A Song In The Night
Posted 21 August 2008 - 05:43 AM
James Bond 007
A Song in the Night
Gene O. Laurenciano
Sober and Dead
The man was sober for the whole day yesterday and he hadn’t had a drop today. Tomorrow would be his third day of abstinence. Such happened annually because he couldn’t afford a tiny miscalculation in their scheduled air show.
A miscalculation would be fatal.
The man’s muscular features, rugged thick brows and deep set black eyes would easily classify him as handsome. The face was now showing age and weariness from alcohol abuse.
The bath felt good… also the sobriety.
He was looking at the closet mirror and drying his hair when another figure appeared. It looked exactly like him without the traces of alcohol abuse. He couldn’t be seeing double because he was sure he was clear-headed.
The man turned.
There was a blast.
My Name Is Bond…
The hotel sign could not be completely read due to the three letters of the neon billboard that had fizzled out in the rain that afternoon.
It was a pre-war building just outside east of London, in Spitalfields, and if it had been in the city proper, the government would have subsidized its maintenance to preserve its former grandeur that would have added to the classy ambiance of the premier English city. The building was just waiting for the city engineer’s verdict to one day tear it down. But until then, it would be a home for migrant workers and those who had income barely making it a ladder up the indigent bracket.
On a quiet night like this, if you were standing on a fifth floor terrace, you’d imagine hearing a faint gong of the Big Ben striking three and if you had looked down, you’d see a shadow in fedora and trench coat about to board a sleek sedan – which was a very rare sight to pick up or to bring in a resident, though it sometimes happen.
The remaining drift of the day’s rain fell on the shoulder of the man in fedora. He looked up to see where the trickle was from and the enduring letters of the neon shone on his face. He had thick brows and that was all that was clearly seen. The color of his eyes was undetermined. The man wiped the wet spot and smelled the drip. Assured that it was plain water, he proceeded to his car and drove on the stretch of the road until the car was seen no more.
A flash of light blinded the forensics investigator bent down looking at the face almost erased of a dead man sprawled on the floor.
“Hey, will you let me do my work first before you take pictures or I’ll bar you out,” the investigator warned the news photographer.
“I’m not talking to you.”
“The wound was from a shot gun fired at close range.”
“So that was what I heard,” the photog concluded.
“Don’t remind me that he was your next-door neighbor and you’re the one who called the police hotline. For all I care, you’re a suspect unless proven otherwise.”
“You can’t scare me, chief. Got a solid alibi. Am nursing my wife who’d just given birth the other day and her lady friend was sleeping at the sofa – in case there’s woman trouble I can’t handle.”
“Then stay out of my face.” The forensic expert shifted his attention to his colleague pointing to a smudge on the linoleumed floor. “Shoe print. Size twelve, I think. British traditional pattern, I’m sure. I have a pair of those shoes. Meier. As expensive as it is as comfy and durable. Lasts for years; a lifetime even.”
A man was holding a piece of leaflet he picked up from a table top and when he turned he talked to one of the police who was absorbed on a framed picture, above the thickly soothed fireplace, that memorialized a speck of eternity decades ago. It was a snapshot of a junior high cricket team that showed the man with thick brows in the center. Another member of that team was having the likeness of the man that picked up the leaflet. Beside the team picture was another frame of the thick browed man posing in the cockpit of his plane The Angry Dog.
“Inspector, thanks for informing me of my friend’s demise. Jonathan was a good pilot. We went to junior high together and he trained for the RAF, while I chose the Royal Navy. ”
“It was a hunch, Mr. Bond. I knew he lived here and when I got the call… the apartment unit number… Major Jonathan Spence was a good chap. He once had joked that you were his only living relative and if anything should happen to him, you’re the one to be informed immediately. We played golf a lot and he spoke of you in high regards.”
“I’m afraid he told you the truth.”
The Scotland Yard Inspector released a dry mirth. “Only how good a friend you are.”
“You know where to reach me. The same number he gave you. That’s my flat. Or if I’m out, I’d be at my office – UnivExp. The number’s on our website. Thanks again.” Mr. Bond pocketed the piece of paper and shook hands with the Inspector.
“I will, Mr. Bond.”
The date in the leaflet was today and the time is thirty minutes from now. Expected in the attendance of the event was the Royal Family, from the Queen to the last member of the House of Windsor. The sun was already peeking out of roofs that demarcated the sky and the earth. Bond hopped in his silver Aston Martin.
James Bond pressed the pedal and the Aston Martin was a streak in the mist.
A leaflet on the ground announced the 67th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and the Royal Family would grace the event. A flight assistant cranked the propeller of a Spitfire that swirled the leaflet to the air. The same announcement was heralded by a long banner flapping in the wind before the entrance to a hangar.
Inside the hangar pilots and planes were getting ready; mechanics were fine tuning magnificent flying toys. Fighter planes – Messerschmitt BF-109s and Spitfires -- were being given the rub down that would make them gleam in sunlight.
It was again 1940.
The wall of the hangar was decorated with memorabilia from the era; the flying machines were authentic and restored to their former fighting prowess when a man had to face his adversary in the sky and he wins by skill and not by technology, the leather jackets worn by the airmen creased with that gritty sound of pure hide and emitted the same manly odor, too, that added to the smoke of half-inch thick tobacco being puffed.
These boys loved to dress up and they were lucky that they were paid to do what they loved the most: dress up as WWII pilots and engage in mock dogfights in real fighter planes.
The speakers on the rear end blared to update the pilots and their crew for any changes; as of that hour, there was none. A door opened; the squadron leader, with his pointer stick, strutted in and everyone gathered in front of a blackboard for the last minute briefing. The squad went through the sketches of aerobatic stunts as a final reminder before they hit the wind. One pilot, with thick brows, gave a secret smile to the ordnance man who had just finished spray-painting a rocket with the word “dummy”. The ordnance man returned the glance with a sheepish grin. After the briefing the airmen made their way to their planes. The fighters readied to taxi.
James Bond had pulled in; the planes had lifted the ground. He jumped off his car and ran to the squadron leader who was about to board his own plane, Mischievous.
“I got to get in the air-show,” he said, holding the squadron leader on the shoulder.
“And who the bloody hell are you supposed to be, the Red Baron?”
“You see – “ James punched the daylight out of squadron leader. “ -- my name is Bond, James Bond.”
A mechanic saw the scuffle.
“Hey! You!” he called and rushed to aid the down squad leader.
Bond cranked the propeller, clambered into the cockpit, and as soon as his head was in, he pulled the gears for take off. The mechanic grabbed him by his foot and James kicked and spun but the mechanic stuck like a hungry leech. The plane was about to clear the runway and lifted a few feet and bumped back on the pavement. 007 pushed the gear further; the plane pointed its nose up. The Spitfire Mischievous had cleared the runway and had ascended more than a hundred feet in a bumpy climb when the mechanic, who by now had Bond’s both legs, yanked him down. With both legs clamped and hanging on not only for his dear life but also to that of the mechanic’s, 007 could not do anything. He pushed the throttle more and the old RAF fighter gave a fine whine, shooting upward to more than a thousand feet. The plane following the projected course climbed like a shaky graph of a bullish stock in the trading floor.
The crews at the hangar that were once in scattered knots were drawn to a single group in wordless anxiety.
One desperate yank from the mechanic slid James down. He felt the force of the jerk and the control slipped from his hand. The plane started to nosedive to a ravine in a crazy spin, putting the two men attached to it in the mercy of centrifugal force. The tilt slammed Bond inside the cockpit, though he was not in it comfortably -- a hand was gripping the stick and another was holding at the edge of the half-moon curb of the entrance. The mechanic was screaming on top of his lungs, competing with the sonic roar of the engine; his saliva was rushing out of his mouth in shower of splurge. The mechanic hit his head on the side of the fusillade on one crazy flip and he was jolted dizzy; the red of his blood from the split forehead added color to the prosaic volley of spits.
The people at the hangar, who were treated to an air stunt show of their own, released a symphony of sighs when they saw the Mischievous dive in a smoky tailspin heading for a crash.
James managed to free a leg and gave the persistent mechanic a kick in the face. He sensed the hold loosened a bit and he pounded a second kick. Bond was able to grab the mechanic by the collar of his sturdy coverall but the hold began to slither.
The plane was about to hit rocks; the hold of the mechanic had completely eased off and the weight now bearable. James inched forward for an extra arm length to drive the throttle forward. The engine responded and curved up before touching the rocky floor.
Those watching from the ground were saddened and a couple was about to shed a tear for a lost comrade when a dot appeared in the horizon. They applauded, seeing the Spitfire once again up and gaining height.
The mechanic who had been shaken to the near-death experience ceased to struggle and held on Bond. 007 grasped his collar tightly while he slinked into the cockpit.
Holding the gears and freely able to maneuver with one hand, James put the plane in steady flight. The mechanic was perspiring though he didn’t know that he was because the gust of air was drying the sweat as soon as they had prickled out of his skin. The only wetness he was feeling was the warm streak of urine between his legs.
Nearing the airfield, patches of colorful tents came into view. Bond relaxed on the throttle. The plane glided in a gradual descent. He hovered above the carnival ground. When he was approaching the big ten, Bond went down to almost roof high flight and dropped the mechanic. The rattled mechanic flapped his arms and legs in a futile effort to grab anything solid. He plunged on the big tent. The tent was caving when the Spitfire did a corkscrew as it headed up to join in the real air-show.
The arrival of the Royal family was announced by the master of ceremony and the RAF Marching Band hit the first note. TV cameras gathering footages, capturing the ambiance suddenly converged to a single focal point and each news anchor took stance to deliver their rehearsed spiels. The Queen gracefully waved her white gloved hand to her beloved subjects, which was welcomed with cheer and tossing of hats. The Prince of Wales was all a-smile, his sons, the two princes, were smartly dressed in their uniform representing the arm services they chose to serve. They were followed closely by his brothers and their wives with their children in a parade of monarchs.
After the musical salute, the Royalties, with their entourage sat. The imperfect sky with a few patches of drifting clouds was made perfect with fireworks. The Mother Queen was handed a gilded binoculars by an aide and she peered at the pyrotechnics display with the heart of a child.
A stereophonic roar coming from eastern and western horizons rumbled after the last spark of fireworks was gone. A squadron of Spitfires loomed in the eastern sky to confront a flank of Messerschmitt Bf 109 from the west and they were to meet almost directly above the stadium to engage in a mock dogfight.
James Bond pulled closed the canopy of his Spitfire and the wind hitting his face moist and humming in his ears shut off. He saw the squadron miles away in a formation where the lead plane was missing. The Spitfire Mischievous was supposed to lead the show and he hadn’t any clue of the stunts. Not seeing The Angry Dog immediately in his peripheral vision, Bond slid his plane in to the blank space and turned on the radio to warn ground control.
“This is Commander Bond in Spitfire Mischievous to ground control, an impostor is flying the Spitfire The Angry Dog and he could be after the Royal Family. Repeat: The Angry Dog is in the hands of an impostor and he could be after the Royal Family.”
There was no reply. Bond tried the emergency frequency of the Royal Air Force and, again, there was no reply; the headset was also dead. It could only mean that the radio was decommissioned or sabotaged and the squadron could be flying deaf in a rehearsed aerial ballet. Without communication link, the acrobats and the ground spectators are in mortal danger.
Bond couldn’t risk the likelihood of a mid-air disaster and he flew along side the nearest plane he could. A hand gesture attracted the attention of the pilot. Bond pointed to his headset, signaled the pilot that he has no com link. The Pilot motioned that he, too, was. Bond motioned back that he should land and also tell that to others.
The pilot detached in a nice side glide. And just about the air-show was to commence the highlight of the event – the mock dogfight of the Messerschmitts and the Spitfires – The Angry Dog strafed the nearest Luftwaffe fighter plane.
Seeing one of the Luftwaffe’s Bf 109s’ tail burst to smoke and twirling down to earth, incited a deafening cheer from the crowd. The bandleader’s baton struck vigorously and it was responded by dynamic beats. The pilot ejected out; his parachute bloomed. It solicited more cheers. The Queen gave a graceful applause to the life-like aerial heroism.
Bond saw that it was The Angry Dog that shot down the Messerschmitt. He flew over it and slowly leveled behind. When he had The Angry Dog in the crosshair of his machine gun, he fired.
The Messerschmitt exploded in flame when it hit the ground. Sirens from rescue trucks wailed, rushing to the defunct flying machine, bombarding it with fire extinguisher from all sides. The pilot’s jacket was ripped on the shoulder, darkened with blood.
“I’m hit! The bastard’s using live rounds!” he cried.
“Call off the show!” radioed the ground crew to the air marshal. “Call off the show! Save the Royal Flush!”
The air marshal called the pilots to land, but he too was surprised to learn that there was no communication link with the planes.
Bond felt the jolt of the machine gun from Mischievous spewing bullets. He could have sworn that he had a direct hit, yet The Angry Dog was unscathed.
He pressed again. The machine guns chattered anew. No damage to The Angry Dog.
The Angry Dog looped up and was now behind Mischievous, ready to fire. Without hesitation, the on-board machine guns ranted an unholy recital. Bond dived to evade the salvo. But after some seconds of evasive maneuvers, Mischievous was back in the cross hair of The Angry Dog. The pilot of the Dog smiled and dug his thumb in the red trigger button.
Bond saw the stitches of holes embroidered the starboard of his plane. He pushed the gear to its limit; the plane wiggled and screamed upward, hiding behind a drifting cumulus. When he came out the other end, The Angry Dog was heading toward the grandstand where the Royal Family was. There was not a second to squander; Bond dived as fast as the engine could give, meeting The Dog to a head-on challenge. However, the damaged wing could not take the strain imposed by the speed. The dots joined in a single line and the wing was torn; Mischievous zigzagged and spun in uncontrollable flight. Bond bailed out. He caught the torn wing and rode it like a surf board toward The Angry Dog.
The crowd in the grandstand cheered, having no idea that they were no longer watching a show and all of them were collateral targets.
The Angry Dog swooped to evade the spiraling wreck and encircled to face the aero surfer. With a flick of a finger in the trigger button the pilot released a wall of wave of projectiles. Bond, possessing the reflexes of a fly, dodged the rain of incoming tracer bullets in a barrel glide, but somehow, the piece of the wing was hit by a volley having the impact of a shockwave.
The irritant was now out of consideration, saw him floated up his windshield carried by the updraft. A console box was produced by the pilot from under his seat. It was a portable guidance system gadget for smart bombs. He patted a toggle that armed a missile underneath the belly of his plane and as soon as he had zeroed in on the section where the Royal Family was, he launched.
Bond, not only possessing a fly’s reflexes but also its determination, was above The Dog when he saw the missile dropped. It would be a free-falling object for a few seconds until the fins come out and the solid propellant booster kicks to life, transforming it to a guided ballistics. The corners of his unbuttoned tailored suit were clutched and its back ballooned, holding air like a maladroit paraglide. As soon as he had taken balance, Bond clipped his arms – concentrating the traffic of wind to a smaller opening in his canopied suit to comply with the principle of aerodynamics, doubling his free fall speed toward the missile.
The dorsal fins of the missile had popped up and the engine had sparked a whirr. It was beginning to gain momentum when Bond landed on it, saddling the rocket in an airborne rodeo.
A trumpet hit a discordant note when the blower discerned the missile spewing blue flame heading to the grandstand. The spectators were informed of the real drama taking place above them and it ignited hysteria. The authorities were not certain if the rocket was carrying the high explosive Destex, or worse, a thermonuclear device. Whichever of the two, the spectators will be wiped out and, with extremely high probability, include the Queen Mother and every one of the Royals, leaving England with no monarchial sovereign.
Chaos erupted; the primary concern of all was to run away or take solid cover.
The missile was heading to the scampering people on the ground and the thick crowd was hindering the royal bodyguards to move out the Monarchs in their desired cadence. There was no way whatsoever that they could out-run the screaming rocket in Mach 2 speed and the resultant blast. Any attempt to escape was the dictate of instinct, but it was already academically impossible.
The rocket wiggled with 007 saddling it, but resolute and unwavering in its trajectory. Bond was feeling the heat despite the onrush of cool mid-morning air. The titanium exhaust of the missile was glowing red and with yellowish spots flickering to indicate tremendous temperature. The space that separated the missile and the grandstand shrunk. A direct hit was inevitable.
Double 0 7 whipped out his Walther P99 and pounded hard on a dorsal fin. He sensed it bent a bit and he pounded some more until the flight digressed to a new course, breaking the resolute trajectory to a deviated tangent. He pounded and pounded, snapping a fin and scrunching another out of shape, ‘til he could no longer hold on because of the heat. But he could now see that he had altered the trajectory to several degrees, directed to an open airfield, beyond a valley.
With hands all scorched and blistered, Bond unsaddled the rocket nearly a thousand meters in the air for what he believed to be his last good deed.
The Queen was petrified, mesmerized, witnessing her hero in a death plunge and she could not command her eyes to thrust aside the horrendous spectacle.
No matter how fancy he could freefall, there was only one answer to the equation that presented itself harshly and it was as sure as the law of gravity. Bond would splat flat on earth dead. He could see the running colorful dots gained forms as scampering humans and the patches of rectangles becoming roofs as he meets the earth.
007 directed his body to a flapping banner attached to a high pole proudly proclaiming The 67th Battle of Britain Commemoration 2007. James Bond seized it like Zorro who had used drapes to swing from balcony to balcony. Double 0 7 let the law of physics do its share; the momentum shifted from acceleration due to gravity to a pendulum swing inches from the ground that would have splattered him dead. Reaching the end of its swing, the banner was ripped by the sudden acquired weight. Bond’s fall was broken and he tumbled on the asphalted marching ground, colliding with the band’s instruments abandoned there during the chaotic dispersal.
There was no sign of movement when Bond’s body stopped rolling. The piece of the banner was wrapped on him – the ripped piece that had the numbers 007 on it.
The heroism and the incredible aerial gymnastic that was more absorbing than the rehearsed aero acrobat made the spectators forget about the bomb for a few seconds…
…Until they were reminded by the thundering explosion from the valley.
A Visit From The Queen
Bond was on his stomach.
A long wound on his back surrounded by abrasions resulting from scuffing on the asphalted portion of the parade ground was stitched; his hands was plump with bandages and they were as numb as pairs of melons. A beautiful Asian nurse was standing by, a syringe gleaming in her hand. Bond was feigning sleep and he dropped his arm on the side of the bed the moment the nurse had stepped closer.
Expelling the air out in the syringe, the nurse rotated the dextrose bottle on the hanger to mix the medicine. She had the needle inside the mixing port when there was a hand on her hind leg, inching to her cheeky buns. She looked at it, James snored and the nursed smiled.
“Mr. Bond…” She wiggled her legs to gently shake off the intruder, but it stubbornly advanced. “Please…”
James heaved a long lazy groan of a man between the edges of consciousness and dreams.
“Please, you’re not in physical shape to do what’s on your mind… might be detrimental -- Ow!” The hand was about to go where very few had gone before. The nurse had in her mind her amateur football player fiancé and at this point she was weighting the consequence of cheating on him.
“I can see that you’re attaining amazing progress, Double 0 7,” a voice seemed to shatter the silence and Bond’s eyes rounded in surprise. The nurse, in the same surprise that gripped the secret agent, made her drive the syringe in his butt. It was so unexpected that he almost yelped.
The voice James respected so much quelled the protest he was about to air. She was accompanied by an entourage that included the Queen. The surprise of the unexpected prick was replaced by the biggest surprise any Englishman could fancy.
“Her Majesty…” was all he could utter, his hand slipping away from where it had tried to claim stake before. The nurse smiled at him and walked away in a bouncy trot which James had suddenly lost interest in.
“I can’t wait to confer you this Medal for Exemplary Bravery that’s why I requested M to have an audience with you.”
“I’m… I’m very much honored, Your Royal Highness,” and very much embarrassed, he could have added.
“The House of Windsor should be the one grateful for your heroism.”
“It’s every Englishman’s duty to lay his life for the crown.”
“Anyway, I would have pinned this on your chest, but it seemed that your movement is limited to your hands – “ The Queen smiled hinting that she had seen the little misbehavior. “And I won’t risk more damage asking you to flip over. I am handing you this medal and all the privileges it carries, on this 31st day of August, year seventh of the second millennia.”
Bond attempted to receive the medal with his wrapped hand, but he can’t get a full hold on it. The Queen would have just put it on his back, yet it looked obviously hurt that she didn’t. Finally, she placed the medal where Bond could receive it without further throes and she was also able to pin it – on his butt.
“Very charming,” M aired with a ghost of a grin.
That was a week ago, James had alighted from his Aston Martin and on the stairs of the skyscraper that housed the Universal Exports, (London) LTD; his hands still in bandages making driving a bit of a hassle. James wanted to exercise his legs that had been inactive for ten days after the incident. Halfway to the 14th floor – M’s office -- Bond began to question his decision and he stopped for a breather. He pulled out his gunmetal cigarette case and lit a stick. On the second drag he stared at the burning cigarette with another question nagging him. Deciding that cigarette had contributed to his short breathlessness, he snuffed it and dumped the case and the lapis lazuli lighter in the thrash can.
Finally reaching the 14th floor, James was greeted by Ms. Moneypenny and when the friendly niceties were done, she directed him to M’s office.
“Have a seat, Double 0 7,” M could not wait for another second of preamble and it worried Bond. The urgency of the note he received was implied right away.
“The man who attempted to wipe the Monarchs is Konrad Lapuski, believed to be 47 years old, a hardened former member of Organyzatsia, the Russian Mafiya, now a free-lance assassin. He is the only one who had left the organization and lived – hunted of course by the Red Mafioskos -- nevertheless luckier than Lucky Luciano... the Royal genocide attempt was an initiative, his own, to attract criminal investors… a sort of an advertising campaign, but MI6 is not excluding the possibility that an extremist faction could be financing Lapuski.”
“What’s his present status?” Bond was looking at several pictures of different men all bearing the caption ‘Konrad Lapuski’ with corresponding dates that each photo was taken. He was not amazed to see the likeness of his friend amongst the files.
“Of course, that’s not the face he’s wearing right now. Word was he is grinding an active claim for the top leadership of the most powerful crime syndicate in the world -- out-grossing the Italian Mafia, Japanese Yakuza and Chinese Triads in revenues. And infinitely more dangerous because it has in its offered menu stolen warheads from the former Soviet Empire available to anyone who has the money to pay.”
“Who’s the source of these snaps?”
“A plastic surgeon from Hong Kong, through the Interpol.”
“I bet he’s dead that’s why the last snap was not supplied.”
M nodded. “The surgeon kept a copy of his files in a flashcard locked in a bank vault.
“I’m ready to take the assignment.”
“Hmmm… not quite. That’s why you are here so I could personally tell you that 008 is already on the case.”
“It was supposed to be mine.”
“MI6 will not wait for you to check out of that fancy hospital while Lapuski’s trail grows cold.”
“How’s he doing?”
“I’m sorry, Double 0 7. Need to know basis.”
A dart pinned the bull’s-eye. Another went in the rim, but outside the wire that separated the red dot from the green. Another appeared, as if it from thin air, joining the first dart in the red circle. There was a loud cheer inside the Scotish pub were a small-town darts competition was being held. The man who scored almost a perfect round came forward to pick up his darts; his hands had fully healed from scorches it suffered nearly a year ago. He was in a plaid flannel shirt, denim pants and Adidas, a set of attires he was most unlikely to be seen in because he was used to tailored suits and hand-crafted shoes to hug his frame. Just the same, James Bond’s appeal was never diminished by clothes fit for country folks. And at only rare moments that he visits pubs where hooligans throw their bodies around. But this is not an ordinary pub frequented by common hooligans. This was a pub in the town where James grew up in, and the supposed hooligans were childhood friends, neighbors and acquaintances he shared the age of innocence with.
“Go, James, Go!”
“A pitcher of ale for our friend, James. Put it on my tab!”
“I wonder what else can that hand do! I mean except throwing some mean darts.”
Laurie, James’s next door neighbor who was now the pub manager could barely hear the buzzing phone above the merriment. She slid a pitcher to the other end of the bar and picked up the phone.
“Hellar…?” She listened. “Hey, James, it’s for you!” she shouted.
James was hefting the darts, about to take the line. He was tapped on a shoulder by an old man with a foamy mug and a foamy beard. “Phone for you!”
Bond gave him his darts and snaked his way to the bar.
“Yes?” He said on the phone. It was M. “How did you know I was here?”
“You’re not in London and the immigration swore that you did not leave England. Is this line safe?”
“They can’t tap on any local pub in small town. Even America has no resources to tap on all phones in hashish dens in the outskirts of Afghanistan.”
“Are you saying then that this phone is sanitized?”
“I’m not taking the risk. I want you in London immediately.”
It was a breezy five o’clock in morning; the Aston Martin entered the underground car park of the Universal Exports, LTD building at Vauxhall Cross. Bond took the lift for the 14th floor to see the office busy. It could be of extreme emergency that at the wee hours of a balmy night, UnivEx was teeming with staff and they shared a common expression – that of silent grief. Ms. Moneypenny was not smiling as usual when she led James to M’s office. Bond found some members of the secret service huddled when he entered, having either a cup of coffee or tea to nurse the night. The way they were dressed, it was evident that the meeting was unplanned and he didn’t feel out of place with his attire.
“A rather sad news, Double 0 7,” M opened the conversation; the only one who was appropriately clad. The rest of the secret service people shifted their eyes on Bond. “We received an information from your friend in the CIA, Felix Leiter, that Double 0 8 is dead. Killed in Las Vegas in an amateur fight league bout.”
“Why on earth would Double 0 8 get mixed up with an amateur fight league?” Bond was so taken aback that he could not control a slight rise in his voice.
“It was his chance to face a thug named Yuri Togano.”
“Who is Togano?” Bond queried.
“Togano is Lapuski’s friend. They had been buddies since they were kids, stealing petrol from parked military trucks in Moscow’s side streets. The two were fearless if I would choose a word to describe them. Of course 008 didn’t know that. Only later when he noticed something out of place with Togano every time he appeared for a bout. He was surrounded by bodyguards – more than that Muhammad Ali used to have, or Mike Tyson. It costs money for such, not to mention how he burns a lot more on the casino tables,” Bill Tanner, MI6 Chief of Staff, followed up.
”As soon as Vyacheslav Kirillovich Ivankov or ‘Yaponchik,’ Soviet Russia’s highest ranking military defector, had consolidated the potential of street gangs as an army that would later rise as the monstrous Red Mafiya, the young Togano and Lapuski were recruited, not as tacticians but as members of it’s disciplinary arms. Togano was a muscle and Lapuski in a tad more glamorous job as assassin,” added M.
“Double 0 8 could have thought that Togano could point him to the source of his money, not the legendary El Dorado, but to Lapuski. The brawl’s prize was nothing for Togano. Joining was a way to legally hurt and maim people… and it was more fun hurting those who had the ability to fight back. It is not peculiar to those who were introduced to violence at an early age to seek a release,” another supplied.
“But Ivankov -- with his cohorts, Sergei Ilgner, and Valeriy Novak -- had been caught and brought to trial and sentenced in a federal court in the Eastern District of New York, on July 8, 1996. They were convicted of extortion and conspiracy charges,” Bond countered.
“Remember Double 0 7, that Vladimor Lunev is still at large. The FBI and Canada’s Mounted Police had no idea where he could be found – “
“It’s an open secret that he lives in a mansion in East Beverly Hills,” Bond said.
“Yes that’s true. But if ever, no one alive could connect him to the Organyzatsia.”
“Except – “ Bond let his word hang.
“Lapuski,” supplied M. “And Togano could give us Lapuski. Double 0 8 was right on track, however it was sad that he perished prematurely. Be careful, Double 0 7.” She retrieved from her drawer a plane ticket.
For James Bond, M need not say another word to signify that the assignment was his.
“Your plane leaves in twenty minutes,” she gave it to Bond.
An exclusive subdivision in the suburban Bangkok for émigrés and alien retirees had added a family in its residents last month. They were from Russia and the neighborhood thought that they were rich because their house was one of the biggest in the locality. A member of the family was tied to a wheelchair and they don’t socialize much. Everyone thought that all the new neighbors needed was the period to adjust. They were all like that when they first moved in.
The Fight League
Bond would not miss the broad shoulder of his quarry hunched on a roulette table. He espied him lost twenty grands in a single round and he could tell that Togano was becoming cantankerous. A man by his right side, betting minimally, was a bodyguard and another at the nearest slot machine dropping coins to pass the time, not minding if he wins or lose, watching for any threat to his boss. There were some more and Bond had marked them all.
James crossed the hall from the bar, carrying a tumbler of brandy filled to the rim, which had prompted the bartender to caution him about the Las Vegas County Drunk Driving Ordinance. Bond replied that he’s not going to drink it anyway. When he was within Togano, pass the bodyguard in the slot machine, James pretended that he tripped from the bodyguard’s foot and the tumbler smashed on Togano’s head.
“I’m very sorry,” James apologized. “It was a waste of Hennessy…”
The bodyguards reacted. One went down right away, greeted by the sole of Bond’s leather patent shoe; his lips split like a pork sausage from a burst casing. Slot machine had the privilege to see the on-coming knuckles; however he wasn’t fast enough to steer clear of it.
Before Togano could rise up, two of his bodyguards were already down. He saw the third landing his back on the floor, hearing a crisp sound that could be bones breaking. The poor bodyguard was grimacing in pain, trying to get up but couldn’t. Togano shoved the gathering on-lookers only to see another of his man received a shiner.
He had snatched Bond by the neck and was about to give him a sample of his ruthless fist, but his arms become heavy. Two security guards from the casino were restraining his arms and two more had his torso. The chief security was blowing a whistle, getting everyone’s attention for a moment.
“I said I’m sorry,” Bond repeated in a shrill tone with his windpipe clamped. He struggled to get free from the iron claw, which only gripped tighter. A kick on the groin would not be effective because he was lifted, barely touching the ground and he was more likely to hit the casino guards restraining Togano. Bond unclipped the middle finger of the Russian brute and pushed it backward. The snapping bone was heard more above the whistle. Togano’s face was flamed in pain, yet he was too proud to howl. He let go of Bond and the rest of the casino guards came between the two clashing brawlers.
“I see you can fight well,” the big Russian spat in heavy accented English.
“Better than your nannies.”
“How about you and me, there!” Togano pointed to the arena at the center of the casino. There were clowns on it in rib-tickling scuffle.
“Sure, why not? Let’s schedule the bout next year.”
“You’re a funny guy. You’ll no longer be after I’m done with you.”
“Fight! Fight! Fight!” a clamor rippled.
Bets were marked on the board; the clowns were kicked out of the octagon arena and the combatants were told to put on regulation gears. The gloves with exposed fingers were already being fitted when Togano refused.
“Better wear ‘em or this fight won’t push through,” a corner man warned him.
“I want to kill him with my bare hands.”
“You know you can’t do it here. The Nevada Gaming Commission won’t allow it. Do it outside after you’ve pulped him to a pitiful mash.”
“Yeah… he’d be as dead anyway.” Togano kept his eyes on Bond, whose hands were being gloved. He threw the assigned referee a meaningful glance and the game official replied with an indiscernible nod.
Bond’s Rolex was unstrapped by his corner man. “Can I have this watch… in case you don’t survive this game?”
“W-what?” Bond was annoyed.
“Nobody had beaten Togano yet and in every one of those fights he entered the ring in a happy mood. Now, he’s fuming mad.”
“I thought you’re my corner man! Who you bet for?”
“Togano. I’m here only to assists you, that’s all. I don’t even know your name, mister.”
“My name is – “ James noticed the corner man was not interested. “Never mind.”
The voice of the announcer bellowed. “We are here to bear witness to an impromptu match of two fighters, one of which had ruled this sport since he stepped inside the ring. The man I am referring to is none other than Moscow’s merciless mercenary, death’s own ambassador – Yuri Togano!”
The spectators cheered; the attendance had doubled since the hour that the fight was arranged and the casino secured the special permit to push the event through. The problem in the big difference in weight was overcome by applying the bout license in an open class division of the free-style martial arts category. Before the announcer proclaimed the challenger, he went to the corner and asked for his name.
“What would you like to be known, laddie?”
“The Chicken Killer,” Bond said confidently.
“The what – “
“You heard me right, old man.”
“Okay… you might as well be the headless chicken after this bout.”
“You know, sir, I have this funny feeling that you didn’t bet for me.”
“So thus ninety out of a hundred others. You’re that much of an underdog.” The announcer took the center of the ring. “The challenger, who had no previous record in this sport and dared to tangle it up with the Honorable Mr. Togano, is none other than The Chicken Killer.” There were a few claps that went by -- most of which came from tourists and never knew what they bet for -- and died shortly, probably intimidated by the glances of spurn from the other tables. “The bout will be in five rounds to last four minutes each.”
“Do you honestly believe that it will go beyond round one?” shouted someone from the audience. It generated cheers.
The bell was sounded and the fighters were called to the center of the arena.
“You know the rules,” the announcer reminded them, “there are no rules.”
The contenders returned to their corners for gear check and instructions.
“Don’t expect to win, just stay alive. The loser gets consolation prize for hospitalization,” was the discouraging advice of a towel man to James.
The bell is sounded once more and Togano was too excided to smash the face of the impertinent twerp. He was smelling The Grim Reaper’s presence within the ring, waiting for a body to expel a soul. “You’ll get what you’re here for,” Togano muttered.
The man dubbed as the Moscow Merciless Mercenary was walking for the center when Bond ran toward him, planted his left foot on his thigh, not with force of a kick but as a foothold. Attaining an almost 45 degree angle temporary attachment to Togano, Bond spread his other leg in a scissor with just the right retraction calculated to deliver the most powerful blow his battle-trained body could muster -- and whacked Togano in the temple area. It was a blow that was sure to destabilize anybody’s equilibrium. Togano’s consciousness left him before Bond’s feet landed on the canvas. Like a huge uprooted tree, Togano toppled over, shaking the arena on his fall. There was a pause of silence that made the fall seemed louder than it was. A Japanese tourist in a colorful Hawaiian shirt clapped, breaking the silence of amazement. While there were small, scattered cheers that followed, sighs of disappointment dominated the auditorium. Money changed hands, not waiting for the referee to count out Togano. The Moscow Merciless Mercenary was attended by his aides and brought out in a stretcher.
“The bout ended in a knockout with an official time of two seconds in the first round,” the ring announcer declared following the clearing of the vanquished Russian.
Bond would have lit up a smoke after a job well done, instead he pinched a stick of gum inserted in the garter of his shorts.
At the parking area of the hotel-casino, fight promoters were surrounding the newest sensation of the free-style martial arts circuit, promising better paychecks if he let any of them handle his forthcoming matches. Bond declined. He was looking at Togano being ushered to a Chevy van. Their eyes clashed for a beat and Togano fumed. If not for the casino guards who were there, he would have rushed to lynch the twerp.
Bond blew him a kiss.
Togano had his breakfast brought in the gardens of his villa; his ear still ringing from the kick, reminding him of his vulnerability. He loved his coffee thick and bitter and no one was allowed to bother him if he was having a cup. But even with this pleasure of the finest Java coffee, the morning was far from perfect. A timid Hispanic maid came with a telephone.
“Sir, a call – “
“Didn’t you know I’m having my coffee?”
“Yes, sir. But the man said it was important.”
“Nothing is important than my coffee in the morning!” he bawled.
The maid left, shivering in fright. Togano threw her the telephone.
It was his turn to be afraid, when he was in the jacussi after half an hour had passed, that one of his men brought the telephone and he learned that it was Lapuski who had called. With hair wet and undone, Togano was burning rubbers in the fourteen-lane freeway to make it to Lapuski’s place. He had time to fix his tie only as he was running the pathwalk to Konrad’s mini zoo.
Within that mini zoo was an enclosed pavilion. It was where Lapuski kept his favorite pet, Sasha, a giant white polar bear. The master and the animal were in a wrestling lock when Togano got in. A metal enclosure separated him from the action taking place a few meters away. Despite the freezing temperature, Lapuski was sweating; his body bore scratch marks and the fresh ones were still dripping blood. The bear would sometimes buckle to the impact of the punches from the assassin. The creak from the heavy door shattered the playful mood between the master and his monster pet and Lapuski’s jolly disposition clouded. It made Togano more nervous.
“Sit,” Lapuski commanded.
Togano took one of the bolted metal chairs and waited for Lapuski to come out of the cage. “What is it, Konrad?”
“You’re being careless, don’t you know that?”
“Were you referring about last night’s?”
Lapuski did not reply. He picked up a remote control on a table and clicked. A screen unfolded from the ceiling and several images of the man Togano had beaten the other night paraded on the screen. The twisted face was puffing in clotted blood and the nose was broken and bleeding.
“The referee did not stop the fight in time – “
“That’s not it. This man was from the British Secret Service. I bet you didn’t know that.”
“I-I didn’t even know his name – “
“Yeah, right. You killed him. And what about last night’s?”
“I let anger overtook me – “
“That’s not the point, stupid! The man who beat you is James Bond!” Lapuski clicked on the remote control again. Pictures of James Bond secretly taken in various occasions popped one after the other in fast succession capped by that being proclaimed winner by the referee. “Another secret service agent from MI6 and you’re leading him to me!”
“I’m sorry, Konrad. I’ll pack up and leave for Moscow right away.”
Bond woke up at around ten thirty that morning, had freshened up and ordered a continental breakfast brought to his room. While waiting for his food, he switched on the TV. A breaking news followed a shampoo commercial. It made Bond stare on the man on the screen, charred to death, pulled out from a burning wreckage of a Chevy van. It was unidentified as of the moment, but Double 0 7 was sure that it was Togano.
Trail Gone Cold
Bond was staring out the window from M’s office, watching ferries slogged on the River Thames and could see the tall and imposing building in Victoria where the agency saw its formative years. It had been another five months of frustrating search for Lapuski that yielded no result. He was about to believe that England had no enough resources to find the assassin.
