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A Whisper of Death

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#1 chrisno1



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Posted 13 July 2013 - 12:30 AM

Chris Stacey
































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






This novel is inspired by, but is not intended to be compared to, Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I have included some of my favourite scenarios from across the world of James Bond literature and film to help me create the story. I’m sure you’ll spot the similarities. As they say: ‘There are no original stories, just original ways of telling them’. CS






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

The Steel Wolf (A short story)

The Humming Bird

The Blink of an Eye

Those Who the Gods Love Die Young

Past Times (A short Story)

O.H.M.S.S. ’67

Never Kiss a Stranger

Apollo’s Tears (A Short Story)







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.


This novel 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 2013















3:    RECALL




7:    TIARA











18:  LOKI…




22:  P7E



















Chapter One:


Champagne and Death



The watcher on the terrace of the ski lodge saw through the binoculars why James Bond was considered the most dangerous of men.


He was completing the last in a series of long spectacular swooping runs down the slopes towards Donovaly.


It was like watching music. His timing was perfect.  His skis aligned as if along bars of script. His limbs moved so sweetly he could have been the bow on Du Pre’s cello. The sound of slats on soft powder, inaudible to the watcher, must surely have rippled in applause. His neat stop in a flurry of snow was like the cut of a baton in the air, sharp, affirmative, direct. This was a man in total control of all his muscles, from the anterior to the femoris, the deltoid to the biceps, the triceps to the tensors. The movement and harmony of the man’s body was in tune with its surroundings. Every gesture, every gaze, every word spoken, was a calculated, rhythmic decision, one which started behind those steel blue eyes, inside the mind, inside the brain, the one muscle in the body which, like the heart, never stops working.


But, also like the heart, it was a muscle the watcher considered was always susceptible to outside influence.


Bond had come to rest next to a startlingly attractive red head, her hair pushed back behind a peaked fur cap, spreading away in the mountain breeze like a curtain from her neck. The snow goggles were around her throat, dangling, and she laughed as Bond moved closer. The pink ski suit she wore was a tight affair, all in one, and no imagination necessary. She clung to Bond, shook the contents of her outfit admirably to and fro and offered her giggling face for a kiss.


They turned away and he managed to nuzzle the girl’s neck as they slid towards the waiting gondolas. She wasn’t worried by the bumpy ground. If she fell she would be effortlessly saved by falling into Bond’s arms.


The watcher lowered the binoculars. No man had the right to such success, such easy pleasure. His own pleasure, due for immediate fulfillment, would lie in stopping it.



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



Bond had first met her three days ago in the hotel lounge.


He’d just ordered a bottle of champagne when she entered, her hair like Rapunzel, deep natural red, almost to her buttocks, her slim figure encased in a barely-there mini-dress that exposed acres of long, lithe leg and ample creamy cleavage. She took the table next to his, delicately crossing her legs as she sat. One raised stiletto-heeled foot swayed and her hands idly flipped across the screen on her i-phone.    


Was she waiting for someone - a girlfriend maybe, or a lover, an affair, perhaps? He put her at maybe twenty two. He was wrong on all counts.


Bond refilled his glass. He watched as she angrily placed the phone on the table. Her foot twitched agitatedly. She beckoned to a passing waiter and ordered something in a quick short sentence. She sat back slightly slouched, her bottom at the edge of the leather couch, her shoulders resting on the cushion. The tables were very close. Bond felt he could reach out and touch her. She noticed the curious inquiry on his face. A scowl crossed her lips and she picked up the phone again.


He liked her already. It was almost impossible not to, he reflected. She was stunning and, while Bond usually avoided girls who wanted to be ogled, believing this attracted unwanted attention, this time even he couldn’t resist the lure of the long lustrous hair. To prevent himself staring, Bond checked his own mobile and found he had no reception.


“Dreadful isn’t it?” he started, “When the weather moves in.”


It was blizzard conditions outside. Skiing had been suspended since lunchtime. Now, in the dark of evening, the swirls of snowfall caught in street lights or head lamps, made a half-haze of white, a curtain pulled beyond the hotel’s windows.


She flicked her head. The hair which had fallen across her face waved away and she stared at him.




It was a deliciously soft accent. Her tongue seemed to get caught on the word.


Bond smiled and indicated with his phone to the window and the snowflakes, “My reception’s gone too. I missed a business appointment.”


It was a dreadful lie.


“I hope your call isn’t important,” he said.


“I want to contact mother,” she said slowly, “Excuse me; my English, not so good.”


“Your English is fine. Perhaps I can help. Have you tried the hotel telephones?”


“I am not staying.”


“Ask at reception. I’m sure they’d -”


“I will have to pay.”


“All right,” Bond stood up and held out his hand, “Come with me then. I’m a resident.”


The girl pondered his hand, stared up at him with deep lavender eyes then took it, just her fingers touching his. He led her through to the lobby where two old-fashioned phone booths nestled in a corner. Bond swiped his door key card across the slot, lifted the handset and placed it in the girl’s small palm.


Her mother was not coming for dinner. Not on a night like this. Disappointed the girl replaced the receiver. Bond was standing just within ear shot, the freshly filled champagne flute still in his hand. He stepped forward and held it out.


“Why don’t you join me,” he ventured, “My name’s James.”


“James,” she repeated.


“And you are?”


“Renata Kazanová.”


“I’m very pleased to meet you, Renata,” Bond said.


He thought that sounded a little bit too cocky. She didn’t seem to mind and took a pace towards him, her head tilting to one side, her eyes searching for his again.


“I have champagne on ice, Bollinger, the ’76,” he continued, “If you’d care to join me.”


“Why not?” she said slowly, “It will be nice; I know not of champagne.”


“I’m an expert.”


“I see. That is good, yes?”




“You are not here just for the champagne, James?”


It sounded like a leading question. Bond gestured to his table in the lounge. For a moment he considered why such a gorgeous woman should find herself alone at the Hotel Galileo, why she would latch herself onto James Bond. It was only for a moment. Her coconut fragrance swept over him and buried the suspicion.


“No, I’m skiing. The slopes are less crowded in Slovakia.”


“Ah. And you like Slovakia?”


“I like what I see.”


Too cocky again, but the comment met only a smile. They sat down and Bond lifted the bottle, “I’m afraid I don’t know very much about Slovakia.”


“Then you must learn.” 


“All right,” he said, pouring her a glass, watching her watch the bubbles fizz and pop, “If you promise to teach me everything about Slovakia, I promise to teach you everything about champagne.”


Four hours later Renata unzipped the mini-dress and slipped it off her shoulders. The smooth outline of her gorgeous bosom was reflected in the floor to ceiling mirror that laced the far side of the bedroom. She ran her hands down her sides. Her fingers hooked into the elastic of the tiny black thong.


Naked, Bond approached her, kissed her neck and helped pull the panties down. This was to be the final lesson of the evening.


Like him, Renata, was polishing up on her skiing. The twenty four year old daughter of a renowned Slovak businessman, this was her local resort. The family had a chalet on the edge of the village, but she neglected it - and her mother - and stayed in Bond’s suite, eating, sleeping, making love and drinking champagne. The maids who scurried in and out delivering caviar for breakfast, Caesar salad for lunch and duck lokša for dinner, thought it all wonderfully romantic. After two days of heavy snow, the skies cleared and Bond decided it was about time they exercised some other muscles, so he persuaded the girl to go skiing.


Donovaly sat plumb in the centre of Slovakia, twenty miles north of Banska Bystrica nestling on the edge of the Vel’ká Fatra National Park. It was a picturesque mountain village occupying the dip of a bowl between three mountains, the highest of which was Donovaly itself, almost 10,000 feet high, its broad shoulder seeming to loom over the pretty multicoloured chalets. Seventeen runs converged on the town, serviced by a series of chair lifts. Most were modest fare, slopes for beginners, children and the unambitious. But three of the runs mounted the great peak itself, one traversing its apex, the other two taking steep winding turns to the valley floor.


The Galileo didn’t have the impressive façade of the Hotel Residence or the central location, but that was why Bond liked it. It was a charming, smallish hotel that didn’t pander to hordes of day trippers and groups of ill-behaved children. It was quiet, almost quaint, he thought, a bit how the resort might have been before the onslaught of mass tourism.


Having warmed up with two modest runs, Bond wanted to tackle something more treacherous before the afternoon died. Renata, who was a good nimble skier, agreed, so they kicked off their slats and waited in line for the Tele-mix, the gondola that ferried the brave to the mountain top.


The girl hugged him close. She felt soft and warm, even through the padded ski gear. Bond kissed her as the car jerked away from the cable station and started its ascent. As his lips came away from hers, Bond noted the three men garbed in black who stood to the rear of the car. They didn’t carry skis, but instead hefted bulging back packs crisscrossed with elastic strapping. The men were clearly together, but were not talking. Their stares were blank, expressionless, like the snow. Idly, he gave them a professional once over, decided he was being absurdly cautious and returned to Renata’s tempting mouth.


The valley stretched out beneath them, duck shell blue under the late afternoon sun. Families played in the Fun Park, skating and making snowmen, tossing snowballs. Street lamps started to ember turning snow bound lanes into yellow rivers. Restaurant signs flickered on, the neon casting rainbow colours over tables packed with muffled drinkers and diners. Metres below, the trails from hundreds of skis spun out across the snow scape, making jigsaw patterns on the soft crystal carpet. Dipping over the western peaks, the sun could have been waving at the comfy idyll. Instead Bond felt an unerring chill. He recognized the signs. Something was amiss, intangible, unmistakable, unquantifiable, but real and deadly. 


The gondola swung to a halt. The skiers dismounted, strapping on their skis as they tramped along the furlough. Bond stole another glance at the trio of black clad strangers. They were heading away from the slope towards the paraglide run off. Thrill seekers, he thought. Of course, the big rucksacks contained the oblong parachutes, the mass of guide ropes and the harness, the helmet. Bond smiled, reassured, and bent to adjust his retainers.


“Follow me?” squealed Renata as she set off down the run, the snow kicking behind her.


Bond nodded, pulled down his goggles and dug in his ski poles. He followed her wide zigzag pattern, admiring the graceful upright stance she took. Almost perfect balance, he considered, only that hip action, a little too wide. He smirked inwardly. He knew exactly where that sway came from. It gave her a jaunty, haughty gait that he liked. It teased and tempted, just like her amorous mouth.


Bond carved a little tighter on the turn. The incline was sharpening. The mountain side dived away, an almost unbroken expanse of empty snow, banked on each side with pines and conifers. Bond’s skis trembled under the impact of body on snow. His knees and ankles gave with the motion, absorbing the shock. He moved his feet an inch or so further apart, carved a slim question mark in the snow, avoiding a mogul, then as the incline steepened, sank into the backward crouch, his balance bearing to the rear of the skis, ensuring he didn’t tumble. The girl was fast disappearing, cutting into the next turn, swishing effortlessly around the markers, particles of snow lifting into the air from her runners. Despite himself, Bond let her go. This wasn’t a time for competition. He’d let her win. There would be a reward in it for him later.


Into a turn, he dug at the surface with his ski pole, correcting his balance and executing a wide curve, the left ski digging, slicing a trough in the snow, another snake’s tail to be frozen overnight. The skis felt like ice skates, whistling fast over the terrain as if it was glass. The air, bitterly cold, rushed over him, seeming to warm his cheeks, ruffle his neck. There was no sound, only the whoosh of tungsten and fibreglass as it swept over white carpets.


The gradient started to ease into the next turn. The route widened and Bond was able to assume a more upright stance, plunging across the run in big sweeping arcs rather than heading directly downhill. The cable car straddled the left side and the shadows of the big gondolas traversed up and down the piste, interrupted only by the steel stantions, an army of towers holding the Tele-mix afloat. The steel towers and what? What was that? He didn’t recognize it at first, unsure of what he’d seen. It was a wide dark shape, almost eagle like, but much, much bigger, not tapered at the tips. One of them, no, two, three, swooping, like birds of prey, but more like - 


The whip crack of bullets snapped across his path.


Puffs of snow erupted short to Bond’s right. Terror suddenly gripped. Fear, the great leveler, attacked and his body responded. Electricity seemed to snarl at his spine. Instinct took over. He hit a low schuss, making his target smaller, and swung tight across the piste. Vaguely he saw the attackers, three parachutes, the men hanging in the harness seats, like big children on airborne swings, except instead of lollipops they carried silenced machine pistols. He couldn’t tell the make, couldn’t see it, only the black short snub-nosed barrel.


The girl, Bond noted, was gone, far away, cutting down the gorge without even a backward glance. Deliberate? He wondered, cast the suspicion away, and turned his attention back on the chutes.


They were speed riding. The men hovered only a dozen or so metres from the ground. Occasionally they’d sink through a thermal and briefly touch down, pushing off with their snow boots and taking to the air. The chutes were designed for speed and manoeuvrability. Incapable of soaring flight, the men descended in a series of hops and jumps. They kept pace easily with Bond whose twisting S shapes took far longer than their direct route. If one chute fell behind, the others stayed level; when it caught up, another dropped back. Bond recognized the tactic and bared a grimace.   


The air snapped again. The bullets ripped into the snow by his left ski, inches away this time. The assassin bounced into the air. Bond swung further to the right, hitting the higher ground, trying to reach the safety of the pines. Bullets scythed across his track, edging closer, snow shoots clattering his thighs. Something gave under Bond’s left wrist. The broken ski pole spun out, the stump swayed useless in his hand. He tossed it aside. Bond felt his calves complain as he cut another swathe down the powder, off balance without the pole, his legs and hips doing all the work. The tree line was bearing up on him. The shadows lunged down. Bond could see the black ski suit, the thick coverall that obscured the pilot’s head, the orange pitted mask over his eyes and nose. The machine pistol swung in his arms. Bond hit a kicker, took it straight, airborne, his feet together. The assassin fired instantly. He was too late. Bond dropped fifteen feet and landed in a flurry of snow. The paraglide sank low and fast, the man’s feet and knees dragging onto the ice. He lost momentum and the sail snagged, hissing as the harness twisted and the canvas started to billow in the wind.


The second glider cut over his stricken colleague and came straight for Bond, the machine pistol flaring. Bond made three sharp parallels and was into the trees. Vaguely he saw the glider change course, flying down the tree line. Bond crashed through saplings and ducked under branches. His sleeve tore. His cheek split open, just above the jaw line. It was all a blur. All he heard was the swish of his skis, the flick and flay of nature on flesh as he twisted and turned, negotiating an insane trail through the dense green fog. Suddenly there was a new sound. The rush of wind as the chute whipped overhead. He might have imagined the soft ‘putt’ of the silenced shots, he might not. The woodland seemed to explode around him. Bullets crashed through the overgrowth. Pine cones, bark and twigs splintered and spun across his path, rapped his back and arms. It was an effort to stay upright. The chute lifted, caught in a fumarole, and came down again, the pilot jerking on the lead reins. Once more the bullets cracked into the trees. Once more Bond denied the deadly missiles, all the time switching left to right, banking to avoid half buried roots, charging through the outstretched arms of the forest.


He found a two metre wide trail, snaking through the copse. Bond took it at full tilt. He was more vulnerable now. Somewhere he knew the assassins were aiming for him, rising and falling, big black predators seizing the moment. He braced himself. But the moment never came. The trail was flattening out. Of course! Donovaly was stepped. Half way down the mountain spread a broad meadow. In the summer there would be coarse fields of long ticket grass. Now it was a shelf of white powder that stretched over the piste. And there hung the paraglides, waiting for him to emerge into the open expanse.


The last of the trees petered out and Bond saw the two chutes converging across the glade, trying to catch him in a pincer movement. Bond glanced left and right. One was closer, the other more side on, struggling with his lead lines, unable to fire. Bond went for the latter and snuck left. Bullets pumped into the ground behind him. Across the broad horizon Bond saw other skiers. They were fading into the twilight, ignoring the deadly play that was taking place a hundred metres behind. He saw the pink flash of Renata’s outfit, still at speed, still trying to win her imaginary race.


As Bond suspected, the pilot was out of position. He was caught in a down draft and had overshot his target. The man was turning the reins, closing the flaps, but he kept sinking lower, no more than two or three metres from the ground. Bond gauged the trajectory, ignored the salvo of bullets that came from the rear, and charged for the paraglide. He grabbed at the hanging ankle and dragged the body down. The pilot gave a muffled yelp. The canvas overhead screamed. A massive tear appeared on one side, the chute ripping under the extra weight. Bond dragged the man downhill with him, his skis gradually sinking too deep, sticking in the rutted powder. They collapsed in a tangle of limbs and harness and sail. Bond grappled for the gun, tore it free and swung the butt viciously down. It plunged into the man’s neck. Bond heard the bone snap. He pushed himself away from the assassin, clambered out from the rucking canvas. As Bond righted his skis, dead man and chute found themselves caught in the mountain squall and were dragged pitifully across the piste.


Bond discarded his remaining ski pole and hefted the machine pistol. It was a Heckler-Koch MP5K, a good, efficient model. The butt-stock had been removed, making it compact and light. The other pilot seemed to be reloading. Uphill, sweeping rapidly towards him was the original paraglide, the one that had toppled over the kicker. Bond skate-skied for a few metres, gaining speed, before sweeping into a long arc, attempting to outflank both assassins, finding the one point of relative safety. Now armed, he felt confident. The men were good, but so was Bond. One mistake had gifted him an opportunity. He had to take it. The MP5 felt warm in his hands. The trusted instinct for survival was pumping the adrenaline, forcing his lungs, his heart, his brain to work faster and faster. It was their death or his. But he had too many questions. Would Renata have the answers? Had she been a stooge for him all along? The flutter of pink had vanished. She might not be there when he returned - if he returned. No. It had to be one of the assassins who held the answer.


Bond zipped across the terrain, buckled by the tracks of other skis. He saw the two chutes coming fast, one at the side, one behind. Bond had positioned himself under the cable car wires. The chutes couldn’t get close. The man behind, still playing catch up, bounced down, rose startlingly fast and adjusted his angles. He wasn’t Bond’s concern. No, the danger man was swinging alongside, gun raised. Bond shot first. The reply was instant. The two men exchanged salvos. The air tore apart at Bond’s ears. He crouched into a schuss. Bullets whipped around him. He fired again, higher this time and saw the body jerk. The chute lifted dramatically. Out of control it hung for a moment before an updraft sucked it sideways over Bond’s head towards the trailing cables. The body seemed to claw at the drapes, half alive, and then the canvas wrapped itself over the oil-slick wires and the body sunk until it hung lifeless and helpless a few feet off the ground.


Bond was well away, dipping off the meadow and taking the next slope in a sharp traverse, leaning into the hill, pressuring the skis. The final paraglide was clattering behind him. The chute rumbled like an unfolding sail. Once more Bond sensed rather than saw the shots come. He took evasive action, heard the thump of bullets on snow, and twisted, first skiing laterally then backwards, facing the on-rushing assassin. Bond went for the harness and the chute. The bullets seared through the canvas. Two of the guide lines split. The chute almost folded in on itself.


Bond watched as the pilot crashed to earth in a spray of angry snow, the chute flapping madly behind. He skied toward the stricken man. The assassin was rolling out of the harness, the MP5K still in his hands. Bond tried to say something, to warn him, but the man was on one knee, the pistol was barking silent deadly cries.


Bond was still moving. His blood was still pumping fast. The instinct was still hot. Red hot like fractious bullets. Bond’s trigger finger squeezed.


The watcher took the bullets in the chest.


It was agony for a second. Afterwards there was only relief and a warm, wet sensation in his throat. He tasted blood. The sky was a dark orange. It looked like it would be a beautiful sunset. A pity he wouldn’t see it.


James Bond knelt beside him and pressed his hands over the wound, trying to stem the blood that poured out of the jagged hole in his chest.


“Who sent you?” he asked urgently.


He could only cough.


“Who sent you? Who wants me dead? Is the girl in on it?”


“Girl?” he whispered.


“Yes, the girl.”


“Girl,” he repeated, sickly, “Not girl.”


“Who then?”


The words wouldn’t come.


“No girl,” he croaked, “Loki.”


Bond flinched. So that was it. He was back. Bond took his hands away. Blood bubbled out of the man’s mouth and his head dropped quietly onto an ice white carpet stained vivid red.

Edited by chrisno1, 14 July 2013 - 02:02 AM.

#2 chrisno1



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Posted 21 July 2013 - 12:10 AM

Chapter Two:


Who Wants to Live Forever?



The safari seaplane had just left the pier and was skimming the surface of the ocean, the growl of propellers the only sound disturbing paradise. Slowly the biplane rose from the flat sea and circled, heading due north for Malé, leaving the exclusive resort and its pampered clientele to bask in the midday sun.


This was once an uninhabited island, although the term is used rather loosely in the Maldives, for often there are more tourists on the deserted beaches than the occupied ones. Bijou Isle had recently been developed into an exclusive hotel catering for just a dozen couples at a time, accessed once a day by seaplane and costing any resident a minor fortune. Royalty discovered it first and then the Hollywood stars came. Soon the rich of business and politics, sport and fashion also chose it. Occasionally genuine holidaymakers, people with hard earned money, placed their feet on its pristine beaches and jostled with the modern glitterati.


Set on the eastern rim of Vaavu Atoll, Bijou rose no more than two metres above the limpid sea. For almost a mile and back the white sand curved gently away from the lush green palms which clung to the beachheads, branches rubbing against each other, the dense foliage only broken by the occasional trail leading to one of the exquisite five star cabins that inhabited the centre of the slim dagger shaped island. The timber pontoons of the pier, topped by the restaurant and spa, bisected the island like the hilt of a knife and stretched out across the giri reef and into the clear blue sea.


The reef sat only a metre or so below the surface, forming a natural barrier which almost surrounded the island and created shallow lagoons suitable for swimming and snorkeling. Bijou was fast gaining a reputation for its excellent diving conditions, the crevices and overhangs of the coral rich with the diversity of hidden marine life.


A small brown figure paddled across one of the lagoons south of the pier. Two strips of yellow cloth revealed it wore a bikini and the black pipe of a snorkel bobbed over the tremulous waves. The girl was shadowing an eagle ray as it made a lazy escape across the giri to the open sea. Schooling fish swept past her in wide fast seamless waves, a mass of pretty colours, but like the ray, her movements were languid, careless. Her feet fluttered and her hands and arms, draped by her sides, made tiny sideways actions to propel her forward. The ray was almost gone and the girl gave up the pursuit and turned for shore. A few metres out, she brought herself abruptly upright, ripped off mask and snorkel, and walked up to the beach, salt water cascading down her honey coloured skin.    


Zubaria Qadir was in her late-twenties, a svelte toned girl with wide Bambi-eyes. Born in Pakistan, but raised in England, she was blessed with the natural hues of her homeland and the attitudes of her adopted nation. While she observed Islamic ritual, she had no scruples; according to her husband she wouldn’t last a day in Karachi. She liked to tease him; she enjoyed the naughtiness of it. She knew he had misgivings, but Zubaria also knew how to keep him on side.


“There is nothing that infuriates and intrigues a man more than a flirt,” her mother told her, “But you must always be discreet. No one likes an obvious flirt.”


Zubaria was sometimes a little obvious. That was how she’d snared Mohammed in the first place, and now the ring was on her finger, she fancied she could be more outrageous still, if she wanted to be. As she stepped out of the sea, an impish grin stretched across her broad mouth and flashed all her pointy teeth. Today, she smiled constantly. Ever since she’d woken, she’d felt happy.


Everything is very wonderful today, she thought.


She shook her pitch black hair, matted wet to her shoulders, and ambled along the beach, her toes crinkling in the white sand. She could see her husband reclining on the sun lounger underneath the big folding leaves, his chest rising and falling gently as he slept, the shades pulled over his eyes. She remembered how many times they’d made love last night. The first night of the rest of her life: marriage, children, families. It was just how she planned it, just how she wanted it. And this honeymoon, the idyllic palm isle, a coral reef planted in the Indian Ocean, this single atoll, it all seemed perfection, designed just for two. Her only memory of the other inhabitants was from dinner, when the restaurant served extravagant fish courses and the sun followed its red path to the horizon.


Still smiling, Zubaria picked up the glass of frosted juice. She flicked the condensation off her fingers and the drops speckled Mohammad’s chin. She drank, admiring his body, the limbs that had entwined her. She trembled with the memory. It seemed so long ago that she’d feared his touch, the touch of any man. How silly she must have been to fear the act, the moment when man and woman become one. In the end, thanks to her treatment, it had been the most blissful moment of her life.


The drink didn’t cool her. The air was humid. She felt tremendously hot, but not from the atmosphere, from within, as if something was burning inside her. She’d felt it first underwater. No, perhaps earlier, at breakfast, or when she took a shower. Something had hurt, an itch, a bite. She’d scratched it, put on some cream and ignored it. But the heat had continued and now it was intense, spreading from her armpit, down her side and across her back. She screwed up her face to the sunlight. Somehow she knew the pain was inevitable and she must get comfortable to endure it. 


Slowly, deliberately, Zubaria removed her bikini top and dropped it next to Mohammad’s chair. She walked shakily up the path to the wood cabin, struggling to undo the ties on the slip. The garment fell between her ankles as she walked into the bedroom. She collapsed naked on the big double bed and, imperceptibly at first, and then louder, unavoidably, she started to giggle.


It was a memory that made her laugh, some long forgotten thing, a childhood fantasy, a silly game she’d played with her sisters. She couldn’t think what triggered the memory, why she’d thought of it again and again today and why she kept laughing. It wasn’t even a very funny game. The Tigers and the Princesses, they’d called it. Games, she purred, silly games, childish things, adult things, adult games. Zubaria smiled and started to stroke her skin. It was all so hot. The ceiling fan rotated but she hardly felt its pulse. A single bead of sweat rested in the cleavage of her bosom. She lifted it up on the nail of her finger, brought it to her lips and poked out her little tongue. It was salty like the sea. The beautiful blue sea. She’d been swimming, hadn’t she? Maybe it was the salt water. Maybe it was her own sweat. The sea. It still lapped at her feet. She could feel it. The cool waves tickling her toes, tapping her ankles. She sighed. Her fingers circled her plump breasts. The teats started to rise. She remembered his hands, his mouth, his teeth. She raised her right hand, pushed under the soft flesh, pushing the nipple towards to her lips. She bit down gently. A tiny electric spasm shot up her spine and she arched her back. There was a low moan.


How did it feel? How did it feel to be forever swimming, far into the ocean, far away from civilization, like the bottle nosed dolphins and whale sharks, the big fishes that lived and swam in families or the small delicate rainbow coloured deities who swarmed swiftly in armies through the undersea kingdom? She wanted to join them, reach out with her fingers and stroke the fins and tails, tickle the underbellies, turn over and back flip, toss and dive. She felt herself change, she’d suddenly grown a tail and scales, a twin pointed silver fin, flicking her through the restless sea. A mermaid of the oceans, Lorelei, sent to seduce the sailors, lure them into her arms, singing strange hollow beautiful calls, the siren’s song. Trapped in her fantastical being, she would seize the moment to become a woman. The moment when Mohammad would welcome her and the fish tail would fall away and they would make love on the silver scales forever.


Zubaria moaned. Her tail moved, her knees came up, her hands dipped lower, deeper, past her belly, the fingers playing to the rhythm of the siren’s call. The sound of a conch shell, the deep withering cry, impaled on her and she shook with the intensity of it, the shallow ghost of relief whispered across her skin, a zephyr, the salty tang of the waves, the grasses, the coconut palms, pineapple, grapefruit and kumquat.


Everything was everywhere. The heat sucked on every pore. Her skin was burning. She was covered in sweat. Moaning, her shoulders trembling, her hips gyrating, she wanted to move from the bed, to reach the shower, but her limbs wouldn’t work, she simply rocked backwards and forwards, the sensation of desire washing across her like a flood, drowning her, until she felt crushed beneath its intense heat. Her throat was dry, her forehead dripping with sweat. Where could she be cool? Was this what it was like to be wicked? The thought struck, some long forgotten lesson from her grandmother, from the mouth of God, the one who controls your destiny from birth to death, good to bad, was this the cauldron called hell?


The wooden walls seemed to give. An answer to an unspoken prayer, they seemed to swing open, the sea breeze filled the void, pulled her, lifted her body as if she was flying, swooning through the air, a bird, her arms wings, her pretty nose an orange beak, her eyes like telescopes took in the world below, the bay of Bijou Isle, Mohammad lying, still sleeping, the long straight pier, higher and higher she flew, across the Southern atolls, Faafu, Dhaalu, Meemu, the coral rings diamond necklaces between the emerald pearls. She rose higher still until the islands had vanished and nothing remained but the expanse of vivid blue, the curve of the earth visible in the far distance, the cloud melting into the horizon, a shifting shimmering heat haze, until finally Zubaria tasted the frozen upper atmosphere, the icicles formed on her lip, on her feathers, her fingers and she ceased to sweat. Her smile cracked under shivers of cold. Her face became a serene mask, an automaton, a pixilated photograph, photo-shopped, she whimpered and a tear rolled down her cheek. The feathers started to fall away. Frostbite had done for them and she tumbled through the air at incredible speed, boney arms flapping, her head ducked into her chest to absorb the impact.    


It was still cool in the jungle where she landed and sat among the tall groves. She was cross legged, her haunches on her ankles, listening to the sound of the insects as they crunched through the soil at her feet, singing, they were singing, and somewhere someone was playing a sitar. She swayed with the sound, her head rotating, until she could see both in front and behind at once, her eyes in the corners of their sockets, searching left and right as the jungle inch by inch crept forward. It was as if the world was surrounding her, swaying, encroaching on her little blessed peace. She still shivered. The insects were crawling up her legs. They seemed bigger than before, their fangs and talons raised, horns ready for fighting, their feet like soldiers boots punched at her skin, no longer did they hum, they barked and spat orders and warnings. She brushed them away, but they clung to her skin, grabbed at her hands and leapt at her face. They clambered across her naked frame, pinching, invading, burrowing, until she collapsed under the onslaught, the branches swinging lower, the big plastic leaves slapping at her exposed rump, the humidity rising, the sweat coming again, big breaths, the crawlers poured into her mouth and the sun beat ferociously down. Then suddenly the bugs and flies began to take flight, stag beetles, locusts, swarming ants, heading for the shining kernel, where they sparked, tiny bursts of orange flame igniting around her, incinerating at the touch of the sun as it sunk rapidly down.


The enormous sphere swooped towards her, cutting through tree branches, scaring the parakeets and the warblers, who joined the ants, a cloud of twittering flashing animation, bursting red and green and black and gold, frightened by the globe as it hovered, pulsating, heaving like a gigantic drop of water, glistening fierce and white, transparent, all sides visible, the centre a haven of tranquility, beckoning cool against the heat. The steaming green vegetation parted. Her legs moving at last Zubaria stepped up to the glass doorway.


It was gargantuan and it was cool and it was all chrome and glass and transparent and she could reach out and touch one side and then the other without moving, she simply thought it and it happened and there were little tangerine lights that winked and throbbed, bubbles that spun through the air, touched her and soothed her and the mighty sun rolled away with Zubaria inside, as if heaven had descended and the world was as good as gone and she was all at once safe and secure and serene.


The sphere spun around her, the clear glass turning into a blur of white pin points, no fixed origin, everything meshing into a solid wall of nothingness, a white noise, a confusion of colourless sound. She dug her fingers into her palms, closed her eyes to the noise, to the vision, and felt her body start to crease and split. The skin tore from her back, big welts, deep scabs, a grim putrid odour, her face peeled, teeth bit tongue, eyelashes fell out, hair came loose in clumps, her beautiful long black hair, her throat was on fire, she was dry so dry, when had she last drunk? The fire ran down her legs, ran down her arms, swelled her extremities. Her stomach cramped, as if it was empty, yearning for food, but she had eaten, she had drunk, and not so long ago, before, yes every time before, before the room, the big white room.


She remembered it. How it had been warm and wonderful, how she understood everything when she was in the room, how she understood why she had been chosen, why she must go to Bijou Isle, why she must persuade Mohammad that this was the only place for a honeymoon, even if it broke the bank, why she thought how she did, why she had to eat the pomegranates, why it was so important, so important for the world that she was the first.


Zubaria felt the coldness wash over her again, the white light seemed to be vibrating inside her mind, penetrating her consciousness, even as she felt the harsh, tense, cloying sensation which she knew meant the end was inevitable. The white light, the message, the code, the big white room, the sphere, the men in the white coats, a willing volunteer, the sacrifice, the first to die and then those calm lucid sonorous tones, the speech, the flat vowels, benign, sacred, just how she imagined God would sound like.    


“Do you want to live forever?” he asked her.


The final bead of moisture dropped from Zubaria’s forehead and buried itself in the pillow. Her throat closed up and ceased to take in air.


When Mohammad finally rose from slumber, he found the abandoned bikini top, followed his wife’s footprints into the cabin and followed her into death.



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



Bijou Isle in the Southern Maldives was closed to the public and quarantined twenty hours later.


When the service maid had visited Cabin 9, she found the two dead bodies covered in red and yellow blisters, the open sores leaking odorous pus. She immediately informed the hotel management, who also inspected the scene and contacted the A.D.K. Hospital on Malé. By the time the seaplane arrived, the maid and the hotel manager were dead and two more couples had become infected with the strange disease.


The doctor made more calls, including one to the police recommending the resort be closed immediately due to a highly dangerous contagion. It was the last communication received from Bijou Isle.


When the police and more doctors finally arrived, equipped with protective clothing, the whole population, two dozen guests and two dozen hoteliers, the doctor and the pilot had perished. The catastrophe made headlines.


Disease specialists were called in from India. The team took samples and declared the outbreak to be a previously unknown and virulent strain of psoriasis. The bodies were cremated without ritual and the ashes returned to their families. Bijou Isle was shut down forever, a testament, the locals said, to the sins of those rich playboys.


The source of the outbreak remained unknown. The team’s initial findings were published a few weeks later in a scientific journal. It was this article which brought the strange deaths on Bijou Isle to the full attention of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service.






Edited by chrisno1, 23 July 2013 - 12:28 PM.

#3 chrisno1



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Posted 27 July 2013 - 05:24 AM

Chapter Three:




When an agent’s identity becomes known to the opposition the Secret Intelligence Service makes arrangements for them to go to ground. They have several safe houses located around the world where any field officer can hide themselves away until the storm cloud which has revealed them passes. Of course, most agents are well known to foreign intelligence services, their movements monitored in and around respective countries or spheres of influence. To avoid detection while travelling abroad, many agencies create a series of aliases for their operatives, stored in safe deposit boxes around the globe, waiting to be used at the appropriate time. Others will fabricate a working persona for their spies, consuming their true identity to history until they retire. Field operatives sometimes take courses in camouflage techniques. They learn how to use make up and have acting lessons to develop accents and utilize body language as a tool for disguise. In extreme circumstances plastic surgery is suggested.


James Bond didn’t like many of these solutions. While he did possess several different passports, used them frequently and had memorized over two dozen cover stories, which would check out should anyone wish to investigate his stated life story, he preferred to travel as himself, using cattle class facilities and allowing the anonymity of the everyday to provide him with the camouflage he needed. He was well aware that should he try to visit Russia, the Ukraine or any of the old Soviet States, where his history was well known, his passport details would be recorded and most likely he’d be constantly observed, so he rarely travelled East except on business, when he used an alias. Similarly the C.I.A. always kept tabs on him when he passed through America, but stateside it was more friendly recognition than antagonistic signal. The Euro Zone, with its open border Schengen Policy, had become a breeding ground for spies as they crisscrossed borders with the simplest of formalities. It was equally good ground for terrorists and criminals. If you were caught, you would be extradited quicker, but for the professional, for people like Bond, the ability to be caught had been dramatically reduced in the past decade.


He was contemplating that very point as he sat outside La Cava, a non-descript café at the foot of Las Ramblas. The remains of a long tapas lunch was strewn across the table and a well-thumbed copy of El Pais sat, used, atop the litter of plates. There was a beer sitting by his right hand, the condensation soaking into the chequered table cloth. The Catalan sun stretched up the avenue and over that great pot pourri of life which made Las Ramblas one of Europe’s famous thoroughfares: over the heads of tourists, businessmen, street vendors and entertainers and the last of the old women still out shopping, laden with fresh fruit, cured meats and cheap fish.


The hot afternoon sun dipped under the awning bathing Bond in its sweaty glow. He wore Police shades, turning bright August white a misty blue. Despite the sunlight he felt remarkably cool, having dressed in cotton slacks and shirt and plain slip-ons, while the light breeze which always sang along the avenue from Plaça del Portal de la Pau had kept him from scorching. As he basked in the view of the busy promenade, a tiny alarm bell echoed in his mind. His attention switched from a group of pretty young women, Swedish probably from the sound of it, to someone else: someone in opal green who was making a slow deliberate path through the crowd. It was the approach of this new figure that tempted him to contemplate how an agent could be so easily lost and found.


It had been a long six months since the affair in Slovakia. Bond had a lot of explaining to do. The local police didn’t help matters by arresting him. Luckily, he’d already made phone calls from the piste. Station B.V. Bratislava was sending help. It was still an uncomfortable few hours in a stark cold cell. He was finally released into the custody of Long-Champs, who was not a local man and was all the more arrogant because of it. Bond wasn’t even given time to speak to Renata. His bags had been packed, his ticket was in Long-Champs clammy paw and the tall officious man was guiding him to a waiting car and a one way trip to the airport.


“What happened to the girl?” asked Bond.


“What girl?”


“Renata Kazanová, the girl I was skiing with.”


“She’s gone, cleared out of your place before we got here.”


“You’d better look her up,” said Bond and gave Long-Champs the girl’s details, as much as he knew.


“Is there any reason why I need to ‘look her up’? Do you think she’s involved?”


The contempt of the man irritated Bond. This sort of behaviour always did. Who the hell was this official anyway? Probably a teacher at the English School, trying to seduce pupils far too young for him, sitting on a pension and a pittance and waiting for the day when he could trade it all for a pipe and slippers and a host of useless memories.


“We won’t know if she is unless you do.”


“Of course, if you hadn’t got involved with her in the first place -”


Bond didn’t reply. It wasn’t worth rising to the bait. Instead he stared straight ahead at the back of the driver’s wooly hat.


“Just do it.”


The tall man sighed and made a note on his i-pad.


The interview with M hadn’t gone much better.


Bond had sat in the Breuer chair, which should have been comfortable but instead felt coarse and lumpen. He was conscious of sitting forwards, of trying to appear upright and alert. It wasn’t doing any good. M had been stern, his face twitching occasionally, as it was prone to do when he was under stress. He was sitting almost statue like, back fixed in the well of his own chair, his hands resting tightly on the arm rests. For five minutes he spoke. His tone was sharp, the words clear, sentences concise, correct. It was, Bond considered, a bollocking. It might have helped if he’d shouted, but this M never betrayed his emotions. He was a cold fish. The exterior was like ice. It occasionally cracked under some perceived warmth, some goodness that had been done to it, but otherwise, M was a hard, solid block of frozen nature. Bond watched the mouth open and close, barely taking in the detail. It would all be in the accompanying memo anyway: scandal, shame, unacceptable behaviour, a field officer in his position, world press, suspension from duty, reparations. Then it all stopped.




Bond hadn’t heard the question. His gaze shifted up a few inches to take in M’s eyes. They squinted.


“I can only reiterate what’s in my report,” Bond said blankly.


M reached out, seemingly without strain, his shoulders hardly moving, and lifted the document from the desk. He inspected it for no reason. He wouldn’t have read it, but Bond knew M was darn well aware what was in it. Tanner would have briefed him. And Bond had already spoken to Tanner. It was, he hoped, his life line.


“And what do you propose I do about that?” M scowled, “Some fanciful notion about Golden Age? They were Russians, OO7, bloody Russians, sleepers for the F.B.S. The Kremlin’s hammering for your blood.”


“They were attempting to kill me, Sir.”


“But they didn’t. That’s the problem. Evidence doesn’t back up your story. Where are their guns? Where are their orders? Where was this bloody girl?”


Bond knew why M was angry. He was in it up to his neck with the F.O., protecting the Double-O Division, fighting his corner, fighting the game of shadows. Terrorism was engulfing the world. Every country seemed to be prone to violent, unexplained attacks. Sometimes the causes seemed justified, as minorities fought for the right to democracy; other times it seemed wanton and destructive. And the dark world beyond the violence, the barbaric, mysterious, inexplicable men who planned and recruited and armed for these events, still operated outside of modern existence. As fast as you chased one group and brought them to justice, another would rise up to take its place, springing like the early crocus as if from nowhere, their methods as plain and as simple.


Golden Age had been one such organization, a strange hybrid cell populated, it appeared by the rich and powerful, not the disenfranchised. Their stated aim had been the annihilation of the planet, or most of it, through catastrophic, man-made events. These nuclear explosions had been primed to take place deep beneath the earth’s surface, setting off a series of volcanic eruptions whose ultimate effect would be to blot the sun, bring pestilence and poverty and depopulate the planet. It was madness and yet people believed it.


Less than a year ago, Bond had been lucky to thwart their plans during the Gulfstream affair. It had been a dreadful, gory finale. The memory of the gun battle on the sinking yacht and the insane tortured figure of Sabatini as he disappeared beneath the waves had haunted him for weeks. The C.I.A., the S.I.S. and Interpol had led a multinational, cross-continent investigation that had not only revealed the whereabouts of the organization’s base - a huge abandoned bunker in France - but also several of its high profile associates, men and women of financial and political clout, people of power. No one however traced the leader, the man they called Loki, a supremely powerful man, a man of intellect, vigour and deep, deep pockets. It was only when one of the suspects, an elderly Cardinal, fell ill during the interviews, that the S.I.S. understood how Loki won his influence. While anaesthetized, in that state of blissful unbeing, the Cardinal began to confess. The doctor’s recognized he had been subjected to long term mesmerism, that his belief and allegiance to Loki and to Golden Age was born from some powerful hypnotic.


It only unlocked part of the puzzle. Bond had been following up leads for a number of months, but the trail had become barren. Like those terrorist groups who bloomed and died, Golden Age and its mastermind, the unseen, unknown Loki, had vanished into thin air - or almost, for there was always the whiff of intrigue. You couldn’t eradicate something so deeply ingrained into a person’s mind and many people had come under the influence of Golden Age and trusted its aims and identity.


And now this: one garbled, dying word.


M shoved the document back across the desk.


The silence enveloped Bond. He didn’t respond well to being chastised. His mind was back on the piste, the bullets raking the snow, the big black parachutes following his wake, the dying man, blood spewing from his chest. It had been an unprovoked attack. He wasn’t to blame. He wanted to say so, but knew it was a schoolboy excuse. A license to kill wasn’t a license to kill indiscriminately. You had to be assigned. You had to have the authority. If you didn’t the service left you out to hang and he was hanging.


Slowly M stood up and crossed to the window. Another dull grey February faced him. He could see the Houses of Parliament across the Thames, a place he’d soon be frequenting. Inquiries, special committees, a waste of time, he hated the place.


“I don’t like politicians, Bond,” he started, his breath furring a circle on the window, “They get in the way. They stop me doing the work which matters.”


Bond inclined his head towards his superior. For a moment he thought M was going to add ‘which matters to the country’ but he didn’t. The sentiment was clear. That was why the man looked so tense. The shadows were looming again, but they were at home, not abroad, and worked by day, not at night.


“They’ll want you removed,” explained M, “I’m not prepared to do that. There are unanswered questions. We know it, but I can’t explain it. A man’s word matters little to politicians and a spy’s word even less. My word,” he chuckled, “Nothing. My concern, OO7, is that you’ve been marked.”


“I still think the girl -”


“The girl’s got nothing to do with it, Bond. She’s probably scared out of her wits, poor lass. Of course, she could be in on it, you can never tell, but her background does check out. She wasn’t lying. No, it’s the shooters that worry me.”


M turned from the window, hands behind his back, sucking in the paunch he knew was getting a little too big.


“Let’s say they were Russian. That would suggest incendiary activity from Moscow. Putin might be a devil to deal with, but he isn’t a fool. He spent long enough in the K.G.B. to know how espionage works. They might like to kill their own on foreign soil but they sure as hell wouldn’t risk assassination of an enemy agent without cause. Let’s say instead your theory is correct and this is something to do with Golden Age. They obviously have your identity. They want you dead. I could leave you in the field, draw them out again, watch you hide and hunt. You might get lucky or you might not. And I don’t want you dead. You’re a valuable agent, OO7. You’ve proved that more than once. No, I need another solution.”


“Which is?”


“How would you like a trip to Italy?” M replied, returning to his desk, “The service has a house on Ischia, off the coast, near Naples. A bit upmarket, I grant you, but it’s discreet. Miss Brodie is organizing air tickets for you. Q-Branch is rigging up another alias, passport, life history, bank accounts, all the usual accruements. I want you to disappear.”


Bond considered the offer. It wasn’t, he knew, made for negotiation, “For how long?”


“As long as it takes,” M said emphatically, “You’re not to speak to anyone. You leave through the basement exit. You don’t exist until I contact you. Understood?”


It wasn’t really a question.


Bond almost sighed, “Understood.”


He’d enjoyed the Villa Capricciani. It perched above a tidy inconspicuous village on the west side of the island. There was a walled garden covered in trailing vines and hibiscus bushes and a large lily pond attracted pink and gold dragonflies and exotic pretty butterflies. The bedrooms stared out across the bay and when he opened the windows in the morning, the sea air filled his nostrils. Bond spent days reading his way through the library and hiking through the woods. He spent harmless hours reclining under the warm spring sun and breathing in the sumptuous atmosphere. At night he ventured into the village and sampled the gutsy Frassitelli and the gastronomic delights served in the one good restaurant. But he got bored. After six weeks, bronzed and slightly unfit, he hitched a ride to Porta d’Ischia and took the ferry back to the mainland. Paying cash, he hired a car and drove to the toe of Calabria. Bond intended to visit Sicily, perhaps to meet Gabriella Martelli, the splendid girl he’d saved from the clutches of that criminal power broker, Sabatini, but he’d stopped short. You can’t repeat the past. They’d shared a beautiful few weeks, yet this was an after-thought, and he didn’t think Gabi appreciated those.


Instead he went back up the sleek leg of Italy and into the belly of Europe, Austria, Germany and Poland, crossing borders with no troubles, stopping in the small towns with roadside hostels, sharing strong beer with strong men and good, brisk love with easy, lazy women, learning how the world is from an alien perspective. It was succour to the soul. For the first time in years he felt relaxed, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. This was how he’d always wanted to be, not how the service perceived him, moulded him and used him. It was good to be a king, not somebody else’s pawn. So he smoked and he drank and he seduced and he relished his moment in the realms of freedom.


Now, five and a half months later, the moment was about to end.


Bond removed his sunglasses.


The figure halted at the pavement-side table, one hand on a hip. The skirt stopped short of the knee, exposing fine toned calves. The feet wore low heeled black shoes, toes peeking under the strap. The lycra top was stretched over the breasts like a swimsuit. Antonia Pilar de Vargas always did have an eye for a splendid outfit. She removed her own sunglasses and Bond saw once again the deep hazel eyes, eyes which had once tempted him to stay in Barcelona long after an assignment there had finished.


“Toni,” Bond shifted the spare seat so the woman could sit, “I’d like to say it’s wonderful to see you, but I expect that isn’t going to be true.”


Toni sat down and gestured for service.


“We’ve been looking for you,” she replied, and then to the waiter, “Agua con gas, por favor.”


“Oh?” Bond tried to sound disinterested.


“It’s time for you to go back.”


“Suppose I don’t want to go back?”


“You don’t have a choice, James,” replied Toni quietly, “You didn’t expect to be in limbo forever did you?”


“No, but the longer it went without the call, the more satisfied I got.”


Bond took a swig from the bottle. Toni watched him carefully from under the side of her fringe, contemplating his face, the new lines etched, the old ones erased. After a while she asked: “So what’s it like to be free?”


“You make it sound like prison.”


“Maybe it is.”


