THE BLINK OF AN EYE
A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF
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This short story collection is 100% unofficial and has been written for the James Bond fan community at www.commanderbond.net.
The author acknowledges all copyrights for products mentioned in the document and for the James Bond character as created by Ian Fleming.
The official James Bond books are copyright Glidrose / Ian Fleming Publications Ltd and are available to purchase.
The motion pictures are created by EON productions/MGM. For further information please visit the official James Bond website at www.jamesbond.com.
This collection is the intellectual property of Chris Stacey, whose personal details are listed on the CommanderBond.net website under the member ship name “chrisno1.”
The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, Life through a Lens, A Season of Sorrow, The Blink of an Eye © Chris Stacey Esq 2009
Death Has Many Faces, Epilogue © Chris Stacey Esq 2010
I would like to thank all those who have encouraged me in my writing and helped me in the production of this collection, especially Simon, Gordon and Steve. Thanks, guys.
I would like to thank Maya whose image was used for the cover of this collection.
I admit to borrowing the title of Life through a Lens from the 1997 Robbie Williams’ song and album. The spelling is different although some themes may be vaguely similar.
Also in the story Life through a Lens, James Bond comes into contact with various celebrities. Any views expressed by the characters are purely fictional and do not relate to any critical opinion by the author.
Four of these stories originally appeared under the author’s name on the website www.FanFiction.net. They have been revised for publication here.
Also by Chris Stacey on CommanderBond.net
(a screen treatment of the 1983 novel by John Gardner)
The Steel Wolf
(a short story)
The Humming Bird
THE BLINK OF AN EYE
A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF JAMES BOND
THE CHRYSANTHEMUM AND THE SWORD
DEATH HAS MANY FACES
LIFE THROUGH A LENS
A SEASON OF SORROW
THE BLINK OF AN EYE
AND THE SWORD
Bill Tanner hadn’t had a particularly good Christmas. As part of the Senior Command Team it had been his turn to run the office. So, although he hadn’t missed any social functions, he had been required to be sober and trundle into London while more than half the work force of Millennium House stayed at home. Everyday, excepting Christmas Day, he’d presented himself before the big white building on the south bank of the Thames, been searched by the ultra-tight security teams and spent eight mostly humdrum hours in control of the British Secret Service. It wasn’t so bad. Even espionage seemed to take a traditional Christmas holiday.
M was always holidayed in Scotland during the festive season, although the term ‘off duty’ could never be reasonably applied to her. Every morning she received dispatches by twenty four hour courier and would telephone Tanner for an update. Her reassurances helped, but Tanner essentially saw himself as a top civil servant, not a power broker or negotiator. He was an excellent administrator – it was one his strength and the main reason M had requested he be promoted to Chief of Staff – but the troublesome, more diplomatic role, of acting Head of Service, sat uneasily on his shoulders. Top level meetings with government ministers and advisors made him anxious. Thankfully he’d only made one visit the Foreign Office once this season, to explain the S.I.S. position following another case of uranium poisoning. That one intense question and answer session hardly resolved the situation. The Minister was quick to criticise. Tanner knew he didn’t quite have the wit for the confrontation. He left the F.O. feeling he’d been present at less of a debriefing and more of a ticking off.
Dealing with members of the cabinet was M’s territory. When she sensed reluctance to authorise direct action, she seized the imitative, like a boxer, and forced her point home. M’s cut-throat delivery of her department’s actions usually left ministers in no mood to interfere or question her decisions. With her astute reasoning, M usually got her way, unless her intentions clearly conflicted with current government policies. Even then she would disguise the service’s manoeuvres with terms like ‘unavoidable incident’, ‘cursory observations’ or, at worst, ‘unintentional accident.’ M shouldered a lot of responsibility, both good and bad. It was 4th January and Bill Tanner was quite glad she was back.
