“Come in, old boy,” the boss said. “We have much to discuss.”
The secret agent walked into his Head of Section’s magnificently appointed office and felt instantly at ease. The smell of leather and bourbon (the boss’s drink of choice) wafted throughout the space like the early morning fog. The secret agent had often thought of this place as the most British location in all of the Kingdom, with the possible exception of the baccarat room at Blades.
A faint aroma of scrambled eggs filled the air, which only served to remind him he had skipped breakfast. The strange realization that the boss would not allow any sort of food into his inner sanctum travelled across the secret agent’s mind. He heard the distinct sound of a pair of Crockett and Jones shoes—the same he himself wore—behind him. He whipped around and retrieved his PPK from his shoulder holster.
The man the secret agent now aimed his pistol at seemed nonplussed by the sudden aggression. He was dressed in a suit nearly identical to the secret agent’s own Saville Row ensemble. Over that—in a travesty of bad taste—he had on a tabard that read “KISS ME, I’M ACTUALLY ENGLISH.” He was carrying a metal tray with three browned pastries atop it.
“Hello,” the newcomer said.
The secret agent furrowed his brow, but did not lower his weapon. “What are those?”
“Quiche,” said the newcomer. “My speciality. Are you fond of eggs?”
“Meet your replacement,” the boss said.
The stranger set down the pastries and extended his hand. “Please, call me James.”
The secret agent looked to the boss and tried to hide his stricken expression. Such weakness was below the standard of an officer of the crown. “That’s my name,” he protested.
“A name which you can’t use anymore,” the boss corrected him. “We’re living in precarious times. It’s preferable that the Russians think you’re still on the job, even if you’ve hit the mandatory retirement age. We got the idea when we had that Australian lad cover for you after the Japanese affair. Poor sod; I can’t imagine he’ll ever get over his wedding day… Ah, well. All in the service of Her Majesty. For clarity’s sake, we’ll call you Jimmy.”
“Mandatory retirement age?” Jimmy asked.
“Age 45, just like every other field agent,” the boss explained. “Up until now it’s never come up. Every field agent has died a—” he cleared his throat, “—rather gruesome death. All in the service of Her Majesty.”
“But, surely there can be an exception made,” Jimmy said. “Institutional memory and all that. Where would the American gold supply be without me?”
“Actually, gold is down in international markets. Had that particular oaf lived, he’d be on relief by now. Besides, if we were to break the rules without compunction, we’d be no better than the damn communists.”
Dejected, Jimmy considered the lumpy, compact mass of egg as James handed it to him. It tasted wonderful, but Jimmy was damned if he was ever going to admit it. “But, I destroyed the scourge of SPEC—”
The boss raised up his hand. “Actually, old boy, we’re not supposed to use that term anymore, either. Directive direct from the director. No, I’m sorry, this is the end of the line for you. Take heart, your name and number will live on.”
The new James looked at him with pity and extended his hand. “No hard feelings, eh, Jimmy? I’ve got terribly big shoes to fill.”
By the time his meeting with the Head of Section and the new fellow had ended, Jimmy’s termination of service paperwork had already been completed. With a final bite of quiche, his time with Her Majesty’s Secret Service had come to an end.
And before long, he found he was destitute. With only his civil service pension to stem the tide and still the taste of an elite special agent, Jimmy’s coffers were nearly dry. Matters appeared truly dire when a small envelope arrived at his King’s Road flat.
Your skills could be of great use with my organization. If convenient, come at once to Baker Street near Park Road to discuss particulars.
P.S.: If inconvenient, come anyway.
The drive took an eternity. When he arrived, an older man approached him. He was dressed in strangely antiquated attire, but had a military bearing. Something about the stranger reminded Jimmy of his old boss.
“I’m sorry to make you come all this way,” the old man said. “I get to travel to London so rarely, I always like to come to my old stomping grounds.”
“Your letter indicated you might have some manner of employment,” Jimmy said.
“Yes. I’ve come to think of it as more of a calling, and please, call me John,” the stranger said.
“What line of work is it?” Jimmy asked.
“I’ll need a little more than that.”
John shook his head. “No, I think this is the part where I have questions for you. First, what are your greatest strengths?”
Jimmy considered his next words carefully. “My greatest strengths… Are my ability to kill a man in seventeen different ways.”
“I see,” John said.
“Also I’m good at Baccarat. I mean, there was that one time I lost 11 million pounds of the Crown’s money in one tournament, but on average I’m quite good. If my math is correct, I’ve bed 789 women, and I had to use coercion on perhaps half of them. I’m sorry, what was the question, again?”
“Oh. God,” John said. “This might have been a mistake, if you’ll excuse me.” He headed back towards Park Road.
“Please,” Jimmy said. “I’m desperate for any kind of work you might have. I’ll work to prove myself to you. I’m at the lowest point a man of my station could be.”
John considered Jimmy’s words for a moment. “How are you with a broom?”