The waiter returned with the drink. Bond placed his sunglasses back over his eyes. It had been a wonderful few months, now it was gone. He stared silently into the distance, past the crowds and the Monument a Colom, out into the Mediterranean, to the sky, to some point far off, unseen, a place he wanted to be, but couldn’t attain, not once or forever.








Edited by chrisno1, 28 July 2013 - 05:43 AM.

#4 chrisno1



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Posted 02 August 2013 - 10:26 PM



The White Room


Her eyes creased apart.


It was like living in liquid plastic, bright and suffocating, a throbbing, pulsating sphere of shifting whiteness which pushed and prodded her extremities until it not only surrounded her body but seemed to pass straight through it, filling her insides as well.


She couldn’t discern it. The strange white form was at once part of her and not at one with her, comforting but conflicting. It didn’t seem to be of any organic material. She couldn’t feel it physically, yet she was aware of its omnipotence, close, humming, enveloping. It resembled nothing more than a cloud, only it was a dense cloud of nothingness, a living light which seemed to replace the air and make breathing superfluous.


It was ambivalently cool. She detected a breeze, but couldn’t understand where it came from. It seemed, like the whiteness, to simply exist. She moved her head slightly, once to each side, and tried to search into the heart of the honey-mist. There was nothing. It stretched as far as she could see and yet she thought she could touch the wall, drape her hand across the curve of the sphere and plant her palm outwards to the world. There surely had to be a real world outside, she pondered. This couldn’t be everything there was.


As she adjusted to the surroundings, the girl became conscious of a change in the atmosphere. It was still cool, still comatose, but she tensed friction as if the cloistered existence of centuries was being pierced by a sharp needle. Somewhere, she remembered an extravagant meal, a last supper, meat and wine and bowls of exotic fruit, cantaloupe, figs, pomegranates and lychees. But the memory only flickered and then died. Images, people, faces seemed to fade. Whoever she knew, whatever she had seen, they now became disparate.


Nothing seemed relevant any more. If her breathing really had stopped, so had many other functions; gravity, pain, worry, hunger, simple reflective thought. Nothing mattered except the big white room, shining like marble, and the hiss of the bees.


The sound built gradually in waves, a drone-like song, with lines and verse. Slowly, flawlessly, the bees meshed into a high pitched vocal, a castrato’s aria, which seemed to fill not only her ears but her lungs, her stomach, her heart, a vibration which pulsed in unison to the white sphere, in perfect time to her heartbeat, drowning all thought, willing her whole being into blind obedience to the living womb to which she had suddenly been reborn, a comfortable, soothing honeycomb which whispered faintly of home.


But this wasn’t home. She might have been asleep. It could have been a dream. But the girl instinctively knew her whereabouts were the result of outside influence, that she would never have imagined somewhere so calm, so amorphous. Dimly, deep inside the sluggish mass which used to be a brain, the girl wondered if this was all wrong, if she ought not to succumb to this pure state, this existence in plastic, in a cloud without worry, anxiety and fear.


She recognized the thought as a tiny spark of individuality. It had been her first genuine cognition for minutes. Or it might have been hours or even days. She no longer understood the passage of time. Something, fast dwindling away, prompted her to remember what she was in imminent danger of forgetting, to concentrate on the world beyond the white room. From the lost recesses of her mind, she conjured the strength to resist the all-invading bliss that engulfed her, to remember why she had come to this place: to combat in the anger in her life, to allay the fears, to smooth the stress of the everyday and the struggle against the modern world, to remind herself of the pain of being alive.


Yet her fight was hopeless. As soon as she tried to remember segments of life, real life, she felt the powers outside became stronger and the alarming voice inside weaker. It was as if the cloud, the voice, the humming chiming tones, were reading her thoughts. And the soothing plastic substance continued relentless, gently quivering, oozing into every pore of her body, possessing every nerve, every cell, every part of her soul. The song still vibrated, calling for a response.


Slowly, uncertain, the girl moved her lips and a sound came out, a single long note, quite deep, from the lower tract of her windpipe.




The castrato responded with his own call and they perfected a duet, the two mesmeric hymns playing out across the white void of the room, the nothingness inside her mind. She might have stayed in that state for hours or days. It felt like minutes, but might have been only seconds. Her first utterance felt far away and the present indistinct, as if it was vanishing into the past before she’d even reached there. She only knew she was becalmed, afloat, tucked in the cloying bright cloud, wrapped up against the outside world. Wasn’t this why she was here?


Then, out of the strange nothingness, the girl began to recognize a new sound. It floated beneath the echoing castrato, a whisper, a breath of air, a pacifier, yet it had power and demanded to be listened to. She concentrated on the sound. It was almost a relief, the first new and exciting thing that had happened to her in - how long? Days, years, she wondered, all the time listening intently for the rising voice. She was certain it was a voice. She detected the dip and lift of vowels. Her own voice still uttered the one single word, yet now it matched the incoming song, the new fresh sound.


Slowly without any conscious effort, the girl started to repeat the words.


“Everything is wonderful today… Everything is wonderful today… Everything is wonderful today…”


Her voice took on the rhythm of her heartbeat, so slow it could almost have halted. She spoke for a long time, never pausing, never once missing a beat or skipping a syllable.        


Suddenly the room was illuminated by a burst of light. It erupted from nowhere, somewhere inside the whiteness, but not of it.


Automatically the girl closed her eyes. The tangerine explosion dazzled for a second and then vanished. She still spoke the words, a sentence that had become a mantra. Slowly her eyes reopened and adjusted to the brightness once more. Her actions matched the chant, her pulse, the flow of her blood. The invasion hardly bothered her. Already the light seemed a far off, distant memory.


A second, a year later, the orange explosion occurred once more. The girl kept speaking, unhurried. After the third time, she didn’t even bother to close her eyes. The light began to glow, rising and falling, breathing almost, a beat in time to the voices and the songs. For a moment the girl thought she could see a face staring out at her from the radiance. It was a kind, generous face, not young, fatherly, a face you wanted to trust, to listen to and learn from. She thought she knew the face, knew who it belonged to, knew the voice which came with it. Was it, could it be, her own father?


She wanted to reach out, but her arms were still pinned by the encompassing softness of the white cloud.


Then it was gone, if it had ever been there at all, and she was left with the white room and the single beating orange light and the gentle whisper of the voice and her own soft tones repeating the words.


Slowly at first, the orange glow started to rotate, exactly in time to her other faculties, and she felt herself start to spin. The sphere was rotating. She was being carried into the air by the expanse of white. It didn’t frighten her. The surroundings were all the protection she needed: the peaceful white room. The girl remained perfectly still, trapped in the harmony of nothingness, her mind only occupied by the single light and the hollow encouraging voice, the voice she now mimicked note for note.


“You are one of us… You are one of us…”    



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



James Bond may have left for his enforced sabbatical through the back door, but he returned undaunted through the front lobby.


Storey was still on duty at the front desk. He swiped Bond’s identity card, waited for the light to turn green and handed the pass back.


“Welcome home, Commander Bond,” he said, “It’s been a while.”


That was about as close to a question as Storey ever got. He knew better than to ask. Ignorance of an individual’s job specifications was one of the reasons the S.I.S. employed him. The man couldn’t confirm or deny secrets because he was totally unaware.


“It has,” Bond replied, “Anything changed?”


“The canteen doesn’t serve mince beef anymore.”


“Really; why’s that?”


“It was contaminated with horse meat, Sir.”


“I thought horse meat was good for you?”


“But not for the horse.”


“I suppose not,” Bond pocketed his pass card, “Well, I didn’t like the canteen much anyway.”


There was one other person in the elevator, a short girl with mousy hair who looked like a librarian. He nodded once, but she didn’t respond. The lift smelt of cheap lemon air freshener, Fabreeze probably. The cleaning staff was changing the menu too. Whatever happened to lavender and camomile?


Bond strode down the anonymous white washed corridor on the sixth floor. He’d deliberately arrived half an hour early to visit his office and, more importantly, the Senior Administrator, Penelope, a woman married to her career as an Office P.A. Of course they didn’t call them P.A.s any more, in the same way they once called them Secretaries, but the role was exactly the same. Bond considered knocking, chose not to and pushed open the door.


A pert backside encased in a blue pencil slim skirt was bent over the desk top. The long legs stretched to heeled shoes and one of them was raised, the stiletto tapping at the right buttock. Blonde hair bunched at the girl’s shoulders. She’d had it cut and curled. Laughter filled the room. Another girl, a brunette, was sitting at the desk and they appeared to be watching something on You Tube.


When the cat’s away, mused Bond and said, “Hello, Penny.”


She spun around, still on one foot and almost toppled, her bosom nearly tipping out of the too tight white blouse.


“Oh, my God, James!”


She as good as knocked him backwards with her enthusiasm, the arms surrounding his neck, the mouth smothering his for one quick moment, the chest pounding.


“I thought you’d gone for good!” she breathed.


“I’m glad I came back,” he replied cheerily and freed himself from her breathless grasp. The greeting was quite out of character for Penelope and caught him off guard. The other girl was staring at them, an intrigued grin passing over her face. “Who’s this?”


“This is Suki, your new S.A.”


Bond took her in with one quick glance and immediately liked what he saw. Smart, professional, sexy, but a little shy. She was of Indian descent and had a beautiful dusky complexion. Her hair was long and straight. Small, intelligent looking glasses rested on her nose. The smile was thoughtful, but showed lots of teeth. Once addressed, she nervously looked down at her lap before deciding to stand up, a small hand extended.


He shook the hand, “Hello.”


“Good morning, Commander Bond.”


“It’s James,” Bond didn’t let go of the hand. The clip from You Tube was of a cat performing dribbling skills with a tennis ball, “You certainly seem to be a breath of delightful air, Suki.”


“I’m sorry,” the new girl quickly switched off the web page and raised her coffee mug, which read ‘I Love Tea As Well’, as if it was explanation enough, “Morning coffee break.”


“Already?” he smiled, “I don’t suppose you’d make me a cup; black, no sugar?”


The girl nodded and turned to the counter and cupboard behind, the one with the secret stash of proper coffee, not the insipid stuff at the dispenser.


“This is it, right?” confidence growing, she brandished the sealed bag, “Jamaican Blue Mountain Filter from Fortnum’s.”


“You are wonderful.”


Bond sidled close to her, so close they almost touched. It was too early for that. The coffee smelt rich and chocolaty as she spooned out the grains.


“Tell me, Suki, what’s happened to my old S.A.?”


“She’s still here, James,” interrupted Penelope, who’d been watching Bond’s courting signs with a mixture of distain and curiosity, “I’ve got some news for you.”


“Don’t tell me you’re getting married?”


“Almost. What’s the next best thing?”


“You’re asking me or telling me?”




“You’re pregnant?”


Bond was momentarily thrown. He’d always assumed Penny had boyfriends, but she never spoke about them. The personal life was never discussed. It was an unwritten rule Penny had always maintained. The idea of her having sex was quite startling. He wondered, as they were on the subject of children, if this was how father’s felt when they realized their daughters were no longer virgins.


“It was a bit of an accident,” she said, “Well, it was an accident, but sometimes there can be happy accidents.”

Her hands seemed to clutch at her belly.


“How long?” he asked.


“Only four months; I’m just starting to show. I shan’t be wearing clothes like this for much longer.”


Bond took the fresh coffee from Suki and her smile flashed again, “Does Tariq know? He’ll be terribly jealous.”


“Not yet,” she sighed, “OO9’s in Kazakhstan, again. We lost two of the new boys, they couldn’t cut it.”


Bond nodded. Perhaps that explained his recall.


Penny walked over to him and ran a finger across his fringe, straightening his hair.


“It’s good to have you back, James. You will be careful, won’t you? I need you to be a god-parent.”


“I’m always careful,” Bond affectionately patted her backside, “Especially with the things I love. Have you told Suki about my Aston Martin?”


“What about it?” queried the new girl.


“It’s very swish -” started Bond.


“But don’t get in it,” Penny cut him off and removed his hand, “Remember, James: look, don’t touch.”  





#5 chrisno1



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Posted 09 August 2013 - 11:05 PM


Twice the Trouble




“What do you know about Henri Charteris?”


There had been no friendly banter on the top floor of Vauxhall Cross. Bond had been interviewed briefly by Bill Tanner, the Chief of Staff and Bond’s best friend in the Service. It was routine and Tanner played the role perfectly, professionally, exactly as expected, until the very end when he stretched out his hand and said, warmly, “It’s good to see you, James.”


They agreed to a round of golf, soon.


Then there was a medical; again, very routine. The doctor made lots of indistinct sounds as he noted the results on a lap top. Bond was a trifle overweight and had been smoking too much. His energy levels had dropped ten percent. His stamina was suspect. He passed, just.


Firearms tests proved less of a concern. Bond fired off several dozen rounds with his trusty Walther P99, scored direct hits on stationary and moving targets and grinned stupidly as the technician wondered aloud why they bothered assessing him. For lunch, Bond avoided the horse meat prone canteen.  


There was only a curt nod from Miss Brodie, the spinster who guarded M’s office as if hell was about to storm the gate, and, promptly at two o’clock, the green light winked above the door and Bond entered the plush, wood paneled, green carpeted office. He liked M’s new office. It was so much nicer than the antiseptic chrome and silver of his predecessor. He didn’t often get to visit it. M usually carried out his briefings in the Operations Room. The last time Bond had sat in the leather chair it had been a disciplinary and the place had developed an oppressive, stagnant air. This afternoon, free from those shackles, the room felt familiar and comfortable. He noted though, the air here also smelt of lemons.


M didn’t waste any effort on preliminaries. “Welcome back, OO7,” was as good as it got. He grumbled about Bond’s fitness: too much red meat and red wine. He complained about the cost of tracking him down: he should have stayed at the Villa Capricciani. Bond offered an excuse. M ignored him. He quoted a list of offences Bond had committed by disobeying a direct order to remain at the safe house, all the time pacing by his window, the big one that viewed the Thames.


Finally silent he stopped and turned to look at his errant agent and then dismissed it all with a jerk of his hand.


“Yesterday’s tittle tattle,” he said, before offering Bond a seat and asking the question, “What do you know about Henri Charteris?”


Bond dug into the recess of his mind. The name was familiar. He’d read it in dispatches: Professor Henri Charteris.


“The bacteriologist,” he replied, “He died a few years ago.”


“Indeed,” started M, settling back into his chair, “A controversial figure, in the trade. Born in France, he married an English woman and emigrated here in the mid-1980s. A brilliant scientist but something of a maverick; his research was focused on disease and how to perfect it.”


“Create it, you mean.”


“If you like,” M opened the file on his desk and rifled through the first pages, “His life history’s in here, but it’s his experiments we’re interested in.”


“I thought his experiments were banned under the Biological Weapons Convention.”


“Indeed they were. As soon as the government found out he was developing illegal weapons, his funding was pulled, neatly tied up with other defence cuts. Frankly, given the rumours, lies and truths surrounding Iraq at the time it was probably New Labour’s most sensible decision.”


M paused, fiddled with the corner of a page and then sounded wistful, “It nearly broke the man. You know, sometimes individuals who are so dedicated to a task can fall apart when their life’s work is snatched from them; models lose their looks, boxers lose their speed, artists who go blind. A similar thing happened to Charteris. For a while he slipped into domestic life, wrote the occasional paper for science journals, retired, more or less. His wife was ill with stomach cancer and he tended her until she died in 2004. He had two teenage children, but they didn’t provide any solace. He took a turn for the worse and was diagnosed with acute depression. As soon as the kids were old enough to go to university there was a suicide attempt. He killed himself at the third attempt. At least that’s how the newspaper’s told it.”


Bond waited for the sting in the tail of the story.


“You’ve been out of the service, Bond, but not out of the world. Did you read about the strange affair in the Maldives?”


“You mean this mysterious plague or hand of god or whatever it was?”




“I read about it. The Spanish press didn’t seem over bothered. They’re more interested in Lionel Messi’s fifty goal season.”


M sniffed. Bond wasn’t sure M even knew who Lionel Messi was.


“We’re bothered,” M said, “Very bothered. Charteris’ work was initially to do with PUVAs, chemical agents which occur naturally in plant life and react with ultra-violet light. When absorbed into the body they cause the skin to darken and toughen, a good preventative cure for psoriasis and vitiligo. His research didn’t stop with prevention. The basic cause of psoriasis is an over production of skin cells. An affected person will produce upwards of ten times the normal cells. The skin becomes hard and scaly, often red, and inflames with silvery blisters. Muscle joints will often become stiff and swell up. It can be quite painful.”


“Isn’t it genetic?”


“Generally,” M flicked the tracker pad on his desk top. Behind Bond Goya’s portrait of Wellington rose swiftly into the ceiling void to reveal a large plasma screen, “Charteris began to experiment on infected skin cells and managed to isolate the streptococci, spherical bacteria that grow in lines.”


Bond twisted to look at the screen. It showed the cell structure diagram of a bacterium, round globules laced together like beads on a string, curled in a spiral. There was a brief medical explanation attached which Bond squinted to read.


“It says the bacteria are mostly harmless.” 


“Mostly harmless, OO7,” M snorted. The picture switched to video footage. It was a naked male corpse. Someone dressed in an allover protective body suit was injecting the contents of a syringe into the dead man’s arm.


“They’re the most common bacteria found in the human body. Hundreds of examples live inside your mouth and nose all the time and probably give you a sore throat. Sometimes they enter the bloodstream, but the human immune system destroys them. Charteris isolated and hyper-developed a single strain. It revealed a completely different outcome.”


The video was already sped up. The time counter in the bottom corner was revolving at a minute a second. The body at first appeared not to change, but after three minutes, or three hours, the pale skin became a deep red speckled with silver plaques. The chest started to blister after five minutes. The skin on the face started to peel. The redness was now covering the whole of the man’s body. Big black and purple bruises began to turn into fierce bubbling boils, puss seeping out of the wounds. In some places the skin was actually dropping off the corpse and littering the marble slab it lay on. The footage stopped after seven and a half minutes. The dead man was unrecognizable as a human within less than eight hours of the injection.


“He called the virus Protogyny One and wanted to market it as a biological weapon. Psoriasis isn’t covered in the ’72 Convention. It wasn’t considered dangerous. This rather turned the world on its head. Charteris developed several methods to deliver infection, from standard injection through to an oral pill. For military operations he recommended an air borne spray. Now watch this.”


The next video footage showed an experiment on a live animal, a rhesus monkey chained to the marble bench. Again a protected clothed technician entered the room. This time the technician stood away from the subject, lifted a large atomizer and sprayed something over the monkey’s body. At first the animal appeared unaffected, but gradually, it began to complain and writhe on the table pulling desperately against the chains, scratching itself and yelling. After a few minutes, the monkey’s hair started to fall out in big clumps, revealing the burnt red skin beneath. The end was swift and ugly. Bond was glad there was no sound to accompany the visual torment.


“So it’s lethal?” Bond asked the obvious.


“And contagious; Charteris estimated that, unchecked, his virus could depopulate whole cities in weeks. It was too dangerous. The military baulked. Charteris was quite antagonistic about it. Nuclear weapons carried the same capacity, he said. The contrary argument ran that nuclear warheads were only aimed at military installations. Civilian losses in war are supposed to be minimal. Charteris didn’t appear interested. He arranged a clandestine meeting with the U.S. State Department, but they, like us, got very cold feet. They called us in. We arrested him at Heathrow, a very hush-hush affair. The good professor’s funding was subsequently pulled. That’s when we put him under house arrest, to prevent any further attempt to sell his product on the open market or, even worse, develop a stronger serum. God knows we’ve enough trouble with foreign terrorists without having a home grown maniac on the loose.”


“But he died,” Bond said suspiciously.


“He did. He really did, in December 2006, and I suppose we thought it was all over with. But then this incident occurred in the Maldives, replicating the exact circumstances of death you witnessed in this video.”


M flicked at the tracker and a series of photographs flashed onto the screen. They showed dead bodies, observational photos from crime scenes. Only these were not murders, but diseased carrion, whose appearance was similar to the dead man in Charteris’ experiment. The photos were marked with a name and a location: Doctor Hardik Amjad, Reception Office, Bijou Isle, Maldives; Federica Alonso, Reception Office, Bijou Isle, Maldives; Zubaria Qadir, Suite 9, Bijou Isle; Mohammed Qadir, Suite 9; Ella Tremain; David Tremain; the list was long.


“Someone’s discovered the formula,” stated Bond.


“Evidently or at least something resembling it,” continued M, “What the scientists detected in the Maldives was a strain far more virulent, far more toxic, than Charteris’ original. It spread disease in minutes.”


“There must have been a host. Who was the first person infected?”


“We think they were newlyweds, a young British girl, Zubaria Qadir and her husband, a Pakistani.”


“What do we know about her?”


“Good family, lawyers, nothing significant; I don’t believe she’s the problem,” said M brusquely, “We kept Charteris under close surveillance for seven years. The S.I.S. had men stationed in his home 24/7. Cost us a bloody fortune. He couldn’t use the phone, leave the house, send email or take a piss without us knowing about it. We’re damn certain he couldn’t have communicated the formulae to any outside agent.”


“What about before he was arrested?”


“Here’s the thing. Charteris didn’t leave any notes.”


“None at all?”


“Sketches, jottings, maybe,” M pulled a face, “When he was arrested, his work was confiscated. The viruses were destroyed and the paperwork incinerated. The government didn’t want any trace of his bacterium to remain. The scandal, should it be uncovered, was unthinkable.”


“So someone else has continued the research. He must have had contacts.”


“We thought so too, until one of his house keeper’s - our agent obviously - mentioned something. Charteris has two daughters, twins, Tiara and Tulisa. Two exceptionally gifted children. They both attended Durham, both got firsts, and both are blessed with what’s known as an eidetic memory. They remember everything. Total recall. Not from the very earliest of their lives, but from approximately the age of five or six, when days, dates and places begin to take proper form inside one’s brain. You’d think they’d be using their intellect for something useful, but, as is the way these days, they seem to have found other pursuits.”


M traced on the pad again. This time the video stream featured a cat walk, somewhere in Milan, Bond thought. The first model was dressed in a long flowing emerald chiffon dress, held up it appeared only by gravity. Her blonde hair was pulled into a tight pony tail, lacquered with gel, and her high forehead was exposed, the tweezer-plucked eyebrows arching above deep set clear blue eyes. The mouth was, he thought, slightly lopsided and the bottom lip longer than the upper, but it resulted in a gorgeous pout. There was a tiny clef at the point of her chin. Her neck was exaggerated by the dress she wore and the lack of surrounding hair. The shoulders were slim, the body short, the legs almost magically long. She wasn’t a thin model. Her thighs and arms and wrists may have been delicate, but as she strutted, Bond saw the muscles beneath the beauty move. Her breasts swayed as she walked, upright and firm, almost exposed by the slashed front of the gown, held together by a single gold pin. When she turned, a smooth, almost boyish backside jutted and her hips sashayed back up the catwalk.


M re-ran the clip. Bond almost whistled.


“That’s Tulisa, apparently,” M said, “This is Tiara.”


It was the same fashion show. Another model appeared, dressed in another slender outfit, this one in red, but shorter, exposing long lithe legs beneath the hem. As the girl moved forward and the camera followed her, Bond raised a hand to his boss.


“Can you pause that?”


M did so.


Bond stood up and inspected the scene at close quarters. The height, the high forehead, the deep almost golden blonde hair, the lashes, the nails, the toned legs, the pits at the knee, the beautiful breasts, the pout, the dimple on the chin.


“They’re identical,” he stated.


“Entirely identical,” repeated M and hit play again, “Height, weight, bust measurements, even their bloody I.Q. It’s quite possible that girl is Tulisa and the other Tiara. Unless you count fingerprints, externally no one can tell the difference.”


“No one?”


“No one.”


Bond’s mind raced. There must be a way. His mind started to fill with all kinds of fantasy.


“I’ve had it confirmed by a doctor,” M seemed to recognize what he was thinking, “Their family G.P. He was very discreet. Effectively broke the Hippocratic Oath to tell us, but as he’s retired -”


M left the sentence hanging.


Bond sat down again, “Why are the girls important?”


“After this business in the Maldives broke, we went back over the files, interviewed a few people, just a precaution, you understand. Paula Sterry, the housekeeper, mentioned that, before his wife passed away, every night the Professor always took prayers with the girls. Once, just once, she overheard them and thought it sounded like they were reciting number equations. She didn’t think anything of it. Unfortunately she didn’t know the twins remembered absolutely everything.”


“You think he recited the magic formula?”


“It’s a possibility.”


“So why don’t we bring these girls in? Question them. They’ll co-operate surely.”


“We already did, at least we sent OO3 to pay a discreet visit on Tiara Charteris. He came away with nothing. The girl denied any involvement. Problem is, OO7, we can’t trace the other sister. Six months ago Tulisa vanished. Didn’t attend a photo shoot in Copenhagen and hasn’t been seen since.”


“Hasn’t it been reported? Isn’t her sister worried?”


“It appears not. She avoided the subject,” M pulled out a copy of OO3’s report, “Said it was, let’s see, ‘a personal matter’. She didn’t talk to her sister much these days and she was, um, ‘fed up with talking about it to the press or whoever, people ought to mind their own ----ing business.’ Pleasant girl.”


Bond couldn’t resist a smile.


“We need to find that sister, OO7. Someone has perfected Charteris’ serum or something damn close to it. If those girls are anything to do with this, if they know anything, we have to find out who they’ve been talking to.”


M sat back. He looked a little flustered, “I’m not in favour of honey traps, OO7, but this occasion probably calls for one. I need someone to befriend this Tiara girl and pluck the information out of her. I called you back because you never met the Charteris twins. The other remaining Double O’s have. At some point they all served formative time on watch at the Charteris residence as drivers or gardeners, that sort of thing. Tiara with her eidetic memory would remember them all instantly - but she won’t recognize you.”








#6 chrisno1



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Posted 16 August 2013 - 02:33 PM

Chapter Six:

An Eye for Fashion


Bond had seen a House of Holland fashion show once before, an elite presentation at Quaglino’s in London. That time he’d stolen a ticket to keep track of a mysterious girl, the daughter of a reclusive millionaire. The affair, he remembered, did not end well for anyone. As he jostled with the crowds queuing for the elevators off Joiner Street, Bond wondered if this affair would become similarly tragic.


At some expense, Bond had got his tuxedo dry cleaned that afternoon. He’d arrived back at S.I.S. not a day too late. It was the last night of London Fashion Week, the summer shows which highlighted the winter collections. As always, the designers and their fashion houses were searching for unique locations to launch their products. House of Holland had chosen Europe’s tallest building, the Shard.


Cornered by London Bridge station, from outside Renzo Piano’s monument to ecological design, a building that breathes, rose ninety five levels and over one thousand metres, vanishing dramatically into the air, a glass needle, flat, impossibly tall, its summit mounted by a four pointed skyscraping crown, its sides reflecting the evening sun in eleven thousand panes of glass. Inside it was no less splendid, even the public foyer seemed to glow with black Carrara marbles and silvery sheet metals.


The elevator came to a gentle halt. The show wasn’t to be at the very top of the building, hardly half-way as it turned out. The production team required a wide open space to construct a catwalk and stalls, a hospitality suite for pre and post party drinks and a back stage area which was almost as large as the main auditorium, needing to accommodate the clothes, changing rooms, make up booths, washing facilities, lighting and technical equipment, even an emergency haberdashers to carry out running repairs. To that end, they’d taken over the glazed hospitality atrium, thirty-one floors up. The restaurant, unable to welcome guests, was providing the food and drink.


Bond stepped through the chromium doors and onto a spectacular expanse. The whole floor was an open plan arena, interrupted only by the thick steel columns and the central concrete pillar, the signs of structure which kept the whole huge edifice in the sky. At points he could see straight through the building from one bank of windows to another. A third of the floor was taken for behind the scenes, cut off from the public gallery by a gaudy representation of ancient Rome, whose theme was one of pagan sexuality. Inspired by the Trevi Fountain, its focal point was an archway surrounded by the carved figures of Aphrodite and Neptune. Water cascaded down naked stone bodies and into an elaborate rock pool which bordered the catwalk, keeping the front seats at a respectable distance. The stage thrust itself out into the centre of the room, a mushroom shape enclosed by chairs upholstered in pale-blue brocade. Everything glowed softly golden from scores of lamps recessed into the ceiling.


A butch looking man in incongruous ruffles inspected the invitation. He was the third person to do so. Bond thought the security at the place ridiculously over the top. The man gestured him forward.


“Enjoy the evening, Sir.”


“I’m supposed to meet Anatole Tarek,” he ventured.


“To the left, Sir,” the man’s face didn’t change and neither did his bored tone, “Mister Tarek’s party is already here.”


Bond sidled along the periphery of the building. Waitresses circled through the melee dressed in mini togas that revealed more than they hid. He took a glass of champagne and walked towards the small enclosure, one of a dozen private parties, roped off and manned by another frilly individual. Bond waved his invite again.


The gathering was an exclusive one. Tarek, as proprietor of Xcessori, the jewelers and leather goods specialist, had contacts across the world of fashion, entertainment and journalism. He also had reason to thank the S.I.S. for fast tracking his defection from the old Soviet Union. Now in his early seventies, riches and good living suited him. He was a straight, slimish man with rings on his fingers, diamond cufflinks on his sleeves and a raven cummerbund to cover his new paunch. He had a bimbo on each arm and his dark face was creased into a wide smile, making his eyes shrivel and his cheeks bulge. The clipped beard, minus the moustache, was still sandy blonde, his hair only slightly receding. He noticed Bond enter the fray and immediately detached himself from his charges, made excuses to the closest guests and came over.


“James Stock; how delightful.”


He clapped a hand on Bond’s lower arm, a cheerful, designed greeting that was not appreciated. The hand was slowly removed.


“It was good of you to invite me, Anatole.”


“I must say I was rather surprised, James,” replied Tarek, a conspiratorial twinkle in his eye, “I had no idea Universal Exports even had a fashion division.”


“It doesn’t,” Bond could almost slap the sly devil. He’d wanted too, many times. “The C.E.O. has asked me to research any potential investment opportunities offered by the industry.”


He paused, noted the Russian’s joy at his discomfort.


“So here I am,” he added ominously.


“Of course, of course,” Tarek laughed nervously, “A little jest at your expense, James, just to make you look at home.”


“Do you think it helped?”


The Russian slid a finger quickly down the lapel of Bond’s tuxedo.


“Armani, very swish, that helps, come.”


Tarek touched Bond lightly on the elbow and led him over to the windows. Below them the night scape of London was taking form, when the greys and browns turn to a host of white and gold and the red shadows streak across the horizon, stretching up and out, illuminating the heavens, while the avenues and alleys of the city bathe in a bright metallic glow.


Bond dispensed with any preliminaries, “Have you got what I want?”


“Yes, yes,” Tarek reached inside his jacket and paused, “Tell me, tell me: is my little dove in trouble?”


“You might say that. Why?”


“Oh, Tiara, she is, she is, what would you say, James, a special girl, unique.”


“What about Tulisa?”


“Oh indeed, indeed, I forget, I forget there are two unique gems. You’ll find them both most entrancing.”


“What’s that supposed to mean?”


“Hasn’t anyone told you?” Tarek’s eyes seemed to glitter. He patted Bond’s arm in an affectionate manner, “Just don’t get too close. She’ll put you under her spell.”


“What on earth are you talking about?”


Tarek didn’t answer. He pulled out a small leather pouch and handed it to Bond. Inside was a diamond necklace, three small blue stones in crushed platinum and silver surrounds, linked by a rosary chain. Momentarily it rested in Bond’s palm; an expensive piece of equipment, even by Q Branch standards.


“A perfect replica,” the Russian began, “The location device is fitted in the stay of the main gem. She won’t see it, won’t see it at all. The colour, the colour of the diamond is too deep. It’ll obscure the imperfection in the metal work.”


“Do you have the invite?”


“The party’s on the observation deck,” Tarek handed over a slim envelope, inscribed with gold lettering, “Not as elaborate as this, but the view will take your breath away.”


Bond took the envelope, staring into the London night. The view was already stunning from half way up. How much better could it possibly get? There was a loud crashing of cymbals from the stage. The plebiscites were being called to the coliseum.


“Don’t forget to give me back the original,” Tarek said cautiously.


Bond paused, staring the man directly in the eyes. They were the same height. The forced and nervy niceties made him uncomfortable. The man’s eyes held secrets. What had he said about the girl? For a moment Tarek held his gaze, then the eyes creased and shifted to one side. He’d spied one of the loose limbed bimbos. She needed his attention far more than the man from the S.I.S. Tarek held out his hand.


Bond looked at it.


“Thank you, Anatole, I won’t forget.”


With a nod, the Russian breathed in deeply, strode away and smiled at his escort, bellowing to his other guests to take their seats.


Bond stayed in the enclosure, picking at canapés and drinking the champagne, an ordinary brand that stuck in the throat. The lights dimmed. The cymbals crashed again, a signal for the heavy thud of techno music to begin its relentless pounding. The two-time beat seemed to replicate marching legions. White laser lights cut through the air like swords, the lamps hidden in the rock pools, throwing ghostly tints across the audience.


Beneath the arched beams accompanied by a swirl of dry ice, came the first model, a tall willow figure in thigh high furred boots, skin tight shorts and an Italian cashmere jumper lined with gold. Too short, her belly was revealed, exposing the fat jewel at her navel. She wore a stony expression, cut from the cloth of Aphrodite behind her. As the girl paused, posed and pouted at each corner of the stage, polite applause rippled. The second model was swathed in a rose red lace and leather outfit fringed in fox fur, a pair of handcuffs hanging from one sleeve. Her face too stayed equally taut. A black statuesque girl followed, her façade fixed, unemotional, her cheeks almost set to scowl. The girls’ tense look seemed to match the tough, uncompromising music.


The faces and outfits changed rapidly. A seventh girl appeared, an eighth. Behind her was a decorous, slim blonde figure, slightly shorter than the others if she wasn’t wearing four inch platforms. Bond could almost feel the audience rise in anticipation. The other models had been beautiful, but this one was spectacular. Unable to prevent himself, Bond moved closer.


Tiara Charteris was dressed in a sable grey overcoat so long it hid all of her curves except the slender pink ankles. She strode forward, the folds splitting, revealing a glimpse of leg. At the end of the runway, Tiara spun, flicked her mane of golden hair and shook off the coat. She was wearing nothing but a sable mini skirt, split to the waist and an elaborate gold chain necklace, metres of it that hung in hoops down her chest, trying but failing to hide the buds of her brown nipples. It was impossible not to be stunned.


Still in the shadow of the auditorium, Bond involuntarily stepped forward, his gaze fixed on the beautiful creature, who spun on a heel, poked out a tongue and sashayed down the catwalk. For a moment, he thought they locked eyes, his blue steel, hers icy blue. Then the moment was past.


‘She’ll put you under her spell.’




The fashion show went on for twenty five minutes. Tiara appeared four more times. The climax featured the designer escorting his models down the catwalk to rapturous applause. Flowers were thrown. He gave a three word speech, “Thank you, everyone,” and the models retreated and the golden glow of the lamps returned to bathe the spectators as if the sun was rising over Ancient Rome.


Bond had finished the champagne. He held back from going directly to the party upstairs. It was an even more exclusive soiree than the fashion show. The Beckham’s would be there, Kate Moss, the McCartney’s, Zara Phillips, Jessie J, rich and royal alike. Bond didn’t enjoy mixing with high society. It represented a soulless existence, one he fought to avoid, one which looked out of life’s goldfish bowl. He existed on the precipice of that world. He had to look inside. His role, his enemies, always aspired to touch it, yet it remained tantalizingly out of reach. Fortune did not always bring reward. Bond’s rewards were hard won. They were rarely financial. Mostly his victories could only be expressed on paper, in an unaffectionate formal document. His existence touched people of this ilk, but his life did not, he clung remorseless to the dark world of shadows. The sunlight and freedom of Barcelona, of Berlin, of the Black Forest, was already far away. Those days and months hardly mattered to Bond now. Action was required. He heaved out a breath, ached for a cigarette to calm him and headed for the elevator.


Bond’s ears popped again as the lift glided elegantly to the sixty-eighth floor, a short journey taken at six feet a second.


There was none of the fussiness of the fashion show. A bouncer cast a glance at the imprinted envelope and allowed Bond entry. The ever present music still grated. The lights were dimmed for the occasion. There wasn’t a lot of room. White linen tables were laden with cocktail food. Waiters patrolled with the ubiquitous champagne. Suits and expensive dresses abounded. Bond immediately saw a famous film star misbehaving with someone who wasn’t his wife. He ignored them and made his way around the observation deck, intent on finding the girl quickly.


The nightscape beyond the windows glimmered. Bond followed the swirl of the Thames, past the Millennium Dome and onto Canary Wharf, its towers rising like competing giants. The City locked horns with the river directly below. On the next corner, the Eye and Westminster cast their own silver and gold visions. Further on the strip of white that was the Albert Bridge furrowed the Thames as she wound her way onto Hammersmith. Bond couldn’t see the girl. He took the stairs to the second observation deck. Open to the air at intervals but enclosed by a glass paneled ceiling, here the sky turned dark, mysterious. The tension cables sprinted up the side of the structure and disappeared, glinting into the tangent of the fleeting needle.


She was there, talking with two friends, one a model from the show, the other unknown to him. The girl’s left hand rested on the hand rail, the right held a champagne flute between two fingers. She was dressed in a backless, almost frontless shift dress of gold satin crepe, decent no doubt thanks to nipple tape. The blue diamonds rested around her throat, the middle stone dangling on the cusp her cleavage.


Bond inched past, pretending to inspect the view. Behind and below the trio he could make out the dome of St Paul’s and beyond that the square turret of the Tower, London’s oldest monument, both buildings once the city’s tallest and now dwarfed by the Shard. How world’s change.    


The girls were discussing men. The conversation was quite fruity. Bond raised an eyebrow. It was unusual to hear women talk so brazenly about sex, certainly in such a public environment. Tiara laughed at her friend’s experience, one hand obscuring her mouth as if to be amused was shocking. The story hinged on the man’s robust romantic efforts.


“Come on,” she said, “Let’s find him and tease him.”


She had a Home Counties lilt. The girl was posh. Not upper class posh, but well bred, well educated. She could talk with marbles in her mouth. A talent worth considering, Bond thought. He moved after them, discreetly holding his distance.


The middle aged man who sparked the girl’s interest was holding court with a group of well-to-dos. He was foreign, from one of the Stan’s probably, his complexion and accent hinted at it. He greeted the other model warmly, introduced her and she introduced her friends. Bond hung close, blending into the sway of people that wandered by, steady one moment, on the move the next. When the large group shifted position, so did he. He talked to nobody. He shadowed waiters. He sipped their dreadful champagne. He looked out at the night sky, watched faces in window panes, saw movement in reflections. He found the tallest, widest or most extravagant people to stand beside, the ones who would grab the attention, deflect it from the lone wolf who prowled the forest of handsome heads. He stayed focused. He never panicked. Once, when obscured, he twisted his wrist and spied her in the sweep of his watch, the shiny mirror that fitted over the clock face. He watched and waited for almost an hour and three glasses of rosé before the moment happened. 


Tiara smiled, held out her hand and crooked a finger. The foreigner took the bait. He shuffled forward, his head dipping to the blonde hair, his hands inching down her waist. Bond moved forward also, quicker and with purpose. The two heads brushed. He saw the man’s lips move by her ear. They were jostling for position. She was saying something. Her hand was on the man’s thigh. They took one step. His hand moved to her buttock. She slapped it away. Abruptly he pulled back, surprise etched on his face. Bond was close enough to hear the startled cry. The girl giggled and shoved her suitor playfully in the chest.


Bond’s hand flicked out. The inside of his first and second fingers lifted the ring clasp on the necklace. His thumb opened the catch. He could have pulled it clean away and stolen it. Instead he let it drop. Her movements disguised the touch on her slinky outfit. The thumping music masked the sound of its fall. He walked on three paces. It had been a perfect flimp.


There was some action behind as the foreigner objected to what the girl had implied. Her hand flicked out again and Tiara laughed.


Bond stepped back. The new necklace was now in his hand. He bent down and picked up the original. It went in his pocket, the movement seamless and swift, made as he rose from a crouch.


“Excuse me,” he said loudly.


The girl turned, her face bright with the giggles, a glass half way to her lips.


“Is this yours?”


“Oh my god!” she shouted.


“I found it by your feet,” Bond said simply and easily, “I think the chain is broken. Look.”


He held it out for her inspection. The girl’s exclamation had been loud enough to attract attention. Bond felt prying eyes. Who was the stranger? Where did he come from? What had happened?


“My god!” shouted the girl, a mixture of glee, relief and shock, “---- me. That’s a lucky thing.”


Bond smiled. Up close she was almost luminescent. The blue eyes were wide, flashing at him, the lashes dark with mascara. The grin was big, pointy teeth, the little tongue, the slightly crooked mouth. She rested on one foot, her hip thrown out, the long legs exposed below the mesh of the tiny gold dress, the shape of her tantalizingly outlined, the delights it suggested more than obvious. Her skin, lightly tanned, seemed to shine. Her breath was like fresh mint, but all over she smelt of jasmine and sandalwood, heady, attention seeking, a little masculine. Essenza, he thought, Acqua di Gioia, a sexy expensive scent. ---- me indeed.


“Isn’t it?” he replied. The girl reached out, the dumbfounded suitor all but forgotten. Bond let her take the fake necklace, but pointed to the snapped catch, manufactured on instruction from Q Branch, “See.”


“Yes, oh my god, that’s so lucky,” she repeated, “You’re a real Sir Galahad. Thank you, um -”


“Bond. James Bond.”


“Thank you, James.”


He used his real name on impulse. He liked that she already called him James.


“Do you have anywhere it put it?” he asked. The crowd was retreating from the fray. The interest he’d sparked deflated once they realized he wasn’t a threat. Only the foreigner stayed, anxious, wondering if he’d missed his opportunity.


“My handbag, I guess.”


It was one of those small things with a single pouch. As she folded the necklace inside, Bond saw a credit card wallet, a miniature Nokia in bright pink, a car key for a Bentley, a vanity clasp and a condom packet.


“You should be careful,” he said, “That looks very expensive. It’s from Xcessori isn’t it?”


“Yes,” the girl flicked her head up at him, as if she’d only just noticed what he looked like, “How did you know that?”


“I happen to know Anatole. We go back a long way.”


As far back as the Soviet Union, he almost said.


“He’s fantastic, isn’t he? His designs are, like, wow!”


For an educated girl, she oddly sounded like a kid in a candy shop. It gave her an innocent air that contradicted her adult persona.


“Do you design things too?”


The question caught him off guard.


“No, but I have an eye for fashion.”


“That’s not funny,” she seemed to lose interest, “At least you’re not the press. You’re not the press, are you?”


“Certainly not,” Bond said, recovering and offering another smile, “I saw your show. You move beautifully.”


The compliment worked. The other ankle took her weight, the bosom moving as one with her hair and hips.


“Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Holland’s a bit daring. He says he dresses models, but we don’t seem to wear very many clothes.”


“I rather liked that.”


“Hey,” she laughed, “Cheeky.”


“It was a pleasure.”


“Yes. I saw.”


The girl smiled, but without the teeth. She angled her head, exactly as she had on the catwalk, her eyes fixing on his, searching. Of course, even from that one single moment, that half a second, when they’d locked eyes across a sea of heads, through the strobe of flashing light, she had recognized him. It didn’t faze her. It was a natural, automatic reaction for her. The eyes saw everything. The mind stored it. The girl was astonishingly gifted, astonishingly beautiful, astonishingly assured. She held out her hand. Bond took it and an electric spasm of excitement shot up his spine.


“I’m Tiara. It was nice meeting you, James.”


“Likewise,” he responded, “Maybe we’ll meet again.” 


“Maybe,” she said, flashed a grin and turned aside, back to the foreigner who waited impatiently behind her.


Bond thought her tongue poked out as she smiled. He too turned away. Anatole Tarek had just entered the observation deck. Bond strode towards him, the leather pouch containing the real necklace in his hand. He dropped it into the Russian’s pocket.


“I told you I wouldn’t forget.”


As the elevator doors slid closed, Bond couldn’t help a smile of his own. Tiara was certainly bewitching. Whatever spell she did cast, Bond was certain he was now part of it. Contact, eye contact, that most treasured of intimacies, had been made.

Edited by chrisno1, 17 August 2013 - 11:21 PM.

#7 chrisno1



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Posted 23 August 2013 - 11:20 PM

Chapter Seven:




The silver grey Bentley Continental accelerated down the straight dusty yellow road. It sunk into the dip, rose up the other side and crested the prow of the hill, touching one hundred, and seemed to disappear into the low sun.


Damn and damn, cursed Bond. He could still see her laughing as she tossed his car keys into the verge. The bloody girl was eluding him.


She wore the necklace everywhere. That’s what Anatole Tarek had told the S.I.S. when they approached him about the best way to plant a tracer on Tiara Charteris. It was a present from her father. Xcessori had made two identical pieces, one for each of the twins. Now Bond was following the newly minted third necklace through the hills and meadows of Occitan.


It had been a lovely, long lunch. No longer: the chase was most definitely on. Once Bond had retrieved his keys, he closed the shutter on the G.P.S. He didn’t need it. The girl wanted to be caught. He was sure of it and he’d do it the old fashioned way. Bond shifted into fifth, hit ninety and shot down the open road in breathless pursuit.


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


After leaving the Shard, Bond had returned to his car and activated the global positioning tracker. His Aston Martin DB III had once been a service vehicle, a Q Branch toy, but had been replaced in turn by the DB5, the DBS and the Vanquish. When he first joined the S.I.S. Bond had seen the dilapidated motor in the car pool and, on a whim, had asked to purchase it. Q Branch was rather pleased to have it taken off their hands. They removed the special gadgets, most of which were obsolete anyway, and Bond was left with a shell of dusty metal and glass, faded leather upholstery, worn tyres and a spluttering barely functioning engine. It had sat in his garage underneath his mews flat for three months before he could afford any work done.


He’d managed to source a second hand Virage engine, the ’95, and spent several weekends helping a genial vintage mechanic in Broadstairs to recondition and link the twenty year old 5L V8 to the sixty year old car. They couldn’t do much about the heavy steering, but the Weber fuel injection made an eager, quicker engine that allowed Bond to access speeds the original could only dream of. He’d spent time restoring the upholstery, seeing to the paint and body work, replacing fuses and brake lines. The whole process was painstakingly slow.  


In addition to proper restoration, Bond invested in a few additional extras. He paid the S.I.S. the going rate for bullet proof window glass. It was a precaution he’d never needed to be thankful for. He also engaged some of the boffins at Q Branch to put back the hidden gun compartment under the dashboard and the rotational number plates, a set of which he updated frequently. They also fitted reinforced front and rear bumpers, exactly matching the originals and good in a collision. Finally, most recently, they’d suggested he might like a G.P.S tracker just in case.


“Just in case what?” he’d asked.


“You never know,” one of the techs had said, “The boss rather likes your car. Reminds him of the old days he says. You should take him for a spin in it.”


Bond declined. He didn’t like the smarty-pants Quartermaster. The man was almost too damn intelligent. A bit like poor Professor Charteris, Bond thought he might have a breakdown if they ever asked him to retire. The old duffer was getting on a bit and frequently bemoaned the fact half his department was now occupied with cyber space.


“No one makes anything in this country anymore,” he often said to no one in particular.


Tiara Charteris hadn’t done very much after the party. She left at 3.00am. Bond monitored her journey from a mile away. He could just as easily have monitored her on his laptop from home. Modern satellite technology allowed him to track her from virtually the other side of the world, but it wasn’t Bond’s plan to simply follow her whereabouts. At some time he had to reappear, as if by accident, and reintroduce himself. To achieve that he needed the perfect opportunity and the tracer would grant him enough distance to make it appear exactly so. 


