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The Steel Wolf

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#1 chrisno1



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Posted 17 May 2009 - 12:38 AM

Discuss this story in this thread.


James Bond sat on one of the metal benches in the esplanade park to the south side of the cathedral of St. Peter and St Paul. He had a sobering view of the Czech Republic’s second city, Brno, an uninspiring sprawling town; Bond had witnessed the over-development of the Soviet era on his drive down and could see it from here again. The city spread far beyond its traditional boundaries and the concrete uniform blocks of flats that defined the outlying districts were clearly visible in the hazy morning sunlight.

Below him Bond could see the imposing frontage of the twelve platform international railway station which stretched along Nadrazni. The chaos of the rush hour traffic system seemed to multiply as it unfolded at the tram station outside. The noise of horns and bells echoed up to Bond’s haven of relative tranquillity. Brno was a busy city. Now given over to marketing and commerce, the town thrived on a booming university population that was beginning to attract foreign students who could study here on the cheap. The rates were preferable to those in the capital. That went for accommodation and socıalısing too. The heavy industry still existed but was reduced to scraping a living on the city’s outskirts. Brno had a slight air of decay about it. A principal town in many other countries, it was only second city by virtue of size and history. Bond wasn’t enamoured with it. It was functional, businesslike, not an extravagant party town like Prague.

He lit one of his special Morland’s, running his thumb across the slightly raised three gold bars at the filter, and inhaled the smoke deep into his lungs. Ten a day he promised the doctor. This was number one. It had been an effort to delay the inevitable this long. Bond cast a glance at his watch. The numbers told him the girl was late. He took another deep lungful of smoke. That was the trouble when you dealt with amateurs. He didn’t like the set up and he should have told Laska as much the previous evening.

“James, you are right,” the nervous head of station had implored, “This man won’t walk up to you and offer himself like a lamb. We need to lower his guard. He needs to be,” Laska had paused, just for effect thought Bond, “Softened up.”

“With this girl?” queried Bond.

“He has a penchant for young girls,” replied Laska, with a resolve Bond hadn’t witnessed before, “You won’t get anywhere near him otherwise.”

Perhaps Bond had got Laska wrong. He was a good man working under difficult circumstances. No aides, no office, hardly any money. He ran his station from his home and worked as a lecturer at the medical university. The extra funding the service paid Laska had probably helped feed and clothe his children during the latter years of the communist regime, but Bond knew his service had never directly use this spectacled, docile little man.

Bond had sensed the fear and anxiety in Laska immediately they met. The man’s palms were clammy, despite the weather being blustery and hardly a touch over ten degrees. He talked in stilted sentences. He left the cafe in a hurry, not looking over his shoulder until he had exited the premises, then he turned and stared hard at Bond through the doorway. Bond had returned to his copy of the English language Prague Post and ignored him. Laska clearly didn’t want him here. If Bond was an inconvenience, that was bad luck. He had his orders.

****** ****** ****** ******

It had all started four days ago. While reading the latest communiqués, Bond had been mentally planning his weekend. Eighteen holes at Sunningdale with Bill Tanner; a meal at Scott’s followed by drinks at the Athenaeum; lastly some gambling at the Clermont Club. A few more drinks and some elaborate betting would no doubt attract attention. If he had a winning streak, perhaps one of the rich Russian socialites, the daughter of a millionaire or billionaire, would take a shine to him. If not, there was always the possibility of visiting Monica, who still had her mews apartment in Little Venice. It would be an interesting, and long, Saturday night. And then on Sunday he would recline with the papers and drink coffee and treat himself to several drams of Balvenie Islay Cask whisky.

The red telephone that was the direct line to M’s office bleeped at him twice. “Yes?”

“She’s asking for you, James,” It was Tanner, “She says to come after lunch for a full briefing. Two o’clock.”

“That doesn’t sound good, Bill.”

“We’d better put the golf on hold, James. She’s been onto the F.O. all morning.”

Bond slammed the receiver down. Damn. He hadn’t seen Monica for a number of months. He’d missed her thirsty kisses and eager little hands. Bond sniffed the air and stood up. His jacket hung on the hook behind the door and he fished in it for the packet of cigarettes.

Penelope, his gorgeous, though off limits secretary, chided him as he tried to slip past her a third time that morning. “Only ten a day, James. The doctor’s not going to like this.”

Bond smiled and gave her backside a reassuring pat.

“I just got a summons, Penny. I’m going to need this to calm my nerves.”

“You? Nervous?” she said, with mock incredulity, “On your wedding day maybe.”

Bond smiled gently at her. Maybe. He smoked the cigarette beside a bus shelter outside the MI6 building, chatting to a pretty intern, a new girl, who was equally opposed to smoking bans. They tossed their butts into the roadside and agreed they might meet again at 11am another day. Bond declined to mention he was a double “O”. That could come later, if it needed to. He took lunch in the canteen, reading the financial pages of The Times, but, although he acknowledged the girl, he talked to no-one.

M was in an irritable mood when he arrived. She looked worn out and disorganised. Her desk was covered in an array of reports and files. Top of the pile was a green folder stamped “Authorised Eyes Only.” It was marked “Chilikov.” Bond’s hands instantly clenched. So, at last some one had found The Steel Wolf.

M motioned for him to sit. She sat forward, her hands rested, fingers interlocked, on the scatter of papers. “What do you know of Ivailo Chilikov?”

“He’s something of an enigma,” started Bond, “Born in the early fifties to a Bulgarian father and a Czech mother; no educational record. He managed to secure a place with Bulgarian Internal Security, but never graduated. There was a rumour it has something to do with the rape of a general’s daughter, but it’s never been confirmed. And hardly the type of behaviour to upset his superiors at the time.”

“Quite,” M was sharp. She disapproved of Bond’s elaboration of facts for what she termed dramatic effect.

“He seems to go to ground, probably drifted around Eastern Europe as a mercenary for a few years. Then he turns up in Algeria in the late seventies as an assassin for hire. The kills attributed to him in Algeria remain the only official recognition of his existence. He worked for both sides, but when the conflict ended he was deported. He goes missing again. There have been numerous sightings over the years, but he seems remarkably elusive.”

Bond paused. “He has been identified as having a deep scar on his left shoulder, from two bullet wounds, that both miraculously missed his heart and lung. Full descriptions are inconcise and often differ. He has probably changed his appearance through surgery. Yet his work has been recognised by the CIA and the FBS. Our own service considers him a prime suspect for the murder of General Sir Hugh Waverley, the NATO commander in Serbia. The murder bore many of his hallmarks: a close range kill, the domestic circumstances, the time of day.”

M seemed impatient. “Yes, all right. Anything else?”

“Called himself the Steel Wolf in Algeria, something to do with a translation of his name.”

“You’ve got it about spot on, Bond,” M handed over the file, “If you want him he’s yours. We’ve just had some luck in Brno. Our man there, Laska, has provided us with a positive identification. Apparently Chilikov has been living a few miles outside the city on a small estate for about ten years.”

“Do the Czech authorities know this?”

“Apparently he isn’t calling himself Chilikov. He prefers the name Otto Lanik now and that’s what’s on all his documents.”

Bond slit open the file and turned to the final pages of the dossier that outlined Laska’s findings. “It says here Laska’s never seen him. He’s only got the ID from a prostitute.”

Bond looked at M. Her face was impassive. Bond glanced back down at the documents. “Do you think it really is Chilikov?”

