There are moments of luxury in the life of a secret agent. Times when he is required to take on the role of a rich man; a playboy. Even a professional footballer. Times to take refuge in a comfortable life, forgetting for a moment the constant shadow of death and danger.
As Christian Poulsen stared out his window, downing his last mouthful of coffee and lighting his first cigarette of the day, he was all too aware that his time in Liverpool was growing short. He checked his digital watch; fidgeted with it. He knew he'd been there for too long; knew that the mission had already ended in failure. They had let Her down. Yet here he was, with nothing to do but keep up appearances until he was given new instructions.
Turning, he caught his reflection in the chrome of the refrigerator. He smoothed out his high cream collar and set his shoulders in the powder blue blazer he liked so much. He took the small tube of hair gel he always carried out of his pocket and took a moment to slick back his golden mane. Two buttons undone today, or three? Three might seem a bit forced, he knew, yet the manliness of a third button left undone and the small tuft of golden hair it exposed could not be denied.
"Hello, Christian." It was H. "I hope you don't mind that I let myself in. Did you have a good rest?"
It took a moment for Poulsen to compose himself; he'd been on this assignment too long, become too comfortable in the trappings of a soft life as a washed up footballer.
"Yes, Sir," he said. "Thank you, Sir."
"You'll need this," H said, tossing him a small mobile phone.
"Does it explode if I hit the wrong button?"
"There is an app for that, but for now it's just a clean number. We're on the move again. The Iron Lady's plans--"
"I thought those had failed. In January."
"So did I," H said, sounding annoyed by both the mission's failure and the interruption. "After all our work--twenty-five long, hard years of it--involving the Americans, stacking the FA, moving Christian Mk.I into position to handle our Spanish situation. It was all supposed to be over now. Finished. Won."
"Exactly," Poulsen said. "I thought she wanted them finished. You know, Relegated. I mean, is that even possible any more?"
H sighed. "No, probably not. And it keeps me up at nights it does, letting Her down like that. But we may still be able to do some good."
"Still, it wasn't your fault," Poulsen said. "Nobody could have known the Americans weren't in complete agreement. We all thought they were willing support Her through to the end before news of a north-east splinter group broke."
"We should have known," H said. "The Americans have always had a distinct lack of respect for protocol and place and the way things are done. Like a bunch of drunken bloody teenagers. And we should have been prepared for it. Still, all we can do now is our best."
"Yes, mum," Poulsen said.
"Don't call me that."
H sighed and slid a briefcase across the kitchen table. Poulsen popped the latches, and the lid hissed open on pneumatic levers.
"A new alice band?" asked Poulsen.
"It may look like any old alice band, but it's actually a Magnifying Aural Gyroscopic Guidance Information Evaluator, or MAGGIE for short. It's tuned to the frequency of my voice, which will allow me to give you further instructions during the match."
"And how exactly do we go about getting me on the pitch? I mean, everybody's noticed just how bad 'I' became after we got rid of the original Poulsen in Turin, and Dalglish isn't daft. If enough other midfielders are even close to fit..."
"The Iron Lady's legions are, well, legion. We'll make sure there aren't enough other fit midfielders. You just be ready when the time comes."
"Does the MAGGIE do anything else, then?"
"It also explodes," H said.
"Well, yes, pretty much, but the MAGGIE only explodes if you sweat on it."
"I suppose that will only be a problem if I need it to explode, then," said Poulsen.
"There's also a personal submersible ready for you, fully kitted out with an EOTS HARM HUD, fly-by-wire tomahawk missiles, and a micro-fusion generator that will keep you going for 738 days without surfacing. We don't think you'll need it, to be perfectly honest, but we had a few left over and it would have looked bad on our quarterlies if we hadn't found a use for them."
"Right," said Poulsen, "I'll try to work that in somehow. And I'll be waiting for your instructions."
"We may not have been able to knock them all the way down," H said, "but by Maggie we'll do our part to keep them out of Europe, and then just maybe we keep our chances for another chance at doing Her will alive!"
Christian Poulsen will return in Hairbands Are Forever...