chair on tothe floor, his lips foaming with spittle. He clutched at the little white tablets strewn around him. But his body was racked with pain, fire raging through his veins. ‘ H … h … help! ’ he moaned. ‘ Heeelp … ’ The man in the grey suit re-entered the room. ‘ P … p … please ,’ Harry begged, clawing at the tablets. But the man merely observed Harry writhe on the carpet with an almost inhuman detachment. Harry’s eyes bulged, unable to comprehend the man’s indifference. A sharp pain speared his chest. He shuddered once more then lay still. The man in the grey suit checked Harry Gibb’s body for signs of life. Satisfied, he picked up the documents from the desk and the poisoned hip flask from the floor. Quietly closing the office door behind him, he headed for the emergency exit, the first phase of his mission accomplished.
‘Enter,’ barked Colonel Black. Taking a deep breath, Connor stepped inside the colonel’s office. An old-fashioned wood-panelled affair with high-back red leather chairs and a heavy mahogany desk the size of a small boat, it reminded Connor of M’s office in the old Bond movies. Yet, despite the room’s antique appearance, it was equipped with the most advanced state-of-the-art technology. Built within the desk was a discreet multi-core computer, its slim glass monitor retractable into a hidden recess. A super-thin LED display hung on the wall, broadcasting international news feeds and up-to-the-minute security intel. There was a high-definition video-conferencing system enabling the colonel to govern Buddyguard operations worldwide, while hidden CCTV cameras provided total security for the room. As Connor approached the desk, the colonel lowered his monitor and raised an enquiring eyebrow. ‘That’s an impressive black eye,’ he remarked. Connor managed a pained smile. ‘An apology from Ling during combat training.’ The colonel grunted in amusement. ‘Glad to see you’re getting along so well. Let’s hope the bruise has faded by the time of your assignment. It wouldn’t be professional to turn up looking like some street brawler.’ Connor nodded. ‘I’m putting ice on it. But it wasn’t exactly my fault. I don’t think Ling likes me.’ The colonel looked surprised. ‘Whatever makes you say that?’ ‘She’s …’ Connor wasn’t sure how to phrase it and didn’t want to sound like he was whining, ‘she’s waspish with me. Has been since my return from America.’ ‘Ling can be like that,’ replied the colonel, brushing away Connor’s concerns with a wave of his hand. ‘I’m aware her social skills require a touch more finesse. But she comes from a tough background.’ Connor frowned. ‘What do you mean?’ Colonel Black sucked his teeth and shook his head. ‘Not my place to say. But don’t concern yourself over whether Ling likes you or not. I’m confident she respects you. And that’s what counts on a mission.’ ‘How can you be so sure?’ asked Connor. The colonel offered a wry grin. ‘She wouldn’t want to fight you if she didn’t respect you.’ He indicated for Connor to take a seat. ‘Now, why did you want to see me? I’m sure it’s not just to show me your black eye.’ Perching on one of the red leather chairs, Connor summoned up the courage to talk. Unable to meet Colonel Black’s piercing gaze, he admitted, ‘I … don’t think I’m ready for this assignment.’ ‘Nonsense,’ snorted the colonel. ‘I’ve just been reviewing your progress. That video of you and the refuse bin was inspirational. I’m even considering showing it to the other teams.’ ‘But I failed to protect my Principal.’ ‘No,’ he instantly corrected Connor, ‘you learnt what you should do next time to prevent that happening. Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something. So when you’re out in the field all that training comes together and you avoid such mistakes.’ ‘But