It went without saying that he didn't like Christmas. Not even for his children. He isolated his three sons from it. They were born for something different. It was a time of year strictly for the amoebas, the window dressing of his world. The ones who didn’t know that in life, you didn’t ask, you took. It might be Christmas Eve, but he didn't like his men talking about it. It was an irrelevant time of year.
He watched her through binoculars. They were German. Old, he'd talked to a man who swore that he was an expert and was convinced that they had once been SS standard issue. Maybe a Colonel in Mussolini's army had traded them, and that was how they'd ended up here in Sicily. Or perhaps they had fallen from a Nazi's hand, later to be found, after a GI had shot him dead. It didn't matter. He only knew that at least one man had been killed specifically for these binoculars – because four years earlier he'd sliced open Gennaro Socino's throat for them in Naples. SS, Regio Esercito, the Camorra and now the Mafia. It was a fine pedigree he thought.
He watched her step from her Jeep and scan the dry, blasted yellow landscape, dotted with apologetic imprints of dark green vegetation. One hand shielded her eyes from the sun and another tried to keep her long hair in place. Even from this distance he could appreciate her long limbs and wild hair. And he knew that up close her skin was perfect and smooth despite the life on an olive farm that had allowed her slender muscles to grow taut. She was a fine looking woman and at 27 it was indecent that she was unmarried. But that was because no man dared. No man dared because they feared him - Don Alessandro Dominguez.
His name was Spanish because he had been born an Argentine. His mother had left Sicily in her teens to dance in Buenos Aires. Originally it had been as part of the national ballet, but soon she learned to tango with a local man. By 17 she'd given birth to he and his twin brother Massimo. By 18 she had been abandoned and forced to return to Sicily. By 19 Massimo had been killed in a vendetta. By 21 he'd avenged his brother and begun his ascent to the top. Now 42, he feared nothing, and there was nothing in this world that he wanted but didn't own.
And now, he wanted her, and every square kilometre of the land she stood on and called her own.
A second figure stepped out of the Jeep. Who was this? He switched his focus – it was a man. And not an old man, not an olive grower like her father – that man he'd already killed. No, this was a younger man. And he looked fit. Walked with a confident glide, he was no farmhand. Hired gun? That’s what he looked like. A professional. That’s what his instinct told him.
So, perhaps she'd dipped into what money she had to look for help? No matter. He could call on thirty of such men. A phone call could bring another forty – and that just the professionals. There were always younger, untrained men keen to impress Don Dominguez. And if this was a professional, well a visit would be in order to let him know the foolishness of his assignment. Regardless of what she did her land was already his, he just had to play the game a little longer. Toying with her aroused him. He'd already forgotten all about Christmas.
James Bond breathed deep. He liked this land for some reason. Maybe because it was another island on the fringe of Europe. Whatever the reason, enough men had died over the years trying to own chunks of it – so Sicily was surely worth something. Perhaps that’s why he felt at home here, centuries of blood had fertilised the soil and made it fertile ground for a man in Bond's line of work. It wasn't a happy thought.
He'd already been wished a Merry Christmas once that year. It had been in November. It had been M who, in his vinegary mix of respect and belligerence, had wished it to him as he'd headed out on six weeks leave. He supposed M had reasoned it was better to offer an early Christmas blessing than a belated Happy New Year – something M had curious superstitions about.
It had been well earned leave. And, once his wounds had healed sufficiently for him to be able to switch morphine for bourbon and vodka, he had undertaken it happily. First stop was New York, a city he hadn't visited in some time and which hadn't improved for the better. He indulged in vulgar nightclubs and prissy, lilly livered underground casinos which people seemed to visit to be seen in rather than to play in. Predictably his week there amounted to little more than a few unsatisfactory days bookended with some nights of efficient but uninspired passion with an air hostess.