“That’s what I want you to find out,” M sat back. The corners of her mouth drooped a little. Bond recognised this as an indication of bad news. “Laska isn’t an expert. To be frank, he’s an amateur; we’ve never had any cause to use him for anything. He did do a thorough job researching Chilikov – or Lanik – or whoever he is. But I have my doubts.”

“And the Czechs?”

“That’s why I’ve been over at the F.O. They don’t have anything on this Lanik person. They are aware he deposits large sums of money into several bank accounts at irregular intervals. He pays his taxes. They don’t complain.”

Bond was silent. M stood up and walked to the window that looked over the Thames towards the palace of Westminster. It was raining again and the rain drew patterns on the glass.

“He’s a tough man, Bond. He’s not alone either. But the Czech government don’t want a fuss. If it’s discovered they have been harbouring a wanted criminal for the best part of a decade, it would make them appear rather foolish. Of course if that criminal or his alter-ego were to mysteriously disappear...” M didn’t finish the sentence, but left her words seemingly hanging amongst the drips on the window pane.

“I understand,” acknowledged Bond, “He could meet with an unfortunate accident.”

“Yes. That’s what I thought.”

“And if it isn’t an accident?”

M turned back to her desk, businesslike again. “Let’s just say the Czechs will turn a blind eye to our involvement. It could remove a potentially embarrassing problem for them,” She paused, “Just be damn certain it is Chilikov before you take him out.”

Bond took the folder back to his office and read it thoroughly. He took several cups of coffee from Penelope and was still re-reading the dossier long after she had gone home, carefully memorising his subject and his foibles. Chilikov seemed to have no close relatives or friends, despite being surrounded by a group of trust worthy employees, mostly hard unattached Bulgars. This wolf liked to run alone and getting to him looked to be problematical. He studied the three old photographs, particularly the single colour shot, where he could distinguish eye colour, ear shape and the shadow of facial hair.

Bond returned the dossier to M’s office late that evening, where he found her still shuffling papers. “Allright?” she queried, more out of politeness than any wish to talk.


“Good. Get yourself booked on a flight tomorrow. I don’t expect instant results, Bond; this could take some days, maybe a week or two.”

“Understood. I’ll be in touch.”

“You do that.”

M returned to her work. Bond retreated across the room and silently left the room. He closed the door with what felt like a deafening click.

****** ****** ****** ******

Bond caught a mid morning flight with British Airways. Two hours in cabin class hell. A poor meal accompanied by an even poorer Bells and ginger ale. Light relief from The Times. Both on departure from Heathrow and arrival at Ruzyne Airport, Bond used his diplomatic status to pass through customs, preventing his luggage from being searched, in particular his attaché case. The case was leather finished, but the lining contained two flat edged steel knives while the internal pouches held his Walther P99 revolver and his sniper shot AI 7.62 Folding Arctic rifle. Everything the everyday business man required.

Bond considered staying in Prague for the day. His Saturday night in London had been ruined after all. And what better way to make amends than to visit Carl at U Modre Kachnicky, and once again sample his excellent venison steak with honey and pear jus. Bond could taste the richness already. But he stopped himself. He could easily sample the good life on the way home. Instead, resignedly, he went to the Europcar desk and hired a Mercedes Benz C-Class in deep metallic green. It always paid to travel in style.

Negotiating the Prague ring road took a good half an hour, but once Bond hit the D1 dual carriageway to South Moravia he made the journey to Brno in a little less than two hours. He eased the Mercedes through the gears, put on effortless bursts of speed, cornered tight turns and overtook with intent. At times he tipped the meter at 160 kph. The road was mostly empty of other vehicles and struck a solitary path through barren fields and over tree covered hills. Close to the city, the tip of the Moravian Karst, a range of low mountains to the North loomed dark and wooded in the encroaching twilight. Bond sensed their sinister observation, but within minutes this was obliterated by the neon signs and vast advertising hoardings that lined Brno’s own ring road.

Bond checked into his hotel, flashing one of his many false passports, this one under the name Boardman. He had chosen the Slavia at an internet cafe while waiting for his flight. The Continental was better, for comfort at least, but the Slavia suited Bond’s purposes, being both discreet and less ostentatious. Bond immediately took a long hot shower, scrubbing the grime of the journey out of his skin, before ending his bathe with a blast of teeth shattering cold water. He shaved and, naked, poured himself a hefty slug of vodka. It was still Saturday and Bond wondered what Brno had to delight the visitor.

But first there was business. He dialled Laska’s number. The phone rang for almost a minute; twenty rings Bond counted.


“Dobry den, Pan Laska. Jmenuji se James Bond.”

A pause. And then in English: “The apples don’t grow so well on the trees this year.”

“It’s because of the weather.”

“Or the blackbirds.”

Bond smiled ruefully. “Hello, Laska. I’ll make it short. Meet me tomorrow at noon. The Adria cafe. Don’t be late.”

Filip Laska showed perfect timing. He arrived as a midday peel of bells from the Cathedral punctuated the clinking of glasses, crockery and cutlery. Bond sensed he may have been loitering further up the street, but wasn’t going to risk shaming him. Laska had a weak hand shake and he looked nervous. He wore metal rimmed round spectacles, small ones that suited his unsmiling, bearded face. He was a greying man, thin and pale, a touch less than five feet six thought Bond, who had noticed the raised heels on his shoes. He didn’t drink coffee or tea, choosing a sweetened hot chocolate the smell of which made Bond feel slightly queasy after his self-indulgent evening sampling the local pivo at the Pegas brewery.

Bond had sat in a booth close to the bar so the noise of orders being recited and glass, china and metal being chinked on the marble counter would cover their conversation. Laska hadn’t noticed this and hunched forward, talking in urgent little sentences. Thankfully, his English was good.

Bond didn’t waste time on preliminaries. “We got your details about the wolf. Where is he staying?”

Laska nodded. “He has an estate outside the village of Menin. It’s on the way to Breclav.”

"An estate?”

"Yes. With a chateau. Well, it is like a converted farmhouse.”

"Is it guarded?”

Laska shrugged. “I went to look at it. It isn’t well protected. Not protected at all. But his men are always there. Watching, you understand?”

“I understand,” Bond lit a cigarette, offering one to the Czech and not surprised when it was turned down. “Tell me, Filip, why do you think this is our man? He’s been living on this estate quite peaceably by all accounts. Why has it taken him ten years to show himself?”

Bond feigned his own interest while Laska outlined his story. He had already committed it to memory from M’s dossier, but Bond wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Laska could be fabricating something, he could have got his facts wrong, and he could even be luring Bond into a trap.

Laska had four children. The youngest, Silvia, had made friends with a wild girl from the Styrice district and one morning this girl arrived at their house with a black eye, a bleeding nose and bruising along her ribs and arms. She had been working all night at a bar called Rue De Paris; a brothel by any other name. Laska mentioned it with an air of guilt and Bond wondered, momentarily, if he there was more to Filip Laska than the eye could see. One of the girl’s clients had physically beaten her when she refused to comply with his sexual demands. She had come to see Silvia in the mistaken belief her father was a doctor, as he lectured in medicine. Laska wanted to take her to hospital, but she became hysterical and only his promise not to go to the authorities calmed her. Laska treated the injuries himself, as best he could, and asked some discreet questions as he did so. He was struck by the girl’s description of the man’s scarred torso, memorably and specifically two wounds in his left shoulder. To quote the girl “it looked like something had been sucked into his body and then forced out the back.” The man suffered restrictive movement in his arm because of it, but still had enough to beat her. Laska made some enquiries at the bar, but they only knew he was the rich man from Menin, who called himself Otto. Later he researched the physical description through the MI6 security files, on a closed link of course. He was mightily shocked when Chilikov’s name emerged. He immediately informed his own superior in Prague, who passed the information to London.

