Agent 48 was accustomed to dealing with nervous clients who glanced over their shoulder at the door behind them every few seconds, but the woman sat opposite him now was perfectly calm and hadn’t once looked over her shoulder. She sat up straight with her hands clasped in front of her on the table, her matching skirt and jacket as smooth and faultless as the dark hair wrapped into a neat bun above her neck. Her make-up was minimal and her jewellery plain; she could have passed for a generic business woman from the financial district were it not for the thin, white scar that twisted her mouth into a permanently sarcastic smile.
“My name is Dinah,” she introduced herself in a clipped English accent, “and your impressive work for Lady Mansfield-Hope has been brought to my attention.”
“How do you know-?” Agent 48 interrupted.
“The details are not important,” Dinah raised her hand to silence Agent 48, “but I can tell you that I am the head of a secret organisation that coordinates elitists in your line of work across the globe. Clients come to us and we pass the contract to a suitable agent, keeping you and your clients anonymous to prevent the leakage of information. We take a cut of the money and the rest is given to you when the contract has been fulfilled. Our only restriction is that you do not take on private cases.”
There was a pause as Agent 48 digested this.
“I, we, would like to offer you a position as one of our agents. You can even keep the name; it suits us perfectly,” Dinah waited for a response.
“You’re not bothered about this?” Agent 48 asked incredulously, pointing downwards at his wheelchair.
“Not at all. My understanding is that you can use it to your advantage,” Dinah replied.
“Then it sounds like a good opportunity.”
“Good,” Dinah reached into the smart handbag resting at her feet, and pulled out a small folder which she slid across the desk towards the agent, “This is your first job.”
With this Dinah rose and picked up her bag, turned on her heels, and walked across the office.
“One more thing,” Dinah said suddenly, turning round.
“Yes?” Agent 48 looked up from the folder, still closed, on his desk.
“Your doorman will have to find another job,” she turned to the doorman, “I am sorry, sir.”
“Not a problem,” he replied, “work as a bouncer is easy enough to come by these days.”
Agent 48 nodded, and with that they both left the room, leaving him alone to examine the file. He opened it. His next target was to be the CEO of a large corporation based in central London, and he mused that this was probably at the request of another board member now lined up perfectly to take on the role should some terrible accident befall the current CEO. It was a case he had seen a thousand times before, but Agent 48 was pleased to find that the file was full of useful information that private clients rarely provided him with, such as medical issues, the layout of the building, and what security measures were in place. As he read the information a plan began to form in his head.
Agent 48 manoeuvred down the narrow ramp from the train onto the platform, which was easier said than done as the other passengers hurried by the ramp not looking where they were going, with his luggage slumped on his lap. He thanked the porter for bringing the ramp, given that on more than one occasion he had been left stranded on trains, and then set off along the platform. A few passengers were dragging suitcases along behind them, seemingly unaware that they now had a larger turning circle, making the train station something of an obstacle course. Agent 48 was simply glad that he knew Kings Cross so well, given that in the midst of the throng of people moving to and fro he couldn’t see the signs.
He joined the back of the queue for tube tickets in the adjoining St Pancras station, struggling with the narrow, weaving path laid out by the barriers that left little room for error. Despite getting stuck a few times he was grateful to find that the people behind him in the queue were patient with his struggle.
At last he reached the ticket machines and was disappointed to find that the only one lowered for wheelchair users was out of order. He moved to one of the normal machines and was barely able to see what was on the screen, let alone press the buttons. He managed to attract the attention of a nearby staff member, who apologised profusely for the inconvenience and helped him purchase a day ticket.
Ticket tucked into the top pocket of his bag, he set off for the gates allowing access to the tube. Only one was wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through, and rather annoyingly it was being blocked while someone with an excessively large suitcase argued with a member of staff over some minor irritation. Agent 48 had to ask several times before he was heard, only to receive a hideous glare from the owner of the suitcase for daring to interrupt. The member of staff looked as if he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole.
