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Blood from a Stone

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#1 Captain Tightpants

Captain Tightpants


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Posted 25 June 2010 - 09:47 AM


Kolka, Latvia

For all intents and purposes, Kolka was the very ende of the earth. It was, perhaps, about as far removed from both reality and civilisation as you could be whilst still remaining on the face of the earth. There were other townships - in the far reaches of Tibet, or high in the mountains that dominated Eastern Tajikistan, for instance - that may have a better claim to the title of Loneliest Place On Earth, but they would lose to Kolka for sheer virtue of the fact that they were known for being isolated. Kolka, on the other hand, was almost completely anonymous.

The township, if it call be called that, was home to less than two hundred and fifty people and it sat at the very point of a peninsula for which it had been named. Or perhaps it was the other way around and the peninsula was named after the town. There were none alive who could say with any certainty, and any records of it had been lost to antiquity. And so it saddled the point of the peninsula alone, one half open and exposed to the Baltic Sea, the other half overlooking the iron-grey expanse that was the Gulf of Riga.

Despite its size, or lack thereof, Kolka's most distinguishing feature was a gigantic concrete wall at least eighteen feet high that ran around the western edge of the town, spanning around to the east like a gigantic horseshoe. Like any wall, it wa designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to keep invaders out. In this case, the sea. The wall rose from the depths, forming a break between the sea and the land and keeping the township safe from the threat of pounding waves by lifting them above it. To the unfamiliar eye, it looked as if more effort had been put into the wall than the town itself, making the observer question why the entire town was even neccessary in the first place.

The only break in the wall came along the north-eastern edge, where it foled back upon itself on both sides to create a small inlet. This had once been some kind of sheltered harbour, but decades of build-up had filled it with white sand and sealed it off from the ocean. It was now a graveyard for ships and the rotting structures that had once been boardwalks and piers. It was hard to imagine the town as ever having been alive, but the effort that had been put in, and so Kolka had once had some value. But now, the weak light of the sun, the harsh grey walls of bare cement and the bleak whites of the buildings in the town itself combined to create a sense of hopelessness. The only colour was the greens and browns of dried and rotting seaweed that clung to whatever it could find. In some places, it was all that was keeping the skeletons of piers from collapsing into the sand.

Kolka was, therefore, not a place that would appear on anyone's list of must-see travel destinations. But today was an exception; not the exception that proved the rule, but an exception nonetheless. Anyone who wandered down onto that sandy tongue and peered carefully under the wooden wrecks that lined the walls would stand a chance of spotting an unexpected and unannounced visitor. He was of medium height and similar build, with a pair of icy blue eyes and short hair coloured like hay. At first, the observer might think they were seeing things, because James Bond was the kind of man who could stand as still as a statue. A statue that liked shadowy places.

"I'm here," Bond murmured softly. Athough his voice escaped as barely a whisper, he knew he could he heard with crystal clarity half a world away. Wrapped around his throat was a thin black band, with a larger circle-like device directly over his Adam's Apple. It was a special type of microphone, one designed to pick up the vibrations formed within his voice box and translate them directly into sound. His earpiece receiver had been surgically inserted into his ear where it would directly stimulate the small bones within his ear canal. The result was the ability to communicate in almost total silence, though the earpiece did leave him a little deaf on one side.

"And?" a voice in London asked through his earpiece. It belonged to Bill Tanner, the chief of staff for Military Intelligence.

"And I'm here," Bond repeated. "I'm not reporting anything because there's nothing to report. No signs of life; there's no ... well, anything."

"Understood. M advises you to proceed to the target and establish visual confirmation. Follow, but do not engage."

"Christ," Bond breathed, forgetting for the moment that the microphone picked up everything. "You'd think I had a history of running off on my own."

"You do. Which is why M told me to remind you that a Licence to Kill is a last resort, not a first alterantive. Maintain radio silence until confirmation is made. Your microphone might be silent, but that does not mean someone cannot detect your frequency. Tanner, out."

With that, Bond stepped out from his hiding place, thankful to get away from the smell. He was dressed in civilian attire; an olive-green jacket that seemed to be made up mostly of pockets, a light grey button-down shirt and a pair of denim jeans held up with a thick leather belt. Except for the Walther pistol that he kept at the small of his back, he looked like an average citizen. He crossed the sandy belt to a ladder made up of rusty rungs bolted directly into the cement wall and started climbing.