She didn’t go home, but stayed at the Dorchester for two days. The tracer remained fixed solidly over the brown square perched on Park Lane. She emerged into daylight only once, the following morning, to visit Xcessori in Mayfair and get the necklace repaired. She waited while it was done and then returned to the hotel. Bond checked, officially, but discreetly with the concierge. She hadn’t booked in, at least not under her name, and the other single females were all legitimate guests. The girl must be staying with someone else. Bond wondered, ever so politely, if he could see the complete guest list. He spent half an hour on Google matching faces to names. A grim smile passed his lips. Oleg Panahov, oligarch, Azeri and guest at the House of Holland fashion show, a man to be talked about.


When her Continental GT Speed finally left, Bond waited a few hours before following her to Guildford, where she shared a maisonette in Bramley with another model, someone from the same agency. He drove past the house, an old keeper’s cottage, the bottom half a vintage model shop and made a mental note to check out the girlfriend. Bond booked into the tardy Premier Inn and resigned himself to sandwiches and hotel television. She stayed at home for several days, went into town, went from shop to shop, twice had dinner at the Sea Horse Inn restaurant and, he assumed, met another girlfriend for lunch. Nothing and nobody seemed untoward. Then there was the day long trip to Oxford. She must have started early, because she was on the M4 when Bond woke at six. It was a photo shoot along the Isis, girls in flapper dresses and boys in tuxes. She looked immaculate and carefree. She flirted with one of the male models. Bond got closer this time, watching her movements from across the park.


The attention she doted on the tall handsome model made Bond queasy. He gave a tiny snort of derision. Jealous, James, he wondered, surely not? And yet, he knew he wanted Tiara Charteris. It was instinct. It was just how Anatole had predicted. As if she’d cast some incantation. The longer he hung on her tails, the more he wanted to know of her, the closer he wanted to be. The photo session ended in the late afternoon and the girl jumped back into the Bentley, stealing or borrowing the dress, stealing or borrowing the handsome model. They went to a nightclub in Chelsea. Bond might have made an approach now, it was close to his apartment, home territory as it were, but the presence of other people made him wary.  


She left with a crowded car and the top down, driving erratically. Bond tailed at a good distance, watching for police lights. If he needed to, he’d intervene. The party continued in Canary Wharf, a big private pad near Royal Victoria Dock. Bond entered the building opposite, flashing his official I.D., the police one which didn’t exactly state his occupation, and asked for access to the roof top. The night man reluctantly showed him to the elevator maintenance block, next to the penthouse suite. Bond sat watching the party below him. The big windows were uncurtained. The apartment was certainly plush and packed with people, young, smart, older, scruffy. He made phone enquiries with the S.I.S. The property was rented to a Viscount, one of the idle lonely rich whose only business interest was a small chain of wine emporiums. Bond used the mobile’s camera to view the guests. He didn’t recognize anyone. It wasn’t a very hedonistic affair, but there was plenty of drink to drink and some drugs to snort and smoke. The girl had lost interest in the model. He was too busy with the razor and straw. Instead she’d taken up with a continental type, a serious man with designer stubble who smoked Gauloises and drank white wine and soda. After a while the lights started to dim and the curtains were pulled. Bond could have waited, but chose not to, heading back to his flat instead. He shared an unusually restless sleep, reminding himself she was a subject, a job, and he wasn’t to get involved. Yet watching her lifestyle at close quarters made him envious. Not of her, but of the people she met, the men and women who could bask in her beauty.


Bond woke late. Angry, he staggered to his laptop to check the G.P.S. positioning. She was already out of the country. The little blimp was flashing on the E16 to Amiens. Bond cursed. She’d got away. His guilt had got the better of him. He’d taken his eye fully off the task. Bond always had a case packed and ready for emergencies. Decision made, he paid top money for the Channel Tunnel, threw the case in the boot and was heading to Ashford to make the transport train by eight. It was time to play catch-up.


Bond had no time to admire the beautiful green and gold scenery that surrounded him as he tore down the highways which run across north and central France. The girl hadn’t stopped. The blimp had passed Amiens and Reims, staying north then cut south, first to Troyes and then Dijon where it paused, probably for lunch. Bond was hardly half way to Paris. The girl drove at a breakneck speed which rather frightened him He was glad of the tracer, otherwise he wasn’t sure he’d catch her at all, whichever route he took. He had no need to follow her directly and was charging past the capital hoping to intersect her course somewhere along the E15 at Chalon-sur-Saône. The sun smothered the day. The Aston Martin became very hot. Bond had to flip the air conditioning to full to keep his cool. It didn’t help that he was angry with his own stupidity


The blimp started moving again, not quite so fast now, but steadily through the Loire valleys and into the Massif Central. She took a lazy southerly route, twisting along minor roads until she rejoined the highways at Mende and once again speed took over. Bond shook his head dubiously. At this rate she’d be completing almost seven hundred miles in a day. She didn’t stop again; neither did he.


Night was settling in by the time the blimp came to rest even further south in Cathar country, east of Perpignan, a place called Espéraza. It took Bond another two hours driving to come within ten miles, where he managed to find a functional roadside motel. He hadn’t eaten all day and was lucky to get some goat’s cheese, a baguette and half a pulled carafe of Fitou from a local bar. He ate in his room, washed and shaved - he’d not had time that morning and felt distinctly uncleansed. He kept tabs on her position using the link on his laptop. There had to be some reason for a beautiful fashion model to stop in this dull little town. The address the tracer hovered over was on Rue Barbès. He noted it and finished the gutsy red.


Gradually an idea began to form. The girl was heading towards Roussillon, the southernmost region of France, perched on the rim of the Pyrenees. There was an avant-garde French fashion house named after the region. The designer was one of those enfant terrible of the industry, a wild, outrageous sort who was in the papers as much for his own misdemeanors as his outrageous creations. The head office and distribution centre was based in Perpignan. When he’d met Tiara, Bond’s cover story was to be attached, vaguely, to the fashion industry. This time he would pretend to be attending a meeting with Jean Paul at Roussillon and, by chance, they would collide, as it were.


The tracer was still stuck in place when he slept and when he woke. It started moving again just before noon. Bond let her get a head start. Today he followed her directly and paused outside the address in Espéraza. It was an independent boutique, a milliner selling mostly scarves and hats. It appeared to be closed. Bond parked the DB III and peered in through the window. As he did so, a young man in a turtle neck sweater and jeans appeared from the side door to the flat above. It was the suitor from the party, the serious continental type.


“Un moment, monsieur,” he yawned and fitted the key into the shop door.


“Prenez votre temps,” replied Bond.


“Ah, merci, je suis très fatigué.”


“Pourquoi? Êtes vous malade?”


“Une maladie du coeur, Monsieur.”


“Ah,” Bond said it as if he heard these things all the time. So, a sickness of the heart it was. He walked up the road to a café and took coffee and a croissant. 


Ten minutes later, the young man was occupied with a middle aged woman who wanted to purchase some gloves. Bond used his special key fob to open the Yale lock of the upstairs apartment. The stairs were wooden and he trod carefully, stepping as close to the wall as he could to cut out the noise. There was a second locked door at the top of the stairs. The place was small, the ceiling low where the roof pitched, and it was cluttered with trade magazines. There was no carpet and, like the stairs, the floor boards wanted to creak under every footfall. Bond could taste the air, which was thick with Gauloises. The kitchenette was a mess of plates. Two people had been eating. The small bedroom had no bed. The mattress lay on the floor and a bottle of cognac, half drunk, sat beside it, two glasses stained with the evidence. The man obviously had some money. It was a Delamain. Just to be sure, Bond bent down to sniff the liquor. It was a top brandy all right. He took a swig and savoured the oaky caramel before suddenly jamming the stopper back. Something else had caught his eye.


Slowly he plucked one long golden hair from the pillow. The young man was dark. Envy pinched. He bit it down. Bond shrugged dismissively and went out, silently closing the doors and descending the creaky stairs.


The girl had a good start on him again. He intended to stick close, but now she was alone, Bond wasn’t quite so concerned. The Bentley headed for Limoux, stopped for half an hour near Lac-sur-Aude, before moving on. Another short stop allowed Bond to finally catch her. For the next forty minutes he was never more than a mile behind the blimp on the G.P.S. map. Bond thought she was heading for Quillan, the pretty riverside town, but she’d doubled back delving towards ancient Occitan.


Bond was familiar with this rugged region of southern France. It held many pleasant childhood memories. His parents had brought him here as a ten year old. Two weeks of cycling and hiking in the low Pyrenees, two weeks of fabulous food, a few sly glasses of bitter wine and endlessly long days of hot melting sun. He remembered the golden wheat fields of the Lauragais, the boats jostling on the Canal du Midi, the tumbling waters of the Aude and the Ariege, offshoots of valleys honeycombed with caves and watch points and majestic ruins. While Occitan as an official region no longer existed, the history of its people, men and women who once fought against Popes and Crusaders, still occupied the landscape. A third of Languedoc-Roussillon was once under Cathar influence, a Christian sect subjected to brutal Catholic suppression, and the castles and churches of its beaten princes still haunted the parched countryside, rising like ghosts from long forgotten graves.


Just shy of Puivert, the Bentley had come to a halt. It was one-thirty. Bond knew the village. He hadn’t recognized the name at first, but now the narrow lanes lined with tiny cottages, the squat medieval keep on the hillside, the twisting brook that fed the artificial lake lined with summer swimmers, the little market square, all bare timber and whitewash, the Musée du Quercorb, it was all coming back. Yes, it had been one of the places they’d come for lunch. His father, a minor gastronome, had hunted down the little bistro and they’d driven half the day to get here. To father, it was like a pilgrimage. As he drove, Bond hunted for the turn with the single finger pointer marked ‘Le Gaston’.


He was so distracted he almost ran into the back of the Bentley, parked as it was in the middle of the road. Its way was blocked by a farm truck which had slewed off the road and collided with the stone work bridge. The truck was stuck at a precarious angle. The front right wheel hung out in thin air and the back teetered on the edge of tipping. The driver was waving his arms in indignation. The girl was standing smoking a cigarette and looking amused. A small crowd of villagers looked on wondering if they ought to get involved.


Bond shifted the hand brake and got out. He slipped off his jacket and tie, ran a hand through his hair, ruffled in the steady car-blown air, and thanked god he’d had that shave this morning.


Tiara saw him immediately. She registered no surprise, only mild curiosity.


“Hello, Galahad!” she said, “Come to rescue me again?”


“Only if you need it,” he ignored the fracas beyond and concentrated on her. She looked cool and chic. Tiara was wearing an all in one floral mini dress which looked as if it might have come from somewhere as cheap and cheerful as Gerard Darel. The zip ran down the side in a decorous swirl, matching the outline of the embroidered flower stems. A thin leather belt hung at her hips. The diamond necklace sat at her throat and seemed out of place, too extravagant among the simplicity. She had big sunglasses fixed in her hair, which was pulled back and tied with a long white scarf. “What’s happened?”


“My friend here appears to have had an accident. He says I wouldn’t give way, but he can’t seem to keep his truck on the road.”


“That happens to flashy drivers. Can I help?”


“Only if you have muscles or a horse.”


“Muscles it is then.”


Bond walked up to the truck driver. The girl watched as they exchanged a few sentences, enlisted two male bystanders and carefully pulled and pushed the truck back onto solid road. The wall was in a worse state than the truck. There was the usual protracted note taking. The girl insisted none of it was her fault. There wasn’t a scratch on her car. The truck driver was adamant she’d refused to pull over and he’d taken evasive action.


The bridge was clear but the Bentley and the Aston Martin now blocked the road together. A Citroën C4 was waiting to pass. The driver and passenger did not look like the sort of people who appreciated village life. Bond was hot and in need of refreshment. Over the bridge, he thought he saw what he’d been looking for. He touched the girl lightly on the shoulder.


“You look as if you need rescuing from a hostile population.”


“What do you suggest?”






“Gaston’s. It’s quite close. I’ll lead the way.”


“Won’t that make it look as if I’m pursuing you?”


“I hope so.”


“All right,” she shook her keys dramatically, “Lead on.”


Bond drove across the bridge. At the next corner there was a red cottage covered in ivy. When Bond was last here, the creeper had hardly reached head height. Now it covered the whole wall, the fence and most of the roof. Hidden among the leaves was the blue sign he’d been looking for. The track wound through an orchard grove hissing with the summer.


Ten minutes later he saw the restaurant, set back from the road, bordered by the stream at its rear. Bond pulled into the car park. There were only three other cars, a typically lazy day at Gaston’s. The restaurant was an old mill house and the wheel still turned, the spokes making slapping noises as they dug into the water. The girl got out, looked around admirably, and performed a little twirl.


The patron was a large man with a cheerful face and a grubby dish cloth draped over his shoulder. Bond knew not to be put off by first impressions. He explained why he was here and the chubby man, who really was Gaston, greeted him as if he had never been away.


They were shown through to the garden terrace, where half a dozen tables were immaculately laid beneath a shady trellis covered in fuchsia bushes, its red and pink bells dotted among the green. They took a table close to the water and the gently spinning wheel. The girl immediately asked to freshen up. For a moment Bond thought she wanted to escape, but she disappeared into the wash room and was only away four minutes. While she was gone he spoke to Gaston.


“Faites-vous néanmoins ont des Rivesaltes?”


“Oui, monsieur.”


“Bon. Votre meilleur avec les gras et le pain grille de foie.”


“Ah, monsieur -” he said with no surprise. It was a warm afternoon and the sweet fortified Muscat would refresh the pallet. It would also go well with the succulent goose livers.


The girl sat on the diagonal. An intimate gesture, they could study each other and talk in low whispers, how lover’s do. She perused the menu.


“So, I suppose I should say this is a surprise.”


“Isn’t it?” replied Bond, “What brings you to Puivert?”


“I’m on holiday, James, what about you?”


“A business meeting; with Roussillon.”


 “Jean Paul? I bet that was fun.”


“I haven’t had it yet. What’s he like?”


“Fun,” the girl put down the menu and studied him a moment, “Do you have time for lunch?”


“That’s why I’m here.”


“I see,” she paused, “You’re not lying to me are you, James? You’re not the press, are you? You aren’t following me? Please tell me you aren’t. I’d so hate it if you were.”


Bond lit a Morlands and passed her one. That was an awkward question.


“Heaven forbid,” he answered.


The girl nodded and picked up her menu again.


“I’ve taken the liberty of ordering appetizers; foie gras and muscat.”


“Really? How do you know I like foie gras?”


“I don’t, but that makes it all the more exciting, doesn’t it?”


“It does?”


“Of course; you can find out if you like it and I can find out if I like you.”


“You mean you won’t like me unless I like foie gras?”


“Something like that. Call it a calculated gamble.”


“So you’re a risk taker, James?”


“You could say that.”


“In life as well as business?”


“This isn’t business, is it?”


The patron arrived with a wine bucket and two frosted glasses. The Muscat was syrupy sweet with overtones of vanilla. It clung to the glass as Bond swirled to taste. He was salivating just from the bouquet.


“Magnifiqué, Gaston.”


For the main course they ordered a half of honeyed duck with green salad. The chubby man toddled off with a satisfied grin.


“Did you drive all the way down?” he asked.


The girl started to describe her route. Bond didn’t say much; he already knew it. This was exactly the situation he’d wanted to bring about. A moment of pure coincidence; manufactured, naturally. The accident had been an extra blessing. Gaston’s doubly so.


Time went with great speed. Tiara cooed over the foie gras, insisted she’d never eaten it before, but would eat it every day from now. The Muscat tickled her throat. Gaston brought bread rolls, home cooked and slightly warm from the oven. Garlic butter melted as it touched the dough. Bond asked simple, safe questions and the girl gave long, effervescent answers. She’d wanted to go shopping and where better to shop than France? She’d gone to Espéraza because it was still a great place for hats then bought a case of Blanquette from Castel-Négre, good for parties, and some gorgeous Madagascan vanilla perfumes from Solaroma. And she still had to visit the fashion boutiques at Carcassonne. Occitan seemed a long way from Paris, he’d queried.


“It’s where I first fell in love with France,” she said, “And with fashion. Daddy brought us here on holiday. I bought my first perfume here.”


Bond understood the feeling. He felt closer to her already. Idly he mentioned the story of his father and his first visit to Gaston’s. She giggled, gave a delicate clap of hands and touched his wrist, as if they were sharing something long lost, treasured, far in their past. Her enthusiasm was infectious. The more she talked, the more he liked her. They were alone on the terrace. Only the shimmering river behind them and the chatter of swallows interrupted their discourse.


She was amusing and obviously having fun. Bond enjoyed the combination. He found it exciting, in a physical way, but also challenging. She eluded him expertly. His questions, never more than discreet, were designed to pluck secrets by chance, slips of the tongue. Yet she revealed nothing about what she had been doing since the fashion show, who she met and why. He changed tact and asked about her life in London, but she was equally evasive.


The duck was superb. To accompany it Bond chose a rich Maury, the deep cherry of the Grenache matching the almost too sweet duck. Gaston brought sorbet to cleanse the taste buds and they exchanged dessert for ewe’s cheese and oat cakes with apples freshly picked from the orchard. The afternoon became long and day started to drift into evening. The shadows lengthened and the fairy lights came on, winking at the two guests, once strangers, now something like old friends.


She asked him about his business. Bond explained he worked for Universal, an import/export company, and he’d just been made responsible for some of the fashion houses like Xcessori and Roussillon. He tried to make it sound boring, but she couldn’t help grinning as if she thought he was pulling her leg. He was, but Anatole Tarek would back up the story, it was one of his new aliases. Bond thought he was doing okay, but when he mentioned Alligator leather and Bolivian pearls, she slapped his hand and laughed sceptically.


“You need to stop talking, James,” she teased, “I’ll begin to think you’re an imposter. You don’t know the first thing about fashion.”


“And you know very little about road craft. There was a right of way on that bridge and you ignored it.”


“Is this where I’m supposed to say touché?”


“Maybe,” he said. They’d finished the long delicious meal and he offered her a cigarette, lighting his own, “So where are you off to now, Tiara?”


“I’m not sure. I need to go to Carcassonne. Have you been there?”


“Once. Will you get there tonight?”


“If I drive very fast and ignore the road signs.”


“I wouldn’t advise it.”


“What happened to taking risks, James?”


“Is that a challenge?”


“Maybe,” she blew out a long plume of smoke, “Don’t you have a meeting with Jean Paul?”


“I didn’t say when I had the meeting.”


“Good, then you can race me.”


“I don’t like to lose.”


“You won’t, one way or the other. Come on, its time you paid.”


Bond exchanged pleasantries with Gaston, produced the Euros - Gaston never took cheques or credit - and promised he’d come back soon. When he returned the girl had disappeared. He heard the rumble of the twin turbos. Hell!


He snatched his jacket and rushed outside. The girl was waiting at the entrance, the top down, her hand waving his keys in the air. Damn it! What was this? As he watched, she tossed them into the grass verge, pressed the accelerator and was away.


Bond cursed again. He didn’t hurry, he didn’t have any need; he had the tracer. He scrabbled in the flower bed for the key fob, getting steadily more annoyed the longer it took to find the thing. Two minutes later he was sitting in the Aston Martin, gunning the engine, hand paused over the G.P.S. control. He shut it off. Damn the woman. There is nothing, he thought to himself, as exciting in life as to out smarted by a spectacular beauty. And Tiara was nothing if not a beauty and spectacular. She wanted a race, he’d run it properly.


Bond jammed the DB III into first and shot out of Gaston’s drive, kicking pebbles from under the wheels. Bond hit sixty along the tree lined avenue, turned into Puivert and guessed from the agitated look on the old woman who sat sewing outside her cottage that Tiara had turned left. He followed up the dusty street. She was taking the minor roads, the winding bobbling lanes that twisted through the hills and villages. The moon was peeking over the tree tops, the sun dipping under them, the interchange seamless, the evening coming fast, blue to orange to black, as fast as the girl’s Bentley.


He saw the tail lights ahead, the distinctive shape. She was stuck behind a caravanette, the sort of odd vehicle you still see in rural France. Bond was right on her bumper, his hand pushing the horn, letting her know he was on the charge. Her hand waved. She looked over her shoulder, hair a wild mess, blown by the slipstream. Bond saw her grin. He flashed his front beams to annoy her. They were into the next village, rattling over cobbles, the only illumination their headlights and the barren houses. In the town square, she pulled out without indicating, overtook the lumbering caravanette and shot away, horn blaring in reply. Bond followed, chipping the edge of a kerb with his wheels. Exhilarated, he ploughed on, but couldn’t match her speed on the straight. They tore along lanes dark with branches, leaves waving as the silver shadows shot beneath them, the trees silent spectators, marshals to the Grand Prix, waiting to anoint the victor. Chalabre came and went. The Bentley fizzed away. Yes, it was just like motor racing. The Continental GT Speed could hit 200 on a flat. It had wide alloy wheels, stability control, an eight speed transmission, all the mod cons missing from Bond’s customized ride. Never the less, he wasn’t letting her go without a fight. The speedo eased up to 150, 160, 165.


Bond grunted, forcing every ounce of power from the 5L engine, heard the poor old dear complain and ignored it. Into a long left hand bend, he finally saw her. Had she deliberately slowed? He was almost with her, but she edged away again, disappearing down the straight. He caught up with her on the outskirts of Lagarde, nearly able to read her number plate. She took impossible risks through the town, breaking late, swerving around corners. She lost him at a junction, a weary cyclist blocking his path, and her hand waved again. 


Bond couldn’t catch her. The Bentley had too much power. When he did get close, he knew she was letting him. She was teasing, playing a game. Minutes later the long road stretched away through the dark green fields, orchards and vineyards on each side. He drove for a mile, into a shallow incline and started to power down. That was odd. He couldn’t see any headlights. Surely she hadn’t turned them off.


Bond wound the window down, expecting to hear the throb of a V8 engine. There was nothing except the noise of the Aston Martin. His hand hovered over the G.P.S. No; wait. About two hundred yards to his right a pall of light lit the enveloping dusk. There was a little opening, half hidden by overhanging vines and cherry trees. The picket gate was lodged open. Bond steered down the track and arrived at a small hollow. The Bentley was at rest. The girl had managed to turn the car so it was facing him. The headlamps flickered. Bond rolled down the lane, stopped a few metres from the Bentley’s fender and turned off the engine. Cautiously he got out.


The air was still. He could smell the aromatic cherries. Somewhere an owl hooted. The sky was that deep Van Gogh blue, almost black, when evening finally turns to night. Stars already pin pricked the canvas. Somewhere on route Bond had seen a chateau, a small affair, probably a farm house rather than a mansion. Its lights had been on, but nothing illuminated the fields here, only the twin sets of headlamps.


The two silhouettes moved towards each other.


The girl didn’t say a word. She simply reached out and kissed him, lightly at first and then harder. Bond wasn’t expecting it, but he enjoyed the sensation of her cool lips on his. His hands automatically started to encircle her.


“That is a surprise,” he said when she finally broke the embrace, “Who’s taking risks now?”


“You do like me don’t you, James?”


“Of course I do.”


“Then help me,” she said, her fingers stroking down her throat, twiddling with the necklace. She placed a hand on the side of his face, “You see I have needs; very particular needs.”


“Really; would you care to tell me?”


“I will when we get started.”


The girl reached up again to kiss him. Her tongue fought with his, her lips crushed on his mouth, their teeth clashed. She ran her hands down his chest, grabbed at his tie and led him to the Aston Martin. She sat on the lip of the bonnet, her legs splayed slightly so Bond could stand between her knees. She kissed him once more, smoother this time, little pecks at his corners and cheeks.


“Yes, James, it’s warm here,” she breathed, “It must be here.”


For a moment he didn’t understand. Then Tiara slipped the knot on his tie and started to unbutton his shirt. Bond let her do so and she pulled off his top clothes, tossing them aside. Little hands and fingers caressed his upper torso. They reached lower.


“Hmmm,” the girl giggled and nuzzled into his neck, licking at his skin, “Now, let me see,” she purred, her fingers toying with the zip on the side of her dress.


Slowly she peeled the fastener down and inch by inch exposed her golden skin to the fresh night air. The girl wore nothing under the dress and it fell to the ground, a pointless scrap of material. She stood shining, bronzed, completely bare, her magnificent breasts thrust out, her belly a smooth curve to the glistening heat below, her legs long and taut, supported by the heeled sandals.


“Let me see,” she repeated and reached for the waistline of his trousers.


The air bristled on his skin. Their naked bodies met and his lips crushed down onto hers and her legs entwined him and her hands ruffled his hair. He paused before the moment, but she pulled him into her, violently, and they both made harsh sounds as their bodies slapped together on the hot metal hood. After a few minutes, she stopped and turned, spread face down over the smooth bonnet of the silver car. Bond positioned himself, but she stopped him.


“No, not there, James, I want it here, I want this to be special, just for you.”


Tiara’s hands opened her buttocks. Bond accepted the invitation. The two figures lay gasping across the car, one on top of the other, moving urgently, forcefully. He stroked the girl’s back and hair. His mouth kissed her shoulders. A stray finger ran down her cheek and she caught it in her mouth and bit down as the ecstasy took over. Bond felt the climax rising and knew she had reached it too. The girl’s body started to be wracked with small, involuntary spasms. She emitted little shrieks of pain and pleasure that echoed through the orchard. The owls became strangely silent, frightened of this new two headed animal. Finally the bodies tensed together.


For a minute they rested, Bond covering the girl; then he removed himself from her and stood leaning against the bonnet. Tiara slowly turned around. She was flushed. Her firm upright bosom rose and fell with her deep breaths. She slid off the bonnet, her legs spread to support herself, as if she was hurt. The imprint of the Aston Martin was etched on her skin. She laughed. It was a nervous throaty chuckle.


“I hope I haven’t damaged the body work.”


“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” replied Bond, admiring her flagrant arousing nudity. Casually he picked up his jacket, found his cigarettes and lit two. He passed one to her and she gratefully sucked in the tobacco, looking at the display of reviving manhood next to her.


“That was delicious, James. I always wanted to do it on a car.”


“It makes a change from the back seat.”




They kissed between drags, but Tiara broke the tentative embrace.


“I don’t want to stay out all night, James. There’s a hotel near here. Will you come with me?”


“Of course I will, Tiara. We have a lot to talk about.”


“I don’t want to talk. I just want to ----. You want that too don’t you?”


“Ever since I first met you.”


“Good, then let’s go.”

Edited by chrisno1, 27 August 2013 - 01:20 PM.

#8 chrisno1



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Posted 30 August 2013 - 10:15 PM

Chapter Eight:

Hunter or Hunted



They dressed quickly and the girl led the way back to the small chateau Bond had noticed earlier. The proprietor greeted Tiara like an old friend, made several comments about how nice it was to see her and cast an approving glance over Bond. They didn’t sign in. On the way up the stairs she whispered: “He doesn’t mind. Sometimes I let him watch, you know.”




“Oh, James!” she said it like he was her favourite uncle.


The room was functional with the bed pushed back against the wall, like a child’s, side on to the door and facing the louver window. The girl opened the panels and a cool breeze swept in. She stripped right there in the pall of the moon glow.


“Do you want a drink?” Bond threw off his jacket.


“No. I told you what I wanted: get undressed, James.”


Bond hesitated, “Is he watching now?”


“Don’t worry he won’t film us.”


“Do you bring all your boyfriends here?”




Tiara ran her tongue around her lips, watching him as he peeled off his clothes. When he was nude, she kissed him, another long kiss, forcing her tongue into his mouth, tasting him. They moved to the bed and Bond laid the girl down, his hand on one of her full, hard breasts, the erect nipple buried between his thumb and forefinger.


“Will he see everything?”


“Probably,” Tiara hummed as if it was an everyday occurrence.


Her teeth nibbled at his lips. Bond ran his hands down the length of her, caressing the heaving bosom, the lithe thighs, the tight stomach, her moist rosy sex. Tiara sighed. 


“We don’t have to, you know,” Bond whispered.


“Shut up, James.”


Suddenly her love became a cruel and hard game. She both desired him and fought him off. She scratched at his back and buttocks. She bit him with her teeth. He smacked her to make it stop. It didn’t stop and she begged for more punishment, even as she struggled to escape his arms. She wouldn’t let Bond take her again until she was a conquered woman. And when she was beaten, she let nothing come between her and the rising, inexorable pain of passion. She allowed Bond access to everything she possessed and he viciously took it and she revelled in the sweet bitter tang of servitude.


She said later, “It’s always been like that for me.”


They were smoking cigarettes, an ash tray on Bond’s chest, and the girl sitting at his loins, her long legs stretched out and her feet tickling his armpits. A few minutes before there had been a knock at the door. It sounded like a recognition code. The girl understood its message and, without even dressing, opened the door. The proprietor had left a complimentary bottle of Chablis and two glasses outside. Bond noted it was a poor brand, but it was cool and refreshing after the hot passionate sex.


“What do you mean?”


“I was a young girl, you know, when it happened. I wasn’t forced or anything, but it wasn’t a good experience. Perhaps I was forced. I don’t know. I was stupid. It’s the sort of thing stupid fourteen year olds do.”


“That doesn’t excuse the boy’s behaviour.”


“Boys. Plural.”




“I only did it to spite my sister. She had a nice boyfriend. I was insanely jealous. And well, when my sister told me they had done it, I wanted to try it too, just like her. So I chose the school water polo captain. I didn’t bank on the rest of the team turning up.”




“Jesus couldn’t help. Anyway it was done and then I sort of became the school whore. I guess I still am a bit. Most of my boyfriend’s think I’m a nymphomaniac.”


“Why doesn’t that surprise me?”


Tiara laughed. “The thing of it is; so is my sister. Though of course I didn’t find out what she’d been up to until much later, the deceitful cow.”


Bond poured more wine and offered to refill her glass. Tiara looked at him sweetly, “Shocked, James?”


“A little. More bemused. More than anything I also feel extremely guilty.”


“Really, why?”


“Well, this has been wonderful, I mean, really wonderful, Tiara, but you see, I rather bumped into you under false pretenses.”


“S---! You are the press!”


“No. I really do work for a company called Universal Exports, but it’s a front. We work for the government, in foreign affairs. We’re interested in your father’s experiments.”


The girl’s face turned sour.


“Now you’ve really spoilt it,” she hissed, but she wasn’t angry, just disappointed, “Oh why did you have to tell me that?”


“Because we think you have some important information, something the Professor taught you and your sister. We’re worried Tulisa may be in trouble. She’s disappeared and no one knows where she is.”


The girl shrugged and stubbed out the cigarette.


“Don’t be ridiculous. I know where she is.”


“But you didn’t tell the police.”


“Of course not, it’s personal business. She didn’t want anyone to know where she was going.”

Her face screwed up, uncertain. Bond gently ran a finger down her thigh. The movement mad her tremble. Eventually she relented, sighing, “Tulisa’s at Shangri-La.”


“What’s Shangri-La?”


“It’s an exclusive retreat, a medicinal treatment centre, for mind and body, relaxation and recuperation,” she said it as if reciting an advert, “It’s a fantastic place. They do all sorts of herbal and physiological remedies. It really clears your mind as well as,” she chuckled, “Your bowels.”


“Where is this place?”




“How long has she been there?”


“Since she stopped modelling,” Tiara shrugged, “Six months I guess. She works there; at least that’s what she tells me. We really aren’t that close any more. I mean we talk, but well, other than how we look, times have changed.”


“What happened?”


“Girl stuff,” she said, “Jealousy, animosity. I wanted to be different, James.”


“You are. You’re unique,” Bond put aside the ash tray and pushed up towards her, “Everyone is; even you and Tulisa.”


He nuzzled into her neck.


The girl became distracted for a moment. Then she smiled and bit her lip, trying to stifle the sudden urge that was sweeping across her body again. She could already feel the stirrings of Bond’s lust as his hard muscles nudged against her, “Do we have to talk about her now?”


“No,” he whispered, stitching kisses around the glowing face, “We can discuss it over breakfast.”


Tiara gave up the fight. Daintily she spilt the wine into his lap.


“Oh,” she cried with mock alarm, “I suppose I’ll have to clean that up.”


“Yes, Tiara,” ordered Bond, lying back, a satisfied smirk on his face, “You will.” 



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



She didn’t want to discuss it over breakfast. While the night time activity had been wonderful, he found her après-sex rather tiresome. Bond was about to lose patience when she said: “I have to go into Carcassonne anyway, James, to pick up some new outfits. You can come with me or not. It’s up to you, but that’s what I’m doing, so there.”


She didn’t let him reply.


“Of course if you do come with me, darling, it’ll be heaven. You’re rather good. We go well together, don’t you think?”


Bond didn’t usually discuss sex over breakfast. He sipped his coffee and pretended she hadn’t said it.


“I’ll come with you, Tiara, but not only for that. I really do need to talk to you. There are things happening in the world, frightening things -”


“Like murder and war? They’ve been going on for centuries.”


“No. Like disease, psoriasis.”


The single word stopped her. The gay, vital face fell and she pouted. She covered it well, took a mouthful of coffee, but Bond had noticed the change. She smiled.


“Look, James, I must do this, all right? Then we’ll talk, I promise. You will come, won’t you?”


“All right,” Bond nodded, reluctantly, “But we take my car. We’ll come back for yours. You drive too fast.”


They reached Carcassonne before noon. It sat like history and make-believe, two rings of crenelated, dusty walls punctuated by watchtowers and turrets, springing out of the matted green fields like some medieval mirage. They called the old town Le Cité, the Citadel, and while much of the restoration wasn’t authentic, Bond couldn’t fault the impression it gave, the witch hat fantasy architecture of fairy tales. Somewhere inside the brooding edifice Saint Anne’s finger crooked, pulling over a million visitors inside the city walls every year.  


The new town, laid out beneath the fortress, was by contrast a bustling mini-metropolis, lined with souvenir shops, restaurants and markets, galleries and museums, jostling for position with tenements and town houses.


Tiara wanted to visit one of the enticing boutiques on Rue de Verdun. Bond acquiesced. She began trying on the clothes she’d ordered and parading through the aisles to test the shoes. Bond played the straight man, trying and failing to hide his impatience. He complimented her when asked, was non-committal over his opinion. The dresser began to wonder what on earth he was doing there.


Tiara laughed at his discomfort.


“I’ll be a while, James, darling, why don’t you look at the castle. I’ll meet you for lunch at Le Donjon.”


“You won’t run off?”


“How can I? I don’t have a car.”


Bond shrugged. He couldn’t quite understand it. There was something so relaxed, so off-hand about  the girl that he was frightened for her. Her manner was almost too casual. He’d mentioned who he worked for, what concerned him, why he wanted her help, yet she only seemed interested in clothes. His troubles, the whereabouts of her sister, didn’t concern Tiara at all. Her indifference sparked the fear. Pondering the puzzle, he left her with haute couture and walked over the Pont Viuex and into the citadel. If he’d been a tourist, he might have been disappointed by the castle. Le Cité seemed to be a series of tacky commercial courtyards, fringed by flower boxes and the passage of history. He wandered past Chateau Comtal and into the surrounding alleys snaking down to the Basilica, the gargoyles looking ghoulish even in the daytime.


There was something else bothering him. He kept noticing those blots of charcoal grey among the summer colours. He’d seen them first on the walk into town. Now he thought he saw them again. He stopped by a souvenir stand, pretended to try on new sunglasses. Looking each way up and down the street, he assessed the problem. Bond replaced the last set of specs, bought a paper and headed for the amphitheatre. Where had he seen the two men in suits before? Bond had parked the Aston Martin at the Gambetta. The Citroën had also been in the car park. He remembered it now, but had thought nothing of it, in the same way it hadn’t impressed him back at the bridge in Puivert. So, it was he who was being followed. Not the girl - him.


They were chunky examples, suits bulging, square heads, no smiles. He’d only noted two men in the car, but now there appeared to be three. The last of the trio was front tailing. Each one was shaven headed, the worst of disguises but a hindrance to identification. The two men behind were the biggest, one being tall, the other broad. The man in front was smaller in stature, but his posture was ramrod straight. He walked as if his thighs were tree trunks. A regular nasty trinity, Tic, Tac and Toe.


Bond walked into the café fringed Place Marcou. Lunch was well under way, busy terraces of tables cluttered with people, the waft of fresh cooking, beef, garlic and herbs. Bond paused at a lectern, his eye focussed not on the menu, which sat open on the Table de Jour, and flicked the page. He didn’t like public confrontations. He did his best to avoid them.


The man in front, who Bond had christened Toe, was still plodding, seemingly unconcerned; the two behind hung back further, watching a mine artist, a couple of disinterested observers if ever there was. The artist gave up and moved on.


So did Bond. He went quickly through the square, grabbing a fork from the nearest table and was running before thunder-thighs had noticed.


Toe heard the footfalls too late. He spun, put out an arm. Bond jabbed down viciously. The prongs entered the man’s eye with a sickening squelch. Bond twisted. Toe screamed, tried to grasp Bond’s arm, his movements restricted. Bond smothered him. Blood spurted from the eye socket and splattered his suit. He shoved the big man, trip-kicked him and watched him roll. The poor bastard thudded into one of the awnings and the struts collapsed, bringing the rainbow coloured shade crashing down on the diners beneath it.


Chaos ensued. People scrambled from under the mess, covered in food debris. Angry shouts echoed. Waiters from other establishments tried to help, lifting the fallen, pushing the tent poles. Someone knelt beside the wriggling Toe and started shouting for an ambulance. Behind the havoc, Tic and Tac were on the move.


Bond was already running, blindly, unaware of street names. Above the crowded rooftops, Bond saw the points of the Narbonne Gate. The lane seemed to widen. Bond entered a tree lined esplanade. The gate’s grand edifice faced way from him. The slit exit was bunched with tourists, cameras snapping, rucksacks on shoulders, cramming the aperture. Bond had to slow, skipping past the bodies. There was a ticket office set back in the portcullis arch. Conscious this was the dumbest thing to do, he walked straight past the little booth and took the corner stairway. Behind him, among angry shouts, he could hear the heavy clump of Tic and Tac, their shoes like nailed boots. He went up the spiral tower and emerged onto the ramparts.


He was on the upper tier. In every direction the verdant landscape of Languedoc stretched away, orchards and vines, the silver River Aude, the red and gold of the lower town, the cloudless sky. Directly below ran the lower casements and the medieval defence system. He saw people walking the walls, admiring the view, just as he might have hoped to do. He didn’t have time. There was only one way to go and Bond took it, heading for the next turret. He was disappearing into the second tower as Tic and Tac emerged from the first.


Bond passed straight on, the dust kicking behind him, the air hot and stagnant. Balustrade followed tower. He ran through five of them, heading anticlockwise. There was hardly a breeze today. Bond brushed a group of sightseers, got annoyed responses, and ploughed on into the next tower. This one was a squat, square affair, an old guard keep. The exit only took him onto more ramparts. Damn! He’d still be the hunted if he took it. He wanted to be the hunter. A wooden staircase ran up one side to the next level. Bond took it, felt it shake. He went up two flights before making the final chamber. Its slit windows and tall cambered ceiling suggested this room was the very top. Big oak beams, the support frame for the roof, criss-crossed the void. There was a further staircase going up to a locked door marked ‘Défense d’Entrée’.


Through the window, Bond saw Tic and Tac enter the tower. He crossed to the other side. They didn’t emerge. He heard loud footsteps. They were coming for him. Bond went up the final stairway, fumbling for his universal key fob. The door had a chub lock. He didn’t have time to unscrew the heads. He crouched. Angry boots sounded on the wooden planks below. Bond thrust his shoulder at the door, felt it give and charged it again. The frame burst and the door sprung open. Bond almost toppled after it.


The roof top was barren, just a few feet of concrete and flint surrounding the peaked tiled dome of the turret. There was a low bastion wall, projecting no more than a foot high. Almost without realising it, he’d trapped himself: hunted.


Tic, his skull grimy with sweat, burst through the aperture. The door sprang angrily on its hinges. Bond launched a straight armed punch, caught him flush, and followed it with a hook kick. Tic went down. Immediately the thick arms of Tac grabbed at Bond’s shoulders, trying to get purchase, to force his head into a lock. Bond dug, twisted, trying to break Tac’s grip. He tasted the man’s breath. It hissed out of him, a hot, pungent mixture. The man needed a good dentist.


Tic was back on his feet and madder than hell. Punches came in. No guns or knives, considered Bond. Whoever they were, they too didn’t like the idea of a public confrontation. Riding the blows, Bond found purchase on the flagstones and pushed back. Tac thudded against the turret. Slate splintered and cracked and fell about them. Using Tac as a lever he kicked up and out. Two heels crunched into Tic’s face and split his nose. He went down to his knees and Bond lashed out again, his feet connecting under the chin. Tic spiralled backwards and came to a groggy rest in the lea of the balustrade. Tac still clung on, his arms under Bond’s armpits, his finger’s locked behind Bond’s head. They tussled, twisting, spinning, dipping, smacking against the roof, until decades of dust and grit coated them. They navigated the cupola, neither man ready to give. It was a kicking, scratching dogfight. Masonry rained down, popped loose from the battens. A large hole appeared where they kicked the tiles as they fought. Heavy gulps of air cannoned in their ears. Bond jerked an elbow down, hard, fast to the solar plexus, making the man wheeze, then the groin. The grip relaxed. Bond bent over, dragging the big man with him. He grasped one of the red slates and brought it crashing down on the bald head. At last the hands came free. Bond shook the man off and gave him an uppercut, two, three, watched him reel. Tac stumbled, using the exposed joists for support and squinted past Bond into the sun.


The shadow was almost imperceptible. Bond felt a minor drop in temperature rather than a change in shade. It was so damn hot up here. He rasped for breath. Tic was back on his feet. Now both men were poised to attack, one each side. Bond had the buckled roof behind him, a three foot square platform of stone under his feet and a suicidal drop below. Not a good place to fight the odds.


The three men paused, sizing each other up, waiting to see who would move first. Bond took up a zenkutsu stance, more for show than habit. Knees slightly bent, arms raised to ninety degrees at the elbow, fingers curled into half-fists, ready to punch or chop. His head swayed left, right, waiting, just waiting. The two men were like wrestlers, hands out clutching at air, feet planted solid, heads sunk into hunched shoulders. Blood and bruises didn’t bother them. They relied on brute strength, not stealth. They simply needed an opportunity to show it.


The combatants hardly moved. Only Le Marin, the warm summer breeze ruffled them. It was a shikiri-sen moment, the drawn out psychological ploy the Sumo makes before the explosion of violence. It might have been seconds or minutes. They made tiny movements, feet, toes, fingers shuffling, Bond’s head jerked left-right again and again. Tic, bloodied and angry, was closer, his hands bunching into fists, his knee bent for an assault. Tac, a head wound oozing, was more wary, waiting for the result of his colleague’s attack.


Bond didn’t want to wait any longer. Eyes fixed solidly on Tac, his right foot shot out and cracked against Tic’s standing knee. There was a loud thud. The man screamed but didn’t go down. Bond chopped at the neck. His other hand shot out and took a firm grip of Tic’s lapels. Tac made his move. Bond heard it. Instinctively, he ducked, mule kicked a straight heel into the man’s stomach. Still holding the jacket, and with both men making grabs for his shoulders, Bond jumped backwards and thrust both feet through the hole in the rooftop. There was a shattering crash as he plummeted, dragging wood, tiles and Tic with him. The tall man’s muscles cracked under the shock. His body hung, abdomen caught on the ripped joists. Bond’s weight pulled the jacket over Tic’s head. He swayed a moment and then dropped safely to the floor.


For a second he looked up at the sagging body. The man groaned as Tac started to haul him back. Bond went down the stairs, straightening his clothes. He must look a sight. He set off at a run, took the first exit and headed back into Le Cité.


He was uncertain what was happening and who the men were. It was clear they were after him, just like the three assassins on the ski slope, but would that put the girl in any danger? Nervous, he charged back through the winding streets of the citadel, desperate to get back to Tiara.


It might have been ill-luck, it might have been designed, but Bond had hardly left the confines of Le Cité when he heard the unmistakable put-put of a Lambretta scooter. No, two of them; the new design that looked more like a proper motorbike. He’d seen a few of the cycles dotting the traffic. They were good solid machines for Carcassonne’s close knit streets. But these were accelerating very fast. He chanced a look over his shoulder. The same dull grey suits. The same shaven heads. What the hell? Had a regiment of the bastards descended on him? This time, he saw, they carried small silenced automatics, strapped to their wrists so they could both ride and shoot. So the gloves were finally off. Hunted it was.


Bond dived into an alcove as the first bullets whizzed by. The motors purred. They’d halted. They expected him to move. Bond flinched. He had nothing. His own gun was still strapped into the secret compartment of the Aston Martin. His fingers knocked against his jacket pocket. The Ronson! Amazing, he thought, how you forget these things until it’s almost too late. He pulled the lighter out, flipped the control and stuck his arm out.


The sheet of fire shot up the lane. It licked at the men’s faces. The scooters pulled back. Gasps and terrified screams echoed. Still aiming the miniature flame thrower, Bond ran out of his hiding place, pressed the control again and crossed the road into the adjacent avenue. He’d bought time, no more. This street was littered with souvenir stalls, postcards hanging from clip-strips, nick-nacks and trinkets for grannies on open top tables. He turned one over. Heard the angry objection, heard the crunch as the Lambretta’s front wheel churned over the debris. More yells. He pulled a book spinner on its side, blocked the alley and suddenly found it difficult to make progress. People were converging. The locals didn’t like it. Who was this bastard? Imbecile! Someone made a grab for his jacket, but he yanked himself free. The noise was getting louder.


The bullets came again. Blood splashed his cheek. Bond turned. The shopkeeper collapsed, his shoulder torn apart. A woman shrieked. Bond pushed through the bodies, fleeing the guns, but realising people offered no protection. The bullets zinged in the air, soft, silent missiles. More groans. Behind him a pathway was opening. The crowd parted for the oncoming speeders.


He cut into an alley, not sure where it led. It curved downhill. It was dim, the steep buildings offering shade. Cobbled stones were under his feet. Laundry hung from washing lines three storeys up. Doors sat open. You could see inside the small tenement homes, tables laid, televisions switched on, women peeling vegetables, children playing with dolls. He crashed by a couple of old men drinking coffee. Behind him only one scooter followed. The men shouted and swore as the vehicle careered past. Where was the other Lambretta?


Bond saw the stanchion, the rope and the winch, the ties which kept the washing lines suspended, allowing them to be raised and lowered so people living at the lowest levels could air their clothes. He grabbed at one, hauled it with him and loosened the grapple. A cascade of white cotton dropped across the alley. The scooter plunged straight for it. Buried in its folds, the wheels trapped in the sheet, cycle and rider veered sideways. The man flapped like a pantomime ghost. Bond punched him, twice, and wrenched the Lambretta clear of the washing line. It was still ticking over. Bond mounted the bike, spun the throttle and hurtled down the alley. He emerged into another square, one he didn’t recognise, a well at its centre, and the second scooter purring to a halt on the other side.


Bond wasn’t going to wait this time, he kept going forward, straight for the second man. He responded as if it was a medieval joust. The two cycles screamed across the cobbles, a foot, a hand, a gun, thrust out. Bond made himself small, swerved around the big stone well and heard the ricochet of bullets. The other bike wobbled. Off balance, the man fell.


Bond raced away. The wind rattled past his ears. He twisted left and right, avoiding bodies, taking turns he didn’t know, roads with no signs. He couldn’t hear the other Lambretta any longer. He slowed, carefully took his bearings and eventually, sucking deep breaths, he cornered onto the Pont Neuf. He was zipping down Rue de Verdun in seconds.


The boutique was half way down the street. Bond sidled towards it and parked the scooter in the kerb. Inside he could see Tiara, bags in hand, chatting to the sales assistant. The dresser was ringing up the bill. Bond took one step towards the shop when the noise came. He hadn’t heard it among the bustle of the busy avenue.


The Lambretta was heading directly for him. The man’s eyes bulged. His grin was cast. The muzzle of the revolver flashed. Bond ducked. The bullets whistled overhead. He threw himself to the ground. More shots. Windows shattered. Stonework chipped. Bond lashed out with his feet. They connected with the parked scooter. The chassis fell into the assassin’s path. His scooter came to an abrupt halt and threw him over the handlebars. The man was catapulted up and over Bond. He crashed head first through the boutique window and landed embracing a mannequin.


