By A V Laidlaw
As Jack walked into the office, the new secretary stared at him. She was a pretty young thing, glossy lipstick, and miniskirt, and the old flirtatious banter rose to his lips. But the words died before he could say them. The legendary Jack McSquall, Britain’s number one operative, was long gone. He was a broken man now. He winced as he touched the scar on his cheek, a souvenir from his final mission. There were deeper and more painful scars too. Scars raked across his soul.
“He’s waiting for you,” she said. “Inside.”
The man only known as “B” sat at his desk like an eagle perched on its nest, all fierce eyebrows, and more fearsome nose. Jack felt the resentment stick in his throat. This man, this civil servant who never saw the world beyond the dossiers and meeting of Whitehall, had sent so many good men to their fate.
“I’ve quit,” Jack said.
B peered over the top of his half-moon glasses. “Yet you came.”
“To tell you to your face.”
“It’s bad Jack, the worse I’ve ever seen. Come with me.”
Habits die hard, and Jack followed B out onto the balcony. London spread out in front of them, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, a host of red buses mingled with black cabs. Union Jacks fluttered under irredeemably British grey skies. Big Ben tolled. Once it had been the heart of a great empire and was still a glorious sight. Jack felt his upper lip begin to stiffen.
“Oh,” B said, “it’s pretty enough from up here. But down there, a different story.” As if on cue a flock of pigeons took to the skies. The two men watched in silence. “Vermin, Jack, the whole city is overrun with vermin. People are afraid to leave their homes. But if they knew the truth…” B shook his head.
“And you expect me to clean it up.”
“The Prime Minister asked for you by name.”
“Clean it up yourself. Your boys with their fancy gadgets.”
“We tried, Jack. God knows we tried.”
“We think OPFA are behind it.”
Jack’s blood ran ice-cold. The Orpington Pigeon Fanciers Association – his old nemesis. He remembered their leader, the fat breasted old cock called The Fantail, strutting back and forth with a beady look in his eye as he outlined his plans for a world dominated by pigeons. It had been a living hell imprisoned in the dovecote headquarters, the cooing night after sleepless night until Petra his Peregrine Falcon rescued him. The cost was high, though. Gerald the Gyrfalcon would never glide so gracefully through the air again.
“Avian Pest Control needs you, Jack.”
No, Jack thought. He was done with Her Majesty’s Service. He was putting his life back together. He even had a date that evening with Jill, a primary school teacher innocent of his shadowy former life as the government’s top pest control officer (pigeon section).
“Not this time. I’m out of the game.”
“But you and Petra.”
Jack’s hand’s shook with fury. “Leave Petra out of this.”
“Fastest Peregrine Falcon to ever fly in British service. You’d make short work of The Fantail together.”
“Petra’s not interested.”
“Have you asked her?”
“You know I haven’t seen her since Worksop.”
“Worksop was bad. I’ve read the reports.”
“You weren’t there.” Jack touched the scar on his cheek. “The feathers. Oh God, the feathers.”
“We didn’t know that chickens were present.”
“You should have known.”
As Jack turned to walk back into the office, a small grey dot hurtled towards him from the sky. A pigeon, a message from The Fantail no doubt. As the pigeon homed in, an assassin’s glint in its eye, the old instincts took over. Jack bundled B back into the office doorway, shielding the head of the department with his own body. He felt a gentle splat against the small of his back.
After the pigeon was gone, lost against the concrete skyline, Jack took his jacket off. A brand new Savile Row suit bought from his retirement fund; he was going to wear it to his date with Jill that evening. He looked at the white gooey mess trickling down the material.
“Tell Petra I’m back.” He said. “And this time it’s personal.”