The intrepid spies landed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday afternoon for their top-secret mission, and within minutes their clue-solving skills were put to the test:
Where was their luggage?
Someone else will have to deal with the prosaic problem of lost bags, however.
David Burns and Alison Pratt cannot be distracted from the real mission that brought them from their home in Edinburgh, Scotland, to Baltimore: to enjoy an expenses-paid vacation while pretending to be spies, which was the prize in a British Broadcasting Corp. radio contest.
The contest won by Mr. Burns, 31, a sales engineer, and his wife, Ms. Pratt, 27, an office administrator, was held in October as a promotion for "Russia House," the spy thriller starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer.
They were selected from the 12,000 other entrants who correctly answered trivia questions about the movie and spying in general to win the trip, one of the more clever fantasy-camp-style vacations that have become popular in recent years.
Theirs is a weeklong stay in the Baltimore-Washington area, during which they'll be taken to see the sights but at any moment could be confronted with a clue as to their mission and the secret agent they're tailing.
"I'm a little apprehensive," said Ms. Pratt, who, like her husband,seemed to have a little jet lag after the nine-hour flight. "We don't know anything that will happen -- well, we do know when we're going home."
"Oh, do you?" teased Ross McGinley, a BBC producer, who is following the couple throughout and will report on their derring-do to listeners back home. Mr. McGinley represents the "Simon Bates Show," a daily movie and video show that ran the spy contest.
"The U.K. is ripe for competitions," Mr. McGinley said. "Movie and video promotion in the U.K. had become very stale. There were one or two critics everyone listened to, and movie distributors relied too much on them."
As part of the package, Mr. Burns and Ms. Pratt yesterday each received that all-important spy accessory, the trench coat, from the locally based London Fog, a brand that no one in England has heard of but soon will be sold there, according to Carl Gant, founder of Wannabee Promotions, which puts together fantasy trips.
Wannabee has organized other similar movie tie-ins that allow regular blokes to make like characters in a movie -- a police officer for "Lethal Weapon," a rock-and-roll star for "Wayne's World," even an entertainer to the troops for "For the Boys," Mr. Gant said.
Unless they win a contest, customers generally have to pay between $10,000 and $30,000 for Wannabee trips, which allow them to be anything from an astronaut (attending the NASA space camp in Huntsville, Ala.) to professional cheerleader (working out with the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, "the leading girl dance and performing troupe in the U.S.," as the company brochure has it) to playboy ("a real lad's dream," including a trip to Las Vegas, a fake Rolex and a full Italian wardrobe).
"They're expensive, but so are cruises -- and what do you come back with besides a straw hat and a donkey?" said Mr. Gant, who researches and develops the fantasy scenarios and puts together flights, hotels and whatever accouterments go along with the setup.
Mr. Gant didn't want to reveal too much about the spy mission that brought Mr. Burns and Ms. Pratt to Baltimore -- that's why it's a spy mission, after all. Suffice it to say that the daring duo will be trying to reach an agent who has infiltrated a gang of bad guys. They'll happen onto clues at various area locations -- perhaps Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the nearby HarborView construction site today? -- and will undoubtedly have to do some stakeouts and trailing of various characters.
Since this is a vacation, the couple will be rather gently pointed toward the clues. "There will practically be arrows pointing at the clues," Mr. Gant joked.
While Mr. Gant's fantasy tours tend to take Britons to their former colonies, the reverse route may soon take place: He's hoping to offer Americans fantasy tours that take them to the United Kingdom -- as in, for example, "So you wannabee a lady of the manor . . ."