I set out to write a Bond novel in Fleming's style. Early readers praised it so I published it with altered names, etc., to avoid copyright infringement (you can find it at Amazon Skull & Bones by John Francis). The story answers the question of what became of 0011, who is stated as having disappeared in Singapore's Dirty Half-Mile. Here are chapters 1-3 of the original Bond version.
The Wreck of
the Buona Ventura
A series of trenches run along the western edge of the Pacific Rim. They border Japan then run south to the Philippine Islands before continuing into less inhabited waters. These trenches, some miles deep, separate the Pacific Ocean from the Philippine Sea, which is relatively shallow. The Buona Ventura sank in the Philippine Sea at a depth of something less than three hundred feet.
This was fortunate for the men who came to the wreck to salvage the Buona Ventura, a freighter of Italian origin that regularly sailed between Japan and Australia, for it meant that they did not have to dive deep for their goal. In English, the ship’s name was “good venture”, but meant “prosperous endeavour”, as in “hopefully, this endeavour will be prosperous”. The name had done the ship no good, as it did not save it from sinking with all hands aboard. It had been also fully loaded with cargo, some of it quite valuable. If the name Buona Ventura had any meaning, it was to the divers who came to salvage the ship, for they located the wreck fairly easily, and swam down into the inky darkness of the water to it. This swallowed the divers as if a thing alive, an embodiment of the fear of the unknown that lurks in the minds of man, a primitive, aborigjnal fear that took experience or training to quell.
In 1947, Fredric Dumas, a colleague of Jacques Cousteau, reached a depth of three hundred seven feet breathing oxygen alone. This was far beyond the recommended safe limit for air, due to the need for decompression. The build-up of nitrogen – known as hypercania – occurs when a diver rises from the depths too quickly, due to a difference in pressures between his starting location and eventual destination, normally the surface.
For example, a depth of one hundred sixty feet causes a pressure six times greater than that at sea level; diving to this depth requires six times the air for breathing the same length of time. The use of gas, which increases the depth divers can reach, can cause pressure in the blood upon ascent. In order to ascend safely, a number of stops must be made on the way up. These depend upon, among other things, how deep the diver goes and what he is breathing.
In fact, no stops are required for dives of less than twenty feet from the surface. This is one reason swimming pools are not this deep. A graph containing the number of stops needed for the desired depth is consulted by divers to ensure safety. It is not unusual for divers to make an extra stop, just to be sure that they have no problems ascending.
Heliox – a combination of helium and oxygen – was first used by the United States Navy in their salvage of the USS Squalus. This was a Sargo-class submarine that had sunk on a test dive in 1939 (it was raised and re-commissioned as the Sailfish in 1940). The proportion of oxygen to helium depends on the diving depth to be visited, and is typically ten percent. It is, in no case, more than twenty-one percent. With heliox – which is used for depths greater than those safely afforded by oxygen alone – decompression stops need to be taken for depths of between seventy and one hundred thirty feet.
These things, while gibberish to the layman, are known to professional divers around the globe and regarded as laws as immutable and sacred as those in religion. The men who came to salvage the Buona Ventura were professionals.
They wore the normal black wet suits and S.C.U.B.A. – short for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus – gear, breathing heliox gas from tanks on their backs as they made their way down to the Buona Ventura. The divers were equipped with the new Cressi Pinnochio masks, the first mask in the world to have a dedicated nose pocket, which made equalization possible. Yellow-white beams cast by underwater torches illuminated the way to the ship; the water was pitch-black at this depth because it was night. Even on the brightest day, the sun’s rays barely penetrated this deeply into the ocean, producing a gloomy, otherworldly twilight.
The black-suited divers were not interested in raising the freighter as America’s navy had been with the Squalus, but in her cargo, and only a part of it at that. This part was a sizeable amount of gold bullion on its way to the Commonwealth Bank of Melbourne.
Half a dozen divers entered the Buona Ventura through a large hole in its hull. This was jagged edged, indicating that an explosion had sunk the ship. The curling at the rim of the hole showed that the explosion had occurred on the exterior of the hull, and not from within. A boiler explosion, a common cause of ship sinkings, had therefore not caused the Buona Ventura to go down. The ship had struck something, or vice-versa.
