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Garrison glanced at his phone. 7:45am.
He sat perched on the edge of his bed – tense and uneasy. It was still dark outside. His smart trousers chaffed against his more than amble crotch, while his starchy shirt heaved and gritted its teeth, desperately trying to contain his explosive biceps.
He looked at the phone again. 7:46. Garrison was all at once dreading the call and craving its arrival.
Being a secret agent isn’t what it used to be, he thought to himself. Once upon a time, he’d hop from one nerve jangling, adrenaline pumping mission to the next. One week he’d be assassinating the leader of a newly formed dissident African Republic with just a potato peeler, the next he’d be infiltrating a Lithuanian drugs cartel, posing as a busty Vilnius call girl. They were exciting, heady days. But above all, they were busy.
But in these more austere times, field operatives at the agency were no longer paid a salary. As part of a savage budget cut, the powers that be forced John and his fellow agents to go freelance. Now they found themselves pitching for whatever missions were on the go – undercutting each other’s quotes, waiting months for their invoices to be paid and anxiously hoping there would be enough espionage to go around.
Lately however the international geopolitical landscape was unusually serene. No-one was invading anyone else. Nobody seemed in the mood for politically motivated murder. The arse had fallen out of the illegal arms dealing industry. Spy business was slow. The gaps between missions began to grow and the bills started to pile up.
Garrison was finding living in London without a steady income extremely challenging. He was forced to downgrade his beloved Knightsbridge penthouse to a flat-share with a loud and sexually aggressive professional couple in Chigwell. A second hand mountain bike replaced his Aston Martin. He went weeks between Martinis – until Aldi began running a very decent deal on Vermouth.
Now he was sitting on his bed, hoping that the recruitment agency would call – and that he would be able to get some temping work today. The Dressed and Ready List, they called it. You get up, you get ready for work — and then you wait to see whether there is any. If you don’t get a call by eight, you can pretty much undress and go back to bed. It was, Garrison decided, the most depressing experience of his life. And he was an orphan.
Garrison had dined with royalty, been congratulated and thanked by Prime Ministers – now he was hoping there might be a half day’s data entry on the go somewhere.
‘Suck it up, John,’ he told himself.
His phone lit up. He recognised the number. He took a deep breath and concentrated on sounding ready – but not desperate.
‘Hello,’ he said, sounding desperate.
‘Hi John, it’s Amanda from Robinson Recruitment. How are you this morning?’
‘What’ve you got for me?!’
‘Ooh, you’re keen, aren’t you hun? Right, well I’ve got an insurance company who needs someone to un-staple around eleven thousand brochures and then re-staple them with some slightly smaller staples. They’ll need you to wear brown shoes.’
‘How much are we talking?’
‘It’s, eh, seven pounds an hour.’
‘Seven pounds?’ Garrison growled. ‘Seven. Fucking. Pounds?’
‘Shall I put you down for it?’
This situation reminded Garrison of a time he had found himself in Prague a few years back. He had cornered a double agent who was in possession of some highly sensitive data – the kind of data that, in the wrong hands, would compromise the safety of every man, woman and child on the face of the planet. Following an intense and exciting fist fight, Garrison had the agent pinned to the ground. He refused to tell Garrison where the flash drive was. But Garrison was renowned as a man that didn’t take no for an answer. He was a man used to getting what he wanted. It took him nearly twelve hours, and some of the most toe-curling ‘techniques’ in his locker, but the treacherous little canary finally sang for Garrison. They gave him an MBE for that one. But that seemed like a million years ago now.
‘OK,’ he replied, finally. ‘Seven pounds it is. Email me the address.’
He grabbed his Oyster card, took a long, hard swig of Aldi own-brand vermouth — and left.