By the eighth day even the eggs tasted insipid and he had to leave. He'd toyed with the idea of Macao, where at least the gambling would be good and the sex more choice. But he'd been there too recently and someone might still want to settle a score, perhaps when he had his back turned over a Mah Jong table. In any case, he felt a need to step away from neon and smoke. He needed to head for the old world.
That was when Luiggi Ponticello came to mind. He'd visited Ponticello's olive farm several years before. Before his double 0 license in fact. It had been a mutual acquaintance in Italian naval intelligence that had introduced them, and suggested Luiggi's land in the heart of Sicily as a good place to take a break and hunt for a while. He had never been sure just what Luiggi's link to Italian intelligence had been. In any part of Italy, daily life and the shadow life mixed as incongruously but inevitably as the shots of grappa with espresso so many Sicilians used for a morning heart starter. Bond had long since learned that in Italy, the hair and skin darkened the further south you went, and the shadows also grew longer. Until in Sicily, their influence darkened every affair.
He had arrived the previous day after a peculiar phone call which should have told him all he needed to know. When asking to speak to Luiggi he had been rewarded only with apologetic, broken English spoken in a female voice. When hearing that Luiggi wasn’t available he almost put the phone down, but quickly the voice began to beckon to him. Somewhere in its apologies, there was a plea. The girl on the other end of the line had invited him to visit in any case, and he had accepted.
The girl had been Angelina, he hadn't realised until he'd arrived after two hours in a Taxi from the airport - the driver speeding away even quicker than he'd snatched the fare from Bond's hand.
But why would he have realised? When he'd last seen her she had been no more than 8 or 9 years old, a bundle of fuzzy haired tomboyish suspicion munching olives beneath a tree. Now she was 27, almost equal to him in height, and time and dry heat had tamed her natural curls into long waves of dark cocoa.
And she was alone, but for the few staff that remained and the graves in the yard.
As he watched her now, looking over the soil she'd been born on, he didn't see tears. Never tears. What was instead imprinted upon her face was the effort of holding back the raging sorrow inside her. He looked at the curve of her jawline and her high cheekbones, perhaps her ancestors had always been farmers or perhaps somewhere in there was the blood of 15h century Sicilian aristocracy. But in any case, she was nobility personified. Even in a torn red t-shirt, jeans, workbooks and a band trying and failing to keep her hair in place, she was beautiful, and beautifully defiant. This was her land, and it was worth killing for. Anyone who would try and take it from her would become the object of her dark hatred. They had killed her father. And her brothers. Maybe they'd kill her too, but not before she clawed their eyes out. That was true nobility.
She told him, as they'd dined together on red wine and manicotti served with fried aubergine and roast mutton, that it had begun a year ago. One of the local Mafioso chieftains had taken a liking to her father's land, and had tried to acquire it. First had been simple intimidation. Fires set amongst their olive trees, dummy fire-bombs posted to them. But Luiggi was no man to back down and neither were her brothers. One by one they had been gunned down. She was proud that first, they had at least taken a few Mafioso with them. But they were merely big hearted farmers armed with shotguns and vintage semi automatics remaining from World war two that had been previously been sitting as trophies on Luiggis's wall.
The police were the Mafia’s play thing, and if the population of the villages nearby knew anything, they were saying nothing to no-one. Her fiancée, a banker from the mainland, had deserted her and returned home. She spat his name. All that remained was Angelina, an old maid and an elderly gardener – both loyal to the last. Every other soul had abandoned them as a lost cause. Stubborn detritus soon to be blown free and swept up in the whirlwind that was Italy and it's past, present and no doubt future of sin and shameful secrets.
“What do I do Mr Bond? I cannot run. But how can I... there must be a way. I know who you are. I remember you from the last time you came here. Probably you don’t remember me, but I remember you. And I remember the way my father spoke about you. And how he spoke about you after you had been here. I know something of what you do for a living. You must know people. Not the corrupt polizia who would rather turn in their own mothers than interfere with true Mafioso like Dominguez. My country – and that is Sicily, I am no mere Italian – has always been blighted with such men. Not the Mafioso, but cowards. They are the real enemy. So... what can you do for me? Please, there must be something.”
