Sir Henry strode up the steps of the Secret Intelligence Service headquarters at Vauxhall Cross in London, taking them two at a time. He was not a happy bunny. Ignoring his lack of lagomorphism, the causes of this were threefold.
Firstly, he had been denied his usual driver and car for his journey from the Home Office. His annual request to excavate a secret tunnel under the Thames had been denied once again this year and so he had been forced to take a black cab. The journey had only lasted four minutes but that was hardly the point; in those four minutes he had heard considerably more about the plight of Chelsea and the folly of their new managerial appointment than he would care to know in four lifetimes.
Secondly, before he left the Home Office, the Home Secretary had made it very clear to him that she was not very pleased with the Swansea situation. The morning news was full of stories about a terrorist attack on a High Street bank. Although there was not yet any connection to the possible murder of the NATO Professor, the fact that Sir Henry had been in the area the day before had the Home Secretary worrying that the press would soon link it back to her. He wondered for a moment when politicians had got so obsessed about their own job security rather than national security; probably around the time the plebs had castrated the monarchy. (Sir Henry approved quite strongly of monarchies and often wished that he had been born in an earlier age. The Victorians would not have reassigned the driver of a man in his position.)
Thirdly, he had no sooner left the Home Secretary’s office when he had received the news of the accident that had befallen Charles Wainbridge. Her office was probably still echoing with his words, “we’ll putting our best man on it ma’am.” Now he was going to look like an idiot. Sir Henry did not approve of being made to look like an idiot, even if it was by a fellow Old Etonian like Wainbridge.
He was still mulling over the triple injustice as he rode the lift to the top floor of the building. Hopefully, M would have some good news for him; if not, at least Sir Henry would have someone to vent his frustration on. Technically, Kevin was only answerable to the Foreign Secretary but as the official representative of the Home Office, Sir Henry could certainly make life uncomfortable for the other man.
The lift arrived at its destination with a chime that was far too cheerful for Sir Henry’s mood and he was scowling by the time the doors had slid open to reveal the outer office of the Secret Intelligence Service’s inner sanctum.
Sir Henry breathed in the varnished mahogany wall panelling as he stepped from the lift. He was greeted by M’s secretary, Veronica Shagpile, who had clearly been crying and had panda eyes; she was a big believer in traditional Chinese medicine and sometimes abused her position in MI6 to smuggle all sorts of things into the country.
“Control is expecting you, Sir Henry,” Veronica told him, pressing a button under her desk that opened the concealed door to her left.
“Thank you, Miss Shagpile,” Sir Henry answered, pretending not to see the eyes; she was obviously upset about Charles Wainbridge and he could not blame her for that. There would be much wailing in the toilet cubicles of 85 Albert Embankment before this day was over.
“You’ve heard about Chuck?” she asked as he stepped towards the door.
Sir Henry paused. “I’ve been told there was an accident,” he confirmed. “But I’ve not heard the details. A fall, wasn’t it?”
Veronica nodded. “Climbing in Africa. Fortunately, he managed to deploy the emergency arse-flaps on his shorts but it was a bit too late and he’s broken both his arms and cracked a few ribs.”
She felt her resolve weaken. “He landed on his face,” she sobbed. “His beautiful face.”
By now, the door was fully open and Sir Henry resumed his stride with what he hoped was a sympathetic nod. In reality, there was still a trace of scowl and his expression ended up somewhere midway between consternation and constipation. Veronica gave him a weak smile in return and wiped her eye with a handkerchief that was somewhat too lacy to be standard government issue.
The scowl returned in full when Sir Henry saw who else was in M’s office; at least now he knew why his driver had not picked him up this morning.