Archive for June, 2012

FF #11 – Couch

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The rapping at the door sounded urgent, and Basil rose hastily from his spot next to Cecily.  Throwing on a robe as he went down the stairs, he unlocked the massive door and opened it slightly.  “Yes?” his voice was terse, sleep-disturbed.

Agent Matheson stood just outside the porch light, clad in street clothes.  “Heyyy, buddy!” he spoke loudly. “Basil.” His voice was low. “You’re needed. Safer to talk inside.”

“Come in,” Basil stood back to let the agent pass him.  “What’s happened?”  Cecily reached the foot of the stairs as Matheson did and she nodded at him, glad she had decided to wrap herself in her dressing gown.  “Tea?” she asked automatically.

“No time.  With your permission, Mrs. Kildare, I need Basil for a little late night S and R.”

“Who’s gone?” she asked flatly, leading them into the kitchen.

“Robespierre.  He was last seen by our planter Agents near London Bridge but heading down the stairs of the Adelaide House.  We believe he was on the trail of something or some person of interest.”

“So what happened?”

“We lost sight of him.  This was three days ago.”

“Any flare or distress call?”

“Negative.”

“How do you know he’s in danger?”

“Check-in,” Basil reminded her.  “He missed curfew.”  Here he excused himself to get dressed, leaving Cecily and Matheson in the kitchen.

“I can’t say I’ve ever been in here,” he glanced around, taking in as much detail as he could in the darkness.

“We usually keep our home private, save for a few very close friends at the Ministry and some ‘office party’ type events, though the Minister thinks them a tad unwise, given that the entirety of MI-6 would be in one location.”

Matheson nodded.  “I’ll try not to keep Basil too long,” he said.

“I would appreciate it,” Cecily smiled.  “I’m sorry if I seem short.  It is three-thirty.”

“Not a problem.  I’ve been awake for nearly two days, so I’m likely behaving very dramatically.”

They shared a quiet laugh.  Basil slipped quietly through the swinging door and gave a thumbs up to Cecily.  She crossed to him and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.  “Be safe,” she said.

Her husband returned the kiss and promised they wouldn’t take any unnecessary risks, then he and Matheson silently padded through the house to the front door, down the driveway, and into the dark night.

For her part, Cecily yawned and checked the hour again.  Shaking her head she climbed the stairs and looked in on each of her children before padding back to their bedroom, throwing off her dressing gown and cozying into a deep sleep.

 

Basil leaped into Matheson’s waiting car and grabbed desperately for his seatbelt before his colleague could get in the driver’s side and start the engine.  Matheson had a historic reputation and he upheld it proudly at every opportunity.  They were in downtown London in a matter of minutes it felt.  Matheson parked the car at the Ministry’s secure lot and he and Basil began the walk towards the Thames.  The landmark belltower rang out the hour as they hurried along side streets, cutting through narrow lanes and side passages where they could.  Once they reached the massive river, the pair began searching the sheer sides for their usual vehicle.

“I don’t see it,” Matheson said after a long moment.

“Neither do I,” Basil agreed. “Rob must have taken it.”

“Likely,” his companion sighed.  “Guess we’re on foot to the CSLR then.”

The pair trotted past the Southwark Cathedral and down the stairs at the London Bridge underground station.  Matheson led the way to a little-used maintenance door where they quickly slipped inside and illuminated their head lamps.  A long climb down a shaft led them to the CSLR bores.  The tubes here were cast iron (“Built in 1890!” Matheson had told him the first time they’d ventured down here) but had flat floors, making the walk easy enough.  Stumbling briefly over the corner of an oblong hole in the floor, Basil peered past the safety rails to see the Northern Line platform below them. He sighed, knowing the next quarter mile held the worst part of the trip for him. He didn’t mind the dust and dirt and even the stale air, but it was the posters that gave him the shivers.  They made their way through the construction area where the London Civil Defense authorities were building a wall to block off the King William Street terminus.  “This is a bloody stupid idea,” Matheson grumbled, waving a hand at the short scaffolding and tarp mess.  “Blocking off history in this way.”