Try as he might, Bond did not like being in Kolka. There was something about the place that just felt wrong, and it had nothing to do with the town's ethereal, disembodied quality. Three days previously, MI6 had received a distress call from an agent code-named 'Maidenhead', who had subsequently arranged to meet in the most isolated place he knew: Kolka. The problem was that MI6 had no record of an agent working under the name Maidenhead, but he knew all of the neccessary prodecures to identify himself. Vauxhall Cross subsequently believed that Maidenhead was a sleeper agent who had never had the chance to become active, most likely because he had never been needed, or because his handler had been killed. That did not mean that MI6 were taking things lightly, as M had authorised a Double-Oh agent - Bond - to follow through on what was a seemingly-normal assignment. Bond's orders were to locate Maidenhead, make a visual contact with him and follow the man until MI6 could be sure of his intentions. Once confident that Maidenhead was who he claimed to be, Bond was to bring him in for debriefing. The first, last and only rule of being a sleeper agent was that you never used a distress signal unless you absolutely had to. And even then, you had to think twice.

Scaling the rung ladder, Bond emerged onto a Kolka street. It was hardly any different from the basin - a ghost town. His target was th largest building in town, a three-story glass edifice that was cut like a jewel and looked quite new. Some enterprising soul had apparently thought there was a tourist trade to be had in Kolka, and so built a hotel in the centre of town, right at the very end of the man-made harbour. Unfortuntely, that sould had been proven wrong, and despite being the newest building in town by at least a decade, the hotel was in worse condition than most of the rest of the buildings in town combined. The large red letters that lined its roof and boldly proclaimed HOTEL had fallen away, while those glass panes that remained were marked by spiderwebs of cracks. As Bond approached, he could see directly into the foyer, and he found it stark and lacking any sort of decoration. The hotel was symbolic of Kolka: no past and no future.

Bond drew his weapon as he approached the hotel, slipping in through an open doorway. The large foyer took up most of the first floor, with a large wooden reception desk off to one side. The panoramic windows overlooking the harbour had somehow remained intact, and the concourse before it was scattered with chairs and tables; clearly, some kind of restaurant. Strangely, despite its broken and beaten exerior, most of the first floor looked untouched, if a little sparse. Perhaps there were not enough people in Kolka to acquaint themselves with the concept of looting.

He quickly found the stairs, buried on the opposite side of the reception desk, and followed them as they curled up into the first floor at an increasingly-tightening angle. He barely stopped to inspect it, instead crossing the hallway to another flight of stairs and repeating the process to access the top level. Maidenhead had arranged to meet in the equivalent of the penthouse, the northernmost room on the top floor overlooking the harbour.

Leading with his weapon, Bond ventured down the hallway on the top floor as a wind picked up from the ocean. It was unusually strong and carried the bite and sting of salt on it and it whipped into the abandoned hotel. Bond flattened his body against the wall next to the penthouse door, pricking his ears so as to hear any sound from within. He was at first confident that no-one was inside, but that confidence quickly turned to concern - if Maidenhead was in the room, then surely he would be moving around. Quickly, but carefully, Bond leaned his weight against the door and it swung open soundlessly. He followed through with the rest of his body, sweeping the room in wide arcs to cover the corners.

It was empty.

The wide windows had been smashed outwards, leaving jagged holes overlooking the town and harbour. The bed had been stripped and most of the furntitre had been scoured bare by the harsh winds. A wide leather couch faced the open sea so that its back was turned to Bond, who stepped around it. A man's body was sprawled out across it, his skin a ghostly white as if all the blood had been drained from it. It had been - Bond quickly noted that the man's neck, wrists and thighs had been crudely slashed, severing major arteries and veins. He rolled the body over, and sure enough, another slash ran down his back, severing his aorta. It was overkill.

"Bond here," he said, not bothering to keep his voice down.

"Go ahead," Tanner instructed.

"I've made visual contact with Maidenhead. He's dead."

Chapter I

"I've made visual contact with Maidenhead," Bond reported. "He's dead."

