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The Spy Who Came in With A Cold (John Le Carre's The Night Manager/Jonathan Pine) (Part 1 up)


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Hi all, I just wanted to start by saying thank you, thank you, thank you to @High on Lullabies and all the staff that brought this site back and saved this amazing community. I'm a very infrequent visitor and not much of a contributor, but as with many of us, this place means a lot to me and I appreciate the hard work that makes SFF possible! 

I've never contributed my own work before, only Observations, but the site disappearance made me realize that I'd like to be a more active contributor. I therefore decided to flex my writing muscles for the very first time. I work in a job that actively discourages creative writing so this is really all new to me...suggestions and constructive criticism are more than welcome! :-) 

The following is the first part of a bit of FF I wrote for The Night Manager, specifically the BBC adaptation starring the delightful Tom Hiddleston. I've set this one in the time period where he is well ensconced in the operation as Andrew Birch, but have established it as a "return" trip to Zermatt for business rather than in the series where he is still there as the manager. I figure a wealthy traveling posse such as Richard Roper's lot would enjoy regularly holidaying in a ski resort, and it was a good place to set a sneezy story....


For someone who had spent nearly two years under a fabricated identity, infiltrating the most insidious depths of the illegal arms trade, Jonathan Pine was almost laughably preoccupied with his current mission: hiding a blossoming head cold from Richard Roper and his inner circle. 


He’d sat through the morning’s discussions of the upcoming TradePass deal while fighting a dull headache and an infernal tickle in his nose, giving the careful, measured responses he’d doled out for some time now. When Roper and his associates had suggested an afternoon on the slopes as an anticipatory celebration of Wednesday’s upcoming 10 billion pound transaction, he’d dutifully obliged, offering to take Roper’s son Daniel down some less challenging runs. While he always genuinely enjoyed the company of the boy, today he was more grateful for an opportunity to avoid Roper and his henchmen as he came to terms with the fact that he was coming down with what looked ominously set to become a bad cold. 


During the several hours spent out in the freezing Swiss winter air accompanying Daniel up and down the mountain, Pine had started to sneeze. At first, it was only once every half an hour or so, but as night fell, he had Daniel giggling over the possibility of triggering an avalanche as he punctuated the silent beauty of the snow-covered slopes with frequent, echoing  “ETSCHIEWs”.  


As he trudged after the boy back toward the chalet, he nearly smiled to himself as he considered the ridiculousness of it all, but there was still something deeply unsettling about exposing such a vulnerability as the common cold in front of a group of the most evil, ruthless men in the world. 


Back at the chalet, Pine quickly showered before changing into a crisp evening suit. Although the steamy warmth of the shower had initially triggered a violent volley of sneezes, it seemed to have temporarily relieved the congested pressure in his head, albeit at the price of causing his nose to run again. With an annoyed swipe at his now undeniably reddened nostrils, he sighed and set off up the stairs to the enormous suite occupied by Richard Roper and his posse, all the while fighting the urge to sniffle. 


Champagne was poured, toasts were made, and congratulations were offered all around to anyone and anything related to the latest profits accumulated by TradePass. Pine spent a good half hour in the corner talking to Lady Langbourne, who thankfully seemed more preoccupied by her own marital woes to notice that he was feeling far too unwell to pay proper attention to her ranting. His dull headache was back again, and his throat was somehow feeling simultaneously tickly and sore. Worst of all, his nose was really beginning to run most disconcertingly, and he had a nasty feeling that the sneezes would be back soon. 


His unhappy internal musings were interrupted as Langbourne, ignoring his wife’s furious glares, appeared by his side and clapped a large hand on his shoulder. 


“Happier associating with the ladies, are we, Birch?,” he boomed. 


Andrew Birch, and Jonathan Pine for that matter, would rather be associating with a mug of Lemsip and a good, long sleep dreaming of all of you rotting in hell, he thought, his head throbbing.


