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For His Eyes Only: Debrief from Agent 0023

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Liverpool v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

It was a warm crisp night. One of those with a cool breeze. The city was alight. Humming. Glorious. The perfect complement to the afterglow of Chelsea’s 5-2 win away at Wolves, City’s shock defeat at Norwich, and Arsenal throwing away a 2-0 lead against Watford. I decided to cap my weekend with a treat, from me to me.

But I had no idea just how much of a treat was in store.

I chose Willian and David Luiz’s restaurant, Babbo. It’s Italian fare, decently priced, and the type of setting that marks an occasion. The waiter was friendly but forgettable in the way all good waiters are. Midway through my meal, and possibly the result of one or three cocktails too many, I heard nature’s call.

I went down a hall, which looked likely to contain the facilities. It contained nothing of the sort. A steaming tray of fresh halibut bustled by. I was in the kitchen, it seemed. A kitchen with a large set of ornate double doors. A kitchen complete with a large gentleman dressed in a finely tailored black suit. How very odd. He had appeared from nowhere. He did not belong in a kitchen, but neither did I. Especially not this kitchen. The smell of halibut grew stronger.

In a moment of brief panic, I slipped through the doors, keeping close to the walls.

Herefordshire Archives, Hereford, United Kingdom. Architect: Architype Limited, 2015. Photo by: Dennis Gilbert/View Pictures/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Empty metal shelves all around. Flickering fluorescent lights. I should not have been in there. Fueled by liquid courage, I crept along the walls until I heard voices approaching from behind. Then footsteps, too. Did the large angry man see me? What if he finds me? I did not want my last words to be “But sir, I was just looking for the toilet”!

Quickly, I scurried under one of the shelves and covered my mouth. The big man stopped right in front of me. I’ve been caught!

He greeted two other men. One, also in a tailored black suit. Everything about him was unremarkable. Yet you could tell he was in charge. The other had thick floppy hair and a genuine smile. Both the big man and the boss man referred to him as ‘Double-oh 23’. A bit theatrical, I thought. The big boss seemed agitated, foregoing pleasantries.

BOSS: Were you followed?
0023: Only by the big geezer here.
BIG GEEZER: *grunts*
0023: I kid, big guy. Relax!
BOSS: Enough! We don’t have time for this. We have lots to discuss.
0023: Okay okay, boss.
BOSS: Thirty-one shots? Are you trying to blow your cover?
0023: They’re Watford! They could’ve taken one-hundred shots and not score. What was I supposed to do? They still needed the Sokratis gift and my penalty just to get a point!
BOSS: Yes, but for this operation to be a success we need it to be believable. Giving up thirty-one shots to the team at the bottom of the table is anything but believable!
0023: Boss, listen, I thought with Laca out it would be easy but in the first half Auba got two in ten minu-
BOSS: I don’t need a match recap! What I need is for you to remember the risk we took to get you there. A training ground bust-up on deadline day, just months after they broke club rules to sign you for two years?? It’s a miracle that worked and the media bought it!
0023: I know I have to be careful, but if this is going to be worth it they have to lose points. And that was the only way. It’s not my fault they couldn’t score without us handing them goals!
BOSS: Alright. Alright, I understand. Just, be a little more discrete. Even for you, two penalties in four games is a bit much.
0023: Boss, I got it. Do you know how far I have to go to be worse than Sokratis or Mustafi? MUSTAFI!? This ain’t easy, man!
BOSS: Just be careful, if this thing blows up…
0023: You have to trust me. I know what I’m doing. Just look at the facts, Sokratis and Mustafi still make more errors than me, and I’m trying!
BOSS: I know, they’re awful. But keep your wits about you. This is a long but dangerous game. Don’t risk blowing it all on Watford.

Watford FC v Arsenal FC - Premier League Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

0023: Ok boss. But you have to admit that it was funny! Did you see Arsenal TV?
BOSS: That’s not the point…
0023: Oh come on, laugh. Enjoy the life! It’s good for you!
BOSS: Ok yes, it was funny. I just don’t want anyone asking questions.
0023: Boss, I got this. Last season, what was the difference between 3rd and 5th, Champions League or Europa? Two points! I’ve already cost them four. Even if they get wise tomorrow, the damage is done. It’s checkers, not chess! I can’t have me in red be a waste. You took risks, but you’re not the one who has to be an Arsenal player!
BOSS: Fair enough. I understand your frustration, Dav… 0023. We just need to make sure you’re in play as long as possible. Emery knows you from before, is he suspicious?
0023: That guy? No, no. He’s too full of himself. Plus we train at night because he’s afraid of the dark or something. And he banned garlic from the kitchen.
BOSS: What?
0023: I know, he’s weird. But never mind. You should hear him in training. He could give wrong directions to a bird flying south for the winter. I just play the teacher’s pet. You know I’m good at that!

BOSS: Good, good. Who’s up next and what’s your plan?
0023: Aston Villa at home. And since you don’t want me giving up shots or causing penalties, I guess I’ll try for a second yellow. I’d only miss the Nottingham match anyway, and return for Manchester United away.
BOSS: Just make sure it’s not a straight red…
0023: Boss, come on…
BOSS: I know I know, I had to say it out loud, for me. But David, good work out there. This is going much better than that Paris assignment.
0023: Thanks boss, I four one am enjoying my football.

Handshakes and hearty back pats followed. The three men faded back into the shadows. I dusted myself off and shuffled back to my table. My waiter seemed surprised to see me again, but only asked if the food was alright since I had been gone for a while. “No no,” I muttered before pausing to think of a good excuse. “Just stepped out to have a chat with an old friend.”

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