There was an exagerated silence at the other end of the line. Bond did not need to repeat himself; he knew he had been heard. Tanner's voice came back on the line.

"Abort mission," he commanded. "Abort mission."


"No?" a new voice asked, cutting across the line. "On what grounds, Bond?"

"Information available on-scene, ma'am," Bond responded. "Maidenhead is dead, but he wasn't killed here. All his major blood vessels - jugular, the femoral artery, aotra - have been slashed. He bled out, but there isn't nearly enough blood for him to have been killed here. He also looks as if he's been dead for at least a day. The scene has been staged."

"You're to withdraw," M commanded. "If it's a set-up, they're clearly there to target you. I won't risk an agent."

"With all due respect, ma'am, I think we have an opportunity here. Whoever killed Maidenhead knew he was an agent, but they didn't know who he was working for. Why go to the trouble? They left him here for us to find."

"Alright. You've convinced me. You have until sunset - twelve hours - to locate and identify the persons responsible."

"I don't think I'll need that long," Bond replied, his ears pricking up. "They're already here."

Sure enough, he could hear the faint, yet unmistakable sound of a helicopter rapidly approaching. Bond strained his ears slightly and could pick out a faint muffled noise in the mix, like a heart with an extra beat. The helicopter was laid out with a baffler, a device designed to distort the noise of the rotors. It did not silence the sound - nothing could do that - but disrupted it enough so that the helicopter sounded further away than it really was. But how had they found him so quickly? Bond's eyes darted to the doorframe, where, sure enough, there was a boxy device screwed into the wall at ankle height. He crossed the room and closed the door; a second device, mounted in exactly the same way, stared back at him. An electronic tripwire. Bond had broken the insivible beam as soon as he entered the room. He was clearly dealing with professionals.

Bond opened the door again and stepped out into the hall making sure to close it behind him as the helicopter blew overhead from the south. It was clearly military in design, aggressive angles on a swift-looking body, with the tail rotor built directly into the fuselage. It pivoted on the spot, peering into the penthouse. Lingering only momentarily, it lifted back up into the sky and swung over the roof of the hotel, deploying a handful of belay lines. They were going to assault the hotel from the air. Bond counted the lines as they appeared, and quickly came to the conclusion that this was not a full military operation. There were not enough assailants to make up a full unit.

As the armed men descended from the helicopter, Bond sprinted the length of the hallway, coming to a half outside the room in the south-west corner of the floor, just above the stairs. It had no number on its door and no trace of ever having done so, leading Bond to conclude that it was not a guest room. Using his shoulder, he threw his weight into it. The spindly doorframe came away easily, and Bond's suspicions were proved right. It was some sort of maintenance room, and judging by its shape, it had been added based more on need than actual design. He quickly scrambled through, making for a narrow and steep flight of stairs tucked away in one corner. As this was the top floor of the hotel, they could only lead to the roof.

Bond emerged into the tepid daylight to find himself behind the E in the giant red HOTEL sign The only thing resembling a path was a narrow ledge that looped around behind the supports of the sign to the open northern edge. For some reason, the owners of the hotel had decided to cover the wide square in grey gravel, apparently intending to convert it into a quadrangle before thinking better of it. Bond dropped onto his stomach, crawling fowrad across the gravel; whatever sound he made was drowne out by the helicopter. He tucked his body in against the waist-high wall that encircled the undinished quadrangle as the helicopter lifted back up above the level of the roof. Down below, Bond could hear the sounds of the armed men as they thundered up the stairs from the foyer.

The helicopter cut back across the roof, and Bond seized his opportunity. Standing up, he snatched onto the leading edge of the open door, lifting himself off the ground as the helicopter rose. He performed a chin-up, hauling his body into the open fuselage as quickly as he could, rolling off to one side as a gun went off. There were two men still inside the helicopter: the pilot and a gunner, and it was the gunner who had taken a shot at Bond. Bond was back on his feet before the gunner had time to react - the pilot had jerked around at the sound of the shot, inadvertently pulling on the throttle yoke as he did so - and his knee connected with the gunner's groin. The man sagged, but the gun went off again, the bullet this time tearing through the seat of the unfortunate pilot. The helicopter started drunkenly rotating as both Bond and the gunner were thrown off their feet and out the open fuselage door.

