Episode 5: on the trail of Kolotov
The story so far: Athlete, intellectual and secret agent John Drake has a few things on his mind: his health, his job and the fact that his doctor won't leave him alone...
The Austin Healey certainly wasn’t designed for reconnaissance. Rain thudded down on the rag-top, and ran in trickles down the insides of the windows. A wave of cold air wrapped itself around Drake’s legs. He felt weary, wearier than he could ever remember feeling before.
“The tiredness could be some transient side-effects of your new medicines,” Dr Sixsmith had told him. “But I’d stick with it. Lesser of two evils and all that. And you said it yourself Mr Drake: you’ve been very stressed by work. Your tiredness, headaches, your sleeplessness – they’re all classic symptoms of anxiety. I can prescribe you something for that if you like.”
Drake peered through the smeared windscreen. Still no sign of Kolotov. He’d gone into the Kingsway building two hours ago clutching a large tied parcel, and he hadn’t emerged from the front entrance yet. Maybe he should go in and check for other exits. Give it five more minutes...
He reached over to the passenger seat for his sandwich, and started to unwrap it. Sardines and lettuce, no butter, wholemeal bread. Low in cholesterol. Good for his heart. He took a bite, chewed without relish, wrapped it up again, and put it under his seat. His hand found a bottle there, and he drew it up. French brandy, bought from Swiss duty-free two weeks ago. He took a small swig and it felt good. It was the only thing in the world that could dent his headache.
Still no Kolotov. Drake’s mind turned to work. It was true he was worried. Every mission seemed to start with an argument with his superiors: robotic civil servants who expected him to be as blindly obedient as they were. Killing solved nothing. Brains, diplomacy and cunning did. But they didn’t want a brain, they wanted a bloodthirsty automaton, and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could play their game.
Drake’s reverie was broken by the sight of Kolotov stepping through the glass doors onto the steps. Simultaneously, calamitously, the phone in the red public box just feet from Drake’s car started to ring loudly. Drake cursed quietly as he saw Kolotov look over to ringing phone. He was looking right at Drake. Drake could see Kolotov’s mind working, wondering what a man was doing just sitting in a sports car, doing nothing. Kolotov paused to light a cigarette, and Drake made a split-second decision. He got out of the car and went to the answer the phone as if it were the call he’d been waiting for.
“Hello,” said Drake into the receiver, turning to check if Kolotov was still there. He was, struggling with his matches in the wind. “Who is this?”
“Hello, is that Mr Drake?” It was a woman’s voice.
Drake was astonished to hear his name. “Who is this?”
“Oh hello Mr Drake. It’s the hospital here. I’m just phoning to check why you haven’t attended for your biopsy. It’s due in ten minutes.”
“What... Do you... But I’m in the middle of something. A matter of international security.”
“I’m afraid if you miss your appointment you’ll have to wait another two months, but if you come now...”
“But Kolotov...” Drake looked round again.
“I can’t see what’s more important than your health...” the woman burbled on.
Kolotov was gone. No trace, not even a whisp of cigarette smoke.
Drake sighed, deeply. He felt in his jacket for the reassuring bottle of valium. “Give me fifteen minutes,” he said.