“Have we got anything from the American informers?” he asked impatiently.
“No stones are left unturned. The closest we got to Lapuski was when you beat Togano,” M said.
“Who’s working the Russian side?”
“Double 0 6 and he’s heading nowhere. Lapuski is now the Empire’s most wanted man and also its biggest threat.”
“Is there an intel that he had joined any terrorist group?”
“None. Lapuski had grown to be too proud to take orders from anyone. He knew he had everything it takes to wrestle control of The Organyzatsia, that’s why he won’t join a rag-tag group.”
“Al-Qaeda’s not rag-tag.”
“A Bin-Laden’s still Bin-laden. He couldn’t top that. What I’m seeing is he’s working underground to take over the Red Mafiya. The foiled attempt on the Royals was to send the message that he’s the man to reckon with.”
“But up to now he hadn’t consolidated a force inside the Red Mafiya to constitute a recognized faction. He just went pop!”
“Haven’t you heard of ‘A calm before the storm, Double 0 7?”
“It’s more like ‘A calm because there’s no storm’. Has it been established who did Togano?”
“No clear suspect yet. Even the FBI’s baffled. Could be Lapuski – he’s the most logical suspect. Without Togano, we can’t track him.”
Moneypenny entered. “Excuse me. There’s something on TV that I think you should see. Thank you.” She didn’t wait for a reply and exited right away.
Bond took the liberty of turning on the TV. A bulletin was on the screen. Vladimor Lunev’s Beverly Hills mansion was surrounded by federal agents and a news correspondent was on the foreground.
“…after a federal judge had issued a warrant to arrest the suspected North American capo of the Russian Mafiya – Vladimor Lunev and his right hand man Nikolai Sokolnikov. The arrest warrant was issued in conjunction with a testimony of a new witness, which Los Angeles County District Attorney Susan Warren quoted as saying – “ The scene was replaced by footage of the interview of the reporter with the district attorney. “With our new witness, it was like being there on the crime scenes when they were being committed. The crimes we had on him were not the totality of his atrocities. This witness could take us back to the streets in Moscow at the brink of the Soviet’s collapse. I’d say Lunev’s criminal career had ended. As of press time, several bank records were subpoenaed and they proved a massive money laundering activities of Lunev – “
The scene was back again on Beverly Hills; the reporter was after the cuffed figures of Lunev and Sokolnikov being herded from the heavy iron gates into a waiting nondescript van.
“Why were you arrested, Mr. Lunev?”
Lunev disregarded the question and stepped inside the van, avoiding the flashing bulbs and extended microphones.
M turned off the TV. “That’s the eighth Red Fellas arrest this week.”
“The Feds must have a trump card. I remember one of the arrests bagged a former ambassador, another a business tycoon, both would not be suspected at all. MI6’s files on them don’t carry a smudge of anomaly.”
“I wonder who'd be brave enough to testify against an empire,” she asked the question to the air.
“The one who had to inherit it afterwards,” Bond pronounced.
Bond was in his flat and nagging him was the gut-feel that it was Lapuski feeding the FBI with information. A smoke would have helped him think, but he quashed the thought at once. He had replaced chewing gum with mints. It wasn’t appropriate for someone like him chewing gum in the public. He dropped two honey mints in his mouth and flipped up his laptop. What he was about to do was unethical because he’d be hacking in the FBI data base. He could imagine M disapproving the deed if it was done in her presence.
“What are you doing?” M would have asked.
“Proving our guess,” he could have reasoned.
“You know that that is very unethical?” she would hade reminded him.
“Yes. If they could trace it back to me… or to you. I’m routing this break-in to one of their agent’s – already dead, if that would make you comfortable,” would have been his assuring reply.
“It’s still unethical – “
“We’re spies, Madam, and the nature of our work is unethical. Sabotage, assassination, stealing state secrets – “
“Don’t lecture me about our work, Double 0 7!”
The discussion would have been unending and M knew that Double 0 7 would do it anyway.
Bond tapped on the keyboard; the opening page of the FBI emerged on the screen asking for a password. He typed the password and the on-screen menu came out. Bond clicked on ‘Records’, then typed ‘Konrad Lapuski.’
The result of the query dismayed James Bond. The record was deleted and the deletion was initiated by George Roberts – Director of the FBI.
The FBI Media Relations Group arranged a press conference to answer queries and to systematically get rid of nosey reporters conducting ambush interviews to team responsible for the string of arrests. On the head of the conference was none other than its chief, George Roberts.
A long table was set and microphones bearing the wrap-on logos of media outfits were on the table; cameramen and audio technicians were adjusting their equipment for live feeds. Exactly at the appointed time, the FBI Director, district attorneys involved with the round-up and leaders of arresting teams appeared before the insatiable media for information feeding frenzy.
Roberts had several questions satisfied when a blond, chubby reporter that seemed lost as she entered the conference area stole their attention. She clumsily unpacked a tape recorder and placed a small microphone on the table directly in front of Roberts. There were suppressed giggles from the media people with state-of-the-art electronic footage gathering equipment.
“Sorry… So sorry…” the chubby reporter in a nerdy hair bun kept on mumbling knowing the interruption she was causing. No one from the panel or from the attendees hinted annoyance, in fact some cameramen had her on their lenses in the whole process. The footage could be included in a blooper segment or human interest portion. “Sorry…”
To avoid further delay, Roberts assisted the lady with her mike that had a circular stand which needed a little fit-up. The small microphone plugged to the tape recorder was finally set up and the amusing episode was capped with spread laughter.
After the press conference, the amusement for the chubby reporter lingered on. They were still talking about her long after she had driven off in her ten-year old Toyota Corolla.
The chubby reporter sped to the highway and bent to a side street to a farm house. The expected animals that were normally seen on farms were oddly nowhere. The interior of the house was modest; there were no expensive appliances and furnishings were crafted from hardwood. She went in her room. Beside her bed was a computer, the axis of peripherals. Contrary to the belief of the media people that either silently ridiculed her and openly expressed amusement to her and her Jurassic reel recorder, her contraption was far advanced than theirs – though it didn’t seem so. None of their audio devices could capture the voice of a human person with almost a hundred percent purity of quality that could pass the most astringent voice-recognition based safeguards. The gathered data from the conference were uploaded – the most important of which were not the substance of the interview but the stolen biometrics. George Roberts didn’t know that his irises were skimmed by an unseen laser scanner in the microphone and the other bios were given freely. His name in his own voice when he introduced himself, and his fingerprints when he touched the mike.
The chubby lady got a packet of a pair of Johnson & Johnson disposable contact lens and inserted it on palm-size pad with a scanner connected by a Bluetooth to her powerful computer. She adjusted the scanning apparatus over it and a laser gradually passed over the contacts, transferring captured data. While the process was taking place, she stripped off her clothes -- a chubby-suit made from latex was revealed. She stripped it off also, uncovering a lithe body blemished with scars -- a newest addition was a tiny sort of bump injected in her shoulder blade that monitored her movement by her control. Inside the bathroom, the blond wig was uncapped letting black, shiny hair flow halfway down her back. She studied herself on the mirror and she almost laughed. The chubby face no longer matched her lithe frame. The lady scratched around her jaw feeling for the edges of a membrane that could be lifted like a dead skin. Slowly she peeled it off, the membrane getting somewhat thicker in the contour of a mask. The last element of the masquerade was fully removed; a metamorphosis had just taken place – a beautiful woman was out of her flabby cocoon of latex prosthetics. She washed, and rubbed off flaking theatrical glue with her fingers. The contacts were ready when she had the suit, mask and wigs bundled in brown bag for incineration. The computer system, too, would be dismantled and destroyed later when the remaining of her lined up tasks was finished.
Riyana Ramozova was a thief.
She was the best thief there was and as a proof, no police organization in the world knew of her existence. Her usual victims were rich collectors of arts and relics of antiquities. If something could command a definite price, she wouldn’t think of stealing it.
Riyana Ramozova was in a skin-tight body suit that was not spandex. Spandex was cheap and all it could do was make the wearer sexier. What Riyana wore was made from advance materials not yet available in the market and only the military could afford its price if it finally went for sale. As of now, it was still priceless because it was the only one that existed – a prototype.
Riyana was on the lawn, the suit – made from nanites – took the color of the grass that even absorbed the reflected light from the moon. She crawled and when she hid behind a tree the suit changed color to that of the trunk -- complete with the rough surface of the bark – as soon as she touched it. She could stand by your side, leaning on the wall in a broad daylight and you won’t notice her. It was the perfect camouflage. Invisibility was the only one better.
The unseen motion detectors that dotted the compound of the Federal Bureau of Investigation were not able to sense her movement; not only that she was virtually invisible, Ramozova was agile as the wind. Her night-vision goggles were focused on the level of the J. Hoover Building where the FBI chief held office.
The nanites had functions other than mimic a chameleon. It could stick itself on surfaces it was pressed hard on. The ivy covered facade was scaled, million dollar security system cheated.
-- not the reliable nose of a trained dog.
A low siren was wailed when the canine barked. A guard with an assault rifle slung on his shoulder was dragged in to the site by the dog. Two more guards were with him, armed and searching the premises with bright halogen flashlights. One of them called from his radio and requested the security center for floodlights. A roving patrol vehicle with mounted spotlight heeded the call.
The area was suddenly lit; Ramozova froze on her climb; spotlight beams crisscrossing the façade she was scaling.
A squirrel jumped from the green and brown tapestry. The dog went after it.
Ramozova was able to breathe with relief; she reminded herself to add scent to the suit’s programming arsenal.
The chief’s window facing the lawn was heavily grilled and the windowpane had wirings that were connected to the main alarm system. Ramozova knew; she had seen the blueprint from the maintenance archive in the FBI’s data bank. Anything put in a computer was not safe anymore nowadays. The chief’s deletion of the Lapuski file from computer record was a wise move – it had made her job a bit challenging.
Ramozova would break in the adjoining room -- the secretary’s. It was less protected than the Director’s and the air ducts were interconnecting. She could squeeze her lithe frame in the vent system. If it has mouth of sixteen inches, she could crawl in comfortably. A little narrower, she had to squeeze to fit her shoulders in. The narrowest hole she had penetrated was a foot across. It was hard, of course, but not impossible.
Riyana grew up in a circus until she was eleven. A family of contortionists-acrobats found an abandoned baby of barely a month old, sick and frail, in a tent during a road tour in Volgograd, near the Kazakhstan border. Her adopted family didn’t want her to be just like them whose livelihood could end any second an accident happen. His ‘brother’ Ilya taught her to read and write and brought her books that expanded her knowledge. The books were bought cheap from municipal libraries that were closing down from lack of government funding when Russia was going through a transition from communism to free market economy. Nevertheless, The Ramozovs didn’t deny Riyana the fun and leisure she derived in seeing them practice and perform -- where she were allowed, but never fully encouraged to join practice sessions.
Russia emerged from that transition triumphantly; advents of televisions and other form of entertainment resulting from the new economy severely lessen the popularity of traveling circuses. Russians, one day, woke up drowning in TV, movies from all over the world, radio programs, internet, magazines, games and all sorts of entertainment and media that they once so desired and could only obtain illicitly and in a price to lose a leg to.
The family that adopted Riyana was among the casualties of the dying entertainment.
During a rehearsal – when she was ten years old – Ynia, her ‘sister’ fell right through an old net and broke her back. She was hospitalized and the bill piled up until family’s coffer was emptied. The sad part was Ynia would be confined in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Ilya, her twin brother, was so devastated that he sought solace in alcohol, unable to perform effectively in shows. Eventually a kidney of his was damaged. Riyana would have offered hers, but she was too young and their tissue didn’t match. To contribute something for Ilya’s welfare, Riyana hid herself in a milk carton in a grocery, unmoving and hungry until the night draped. She raided the cash register and slithered through a hole for an exhaust fan. It was her debut performance, which wasn’t a full success because a close circuit camera had captured her acts. No sooner that the sun was up, two policemen were knocking on the Ramozovs’ door. She was to be sent to the juvenile detention the next day where she’d be documented and ‘cleansed’, but Riyana avoided all of that by escaping during the night. Once she got her head in an opening, just how a snake does it, the rest was easy. The fear of being detained taught her the most important lesson in her life – do not to get caught.
With two important members of the group sidelined the circus management was forced to cancel The Sensational Ramozovs act in their subsequent tour months later. It wasn’t much of a blow to the Ramozovs because after a year, the circus company disbanded completely. Having no other skill to extract livelihood from, the rest of the Ramozovs – Andrei, the patriarch, Friedka his wife, Fidel the oldest son, Sergei the youngest boy and Czarinna the youngest girl -- combined their talents to hone Riyana as a thief -- and they did exceedingly well.
From mansions, art galleries and corporate headquarters across Europe, Riyana was in America to defy one of the world’s most secured rooms to steal a document with great value to only a few people.
The secretary was shredding papers when Ramozova peeked in her window, lifting and pressing her feet and hands alternately to maintain adhesion. The clock on the wall said it was ten past eleven. She admired public servants with such selfless dedication, feeling a tinge of guilt that her expertise was contrary to public interest. A small crack in the window provided an opportunity to impose a rest to the industrious secretary. From a bag of the same nanite material belted across her chest, she pulled out an aerosol and fitted an orifice that could get in the crack. The canister contained a harmless air mixture that would make the secretary dizzy. The dose she had prepared was to knock her off for an hour.
The soft hiss of the orifice was not heard, yet the effect was nearly instantaneous. The secretary massaged her head and sat on a sofa. A few seconds more and she was asleep. She’d think – after an hour when she had revived – fatigue had bulldozed her down.
Ramozova gained access by lifting up the window. She checked the secretary’s pulse and finding it normal, crawled the wall to reach the air vent after a roving camera had tilted an angle. The cover was pulled out and Ramozova slithered in, guided by a Maglite Solitaire. The vent cover was replaced before the camera was back.
When she had gained access to the target room, Ramozova adjusted her goggles. At the end of the air passage, a rat was nibbling on a sandwich probably stolen from the secretary’s garbage can. The rat didn’t show any sign that it was aware of the presence of the expert thief. It went on its nibbling.
As she was expecting, the room was protected by a web of laser trips. She replaced the cover and crawled on the walls, all trips laid just above the floor rendered ineffectual -- so it seemed, until the web of laser trips started moving like lightworks from a Pink Floyd concert.
The objective was on the other end of the room. Ramozova’s mind calculated the hidden algorithm of the movement before a wave of approaching lasers from her back and front overwhelmed her in a net of pin-point lights. She leapfrogged the first wave but the subsequent second was much denser. The leapfrog was continued, bouncing to a chandelier in a helix-spin, avoiding the incoming batch. The chandelier didn’t as much disturbed when Ramozova sustained her impetus for a flip that stuck her to the ceiling. A hop there, a body-twist here and Riyana was untouched by the random networks. She was already at the end of the ceiling when the laser all pointed down, sweeping the floor for intrusion. The thief watched, then it was the west wing that was swept. The laser was not random at all! From there, the next area to be suffused would be the north wall. Ramozova raced to the east wall to get to the secret panel hidden behind the woodwork where the objective was kept. An iPhone from her bag was produced and an ultrasound-emitting prod detailed the internals of the carpentry -- joints, studs and all. A wire that ran underneath a wooden mould, into the edge of the floorboards and out as a black node that could be mistaken as an eye of the oaken joinery was actually the switch she was after. She depressed it. The suspected portion of the panel slid leftward. She took off her goggles, blinked her eyes to moisten and inserted the modified contact lens with the iris pattern of the FBI Director. Another program — which she had written -- in the iPhone was opened. Her nanite tipped fingers turned to the color of human flesh and if one could see how the nanites work, one would see them dispersed to their thinnest spread that Riyana’s sweat pores could be detected through the membrane. Then the iPhone was put to a bio-acoustic audio program mode and her hand with the reproduced prints of George Roberts was pressed on a fingerprint-recognition pad. She then played the voice of the FBI chief in the beginning of the speech in the press conference that originally went as “Good morning, I am George Roberts, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation…” and trimmed it leaving only the part where he stated his name and his office. She directed it on a small microphone condenser on the console. The two had to be simultaneously executed and a laser would scan the eyes of the person standing in front of the control panel.
The retina scanner light did not readily come out; Ramozova could have missed something here. Maybe she doesn’t fit the bulk and the physical stature of the FBI chief, being only five feet, four inches in height.
The north was done with the sweeping and the next would be the east. Riyana was not seeing the wave of laser about to mass up for the thoroughgoing.
Then a red light blinked and she pressed her face on a scanning pad.
“Good evening, Director Roberts,” an amiable voice greeted her and the right side of the paneling opened to a vault. She cranked the handle of the vault. Inside was the folder containing the file of Konrad Lapuski.
Riyana picked up the file and put it in her bag, replacing it with the maiden issue of Playboy Magazine with Marilyn Monroe in the centerfold after scribbling a note advising the bureau that the bulk of the person in-charge of the file must be included in the biometrics. Riyana pulled back her goggles and touched again the node in the woodworks. The hidden panel initiated to close about a second or so when the dreaded lightworks rose from the floor and erupted in its previous random surge. Riyana evaded each of them in masterful leaps, flips and bounces; sticking and unsticking to walls for the air vent. As she was closing the vent, she discerned the panel did not completely shut. About two inches of gap remained.
The random laser lines formed a barrier of light to pass the walls. It was fast approaching the paneled bay; every pinpoint of light had a precise length of reach at every angle of its travel. A deviation would sound the alarm and the area hemmed in. Riyana was confident that she could evade the dragnet but didn’t want to take the risk. The nibbling rat was grabbed, disturbed from its meal. Riyana pelted it to the unlocked panel. The door was hit and shut closed before the sweep passed it by. The rodent gave a frightened squeal and scampered into a dark cavity of the room.
Even the huge, bright, yellow Cyclops moon guarding the darkness did not see Riyana Ramozova left the FBI compound that night.
The Double Cross
A continuous blinking dot in a GPS screen was the object of two men inside a dark blue van four blocks from the FBI compound.
The speck had cleared the J. Hoover Building and was speeding the streets after a slow pace that they concluded as a walk. They were expecting the dot to stop at the drop and after half an hour, they would proceed and pick up the package – that was the instruction from Rohmiyo Kaztrov, Vladimor Lunev’s caretaker. It was important that nobody should see the face of Ramozova. If anyone should identify her, her effectiveness would be greatly reduced. However, the dot zipped pass the intersection where the drop was supposed to be.
“The er is ditching us!” Mike Brum, the more senior of the two, blurted. “TJ, follow the bouncing ball!”
“It’s heading to the freeway!”
The dot went on; the tracking van couldn’t believe at the speed how it cleared distances.
“What are we tracking, anyway a Ferrari Formula One?”
“I don’t know! We’re obeying specific orders.”
“Shouldn’t we be calling Kaztrov!?”
“Yes, do that!”
Mike Brum dialed Kaztrov’s satellite phone number. The caretaker-boss could be flying over Europe in his Beech Bonanza toy or in his yacht somewhere in the Caribbean. "Boss, this is Mike Brum, our quarry by-passed the drop, heading south, very fast.”
“Stick on her. When you have her, get the package and kill her.”
“Her? We’re after a woman?”
“Yes. Make her corpse disappear.”
“And don’t ever open the package.”
“We know, boss. You said that already. Can we – “
The link was cut off.
“I can’t believe we’re after a girl.” TJ sighed. “I wonder if we could – you know -- if she’s beautiful enough.”
“Absolutely. Kaztrov didn’t say that we couldn’t – you know… We’ll make the corpse disappear anyway.
“I’ll do her first, then you’ll have the honor to kill her when you’re done.”
“You can have her first as long as I’ll do the killing.”
“Isn’t that what I just said?”
“Then it’s settled.”
The blinking light bent to an unnamed road, had slowed down; the van closing by was encumbered by rough roads and darkness. There was nothing on the GPS display to describe the area – just a wide open space. Five minutes more of arduous driving, the dot stopped; the van was only about ten minutes behind.
The van was at the last bend, however the dot disappeared.
“I don’t know!”
“You have to drive faster, man!”
“With a road as rough as this? You’re crazy, man.”
“Never mind the suspension, van’s are cheap!”
The van roared, the pedal was floored, but it didn’t get any faster. Its grinding wheel only twirled the rocks and pebbles away, displacing them.
“Road’s too unstable, soft and stony!”
“Okay, if we can’t go any faster, she can’t, too.”
The kidney-jarring ride eased a bit on the last mile. Ahead was a glow in the middle of dark emptiness. Brum made out an outline of a house under the moon. A Toyota Corolla was parked in front. Brum and TJ disembarked and one of them touched the hood of the Toyota. It was still hot.
“A Toyota could do that?”
“We’ll know later when we look under the hood.” They had their guns ready and TJ thought that it was silly for him to bring out a gun to confront a girl. He put it back in his waist.
The front door was not locked; all lights were on inside. The two went in every room in the house. They were all empty.
Brum stumbled on a patch of blood by the sink. It was very fresh and there was a surgical knife beside it. He studied the blot closer. Something was there that could be a small transistor without the two wiry legs, broken, as if pounded to crush. A hammer was in the sink to confirm his notion.
“Hey TJ, look at this!”
TJ barged in and saw what Brum was panicky about. He knew what it was. He had been tracking people with this in their bodies, surgically planted by the Organyzatsia.
“Man, we’re in deep .”
“She could still be outside!”
They sprinted out the backdoor. Their heart sunk to see sets of tire tracks with chunky pattern heading to the unknown. Brum and TJ didn’t need a diploma in rocket science to realize that they couldn’t catch up with her anymore.
The Calypso was adrift.
The 250 foot yacht was in the Key West, beyond the boundary of America’s influence. The handsome vessel wouldn’t dare go near the American waters for fear of being boarded by the coast guard and its passengers brought to justice. Five hierarchs of the Red Mafiya were in the conference area of the cruiser locked in a meeting of criminal minds to formulate a solution to a problem that could cause their personal downfall – if not of the organization’s North American Division. After the conviction of some of their colleague, the big bed with young, beautiful starlets that they used to sleep in were no longer comfortable. They knew that they would be roused one night, Federal agents rampaging to serve warrants and gun battle would likely to ensue. They all knew that the Feds would always come out the winner. After the body count – of which one of them could be included – could the lesson be realized that it was unwise to tousle it up with American justice system.
But that justice system had loopholes organized criminals like them exploit. It was always better to work within those magic parameters.
“Have you built a place to run to when they started hunting us down?” Rohmiyo Kaztrov asked Roberto Zamojo scooping his spoon on a mound of caviar.
“Are you crazy? I’d only tire myself running away and later to be caught. If you’re fingered, better stay put and wait to be arrested. They’ll get you anyway.” Roberto Zamojo replied. He dropped the spoon after he had unloaded the caviar in his mouth. Zamojo was a six-eleven giant who saw two Olympics as member of the USSR basketball team. He now handles the ‘athletics’ and products endorsement rackets for the Red Mafiya.
“Are you trying to compare us to Bin-Laden?” Cornelius Tamorov asked. He was a former architect-engineer. The Organyzatsia found him very knowledgeable in their construction business, especially power plant design and sabotage.
“I could say that there’s similarity, also infinitely two different heads. Saddam was not that thin when he was still in power. Did you notice how miserable and thin he was when he was fished out of that rathole?”
“I saw that on TV. Poor guy,” Arlenov Egaminovskiy, the shipping and airlines consultant, added. Shipping and airlines companies around the world consult Egaminovskiy if the fee they sent was enough to allow them to ply certain routes. Those who didn’t consult might learn that a terrorist faction had blown up their vessels. Paying the consultation fee was cheaper than losing a plane or a ship.
“If I were he, I should have surrendered and enjoy the hospitality accorded to a head of state.” Danni Bunag joined. A media mogul, Bunag was into publishing and entertainment. A well-scheduled location shoot would suffer unforeseen power interruption, set break or stunts getting awfully wrong that may result to injury or death if the Organyzatsia does not receive a talent fee. These past few months, he had surreptitiously crept even in sound studios. Book deliveries would sometimes get lost and later found in second-hand bookstore around the world, or worse, burned if the Mafiya was not properly acknowledged.
“Then, Bin-Laden could already be a walking skeleton by now. Is that what you’re saying?” Tamorov grunted.
“What I was saying is I don’t want to be like Saddam… or Bin-Laden!”
“Neither any of us here.”
“I agree with you, comrade. Why did they choose to hide? I won’t, like you said.”
“You want me to answer that?” Kaztrov poured a vintage in his goblet.
“If you like. Prove that all the luxury that had befallen you had not dulled your criminal mind.” Zamojo challenged.
“They’re fighting a different war. We are criminals because we wanted the world for ourselves through circumvention of our host’s justice system… by being respectable businessmen. They, through tyranny. That’s why they are hungry right now and their body itch with sores and dirt. I would always choose to eat the prison food, take a bath in the prison shower and sleep in their narrow cell bunk. No problem with that. Reclusion temporal. Administrations change. Upright public servants come and go; parole boards can be influenced. The problem’s only the media. But a day will dawn Bunag can control it as one controls his faucet.”
“So you’re mind’s all set for that?”
“Of course not. I’m not forced to make a choice right now, am I? In our line of work there’s only two way to go – to die or to live the rest of our lives in prison. That’s where we are all heading anyway. When a convicted Mafiosko is finally out, there’s nothing for him to return to. Influence, money, power, all shaved to the barest minimum, if not totally gone. The Organyzatsia is too young yet to include retirement benefits to its program. We’re in here to enjoy our daily existence. Some would fine themselves – very rarely – growing old unscathed. But only faggots die of old age. They are the old dons that couldn’t fight the war anymore and bequeathed the fighting to the young blood.”
“Yes. And we’re in a bad situation now because of a woman.” Bunag reminded the quorum.
“Ramozova had double crossed us.”
“That’s already a certainty. Let’s convey to her how bitter we are so it won’t happen again.”
Kaztrov tipped the goblet to his mouth and wiped the excess on the lapel of his silk robe. “It really won’t. I want her dead… her family, too. Zamojo, your group has her family, right?”
“Not anymore. They had escaped. We were all thrown to panic when we learned that the FBI had Lapuski. That son of a bitch!”
“I don’t think Lapuski will stop until all of us are rounded up and the rackets finally in his domination.”
“The Organyzatsia won’t die if that happened. The Organyzatsia is still very young and very healthy, has all the making of a real global puppet master unlike the sissy Italians. “Kaztrov spat on the shiny, laminated flooring.
“Yes. But imagine The Organyzatsia under the helm of Lapuski! We saw how he moved, we can predict his next step, however we could not do anything.”
“He’s using the FBI to get rid of us and install his cronies!”
“The Feds think that they can handle Lapuski. No they can’t.”
“Or the Feds have other things prepared for him.”
“They don’t know Lapuski. Between them – Lapuski and the Feds – we know who’s the more cunning.”
“All these could be avoided if we could get Lapuski’s file from Ramozova. The bastard won’t have a place to hide after we’ve flushed him out.”
“We can’t get that file unless we know where the in the world her family is tucked away. I was able to force her to steal the file because she knew that I won’t think twice killing one member of her family for every ‘No’ she’d say. Ramozova very much love each one of them that she said ‘Yes’ the first time,” Rohmiyo Kaztrov said.
“What’s the latest as of now?”
“What news?” “
“About those two stupid trackers we sent?”
“You won’t hear about them anymore,” the last man on the quorum hissed. He was Edgor Pereski, a former general from the former regime and he knew a lot about missing warheads.
“I’m talking about Ramozova.”
“It would be hard to find Ramozova. She’s the best thief there is, the best in the world.”
“I know. Why waste time looking for her. It’s easier to find her family, isn’t it?”
“Yes Comrade General. And place a million dollar bounty for them.”
“Don’t be stingy, Zamojo. Double the bounty… Better yet, make it five folds more. It’s our at stake here,” suggested Pereski.
Shaken and Stirred
Bond was with Ruby Strebel.
Strebel’s eyes were two mysterious pools of black adorned by lashes that had the curls of a doll’s; her nose was of a snooty princess’s and her mouth surrounded by a pair of generous, pulpy lips. These pieces of nature’s magnum opuses were all neatly assembled in her Grecian face crowned with long, black shiny hair that dropped way down her perfectly framed broad shoulders ramp models would envy. She was a living work of biological wonders. Ruby Strebel was the lead vocals for the German progressive rock band Hyacinth, which would remind aficionados of Emerson, Lake and Palmer particularly of their Pictures at an Exhibition album.
Hyacinth just had a gig in Los Angeles. The concert was a success, thought there were few vacant seats. To take a break from the demanding rehearsals and to shake her clouded head clear of the dizzying effect of what she considered as a minor success for that first conquest of a major American city, Ruby drove to Las Vegas to unwind and bring her feet back on the ground.
She met James after that abbreviated bout and she was amongst those who won some dough in the wager. If she knew a bit about the combatants, she would have put her money on Lapuz. Since she didn’t, Ruby choose the cuter of the two.
Ruby considered Bond her lucky charm. A jam-pack crowd awaited them in San Francisco in their next stint. The LA performance was critically acclaimed and fans in Frisco were very eager for their arrival. The one-night-only show was extended for two more to accommodate their new followings and three more cities were added to their tour. When Ruby found a slack in her schedule, she flew to London.
Bond was giving his German visitor a taste of English hospitality in her room when his cellular buzzed. James cancelled the call without peeking at the registry whom the call was from. Strebel was enjoying the silent treatment she was getting from James. He had been satisfying her desire with less talk and that was the way she preferred her lover. Her third climb to climax was broken again with the buzz and James decided to turn off his phone. The silence was back and Ruby was singing purely in impromptu gasps.
The fourth apex was about reached just as green smoke penetrated the gap between the door and the floor, and Bond was alarmed. He went for his boxer and knew right out that he was cornered because he didn’t bring the weapon for this eventuality. The Walther was there, though.
He waited and any moment now that door would burst open and things would be very ugly.
The first intrusion did not come from the door. The window was shattered by rappelling commandoes in full battle gear from a chopper, spraying the room with their machine pistols. Bond had no choice but to grab Strebel and shield himself with her slender frame.
“!” she cried; splats of crimson riddled her nakedness, marring her flawless skin.
Sergei Ramozov had a new girlfriend.
She was a stunning Thai who had lived most of her life in Europe. Her father was a pharmaceutical salesman representing a large Swiss drug firm. Her family was in vacation and in one of their beach outings she met Sergei. The young Ramozov was lovestruck. After a week of bliss Sitti, her girlfriend said farewell. They exchanged telephone numbers and e-mail addresses. On the first night that she was gone Sergei e-mailed Sitti a love note. He was surprised that his mail bounced back. He tried calling up the number she gave, but the automated voice of the telecom company said that the number he dialed was not yet in use.
The combat erupted in a confine small enough for a kick to the mid section of the lead assassin to stop the outpouring of deadly hisses. The window was Bond’s ally and the second assassin was not able to get in as fast its narrow notch; he was met by an elbow in his jaw. Bond grabbed the machine pistol from the knocked out first contender.
The two men gained consciousness and scampered to a corner. Bond sprayed them with projectile that sent them reeling and turning to their elimination. The third man from the window didn’t even make it. A generous spray rendered him inutile. The muzzle of Bond’s weapon was smoking. The smoke was dissipating downward, cold not hot.
The next attack would be from the door. The knob turned slowly. Double 0 7 checked the magazine and there were only two bullets left. Another machine pistol from the second defunct was lying not far away. He could hear Ruby’s muffled whine and it was a consolation. She was staggering on her legs, groggy in the confusion of the outbreak of violence that caught her in the crossfire, bloodied and disoriented.
As expected, the door flung wide. Two gunners were firing while the third was waiting only for the coast to clear so he could add some to the torrent. Bond ducked behind the bed smelling not only of love but also of the red fluid that blotch its sheet in scattered patches.
The wall was peppered and Ruby was shoved aside by the attackers. Bond popped up, hitting one of the guys between the eyes.
“Oh, man, I’m dead!” he groaned.
The second got it in his neck. “Me, too.”
The third raised his hands in surrender. Bond’s attention was on him a beat too long. He wasn’t anticipating one more commando breaking in from the window, gun chattering in a noisy blaze. Bond’s back was stitched with fountains of red. “Gotcha, you’re dead!”
James Bond’s eyes were fixed on the ceiling. He can’t believe that he was not fast enough.
On the second night of his solitude, Sergei received a call from an unregistered number. The voice chilled him to the bones. It was the cold voice of Riyana’s sadistic lover.
“How’s the family, Sergei?”
“Leave us alone!”
“No, I won’t.”
The commando who hit Bond offered his hand and raised the fallen spy. “You’re good,” James praised his killer.
“You’re not too bad yourself. Five kills, one POW.”
“What the hell is happening!?” Ruby shouted, initial shock was fading seeing that reds on her body were exploded paintballs.
“My bloody jaw hurts,” groaned another and another was feeling his chest for broken ribs.
“Could anyone tell me what’s going on?” Ruby demanded, neglectful of her nakedness.
“It’s a game we guys in England play.” Bond pulled a sheet and draped it on her. “In America it’s known as ‘Gotcha.’”
“Yeah, I heard about it. Why didn’t I realize it?”
“Commander Bond – “ the voice of the POW called. He was holding a cell phone up. “It’s for you.”
James got the mobile and herded the boys in the ante room. “Honey, you can dress up now, while the boys and I had a minute of chat.”
“But James – “
“Be a good German freuline and not a hard-head rocker, Darling.” He kissed her lips and closed the door.
“Double 0 7, why were you ignoring my calls?” blurted the voice of M from the phone.
“Anyone knows that your call can’t be ignored. I was asleep,” was Bond’s alibi.
Bond did not reply. M could read him similar to a lie detector exposes a liar.
“Come here ASAP. Something urgent came up.”
“I know. You won’t be sending your team of assassins if it were not.”
“It’s easier to track people nowadays. I’ll ask Q to find a frequency in the spectrum operatives can use so they’ll not be easily trailed.”
“Thanks M. I’d personally appreciate that.”
“Don’t be a fool, Double 0 7. I don’t have plans of losing you in my sight.”
Q didn’t know what time it was. There were too many clocks in his basement workshop that he had no idea which of them had the right time. Q didn’t care. He’s not into time anyway. Clocks for him were a way for concealment of deadly toys.
Bond’s meeting with M was slated several minutes from now and he liked spending whatever extra seconds he had looking at the MI6’s toy shop. Q was wearing what seemed to be a motorcycle helmet, a barrel rested on each of his shoulders and he was clasping a hand piece, which James surmised was an olive green stapler gun. The head of the Q Department turned his head to the approaching premier spy of England and a barrel followed James.
“Oh, I see. You’re into something sinister, Q. Are they loaded?”
“Of course, they are.”
“What is that?”
I call this RATS, for Retina Assisted Targeting System. It’s not for operatives like you. More appropriate for soldiers.”
“Can I try it?”
Q fitted the gadget to Bond and Bond could see brighter wearing the helmet. The display was divided to two – the top was labeled rear; the lower was labeled front. James was seeing his front and back without turning his head. All he had to do was shift his eyes up or down. A magazine of fifty rounds for each cannon was in a small backpack.
“All you have to do is look at your target and press. What you see is what you hit. You have a free hand for an extra pistol or a knife, if you want. Bad guys can’t hide in the bushes, too. Thermal. And your position and frequency are constantly monitored by the command post through the GPS.”
“Neat. Can’t R and R during combat.”
“It’ll be a great help for ground commanders.”
“You mean Darth Vader.” Dummies on the firing range caught the fancy of James and he gave each of them a glance; the barrels following his line of sight, zeroed on the part where the retinas of the wearer were focused. Bond pressed the hand piece. A barrel on his right shoulder prattled, blowing the head of the dummy. Eight dummies were blown in a matter of seconds – four on his front, two at the back, one on the left and one on the right. The gun was firing as accurately as Bond flicked through at his targets and blasting them as fast as he could press the hand piece.
“Clever toy,” he commented when the ringing in his ears had toned down.
“I’m still working to put the decibel down to the minimum. That’ll be the easiest.”
“Send Commander Bond to my office now,” a speaker boomed.
“Her voice hurts more than this,” Bond joked, pretending aches in his ears.
“Careful, Double 0 7. It’s a two way link-up.”
“And Q, could you accompany double 0 7?”
Sir Mallory O’Malley of The Scotland Yard and M’s conversation was interrupted by Bond and Q’s entrance.
“I’m glad you could come up, Q. In case of Mr. Bond here, I had to employ a little persuasion.” M greeted them.
“I couldn’t resist your charm, M. You know that,” James tried to smile. Q manifested a slight nod.
“007 have you met Sir Mallory O’Malley of The Scotland Yard already?”
“I did. Many occasions already, in the country club. Handball. How’s your backhand, Sir Mallory?”
“Deteriorating with age, Commander Bond. Just like all things created, after they reached their peak, deteriorates. But I’m not here to discuss my rotten backhand.” Sir Mallory’s was a gentleman with pink nose and an infectious facial expression. He wasn’t telling the truth when he said that his backhand was deteriorating. Sir Mallory was a ruthless gladiator in ball courts.
“Yes, of course.”
“The FBI is seeking the assistance of The Scotland Yard to ID a thief, who stole a very, very important file in the office of Director George Roberts of the FBI.”
“Did the FBI say what was in the file?” Bond asked.
“No. In fact the inquiry was done person to person, not agency to agency. All they provided was the facial mapping data taken by a surveillance camera. No face, only the facial digits.”
“How’s that? You mean Invisible Man broke in the chief’s office?”
“Right. And the Feds found no match in their extensive databank for criminals and social shenanigans,” pronounced Sir Mallory.
“The thief was wearing a nanite camouflage suit, which was rumored to be under experimental stage in the former Soviet Union before its collapse. If it had reached production stage, the Soviet Empire could have browbeaten America as the greatest military machine on earth.” added M.
“I didn’t know that there was such a thing.”