The next challenge was the lift down to the tube which was crammed full of people with enormous bags, and a few who simply found an escalator too tiresome. On the third attempt Agent 48 managed to snare a space in the lift, which stopped on every single level before he finally reached the line he wanted to take. He moved along the platform through the crowd of waiting people, searching for the raised section of platform that gave him level access to the tube. Seconds after finding it a rush of air blew through the tunnel, followed by the train screeching to a halt. The doors hissed open and Agent 48 waited patiently for people to get off before attempting to enter the carriage. However, a throng of passengers were entering the carriage via the disabled door, despite others being available, and before Agent 48 could board it the doors had closed.
Agent 48 cursed and waited for the next train, fortunately only a couple of minutes away, and managed to snag a place on the carriage. The wheelchair space was occupied by someone’s shopping bags and the owner didn’t appear to be interested in moving them, so Agent 48 simply put on his brakes in the centre of the carriage and clung to the pole. With each start and stop of the tube his wheelchair moved back and forth, even with the brakes firmly in place.
Next came the debacle of changing lines, which required fighting through the crowd to get off one train, into the lift, and then onto the raised platform for the next tube. The inch-wide gap between the platform and the carriage was disconcerting but do-able with a little extra effort. When the robotic voice announced that the next stop would be Canary Wharfe, Agent 48 was quite relieved.
The fresh air was a welcome relief to Agent 48 after the stale, warm atmosphere of the tube. He had no time to enjoy this though, as he needed to make his way to the right office block in time for the board meeting.
Getting into the building was easy enough with the flow of personnel through the main doors, but getting up to the board room would prove much more difficult. If he was to pass security safely he would need a disguise.
He glided across the smooth, open floor to the reception desk, which he could just see over to talk to the receptionist.
“Good morning, sir, how can I help you?” she chirped in a falsely cheerful voice.
“Good morning. Could I please speak to the janitor? There is an issue concerning disabled facilities that I wish to discuss with them,” Agent 48 said.
“Of course, sir, I’m sorry for any inconveniences you may have faced. His office is at the end of the left-hand corridor,” the receptionist looked genuinely concerned, which made quite the impact compared to the usual indifferent responses he heard.
“Thank you,” Agent 48 smiled and turned left. The corridor was spotlessly clean, so much so that Agent 48 felt a little guilty at the trails left by his wheels on the floor. When he finally reached the end of the corridor his wheels squeaked as he came to a halt, and then he tapped lightly on the door.
“Come in,” said a gruff, Northern voice.
Agent 48 pushed with all his might against the heavy door, which clearly had not been designed with wheelchair users in mind given the height of the handle. He managed to heave open the door about a foot before the janitor turned round from his desk, and seeing that his visitor was a wheelchair user, pulled the door open for him. Once Agent 48 was in the room, he let the door swing shut behind him.
“So, ‘ow can I ‘elp you?” the janitor asked.
In response, Agent 48 pulled a baseball bat from his bag.
Agent 48 opened the door a crack and looked around, but could see no one in the corridor. He pulled on the janitors’ polo shirt and took his keys and I.D card, leaving the unconscious janitor seated with his back to the door. Duct tape covered his mouth, and his shoe laces were tied to the chair legs. His hands were tightly entwined in the straps of Agent 48’s luggage, which was on his knee. Agent 48 scrawled “Do Not Disturb” on one piece of paper and grabbed a mop and bucket from the corner before exiting the room. He pinned the sign on the door, which he also locked behind him, and picked up mop and bucket.
He made his way from the janitors’ office through the main reception area and towards the lift. Two security guards were stationed by the lifts but once Agent 48 showed them the I.D. card, explaining that he had lost weight since the photo was taken, they allowed him to enter the lift. He went all the way to the top floor and set to work mopping the already sparkling floor.
“Alright Bob?” a voice called out as Agent 48 worked. He ignored it.
“Hey, Bob, you deaf or sommat?” Agent 48 realised that he was being spoken to and looked up to see someone in the same polo shirt approaching him.
“Aye, I’m good, you?” Agent 48 did an impeccable Yorkshire accent, developed as a party trick to amuse the middle-classes.
