Breakfast. Shower. Driving to work. Nothing on that banal morning could have led Alex to believe his life was about to change completely. It was not that he was unhappy. Recently out of a dying relationship, a new job with the UK’s embassy in America, he felt good about his future. He just had no idea how good it was about to get.
Crossing the Potomac River as he drove toward Embassy Row and the Naval Observatory, in the shadow of which the British Embassy was nestled, Alex’s mind turned toward the day ahead.
A security briefing about the joint US-UK response to the civil war in Syria, a boring welcome for a trade delegation from Virginia that wanted to sell more to Britain….oh and a ‘secret meeting’ with his boss, Sir Bradley Urquhart. Sir Bradley had rung Alex very late the previous evening, to tell him to come to his office alone at the end of the next day. Sir Bradley wouldn’t go into further details on the phone. That was hardly unexpected, diplomats lived in fear of wire-tapping from spies or over-eager journalists. But the ambassador’s voice had been odd, almost conspirational with an undertone of anxiety Alex was not used to.
Pulling into the embassy’s driveway, Alex’s heart sank as he saw a fleet of cars with Virginia plates already there. They had arrived. Alex drove Sir Bradley’s meeting from his mind, took a deep breath and dove into his day.
It passed much as he had thought. The Syrian briefing proved utterly wasteful, with the Pentagon unwilling to commit to sending any troops or even to help¬ finance a military presence by European allies. Alex had to plumb on the very depths of his professionalism to not tell Mr. James Barnett, from the Chamber of Commerce of Fairfax, Virginia that he could feed his report on livestock exports to that very same livestock for all he cared. He had almost forgotten about the ‘secret meeting’ and was counting the minutes to the end of the day when his phone rang.
‘Sir?’ he answered, snapping back to reality. ‘Alexander.’ Sir Bradley always insisted on using full names. A political intern at the British Council had been summarily fired when the ambassador caught her referring to him as Brad. ‘Please come to my office, there’s a good lad.’ The ambassador’s office was a confused affair, a mixture of Victorian architecture and garish pop art, Warhol meets Constable. Politely ignoring the décor as ever, Alexander entered and took a seat on a painfully rigid wooden chair as the paunchy Sir Bradley waddled in from his private study. ‘Ah, Alexander, good, welcome.’ Alex had been working in the embassy for three months but could not get over how truly hideous the ambassador was. A kind and wise man, with a rare gift for diplomacy, but his sunken features, short, jowly physique and slight hunch made him stand out in attractive and well-groomed Washington diplomatic corps.
‘What can I do for you, sir?’ asked Alexander, still anxious to get home.
‘Patience, my lad.’ Sir Bradley hopped up onto his velours leather chair with difficulty and fiddled in a drawer for a long moment, eventually heaving a large file onto the desk and flipping it open.
‘Now, this is the situation. Although you were sent out here as a political attaché, a matter of some urgency has come up which we require you to handle. It seems that certain famous women in this country have been receiving unwanted attention from one of our British citizens.’
‘A stalker, sir?’
‘Well, this is the thing. These women have been receiving very and highly personalized information concerning their everyday movements. Pictures, emails, letters detailing where they were, who they were with and what they were doing.’
‘But surely any paparazzi is also privy to that information if he follows them, sir?’
‘Well, not exactly, you see. This information relates to matters which the press had no way of accessing. Personal medical records, interior decoration, even sleeping patterns. Police were warned but since no threats have been made, per se, they’re not interested. So we would like you to go out to California, or wherever these women are, and investigate.’
Alex was aghast. He was a political operative and diplomat, trained for the parry-riposte of inside the Beltway international relations, not to serve as a lapdog to paranoid Hollywood celebrities. He was about to vehemently voice his concern when Sir Bradley slipped a picture out from the folder.
‘Now, are you familiar with Katherine Upton?’
Alex’s anger was instantly quenched. He was indeed familiar with Kate Upton, if not in person, then from a hundred late night Internet searches and countless sessions of self-abuse. He was so caught aback he must have looked hopelessly confused to Sir Bradley.
‘Evidently not. Miss Upton is a successful American model, 20 years old, with a burgeoning career. She has appeared for such publications as Vogue and Sports Illustrated. Anyway, we were contacted by her management who are at their wit’s end to find out what’s going on. For the last six weeks, she has been receiving packages containing a lot of information about her personal life, but private investigators, bodyguards and the like have turned up nothing. You are to head out to New York where you will be residing with Miss Upton until you root out whoever is behind this.’
On the one hand, the thought of sorting out a celebrity’s trash was Alex’s idea of a very-well designed personal circle of hell. On the other, it was Kate Upton. She of the Dougie. She of the Cat Daddy. She of the Sports Illustrated cover. She of the Culo book. She of the unholy Vogue Germany video. But Sir Bradley wouldn’t have factored this in.
‘Sir, am I being punished for something? This is not exactly in my common line of work.’
Sir Bradley raised an eyebrow. He rarely tolerated any form of dissent, however jovial he initially appeared to be. ‘Well, that’s precisely it. This is not a common line of work. You are a diplomat, you must ready to protect and represent the realm’s finest citizens but also bar the way to nefarious acts by Her Majesty’s more nefarious subjects. I know this may seem a crushing bore, Alexander, but you are young, well-adapted to life in America and arguably the sharpest lad on staff. See this as a distraction from the trappings of power.’
I rather like the trappings of power, thought Alex as he walked out of the office. But still, a week with Kate Upton couldn’t be all bad.