Tanner settled at his desk just before seven. Rosemary brought him coffee and the sheaf of daily bulletins. Most of these were innocuous communications, dull and trivial. The filtering system wasn’t as efficient as it claimed. Half way down the pile, Tanner paused and read a communiqué three times before placing it to one side. Once he’d signed off the remaining reports, he returned to this one message. It grabbed his attention because it was sent via the telex system, not secure high speed email. Telex machines, while not completely obsolete, were not in general use. Those which did exist mostly resided with sleeper agents and retired field officers. A previous Head of Service had famously declared them as being ‘only good for the cricket scores’ and had one installed in his office precisely for that purpose. Tanner didn’t know there was a Swiss model, a portable MUX-B, in use in Singapore. He read the message again. It was headed Universal Exports and was somewhat obscure: HELP ME DROP DEAD IN SINGAPORE STOP YOU AINT SEEN NOTHING YET STOP SOONIE.
Tanner spent half an hour making telephone calls. Within minutes two files arrived from the Registrar of Records. The first was a summary of the activities of the military regime in Burma, a country now renamed Myanmar. Tanner, like many British citizens simply refused to use that name, a sort of mental hangover from when half of Malaya was part of Britain’s long diminished Empire. This document followed a similar unwritten rule. The second folder was the service record of the late Stephen Bachman.
Tanner read the files quickly, highlighting points of interest. He received and made more telephone calls. At ten o’clock the Foreign Office Advisor for South East Asia arrived at his office and for half an hour they discussed Tanner’s concerns. Afterwards, Tanner called in Rosemary and dictated the contents of a new operational dossier. He was ready to meet M just after noon.
M looked refreshed and cheerful, which was unusual, and as Tanner took a seat, he happened to remark on it.
“Thank you, Tanner,” she replied warmly. “This Christmas I became a grandmother. There’s nothing like a new arrival to spark a family celebration. I had a very good holiday. Now,” M curtly turned into her businesslike self, “What have you got for me?”
“Stephen Bachman – 439, our man in Malaya. You’ll recall he was killed in Burma last summer. Well, something’s come to light, something unexpected, which, if I’m correct, may be very useful in the fight to unseat General Shwe’s military regime.”
M offered Tanner some coffee. “Remind me why Bachman was in Burma.”
“He’s an intelligence gatherer. He’s also a legitimate representative of the Living Aid Foundation,” explained Tanner, accepting the refreshment with a nod of thanks, “He was in Bangkok organising aid convoys to the Karenni, a displaced people living in East Burma. The final convoy was attacked. The Burmese claim it was the Karen Resistance Army. Officially, we haven’t commented, but the facts don’t bear this out. The circumstances of Bachman’s death suggest the effects of some sort of respiratory agent.”
“You’re suggesting Bachman was murdered,” summarised M.
“We might not be able to prove it. But Bachman wants to tell us something from beyond the grave, so to speak.” Tanner noted M’s look of disapproval at the euphemism. He quickly handed over the telex. “This arrived today.”
M read the message once. “Cryptic,” was her only comment.
“Yes, Ma’am. The Bachman Turner Overdrive.”
“I’m not an ingénue, Tanner,” M appeared to lose patience, “I do remember the seventies. What’s this all about? Why’s it come on a telex? We haven’t used those beastly things for years.”
“I made a few discreet calls to the L.A.F. and to the Station in Bangkok. They seem to think it’s from his assistant.”
Tanner paused, waiting for a response. When he didn’t get one he carried on, “We were aware Bachman was involved in a relationship with an air hostess; it’s mentioned in his dispatches. Her name’s Lamai Sun Thorn. Apparently Soonie is a pet name. When Bachman was killed, she went to ground, on advice.”
"And she didn’t turn up? What do we have on this girl?”
“Not a lot as it happens. We don’t even have a photograph. According to the Malay Station, she was never officially employed.”
“Sounds like bloody awful security. Who’s in charge of South Asia, for god’s sake?”
M rolled her eyes as if the very name spelt trouble. She made a note on her memo pad.
“According to my sources,” continued Tanner, “This girl was living with Bachman. It’s quite feasible she knows a lot about his work and may have access to his telex machine.”
“So she sent the message?”
“I believe so,” answered Tanner. He saw was the perplexion on M’s face; he recognised the look; it was time to wrap up his pitch. “The telex used all of Bachman’s Baudet masking codes. It is only a hunch, but I think she’s asking for a dead drop. Perhaps she has something for us. Something Bachman gave her before he died.”