“Makes life inconvenient for us too,” Basil chuckled.

“Next we’ll be arrested for being pedestrians,” Matheson rolled his eyes in the darkness.

They followed the gentle curve of the tunnels northward, moving past several sets of steps down which thousands of Londoners had once come for nightly refuge from the Luftwaffe.  Basil resolved to keep his eyes on his feet, but he knew the posters were there.  “AIR RAID PRECAUTIONS” some said. “NO SMOKING.”  Once he got a look at those battered signs, hung there over seventy years ago, he would lose his nerve.   The age of his surroundings was practically tangible. Suddenly about ¾ of a mile from their entrance, they again dipped down a shaft.  This time there were stalactites on the ceilings and Basil knew they were getting deeper and closer to the river.  The pair quickened their pace, scurrying across an extremely old workman’s bridge with a decrepit ladder hanging nearby.   After a few minutes of acceleration, Matheson held up a fist, a silent signal to stop.  The men switched off their headlamps and crouched, waiting, in the deafening silence.

Matheson turned back to Basil.  “Thought I saw something ahead,” he whispered, but his esses bounced noisily about the cast iron tunnel.  “Draw?”

“Yes, alright,” Basil said in a low tone, hastily grasping his revolver.  I’m ready to go.  The grade is up ahead, right?”

“Yes,” came the short reply.  They hastily scampered up the 21 degree grade, using the old tracks as a ladder in places.  The cold steel served only to numb their hands when they touched it.  When they reached the top, Matheson stopped Basil and pulled open a grate at chest-level that led to a workman’s crawlspace.  “Fish Hall is about 50 yards on the other side,” Matheson told him.  “Do you think you can make it?”

“50 yards in that crawlspace?” Basil stared at him.  “Are you mad?”

“Perhaps.  But this puts us where we need to be.  Otherwise we’ll be popping out at the Regis House and risk being seen by whoever’s up there.”

“Who is up there?” Basil wanted to know.  “Was Rob being followed?”

“We’re not sure. Hence the crawling around.  The last thing we need is an ambush on our hands.”

“How do you find these places?” Basil grumbled, but he knelt to shimmy into the darkness.  Already, the moisture of this subterranean arena had crept through his jacket and into his bones.  He felt stiff.  The minute he put his hand into a standing puddle of frigid water, he knew they could be in trouble.  The Thames was high right now—almost the highest it had been since the 1947 flooding.  “Lots of water,” he said through clenched teeth to his companion.

“I see that,” came the reply. “Thank God this tunnel’s not any lower or we’d be on our bellies in this stuff.”

They came through the tunnel and cautiously removed the grate from the other end.  The night air was a deal warmer than what they’d been breathing in the tunnels, and much fresher, even though it reeked of dirty water and riverbed.  Basil sighed in relief and let himself down onto the muddy stairs.

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FF #10 – 15 min. – Roadtrip

 The car door shut behind me as I clambered into the family suburban and took my place behind the passenger seat.  The Texas landscape awaited us–dust, dirt, rocks, a few low-lying mountains and canyons, and the heat.  It would be a very long drive to West Texas from Houston.  I’ve heard it said it takes 24 hours to drive across the state, and I believe it, though at 14 I’ve never tried.

We reached the small town of Marfa the following day, and piled out of the suburban in a cranky heap.  Too long we had been pushed together too close.  All I’d had was my book and I’d nearly finished with it–fortunately, it was about the small town in which we alighted.

I’d never been one for these driving tours of Texas, but this time I was more interested because I’d done my research first.  I was here because I wanted desperately to see the Marfa lights.  The supernatural flicker out across the flats fascinated me.  The observation area was not crowded, but there were mostly out-of-town gawkers present, like my family and me.  There was the requisite hippe-spiritualist, who was actually dangling a large crystal at the end of a chain, standing near us.  Her tough-looking, obviously bored husband stood by, watching a mom speak with her two children who had apparently been roughhousing but were being put aright.