“Neither does more than six billion other people in the world. The rumor was only a suit existed – the prototype -- and it was so secret that only two researchers and the lead scientist were allowed in a secret lab known only to the former premier. The leakage came from sketchy reports that a Russian ballerina was impregnated by an alien in her dressing room,” Q contributed.
“Weird,” Bond exhaled. “That’s one for The Twilight Zone.”
“Or she could start a new religion,” M quipped.
“No detail was available on how that happened, but when a DNA sample was taken from the new-born, it matched that of one of the researcher’s -- the ballerina’s admirer and stalker,” Q continued.
“The Yard had obtained a video of the actual process of the burglary, which I am sure Commander Bond here would say it’s more likely to happen in one of the Mission Impossible installments.” Sir Mallory switched on the A/V system in the office and inserted a flashcard in the USB slot of the DVD. The texture of the video was first grainy and later gained clarity as if the sensor had caught something moving yet it could not decide if it was a whiff of air because it could not identify a specific form. The advance computer program driving the camera instantly shifted to thermal mode as seen from the over head display. “There was a glow of temperature difference that registered, about the size of the human heart, but quickly dissolves in a dot until nothing of it was read anymore. The computer could have interpreted that as a reflected heat from outside source.”
“I believe that the nanite suit – at this instance – had counter detected the switch to thermal mode and its auto-program released a thermal compensator to equal the environ. Very clever,” analyzed Q.
The camera was shifting its position, locating something, while lasers were sweeping the room. The chandelier gave a hint of movement. To emphasize the increment Sir Mallory overlapped two frames of the chandelier shot and there was indeed a slight change.
“An inch increment. Could not be noticed in real time by security.”
The camera continued to shift angles, and when it returned to the spot behind the wide table of the FBI Director, it zoomed in to catch a secret panel door opened after a red scanning light skimmed briefly. A folder floated, then disappeared in thin air.
“Whoa! That was a trick I haven’t seen yet. Why didn’t security see that in real time?”
“Maybe it was so fast in real time that security didn’t notice it. We saw it because we were anticipating something from the start,” Sir Mallory deduced.
“But there was about two or three seconds delay when the scanner was activated.”
“That delay was caused by the facial mapping technology kicking in. In the case of their system, retinal pattern and finger print analysis weight more than the facial map. I don’t know the rational behind, but the finger print ID system they had employed here was more than enough to protect Fort Knox. It does not only read fingerprints and retina but searches for sweat pores and tear ducts to distinguish from latex reproduction. The system also has voice pattern recognition. All three safeguards surmounted with ease. Here’s another trick you ain’t seen yet. See that.” Sir Mallory zoomed in to the panel that was not properly shut close. A dark mass hit it and the gap was remedied. “Upon meticulous scrutiny, the dark mass that hit the panel door was a rat.”
“I can only conclude that the FBI is not nano-proofed,” added M.
“Could we rewind and see what the stolen file was?” Bond pursued.
“We already did that. The file was unmarked. No markings, secret or exposed whatsoever.”
“No need for that,” M interrupted. “That was why I had you summoned, Double 0 7.”
“I’m all ears, M.”
“The thief contacted MI6, asking for ten million pounds worth of uncut diamond.”
“Does any file cost that much?”
“There’s one. The Russian Mafiya is willing to pay more than ten folds that amount to preserve its existence in North America. FBI is willing to pay the same to convict the Red Mafioskos in their turf. England for one, is willing. Its owner eager to kill to have it back for destruction.”
“It’s Konrad Lapuski’s file. It seemed that the FBI had Lapuski in their witness protection program. To elude MI6 dragnet and for the round up and conviction of Russian bigwigs in America and Canada he offered his testimony to the Feds. He’s using the muscle of the American justice system to rid The Organyzatsia of his rivals. The process is grinding and America – it seemed – is successful in the round-up that several hierarchs were already identified and convicted. The jailbirds though are not squealing their comrades in fear of reprisal. But those still at large will all eventually be tracked and incarcerated. Thanks to Lapuski.”
“And you’re to send me for the pay-off, is that so?” Bond guessed.
“The diamonds are in the treasury now. They will release it on your signature alone. Be careful Double 0 7. It took treasury a whole week to raise the money for the diamonds and a big chunk of it was the education subsidy budget.”
“What could go wrong in a simple pay-off?”
“I should think so. She’ll meet you in Istanbul. The Marrakech Express.”
“She? The thief’s a she?”
“That’s the hunch. Her facial digits say she is.”
“The more you shouldn’t worry, M.”
The Marrakech Express
The Marrakech Express is a 60s nite club, very high class and a veritable pleasure dome that transported its clientele to the nostalgic era of peace, prosperity and to some, the boundary of innocence. Opulence and elegance could be smelled in its perimeter. It was the brainchild of an American hippie, Greg Pomelo, a draft dodger who rented a small apartment in this side of Istanbul and invited his friends to come over for a persecution-free drug indulgence. He called the place The Marrakech Express to pay homage to the caravan from Marrakech that brought the hashish to his doorstep. The small hashish den grew and soon not only hippies from America were his frequent visitors, also the counter-cultural minorities from Europe. The allure of a lifestyle of decadence and freedom from strict conventions of the preceding generation drew not only the desperados but also those with money for a taste of temporary escape from their dull existence. The following year Greg Pomelo had bought the whole apartment and this pleasure dome had been a booming business. By the turn of the decade, he had the whole block for himself and in its center stood The Marrakech Express. As the Marrakech underwent a metamorphosis, so did its clientele. The hippies and degenerates were driven out in favor of the more powerful tentacles of commercıalısm.
The Aston Martin pulled in the parking lot; Bond had developed the habit of not trusting valets with his car that usually had had some after-sales accessories upgrade in the Q Department. A valet could end up ejected if he touched a button that shouldn’t be, or riddled a car parked in front with bullets, or much worse, blew up another with a RPG.
The vast parking lot was a showroom of cars with a total combined value of a third world country’s agriculture budget. Bond felt a little inadequate with his Aston Martin. He should have requested a Royce or a Bentley, which he didn’t, knowing that M would disagree.
The Martin is fine… elsewhere.
The doorman welcomed Bond with a smile after checking his name on the guests list from a handheld device. James went straight to the bar.
“Martini please. Shaken, not stirred,” he told the bartender. His order was attended right away.
There was not a place Bond had visited that could compare to The Marrakech. The artworks that adorned the walls were originals from new masters and he could imagine what adorned the private offices. All fixtures that would look good in gold were clad with gold and those that would look good in silver were crafted from silver. England’s premier spy had browsed on a Saudi prince being entertained by an uprising Hollywood actress; a software magnate from California was also there, nursing an unlabeled pilsen; a few sports celebrities here, business moguls there and way far off were arms manufacturers from Belgium and France celebrating a good year for war mongering with a retired American general; a top model was with her agent and boyfriend; a Princess from a Scandinavian country was with her court.
Bond would not be surprised if someone from the lot would recognize him in his own true person or in one of the many disguises he employed to go about in the upper echelon of the privileged and powerful.
A full orchestra was providing an accompaniment to a crooner with silky masculine voice who left the glitter of Atlantic City for a more financially rewarding career here.
A song in the night
You came to me like a song in the night
An expert thief prowling by
You stole my heart with just a smile
A song in the night
I came to you like a song in the night
A lonely shadow finding another
What are the chances for perfect strangers?
Bond consulted his watch. He was three minutes early. Within his visual field he saw her in a glide; dressed in an elegant black sheer striped blouse of polyamide-elastane with cotton collar and straight-cut wool pants, clasping a Chanel satin bag on her chest; a poetry approaching, long black hair in a flowing follow-through. She wasn’t wearing any jewelry, but if she was, they would be competing in vain with her beauty.
“Hello. I’m Riyana Ramozova,” she smiled and offered her hand.
“Bond. James Bond,” he said, and kissed her hands, spying for a trace of a ring that could have once enfolded a slender finger. Bond walked her to a table, already jealous of the light shining on her and the people trying to pinch a glimpse. He could stare at her the whole evening and wouldn’t care if the world outside fragmented in another war as long as she’s with him, and he ready to protect her -- the most delicate product of millions of years of evolution.
They sat. The corner was hidden from those who were in Marrakech to be seen. A waiter appeared, as if already there waiting for a cue. He had a tray of champagne and glasses. The champagne was unlabeled as all other beverage and liquors in the club. There was nothing in the world that would match the taste of anything served here just like when it all started – only the best hashish in this side of the universe, no name, no brand, sweet dreams and good trip. The Marrakech Express was an establishment too proud to carry other brands on its shelves.
She rose after a sip and held her hand to him. “Do you dance, Mr. Bond?”
“Yes, of course I do.” James took it and they made their way to the dance floor. The crooner was absorbed in his singing; people were lured by his song.
Could a dance bring us closer?
Could a dance make us forget?
The solitude we left?
Perhaps some wine, perhaps champagne
Lively talks, laughter and games
Anything to make you stay
To hold you tight ‘til the break of day
James and Riyana, for a while, had forgotten what they were here for. Neither was speaking. Their eyes doing the talking what their lips couldn’t find the word to convey.
Unlike a song in the night
That floats for a fleeting time
You could have stayed forever
We could be the best of strangers
But somewhere, in that locked stare, Riyana withdrew her eyes, guilt nipping.
“What is it, Riyana…” James whispered.
James held her cheek and lifted her eyes to his, the urgency of his mission knocking impatiently on his mind. He brushed it aside and indulged on her beautiful face, afraid that this would be their first and last rendezvous.
Perhaps more wine and more champagne
Bedroom talks, a lovers’ game
Anything to make you mine
To hold you tight ‘til the end of time
But like a song in the night
You had to go away
Their lips met. And the more it made James afraid to lose her. Holding her while the saxophone adlibbed, James felt the big emptiness in his heart left by Tracy somehow filled – he was certain that it was only for a fleeting while; still he was grateful for that fleeting while.
The horn section had breathed its last note and the voice of the singer again floated.
Like a song in the night
You’re gone in the morning light
I know you won’t come back to me
Why is it that you have to be --
in the night.
James didn’t know that tears had formed in his eyes. Riyana saw it and she kissed it away.
“James…” she whispered his name.
“Don’t say a word please.”
“Where’s the diamonds?” She wanted the business side of this first acquaintance done over with fast so she could hope to move on to a new level.
“Do you think I’ll have it with me, here, my Riyana? Where’s the file?” He, too was. The next stage of their relationship would not be attained if they remained at this juncture.
“Oh, James… You don’t really think that I’ll have it with me either. It’s in the safest place in Istanbul.”
“And where’s that supposed to be?”
“In a safe. The cathedral.”
“Can we get it now?”
“No. Today is the cleaning day and the cathedral is closed for twenty four hours. Tomorrow morning.”
The crooner and the orchestra had taken their bow; the dancers had cleared the floor. James and Riyana were left there, clinging on each other, like the song said, ‘a lonely shadow finding another… ‘
A Song In The Night
The light was switched on.
Riyana’s hotel was in the other side of the town and while in the Martin, the two had a chance to talk without devouring each other with their eyes. The briefcase containing the diamonds was in the car when Riyana hopped in. Bond thought that Riyana had not considered the Martin the safest place in Istanbul beside the cathedral. No one could touch the briefcase without getting stunned in return. For one, the door lock and ignition no longer respond to metal keys but to a beam of laser in definite width, length and frequency in the light spectrum, not to mention the biometric safeguards and the physical injuries a thief would be suffering if he was able to break in – the worse of which the car exploding from the inside while he was trapped in. The briefcase wouldn’t be nicked due to its Kevlar construction. The explosion would also be contained, would be seen by an outside spectator as a flash of light from the inside, a muffled sound could be heard, too, but the car would be intact in his view, until he saw the interior. The burglar would be shredded flesh in blood marinade.
Riyana didn’t realize that she was sitting on a huge chunk of Semtex while they were breezing the boulevard.
Bond placed the briefcase on a night stand, next to Riyana’s handbag. They kissed, hungry and insatiable; ripping off each other’s clothes, animals in mating season, mindful only of the promise of physical gratification. Riyana stood there, almost naked, suddenly ashamed. She covered her nudity with her hands and the last remaining piece of clothing she hadn’t dropped down -- ashamed of the imperfections she was hiding, ashamed that James would discover what was underneath the expensive gown and wouldn’t like what he would see.
“No please…” she begged and budged back.
Bond stepped closer, calming an untamed animal. “Riyana…” He caressed her shoulder and ran his hand on her back, his lips affectionately touching hers, gently, not hungrily as before, loving, devoid of lust. The animal was tamed, responded with a little slit in her lips to accommodate him. Bond was tracing the small of her back, feeling unevenness on her velvet skin.
She shivered, ashamed. “I’m sorry, I’m not as beautiful as I am supposed to be,” she apologized and let go of her defenses. The object of her shame was bared. Her lithe body was marred with scars. To show more, Riyana turned around. The light illuminated her back. It was blemished with scars, too. Bond had seen similar. They were not caused by an illness or natural skin imperfection; they were induced, put there and he could imagine how painful each of them might have been during the ritual, and the accompanying harsh words to remind her of her misdeeds when each scar was being inflicted.
“Who did this to you?” He couldn’t help squirming secretly as he touched each lash mark and cigarette burn crater.
“Konrad… Lapuski. We used to be lovers and I stole for him.” She leaned her naked body on his, a lover admitting a dark past and hoping to be understood.
James carried her on the bed. He continued undressing, baring also his body, same as hers, tarnished. “Don’t be ashamed. Nobody is perfect.”
She, too, was mortified. He, too had a past, maybe different from hers but scars don’t discriminate. If there were on the surface, there were more beneath -- much more painful than the seen.
James flicked off the lamp, slipped in the sheet and kissed her. Not the hungry kiss they started with; respect was added to the catalogue of emotions that welled from each of the two strangers finding commonality. Their shadows merged, welded in tight embrace -- a thief stealing a moment of love in the eternity of hatred; a man of war seeking solace under the protective wings of a frail and delicate woman. The two danced to the rhythm dictated by their body, unrehearsed yet perfectly executed.
The arms of the clock traveled round the dial; the lovers had untangled to cling back to each other again. James would have given everything he could for this bliss not to end. He was envisioning a new future when Riyana’s cellular pulled him back to reality. Riyana was ashen, sure that a bad news was about to reach her ears.
“James…” she consulted him.
Riyana went to the ante room to answer the call in private.
“Hello, Riyana,” came the voice Riyana had been dreading to hear.
“I’m glad you still remember my voice.”
How could she forget? Her body was a testament that she wouldn’t for a long as she wears the same skin. “Why?”
“I’m streaming a video to your mobile. I can’t wait to share them to you. Here, it’s coming.”
Riyana saw in the LCD an excerpt video of their dance in The Marrakech Express. The video shifted to her room before the light was flicked off and when they were in bed. Heir shadows were clearly outlined.
“Damn you, Konrad!” Her paranoid eyes were scanning the walls; a helpless prey being toyed with by her predator.
“Wait, Darling. You haven’t seen the whole trailer yet.”
The video cut away to a tropical scene she knew to be Bangkok. Her family was having a bar-b-cue in their front yard. The frolic was directly incongruent to the fear gripping Riyana.
“You know what I want. My file. Plus the penalty.”
“W-what penalty?” her eyes rounded to magnify her fear.
“Not what you have in mind. I’m done with you. There’s nothing you could steal now that I couldn’t get myself, and no more place in your body to mark. This is not personal, economic maybe, but not quiet so. I’d say it’s a security bond. I want you to pay me ten million pounds worth of uncut diamond.”
“But that’s the – “
“I know or I’ll leak Phuket. Saves me the dirty job. You know, my dear Riyana, I won’t let you out of my sight because I truly love you… and your family, too.”
“Thanks. Go back to your lover; make him feel you’re worth ten million pounds.” The line went dead.
Suddenly, Riyana felt very filthy, much used and abused and there was not a way she could consider to break the subjugation. James was standing by the door. She had sensed him came, however, she remained transfixed, her brains scrambled confused. “What was it, Riyana? James asked.
“N-nothing.” She held him tight, summoning strength not to weep. She can’t talk. Her room was bugged. Then she smiled. “My youngest sister called to tell me the news that she made the inter-collegiate dance troupe.”
“Oh! Congratulations to her!”
Riyana untangled. “I think I needed a bath,” she said.
James could hear the shower from behind the door. Above the rushing water, Riyana was humming a tune. Inside, Riyana was fiddling with what seemed to be a bottle of perfume, weighing a decision about to be made. She was regretting it already before the inevitable was forged. There was no other choice. She wrapped her face with a wet towel, opened the door to a crack and sprayed the room with the content of the bottle. It was more potent than the one she used with the secretary. The gas would put James Bond to sleep for twelve hours.
The sun had mellowed when Bond woke up. Riyana wasn’t there. The clock said that he was asleep for more than eleven hours. The briefcase was gone. James was too groggy to think, though there wasn’t a headache. His head was just feeling heavy from over sleeping. Then he became conscious that he was knocked out by a gas. Bond couldn’t get himself to stir up a rage.
The events before the blackout was unspooled… a phone call… Riyana was worried… a sister, the youngest… a tune…
He remembered her humming a tune.
His steps were heavy; heart sunken. London, in his perception was smoggier than a usual summer’s day. He was not in the mood to drive, took a cab, leaving the Martin in the garage.
James was at the south bank of the River Thames looking upward to the tall headquarters building. He couldn’t make his stride faster knowing that where’s he’s headed M was waiting furiously. He tried to cheer himself up with the thought that nothing in the day’s reserved of misfortunes would stagger him anymore.
Face her, old chap. She could be a hag because you’re a disappointment.
Bond slogged on, desperately needing the soothing rub of smoke in his throat. A vending machine was by the sidewalk. He dropped a coin and ran his fingers on the stack of cigarettes under the glass, searching for the brand that would come close to the Moreland special low-tar. It was there – a temptation beckoning him. His finger punched the next button. A pack of honey mint candies rolled out the dispenser. A few more strides and he curved into the Vauxhall Cross.
Jane Moneypenny was wearing a long face, a foreboding sign that nothing pleasant would come out of the day.
“You’ll find out for yourself,” Moneypenny replied.
James groaned and gathered his courage before pushing the wide door of M’s office.
The meeting was short. Bond could tell that M was doing her best not to express her disappointment to the degree transgressing civility. M mentioned once about the fund intended for education subsidy, appealing to Bond’s conscience.
Megan Young was from Gloucester, working for a software company in London designing modules for intellectually challenged kids. Aside from occasionally gracing Bond’s bed, she helped him do research on subjects so delicate he wouldn’t even want MI6 to know. Megan Young knew that James Bond was with the British Secret Service two days after they were introduced last year in a social function. Megan Young was a tall, beautiful, blond hacker. She was attracted to him, and before long Bond to her was an open book. She had read everything there was in his file.
They were in her bedroom, busy in other thing not in the usual business they do here. She was wearing a cotton t-shirt and a skimpy shorts. James was reconstructing the face of Riyana from fragments he remembered.
Piece by piece, the face formed, each part selected carefully from the databank of The Scotland Yard.
“That’s her.” James declared. Aside from his impeccable talent for detail, James had with him the lifted fingerprint of Ramozova from the shower door knob.
Megan uploaded the data and the engine began its search. Faces of known criminals rolled in flashing speed on the monitor screen, ending with:
No Match Found
“Maybe she’s a figment of your imagination,” she sighed.
“I’m not doing this to make you jealous. I saw her with my own eyes.”
“Yeah, you did.” She snatched the plastic sheet containing her print and scanned it. While the print was being scanned, Megan pulled James by his tie and she kissed him. The scanning was done; Megan lingered a bit.
“That’s sexual harassment; you know that, don’t you?”
“I call it overtime compensation.” Young returned to her computer. Bond was engrossed at every pause of the search the computer tries to compare a particular print from the model and groaned in frustration on each and every failed match. The flashing images paused to compare a fingerprint from the model. Linear points were analyzed. Bond held his breath, fingers crossed, wishing hard for a positive match while the ultra fast computer process the evaluation.
Central Intelligence Agency
A messenger cut through heavy traffic and barriers, riding his bike on overpasses and underground passages for a very important package he had to deliver. There was no name on it, only the title of the recipient: The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The messenger had dreamed of working for the CIA and maybe this package could be the blessing in disguise.
Finally he was standing at the gate of the spy agency of the most powerful nation in the world and he tingled in excitement.
“Slip it in the slot, kid,” a voice from the guardhouse ordered him.
The messenger obeyed. He knew at this moment he was being photographed and it could be the opportunity he was waiting for. At last, he knew he was now a part of the CIA archives.
The computer went on after it deemed that there was no perfect match.
“Scotland Yard holds one of the biggest libraries of rouges. Still no match,” Young said.
“Can you hack in the FBI’s?” Bond gave her a naughty smile. He would have done it himself in his apartment, but he had fallen out of grace and M wouldn’t condone the action.
“I can do more. For a kiss, I’ll get you in The Russian Federal Police.” The smile was returned with a much naughtier beam a girl could to tease a man with.
Bond kissed her. “If she’s not there, can you get in the Interpol?”
“That would cost you more than a kiss.” She took off her t-shirt.
The package contained a disk in bubble wrap. It was subjected for physical examination and chemical analysis to determine if it contained harmful substance. It was clean. The technician that first viewed the content was baffled seeing a beautiful girl entering an elite European night club. Her face was mapped – a common procedure now in high class clubs that would bar undesirable customers. She met with a man and they had a drink. The couple danced, had a drink again while chatting and then left. The camera caught them leaving in an Aston Martin. Having no idea what it was about, he released the disk to the addressee.
Edwin Flowers, the CIA Chief instantly recognized James Bond. He, too, was baffled to the intention of the sender for there was no cover letter to explain it. The mystery was unveiled when he learned from a source that a break-in occurred in the FBI Director’s office. He requested a copy of the surveillance video and had the tech lab re-examine the two videos and the facial digits compared.
The thief acquired a face and she was working for James Bond.
The British Ambassador’s presence was requested to the White House by the CIA Chief. From the White House, she was asked if she had a time to spare for a short trip to Fairfax, Virginia. In the conference room, Edwin Flowers let her watch the video and was asked to explain if there was a MI6 operation against the FBI in progress. Lapuski’s failed attempt to wipe out the British Royalties was a common knowledge, also England’s desire to get Lapuski at all cost. The British ambassador was dumbfounded for she knew nothing of such operation, yet the video showed otherwise. She was feeling sick when she requested to be excused for the meantime and clear everything with MI6 before making an official statement.
As soon as she got back to the embassy, she made arrangement for a plane to take her to London and personally do an inquiry.
James left Megan Young’s apartment. Neither Interpol nor any police agencies in the world had a record of one Riyana Ramozova – no name, no picture, no print.
“The Century Housel had tracked a Saudi businessman who had some dealings with Ramozova,” began M not pleased she had to re-assign Bond to the case.
“What did she do for him?”
“Stole an egg.”
Bond knew that M could be referring to Faberge egg.
“It was the first of the Faberge’s that was recorded he had done. Diamonds, gold, sapphire, name it and it’s there.”
“Why steal it. I could conclude that this Saudi you are talking about has the money to buy that egg.”
“Yes, he does. The problem’s the egg’s not for sale.”
“If it exists, it has a price. Nothing in this world is not for sale anymore”
“But the owner doesn’t want to sell. A Moscow street thug brokered the sale.”
“Let me guess. The thug’s name’s Konrad Lapuski?”
“Why not go to Lapuski directly?”
“Because the sheik knows how to contact Ramozova. After that first job, a second was arranged, thru a buy and sell web site. No idea on how to reach Lapuski, though.”
Q entered, carrying a glass box with parchment papers in it. “I see that Double 0 7’s already here. He’s in time for the briefing. I don’t want to be pulled out from my lab when I’m this busy.”
“What evil gadgets are you up to now, Q?”
“First thing first,” M insisted.
“These are pages from the Qur’an. Original manuscripts, written by Mohammed with his own hands.”
Bond peeked and out of curiosity, reached to lift the cover up.
“Careful, Double 0 7. The parchments are very delicate and would crumble to dust if exposed to air.”
“Don’t kid me, Q. No original Qur’an manuscript had survived.”
“Of course there’s none. These are excellent forgeries.”
“Will they really crumble to dust when exposed to air?”
“Yes, they would. The papers were from the same era of the writing of the Qur’an, 7th century. The parchments were originally written with a goat stew recipe, found by Dr. Gertrude Trudis, in an archeological site in Oman in the late eighteen hundreds. It had been kept in the condition to duplicate the tomb it was found in. The writings were erased by laser. This laser thing already impresses me. I would like to believe that I am outgrowing my fascination with mechanical stuff. And you’ll see about that, later Double 0 7 when we get back to my lab.”
“You have a toy for me?”
“Don’t flatter yourself, Bond. Government issued equipments are not to be treated as playthings,” reminded M.
“But I did my best to return them intact.”
“Yes, you tried and you failed. Miserably, if I may say so.”
“Perhaps they were no really made to last. Are they, Q?”
Q ignored Bond to continue with the process, which he was proud to share. “A band in the spectrum of light I discovered could write on the parchment without destroying its delicate surface. To make the writing as old, light was also used. All these were done in an airless confine.”
“I’m just curious, how would this techno-magic help us get – “ Bond paused, forcing himself to say her name without summoning pain – “Ramozova?”
“Don Mario Joseph Delgado, heir to the Delgado business empire will help us. The document will be kept in the family vault in their castle in Granada, Spain and Sheikh Abubakr Al-Hadj Mokthar will contact Ramozova to steal it.”
That was how Bond felt about the whole set up. Being professional had nothing to do with this, but it would be hard for him to betray the person who could possibly replace Tracy. The world was full of beautiful women. If there was anyone who knew about that, it was James Bond.
But there was once a Tracy de Vicenzo Bond.
Now a Riyana Ramozova.
“Don’t you like what you see?” Q broke his reverie.
“Sure. I like it. Especially the color.”
They were in the Q Department lab and James was standing by a dark teal Jaguar.
“I know you haven’t had a Jag before. I’m sure you’ll like it.”
“What can it do?
“The regular bags of trick you’re familiar with. All in there. With an addition that took us decades to develop.”
“You said you’re done with mechanical stuff and into lasers now.”
“Laser gun is still a dream, Double 0 7. To effectively shoot a weapon-grade laser pulse would require a great amount of energy. Perhaps when portable power generators for laser guns are invented, we could fit a couple in the headlamps.”
“So what exactly does this thing do… except put holes on villains and pollute the air they breathe?”
Q reached inside and pressed a button. A beautiful lady in beach wear appeared in front, thumbing up a ride. Bond was speechless for a few seconds.
“Don’t stare at her like you’re planning to take her to bed. She’s just a holographic image, Double 0 7.”
“Is that all this Jag could do?”
“Not if you use your creativity.”
“Q, I wonder if you still keep the sunglasses?”
“The one that you could… You know…”
“Ah! That sunglasses!”
“Yes. You don’t expect me to go to Spain without those glasses, don’t you?”
“But of course. Go well with the car, too.”
“And it had been bugging me what makes those sweet Spanish senoritas so desirable.”
“You’re naughty, don’t you know that?”
“Not so loud. Someone might hear you.” James glanced around the walls for hidden microphones.
“Okay, I’ll have Ms. Peterson look for it.”
“Ms. Peterson? The Service has a new staff named Ms. Peterson? How long have I been gone and I didn’t know about it?”
“Oh yes, you know her. You know her quite perfectly well.” A tinge of grin on Q warped that old man’s face to a puckish teenager’s appeal. “She’s the former Ann Reilly, married now to Myron Peterson of Century House.”
Spy Versus Spy
Rene Bryon-Nest worked for MI6 and Eliza Raquel Elizondo knew that.
Elizondo was an attractive woman with medium built body, tall and with a handsome face. She had been following Bryon-Nest for three days now and the tail had reached Granada. If Nest did not spot her in London, when she had been a blond, a brunette and a red-haired, the more he won’t now. Raquel Elizondo’s Hispanic features had driven her deeper in the woodworks to be noticed. She didn’t even have to dye her glossy black hair.
Eliza Raquel Elizondo was a CIA agent, a pavement artist in their lingo. Renan was not the only MI6 agent getting trailed. All identified MI6 operatives were put under the glass. CIA agents all over the world finally had something else to do than hang around.
Bryon-Nest was having a preliminary conversation in a restaurant at siesta time with Marcial Montano. Montano used to have the body and the attitude of a harbor worker in his youth, however, decades in the castle had refined the brute to a passable butler, and now Senor Delgado’s personal assistant. He had acquired the Spanish aristocrat appearance from serving the Delgados.
Renan Bryon-Nest’s frame was a stick compared to that of Montano’s heavy build. He was a lanky man with the appeal of a college boy. Nevertheless, he thought of himself as a ladies’ man.
There were very few clients in the hall and one of them was Elizondo – at the other end, in a bar having a sip of iced tea; too far from the two to make them uneasy. That side of the hall had been reserved for them. Bryon-Nest had probably seen her – because she was bound to attract attention when she wanted to. Raquel was listening to her iPod and appearing engrossed – so it may seem. The iPod was playing alright, but she wasn’t listening to music. She was picking and recording their conversation. A directional microphone was neatly planted in the toe of her sneaker. The bartender could even hear tinny sound filtering out of the small ear-bud speakers.
I’m sure you can make Senor Delgado agree with your plan. It’s unfortunate that he was not in the country as of this moment to personally hear your proposal. He’s in a honeymoon cruise for a year, which will end next month. Third marriage. Very young senorita.
Send the couple London’s best wishes.
Don’t worry, I will.
I gather that an agreement would only be for formality.
If it’s for the betterment of the majority, I don’t see any problem…
Remember, this thief had victimized many rich families in Europe, especially in Russia. A run-of-the mill thief won’t arouse London’s interest….
Have you informed the polizia to help in catching the thief?
No. London has a man to do that.
A man? Just one man?
Yes. London does not want the thief to be alarmed. The lesser people in this, the greater the chances of success.
I’ll talk to Senor Delgado and lay out your plan. Will call him up on his satellite phone.
Please, we don’t want to take chances here. No sudden change of schedules or activities in the castle. Let all things remain so, less we scare the thief away. As we are talking right now, she could be casing the palace.
I see. I better go, Mr. Nest. It seemed that we’re not going to be much help to your operations.
You are already. Planning is ninety percent. The actual apprehension is but ten.
You said it right. I’ll inform Senor Delgado ASAP. I’m sure he’ll agree. Will give you a call.
The item to be stolen will be delivered in the castle this evening.
Adios, Mr. Nest.
Elizondo did not see Senor Montano leave. She wasn’t blowing up her cover by giving them occasional glances. The conversation had stopped and before she knew it, Bryon-Nest was sitting on the stool beside her.
“Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” he said.
Wanted to buy rare Islamic manuscript.
an ad in a buy and sell website proclaimed. Riyana had identified the many aliases of the interested party. She dialed his number from a public phone.
“Sheik, I saw your ads in the site. What particular document do you have in mind?”
“Pages from the Quoran. It is a travesty to the Moslem that such a relic be in the hands of an infidel. I want it back in our possession.”
“Do you know where it is?”
“The Delgado Castle, Granada Spain.”
“Three Million Euros. Two now, one after.”
“Yes. I still trust the Swiss.”
“Money will be wired now. You can check with your banker.”
Riyana put down the phone. The conversation took only thirty seconds. Impossible to trace.
Raquel pretended not to notice Bryon-Nest. “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” The man from the MI6 repeated in his clipped Oxford accent, trying to be coherent above what could be pounding rock music from the lady’s iPod.
Raquel unplugged an ear, “what did you say?”
“I thought I’ve seen you before – “
“In my dreams.”
Raquel faked a giggle. “Are you trying to pick me up?”
“I-I don’t know… Maybe I am,” Renan Bryon-Nest blushed.
“Tell you what… My husband will be here in half an hour. Give me a number where I could reach you and we’ll arrange a meet. Is that okay with you?”
“Yes. I’ll be in town till tomorrow evening.” Bryon-Nest scribbled on a napkin and gave it to Raquel.
She folded the napkin and slipped it in her cleavage.
“Do you have a name?”
“Aida Martinez,” she offered her hand.
“I’m Renan Bryon-Nest. I’ll be looking forward to your call, Aida.” Bryon-Nest kissed her hand and strutted out of the restaurant.
Raquel Elizondo fished out the napkin, crumpled and tossed it in a trash can. She thumbed a switch in the iPod and real pounding rock music filled her head.
The bank had confirmed the transfer. Riyana packed up her bags for Granada, Spain.
As soon as her van was in Spain she started her research. A picture of the document was in the Internet. The city of Granada was currently in negotiation with Senor Mario Joseph Delgado to buy the relic for public viewing to attract more tourists and could make their place a major pilgrimage site to Moslem.
Riyana was not yet convinced. She was careful of being setup. It was easy to place a picture and a story in the internet. She needed hard documents a proof. When Riyana reached Granada, she visited the municipal library and did supplemental research. She buried herself in a book about the City of Granada’s treasures, published in 1957, the only one in existence. The object manuscript was there. Riyana secretly tore the page. She would subject the paper to examination. Her van was equipped for such.
The examination proved the age of the paper and the ink to match that of the book’s publication and not a recent inception.
What Riyana didn’t know was it was recent as she had suspected. The page was from a flyleaf of the same batch of the title, printed with ink from the same era and aged in Q’s laboratory by expert forgers.
A Human Bat
The palace-fortress was a 13th century Moorish architecture. It was not a single structure but several, in an expansive compound, over-looking the city in lights below. At two o’clock AM, there were only a few illuminations in scattered windows in the complex. Last night was the same as this. But last night was different. After tonight, this place would be upgrading securities and hiring more personnel.
Riyana’s black hang glider had encircled the castle twice, determining oddities from last night’s, from the previous night’s… and on the first she flew over her target. None. All were normal.
A green wire-framed form of a woman in a glider was being tracked in a monitor in a van at the side of the hill. The van was black, enmeshed in jungle-scheme camouflage. Five more were encompassing the palace-fortress. A radar-like tracking device using sonar technology was mounted on each of them.
“East northeast, hovering toward the Alcazaba,” whispered the commando, who first detected the flying object, to his mouthpiece. “Could be a glider.”
“Scarab 2 picking up image.”
“Scarab 3, copy. Scope turning to east northeast.”
“Scarab 4 no image yet. Direction blocked. Natural barrier. Standing by for a visual.”
“Scarab 6 same as Scarab 4.”
“This is 5, starting to pick up image.”
“This is team leader Ferret to ground com. Prepare to catch a human bat.”
The glider swooped low, just several meters above the deck. Riyana was calculating for her jump and the air flow if there was sufficient draft to send the glider up without her. The first pass was somehow not right and she angled up, but already calculated the exercise.
“Human bat flying away…”
“Scarab 4 getting a 20/20. Human bat encircling back.”
On the third pass she was able to configure the best angle of decent and jump-off height. With her were her usual tools and an inflatable dummy attached to a small tank of carbon dioxide. On her fourth pass, as she curved back to the drop point, another contraption, a folded aluminum stick was spread to hold the glider to direction.
Before the curve was completed, the dummy was inflated, almost a copy of her body built and weighing the same.
As she hovered over the roof deck, about to reach the drop height, she locked the aluminum clamp on the hanger. The glider swooped slowly and ascended up.
The green wire-framed glider flew farther.
“She’s aborting! I think she’s aborting!” announced Ferret team leader on his mouthpiece seeing the triangular flyer away from the castle, into the woods. “Ground crew arrange reception. Human bat heading steadily opposite the last confirmed course. West southwest.”
“Copy, Ferret One. This is Scorpio Patrol. Visual of the bat established.”
“Give the bat a nice Spanish reception, Scorpio.”
“Prepare the roll. Will have bat sushi for breakfast.”
“Your disgusting, Scorpio.”
“Stand by for the package."
The dark forest lit up with headlamps from ATVs, the engines kicking to life disturbed nocturnal critters on their hunt.
The glider was losing height and it crashed.
“Bat surrounded… Scorpio closing in for the trophy.”
“You’re really good, Scorpio. The Navy SEAL is forever proud of you.”
ATVs from all over converged to the crash site. The glider rested in the hub of headlamps pointed on it from all directions. It wasn’t moving. Navy SEALs in battle gear advanced; their MP5s – loaded with tranquilizer bullets – ready.
The team leader waved an order to the nearest trooper to the fallen flying contrivance, straining his ear for a sound. He watched; his arm held up to order to shoot if the target would be crazy enough to make a wrong move.
The wind blew; the triangular wing raised its tail.
“Stinger one, shoot.”
Two muffled shots were released, penetrating the black wing.
A long hiss followed. The SEALs rushed to the glider and when the leader lifted it up to peek underneath, a dummy was writhing as it depletes.
Riyana was a lump on the wall she was leaning on, advancing to the terrace of the room where the document was kept into the Alta. She had seen the layout of the palace in the Granada Tourism Bureau website. Her attention was not on the few roving guards below, not to the dogs either for she had incorporated the scent of cement and bricks and foliage in the arsenal of the nanite suit.
She reached the balcony by crawling on the wall. The door was locked. As expected and her scan on its surrounding told her that there was no electronic security installed. All mechanical – the way a castle should be.
Riyana picked a syringe from her bag of magic and injected the keyhole with the industrial grade acid it contained. A pungent odor floated; smoke of melting metals from inside the keyhole oozed. The spring mechanism of the lock was obliterated. Before opening the door The thief Riyana squirted oil to the hinges and let it soak for a minute.
Not a creak on the hinges bellowed; the phantom was inside, surveying the hall. The document was there, sandwiched in a flexi-glass protective case enclosed in a glass cabinet. The flooring was of highly glazed decorative tiles in Renaissance style, unaltered since the hall underwent renovation in 1526. No way that a trip could be installed under it without disturbing the ornate masonry works. To be sure, she scanned the tiles one after another before stepping on them.
The document was so delicate in its appearance that it seemed it would disintegrate in the weight of a stare.
The glass was cut; the cabinet was open. With care as if reaching out for a newborn baby, she lifted the flexi-glass box and put it in a bag strapped on her chest.
