Dragon Slayers LTD
It was April 23. Ray and I were almost late to work. We'd only remembered the date as we left our flat. That meant we had a last minute scramble to find a florist who was open that early in the morning and who stocked the right stuff. Was worth it, though. S'not good form to let the side down.
The whole thing started several years ago as a bit of a drunken giggle. We were all much younger then.
That particular April had been a very bad month. We'd lost men to injury, death and resignation. CI5 was understaffed and its field agents were overworked.
A big op had just wrapped up, and a dozen or so of the field personnel were rapidly getting pissed at a private table in the Hoof and Claw. It was the first off-duty that some of us had seen in weeks.
I was going light on the booze as I was driving, but Ray was a bit squiffy and Murphy was practically legless. It didn't surprise me a bit when the Smurph started to giggle. The only surprise was when he told us why.
"D'you know what tomorrow is?" Murph asked us.
'Thursday?" I offered.
"Besides that, Bodie," Murphy prompted.
"April 23," Ray added from the chair on my right.
"And?" 6.2 encouraged. "Your birthday?" McCabe guessed. "No," Murphy replied.
"Bodie's birthday," Lucas suggested from McCabe's left.
"Nah," Murph scoffed.
'The anniversary of the day you lost your cherry." Anson was just drunk enough to think that his suggestion was the height of wit.
Murphy 'd just taken a swig from his pint, so his bray of laughter spattered beer across the table and caught the cigar-smoking agent face on. It even put out Anson's evil- smelling cheroot, which earned Murph a shaky-limbed standing ovation from the sniggering agents unfortunate enough to be seated near the human chimney.
When Murphy finally got his drunken sniggers under control he sprawled back in his chair and enlightened us. "Tomorrow is St. Georg's Day."
"Good God, Murph," King exclaimed facetiously. "Don't tell me they've canonized the Cow and named a day after 'im."
The room echoed to tipsy laughter. Exhaustion and too much alcohol made almost any remark seem excruciatingly funny.
When Murphy recovered he drew himself up and stated, "I am surrounded by the heathen." A drunken hiccough rather spoiled his attempt at dignity. "D'you mean to tell me that no one else here is Church of England?"
"What's the Church have to do with canonizing the Cow?" Stuart blinked in owlish non- comprehension. That set off another round of sniggers.
Murph continued with the single-minded persistence of the truly inebriated. "St. George is the patron saint of the Church of England. April 23 is his feast day, and on that day good church-goers celebrate by displaying the Church flag--St. George's Cross--and by wearing red roses."
"You mean, they didn't canonize Cowley?" Stuart asked plaintively.
"Right!" Murphy beamed approvingly.
"Then why bring it up?" Matheson asked.
"Was just thinking..." Murphy said.
"Shouldn't do that, you know," I butted in. "You might strain something."
The Smurph gave me a mock glare. The others just laughed.
"I was just thinking," 6.2 began again. "Our George was probably named after St. George, the Dragon Slayer. St. George's day is really his day as well." Murphy sat down with a satisfied expression. I really think the drink sodden berk thought he'd explained everything.
"So?" Anson asked in puzzlement.
"So, what?" Murph asked in incomprehension.
"Exactly!" Anson replied.
"What?" Murphy asked.
I began to think that they were just drunk enough that the conversation might go on like that for the rest of the night. "Murph?" I said.
"What Anson wants to know is what George being named after the St. George has to do with anything."
"Didn't I say?" Murph asked.
"No, you bloody well didn't," Anson muttered.
"Oh." The Smurph blinked slightly glazed eyes. "I meant to say that we should all celebrate St. George's Day tomorrow."
"Isn't the Cow Presbyterian or Methodist, or something Scottish?" Lucas asked vaguely.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Murphy demanded.
"Well," Lucas responded. "Maybe he wouldn't want us to fly the flag of the Church of England."
"Who said anything about the ruddy flag?" Murph asked in frustration.
Half a dozen voices responded with, "You did!"
"No, I didn't!" Murphy denied.
"Yes, you did," McCabe responded.
"No, I didn't," Murph insisted. "All I suggested was that we all wear red roses on our lapels."
"Oh, is that what this is all about!" Stuart exclaimed. "Why didn't you say so?"
"I thought I just did," 6.2 said in confusion.
"You did," I assured him. Fortunately, I was anesthetized enough to find the whole conversation funny, and not so drunk that I couldn't follow it.
"We're all agreed then?" Murph asked.
"About what?" King replied.
"That we'll all wear roses tomorrow," Murphy said in exasperation.
"Where do you think we can find a dozen roses between now and tomorrow morning?" Anson demanded scornfully.
"A florists shop?" Stuart suggested, but was immediately hooted down by the rest.
"What self-respecting florist'd be open this time o'night?" Matheson demanded.
Lucas was obviously following his own train of thought. "Hyde Park," he said. "They've got roses there."
"An' who's going to risk getting clapped in nick for pinching the bloody things?" McCabe demanded.
"S'my idea," Murphy replied. "I'll do it. Besides, I know where there are some roses not a half a mile from here!"
"Mur-phy!" Ray groaned. "You can't be bloody well thinking about pinching those?"
"What are you two nattering on about?" I asked.
"What building stands not half a mile from here, surrounded by rose bushes, and guarded by armed men... all of them employed by MI6?" Doyle asked sarkily.
"My God, Murph!" I exclaimed. "Have you lost your mind? You're never thinking about raiding MI6 HQ?"
"Of course not," Murphy replied with drunken dignity. "I only intend to borrow their roses."