The sun had already set, but still sent its everlong fingers of pink, gold, orange, and somehow blue into the sky, drawing the cover of night after it, but still far behind us so that the lights would be hidden until the coverlet had made its way overhead.  The air was noticibly cooler out here, away from the heat of the large cities, and somehow smelled fresher.  My eyes were fixed upon a grove of trees which I knew to be the backdrop of my longed-for Marfa lights.

Near me, a grandfather began to speak to his grandchildren about what they were going to see.  “The Marfa lights are said to be the wandering souls of those lost out on the flatlands, or those who were trapped in the swamp over there.  A long time ago, people rode out on horseback to find the lights, to see who was there, whether they were Indians or something else, and they never returned.”

A pleasant shiver ran up my spine.  I was going to see these lights at long last!   The last warm breeze of the evening rushed to join the sun as the star’s light continued to fade.  The time for the phenomenon drew close.  Above us, a lone star appeared, Lady Venus, I thought.   Finally the coverlet of night fell over the grove and the observers grew still, every eye straining to see something magical.

“Come forth, spirits!” the hippe-spiritualist murmured.  I shot her an annoyed look, and the mom edged her kids away from her on the pretense of getting a better look.

As if summoned, though, a green orb appeared. Then another, and another.  In a matter of moments, there were 10 glowing balls of light far out over the flatlands. I breathed out a phrase I’d picked up at school long before this trip.  “Holy Marfa!”

FF #9 – 15 min. – Decision

Juliet clenched her eyes shut, willing the responsibility away.  Precious seconds decided her victory or defeat and she moved her head from side to side in an attempt to clear the cobwebs and gain some clarity.

Beside her on the ground, her best friend lay sprawled out, knocked unconscious by a single swipe to the head by the brute’s massive paw.  Did she stay and tend to him, or did she chase the creature down and give him what he asked for?  Mark was breathing and seemed otherwise in stable condition.  She decided to roll him over onto his left side, just in case. Recovery position, after all.  Juliet cut her eyes towards the path the beast had taken, gripped her rifle the tighter, and began pursuit.

As she entered the forest, the tree leaves whipping past her face served only as an annoyance.  She soon came to a part of the wood where the trees were larger and grew closer together.  It was extremely quiet now, the living columns serving as a sound dampener.  She scanned her immediate area, searching for a flash of color, some movement, or hell, even a smell would be helpful.  There.  Away to her right and much farther away than she’d anticipated, the creature was on the move heading upstream, very near the falls.  The hunter set her teeth on edge and began pursuit.

The rocks underfoot were not slippery, covered in lichens though they were, and Juliet made good time. She felt she was gaining on the beast and the thought gave her a boost of morale.  A small noise of agitation escaped her throat when she broke away from the trees for a moment and spied her quarry up on top of a towering waterfall.  He must have been in the forest and sprinted up through the trees where she could not see him.

The aim was good enough.  The creature turned and stared at Juliet, who was now leveling her rifle.  The little red precision point centered between its brown eyes, full of rage at her intrusion and pursuit.  Its tongue was lolling out its mouth.  Juliet felt the trigger beneath her gloved finger, set to react when she did.  As she took the requisite deep breath before she fired, something new caught her eye.

Two young pups struggled up to the ledge to be with their father.  The wolf nudged them back as if to say Now isn’t a good time, but kept a steady eye on the hunter below.   Juliet lowered her rifle.   No use killing an animal when it has a family.

FF #8 – 15 min. – Death

 One minute the king was laughing with his best knights and courtiers and the next minute he clutched at his throat gurgling in his own blood. He tossed forward in his chair, his head hitting the table with a resounding thud as he struggled to take a breath.  The Duke of Benair rose, immediately on the look-out for the assassin.   “Was it poison?” he shouted down at the knight who had succeeded in prying his master’s fingers away from the wound. 

