DATELINE: A secret location, outside Geneva.
The chopper touched down in the mansion grounds, scattering leaves around the helipad. Inside, the silver-haired man adjusted his tie. He stepped out onto the Tarmac, and unconsciously stooped, the better to avoid the blades still whirling above his head.
“Are they all here?” he asked the woman, who was waiting for him. A cool Hitchcock blonde. She checked her tablet. “Yes, Mr M . . . ”
“Shh!” he said. “No names. Never any names. Lead me to them.”
They walked, without a word, across the lawn and into the mansion. He followed her up the stairs, distracted, for no more than a split-second, by her pencil skirt and the click-clack of her heels.
She opened the heavy panelled door and he stepped inside. They were indeed all here. Seated around the long table were a dozen men – and they were all men – of power and influence, some so powerful and influential even Piers Morgan had never heard of them.
“Gentlemen,” he said. “Today, we save the world.”
There was silence. “And how do you propose we do that?” sneered a man, in a sarcastic tone.
“By this!” barked the silver-haired man.
One bold sentence appeared on the screen behind him . . .
“WE CHARGE PEOPLE A PENNY FOR PLASTIC CARRIER BAGS.”
“Have you any idea how much damage plastic carrier bags cause?” asked the silver-haired man. “They are a drain on our oil resources, they do not bio-degrade and, discarded, they are a danger to wildlife.
“But, if we introduce a powerful reason to stop people from taking plastic bags, we can slash this danger, and step back from the abyss.”
“Oooh, a penny? That’s a lot of money, isn’t it?” said the sarcastic man. “How uncommitted to the idea of having a carrier bag would you have to be that a penny charge would put you off? Who thinks, ‘I’ve got all these items, of various sizes, so it’s likely I’ll drop one. On the other hand, a penny?! I’ll pass on that carrier bag. The initial outlay is too much?’”
“Yes,” said the silver- haired man, who wanted to smash the sarcastic man right in the mush. “A penny is of little consequence to men such as us, with our own helicopters and fax machines and big tellies. But to normal people, a penny is a lot of money, equivalent to, say, $97bn to us.”
“I’m not convinced, pardner,” said the Texan, cocking his Stetson.
“Then look!” said the silver-haired man, and he stepped aside. On the screen behind him appeared a closed-circuit TV image, at the centre of which was a bespectacled man, in his late thirties, carrying a copy of Doctor Who Magazine, standing in a queue in a large- chain newsagent.
The man stepped forward to the counter. The shop assistant, barely more than a girl, asked him, in a Liverpool accent: “Would you like a carrier bag?”
“Too right,” said the man, and placed the money on the counter.
“They’re a penny, you know?” said the assistant. The man nodded.
“That’s £3.96,” said the assistant, dropping the magazine into a bag.
“Freeze,” said the silver-haired man, back in Geneva. “Enlarge and enhance the counter.”
The desk filled the screen. On it was £3.95, in various coins. The screen snapped back. Then, for 30 seconds, the men in Geneva watched the man check every pocket on his body. Twice. Along with the cashier. And the people in the queue behind him.
“Actually, I, er . . . I won’t bother with the bag,” he said, finally. The shop assistant took the magazine back out of the bag and handed it to the man, who walked away.
The sarcastic man nodded. “I shouldn’t have doubted you, Mr M . . .”
“I said no names!” shouted the silver-haired man. And he pulled out a Beretta and shot the sarcastic man dead.
“I’m glad you shot him,” said the Texan. “He was a terrible nuisance.”
“I know,” said the silver-haired man. “Any excuse, to be honest.”