No one was laughing. Shards of glass stuck out at awkward angles. His face and neck was a mass of blood. The dresser and the shop assistant were backing nervously away, screams forming on trembling lips.


Bond opened the front door and stepped across to Tiara, who was standing dumbstruck and shaking.


“She’ll pay you later,” he said, grabbed the girl’s hand and yanked her outside. It was time for a serious talk.





#9 chrisno1



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Posted 06 September 2013 - 03:08 PM

Chapter Nine:

Safe House


The girl was too shocked to object. Bond had led her half way to the car park before she began to pull back.


“James, what’s happening?”


“If I knew that, we wouldn’t be running,” he replied, pulling urgently on the resisting arm, “Someone knows I’m here, Tiara, which probably means they know why I want to meet you. Can you explain that?”


“I don’t understand.”


“Of course you don’t,” he snapped, “You haven’t given anything I said a thought.”


She broke away. The exchange had been breathless. Bond stopped and faced her. She looked hurt, head bowed, hands full of fashion bags. He tweaked a curl of her hair.


“It’s not your fault, Tiara,” he murmured, “You aren’t used to this kind of thing. I am. That’s why you need to listen. Now come on.”


He took her hand one more time and they continued at a brisk trot until they reached Square Gambetta. The Aston Martin was still there. The C4 wasn’t. Bond grimaced. He gave the DB III a cursory inspection. There didn’t appear to be any obvious homing devices. How the hell had they tracked him?


“Get in,” he said, taking the girl’s bags and shoveling them into the boot.


As they headed away from the centre of town Bond put his mobile into the hands free socket and dialed a priority code. He was immediately put through to Bill Tanner.




“Christ, what’s up, OO7?”


“I’m still marked. I need a safe house.”


“Where are you?”




“One moment,” Tanner could be heard issuing instructions on a second line, “What’s the situation?”


“One dead, possibly two in hospital, five in all, injuries to bystanders,” Bond said urgently, “I was tracked.”




“I don’t know yet.”


“What about the girl?”


“Shaken,” he replied, giving her a reassuring smile, “But safe.”


“We’ll get onto it. All right, you need to head for Valras-Plage,” Tanner reeled off an address. It was somewhere on the Côte d’Améthyste, “When you get there ask for Carla and Maurice. We’ll debrief you when you arrive.”


“Thanks, Bill.”


As an after-thought Bond not only disconnected, but switched off his phone and removed the battery.


“Take the battery out of your phone, Tiara,” he ordered. He spun left, turning back on himself, heading for the A61. The girl was sitting almost stock still in the seat. Bond took another quick glance at her. She wasn’t scared. Confusion better described her expression.


“James, who the hell are you?”


“I told you. My name’s James Bond. I work for the Secret Intelligence Service, in the foreign affairs division.”


She let out a sarcastic bleat, “Is that meant to make me feel safe?”


“It’s the truth.”


“You just said you killed somebody.”


“Occupational hazard,” Bond grinned, he faced her for a moment, the smile fading, “Tiara, your phone please.”


The girl hesitated.




“They can trace our signals. That’s probably how they found us.”




“Me or you: us,” Bond, eyes on the rear mirror, pulled into the side of the road, reached over and took her handbag, a cumbersome shoulder strappy leather thing.


“What are you doing?” she snapped.


“Get your mobile out, Tiara, come on.”


She snatched at the bag, yanking it from his hand, holding it protectively. She was like a frightened animal. What was it about the mobile? There must be a tracer in it. She knew it. His eyes shrank to slits. She’d not made any calls. She’d not once touched her phone, not how most modern girls would, texting and updating their friends and Facebook pages.


“Come on, Tiara,” he said lightly, “Don’t you trust me?”


The girl pursed her lips.


“I’m not supposed to,” she said hesitating, “It’s mine.”


“I know it’s yours, honey,” Bond reassured, “I just want it disconnected for a bit, that’s all. I’ll give it back. I promise.”


Slowly, as if she was handling the most precious thing, the girl dug into her shoulder bag. The slim i-phone with its zebra print case sat in her palm. Bond took it, slid the rear mounting and shook out the battery and the chip. They went in his breast pocket.


“For safe keeping,” he smiled. The girl was breathing heavily, her eyes wide, as if this minor robbery was committing a great crime.


Bond gave back the disabled phone and she visibly relaxed. Bond slipped the DB III into gear and glided away from the hard shoulder.


“What was all that about?” he asked.




“What’s so special about your phone?”


“It was a present,” she stammered, “From someone.”




“My sister,” she replied haltingly, “I think. I promised.”


“Promised what?”


“That I’d always leave it switched on.”


“Is that so?” Bond changed gears, his eyes flashing to the rear view mirror, watching. He pulled off the trunk road and onto the highway, stepping hard on the accelerator, stretching the DB III’s powerful engine.


He saw the black C4 in his wing mirror, pulling onto the highway after him. How the hell? His brow creased. He could out run them, the Aston Martin’s new engine could easily see to that. But they’d been popping up everywhere; they would do so again. Quickly he spun the wheel, performing a U-turn.


“That’s not the way to Valras,” objected the girl.


“I know,” he said, “Hang on. We’re in for a bumpy ride.”


The Aston Martin shot past the C4, which performed its own turn in the road. Other traffic squealed in annoyance. Bond hit ninety, weaving in and out of the other cars, pulling short when he needed, switching lanes and accelerating in gaps. The girl seemed to shrink into her seat. The speed, the agility of the little car, its master at the wheel, at first seemed to frighten her, but gradually, as the traffic petered out and the road became open and the speedo hit one-hundred, one-ten, one-twenty, and the world shot past in a dazzle of colour, she seemed to unfurl. Her fingers unraveled, her shoulders relaxed. Bond caught her looking at him, eyes wide, mouth open, offering tiny pants. She was enjoying it. A curious glow overtook her. The tongue ran along the wet lips. So it was true. Nymphomania: that curious inexplicable psychological affliction which prompts some women to have frequent sex with multiple sexual partners often at whim. The time was obviously close for Tiara again. As he drove, she seemed to tremble with excitement. 


The Citroën kept a steady pace behind. It too had a powerful motor. Easing over one hundred was no problem to its sixteen valves. Bond couldn’t shake the bastard from his tail, not at speed and not on the straight.


He’d gone a dozen miles, taken the rotary north of the city and was heading into prime Occitan country, where the Cathar Lords fought Louis IX, lost a civilization and gained a Pope. Bond accelerated, hitting a ton, his eyes switching mirror-to-mirror and back to the road, all the time taking the highway into the hills, the road perceptibly sloping, up and over the ragged verdant ground. The road started to bend, gently at first as it rose, then tighter, the turns cutting into the contours of the craggy Black Mountains. As they drove higher, barriers replaced bollards, and the road indiscriminately switched from one lane to two. 


Bond overtook a Fiat. He saw the driver, face contorted in anger at his speed. It was the last safe place to make such a manoeuvre. The road was becoming too tight. Bond had to slow, change into third or second to make the turns. The escarpment was steep, the yellow rock face plummeting into the valley below, rising giant-like above. Behind, briefly, Bond could see the C4, held up by the Fiat. Bond kept on as fast as he could, pumping the brakes, shifting the gears, the wheel firm in his grip, the wheels almost stuck to the tarmac.


Three miles further he felt the road flatten, the twists and turns less abrupt. The road looped ahead, into a sharp crevasse, before emerging as a wide curve arcing around a promontory. There was an observation point jutting out from the rock. You could see Lastours from there, deep in the valley where the ruins of castles and villages dominated the scenes of Papal war. Bond slowed, watching the Fiat and the Citroën, measuring time and distance.


He swung out of the first bend and into the arc. The observation point was dead ahead. Bond slid into it, parking the DB III at an angle, so it still faced down the road. He left the engine running. The girl craned back, trying to see through the rear window.


“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you,” Bond instructed, “You’re far safer sitting upright.”


He was watching the two cars coming around the bend. The C4 wanted to overtake on the outside. The driver clearly hadn’t spotted the Aston Martin, engine ticking over, restive, in the lay-by.


“Why?” asked the girl, returning to the seat, “What are you -”


Bond crunched the DB III into reverse and stamped down on the gas. The Aston Martin shot backwards towards the overtaking Citroën, burning rubber and kicking clouds of dust. The two cars slammed into each other. There was a loud bang and a hiss. Everything stopped except the Fiat, which continued, oblivious, on its merry way.


The C4 resembled half an armadillo. The radiator was busted, leaking water and oil. The car’s bodywork was scrunched so far back the wheels couldn’t spin in the arches. The doors had concertinaed but remained fixed, jammed shut. The windows had shattered. A spider’s web of glass fragments had replaced the front wind shield. The rear half of the Citroën remained unscathed. As Bond eased the DB III away from the wreck, the wrecked cars front air bags inflated. Late, as always.


The Aston Martin was a little battered, but the ultra-strong reinforced rear bumper had done its work. There were vile shouts. Gun shots echoed and the airbags deflated. Bond put the car into reverse again. There was another angry collision. The C4 shifted backwards. The men inside were trying to open the doors. Someone fired through the windscreen and the cracked window disintegrated.


Tiara yelped and ducked as more bullets came. They smacked harmlessly against the thick shatterproof glass. Bond reversed a third time. The Citroën came to a halt against the crash barrier. The driver’s door was open now and the man was struggling free. He fired. It struck the Aston’s bodywork, pinged away somewhere. Bond spun the wheel, took aim and slammed into first. Bullets thumped against the windscreen, chipped it and flew off.


The front fender crashed into the C4. The man in the passenger seat was pleading. The car slid another foot. The crash barrier moaned in protest. Bond reversed. The driver was almost out now, clinging to the battered frame of the windscreen. Bond cannoned forward, the DB III a deadly missile. The driver screamed. He jerked out of the door, lost his hold and disappeared over the precipice. Bond kept his foot hard on the accelerator. The wheels spun. The barriers were bent at a terrible angle. There was a sudden crack and the bolts gave way. The joints flicked loose and the C4 tumbled through the remains of the barrier. The Aston leapt forward and Bond steered hard, fast, breaking to avoid the drop. The car slewed to a halt, side on and inches from the edge.    


Bond watched as the Citroën cartwheeled down the mountainside. It rolled onto its side, slid into the tree line and came to a halt wrapped around a boulder, a wheel still spinning past it. He thought he saw the flickers of blue flame and then whatever was left of the black metal box became engulfed in a bright yellow ball of fire. The explosion echoed up the valley, resounded time and again, until, at last, the only sound was the purr of the Aston Martin.


Bond looked steadily at the girl, “Are you all right?”


She was still panting.


“----ing hell, Galahad,” was all she could whisper.



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



The safe house was a stone cottage set in woods that framed a little sandy bay. The address Bond had been given was to a flat in the nearest village. Maurice and Carla were a pleasant old couple. He wore glasses and a bemused expression, which suggested the premises they held had never been used for its purpose. She wore her grey hair in a bun and handed Bond the key and directions in an envelope she produced from an apron stuffed with pins.


It was dark when they arrived. Bond switched on the lights, closed the shutters and pulled the curtains. They were long heavy drapes that hid almost all the light. While the girl bathed, he put the DB III into the carport, once more giving it an inspection for homing devices. It was clean. Back inside the cottage, certain the girl was still soaking, he rifled through her belongings, but found no tracers except the Q-Branch necklace.


Bond’s thought turned back to the girl’s peculiar behaviour over the mobile phone. She said her sister had specifically asked her not to turn it off. Signals could be tracked. Was someone tracking the girl’s signal? It made sense and explained how they knew the girl’s route. Was she in on it? There was a nagging doubt, yet Bond’s instincts, honed through years of personal deception and dealing with the deceivers was that she was genuine. Her manner was too natural. Either that or she was bloody Dame Judi Dench. And she hadn’t asked to have the thing reconnected. She trusted him, he felt, and that showed a certain maturity of thought. This wasn’t a limpid little girl. She’d made a decision and stuck by it.


Tiara emerged from the bathroom in a towel, glowing with the heat. She smelled of Camay.


“My turn,” he said, “See if you can find us something to eat.”


The girl stopped him for a kiss.


“Food,” he reiterated, “Please, Tiara.”


She half-smiled and let him go.


When he reappeared, she’d pulled on a big loose t-shirt emblazoned with Rothko and was boiling rice and mixing green pesto, dried onions, mushrooms, pine nuts and wine in a big pan. It smelled delicious. Bond kissed her neck.


“That smells divine.”


“Me or the food?”


“I’ll tell you after we’ve eaten.”


“Tell me in ten minutes then.”


They ate slowly and in silence.


“You’ll be safe here, Tiara,” he said eventually, “I need you to stay for a while.”


“On my own?” she gulped.


“Someone will be here, but not me,” he said, “I want to help you. But I can’t do it from here.”


“What sort of trouble am I in, James?”


“I’m not entirely sure,” he replied, “There was an incident a few weeks ago, in the Maldives. You may have read about it,” - she shook her head and he carried on - “A holiday resort got infected with a disease. The whole island was wiped out. The scientists identified it as an exceptionally virulent strain of psoriasis. It’s exactly the sort of thing your father was working on before he retired.”


“He was forced to retire, James.” 


“I know, Tiara, but there were reasons for that. Your father’s research was powerful, incendiary work. It was also illegal. It went against all the U.N. treaties Britain signed regarding biological and chemical weapons. His serums were lethal. In the wrong hands they would be more than dangerous. Our government, and the United States’ government, couldn’t take the risk. They didn’t want the responsibility of millions of deaths on their hands. An accident is all it would take and that would be bad enough, but in the hands of terrorists an outbreak could be devastating. And God knows there are enough terror attacks to justify the concern.”


“But this doesn’t concern me,” she said, the tears rising, “Father’s dead. So’s his research. It was all destroyed. It was his life and when that all went, it virtually killed him.”


“I know it’s upsetting, Tiara,” Bond touched her hand, “I can’t change the past. It’s happened. But I can protect the future.”


“What do you mean?”


“Those men today may have been after me or they may have been after you,” he explained, “Our scientists analyzed the samples from the Maldives. It’s a perfect match to your father’s virus. We know you and your sister have a talent, a god given gift to remember things, everything. Did the Professor ever tell you anything about his work? Did he ever recite formulae? Did he teach you anything about his research?”


“When?” answered the girl, “When was he supposed to do that? When I was at school, at university? Why would he do that?”


“To maintain his legacy.”


“Oh, Jesus, James, you’re starting to sound as mad as he was.”


“So you think he was mad?”


“At the end, yes,” she snapped, “He killed himself didn’t he?” 


Bond didn’t say anything. He watched as the tears finally flowed. Part of him wanted to pick the girl up and hold her, tell her it was all a dreadful fantasy, but another part of him was severely worried for her. There was something. She was hiding it, deep inside her mind, or her soul.


“I’m not here to argue, Tiara,” he said quietly, “I’d like to help, if I could.”


“How can you help, James?” she sobbed, “You know I’m cursed, don’t you? Have you any idea how it feels to remember everything? Every place I’ve been, every detail, every date, every word I’ve read. The whole of my existence is locked inside my head. I can tell you what I was doing on the 8th June every year of my life, in microscopic detail. I can recite poetry I read when I was fifteen, facts I learnt as a kid, nursery rhymes most adults forget, the names of everyone I meet, their addresses, phone numbers, their face, their bodies. I remember incidentals, like credits on a movie, facts and figures, the distances printed on a road sign, the prices I pay for every stitch of clothing I wear, the whole right hand side of the menu at Gaston’s, the taste of your sweat as it trickled down your cheek. I remember - everything, James, everything.”


He squeezed her wrist, “I didn’t realize.”


“Why do you think I spend my life at parties and being frivolous? Why do you think I drink and dance and try to lose control? Why do you think I enjoy sex so much? Because I don’t have to think when I do all those things, James! If I think, I remember it all and sometimes I don’t want to remember, not any of it.”


The girl’s head sunk onto her arm and she started to shake.


Bond paused for a moment and let her cry.


“Do you remember any formulae?” he asked, very slowly.


“No, yes, I don’t know.”


So it was true, somewhere among all that history, somewhere inside this beautiful girl was a terrible secret. Had she kept it? Had her sister?


“Has anyone else asked you about it?”


“No, I don’t think so.”


“Does Tulisa know about this?”


“I expect so. I mean, she knows the formula, her half of it.”


“Her half?” he repeated.


The girl nodded.


“Are you certain you only know half the formula?”


“I can write it down for you. You’ll see it doesn’t make sense.”


“No, don’t do that, I don’t want to see it,” Bond stood up, “I need to speak to London. I must find your sister.”


“But I told you where she is.”


“Shangri-La,” Bond was switching on his laptop, “You said. Have you ever been there?”


“Yes, twice. They promised to help me forget.”


Bond’s finger hovered over the keypad.


“Really?” he asked, “When was this?”


“The first time about six months ago,” the girl wiped away her tears, “It was very new then. I enjoyed it. Like I said, you do feel ever so refreshed. For a while I was almost a different person, but it didn’t last. You can’t change a person’s nature.”


“No, you can’t,” he said thoughtfully, “And the second time?”


“Tulisa asked me to go,” answered the girl, her brow furrowing in concentration, “I think. You know it was very strange. She definitely asked me to go, but I don’t remember when. We don’t talk much. I don’t even remember why she started work there.”


“Was that when she gave you the phone?”


“I guess,” the girl shrugged, “Do you think that’s important?”


“Possibly,” Bond mused, “Who runs this place?”


“Doctor Theodosius Nimon. He’s quite the wizard.”


“And yet he couldn’t help you.”


“Not permanently.”


“What did his treatment involve?”  


“All kinds of things: herbal medicines, meditation, mesmerism.”




“Yes, I guess, some drugs too; look.”


She raised her left arm and showed the slim scar, no more than an inch long. Beneath it Bond could almost detect the tiny tube inserted under the skin. He’d noticed it when they made love and assumed it was a contraceptive for the hormonal implant progestogen.


“They help you, you know, to relax, to help you forget.”


“Or to remember.”


“Don’t be silly,” the girl looked at him as if he was talking nonsense, “Doctor Nimon’s wonderful. He really tried to help me, much more than anyone else, until I met you.”


“Now you’re being silly.”


She took his hand and kissed the fingers one by one.


“No, I’m not.”


An hour later, Tiara swung her legs out of bed. She walked to the table, picked up her cigarettes and lit one. Still naked, she sat smoking in the comfy armchair and crossed her legs, one arm under her breasts admiring Bond’s hard, muscular body. The fresh memory, ingrained in her mind, was like an electric pulse, exciting her, thrilling her, a temptation she wanted to repeat, quickly, ravenously. She was hungry for him. 


“That was beautiful, darling,” she whispered, and then more thoughtfully she asked: “Do you really think my sister’s in trouble? I mean the same trouble I am?”


The sudden change of subject alerted Bond and he propped himself up on an elbow to look at her.


“Yes, I think so. Will you help?”


“Of course I will,” she replied, simply, “Just don’t go running off with her. She’s a dreadful slut.”




#10 chrisno1



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Posted 17 September 2013 - 04:14 PM

Chapter Ten:



They made love again in the morning, immediately after breakfast. Tiara insisted on it. Bond didn’t object, although his mind was elsewhere now, mapping out the task ahead.


He’d managed a brief conversation with Bill Tanner the night before. The Chief of Staff was still organising. Bond gave him the details of the assassins, as best he could. Neither of them thought it would come to much. He asked for information regarding Shangri-La and the enigmatic Doctor Nimon.


There was a proper debrief at eleven, using the phone from the safe house, an old ten digit dial affair that crackled when he spoke. The process seemed extremely slow, but would be harder to monitor.


M was on the line. Bond related in detail what Tiara had told him. Occasionally M asked for clarification, but he never asked for personal details. That was Bond’s affair and would be in his final report. The man sounded far away, as if he wasn’t paying attention, but Bond knew better. He was probably drinking out of that ‘Best Dad’ mug and flipping the papers of unrelated documents. The man’s mind never seemed to stop. He must eat and sleep the service.


“So, does Miss Charteris think she may have imparted any of her father’s formula?”


“She says not,” answered Bond, “I’m inclined to believe her. She does have an exceptional memory, Sir; she remembers everything.”


“Everything?” queried Tanner mischievously.




“Lucky you.”


“Lucky her.”


“That’s enough, Bond,” M griped, “This isn’t time for barrack room behaviour. And Staff, don’t encourage him. Now, what’s this Shangri-La business?”


“It’s a health spa,” answered Tanner, “At least that’s what the literature says. We dug some out from the net. It’s very expensive. Here: Shangri-La, an exclusive retreat and medicinal treatment centre, for the mind and body, for relaxation and recuperation.”


“Sounds bloody appalling,” said Bond, “Where exactly is it?”


“An old monastery in Metéora,” replied Tanner, “Accessible by private helicopter only.”


“I thought the monasteries didn’t allow interlopers?”


“The good doctor must have good contacts.”


“Or deep pockets.”


“Let’s cut the cynicism, OO7,” said M, “All right, so we think the girl’s at this spa thingy. Could it be a front?”


“I wish I could be certain, Sir,” Bond began, “The girl, Tiara, specifically mentioned mesmerism. They also use drugs, apparently for relaxation purposes, but we all know there’s more than one use for many drugs.”


“Indeed. What do you suggest?”


“I’d like to go there,” answered Bond immediately, “Abide by their rules and regulations, see what this Doctor Nimon is all about. Hopefully, I’ll find Tulisa Charteris. Perhaps with both sisters we can discover how this formula was created.”


“Excuse me, Sir,” ventured Tanner, “I assume it isn’t possible someone else has stumbled on this formula?”


“God forbid,” M sounded shocked by the thought.


Bond twitched. The thought had crossed his mind also. There were many regimes in the world whose scientists were searching for the ultimate weapon. No government talked of it. Services like his tried to prevent it. OO9 was in Kazakhstan right now trying to prevent exactly that.


“We’ll arrange everything, OO7,” continued M, “Get on a flight to Athens. I’ll have Dominic Zorba bring you the details.”


Bond signed off. It was time to talk with Tiara again. He got up from the kitchen table and found the girl in the sitting room, reading a French translation of Tolstoy, her feet tucked under her. She looked up expectantly when he entered.


“Right, that’s sorted, Tiara, they’re sending someone to stay with you. I’m afraid it’ll be a woman.”


She giggled, “Pity. How long before she gets here?”


“About two hours.”


“Good. That’s plenty of time then.”


“What for?”


She was already stripping off her summer dress, “Well, if I’m to spend all my time alone with a woman, I’ll need something to remember you by, won’t I?”


Bond took one glance at the clock and a second, longer look, at the naked shining body. He threw off his shirt and started to unbuckled his trousers as he followed her delicious backside into the bedroom.



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



The Air France 22.45 was one minute late. It had been a grim journey from Marseilles via a three hour stop-over in Paris Charles de Gaulle. Bond had left Tiara to the withering glances of Antonia Pilar de Vargas, forced all the way from Catalonia for the privilege, and a woman who clearly did not approve.


Athens remained as he always remembered, swelteringly hot and choked with exhaust fumes, even at night. Dominic Zorba met him at the airport. He was a big, garrulous man, much like his literary namesake. He dressed in badly matched clothes, yet they suited him. The tie was missing. Sixty year old grey hair peeked over the top of his shirt buttons. Zorba looked less like a spy and more like a taxi driver. Bond preferred him to the previous Head of Station G, Mark Gerrard, a pensive self-serving pen pusher.


“Welcome to Athens, James,” he said with a big handshake and a broad smile. He didn’t bother with the day’s recognition code. Bond liked that. Not because it broke rules, but because it seemed wholly superfluous in the modern day.


“Dominic,” Bond removed his hand which felt as if it had been crushed.


Zorba led him through the quiet foyer, the cleaners already wiping at the last of yesterday’s mess.


“Are you up to speed?” Bond asked.


“I move fast,” Zorba replied, “Even in this.”


An inelegant mahogany coloured Honda Accord was parked in the taxi bay, a placard in its window. Zorba took Bond’s luggage and threw it in the trunk. He removed the placard and threw that on the rear seat.


“I used to be a taxi driver,” he explained, as he pulled into the hazy streets, “Once. And I was also a fisherman, a butcher, a soldier, a street fighter, a lover, a gambler and a politician.”


“Really?” Bond chuckled.


“The mayor of a small village,” Zorba was deadly serious, “Until they chased me away for seducing all the pretty maidens. I am, sadly, not a father or grandfather, but I am married to a carrion harlot and to my beloved country.”


“And to your employer I hope.”


Zorba cast a sly glance at Bond’s impassive face. His mouth split into the big grin, all the blackened teeth showing beneath the bristling black moustache.


“You need not fear that, James,” he said, “Universal Exports has my loyalty, as long as it serves my country and does not work against it.”


“I share similar sentiments.”


“Then we will get on well together, James.”


Bond nodded. He’d measured the man quickly and he’d have expected nothing less. Outside the night world of Athens was sucking them in. The city streets were still cloaked with cars. The journey, fast on the outskirts, crawled to walking pace in the centre. Even at night, when people drank and danced and slept, cars still roamed, the preferred mode of transport for young and old, drunk and sober. Late night bars offered colourful entertainment. Kebab stalls, chestnut sellers and corn on the cob grills mingled with pedestrians, selling nothing, the scent of fresh meat, the sound of sizzling sauces, their only trade. Palms lined the pavements, interfering with the night, the shadows a mixture of black and grey, flickering as people walked, arm in arm. Street lamps played wide orange circles, the darkness hazy, the light an umbrella, prostitutes, addicts and their pimps hung to the corners, avoiding the shade. Tables, all chequered cloth and candles, spilled onto dim plazas, half empty, half full, waiters bored, stood like the pimps, waiting and watching to suck someone in.  


Zorba took him straight to the Hotel Grande Bretagne, that old fashioned monolith to empire’s past. Bond was reserved a pleasant, but not too expensive suite. He dumped his bag, washed and prepared to meet the night.


They met for drinks in Alexander’s, still open and still serving excellent cocktails.


“Vodka martini,” ordered Bond, “Shaken.”


“A vodkatini?” responded the barman, “Shaken?”




The barman looked put out and Bond realised he may have sounded churlish. He dropped a ten Euro note on the plate and turned to face his companion.


“What was that all about?” Zorba was grinning, “It’s easier to drink the ouzo.”


“I happen to like a vodka martini, Dominic. It has history.”


“Go on.”


“The original cocktail was created in 1911 at New York’s Knickerbocker Hotel. The bartender Martini d’Arma di Taggia invented it, hence the name, and he didn’t use Italian vermouth - he used Noilly Prat, the French version. He stirred dry vermouth with ice, then strained it so only the ice was coated with the liquor, poured in two shots of Plymouth gin and voila - a dry martini with orange peel, probably, or an olive.”


“But you drink a vodkatini.”


“There’re all sorts of versions: a sweet martini, a wet martini, a Dickens, a Gibson, a Franklin. Churchill dispensed with the vermouth altogether and simply waved the glass over the bottle. When you shake it, it becomes a Bradford. It tastes different because the ice melts and dilutes quicker. I prefer it with vodka because I can’t stand the tang of juniper. You have to use frozen Absolute vodka, it holds its flavour best with the ice. An olive helps; so does a little cardamom.”  


“Whatever it does, it makes you look old fashioned, James, and a bit extravagant,” Zorba laughed, “No one is living to excess in Greece any longer.”


“So I understand,” Bond took his drink, removed the olive and sipped it. It was remarkably good and he complimented the barman.


“In which case, why did you put me up here?” he gestured to the opulent wood-panelled, chandelier-hung lounge, its curtains neatly pulled so the poor citizens could gawp from outside. The Grande Bretagne had a seedy grandeur that endless refurbishments couldn’t erase, steeped in the knowledge it was once the hotel of the Orient Express, once the stopping point of Kings and Presidents, once of importance. The stained glass, green marble and tapestries of the foyer seemed to cry out its own ego.


“You have to stay here,” replied Zorba, “Any guest of Shangri-La gets a room at the Grande Bretagne.”


“You are working fast.”


“So are they,” Zorba sipped his ouzo. It clung to his thick moustache and he wiped the debris away with a fat finger, “When I made an enquiry seeking a reservation for ‘Mister James Stock, Financial Times’ they almost bit my head. Is that how you say it?”


“As good as,” Bond said, “Do you smoke?”


“I do.”


“It’s stuffy in here. Let’s go outside.”


They took a table in the small patio garden surrounded by palms. Another waiter set down place mats and a small bowl of pistachio nuts.


Bond lit a Morlands and Zorba indulged in a big Turkish cigar which matched his expansive gut.


“I wonder why,” Bond said.


“Yes, it is more than a puzzle, James. Are you thinking what I am thinking?”


“Who knows my alias?”


“The girl.”


“No; I never told her. I was thinking of Anatole Tarek.”


“The fashion designer?” queried Zorba, “I think he owes your country too much.”


“Maybe she spoke to Anatole.”


“Countless people at S.I.S. know it too.”


“Well, there’s a leak,” declared Bond, “There has to be.”


“Should we speak to London?”


Bond never wanted to involve London. They did things by the book. He tended to be more unorthodox. M didn’t like it, but it got him results and even the world’s best dad couldn’t argue with results.


“Not yet, but we ought to keep it in mind. It might explain why I’ve been marked.”


“But not what it’s got to do with Shangri-La.”


Thoughtfully, Bond savoured the last taste of his cigarette, “What do we know about this place, Dominic, I mean apart from the advertising and all the healthy crap? What do we know about the people behind it?”


“Very little,” started Zorba, “As I understand it, this man turns up, almost out of nowhere and declares he’s a pre-eminent doctor of psychological medicine. Doctor Theodosius Nimon has all the credentials, degrees from Universities in Switzerland and the Netherlands, references from Milan, Turin, Geneva, and money, the man has money, millions of it, they say, and it’s probably true. He needs a licence to practice. It gets granted in days. He needs a secluded, private establishment to perfect his treatments. He negotiates with the Prior of Megálo Metéoro to take over one of the ruined monasteries, St Nicolas, and within three months he’s constructed a beautiful health clinic on top of a sandstone tower, accessed only by helicopter, peaceful, quiet, isolated, exclusive and a mystery.”


“Is Doctor Nimon a mystery?”


“I have a file on him,” Zorba fished in his pocket and brought out a memory stick. He handed it to Bond, “There isn’t much. Seventy four years of age. An Italian by birth; raised in Switzerland during the war. He has dual nationality. He never practised medicine.”




“Not unless he used a non-de-plume.”


“What did he do then, for fifty years?”


“Perhaps, if he had all that money, he didn’t have to do anything,”


“An example of the idle rich,” Bond stubbed out his cigarette, “What kind of people go to this retreat?”


“You’d think it would be the rich and famous, given how exclusive it is,” said Zorba, “But it isn’t. He only picks out specific cases, with specific needs.”


“Like eidetic memories,” mused Bond, “And nymphomania.”


“Or dipsomania.”


Bond gave Zorba a long glance and emptied his martini glass, “And you said that, Dominic, because?”


“Because, my dear James, that is what you will be seeking help for.”


“Well, thank you very much,” Bond beckoned to the waiter, “In that case I’d better look the part.”


After the third drink, Bond said he was hungry. Airplane food always made him hungry an hour or so after consumption.


“It’s all the salt and preservatives,” Zorba said, “Come on, James, I know a place where we can eat good food all night, a cheap fashionable place. You’ll like it.”


It was a couple of miles away from the hotel on Ippokratous, an establishment called Socrates. It didn’t look promising to Bond, but Zorba insisted. The sound of guitars, drums and bouzoukis echoed as they stepped up to the door. There was a queue, but Zorba grinned at the doorman and they were ushered straight through.


“More special privileges?”


“My brother owns the place, a slice of it,” explained Zorba, “A disability pension from the Armed Forces. You’d never get it now. He doesn’t need it anyway, not anymore.”


Bond entered a dark arena, a rectangle of sweaty joy. The sound of high powered music, traditional but with a solid, modern crunch to it filled the café. The place was packed. The condensation dripped down the walls. Women moved rhythmically between the tables, men drank hard, swivelled their own hips, reached out to the flesh that taunted them, got slapped, the singers sang and the musicians played. The place smelt of sweat and drink and the anticipation of sex. It was heady, hedonistic, Athenian pleasure.


“Rembetika, the Greek blues,” Zorba shouted over the noise, heading for the counter at the back of the café, “Come, over here. This is my brother.”


Markos was bigger even than Zorba, minus the belly. He gave an even bigger laugh when Bond was introduced. His encircling bear hug almost broke Bond’s ribs. He forced a smile and accepted the free raki that was thrust into his hand.






All three downed the fiery poison and slapped the empty glasses dramatically on the counter top. Zorba talked quickly to his brother and the big bear that was Markos ushered them to a corner booth where he shooed a clutch of youngsters away and sat his companions down. He beckoned for drinks and three bottles of Mythos beer arrived along with more shots.


Bond swigged at the beer.


Socrates was all faded whitewash, a bar at one end, a small stage at the other. The bar was staffed by almost as many people as played on the stage. The joint was humming and the band seemed to be reaching a crescendo, the portraits of the rich and famous vibrating on tobacco stained walls. The lights were hardly on. The place had an almost satanic glow to it, candles, low shaded bulbs, men in dark suits, black and white sepia pictures threatening to fall. The band climaxed in a wail of high energy strings. The applause was as loud as the music. 


They’d arrived at an intermission.


“Don’t worry, James, they’ll play all night given the chance,” said Zorba, “Let’s eat. What will you have?”


“Is there a menu?”


Markos snorted and waved a hand.


Zorba laughed.


“What’s so funny?”


“He’ll get us souvlaki,” said Zorba, “You’ll like it.”


“Do I have to trust you again?”


Now Zorba laughed, “Trust?” he picked up the raki and raised it towards Bond, “I won’t let you down, James.”


“I’ll hold you to that.”


“Good, good,” Zorba smiled warmly. His brother made his way back to the bar with the order, “We won’t have to pay either. A family takes care of its own.”


“Like twins,” mused Bond.


“What’s that?”


“I was just thinking of the girl, Tiara Charteris,” Bond explained, “She’d like it here. It would help her to forget about life. But I don’t know about her sister.”


“Can’t you relax for a moment, James?” Zorba said, clearly annoyed, “There’s nothing to do now. Enjoy the music, enjoy the food, enjoy the drink, throw a few flowers, eh?” 


Markos didn’t take long over the food. When it arrived, it came with more beer. It was the first time Bond noticed he walked with a profound limp.


“Shrapnel from the Balkans,” Zorba explained, “He was there with the U.N. Peacekeeping Force, a disastrous affair for everyone. It was as bloody and hellish as war can get. The world has almost forgotten it now. Strange, isn’t it, how the memory plays tricks?”


That was Tiara’s problem too, considered Bond, between mouthfuls of Mythos. He lit a Morlands and passed one to Zorba, the cigarette absorbed by the big fingers. The band had started playing again.


“Ahh,” said Zorba wistfully, “Now this is a memory: Frankosyriani, a beautiful song, it means Catholic Girl of Syros.


“I thought Greeks were Orthodox Christians?”


“We are, we are, but rembetika isn’t interested in religious boundaries. It was brought to Greece in the early 1920s when the refugees came from the Turkish Empire, bringing their folk tales and songs. These people had never lived in the real Greece. They had nowhere to live, nothing of their own except history. So they sang of it in the hashish bars, the tekedes and hovels of Piraeus.”


“Wasn’t it banned?”


“It was. Rembetika was adopted by the Manges, a dangerous rebellious subculture, whose leaders were censored and imprisoned. The tekedes were closed. Public singing and recording of rembetika was outlawed. It went underground. The meaty themes of death, gambling and knife fights disappeared, instead people sang of erotic love and home. The junta reinforced the bans. But you can’t kill life can you, James? And to many of us, that is what rembetika represents, our life in song.”


“Your family’s from Turkey?”


“We were thrown out by Atatürk, like millions of others,” Zorba said ruefully, “Both my grandfather and father never recovered from the displacement. It was easier for my brothers and sisters and I. Now, with this recession biting the hand that feeds, we feel displaced all over again.”


Bond clasped a hand on the big forearm.


“Not here, Zorba,” he said, “You’re at home here.”


The broad face split into a grin. Zorba laughed and slapped him on the shoulder and raised his bottle for another toast


“You are right, James, you are wise for an Englishman. We must drink to your wisdom.”


They took a swig and Zorba called for more raki. 


The night went fast. The music was hot, exciting, mournful and joyous at once. Bond watched the fingers of the saz players strum ever faster and harder over the tzouras strings. He felt the vibration of the drums, heard the melodic rising calls of the singers. He could have been with Zorba, back in Smyrna, before it was ransacked and pillaged, when the olive trees flowed rich with grapes and the sun beat down on the golden hills and the world was a better place.


Six more bottles later, pleasantly happy, the two of them were settled in the rear of a taxi heading back to the hotel. Annoyingly Zorba appeared unaffected by the drink. It was close to dawn.


“No one lives to excess any longer!” chided Bond, “You talk bollocks, Zorba!”


“You show great wisdom again, my friend,” boomed the Greek.


Once more they watched the Athenian world slide past the windows, sucking them into its beating blackened heart, twilight beckoning day, and the beer and wine and smoky air suddenly felt miles away, as far away as Smyrna.


“How long before they pick me up?” Bond asked.


“The reservation is for six days.”


“I hope I don’t have to wait too long. My liver won’t take it.”





#11 chrisno1



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Posted 22 September 2013 - 11:12 AM

Chapter Eleven:

A Chorus of Slaves


Bond had three hours sleep and woke refreshed for breakfast. He was used to working off little sleep, allowing adrenaline to fuel him. He read the file eating toast and yoghurt from room service.


It was as barren as Zorba had suggested. Theodosius Nimon was from rich stock. Among the five pages of background, dates and educational history, Bond picked out that the man’s family was from southern Italy, Puglia, to be exact, an old estate near Lecce. He thought back to the Gulfstream affair, that Sabatini had been Mafioso. It made sense that the head of an organization bent on world domination, or destruction, would entrust the ultimate phase of the conspiracy to one of his own. The blood of brothers was an unbreakable bond.


Nimon was a man who kept his reputation scrupulously clean. He never married. It wasn’t clear he’d even shared a mistress or an affair. His income, partly inherited, came from real estate, an olive oil business and banking investments, betting mostly against currencies, selling before prices and exchange rates fell. He was a canny financial operative, but that didn’t explain his sudden need to set up home in the Greek hills and start working for other people’s gain. The man had shown no philanthropic indications. It was true however that he possessed certificates of qualification, mostly from the sixties and seventies.


Bond clicked to the photographs. Like many truly rich people, his likeness was hard to find. It wouldn’t be mapped on Google. There was a still from his school days - hardly helpful, Bond thought - and another from a function during his university years. The last two were the most useful, both recent scans taken from Athens’ airport security.


Nimon had a slender figure, upright, almost military. He didn’t stoop. Other than the grey hair and the clipped van Dyke beard, there were no noticeable afflictions of age. If Bond had to put a number on him, he’d have estimated closer to fifty that seventy. He dressed immaculate and walked with a cane, the handle a bull’s head, the seal of his family estate.


Bond read the dossier a second time, ensuring he was clear on the facts. He made coffee, closed down the file and the lap top and lay on the bed, recuperating for an hour. He was already restless. Inactivity didn’t suit him when he was on a mission. This was no longer a surveillance operation. It didn’t require patience, but Bond knew he had to maintain caution. There were still too many questions unanswered, too many variables. He felt how a scientist must when confronted with a thesis. What did you believe, what did you have to prove, what was already a truth?


The ring tone on his mobile wrested him. It was Zorba.


“Come to lunch,” he said cheerfully, “I have some news for you.”  


They met at Station H.Q., three big rooms on the third floor of a rather plush office block near Lykavittos Hill. Zorba was making Mountain tea. The flavor was sweetly pungent and it cleared Bond’s foggy mind of the questions. He returned the memory stick.


“Where did you get those photos from?”


“I have a friend, as we say, a friend who allows me favours,” Zorba appeared slightly embarrassed, “Occasionally I have to return them. It doesn’t hurt. But don’t tell my wife.”


Bond raised an eyebrow, chose to let sleeping dogs lie, and asked what was so exciting about today’s news.


“My friend at the airport is very thorough,” continued Zorba, “She keeps one eye out for all the strangers. Here, look.”


Zorba unlocked his PC. Three photos sat on the screen. He enlarged then one by one. Bond didn’t recognize the first pair, but they shared the same shining shaved heads and thick set shoulders. It was only the final face he knew, conspicuous by the eye bandage he wore.


“Tic, Tac, Toe,” he muttered.


“What did you call them?”


“It’s just a nickname. When did they arrive?”


“Midday from Zürich.”


“So they’re still following me. Who are they?”


“Greeks, believe it or not, at least the one-eyed bandit is. He’s on our records as a member of the S.P.F., the Cells of Fire, arsonists, self-styled anarcho-individuals. The government recently declared them a terror organization. Not anyone you’d want to mess with.”


“But why are they following me?”


“Perhaps they couldn’t find the girl?”


“Perhaps they were never interested in her.  That’s been my feeling all along. Do you think they know I’m registered at Shangri-La?”


“It doesn’t matter,” said Zorba, “Either they’ll try to ensure you get there or try to ensure you don’t.”


“My thought exactly.”


Bond lit a cigarette. That sweet tea was excellent to mull over problems. He stood at the window and stared out at the Acropolis. Ancient and modern rarely seemed as entwined as they did in Athens. And here it was again, a bait, a stalking horse, a Trojan horse.


“We need to prise them out, Dominic,” he declared, “Force their hand and see what they’re about.”


“What do you suggest, James?”


“We’ll be a bit extravagant tonight; let’s go to the Regency. Make it look as if I’m relaxed, unconcerned.”


“And then?”


“And then we’ll see where the night takes us.”


They took lunch in a local estiatórion, a long meze, and Bond, as was required sank a whole bottle of cheap white and a tumbler of ouzo. Zorba still seemed amused by the set up. Bond was still concerned about his liver.



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



He was in the bar of the Grande Bretagne drinking martinis by six. He made no attempt to disguise who he was, sitting close to the entrance and straight on to the windows so anyone passing could see his face. Zorba came at seven-thirty and took one drink.


“Our friends are already on the move,” he declared cheerfully, “My people made some enquiries. They’re staying at the Phaedra. We’ve had them discreetly under watch.”


“And now?” asked Bond, finishing his third cigarette.


“And now they are here,” Zorba grinned, “Waiting outside. It’s as if they want you to see them. Come, James, let’s meet them.”


He took Bond by the elbow and they went out to Zorba’s Honda, the big man talking all the time. “Look for the Toyota Auris,” he said in-between the niceties. Bond noted the dark blue car with its dark grey shapes inside.


He watched it idly as they sat in the Honda. Zorba pulled away and the Toyota followed them from the drive half a minute later. They tailed well, but not so well they couldn’t be seen. It had to be deliberate. Zorba agreed, drove at a steady pace, and didn’t bother to lose them.


The Regency Casino was twenty miles or so outside central Athens, half way up a mountain, brooding like a modern Acropolis over the Párnitha National Park. Originally a hotel, the owners were granted a gaming license in 1971 and the casino had since become one of the icons of Greek wealth and waste. The rich and powerful had made it their home in the Junta years. Later the new high rollers of business, electronics, sport and media had passed days and nights inside its temple like walls. Recently the world had changed for Greece, but not for the Regency. It still echoed of those great formative years, light shimmering from its arc windows, the approach-way a stairway to heaven, a new Olympus for the devotees of capitalism to worship. Bond found it a brusque, oppressive place, the entrance a square mouth seeming to digest all those who enter, its edifice cold and remorseless. Inside it shared the timeless fashion of its Las Vegas counterparts, flashy, spangled, black, glitzy and drab.  


They went straight to1055, the casino’s restaurant, where they sat by a window and absorbed the nightscape of the Attica basin, all twinkling stars, the sky and the ground blending as one. They talked in low voices about life, freedom and love, ate ‘scháras’ with peppers and salad and drank a hefty Pegasus red. Bond was glad Zorba avoided that sickly Greek staple retsina.


Afterwards they went into the gaudy casino, all pink and buttercup, velvet green and blacks, horrid, but undeniably impressive. The sixty-six tables stretched away across the deep rustling auditorium. The twenty four hour pang of sweat and disappointment clung to the walls. The plush pile carpet spoke a thousand stories of loss and sadness. Slot machines jangled their tunes. Startled cries witnessed a winning roll of dice, a favourable turn of the card, a coup to warm the heart.


There were jaded black jack circles, stud poker rounds, one solitary punto blanco table and thirty eight roulette wheels, the game of choice in Athens. Bond noted they used American wheels with the double zero. This could prove an awkward night. They’d settled on roulette because it allowed for public interaction. Gamblers stood, hangers on gloated, he would be seen, whether he won or lost. Bond proceeded to gamble carefully. He couldn’t afford the losses and he wasn’t gambling for pleasure. This was all about laying the trap.


As he played he watched the bystanders, the people who circulated the wheel, placed a chip and deserted either joyful or crestfallen. Sometimes all of life seemed to live in a casino, the rich, the poor, the reckless, the diligent, the dumb and arrogant, the intelligentsia equally arrogant, the everyday rubbing shoulders with the unique; it evened you out, the casino, it didn’t respect your class or your money, it only wanted your soul.


Occasionally, he noted a soul out of place, someone unused to the chase of the tables. Mostly, he thought, they were tourists or prostitutes. Bond drank steadily. Alcohol rarely affected him if drunk over long periods. After the wine he switched to whisky, drinking double Ballentine’s over two ice cubes. If he won he downed it.


He didn’t notice them at first. She was well dressed, in a deep blue pant suit flashed with a lemon coloured scarf. Her olive skin made it hard to define her age. She wasn’t young, nor was she old, handsome described her well. She was there with the ubiquitous shaven headed bastard, bursting out of his suit. Not one of Bond’s acquaintances, but one who could equally have been named Tic, Tac or Toe.    


Zorba nudged his arm.


“You see?” he muttered.


Bond didn’t blink. They had moved almost to his side. The man had a firm hold of her upper arm and she seemed to be complaining. They hadn’t been in the place long. Bond was certain he’d not seen them when he last perused the gaming pit as he sank his sixth double. The man pulled her close, seemed to hiss in her ear, but it didn’t look like any word Bond knew. It was more of an animal snarl. She was straining way from the man’s mouth.


The croupier hesitated as he called for bets. He was probably pressing the alarm under the table. The girl looked straight at Bond, her tan dark eyes a mix of fright and dread. Her mouth opened and the thick vowels came out.


“Please,” she spoke in English, “Please.”


Bond weighed the consequences in a second. It was obviously a trap. Instinct told him to ignore her. The pit boss could deal with it. On the other hand, this was the aim of tonight’s excursion. For better or worse, he needed to take action. Bond stepped over and placed a restraining hand on the big man’s arm.


“You’re hurting the lady.”


The big man turned, sneering, and released her, his hand automatically moving to strike. Bond saw the blow coming and merely stepped away. It was a poor shot. The man hadn’t practiced missing. By now security had swooped and the big man was engulfed in three pairs of hands. The girl, whoever she was made no attempt to accompany him as he was hauled away from the scene.


“Thank you,” she said, her eyes glistening.


She’d dropped her purse in the action. Bond picked it up and handed it to her.


“It’s no trouble, Miss, ah -”




“That’s a pretty name. I’m James.”


“Hello, James. You are English?”




“It is good to be English. You are very kind.”


“It’s no trouble. Perhaps I could buy you a drink, to compensate for the loss of your companion.”


“He is no loss,” she snorted, realized it was unrefined and flicked her hair to cover the mistake, “But, yes, it would be nice. One drink. Please, may I refresh?”


“Certainly,” Bond said, “I’ll wait for you in the bar.”


After she went, Bond slowly began to collect his chips.


