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Those Who The Gods Love Die Young

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#1 chrisno1



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Posted 01 August 2010 - 08:31 AM



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This novel 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.

All characters and situations in this novel are fictional. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely co-incidental. While some real life military and political figures are mentioned, this is only to provide context for the narrative.

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.”

© Chris Stacey Esq 2010


The events depicted in this story were planned to take place in September and October 2010, coinciding with the final withdrawal of United States troops from Iraq. Subsequently around 50,000 members of the U.S. forces look likely to remain in situ until the end of 2011, mostly in training and advisory capacities. The bulk of the finale takes place in Northern Iraq and I am well aware U.S. troops will still be stationed in this region. I have removed all references to the year 2010 from the novel and while understanding some U.S. (and coalition) troops do remain, I have kept their role peripheral.

A quick note on foreign languages: when characters speak other than in English I have illustrated this by using italics.


I would like to thank all those who have encouraged me in my writing and helped me in the production of this novel, especially Steve, Simon and Gordon. Thanks, guys.

Some elements of this story may be familiar to readers from James Mayo’s Charles Hood thrillers which were in part my inspiration.


(A screen treatment of John Gardner’s 1983 novel)

The Steel Wolf
(A short story)

The Humming Bird

The Blink of an Eye



3: M
14: SO CLOSE & YET...

#2 chrisno1



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Posted 01 August 2010 - 08:41 AM


When Ashurbanipal defeated his brother in battle in 648 B.C. he ascended to the throne of the mightiest empire the world had ever seen. Babylon, a city founded on the plains of ancient Mesopotamia, framed by two great rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris, was a dominion unlike any other. The wealth brought by military and commercial expansion allowed successive kings to build mighty temples and fortresses and to forge an empire across what we now call the Middle East: from the Zagros Mountains in the East, to Anatolia in the North, from the length of the Nile in the West to the clear blue Arabian Gulf in the South.

Although Ashurbanipal was a military man, he was also a scholar. He founded the Great Library at Nineveh and his collection was once believed to be the greatest written archive in the world. Thousands of clay tablets were painstakingly struck and baked, copied, translated, struck again and baked again, until room after room was full of the poems and prayers, the epics and sagas, the incantations and sorrows, the omens and portents, the dictionaries, the sciences, the maps of the land and the way to the stars. For a brief few decades it seemed as if the knowledge of the world resided in the Babylonian Empire.

Most of the texts in this spectacular library were translations of even older works, from Sumer and Akkad. Yet the accumulation of the first books, the earliest records of literature, was spectacular. In an age where each cuneiform word had to be chipped into clay squares, sometimes no more than inches across, the feat was staggering. They were as intricate and delicate as the King’s new palaces and forts were imposing and strident. So revered were all his feats that Ashurbanipal commissioned the world’s first biography, outlining his achievements in flattering, worshipful tones. He had the perfect place to store it, for the Great Library, surely, must have been a wonder of the world.

The Babylonian Empire fell less than one hundred years later. Cyrus the Great of Persia swept over the plains from the East and laid waste to the land. But Cyrus did not touch the great buildings and the temples. Indeed he saw himself as the successor to the great heroes and kings of Babylon, from Sargon the Great to Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal to Nebuchadnezzar. The only king he disowned was the one he conquered, Nabonidus, whose name was chiselled from every monument. The last resistance broke when the young heir Belshazzar was killed in battle at Opis. Now Cyrus fully believed he and his offspring inherited their kingship from Marduk, God of the Gods. And so the cities of the fallen empire continued to live and breathe long after the Mesopotamians themselves had forgotten their history. The skills and techniques practiced for thousands of years were supplanted over the next few thousand and while the buildings and the memories became lost, the legacy did not.

Austen Henry Layard discovered the Great Library in 1851, but he did not uncover all of its treasures. His assistant Hormuzd Rassam stayed in Nineveh for thirty years and unearthed the famous relief sculptures depicting Ashurbanipal’s Lion Hunt. He also identified and translated the twelve stone tablets that bore the inscription The Epic of Gilgamesh. It was 1872 and the stories retold in man’s oldest literature sent shock waves around the world as they shared so many legends with religions old and new.

Subsequently scores of copies were discovered, both at Nineveh and at other important archaeological sites. Many were allocated a serial number, packaged in paper and straw, placed in wooden crates and sent to foreign cities miles from their homeland; London, Paris and Berlin begat new ancient libraries in their great museums.

It was the English woman Gertrude Bell who saved the history of Mesopotamia for the land of its descendants. Bell was a highly unusual figure. Almost forgotten now, she was the only woman officer in British Intelligence during the First World War. Her early life had been spent excavating ruins with her uncle Sir Frank Lascelles and she had gained exceptional knowledge of the Middle East, including mastery of several languages. As the Ottoman Empire tottered on the brink of extinction it was Bell’s detailed maps that enabled the British to conquer Baghdad. She was appointed Oriental Secretary after the war and, like T.E. Lawrence, she pushed for a combined Arab State. Unlike him she remained in the fledgling country of Iraq as an administrator for the country’s appointed king, Faisal. It was her energies that resulted in the foundations being laid for the Baghdad Archaeological Museum. It opened its doors in June 1926 and represented a safe haven for the relics of a once great civilisation.

The doors of the museum never closed until April 2003. Like Cyrus before him, Saddam Hussein believed he had inherited the kingship of centuries, but unlike Babylon, when his empire fell, it was looted. Two days after his fall the museum was attacked. The rioters considered it a representation of everything they detested. It was also considered a source of currency.

The U.S. State Department was well aware the Iraqi National Museum was at risk and had place it as high as number two on the Pentagon’s Secure Sites List. The number one site was Iraqi Intelligence Headquarters. It was no compensation to historians that the U.S. Army failed to protect a single building of the fifty listed.

The museum staff begged for assistance. The soldiers, who had different orders, did nothing. There was no electricity and the museum sat in darkness for days. Looters came hour after hour. They stole from the display cases, they broke priceless antiques, they crow barred open over one hundred storage doors and they took whatever they could carry. They burnt or destroyed the books in the library and the records in the archives. The entire collection of chalcedony, agate and ivory seals simply vanished. The cost to world history ran to hundreds of thousands of pieces. The financial penalty was unthinkable. There was no repentance from the U.S. Administration who coined the phrase: ‘Freedom is untidy.’

Commentators leapt on the administration’s ignorance. During the first weeks after liberation, Iraq’s museums, the National Library, the Foreign Office, the Trade Ministry, the Intelligence H.Q., the Olympic Building, Mosul and Baghdad Universities and all the Royal Palaces were razed. Documents both old and new were simply incinerated, cast out and obliterated. Even archaeological sites were not safe. The looters arrived with trucks and saws and cut up the statues. Almost two thousand excavation sites were destroyed. At Nimrod over one hundred and twenty segments of relief stone were stolen. And the locals were not alone. Camp Alpha was based beside the ruins of Babylon. The Polish army used the blocks for building and the sand to fill sandbags. The U.S. Air Force constructed a helipad over the Ishtar Gate. Graffiti became prevalent. One witness described it as like Verdun; nothing but trench after trench.

It wasn’t an untidy mess, it was a historical catastrophe.

Once calm had been restored the Museum director Doni George had the museum’s doors and windows sealed with concrete. The fragments of anarchy stayed encased inside the building. He then abandoned his post as the liberators had abandoned him. The National Museum lay derelict for years.
Gradually some of the stolen artefacts found their way onto the open market. The 1991 trade embargo of Iraq had already resulted in a black economy for Mesopotamian art. The covert antique trade developed sophisticated smuggling routes and operated private auctions for interested parties. The aftermath of the Second Iraq War merely reinforced these conduits. It also meant supply exceeded demand and prices fell. Collectors began to get on the cheap items once regarded as almost priceless.

And that was when the French businessman Andreas Chivry came to accumulate such an impressive portfolio of contacts at both ends of the supply chain. Acting as the middle man he bought, transported and sold a huge array of ancient remains. It was useful that Chivry already had a history of importing and exporting illicit goods. One summer he was contacted by a sour little man from Lebanon, who claimed to have a full set of ‘black clay’ tablets from the Great Library of Nineveh. After inspecting the merchandise, Chivry knew exactly which of his clients would pay for these. The deal was completed very quickly. But not before Chivry did what he always did with the most expensive items.
He copied them.

He called it his insurance policy. The copies were never meant to seen by anyone, but Chivry always believed, if times got hard for him, he could sell them. He knew the average collector could not tell a forgery from an original. He was also confident his forgeries were equal to the rigorous tests imposed by the auctioneers and museums.

It was Andreas Chivry who sent the letter to the Director of the British auction house Christies announcing a sale of lost antiquities from ancient Mesopotamia. The invitation was headed The Epic of Gilgamesh.

#3 chrisno1



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Posted 05 August 2010 - 07:39 AM


James Bond lit his twentieth cigarette of a long night and inhaled the fine, strong, cedar taste, that blend of Turkish and Balkan tobacco which rasped at the throat and suffocated the lungs for one delicious second.

Bond had his cigarettes specially made by Morlands, the erstwhile independent tobacconists on Grosvenor Street. One thousand were delivered to him in a nondescript package on the first Monday of every month. There was a time when the cigarettes came loose and he would transfer his daily dose to a neat gun metal case. Now, for legal reasons, they came packed in twenties, wrapped in cellophane and marked with all the government health warnings. Thankfully each cigarette still bore the signature of Bond’s custom: he insisted that three gold bands be printed just above the filter, a unique if slightly pompous extravagance. Morlands’ chief blender had recently reduced the nicotine content, a sop to medical advice, but being an expert of some forty-eight years, the blender had still managed to provide the full flavour as desired. Bond looked at the empty packet. It was plain white and the moniker ‘Morlands’ was stamped in gold italics across the flip-top. Underneath this mark of quality the obvious advice ‘Smoking Kills’ was printed obnoxiously in bold black letters.

Bond exhaled. The pall of smoke hissed through his teeth and spiralled about his head, allowing him to savour his wares a second time. Smoking was one of Bond’s rare pleasures in life. Along with golf at the weekends, martinis in the evenings, the occasional vapid love affair and the scent of victory in the casino at Royale-les-Eaux, Bond found the taste of a cigarette intensely gratifying. And indeed, his whole weekend, having started badly, was proving somewhat satisfactory. He’d not travelled to France, but he had achieved everything else on his wish list.

Perhaps, he considered, ‘achieve’ was too strong a word, but he certainly felt content with his lot. It had been a very good weekend.

Some weeks before, Penelope had persuaded Bond to escort her to a friend’s wedding. He had not looked forward to the occasion. Not only did he find weddings mawkish and insincere, but he would have to endure the occasion with one of life’s unobtainable women. Bond knew his wonderful secretary was already as devoted as any woman could be. Yet Penelope was virtually married to nothing less than the rigours of work. It disappointed Bond to spend his personal time so close to a woman who wore across her heart that particular badge of jealous virtue. Thankfully, they had only been invited to the evening function, which was in the ball room of the Zetter Hotel in Clerkenwell. Bond had prepared for the occasion by being in a sour mood on Friday, but it had done nothing to break Penelope’s spirit. That evening, Bond commiserated with an imaginary groom by drinking vodka shots in Lotts, before moving to the Clermont and gambling the night away on the baccarat tables. He had won handsomely and the wedge of three thousand pounds had felt warm in his pocket.

Saturday morning had started with a pleasant drive to Sunningdale where he thrashed a strangely out of sorts Bill Tanner over eighteen holes.

“What’s up, Bill?” he’d asked as they shared a light lunch in the clubhouse.

Tanner was non-committal.

“Work, James,” he muttered, “It’s cutting up rough again.”

Bond recognised the grumbles. They had become more prevalent of late. It was hard adjusting to new routines. Bond had felt the impact himself and sympathised with the Chief of Staff. When the S.I.S. made changes it often felt like the end of an era and every employee started to look over their shoulder, expecting to be cast aside by a reshuffle or a cutback. Bond saw the wariness and the anxiety in Tanner’s eyes whenever they shared coffee or lunch. Things must have been worse than ever; Tanner had just completed his sloppiest round for many a year.

From Sunningdale, Bond drove back to London. Deciding not to use the rear garage, he parked the Aston Martin DB5 outside his flat, a Georgian conversion in a little square off the King’s Road. Bond occupied the ground floor, accessed by a flight of four steps and a big black windowless door. An elderly civil servant and his wife lived above him while below, in the basement studio resided an unattractive, artistic sort who occasionally had dinner parties with long haired friends. Bond tried to avoid both sets of neighbours. He found them to be a little nosey, intrigued by the tall, handsome, dark haired, tough looking man who occupied Flat A and apparently worked for an export company called Universal. His frequent trips abroad often raised awkward questions and, when he needed to, Bond would recuperate in France or on the South coast to avoid their prying eyes and wagging tongues.

The flat wasn’t Bond’s own. It was grace and favour accommodation for which he paid rent to the government. Apparently, many years before, a previous occupant had been a Scotsman, one of the earlier holders of the Double-O prefix and number Seven. He had utilised the services of a maid, but Bond had categorically refused such an out of date and frankly condescending intrusion. He wasn’t the first to object either. The Scot’s successor was an English playboy type and so shocked was he by the suggestion, he practically begged a bungalow in Sunbury on Thames to escape the dreaded housekeeper. There had been other occupants in the flat since, but Bond was the only other Double-O to take up residence. The little old lady who had served the premises so well was tactfully retired. Robinson, the Human Resources Manager, had treated the whole affair as something of a farce. Sometimes Bond wondered if the poor woman hadn’t just been some God-awful practical joke the service played on its top officers.

During Saturday afternoon Bond read The Times and drank Jamaican Blue Mountain filter coffee. Penelope called him at five, to check he was getting ready. Bond scoffed at her apprehension.

“It’s you who needs three hours to change, Penny. Women always do.”

She made some non-committal reply and rang off when he responded with a laugh. Eventually Bond showered and shaved and pulled on one of his beautifully cut Ventuno suits. He sank a single large Glenfiddich and went out into the light London evening. Bond took a black cab to St John’s Street. He waited for Penelope in The Well pub, which was a short walk from the hotel. She looked divine in her mid-length sleeveless summer dress and Bond told her so, hoping to break her cover. After one drink, they strode down the road to the hotel, side by side, hands not even touching. Bond was already developing a sinking feeling of unrequited adoration.

It was a prickly evening. These were Penelope’s friends and Bond did not consider he had much in common with any of them. The happy couple seemed a mismatched, serious, uncomfortable pair. Bond wished them well with his words, recalling his fictitious toast of the previous night, quoting Shaw and impersonating Alfred Doolittle: ‘She’s made an honest man of me!’ Mischievously he wondered how unexciting their love life surely was. Half way through the evening Bond lost track of Penelope, who was catching up with old school pals. In need of a cigarette, he wandered through the hotel foyer and onto the street.

He sucked in the tang of smoke and watched a few lost looking souls traverse St John’s Square, searching no doubt for a party in some other street. They were more than a little drunk; Bond supposed they may never reach their destination.

As he stood there, a tall, dark haired woman tottered up to him, cigarette in hand. A slightly weak, slightly tipsy, half smile passed her lips, but she remained physically composed. Her alcohol intake did not disturb the calculating, calm, cool exterior. Bond immediately liked her, whoever she was. A woman who drinks a little is always worth investigating, he believed. It is when a woman drinks a lot that she becomes an encumbrance.

“Do you have a light?”

Bond proffered his Ronson to her Marlboro. She was a dainty girl, tall because of her high heels, very slim and encased in skin tight viscous trousers and a loose strappy top. It was all in a vibrant royal blue and sparkled with glittery threads. Her face was painted a little too heavy for Bond. She was not as young as he first thought, but her slender body showed much promise, from the rouge-red kissable lips to the plump breasts and the delicious taut backside. Appropriately the elastic of her knickers peaked over the left hip of her waistband.

When he lit her smoke, Bond noted the gold band on her wedding finger, but it did not stop him pursuing her. Lily was short for Lillian and she was a friend of a friend of the bride, in a similar situation to Bond. She had been asked to make up the numbers on an invitation and only accepted when she realised her husband would be working. ‘Mr Lily’ was an airline pilot and ‘Mrs Lily’ often spent her days and evenings and weekends alone. Bond sympathised. They chatted a while in the warm summer night and then returned to the function room, where Bond bought champagne with Friday’s winnings and regaled her with tales of France, Italy and Bermuda, of the opulent casinos, the fine food and the beautiful sandy beaches. She hung on his every word, her chin resting on the open palm of her hand, her gaze hardly shifting from his face and her teeth shining in the light when her mouth formed its occasional words.

You devil, thought Bond; bored and married women were often the easiest of conquests, suffocated by their home lives and looking for the excitement of lost youth. It was worse when, as with Lily, there were no children to occupy a spouses’ time.

Towards eleven, Bond made his excuses to Penelope, who squinted disapprovingly at his admirer. Bond took Lily to the Sanderson Hotel in Soho. He caught the eye of Manuel, the night concierge, and they were whisked past the doorman guarding the mirrored Venetian entranceway. The price tags in Bar Purple could bring the uninitiated out in a cold sweat, but Friday’s good fortune still smiled on Bond. He surveyed the vast array of bottles behind the solid stone bar and ordered two Polish Martinis, a contemporary classic made with a dash of apple juice and three separate vodkas, one of which must be Wyborowa, the vodka based honey liqueur. The cocktails were excellent, as always, smooth and slightly sweet. They took a table amongst the very important clientele. It was decorated with one floating crimson candle. A pretty waitress flitted about them until Bond ordered caviar and toast for two. This time he asked for a carafe of neat Zubrowka to accompany it.

Surprisingly, Lily had never eaten caviar before. Bond teased her and dabbed a morsel of the black fish eggs on the corner of a crustless triangle of bread. He fed it decorously into her mouth and she cooed at the salty, zingy, taste. They drank tiny tumblers of the ice cold spirit and it sparkled on the tongue, with all the hints of vanilla and fresh cut hay you expect from Bison grass vodka. Once they had eaten, it felt natural for Bond to take her hand and caress the fingers, to talk of her beauty and her smile, her laughter and her intelligence, her shining hair and her perfect adorable body. The lies of love and romance and seduction tripped off his tongue and Lily accepted them for the empty words they were, a preamble to a likely climax.

They took a taxi back to her home in Richmond, a two storey maisonette that looked onto the Thames, and had big airy rooms with high ceilings and deep windows. She kissed him as soon as the door closed behind them and Bond responded, his mouth crushing onto hers and his arms encircling her, pulling her closer to him. When they separated she panted and pushed him back a little.

“Three minutes,” she said sweetly and went up the stairs.

Bond entered the kitchen. He found a supermarket Vouvray, whose only redeeming feature was its country of origin, and two glasses. He followed her as she requested in three minutes.

Bond paused at the doorway. The bedroom was in half light and Lily was reclined naked across the bed, every inch of her a pale desirable glow. Her long legs, one bent, one stretched, led to a thin enticing line of curls and toward a flat swallow belly decorated with a fraudulent diamond stud. Her breasts jutted, the nipples already hard and pointing towards him, following her stare. The black hair surrounded her angel face like a wicked halo. Bond approached her and placed the flutes and the bottle on the bedside table. Idly he noted the glass ashtray in which sat a ladies wrist watch and a discarded wedding ring. He undressed and she watched him, her eyes dancing as the last garments fell to the floor. Bond knelt beside her. Eagerly, Lily reached out for him, the blushing mouth open in anticipation.

They made love twice. First Bond took her hard, fast and cruel, not caring for what she wanted or how she felt. She accepted the assault and answered it with her own urgent thrusts. Afterwards they rested, smoked and drank. Lily tickled her nails across his neck and stitched kisses down his spine. Bond rolled over and she continued to manipulate him with her mouth. Then they climbed a slow gentle love and at its apex Lily sighed and gasped and Bond felt her shudder as the passion took them over. While she slept, he showered, dressed, kissed her cheek goodbye and left.

“Bitch,” he’d muttered as he quietly closed the door behind him.

Bond took another pull on his last cigarette.

It was a cool morning. The amber haze of a June day was framed by the grey clouds that crawled across the sky. Bond felt moisture on his face. Soon, he knew, a sprinkle of raindrops would interrupt a slothful Sunday morning. He wanted eggs and coffee and wondered if there was an all-night cafe in Richmond, somewhere still open at half past four, still serving buttered toast to tired eyes and mouths.

Bond coughed. Ruefully he looked at the empty packet of Morlands and shook his head. He was due a service medical on Monday. He’d probably fail and end up on some godforsaken diet and an even more body-numbing fitness regime. The prospect did not fill him with any joy. He wondered if the same youthful female practitioner was still conducting the examinations. Since they had outsourced the medical team, the doctors kept changing places and Bond had shown little consistency from one inspection to the next. Perhaps, he thought, if she was there, the beautiful bespectacled Doctor Glover could be persuaded to cut him a little slack. Yes, persuaded with dinner at Scott’s maybe, or a drama at the Donmar, and afterwards a night of love in Chelsea. He felt himself stir and smiled. There was certainly nothing wrong with his libido.

It started to rain, just as he expected it to. Carelessly, Bond crushed the hollow oblong box before tossing it aside into the gutter.

Edited by chrisno1, 10 August 2010 - 08:41 PM.

#4 chrisno1



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Posted 10 August 2010 - 09:04 PM


Bond was right to be worried. He did fail his medical. It wasn’t the delightful Doctor Glover, but a rather sullen old gentleman who insisted on coughing after every sentence. As it transpired about the only thing that wasn’t wrong with Bond was his sex drive. But then the old man hadn’t even bothered to ask him about that. Bond never saw the full report, but Robinson, from Human Resources, had run through it with him.

“You’re in bad shape.”

The shrug Bond offered was accompanied by a nervous crossing of the legs, one knee resting on the other. He itched for a cigarette. Somewhat inappropriate, he considered.

“Let’s start at the top. Eyes: sight A+, pupils dilated, patient complains of eye strain. Symptoms resembled intoxication. Ears: hearing perfect. Nose and throat: furring of the tongue, slight bronchitis, patient complains of excessive phlegm, likely to be related to his smoking habit. An admission of twenty low nicotine cigarettes a day was a decrease on previous estimates. The recommendation is for zero consumption by operatives. Lung capacity: five litres, x-rays confirm some minimal damage to airways and blood vessels. Heart rate: sixty five, reasonable, rises during and after exercise. Blood pressure: 150/90, high for his age. Cholesterol: 7.9, much too high, discussion of diet revealed excessive quantities of meat, including offal, pates and eggs, most of which are recommended to be consumed in moderation only. Weight: 92 kilos, over the average for a six foot male. Liver: patient admits to an above average consumption of alcohol, future cirrhosis a probability. Exercise: minimal. Reflexes: slow.”

Robinson passed the document over the big white desk. Bond lifted it gingerly at the corner, as if the paper might bite. While Robinson sat back, Bond perused the findings.

“It’s not bread and water, Bond, but you’re treading a thin line here. M’s not going to cut you any slack for good behaviour. Your record’s in the past as far as he’s concerned. You need to prove yourself anew.”

Bond slid the single sheet back across the desk.

“With due respect, Sir, it’s very hard to remain motivated when there’s little work about. The Double ‘O’ Section hasn’t seen action this year, except for Tariq’s little jaunt to New York. Even that was observational.”

“The difference is, Bond, your medical is unsatisfactory,” explained Robinson, “All the other Double ‘O’s passed. Not with flying colours admittedly, but they got through it. You did not.”

Bond said nothing for a few moments. Then he uncrossed his legs and leant forward, hands clasped in a show of interest. “What are the recommendations?”

“We’re not sending you off to any health farm, if that’s what you thought. Can’t afford it; that sort of bollocks is for pop stars and prima donnas. No, you’ve got to work at it yourself, Bond. Join a gym. The medical team can give you some dietary information. You need to shift the toxins out of your system. Don’t drink for a while; cut right down on the fags.”

Bond grimaced. Purgatory, he thought; neither heaven nor hell.

“It’s for your own good, Bond, and the good of the Double ‘O’ Section,” Robinson paused. He offered a weak smile. “Look, you knew this was coming, OO7, what did you expect? Even I can see you haven’t been taking care of yourself. You aren’t getting any younger. And in your line of work, you can’t afford to be slack or slow. It’s kill or be killed for you chaps. You know that.”

Bond’s mouth twitched at the corners. Robinson had once applied for the Double ‘O’ Section. But he’d got married and his wife delivered a reasonable ultimatum. Bond was never angry at Robinson; he was only the poor bugger who had to deliver the bad news. And you never shot the messenger. Bond thought about the superior being: the man on the top floor of Millennium House.

“Tell me, Sir, there are lots of rumours abound; is my section really going to the wall?”

Robinson spread his hands. “Who knows?”

Bond nodded, accepted the sheets of information and retreated to the sanctity of his office. Penelope was still annoyed with him for abandoning her at the wedding three weeks ago and Tariq was in one his sillier moods. Bond made his excuses and went for a walk along the South Bank. The air felt as dirty outside as that which was meant to be in his lungs. He stopped for refreshment at the Film Institute cafe and wondered if black coffee was to be off his menu too.

Bond’s rehabilitation had not taken as long as he expected. He did join a private gym and received a workout program from a young, efficient personal trainer. Bond was pleasantly surprised to find Tony’s Tone Up well maintained and not as busy as he expected. The associated wives and girlfriends didn’t appear to be in evidence and there was a distinct classless air. Your money didn’t talk here. Members came in, said hello, worked out, showered and left. It was all very casual. Bond started to develop a routine. Four days a week, an early morning stroll across the Fulham Road to Tony’s, a forty five minute workout, a sauna, a shower and a stroll back. He still had eggs on those days, but switched to oat cereals on the others. Milk became semi skimmed. He reduced his alcohol intake to nil for a fortnight, before gradually restoring a few old habits. But he ceased lunchtime socials and forsook his malt whisky night caps. He even took to staying in on Friday’s, using the time to start researching a prospective service manual on hand-to-hand combat. After six weeks he was losing fat deposits and gaining muscle tone. His breathing became stronger. His complexion lost its slightly yellowish, night-owl look and became a perky soft pink. It was no surprise to him when he ran through the second medical with a series of efficient blue ticks going into all the boxes.

For all that, Bond felt unfulfilled. It wasn’t a healthy lifestyle he needed, but an active working life. The old M, for all her insistence on modernisation, had always found a use for the Double-O Section. They were, as she liked to put it, her blunt instrument. When there had been questions about the divisions conduct, she braced them down. She wasn’t afraid of politicians. She treated them like children. What they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt. Bond liked her no nonsense style. He’d been secretly rather disappointed at her premature retirement. When she left, Bond had been rather surprised to be offered a warm embrace.

The new man preferred a handshake as cold as you could get. Bond had only met him once. They’d said hello.

Now fully refreshed after an early lunch of a tuna sandwich on butter-less wholemeal bread, Bond sat in his office, contemplating the strict regime which was saving him from apathy and a lonely alcohol infused working life. Bond took a long sip at his second mug of coffee. For all the good this new lifestyle did him, he still hated Mondays.

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

Meanwhile, several floors above, M was watching the skyline from his office window and wondering how much warmer the September sun was these days. He often reflected on the simple things for a few minutes every day. It helped him to clarify situations.

The document wallet lay on his desk, the single word ‘Secret’ stamped in the top right hand corner. It wasn’t a big job. But it needed some one with dexterity. It would be very simple to utilise an ordinary field agent, but M didn’t want another one of those long winded email reports. This task might require immediate decision making and action. It also needed a man who could absorb details quickly. M turned away from the bullet proofed window and walked to the desk. He picked up the file and flipped his intercom.

“Tanner, send OO7 to the Operations Room.”

The Operations Room resided on the lower levels of the S.I.S. building. M had decided to make some use of it. Tanner told him tales about the huge pillared gallery they’d utilised at the old Regent’s Park H.Q. This was a more sedate affair as befit modern espionage.

One wall was covered with modern plasma screens, none of which were operating. Underneath these sat interlinked computers. The modules were equally blank. There was a large central table, lit from above and below, which also included a hologram projector. The far wall was illuminated with a digital world map. Operated by touch screen remote control, this could be magnified to ordnance survey size and image linked to satellite technology. Two technicians sat in the huge room and appeared to be doing very little. They stood up when M entered. He delivered a single nod.

The third side of the Operations Room was occupied by the smoked glass wall of the Briefing Suite. Soundproofed and secure, M liked the long oval table and the not too comfortable green leather chairs. He held all his committee meetings here, even the laborious ones about health and safety and staff associations. He’d never considered the Secret Intelligence Service even had a Staff Association until he started work here.

M had been incumbent as Head of S.I.S. for six months. He’d taken on the role with caution. It wasn’t one he relished. The past occupants of the role had suffered stress and strain that seemed to age them in a matter of years. Quite how that old Admiral had marshalled the service for nigh on thirty five years, going well past retirement, God only knew. He wanted to be out in five. None-the-less there was a certain glamour attached to the role. It was with a bitter disappointment then that M’s first task had not been set by any outside agent, any foreign power or terrorist organisation. It had been set by his employer, the British Government. Cuts were happening right across the civil service and the public sector. He’d had a two hour interview with the Prime Minister prior to his appointment. The message was quite clear. He was expected to make budgetary cuts of fifteen per cent. Those cuts however could not compromise Britain’s need to extend her ‘sphere of influence’ and maintain ‘ongoing effective intelligence.’ The P.M. had chosen him as M purely because he was known as a logistics man. He’d understood the message perfectly and was interpreting it fully. This M didn’t mind how you got from A to B as long as it didn’t cost the earth. Efficiency was now king. M didn’t have time for redundant policies, like the high number of foreign stations (three in France for goodness sake, the country was joined to us by a bloody tunnel!) or the licence to kill brigade and their inflated expense accounts.

Despite swingeing cuts across all departments, he’d been forced to avoid the difficult issue of the Double ‘O’s. He didn’t agree with their brand of espionage, which wasn’t much needed in the modern day. There were other acceptable methods of achieving results, like the Cockburn affair. The extravagant Scottish businessman had tried to launch a sports television channel in China, but now sat incarcerated in Liangxiang People’s Prison. Both countries intelligence communities knew he was selling secrets to both sides. It was easy to allow the Reds to fake his death on that Yangtze cruise. The Chinese kept his trial a secret. It was a good piece of work, M thought, and cost a lot less than sending a gun man after him.

M sat down at the head of the table and switched on the single lamp. A halo of light illuminated the dark interior of the briefing suite.

When Agent OO7 entered the Operations Room, M observed him with a keen eye. He was a dark haired man, tall and quite broad, but not especially muscular. He wore his suits slightly loose, probably to hide the revolver he would wear, but they were good tailored two pieces. The shirts did not have cufflinks. He walked with purpose. M thought he almost prowled, as if he were a panther scenting its prey. He noted the man didn’t appear to take in his surroundings. The head swivelled slowly as he walked, but he didn’t stop once. He entered the suite without knocking.

M said nothing. He watched as the man called James Bond strode confidently down the table and stopped four paces short. Without asking, Bond pulled out a chair and sat down, facing M head on. The sharp, slightly cruel looking face didn’t smile, but there was a twinkle in the steely grey-blue eyes that hinted at a private game he was playing. It was a display of contemptuous familiarity. There would be no obsequiousness from this man.

“James Bond, Sir.”

M breathed in deeply. He studied the man’s face. Trained killer. Rogue male. Naval officer. Yes, respect and fear. Authority was what he needed.

“Let’s get this straight, OO7,” M said firmly, “I don’t like the Double ‘O’ Section. I don’t think the section is very fond of me either. But while you work for me, you do as I say, whether you like it or not. I don’t have time for insubordination. I expect you follow orders. I’ve read your record. It’s good. But you’re prone to rash errors of judgement.”

“Human instinct, Sir.”

“Did I ask for a reply?” snapped M. He was quite pleased by the reaction to his riposte.

Bond had been slouching a little. He didn’t like the Ops Room. It stank of the INTEL-Department. He preferred the outside world, of people and places, of intuition and appraisal. Solid facts and observations were irreplaceable. Sometimes the point of a gun was all an enemy understood. Bond understood the terrorist-induced climate of fear. It was resulting in multiple deaths around the world everyday. Yet even Bond preferred to avoid death unless his own life was threatened. Assassination was the hardest of assignments. The dark dungeony atmosphere of the Operations Room always made Bond feel he was the one being assassinated. It was a cold hard place.

M’s words struck a chord and he sat up straight, alert. He raised one eyebrow slightly, but facially he otherwise remained stoic.

This M was a youngish looking man. Scarcely older than Bond, he had a fine crop of wavy brown hair and a slight paunch that spoke of home cooked food and families. His suit was a grey off the peg affair, not flashy or tailored. He fitted it like a glove. He was obviously a perfect match for department store sizes. His nose matched his long face, flat and thin, and his mouth was set in a permanent half smirk. It would have been factitious, except Bond noted one side of his face drooped slightly. The man had suffered a stroke. M rarely made direct eye contact. When he did it was at the end of a sentence and the gaze was hard. Cold and hard.

“You can’t be human in the Double ‘O’ section, Bond,” continued M, his tone more conciliatory, “That’s why I want to shut it down. I don’t believe in hired killers. Yesterday’s world. Unfortunately the P.M. has a veto on that. So you have a job. Until you’re fifty at any rate. And as you have a job, that means I have to find something for you to do. There’s no point in you sitting around reading our INTEL reports and doing small arms practice. You need to get out more, don’t you?”

“Yes, Sir.”

Bond was confused by M’s manner. Alternately chirpy and then chiding, he wasn’t sure if he was being entirely serious. The twisted mouth didn’t help.

“Failed your last medical didn’t you?”

Bond assumed M had read his file. There didn’t seem to be any point in lying, “Yes, Sir, although I passed the second exam.”

“I saw that. Don’t fail it again,” M was curt, “I can’t have a top class field agent who isn’t up to the job in hand. If I choose to shoot you out of the barrel of a gun to some far flung corner of the world, I’ll do it. But if you’re my bullet, Bond, you need to be cast in solid gold. Understood?”

Edited by chrisno1, 11 August 2010 - 10:08 AM.

#5 chrisno1



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Posted 12 August 2010 - 05:46 PM


M cleared his throat. The mouth gave that peculiar lop-sided smile again. Bond didn’t need to reply; he knew M’s parting question was a rhetorical one. Mentally he prepared for the worst. Whatever was coming, it wasn’t going to be good.

“I can’t pretend this is the most exciting assignment in the world, Bond. I need a man who’s able to learn fast and think fast, someone who can bluff and blag their way around society. Tanner tells me you’re my man. I want you to prove it.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Bond wasn’t sure if this was a vote of confidence. It sounded quite dreary. M confirmed his suspicions.

M opened the thick document file. He handed over an A5 sized envelope without a word.

Bond picked it up. The paper was heavy and lavender coloured; French, by the look and feel of it, probably Lalo, Bond considered. It was addressed:

Sir Nicolas Longman
Christie’s International Auction House
London SW1Y 6QT

Bond opened the envelope. An embossed invitation was inside. The letters were stamped in the same italic gold.

The Epic of Gilgamesh
September 25
You are cordially invited to the sale of one hundred priceless antiques from ancient Mesopotamia
The oldest civilisations in the world
Babylon, Assyria and Sumer
Le Chateau de Sceaux, Parc de Sceaux, Paris, France
Viewing Date September 24 from 6pm
Andreas Chivry

There was an accompanying telephone number and contact details. Bond looked enquiringly at M. “Isn’t Andreas Chivry the founder of Rapido?”

“He is, yes, amongst other things.”

“How long has he been interested in archaeology?”

“Apparently about ten years.”

“I expect it isn’t so unusual. Multimillionaires have always funded the arts. Take the Saatchi Gallery or the Guggenheim.”

“Quite possibly; the idle do have a tendency to be frivolous,” M said it in a guarded way, “But no, not this man. There’s something else. These are stolen antiques.”

“Stolen from where?”

“Where ever he can find them. Chivry isn’t a conventional thief, Bond; to all intents and purposes he’s doing nothing the archaeologists didn’t do in the 1800s. The Iraqi people stole them from their own museums and off their own ancient sites. Chivry buys the stuff at knock down prices, that’s Christie’s opinion. Sir Nicolas Longman attended another much smaller sale a year or so ago, strictly as an observer. Chivry isn’t an expert. He attaches too much importance to the look of a piece. His facts and figures can be decades out. Most of the pieces were of negligible historical value and often severely damaged. Worst of all, though, Christie’s think he’s selling fakes.”

“You can fake an ancient artefact?”

“Surprised me too,” M said with one of his now customary twisted grins. Bond was getting quite used to them.

“The principal’s hardly changed since the great forgers of the last century, people like Vasters and the Riccardi Brothers. The artist studies the object, the style and fashion, and then recreates it. They’ll take impressions and mouldings to get the chips and pockmarks right. They’re even known to damage the original piece if the fake model can’t be recreated exactly how they want it. They know how the pigment paints were created all those thousands of years ago. It’s a question of adding grit and dust to them, sanding them down if you like, to give the impression of wear and tear. They’ll use marble from the appropriate quarry so as to fool any isotope analysis. It’s a lot harder to fake pottery. The experts test thermoluminescence. Apparently pottery absorbs heat and light; the older the pottery the higher the TL rating. They can even detect anomalies in the date and origin of materials, using something called a spectrometre. Of course, a decent forger simply avoids the tests all together. A good bribe will get a quality authentication from the less reputable establishments, those in Turkey, Lebanon and the old Eastern Bloc. Once the goods have got ‘official’ approval, people will pay silly money for them.”

“Surely Chivry isn’t selling these pieces to museums?” ventured Bond, “I would have thought he’s focusing on the curious, the collectors without the knowledge. They would have to be near perfect to fool an expert.”

M indistinctly grumbled and fished into the document wallet again. “Take a look at this.”

Bond picked up the glossy photograph. It showed a polished gold war helmet, very ancient by design and slightly battered. It was inscribed with fine pictorial engravings.

“You know what it is?” asked M.

Bond shrugged.

“It’s Mesopotamian, Babylonian if you like. The Golden War Helmet of Meskalam, excavated from the Royal Tombs at Ur. It’s worth millions, apparently.”


“No. It’s a fake. It came up for auction at Christie’s two years ago. The Smithsonian was not amused when they found out. Neither were Christie’s.”

M showed Bond another photograph, this one a terracotta octagonal stone, perhaps six inches in height. Cuneiform letters covered all its surfaces.

“Foundation stone, Nebuchadnezzar the First, estimated value two and a half million.”


“And sold too,” M carried on, “Silver work dragons from Ur... bronze lion weights... the White Lady of Urak... fakes, fakes, fakes.”

Bond rifled through the assorted pictures. “How many of these have been sold?”

“The experts don’t know. Who ever it is, they’re much too clever to sell directly onto the open market. Except at one time or other, most of these items had passed through one particular person’s hands.”

“Andreas Chivry?”

“So it appears.”

“What’s he trying to do? Destabilise the antiques market?”

“Well, he could be; whatever he is doing, Christie’s don’t like it. The relic market is all to do with confidence, Bond. There will always be some forgeries, but if too many fake objects find their way into private collections, or worse actual museums, it begins to make a mockery of the valuation system. Before you know it, collectors won’t invest because they don’t trust their sources, audiences won’t believe what they see because of the scandal and prices will plummet. Perhaps more worrying is the effect on the reputation of the research. The whole field of Mesopotamian archaeology would become discredited. Luckily it hasn’t affected the British Museum. But they’re already having trouble in Berlin and New York.”

“Does Sir Nicolas think all the pieces in the sale are fakes?”

“Quite possibly,” said M, “But that would be a huge a risk. There is evidence Chivry sells genuine objects. Sir Nicolas believes he tries not to lose face with clients and the market in general. But his reputation’s started to get tarnished. Which is why this sale is so interesting. One hundred items is a hell of a lot of artefacts. Sir Nicolas wants to send a representative. He thinks there’s one set of relics worth looking at: twelve tablets made of black clay. Apparently, it’s a very rare product caused by rapid oxidisation during the kilning process. The clay has a glassy, dark complexion. Anyway these twelve tablets are a full set of the Babylonian story The Epic of Gilgamesh.”

Bond picked up the invitation again and re-read the top line. M continued:

“When Baghdad fell to the U.S. troops in 2003, the National Museum, among other places, was looted. Hundreds and thousands of artefacts went missing. The museum was closed down and only reopened last year. Museums all over the world spent the intervening six years tracking and tracing as many of these stolen pieces as they could. Some of them turned up in quite miraculous places. The Sacred Vase of Warka, a five thousand year old limestone urn, was actually discovered at the bottom of some farmer’s well and returned intact. Others have probably disappeared for ever, broken or hoarded. These black tablets used to be displayed in Baghdad, but no one has seen them for years. If Chivry is selling them, it would be a fantastic coup. If they are fakes...”

M left the sentence unfinished. Bond’s curiosity about the Frenchman was raised, but it still didn’t sound like a job to hold much interest for the S.I.S. He said so.

M buffeted Bond’s objections away with a wave of his hand. “What do you know about our friend Chivry?”

“Not much in all fairness,” began Bond, trying to remember what he’d read in the business pages of The Times, “He’s a rather shady figure, but everything appears to be quite legitimate. He was born in Gascogne in the south, peasant country and his family moved to Paris when he was a child. His father owned a warehouse and packing business and Chivry inherited it at the age of twenty four. He embarked on a massive expansion plan in the late seventies and early eighties, changing the company’s name to ‘Rapido Commercial Transport.’ You often see his trucks on the motorways over here. He’s rather rich.”

“That’s an understatement,” sniffed M, “He’s a bloody multi millionaire; anything else?”

“I understand he’s a divorcee. He doesn’t flaunt his wealth much; by that I mean you don’t see his name in the gossip columns. I understand he has anarchist leanings. Wasn’t he arrested rioting in Paris in the sixties?”

“Who wasn’t?” rasped M, “I’ve got his complete life history here, but I won’t bore you with all the detail. Read it later, along with the rest of the bumph.”

M contemptuously flapped at the documents. The mouth looked scornful. M settled into his chair and reeled off the statistics. Bond had to admit he was impressed by M’s recall.

“Those anarchist leanings did him some good. Chivry’s a lapsed member of the Communist Party; nothing wrong with that in principle, not these days. He used some of his old contacts in the Party to open up a few doors for him, the Soviet satellite states for starters. He got quite a lot of easy trade. Subsequently he gained a few partners in Syria and Lebanon, all the old French haunts of the Middle East, and started to import and export by sea, through Marseilles to Tripoli. He dabbled in the sculpture scene around this time, bought a couple of Bugatti’s animal bronzes at auction, but that seemed to be the limit of his artistic ambition.

“And then our man struck lucky in business. It pays to keep close to politicians. He put a proposal forward to the Mitterrand government to part-privatise French Military Logistics. It wasn’t a popular move politically, but financially it couldn’t be beaten. Having won the contract, Chivry was suddenly shipping weapons, large and small, to French and NATO garrisons around the globe, particularly those in Africa. The French were also one of the major distributors of arms and technology to Iraq before the fall of Saddam. Of course at the time it was seen as supporting a pro-Western state against the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Rapido took on the contract, one which didn’t cease even after the First Gulf War. This was when we first took notice of him. The French, with full knowledge of the CIA, were surreptitiously siphoning off arms to the insurgent Kurds. It was a standard CIA procedure, they wanted a middle man to handle the illegal supply of weapons and Rapido was it. However eventually it became too dangerous, especially after the Kurdish uprising collapsed.

“There was some scandal around this time, a suggestion that Chivry was raking a percentage off the top, exporting French arms illegally to places like Rwanda and the Sudan, but it was never proved. None-the-less mud does tend to stick. He probably greased a few too many palms on the way up. The national military contract was severed. But Chivry had formed plenty of alliances and he found his shipping network was in constant demand. We first had our true suspicions about Rapido when French manufactured arms started appearing in the Balkans. More recent reports have him providing military aid to the nationalist revolts in Southern Russia, like Chechnya and Cherkessia. Ironically he’s buying and selling the Russian army’s own weapons. Moscow sells to Syria; Chivry purchases the surplus and ships them onto the rebels. There wasn’t much said at the time by NATO, probably because those insurgents were anti-Russian, but even the Kremlin knew what was going on. They kept quiet about it obviously; it would’ve been tremendously embarrassing for Putin.

“Subsequently he’s concentrated on Africa again, with a substantial legitimate business covering his less salubrious broker-ship. He’s become prominent in the Sudan, but we also have him operating in places like Somalia and Cabinda. As you say, he’s tremendously rich and successful. He shouldn’t need to shift all these arms any more, certainly doesn’t need to sell to these pirates and disgruntled separatists. That’s virtual small fry to him.”

M paused and opened the document wallet again. He produced a colour photograph and a personal dossier, which he glanced over quickly before passing it to Bond.

Bond looked at the details while M spoke.

“Yes, he’s divorced, got no off spring and lives in a large chateau at Parc de Sceaux. Other than the usual trappings of wealth – butler, chauffeur, Rolls, box seats at the Opera, that sort of thing – he doesn’t appear to have many vices.”

Bond smiled at M’s idea of the trappings of wealth. Chivry looked a respectable sixty years old or so. He had silver grey hair and a prominent moustache. His olive skin was crinkled by age and the sun and the eyes sat deep in the sockets, framed with monstrous bags. He had large ears that had been pinned. His jaw was square, but the throat also showed the wear and tear of time and was sagging. He dressed in an expensive suit, silk tied and double cuffed with studded links. Where once he would have been a svelte six feet, he now carried far too much weight and suffered from a contented belly and a flabby chest. While he wasn’t an ogre, he certainly hadn’t taken much care of himself. His general condition didn’t seem to bother the willowy blonde who hung on his arm, wrapped in an expensive fox-fur. Chivry probably would have been rather attractive in his youth. Now he looked like an ancient lothario, trying to live well beyond his years with women far beneath his age, in addition to consuming good food, wine and a comfortable living.

“Perhaps the antiques trade is an elaborate front,” suggested Bond, still slightly bemused.

“Well, it could be. I got the impression he simply enjoys the thrill of it.”

“I see,” coaxed Bond, “Where exactly do I come in, Sir?”

“We’ve got two angles on Chivry, Bond, this rather fluffy fake art thing-gummy and these distinctly dodgy arms sales,” explained M, “Sir Nicolas isn’t convinced these black tablets are the genuine article. They’re considered to be lost for good. Chivry would be taking an awful risk selling any forgeries. And I want to find out why.”

“There is a recession on, Sir, perhaps he’s in some sort of financial difficulty.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Bond, the man’s soaked in cash. No, this is different. The last few years has seen a lot of activity surrounding Babylonian art. Sir Nicolas thinks he’s fronting for somebody else’s collection, driving down the price so it’s cheaper to buy up the genuine spoils,” M paused and took a shallow breath, “But I’m interested in the arms deals. I want you take a good look at the man and his merchandise. If we can expose him as a grand forger we might get somewhere against Rapido. Basically, Bond, I want the man ruined.”

Bond almost sighed. It sounded a bit fruitless. He nearly said so.

“I’ll certainly try, Sir.”

“Good. Now I’ve arranged for you to meet Bernard Gainsborough from the British Museum tomorrow morning. He’s their expert on Mesopotamia. He’ll help you get up to speed.”

“Up to speed, Sir?”

“Do you know anything about Babylonian history, Bond?”

“Not really, Sir. Bits and bobs.”

“Bits and bobs won’t do in a sales room full of experts, will it?”

M shuffled the papers and photographs back together in an untidy out of order pile and replaced them back in the document wallet. He handed it over.

“You’ve got until next Thursday, Bond. Then I want you at that auction.”

Slowly, Bond stretched out and took the file. He stood up and gave a curt nod of the head before exiting without another word.

As he walked back across the Operations Room, Bond couldn’t help thinking this was possibly the dumbest escapade he’d ever been sent on. This new M clearly had no love for the Double ‘O’ Section. Not only was the service becoming involved on a very flimsy premise, but it certainly didn’t feel like a job which merited his attention. There wasn’t any danger here. There was hardly the whiff of gun smoke or a hint of peril. He was more likely to be crushed to death under the weight of knowledge at the British Museum.

M watched him go. The strong shoulders had stooped a little as Agent OO7 crossed the Ops Room floor. Good. That would put the impudent cuss in his place. Trained killer or not, James Bond was not the sort of person M wanted around on his watch. The service could do without that lot. It was a pity he couldn’t get the P.M. to see it that way.

#6 chrisno1



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Posted 14 August 2010 - 11:37 PM


The next morning Bond took a taxi up The Kingsway into Bloomsbury. The driver dropped him on Russell Square to avoid the one way system. It was a two minute walk to the British Museum. An autumn shower accompanied him. Bond had a lot of affection for Smirke’s neoclassical designs. The adage ‘They don’t build them like this anymore’ certainly applied here: faced with Portland stone the main portico was guarded by sixteen ionic columns arranged in double rows, fourteen more barred the left and right wings. The frieze resembled the Parthenon, but represented ‘The Progress of Civilisation.’ Bond jogged up the twelve wet steps. It stopped raining as miraculously as it started. There didn’t appear to be a cloud in the sky.

The Romanesque lobby was suitably oblique. Bond obligingly deposited a five pound note in the collection box and passed into the magnificent Great Court, the largest covered square in Europe. Whatever Bond’s opinions about Lord Foster’s modern architectural leanings, he certainly got this right. The court was a light, airy space. The roof spanned the original museum buildings, was ribbed with steel and covered with 1656 individual plates of glass. At its centre resided the famous Reading Room.

Groups of children and students already occupied the cafe benches at the rear of the atrium and the sound of their excited voices crackled and echoed off the walls. A train of boys and girls in blue and grey uniforms crossed his path. Bond reported to the information desk.

“I have an appointment with Mister Gainsborough. My name’s James Bond.”

There was no recognition.

“One moment,” the young man said and tapped a few keys on his desk top computer. “Oh, yes, Mister Bond. Let me sign you in.”

Bond scrawled his name on a perforated name tag. The tag was slipped into a plastic pouch marked ‘Visitor’ which clipped it onto his breast pocket.

“Where do I meet Mister Gainsborough?”

Professor Gainsborough asked that you meet him in Room 55,” explained the young man and offered him brief directions.

Bond smiled at the emphasis on Gainsborough’s title. Was the man a little vain?

The curved marble staircase to the upper floor smoothly embraced the Reading Room. Bond counted seven flights of steps. He took them two at a time. At the top was a restaurant that Bond noted served champagne. He sensed an extravagant lunch.

Room 55 housed the Mesopotamian Collection. There were illuminated glass display cases on all sides. Bond thought he should show some interest, so he perused the first cabinet, peppered with bronze and terracotta amulets. Beneath them sat the limestone charms of the apkalla, the wise sages of Akkad, and some ritual tablets. Bond was struck with how tiny and intricate the designs were. He knew the Babylonians created massive monuments, like the ziggurats and the Ishtar Gate, even the palaces were grandly opulent. Yet these pieces of delicate work showed the artistic nature of the empire. The detail was incredible.

Bond moved onto the next case containing boundary stones, some two feet tall, inscribed with the likeness of the sun god Shamash, the moon god Sin and the Venus-like goddess Ishtar. Once again the patterns, the inscriptions and the artistic depictions were beautifully particular. Bond imagined how long the artist would have spent scratching away at the stone until the representation was exactly how the king required. The effort, the love and devotion to a man’s craft was astonishing. It made email and photo-shop feel positively third rate.

“Over three thousand years old. Impressive, aren’t they?”

Bond turned to find a short, rotund man sniffing the air. He was dressed in a plain brown suit with a pullover underneath his jacket. The tie must have been thirty years old. He wore spectacles and his hair was an untidy white scamp. He was hunched over; Bond thought it must have been from pouring across desks looking at books and pieces of pottery. This had to be an expert on antiquities.

Bond held out his hand.

“Professor Gainsborough,” he emphasised the title, “James Bond.”

The handshake was short.

“I’m sure, I’m sure, this way,” the old man scuttled away through an oncoming hive of French students. He stopped beside a cabinet at the far end of the room.

Bond followed. The case displayed a series of tablets, all recovered from the library at Nineveh. Bond stood politely with his hands behind him, waiting for the Professor to speak.

“That’s what we’re interested in. MEK 3375.”

He pointed to the top of the left hand display, to a cracked yellow tablet no more than ten centimetres by fifteen. The tablet had once been split into fragments. Now, other than a few missing corner pieces and an unsightly scar across the middle, it was complete. The cue card said it recounted ‘The Flood Story.’

“There are other tablets here as well,” continued the Professor, waving a hand in front of Bond’s face, “Hymns to Ishtar, astronomical star charts, maps of the world, bath-house rituals, that sort of thing.”

“Bath-house rituals?” repeated Bond.

“Don’t be so surprised. Very pious lot those Babylonians.”

Bond raised a finger to stop the old man from disappearing again. “Forgive me, Professor, I assume none of these are...” he lowered his voice, “...fake.”

“Reconstructions, please!” Gainsborough looked as if he might faint at the mention of the word, “We don’t use the ‘F-word’ here, Mister Bond. Think of it like The Scottish Play, always brings you bad luck.”

“I’ll remember that,” Bond wondered what other ‘F-words’ they didn’t have much use for, “It looks very genuine.”

“Really? How can you tell?”

“I rather assumed...”

“Assumptions get you no where in archaeology, Mister Bond. You might do well to remember that. We deal in facts at the Museum. Facts!”

“Then perhaps we need to discuss some.”

Bond was wearying of the tiresome conversation. Gainsborough sensed it too. He removed his glasses and made a big demonstration of cleaning them.

“Come along then, let’s get started. We’ll be downstairs. I warn you, Mister Bond, I don’t suffer fools and I don’t have a lot of time. I’ll help you when I can. Frankly I’m rather put out they didn’t want to send a professional on this job.”

“I am a professional,” said Bond firmly.

Gainsborough finished with his glasses, replaced them on his nose and sniffed. His small bright eyes blinked once at Bond, as if noticing him for the first time.

“Yes,” he intoned, “Quite.”

Downstairs was a small office in the basement of the main building, underneath the Assyrian collections from Nineveh and Balawat. Bond was not surprised to see it was an untidy room, with books and journals scattered around every available surface. Gainsborough’s desk however was remarkably clear, although a big pile of musty leather bound volumes rested on one side. The Professor sat down with his hands on his belly and his thumbs twiddling.

Bond took a seat opposite him.

“I take it you understand fully why I’m here?” he asked, feeling the needed to assert the upper hand with this tetchy old soul.

“Hmm, indeed I do. Personally I think it’s a load of hog wash.”

“How so?” queried Bond.

“We’re familiar with this man Chivry. He’s a bit of a crook, but we always thought him rather small time. The Director wasn’t satisfied with his credentials, so we never had anything to do with him. If he has these pieces he’s probably obtained them illicitly. If Christie’s were to buy them – and that’s a moot point also – they probably couldn’t publicise it or the previous owners would want them returned. Then there’s this blasted Elgin-ism that’s taken everyone over.”


“Repatriating archaeological treasures,” said Gainsborough disdainfully.

“Like the Greeks and the Elgin Marbles?”

“Indeed. But who owns antiquity, Mister Bond? If a treasure is found in one land, does the parent nation have a claim to it? Babylon is not Iraq. The culture of modern Greece does not resemble the Athenian City of the Acropolis. Sometimes artefacts are better housed abroad than damaged at home. We’ve got over three hundred thousand pieces of Mesopotamian art here. We could send it all back to Iraq tomorrow if we thought it would be cared for.”

“I understood the Baghdad Museum had reopened.”

Gainsborough snorted contemptuously, “It’s still missing over fifteen thousand antiques.”

“Including a full set of these Gilgamesh tablets.”

“Yes. Damn curious business this fire-sale in Paris,” Gainsborough fiddled with his glasses again, “The tablets may well be the set stolen from Baghdad, but he’s taking and awful chance, rather sticking up the proverbial finger. Like I said, Chivry’s a bit of a rascal.”

“We have a wider interest in Andreas Chivry, Professor,” explained Bond flatly, “One not related to museums and archaeology. That’s why the S.I.S. has become involved. But my superiors don’t want my cover blown by misquoting any facts,” Bond smiled diplomatically at his choice of words, “That’s why I need your help; to gem up on Mesopotamian art and craft. I have to sound convincing when I meet Chivry and all the other prospective bidders.”

“Gem up?” repeated Gainsborough, “In two weeks?”

“Ten days.”

The Professor stared at the ceiling and issued a long sigh. Bond had a twinge of sympathy, but erased it.

“It’s all the time I’ve got.”

“Then I hope you are a good listener, Mister Bond, you’ll be doing a lot of that.”

Bond sensed he wouldn’t get that champagne lunch. Instead he listened and read intently for the next few hours. Gainsborough proved a difficult task master and Bond had to strive hard to keep up with the man’s high tempo prattling and his skipping of details he expected Bond to know. That first evening he presented Bond with two heavy text books on Babylonian history and a thick A3 sized photo-record of reliefs, sculptures and statues.

When Bond returned to the Museum on Wednesday, Gainsborough was already waiting. He didn’t appear to have changed his clothes. He made coffee for himself, sat down gruffly and proceeded to reel off a list of questions regarding the tomes Bond had attempted to consume well into the early hours.

“Where was the Great Prayer Tablet of Nabu Shuma Ukin found?”

“What is the significance of the dragon headed Sirrush?”

“Whose identification stamp is this?”

“How many wings does the god Pazuzu possess?”

“Who excavated the Royal Tombs at Ur?”

The questions came very fast. Bond thought he was doing fine, although his answers were faltering at first, but when he incorrectly identified the bronze head of Hammurabi as Nebuchadnezzar, Gainsborough almost exploded.

“All right, that’s enough! Stop, for God’s sake stop! You’ll give me a head ache!”

Bond shifted uncomfortably.

“Mister Bond, you really must concentrate. There are only a few statues of each of the kings. We are only talking a hundred or so images. Learn them, please,” Gainsborough played with his glasses again. Then he coughed, “Other than that you did rather well. But don’t let it go to your head. You’ll be mixing with real experts in Paris.”

The teacher to pupil relationship continued like this for the rest of the week. Bond spent his days and nights immersed in archaeology. His eyes began to ache from the strain of staring at tiny letters. His back stiffened from standing awkwardly over exhibits. He studied extracts from nineteenth century diaries, translations of Babylonian records, building methods, engraving techniques and a potted guide to Mesopotamian history. He returned to his flat exhausted with it all each evening, but with a selection of light bedtime reading, such as Herodotus, Woolley, Layard’s Nineveh or Wallis Budge’s Babylonian Life. As his tutelage progressed Bond became able to cherry pick the vital information from these texts and discard the rest. He detected a pattern developing in Gainsborough’s technique, which always hinted at style, era, interpretation, and date of discovery. The very things Bond would have at his fingertips – if he was an expert.

By the back end of Friday, Bond finally started to court some favour. When he correctly ran through a series of cuneiform symbols on some agate seals, Gainsborough positively beamed.

“They’re from Ashurbanipal’s era; I think they’re in the Kassite style,” Bond had said.

“You think or you know?”

“I’m certain of it. Of course the best examples are the black serpentinite seals in the Louvre.”

Gainsborough sucked in a breath. “That’s very good. You actually seem to have learnt something at last.”

After work, Bond treated himself to a whisky in the appropriately named Museum Tavern and was surprised to see the Professor enter the bar. The old man purchased a pint of porter ale and sat down at Bond’s table.

“Very good today, very good indeed,” he started, “I wish I had a few more days, we could really get down to detail.”

