By Charles, Lynton
New Statesman (1996) , Vol. 130, No. 4567
Tuesday "Pssssttt!" When you are walking down a gloomy and apparently deserted corridor in your place of work, this is not a noise that reassures.
"Psssttt! Lynton!" is hardly better. "Over here!" doesn't help much. There is a lamp on a small table, whose drawer cannot accommodate a large rat, let alone something sentient enough to hiss my name. Apart from that, as I cast around, my heart thumping, there is only the pompous full-size picture of Horace Walpole, whose...whose eyes are moving. The picture's eyes and mine meet. They know me, and I know them.
"Lynton! Thank goodness. It's me!" says the now recognisable whisper. "There must be a catch your side. Probably on the underside of the frame, near the centre. Pull it to the left!"
I get down on my hands and knees, hoping that Boss Hilary (who has been giving me funny looks ever since the Marsden incident) will not come along and find me groping the bottom of an old picture. My fingers locate a small protrusion and, as I press, the whole of the picture begins to open out from one corner. And M steps through, dusting the cobwebs off a charcoal suit.
"Quick! My office!" I tell him, and we cover the ten yards to my door in no time.
Once inside, M explains all. "Oh dear Lynton. I am sorry to have scared you, but your face was a picture!" Hardly an appropriate witticism coming from someone of whom this cliche was, just a few seconds ago, literally true. "I took a wrong turn somewhere under the Treasury. I'd swear there was some disruption of the earth's magnetic core coming out of that place. I'm just on my way to render what tiny service I can to The Master in the matter of the conduct of the Great War on Terror."
He makes himself comfortable in the guest armchair, and his voice takes on a faraway tone. "It's the Arabs I feel that I can help with. …