Getting out was easier. She had jumped out the perimeter wall when the roar of Sikorsky H-92 Superhawks shattered the silence.
“We got the bat in the scope. Net cannon 1 fire.”
Riyana was not sure if she was the object of the hunt. She glared up and it confirmed her fear. Spotlights from the two choppers were trained on her.
Can they see me?
No time for that. She was sure not by their naked eyes but by some hi tech devices.
Not seen! Detected!
The night sky was covered by a circular net that bloomed when she heard a blast. She hit the ground, rolling out into the shelter of a tree. Another blast. The tree’s crown was wrapped by a net.
“Stop! We have you in our scope,” blared an amplified voice from a chopper.
Ramozova defied the order. She sprinted from under one tree to another, utilizing their crowns for protection.
“Heading southwest to the road!” came the blare again.
The thief scuttled, chased by mushrooming mesh, leaping, tumbling, rolling and sidestepping, outwitting the clumsy aircrafts trailing her heels.
Behind her rose an army on ATVs, headlamps all on her. The invisibility was not real, only a mask as proven when her shadow was cast on the grass before the nanites adopted. It was there and suddenly disappeared, morphing with grasses. Nevertheless, that was immaterial for she was a green running wire frame form in the sight of her pursuers.
“Sioux Patrol, the bat’s under a tree. Will light it up. You cordon the area. Will net her if we get a clear shot.”
Ramozova was bathed in light filtering from the leaves above her. The ATVs swarmed to her bearing. When they were close enough, she darted directly toward the pack and rolled on the ground, exploiting crevices her lithe body could fit in. Three shots of nets blasted in succession catching ATVs.
Hurls of curses followed her; riders rendered futile by their own weapons.
Approaching was Superhawk One, flying low hoping for a clean shot. Riyana side-stepped, changing course; the Superhawk turned, but it was too low for the maneuver. A propeller scrapped the ground, jarring the aircraft. Soon it was digging the soil in slashing fashion. The Sikorsky submitted to the centrifugal force and was hurled by its own counter inertia.
“Superhawk One down! Superhawk One down!”
Dirt had splattered on Riyana’s suit; the nanites duplicating its properties for it covered more surface area than the green grass on her feet. Riyana gained solid form. Ahead was a ravine.
But the second Sikorsky was persistent. The roar of the other ATVs was somehow drowned in the background. Yet they were all there, forming a semi-circle enclosure. The only way out was in the 300-foot ravine.
Riyana dashed and leaped.
The pilot got a nice view and an unobstructed shot. He fired two successive tries.
Riyana flipped in a swan dive and sooner than the edges of the first net caught her lower body, she curled in a fetal ball. The net continued its journey downward, snatching nothing.
Dodging the first net, the thief unrolled – a straight arrow aimed to the river below. The second net spread a few feet behind Riyana and nearing to engulf her, fast gaining on her because its speed was propellant driven; gravity was about to be out-dashed.
The several feet of advantage narrowed to a couple, then only inches and her feet would be ensnared. In a blink the net caught up with her feet and it folded to envelop her. Riyana hit the river; the swathing was obstructed by the surface water, unable to reach the depth of her dive. The net formed a cone and collapsed without a substantive body to hold it up.
“The bat got away. In the river, net can’t penetrate the water. The bat is heading to the main road.”
“Okay, we’ll be there to meet her.”
“Superhawk Two lifting up. Tracking to go on.”
“Just keep us guided, Superhawk.”
“Bat is swimming ashore. Northeast side.”
The water was drying and Riyana was again becoming the invisible phantom. Her pursuer was hovering above, watching her. Probably they were out of nets and she’s now sure that they wanted to get her alive or they would have riddled her with bullets already. She was panting when she reached the road. Riyana stayed very low, behind a lump of earth, her suit copying its properties, making the lump look much bigger. Her Ducati was across the street, hidden in the bushes. She cautiously disengaged from the soil to cross.
Four headlamps abruptly dazzled her vision and they were racing toward her, certain where she was.
Then she knew why. She was projecting her shadow on the ground. The water had slowed down the adopting capability of the suit, reading both the trapped water inside and the surface she was on.
Riyana froze, her muscles must have stiffened solid unable to obey the command from her brain to run.
The two pairs of headlights were advancing; troopers in sunroof were pointing rifles at her. She looked at herself, seeing something like an incomplete statue of water with legs of rough asphalt. A foot moved. It was answered by a disturbing thump of a Heckler and Koch; the pavement on her feet exploded with splinters of cracked concrete. Riyana’s fear of getting canned now a distinct possibility.
Another set of headlights was sprinting, faster than the approaching Hummers. It screeched stop before her and the door swung wide.
“Hop in!” James called, looking above his sunglasses.
She did. Her skin-tight outfight assumed the texture and color of the leather seat. The initial burst of the MP5 was now a hail of bullets, knocking on the Jaguar. Riyana was cringing on every thump and ricochet. “James. I’m afraid!” she admitted.
“Don’t be, honey. Bulletproof!”
“How did you know I’m here?”
“Been following you for three nights.”
“If you do, then you can see me.”
“More than that. I can see through your suit,” he winked.
“Let me see that,” Riyana grabbed the glasses and tried it on. He saw James driving naked. “You naughty – “
A mortar just exploded behind them.
“Are they this serious?”
“And also desperate to get me.”
That was the right word. Desperate. The pursuers were desperate to get her now dead or alive or maimed when James Bond appeared on the scene. Getting the pair would present a nice evidence to prove that the FBI break-in was really conceived in London, then they could demand for the stolen file. At this point in time the lives of both James Bond and Riyana Ramozova were worthless to their pursuers – a new set of rules had just taken effect.
Another incendiary exploded by the driver side. Bond was a bit shocked and the car wiggled. “Let’s see what this car can do.” He pushed a button and a touch screen with menu of pictures on display slid out of the dashboard and propped up. He wasn’t able to make a selection; the Superhawk appeared ahead, a missile was released. Double 0 7 made a sudden turn into the woods.
“Rabbit into the woods. Wolf One proceed. Wolf Two set a blockade northeast,” radioed Superhawk to the Hummers.
“Loud and clear. Wolf One proceeding. Sticking on the scent.”
“Wolf Two, northeast bound, plugging exit hole.”
The chopper lit the sky with flare, a visual was established; the Jaguar was a sitting duck. “Superhawk firing missile number two.” A missile ripped the darkness, hitting the dark teal Jaguar. The pilot saw the spot exploded. “Got you, er! Superhawk scoring a direct hit. Heat up stew pot. We have a dead rabbit to skin.”
James shut off the projected parked image of the Jag. The sting of the Sikorsky was really something to fear. He was sure that the bulletproofing Q had in mind didn’t include rockets. He touched a toggle on the dash and a vent in the hood released the measure of coolant that hid the warmth of the engine while it was running. It was a simple ploy to fool thermal detector of the chopper and improve engine performance as nitrous oxide does. Another image of the Jag was going about, being hounded by one of the Hummers. He could see the chest of Riyana rippling in laughter, seeing the Hummer going after a hologram.
“Got to rid of the chopper. Too dangerous to stay under its shadow,” he said.
“If you did, what am I seeing ahead of me?” asked Wolf One. “I am trailing the Jaguar.”
“What?! I swore I saw it blown to pieces!” The Captain shouted a directive to the navigator. “Simon, shine on the Jag!”
Simon immersed the area with bright light. There was no Jaguar there, only a smoking big gaping hole in the ground. “Negative, Captain. No Jag.”
“What’s that heading toward us!?”
Bond was projecting a Super Hornet image to the sky, right on the course of the Sikorsky. He had also veiled the cliff where Riyana had jumped from, superimposing a firmament on it.
“Change course!” they heard from their radio.
“Didn’t see it in the radar. Must have been behind the – “
They saw the Sikorsky’s propeller scratched on the craggy granite and finally the chopper crashing on the side of the cliff. An explosion followed. Two chutes popped up and dangled in a downward float.
Bond stepped on the gas to get out. But he was not alone anymore. He wasn’t anticipating the second Hummer to appear on his path. He turned back for the road. The first Hummer was there waiting and there was no other way to go. They could hear the pack of ATVs charging and the only last direction not sealed off was through the deep river.
“Brace yourself, honey," he told Riyana.
“Don’t be insane, James. That river is very deep!”
James pushed the throttle forward and the Jag responded with a sudden surge, then he hit the brakes and shifted to reverse, after which touched a picture on the menu.
The Jag was out of the way. Bond was hoping that he had hoodwinked the two Hummers to go after the image.
“Wolf One, I got a clear visual. Rabbit right on my front. Bunny in the pocket.”
“I got him, too. Jags are not made for terrains like this.” The commander ordered his driver. “Floor the pedal, Mac.” The Hummer leaped to hyper speed with the intention to crash the Jaguar in its grill. When he was about to bump its rear, it was too late for an evasive maneuver. What was in front of him was the other Humvee and they collided.
There was no other way to go but to confront the river. James was staring ahead like there was no alternative left.
“Don’t be a fool, James!” Riyana shouted.
The Jag burned rubber onward to the river.
“You’re a fool bastard! You can’t clear the river! It’s too wide!” Riyana shut her eyes and curled further, clinging on James’ shoulder. His face was stern, eyes squint in stubborn determination.
About five meters short of the embankment, Bond curved the Jaguar under a bush, and a bridge suddenly materialized on the river. A pinch of creativity was added. James Bond projected the Jaguar crossing the bridge.
The roaring ATVs in swarm came rushing to take the Jaguar. One by one, they found themselves tumbling into the river and piling on one another.
The Jaguar was back on the road; Riyana was humming the tune to compensate for the silence. Neither was starting the conversation that had the potential to lead to questions which had no answers in the meantime
“Stop the car, James. I’m getting off,” she said as they reached the spot where she had the Ducati hidden.
“Can I at least invite you for a drink?”
“No James. I have to make a delivery,” Riyana pointed to the small pack on her chest.
James applied the brakes and let Riyana stepped out. She kissed him on the lips. Before she shut the door closed she stared in his eyes. Riyana disappeared in the woods and reappearing again in a screaming motorcycle, then disappearing anew on the road ahead, leaving a trail of smoke that would soon be gone.
James didn’t know why she let her go the second time.
The water is crystal clear; the waves in friendly laps, settling on the fine, white sand of the beach for a while and returning back to the blue. If Paradise had a beachfront, it would be Boracay, in Panay Island, Philippines.
Here, Ruby Strebel was not the voice of Hyacinth, badgered by fans and the media. She was merely an ordinary beachcomber who could choose to mingle or be left in her privacy -- a rare commodity for a fast rising rock star. Her wish was their records – which were in its last stage of negotiation with an international label – would not reach the Philippines, so there’ll be a dot in the globe where she could unwind and relax…
…and be alone with James.
Poor James… What could be bothering him?
A woman knew about hidden anxieties for they all had learned to live with them. James would appear very happy when they were together, yet the moment she took her eyes off him, his hidden troubles registered. Man should learn how to look at things like women do. They could be staring at you without looking, seeing even when their eyes are at somewhere else -- the perfect method developed for millennia by gazing at boys but not seeming to be.
The cause of James Bond’s worries was being discussed presently in London and the Minister of Defense was fuming mad when he learned of the twin flops committed by an agent with a double zero grade. It would have been forgivable for trainees and ordinary field men. But for a double zero, it was an ignominy.
“What’s happening to your section, M?”
“He doesn’t usually fail, sir. If that’s what you mean.”
“Agents in the double zero class don’t fail, M… in case you don’t know -- they die trying.”
“I am taking the blame, Sir Nigel Patton.”
“You should. America is pulling out all its military supports – hardware, personnel and technology. In response, England’s military attaché in Washington had presented to the Joint Chief of Staff our withdrawal from all the fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The boys are all being recalled home. Hundreds of years of partnership down the bloody drain. Economics and trades treatise, military cooperation -- ”
“If you think I can’t chastise my agent enough, please expect my resignation on your desk before the close of office hours this day, Sir Nigel.”
M was at the fresh produce section of the supermarket. She couldn’t remember the last time she did her shopping herself instead of doing it through the internet and having them sent in her office. She must admit that Sir Nigel Patton was not anticipating so abrupt a decision as a resignation that was delivered with seriousness and not stated as a ploy to get leverage but as an imminent course of action.
Before the clock hit five, as every piece of hard document was being shredded, every byte in the hard drive was being deleted M felt it was her life that was being assigned to oblivion. After decades of working with the Secret Service, there was simply no life to return to. It was easier if she was a president of a private company in the same situation.
Now she had to walk the street as vulnerable as everyone – but she’s much more in danger than anyone because there were people who might have known her identity and seek retribution. She could suggest having Double 0 7 assassinated as a supreme gambit to clear the Double 0 Section of the quandary brought by his failures, however she didn’t. M was a fair employer and she’d rather bow out than put all the blame to a single agent.
Picking the pieces was easier. But what if there were no pieces to pick up? She decided that if there was anything to do with her life, it was to start from the very beginning.
It felt much better… Actually, it felt good.
M smiled. She passed by a newsstand and surveyed the headlines on the evening editions of the papers. The world was tamer despite the headlines. If all people would have access to all information, she couldn’t imagine how long they could keep their sanity intact. The world is better seen at its cosmetic surface. Once that is dented, is the releasing of all plagues and sickness more frightening than those kept by Pandora’s Box.
She knew. She was there for nearly three decades.
A taxi took her to the tube at Charring Cross. She’d be in Barnet I about forty or so minutes and from there, another cab to take her to their house. Her husband would be surprised to see her on a weekday, when she was supposed to be staying in her London flat provided by Universal Exports.
She didn’t have to move out of her flat if anyone had found out where she lived.
M was tired of the constant relocating, the changing of skylines, the altering window views, but she had to for her own and the Double 0 Section’s sake.
The day still had its last rays of sunlight; Raymond, her husband, a retired lumberjack, was watering the plant. He was surprised, as she was expecting him to be, to see her coming out the cab. It never happened in three decades that she was here on a weekday. Most of the occasions, their weekends were sacrificed for pressing situations at the office. Raymond put down the hose and hurried to meet her. He carried the bags for her and when they were alone, the obligatory hug and peck on the cheek was rendered. M hadn’t kissed Raymond with his face bristling with outgrowths. He was always clean-shaven on Fridays -- the expected day of her arrival.
“It’s a Wednesday. I wasn’t expecting – “
“Were you expecting another dame?” M pretended to look around.
“Don’t be silly – “
“At last I’m home.”
“I heard you the first time.”
M was finally home. The hug tightened and they kissed.
Maybe all were not lost after all. There ware a few pieces of her life to pick and to start with anew. Raymond’s hard, craggy faced softened as their eyes met after the kiss. She knew how strong her husband was but she could make him soft as a fluffy marshmallow with her sigh. She, too, was a slave to the same effect when he crinkled his eyes.
Raymond had spent his entire life in the harsh woodlands of England, felling trees when it was still done by brawn. She had ordered or consented to deaths of many enemies and sometimes compatriots who went against the crown. If England was to honor a woman with the most bloodied hand in this century, no one would come close.
Yet there were persons who occupied soft spot in her heart, who made her happy. It wasn’t chemistry. Gulping all the chemical compounds that simulate happiness cannot make a bloke a poet.
But love can.
She couldn’t blame James for setting Ramozova free after hearing the recorded conversation from the Jaguar’s black box. Like her, James was a lonely person who stumbled on love. And she was luckier because she and Raymond were still together.
Nevertheless, it was wrong to put the interest of the Crown second to anything. If there was someone to exact payment for that, it wouldn’t be she.
She’s done with the killings.
The spider slithered on a stick to attack another spider on the other end. It had earlier spun a web to cling on to in case it was dislodged. Both had and both were hungry.
The man holding the stick urged his companion with a nod and betting begun.
Spider wrestling is one of the most popular pastimes here in the island. James had placed a dollar on the sara-pitik, a plant crawler that snaps its legs like a short whip, against the bigger gagambang kuryente, a specie that finds its home on high-tension cables, thus the name gagambang kuryente – electric spider.
The two hungry combatants met in the middle of the elongated arena and their legs started prodding each other. The smaller sara-pitik sensed that it was in grave danger, released its hold and dangled. The umpire pinched the silk web to place the spider back on the stick. The stick was manipulated by twisting it between a thumb and a finger to make the sara-pitik get a good grip. Betting escalated – the gagambang kuryente the heavy favorite.
A few more seconds the betting closed; the spiders grasping and pushing, trying to survive the game they were put into.
Ruby was engrossed, interspersing her body between spectators for a peek of the spectacle. At the corner of her vision, she saw a man, sipping fresh coconut juice she thought she had seen before when they boarded the ferry for Boracay, gazing. She turned her head to take a good gander, but the man withdrew its stare.
Ruby had a stalker once during the band’s infancy in Wiesbaden and she’s been careful ever since. Spotting the same person in two different locations and different instances was hardly coincidental.
Nothing to be alarmed about. The island has many foreign visitors.
Maybe, it was a coincidence --
She returned to the game only to see that bets were already being collected and paid. James lost. The sara-pitik now wrapped in a gagambang kuryente’s death cocoon.
Bond was paying up and a different pair of spiders was being fitted for the next bout.
Ruby returned her glimpse to the man. He wasn’t there anymore.
Frederick Castles had been in the MI6 for ten years as the head of the Middle East ection. He was recalled back to London to lead the controversial Double 0 Section – the elite Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
He was young compared to M and he had a crusade. He would save the Section from controversy and stir it to greater height. Castles would start by ironing the latest imbroglio that smudged the outfit with disgrace. A heap of case files was on his desk – mostly that of the agent that figured in the Granada Blunder – James Bond, agent 007.
It would be a long night.
He buzzed the intercom and Margaret Wilson, the new secretary entered. She replaced Ms. Moneypenny who had resigned with M. He told her she could leave if she wanted, and have the canteen send up a salami sandwich and a cup of hot coffee.
Castles went back to work. He had a copy of the recorded conversation between Bond and the cat thief Ramozova from the black box of the Jaguar.
James had rented a bungalow not far from the beach. It was constructed from bamboo and nipa and the bedroom was surrounded by windows. The night was cool, moon was bright and the sea breeze bringing the taste of salt in the air. They were enjoying the pampering of nature and not the hotel staff -- if they had billeted in one of the five star hotels around the island. It was different from America or Europe, a difference that James couldn’t place a word to describe. The nearest he could come up with was camping with fellow scouts in his youth when he’d trade the warmth and comfort of his room for a tent over his head and a rough ground cloth between him and the damp earth. He loved camping and scouting so much that he joined The Sea Scouts after the Queen Scout Medal was pinned on his breast by his Aunt Charmian, which would have made his parents proud. Too bad, both of his parents died in a mountain climbing accident in the Aiguilles Rouges near Chamonix when he was 11, months after his investiture into the movement. Aside from basic outdoor survival, the young James learned to improvise, plan for contingencies, develop his leadership ability and be brave. He was a warrior already in his youth as soon as he had absorbed the precept of warfare according to Lord Robert Baden-Powell – the founder of the Scouting Movement – through his book, Scouting For Boys. Being in the Royal Navy and later to the Secret Service was the extension of that love for adventure Scouting had infused in him.
The bamboo bed moaned in their weight; the windows were opened wide to allow the breeze and the soft glow of the moon in their privacy. A curtain was drawn, only to be opened again as if an afterthought.
A malevolent eye was also watching.
Rene ‘The Venom’ Herrera was a Nicaraguan freelance assassin. He earned his moniker at the expense of his thirteen victims – most of whom had interest conflicting with the British Crown.
Herrera would do the job too dirty to be linked to the Union Jack.
Strebel’s intuition was correct.
Herrera was perched atop a tree, peeping in the night vision scope of his AW/M rifle extended by a sound suppressor he designed himself – a masterpiece of acoustics engineering, a fitting attachment to another engineering wonder that brings death from afar. The England-made rifle had a clip of 10 rounds of .338 Lapua Magnum, weighing 16.2 grams each that traveled at 3000 feet per second with the force of 7000 joules – could kill ten cows if the bullet was accurately placed.
The Venom didn’t need all the ten bullets. One would do for his target. An extra bullet for the girl – free of charge. He considered collateral victims bonus to his employers.
A drape was drawn, but later swiped to side. A cigarette was lit… The target returned to the bed and snuggled to his partner. The lovers were inside the infrared scope –
Till death do you part…
All Rene Herrera was waiting for was a ring on his mobile for a confirmation from London.
The coffee had grown cold, the salami sandwich untouched. Frederick Castles was tired after going through the files and the recording.
Stop the car, James. I’m getting off.
Can I at least invite you for a drink?
No James. I have to make a delivery.
Castles had memorized the conversation by playing it over and over. He had to make the right decision and he had arrived at a verdict he knew was the correct one.
Treason was committed.
At this point it was safe to conclude that Double 0 7 had acted contrary to the interest of the Crown. That was all for today. He was tired. He would search more evidence to implicate M. As of the moment there wasn’t any. The resources and the power to dig deeper was at his disposal.
But first, Double 0 7.
Frederick Castle dialed a number.
The phone in his pocket vibrated simultaneously with the buzz in an ear pod. Herrera’s finger embraced the trigger, the scope never leaving his quarry.
“Proceed,” the voice in the mobile said and then there was the hum of a dead line.
Ruby lit a stick of cigarette and leaned on James and blew rings of smoke. It was the first time James got a whiff of cigarette smoke he didn’t kindle.
The fumes were obnoxious enough just flitting under his nostrils – the odor of burning chemicals – the crux being ignored by those who voluntarily poison their bloodstream with the deadliest mishmash of fumes known to man.
It was also true that James Bond had once no regard for the dangers of such inconsequential vices since he was not expecting to live to the ripe old age of seventy. A minute of life was already a gift. But what if he survived to celebrate his seventieth birthday? It would be akin to dying everyday from short breathlessness due to the toxin he dumped in his system.
For a long time, he was not catching his breath after a long swim or a rigorous love-making. That was already a prize in itself, already a weapon to frustrate his enemies who had been exerting all effort for him not to reach seventy – and he was in fact helping them by committing a slow suicide by smoking.
Cigarettes were his nemesis’s best friend.
James tenderly pried the cigarette in Ruby’s intertwined fingers and snuffed it in the ashtray on a night table.
“James…” she protested.
“Would you rather have my lips or that stick?” He kissed Ruby. The protest was stamped out faster than the still smoking speckles of burning tobacco.
Ruby was after her breath when the long kiss was over. She was literally grasping for air as she spoke. “James, I noticed someone from the ferry staring at us when we were at the beach… during the spider wrestling – “
“What he look like?”
“Tall, muscular – military bearing, like you. Black hair, closely cropped. South American type. Your regular gorilla.”
Bond regretted the luxury of complacence that had enveloped him, thinking that danger would not follow him to a place so far away from the usual circuit of his operation, a place so far away from London that the natives were impeding the hands of progress its devastating march so people who had pushed so much for the fast rise of urbanization and globalization has a place to go to for an escape in the madding world of their creation. His wits was jogged to high gear; training that had been instilled in him so deeply that it could no longer be distinguished from his natural predatory instinct, took over.
He realized that there’s no place in this world he could go where his antagonists would allow him rest. Whoever those faceless enemies might be, whenever their paths first crossed and however the grudge originated, only his death would stop them from tracking him down.
Without getting up, James glimpsed outside the windows on his left and on his right. The right was walled with dark outlines of trees and the left was the same, only the gaping full moon was there to give little luminance. If he was the sniper, where he’d position himself? – a question that played on Bond’s intellect.
The side where the moon would be on his back so the scope won’t reflect off its glint to his target.
He groped for the sunglasses, switched it to thermal mode – a glowing red form of a perched man distinguished itself from the dim backdrop, straining to get a good view, holding a sinister tool of murder -- two hundred yards away, at the rim of a fruit orchard.
Herrera had planned the arc of the rifle swing as soon as he had gotten a good, balanced perch. He squeezed the trigger; a bullet spurted out of the muzzle that emitted a sound no louder than a hiccup. The Venom saw the target under the sheet gave a slight bounce. He felt a mysterious, invisible umbilical cord that connects the victim with his killer – the deepest and the most ephemeral relationship between two professionals.
It was a kill. The bounce was caused by the 7000 joules of energy penetrating the target and recoiling up to the exit – Newtonian Synthesis…
Herrera fired again following the planned arc.
Bond saw the spark where the shot was from. No sound. Very professional. Another ensued. From the sudden jolt of the last pillow under the sheet, a feather surfaced from a hole, pushed up by the pressure and floated awhile and settled quietly on the floor. He was holding Ruby in his arm, gagging her mouth to prevent her from screaming as she actually witnessed an attempt in their lives -- and another hand holding the Walther P99.
A hard fist met Herrera before his feet touched the ground when he climbed down the tree. He was thrown, dropping the rifle as he tumbled on the dirt. Herrera was caught off guard. The foremost rule of the deadly game flashed in his mind.
Avoid a combat that would disclose your identity. Getting identified meant end of a career or possibly your life or payback to your loved ones.
The Venom bolted into the welcoming arms of darkness.
Bond sprung to a chase. He could have shot the assassin dead, but killing him won’t reveal who was behind the treachery. The mastermind must be unmasked. It was the only way that attempts from that entity or person would cease. Other than that, he’d be kept under the scope for as long as he lived and people he cared for were always in danger.
The assassin succeeded in disappearing in the gloom of the night. James continued the pursuit, all his senses awake, noises as well as silence was filtered, shadows were scrutinized for hidden shadows and odor not of the forest were sniffled – odor of lotion or perfume would squeal on its wearer at a proximity. Bond’s sense of smell had improved since he quit smoking.
He’d rather be the source of surprise than its receiver.
A growl of an engine, bold and powerful…
A light burst from a headlamp, trained on him, a shadow revving the motorcycle and abruptly, it charged. James aimed. The motorbike was first stubborn but recognized the predicament in the last second and pulled the handlebar up. It managed to jump over James. He fired, nicking the gas tank.
The big bike was out of sight, nonetheless its scream disclosing its direction. Man could not out run a motorcycle, but the darkness, rough road and dense vegetation had made the race interesting.
Just like a sara-pitik can’t win over a bigger gagambang kuryente. But still there were those who bet on the little guy and Bond was sure that sara-pitiks had attracted bettors in all its matches up against gagambang kuryente. Life’s a gamble and everyone is an underdog.
And sometimes underdogs win.
Expectedly, after the rider thought that he had chalked up a considerable distance from his pursuer, he was forced to turn on his lights to overcome the darkness and make it through the hilly woodland forest.
The light gave Bond a reference to his target. He paused into a firing stance and shoot.
The bike wiggled a bit. Another bullet was ejected by the Walther. Bond saw the wiggle now was caused more by a blow than by negotiating the terrain. The biker was hurt, but still, it zigzagged into the unfamiliar.
Britain’s premier spy climbed a knoll, running with all he had, traversing the mound to meet the bike on its slope. He saw the metal horse below in an unsteady gallop, almost out of control. Double 0 7 pulled the trigger again, a ribbon of blood streaked. He was sure it was another hit, nevertheless the bike was unremitting.
Ahead were more lights, a wave of sound was hanging in the air – not a single music but a cacophony, almost a bedlam of genres – a happy place just outside the lip of a wilderness.
The bike slammed on a dark mass that could be a Portalet. Bond broke to a sprint, the Walther ready for any eventuality. The rider endeavored to get back on wheels, but Bond was coming fast. Herrera turned and fired. James was half expecting this when the nemesis planted a foot forward for a more accurate aim.
Missing, Herrera jumped back on the saddle and kicked the ignition to life. The lights at the revelry formed the penumbra of the assassin. James fired. The rear wheel exploded, joining the sporadic fireworks pepping the festivity of the string of outdoor bars. The bike twisted on its run before its final tumble.
Herrera abandoned the vehicle, limping, heading to the road where all the trails headed – where hostages were plentiful.
James Bond had read Herrera’s desperation. His impetus was actually dictating him where to run, where he was facing, where the lights were bright – a dying man’s instinct. A rat would choose the cover of darkness for one final attempt to escape.
But men are not rats. And their eyes were not equipped for darkness. Bond sidestepped into the dark.
A rock band was belting a local reggae tune popular to the island. Chona was dancing to the beat, her face twisting to the expression conveyed in the lyrics, ignoring firecrackers popping by her heels. Then someone grabbed her from behind. She thought he was the guy who was ogling on her in the bar, trying to pick her up. She side glanced. The man was untidy, mud and blood were splattered on his face and shirt; the arm wrapped around her was scraggy with bleeding abrasions and scratches. She noticed his darting eyes, burning, desperate and he was wheezing from fear or fatigue.
“ off,” Chona hissed. Herrera shot her face clean off.
Chona was flat on the ground, adding to the drunkards sprawled and mumbling and couldn’t get their legs up from alcohol or drugs abuse that lined any spot in the gutter, safe from stomping.
The Venom snatched the nearest girl. She yelled, seeing the bloodied face of Chona staring up with expressionless eyes. Her scream was ended by a shot. The bar manager answered the shots by lighting up more firecrackers, turning the party to the next higher level. The adjacent bar couldn’t be outdone and it discharged a barrage of noise poppers, sparklers and Roman candles.
It confused Herrera.
He was surrounded by faces, all too drunk to recognized that he tried and failed to harm a couple of them, swirling above him, arms raised in a dance, hips gyrating in rhythm to the beat of tribal music hiding in electric instruments – pagans in a death ritual.
He was tired; adrenalin spent and had shelled out much blood from the wound in his back he knew had pierced his right lung and the other had shattered his collar blade.
Pyrotechnics continued exploding. Herrera saw Bond striding closer, holding the Walther down; the hammer cocked up in readiness, coming toward him, sure of every step. Herrera gripped his gun, but in his hazy perception he was in doubt if he would score his last kill. The image of his quarry – now his hunter -- was blurring and its hazy edges forming another man, multiplying itself in his mind. He could see the darkness advancing, just behind the mist of the man.
He’s dead – that’s academic. Herrera was lingering in the threshold of excruciating pain and the comfort of numbness. Between the two, he like the numbness better.
All the same he had to protect his employer.
Rene ‘The Venom’ Herrera was a professional. The coldest and the truest kind of the breed…
Death was the only acceptable reason for failure. No alibi. No regrets.
There’s only one thing to do… the final act left.
Rene Herrera pointed the gun to himself instead. To his temple…
The fireworks explosion had intensified. The pagan ritual reached fever pitch.
A body was added to the dullards in the gutter.
“Take the next available flight to Manila and go straight to Europe.” James advised Ruby. “Destroy your mobile, buy a replacement elsewhere if you can’t dispense without it.”
“They’re tracking me through the cellular. They could be on you, too. You could be in peril being with me.” Bond pulled out from his pocket his phone and threw it in the wood stove. “I’ll contact you when the coast is clear.”
“How? You won’t know my new number – “
“Through the booking agents.”
“Can you explain to me what’s happening?”
“I can’t. It’s safer for you that way.”
That very night Bond and Strebel transferred accommodation. Ruby took the earliest flight to Subic and bought a ticket to Lohausen, Düsseldorf. Bond preferred the south corridor in fishing trawlers, via Mindanao to Sabah, Borneo. From Borneo, he passed by Malaysia to Singapore and caught a flight to London.
The house in Lillehammer, Norway was dainty and it had a high pitching gable roof of
storybook hunting lodges. Winters here are harsh.
Summers are all together different -- green lawn, butterflies, nice cool wind coming from Lake Mijosa. Postcard perfect. Incredibly idyllic. A criminal would feel very much at home here if he desires a respite from the long arms of the law, unless he bothered anyone nobody would bother him in return. He’d only meet people in groceries and public places in the town proper and no one sneaking in his house to steal at night.
For a full kilometer there was no house in the stretch except for one – owned by a Russian couple who had just recently moved in from America. Not a soul saw two big Swedish limousines visited the house one fine summer day. Not a soul bore witness this fine summer day when Konrad Lapuski paid his ex-boss, former General of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti, Edgor Pereski, a visit.
“Who are you?” Pereski was surprised when his door opened and four men entered.
The lead man spoke in a voice which Pereski was familiar with but belonging to a different face.
“How are you, General Edgor Pereski? I just gotten back from our beloved country and bought a new face. You should do the same. See this face?” He touched the latest cosmetic surgery performed on him with pride. It had completely erased the hard Slavic features he was born with, not just disguised like the many facial reconstructions he previously had. “Digital mapping can’t recognize me anymore. I had some digits in my jaws and cheeks softened. Try my doctor. He’s really good and he won’t breathe a word of it. I got his parents in our little insurance coverage.”
“I’m alone with my wife. No bodyguards,” he uttered to declare that he wished no violence befalling his home.
“You don’t need one. Either the Feds or us who get in to you first, you won’t survive if you’re thinking of resisting. You know that, sir, don’t you?”
“I already found peace here – “
“No. You’re only waiting to get me bagged, then you’ll hit the streets again.”
“How about a fruit julep?”
“Thanks. But I don’t intend this talk to take long.”
“My wife makes a mean spring rolls. She studied culinary arts in Switzerland.”
“Perhaps a glass each of fruit julep,” he addressed Lapuski’s companions. Pereski shifted to summon his wife. “Honey, why don’t you get your cute here and fix our visitors something to drink.”
A very young woman appeared from a curtain that Konrad didn’t notice was there until it was parted. The cozy interior of the chalet was seamless Nordic bohemian bric-a-brac. She was in loose camisole and ankle length pajama pants, and holding her hands up, airing her nails to dry.
“Honey, my nails’ not done yet – “
Pereski rose and kissed his wife. “I’ll do it.” The woman disappeared in the curtains. “Konrad, are you sure you don’t want any? I would like to offer you some brandy but I don’t keep it anymore. How about you guys?” Pereski repeated the offer to Lapuski’s company. Each did not budge to decline or to accept; stoic sentinels heeding only Lapuski’s voice. “Well, If none of you wanted a glass, I’ll get one for myself.”
Pereski made his way to the refrigerator and poured from a decanter. “Fruits are good this summer.”
“Yes. From Germany and Russia.”
Pereski emptied the glass in one tipping. He was thirsty and nervous and he’s afraid it was showing. “To what do I owe your presence here?”
“You have something that might be useful to me.”
“Yes… I should have guessed...”
“I’m not going to kill you, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“I know you won’t because you needed them.”
“I can tell the FBI where you are.”
The former general of the Committee for State Security coughed. “You’re not stupid to do that, Konrad.”
“I already did. Does that make me stupid? You watch the news tonight.”
“Do you have any object of value you could trade for them?”
“Yes. Your life and a better career. I can make you second in command, not a mere member of a collective council.”
“To serve under you?”
“Yes. Under me. If I die, the second in command takes the helm. You know that.”
“How did you know I was here? Nobody does…”
Pereski’s wife reappeared. She was fully dressed and dragging two traveling bags on carriers. “I’m ready to go, Mr. Lapuski. I know you’ll keep your words.”
No one had seen her in a lumberjack shirt and hiking boots with straw hat on before. Never had the drab garb had seen elegance until she was in them. The erstwhile chief of the 00 section of the British Secret Service was coming out of a dark green SUV carrying a wicker basket of croissants and a thermo of hot chocolate for Raymond who was up the hill, planting seedlings. This once thickly forested part of High Wycombe was nearly bald from unhampered tree cutting by the owner of the concession rights – the Industrial Timber LTD, which had employed Raymond, and had left town when stricter laws were enforced against logging. Raymond took it as his personal crusade to replant the hills in his own capacity for as long as his health would allow him. He’s looking forward for fifteen more years. Sure, he could not single handedly undo the damage done but there were other people and organizations pitching their share for a greener suburbia.
Six years ago M and Raymond were bringing along fruits with the chocolate and croissants. At the present fruits could be gathered and they were even taking some home. The labor Raymond had invested was returning dividends already. He wished for a longer life so he could replace more trees that he felled in the past.
The sun was up and Raymond could be hungry by now, sucking berries and wild grapes or digging for turnips, while waiting for the heavier breakfast.
This used to be a weekend activity as a therapy from the abnormal dimension and stress of her job. It was not the case anymore. Weekends were a quiet gardening at home and relaxed moments to catch up with her reading. For the past four weeks they were here three days at an average. Raymond was eyeing a patch of hill near the roadside for a cabin. M had agreed and just gathering up the finances for the initial down payment.
The air here was fresh, not the polluted kind that envelop the Vauxhall Cross office or that tall building over-looking The Thames. The open space was also achieving in aiding her forget the constricted confines of her office that germinated thoughts about people who meant the Crown harm. Gentle humming of breeze replaced the rattle of printer and urgency of phone rings.
M saw two people bent on the soil, planting seedling; one was younger, about six one, lean and his black hair was neatly cut.
“I should have made more croissants.”
Bond turned his back. “That’s alright. I already had my breakfast of brown hard-boiled eggs and coffee. Morning M. You made those clothes look good.”
“How did you know about this?”
“Isn’t it you prefer your agents to know lots of thing?’
“You’re not my agent anymore. I’d resigned.”
“Yes. I’m not your agent anymore. Yes. I no longer work for Great Britain. I presume you know about that, M.”
“No I don’t. But I was expecting that. I resigned because I couldn’t bring my hand to sign your death warrant for your connivance with – “
“So there was order for my expedient demise. I wasn’t surprised to hear that from you. They had already tried – “
“You know them, M.”
“Never compare me with you who know everything. Your arrogance alone had earned you a long queue of enemies, Bond. The other side wanted you dead. The British government wanted you dead. America might have also reached a decision to join the free-for-all. Don’t you know that for every second you’re here is a second you’re putting us in mortal danger?”
“I’m not deliberately putting you at risk. I’m here for some answers.”
“You know the answer already, Bond. Don’t kid yourself. Everywhere you go, someone is there waiting to kill you.”
“Who took over the Double 0 Section?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t answer that. Secrecy Act.”
An angry prattle shattered the humming of the breeze. M was thrown, reeling on the ground, bloodied and too shocked even to scream.