Bond stopped him there. “So you haven’t seen this man yourself?”

Laska shook his head, slightly embarrassed.

Bond nodded slowly. “More chocolate?” The request was declined. Bond ordered another coffee. “I need to see his man. I have to be certain it is Chilikov.”

Laska shrugged. “You will have a long wait. He rarely leaves his estate.”

Bond mulled the problem over. He didn’t want the dull monotonous work of a stake out at Chilikov’s house. No, some action was called for. “Then I will have to go and visit him.”

Laska face seemed to turn an even whiter shade of pale. “Are you sure? Won’t that provoke him?”

“That’s the idea, Filip,” Bond stated matter of factly. “Tell me where this estate is. I’ll drop in on him this afternoon.”

Laska did as he was told. Bond bade him farewell and the little man stood up, holding out his hand. Bond didn’t shake it; instead he inclined his head and looked straight into Laska’s face. The man is nervous as hell, thought Bond.

Laska gave a curt nod and exited the cafe, pausing to cast a final look at this
callous man called James Bond, a man he was forced to deal with, who was now immersed in his newspaper as though the previous half an hour had never occurred. For the first time in twenty years, Laska wondered if taking the British money had been a good decision.

****** ****** ****** ******

Two hours later Bond took the road towards Menin as Laska had described. There was a run down settlement just before the main village. Bond slowed. Exactly as Laska had indicated there was the petrol station and, just after it, an unmarked tarmac road which seemed to disappear into the pine forest that bordered the village. Bond turned down the road, which was littered with potholes. Bond drove carefully. Some of the London rain had followed him to Eastern Europe and the Mercedes began to get speckled with mud and grit. The road bent left and within a few metres the trees began to thin and then disappear. The Mercedes emerged from the wood and Bond was able to see his destination. He pulled into the roadside and turned off the engine.

The road ran slightly downhill and, about three miles away, at the end of the track an incongruous house sat in the centre of acres of flat land. It was a large multi-extended farmhouse, two stories high and ugly, designed to look like a chateau and painted an alarming shade of yellow. It was surrounded by a foot high wall. There was no gate. There were no trees, no hedges. The fields themselves were barren of vegetation except grass. They contained several squat free range pig sties and bird coups. The animals roamed the fields munching or pecking at the earth. Bond opened his gun case and removed his sniper scope.

Through the sight Bond was able to inspect the house closely. There was a main front porch which sat in the middle of four huge windows, each one flanked with white washed shutters. Two double door garages occupied the right hand extension. Similar huge windows also lined the first floor, running across the middle and right hand sections. Four red brick chimneys, all of differing heights, stuck out of the black slate tiled roof. Each of them had a satellite dish attached half way up the stack. The left extension featured a series of smaller windows and a tradesman’s entrance. The brick work was different and Bond assumed this was probably the original building, now given over to a pantry, kitchen and stores. The first storey was lesser in height and the windows smaller still. It too looked to be constructed of different materials. Servants quarters, Bond mused.

Bond twisted the scope, focusing closely on the window and door frames. He could see the wires for a burglar alarm. The main windows were modern, much more so than anything else on the house, and tinted a deep smoky brown. They were at least made of toughened glass, probably bullet proofed. He couldn’t see inside. There was no front door bell.

Suddenly from somewhere behind him, Bond heard rifle fire. He gave a tiny start of surprise and took the sniper scope away from his eye. The chickens squawked and fluttered their wings for a few seconds, before returning to eating. The pigs barely moved. Bond twisted in his seat. More gunfire. It was coming from the forest behind him, but not heading his direction. Hunters, perhaps.
Bond put down the scope and instead looked at the house with his naked eye. There didn’t seem to be anybody about. No cars. No dogs. Nothing. Chilikov certainly was a lone wolf. He started the car and drove cautiously down the track. The surface became increasingly bumpy. While avoiding pot holes Bond remained focused on the house in front of him. Still there was no sign of occupation.

It came when Bond was no more than a hundred yards from the house. The tradesman’s door opened and a burly shaven headed man emerged. He wore denim jeans, a roll neck sweater and a heavy leather jacket that was buttoned at the waist. Even at this distance Bond could see the bulge of a huge revolver inside his jacket. Sensibly the man wore farmer’s boots. Bond slowed until the Mercedes was only easing gently forward. The man walked purposefully towards the car, giving no indication of stopping. It was an old fashioned game of “chicken.” Bond lost and brought the Mercedes gently to a halt.

“Tato is domaci! Beh pryc!”

Bond activated the automatic window. “Jesm z Anglie. I’m lost. Perhaps a wrong turn.”

The big man was uninterested. He indicated with his arm that Bond was to turn around. “Beh pryc! Privatni!”

Bond acted helpless, still mixing a little Czech with what he hoped would sound an upper-class English. “I’m sorry. Prosim. Excuse me.”

The big man stood his ground. His expression did not change. Bond leant forward peering through the grimy windscreen. The man raised his head, as if expecting a challenge. Bond didn’t move. His eyesight flickered from the watching man, to the windows and then the roof of the house. Bond stared for a few seconds too long.

The man shouted an exclamation, a word Bond didn’t need to interpret to understand, and slammed his fist down on the bonnet of the car. He barked a further order for Bond to turn around. This time Bond did as he was told, executing a five point turn on the tight track. As he performed the final manoeuvre, he made certain to reverse back too far, ensuring the big man had to step aside. He leaned over, peering through the open window, his face no more than a few feet from Bond’s.

“Sorry. Prominte,” said Bond cheerfully, staring straight into the man’s face and pressing the window control. He could see the tiny earpiece and the thin communications wire than ran behind the man’s neck and inside his sweater.

“Bastard!” growled the big man in English and spat at the closing window. A saliva and mucus filled spray splattered against the glass. Bond raised a smile and eased the Mercedes away up the track.

It was as slow a journey back. This time Bond had company. He could see a group of seven men emerging from the woods and walking down the track. Bond watched the reflection of the big man in his rear view mirror. He did not retreat to the house until Bond had almost reached the small group ahead. They were dressed in heavy jackets, jumpers and trousers, boots, hats and scarves. Some smoked. They all carried hunting rifles. Two men’s guns were strapped to their backs and they carried a collection of game birds in their hands.

The men seemed not to notice the car as Bond drew nearer. Once again he was forced to slow to a crawl and eventually stop as the men refused to leave the road. One of them stopped at the trackside and slung his double barrelled shot gun over his shoulder. He had a scar running across his right cheek. It didn’t look entirely healed, a sore crimson ribbed welt. He waited there until Bond had driven out of sight.

Interesting little confrontation, thought Bond, Chilikov obviously had his minders. And a rough little lot they seemed to be. But now Bond knew why there was so little obvious protection around the house. The satellite dishes had a dual purpose; inside each dish there was a movement detector, probably calibrated to ignore anything as small as the pigs and chickens. Laska was right. This would be a waiting game.

****** ****** ****** ******

Bond reported his findings to M, using the closed channels, and was told to do what was necessary. Bond got back in contact with Laska. The man could meet him on Monday morning, perhaps at his hotel.

Bond didn’t like that idea. “No, come tonight, at the Pegas.”