The small army of divers – about a dozen in number – formed a chain. Each man passed a gold bar to the next man in line, until the booty reached a small pallet constructed of steel that sat on the ocean floor. There were in fact three of these, lined up side by side. The pallet quickly filled up; it did not take many bars to “fill” a pallet, because of the tremendous weight of gold, roughly thirty-one pounds per bar (this was the standard for ingots held in bank reserves around the world). When a pallet became full, a tall, muscular diver activated a valve on a series of tanks containing pure helium. A line from the series ran to a large balloon, which resembled the type used in weather observation. When the balloon was fully inflated, it pulled the pallet to the surface along a line. After the pallet had been emptied at the surface, it was lowered back along the line, so that it would not crash down upon any of the divers’ heads. The process was repeated until the hold of the Buona Ventura had been emptied of its gold, and the cargo safely stowed on the yacht above.
The divers then collected their gear, leaving nothing behind, no matter how small, and returned to the yacht, taking the necessary decompression stops. They left no trace of their presence behind.
Malcolm Sweet, the tall, muscular diver, removed his mask and rubber cap, revealing a bald head, bushy red eyebrows and matching moustache. His appearance might have been comical if it hadn’t been menacing. There was nothing pleasant about Mal Sweet’s face. In fact, it was marred by a number of scars. These had been caused by knife blades or the jagged glass of a broken bottle. One looked as though a bullet had burned its way across the flesh of his face. His nose had been permanently bent as a result of multiple breakings. One ear had been perforated by a bullet, the other half-chewed off, and cauliflowered. His entire visage bespoke of a violent past. It did not lie.
Malcolm Sweet had been born in Sidney, Australia in 1910 and was now in his early forties. His father had been a violent drunk, his mother weak and timid – afraid; afraid of her husband, afraid of life. Mal had grown up as violent as his father, whom he killed in his mid teens. He had used a butcher knife he had taken from a kitchen drawer as his father beat his mother. Mal had brawled every chance got he got as a child, for any reason he could find. In his late teens, he had taken to earning a living by bare-knuckle fighting. This paid better than the clothes washing his mother did for others. He barely escaped being thrown in prison after killing a man in one such fight. Only the fact that the other man had struck first had saved Mal, who claimed self-defence. The police knew that this was a lie, due to years of experience dealing with the unruly youth, but didn’t have enough evidence to convict him of murder; no one who witnessed the fight dared dispute Mal’s version of events.
Mal Sweet had enlisted in the Australian Infantry in 1939 when Britain, along with her ally, France, had declared war on Germany after it invaded Poland. He found that he liked killing even better than he liked fighting. When the war was over, he re-located to Indochina, where the Communist natives were trying to wrest control of the country from France, which had colonized the country the century before. Mal joined in on the side of the French as a member of their Foreign Legion. Although he didn’t particularly like the French, he figured that there would always be Communists to fight somewhere in the world, and the “scrap”, as he called it, in Indochina promised to go on for a long time.
Mal fought in Indochina for three years, until Ho Chi Minh took control of the northern section of the country in 1950. For the first time, Mal felt the odds were turning against him. He’d never been in a losing fight before. This was no doubt part of a so-called mid-life crisis that many men went through at age forty, but Mal wouldn’t have known what one was even if someone had told him. He didn’t believe in anything he couldn’t see or touch, and that included psychological “jiggery-pokery”, as he called it.
So Mal Sweet began looking around for other opportunities, opportunities that provided greater wealth and less risk of being killed; no matter how good you were on the field of battle, a lucky shot by someone on the other side could still kill you. Mal deserted the French Foreign Legion and disappeared. This wasn’t hard, since he had used a false name to join in the first place. The Legion being the refuge of the riffraff of the world, using a false identity was the custom. Legionnaires were then given new identities which they could retain upon mustering out, if they so desired. In the Legion, Mal used his family name, Sweet, as his nickname, so as not to be tripped up by his three names, his birth name, his assumed identity and his new Legionnaire identity. When he left the Legion, he went back to being Malcolm Sweet, who was unknown to the French Foreign Legion, and had no chance of being arrested for desertion, a frequent problem among the Legion. It wasn’t long after he’d left the Legion that the salvage operation had presented itself to Mal, and he’d taken it.