Pereski’s face crumpled in dismay. “You’re a bitch, Eleanor.”
“You know I’m not, Edgor Darling and you know I married you for money. I was offered with so much without having to wait for you die or feeling filthy lying with you.”
“Wait for me in the car, Eleanor,” Lapuski said.
One of the goons helped Eleanor with her baggage, while two remained unmoving but alert. Pereski was petrified in his seat locked in futile rage.
“Get another. Younger, More beautiful. She’s not the only blond bombshell in the world. Work for me -- ”
“You’re a bastard, Konrad. I know you’ll kill me anyway if you found out where I stashed the bombs.”
“Let’s pretend that I won’t. “
Raymond dived to shield M with his body, getting all the bullets meant for her. M sensed every bullet he absorbed, feeling the particular points in his body pressing on her skin in concentrated nudge.
Raymond gasped for air. He was fighting to keep his life to protect his beloved wife in exchange of his own.
Bond tore in a dash; the slide of his Walther racked before it had cleared his belt. Three black clad fiends were scampering. James fired. He missed. The reply was a nerve-wracking pounding of Heckler and Koch UMP45, insistent, vulgar and without pretense to concealing in silence.
007 sought cover in the bushes, staying low -- a spool in a twirl from position to position. A head was spotted. Bond destroyed him with a bullet from the Walther. He sensed the crunch of the skull and the outpouring of viscous brain matters and blood in a slushy gush as he scored a hit. James had bowed to keep all available precautions. Surviving had taken precedence over all matters – he wasn’t interested in bagging a prisoner for questioning anymore because he had grasped a fairly good idea of what was going on and who would want him and M dead. It would have been more difficult to deduct without M in the equation.
Now he was sure.
…Deep in the bowels of British Secret Service.
One of the precautions he had taken was packing deadly bullets that ensure a kill for every shot -- bullets banned in the international protocol of armed engagements.
A wall of angry .45 caliber of 1005 feet per second prevented him to take the other two. Both were able to escape in a kombi after some moments of evasive exchanges
Bond raced to the Aston Martin, lifted the trunk. A neat row of tubes was there, wrapped in brown oilpapers. He picked one, ripped it out from wrapping. The olive green tube with stenciled markings was nestled on his shoulder and aimed it at the last of the kombis. Bond clipped the firing button. A heat seeking missile blasted out of the tube. The kombi on target followed the helix mountainside road in imprudent speed to escape the missile. The driver might have thought that they could survive the plummet rather than the chasing rocket. He veered off the road, plowed through the railings to the ravine. The rocket unrelentingly stuck on like a tail to a dog. Halfway down, the rocket caught up, shattering the kombi to pieces in a deafening explosion.
Bond gathered more tubes and jumped in the Aston Martin, onto the narrow winding road that promises a careless driver a scenic straight plunge to death. He flicked a console in the instrumentation panel and prepared for an injection of nitrous oxide as soon as the road unwound to a manageable straight span, or if the vans had some tricks hidden under its hoods.
An Aston Martin against a clumsy kombi was a no-contest. Bond reduced the distance in a jiffy, planning to shoot one of the tires to off balanced the vehicle and sideswipe it to the ravine. He was getting nearer and car’s top had clipped into the trunk when the kombi’s rear door opened. A machine gun was mounted inside, two gunners were taking aim. Bond was frozen for a fraction of a second from the unexpected. He floored the brakes; the Db5 fishtailed out of control, sideswiping barrier fence. He counter steered and the silver grey Martin slid to a lateral drift, smashing the barrier furthermore, over-shooting the edge of the pavement. The Aston Martin swung in an arc in a delicate balance, more than half of its body was outside the road, not touching terra firma. Bond pressed the nitrous oxide injector increasing the engine power to incredible performance, boosting the inertia to complete the 360 pivot with one of the front tires acting as the fulcrum of spin; his foot hard on the brakes and hands in speedy counter-steer. The nitrous oxide was shut off as soon as the Martin was on track.
Bond stood; a missile launcher perching on his shoulder.
The machine gun burst into a medieval heavy metal overture, wrecking the windshield of the Martin. The Db5 had to take an abrupt evasive slow down to dodge the rain of .50 caliber projectiles, Bond never leaving his sight on the van. The winding mountain road was making it hard for the gunners to get a good shot on the silver gray flasher.
Double 0 7 retaliated. The rocket hounded the kombi, seeking the heat of the exhaust pipe. The inevitable happened.
The kombi was pelted by its own power and the explosion. It turned turtle, skidding on the narrow road in a spin, black smoke rising, peppered with glittering sparks of phosphorescent. There was no chance for James to completely stop and he would be ramming on the still swirling hunk of wreckage that was eating up his lane. By the left was the short cut to death. He slumped back on the seat, swerved to the right, by the face of the mountain. The spinning kombi was wafting to the right, where Bond had veered, and he had to time the whirl in a split second that the kombi was in line with the road to pass in. It was too late and he could not squeeze in the Martin between the whirling, burning wreck and the solid crag. Bond stepped on the gas and ramped over a boulder that had been displaced by the blast. The Martin tilted; its two left wheels sliced on the road in a fancy glide, inserting itself between the mountain and the rotating hulk.
The road had reached the lower ground; the last kombi was within sight. Bond floored the pedal and posed to fire the third rocket. The rear of the third kombi swung wide. Two men were holding a girl, gagged and tied, writhing to get free. The face of the men holding her tightened to a cruel smile. Bond saw that clearly as if taunting him to fire. The girl’s face was bruised. Getting a better look, James recognized her as Ruby.
Without warning, she was pushed out of the speeding vehicle and Bond could only cringe as he saw how Ruby hit the pavement, rolling and tumbling in every painful manner imaginable.
The brakes bit on the infuriated wheels -- screeching in its abruptness, generating a torrent of smoke and smell of burned rubber -- in the nick of time not to run over the slumped, bloodied Ruby.
Bond jumped out the Martin to help his lover.
Her face was on the road, her body mangled and twisted in a way one could only do with a rag doll. He turned her head, expecting the worst and it was the worst that greeted him. She stared back with wide, zombie eyes.
A veil of black was lifted off M’s perception, her vision steadily focused, bringing with it the unpleasant memory of the last event. She was in a strange room that did not have the antiseptic ambiance of a hospital.
“Where am I?” she asked the first person she saw, a man with thick beards in familiar gown.
“Infirmary. The Russian Embassy.”
The message was too foggy for M to comprehend, still she nodded as if she understood. The outpouring of the previous incident continued. Her hand wandered to her chest. It was bulky with bandages.
“Intensive care. Fighting for his life,” Bond replied.
M could now move about without the wheelchair, which had been her mode of conveyance for three days. She was viewing Raymond in the ICU from a clear glass, noting how the graph in the life support system was monitoring his vitals. More than that, she was keen on how his chest rose and fell.
He’d be alright – that’s what she wanted to believe.
Her tears welled from her eyes. M couldn’t remember when she last cried. She was now unsure if she ever did; she was a strong woman. The first burst of tears was painful, like her eyes were being doused with sulfuric acid after it was cut with small wounds by a razor blade.
But the pain was more in what was screaming inside her. The most beloved person she had cherished was lying on a bed, struggling for every breath. She wanted to embrace him and shower him with kisses and re-assure him over and over that he would survive…
… he must survive…
Between them was a glass partition preventing her to do her intent. There was a partition that she had erected before to keep him at his side while she attended to the security of The Crown. It was toppled down. This physical barrier was harder to hurdle.
A nurse gently held her by the arm. “Madam, you have to return to your room now.”
M walked to the direction of her room with heavily feet and much heavier heart.
The origin of the call to the mobile Bond found in Herrera’s pocket was displayed on the monitor. He knew who Herrera was. He used to work with a section in the MI6 that takes care of assassination and sabotage, for small and specific assignments – a much dirtier work even for the Double 0 Section.
“Thanks, Megan.” It was beginning to be Bond’s habit to go to Megan Young when he couldn’t get answers from anyone in the service.
“We’re hardly done here. Don’t thank me yet. The call was from London, that was what we confirmed, but the source was not yet definite.”
“Before M left – “
“No one… An officemate… Before she left – resigned – she requested for a band in the spectrum frequency outside the commercial band field agents can use. Agents' locations are easily tracked in the commercial frequency.”
“That’s how they tracked you. Boracay’s a remote place, James. Who you’re with?” Young asked with a taint of jealousy. She paused on the keyboard and studied him with her gray piercing eyes.
“I was alone,” he lied and it was a very convincing one.
“I think… I believe you. First, I have to find that frequency.” Megan Young returned tapping on the keyboard and the frequency was isolated. A minute more, she smiled and kissed his lips. “That will cost you big-time.”
The frequency was on the screen. It was between the ultra-high and the commercial; the only one in that band.
“Can we listen to the last patch up?”
“Oh, yes we can, dear.” She tapped a key.
“Is that it?
“Twenty one hours and fifteen minute, Manila time; zero five hours and fifteen minutes, London.”
The bastard’s burning the midnight lamp to kill me, James thought.
She was in the garden of the embassy, sipping tea.
“No one knows where you are. Inside these high walls we’ll find out all there is to know,” Bond assured her.
“What made you think I’ll cooperate with you?” M spat.
“I’m not at all too confident that you will. I’m here to implore your prudence to help me unearth who’s behind all these. Your identity is safe here. Only the Ambassador knows who you are and he promised to keep it that way.”
“Come on, M. Everybody knows who I am.”
“I didn’t have to tell you who tried to pull the plug on me. If you have half the brains, you already know who.”
“I have a fairly good idea who. I just want to compare my notes with yours. It’s not easy to neutralize someone who’s in the side of the law.”
“You’re going to kill him?”
“I hate killings, but isn’t it exactly what you would have ordered if you were in the position?”
“They will not let you find peace.”
“They already did. I want them to feel the same.”
Summer is as much fun to be in Mont Blanc as it is in the winter. The surge of tourists could be attributed to the bullish economy; many Europeans found themselves with spare cash for vacations, especially Germans. Asians too could be seen in organized tours, flocking at souvenir shops and drinking beer at inns.
A tall gentleman was having a bottle of pilsen and a plate of sizzling steak when a couple of fans went to his table for an autograph. They spoke with thick Slavic accent and greeted him in Russian.
“Sir, I am a basketball fan and you were one of my favorites. Can I have your autograph, please?”
“You could be mistaking me for someone else.”
“No, sir. I know you are Roberto Zamojo, jersey 14 of the national team.”
“Sir, we don’t mean to invade your privacy, it’s just we can’t pass this opportunity. I will treasure your autograph.”
“Yes, sir. We promise to leave you alone – “
The young couple beamed a smile and pull out an autograph album from a bag. Each took turns taking snapshots and video with Zamojo in their mobile phone.
“No photos, please – “Zamodjo protested but the video was already in progress and he didn’t want to attract more attention as he had now. The couple returned to their table after a firm handshake and sent a pitcher of draught to Zamojo’s table with a thank-you note before they left.
The photos and Zamojo’s fingerprints that were lifted from the items he touched were processed in a field laboratory.
Zamojo did not reach his hotel that night. He was whisked away in the parking lot by FBI foreign liaison operatives. The van he was in proceeded to a private hangar and he was flown to Washington.
A storm was rampaging in Key West; the Calypso had dropped anchor to prevent it drifting to American waters where the Coast Guard were at vigil to haul it in the moment a part of it entered the officially demarcated coordinate.
The patrol ship heading the operation was in direct link with a satellite image to ensure that they would not violate any of Rohmiyo Kaztrov’s rights. Nevertheless, under the rampaging waves, a team of frogmen was at work to guarantee that the Calypso was swept to the spot where they wanted it to be. Right underneath the yacht a torch was flaring hot, melting the anchor chain.
Half an hour later the satellite recon office gave the signal to move in. Kaztrov was not at all amazed to the simplicity of the operation. He had prepared for this and as they had discussed with the other members of the hierarchs, all of them should be. He gave himself up peacefully, as all the crew of the Calypso.
Cornelius Tamorov had reserved a suit in the Burj Dubai. The Middle East could be the place to lose himself from the dragnet. As he stood and watched the future tallest building, he couldn’t help himself but to admire the project. As an architect he was aware that the technology put in the construction was from the coming century. A new reinforcement had to be invented to replace steel in order to reach the projected designed height without the danger of collapse from its own weight. He heard that the reinforcing bars were created from a kind of synthetic fiber woven to artificial plant stem.
If he survived the dragnet, he would propose to the council that they invest in this textile business. Textile factories easily get burned.
After checking with his real estate broker and the tour was done, he beckoned his chauffeur to bring him to his hotel. Tamorov closed his eyes to take a nap on the road. Pressure in his ears and a steady drone woke him up. The chauffeur of the rented limousine was by his side, their wrists joined with cuffs.
“Say goodbye to Kansas, Dorothy. We’re at thirty thousand feet, heading west to the mainland America. I am Agent Juanito Serrano of the Interpol arresting you in behalf of the United States’ Department of Justice for racketeering charges,” he declared.
The man complained to the welfare officer about his hernia. He was asked for credentials and he presented his Social Security ID. His ID was verified and the man was established as Sergio Custodio, a resident of Lower East Side. Custodio was told to return the next day for tests. He was referred to a clinic in Bronx ran by a charitable institution. He was given pills for the pain and reminded to be in the clinic tomorrow on the indicated time of his appointment slip.
The man with hernia couldn’t risk going to the best hospital with the best doctor to treat him. If he did he would be walking into a trap. It was just that he couldn’t stand the pain anymore.
The Feds wouldn’t be looking for him at dilapidated housing projects and wouldn’t waste America’s resources combing the slums of New York for a Red Mafiosko biggie.
He was wrong.
Sergio Custodio was already two months dead, as per the record in the SSS vault said. The Freud division of the Social Security System was informed. At the scheduled tests, his photo, prints and blood sample was fed in the computer for verification. The FBI took over the case acting on an intel from a reliable source.
The result was couriered to the clinic by an FBI agent and the surgeon was told to perform the operation at once.
Custodio was sedated and put was put under the knife. When he woke up, he was feeling better but in a different clinic, handcuffed to his bed. Arleenov Egaminovskiy blamed his hernia for getting canned.
Danni Bunag was in African Safari tour where the tourists are inside a caged vehicle as they wander the savanna populated by lions, giraffe, elephants and all sort of ferocious animals. He was enjoying the sights of the wilds and their impotence to rip him to pieces under the protected ribs of steel gratings. No one can touch me! He was laughing inside.
After the tour, the tourists were ushered back to the parking lot to the waiting bus that would take them to their hotel. Bunag was led to another vehicle with much secured cage and armed guards. Two of the reception committee members were white men. He was brought to a spacious clearing, into a waiting plane.
The next time Zamojo resurfaced was when he was being presented to the media in a press conference with other members of the Red Mafiya hierarchs.
James had locked up his flat off Kings Road in Chelsea. He had advised May Maxwell, the elderly Scottish housekeeper looking after it, that he’d be away and he’d inform her of his arrival.
The unit in a high rise condo in a section of London he was presently occupying was rented in the name of Bob Haughton, American catholic priest. London was relaxing its strict code to preserve its conservative skyline by allowing constructions of select skyscrapers. Bond had a fantastic view of the River Thames in his room that was spoiled by another high rise in construction. Particularly annoying was the round-the-clock swing of a crane that shuttled steel beams from floor to floor.
Bond did not choose the temporary flat for self-ordeal. He was certain that those out for his neck would be knocking on doors of deluxe hotels, their lobbies swarming with spotters for a rare sighting. He’s safe here alright. Next week, he’ll move out for the next lower grade in the list.
He was imagining how the rummage order was issued: Man all airports, alarm all contacts outside of Britain and scour all five-star accommodations. The bloody traitor is a creature of fine taste. He’s not laying his back on flophouses.
As a habit, before getting a night’s rest, James Bond checked the door and window locks. He scanned the construction site for a misplaced glint of scope or a person that might not belong. There were glints, not stationary, though. Could be workers hauling stainless fixtures.
The little ceremony would keep him alive for at least several more hours.
Bond closed his eyes, wishing for unbothered sleep.
But he didn’t know that he was already sharing the room with an intruder.
Edgor Pereski was at the airport for a direct flight to Las Vegas. He had no choice. The evening circulation of a daily heralded more roundups of his colleagues. He read about Roberto Zamodjo’s kidnapping in the French Alps. In separate news items were Romeo Kastrov’s arrest when the Calypso inched inside the American waters during a sea storm; Cornelius Tamorov was nailed by the Interpol in Dubai and Arleenov Egaminovskiy was in an indigent clinic in New York for his hernia treatment; Danni Bunag went as far as South Africa only to share the same fate. The timing of the arrests was almost synchronous that each was not given an opportunity to send out any warning to another. The Attorney General proudly proclaimed the freezing of all identified assets and promised the press there’ll be more roundups across the globe.
A pair of eyes watched Bond sleeping. Its owners had sneaked in where most assassins failed. James had never been in a more vulnerable position. He smelled a whiff of fragrance, but he didn’t stir. The intruder silently moved from its favorite access – the HVAC shaft -- into the quiescent former British secret agent’s chamber.
She bent down and saluted his lips with a kiss.
James grabbed her neck, wrestled her flat on the bed, the nozzle of the P99 poked on her carotid. Her arm was twisted behind her back.
“Hi James,” Riyana said through the pain. “I was just dropping by to thank you.”
He released Ramozova. “I didn’t know it was you, I’m sorry. I got a sniff of your perfume from the vent. You should have used the door instead. Much easier.”
“This unit is rented by a catholic priest, remember? And why do you have to talk so much? Wouldn’t you rather be kissing me?”
James did and Riyana responded.
“Riyana… I miss you…”
“Not another word, darling…”
In a little while more their shadows welded in blissful union.
It was a marathon love-making, to be more precise, not just animal carnal release. No words were exchanged; only sweet whimpers and moans and endless mumblings of each other’s name. At last they were depleted, both happy and as equally satisfied.
Riyana put on her skin-tight outfit and gave James a long kiss.
“Riyana…” James was about to say something when they untangled, but Riyana quieted him with a touch of her finger on his lips. She started to walk away, opened a window, letting the night breeze sway the curtains. She stood at the sill, her eyes on him, arms spread by her sides, humming the tune once again. Slowly, she permitted her body to drop.
Bond was startled. He rushed to the window only to see her silhouette flipping and flopping in a cart wheel down roll upon the side of the tall building to a waiting motorcycle. There was a loud boom; the tail pipe glowed and thrust the big bike forward. The nymph was gone, swallowed by what was left of the gloom, taking his heart with her.
Bond was gazing out the window, particularly to the spot where he had a last glimpse of Riyana. The sun was crawling out of the horizon and the traffic below was beginning to burgeon. He didn’t realize how he missed Riyana until he was seeing her fading in the length of the dark road, and he had let her slip away again, leaving only the scent of her perfume on his arms and shoulders. Bond also realized that he had traded his career to protect a girl as elusive as a song in the night.
No regrets, James. Nothing in this world comes with a guarantee, he sighed. The tune she thrice had hummed floated in his remembrance. He was unconsciously humming it, savoring last night’s memory, until he was fully clothed, ready to hunt down the man in the Double 0 Section office.
The mighty crane was on a slew, an ugly protrusion hindering a supposedly unobstructed view of the first rays of the peeping sun. Aside from the sun, something peeped out from one of the bay windows of the unfinished building -- a wild shooting thing, its hind spewing smoke and flame coming directly to him. Bond swan dived to the air; exploding debris from his room acting as send-off fireworks. In his plunge he caught the crane at its nearest orbit to him, slipping once, but getting a firmer grip, clinging on the big hook and getting a ride with the heavy cargo.
A man on the control was surprised that their target got away with the same weapon he used to them. He released the hook; Bond was placed in the mercy of the ever constant gravity together with the cranes other heavy loads. He couldn’t afford to fall with the cargo -- they would crush him to invalidity or death. Using the initial sway of the crane Bond directed his body to the scaffolds. He seized a stack and it wiggled out of plumb, leaned and fell. The first scaffolding toppled to another, that initiated a chain reaction like domino bricks, tearing themselves on the wall, which was to the advantage of Bond, as they reduced the altitude of his plunge to descending heights.
He landed on a mound of aggregates in a soft touch-down. The target was way up at the 50th floor. He stood and ran. A safety officer tried to stop him on his way, asking for his site access badge. Bond pushed him aside; others just watched and continued on with their work. The guard went after James, alerting others on his radio. “Trespasser alert! Gatecrasher heading south wing to the mechanical complex.”
Bond sprinted toward the elevator. It was down; the cable was not attached to the car. On the corridor were boxes of samples from subcontractors – aluminum jambs, decorative canopies, cans of paints, plumbing and lighting fixtures. Bond proceeded to a hallway, into the mechanical room. A sign above said that he was heading to the vertical wind tunnel. It was supposed to supply the upper levels with air when the building was completed. James returned to the corridor, pulling a decorative canopy the size of a beach umbrella.
“Stop or we’ll shoot!” shouted the guards after him, just appearing from the bend. James hurled them several cans of paints. The guards were halted for a trice, seeking cover, thinking that they were hurled with explosives. It had stolen some precious seconds and when they were shaken back to their wits, an osmosis of colorful pool was on the floor, and the trespasser was nowhere in sight.
Bond entered the vertical wind tunnel. He pushed the switch level up and the fan slowly rotated. Before gaining speed, he positioned on the big fan; holding tightly on the canopy’s frame. He could now feel the air; the whirring of the motor becoming more deafening in acceleration. James was lifted, and before he knew it, he was riding up, carried by the canopy.
The guards arrived too late, covered in colorful abstract that could have been caused by sliding on the slippery floor. Being prevented by a powerful wall of updraft, the chaser couldn’t enter the wind tunnel. One of them had the intellect enough to turn off the fan.
Bond had passed the 50th floor by about four levels when he released the canopy. The current was controlling his downward float. He was about to grab a rail to the ledge of a vestibule of the desired floor when the current was suddenly shut off, slamming his chest on the wall. A storm of bullets followed – ear shattering in the confined space, echoes repeatedly bouncing in undying cycle.
A good flip over swung him inside the ledge. A twist of a huge spigot lock opened him to a corridor where the cab of the crane was. He was too late. A chopper was about to take off; the propeller in increasing spin. It careened a bit before gaining stability carrying on to the projected course.
James was now inside the control cab of the crane, manipulating the arm toward the escaping helicopter. The chopper had lifted; the boom slewing on its course in a metal to metal collision. The arm swept to the windshield, lashing in at the pilot, dragging the aircraft to its arc. The weight of the chopper was too heavy even for the big crane. The boom dragged it as it crashed the roof deck, spilled fuel ignited by its own sparks.
Bond saw it coming. He was running toward a debris chute before the blast occurred.
A garbage truck was there so catch him.
Bond remained unmoving; dusts and small debris kept pouring in lumps and trickles. His pocket vibrated; Herrera’s mobile was receiving a call.
“Herrera, Rene Herrera,” James said with hope that the mastermind didn’t know yet that his assassin was already dead. If that was the case, who’s been on his back this past few days?
“James. Felix. The ElvisCafe at Blackfriars.” The cellular went dead.
Bond was having doubts. How did Felix know Herrera’s number? Was Megan wrong when she said that the call to proceed originated from London – in Vauxhall Cross? Was it CIA that was after him and M all the while?
His thought was cut when a colossal pile was dumped on him. He was too deep in his thought that he didn’t hear the rumble in the chute.
The ElvisCafe was exactly what its name said it was. Nearly fifty Elvises were milling around at any given point in time and it doubled at dusk when the videoke was plugged. More than a thousand minus-one pieces were in the selection – not all were sung by the late rock and roll icon but the compiler had the imagination that all of them would sound good if rendered in the Elvis manner.
Bond spotted Felix Leiter at a corner table having a cup of espresso. His hair was bulged up at the front with stylized sideburns.
“Nice attire,” was his humored compliment.
“Makes me one of them and you an outsider. What took you so long? This is my second cup.”
“I had to take care of the garbage. What’s up?”
“Let’s talk in my car.” Felix paid the bill and they left.
Felix uncapped his wig and stripped off the fake sideburns into a yawning trash can. Nobody was speaking until they were in the car.
“You can ask them now, James?”
“I have so many questions I don’t know where to start.”
“The answer to the first was it’s not the CIA,” Felix said in anticipation of the most urgent question. “Herrera’s number is no secret. I was hoping that you’ll keep his phone and wait for someone to contact him.”
“Are you pointing me to Vauxhall Cross?”
“The Agency has a mole in MI6 as the MI6 has in Langley. However, the contract was unsanctioned. I was referring to M’s. Her collusion with you is still in the process of verification. That attempt on her was premature. Yours is different. CIA would be joining the manhunt soon. You tried to mess up with the Justice Department, if you’re to ask.”
“CIA’s not Justice D.”
“Right and wrong. The State Department had taken over your case. You’re about to become an enemy of the State. Evidence in their possession points to you as the man behind the break in at J. Edgar Hoover.” Felix paused, fishing for reaction.
James remained stoic. “Not me,” he breathed as if he was weighting his reply.
“Not until proven otherwise – “
“You’re not here to tell me that. I can work that out myself.”
“I know. I kinda like to remind you.”
“The Red Mafia hierarchs in custody will be facing sure conviction. Thanks to Konrad Lapuski’s testimony.”
“That’s good news.”
“Again, yes and no. The FBI can’t find Lapuski after his last court appearance. He had eluded all the heavy surveillance system put on him. The worst is he’s consolidating the next in the hierarchy and had taken a successful bid to The Organyzatsia’s leadership. The sad part is we helped him eliminate his rivals.”
Bond delayed his comment. They had bargained with the devil; they shouldn’t expect guarantees from that. “No guarantees, Felix – “ he mumbled.
“Another problem is Edgor Pereski was not in the tipped off place where he was supposed to be. His house in Lillehammer looked like he packed up in a hurry.”
“He was informed of his arrest,” Bond concluded.
“Yes. None of the Mafioskos we hold in custody can compare to Pereski. Second to Lapuski he’s the most dangerous man alive because he has knowledge where the unaccounted nukes are stashed – from the smallest kiloton yield to the most powerful.”
“Because he stashed them himself.”
“Right. All other business interests of the Reds can easily be recouped. What makes them fearsome is the discrepancy in the number of dismantled nukes against its actual number. A person could point us to Lapuski and Pereski. You know her.”
“Yes. Where is she?”
“Frankly, my friend, I don’t know.”
“You’re making a huge mistake protecting her.”
Somehow Felix was right. He was protecting her as he could. James was also honest in saying that he didn’t know Riyana’s whereabouts.
“I hope she’s worth all these -- and all the coming more,” Felix augured.
There’ll be more troubles to come. He was fully warned.
The two parted. Bond was certain that his CIA friend would be there if he needed and if a trade off could be reached -- as how this game really works. As early as this, he was discounting Riyana being a bargaining chip if it would cause him his life.
No regrets, James… he muttered to himself as a consolation.
Return to Sender
Arthur Fenwick Forney was driving to the outskirts of Calais. He was to attend a very exclusive invitation. He got on the spot at the exact appointed time as the sun was about to break. The road side was deserted and there was a chilly howl of the wind to cheer him up. His mobile phone buzzed. He was told to leave his car to a safe spot, if he had any intent of getting back to it, and hop in the coming limousine.
He let the Land Rover Defender lay there; he’d buy a new one after this meeting.
Frederick Castles had also received an invitation from Sir Marvin Kings, his counterpart in the Century House, in his estate just outside London. The Minister of Defense was present when he arrived and a table with a bowl of warm parmesan puffs garnished with scallion was set for three in the spacious courtyard. A uniformed maid was there to attend to them. Castles shook hands with the Century House man and with the minister.
“Nice morning, isn’t it?” Sir Marvin Kings said.
“’Depends…” Castles replied.
“I’d say it’s a beautiful morning,” the Defense Minister urged.
“If you’d say so, Sir. Nigel.” Castles widened his lips that could be interpreted as a smile.
Forney was picked up by a limousine and brought to an airstrip fifteen kilometers further north. An unmarked DC plane was standing by. He was ushered in and the door closed. Forney hit the jackpot. Inside, seated around a table were five leaders of top terrorist groups in the world including a representative from Al-Qaeda; two from Iraq and one, Syria. They were having braised short ribs baked with onions, carrots and garlic, lathered with barbecue sauce and mustard, garnished with parsley, and so tender that the Kobe beef was falling away from the bone; polenta and sautéed Swiss chard.
Upon reaching twenty five thousand feet, Lapuski appeared from his room. “Isn’t it a fine day? Welcome, gentlemen,” he pronounced.
“I am announcing a breakthrough in the Lapuski case, courtesy of Sir Marvin Kings,” announced Sir Nigel Patton.
“Would you care for a cup of tea to go with the puffs?” offered Kings.
Instead of directly answering King’s offer, Castles gave the maid a curt nod. Patton did so, too; Kings just smiled on the maid and off she went.
“Century House had planted a man in the IRA to curtail widespread violence in the region and prevent spillover to other cities, especially London,” came the foreword form Kings. “Five years ago, our man was appointed head of the finance committee. I needn’t have to say how he was able to make his monthly collection quota. It’s easier for the government to allow the renegades to suckle in one of its breasts than them to find outside funding sources. In this arrangement the government could decide when to make it harder for them to suck. We also know what arms come in and will limit them to that.”
“I can’t believe you’re actually saying what we already know, and hearing from you makes it the more obscene.”
“What’s wrong with the government subsidizing a little rebellion there, a little uprising here?” asked Sir Nigel. “It justifies a few more pennies for the defense budget.”
“So, what about? This isn’t one of those top secret blah blahs to draw MI6 for filing higher budget in the next fiscal year, is it?”
Sir Nigel and Sir Marvin looked at each other and like children, they chuckled. “Let’s get back to our man in the IRA – “ Sir Marvin’s voice trailed.
The invited guests gazed at the man they were sure they had seen for the first time.
“And who are you sir, if your permit me to ask?” Khaled Rhamir Aq-Barik of the Al-Qaeda greeted his host.
“My identity is not material. Let’s say that I am a partner in your zealous undertakings.”
“Fair enough. It’s better that we don’t have names here,” a representative of Japan’s Red Army said.
“Wrong, Mr. Numata. I know all your names. All I want to verify is if your have the consent of your organizations to spend money in its behalf.” Lapuski traveled his stare to each one on the table. They all nodded their heads. “Good. Would you all excuse Mr. Aq-Barik?”
Aq-Barik stood and he went with Lapuski to a cubicle.
“Would Al-Qaeda pay a billion dollars to nuke New York?” Lapuski asked.
“Four days ago, our man in IRA received a text from his mobile. There was no number of the sender that registered in his phone -- ”
“Must have been transmitted through a special network,” filled in Sir Nigel. “The text was for a meeting. There were several messages after that in a span of two days. The most significant of which was if our man could represent his organization and make a big purchase on behalf of the IRA.”
“I don’t think the message was referring to conventional arms or war equipment. It was insinuating a device of mass destruction – biological… chemical…,” followed up Sir Nigel.
“Or nuclear perhaps.”
It took some moments for Aq-Barik to digest the offer. “Why very expensive? A nuclear bomb will cost from 180 to 210 million dollars in the black market.”
“Right, Mr. Aq-Barik, but can you get it to New York? My organization at present has many business interests in that city and we’d gladly declare all of them bankrupt. If I give it to you in a 7-11 price, where’s our profit then? We don’t do business to lose money.”
“Where’s the nuke coming from?”
“You don’t have to worry about that. All you have to do is raise the money and as soon as our bank confirmed receipt, we’ll transmit you the phone number to activate the detonator. Then sit tight and watch the news.”
The Al-Qaeda man was silence, excitement made his face pallid.
“Tic-tac, tic-tac, Mr. Aq-Barik,” prodded Lapuski, “tic-tac.”
“When will -- ?”
“To make you feel at ease, the bomb is already in New York.”
“How -- ?”
“Easy. Do you know how many sealed containers there are in New York Harbor not inspected due to sheer quantity? Right now there could be six million stacked up. Only five to eight percent of those would be inspected, others released so as not to hamper commerce. Our package will seat there unclaimed. It doesn’t have to be transferred elsewhere to inflict damage. It only has to remain where it presently is. Got that?”
“Yes. I’ll strongly recommend your proposal to my leader.”
“Good. If you’ll excuse me,” Lapuski bowed and made his way to the cockpit.
“Our man believed the messages were from Lapuski,” Sir Marvin declared without putting Castles to another second of suspense.
“Why! That’s good! Good news, indeed! The Queen would be happy!”
“And you’ll be happy, too, because it might earn you that three-letter title before your name and that cute initial, after, Sir Frederick Castles, MBE.”
A genuine smile appeared on the lips of the magus of the dark art of espionage, not the grin that crept sideways across his face like a healed laceration. Castles picked a piece of puff and put it in his mouth. “Delicious,” he enunciated.
“How long are we from the coordinates I told you to watch out for?” Lapuski asked the co-pilot.’
“Two minutes more. I had the cabin already depressurized.”
“Good.” He went back to the table, tapping four men to go alone. Al-Barik was on the phone in an excited conversation. He was probably relaying the offer to his leader. Lapuski was absorbed for a moment until Aq-Barik glanced in a smile.
“My leader had agreed. We’ll tell you as soon as we had the money in the bank,” he declared.
“Splendid. Now, may I have a word with Mr. Arthur Fenwick-Forney.”
Forney stood and he was grabbed out right by Lapuski’s goons.
“Mr. Arthur Fenwick-Forney here is a deep penetration agent. He had infiltrated out brothers in the IRA, stunting their progress to attain freedom.” Tugano pointed to the door. A man went to unlock it. “Return him to sender.”
The remaining disparity in cabin pressure was already too negligible to be felt. The wind rushed in, throwing papers in a whirl. Forney had guessed his fate and he struggled, tearing and clawing to no avail, shouting on top of his lungs in defiance. The goons holding him hurled him out the plane. Forney’s scream was cut as the door was shut.
Thirty thousand feet was a long drop down. He was heard by the three men presently having a breakfast meeting and they were stunned as he crashed on the stile roof of the manor in a loud thunder, spawning wispy tendrils of dust and shards of ceramics in the impact.
Creepy Sniper Dots
It was one place he was safe and could be alone with his thoughts.
James was in the marina, mingling with seafarers in a pub, lots of Ho-hoes, lagers trading tables and filthy language. Girls here talked dirtier than sailors for at some part of their lives they had lived with one or married to one. It’s natural to express one’s good humor in a gruff sort of way; it takes fine breeding to embellish one’s evil intent with nice and polite words.
He liked it here. What he sees was what he gets. Anyone not liking him around would tell it on his face. There would be no one sticking knives on his back, or his car blowing at the turn of the key or a bullet from long distance, which rap he wouldn’t even hear – after what could have been a friendly game of baccarat or a leisurely 18-hole.
James was pondering on the information from Felix. How much the Feds could have paid Riyana for the return of the Lapuski file unopened? Was he stringed all alone?
Riyana could be laughing by now. The last tryst could be the final test of how stupid he really was. Sex is sex whoever you do it with! Forget love! Love is for dim-wits!
He raised a signal to a passing waitress.
“One full pint to the gentleman in the corner table!” she hollered to the bar.
Castles was stunned to learn from the head of ‘Tool and Die’ Branch – the former Q Branch which was renamed when Q took indefinite leave – that a glitch in the system of their communication band was discovered, before he could fully digest the loss of an undercover that could have paved the way for him to rub elbows with the Royalty. The programming employed was still based on that of the commercial telecommunication that records of cellular transactions were stored in a vault for four months for review in case of terror threats. There was nothing wrong with that. As far as he’s concerned it was still the best way to monitor and review mobile transmissions of field operatives.
Until the Tool and Die Branch revealed that his last conversation was hacked.
Castles’ respect to Bond climbed a degree higher and his abhorrence ten folds. He had given the renegade agent a clue to work on. Bond had a reputation to get his quarry in the end no matter how unconventional his methods were.
The only consolation he had was the Tool and Die had pinpointed the exact location of the apartment where the hacking originated.
Bond was brain dead. He chewed on every argument in his self debate and at the end exonerated Riyana. He was getting in a new car – a fully restored 1965 Maserati -- when the tune started to percolate in his consciousness. As he was driving, the tune remained there niggling him like a funny but embarrassing experience from his youth.
Suddenly he made a sharp turn to a side street leading to Megan Young’s flat.
A party was going on at the adjacent unit to Young’s when James got there.
He knocked on her door and he was received enthusiastically, thought a bit surprised, by the sexy hacker, wearing a rather too large laced undershirt that hung down her thighs.
“Why, James!” She kissed her.
“I need your help, Megan.”
She frowned. “I should have guessed.”
“Oh, honey. I’ll make it up. Promise.” He made a scout sign. “On my honor.”
“So what is it this time?”
“It’s about a song. I don’t know the title and the words.”
“That’s tough.” She studied him for an underlying gag of the peculiar request. Not a hint. “I did not do very well in my music subjects. Do you know who sung it?”
“I don’t think it had been recorded yet. Kinda traditional… or folkish.”
“A phrase, may be?”
James shook his head.
“There’s got to be something we could start with.
“I can hum it for you.”
James started humming but he was halted by Megan.
“Stop.” She led him by the window where her computer was. The curtain was slightly parted so she could gawp out if she suddenly encountered a block. Young sat; James stood by. The on-screen menu was pulled and she clicked on a musical icon. It was a simple program to encourage kids to dabble in music. “Please do that again.”
James did. Megan encoded the notes one by one, matching it with James’s rendition and checking the pitch for exactness. Then she tapped several keys. The notes that had appeared on the scale arranged themselves in measures and tempo, adding slurs and other symbols. The next she did was compared it to more than a million opuses available in the internet websites for musical compositions. Fifteen minutes passed before they got a match. The match was only for a whole measure they were lucky to stumble on; Megan might not have accurately input the other notes as accurately.