“Aye, not so bad, I s’pose. Me ‘emorrhoids are still giving me trouble though. Hurt like ‘ell when the doctor shoved-“
“Well, I’m sure the doctor knows what they’re doing,” Agent 48 felt queasy.
“Ah well, must be off. The Mrs’ reckons she’s most fertile tonight, so I gotta do my duty and get ‘er pregnant again,” the man walked off, whistling, and Agent 48 went back to mopping. Suddenly the man stopped.
“Bob, there’s sommat different ‘bout you today. Can’t put me finger on it. You done sommat with your hair?”
“Oh, er, yeah, changed conditioner,” Agent 48 looked up.
“Ah, the Mrs managed to get you onto that eco stuff then?”
“Er, yeah, yeah, she did.”
“Nice. Well, I’ll be off,” and with that the man walked away.
It wasn’t long before someone else came along wanting to speak to Bob, this time wondering whether he’d lost weight and on another occasion complimenting his new shoes. Agent 48 began to wonder just how popular Bob really was.
Eventually the board room emptied as all the businessmen headed out to lunch, the CEO included, almost all of them greeting Bob as they left. Only one seemed to notice that Agent 48 was not Bob but he said nothing about it. Agent 48 reckoned that must be the one set to benefit from the assassination.
Agent 48 entered the board room where two women were cleaning the floor.
“It’s alright ladies, I’m doing this today,” Agent 48 said.
“Ooh, how kind of you Bob,” the two women barely glanced in his direction as they left.
Agent 48 slipped on a pair of latex gloves and went to the CEO’s chair, slowly unscrewing the back of it with a screw-driver in his pocket. Then he carefully put three narrow hypodermic needles into the cushioned back, ensuring that the needles were exposed on the other side by a few millimetres, and screwed the back of the chair on again. Each syringe was filled wasp venom, which the CEO just so happened to be allergic too. Agent 48 then removed the adrenalin shots the CEO had tucked under his end of the desk and replaced them with replicas containing even more wasp venom.
Agent 48 then left the room and stayed outside, mopping the sparkling floor, waiting for the businessmen to return. The CEO was one of the last to return, and as he passed by Agent 48 deftly took the adrenalin shot from his blazer pocket, switching it with a wasp venom shot. Much as he would have enjoyed staying to watch the show, Agent 48 took the opportunity to leave before chaos broke out. The CEO would only feel a small scratch as he sat down, but within minutes he would be dead.
Agent 48 made his way down in the lift and back towards the janitors’ office just in time to see a swarm of security officers charging towards the stairwell, presumably to aid the CEO. Agent 48 did not have much time.
Quickly he unlocked the janitors’ office, returned the keys, I.D card, polo shirt, and cleaning equipment, and wiped the screwdriver he had used clean. He pressed the screwdriver into the slowly awakening janitors hand and untied him, grabbed his own bag, and left the office with the sign still on the door.
The receptionist looked far more stressed than she had earlier, but still tried to remain cheerful sounding even as ambulances screeched to a halt outside the building.
“Did you manage to get the problem sorted, sir?” she asked.
“Yes, I did, thank you very much. I had to wait a while to see the janitor, he said he was doing something for the board meeting, but I was in no rush,” Agent 48 replied.
The receptionist went pale.
“Bob. In the board room?” she murmured, “That’s the third person who has told me that Bob was up there a bit ago. My God.”
“Are you alright?” Agent 48 asked incredulously.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine. There’s been an incident, a police matter. Don’t worry, it won’t concern you. Have a safe trip,” she said.
Agent 48 thanked her once again and left the building, heading immediately for the tube station, glad that this time he wouldn’t need to queue up for a ticket.
Dinah was waiting for Agent 48 in his office when he arrived.
“How did you get in?” he asked, surprised.
“Your doorman gave me his key when he left,” she said levelly.
“Oh,” Agent 48 replied, “Well, what can I help you with?”
“Here’s your wage,“ she pushed a full envelope across the table alongside another file, “and there’s your next job.”
As prim and proper as before she left again, closing the door behind her.