Mal contacted a number of his fellow professional soldiers, some from his past in Australia, others whom he’d met in Indochina, and soon gathered a band of cutthroats around him. These were as unpleasant as Mal in many respects, but there was no doubt about who was calling the shots. Bruised egos and broken bones attested to this fact, when Mal’s rule had first been challenged. After that, Mal Sweet was the undisputed leader of the crew. But occasionally, someone needed reminding.
‘Good show, lads,’ growled Malcolm Sweet, in a voice that was not particularly affectionate, as he stood on the deck of the Duchess, the Express Cabin Cruiser that served as his base of operations. His home away from home, as it were.
‘Say,’ said one of Mal Sweet’s cutthroats – this was a fellow Australian that Mal had known in his wild younger days -- to his boss, ‘ain’t it about time you chose a first mate? Somebody you can trust in case something happens to you?’
Mal cuffed his old friend. It was not a gentle blow. There was no hint of the long history between the men. The hand was hard, unhesitant.
‘Ain’t nothing going to happen to me,’ growled Mal Sweet, ‘so you can just forget about taking over from me. Now get back to work.’
As his old friend slunk away, Mal lit up a big cigar and puffed away on it for a few moments to get it going. This was a cheap Chinese cigar, bought in Macao, a city jointly controlled by the Portuguese and the Chinese, not far from Hong Kong. They were cheaper than the British brands available in Southeast Asian colonies because the Communist government of China set the market price of tobacco products. These were less smooth than European varieties, and came in a cheap metal tin that was golden coloured with the words “Great Wall” emblazoned in a deep crimson, and trimmed with the trappings of a wall in the background. Above, in a circle lined with tobacco leaves, was a drawing of a view of the wall from on top of it, with a way station in the background. They were made in Shifan, in central China, and nicknamed “Bright Pearl of West Sichuan”, a province known for its spicy cuisine. This industry stretched back three hundred years, and was listed as tribute to the Guangxi Emperor. In the current era, Great Wall supplied China’s leader, Mao Tse Tung, with cigars.
Blowing out a nasty plume of blue smoke, Mal Sweet announced, ‘Let’s get this loot back to the island and get it smelted.’
The Schizophrenic City
James Bond arrived in Hong Kong on a B.O.A.C. flight near eleven o’clock at night on Wednesday. His two-day journey had been a circuitous route that had taken him through the Near East and then over India, spending more than twenty hours in the air. It was still eighty degrees and very humid when the plane landed. During the flight, he had set his Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch – the type without the conspicuous flexible gold bracelet, which seemed too ostentatious to Bond – to local time, which was eight hours ahead of London.
Bond was a handsome man, with dark hair, a comma of which fell across one brow, and distant blue-grey eyes that held a sort of cold cruelty about them. A scar nearly as long as a finger ran down his right cheek, as if left by a single tear, a permanent reminder of some past regret. This, combined with his hard eyes, kept Bond from being too handsome. A short upper lip rested over a wide mouth. He was dressed for London weather, in his customary dark blue serge single-breasted suit, with loafers – he detested shoestrings – and black silk knitted tie. A .25 Beretta was tucked neatly away in a holster under his left armpit, and he carried a briefcase that held thirty rounds of ammunition for his gun and a silencer.
The Hong Kong airport – Kai Tak – was located in Kowloon, to the north of Hong Kong Island and separated from the People’s Republic of China by the Shenzhen River. Its name came from two businessmen, Ho Kai and Au Tak, who had sought to develop the area in 1922. They’d gone bust, and the government had taken over the land with the idea of putting an airstrip there. In 1924, Harry Abbott had started the Abbott School of Aviation on the site with a grass field, which was soon also being used by the RAF. A concrete slipway for seaplanes had been added in 1928. When the Japanese army had occupied the island in World War II, they expanded the field, constructing two runways, 13/31 and 07/25, destroying the famous wall of Kowloon Walled City and Sung Wong Toi, the memorial to the last Sung Dynasty, for materials to do it.
Kowloon City had a lower skyline than most cities, including Hong Kong itself, due to Kai Tak’s flight plans, which prevented tall construction near the airport. With mountains to the north, hills to the west and Kowloon Bay to the south – the runways actually jutted out into the water – Kai Tak Airport was one of the most dangerous airports to land at in the world, hair-raising for passengers and technically difficult for pilots.
