Wheelchairs Are Forever: A Short Story.

“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?”

“No sir.”

“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.

“Carol?”

“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.

Spaced Out: A Short Story.

“Well, you are more than qualified to take the job Mr Benson, but as I’m sure you are aware your case is a little…,” the interviewer paused to find the right word, “…unusual. We have a few questions about how this might affect your ability to undertake the role that under other circumstances would be deemed insensitive perhaps, but we mean no harm in asking these questions, I assure you.” The middle-aged, balding man in the overly tight grey suit was sat bolt upright, his interlinked hands resting on the desk before him.

“I had expected as much,” Tom said in reply. He had been wondering for the entirety of the interview when the elephant in the room would become a topic of discussion.

“Then you will forgive me for asking why exactly you use a wheelchair?”

“I was involved in a land mine accident while serving as an electrical engineer in the army, and the damage to the spine has resulted in paralysis from the waist downwards,” Tom did not to like to brood on the accident, which still gave him horrific and very realistic nightmares almost five years on.

“Your upper body is in no way affected?”

“Bar some rather nasty scarring, no. I believe myself to be rather lucky is this regard.”

“And your intellect?”

“Pardon?” Tom was shocked and a little incredulous. He had anticipated questions about his physical abilities, but to query his mental capacities was simply insulting.

“Your intellect. Your ability to think rapidly in stressful situations and to solve complex problems. Were they in any way impaired by the accident?”

“Of course not, my brain is in my head, not my legs,” as soon as the words had slipped out of his mouth Tom regretted them, fearing they made him sound arrogant and insolent.

“I apologise profusely if I have caused any offense,” the interviewer did not look in the least bit sorry.

“My impairment is physical only,” Tom replied more calmly.

“Indeed. So, how would you move around the space station?”

“Propelling myself with my arms, just like I do every day on Earth. That will not be a problem.”

“OK. And can you give me a reason why we should risk sending someone disabled into space instead of someone able-bodied please?”

Tom smirked, “You won’t have to worry about the effects of microgravity on my leg muscles, which have atrophied anyway.” He was pleased to observe the flicker of a smile flit across the interviewers’ face.

“Well, thank you for coming My Benson. We’ll be in touch,” the interviewer stood up and leant over the desk to shake Toms’ hand, before crossing the room to hold open the door for him.

“Thank you,” Tom said as he wheeled out of the room.

***

Nine months later Tom followed his crewmates, Helena and Ulrik, as they crossed the gangway to the relatively small rocket, with the crowd staring up at them from a distance. Only detectable by the flashes of light emitting from their cameras Tom knew that the focus of the photographers would be on him, the first disabled astronaut ever. Helena and Ulrik clambered into the shuttle before him, and then helped Tom shuffle inelegantly from his wheelchair onto his seat, which currently faced the sky. This feeling was not entirely alien to Tom, who had on several occasions over-turned his wheelchair in an encounter with a small step, usually while inebriated.

The doors were closed and as he strapped himself in, Tom watched as a technician rolled his wheelchair back along the gangway; it was strange to think that he would not see it for three months. He almost missed it.

The intercom crackled into life and ground control confirmed that all was ready for take-off. As the countdown began the engines rumbled into life, the vibrations causing Toms’ legs to bounce gently against the seat in a comical manner. Finally the Earth moved away, and as the smoke cleared they got one last look at the ground control centre beneath them before the Earth started to shrink at an alarming rate.

“Strange to think that outer space will be more accessible than my local pub,” Tom said.

It was several hours before the rocket got into orbit, and the sudden loss of gravity as this happened caused Tom’s legs to start flailing uncontrollably while his upper body was still strapped in. Tom unfastened his seat belt faster than Helena and Ulrik, perhaps because they were merely fancier versions of his wheelchair belt. He drifted away from his seat, and almost immediately managed to kick a button on one of the many control panels around him by accident. Thankfully it was just the stereo, and the sounds of David Bowie filled the room.