“With respect, Professor, I think I’m getting more than enough detail,” Bond patted the three books next to him.

“Yes, quite.”

Bond shook his glass. Although the education he was receiving was thorough, he felt he was missing details about the focal point of his mission.

“Tell me, Professor, why are these stone tablets so fascinating?” he ventured.

“Haven’t you been listening to anything, Bond?” bristled Gainsborough.

The Professor took a very long swig from his beer and sighed, the one Bond recognised as a disappointed whiff, not the angry moan.

“Mesopotamia was the cradle of civilisation, the legendary Garden of Eden,” explained Gainsborough, “The basis of everything we understand about the modern world started in those ancient lands. Before 6000 B.C. they were weaving rough shawls, smelting copper and producing kiln fired pottery. They learnt to irrigate their crops from the rivers and started crop rotation to retain the freshness of the soil. Give them another thousand years or so and they formed societies and started to barter. They stopped hunting and started to domesticate livestock. They learnt to dye clothes. They created towns. They elected leaders. They started religious practice. The Ubaid was the very first civilisation, appearing around 5900 B.C. According to the Sumerian King List – you remember that? – the Ubaid were the earliest settlers in the area, the descendants of the Sumerians. But they died out, almost over night. It was Leonard Woolley who discovered why. He was excavating the city of Ur, far to the south, when he dug through a layer of sand over six feet deep. Underneath that sandy soil was a stratum laid with Ubaid pottery. This was evidence of a devastating flood. I’m sure you can make the connection with the Bible. The point is, Bond, until Woolley no one had any geological evidence of a monumental catastrophe. I accept it was probably a localised affair, possibly resultant from an earthquake or a tsunami, but it wiped out a whole civilisation, a city, gone like Atlantis! The devastation swept up the Euphrates and the Tigris for over a hundred or so miles. And that is the crux; the myth of the flood wasn’t a legend at all, it really happened, but the story has been diluted and altered and elaborated over the years until many religions ingratiated it into their creation stories.

“The survivors formed new communities further from the flood plains. The cities of Urak and Eridu began to mass produce pottery and textiles, had large farms and even larger populations. And what did this burgeoning populace need? What any culture needs: an administration system. So the Urak developed pictogram counting, to denote terms of barter. It was a small step for the Sumer to develop a written language. Unfortunately Sumerian is syllabic and requires years to master. It was also a language isolate. The general population didn’t speak it. It was the language of the gods and the priests and administrators. And that’s what makes Gilgamesh so exciting. It’s a written record of a traditional Sumerian legend, a story for the common people written in the common language. Akkadian is part of the Semitic linguistic group and thankfully it’s a lot easier to decipher. The stories may be centuries older than the tablets, but no one else, as far as we know, wrote them down for consumption until Ashurbanipal. It is quite simply the world’s oldest book.”

Bond had finished his whisky. “I understand that, Professor, but what’s the book about?”

“It’s about the inevitability of fate.”

“You mean death?”

“I do,” another big swig of beer, “Throughout history authors have questioned the acceptance of death. Aristophanes poked fun at death in The Frogs, Shakespeare’s a bit more serious in Hamlet and Macbeth, even Miller and Shaffer talk about it. But Gilgamesh is riddled with the preoccupation. You should read it, a man of your occupation.”

Bond raised an eye brow.

“I think you’re guessing there, Professor, I’m fairly good natured.”

“Maybe,” Gainsborough started to clean his spectacles again, “Let me give you a translation of the book. You can read it on your trip to Paris.”

#7 chrisno1



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Posted 17 August 2010 - 11:32 PM


Bond didn’t like ostentatious hotels. For that reason he appreciated the ease and efficiency of the Terminus Du Nord, a traditional station hotel situated directly opposite the main entrance of Le Gare du Nord, the Paris hub for the Euro-Star express. The Du Nord wasn’t quite as grand as it had been between the wars, when the whole of European high society travelled by luxury train and the hotel was a signature destination for all. It had recently down graded itself to three stars, but even so the renovation was stylish, slick and simple in fashion, which matched the starched service and the business customers who frequented it.

Bond arrived at lunchtime on the Friday, giving himself an afternoon to prepare for the auction viewing. He checked in with the minimum of fuss. The receptionist, a pretty brunette with tiny spectacles perched on the bridge of her equally tiny nose, reminded him the rooms were all non-smoking. Bond gave a resigned sigh.

She caught his mood and whispered: “Monsieur Aubrey could always smoke on the balcony.” Bond returned her smile of conspiracy and thanked her for the suggestion.

The room was as functional as the welcome. Bond opened the balcony doors immediately. He ordered a double Croquet-Madame from room service and as he waited for the toasted sandwich, he completed his minimal unpacking. Then he poured himself a large Bell’s, watered down with a dash of Canadian Ginger, and went outside to smoke. He sucked the dry heat of the tobacco into his lungs and took in the everyday bustle along the Boulevard de Denain.

Paris had changed a lot since his youth. Bond wondered if every visitor thought the same. There was certainly less tawdriness to the city. It was clean and unspoilt. The monuments sat prominent above the skylines. The hidden gems of streets, arcades, shops, restaurants and hotels sat obediently beneath them. A few distasteful modern constructions, the legacy of successive Mayors and Presidents, all intent on leaving their personal mark, still blighted the once serene esplanades and avenues envisaged by Haussmann. Now an effort was being made to restore Paris back to its cultural roots. Green spaces were planned. The dreaded ring road was to be covered over. The farthest suburbs were finally to be linked to the centre by tram and train rather than tarmac. Yet Paris lacked a spark. The atmosphere was grey and cold despite the warmth of the sun. The city needed another riot to brighten it up, thought Bond, and tossed the filter absently over the balcony. There were still a few hours to kill before the evening. He thumbed his copy of Gilgamesh again; it seemed there was nothing for it but to finish the damn thing.

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

The hotel arranged a taxi for six o’clock. Bond had been sitting in the Golden Arrow bar nursing his way down a double scotch. He saw the car pull up and the slightly scruffy driver step out. Bond finished his drink in one gulp, the ice cubes rattling against his teeth, and went outside.

The cabbie reluctantly opened the rear door.

“Good evening, Monsieur.”

Bond nodded in acknowledgement, gave his destination and settled in the back seat. The driver partition was up. It was to be a silent journey. The driver proceeded north alongside the railway lines for a mile or so eventually turning onto Rue de La Chapelle. From here he headed for Le Boulevard Peripherique, the wide ring road which circumnavigates the centre of Paris. The taxi made sedate anti-clockwise progress through the urban drag, only getting caught in congestion twice. Some forty five minutes later, the driver indicated for the exit at Porte D’Orleans. From here it was a straight drive down the D920 to Sceaux.

Autumn shadows were beginning to stretch across the Parisian landscape. It still felt unseasonably warm, but soon the chill of a September evening would descend, coats would be worn and hot coffee drunk in cafes. Sceaux was a pretty town surrounded by affluent residents. It looked the sort of place where nights of hot coffee in lonely bars were a thing of the past. Almost immediately the tenement buildings and apartment blocks of the inner city had given way to a suburban sprawl. The streets were broad and lined with trees, whose falling leaves scattered the pavements. There was a lot of money here. Bond could almost smell it behind the high stone walls and the iron gates of the mansion houses. Sceaux was once a city in its own right until the encroaching Parisian metropolis swallowed it. Now ingratiated into Hauts-de-Seine, the commune still held a position as one of the wealthiest districts of France.

The taxi cut across Rue Houdan, the pedestrian main street. As Bond predicted, it was empty. The luxury shops and boutiques were closed for the weekend, the restaurants and bars were just staring to come alive. But the money preferred to stay behind their gates and walls. A little further on the cabbie turned into an avenue bordered on one side by a row of ash trees and on the other by iron railings. Beyond the railings Bond could see the expanse of Le Parc de Sceaux. On the pavements bored teenagers rode skateboards and swigged from Pepsi Max bottles. Was this the idleness of youth or merely the idle rich? Bond couldn’t decide.

The railings changed to an eight foot high brick wall topped with ivy. Behind it was the chateau, assumed Bond. The park had been much larger in the past, but over the centuries, and even in recent decades, sections of the estate had been sold off. The chateau grounds now occupied only a small percentage of the original land.

Ahead Bond could make out a limousine turning into the entrance. The taxi followed. They had to wait a moment in front of the closed wrought iron barriers while Bond communicated with the disembodied voice from the intercom.

There was no confirmation. The gates opened automatically, noiseless and electronically smooth. As the car passed through, Bond noted the closed circuit camera situated atop each gate post.

The taxi scrunched its slow way up the straight gravel drive. The road was flanked by evergreen trees, each one sculptured into conical shapes, the bottom branches touching the lawn. Set into the border tiny spotlights brightened the path.

Bond liked the chateau. It was built with Saint Leu stone and glowed with the same pale honey colour as the great French palaces. There the similarities stopped. Sceaux was a two storied chateau built in the retro style of Louis XIII rather than the extravagant designs at Versailles or Fontainebleau. There was a distinct lack of ornamentation from the bare brickwork to the sharply pitched slate-grey roof. Even the window entablatures lacked decoration. Each corner of the roof featured a hexagonal folly, a fake turret, and he could just make out the boxes for air conditioning units fixed atop them. The chateau was not illuminated. The only light came from inside the house. The curtains were pulled back and Bond could see figures silhouetted against the yellow hue. The only hint at wealth was the fussy front portico. Raised several steps up from the drive the porch was supported by four Corinthian columns standing like out of place soldiers and guarded by two restive stone lions. There was an elaborate relief both on the outside frieze and the above the huge oak front door.

At a respectful distance on the left and right of the chateau were more buildings. The left hand construction looked like servants quarters. It was also two storied, but did not even reach a third of the height of the chateau. It looked as if it had been recently renovated. To the right sat the dilapidated stables, which were clearly of no use to the current owner and looked to fighting a losing battle with the ivy. The drive encircled the whole the chateau, cutting off the out buildings from the main residence. Two chains were looped across the path and a painted metal sign read: “Private - Staff Only.”

The driver pulled up next to one of several limousines. Bond paid, but baulked at a generous tip. The driver gave nothing but a curt nod.

A Japanese couple had arrived just before Bond and he followed them up the flight of steps. Positioned on either side of the door were two immaculately dressed footmen, who both looked slightly uncomfortable in formal wear. Bond noted the indiscreet bulges at their hips. The men carried coshes. There was a complete lack of any police presence; was this a private security firm or Chivry’s own bodyguard?

As he passed under the portico, Bond noticed the tiny green light winking above him. The frieze above the door was a representation of Liberty, bare breasted and leading the Parisian masses. Too late he saw the camera lens positioned between her legs. So, Chivry wanted a photographic record of his guests. Silently Bond queried why and then stored the information away.

The main hallway was dominated by a long straight staircase which was set in line with the door, the porch and the driveway. It was covered in a fine Paris green carpet. The hall floor itself resonated with Bond’s footfalls. The boards were bare oak, varnished and polished. His soles almost slid on the wax. The hall was decorated with lime green wallpaper embossed with a floral pattern. A single, huge chandelier, positioned centrally, hung from the ceiling, glinting with over a hundred pearls of white. There was no gold leaf; most of the fittings were copper or brass. Two pairs of double doors, one each side of the staircase, led into separate reception rooms. Between two of these was positioned a long table covered with champagne bottles, glasses and silver wine buckets. Standing by it was another footman holding a tray of champagne flutes. Muffled sounds from Le Cafe de Paris filled the air. A guitar and fiddle trio was playing in another room.

A fourth footman, this one attired in different colours to denote his rank, gave a courteous bow of the head.

“Welcome to Chateau Sceaux, Monsieur Aubrey.”

Bond was surprised to be addressed in English. It momentarily threw him from his mental balance.

“Hello,” he replied diffidently.

The head footman indicated with a hand towards his colleague. “Please take some champagne.”

“Thank you, I will.”

The head footman proffered a soft backed colour catalogue. “Please accept this complimentary brochure, Monsieur. You will find the guide prices next to each illustration.”

Bond took the catalogue and a full glass and passed through the first set of doors. He entered a corner salon. This room was upholstered in deep garnet. The centre piece was three cylindrical display cabinets arranged in a triangular formation. The display cases contained separate examples of gold jewellery from each of the great empires, the Sumerian, the Assyrian and the Babylonian. Standing in front of them, sucking on a large Panama cigar and talking to a small, grey haired Frenchman was the bulky presence of Andreas Chivry.

He was larger than his photograph suggested. The man’s head seemed to shrink into his broad shoulders and while he wasn’t an obese man, his body was big and bloated. It was crammed into a Ralph Lauren suit, one of the five thousand Euro ones, and an equally expensive shirt and tie. The face was tired, the lines drawn deep over the brow and beneath the eye. While his complexion was still dark it had begun to show a hint of grey. Chivry wheezed a little as he talked. The man is ill, thought Bond, possibly gout or simply the effects of gluttony. The black moustache remained dense and drooped at the edges. Bond thought the man resembled a walrus, though the brown eyes had none of the dolefulness of a sea creature. They flitted across to Bond as he entered.

Bond seized the initiative and strode forward. He extended his hand.

“Monsieur Chivry, James Aubrey.”

Chivry’s paw clasped his. No other word could describe those five fat fingers; they stayed so close together they were almost one single curling digit. He spoke in good, clear English.

“Welcome, Monsieur Aubrey, I am greatly impressed that Christie’s have asked the British Museum to represent them at the auction.”

“Sir Nicolas felt it appropriate to send an expert.”

“I understand of course. I trust Christie’s and the Museum intends to purchase at tomorrow’s auction?”

Chivry wasn’t looking at Bond when he phrased the question. As the final syllables fell away, his expression took on a quizzical gait. It passed quickly.

“We certainly hope so.”

“Good, good.”

Chivry shoved the cigar back in his mouth and took one sharp drag. Without another word he walked past Bond and greeted the Japanese couple, who had appeared behind Bond. They clearly knew each other and Chivry shook his hand warmly. This started an animated discussion, Chivry jovial, loud, the two Japanese laughing in all the right places.

Wanting to keep him observed, Bond crossed to the other side of the display cases and pretended to study the artworks. There was something in that brief encounter Bond didn’t like. The cameras and the armed guards also hinted at a deeper meaning behind the cavalier attitude of Andreas Chivry.

There is an innate sense the very best of espionage agents possess. It can’t be taught, it’s an instinctive intangible perception, one that warns of impending danger, offers sudden intuitive insight and even, as now, detects the wary eyes or ears of another. As Bond kept watch he began to feel uneasy. He wasn’t the only one in the room interested in the Frenchman.

Bond turned slightly to his left. Standing in the interconnecting doorway was a blonde girl. She was dressed in a neat black two piece outfit, not an especially expensive one, the sort you would buy at Le Carrousel de Louvre not Bon Marche. What made Bond senses tingle was the fact she was wearing sunglasses.

Dusk was settling outside. The autumn evening was drawing in quickly. There was no need to hide her eyes from the glare of the sun. Equally, shades would not aid the viewing of these ancient ornaments. It was an incongruous affect and one that deserved further investigation. It helped of course that she was an exceptionally attractive girl.

Bond approached her in three strides.

“Good evening.”

The girl’s manner was disdainful. She raised a hand, he thought to dismiss him, but instead it rested on her sunglasses and pushed them into her tousled hair. She turned her head to look at Bond and cast him one solitary, meaningless glance. She was mocking him.

“I don’t want to talk.”

It was an order, not a request. Bond was momentarily taken aback. He was about to reply when they were both distracted by the appearance of the head footman, who rushed up to Chivry and urgently whispered into his ear.

Chivry, who had been stooping most of the time, stood bolt upright. Whatever the news was, it was clearly important. Hastily, Chivry apologised to the Japanese couple and followed the footman back into the hallway.

“It seems our host has other...”

Bond was stopped in his sentence as the girl turned on her heel and walked into the next room. For a moment he had an urge to follow her, but instead he sidled around the salon until he could see what was happening in the hallway.

There were four of them. They were all Arabs. Three of the men were dressed in sharp charcoal grey suits. They were not young. They were not cheerful. They were not drinking. They were professionals. The most prominent of them had a countenance to him which suggested authority. He was doing most of the talking. One gold tooth glinted in his mouth. The other two held crocodile skin attaché cases. Bond tensed; guns perhaps. Whatever was being said, Chivry was delighted to see them, or else he was an exceptional actor. They were conversing in a mixture of Arabic and French.

The fourth man stood back from the group. He wore a traditional thoub, minus the headdress, but it was spotlessly clean. This man was well over six foot tall, wiry and thin, but with a sharp chiselled face. His eyes seemed sunk into his skull and his nose was elongated, tapering to a point. There was a vicious scar running diagonally across his face, splintering his lips. It looked as if it had been caused by a cat o’ nine tails. Not one but several big red welts cut into his flesh. After a minute or two of the conversation, the tall man leant forward and said something inaudible to his gold toothed companion.

It was like a decision was being made for everyone. Chivry threw up his hands and beckoned the men to follow him upstairs.

“Gentlemen, please, wait in my private quarters. I have many guests this evening. We can conduct business in a moment.”

This was said in French for the benefit of the head footman. Afterwards, Chivry switched back to Arabic. Bond wondered if it was worth trying to follow them. He downed his champagne in one gulp and crossed the hall to the waiter. Bond picked another flute from the silver salver and glanced up at the first floor landing.

The hawk face of the man with the scar stared back at him. It was only for a snippet, not even a second, but Bond’s intuition tingled again. The man’s eyes swept the room once. It took only a moment and then he followed his colleagues.

Bond decided it wasn’t worth the risk investigating further, not yet any way. As he turned to leave, Bond caught the contemptuous look of the blonde girl, propped against the door frame of the second reception room. She too had been watching the Arabs. The sunglasses were back on her nose.

Now Bond’s senses were off the scale. He didn’t follow the girl directly, but kept one eye on where she was and what she was doing. She wasn’t particularly interested in the display cabinets. She spent more time looking out of the windows. There were plenty of people in the chateau, but it wasn’t a crush. The second room featured one display case containing a collection of agate seals and another with some examples of pottery. He tried to focus on the artefacts, to remember what Gainsborough had taught him, but the astonishing array of articles on show blinded him. It really did take an expert to tell genuine from fake. Bond was struggling. He needed scientific equipment, not his one pair of eyes. He felt woefully inadequate.

Passing into another corner salon, Bond found a trio of tall upright cabinets. Bond noted these ones had small locks on them to protect the bronze lion statues. Like all the other reception rooms, the walls were bare. The musicians were snuggled in the corner of this annex. They switched to playing Feuilles Mortes. The song had acute memories for Bond, of sorrowful autumns passed, and he quickly moved on.

The next room didn’t feature any artefacts at all. It did contain two carved walnut chaise lounge positioned around a low circular coffee table. They sat in front of the focal point of the room which was a mammoth open fire place set against the internal wall. It looked to be cut from a single slab of white Italian marble and was carved with the likeness of Cupid and Psyche on either side. In the grate was a huge log, more a tree trunk, which served for decorative purposes only. Sat on the mantel was an elaborate bracket clock from the 1700s, its oak carcase sealed with veneered brass and inlaid with tortoise shell. On either side of the fireplace hung understated landscapes from Vernet, an artist of the Venetian school. All these items were in keeping with the age of the chateau and Bond thought they might be worth more than some of the ancient wares on display. Opposite the fireplace and in the middle of four bay windows was an enormous Louis XV armoire, made of stained chestnut and featuring three pairs of mirror panelled doors. Unusually, instead of four legs, the armoire rested on a foot deep plinth. The wardrobe was so big it must have been built inside the chateau. What Bond couldn’t understand was why it had been positioned in this particular alcove. It was the perfect bay for a panoramic window to overlook the rear gardens.

Bond crossed to one of the windows, which were actually ceiling tall French doors. Like much of the chateau, they did not appear to be burglar proofed. The lack of security confused Bond; he would have expected a man in Chivry’s position to have alarms and surveillance equipment all over the estate. Perhaps there really was nothing to hide at the chateau. Bond spent a few moments studying the landscaped lawns outside. The French doors led onto a wide stone terrace. Steps at both ends descended into the gardens. The two tongues of gravel drive rejoined here and continued in a straight line forming an avenue between the trees. There was a central fountain, but it wasn’t switched on and some stray leaves were blowing into the still water. Bond noticed there were no statues, which he found curious given Chivry’s supposed interest in artworks. At the very end of the drive was a series of squat buildings, which looked like they might once have been agricultural store houses. The last of the light was fading now. The position of the setting sun behind the gardens made Bond realise the whole of the chateau was constructed on an east-west axis, using the drive as a compass needle. The far buildings now interrupted what must have once been a spectacular sunset view across the Sceaux estate.

The music was still too close. Bond moved into the next room and stared blankly into one of the cabinets, which contained some early examples of glass blowing. He referred to the catalogue, feigning interest. When he looked up, there was another face next to his reflected in the glass.

It was the haughty blonde girl.

She looked flustered and there was embarrassment in the colour of her cheeks. She was trying to compose herself. On seeing Bond, the eyes flashed.

This time Bond smiled warmly, but did not extend his hand.

“Hello again. Did you miss me?”

“No,” was the fast reply, “I found someone even more distasteful to talk to.”

“Pray tell.”

“Our host: the estimable Andreas Chivry.”

Bond looked the girl up and down. Yes, she would certainly appeal to Andreas Chivry, thought Bond, in fact she would appeal to any red blooded male.

#8 chrisno1



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Posted 19 August 2010 - 10:55 PM


The girl was a shade over five and a half feet tall, but her heels raised her four extra inches. She had a sweep of lustrous blonde hair, so pale of gold that when the lights struck her, it dazzled white. Her skin was flawless, with hardly a mark or dimple, and touched with the faintest blusher. She bore the lightest trace of a tan. Bond thought the girl might be simply too fair skinned to tan well. She had a gently curved nose, which fanned delicately at the bridge, forming shallow pools for her eyes. She had dabbed faint sky blue eye shadow and there was a hint of indigo liner. Her eyes were pewter grey, the lashes long and the brows scrupulously plucked thin, arching in enquiring twin swirls. The mouth was wide, but the lips slim. The bottom lip stuck out a tiny fraction, provocatively quivering as she breathed. Bond was disappointed to see the mouth was turned down at the corners. Now he understood where that sneer had come from. He wanted to see her smile. It might, he considered be quite glorious.

The rest of her was better than magnificent. She wasn’t a slender girl, but she clearly looked after herself. A shallow neck gave way to broad shoulders, probably from swimming or racquet sports. The golden hair bounced on the close fitting black jacket. Trim wrists peeked beneath the cuffs. There were no rings on the unpainted fingers. One hand now held both her sunglasses and a small purse. The straight cut blouse was satin, the colour matched her hair. There was a generous bosom under the garment. Bond anticipated she was hiding a wide cleavage as the fine, full breasts seemed to point left and right, not straight ahead. The waist was waiflike in comparison and gave way to hips and buttocks that also suggested fitness and sports. Encased in a matching skirt, which was a shade too short and tight, her posterior was firm and lifted. The legs were not the longest, reflecting a slightly elongated body, but Bond witnessed shapely limbs under the nude denier stockings. He detected strong muscles on both the thighs and the calves.

Without consciously thinking it, he had a prominent urge to seduce her. Something told him she would welcome the attention, even from a man she claimed to dislike. Bond caught a whiff of vanilla. Guerlain’s Insolence, he considered; a young, sensual scent.

“I’m sorry for that. Perhaps I could offer you better company,” he said, holding out his hand, “My name’s James Aubrey. I’m from the British Museum.”

She took the hand willingly. Her hand shake was soft. Bond caressed the palm a little longer than necessary. He was surprised when she repeated the gesture and their fingers parted, tingling with the sensation.

“Sylvia Lavoilette.”

“A very attractive name; it means ‘of the flower’ doesn’t it?”

She inclined her head, the brows arching a little further. She looked Bond directly in the eyes, when she glanced away it was to take in his whole figure. She dropped all her weight onto one foot and the beautiful backside jutted out.

“How did you know that?”

“Names, places, people. It’s a hobby of mine.”

“Genealogical atavism. Interesting.”

Bond didn’t think so. He’d read it somewhere, but couldn’t remember the article. Instead he asked: “What hobbies do you have?”

The tip of Sylvia’s tongue poked out and ran along the bottom lip. She seemed to notice what she was doing and made a conscious effort to withdraw it.

“I work at the Louvre, Monsieur Aubrey. I am an expert in Mesopotamian art.”

Of course you are, thought Bond, trust my luck. “What a coincidence,” he replied, with the best of his charm, “I research Babylonian artefacts too. Is there anything else you’re an expert in?”

The corners of the down-turned mouth twitched up. Bond liked the tiny movement. It was subtle, suggestive.

“English,” said Sylvia, “Unlike your French, Mister Aubrey.”

“Call me James.”

Looking distinctly unimpressed, Sylvia spun on a heel and walked past a few more display cases.

Bond followed, not wishing to let anyone else apprehend her.

“Is the Louvre going to be purchasing any pieces at the sale?”

“Perhaps. What is the British Museum interested in?”

“The Gilgamesh tablets obviously.”


Sylvia paused in front of a collection of ritual statues, representing the gods of the pantheon.

“They are certainly of great value, James,” she used his first name cautiously, “But I prefer the exquisiteness and refinement of the smaller pieces. Look at the detail on the face of this Pazuzu.”

Bond saw the bronze statue, only a few inches tall. The versions in the British Museum had looked similar, but were all missing the spectacular phallus, which here stuck out and upright and was almost as tall as the god’s body. Bond cast a quizzical look at Sylvia. There was a challenge in her eyes. He couldn’t tell if she was teasing or simply inquisitive.

“The reign of Sennacherib did deliver some excellent art work,” he said flatly, “But I’m only here for the tablets.”

Sylvia pursed her lips a little. “Then let’s look at them, shall we?”

They walked through several more rooms until they eventually reached the focus of everyone’s attention. In a small room was one long glass cabinet, hinged along the top edge. The twelve tablets were sitting on embroidered cushions. The shiny black clay contrasted sharply against the soft cream muslin. The little selection of stones, each one no bigger than a paperback in height and width, looked exceedingly fragile, as if a single shiver would send them, sliding from their podiums to shatter on the casement floor. It was a dangerous way, mused Bond, to display over twelve million pounds worth of clay.

“Very impressive,” he said simply.

“Is that all?”

“When you’ve been studying these relics for years,” replied Bond nonchalantly, “The mind does tend to grow a little tired.”

“Are you sure?” Sylvia continued to show scepticism. “I find them fascinating. I think you need to resume your studies, Mister Aubrey.”

The final remark was the nail in the coffin of a dying conversation. Bond let her go. Attractive creature she may be, but there was indignation in her manner, as if she had been constantly wronged.

Bond watched the perfectly toned backside retreat up the gallery. He lit a cigarette. Then, on an impulse, he followed her, at a surreptitious distance. Sylvia was prying at things that shouldn’t concern an archaeologist. Doors were being deftly tried, paintings inspected, the windows once again closely examined. Bond noticed the sun glasses were back in place. Whatever she was looking for, he thought, it was not antiques. Sylvia took a gradual route back towards the lobby. She appeared not to notice Bond was observing her, but deferring to caution, he kept well back.

As Sylvia reached the hall, the deep tones of Andreas Chivry could be heard. He was speaking in Arabic and bidding farewell to someone. Bond, one room behind the girl, crossed quickly to the front windows. Outside the evening had finally fallen, but it was light enough to see. The porch lights illuminated the immediate vicinity. Along the driveway the two lines of small low level spotlights, buried in the gutters, shone out eerily across the gravel road and into the hedgerows. Bond identified the three men in suits and the tall rangy figure in white. Chivry was standing apart from them. He was still in good spirits, although his visitors appeared unimpressed. Before he ducked into the waiting limousine, the tall man with the scar turned and said one word, very quiet, but sharp. The car pulled away down the ghostly drive. Chivry watched after the rear lights until they had disappeared through the front gates and into the Paris night. When he turned around, Bond could see a frown etched on his face.

When he re-entered the mansion, Chivry’s first sight was of Sylvia and his countenance blossomed. The tanned smile spread across his features and the dark eyes roamed carelessly. Bond reckoned they were expertly measuring every inch of the girl. Chivry grasped a fresh champagne flute and approached her once more. Swiftly she removed the sunglasses. She gave an exacting smile. Bond heard her explain she needed to leave. Chivry was most disappointed and said he had hoped to spend more time discussing the merits of Assyrian temple art with her. Begrudgingly she accepted his continental kiss of farewell on each cheek. Their conversation stayed short. Chivry had no need to escort her out to the portico, but he did, guiding her with his hand. As Bond watched, the large paw slipped from the small of her back to the top of her derriere. He saw the girl’s buttocks clench with irritation. Bond smiled. Sylvia Lavoilette clearly did not like Andreas Chivry.

Bond slipped out of the front door, offering a nod to the footmen. Chivry was occupied ensuring Sylvia obtained an executive limousine. Quickly Bond made his way onto the front lawn, dodging into the shadows behind the trees and hedges to avoid the spotlights. He made quick progress to the entrance and intercepted the limousine as it waited for the gates to swing open.

Bond opened the rear door. The girl was sitting on the far side, the sunglasses in her hand. She gave a little cry of alarm.

The chauffeur twisted his head.

Bond settled into the spare seat. “Sylvia,” he announced confidently, “You forgot we’d agreed to have dinner.”

Sylvia recovered her poise quickly, but fumbled to tuck the spectacles into her little purse. She looked at him curiously. Her countenance displayed the same air of contempt mixed with fascination he’d encountered in the chateau.

“Le Boucherie Rouliere, please,” Bond instructed.

The iron gates noiselessly opened. The chauffeur said nothing, slipped the limousine into gear and gently pulled out into the road.

Now the girl showed signs of annoyance. She shrank back in the seat and faced straight ahead. Her bottom lip curled.

“Are you always so impudent?”

“Not usually. Let’s just say the opportunity looked too good to turn down.”

“That sounds very mysterious.”

“You’re something of a mystery too, Sylvia,” suggested Bond, “And I can’t think of a better way to find out about one another’s secrets than with a dish of ravioles aux truffles and a bottle of Dom Perignon ‘75.”

She didn’t reply.

“Don’t worry, Sylvia, I’m not going to kidnap you.”

“But you are going to interrogate me.”

“In the gentlest possible terms,” Bond tried to be affable, but he could see he wasn’t winning her over.

She remained nervous and said little on the journey, despite Bond making several enquiries. She sat tetchy and apprehensive. The confident young woman of the chateau hadn’t completely evaporated, but like the autumn evening she was fading fast.

In the event the busy bistro on Rue des Canettes didn’t have the Dom Perignon, but Bond ordered a flowery Anjou Rose to accompany the earthy perfume of the truffles. The restaurant had gone through something of a revamp since the smoking bans. It was lighter and cleaner than Bond remembered and smelt of the food rather than endless Gauloises. While Bond missed the tobacco stained walls and cigar enthused ambience, he secretly enjoyed that he could properly taste the excellent cooking.

They were seated at a discreet corner table for two, away from the front windows. Sylvia became more animated in the restaurant, the waiters doted on her and she enjoyed the attention. Briefly Bond witnessed the broad smile he had wanted to see.

They ordered the pasta as a main course only. Between mouthfuls of the deliciously soft ravioli, Bond decided it was time to break the uneasy silence between them.

“Sylvia, I have a confession to make,” he began.

Bond thought her expression changed instantly. The grey eyes didn’t flinch and she bore that determined look, the one he’d seen when he first approached her. Without waiting, she butted in:

“You don’t need to tell me; I know you’re not an expert on ancient relics. I’ve never heard of a James Aubrey working at the British Museum. Plus your analysis of that Pazuzu statue was over three hundred years out.”

Bond allowed a thin smile to grace his lips. “Should I hold up my hands and say ‘I surrender’?”

“No, but you could tell me what you’re doing here.”

“I could ask you the same thing, Sylvia.”

The girl stuck out her chin. “Why?”

“Because you may be an expert on ancient history, but you are a very bad special agent. When did the DCRI start recruiting civilians?”

The girl looked a little lost for a moment. She recovered quickly. “I don’t know what you are talking about, James.”

“Of course you do,” said Bond, “You have a camera lens fixed in the frame of your sunglasses. I’ve seen that sort of equipment before. I watched you snooping around Chivry’s chateau. What I want to know is what were you snooping for?”

“I don’t have to tell you.”

“No, you don’t, but it might be to our mutual benefit if you did,” Bond waited, watching the stern face mull over her options.

“Why should I tell you anything?”

“I have friends at Interior Intelligence. I work for the British Government.”

There was a very long pause while the girl chewed on her last mouthful. She seemed to be turning something over in her mind with the rotation of her teeth.

“All right, I was recruited by the DCRI,” she declared eventually, “But I really am a senior research assistant at the Louvre. I didn’t know anything about the invitation to the sale until the Director and this policeman, a Captain Guibert, came to see me. Apparently Monsieur Chivry is susceptible to womanly charms.”

“Aren’t we all?”

Sylvia shot him a look that said if he didn’t stop joshing she’d slap him.

“And what does your government pay you to be an expert in, James?”

“Guns, cars, golf, scuba diving, roulette and baccarat, good food, wine,” Bond paused, the glass of Anjou half way to his lips, “Women.”

“Why does that not surprise me?”

“Because you know it’s true.”

“I may not possess your expertise, James, but I can spot an aging gigolo when I see one.”

That was the slap in the face. Bond accepted it and changed the subject. “So why is Captain Guibert interested in the chateau?”

“Apparently Chivry is tied up with the arms trade. I don’t really understand it all and I wasn’t briefed in full. Security measures, what do they call it, a ‘need to know’?”

Bond nodded. Their plates were collected. They both chose the selection of French cheeses for desert. He listened as Sylvia outlined what she had been expected to do.

“Anyway this man Guibert explained what the DCRI does and why they were interested in Andreas Chivry. Guibert called him ‘an undesirable social phenomenon’.”

Bond silently chuckled at the tag, one of those catch-all titles which could include a multitude of offences, depending on police interpretation. The Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence had a department which dealt with foreign affairs. It was that one Bond felt would be most intrigued by Chivry’s multinational business.

“They wanted evidence that Chivry was manufacturing fake relics,” continued Sylvia, “It would be the excuse they needed to raid his premises and hopefully uncover more about his business dealings. I was asked to photograph as much of the chateau as I could. The lens is linked via a tiny transmitter to this digital camera.”

Sylvia produced the flat silver box, no bigger than a credit card and only twice as thick. There was an LCD screen on one side. Bond picked it up and switched it on. The screen blinked into life. Sylvia craned forward to see the fruits of her work. Bond mastered the touch screen in seconds and started to flip the images. The results were dubious. Bond didn’t say so; he was enjoying the scent of her hair, as fresh as spring roses, and the glitter in her eyes. The wide mouth looked more alluring and kissable with each second.

“What else were you asked to do?” enquired Bond as he studied the photos.

“I was told to try and ingratiate myself with Chivry. That was not particularly pleasant.”

“So I gather,” Bond paused and offered a short, low whistle.


He was looking at an image Sylvia had taken of the out houses, the large squat buildings to the rear of the gardens. He showed her the photograph.

“What’s unusual about that building?” he asked.

The girl shrugged.

“You see the chimney? Doesn’t it strike you as odd that in this modern day and age, Andreas Chivry would still use coal fired heating in his out houses, while his main chateau is fully centrally heated?”

Sylvia looked again. “The chimney is smoking.”

“Exactly. Those buildings are being utilised for something other than storing hay.”

“You mean furnaces?”

“Possibly, yes,” replied Bond.

“Then I must tell Captain Guibert.”

Bond shook his head, “Not yet, Sylvia, let’s finish dessert first.”

The cheeses were wonderful, a creamy brie, an aromatic camembert and a hard ewe’s cheese from the Pyrenees’, accompanied by a sweet apricot chutney. They finished the wine and Bond ordered coffee and cognac. Sylvia tried to stop him; she didn’t like brandy.

“You might need it,” he said. She glanced enquiringly at him. Bond continued: “I have a proposition for you, Sylvia. It may work to both our advantages. My government is interested in Chivry’s illegal arms deals too; both the British and the French agree the evidence is mostly circumstantial. But the two of us might have something of substance here. Now, if we could threaten to expose him as a forger, he might be willing to explain his arms trading.”

“How can we do that?”

“Well, we have to do it tonight. Once the sale starts it will be too late.”

“What do you propose?”

“I want to break into those out houses.”

“You’re mad,” Sylvia said, frowning and shaking her head, “He has security. How will you get in?”

“Do you have a car?”


“Good, then it’s quite simple. You’re going to drive me in.”


“I’m asking you a very big favour. All I need is half an hour, an hour at the most. There is one person I’m certain Andreas Chivry will be very pleased to have on his doorstep this evening.”

Bond looked at Sylvia. He was about to wink, but stopped himself; her expression told him that would not be appreciated. She was startled, her eyes widening with the shock. Automatically she seemed to cover her self, pulling her jacket a little closer. She slowly shook her head.

“Sylvia,” Bond said reluctantly, “I’m afraid that person isn’t me.”

#9 chrisno1



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Posted 22 August 2010 - 12:01 AM


Two hours later, Bond was coiled uncomfortably in the tiny boot of Sylvia’s lemon green Citroën C1. There was no room to speak of and he was glad this portion of the journey was only for the last half mile. Bond was dressed in the same dinner jacket, but had utilised the built in accessories from Q Branch. The Velcro lapel flaps obscured the white of his shirt and the black nylon collar-to-head stocking covered all of his face bar the eyes and nose. Bond also wore thin black nylon gloves. In his outside pockets now rested the standard issue universal key which looked like any ordinary modern car key, a black Mont Blanc Classique ball point which doubled as a halogen light and a special Dunhill lighter, equipped to disburse one jet of flame in emergencies. The Walther P99 snuggled reassuringly in his arm pit. Of all the gadgets he was issued with, it was the gun that was always most welcome.

Sylvia had taken some persuading to re-enter the Chateau. Bond had assured the girl he was not expecting her to do anything physical. All he wanted was to have Chivry distracted for a short time, a drink or two would be perfectly adequate.

Reluctantly she agreed. Now with the addition of Dutch courage from the brandy, but minus her hosiery, Sylvia drove gently up to the big gates of the Chateau.

A metallic voice asked who she was.

“Sylvia Lavoilette. I want to speak to Monsieur Chivry. He expressed an interest in Assyrian art.”

Bond heard Sylvia pause. He waited for the killer line. She got the emphasis exactly right.

“I’m sure he would love to see me again.”

“One moment.”

There was another longer pause. Then without any warning, Bond heard Sylvia engage the gears and the car slid forward up the drive. He heard the crackle of loose shale under the tyres. As he’d instructed, Sylvia manoeuvred the little car into a position close to the corner of the chateau. It was almost a blind spot. It wasn’t covered by the rear or front security cameras. Someone needed to be looking directly at the car to notice Bond opening the hatchback.

As she exited the Citroën, Sylvia said in a low voice, “Good luck, James.”

The noise of Sylvia’s heels on the gravel faded away. Bond heard sounds of welcome. It was definitely Chivry. The growling voice, punctured by that chesty cough, was unmistakable. By the manner of it, he was very pleased to see Sylvia. Apparently the evening had been a great success and he was celebrating. Bond wondered what the old rogue was dressed in. He put a silent bet on a smoking jacket and silk pyjama bottoms.

Bond waited three minutes before he turned on the pen-torch and quickly freed unfastened the boot lock. The hatch sprung open an inch. Bond extinguished the light and clutched onto the rear door. He waited and listened. Everything sounded calm. The rustle of leaves mingled with the ever present night time chirp of blackbirds. Satisfied, he opened the door by about two feet and clambered out of the luggage well. It was an ungainly procedure, made difficult by trying to keep the lid over his activities. Bond crouched behind the car and clicked the boot shut.

The chateau’s interior lights still illuminated the darkness. Bond kept to the blind shadows, edging to the end of the chateau, where he peered around the corner. The empty pathway beckoned to him. Opposite stood the servant’s quarters. Several windows were lit and, in keeping with modern legislation, two men were sitting outside smoking. Damn! That was an oversight; Bond should have asked Sylvia to drop him on the other side, near the stables. Bond daren’t risk crossing the front of the house now. He squatted, crunched up to the wall and waited. The two men didn’t want to ever leave. They were sharing a series of dirty jokes and several cigarettes. The inertia made Bond’s muscles ache. After almost fifteen minutes one of them tossed away his finished butt and went inside the apartments. The other man, who apparently was the chef, stayed to make a phone call. He pulled out his mobile and began a conversation which Bond initially thought was to a girlfriend, but it transpired to be his mother. The chef became engrossed in describing the finer points of his canapés. Bond silently agreed they had been very tasty and started to make his move.

He crabbed along the wall, taking each step as quietly as he could. At one point, the chef completely turned his back and Bond put on a burst of speed to make it to the far end of the chateau. He scuttled around the corner, pausing briefly in the lee of the terrace. He was about to head into the gardens when a dark shape obscured one of the four square pools of yellow light illuminating the ground to his right. Someone was standing by the French doors. Bond craned his neck back expecting the doors to open. After a few moments, the dark shape disappeared. Bond made his decision and set off at a run, in a crouch, making directly for the hedgerows. Once there, he slithered onto his back under the eaves of the protecting evergreens. His feet rested on the shell of an all-weather spotlight, buried under the foliage. Bond twisted on his side. Looking back he could see into the drawing room.

Chivry was leaning against the huge mantle piece, holding a glass of champagne and a cigar. Bond had been wrong about the smoking jacket; he was dressed in an elaborate silk dressing gown. Sylvia was sitting on one of the chaise lounges, trying to look more than just interested. As Bond watched he saw her deftly uncross and cross her legs. Good girl, he thought, and retreated further into the foliage. Still keeping low, Bond slipped between each successive hedge. There didn’t seem to be any cameras or security here.

Bond had almost made the whole journey down the lawn when, without a sound, the garden began to illuminate. First one and then another row of the sunken spotlights started to spread their silver glow. Bond hugged the branches, keeping to the far side of the hedgerows. Through the greenery he could make out Chivry, again standing at the window, expansively waving his arms at the scene. Poor Sylvia was at his side and that clammy hand was draped over her shoulder. Bond sensed her skin crawl. Bond had to wait until the Frenchman tired of the view. After several minutes, Sylvia extricated herself from his fawning and they turned back to the room. Sensible girl; she knew Bond’s planned route was through the garden and was distracting Chivry for his benefit. He smiled grimly. The task was taking a lot longer than he anticipated and he wondered how long Sylvia could keep up the pretence.

Bond took a final quick look around him and sprinted across the last stretch of open ground to the out houses. He stood flat against the side wall, facing the staff quarters.

Bond hadn’t been able to tell from the chateau, but what he thought were three buildings, was actually one, interconnected by flat-roofed extensions. All the windows had been bricked in except the high portholes which were blacked over on the inside with a film of paint. The chimney stack still spat smoke like a dormant volcano. Bond expected the buildings were once used for farm storage and equipment, but as the agricultural land had disappeared, eaten up by the encroaching Parisian landscape, they’d been converted into a coach house. There was one pair of large double doors, renovated and probably bolted from the inside. A little further along, and shaped to match the coach entrance, was a single arched door. Bond crept to it. The door had a simple Yale lock. Bond had expected something more sophisticated. He inserted one of the two dozen blades contained in the universal key. After only a few seconds the tumblers rolled over. Keeping the key turned, he gently pressed the handle. He was surprised when it gave. Bond tensed, not sure what to expect, and pushed a few inches. The door opened. No lights challenged him. It appeared as dark as the night. Bond stepped into the building and closed the door.

The stillness was electric. Bond heard nothing. He could make out bulky shapes close to him, but the far distance was totally obscured. Bond fiddled for his torch pen, twisted the barrel and fanned the beam around the warehouse. He saw over a dozen wooden packing crates, some covered with tarpaulin. Bond crossed to the nearest case and inspected it. It was stamped for delivery to ‘Amin Al Rashid, Abu Dhabi.’ A shipping date two days hence was inscribed below the address. Bond tried three cases before he found an unsealed one. Underneath a layer of straw, Bond uncovered a big cylinder of bubble wrap. He tore at the adhesive tape. The content’s was an ancient vase. Assyrian pottery, thought Bond, exactly like the ones on display in Chivry’s house. But even to Bond’s freshly trained and naive eye this was definitely the genuine article. There was crustiness to the lip of the bowl, the tiny chips and cracks were embedded with aged grime, the paint looked oxidised, the finish brushed away with years of use followed by centuries of burial.

Bond shrugged and untidily replaced the vase. He made his way between the other cases. The farthest section of the building was conspicuously empty. There didn’t appear to be anything else here. And that included a fireplace. The three chimney breasts stood to the right, but they were all blocked in. That was odd, because Bond could detect the tang of fresh coal dust and ashes. The brickwork was new, like that which sealed the windows. Something was being hidden. Bond shone the torch lower. The fire places had been removed and each chimney descended through the floor. There had to be a lower level to the warehouse. Bond scanned the open space, searching for a trap door. Instead he saw the outline of a large square cut out in the floor. One corner had three foot pedals marked up, down and stop. Now Bond understood why this section was empty. The whole of the rear floor was a scissor lift.

Cautiously, Bond walked onto the boards and with the tip of his toe, he depressed the down lever. Immediately the unmistakable creak and judder of an industrial elevator rang out loud. The lift began its descent. Bond crouched down, eager to see what was below. Equally he was anxious his arrival might be observed.

The heat and the smell hit him first. The muggy sweaty air of a forge packed his nostrils. Bond almost coughed as it bit into his throat. Light grey smoke hung in the air. Bond couldn’t see any ventilation other than the furnace vents. There were three forges, each one bathed in a peculiar half light as the black charcoal and the orange stones vibrated like thousand degree hot lava. They were being kept alive through the night ready for work to commence in the morning. Bond saw the fruits of labour, sitting on long tables, waiting, he supposed for a decoration team. A broken pile of unsuccessfully cloned pottery was arranged badly in one corner.

Although Bond took all this in, his major concern was the big angry man who advanced towards him, an iron poker in his fist, the red hot tip fizzing.

The man moved with a clumsy gait, restricted by the leather apron he wore. The man thrashed wildly at Bond, who was too quick and dived backwards, releasing the foot pedal. The elevator jumped to a halt, only half way down its journey. Bond rolled over, sensing rather than seeing, the big man move around the scissor lift. Bond scrabbled in his trouser pocket for the Dunhill lighter. This felt the best kind of suitable emergency to use it.

Bond thrust the little gold box towards the oncoming figure and plunged the release button. A sheet of blue flame three feet long shot out of the lighter. The big man yelled and retreated, singed but not unduly hurt. The one-second-surprise was all Bond needed. He swung himself off the lift and advanced in two quick strides. The big man thrashed again. Bond blocked the swinging wrist with his left arm. His right palm came up hard under the forger’s chin. All Bond’s weight was behind it and he felt the head jerk back. The man took a few stumbling steps backwards. Bond’s left hand, now stiff and straight like a knife edge, cut across the forger’s neck. The big man collapsed against one of the tables. It tipped over with a loud crash. Small ornaments rattled to the floor. Some shattered into fragments. The metal ones got lost among the dust. Unconscious the forger emitted big rasping breaths from his fat open mouth.

Bond exhaled deeply. The fight had invigorated his senses. Just what M had ordered, he thought. Quickly he scanned the room for any more opponents. The forger was alone.

Behind the scissor lift was a glass wall. Bond looked through it and saw a line of work benches. Next to each desk was a rack covered with equipment like stencils, trowels, paints, cutting tools and magnifiers. Obviously a forger’s paradise, considered Bond. He passed through the open doorway and inspected the nearest desk. It was in some disarray, but one piece of ceramic caught Bond’s eye. It was a gypsum and alabaster replica of a temple superintendent, resplendent with big, faded grey eyes and a pockmarked beard. The artist had not yet completed the statue’s tunic, which fell to his feet. The pattern was only half engraved. Bond slipped the three inch statue into his pocket.

Back in the furnace room, Bond was about to exit the way he came in, when he noticed the door on the opposite wall. It was slightly ajar. Intrigued, Bond pushed it. At first he only caught the unmistakable waft of fresh coal. Bond flashed the torch inside the red brick chamber. The room was more than a fuel scuttle. A newly constructed passage stretched away underground. Bond returned to the furnace room for a moment and calculated distances. Realisation started to dawn about some of the curious features of the Chateau.

Bond entered the chamber again and followed the arc of his torch, which lead the way down a straight wide corridor. He was walking for a good minute. Initially the passage sloped downhill, but eventually the floor flattened out. Towards the end, the walls tapered to a steep slim flight of stone steps leading up through a square opening. Bond mounted the steps. He found himself standing in a man sized chamber, face to face with a large chestnut door. Bond listened. He could hear two voices; one an urgent, harsh, male tone, the other female and defensive. Bond quickly stripped away the paraphernalia on his dinner jacket, unbuttoned it and pulled out the Walther.

There was a circular door knob and Bond turned it. The door opened towards him and he squeezed past. He wasn’t in the least surprised to discover the inside of a large wardrobe, a stained chestnut armoire. Three pairs of doors, a hint of yellow light peeking at the edges, stood invitingly in front of him.

Outside the doors Andreas Chivry was speaking.

“Ah, my dear Sylvia, you must understand, I am a patriot. There is nothing I would desire more than for the Louvre to obtain the marvellous collection of basalt stele. But you must understand, not every transaction is to do with price. Perhaps there is something else you can offer me, by way of inducement...”

“Monsieur Chivry! You would think...”

“Mon Cheri, this is not something to think about. It is an offer. One night of love for a little piece of history...”

Bond decided enough was quite enough. He pushed apart the doors and stepped into the reading room.

Chivry’s face registered shock, but there was no fear, merely intrigue. His eyebrows raised a fraction. He was sitting on one of the chaise longue, leaning slightly forward, one hand resting on the top of the girl’s thigh, the finger’s itching to burrow their way under the fringe of her skirt. The silk gown was untied. Not only had Bond been wrong about the smoking jacket, but Chivry also declined to wear pyjama trousers. Instead he displayed expensive skimpy underwear.

Sylvia gasped in surprise as the wardrobe doors swung open. Bond saw she had been masking her revulsion behind the thin veneer of a smile. Her shoulder’s jumped at the same time Chivry’s brows leapt. She stood up instantly and started to rearrange her skirt, which had ridden far up her thighs. She crossed to the opposite settee and sat down, her legs tucked under the seat, her hands in her lap. She took a few moments to compose herself.

Bond stood square, the gun aiming directly at Chivry’s chest.

“Don’t think I won’t use it,” he said.

Chivry flipped the gown over his exposed torso and leant forward to pick up his drink. “Champagne, Mister Bond?” he enquired wearily, “At least this explains Miss Lavoilette’s awkwardness.”

“You know my name?”


“Who is Bond?” asked Sylvia.

“That’s his real name, Mon Cheri; perhaps he neglected to mention it,” stated Chivry, “James Bond, your appearance this afternoon was quite
unexpected. Tell me, what does the British Secret Service want with this millionaire businessman?”

“Or this master forger,” Bond said. He dug in his pocket and produced the miniature statue. He tossed it towards Sylvia, who caught it with both hands and started to inspect it.

Chivry’s expression did not alter. “Perhaps,” he said.

“Most definitely, wouldn’t you say, Sylvia?”

“It’s copied in the style of the Lagash dynasty,” Sylvia explained, “A set of fifteen was sold six months ago. I saw the pieces at the Cinquantenaire in Brussels. This is almost identical.”

“The technical details escape me,” Chivry said dismissively. He offered a brush of his moustache by way of admonishment, “I’m not really interested.”

“Then why are you making all these copies?” pressed the girl, “It’s causing chaos in the market.”

“A caprice, Mon Cheri,” smiled Chivry, “In the early nineteen nineties, when I first bought this house, I wanted to furnish it with great works of art. I had my fingers burnt several times. I spent millions of francs on sculptures I was assured were genuine. They were not. It was an embarrassment for me; it was the last time I allowed myself to be exploited in public. But revenge is a cold dish. I seized the opportunity to get back at the establishment, the assessors and verifiers who had told me my purchases were bone fide, made me pay above the market value and then laughed at me when I was revealed to have erred.”

“That’s old history, Chivry, I read about it,” interjected Bond. He sat down next to Sylvia, took her empty glass and poured himself some of the champagne, noting it wasn’t a good brand. He sat back, relaxed, with his left ankle crossed onto his right knee. His gun hand rested on the right thigh and stayed trained directly on Chivry’s chest.

When the Frenchman refused to reply, Bond pressed on: “Except those Bugatti’s you bought were brand new fabrications. This operation’s completely different. You’re creating reproductions and selling them on as real. All those packing crates in your warehouse are full of the genuine articles.”

“Is that true?” asked Sylvia, of now one in particular.

She didn’t get a reply. Bond calmly continued, the gun steady, an unspoken threat.

“So, tell me, who is Amin Al Rashid? Why are you sending those relics out to Abu Dhabi?”

“He’s a financier,” explained Chivry, “A rather good investment advisor. Amin Al Rashid and I go back many years.”

“How far back?”

“To the days when I shipped arms to the Kurds; Amin has some marvellous contacts in the Middle East. Without him I would be a mere
millionaire; with him, well...”

“It doesn’t do well to gloat, Chivry. Why does he want The Epic of Gilgamesh?”

Sylvia started, “Isn’t it on display next door?”

“I doubt it,” replied Bond, “You don’t display twelve million Euros worth of stone in a fragile glass cabinet. Especially one that isn’t hinged properly or locked and doesn’t have an individual alarm system.”

“You noticed?” queried Chivry, nonchalantly sipping his champagne.

“I only saw half a dozen cabinets with the sort of protection I would have expected for such a grand collection in a private residence. That’s genuine merchandise. The rest of your sale is [censored]."

Chivry opened his mouth as if to reply, changed his mind and gulped once.

“You’re staff have been busy already tonight, using that tunnel to exchange the good for the bad,” Bond jerked his thumb behind him, “Come the auction, every buyer will be walking away with one of your authenticated fakes. It’s my guess all the real artefacts are in those packing cases. Do we need to take a look?”


“Then tell me about Amin Al Rashid and tell me why he wants these relics.”

“He doesn’t.”

“Then tell me who does.”

“Is there any reason why I should?”

“I can give you one,” Bond waved the Walther P99.

“Melodrama, Mister Bond?”

“I know what you do, Chivry,” stated Bond, “You’re a black market arms dealer. You ship weapons to the African states, to places like Chechnya and Ossetia, to name a few. I expect you’ve got your fingers in the pie of Al Qaeda and the Taliban as well. You’re an unscrupulous chancer responsible for inciting revolution and death around the globe.”

“A trifle unfair, Mister Bond, Rapido Commercial Transport is a legitimate business. We had an arms contract with the French government.”

“Which they broke after they discovered you’d sold arms to Rwanda and Sudan,” continued Bond forcefully, “Those weapons were used in two of the worst instances of modern genocide. You may have started with good intentions, helping the CIA run guns for the Kurds, but Rapido has got a bad name now Chivry. People want you out of the way.”

“And you are here to do it.”

“I don’t have to,” Bond paused, his mind thinking quickly, thinking back to something M had said to him in the Operations Room, something about blackmail.

“Miss Lavoilette and I could report you to the proper authorities, Chivry,” expanded Bond, “Your vast collection of fake antiquities would be
exposed. Life would become very difficult for you. Police, lawyers, the press, disgruntled customers; everyone would be hounding your doorstep. All your crimes and misdemeanours would be exposed. You don’t want that, Chivry. You like a quiet life, don’t you?”

“Go on.”

“So we can keep it quiet, just between the three of us, for now. But you have to help us repatriate these antiques, at least some of them.”

Chivry nodded, the saggy head with its thick droopy moustache, appeared sad, disappointed at Bond’s suggestion, “A very tiny proposition, Mister Bond, hardly one that befits Her Majesty’s government.”

“It isn’t from the government, it’s from me.”

Chivry stared at the barrel of the Walther. Realisation spread across the Frenchman’s bronzed face. For a moment, Chivry nearly smiled, but he stopped himself. Bond noticed the moment. A dull light had switched on behind those tired eyes. The sign worried Bond, but he held the Walther steady and his face remained stolid as Chivry started to speak.

“As you have correctly deduced, Mister Bond, I do know who Amin Al Rashid represents. It is that man you should be seeking,” Chivry paused. He almost chuckled, “But I’m sure you understand I need some assurances before revealing the secrets of my business.”

“All right,” said Bond abruptly, “I’ll think about it.”

Sylvia didn’t understand the conversation any more. The revelations were coming too fast and she’d lost her train of thought. The interrogation was no longer about ancient stone tablets, it had moved on dramatically.

Sylvia watched the two men. They were silently baiting each other. Two pairs of cold, cruel eyes stared blankly across the drawing room: one pair grey and blue, dead straight, inhabiting a relaxed confident man and the other richly brown, slightly mocking, unafraid but staring at the wrong end of a gun, seemingly at a disadvantage.

Bond reached a decision.

“I’ll give you a stay of execution, if you like.”

“Very well.”

“You’d better tell me who it is.”


The word jerked Bond out of his relaxed posture, as if a bolt of electricity had shot up his spine. He was suddenly even more alert than before, his face became stern, tense and fixed and his eyes glittered in the lamplight.

Edited by chrisno1, 24 August 2010 - 11:11 AM.

#10 chrisno1



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Posted 24 August 2010 - 10:16 PM


No one knew where Sargon came from. He materialised as if from no where.

Sargon defied the age of birth certificates, passports, taxes, education and employment records. There was no evidence of him settling bank accounts, pensions, health insurance or life assurance and no library existed of photographs, television pictures and home movies. He appeared to have shunned information technology and the world-wide-web. Despite being considered a dangerous man, there was no mention of a criminal record, no fingerprints, no D.N.A., no reference to his name on any international data base or the terror lists. He was a mystery to those who monitored the rise of political agitators, human rights abusers, the warlords and the traffickers. That he could have remained an unknown, with no acknowledged background but the story he told, and that all attempts to trace his roots had been doomed to failure, was nothing short of a miracle. It was one of the facets that made him unique. Such was his reputation to obscurity that he was almost deified by his disciples, for Sargon, if he ever appeared from the wilderness of exile, was considered a modern day prophet.

Sometime around the early 1970s stories emerged about a strange man who lived as a hermit in the deserts of Northern Iraq. He was seen criss-crossing the plains of Nineveh, avoiding the cities and centres of commerce. He lived in caves. He wore rags and animal skins. His feet were bare, calloused and rough. The lonely, barren purgatory he chose to live in dismayed people. He seemed to some to be enacting death in life. And yet despite his physical torments, Sargon refused to die. Indeed he seemed to have developed a resistance to the susceptibilities of a normal human. He became predisposed to an eccentric belief in the mind’s mastery over the body. During the winter he would be seen dancing naked in the snows. When the summer heat came he sat in the heaviest of furs. His skeletal frame was rarely seen to drink and often survived for days on berries and bugs. He fasted as he roamed, only breaking his abstinence when offered food and drink in exchange for advice and wisdom. Yet he seldom went hungry and never begged for food. He prayed five times a day, untying and retying the faded kushti he draped about his shoulders as he did so. He carried a ceremonial fire urn with him at all times, feeding it tiny lumps of incense or fragrant fruit as he recited blessings and the smoke permeated the cave he sheltered in, the home he visited or the shade of the tree he sat under. The fire was the divine light of god. Sargon ensured he was always clean when he entered the pall of energy, truth and law. He only wore one set of clothes, a long white sudreh, and he was often seen methodically washing both himself and the damask garment in the rivers and lakes or at the village well before he started his prayers. Sargon became a curious, but respected figure in the landscape. Affectionately he was referred to as the Mad Monk and the name stuck.