“It’s a whaling song! An Eskimo whaling song.” she almost exclaimed. “I’d be jealous if turned out to be a love song…”
“Yes and it mentioned a fishing village that could be somewhere in the Arctic Circle.”
James was about to kiss her when creepy small red dots started crawling on Megan’s face. He was ashen and frozen. The crawling red dots were steadily fixed on her face – all fatal.
“James…” Megan shared the same trepidation and her widened eyes lowered on his chest. Sniper laser dots were clustered there, enough to cave out his chest hollow if they decided to fire all at once.
M was tired.
She was asleep on a chair, head laid on the side of Raymond’s bed. Her husband was in a roller-coaster condition. That afternoon Raymond’s blood pressure was about to reach normal and he was able to sip a few spoonful of chicken broth. M was crying, watching her husband being fed like a helpless toddler when he used to fell trees with his mighty arms. She didn’t want to sleep in her room. The embassy medical staff reminded her that she too was still in the recovery phase and that she must take complete rest herself.
“It’s alright,” she assured Dr. Kagawyenko, her attending physician. “I’m a strong warhorse.”
The hypnotic ticking of machines monitoring her husband’s vitals acted as an eerie lullaby that brought the sleep. Its redundancy was her assurance that Raymond was still alive. Fatigue triumphed over determination and the will to stay awake.
M dreamt. She hadn’t dream since she joined the secret service. Dreams were indications that she submits herself to the evil schemes of those staying awake to kill her.
In her dream she was running away from a huge clock that kept on ticking. Raymond was the clock tower looming above her wherever she went. Suddenly the clock stopped ticking; the tower crumbled. A long silence followed.
The silence roused her. The machines were displaying flat lines; Raymond’s face was unbelievably tranquil.
M pushed an alarm. “Help! Somebody! Please help us!” M screamed.
Bond could not count the clustered crawling sniper dots on his chest. There was no way that he could out run projectiles with a velocity of 3000 feet per second. But he had only to move a foot to get out from the firing line. In a way, it was academically possible.
Megan was beginning to wet her eyes with tears and mumble incoherent prayers. James lunged to push her face away. A storm of hisses punctured the wall and the floor; the computer set joined the eruption, internal parts fizzled and sparked.
The medical team barged into the room. Like a well-oiled machine, each member stood his post, shouting instructions, reciting every action.
Raymond chest was subjected to electric shock; a doctor popped adrenalin in his vein.
The monitors were all in neutral reading; a nagging steady hum deafening in its toneless continuity.
Another shock was applied – much higher than the first.
M was doubting her strength now, helplessly watching her husband slip to the netherworld.
She remained firm, though, holding Raymond’s hand, which was more cold than warm – clammy as a piece of meat. Another shock was administered; the monitor was unchanged.
For a brief while…
Raymond gripped M’s hand. She sensed budding warmth in it.
Bond was on the floor, peeking; laser beams in a busy traffic for the quarry. Thick fog and smog illuminated telltales of long threads to the wielder of the weapons. The disgraced former premier spy gripped the Walther. The P-99 could not function as effectively in long distance, but he had no alternative. He isolated a beam and worked out in his vision the end of the laser yarn. On the rood across the street! – its angle told him. Bond nipped up, arms extended to the revealed direction and he fired a couple of rounds. The isolated laser was eliminated. He was sure that he scored a hit but uncertain if it was fatal. The SAS – which he had suspected to be on his heels – always wear protective vests.
Retaliations of unmuffled rattles confirmed a hit. The assailants were no longer concealing their attacks with silencers -- an orchestra of nattering rain of bullets proclaiming their intent and strength.
A casualty was claimed.
Bond saw Megan splayed on the floor; her body riddled and receiving more; submissive to every whim of the punching slugs.
He had never run away from any fight and he had survived.
It could be different now.
Ex-agent double 0 7 sneaked out and into the electric main. He pulled the switch off, plunging the apartment in darkness. There was a concerted air of protest from the on-going party. Bond kicked the door wide into the party venue and emptied his magazine on the ceiling, dispersing the revelers in panic.
The throng rushed out, bumping into men with MP-5s at the hallway. Bond was unnoticed. He clobbered the last of the commandos out of consciousness with the sturdy polymer frame of the P99; the nose misshapen, splurging a mess of blood. Bond snatched the machine pistol and trained it to the lumbar plexus of the combatants rushing the opposite way; rupturing the spinal column from the central nervous system. Unnerving thwacks joined the frenzied screams and escalating it to several decibels more. Four men gave up the ghosts. A mayhem was unleashed.
The revelers spread in an aimless scatter, leaving black clad SAS as they cleared – targets and hunters at the same time, never knowing which one to shoot. And before they had identified Bond amongst the scampering shadows, they were mowed down, betrayed by the emergency lights on the hallway. All had received their share of slugs in their faces.
There’ll be more at the ground floor and more would be arriving upon the first relay of the encounter.
Bond went with the civilian stream. Two SAS was working against the flow, their weapons ready. James saw them first and he had the opportunity to fire at close range. Death was instant. Nearing the car-park, James dropped the MP5 and disappeared in the confusion.
View from the Top
Mikhail Llantinov was a former enemy, a rabid zealot.
Llantinov’s father gave his life for the Rodina during the Afghanistan war; and his great grandfather before him lost both legs in the winter of ‘17 as a young patriot in the war against the Germans. General Gogol was his uncle, brother of his mother Lilyanna.
Before the disintegration of the former Soviet Empire, as a young KGB official, Mikhail Llantinov’s dream was to meet the intrepid Double 0 7 in a mortal combat for wrecking havoc to the KGB network in Europe. He couldn’t believe that after the collapse of the USSR he would be working with Bond in several assignments and they would be good friends. Llantinov was not surprised to receive a message from his former nemesis for a meeting in a butterfly farm at the outskirts of Birmingham. The former polluted English town is recovering from the ills of industrialization and fast becoming an architectural hub of Europe. Soon butterflies will be back in the gardens of those Renaissance-style courtyards. He heard about the death of James’s close friend and also learned of the unconfirmed reports of the changing of the guards in the MI6 Section where 007 was in a roll.
Mikhail brought along a niece, Nina Dolinova, who received her training personally from him. She was working as an embassy cipher, as James specifically requested from him someone who could get in the skin of England’s orbiting spy or weather satellites.
Mikhail found his friend enjoying a promenade along the rose garden. James saw him and he threaded by without giving hint of recognition. There were cameras all over the place that records butterflies population rate and he wouldn’t want them used against his friend.
Bond took the exit and waited at a kiosk, temptation to light up a cigarette gripping him. He unwrapped a honey mint and tossed it in his mouth. Llantinov walked by, to a parked sedan. Bond stood and strolled to a waiting shed where he was picked up by the Russian spy after encircling the block.
“Thanks for seeing me despite the short notice,” he said as he entered.
“We’re spies. We’re used to these. Allow me to introduce my niece, Nina.”
Bond bowed “Bond,” he offered his hand. “James Bond,” and settled in the back seat.
The sedan drove twenty kilometers in the innards of Birmingham’s service roads and alleys, snipping for a trail. It entered an underground park for another car. After switching cars, they proceeded to a safehouse in Wolverhampton, Nina’s second office, under Llantinov's supervision. In here serious spy works were done – assignments too sensitive even for the ambassador to get a sniff of.
Bond gave Nina the name of the fishing village. She fed it to the computer and several came out. The name itself was common in two Scandinavian countries and one in way-up north Canada, in the Arctic Circle, on an island that dotted the Lincoln Sea.
“I’m betting on Canada,” James muttered.
“And Canada it will be!” Nina began tapping on another keyboard. The MI6 emblem blazoned on the monitor asking for the password and simultaneously imputing a warning that illegal attempt to access would be found out and the hacker assured of severe prosecution. “Empty threats – “ Nina Dolinova whispered for her benefit. “This may take a little while. You can fix yourself a cup of coffee or tea if you want to. The pantry’s on there Mr. Bond.” She said a bit louder and pointed James the direction.
“You can call me James. Beautiful women do.”
“You’re an arrogant little imp, are you not – James?”
“Beautiful women think so, too, Miss Dolinova.”
“Nina. I have the right to that class of women you are referring to, am I not?’
“Y-yes, Nina.” James turned for the pantry.
“While you’re at it, fix a cup for me, James. Make it sweet.”
The screen displayed syntax which Bond had trouble digesting. Nina broke everything to the shell program and did not simply sneak into the portal. In this process the break-in would not be detected unless the sweeper retraced Nina’s path, and if that happened, he would be directed to a poor hamlet of three hundred inhabitants of Wah-ka-Nga in North Korea that was so backward not a single computer existed there.
Nina was engrossed, which Bond was also, not to the process but to the focus of the uberhacker as she fiddled with keyboards in the workstation and screens were responding. For her it was a mind game that the process and the result were more gratifying than sex. She was in a world all her own, talking with the alpha-numeric characters and telling each other their problems like old friends and agreeing to resolve them for the good of all. The program was persuaded; it opened to the request of Nina. The display changed; coordinates were requested. Nina fed the coordinates in the blank and pixels arranged. They were on top of the world, looking down at the glazier infinity. She commanded the satellite for closer view. The tundra was as white as it should be and nothing was there that gave a hint of breath. The mode was switched to thermal, and to the surprise of the three, living souls were identified – about a hundred of them. They were hidden under layers of ice-covered roofs and some were scattered and in motion. Huge things that emitted heat – which Bond could only conclude as machines for power generation and transport vehicles – were also detected, camouflaged in white nettings. There was a huge containment tank that James guessed as a petrol reservoir for field vehicles and rows of windmills for additional power to the facilities. He also detected an anomaly that could be buried beneath the permafrost – a source of heat of un-waning quality too powerful to be delivered by mere windmills or petrol power generators.
As they had pinpointed warm bodies, it was easier for a visual. They could now see some in their white attires outside of the shelters busily hauling white crates from a submarine – one of the things detected for heat.
“Russia has on-going geological studies Franz Josef Land to prove that North America and Russia are interconnected under the ocean floor,” Llantinov explained.
“I am aware of that. But that is at somewhere here,” James tapped a location on the monitor that could be around two thousand kilometers away. “This is not the place you are referring to. Please zoom in some more, Nina.”
Nina did. They could now clearly make out a small village about fifty kilometers from the nucleus of the activities.
“Zoom some more. Close enough to see the people,” he instructed.
The satellite image blew up to blocks of pixels while the algorithmic process of the computer went to work, finding the greatest common divisor of the given variables. The huge pixels were broken further to smaller blocks until the greatest common divisor was obtained and the huge unrecognizable blocks of colors assumed cognizant.
They were scanning the frozen field when Bond spotted a black dot further east, being dragged to the center of the activity. It may have come from another submarine, a smaller one – probably a bathysphere of some kind as its heat signature suggested.
“Zoom in to that,” Bond told Nina.
The aperture of the satellite spy camera twisted and the focus zoomed in. the figure was caught when its head tilted up in resistance. The camera focused some more; large pixels subdivided to smaller ones, breeding the desired clarity. James recognized the person being dragged as Riyana.
A Very Warm Welcome
James was gone in a rush.
“Hey!” Nina called.
“Can you get a clear shot of the man dragging the girl?” Mikhail asked his niece.
“I’ll try, Uncle.”
It took some while before the best angle was snapped.
The snapshot was fed in a computer for comparative analysis with celebrated criminals, especially members of the Organyzatsia.
There was no match. It was frustrating because Llantinov could be at the heels of the elusive Lapuski. He dialed the Embassy for surveillance photos of known cosmetic clinics in Russia and a huge file from Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, Russia’s Federal Security Service, was sent.
“There’ll be a hard time, this old town tonight.”
“I like it when you say that, Uncle Mikhail. I’m ready.”
James had spied Q entering his lab from the backdoor for as long as he could remember. He wasn’t expecting that the mischief would someday be nifty. Arctic is such a dreary place to be for a rescue job – in fact, as all odds were in, he wasn’t even betting to get out of there alive. But getting in tight situations had been his staple and wasn’t chickening now. He had put himself between near deaths and deaths for the Crown and for once he’d do it for a woman – also for his happiness.
The former double 0 agent inserted a master key in the lock and twisted, ready for an alarm to wail. The quite remained. The laboratory that seldom saw lights turning off when Q was still heading it was dark, and there was an air of moulds floating around. The new administration was not as much into customized gadgetry as M. Or there was no one to man this store when Q resigned – or retired, as he could have termed it. A flashlight guided him through the dark. Everything was packed in crates, numbered and stamped for inventory. There could be things here he could use for his Arctic job, but he had no time to jimmy all the huge boxes for what he needed exactly. The RATS was on Q’s former table, wrapped with duct tape, tagged as unfinished and untested.
Llantinov’s eyes were tired, scanning faces from the huge file of surveillance photos and was starting on a sub-folder from Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti or
Federal Security Service, Economic Security Service branch, headed by Aleksandr Bortnikov, that had been tracking active Red Mafiya rackets in Russian soil, when his mobile rang.
“James here. I need a favor.”
“I have a small package I want to get to Kuujjuag in a diplomatic pouch.”
“And you’re taking a commercial flight? That would be via Quebec or Newfoundland.”
“No other way.”
“There are two more things I can do for you. First is I can order Nina to expunge your hold departure order and delete your descriptions in all airports waiting to arrest you; second is I can fly you direct to the top of the world as a member of the Arctic Expedition.”
“I’d choose option number two.”
The winds howled incessantly, an admonition of how hostile and lonely this part of the world was. There was nothing past the orange structures that housed the researchers. The endless white landscape stretches to all directions, way, way far beyond the horizon. One can’t say that he had known loneliness until he had set foot here. The military plane – a MIG – gave cheer to the exiled intellectuals. It must be a kind of disease that would drive a man to leave the warmth of family, friends and the mainstream society camaraderie for this barren alternative.
The MIG was dispatched from a secret Russian airfield in Poland where it picked up a passenger. There was no record of this flight and Colonel Pabl Gerafuskiy was well adapted to this arrangement. The fare was flown from London by a Lear and carried a top-level clearance.
Col. Gerafuskiy was met enthusiastically. He always brought with him fresh fruits whenever he could in the place allotted for his usual bomb cargo. Fresh fruits were rarities here and despite the short notice he was able to haul in a trunk of pineapples and mangoes from the Poland mess hall.
The fare was quiet, craning his head to survey what could be hidden behind the blanket of frigid mist of the snowy wonderland, straining way far the limits of visibility. He had on the appropriate snow camouflage suit and the backpack with fifty rounds of bullets for the RATS.
Bond’s real destination was due southwest, about fifty kilometers more. They had landed in an island, a relatively big one that dotted the earth’s white beanie cap. He was met by the supervisor of the facilities and was given a hot meal as soon as he was inside the barracks.
“I won’t pretend to hold you here as a gesture of our hospitality,” Dr. Rudolf Paningskiy, the research supervisor, said. “I was informed about you, and you’re not an isolated case. We’ve had many before you and more will be here in the near future. It seemed that wars now are fought in most unlikely battlefields.”
“Thanks. The hot meal is already the best expression of hospitality I’ve received in so many a days.”
“What ever you think you need that we can provide, it’s yours.”
“I’ll be needing a snow mobile.”
“I’m afraid the last we had conked out weeks ago. Still awaiting parts.”
“A pair of ski then.”
“You got it.”
“You can take your forty winks, Uncle. My turn now,” Nina suggested. She was sipping hot coffee and she appeared to have had a restful doze.
Llantinov couldn’t quantify the fatigue that was threatening to flatten him down and his eyes were itchy from the wrench at comparing the shot from thousands in the file. “I’ll just finish this sub-folder so you can start on a fresh one,” he mumbled like a robot nearly out of battery.
No Match Found
finally plastered across the screen.
Llantinov groaned and snatched an ashtray that was nearly full. He would reward himself the luxury of smoking with his half-closed eyes chasing circles of smoke.
Bond was traversing the hills and dales of frost, wearing Q’s latest toy – the RATS for twenty minutes now. The RATS, he had not noticed before, had a directional guidance system and he was on course. And learning more, it also had a GPS in its arsenal, aside from lock mode for the targeting system. He would be at the intended area within forty minutes more if he could cross what could be an elongated volcanic lake, the GPS had identified, at its shortest distance. JB clipped his arms on his side speeding off faster; his field of vision tantamount only to a computer game and he was beginning to enjoy it when a revolt of angry rotor whirrs ousted the reign of the howling of the winds.
Bond saw in the RATS rear display sets of propellers looming from behind their icy warren.
They were gyro-copters. The hobby craft was fitted with light machine gun underneath the belly. Two-seaters, light, very agile and exceptionally deadly -- seven of them -- spraying him with rains of red hot leads.
“Here comes the welcoming committee,” JB mumbled to himself.
Red on Endless White
Llantinov was turning away for his bunk when his eyes caught something interesting in the main monitor.
“Nina, track in monitor one.”
The satellite coverage zoomed in very fast; the image pixilated and they had to wait for a couple of seconds before the pixels resized and rearranged themselves for clarity. A man walking a step behind another pulled out a gun and without any ceremonies, fired. The victim’s head lolled, losing the strength in his legs and swayed down dead. Nina worked the camera. It tracked in some more, getting a clear ID of the murdered. Framed in a pool of gory spillage was the head of a man, his eyes shut wide open.
“That’s General Edgor Pereski!” Llantinov’s was shaken; the fatigue that had been pulling him down to rest was wiped away.
The problem that had besieged Q in improving the decibel overflow of the RATS was rectified by Bond with a simple 20-pence earplug from a corner hardware store. From the rear, he could see the gyrocopters swarming in his field view; the front was an endless panorama of white. His hand was itchy to press the handset but he couldn’t get a clear shot yet. One gyro dipped, enough to expose the pilot. JB locked the targeting system and pressed; the cannon on his left shoulder burst several rounds. He saw the struck flying machine slipped in an uncontrolled fade out of his field of view. Then he heard a metallic crunch on the soft snowy ground.
Like a stirred swarm of furious bees the gyros intensified the hails of bullets. The speeding target below zigzagged, evading the drops of metal rain. Bond was losing his lead as one of the pilots put the machine in its limits and flitted forward, aspiring a frontal assault. Bond curved out of his route and headed to a high hill with intent to accelerate momentum. On his traverse down the copters lost sight of him, but fast regained it upon passing over the hill. 007 was on a downward course, going to a much higher hill of ice. The one that had flitted forward U-turned for the assault. JB was caught between the swarm from behind and the more daring one at the front. The obverse gyro swooped low to mow the skier while another one at the rear did the same for an attempt. James ducked to fold his body to conform to he laws of aerodynamic and as he reached the crest of the hill, flipped up to a summersault, simultaneously pressing both the trigger for the rear and front guns. He was a Roman candle in an aerial swirl spitting bullets. The little gymnastic feat was not as hard as keeping his retinas on the two targets as he looped in the air, but it paid. The two daring gyros crashed in a wriggly tumble on the snowy ground, digging and throwing ice with their propellers.
JB skis landed and he dashed down, was seeking the next highest hill. The most effective way to stop the gyros was to hit their pilots and he couldn’t do that by just firing at them, hitting only the bellies of armor plates. His descent was now faster, exceeding the speed he hoped to be. By doing so, he had knowingly subjected himself to mortal danger. A slight miscalculation would mean death. And at this speed, the sin of getting off balanced would be as deadly as receiving the storm of bullets. James steadied his sight to the two nearest gyros about to swoop down for their attempt. He had reached the lowest point and on to an ascent. The shoot up was followed by twisting his body in a vertical whirl like a cyclone, flying vaguely above the level of the two gyros, and pressing the handset. It was not an attempt to be as accurate as the two stunts, but a shot to the moon, hoping the released bullets would hit his targets. They did. The two gyros faded in a violent tail-drop.
But luck, no matter how it had stuck with James, would ultimate run out. When he was on a down slope James was frustrated to see that the terrain had even off to an endless span of desert of white. There was nothing in the frigid savanna but a shack that could be a furrier’s station and a vehicle.
And after that?
The unfrozen volcanic lake.
General Edgor Pereski’s unblinking eyes stared back from the monitor; the virgin whiteness of the snow behind it was marred by the growing halo of blood. The executioner started to walk away to a snowmobile.
“Were you able to record it in the hard drive?”
“I think it was the same man who dragged the lady in black last night.”
“What made you say that, Nina?”
Nina replayed the scene and paused at when the gun was put on the head before the executioner fired. As he was seeing it again, Llantinov became aware that the victim was not expecting the shot. The angle of the face could make out the eyes expressing gladness. Then the hand of the executioner came out from his pocket, wielding a gun. He placed it at the back cranium of the victim.
“Here, see that?” Nina pointed to a spot between the white sleeves of his suit and his gloved hand. To clarify what she meant, she enlarged the spot. A glint – that could be the band of a wrist watch or a bracelet -- came into view. Then she worked out the other console and paused at the spot where the same diamond studded platinum band showed up when the man was dragging the black-clad woman. She zoomed in some more and the design of the bracelet was clearly made out. Nina lifted one and dragged it to the other screen for comparison. It was not only similar but conclusively the same band.
“I didn’t notice that before!” Llantinov exclaimed. “Now search the company that made that design!
Nina winked, arranged the keyboard in front of her and resumed tapping.
Another worse thing in skiing in a leveled plane is the momentum will eventually slow down and working out the poles will not be enough. James Bond made the use of that final momentum by zigzagging away from the bullets.
By now the two remaining gyros where cautious after witnessing the obliteration of the five units. It was maintaining a safe distance, recognizing the deadliness of the single opponent. One of the pilots radioed home to report the downed five copters.
Bond sensed the caution. The upholding of the distance was but a sign of an amalgam of fear and respect. It was a consolation. But he didn’t need it now. What he needed was to cross the lake.
Finally, the momentum came to an end. Bond was beside the roofless International Harvester V8 hauling vehicle with padded Pirelli tires.
The pilots saw him and they understood his predicament. The amalgam of fear and respect vanished, replaced by the inviting sweet taste of victory. The remaining gyrocopters spread out for a sure kill.
Cold Icy Wet Grave
The design was an exclusive by an Italian jeweler that customizes wristbands for Patek Philippe. They had sold twelve of them, five to Arab sheiks, four to heads of states and three to unnamed businessmen. Nina accessed the ledger of the company to unearth the identities of the tree. Two of them were already dead; one from cancer of the pancreas, the other was in a yachting adventure that went awry during a storm in the North Sea. Further research revealed that the yachtsman’s body wearing the watch was never found; the cancer victim was wearing his when he was cremated. Their published photos in the internet, by the newspapers that covered them, showed them wearing the watches upon close scrutiny -- the yachtsman, as he waved before he boarded; the cancer victim when his coffin was unveiled for final viewing.
The third was fictitious.
The last wristwatch band was bought by a man representing a fictitious foundation. The man’s identity turned out to be stolen from someone who had lived and died a hundred years ago.
Llantinov and Nina were facing a dead end.
“We got him boxed in,” radioed the first gyro to the second.
“Aye! I’d keep his gizmo for a souvenir!”
“Me, I want his head for my lodge wall!”
“What are we waiting for?”
The deadly hobby crafts prepared to claim their prey.
JB was nowhere to go. The trading post was locked up and logs were nailed to frustrate intruders, with a note that James recognized as Finnish, that trading would resume tomorrow. It was still fresh. He wondered how people with half year of continuous sunlight tell what divides the now from yesterday or to tomorrow.
The IH was his only chance. He dashed to it before the gyrocopters come within its firing range. It seemed that it was just recently parked. He hotwired and it coughed an asthmatic, rusty below. James pumped in more gas; the exhaust pipe belched black smoke. Bond pumped more, the wheezing coughed transforming to a husky, macho growl. Steadily the rusty whined metamorphosed to the roar of an awakened lion.
The cautious predators after him were about its firing range. He could out run them but there was nowhere to go except forward – to the unfrozen volcanic lake!
The deadly crafts sought the height that benefited both speed and firing accuracy. Bond couldn’t line them with the RATS – yet.
Into the cold, icy, wet grave! -- a small voice in his head screamed. There was panic in it, but he would be foolish not to admit that. Fear and panic were his advisors to move with prudence.
The one time Double 07 revved the V8 power plant of the hauling machine as he shifted the gears for a jack-rabbit sprint. At first the IH was at a slow initial start off, hampered by the thick, hardened snow deposit that had layered up since the creation. The engine, as if given the opportunity to flaunt what it was capable of other than delivering exotic polar pelage, agreed with a growl. It burned the ice under the wheels with the friction of its enthusiasm, turning charcoal gray for an instance due to the heat and carbon residue of the tires. The padded Pirelli wheels scratched the ice in its abrupt rotations, rocketed the seemingly clumsy crawler to a task it hadn’t been subjected to before.
When it had gained impetus, it was flitting over the snow like a plane about to take off.
One of the gyros dipped low for an attack, seeing that the roofless hauler was foolishly heading towards the lake. He would meet it with a volley when it turned back.
Before Bond touched water, the engine had been fully primed and roaring in its fastest gear. James stared ahead determined, without any intent to turn back.
Finally – the water!
The gyro was ready to press the firing button, seeing the delivery vehicle splashing water by its sides. It would have to turn back or sink.
Bond steadied his grip on the steering wheel, guarding both the front and the rear in the viewer of the RATS, accelerator pedal floored down. Lo and behold! The machine responded more than it was expected to. The wheels were paddling over the lake!
The gyro pilot and the gunner couldn’t believe their eyes! The mixture of steam and fog over the lake parted to reveal the clumsy-no-more hauling vehicle zipping on its surface!
“Did you see that?” he radioed the other craft to confirm that all of it was not mere illusion.
“Yes! Just when I thought we had him, another trick is out from his sleeve!”
“I’ll cover the rear. Fly over for frontal!”
The pilot dipped lower for the much delayed assault. All he was waiting for was the second gyro took position and the attack would be simultaneous.
Bond saw from the viewer that the second gyro went fast over him, disappeared from sight and reappeared at the front. When it reached its desired distance, it would go lower and turn on him for the assault. He was seeing them from the screen of Q’s latest wonder toy.
At the middle of the lake, the lethal crafts decided to attack.
Mikhail Llantinov was not only feeling fatigued but also wasted. He needed the rest but his adrenalized system was ignoring the comforting warmth of his bunk. He now knew that the former KGB was murdered – as he had seen it and Nina recorded the event – but the identity of the perpetrator remained ambiguous. He could initiate the order needed to attack that settlement – or whatever that place was! – if he could justify it. The simple murder of a former KGB official wouldn’t warrant that. He wished he could prove that Tugano pulled the trigger, or maybe he was somewhere within the vicinity of that settlement -- that would be enough to shake on its feet the Spetsnaz arm of the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki – the Russian Foreign Security Service.
But not until.
“Uncle! Take a gander at this!” called Nina, who was stuck on the monitor.
Llantinov joined Dolinova in her station. The sight that met him wiped away his body’s indecision to rest or to vigil. He was grabbed by the drama unfolding before him – the courage of one man to make things possible at all cost in performing a task he had imposed on himself. It was the quality that made his former nemesis – now a close friend – to survive the deadly game of espionage.
Like the two gyros, Llantinov couldn’t believe his eyes! He was seeing James’s vehicle being chased by two hobby crafts, sailing over a volcanic lake. It was several blinks before he found his voice. “How deep is that lake?” he asked.
“Depth – according to my reading – only seventy-five feet at its deepest. Isn’t he incredible?”
“You think he’ll survive his pursuers?”
“Definitely!” was all Llantinov was able to utter, but it was uttered with confident finality.
“Get ‘em, tiger!” Nina cheered.
The first to reach its effective firing range was the gyro at Bond’s rear. The trouble with field combat is that when you have attained your firing range, be assured that your enemy also has.
Bond had locked the targeting memory so he could concentrate at the front, which he also saw as getting in its attack zone. Both the targets got locked. All he needed was to press the handset buttons and concentrate on driving – or sailing, for that matter.
The rear gyro closed; the front one hovered, waiting for the perfect time to shoot. That time came. The rear fired first, chasing the improvised amphibious vehicle with mini eruptions of elongated row of fountains. The front did the same, seeming to merge the malevolent stitches of tattoos of stutters to one cutting sweep.
But they missed.
The cannons saddled on his shoulders spewed leads and flames.
The rear gyro instantly crashed in its wet, cold grave with only a little resistance from the whirring propellers. The front was also hit, not as fatal as the rear – and as a final heroic act, it went straight to him.
Bond had to break the straight exclusively straight sailing to skirt the suicide kamikaze and made a slight veered to the right. This distracted the aqua-dynamics of the artificial amphibious vehicle and it started to sink.
The Flying Turtle
Nina’s cheer ceased, staring at the satellite view while the Flying Turtle – which she had secretly named the IH – lost its inertia and was slowing down. She could tell out right that it was sinking. Llantinov was as dumbfounded as his niece. The gladness they felt when James’s pursuers were all eliminated was ephemeral. The shift of emotion was very sudden, without an event in between that would dampen the abrupt decline of elation to cardiac dismay.
Llantinov wasn’t aware that he groaned, and Nina’s eyes were getting moist.
“Please get out of there alive…” she whispered.
To add more to the suspense, the satellite lost its coverage – the eighth since the monitoring had started. Nina was to access another weather satellite constantly circling the polar cap. It would be for another thirty-five minutes.
By that time, a chunk of the story could never be retold if James Bond failed to make it home.
The warmth of his hands was maintained. Raymond’s condition continued to stabilize. M was crying inside. She was happy and sorry all at once for her husband. All she could do was stand by his side, hold his hands and stare at him, waiting for his eyes to open. The worries were now put aside; the heartbeat was at 57 beats per minute and the blood pressure was constant at 110 over 70. Finally Raymond opened his eyes; the oxygen cap on his mouth turned opaque as if the awakening added extra exertion. Then it cleared again in consonance to the rhythm of his breathing. Through the cap, M saw Raymond smiled. And she did, too.
For the past few days, the mere sight of his opened eyes was all M could hope for. It had brought happiness to her… and assurance that her beloved husband was still with her and fighting the crutches of death to keep it that way.
The nurse entered and did a routine check. When Raymond returned to sleep after M fed her with broth, she went out to the garden and prayed. M wasn’t religious and didn’t know how to pray. Still she did, recalling how her Jewish father had taught her.
The International Harvester was slowing. The exhaust pipe gurgling in water was what James heard first when he unplugged his ears. He ground the pedal more for power. The engine coughed, forcing out the water it had taken in; tepid wetness was flooding the floor. James pumped the pedal more; the engine sounded tired, only the buoyancy was making it float. The best way was to lighten up and swim ashore. He took off the RATS and the ammunition pack.
But the vehicle stopped sinking any further; the wheels had touched bottom and rolled. James applied the breaks, keeping the accelerator pressed to prevent water into the engine.
While waiting for another satellite to pass by, Nina busied herself by going back to the files from the Economic Security Service of Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti. She had the surveillance photos re-processed, not minding the faces of the people that went in the cosmetic clinic. Repeating the first process would bring in the same result. She chose a new reference – the diamond-studded platinum bracelet.
Llantinov was having a long, cold shower, finally choosing not to let his fatigue knock him out. James could stumble on trouble and a second delay in the response could be fatal. As he was drying up, Nina called.
“Uncle! You got to see this!”
He went in the work station with only his bathrobe on. Nina’s monitor was focusing on a man that was entering a cosmetic clinic in Moscow. She zoomed in to the wrist of that man and he was wearing a similar band they were after. Nina masked the bracelet, lifted it and superimposed it for comparison to that from the man who executed General Pereski. They matched.
The fierce sun remained on its seat in heaven, unwavering, yet inutile to cuddle the cold polar region with tepid comfort, and the wind grew bitter and rowdy. It was twisting the chill into pillars of helix rime and scattering them after in frayed wisps. Some found themselves on James’s face, burning his cheeks red and his brows coated with minuscule fluffs of frost.
The fog was kept just above ground level, giving the illusion that he was driving on clouds. The terrain had been exceptionally smooth, no hills and boulders, like a long span of a boring desert road.
It was like that in the first twenty minutes, or so.
But very different in the succeeding minute.
He heard roars of small engine from his back and James saw on the mirror sprouting snowmobiles like magic mushrooms behind, keeping safe distance from him, not showing any aggressive intent to attack.
A swarm more appeared in front, waving him to drive in their pace toward a Scarab Tank. Bond obeyed; the snowmobiles formed a circle in which he was the nucleus. Two snowmobiles drove closer, flatting the IH tires with Kalashnikov bursts and tying it to the Scarab. A swarm of ultra-lights hovered up as if from nowhere. The fate of the crafty ex-British Secret Agent was sealed.
Nina panned up the shot to the face of the owner of the bracelet. It had a set of thick brows and angular Slavic face.
“Compare that to the face of the one who attempted to assassinate the Royals,” commanded Llantinov.
Nina pulled out the folder that contained the information Llantinov stated.
The two were alike!
Nina was to pull out another folder for comparison when she was prompted by a chime for new satellite coverage. She begun optimizing the logarithm of the connection and in a few ticks they were back in the lake. The rollercoaster ride of emotion peaked and sunk. The Flying Turtle could have been down in the lake bed and Bond could be in it.
“No! Bond could swim!” Llantinov remarked.
The RATS’ GPS unscrambled as the satellite was in its optimal coordinates to receive and send data, registering a direction. She went eastward. There were tracks of the Pirelli tires still not covered by the new frosty icing. Nina smiled.
“He survived! The Flying Turtle made it! Look!” She grabbed her uncle and hugged him and swayed him to a dance.
The rows of towering windmills were Bond’s indication that he was in the lair of Riyana’s captor. He went on, under the watchful sight of his escorts. The windmills’ shafts slowly came into whole view, and also the roofs of some of the facilities, a platform, and then the heads of people on their activities. Getting nearer, Bond found himself in a paramilitary camp.
They were all in white attires.
Except the one seated on a chair on the platform.
Nina was still in the state of elation from the survival of the Flying Turtle. It was – as she was learning from following Bond in this adventure – that it would be in a short time. Her intuition was right as she charted the route The Flying Turtle could have taken. She saw it in the middle of a hostile circle of snowmobiles and crawling to the station where the execution took place.
The scene was a clear indication that the swashbuckling Brit was now a captive prisoner, and to interpret it as otherwise would be fanatism and utter rejection of the glaring truth.
“We have to help him, Uncle!” Nina begged.
“Sorry, but if we could not tie this to anything of national interest to Mother Russia, we could not use her resources for his personal mission.”
“Can’t you see that! That is a clear military base that could be operating against the interest of Mother Russia!” Nina pointed to the facilities.
“No proof yet. I could not make a recommendation for a raid in a mere sighting of a paramilitary base that could be – without clear territorial demarcation – within Canada’s sovereignty or Denmark’s.”
“Oh, Uncle Mikhaelito…” Nina used his pet name to appeal to Llantinov not as a co-field agent, but as his favorite niece.
“I’m sorry, Nina…”
Nina was reduced to staring at the monitor in gripping and escalating dread while the circle inch forward toward the encampment.
Riyana was chained on a chair, the nanite suit was tattered and could have been disconnected from its programming base that there was no hint of the wonderful functions it had displayed before. Beside her stood a man. He appeared very much fit and muscular that his snow suit only defined the contour of the body it was concealing.
“We meet again, Mr. Bond,” the man said.
“Thank you, Barbara for being with me… for being my wife,” Raymond said.
M loved it when Raymond uttered her name, reminding her of her own vulnerability, of her being human, and not the emotionless dame in charge of the most elite section of the MI6 had shaped her to be --like a stone, hard, unfeeling – not numb – but apathetically professional.
It was a tough office for a woman. The section itself that issued license to kill to agents in the defense of the crown could never be run by anybody with weak will, by a mushy-hearted wife. Raymond was a gift, an aide memoire that prompted her that she was not a heartless machine grinding solely for the good of Union Jack, not just a dispenser of cold and swift death that never required a justice system for promulgation, armed with a word that was justice in itself that an enemy of the crown could be hunted and killed wherever he hides in the world -- but a woman that found pleasure in flowers and sweet, loving words, and the crinkling open eyes of a good husband.
If not for Raymond, there would be none to return to.
“Raymond, I love you.” There was no other persons left in this world that knew her name, as it was hidden by the Secret Service a long time ago, except Raymond and her two daughters, and sometimes it was almost as pleasant as hearing it like an old poetry neglected by the rushes of more important things. Yet one would sit back and enjoy the reminiscence of a verse visiting her memory, and delivered by the most prolific poet she would want it to hear from.
I got a name.
“I don’t remember meeting you before,” Bond replied, scanning the catalogue of villains in his memory to add more information to the face that claimed to have shared his acquaintance. None.
“Surely you can’t remember, because I was wearing a different face then. I used to own your friend’s likeness. I believe his name was Jonathan Spence.
Bond’s teeth gritted in inutile anger; the hand of destiny was playing its weird sense of humor on him. Konrad Lapuski!
“That’s me!” Lapuski declared as if he read Bond’s mind, “Men, bring our esteemed guest to his suite,” he ordered.
Armed personnel accosted James after a thorough frisk.
James was harshly pushed forward. He stole a glimpse to Riyana. Her face was black and blue. He saw a man unchained her and carried her on his back; walking behind him.
“You’d like the suite,” one of the escorts said.
Bond tried to detect a hint of sick hilarity or even condemnation from the tone of the voice. He decided that it was uttered matter-of-factly.
They did not take the main entrance, but went around to the rear. The access wouldn’t be noticed because the trap door was covered with light, foamy resin that resembled a mound of snow. A slot had to be thumbed to snap up the cover to the door handle. The lever was twisted and a hydraulic arm from the inside lifted it up, cracks that defined the door materialized when the speckles of frost that perfectly hid it from notice were disturbed. A sensor blinked for every person that entered, counting or maybe detecting weapons and electronic gadgets, and automatically closed after the last man was in.
