"Why do I always have to dress up as the woman?" David complained, as Charlie tucked the last strand of his dark hair underneath the blonde wig.
"Because I look like a piñata made of make-up and road kill," Charlie said, and peered at David. "And I don't think the Professor's lackey is going to fall for that."
David pouted. "Fine, but I'm expecting you to pay for the drinks."
Charlie just grinned. "Pout like that, and he'll be the one paying for the drinks! Come on, David, you want to stop the Professor and his plot to destroy the world with the Large Hadron Collider as much as I do, right?"
David certainly didn't want the world to be destroyed. "Yes," he said. "I'd just prefer it if I didn't have to wear a dress in order to do it."
"It suits you, though," Charlie told him, eyeing David's black dress. "Look, just get him drunk so he'll reveal the code we can use to get into CERN, and it'll be fine!"
David wished he could share agent Charlie's optimism.
The little Swiss café David went into was perfectly nice. The lights were dimmed, soothing his worries that the Professor's lackey would see right through his disguise.
David had memorised the files of all the Professor's minions, the men and the women helping him out on this project. He hoped he didn't run into Byrne or O'Briain; he hated stereotyping based on someone's nationality, but Byrne and O'Briain were known for being able to out-drink anyone who even tried. Singh would also be tricky, as he had had a run-in with Charlie before, one in which he'd revealed the Professor's plans. Singh would either be extra careful now, and the Professor would probably no longer trust him things like secret codes.
Maybe he'd get lucky and find someone like Shappi Khorsandi in here having a drink. According to her profile, she was friendly and talkative, something that could be encouraged by a nice cocktail or three.
He walked further into the pub, trying to get a good look at the patrons, listening for English or French spoken with that accent.
"An' you've got to love the media, at first they're saying we're gonna blow up the world and now they're falling over themselves with interest!"
David looked in the direction of the slurring voice, and he spotted a lonely figure sitting at the bar, rambling at a bored-looking barman, who no doubt didn't entirely understand English apart from 'a beer, please'.
"It's all 'ooh, professor Cox, tell us about the particles and isn't the cosmos pretty?' Bunch of arsekissers."
David moved closer to the man, who was wearing a striped shirt with a dark tank top over it, his face mostly obscured by his curls. Surely David wasn't lucky enough to run into one of the Professor's high-ranking minions here? "Excuse me, are you English as well?" he asked, hoping his voice was convincingly high-pitched.
The man turned around to look at him. "I am," he said. "Why d'you ask?"
"Just missing home, I suppose," David replied, trying to rein in his optimism. It couldn't possibly be. "I'm Davina," he said, as they shook hands.
"And I'm Ben. I don't think he speaks English, though." He gestured at the barman, who was looking at David expectantly.
David tried not to break out into a grin. He had got lucky, he was talking to one of the Professor's most trusted minions. Dr. Ben Goldacre. This was even better than getting secret codes. "Deux bieres, s'il vous plait," he told the barman, who nodded.
"You speak a bit of French and you get me a beer. I think I like you already," the doctor told him, patting the barstool next to him. "But wha's brought you here, then?"
David explained his coverstory of being a tourist, but he quickly got the conversation on the subject of what Goldacre was doing here.
"If I told you, I'd have to kill you," he slurred, and then smiled. "I's a CERN thing. With the - the physics."
No doubt Goldacre would kill him if he had any idea what was going on, but David smiled demurely back at him. "Sounds fascinating," he said. "And what's your job there?" He leaned a little closer.
"Med'cal staff. Got to make sure they don't all go batshit from being here," Goldacre explained. "That they're spy- physio- ment'ly fine."
David nodded. That made sense with what they knew about Goldacre's background, as he wasn't a physicist at all. "That must be fulfilling," he said.
"I's not!" Goldacre exclaimed. "They're all 'oh, I feel so terrible about what we're going to do' and why do they bother signing up for it then." He glared at the liquor bottles behind the bar. "They knew what they were gonna do when they joined," he muttered darkly.
