Meet MI6 agent, cynical spy and all-round anti-hero John Caul. He’s the post-Covid equivalent of James Bond or Jason Bourne – and appears here in an exclusive sneak preview from this brand-new thriller. Caul operates under a ‘Blanket7’ licence to commit any crime in the service of the British state. He’ll take any risk to complete the mission. But after too much action, he’s burning out — and his bosses are about to cut him loose.
A thoroughly modern, cynical spy, Caul might be too far gone to care about the collapsing world, but defending his country is all he knows and he’ll be damned if he lets the ‘other side’ win. Three powerful women join his cause, giving Caul one last chance to save the world from a final hammer blow.
In this scene, Caul is operating undercover as a salesman. In a tribute to Ian Fleming, he sits down to a convivial dinner with his ultimate enemy, Stefan Rakehell. The unspoken subject: the death of mistress, Becca Harries. Let the battle of wits begin…
‘In my experience all ideologies are on a par in their atrociousness. We find a way to make the worst of even the best ideas. And ideas are like a virus. A virus that has spread right across the world.’
It was a curious analogy. Rakehell’s file said his mother had died in ’20 and the man had followed the trend amongst the super-rich to separate, to isolate in the parlance of the coronavirus crisis, from the rest of society. Caul very much wanted to ask him about both incidents, but there was no way to do so without revealing that he knew a little too much about Stefan Rakehell.
Rakehell’s apartment was mostly one large area, including an open kitchen where three Japanese were working, one a distinguished older man, clearly the chef in charge. If there were small rooms – studies, bedrooms and the like – they were all behind a single fire door that joined this apartment to the others.
The apartment was tastefully dressed with expensive furniture; and less tastefully with sculptures of a boorish decadence that Caul at once took to be intended not for the edification of the owner’s aesthetic sensibility but to say to guests, I don’t care what you think of me.
Lifelike bodies with the milky eyes of the dead. Boy children with engorged genitalia. Girls making love to apes. A huddle of dwarfish people standing shoulder to shoulder but wearing N95 medical masks, their eyes with the distinctive slanting and skin folds of Down Syndrome.
Caul had seen art like it, even in such mundane places as the Sunday newspaper supplements, but there was, he was surprised to find, something still genuinely shocking about the art in the flesh and in meeting someone willing to openly display it in their home. Caul resolved at once not to mention it at all. He’d see how Rakehell liked that; the man was clearly a show-off.
Still, Caul thought, there surely might be a secret sex lair in the apartment. His tastes seemed to run in the way of sadism. His apartness however seemed like something else than a desire to hide sexual peccadilloes. With his media empire, his fetishisation of shock, his self-isolation, and his interest in colonisation of the solar system, Rakehell seemed very much in step with the zeitgeist. Boringly so.
For some reason Caul had imagined this meal with he and Rakehell sitting at opposite ends of a long table with a candelabra and several meters between them. That was his problem, he reflected. Too often too fanciful. Instead, the intimacy was unsettling.
‘My staff will not disturb our meal; I have insisted they remain out until 2AM at least. Each has $1000 for the casino, so it’s just us and the chefs,’ Rakehell had said, while seating Caul at a small table by French doors that opened onto a large balcony, one of three attached to Rakehell’s apartment, where a space heater kept the evening from encroaching with more than a chill breath.
Caul imagined Rakehell sat at this same table with Becca Harries. Had he flirted with her with talk of people eating people?
The chef placed a dish in front of each of them. It was filled with yellow, comma-shaped buds, which Caul immediately recognised as some sort of insect larvae.
‘This is a famous festival dish,’ Rakehell explained. ‘It’s called hachi-no-ko, boiled wasp larvae. Tuck in.’