Bond’s flight landed without trouble, and, after picking up his case at baggage claim, he hailed a taxi. This was coloured red with a silver top, indicating that it serviced urban Hong Kong, which included the island and Kowloon. Those in the New Territories, for example, were green with white tops. This would take him to his destination on Hong Kong Island.
The taxi driver, taking Bond’s luggage and placing in the boot, was short and thickly built, though not visibly fat. He had a round face and wore thick glasses over his heavily-lidded eyes, and reminded Bond of cartoon Orientals, though the fellow did not have over-sized front teeth as World War II Allied propaganda had them.
Bond directed the taxi to the South District. The view in that direction was dominated by Victoria Peak, on the western end of Hong Kong Island. From his previous time there, Bond knew that a tram, not visible from Kai Tak, scaled the mountain. The Peak Hotel, a mammoth structure, once lay at the upper terminus of the tram. The hotel burned down in 1938; the tram remained.
It was not James Bond’s first time in Hong Kong. He’d been stationed there, briefly, after the end of the war. The city looked completely different to him, transformed in the intervening seven years. This was probably as much a reflection of the changes in Bond himself as it was the city. He’d been in Naval Intelligence at the time, and now he was a Double-O, with a licence to kill. Having been part of a special commando unit nicknamed 30 AU, there was not much difference in his duties, except now he killed in cold blood rather than hot.
‘What’s your name, fellow?’ Bond asked, impressed by the way the Chinese driver manoeuvered through the narrow, winding roads of Kowloon. Driving was one of the few true pleasures Bond had.
‘Ying Hua,’ said the driver in an affable tone. Both English and the Cantonese dialect were spoken in Hong Kong, along with a peculiar pidgin form of English. ‘I am Ying Hua.’
‘I’m here on business for a few days, and I’ll need the use of a car. Would you be interested in the job?’
Ying Hua nodded enthusiastically but not too enthusiastically. He knew that foreigners paid well, and didn’t want to force his price down by appearing too eager. Chinese rarely showed much emotion in public, which had given them the reputation for being inscrutable.
Ying Hua named a sum. Bond, a world traveller and familiar with haggling, which most Caucasians disliked, counter offered, and, after Ying Hua had countered that, the two men reached an agreement that was profitable to both parties. In truth, Bond would probably have paid more if it had come to it, and Ying Hua would have accepted less. But both were satisfied with the results of the haggling, an Asian tradition.
The colourful vehicle took Highway 5 south, passing innumerable bilingual signs, curling around Kowloon Bay, to Nathan Road, in the centre of Kowloon City. This went to the tip of the peninsula, which pointed at Victoria City on Hong Kong Island. There, ferries ran a brisk business transporting automobiles back and forth between the island and the mainland. As the ferry crossed the narrow channel that separated Hong Kong from Kowloon peninsula, Bond took in the familiar unique smell of the place, due in part to the fresh water pouring into the bay from the Pearl River. The smell of incense was heavy in the humid air, and threatened to cling to clothing like smoke in a casino.
“Hong Kong” in fact meant “fragrant harbour”. Incense factories lined the coast to the north of Kowloon, and their product was stored around Aberdeen Harbour for export before the development of Victoria Harbour. The name Hong Kong originally referred to what was now known as Aberdeen Harbour, a small inlet on the southwest side of the island where British sailors had first met local fishermen. “Hong Kong” became a name for the entire island in the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, following the First Opium War.
Hong Kong, often referred to as “Where East Meets West”, was indeed a city with two sides. Ninety-five percent Chinese by ethnicity, it was still ruled by the British, who had gained control of it after the Second Opium War, in perpetuity. It was a strangely schizophrenic city, a mixing of Chinese culture and British law.
It was a little-known fact that Hong Kong’s official name was Victoria City, and that “Hong Kong” was the name of the entire island, not just one small part of it. Hong Kong Territory was a bit larger, encompassing part of the mainland and islands to the west known as the New Territories. Victoria City was one of four sections of Hong Kong, the others being Kowloon, on the mainland, Lantao, an island to the west larger than Hong Kong’s four hundred square miles, and the New Territories, which were farmlands to the north leased by the British government from the People’s Republic of China. Hong Kong was a shopper’s paradise, offering some of the best accommodations in the world. It was, among other things, a source of great revenue for Britain.
