Michael J. Canuck: British mother, Canadian diplomat father, Russian grandmother. Two years in Oxford University, dropped out. Two years at Army Officer college, dropped out. Two years with Interpol, dropped out. Two years with British Intelligence (SIS), dropped out of regular work to become a freelancer. Given an assignment, he never gives up.
Mohammad Sayeed is a Pakistani nuclear scientist blamed for assisting the Iranian nuclear programme. His brother lands in Europe, a simple tail job assigned to Canuck. What could go wrong? Without wishing to be, Canuck is about to find himself at the centre of things.
Martin Colette eased back in his chair, taking a break from his computer screen, a glance at his secretary as she busied herself behind her own computer.
After twelve years with the service, Colette was now the Operations Manager for Department P2 within SIS - Britain's overseas intelligence agency, formerly known as MI6. P2, responsible for the Club-Med countries of Europe, was a low priority department that had always been at the bottom of the pile of interesting departments to work for. It wasn't as bad as Research, but it wasn't far off.
At the end of the Cold War the Russian Section - where the career people traditionally worked on interesting cases - had lost direction for a while. But, thanks to the rise of al-Qa'eda, the Russian Section's best and brightest had something new to get into, and many switched to the Middle East section. Those who had learnt Russian and German were hurriedly retrained and those who spoke Arabic suddenly found themselves much needed - and in high regard.
Colette spoke French and Spanish, so would forever be assigned to P2 and the Club-Med countries. But, with the rise of al-Qa'eda and the problem of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan landing in Greece and Italy, his department had gained a little extra work, and a little extra respect around the canteen.
When his phone went, it was his boss. 'Martin, got a minute?'
'I'll be right down, sir.'
Colette placed down the phone and stood. 'Boss wants me,' he told his secretary. 'I'll be in with him if you need me.' She hadn't even looked up from her screen.
Stepping out of his office on the fourth floor of the MOD building, central London, he headed along a bland internal corridor, fifty yards and to the last door, the small sign at eye-level declaring: "Dept. P2. Chambers, D.K." Knocking, then turning the handle, he opened the door just enough to show his face. Chambers was on the phone, finishing a call, but waved Colette in and to a seat.
Placing down the phone, Chambers said, 'Have a job for you, small job, but turning over rocks sometimes shows up a gem.' He handed over a file. 'You're familiar with Mohammad Sayeed?'
Colette's brow knitted. 'Yes, sir: Pakistani nuclear scientist who assisted the Iranians with their programme. Not our department...?'
'He has a brother, who's been to Europe before, and who's booked on a flight tomorrow to Malta, via Rome. Put a watcher on him, discreet surveillance, see if something turns up.'
Colette had already scanned the first page within the file. 'He's clean, sir, according to this.'
'Indeed, but was suspected of being a message gofer. It's probably a waste of time, but ... well, put tail on him.' Chambers face was already in a file. 'Thanks, Martin.'
Back in his office, Colette requested a courier for Malta. Thirty minutes later a lady appeared; mid forties, plump, glasses.
'This file, hand delivery tomorrow, secure hand-over to our man only,' Colette listed off. 'His mobile number is on the Post-It note so call him when you arrive there, I'll brief the agent now. Oh, have you met Canuck before? I did ask for someone who had.'
'Twice, sir. Michael J. Canuck, pronounced Can-ook. He dropped out of Oxford University after two years, he dropped out of the Guards after two years, he dropped out of Interpol after just under two years, joined us and ... dropped out after little more than two years.'
Colette eased back, regarding the courier coolly.
She continued, 'He's now a freelancer who likes to be called Mick because it makes him sound Irish and working class, when he's anything but that. Canadian diplomat father, English mother, Russian grandmother; speaks Russian, Arabic, and German fluently. And ... he holds the record for the most disciplinary hearings in a single year.'
Colette resisted a smile. 'And a good field agent, despite what people say.'
'They say he's a bit unstable, sir.'
'Unstable?' Colette took off his glasses and made a face. 'Now, how could someone who gets paid a modest fee to risk his life - or a lifetime of incarceration in a foreign hellhole - be called unstable?' He put his glasses back on and attended a file. 'Thank you. Off you go.'
* * *
'Mick, it's me,' Colette said into his mobile. 'Can you talk?'
'Sure, just sat in a caf? surrounded by people within earshot. But at least it's sunny.'
'Where are you?'
'Somewhere warm, in a cafe. How about yourself?'
'The sky is as grey as my office wall. Listen, got a job for you: it's a simple surveillance job for a week or two, courier heading to Malta tomorrow morning, Wednesday. She'll call you when she gets there. Money and details with the courier.'
'And the job's particulars?'
'Low grade tail, a clean suspect with an interesting brother. He might be a message gofer of some sort.'
'I'll pack my case, clean my teeth and shine my shoes. What's the courier like?'
'I wouldn't, so you definitely wouldn't. Call me after you get the file.'
Colette's secretary was staring across as he ended the call.
'What?' he asked with a shrug. 'When dealing with ... the boys, you have to be ... one of the boys, you know ... talk in their language.'
Her expression hadn't altered.