“This looks like my opportunity,” he said to Zorba.


“Be careful.”


“Stick close.”



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



Iria straightened her hair and dabbed at her make-up, applying a touch more mascara, another line of shiny lipstick. She rubbed her arm. The brute had been too rough. She didn’t like them, these men who had invaded her home and persuaded her to work. She only worked on weekends. The money was better at weekends. Yet, still she had accompanied them, exactly as required.


She couldn’t explain why. There had been a strange voice, a clam authorative mantra, which echoed when she’d picked up the phone. She felt as if she knew the voice. They’d met, hadn’t they, weeks ago, months ago, when everything had been wonderful?


The voice had been very polite, but it had snared her. She’d listened intently, how she’d listen to her father and mother. She remembered the white room and everything was wonderful. And then the light, the orange light, had winked and she’d heard the sound of bees making honey and the light was everywhere and now, inexplicably, she was here.


Iria shook herself. What was she thinking? The money was snug in her purse. The Englishman was attractive. It could be a worse night’s pay and she wasn’t even expected to bed him. That seemed a terrible pity. Iria replaced the lipstick tube, shrugged and went back into the lounge.


James was waiting for her by the bar, another double whisky at his arm. She asked for a vodka and coke.


“You keep very dangerous company,” said James, “That man’s with the S.P.F.”


“What do you know of these things?”


“It’s my job to know.”


“Are you a police man?” she asked nervously. They hadn’t told her anything about him.


“No, I’m a journalist.”




She didn’t know what to say. She smiled and sipped her drink. There was something she had to say. It hurt when she tried to remember. The world didn’t look real. It glazed over, opaque, shiny. Her head, her blood, started to throb. The effect was like a migraine. Suddenly, from deep inside, she remembered and the pain lifted.  


“It is late. Do you want to go?”


“Go where?”


“I’m not sure,” she stammered. The pain was coming again.


“I’m tempted to say ‘your place or mine’ but -”


“No,” she remembered, “I know a place. You’ll like it. Come with me.”


She left her drink and seized James’ hand, almost as if she wanted the moment to go faster. He followed her outside. A taxi was standing so they didn’t have to wait. Had it meant to wait, she wondered. She reeled off the address.


The car made its way steadily down the twisting approach road and the glowing crystal that marked the casino vanished into the Greek pines. They sat in silence for a while as the taxi made its sedate journey through the national park and into the outskirts of the city. Iria squeezed herself next to the charming Englishman, her fingers intertwining with his.


“You will enjoy this, James.”


“I’m sure I shall,” he said, “I didn’t think the Acropolis opened at night.”


Iria was surprised he’d understood Greek. For a moment she pulled away. The thumping started again. It was best not to think on it. She knew her instructions.


“It doesn’t. But I know the security guard.”


James seemed happy with the answer. She made one quick call on her mobile phone. The number was in the log.


“There. It is done,” she said and snuggled into his arm, one hand caressing his shirt, playing with the buttons, “It is almost eleven o’clock. The moon is high tonight. It will be very beautiful. Think of it as a reward for saving me, James.”


“I can think of other things.”


Slowly his mouth came onto hers and she tasted his succulent tobacco breath. A little chill ran down her spine and she momentarily forgot where she was and what she doing. Her hands came up to his face, cupped his cheeks and returned the kiss. It was like fire, she thought, and curled a foot around one of his ankles. His fingers brushed her throat, traced the line of her jacket down to her beating left breast.


Twenty minutes later, the taxi pulled into the main car park on Dionysiou Areopagítou. It was jammed with cars and coaches. She stopped the embrace and led James through the jumble of vehicles towards the ticket office.


“What’s going on?” he asked.


“There is an opera at the theatre,” Iria said plainly, “Come.”


She thought he lingered too long by the office, where the security man sat bored in his chair. The gate was pulled open by another guard, who greeted her by name, even though she’d never seen him before.


The pathway was steep. The Englishman had been drinking a lot, but it didn’t appear to affect him. He held her at the waist and walked at her pace. She had to catch her breath once and he gently played with her hair and kissed her forehead as they waited. The strains of the orchestra echoed up to them, a dramatic chorus. Verdi’s Nabucco: the Hebrew Slaves.


They took the steps through the gate of the Propylaia, its two wings welcoming enthralled visitors today as they would have the devotees of past worlds. She hadn’t been here since school. She almost sighed as they walked along the aisle. When such wonderful sites are on your doorstep they become so every day, you forget how beautiful they are.  


The Acropolis was always a battered remnant of a long dead civilization. Almost destroyed, it stood one hundred and fifty metres above the city, and was crowned by three temples, the most celebrated of which is the Parthenon, the temple to Athena, patron goddess of Ancient Athens. By day, up close, it would be crooked and damaged, the poor restorations a blight on the original symmetry which even time and war and pollution could not erase. By night it could still be magical. From afar, it was a view for lovers, a beautiful golden beacon, the tall columns and sculptures seeming to represent more than dented antique marble. The soft hue of the spotlights made Iria feel she was walking through an ivory cloud, a golden treasure at its centre.  


She tried to remember why she was here. This man beside her. Something important. Something she had to do or say.


They kept walking, almost reaching the great entrance to the Parthenon, when she suddenly stopped and turned to look at the city which stretched away into a sea of colour and vanished dark on the horizon. The slaves had stopped singing. An aria was floating. She remembered the beautiful solo voice, the voice of a boy. She kissed him once more, hoping it would make the hurt stop. What was she supposed to do?


“It’s wonderful, Iria,” said James, “Everything’s wonderful.”


“Everything’s wonderful today,” she repeated instantly.


James tried to kiss her again, but she kept talking, repeating the phrase so it became a trancelike monotone. Suddenly the Englishman didn’t matter. There was something important she must do. She reached up and pulled the scarf free of her neck and watched it drop to the ground.


Bond pulled away. The girl had drifted into some sort of trance. There had been an odd affection to her manner the whole time, but somehow he’d triggered a memory for her and now Iria was gone, into another world, another part of her mind.  


As she untied the scarf, he felt the crawling fingers of terror step across his spine. Automatically, he reached for his Walther. They were too big a target. They were in the open, in the bright light. He started to move forward and down, shoving at the girl’s rump. The flashes and the shots came from two directions. Bond saw the girl jerk in mid-air.


He hit the ground and twisted, trying to stay low, reeled off a brace. The men in the security booth had alerted him. Their uniforms didn’t fit. It was a good set up. Broken entry. A kidnapped girl. Death. The sound of the orchestra to bury the noise of gunfire. The bullets: the chorus. The weapons: slaves. The men: killers.


Bond scrambled to the fallen girl. There was nothing he could do for Iria. There was a wet stain beside her and she wasn’t moving. Poor bitch.


The shots kept coming, one salvo from the edge of the Parthenon itself, inside the pillared hall, the other from across the hilltop, buried behind crumpled stone. He rolled over, finding refuge beside a spotlight. He twisted the beam down, scanning the bluff. Somewhere back at the Propylaia, Bond saw more shadows moving. They were flanking him. Where the hell was Zorba?


Bond loosed two shots off in the direction of the entrance. One of the silhouettes dropped. It was still his best hope of escape. More shots came from all angles. The ground erupted in tornados as the bullets struck home. The spotlight burst. Bond crawled into shadow. Now darkness was his only protector.


Squinting into the night, behind the buttery glow, he saw a big figure moving. It seemed to be one of the guards, but the man was too big. It ducked and another shadow, peaked cap resting off-kilter on its head, ran along the far side of the mount, towards the lesser temple porch. Bond shrank further into the night. On hands and knees he crept beside the wall, using the camber of the ground for defence. There was a second spotlight and he turned it, pointing the beam across the hilltop towards the second shooter. Caught in the beam, the man made a desperate sortie left.


Now Bond saw Zorba, rising from his crouch, as if from the earth itself. He knelt, took aim and fired. The figure crossing the escarpment buckled, emitting a yell. The cap flew off. Bond gave covering fire as the Greek pounded towards the far side of the shrine. The other men, the ones by the entrance, were moving through the scattered blocks, crouching, shooting from the hip. Bond turned the light, took aim and felled another. He’d revealed his position. The bullets seemed to arrive from everywhere. The second light disintegrated. Bond shrank further from the onslaught, changing position again, finding shelter behind a cluster of masonry and workmen’s materials, left over from some long abandoned project.


Zorba had the new men in sight. He fired across the level and the moving shadows ducked. There was a shout of alarm. Someone was injured. What had happened to the other shooter, the one in the temple? Bond scoured the Ionic architecture, half covered in protective scaffolding. He inched forward, out of his bunker and across the open plain. Someone fired from the mass of columns. Bond went into a forward roll, saw the chunky shadow and shot as he rose. The chamber clicked empty after two rounds. Goddamn!


Bond was in the temple now, the tall marble providing cover. Gun fire still echoed from the western side of the mountain. He peered around the rolled marble. The chunky figure was moving forward through the cella, the gun held out steady, professionally in both hands. Bond tossed out a stone. The old tricks work best.


The man shifted to the direction of the noise but didn’t fire. The spotlights caught him and Bond saw the patch over his injured eye. He sprinted, going for the man’s back. Toe heard him coming too late. Bond’s hand was on the gun wrist, his knees crashing into those tree-trunk thighs. They went sprawling, both men struggling for control of the revolver. A shot echoed, chipped the frieze. Another pock mark to add to thousands. Bond smashed the hand down hard, smacking it onto uneven stony ground. Toe gave a strangled cry and the fingers opened. Bond wrenched at the barrel. The fat fingers were stuck in the trigger guard. One hand still on the gun, Bond’s other went for the man’s face, ripped at the bandage. Even in semi-light the wound was cracked and bloody, a ghastly vivid purple sore. Bond’s palm thudded in to the hot crimson eye. A dreadful guttural squeal came out of the black hole of a mouth.


Still wailing, Toe dove upward. His forehead connected with Bond’s cheek, butting him sideways. Bond rolled away, instinctively kicked out, but saw the big assassin rise, the black snout tiny in his hand. Time was suddenly still for Bond. There was no movement. All the gunfire had stopped. The only sound was the strain of Verdi. The shot came.


Toe pitched forward as if hit by a sledgehammer.


Zorba came out of the columns, gun still sweeping the temple.


“James, are you all right?”


“My tailor won’t be happy,” Bond brushed himself down as he walked over to the dead man, “What took you so long?”


“I had some trouble down below,” Zorba tossed him a fresh clip, “Just in case we meet anyone else.”


Bond reloaded. He knelt next to the assassin and twisted the fat head. The wounded eye glared.


“It’s him all right,” he said grimly, and then dug his fingers into the open mouth, “Just as I thought. No tongue. The man’s mute.”


“What of it?”


“They say nothing, but they have many talents,” stated Bond, grimly wiping blood off his hands.


“Why do you say that?”


“It’s something a bad man told me once,” Bond remembered the threat from Sabatini, easily given, horribly accurate, “Come on, Dominic, you’d better get us out of here. This’ll take a lot of explaining if we’re caught.”


“It’ll take a lot of explaining anyway.”


They left the Acropolis at a run, past the dead bodies and down the steep pathway. As they ran the audience in the Herodes Atticus Theatre broke into spontaneous applause. Zorba’s car was in the car park, close to the exit. The big Greek drove steadily and silently through the night.


At Station H.Q., Bond used the washroom to smarten himself up, but his brushed off suit still looked as if he’d been dragged through the proverbial hedge. Zorba was already working on damage limitation. His team was conducting a clear up operation. It would take some time, explanations had to be found. Bond asked if he’d be contacting London.


“Are you joking?” Zorba replied, “We’ll leave the girl there and the man you called Toe. She had money in her purse. It’ll look like some strange sex-kink gone wrong.”


“There was something strange going on, Dominic,” said Bond, “Something about that girl.”


“Drugs?” he asked.


“Possibly,” Bond was thoughtful, “She had no conscious knowledge about what she was doing. I’m certain of it. I wish I could have asked her.”


An hour later, sometime close to two, Zorba dropped Bond at the Grande Bretagne and promised to be back the next morning - once he’d sorted out this nasty fracas. Gently stretching his tired muscles, Bond took the elevator. He slid his key pass into the lock and turned the handle.


Instantly he paused, didn’t move an inch, simply listened.


The light was on.


He tried to recall. No, he did recall. It had definitely been switched off. He remembered doing so before closing the door.


Bond pushed the door all the way open, the Walther P99 back in his hand. There was no one in the sitting room. The balcony doors were apart. The net curtains waved in the breeze and the groan of Athens’ twenty four hour traffic reached up and into the suite. Bond pulled the doors to and closed the drapes. He stepped across to the bedroom. The door was ajar and a delicate cool green glow was shining through the crack.


Bond nudged it with his foot and the door swung inward.


Reclining on the bed, her hair spread like a golden pillow, her body covered by nothing but a tiny red negligée was Tiara Charteris.


“Hello, James, I’ve been waiting.”






#12 chrisno1



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Posted 01 October 2013 - 12:24 AM

Chapter Twelve:




“Put the gun down, darling, and come to bed.”


Bond holstered the P99. He stood for a moment perched against the doorframe studying the figure which lay before him. The swirl of the eyebrows, the slightly crooked mouth with the lopsided smile, the smooth belly, the little blemish by the navel, the long lithe limbs, the gorgeous breasts, the areola, dark, hard and full under the straining silk, even the necklace.


The necklace.


Bond removed his jacket and tie, and walked towards the bed. He bent over, studying the face, the clear blue eyes, like pools of water, the pouting, teasing lips. It had to be, it had to be.


He lifted the gold and sapphire jewellery. No. It wasn’t there. The tracer was missing. Had she removed it or was this -  




“Oh, you guessed, how dull.”


God, she even spoke like Tiara, the same sing-song Chelsea girl twang.


“What are you doing here?” he asked, “I heard you were at the health clinic.”


“I am,” she replied, toying with the laces on the negligee, “They let me out especially to collect you.”


“Should I be pleased?”


“I hope you are.”


She winked at him and ran a hand along the sleeve of his shirt, pulling at the cuff.


Bond sat on the edge of the bed and took off the gun holster. He held it out for her to inspect, “You didn’t seem surprised I carried one of these.”


“It’s all right. I know all about you, James.”


For a moment he thought she had a glazed look to her eyes, the same as the Greek girl had the second before she died, then it was gone and her pouting lips occupied his thoughts as they came up towards his. He detected mint on her breath. Her scent, he thought, was Essenza.


“I find that unlikely,” he avoided the kiss, “When did you last talk to your sister?”


“Weeks ago,” replied Tulisa, in a little sulk for being denied what she desired, exactly like her twin, “There’s no communication at Shangri-La, James, no telephones, no mobiles, no laptops. When you come with me you’ll have to leave it all behind.”


“As well as my gun?”


“You won’t need a gun at Shangri-La.”


“Will Doctor Nimon protect me?”


“You sound very suspicious, James. Don’t you want to be cured?”


“Do you?”


“Cured of what?”


“Exactly,” said Bond, “I know why your sister visited Shangri-La and I know you work there. But you didn’t at first. What did you need to be cured of?”


“Hasn’t dear Tiara told you?” the girl lay back, a wicked grin passing her lips, “We’re completely identical you know, in every way, not just physically, psychologically. We have exactly the same needs, James.”


“And you want them to be cured?”


“Under control at least,” giggled Tulisa.


“Is it working?” asked Bond removing his shirt and throwing it onto the floor.


“Most of the time,” the girl’s hands were playing with the laces again, pulling them so the two halves of sheer silk began to drift apart.


His gaze focussed on nothing but the girl’s face, searching for the differences, the little show, the reactions that would tell him this wasn’t Tiara, but Tulisa. It was impossible. There wasn’t a thing. She could have been her sister. Behaviour, mannerisms, laughter, the creases in her skin, it was as though one had transplanted the other. He thought back to those nights and days of furious love making in France. She couldn’t be, could she?


“And the rest of the time?” he said.


“I told you: they let me out specifically to see you.”


“Doctor Nimon thinks of everything.”


“Doesn’t he?”


Bond knew he shouldn’t, but the girl’s ice blue eyes were bewitching, casting a spell over him, exactly how he’d been warned, exactly how he’d already experienced.


He kissed the hot mouth and felt her return his attentions. The girl unfurled her arms, reaching up for his neck and pulling him down to her sumptuous breasts, the nipples large brown teats hard under his touch. She let out a gasp. She was exceedingly sensitive. The girl’s back arched as Bond’s mouth replaced his hands, taking the erect points between his lips. The girl fiddled urgently with his trousers and unzipped them. He shook them down to his ankles. She peeled away the boxers, saw his excitement and cast aside the negligée. Just like her sister, she was shaved bare and shone with excitement. He took her immediately, fast and cruel. The girl held him tight, her legs clinging to him, her mouth panting, her arms and ankles clasped behind his back.


When he was finished she cleaned him with her mouth and Bond felt the fire in his body rekindled. They lay on the big cool ruffled sheets and explored each other, delicately, slowly, discovering all the hidden most passionate places. Towards the end sheer lust won them over and Bond besieged the wondrous firm body, turned her over and felt her sway, felt the belly ripple with delight. The face flushed. The lips split into a smile of unrestrained pleasure. She writhed on his muscles, accepted the invasion of her hidden sanctuary, forcing Bond deeper, deeper until with one long earthy animal cry, the girl convulsed in a powerful climax. Exhausted, they collapsed in a glorious sweaty heap of sensuality.


Christ, thought Bond, Anatole Tarek was right, they’re inseparable.



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



“Do all the clients at Shangri-La get this treatment?” he asked the following morning as they sat in the plush Limousine on the drive to Athens old airport, Hellinikon.


“Don’t be silly, James,” Tulisa replied diffidently.


She’d acted odd all morning. After the love, Bond had drifted into a distracted sleep. His immediate thought was to snatch the girl away and take her to Station HQ where a quick evacuation back to London could resolve his questions: what did she know and where had she been? There were excellent doctors available to the Service and they might have better luck solving the twins’ problems than any druggy hypnotist. There was also guilt, about fostering a relationship with Tulisa. A mistake maybe, but the passion had been real, the opportunity welcome and she looked, well, the exact match of Tiara.


It hardly felt like betrayal, Bond argued with himself, he didn’t have any attachment to Tiara, whatever her charms. M had sent him out as a honey trap and the wasp had taken the bait. She’d stung him too, but he’d get over it; so would she. That’s what he told his conscience. It was a distinctly unconvincing argument and his conscience kept talking back at him throughout a restless night.


Bond never suffered troubled sleep. He brushed the worry aside. Think about something else. The issue is what now do with Tulisa. If he took the girl away from Shangri-La they might discover what she knew, but it wouldn’t answer everything about this mysterious health centre and the even more mysterious Doctor Nimon. Those two institutions needed proper investigation. And Tulisa was about to lead him straight into the lion’s mouth. The girl’s warm body pressed against his back, her breath tickled his neck as she slept. He smiled, decision made, satisfied. The honey trap had just been caught in its own poison.


He found the experience equally frustrating. The girl was scatty, much like her sister, distracted by anything but the task in hand. She’d spent ages applying her makeup and pulling on the same mini dress she’d worn the night before, constantly chattering. He changed the subject.


“I thought they closed this airport when the new terminal opened.”


“They did. It was supposed to become a municipal park, but the project took so long Doctor Nimon had it reopened specifically for his patients,” explained the girl, “There’s a small fleet of helicopters and an exclusive lounge. It’s very swish.”


It certainly was. Most of the land was being left to seed, but the old control tower still stood and a strip of tarmac had been repaired. One small hanger had been erected, its sliding doors propped revealing three restive helicopters. A fourth was waiting patiently on the helipad.


The small terminal building was underneath the control tower. Bond’s luggage was taken by a smartly dressed baggage handler whose dark blue uniform bore the moniker ‘Shangri-La Therapeutic Treatment Centre’. He was asked to wait in the lounge, where he ordered a vodka and tonic. Tulisa dealt with his check in. She returned with an electronically printed form.


“Now then, James, time to work,” she said, “This is a health questionnaire. You need to fill it in before you can attend Shangri-La.”


“But they’ve already got my money,” objected Bond, “And they know what my problem is.” He raised his glass by way of admission.


“It’s not that sort of questionnaire,” she fussed, “Come on: name?”


“James Bond.”


“What happened to James Stock?”


“I thought you knew all about me?”


She merely pouted.


“It’s my pseudonym; there’s already too many James Bond’s in this world.”


“Oh, all right,” she wrote it down, “Age? Date of birth?”


Bond bristled.


“All right, Tulisa, give it here.”


“Look who’s touchy?” she teased.


“Hand it over before I give you a smack,” ordered Bond.


“Oh, yes, please, Sir,” the girl cooed and stuck out her little tongue.


Bond took the form and filled in the details, some for real, some he made up. It was a fairly standard procedure, probably for insurance purposes more than any clinical need. He signed with one of his fake signatures.


They waited only half an hour while the paperwork was processed by an efficient looking clerk. The man printed something from his computer and came over holding an envelope neatly addressed to ‘Mister J. Bond’.


“A welcome pack, Mister Bond,” he said, “Please read it on your flight.”


“If you have time,” continued the girl, “The view is very impressive.”


“I’m sure I’ll find time.”


The clerk nodded and indicated with an open hand to the exit doors.


Bond took the pack. The girl led him out to the helipad where the humid Greek midday greeted them. There was hardly a cloud to be seen. The tarmac had that sticky freshly laid feel to it. The helicopter was a Polish Swidnik, the SW4, one of the small ones for two passengers, boosted by a Rolls Royce Allison engine. Bond sat on the rear seat with the girl and fastened the lap and shoulder straps.


The pilot checked they were safely ensconced before turning the engine. It kicked in with a splutter and a whirr and, slowly at first, the rotor blades began to spin. The suction started and dust and grime on the tarmac was lifted into a whirling cloud around them until suddenly with a heave, the blades seemed to snatch at the air and the helicopter was propelled almost straight upwards. Bond’s stomach jolted. It always did with helicopters. His ears popped with the sudden acceleration to altitude.


Bond looked down at the rapidly vanishing airport. Stationary on the perimeter, he could make out a mahogany coloured Honda Accord. That morning, while Tulisa had showered, he’d made one quick phone call to Zorba. The big Greek had followed him, but now he could do no more than wait.


“Have you travelled by helicopter before?” asked the girl.


“Once or twice,” he replied, “For work.”


“It’s a long trip, but the scenery is fantastic. I hope you enjoy it.”


The girl took his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.


Within minutes the helicopter hit its cruising speed of 120mph. They were flying in a wide arc out across the Attica shoreline and north towards the apartment blocks, shopping malls and harbours of Piraeus. The pilot held a steady altitude of about 12000ft and swept the little craft through the calm atmosphere, the big thirty foot wingspan buzzing them effortlessly forward. The Monastery of Dafní, bound by conifers, passed below and then it was up the throat of Greece, towards Párnitha, its rugged mountain range cutting east to west over the land, home to birds of prey and men of prayer. This was the historical centre of the old world. Delphi, Corinth, Thermopylae, Thebes and the fir covered hills of Mount Parnassus lay one after the other, monuments to legends.


“Are you enjoying the ride, James?”


“Marvellous,” he replied, tentatively, “Gives one a sense of perspective.”


“You wait until you reach Shangri-La.”


The plains of Thessaly stretched out beneath them now, the fertile breadbasket which fed much of Greece. Villages and towns speckled the vast expanse of green, white and red blocks of humanity, tending to huge fields of corn and wheat, orchards of apples, peaches and olives and fields of livestock, still tended by lone shepherds. Occasionally a river broke the land, feeding lakes of rippling silver. To the west the mountains of Epirus rose, shallow at first, but, from altitude, they cracked the horizon for miles. Beyond Tríkala the barren sandstone peaks of the Pindos Hills flattened onto the valley floor like a massive beach head. Bond could see why the ancients thought Thessaly had once been covered by a beautiful inland sea. 


The pilot started to sink lower. They’d been in the air almost two hours but it had felt much less. They came around one of the low hills and then, almost as if from a fairy story, as if built by giants, Bond could see the massive stone pillars dotting the valley floor. Once they must have been mountains themselves, but earthquakes, water and wind erosion had shaped these strange natural towers over millions of years, washing away the surrounding land and leaving only slivers of vertical spectacular rock, the tallest of them almost two thousand feet high. Not all the pinnacles were inhabited. Some were too small at the summit for anything but a rocky shelf. How in the world, Bond wondered, did you ever construct such buildings in such awesome habitats? To the left, Bond could see one of the great brick monasteries hugging the contours of its peak, seeming to rise from the very stone itself. Metéora: suspended in the sky. Never so apt a name, considered Bond.


“Monks have lived here since the ninth century,” explained the girl, “See those caves about a third of the way up the rocks. That’s the sort of place they lived, you know, like hermits. No one knows when they stopped living in caves and started to live on the rocks, but Athanásios, a monk, built the first proper monastery by 1372. You can just see it there on Broad Rock.”


She pointed and Bond could make out the huge tower  to the north west, topped by red tiled houses jumbled together, at times appearing to almost topple over the edge of the rocks they clung to.


“That’s Megálo Metéoro,” continued the girl, “They say Athanásios built the church there because he was carried to it by an eagle,” she laughed, “You never know.”


“Where did you learn all this?”


“James,” Tulisa tapped her temple, “Eidetic memory, remember. Anyway, don’t get so excited, we’re not going anywhere so grand. There used to be twenty four monasteries, but now only six are inhabited and not by many monks. They mostly serve the tourist trade. Look, there,” she pointed, “That’s Rousanou, its really spectacular; it’s also full of nuns.”


“A good place to hide,” said Bond, “I’m surprised Doctor Nimon didn’t send you there.”


“That’s not funny, James.”


Perched precariously on the tip of a narrow spire, the little outpost truly did look isolated. Only the twentieth century bridges and walkways showed how times had changed for the hermits. The Swidnik dipped a little lower, passing the roundhead of Varlaám and heading for the ten small spires that pierced the sky west of Broad Rock and the Byzantine splendor of the Megálo Metéoro. These didn’t have the height, but they still had impact, standing like a phalanx of soldiers, the wind still cutting at their sides. Bond saw ruins on several of them, but on another he saw a modern structure, white walled and red tiled, but clearly based around the monastic cells and cloisters of an Orthodox retreat.


“There,” the girl pointed, even though she didn’t need to.


The place was three storeys high, with gently sloping roofs, solar paneled on one side. The largest rooms were on the top floor, their big bay windows looking out across the valley. It was planted to one side of the summit and seemed to be melded into the ground, bricks meshing with earth. The mountain top had four or five distinct levels. The highest point was the circular helipad, shaved from the bare rock itself. On the far side of the main structure were a series of smaller buildings linked by pathways through patio gardens spotted with trees and hedges. There was even a rock pool and fountain. A derelict ancient wall surrounded the open sides of the property, except the landing area which lay exposed. Unlike the renovated monasteries, there was no access route, not even a windlass lift, although the ruins of an ascent tower were visible at the end of the gardens. Despite being told no outside communication was allowed on Shangri-La, Bond heard the pilot make his recognition call. He could see satellite dishes on top of two buildings. So, the centre wasn’t isolated, only its patients.


The pilot manoeuvred the joystick and the Swidnik made its steep descent in seconds, slowing only through the last hundred feet, before touching down with a slight bump. They didn’t disembark until the rotors had reached a complete standstill.


Two men, dressed in blue outfits similar to the assistants at the airport, came forward and opened the rear door, pulling out the steps. It was baking on the summit, Bond expected that, but the wind surprised him. It was scorching warm and very strong. He took a moment to adjust himself and pulled his blazer tight around his open necked shirt. The girl seemed well acclimatised, hopping onto the rock in her heels as if it was a catwalk.


“It’s very windy,” he said matter-of-factly.


“It takes some getting used to. In the wintertime it’s freezing.”


She led Bond down a short flight of steps cut into the rock face and over to the main building, where a pair of double doors slid open automatically in greeting. Bond was hit with the cool wisp of air conditioning.  


The foyer was a functional brick lined room with one door marked ‘Patients, Please’ and another marked ‘Doctors, Thank You’. Bond wondered if that was an attempt at wit. The door marked ‘Doctors’ led to the gardens and the assorted smaller buildings away from the main complex. A female assistant sat behind a desk, tapping at her computer. Rather than revealing her name a silver plaque read ‘Please speak English’.


She looked up as they entered and smiled, reserving a special warmth for the new arrival.


“Hello, Sir; welcome to Shangri-La.”


“This is Mister Bond or Mister Stock,” explained Tulisa, “I’m not sure which. You’d better inform Peter.”


“Yes, Miss Charteris.”


As she made the call, one of the orderlies dropped Bond’s bag next to his feet and returned to help his colleague off load some provisions. No doubt flown in every day. Bond picked up the plaque.


“House rules?” he questioned.


The receptionist hardly blinked. Tulisa took the sign and replaced it.


“Don’t tease, James.”


They’d only waited a minute or so when a tall, wispy haired man appeared at the ‘Doctors’ entrance. At first the glare of the sun through the window hid his features, but as the door slid open, Bond almost cursed in sympathy. The man had clearly had extensive reconstructive surgery. Something terrible, years ago, had happened to this creature.


The skin on the face looked paper thin, white with a blotchy yellow tinge. It seemed to be stretched over the skull as if the muscles and sinews beneath the dermis had shrunk to nothing. The cheeks were concave, the chin almost flat, the lips two seared scales of flabby pink, the eyes were sunk deep in the recess of the face. The head seemed to be screwed onto the shoulders, folds in the neck twisting like a drill bit. Bond could see the veins spiraling around the throat, pumping the blood. The man was so skeletal Bond thought he resembled Caron, the fabled Greek pilot of the dead, the zombie who rowed the River Styx for a coin of gold. The only thing which stopped him resembling a breathing corpse was a thin gruel of sandy hair on the scalp. Otherwise the man was hairless. No eyebrows, no lashes, not even a trace of stubble. His expression was suitably unadorned. He stepped inside the foyer and extended his hand.


“Mister Bond?” he said it cautiously.


“Yes,” Bond took the hand. It was slithery. He didn’t like it.


“I am Mister Smith.”


The man beamed. His skin colour appeared to change, to deepen, just a tad, as if he was pleased and the pleasure excited him. He couldn’t smile. The lips wouldn’t form anything more than a grate, its bars yellow teeth.


“Welcome to Shangri-La, Mister Bond. I trust your trip here has been satisfactory?”


“More than satisfactory,” he replied, with a glance at Tulisa, “I really ought to thank Miss Charteris properly for offering me a ride.”


“The pleasure was all mine, James,” she answered, stifling a giggle, “I’m going to leave you with, Peter. I have an exercise course at three.”


“You need more exercise?”


“My mind, silly,” and with that she was gone through the ‘Doctors’ door, her behind waving gently side to side as she stepped through the cloistered garden.


Smith had stood like a statue through the exchange, his hands together and the bony fingers entwined at the waistband of his smock. Beneath the zip front white tunic, he wore black trousers and sensible shoes. He inclined his head.


“I need to ask that all communication devises be left at the reception area,” he said, “I take it you have a mobile?”


“No, I left it in the hotel safe, with my laptop,” replied Bond. He’d also left the Walther, but the Ronson, his key fob, shaving kit and the webbing belt still remained. It was the best he could do, under observation, “You can ask Miss Charteris; she was there.”


“There is no need,” Smith turned to the receptionist, “Rebecca, room fifteen.”


The receptionist produced a pass card along with her next smile.


One of the orderlies returned to pick up Bond’s bag. Smith gestured to the patients’ block and the door slid back for them.


“We have facilities for twenty in-mates,” he said with a snake-like chuckle, the sound rasping out of a torn throat, “Sorry, a little in joke between the staff - we’re really not that cruel.”


Smith stretched out one of the crinkled hands and gave his charge a not altogether reassuring squeeze at the elbow. Bond almost flinched at the touch. Smith saw the reaction and the lips parted once more into their unwelcome grin.


“How many patients are there?” enquired Bond tersely.


The man’s manner confused him. He seemed overly familiar, yet Bond had never met the man before, he’d remember such a performance, such a portrait. The question didn’t faze Mister Smith. Bond thought the man’s mouth twitched, thought he must have imagined it, but noted how the sunken eyes scanned his face, quickly, professionally. It was an unmistakable slip, a reaction Bond recognized instantly as the instinct of a killer. Whatever Mister Smith was, he wasn’t a doctor.


“Today there are only twelve, excluding yourself. Men and women mix freely, we encourage it, although physical relationships are frowned upon. They can disturb the recovery process. People tend not to think clearly when in love or lust.”


Bond could vouch for that.


“When did Miss Charteris start work here? I understand she was once a patient.”


“You never leave Shangri-La, Mister Bond. Our influence will hopefully outlast your stay.”


“And that happened to Tulisa?”


“Miss Charteris has some very special skills.”


Bond could vouch for that also.


“Doctor Nimon was keen to retain her services,” continued Smith, “After her cure, she elected to stay. She has become our - how would you call it? - Welfare Officer. She looks after the patient’s well being.”


They were walking down a brick lined and flag stoned passage which emerged into a central atrium. A square, metal staircase occupied its centre descending down one level as well as going up. The passage continued to a mottled glass door marked ‘Solarium, Spa’. Bond also noted the fire exit.


“These are the recreational areas,” Smith didn’t indicate anywhere in particular, “There is no television.”


He went up the stairs. Bond followed. Here the passage was lined with twenty doors and there was soft carpet to tread on.


“No television,” he repeated, “That seems rather harsh. Am I allowed to smoke?”


“Not in the rooms.”


“And drink?”


“I thought you wished us to help you with that?”


“I do,” Bond tried to look sincere, “But it’s a long journey to sobriety.”


“Indeed,” answered Smith, “For the afflicted it is always a long journey. Recognizing this will be the first step. There is hope for you yet, Mister Bond.”


Once again the eyes scanned Bond’s face, searching for something it couldn’t find, then the neck rather than the head turned away and the moment of query was past.


“I’m so glad,” Bond fell in beside the tall, bony man, “What other kind of afflictions do you deal with?”


Smith touched the pass card against the pad and the door automatically clicked open.


“Our treatments are many and varied. Shangri-La does not confine itself purely to medicinal or psychological cures. Applied with dexterity, knowledge, kindness and a little hope and encouragement, our treatments allow the patient to reenter the world a new person, unencumbered by their past, unburdened by their guilt.”


“A true cure all, then.”


Smith motioned for Bond to enter the room; if he was amused, or not, he didn’t show it either way. Bond wasn’t even certain his plastic face could manage expression.  


Bond entered a well-proportioned suite. He’d imagined something like a monk’s cell, but it was much more comfortable than that. The walls were plastered and painted in soft blues and oranges, Zen colours, and the carpet was a plush wine red. The double bed was underneath a long slit window and there was a bathroom cubicle in the corner. One shelf of reading material lined a wall. Bond went straight to the window. It looked out over the mountain’s summit, the clinic buildings and the valley beyond. He saw the pilot, clipboard in hand, carrying out preflight checks on the helicopter.


“This looks fine,” he said, “When can I meet Doctor Nimon and start my treatment?”


“Doctor Nimon rarely meets his patients. I act as his liaison.”


“Really?” asked Bond, “What position do you hold?”    


“I am Number Three here.”


“Number Three?” queried Bond, “What happened to number’s one and two?”


Smith chuckled, but it sounded more as if his teeth were rattling.


“Doctor Nimon, Head of the Treatment Centre, naturally is our Number One; Number Two is Doctor Koúros, the renowned medicinal clinician.”


“I’ve never heard of him.”


“You will,” Smith gave another gaping excuse for a smile. While the orderly deposited Bond’s bag on the bed, he dug into his coat and produced a tiny communicator, which he spoke into, “Mister Bond has arrived, Doctor.”


Bond half pointed at the little gadget.


“No communications?” he queried.


“A local wi-fi,” explained Smith, “Purely for the Centre’s use,” and he returned the little communicator, with a slanted grimace, “Is there anything you require? You are not restricted here, Mister Bond, except the clinic’s research and treatment centres. Those are the buildings on the other side of the garden. They are out of bounds unless you are receiving a treatment.”


Bond took another glance across the mountain top.


“All right,” he said, “I’d like to freshen up and then some coffee would be nice.”


“Coffee is served upstairs, in the lounge. Dinner is at seven, breakfast is at seven, lunch is frowned upon.”


“Then I take it we’ll meet again at seven.”


Smith placed the pass card on the coffee table, stepped back and waited, hands clasped again at the hem of his tunic. The two men faced each other. Bond paused. He had nothing to say. He was waiting for Mister Smith’s eyes to twitch again, to reveal their dark secret, but instead they were resolute, static, unblinking, holding Bond’s pair to pair, bloodshot to blue. One hand detached itself from the other, made a curt waving motion and returned to its lap.


Mister Smith turned and left Bond alone.


Bond made a quick inspection of his room. The lights were just that. The mirror was a proper mirror. There was a smoke alarm fitted on the ceiling and using a chair he unscrewed the cap, found it camera-less and returned it to normal. He ran a finger along the spine of the books, checking they didn’t contain hidden lenses. Satisfied, Bond unzipped his case and pulled out his shaving kit. Bond used razors, but he always carried a small electric shaver, not because Braun made good grooming appliances, but because Q Branch had fitted this one with a microphone detector. Bond twisted the head and the shaver emitted a low pitched hum. Bond swept the room, paying particular attention to the light fittings. The bulbs often contained listening devises. There was nothing. The recce had been fruitless. The place was as dull and unexciting as it looked. Pleasant, but no fun. As he washed, Bond heard the thump of the Swidnik’s engine gunning for take-off. The last obvious contact with the outside world was departing. So that was it - he was alone.





Edited by chrisno1, 01 October 2013 - 11:16 PM.

#13 chrisno1



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Posted 06 October 2013 - 11:23 PM

Chapter Thirteen:

Patients, Please


Bond went out of his room, pass key in hand, and took the stairs to the next level. He found himself in an enormous open plan lounge. Big deep leather couches and chairs of various sizes ran in circles throughout the space. White sheepskin rugs filled the floor. Music softly hummed. One of those fake plasma screen log fires was shimmering at the far end. A bank of windows ran along both sides. Bond looked east, the view he didn’t have from his room. It was a perfect bird’s nest vista. The afternoon shadows from the tall stone spikes stretched over the lush valley floor. Behind him the room was shorter and furnished for dining, six tables each immaculately laid. The kitchen was beyond it. Along the west side, disturbing the symmetry of the windows, was a bar, boasting the usual optics and an Astoria coffee machine. A waiter, still decked in the standard uniform, was wiping the counter top. Bond walked over and sat down.


“Coffee, please,” he ordered, “Black.”


“Yes, Sir.”


“So who’s the new boy?”


It was an Australian accent. Bond turned around. The woman was spinning the armchair on its pivot, her long legs crossed and up to her armpits.


“I must say it’s nice to get some fresh blood in here.”


“Why?” Bond smiled by way of greeting, “How long have you been here?”


“Three weeks,” she moaned, “It could be thirteen.”


“Unlucky for some.”


“Is that a joke? If it was, I think I heard it,” she was chinking the ice in her cocktail, some blue concoction, “Won’t you join me?”


“I’m not supposed to be drinking.”


The woman unraveled herself from the seat and tottered over to him. She was tight. This wasn’t what Bond had expected to find.


“Don’t let me stop you, honey,” she said taking the seat next to Bond, “I’m Cheryl.”


The man behind the counter gave her a sharp look as he handed Bond the coffee. Bond thanked him, stirred it and looked the tipsy woman straight in the eye, ignoring the blouse which seemed to have started to come undone.


“I’m James. What are you in for?”


“I have a fear of heights.”


“That is a joke, right?”


“No, honest, honey, heights, ladders, aeroplanes, mountain tops, they scare the livin’ bejesus out of me, at least they used to. They had to sedate me just to get me on top of this bloody mountain! Much better now,” and she swilled the drink, “I found my own cure.”


“Didn’t Doctor Nimon help you?”


“Of course he did,” she cackled, “But I think the hospitality in this place helped me more.”


She started hacking with laughter.


Bond gave the waiter an enquiring look. The man did nothing except put his hand in his pocket. Bond saw the finger twitch. He’d activated some sort of alarm, probably on his personal communicator.


“Well, I hope he has better luck with me,” Bond said simply.


Cheryl took that as an invite and planted her hand on his shoulder, “I’m supposed to be getting off this place tomorrow. What’d you say ’bout coming with me before your treatment starts?”


“What does the treatment involve?”


“You’ll love it,” Cheryl spun the bar stool, which revolved, “It’s like you’re trippin’.”


At this moment, two assistants appeared and walked slowly towards her.


“Steady there, Miss Cheryl,” said one, “Don’t disturb the other guests.”


“Guests?” she bawled, “You make it sound like a friggin’ hotel? What’s the matter with you all anyway?”


The two men started to manhandle her away. She didn’t like it, but in the middle of what looked like becoming a fight, one of them whispered in her ear and she suddenly went slightly limp and started repeating a sentence in a low whisper. Bond couldn’t catch it. The two assistants acknowledged him, apologized loudly and led the woman away.


Bond turned back to the barman, who said nothing. He went to the window. The dazed figure of Cheryl was being helped across the garden towards the treatment centre. Interesting, he considered, not only her state of mind, but the nationality of the assistant. He had a distinct Barbadian twang.


Bond studied the layout of the place from above. The summit was a rough oval. The helipad sat to the left, the south end, and the patient block was on the east side. The pretty ornamental garden occupied the middle ground and was sunk into the rock, the fountain at its centre, crisscrossed by several pathways. To the right, almost at the apex of the oval was a cloister with another water feature and beyond it the low wall and the escarpment. Bond could just see the disused ascent tower on the brink of the rock. Ranged across the west side were four more stone buildings, each one carved into the base rock, and partly hanging over the precipice. They probably contained two or more levels below ground. Bond numbered them in his head. Number one was smaller than the others. It had a series of warning signs on the door and probably contained the solar generators, other equipment and necessities. Number two had a monastic look to it, chiefly because it featured high stained glass windows. External shutters lay open, but it was impossible to see in. Buildings three and four looked the most secretive as their windows were blacked out one-way mirrors. Numbers five and six stood adjacent to each other and not so close to the mountain edge. Their proximity to the cloister made Bond think these were staff quarters. As he watched, Cheryl and her nursemaids stopped at Building Three. The first assistant swiped his pass and the door slid open. Bond tapped his own pass card. Did he have access everywhere?


He finished his cup of coffee.


“Is it always this exciting?” he asked the waiter.


“No, Sir.”


“Well, thank you anyway.”


Bond took the stairs. He was tempted by the sauna, but instead he continued down to the lower level where he found a well-equipped gymnasium and a full size squash court. There was no one in the gym, but two men were playing rackets, both of them older than Bond. One sported a disadvantageous gut, but his game was more accurate than the other, whose eye-hand co-ordination was shot. After a long rally, they stopped to acknowledge Bond.


“Hi there,” called gutsy.


“Hello,” replied Bond, “Fine game.”


“Pretty good,” this one was a New Yorker, “You the afternoon arrival?”


“I must be. I just got in. My name’s James.”


“Bradley; this is Denis.”


Denis was Belgium. It was certainly a multinational establishment.


“It’s nice to meet you,” said Bond, “Maybe we’ll talk over dinner.”


“Sure, sure.”


Bond returned to the front foyer and received another smile from Rebecca. He went outside, lit a cigarette and walked through the gardens, getting his bearings. Under the guise of his idle stroll he memorized where each pathway led, decided what could be used as cover and what couldn’t and noted any possible sites for hidden cameras. Just like his room though, he saw none. The lack of any kind of CCTV was unusual, but it didn’t bother him. After all, crime shouldn’t be an issue in a health spa.  


Back on the apartment level, he made a quick inspection of the emergency exit. A glass door with a standard push bar led to an external steel staircase. Currently, if he wanted to get outside, he’d have to go past the receptionist. This might prove a more cunning method. Most fire doors had alarms fitted. Bond noted this one did too. It was the standard magnetic pulse, which activated an alarm if it was broken.


Satisfied, Bond returned to his room for a proper wash and rest. The place was damn well inescapable. And it looked as if his only chance of seeing what went on in the treatment rooms was to have some bloody treatment himself. It was time to do some thinking.


He dressed for dinner, the decent Armani he’d worn to the fashion show, and made sure he was a good fifteen minutes early, intent on meeting the other guests. There were only two people in the restaurant lounge, the American, Bradley, all pomp and gut, and a statuesque Caribbean girl, decked in a colourful sarong. Bradley was drinking a St. Clément’s with lots of ice, the orange juice bottle next to his elbow while the girl, who appeared uncomfortable, was sipping a sugary white concoction which smelt of coconuts.


“Hello, James,” greeted Bradley, “How’s you? Have you met Sandrine?”


Bond held out a hand and the girl shook it daintily. Her smile was big and broad with lots of teeth. It expressed relief as much as welcome. The two were discussing Trinidad, which Bond discovered was the girl’s home and one of the American’s business links. Bond asked the barman for a sparkling water.


“Not drinking, James?”


“No, that’s why I’m here.”


“Me too,” Bradley hefted his glass, “It’s amazing what the Doc does for you. I’d not gone twenty years without a beer and now I’ve survived two weeks and I hardly notice. My squash game has improved.”


“I saw that,” Bond dipped the segment of lemon deep into the water to give it some flavor, “Are we all here to beat the booze?”


“Oh, no, James,” Sandrine’s voice was mellow, throaty. He put her in her early forties, but like many women from the West Indies, she looked much younger, “It isn’t like that. Doctor Nimon caters for all illnesses.”


“What are you here for then?”


“Oh,” the easy smile slipped, “It was when I was a child. My father, you understand?”


Bond nodded sympathetically. An uncomfortable subject to broach over dinner, he decided, “I didn’t mean to pry. I haven’t really gathered what sort of institute this is.”


“It’s the very best,” she replied, happily.


Too happily, Bond thought.


“I’d spoken to many counselors and psychiatrists. It was my husband who found about Shangri-La. It was almost a last resort.”


“I hope it’s worthwhile.”


“I don’t cry at night anymore,” she spoke clearly, satisfied, “That’s a start.”


“How long have you been here, Sandrine?”


“Twelve days.”


“She’s a newbie,” interjected Bradley, “Some patients stay a couple of months apparently.”


“That sounds excessive.”


“Not if you can afford it,” the American shrugged, “Which I guess most of us can.”


“I suppose.”


Bond looked around at the swish surroundings, nodded sagely and found his attention drawn to the stairway. Three attractive women, all hair and bosom and leg, were chattering to an elegant tanned Spaniard. They stepped into the lounge and took over two of the leather couches. The barman slowly made his way over to ask for an order. Bond detected accents, although everyone spoke English.


“More of the afflicted?” he queried.


“Let me introduce you,” Sandrine eagerly took over the conversation. She clearly didn’t get on well with the American. With her arm hooked around Bond’s she gingerly picked her way between the furniture.


“Luis,” she called, “And all you darlings, this is James. He’s joined us today.”


Bond felt Bradley’s gaze fixed on his neck as he exchanged hellos. Luis wasn’t a Spaniard but a Mexican. He had those dusky matinee idol looks which still make some women swoon. His voice was light and smooth and his accent offered a hint of erotic exotica. He clearly had an effect on the three girls who seemed to hang on his every word.


Katarina was a dark skinned beauty from Chile, who looked at Bond approvingly from under enormous lashes and spoke with the thickest of Santiago’s dialects. He vaguely recognized her and wondered if she was an actress or a model. Missy was a small Asian girl whose Cleopatra look suggested she’d spent ages making up for the evening. Bond learnt later she came from the Philippines. Ingrid meanwhile was the archetypical Swedish blonde, tanned, big boobs and perfect spoken English. He didn’t discover their various ailments immediately. The conversation was too genial to make the enquiry. In fact he was doing most of the answering. The patients wanted to hear what was happening in the outside world and fired a constant stream of questions.


“So we really are that cut off?” he asked during a lull.