Gradually, after years of drifting alone, Sargon started to attract a following. Although he had been a passive political individual, he slowly crept into Iraq’s public domain after delivering a spoken thesis entitled ‘Free Will and the Last Judgement.’ It was reproduced and published in the Arabic newspaper Asharq Alawsat and generally considered a worthy, if idealised sermon. Sargon argued that it mattered not whether you called the ‘Divine Being’ God, Yahweh, Allah, Yin and Yang, Dao, Jah, Ganesh, Shiva, the Loa, the Kami or any of the host of primal deities that existed in the world, for humankind had to accept a fundamental attrition between good and evil and every individual had the right to choose the course they took and accept the judgement of their god. Many scholars argued against Sargon’s further assumption that every religion needed to be interpreted anew by each successive generation, while accepting the intrinsic principles at its sacred heart. Sargon’s rhetoric of Nationhood through Moral Responsibility was essentially Zoroastrian, but he took it a step further to include all religious groups. This was seen as a blasphemy by the Parsis of India, the descendents of the Zoroastrians, who effectively excommunicated him, although it was never clear if he was ever a Parsis. Christian leaders passed no comment; Sargon was considered an insignificant obscure fanatic. His relative obscurity also saved him from a Fatwa, as Islamic leaders debated his thesis, but generally ignored it.

Sargon took up residence in a small run down Christian monastery near the village of Sharafiya, half a day’s drive from Mosul. He impressed upon his growing band of followers the concept of free will and placed a deep significance on moral responsibility. He may have acted, dressed and taught like a Zoroastrian, he certainly observed the rituals, traditions and ceremonies, but there was never a suggestion Sargon solely honoured the Wise Lord Ahura Mazda. Some reckoned him to be a Yazidi, an obscure sect of religious zealots, but he denied it. What Sargon could not deny was that he drew influences from a spectrum of religions. Subsequently even the most educated of mullahs, priests and secular leaders found it impossible to leave his presence unimpressed. Above all Sargon insisted that the Nation required a Teacher, a Dastur, a man to encourage truth, charity and love, moderation in behaviour, honesty in business, respect for elders and superiors and promote the family unit. The Dastur should expand the search for knowledge and wisdom, to forgive and reform, to cultivate the virtues of faith and tolerance and understanding. Sargon condemned anger, greed, arrogance, vengefulness and violence.

Essentially Sargon believed in human and civil rights and openly sought religious solutions to ethical issues. ‘Wisdom,’ he once stated, ‘must be earnt not taught.’ He openly encouraged female emancipation. He decried physical statements of slavery, what he called ‘the shackles of misunderstanding.’ His entourage always included women. He expected them to be educated and while they were not veiled from puberty, they always wore the blandest of silks. ‘It is,’ he claimed, ‘the behaviour of both the male and the female for which the Wise Lord will judge us in heaven.’

Despite his benevolence and temperance, Sargon was not without faults. He was known to dress impeccably. He enjoyed the company of beautiful women and powerful men. He began to eat well and entertain at formal and private functions. His followers rebuilt sections of the monastery, modernising it to include running water and electricity. Three rooms were given over to an extensive library. He learnt several languages. He communicated by hand written letter with secular and religious leaders around the globe, including Presidents and Prime Ministers, the Ayatollahs, the Dali Lama and the Pope. While essentially a pacifist, he did not disapprove of war. ‘The Nation is all and we must protect it,’ he wrote, ‘but we are not alone in this world: to attack first is not a means of defence.’ Western scholars found his writings confusing and contradictory and Sargon tended to be dismissed as an odd if popular reactionary. The truth was somewhat different.

Sargon’s success was to prosper as a living religious icon in a community entrenched with the Cult of Popularity. Iraq under Saddam Hussein had come to resemble the worst aspects of dictatorship. Money was squandered on pointless expensive projects, there was persecution and fear, the army was ineffective and contained a blood thirsty, self seeking core, there was nepotism and favouritism, poverty was rife and a large disenfranchised underclass had developed. After the failed invasion of Kuwait, Saddam became insular and obsessive. Publicly he claimed victory; privately he was in denial. He saw opposition everywhere, both internally and abroad. While his wrath often focussed on the USA, this diversion allowed him to pursue ethnic cleansing and to continue a weapons program that flaunted international convention. Eventually the strain began to tell and the army overplayed its hand. The plight of the Kurds drew the world’s attention back to Iraq. United Nations weapons inspectors toiled for years to uncover Saddam’s chemical and biological weapons. They never found them because the army and the scientists were charged with orchestrating an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse, closing down one factory after another, but only after the compounds had been disassembled and the relevant parts sold to the highest bidder. When selling became too difficult the weapons were simply destroyed.

During this period of turmoil, Sargon stayed aloof. His followers can only be estimated, but a hard bound copy of his famous thesis, now simply entitled ‘Nationhood,’ was printed and sold in excess of one million copies. Dignitaries still paid homage to the Mad Monk and in their presence he burnt expensive incense in his bronze and brass plated urn, prayed and talked of the wickedness of the world and the goodness of the human soul. It was not wise to perfect an image at odds with Saddam Hussein’s own personality. Yet Sargon was never seen as a threat. It is believed Saddam left him alone for a very specific reason. The Iraqi dictator had once presented himself for a personal audience with Sargon. He arrived at Sharafiya with humility and was struck by the prophet’s humble surroundings. He saw nothing to fear in the Monk, for Sargon managed to make the President believe that the ‘Teacher’ he referred to was none other than Saddam himself.

By now Sargon was attracting interest form abroad. While never famous in the style of Maharishi Yogi or the zealot mullah Ayatollah Khomeini he was certainly considered intriguing. His insistence on a worthy, encompassing adherence to the morality rather than the fulfilment of cardinal virtues made him unique among the Middle East’s religious leaders. His political aims were always unclear, but many contemporary commentators believed that if Iraq was left to decay, the people would rise up against Saddam allowing Sargon, a well meaning, thoughtful, dissident, to become their natural leader, following in the footsteps of men like Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel.

September 11th 2001 changed all that. As it became increasingly obvious an invasion of Iraq was imminent, Sargon laid his own battle plans. For over a year, he sent out envoys to the neighbouring states, especially to Saudi Arabia and Syria, seeking diplomatic and military support. It was a difficult time for these countries. Secretly they would all be pleased to be rid of Saddam Hussein, who they considered an irreligious mongrel, but on the other hand there was no wish to allow the United States into the Middle East. Sargon could be an easily controllable solution. Unfortunately the power brokers in the U.N. were not convinced and the entreaties by the Arab states fell on deaf American and British ears. The Atlantic Alliance couldn’t wait for an insurgency to take place. Misguided intelligence suggested Iraq still possessed weapons of mass destruction. As such Saddam Hussein was considered a genuine military threat. The C.I.A. particularly did not want to wait for an internal revolution. The decision was made to affect regime change in a more direct fashion. And so, on March 20th 2003, the Second Gulf War commenced.

And then Sargon vanished. People thought he must have died during the invasion, but the truth was far simpler.

Sargon had become a very rich man. Nobody knew where his money came from, be it donated, accumulated or inherited. The man who only a few short months earlier had been a pious, frugal and respected patriarch was suddenly a multimillionaire and he made the short journey across the Gulf to the United Arab Emirates. He still had no passport and his residency was only supported by the promise of reticence in religious matters. The Sheikhs were quite happy to let this supposedly virtuous man and his entourage stay in the Emiratis because, almost overnight, the life of the strange wandering monk had ceased to be of interest to anyone. His departure from Iraq occurred during the final days of chaos as the cities fell to the invasion forces. No one noticed him leave and no one cared. It was as if the sacred flame, the tangible symbol of a single purifying God, the one Sargon lit five times every day, had been extinguished.

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

James Bond tapped the barrel of the Walther P99 on the tip of his knee. He downed the glass of champagne.

“Who’s Sargon?” enquired Sylvia.

“Sargon’s a priest, a prophet if you like,” began Bond, “He’s from Iraq and before the fall of Saddam he was a sort of guru, a misguided Zoroastrian, and quite popular by all accounts. He spent years wandering the countryside before settling down in a village near Mosul. Prior to the Second Gulf War there was some suggestion he could take over of the country, but frankly that was unlikely and after the invasion of 2003 he went to ground. Reports suggest he fled to the United Arab Emirates, but his residency has never been verified by the administration there.”

“So? Why’s this significant?”

“Because, Sylvia, while officially Sargon isn’t a threat to anyone, unofficially my government, and probably yours, follow a different line. A religious idealist with grand plans is always worth keeping under surveillance, especially when there’s a riddle surrounding his wealth. Rumour has it he came into a vast fortune, but no one seems to know where the money came from. Sargon’s probably embezzled it, from an Iraqi bank most likely, and we’ve wanted to find out the details for years.”

“Why is he interested in relics?” Sylvia shrugged, “Is he opening a museum?”

“Perhaps you can enlighten us, Chivry,” mused Bond, watching the Frenchman’s drooping face. The thick head raised an inch or two.

“Sargon’s going mad, Bond, like Nebuchadnezzar, he’s simply spent too long in the wilderness. You know the story? ‘Driven from men he eats grass like the ox, his body is wet with dew and his hair grows long like the eagle’s feathers and his nails are like talons.’ You know, Bond, he might always have been insane; all those strange rituals he had, the obsession with washing and praying. Still whenever it started, he’s tipped over the edge now.”

“That doesn’t explain anything.”

“Our beautiful Sylvia is quite close to the truth,” continued Chivry, “Sargon wants to return to Iraq. It’s his spiritual home. And he wants to take with him all the riches he can muster, all those works of ancient art stolen by the grave robbers, the soldiers and opportunists.”

“What’s stopping him returning now? There’s just been an election. The U.S. troops are pulling out. It isn’t exactly peaceful, but the country’s more or less back on its feet. What’s he waiting for? What’s he hiding?”

“Who knows?”

Chivry spread his hands.


Bond tapped the gun on his knee, contemplating the mystery, “Why are you selling these fakes, Chivry? You don’t need the money. And it isn’t advantageous to you.”

“Vanity is a curious addiction,” Chivry sighed, “The pomp of the wicked world, and the ability of one man, an ignorant man, to make millions from fools is attractive to me.”

“There is an irony in one fool selling to another.”

Chivry forced a smile.

“Is Sargon a fool?” questioned Bond, thinking out loud.

“A misguided idealist is always a fool,” Chivry reached forward for the champagne. He found the bottle empty and gave a disinterested shrug.

Sylvia touched Bond’s arm, “When I arrived, Chivry told me he was celebrating,” she said, and then continued to address the Frenchman: “But you haven’t sold anything yet - or have you?”

The big head shook, “Let us say it appears my client has no wish to be exposed.”

“You’re blackmailing him,” stated Bond. His mind ran fast. The altercation in the reception room, the three Arabs in the smart suits and the strange skeletal man, the man with the scar, were they delivering the money, preventing the ruse which might expose their own master?

“Let us say Sargon’s location is a secret - for now,” Chivry offered an avaricious grin, “After all I now have the assurance of being paid fifty seven million Euros.”

“Fifty seven million Euros?” repeated Sylvia.

“The genuine collection isn’t even worth that,” said Bond, “What else have you sold him?”

Chivry spread his arms wide in a mock gesture. “Business, Mister Bond, is business; what a client wants a client gets.”

“You’ve sold him surplus military arms.”

“Explosives, mostly.”


“I didn’t ask.”

Bond’s mind was racing. What would a disparate religious zealot want with explosives? It didn’t make sense. The pit of Bond’s stomach began to churn. It was an old instinct, the one that told him all was not what it appeared. The loose ends of this story were too numerous. Even if Chivry was hiding information, the very fact Sargon, a self imposed exile was hoarding military equipment was concerning. Suddenly Bond wasn’t so interested in the Frenchman and his collection of expert forgeries. It was the mystery of Sargon which intrigued him now. But how could he find out more? Bond looked at the aging businessman before him, the jowly face, the big comfortable body, a man too rich of life and yet still delivering death around the world. There was one more delivery due.

“The merchandise in your warehouse,” said Bond to Chivry, “Are you still going to despatch it?”

“Naturally,” replied the Frenchman, “I never renege on a business deal.”

“Good. You’re going to deliver it personally.”

“I am?”

“Yes,” Bond’s eyes closed to slits as he pondered the formation of his plan, “Because you have two new friends, people you met at your aborted sale, Mister Aubrey and Mademoiselle Lavoilette. You are most anxious that Amin Al Rashid should meet them.”

Sylvia squinted at Bond, “What? I don’t understand, James.”

Bond smiled at her, “You need to get packed, Sylvia, we’ve just become employees of Rapido Commercial Transport.”

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

The following morning a notice was delivered by email to every recipient of an invitation to the sale of one hundred pieces of Mesopotamian art. It stated, simply and effectively, that the sale had been cancelled due to unforeseen personal circumstances beyond the control of the vendor. Apologies were offered and expenses reimbursed.

On Saturday 25th September, when the sale should have been commencing, Le Chateau de Sceaux was conspicuously quiet. The buildings to the rear of the estate sat empty. The packing cases had been loaded onto six Rapido transport lorries and dispatched the 150km to Paris Vatry Airport where a Boeing 777F transport plane was waiting.

Also waiting were James Bond, Sylvia Lavoilette and Andreas Chivry. The flight left at 11.40 and its destination was Abu Dhabi International Airport.

Edited by chrisno1, 25 August 2010 - 12:01 PM.

#11 chrisno1



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Posted 27 August 2010 - 01:31 PM


“Once, around thirty years ago, this was a totally different city,” declared Amin Al Rashid, as the waiter poured him green tea from an immaculate stainless steel pot, “Then the world’s great commodity was oil and the sheiks and kings and sultans lived here. Then Abu Dhabi was the richest mile on earth. Now, the world loves electronics, and the micro chip has seized the upper hand. Oil, Mister Aubrey, is finished. Art, however, lives on.”

James Bond was sitting in Le Cafe, one of many restaurants at the Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi’s self-styled seven star hotel. A decanter of piping hot fresh coffee and a tower of French pastries sat on the polished brass table top in front of him. Bond didn’t like the cafe and he wasn’t too struck on the hotel either. The cavernous opulence of the interior and the tasteless enormity of the exterior rankled. There was a lot of money on display here. As elegant and beautiful and modern as the hotel purported to be, it was nothing but a facade for a multitude of traditional inequalities. The whole structure, which sat huge and decadent at the south end of the Corniche Road, was a rich playground for the people who wanted to escape from society, from the real world. Bond was reminded of the stories and histories he’d read as a boy: the last days of the British Raj, the fall of the Tsarist elite, the folly of Louis XIV and the excesses of the Roman Emperors Caracalla, Elagabalus and of course, Nero. Bond longed for the simple elegance of the Berkeley or the Splendide. There was nothing traditional about this hotel. You couldn’t even call it grandiose; the word simply didn’t apply to the Emirates Palace. It was bigger than that. And while the hotel was certainly magnificent and imposing and sultry in its too comfortable surroundings, it had the whiff of times long past, of luxury paid for at a price by people unseen.

As if to prove his point, Bond had noted that the chocolate cake was tastelessly sprinkled with what appeared to be gold dust. He’d politely refused to eat it and hoped his host did not take offence. Bond was lucky, as Andreas Chivry and Sylvia Lavoilette were delighted with the surroundings. Sylvia in particular was stoking Amin Al Rashid’s ego, as she paid fawning attention to his questions about her work at the Louvre and her opinion of life in Abu Dhabi.

Bond had been surprised in the attitude both had shown to his plan. Chivry, who Bond would have assumed to be truculent and objectionable at every turn, took the matter in his stride and was only too willing to allow Bond to accompany him to the Emirati. It was almost as if he welcomed the challenge and wanted to ingratiate himself with his tormentor. His only complaint was that Bond expected him to pick up the expenses. Bond was naturally wary of the Frenchman; he sensed this was a man with enough wit to out-manoeuvre him. Despite imposing restraints on Chivry, including confiscating his mobile and laptop, Bond felt the Frenchman was still capable of mischief. The girl meanwhile had remained slightly sour at the outset, but like a talented student dragged from her books, the change from a dusty museum to the sun and clear sky of the Arabian Gulf had brought out a new life in her and she had started to relax and enjoy herself. Every so often Bond even heard Sylvia sharing jokes with Chivry, a thing unheard of six days ago.

When Bond had formulated the idea of travelling to Abu Dhabi, he’d done it on the spur of the moment, hardly thinking about the consequences and certainly not concerning himself with M’s opinion. Bond had tactfully avoided contacting his boss personally and spoken to Bill Tanner instead, hoping to use the Chief of Staff as a buffer to bad news. Tanner was in a prickly mood too, but agreed to soften the blows. He knew Bond’s impetuous nature was equally able to get him in and out of trouble and immediately contacted Marc Tournier, from Station F.

Bond knew the Station Head well. Tournier had worked in Paris for over twenty years and was rarely caught off guard. Bond’s sudden contact didn’t fluster him one iota. Bond expected nothing less from the tall, avuncular man. He arrived at Le Chateau Sceaux within the hour and put himself and his small team at Bond’s disposal. There was some conflict with Chivry’s staff, which the Frenchman defused by expressing a desire to be left alone, a la Garbo. Grudgingly his entourage accepted the strange trio of people that watched over them. Tournier smoothed things over with the DCRI, taking Captain Guibert partially into his confidence. Guibert’s nose was put far out of joint by the invasion of his territory by the British secret service and while he registered his complaint through the proper channels, Bond harassed Tanner to bring M on board.

Bond’s luck was in. M apparently had a dislike of French bureaucracy akin to his enmity for the Double ‘O’ Section. Apparently, according to Tanner, a heated telephone exchange had taken place with his opposite number, during which M suggested if the DCRI had been doing their job properly, his man wouldn’t have needed to be investigating the owner of one of France’s most reputable transport companies. “Not so bloody reputable now,” he’d uttered triumphantly once he’d put down the receiver.

Neither did the Captain agree with Mademoiselle Lavoilette accompanying Monsieur Bond abroad, although this seemed based on a brand of chauvinism rather than any law enforcement principles. Tournier and Bond both made it clear that a young, attractive woman could prove both an enticement and a distraction for the people around Sargon. While she would doubtless have little impression on the man himself, her other asset was being a far greater expert on ancient relics than Bond. Her knowledge could prove invaluable. It was ultimately Sylvia’s slightly petulant display of offence which swung the day. “Frenchmen,” she later claimed, “Do not understand a woman scorned. It is easier for them to agree with her than ignore her, for she will never go away.”

Tanner also suggested Bond enlisted the help of Khalil Datto, the Head of Station in Abu Dhabi, who worked out of the British Consular office in Al Ain. The S.I.S. was required to ensure all its operatives disassociated themselves from the embassy staff and although occasionally the embassy provided a support service, it was generally frowned upon. The deployment of ground operators at a local consular had proved very effective for several decades and was now a practise imitated around the globe by various foreign intelligence networks. While Datto wasn’t close to Abu Dhabi, he would have no difficulty reaching it and even retained a small flat in the city purely for the purpose.

When the 777F transport plane touched down in the forty degree heat of the Arabian Peninsula, Bond already knew that the youthful, thin Datto was watching them and, along with his team, would continue to do so for the duration of their stay. Bond had openly told Chivry of the watchmen. He didn’t expect the Frenchman to remain cooped in a hotel room. Bond wanted him to retain all his normal travelling habits. He didn’t want any obvious suspicion to be deflected onto Bond or Sylvia through Chivry’s actions. “So,” Bond told him, “Eat in the same restaurants, visit the same people, make the same telephone calls and buy the same clothes. The only difference will be you have two business companions. If you want to make the experience as congenial as possible, I suggest you arrange a meeting with Amin Al Rashid quickly.”

Chivry expressed concern that Bond wasn’t quite aware of the pace of business in the United Arab Emirates. Bond told him to speed it up.

There was there a flotilla of unmarked electric trucks waiting to off load the aeroplane’s cargo. They were led by an efficient looking grey haired Arab who had clearly been handling precious goods all his life. The process was slow and it was Bond’s first inkling that things might not run quite as efficiently as he’d expected.

The trucks trundled away to a customs warehouse while the three visitors had their passports and visas inspected. The customs official greeted Andreas Chivry like an old friend. He wore a pressed and starched uniform and looked as if he had never broken sweat in his life. His quick eyes constantly sprang between Chivry and the blonde face of Sylvia Lavoilette. Bond he pointedly ignored. The four of them sat in a small white washed office and shared hot sweet coffee. One window looked out across a warehouse full of wooden pallets on which were strapped towers of parcels and packages of all sizes. The official sat behind his neat desk, empty except for a computer screen and two filing trays.

Chivry engaged the official in a long conversation in Arabic during which he gently eased an envelope across the desk. The envelope wasn’t discussed, but after a while the customs man picked it up and dropped it into one of his post trays.

The meeting concluded the three visitors walked the short distance across the tarmac to a waiting Rolls Royce. They were only outside for a few minutes, but the pulverising heat of the desert made Bond sweat profusely. The sun was on its descent, yet the humidity was high. The air felt hot and dry and stuck in his throat.

The Rolls came courtesy of the Sheraton Hotel. Bond was pleased Chivry stayed at a business orientated five star emporium rather than a tasteless hub of the tourism industry.

The Sheraton was a squat unlovely building of pale red brick located at the northern tip of the Corniche Road. It looked out across its own private lagoon towards Lulu Island and was hemmed in by luscious cool gardens, palm tress fluttering in the sea breeze and sun shades hiding bronze skinned European bodies. The interior of the hotel, which had undergone several refurbishments since it first opened, was cluttered with leather furniture, wood panels, Iranian carpets, thick curtains and all manner of glossy marble tiles or parquet floors. It didn’t have any of the pretentions to grandeur of other establishments. You got what you saw at the Sheraton, first class thorough service.

They had three rooms next to each other. Bond’s small suite looked out across the bay from the traditional Dhow harbour in the north along the shallow arc of the sea front, past the Volcano Fountain and the Clock Tower, and onto the south Marina with its 120 metre high flag pole, which flew the colours of the U.A.E. day and night. The city had come a long way since the days of mud bricks houses, one castle and an airport. Now there was a sky scraper skyline, white and silver by day, gold and glittering by night. The deep hue of the ocean seemed to lap right at the feet of progress.

And then life had moved very slowly for James Bond. It didn’t seem possible to organise a simple business meeting in Abu Dhabi. There was an expected procedure to follow. Chivry made the necessary phone calls, but they heard nothing for two days. Impatiently Bond suggested they should visit Rashid’s offices directly or at the very least telephone again. The Frenchman was adamant.

“You cannot rush the people here, James; it isn’t how they do things,” the big man explained, “If I was alone, the circumstances would be different for Rashid knows me well. But he has never met you. Even the briefest of introductions will involve coffee and tea, dibis and tahineh with dried apricots and stem ginger. Trust me. Al Rashid will contact us when he is ready.”

Bond was already feeling the strain of waiting and patience did not become him.

Sylvia noticed it and teased him mercilessly in Sax, a low lit cocktail bar in the Royal Meridian Village, one of the entertainment courts that were essential at every hotel as they were the only areas permitted to sell alcohol. They had already eaten some exquisitely fragrant Thai food at Talay. Chivry had chosen not to join them for drinks afterwards. Bond nodded his assent.

“Are you sure he’s safe to be left alone, James?” she enquired.

“I expect so. Chivry isn’t a fool. He knows I have people watching him.”

“Do they watch me also?”

“I didn’t ask them to, but I expect they can’t avoid it.”

Sylvia smiled tentatively. They’d drunk a bottle of Halbtrocken over dinner. She wasn’t a particularly big drinker. The alcohol had considerably lightened her mood. She hoped Bond didn’t notice; she didn’t want to encourage him.

The maitre d’ in Sax showed them to a corner table for two, which looked over the restaurant and bar and the small stage to the far side. Most of the clientele were well dressed, expensive looking types. Among them Sylvia saw a few families of curious tourists and a group of out of place locals. Construction workers from one of the big building projects, she supposed.

Bond took a vodka martini. Sylvia wanted something sweet, so he suggested a French 75, the famous creation of Harry MacElhone, late of Henry’s, Paris. She cooed at the fresh slightly sugary mixture, which fizzed on her lips, the product of that final dash of vintage champagne. There was an unobtrusive live band playing jazz classics and Sylvia hummed along to ‘One O’clock Jump’.

“I didn’t know you liked Count Basie,” commented Bond.

“I don’t. My father owned hundreds of jazz records. He was obsessed, you understand.”

“Yes. I still have some originals myself, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, that sort of thing.”

“You do not forget these childhood memories,” she said cautiously, “You remind me of Papa, a bit. You have the same look, as if you are trying to reach somewhere quickly, before an accident happens.”

“Do I?” Bond asked mildly, “Is your father in the spying business?”

“No, he’s in the foreign diplomatic corps. I should say was. I don’t know what he’s doing now. We don’t talk. After Mama died I severed all ties. ”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. He didn’t show me or Mama much affection. He could be brutal some times, you know. Life wasn’t easy for any of us, moving from post to post around the Middle East,” Sylvia was surprised how easy it was to talk to him. She almost checked herself, but instead she carried on, she thought because of the drinks; then she thought, perhaps not.

“That’s how I got interested in archaeology,” she explained, remembering the far away days of childhood, “I didn’t have many friends, so I buried myself in books. I think Mama was quite worried about me; no boys, no trouble. Then, when Papa got dismissed, she was quite glad I was there. I was older by then and I could be a wedge between her and Papa, you know, like a cushion. Sometimes I took the blows for her, you understand? When I qualified for L’Ecole du Louvre she was distraught, she didn’t want to cope with Papa alone.”

Bond felt a twinge of sadness. The story explained much of Sylvia’s attitudes. The history of Damon Lavoilette was well documented. Bond had read it once before, a few years ago in dispatches, but had not initially made the connection with Sylvia. Now, he saw the daughter’s side of the functional paper report: a stark childhood, unsentimental, formal and violent, a drinker for a father, a silent mother, an existence lived in a room apart, with texts books and history for companionship, the sound of endless jazz records rocking a lonely, beaten girl to sleep. He blinked away the image. Some of it felt uncomfortably familiar: his own restless solo summer’s at Pett Bottom, his aunt’s old stereo and her collection of long players.

Sylvia took a too large sip of her drink and made a tiny gulping sound as she swallowed quickly. “She tried to kill him.”

“Good God.”

“Yes, a kitchen knife, during an argument over dinner. A crime of passion, they called it. Then while his body lay there bleeding, Mama committed suicide. She didn’t know he was still alive.”

“That’s appalling.”

She saw he was almost lost for words but let him splutter through, “I had no idea,” said Bond, “That must have been awful for you. I can’t imagine it.”

Sylvia gave a little resigned shrug. She had heard the gentle condolences many times before. “Mama put her head in the oven, you know like that poet.”

“Sylvia Plath?”

“Yes. And I have her name. It isn’t very appropriate. I don’t intend to kill myself, or let a man treat me so bad.”

“I can’t imagine why any man would want to treat you badly.”

“Oh, but they do, James,” she countered. His words suddenly made her angry. They stank of all the pointless truncated affairs she’d foolishly embarked upon, “French men! My God! The great lovers! How they deceive themselves! There isn’t a single man in Paris who won’t try to seduce a girl within twenty minutes of meeting her. It is all the silver tongue. No substance.”

“Perhaps you need to meet someone who shares your interests.”

“An academic - where would be the fun in that?”

“Don’t worry, Sylvia,” it was Bond’s turn to smile, “Your secret is safe with me, and so is your virtue.”

“Which one, strength, prudence, temperance, justice...”

They finished the sentence together: “Faith, hope and charity.”

She laughed. It was a throaty attractive lilt and Bond was glad to hear it.

“I’d settle for your trust,” he added. Bond touched her hand lightly. Sylvia noticed the gesture and her fingers curled like a snail receding into its shell.

“You also are too impetuous.”

And that was when she started to analyse him, point by specific point: that he possessed an unreal persona, like an actor on a stage; that he sought only the bad in people; that he had great knowledge but little emotion; that he expected too much too soon. Bond countered, surprised by her comments, but Sylvia rebuffed each of his arguments until in the end, out of frustration, he gave up.

“You, James Bond, are like an island,” Sylvia concluded emphatically, “No one touches you except the ceaseless tide, the waves roll up and
roll away, but you stay the same, just a little eroded at the edges. You’ll keep being touched by others until everything has been worn away and there is nothing left. But your island has given nothing back to anyone.”

Bond didn’t say a word. He lit a cigarette and sat back against the soft cushions, looking across at Sylvia as she glowed in glorious triumph. As she gloated over him, Bond saw her expression change to one of compassion and, for a moment he thought, hurt.

“I feel very close to your island, James,” Sylvia murmured and her grey eyes flashed at him once in the gloom of the bar. Then Sylvia turned towards the stage to watch the live band.

After one more drink, Bond escorted her back to the Sheraton where she’d retired with a cheerful “Goodnight.” Bond took a final double whisky at the bar.

The following morning her behaviour was as though the conversation had never happened. In fact, she made an obvious attempt to ally herself with Andreas Chivry, spending time with him in the executive lounge as if to deny the opportunity of getting any closer to Bond. Calmly, he accepted the situation for it wasn’t only her manner that concerned him.

There was something else in the air. He couldn’t quite define it, but the ambience between the three of them seemed to have changed. Chivry, who had been positively docile up to this point started to become more gregarious, more like his old self. The alarm bells of doubt started to ring.

Bond contacted Datto.

The man’s mobile rang once before he answered it with a rapid “Yes?”

“Khalil, last night, your guys followed Chivry back to the Sheraton.”

“Yes, James. He went on foot, didn’t talk to anyone.”

“No one?”


“What about me and the girl?”

There was a pause.

“We think you’re clear.”


“There were a couple of guys, hoodlums, no goods, you know. They followed the two of you up the Corniche Road, very strange guys, kept stopping to pick up litter.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Bond nodded thoughtfully and returned to his overseas copy of The Times. Later, as he’d done every day, he would swim in the lagoon, sit on the beach, take lunch and then retire out of the hot sun into the cafe or to his room. Sometimes Sylvia had been with him, but not today. Chivry mostly stayed in the executive suite, conducting Rapido’s business via the internet.

It was Thursday afternoon when they received the first news. Chivry proudly declared over lunch that Amin Al Rashid wished to meet them on Saturday, for afternoon tea.

“He contacted me an hour ago,” said Chivry, waving an email under Bond’s nose, “You see, James, it happens if you wait.”

“Why not tomorrow?” queried Bond, ignoring the paper which was written in Arabic.

“Tomorrow is Friday, James, this is an Islamist country. No one does any business on Fridays.”

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

Now James Bond sat among the riot of luxurious furnishings and accessories of Le Cafe Emirates sharing cakes and beverages with the white cloaked Amin Al Rashid. Bond had read a lot about the financier, a man whose early career was with the foreign trade and investment arm of the Arab Bank. He swiftly rose to the board of directors before being dismissed for what were termed ‘executive differences.’ Subsequently, Rashid set up his own trading and investment company in his name, specifically concentrating on the Middle East markets. He made a large fortune during the First Gulf War and there were suggestions he had inside information regarding Iraq’s invasion, enabling him to bet against Kuwaiti oil revenues. The Russian market also opened for him and the break away states of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, with their huge mineral wealth offered fresh opportunities. Quite how he became friends with Andres Chivry was not clear from the S.I.S. files. There was no mention of the two ever having met. Chivry insisted it had once been purely that; merely friends, with a mutual understanding of the foreign markets. “We helped each other find new markets, as it were,” the Frenchman had explained cryptically. Bond knew the markets he was talking about.

Amin Al Rashid was one of life’s shadow characters. Never in the spotlight, never interviewed, never challenged. His name was known to those who wanted to know. While there was never any official evidence, rumours abounded his dealings were corrupt. Certainly he was one of the many traders who made money while the Dow Jones and the F.T. Index lost it, gambling on the failure of sub-prime mortgages. And he kept odd friends. Reports had him visiting Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the Islamabad authorities believed he met suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. If he did engage in business with terrorists, he covered his tracks closely. Bond read the full profile twice. It suggested caution. Amin Al Rashid was a powerful, intelligent man, who may or may not be very well connected among the criminal elite.

The man who sat with Bond didn’t look a criminal. Rashid was a small man. He wore the traditional dish-dash robe and a ghutra headdress, this one patterned in a green and white check. He was a quick but clear speaker. His whole countenance suggested authority. He rarely made any gestures or dramatic movements. Occasionally, he picked up a tiny pair of thick spectacles that hung on a thin gold chain at his neck, placing them on his nose and scrutinising something. Bond thought the financier suffered from glaucoma as he squinted at all the time. It was vanity which stopped him wearing the glasses. Contact lenses would not have improved his sight. Rashid was not alone. There was a silent young man with him, an unannounced assistant in a suit that looked as if it had been paid for at vast expense, who sat still and silent next to the financier.

Bond had just mentioned that he’d read Abu Dhabi was still the fastest growing city in the world.

“The richest mile in the world,” repeated Rashid, “Titles of that sort do not last for long, Mister Aubrey, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Every civilisation has its day. The Egyptians, the Aztecs, Rome, London in the 1800s. Sometimes the wheel turns and civilisations rise again. Look at the Chinese; they probably have the world’s strongest economy at the moment.”

“But they make cheap clothes and shoes. What happened to the economy that produced the Terracotta Warriors and millions of beautiful pieces of porcelain? The ability to produce great art surely marks a great civilisation.”

“Which is why I’m particularly interested in the lost treasures of Babylon,” stated Bond as blandly as he could, “I understand you have access to the man who is hoarding them.”

Rashid held up a small hand. Bond noticed it was scrubbed and manicured. “Please, Mister Aubrey, no accusations. The treasure, if it truly has been obtained by a benefactor, is being protected and preserved.”

“I must apologise. Forgive me. My enthusiasm to view the remarkable artefacts from the ancient world is overwhelming.” Bond paused, allowing his apology to sink in, “Perhaps I might be able to visit the benefactor in person.”

“I doubt that.”

“I’m sure he might be amenable. If I could have the address or a contact num...”

From the corner of his eye, Bond saw Chivry visibly squirm. The Frenchman was about to interrupt, when Rashid held up a hand, stopping all conversation.

“Sargon’s residence is private,” he said with finality, “Your interest is noted, Mister Aubrey.”

Rashid sipped from the small china cup as silence descended over the table. He offered a terse smile and placed the spectacles up to his eyes for a second or two. The pinpoints scanned Bond’s face.

“Andreas tells me you have many varied interests, Mister Aubrey.”

“Does he?”

“Dangerous pursuits, perhaps?”

“It depends on how dangerous they are. Swinging a golf club is hardly murder.”

“What about birds?”

“I don’t have an aviary, if that’s what you mean.”

Rashid nodded, breaking into another fake smile, “I like falcons. The hunting animals, you understand. On Monday afternoon I am having a little competition at my retreat. You must come.”

Bond was about to object, when Chivry leant forward enthusiastically, “An excellent suggestion, Amin. I’m sure the desert air and the beautiful mountains will make a great change for my two companions. It is hell being in these air conditioned buildings all day. Isn’t it, James?”

The heavy accent fell on the last remark. Bond understood. This meeting at Rashid’s desert retreat was the next play in a long game. He accepted the invitation and Rashid offered his veneer of a smile. The financier was gone within two minutes, the glasses resting on his nose as he snaked his way between the tables.

“You did well, James, he likes you,” Chivry was cheerful, but guarded, “Although I think he probably enjoyed the company of our darling Sylvia more.”

Bond finished his coffee and stood up. He wanted to escape the over cosseted environment and get back to the real world, to real civilisation.

While they waited for the valet to return with their car, Bond was distracted by two men who followed them out of the building. They were Arabs, but they didn’t wear traditional dress, preferring loose jeans and football shirts. Their hair was long and straggly. It wasn’t their attire that caught his eye; it was what they were doing. They appeared to be picking up litter. Bond thought back to Datto’s phone call. Suddenly Bond knew why Khalil Datto had considered the two men on the Corniche Road to be strange. Quite simply, there wasn’t any litter in Abu Dhabi.

#12 chrisno1



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Posted 29 August 2010 - 09:16 AM


Bond had hired the Chevrolet Caprice LTZ a couple of days earlier, purely from boredom. It wasn’t a pretty motor car, being sturdy and solid and daubed in a metallic magenta finish, but for the tough dry conditions, it was fine. The LTZ was equipped with a wide wheel base, ran to 360 hp and had a 6-litre V8 engine that boomed from its double twin exhausts. Only after noise were speed and security the top incentives for cars in the Emirates.

When the valet handed Bond the keys, he immediately gave them to Sylvia.

“Your turn.”

Initially the girl looked confused and then with an indifferent shrug she slipped in behind the wheel. Bond sat in the back with an inquisitive Andreas Chivry. Sylvia put the LTZ into drive and pressed the accelerator pedal.

As the car eased down the driveway, Bond looked at the big moustachioed face next to him. It was set in stone. Bond took one short glance through the rear window.

“There’s a car full of miscreants behind us, Andreas. I don’t suppose you know anything about it?”

The big head made a slow turn. The eyes swivelled to the extremities of their sockets as Chivry peered up the drive. There was a dusty grey Nissan X-terra following at a far distance. It was the big wheeled off road version, the original rock crawler. The two football supporters were inside. The one who drove lazily clutched the steering wheel in a one handed monkey grip.

“I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“Of course you don’t,” said Bond, not believing his own words for a second. He leant forward a little to speak to the girl. “Sylvia, don’t do anything sudden, just drive back to the hotel. Leave the rest to me.”

“What do I do when I get there?”

“Park up as normal. We don’t want these guys to think we’re bothered about being spotted,” Bond paused, “Then I want you to take Monsieur Chivry into the cocktail bar and treat him to a bottle of the very best champagne. I’ll speak to Khalil; he’ll have you watched.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know yet.”

The drive along the Corniche Road was only six kilometres or so, but it was time enough for Bond to make the phone call to Khalil Datto. Bond was mildly impressed to see their pursuer stayed a good five or six car’s to their rear. They never got close enough to be glaringly obvious.

Sylvia parked in one of the Sheraton’s resident bays. The three of them walked into the hotel in a drawn out line, the girl at the head followed by Chivry and Bond. Once inside the foyer, Bond took the car keys from the girl and headed straight through the lobby. Quickly he descended the steps towards the private beach and lagoon. During the first day at the hotel Bond had carried out a swift recce of the premises. He knew there was a side entrance, essentially for maintenance workers, the pool cleaners and their equipment and such. Bond walked smartly into the small yard as if he belonged there.

One man stood spraying disinfectant into a bucket. He looked up at Bond, noted the black pleated trousers and straight cut t-shirt, topped by the casual clotted cream jacket, and returned to his work as if life was too short to care. Bond smiled at him and walked on. The gate wasn’t locked. There wasn’t any need in the Emirates; the crime statistics told you there wasn’t any crime.

Bond made his way to the front of the hotel, pausing at the entrance to the service drive. Bond could see the Nissan and its occupants, now reduced from three to two. As requested, Datto was waiting in his own car, a functional Honda. Bond quickly peeled off his jacket and reversed it, so his whole outfit now appeared black. He slipped on a pair of Police sunglasses and strode confidently from the service drive and across the car park to Datto’s car. The door was already half open.

Bond settled into the passenger seat.


“We’re tracing the number. I didn’t see them, but the descriptions sound like the guys who followed you the other night.”

Bond nodded. He’d sensed from their earliest conversations that Datto was a good man and he had no doubts about him now.

“Good. Now we wait.”

It was a long wait. The Honda turned into a sweat box. The sun started its rapid downward arc at six. The Nissan X-terra sat motionless.
Neither man got out. Then, from the edge of the long shadows, a set of headlights moved slowly through the car park and came to rest alongside the Nissan. Bond and Datto both sat upright. It was an identical vehicle, even down to the dust on the grey paint. As they watched the original two men swapped places with the second batch.

“That’s it, Khalil. You fix those bastards, I’ll follow the others.”

The new car was already turning onto As Salam Street when Bond reached the LTZ. He settled in quick, moaned for the umpteenth time about the automatic gears and started the engine. The Caprice pulled effortlessly away. Behind him he was aware that Datto’s Honda was coming to a sudden braking stop, directly in front of the original Nissan.

The big lights on the rear of the X-terra were easy to trace. It wasn’t completely dark, but the sky was closing in fast. If the pursuit continued in the city, Bond wouldn’t have much hope of keeping track, there would be too many similar tail lights. The traffic system in Abu Dhabi was a congested mess, not designed for the hundreds of thousands of cars that thronged onto its streets every night, the boys that showed off the latest tyres, the loudest stereo or the most attractively customised exterior. Women, of course, hardly ever drove socially.

Bond followed the Nissan along the Eastern Ring Road, which traversed the coast line of Abu Dhabi’s main island. Behind him the sky was shining blood red, the stacks of tall towers stretching like fingers across the horizon. Ahead there was only violet, rimmed by flashing streetlights.

To his right was the old airport, Al Bateen, much of which was now converted into gardens and leisure parks. Bond thought the Nissan slowed deliberately, trying to make him catch up. He held back, slowing to a crawl himself. He checked his own mirrors. No-one was tailing him; Datto had done an efficient job. Ahead the big rear lights suddenly sped away, turning left past the Maqta Watchtower and onto the bridge which crossed the tidal water onto the mainland.

Bond had no time to admire the three centuries old monument. The traffic became spartan once they traversed the bridge. Bond hung back from the Nissan. It was heading vaguely south. The street lamps were dimming. The brown and yellow of the evening was shifting into black. The big silver buildings, all glass and stainless steel frontages, were diminishing in favour of tenement dwellings, all concrete and tiles, covered balconies and potted plants. The streets narrowed.

Then, within a few miles, Bond thought he’d driven into a war zone. There seemed to be chaos on both sides. Rubble, deep trenches and barbed wire fences mixed with half destructed buildings. Diggers and lorries, drag shovels and huge cranes dotted the devilish landscape. Between them fires burnt under big metal drums and figures strolled aimlessly among the debris. Some of the figures wore safety helmets. No, of course, it wasn’t a scene of destruction, but one of construction. Bond was driving through the site of the new suburb, Mohammed Bin Zayed City, a massive $24 billion housing project.

Ahead of him the Nissan began to increase speed. Bond initially held back, but when the pair of winking red lights dipped around a corner, he pressed the accelerator and felt the powerful engine kick in. The car rumbled comfortingly as it glided from thirty to seventy.

Gradually the building site changed. The road narrowed further and Bond felt he was driving into poorer districts. People turned to look at his car. There were deep potholes on the tarmac and he swerved to avoid them as best he could. The street lights disappeared. Only the last vestige of dusk and the LTZ’s head lamps provided any illumination. Bond had a feeling of the world closing in and chasing him, not him chasing the Nissan.

Another few miles and all semblance of the modern city had dispersed. The smoke from chimney’s wafted through the air turning the atmosphere a wispy grey. The air conditioner filled with the scent of burnt coal. Ash and cinder and earth were piled along the roadside, making dusty stinky mounds. Beyond them sat dreadful buildings, hovels made of mud bricks or wood, roofed with corrugated metals or dried palm leaves. Bonfires sang between them, spots of bright orange among the bleakness. This was where the under classes lived, the poorest of the poor, the thieves, the opium dealers, the prostitutes, the men who couldn’t even get work mixing cement on the construction sites. It was a gloomy, god forsaken place, a nest for villainy and cruelty a thousand miles away from the land of Midas across the bay.

Stuck in his thoughts, Bond failed to notice the road give a sudden twist. He spun the wheel. A high mound of ash loomed before him on one side of the road. Bond slammed on the brakes, steering hard right, and gasped.

An abandoned car, slung across the road, seemed to hurtle towards him.

Bond grasped at the hand brake, forcing every ounce of stopping power from the LTZ. The Caprice slammed sideways on toward the wreck of a car. Bond shuddered expecting an impact. He stopped short. The LTZ bounced once, seemed to check and then stayed still.

Bond looked about him. There was another pile of ash and earth in front. The abandoned car, all hollowed out and rusting, was tended by an old man, who was fiddling under the bonnet. He gave the flash new Chevrolet an inquisitive look. Bond couldn’t work out where the Nissan had
disappeared to. He felt distinctly uneasy.

There was a tap at his window. It was the grizzled old man. Bond looked at the helpless face. The oldster seemed to be in genuine trouble. Over his shoulder Bond could see a youthful woman with a baby, perhaps his young bride, or maybe his daughter. They looked anxiously towards him. Bond got out. Straight away he knew it was the wrong move. The girl backed off. Bond had gone no more than two paces when a new man appeared, a big figure with something in his hand. Then a second person scurried from behind the boot of the rusty wreck, and a third from the hill of ash. This one Bond recognised, the football colours of A.F.C. Barcelona shining in the headlights.

Bond didn’t want to use his gun. This wasn’t a time for killing, not yet. He had something else to use. Strapped to the back of his waist band was a six inch long slim truncheon of rubber coated metal. As he pulled it clear from its ring bound holster, Bond flicked it down. A further twelve inches of toughened steel telescoped out of the baton handle.

The sudden appearance of the weapon caught the hoods off guard. Bond swerved to the right and lunged at the closest thug. The point of the baton thudded into the man’s face. Bond felt the blunt tip snag as it pierced the cheekbone. The man yelped in pain, twisting away, his hands reaching for his injured cheek. The Barcelona fan half fell over his stricken colleague. Going down he threw out a hand and something clawed at Bond’s shoulder.

Instinctively Bond jerked backwards wrenching the implement loose from the attacker’s hand. Something was snaking away from his left side. No matter; the first man, the biggest one, was launching himself at Bond, a shaft of metal in his hand. It was coming down fast. Bond twisted aside and swung the steel baton. It smacked into the man’s thigh and he tumbled over. The man tried to rise, but Bond ruthlessly slashed down onto his head. There was a crack of steel on skull and a clang as metal hit tarmac.

The snake of wire still clung to his shoulder. Bond ripped it free and felt his skin tear. Barbed wire. Probably from the construction sites. He threw it away. Breathing heavily through the steamy, smoky air, Bond suddenly saw a fourth man, a big bastard, launching himself forward. The fat hands grasped for his throat and his arms, all at once it seemed. He was a powerful brute. Bond staggered with the surprise and the two bodies slammed against the wreck of the car. Bond rammed the handle of the baton upwards into the bastard’s solar plexus. The brute gave a furious yell. Bond hit the soft underbelly again. There was an agonised grunt, hands relaxed their grip and Bond flung him off. The brute pitched over, rolling onto the ash mound. Black soot showered the air. Through the cloud of swirling dust, Bond saw the barbed wire coming at him again. Barcelona was on the attack. Bond lifted the baton in time to catch the flailing twists of metal. Bond yanked and the wire weapon spun loose into the air. The thug stumbled forward with the shock. Bond brought the baton ruthlessly down, smacking into the groin. There was an obnoxious thud. Barcelona screwed himself up, writhing in pain. Bond swung up, catching the thug flush under the chin. First the head then his whole body jerked round. Blood curved through the air as Barcelona swallow dived to the floor.

Bond turned to see the big brute rising. He’d picked up his colleagues fallen wheel wrench and advanced slowly on Bond. He was black from the dust, but there was a demon glint in his eye. Bond backed away, realising he was being manoeuvred further from his car. Then it dawned on him. Someone was missing. Where was the other football fan? It had only taken two or three seconds, but in those moments Bond felt new arms grab him from behind, going for his neck.

The brute came on fast. Cramped, Bond raised his own baton in defence, struggling against the restraining arms. The two steel weapons clanged. Bond felt his wrist jar with shock. His fingers opened and the baton dropped. The big man swung round aiming for Bond’s head. Desperately Bond pushed back against his captor. He felt the rush of air as the wrench flew past his nose. The brute was off balance. Using the other man as leverage, Bond kicked out. He sliced for the knees. The brute toppled over. Bond caught a glancing, wild blow on the shin and cursed, leaping in agony. When his foot came down, it stamped on the bastard face below and something crunched.

Bond fell against the final assailant. They toppled onto the ash mound. Cinder and earth billowed around them as they struggled. More than once Bond thumped him, somewhere, with an elbow. The man’s grip relaxed. Bond wrestled loose. Twisting in the man’s grasp, hearing the arm of his jacket get ripped away, Bond dug viciously for the exposed throat. The man’s mouth opened, gagging for air. It was like an invitation. Instinctively Bond scooped up a fistful of ash and shoved it down the man’s throat. The assailant heaved. Bond shovelled another fistful in, some of it spraying into the man’s eyes. The man coughed and spluttered and the hands gave up their hold. Bond pulled himself free. In the circle of headlights Bond noted he was a Chelsea fan.

Bond retrieved the baton. One of the fallen thugs was wailing, calling for assistance. Around the side of the hill of ash, Bond saw more figures approaching. A knife glinted. Bond jumped for the LTZ. The engine was still ticking over. Quickly he raised the full beam. The two new figures, caught flush in the blaze, staggered blind for a moment. Then Bond hit reverse, skewing the Caprice into a two pointer, bounding over the edge of the road. He ploughed up the far bank, ash and earth spewing in a black fountain from his wheels. Next moment, he was free and retreating fast along that grim road towards the city.

Baffled and out of breath, Bond gripped tight to the wheel, the energy of the fight coursing through him. Jesus Christ! Whose men were they? Chivry’s? Rashid’s? Anybody’s? Had Bond accidentally driven into that cesspit of bandits or was it a trap, a plan to eliminate him? Barbed wire, iron bars, knives, those [censored]ers were armed, but not like professionals. Bond thanked God he hadn’t used the gun; that would have meant police involvement. His shoulder ached where the barbs had pulled at him, but the wounds were superficial, it was shock more than anything else. The palm of his hand was bloody. The jacket was ruined.

When Bond pulled into the car park of the Sheraton, Datto was still there. He’d eventually allowed the other Nissan to leave, but Datto didn’t think it would be gone for long.

“What the hell happened to you?” he asked, taking in Bond’s dirty and dishevelled appearance.

“A brush with the natives,” replied Bond, “Do you have any medical equipment at your place?”

“I do, come with me.”

Datto had a one room office on Sudan Street. It was currently kitted out with camp beds, a kettle and tea making facilities. Bond cleaned himself in the sink, then sat on one of the beds and explained what had happened while Datto carried out some perfunctory repairs to his shoulder and hand. He loaned Bond a fresh jacket.

“You’ll do more than live, James. I hope your tetanus is up to date.”

“Standard service procedure,” replied Bond, lighting a calming cigarette. He offered one to Datto, who took it, studied it and slipped it into the breast pocket of his shirt.

“Was it our mysterious litter collectors?”

“Yes, but who the hell they work for I couldn’t tell you. Did you get any where with the number plates?”

“Not listed. That doesn’t mean anything. It just means the police don’t want to tell me. They’re probably stolen vehicles; the authorities wouldn’t want to admit to not finding stolen cars.”

“That’s one way to manipulate the statistics,” Bond snorted, “Come on, Khalil, get me back to the Sheraton. I need a stiff whisky, a good meal and a chat with Andreas Chivry.”

Datto drove him back. Bond found Sylvia and Chivry eating in Flavours, the international restaurant, one of seven establishments at the Sheraton. Bond sat down at their table and poured himself a glass of red wine, noting it was a good French burgundy.

“Are you playing games with me, Andreas?” he began.

“I don’t understand. What are you implying?”

“I was attacked by those travelling hoods. Do you want to tell me who they are?”

“I’m sure I have no idea.”

“Of course you don’t.”

Sylvia was sitting dumb, knife and fork in hand, not moving. She saw the scratches on the collar of Bond’s neck. Her eyes widened a fraction. “Are you all right?”

“Perfectly, Sylvia,” replied Bond, with a smile, “Thank you for asking.”

A waiter approached their table. Without even glancing at the menu, Bond ordered a chateaubriand avec frites and another bottle of the excellent burgundy.

“Make it rare and bloody.”

“You don’t really think I have time to organise a coup against you, James,” Chivry said smoothly and started to eat again, talking with his mouth full. “I’ve been much too busy to bother with your little charade.”

“You seem to forget, Andreas, that I and my colleagues at S.I.S and the DTRI can haul you in at a moments notice. When this is all over, we’ll have the artefacts or at the very least we’ll know who has them. You’ll cease to be of any use then, Andreas. We can cut you some slack, but you’re still going down. The more you help me, the less rope we’ll hang you by. You might just survive the drop.”

“Your analogy is distasteful.”

“So are your table manners.”

Bond’s steak arrived and he ate it in silence. It was excellent. After a while Sylvia mentioned it might be better if she went back to Paris. Chivry wouldn’t hear of it.

“Don’t fret, Mon Cheri, our dear James is merely scare mongering. I am certain the incident is unrelated. We three are after all, conducting business in a very open manner. The hoodlums and thieves will be spying on us for certain.”

Bond watched the sharp brown eyes. The lids had descended half way. He didn’t trust Chivry any further than he could see him. He needed to tighten the Frenchman’s leash. Sylvia could play a part in that for she was handling Chivry far better than Bond.

“Don’t forget I need your experience, Sylvia,” said Bond, “I don’t want to be confronted with another array of fake art.”

“If you’re sure,” she said, uncertain.

“Besides,” interjected Chivry affably, “Who will I have to entertain me at dinner if I am left alone with Monsieur Bond?”

#13 chrisno1



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Posted 31 August 2010 - 01:24 PM


After dinner they took a drink in the Cigar bar, Chivry buying a big Panamanian to accompany his brandy. The man was once more starting to grate, but Bond couldn’t let him alone. To hide his boredom, Bond took to watching the assorted rich types, Asians and Russians mostly, who reclined on the hefty leather sofas and took whisky or gin as they puffed on fine tobacco. Bond lit one of his own Morlands. Except for Sylvia, there were no women in the bar, and Bond was not surprised when she demurred by retiring early. Bond was left at an uncomfortably silent table.

Eventually, at almost midnight, Chivry also opted to retire and the uneasy duo made their way towards the elevators. As they walked through the foyer, Bond noticed a flash of colour to his left. It was an elaborate check kaffiya flowing down the back of a tall Arab. Bond noted the man wasn’t wearing the traditional robe, but a light khaki suit. He was a soldier.

By the lifts, Bond half turned to look at the tall Arab again, who seemed to be impatiently waiting for someone. The doors slid open. Bond indicated for Chivry to enter, still watching the lone figure. Bond thought he recognised him, but from the side it was hard to tell. The lift doors were about to close on them. Suddenly Bond leant in front of his companion and pressed the pause control. The doors eased back for a moment.

The soldier’s companion had arrived. They shook hands and Bond finally saw the Arab’s face. He was a deep skinned man. A short thick clipped moustache assaulted his upper lip. He had deep set features, weathered by years of sun and sand. He stood straight backed. That would have been enough to betray his military background, but the man wore battle honours above the left breast of his uniform. The two stars on the epaulettes defined his rank as Lieutenant General. The eagle and crossed swords on the badge signified he was from the Iraqi military.

The second man was white and this face didn’t register either. He was reed thin, taller than the Iraqi, but his posture and the badly fitted cream suit which hung from his shoulders made him appear inferior. He clearly deferred to the General. The hair was grey and his skin, while lightly tanned, seemed to be dulled and coarsened by years spent indoors. Something in the man’s countenance, his hunched shoulders, suggested he’d spent too long in an office. The elevator doors slowly slid into place and the lift began its ascent. Bond looked at Chivry.

“Did you see the soldier, the Arab?”

“The uniform looked familiar,” Chivry was non-committal, “Something to do with Iraq.”

“What about the other man?”

“I’ve not seen him before.”

Bond reached for his mobile, thinking about placing a call to Khalil Datto and tracing the General. But he changed his mind. It was probably nothing and he didn’t want to cause any undue concern. There could be many reasons why a high ranking member of the Iraqi military was in Abu Dhabi.

Bond resolved to sleep well and clear the fog of his mind. Andreas Chivry and Amin Al Rashid were his primary concern, for it was only they who could open the doors to the mysterious monk, Sargon.

Bond contacted Datto before breakfast and the station agent said he would look into the matter of the Iraqi General. He also agreed to act as a second watch on Chivry, ensuring the Frenchman could be observed all hours of the day. They couldn’t completely restrict his movements. Datto’s team had already discreetly visited Chivry’s suite and hidden several infinity monitors, including one inside the telephone. They already suspected Chivry knew of the bugging devices; his movements and conversations were precise and short. Bond had ensured the room’s internet connection was password protected, but Chivry was still able to conduct business in the executive suite and almost come and go as he pleased.

It was there the concierge found Bond and handed him a sealed envelope. Bond opened it immediately. It was from Amin Al Rashid. The first lines were in Arabic script, but printed clearly under them were the names ‘Mr J. Aubrey & Mlle. S. Lavoilette.’ There followed instructions to be ready outside the Sheraton at eleven thirty tomorrow. It wasn’t signed.

“Did this come by hand?” Bond asked the concierge.

“Yes; a most respectable young man in a very expensive suit.”

Bond nodded. He turned to Chivry, “It’s definitely on. Why isn’t your name on the invitation?”

Chivry raised his eyes from the computer terminal. For a second Bond thought the Frenchman was startled, but the moment passed.

“I have no idea. Is it necessary for me to come?”

“I rather thought you might be asked. You are Rashid’s friend aren’t you?”

The answer took a long time coming.

“Yes. However, now I have made the introductions Rashid has no further need of my services. He knows who you are and will be quite comfortable talking to you and Miss Lavoilette alone.”

“Very well,” answered Bond brusquely, “I’d better tell, Sylvia.”

“She’s out by the lagoon.”

The big man’s roving eyes missed nothing. Bond stood up. As he walked from the suite, he saw Datto take up residence in a seat two desks away from Chivry. The Frenchman acknowledged Datto with a nod of his round head.

It was cool by the lagoon. The limpid sea hugged the golden shore. Palms overhung each other forming massive umbrellas of shade. Bond found Sylvia sitting on a sun lounger. She covered her eyes with sun glasses, but that seemed to be her only concession to the beach. Sylvia wore a greengage coloured t-shirt tucked tight into brilliant white shorts good to the knee. She wasn’t tanning, but had turned a healthier shade of pink. She was reading a hardback book.

Bond pulled up a chair and sat next to her, the invitation in his hand.

“Are you all right?”

“No. Are you?”

“What’s wrong?”

The girl put down the heavy tome, Feuerstein’s In Search of the Cradle of Civilisation.

“I’m worried, James. I’ve been worried ever since we arrived.”

“What about?”

“This whole business is nothing to do with me, not really, I should never have come. I’ve tried so hard to help you, like you asked, to be a hostess, to be kind to Andreas, but I’m hopeless, you know I am. And now I’m tired with it all, James. Then after last night, well...”

Bond nodded sympathetically. He touched her shoulder, ever so lightly, just to reassure her. “I understand, Sylvia, really I do. And you’re acting fine; better than fine. It won’t be for much longer, I promise.”

“You know you can’t promise that. Have you spoken to Captain Guibert? Does he know the danger I’m in?”

Bond hesitated. It was enough of a wait.

“I thought not,” it was said with more resignation than indignation, “And I really am in danger, aren’t I, James?”

“No, you’re not,” said Bond definitely, “Those thugs were after me. Chivry’s right, Sylvia, they were thieves, bandits, looking to make a big killing on us. Datto checked them out and the police will be looking for them. They won’t trouble us again.”