Bond poured himself another glass of red wine as he considered the problem. He could indeed speak to people. He wouldn’t even need to go through M first. Not even Tanner would need to know. Some discreet calls to Langley and Felix Leiter could bring through the names of Italian secret service men who could be trusted. Protection could be arranged. But it would take time. And questions would be asked. Perhaps an inquiry afterwards.
“Perhaps you have the wrong idea about me Miss Ponticello. I am not an administrator who can make men move to my whim. Not exactly. I am... I have been called a blunt instrument.”
He realised that her eyes were burning into his. She had called him English, but he knew it wasn’t really true. Scotland, Switzerland, England... they'd all made him. He could never know what it was to be wedded to a patch of soil the way Angelina Ponticello was. He felt a pang of regret, almost envy. And fascination for the passion he saw in those blazing eyes of hers.
“Perhaps Mr Bond, a blunt instrument is just what I need.”
Bond considered for a moment. He finished his wine.
“I think you should send your maid and gardener to their homes. That’s the first thing.”
“No Mr Bond. No, no and no again. You would have us give up? You think I should run like some American fancy lady who....”
“And then I should like very much to see your father's armoury.”
“You want guns?”
“Very much so.”
So it was that when Bond saw the sun reflecting from a spot in the hills beyond them, he knew it was probably from a set of binoculars. He knew he was being watched and that the viewer would be curious about him. He smiled in the direction of the spark of light.
As they drove away from the perimeter of Angelina's property, Bond quickly became aware that they were being followed. He braced himself, then relaxed as he saw that one sole car was following them. If the Mafia meant to finish it here and now without satisfying their curiosity about him, they would strike hard and fast. There would have been five or six cars, and maybe thirty men. No, this Don Dominguez was intrigued by him, and wanted to know who he was dealing with.
“Quickly Angelina. I want to get the measure of this thug, but I'd like to do it on home territory.”
Angelina gave him a derisory snort as she compressed the accelerator further and they hurtled over the hard soil. Bond wasn’t used to being driven by a woman, but she had refused all suggestions to the contrary. He was enjoying the experience, she drove with the abandon of a teenager but the technical swagger of a touring car racer.
They arrived back at the Ponticello farmhouse minutes before Dominguez. Bond and Angelina watched him leave his car, beaming like a city trader. He was a little paunchy but Bond could see the repeatedly broken nose and thick, scarred fingers of a man who'd learned life in street fights and in many ways had never left them behind. He also had the careless smirk of a man who, regardless of how badly treated he'd been in life, or what horrors he'd seen, was always destined to be a cold hearted, evil brute.
“We kill him now!” blurted Angelina.
“Not now, we keep our powder dry. There are four others n the car with him who'll already have their fingers on the triggers of automatic weapons. Its only his orders that are stopping them.”
“So what do we do with him?”
“Why, invite him in and pour him a glass of grappa.”
She glared at him. “This is a joke?”
“Its a necessary step. Trust me.” And for a moment she didn't.
“I will kill this man. When the time is right. First of all, we're going to have a drink.” he reassured her.
“I will pour my own grappa, if you please señor Bond,” chuckled Dominguez, “This one, she will spit in my glass I think. Or put some rat poison in it. Do you mind if I ask you to....”
Bond understood the question before Dominguez was finished asking it. He poured grappa into a glass and swallowed it in one. “Delicious metallic sting. Only in Sicily” He had proven the drink wasn’t tainted with arsenic.
“Indeed Mr Bond. And I will share some.” Dominguez poured a full glass of his own. They were in Angelina's kitchen. Angelina herself stood to one side, glaring. A revolver sat a foot away from her on a sideboard. “Its fair I allow her to have the gun nearby, no?” Dominguez asked. Bond chuckled to himself at the gangster's attempt at appearing a gentleman and gave a small nod.