Victoria City was laid out fairly squarely, like any Western city, but once the taxi left this area, the roads became a maze inland. Lush green hills lay behind the Central section of Victoria City. Most of these were still undeveloped wilderness.
Like any good cabbie, Ying Hua pointed out the sights of the city, though Bond only half listened. He was tired, wanted to eat then sleep then get started on this assignment which didn’t seem to call for a Double-O. M, his superior, didn’t like using the Secret Service for investigations that would be better served by another branch of the British government, such as the office of the Exchequer. But Bond found Ying Hua an affable character and had no problem with his stories, which must have been practiced over many relatings, as smoothly as the man rattled them off in relatively good English. Though some words were mispronounced, Bond had no trouble understanding the man.
The red-and-silver automobile took a route that fairly bisected the island, passing through land that was mostly wilderness. Vibrant green forests rose like walls on either side of Stubbs Road, the main thoroughfare south, despite its narrowness. Stubbs Road became Wong Nai Gap Road, which then became Repulse Bay Road (in fact, this later, as it curved around the southernmost point of the island, became Stanley Gap Road, and then Tai Tam Road as it turned north again to the east). This took the vehicle directly to the Repulse Bay Hotel, passing by the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club. Bond hoped to get a better look at it, but didn’t put much effort into hoping, knowing that he was going to be busy. Perhaps after he had concluded the case.
Then, ahead, Repulse Bay. This body of water, located on the south shore of Hong Kong Island, might have been named for the HMS Repulse, which had been stationed there at one time. Another theory held that it was named for the British fleet’s repulsion of local pirates.
The Repulse Bay Hotel was a colonial-style structure that had been built in 1920. The Japanese, who had occupied Hong Kong in 1942, took it over and re-opened the hotel to the public in 1943 as the Midorigahama Hotel, which meant “the hotel of the green mountain” – green mountains surrounded Repulse Bay. When the Japanese surrendered, the hotel had been liberated, and its original name had been returned to it.
Its most famous feature was a large square cut-out in one of its four towers. This had been designed according to the Chinese philosophy of feng shui. Literally meaning “wind water”, feng shui was the practice of designing and constructing buildings to be in harmony in nature, and extended from the smallest shack to the largest hotel, and could include the arrangement of furniture within a dwelling. Living in a structure that did not utilize feng shui was thought to bring bad luck, even illness.
As Bond paid Ying Hua, the driver pulled a card out, and handed it to Bond, saying, ‘This is me, Ying Hua.’ Bond assured him that he would ring him the following day, handing him a bit extra money now to ensure his availability.
When Bond checked in at the front desk, he found a message waiting for him. It said simply: Meet me in the saloon.
James Bond did not quite know what to expect, but no one from the Opposition – whoever they might be – should have had any way of expecting him. So it was unlikely that the note was bait for a trap awaiting him in the saloon. That did not mean that Bond let his guard down.
He coolly surveyed the interior of the saloon without appearing to do so, or at least do so for the purpose that he did. To anyone watching him, it would have looked as though Bond was searching for someone who was waiting for him there. In this way, he was able to gaze into every nook and cranny of the room without arousing any suspicions. No one, he found, seemed the least bit interested in his presence.
Bond found nothing amiss. He walked to the bar and took a seat. ‘Vodka martini, with a lemon peel. Shake it, please.’
While he waited, Bond took a cigarette out of a gun metal case, and, using a black, oxidized Ronson lighter, lit it. The case held fifty – he smoked sixty a day – which were of a special blend with a higher nicotine content that most brands, prepared for him by Morlands in Grosvenor Street and had three gold bands around the filter. He had smoked these since he had been in his teens.
As the drink was placed before him, Bond felt a presence at his right elbow. He turned to meet it, and was pleasantly surprised to find a woman there. That did not mean that she was not dangerous – that she could not be dangerous – but only that she was a pleasant sight.