It was a lie, but Bond felt fully justified in telling it. He felt an attachment to the girl, one he couldn’t quite put into words. He’d felt it in Club Sax, even as she dissected him so critically, and he felt it again now: a longing, a sense of hope, an assimilation of those two islands, these two human beings. He couldn’t see her eyes, but he knew the grey circles were searching his face for reassurance, so he offered it.

“Don’t think about it, Sylvia,” he said, “There’s better news. We’ve received a royal summons.”

The edges of her pretty mouth flinched and then dropped back, “Really? Let me see?”

He showed her and she also asked why the Frenchman was not invited. Bond explained. He could see she wasn’t convinced.

“It shows we are getting closer,” said Bond, “I really need your help, Sylvia. In a day or two we could have this precious audience with Sargon. Then we can all go home.”

Sylvia handed back the invite. The words came out, but they didn’t sound certain, “If you are sure, James.”

“I am. Don’t fret so much, Sylvia, I want you fresh and revitalised when we meet our new friend Amin Al Rashid. Chivry was right about that too. He was rather taken with you.”

Sylvia huffed. “I won’t take that as any compliment.”

Bond gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze, “That’s more like it. That’s the Sylvia I like.”

“You do surprise me.”

The smile was genuine this time and again Bond knew the hidden grey eyes were searching his expression.

Bond stood up. Sylvia hardly heard him say “Dinner at seven thirty, then?” because she was inspecting Bond’s stone hard face, which had just cracked into one of its supple grins. His steel eyes were laughing with her and she enjoyed the laughter. She knew he liked her. She knew it from the moment he’d taken her to dinner in Paris. No earlier, when he joined her in the limousine. No earlier than that, when they’d spoken for the second time at Le Chateau. The second time or the first? She didn’t know. Not any more.

Bond’s body turned away. His eyes kept looking. She knew what he was looking at and for once it didn’t bother her. Unusually Sylvia wished she was wearing fewer clothes. She wanted him to see her like that, unashamed and raw. The deepest pleasures started to rise. It had been so long since she’d let a man, any man get so close. Sylvia fought the sudden urges.

“Seven thirty.”

And then Bond was gone. The moments they shared seemed so precious. Sylvia was not an actress; socıalısing did not come easy to her. The days with Chivry and Rashid, the countless long meals and boring afternoons toying with businessmen and observing all the social customs were only succoured by the presence of James Bond. She didn't know what it was that enticed her, some magnetism, an inner fire that burnt warm, comforting, yet slightly cruel, like the bitter wind on a summer's day. All she knew was she wanted more of that fire every moment they met. It was the only thing which stopped her running.

Sylvia tried to return to her book, but all she could think about was the tingling of her skin where his fingers had brushed her and the blue steel eyes that caressed her body. Her nipples were hardening, as if it had been his fingers and not his eyes that had touched her. She rubbed her thighs together. She itched. It wasn’t the heat that made her sweat now. She needed to touch herself. She felt it deep inside her.

Calmly, and with the minimum of fuss, Sylvia packed away her beach things into a little string bag and returned to her room. She locked the door and ran a bath full of water, pouring in all the salts and bubbles and lotions so the suite smelt of roses and lilac and lavender. Then she stripped off her clothes, took a quick, slightly frightened look at her naked, rapacious reflection and slipped into the hot luscious water. She cupped her breasts with her hands and swirled her nails around the large taut nipples.

After a few moments, the hands moved lower across her smooth wet skin to her belly and beyond. It was going to be a long afternoon of private bliss for Sylvia Lavoilette.

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

Bond thought Sylvia was acting very strange over dinner. She hardly said a word, not to him or to Chivry. She looked rather flushed. Bond thought she might be unwell, but she said not, claiming she’d spent too long by the lagoon.

He didn’t pursue the matter, choosing instead to ask the Frenchman a series of questions regarding Rashid’s desert retreat.

“Al Akhdhar, the Green Oasis. It’s a palm grove deep in the Red Desert. They call the desert Rub al Khali, the Empty Quarter. It’s as dead as it sounds. There are scrubs of grass and a few isolated settlements, but the land is empty, really empty. You’ll see a few villages near the roadside, but they’ve only sprouted up because of the water supply, like the cities that followed the railways in the American West.”

“Why does he live in such a desolate place?”

“Haven’t you guessed? It’s in his name. Al Rashid. He’s a Bedu. Everyone thinks the Bedu live in the north, but they migrated from the peninsula thousands of years ago. There are many great tribes in the region, the Harasis, the Ajman and the Jenuba. But the ones who helped Westerners explore the interior, the ones who opened Arabia to the world: they are the Kathir and the Rashid.”

“So he’s a private financial investor by day and a Bedouin by night.”

“At weekends or when the fancy takes him, like tomorrow.”

Chivry addressed his closing comment to Sylvia, “You’ll enjoy it. It’s very traditional. And it’s a very beautiful oasis. But I suggest you cover everything, even your hair. Everything except your face, it will be fine to show your face.”

Bond couldn’t wait for the next day to start. His appetite was whetted and he slept restlessly. Something was nagging at his mind. Something he should have done. Bond showered at five o’clock, just as the sun was rising. It was too early for breakfast and Bond decided to take a walk along the Corniche Road and smoke a cigarette or two. It was this act that helped remind him. He’d run out of cigarettes and popped into a hotel kiosk to buy a fresh packet. A tall thin man stood at the counter. It was the same man Bond had seen the other night. He was buying a copy of Le Monde.

Bond watched him go, bought the packet of Marlboros and followed him out of the lobby. The man walked to the far end of the coast road and entered the Corniche Restaurant, which was just opening for business. He took a seat and made a big fuss over ordering breakfast.

Bond observed it from a discreet table near the open door. He asked for an espresso and contacted Datto.

The station agent yawned as he answered his mobile. He needed to check. As Bond waited for the call back he lit the day’s first cigarette and watched the iron grey head from distance. His mobile phone buzzed. The noise made the thin man’s face jerk up from his newspaper and he looked across at Bond, daggers in his eyes. The mouth twitched.

“Yes?” said Bond.

“You’ll never believe it.”

“I might.”

“The general is Sayyid Khadimi, head of the Iraqi Security Forces North Army. Officially he’s on leave.”

Bond waited a moment. “Is it a genuine holiday?”

“Well, I guess he’d normally have an entourage with him, or his family, one way or the other. I’ll check. I might have to go through London.”

Bond pondered that for a moment. “Don’t bother if that’s the case. I’m sure it’s nothing. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t have a holiday. Who’s the other man?”

“We don’t really know. It took us a while to track him down because he wasn’t registered at the Sheraton.”

“I didn’t think so.”

“How did you know that?”

“I’m watching him now. He’s ordering breakfast in the Corniche. What’s his name?”

“Daniel Trudeau. He’s some sort of travel agent; a Frenchman. The details are very sketchy. He calls himself an Arabic Cultural Advisor. At least that’s his story. He’s been operating in the Middle East for some years.”

“Any where in particular?”

“Ah, now that’s really interesting, James. Iraq.”

“So he could be on speaking terms with Khadimi.”

“I suppose. But that doesn’t explain why they’re meeting in Abu Dhabi.”

Bond agreed, but decided he had more pressing matters to attend to that morning. He thanked Datto for the information before reminding him that Chivry was virtually off the leash today; Bond warned he might take the opportunity to do something rash.

“We’ll watch him, James, don’t worry.”

Bond returned to the Sheraton and ate breakfast; eggs, toast and coffee. He prepared carefully for the trip, making sure he took a headscarf and a large full bottle of water, packed into a small haversack. He advised Sylvia to do the same. Bond considered what other equipment to take and eventually settled on only his Walther P99, as it was easily concealed under the long straight cut jacket he chose to wear. Bond wore it on the belt holster this time, sitting just above and to the back of his right hip. Bond’s normal stance, with his right hand cocked slightly across his belt would cover the sight of the weapon from prying eyes. Bond merely had to ensure he didn’t remove his jacket.

The girl was dressed all in white, except for a pair of navy espadrilles and a matching headscarf. The scarf was already wrapped around her hair and draped across her neck. Bond thought she looked wonderful and told her so.

They had no need to wait. The same unnamed young man who had sat silent through the meeting at the Emirates Cafe walked into the Sheraton lobby at precisely eleven thirty. He uttered not a single word but escorted them to his sparkling brand new Toyota Land Cruiser GXR. It was a beautiful four wheeled drive, a steel body painted bright metallic red that ached to be driven fast. It was the perfect design of car for desert driving: air conditioned, comfy, piston ventilated brakes on 18-inch Goodrich tyres. Its big 32 valve, six litre engine would make mince meat of the unbroken tarmac on the Al Ain road.

Once they settled inside the motor car, the driver pulled effortlessly away. It was cool inside the Toyota. The tinted windows hardly made the outside world any less bright. The big skyscrapers battled for the heavens as the red box made its sedate way through the hell of late morning traffic. The driver didn’t speed, was cautious, but thorough. He said nothing. Bond wondered if he was mute, but decided he wasn’t able to speak English, or simply didn’t want to talk. They crossed the Maqta Bridge and Bond thought of the events two nights previous. One sly look over his shoulder told him no one was on their tail.

It hardly seemed a few minutes before the Land Cruiser was sweeping through the eastern suburbs and onto the Al Ain road. Bond turned to Sylvia, who was watching the changing view outside.

“Are you’re feeling better now?”

“Yes, much.”

“Good. If you feel a bit unwell, keep drinking water and try not to touch the food.”

“I’m just nervous, James, the fear of the unknown.”

“I’m nervous too, Sylvia. It’s only natural. Neither of us knows what to expect.”

“I’m glad I’m not alone then.”

Sylvia offered a wan smile. It was nothing like the grin she’d offered him at the lagoon.

They headed into the Empty Quarter and the flat four lane highway stretched away in a straight line, disappearing in the heat haze miles ahead. The motorway was miraculously clear of desert encroachment. Small settlements of traditional barasti houses, constructed of palm wood and mud bricks, dotted the journey. Each village surrounded an oasis of glossy verdant palms and hedges of tribulus sprouting butter bright flowers. Other species, like karia and qasis, the heliotropes beloved of the Arabian camel, prospered among the foliage. Goats and chickens pecked haphazardly at the baking earth. Camels sat on their haunches and chewed their jaws, moaning at the lack of activity. Occasionally a human figure or two, bedecked in full robes would stare at the big car as it roared its way past. Behind these outposts of life sat the arid white sand of the Rub al Khali. Bond could see the dunes rising twenty or thirty metres high, nestling next to far flung farmhouses. Bond noted with absent curiosity, the lack of obvious mosques in the desert.

“I wish Andreas Chivry was here,” said Sylvia suddenly.

“Really, why?”

“Something isn’t right. He was too keen for us to go, didn’t you think. And this morning, he acted very strange. Didn’t you see how he wanted to hug me? He knows I hate that. It was like he was seizing his last opportunity.”

“I didn’t notice. He was probably just being an [censored], as usual.”

Sylvia sulked a little. Bond felt better. It was a sign her spirit was returning. But deep down her concerns also worried him. There was something odd about Chivry’s behaviour. There had been all through these past seven days; too cheerful, too chummy, then closeted, cautious, never unctuous, but always crafty. Sylvia was right. Bond hoped Datto kept a tight lid on Chivry’s movements today.

The landscape outside started to change. The desert gave way to sharp limestone, a range of cliffs sprung out of the horizon and the highway bisected them. The cliffs rose steep and scarred. Rocks teetered on ledges waiting to be catapulted down the hillsides where they would split near the roadside, joining the debris of other crashed boulders, some as big as tents. The cleft in the massif split into a V and the Land Cruiser swung right off the highway and onto a gravel road. This was less well maintained and Bond was glad of the floating suspension that made the rickety journey a shade smoother.

They continued for another ten or miles or so before the limestone gully began to fade back into the harsh white sand. It was here, no more than two miles outside the barren valley, that Bond saw the oasis, a haven of deep emerald and lush brown. Bright pink hibiscus crawled under the palms and a streak of shimmering silver caught the hot desert sun. The oasis was banked on one side by several traditional goat hair tents. They were large affairs and Bond could see the colourful woven curtains separating the men-folk from the women and the cooking. Camels squatted, moaned and chewed, oblivious to the arrival of the motorcar.

The Land Cruiser caused hardly a ripple of concern for the Bedu either. The driver opened the rear door and indicated that Bond and Sylvia should follow him. He led them to the central tent. The air was parched. The sticky coastal atmosphere didn’t exist here, having been swept away by the arid desert wind. It was remarkably cool under the thick cover of the main tent where an assortment of men were sitting on blankets, picking at a basket of dates and inhaling the deep aroma of frankincense from a large bronze urn they were passing between them.

Amin Al Rashid was seated at their centre, robed all in black this time. He did not rise, but made a single movement to remove the prescription sunglasses from his nose.

“Welcome, Mister Aubrey. Welcome, Mademoiselle Lavoilette. Please, enter, come in.”

Bond’s eyes strayed around the group of men. There were two faces he recognised. One of them offered an intrigued half smile. Bond saw his gold tooth glinting in the sunlight. The other gave no greeting, but the man with the scar wasn’t interested in Bond or Sylvia. He was tending to a large saqr falcon that rested on his outstretched arm.

Edited by chrisno1, 31 August 2010 - 10:01 PM.

#14 chrisno1



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Posted 02 September 2010 - 08:21 PM


“Al-salaam aleykum,” said Bond, repeating the ancient greeting ‘peace be with you.’ Tradition said the greeting could not be refused, that a code of strict honour and protection for visitors would be invoked. They called it the ‘Code of Salt’ as it took at least three days for food consumed by a guest to be digested and salt was the last food carried in the stomach.

Rashid did not offer the reply ‘Waleykum as salaam.’

“You presume much, Mister Aubrey,” he intoned, “I am not a strict Bedu. My wealth and my sins prevent that. I will however share my hospitality. Please, sit.”

“Andreas Chivry led me to believe otherwise.”

“Chivry is blinded by his own self-importance. I deceive him when it suits me. He’s rather a gullible man, don’t you think?”

Bond was surprised by the question. He sat cross-legged on the end of the semi-circle of men. Sylvia sat next to him. He caught her tense expression and guessed she too recognised the man with the unmissable scar who sat almost opposite them. Bond wanted to clasp her hand in reassurance, but decided such a display of emotion would be frowned upon.

The man did not look up from the huge falcon. A long finger crooked out and tickled the bird under its chin. The saqr hopped on the man’s wrist. A long leash was attached to the falcon’s leg. One tiny gold bell tingled as it moved.

“I didn’t think so,” continued Bond, “He runs a very successful business.”

“In matters of art, though?”

“Well, he has a very interesting collection, though I would say some of his investments are naive. He’s something of a dilettante.”

Rashid smiled. He clapped his hands once, loudly, and three women appeared carrying coffee and two steaming bowls of food. One bowl contained slices of charcoal grilled goat’s meat, the other a mountain of fragrant almond and sultana rice. Bread was passed around. The women were clothed in black robes which included the visor-like burqa. Bond noted as the women poured coffee that their masks were fringed with gold braid and that they were designed to show off the maximum amount of flesh, especially around the mouth and the eye sockets. They held their heads at an odd angle which allowed the men to see a tantalising glimpse of their mouth. The women ignored Sylvia, other than to pour her coffee.

The men started to eat, scooping the rice from their plates using the bread and only the right hand. Bond followed suite. He thought the food delicious, if slightly dry. Sylvia delicately picked at the fare and ate little. The meal was consumed in virtual silence. Bond inspected the faces of the men. They all had inquisitive beady eyes set in harsh brown skulls, the skin pulled tight over bone, straggly black and grey beards clung to their chins. There were nine in total and only two seemed to be younger than forty. In addition to the long flowing cotton robes of the dishdash, each man sported a headdress. One or two had curled this into a makeshift turban. Several of the men displayed the highly decorated curved dagger, the khanjar, tucked into a studded leather belt. Bond knew these knives were more than simple decoration, being razor sharp, honed for killing and skinning animals. To one side of the tent and arranged in a tepee stood half a dozen rifles. Webbed bullet belts lay on the floor next to them.

Towards the end of the meal, Bond asked, to politely re-break the ice: “Your friends still live the traditional way of life, Mister Rashid?”

“There is a modern challenge for them, Mister Aubrey,” replied Rashid carefully, “A challenge that is testing the strength of the Bedu culture. Life throughout the Middle East is changing, some would say for the better, some not. The transition is more than oil and the riches it has brought. The motor car, the birth of nation states, the political elite, satellite and internet technology, modern schooling, modern employment, hospitals, heavy industry, all these innovations and more are not designed for the world of nomadic living. To find work in twenty first century Arabia one must be educated, to be educated one must go to school, to attend school children must have a sedentary lifestyle. So the Bedu have to leave their migrations and adapt their traditions.

“Modern life, Mister Aubrey, has alienated the Bedu from his land. The governments don’t want to destroy the culture, but they don’t want the Bedu to live in the harsh world of the desert, with the constant fear of starvation and thirst. They’ve dug wells, provided grants, employment, animal feed and electricity to small villages. They’ve also brought peace, but who now can the Bedu fight to protect the camel herds? No one prizes the camel any more; even the Sheiks race horses now. Yes, the world of the Bedu has changed.

“When I think back to the old days, to when I was a child, a man would see a stranger approach from afar and make coffee and bring him water and sweetmeats. The traveller would be welcomed with kind words, for it could be seen at a distance if he was friend or foe. Now travel is too quick and easy and the Bedu live in houses and when a stranger knocks on the door they ask ‘Who is there?’ With no role to play in modern life, they will be lost, doomed to disappear. Unwittingly the governments have deprived the Bedu of his roots, the tradition which gives meaning to his sense of hospitality and honour. That is why I did not greet you with ‘as salaam,’ it is lost to me now. You should have known my father, Mister Aubrey, a man who lived his whole life by the Code of Salt; he would have treated you differently.”

The words had been chosen very carefully. Bond understood their meaning. Rashid was offering him a veiled threat. Bond wasn’t welcome. The meeting was a charade; but for what purpose? Bond’s eyes shifted to the gold toothed man, to the man with the scar, and back to Rashid.

“I’ll remember that,” he replied cautiously.

Sylvia had been listening intently. She spoke up, her light voice attracting attention around the semi-circle of men, “It sounds as if your government needs to learn from history. Money and good works doesn’t make a great society.”

Rashid looked around his band of brothers. They remained impassive. Bond sensed a smirk from Rashid, as if he didn’t agree, or didn’t care of Sylvia’s opinion.

“Dangerous talk, Mademoiselle.”

There was some laughter.

“But you’ve done well, Mister Rashid,” countered Bond, “Your career as an investment advisor has made you wealthy. Doesn’t that go against the grain of your father’s tradition?”

“No, it is a testament to him,” sighed Rashid, “An enlightened man for his time. My father sent me to school. Education is to me both a mill stone and a fire. My achievements in high finance have certainly allowed me to escape the desert, but the desert has not escaped Rashid.”

Bond saw Sylvia pout. She was offended by the men who ignored her, possibly even by Bond who had attempted to deflect attention from her.

“Wealth allows people great influence, Monsieur Rashid,” she said, “Could you not use your influence to protect the Bedu and their society? That would surely be a worthwhile investment.”

Rashid looked amused, “An interesting proposition. Do you believe all rich people should follow suit? Look at Andreas Chivry. There is hardly a philanthropic bone in his body. What action would you counsel for him? Are not his artistic investments of value? Or are they merely the product of one great society, obtained by another, decadent, one?”

Rashid’s question seemed to catch the girl off guard. She recovered herself quickly, tearing a strip of bread and dabbing at the rice.

“Monsieur Chivry’s collection has some merit, even in France,” she replied nervously, before seeming to catch her words and start again: “I am more interested in the collection you and he have procured for a certain Monsieur Sargon. I understand it is the greatest private collection of Mesopotamian art in the world.”

“Ah-ha,” trilled Rashid, “You may well be correct. How have you come to understand this?”

“Andreas Chivry told me; me and Mister Aubrey. He’s been seeking stolen artefacts for Monsieur Sargon for some years.”

Sylvia suddenly seemed to get into her stride. Bond enjoyed her like this, firm, efficient, detailed, correct.

“Our investigations have led us to believe Monsieur Sargon’s private collection is quite magnificent,” continued Sylvia, remembering how Rashid responded to flattery, “It encompasses almost all of the great treasures lost when the Baghdad National Museum was ransacked. I could list them if you want. We are very keen to inspect them.”

“A private viewing,” interjected Bond, “We wouldn’t want the press or anything so intrusive.”

“It would be quite possible for us to verify their authenticity,” added Sylvia, “Monsieur Sargon would be seen as something of a hero in archaeological circles.”

“And what about other circles?” queried Rashid.

Bond tilted his head quizzically, “Of course, Monsieur Sargon is entitled to all the appropriate recognition - once the collection is verified as genuine.”

Rashid seemed to consider the offer for a second. Bond saw his head rise slightly in the direction of the man with the scar. There was an almost undetectable movement of the head from the other side of the tent. It was neither a nod nor a shake. Rashid made the decision.

“Monsieur Sargon is not interested in anyone viewing his collection. Not yet.”

“That’s disappointing,” Bond said casually, “The British Museum was hoping to organise a loan of the famous black clay tablets from Nineveh. There is an exhibition next summer at the British Library regarding great works of literature. The Epic of Gilgamesh would take pride of place as the world’s oldest book. It would be quite a coup,” He paused for effect, “And the financial rewards to all parties would be considerable.”

Rashid inclined his head again. This time the gold toothed man said something, rapidly and in a dialect Bond couldn’t capture. Clearly both Gold Tooth and the man with the scar understood English, even if they did not speak it. Whatever he said, Gold Tooth’s word had the required effect.

“You do business swiftly, Mister Aubrey, I feel ashamed to have kept you waiting so long,” Rashid offered his flat smile, “Come, let us put aside business for a moment. It is time for the hunting.”

Rashid stood and the company stood with him. Last on his feet was the man with the scar, who first replaced an embroidered leather hood over the head of the saqr. The bird remained still.

The scorching heat turned Bond’s mouth dry. He dug into his haversack and pulled out one of the water bottles. After taking a sip he passed it to Sylvia who drained half a litre in an instant.

“Not so fast,” advised Bond, “Slowly.”

“I forgot. It’s so hot.”

“Almost fifty degrees, Mademoiselle,” stated Rashid, “Not so good for humans, but excellent for the falcons. Their prey will be sluggish.”

Sylvia thought the remark distasteful. She was starting to feel squeamish already. She observed the preparations from a distance. The less she saw, the better she might feel. The group of men chatted excitedly, anticipating the blood sport. Sylvia tried to stay close to Bond, hoping to hang in his shadow. Her strong display of words in the tent had stolen almost all her nerve. Despite the heat she trembled.

To the far side of the camp a group of young boys were opening cages full of small brown birds that strutted on thin webbed feet. These were stone curlews, wading birds whose adoptive natural habitat was dry land. They made irritated clucking noises. Sylvia thought their peculiar gait, large yellow eyes and mottled plumage gave them a reptilian look, as if they were tiny dinosaurs. The young boys were marshalled by an elderly man, bent over and twisted, who now reached into his small tent and emerged with a falcon of his own, this one a deep grey feathered Barbary peregrine. Like the saqr, it was blinded by an elaborate leather hood.

The old man walked towards Rashid’s company. There was an exchange of pleasantries. The man with the scar said nothing. He towered a full head above everyone else, including Bond, and almost three above the crooked man.

The curlews, loosened from their prisons seemed reluctant to take flight, but the boys frightened them into the air and after a few moments of circling, searching for the wind currents, they started to rise in a steep arc. There were seven of them. Having inspected the terrain, the waders gradually returned to circling the oasis, becoming a fast moving blur against the brilliant cloudless sky. One or two of them dropped to the edge of the sparkling pool of water and drank.

On the white desert floor the men were beginning to place wagers, betting one hunter against the other. Rashid placed his own bet and explained it was a simple competition, to see which bird killed the most prey. Both animals had been well trained during the close season. Next month the migratory birds returned and the hawking would start in earnest. Scar, he explained, was an expert.

“Is that his real name?” queried Bond.

“No. But he enjoys it.”

“How did he get that awful injury?” asked Sylvia.

“A falcon, naturally. When he was a boy a saqr attacked him. He was lucky. They normally go for the eyes.”

Sylvia shuddered. Bond too felt a twinge of fear. A man scarred for life, physically and mentally, by the very beast he sought to tame and now fated to train the animals for the rest of his life.

There was a lot of money hedging on the large saqr. Bond fancied the smaller bird. It killed on the wing and would be faster. The saqr tended to wait for its prey to land.

Bond watched as the two Bedu hunters at last acknowledged each other. They stood side by side for a moment then moved apart, each man talking to his charge in a mixture of real words and animal sounds. The old man whistled several times and Bond saw the peregrine jump animatedly on his arm. The saqr by contrast stayed static on Scar’s arm. The beast sat nearly two feet tall, its white and brown chest thrust out and its large talons clutched the thick leather glove. The long beak opened and closed with the dull rap of sharp bone on sharp bone.

The two men unleashed their respective falcons and with the lightest of touches removed the hoods. The sharp inky eyes of the falcons seemed to pierce the very air. Bond thought the saqr, its head twitching manically, focussed on him for a second longer than necessary. Then the two men threw up their arms and the great birds took off.

They flew straight first as if racing each other. The broad powerful strokes of the saqr gave it an advantage, but the peregrine, despite being half the size, was rising faster. Its wings seemed to snap through the air. Suddenly the peregrine peeled off to the right, catching an updraft. Within seconds it was over well over a hundred feet up and still rising. The saqr, as was its nature, stayed lower maintaining a wide ringing arc around the oasis. Scar was making strange clicking sounds with his tongue. The shrill cry penetrated the empty air and the saqr seemed to bank sharply, coming back towards the group of men, swooping low over their heads and then back into the sky. The air ruffled as the heavy wings beat hard and propelled the falcon upwards.

The saqr cried out and Scar responded with a whooping “Kiy-ee!”

The old man wasn’t interested in such displays. He held up his hand, pursed his lips and cooed. The peregrine began to fly in a series of decreasing circles. The dozy curlews didn’t seem to notice the danger from either predator. The climax was swift. The peregrine shot out of its circle in a direct vertical dive, its wings pulled back. The victim hardly moved in its flight before the claws of the peregrine smashed into its head and neck. The two animals virtually stopped in mid-air. The peregrine flipped over and deftly caught the wader in its powerful mouth before it fell. The attack had taken only seconds.

Sylvia gasped. The peregrine clasped its victim and, with whistled encouragement, brought it back to the old man. He held out his arm. The relieved falcon dropped the gift at its master’s feet for a curlew wasn’t much lighter than a Barbary peregrine. It landed with a gentle flap of its wings on the outstretched wrist. After a brief respite and a few words of praise, the old man sent the peregrine on its way again, a grey flash in the ceaseless blue.

Bond had lost track of the big saqr. The other curlews had taken flight. They were dispersing across the sky. Then he saw the big shadow. With almost four feet of massive wing to propel it, the saqr sped from behind a far dune, keeping low. It was increasing speed at a terrific rate, finding the same currents as the stone curlews. Surely it too wouldn’t kill in flight? Could Scar have trained the animal against its instincts?

As he watched the magnificent white and grey hawk gained on the group of little birds, overtook and flew above them. The curlews saw the enemy and tried to take evasive action, sweeping in unison back towards the relative safety of the palms. It was too late. The saqr already anticipated the move and made a feint to the left, forcing the birds to sink lower, to the dunes. They didn’t land, but in the thicker air their speed was reduced. It was enough. The saqr plunged down and crashed into the trailing bird, the sharp claws gripping the tiny body and squeezing. The saqr did not drop the prey. It returned to Scar with the little victim still squealing in its death agonies. Scar took the wounded bird and held it out. The falcon jumped excitedly on the outstretched arm. The beak darted forward. The skull of the curlew cracked under the impact and as Bond watched, the saqr tugged a chunk of the bird’s brain through the broken bone.

Sylvia clutched at Bond’s arm. It was a gruesome sight. Scar seemed to enjoy the show of feasting, but he held back the carrion, talking in that peculiar bird language before sending the saqr on its way again.

Bond thought the peregrine might have made another kill by now, but it seemed to be intimidated by the bigger bird and the old man had trouble getting it to obey his commands. It made a pre-emptive strike, a zigzag across the front of its intended victim. Battered, the curlew returned to ground, where the larger falcon was king. The saqr gobbled up its second victim.

Sylvia started to wretch. Bond whispered to her not to. It might be bad form.

“It’s horrid, James.”

He didn’t disagree, but equally he found something fascinating in the smooth swift attacks of the predators and the deadly efficiency of their killing. These were exceptional raptors. The saqr particularly had inherited the calm, cruel nature of its owner. Bond watched the tall wiry Arab, the man called Scar, as he revelled in the thrill of the chase and the destruction of the weaker animals. Yes, Scar would consider other men and women to be weaker prey. There was something cold and methodical about him. He was malevolence made flesh. Whether Scar was Rashid’s man or Sargon’s made no difference to Bond; he was a man to be avoided.

The hunting continued for over an hour. While the trophies piled up, Bond saw Rashid and Gold Tooth share a long debate, during which Rashid, spectacles lifted on and off his nose, cast several sly looks in his direction. Bond sipped more water by way of distraction. Finally the two men reached a decision and walked over to Bond and Sylvia.

“You don’t look well, Mademoiselle,” stated Rashid.

“It’s the heat,” replied the girl quickly.

“Ah, yes, I forget,” murmured Rashid, “Please forgive me. Let us retire to the tent while the men continue their game.”

They sat down again and shared more coffee. Rashid replaced his tinted spectacles. For a moment Bond was reminded of comic book villains, in television shows like The Saint or The Man from Uncle. But Rashid’s tenuous smile shattered the effect. His words and tone were genial and he spread his hands in a gesture of openness, but he looked straight past his two visitors, as if anticipating their departure.

“Your proposition, Mister Aubrey, is very welcome,” began Rashid, “Monsieur Sargon is an intensely private man. I am sure you are aware he is a very religious individual. It is rare, extremely rare, for him to accept any visitors. It disturbs his meditations. However, I have spoken with Yusef, Monsieur Sargon’s personal advisor, who considers your approach to be most favourable. Rest assured your entreaties will be presented personally by Yusef and will have my full endorsement.”

“That’s most welcome. Please thank Yusef for his understanding. I hope we can all do good business together.”

“I am certain of it.”

Rashid spoke to Gold Tooth and the advisor nodded. Rashid clapped his hands. The clap sounded exactly like any other clap, but the chauffeur interpreted it differently and immediately appeared in the tent.

“It is time for your return. The drive is long and the sun will be setting soon,” Rashid explained, “Please give my regards to Andreas Chivry.”

There was a series of nods and handshakes. As he walked to the Land Cruiser, Bond gave a final look over his shoulder. Scar was nursing his falcon in its victory. The saqr had outscored the peregrine. Now the big bird was being fed its first reward and was tearing at the carcass with great enthusiasm. As spilt blood and flesh slopped down the crest of the saqr, Scar gently scraped the debris away, all the while talking and crowing at the beast. The saqr inclined its head towards Bond, that telescopic eye focusing on him again. The saqr screamed. Scar turned his head no more than a few inches, but Bond felt the heat of the stare boring into his back as he settled into the chill of the Toyota.

Sylvia was quiet in the car. The driver said nothing. Bond was glad of the cool. The Toyota made its rapid progress towards the arched limestone cliffs.

“Well,” began Bond, “Progress of a sort, I suppose.”

“I thought it was very strange,” replied Sylvia, “There didn’t seem to be any need to bring us all the way out here. Rashid could have made those decisions in Abu Dhabi. He wanted those men to see us, the men from Paris.”

Bond didn’t answer. He knew the girl was right and that this was part of an elaborate maze, a cat’s cradle, they had to negotiate to get close to Sargon. There was still a huge amount of mystery surrounding the reclusive monk. While the buying and preservation of ancient relics for all posterity seemed reasonable, Bond couldn’t believe it. Something in Rashid’s manner, the genial welcomes and the conciliatory invitations hid unspoken secrets. The man called Scar, the man with the gold tooth, the thugs the other night, this ridiculous charade with the hunting birds; weren’t they designed to intimidate him? What of the sinister portent over the Code of Salt? Did they want to frighten Bond away? What, he wondered, were they hiding?

Sat deep in his thoughts, Bond hadn’t realised how far they were on the journey. The Toyota had already made it back to the junction in the valley. The driver slowed as the two carriage ways converged. Once the Toyota joined the main road, a big grey off-road vehicle appeared behind them, from the opposite fork. Initially Bond didn’t pay it any attention. The car came closer, moving at some speed until it started to overtake them, pulling along side.

Through the smoked glass, Bond could make out two rough looking figures in the car. As he watched, Bond felt the hairs on his neck curl. His skin tightened, his muscles started to coil. Something was wrong. The car was a Nissan. He’d seen it before. Memories of a dark night and a dusty fight came swirling back. Instinctively Bond threw himself across Sylvia.

There was a thunderous barking rattle. The windows shattered. A cascade of glass rained through the Land Cruiser and the driver’s head exploded under the impact of the bullets.

#15 chrisno1



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Posted 05 September 2010 - 01:24 AM


Sylvia screamed. The driver’s headless corpse drooped onto the passenger seat. His dead foot came off the accelerator. All control of the Land Cruiser was lost. The car’s momentum slowed, but it started to veer wildly off course.

Bond thrust himself forward between the front seats. Scrabbling over the dead body, he grasped the steering wheel with his left hand, trying to retain control. He felt the car jolt off the tarmac and onto the roadside gravel. Stones flew up around the car in a whirling storm as Bond steered in a circle, trying to hasten the deceleration of the vehicle. It was a desperate struggle. A boulder appeared to spring up before the waltzing car. Bond twisted hard on the wheel and the Toyota spun away, lurching to the right, almost tipping as it avoided the obstacle.

Another burst of gunfire ripped through the windows. Bond swore. He vaguely realised the shrieking girl was huddled in the rear foot well. More shards of glass splayed through the cab. The Toyota skidded, finally reaching a standstill.

“Stay down!” he ordered Sylvia.

Bond clambered into the front seat. It was awash with blood. Without hesitating, Bond opened the driver’s door and forced the dead man out. The body landed with a thump. Bond didn’t have time to care. He threw his flapping headdress after the body and it landed tactfully over the dead man’s gushing neck. Bond seized the gear lever and rammed the GXR into first, his feet pumping on the accelerator, and raising the clutch. The car lurched forward with a wild screech, the wheels spinning, moulded rubber seeking grip.

Bond drove the car in a wide arc, searching for the enemy as he headed towards the highway. He took in the Nissan, which had stopped by the roadside in anticipation of an execution. As Bond emerged from the cloud of dust, the startled thugs resumed the pursuit. The Nissan didn’t look to be as fast as the Toyota but Bond couldn’t be certain. He was more worried about the shooting. The GXR jumped as it mounted the tarmac. Bond aimed it straight down the centre of the empty road. He ran through the gears, changing from second to third to fifth in a matter of seconds, hoping to get distance between him and the thugs.

The hot wind of the desert blasted into the cab and Bond tasted sand and parched air. He gritted his teeth against the assault. Sweat had started to trickle down his brow. Bond heard the ominous boom of the big motor pursuing them up the open road.

One look in the wing mirror was enough to tell him the big bonnet wasn’t just for show; Nissan X-terra’s usually had a 4-litre engine, but the thugs had customised this model; it was much more powerful. Bond pressed harder on the accelerator pedal, forcing every last drop of energy from the GXR. But he could see the flight was futile. The big grey box came remorselessly on.

Bond begged for every moment of distance. The stark limestone cliffs started to recede. The high sides tapered into the sandy plains. The two cars sped down the highway and exited the valley. Shadows gave way to bright flat sand. The red mountains sat like an aberration in the desert. Bond felt free of their embrace. Bond remembered that along the desert road were several wattle and daub villages populated it seemed with dozy camels chewing the desert cud. Perhaps, he thought, there might be safety with the Bedouin. He could see the first huddle of dwellings and the small oasis of palms in the distance, touching the horizon and the sky.

Gunfire shook him.

“James!” yelled Sylvia for the umpteenth time.

He wanted her to shut up. Jesus, as if there wasn’t enough to worry about. The Nissan was gaining, not quite in range. The speedometer showed Bond was hitting 190kmh. The engine howled in frustration. The revs piled up. The needles on the dials juddered. The frame of the car complained. It was all too much. Bond had images of smoking radiators and blown gaskets.

More gunfire. Still out of range, but zipping closer. Bond rammed his foot hard to the floor. The whole car seemed to wail in protest. The wheels screamed. It was a corrosive sound. Would the tyres last? The cooling system? Bond didn’t care. He knew where safety lay. A quick glance in the mirror showed the grey hulk had retreated a little. Bond had no plan of action for when he reached the village; but no plan seemed better than trying to outrun the bastards.

Between Bond and the village was another car. He’d not really taken it in before, but now he identified the big Mercedes. It was travelling sedately, probably a hire vehicle like Bond’s, full of tourists on the way to Al Ain. As the vehicles neared each other, Bond deliberately decelerated. He saw the Nissan gain ground. Both the driver and the gunman shifted in their seats. The latter looked ready to open fire, but then withdrew the weapon. Was it wise to shoot? Bond wanted to give him the choice. Would the gun man take the risk? How public could this killing be? Not very, Bond hoped. The Nissan continued to gain. Bond let it, gambling the shooter would resist the temptation.

Bond was wrong. He could see the brilliant white teeth of a wide grin, a smile that sensed the kill. The driver encouraged it, gesticulating and shouting. Despite the proximity of the tourists, the gun man hung out the window and loosened a speculative burst.

Sylvia screamed again.

“Keep down!” shouted Bond and swerved, zigzagging wildly. The slowing Toyota made an easy target. Bond ducked as the next swarm of angry bullets decimated the rear window and thudded into the bodywork. Shards of metal pinged away at odd angles. It was only luck that prevented harm.

The Nissan drew level. The gun man raised his weapon, his face gleeful with anticipation. The grey stock of the small machine gun, one of those folding personal defence weapons, probably a Russian make, leered out of the passenger window.

Bond was concentrating on the approaching Mercedes. It was a matter of metres away. Suicidally, Bond stamped on the gas pedal and pulled the Land Cruiser left, onto the opposite carriageway. As he crossed the Mercedes’ path, Bond saw five alarmed faces. The tourists reacted too late. The Mercedes smacked into the side of the Nissan which half spun. The driver instinctively hit the break, trying to stop the car tumbling over.

The ruse bought Bond precious seconds. He glanced in the rear mirror at the accident. Already the damaged roadster was turning afresh, but Bond was hitting his stride again and the Toyota raced away up the highway.

Shaken, the enemy seemed less inclined for a close confrontation. The cars were so evenly matched in speed and power that the only difference was the sporadic bursts of gunfire from the gun man. His aim was wayward; they were too far off. Bond concentrated on the road ahead and the village which seemed to creep towards him.

The desert horizon swept onward and suddenly, the oasis was there, to the left, as if the last miles had vanished. Bond slung the wheel over. The GXR’s double wishbone suspension complained loudly as it bounced off the road onto the sandy plain. He heard Sylvia complain too. Bond drove into the heart of the little community and brought the car up to a skidding halt. He had parked alongside the only cement building, which looked as if it served for a communal lodge, being daubed in paint and geometric patterns. The local mosque, maybe.

Bond shut off the engine and jumped out the door. He called for Sylvia to join him and the girl scurried from the back. Bond grabbed her arm and pushed her towards the lodge. She rushed up the single step and disappeared inside the arched doorway. Already the Nissan X-terra was turning off the highway, heading straight for them. It had come faster than he expected. Bond yanked at his Walther P99. The smooth metal was a reassuring presence, melding seamlessly into his palm.

Bond took up a stance in the doorway, half in the shade, kneeling, arms straight, the Walther pointing. The grey bulk belted towards him, hardly breaking speed. Bond fired three times. The windshield of the Nissan shattered. The driver’s body jerked back and then dived forward. Bond saw the mouth of the gun man open about to utter a scream. The metal behemoth slewed across the little square. It careered past the static Toyota, past Bond and past the lodge. It came to a shuddering stop against the mud bricks of a barasti house. Brown sun dried palm branches collapsed on top of the car, one roof supplanting another. The engine spluttered to a halt. Clouds of desert sand surrounded the impact zone.

Carefully Bond walked forward. He sensed curious frightened eyes observing him. The gun man was on his knees, having freed himself from the wreckage. Coughing and disorientated, his face, once so excited, now so shocked, arrowed in on Bond. The small machine gun was still in his hands. He raised the stock. Almost imperceptibly, Bond sensed the killer’s finger squeezing the trigger. Bond threw himself to one side and the man emptied his magazine into the air. As he shifted, Bond fired twice into the sand storm. The hot lead hit soft human flesh. The man’s body spun and collapsed in a heap. Bond heard nothing but the sizzle of escaping steam.

People were watching. Bond looked into big round eyes on scared faces. Children started to cry. Bond squirmed at the death he’d just rendered, the scene he’d presented. It was time to get away. He rushed back to the lodge. Sylvia was already outside, her face a mask of fear and concern and uncertainty. It was all too new to the poor girl, too deadly. Christ, he thought, what an introduction.

“Are they dead?” she said, hoarse from the screaming.


He didn’t have any other way to tell it. Bond grabbed her hand and pulled her with him. He bundled her back into the Land Cruiser, took the driver’s seat and without looking back, he drove away at speed, leaving the devastation behind him. It was a horrendous drive. Sylvia started to cry.

Bond ignored her. When they were only a mile or so from the city limits, Bond spied a petrol station and cafe. He pulled into a parking bay. The sun was starting its rapid descent and day was turning to night. Bond turned to look at the girl. She had calmed a little; but tears still ran from the corners of her eyes and her mascara had run in dark blue steaks.

“You look a mess,” he said firmly, “Get yourself sorted.”

Sylvia looked at him in shock. “What? You think I can just... after what you just did... what...?”

“Yes. What?”

For a moment she stared at him in silence.

Bond leant across her and opened the passenger door. Sylvia’s sulky pout returned to her lower lip. She wiped the back of her hand across her eyes, still staring at Bond. Having weighed up her options, something or nothing, she got out of the cab and walked hurriedly into the cafe and the ladies facilities.

Bond followed her and bought two bottles of spring water. The man at the counter passed a curious glance at the stains on his suit, but made no comment. Bond hardly registered the man’s intrigue. He went and stood by the car and struck a cigarette. There were more pressing worries than the girl and the dried blood. Who had sent the assassins? Could it be Chivry, who had insisted there was no need for him to attend the desert rendezvous, or was it Amin Al Rashid? And what about Scar, the mean cruel figure who escorted Sargon’s advisor everywhere, could he be the architect of the attack? Bond mulled over the puzzle as the cigarette burnt to the filter. He’d hardly smoked it. He realised there was another possibility; the men could simply be bandits, but Bond doubted it. The weaponry was too new. They’d looked like Russian PP2000s, the small automatic machine guns with a folding detachable butt. And Chivry supplied Russian arms.

Bond tossed the filter aside. He took a long scroll of tissue from the dispenser and wiped the last of the wet blood from the seats. Most of it had dried rapidly in the heat and it cracked into dust as he swabbed.

Sylvia was coming back to the car. She looked composed and calm. She’d removed the head scarf and fixed her hair in a tight pony tail, which made her look younger by a few years. She’d washed and applied a dab of fresh make up. Her eyes burnt red and were angry slits. Her delicious lips were fixed in an unbecoming sneer.

“That’s better,” said Bond.

She made no comment and sat in the back seat. If looks could kill, considered Bond. Cleaning finished, he got back behind the wheel and drove the final few miles into Abu Dhabi in silence.

Bond spoke to Datto on his mobile, relating the incident quickly and with economy. The station man was swift with a reply.

“Drop the car close to the hotel and walk in. I’ll deal with it. Give me the registration.”

“You won’t need that. It’s unmissable now. I’ll park it outside the cemetery.”

The walk was hot and sticky. Bond hurried Sylvia along and she panted with the effort. Inside the hotel, Bond stayed close to the girl. He didn’t want her telling anyone what had occurred.

Two minutes later, Bond and Sylvia stood in her room, facing each other. She was tense, her bottom lip quivering.

“I’m sorry, Sylv...”

She let loose. She shouted at Bond, in French and in English. She told him he was a bastard, Satan in satin clothes, Michael thrown out of heaven. Then she launched herself at him, the fists flying and the screaming starting again. Bond held her off with one arm. There was an opening in her futile attack. He took it and delivered a hard, sharp slap to her face.

Instantly Sylvia curtailed the struggle and collapsed to her knees. The tears came again and her shoulders heaved with uncontrollable sobs and wails of frustration.

Bond knelt beside her. He’d been too cruel, too hard. He forgot Sylvia wasn’t an agent, not someone used to death, to danger. Her world was one of books, of museums, of ancient worlds and myths and legends, the musty surrounds of academia and the avenues of leafy Paris suburbs. The harsh new reality that Bond had suddenly fostered on her was like lightning to a child. He held her close and she didn’t struggle, didn’t shy away, but buried her head into his chest and continued to cry.

“I can’t believe I’m alive,” she cried, “It’s horrible. I was going to die, James, I saw it. I was so afraid. Then you, then you, oh God, James ...”

“You don’t need to be scared, Sylvia,” he whispered, “I’m here.”

“But what about when you aren’t?”

Bond couldn’t answer.

“What happens if I’m alone? I can’t kill someone. Oh, God, James, I’m so scared, so frightened. I didn’t think...”

It all tailed off. Bond lifted her head up. Her lips trembled, tempting, lustrous. Bond kissed them. They tasted salty from the tears. For a moment Sylvia’s eyes, already swimming, stayed hazy, distant. Then, fixed on his, they turned lupine, hot, and she returned his kiss, hard and unreserved. They sought each other with fury and passion, like two fighting wolves, hurting, biting and unforgiving. Her arms came up and ruffled his hair. Bond pulled the ponytail loose and the golden mane cascaded about them. One hand brushed against her breasts. The nipples were hard, like arrow heads. Sylvia tugged at his lip with her teeth and her tongue licked its way across his mouth before joining him in another long bitter kiss. Bond squeezed the firm bosom, his hand slipping inside her blouse, under her brassiere. Sylvia gasped. Suddenly, she parted from him.

He looked at her anew. The mouth, the eyes, the face, said ‘I want you, I desire you, now.’ Bond knew he had taken things too far. He didn’t accept the offer. Removing his hand from her breast, he ran his fingers down her cheek. The skin was soft and warm.

“No, Sylvia, it can’t be now.”

She kissed him again, gently this time and stood up.

“I understand,” was all she said and retreated to the sanctuary of the bathroom.

Bond was left on his knees, his heart pounding and his mouth still singing with the touch of her lips. He felt so close to Sylvia, it hurt. He wanted her, and yet he couldn’t, not today, not at this moment. She was confused now, addled by the violent fury and the blessed relief of sanctity. When it did happen, it had to be on his terms, when he was ready. That was how he wanted it to be for Sylvia.

Bond heard the shower running. He stood up and went to the telephone, asking to be connected to Monsieur Chivry’s suite. He had other matters to resolve too.

“I’m sorry, Sir, there’s no reply.”

“Is Monsieur Chivry still in the hotel?”

“One moment, Sir.”

The receptionist wasn’t sure, but understood Monsieur Chivry had received a visitor within the last hour and may have left the hotel.

Bond put the receiver down. That settled it. Chivry must have laid the trap. At the very least he’d organised a clandestine meeting with his partners in crime. Whatever the stakes were now, Bond would have to find out without the help or hindrance of Andreas Chivry. The Frenchman had just made himself expendable.

Bond contacted Datto again. He wanted to know where Chivry went to. Datto knew nothing of it. “Once I’ve sorted the Land Cruiser, I’ll contact my guys.”

Bond lit a cigarette, not caring about the smoking restrictions. He needed to think. Sargon was the key. He was the man with the answers to the questions. Bond needed to find out where Sargon lived, to somehow contact him and force a confrontation, maybe with Chivry and Al Rashid too, or perhaps all three. It was always a risk to enter the enemy’s territory, but Bond felt this was a risk worth taking. He stubbed out the cigarette.

His mobile rang. It was Datto.

“This isn’t good news, James,” Datto was almost choking. Immediately Bond knew what he was going to say. “My watcher’s dead. Knife wound. It’s not good.”


The single expletive wasn’t enough. Bond offered his condolences. Datto would have his hands full for a while. And Bond had wanted his help tracing Sargon’s residence. Now he’d have to do it alone. And he had to do it without Sylvia. Bond had already decided to send her back to Paris. This wasn’t the place for pretty archaeologists; it was a world for experts trained in other pursuits. He wanted her free from harm, not just for her safety, but his to. If she stayed, half his mind would be concentrating on protecting her, and Bond could ill afford the distraction. Certainly not if there was more contact with machine gun wielding bandits.

Bond poured a fruit juice and waited for Sylvia to reappear from the bathroom. When she did, she wore an ankle length Egyptian cotton bath robe, and had scrubbed the make up from her face. She looked fresh, clean and curiously naive.

Bond smiled. He didn’t tell her about Chivry, the dead watcher or his many suspicions. He suggested Sylvia might want to eat from room service. Bond would join her if she wanted.

Sylvia considered the offer, but shook her head. Bed beckoned, she replied.

Bond understood.

“I’m going to organise a flight home for you, Sylvia,” he explained, “This has got very dangerous and I don’t want you hurt. It was silly of me to ask you to come in the first place.”

“Don’t say that,” Sylvia said quietly, “I wouldn’t have missed it; not for anything.”

Bond saw she meant it and knew what she meant, without her needing to use the words. She reached out and touched his fingers.

“Go and wash, James,” she whispered, “If you want you can come back and read me a bedtime story.”

“I might just do that.”

But Bond knew he wouldn’t; not until they were both back in Paris and he could seduce her properly, with a single pink rose, caviar and champagne.

Back in his own room, he stripped and spent ten minutes under a scalding shower followed by a sudden blast of icy spray. Revitalised, he shaved and still naked, he telephoned the airport to book a flight for Sylvia. He called her room, even though it was only one door away, and gave her the details. Yes, he would see her over breakfast. Sleep well, sweetheart. Talk of food began to make him hungry. Room service didn’t appeal. He would eat dinner in the hotel. Bond dressed, not formally, but in a casual off white two piece suit, a light blue short sleeved cotton shirt from Lewin’s and Ted Baker slip-ons. Habit made him take the gun. He didn’t expect trouble tonight, not inside the hotel, but it paid to be prepared. He reloaded it, holstered it and picked up his jacket.

The two sharp raps at his door made him pause, with only one arm in a sleeve. He pulled on the other sleeve and walked cautiously to the door. Sylvia? he wondered.

Two men stood outside. The closest was a smartly attired dark skinned Arab. He carried a fraudulent smile with one gold tooth. Behind him and slightly to the side, the man with the scar stood alert. His dull eyes flickered once. The head gave a curt nod, like a reptile, a python or cobra, hissing before the strike.

Surprisingly, Gold Tooth spoke in good English.

“Mister Aubrey.”

The voice was slippery smooth.


“Sargon wishes to speak with you.”

Bond looked at the two impassive faces; one fixed in its smile, the other anaemic, dead, only the scar showed the sign of life. The big red welt ran diagonally across it, creasing the lips into a jagged hole and forcing the right cheek to remain impassive and locked. Bond was reminded of his chief, M, whose face had displayed signs of a likely stroke. This man however possessed a fate deserved, thought Bond.

“Now,” emphasised Gold Tooth.

“Where is he?”

“Come with us.”

Gold Tooth gestured down the corridor and stood back.

Bond hesitated, “I need to speak to Miss Lavoilette.”

“There is no time. Please. Sargon is most interested in your proposal, Mister Aubrey.”

Bond wanted to speak to Sylvia; he felt it was important. He senses were alerted. Destiny, through the wary, shifting eagle eyes of the man called Scar, was walking in his shadow. It did not feel good. Bond didn’t want it to cross into Sylvia’s path.

He made a move to object, but stopped himself. Fate was playing the devil’s game; if Sargon wanted to meet him, so be it. No; tonight he would play the game out.

Bond accompanied the two Arabs straight to the lobby. They walked in silence. Outside was a large comfortable looking white stretch limousine. Scar opened the rear door and Bond sat in the centre of the back seat. The interior was plush, but not conspicuously so. Generous leather seats and a non-alcoholic mini-bar were the only concessions to luxury.

The two men sat opposite him, their backs to the driver. As soon as the door clicked closed, the engine rumbled into life and the long car gently rolled away from the forecourt of the Sheraton Hotel.

“Will I be long?” enquired Bond.

“Perhaps a few hours.”

Gold Tooth offered Bond some refreshment, but he turned it down. Instead he lit a cigarette, sucking the sweet tang into his lungs. As he exhaled, Bond fiddled with the Dunhill lighter, contemplating if the surprise weapon might come in useful again.

Meanwhile Scar closed his eyes and rested his neck against the headrest. He appeared to go to sleep. His breathing was shallow and controlled. The merest flicker of a pulse beat on his wiry neck.

Bond was reminded of the sleek saqr he’d witnessed being exercised only a few short hours ago. Whatever Scar’s meditative appearance, this man was alert and listening, waiting, expectant for the chance to hunt and maim and devour. Bond had met his type many times before: Scar was a professional killer.

#16 chrisno1



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Posted 06 September 2010 - 10:54 PM


Progress through the city was sedate and an unrestricted. The limousine had the ubiquitous tinted windows but Bond could still make out the bustle on the even-time streets. The car turned north onto the Saadiyat Bridge, crossing the wide expanse of the Khor Laffan lagoon. Once out of the city centre the driver increased speed and within a few minutes they passed into the hastening black of a desert night. The rising half crescent moon shimmered in the sky and beat a silver mirror on the sea from the far horizon to the closest shore. Bond watched it blithely. Gold Tooth tried to make polite conversation. Bond gave non-committal replies to everything. The journey took about forty awkward minutes before the yellow lights of a harbour blinked ahead.

It wasn’t a big tourist quay, but a small wharf, a fisherman’s parade. The big car slid to a halt at the start of the gangway and Scar stepped out. He opened the door for Bond and indicated they should walk up the pier. Bond did as he was told and the two Arabs followed close behind.

“Here,” said Gold Tooth abruptly and Bond halted, turning slightly.

Gold Tooth held out a hand towards a power boat resting alongside. Bond saw it was occupied by a helmsman clothed in the same sort of uniform as Scar. The Arabs exchanged soundless recognition signals, which Bond witnessed but failed to interpret. Bond stepped into the cockpit and his hosts followed. It was an all white Cobalt 210. She had no markings. Bond ran a contemplative hand across the chassis. This beauty had power all right, a 5-litre 300 horse-power Catalyst engine, and she still looked sleek and graceful.

The helmsman turned the ignition and the engine rumbled into life. Slowly he manoeuvred the craft away from the quay and into the open harbour. They passed dozens of traditional fishing boats with their nets hung up to dry against the masts. A few lazy fishermen watched the impressive modern speedster as it slid past them, but most of the local workforce had retired for the day. The power boat picked up speed outside the safety of the cove.

The sea bourn journey was bumpy. The speedboat rode the breakers and cut across the waves. Bond clung to the rails and rode the dipping, rising turbulence. He would have sat down, but as Scar and Gold Tooth stayed resolutely erect, Bond decided not to lose face and remained on his feet also. He felt the warm night air cut across his face. The sea spray was a welcome relief. He turned to Gold Tooth.

“Where are we going?”


Bond nodded. The name might have meant nothing, but a distant memory of a newspaper article and an artist’s impression of a pyramid shaped edifice drifted back into Bond’s mind.

Sargon’s retreat was the Island of Babylon, an unfinished luxury hotel. During the Emirates property boom, when Dubai was constructing its fabulous Palm resorts, the Jumeirah and Deira, Abu Dhabi had seemingly fallen behind. It proved a wise financial move, as property in Dubai eventually suffered the full impact of the global recession. The caution practiced by the largest Emirate was typified when a huge building project was cancelled for failing to secure sufficient funds. There had been no government bail out for the luxury holiday resort called The Island of Babylon. If Bond recalled correctly only the main hotel had been constructed, but it had never been occupied, at least not until now.

The shoreline gradually changed from hard rock and shingle to sandy beaches flanked by dunes. There was a tall rocky spit ahead and the power boat shifted port side to circle it. Beyond the spit Bond could make out a large dark shape, visible in shadow in the fading light. At its top was an electric blue beacon, incandescent in the gloom of twilight.

As the boat rounded the tip of land, Bond saw what was behind it: about half a mile away, built out of the sea was a massive ziggurat, stepped sixteen stories high and bestriding majestically a natural harbour created by two encircling arms of rock. The pyramid was the size of a football stadium, probably over a seventy metres square and almost fifty metres high. Bond estimated each tier raised the structure about three metres. There was no access to it from the land and the pyramid sat like a giant Temple of Poseidon watching over every approach.

Bond tried to gauge how the building was constructed. He knew technology had made massive strides in island creation since the Doge’s of Venice. Steel pylons were driven into the bedrock for stability; then a solid land mass was created from sand, industrial wire and rock and glued together with sea-cement; the contents of the underwater cage was then crushed until it solidified. Finally the building foundations were pile-driven through the new land mass so normal building could take place. The massive developments in neighbouring Dubai were a testament to these modern engineering techniques. Why had this development failed? Perhaps it was too far from the main city. Investors may have dropped out. Perhaps it never had the backing of the Emir. Bond was now fully aware that politics and business and dewaniahs went hand in hand in the Emirates. It was often a case of who you knew and what you knew. Maybe the developer hadn’t got the Royal Seal to secure his long term deal, or maybe the financial wizardry of Amin Al Rashid had a hand in the demise of the hotel. Still, what ever had happened in the past, someone clearly occupied the site now.

Every step of the ziggurat was illuminated with shaded white lights. They shed an almost ethereal glow. As the boat drew closer, Bond could make out reflectors on the walls that cast the unearthly glint upwards. There were no windows. Bond could see the frames, but every space had been blocked in. It didn’t look like the wonderland of luxury it was originally designed as. The structure seemed more likely to frighten than anything else. If the pyramid was painted, and he couldn’t tell, Bond thought it was painted grey. The beacon Bond had observed earlier was a massive glass house, set at the summit of the building. The azure light shone out, but it was virtually impossible to see in. Vaguely Bond thought he saw a figure prowling the conservatory.

Babylon, mused Bond, a four hundred room idle playground for the rich. Bond wondered what the great god Marduk would make of his temple being forsaken for a pleasure palace. This building was surely bigger than the great ziggurat of Nebuchadnezzar; even so Bond could imagine why scholars and historians must have believed the original to be the mythical Tower of Babel. Bond was over awed.

The power boat slowed on its approach. On the seaward side of the ziggurat was an entrance way, wide enough for a single boat to pass through. Bright white light shone through the square mouth. Bond looked up at the huge domain, this place of tranquillity, this harbour of peace, where a Holy Man studied and prayed and learnt, where he had chosen to become a hermit again, cut himself off from the living world and engrossed his being in spiritual fulfilment. Bond was tense. Something was wrong here. The approach looked like the gate of hell.

The helmsman headed for the aperture, cut the engines as they passed under the daunting grey stone and gently glided to a halt in one of four allocated bays. Bond noted there were two similar power boats occupying neighbouring spaces. Two harbour boys, young men, fit and pretty, ran out and seized the guide ropes. When the boat was secure Scar stepped onto the gangway and motioned for Bond to follow. Gold Tooth remained on the quayside, his role in the play apparently fulfilled.