“Where’s the girl now?”
“According to Thai Airways she’s working at their offices in Singapore.”
“This is all just conjecture, Tanner. Why should we follow it up?”
Tanner handed over the dossier he’d compiled. “I’ve summarised the necessary information. If you turn to Appendix ~”
“No, thank you, Tanner,” interrupted M. Her usual frostiness and authoritive tone returned. “Leave it with me. I’ll call you after lunch.”
M didn’t open Tanner’s brief for some time, choosing instead to complete her own correspondence. She poured herself another cup of coffee, ordered a plate of the canteen’s ox tongue specials and opened the blue document wallet.
The memorandum was typed in capital letters with no punctuation except full stops. Like its author, the script was concise and matter of fact. This was why M appreciated Tanner. He didn’t fuss. The first page was dated and headed: PROSPECTIVE ACTION IN SINGAPORE – REGARDING INTEL FROM OPERATIVE 439 (DECEASED).
She read on. After two hours, lunch and several cups of coffee she had to make a decision.
439 was an authority of blood diseases, things like Anaemia and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. But he passed up research and chose to work for the Living Aid Foundation, initially in the famine regions of Ethiopia and Sudan. When he was posted to Somalia the East African Division recruited him, ostensibly to provide observations from the war zone. 439 made contacts, he made friends easily and fast. He was able to provide vital information on troop movements, corruption and, most tellingly, a series of human rights abuses during the Guban Offensive. There had been widespread anarchy and 439’s work allowed Britain to issue a Code Blue evacuation warning. It was in Somalia that 439 acquired a portable MUX-B Telex, there being hardly any internet overage in East Africa at the time. After fifteen years in Africa, he returned to Britain and to research.
Bachman’s work led him to set up the Feather Project, studying tropical diseases in Thailand. Indirectly he took an interest in the plight of the Karenni, who suffered constant persecution. Many fled the country, preferring to be refugees in Thailand, where they were treated little better. Subsequently Bachman organised Living Aid convoys into the militarised zones of East Burma.
Without prompting, 439 again began sending telex reports to Millennium House. Bachman appeared to have been forgotten. M had made a written note for Robinson, the Human Resources Supervisor, to chase up the whereabouts of all operatives; she wondered how many more had been ‘forgotten’ and were still on the department’s payroll.
The Malay division subsequently issued 439 with a secure email link and he provided accurate intelligence on the activities of the Burmese military. M briefly read 439’s intelligence extracts. They were full of the usual refugee stories; the same ones M read every month from far flung corners of the world. She’d dealt with General Shwe’s totalitarian regime before; he was a suspicious inward looking ruler, content to sit on accumulated wealth while the rest of the country went to ruin. The treatment of the Karenni was merely another example of his regime’s disregard for international opinion. This attitude was all too prevalent in many parts of the world and it angered M. She considered it born as much from ignorance as contempt for a nation’s civilian population. However the final communiqué caught her imagination, in the same way that it must have pricked Tanner’s:
22 AUGUST – INTEL FROM JOW RE COMMON PHOSGENES IN USE LIKELY SULPHUR MUSTARD GAS (HD, H, HT, HL, AND HQ) AND NITROGEN MUSTARD GAS (HN1, HN2, HN3). FORWARD ASAP.
M knew the basic elements for chemical weapons, and she was also aware the Burmese junta were suspected of hoarding them. The United Nations still listed Burma as one of the top ten countries most likely to be making and utilising phosgene. But where, she wondered, was this intelligence, the firm evidence that could be used to confront General Shwe? 439 had not been able to send it. He died on 24th August.
The authorities blamed his death on the Karen Resistance Army. There was a detailed report from the Major in charge of the convoy’s military escort. He’d led his platoon into skirmishes with the K.R.A. miles outside the village, leaving the convoy unguarded for two days. When they returned the K.R.A. had slaughtered the aid workers and drivers and seized the supplies. The Burmese transcript was full of biased sentiments. Yet it seemed unlikely the Karenni would attack their source of food, clothes and medicine.