The girl’s jet-black hair was done up in a chignon, a bun, and fastened with those sticks that Westerners assumed were chopsticks but were not. The Chinese name for them was zan. She wore a shiny qipao – known in the West as a “cheongsam”, a Cantonese corruption of a Shanghainese term – in robin’s-egg blue. This matched her eyes, which were very blue and reminded Bond of the waters of the Caribbean. She was somewhere in her twenties, probably close to thirty; the amount of make-up she wore made it hard to be sure. She had a pleasant face. In fact, everything about her was pleasant. Outside, in the light from street lamps and neon shop signs, she could have passed as Chinese. Here, close up, even in the dim light of the saloon, she was plainly Caucasian.
‘Hello,’ the girl said in a pleasant voice that matched her pleasant appearance. ‘Is this your first time in Hong Kong?’
Taking a sip of his martini, Bond asked with a rueful smile, ‘Is it that obvious?’
The girl laughed softly. ‘No. But you’re in a hotel saloon so you must be a visitor. I just guessed that it was your first time.’
Bond smiled. ‘May I buy you a drink?’
‘My name is Mona Lisa McDonald,’ the girl said after Bond had ordered a glass of champagne. Bond knew little of champagne, and had asked for a Dom Perignon ‘46, which had been suggested by the waiter at Blades, the posh gentlemen’s club in London, when he was there with M, his superior, earlier that year. The vintage drink had been named for the monk who had invented champagne.
‘Mine’s Bond. James Bond.’
Mona Lisa sipped from her champagne glass. ‘I love champagne. Thank you.’
Bond merely nodded in response as he studied the girl. Either McDonald was her married name – there was no trace of an accent in her voice – or she was of the Black Irish, so-called because of their dark hair, and thought to be descended from the aboriginal, Neolithic inhabitants of Ireland. These were mentioned in the ancient Book of Invasions and Dennis O’Mullally’s History of O'Mullally and Lally Clan, or The history of an Irish family through the ages entertwined with that of the Irish nation.
‘Have you set your watch yet?’ the girl asked.
‘Yes. On the plane.’
‘Quite smart,’ said Mona Lisa. ‘You should set it five minutes fast, so that you’re never late. That’s what I do.’
‘That’s a habit of mine already,’ Bond replied, responding to the Service’s pre-ordained code that changed monthly. ‘Let’s go to a table.’
To any casual observer, it appeared that the handsome man at the bar had picked up an attractive local woman and the two were moving their conversation to a more private location where they could get to know one another better. Not that Bond had any suspicion that he was being watched. But security measures were put in place to cover instances of human error. They were strictly observed in the British Secret Service.
As the two walked through the darkened saloon, Bond noticed the girl’s nails were cut short – for typing, no doubt. He approved. When they had taken seats, Mona Lisa said, ‘I’m Mr. Vardan’s number two.’
Bond recognised the name. Arthur Vardan was the Service’s top man in Hong Kong and worked in the Colonial Office. This woman was his assistant, his second-in-command.
Mona Lisa continued, ‘He wasn’t sure how you’d like to handle contact … thought that you probably wouldn’t want to come marching into Government House.’
‘No,’ Bond agreed. ‘I would have telephoned.’
‘Yes,’ Mona Lisa said thoughtfully. ‘But after 0011 disappeared, Mr. Vardan didn’t want to take any chances. I hope you don’t mind.’
‘Not at all,’ Bond replied easily. ‘Better safe than sorry, I suppose.
‘What can you tell me about these coins?’ he continued, trying to get to the point.
‘I’m just here to make contact and tell you that we’re at your disposal,’ Mona Lisa answered. ‘M takes the disappearance of a 00 very seriously.’
As well he might, Bond thought. They were supposed to be the cream of the cream of the crop, as it were, and anything that caused one to go missing needed looking into. Bond had been busy in recent months, unable to be assigned to follow up on 0011’s disappearance; presumably, 008, the other man in the Double-O section, had been similarly occupied, and 009, just returned from being missing in action (presumed dead), was undergoing reconditioning. But Bond didn’t comment.
‘Mr. Vardan suggests that you come to his house tomorrow, at your convenience.’
‘Lunch would be fine,’ Bond said, thinking of the time difference between Hong Kong and London. To him, it was still late afternoon.
He was disappointed that the girl didn’t have more to tell him. Well, a few hours wouldn’t hurt anything. There wasn’t much he could do at midnight anyway, and he was tired after the long flight.