Bond walked two paces behind Scar. The passage had smooth walls that appeared to be fashioned from granite. Bond assumed the slabs were decorative because the whole external structure was cement and red brick, even down to the landing quay behind him.

The passage led to a square atrium, aligned precisely with the outside walls. One glance up told Bond the lobby reached almost the full height of the ziggurat. It was in half light. The sides of the shaft were immaculate, polished blocks. They glowed, as if coated in a phosphoric substance. The ceiling was decorated with pin points of silver, the spot lamps so far away they looked like a star scape. Opposite the passage stood a trickling fountain, designed in a non-decorative, functional style. The only furniture in the hall was a single long bench, carved it appeared from a single tree trunk and emblazoned with geometric patterns.

Bond’s footsteps echoed in the chasm. Scar directed him towards a pair of elevator doors. They resided in a gilded archway and Bond could clearly see his reflection in the polished chrome. The doors magically hissed open. Scar gestured for Bond to enter. He didn’t follow, but reached inside and pressed the number 14 on the call panel. The doors slid back and the lift gracefully ascended. Bond noted the elevator was empty of decor, save the tiny twinkling lights above him.

When the doors parted, Bond stepped into what he could only describe as a Garden of Eden. There was a lush emerald green lawn, cut so close it must be manicured with tweezers. Dotted among the lawn were beds of shrubbery. Foot high bonsai bushes mingled in the moss covered rockeries and dozens of varieties of scented clematis and chrysanthemums sprouted from tidy clay pots. A single winding path of smooth stones lead through willow trees, whose overhanging boughs and threadlike tendrils created curtains of foliage. There was the gentle hiss and sigh of running water. Small fountains bubbled and burst in pools of turquoise water and huge unmolested Koi carp sedately patrolled their aquariums. Tiny song birds chattered to one another, but in soothing dulcet tones. As he looked around the tranquil haven, Bond spotted one of the tiny warblers, dancing from tree to tree. The garden was lit with mellow white lamps, recessed in the walls or set between the foliage. The air was warm, but not unpleasant; from somewhere he detected a slight breeze. Bond could see the violet sky and the silver moon above him through a moveable glass ceiling, giving additional natural light.

As there wasn’t anywhere else to go, Bond headed up the paved trail, ducking beneath one low branch. The room was bigger than he expected. Bond followed the path as it twisted through trees and flower beds. He noticed a delicate scent in the air. It reminded him of frankincense. There was something vaguely soporific about it. The atmosphere was a little heady. Bond wondered what else was being pumped into the garden besides cool air. The path began to incline slightly and stretched across an indoor waterfall. The water flowed into a big kidney shaped pool. Behind it, across an esplanade of crazy paving, was an open doorway. As Bond stepped down to the poolside, three dark haired dark skinned women emerged from the entrance. They wore silk shifts that stopped below the knee.

Calmly Bond approached the trio of maids. They all smiled, but did not reveal their teeth. Bond could see they were each extraordinarily beautiful. They were all Arabs, slim and graceful. The women kept their heads upright, but their eyes cast deferentially down. Their faces were devoid of makeup. They looked fresh and ripe. Each girl sported a diamond or ruby encrusted nose ring. Bond cast his gaze approvingly down their bodies. Under the thin garments, tied loosely at the waist with a single silk band, he could see they were completely naked. The bodies looked exceedingly desirous, taut upright breasts, small waists and curvy hips. Bond could make out fat shiny belly rings, embedded with more precious stones. The dark nipples stood out. Bond saw that each teat was pierced with a large gold pin, keeping the point permanently erect. The women were absent of all body hair. Curiously, they did not seem ashamed of their nudity.

“Good evening,” said Bond.

One of the girls moved forward and bowed her head. When she raised it, Bond looked straight into her deep brown eyes. They stared back at him, large and a little frightened.

“My name is Yasmin,” she replied in nervous English, “Welcome to the Island of Babylon, Mister Aubrey.”

“It is quite a welcome.”

There was the faintest trace of teeth behind the next smile.

“The Dastur asks you join him for dinner. We are to assist you.”

“Assist me?”

The girl lowered her head.

“You must be prepared, before you eat with the Dastur.”

Bond inclined his head quizzically. “I am prepared,” he replied.

The girl shook her head and held out her hand. “Please, come with us,” she said sweetly, not looking at his face. She gestured towards the open doorway.

Bond walked through it. The passage turned a ninety degree corner. The garden must have run the length of one side of the ziggurat. The girls padded behind him. The next room also stretched along one side of the building. Here again there were climbing plants and creepers, roses and lilies, but the centre of this room was occupied by a huge pool. There was a fountain at its centre gently sprinkling water in an arc across the surface. Several low divans surrounded the pool and one of these was occupied by a collection of towels and lotions and clothes.

Yasmin lightly took his hand, so softly he hardly noticed, and she led him towards the pool. Without a word, the girl removed his jacket. She didn’t even blink at his gun and shoulder holster, but fiddled with the elastic to loosen it.

“What’s happening?” asked Bond, taking hold of the Walther and its sheath.

“We are preparing you. Everyone must be clean.”

Bond shook his head, but for some reason he allowed the girl to take away his gun. She handed it to one of the other women. Fingers began to unbutton his shirt. Bond watched the delicate hands. He thought they strayed a little closer than necessary across his torso, the finger tips tickling his chest hair. Bond looked closer at the girl. She had honey rich skin, a hot treacle hue that was darker than the other girl’s. She was very young, hardly out of high school, he estimated, maybe not even that, but she carried herself like a mature adult. Bond wondered how long she had trained for this duty and who had had the pleasure of ensuring she became the perfect hand maiden.

Yasmin knelt down, pulled off Bond’s slip-ons and socks. Each item of clothing was being neatly folded behind them on the divan. Next the fingers unbuckled his leather belt and unfastened his trousers.

“I can do that,” said Bond.

“There is no need,” replied Yasmin, sweetly but firmly.

Bond couldn’t be bothered to argue. He shook his head. There was definitely some sort of pacifier in the atmosphere. A vaporous tranquilizer.
He needed to concentrate. Hard. He couldn’t afford to meet Sargon in this pallid state.

The girl’s hands pulled down his trousers and Bond obediently stepped from them. Without a word, Yasmin repeated the process with his under shorts. She stood back and gave one quick, intrigued glance at him, before turning her back and throwing off her gown.

Bond watched the firm young behind step into the pool. The fountain automatically started to spout more water. Yasmin turned and beckoned to Bond. Almost trancelike, he joined her. The water was deliciously warm.

One of the other girls positioned the lotions and oils at the water’s edge. She also placed an empty oyster shell in Yasmin’s hand. The beautiful girl immersed herself up to her neck. When she reappeared, her full naked breasts, hard at the points, ran with droplets of water and swayed invitingly as she approached Bond. Using the shell, Yasmin splashed water over his body. There were stone seats in the pool and Bond sat on one as she bathed him. When he was wet all over, the girl lathered some of the lotions and started to massage the soaps into Bond’s skin. She was gentle, but attentive. Not a single pore of skin could have gone untouched. Occasionally Bond felt her breasts press against him, the gold pins scratching his back. He was conscious it happened more than once and each time the moment seemed to last a little longer. Eventually, Yasmin demurely asked Bond to stand, so she could wash him intimately. He took a deep breath. It was almost impossible to control himself. The girl carried out the task for what he thought was an excessively long time. She seemed to enjoy the obvious intentions of his loins. When she asked him to sit, to wash the suds away, he leant forward and planted a quick kiss on her lips.

“Thank you, Yasmin, that was wonderful.”

The girl still held onto him with both hands.

“You can let go now,” smiled Bond.

The girl’s eyes were fierce. She looked away, turning the deep hazel mirrors downward, but she did not relinquish her hold. Bond reached down and freed himself from her grasp. The girl was breathing heavily. Her nostril’s flared. She motioned Bond towards the centre of the pool, as if eager to escape him and forget a sinful thought.

Bond did as he was told. The fountain spray increased in pressure again. Bond allowed the warm water to shower him and wash away the last of the oils. He hoped it might clean his wicked thoughts too.

Yasmin was already out of the pool, sitting on one of the divans and drying her long jet black hair. Oblivious to his prying eyes, she sat with her legs apart and he could see both her labia were also pierced.

Bond stepped from the water and stood dripping directly in her eyesight. Yasmin took one last long look at his arousal, before the other two girls enveloped him with two enormous cotton towels. The look was enough for Bond to understand this girl was no ordinary hand maiden. They continued to study each other as the maids dried him. No one said anything about his eroticised state, and eventually the moment passed.

When she was clothed, Yasmin started to dress Bond. She held up a pair of thin cotton trousers, which he stepped into and he was given open toed sandals to wear. Bond held out his arms and between them, the girls pulled a traditional white thoub over his head, which fell almost to his ankles. They spared him a headdress. The garments were all made of fine cotton and smelt fresh and clean. They sprayed some mild scented balm about him from a blue atomizer. Bond thought it might be Chanel.

Yasmin stepped back. She exhibited a hint of pride in her handy work.

“Now you are prepared.”

Bond shook himself. He felt faintly ridiculous. Yasmin was already beckoning him on and Bond followed her obediently through the jungle and onto the third side of the ziggurat. Once again there were indoor plants and small fountains, birds and exotic fish. It dawned on Bond that he was circling an architects dream. The original purpose of the building was to be a hotel: the Babylon Hotel. Of course, the seven wonders of the ancient world. This was a representation of the infamous Hanging Gardens, except someone had blocked them in.

“Remember to address the Dastur correctly.”

The girl said it parrot fashion. Bond smiled at the well drilled routine.

“And how would that be?” he asked.

“As the Dastur: our teacher,” chimed Yasmin.


Bond was shown to another lift shaft. The door hissed open immediately and the girl ushered Bond inside.

“You’re not coming with me?” he asked.

Yasmin shook her head.

“Perhaps we will meet later.”

“I hope so,” Bond replied as the doors glided shut.

They opened at the very top of the ziggurat. Bond cautiously stepped out. There was glass all around him, but it was as hard to look out as it had been to look in. The thick panes were mottled. There were no internal lights. All the illumination came from the pacific blue bulbs that surrounded the massive windows and shone outwards like a lighthouse beacon. The combined reflections cast a peculiar wavy radiance across the room, as if Bond was a small fish in a huge aquarium.

The floor was of lilac marble and felt cool even through his slippers. From each corner, ivy crept along the surface, carefully contained, but adding a natural touch to the bare surroundings. Four silk upholstered divans, identical to the ones he’d seen by the washing pool, were stationed in the centre of the room around a square low table. A single palm tree hung over each corner of the rectangle. The table was empty bar a bowl of fruit.

Bond walked to one of the windows and peered through it. He could just distinguish the gentle curve of lights that represented Abu Dhabi. Bond again marvelled at how such a construction could remain so unknown, so un-revered in the modern world. He shook his head at the wonder. He didn’t feel quite so light headed now. Perhaps the erotica downstairs had pumped the blood faster and cleared his muddled senses. Whatever it was he felt better able to meet the challenge ahead.

Bond returned to the centre of the room and picked at the fruit bowl. He took a few grapes, white and red, and idly chewed on them, waiting. He couldn’t see a clock, but he heard one chime eight o’clock.

Silently the elevator doors parted and a new figure entered. The man did not introduce himself, but Bond knew at once it was Sargon.

#17 chrisno1



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Posted 09 September 2010 - 09:04 PM


Sargon did not look anything like Bond expected.

The face was hidden behind a long shiny grey and white flecked beard. The moustache was thin and hung, like a mandarin’s, past his chin where it melded with the plume of his beard. It was well maintained, clipped and shaped into a neat point. His silver hair was pulled tightly back into a pony tail. White streaks coloured his mane. The forehead was high and below the shiny bald pallet sat broad eyebrows that met in the middle, like a shallow arch above wide mahogany eyes. Despite the trappings of age Sargon looked remarkably young. His complexion was a healthy brown and showed the barest of creases in his skin. He walked straight and upright, but with an economy of movement which suggested he was conserving energy. He had no head dress and he wore only a white sudreh, the simple shift-like shirt. It was tied at his waist with a length of ceremonial cord, the kushti. In his hands he carried a little fire urn. Bond recognised all of these as the symbols of the monk’s Zoroastrian faith. Sargon walked barefoot.

Bond approached the centre of the room and, he didn’t know why, gave a small bow of the head.

Sargon gave no acknowledgement. He placed the urn on the table. Bond could see it contained fine wood chippings and some cracks of frankincense, the fabled elixir of the ancients, cut from the trunks of boswellia trees. As if by magic, Sargon produced a single match, which he struck off the tip of a fingernail, and dropped the flame into the urn. The kindling took and within moments the air was filled first with the pallor of smoke and then the rich sweet tang of the frankincense.

Sargon offered a prayer in a language Bond did not recognise and then gestured for him to sit.

Bond waited until Sargon had reclined on one of the divans, side on and propped up on one elbow, like a Roman emperor. Bond picked a few more grapes from the bowl and sat down, face forward, elbows on knees, hands together.

The two men studied each other. The silence hung in the air like the whiff of incense.

Bond broke the hush and his voice seemed to echo in the huge glass bowl.

“Good evening.”

Sargon smiled. It was a thin, nonchalant response. Then he spoke. The voice was calm and unhurried, with a slow, meditative tone. He used precise English, which Bond thought he might have learned from a book.

“James Aubrey,” he began, “Welcome to the Island of Babylon. I trust you are comfortable.”

“It’s been very pleasant so far.”

“That is good. Would you like to eat?”

“Very much.”

“We will eat.”

The monk lapsed into silence again, as though the effort of speaking was too great. He closed his eyes for a brief moment. When he opened them, they seemed almost half hidden beneath the overhanging brows. Then they showed, staring directly at Bond, deep brown, mobile and disturbing, as if scrutinizing Bond’s soul.

The whole expression reminded Bond of the mandrill, the hideous hairy baboon. He saw the keen human intelligence resting alongside an animal ferocity. Shrewdness, cunning and curiosity mixed with power and lust. Bond recognised he was in the presence of an exceptional human being, a man of extraneous magnetism, capable of both great insight and revelation, but also great cruelty. The benevolence of Sargon’s manner belied a portent of impending violence. Bond felt a chill descend across the room, as if danger had entered and was offering a familiar warning.

“My son,” said Sargon, “Why do you pursue me?”

“It’s very simple, Dastur,” Bond made sure he use the correct form of address, massaging the man’s ego, “I understand you have a great museum of art, one of the greatest private collections in the world. I am very keen to see it.”

Sargon stroked his beard, like a thin Santa Claus, but minus the twinkling eyes and rosy cheeks. This was a ghost of Christmas. There was no change in the tone of voice which stayed flat and pallid.

“That cannot be arranged. The collection is, as you say, private.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. The British Museum is very keen to inspect your collection. It is believed you may have come to possess many of the lost artefacts from The Iraqi National Museum.”

“There is no doubt I possess great treasures. However, of their origin, I am oblivious. They were purchased through an intermediary.”

Sargon leant forward a tiny fraction, the chin jutting out. The next sentence was spoken with emphasis, informing Bond the monk knew much more than he was telling, “As you well know, Mister Aubrey.”

Bond did not reply. He chewed cautiously on his last grape.

Sargon was very still.

“Do you have troubles of the spirit, my son? Does the past haunt you?”

Bond opened his hands in a motion of uncertainty.

“You must liberate your mind, my son. Only with a free mind will you understand how to live in the world and aspire to the freedoms of moral choice. It was Ahura Mazda, the One Universal Being, who created both the body and the soul of man. Our endeavours to live well in both will assist Ahura Mazda in his endless struggle against evil. There are ethical dilemmas everywhere, my son. You and I confront them every day of our lives. You must try to do what is good and refrain from the bad. Heaven will await those whose duty has been nothing less than the enjoyment of life and free will over the shackles of hurt and anger and the forbidden.”

The speech was extraordinary. It rang around the huge glass room, slightly mocking him, as if Sargon knew exactly who Bond was and why he was there. Bond grew uneasy. It was a premeditated oration, intense and compulsive. Bond sniffed the air again. There was more than incense in the little urn. He felt the drowsiness come on again.

“The salvation of the spirit has become, in the modern day, a sin of itself. Therapy, the psychologists, the analysts, the doctors of today, they all claim to have replaced the need for spiritual guidance. The nature of evil has been degraded into a pantomime villain, a sliver of a person’s individual make up. God and the Devil no longer hold sway over life and death. It is medicine and science, diet and exercise. Yet every day we make far reaching choices that with or without our knowledge will affect the world and those around us. How can we predict what will happen when we step outside the sanctity of home, when we choose one food over another, when we take away the innocent life of a butterfly or the abominations of the wicked?

“The great cosmic struggle continues, my son. Once the earth was beautiful and unblemished, but Angra Mainyu, the source of evil, made earthquakes to swallow the beauty and forced the sun to set, bringing pestilence and death. When the Last Judgement ensues, the battle will rage until evil is banished and the Creator will rule supreme. I look forward to this moment of peace, my son. Until then I strive to choose the good over the bad.”

Bond didn’t agree. He wasn’t a religious man and talk of sin and salvation meant very little too him. His own choices in life were very clear. He protected the interests of his country, be those interests good or bad. It wasn’t his place to make moral judgements, not on the wider issues, but on an individual level, that might be different.

“Like everyone, I make decisions based on my own sense of right and wrong,” Bond said, “I wouldn’t be human otherwise. Of course, you can’t make the correct decision every time.”

“It is not the decision which is correct or incorrect; it is the outcome of that decision.”

The eyes closed again.

The sound of soft foot falls distracted Bond. He hadn’t heard the elevator arrive. Two young girls, different to the hand maidens he’d met earlier but equally pretty and similarly attired, approached the divans. They each carried an oval tray which they set down on the table, one for Bond, the other for Sargon.

Arranged on the tray was a collection of tiny porcelain bowls. Each one contained morsels of food. There was a chick pea and olive dip, a mixed salad with a light lime dressing, two stuffed baby aubergines, a fine tabouleh and warm pita breads. For meat there were slices of lamb cooked in yoghurt and fresh mint. There was a pewter jug full of lemon scented water and, for utensils, one short silver spoon. Without a word the two girls returned to the lift.

Bond picked up his spoon and took the nearest bowl, which contained the tabouleh. Bond ate slowly. His host also picked up one of the bowls and delicately picked at the food.

“Your thesis is illuminating,” Bond said eventually, deciding to omit the ridiculous term of address, “But it fails to explain why you’re hoarding ancient Mesopotamian antiques.”

Sargon’s head jerked up from the dish of stewed lamb, the spoon frozen between bowl and mouth. His expression was fierce. Visibly he controlled himself. For a moment Bond remembered something Andreas Chivry had said in Paris, that Sargon had spent too long in the wilderness, that he was going insane. For a second Bond glimpsed the madness.

“My son, do you require a history lesson as well as an ethical one?”

Bond shrugged. Whatever the strange mesmeric had been, Sargon’s voice or the cloying atmosphere, he felt the effects wearing off as the tension rose and his adrenaline kicked in. He chose his words carefully, remembering to play the role of James Aubrey.

“If history is relevant, I consider it more valuable than faith.”

Sargon held his gaze a moment, the deep brown centres piercing Bond’s defences. The eyes seemed to widen, imperceptibly lighten, then they were covered again by dark mystery. The hairs on Bond’s neck cringed. Again the switch had been turned on, a fire lit, and swiftly extinguished.

“Indeed,” was all Sargon said and continued to eat.

Presently he lay back on the divan and took a long sip from his jug of water. He began to talk again in the same droning monotone.

“Mesopotamia is the Eden of our world. They call it the Fertile Crescent. A band of great rivers feed the land: the Nile, the Tigris, the Euphrates and the Jordan. From this land the great civilisations of the Middle East took form. And as kings fought and conquered, an understanding of nationhood evolved, one based around the sanctity of kingship and the worship of the creator gods. It was during these violent times that one of the world’s oldest faiths changed religious thinking forever. The priest Zarathustra was blessed by a series of visions after which he began to preach a new message. Zarathustra taught that there was only one God, the Wise Lord, Ahura Mazda, the Creator of All Things and the Source of All Goodness.

“The ancient deities of Babylon, of Assyria, of Sumer, had no place in Zarathustra’s world. It took the conversion of a single ruler to justify the prophet. When King Vishtaspa adopted Zoroastrianism as his kingdom’s official religion, he set in motion centuries of our history, culminating in the great dynasty of Cyrus. It was Cyrus the Great who vanquished the Babylonians. It was Cyrus the Great who interred the ashes of their heathen kings into the sand. It was Cyrus the Great who enslaved and emasculated the populace. Yet it was Cyrus who preserved the monuments and palaces of that wonderful civilisation. It was Cyrus who saved the written books, who sent his scholars to Nineveh to learn, who utilised the knowledge and experience of a fallen state to further progress his own empire. It was Cyrus, Mister Aubrey, as you should well know, who integrated Babylon, the trading and administrative centre of the ancient Middle East, into the Persian kingdom, who rescued it from certain oblivion. The survival of the treasures of Nebuchadnezzar and his antecedents is almost wholly due to the foresight, the understanding of Cyrus.”

“But Cyrus also committed atrocities in the name of war and peace,” countered Bond.

“And forever did he suffer the torments for his actions. He may still reside in hell for those sins. I do not intend to suffer such a fate. I intend to return the heritage of Babylon to its rightful place.”

Bond took some water. It was fresh and cool. So, it was repatriation, the dreaded Elgin-ism. Was it really as simple as that? He didn’t believe it. The motive was too clumsy. It did not explain why Andreas Chivry sold Sargon illegal arms. There was a secret in this fantastic ziggurat, a dark world behind this enigmatic personality; Sargon, considered Bond, was not called the Mad Monk for nothing.

“Then why have you been so clandestine?” he asked, “The presentation of these artefacts would be a wonderful occasion for Iraq and for the world. Why are you keeping it a secret?”

“The time, my son, is not yet at hand,” Sargon answered. For the first time his voice changed tone, sounding capricious, far away, there was almost a sense of yearning, “But soon, yes, soon, the moment will come.”

“And why have you brought me here?” pressed Bond, “I was told you were interested in my proposal regarding The Epic of Gilgamesh.”

Sargon finished his refreshment. Slowly, elegantly, he swung his feet onto the floor and stood up. The fingers of his right hand curled around the tip of his beard, giving it a tiny tug.

“You must stay the night. I have rooms prepared.”

Bond objected. He didn’t mention Sylvia specifically, but he wasn’t comfortable leaving her alone. He wanted to make sure she got on that flight to Paris.

The objection fell on deaf ears. Sargon’s mind was made up.

“Tomorrow, Mister Aubrey, tomorrow I will discuss your proposals. This evening, I have much to think on.”

Bond reluctantly stood up and held out his hand.

Sargon reached forward, seemed to change his mind mid-move and picked up the urn instead.

“Good night, my son,” Sargon turned around without a further word and walked towards the lift doors.

Tentatively Bond made to follow him, but decided against it. The chrome panels slid automatically open and Sargon stepped inside the elevator.

A few seconds later Bond was alone in the glasshouse. He returned to the divan and drank the rest of the water. After a minute the doors opened again and Yasmin appeared. She dipped her head and indicated he was to accompany her in the lift.

The smooth descent took him to the tenth floor. Bond saw in the chrome doors that Yasmin was looking at his reflection. Her breathing was heavy and she seemed to sniff the air, trying to catch his scent.

The lift stopped. Bond followed the girl into a bare angular corridor. There were fake relief archways set in the wall occupied alternately by a low emission bulb or double doors of shiny chrome, exactly like the lifts.

After turning a corner, Yasmin paused by one of the doors. She pressed her palm against the touch pad. Bond heard a lock click open. Palm print recognition, he realised; a clever way to seal your visitors in their rooms. His room would be a virtual prison cell. And if he did get out, Bond could see no way of remembering which door to return to. He asked the girl how she knew where he was staying.

“There are only rooms on the outside of the island. There are ten rooms on each side on the tenth floor, starting at one at moving clockwise from the elevator. There are eleven rooms on the ninth floor. And twelve rooms on the eighth, you see?”

“Yes, I see. So this is room nine, floor ten.”

“Of course,” Yasmin beamed at him and passed through the open doorway.

Bond followed her into the room. It was startlingly plush, possibly designed to the specifications of the original hotel. There was a huge bed against one wall, pillows plumped and sheets turned down. On each side of the bed, where there would have been windows, resided photographic prints of the ocean. One end of the room was given over to a wet room, segregated by a smoked glass partition; the other contained one single desk, complete with writing paper, a small library of religious books, but no telephone, television or radio. The room was carpeted and the down felt warm under his feet. The walls, which had been dull, emitted a light amber glow as they entered. Bond had read about this development in light fittings. A translucent film embedded with thousands of tiny filaments was spread across the wall and provided all of a room’s illumination. Bond thought the effect slightly eerie. Perhaps the colour was wrong. Set to one side was a coffee table on which sat a sugar bowl brimming with squares of Turkish Delight and a pot of coffee.

“This looks pleasant.”

Yasmin smiled, not understanding the sarcasm. She indicated a second palm panel next to the door lock.

“If you require anything,” she murmured, her lips parting slightly. She wet them invitingly with her tongue, “Anything, Mister Aubrey, you only need to call. Just press.”

“I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

The girl looked disappointed.

“There is one thing,” he ventured, “My clothes and my equipment,” he chose the word carefully, “I was wondering if I might have them back.”

Yasmin seemed even more disappointed by this request. She shook her head and exited the room, pausing briefly to say, “Good night, Mister Aubrey.”

With a hiss, the doors swung shut and the lock clicked.

Bond was alone with his thoughts. He poured coffee. It was hot and sweet, not how he liked it. Bond was worried. He couldn’t get word to Sylvia, Chivry had disappeared and now he was trapped in what resembled a first class hotel with a mad monk as its proprietor and a naked beauty as its butler. He had a multitude of unanswered and unasked questions. Above all he wondered if things could get much more bizarre.

#18 chrisno1



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Posted 12 September 2010 - 12:51 AM


Bond stirred.

There was someone else in the room. The swishing sound of the opening door had awakened him. He didn’t move but listened. The lock clicked shut. There was a light rustle of clothes. Bond kept his eyes closed. He tensed and waited. He was lying on his side, his right hand underneath the downy pillow. Ordinarily his fingers would be curling around the handle of his Walther P99, but that weapon had been confiscated. There were three soft footfalls. Bond felt the sheet being lifted and another body slid in beside him. Bond’s eyes opened. Tentatively he sniffed the air. There was a scent of Bulgarian rose and saffron, exotic and expensive. Chanel. A finger dabbed at the skin on his shoulder and Bond gave out a low sigh, judging the reaction. He felt the stranger move closer. The twin peaks of a firm bosom pressed into his back. He felt a tiny foot rub gently along his shin. The finger had become a hand and was snaking down toward his loins.

It was too much. Bond sprang out of bed and threw off the sheet in one sudden movement, exposing the naked, shining young woman who had crept in beside him.

It was Yasmin.

The girl sat up and stared at him. Her big chocolate eyes on the beautiful precocious face were as wide as a rabbits, a mask of unspoken shock, while the smell of her was one of sweet anticipation. She glistened in the half-light, her lips moist, her hair ebony rich and her deep honey skin like dark armour waiting to be pierced. She gasped once, but her hands stayed by her sides. Yasmin passed her startled eyes appraisingly over his nakedness.

“I have never seen a white man naked,” she said shortly.

“Do you like it?”

The girl shrugged and lay back on the pillows. Bond inspected her open flagrant nudity. She lay in the classic repose, her strong, supple legs slightly bent, with the right one upright at the knee, swaying back and forth. The shadow waved across her exposed, shaven sex. From each bright pink lip dangled a golden hoop, the size of a small coin. The smooth dip of her belly showed the slightest trace of fat, but was augmented by the huge ruby clasp that jutted from her navel. Her upright breasts were young and full. The big brown nipples stood out hard from the taut mounds, the twin gold bars lancing the teats. Yasmin played with the long strands of hair that draped over the pillow. Her half closed eyes never left Bond’s face. The little pink tongue flicked out and ran its way seductively from one corner of her top lip to the other. Bond thought for a moment that she purred.

“What the hell are you doing here, Yasmin?” he asked, trying to sound angry, but failing. The sight of this wonderful, fresh, sexual creature was over whelming him. He fought to control the urges of his body as well as the confusion in his mind.

“I was told to look after you, Mister Aubrey. The Dastur was very specific.”

“Was he?” mused Bond, thinking out loud, “And why was that?”

“The Dastur expects everyone to be cared for while they are on the island. It is always to be expected.”

“And you perform this service willingly?”

“I do what is asked of me, Mister Aubrey.”

“Well, I want to ask you to stop calling me Mister Aubrey. My name’s James.”

“James,” she repeated, testing how it sounded. She sat up again, her eyes pleading, “For you, James, I wanted everything to be a surprise.”

Bond snorted. “It’s certainly been that. Do you have any more surprises, Yasmin? Cameras, perhaps?” he asked, “Or drugs in a little bag somewhere?”

He crossed to her discarded robe and kicked it idly with his foot. It was the silk gown and nothing else.

The girl looked offended for a moment.

“I don’t mean to harm you. I am a hand maiden, James. I have always been a servant to the Dastur. I do his bidding. That is all.”

Her head dipped to her chest in disappointment. Bond walked to the bed and lifted her chin. She did have a very delectable mouth. He bent down and kissed her, softly on the lips. Yasmin exhaled with a long deep sigh. Bond sat next to her, his finger still under her chin.

“Would the Dastur be offended if I passed over this beautiful opportunity?”

“No,” she said, “But I would.”

Her arms stretched around him and she returned the kiss, fiercely this time, exploring him with her tongue. She drew Bond down on her warm, pliant body. Her saucer like eyes stayed fixed on his face, an innocent expression that defied her lustful, undiluted hunger. They kissed ravenously. Bond’s hands moved to her generous breasts, pinching the pierced nipples, squeezing the fleshy orbs. His mouth replaced his hands and, as Bond’s kisses moved lower, Yasmin revealed herself to him and he plundered her intimate treasures. When it was time for Bond to take her she let out a tiny scream of exquisite pain and irresistible pleasure. Her body responded to Bond’s unrelenting thrusts. She was slick and eager and Bond revelled in her quenchless passion. When the moment came, Yasmin clutched Bond to her, absorbing him into her body so the two beasts became one shifting, panting, lustful animal.

When they parted, she framed his face with her hot hands and whispered: “Such sweet moments, James.”

Afterwards Yasmin lay with her head on his stomach, toying with him while she hummed a lullaby. Bond stroked the girl’s black hair.

“How long have you lived here, Yasmin?”

“I came here when I was ten. I do not know the days. We have no calendar here. But I am older now, by many years.”

“I can tell,” mused Bond, “How do you keep time without clocks?”

“The Call to Prayer.”

“Do you see proper day light?”

“Sometimes, but it is rare.”

“How many of you are there?”

“We are twenty in total. There are men as well, but we don’t see them often.”

“Why don’t you wear any clothes?”

“It is what we wear. I have never asked.”

“Do you get punished?”

Yasmin seemed shocked. “No. Why would I be punished? There is no need. The Dastur allows us the free will to decide our futures. I choose to stay here. That is why I wear his amulets.”

“Because you sleep with him?” he asked.

It was stab in the dark, but the girl confirmed his suspicions. Her saucer eyes momentarily cast down to her pierced nipples. “They are very pretty, do you not think?”

“Very,” Bond agreed, “Strange though; I thought Sargon was a pious man.”

She didn’t understand the word ‘pious’ so he corrected it to religious. Yasmin nodded, “Of course. He is a great prophet.”

Bond sniffed at the girl’s blind loyalty. “Things are not always how they appear, Yasmin.” He paused. “For instance, I’m very surprised by you. I didn’t think hand maiden’s carried out such a thorough service.”

The girl cast Bond a quick, hard stare. Her eyes flickered, the passion burning hot behind them, like it had before.

“There is nothing wrong with pleasure, James. It is not a sin to love.”

“It is in some religions.”

“Not to us. Sin is inescapably tied to love. It is the freedom of the soul that brings us closer to God. What greater freedom can there be than the freedom to love and be loved?”

Bond wondered if she was confusing love with lust. “And you wanted to love me?”

The girl stopped toying with him for a moment, “When you arrived, when you were naked in the wash room...”

“Yes, I remember.”

“I was, I was...” the girl searched for the word, “... curious.”

Bond smiled. Curiosity could get the better of Yasmin any time, he considered, but there was still a tiny flaw. The girl had left his room that evening; she could have joined him in bed immediately.

“Why did you wait until I was asleep?” he asked, “Didn’t somebody send you?”

Yasmin pulled a face, as if the suggestion was inappropriate. “No; I told you, I had very strict instructions. But I was nervous, I didn’t know if you wanted me, so I waited outside. I wanted you to call for me. I sat on the floor outside your room with my back to the door, to ensure you were not disturbed. When you didn’t call...”

“You decided to disturb me yourself,” teased Bond, and the girl giggled, her tongue poking out, lapping at him like a cat. She is exceptionally devoted, he thought, and with that asked: “Yasmin, you said Sargon instructed you to take care of me?”

“Yes” she said between licks, “I was told to do anything you desire.”

“Anything at all?”

“I must do your bidding. That is what the Dastur commanded of me.”

“Could you show me where the Babylonian treasures are?”

The girl stopped playing. Suddenly she was serious. A new look of intense worry creased her face.

“I do not think the Dastur would approve, James.”

“But he’s ordered you to do it, Yasmin. He’s commanded you to do as I request.”

The girl’s head dropped. “Yes.”

Bond resumed stroking her hair. Those huge dark eyes stared at him, slightly frightened, but still mysterious and haunting. Bond wanted to kiss them. He wanted to tell her everything would be all right, but he wasn’t convinced himself. All he knew was that this girl could be his way off this peculiar island. He smiled and it seemed to reassure her.

“Don’t worry, Yasmin, I don’t want you to get into any trouble,” he soothed, “If we get caught, I’ll take all the blame. Sargon can’t hold you responsible when his own orders are open to misinterpretation. It’ll be fine.”

Yasmin smiled: the smile without the teeth.

“Do you want to go now?” she asked.

Bond looked into the deep dark eyes again and thought of her wonderful warm body and how she had allowed him to possess her so willingly. Her little tongue had refired his passions. He was already aroused.

“No. Not yet.”

A slaverish grin passed over the girl’s face and her mouth sunk onto Bond’s lap with a satisfied moan of hunger.

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

The naked feet padded soundlessly along the passage. Bond followed the girl a few paces behind. He was wearing only the cotton trousers, considering the thoub to be too cumbersome. Yasmin insisted he also went barefoot. The corridors all echo, she warned him. The contact of cold stone on his heels and soles almost made him shiver. If he paused his toes automatically curled.

The girl stopped at an alcove in the long wall. Bond had noticed one or two of these when Yasmin had shown him to his room. He had assumed they were for decorative purposes. The girl pressed her palm against the hard granite and the slab slowly revolved on an axis, revealing another internal corridor behind. Yasmin passed through the opening. Bond followed, pushing the stone door closed.

“How many of these corridors are there?” he asked.

“There is one on every floor, so we can appear from the walls, like ghosts.”

Bond nodded. The passage glowed white. Bond ran his hand briefly down the wall. It was completely covered with the same light emitting film as in his bedroom. Further down the corridor all was dark, but as they walked forward the wallpaper gradually illuminated, forming a silver aura about them. Like ghosts was close to the truth, considered Bond. There had to be thousands of sensors following their path. He hoped their progress wasn’t being monitored any where else.

Yasmin led him down the passage until they reached a staircase. She paused. Bond stood close behind her and she grabbed his hand.

Turning she stretched up to kiss him.

“You do like me, don’t you?”

“Yes, Yasmin,” he replied, silently cursing the girl, “Very much.”

“Good. I was worried because of the blonde woman.”

Bond broke the embrace. He held her arms tight with both hands. The face stared up at him, suddenly frightened.

“What blonde woman?”

“The French woman; she arrived after you.”


“Hmm, Miss Lavoilette.”

“What’s she doing here?”

“I do not know. She arrived with Yusef and Scar, just like you did. A Frenchman came too; a very large man. Only he came earlier.”

Bond shook his head at the news. This put a different complexion on things. Was this all part of a grand plan, something concocted between Sargon and Chivry, maybe to play the British off against the French? There was nothing Bond could do about it now. Yasmin would have to help him again, but at the moment Bond only wanted to find the antiques. None the less, he began to feel uneasy. He stored the new problem away. He could deal with Sylvia after he’d investigated Sargon’s treasure trove.

“Yasmin, take me to the treasures. We can discuss this later.”

The girl was disappointed. Bond’s stern expression told her this was not the time to be frivolous. With a parting frown, she turned around and headed down the stairwell, the silk gown billowing about her waist from the updraft of air.

Bond followed several steps behind. It was warmer in these inside passages. There was a slightly musty smell to the atmosphere. Bond noted cobwebs clinging to the corners of the stairwell and a thin layer of dust coated the floor. They descended so many flights Bond lost count. Eventually Yasmin stopped, checked Bond was behind her and rushed down the corridor. Bond followed in silence. The strange interior of the ziggurat made him nervous. He was reminded of the tales of Poe, all those hidden dungeons and secret passages in castles and great mansions. There was no reason why a modern hotel shouldn’t have service corridors, yet their disguise and form was sinister, as though Sargon genuinely wanted to conceal something. Bond wondered what was contained in the space on all the other levels of the pyramid. Sargon couldn’t need them all. Did other people live there, more hand maidens or servants, strong men or religious thinkers? According to Yasmin there were twenty girls and also some men, but Bond had only seen Scar and Yusef and the two boys in the boat yard. There had to be cooks and service staff as well. And everything had to be catered for, all the assorted store rooms and cupboards and municipal supplies. Bond couldn’t be certain. There could be any number of men in this huge edifice. They could all be innocent. But they could also be hard, trained, armed. The affair in the desert still lingered in Bond’s mind. The men at Babylon could be desperate thieves or hired killers or, more likely, experienced deadly employees.

Yasmin stopped next to an alcove. She put her finger to her lips and pushed against the big stone slab. The granite revolved. Bright light shone through the gap. The girl slipped inside. Bond stayed out of sight until he saw the slender wrist and hand of Yasmin beckon him forward.

Bond passed through the aperture. A massive exhibition hall spread away from him. Big fluorescent lamps hung from the high ceiling. Garnet painted pillars created avenues on each side and the central arena was spotlessly varnished. Bond realised it was the ballroom dance floor from the unfinished Hotel Babylon. Only it was now converted into a magnificent private museum. The huge space and was filled with a multitude of ancient pieces both small and large. None of them were in cases. They either resided on the floor or rested on square tables, supported if necessary by carved wooden stands. Bond thought back to the display in the British Museum. It was pitiful compared to this accumulated wealth.

Bond started to walk through the hall, his head switching left and right, admiring the artefacts on display. There were gold vessels from the Royal Cemetery at Ur, hundreds of cylindrical inscribed seals and Assyrian ivory trinkets, prettily detailed vases and great stone statues. Bond saw the headless likeness of Entemana, its deep black diorite flashing like oil under the lights. Once believed lost forever, the famous free standing Sumerian Statue was here, right in front of him. Bond paused to inspect the prayer inscribed on its base. This was one of the world’s oldest devotion hymns, written thousands of years before the birth of Christ. It looked fresh and clean, but unmistakably original. Further on the great Mask of Warka, the oldest known sculpture of a human face, stared solemnly back at Bond. The copper Bassetki Statue, a delicate beautifully moulded lower torso and legs of a naked male, rested next to it, as if the two were meant for the same body.

Amongst these real treasures were brilliant reproductions of statues, furniture and war machines. The far end of the hall was encased in a huge recreation of a temple entrance, smothered in deep blue and pearl, emblazoned with warriors and lion-like gods. It was not unlike the frieze panels of the Assyrian Palace in London, only the riot of colour set it apart. Two oil paintings, Delacroix’s Sardanapalus and Rembrandt’s Balshazzar’s Feast, two magnificent representations of great Babylonian myths, hung in an alcove. Bond assumed the real paintings did still hang in the Louvre and the National.

On the far wall were mounted dozens of terracotta reliefs and segments of wall paintings, old and new. Below them, in three long continuous lines, were pinned the famous lost stone reliefs from Nimrod, all one hundred and twenty of them. At over £900k each there was a staggering £100 million worth of stone in front of him. Professor Gainsborough would have marvelled at it all; he’d probably have a heart attack with excitement. Bond almost shook with amazement himself. Everywhere he turned he saw another reminder of the lost civilisations of the Euphrates and the Tigris. And there sitting alone on a wide flat glass tableau were twelve delicate clay tablets, covered in tiny cuneiform strokes: The Epic of Gilgamesh.

Bond peered closely at the tiny pieces of ancient literature. It was hard to believe they were thousands of years old. These dozen flat squares represented some of man’s earliest known writing. They were considered the world’s first ever book. The Babylonians made hundreds of copies, although very few now survived and those that did were often only in fragments. These were complete and, in historical terms, priceless. Bond couldn’t even begin to estimate the financial price. Important as these tablets and everything else were, Bond knew there was more to this enormous room than met the eye.

Bond thought back to Gainsborough’s briefing, those ten dusty days at the British Museum, and the discussions they had over the thousands of antiquities looted from Baghdad’s National Museum. Suddenly he knew where all those missing works of Babylonian art resided. They were lost no more. This magnificent hall was filled with the worlds most sought after pieces of stolen Mesopotamian archaeology.

Yasmin hummed to herself. She was dancing on her toes, skipping and tripping around the displays, always keeping Bond in view. She didn’t know what he was looking for. The old stone statues, the painted clay pots, the metal jewellery and trinkets did not interest her. The room was a bleak foreboding place and she normally avoided it. But tonight she didn’t mind. She was excited to be with this strong attractive man. This man was special. She sensed it. There was a hard, steel glint in his eyes and his jaw was set firmly, determinedly, square. She liked how he had made love to her. He was a good passionate lover. The memory of his hands as they explored her body made her quiver. She licked her lips at the thought. She had to have him again before he left the island. Yasmin decided it.

Suddenly she stopped in her balletic trance. She heard voices. The girl looked quickly around her. It was too far to the hidden doors. Bond was still admiring the statues. He hadn’t heard the approaching men. Close by him was a huge chariot, coloured in faded lapis lazuli and blemished gold. She made another quick decision.

Bond started with surprise when the girl grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the chariot. Initially he thought she wanted to play some kinky game and he resisted her urgent tugs. Yasmin shook her head. Her smile had vanished. Bond strained against her and the two of them stayed still for one second. Immediately Bond heard the voices, three of them, and they were coming closer.

#19 chrisno1



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Posted 14 September 2010 - 11:29 AM


The voices began to mingle with footsteps. Four men walked under the stone entrance way. They all looked at odds with each other. First was Sargon, his grey and white beard now off set by the black robes he wore. He walked straight and purposeful. Beside him and also caped in black, was the small figure of Amin Al Rashid, taking careful steps and holding his spectacles half way towards his face. Behind this pair walked two tall statured companions, an Arab and a white man.

The Arab was a straight backed, moustachioed military man of about fifty years. His countenance suggested boredom. In fact he was concentrating closely to every sentence Sargon passed. He was not a religious man. He wore the familiar kaffiya headdress of the Iraqi military class. He was still in his uniform, a dust coloured trousers and jacket. Service bars crossed his heart, but he declined to wear his medals unless on ceremonial parade. His feet were encased in heavy black boots, the shine as dark as his lacquered hair. Lieutenant General Sayyid Khadimi was nothing if not vain.

The white male wasn’t of military abstraction and he dressed in an ill fitting cream suit. Daniel Trudeau was a scrawny man in his mid-sixties. The pace of life had caught up with him. What had once been a strong body was now wispy thin. His face was stuck in a drawn out expression of hurt, as if he was paying for the sins of that life. In fact, life had not treated Daniel Trudeau so badly. He’d been a successful attaché, albeit a career based on the adage that ‘it isn’t what you know, but who you know.’ Trudeau had made a lot of contacts, usually in the bars and restaurants of the cities where his career had taken him. He’d built them up steadily as his roles and his postings shifted. But after one too many drinks in Cairo, he’d taken a ‘voluntary’ enforced retirement. Life in France turned sour for him. A family tragedy. He turned even more to drink and then to drugs. He sought escape by pursuing his sorrows inconspicuously in Dubai. It was there he came to the attention of Sayyid Khadimi, a man he had originally met in the late 1980s during one of his diplomatic forays. Khadimi knew a man who could help him. Within weeks Trudeau had been drawn into the world of the monk, Sargon. Trudeau was not a religious man, but he was an opportunist, if a very poor one. Sargon offered him the opportunity to gain some riches. At the time it had seemed the only solution to his problems, but now Trudeau knew he was sucked in too deep to escape. The swamp of life was swallowing him again.

Sargon opened his arms, embracing the great hall and its riches, and started to speak. Hidden in the foot well of the chariot, Bond listened intently to the smooth, mesmeric tones. He was surprised Sargon spoke in English. It must be the language they best shared.

“Wealth, gentlemen, cannot be measured solely by financial gain. There will always be a place in the world for the abundantly rich, the oligarchs, the internet wizards, the sports stars, the bankers, the oil barons. I myself have accumulated much richness. Now I must give it back to my home land. For your co-operation in this task, I am eternally grateful.”

“Why have I been brought back from Iraq?” growled a heavily accented, impatient Arab voice.

“General,” addressed Sargon, “There is a flaw in the battle plan. One I did not anticipate until yesterday.”

The long pause seemed overly dramatic.

“Gentlemen, we have been found out.”

“How?” snapped the heavy voice, “We have taken every precaution.”

“Alas, I fear it was my own intense desire that has failed us,” continued Sargon, “In obtaining these great artefacts, I appear to have committed an error of personal judgement. Someone has betrayed us. Worse this person has betrayed us to a member of the British Secret Intelligence Service.”

The voices were moving closer. Bond involuntarily shrank deeper into the foot well. Yasmin clung to him, her hands buried behind his back and her head tucked into his chest. Bond wasn’t one to pray, but he desperately hoped the three visitors did not stop to admire the frieze panels opposite. A single glance behind would reveal Bond and the girl.

Looking out, Bond saw a bronze shield, a fake no doubt, but it was polished until it shone. He could make out the reflections of three heads as they strolled past the chariot. Bond squinted to focus. One looked like Trudeau, the French travel agent he’d spied in the lobby of the Sheraton and again eating breakfast at the Corniche. Bond thought back. Trudeau had met the Iraqi General, Sayyid Khadimi, and now the two men were here in conference with Sargon; he was certain of it.

Sargon continued to talk.

“The British man’s name is Bond. He has been posing as an emissary from the British Museum using the name James Aubrey. A foolish enterprise. Amin informs me this James Bond is an operator of some renown, although he is prone to a weakness for female flesh. At this moment I expect he is indulging himself with one of my handmaidens.”

Yasmin stiffened. Her head twisted up a little. Bond saw the fierceness in her eyes, this time not one of lust, but one in shock. She may have done her duty willingly, but to hear it propositioned from Sargon’s mouth was an unexpected deception.

“He is here?” Khadimi sounded incredulous.

“Indeed. I have already interviewed him and he maintains that he was sent merely to locate this: The Epic of Gilgamesh.”

All the footsteps stopped.

“I find the notion of sending a man of Mister Bond’s apparent calibre to perform such a weary duty unlikely. The British must have information. Mister Trudeau, are all your contacts trustworthy? There is no question of a leak? No question of an audit? The equipment we pilfered from the French will be missed at some point. Are you certain it hasn’t been missed already?”

“Quite certain,” Trudeau’s voice faltered slightly. It was a voice fully in keeping with his appearance, hesitant and indefinite. “My sources inform me the audit office is still reviewing the previous submissions. The paper trail is hopelessly elaborate. It would take a genius to unravel it.”

There was a pause as Sargon waited for more information.

“It’s all retrospective,” explained Trudeau, “We seized equipment designated to U.N. peacekeepers. The U.N. forces have virtually all withdrawn; there’s only a few hundred left in Iraq. Trust me, Sargon, the U.N. are headless chickens when it comes to bureaucracy. If you have a system in place, they naturally assume its fool proof. There isn’t another audit due for two months. Everything is exactly as I said it would be.”

“And you have talked to no one?”


“Not even your family?”

“You know I don’t have any family.”

This last was said with some hesitation. Bond wondered what expression was crossing those weathered features.

“Good,” Sargon said it with no pleasure, “General Khadimi, has the influx of troops into the Nineveh Governorate been as gradual as we discussed?”

Khadimi was curt, swift in his answer. He was a career officer, the army was his life and there was no hesitation in his explanations. Khadimi was a man absolutely certain of his facts and figures.

“Manoeuvres have been in operation for two months now. There have been a few rumblings from the press corps and from the U.S. Third Army, who think the manoeuvres are in too sensitive an area, but no, everything is fine. We have one hundred and twenty five thousand troops, mostly from the Mountain Divisions stationed near Mosul, three armoured divisions and one air support. They have been practising war games for six weeks. I have told nobody except those who will play a role in leading the offensive. There is the possibility of a leak, but my officers are remarkably loyal. They remember the Baath Party and Saddam and recognise the strength a dictator can bring.”

“As I thought,” Sargon closed the matter, “Then it was perhaps my own vanity and another man’s greed.”

“Who is the traitor?” Khadimi barked.

“I obtained these wonderful works of art from sources around the world. Sometimes they have not always been obtained legitimately. When I have occasion to, there is a contact I use, the arms dealer Andreas Chivry.”

There was silence.

“Yes, an error of judgement, gentlemen; as you know, Chivry is also the man who supplies the rebel terrorists with PETN.”

Bond’s mind was racing. Chivry had mentioned selling explosives. PETN was a highly unstable compound, similar in properties to nitro-glycerine. Colourless, odourless and crystalline, pentaerythritol tetranitrate could be stored for many months, even years, under the right conditions, and was beloved of terrorists for its devastating force. Less than a kilo of the explosive could shatter the fuselage of an aircraft or damage a building sufficiently to bring about its collapse. Bond knew both the Sunni and Shia rebels in Iraq were using it to inflict chaos at each other’s holy shrines, places like Karbala, Najaf and Kufa. He thought back to those reports that had been piling up on his desk in London. Hundreds dying in each suicide attack. Usually a young woman shrouded in a bhurka would walk calmly to the detonation point or a teenage boy riding a moped would plough carelessly into a melee of people. The bombers always struck outside a temple, always on a religious day and always they had deadly results. Bond shuddered. So this was where the man of peace, the prophet, the holy monk, the Dastur was focussing his energies. Religion had taken a back seat to terrorism and insurgency. As he listened, Bond felt the hairs on his neck begin to rise. The revelation was startling, the implications horrendous and the knowledge completely raw.

“What has happened to Chivry?” asked the sly tones of Amin Al Rashid.

“Scar, my security guard, is dealing with him. Scar is excellent at extracting information. Afterwards, we will have no use for Andreas Chivry.”

Silence echoed in the chamber as the sentence sank in. Finally Sargon sighed, “So, gentlemen, now we must complete our countdown to anarchy.”

Sargon’s final word floated into the air and was drowned by the ringing footsteps. Bond shrugged Yasmin off and crawled out of the chariot. He saw the group disappearing through the far archway.

“Yasmin,” he whispered, “It’s time for you to go. I need to follow Sargon.”

The girl crept up to him, her face clouded with concern.

“Will you be all right?” replied Yasmin, her brow furrowed.

“Yes. I do this for a living.”

“Are you really a spy?”

“Yes, of course, you saw my gun didn’t you?” Bond continued hastily. He didn’t want to lose sight of Sargon. He took the girl’s hands and squeezed them. “I’ll be fine. Go back to my room and wait for me there. Please.”

“I will do as you wish, James.”

Bond kissed her quickly on the lips and then she was gone, noiselessly running to the secret stone door. Bond didn’t wait and tip toed rapidly through the displays until he reached the doorway. There only appeared to be one way out, to the left. Bond guessed that once again the next hall straddled the full length of the ziggurat. Keeping his back to the wall he slipped into the corridor.

The voices were distant. Bond hurried to catch up, dodging from alcove to alcove. He had no plan other than to eavesdrop. Bond felt strangely relaxed, as though he was now in familiar surroundings, the places where danger and intrigue went arm in arm. The tension was coming back to his limbs, the stomach felt empty, the breathing became steady, the pulse quickened, the skin seemed to tighten. Bond’s senses were all alive, listening, feeling, watching at once. He hadn’t experienced anything like this for a long time. No diet or exercise regime could prepare a field operative for these sensations. The thrill and knowledge of instinct, stealth and survival now became paramount. They embraced Bond like an old friend.

As the adrenaline kicked in, Bond cursed his lack of a weapon. Without one his options were severely limited. Frankly, he felt defenceless. The only thing counting in his favour was that Sargon and his companions remained embroiled in deep discussions. Bond paused by the final alcove before the next corner. There was another high ceilinged room ahead. Bond couldn’t see the men, but the voices were trailing away. They must have moved further inside the lion’s den.

Bond trotted down the last metres of corridor and ducked back against the frame. Thank god there wasn’t a door. The next hall appeared to be a cinema. Another lost section of the original hotel. The house lights were dimmed and the curtains pulled back from the IMAX screen at the bottom end. Ranks of seats ran steeply down from the door. Bond didn’t have time to count rows. He was glad to see side aisles as well as a central gangway. The four men were seated at the very front of the theatre. Bond couldn’t hear any of the conversation. Crouching he entered the room and hid behind the back tier of seats. Bond scanned his whereabouts again. There wasn’t anyone else in the theatre. A quick look up told him there was no projection room. Back projectors, he assumed. Silently Bond crawled down one of the side aisles, edging closer to the quartet of figures. When he was ten rows back, he stopped. He could hear Sargon clearly now.

“And so, gentlemen, Gilgamesh will begin five days from today. I wish to ensure that we are all aware of the exact time table of events.”

There was a short pause, during which, Bond assumed, heads nodded. He heard a low hum and the theatre became bathed in a dusty green glow. Between the seats, Bond could make out an image on the cinema screen. It was one of the black clay tablets. Stencilled in white were a few swirls of Arabic letters.

“I remind you, gentlemen, that Gilgamesh is the code word for the commencement and cessation of hostilities in Iraq. One single word, a lost book, an epic of an ancient civilisation will meld together the past and the present and the future and resurrect one of the fallen empires of the world. In many ways hostilities have already begun. I wish to congratulate you, Mister Trudeau on co-ordinating a magnificent series of atrocities, of increasing anarchy and fear, of destabilising the government and the security forces. The gradual rise of incidents over the last few years has finally started to take effect. There have been riots and protests. The Iraqi Internal Security Forces have responded with violence and the populace is in open revolt. The U.S. Third Army has all but withdrawn from the country. I understand there are less than fifty thousand troops stationed in the country. They are engaged mostly with the I.S.F. in a training and advisory capacity. Their ability to aid the I.S.F. will be based solely on whether General Webster considers the situation beyond their control. General Khadimi, do you have an update?”

“Barrack Obama has committed to a full withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The Multinational Security Transition Command considers the withdrawal to be 95% accomplished. Their main concerns are overcoming Al Qaeda combat agents.”

Khadimi chuckled, but it came out like a growl, “Of course, we’ve been supplying those bastards with explosives and equipment for years; once we are in power it won’t be a problem to hunt them down and apprehend them. If you make that clear to U.S. CENTCOM in Kuwait, General Webster won’t lift a finger. The political will to go back into Iraq is low. Obama doesn’t want it. Clinton doesn’t want it. The British, that new man Cameron, he doesn’t want it. Our way is clear, Sargon.”

“What of our arrangements to eliminate President Bani and Prime Minister Maliki?”

“All is in hand, Sargon,” answered Khadimi, “Both men will be on the Presidential plane. The unrest has caused some to suggest the conference in Tal Afar should be called off, but Maliki is adamant. It’s his way of trying to get the Kurds back on side. I’ve found a good man, a Sunni Muslim who cares nothing except for reaching heaven. He will be accompanying the Presidential entourage and will detonate the PETN one hour into the flight.”

Bond stifled an exclamation. Assassination in midair! It was a bloody coup! Chivry had been supplying arms and explosives to this man Trudeau and he’d been distributing them throughout Iraq. Of course, they had to be smuggled in, and what better way than through the Gulf, through the respected financier Rashid, through an abandoned luxury resort that nobody cares about. It would have been especially easy now the U.S. naval presence had subsided. Bond knew there were nominal Iraqi sea patrols along the coastline. The British S.B.S. had trained many of the officers and one of their observations was that they were susceptible to corruption. And no doubt Trudeau or Khadimi had corrupted them.

The image on the screen changed to an ordnance survey map of Iraq. Bond recognised the major cities, saw the demarcation lines for the provinces and noted a cluster of black blocks around Baghdad and Mosul. He assumed these represented Iraqi military forces. Near the provincial town of Tal Afar was a barrage of red blocks. These had to be Khadimi’s forces.

“And the Kurdish President will definitely be at the conference?”

“Yes. Everything is in hand.”

“Good. Mister Trudeau, are arrangements completed for my transfer into Tal Afar?”

“Yes, Sargon, the flight plan has been allocated,” Trudeau replied firmly, “We’ll leave Babylon on Thursday morning at 0900 hours exactly. Take off time is scheduled for 1050 and we will land in Mosul at approximately 1335. Yusef and I have arranged a brief press conference at the airport. You can give a speech if you like. We have only invited the Iraqi news services. They will give you sympathetic coverage.”
Bond thought the man at last sounded in control of himself. Perhaps administration suited him.

“Excellent,” continued Sargon, “Then everything is set. Amin, perhaps I can ask you to outline again the prospective candidates for an interim government. There are a few names whose motives I am still uncertain of. I would value General Khadimi’s input. If we need to eliminate more ministers and officials, we would need to proceed with the arrests quickly.”

Rashid started talking. The image on the big screen flipped to a man’s face. Bond recognised Tariq Al Hashimi, a member of the Presidential Council. Bond had seen and heard enough. The full extent of the madness was clear. This was a potential Middle East disaster. A rogue dictator was about to seize power in Iraq. And right under the noses of the United Nations. It was unthinkable. And through all this time Andreas Chivry had feathered his nest supplying arms and ammunition to Sargon’s future rebels and now putting U.N. forces directly in jeopardy. The bastard; he almost said it aloud; bastards, the whole bloody lot of them.

Now Bond’s only thought was to get off this pyramid island. He had to contact Khalil Datto and get a message to M. They could take action, either unilaterally or with other nations. It would be tough leaving Sylvia here, or where ever the hell she was, but she was one life among thousands who could die. Right now here was only one person who could help him. He had to get back to Yasmin.

Bond crept back up the side aisle and paused by the corner of the top row. Still no one guarded the entrance. Almost on his hands and knees, Bond quickly shuffled to the doorway, took a final glimpse of his protagonists, and exited hunched low. He stayed down until he’d rounded the corner and faced the long corridor back to the exhibition hall.

Bond ran down it as fast as he dared. He stopped at the end, catching his breath. The big room was in darkness. There was no sensor switch here. Someone had turned off the lights. Bond listened. For a moment he could only hear his own stifled breath and the thump of his heart. Then he thought there was a scratch, a scrape, something moving. He peered into the gloom, alert to movement and sound. All was still and silent

Bond entered the hall and fingered his way around the walls. The hush was eerie and oppressive. Bond tried to focus into the heart of the room, to get an impression of the big shapes and statues that loomed around him. Then he heard it again, a definite scraping noise. No, not a scrape; it was a click-click sound. Too late, Bond realised what was happening.