“No!” came the reply.  “Some kind of projectile.  Buried deep in His Majesty’s neck.  I cannot see it.”

The Duke scanned the upper galleries of the Great Hall, knowing there had to be an assassin present, and spied a figure darting away through a curtain.  He leapt into the mass of people who were beginning to panic as they realized their ways out were limited.  “Out of the way, out of the way!” his voice cut through the noise and a few soldiers began to help part the crowd for him.  The Duke skidded into the hallway just in time to see the same figure disappear at the end of a long corridor towards the castle gates.

“Halt in the name of the king!” he shouted as he again caught sight of the flurry of robes and possibly a cape.  Knowing the cry was futile, he redoubled his speed, grinning to himself as he saw the figure vanish into a room that had only one entrance and exit.  Clearly this assassin did not know the castle well.  The Duke charged into the room, and the door slammed shut behind him, plunging him into complete darkness.  Never one to be taken by surprise, he allowed twin blades to fall into his hand from their concealed sheaths on his forearms.  “I can hear you breathe,” he said to the darkness.  “I know you’re there.”

The room was absolutely silent, which was unnerving for the Duke. He moved silently to the right and forward three steps to keep himself invisible to his possible attacker.  He moved again in the same pattern, which, if memory served, moved him closer to the windows with their thick drapes.  He could open one and flood the room with light.  His hand found the velvet, heavy and soft beneath his touch and he yanked hard to the left.

Just then he felt the blood bubble up in his mouth and felt the excruciating pain of the sword that had been jammed through his torso from behind.  He looked down in shock at the tip poking through his waistcoat and an odd fascination came over him.  His one consuming desire now was to see who could have done this to him and to his king.  He turned, staggeringly, and spat the blood that had filled his mouth.  The enormous red drops landed at the feet of Her Majesty the Queen. 

“I knew it was you the moment I saw you,” she hissed.  “I knew you’d try to pin it on me, you fhealltóir.  He took you in and treated you as a son.  He made you a Duke, gave you the title of Heir Apparent when we did not have children.   I have conceived, and you are but an inconvenience to me now.  Scotland will have a proper monarch on its throne!“

FF #7 – Forest Buddha

“Oh, shit!” Basil gasped as he slid down a short embankment.  Behind him, Cecily’s headlamp flashed as she leapt down the same incline.

“Let’s go, let’s go!” her voice was full of panic.

Their running footsteps took them to a grove of trees where they’d hidden their get-away vehicles.  Basil roughly shoved the foliage aside, then did so again.  No motorcycles in view.

                “Oh fuck, where are they?”

                “Is this the right spot?” his partner cast an anxious glance over her shoulder.

                “Yes! Shit! Shit!”

                The crack of wild gunfire and yelling voices came to them.  “We have to hide!”  Cecily’s voice was shaking.  “Oh God, where are we going to hide?”

                Basil played his light over the trees behind their intended hiding spot.  “We can disappear through there,” he said.  Cecily immediately sprinted for the cover, Basil hot on her heels.  They scrambled through some thick brush, then into a section of the woods where the trees were large and closer together.  The overgrown weeds and plants whipped at their legs, but they didn’t dare stop.  Cecily didn’t see the drop-off until it was too late and she swore mightily as she tumbled, head over heels into about two feet of standing water.  The shock of the water brought a cry of surprise to her lips.  Basil clamped his hand over her mouth, reached down and turned off her headlamp.  He did the same with his.  The weak light from the half-moon trickled down to them through the overhead tree boughs.

                “I am so sorry,” he whispered.  “Your first covert op shouldn’t have been like this.”

                Cecily unpinned his hand.  “Don’t make a victim out of me yet, sir.”

                A voice very near to them called for reinforcements.  “Look sharp!” Basil sprang away onto the bank where the soft earth muffled his steps and the thousand and one rich earthy scents would mask his trail from dogs.