“Oh, yes,” answered Luis, “It helps one forget, you understand, which is often what many of us want to do. Forget our fears, you understand.”


The drinks arrived, a tray loaded with extravagant powerful smelling cocktails.


“That’ll help you forget,” Bond commented drily.


“Well, why not when it’s all paid for?” Katarina’s low tone insisted.


“But you’re not drinking, James,” Luis suddenly said, animated, rising from his seat and beckoning the waiter back, “You must join us.”


“Thank you, but no.”


“Go on, James,” called the American, his voice bowling over from the bar, “One drink can’t hurt.”


“Yes, you must,” Luis gestured again. There was a chorus of approval from the little clique. They hadn’t understood the rivalry which had prompted Bradley’s tempting offer. He’d stayed lodged on his elbow, all arrogant prickliness, ever since Bond had started to take up Sandrine’s time. The appearance of his squash partner, Denis, eased the antagonism for a while, but now it had resurfaced. Sandrine understood and she scolded the big American from her position beside Bond’s arm.


“Sparkling water is fine,” Bond said firmly.


“Go on, have a real drink,”


“No, I’m really not supposed to”


“He’ll drink champagne.”


The new voice seemed to cut across the room.


Bond turned his head. He’d have recognized her anywhere, even if he hadn’t seen her for six months.


Renata Kazanová stood knocking a clutch bag against her thigh. All her weight was on the right hip, her left hand rested on the waistband of her silver skintight leggings and the thigh-length diamante blouse was tied loosely with a lasso belt. The deep rusty hair caught the sinking sun and glittered rich.


“You know each other?” someone said.


Luis grinned, as if this was the biggest joke, “My, my.”


Renata trod carefully and held out a formal hand.


“Hello, James.”  


He accepted her greeting, his mind spinning with questions.


“Hello, Renata, it’s been a while.”


“Where do you know each other?” asked Katarina, the excitement overtaking her. She sensed gossip.


“Skiing,” answered Bond simply. He’d let the girl make the running. There was no point in trying to construct an alibi. He had to accept whatever story she came up with, truth or lie. The gnawing sensation that she had been in on that affair in Donovaly returned.


“James is good to ski,” she articulated, “He likes the danger slopes.”


The sentence was barbed. It didn’t sound like the response of someone who wanted to kill him. An assassin would be slicker than that. It was a retort. It told him Renata knew what he was about, even if she didn’t understand it. The shock was still talking.


For a moment there was silence, as if the outside world had suddenly intruded into the stiff homogenized atmosphere and everyone remembered there was more to life than expensive medication.


“Perhaps you would like something to drink, Renata?” offered Luis with his easy style.


“Smirnoff,” she said quickly, “With cranberry and lemon, please.”


The awkwardness passed, replaced by some low conversation. Bond was relieved the girl hadn’t hinted at what she knew. His shoulders involuntarily tensed. It might yet be just a momentary relief. Renata sat down next to Katarina and Bond saw the two girl’s heads duck close. That looked bad. They were friends. And girlfriends often told the truth to each other, however indiscreet. He could only hope.


Sandrine was tugging lightly on his arm.


“You must sit with us,” she said, “We’re one short tonight.”


‘Us’ turned out to be two late arrivals, Noble, a native South African who was as good as his name and Josephine, a mixed race French girl in a dress overflowing with silk, who seemed both nervous and tentatively playful, sometimes both at once. Cheryl usually sat with them, but she wasn’t expected today, explained Sandrine. Bond mildly queried her absence.


“It happens sometimes when they take you for treatment.”


The only other arrival was a shy American lady, Alison, much the eldest of the group, with a spinsterish air. She seemed to recoil in company and Bond wondered if she suffered from anthropophobia. Her state couldn’t have been helped by the table she occupied, sat between Bradley and Denis, who made an unlikely pair, and opposite the two nursemaids, Mister Smith and Tulisa Charteris.


Bond tried to escape the clutches of the clique when Tulisa arrived. Dressed in a stunning black outfit which clung to every curve, she offered cheerful, cheeky smiles and made deft remarks to all the guests.


“Will Mister Smith be joining us, Tulisa?” Bond asked quietly.


“He will. Peter likes to dine with the guests.”


“Why is that?”


“He can monitor their progress.”


“With what?” scoffed Bond, “His eyes?”


“Don’t be flippant, James,” she replied, “We’ll think you’re not taking treatment seriously.”


“I’m sorry, Tulisa, but you must admit this is a bit odd.”


“You think so?” she wasn’t fazed by his continued mocking, “Perhaps you’ll change your mind. Peter says -”


“I’m not interested in what Peter says,” interrupted Bond, “What’s happened to him anyhow? He looks in a ghastly state.”


“That’s mean, James,” her reproach was genuine, “He had a terrible accident, a car crash in Italy. He almost died. It was Doctor Nimon who paid for his surgery and for his convalescence. He needed a lot of treatment, to help him forget, you see. That’s how Doctor Nimon discovered he had a gift.”


“What gift?”


“The power to heal,” she said it simply, effortlessly, as if it could be real.


Their discussion was cut short. Someone else wanted Tulisa’s time. The Chilean beauty buffeted against his arm.


“Did you know Renata and James have already met?” asked Katarina. Bond wondered if Renata had already told the little vixen her secrets.


“No,” replied Tulisa, “I had no idea.”


She passed Bond a look which didn’t need much interpretation.


“It was a brief encounter,” he smiled.


Renata looked as if she could have killed him. The eyes flashed like pistols. He could feel the animosity, the rejection which emanated in her stare. He was glad they wouldn’t be sitting together. Yet, he was also pleased she’d held her tongue. Whatever it was that had happened at Donovaly, she wasn’t about to impart it. Renata would be sitting on the liveliest table, a gaggle of the four young women and Luis. He wondered how long she would stay silent.


The clinic’s Number Three arrived fashionably late.


Mister Smith looked over-dressed in a tuxedo, his chicken neck sprouting from a too big collar, the slim cut seeming to extenuate his own skin-and-bone fabric, as if it too was plastered onto his frame. He made slow stately progress up the stairway, as if rowing the boat to hell, and when entering made an all-encompassing gesture with his hands, beckoning them to join him in living death. 


“Good evening, good evening, I trust you are all well?” he said coldly and didn’t wait for a reply, “Have you all met James, our new arrival?”


Again there was no wait. The barman came forward immediately with a tumbler of ginger ale, freshly poured.


“Excellent, excellent,” Smith preened, “Come, let us eat. Dinner will be spoiling.”


“That’s if it isn’t all ready,” muttered Sandrine.


“Is the food a bit below par?” asked Bond.


“It isn’t brilliant,” answered Noble, “Lots of fruit.”


“This is fine if you like fruit,” Sandrine purred, “Some of the more robust of our species will be objecting again.”


Bond’s table was the middle of three set to a tangent from the west window. The early strobes of sunset were rising over the roof tops of Shangri-La. Everything was glowing pink. Bond deliberately sat at the end of the table, his back to the window. The two girls took the next seats down, with Noble preferring Sandrine’s side. The table to his right and closest to the window was occupied by Renata’s friends, who immediately set about ordering white wine. Bond consoled himself with the water. From his position he could watch the Slovak girl easily. To his left was the largest party, Mister Smith, like Bond, at the head, the boys ranged on one side, the girl’s the other.


For the first time Bond saw female assistants. He’d assumed, for no particular reason, that Tulisa and Rebecca were the only representatives of the fairer sex on Shangri-La, but two of the four waiters were young, fit looking women. He passed an idle comment.


“They double up in the health spa,” said Josephine, “One’s quite a masseuse.”


“Makes me wish I’d spent the afternoon at the spa.”


The French girl giggled.


The first course was a Greek medley of green shoots dappled with grapes and pear slices and crumbled feta. It was quite refreshing, although the dressing was slightly too sweet. Bond dipped some bread with virgin oil and salt which helped take away the taste. They had two main courses to choose from, a lamb sizzler topped by a sticky glaze or a vegetarian dish of salad with egg-plant dipped in a sweet relish. Bond noted that Sandrine took the non-meat option. There was a side dish, a potato and butternut gratin, which again had a slightly too sweet edge, rather like grenadine. He couldn’t quite pick it.


He tried to engage Sandrine in conversation about the other patients. She was tactile and instead became involved in a discussion with Noble about which music was better, reggae or ska. Bond wanted to add that jazz was better than both, but decided against it. Josephine was crinkling her pretty nose.


“What’s the matter?”


“Always pomegranates,” she said.  


Bond took another forkful of gratin.


“Is that what’s in this stuff?” he asked quietly.


“Yes,” she answered, “Pomegranate extract; dreadful isn’t it?”


“It explains the odd flavor. I thought I tasted liqueurs.”


“I rather like it,” announced Mister Smith, as if he had bat’s ears, “Pomegranates have a delicate aroma. Generally they’re sour because of the tannins in the aril seeds, but with a little sugar or molasses and I find them quite refreshing. They have many healthy properties.”


“Do they do anything medicinally?”


“Some. Tannins such as punicalagins are absorbed into the human body and may have dietary value as

antioxidants. Clinical tests have shown that pomegranate juice may be effective in reducing heart disease, lowering blood pressure and atherosclerosis.”


“But a little variety would be nice,” suggested Josephine.


“Your request is duly noted. However the presence of such punicalagins is integral to the treatment’s prescribed by Doctor Nimon. Our studies on adults have found that daily consumption of pomegranate extract or juice even dried arils will significantly placate mood swings, anxiety and sleep patterns. Our patients need to be at ease. It is all part of the recovery process and as such I cannot remove them completely.”


Josephine wasn’t the only one complaining. Bradley forcefully made his feelings known.


Smith reacted as if he’d heard the telling before.


“It’s a small sacrifice, Bradley,” he soothed, “Eat it and I’m sure you’ll feel better. You know it’s good for you. Remember, you won’t be eating them forever.”


“Who would want to?”


It certainly was a curious choice. Bond thought there ought to be more suitable fruits. He finished the dish and waited for the dessert: meringues smothered in pomegranate and walnut ice cream with a pomegranate sauce.


“What a surprise,” sighed Josephine.


“At least it’s good for our broken hearts.”


“You’re not funny.”


“I keep being told that,” he replied, lowering his voice a little, leaning in so he caught a whiff of her cinnamon scented perfume, Tom Ford’s Voile de Fleur, “Tell me, Josephine, why are you here? You seem a bright girl. Everyone seems to be battling demons, but not you.”


“No. It is a bit like that,” she answered, enjoying the intimacy, “I was, well, it isn’t pleasant, but I was bullied at school. I had terrible self-esteem. I could hardly look a person in the eye. But look at me now. I’m almost cured, I think. Don’t you think?”


She gazed at Bond affectionately and he smiled back. Over her shoulder he caught Renata spitting daggers again. Bond wondered what illness could possibly have brought her to Shangri-La. Money lust, perhaps. He offered her a reassuring twinkle, but she frowned angrily and returned to her giggling friends.


Of the three courses, dessert was the most amiable. Bond enjoyed the sharpness on his taste buds. The sun had almost disappeared while they ate. The sky was hinting at its existence, but was fast fading from deep pink to docile black. The lights had been switched on casting a gentle haze through the lounge, part electric, part moonlight.


Coffee was being brought when Mister Smith fiddled with the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out the little communicator. He stood away from the table, spoke quickly and then returned raising a single finger and clearing his throat in a melodramatic fashion. There was meandering quiet.


“Thank you,” he said, moving slightly way from the dining area, “I have an announcement. We have a guest of honour -”


Smith was about to continue when a light tapping echoed up the stairwell. Everyone got to their feet except Bond. Josephine twitched her fingers at him, indicating he should stand too. Slowly, feeling this was far over the top, Bond also rose.


A figure dressed spectacularly in an all-white three piece Italian suit was making his way up the steps. His hair was grey and in his hand he carried a thick walking cane, which he rapped on the floor every other step. The man paused at the top, his back to the dining area. Then, watching his feet so as not to trip, he turned.


The man raised his head and Doctor Nimon faced his congregation.   




Edited by chrisno1, 07 October 2013 - 12:08 PM.

#14 chrisno1



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Posted 12 October 2013 - 11:47 PM

Chapter Fourteen:

The Good Doctor


Doctor Theodosius Nimon smiled.


“Good evening,” he said, “Everything is wonderful today.”


The voice was soft, pallid, not at all how Bond expected. It was almost, he thought, a girl’s voice - no, a boy’s, palpable, just before it breaks, or when a tenor, in his throes, hits the High C. It was undeniably a voice of authority. The sound of it, calm, resonant, clear, the Doctor had hardly moved his lips, yet the words carried across the whole room.


He stood a shade under five foot nine. A slight droop to his left shoulder seemed to make his head drop half an inch and that was the sliver of difference. He had platinum white hair, closely cut, slightly wavy, which stopped shy of his collar. His face had a natural tan, born from youthful days in the Southern Italian sun, and while creases poked at his eyes, he was relatively free of the sagging one might associate with age. His clipped Van Dyke beard, minus the sideburns, was as fair as his hair. The dark lips seemed to stand out against the white moustache and the brilliant teeth shone within. The eyes were brown, a deep burnt chestnut and they opened wide, switching rapidly left and right, covering every face quickly, intimately in a number of seconds.


He was dressed in an immaculate suit of Italian white cashmere, hand stitched Bond thought, probably in Milan; no, Sorvico, the cut had to be Canali. It was buttoned once and a folded white handkerchief flopped out of the breast pocket. His waistcoat, shirt and tie were of silk, also bright white, as were the leather moccasins, slipped comfortably over white socked feet. The only colour on him was a gold bull’s head tie pin and his ebony grey cane, a metal stick with an overelaborate gold handle also shaped like a bull. The hand which didn’t hold the cane rested in his jacket pocket, the thumb poking out.


“Yes,” Nimon repeated, “Everything is wonderful today.”


Bond took an automatic step backwards.


The smile was at once benevolent and also malignant. There was a powerful force at work behind the white angelic façade. The dark eyes, shifting constantly, the brows rising, falling, the stillness of his whole being, the silence he seemed to drag into the room with him. It was as if his presence was taking over the atmosphere, sucking the breath from everyone’s bodies and offering it back to them at an ungodly price.




Immediately Bond recognized the first signs of mesmerism. He’d come across men of great magnetism before, brutal men like Arkadin or Sargon. They used their almost animal charisma to control an audience, to mould individuals to their will. Here, now, Bond saw that dangerous compulsion take effect, the slight dip on the last syllable, the long pause before the second sentence, just enough to leave a listener aching to hear more, the repetition of words and phrases. Great men and evil men alike had used the technique. Here, Bond knew he was standing in the presence of both.


“I have come to take coffee,” Doctor Nimon said, “Would you join me?”


He turned back to the lounge, walking carefully, the cane tapping. As he did so, one of the waiters moved a high seated armchair and placed it central to the fake fireplace. When Nimon sat, his head seemed to be surrounded by the flickering image of yellow and red flame. He could have been the Sun King astride his throne.


The guests moved forward eagerly. Bond followed at a discreet distance, keeping to the back where he could observe rather than be involved. He noticed that Mister Smith and Tulisa didn’t join the group, but moved to one side. Bond sat slumped on a chair behind the sofas, hoping the rump of the upholstery would give him protection. He didn’t want to draw attention to himself unless it was to his advantage.


Another of the waiters brought a small coffee table and placed it next to Nimon’s free hand. She set an espresso cup down and poured from a small, steaming Perspex jug. No one brought coffee for the guests.


“It is wonderful to finally meet you, Doctor Nimon” said Luis, a man Bond hadn’t considered easily in awe.


The others made similar ingratiating sounds. It suddenly occurred to Bond that not one of them had ever met the Doctor. This was to be an imperial audience, a once in a lifetime experience, a chance to meet the great and good Doctor Theodosius Nimon: cure for all life’s ills.


“Thank you, Luis,” replied Nimon. He clearly knew his patients, even if they’d never been introduced,


“How are you enjoying your stay at the clinic?”


“It’s very fine, very fine.”


“And you, Sandrine?”


The black girl’s shoulders jiggled, “Splendid, Doctor, I already feel much better.”


“Your nightmares have ceased, I believe.”


“Yes; how did you know?”


“I expected it,” the hand took the cup and sipped, the eyes wandering over the group, “My dear Katarina, have your wounds healed?”


“Yes, mostly; I feel alive like never before.”


“And Allison, it is good to see you,” Nimon sipped again at the coffee, “I am pleased you no longer feel it necessary to eat alone. Are you finding the company of others less stressful?”


The old lady nodded. A quick smile passed over her lips but she said nothing.


“Now, who is this?” Nimon said, “A journalist I understand.”


Bond realized the Doctor was speaking to him. He stood up from the chair, his hands resting on the back of the couch.


“I’m an alcoholic,” he said slowly, deliberately, “But I am a journalist, amongst other things.”


“Other things?”


The query betrayed no surprise. Bond understood immediately. Doctor Nimon already knew about him. How much he couldn’t tell. The good doctor was dangling bait. Be careful, James; don’t take it.


“Import and export, tradesman, oenopile, gambler, bon vivant, that sort of thing,” Bond said genially, “Plenty of things to cure there.”  


Doctor Nimon finished his coffee and stared carefully at Bond. His interest attracted the stares of the other guests, who sensed the tension crackling, Nimon’s earnestness conflicting with Bond’s easy manner.


“And you wish to be cured of your addictions?” Nimon’s hand swept around the group, “You wish to be one of us.”


“It can’t hurt,” answered Bond, “Of course my readers would be very interested in the great Doctor Nimon. There’s so little known about you. An exposé would do wonders for your profile.”


The Doctor considered the proposition.


“What would the public want to believe, my friend, that I am a, what would you fashionably call it, a crackpot?” he began, the voice languid, as if he’d recited the question many times and it bored him, “The modern world is obsessed with cures. They want to cure cancer. They want to cure the common cold, malaria, HIV, botulism, measles, tuberculosis, the list is endless. For every use the chemists find for penicillin and its derivatives, the natural world fights back. Viruses, the carriers of plague, adapt and reform, remould themselves into more virulent, more deadly diseases, and still we fight. Has it never occurred to these great minds that half of humanities problems can be solved from within? There is no medicine for the control of an individual mind, for a subject’s mental strength to grow, to subdue the fear and desire that tears at the psyche. This is what I offer patients: freedom through controlled hypnosis.”


“Hypnotism can’t be the solution by itself, Doctor Nimon,” said Bond sceptically, “Its powers are limited to the susceptible.”


“You doubt my abilities?”


“No, merely their range.”


Nimon’s fingers twisted on the handle of his cane. Abruptly he tapped the staff on the floor and it made a single loud clang. Bond thought the eyes glittered with excitement. A challenge had been laid and the champion was not about to desist.


“Perhaps you fail to understand us,” Nimon said, his voice that metronomic drone, “Because you have not learnt to be one of us. You will understand when you are one of us. Yes, when you are one of us.”


Bond blinked. He shook his head to keep the cobwebs at bay. His mind clouded for a second, but failed to interpret what it saw - if it saw anything. It didn’t understand the instruction. Bond stared back at Nimon. The man was intense, sat forward on the seat, his cane tapping solidly on the tiles at his feet. Somewhere to the right, Bond could make out the standing figure of Tulisa, impassive, watching the unfolding drama. Mister Smith slithered next to her and the two exchanged glances. The patients had taken on a curious, quiet countenance. Without exception and in seconds they had ceased to chatter, to flicker and flay. They sat like mannequins; still, silent. Bond seemed to be the only one unaffected. The realization crawled. He was the only one not to experience Shangri-La’s revered treatment.


Bond saw the agitated expression on Smith’s fractured face. This demonstration hadn’t occurred before. It was happening for Bond’s benefit.  


Doctor Nimon smiled.


The patients sat motionless.


Bond slowly stretched out a hand and waved it in front of Luis’ face. The man didn’t respond. He was mesmerized. They were all lost. Dear God. It had occurred in seconds.


“Well, it’s a very impressive show, Doctor Nimon,” he said carefully, “If you like circus tricks.”


Nimon visibly bristled.


“A mere trifle,” he replied, “The first stage in the healing process, a relaxation technique. You’ll find each patient is currently in a state of bliss, recalling the segments of life which mean most to them, be it childhood, education, family, friends or career,” Nimon paused, “Good and evil.”


“You’re suggesting some people are happier when committing acts of evil?”


“Not necessarily to others,” Nimon gave his beard a thoughtful stroke, “Let me demonstrate.”


He didn’t move, except his head which turned in the direction of Josephine, “You are one of us, Josephine, you are happy today. You want to make yourself happier still. How do you do that?”


Without hesitation, Josephine’s small hands reached out and grasped the wine glass she’d carried to the coffee table.


“What will you do, Josephine?”


The glass smashed down. Only the stump and a jagged bowl remained.


“What will you do, Josephine?”


The sawed edge rested above her wrist. Bond suddenly saw the original scars, the one’s she’d covered under the flowing sleeves. The hand holding the splintered glass descended onto the skin.


“Stop it, Nimon, that’s enough.”




“Call it what you want; just don’t kill anyone.”


“It wouldn’t come to that, unless a patient wanted it,” Nimon said mildly. He stood up, his eyes fixed on the girl and the shard of glass, “And then, I suppose, I could command it.”


“Is that your cure for life’s ills?” 


Nimon was smiling as he walked across the lounge. He stopped next to Bond. The eyes inspected his face, seeming to burrow into every pore. Bond felt the hard, cold gaze, sweeping across him.


“You are still a sceptic.”


“The readers of The Financial Times would expect nothing less.”


“Oh yes, I almost forgot,” Nimon appeared on the verge of laughing, “Your interview. Well, if you wish, please, follow me.”


Nimon waited a brief moment at the top of the stairs, Bond falling in beside him. The Doctor snapped his fingers once and his audience collectively seemed to exhale a huge sigh. Josephine gave a startled yelp and dropped the broken wine glass. Tulisa immediately took her in hand.


Smith was making his way over to Doctor Nimon.


“Is this wise?” he hissed, low, but not low enough so Bond couldn’t hear.


“It isn’t unwise,” murmured Nimon, before turning back to Bond, “Come. I will give you fifteen minutes.”


They walked silently down the stairs and out of the patient’s quarters. It was cool outside. Bond ignored the chill, observing that Rebecca had been replaced at the reception desk by a man, and that the gardens were not illuminated except by the shifting moonlight. Doctor Nimon seemed to know exactly where to walk and made his way swiftly along the pathway, the cane rattling occasionally, the sound like an owl’s cry, solo in the darkness.


They headed for the building Bond had christened Number Two. Nimon swiped his own key across the pass card entry. The door swung in and the lights automatically clicked on. The bulbs were energy savers and took time to illuminate fully. They hung from a series of antique wrought iron chandeliers which bisected the ceiling. Bond saw shadows at first and then the huge living quarters began to take shape. He stood on a timber framed landing. A wooden slatted staircase led down to the main floor, an ornate space coated in Milanese tapestries and Turkish rugs, the furniture antique and well maintained. Book shelves lined with leather-backed first folios carpeted one wall. Three enormous amphorae were positioned at intervals, alternating with several undeniably expensive sculptures displayed on marble tableaus. There was an early Moore, a Hirst and one of Choucair’s nylon wire Water Lens. Other than those few, unidentified pieces, the place was conspicuous by its lack of posture. Pride, that most willful of seven sins, hardly scratched the atmosphere.


There were doors on every wall leading, Bond assumed, to other rooms, but Nimon didn’t go to any of those. Instead he sat in a big enveloping throne-like armchair, seventeenth century, Bond thought, and rested the cane between his knees, the hand resting on the minotaur.


Bond descended step by step.


“You live well,” he remarked.


Nimon made a discreet gesture for Bond to sit. He took a seat on one of the ottomans, felt his backside sink gratefully into the soft cushions.


“I have always been surrounded by great wealth, Mister Stock,” Nimon explained, “Because I have always been wealthy.”


Bond nodded.    


“It is Mister Stock, isn’t it?” Nimon said, “Tulisa was under the impression you shared another name.”


“I write as James Stock,” Bond said slowly, “But it isn’t my real name. Why do you ask?”


“When one man enters another’s domain, he should come unclothed.”


The Biblical reference was a tad clunky. Bond watched the steady face.


“You already know my real name, Doctor,” he said, “There’s no need for me to use it. I thought you preferred patients to use only first names.”


Nimon gave a regal wave, “You are not a patient in here.”


“Then I should thank you,” Bond replied, “Perhaps, I could ask a few questions now?”


Nimon’s hand returned to the cane, the finger twitching around the bull’s horn.


“You say you’ve always been a wealthy man, Doctor Nimon, how do you reconcile this to the modern, austerity conscious world?”


“Wealth brings privilege, Mister Stock,” said Nimon, “It also brings pain. The removal of pain has been my goal for many years. Here, at last, at Shangri-La I have perfected a method which will finally allow me to fulfill my dreams.”


“Ambition can be painful also, Doctor, if it fails.”


“Why should I fail? Did you not hear the congratulations from my guests? Did you not see the satisfaction in their countenance? Have I not provided them with the solution to their problems, as I will to yours?”


“It can’t be as easy as that,” Bond replied, “What about your associate Doctor Koúros? He isn’t interested in hypnotism is he?”


“Goran Koúros is a genius. He was at the forefront of the biggest scientific development of the twentieth century. Not computers or nuclear fission, but drugs. Today we exist almost entirely on drugs. Without antibiotics and amphetamines the world would probably grind to a halt. Doctor Koúros ran a talented team of experimental chemists backed by a billion dollar pharmaceutical division. But I took him away from all that. I wanted him to perfect drugs that could change a person’s nature, change a person’s life forever.”


Nimon leant forward, an instinctive movement. The finger twitched again.


“We have drugs here which can do practically anything. We can eradicate a person’s life history, we can turn a man violent or submissive, we can make him scared, make him courageous, we can make him sleep, make him rise, make him forget, make him remember. His scientific ingenuity coupled with my psychosomatic knowledge enables us to consummate a delicate balancing act within a patient’s mind, one that allows subconscious thought and behaviour imprinted by us to rise above the conscious, allowing an afflicted mind to assert the natural order.”


“You can’t guarantee success,” argued Bond, “Everyone is different. Not everyone responds to hypnosis or medicine in the same way.”


“Correct. There is indeed a human factor. To combat this, our treatment involves complete isolation, complete immersion and complete submission. We use a manufactured synthesized version of serotonin to induce sleep. We tranquilize the muscles. We pacify the brain. Only then is the patient ready for the first phase of our treatment, deep subliminal hypnosis. Occasionally the process takes longer. I will not fight my patients. They must be totally on my side, you understand, totally with us, not against us.”


“Who’s ‘us’, Doctor Nimon?”


“The Shangri-La Therapeutic Treatment Centre.”


“Not Golden Age?”


Bond said it off the cuff, as if it didn’t matter. Doctor Nimon made no move, no shoulders, no fingers, not even his eyelids flickered.


“What is Golden Age?”


“Just something I heard you were involved in,” Bond said, “A project to make the world a better place.”


“I consider Shangri-La to be doing just that,” replied Nimon. The answer came slowly, methodically.


“You’re meddling with nature.”


There was no reply. The eyes seemed to widen, to focus directly on Bond. He felt their malignant presence, fostering hate, reaching across the space between the two seats, boring deep into Bond’s own eyes, into his mind, into his soul. The finger that curled around the bull’s head went into spasm.  


“No, I am playing god.”


Bond stared back into the chiseled, grey face. The lips split into the same smile he’d offered his captive audience back in the guest’s lounge.


“That’s quite a statement,” he said, “Can I quote you on that?”


“If you remember it,” Nimon almost laughed, “I can make you forget it, Mister Stock.”


“It’s Bond, James Bond.”


There was a tiny noise from the landing. Mister Smith had appeared. He was poised at the top of the stairs. For a moment Bond thought the eyes in the skull flickered again, the instinct asserting itself, boring over the space with intense, deep, hatred.


“Your time has elapsed, Mister Bond,” Nimon said, without warmth, “I hope your readers will be satisfied.”


Bond stood up and held out a hand. The Doctor didn’t take it, nor did he rise. Mister Smith gestured once for Bond to return. As he walked back up the stairs, Bond noticed Nimon’s index finger was still twitching.





#15 chrisno1



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Posted 18 October 2013 - 10:23 PM

Chapter Fifteen:

A Close Shave


It was past one. Bond watched the garden from his window. The light was off. He could clearly see an orderly making a regular circuit of the grounds. The rest of the time the man retreated into the foyer and probably took Rebecca’s place behind the reception desk.


He timed the guard’s appearances. They were almost like clockwork, on the half hour. That Smith creature had said the patients were unrestricted, but, judging from the after dinner chat, they didn’t seem to believe it. The orderly was clearly a guard, but against what? Bond tapped his pass card thoughtfully. If this was going to work, he’d better give it a try now, when he was fresh in the place. A day or two down the line, any action would be more suspicious.


Bond turned out his washing kit and picked up the razor. Carefully, using the tiny screw driver in the key fob lock-breaker, he unpicked the stainless steel blade from the shaft. He waited for the guard to return from one of his garden forays. Now, OO7, you’ve got twenty five minutes, he told himself. If you get caught, you sneaked out for a cigarette the last time the guard was on patrol. Pathetic excuse; the best you can do.


Holding both the blade and the shaft, he opened the door and listened. There was no sound. The passage was in half light, only the central stairway was illuminated. He kept into the shadows. Bond had dressed all in black, a lycra and cotton Ninja-affair with a hood, an outfit dreamt up by Q Branch that he’d never pull on in daylight. It was too tight. He paused again at the stairway, heard the drag of a chair, the rustle of newspaper. Noiseless, Bond went to the fire exit. He lifted the razor blade. In theory, it was a perfect magnetic conductor. Inserting it between the sensor above and the contact below should continue the unbroken charge, but he had no idea if the theory would work. He could only hope.   


Carefully, Bond placed the razor blade between the two contacts. The blade snapped upwards, seized by the magnet. There was no reaction. He let out one slow breath. If there was a failsafe, he’d know soon enough. Praying, Bond carefully pushed down on the door release and eased the door open. Nothing. No alarm, no alerts, no guards. Bond placed the razor shaft in the door jamb, sneaked onto the stairwell and gently pulled the door to. From outside it looked as good as closed.


It was cool. The sky was deep sea blue and the moon hung like a silver disc floating on the ocean. Quickly he went down the stairs, hugging the wall. The garden was bathed in moonlight. It would be safer to take the long route around the cloister. He hoped the guard was still reading that paper. Quietly he headed for the arches.


What was that? A twig snapped. A footfall was it? No, nothing, imagination. He moved on, stepped out from the shadow of the patient quarters and under the cloister.


An arm lunged out.


Instinctively Bond dodged. A man, garbed in blue, came at him. Bond blocked the blow, raised his left arm to trap a third. His right came up. His foot lashed out, caught the man’s ankle and yanked. It was the guard. He went down on one side, the wrist and hand taking the weight. In a flash the guard had pushed off, somersaulting onto both feet, an arm jabbing forward, the finger’s pointing like a dagger. The thrust caught Bond’s shoulder, sent him back against the wall. Another dagger punch, Bond moved, caught the wrist under his arm, pulled the man close. He could have broken the bone, but that meant screams of agony. He rammed a knee into the man’s solar plexus. As air whistled through teeth, Bond’s elbow came up under the guard’s chin. He heard it snap, thudded another low blow and then finished with a vicious chop to the throat that sent the bastard sprawling.


Bond searched through the man’s pockets. The key pass was there. This was good news. The man was still breathing, but he’d be awake soon. That wasn’t good news. Neither was his sudden appearance. Happenstance or coincidence, he wondered, or maybe his escape did trigger an alarm. He didn’t wait to discover the answer. Bond dragged the body through the cloister then hefted it over his shoulders for the walk to the ascent tower. Luckily the door was unsealed. It was a grimy place inside. The rope still hung useless above the trap door in the floor. Bond lifted the gate and, with a regretful shake of the head, he poured the body through the aperture. He saw it hit the rock face, bounce off, once, twice and then he lost it in the blackness.   


Ducking by the parapet, Bond made his way towards Buildings Five and Six, as he’d christened them, keeping low. No one else seemed alerted by his recce. The lights were out. Bond peered through one of the windows. It was a refectory of some kind. His hunch had been correct. These were the mess rooms for the staff. Bond passed by the next building, number four, and continued to work his way along the complex. Bond used the guard’s pass to enter the first structure, the smallest of the four, bedecked with warning signs. Bond turned on the light. As he’d expected it was given over to storage. The top floor contained the solar generator. The second and third were full of food stuffs, linen and groceries. He smiled grimly at the sealed door marked with the silhouette of a crossed rifle and pistol. So, the health spa kept an armoury.


Bond went back outside. Still no one had missed the dead guard. He skirted Building Two. He’d already seen inside Doctor Nimon’s wonderland. He wanted to see what went on elsewhere.


He placed the card over the entrance to Building Three and slipped inside. His black outfit did him no good in here. Everything was clinically white. All the lights were on. The corridor stretched away from him. No cameras. No escape route. Grimacing he made his way down the passage, trying the odd door. Some were locked, possibly for more storage. Along one side ran a medical suite of offices, an examination room, a chemist, even a small surgery.


There was an elevator shaft at the end of the corridor. It was big enough for a stretcher and two orderlies, the door-less lift open and waiting. Bond stepped inside. It automatically descended. He shifted to the rear of the lift, tensing himself. When the elevator stopped, Bond was looking into a huge airy room, three storeys deep. Carefully he peered out. He was alone. Bond walked forward into the room which seemed to encompass the whole floor space of the building. The walls were surrounded by a mass of medical computer consoles. Fixed in the centre of the room was an enormous white globe made of opaque glass embedded inside a metal frame. It was suspended off the floor by four steel pillars. Pearly white light throbbed inside the sphere, sending glowing translucent waves across the room. A set of metal steps ran up to the front of the globe but there didn’t appear to be a door. Positioned above the globe were a series of sensors that remained in permanent contact with the glass surface. Bond walked around the strange object. It reminded him of Couchair’s Water Lens, a copy of which he’d seen in Nimon’s lounge. There was a faint grey shadow inside the structure. Bond wasn’t sure, but it looked like a human silhouette.


He inspected the consoles. There were identical. They each had a medical purpose: readings for blood pressure, pupil dilation, dehydration, a heart monitor, a brain scan. Bond counted the number of consoles. Twenty. And there could be up to twenty guests at Shangri-La. Only one console was in operation. Bond watched the heart rate. It was beating tremendously slow - only ten beats a minute. Whoever was inside the globe, they were as good as in a coma. For a moment Bond wanted to switch the machine off, but caution made him stop. This was obviously a delicate operation of some sort. If he disturbed it, not only would he risk exposing himself, but he may harm the patient.


Bond kept walking, looking at the other monitors, trying to discern who they related to. All the consoles showed different results except for one which was totally bare of medical information, although the patient’s details had been uploaded. He read them with mounting fear: age, date of birth, height, weight: dear god, it was him!


There appeared to be a volume needle on the main control panel. It was oscillating. He pressed the ‘up’ arrow and faintly at first, then louder as he pressed more, he heard the monotonic sounds of Doctor Nimon.


“You are one of us… You will always be one of us… You are one of us… You will always be one of us… Cheryl, you are one of us…. Cheryl, you will always be one of us…”


Repetitive memory implants. A bit like Pavlov’s dog. You taught the patient to behave how you wanted with positive reinforcement; but here the training was only working in one person’s true favour. Who were ‘us’? Golden Age? Puzzled Bond listened a little longer. The message began to change but retained the same chiming rhythm, rising, falling, emphasis only on the lighter syllables. 


“Remember to eat… Cheryl, you will always remember…. Remember to eat… Eat it for us… Eat it for the world, Cheryl…”


Why did they need to hypnotize patients? Was this how they recruited people, people like Tiara and Tulisa? 


Bond’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of automatic doors sliding apart. He saw it open, a dual panel next to the elevator. He ducked quickly, hiding behind the nearest console and, while the newcomers entered, he crept silently back to the lift, keeping his head down and his body low. Two men in lab coats were now studying the main control desk. One of them was a fuzzy haired man, glasses hanging on a multicoloured band around his neck. The other carried a test tube rack in both hands, a single tube rested in one of the holes. Bond couldn’t make out what was inside the tube, but it appeared to be a tiny phial of some sort, containing a pale brown liquid.


“Turn that down,” ordered the fuzzy one.


Bond ducked through the entrance just as the door slid shut. He hurried down the corridor, certain he was now entering Building Four. There was another automatic door at the end and it too slid immediately open. Bond found himself in a pharmaceutical laboratory. There were three sealed isolation booths, each one containing the utensils for making toxic chemicals. Bond peered inside one of them. It was scrupulously clean. There was a door to a walk in refrigerator. He pulled it, got suffocated by the cold air and took a peek. On one side were sealed plastic boxes full of pills, packaged in the same pop-out strips you got from the pharmacy. Each container was labeled and barcoded. Unfortunately the labels were in Greek. What Bond would have given for his camera phone, but it was stuck in a hotel safe hundreds of miles away. To his right the shelves carried dozens of racks of test tubes, each one containing the same brown coloured phial he’d witnessed in the technician’s hands. Bond took one out. It looked fairly harmless. Nonetheless he slipped it into the velcro sealed breast pocket of his outfit.


Bond shut the fridge in time to hear the door hiss open. There was a large bench covered in chemistry paraphernalia and Bond sheltered behind it. The technician had returned. For a moment he headed in Bond’s direction, stopped to pick up a clipboard instead and turned to leave. Bond was about to move when the technician turned, distracted. The refrigerator door was starting to swing back on its hinge. Christ! It hadn’t locked shut. Bond tensed. The technician walked over to the door, pulled it all the way open and stepped inside.


“Doctor Koúros!” he called.


Bond didn’t wait. He moved for the only available exit, another elevator on the far wall, the same position as in the first lab. He could hear the doctor making his entrance as the lift started its ascent.


Bond didn’t check anything else. It was time to be on his way. He rushed down the passage and opened the door. Outside he immediately heard the commotion. It was coming his way from the mess huts. Bond was trapped between Buildings Four and Three and the open expanse of garden. He scrambled back into shadow. Behind him was the edge of the building. Beyond that, a sheer drop. It sank over a hundred metres into the darkness. No way out. His only way out. Desperate, he skidded down the slope to the brink of oblivion, his Velcro padded hand sticking to the brickwork. He looked right. He was lucky. There was a series of tiny wooden lips sticking out of the building’s brickwork, joists from the original monastery. Bond stepped on the first one, stretched out a leg and balanced himself spread-eagled between two joists, his back pressed against the wall, hoping the darkness and the long drop would prevent anyone seeing his shape. Petrified of moving, he took shallow breaths and gazed at the dark valley which had suddenly seemed to fill his very existence.


He could hear Mister Smith giving orders. The door to Building Four opened and someone went inside. He heard shuffling. Scree ran off the slope and into the gorge. Bond sucked in a single short breath. The shoulder and half the head of a man appeared. He gave a cursory glance down, half a look left and half a look right and was gone. Bond exhaled slowly. Whatever was going on, inside or outside the building, couldn’t concern him now. He had to escape this situation.


He looked down again. The joists jutted out along half the length of the building. In the moonlight, Bond could see where the masonry changed and old became new. He made quick calculations. Yes. He could use them as the apex of a swing. First he had to negotiate the remaining joists. Cautiously, he lifted his left foot from the shelf. His right ankle and knee protested as it took all his weight. His hands, the velcro pads working overtime on the scarred wall, shifted his body a few inches, then a few more until, almost upright, he was able to bring his left foot down beside his right. The joist groaned. Trying not to think about the consequences of a broken steed, Bond stretched out again, his right toes this time gingerly reaching for the next joist. It was a painful process. Unable to balance against anything but the wall, he had to do everything by feel. His foot got purchase. He panted, once, and then started to bring his left over again. How many more times? The fifth buttress hardly had room for both feet. The heel of one foot, the toes of the other, scrunched together, instep on bridge. He lurched at the next, his right leg swinging in the dark. He scrabbled, almost fell, only his hands, flat against the wall held him. One of the palms was slipping. The foot was safe. He pulled the left over, gently now, no rush. The breeze seemed to cut a little swifter. The building ran in a straight line, but the summit didn’t, and he was moving into the prevailing wind as it rounded the promontory. The same wind that chipped away specks of dust for millions of years was toying with this one black speck of a man, ready to throw him into space like so many millions of specks before him.


Bond wasn’t ready for that. He braced himself again, finding the strength in his arms and back to press against the solid flat bricks. Three more joists to go. He reached out, his right foot planted solidly. Now the left, easy, no rush, no fear. He felt the wood crackle. It was going to give way. Christ! Was the last beam riddled with wood worm? What if couldn’t take his thirteen stones? It was too late to calculate the risk. The time for the final act was now. He stuck out his right foot. Missed. His leg dangled. He put his foot against the wall, held it there, safe, now shuffle it down to the big oak beam. Go on, its enormous, you can’t miss it! There.


Spread-eagled again, conscious of the creaking joint under his foot and careful not to disturb his fragile balancing act, Bond removed his utility belt and released the buckle. He threw it away and unraveled the ten metre long length of steel and nylon thread, a rope apparently strong enough to take his weight. Q Branch had tested it, but not on humans.


Bond tied one end around his waist and arm, an inefficient knot and it would hurt like hell. The other end he clutched in his mouth. Now he tensed. This was the toughest part: the pirouette. Gulping, rising onto the balls of both feet, Bond pushed off with his left leg. It stretched out across the void, his right knee taking the weight as his whole body rotated on a virtual sixpence. He flung out a hand and it smacked against the wall, dragged down, held. The second hand missed. He was falling backwards. The left foot hadn’t found the joist. His face slammed into the brickwork, scratched his lip. He clung to the wall, nails digging into cement, a spider, a leech, slipping, scrabbling, slowly, descending. Suddenly it was safe. The weight was lifted. Somehow he had two feet secured.


Breathing heavily, aware of the sound of voices in the garden, aware of people still running between the buildings, aware it was the best time for him to make as much noise as he needed, Bond clasped his hands together and with one deep breath, took his feet off the beam and felt himself drop. His lycra outfit tore on the oak. His head butted the bricks. But his hands grasped the little corbel and his arms took the pressure, the muscles seeming to scream with pain. Using his forearms for support and his hands and teeth for tying, Bond extracted the rope from his mouth and made as strong a shank as he could, wrapping it around the base of the beam. It wasn’t fool proof. The knot would slip along the ten inch slat of wood, but if he got two minutes, it would be enough.


The cord seemed to hold him. Bond played out the line, stepping down the brickwork, onto the solid rock face, playing it out until the line was almost exhausted. It snagged at his waist. Bond’s feet rested on the sandstone, the length of timid rope seemed to sing, a high-pitched wail, the stress of on the fibres tearing it apart. Bond didn’t think he had two minutes. He started to move, his legs working, stepping one over the other, propelling him in a wide arc up the massif and along the cliff face. It was a walk at first and then, as the cord tightened, told him he shouldn’t climb any more, that the angle was too acute, he ran, forcing the fine line to stretch to its tightest, tautest breaking point. He saw it, the scar, dipping down from the wall, the barren rock, a stone dune. He leapt at it. There was nothing to grab. It was bare rock. He slid back, knees pumping, feet on the burn, gripping, pushing, anything for a hold onto solid God-given land. He found it, some wretched hedge, a scrabbly bush, his fist clasped it tight, the stem objected, tore itself from the earth, but the seconds were seconds enough and Bond forced himself upward, onto the gruff trim.


He lay heaving big breaths, hoping to heaven no one heard him. The sound seemed to occupy his ears, as if no one else was there, just him and the earth and the wind. Jesus God, it had been a close thing.


There was still action in the garden. He could hear it. Bond loosened the rope, let it fall and crawled up to the surrounding parapet. The mess quarters were directly ahead of him. There were three figures there now, searching for the dead man.  


Bond was still on the slope that led to certain death. Safety was only metres away. Carefully he crept along the rocky lip, keeping his head below the line of sight, feet tipping back close to the edge, to that long deadly drop, hands close to the saviour wall. He’d almost made it to the cloister, the next best hide, when he heard them get near. The guards made some comments, he didn’t catch it, they moved on. Bond stayed still. You didn’t move until you needed. It was quiet, almost too quiet.


Smith came out from the main buildings, Bond couldn’t tell which.


“He’s gone inside, must have.”


Damn! As the figures walked back to the reception, cramming together, Bond made his move, silent, swift, unseen, across the cloister and up the fire exit steps. If they saw him, they made no sign.


Bond could only open the door with his fingers. There wasn’t room for anything else. He glanced down. Had they seen him? He picked up the razor arm, closed the exit door and flipped the loose blade into his palm. Thank god! That was a damn close shave.


He made his way to his room and stopped well short. There were footsteps in the passage below. He’d have to cross the hall and the staircase. He wouldn’t make it.


Suddenly the door behind him swung open.


A pale hand grasped his wrist, pulling him inside.


It was dark in the room. They didn’t move except for breathing, he with his ear to the door, she clutching at him tight, hand on the door knob, keeping it closed. Bond heard the footsteps, heard the rap of knuckles on wood. Was that his door opening? Yes, the sweep of a stay on thick carpet. The footsteps started again. Some indistinct voices, someone making decisions, more footfalls, then there were no more sounds. The arms, soft under satin sleeves, still encircled him.


Bond turned to face the girl and pulled off the black hood.


“Thank you, Renata.”


The girl seemed uncertain. She backed away a little. Her face was asking questions her tongue couldn’t find.


“My God, James, what is going on? When I saw you here, I wondered -”


“Me too,” he said, with more than a hint of suspicion, “Where did you go after I was attacked? I needed you as an alibi.”


“I was frightened, James, terrified,” she answered.


“And you think I wasn’t?” Bond pushed past her. The suite matched his in lay out. He went for the wardrobe and pulled open the doors, checking through her clothes.


“What are you doing?”


“Trying to find out who you really are,” Bond picked up an atomizer, sniffed it and sprayed Lolita Lempicka. The girl snatched it away.


“A little powerful, Renata,” he said, “That certainly isn’t you.”


“It was a present. You are being silly,” pleaded the girl, “You know of me. I do not lie. But you: who are you?”


Bond didn’t answer. He opened her handbag, Ostrich skin, expensive, probably a five grand Mulberry. There was a host of female apparel, gloves, scarves, sunglasses. He pulled out the make-up compact, twisted the cap. It was only a mirror and blusher.


The girl made another grab at her possessions.


“What is wrong with you?”


“Who are you working for, Renata, the Russians?”




“You expect me to believe that?”


“What do you want?” she stumbled over the question.


Bond sensed again she couldn’t find the right words. English was failing her. Either that or she was a very good actress. He went for the bedside cabinet, ripped open the drawer.


“What is this?” she cried, “What are you doing?”


The girl came at him, pulling at his arm. Bond fended her off.


“Stop playing dumb, Renata, you were in Slovakia to set me up.”


“No!” she hissed and pulled at him again. The face was twisted in confusion, the brow creased, the eyes wide with fright, “How can you say it?”


“You were in on it,” he accused, “Are you in on it now?”




Bond lashed out, unthinking, and his open palm slapped across her cheek. Without hesitation she hit him back.


“Bastard!” she hissed, “What is wrong with you?”


The blows kept coming, little fists, snapping at his chest and face. He managed to grab her wrists, twisting them, “All right, that’s enough!”


“Why do you think I help you?” she said almost in tears, “You think I want to lose you again?”


“Then start telling the truth!”


Bond threw her onto the bed, stood straight, his fists balled, body jutting, his own confusion making him panic.


“I saw it, the last of it,” she began, “In Slovakia, I had no idea, I was confused,” Renata turned away and dabbed at her eyes. When she turned back Bond saw the tears were for real, “I thought they killed you.”


“Tell me what happened.”


“I never knew of you,” she sobbed, “I never knew. I was only there to ski. I was trying to get better. It was wonderful to meet you and when the weather was bad and we did much talking in the hotel -”


She tailed off and looked emptily at her hands.


