holmes to keep up appearances if nothing else. Is that understood, Ms Steadman?”
“Yes sir,” Holly replied.
“Dismissed,” the director said.
Since she could hardly turn on her heels as was customary for the director Holly had to content herself with swiftly turning her wheelchair around on the spot, a difficult trick which had taken a lot of practice, and many mishaps, to perfect.
Half an hour later Holly entered Don Evans’ office to resume the role of Carol, and tried not to show her surprise when she saw the security guard from the night before in conversation Don. She quickly rolled through his spacious office into her own, and began the complicated business of closing the door and parking her wheelchair at her desk in the confined space she had been given. She was aware that their conversation had stopped abruptly when she entered and could feel both pairs of eyes on her back, leaving her in little doubt about the topic of conversation. Remaining calm, careful to maintain her charade as a simple assistant, she set to working on some more paperwork from the day before. She had only settled into the task for five minutes at the very most when her door opened and Don asked her to come through to his office.
Carol immediately complied with his request, placing herself on the opposing side of the desk to her boss after she had moved a chair out of the way. She was nervous and could feel herself instinctively tensing up, but desperately tried to remain calm, in appearance at least.
“That security guard tells me you were scanning some of my papers last night, including a nonsensical letter that he suspects is encrypted. Is this true?”
Aware that there was security camera footage of her doing so making any attempted denial futile, Carol confirmed this.
“I had not, as I recall, asked you to scan any paperwork last night.”
“No sir,” Carol practically whispered, her heart hammering against her rib cage.
“Then it won’t surprise you that when security called me last night after you had gone home to tell me of your actions, I asked them to thoroughly search your office. This morning, it has been reported to me that there was a bug in your office. Did you know that there was a bug in your office?” Don raised one eyebrow.
“No sir,” Carol replied, trying to look suitably appalled.
“So, the bug in your office has nothing to do with your suspicious actions last night?”
“Then I’m sure you will be happy to explain your actions to me.”
“Yes sir,” Carol said, “I noticed the encoded letter and grew suspicious that someone was perhaps trying to harm you, kill you even, and that this letter was a warning from an unwilling accomplice. I wanted to study it further after filing it last night, so I scanned it in and sent it to my home computer. I scanned in the other things so as not to arouse undue concern.”
“Why did you not pass it on to security if you thought I may have been in danger?”
“I was shocked, sir, and a bit scared. I guess I panicked.”
“Well, Carol, it pains me to say this because not only are you an excellent assistant, you are also perfectly likeable, but I have no option other than to suspend you indefinitely. I expect your office cleared by the end of the day, and you will need to have your home computer inspected and cleansed of any the data concerned in this matter. Is that clear?”
“Yes sir,” Carol said for what felt like the fiftieth time that morning. In less than an hour all trace of her, bar the wheelchair ruts on the cheap carpet, had been removed from the office. Her home computer was inspected that afternoon and when nothing was found, she simply said that she had taken it upon herself to remove the data already. The two security officers sent to her home also had a quick inspection of her apartment, conscious not to overstep the mark in terms of privacy rights, and she was grateful that MI5 had had the initiative to provide Carol with a false degree certificate to hang on the wall as confirmation of her identity.
She waited a couple of hours after they left before heading into the MI5 office, and was admitted to see the director straight away.
“Come in, take a seat,” as soon as the words had left his mouth the director realised his mistake, and was greatly relieved when Holly simply laughed.
“I know I was supposed to wait for you to get in contact but-“
“There is no need to worry, I was just about to call you in anyway because I wanted to tell you personally how impressed I have been with your performance. Finding that letter was one thing, but the way you handled this mornings’ situation without letting them access the copied letter was exemplary,” the director smiled kindly. Holly was grateful that at least the director was pleasant to work for.
“The letter has been cracked and has confirmed our suspicions. Now that we have hard evidence of his affiliation with I.C.P. he will be arrested promptly,” the director said.
“But won’t that alert I.C.P. that we’re onto him?” Holly asked.
“Unfortunately you being caught has done that already, but we have a few leads from the letter itself.”
“So, what is it exactly that you now need me for?”
“For the arrest,” the director said levelly.
“The arrest?” Holly asked incredulously.
“Yes, the bit where they put handcuffs on him and throw his sorry butthole in jail,” the director grinned cheekily, “It will shake the staff in the office up to see their former colleague involved in his arrest, and may prompt other members of staff to give us any relevant information. Besides, Don Evans’ arrest is going to be huge; the press are going to be all over it. I think the public ought to see the central role played by someone with a disability in catching a criminal like Don Evans.”
Holly smiled, “I didn’t realise you took such an interest in the representation of disability in the media, sir.”
“My wife has cerebral palsy. I think she would divorce me if I wasn’t a bit of an activist every now and then.”
“Well then, count me in for Dons’ arrest,” Holly laughed, “I can’t wait to see his smug face.”
It was nearing the end of the working day and rush hour traffic was beginning to accumulate when the MI5 vehicles screeched to a halt outside Evans & Co., and at least fifteen agents headed into the building. Holly had a slower, more conspicuous decent to the road via a noisy lift, and had time to observe the growing interest of the commuters around them. The pavement was already filling up with the press, who had been given an “anonymous” tip-off about the arrest, and Holly had a little difficulty weaving through the tangle of wires and camera tripods as she went to the door of the building. She waited just inside the doorway and within a minute had the pleasure of watching Don Evans being escorted down the stairs in handcuffs. She mused that this was the only time she had ever seen him use the stairs.
Don was trying to keep his face to the floor in a futile attempt to mask his identity, but when he glimpsed “Carol” out of the corner of his eye he stopped in his tracks and looked up.
“Hello Don,” she said lightly, as if they had merely bumped into each other in a pleasant coffee shop.
“Holly Steadman, MI5,” she said, extending a hand as a formal greeting before feigning an apology for wanting the shake the hand of a man in handcuffs.
“But, but-“ Don spluttered, “But you’re just a PA. A PA in a wheelchair.”
“Actually I was an undercover MI5 agent, but thanks to you I’m sure I’ll be receiving a promotion soon,” Holly smiled brightly, “It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch out for.”
With that Don was pushed out onto the street, where the press hounded him like a pack of hungry hyenas as he was loaded into a van and the doors were slammed shut behind him.
The next day, on the way to her new office as captain of a squad of MI5 agents, Holly picked up a newspaper. The front page had a large photo of a surprised Don Evans being pushed into a van, and behind him a woman in a wheelchair could be seen smiling brightly. For the most part the article described the evidence against Evans and how he was arrested, but Holly was intensely pleased to find that in the very last paragraph, the promotion of disabled agent Holly Steadman was mentioned as an example and inspiration for other disabled people. She decided that she would cut out and keep that article to remind herself every time someone doubted her ability to do a task simply because she was disabled and not for a genuine reason, that she had proved the doubters wrong once before.