The Third Leader: No stone unturned

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The Independent Online

S stared out of the rain-flecked window. Below him a grey London went about its January business without enthusiasm. He sighed. Usual stuff in the papers: Lib Dem leadership candidate with a penchant for football-shirted gay sex; England's Swedish football coach revealing all to a man pretending to be a sheikh; a whale in the Thames. Where was the excitement? This wasn't what he'd joined the Circus for.

There was a loud knock at the door, followed by four rapid, softer ones. "Come in, P," called S. "You're supposed to knock twice, sir," came P's voice, sounding slightly disappointed. S sighed again, and rapped the window sill, twice. P came in, walked to the window and stared out, too. "Bit of a flap on in Moscow, sir," he said, after a few minutes. "They've got the rock."

"The rock?" said S. "What on earth is the rock?" "Random Operating Clandestine, er, Kommunicator," said P. "One of Q's wheezes, an electronic dead letter box cleverly constructed to resemble a rock."

So something had gone wrong, thought S, wearily. Something always went wrong. "What went wrong?" he asked. "One of our chaps was spotted carrying the rock and Ivan didn't buy his cover story," said P. "Which was?" "Landscape gardener taking work home."

S had a feeling this would get worse. "I'm afraid it gets worse," said P. "We've also lost contact with two bus stops and a water feature. And then there's Beijing." "Beijing?" "Yes, sir. A slight mix-up has left us with 300 woks that can get the World Service."

S suddenly felt a pang of nostalgia for Iraq. At least you knew where you were with a dossier.