                Cecily followed him, her hands shaking.  An unfamiliar ache was spreading from her left hip.  She instinctively looked down as she rubbed the soreness.  The dead sensation beneath her fingertips would have alarmed her more had her adrenaline not been pumping as hard.  She followed Basil down the muddy riverbank, listening intently for any more indicators they were not alone.  Her boots held the cold water to her skin through her cargo pants.  She was thankful there was no squelching.  They arrived at a large mossy log that created a natural bridge and darted beneath a curtain of Spanish moss.  The underside of the log was strangely warm and smelled strongly of decomposing vegetation.  It was very damp, but it was out of the standing water and would suffice as cover until they could call for pickup.

                Basil was doing just that.  He reached into his right pocket for his communicator.  After listening for a moment, he flipped the clamshell device open, maneuvered his selector to “Flare” under the Menu button.  A second later he flipped it closed and sat down to begin the wait.  Cecily, still quivering, gingerly sat beside him.  The dull ache at her hip was growing stronger as it moved down the lateral side of her quad.  She made a noise of annoyance and straightened her right leg out.

                “Are you alright?” Basil asked in a faint whisper.

                “Sat on something in the water,” she replied in the same way, “Hip hurts.”

                “How exactly?”

                “Numb.”

                Basil let out a low, prolonged hiss of agitation and ran a grubby hand through his dark hair.  “I hope it was just a stick.”

                “Me too,” Cecily nodded.  “What else would it be?”

                “You never know…out here,” Basil returned. “There are creatures aplenty to…well, never mind.”

                “Yes?”

                “I’ll take a look at it when we get to camp.”

                “How long will they take to pick us up?”

                “The drop zone is about ten miles away.”

                “Hence the getaway bikes,” Cecily nodded to herself.  “Oh shit,” she put one hand on her leg. “I think it’s spreading.”

                “The numbness? You might just be cold,” Basil took her hand.  It was freezing.  “Cecily, I—”

                She leaned forward and retched, suddenly and violently ill.  Her involuntary vocalization made Basil leap to his feet, ear straining for noises of pursuit.  Oddly, the wood was completely still in the moonlight.  The noises of their pursuers had been replaced by a deafening silence that was gradually being infringed upon by regular nightly noises in the woods.  Well, that, and Cecily’s functional noise.

                She groaned softly. 

                “Was it something you ate?  Was it nerves?” Basil demanded, certain they were alone.

                “I don’t know… I don’t… I can’t breathe.” 

                “Lay down,” Basil instructed. “Relax, and focus on breathing.  I’ll take care of whatever it is.”  He yanked off his jacket and wadded it under her head.  She was beginning to quiver all over—clearly suffering the effects of some paralytic neurotoxin.  He felt at his waist for his utility belt and unsnapped a larger pocket on the back.  His fingers found an adrenaline shot, which he set aside, and then a small packet of a crushed herb.  Turning on his headlamp briefly, he read the label and shook a little into the palm of his hand.  Cecily hadn’t ceased quivering, and he saw her eyes dangerously close to rolling back into her head.  “Cecily, listen to me, can you open your mouth?”

                She focused her eyes through heavy eyelids clearly giving every effort, and tried to comply.  Her teeth parted just enough and Basil trickled the powder in.  “Hold this under your tongue,” he said as he did so.  After about a minute, she seemed to relax a little. “Japanese thistle,” he said as she looked at him silently, the fear and sickness still in her eyes.   “The sun’s rising,” he pointed to the east, just visible from beneath their refuge.  She pointed her eyes in the direction he indicated and sighed heavily.  Basil searched the medicine pouch again and found some tetterwort.  “This will help,” he said as he dissolved the entire baggie of the powdered root into fresh water from his canteen.  “It’s a mild sedative. ”  As he let it trickle into her mouth and she swallowed as best she could, he said, “Try to sleep, Ces, I think the danger is past.”

