Afternoon Tea At Kew Gardens

The tree lined paths of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in South West London were sparsely populated that afternoon, mostly thanks to the bulbous drops of rain cascading from the dark grey clouds looming overhead. What visitors were present in the three hundred acre park were clustered around the bank of the River Thames, armed with umbrellas and over-priced raingear.

The café-restaurant located in The Orangery was filling up quickly with waterlogged patrons in search of a dry seat and hot tea as the clock on the wall ticked steadily towards 3:00 pm. The man who strode confidently into the café just as the new hour began differed little from the other guests, save for two details: he carried a briefcase in one gloved hand and he was very much on his own.

Heads did not turn at his entrance, for he was a remarkably average man: average height and looks; generic black raincoat and trousers; and plain black galoshes. Little were the other customers aware that, like many a good book, much of interest lay hidden beneath this carefully crafted outer layer.

The man waited patiently in line behind an American couple who were complaining quite loudly about the insistent rain. The blonde cashier took their order of “English” tea and scones without enthusiasm before turning to the man and sighing a greeting.

“A pot of your best organic, fair trade green tea,” he said with a whisper of an accent that the girl was unable to place. She rang up his order and he placed a ten pound note on the counter and collected his cup and teapot, checking his watch as he placed the loose tea in the steaming water. By the time she had made the correct change the man had already taken a seat against the far wall, his briefcase crowding the tea set on the table. She half-raised an arm to get his attention before shrugging and pocketing the change with a quick glance around for her absent manager.

The man dabbed at the moisture clinging to his valise with several napkins before he was satisfied with the results. He pulled a key from an inside jacket pocket and placed it tenderly in the lock at the top of the case, flicking it twice to the left and once to the right.

The laptop which was pulled into the open and placed on the table appeared as average as the rest of his attire but held similar secrets within its black case. The man glanced at his plain wristwatch and poured his first cup exactly two minutes and forty-five seconds after the tea began to steep. He took a delicate sip while he waited for the computer to boot up, giving uninterested glances to the nearest tables.

His fingers caressed the keys as he entered the first password, his thumbs stroking the length of the spacebar in slow waves. He paused to take another sip of tea after the third password, and again after the sixth. With the laptop satisfied that his identity had been confirmed, he was finally able to open the communication program with a double tap of his index finger.

You have kept us waiting longer than promised. The words appeared before his next sip could reach his lips. His expression did not change as he returned the cup to its saucer, though the swirling steam would have distorted his features to the eyes of any onlookers. Of which, of course, there were none.

Security first, always. His fingers danced along the keys while his eyes surveyed the room again. The merchandise has been moved to a secure location.

More secure than the Tower, we trust?

Most assuredly.
Another sip, another check of the time. The second cup was poured exactly two minutes after the first. No fatalities were incurred during the operation, as per your request.

We are well aware of the state of the guards, as you well know. The man cocked his head slightly to the left and frowned at the open display of arrogance. When will the merchandise be moved out of the country?

When it is safe to do so
, came the immediate reply.

The sooner the better - Bond has been assigned to the case.

I would have been disappointed by anyone else.
The man rose to his feet, drinking the last of his tea as he did so. He looked down at the monitor and his lip curled at the words awaiting his gaze.

Our buyers do not share your casual attitude in this matter. See that you do not do anything foolish.

The man, rather than bothering to reply, closed the laptop with a slow, gentle hand before returning it to its case. On silent feet he left the café the same way he arrived - without anyone paying his movements any mind. Just the way he liked it.

Just the way he was trained to do.

The End

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