“And could you blame me, Langbourne?” he said instead, with a grin and a wink, and allowed himself to be led over to the sofa over which Lance “Corky” Corcoran had stretched himself, steadily draining his champagne as he appraised the room with his usual air of disdain. Richard Roper himself and the lawyer Apostol sat in smaller chairs, each nursing a cigar. 


Roper raised his glass at Pine’s arrival. “Andrew, my boy, I wonder if you might indulge us with a little philosophical contribution to a pretentious conversation? Apo here has some very Catholic opinions on the existence of heaven, poor old chap, and we’re just trying to get him to see sense --” 


Apostol immediately launched into a frenzied retort but Pine had been distracted by the intense tickle that suddenly shot up his nose and burrowed itself between his eyes. He sniffed, rather loudly and wetly, and earned a surprised look from Langbourne standing next to him. The tickle did not dissipate but rather spread back down his nose. 


Blast, thought Pine, a fraction of a second before stifling a sneeze that would have otherwise been both loud and messy; he sniffled almost imperceptibly to fend off his now streaming nose before a second sneeze surprised him as he snapped forward with a mortifyingly wet “HAGHchieeww.” 


With his hand still raised, Pine pulled a crisp handkerchief from his pocket and, turning away, gingerly wiped his nose, resisting the urge to sneeze again as the action scattered another tickle up and down his face. 


“Feeling under the weather are we, darling?” drawled Corky from the sofa. Bastard, thought Pine; he was feeling so ill that he was almost tempted to vocalise this out loud, but instead reverted to his usual smooth, measured response, carefully trying to keep the mounting congestion out of his voice.


“Not at all, just a touch of cold. I’m afraid it was inevitable at this time of the year even when I was manager here.” He smiled blandly at nobody in particular.


“Well, you look positively peaked, I must say. Truly dreadful,” smirked the little man. Pine hated that Corcoran knew just how, despite his impenetrable exterior, he would be squirming inside with discomfort at having his vulnerability exposed.  


“Take care, Andrew. We need all hands on deck for the meeting Wednesday. Whole squad of ‘em coming over from Turkey, fancied a spot of skiing while they’re up, I reckon. Been a right palaver trying to get a date that can suit both Apo here and these Turkish chaps, so it’s do or die and that goes for you as well. ” Roper said from his chair, swirling his glass of champagne slowly in his hand. As always, he was the picture of languid ease and charisma, yet he spoke without a smile, never taking his eyes off of Pine. 


Resisting the urge to swallow hard- although this task was made significantly easier by the fact that his throat felt full of glass shards- Pine coolly replied:


“I’ll be there. Not to worry.”


Edited by Geneticist
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I love this. Perfect timeline/setting, and great use of the secondary characters. Also perfect victim for a cold. ;) I can't wait to see where you take this.

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On 12/5/2019 at 11:55 AM, snowshie said:

I love this. Perfect timeline/setting, and great use of the secondary characters. Also perfect victim for a cold. ;) I can't wait to see where you take this.

Hey, thanks so much! That's really kind of you. And thanks so much, I'm quite in agreement with you that the lovely Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine makes an incredible spy and cold victim. :-) 


Here's part 2. A bit short, as I've run into some ill-timed computer troubles, but I think I am planning on making this one at least a 3-parter...


Part 2

Later that night, hunched on the edge of his bed, hand on the mobile phone he’d lifted from Roper’s son and waiting for a call that he would answer before it had a chance to complete its first ring, Jonathan Pine grimly wished he could trade his current situation for “just a touch of cold.” Hell, the bout of malaria he’d contracted during his army days in Iraq almost seemed more bearable than this. His entire face hurt, both his eyes and nose were streaming, and he couldn’t stop with the blasted sneezing. Every few minutes, he’d launch into a torturously drawn-out fit, his shoulders rising and falling as his breath hitched between explosive sneezes he tried, sometimes futilely, to cover in a handkerchief. 