                She managed a very small, tired smile before allowing herself to slide into a deep, dreamless, healing slumber.  James curled himself near her.  As he began to nod off, the sun rose and illuminated their surroundings brilliantly.  He could see in the near distance the statue of an enormous Buddha.  It was somehow calming.

FF #6 – 15 min. – Exorcism

In the light of the quickly-dying sunset James picked up a piece of white chalk and traced an enormous circle on the wooden floor boards of his attic room.   Next came a large albeit clumsy pentagram, and he placed his soft downy feather at the rightmost point.  He did the same at the leftmost point with the enormous bear claw, wondering wryly if it would matter that it had come from the witchcraft store in downtown.   Solemnly, he lit five white lavender-scented candles and placed them at each point of the pentagram.  The sprigs of rosemary went at the top point just within his reach.

Drawing a deep breath, he opened the bag of white sand took a handful, tracing the circle and repeating the mystic syllables the carnie fortune teller had given him.  The air in the attic was very still, the silence oppressive.  James felt a shudder run down his back and he knew the spirits were gathering.  The headache that had been with him since this whole mess began over a year ago was growing as they began to understand his motions and moved to put a stop to them.

Now for the blue sand.  This he trickled over the pentagram itself and around each of the candles, constantly in motion, still repeating the words.  There was palpable tension in the air now.  He shook his head to clear away the mental cobwebs.  These spirits were going to have to respect this ceremony, done as it was, in desperation.  James had simply wanted a place to live and start a family.  He set his teeth together and finished the blue sand.

A feeling of dread washed over him, but he plucked up his courage and stepped into the center of the pentagram.  He spoke, “Spirits, I have pleaded with you to leave me in peace, but it has come to this.  I call upon the latent power of the earth, represented here in these objects, to aid me in cleansing this house!”

An audible hum was growing in James’ ears, and he reached for the sharp knife at his belt.  “As I spill this blood, I charge you be gone for all time!”  Relying on a sudden burst of energy and moxie, he drew the sharp knife over his open palm and squeezed his fist so that the rush of crimson dripped down to the point of his hand and one…two…three drops spattered onto the floorboards.  They dried instantly.

Almost immediately, he could see in front of him a dark shape that at first glance appeared human.  As James peered at it, through the light of the candles he could make out a pair of glittering eyes.  An evil hiss escaped the figure and James felt his heart stop.  “We…do not take orders from mortals,” it rasped.  “We…are Legion, we…are many.”

FF #5 – Cigarette

“Oh there you are, Basil. I thought you’d given up smoking,” Cecily stepped from the warm indoors, sliding the door shut behind her and effectively muffling the sounds of the celebration inside.

“I did,” Basil said wearily.  “I just needed to get out of there for a few minutes and figured this was as good an excuse as any.”

“Fair enough.  Do you have another one?”

He silently handed her the package of Djarum cigars.  “Cloves,” Cecily nodded approvingly.  “Delicious.  Light me.”

A second later, they stood side by side, inhaling sporadically, listening to the crackle of the tobacco and paper.  “Are you alright?” she asked.  When he didn’t answer, she leaned her head onto his shoulder affectionately.  “What’s on your mind, love?”

                “I’ve been doing some thinking since Easter when that egg showed up.  I think…” he trailed off, took a breath and said, “I know I said that I think it’s time we quit the game, but now that the moment’s arrived, I don’t quite know what to do.”

                Cecily straightened up and was silent for a long moment.  She took a drag at her own cigar, and let the smoke waft from her mouth, French inhaling through her nose.  She nodded slowly.  “Same here.”

                “We can do that, right? We can take it back?”

                “Of course we can.  Honestly, the Minister suggested the whole retirement idea to me when I went to confront him at Easter.  It was only a suggestion, but I was angry enough to take him very seriously.”

                “He suggested it?”