“Talking’s a novel word for it.”


“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, James,” she pleaded, “But I was so scared. I’m not a good girl. I have problems, like many spoilt, bad rich girls.”


Bond was about to chastise her again, but he held back.


“Where have you been for six months, Renata? Our people tried to find you.”


“I hid. It is easy when you know the lowest people,” she held an arm and he saw the puncture marks creeping up her veins, “Once, that was my life. I thought I had broken it, but they suck you back.”


Bond nodded. He’d misjudged her. She was a junkie. And she was a frightened little bitch. She’d got caught up in what didn’t concern her and now, through pure ill luck, here she was again, tied to the same problem. Poor beautiful wretched little bitch. For a moment he remembered the pretty, exciting girl he’d met in the Galileo Hotel, the carefree, beautiful, innocent girl. It all seemed a lifetime away. Yet her eyes remained unchanged. It all begins with the eyes, he thought, change starts there first and Renata hadn’t changed.


“I didn’t realize.”


“You did not ask.”


He couldn’t say more. The wrongful accusation clawed at his throat. Bond’s fingers brushed her shoulder. It was all he could do. He switched on the bedside lamp and sat down.


“How did you get here?”


“I want a cure,” she held out her arm again, “For this. They advertised. I seize the chance. They say they cure everything. It is not like they say. They do not cure me. All I have is this.”


The girl pulled down the shoulder of the pajama top she wore for nightclothes. Under her upper arm she revealed the little scar. It was exactly like the one Tiara had shown him.


“What goes on in those treatment rooms, Renata?”  


“It is dreadful,” she replied firmly, “No, I mean, it is not horrible, but it is very strange. I can only describe it as a cloud, a white cloud. They talk to you, but I never remember anything. The first time they give you an examination. That is when they give you this. It is a drug, I think. I do not know if it helps. Later you must swallow pills.”


Bond remembered the boxes of pharmaceuticals. What was it Doctor Nimon had said? ‘We have drugs here which can do practically anything.’


“What pills?” he asked urgently.


She scrabbled by her bedside table and produced two pink tablets.


“Are these supposed to help you?”


“Maybe. I stop taking them. I am here to stop the drugs not become more of an addict.”


“That’s probably a wise decision.”


They were silent for a while.


“Who are you, James?” she started, touching his arm with the tips of her nails, “The police?”


“Yes, if you like,” Bond ran a finger down her cheek, wiping the last of her tears. The finger draped across her lips and she kissed it.


“I saw what you did - to that man outside.”


“Are you going to tell?”




“Another wise decision.”


They were silent except for their breath, hot, tickling. Renata’s hand caught the zip on his suit, pulled at it, a hand on his chest, feeling his heart pumping.


“Can we talk now, James?” she whispered, “I will be the best alibi.”


For a moment, he considered the situation and what might happen if he didn’t have an alibi. She unbuttoned the pajama top, slipped off the tiny silk panties and Bond’s mouth descended ruthlessly onto hers.






#16 chrisno1



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Posted 25 October 2013 - 12:17 PM

Chapter Sixteen:

‘We Go Well Together, Don’t You Think?’


Bond returned to his room a little after four in the morning and slept for two hours. He hid the pass key and the phial in the secret compartment of his case, a small pocket located underneath the combination lock. He thought about Renata. He was lucky she was on his side. The girl had offered to help him, but he’d been reluctant to involve her. The less she knew, the safer she would be.


Bond heard the helicopter landing while he was taking a shower, rejuvenating his muscles. Half past six. That must be the morning drop. Still toweling himself down, Bond glanced out of the window. He stiffened. The two shaven heads were unmistakable, even from behind. Tic and Tac. That settled it. They’d been after Tiara. He had been an obstacle and they’d wanted to eliminate him. Whoever Doctor Nimon was, he must know the girls’ secrets. Perhaps he’d even perfected it. Bond thought about the phial, sitting snug in the secret pocket. Was it death at his fingertips? He shuddered.


Mister Smith was already outside, wrapped in a coat against the wind. Tulisa was with him. Bond watched them for a moment. It was odd, he thought, her situation here; once a patient, yes, but now a confidant. Her attachment to Smith didn’t seem to be physical, yet they were on first name terms and they appeared almost inseparable. He wondered if he’d ever seen them apart, except when he’d first encounter her, back in Athens. Ideas whirling, he dried and dressed.


Bond made it to breakfast a little late. Amateur sleuthing was already in progress; rumour spread fast at Shangri-La. It was time to face the inquisition.


“Did you hear?” Josephine whispered over the eggs benedict, “An orderly disappeared last night.”


“Disappeared?” repeated Bond, “Where on earth could he go to?”


“He must have fallen,” said Luis.


“They’ll find the body then,” he announced nonchalantly, “Accidents do happen.”


Mister Smith appeared, Tulisa leeched to his side, treading up the stairs with slow deliberate steps. His gaze took in the patients, mentally ticking them off. He nodded at their greetings, offered his sickly smile and rubbed his hands.


“Good morning,” he replied, “Tulisa, breakfast, my dear.”


“Yes, Peter, toast as usual?”


“Thank you,” Smith waited a moment, before giving a little cough, attracting attention, “I’m afraid one of our group will be leaving us today. Cheryl no longer needs to continue her treatment. We will miss her. I have taken the liberty of passing on all your best wishes.”


Bond looked across the table towards Renata. The girl’s eyes were spreading wide. 


“Any news of the orderly?” one of the other guests piped up.


“Alas yes,” Smith gave an indistinct shake of the head, “We have had confirmation from the local police. A body has been discovered at the foot of the mountain. It is most distressing.”


“How did it happen?”


“He must have fallen.”


“Was it suicide?”


The questions came thick and fast and Smith raised his hands to stop them, “It is too early to tell. We must not speculate. The police will provide a coroner’s report. Doctor Nimon has already extended an offer of help. We have of course, notified his family.”


As the discussion continued, Bond took more coffee. He stood next to Tulisa as he poured. She was sprinkling flour on Smith’s French toast.


“That’s odd,” he said, “Two exits in one day.”


“It’s horrible, James,” she said with the same sing-song voice she used when talking of beautiful things, “That poor man.”


“What did he do, just jump off?”


“They don’t know. As soon as they realized he was gone, the other orderlies launched a search, but it was obvious what had happened. Peter was up all last night.”


“How do you know that?”


“Jealous, James?” she pouted, “Isn’t it me who ought to be jealous?” she asked, “Your friend is very interested in us.”


Bond saw Renata watching them. If looks could kill, he’d be dead right now.


“Not at all,” he smiled, “I’m intrigued.”


“What about - me and Peter?”




“The answer’s not for telling.”


“Does your relationship break any rules?” Bond stirred his coffee, “I read the welcome pack. It asks patients to desist from forming relationships with each other, but there’s nothing about relationships between doctors.”


“I do believe you are jealous!”


“Certainly not; after all, I was with Renata last night.”


Bond wanted to get his blow in first, see how she reacted, how fast the information would get back to Smith. Tulisa blinked and that was all.


“What’s happened to Cheryl?” he continued.


“She had her final course of treatment yesterday. She doesn’t need to stay here any longer.”


“I thought she seemed rather upset yesterday.”


“No. She was fine. That’s what Peter says.”


“And whatever Peter says -”


“He is an expert, James.”


“What in?” Bond took his coffee, “Can you tell me that?”


Tulisa didn’t reply. She took the tray of toast and coffee over to the dining table where Smith was continuing to avoid questions about last night’s tragedy.


Bond sat back down. Josephine was spreading jam on a croissant.


“It’s just awful,” she said, “Cheryl’s lucky to be leaving.”


“Will she leave with the two men who arrived this morning?” he asked mildly, “Are they orderlies too?”


“What two men?”


“They arrived by helicopter. Didn’t you see them?”


“My room’s on the other side. Did they check in?”


“I didn’t think of that,” Bond nodded, “I’ll ask Rebecca after breakfast.”


Half way through the meal, Smith stood up and unhooked his communicator. “Yes, Doctor Nimon?” Bond heard and then the conversation was lost to the chatter and clatter of dining. He returned after a few minutes, a frown creasing his forehead.


“What’s wrong, Peter, darling?” asked Tulisa cheerfully.


Smith seemed to come to a decision. The effort appeared to hurt him. He stood up and rapped his spoon on a plate, attracting silence and attention.


“My apologies,” he began with a bony smile, “Doctor Nimon has asked me to inform you that all treatment will be suspended today. Following last night’s tragic accident, the police have requested access to Shangri-La to carry out routine investigations. They have asked we refrain from any unnecessary movement about the complex. Doctor Nimon thanks you all for your co-operation in this matter.”


This caused another ripple of queries.


“Can we go outside?”


“Will we be questioned?”


“Are we under suspicion?”


Smith waved away the calls. The man was smooth, but something was rattling him. The arrival of the police was clearly a matter of concern.


“I cannot answer that,” Smith said, “For now, it would be best to remain inside the Patient Block, at least until the police agree otherwise.”


Bond was rather relieved. After what he’d witnessed last night, he didn’t much fancy being subjected to any kind of ‘treatment’ at Shangri-La. It would also give him time to plan. Specifically: plan how to escape this mountain top. That wouldn’t be easy today. Even the helicopter was only allowed to leave on condition it picked up the two police officers. After the taxi run, the pilot was made to wait in the mess hall. It seemed Cheryl would have to endure at least one more morning at Shangri-La.  


Captain Papadalarosos was a fat man with a constant trickle of perspiration running from the corner of his fringe and down the side of his face. He wiped it away with a pale yellow handkerchief, faded from much washing. He wasn’t in uniform. His suit didn’t fit, being too big at the shoulders and too short at the ankles. His accomplice was a youthful uniformed officer who took notes and looked very efficient.


Bond watched them disembark from the Swidnik, to be greeted by an over accommodating Mister Smith. The Captain didn’t enjoy his fawning and made some noises about ‘immigrant doctor’s stealing our jobs’. Perhaps here was an ally.


The Captain was taken to Doctor Nimon’s quarters.


When he emerged about an hour later, he appeared much less objectionable. The Captain spent some time wandering the grounds, his foot kicking at the dusty gravel, his eyes blinking in the bright sun, the handkerchief wiping. He stood close to the surrounding wall, pointed, made notes. Finally he took a long look inside the ascent tower and emerged shaking his head.


“Padlock that, Mister Smith,” he appeared to be saying.


The Captain entered the staff block and took up residence for two hours while he interviewed each of the assistants, sometimes briefly, sometimes at length. It gave Bond an opportunity to count them in and count them out. There were fifteen faces, excluding the two Doctor’s, Tulisa and Smith. He didn’t see Tic or Tac. Had they been interviewed earlier or hidden from the police? Zorba had said they were anarchists, a rebel group called Cells of Fire, not people with any need to be at a health clinic. Bond could use that to his advantage. He needed to make some of what he knew public. He had no choice but to put his faith in this shambolic representative of a public institution.   


Bond wasn’t the first to be called into the lounge where Captain Papadalarosos had set up his second informal interview suite. Some of the patients had spent the intervening time there, drinking coffee, playing chess or bridge and mulling over the day’s events together. They’d been shooed out of the lounge and the Captain had taken up a position reclining in one of the big leather settees, his right hand propped on the cushioned arm, his left wiping his face. The other officer was sat at a temporary desk, a ream of paper ready for turning. One of the orderlies showed Bond into the lounge and gestured to the seat opposite before retreating. They were alone.


“Coffee, Mister, ah, Bond?” the Captain spoke with a growl.


“Thank you, black, please.”


The Captain didn’t move and neither did his second. After a few moments pause, Bond stood up and poured himself a coffee from the large thermos pot. He sat down and stirred it, his eyes not once leaving the big policeman’s face.


“Where were you last night?”


“Have you spoken to Miss Kazanová?”


“I want to hear from you, Mister, ah, Bond.”


“I was with Renata last night.”


The Captain’s eyes glittered. An image was running through his mind.


“Did you see or hear anything last night?”




“Not anything?”




“You are an Englishman are you not?”


“I am.”


“Your name is James Bond?”




The Captain dabbed at the trickle of sweat. Bond had expected him to pong, but instead there was an almost sweet aroma, as if he bathed in aftershave to mask the true fruit of his odour. The Captain dug into his jacket pocket and produced an email, which he pretended to read while his sagging eyes stared over the top lip of the paper, “You work for Universal Exports, is that correct?”




“I thought so. I received an email from your regional manager, Dominic Zorba, who asks that should you contact me, I am to inform him immediately.”


“May I see it?”


The Captain handed over the email. Bond couldn’t read Greek, he only spoke it. He gave it a cursory glance. The email address was certainly correct.


“Well, Captain, I haven’t contacted you. It is you who have contacted me.”


“I may be a small administrator in a small town, Mister Bond,” the Captain began, his hand scratching at the base of his beard, his voice lowering so it couldn’t be over heard, even though it appeared no one was listening, “But I am not a fool when it comes to subterfuge. Dominic Zorba is well known to the police. Universal Exports, or rather its impressive office in Athens, is well known to the police. You, by association are well known to the police. That piece of paper tells me more than I like. Do you wish Doctor Nimon to learn of your presence here?”


“I’d prefer that he didn’t.”


“Then do not be obstructive,” the Captain took back the email, folded it and replaced it his pocket, “I put it to you, Mister Bond: that your arrival here was not purely a matter of health. It is surely not a coincidence that less than twelve hours after your arrival one man has died.”


“Coincidences can happen.”


The Captain grunted.


“I am asking the questions, Mister Bond, and I will make the suppositions. Now, you were not in your room last night. What time did you vacate it?”


“About half past twelve,” he replied smartly, “I wasn’t keeping track.”


“We have established the deceased was missing any time from midnight until half-two in the morning.”


“I told you where I was.”


“Yes. I don’t need details. Miss Kazanová has been more than helpful. Like me, she seems to think you might be better off not staying at Shangri-La.”


That tore it. There was an alibi and there was a darn nuisance. Bond silently cursed. Externally he stayed calm and finished the remains of his coffee.


“Perhaps she’s right,” he said, “Her presence aside, the company isn’t endearing.”


The Captain paused and scratched at his stubble with a rotten finger nail.


“Why do you say that?”


“They’re a strange bunch of people, don’t you think, Captain?” explained Bond, “All those phobias

and fears.”


“What do you know about the other patients, Mister Bond? Describe them to me.”


Bond started to give a potted résumé of the group. He didn’t want to be too specific, not even mentioning his previous association with Renata or his encounter with Tulisa. He concentrated mostly on Cheryl’s drunken rant and Doctor Nimon’s performance with Josephine. The Captain listened, appeared bored, and looked across at his colleague who was scribbling notes.


“And then there’s the two men who arrived this morning,” continued Bond, “Did you interview them?”


The Captain raised one finger and his colleague stopped writing.


“We have interviewed everyone who is present at Shangri-La.”


“I don’t doubt it. The two men, the shaven headed brutes, the two who looked like gangsters.”


“What do you know of gangsters?”


“I’ve heard of the S.P.F., the Cells of Fire. Have you?”


“Mister Bond,” the Captain leaned forward, his belly folding under him, resting on the seat cushion, “I have been a police officer in Kalambaka for twenty five years and I have never once encountered a member of the S.P.F. They do not work here. Their territory is the city, the industrial towns. What would the S.P.F. want with a health clinic? No, I have not spoken to these men, because they are fixture of your imagination. The pilot of the helicopter has assured me he travelled alone. He has the documentation to prove it. There is no one on this mountain that is not known to us.”


Bond opened his arms in a half-hearted gesture of helplessness.


“Perhaps I was mistaken.”


“Perhaps,” the Captain sat back, “I understand you like to drink, Mister Bond. Alcohol can play terrible tricks on the mind.”


“That’s why I’m here.”


“Is it?” the Captain’s eyes half closed.


“Yes,” Bond said emphatically, “Listen, Captain, I’ve only been here a day. It isn’t all steam baths and massage. There’s no communications up here, no mobiles, no television. It’s like the Dark Ages. Don’t you think it’s odd that we are completely isolated? It’s no wonder people want to throw themselves off the edge of a cliff.”


“I am a man of law and order, Mister Bond. I leave medical decisions up to medical men. As for this death,” he shook his head, as if the whole affair bored him, “People always fall to their death every so often.”


“He could have thrown himself off any part of the ridge, Captain,” continued Bond, “Why do you think he wanted to throw himself down the ascent tower?”


“Who really knows?” the Captain said, his bulk lurching forward, his chin jutting out, “Are you trying to tell me you do?”


“I wouldn’t dream of it.”


“Good. If you did it might be inconvenient,” the Captain paused. It was long and emphatic. He seemed to be excessively contemplating his next words. Bond said nothing, simply looked at this behemoth of officialdom and eked out a sigh.


“Inconvenient for both of us,” the Captain’s tone was low, “Professionally, financially, you understand?”


He sat back and wiped his brow again, “So what am I to do with you, Mister Bond?”


‘You could take me away from here, just like you said,’ almost slipped between his lips, but his tongue stayed silent. Instead he play acted, looked at the grits in his coffee cup and said: “You could return an email to my boss. At least it would reassure him.”


The Captain grumbled and clicked his fingers for a blank sheet of paper, “Very well.”


Bond took the paper and wrote in capital letters:


‘I am still ill, but much better. The Clinic is excellent. The food is good. My weight has already gone down to 11 stone 10, so watch out! They take excellent care of you here. I start my treatment tomorrow. Must go. James.’


He handed it back. The Captain read it and passed it onto his officer.


“Mister Bond,” he began, “Let me remind you. Doctor Nimon is an esteemed physician. The Kalambaka Town Council would not have granted him the right of access to Mount Nikolas if they did not consider his application to be of benefit to the community and to the world. I will accept your company’s explanation for your presence here, but I wish it to be known, clearly, by authority, that we don’t want trouble at Shangri-La.”


“I understand, Captain,” Bond replied, accepting the veiled threat, “I don’t intend to cause any

trouble. I’m sure Dominic Zorba will be pleased to hear from me.”


Bond knew exactly the reaction the email would provoke. His false geniality would prick ears, the sentences told of his desperate situation, the numbers a code. If Zorba could find any way to get him off this bloody mountain, he’d do it.


There had been no handshake to start and the big policeman didn’t offer his flabby paw at the end.


Bond stood up and nodded.


“Thank you, Captain.”


“Good day, Mister Bond.”


Bond wasn’t the last person to visit Captain Papadalarosos. The interviews continued into the early evening when, finally, the two policemen exchanged goodbyes with Mister Smith and departed in the helicopter. Half an hour later the Swidnik was back, this time to escort Cheryl away from Shangri-La and, one assumed, eventually back home, wherever home was.


Dinner was a grim affair. Bond tried to make light of the whole day. His behaviour drew ugly glances from the other table, where Tulisa was almost speechless, only talking when Smith wanted her too. Bond thought she looked distant, far away. It reminded him of that good time girl in Athens, her rolling eyes, her unnatural impulsiveness. He tried to joke, to provoke her, but Josephine chastised him.


“You’re being insensitive, James. It’s been a tough day for everyone and Tulisa knows the orderlies here better than most.”


But she hardly seemed to care at breakfast, he wondered. Towards the end, Mister Smith echoed Josephine’s speech. He’d stayed his dry, anaemic self, throughout the meal and now he solidly announced that Doctor Nimon advised all the patients to retire early. It had been a stressful experience for all concerned and the Doctor prescribed complete rest before treatments recommenced.


Bond grimaced. How soon was the Captain going to email Universal Exports - if at all? He had to think of some way to avoid the first dose of the Doctor’s treatment.


He managed to steal a glance at Renata, smiled and mouthed ‘Later’ in the hope she would understand. From eight-thirty onwards, the patients started to drift away.


Bond was left alone with Mister Smith and the scaly, anorexic man offered his crawling grin, “Quite a day, Mister Bond.”


“Yes, wasn’t it?” he replied, “Do you suppose Doctor Nimon will want to begin my treatment tomorrow?”


“I’m sure the Doctor has plans for you,” Smith stood up abruptly and nodded his leave, “Good evening, Mister Bond. Sleep well.”


Bond refrained from smiling. The sickening man left him alone. This wasn’t going to plan. He didn’t fancy trying to endure whatever nightmare went on inside that glass football. Why hadn’t Tiara mentioned the bloody thing? He was trained to resist hypnotism, trained in blocking out the mental techniques of practitioners, but that contraption had been more than a few words and a spinning pocket watch. Renata had said it was a like a cloud. She didn’t even know what the room looked like. Her experience was entirely in her head. The outside world had become irrelevant. Bond didn’t want that. He couldn’t.


He recognized his fear as the first strains of panic and breathed deeply to control himself. Doctor Nimon prescribed sleep. Well, what could be a better medicine at the moment? His fate was out of his hands. If the good doctor had a cure for him, even a fatal one, his hopes lay in the hands of others or the power of his own will. He needed rest and recuperation for both.


Bond drank another cup of coffee alone and then returned to his suite. He switched on the night light and paused just inside the doorway.


There was someone there, in his room, lying on top of the bed sheets, reclining. He’d seen her like that before. The memory was still fresh.


“Who’s that?”


“Aren’t you pleased to see me, James?”


Bond moved closer. The half shadow hid her face, but the voice was unmistakable. He sat beside her and brushed a strand of hair from her cheek.


“A little surprised, Tulisa, I thought you were with that Mister Smith fellow.”


The girl sat up in bed and pouted.


“But I’ll always have time for you, James,” she giggled, “We go well together, don’t you think?”


Bond snatched his hand away.


He saw the smiling, shining eyes. He heard the echo of the voice. He replayed the sentence. He remembered where. He remembered who said it.


“----,” was all he could say before something hit him on the back of the skull and the world started to spin.




#17 chrisno1



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Posted 01 November 2013 - 11:17 PM

Chapter Seventeen:

Non-Safe House


The girl had been restless ever since James had left. Not in a sensual way, although that had often overtaken her thoughts, or in an obvious loneliness, but in a subconscious manner, as if without him she was failing somehow.


She couldn’t understand it. All the time, since that first meeting at the Shard, she’d been intent on allowing him to pursue her. She’d seen him speaking to Anatole Tarek. Later she’d cornered the designer and found out who he was. James Stock didn’t sound half as exciting as James Bond. Why did he use two names? Was he with the press? Anatole said something vague, something about his past. It sounded terribly mysterious and only increased her fascination.


She’d been so absorbed, she accidentally told her sister, in one of their telephone calls, about the handsome stranger who had saved her necklace.


“You know I get these feelings,” she said, a little helpless.


“Tell me about him,” her sister replied and Tiara had spent a long time describing James in detail, details which she remembered precisely.


When it was done, Tulisa, who was the older twin by twenty six minutes, cooed, “He sounds dreamy, don’t let him go.”


“Why?” Tiara’s suspicions were aroused, “Do you want to get your hooks into him?”


“Don’t be silly, T, I’m busy here.”


“How do I find him anyway?”


“What did you say his name was?”


“James Bond.”


“That’s what I thought you said.”


The rest of the conversation was lost. It was odd, she thought, how little she remembered of what Tulisa told her. It happened over and over. Everything else, unless she was drunk, or high, or making love, she remembered with clarity, even the lovemaking wasn’t so forgotten, certainly not if she picked a memorable place or person or time, but not Tulisa’s advice, not their little girly chats, not even saying goodbye. It was always a noisy blur.


In the end, she hadn’t done anything specific, simply carried on with her normal existence. A week later, she’d taken that trip to France and James had found her. She as good as expected it. His appearance didn’t surprise her and she remembered thinking why it should be so. Nonetheless she’d ignored the doubt and embarked on what she wanted, a mad infatuation, and then it had turned nasty. The fight at Carcassonne, the car chase, this little cottage with the stern lady who kept her pinned indoors.


She had trouble sleeping the first night. She thought of James’ face, lying next to her on the pillow, how he breathed, shallow and gentle. She took to sleeping in an upright chair, curled like a child in a blanket.


The Spanish woman brought her coffee in the morning. Later she made breakfast and started to ask lots of questions, questions about her father, questions about her sister, questions about Shangri-La, questions about Doctor Nimon, questions, questions, questions. She answered them all, initially with accurate succinct detail, but as the woman probed, Tiara became angry and started making up the answers, telling what she thought the woman wanted to know. The inquisitor saw through it and stopped the interrogation.


The routine was repeated after lunch, a third time after dinner. Tiara wondered if there was something in the food. The woman hadn’t asked her to cook, like James had done. Instead she was adamant she would do it and took a lot of pride in her meals. They did taste delicious. After a second day of eating and questions, Tiara resigned herself to the situation.


“There’s a white room,” she said simply.  


Toni placed the saucepan back in the cupboard. “Where?” she thought the girl was being evasive again.


“At Shangri-La; it’s a big white room, I can’t describe it any other way. You can’t see out of it, you can’t see anything inside it, but you know it’s a room, a sort of globe, it moves, it shimmers, it glows, it breathes.”




“Vibrates, I supposes,” she continued, “As if it really is alive, as if you are inside someone’s heart, someone’s soul.”


“What happens in this room?”


“It talks to you.”


“The room talks,” Toni was incredulous, “Oh, come on.”


“No. I’d remember if there was anyone else there. You’re completely alone, drifting, flying, but you can hear music, singing, humming and there are voices, well, one voice.”


“Whose is it?”


“I can’t remember,” the girl shook her head.


“Don’t you remember everything?” Toni saw the rebellious pout, so she changed tact, “And this is where your sister is working?”


“That’s right.”


“Do you think she’s been in this room?”


“You don’t believe me do you?” Tiara stood up, “I wish James was here. He didn’t think I talked gibberish.”


“He’s looking for your sister,” Toni snapped, “If you have information which can help him, you’d better tell it. You could be putting him in unnecessary danger.”


“He’s already in danger,” she retorted.


“How do you know that?”


“I was told,” the girl said.


There was a pause, both women looking at each other, tense.


“I was told,” she stammered, “Someone told me.”


“Was it the voice?”


“Yes, no, it was a girl’s voice,” she paused, “It was on the telephone. They talk to me on the telephone.”


“Who does?”


“I can’t remember, I’m not supposed to remember, they told me not to.”


Toni saw the girl’s eyes go watery. The body seemed to relax, go limp, slump into the chair as if she was tiring. Toni gave her shoulder a shake.


“Who told you?”


“My sister,” Tiara said it simply, shook her head, unbelieving, “No, it can’t be. She phones me. She phones me at specific times.”


The words came suddenly, tumbling out of her, a release, the floodgate had opened.


“I’m not allowed to turn the phone off. They always want me to speak to people, to tell them about Shangri-La. I don’t remember who, I don’t remember when, I wasn’t supposed to remember. I wasn’t supposed to -” the words petered out, too hard to form.


“To what?”


“- to fall in love.”


There was a long silence and the girl began to weep, a single tear at first. Toni gave her tissues and placed a hand on her shoulder. She’d been in love once. It wasn’t a perfect match, but it had been genuine, they fought and they made up, they entranced each other, it was magic, but magic died. Poor Tiara - what could James Bond really offer her?


She never received an answer. The heavy thud of the bullets was simultaneous with the crack of the recoil. Toni threw herself forward, grabbing the back of the chair and pulling Tiara with her. The two women huddled under the whip-snare of missiles. The girl screamed. Toni clamped a hand over her mouth, cutting off the sound.


The bullets kept coming. They obliterated the windows, cascaded through the walls, smashed the lights, the pictures, the furniture. It was only luck that made them survive. When she’d calmed down, Tiara felt her mouth released from its claw.


“Shh!” urged Toni, “There are only two of them. They’re at angles to the front porch.”


“How can you tell?”


“The bullets are coming at diagonals,” Toni explained, as a further salvo ripped the walls to shreds, “And they’re very high. These men don’t want to kill us. Listen. I’m going to distract them. Can you drive?”




“Good,” Toni nodded to the smithereens of the ashtray. The keys to her Seat were amongst the debris, “My car’s in the garage. When I start shooting, take my car.”


“What about you?”


“I’m not important right now. Do you remember the way back to Valras-Plage?”


The girl nodded.


“Good. Contact Maurice and Carla. They’ll help you,” Toni could see the uncertainty in her eyes. God, she felt it too, “Trust me, Tiara.”


The bullets were striking lower now. Chunks of masonry were being shot out. Black holes were appearing, wind whistled through the new apertures. Tiara buried her head in her arms, one hand gripping the key fob.


Toni shuffled backwards through the rubble like a demented turtle, arms and legs moving in circles until she was barracked against the kitchen cupboards. Tiara had noticed that one of the cupboards was false. She’d tried to open it, but found it bolted from the inside. James had said it was simply an aesthetic design. As she watched, Toni manipulated the handle, pushing it inwards so the cupboard door rose on an axis. A shelf immediately slid out containing a tray packed with soldier’s hardware. Tiara wasn’t interested in guns, but she knew powerful weaponry when she saw it. Eyes wide, she watched as Toni, still on her side hefted a rifle of some kind, a piece of metal almost as big as her. Toni gave her an encouraging nod. Tiara started to edge towards the rear doorway. The carport was adjacent to the cottage, but down a short flight of stairs. The glass paneled doors opened onto a short track hidden from view of the porch which circled up to the approach road.


Tiara paused at the door. She could see Toni’s snail-like shadow creeping across the lounge towards one of the smaller windows.


Toni had loaded the Enfield L85A2, a heavy duty carbine effective and accurate up to five hundred yards, steadied by the under barrel grenade launcher. It was the launcher she’d been most preoccupied with during her crawl across the cottage. Toni wanted to fire it blindly through the broken window, blindly because to try and sight her attackers would mean breaking cover. She hoped the flare would be a distraction for everyone except her and Tiara.


Toni braced herself against the wall, raised the L85 to her shoulder and directed the barrel at the busted glass. The flare shot through the open space and landed somewhere in the gardens outside. Phosphorous burned. In seconds, Toni repositioned, loaded and fired again. The unctuous smell caught the throat. Something sparked, crackled. She’d hit a tree. The branches were igniting, waving in the breeze, a big blazing ugly figure. For a moment the firing ceased, then it came again, shattering what remained of the window and the frame, punching big holes in the cement and wood.


She flattened, turned to see the girl still in place, her frightened hand clutching the door handle, unable to press it.


“Go!” she mouthed, reloading once more.


Tiara’s hand dragged down the handle and her shoulder pushed. She virtually rolled down the steps, righted herself and was running in a crouch. Another crump was followed by another burst of angry fire. She was by the Seat now. Bangs and crashes continued by the house, the electric whine of the assassin’s bullets now accompanied by a deeper, thumping retort. It had to be Toni’s rifle. She struggled to find the socket for the key, scratched the paintwork. There! It was in. The doors clicked open. Tiara sat in the driver’s seat, found the ignition first time, was about to turn it when she realized the doors were still shut. She made a move to open them, stopped, one bare leg out of the car. Someone was moving outside. The flares had started a big fire by the cottage. The flames were quite obvious even through mottled glass. A black silhouette was moving towards to the carport. Had she been spotted? Toni had said the shooting was coming from two sides, but which sides and by how many men? Maybe only two men had guns - Toni couldn’t be sure of that, could she? Tiara slunk back into the seat and gently closed the driver door. The gunshots continued unabated. Toni’s thicker volleys seemed buried now under a renewed assault. The volleys overlapped, intermingled, started and stopped at irregular points. The figure kept moving forward. He wasn’t shooting. There were too many bullets, too many cross cut salvos of fire. There had to be more than two assassins. Toni had got it wrong. They were trapped, surrounded, there would be no escape. Tiara started to pant, hyperventilating, sucking in sharp quick breaths. The black shape rattled the garage lock and a sudden explosion made the car jump. It was a bomb! Not here. Somewhere. Dear Jesus!


Tiara’s foot hit the clutch. Automatically she twitched the ignition key, heard the engine roar and slammed the car into first. She stamped hard on the accelerator, simultaneously releasing the parking brake. The Seat charged forward and slammed into the doors. Glass shattered into thousands of tiny diamonds, spraying across the car as it ploughed through the melee and rammed the big shadow’s legs. He was catapulted up and over the bonnet of the car, his shoulder cracking the windshield. Tiara had one single view of his gaping mouth before he was thrown off the surging vehicle. She didn’t see where he landed.


Tiara was grappling with the steering wheel, sliding on the loose gravel path, switching from first to third. As she spun onto the road she had an image of a tree smouldering and beyond it a car on fire. She couldn’t see Toni or anyone else. She thought there was a massive hole in the cottage wall, but then it was obscured by smoke and flame. Her heart told her to stay. Her head told her to do as she was ordered. She hit fourth as she rounded the top bend, flipped the spots and ploughed straight down the tree lined avenue towards Valras-Plage.


Toni heard the Seat accelerating. She gave a grim satisfied smile. Lying on her back, staring at the crumbling ceiling, her chest torn open from the grenade, she had little else to celebrate. The big shaven headed man prodded her shoulder with his AN45. He sniffed as if she was a lean rabbit he’d snared in the fields. She could feel the blood bubbling in her throat. The man didn’t even bother to wait.


Antonia Pilar de Vargas died alone.  



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



Tiara pulled into the layby opposite the town house. She only wore cut-off denims and a vest top. It was suddenly very cold. Her naked feet stung from the chill. Curious how the air always turns mild on summer nights, she thought absently. The village didn’t look as welcoming at night as by day. There were no street lamps. Moonlight cast strange shadows along the roads. The eeriness might have warned her, but Tiara didn’t live life by stealth.


The girl tried three buttons before she found Maurice and Clara.


“Vite! En haut!”


The voice was firm.


Tiara pushed through and ran quickly to the first floor. The red door was already propped open. She burst inside, ready to gabble her story, but stopped. The colour drained from her face as swiftly as the air had cooled her skin.


If Maurice and Clara were alive, they were certainly not in the apartment. A big, shaven headed man sat on the settee, a machine pistol pointed directly at her belly. A hideous grin split his diseased mouth.


Screaming, Tiara reeled, only to be faced with another brutish thug. She fought for a few seconds, her little fists making no impact on the thick man’s hide. She screamed again as a leather clad hand came up to her face, a smothering hanky, sickly and sweet, buried in the man’s palm.





#18 chrisno1



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Posted 09 November 2013 - 12:05 AM

Chapter Eighteen:



Bond’s eyes snapped open.


He was staring into nothing. The room was completely dark. He was strapped to a cold table and dressed in a hospital gown. He wasn’t totally restricted. His wrists and ankles were clamped, but he could still raise his chest and shoulders. He shifted position. The table felt like dull bare metal, the same as what surrounded him. Chrome coated in black. He hadn’t seen anything like this in the treatment buildings. Where on earth was he?


Slowly, as his eyes adjusted to the blackness, Bond could make out the rest of the room. There was a door at the far end, slightly behind him, a tiny slit of pearly light showing at the base. That light was enough to make out the shelves on one wall, each shelf rammed with rows of medicinal bottles. Below it was a trolley on which Bond made out equipment he’d normally associate with blood transfusions: blood pressure, body temperature and pulse monitors, plastic cannulas, needles and catheter clips. Above him, he began to decipher a powerful surgeon’s lamp, its frame and bulbs outlined in the cadence.


He settled back, his sore head resting on the single hard cushion. He tested the clamps. They were only leather straps, but they had been buckled extremely tight. He didn’t need to be told his situation was impossible. Instead he took several long deep breaths, spending his time absorbing oxygen, filling his lungs and blood and brain with the energies he’d need to confront whatever was about to happen. Torture, no doubt, questions, definitely, death, a possibility. He shut his eyes and tried to blank out the thought. It wouldn’t be now. There was always a way. It was a matter of finding the weakness and exploiting it.


He didn’t know how long he stayed there, fighting his urges, controlling his pulse, focusing on anything other than his predicament. It was long enough and more. He wondered what the real time was, whether he’d been out for hours, minutes or days.


The door opened and a shaft of bright light penetrated the gloom.


Bond slowly turned his head. They stood like a business consortium. Doctor Nimon led the triumvirate. He still wore the white suit, immaculate, pressed and creased. The cane was still clamped in his right hand. Behind him hung Mister Smith, Doctor Koúros and one of the orderlies, all dressed in white smocks. The overhead lamp clicked on, blinding him. Bond shut his eyes to the glare and then opened them, his lashes still blocking the white heat.


“Good evening, Mister Bond,” said Nimon casually, “I trust you are well?”


“As well as can be expected.”


“I’m glad you retain a sense of humour. You may need it.”


“Let’s hope so. I don’t see anything amusing at the moment.”


Nimon stepped into the room and tapped the cane idly on the floor. He looked at it, as if surprised it made a tinkling noise on the black marble, and sighed.


“Now, James. May I call you James? I feel as if I know you so well already,” Nimon’s scaly hand reached out and touched Bond’s lower arm, “I have spent a year wanting to destroy you, ever since I first heard your name in the wake of Operation Golden Age. And I have tried. But you eluded the men I sent after you. I began to wonder instead if the event I wanted to avoid was indeed destined to occur. I don’t believe in fate, James, I don’t believe in anything, not of the ethereal kind, yet somehow I knew this moment would come, I knew our paths would cross and I knew we would resolve our differences. I had to be ready for it. I could have stayed in hiding, you see, waited for the moment to announce myself to the masses, waited to see if you had survived the slaughter of the world. But I was impatient. It wasn’t enough to see if you die with the innocents, because, James, you are not wholly innocent. As a bringer of death, what our Greek cousins would call a necrophoros, you must take some responsibility for the earth’s impending disaster. There is a delicious irony in the thought. How would you like to be one of God’s avenging angels, James, to wreak havoc on those who have polluted and desecrated this beautiful land of Eden?”


“It’s appealing,” Bond said stoically, “Perhaps I could start with you.”


Nimon chuckled.


“A brave thought. The consideration, however, isn’t who should die, but how many.”


“Malthusianism,” murmured Bond.


“Naturally,” he chuckled again, “Or I suppose, unnatural, aggravated population control. The situation, my dear James, is clear. Look at the world today. We see death and starvation everywhere. We see good food wasted. We see arid land where once there was green. We see poison where once there was a river. We see scientists attempting to genetically modify cereal crops, livestock, pollen, so the world can continue to gorge itself far beyond its natural expanse. How have we reached this point, James? How does man pollute his own environment and yet still live? How does man still believe it is everyone’s right to life, even the infirm, the brain dead, the terminal sick, the weak and frail, the wounded? Natural selection used to control our growth. The strong grew stronger, the weak died. Man was the elite species, he conquered and mastered his environment, yet now he is beaten by the same nature he once tried to subdue. You cannot fight the wind and the rain, the rising seas, the desert sands, the vanishing ozone, the heat of the sun, the radiation that contaminates. But there is still time for man’s natural selection to take effect. We have always fought war, James, for centuries upon centuries. As long as man has walked and loved and possessed he has fought: first for food, for desire, then for land, for people, then for belief, ideology, community, freedom. When did we last depopulate our cities and our families with war? When did man last truly put his existence in peril?


“Not once, my dear James, not once in his million years. He has never fulfilled his use. He has never destroyed what he has built without replacing and repopulating. Rare is the wasteland. Man is like a recurring chrysalis, life follows life, growing and evolving, an indomitable, invincible species, crawling out of the primeval mud, learning to walk and talk. Puny and defenceless he survives flood and chaos, famine, plague and holocaust. He builds weapons, houses, palaces and cities, war machines, both to live and to destroy. But how does he fight now? Politicians offer dull rhetoric, the occasional upstart brings terror, but the biggest fight, James, is played out in our laboratories. Scientists battle against ignorance and disease. Research is now almost wholly confined to saving life at any cost, even if it means the weak will live and the strong will die. Man has forgotten how to select the best specimens for his benefit. His perpetual chrysalis has made a mockery of nature’s law. We are overcrowded, over indulged and unrepentant. No one, James, no politician, no religious divinity, none of the great thinkers, economists, theorists, no man in the street, no one cares for the future, only for the present.”


Nimon paused again and shuffled position. He stood close to Bond’s ear and almost whispered, the sound a low monotone, flat, placid.


“I am looking beyond the here and now. The future is bleak and I wish to make it harmonious. Man must be stopped. We have finally passed the tipping point. The population must be restricted to prevent its increase beyond the means of subsistence. I have the ability to achieve that aim, quickly, almost effortlessly and without conflict.”


Bond tried to take in the information without listening to the words, the repetitive timbre of the voice. He knew it was an attempt to lull him, relax his mind for the next phase of whatever would occur, and while he listened to the madness he focused on the blinding light above him, the triple suns that bathed him in white.


“And you intend to use Charteris’ virus,” he stated.


“Professor Charteris, like me, had a committed belief in what many term the Medea Hypothesis: that man will ultimately self-destruct. His formula, Protogyny One, is an undoubted work of genius. Our refinement of the virus, which we call Protogyny Seven Exemplar, confirms his ideology. It is fitting, don’t you think, that the architects of the world’s greatest crime should be his progeny?”


“Tiara and Tulisa,” Bond’s voice wavered, “What are you planning?”


“I have already carried out three successful trials. The first was in an isolation ward, here at Shangri-La. One of my orderlies took the poison. He died in less than a day. We used a Chinese girl next, from a village in the Mongol Heights. She carried the poison in a capsule which she ingested. Her whole village was wiped out within a week. The Chinese authorities neglected to publicise the event. Lastly and most emphatically, I used a Pakistani. This time she carried the virus in a phial which we injected into her bloodstream, under her arm pit. Modern contraceptives can be administered in a similar fashion. Rather than prevent life, this concoction extinguishes it in hours.”


“And I suppose those people came here,” said Bond bitterly, “To be cured of some ailment.”


“And it was a pleasure to cure them, to totally cure them, as it is to cure so many others. I offer them a solution, James, they offer me their services.”


“But not willingly.”


“Ah, of course, the mind, the brain,” Nimon considered Bond’s affront, speaking carefully almost muted, “Man’s great vassal, a muscle designed never to sleep, never to be broken or beaten, always at work, always stimulating the thoughts of its keeper. Along with the soul, that imaginary emotive portion of our anatomy, it is what defines man as an individual. Yet it can be manipulated, James, oh yes indeed it can. There are simple techniques, the kind of hypnotism you witness on the stage or on television, and there are great personalities, men whose influence develops though sheer will, despots like Hitler and Mao, thinkers like Marx and Freud, criminals, killers, men in whose presence others subordinate themselves. Doctors too utilize the field to cure addictive tendencies or overcome phobias. It can help the medicinal healing process immeasurably.”


“Drugs for everything,” Bond murmured, remembering what Nimon had told him yesterday, “Drugs to make you forget and drugs to help you remember.”


“You learn very fast, James,” Nimon nodded approvingly, “I was lucky to meet Doctor Koúros, an expert in hallucinogenics, a man who was able to work wondrous things with herbal pharmaceuticals.”


“That doesn’t explain how you discovered Charteris’ formula.”


“No, it doesn’t, does it?”


There was a long pause.


While they’d talked the other three men were preparing the transfusion equipment. Where a blood and plasma pack would have hung they were loading three bags of clear solution, each one labeled with a serial number. Slowly Mister Smith turned away from his work. He drummed his index finger against his temple.


“Someone always talks, James,” he rattled, “You don’t remember me do you?”


“Should I?”


“We only met once. I was a surveillance officer in Marrakesh, 15th January, 0812 hours, Room 218, Hotel La Mamounia. You were very young. So was I. We haven’t aged well, James, but my memory seems to be better than yours.”




Bond squinted at the transparent face. It was almost familiar, the sandy hair, the spiky blue eyes, the instinctive sweep of the beady little orbs, hawking for prey. Yes. The man had been unkempt when Bond met him, a bigger man, bulky, dark, bearded and dirty. He’d been planting infinity transmitters in the ventilation shafts.


“Tell me, do you remember who you had to kill?”


Bond flinched.


“Of course you do. The North Africa Trade Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Montague. It wasn’t a very clean kill as I recall.”


The moment flashed back. How had he not recognized him? Bond’s mind raced with its history. There had been a team of three, Bond, the Station Head and Smith. It had been a bad business. The Trade Secretary had been passing Foreign Office documents onto Moroccan insurgents, those disparate outfits that contested the Western Sahara. He could have been exposed and had his day in court. M, the old M, in her wisdom, had decided that would be sap to the terrorists and ordered his elimination. Smith had volunteered to play a window cleaner and fix the plastic explosives and timer to the window frame ensuring it would blow out a millisecond before Bond’s bullet shot through the space and into the man’s head. The timing was out. Bond had to fire four shots instead of one. The first three had hit the man’s chest. It was only with the fourth Bond stopped the bastard screaming. He didn’t see Smith again. The Station Head dealt with him. Bond caught his flight to Lisbon and wiped the debacle aside with three bottles of cheap Douro and a whore.


“I was recalled later that year,” Smith continued, “My next post was to monitor Professor Henri Charteris. I was the family chef. I’m rather good. Do you like my recipes?”


“You make that ghastly food?”


“Laced with the appropriate medicines,” Smith gave his twisted grin, “We need to keep feeding our patients,” he explained, “The effects of our cures are not permanent. The human condition is designed to fight any abnormalities. After a time the body, the blood, the brain, will revert to its natural state.”


“What did you give the twins?” asked Bond urgently.


“Nothing. I only listened. It was Doctor Nimon who abstracted the information. Of course it was his luck to meet me.”


“Not luck, Number Three,” Nimon sniffed, “Design. I found you, remember, almost burned alive?”


Dear God, yes! The bomb! An incident in Bari! Pierre Anderson Smith - missing presumed dead in action. There was a plaque on the wall of remembrance at Vauxhall Cross. Bond’s head jerked to take him in properly. That was it. No wonder he couldn’t remember the grin. Everything about the man had changed: bone structure, posture, weight, hair, voice box, nothing was untouched. The plastic surgeons had done their work, scalpels and stitches wielded to replace a true countenance with a cruel shrunken mask of a face. They must have battled for years to repair his injuries.


“Do the girls know you’ve got the virus?”


“Tulisa certainly does,” Nimon said, “She is one of us. Without her, we would not, I fear ever have ensnared her sister so willingly.”


“They may appear exactly the same,” Smith continued, “But they remain individual thinkers. It is unfortunate one has to die.”


“Romulus and Remus,” said Nimon airily, fiddling with the top of the cane, turning the bull’s head on its axis, “Cain and Abel.”


“This isn’t a morality play, Nimon,” Bond felt physically sick, they were asking one sister to kill another and in return millions more would perish, “Whatever plans you’ve got they’ll come to nothing. We already know you’re using Charteris’ formula. If there is an outbreak, we’ll find an antidote.”


“But we’ve improved so much on the late Professor’s work, James,” Nimon was unmoved. He became animated, his voice rising from the relaxed tones, his head and shoulders craning, his hand jabbing up and down emphasizing the urgency, the blood lust, “We have dispatched over two hundred patients from this clinic into the most populated places on earth, India, China, Japan, Nigeria, the great cities and metropolises. They are healthy, reassured, cured and unbeknown each one carries a tiny phial potent enough, when spread by ingestion or inhalation, to kill over one hundred people. The great step forward since the Maldives experiment has been to ensure that, like man’s chrysalis, P7E resurrects itself. For every one hundred who die, ten thousand will perish, for every ten thousand, one million, for every one million, one hundred million. There is of course a simple prevention. P7E is organic. It dies out unless you feed it. Prevent it from coming into contact with living flesh and it will cease to procreate. By that time however, Golden Age will have achieved its aim.”


“Golden Age?” repeated Bond, “So you’re Loki.”


Nimon ran an immaculate hand across his beard, seemed to pluck at it thoughtfully.


“Yes. I am Loki.”


Nimon smiled, straightened his back again and tapped the cane once. He turned away dismissively and moved with his same steely pace to the door. It slid open. Nimon breathed once, as if he wanted to say goodbye, but didn’t. The door slid shut behind him and Bond was left facing the death mask of Peter Smith and the bifocals of Doctor Koúros.


“This will help you relax,” explained Koúros as he took hold of Bond’s arm and wiped a sanitizing cloth over his skin, “Don’t worry we only replace a sixth of your blood. Anything more would be fatal.”