He knew that these monthly calls from Angela Burr, issued from her shabby and underheated London office, could come at any time of the evening. Ever since Roper’s lot had settled in Zermatt for the winter ski season, he’d managed to slip young Daniel’s phone away from him on the night of the 14th of each month, replacing it in the boy’s backpack the following morning when he went to take him to see his father. Tonight’s call would be to confirm the details for their first face-to-face meeting in three months, where he would exchange new information he had gathered on TradePass’ operations.


Just get yourself somewhere quiet after 2200h, Pine, he could remember her brisk instructions when they’d last met in Mallorca. Get a number I can call on the 14th of January and get yourself somewhere quiet. “After 2200h” often translated into a waiting game that lasted long into the night, depending on when Angela was finally alone in her Victoria Street office. Pine watched the clock pass 2300, then midnight, and then 0100, one hand on Danny’s phone and the other alternately wiping his streaming nose and turning the pages of the novel he was struggling to read, the fog in his head making it nearly impossible to maintain focus. 


For the first hour of his vigil, he’d tried to silence his frequent sneezes as much as possible, the dreaded thought of any of Roper’s accomplices in neighbouring rooms witnessing his misery overriding the pain that accompanied every soggy stifle. Gradually, though, his heavy congestion took over. He bleakly banked on the luxurious wall drapings and thick wooden walls of the chalet room to muffle the sound of his sneezes that started first in tickly pairs and then progressed to explosive fits every few minutes.




At the first syllable of its ring, Pine snapped out of his hazy cloud of misery and flipped open the phone. He cleared his throat, speaking carefully and quietly. 


“Yes,” he managed, before immediately breaking off with a violent “Atsschieww” aimed at the floor. He brought his handkerchief to his nose, recoiled at how wet it was, and immediately began searching one-handed in his nightstand drawer for something else to use. “I beg your pardon.” 


“Oh,” he heard Angela pause on the other end of the line, “Not at all.” He sounds ill, she thought. She awaited his response, detailing their meeting time and place without wasting a second more time in which they could be overheard. 


Sniffling, and still searching, he gave a quick, clipped response. “Thank you. Train to Geneva tomorrow afternoon? A later train?” His hand found an unopened packet of tissues and he fumbled with their wrapping. Come on, come on, he frantically thought, nose threatening to drip and another tickle fast brewing. 


“Right. Tomorrow. 1:47 to Geneva.” There was a click and Angela was gone. Pine successfully extracted a tissue just in time to catch another round of harsh, spraying sneezes.

Edited by Geneticist
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On 12/9/2019 at 2:08 AM, matilda3948 said:

This is great!! Hiddleston is incredibly sexy in this show and it's wonderful to read a story about his character with a cold :drool:

Thanks very much! I appreciate the feedback 😊

Pt. 3 coming soon- the usual pre-holiday season craziness means I haven't sat down to work on it, but I aim to continue it this weekend! 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Apologies for the delay! Happy New Year to all! Here is a small continuation of poor Jonathan Pine's ordeal. 


Part 3:

He was there when he said he would be. He always was. This time, though, there was something different about him: squinting at the tall, trim figure leaning nonchalantly against the station pillars, she was struck by how pale he looked and how his lean betrayed real exhaustion. She stood up from her bench and walked toward him. Getting closer, she could make out the dark shadows under his eyes and the angry red of his nose, which he had half buried into a thick knit scarf. He was dressed warmly and sensibly for the Swiss mountain winter, but she thought she could detect a slight shiver underneath his thick parka. A right state he looks, christ


“Thomas,” she approached him with a wide smile as if he were indeed Thomas, her old chum that she was delighted to be meeting up with for a day out on a bitterly cold January afternoon. 


“Angela,” he rasped, nodding at her. 


And he sounds awful too. “Are you feeling quite alright today, Thomas? You sound rather ill,” she said without faltering in her smile, although her eyes raked over his face again, detecting with pity a glimmer of moisture that suddenly appeared around the chapped, angry skin of his nostrils.  The ever faithful Agent Pine, alias Death Warmed Over, reporting for duty


“Just getting over a bit of a cold,” he responded, with a light sniffle. In an immediate counterargument to this statement, he sneezed into a gloved fist. With his breath hitching and eyelids fluttering, he muttered an apology as he pulled out a handkerchief from his coat pocket and turned away to sneeze again into it. 