The two men plummeted towards the open street, now a good four or five storeys below. There was only a faint chance of survivng the fall under ordinary circumstances, but as soon as Bond realised he was headed for the open sky, he had latched onto the gunner. As a part of standard procedure, the gunner in a helicopter was anchored to the actual vehicle by way of a zip-line and harness, designed to protect him from just such an eventuality. As a result, Bond only felt about three storeys before the line caught, jerking the two men about. Bond looped his arms around the taught line and unclipped the gunner from his cable, sending the man falling the remaining two storeys to the ground.

Bond was now hanging from the out of control helicopter as it started simultaneously drifting north and losing altitude. Using only the strength in his upper arms, Bond manage to haul himself back up into the helicopter just before it dipped below the level of the sea wall. A collision seemed like an ineviability. Bond clambered into the vacant gunner's chair and took control of the primary weapon: a revolving gun. He unleashed a torrent of tracer rounds that ripped into the hulk of an abandoned ship that sat in the dry harbour; the hulk exploded into a million fragments just as the helicopter entered the space it had been occupying. The helicopter bounced off the sandy floor, pitching the dead pilot back onto the controls and the helicopter changed direction, now rotating on the spot as it drifted towards the sea wall. Bond furiously played at the seat belt of the pilot, hauling the dead weight of the man's body out of his chair and grabbing the controls with just enough time to regain control of the helicopter.

Now fully in control, Bond climbed back up again, pulling himself level at the top of the sea wall. Setting the controls to hold, he abanoned the pilot's chair in favour of the gunner's, and let loose another extended burst of tracer fire. The ground floor of the hotel was absolutely decimated; glass and wood and brick stoop little chance against the hailstorm of bullets that tore through them. Bond felt the gun go dry and gravity claimed the hotel, with the entire norther half simply falling away. Three storyes of hotel collapsed upon itself, tumbling down into the dry harbour in slow-motion. As the sound of the collapsing building came to a halt, Bond took a moment to surveil the scene. There was no sign of life; Kolka had returned to normal, albeit with a dark parody of a facelift. Without a second thought, he lifted back on the yoke and let the helicopter climb, drifting off to the south and east and the rendezvous point.

Chapter II

London, England
One week later

After the isolation and oppression of north-eastern Latvia, London seemed noisy and erratic to the point of chaos. He had barely spent a day in Kolka, but the eerie silence of the place had seeped into Bond's bones, and he often caught himself thinking of the strange town. To take his mind off things, he had driven himself to Regent's Park for some exercise. It had been a long time since he had visited the park for this purpose; he could not recall the last time he had completed the three-mile loop around the outer edge.

His starting line had always been parallel to the start line for the rowing basin for no other reason than it seemed appropriate. He would then follow the roads around the park in a clockwise direction, up past the London Zoo, back down past the rotunda and finishing at the rowing basin again. Today he had made it around to the southern edge of the park before being overtaken by a lively redhead that he vaguely recalled passing early in his circuit. She was small and slender, and clearly had stamina; Bond moved at a military pace, and although he had never timed his laps, he knew he could still complete a full circuit within thirty seconds of his original run.

The redhead slowed at the bottom of the loop, flashing a smile at Bond as he approached and prompting him to slow down. Judging by her figure, she was possibly in better shape than he was, which led him to the conclusion that she was either some kind of athlete or a yoga instructor.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were following me," she said.

"It's hard to follow when you're the one in front," Bond replied.

"I don't make any excuses for that. I'm Ivy," she said by way of introduction.

"Bond. James Bond."

"It's a pretty impressive pace you set, Mister Bond, James Bond."

"I used to be in the Royal Navy. I still am, in some ways."

"I'm a yoga instructor," Ivy said. "Huh," she added, seeing Bond's reaction. His brow had furrowed the moment she said it; it was not what she had said, but the way she had said it that set alarm bells ringing in Bond's mind. He instantly suspected she was lying.

"Was it something I said?" he asked, quickly recovering.