“Alright, very funny, who put Space Oddity in the CD player?” Tom asked, turning round to face Helena and Ulrik, who were now floating in the tin can, far above the world. Ulrik had a grin spreading from ear to ear plastered across his face, while Helena was managing to propel herself around the cabin by laughter alone.

A few hours later the rocket docked with the International Space Station, a complicated process requiring extensive communication between those already on the station, ground control, and Tom, Helena, and Ulrik themselves. Eventually, after dealing with an uncooperative airlock that had to be switched off and on again, they entered the ISS. As they moved through the doorway Tom got his ankle caught on the hatch and Ulrik had to rescue him, but Tom could be independent in everything else he did. For the first time since the accident he was no different from anyone else.

***

Two months into his time at the ISS, Tom was woken with a start by loud alarms and flashing red lights. Helena and Ulrik were already at the central control panel trying to assess what had gone wrong, and he joined them as soon as he had disentangled himself from the sleeping bag strapped to the wall. Dave, another member of the crew, was already trying to hold a discussion with ground control, who’s panicked voices could only just be heard over the alarm.

“We hit some unexpected debris out of nowhere and it’s damaged the cooling system, the station needs immediate attention!” Dave yelled, “Ulrik, Tom, get into your spacesuits, you’re going to have to do a space-walk!”

“Really, a space-walk?” Tom raised one eyebrow.

“This isn’t the time for jokes,” Dave said sharply, as Helena managed to silence the alarm, “Helena will help operate the air locks. I will stay on communications. Tom, you’re in charge of the electronics. Move!”

Tom didn’t need to be told twice. Getting into his suit was rather difficult given that not only were the trousers floating around aimlessly, but so were his legs. With a little help from Ulrik he managed to get dressed, and then made his way over to the airlock where Helena was waiting. Safety lines and hooks were put into place and the tools needed for the repair job were fastened to them by another safety line. Then they were in the airlock as it depressurised, and finally moved out onto the side of the station.

“The site of impact is behind the nearest solar panel on your left,” Dave’s voice sounded tinny over the earpieces in the space-suits.

Hand-over-hand, always having a least one line tethered to the station for safety, Ulrik and Tom made their painfully slow progress towards the damaged area. The sensation of his legs weightlessly drifting outwards made Tom a little uncomfortable, but it wasn’t until his leg got caught on the solar panel that he had any real issues. Unable to move his leg to wriggle free, he had to call Ulrik over to help, but this time it was not as simple as when he got his leg stuck when entering the space station. This time they had less than half an hour before the sun re-appeared, when they would want to be back inside the station unable to do any more repairs until the sun disappeared again. In the rush Toms’ safety line became entangled with Ulriks’, which took a further minute to sort out.

Eventually they made it to the impact site, which essentially looked like a bowl containing a salad of shards of metal and plastic. Wires poked through broken casing, some even releasing the odd spark. Both men began to tinker, trying to make sense of the mess before them while listening to Dave’s instructions. It hardly seemed like a couple of minutes since they had begun this task than Helena was calling them back into the airlock as the sunrise approached.

Once they were back inside the station Tom took his helmet off to have a better discussion with Dave.

“How the hell are we going to fix that?” he asked.

“The stations’ sensors are providing ground control with some data, so we’ll get better intel from them shortly. It looks stable for the time being, but it’s going to get really hot in here after a while in the sun. If I were you, I’d get ready to leave the airlock the second the sun disappears again.”

“Yes, sir,” Tom said without thinking, feeling almost as if he was back in the army.

At sunset Tom and Ulrik once again headed for the damaged area, a little quicker this time now that they knew exactly where it was. Dave fed them information piece by piece as he talked with ground control, while Tom worked on the wiring and Ulrik tried to repair the exterior of the ship. The gloves they wore were incredibly cumbersome, and Tom found himself growing increasingly frustrated that his hands felt as disabled as the rest of him.