David ordered them another round, even though he hadn't finished his. "That sounds dreadful." He reached out to put a hand on Goldacre's shoulder.
"You have no idea, all they do is complain and whine and I'm stuck lis'ning to it and d'you know how long it's been since I've had a proper drink?" Goldacre asked, leaning towards David. "Over a year. 'Cause Brian is all 'oh no you can't drink, Ben, what if someone has a breakdown and we need you' and safety measures." He gestured vaguely. "Brian's a bastard who needs a drink himself. Only reason I was allowed out tonight was because I said I'd go crazy myself if I wasn't."
If Goldacre really was unhappy with how the Professor was running things, that would be incredibly useful. Perhaps they could get the doctor to join their side instead. "He certainly sounds like a bastard," David agreed, putting one hand on Ben's thigh, sliding it inward. "And how long's it been since you've had any other type of fun?" Because if there were rules about drinking, there were probably rules about sex.
"Even longer," Goldacre complained, trying to look David straight in the eye. "'Cause we can't shag each other because that would be a distraction and favouritism and Brian s'riously needs to get laid himself."
"Well, he's not here right now, and I don't work with you," David said. "My hotel's nearby, you know."
"I should go back," Goldacre slurred, and then David moved his hand upwards. "But I s'pose tomorrow morning's early enough. If they have a mental breakdown tonight, fuck 'em. Lead the way, D'vina."
Goldacre fell asleep against the window of the cab after five minutes, and David let out a sigh of relief. Now he wouldn't have to explain why his hotel looked like a seemingly abandoned warehouse.
He made his apologies to the cabdriver when they stopped in front of a hotel near the warehouse, and the driver shrugged and said he was happy to have a non-violent, non-vomiting drunk for a change, and did the lady need any help getting him inside?
"Non, non, c'est bien, merci," David said, giving the driver his money. He couldn't exactly ask the cabdriver to carry Goldacre into a different building. "Au revoir."
The cabdriver shrugged again, and drove off, leaving David with mostly-asleep Goldacre leaning heavily against him. David's first action was to push Goldacre against a wall, and then he called Charlie.
"It's me," David said, glad he no longer had to pretend to sound like a woman. "We've hit the jackpot, but I need you to come to the hotel down the road. I've got a drunken Ben Goldacre here, and I can't carry him all the way to the warehouse. Not in these heels."
Charlie laughed. "Seriously, you've got Goldacre? David, do you know what that means?"
"It means you'll be coming right over?" David asked, feeling slightly annoyed.
"Fine, fine, I'll be right there." And with that, Charlie hung up.
David turned to check on Goldacre, who had slid down the wall and was now leaning against a potted plant. He seemed to still be breathing. Good.
"He weighs a bloody tonne," Charlie grumbled, as he and David dragged Goldacre with them. Charlie had at least been thoughtful enough to bring David's regular shoes with him, and David had put the high heels in his purse. "Has he said anything useful before he passed out?"
"He seemed angry with the Professor," David explained. "And he's responsible for the psychological well-being of the people who work there."
Charlie gave Goldacre a glare. "I wouldn't trust him with the well-being of a cactus."
"And that the Professor doesn't let him drink, or shag any of the other minions," David continued. "So, Goldacre is understandably frustrated."
"You think we can get him on our side if we let him do both those things?" Charlie asked, looking thoughtful.
David narrowed his eyes at Charlie. "This isn't going to involve me dressing up as a woman again, is it?"
"I'm just saying, David, he came with you."
"I'm not doing drag again any time soon. We'll question him like normal secret agents first."
Charlie laughed. "You're so boring, Mitchell."
"Wakey, wakey, sunshine!" Charlie cheerfully threw a bucket of water at Goldacre, who had been tied to a wooden chair.
David, who had taken the opportunity to remove the make-up and wear his own clothes, just sighed. "That's hardly going to endear him to us," he said, as Goldacre spluttered into wakefulness.
"I'm the bad cop, you can be the nice one," Charlie said, throwing the bucket away and grinning when Goldacre winced at the noise. "Hello!"
