A cold autumn rain tapped monotonously against the window, relieved only when a sudden gust of wind pasted parchment-brown leaves against the leaded panes, then tore them away again into the grey twilight. Mycroft Holmes alternated between looking out the window into the wild October evening, and glaring at the series of text messages that had just arrived on his mobile.
Dear lord, this was not something he wanted to deal with. Not now, not ever.
A man prone to losing his temper would have been cursing the air blue right now; Mycroft merely recited a heartfelt litany of "Shit. Damn. Oh, bugger it!" before carefully placing his mobile on the end table and taking up the tumbler of excellent scotch whisky he had been enjoying before the damned texts arrived.
He rarely allowed himself the luxury of dismay; even the best of plans went awry far too often to permit fixation upon a singular, preferred sequence of events. What mattered was the outcome, always. Still, this was extremely unfortunate. Annoying, even, although he could hardly lay blame: Flesh was mortal, bones were not indestructible. . . Mycroft grimaced. Anthea would be difficult to replace, even temporarily. She was quite nearly satisfactory, both as a field operative and as a PA.
And she was currently in hospital with a fractured tibia. And –– damn the Turkish crisis! –– all his other top-tier operatives were on deployment, with insufficient time to be recalled before the mission tomorrow night: a mission that was in flagrant violation of diplomatic protocol, and so had to be executed with impeccable care. Mentally combing through the active personnel rosters, he concluded again what he already knew, that the only available operative he could fully trust with this was . . . Mycroft Holmes.
Mycroft lifted an eyebrow at his dim reflection in the stormy window, a silent salute. He was clearly going to have to re-activate himself for this –– even processing his own paperwork! –– and then pull one or two strings to wrangle an official invitation to the event in question. It had to be official: Security would be very tight at this affair, and for a change, none of it would be his. Once in attendance, the mission required identifying the target and getting close enough to apply the tracking micro-dot to their skin without detection. An absurdly simple task, really, although it would require considerable finesse, and it was absolutely imperative that the target remain unawares. It might even have been an interesting diversion, a little challenge, if the circumstances weren't so odious.
He crossed his arms, one hand fingering the solid tweed of his suit jacket, the other still gripping the cool tumbler, and noticed his rising resentment which was, of course, fuelled by anxiety. Mycroft was all too aware of the quirks and glitches in his own personality, but awareness did not necessarily keep them from painfully manifesting from time to time. In an effort to calm himself, he focussed his gaze into the window, a perceptual discipline of seeing his reflection, the view out the window, and the glass itself at the same time: holding both the immediate and the far distance in the same moment. God, how he loathed parties. It took intense concentration and no small degree of skill to interact successfully with even a few people. Large groups were taxing to the point of being painful. And a festive gathering, with drunken fools and gibbering idiots drooling their self-importance ––
He closed his eyes and shuddered. No doubt about it, this was going to be an unpleasant mission. Even worse was the fact that this was no ordinary gala dinner. No, the American embassy needs must inflict their cultural dystopia on all and sundry, debuting their new ambassador with a Halloween party. Mycroft's mouth quirked disdainfully as he raised his glass to savour the smooth smokiness of his Islay single-malt.
American Halloween: A solemn Celtic Pagan festival of death and endings, shipped across the Atlantic to fester and mutate for a century or two, and then shipped back again to infect British culture with kitschy smiling pumpkins and green-faced hags. Dancing skeletons. Fright nights and haunted mansions. And, fancy dress parties.
Mycroft picked up his mobile to scowl once more at the final text from Anthea:
Also, fancy dress is not optional, you will have to wear a costume. I'm sorry, sir, but it's to be a Harry Potter gala.
What the devil, Mycroft wondered, was a Harry Potter?