"No, it's just ... well, when most guys hear that, they can't wait to get me home and into bed. They seem to think we're incredibly flexible and know a dozen different position. I am, and I do, but I don't give up the whole farm after making eyes with someone at thirty paces. I've never had someone look as if they were contemplating the mysteries of the universe before."

"Well, I'm not like other men," Bond said. "And unlike most men who say that, I'm not about to do or say anything improper."

"Then what are you about to do?" Ivy asked, stepping in closer. Bond was prevented from answering by the sound of his mobile phone.

"Excuse me," he muttered hastily, opening the phone and turning away from Ivy. "This had better be important."

"Isn't it always?" Bill Tanner asked. "Tear yourself away from the girl; we've finally got something solid."

"Are you watching me?"

"Would it surprise you if we were? No, James, I know you too well. M needs you own here yesterday."

"Understood. I'm on my way," he said, hanging up the phone and turning back to Ivy. "Sorry about that. I'm on call. I'm afraid this discussion will have to be continued."

"Only if you can catch me next time," she said, flashing another smile and resuming her run. Bond noticed it was at a somewhat reduced pace before cutting his own run short and weaving his way to the silver Aston Martin he had parked on the far side of the rowing basin. Next stop, Vauxhall Cross.


One shower and a change of clothes later, and Bond strode into M's office at Vauxhall Cross. She had assumed what he had come to know as her usual position, standing before a wide projection screen that descended over the bulletproof glass of her window to create a theatre-like atmosphere. Bill Tanner was seated off to one side, idly staring into the depths of a glass of bourbon.

"Ma'am," Bond said, announcing his presence.

"This took longer than expected," she said, still staring at the blank screen.

"I apologise for that. I was caught at an inopportune moment."

"Not you. Gogol. Anatol Gogol, my opposite number in the SVR. He's usually very quick on the uptake; this time, it took him a week. Still, I can understand why."

"Ma'am?" Bond asked.

"We've had a lead on the Maidenhead case. The helicopter you intercepted - I don't know how, and nor do I want to - was Russian-registered. Supposedly based in Crimea. I checked with Gogol, and it's still there."

"Russians," Bond mused. "They don't usually go stirring the pot like this."

"Quite. Which explains Gogol's apprehension - they're not Russians. At least, they certainly weren't sanctioned by them." As she spoke, a man's picture appeared on the projector screen. It was a long-distance shot taken by a photographer of middling quality - he had used the wrong lens, creating a slightly blurred, distroted effect - but Bond could clearly make out his features. He was so thin, looked like a walking skeleton. His stringy hair was a dirty grey colour and he was clearly unshaven.

"Unsavoury character," Bond remarked.

"His name is Daniil Abraumovich Zaytsev," Tanner piped up. "Formerly with the Vympal unit, the elite of the Spetsnaz. Spies trained as Special Forces; they were intended as saboteurs for the West, but the USSR collapsed before they saw active duty. Zaytsev was one of the first, but was dishonourably discharged. Trafficking in methamphetamines. He did some time in the system, before resettling."

"According to Gogol, he was let back into the army," M said. "As a part of the 101st Division. Soviet policy prevented serious criminals from rsettling within one hundred kilometres of major urban centres upon their release. A lot of them established themselves at the hundred and first mile marker outside these cities."

"Which is where the 101st Division gets its name from," Tanner supplied.

"Criminals and killers trained as spies and assassins," Bond remarked. "I'm liking him less by the minute."

"The 101st were disbanded in 1995," Tanner continued. "After that, they seem to have gone into business for themselves. It's an unwritten law that any criminal who collaborated with the Russian authorities forefeited his life. The 101st effectively became persona non grata - in fact, Boris Yeltsin listed them as such - and fled Russia. Now they sell their services for cash."

"So how did they find Maidenhead?" Bond asked.

"We're still working on that - but we do have a theory." As Tanner spoke, another picture appeared alongside Zaytsev's. Bond recognised it as Maidenhead, taken some time before he ied.

"The SVR have been watching some of Zaytsev's associates," M said. "They've been spotted in India and Bangkok. Zaytsev has never been seen; his last known location was Prague. As for Maidenhead, the autopsy report is back. We don't have a name just yet, but we do know he was Pakistani."