Laska was clearly uncomfortable in a bar; in addition to caffeine, Bond learnt he didn’t drink beer. Bond explained his findings quickly, agreeing it could take some time for Chilikov to appear. Bond asked how often Chilikov visited the Rue de Paris.

“I don’t know,” Laska replied, and then more thoughtfully he said, “I could find out. The girl is still a friend of my Silvia. Perhaps I could talk to her.”

“Better yet, why don’t I talk to her? Does she speak English?”

“Yes, quite good. From the work, you know.”

“Good. Arrange it.”

After Laska had gone, Bond ate a huge bacon loin steak with plenty of trimmings. He waited until nine-thirty and then left the Pegas, walked past the Red Church and onto Jaselska. At the end of the road he could see the gaudy neon signs of the Rue de Paris. The place did not look inviting from a distance. It looked worse up close. Bond rang the doorbell and after about fifteen seconds the door was opened by a man dressed as a cocktail waiter. There was no greeting.

Inside Bond paid his entrance fee at the reception desk that was manned by a skin-head bouncer in an ill-fitting suit and a pretty hostess, who explained how the club worked and what the girls charged. She was a blonde girl, mid-twenties and flirtatious with a firm figure, that was only just concealed under a sheer, backless and almost frontless mini-dress. Despite himself Bond found he was mildly aroused by the prospect of the next hour so.

The club had once been all gleaming metal, bright lights and mirrors. But some of the gloss was eroding with age. There was a long bar area, with two young bar maids wearing nothing but high heels, silver satin thongs and girly smiles.

Another dozen or so women of varying ages lounged around the tables and booths that scattered the floor. Some of them sat together, others alone. They smoked and drank. One girl was performing a strip tease to the loud American hip-hop music that blared from a series of speakers around the room. Apart from Bond, there appeared to be only four other customers, although more may have been in the rooms upstairs.

Bond took a seat away from the stage and the girls, so he could take in the layout. He immediately noticed the closed circuit cameras. There were no fire exits. The toilets were back in the atrium, which itself was designed like a hall of mirrors.

One of the bar maids walked towards him, her breasts jiggling in time with the
sway of her hips. She greeted Bond in Czech and then in English.

“Good evening,” he replied.

“You like a drink?”

Bond didn’t dare ask for a vodka martini. “A scotch and ice is fine.”

“Yes, sir.”

She winked at him as she turned and Bond watched her pert backside and long legs return to the bar. When she brought the drink, she offered to run a tab on Bond’s credit card, but he declined and paid cash, deliberately giving her a high denomination note so he could watch her walk away and come back with his change.

This time she leaned closer and asked: “Would you like some girl? To talk to, maybe?”

Bond had to shout over the music. “I’m not sure. Do you work here too?”

“No. I’m only waitress. We have nice girls. You need a girl with English?”

“Possibly. Who do you recommend?”

The girl listed a few names and Bond thanked her for her advice and said he would think on it. He watched some of the girls dancing. Another man arrived, this one in a suit and smoking a huge cigar. He immediately attached himself to two of the women and ordered champagne. Bond could tell it was cheap fizz. After a while one or two of the other girls approached Bond’s table and he gently rebuffed them. He bought a second drink.

At this point the curtains to the atrium parted and a tall statuesque beauty appeared, tanned, limb some, long haired. She wore a tight red sequined basque with red stockings. Her breasts strained at the material, an outfit clearly a size too small for her. She was followed by a young man, who kissed her cheek, before returning to his friend at one of the tables. The beauty walked to the bar, glancing Bond’s way. He tipped his glass at her and she cut Bond a glance that said: “Try me.”

She said her name was Katarina. She wasn’t a local girl, she moved here from Hungary because the work paid better. Bond bought her a drink, flirted with her and, with Katarina’s persuasive fingers tiptoeing up and down his trouser leg, bought her services for an hour. She was a fine athletic girl, supple and energetic. She allowed him to take control, responding to his urgent love making, yet while her body was his, Bond could sense her mind was elsewhere. It did not surprise him that after they showered, she sniffed a dribble of cocaine off the back of her hand. Bond asked her a few innocent sounding questions about the club. The girl was very tactile and he learnt little. His ulterior motive for buying her company was to see the upstairs of the building. There was a central landing above the atrium and a corridor on two sides. One ran across the top of the main bar and was lined by ten doors leading into the private rooms.
The opposite corridor only had two doors, which went to the larger private suites. It was all furnished in black leather or glass. There were no cameras in the room, but several on the landing. Again, Bond saw no fire exits.

After a kiss for Katarina and a smile to the waitress, Bond exited the Rue de Paris. He lit a cigarette and took a long walk back to his hotel. Opposite one of the gated entrances to Spilbeck Park, Bond walked past the windows of a basement bar. It looked relaxed and unpretentious. It was also still open after midnight. He entered and sat at the bar, nursing another whisky and reflecting on Katarina’s young pliant body.

“You are English?” asked the moustachioed proprietor.

“Yes. From London.”

“I speak English. From Bradford.”

Bond left the bar at two thirty in the morning, a little worse for wear, but full of Josef’s hospitality and too much of his slivovice. He slept well.

****** ****** ****** ******

Bond tossed the cigarette butt away and exhaled the last vestiges of smoke from his lungs. He looked at his watch again. The girl was running exceptionally late.

Bond had spoken to Laska in the Adria the previous evening. The station head had been doing some good work. The girl would meet him tomorrow after her shift finished at the club. She had been told Bond was a policeman and that the man was wanted in London for some crimes and she might be able to help. Bond nodded. It would suffice.

Laska removed his glasses and polished them with a little blue cloth. He placed the spectacles back on his nose and then sat back, his palms flat on the edge of the table. Bond thought he resembled the school teacher he was.

“Mister Bond,” he opened, and then paused for several seconds, so long Bond almost prompted him to continue, “James. I wonder if I might suggest something. You are right; this man won’t walk up to you and offer himself like a lamb. We need to lower his guard. He needs to be softened up.”

“With this girl?” queried Bond.

“He has a penchant for young girls,” replied Laska, with a resolve Bond hadn’t witnessed before, “You won’t get anywhere near him otherwise. This man has been with her before. We both understand men. He will return to her.”

There was another long pause. Bond waited, letting the little man summon the strength to utter his words. “May I ask how you intend to dispose of him?”

Bond smiled. To deliver this question had obviously taken a lot of effort for Laska. He drained the remaining dregs of coffee from his cup. “I intend to dispose of him, as you put it, when he exits the club.”

Laska almost squirmed. “Yes. I thought as much. But there is a problem.”

Bond was surprised at Laska’s courage. “Go on.”

“We still only have the girl’s description,” Laska started slowly, “As far as we know this man could really be Otto Lanik. But if the girl could tell you when he enters the club, it would be a lot easier for you to identify him yourself. Assuming his appearance hasn’t changed beyond recognition”

“Would she do that?”

“I really don’t know. It may take some form of bribery.”

“It’s a good thought. Thank you.”

Bond had considered his options at Josef’s, in between demonstrating how to make a perfect vodka martini and consuming it. He could wait indefinitely in Brno in the vague hope that Chilikov would appear in broad daylight long enough for Bond to get a clear shot at him. He could ride shotgun out to the ranch, like some western hero, shoot it up with the bad guys and probably get killed. He could, maybe, just maybe, lure the wolf from his lair. Perhaps the girl could help him conclude this business in quick time. It was the only opportunity worth pursuing.

