San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Searching for Sotherby

Something about Sotherby didn’t quite add up. He had a good accent, which anyone skilled in the art would recognize as Winchester, but his file said he had been educated at Oundle, although occasionally a London demotic vowel would slip out, causing shudders to those sensitive to these things. The file, gratuitously, I think, added that he had a bad reputation for forward passing at rugby. And his only club was United Services, which will take in almost anyone.

We have to rely a lot on instinct in our trade, so ordinarily I wouldn’t send him out farther than the corner store, but I badly needed someone to check up on the midget submarine pens on the MusandamPeninsula in Oman, and Sotherby was the only Arabic speaker not already assigned. So Sotherby it had to be.

We gave him all the usual paraphernalia and sent him off after notifying our resident in Muscat to keep an eye on him. The resident reported his arrival, but then Sotherby simply disappeared. We weren’t expecting an operational report in the first week, so no one flipped his lid, but when nothing came through on the T band we started to worry, told the resident to check it out and finally sent out our tracker, who came up with nothing.

At that, we started to look through our Eyes Only files, and discovered that the Most Secret Location files had apparently been checked out and back again within the hour, just before Sotherby left, by a very senior officer who, in fact, happened to be in Khartoum at the time.

That did it, and I had to call in all our Middle East operators, losing four of them in the process, and got a right bollocking from the chief. A month later, when much of the screaming had died down, the Musandam pens, with all of their high-tech equipment, were blown to smithereens, while their Iranian counterparts on QeshmIsland remained untouched. In our business, post hoc ergo propter hoc is a given, so we all assumed Sotherby had changed sides, and I myself was dispatched to reason with him, and don’t come back without proof of identity.

I didn’t get to M3 rank by taking no for an answer, and my Arabic is pretty good, so I soon found he had left Muscat the day after the explosions. Within the week I had tracked him to Kyoto, where he was living the high life on the earnings of a popular geisha. Time out had slowed his reflexes, so I injected the cobra venom directly into the heart muscle, snipped off a lock of hair for DNA analysis and returned to London.

Unfortunately, the hair turned out to be a wig, so the search was resumed, though not with me. Following my early retirement, my own view of the matter is that I might still be toiling in

Throgmorton Street

if only I had followed my instinct in the first place.n


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