Two loud beats were followed by a rush of air. With a force that surprised him, the head of the saqr falcon crashed into the side of his skull. It was only Bond’s instinctive evasive dive that prevented its beak tearing his ear clean away. Blood spurted from a wound on his scalp. Somewhere above him the falcon was circling. It screamed and dived again. Bond saw the grey shadow of metre wide wings as the saqr swooped down. Bond threw up an arm. The claws ripped into his bare skin and took hold. The vicious pointed beak shot out towards his face, towards his eyes. Terrified, Bond jerked away, throwing out a blind punch with his left hand. It landed solidly on the arrowed beak. Bond struck again, hard. Mercifully, the falcon released its grip, ripping skin from his arm as it wriggled free, tumbling and flapping wildly.

Suddenly the lights came on. Figures were rushing towards him. Men he hadn’t seen before. They carried thick truncheons. Bond had time for one expletive before the clubs rained hell on his head and torso. The shouts of exultant men fused brutishly with the wild demonic cries of the saqr. Sometime during the raging turmoil, Bond passed out.

#20 chrisno1



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Posted 16 September 2010 - 08:44 PM


Bond’s eyes were two tiny slits. It was painfully bright. Both his hands and his feet were manacled and he lay on his left hand side on a warm stone floor. The trousers had been torn away. He was stark naked and his body ached.

Bond checked himself limb by limb to make sure everything was working. Feet first; yes, they moved, even the toes waggled. Knees and legs; fine. The arms were very stiff. His left shoulder felt cramped. His chest hurt when he sucked in the hot stale air. His hands were okay. Two fingers on his left hand might have been cracked or sprained. His head pounded. Gingerly he felt for the wound above his ear. There was a small scab. His right eye was badly bruised, but not, thankfully, shut. Someone had bandaged his injured right arm. What puzzled Bond was how everything seemed slippery to the touch. He rubbed his hands across his torso again and raised them to his face, peering through slatted lashes. There was a foul stench to whatever it was, so pungent he could almost taste it. Excrement of some sort, maybe. Hesitantly he flicked out his tongue. No, it was animal fat. His whole body was smeared with the stuff.

Bond rolled over onto his back. He could see the clear sky above him, but he was looking through a wire mesh that ran across the brilliant blue. The white hot sun disc was high above him. It must be almost midday. He was outside and toasting. The coastal clouds were wispy white bunches of candy floss. Bond closed his eyelids again and waited as the confection moved sedately across the sky. When he felt a tiny drop in temperature, he looked through dry eyes. Now lying in shadow, Bond took in his full surroundings.

The place was bare. There was nothing in the arena, which, like everything else in Sargon’s mad house was enormous. The stone work was similar to that he’d seen in the conservatories on his arrival, only there were no lights and no plants. A thin trough of water wiggled its way across the floor from a wall several metres to his left and disappeared into a central drain. He wondered if this barren place was on the same floor as the green houses. The proportions of the massive space appeared to match those beautiful Eden-like gardens. Only this enclosure had the scent of the devil about it.

Bond turned over and saw what was to his right. At the far end a metal apparatus was erected and there, perched on the top two levels, rested three huge black shapes. They were birds, scavengers, vultures. Scattered on the ground below them were stray feathers and the odd chunk of putrid meat. Their faeces littered the whole floor. Closer to the three vultures was a carcass. Bond recognised it as being human. The sack of meat was torn open at the stomach. Ribs showed white against dark purple flesh. Dried entrails stretched out of the pit that had once been a stomach. A cloud of insects was swirling around the corpse. Bond could just make out the remains of its face. The corpse was Andreas Chivry.

Unable to stop himself, Bond was violently sick. He hauled himself into a kneeling position and wretched until he couldn’t heave any more. Big black flies buzzed onto the fresh sticky mess.

Bond knew exactly what was happening. One of the customs of Zoroastrianism, particularly among the Parsis of India, was the use of tall stone structures, platforms where the dead are laid until their flesh is picked away by the scavengers of nature. They called them Towers of Silence. Bond cast his mind back to last night. There had been no further use for Chivry; but had he been dead before the birds of prey struck?

Bond shivered, even in the heat. He tried to estimate how long he’d been unconscious? Clearly long enough for supper to commence. How long did it take for those vultures to tear apart a human’s body? Three birds, especially big bastards like these could surely cause massive damage to a corpse in a few hours. But Bond didn’t want to know. Jesus Christ, he thought, however long it takes, they’ve had entrees; I’m the bloody main course: Escalope de Bond.

His movement coupled with the sound of his vomiting brought the full attention of the vultures. All three inclined their bald pink heads in his direction. Six black beady circles focussed on the new arrival. Bond stared back. The birds temporarily lost interest.

Bond reflected on his position. He hadn’t seen any access doors, which meant somewhere there must be a hidden panel. If he could find it, he might be safe. Assuming it wasn’t locked. The door ought to be at his end of the arena as the water ran into the room from there. He hoped it was. Bond didn’t much fancy trying to bypass his trio of feathered guardians.

The manacles on his feet were made of leather. The twisted, knotted strap seemed to have no fastenings. It was tight to the skin. Even the grease couldn’t ease the bindings. There was less than six inches of play between his wrists, perhaps eight by his ankles. Bond shifted himself and attempted to stand. His stiff muscles lost balance. With a whoop of surprise Bond slid on the balls of his lard encrusted feet and crashed onto his backside. He groaned. There was a loud flutter from the far end. Bond saw one pair of huge wings fan out. They looked almost two metres long. The plumage was as sickly as the bird’s face. Two or three feathers departed from the dirty dark brown mass and floated to the ground.

Bond tried again. This time he raised himself to his knees and rested on his haunches before pushing himself upright. The three birds cast him more curious looks. Bond ignored the bastard animals and shuffled his way across the floor to the wall. He managed it how a penguin would. One foot hardly trod in front of the other. It was difficult work. He concentrated on maintaining his balance. With his hands fastened, Bond could only use his shoulders to keep himself level. His soles slipped under him once or twice, but this time he didn’t fall. Eventually, tired and with a coarse dry mouth sucking in stagnant air, he made it. Bond leant gratefully against the stone facade.

The cloud cover had broken and now Bond felt the ominous heat of the day. The sweat mingled with the fat and dripped down his face. He licked at the tasteless droplets, seeking any refreshment. He wasn’t in any shade. His refuge offered only a tiny sliver of shadow. The best protection from the sun was behind the vultures. Bond had half expected it. Well, if things got desperate, he might risk confronting the birds, but only if. Putting the thought to the back of his mind, he pressed against the wall panels. Nothing gave. He tried again. They seemed solid. Bond shook his head. Was it worth trying the other walls? Gingerly, he skirted part of the way up one side, got no result so he headed back to his safety zone.

One of vultures had leapt down from its perch and waddled up to Chivry’s body. With a loud squawk, it bit down on a corner of exposed meat and tore a strip from across the shoulder. It came away with a sickening slurp. The raptor dropped the large steak on the ground and, stepping on a corner, it ripped smaller pieces away, swallowing them in silence.

Bond watched the display with some trepidation. What did he know about these massive birds? They were strong, violent animals, but they usually only fought among themselves, and perhaps with the hyenas, battling for the spoils. They were natural cowards. As long as Bond was alive and moving, they wouldn’t attack him, unless they felt threatened. Even then he wasn’t sure. Hadn’t he read that some West African raptors were known to raid flamingo nests and kill live animals, other birds or small primates? Didn’t the local tribe’s women live in fear of their babies being carried away by a huge winged demon of death? These beasts looked like Nubian Vultures. They stood a metre tall and had a terrific wingspan. The birds showed a thick plumage with white legs and chest, topped by a bald pallet, featherless to prevent the blood sticking. For such ugly animals, living at the bottom of the food chain, it was a curious evolvement towards cleanliness. The beak was a full six or seven inches long and hooked for simultaneous stabbing and grabbing. Bond guessed the sinewy neck was phenomenally powerful, allowing it to sever shreds of meat from a carcass. The talons looked as big as a man’s hands. Yes, he was certain of it. These were Nubians; the very same that frightened those African mothers into believing a ridiculous myth. Bond shuddered. Was it so ridiculous? He thought about Scar and the expert way he had controlled the Saqr falcon. It was that brood which had attacked him with deadly efficiency last night. Could Scar have trained these bastards too?

It wasn’t something he wanted to think about. He had other things on his mind. Resigned, Bond took up a seated position, his back to the wall and closed his eyes.

So Sargon was mounting a coup in Iraq, killing the president and the prime minister, arresting the top level government officials and commanding a significant proportion of the army. He was convinced he had the backing of the people and he was banking on outside powers being too weary to challenge his coup. The man was a fool. An idealistic lunatic. Britain and America wouldn’t stand for it. Iraq was just finding its feet. The police and armed forces had been trained. Rebuilding projects were underway. There was a stable, if unpopular governmental system. The Kurdish question had been resolved with partial independence. It was madness to destroy it all again.

Bond thought about the dead man who laid a few metres from him. What had been Chivry’s role in all this? An unwitting supplier of goods and services, certainly a man surplus to requirements, like the weapons he shipped around the globe. Chivry had informed on Bond. That much was clear. He may have done it as early as Paris, when he met Scar and Gold Tooth at his chateau. Whenever the betrayal occurred it had set Bond and Sylvia up. The thugs in Abu Dhabi and in the Empty Quarter had been a warning and Bond had ignored it. Damn, he wished he’d sent Sylvia away. This wasn’t a place for her and now the poor bitch was as far in the mire as he was, stuck on this bloody island and, God forbid, suffering in the service of Sargon. The thought made him shudder.

A piercing screech interrupted his thoughts.

Bond’s eyes flicked open. Instinctively he yelled.

The black shape landed in front of him, wings spreading, becoming over three times the size. Christ, the bloody thing was only a few metres away. Bond waved his bound hands at the ugly horror, shouting louder and louder. The animal backed off, squealing indignantly, until it came to a halt near Chivry’s body. Bond could see the jet black eyes fix him with a long stare, sizing him up. He’d closed his eyes; the vulture must have thought he was dead.

The Nubian that had been feasting on Chivry stopped in its meal and exchanged a chorus of barks with its new neighbour. This was the largest of the three and Bond casually assumed it was a male. It looked towards Bond, the graceless mouth hanging open. Bond thought it wanted to taste him. Suddenly he realised why the vultures were displaying an interest. They could smell him. They smelt the grey paste, the fatty dripping that hugged his skin. It must reek of death, of decomposition. Now Bond’s mind was clear. He was like carrion to the scavenger. Scar had trained these vultures. They had killed Chivry and now they were going to do the same to him. Or try.

The male inched forward, sideways on, circling towards him. A single shutter of wrinkled gristle flicked over the black pearl. The flaccid turkey neck hung out. The big broad shoulders seemed hunched. The thing looked bigger than Bond had originally thought. Impatient, it hopped forward, the claws scratching on stone like chalk on a board.

Bond struggled onto his feet. He had to keep moving. Yes, vision and sound. He shouted at the bird, a few choice expletives. The creature hesitated. Bond shuffled along the wall, seeking any kind of weapon. He knew there wasn’t one.

The male didn’t deter for long. Inexorably the vulture pursued Bond, creeping, waddling and skipping to keep up with his cumbersome back peddles. Suddenly it let out a piercing shriek and flew at him. Startled Bond jumped backwards. He lost his footing and collapsed heavily to the ground. The bird passed over head and came to rest with a thump of its wings only a foot or so away. Bond struggled to right himself. The vulture remorselessly came on. Bond saw its neck pull back, the beak poised to strike.

Still on his backside, Bond slapped out with his hands, but the vulture wasn’t going to be beaten off so easily. The pink head shot down, the ugly yellow beak darted at his loins. Bond kicked too late. The bird jumped back with a yelp. Bond cried out. A flesh wound opened on the pit of his belly. It was a perfect strike, catching the fatty pliant skin rather than the taut muscles on his chest and arms. The animal seemed rather pleased with its success and danced in a circle, opening the enormous wings and singing its banshee song.

Spurred on by its companion, the second beast hopped forward in several big leaps. The movement distracted Bond, who was shuffling backwards, trying to get some distance between himself and the male attacker. His focus switched rapidly between his opponents, judging distances, trying to anticipate the next assault. He felt the tickle of blood as it seeped from the wound and mingled with the grease.

The male saw its competitor arrive and wailed. For a moment the two vultures squawked and yelled at each other. Then with one fast strike of its beak, the male vulture attacked the interloper, who retreated a safe distance. Turning, the stronger bird fixed one cold eye on Bond.

Bond felt sick. What now? He thought about Chivry, his stomach ripped open, his intestines played with like spaghetti, an evil head burrowing inside, his liver and kidneys swallowed whole. How long did it take to die that horrible death? How accurate were these raptors? They’d attacked his lower torso. What if they struck even lower, at his exposed private organs? Oh God, no, not that. Surely these [censored]ers weren’t sadists as well as deadly assassins? Bond tried to break the leather bonds. It was impossible. They were too tight to his wrists and ankles. He could hardly move inside them. Perhaps he could delay the inevitable, but sooner or later these birds of prey would devour him, and it would be an agony beyond belief.

Suddenly the big Nubian leapt at him again. The neck jerked. Bond screamed. Unspeakable agonies coursed through his body. Every fibre felt the beak cut into him. He smacked the bald skull. Bond screamed again. He’d been lacerated. A strip of flesh was torn free. The grotesque monster had it in its mouth. Two or three inches of Bond’s body dangled from the curved pecker.

The tears came. Bond felt nauseated. There was nothing in his stomach to throw up. His belly was on fire with the pain. He’d been struck in exactly the same spot. It oozed blood. Bond put his palm over the burning open hole, trying to staunch the flow.

The male now seemed content. Perhaps it was full, having partaken of Chivry’s husk earlier. The second son of a bitch was even more determined now. Bond hauled himself onto his knees. They objected to the hard stone. He ignored the agony. He sucked in hot air. He became aware the third bird was also taking an interest in proceedings. Bond decided to show more aggression.

Scrabbling forward, he waved his arms in a circle, shouting hoarsely. The vulture jumped and backed off. Bond repeated the exercise, accepting any physical punishment as the price of life. His yells were genuine, borne from awful endurance.

The three birds were all circling him now, but a distance away, their natural caution restored. But it wouldn’t be for long. Bond sagged. His knees were skinned. His body began to tire. There was little resilience left in him. Only the instinct to survive remained. Whatever he did, Bond had to stay active. To stop and rest might suggest he was dead or at the very least defenceless. They would be at his eyes in seconds. For a brief moment Bond even considered it. At least blind the end would be swift; he just didn’t know how to continue this game of cat and mouse. Everything appeared against him. Exhausted, famished, weak, Bond was ripe for the taking. His throat was as dry as a desert and he gazed longingly at the trickle of water, which lay inside the realm of his tormentors. That might be salvation. Somehow he had to reach it.

Despite the agony, the fear and loathing, Bond began to feel a curious exhilaration, similar to how he’d reacted to Sargon’s insane plans. These moments encapsulated his existence. There was one choice. Kill or be killed. And the time for choosing was now.

The brutes did not wait long.

The big male attacked first, launching itself forward, claws extended and head down. Bond simply battered him aside. The black figure Catherine wheeled away and tried to right itself. Meanwhile the second and third birds were already coming for Bond. He ducked under one set of talons, heard the crack of wings above him and saw the vicious hooked nose of the second Nubian aiming for his throat. Bond put up his hands, two fists as one, and delivered a thumping blow on the vultures head. The thing spiralled over and landed prone. He’d injured it, thank god. The third beast butted him in the chest, a misdirected hit. Bond raised his fists and it cracked the ugly head. There was an indignant howl. The wings opened. Bond pushed forward hard, his whole weight behind the movement, and the vulture careered backwards, the wings flapping madly.

Bond over balanced. While he struggled to climb off the floor, the male bird swooped across him. Bond felt the claws sink in, grasping his shoulders. Squirming, Bond reached up and the hard single fang darted out, pinching his fingers. Bond grabbed for the bastards head and neck. Fingers found rubbery skin and bone. Bond squeezed and probed, trying to pierce the eyes. The monster emitted terrified strangled cries. Man and beast collapsed to the ground, Bond’s body on top of the stinking satanic cuss. The bird struggled wildly. Bond twisted himself free from the razor fingers, his two joined hands still on the demented animal’s neck. The wings beat up and out, smashing into his arms and head. Hissing through gritted teeth, Bond wrapped the leather tie around the vulture’s neck and yanked as hard as he could. Twice. The second time there was a loud snap. The vulture went into spasm. Bond struggled to flee the wings and feet and body as it jerked violently under him. Finally Bond escaped the Nubian embrace and shoved the still twitching corpse away with both feet.

Bond’s body racked with screaming muscles. He gulped down lung full’s of squalid air. Every breath sent searing pain through the wound in his side. Bond cast his eyes around for his other tormentors. Behind him the stunned vulture was hopping away, the fight temporarily knocked out of it. The third one, which was by far the least dangerous, now eyed Bond from what it believed to be a respectful distance.

The male bird finally ceased its death throes. The thing really was huge, as big as half a man. Bond inspected it from afar. It was amazing to think this raptor wasn’t a habitual killer. It was certainly large enough to kill small animals. Quite why it chose to scavenge other’s bounty when it had talons and a beak of such power...

The beak. Bond crawled over to the dead bird. He inspected its hawk nose. It was certainly sharp. The tip formed a vicious point. It was designed to cut through the toughest of hides. Surely it would make mincemeat of leather? Keeping one eye on the other two vultures, Bond grasped the head of the dead male and started to hammer away at the binding on his ankles, using the beak as a cutting tool. It pierced the leather exactly as he hoped. Bond had to be accurate and hard. It took almost a dozen direct hits and several misses before the strands separated enough for Bond to pull them loose. Next he started on his wrist bonds. This was harder as the neck of the dead bird was unwieldy at such close quarters, but eventually, after a few false starts, he felt the ties unwinding. A few minutes later he was flexing his unchained fingers.

Now able to walk properly, Bond stretched his legs and stood tall. He ran straight at the two remaining vultures, waving his arms to increase his size. They scattered before him, retreating back to their perch and crowing low, scary sounds.

Relieved Bond sank to his knees by the stream and drank as much warm water as he could. Then, sitting down, he proceeded to wash most of the grease and grime from his body. He wiped some of the fat over the wound at his belly, hoping it might aid the clotting. All the time he thought of his predicament. Temporarily he seemed to have tamed the vultures. But a further confrontation was not on his agenda.

Now his main concern was Sargon’s mad plan. Somehow he had to be stopped. And currently everything rested on his shoulders, but he was abandoned, trapped and alone. Despite the euphoria of the fight, Bond suddenly felt terribly helpless.

#21 chrisno1



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Posted 18 September 2010 - 08:31 PM


There was a dull scratching behind him. Twisting Bond saw one of the wall panels sliding out of alignment. Not on a central axis as he expected. This panel rose vertically. Behind it he saw two small dark naked feet.

Bond hesitated, preparing himself for another fight, crouching, tense. When the stone panel had risen half way, the figure bent down and beckoned to him.


Bond sprinted to the aperture and ducked under it. He emerged into the corner of the ziggurat. It was covered in foliage, all willow and scrubs, the same plants he’d seen in the Hanging Gardens. As soon as he appeared, the girl clutched him tight. Her arms enfolded him and she sobbed into his chest.

“James, James, I’m sorry, so sorry.”

Bond embraced the girl, trying to calm her. She was almost in hysterics. Bond ruffled her hair and was surprised to find the long lustrous black locks had disappeared. Instead she had been cut up rough, by shears it seemed. Chunks of bare skull sat beside lumps of scratchy fuzz. What the hell had happened to her? He stood back a moment and held her by the shoulders. For the first time that he could remember she refused to look at him. She wore one of the men’s thoubs and it dropped to her ankles. The material was stained red across the shoulders.

“What’s happened, Yasmin?”

The girl shook her head. “I do not know. They came for me, in your room. I tried to lie, but they had already captured you, James. My fate was sealed. It is always the way.”

“What way?”

Yasmin didn’t answer. She picked up an extra cape she had brought for Bond and opened it for him to step into.

Angrily Bond snatched it away and dressed himself. “Jesus Christ, Yasmin, this isn’t the time to play hand maiden! What have the bastards done to you?”

“I was kept alone,” started the girl nervously, “And then, after prayers, I was punished.”


“The women cut my hair. Then I was stripped and they whipped me.”


“Only seventeen times; for each year of my sinful life.”

Yasmin said it as if it happened every day. The look she gave Bond suggested she didn’t believe in sin any longer.

“At least now I know how old I am,” the smile crossed her lips for a brief second.

“You’re not a sinner, Yasmin, you’re an angel, at least to me,” Bond bent down and lightly kissed the smile.

“But, James, what’s happened to you?” Yasmin wrinkled her nose, “Why do you smell so bad?”

Bond turned aside, controlling the anger and revulsion he felt at her plight. He was glad of the question. He gave her a very quick explanation of everything that had happened since last night. While he told her, he viciously spun the wheel controlling the stone gateway.

“How did you find me?” he finally asked as the panel slid back into place.

“I spoke to one of the young guards. That was how I escaped. Even like this I am much desired.”

“You seduced a guard?”

“At the start, then I bit him, you know, where it hurts.”

“Don’t tell me any more,” Bond winced, “How do we get out of here?”

“This way,” the girl took his hand, “It is prayers soon. Everyone will be busy.”

She started through the willow trees and paused, before taking the trail beyond. Bond followed her. They both stayed silent. The gardens were peaceful, just as before. The girl moved fast, like a gymnast, on the tips of her toes. She was putting on a courageous show, Bond considered. He could see the red streaks down her garments. Occasionally a drop of blood fell at her heels. Bond ignored the sympathy that welled inside him. Yasmin was a brave girl and a tough one too. He hadn’t expected that. Bond wondered how Sylvia might be coping. When they reached the little stone bridge, Bond caught Yasmin’s elbow. The girl stopped abruptly. He saw panic on her face.

“Listen, Yasmin, do you remember Sylvia, the blonde woman who arrived after me?”

She nodded.

“Where is she? She is a friend of mine. I need to help her too.”

Yasmin shook her head. “I do not know, James. I didn’t see her after I cleansed her.” The eyes suddenly turned fierce, “Why? You said you didn’t love her.”

Bond heard the muffled sound of a prayer bell. “She’s still my friend, Yasmin. Are you certain you can’t help me?”

Yasmin saw his determined face but still shook her head. She glanced at the stain which was already spreading over his wound.

“You’re hurt, James. You need help more. If we get away you can help her later. I do not think she will be harmed. She will probably be kept in a room, one like yours. But we don’t have the time to find her. My guard; he will be missed.”

Bond weighed up the situation. His responsibility wasn’t to Sylvia. It was to the thousands or millions who would suffer in the uprising. The girl was right. He needed to escape. And Yasmin could help him; after all she knew all the secret passages. He wondered where she could take him to.

“All right, Yasmin, I agree. Can you get me to the harbour, where the speedboats are?”

She nodded enthusiastically, like a dog to its owner. To Bond’s surprise they didn’t take the secret passages. Yasmin took him straight to the elevator. They held back in the sparse undergrowth watching the red numbers flick on and off as the lift ascended. It stopped two floors below. Yasmin touched Bond’s arm, restraining him.

“It’s all right. I know how long the prayers last.”

After what felt an inordinate length of time, she stepped out of hiding and pressed the call button. Bond tensed. The doors slid open empty. The two fugitives jumped in the little box and Yasmin pressed for the ground floor.

When the doors slid open, Bond and Yasmin had stepped back from view. No one entered the lift. Cautiously he peered into the magnificent granite lobby. It was empty. Bond slipped out and crossed the floor. The passage to the quay was clear. Perhaps the girl was right. Everyone really did stop work and go to prayers. He felt Yasmin come up to him. Bond put a finger to her lips. Silently he led the way down the corridor. As he approached the daylight, he flexed and coiled his hands. They were the only weapons he had.

The quayside appeared equally deserted. Then Bond saw the youth emerging from the bow seats of the second Cobalt 210. He appeared to have been polishing the craft, although it hardly needed a shine. Casually Bond strode towards him.

Intrigued the young man looked up from his work. Bond offered a reassuring grin as he came closer. Something registered on the boy’s face. He’d realised the situation wasn’t right. Startled, he reached sideways, towards the steering column.

Bond couldn’t see what the boy was moving towards, but what ever it was, it’d be bad news. He ran the last few strides, planted his left foot firmly down and launched his right in a straight kick at the youthful face. Bond’s foot collided with underside of the boy’s chin. The neck snapped back with a sickening crack. The body collapsed in a heap.

Bond jumped down to the wheel deck. He searched the boy’s pockets and was relieved to find a set of keys. One of them slipped into the ignition. Bond shoved the dead body over the stern of the motor launch. He was surprised to see Yasmin already untying the mooring ropes. While she freed the boat, Bond studied the controls.

The craft was a shade under twenty five feet long and had an eight foot beam. Other than the dull grey seats, the boat was spotlessly white. There was a pilot’s chair, but Bond chose to leave it inverted, perching on the upturned seat. There was more seating forward as well as aft, where the outboard motor was part enclosed by the swim deck. There was one accelerator lever. The steering was no bigger than a sports car’s. The biggest dials were the speedometer and the compass. There were half a dozen smaller counters, things like engine temperature, thermometers and barometers. One light winked on and off. Bond ignored them all; the fuel gauge was full, that was all he needed to know.

The girl joined him. Bond gave her a big smile.

“Nearly there, Yasmin,” he said and turned the ignition.

The engine roared into life. Bond gently engaged the throttle and the 210 nudged its way towards the square of sunlight and ocean. The noise reverberated around the enclosed space. It was less of a chug and more of a rumble. Bond could feel the vibrations of the powerful engine through his feet and hands. There was a cruel satisfaction in escaping with such a beautiful woman and such a beautiful motor boat, as if Bond was merely rubbing Sargon’s incompetent nose.

So involved was Bond in the sound, direction and speed of the boat, that he didn’t hear the running footsteps. Yasmin pulled his arm.


Bond took one look behind him and plunged the levers forward.

The boat shot forward. Bullets pounded around them. Yasmin screamed. Bond felt the wasp sting of death miss him by inches. The windshield shattered. Shards of glass spun in all directions. Yasmin had thrown herself to the floor. Bond couldn’t see through the spider’s web in front of him, but he didn’t release the accelerator. He felt rather than saw the bows creeping up. He was going too fast too soon. The boat would tip. Bond shifted the lever back, easing up just enough break the lifting prow. The smack of bullets against fibreglass was as loud as the whine of the Catalyst engine. Bond ducked down too, both hands on the base of the wheel.

Suddenly they were out of the dim square cavern and into the bright sunshine of day. Bond rose to a crouch and glanced back into the hollow mouth. The men by the quayside were loading themselves into two more boats. They were armed with submachine guns. How in god’s name had they got here so quick? Had some one checked the evil menagerie? Had they been on camera? The boy hadn’t raised the alarm, Bond had been certain of that. Or had he? Bond looked down at the bank of controls. He’d never discovered what that winking red button was for. The youth must have pressed it. It had to be some sort of anti-theft device. One with very serious repercussions.

“Are you all right?” he shouted.

“Yes,” Yasmin struggled to her knees, “Are they following?”

“I’m afraid so.”

Bond bunched his fist and enlarged the bullet holes in the screen. Hot air and salty spray whipped at his face. Bond squinted. He was almost past the promontory that sheltered the inlet. He turned the wheel lightly to his left, skirting the arm of high rocky land, and heading north for Abu Dhabi. He had to make speed. Even though he had good distance on his pursuers, it was the guns that worried him. Bond had no means of defence.

“Yasmin, do me a favour,” started Bond, “Have a look in those storage cupboards.”

“Why? What do you want?”

“Anything. The best thing would be a flare gun.”

Yasmin bent down in the foot well and rummaged through one storage locker after another. After a minute or so, she struggled up right, triumphantly holding out a red box marked ‘Signal Flares.’

“Is this what you want?”

“Good girl,” he said, “Here take my place.”

Yasmin gingerly did as she was told. Bond felt the boat veer off course and grasped the wheel with one hand, holding it in line. “Like this,” he instructed, “Get a firm grip and don’t be frightened. Hold it steady.”

The girl’s knuckles almost showed white as she kept the power boat forging ahead. Meanwhile Bond cracked open the lid of the plastic box. He pulled out the 12-gauge Safety Launcher and plunged one of the high velocity aerial capsules into the barrel. He put the five extra flares into the bandolier and slung it across his shoulder. There were plenty of flare capsules.

Bond took back the wheel from a relieved Yasmin. The wind was gusting and the occasional white tip was crossing the bows. If he could, Bond steered into the surf. It was sluggish progress. Bond also kept away from the shore. He didn’t know the sea lanes here. He observed a line of breakers cutting up close in land. They suggested rocky outcrops below the surface. Bond stayed well clear. He didn’t want to run aground. Beyond the fluctuating shore line, Bond saw a rocky plateau, tipped with dunes a few miles in land. The Arabian Gulf to starboard was practically empty. Only a far off cargo ship disturbed the sheen of sparkling sea as it swept towards the sky. Bond remembered the long car journey to the old harbour. The lights from the city had vanished before he got even half way there. He saw nothing on the horizon. No tall towers marked the way to safety. It had been a longer trip than he recalled.

Bond pushed the 210 a little harder, forcing every ounce of horsepower from its engine. The chassis rocked as it buffeted over the waves. Sea water sloshed over the sides. Bond had trouble standing in his shoeless feet. The sting of the spray made his eyes water. Turning his head aside, he saw Yasmin huddled into the rear of the cockpit. He smiled grimly. As he faced front something caught his eye.

Bond glimpsed movement to starboard. Still far away, but coming up fast was another powerboat. It looked the same as the Cobalt 210, but it was swifter. They must have bigger engines. Bond cursed. Out here he was an open target. Bond looked quickly aft to port. The second boat was approaching, creating the classic pincer movement.

“Yasmin, we’ve got company.”

The girl peered over the parapet enough to see the danger.

“In the box,” he continued, “Get the orange sticks.”

Yasmin pulled out the two hand held flares. “What do I do?”

Bond was calculating distances and times. Surprise was the one element on his side. The boat crashed through another breaker.

“Those are flares. Hold them tight by the handle and point them to the sky. When I tell you, pull the rip cord at the bottom. And for god’s sake stay down.”

Bond waited. The two pursuit boats were closing in but the gun men were still out of range. Bond estimated his turning circle and then shouted back at the girl: “Now!”

There was a loud pop followed by the crackle and fizz of the candles igniting. He heard Yasmin coughing. She must have taken a face full of the stuff. Two plumes of deep orange smoke fanned out behind the 210. They settled across the foamy wake. Bond knew the coastal winds would disperse the signal in a matter of minutes, but a minute was all he needed. After forty seconds, the flares spat and died.

Immediately Bond started to spin the wheel. He executed a tight 180° turn, keeping his speed up so the boat didn’t topple, and then ploughed back towards his two pursuers. Bond headed directly through the smoke screen. The mist stung his eyes. No worse than the sea spray. In an instant the smoke had vanished and Bond saw the two other Cobalts. He could sense the incomprehension on faces as he emerged from the dense fog. The two powerboats were less than a hundred yards away and the distance closed rapidly. As all three pointed prows converged, Bond increased his speed. He had to make the safe channel between them. Both gun men opened fire.

Bond ducked as the zip of bullets stung the air, fighting with the wheel to keep straight ahead. The two boats had slowed a little, their helmsmen nervous, sensing the danger of collision. Bond readied the signal launcher. Suddenly he was into the dwindling gap. Bond cut the revs on the engine. The boat didn’t stop immediately; momentum carried it forward. It was too late for the other two speedsters and they shot past Bond, hitting the crosscurrent of the 210’s wake. Still crouching, Bond took aim and fired the flare at the bouncing portside launch. The streak of fiery red shot out and buried itself in the back of the helmsman. He jerked forward over the controls. That was the last Bond saw of him. The cockpit was suddenly absorbed in billows of smoke. The signal parachute unfolded and hung in the breeze.

Bond reloaded. On her knees beside him, Yasmin pointed to starboard. The other powerboat was circling. The gun man was taking aim. Quickly Bond engaged the throttle and the 210 surged forward once more. Bond started his own arc, this time heading for the shore. Where had he seen those breakers?

Bond took the 210 through the spreading acrid cloud of red. The disabled powerboat was drifting aimlessly. The gun man had jumped onto the rear swim deck. As they passed, Bond saw him heave his weapon to. There was an angry burst of gun fire that stripped the 210’s bodywork. Chunks of fibreglass and metal flew off at vicious angles. Bond threw himself sideways, dodging stinging bullets, and lost control. Yasmin fell awkwardly backwards. Bond didn’t have time to fret. On impulse he aimed and fired. The flare careered through the mist and struck the gun man a glancing blow on the shoulder. Instantly his clothes exploded into flame and the force of impact catapulted him backwards. Bond didn’t hear the splash as the body hit the water.

There was a groan from behind him. Yasmin must have hurt herself. Bond couldn’t worry about her now. He grabbed for the loose wheel as the boat floundered at speed, heading in any direction the swell would take it. A big rogue wave crashed over the bow and almost downed the 210. Bond charged the gears, seizing back control. The delay cost time. The other boat was skimming effortlessly towards them. Bond could smell diesel. The tanks must have been hit. Or a lucky stray bullet cut a fuel line. Damn! Bond made haste for the shore. At the moment he still had full power. Even so, the second launch gained with every metre. The hiss of hot lead accompanied his escape. Bond slew the 210 from left to right, but the gun man wouldn’t be shaken off.

Now Bond saw the line of breakers. Earlier he’d spied an opening, a gap in the reef, but where was it? The sea was choppy here. The wind had picked up. The 210 was getting harder to control. Bond felt the engine ebbing away, making every turn harder. But still Bond held the zigzag course, making the turns tighter and tighter, fighting with the wheel and the throttle to claw every last ounce of momentum. The hail of bullets didn’t relent. One of them grazed his arm.

There it was. Bond spied the respite in the waves and headed for it. Bond didn’t look back. The last of the gunfire sang around him as he passed through the breach. He ducked down, letting the wheel go for a moment as he watched. By suddenly reverting to a direct course, he’d distracted the helmsman, who smelled a kill. The powerboat missed the channel and swept straight into the run of breakers. There was an ominous crack. As Bond watched, the front end pitched up, twisting in mid air as it collided with the submerged rocks. The boat capsized, landing in a huge explosion of water. The bow was splintered. The men Bond didn’t care about.

He grabbed the wheel again, standing to take a clear view of his whereabouts. The breakers extended a long way, perhaps a few miles. Bond looked at the fuel gauge. As he suspected, he had fuel, but the engine was no longer responding. He’d have to ditch the boat on the rocky shore. Bond glanced over his shoulder to tell Yasmin the bad news.

Silently, the girl’s big brown eyes stared back at him, sorrowful, yet hopeful. It was all Bond needed to realise she was dying.

Bond allowed the 210 to drift up to the shore. It stuck fast on the shingle. Bond picked Yasmin up in his arms and stepped off the swim plate into the shallows. She felt as light as a feather. Her breathing was soft.

Bond carried Yasmin to dry land and set her down on her back. He stared aghast. The blood seeped through her clothes from the wound in her stomach. It was spreading across the sand, a red viscous pool that seemed to become an ocean, the edges dried like a beach. He knelt beside her and cradled the beautiful dark head in his arm. Just as she had said, even without her gorgeous black locks she was still desirable. Why did she have to die? Bond thought, so young, so full of life and expectation. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The young didn’t have to suffer such a cruel death. Not in war, not in servitude, not in peacetime. It was all so pointless, to be so vibrant, but to die so helpless. As he watched, the essence of her disappeared.

“Yasmin,” he whispered, “Don’t go; stay with me.”

“Yes,” she gargled, a reed thin sound.

“Stay with me, Yasmin, just for a moment, until you sleep.”


“Yes, Yasmin,” replied Bond, fighting the nausea that rose in his throat, “Sleep for me, please.”

The young Arab girl smiled and her hand reached out to touch Bond’s cheek. The fingers never made it but curled into a tiny fist and rested on his shoulder.

“Sleep,” she repeated, “Yes, James, let me sleep.”

And with Bond’s arms rocking her, Yasmin shut her eyes. After a few minutes, Bond felt her chest sag a final time and he knew at last that the beautiful dark angel would never wake up. The gods had claimed her.

He heard the rumble of the engine as it approached, but he didn’t have any fight left in him. Two legs trudged up the beach, wet from the sea.
Bond looked up at Scar. The thin man’s gap toothed smile was not one of welcome. He held a Russian PP2000 sub machine gun in his hands and was pointing it directly at Bond’s chest. Bond waited for the coup de grace. It never came.

Scar merely snarled.

The butt of the PP2000 crashed into Bond’s skull and everything went black.

Edited by chrisno1, 20 September 2010 - 04:47 PM.

#22 chrisno1



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Posted 21 September 2010 - 02:08 PM


The sensation was cool. Bond could feel the gentle hum of air conditioning. The mattress underneath him was soft. The pillow was made, he thought, from duck feathers. His eyes gradually opened. The room was in half light. It looked exactly the same as the suite he’d slept in at Babylon, only this room was decorated in spruce green rather than amber.

There was a figure in the room, sitting at the desk, turned to face him. The girl sat up as his gaze fixed straight at her.

Sylvia crossed to the bed, a vision in a long flowing white gown, made of several layers of silk embroidered together. Bond had images of Salome and the Seven Veils in mind as she sat on the edge of the bed, concern etched across her face.

She reached to the bedside table, where a bowl of iced water was prepared. Sylvia dabbed a face cloth in the freezing pot and ran it across Bond’s face. He hissed at the cold shock.

“You should see your other bruises, James,” said the girl, “Mon Dieu! What a mess!”

Bond’s throat was dry. He coughed.


Sylvia poured from a jug and offered the glass to his lips. Bond drank slowly and then sank back onto the cool pillows and the soft mattress. He closed his eyes and dreamt of Salome.

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

When Bond next awoke, his faculties were more alert and he sat upright, looking at the beautiful blonde head and face as the girl tended to his wounds, using some ointments, cotton pads and a roll of sticking plasters. She had a studied expression and was taking her time over the process. She was careful to ensure her eyes strayed no lower when changing the bandage on the tear at his stomach, which was festering and needed some treatment. Bond bit against the sting as she daubed a concoction that resembled TCP on the seeping wound.

“The doctor tells me it’ll be fine. There’s no need to stitch it.”

“What doctor?”

“This place has everything. It’s amazing.”

Bond didn’t disagree, “How long have I been here?” he asked, “And how long have you been here?”

“You slept for about a day. Between you and me, James, I’m rather pleased to see you. I really didn’t know what to do after I met Sargon. He’s a very strange man.”

“You met him? When?”

“Two nights ago. At least I think it was. There aren’t any clocks here.”

“What did you talk about?”

“He wanted to know why I was ‘pursuing’ him. Then he spouted all this weird stuff about the One Supreme Being. I was really spooked. He’s mad.”

“Yes. Quite possibly.”

Bond’s mind was still full of the scheme Sargon had for ruining Iraq. Madman or genius? The line was too fine and was too often broken.

Sylvia reapplied new bandages. “I’m sure you’ll be able to get up and walk. Do you want me to get you something to eat?”

“Fruit and yoghurt would be nice. And some toast and honey, Romanian lime blossom if possible.”

“You don’t ask for much, do you?”

Bond smiled, responding to her joviality, and watched as she operated the palm push button. She did look very beautiful in the long silk gown. He wondered what she was wearing underneath. With that wicked thought, he decided it was definitely time to put on some clothes.

“What do I wear?”

Sylvia crossed to the wet room and brought out a very large bath robe. “That’ll have to do for now,” she said and slung the article on the bed, across Bond’s feet.

Bond discreetly waited until she wasn’t looking before pulling it on and gingerly placing his feet on the floor. Everything felt in the right place. Just a little torn and tattered.

The door swished open and one of the hand maiden’s appeared and accepted Bond’s food order, which Sylvia repeated in passable Arabic, adding something of her own. Bond started to walk around the room, gently exercising his limbs. As he did so, he glimpsed an armed guard stationed in the passage outside.

This wasn’t the first time an enemy had imprisoned him, but in the past he had a clear operational objective. Sometimes capture or infiltration was almost inevitable to achieve that object, getting close to the enemy, inside the trusted circle of advisors. Other times, like now, it was an accident, an error of judgement on Bond’s part. Then it was left to Bond’s wit and guile. Q Branch sometimes provided the materials for escape, but more often than not Bond found he was abandoned by everyone and everything. M certainly wouldn’t acknowledge his role in the S.I.S. and Bond expected no sympathy from his superior. He didn’t want it either. There was now an added dimension for Bond. He’d had some criticism before setting out on this operation. He’d had to joust hard to be allowed to go to Abu Dhabi and get close to Rashid. Now the least exciting assignment on earth was likely to affect the world and the little caprice about stolen goods was turning into a revolution. The field agent who needed to think fast, but who was out of shape and not up to the job in hand was all that stood between Sargon and the destruction of an elected government. Bond had to deliver results; to his boss and for himself. And he supposed, for Iraq. It was time for Bond to trust those human instincts he held so high. It was time to find the flaw in his adversary’s master plan, the blemish on his make up.

“Do you want to know what Sargon’s really doing, Sylvia?”

“He isn’t running a hotel. What is this, some sort of cult?”

“You could say that.”

Bond explained what had happened to him, leaving out only the intimate details with Yasmin. He told it quickly, succinctly, except the deaths of Chivry and the hand maiden, which he glossed over awkwardly.

Sylvia became worried and her face screwed up. At the end of Bond’s synopsis, she said: “None of it sounds good, James. What do you think we can do? I mean, we’re prisoners aren’t we? How can we change things?”

“I don’t have that answer yet, Sylvia.”

The breakfast arrived. Bond ate well. He hadn’t realised how hungry he was. Sylvia ate pastries. They also had orange juice and coffee. Bond was pleased she drank her coffee black. He asked what had happened to her since Sunday.

It turned out Sylvia’s experience had been very similar to Bond’s. Scar and Gold Tooth had arrived at her hotel room and insisted she accompanied them to the Island of Babylon. She had not wanted to go and explained that she was returning to Paris in the morning. They were unconcerned. Sylvia asked why Bond hadn’t been invited. She was careful to call him Mister Aubrey. Gold Tooth politely explained Mister Aubrey was already there and waiting. It was he who had requested her presence. Sylvia thought she ought not to go and stalled for time, asking the two men to wait outside. There was no reply from Bond’s room, or his mobile, and the concierge confirmed Bond had indeed left the hotel earlier that evening. Still uncertain she called Khalil Datto, but there was no reply from the station man’s phone. This last detail worried Bond, but he didn’t say so.

Sylvia had steeled herself and made the decision to go. She had then been escorted by car and boat to the ziggurat where she’d met three girls, who were all virtually naked. She looked for a reaction from Bond. Getting none, she pressed on. She had to bathe and was then taken to the very top of the hotel, to a penthouse, where she waited a long time for Sargon.

“The man’s a lunatic, James, did he try to hypnotise you?”

“Yes, I think he did, but I wasn’t having it. What about you?”

“I can’t remember. It all got very strange. There was this smell in the air. I was very drowsy. By the end of the interview, I was about ready to fall asleep. I can hardly remember a thing we talked about except the first few words. It’s odd, I keep thinking he was asking questions about me, about my childhood, but I don’t understand why. Any way, I woke up in this room with a very sweet girl telling me I’d been taken ill.”

Bond decided Sylvia may have inadvertently revealed the machinations of his plan. Once again he wished he’d never brought the girl on this escapade. She could well be more of a liability than he’d previously thought. Still, he couldn’t turn back the clock. He was stuck with her now and would have to make the best of it.

“Well, we’re both in the [censored],” said Bond, “And at the moment there isn’t much we can do about it. So I think the first thing to do is get us some proper clothes. I can’t spend all my time here looking like I’m about to take a bath.”

He walked across to the palm button and pressed it. A few minutes later one of the cute hand maidens appeared, offered her smile and introduced herself as Nelima. She listened while Bond demanded they had their clothes be returned.

At the end of his statement, Nelima smiled sweetly and said, in very bad English: “The Dastur is pleased you have recovered. He requests you join him for dinner this evening. Of course we will provide you with clothes. Thank you.”

The girl picked up the tray of breakfast things and made for the door. Bond blocked her path.

“It is not advisable to commit acts of violence,” stated the girl, “Remember your actions in this life affect your future in the next.”

Bond considered it. It would be easy to apprehend Nelima. He could over power the guard outside. And he had some knowledge of the layout of Babylon. Escape was a possibility. And certainly those actions would affect his present situation. As for his future, he couldn’t tell. None-the-less, another meeting with Sargon intrigued him, especially now he was aware of the monk’s true operation. Bond let the girl pass.

“I may as well take that bloody shower,” he grumbled.

The hours seemed longer because there was nothing to do. Never one to watch much television, Bond missed even that. It was like being in a monastery without having the religious devotion. Bond and Sylvia distracted themselves by talking about their lives away from museums and espionage. He discovered she played tennis on Sundays and enjoyed reading classic French novels. She lived, ate and slept alone. Her holidays were spent walking in the low Pyrenees or the Languedoc. As a student she’d attended archaeological digs in Crete and Libya, but now she only visited sites when the museum required it. Bond tried to explain his passion for sports cars, but Sylvia rebuffed it by talking about cycling in Le Massif Centrale. He had more luck with food, where a natural French passion became evident, and they both agreed simple was best, but extravagant was better. She sniffed at Bond’s vinic knowledge and his tales of the exotic and bizarre cocktails he’d consumed. She agreed that Oscar Peterson was better than Count Basie, insisted Puccini was best and laughed when Bond tried to impersonate Yves Montand singing Les Grand Boulevards. Most of all they learnt how lonely they were and how they longed to have time to share their world with other people. For Bond it was impossible, the Secret’s Act prevented it, but he admitted he always shunned the private life, choosing to fill his hours with meaningless social gatherings. The clutter of the social whirl held little appeal for Sylvia, for she had a chronic fear of rejection, of being deemed insubstantial and an underachiever. She’d concentrated her life on attaining qualifications that hardly mattered in the world outside the Louvre. Ironically, she felt as outcast now as she had as a child.

“I don’t see that,” Bond said and tenderly squeezed her hand.

“I know.”

The tiny exchange explained everything they needed to understand. They sat opposite at one another, passive and silent, for a long time. Just sat and watched.

Bond offered to make coffee and the spell was broken. He’d allowed himself to get distracted. There was a revolution to worry about. Bond considered the time line of the coup. When he’d been spying in the lion’s den, Sargon had said there were only five days to the commencement of Gilgamesh. Bond’s escape from Babylon had taken place midway through the following day. Sylvia estimated he’d been unconscious for another twenty-four hours. That made it Wednesday afternoon or early evening. The man called Trudeau had said the flights to Iraq were organised for Thursday morning. Bond wondered what was in store for them when Sargon seized power. Their capture was not a precaution and the pit of his stomach told him the future was not good. Equally, what were the consequences should Sargon fail? Neither outcome seemed joyful. Bond kept turning in his mind every detail about Sargon and the situation in Iraq. None of it offered any solutions. Trapped in this one room, Bond was impotent. Sargon knew it and that was why he was here.

Latterly, Bond dozed on the bed. The hum of the automatic doors snapped him into full conscious. Nelima had entered the room and was depositing two neatly folded squares of clothes onto the desk top. Bond recognised the jacket he’d worn on arrival. A minor concession. The victory filled him with hope. The monk’s guard was slipping.

Bond dressed in his own slacks and shirt. They had been scrupulously cleaned and ironed. He was surprised to find a half empty packet Marlboros in the pocket. Closer inspection revealed all his espionage equipment, minus the Walther P99 but including the Dunhill lighter, had been replaced. The guards were not as smart as Bond supposed. Bond wondered if he might have an opportunity to use them. The universal key wouldn’t help with the palm-print locks, but later on, if Bond needed to break out it certainly might.

Sylvia had come dressed in similar clothes to those she had worn into the Empty Quarter, a sensible pair of cotton trousers, a blouse and a loose collarless jacket. This combination was in off-white. She only had sandals for footwear.

As if by magic, Nelima reappeared a few minutes after they had finished dressing.

“Please, follow me; the Dastur is most anxious to make your acquaintance.”

“We’ve already met,” said Bond drily.

His comment went unanswered. The barefooted maid led them along the corridor and to the elevator. She beckoned them to enter and followed them inside. Bond expected her to press the button for the penthouse floor, but instead she touched 15.

When the doors parted, they were welcomed by the low throb of drumming. Black marble tiles stretched in both directions away from the elevator doors. Nelima gestured for them to walk to the right and let them make their own way.

Sylvia took Bond’s arm.

“Fjiri music, the pearl diver’s songs,” she murmured, “I remember it from when my father was posted here. Those are traditional Bedu drums; mirwais. Hypnotic isn’t it?”

“I suppose it is.”

They rounded the corner and were confronted with another of Sargon’s miracles. The room in front of them was divided by two rows of white marble pillars which contrasted sharply with the black floor and ceiling. Everything was polished and shone like mirrors. The tiny lamps above reflected below, creating a star scape under their feet and above their heads. The air was perfumed with myrrh. Between the twin rows of columns, at the far end of the room, was a table, or more accurately a slab of green stone laced with agate. The bronze legs were shaped like Babylonian lions, at once restive and alert.

The figure that rose behind the table was equally manic. Sargon, his eyes darting, watched the two figures approach.

As he walked, Bond looked left and right, between the pillars. He saw statues, characters from mythology that Professor Gainsborough would have recognised instantly. They were not alone in the huge room. One of the statues was clearly Scar, nursing the saqr on his wrist. Bond offered an inclination of the head. Scar did not respond but sauntered over to the massive plinth, taking up a position behind Sargon’s seat. There was a perch for the falcon and it hopped obediently onto it. Bond and Sylvia stopped a few metres from the table.

Sylvia’s fingers gripped Bond’s arm nervously. He placed his own hand over hers and held it tight. He considered he ought to say something.

“Thank you for washing our clothes.”

Sargon moved from behind the table. His brows seeming to spiral as he came closer. When he spoke, they focussed dead straight.

“Mister Bond, James Bond, I must ask what sort of fool you take me for? You think I care for the flippancy, the humour, the irony of the English? ‘I am James Aubrey, a representative of the British Museum, and I am interested in The Epic of Gilgamesh.’ What idiocy! Only the British, with your ridiculous sense of fair play, could invent such a conceit. I am almost ashamed to be talking to you. In a world where the internet can expose individuals faster than they can travel, I knew of you long before you knew of me. My people marked you in Paris, Mister Bond. You are almost a disgrace to your profession. The art of a spy, surely, is to be unknown, to wander in the shadows and suddenly strike, like a serpent for the throat.”

Sargon’s hand jutted forward towards Bond’s face. It stopped short.

Sylvia took a sharp breath. Bond remained stoic. He merely blinked.

“I can still strike you dead, Sargon, make no doubt about it.”

Sargon laughed, loud and maniacal. The eyes rolled. The lids started to blink rapidly. Bits of spittle dribbled out of his mouth. He cared nothing for the mess.

“When Mister Bond? Now? But you just are about to witness the extent of my plans for Iraq.”

“I know what your plans are for Iraq, Sargon, and they won’t work. The United Nations won’t stand for it. You’ll be thrown out, just like Saddam Hussein was.”

“You believe so? Do you? Do you really know that without seeing my plans, hearing the extent of my influence, the number of men in my armed forces? I think you need more than history lessons, Mister Bond, you need faith.”

“I can’t share your faith. You know that.”

“Others say the same,” Sargon dismissively retreated back to his desk, “Come, join me for dinner. You can meet another man who once had no faith in me.”

Sargon flicked his hand in the air. It was a nothing gesture, but instantly two hand maidens appeared at the back of the marble hall.

Still linked arm in arm Bond and Sylvia followed the monk into the room beyond. It shared the same marble colour scheme, only here a long dining table split the middle of the floor. It was laid for twelve, but there were only three other people in the room.

One was Amin Al Rashid, already sitting at the table and deep in conversation with Gold Tooth, who stood beside him, hovering over every word. The last person had his back to them and was pouring a glass of water. Bond recognised the silhouette of the thin grey haired man.

The grey man turned around and from that slightly stooping gait, looked at the two new faces in front of him. Recognition started to flow through his features. Bond felt the girl stiffen next to him. Her hand dropped from his arm.

Suddenly he realised why Sylvia had been brought to the Island of Babylon. He realised why first Andreas Chivry, then Amin Al Rashid had taken a close interest in Sylvia Lavoilette. He realised why Sargon had asked lots of questions about her childhood. And he remembered the stories Sylvia had told him, of roaming the Middle East, from diplomatic posting to diplomatic posting, a lonely hard upbringing. And he remembered the brief, indistinct information Khalil Datto had provided about the odd, thin man Daniel Trudeau. Now all those details, however small, slotted neatly into place.

Bond needed only one word from Sylvia to understand.


Edited by chrisno1, 21 September 2010 - 10:31 PM.

#23 chrisno1



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Posted 23 September 2010 - 09:29 PM


Father and daughter stood looking at each other. Bond had the image of the girl running towards the man, but it didn’t happen they just stood and stared. In the end it was the most formal of greetings.

“Bonjour, Sylvia.”

“Bonjour, Papa.”

Sargon seemed mildly amused. “So it is true, Damon,” he began icily, “You really don’t have any family.”

His glassy eyes spun between Sylvia and the man he’d just identified as Damon Lavoilette. The tall man looked sharply at Sargon from the corners of his eyes. He was angry. The sinews on the man’s neck started to tighten. Bond steeled himself for action.

Instead the tall man clenched his fists together and then relaxed them, several times, until the blood subsided. When he was ready, the tall man spoke slowly and deliberately.

“I don’t know what you intended to do by bringing my daughter here, but it changes nothing for me. We have an arrangement, Sargon, and I intend to full fill it.”

“Good,” Sargon replied, “Then we can proceed with dinner.” He looked across at Bond and Sylvia, “I assume you still wish to join us?”

“Of course we do,” Bond felt the need to speak for them both, “Don’t we, Sylvia?” He took up her arm again, snapping the girl out of the daze she was standing in.

“Introductions are perhaps in order,” Sargon began, “You are of course familiar with Amin Al Rashid, my sponsor in Abu Dhabi and my personal financier. The man with the gold tooth, who you have also met, is Yusef Salim, a remarkable man who once had a future in the diplomatic corps. He speaks over twenty languages and acts as my media consultant and communications liaison. I understand you also made friends with Scar, my personal guardian.”

As he spoke Scar settled the saqr on a gilded bronze roost next to his dinner plate. He attached the leash to his wrist. The bird sat hooded and motionless.

“The last man is familiar to you by two names,” continued Sargon, “Although I believe he now prefers the name Daniel Trudeau. I would have liked you to meet General Sayyid Khadimi, but he is required in Iraq. The General is a good friend of many years standing. He was once a junior officer in Saddam’s army but now occupies a high position in the Iraqi Security Forces.”

Bond pulled out a chair for the girl. He took a seat next to her. The man called Daniel Trudeau, formerly Damon Lavoilette, sat on her other side. Father and daughter glanced fitfully at each other.

The green marble table, set on a pride of lions-for-legs, was scrupulously laid with shining silver plates, cutlery and goblets. There was no alcohol, so Bond poured some pomegranate flavoured water, first for himself, then for Sylvia. The three Europeans sat together. Ranged opposite were the Arabs. Bond cast a rudimentary glance at Trudeau. The man was unaware he was being observed; for the moment his whole attention was on Sylvia or on his dinner plate.

Bond flipped open a linen napkin, “Do we have grace and fiery urns today, Sargon?”

“Nothing so elaborate.”

“Good. Then let’s eat.”

Bond was being deliberately rude. He wanted to push Sargon as far as he could, to see how mad the monk really was. The presence of the others didn’t bother him. He’d ceased to have any respect for Rashid. As for Gold Tooth and the mute Scar, their brief associations did not appeal. The greying Trudeau was an unknown quantity, but Bond considered him a weary accomplice at best, a man in deeper than his boots and not enjoying it. Everything about his countenance told him so.

Sargon took his seat and the two girls reappeared with armfuls of fresh aromatic food. They started with kebabs and tender chilli meatballs accompanied with various dips and sauces.

“It’s a pity Andreas Chivry couldn’t be here,” said Bond blithely, “He would enjoy this, with his appetite.”

“Indeed he might,” replied Sargon as if the conversation was already at an end.

“I don’t understand why you killed him.”

“He was careless, Mister Bond, not only with his business, but with ours.”

Rashid interjected, talking over a kebab stick layered with a syrupy date sauce, “Even after Sargon decided to meet you, Chivry insisted on attempting to have you murdered. That cost me one of my best drivers. I’d like to thank you for killing those hoodlums.”

“Think nothing of it. Did he organise to have Khalil Datto killed also?”

“I fear so.”

“But he was very useful to you, Sargon. You owed him a lot of money too.”

“His impatience sealed his fate,” answered the monk, “I always accepted he would swindle me, or others, with his fake art. Amin told me so after we were first introduced. However, I did not expect him to blatantly offer the very artefacts I was purchasing.”

“But he was doing you a favour, driving the prices down so you could buy more.”

“Thus putting his trade under police scrutiny,” Sargon stated, “It was, lest we forget, the sale of The Epic of Gilgameshi which attracted the attention of your government.”

“And the French,” interjected Sylvia, recovering her voice.

Sargon’s inky gaze covered her for a second, “Yes. And they chose a fortuitous agent to assist them. I was really quite startled when Chivry reported to me who you were. I must congratulate you, Daniel, on having quite splendid offspring.”

Trudeau shot a quick fractious glance over the table, “It’s her mother’s side.”

“Of course it is.”

Sylvia dropped her fork. It clanged on the plate and made everyone stop eating. “Don’t bring Mama into this,” she said, her voice brittle, about to crack.

Sensing her fragile state, Bond interjected, “I don’t think personal issues need to be brought to this table. Sylvia’s been estranged from her father for years. This is quite a shock to her.”

“And to me,” whispered Trudeau.

“I’m sure,” added Bond curtly, wanting to keep each enemy distant.

The matter was closed. Rashid and Gold Tooth began a conversation in Arabic. Gold Tooth, for a man of many languages, remained as reticent as Scar and the financier did all the talking. Sargon’s cagey gaze scanned his two captives as he ate. When the entrees were finished he again made a tiny gesture and the hand maidens cleared away the plates. They returned a few minutes later presenting a selection of rice dishes and two steaming casseroles, one of hot and spicy lamb, the other succulent sweet chicken. There were two huge flat breads, caked with almonds and sultanas to lap up the sauces with.

Scar was given a separate bowl of raw meat which he fed to the hooded bird with great care. Not once did Scar’s behaviour suggest he was remotely interested in the conversations around him. Bond sensed again the cold menace that filled the wiry body. If it came to it, he wanted to avoid a confrontation with Scar. At the very least he’d want a reliable weapon. Bond put the thought aside. There were other times for summing up the opposition.

“So explain to me what this is all about, Sargon,” began Bond, “There are lots of questions I don’t have the answers to. Firstly, where did you get all this money from? It doesn’t grow on trees and as I understand it, you were conspicuously austere in Iraq.”