She waited for him to finish blowing his nose. He turned back to her with watery eyes and a slightly furrowed brow, looking as if he would sneeze again, but instead, he cleared his throat with a slight cough and nodded toward the east. 


“I beg your pardon. Train’s coming.” 


They boarded and sped away before the minute was up, with all the efficiency of Swiss transit. It was a quiet train, even for the post-New Year season lull. Passing a small group of retirees on their way to an afternoon out in the city, they took a table in a carriage that was completely deserted, and sat across from each other. 


Surveying his exhausted, shadow-ringed eyes and red-tinged nose, Angela Burr felt another pang of sympathy and, against her best training, guilt, for her ground agent as he sat across from her on a Swiss railcar.  As always, they held these exchanges under the maintained guise of traveling friends reunited for coffee and conversation against the snow-covered journey from Zermatt to Geneva. Today, however, Pine’s vicious cold was providing a formidable challenge against remaining discreet. As he briefed her on the latest TradePass meeting in a quiet but undeniably congested voice, she couldn’t help but feel responsible for the miserable state he was in; the relentless life of a double agent would inevitably stress the hardest of men, and she felt slightly guilty that her Ahabian quest to bring down Richard Roper was cleary capitalising upon Pine’s natural tendency to work himself sick. Periodically reaching over to sip at her coffee, Angela was careful not to express surprise at his information, but her pulse quickened as he recounted the details of his last meeting as a newly inducted member of Roper’s organisation. She nodded, uninterestedly, but fought against a mounting sense of excitement as he continued:


“When the transaction is agreed upon, all of the paperwork and documentation- Ministry of Defence approval, all of it- is in place already. He must have someone on the inside,” Pine broke off with a small cough that rapidly degenerated into a hacking fit that he smothered in his shirt sleeve as he pulled out his handkerchief again. He brought it to his face as his coughing fit was abruptly terminated by a shaky, congested inhale, and a harsh sneeze. 


Angela responded with a “bless you” as he flushed in embarrassment (or perhaps fever)  and murmured an apology into his handkerchief before trailing off into another tortured-looking pause, and then sneezing again, and again, and again. After muffling a fourth sneeze into his handkerchief, he blew his nose and, through watering eyes, apologised again for the disruption. 


Good god, she cringed inwardly but muttered “don’t be silly,” and politely looked away out the window toward the Alpine landscape as he continued to blow his nose. Angela swallowed yet another urge to send this bloody stubborn man (her agent! Her only hope!) off to bed with a cup of tea and a couple of thick blankets. In response to this surge in maternal sympathy, her tiny companion twisted in her belly and delivered a sharp pair of kicks to her ribcage. 


Grunting slightly, she shifted in her seat and resumed, in a flat voice, “Yes, you say on the inside…”


Trying, and failing, to break through the congestion that had immediately reappeared, Pine cleared his throat with a ragged sound and continued: “Someone on ‘our’ side is letting this through. It has to be. I can’t give you names, I can’t give you any documents yet but I can try. The lawyer, Apostol, is coming here again tomorrow for a meeting and I will try to get you what I can.”

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Poor Jonathan! I love the image of his poor red nose peeking out above his scarf. I'm glad you're continuing with this. :)

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On 1/2/2020 at 7:23 AM, Geneticist said:

Angela responded with a “bless you” as he flushed in embarrassment (or perhaps fever)  and murmured an apology into his handkerchief before trailing off into another tortured-looking pause, and then sneezing again, and again, and again. After muffling a fourth sneeze into his handkerchief, he blew his nose and, through watering eyes, apologised again for the disruption. 

Oh, goodness! This bit was extra wonderful!!

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  • 3 weeks later...

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