The report from Crozier acknowledged the doubt, especially as the Thai post-mortem examination raised difficult questions for Major Tin’s story. The bodies had been posthumously mutilated, which was not uncommon, but the real cause of death wasn’t bullets or knives, but a choking agent, similar to those identified in 439’s reports. The examiner made reference to excessive blistering of the skin, especially around the face and hands. The lungs and throat were infected and had bled internally. The summary did not categorically cite the use of pulmonary agents, like chlorine and phosgene, but it didn’t exactly deny the possibility. The symptoms were very specific, but the case was diplomatically closed.
M looked out the window towards Westminster Palace. The iron hands on the white clock face of Big Ben were easing towards three o’clock. It was already beginning to darken, another short grey day. She turned the conundrum over in her head. 439’s death was unfortunate, suspicious and, quite possibly, an elaborate murder, but was Tanner fishing for something that wasn’t there. Had this ‘girlfriend’ sent the bizarrely worded telex? Why did she need help? Had she changed jobs and location for her own safety? Would Burma’s Military Intelligence Service be following an innocent girl to Singapore? Maybe there was more to it than met the eye. Perhaps even a last will and testament from Stephen Bachman, the final twist of data from Operative 439? She thought back to the undelivered communiqué; where was that last transcript? Did the girl have it?
M called Tanner back to the office. He was there in five minutes, but she deliberately made him wait. Tanner knew the routine; M used it on government ministers, lulling them into the storm. Suddenly she was curt, authoritive; she did not mince words.
“There’s nothing at stake here, Tanner. I don’t think this girl knows what she’s doing. It’s damn risky and I can’t be risking anyone on a whim.”
“Of course, Ma’am,”
Tanner was disappointed. He hoped he didn’t show it. M saw the reaction. He had strong shoulder’s did Tanner, buffing him up was a little mean. After a pause she offered a thin smile.
“But it’s worth looking at in more detail,” said M. “I think we can put something into action. But I want it done properly. A swift, low key rendezvous, please. The protection of the contact has to remain prominent. The girl’s only a civilian.”
Tanner hoped he didn’t sound too keen. Inwardly he was just a little excited. “Shall I send Crozier?” he asked.
“Good god, no. Isn’t 007 in Australia at the moment?”
“I understand he’s on vacation in Cairns.”
“Cancel it,” said M gruffly, “If this girl is in any danger and the opposition think she’s contacted us, they won’t be watching flight arrivals from Down Under. 007 can sneak in unnoticed.”
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
James Bond watched the slim back of the young blonde stewardess retreat up the first class aisle. He smiled cheekily to himself. The flirtation he had carried on with Eve was finally bearing fruit and they had exchanged numbers, in case she ever had a stop over in London, which was quite likely. Bond wasn’t fond of Australian girls, finding their accent too strong, but she was as demure as they come and very pretty with a wide genuine smile.
Bond sipped his sixth champagne cobbler. Eve had shown a remarkable capacity to learn the art of mixing a good cocktail. This was her best effort yet. He settled back into his big, deep seat. He’d eaten, drunk, read the Brisbane Courier-Mail and listened to jazz on the headphones. Now, his final drink of the flight to hand, he reflected on this minor sortie.
The operation didn’t sound like a job for an agent of Bond’s calibre. Indeed, Bond wasn’t even aware the service still did ‘dead drops.’ As he told M, they went out of fashion after the Cold War ended and the internet revolution took off. Bond had never performed a dead drop during his whole career and didn’t see why he had to start now. He didn’t like the set up either. No description of the girl. No idea what the merchandise was. Bond was also unhappy over the choice of venue. The service was well known for conducting business at the Marriott, including, he recalled, a botched defection of a Chinese scientist. The scientist had ended up recaptured by his own people and returned to Beijing to face trial and likely incarceration. He was never heard of again. Bond didn’t want a similar fate to befall Lamai Sun Thorn. Despite these reasonable objections, M insisted Bond was the man for the task.