"He's from the region," Bond said. "Hardly a coincidence."

"Quite. We believe Maidenhead found out about the Russians, but compromised himself in the process. They killed him, and left him for us to find so they could find out who employed him."

"It's consistent with what I saw in Kolka. High-tech equipment, military tactics. But it doesn't explain how Maidenhead knew our distress signals, or even how to contact us."

"That part is slightly more speculative," Tanner said, looking uneasy with the concept.

"Do you recognise this man?" M asked, a third picture appearing alongside Zaytsev and Maidenhead. Bond identified his dark curly hair almost instantly.

"Charles Fischer."

"I thought you might."

"My first confirmed kill. What does he have to do with it?"

"Fischer was a field agent stationed in Islamabad. We believe he recruited Maidenhead on the orders of this man." As she spoke, a fourth and final picture - an older man - appeared on the screen. "Malcolm Dryden, the corrupt East European sector chief. When I sent you to deal with him, you were never told the specifics of his betrayal: he was proven to have sold classified information to a Russian who we now know to be Daniil Zaytsev. Fischer recruited Maidenhead for Dryden, who then sold him down the river to Zaytsev. We believe that was the price of entry to the 101st Division. Don't think for a moment that you killed two men who didn't deserve it - their little side operation was unsanctioned and sent an innocent man to his death. Of all the people employed his this agency, only two have the authority to order a man's death: myself and Tanner. We don't even know if Dryden and Fischer were trying to infiltrate the 101st or join them."

"Never doubted myself for a second, ma'am. Now, everything fits. There's just one final question I have: why? What are the 101st Division doing in India that is so secret they'll risk exposing themselves just to find out who is watching them?"

"That's what we would like to know, too - which is why we're sending you to India to find out."

#2 Captain Tightpants

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Posted 25 June 2010 - 12:11 PM

Bored. Chapter three begins now.

Chapter III

Arunachal Pradesh, India

The heavy-duty tyres of the jeep scrabbled for traction as it clawed its way along the high mountain pass. To one side was a stony slope that gradually pulled away to reaches unknonw; to the other was a sheer-sided drop into a turgid river that Bond had been told was fed by a glacier. This was Arunachal Pradesh, a slice of India that sat at the northern reaches of the country's east. The land itself was bitter, a reflection of its blood-splattered history. Even now, nearly fifty years after the Sino-Indian War of 1962 ended, China still claimed the land as its own, and the two nations occasionally degenerated into squabbling over the tract.

Bond's target was Itanagar, a small city of thirty-five thousand, but an important way station. It had once been a part of the Silk Road, connecting China and India with the ocean. The mountain passes here were at their gentlest, offering the fastest connection to the rest of the world. Now it just offered the fastest connection to a cramped corner of the world, the point where India, China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal an Bhutan all converged, merging together into a strange melting pot. Where the borders between nations were not disputed, they remained largely undefined, because the concept of a border was unnecessary.

The outskirts of the city were marked by the legacy of the Han Dynasty, the ruins of a rammed-earth watchtower that sat at the highest point of the pass. It had once held strategic value, but now it was little more than an onion-shaped shell. Bond pulled over against the backdrop of the Himalayas and approached the watchtower on foot. There was a man waiting for him, as he had been told to expect. He was tall and gangly; all sinew and little in the way of muscle. Bond noticed the man was younger than he, yet he was the Section Chief for this corner of the world.

"A little cloak and dagger, isn't it?" Bond asked once he was within range. "Is there something other-than-safe about your safehouse?"

"I like this place," his contact said simply. "Can't say why. It's got a certain earthy quality to it, I guess. The named Foxderby. Julian Foxderby; Jules to my friends. I count you among them."

"You're a little young for Section Chief," Bond said despite himself.

"Ah, but that's because you're not thining laterally. This is Section SC, Subcontinent. We might be out in the backwoods, but we're the ones the brass have their eye on - we're close enough to the action in Pakistan and Afghanistan to get som experience going, but far enough away that we're not a danger to ourselves."

"You're just not what I expected, Foxderby."