For a moment it looked as if Murphy would lead the drunken lot of them out into the night to ravage the MI6 rose bushes. A bit frightening, that.
"Oi, Murph?" Doyle said diffidently.
"Yes, Ray?" Murphy asked.
"As I understand it, the idea is to honour the Cow, right?"
"Exactly!" Murphy replied, pleased to be understood at last.
"Well," Ray continued. "It wouldn't do much for the old boys blood pressure if he had to spend tomorrow morning bailing us out of nick and explaining to Willis why CI5 agents vandalized his roses, would it?"
Murphy deflated. "I hadn't thought of that," he said mournfully.
I hate to see the Smurph look like a funeral, so I made a suggestion. "Isn't there some place down in the market district where the wholesaler's deliver fresh flowers each morning? I asked.
Both King and Doyle, our two ex-Met men, replied at once. Yes, there was such a place.
I hadn't the bottle to explain that I'd seen it mentioned in the old musical 'My Fair Lady'. Even my partner doesn't know that I'm addicted to Hollywood musicals.
Anyway, that's how the lot of us ended up weaving drunkenly round the market district at 3 am, looking for roses--red roses. Lucas found them, but managed to lose his partner in the process.
Of course, we didn't realize that McCabe was gone until Murphy tried to take a head count. It took 6.2 three tries before he discovered that he was one man short, and it was another fifteen minutes before Lucas remembered that he'd started out with his partner in tow. We finally found the missing man curled up in the backseat of one of the CI5 motors, fast asleep. Looked a bit like the Dormouse, or so his partner remarked.
None of us got much sleep that night. Some of the rest of them had hangovers next morning. I didn't, but I hadn't had all that much to drink. As for Doyle, he never seems to suffer from his occasional excesses. As skinny as that lad is, it doesn't take much to get him squiffy, so I guess he doesn't really drink that much, even when it seems like he's totally pissed.
All twelve of us showed up at CI5 with a flower somewhere on our person. A few of the more paranoid among us (Stuart for one) kept the rose in their pocket until they saw another conspirator wearing one. I spent the rest of the day referring all questions about our boutonnieres to Murphy. The Smurph was happy to explain all about St. George's Day and wearing red roses to honour the Cow. By the end of the shift, there were a lot more than twelve roses wandering about HQ.
Murphy is usually quite easy-going, but occasionally the lad gets a bee in his bonnet. He can be as persistent as a blood-hound hot on the scent. The year after the CI5 invasion of London's market district, the Smurph took it upon himself to remind all of us that St. George's Day was coming, and that he expected each and every one of us to wear a blood-red rose to work.
That was the same year that the Cow took his only official notice of the yearly floral outbreak. Ray and I were standing in the corridor talking to Stuart when Cowley ordered us into his office. Stuart was happy to slink off unnoticed--the lucky bugger!
"Why are all of my senior agents walking about looking as if they've come direct from a wedding party?" Cowley demanded.
"It was all Murphy's idea," I said, cravenly throwing my friend to the old wolf.
Cowley looked disbelieving.
"Bodie's right," Doyle chimed in, protecting my arse as usual. "It all started last year after the Gladstone Op. A group of us were drinking at the Hoof and Claw when Murphy started chuckling..." Ray told him how the idea had started, but mercifully left out the bit where Murph suggested we raid MI6 HQ for roses, and the part later on when we invaded the London Market district. I always knew that there was a shrewd brain hidden under that curly mop!
George gave us both a look that said that he knew there were bits we'd glossed over or left out. The old man dismissed us, and never talked to Murphy about the subject--at least, not as I ever found out about.
Later Doyle commented, "I think the old man was a bit flattered at it all."
I snorted. "More surprised that we'd want to honour him, but I agree--he was acting ever so slightly pleased."
The third year, Murph took to brining a few extra flowers with him on April 23rd. He'd hand them out to anyone who'd forgotten the date, or who'd been too bloody lazy to pick up their own.
By the fourth year, St. George's Day was a CI5 institution. Red roses abounded. Bunches of flowers adorned the rest-room, and desks, but only field agents wore them as boutonnieres.
The 'wearing of the roses,' as Murphy dubbed our St. George's Day celebration, had become part of the field agent initiation process. New agents were only told about the custom on the first St. George's Day after their hiring. On the day, a senior agent took the new man aside and explained that, next year, he or she would be expected to wear their own flower. Being allowed to wear one of the red roses was like being accepted into an exclusive club. We field agents jealously guarded the privilege.
During a rather alcoholic evening last year, Murphy waxed poetic and called us 'the knights of St. George." He said the villains we go after were like 'dragons' and suggested we rename CI5 'Dragon Slayer's, Ltd.' S'not often that Murph gets pissed as a newt, but he certainly was then. He'd never have gone on that way if he hadn't been--even though he was only talking to Doyle and me. Of course, the two of us feel just the same (but you'd never get us to say it--would ruin our macho image, wouldn't it?).
Anyway, that's why Ray and I were almost late to work this year. We did find a florist who had red roses for sale, and we trotted through the front door with 30 seconds to spare.
The smell of roses practically hit us in the face. The building was so full of flowers it looked like someone's garden.
S'not that I have anything against gardens, or flowers, for that matter. Its just that I'm bloody well allergic to the little buggers! So, once a year, for pride's sake, I wear my floral boutonniere (and take my antihistamine).
...And sneeze my bloody nob off!!!
-- THE END --
Originally published in The Hols of CI5, Whatever You Do, Don't Press!, 1991