Sargon chuckled. It had a hollow mean ring. His mouth was full, but he carried on talking and the sauce spilled into his white beard, where he mopped it with his sleeve.

“Not on trees, Mister Bond, under them. The family of Saddam Hussein each hid hundreds of millions of dollars throughout Iraq, not in bank accounts, you understand, but in new minted notes. After the fall of the regime I made a rather fortunate discovery. When Saddam visited my monastery near Sharafiya, he brought a large entourage and stayed for three days, camping on the surrounding plain. I was unaware he was burying fifteen cinder boxes in my orchard. The boxes contained $600 million in one hundred dollar bills. The orchard was diseased and the monks decided to cut down the dead trees. That’s when we found the money.”

“But by then you’d embarked on a political career, why flee to Abu Dhabi?”

“I yearned for peace of mind, Mister Bond. Remember I had been rejected, ridiculed by the United Nations. There was no peace for me in Iraq. I felt such loss over the pillage of my country. I could have stayed. I could have watched the in fighting. I could have cried as the foreigners stole the oil, the bandits raped the land and the scavengers desecrated the sacred sites I held so dear. I was shaken, distraught. Even the teachings of the Wise Lord and all the great philosophers and prophets could not explain the assassination of history. And I began to wonder. And I dreamt. And in that dream I read the words of Gilgamesh:

He is awesome to perfection.
It is he who opened the mountain passes and made the wells that flank the mountains.
It is he who crossed the ocean, the vast seas, to the land of the sun, who explored the world, the faraway lands, seeking life.
It is he who returned to the catastrophe of man and restored the sanctuaries the flood of the earth had destroyed.
He rebuilt them for the teeming throng of mankind.
Who can compare to his kingliness?
Who can say like Gilgamesh ‘I am King!’
The Great Goddess designed the model for his body, for Gilgamesh had no father and no son, no mother and no daughter.
Who has no father and no son? Who has no mother and no daughter?
Whose name from the day of their birth was Gilgamesh?

And the dream told me the answer. I have no father and no mother, like Gilgamesh, I was born in the wetlands of the Euphrates, found in a bread basket and raised by monks and by God. Whose name did I read in my dreams, Mister Bond?”

Bond knew the answer he’d sensed it long ago. The elliptical thoughts of the wandering solitary monk, the man who had spent so long isolated from the world were terrifying in their very simplicity. It was a madness you couldn’t argue against, for it went to the core of a man’s soul, to his very essence. The intensity of it even frightened Bond. Beside him, Sylvia was shrinking into her seat as the maleficence poured out of Sargon and overwhelmed his audience.

“Sargon,” answered Bond.

“Sargon. My name. What would the world give now, I wondered, for the restoration of a king and a return to the fields of gold of Babylon? I had my destiny. I had my wealth. Did I have the power, did I have the people? The answer was yes. But like Gilgamesh, I had to go to a faraway land. A tactical withdrawal, Mister Bond, was all I envisaged.”

“But you’ve given over that dream to gluttony.”

Sargon responded with an icy smile. The mouth could have been the entrance to a bizarre ghost ride as it opened and closed, then returned to a fixed, straight humourless track, the lips buried behind the white whiskers.

“Instinct can be turned by sudden wealth. And I decided to use my wealth. First I recruited Amin Al Rashid, a first rate investment advisor. He ensured my dollars trebled in value over three years. When it mattered he advised me to withdraw my funds before the stock markets tumbled during the debt crisis. I bought the unfinished Hotel Babylon, a perfect retreat for religious and political means. And I hid myself away again, just as I had in the deserts of Nineveh all those decades ago. This time I wasn’t entirely alone, but isolation within the world can still be sought and found if one requires it. My Zoroastrian past was a perfect alibi. If anyone became too intrigued by the Island of Babylon, I merely showed them the courtesies of my home, the good food, the contemplative air, the beauty of nature, the freedom to live and to love.”

Calmly, deliberately, Bond finished another mouthful of delicious lamb. All it needed was a glass of Carmenere. He weighed up the conversation. Sargon was beginning to rattle. The speech about kingship was intense, hard. He may have surrendered the mesmerism and the drugs, but in their place the black apish eyes jittered and the quick evil mind flexed.

“Yes, I know about the girls,” said Bond bitterly, “A tidy little ruse. I’m sure a lot of inquiring minds left satisfied you are a genuine prophet.”

“Quite so.”

“As well as being a terrorist,” Bond’s reply was flat, “With thousands of deaths to your name.”

The prod was enough. Sargon put down his fork and the sleeve came up and took a long time dragging its way over his lips. The mobile, slitted orbs fizzed back and forth, agile, alert. The brow creased as though Bond was a far away object and Sargon was trying to identify it, to wonder what it knew of him and if it could hurt him.

“I am fuelling a ready-made market, Mister Bond,” Sargon said casually. He speared a fresh chunk of lamb and gnawed at the meat, his teeth ripping at the seared pink flesh. For a moment he started to laugh; then he stopped himself. Instead he started to talk:

“As long ago as 2005, I sent the first of my troops into Basra and Baghdad, each one seeking out the idealists who wished their route to heaven to be swift and diabolique. My troops were pure Zoroastrian, Parsi if you want, but like me they all desired the solidarity of the unified state of Iraq. Building a nation, Mister Bond, is like building a house. You need foundations. And before you create those foundations you need to clear away the debris that surrounds the land. This is where my troops have been active. They sought out the people who wanted to bring death to the masses of Iraq. We started slowly. We committed no crimes ourselves, but we supplied the means for others. In that regard, the assistance of disgruntled people like Andreas Chivry and Daniel Trudeau was essential. Their knowledge of the region, of supply routes, of people and places stretched far beyond my means. We were aided also by the disastrous state of the newly formed Iraqi Security Forces. They were in utter chaos. There was infighting between Sunni and Shiite figures which went right to the very top command posts. The I.S.F. became polarized. Something had to weaken. The United Nations Transition Command insisted the Iraqi government reformed and retrained the police and army. The sectarian factions, the non-performing elements and those associated with the Baath Party were wheedled out. But where did they go? They came to us or they fled to Al Qaeda. Either way my insurgency troops, operating like wolves in the night, supplied them with the explosives they needed and provided a means to express their anger.

“It was almost too simple. When Saddam was deposed, with him went law and order. What was the replacement except an uneasy, inefficient and unpopular coalition of United Nations forces and ex-service men? None of the foreign forces wanted to be in Iraq. It was an obligation. The international community had destroyed the country; now it had a duty to protect it. A little late in realising the fact, I think you agree. Yet for hundreds of years Persia, Babylon, the cradle of life had supplied and protected it self. Why could it, can it, not do so again? I know it to be attainable. The dream of a golden Babylon is rooted in my mind’s eye. Do you know how much I dream, Mister Bond? Do you know how the ghosts of Cyrus and Nebuchadnezzar and Sargon the Great have haunted me? Do you know how I writhe in my bed and wound myself and consider my fate? Has not the Wise Lord told me I am the prophet? Has he not set out a grand life for me in heaven? I have to full fill my destiny, Mister Bond. It is not an option. It is a rite as ancient as the passage of the Euphrates and the Tigris. I, Mister Bond, am living proof that legends can be real, that the stories of our ancestors are touched by a magic we can only begin to comprehend.

“And in a few days I will prove it. Our attacks have reached a devastating apex, Mister Bond. The papers tell us it is so: one hundred dead here, seventy there, two hundred injured elsewhere; a list of atrocities that grows longer by the day. Disparate voices are sounding louder among the masses and calling for a solution. President Bani is impotent. Prime Minister Maliki can’t form a government except by fraud. His opponents Allawi, Al Sadr and the Kurdish factions are equally obsessed by fighting each other and manipulating their share of the votes. Good honest elected parliamentarians have been disqualified from office. With no stable government to make the decisions that matter, with foreign troops being removed from our country, it is the optimum moment for glory. Over the past weeks you will have read how the severity of the terror attacks has increased. You have been isolated these last few days, Mister Bond, but things have suddenly got much worse, much, much worse in Iraq.”

Bond pushed his plate away. He lit a cigarette without asking permission and saw his host’s displeasure. Bond enjoyed that. He considered Sargon’s scheme. The atrocities led in only one direction: “So these atrocities culminate in the assassination of Maliki and his ministers.”

“We have earmarked a conference in Tal Afar, near Kurdistan. Maliki and his staff are to meet President Barzani of the Kurdish Regional Government in another attempt to discuss forming a ruling coalition. It is foolish for so many ministers to travel in the same aircraft. You remember Poland lost almost its whole government in a horrific accident. I propose something similar. This time it will be the work of a bomb, detonated by a most fanatical member of Al Qaeda, a young man who really doesn’t understand the world and is only interested in attaining eternal life. Like most Iraqis, he too has surrendered his free will. Choice, Mister Bond, has become an unknown entity in Iraq. For decades only those with power and money practised any form of personal choice and even then they feared discovery and inevitable retribution. There is nothing for the young. They die a hero of Islam or they die a pauper of the state. I wish to give them back a respectable life. New infrastructure, strong communication links, a healthy return to agriculture and industry. In this matter the advice and experience of men like Amin Al Rashid and Yusef Salim will become invaluable to me. Already they know who we can trust. They have procured funding promises from Syria, China and Turkey.

“But I cannot rebuild a state in anarchy. The first task is the elimination of all opposition. And here, Mister Bond, there is a school of thought surrounding the lands of Babylon, of Ur and of Assyria, those ancient civilisations that form the basis of modern Iraq. It is a thought that has existed for centuries, right back to the days of Cyrus the Great and beyond. Iraq, Mister Bond, must be ruled by one strong man. The United Nations, and America, mooted this as recently as 2007. The idea has never gone away. U.S. CENTCOM in Kuwait won’t interfere with us, Mister Bond, because I, along with General Khadimi, am exactly the strong man they are looking for. No weak coalitions, no bartering for power. Simply one sudden surge and then one iron fist controls the people, quelling insurrection, restoring stability and faith in the nation.”

“You attach a lot of stall to faith.”

“I have faith in my methods, Mister Bond,” said Sargon drily, “Everything I have achieved has been on the back of faith.”

“But you haven’t achieved anything yet, Sargon,” countered Bond. He leaned forward, his finger pointing like a gun, “You’ve stolen $600 million and a load of old relics and you’ve killed a few thousand civilians. That’s hardly the stuff of future kings. You’re nothing but a trumped up religious icon and a pretty pitiful example of that too, hiding yourself away in a gilded cage while your precious country goes to rack and ruin. Why the hell would the nation want you back? You’ve never given them anything.”

Sargon took the bait.

Bond had allowed him to dream, to talk as if he was the ruler of the Promised Land, and then he’d cut him down to size. Nobody, Bond assumed, ever did that to Sargon. He was right.

Sargon bit down hard on the charge. He was furious. The sharp features cracked and billowed. The transition was like a volcano exploding. The mouth opened and a stream of abuse erupted from it, in several languages. Bond only caught the English sentences.

“What leaders have never killed to attain a position of power?” shrieked Sargon, “Never struck another human being, never ordered the elimination of opposition? You dare to preach to me, Mister Bond? And you a killer of men yourself! A thief of lives! What are my few thousand lives to your few score? When the world assesses our contribution to history, where will an agent of the British Secret Service be when compared to Sargon the Prophet? Will the world care?”

The voice was reaching an even higher pitch. Sargon’s speech grew in intensity and swiftness, words jumbling together, his face screwing up with effort. The madness of his voice was evident in the strained bleak eyes. Now the catharsis was stretching across his whole body. Sargon was twitching. It started at his head, fast nodding movements, and progressed down his neck and shoulders. The left arm jerked involuntarily. Sargon’s mouth dropped open and he suddenly stopped speaking. There was a dreadful quiet in the room, a hushed disbelieving silence, silence except for the moaning emitted from the grimacing black aperture.

The spasm wracked the whole sinister side of Sargon’s body. The monk twisted to the right, convulsing, trying to stand and escape his audience. Scar stepped up quickly and grabbed Sargon tightly from behind. It was the first time the sinewy man had shown concern for any thing other than the falcon. For a few seconds the two men seemed to embrace each other. Scar forced the monk to sit. His lips were moving, but the words were lost, only a soft cooing sound was audible. Shaking, Sargon returned to his seat with a thump and took a series of barely controlled heavy breaths. Gradually after several minutes his head became still and the eye lids rested. The madness had passed.

Bond remained impassive. The reaction had surprised him but he didn’t show it. Hesitantly the two delicate hand maidens removed the serving dishes and the dinner service. Everyone else was still staring at the white robed man, who sat wheezing at the centre of the table. As they watched, the apelike intelligence returned to the glittering orbs and the calm, placid exterior returned.

Still out of breath, Sargon uttered one word: “Enough.”

The audience all stood, except Bond and Sylvia, who did not understand the instruction. Dinner was over, so it seemed. One of the hand maidens ushered them back towards the other room and the elevators, where Nelima stood patiently waiting.


It was Trudeau. He was waving a timid hand, but although the girl saw it, she ignored him.

#24 chrisno1



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Posted 26 September 2010 - 04:59 PM


“Epilepsy,” said Bond.

The madness of kings: a seizure, a transient neurological abnormality, a brain dysfunction, the result of injury, disease or trauma. Human behaviours, our activities, thoughts, perceptions, ideas and emotions are the result of highly regulated electrical excitation of the nerve cells inside the brain. But for a tiny percentage these orderly pulses become disturbed, often through drug abuse, from brain disease or during birth trauma. The triggers are many and varied; flashing lights are commonly cited, but emotional shock or stress is more frequently the reason. When one of these chaotic electrical discharges occurs it can result in seizure. One third of childhood sufferers grow out of the condition. Half of the remainder respond to anticonvulsant drugs or minor surgery. The rest share the disorder for life.

Bond wondered what category Sargon fell into. He thought about the man’s history. No father, no mother. Had his mother died at birth and his father abandoned him to the lap of the gods? And what of those curious years spent wandering the hills, when he dressed in rags and ate off the fat and thin of the land? Was he suffering from a long term mental condition or a minor neural tube defect? This evening they had clearly witnessed a partial seizure. Bond thought it might be what was called Jacksonian epilepsy, which took the form of localised rapid twitching. Whatever it was, it added another mystique to Sargon the Prophet, the Mad Monk. Didn’t the ancient civilisations revere those who suffered from the King’s Madness? Didn’t Caesar suffer from it? And Alexander too? It was once a sign of greatness. Bond shivered that such beliefs could still hold sway in the modern world. Sargon had persuaded himself he was great; his actions and involuntary reactions had persuaded others too.

Nelima escorted them back to the room. Once again, Bond considered whether to kidnap the girl and make another attempt at escape. There was still only the one guard outside the suite. He put the temptation aside. The time wasn’t right. The thought sickened him, but Bond knew innocent people, important people, had to die before there was an opportunity to stop Sargon.

Bond wondered how M was reacting to the situation. The loss of contact with a field agent was not unheard of, but this non-communication wasn’t planned or expected. It had been four days since Bond’s last update. If news of Khalil Datto’s death had filtered back to London, Bond could be certain the S.I.S would have linked it to Agent 007, to Chivry, to Sargon, but they would be none the wiser as to his actual whereabouts. Bond had to assume his mobile phone had been destroyed to prevent a satellite trace. A lot of assumptions. A lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’.

“Are you all right?” he asked Sylvia when the door had closed.

“Yes, I think so,” she replied, “I don’t know what’s been worse, meeting that evil man or seeing my father.”

“Look at me, Sylvia,” Bond took her shoulders in his hands, “It will be all right. There is always a way. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

“You sound like Papa.”

The memory wasn’t a good one for her. Bond could tell. A false reassurance from a bad parent: ‘No one can hurt you – except me and I will hurt you, both you and your mother.’

There was something ghostly about Damon Lavoilette, or Daniel Trudeau as he now preferred. It was as if he was worth nought, a man who was walking, but who was already dead. Of all Sargon’s heavies, Trudeau was the weak link. Bond had to find out why he was mixed up in this sordid business. It might, Bond suspected, be his only hope. Perhaps Sylvia could help, question her father and influence him in some way. One long look at the pretty face told him ‘no.’ The strong features were crumbling and tears were forming in the corners of the grey eyes. Bond knew it was asking a tremendous sacrifice on the girl’s part, but he didn’t have any other options.

“You can trust me. Remember?” said Bond.

“Yes; I remember.”

Bond smiled at her. He wished he did have the answers. He couldn’t reveal his true fears. Instead he pulled her close to him and they clung to each other as if they would never see one another again.

After a long time, during which Sylvia sobbed on his sleeve and he stroked her hair and whispered to her as if she was a child in his arms, Bond offered to make coffee.

“You’ve had a bad shock, Sylvia. Two of them,” he stated, “Sit down. I need you to concentrate.”

“I can’t, James, it’s all too much.”

“I know, sweetheart, I know, but listen, I don’t want any of those bastards to see you like this. You were bloody marvellous upstairs, Sylvia. You didn’t put a foot wrong. You can be proud of yourself. I’m proud of you. But tomorrow’s going to be worse, I can guarantee it, and you’ve got to be strong for me again. Really strong.”

Bond brought the coffee over and sat next to her at the desk. He held her hand and they stroked each other’s nails while he explained what he wanted her to do.

Afterwards, they undressed discreetly and organised the bed, using pillows for a balustrade. Bond slept a clear untroubled sleep. The cradle of the pillow and the soft breathing of the girl next to him rocked him gently through the night and he would not have wanted it any other way. When he awoke, his mind was focussed and his body revitalised.

It was Nelima who roused them as she entered with a breakfast tray.

Bond’s eyes flicked open. He asked the time, but the girl only said they were to be ready quickly. The Dastur wanted them both to accompany him today.

Bond had expected as much. Keep your enemies close.

The girl returned within an hour. Bond and Sylvia had dressed in the same clothes as the night before and nights before that. Nelima led them to the central lift.

This time the guard went with them. He was a youngish looking man with a stoic face who clutched a PP2000 as if he expected Bond to run at any moment. As the elevator descended Bond saw the guard’s finger clench on the trigger.

Bond tensed. It was a reaction second nature to him. Sylvia sensed his anxiety. She took his arm in both her hands, as if to remind him she was there. Surprised and reassured by her display of confidence, Bond turned to her. Sylvia gave him the widest smile at her disposal.

“What do you suppose is happening?”

“I can only guess, Sylvia, perhaps our young friend ‘Trigger’ can explain.”

Nonchalance, Bond had asked for. He’d forgotten it himself. He wanted no outward signs of distress or concern at their situation. Under the circumstances, Sylvia looked to be doing better than he. Bond hoped the act would continue once her father appeared.

Downstairs in the high ceilinged lobby everyone was in close formation. Bond and Sylvia were almost the last to arrive. As the doors slid apart, Bond sensed disappointment on the multitude of faces that watched them. He likened the rows of young men to a military parade. They were all armed. There were five ranks each of a dozen men all attired in fetching light brown and green camouflage kit and small berets. It was an odd choice of uniform. Bond wondered if Andreas Chivry had obtained those also. Additionally five girls, of which Bond recognised two as the hand maidens from last nights dinner, were standing in an excited huddle, dressed in formal white suits and high necked blouses with a smart peaked cap. They looked like nurses, only without the Red Cross emblem on their hats. Bond assumed this was the first time for many years they had ever left the ziggurat.

Gold Tooth was orchestrating the affair. He even had a colleague set up a digital camera, recording the event for posterity. Amin Al Rashid hung nearby, as if he might reflect in the glory of the moment. Bond wanted to laugh at the inanity of the proceedings which matched the insanity of the scheme, but Sylvia’s tight grip on his wrist kept his feet rooted in the deadly reality of the situation. Daniel Trudeau was next to appear, walking with his haggard gait from the harbour passage. He caught sight of Sylvia, but declined to make any approach. Instead he passed a comment to Gold Tooth, but nothing altered. Everyone waited for the elevator to arrive.

The chrome doors slid back and Sargon, resplendent in white linen, his hair and beard brushed and ponytailed, stepped into the atrium. He was met by a spontaneous round of applause.

Bond and Sylvia declined to join in. The longer Bond had to put up with the charade the more he wanted to scream at someone, anyone. Couldn’t they see the folly, the lunacy, the sheer meaninglessness of it all? Had they not considered the spy satellites, the communications networks, the command and response forces, the anti-insurgency measures? No-one in the international community would let this revolution stand. It was ridiculous to think so. Sargon was deceiving these young people; and they were predominantly young, just like the Muslims he had aided to their suicide attacks for the past five years or more. It was like losing a generation of individuals. Bond pitied them and he hated them. His feelings were as mixed up as the crazed world they inhabited.

Scar followed Sargon out of the elevator. His pet was now residing in a large cage. The saqr did not like the imprisonment. It squawked angrily and spread its wings as best it could. Scar ignored the pleas. The falcon was going to Iraq whether it like it or not.

Bond watched the tall, impassive man as he walked past. The red welts streaked down his impassionate portrait, the lips puckered and curled, the full oblong face with its large nose and straight thick brows stayed resolutely bland. There was no emotion. Not a trickle. It was only in his hot, burning eyes. The two muzzles slid towards Bond as Scar passed. Yes, that was it. The eyes betrayed his Bedu blood. They searched the horizon for that speck of life, the tell-tale sign of rising dust, or a soaring eagle high in the sky, a movement however tiny, however far away, however close, on a dune or a mountain, in a doorway, a car or a hotel lobby. They waited for the kill.

Bond and Sylvia were escorted to a flotilla of boats, Cobalts like before and some larger slower vehicles. They were well marshalled. Bond tried to hang back, but there was no let up in the procession and the two of them were forced together in a large slow moving fibre glass hulled catamaran. A dozen young soldiers accompanied them. One half of the boat was covered with packing cases, marked in French ‘Diplomatic Medical Aid Only.’

Sylvia jogged Bond’s arm, “What are those?”

“I’m only guessing they don’t contain medical equipment, at least not entirely.”



The sun was still on its upward arc. It may have been morning, but the atmosphere kept the close, terse clamminess of hundreds of Arabian midday’s. Not even the salty sea air could drown the heat. The trip took almost an hour. They headed away from Abu Dhabi, passing small villages that clung to the coastline. They attracted attention from curious fishermen who sailed close to the convoy in their rusty stained rigs and waved and beamed big toothy grins. There was no response from the dull young men. A group of off-shore islands, covered in fertile palms, hid the appearance of the coast guard, who seemed pre-warned of the on coming armada. One neat, smart vessel rode out to meet them. The lead Cobalt changed direction and by the time Bond’s craft eased past, the two crews were already in deep conversation. Bond saw Gold Tooth and Trudeau sharing the time of day with the local constabulary.

The boats continued in formation some twenty five miles along the coast until they reached a flat bay of land where a pontoon quay had been constructed into the sea. Here they cut engines, approaching the harbour gently, docking with the merest of bumps. Bond and Sylvia waited to be escorted from the boat. From the shore, a single tarmac track led over the coastal dunes. It had only recently been laid and was sticky underfoot. It wasn’t meant as a permanent fixture.

Bond trudged up the dunes. He deliberately separated himself from Sylvia, leaving her at the rear of the straggle of people. There was already a human chain in progress lifting the packing cases out of the boats and up the dunes as quickly as possible. Bond wondered why there were no motor vehicles for the task. As he reached the crest of the sandy wave, he saw the scene on the other side and realised why. It was too late to stop a sigh of disbelief.

He was confronted by a desert air field. Bond knew of no airstrip along this stretch of coast. He didn’t know how it got there or who authorised its construction, maybe no-one he considered. Again he had to marvel at Sargon’s or possibly Rashid’s, ability to make the impossible possible. The place looked distinctly second rate apart from the two Airbus 330-200 transport planes sitting on the freshly laid runway. There were no facilities, just a shack for a control tower out of which sprouted an aerial mast and a low-level radar shield. One two kilometre runway had been laid from compressed rubble. A string of red halogen lights marked the take off path. They appeared to be screwed into the rough surface. Bond wondered if the air field had been used last night, perhaps to take General Khadimi back to his army, definitely to land the transport planes. The set up wouldn’t last a day. Bond expected it wasn’t designed to. He imagined a small force of demolition experts arriving that afternoon, tearing apart the evidence, covering the tracks of the elusive Sargon.

“Money really does buy you anything,” he muttered to no-one in particular.

The packing cases were already being loaded into the hold. Unhindered Bond stood close to the ground team, watching their work. He noticed one of the waiting cases bore the stamp of Rapido Commercial Transport. Bond crossed to it and flipped the wooden catch. Inside were layers of plastic bubble wrap. Deep inside the protective wrapper he could make out the black clay tablets of Gilgamesh. Bond replaced the lid.

Sargon and Scar were standing apart from the action. The bird man watched him closely. Bond felt those quiet desert eyes. Scar leaned forward and whispered something in Sargon’s ear. The monk’s gaze rested on Bond, who this time found it impossible to resist the call. He sauntered over to their position.

“I’m very excited to be invited on this jaunt, Sargon,” he said brightly, “You’re troops seem to have everything well organised.”

There was no conviviality from Sargon.

“Put your self aboard, Mister Bond, we leave in twenty minutes.”

“Leave for where?”

“The future, Mister Bond.”

The passenger steps looked as if they had been commandeered from a retail warehouse. They shook as Bond mounted them. He took a last look at the airfield before disappearing inside. As he hoped Sylvia was close to her father. While she hadn’t yet engaged him in conversation, Bond was certain Trudeau would eventually talk to her, hopefully on the flight out. She needed to obtain as much information as possible from Trudeau. There was a chance her father might let something significant slip. The slimmest chance, but it had to be taken.

Once Bond had negotiated the creaking steps, he entered the cabin space. The 200 was developed in the mid-90s as a cargo plane. Bond vaguely recalled it had little or no cabin space, perhaps a dozen seats in all. These craft had extra modifications and featured triple that number, stretched across the wide interior in rows of three. Bond took a window seat, so he could search for landmarks as they flew.

The same young guard, the one Bond had comically named Trigger, came and took the seat beside him, giving no acknowledgement. Bond accepted the snub. It was worth it when, a few minutes later, Sylvia walked along the aisle, with another guard next to her and Daniel Trudeau close behind. He was directing her towards a seat at rear of the plane and Bond heard him say: “I’ll come and sit with you during the flight.”

Sylvia conspiritively caught Bond’s eye. She had managed to successfully wheedle herself into her father’s thoughts and actions, now she had to tease the information out of him. Bond didn’t expect it to be easy, but he knew Sylvia could act when she wanted to, he’d witnessed it, and the natural antipathy she felt for Trudeau would keep her focussed. Bond knew her father’s involvement deeply shocked her, but, he’d suggested, maybe this was a way she could get back at him for the years of hurt. Sylvia’s eyes had blazed. No, this was simply her job, she’d insisted, her father was a criminal like any other. Bond was glad she saw it that way, but inside him, he hoped a tiny hope that things might not be so black and white for Sylvia by the end.

Bond settled back, leaving his belt loosely fastened. The guard, Trigger, appeared nervous. Bond wondered if he had ever flown before. As the last checks were carried out before take off a commanding man, who Bond assumed was a senior officer, gave out instructions for the PP2000s to be dismantled. The guard quietly got on with the task and stored the segments of the weapon in a green haversack. For a moment Bond wondered if he could get at one of the weapons and assemble it. The bags were all collected and taken to the rear of the cabin. One look showed him that the officer was on alert at the storage point, which would have been a galley on a commercial aircraft. No joy there. It appeared there was nothing for Bond to do but sit the flight out. He hadn’t seen Sargon, Rashid or Scar enter the cabin and assumed they must have been on the other plane.

The take off was one of the most precarious of Bond’s experience. The jet spent almost fifteen minutes jockeying for position on the coarse runway. Bond witnessed the stuttering approach of the first aeroplane. The sight did not fill him with confidence for their chances of becoming airborne. Every dip and rise in the surface was magnified by the huge wheels. When the thrusters cut in and the Airbus started to speed forward, Bond involuntarily gripped the arms of his seat. The bodywork shook with the jolting undercarriage as it ran over the obnoxiously levelled strip of cement. There was no complaint from the engines, but the aluminium creaked and creased, as if the effort was too much. The thirty metre wings seemed to flap with the strain. Unexpectedly early there was a sudden howl in the air, a hoarse rush of sound, and the powerful Trent engines responded, the nose cone rose and the wheels lifted gratefully skywards. Within the first few hundred metres of flight the aircraft wobbled, caught in the turbulence of the strong Arabian wind as it crashed over the dunes and between the hills and cliffs. Trigger was thrown inadvertently against Bond’s shoulder. Bond shrugged off the jostling. Within less than a minute the Airbus was climbing up to higher altitudes, curving to the north and heading out across the Straits of Hormuz.

The plane continued on its gentle circle, avoiding crossing into Iranian airspace and eventually settled on a North-Westerly direction, directly up the throat of the Gulf. Bond saw the texture of the water change, from turquoise to an almost clear sky blue and back as the depth of the ocean changed. Streaks of silver sunlight, like diamonds swimming amongst the waves, reflected heavenwards and Bond had to look away as the glare almost blinded him. Then they were into the high cloud and the blue sea became only the occasional island amongst the wisps of white.

Bond tried to sleep and conserve his energies, but it was almost impossible. His mind was swirling with the permutations’ of the day ahead. The death of Iraq’s political leaders. The blood on Sargon’s hands. Yet no one would be aware the Mad Monk was behind the terrorist attack. The young martyr had probably recorded a farewell message, a call to arms for all righteous, faithful Muslims to follow his example. Bond didn’t care for the politics behind the rhetoric. The man was a suicide bomber; different sides of the argument were irrelevant when you massacred hundreds. And all over the nation chaos would be breaking out. Explosions would be aimed at people, municipal buildings, banks, policemen, transport hubs and communication centres, everywhere that held a role in the fledgling society of post-Saddam Iraq. Soldiers, security forces and civil servants were targeted. The civilian population would merely get in the way. If they did they perished too. Thousands of deaths in one day: the biggest mass suicide in history and the worst ever terrorist atrocity. The legacy of 9/11 lived on as idealist killed innocents in the name of God. Bond’s stomach turned at the invidious game, played out between the ideals of good and evil, with neither destined to win. All he could foresee was decades of misery and lament for the poor battered population of Iraq.

The flight passed uneventfully. The passengers were quiet, studious almost. If they were, Bond couldn’t hear anyone talking. Occasionally the pilot offered an update on their position, but as the announcement was in Arabic, he didn’t understand it. Instead Bond used his fleeting glimpses through the cloud cover. It took them a little under an hour to traverse the Arabian Gulf and the rolling seas turned into a brown and green landscape, littered with grey husks of habitation. There was less cloud over the land and Bond was able to better estimate the direction of the journey. Sargon had said they were headed for Mosul. Bond assumed they would circle Baghdad to either the East or West before striking almost directly North to the Nineveh Plains and Mosul.

The first familiar site was the urban sprawl of Basra, only a few miles from the coast. It looked dusty and grey from the air. Bond could make out the dilapidated parks, all mouldy green, and the black, battered motorways which wound their way through the city. From so far up it was hard to recognise it as being war ravaged. Even with recent rebuilding, Bond knew Basra still bore more than a passing resemblance to Blitz-torn Britain. Bond looked for the twin rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris, and pinpointed what he thought was one, winding its way across a swampy flood plain. It was the Euphrates, but Bond wasn’t certain until the vast lake of water, the Milh, came into view. From here Bond knew instinctively they were heading northwards. Flanked by a motorway, the Tigris slid into view and the aeroplane followed the course of the great river. The towns and cities below, places like Tikrit and Samarra, became staging posts for the next two hundred miles.

Forty five minutes later, Bond heard the engines change tone. The aircraft physically seemed to slow, even in the air, as it dropped altitude and prepared for landing. Through the descent, the pilot steered in another circle, ensuring he was making the correct approach. The sky was beautiful and clear. Bond could clearly see Mosul airport, its harp shaped runways tucked against the feet of a line of hills. Bond knew those hills still contained United States military ammunition, diesel reserves and equipment, buried for safety during the Operation Iraqi-Freedom. The airport was still used by military personnel and was known to open and close erratically depending on high security flight arrivals. Further away into the main drag of the city, showing starkly white against the grime of the modern day, was the ancient ruins of Nineveh, where the great library of Ashurbanipal had stood. Bond thought how strange it was to see something thousands of years old perched among building projects of just a few years. He thought of those works of art he’d held in his hands only a few days ago in the British Museum. How many great artefacts came from that small square of land? Thousands, tens of thousands. And how many more had been destroyed by war and greed? Millions. And the subject of war was about to revisit this ancient site once more. Bond shook his head ruefully and pulled his safety belt tight for landing.

Touch down was far more comfortable than take off. There was the usual delay as the Airbus taxied the runways before coming to an abrupt stop a hundred metres or so from the terminal building. The other plane was already offloading its passengers. Bond couldn’t see Sargon, but there was a melee of small time dignitaries at the base of the passenger steps. Behind them was a press corps, notebooks, microphones and cameras at the ready. Gold Tooth had the digital camera set up again and was conducting rudimentary interviews.

The unbuckle sign clicked on and there was a rustle of sound as people stretched and yawned and fetched their belongings. The haversacks were handed back, but with strict instructions from the commanding officer. Trigger did not reassemble his PP2000. The clank and hiss of the air tight doors reached Bond a second or so before the blast of heat penetrated the cool of the air conditioned interior. The passengers all started to file out in orderly fashion. Trigger ensured Bond went in front of him. As Bond rose to his feet, he caught sight of Sylvia and Trudeau, making slow progress up the aisle. Neither of them looked happy.

The sunshine made Bond squint. He descended the steps, looking about him for any United Nations personnel, a U.S. official, someone other than an Iraqi, to whom he could talk. There was none. The effort to restore normal life to the Nineveh Governorate had been too successful for Bond. Those thousands of American troops still stationed near Mosul were conspicuously absent. The Iraqi Security Forces had everything under control. Except controlling the I.S.F. in Nineveh was General Sayyid Khadimi; and the general patrolled the tarmac at that very moment, waiting on the orchestrated arrival of Sargon.

The officer barked a few terse orders and the guards fell into ranks, exactly as they had done at Babylon. Bond was virtually abandoned. He took a swift look about him. A series of open topped military trucks waited a respectful distance from the planes. The terminal building was a short sprint away, perhaps ninety or one hundred yards. Bond could make it to the arrivals hall and possible safety. All he needed was to find someone in authority who spoke English. He edged his way across the rear of the squadron of soldiers. Bond took one final look around him, ready to launch himself forward, and then stopped.

Sylvia was staring straight at him, slowly shaking her head and mouthing the word ‘no.’ Bond tensed. He wanted to run, wanted to get away and contact his superiors. The opportunity mustn’t be wasted. Yet, what did she know? What had she learnt from her father on the flight? Perhaps she knew this wasn’t the time or the place. Maybe she knew the odds were still against him.

Bond edged back along the ranks towards Sylvia and Trudeau. They made an odd trio of European faces among the darker skinned Arabs.

“What is it?” asked Bond.

“Don’t try it, James,” said Sylvia plainly, “Papa says the airport is lined with Khadimi’s troops. It’s the first stage in the revolution. Secure the airport.”

“That explains the trucks.”

Trudeau looked across at Bond, his face still haggard, shallow. “Khadimi’s troops are already in control of the main communication centres in Mosul. It’s in response to an undisclosed threat on the President’s life. Don’t forget he’s due to arrive here at noon tomorrow.”

“I haven’t forgotten.”

Bond’s muscles clenched with anger and frustration. It didn’t make sense to get killed, not yet anyway. Perhaps when he was closer to Sargon an opportunity might arise to carry out his own suicide attack. The idea didn’t excite him, but deep down, he wondered if it might be the only solution.

There was a babble of excitement among the welcoming party, a group some forty to fifty strong. The mauve curtain covering the entrance to the aircraft cabin was pulled back and Sargon appeared, resplendent in a brand new ivory coloured sudreh and golden braided kushti. He stood for one moment staring at nothing and nobody. The next he was raising two fists high in the air above his head and his face took on the masque of a frenzied salvationist. He started to speak. There was nothing spiritual or ascetic about this performance.

“What’s happening?” Bond whispered to Sylvia.

“It’s crazy. He’s talking like a mad man again.”

“I believe you,” said Bond. He was looking at the strained expressions on the faces of the youths in front .Whatever was being said was having the desired effect. Chins were raising, eyes were focussed and jaws set firm, eager, anticipating the next line, the next word from their Dastur. “And so does everyone else by the look of it. What’s he saying?”

Sylvia furrowed her brow. “My Arabic isn’t so hot, James, let me see... ‘This land is ours, from the Arabian Sea to the Aedea Mountains...’

Bond could almost reinterpret the words, the deep, sonic tones, the mesmerising flat voice, only this time it was tinged with menace and madness. Sylvia’s translation seemed to mingle with Sargon’s Arabic as it swept across the audience; when she spoke, he heard Sargon speaking:

“...I have lived away from you, my land, but you never left me. As I stand before you I represent the sanctity and brotherhood of the great civilisations of Eden, the cradle of life, of the lands of Ur, of Assyria, of Sumer and of Babylon. I greet you all as Sargon the Prophet. Welcome to my land.”

Edited by chrisno1, 26 September 2010 - 10:56 PM.

#25 chrisno1



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Posted 28 September 2010 - 06:59 AM


“The history of Mesopotamia is built on the legends of great warriors and statesmen,” continued Sargon, “The resilience and energy of the multitudes, and the utilisation of all the abundant natural resources. I am not a king or a great leader, but you will bear witness to my work: I will bring you hope, I will bring you strength and I will bring you wisdom. For my life has been like those theatres of old, from seclusion and sapience to wealth and reality. I inhabit the flesh of the world of Nebuchadnezzar and the ambition of Gilgamesh, the king who knew all the countries of the world. He was wise and I am wise. He saw mysteries and I unravel them. He knew secret things and I discover them. He brought us the tales of the days before the flood and I desire a return to the days of the fields of gold.”

As Bond listened to Sylvia’s paraphrasing, he realised Sargon was indirectly quoting The Epic of Gilgamesh. Bond remembered what the monk had said about the book: that Gilgamesh was the code word for the commencement of hostile action. As Bond listened, the revolution was set in motion.

“Let us begin our own journey to restore the land of Mesopotamia to the glory of ages past, to a nation not of sorrow and despair and anger, but of pride and prosperity and tolerance. Let the battle for the heart of the nation begin!”

There was spontaneous applause from the ranks of soldiers. Bond could almost feel the adoration pouring out of their glowing faces. Sargon truly had set himself as a living icon, his teachings, his prophesies, his orders had become manna from heaven to these hungry, malleable young minds.

The monk descended the steps to the tarmac and faced a barrage of questions. Photographers crammed for pictures. After a few minutes, General Khadimi ushered Sargon, with Scar in close proximity, towards a military staff car, the Iraqi flag fluttering at its wings. It was Amin Al Rashid who continued to address the crowd. Sylvia explained he was telling them Sargon wished to visit his homeland near Tal Afar, before embarking on a series of high level talks with Massoud Barzani and Barham Salih, the Kurdish President and Prime Minister.

“Christ,” muttered Bond, “This is really going to take off.”

“Papa,” began Sylvia forlornly, “I can’t believe you were taken in by this madman.”

“I was desperate, Sylvia, I told you,” replied Trudeau, “I was strung out, finished. Sargon saved me from myself. It was the least I could do.”

“But you’ve repaid that debt, Papa. Many times more.”

“And Sargon’s going to make thousands more pay for it, Trudeau,” interjected Bond, “This isn’t just a pipe dream. It’s full blooded war. The man’s a bloody lunatic.”

Trudeau sighed, long and deep. He clasped his hands together, as if he’d made up his mind and wasn’t going to budge. There was a moments quiet, while the soldiers started to file away. Trigger, the guard assigned to Bond, came back for him.

Sylvia shifted away from her father and stood next to Bond, affirming where her loyalties lay. She spoke in English, emphasising the split.

“I’m sorry, Papa.”

Trudeau didn’t even look at her. He merely nodded.

“Bastard,” muttered Bond as he and Sylvia were led away towards the waiting trucks. Trigger had reassembled his weapon. He ushered them up the tail gate.

Sylvia shrugged. “It’s only what I expected, James. He hasn’t changed. Papa’s too stubborn for his own good.”

“What did he tell you about the set up?” Bond asked.

Trigger silenced their conversation with a grunt and a sharp kick at Bond’s ankle. It was the first hostile action from the man and took Bond by surprise. He almost reacted, thought better of it, and only scowled. The guard grinned. He’d enjoyed the kick. Bond made a note not to rile him more. The man obviously had a grasp of English or maybe his order’s stated ‘no talking.’ Perhaps now Gilgamesh was in operation, the gloves had finally come off. There wasn’t sense in antagonising the enemy.

There were no immigration or passport formalities. Khadimi’s influence was clearly high. The General was making up the rules. Bond knew a little about Tal Afar. Thirty miles west of Mosul it sat in the centre of the Nineveh Governorate. While not being of any strategic importance, it was a town that had gained notoriety for being the seat of several insurrections against the ruling classes. Saddam Hussein was one of the few leaders to pacify the town. During the fall of Saddam’s regime, Tal Afar had become something of a refuge for disaffected militants and the United Nations had established a post there to quell the rebels. They had only partially succeeded, but the town was now administered by the I.S.F. Bond gave an invisible smile. The Security Forces in Tal Afar were probably Khadimi’s own. The population might even be on Sargon’s side. Bond had a memory they were mostly Yazidi, a secretive non-Islamic sect that combined elements of several faiths, including Zoroastrianism. They had been targeted by Al Qaida suicide bombers and there was a long list of deaths since the fall of Saddam. Perhaps the return of the Mad Monk was the spur the Yazidi needed to openly reclaim their society. The Yazidi’s plight would certainly sit well with Sargon’s talk of tolerance and conciliation.

The journey was slow and unpleasant. The unpadded seats offered no comfort. The hot air and the dust kicked up by the trucks clung to clothes, buried itself in hair and choked the throat. Sylvia managed to beg a spare scarf from one of the guards and she tore it in two and offered Bond half. They wrapped the thin cotton around their noses and mouths. Within minutes the pixie-green check was covered in a fine film of brown dirt.

Bond looked at the derelict landscape. The Nineveh Plains extend to the base of the Aedea Mountains in the north of Iraq, almost into Turkey, and far to the west, crossing the border into Syria. They are bisected by the Tigris which ploughs through the flat country and provides a lush fertile floodplain along its shores. Outside of the hinterland, the desert gradually takes over. These roads traversed the edges of the wilderness. It was all brown scrubland, occasionally broken by the sparkle of a steam or the emerald sire of irrigated farmlands. A low range of barren hills stroked the horizon, cut through by ancient river flows so the skirts fanned like stretched toes. The sun burnt down on the plain, an iridium globe set in ice blue skies.

Occasionally they passed through a village or a town. The trucks slowed even more. The villagers had organised to greet them and showered the convoy with rice. The children ran alongside the vehicles, calling to the soldiers. Their faces bore the signs of harsh life, thin, undernourished and bony. What fate awaited these adoring youngsters? Bond cast his eyes away. Once or twice they stopped while Sargon spoke to the local dignitaries and accepted gifts. He even accepted a small cup of coffee from one of the families, blessing the children in reply.

After almost two hours of tiresome plodding, the trucks started to draw off the main road. Bond could see a hillock a few miles away, rising incongruously in the centre of the plain. At its apex sat the walls of an Ottoman castle and surrounding it, clustered up and around the hill, were faded colourful buildings, once painted in greens, yellows and reds, but now tired and peeling. It had to be Tal Afar.

The convoy headed onto open terrain, following a dirt track. Bond noted it had recently been laid with grit. Looking over his shoulder, he could see why. Pitched in a series of hundreds of tents, flanked by some hastily constructed wooden military huts, was the army of General Sayyid Khadimi. How many troops had he said? Over one hundred thousand, he thought. Mustered here was the majority of the force; others were no doubt already spread through the region, like those in control at Mosul airport. The infantry was lined up in phalanxes. An assortment of armoured vehicles waited at the wings. Bond recognised the fleet of ex-Soviet tanks, mostly the Hungarian made T72. A small squadron of French attack helicopters, the EC635, sat like huge immobile pterodactyls. Behind the army, ranged in straight rows, were deadly mobile ground to air missiles and multiple rocket launchers. Bond assumed they were Russian made, but couldn’t tell at such distance.

The convoy of trucks pulled up in formation behind Khadimi’s staff car, facing the army. Bond and Sylvia removed their face coverings. Their guards had all stood up and they did the same. From the raised platform of the back of the truck the army seemed spread out for miles. It was hugely impressive. The uniforms appeared spotless, the vehicles cleaned, boots shone black, bronzed faces inclined to their commander.

Sargon walked to a wooden podium on which was a lectern with a microphone. He raised his hands triumphantly above his head. Sargon started to speak again.

Sylvia pulled an inconclusive face. “It’s virtually the same speech he gave earlier.”

The result was equally effective. When the address reached its climaxed Bond heard a collective intake of breath from the masses, as if this
really was a moment of epiphany for them, when dreams became reality and when destiny was full filled. They broke into spontaneous cheering.

Next Sargon inspected the lines of troops, carefully picking his way between the platoons pausing occasionally to exchange words with one of the soldiers. It was a curious display, regal in its fastidiousness, scary in the endorsement it offered to the watching army.

When it was done, Sargon was introduced to Khadimi’s officers and then returned to the staff car. The officers joined the line of vehicles and they set off once more towards the town. Here the people turned out again, calling and waving: “The Prophet! The Prophet!”

Images of Palm Sunday and the entrance into Jerusalem sprung to Bond’s mind. How many Hollywood movies had interpreted that event? And here he was in a Middle Eastern remake. It felt almost sacrilegious. It was as unreal as any epic.

The lorries became trapped by the crowds. Bond and Sylvia exchanged nervous glances. The guard opposite appeared unconcerned by the crush. The vehicles proceeded at a snail’s pace, all the time heading uphill through the tight winding streets. The dusty unlaid roads trickled between the small, crumbling houses and shops. The signs of battle were still visible on some buildings. Big pockmarks littered the walls and roofs had been hastily covered with wood or reed instead of tiles. Sanitation was an open sewer running by the kerb and the stench of human waste hung in the heat. If a town could ever be called shell shocked, Tal Afar was it.

The roads widened near the end of their journey and Bond saw why. The buildings receded and were replaced by a broad terrace of grassland. It was the lowest tier of defence for the castle. The roadway led directly to the main entrance, an arched gate half sunk into giant earthworks. The castle was a big hexagonal construction, each corner featured massive rotunda and the ramparts were built with solid black and grey bricks. There was a further tier of battlements inside and one long high tower on which look outs were positioned. Soldiers were stationed on each rampart. Flags fluttered in the breeze. The structure looked as if it had never suffered war damage, but Bond knew that wasn’t true. It must have been recently repaired. Looking back down the hill, Bond saw the town straggling away from the fortress and beyond it the flat landscape over run with the tented Security Forces.

The trucks passed through the gateway into the inner courtyard. There were a series of low buildings set back into the castle walls. The most impressive was the central keep, a tower of six stories, solid and imposing. The grounds of the castle probably occupied half a square mile. More military personnel were arranged to greet them. It was less formal here and Sargon simply waved at the assembled men and hurried towards the keep.

Bond tried to ascertain which buildings were of military importance. He was particularly interested in where the communications rooms were. To one side he spotted the tall metallic needle of a radio aerial. The building at its base was a small one room affair. There was no guard, but as Bond watched, he saw Gold Tooth and the camera man stride towards it, equipment packed in a trolley. The door opened and Bond caught a glimpse of media monitoring equipment, radios and televisions, possibly computers. It was the first sign of modern technology. Despite himself, Bond recognised the tactical nature of Sargon’s operation. The old fashioned methods of communication, those of the spoken word and the obedience to the chain of command, were allowing Sargon to make in roads into Iraqi society without the knowledge of his future opposition. Khadimi’s forces had gathered for extensive validated war games. The heads of state from Iraq and the autonomous Kurdistan were gathering for an informal conference. The bombers received instructions from their own terror cells, no doubt scrutinised by the men sent into Iraq from Sargon’s Babylon. Trudeau had used his knowledge of the region and its people to grease palms and open doors, freeing the borders to allow the explosives Chivry supplied to safely reach their destinations. There hadn’t been a mobile phone or a computer in sight. No recorded or written messages. No email, no plans, no memorandums, only one simple code word and a fanatical zeal to succeed.

Yet Bond had doubts, huge doubts that even after the sudden massive rise in terrorist activity Sargon had the clout to win over the masses.

Bond and Sylvia dismounted and were ushered inside the keep. The half dozen guards from the truck accompanied them. They passed through an arched passage which led to the cornerstone stairwell and into the Great Hall. It was an empty shell, adorned with no decorations aside for two massive fireplaces set into the side walls and one curved table of polished cedar. The windows sat high in the walls and shed bright light across the interior.

Sargon was sat at the summit of the table, flanked by his officers. Amin Al Rashid occupied the end seat to the left. Trudeau, his head bowed, was next to him. Scar stood resolute behind the monk. The officers stared at the two interlopers with distain.

Sargon beckoned them forward with a finger. Outwardly he appeared sedate, but the brooding, seething menace still lay beneath the calm exterior, gnawing away at his insides and transmitting its hunger through the pitch black sorcerer’s eyes.

“Welcome to the Qalah, Mister Bond.”

“It’s hardly the place for inspiring revolutions.”

“You’re not impressed by the scale of my operation?”

“This sort of thing’s been done before, Sargon,” replied Bond, trying to sound unconcerned, “It takes more than one army to change world events. You dream of revolution, of changing history, crushing the status quo and altering society to build a new nation. But it’s not new: France in the 1700s, Russia, Nazi Germany, Pol Pot in Cambodia. The problem with revolutions is the ideal fails to live with reality. Your dream will turn to dust just like the ruins of Babylon.”

Sargon shook his head. “Thank you for the history lesson, Mister Bond. You are not as ignorant as you appear. You are, however, still my prisoner.”

“I was wondering when you might get around to that. What exactly am I doing here?”

“As a spy, you may have a certain influence on political opinion. If the world sees that you are here, it will be very difficult for your government to deny it.”

“But they will deny it.”

“Not for long, I trust. An embarrassing climb down, an admission that they tried to prevent the people’s coup by sending you after me,” Sargon paused, “I want you to read something for me, a statement of intent, if you like, a warning to the outside world that I mean what I say.”

“I won’t do it.”

“I don’t expect you to make up your mind immediately, Mister Bond.”

Sargon didn’t order anyone, but two guards took Bond by the elbows and pulled him out of the hall. Sylvia gasped and tried to follow him. Indistinctly Bond had an image of her being dragged away, but he didn’t know where to. Trigger, his gun levelled, followed the guards back into the passage. Bond was propelled up the spiral stairs in front of them.

They ascended to the roof of the tower. The bare stone was hot even under Bond’s shoes. The view over the fields towards the mountains was stark. The sun still beat down: the last arc of a sweltering afternoon before daylight turned to dusk. There were more sentries positioned around the ramparts. Bond weighed the odds. Submachine guns versus hands and feet. The odds were bad.

Bond was taken to the centre of the roof. Now he realised why he was here. Fixed into the flagstones were a series of solid iron rings and manacles.

“Get undressed.”

It was the first time the guard had spoken. So Trigger did understand English. Slowly Bond removed his clothes. They were kicked aside. He stood naked and defenceless, staring at the heavy rings. This was his very own Tower of Silence. His mind turned back to that awful day on the Island of Babylon. He was reliving a nightmare. The vultures, the darkness, the death, the memory of a beautiful Arab angel, all came back to haunt him.

Suddenly his spine seemed to explode. Trigger had slammed the butt of his machine gun into Bond’s back. The bones screamed. Bond instinctively crumpled to the floor. A boot came in and struck Bond in the chest. He could have fought back. His arms and hands were free, but this wasn’t the time or place. Defeating these guards would only bring on more of the sons of bitches. Better to take the hit now and fight later. Another foot struck him. He felt the sharp pain course through his shoulder. He curled to protect his damaged stomach. The guards were careful and clever. The boots came in hard, but always on his body, not at his face or his hands, the exposed parts of him which would be seen on video camera. Another kick on the spine. A stamp on his thigh. A punch to his genitals. A gun barrel swung over and collided with his arm. Bond grimaced, biting his teeth, clenching his fists, using one agony to distract him from another. Behind the black boots and the camouflaged legs, Bond saw the rapt faces of watching soldiers. Not a single face was concerned with his plight. They waited for him to plead, to bow down and surrender, but Bond wouldn’t give them the pleasure. The pummelling went on, neat, tidy, vicious strikes that sent shock waves to the brain and made the muscles scream. Bond rolled with the blows when possible. He twisted aside to avoid the occasional boot or club. But almost all the punches and kicks connected with monotonous thuds, bruising, tearing. Bond buried his suffering deep inside. He concentrated only on his breathing and stayed obdurate, hiding the hurt and the fear.

The beating stopped. Bond lay shaking on the stone slabs. He took hard, slow breaths. Through jaded eyes, Bond saw the soldier’s silent facades, each one cut like stone. Behind them was the tear stained face of Sylvia Lavoilette. Like him she was stripped naked, but he barely took in the significance.

Bond was dragged to the manacles and splayed between four of them, his wrists and his ankles fixed in the rough iron clasps. The sobbing girl was similarly restrained and they lay astride, head to head, like two human starfish. Indistinct words poured out of Sylvia’s mouth.

“I had to,” Bond thought she said.

He didn’t blame her, the poor little bitch.

The sun scorched at Bond’s broken skin. He shut his eyes to the dreadful parched air. The red dot, the after-image of the blazing sun, drifted across his closed lids and Bond concentrated on it, trying to forget the agony and the burning sensations that welled across his exposed and damaged body. It was impossible to ignore the heat. The only consolation seemed to be that evening was setting in. Bond could hear the men talking, laughing. Occasionally someone spat over him or gave him a contemptuous kick.

He could hear Sylvia crying. There were lewd comments and he heard buckles being unfastened. The men made ugly noises and the girl pleaded in Arabic as they stood over her.

“Leave the girl alone.”

“Shut up, Bond,” was Trigger’s reply, “She’s lucky. We’ve orders not rape her. The Dastur wants to have her first.”

“You [censored]ing bastards.”

They cared nothing for his objections. If he said anything, they kicked him. After a few minutes, Bond heard the plop and patter as the semen landed on her body. Sylvia retched. But this wasn’t enough for the men and they took their orders as far as they dared. For the next hour as the sun cooled in the sky, they hotly, repeatedly enjoyed themselves. The men’s erections assaulted her mouth and their filthy hand’s invaded her body. Sylvia wept through it all. Silently Bond cried with her. He felt every disgusting moment as he desperately tried to close his mind to each obscene act.

The call to prayers drew a halt to the unsavoury sex. Everything became quiet. Eventually Sylvia stopped crying. Bond opened his aching eyes. The stars were winking in the night sky. It was a cool, spitefully pleasant evening. The two or three soldiers who remained were patrolling the ramparts, now uninterested in the two naked white bodies.

“I’m sorry, Sylvia, sorry about all this.”

“I’m sorry too.”

“Don’t be,” Bond replied, then cautiously he asked: “What did you do?”

“I read the statement. They said they’d kill you.”

There was a long pause. Sylvia broke it, her voice cracked and weary.

“I love you, James. Do you love me?”

Bond smiled even though she couldn’t see it and tenderly told her he did.

Edited by chrisno1, 29 September 2010 - 07:42 PM.

#26 chrisno1



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Posted 30 September 2010 - 11:44 PM


They talked in low voices. Bond wanted her to think of anything other than the abominable last hour. Sylvia quietly told him how Sargon had helped her father beat his drug addictions. Trudeau had misguidedly repaid him with what he thought was innocuous information. Sargon bribed him with a small fortune to continue to work towards the revolution. For Trudeau it was as if one addiction had forsaken another. He’d told Sylvia nothing of the plans. The whole day had proved a mystery to her. After a while they drifted into painful slumber.

They woke as the day’s first call to prayer rang out and the bright tongues of morning sunshine dispersed the twilight. Sylvia was shivering from the cold air. Bond tried not to think of the chill. His mind was focussed on something else, something he’d been considering just before he shut his mind to sleep.

Bond shuffled position, wondering how long they would be chained on this roof top. The sun rose higher. Bond could hear activity in the courtyard below. Further away the echo of diesel engines penetrated the day. The army was on the move.

The answer to Bond’s question came only an hour or so later. Trigger returned with his cohorts. Two of the handmaids from Babylon were with him.

“Don’t try to do anything rash,” said the guard.

He gave the girls instructions. Their wrists were freed and both Bond and Sylvia were made to sit up. The effort was agony for both. They grimaced and timidly stretched drawn out muscles, stiff from inactivity. Gently the two girls washed the captives in warm, perfumed water, dabbing the flesh with soft sponges. They were dried with rough, but clean towels. Finally their ankle restraints were removed.

Bond’s battered body was given no medication. The bruises sat purple and black on his flesh and the tears on his skin from the fight with the vultures were blistered into ugly blood caked scabs.

“Get dressed.”

Their clothes were kicked back to them and Bond’s mind started to race. As he slipped awkwardly into the familiar suit, his confidence began to return. The idea, the little sliver of hope he had given himself was taking shape.

Once attired, their hands were cuffed from behind and they were escorted downstairs. The great cedar table in the hall was only occupied by Sargon and Rashid. Scar stood next the bird cage tickling the saqr falcon. Only his eyes swivelled to take in Bond and Sylvia’s arrival. Gold Tooth had erected a video screen and the day’s news was playing in a continuous loop. Sargon was watching the images, his head nodding as each new atrocity was reported. Bond couldn’t understand the dialogue, but the footage showed burning buildings, dead bodies and grieving people. A map of Baghdad appeared, dotted with little flashes for the location of each explosion. Then the presentation switched to a nationwide map and a series of numbers scrolled across the screen: the numbers of dead and injured.

Sargon seemed to notice his visitors for the first time. He stood up and approached them. There was no malice in his voice, he was almost conciliatory.

“My revolution has started, Mister Bond, you are a witness to the dawn of a new nation.”

“Hardly; it’s a bloody catastrophe.”

“A temporary measure; you forget I have the locations of the terror suspects. My word can put a stop to this brutality.”

“Or word of your death.”

Sargon ignored the jibe.

“You are lucky. Daniel Trudeau has forfeited his fortune to ensure you both survive. I was quite happy to let you starve on the roof top. But today is a great day and I wish to show clemency. His sentiment is touching.”

Bond was about to reply, when Rashid called out, clapping his hands. Gold Tooth turned up the volume. The newscaster was animated. Then as he related the breaking headline his face turned grave, almost scared by what he announced.

“It’s Maliki,” Sylvia gasped, “He’s dead. The plane’s been blown up. You’ve really done it.”

“As I said I would.”

“You bastard,” Bond shouted and launched his body forward. His forehead came down, but Sargon acted quickly and dodged aside.

The next instant Bond felt a huge hand grab his collar, yanking him back. Another open hand slapped across his face several times. Bond rode the blows. It was Scar. The tall man threw him backwards and Bond staggered into Sylvia.

Sargon shook himself. He turned away and waved an angry hand at the two prisoners. “Take them away from me.”

The guards reappeared and frogmarched Bond and Sylvia out of the Great Hall. They walked across the courtyard, to where one of the largest rotundas guarded the far corner. There was a barred steel doorway set to one side. The door was pulled open before they arrived and a big bearded gaoler beckoned them in with a loud bellowing laugh. They entered a spartan office. Bond took in the surroundings in a single glance. Words were being exchanged between the guards.