As he continued to weigh up the pros and cons, Bond’s eyes followed the appearance of three pretty girls, students he guessed, dressed in jeans and sweaters, their coats open and their scarves flapping in the wind. They were an effervescent trio, especially for eight o’clock in the morning, and Bond thought of the dull faces on the young women of London, the stress of that city etched in their frowns. As the girls strode past him, they exchanged a series of farewells and the dark haired one, turned and approached Bond’s vantage point, her smile disappearing almost as fast as it had appeared.

The girl stood in front of him, blocking his view. She was a small girl, perhaps only five feet and an inch and slim, with an adolescent body buried underneath her clothes. Her hair was long, but was wavy and dense, shining in the morning light. Her skin was a dusky light brown, not a tan, but a natural hue. Her eyes, like her hair, were so dark they seemed to be almost black, like two circles of coal. Her lips were full, pouting, beckoning him to kiss her. Bond instantly recalled how she had smiled, the corners of her mouth turning upwards and two small dimples appearing at her cheeks. She had a decorated denim bag slung across her shoulder and she nervously fiddled with the tassel that hung from the strap.

“James Bond?”


She stayed still. Bond smiled and gestured to the bench. The girl rushed to the seat, taking a few short steps. Bond almost laughed at the childish movements, completely at odds with her line of business.

“I cannot stay long. I have school.”

“You are Lucie Cerna?” The girl nodded. “And Filip Laska has already explained why I want to meet you.”

“He says you are a policeman. You want to speak about Otto.”

“You know his name?”

“That is what he calls himself. He is only a name.”

Bond half turned to her, so he could look at her small, frail features. “I know this man beat you. You would not be the first and you will not be the last. He is wanted for many crimes in England, but when he was there he used a different name, Ivailo Chilikov. Have you ever heard him use it?”

She looked at the floor and shook her head.

“You said he had two bullet wounds, two scars, on his chest, here,” Bond indicated their position on his breast bone and the girl took a quick glance, and then nodded. “What does he look like?”

“He is a big man, really big, huge shoulders and a fat belly. He has a lot of hair. He has a beard, but it is, how do you say, cut?”


“Yes, as if he has not shaved for a day. He is almost hairless on his head.”

“Does he have any other marks? Like tattoos.”


“What did he do to you?”

“He is a strong man. Sometimes I think he not know how strong. Sometimes he is rough. I said no to something and he went crazy. Like wild bull.”

The girl clenched her fist and swung it, punching the air. “Seven times,” she said simply.

Bond winced. He watched the girl in silence. Her determined, matter of fact voice and her choice of words were at odd with her tiny, youthful appearance She stayed still, staring at the ground and her hair fell from about her ears to droop across her face. The silence lasted almost a whole minute before Bond decided to break it.

“How old are you, Lucie?”

When the girl didn’t reply, Bond continued, “Are you worried you will get into trouble? With the police, the authorities here.”

She shrugged. “If it happens. There is not much life for someone like me.”

“And what are you?”

“I am a gypsy, well, my father is. We don’t have much.”

“Is that why you do this work? For the money?”

“I would not do it for fun. It is horrible. All those men.”

Bond thought she shuddered. He was tempted to reach out and brush away the curls of hair from her cheek.

“I can’t help you get away from the work. But I need to know when this man visits the Rue de Paris. I only need you to do one thing.”

“What is it?”

“Do you have a mobile phone?”

She nodded.

“I will give you my number. When Otto next visits the club, I need you to phone me. Just let it ring twice. I will visit the club and deal with him. You don’t have to do anything else.”

The girl thought for a moment. “Will you pay me?”

Bond had suspected as much and fished into his pocket for the thick wad of Czech crowns. His Universal Export credit card was going to show a debit of almost a thousand pounds. “I can’t give you any more now,” Bond bent towards her a little, “But I promise you, if this man is Chilikov, my people can reward you and your family.”

She looked at him, through the net of hair. Slowly she brushed it back behind her ear and looked at Bond in the face. Her coal coloured eyes met his and imperceptibly, there was a trace of a smile on the corners of her beautiful lips. “You promise to help my family?”

Bond nodded. The girl took the money, folded it and, without any shame, inserted it inside the front of her jeans, probably, Bond thought, into her knickers. “All right,” she said, “Give me the number.”

Bond quoted it, adding the international code and she phoned him to ensure their signals were compatible. Bond asked a few rapid questions about her working hours and gave her clear instructions on what to do when the man came to the club. The girl responded swiftly, accurately and, when they were finished, she abruptly stood up.

“I have to go,” she said quickly.

“Will I have long to wait?” he asked.

The girl shrugged with one shoulder. “He hasn’t visited for a while. But he will return. He likes his little Lucie too much.”

She held out her hand. “It was nice to meet you, James Bond.”

Bond shook the hand. It was soft and a little cold. “Lucie Cerna, thank you.”

The girl turned and walked away across the esplanade. She didn’t look back and her hair blew in the wind about her head as she descended the steps to the roads below. Bond rose and stood at the parapet, like a concerned parent, waited for her small figure to appear and watched her cross the roads and tram lines. Her two friends were waiting for her at a tram stop.

Bond took out his cigarettes and lit one, another one against doctor’s orders. As he did so the hair at the base of his neck stood on end. He sensed rather than heard anything, but someone was watching him. He slowly turned, clockwise, and his gaze swept the whole of the esplanade. No-one. Not a single person. Bond leant back against the balustrade, loitering, observing the stillness around him. It was too quiet. Eventually an old couple, walking sticks at the ready, appeared at the entrance and made their gradual way along the pathway.

Bond turned back to the view. The trio of girls had disappeared, probably having caught a tram. What a curious little girl, he thought, so tiny and immature, but decisive and certainly not naive. Bond had some experience of Romany gypsies. He knew they were proud of their heritage and traditions. He also knew there were still many areas of Europe where the Roma were seen as scavengers and treated as outcasts. Only last night Josef had remarked how they were always the cause of trouble in the town.

Bond walked back to his hotel. He was careful to follow an indirect route, spending time at the fresh fruit market in Zelny Square and drinking an early morning espresso in a cheap cafe. He sat with a vantage point of the square and would easily spot any likely pursuer. There was none.

Bond expected to wait several days. He altered his sleeping patterns to match the girl’s working schedule. Each day he rose in the late morning and ate pastries for breakfast in a different local cafe. He took day trips in the afternoons, then, when the sun set, he rested for three hours, before having a conservative dinner at about nine each evening. He spent until just before midnight nursing no more than two drinks at Josef’s, much to his new friend’s astonishment, before retiring to his hotel where he wiled the remaining hours listening to the satellite news channel or the sounds of the great Czech jazz musicians like the Miroslav brothers and the SH Quintet.

Throughout those six hours from midnight Bond was taut and alert. His AI sniper
rifle was waiting in the attaché case. He had practised unpacking, fitting, loading and aiming the weapon everyday since he had arrived and had managed to break eighteen seconds. Bond hoped he would get longer than that. His black dinner suit hung on the door. It was his special one from Q branch, with the Velcro lapel flaps and a nylon head stocking under the collar which helped to render him like a shadow in the dark. On the first day Bond had found his perfect ambush point. The Rue de Paris sat at the corner of Jaselska with the only public entrance at the very apex. This meant anyone exiting the club would be in full view along the length of the adjoining street, Gorkeho. On this street, no more than fifty yards away, was a small garden, a place of solitude, bound by hedgerows and trees. Bond had inspected it three times and it had always been barren and peaceful. He had watched the club at this distance, focused his sniper scope on the door and marked a patch of ground. There was even a thicker clump of bushes that could conceal his case. Bond hoped it would be as secluded when he needed to use it for real.