“So, Mr Bond... the problem of this land. When you are a man like me, you reach a stage señor where you have all basic requirements filled. Safe, laundered money in current accounts, invested and in secret, bullion deposits in Switzerland. A home here in Sicily, a home in Argentina, one in Miami and in Paris... all basic living standards fulfilled. It is at this point in my life that I have become a collector. Of antiquities.”
“What does this have to do with Miss Ponticello's land?”
“Oh, everything. I have employed radar and ground imaging experts to fly over this island. I intend to sponsor serious archaeological digs señor. And, it so happens that we are sitting on top of what they believe to be one of the largest palaces of the western Roman empire, outside of Rome itself.”
“Is that so?”
“Absolutely señor. Now, when I first approached Luiggi I tried to be reasonable. But, if you will forgive me Miss Ponticello, your papa – he was not a reasonable man. He would not sell his land, even when I began to... how to say..... commit outrages upon it. No, a very stubborn man was papa Ponticello. I had to kill him. And he took some useful men with him.”
“Hasn’t done you much good. I see no archaeologists here.”
“Ah, not yet Señor Bond. Not yet! But soon. We all know the land will soon be mine. Either the bitch signs the papers willingly, or she does it with a gun to her head, or she dies and I go through the courts. I of course own the courts. The land is already mine and these are mere details.”
“What do you propose happens next?”
“Well first I think you should leave señor. There is no real fight here and I like the look of you. We could do good business together and I can pay much more than whatever she pays you. Then, I take my land. There is no need to kill a useful man like you while I do it. What do you think?”
Bond poured them both another glass of grappa and pretended to ponder, “Well you see Mr Dominguez, I have a pet hate. Wherever I travel in the world, I find bullies. Big ones, small ones. In the great scheme of things, you're rather a small bully, I have to say. But the trouble is, big or small, I despise bullies. All of them. So here is my counter proposal. Drive away from here, don’t come back and leave Miss Ponticello to her life. Then you compensate her for the damage caused, and the loss of her family – not that the filthy bullion in your Zurich vaults could ever do that. Then you have a chance of living.”
Dominguez smiled to himself, then smiled at Bond. It was the joyless smile of a pimp. “I had hoped we would talk about you a little Señor Bond, but I see that would be a waste of my time. Whatever madness is in you.... well I don’t want any of it around me.” He drained his glass and stood from the table.
“Lets not shake hands.” said Bond.
“No, that would not be appropriate señor Bond. We will come back later. And there will be more of us. Whoever we find here, gets to join that fool Luiggi.”
The five cars kept their headlights off as they drove slowly toward the farmhouse. It was eleven at night and the land around the Ponticello farmhouse was completely dark, under a weak moon. The only light came from the building itself. For an hour, from a distance Dominguez had watched lights go on in the living room, the switched off again. Shortly after a light would go on in the kitchen. Then that went off. Shortly after a light went on in the bedroom. Were they sleeping together? Perhaps that would explain it. Why else would the Englishman be willing to risk his life for her. Maybe the girl had resorted to witchcraft?
He decided then and there that he would rape her before he killed her. He forbade his own men from the act, feeling it showed a lack of professionalism. But why not in this case, surely it was only his due? And she'd been asking for it. Finally he would own her and her land completely.
The cars rolled to a halt. He watched from inside as his men stepped out and formed a line of thirty. “Like a Roman legion!” he thought. His mind briefly allowed itself to wander, and wonder about the treasure that might lie beneath his feet. How far down? How long would it take to retrieve the gold – surely there would be gold. And silver. Helmets, shields, chests of....
But the hundreds of small explosions that were the sound of thirty assault rifles being fired simultaneously shattered his ruminating. The bullets sliced into the house and shattered the wood and tile like it was a child's plaything. He chuckled as he heard the windows shatter. Nothing would remain alive, or at least able to fight. He decided that once he'd raped her, he would defecate on her father's grave.