"Oh, God," Goldacre groaned. "Where am I?" He stared at Charlie blearily. "Who're you?"
Charlie grinned at him. "I'm not allowed to divulge my identity," he said cheerfully.
Goldacre blinked. "You're a secret agent?" he asked. "God, my head hurts."
"Shouldn't accept drinks from strange women in bars, then," Charlie told him, still grinning.
At the mention of strange women, Goldacre looked around. "Where is she?" he asked, and then noticed David. "Are you an agent as well?"
"Right here, and yes," David said, smiling a little. He always felt embarrassed when the other person realised that the 'strange woman' had been David in a wig, make-up, and a nice dress. "Apart from the headache, how're you feeling?"
Goldacre just stared at him. "That was you?" he asked, squinting. "That explains a lot."
"Now, we know you work for the Professor," Charlie said, looming over Goldacre. "So, if you just tell us everything you know about him, that'd be great, because otherwise things are going to get unpleasant. Really unpleasant."
"And he's very creative when it comes to unpleasantness," David told Goldacre. "It took ages to clean the place up after last time. Can I get you some water? We've got aspirin, by the way."
Goldacre frowned at him. "Is this how you usually question people?" he asked. "You just ask them and torture them? Because that's not terribly reliable, you know that, right?"
"We know how you like to do your questioning," Charlie sneered. "How many poor bastards has Brown driven to the brink of insanity before they answered your questions?"
"Derren Brown at least knows what he's doing," Goldacre said. "You two amateurs clearly don't, trying to play the good cop and the bad cop. And those 'poor bastards', as you call them, are doing fine now that they see reason. Aisleyne says 'hi', by the way. Or, well, she would if she knew I'd run into you."
Charlie swore and grabbed Goldacre by the throat, his action tilting the chair backwards. "Don't you dare," he said, his voice low and quiet. "I swear I'll kill you."
"Charlie-" David stepped forward, ready to intervene, but Goldacre just laughed.
"I don't think your boss'll like that," he said, smiling for the first time since he'd been woken up. "I'm one of the Professor's top men. The things I know... well, it'd be a shame if something were to happen to me or my memory."
Charlie's hand remained around Goldacre throat for a few more moments, Charlie glaring down and eventually letting go of the other man. "So, I'll only need your head, then," he said, still angry. "That's good. I can work with that."
David took Charlie by the arm. "We're going to leave you for a moment," he told Goldacre. The mention of Aisleyne still had Charlie on edge, and they didn't need that. "We've got cameras in here in case you try anything."
Goldacre snorted. "Go on, have a chat on how you'll break me eventually. I can't wait for you to try."
David just nodded at that, and pulled at Charlie. "Come on, let's leave him alone," he said quietly, and after Charlie sent Goldacre one last glare, they left.
David locked the door behind him while Charlie kicked at the comfy old sofa in the main hall of the warehouse. "I am going to kill him," he said, once he was done kicking. "I swear, if he keeps being a smug git, I'm going to strangle him myself." His hands twitched on the back of the sofa.
"It's all right," David said, walking over and patting him awkwardly on the back. "He's just taunting us, it doesn't mean anything. He's good at the psychology thing."
Charlie took some calming breaths. "You're right," he said eventually. "But why would he mention Aisleyne specifically?"
"Well, we've studied them, it stands to reason they've studied us. He might know who we are already," David replied. "The Professor has his own ways of acquiring knowledge."
Charlie nodded. "Right. Right, we'd better check in with the boss," he said, grabbing his phone. "He's going to want to know we got Goldacre."
Their boss, Robin Ince, was definitely pleased. "I'm coming over to deal with him myself," he said. "He's a clever bastard."
"Yeah, we noticed," Charlie replied. "Look, David said he sounded annoyed with the Professor, so maybe-"
"Maybe we can get him on our side," Ince said. "Dissent among their ranks, that would be beautiful. I'll get there as fast as I can. And Brooker, don't let him get to you, all right?"