Bond saw no one during his wait. Despite his lack of company, Bond experienced twice more the feeling he was not alone. Once while driving from Slavkov to Olomouc, he became certain that a blue Skoda Octavia estate was travelling the same route. Bond spied its reflection in his rear view mirror, always just out of clear view, and then when he returned to his car, which he had deliberately left in an obvious roadside parking bay, the Skoda estate was there again, about eight spaces away. Bond dismissed it. During his few hours in the town he hadn’t sensed any other presence, not at the museum, in the cafe or while he sat unobtrusively at the rear of the cathedral during an Orthodox wedding. The car did not tail him on his return journey.

The second incident happened when Bond visited Spilbeck, the squat castle that overshadows Brno. Bond spent a couple of mundane hours trailing through the castle museums, but then chose to walk through the park, circumnavigating the fortress. He stopped several times and in the quiet of the woods he could hear footfalls behind him, whose echo petered to nothing soon after he paused. He tried to evade the echo by dodging into the trees, but, although the foot steps ceased, his feeling of unease didn’t. As Bond approached his hotel, he saw the same blue Skoda parked across the road. This time Bond reported the licence number to Laska, just in case.

When Bond emerged for his dinner that evening, the Skoda had disappeared. Bond ate at the Royal Ricc for the second time in a week and carefully avoided their tempting wine list, opting for a disappointing glass of house red. He didn’t visit Josef and instead sat in a quiet coffee house near the central square, grimly sipping an exceptionally poor coffee.

Bond’s mobile phone rang twice.

The vibration startled him. He had anticipated the sound every evening for nine days, yet when it came, the ring was unexpected. He recovered his composure and drowned his coffee in one gulp. He reached into his pocket and checked the number. It was the girl’s. Bond stood up and dropped more than the necessary crowns on the table, leaving without a word.

He was back at the hotel in ten minutes. He stripped from his clothes and dressed in the dinner suit. He waited for half an hour. It would not do to appear too suddenly. Bond swilled a rasping mixture of vodka, scotch and schnapps around his mouth then spat it out. He repeated the exercise. Before he left he looked in the mirror, loosened his tie, undid his collar button and ran a hand backwards and forwards through his hair, enough to look a little dishevelled. Bond left the hotel, case in hand, at a few minutes to midnight.

By the time he reached the little garden on Gorkeho, he was agitated and confused. The girl said she only worked from midnight, but it was only just past eleven. Had she lied to him? Had she made a mistake? Perhaps she had put his number on a speed dial and pressed it accidentally. Bond did not know. He cursed himself for not giving the girl a false alarm code. He cursed himself for working with a bunch of bloody amateurs. Something in his stomach told him there was trouble.

He slipped the case underneath the hedgerow, making sure it was concealed from any prying eyes, and strode towards the door of the Rue de Paris. As he made the last few yards, he put on a slight stagger and swayed at the shoulders. He rang the bell, his left hand on the door frame, taking his weight.

The door opened after a long pause. The cocktail waiter ushered him inside. Bond paid his entrance fee at the reception. There was a different, older and less attractive girl at the desk this time, but the same monosyllabic man sat behind her.

Bond went through the curtains into the main theatre. Once more there were half
naked bar maids and a smattering of women lounging on the sofas, some entertaining clients. One girl was on the stage stripping to the loud repetitive beat music. Bond saw Katarina talking to an expensive looking businessman, possibly an Italian. They exchanged glances and nods. Bond took a seat at the bar. One of the topless girls asked him what he wanted to drink and he asked for a neat double scotch. While he waited for it he swivelled on the bar stool, taking in the rest of the cliental in another glance. To the left of the bar sitting apart from the working girls on an unlit table were three men, dressed in tight, worn out suits. One of the men had an unforgettable bold red scar running down his right cheek. The man offered no acknowledgement, but Bond instinctively knew he’d been recognised.

His whisky came. He clutched it like a drunk, raised it to his lips and took a sip. He shook his head exaggeratedly and exhaled deeply. His eyes rested again on the dim table. The men hadn’t moved. Bond fought panic. The girl wasn’t here. He’d scanned the bar twice and she was not here. Where was Chilikov? God, he hoped they were upstairs.

The music stopped and was replaced by some slightly more restrained rhythm and blues. The strippers changed places. A naked girl walked past Bond, her discarded strippers outfit in her hand. He saw Katarina making beautiful big eyes at him, ignoring the attentions of her Italian. Bond turned back to the bar, took his tumbler in his hand and raised it to his lips. Something moved to his right. Bond’s eyes flickered. It was the reflection in the mirror on the pillar at the end of the bar. Bond watched the reflection. The scar-faced man was standing up, talking to himself. Bond glanced back at the table. No. Not talking to himself. Talking into the hands free communicator attached to the collar of his suit. Bond saw it as if it was the size of a golf ball. He slammed down the drink and made for the curtains.

There was already some sort of chaos breaking out. The dumb bouncer was making his way across the atrium floor, making urgent pleas into his own communicator. Bond beat him to the stairs and tore up them four steps at a time. He could hear the screams of the maid from outside one of the large private suites. The door was open, red light softly casting a shadow over the corridor. The maid was backing away from the door and, when he got there, Bond shoved her roughly aside.

He stepped into the room and confronted a scene of carnage that almost made him retch. The little gypsy girl lay curled on the floor, a naked bundle of skin and bone, her beautiful dark hair obscuring her face, but her young body exposed and covered in blood. The life was running out of her, if it hadn’t already. There were copious cuts across her body, her throat, her legs. They were deep and final. The floor was a pool of slimy red ooze.

Over her stood a huge naked man, himself splattered with the girl’s blood. He was at least six foot five in height with massive shoulders and a bulky torso to match. He was bald, but had a thick growth of grey stubble around his cheeks and chin. He was grinning intently, his eyes wide open and fierce. He had a short double edged stabbing knife in his right hand and a mobile phone in his left. The knife dripped the colour red.

Bond was almost paralysed. He started to move towards the man, but it felt like everything was happening in slow motion. He saw the giant twist to greet him, discarding the mobile phone with an arrogant toss of the wrist. Bond saw the two ancient bullet holes in the left shoulder. He seemed to focus on them, as if that was all that mattered. Too late he realised the knife had moved into the classic defence position and was slashing at his arm. Bond tried to fend it away, but felt the tear of the blade on his jacket sleeve. There was a moment of agonising pain. Bond’s right hand swung upwards and his palm connected with the underside of the big man’s chin, knocking him backwards. The knife still flailed at Bond. Blood splashed across his face. Bond’s momentum carried him onwards and the two men crashed together, the impetus of his assault sending them tumbling awkwardly to the floor.

Bond had his hand on the knife arm, but this was his last clear memory of the Rue de Paris. Hands grabbed him from behind. He kicked out and punched out, but the hands, some bloody, some unblemished, were bundled into fists that rained blows onto him. He curled into a ball to protect himself and the fists were replaced with boots and truncheons until at last, mercifully, some one turned on the lights.

****** ****** ****** ******

The blistering brightness and heat of the single, close lamp bore into Bond’s conscious. It hurt his eyes and made it hard to think. Where was he? What had happened? The girl. B)ing hell, the girl! What a mess. A total disaster. What the hell was he going to tell M this time?