                “Given how upset we were over an agent being in our house and planting something of—well—planting that thing in Darcy’s basket,   I understood why he said something.”

                “Well, it was only Beatrice who did the breaking and entering, so that’s not so bad.  He knew we’d be minimally alright with that, I suppose.  Wait, you didn’t say anything to me about that conversation.”

                “It wasn’t something I relished hearing from the Minister. I knew you and I would have to talk about it, though, and I thought it might be easier to swallow if you came to that conclusion without my input.”

                “Fair enough.”

                A pause.

“I hate it,” Cecily grimaced.  “It doesn’t feel right.”

Basil stretched upward, his toned muscles relishing the tense and release.  “Me too, Ces.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t do this, Basil. We’ll lose all our friends, references, livelihood… this has been our job for the last 10 years.”

Basil chuckled.  “That will be right grand on our CVs.  We’ve, uh, been with MI-6 since that time. Classified nosh, old chap, can’t discuss it.  You understand.”

“It’s not like our enemies would just give up once we’ve dropped out.”

“Are you talking us out of this?”

Cecily stared at him, a smile lighting her eyes.  “I am. We’re going back inside and turning this party around.”  She took a final long drag of her cigar, dropped it, and ground it out.  

 

The pair re-entered their home hand in hand.  Megan Moneypenny lifted her glass in greeting from where she sat on the sofa, flanked as usual by two double-0’s.  “There you two are!”

The rest turned towards the door as she spoke, glasses or bottles in hand, calling out greetings.  “For God’s sake, if you want us to leave, just let us know!” one joked.  “Alone time for the old retirees!”  They all laughed.

Basil shook his head, “Shove off, you!”  His smile belied his words.  Cecily poured two Old Fashioneds for her herself and her husband, handed his drink to him, and then clinked between the two glasses with the long stirring implement.  The party quieted itself and became attentive, expecting a farewell address.   “We have something we’d like to say,” Basil spoke.  “After thinking it over just now, Ces and I have decided we’re not leaving after all.”

Their colleagues’ faces and voices registered various emotions from surprise to pleasure. 

“We’d miss it too much. We’d miss you all too much,” Cecily added.  “MI-6 is our home.  You will have us back, won’t you, and forgive us for even thinking of leaving?”

There was a brief pause, then someone produced a blade and slit through one end of the banner over the kitchen table that read “Happy Retirement!”  It fluttered aside, dragging the loose string through the crisps and dip.  “Absolutely g’day!” the agent grinned widely, as the others surged forward with their words of happy agreement at the pair’s decision.  “We knew you wouldn’t really leave,” Agent Beatrice embraced her friends.

“No, you just can’t keep away and let somebody else have a crack at things,” Agent Albert shook Basil’s hand.  “Damn Americans.”

“Does anyone need a refill on their drink?” Cecily grinned, raising her glass. Basil clinked his tumbler with hers and took a long sip. 

“Pick me,” he rasped over the whiskey as it slid down.

“I’d like a drink,” a new, quiet voice sounded.  The group turned unanimously to see the Minister of Defense.  “Hope you don’t mind, I came to deliver your reinstatements.”

 

As Basil poured the Minister an Old Fashioned, he winked at Cecily, who rolled her eyes and nodded towards the Minister, and muttered in a fond tone, “I hate it when he does that ‘random appearance’ thing.  It’s like something out of a cartoon.”

Basil laughed quietly and delivered the drink to their superior.  “Thank you for coming, sir.”

“I admit I was not pleased to hear that you two were leaving, but I came to pay my respects.  I brought your reinstatements with me because I know you both.  You can’t just leave. It wouldn’t sit well with your work ethic.  Besides all that, what would you do with your free time? Surely three children is enough for you, young man.”

Basil shook his head.  “That’s classified,” he laughed.

Cecily joined him, and the Minister smiled at her warmly. “I’m so very glad you two have made your triumphant return,” he said.  “It’s like you never left.”