"No, sir," Charlie assured him.
"And if he does get on your nerves, read him some article about how homoeopathy is a brilliant cure for everything. It's guaranteed to get him into an incoherent rage," Ince explained. "I'll see you soon."
Charlie relayed the information to David, who frowned.
"Well, they are supposed to be the rational scientists," he said. "Stands to reason homoeopathy would annoy him."
Their boss arrived the next day, looking slightly bedraggled by their journey, but still alarmingly keen. "Has he been giving you any trouble?"
"Not once we started reading out how homoeopathy worked against allergies," David said. "And we gagged him."
Ince smiled. "Well done, both of you." He looked at Charlie. "This could be a huge breakthrough in bringing down Professor Cox and his plans. Even if Goldacre won't defect, we'll still learn a lot from him."
David certainly hoped so, and told their boss about Goldacre's main points of disagreement with the Professor.
"So, he needs a shag and a drink?" Ince asked, looking thoughtful. "Well, that shouldn't be a problem. You might want to turn off the security cameras while I'm in there."
Charlie's eyes grew wide. "You're not thinking about-"
"That's confidential," Ince said quickly. "You've got any whiskey or vodka around?"
David went to retrieve a mostly full bottle of vodka from their tiny fridge. "Look, are you sure?"
Ince snorted. "Please, the day I can't handle someone like Goldacre is the day I retire. I'll get some alcohol into him and then I'll make him an offer he won't refuse."
"I don't even want to know," Charlie said, and shook his head. "You're a braver man than I am."
"Well, I knew him before - before all this," Ince explained, looking sad for a moment. "We were friends."
That certainly explained why Ince had such a personal interest, and David couldn't blame him for trying to save his old friend. "Good luck, boss," he said.
"You don't mind if we turn up the telly, right?" Charlie asked.
"Please do," Ince told him. "Ben can get a little - loud."
Charlie groaned. "Really didn't need to know that," he grumbled, settling down on the sofa. "Good luck."
Ince nodded, then opened the door to Goldacre's room. They heard a muffled noise, then nothing as the door was shut again.
"You don't really think he's going to..." David asked, sitting down next to Charlie as he turned the television on.
"It's Ince," Charlie said. "He just might. And, well, if it gets us the information, it'll be worth it."
It'd be a much needed breakthrough, because so far, the Professor just seemed impossible to stop. They could only hope for the best.
"He's been in there for a long time," Charlie said, a few hours later.
"They're probably catching up, old friends and all that," David said, mostly to reassure himself. Ince and Goldacre could shag whoever they liked, but he preferred it if that sort of thing just didn't happen with him in the next room.
Charlie kept one eye on the door. "Besides, Robin would call for help if it was necessary."
"Yes, yes, he would." David nodded. "They're absolutely fine."
A few hours after that, when David was almost falling asleep on the sofa, Ince came out of the room, looking a little dishevelled. "Well," he said. "I think I'm getting through to him."
"Really?" Charlie asked, raising an eyebrow.
Ince smirked. "He agrees that destroying the entire world because of a couple of idiots is a bit much, and that the Professor is out of control. It's a start." He smiled at Charlie and David. "I'll see to it that you both get rewarded for this."
"He mentioned Aisleyne..." Charlie trailed off, looking unsure.
Ince put a comforting hand on Charlie's shoulder. "She's fine, in perfect health. Ben realised who you were, Brooker, and knew you and Aisleyne are close. We'll get her back."
David smiled along with Charlie. If Ince was getting optimistic, things really were looking up. "Thanks for dropping by, boss."
"Oh, it'll take a few more days," Ince told them. "It's early days yet, but I think we can have this things wrapped up in less than a year."
Charlie grinned at David. "See, I told you your amazing drag skills would end up saving the world!"
David tried to look annoyed, but couldn't help smiling eventually. "My parents will be so proud."
"To victory," Ince said, filling Charlie and David's glasses with the remains of the vodka. "And David looking pretty in drag."