The interior of his room was amazingly in contrast to the drab of the white wasteland outside. It was cozy and warm, high-ceilinged and the bed looked invitingly comfortable. The floor was of the darkest ebony Bond had seen, richly lacquered and impeccably scratchless; the wall paneling that displayed several Picassos and Dalis could have been from luxury train coaches that shuttled the elite of the former regime and the furnishings were all priceless antiques. The most contrasting piece was a wide-screen high-definition TV nestled at the corner opposite the bed, the biggest TV James had laid eyes on. There was a bowl of fresh fruit on a colonial American table for two – which Bond was sure were rare in this treeless, frigid inferno. It was now certain to him that the remark from one of his escorts was honest and not a sarcastic pre-admonition.
The man carrying Riyana dumped her on the bed. James was frisked anew for anything that the sensor and the initial rub down had missed. The man felt little hard object in his pocket. He pulled it out only to see a tin of candy mint. A little embarrassed, he returned it to Bond.
“Dinner at eight. There’s a set of chance in the closet. Please search for your size. Thank you.” The goons left.
“Riyana…” he caressed her bruised face as soon as the door closed.
“James… How did you find out I’m here?”
James turned on the TV and upped the volume. There was nothing on but an old American sit com ‘The Wonder Years’, which must be piped in from a video player and not from a TV network transmission. And as far as he could conclude, they were being watched right now from every conceivable angle through hidden cameras.
“It doesn’t matter. What matters is I’m here for you. What did he do to you?”
“The usual. He always punishes me when he’s not pleased. We were lovers until I decided to be on my own. He doesn’t usually hit me on my face. He told me once that my face was far too beautiful to be blemished. Don’t worry about me. I’d be OK after a rest.”
“You don’t seem to be.” James was hurting more than Riyana. “I’ll even it up for you. Get some rest. We have three hours before dinner.” Bond could not take the risk of looking for a way to escape and save Riyana just now. She had to be at least be able to sprint or lest he’d be endangering both of them for nothing. Rest is a weapon and he wouldn’t want to drop what he presently had.
The screen changed. The sit com was replaced by a face of a polar bear, its mouth wide open and sharp teeth sticking out. The camera slowly tracked out. The bear was in a stainless steel cage, rampaging for anything to eat, scooping the snow on its feet with its steel-hard and knife-sharp claws and putting it in its mouth.
Lapuski entered the frame, carrying a medium-sized slice of cod. The bear quieted down, recognizing its master. He tossed the chunk and the bear snapped it in the air. The fish was consumed immediately. The bear’s mouth was red with its blood, growling for more, evident that it was still hungry. Lapuski went near it and the huge pet nudged its head on his shoulder, while a paw was reaching for the wicker basket where the fish was brought in. Lapuski smiled on the screen. There was something in the smile that curdled the blood of James. It was not a smile at all – it was a foreboding sign of imminent evil.
“Mr. Bond, I know you are watching right now. This is Shasha, my best friend. He’ll be glad to meet you personally.”
The shot held for a few beats and the screen returned to the regular programming.
Nina returned to the folder from the Economic Security Agency with heavy heart seeing James disappeared from a trap door in the ground after Llantinov had left. She had a notion that his life rests in her hands, with whatever she could dig up to convince her uncle for a raid. Her fingers drummed the keyboard in organized frenzy, pulling out photos from files and comparing. She now knew that the failed Royal assassin could be the same man who executed General Edgor Pereski – and it was Lapuski who was tagged as the Royal assassin!
If she could only offer undeniable evidence that the two were actually one and the same, Llantinov would issue the dispatch. She understood that such an important order must not be acted on a mere conjecture.
Nina diligently reviewed all those coming out of the particular cosmetic clinics that would divulge identities they were concealing.
A face! That of the executioner on the screen!
She searched for the clue on his wrists but the sleeves had perfectly draped the telltale. In frustration she slumped on her chair, accidentally dragging the mouse down, panning the image to the man’s shoes.
Nina remained unmoving; her eyes closed in disappointment rather than stress.
Minutes went by and Nina was about to quit. She rubbed her eyes to clear and a hope injected her vein vigor to continue when she saw what was in the monitor.
“I don’t see any need to know what a former agent – an arrogant one at that – is presently doing with his time,” bluntly expressed M.
“I’m sorry to hear that from you, Madam. I just thought that you should be interested,” Llantinov politely replied. He had knowledge of M’s presence in the Embassy because it was he who James contacted for the confinement. If this had happened in the era of animosity, he would be sitting with a council convincing the head of the Double 0 Section to defect or she’d be gone without a trace if she refused. It was a different time. England had worked hard to help Russia recover from the failed regime and though unofficially, he’s relaying the information.
“The breeze here at the garden is too amiable to be polluted with the news of a hard-head.”
Llantinov sensed a hurt in the feelings of M. Not hatred for the operative she was lambasting negatively, but the pain of a teacher caused by a haughty student… or a mother to a disobedient child. “He could be after Lapuski.”
“No he’s not! He’s after that girl! If you’re sure he’s after Lapuski you won’t be here giving me this chit-chat! You’ve be on your command post directing the operation.”
She was right. Llantinov was fishing for sentiments for a friend and he’s appealing using an unsubstantiated theory as bait. Nina was more honest than he. He was nudging the former spy chief to do action because his arms were tied by the bureaucracy. Perhaps M could pull some strings of her own and save a good man in peril. The acidic refusal for further knowledge of Bond’s whereabouts and the predicament he was stuck into had a disheartening effect on the messenger. M looked away and it was the sign for Llantinov to leave.
“Madam, I’m sorry to have bothered your siesta. Thanks for your time.” Llantinov bade goodbye. He was turning away when a clerk handed him a piece of note. It was from the cipher room. Funny how the name of that Section still retains its analog reference, Llantinov thought when he saw the stationery. He read. The note was short and in cipher. Llantinov deciphered the message.
It was about Lapuski.
The prod was harsh until James and Riyana was standing in front of a teak door. The hall was lined with teak doors ri8chly and deeply polished. At the end of the corridor was a door that stole the gaze of Bond. It was drab, aloof from quality to the ones lining the hall that had the facade of hotel suites doors. Nothing was done to conceal that it was part of a stronghold, a navy gray metal door with loud red stenciled Cyrillic characters imputing a threat of death for trespassers. The curiosity was washed off when he was pushed in the dining hall.
The table was long, like a ship captain’s for his guests. It was made of oak and bolted on the metal floor. James and Riyana denied Lapuski of dressing to the occasion, still wearing the attire they were captured in. Bond was also a bit surprised to see Lapuski not in formal dinner suit. Perhaps he had seen them through spy cams and wouldn’t want to look silly being alone in a formal suit with two condemned to death. He was holding the RATS and looking at it with curiosity. “Fascinating toy,” he muttered. “Can you tell me how this works?”
Bond did not reply. He tried to stare down Lapuski.
“I don’t really see any bother to dress up and entertain two prisoners,” the Russian mocked. He tossed the RATS aside.
“So why did you invite us for dinner?”
“My big ego needs some audience.”
“Tired of giving your lackeys your speeches?”
“They’re not mine. They’re Pereski’s. I just sort of inherited them from him when he passed away.”
“You mean murdered.”
“Murdered… executed, killed, assassinated… What difference does it make? He’s dead. Man had been coining too many words for a process of a single deed.”
The table was full of sumptuous treats fit for a king – or to someone about to die.
Bond and Riyana sat. She was very quiet, repressing the loathing for their host.
“You don’t seem too happy, Riyana, honey,” Lapuski said.
Riyana’s ire jacked up a degree higher; James gripped her hand to convey that she must not lose her temper.
“She’s just upset," James interjected.
“Who would not be? Riyana is a vegetarian and it was inconsiderate of me to prepare an all-meat dinner. The body needs plenty of energy in this environment.”
“So, what do you want to brag about?”
“You see, Mr. Bond, this is not about me. This is about The Organyzatsia. Haven’t you noticed that we don’t seem to be lacking electricity here? Every room and hall is well-lighted and the temperature is pegged at 75 degrees.”
“I know. You’re illegally tapped in a city in Newfoundland.” Bond said to anger his host while slipping a knife under a sleeve.
“You can’t insult me that way. You see, Double 0 7, this is the decommissioned RFS Sveta of the former Soviet Navy, an aircraft carrier. The government actually paid for its destruction when the Voyenno- Morskoy Flot thought that renovation had over-ran it and no amount of refitting and repair could keep it abreast with the demands of modern naval warfare. The genius General Pereski had to do was dredge the river up to here and refit it not as a battleship but as a mini fortress. The crew and the equipment were all intact. That means we are in battle mode 24/7.” Lapuski paused and roamed his eyes around as if to admire the affluence of the dining hall. “The redecoration is credited to Cornelius Tamorov, a very fine architect, who made the dreary interior decently livable. And about that perpetual power source – “
“Don’t say it. I know. This is nuclear.”
“Correct. Uranium is cheap compared to petrol and we can sell the by-product hundreds of times its acquisition cost. “
“Why do I see windmills?”
“Props. There’s got to be an explainable power source for those looking down from the sky or else they’ll conclude we’re nuclear, which we are. Not just for power generation. On this ship’s final voyage, it had in it warheads and all the materials needed for the conversion – as I had said, including the manpower. Don’t you think Pereski is a genius?”
“And his pimple had more brains than your head, am I right?”
“Funny how you’ve been trying to suck me to a fight you don’t have a chance of winning. I’ve killed more people with my bare hands than with guns, Mr. Bond.”
“Then I don’t see how you could brag about somebody else’s achievement.”
“That’s not my cup of tea. My genius is to have them canned and my harvesting what they had toiled for years. That’s a greater genius than all their heads combined, don’t you agree, Mr. Bond?” Before Bond could answer an intercom buzzed. “Go ahead,” Lapuski bid.
“Sir, I’m patching a call. Satellite. Unmonitored.”
“Alright – “
“Good evening, Mr. Lapuski,” the radio-like quality of a man’s voice with heavy Middle Eastern accent was heard, which Lapuski recognized as Khaled Rhamir Aq-Barik’s.
“The money will be ready in an hour and you’ll receive the bank’s confirmation as soon as it cleared the verification.”
“Until then.” Lapuski terminated the conversation. “I just sold a nuke,” he stared at Bond. “Now, let’s start the dinner with a toast.” He poured a bubbly in his goblet.
“As much as I wanted to, my appetite doesn’t. I think I’m going to puke.”
“Go ahead. Since you’ve said it already, I won’t be holding you for this dinner.” Lapuski tinkled a tiny bell and several of his henchmen appeared. “Take Mr. Bond and Ms. Ramozova out of here.”
Bond did not resist. Riyana tried but sensing that it would be futile, she brushed off the hands holding her and went quietly; Lapuski walked ahead of them.
Outside the stately dining hall they were in a corridor that would be the usual hallway of a battleship. Bond had glimpsed at a communication room as they passed by it, and calculated how busy everyone was – like in an aircraft carrier. They went down in an elevator and the air was thick with pressure, which hummed in his ears. A door was opened and they were inside a refrigerated cavern that one would think as part of a zoo where penguins and polar bears are kept. A growl floated by and a huge polar bear that had been brooding behind a huge chunk of ice came out; his teeth in a snarl, ready to tear, claws sharp and iron-hard. It began making its way to them.
“Mr. Bond, That cuddly bear is Shasha.” Lapuski smiled malevolently. “And I want my knife back.” He put out his hand palm up; Bond retrieve the knife in his sleeve, put it on the waiting hand. “Boys, turn off close circuit cameras. I don’t have the stomach to see what could happen here. And to you, Mr. Bond, be thankful because Shasha is having you for dinner.”
Lapuski started to leave, followed by his goons. When the door shut Shasha charged. He grabbed Riyana right away. Bond attacked in her defense but he was swiped by the huge paw.
Bond was knocked down and Riyana screamed.
A Nice Pair
Llantinov hurried to his station; M was on his heels. Everyone they passed by stepped aside for it was to their knowledge that Colonel Llantinov was on his way to his station. Nobody dared to offer him any nicety that would result to a moment of delay. However, a guard at the cipher room blocked his huge body at the door upon seeing that the Colonel had a company he was sure was not cleared for admission.
“She can’t go in, Colonel. I’m sorry,” said the guard in Russian. The voice was polite but the rigidness of his posture conveyed the readiness to impose an age-old military policy.
M was not at all pleased being in the middle of a debacle that was causing a delay in a very urgent tactical state of affairs. She started to go, but Llantinov motioned her to stay.
“She’s a guest of our embassy.”
“Yes, sir. Still this is a restricted area even to most embassy personnel, Colonel Sir.”
“She’s with me and I’m taking the responsibility.”
“Yes sir, but she’s to enter a very sensitive tactical domain and a clearance from a senior operative won’t be enough. She’s a British spy.” The sentinel tipped his hat to M to erase any hint of contempt for his utterance. “Pardon me, Madam, but I’m one of the few here who knows who you are.”
“No, you don’t. I’m a private British citizen without any connection to military or intelligence agency whatsoever. You can check what I said on the updated roster.”
“Yes, Madam. I will do that – “
“I’m taking all the responsibility. We could be needing her help as a consultant on this. And I will hold you responsible to any delay you are presently causing a very delicate military exercise now.” Llantinov statement was stern and indubitable.
“Very well, Colonel Llantinov.” The guard moved aside and snapped in a salute.
M was ushered in a different room where she was scanned and all her physical identities put in digits. When she got out of the scanning booth and into the cipher room her mouth was swabbed by a medical technician.
The Russian cipher room – a dream of any western operative to see the inside! It was bathed in soft light and critical spots in the world were in monitors – a political weather station.
M passed them all, absorbing every detail as she was trained, but giving no hint about it. She didn’t have to filter out anything; what she sees was what she gets. Yet all these no longer mattered – like outgrown trinkets, she didn’t have any use for them anymore. She’s here not to gather data but to help in a way she could, never discounting the possibility that it would benefit Bond the most – that arrogant Bond! Nevertheless, if it would lead to the neutralization of Lapuski, the effort would be all worth it. M trailed Llantinov to an enclosure. It was an office, a bedroom and a workstation in one. A sign that a single operation could take very long that he should be here every moment of it, even in his sleep. There were several consoles aligned in his station – some were on, a few were off. In one of the live consoles, a frame of a shot of a pair of shoes with specks of blood on the snow was displayed.
Llantinov capped on a head set. He handed one to M and he spoke on the mouthpiece. “What it is, Nina?”
“I got Lapuski. This time, I’m sure,” Nina’s voice was excited.
Lapuski’s fingers were drumming on a red booklet with Cyrillic characters on its cover that could be interpreted in English as Highly Classified; his eyes were cast on a framed photo of Shasha and him in a cuddly pose. The impatient drumming stopped when the phone nearby rang. He pocketed the little book that contained the arming sequence for the bombs in his possession. A bank in Switzerland confirmed the transfer of four hundred million dollars to his account. Lapuski smiled. He waited and in another ten minutes another call got through – a bank in Liechtenstein confirmed two hundred and fifty-five million dollars. His smile widened. In another five minutes or so, Cayman’s would do the same.
Eleanor entered with a tray of refreshing pitcher of fruit julep. She laid it on the table, sat on his lap and they kissed. She was enflamed, exploring his mouth with her tongue, drawing him to a more passionate act. Lapuski struggled from her hold. Eleanor released him but not completely, hanging on his neck.
“Thanks. If not for the fruit julep, you’d be on your own.”
“I don’t mind it here. I like cold places.”
“Why don’t you go ahead while I work, honey?”
Eleanor kissed him again and Konrad had to tap her cheeky bottoms before she let go.
Konrad gazed at Eleanor’s seductive romp for the door; teasing him until the door was fully closed. He had to work, he reminded himself, and could not blame Peresky for falling for her. Eleanor does not only make excellent fruit julep but she’s a great plaything. Maybe he’ll keep her for several months and if he found someone knew, Konrad knew that she’ll love where he’s sending her, since she had expressed her likings to cold places – and nothing is colder than an arctic tomb.
The call was taking too long to come in. Perhaps the satellite link was experiencing communication glut. Konrad decided to take a peak at Shasha. He turned the monitor on.
Shasha was alone. There was no sign of the former British agent and Riyana.
He ran out his office into Shasha’s pavilion.
Shasha was contentedly licking his paws; a pocket-size can of honey-mint candies was on the floor.
His ire was building up to a rage when the phone rang.
The bank in Cayman’s confirmed a transfer of a huge amount to his account, but Lapuski was not hearing it very clearly. As soon as the confirmation was done, he stomped the place for a hole where the two could have sneaked out.
The pavilion was fully locked.
A nice pair of shoes was all that Llantinov could see in the video patch. The blood was very bright red on the shiny black leather and the white snow made it stood more distinctly. The hinted violence could not conceal itself.
“What is this video all about, Nina?”
“That’s Lapuski’s shoes, Uncle,” Nina’s face appeared on another monitor.
“How can you say that? I know it’s an expensive pair of footwear, but I can’t seem to connect it to Lapuski.”
A video of a man entering a cosmetic surgeon’s clinic came out on a monitor next to that showing the shoes. There was no signage to proclaim the establishment, just the name of the doctor. It was located in the more affluent village of Kolomenskoye at southeastern sector of Moscow. The video was frozen at the face of the man, whom Llantinov had seen in the previous video in his safehouse in Wolverhampton.
M immediately recognized the man. “That’s the would-be Royal assassin! Konrad Lapuski wearing the likeness of Jonathan Spence!”
“Yes, Madam. We tracked him in Kolomenskoye, but he seemed to have never left the building or must left it from a different exit. The clinic, up to now, is in 24-hour surveillance.”
“Look at this, Uncle,” Nina admonished Llantinov as she manipulated the video to the desired frames that would give her argument credence. The video, after establishing the face of the subject, panned down to his shoes. “See the shoes? Notice the fine creases and the scratches on the leather. A shoe crease, like the human fingerprint, is very unique and could never be un-pleated or duplicated. Creases only deepen; new ones will add if the shoe is worn by another person. It is as unique as every foot is unique. The left makes different creases from the right. A scratch similarly is as unique and each tells an exclusive story -- unless covered by dye.”
“Interesting – “ M commented hearing this for the first time.
“Now look at this.” CGI white lines appeared on the black leather upper of the shoes to emphasize the lines of creases, orange on the fine scratches. A masking mark glowed around one of the bloodied shoe and its reproduction was lifted. The clone re-appeared on the cosmetic clinic surveillance video and, slowly, the copy was superimposed. The creases and the scratches – as Nina had pointed out – matched. “Would you like me to match the sole print pattern on the snow to that of the crime scene in Spitalfields?
“Thanks Nina! That will do,” Llantinov was staring Nina’s presentation simultaneously placing a call to Russia’s air base in Franz Josef Land.
Bond was observing Lapuski from a slit in the vent shaft. Lapuski’s rage had fully enflamed and he saw him punched a pillar of icicle that was as thick as man’s torso before he started to walk out the pavilion. The pendent mass of ice shattered to the force of the punch. As the Mafiya boss was storming out the door, another call came through. Bond saw him whipped out a small book from his pocket and dictated something on his satellite phone. It sent shivers down Bond’s marrows when Lapuski fixed his stare on the shaft where he and Riyana were.
Lapuski pocketed his phone and beeped in a sentry. The door opened and a guard snapped in.
“Flush out some rodents,” he ordered.
Khaled Rhamir Aq-Barik was billeted in one of the suites in a 73-story hotel in Renaissance Center in Detroit. The Motor City was Aq-Barik’s favorite metropolis. He finds Detroit not very antagonizing to foreigners. It was different in New York. An Arab would always be suspected of scheming to blow up their city. Beside, when things get hot here, he’ll only have to cross the Detroit River and he’s already in Windsor, Ontario.
“Got it,” he said on his mobile and the call was terminated after he wrote down a set of numbers on the coffee shop’s table napkin.
And he likes to sip coffee here. It was not the particular taste of the coffee that magnetized him; it was the view from the coffee shop windows -- fabulous cars, the traffic of cultural hullabaloo of a melting pot. He could lose himself here, be at a street corner – or in a coffee shop like this – and never attract attention.
Yes, this particular time, the coffee tasted good. He sipped and savored the robust flavor of Java and his tongue tasted the sweetness of victory.
The man from Al-Qaeda was fiddling with the mobile unit, making it spin with his fingers, the way he spins cards on blackjack tables in casinos when he’s got a good hand. Presently the hand was good and the bet was an apple -- the Big Apple or a big chunk of it.
This should not last long. He flipped up the clam cover of the communication gadget and keyed in the numbers. A press on the call button would destroy a big part of America’s premier metropolis and deem it unlivable for decades. If it ever recovered, it would not be the conurbation at it is now.
The coffee really tasted great this particular day. Aq-Barik’s thumb gently landed on the keypad to press.
All vent shafts were sealed and guarded except to the one that led to the RFS Sveta’s gym. Then teargas was released.
The tandem of the former British spy and cat thief smelled the pungent vapor. Then they saw the mist slithering from all bends and turns, except for one. James tore off a sleeve and soaked up the frost on the innards of the vent. He gave part of it to Riyana, who was already blue from holding her breath. They covered their faces with the wet cloths to reduce the sting of the infective gas.
“That bastard!” Riyana gritted her teeth in ire; her eyes were teary. The pouch on her side no longer contained the goggles; everything in it was confiscated, including the processor.
“Just head where I’m going. It’s obviously where he’s funneling us to be.” Bond crawled to the direction.
Nina noticed the decaying signature of a satellite phone call when she returned to her surveillance. The call originated from Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Cayman’s.
“Whoa!” She deciphered the code to the records vault. Before she could break in Nina patched up a voice link to Llantinov. “Uncle, I intercepted a call from – no, three different calls – to a satellite phone, which I believe is Lapuski’s. They originated from Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Cayman’s.”
“Could you send it to me?”
“I’m still accessing the vault. You’ll get it as soon as I break it.”
“Stay on it, Nina.”
“Err… could you check out if we missed similar dispatches in the past hour?”
“I was about to do that, Uncle Mikhaelito. My shoe presentation got me engrossed that I never noticed the previous satellite had left the coverage. If there were, it could be in that satellite.”
The voice graph of the three short conversations was now on the monitor. Staggering amount of money was confirmed to have been wired to accounts in those places. She was ashen when she heard it.
“Uncle Mikhaelito – “
“What is it, Nina?”
“Uncle, the audio is ready. It’s now coming in your terminal.” Nina punched some keys and the recording was sent in a flash.
“My Sheikh…” a voice from the entrance of the coffee shop broke Aq-Barik’s thumb motion. The owner of the voice was an African American in a stylish get up that shouted of his profession. His stride was brisk; a girl was right behind him. “Sorry to have kept you waiting. I am presenting to you my newest girl, Geraldine. Only 14 and a virgin.”
The girl -- a tall and skinny mullato, her budding breasts slightly raised her chest -- was popping gums.
Aq-Barik hungrily ran his eyes on her and grinned; his thumb resting lightly on the keypad. “How much?”
“For you sadik, only fifty big ones.”
“That’s too much for a girl, my friend.”
“Yes it is. But she’s a virgin. She’ll only be once.”
“For that amount I can get my self a virgin wife!”
“True my friend. But you have to keep her and feed her for as long as settlements are reached for a divorce. In the end, you’ll be spending more than fifty. I’m sure she’ll not be a virgin every night.”
“I could kill her.”
“Messy. There’s always a repercussion for that kind of action.”
“Okay, I’ll pay you thirty.” Aq-Barik reached for a suitcase on a chair next to him.
“Not okay. Forty-five.”
“No. Forty-five.” The pimp was unblinking.
“Only because I’m feeling generous, I’ll let you swindle me this time.” Aq-Barik got from the suitcase the money and paid the pimp. The pimp was pleased and privately had some words with his ware before he left. The second Aq-Barik was alone, he returned to the act that was interrupted by the arrival of the pimp. He pressed the call button. The Al-Qaeda man heard a ring in the other end. He then looked at the LCD of his mobile where he saw a video streaming of a digital clock starting a countdown.
The girl was his treat for himself. It’s not too often that terrorists succeed blowing up Manhattan.
New York City would be a goner.
Aq-Barik turned off his mobile and thrust it in pocket, along with the napkin. He had done more than enough work for the day.
Bond pushed the shaft grill. It went easily. He helped Riyana out and he followed after. The smell of clean air was a welcomed respite from the suffocation, but the standing figure of the muscular Lapuski was not. He was fitting on a nasty looking pair of gloves.
“I see you’ve got my invitation.”
“Did I keep you waiting?”
“It’ll be worth it. I haven’t had fun in a long while.”
M thought she had weathered every threat there was a villain could think of, but seeing the amount transferred, it could be something bigger than she had ever been to before. Maybe this was the biggest.
“What could that amount be for?”
“Could be a purchase of a nuclear device or devices.”
“Maybe. But that’s too big for one. About five, perhaps”
The answer arrived a minute later. Nina was on the screen and she dispatched the first conversation. “The call was from Detroit, Michigan,” she preambled. “I am locking on the origin and reviewing the commercial bandwidth that stemmed from the similar SIM card.”
“How long will it take?”
“I can’t tell exactly how long. There’s a glut in that area.”
A full nerve wracking five minutes passed before Nina lifted her face on the screen. “I got it, Uncle. The number placed a call ten minutes ago to Manhattan. I got the cell ID here. It’ll appear on your screen just about – now.”
“One? Only one number?”
“Yes Uncle… And the number it called.”
Llantinov dialed the Detroit number from the computer and concurrently putting a trace on it. The mobile was off.
“The mobile’s off. Could you patch up the last location?”
“That’s a hotel in Detroit. Work out the exact location.”
“I got it. The hotel coffee shop in Renaissance Center facing Main Street. Anything else?”
“That’ll be all for now. Don’t leave your station.”
“Will stand-by.” Nina returned her attention to the frigid Savanna. Llantinov connected to the New York number. His muscles turned rigid and spastic – almost in paralysis – in shock. M was dumbfounded in similar chill that gripped the Russian spy. The billion-dollar question was answered.
They were looking at a video streaming of a countdown timer attached to a thermonuclear device.
Llantinov was staring at the ticking digits and everything around it was a blur.
A couple of seconds ticked away, another… and several more before he started to gain control of his faculties. Like a photographic paper dipped in developing liquid, the room slowly obtained appearance and ambient sounds began filtering his auditory sense.
“…trace...” It was M who was speaking.
All too fast and too soon that he admitted he had blacked out staring at the video. What would it do to Russia if a Russian blows up New York City? It was unimaginable! Economic setback and blockade to force the Federation to bring every member of the Organyzatsia to light! It would be a recession to Stalin’s Era, international witchhunt will be the order of the day and every Russian expatriate, émigré and tourist will be put under microscopic check all over the world.
“Pardon me, Madam, I didn’t hear you clearly enough.” That was an understatement. Llantinov’s forehead was speckled with perspiration despite the inner chill that had arrested his senses – it was the perspiration that one would see on a child with high fever. And he was too disoriented yet to even acknowledge the presence of the ambassador looking over his shoulder.
All identified and tolerated Russian spies in their host countries will be expelled and those under suspicion will be hunted down. It’ll not only be a hunted down. On-going operations will be compromised. It’ll not only be a breakdown of a system that took a lot to establish but a chaos that will be felt and will be long remembered each moment whenever New York is mentioned. Russia will be harshly judged in modern history.
“The Russian Federation will be behind you on this. I’ll inform the President that executive prerogatives be your strength. You can direct the operations from here,” the ambassador reassured Llantinov before M could reply.
“Thanks, Mr. Ambassador.”
The ambassador tacitly conveyed his approval once more and headed out for his office. Llantinov was encouraged by the support. M pursued the ambassador to shake his hands. The British Crown will be forever grateful to Russia for initializing this exercise.
When she had positioned herself back, Llantinov asked M, “What were you saying awhile ago, Madam?” Llantinov had all his faculties in razor sharp readiness.
“I said if you had traced the call, all we had to do is identify the recipient’s exact location.”
“Right! That’s right. It was exactly what we must do.” Llantinov leaned on his console. “Nina, have you got the exact location?”
“In fact I did. But you won’t believe it, Uncle Mikhaelito?”
“What is it?”
Nina couldn’t believe what was in front of her. “You may have to take a look at it in your monitor. Here.” She fed the image to Llantinov’s post.
Another monitor lit up in Llantinov’s workstation; it displayed a street map of Manhattan. On it where several blinking lights suspected to have received the call from Detroit.
“The number’s been clone.” M was dismayed.
The gloves were rock hard but it wrapped around Bond’s hands very well. These gloves were not worn for sports; these were intended to massacre people in the guise of a fair fist combat like in a corrida de toro. The bull, although revered and seemingly unconquerable by a puny matador, always ends up dead because that was the design. Bond flexed his fingers; the leather in the gloves was like elastic metal iron strap that hardened his fists more. Each blow would be magnified many times fold and if that would be in his case, Lapuski would be far more invincible than he is now.
Konrad was waiting. He was stripped to his trunks that protected the groin area, and was done warming up his muscles.
James snapped a glance to Riyana and she understood what he meant. It also signaled his attack. A flying scissor kick hit the head of the Russian Gladiator. The force did a little as much as to make Lapuski step back.
It shook Bond. It was akin to kicking a boulder. He landed awkwardly. All the force he had was on that first shot. The distraction did a little but Riyana ran to Lapuski’s pile of clothes for the little red book. It was not there.
“Is this what you want?” Lapuski unsheathed it from his back pocket.
Bond lunged in an unprecedented fury of raw aggression. He was met by an upper cut and it pitched him across the canvass.
Slowly Lapuski strode toward the sprawled former British spy. Bond somersaulted up and had barely found his equilibrium when a shattering left hook smacked him on the body. The liver that had been going through slow attrition from drinking received the burden of the assault. Yellow fluid spurted from Bond’s mouth, stained with blood.
Felix Leiter was over the Atlantic Ocean aboard a military plane to Fairfax when he received the call from Llantinov.
“Are you positive with that info?”
“I’m staring on it now, Felix. I could upload it to your device.”
Felix opened his tablet PC, “Go ahead,” and before he had counted the blinking lights he had issued an order. “Tell the pilot that will be landing on La Guardia instead of proceeding to Fairfax,” he charged the flight attendant, “and get me a line to Pentagon.”
Boogie Dizon was a contract worker arriving from Apua, Samoa. He was hired as a lifeguard in one of the city’s indoor pools. The instruction from his employer was to call him on his cell as soon as he arrived. The moment he had cleared immigration, Boogie called from a booth. There was nothing on the line except the low drone of a dead set.
Same as Boogie, people in New York who had been dependent to their wireless experienced communication isolation.
New York’s cellular service was shut down. It was the recommendation of Felix Leiter to the Pentagon to frustrate the terrorists to use the mobile infrastructure to remotely arm a backup bomb. The Homeland Security took control of the communications network of all service providers and its affiliates. Even the pirate bandwidth was not neglected and all communications that passed its channel were rerouted to a cache for further investigation.
The decision probed to be a bitter pill to swallow. Minutes after the cellular blackout, the New York Stock Exchange plunged to an all-time low in seven years. The NASDAQ also felt the brunt of the economic shockwave.
Felix and a team of SWAT and bomb disposal unit was in the nearest spot indicated in his handheld PC. It was within the La Guardia, in the stewardess’ lounge. They traced the bleep to a feminine napkin dispenser machine. Very carefully, screw by screw, the vending machine was dismantled. A cellphone was there, lying quietly but foreboding an image of holocaust. Lt. Rudy Inigo of the bomb disposal team reached for the mobile.
It was connected to no other devices.
“I got it. The handset is on quiet mode, and the battery is heavy duty. It meant that it could go on for several months without the need to recharge in suspend mode. The battery indicator tells that this had been here for about two weeks now,” he reported to Leiter.
“Does that mean that – “
“Yes, sir. This unit is a dummy.”
Felix’s radio hummed. They were using the only frequency not included in the shut-down. “Go ahead.”
“Tracker team five reporting from Rockefeller Center. Blinker found. No threat detected.”
“Ten-four, Tracker Five.”
The other teams came reporting in. The results for their search were all negative. But there was still one team that had not reported in – Tracker Nine.
Geraldine told Aq-Bariq that she would appreciate it very much if the sheikh took a bath first. She would like to remember this experience with fond memories. The man to do it – as she had imagined it – would smell good, tenderly caressing but passionate. She wouldn’t want to remember it like she was raped. Geraldine had told the sheikh that she had seen her eldest sister Nini cried every night. Nini was also a whore. She had been hitting the street for nine years already but still Geraldine heard her crying every time she went back from ‘work’.
Aq-Barik didn’t see any problem with that. He had been dealing with Ricky The Pimp whenever he was in Detroit and all her girls were not just good but great. He left Geraldine on the sofa eating fruits and chocolate bars she saw in the ref. He was about done and was drying up when he heard Geraldine’s shrill cry and there were voices hurled in instructions, while noises of the search rampaged about. Aq-Barik knew that he was in big trouble the instant the bathroom door flung open; his suite was swarming with men in olive green uniform, brandishing heckler & Koch assault rifles.
Stefan Sanovski was twenty-two when he was assigned in the island of Zemlya Vilcheka in Zemlya Frantsa-Iosifa, Russia’s northernmost territory where it was maintaining a permanent weather station since 1926. That said weather station in Franz Josef Land is actually a strategic jump-point to the west. Stefan Sanovski was a major in the Russian Federation Air Force and also had a master’s degree in meteorology. The interest in the weather was prompted when he started reading books about it from sheer boredom. There was nothing much to do here but watch the sun or the night in extended run; and those frequent, informal build-up of knowledge made him understand the arctic better and it was so fascinated him that his hunger grew for more. There was something about the serenity of the barren permafrost plains in Franz Josef Land that made him fall in love with it. He took correspondence lesson, but decided that a bachelor’s degree was inadequate. To satisfy his hunger and growing fondness for the region he went on for the master’s. And the more he learned, the more he craved for understanding and knowledge. He’s working on his doctorate presently and was dreaming of bringing his family here one day, not for a visit but to stay for good.
Major Sanovski’s imminent entry to the Canadian air space in his MiG-29 was relayed to ground control. “The Hermit and his Gnomes are about to enter the syrup kingdom. Target coordinates received and satellite support confirmed. “
“Proceed, Hermit,” the voice of Llantinov directed.
“You are about to penetrate Canada’s air space and therefore advised to turn back,” came another voice in French and it was repeated in English and in the third time, in stern Russian.
“This is Colonel Mikhail Llantinov of the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, directing this exercise. Permission for an aerial corridor is in the process of being secured by our government, the Russian Federation, from your government. ”
“Until so, the sovereign Commonwealth of Canada will consider the breach of our air space an act of invasion and we have no recourse but to defend our sovereignty.”
Major Sanovski’s monitor displayed hostile aircrafts approaching. “The Hermit and his Gnomes to penetrate the syrup kingdom in one minute…”
“Maintain course, Hermit.”
“…fifty seconds. Hostile aircrafts on the horizon.”
“Team leader Hermit, I strongly warn you to proceed. Your action will not be tolerated. I repeat this is a sovereign territory and what you are about to commit is an act of invasion.”
“The Hermit and his Gnomes are in the syrup kingdom. Threshold crossed. The Hermit and his Gnomes are in the syrup kingdom. Proceeding to the objective coordinates,” Sanovski reported.
“Snowman, lock on targets, wait for my go!” Canada was unbuckling. The Canadian interceptors’ targeting systems were flashing with encircled MiGs.
“Mine, too. Just say the word and we’ll fill the sky with blinkers.”
“Prepare to deploy rocket one.”
Hands were firmly on triggers, targeting systems locked, avionics readings reviewed…
The ground commander of the Canadian Air Force was about to order engagement when the printer hard by clattered. His adjutant swiftly ripped the page from the machine and handed it to the commander. Llantinov’s voice broke in.
“This is Llantinov. We had secured the permit. Repeat: the permit is secured.”
“Copy, Colonel Llantinov. I got the document, too. Corridor granted. We’re sending fighters to augment your complement.”
“Thanks, syrup kingdom.”
The targeting system of Sanovski was blinking a warning. “Target acquired. Permission to shoot,”
The sight and smell of blood drew a primal instinct from Lapuski. Bond’s strength was waning like a melting candle. He would be dishonest to himself if he won’t admit that fear was building up, eating his very core. Fear was what he made him very cunning and careful. It was his adviser that nagged him to never under estimate any opponent. Lapuski was not the one that should be under estimated at all. He was cunning as he was strong and agile. Lapuski continued walking towards him. His every step was a drum beat of a funeral march. In Bond’s slumped position, the Russian was a tower exuding invulnerability.
The beleaguered Brit endeavored to get up. The pain was greater than the fear and his strength was all drained out by that liver punch. He was too enervated to dodge Lapuski’s kick. That kick in the face sealed his doom. Everything was swirling and he was fighting the curtain of black draping completely on his eyes.
He screamed, summoning all he had in his reserve.
Another kick chocked him and flattened him on his back.
Lapuski went down on him, continuing the chock with his powerful grip. Bond was fading to black and he was hearing a whistle way beyond his consciousness.
A whistle that could be a warning from a bomb.
Then there was an explosion. The gym shook.
It was a bomb and it was just in time to save him. Lapuski would be leaving him alone to save himself. That was the small voice in what could be left of Bond’s sanity was saying.
However, his adversary was wrong. Lapuski just smiled and continued choking the last breath out of him. Bond was seeing blinking lights around him as consciousness started to fade.
No Turning Back
“The bomb’s is in Staten Island! New York Harbor!” Nina’s frantic voice tore though Llantinov’s headset. “The other blinkers are dummies!”
“That also what Leiter’s team found out -- ”
“I’ve traced another number sent by that cellphone, but I can’t make anything out of it yet.”
“What is it?”
“I’m feeding it to your monitor. Here.”
M saw the number on Llantinov’s screen. “It’s not complete to comprise a telephone number.”
“Yes, that was what I noticed, too.” Llantinov returned to his niece. “Nina, are you sure you got all the numbers?”
