Friday, 24 October 2008
Mr. Bendix sat in the antechamber, a small room with threadbare green carpet and unpleasant yellow wallpaper. There were two high-backed wooden chairs and a smell of anchovies that grew stronger or fainter depending on the day of the week. He sat stiffly, as straight as he could, and tried to ignore the ache in his calves where the steel bola had caught him. His pinstriped suit, smart and elegant first thing that morning, now looked tired and shabby. This annoyed him far more than his injuries, and he radiated a calm anger about him as he waited for the summons. Finally a section of wall squeaked and slid aside to reveal a narrow hole, and a reedy voice called out,
"Enter please, Mr. Bendix."
The room beyond the antechamber was a board-room in the traditional manner: a long polished wooden table ran the length of the room with leather chairs spaced equally along the sides. At Mr. Bendix's end of the table was a three-legged wooden stool; at the opposite end was a leather throne of a chair. There were windows in both long walls that opened onto the thin air above London, and provided views of the river, the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye. Behind the throne-like chair at the head of the table was a polished wooden sideboard, walnut thought Mr. Bendix. Glassware sat on top of it and sparkled in the weak winter sunlight.
"Sit, Mr. Bendix," said the thin woman sat at the head of the table. She was bald, and her head was so pale as to appear blue. Her arms were stick thin, and her dress, though undoubtedly expensive and tailored, seemed made for a woman twice her size. And that woman, thought Mr. Bendix, would still look anorexic. "Tell us where we stand," she said, her esses whistling through gaps in her teeth.
Mr. Bendix looked around the table at the eight other people seated there, four on each side. They all looked politely bored; most had notepads in front of them on which were ineffable doodles, but one had a laptop open and was tapping idly on the keyboard.
"Gentlemen of the board," he said, "I have activated Dax at your command, and briefed Lehar. I have every reason to believe that the rogue Anna-Mix will be neutralised in less than seven days."
"Why so sure?" said a man from the right-hand side of the table, not looking up from doodling on his notepad.
"Dax has made his kill in under three days every time we've used him," said Mr. Bendix. "I have added in some contingency time as Anna-Mix has advantages that others he's hunted has not."
"You mean she knows we're coming for her," said the thin woman.
"And she knows something of our systems," said Mr. Bendix. "Yes."
"There will need to be an embassy made now then," said the reedy voice, and it came from a older gentleman on the left-hand side of the table with grey hair and a pointed moustache. "We cannot risk a diplomatic incident at court."
Mr. Bendix shivered and then hated himself for it.
"Will she care?" said someone from the right side of the table, and though no-one spoke, everyone around the table looked at the speaker and the answer was clear.
"She may already know," said the thin woman, "but nonetheless we must present the matter at court in the approved manner. Anna-Mix has gone rogue, and it is our prerogative to handle that appropriately. This is not an incorrect response."
'I wonder if you believe that yourself?' thought Mr. Bendix. 'But then, you're not going to the court are you?'
"You will need to leave immediately," said the older man who'd brought this up. "Change into something suitable; I hear it's summertime at the court at the moment."
"How much longer will I be the ambassador to the court?" said Mr. Bendix, trying not to sound whiny. "I think we agreed that it would be a temporary posting."
"We'll review it when you return," said the thin woman. "For now, just go. It doesn't do to keep her waiting. You should know that."
Mr. Bendix walked out the chamber backwards, keeping the thin woman in his sight the whole time. He had no respect for her, and he certainly didn't trust her.
Outside the antechamber he leaned against the wall next to the doorway and listened while the door squeaked closed. Sometimes the board members spoke too soon.
"When will we tell him that if he stays away from the court for too long now he'll die?" said the reedy voice, but no-one answered until after the wall had closed up again.