Secret Agent Man: A Getaway
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Q is waiting for me as I warily push open the rusty door of the abandoned hangar. I take a seat at a table loaded with spy gear, and he gets right to the point.
"The situation is damned serious," he says. Of course. In my line of work the situation is always damned serious.
An onlooker might mistake me for a testosterone-challenged middle-aged man living out an adolescent secret agent fantasy. True, I am paying Munich adventure travel agency Mydays to take part in its "Agent Training" weekend on a former Soviet air base, a vast Cold War ghost town 40 miles north of Berlin. But that's just a cover. Q soon explains the real reason I, Agent 001, am here. "Your job," he says, pausing for effect, "is to save the world." Needless to say, he has brought along a bunch of cool weapons and vehicles that I'll need to do it.
RENDEZVOUS IN THE MIST
The intrigue actually begins the night before. As I pull up to the Hotel Döllnsee-Schorfheide in my rented Volkswagen Golf (Hertz was out of Aston-Martins), I am keenly aware that the former hunting lodge used to belong to the East German secret police. Now it's a wellness hotel located near the old base where Mydays stages a loose reenactment of the James Bond adventure Casino Royale (the new film version of which premieres in London on Nov. 14). Still, I check my room for listening devices, two-way mirrors, and Russian seductresses sent to entice and then blackmail me. Negative. I am asleep by 10.
This morning a cold mist hangs in the air as I rendezvous with Q. Soon we are zooming along deserted forest roads in his black Mercedes, 007 theme music blaring. My job is to find secret codes that the villain Minory, who is bent on destroying the world but has trouble recalling numbers, has hidden around the base. The codes will open a safe containing the secrets that will save humankind. Q drops me at a swamp. As I pull on a ski mask and zip up my black jumpsuit, I remember his chilling words from earlier: "I won't be surprised if you don't make it back here tonight."
I climb aboard a waiting hovercraft. (Bond always has a hovercraft waiting.) "You must be Felix Leiter," I say to the pilot, referring to the ever-helpful CIA agent. "Something like that," he replies, cautioning me to keep my muddy boots off the side of his craft. As we ricochet against sandbanks and swerve sideways across the water, I discover that riding in a hovercraft is like being the puck in a game of air hockey. Through the binoculars slamming against my forehead, I note a first code number spray-painted on a yellow placard. I call Miss Moneypenny, British spy chief M's assiduous secretary, on my portable radio. "Agent 001 reporting. First code found," I say. Her soothing voice penetrates the static. "Understood," she replies.
SNIPERS AND SWEAT
But I still have a long way to go. Luckily, Q has given me a compass, a plastic map I can hang around my neck, and a pocket-size booklet with detailed directions. Very detailed. In fact, Q must think Bond is getting senile. The directions say things like: "At the end of the runway, follow the sandy path along the fence until the WHITE GATE." In case that's unclear, there's a photo of the WHITE GATE.
I move cat-like along a wooded path. Suddenly I hear shots. Projectiles whiz from nearby trees. I'm hit! But the paintball bounces off harmlessly without bursting. I'm bulletproof--just like Bond! I return fire with my semiautomatic paintball gun, retreating to a shed where Q has stashed a Jungle Roller, a combo mountain bike, child's scooter, and lawn mower. I'm not sure Bond would ride one of these, but never mind. I zoom off past the snipers in search of the next code.
Over the next few hours, I crisscross what was once the largest air base in the Warsaw Pact. On foot, I slink past fortified hangars that housed MIG fighters and hike over territory still scarred by tank treads. I don a gas mask and search a smoke-filled tunnel that once concealed an SS-20 mobile nuclear missile. As my flashlight stabs the darkness, I think, "Man, those Russian missiles were pretty long. Good thing they're not pointed at us anymore."
Later, I kick-start an off-road motorcycle that Q has hidden and vaguely marked on my map. I steer through stands of pine and around piles of Red Army garbage. Bathed in sweat, heart pumping, I scramble over an embankment on my belly to avoid a sniper hidden in trees. As I near my goal, I spot a group of men parking cars next to the runway. Enemy agents waiting to shanghai me to the Bahamas? No. They have something to do with a Mercedes marketing event. The men seem strangely blasé about seeing an armed guy in a black ski mask talking on a radio.
Finally, amid a hail of paintballs from Myday's paid assassins, I dash into the "casino"--an abandoned building--and punch the codes I've collected into a safe. It buzzes and opens, revealing an envelope containing a map of the base. I've rescued humanity. I've also had a blast. The weekend costs $470, not including hotel, or $700 if you parachute into enemy territory. (I didn't, on the theory that I'll risk my life for the Queen, but not for a travel story.)
Outside the casino, Moneypenny holds open the door of a Mercedes. "Congratulations on saving the world, 001," she purrs. Back at the base, she hands me a cigar and a martini. Shaken, not stirred.
By Jack Ewing