“Yes, Uncle. Six. It also baffles me. It’s not complete for a phone number. That was all.”
The embassy communications expert was summoned. Llantinov told him all the facts, and a schematic diagram based on the video streaming was generated for easier understanding.
“It’s not a telephone number. It’s the firing sequence emitted by the trigger cellphone to arm the bomb, actually an internal link – a sort of unified communication mode – like in huge offices that an in-house number could be accessed without going through the service provider. That means it could only be disarmed through the same cellphone – if the bomb designer had assigned a disarming sequence.”
“Therefore it would not be very hard to – “
“This scheme usually have built-in safeguards.”
“Yes. Once the bomb’s location was traced, it could simply be disarmed by just dialing the disarm code. The safeguard meant that a trip number or numbers should exist,” postulated the communication expert.
“What’s a trip number?”
“Because the disarming is also frequency triggered, several numbers – as safeguards -- could accelerate the countdown, or detonate the bomb outright. It is done to assure that all the six-number combinations in the numerical spectrum will not be dialed in succession to disarm the bomb. It would be done without difficulty, automatically – in just a second in fact – through any portable computerized keyboard of the service provider. Once a trip number is dialed, there’s no turning back.”
A loud, shearing explosion rocked the cyclorama of the belly of the steel cetacean. Alarms incessantly wailed the distress. All lights flickered. A two-inch diameter pipe dropped in front of Riyana -- a segment of a system in the process of breakdown; steam and volatile chemicals hissing from ruptured joints. Armor plates came apart at the seams; rivets popped out, divulging a multi-colored electro-mechanical innards under the skin of the Goliath. Then the lights stopped flickering. The belly of the Russian Federation Ship Sveta was one dark cavern. Riyana welcomed the opportunity to help James. She grabbed the pipe and sneaked in the ring.
Bond’s wind was in its last reserve. The darkness was not helping any and it was adding to the advancement of the inner gloom that was closing in on him. A hollow thud suddenly rang above the din and the dim; Lapuski’s grip loosened.
Another explosion shook the foundations of the earth. A bulb lit up in one corner of the steel coliseum. Several more flickered on. The emergency system had kicked in. The steam and vapors discharge shut off.
Lapuski was hurt, but not knocked out by the assault. He rose to confront the diminutive form of Riyana, whose face suddenly turned very pale. She froze, couldn’t command her legs to run.
Riyana was unblinking, staring at the man she hated and feared most advanced and it paralyzed her completely, losing the grip on the pipe. The only weapon she had clunked on the canvass and rolled away. She could read the thoughts playing in Lapuski’s cruel mind. Riyana knew she’s dead. That was what Lapuski was to make sure of. The nimble cat burglar could not even close her eyes; her body had turned rigid. Her senses had abandoned her, yet the fear remained and burgeoning.
Captain Joshua Bruce of the 4 Wing Royal Canadian Air Force witnessed the parting of the permafrost in his CF-18 Hornet to reveal what had been a malignant cancer hiding underneath the blanket of white – a warship that had exploited the glacial tranquility. The deck of the RFS Sveta broke to an activity very familiar to a man of war like him. By his right, Captain Joshua Bruce spied in his periphery a missile streaked by, a long thread of smoke tailing it and would still be visible seconds after the impact.
Missile ahoy, he heard on his headset. It was in heavily accented English, almost guttural, the way a Russian would utter it. The declaration was followed by laughter, not a demented one, nevertheless with a tint of childish enthusiasm somehow.
Bruce couldn’t help but to smile himself to the little victory after seeing the result – a big hole on the deck of the aircraft carrier. The squadron leader pinched in his contribution. He pulled up sharply at a calculated point some miles from the laser- painted target and lofted upward a GBU-24 Paveway III toward it. The armor deck of the Sveta spurted with a hundred simultaneous blistering eruptions, rendering the MiG fleet that was ready for take-off impotent.
To silence the enemy’s defense radar and missile sites, he followed it up with several high-speed anti radiation missiles.
The bomb run was concluded in another salvo, assured that the Sveta’s capability to engage them in the sky was defunct. Two clumsy Tupolevs appeared in his radar scope.
“Bomb run successful, Kite Flyer” informed Captain Joshua Bruce to his communicator. “Russkies pushing up with the mopping operation.”
“Back to base, Snowman. Stay away from Russian spring clean.”
“Copy, Kite Flyer.”
The sky above the Sveta flourished with mushrooms of Spetsnaz parachutes.
At any given time there are more than three million containers stacked up in the New York Harbor. Each one of these is a potential bringer of plagues or holocaust. Only about six percent of which pass meticulous inspection. Subjecting all of them to that process is statistically impossible and will cripple commerce.
The result of the other teams’ effort had reached Captain Adenauer Henarez-Lintag of the Homeland Security Bomb Squad and the city’s resources were in his disposal. Manpower were awaiting his command; equipment would grind in his order. Ships had been held at the docks, others were told to seek berth temporarily elsewhere – in up state New York, New Jersey or Connecticut.
Lintag was closing in to the bleep indicated in his PDA. His men were also primed and ready. They were not wearing the heavy bomb armor suit that would hinder dexterity. If they were to face up a merciless thermonuclear device they’d all die a hundred and twenty percent with the rest of millions of New Yorkers anyway and no armor suit can save them from that. Their only protection was their radiation suit and prayers. All of them was prepared for something like this – it was a reality in their field of work. Lintag saw some of his men, big and brawny, crying like children in the locker room when he announced the pull-out.
In the center of a maze of stacks, where the spaces in between was as wide as an alley that would allow passage only to forklifts, the objective container was tracked. Above it were stacks that would be as high as eight story building. To get close by was to clear away everything in all directions. The registration was checked on the manifest; the cargo was from Quebec containing newsprint rolls – non-perishable and could lay there for months without being damaged.
Twenty minutes five……
It would be impossible to clear everything of obstruction in that time.
Riyana didn’t hear the sound, but she though she imagined the face of Lapuski softened, then his eyes rolled up and his majestic body collapsed by her feet.
Let’s go! Was what she heard. And when she raised her eyes, Bond was standing, holding the pipe.
Riyana was startled. Bond frisked the knocked out Russian Gladiator for the red booklet. Instantly, James noticed a set of numbers highlighted and in asterisk. Beside it is the word “SOLD” scribbled.
Another explosion slapped Riyana awake.
She clung to James and let him lead her out. “Don’t turn back!” he shouted.
Every one was busy. Millions of life depended on them… actually, not only the present, but the future of New York and America as well.
Henarez-Lintag radioed to start clearing up all obstructions. Over-head cranes hummed in response; helicopters swarmed the sky dropping cables, while riggers on the ground hooking up container after container to be lifted.
“Careful! The bomb could be using a mercury switch backup detonator! Deviation in the angle could trigger acceleration or the explosion!” Lintag ordered each one, not in a voice of a commander but in a pleading tone.
All was tired, however adrenalin was doing a wonderful job pumping them the needed strength and energy.
At last, Captain Adenauer Henarez-Lintag was confronting the suspected container. He drilled a hole. Dull, metal particles drew out from the drill bit. A technician pinched a sample and affirmed that it was lead. The interior was lined with lead to restrain radiation detection.
As soon as the drill went through, Henarez-Lintag inserted a probe attached to a Geiger counter in the hole.
The needle indicator went crazy and the machine emitted a loud, scratchy sound.
A Room Full of Ugly Secrets
Lintag pulled out the Geiger probe and inserted an endoscope in the hole to see if there were manual trips around the door. There was none. That was a bit of a relief. A man with a bolt cutter stepped in and did away the locks. Captain Lintag went in first with a beam. There were giant rolls of newsprint and in a clearing at the end of the container was what looked like a Xerox machine coated in the military green of the army. It was surrounded by laser lights connected to cylinder in its four corners, each cylinder was independent in construction from the Xerox machine and every light was in-lined to a receptor port. At his spot, Llantinov’s monitor started to pick Lintag’s image.
“This is Colonel Llantinov of the SVR,” Lintag heard from his communicator. I’m getting a visual on you. A camera should be at your right, waist level.”
“I see it.”
“Captain Henarez-Lintag, This is Felix Leiter, CIA,” came another voice. “Colonel Llantinov would be by you for support. His team uncovered this threat. His technical guidance will be crucial in every second. America is by your side… also… if that should make you feel a lot better.”
“Copy, Sir.” But it did not. Lintag was staring at a contraption he had never encountered in dry run or not even read in manuals. A network of laser enclosed the machine and each light was a potential trip when cut off or misaligned.
“I’ll be arriving shortly. ETA, five minutes. Over.”
“Over and out.”
Lintag signaled his men. The newsprints were carefully rolled away and communications equipment and LED lighting panels replaced them. The confines was bathed in bright but non-glaring illumination, monitors were turned on. Captain Adenauer Henarez-Lintag was linked with London and the Pentagon.
“Sir, what I got here is far from the low-tech devices we had encountered so far. No wirings. Everything is connected by lasers. I don’t think we could move any part of it to haul to the sea. Connections not by lasers could be by Bluetooth devices. A cellphone is beside a black box.”
“Captain Lintag, don’t do anything just yet. We’re getting a visual feed, relayed by our Russian friend from London. The tech is trying to figure out what the hell landed on our lap,” the Texan drawl of the Chief of Staff preceded his figure in the screen.
“I was thinking of foaming up the whole container to set the components in place and haul it to the sea if the tech lab could individually isolate the entangled lasers, sir.”
“I admit what I’m seeing right now, it would be impossible, son.”
“Nina, could we wring out a number from Manhattan?” came Llantinov’s voice, he was on the screen. Lintag’s Russian connection gained a face.
Tell Manhattan to plug in to the cellphone, he heard a tone, barely that of a woman’s, replied. A key was pressed and Nina’s face appeared on one of the screens.
Lintag did not wait for the command. He plugged the cell phone’s port with a connector and jacked it in his console. “Done,” he said.
“Sir, This is Nina Dolinova, I’ll be scanning the memory card of the cellphone for anything to help disarm the bomb.”
“Go ahead, Miss Dolinova,” Lintag said.
“I’m also sending this info to your superior in the Pentagon.”
“Okay, ma’am. Thanks.”
Nina was petrified that only several bits, not yet a byte, was the whole content of the card. “Uncle, this couldn’t be true. If we’re at the same screen, you’ll see that the card holds less size than a character’s size.”
“Yes I’m on it.”
“I’ll break the shell programming. Maybe the binaries can give us a clue.”
“Go ahead, Nina.”
Nina rapidly typed commands and syntax on her keyboard; the screen responded and she signified her compliance by tapping the Enter tab. Several seconds of silence… Except for the regular phone program there was no binaries to decode, only colors in two square millimeters of pixels in the upper left-most corner of her screen.
“Uncle, Manhattan could be in big trouble. The program is not even in binaries.”
The corridor leading to an unorthodox exit carved out the side of the behemoth was a pandemic interchange of souls crawling from their stations for survival. Bond and Ramozova were lost in the stream of humanities seeking survival. Critical communications posts were abandoned in panic.
“Wait here!” James said and went inside the dining hall as they passed by it. He reappeared with the RATS and they added themselves to the traffic. To satisfy his natural curiosity, James jerked Riyana to the door way at the end of the hall --the dull gray door with stenciled warning. The lever wheel was heavy; the metal-hard leather clamped on his knuckles suddenly a handy tool to dull the weight. But his brawn and the dampening assistance of the gloves were insufficient to rotate the lever; an added ounce of strength was provided by Riyana. Slowly, rust and mechanical locks groaned, the wheel spun easier at every rotation after the surface rust on the locking components had peeled away. With lazy defiance of an almost eerie shriek of the hinges, the door opened. What he saw made his stomach curdle in a feeling he had not experienced before.
“What?” Llantinov couldn’t believe what he just heard.
“Not in binaries,” Nina repeated. “The terrorists are using color codes instead. It is more compact and far smaller in size than binaries and impossible to decode unless we have the software they wrote the program with.”
Those who heard Nina’s comment broke in sweat.
“Can you determine the yield of the bomb?” Llantinov asked Lintag.
“By the looks of it, could be a ten-thousand kiloton bomb. Nowhere can we run to with nineteen minutes left.”
“Don’t lose hope just yet. I’m sure the Pentagon is doing all it can to crack the code. I know, because SVR Directorate T is grinding all its means to decode the disarming sequence.”
“Yeah, right… Tell me something new, Colonel.”
Llantinov could forgive the sarcasm. A man in that predicament would say anything not to break in tears and run away in fright. “How is it coming, Nina?” he directed his attention to the screen.
“Been trying to break in the shell with similar programs Directorate T had sent. As of now, compatibility is eluding us.”
Goosebumps roughened Bond’s skin. A stack of dismantled warheads – about four dozens of the ugliest weapon man had conceived – were covered by thick sheets of burlap, carelessly laying around, flooded by ultra-violet illumination making them uglier than they really were. There were several more, the size of suitcases, easily transportable, in a chest. A low hum of Geiger was the soundtrack to the horrific visuals.
Not far away, at the left corner of the stockroom was a decontamination booth surrounded by computer screens for radiation detection and some were showing strategic points in the region of the Sveta; their speakers screaming warning of being under assault. One particular screen was silent. Bond saw on it a lumpy gray thing half submerged in the water of what could be an underground river. From the corner of the screen a shadow entered, buttoning up a sea-farer’s attire. JB recognized him as his nemesis Lapuski and he was preparing to escape.
A part of the side of the lump turned up. Before Lapuski went in he appeared to have keyed in something on his satellite phone, then the door closed. The bathysphere crawled away, dipped slightly down half submerged . Bond thought that it was perhaps due to the shallow depth of the wharf.
A distinct chime was heard above the congested clamor of alarms, because it was in a different pitch. The erstwhile British elite operative looked to the source of the jingle. Bathed in the ultraviolet illumination, a reddish glow came alive from one of the cases in the stack. The glow was caused by a digital clock counting backwards – fourteen minutes, fifty five seconds –
The former British spy sifted the topography of the island from the data bank. Lapuski was indeed burrowing in an underground river that tunneled through a rugged range of ice formation and out to the Davis Strait. He snatched the portable, a seven-megaton yield thermonuclear device – terrorists’ dream toy that could level sixteen city blocks, could easily be slipped in any country of choice.
The deck was rained with paratroopers peppering what remained of the resistance with sleets of bullets. Casualties from the defenders mounted up. The Spetsnaz were on a rampage.
Once outside, the couple jumped on the frozen desert for the micro drones. Bond got on the targeting contraption to frustrate a handful of Konrad’s army after them. He picked them one by one in astonishing accuracy.
The ammunition counter in his viewfinder depleted in congruence with elimination of the chasing adversaries. Bond was out of ammunition – the display counter warned – but there were still foes in fervent effort to mow them down.
JB hurled himself in a drone; Riyana had climbed in another and they cranked the ignition. The propellers turned; the drones lifted off. They circled above the chaos. The once Umbrian mist of chill was thicker, suffused with smoke of combat – impure in color and acrid with stench of cordite lavishly polluted with miasma of burning flesh. Bond tried the communication potential of the headgear and it automatically searched Riyana’s frequency.
“Are you reading me?” he buzzed.
“Loud and clear. This gyro’s armed with anything except a bath tub,” she replied.
“I can see that too. My RATS’s more complete though. Heading east, after Lapuski.”
“Yes. Reading his heat signature.”
“Stay on him – “ Bond did not finish the instruction. His gyro was clipped down from the rear. He worked the sticks but to no avail; the gyro was losing altitude.
“I’m hit!” was what Riyana heard following the unfinished instruction.
Riyana had seen James’ attackers. She identified more with a slight turn of her head. The cat burglar dipped her gyro down to dodge her hunter in the blue and to prepare a safe ground for the plummeting former British spy. She was able to destroy two snowmobiles but could not go on any lower -- the hilly terrain had become too perilous for fancy maneuver.
Bond held on to the deadweight gyro, ready to jump off before it hits the snow. That was accomplished barely eight feet and it lessened the impact. Almost unhurt, he was unfazed with the strained growls of the motorized snow sleds. As expected, the nearest of them opened fire immediately.
The intrepid ex-double zero agent slid on the slope, downward, in a luge, using the tough aluminum frame of the atom bomb case. He was more agile than the mechanical horses after him, careening away white boulders in skillful slalom. The first to have fired on was the first casualty that exploded its gas tank when it collided to an immovable barricade. The winding course was not a walk on the park for even the inimitable Bond. After negotiating a blind curve, a fence-like wall of rime blocked his path. The only way to go clear of it was into an opening of barely more than two feet across, probably created by thawed hoarfrost that coiled by. The Brit master spy eased on the aluminum case he was on, flipped it right-side-up and squeezed in his shoulders. He rode the case the way a cyclist would his aero-bar. The glide was breathtakingly exact; the case dropped on its side and Bond continued with the luge.
The feat was impossible to duplicate with motorized sleds as proven when one of them followed Bond between the narrow slot in the frozen ridge and it was exceedingly late for the rider to make the brakes bite. Too large to fit in, the runner skis of the snow mobile dug in the hard frost, catapulting the rider forward – the only way he could fit in. The one immediately by also failed to stop in time, the third in line caromed on the two, resulting to a much bigger and brighter flare up
Riyana’s hunters decided that it was more imperative to neutralize the tough Brit below than chase after a helpless woman. They dived down, all four of them.
It was a mistake.
From her height, Riyana could easily pick them one by one. She opened fire. Three gyros were added to the debris that littered the eternal ice. It was overdue for the fourth and the last flyer to realize that mistake; the drone abruptly pulled up to confront Riyana. He had underestimated her anew. An evasive action should have been performed first before he proceeded with the attack. A tattoo of rattles of burning ammos pelted him from the above.
Riyana watched Bond slithered between obstacles, confident that the rest of his shadows will be shaken off or eliminated.
It was soon done when Bond reached an apex. The race downward was too much for the snow mobiles: they rolled downhill in uncontrollable tumbles and smashed on barriers lining up every which way.
“I know that would be too easy for you, James,” she crooned in the mouthpiece.
“Not without your help, Honey,” he replied. Millions of tiny pin-prick sensation was all over his body indicating his pores were expelling sweat due to the tension just experienced.
It should have sent gladness to Riyana but it did not. Ahead of Bond was a steep drop to the sea.
“James!” Riyana screamed, unable to warn Bond exactly of what was ahead. It was too late. She saw him went over the ridge almost in a slow motion as her senses denied the acceptance of the occurrence. “James…”
Captain Lintag was drowning in silence inside the container with all kinds of sound from the equipment; nobody was talking except when asked for status report. It was that eerie desperation that met Leiter when he got aboard.
“Leiter, CIA,” he introduced himself.
“Captain Adenauer Henarez-Lintag, bomb squad.” He would have reported more but the situation was self-explanatory, considering that Agent Leiter could be more in the case than them.
“Red Mafiya. There’s no other like this device yet. London told me that the arming code is not even in alpha-numeric or binary. The bastards used the light spectrum as the code. I can’t imagine how many millions of shades comprised the spectrum.”
“In living colors…” Henarez groaned. “We’re dead.”
Riyana’s caution was no longer of use when Bond heard it from his helmet. She raced the engine ahead of him not knowing exactly what to do next.
“Drop me a line!” the voice of James shook her to decision. She dangled a cable; the engine wore thin to meet the path of trajection of her lover.
Bond held tight on the handle of the thermonuclear case, shooting him over the edge of the precipice. The icy course supplied a greater impetus to the curve of the plunge and Riyana calculated her maneuver to meet James at least half the length of the tow line. She was surprised to find herself muted with the heart-stopping episode that she wasn’t able to speak back, hoping that she had acted in his anticipation.
A tug shook the micro drone. Riyana groaned. There was a series of yanks she felt before the flight steadied.
“I’m okay, I think,” filtered in her headphone, as if it was not brought by the radio frequency but by an inner voice she could not readily believe. Her instrumentation panel confirmed an added weight.
“James!” She couldn’t avoid expressing her glee.
“Don’t laugh yet! We’re a few kilometers off-course and the bomb timer says eleven minutes,” answered Bond, grateful to the sturdy construction of the gloves, reading the stream of information in the RATS’ head up display.
New York’s silence swayed Nina’s attention to a satellite blip. The image on the next monitor commenced gaining clarity. Guilt got hold of her for a moment because she felt that she had abandoned James – no matter how short that span of time was. The pillar of smoke was the first that fixed her gaze. The devastation of the area when she returned was already great that the remorse expanded for every moment the British was not in her sight. The one in the place right now was a British spy satellite and the RATS’ homing signal was beginning to come in. It was a relief to hear James’ voice. The coverage was directed eastward, where the homing signal was originating. The pinpointed location was several kilometers from ground zero – to a precipice that looked like the edge of the world. The same tender touch that Riyana felt seemed to have caressed her heart and a meniscus of wetness formed in each her eyes, blurring her vision while the satellite camera gained focus, forgetting Manhattan for a bit. She zoomed more and the tears of gladness finally rolled down her cheeks seeing James dangling on a micro drone cable.
“James! It’s Nina!”
“Thanks, Doll. You came in just in time. A favor, please…”
“Anything, James, say it.”
Riyana was hearing James but no Nina, and she was certain that she was not he’s speaking to. It gripped her with jealousy and she pushed the throttle, wagging the hanging Brit crazily in a stir.
“Riyana! Will you stop that! It’s the ground control!”
“Your ground control’s name is Doll? Doll!?”
“Nina Dolinova! She’s Dolinova! What else can I call her? Will you stop it!”
Riyana’s reason returned. The flight was back in a glide.
“Nina, I want you to place a thermal scan for a small sea craft. A mini submarine, I suppose.”
Nina saw it immediately. “Got it.”
“I want you also to scan for Riyana’s transmitter frequency and guide her to it.”
“Copy, commander.” Nina talked back simultaneously to Riyana’s radio. “The craft is two kilometers north of your direction; veer half a degree north, maintain speed, you’ll meet it as it exits out from I think an underground river.”
Riyana obeyed and fix the course. The dizzying height of the craggy face of the precipice slowly leveled down on the way to the dispatched direction. “Copy, ground control,” she acknowledged.
The timer continued shedding precious seconds. Twelve minutes and fifteen seconds were all that’s left….
Twelve minutes and fourteen. It was driving those watching it mad, especially the last digits that run faster than the seconds.
Captain Lintag’s mouth was dry.
Felix Leiter was doing the math. Death would be in millions, economic repercussion unimaginable.
The thirty-footer mini sub was fully automatic. It was more of a personal sub, designed with minimum crew requirement in mind. A person with a little sea-going know how could take this ship from point A to point B without much of a hitch. All he had to do was plot the course and the computer will do the rest. It could also remain submerged for a full two weeks without resurfacing. A mini nuclear power plant was the heart of this technology.
A minute and fifteen seconds more and the craft would be covered by the sea.
Lapuski admitted that he had encountered a bump on his road to his bid for the underworld supremacy -- a bump named James Bond.
All would be back on track if he could accelerate his plans. He could do it as soon as the craft would stabilize without the need for manual input. In a few minutes, it would be. All there was to accomplish first was to have the vessel deep enough not to worry about floating icebergs and slabs. When that was done, he could relax and dial four more numbers he had committed in his mind.
Los Angeles, London, Sydney and Kuwait shall share the fate of New York. Chaos will be transcontinental and chaos is sure to breed new species of power wielders. His kind thrives on them. Chaos must be exploited before order and when order comes they would have gotten solid footholds.
The bombs had been in place simultaneously with New York. The first he’d activate would be Kuwait and blow it up on the very first minute of stalled negotiation. Australia shall be next. Extort a billion dollars for Canberra – a red herring -- but blow up Sydney in the first hour of failed negotiation. He’ll do the same with London, which would pay up readily learning from the Kuwait and Sydney experience.
Los Angeles could expect a tough opposition, knowing how Americans love to play hardball. Nevertheless, they’ll get it. He’d shift their attention to Florida, blow up Los Angeles the moment he heard a word he didn’t like.
Yes he’d be hunted down.
If they’re sure he had no more bombs in his control.
After Kuwait and Sydney, he’d be able to gather under his wings the Chechnyan Mafiya and the uncontrollable Ukrainian underworld – both are prime sources of unaccounted nuclear warheads. He’d threaten the free world to add to the ruins a major city for every scratch in his body they inflict on him or even if he had the slightest inkling that he was being followed.
He’d rule the world with iron whips.
Lapuski grinned. A minute more minutes and he would be fully submerged.
The micro drone’s speedy descent from the wall-like face of rugged white to the mouth of the underground river generated a slipstream that swirled the hanging Bond dizzy. Riyana was fully aware of it and she eased on the throttle.
“Riyana, don’t! He’s getting away.” Bond was calculating the converging angle from the image fed by Nina to the RATS’ viewer and he had concluded that a reduced speed would double the chance of the mini sub getting away.
“But – “
“No more buts! Full throttle – “
James’ scream – when he was suddenly yanked backward – was drowned by the slipstream in his ears. A shift in current at the river’s mouth was noted by Bond and the thermal image in his viewfinder indicated that the mini sub would make its appearance any second now – and he would be a considerable distance still short for a perfect convergence.
The nose of the mini sub made its emergence and in a few meters it would have attain the minimum depth for submersion – Lapuski would escape Bond again!
“Zero acceleration! Cut the velocity to zero!”
“What – “ Riyana was taken aback by the command. She could see that all was needed was more speed to catch up with the mini sub, unfortunately, the gyro could not provide it anymore; added throttle push would blow up the engine, which she could already feel the strain.
“Cut speed to zero velocity!”
How she wished she knew what’s in James’ mind. There was no time to ask for an explanation and she obeyed. From the max speed, the gyro stopped in mid air, as if a toy suddenly hung up in the blue firmament.
Bond swung forward and let go of the cable. She saw him flew along the arc of the cycloid like a bob detached from a pendulum toward the mini sub. Riyana, who grew up with a family of acrobats, recognized the futility of the act. James would land short to the water – or worse, hit the side of the sub in a fatal collision. She closed her eyes and would not want to bear witness to the death of her lover.
Dolinova was drumming the keys of her computer to contain the suspense, trying to find out the numeric value of each number. She could no longer wait for the Directorate T’s reply. Her eyes were shifting to all the monitors and it was like watching several action movies at the same time but all are interconnected to each other. It could be easier if she would put it that way, however, this were real drama and the damage that would result from these would be carried on to many years to come – if New York ever recovers.
She witnessed the swashbuckling jump of James on the iron clam nearly immersed in the sea, and under the floating puzzles of slabs. In a few more minutes, the sub would be beneath a blanket of thick ice floor, undetected by the satellite thermal imaging.
The leap propelled her to shut her eyes, could not make herself see the failure and the pain resulting from a missed step. A few more moments, she peeled up her eyes to see James leaping from the sinking vessel to a floating piece of the white puzzles.
Bond was not a deadweight bob released from a pendulum, but rather a stone from a half-cocked sling shot, thus having more power than Riyana had thought. Although there were considerable physical factors that was presently contributing to the impulsion, Bond would still fall short of his target. The needed thrust for that several meters was provided by whirling the box in the air and throwing it forward without releasing it. He was carried further -- to the side of the vessel about to sink.
Lapuski was aware that there was something that hit the hull. It shook him a bit but he was confident that nothing could harm him inside unless they blow him away with a bomb. The shell of the mini-sub was made from the hardest steel and was bulletproofed. The instrument panel said that he’d be in the deep in fifteen seconds. Lapuski lit a cigar and watched the radar for obstacles. He manually guided the sub and when he’s clear, he’d commence the shake up.
The case clung on the iron hide by the magnetic strip. Bond clinching on a dorsal fin, signaled Riyana for a lift. Riyana was glad to response to the signal, dangling the cable.
Before Riyana could get near Bond, the mini sub had gained velocity. Bond was losing balance to the rapid submersion of the craft and he could no longer hold on. He sprung on the nearest floating slab, missing the main chunk when his leap was unsubstantiated by the sudden dive of the craft. He crawled on the slab. The cable passed and with it, the former double 0 7 cleaved on.
The last sign of the sub rippled away. He could only track it under the floating ice slabs through the satellite feed.
They still have the chance to stay out of the shockwave.
“Back to the hills! Behind the hills!” he ordered Riyana. The gyro pulled sideways, dragging him in the air into the safety of mountains of ice.
Fifteen minutes, the timer said. Sergeant Ivan Lorenz of the bomb squad could not keep up with the tension watching the seconds fritter one by one. He puked. His face shield was clouded with the undigested food and what remained of the yogurt he was having before the emergency bell sounded.
Felix Leiter understood the strain. He was feeling it, too but he had been to countless close calls in his life and in each one he expected to die. It was his way of handling the crisis. If he would think of his wife and daughter Cedar, he would chicken out and may not function to the best of the dictate of the moment.
The code was already sent to the best code breakers and hackers in San Diego, California, where the brightest brains in computer science work. New York does not need the fifteen minutes. All it needed was several seconds enough to input the disarming cryptogram and press the Send button.
Ivan puked some more. Captain Lintag rubbed his back to ease up the muscle convulsion.
“Easy, Ivan. Next time eat only fresh clams.”
“I’m sorry, Captain,” he said. His eyes were red, veined and watery. The stomach had been emptied and still it did not relieve Lorenz of the inner turmoil.
It did not help a bit when he was fully wiped with hot towel that there were only ten minutes left in the countdown.
Ramozova and Bond propped up the gyro on its side in frantic haste, facing the Davis Strait, pouring a mound of ice for more fortification. Their heartbeats were thumping in their heads in the regularity of ticks of a clock, reminding them the urgency of every throb. Having the temporary fall-out shelter solid enough, the two crawled in the convex of the side-upped flooring of the micro-drone, and hugged tight, protecting each other.
With seven minutes still in the clock, Ivan Lorenz called home. It was answered by his four-year old son.
“Hi Dad. Mom’s not here. Do you want me to – “
“No, son. I miss you… and your mommy, too…”
“What time will you be home?”
“Very soon, son. See you – “
“See you, Dad.”
Ivan Lorenz hung up and wept quietly.
There were no more immediate barricades to be hurdled, the radar confirmed, and the mini-sub was facing the wide underwater world. A light blinked announcing that the system is ready for full auto mode; the navigator can relax and the computer would do the rest after the course had been plotted. Konrad Lapuski was wearing the captain’s cap and he punched the coordinates. The sub would cross the Labrador Sea to Greenland. An overhead map lit up showing the route. The next Lapuski would do was dial up the Kuwait number. He started keying it to the keyboard.
One of the monitors lit up. Llantinov saw a mushroom cloud rising. It was also seen by Pentagon and Nina Dolinova. Then the image skewed, blinked and faded to gray pixels.
“An atom bomb had been detonated --” confirmed the National Security Agency linkup.
The people who had seen the cloud and heard the confirmation were silenced in utter disbelief.
The vista turned to what seem to be a negative photographic effect, followed by a long single rumbling that was akin to the sound of a million horses in trampling by. James and Riyana were covered with metallic thermal blanket they found under the seat of the drone, a part of its first aid kit. The world quaked; there was wave of hot that passed by that singed behind their ears, like a breath from a furnace. It lasted for several seconds. The two remained unmoving long after the shockwave dissipated.
The ticker was in its final five minutes; the news of the explosion reached them and it brought more than dismay, also frustration and their own impending death and their loved ones’ who would not survive the imminent tragedy. The New York team’s determination dwindled to the delicate fray of the fabric of their sanity and it was threatening their resolve. One member who could no longer stand the waiting game rushed to the black box with a hand tool to fry off its lid. Felix met him with a body punch, stopping him instantly.
“Four minutes and thirty seconds more! We could still defuse it!” the man writhed, spitting out his sentiment in grasping speech.
“If we’re dead, could we do anything else?” Leiter growled back.
“We’re not yet dead!”
“You’re being impulsive could do just that! We still have several minutes. Do you want to be remembered as the man who blew up New York?”
“What if I succeed?”
“You’d be a hero. But bear in mind we’re a team. I still call the shot and all you had to do was ask my permission,” butted in Lintag.
“I’, sorry skipper, I’m just pretty wound up.”
“Aren’t we all? Everyone, lend your hands to Pete.”
Four minutes and twenty seconds, the lid of the suspected trigger mechanism was lifted. It unveiled their doom and the city’s. No wires to cut. There were more lasers, and Bluetooth connections were detected. Captain Adenauer Henarez-Lintag had once defused a bomb with nothing but white wires with the help of an X-ray. This one was infinitely harder -- impossible, in fact, to defuse.
Every member of the team had learned to live with the pressure and the danger of their vocation, had accepted them as facts of their existence. They breathe and eat pressure and danger, chew and digested them without getting constipated. They dealt with them by sublimation -- except that this one was too big, the risk, too great to make the old technique work.
Lorenz collapsed due to the mounting frustration and pressure; a cylinder was knocked down. The digital counter sped up its countdown twice as fast.
“Nice working with you, guys,” Captain Lintag gave up, shook the hands of his team.
Four minutes and running -- in actuality, only two minutes.
A few more seconds and workable image formed in the monitors. Dolinova could discern the rising mushroom cloud and it was disappearing in the corner of her screen.
“James,” Nina called.
There was no answer. The shock wave had disrupted any electronic circuit within the effective radius of the detonation. Nina drew away from ground zero and scanned the white savanna where she had seen the gyro was heading last. She saw it lying on its side, behind the great chain of mountain barrier and fortified with mound of snow. It entered her mind that the gyro could have been brought down by the shockwave and therefore the probability of James and her lady friend of surviving were very slim. She zoomed in some more and there was a scribble on a path of the snow she couldn’t make out right away. Thermal imaging could determine if the James and Riyana were alive, but there was no difference in the surrounding temperature against the couple. Nina was about to weep for the demise of a friend she had known for a while and had already endeared himself to her for his swashbuckling qualities.
A head up display of an activity bar popped up, slowly elongating, showing the progress of the systems recovery. In her rattled state Nina was too clobbered up with the circumstance that she forgot to check with the system’s processes.
Thermal imaging was fifty percent enable…
She could wait, but time was not an infinite resource right now. Instead, Nina focused her interest more on the square patch where the scribbling was seen.
White on white…
Dolinova tracked in some more, the square patch covered her entire screen. She pulled out a program that detects depth on surfaces. There patches that told of scoops and gouges, but there were six that were clearly numbers. She typed the set in her computer and transmitted to her Uncle Mikhaelito.
The number was forwarded to Leiter. The countdown was nearly to cross to the last minute. Felix snatched the cell phone and keyed in the numbers. After a glancing check with his tablet PC, he thumbed the Send button. There were several sickening electronic clicks they heard and the lasers changed colors, the countdown returned to its regular speed but it was continuing.
“What happened?” Llantinov asked.
“I tried the number. There was a click from the device, but the countdown is in progress. Twenty seconds.”
The digital read out continued until its all places registered zero.
Leiter closed his eyes.
Ivan, who had been revived, was so afraid that his eyes remained open. He was the first to see the lighted digital counter blacked out after it reached zero.
“Look! The counter’s off!”
Nina returned to the spot where she had seen the gyro before. There was a form under the flimsy protection of the tin shell of the drone registering heat. The head up display advised that all visual systems one hundred percent enabled.
The mass was too big for one person. She searched for heartbeat and she found two.
“That’s James,” she exclaimed.
“And – someone.” M heaved.
After a long kiss, the two un-welded their lips.
”How about a scoop of ice cream?” James asked Riyana.
“Ohhh, James,” she crooned.
Angling, like an assassination job, requires patient and skills. Both were possessed by the present head of the Double 0 section of the MI6.
The calm river Medway in the district and borough of Maidstone in the county of Kent, southeast of London, was the haunt of Frederick Castles. It was his Disneyland when things at the office didn’t seem to fall in its places as he had wanted them. The spy chief was wading in chest-deep water by the bank, geared up with rubber outfit and a lousy fishing cap with lots of hooks pinned in it. If Bond could have only been a fish, he would be enjoying the game more.
But Bond was not a fish -- not even an eel, which abound the river.
The simple task of killing him had turned to disasters in his detriment. He should get him before the renegade agent could uncap a can of worm that would require him to face the House Inquiry for a personal decision not sanctioned by the Crown. Fishing could clear his mind.
The first plan was to kill M and blame Bond for it when he survived the first attempt.
And M was nowhere to be found! He didn’t know if she was dead or –
Something was tugging on his line! He was getting a bite!
Castles eyes crinkled in unspoken happiness; his lips spread in a rare smile. Carefully he wound up the reel, the line in a wagging rush. The reel was cranked faster; a plastic bag was the one causing the stir!
“Damn polluters,” he swore.
Angrily, he plucked off the trash bag from the line, but he noticed that it was tied on it on purpose; the hook was still in the water, about four meters more down. He reeled it in, it was heavy. He could have gotten an eel! Or a brown trout!
The line started to run out and in a few more reels, would surface. Instead of a trout, a small metal box with flashing light was at the end of the line. Before he could react, the devise exploded.
A man in scuba suit emerged, holding the detonator. He took off his mask.
“Big fish,” he said.
Posted 14 October 2008 - 07:56 AM
The end of
A SONG IN THE NIGHT
James Bond 007
will be back in
BEYOND THE KNOWN FRONTIERS
Somewhere between the tri-boundaries of reality, sub-consciousness and the cyber space is a frontier where James Bond’s worst nightmares convene to lure him for the battle that could be his last, while the world watches helplessly in shock as its economy implodes.
Will Nicolette Veron-Croix, the recluse French psycho-analyst, be the last woman to taste Bond’s lips?
Will Sandra Villagracia, the Spanish uberhacker and virussmith known in their circle as Squirrelus, be the key to unlock the gate to the cyber-psycho-kinetic junction.
Who awaits 007 in the arena that exists and does not exist at all?
The answers lie not in this reality but…
BEYOND THE KNOWN FRONTIERS
Edited by Gene Laurenciano, 15 October 2008 - 01:44 PM.
Posted 22 September 2012 - 12:15 AM
The Seventh Assassin