“Come on, get on with it,” said Bond impatiently, “Where’s this bloody prison?” he goaded.

The big man came over and sneered. Bond braced himself. The man’s hand slammed into his stomach. Bond bent over, groaning. The big man cursed in Arabic and shoved him towards another door. A flight of steps led to a corridor that ran under the drum tower. They were taken to one of the farthest cells. It was damp and dirty.

“No stars for the accommodation here,” quipped Bond.

Someone swatted him across the back of the head and he dovetailed to the cell floor. A boot followed it on the small of his back and Bond groaned. Sylvia broke free from the guard who held her arms and rushed past Bond’s assailant, putting herself between them.

The big man contemptuously pushed her aside and spat. He laughed. It was a deep mocking haw-haw that Bond wanted to obliterate.

The door slammed shut and the key turned. The loud sniggers faded down the passage.

Bond turned to look at Sylvia. The spittle clung to her, a stream of onerous mucus, running down her pretty features. It bore memories of last night, but the girl’s face was set hard. Bond shifted closer and offered his jacket to wipe the mess away. She rubbed the cheek on his sleeve.

“Are you all right?” he asked, “I mean, really all right.”

“I’m hurt, James; but I’ll live; what about you?”

“Sticks and stones,” muttered Bond. He struggled to his feet and took a quick glance through the peep-hole in the door. “They’ve not posted a guard. They must be very complacent. That’s exactly what I wanted.”

“Why? What are you thinking of doing?”



“With a key.”

“You don’t have one.”

Bond grinned at her. “That’s where you’re wrong. I have one in my back pocket. I was hoping they’d forgotten about it. You’ll have to prise it loose for me.”

Sylvia blinked, as if not believing him. Bond turned around and hitched up the hem of his jacket. The outline of a two inch by one inch square jutted from Bond’s posterior. It was exactly the same size as her Citroën car key. She backed up to Bond and he lowered himself a little until her hands rested on the waist of his trousers. Then her fingers crept down his backside, feeling for the fob. Sylvia found it easily and tried to wriggle the key upwards. She couldn’t do it. The fob was stuck in the corner of the pocket.

“You’ll have to take your trousers off.”

“You mean you’ll have to take them off for me. Have you ever undressed a man backwards?”

“There’s a first time for everything.”

Sylvia stood in front of Bond and he pushed himself against her backside. The girl’s fingers located the belt buckle and expertly loosened it.
Bond nuzzled her neck with his chin. She sucked in a breath as his stubble scratched her skin.

“James, if we get out of here,” she murmured, “Well, you know, will we...?”

“Yes,” interrupted Bond, “I know. We will. I promise.”

She unbuttoned the trouser band and fiddled for the catch on the zipper. Slowly she pulled the zip down. It snagged half way and she had to give it a sharp tug.

“Careful,” chided Bond.

“Shut up, James.”

Using both hands on one leg at a time, Sylvia managed to pull the trousers past Bond’s hips. He gave a little shimmy and the trousers slid to the floor. Sylvia bent down and fished for the key. Once it was in her hand she stood up, smiling triumphantly.

“Thank you, Sylvia; you’re the most inventive of pick-pockets.”

“What do I do now?”

“It’s a universal key. It opens most locks; in many different fashions. Give it to me and I’ll try to open your cuffs.”

They swapped the fob and, once more standing back to back, Bond activated one of the slimmest blades. He took a minute or so to find the lock on the handcuffs. They were on the inside of Sylvia’s wrist and she had to twist her hands upwards for him. Bond inserted the tip of the key inside the lock and turned. The manacle fell open. Sylvia took the key from Bond and freed his hands. As the hand cuffs came away, she inclined her head to him.

Even in this damp dungeon she looks gorgeous, Bond thought, it’s as if she won’t be miserable, as if there’s already been too much sorrow in her life. Damaged she may be, but she’s never sad. He put his arms on Sylvia’s shoulders and kissed her. After a few seconds she broke the kiss, staring at him with her cool grey eyes. Their mouths met again, harder this time. She responded, clutching at him, pulling him close, so their bodies touched and answered each other. When they parted her lips were wet. She stood back from him, a naughty chuckle rising in her throat.

“You’d better put your trousers on, James.”

Her confidence pleased him. It was a sign she wasn’t cracking under the strain. While Bond dressed, Sylvia asked if the key would work on the cell door. It wouldn’t work as a key, but the fob had other tricks. Bond activated an inch long screw driver blade. He bent down next to the door handle and, while Sylvia kept watch through the peep hole, proceeded to unscrew the heads on the lock until the casing popped loose. From here Bond was able to manipulate the barrel that held the bolt lock. There was a satisfying clunk as the bolt drew back.

Bond gently opened the door.

The passage was still empty. Bond could hear the man’s cackling laughter from the guard room at the top of the steps. The two escapees trod warily down the corridor. The far door was open and a single wide shaft of light filtered into the passage.

Sylvia grabbed Bond’s arm and gestured to one of the other cell doors. Bond saw plastic storage containers, not unlike those you saw on any high street store, full of computer lap tops, mobile phones and Blackberry’s. Sargon had been as good as his word; a total communication embargo was in force. For a moment Bond contemplated utilising one of the handsets, but he saw the backs were open, the batteries removed and, he expected, the SIM card destroyed. No, his instinct was to get to the radio centre, where they must have short and long range equipment.
Bond turned back to the guard room. He remembered there had been three men. The biggest, the man with the laugh, was a bully, but Bond suspected he might also be weak. It was the two other men, whose fingers sat nervously on hair triggers, which concerned him. One shot and the escape would be blown.

Bond motioned for Sylvia to stay back. There were five steps up to the guard room and the door was half ajar. It would be two big strides for Bond and a bound through the opening. Bond tried to recall where the furniture was positioned in the annex. He remembered a desk with two chairs; another couple of chairs to the far wall; one door; a coffee pot bubbling on an open hearth. Bond flipped the key fob, choosing the biggest heftiest key. He shifted it between the fore and index fingers of his left hand. His right he tensed, keeping the fingers locked together, remembering that the strength of the blade was in the tautness of the palm.

Bond took one deep breath, ran up the stairs and shot through the door.

The big laughing man was sitting with his back to Bond, his head thrown back at some joke. The neck was exposed and Bond saw the thick vein bulging on the side of his collar. The three jugular veins are well protected by the human body. It is a myth that they can be easily slit during a frontal attack. It is far easier to achieve this from behind a target. Even so, a simple puncture will not suffice. The neck and throat needs to be severed almost completely on one side to affect instant death. Bond knew the big man would probably suffer only a disabling injury. But the shock of the attack would provide Bond with all the surprise he needed.

The point of the key jabbed home with all of Bond’s weight behind it. A fountain of blood gushed out of the needle thin hole. The big man wailed, his hands grasping for his neck in reflex. He had no idea what had assaulted him or how, but his body instinctively knew it was a major injury and clambered to prevent the rush of blood.

Bond shoved the man aside. The other two guards were almost rooted to the spot, mouths dropping open. Bond hurdled the desk. The first man, a toothless waif with a straggly turban, hardly moved. Bond’s stiff hand cut down across his throat. The finger blade broke the vertebrae. The head lolled alarmingly and the man dropped to the floor.

The last guard was reaching for his weapon. Bond took two strides and kicked out. His foot thudded into the man’s groin. Bond followed up with an elbow onto the man’s exposed back. As the guard bent over double, Bond brought his knee up hard. It crashed into the man’s chin and he collapsed, slamming against the coffee making facilities. The pot spilled and the hearth sparkled angrily. Metal appliances banged and crashed.

The chaotic noises hid the sound of thumping steps. Bond heard them too late. He’d only half turned as the bunched fists crashed onto his shoulder. Bond threw himself to the floor, too late to avoid the foot that again trod on his shoulder. Bond coiled upwards, throwing his assailant off. It was the big funny man, blood still spurting from his neck, a wicked glint in his teeth. For a moment Bond actually thought he was still laughing.

The man staggered as if his strength had ebbed. Bond bounced onto his feet. Instantly, he swung his fist in a straight right hook. It connected flush to the man’s jaw. Two more punishing blows and the big guard was on his way down, like a beggar on his knees. Bond hit him again, the guard’s forearm waved, trying to fend him off. The nose shattered. The man hadn’t fallen. He still smiled that insipid grin. Bond watched the big ugly face as it wavered. Finally Bond kicked out hard. A strangled cry started and then came to an abrupt halt. The guard dropped to the floor in an untidy heap, blood still pumping from his neck.

Bond instinctively ran to the window to check they were not being investigated. Sylvia warily trod up the steps. She looked unfazed by the carnage. Bond told her to get rags and bind the men’s mouths. They might be dead, they might not. They couldn’t take a chance. Bond secured their hands with manacles behind their backs.

Once the job was done, Bond looked around the guard room for new clothes. There were some long robes. Bond pulled on a cloak and a headdress. He seized one of the guard’s rifles.

“You’re going to have to be my prisoner for a few minutes, Sylvia,” he said and tossed her a pair of cuffs.

Bond took another quick look out of the window. The quickest route to the radio room was straight across the compound. Bond didn’t fancy it. They would be exposed. He chose a longer journey around the edges of the fort, trusting his instinct that people wouldn’t say anything to one of Sargon’s elite guards.

Bond was proved correct. Sylvia wrapped the unsealed manacles around her wrists and Bond escorted her out of the guard room. He was careful to turn the key in the lock. Half way through the walk he dropped the key and kicked it aside. They clung to the shade, wary of the prying eyes that stared, but didn’t object. They skirted the courtyard on the opposite side to the great hall, passing the kitchens, the old stables and the mosque. There were several pairs of shoes outside the temple. Bond noted rather cynically that one was a pair of expensive Nike trainers. Bond prodded Sylvia gently with his hand, pushing her on in the direction of the radio room.

There was no sentry outside. They had no choice but to walk past the windows. Sylvia took it quickly. Inside, someone was talking in Arabic. There was a crackle of static. Bond glanced sideways through the window. He saw the modern equipment he’d briefly glimpsed yesterday. There was also a bank of long and short range radios. He saw two men inside. One of them noticed him looking and made for the door. Bond tensed. He had to stop an alarm being raised. Bond barged past Sylvia, his hand stretching out for the handle.

Bond opened the door to find a soldier standing in front of him. The teeth in the wide mouth shone in the sun. The soldier was going to say something.

Instinctively, Bond thrust the rifle up. The barrel tip entered the man’s mouth and he started in surprise. His hands grabbed at the rifle stock. Bond squeezed the trigger once.

The gunshot was muffled. The effect was immediate. The soldier flew backwards, a jet of blood streaming from the rear of his skull. As the body juddered to the ground, Bond leapt into the room. The radio operator was turning in his swivel chair, pulling off the headset and reaching for the pistol, tucked in its holster at his waist. Bond swung the rifle and the butt cracked like a stone onto the side of the man’s head. He slid unceremoniously off the chair. There was no one else in the room.

Bond turned to see Sylvia closing the door behind them. She stepped gingerly over the soldier.

“Keep watch for me, Sylvia,” ordered Bond.

As the girl crouched at one of the windows, Bond settled into the operator’s wheeled chair. There was a tepid cup of coffee sitting next to the radio set. Bond knocked it over in his haste. Quickly Bond assessed the equipment. It would be easy to send email, but you never knew if someone’s in-box was open or closed. He also wanted to communicate verbally, efficiently. He chose the radio station. It was an old fashioned East German model, the GAZ66, which normally resided in the back of a mobile armoured car. It was composed of three components including the R111. Bond had learnt the rudiments of Soviet set operation during his early career in Naval Intelligence and recognised the set’s dials and buttons. He twisted the knobs, searching for the frequency, FM 42 megahertz. The set wasn’t a digital machine, but luckily the S.I.S. switchboard continued to monitor hails on all possible frequencies. Bond attuned the set and held the mouthpiece to his lips.

“U.E.O. calling U.E.C... U.E.O. calling U.E.C...”

Bond gave the open line addresses, Universal Exports Operative and Universal Exports Consortium. It wasn’t fool proof, the Russians had known about the fake moniker for decades, but the British sense of humour, coupled with an obstinate disregard for twenty-first century espionage tactics, meant field agents still used the Universal cover when travelling abroad.

He had to repeat the call several times. The seconds ticked onto minutes. Mercifully, Bond detected a glimmer of static.

The voice was faint and distorted. It wasn’t the London line. It would be a local monitoring station; a few days before it would have been Khalil Datto’s division, but not now. No-one was monitoring the radio traffic in the Emirates.

The voice asked for Bond’s identification.

“Predator,” he said firmly and offered the daily clearance code.

“Go ahead, Predator.”

“This is an open line, but it can’t be avoided. I need to speak to the C. E.O. Urgent.”

“One minute.”

The crackle cut in. Bond waited. Sylvia was still crouched at the window. Somewhere underneath the static in his ears, Bond could make out another sound. It was a distant low buzz, like swarming hornets. He ignored it. The message was more important.

Bond had to go through a second clearance, this one from Cheltenham, deep in the bowels of G.C.H.Q. where the banks of communications equipment stood, armed by a small force whose fingers and ears listened and analysed the daily traffic which poured into the S.I.S. from all around the world.

Bond imagined the girl on the end of his call scribbling notes, passing the dictation to a superior.

“Predator on the line... Wants to speak to the C.E.O.... Verified... Very distant...Yes it’s got his voice patterns, sounds a bit hoarse... Probably been drinking...”

The conniving bastards; if only they knew.

The static rang again. Then the line was suddenly full of clarity, much clearer than before. He knew it was London. Bond could almost detect the air conditioning running in the big top floor office.

“Predator, C.E.O. here.”

M. His voice was sharp. Bond remembered how that voice had shaved him down to size in the Operations Room. It didn’t lack authority and it was cut throat now.

“Predator,” repeated Bond, “I hope you didn’t think I’d disappeared.”

“Where the hell are you?”

Bond enjoyed his superior’s stern manner. It reminded him a little of one of his Naval Captains, a fearsome bugger called Ferrer.

“I’m in Tal Afar, the Qalah Castle. Do you know about the Iraqi President?”

“Yes. We know,” the tone of the voice changed, turning suddenly brittle, “You need to get out, Bond, get safe. The house is coming down.”

Bond baulked for a moment, “Sir?”

“We know about Sargon, Bond, this is crisis point. For God’s sake get the hell out!”

Bond! He’d called him Bond. M had cracked! No, he hadn’t cracked; he was trying to protect him. Crisis point: the end game.

“Sir,” said Bond abruptly and shut off the radio.

The curious buzzing sound was growing louder. Bond stood up and removed the head set. He turned to look at Sylvia, who was backing away from the window.

“James,” she started to say, “Every one’s going crazy outside.”

The buzz became a roar, not one, but three, four, five, a dozen roars, intermingling and all drawing closer, faster, deadlier. Bond gulped what might be his last breath of air.

#27 chrisno1



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Posted 03 October 2010 - 02:09 AM


The roaring rushing sounds increased. Bond knew what they were: not the exact make or model, but knowledge based on the sights and sounds of modern warfare. Jet aircraft; bombers; F-16s probably. Bond took one look at the taut expression on Sylvia’s face. You didn’t need the knowledge. She understood too.

“Get down! Now!”

Bond dived across her. Sylvia emitted a squeal of surprise. The end of it was drowned by a noise that resembled a rolling salvo of thunder, becoming louder and deeper within a second and then fanning out, dispersing through the air. The ground shook.

Sylvia screamed in his ear. Bond clung to her as she struggled.

Another blast. And another. Nearer this time. The windows caved in. Glass flew across them. Dust and sand and grit flooded into the radio room. Sylvia kept on screaming. Bond forced her to stay still, his hands grabbing her wrists, his body spread-eagled across hers. Her sobs came as loud as the screams.

The room shook again. The boom of the explosion sounded as if it had erupted next door. The furniture seemed to jump. Everything shook. Even the flag stones on the floor moved. Bond’s ears went numb. Behind these massive detonations echoed other charges, claps of thunder that peeled in the distance.

“We know,” M had said, “We know.”

Bond realised what was happening. The American’s had not accepted Sargon’s self appointed Presidency. The monk’s revolution was on the way to oblivion. The U.S. Third Army was on the attack, supporting loyal Iraqi Security Forces by providing devastating air cover. It would be a bloody massacre on the plains outside.

Bond stayed down; lying across Sylvia’s wailing form, ignoring her protests, telling her to shut up, to stay calm. It was god-awful work. The girl fought him, screamed and yelled and swore. She cried and shook with the intensity of fear. She wanted to get up and run. Bond refused to let her. And the cacophony of noise wore on. An orchestra of destruction played out by instruments of death, angels and gods from the heavens, their weapons aimed at the misguided and the helpless.

How innocent were those young soldiers who followed their general’s to the death? Bond thought of the leaders of past great armies, of Patton, of Napoleon, of Caesar, of Alexander, of Cyrus; who among them would deny a soldier the rightful glory of death? Not one. And Sargon carried the same ambition, the same will and the same guilt. The adoration of a few was engulfing thousands. The foolish madness of one was leading to a military, no, a human catastrophe.

The ceiling ruptured above them.

Bond’s thoughts switched to the present.

It hadn’t been a direct hit. They would not have survived that. Perhaps it was fifteen metres away, maybe less. One wall and half the roof disintegrated. Masonry, bricks and mortar were flung viciously into the room. The radio desk tumbled over, blown away from the wall, and landed on top of Bond’s arm and shoulders. It was this that saved them. The rubble smacked into the flat slab of metal, bouncing off or dropping short. Bond’s lacerated exhausted body absorbed the bangs and crashes. Chunks of brickwork collided with the desk and spun away. It was only a few seconds, but Bond counted the blows and it could have been hours.

The ground continued to shake. The air was choking, filled with dust and hotter than Hades. Bond heard screams, terrible screams of agony and mortality. The shattering rumble, the triumphant roll of thunder, the crash of exploding missiles, the bark of flame as fires struck out, everything sounded close and far away, a metamorphosis of sound that confused and lied and petrified. Under it all Bond could still hear the roar of jet engines in his ears. He could no longer tell if they were attacking or receding. For a few moments his hearing was completely shot. And in those desperate bloody moments, life, the future, ceased for Bond and Sylvia. Survival was all that mattered.

And then almost as suddenly as it began, it was finished, and there was nothing except the cries of the injured among the smouldering, smoking ruins.

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

Unknown to Bond there was a traitor within Sargon’s inner circle. Daniel Trudeau’s defection had only taken place the night before, as he thought of the fate which would befall his daughter, James Bond and quite possibly himself. Sargon had paid him well for his liaison duties. He was financially secure for life, if he was careful with his gains. But Trudeau was never certain of the monk’s motives. They hadn’t termed Sargon ‘mad’ for no reason. It had taken one conversation with Sargon to convince Trudeau that, however conciliatory the outward rhetoric, inside the man a deep hatred and lust for power resided. Power over everyone.

After his sobbing daughter reluctantly signed the documents and read the statement into the camera, Trudeau thought she would be spared further agonies. When she was dragged past him again, into the passage and up the stairs, his stomach started to heave. Trudeau fought down the rising bile.

“What happens to my daughter?” he asked immediately, loudly, in French. Despite years in the foreign services, Trudeau spoke very poor Arabic; the foreign tongue interrupted the hubbub of conversation around the table. Dinner was in progress and an uncomfortable hush gradually spilled out across the room.

“Miss Lavoilette?” queried Sargon, “Ah, we shall see.”

The words chilled. They were as cold as a desert night.

“She’s done what you asked for. What more do you need?”

“I need the endorsement of Mister Bond. I thought her discomfort might encourage him to change his mind.”

“And if it does?”

“Then she can live. I may have use for her.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

The pearls of coal swivelled towards Trudeau. Sargon had been eating an apple. The jaw stopped rotating. Sargon laughed.

It was a long loud sound, from the depth of his chest. His mouth was full and the mush of the fruit looked sickly inside the dark hole. The teeth were stained, diseased, racked with fillings.

The monk swallowed, took another bite from the apple and tossed the remains contemptuously aside. There was a plop as it splattered on the floor.

“We shall see.”

Trudeau stared back at the mask of villainy. He’d never seen the man look so calm and yet so deranged. The contemplative face didn’t crack, the voice was steady and reassuring, the jaw continued to chew slowly and all the time Sargon’s dark eyes fixed still on Daniel Trudeau.

A gentle shiver ran down the Frenchman’s spine. He hunched even further, as if trying to protect himself.

“I am sorry to have to injure your family as soon as you have rediscovered it,” continued Sargon, “Of course given the circumstances I accept you may find it difficult to continue in my service. After tomorrow, your contract will be paid in full. Naturally I don’t want you to give away any of my secrets. That would be a betrayal of my confidence. You can disappear some where. Forever.”

Trudeau tried to avoid the eyes. He felt them bore into him, as if penetrating his skull, searching for one tiny sliver of guilt.

Trudeau nodded for no reason and bent his head. He stood up from the table. “Don’t hurt her, Sargon,” Trudeau spoke carefully, “Please.”

Sargon’s face twisted up, from the neck it seemed, for the eyes didn’t move.

Trudeau lay on his camp bed until the midnight prayers had ceased. Sargon’s appetites were well known. The guards at Babylon often talked in low whispers about which handmaiden the Dastur would take to bed, which were his favourites and which had the ripest tenderest flesh. The
thought of his beautiful Sylvia being pawed and caressed, kissed and assaulted by the furious, unsound mind and body of Sargon sickened him. And was there another veiled threat behind the stark, glitter of the mesmeric eyes? Forever. Disappear forever. That evening Trudeau decided to betray Sargon.

It was surprisingly easy. He wasn’t the most fearless of men, but the name of Sargon carried a lot of weight. Said confidently, it opened all the appropriate doors. Trudeau had once been used to snapping orders at underlings. He did the same here. It gave him a pleasant feeling, as if he was recalling a long lost blissful memory. While the Qalah slept, Trudeau bluffed his way past the night guards and out of castle compound. He’d obtained a motorcycle for the short journey to the farthest edge of Tal Afar.

Initially he’d considered using the radio room in the fort, but it was always manned. Equally he knew Khadimi had confiscated mobiles and
laptops, any equipment that could be subject to outside monitoring. Those too were under lock and key in the dungeons. The communication crack down was in full force, preventing the outside world from understanding what was happening in Iraq unless it came from Sargon’s own mouth. But Trudeau knew you couldn’t black out a whole town. He still had a few friends in Tal Afar and one of them owned a laptop. He estimated he had one hour before the first of the morning prayers.

There were no problems with the sentries on his return either. It was curious how once a position of strength was established, an aggressor could become lazy. The close knit group of men seemed to have switched off their defences, as if the war was already won. For the soldiers, it was all too easy and complacency had already set in.

Trudeau pretended to be taking an early breakfast. He knew someone was watching him. The tall figure of Scar appeared framed in the doorway. He stood looking for several long seconds as Trudeau continued to eat his bread and fruit and yoghurt. After Scar turned and left, Trudeau let out a long breath of relief. His palms were dry. It had been an ordeal to stay calm and controlled as those eagle eyes watched him. Trudeau knew he had to continue to play his part in the game. The final resolution was out of his hands now.

It was Daniel Trudeau who found his daughter in the wreckage of the radio room.

When the air assault on the castle had stopped, Trudeau had made his way out of the dingy basement room. It had proved a better hideaway than he expected. Amazed to find he was alive, Trudeau immediately headed for the cells. It was impossible to follow a direct route. The precision bombing had so damaged the structure that rubble littered the compound and where buildings had once stood and been recognisable, he now saw charred cement skeletons. Dead and dying bodies lay everywhere, a tangle of limbs, covered in black blood. The strangled cries of the injured echoed around the castle. Occasionally a soldier sat nursing his bleeding wounds, fright etched on his face. Others staggered around, like Trudeau, searching for friends and relatives, unable to comprehend the dreadful morning. Trudeau ignored them.

The cells were wrecked. Trudeau found three bodies, two of them bound. Their injuries hadn’t been sustained by the air attack. Trudeau clambered as far as he could down the broken corridor. There was no sign of Sylvia or Bond. Trudeau returned to the hell outside and hunted for his daughter with half a heart and as much urgency as he could summon.

The half standing radio room, its outside wall still upright, was the third building he searched. The roof was part collapsed and resembled a deranged children’s slide, twisted at odd angles. The strong cross beams had split and fallen across the centre of the room, creating a makeshift shelter. The internal wall had disintegrated into dust and shattered bricks. One single white hand was twitching inside the unstable sanctuary. It was a girl’s hand.


Trudeau crawled into the little tepee. The hand was his daughter’s and it was still attached to her arm. Desperately, but with great care and some deliberation, Trudeau began to shift the rubble that surrounded the arm. He saw there were two bodies, sandwiched together in an eighteen inch high space. They lay underneath a battered metal desk. The legs of the table were thrust into the ground, piercing even the stone slabs. They bent under the weight of masonry, but Trudeau could see the fallen beams had stopped them being crushed. Both Sylvia and James Bond were alive.

It took Trudeau another quarter of an hour to pull Bond free of the wreckage. He had come to by then and was able to assist in dragging Sylvia clear.

Bond said nothing until Sylvia was lying safely against him, her head propped up on the crook of his arm. Bond tapped her cheek lightly and she stirred.

“Water!” he ordered.

Trudeau didn’t have any to hand, but close by lay a dead soldier and he unhooked the canteen. Trudeau made Sylvia drink first and the girl spluttered and choked on the warm water. Her body keeled over and she wretched.

Comfortingly, Bond stroked her hair. He took a long swig at the bottle and passed it back. He was covered in red dust. There was a fresh nasty graze on the back of his hand and his body ached with strain, but otherwise he was unhurt. He touched his injured side. The wound had split open again, but seemed to have resealed itself.

Bond took longer assessing the fallen castle. The impact of the missiles had been truly devastating. If Bond needed any affirmation that war was hell, he saw it here. Casualties lay untended where they fell. The few left standing struggled aimlessly around the fort. Shrill, despairing groans mixed with the creak of dying buildings. Somewhere in the distance, Bond could hear artillery fire.

At last he spoke to Trudeau: “Was it you?”

“Yes. I told the Americans last night.”


“The President is safe. The American’s apprehended the terrorist. The news reports were all faked. No one was killed.”

The man had suddenly gone up in Bond’s estimation. He hoped, perhaps in Sylvia’s too.

“We need to get out of here,” he said firmly.

Between them, the two men helped Sylvia rise. She was unsteady and collapsed immediately, but they dragged her away from the radio room to a safe, shady place on the outskirts of the compound. Bond recognised it as the kitchen. She sat against the wall taking deep breaths. Tears stained her dirty cheeks. Bond told Trudeau to stay with her. They wouldn’t be harmed. There was no war between the people here. Now it was all about doctors and nurses. The three white people were ignored. Meanwhile civilians and soldiers, Sargon’s entourage or not, started to uncover the dead and tend to the wounded.

“Where’s Sargon?”

“I don’t know,” replied Trudeau, “The last I saw of him, he was still in the main hall.”

The tower was totally destroyed. Bond walked through the chaos and scoured the jumble of rubble for any sign of the monk, but there was none. Over the mound of fallen bricks and cement, Bond saw the far wall miraculously remained standing. Tucked in the large fire place was a black robed figure. It crouched on a bed of half dried blood. Bond climbed over the pile of debris and slid towards the huddled cloak.

Amin Al Rashid was shivering. He stared at Bond, his whole expression wide and fearful. His hands pulled the cloak tighter around him. Sweat ran down his face and mingled with the dust on his beard. His impressive clothes were soaked in the soil of war.

“It’s finished, Rashid,” Bond said.

The Arab nodded, but didn’t appear to take in the news. Bond reached forward and prised the man’s hands apart, opening the cloak and revealing the sordid wound that cut into his chest. Something metal, a large shaft of shrapnel, had penetrated his upper body and stuck out of the vicious hole. The ribs were exposed. The opening was blackened at the edges from the heat. Big black flies crawled around the fresh meat.

“You’re finished too,” continued Bond, “But not everyone has to die, Rashid. Tell me where Sargon is and I can end it all.”

Rashid opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out except a gurgle of blood. Urgently Bond shook the man. There might only be minutes, seconds, for Rashid to live.

“Where’s Sargon? Tell me where he is!”

Rashid coughed again. He hissed loudly through his nostrils. The sound was like an angry snake. Rashid wasn’t going to tell him anything. Bond smiled grimly.

“If you tell me, I’ll put a stop to the pain.”

Rashid stared blankly at Bond and then the head dipped a few times. The words slid painfully out of the bloody mouth.

“Mart Mariam.”

Bond nodded and folded the man’s cloak back into place. Silently he stood up and moved away from the black and crimson heap of clothes. He heard the angry gargle, heard something shift. He felt the indignant gaze fixed on his back. Bond didn’t care. He looked back once. Amin Al Rashid had expired, subsided into a pool of his own blood.

Bond returned to Sylvia and Trudeau. The girl was looking pale, but she brightened when she saw him. He gave her the best smile he could.

“Come on, were leaving,” instructed Bond.

The three fugitives staggered out of the castle gate and on to the plateau that overlooked the city. From here they could see the army encampment. Yesterday it had been awash with uniformed soldiers, lined up in squadrons and platoons. Neat, tidy, organised. Now anarchy reigned as the slaughter continued.

The F-16s had done their work. Bond was surprised to see them so far north; they had to be at the extremity of their range. But the ‘Fighting Falcon’ was perfect for this kind of close air attack. They had power from the F110 turbofans and the short wingspan aided manoeuvrability. Armed with a variety of weapons, the F-16 was a deadly combat aircraft. They were using contact fused rockets, probably the AGM65, or Maverick, as they had been termed. The 65s were certainly strong enough to pierce armour plating and castle walls and destroy whatever it touched. The results were behind them and in front of them.

A deep gash of fire had ruptured the plain and smoke rose into the air in thick black chimneys. Bond could see the fighter planes stacking in the distance, hovering like angry flies. Two of the F-16s swooped in again. There was a sudden bright white flash beneath the wings. Streaks of orange-tipped silver shot away, darting downwards, rippling the air as they shot towards their target. The missiles disintegrated into red and yellow balloons of flame. A series of thunderous booms thudded against their ears. The fighters whipped left and were replaced by two more, equally fast and direct. It was a remorseless, deadly response.

The army below was cut in two. The missiles were causing havoc. There didn’t seem to be any strong leaders among the forces. Soldiers were milling around in a senseless whirl of smoke and dust. Big armoured vehicles lay broken and abandoned. Gutted tanks burnt and the stench of oil hung over the dismal cataclysm. And in the centre, the very earth itself was on fire, scorching the dried grasses and tearing up the ground. The furnace seemed to open and swallow the brave foolish warriors of Sargon’s empire. A gateway to the gods of hell.

Bond tore his eyes away from the scene.

“What’s Mart Mariam?” he asked Trudeau.

“It’s the monastery where Sargon lived.”

“Can I get to it from here?”

“You want to go through all that?” Incredulous, Trudeau gestured towards the battle ground.

“Yes; right now. Sargon’s heading there and I want to find him before the Iraqi Security Forces.”

Trudeau considered. He looked to Sylvia, as if asking her permission. The girl was watching Bond. One single tear trickled from an eye and she gave an indistinct nod of the head.

“Get me a map,” said Trudeau, “I’ll show you where it is.”

Edited by chrisno1, 03 October 2010 - 10:41 AM.

#28 chrisno1



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Posted 04 October 2010 - 02:04 AM


The death of the day was creeping up the valley floor. The crippled church seemed to beckon the darkness on.

The Monastery of Mart Mariam was battle scarred. It stood at the foot of a mountain surrounded by sun baked grasslands. A single lane track bisected the plain, roughly following the route of the sorry looking stream which ran past the priory. A twisted water wheel still turned, scooping up bowlfuls of dirty brown sludge and depositing them back down into the river. Next to the wheel was an orchard of fruit trees, ceded to pestilence. The church was a bare windowless shell its roof dismantled by scavengers and the remains of white wash peeling from the walls. The low dome above the nave was intact, but dirty. Weeds sprouted out of the cracks in the bald mound. At the west end stood a small bell tower, equally grimy, which still had a few grey slates clinging to its roof. The bell was absent, melted down for bullets or sold for scrap. The external walls had all been raided. Bricks and mortar had been torn out in chunks. The arched entrance way that once would have housed two huge double doors was empty; even the metal hinges had been stolen. There were several buildings inside the complex. These were stark, single storey, pock marked affairs. The windows and frames were missing. If the roofs had once been tiled they were now empty and, where they still existed, the joists were exposed and riddled with woodworm. Two of the buildings were burnt out husks, black against the white of the dying sun. One of them was big enough to be a refectory, but now contained the badly disguised shape of a military jeep. It was the only sign of occupation. Other wise, the whole enclave looked like the design victim of a failed spaghetti western.

Bond lowered his field glasses. He’d been watching for over an hour, crouched behind a buttress of rocks in the slopes across the valley. He knew Sargon was inside the priory somewhere. And with him would be Gold Tooth and Scar. The tall man’s eyes missed nothing. It would not surprise Bond if he’d already been spotted. He checked his watch. Even if Daniel Trudeau was good to his word and stalled the pursuit, it would not take the Security Forces long to discover where Sargon was hiding. Bond estimated he had only until the evening’s end. But he must remain patient. If he approached the monastery now, he’d be exposed immediately. Bond shook his head ruefully. The sun had to settle behind the mountains. Even then the distance had to be covered head on and by foot. It was pointless taking the land rover. The noise of a car journey would alert his quarry.

Bond waited another hour. Cool air sank onto the plain. The twilight birds began to sing. Owls talked in low mechanical hoots that vibrated on the breeze. Overhead the nightjars made the first of hundreds of graceful moth-like sweeps. Somewhere the night-dogs cackled. Bond searched for them. To the east was a clump of arid trees, where the river had once formed a lake, but now only trickled across the centre of a dry sandy crater. A family of golden jackals was there, prowling in circles, but Bond saw no carrion left for a feasting. Dark heavy clouds rolled over the sky. The moon and the stars were obliterated and the landscape, which had been a bright, hot, passionate Eden, had become a cold unforgiving hell.

Bond buttoned up his tunic and checked over his equipment in the gloom. He had a Russian made Kiparis submachine gun and three spare ammunition clips. An automatic Vector pistol, also Russian, sat snugly on his hip. He’d seized a small haversack of flash-bangs, stun grenades which would certainly be disorientating even if they were not disabling. Bond also carried a commando dagger, one not unlike a Sykes Fairbairn, but clearly of local origin. He’d pilfered the weapons as well as his uniform from the dead and dying as he escaped the chaos at Tal Afar. It left a nasty taste in his mouth, but then what hadn’t been stolen from the Iraqi’s in the last ten years? History itself had vanished. Life had ceased to have meaning beyond starvation and survival. A few weapons and a jeep hardly mattered when a nation lay waste.

Bond stood up. It was time. He took a mouthful of water from his canteen and set off across the flat belly of the valley.

The abandoned church sat cowled in the long shadow of night. There was no contentment or compassion in the monastery. The closer he got, the more Bond sensed he was walking towards evil. He remembered the first meeting with Sargon. The deep set, simian eyes that flickered alert and prying. The lilting hypnotic voice which soothed and seduced. The hidden menace that lay behind the intelligent face and the fires that blazed in the blank expression, the sense of doom and destruction that hung over the mad monk. Bond felt it keenly now. There was something dreadful in this bleak outcrop of land. And Bond was heading straight towards it.

He made it to the water wheel in about twenty minutes, using it as rudimentary cover. There was still no sign of life from the monastery. He removed his shoes and socks to traverse the river. It was only knee deep. Bond huddled in the shade of the creaking mill while he pulled on his footwear. The splash of the water had a rhythmic tempo that matched his pulse. It was studied and calm. Bond knew the next minutes of action would define him. Sargon was going to be apprehended. The rebellion would be crushed. Civil war averted. Rebels brought to justice. For the first time in several days, Bond felt fully in control of that destiny. What ever fate had in store for him, he was certain it held worse torments for his enemies.

The splish-splash was disturbed by a low rumble. Bond twisted, listening. Cars! Two of them and travelling at some speed. The engines were groaning. Bond slid onto his stomach and pulled out the field glasses. They were not equipped with night vision. Bond didn’t need it. The four spotlights on the military jeeps jerked and bounced towards the monastery, following the track as it wound up the valley from Sharafiya, the local village. Bond had followed a similar route, before peeling off the road whilst out of sight from the ruin. These two vehicles did no such thing and headed straight for the monastery and through the entrance way.

There were five men split between the two jeeps. Sat bolt upright in the front seat of the first car, hardly registering the bumpy course, was General Sayyid Khadimi.

Bond cursed. What the hell was he doing here? Khadimi must have fled from his defeated army. He must have known the significance of Mart Mariam to Sargon and guessed where the monk was hiding. Bond cursed again, annoyed that he’d waited so long. Now the odds were stacking against him. As he watched, the two jeeps skidded to a halt and the men dismounted. The drivers were detailed to stay with the vehicles. The other two soldiers followed Khadimi into the church. Quickly Bond considered the layout of the complex. The main theatre of worship ran along the back of the cloister. It was flanked in the east by the two burnt out buildings. To the west were huddled three more squat houses. Bond could see them clearly through the gap in the wall.

Bond skirted the orchard. The grim sticks of the trees screened his approach. Bond knelt next to the crumbling wall. He could hear the two drivers talking. They sounded nervous. Peering into the yard, Bond saw they were both standing with their backs to him, facing left towards the front of the church. Tiny orange embers told him they were smoking. Bond slunk over the wall and, crawling like a lizard on all fours, he made it to the shade of the closest shack. From here Bond was no more than twenty yards from the west portico of church. A flickering tongue of tangerine fanned out from the doorway. Bond sniffed the air. Someone had lit a bonfire. As he listened to the two men, a large furry spider spun the thread of its web across his vision. Bond brushed it clear and the angry arachnid retreated to the corner of the building, assessing this giant interloper.

Bond ignored it. He was summoning the depths of his energy from the deepest corners of his broken body. The pain didn’t matter any more. The fateful moment was set.

Bond estimated times and distances. He tensed, about to make his run, crouched like a sprinter, aiming to head low and fast through the door.

Abruptly he pulled back. Underneath the driver’s conversation, he started to hear other voices, raised ones. They were coming from inside the ruined chapel. The new voices began to shout. The two drivers exchanged glances and their chatter ceased.

The boom of thunder filled the silent air.

The two men leapt into action, heading for the portico and the rippling flame. Bond didn’t wait. Gun shots continued from inside the chapel, penetrating the mystic gloom. Bond emerged from his hiding place, shifting the safety bolt on the Kiparis to automatic. One of the drivers saw the new movement and half turned. Bond’s machine gun rattled. The man spun around as he ran, his legs seeming to catch underneath him. He fell in a heap, blood bubbling out of his torn chest. The second man didn’t make it to the door. Bond advanced firing freely. The man’s body pitched forward and lay twitching on the ground.

Bond paused at the doorway, hugging the casement. The gun fire from inside had ceased. He could hear moaning. Bond inched his head around the frame.

There was a fire in the middle of the floor. The glimmer of light hardly illuminated the interior. Bond could make out a few pieces of cracked furniture. The religious murals which once would have been bright and colourful were faded and decayed. The murky glow added a sinister bent to their tales of sainthood. The centre of the nave was marked by four pillars which supported the dome. Sargon was propped up against one of these, breathing heavily. A large patch of red was spreading across his torso. General Khadimi was spread-eagled near by. His head had been replaced by a slimy mess of blood and bone and brains. Next to him, Gold Tooth was lying on his side, a large hole where his chest used to be. One of Khadimi’s guards was staggering around the church, clutching his arm, which dripped blood. Bond couldn’t see the other soldier. More concerning he couldn’t see Scar.

“Halt! Stop what you’re doing!” he shouted.

The injured man seemed delirious. He collapsed to his knees. Bond repeated the warning. There was no other sound from the church. Bond reached into the little sack of grenades and pulled out two flash-bangs. He released the pins, counted and tossed them into the chapel.

Seconds later there were two almost simultaneous crumps. A gust of hot air billowed sand and tiny slivers of debris through the doorway. Bond slipped inside, the Kiparis raised. He saw the injured man again. His face was covered in a vivid black burn. The eyes had gone. The mouth was screaming. The idiot must have tried to pick up a stun grenade.

Bond shot him dead out of sympathy. Then too late, he saw someone else moving against the murals, blending with the dank colours. Bond fired. The rattle and spark of two sets of gunfire echoed in the confined space. Bullets whistled past Bond’s ear. Chunks of masonry flew about his head. He ducked. But the bullets moved faster. Bond felt something tug at his left sleeve. There was a crash. He was thrown backwards with force, knocked off his feet. The Kiparis splintered. Shards of hot metal scythed outwards. There was an awful wrench at the top of his thigh. A single jagged bolt collided with Bond’s forehead.

Stunned, Bond slid down the wall, the broken machine gun flapping in two halves from two hands. He tossed it aside, vaguely aware that the soldier had vanished. Bond blinked sweat and blood away from his eyes. Then he saw him, equally damaged, struggling to rise from the floor. Bond unclipped the Vector from its holster. The soldier was attempting to fit a fresh cartridge into his own gun. Bond was quicker. His hand rose. The finger squeezed twice. The soldier whirled once and was still.

Bond took a deep breath. Suddenly the tortures of the last few days seemed to catch up with him. Every bruise and cut started to scream. Every scrape and graze and claw fought for his attention. The blood in his head began to thud. There was a dreadful pain in his leg. Everything seemed to cry with agony. There was another new wound on his forehead. His mangled body stiffened, cramping as if rigour mortis was setting in while he still lived.

Bond forced himself to move. Keep active, damn you! Stay alert! Stay alive! Looking down through the thin veneer of blood, Bond saw the needle sharp bone of metal sticking out of his thigh. When the gun had shattered part of the stock had jammed there. Much higher and it would have been his belly. Christ All Bloody Mighty!

Grimacing, Bond yanked the metal loose and tossed it aside. Blood spurted from the fresh hole and he struggled to cover it. Even as he did so, Bond became aware of a dull scraping in the air, a familiar click-click sound, one he’d last heard in a museum rich with antiques. He shifted his gun hand. His eyes tried to take in the recesses of the church, the cavities and altar pieces. Bond couldn’t see the saqr. All he could make out was Sargon’s tired body lolling against the upright pillar. Bond shifted into a kneeling position, ready to push off on his good leg. He didn’t have the time.


The attack was swift. There was the heavy drum of wings. An animal scream. A rush of air. Bond’s gun arm cracked under the assault. He fired at nothing. The talons of the huge bird gripped his outstretched wrist, the beak flashed in the night. Bond jerked up and around, flailing wildly. His fingers dropped the pistol. He struck out. The saqr relaxed its grip. With a groan Bond flung the demon hawk off, twisted and lashed out with his bad left leg. The saqr tumbled away.

There was no respite for Bond. Two huge human claws grasped him from behind. Bond hadn’t heard the footsteps. They would have been noiseless like their owner. Scar’s powerful grip tightened, one arm at his throat, controlling him, the other clutching at his right arm, preventing Bond from reaching the commando dagger at his waist. It was a cold calculating grasp; Bond was trapped and the saqr was circling through the air, angry, preparing for another strike. Bond saw the bastard bird plainly now. The big brown shape rose out of the hollow church. In a second or two Bond knew it would cease to circle, come out of the spiral and streak towards his exposed face. Bond writhed in Scar’s grip. His free elbow battered backwards into the sinewy man, but he didn’t slacken his hold.

Bond’s hand brushed his thigh. There was a small square canister in the trouser lining, just below the tear in his clothing. Bond yanked it free. The saqr was already twisting down. Bond could feel the on set of the air as the hunter sucked up the distance between them. In his ear, Scar hissed with excitement.

Bond raised the tiny canister. The falcon swooped. Bond depressed the firing mechanism. A single bright blue flame erupted out of the Dunhill lighter. It caught the falcon square in the face. The raptor screamed. It fell instantly to the ground, the wings flapping desperately at the plumage which was burning with an intense yellow glow. The singed feathers added an acrid plastic stench to the dusty air.

Startled by the flame, Scar relaxed his grip. Bond rammed his elbow down, hard. It collided with the man’s groin. There was a startled wheeze. Bond stamped at the exposed feet. His boot made contact with bone. Scar grunted. Bond wrenched his right arm free and twisted out of the stone cold grip. He spun around to face his tormentor and Scar launched himself forward. Both his hands reached for Bond’s throat. The two bodies slammed together. Bond felt his ribcage give under the impact. He struggled to stay upright, punching out to no effect. Scar was remorseless. His body smothered Bond’s, the big fingers probed towards his eyes. Bond tried to fight him off, push him, claw him away, but he only succeeded in locking an arm under Scar’s armpit. The two men wrestled in a curious embrace, a staggered dance across the broken mosaic floor, the copper glow of light shifting over the battle ground like a demented glitter ball. Bond’s fingers found the butt of his dagger. He clasped it, pulling it from the sheath. Bond didn’t hesitate. He thrust up and forward. The knife jabbed into soft flesh with a sickening squelch. Scar roared. Bond stabbed again and again and again. He screwed the long blade in as it scythed into muscles and intestines.

Scar was weakening. The nails scratched at Bond’s face, almost took out an eye. But they were desperate attacks. Finally, Bond broke loose. The tall wiry frame, nearly seven feet of him, was buckling under the knife wounds, his abdomen horrifically ripped open. Blood was pumping from the deep gash. Wildly Bond struck out once more. The dagger sliced across the tall man’s throat. Severed arteries erupted in a crimson fountain. The gunk splattered over Bond’s face. He stepped back and brushed away the mess with his free hand.

Scar simply stood there silent. Then he emitted one tiny gurgle and like a concertina, folded into a heap on the floor.

Bond let out a heavy breath. He slotted the knife back into its holster, not even bothering to clean it. His ears rang with a hideous noise, an awful piteous squeal. Bond bent down to pick up the Vector. Immediately his muscles howled. The tear in his thigh, the wound on his head, even his patched up belly was seeping again; each injury festering with blood. And the squealing continued. Bond’s burnt out eyes squinted.

The saqr still writhed in anguish.

Bond silenced it with a bullet to the skull.

The dark night had set in now. Even the glow of the fire couldn’t penetrate the atmosphere. It hung heavy with death. The smell was everywhere. Blood and gore. Smoke and flame. It stuck in Bond’s lungs. He tasted it. The cloying sickly refuse of life. He felt nauseous. The fight had been a terrible few minutes. There had been no tactics, no rules. Kill or be slain: the law of the jungle, of the beasts, of primitive man.

Slowly, Bond stood up. He felt dizzy. His body shook, as if he were yawning, waking from a restless slumber, almost out of control. He took a few difficult shaky steps, searching for the final reserve of strength. As he did so, Bond heard one single long sigh.

Sargon had slid down the pillar and lay with his legs stretched out in front of him. As Bond watched a trickle of blood leaked from the corner of his mouth onto the white beard.

Bond stumbled over to the prone figure. The chest rose and fell. The deep glassy eyes stared up at him. Sargon was unarmed. Clutched in his right hand was a single clay tablet. Even in the gloom it was shiny, ebony rich and looked fragile, helpless, like its keeper.

“Gilgamesh,” said Bond.


“It’s over, Sargon. You’re coming with me.”

“No, my fate lies with the gods, Mister Bond.”

“There are no gods for a devil like you, Sargon.”

The cracked and bloody lips actually smiled. With an effort the mad monk raised his arm and pointed a long snaky finger at the far wall. Bond could see a faint portrait on the masonry. The details had been obscured by the ravages of war.

“Mart Mariam, Mister Bond, the Virgin Mary,” whispered Sargon, “Pilgrims travelled thousands of miles for hundreds of years to worship at her image. I never understood. I never needed to understand. I was always certain of my fate. I’d seen it in a dream. Some where, Mister Bond, my future is assured. The Wise One has a place set aside for me and I will dine at his table. I will watch over the land of Ur and the fields of Babylon and the nation will rise again.”

“You’ve spent too long in the wilderness, Sargon,” said Bond, “Andreas Chivry was right all along. You’re insane.”

“No, Mister Bond, I deny it. I feast on the knowledge of a higher purpose. When I die, how delicious will it be to see new life seeping out of death?”

Bond raised an arm to wipe away another trail of slime from his face.

As he did so, Sargon’s hand and body jerked. The black clay tablet spun outwards. Behind it shot a three inch curved steel blade, a tiny khanjar, immaculately decorated with a bound leather hilt. Bond’s shocked gaze took in the fine etchings and miniscule details on the blade as it cut rapidly towards him.

It stuck with a thud in his left shoulder. Bond didn’t recall but he must have moved, for he was certain the dagger was heading for his throat. It was an exceptionally fine throw. Bond looked sorrowfully at the blade. More blood oozed from the wound. Death and agony was everywhere tonight. Bond raised the Vector and haltingly took a pace forward.

The last effort seemed to exhaust Sargon. His chin flopped onto his chest and he let out a long low almost bestial howl. Through the mist of his collapsing eyes, Bond saw the left side of Sargon’s body begin to jerk. Rapidly the spasms overtook his whole torso, until even his legs were convulsing, twitching like two angry serpents. The black mouth started to scream deranged agonies. Then as soon as it started the madness stopped. Sargon lay on the ground, his top half curled in the foetal position, breathing in long hissing gulps.

Bond dropped the gun without firing. His head swam. The image of the bearded man in his white robes, now daubed in spectacular red, dissolved and shrank, reformed and spun. Bond was faint. He needed water. Where was his water bottle? He couldn’t breathe. He was tired, so tired. His knees gave way. There was too much blood, too much pain. Calmly, resignedly, Bond sank the last few feet to the grimy stone floor. As the numbness took over, he watched the furnace of a bonfire melt away and his eye lids slowly shut on an evil world destined to die.

The tiny orange and yellow ingots sparkled and crackled for an hour or so. The cool night of the Nineveh Plain descended in full across the Monastery of Mart Mariam. Two bodies, covered in drooling bloody wounds, lay motionless except for the gentle rise and fall of their chests. The moon never shone that night. It was a cold, unforgiving cavernous time. The stygian creatures, the jackals, the rats and the weasels, made their noises, but none approached the ash grey smoky ground in the centre of the church. There had been too much commotion and it had frightened even the animals of darkness. Meanwhile the spiders continued to weave impressive webs. They caught many errant blue flies as the insects buzzed around the host of fresh carcasses that lay in the abandoned cloister. And as the veil of darkness began to lift, one of the bodies stopped moving.

Tentatively the first shafts of sunlight began to dip over the mountain. A single scops owl made his final hollow call and slowly the long white shadows of a glorious morning kissed away the haunted memories of a diabolic night.

#29 chrisno1



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Posted 07 October 2010 - 12:16 AM


It was the black shapes of the vultures, hanging ominously in the sky, which attracted the local herdsman.

Mushtaq had been hunting for rabbits. It was the easiest source of meat in Sharafiya, now the cattle were all gone. Mushtaq often plundered the monastery for bricks, but he steered clear of the desolate place when he worked. He was a young man with a young wife and child and he didn’t want any trouble from the Mullahs for visiting an unholy shrine. But like everyone else, he’d heard the gunfire last night. He assumed it was another of the sporadic insurgent attacks, a minor fire-fight to be forgotten. But this morning he saw the scavengers.

Cautiously he approached the monastery. He saw abandoned cars but still waited and watched as the sun rose higher. Once convinced everything was calm, he edged inside the enclosure. Mushtaq was used to seeing dead bodies. The war did that to everyone. He nudged the two drivers with his foot. Columns of flies took off from their feeding frenzy. Mushtaq stepped into the dilapidated church. There were more bodies. Lakes of dried blood crinkled under his feet. Cautiously Mushtaq tapped the inert figures. He recognised the man with the long white beard. It was the mad monk. He’d lived here a decade or so ago. Mushtaq remembered visiting him as a child, perhaps when he was eight or nine. Now he was shot dead, a corpse waiting for the ground to swallow him. So this is what became of Sargon the Prophet. Mushtaq shook his head at the fickleness of time. He gave the final body a disconsolate shove.

James Bond groaned.

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

Almost three weeks later, Sylvia Lavoilette nervously entered Henry’s bar in Paris. She’d waited impatiently for today, ever since she’d hugged and kissed his battered and bleeding body on the hospital plane. She considered it to be eighteen days too long.

Sylvia arranged to meet in Henry’s because she remembered he liked it. Sylvia thought she’d be early, but James Bond was already at the counter, a v-shaped cocktail glass in his hand. He was wearing a formal dinner jacket and trousers, a lightly ruffled white shirt and a slim black bow-tie. He didn’t look injured, which relieved her.

Sylvia tried to smile, but she was too nervous. For the occasion she had purchased a knee length sequined cocktail dress, from one of the minor fashion houses, and these types of clothes always made her jittery. He told her she looked wonderful and her smile blossomed. Bond had a French 75 waiting for her. They took a banquette seat that stared onto the old fashioned lounge.

“You look as if you’ve been in the sun.”

“Don’t tease, James,” blushed Sylvia, “I’m bright pink and you know it.”

“But you have been on holiday?”

“Yes; to see Papa.”

“How is he?”

“Good. We’ve reached an understanding. It’s a start,” she paused, “They want me to go back to work soon; in Abu Dhabi; cataloguing all those antiques. I don’t want to go. The memories, you know.”

Bond sipped his martini. He understood. Sylvia’s fingers stretched out and brushed the back of his hand. He noticed she’d grown the nails a little longer than usual and painted them the colour of her shining grey eyes.

“And there is another reason,” she said.

The bar tender caught Bond’s attention before he could reply. The old lady from the little florists down the road approached the table. She offered a small rectangular package to the couple.

Sylvia took it and peeled back the gold paper to reveal a single pink bloom, an exquisite rose, in a wooden box, the stem in a little cache of water. Delight spread across her face.

“It’s beautiful.”

They finished their drinks and went to dinner at Taillevent, one of the greatest of all Paris’ restaurants. They were extravagant. Sylvia let him choose and he asked for an unlisted entree of Royal Beluga and two glasses of ice cold vodka. To follow they ate fois gras de canard confit with a bottle of chilled vintage Suduiraut. The meat was succulent, almost fruity, with the tang of truffle oil. They didn’t make it to dessert.

Through the meal, Sylvia’s eyes hardly left Bond’s. She wanted him and she knew he wanted her. Those few days together in Abu Dhabi, that nightmare in Iraq, had bound them. When Bond had driven away from the battlefield that morning, Sylvia wondered if she would ever see him again. It had been her father that reassured her. For once, perhaps the first time ever, she felt close to Papa. Yet even then her thoughts were far away. Not this time in books and history and legends, but with one solitary man, fighting his own crusade against the devils of the world.

Sylvia was too proud to let Bond see her one room studio flat. Instead she had booked a suite at the Raphael. It was costing her a small fortune. Sylvia noticed Bond seemed uncomfortable.

“I thought you’d want pampering,” she said as they took the lift to the sixth floor.

“It’s almost too luxurious, Sylvia.”

She stuck out her bottom lip. The corners of her mouth stayed resolutely turned down.

“You moan too much.”

Sylvia took his hand and he squeezed it tight. Now the corners twitched upwards and they kissed. The lift attendant – they still have them in the Raphael – turned discreetly aside.

The suite was gorgeously elegant, an update of Louis XV decor complemented by all the modern touches. A bottle of champagne waited in a bucket of ice. Bond opened it in silence.

“What are you thinking?” she asked.

“I’m thinking everything is just how I planned it.”

“Good. I wanted it like that.”

They took their glasses outside and stood on the terrace, linking arms and hands and bathing in the golden facade of the Arc de Triomphe.

“I blame myself, you know, Sylvia.”

“I know. I don’t want to talk about the past. It’ll stay with me forever, James, what happened. But you’re here now and I need you. I love you, James, and there isn’t a nightmare in the world that will stop me loving you.”

Sylvia kissed him, warmly, smoothly. He caught the whiff of vanilla essence; it was Guerlain’s eau de toilette. Insolent girl, he mused, and a beautiful woman.

“Don’t wait for me, James, I won’t be a moment.”

Sylvia disappeared into the dressing room, which adjoined an enormous bathroom.

Bond sipped the champagne, a Bollinger, a good year. It tasted slightly of strawberries, only Bond could not get the scent of the girl out of his nostrils.

“How long are we staying here, Sylvia?” he called.

“One night, James,” came the reply, “And after that we’re going to drive to the Pyrenees. The fresh air will do us good.”

“Am I going for the fresh air?”

“The doctor’s discharged you. This is his recommended medicine: fresh air and rest. I’ll make sure you get lots of it,” then a pause, “Most of the time.”

“Do I get a choice?”


Bond shrugged and undressed. He stood in front of the mirror for a moment, inspecting the fresh scars, the welts of the last violent days in Iraq. They had healed nicely. Two weeks in a naval hospital and now three week’s convalescence from M. The new head of the S.I.S. had been remarkably pleased with Bond’s work. Perhaps there was life in the Double ‘O’ Section yet. The reflection of Bond’s cool eyes glinted. There was a twinkle of recognition. Yes, there’s plenty of life here, he thought.

“All right,” started Bond as he slipped under the bed sheets, “In that case we have some things to talk about, Sylvia.”

“What things?” came her reply from inside the bathroom.

“I was thinking I might need a nurse,” he teased, “And I don’t know if you’re properly qualified to look after me. I’m in need of a lot of care and attention.”

Sylvia appeared at the doorway wearing a solitary bath towel tucked into her cleavage at the apex. One foot seductively stroked the other shin.

“Don’t be ridiculous, James,” she replied, clearly annoyed, but not sounding it, “Of course I can take care of you. I’m used to handling old relics.”

“But this old relic needs very special treatment.”

“Does he now?”

“Yes and I have to be certain you can administer it.”

“I have three words to say to that.”

“And which three words are those, Sylvia?”

Sylvia untied the towel and let it fall in a bundle at her feet. Her hair bounced on her shoulders, shining light and golden, her eyes sparkled, two precious stones of pewter grey, and the pink skin glowed crimson and naked in the lamplight. She looked as gorgeous as Bond had expected. The curves of her body, from the wasp-waist and flat slender belly to the large firm bosom, seemed to emphasise her haughty beauty. Bond remembered how he’d imagined her when he first met her and how he thought she needed a man, any man, to love her properly, firmly, passionately.

Sylvia showed no shyness at her nudity. She stood still for several seconds, a naked Venus de Milo, a cool, exquisite marble treasure. Delicately, her breasts lifted and fell. Her breathing was shallow and calm. A hand stroked its way across her chest, the fingers teasing at the big nipples. They firmed to her touch and she let out a tiny giggle of pleasure. The hand moved lower. After a few moments, she raised one finger to her lips and gently sucked.

Bond smiled and the spell was broken.

The lithe legs strode towards him. Sylvia peeled back the single sheet and threw it aside. She admired his naked and bruised torso. It was obvious he had enjoyed looking at her. Gently Sylvia mounted the bed and sat astride him. Her hands smoothed his chest, from his shoulders to his loins, and she cooed with unexpected delight as his body responded. As she positioned herself, Bond’s eyes flickered across her fine, stubborn body; every glimpse led from the arrogant pouting mouth to the beautiful twin mounds and the erect peaks to the glistening sweet oasis, topped with a tiny tree of golden curls.

“Three little words?” she murmured. Her hands nestled in his lap, stroking the hard muscles. Her tongue flicked out and slowly, lasciviously licked her lips. “Yes. Please. James.”



Edited by chrisno1, 07 October 2010 - 11:02 PM.