Bond stood when Mona Lisa did. ‘Good evening, Mr. Bond,’ she said pleasantly. ‘It was nice meeting you.’
‘Likewise,’ Bond replied. ‘Good evening, Miss McDonald.’
Bond watched the girl as she walked out of the saloon, wondering what she would look like dressed in normal clothing.
To Bond, his body acclimated to Greenwich Mean Time, it was not yet evening and he was hungry by the time he reached his room, which was on the fourth floor. This was numbered as the fifth, because like thirteen in the West, four was considered an unlucky number. Whereas the roots of thirteen being unlucky were lost to history, four was unlucky in Chinese culture because in both Mandarin and Cantonese – the language of the south of the country – it sounded like the word for “death”.
Bond ordered a cold roast beef sandwich and potato salad – about the only thing he could get from the kitchen at this time of night – and took a cold shower to wash the sweat off himself while he waited for his supper to arrive. As he did so, he wondered if this job really required a 00 at all. It had almost sounded too trivial when M had told him about it the day before. But a 00 was missing. That in itself required looking into. He’d know if M was right after he met with Vardan tomorrow.
‘Come in, 007’
It was one of those grey October mornings, the kind that England was so famous for. It was after nine on a Monday morning and the sun had yet to make an appearance. James Bond drove his Continental Mark VI through the streets of London, taking the roundabouts at forty in third gear. His destination was an unassuming building in Regent’s Park.
Bond enjoyed driving. He did not know why exactly, and had no intention of analysing it to death, for fear that this would take all the pleasure out if it. He had loved driving since he was old enough to do so and had once entertained thoughts of being a professional driver, many years ago when he was much younger (he was now thirty-seven). Perhaps it was the sense of control it gave, not just of the automobile, but of one’s own life – one’s own destiny.
Bond had bought his first car at eighteen, a fairly new 1930 Bentley, coloured battleship grey. He had loved the car, putting it into storage during the war, in which he had served in the RNVR, in Intelligence. He had wrecked the Bentley, chasing Hugo Drax, just months earlier. The one he drove now was its replacement.
The building in Regent’s Park was the headquarters of the British Secret Service. Bond parked the Continental in the rear and took the lift to the fifth floor, where his office lay. He was one of a select few – three, to be exact – in the Service to possess the 00 classification – licensed to kill. Bond had been in the Double-O Section for more than a year, and he could imagine no other type of life. It gave him the work he enjoyed, exciting, thrilling – dangerous.
Bond was met by Loelia Ponsonby, the Section’s secretary. Dark-haired and reserved, she greeted Bond with a smile.
‘Good morning, Lil,’ Bond said pleasantly.
Raising an eyebrow in displeasure – she didn’t like the diminutive, which Bond had told her she deserved with a name like “Loelia” – she returned the greeting. ‘M wants to see you.’
Straightening his black silk knitted tie, Bond returned to the lift, which took him up three floors.
The eighth floor was the uppermost in the building, and along with the office of M – head the Secret Service – it was home to the Communications Section. Behind her desk in the outer office was the ever-efficient Miss Moneypenny, who had served M for some years and, though still relatively young, was as much a fixture of the place as the basement firing range. She was desirable, but had cool, quizzical eyes that always made one feel inadequate, somehow, as if she couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing before her.
‘Hello, ‘Penny,’ said Bond.
‘Good morning, James,’ replied Miss Moneypenny. ‘He’s waiting for you.’
Bond glanced at the green light over the door. It was off, indicating that M was unoccupied. Despite wanting to chat up Miss Moneypenny, to take up the challenge her eyes offered, Bond entered the office.
M was at his usual spot behind his desk, bathed in soft green from the lamp with the coloured shade. The old man had a tranquil face, a face used to adversity. With clear grey eyes, M glanced up at Bond’s entrance. ‘Come in, 007.’
The use of his code number meant business. On more informal occasions, the old man whom Bond respected so much used ‘James’.
Bond paced across the green carpet and when he had taken a seat in front of the red leather-topped desk, M continued. ‘You’re aware that 0011 went missing back in March, before that “Moonraker” business,’ the old man said, leaning forward over his desk. His eyes were hard, frosty. He was irritated, or something like it. ‘It’s time we did something about that. Conventional methods in Hong Kong and the Macao Blue Route have turned up nothing.’