The pain came gradually and it was a dull ache, a throb that raked across his whole body. He couldn’t see his bruises, but they must have been numerous, there may even have been a cracked rib or two. It was painful even to breathe, every movement made him shrink invisibly. His left arm was almost totally devoid of feeling. He vaguely recalled being gashed with the knife. It must have been the left arm.

It took Bond some time to realise he was seated on a robust wooden chair. It wasn’t a comfortable chair, but this was more because he was tied to it at the wrists and the ankles. He was wearing only his cotton boxer briefs. Slowly Bond acclimatised to his surroundings. The big bright light was shining at him from the centre of a bare desk. There was a shape, a figure, behind the lamp, seated also and someone, probably it, was smoking a cigarette. Bond could smell the rough Czech tobacco. The walls seemed to be bare brick. The atmosphere was damp, chilly.

The shape behind the lamp gestured and another figure appeared from further back in the room. As the figure came closer Bond recognised the shaven head of the guard who had spat at his car all those days ago. He carried a cup containing a clear liquid and a straw. The shaven headed man held the straw to Bond’s lips. It was almost impossible not to drink.

“It’s only water,” coaxed the shape behind the lamp, using perfect, if accented English. Bond decided to take a few sips. His mouth was very dry. The water was nectar to Bond’s throat. He consumed half of the cup before the straw was removed. The man retreated and no body said anything.

The stillness continued for several minutes, during which time Bond assessed the hopelessness of his situation. He was trapped and tied up. He was injured, his left arm wrapped in a bloody bandage, and tired. Bond reasoned he was in the cellar of the farmhouse. There seemed to be no escape. And it looked like his interrogation was about to take place. Well, he had nothing to tell. It was going to be a long torture for everyone. If that’s what they wanted, so be it.

The figure stood up. He was as huge as Bond had remembered. Ivailo Chilikov, dressed exactly like his bodyguards in a pair of slacks and a roll neck sweater, was an imposing man. He stood straight and tall, using all his height. His broad shoulders and massive barrel chest belied the speed at which he had moved to counter Bond’s assault. Like most large men, his head seemed to be curiously small, an after-thought jutted on top of powerful shoulders. His skull was slightly pointed and as he moved into and out of the light, Bond could see the gentle scars of plastic surgery. But it couldn’t hide the shape of the ears, even if they were no longer jugged, or the deep set piercing eyes, which were brown today, but used to be green.

“So, tell me,” the figure began, “Mr Boardman, or whoever you are, what interest do you have in Otto Lanik?”

“I am a tourist,” Bond replied, matter of factly.

The figure squatted beside the chair and Bond was able to look directly at the small hooded eyes. “Of course you are.”

His hand stretched up and stroked Bond’s cheek, scratching at the day’s stubble. Bond recoiled slightly. He could smell the man’s breath, a disgusting mixture of liquor, bad food and a lack of personal hygiene. The hand moved to Bond’s brow, the big fingers encroaching under his hairline. Bond felt the pressure on his skull as the five fat digits pressed hard. Bond writhed, contorting his face. The man was staring at him, casting his gaze directly at Bond as if trying to stare into his soul. Without warning, the man thrust Bond’s head backwards with some force. There was a crack, not of bone, but of cramped neck muscles. Bond wheezed from the pain.

“An exceptionally curious tourist.”

The man stood up and returned to the desk. For the first time Bond saw there was some paraphernalia on the floor next to it. The figure lifted up Bond’s dinner suit, then his attaché case, the catches of which opened and the sniper rifle fell out with a loud clatter.

“I am not an idiot, Mr Boardman. But you are a particularly idiotic assassin.”

“I’m hunting wild fowl.”

“With a sniper rifle? An army issue Arctic model?” the figure scoffed at Bond’s denial. “The only reason I didn’t have you killed at the club was to find out who sent you here to kill me. And I will find out. The hard way.”

“Why would I want to kill you?”

“Mr Boardman, if that is your name, and I doubt that, strangers from strange lands do not often visit my chateau. When they do, they do not antagonise my guards. They are certainly not foolish enough to leave a sniper scope on the passenger seat of their hired Mercedes. They would not even have to hire a car. And certainly not from Ruzyne airport using a Universal Export credit card. They wouldn’t eat at The Royal Ricc or the Grand Cafe. And they would know nothing of my involvement with that young girl – a poor innocent, trying to make a living. My men saw you meet her early one morning in Brno. We became very interested in your movements. You were not an ordinary tourist; you kept very curious hours. And then I saw the girl make a call on this mobile. When I stole it from her, the call was to a British number. The number, of course, matches the phone you had in your jacket pocket when my body guards accosted you.”

Bond watched the pieces of the two dissected mobile phones being placed carefully on the desk. The realisation of his inept planning and execution started to dawn on him. His rush to get the job done quickly had resulted in this botched affair, which was fast turning into a one way trip to hell. He’d compromised his own position as well as the lives of others. The figure continued to speak:

“So, I ask you again, what interest do you have in Otto Lanik?”

Bond squinted at the shadow behind the glare. “I don’t have any interest in Otto Lanik. I am looking for a man called Ivailo Chilikov. A killer. An assassin. I think I’ve found him.”

“Really? I don’t see anyone in this room called Chilikov.” The figure stifled a chuckle and the shaven headed bodyguard snorted.

“I know who you are,” Bond replied firmly, “You are Ivailo Chilikov, the Steel Wolf, and it will take more than a bit of plastic surgery to alter your psychotic mind and remove those bullet wounds.”

There was a sudden rush from the big figure, faster than Bond could imagine, and he felt an open hand slap twice across his face. It stung, but no worse than the sting in his wounded arm.

“Who are you, Boardman? What do you want with my death?” he shouted, as out of control now as he had been calm a few seconds earlier. “Who sent you here? Who do you work for?”

Bond said nothing, but gritted his teeth, preparing for a physical onslaught. It came instantly, but carefully, with precision. The blows that landed on him hit the pressure points, the wounds, the vulnerable, exposed, indefensible parts of the body. The only relief was that Bond was so numb he could hardly feel the new pain that coursed through his body. When it stopped Bond exhaled long and hard. His eyes watered with the relief.

The hulking figure puffed out his chest. “This is quite pointless, Mr Boardman. You are going to die anyway. Why make it more difficult for us all?”

“Because I don’t want to tell you anything else.”

“Very well.” There was a resigned air to the voice. The figure turned to the shaven headed guard and muttered something in Bulgarian.

The guard removed his jacket and sweater and walked towards Bond, flexing his fingers and palms. As the light cast across him, Bond could see a series of vivid scars fanning his chest and upper body. The guard took up a position in front of Bond, slightly stooping and blocking most of the light. He grasped hold of Bond’s hair. Then, lightly at first, he smacked Bond across the face. The smacks continued and grew harder. Unable to roll with the blows, Bond became disorientated, his eyes jerking left and right, unsighted. His aching head felt as if his brain was clattering, rattling in his skull.

This was followed by a bunched fist that crashed into his jaw. Bond’s head snapped free of the guard’s hand, a small clump of his hair was left in the clenched fist. Instantly he punched Bond’s opposite cheek and split it. The first fist crunched in again. Bond groaned. The fresh blood ran down into the corner of his blistered mouth and he tasted it on his tongue, hot and sweet.