"Jules, please. And what were you expecting, Bond? Some uppity gent, an Old China Hand, maybe? A brigadier, no less, with a name like Geoffrey Burgoyne; someone who wouldn't be out of place in a jazz quartet if he hadn't joined the Army as a lad. No doubt he had the khakis out as standard dress code, a pipe in hand and a handlebar moustache to match. Likes the roast beef of old England, despite the locals' party line of Bow to the Cow - as he'd put it - and ends ever sentence with 'eh?' despite himself. It can be arranged, if you like. M says you're looking for someone."

"I'm looking for a man."

"There are a lot of men in the world. You'll have to be more specific."

"A Russian."

"A Russian," Foxderby repeated. "Now there's someone who would stand out. We've got every selection of ethnic minority here in Itangar that takes your fancy, but Russians are a commodity we lack. Yes, they'd stand out. Any particular Russian you're looking for, or would all of them suffice?"

"All of them would be good. They're an old Soviet spy ring that the SVR spotted out this way. The dangerous variety, of course."

"Would we be in business if it weren't for the likes of them?"

"Probably not. Do you know anything?"

"I know enough to say no. If they're here, they've kept a low profile. Very low; things are quiet here. The Chinese seem happy to forget about whatever claim they have to Arunachal Pradesh. They're keeping themselves entertained with some hydroelectric project out to the north and the east. It doesn't affect India, so India sees no reason to complain. We have no cause to investigate, so why push the issue? No, our problem right now is sapphires."

"Sapphires?" Bond asked.

"Sapphires. You know, pretty blue stones that you give to your lady friends if you're not quite ready for the diamond-level membership? They're very popular in this corner of the world, among the common folk and the naughty men alike. They're small, so they're easy to transport and conceal, and they convert readily to cash. They don't have the stigma associated with blood diamonds, either, so they're the latest fad for every mad dictator. We get ours from across the border in Burma; they like to smuggle them out when the coffers are a little on the light side."

"So what's the problem?"

"Too many of them appearing on the market," Foxderby said. "All of them high-quality, five carats or more. Single stones like that go for a hundred thousand pounds easy money. And it's not just here - we're finding them flooding the market everywhere from Dhaka to Bangalore and Karachi. I have reason to suspect they're showing up in Tehran as well, but the Iranians being Iranians won't play ball with foreign intelligence groups. I'm not just talking a few extra sapphires here and there, mind you - we're finding huge shipments, each worth at least a million quid, regularly being dumped on the market."

"Any suspects?"

"None. The Burmese junta are the source because the sapphires are all Burmese; we acquired a few samples and ran tests. They're all coming from the same mines. But the junta have been running sapphires into India and Bangkok for years. They're smarter than this - all they're achieving right now is driving down the market price of sapphires. That means less capital at the end of the day."

"I'd like to see these mines," Bond said.

"I can tell you right now it's not going to happen. The Burmese are like the Iranians - rather biblical about it when the subject is foreign involvement. Why, do you suspect the Russians?"

"It depends. They've been spotted here and in Thailand, so that angle works. I have no idea when they got here, so I can't give you a timeline. But if what you're saying is true, this is something of an anomaly. It could be coincidence that the Russians are in town at the same time as sapphires are flooding the market, but I don't believe in coincidence."

"Okay, I can see how your theory works. In theory. It's just missing one small, vital part: why? Why would the Russians be flooding the market with sapphires? What possible reason could they have, Bond?"

"I have no idea."

"Well, you'd better start thinking of them. Because without a reason, the Russians' presence remains nothing more than a coincidence, and if you start investigating them, you'll only be wasting time. And from what I'm told about the Double-Ohs, time is not something you have in spades. So lie low for a few days. Keep an eye out for the Russians and the other Russians, the ones watching them. In the meantime, I'll keep watch over the sapphires, see if anything changes."

"No," Bond intervened. "Don't bother with the sapphires. All that's going to tell us is where they're coming from, and we already know that. Watch to see where the money is going instead. These Russians, they're ... well, they're the proverbial black sheep, so to speak. Criminals turned spies turned freelancers. Moscow's offical position is that they've been kicked to the kerb, but they could be operating from the outside. Some kind of currency drive. Keep your eyes peeled and your wits about you."

#3 Captain Tightpants

Captain Tightpants


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Posted 28 June 2010 - 01:43 AM

Chapter IV

Itanagar, India

"Don't look now," Bond cautioned, "But we're being watched."