Mostly though, Bond was annoyed at having to cut short his vacation on the Great Barrier Reef. He had been planning the trip for months. Douglas Donovan had been one of his best friends in the service. A Double ‘O’ like Bond, he’d been forced to retire after his left lung was shattered by three bullets in Morocco. His brother already lived in Queensland, operating a pleasure boat service across the reef, so Dougie had taken his disability compensation and joined him, setting up his own business, which he called Sail & Swim.
It had been a perfect week. Bond had flown out on Boxing Day and, once the jet lag had passed, Dougie took ample pleasure in showing him the delights of Cairns. There were inexpensive restaurants, rowdy drinking bars, the not-too-fussy casino and, Dougie’s speciality, the strip clubs. They got drunk at night and, while they recovered during the day, the two of them took a small motor launch out to the reef. They sunbathed and snorkelled. Once the alcohol was out of their system, they scuba dived the twenty feet down, exploring the coral beds and the glorious aquatic wildlife. Then they drank some more and reminisced. Bond hadn’t been so relaxed in years. Dougie looked refreshed and, despite the gammy lung, he seemed to be fitter and more spirited than Bond could ever remember. Silently, Bond had a tinge of jealousy for the easy going lifestyle his pal had provided for himself. Half way through the second week, Dougie encouraged Bond to follow in his footsteps.
“Look at me, James! I’m fit again. Like a fiddle. I love what I do out here. It’s almost as good as sex. Well, maybe not that good, but pretty darn close, I reckon. You’ve still got some youth on your side and you’re not short of talents – hunting, shooting, fishing, diving and swimming. You’d go down a storm with the ladies here too, mate. You and me, James, we’d set the pulses racing in North Queensland. Think about it: sun, sea and Sheila’s.”
“And horrific accents,” mocked Bond, “Come on, Doug, you know my heart’s set on that cottage in the country.”
Dougie wouldn’t let the subject rest until Bond impolitely told him to shove it up his rear end. Later, over a steak dinner, Bond noticed Dougie had sat facing the entrance to the restaurant, as he had every time they went out.
“It doesn’t leave you does it, Doug?” he asked.
“The old feelings, the habits, the wariness that’s drilled into us,” explained Bond. “Do you ever think you’re safe, Doug? Even after six years, you’re still expecting someone to come for you.”
“Every day, James. There are people out there who’ll want me dead and they haven’t died yet,” Dougie said with an almost apologetic laugh, “Hell, I miss the thrill too, buddy. I never believed it, but I actually miss pulling the trigger. I always thought I’d be glad not to have that responsibility, but once you’ve tasted that power it’s hard to shake off. There are days when all I think about is the scrapes I got into and how I got out of them. Sometimes they’re nightmares and I wake up in a sweat, like the old days. Other times they’re like an adventure and I never want it to end. Sailing and swimming all day, drinking and ing all night – it just isn’t a substitute.”
Dougie paused, his eyes closed and he took a deep breath. When he opened them Bond could see the eyes were wet. Dougie dabbed them with his napkin. “Christ, I wish I hadn’t walked out of that restaurant in Rabat. They told me not to. I just didn’t believe them. My first big mistake and it finishes me.”
Bond nodded in sympathy. The memory was painful for Dougie. It had been a long
convalescence for him. Bond had visited him several times and been alarmed by the physical and mental breakdown the man was suffering. His life had almost been torn from him, his career was finished and, as often happened in these situations, there was little compassion from the suits in charge. Bond silently wondered how long it would be before a stray bullet disabled him, before they read him the retirement notice.
“You’re better off out of it, Doug,” stated Bond blankly, “Believe you me, the world is getting uglier by the year.”
This seemed to close the matter and the two old friends set about downing big vodka chasers in O’Brien’s and catching the local ladies.
Bond had woken the next morning with a naked woman lying next to him. Once again, he squinted in the morning sunlight, focussing his tired eyes on the creature next to him, and wished they always looked as good the morning after as they did the night before. Bond recalled this one was high on enthusiasm and very noisy. He idly lifted the sheet to remind himself of her curvy, slightly careworn body. She wasn’t a young woman, but she had fine assets where it counted. He struggled to remember her name.