His men stopped and began to reload.
And that’s when they began to get shot.
It was a different sound, a more industrial, but quieter chatter of bullets that knocked them to the ground. Before they had a chance to turn fully, they were already being mown down. It took no more than three bursts of strafing gunfire to take them apart. Dominguez was frozen inside the car, until a thought quickly pushed itself to the front of his mind: He was now alone.
James Bond stood from behind the outhouse he'd concealed himself behind and removed the magazine from the Thompson sub machine gun. He guessed the old Tommy gun might have seen action on Monarella beach many years before, and he'd stripped, cleaned, re cleaned and test fired it many times before he was happy that it would do the job. The job would have suddenly become considerably more complicated had the gun jammed.
It had been an item borrowed from Q branch that had convinced the Mafioso that Bond and Angelina had remained in the house. The simplest electronic device, which could time the shutting on and off of house lights. A simple but always useful diversion.
Angelina stood next to him. He' heard her breathing quicken as the cars arrived until it became almost an animal whimper as her childhood home was shot to pieces. Then, she had practically roared along with the Thompson as he'd cut Dominguez's men down.
“I don’t see him. I don't see Dominguez amongst them.” she panted.
“Of course not. Mr Dominguez will have waited in the car to watch his men do the bullying for him.” said Bond.
There was the crack of pistol shot and a puff of earth next to Angelina. Bond dived and pushed her out of the way. Another crack and a puff of dirt exploded behind him.
Bond spotted Dominguez, using the car door as a shield and aiming through the open window. It was a good position. One misjudged move and....
Another shot hit the dirt two feet from him. “Señor Bond, I have you pinned down I think. We call it a good fight and you let me go yes?”
Bond cursed under his breath as he reached into his belt and found that the spare magazine he'd thought he'd placed there was missing. He scanned the ground around him. Then his heart sank as he saw it. There it was, lying under the beam of a car headlight, on the ground between them and Dominguez. It had fallen as he'd first dived to push Angelina out of the way.
He dropped the Tommy gun to one side. “Angelina, give me your revolver. “ he said.
Angelina dropped her own gun next to him, but she had other ideas. Before he could stop her, she had the Tommy gun in her hands and was running for the magazine.
The carelessness must have shocked Dominguez, because for a moment he didn't fire. It was long enough for Angelina to dive for the magazine and, taking it in her palm, clip it into the gun and pull the trigger.
But it didn't fire. The old mechanism couldn’t cope with such harsh treatment. Before she pulled the trigger Bond already knew that the magazine would jam. Dominguez sprang from behind the car door, victory in his eyes, and bore down on the girl who had been ready to die for her land. Bond took the revolver in his hands and fired, almost blind. Time stood still.Blood exploded, and stained the yellow soil red.
Dominguez fell to his knees. Bond had hit him in the chest. Angelina stood and kicked the Mafioso in the crotch. Then again in the face. As he fell to the ground, she spat on him. Bond walked over and kicked Dominguez's gun away. The Mafioso looked up and saw Bond and Angelina standing over him, together. Then his last breath left his wicked body.
Angelina leaned into Bond and he put his arm around her, walking her away from the scene.
“Lets go inside. There must be some wine bottles they missed.”
“No James, I don’t want to drink. And I don’t want to go inside. I want to be out here. On my land.” They walked to the rear of the building, where she crouched down. She sat in the soil of her family's land and crushed it between her fingers, in gratitude.
“You outsmarted them. You were too clever. But you told me they called you a blunt instrument.”
“It was a cheap trick. I am a blunt instrument, whenever its needed.” he lay next to her.. Then came the taste of her lips, and the tangle of arms...
And so it was as they lay under moonlight, making love in the soil, as it occurred to her that it must be after midnight, that Angelina Ponticello became the second person that year to wish James Bond a Merry Christmas.
“Buon Natale Mr Bond.”
Edited by Alexander, 21 December 2012 - 03:19 AM.