"Watched? Jules asked. "Are you sure? How do you know?"

"You're certainly cut out for a management position," Bond muttered. "It's the traffic police. They're watching foreigners and new arrivals. They know we're here."

"You think the Russians are behind it?"

"Yes - but I think it's the SVR. Not the 101st Division."

Bond and Jules were sitting in traffic in downtown Itanagar, or whatever passed as "downtown". It was largely just an arterial road with smaller streets spawning from it, with each major intersection marked by a traffic policeman waving vehicles through.

"Have you given any thought as to how you want to get their attention?" Jules asked.

"Yes. We're going to knock. Loudly. We'll kill two birds with one stone while we're at it. Know any local sapphire dealers?"

"I do. Left here," he instructed.

"How good is your Russian?" Bond asked.

"How good is my Russian?"

"That's what I asked. Are you fluent and can carry out a reasonable conversation, or just count to ten and swear?"

"I know enough."

"You'd better. Because this is over before it begins if you don't."

"What did you have in mind?"

"We're going to approach the sapphire dealers. We'll be in character - me, a Russian mercenary; you, a local expat that I hired as a translator. Both the 101st and the SVR will pay attention to a newcomer on the scene, and if their presence is at all related to the sapphires, we should get a lead on it."

"Are you sure you can pull this off, Bond?"

"Yes. The trick to this kind of lying is knowing what to say. Be specific when you lie - but be specific about the right things. I'm a mercenary; I don't need a full backstory. What I do have should be filled with inconsistencies and gaps because mercenaries lie. This legend is going to be mae up in five minutes for use on neutral territory, so it shouldn't be too difficult, but remember the details in case we need to fall back into character later on. Got it?"

"Hit me with them," Jules said.

"My name is Vladimir Sergeyovich Shikhanov. I was born in Rostov-on-Don, enlisted in the army at eighteen. Discharged at the end of my compulsory service."

"You need some murk in there," Jules advised. "Mercenaries have shady backgrounds. How about if you were investigated for excessive force in training, caused a few broken bones and hospitalisations? Nothing serious, and nothing you were investigated for, but enough to convince the people we're meeting that you liked being a soldier a little bit too much?"

"I like that. It's better than what I had in mind; a deserter. Okay, discharged. Whether or not it was honourable is open to debate. We'll leave whatever happened next unspecified, until I showed up in the Central African Republic a few years later - Africa is always good for mercenaries. Got caught up in that ugliness in Tajikistan a decade ago. Also toured in Venezuela, Colombia and the Philippines."

"And my legend?"

"You're an expatriate. Your name is ... Geoffrey Burgoyne. That shouldn't be too hard for you."

"You had to leave me with that one, eh? I'm afraid I don't have the khakis or the moustache, old boy. Pull over, eh? We're here," he said.

"Good. Don't break character."

The two men entered the dealer, a low two-storey building that looked like every other of its kind in the city. Gemstone dealers kept a low profile. Bond and Foxderby entered through the open door to find an entire room given over to the stones. Glass cases, much like a jewellry store displayed some of the brightest gems Bond had seen. Bond spotted a narrow doorway leading deeper into the store, where he could see a young woman meticulously weighing stones on a set of scales. She looked up as Foxderby cleared his throat and quickly entered the storefront, careful to close the door behind them.

"Can I help you?" she asked in perfect English, no doubt a result of seeing their skin colour.

"This here's m'employ, temporary as he may be" Jules said. "A Mister Shikhanov, all the way from Russia. Fancy that, eh? He's looking to sell some, uh, choice selections of stones on the market. Hears they're of the lucrative variety, wants them appraised, eh?"

"Shikhanov," she repeated, rounding the cases and approaching Bond.

"Vladimir Shikhanov," Bond confirmed.

"And I suppose you want the best price on the market," she added, leaning in so that she was almost an inch from Bond's face. Her jet-black hair and coffee-like skin were strangely distracting.

"If it can be arranged, yes. My friend here, Burgoyne, he said you were very good."

"Oh, he is - but his name isn't Burgoyne. It's Jules. Which means you're no Russian."