The guard tutted. He stood back, inspecting his work. Then he paraded a full circle around the chair, appraising the sagging, bloody bruised man before him. Bond’s eyes focussed on the stone tiles that lined the floor. It was a dusty floor with big cracks in most of the slabs. Bond’s blood dripped spot by spot onto one of them, turning the dust a peculiar shade of brown. The guard stopped circling, his big heavy boots interrupting Bond’s view of the floor. A droplet of red splashed onto steel capped leather.

Despite his confusion, Bond recognised the flash of the shoe as it moved in the lamplight. He started to shout almost before the boot smashed into his ankle. This was followed by a vicious stamp on the top of his foot, which made him sit bolt upright. The pain shot up his spine, an agonising reflex, made worse by the bindings that prevented him moving more than a few inches.

“Jesus :tdown:ing Christ!”

Bond hissed the words. His foot felt like it had exploded. A bone must have broken somewhere. The guard’s fist smacked wholeheartedly underneath Bond’s chin and once again, his neck muscles cracked as they took the strain of impact. Bond was still hissing as the blow landed and he bit his tongue turning the expletive into a tremulous wail.

There was some laughter, low and disinterested. The guard lashed out hard and methodically into Bond’s body, punching the breath from out of him. Bond started to weep, involuntarily, as he coughed and spat and sucked in air. Finally, after goodness knows how many blows, the guard launched an uppercut that Bond surrendered to and the chair toppled backwards. Bond’s head thudded onto the dirty floor. He exhaled pitifully. The guards grinning face peered at him and he closed his eyes.

It only seemed a moment when he reopened them, but the chair was upright again and the lamp was shining into his face again. His head and body were wet. Someone had thrown water over him. His briefs were soaked and coloured red. The floor at his feet was a ghastly puddle of dirt and blood and urine.

“My friend here is rather good at killing people.”

Bond could hardly hear the voice through the terrible noise. The blood was pounding faster and harder. His rasping gasps for air sounded all around him, echoing inside his head. He hurt everywhere and even his muscles seemed to scream.

“He doesn’t have a great technique,” the voice continued, “But his methods have the desired result. It takes a long time for some one to die here, Mr Boardman, but you will expire knowing it was at the hands of an expert.”

The chest of vivid scars came back towards him. It too was splattered with blood: Bond’s blood. He wanted to scream like his muscles implored him. Christ, this was a nightmare. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. These tall, bulky, dumb looking bastards weren’t supposed to be so fast, so clever, so brutal, so bloody good. Chilikov had them trained thoroughly. It would be a faultless execution.

The guard pushed Bond’s head upright, gently arranging the bruised torso. Bond half expected him to re-arrange his hair. The hands didn’t. Instead they came to rest on his throat and the fingers curled around Bond’s neck, the thumbs pressing down and the palms starting to twist. Bond fought with the last efforts of his tired neck muscles. He tried to rock the seat, to knock them both off balance, but the guard was wise to this, bracing his stance with the legs of the chair. Bond’s exertions became less and less as the pressure continued on his throat. He started to drift. Someone was talking, but he couldn’t make out the words. His throat seemed to burn under the pressing fingers. The hands were too thick, too strong, too tightly curled around his throat. Bond was faint, light headed. His eyelids fluttered uncontrollably. The stench of the guard filled his nostrils. He gurgled as he choked. The spoilt air added to the pain of blocked passages. He couldn’t focus on anything in the room as everything turned into a blur of colour. And the thud of his heartbeat grew louder and louder until it seemed to be a sledgehammer blow to his head, worse than the thumping music at the Rue de Paris. Bond could see again the gaudy floor, the river of blood, the little rag-doll of a girl, her gorgeous hair and the look of exaltation on the beast’s face. And all the while that God-awful beat growing louder and louder in his heart, his blood, like the bark of cannon fire, an explosion, a gunshot.

Two gunshots. No, three. Four.

The hands relaxed about his throat and the guard fell forward onto Bond. The chair crashed uncontrollably backwards and Bond’s head smacked against the stone floor of the torture room. Fresh blood and brains gushed hot across Bond’s face and shoulders. The weight of the bodyguard pinned him to the floor. He groaned and struggled to see what was happening through slitted and blood splattered eyes.

There was another man in the room. He was dressed in a tatty overcoat and trousers and wore a woollen hat on his head. Black locks of hair protruded from underneath his hat. His face was coloured up as if for camouflage. The man carried a shotgun which he was reloading. The huge figure of Chilikov lay bleeding, propped up against the wall of the room. He was probably mortally wounded, but breathing. Having taken the shots in the back the bullets had passed through his body and opened a horrific wound in the centre of his chest.

The stranger took aim at the prostrate figure and at point blank range fired
four bullets into Chilikov’s body. The Steel Wolf was slain.

Bond managed to shout for help.

The stranger appeared disinterested. He sat down at the desk and continued to look at the dead figure of Chilikov for a few minutes. He wasn’t a particularly old man, but his face wore the look of someone who had lived a troublesome, weary life. It was only when another man, also armed but younger, entered the room that Bond managed to get any attention. The second man hauled the dead bodyguard aside and cut Bond free from the chair.

The young man said something, but Bond had no idea what it was. He just nodded and emitted a strangled “Yes.”

The man nodded also, then removed his coat and gave it to Bond to wear. “English?” he asked.


“Come with us. We burn the house.”

Bond almost collapsed when he tried to put weight on his injured foot. The young man came back to help him and they staggered after the stranger. He led them out of the cellar and into the oldest part of Chilikov’s chateau. There were more dead bodies in the kitchen. Bond saw the big scar-faced man lying prostrate, shot and knifed, his face a mask of suffering. Bond didn’t give a damn for him or any of the sons-of-bitches. They deserved their fate. He guessed the whole of Chilikov’s guard were killed or had fled. They passed through the open tradesman’s door.

It was a chilly dawn. Bond’s bare feet sank into the mud of the farm. The morning sky was a flaming gold and rich crimson flecked with black brooding clouds. It seemed to match the burning pig sties and chicken coops in the surrounding fields. Tornados of smoke and ash spun into the air melding with their looming cousins above. The twilight was as dark and mysterious this morning as Bond had remembered it all those evenings before.

There was a group of about twenty men, all dark haired, rough and swarthy, and they were already throwing paraffin oil inside and outside the chateau. The pungent smell caught in Bond’s throat and he coughed. The men had torches made from bundles of sticks and leaves which they ignited. They tossed these into the liquid fuel and there were sudden bursts of blue flame. Gradually the fire started to take hold, but the men wanted the job done properly and they poured on more oil, paper and brushwood. The heat was welcome to Bond, who had been shivering, even in the coat. The flames started to lick their way through the building. The whole structure started to smoke. The men began to stand back, inspecting their handiwork. The flames rose higher, flickering at the windows and doors.

The men had arrived in a truck, land rovers and battered old Skodas. One of the men helped Bond into the back of the truck. The old stranger sat in the front; he wasn’t paying much attention to anything around him. The other men were equally sombre. The journey away was short and silent. The men passed around a bottle of homemade alcohol, offering it to Bond, but he turned it down. All he really wanted was water.

The men took him with them in their trucks only as far as Menin. The young man gave him some loose crowns for the telephone booth.

Before he dismounted, Bond turned to the stranger and held out his hand. “Thank you. Dekuji. Jmenuji se James Bond.”

The man looked at him. Slowly he clasped the outstretched hand. He stared at Bond for a long time without reply. Bond could see the stranger’s eyes were like two circles of coal. He knew exactly who had inherited eyes as black as those.

Then, his voice a deep growl, the stranger said: “Jmenuji se Petr Cerna.”