As he fumbled with the delicate electronics he managed to reconnect the damaged circuits, and he heard Dave’s voice in his ear; “The cooling system is functioning again. I’m sending out some spare casing via the airlock; I don’t think you’ll be able to repair the damaged casing. Collect it for Ulrik.”

Awkwardly Tom made his way back towards the airlock, continually trapping his legs between himself and the space station until he looked like a human pretzel. He cursed under his breath, unable to fathom why exactly Dave thought he would be happy to fetch and carry items on command when his legs would quite literally have been more useful had they not been present. Helena had already placed the casing in the airlock ready for him to reach as soon as the door opened, which was a relief, and then he had to crawl over the ship back to where Ulrik was still at work.

“It’s flat-pack but there’s no Allen key,” Tom said as he handed it over, a futile attempt at lightening the atmosphere despite the fact that there wasn’t one.

Eventually the replacement panel had been screwed into place and the only sign of an impact with space debris was a collection of scratches surrounding the repaired section. Ground control confirmed that the sensors were now producing perfectly normal readings, and Tom and Ulrik made their way back to the airlock. In less of a rush, Tom was able to keep his legs from becoming as cumbersome as they had been before, and even managed to avoid getting caught on any protruding elements of the station. A few minutes after re-entering the ISS, the sun re-appeared from behind the Earth, and a soft orange light flooded the room.

***

The return trip to Earth was mostly uneventful. Tom was now used to the lack of gravity and was less prone to knocking things over accidentally; in fact, he made the most of his last few hours of not needing a wheelchair. Just before they were due to feel the full force of gravity once more, he made his way to his seat and strapped himself in as ordered. Ground control had warned all the astronauts on the dangers of not being seated when gravity kicked in, including blacking out due the sudden draining of blood from the brain, or injuries from colliding with the floor. The story of how one unfortunate astronaut had broken his leg had been repeated often enough, but Tom remained adamant that stepping on a land-mine was still far more risky.

The fall to Earth was broken by the deployment of parachutes, but the capsule containing Tom and his colleagues still landed in the sea with enough force to plunge it underwater before bobbing back up to the surface. All of them, Tom included, were feeling the effects of gravity now. Tom could feel his heart beating harder to push blood up to the brain against gravity, something it hadn’t had to deal with for three months, and he felt dazed and tired as his brain tried to deal with the slower provision of oxygen.

It did not take long for the rescue team to arrive, hauling them onto a boat and taking them to shore. As they approached the harbour they could see a crowd gathering on the harbour wall, and when they were closer still, they could hear them cheering and clapping. Once the boat had docked, Helena Ulrik, and Tom were all placed in wheelchairs since standing upright with gravity sickness could result in fainting, and made their way to the jetty where members of ground control awaited them. Tom had no issue controlling his chair, reuniting with it as if it were an old friend, but both Helena and Ulrik required some help manoeuvring their wheelchairs along the gangway, with Ulrik getting stuck on the railings at least twice.

“Is this what it’s like for you all the time?” Helena called after Tom.

“Pretty much,” he responded, “you wait until we get among the crowd and have a child’s point of view.”

As they moved forward, pushing through the crowd that engulfed them, Ulrik and Helena ran over several people and eventually resorted to following Tom in single file through the crowd, akin to a mother duck and her offspring. It amused Tom that in this scenario his disability was actually to his benefit, something that before had only ever been true of discounted concert tickets when people felt sorry for him.

They headed towards a coach that awaited them and in doing so passed a newspaper stand in the midst of the crowd with a teenage boy trying to sell papers to the passers-by, probably earning less than a single paper cost. Tom picked one up and as he made his awkward way onto the coach via a very slow and noisy lift, he began to read. He had a lot to catch up on.

Agent 48: A Short Story.

The woman looked completely out of place as she entered the pub. She had tried her best to dress inconspicuously but her crease-less 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 us  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 door-frame, 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 his 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 chauffeur 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 public’s eager eyes. He expected the headlines to scream of Lord Mansfield’s 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 defenseless.

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.