‘008 is on a mission, and 009, as you know, hasn’t been cleared by Medical since he returned,’ M explained. ‘0011 is not expected back.’
‘Do I start in Singapore, sir?’ Bond asked, referring to the last place 0011, the junior member of the Section, had reported from.
‘Negative, 007,’ grunted M. ‘Start in Hong Kong. I sent 0011 there because of gold coins that were turning up.’
‘Gold coins?’ asked Bond. ‘Another SMERSH operation like the one in the Caribbean?’ The Russian intelligence service had used a New York City gangster to launder pirate gold for them earlier in the year.
‘We don’t think so,’ said M, taking a small wad of tobacco from the fourteen pounder shell base that served as his tobacco jar and tamping it into his pipe. He lit it as he leaned back in his chair. ‘These are being salvaged from Chinese shipwrecks in the Pacific and sold in Hong Kong.
‘Or that’s the claim.’
Wishing that M would get to the point, Bond longed for a cigarette. He wanted to smoke one now. But he would never think of doing so in M’s office without being invited.
‘Oh?’ Bond said neutrally.
‘The gold coins being sold are fakes.’
‘The gold’s real enough,’ said M, ‘but the coins aren’t authentic.’
‘Why aren’t the local authorities handling it, in that case?” Bond asked with a slight knitting of his straight black brows.
‘Because the coins aren’t being sold as historical artefacts,’ M explained gruffly. ‘They are being sold by weight as refined gold. No claims of authenticity are being made and the coins are being sold to the kinds of people who don’t care about historical value. They melt it down and sell it in bars.’
‘Then why are we getting involved, sir?’ Bond asked somewhat impatiently.
‘Because it’s highly suspicious, 007,’ M said in a slightly irritated voice. ‘Whoever’s doing the selling could make, conservatively, five times as much selling the coins to museums or private collectors. That he’s not suggests he needs liquid capital in a hurry. And he’s doing it on British soil.
‘The fact that 0011 has disappeared confirms the Exchequer’s fears.’
Bond said nothing. He waited for the other shoe to drop.
‘The worry is that the Red Chinese are behind this,’ M said, taking a puff on his pipe. The blue smoke billowed out in front of his face.
So that was it.
‘0011 believed that the owner of the coins is located in Singapore,’ M continued. ‘But they are being sold in Hong Kong through a broker there, a Brit. Arthur Vardan, our man in the Colonial Office, can tell you all about him.’
‘Right,’ Bond said, noting the name mentally.
M turned and gazed out the window as if he were a sailor on the quarterdeck of an old wooden frigate, looking out over the sea, looking for some sign of an approaching storm. The old man – K.C.M.G. – had in fact been a Navy man, retiring as a Vice Admiral after the war to become head of the Secret Service. ‘You’re free from, eh, any entanglements?’
M did not like to speak of personal matters. He knew that Bond was putting up Tiffany Case, whom the agent had met on his last assignment, at his flat in Chelsea. M was something of a monk himself, when it came to women, and he preferred his men behave similarly. Although he looked down on what he called Bond’s ‘womanizing’ as a sign of weakness, M should not like to see his men married, either. For Bond’s part, he had never speculated about his superior’s sex life; it was too much like thinking about one’s parents.
‘Yes, sir,’ Bond replied evenly, knowing that M did not want to hear the truth. He wanted to hear that Bond was prepared to do whatever necessary to complete his mission, so that’s what Bond gave him. He had no idea how he was going to tell the old man that he was considering marrying Tiffany Case, when the time came. ‘I’m ready to go.’
‘The situation is already tense over there, 007, with those ships that have disappeared, so watch your step,’ M warned. The Korean War was in full bloom, and it was feared that the Chinese might take an active hand in the conflict. World War II was not so long ago that anyone had forgotten it.
‘Do you think that has anything to do with this?’ asked Bond.
‘The Chinese could be behind it, but if so, nobody can guess why,’ said M. ‘They’ll start a war if it’s learned that they’re sinking Western powers’ ships.
‘All the same, be careful.’
With that, James Bond left M’s office and began making preparations for his trip.