Target for tonight

Things had been very quiet in The Motor Racing and Tinpot Dictator Department for a couple of weeks. With most of the F1 people off on their holidays and Bernie Ecclestone swanning about on Concorde there was not much to do. The available drives in F1 in 2004 are entirely dependent on money but there had been only a bit of wheeling and dealing going on. Nothing too serious. Morale in the department was flagging and so The Mole decided it was time to shake things up. He settled on a plan to uncover the intentions of the key player in the driver market: Red Bull. The Austrian energy drink company had been linked to deals with Sauber, Jaguar, Jordan and even Minardi. The Mole wanted to know what was the most likely outcome of Red Bull's negotiations and decided to send his entire squadron of Penelopes into action to solve the mystery.

He called a briefing first thing in the morning. The four Penelopes shuffled into The Briefing Room, which is usually used for making coffee and storing boxes. He had found an old slide projector to add to the moment and, as soon as the lights were dimmed, he was busy pressing buttons on the zapper in an effort to make the damned machine work.

"Tonight we go into action," he said in a dramatic tone.

Onto the screen came an image of a dramatic castle overlooking a lake.

"Penelope (Wycombe Abbey)," he said, "Your mission is to go to the Hotel Schloss Fuschl in Hof, just up the road from Red Bull's headquarters in Fuschl am See. I want you to make contact with Dietrich Mateschitz, the boss of Red Bull and see what he can tell us. It's a tough assignment. Mateschitz is a reclusive fellow but it is a very nice hotel. About 500 years ago it was the hunting lodge of the archbishops of Salzburg when they were out shooting protestants. After that it belonged to the Hapsburgs and then our friend Adolf gave it to his Foreign Minister Joachim Von Ribbentrop. Since the war it's been a hotel and spa. A few days having a health cure and some mountain air will put some pink back into your cheeks."

Out in the darkness Penelope (Wycombe Abbey) was rather pleased with the assignment.

"But don't spend all the time in the indoor swimming pool, the sauna, the solarium, the whirlpool and the steam bath," added The Mole. "We need you to make contact with Mateschitz and we figure the best place to find him is probably the Imperial Restaurant at the Schloss. I guess you will have to suffer though a few magnificent meals supplied by Thomas Michael Walkensteiner and his sous-chefs."

"I suggest you do a bit of langlauf cross-country skiing," said Penelope (Roedean) from out in the darkness. "We don't want your thighs becoming all wobbly, do we?"

It was meant as a jovial remark but The Mole spotted in the tone that Penelope (Roedean) was irritated. She always got the best missions. The Mole had pondered long and hard as to whether to give her Schloss Fuschl but decided that the other girls needed more reward. And, he had concluded, a little competition does a unit no harm at all.

The Mole pressed the buttons on the zapper again and a new hotel appeared on the screen.

"Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College)," he said. "You are also going to Austria but your target is the Schlossberghotel in Graz. Alas, this is only 450 years old but you have an advantage as it is in the middle of town and so you can get a little shopping done when you are not tracking Dr Helmut Marko. He owns the place and in his spare time is Mateschitz's top advisor on motor racing. You may have heard of him. He used to be an F1 driver until blinded in one eye by a stone at Clermont Ferrand. Since then he has helped to bring on several generations of Austrian drivers. The Schlossberghotel has a sauna, solarium and even a rather nice rooftop swimming pool."

Penelope (Roedean) laughed.

"It is going to be a bit peaky at this time of year if you're planning to wear a bikini."

The Mole fiddled with the zapper again and up came the image of a rather newer hotel. Penelope (Benenden) looked on hopefully. She was always the one who was left behind in the office. She liked being The Mole's best researcher but sometimes wished for more exciting roles in glamorous places.

"Penelope (Benenden)," The Mole said. "I am afraid to say that you get Monaco. I know that can be rather dull but we've booked you into David Coulthard's Columbus Hotel, which is very convenient for the heliport. They say it is the hot place to dine and the cool place to drink. I read somewhere that it is a little bit of South Beach in the heart of Monte Carlo and I understand that the chocolate martinis are worth a try. Your job is to figure out what Alexander Wurz is up to. He lives nearby and the best idea is to get to him through his wife. She's a sweetheart."

"Oh well," said Penelope (Roedean). "Look on the bright side, you could have got Columbus, Ohio."

Everyone was waiting to see where The Mole was going to send his star agent.

She was thinking of the Caribbean or perhaps New York.

The Mole was not letting on.

"I shall be going to the Bodensee," The Mole said. "I need to check with our people at Sauber to see what is happening there and there's a young man called Christian Klien who lives in a place called Hohenems, close to the Swiss border."

"Mr Clean?" said Penelope (Roedean). "Surely that is a job for Penelope (Benenden)?"

The Mole ignored the remark. He was busy thinking quietly to himself that this would be a great opportunity to visit the Confiserie Sprungli on the Paradeplatz in Zurich, for a cup of tea and to pick up a tin of Sprungli's famous pralines. Mrs Mole would be pleased.

In the darkened room, there was a hush of expectancy. Where was Penelope (Roedean) going to be sent?

"We have something rather special for you this time," said The Mole as he fiddled with the zapper.

Penelope giggled.

"You get Milton Keynes," he said.

Onto the screen popped an image of the Hotel Campanile.

"Apparently it is very nice," said The Mole. "Modern, smart accommodation and a restaurant serving regional specialities."

"Like the famous Buckinghamshire sausage and mash," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey) with a chuckle. "Better watch your thighs!"

"Apparently the gravy is top notch," added Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College).

The Mole waited for the reaction that he knew would come but for a moment all was quiet.

"I shall have to take my full length black leather trench coat," Penelope said finally. "And my new handbag."

"If you think it will help get information out of the bods at Jaguar Racing, feel free" said The Mole.

"Oh I am sure it will," said Penelope. "The handbag will stand out in a crowd. It's a vintage Hermes black rigid Kelly Bag. Grace Kelly loved Old Man Hermes's bags so much that he named one after her. It's great for a girl who likes a bigger pistol. It feels so luxurious and you know the older they get the more exquisite they look. But best of all, Sir, it was a real bargain."

"Terrific" said The Mole. "Stick it on the expenses."

There was an audible intake of breath in the briefing room but The Mole missed it. He was busy thinking what a stylish young lady Penelope was.

"Very good sir," said Penelope (Roedean), scuttling for the door at an unseemly pace. "See you. Bye!"

There was a long pause. Finally from the darkness came the voice of Penelope (Benenden).

"Sir," she said hesitantly. "I think you need to read up a bit on old handbags."

"Really?" said The Mole. "Why ever would I do that?"

"Well," she said, biting her lip. "I think a vintage Hermes Kelly Bag is going to set you back about $4000."

Later, The Mole thought that it was probably best that the light was out when he heard the news.

They might all have seen his smile.

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