Bond slipped out of bed and walked naked to the bathroom where he took a long revitalising shower and, for once, decided not to shave. Wearing a towel he entered the kitchen and blended together pineapples, mangos and oranges, making two big glasses of smooth juice. He could hear that Dougie was awake and expending more energy with his own eager partner. Bond returned to the bedroom and gave the dozing girl a playful slap on the backside.
“Come on, petal, time to get up.”
She moaned softly and yawned. “Oh, sweetie, not yet, I’m too tired. You wore me out, you tiger.”
“No,” said Bond firmly, “Move your . It’s Sunday and I go to church on Sundays.”
This seemed to stir the girl a little and she half sat up. “Church?” she repeated, incredulous, “You’re ing joking, right?”
“No, I’m deadly serious,” Bond handed her the glass of fresh juice. “You want to come?”
The girl most certainly did not and while Bond dressed, she took her own shower. She too could hear the sounds from the next bedroom. Her friend was clearly occupied. She paused by the door as if to knock and then, with an indifferent shrug, changed her mind.
She and Bond exchanged a few niceties and she stretched up to kiss him gently on the lips. “Thanks, babe, any time you want a repeat performance, give me a call.”
Bond waited until she left the bungalow before returning to the bedroom to strip the bottom sheet from the bed. She’d written a number on the telephone pad. Bond looked at it. He still didn’t remember her name. Casually he screwed up the paper into a ball and threw it into a waste bin. Finally he left the bungalow, not to go to church, but to stroll down to the beach, as he’d done every morning.
Cairns was a big town, not in terms of population, but in its acreage. Streets were wide, houses big, everything seemed to be spread out, ordered. It didn’t offer much in the way of history and architecture. It was a holiday town. Bond enjoyed the sun on his skin as he ambled down Grove Street on his way to the sea front. He lit his first cigarette of the day, red Marlboros, his own special Morland’s were finished, and sucked the tobacco deep into his lungs.
Bond mulled over Dougie’s worries. Bond was rarely ill-at-ease. He never once considered the enemy would seek him for retribution on his own time. It did not stop him being cautious, but he didn’t spend time anticipating death. When working, yes; then Bond was alert and coiled like a tight spring, waiting for the moment when action took over from words; but never at home, never on holiday. Perhaps his relaxed attitude was the sign of a lucid acceptance of his fate or maybe he just didn’t care enough about his life. It had often been suggested he didn’t care enough about the lives of those around him.
Bond reached the rather muddy beach. It was already humid and clammy, he was glad of the ocean air to cool him. He sat down for several minutes, smoking another cigarette, enjoying the early morning breeze and the soft lap of waves on the shore line. He wondered: could this be the good life for him? Yes, an easy pampered retirement of great food, water sports and women, not necessarily in that order. He wasn’t getting younger. A change of lifestyle might be what he needed, what the doctor never told him, but always implied.
When Bond returned to the bungalow, Dougie was alone and looking quite pleased with himself. Bond went to check his email while Dougie made eggs for breakfast. Bond’s slightly sombre mood altered dramatically as soon as he filtered his inbox. There was a message from M. Bond closed the bedroom door and played the recorded message. M’s instructions were clear. His vacation was over. He had to reply immediately, confirming his flight and arrival times. It had all been arranged without consulting him. He felt tense and a little sick. His mind wasn’t ready for this. His body wasn’t either, not after the Christmas season and Dougie’s infamous pub crawls.
His friend’s smile vanished as soon as he saw Bond’s attitude at the breakfast table. Bond explained what had happened and Dougie accepted it with bad grace and lots of swearing. Bond, more philosophically, chose to turn down another day on the reef in favour of an intense drying out session. Their final evening was one of mixed emotion and role reversal from the night before; Bond not wanting to abandon his holiday, wary of the mission ahead of him, and Dougie understanding why he had to go, sympathetic to his fears.
And now, with little else to do on board the plane, Bond was drinking again, slowly and methodically. If nothing else comes out of this mission, he considered, at least he’d have the number of the beautiful Eve.
Edited by chrisno1, 05 March 2010 - 11:12 AM.