Koúros pulled the trolley closer and picked up the needle. Bond bit his lip. They were going to replace his blood with a tranquiliser solution. Then, God knows, he’d be putty in their bastard hands. Bond twisted aside, struggling. Smith placed his withered hand on Bond’s chest and pushed him back. The force was surprising. He fought it. Bond grimaced, tensing his arm muscles so the veins wouldn’t take the needle point. The orderly pulled him down by the shoulders. Bond shook his legs, the knees jumping. Smith cracked his other hand across Bond’s chin. Stunned Bond flopped against the pillow. That second was enough. The needle shot home and blood, pumped fast by his struggles, was ejected freely and quickly down the tiny tube.


“Damn you,” shouted Bond and followed it with more choice expletives.


“Now, now, James, we don’t like our patients to be ungrateful. This will all be over in a few minutes.”


“Damn you!”


He felt the second needle jab home. The feeding tube was attached to one of the bags. As Bond watched, he saw the bag empty, centimeter by centimeter, sucked into his bloodstream. Initially there was nothing, but inexorably as the bag emptied so did his mind. His limbs became like jelly. His eyes started to wander, unable to stay focused on any point for any time. His mouth, which had been shouting obscenities, couldn’t open and close, his tongue lolled into a cheek and stayed there, immobile. He felt both terror and peacefulness. His mind was a whirl, but his body was almost comatose. His mind, the only active part of his body, was unable to concentrate on the here and now. Like his eyes it wandered aimless. He could only describe the sensation as like floating. He tried to fix on the bright lights, on the shadows that moved around him, but he couldn’t move his head now, the effort was too much and waves seemed to wash over him, one after another, as if he was swimming, floating, far away. Concentrate, goddammit, concentrate, Bond told himself. You’re in a surgery. They’re doing terrible things to you. But it’s all so quiet. It’s all so calm. Forget the outside world. Forget yourself. Forget the outside world. Forget yourself.


Who said that?


“Forget yourself… Forget the outside world…”


Bond saw the shadows again, moving slowly, like huge birds, wings beating, carrying him, higher and higher, to the brilliant triple suns. All he could think, somewhere in the back of his mind was one word, one word he must remember.






#19 chrisno1



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Posted 15 November 2013 - 01:33 PM

Chapter Nineteen:

All Our Yesterdays


He was floating, he thought, floating in a bright sky, a sky so bright it blotted out the world, blotted out people and places, tiredness, hunger and thought. There was nothing to live for, nothing to die for and nothing to be born for. There was only what he could see, a white expanse of shimmering nothingness.


It was cool and comfortable. He could stretch out a hand and scoop nothing into his palm. He could open his mouth and breathe nothing into his lungs. He could see nothing. Taste nothing. There was nothing. The emptiness felt safe. He’d never been so secure. It was as if the glass bubble shielded him from harm. He was a child in its womb. Was it a bubble, a dome or a sphere, perhaps a cloud? Out of the whiteness he thought he saw water, streaks of glistening, ice cold water. The light shone through it and around it. Patterns flickered across the whiteness, patterns of ruby and gold, coral pink, beryl, damson, copper and cobalt. He wanted to see the rainbow’s end, like his mother told him as a tiny child, over the rainbow, the land of never ending happiness, where you always see the sun. But he was already there, wasn’t he? Inside the glimmering teardrop of water, the blazing white light, gigantic, surrounding, pulsating, moving, ebbing. It was as if the world could no longer touch him.


He breathed a long shallow breath, so long and thin he wondered if his respiratory functions had ceased. He’d been floating a long time. Swimming, he thought, in the void, swimming with rainbow coloured fish, with dolphins and minke whales, swimming until his heart couldn’t beat, until his muscles couldn’t kick, until his lungs processed no more oxygen and only his blood kept him alive. Then he simply floated, his body pushing at the luminous pearly cloud, the ivory sky.


Tired from his exertions, he wanted to rest. He tried to close his eyes to the empty scene, but he was aware the surroundings were changing, as if someone else had entered the realm of white, a clear shadow, unclear against acres of transparency, a silver shifting entity, whispering, an unseen reflection, a vampire, sucking the life force from him.


Still the strange nothingness, the outline shadow, persisted and the figure, now black against black, was moving, touching him, prodding, cutting. He couldn’t touch it. He tried to reach out, but his hands and arms couldn’t coordinate. Whenever the spirit moved close and he strained to assert authority over his comatose muscles, the figure seemed to vanish only to reappear closer or farther away. The spirit made no noise. Its presence was an enigma to him, at once havoc and tranquility. Where had the darkness come from? How had the spirit materialized, a Merlin among a puny mortal, a trick of the light? Unable to move, his eyes followed the spirit, watched as it retreated, came forward, retreated, always silent.


And then he felt it, the first time for an age. Pain. He would have convulsed, but he couldn’t move, life had ceased. The pain stretched down his arm to his hand, up his shoulder to his spine. It racked across his torso, a sharp, enveloping shock. It was done within seconds. Then there was only a cloying numbness and his eyelids finally slid shut and he entered sleep.           


When he opened his eyes after a few years of nothingness, everything was still white. The blackness wasn’t even a memory.


He was floating again, as if the cloud had picked him up and was carrying him to safe pasture, God and Adam as one. He was thirsty. He saw it, the pool of water, orange tinged, speckled with ice cubes, little seeds, juices and syrups. He wanted to sit by the pool, to lap at the water and drink the sweet nectar it offered. Softly he landed, as if still floating, and stretched out a vacant hand for the cool honey dripping. It seeped through his fingers, coated his palms, he tasted it, oh the sweetness, the sweetness, and he started to swim, not in the pool, above it, flying, floating, not a fish, not a bird, a man, afloat, watching the white world, the luminous ether, which contracted and expanded, swept over him, drawing a curtain, a white veil, and inside the veil he thought he saw faces. They were disembodied, vacuous, not even a hallucination, mere dreamy shadows, drifting with him in the white glow. Images, faces and places seemed to follow him as he floated, appear and disappear, just as he’d known them in life,  people he’d seen, people he knew and loved, they dwelt with him a while, they vanished into the yawning chasm and became nothing, fictitious, unborn, unconceived, only the possibility of memory remained. There was his mother, her hands like cream, petting him dry as he ran from the sea, skin cold and puckered from the salt, his hair a wet scamp of black, as she parted it a curl drooped down his forehead and she brushed it back. In the distance his father, the pipe and the long shorts, walking boots, map and compass in hand, directing the threesome, the tall mountain framing his shoulders as if he was Atlas straining to support the world, to support his happy family. They walked through the valleys, stopped at castles and lochs, the ruins ghosts on the horizon tumbling out of the misty dawn. They watched the eagles fly, snapped flower stems, poisonous toadstools, collected butterflies and heard them hum.


The sound was indistinct at first. A low gentle whisper, a breeze tickling his chin, like his father’s beard, his mother’s wool sweater, as she hugged him to her breast, or a girl’s shy kiss, the kind they give you when you’re ten and the playground is for little kids and the overhanging willow is where the grown-ups play, holding hands and whispering love that meant nothing because you didn’t know what love really meant.


The hum.


He thought it might be a waterfall or a fountain or a rippling, laughing, joyous brook. No, it was softer, like the hissing of summer fields, waves of corn, a sea of lavender, stretching away from the timber shelter, where the girl took his hand, placed it on her breast, under the cotton blouse, the nylon lingerie, onto a single pointed nipple, no longer the bosom of his mother, a mystery, a pleasure, an innocent treasured moment, even now her perfume, the meadow scent, seemed to whisper.


The hissing grew louder, still in the background, still driving the memories. They faded as quickly as people had vanished from his life. Friends from school, from the navy, captains and admirals, subordinates, men in rowdy bars, cocktail bars, the sommelier at Browns, the concierge at Raffles, girlfriends in exotic countries, port side, in the hills, behind old Valletta, her oily skin burnt caramel by the sun, her hair long, pitch black, her eyes shining diamonds in coal, the moment once lost, now returned, shore leave, the dusty badlands, a village and an orchard and one pretty maiden, whispering her love. He saw her again, a car, silver grey, fast, retreating, escaping from him, into the wild woods, the overhanging boughs shelter from the storm, hot breath on his neck, teeth at his breast, he lay her down, the long golden hair washed in the golden lake, the rustle of leaves, the hum of bees, singing spiders weaving webs, the blue eyes, crystal clear, the mouth awash with words, whispered echoes, on and on, on and on, a hum, a low monotone, creeping out of the whiteness that surrounded them, out of her mouth, out of the pores of his skin, the dense mass of white, vibrating as he loved her, on and on, the hum a call, a single high note repeated again and again, the timbre trickling over the fast receding memories, like another cloud of nothingness.




He’d loved her once. Loved them all once, at the very moment he was with them, arms and legs and bodies intertwined, kisses exchanged, no apologies, a quick goodbye, yesterday, yesteryear, all of them, all together, them and us, memories, girls, women, friends, mothers, affairs never to be forgotten. He didn’t forget, not all of it. He knew he would never forget the moment when she told him, communicated it with her movement, with her delicate motions, a giggle and fingers touching, just the tips, enough to tell she was there and would be always. Why hadn’t he seen it, when they made love, when the longing took over, when the passion surfaced and the mores of lust burnt hard onto the heart? It had always been there, written across creased youthful features, the inquisitive frown, the swinging foot, the amused smile, Sir Galahad.




He was carried far away from the moment. It might have been seconds, it might have been days. He thought he was ascending into the cloud, into that gargantuan entity of white. He thought  his heartbeat, so slow as to have stopped, was awake only to the sound of the voice, the single repetitive vowel, the single repetitive consonant, linked, meshed, by time, by space, by the living, by the dead. Is this what it is like, death? The question made him smile. If it will be as peaceful as this, there was nothing to fear, nothing to hurt. The faces had gone, his mother and father, the accident, Nara, to the dust of her village, Leslie, to the scent of lavender, Veritta, back to the beaches of Santa Marta, Penny, pregnant and happy, at home in London, an expectant father’s hand on her tummy, Sylvia, somewhere safe, somewhere far from his world, Amy, dear Amy, Gabi, Tiara.




The kisses, the ice blue eyes, the scent of Acqua di Gioia, the thrill of her touch, she was here, Tiara hadn’t gone.




His mouth was already forming the word, imitating the languid unconditional single note of the song. He buckled and the word didn’t come. Something wasn’t right in this version of heaven. Something was missing.


Swimming out of the void he thought he was in a room. He saw strange shapes sifting before his eyes, closing in, backing away, their voices a slow grinding moan as if they’d lost a tongue. Was this where he went to die? He shut his eyes but the images kept coming. Another face, another room, dark now, a memory, two identical faces, two identical voices, melding together into one hissing scorning whisper of hate. He ached. His arm hurt. It was numb. He felt the rigid sharp pin pricks. There was a man with a skull for a face, another as pristine and white as the beautiful cloud. He started to shake. There were other faces, other people, men, dark ugly men, brutes with shaven heads, a tall sinewy Arab, a hawk on his arm, teasing it with a finger nail, a silent soundless tattooed priest, a Russian in uniform, his refuge a jungle kingdom, mastiff dogs, jaws slobbering, incisors snapping at flesh, blood on his skin, bullets in his chest, a scar, a knife, a battleground, the bodies piled around him, his victims, gunshot wounds, stabbings, throats strangled, limbs twisted until bones broke, bombs, fire, poison, an endless list of atrocity, an endless mortuary, ankle deep, knee deep, to the thigh, corpse after corpse, rotting, fetid husks of decay, men, women, children, skin tearing from skin, one deep red gash upon another, diseased, unclean, dead.  He screamed.


When the scream ended the world was calm.


The white cloud throbbed forever.


He was neither of it nor in it.


He was floating again.


He was sighing reed thin breaths of air.


He was sleeping, wasn’t he?


“Sleep,” someone said it, “Sleep,” over and over and over, “Sleep.”


He slept or he thought he did.


He thought he saw her. The golden hair brushed his cheek, the sweet breath on his lips, the necklace clutched at her throat, the sapphires glinting, like her blue eyes, asking why he chased her.


There was a cool hand on his forehead. There was a pill on his tongue and water in a glass. He sipped it, swallowed.


Once again he felt pin pricks, not jagged this time, but gentle, a scratch. He could feel the life giving gel seeping into his blood. He could sense it wasn’t his own. Everything was turning blissfully cold.  





#20 chrisno1



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Posted 22 November 2013 - 12:43 PM

Chapter Twenty:

Killer’s Instinct


He thought it was the same room. It was soft and cool. He could feel the coolness on his forehead. A little tear of perspiration rested on his lip and he licked it away. It wasn’t salty how he expected but clean, precious, like river water, ice water.


He hummed. Slowly he opened his eyes. There was a beautiful face staring at him. Gorgeous full lips, long, very long dark red hair, pale skin, long lashes, lavender eyes, staring.




He stirred.


“What,” he stumbled over the simple word. His tongue seemed caught, “What’s the matter?”


“Shhh!” she hissed, “They only now brought you back. No-one has had treatment for so long time. We are all worried.”


“What?” he repeated, “I don’t understand. Who are you?”


“Renata,” the face replied urgently, “Renata, remember, from Slovakia?”


“Am I in Slovakia?”


“God,” she whispered, “It hasn’t worked.”


“What hasn’t worked?” Bond shook his head and tried to sit up, “How long have I been asleep?”


“You had treatment,” she insisted, “Treatment, not sleep.”


“Not sleep?”


“No. Hypnotherapy treatment.”


“I was hypnotized?” he questioned, rolling onto a sore arm. He saw the bruising on his lower limb. It hurt. There was another mark, higher up, under his left armpit, a little scar fixed by three butterfly stitches. He rubbed it delicately with his thumb.


“I’ve been in hospital,” he declared, “I remember the surgery, a big white room. What was wrong with me?”


“Nothing is wrong,” the girl almost shouted, “You need rest.”


She put her hand gently on his chest and made him lie back.


“But I feel fine,” continued Bond, “Let me eat something. I’m starving.”


“One moment,” the girl stood up from the chair and crossed to the little table. She poured some water and brought the glass over. She held up a yellow transparent capsule, no bigger than half an inch, filled with what looked like a hundred multicoloured tiny pills, “Take this.”


“What is it?”


“It will help you rest.”


Bond took the capsule on his tongue and swallowed with the water. The girl gave him a second caplet after which he drank the rest of the glass. The girl’s hand stroked his cheek. Already he felt sleepy. His eyes were staring to close.


“What did you say your name was again?”


He didn’t hear the answer.



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



She saw him, at least the shadow of him, inside the sphere.


“There you are,” her sister pointed an immaculate finger nail, “You wanted to see him.”


“I can’t see him.”


She was playing them all, her sister, Nimon, Doctor Koúros, that horrid Mister Smith, all the guards, playing as if she was back on their side, back with the treatments and the hypnosis. She’d broken it. She didn’t understand how, but she knew she had broken it. It happened slowly. When she’d met Doctor Nimon again, the evil warlock’s eyes had held her in a trance. She’d felt herself drifting, repeating the mantra he wanted, repeating everything she’d learnt before.


It was only when she saw James, when she was in his bed, waiting, and he came into the room, that she realized something was terribly wrong. She realized she was spellbound, under Doctor Nimon’s influence, but it was too late to stop the words forming on her lips, too late to warn him, too late for James. He was captured in front of her eyes. She watched with growing panic. She’d hurt the man who loved her, the man she loved. Why would she do that? It was this simple revelation which prompted her to fight the voice which had compelled her. Outwardly she was calmness personified. Inward, her mind reeled, tried to understand the situation, to make sense of what was happening to her, to everyone, even to James.


She didn’t know it then, not for certain, and yet somehow she knew by being here, on this mountain top, she was putting his life at risk. As she rested, she tried to remember all the good things, the things which made her forget everything else. There was so much she would always remember, almost every moment of her life, but she concentrated on what she’d forgotten: the days when she drank, when she drove at suicidal speeds, when she danced until dawn, when she loved and was loved, when she was with him. Painstakingly slowly, the fog of uncertainty started to clear. She touched her arm, the little scar. That was it. What was the importance of the scar?


She had to find out. She had to ask her sister. If anyone, her sister would tell. She prepared herself to perform. She’d been kept hidden, in a large barren room beneath Doctor Nimon’s quarters. It was cold and uncomfortable. It could have been a prison cell rather than a monk’s. Every once in a while one of the orderlies would look in on her. She asked one of them if her sister could visit. Two hours later she was there, a pristine smile but cautious at the doorway.  


“How are you?”


“I’m much better, T,” she murmured. The single question seemed very cold. She didn’t want to force the issue. She remembered what the voice had said and repeated it, “Tell me, are you one of us?”


Her sister raised an eyebrow.


“Of course, why do you ask?”


“I wasn’t sure. I hadn’t seen your scar.”


Her sister smiled warmly, unbuttoned her blouse and pulled down the left sleeve. There was the little three line scar.


“You see, T, we’re all in this together.”


“I’m so glad. I thought it was just me.”


“Don’t be silly, of course it isn’t. I’ve been helping you all this time, telling you where to go, who to see, what to say. You’ve been brilliant. You’ve brought loads of patients to Shangri-La. But you weren’t supposed to fall in love, darling. That was never on the agenda.”


“What’s wrong with love?”


“Doctor Nimon thinks it’s dangerous to fall in love,” replied her sister, “It disturbs the base emotions. You don’t think rationally or logically. When you’re planning to commit the biggest genocide in history, you can’t think about love.”


It was an effort not to avert her eyes. It was hard to understand how her sister had fallen in with these people, how she’d become so obsessed.


“Do you think,” she said timidly, “Doctor Nimon could explain everything to me?”


“Of course, darling, I’m sure he’d be delighted.”


For almost two days, she’d complied without question, but inside she was sickened. Her stomach was somersaulting. It was hard to remain in control, to stand near her sister and listen to her talking to these malevolent men as they discussed their heinous plan: the hypnosis, the disease, the subliminal orders, the virus, the speed of its gestation, the death toll rising millions upon millions. Now, still aghast, she was standing in the treatment centre, the opaque sphere glowing, James trapped inside.


She cast her eyes quickly across the controls, saw the flutter on the heart monitor and flipped a switch.


“No, you mustn’t!”


“Oh, shut up, T, he’s ill,” she said, scolding her as she used to when they were children, watching as the two halves of the globe separated. He looked terribly pale. His eyes were open but they weren’t looking at anything. The heart monitor showed his pulse to be tremendously low. She thought his chest breathed maybe only a half-dozen times each minute. She stretched out a hand and stroked his cheek. It was scarily cold and dry, like a corpse.


“How long will he be in here?”


“They say the treatment isn’t working. They’re going to try again in a few days; he’ll be too weak to absorb the messages otherwise.”


“He’s very strong. It might take weeks.”


“Doctor Nimon isn’t in a hurry.”


The swish of the automatic door interrupted them. It was Doctor Koúros. He came over angry, his mouth uttering foreign words.


“What are you doing?” he bawled, “The program isn’t finished yet.”


“I’m sorry, Goran,” her sister said, quickly, “His pulse was very low. We thought he was dying.”

Koúros scratched at his scalp, placed his glasses on his nose, inspected the monitors and uttered a long rumbling sound from his throat, one which became more agitated the longer it lasted.


“You know, you might be right,” he said, pressing his alarm control, “Quick. Help me detach the sensors.”


She watched as Doctor Koúros, her sister attending, gave James an injection, an anaesthetic, about half the contents of a big syringe. He was unconscious when the two orderlies arrived with a wheeled stretcher. They unhitched James from the sphere, strapped him on and took him away. Among the sudden activity, she picked up the half empty syringe and slipped it in her trouser pocket.


Back in her brick built cavern, she bit her lip, her right hand clutching her only weapon.


“Where are they taking him?” she asked.


“Back to his room in the patient’s block,” explained her sister, “We have to keep up appearances. This isn’t torture, T.”


“Thanks for covering for me.”


“Don’t be silly.”


They hugged each other. Tiara lifted the syringe and buried the needle in her sister’s jugular vein.



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



Bond sat up abruptly. The room was in darkness. For a moment he thought he was still in that god awful place with the two doctors, the skeleton and the bare cold tableau. He wasn’t. Someone switched on a table lamp.


Two figures stepped towards him, concern stretched across their faces. One was the first girl, Renata; the other a beautiful blonde haired stranger. No, not a stranger, he knew her. She was the girl from his dreams, the girl with the clear blue eyes, like pools of ice, sparkling.


“Tiara?” he whispered.


“Thank god,” she said, “You remember!”


The blonde girl gave him a hug and kissed his lips, a quick snappy touch that made Bond edge back in surprise.


“What do I remember?”


“My name, silly!” cried the girl, a few tears running down her cheeks, “Now, come on, we have to get you dressed, there isn’t much time.”


Bond baulked.


“Time for what?” he argued, “For god’s sake, will someone explain what’s going on?”


“You’ve had treatment,” said Tiara, “You’ve been hypnotized, mesmerized, you’ve been ordered to kill people, like all of us, but you don’t know it, you can’t remember. I’ve given you pills to help you fight the therapy.”


“What on earth are you talking about?”


“Subliminal messages, James. Brain washing, you know, like in The Manchurian Candidate?”


“That was a terrible film,” he laughed, “A load of cobblers. That sort of thing doesn’t really go on in the world of spies. I should know.”


“If so would you have told us that?”


Bond paused. He squinted. No. She was right, he wouldn’t. Not normally. Spies. No, he wasn’t that, was he? He was -


What was he? He shook his head. His arm was sore. Two big bruises. He remembered a black room, a blinding light, a man, a man with a Van Dyke beard and a cane, a bull’s head cane, he was talking, always talking.


“We’re losing him,” someone said.


A hand slapped across his face.


Bond reacted, snatched at the puny wrist. A low growl slipped from his lips.


“You hurt me,” said Renata slowly.


“I meant too,” he hissed, “Now what the hell’s going on? Someone explain or I’ll break your little wrist.”


The other girl, who he was certain was Tiara, was on the other side of him, one knee on the bed, her hands on his shoulders. She seemed much more practical than in his dreams and she was wearing more clothes as well.


“No, James, there isn’t time for this,” she pleaded, “You must trust me.”


Bond didn’t release the wrist. He turned his face to the blonde mirage.


“I’m an alcoholic,” he declared, “A dipsomaniac. I came to Shangri-La to sort myself out. Why the hell can’t I remember?”


“But you can, James,” the girl said, “You will. It takes time. It always takes time. You aren’t supposed to remember. I’ve given you a pill, several pills, without them you’d do everything Doctor Nimon tells you.”


“How do you know all this?” he asked, “I thought you were my girlfriend?”


“I am.”


“Oh,” Bond saw the flash of jealousy that passed over Renata’s face. Interesting, he considered.


“How did we meet?”


“You wanted to find me.”


“I did?”


Confused, Bond released the wrist. Everything swam. He didn’t understand. He felt weak. His head hurt with the effort of thinking. Tiara. Renata. Girlfriends. Twins. Tulisa.




“My sister.”


“Where is she?”


“Sleeping off another hefty dose of anaesthetic,” said Tiara, “She’s been a very bad girl. I’ve been impersonating her for the last six hours. It’s very hard work.”


“You,” Bond stammered, “You’re identical.”


“Not entirely.”


“What do you mean?”


“Oh can’t you tell,” Renata answered impatiently, “It’s obvious. This one’s in love.”


Love, Bond sighed. That was what he’d been dreaming about. He’d been thinking about all the people he knew, all the people he’d loved, who’d influenced him, his mother and father, his aunt, those young teenage girlfriends, the work colleagues, the secretaries, the affairs. He remembered the long distant flings with women in harbours and ports as he sailed the world, a Navy commander, uniformed, attractive and slightly raffish. He remembered faces and places, the token memories of adoration. He remembered his little flat and the candlelight dinners he made for Sylvia. He remembered Puerto Rico and the raven headed Gabi and the Pacific idyll he’d spent romancing sweet, wonderful Veritta.  He remembered the big ziggurat building on the banks of the Thames, where he worked and where the delightful Penny was waiting for him, pregnant and happy, not his, but his god son or god daughter, someone to treasure.


Most of all, he remembered Tiara. The hot kisses, the cool skin, the excitement, the desperation, the

thrill, how many words could describe it? She was here now, with him, holding his hand, her eyes set on his face, almost talking to him, telling him to believe her, telling him to trust her, that it was all right and she was the one to treasure.


“Where am I going?” he asked the girl simply.


“I have no idea,” she said, “But I know we have to get you off this mountain. Nimon and Smith are cooking up something pretty rotten. They’ve had you in treatment for forty-eight hours. I’ve been shitting myself.”


“Did it cure me?”


“Probably,” she said, “No more alcohol for you. The morning helicopter lands in fifteen minutes. We need to get you on it.”


“Helicopter,” vaguely he remembered the helicopter. There was a blank space in his mind. He couldn’t understand it. He was confused. He couldn’t grasp what was happening. He wanted everything to slow down, to how it was inside the white room.


“We’re losing him again,” said Tiara.


Both girls pulled him out of bed. He almost collapsed. They hauled him to the bathroom and ducked him under the shower, turning it to cold. He clenched his teeth. Shivering he endured it for two minutes and then turned the dial to scorching hot for two more.


When he emerged he was pink all over. Neither girl seemed concerned by his nudity. The one called Renata threw him some slacks and a shirt. Sheepishly, a little bemused, he slipped them on.


“How do you know all these things?” he asked, to no-one in particular.


“I told you,” answered Tiara, “I’ve been impersonating my twin sister. Even Nimon can’t tell us apart. There’s something called P7E, you must remember it, James, it’s very important. P7E.”


He repeated it.


“There’s a phial of it sewn into your bloodstream, like a contraceptive, under your arm,” explained the girl, “We all have it. P7E is a virus, a toxin, it kills everything. You have to get it analyzed and get an antidote.”


“Why? What’s Doctor Nimon planning to do?”


“Not just Nimon, James, Golden Age.”


Bond stopped pulling on his socks and shoes. Golden Age. That was familiar. For a moment an image swam through his mind, a pirate on a yacht, a man in white, the man with the cane. His brow furrowed. Before he had time to say anything, Renata swept to the window and pulled the blind a tad.


“It’s the helicopter,” she said.


Bond recognized the throb of the rotors. Yes. He’d arrived by helicopter. The journey had been a couple of hours long. Tiara had been with him. He looked at her. No, someone else; Tulisa. They’d caught him. He’d been reeled in like a fish on a line, but that was his job, wasn’t it? Shangri-La. The health clinic. The twin sisters. He was trying to save them both, wasn’t he? Why wasn’t the other girl here?


Bond finished tying his laces.


“We need to get your sister,” he declared.


“No,” Tiara replied instantly, “It’s bad enough as it is. We’ve kept her sedated all night. There’ll be hell to pay when they find out you’ve escaped anyway. You don’t need us anymore, you just need the P7E.”


She touched his stitches. Her fingers were soft and cool.


“It’s all there, James, everything you need to save the world. That is what you do isn’t it?”


Bond stared blankly at her. What was she talking about? What did he do for a living? Wasn’t he a journalist? Wasn’t he James Stock? Wasn’t -  


The door crashed open.


It was as if hell had suddenly descended into one room. 


There were four of them. A tall rangy figure in white who looked as if his face had been sewn onto his skull, two big men in dark blue overalls, clearly his minnows, and a girl, dressed in red, the spitting image of Tiara.


The two big men charged forward, going for him. Bond didn’t move. He didn’t understand what was happening. The men held coshes. They slammed them into Bond’s stomach and he collapsed to the floor. Blows began to rain down and he tried to fend them off, his arms up, his head rolling. Somewhere to his right he registered the two sisters, the twins, fighting, hands scrabbling at hair and faces, nails raking at each other. He thought he saw teeth snapping at flesh. To his left, behind him, the other girl, was pouncing on one of the men. Bond’s eyes flicked to the one person who hadn’t moved.


The snakelike figure of Mister Smith was pulling a gun from behind his back. He must have been carrying it all the time. The deep sunken eyes darted from target to target, taking in the chaos in one swift instinctive movement. The man was a killer. He’d killed before. He’d killed in Marrakesh. No. Then it had been Bond who had killed. Smith was the traitor. Smith had stolen secrets. The girls’ secret. The secret of P7E. Traitors deserved justice. Justice, Bond realized, meant death.


The gun hand was swinging towards him.


It was a Heckler and Koch P30. Short recoil. Fifteen rounds. 9mm. Powerful. A stopper. Bond didn’t know how he knew that. He simply did. It was something to do with the big building, the one in London, where he fired weapons like those, in a long alley, with targets for practice. Sometimes he used live targets. Sometimes people got killed. They got killed by Bond.


Instinctively, his head snapped up and he grasped the club that was swinging down again. He thrust the man backwards. The gun fired. The orderly took the salvo in the chest. Bond was hurtling past the falling body, slamming into Smith, his hand taking the barrel of the gun, hoisting it so it aimed at the ceiling. His fist punched low. The breath whistled through Smith’s cracked teeth. Bond butted him. The reconfigured nose split. Blood splattered. Something thudded onto his back. The other guard was attacking. Bond kicked out, destroyed the man’s knee. He spun, throwing Smith across the room, ripping the gun from his grasp.


Bond felt a surge of energy. The P30 was snug in his hand, the bullets waiting to be shot.


The red head was squealing. Bond shoved her aside, grabbed the guard’s shoulder and shoved the gun into his chest. He pulled the trigger. The retort was muffled. The man’s ribs exploded. Still using the man as a silencer, Bond took aim across the room and fired again and again. The body offered its arms to the oncoming bullets. He seemed to welcome them into his damaged torso. Pierre Anderson Smith danced for several seconds and then lay still.


Justice was served.







#21 chrisno1



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Posted 29 November 2013 - 01:24 AM

Chapter Twenty One:

Flight and Fight




The twins were speechless. They’d stopped wrestling and stared at the chaos. Bond slammed the door shut. He walked over to the sisters and took a fistful of Tulisa’s hair, yanking at it so she squirmed.  


“What are you up to?” he shouted.


“You’ll never win, James,” she crowed, twisting her face as he tugged on the long tresses, “There’s only one way off this mountain.”


“Watch me.”


Bond looked at the handsome face, the lips parting into an angry snarl. Mad or not, she’d be a bloody handful.


“On second thoughts,” he said, “Don’t.”


He cracked the gun barrel on the back of Tulisa’s head and caught her as she fainted. Bond lowered her to the floor. Tiara gave a startled whimper and crossed to her sister, the girl she’d only seconds before been fighting.


“She’ll be fine, Tiara,” Bond reassured, “I need your help, fast. You’ll have to play Tulisa one more time. The residents will be getting restless. They must have heard something. Can you calm them?”


The girl nodded and drew in a deep breath.


“Yes, I think so, James.”


Bond squeezed her shoulder and the girl touched his hand. She wiped away the tear that had rolled and stood up, “You want me to go now?”


“Yes, please, sweetheart. Be as tough as you like.”


The smile twitched over her face and she gave him a swift kiss on the mouth. Her lips were still cool. As she disappeared through the door, he said, “Go to the reception when you’re done and wait for me.”


Renata stood stock still. The bullets had missed her by inches. She was closer to death than she’d ever been on the mountains at Donovaly. He grasped an arm and shook her urgently.




She blinked, almost collapsed.


“Snap to it! I need you to help me!”


For a moment he thought he’d lost her to shock, but then she heaved out a sigh and sat on the bed. She was blood splattered and she looked at the stains with tears welling.


“That’s it,” he assured, “Get it out now. I can’t afford to have you cracking on me in a few minutes.”



“We’re getting off this bloody mountain,” he said, “The three of us.”


“How?” she dabbed at her eyes.


“Like you said, the helicopter,” Bond stepped over to his suitcase and ripped back the handle, revealing the secret pocket. The phial still sat in the compartment. He took it and gave a grim smile. His memory was returning and it was coming fast, snippets and landscapes all as one: where he was, who he was, why he was, what he did.


“What’s happening outside?”


He didn’t want to look, in case he was spotted. Renata peered through a gap in the blinds.


“The helicopter has landed. The pilot is out. They are unpacking boxes, food maybe.”


“That’s good. How many men do you see?”


“The pilot. One more man. No wait. There is another.”


“Are they armed?” Bond checked the cartridge in the P30. Three bullets remained. Bad odds if he had to start shooting.


“I cannot see. What will I see?”


“It’s all right, Renata, don’t worry, I’m sure they’re not.”


The dead orderlies had only carried clubs. Maybe Smith was the only one who carried a gun. Maybe they were truly that disorganized - or that confident. 


“Keep watching, Renata,” he instructed, “Tell me everything they do.”


Bond took a deep breath and opened the door a crack. He could hear Tiara speaking to some of the patients. He heard Luis objecting about being asked to remain in his room.


“Not until breakfast,” Tiara said sternly, “Mister Smith will explain everything at seven o’clock.”


He glanced at the wall clock. 6.30. Good girl, that gave him half an hour. Plenty of time. He listened for several more minutes. Tiara seemed to have subdued the patients. He saw her black garbed figure descending the stairway. Faintly, he could hear her talking to someone, probably the receptionist, but was unable to catch the words. He closed the door.


“What did you mean about love?” he asked.


Renata turned away from the window a moment, “What?”


“You said Tiara was in love,” he explained, “How did you know?”


“I told you. She looks nothing like her sister. Not now. A woman can tell these things. When I see her walk across the garden, she was light on her feet. Tiara is a model, yes? I recognize her. She walks like that, not like her sister. She is too flat of foot. And her face, James, have you ever seen such a face?”


Bond didn’t entirely understand what she meant. Yet he knew it was true. There was something different. The smile that greeted him when he awoke a few minutes ago, it wasn’t just from her lips; it was from her heart.


“No, I don’t believe I have,” he replied slowly.


“I followed her into your room,” she continued, returning her gaze to the window, “We almost fought. Two women fighting over you, James, how does it feel?”


“Terrible,” Bond’s mind was indeed spinning, “I’m glad I don’t have to keep the peace.”


“Wait. There is another man,” said Renata, suddenly, “Doctor Koúros and a stranger, a big man with no hair.”


“Tic, Tac, Toe,” chimed Bond.


“What? Do you know of him?”


“Not socially.”


She looked at him quizzically.


“One more question. Which way is the helicopter pointing?”


She frowned, peeked out again and said, “The pilot seat is on the other side of us.”


“Good. Thank you, Renata,” he held out his hand, “Time to be off.”


She hesitated, looking at something outside, “James -”


He gestured with his hand, “Come on.”


“But -”


“No time like the present,” he stepped back and grasped her hand pulling her to him and virtually dragging her through the door.


They crept down the stairwell, the girl crouched behind him, still fussing. Bond placed a finger to her lips. He could still hear voices, more of them now. He hung into the shade of the corridor, pressed against the wall, the mottled glass door obstructing his view out and any view in. Dark shapes moved in the bright light beyond.


“It is Koúros,” whispered Renata, “That is what I wanted to say.”


Bond patted her hand. 


“No problem.”


But he wasn’t sure. Silently, the slim figure just behind him, he inched forward. Tiara was in the lobby, talking to the Doctor, talking to one of the numbskulls, Tic or Tac, talking to Rebecca. She was stalling them, a long winded story about Smith wanting time alone with the patient, but Doctor Koúros wasn’t to be convinced.


“Number Three is always being impetuous,” he rasped.


“I’m sure it’ll be all right in a moment, Doctor,” she preened, “Do want me to check?”


“No. I’ll find my own way.”


The door opened and the bespectacled figure entered the corridor. His eyesight immediately filled with James Bond, the Heckler and Koch held straight out, pointing at him, the aperture only inches from his skull.


Koúros stood still, let the lip of the door slip from his fingers and it swung back on its hinge. Behind, Bond glimpsed the lumpen, broad shouldered shape of Tac, his dull face studying Tiara, uncertain.


“I see our therapy hasn’t worked,” Koúros said flatly.


“Turn around, Doctor,” said Bond.


“Why? What exactly are you hoping to achieve?”


“Never you mind; turn around.”


Koúros did so. As he stepped back through the door, Bond saw the Doctor’s hand move from the door push to his lab coat pocket. Bond stepped up, grabbed the hand, his gun pointing into Koúros’ neck. One of those alarm buzzers rested in the Doctor’s hand, the call button pressed.


Bond shoved Koúros across the foyer. Tac hadn’t moved. The big face crinkled and he took several paces backwards.


“That’s it, keep walking, I want you outside, all of you.”   


Slowly, the receptionist stood up and joined her companions. Tiara stood perfectly still, uncertain of her role.


“All of you,” he repeated, motioning with the gun.




“Move, Tulisa.”


Her sister’s name seemed to remind the girl she was still acting a role. She made a cautious step to the entrance.


“Keep together,” Bond ordered, “No sudden moves. Renata, take the door.”


He didn’t move until the girl had the door pulled wide and they were all shuffling through the exit. Bond followed the party outside, one pace at a time. The dawn sun light made him wince. They had stopped on the little mosaic patio. Still training the gun on the group his eyes took in what was happening elsewhere. To his right was the garden, to the left, just behind the group, were the steps to the helipad. The pilot was still off-loading. The two orderlies were ferrying boxes to the treatment quarters. No one seemed to be following up the alarm signal. How long had it taken the nurses to arrive the other day - two minutes or three?


“Tulisa,” he barked, “Tell the pilot to start the rotors.”




“No,” interrupted Koúros, catching the girl’s wrist, “He’s bluffing, Tulisa. He can’t get away from Shangri-La and he knows it, don’t you, Mister Bond?”


“Do it, Tulisa!”


Trapped, she hesitated.


“Or what, Mister Bond?”


The time had come. Bond heard the sound of movement across the garden, footsteps, doors opening, men on the move. He raised his left hand away from the gun. In his palm was the deadly phial of P7E. He spoke loudly, so as many souls as possible could hear him.


“Or I’ll crush this and we’ll all die.”


It was almost as if they’d been petrified. They stood like statues. Slowly, Koúros’ hand dropped from the girl’s wrist. The thudding footsteps died to an indistinct tap. Bond saw five or six other men ranged along the garden paths, close to the rock pool.


“And what would that achieve?”


Bond hesitated. The voice had been very calm, very flat. What was he saying? The words wouldn’t form. Bond’s mind became hazy. What was his objective? Did he have one? The moment seemed to last more than a second. He suddenly felt a wave of nausea. Did he have a plan?


“Someone would have to investigate,” argued Bond, slowly, “Even the local police couldn’t cover up a diseased clinic.”


“Why do you believe there is still time?” asked Koúros, a thin smile stretching across his lips, his tone even, placid, the syllables pronounced, “You have been here too long, Mister Bond. People are already dying in their thousands. Golden Age is winning its war. Whatever you achieve now, the world will still suffer and will recover stronger still.”


Don’t listen. Bond blinked. It’s that white room, it’s that surgery, it’s that white plastic bubble. Fight it! Your life depends on it!


“I don’t have time for your bloody ideology,” snapped Bond, “Tulisa! See to the pilot.”


The girl moved away up the path. Bond, almost shaking, inched towards her indicating the remaining hostages should move aside. Renata moved with him. They passed very close. Bond saw the hard eyes of Tac, staring, viciously cool. He saw the frightened features of Rebecca, her mouth echoing a silent prayer. Koúros was impassive, but a film of perspiration clung to the creases of his forehead. Behind him, Bond heard the Rolls Royce engine splutter into life.


“Go on, Renata,” he said. When her footfalls were many enough, Bond made his own cautious way up the steps. He was in full view now, on the highest part of the peak, the most exposed. There was no shelter bar the hull of the Swidnik. Below him he could see the two groups, one by the patient block, one in the garden, staring at him, waiting. He felt the air cut across him as the rotors began to turn.


What had the Doctor said? Was it all too late? Was the world already in jeopardy? He couldn’t believe it. It was never too late. There was always time to save the world. He blinked again, felt a trickle of sweat run down his cheek. It could be true, but you couldn’t give in to it. You didn’t surrender to the fight. Sometimes people suffered, people died, he’d seen it enough to know. It was how you made those deaths count, how you paid back their blood with more blood.


He was almost on the landing strip. Backed to one side, he saw the orderly, the package at his feet, clothes blown by the sudden updraft, a hand to his eyes, warding way the dust. Bond took the final step. One hand still held up the phial of death. His other was fixed dead straight, the gun not wavering from the centre point, its barrel following his eyes.


Yes, this was it. This was his life. Whatever those bastards had pumped into him, whatever they’d tried to teach him, however they’d influenced, molded or instructed, he wasn’t obeying. He had his own nature to control, a deep, dark, furtive nature, latent sickening evil that coursed through him when danger punched the air. Possessed with such power he was capable of great things and bad, right blended with wrong and moral choices disappeared, the shadows took over. He simply was.


Far across the garden, Bond saw the door to Doctor Nimon’s quarters open. The white suited man emerged into the daylight, the cane tapping. He stared at the scene, the eyes sweeping the vista, resting finally, firmly on Bond.




That was the word.


His gun arm wavered. He had to eliminate Loki.




It was Renata.


“Get in the helicopter,” he said, hesitating, “You and Tiara.”


He didn’t know if anyone had heard the name. The sound of the spinning rotors deafened him. He stepped forward. The orderly was backing away from the dust cloud. Below him Doctor Koúros was making his way up the path.




“It’s too late, Mister Bond,” he shouted, calmly, ordered, metronome, “You are one of us.”




“You are one of us,” Koúros repeated and kept repeating, his hand held out as he made his way slowly, smoothly towards Bond.




The cry was someone else’s.


From the corner of his eye, Bond suddenly saw what was happening. Renata had lost the girl. Tiara was pulling away, her face suddenly glazed, her eyes staring straight ahead, straight at Doctor Koúros, her mouth uttering the refrain, replying, beckoning. She was losing it. The bastards had her.


“Tiara!” shouted Bond.


She brushed past him, stumbled and fell into a faint, her lips moving. Bond moved, his eyes switching from the gardens to the fallen girl. It was enough. He didn’t reach her. When he looked up, everything was changing. People were moving fast. Tac was leaping up the pathway. Koúros was heading for the girl. Across the gardens, Doctor Nimon had raised the cane, pointing it like a rifle, his finger on the bull’s head trigger, aiming at Bond’s chest. He wasn’t even sure he heard the crack of the shot.


Bond dived to the ground as the single missile cannoned out of the barrel and smacked into the fuselage of the Swidnik. A wisp of grey smoke rose from the cane. Bond’s gun hand swung over and he fired, once, twice, three times at the charging figure. Tac’s head disintegrated under the bullets and the big body flopped down the escarpment, smears of blood following it.


All out of ammo, Bond hit a crouch and leapt for the helicopter, dropped the gun and shoved open the front passenger door. Renata was already inside, on the rear seat, tying her safety belt.


Bond climbed in, waving the P7E at the pilot.


“Take off!” he yelled.


The pilot didn’t move an inch. Bond reached down and pressed the joystick. As he did so he heard the thump of the door and felt two arms reaching over him, trying to drag him out. Desperate he seized the pilot’s collar. All three men lurched sideways as the Swidnik took to the air. Off balance the aircraft turned in on itself, circling as it tried to climb. Bond heard gun shots. Bullets smacked into the hull.


The girl screamed. Unable to belt up in time, she’d been thrown across the backseat. Bond had more immediate concerns. The P7E was in his closed palm. He didn’t dare drop it. He didn’t dare squeeze his fist. Still holding the pilot’s shirt, he tried to kick out at the figure that clung onto his chest, his legs hanging through the open cavity, the metal door smacking against his thighs. Bond felt himself slipping across the leather seat. The pilot was trying to maintain control of his machine, moving the joystick, retaining balance. Bond kicked again at the man beneath him. It was the second orderly. He’d forgotten there were two. A bad oversight. The man’s hands still gripped firm to Bond’s shirt. The wind burst into the cabin, blowing everyone in different directions as it tried to find an escape route. The pilot punched out at Bond, struck him on the face once, twice, damn hard. The blows loosened his grip. Bond’s fingers, the only thing keeping him inside the cockpit, screamed at him as they tore free of the collar. His whole body catapulted over the ridge of the doorway and he was falling into space, the helicopter disappearing somewhere above him.


His last flailing hand caught the harness. The orderly clung to his back like a giant turtle shell. Bond’s arm was nearly yanked from its socket. The helicopter slewed at an angle, badly off kilter. Hanging by the slender thread, Bond battered at the weight on his shoulders. The man moved his hands, inch by bloody inch, to his throat. Dear Jesus. The Swidnik swayed again. Bond slammed against the stanchion, the breath whistled from his chest. The air rushed past him, hot gales of bludgeoning wind. The world seemed to spin, one moment there was the ground, pale brown in the early morning hue, then the sky, deep blue and fiery red, the sun an orb rising, banishing the still of the night.


The pilot was trying to shake them both off. The Swidnik wrenched again, the rotors moaned, the machine dived, then rose. Bond’s hand slipped, the door slammed shut above them, the harness trapped in the frame, Bond’s hand inches below the rim. The orderly had him by the throat, his legs wrapped around Bond’s, his teeth chattering. Bond forced his other hand to take action, just the fingers grabbing the strap, giving him extra momentum. As the aircraft circled and swooped, Bond gathered strength, fighting for breath, waiting for the forces to be in his favour. The SW4 slung to port. Bond flipped his legs up. By some miracle, his knees wrapped themselves around the sled. The orderly still clung on. More secure now, Bond thudded an elbow back at the man’s face. He howled. Bond smacked again. They slipped. Bond lost his hold on the harness. His hands latched onto the stanchion, his legs still on the sled. He hung like a hammock, another twelve stones of human leeched below him. The helicopter spun. Bond yelled with agony. The slipstream tore at his body. The orderly wanted to drag him to his death, the hands ripped at his neck. Bond’s legs slipped, his feet all that clung, hooked to the joint.


The Swidnik shifted again, this time ascending steeply. The nose lifted. Bond’s body hit the stanchion with a crack. His legs wrapped once more to safety. One hand and arm gripped to his lifeline. The other elbow powered back again and again, battering the face and torso. The hands slipped away, only the fingers clung to a collar. The legs released their hold. The man was swinging, screaming. It happened suddenly. Bond’s shirt ripped. The man still grasped the strip of material in his hands, but he was gone, dropping to the green maze below. The fields welcomed his death as they’d once welcomed the fallen Spartans.


Bond struggled to right himself, first crawling, feet on the sled, body pinned onto the stanchion until he was upright and able to reach for the cabin doors. Now he saw why the Swidnik was acting so erratically. Renata was struggling with the pilot, her hands at his face and neck. He was fending her off, the controls forgotten. Bond reached for the handle and twisted it open. He clambered inside, using the seat harness for rope. The pilot saw him and kicked out. The boot hit him in the shoulder. Bond almost fell out once more. He gritted his teeth, put his other hand half on the belt and started to climb. Absorbing the kicks he inched closer, closer. The pilot took hold of Bond’s hair, was about to strike when the SW4 lurched, caught in a sudden down force. Renata was thrown off, shrieking. Through the windshield the massive pillar of the Megálo Metéoro swept towards them.


Bond and the pilot both dived for the controls, pulling the machine’s nose up. The engine whined in protest. The red roofs passed only metres beneath, so near they could distinguish the tiles and the moss in the cracks. He could hear the girl still screaming. The rear door had popped open and now it was she clinging to the seat belts, the earth about to swallow her when the aircraft tipped too far.  


Bond launched himself onto the pilot, the heel of his hand slamming under the chin. He started for the body, jabs and chops, hard, fast. The man jerked, tried to fend off Bond’s frenzied assault. Finally one hand went for Bond’s throat. He retaliated with the same. The pilot’s mouth dropped open. The hole was inviting. Bond didn’t hesitate. He held the phial in his fingers. The pilot’s eyes spread wide with fear. Bond shoved the capsule into the screaming mouth and clamped it shut. Involuntarily, the pilot swallowed. Fear shot across his face. He stopped struggling as the magnitude of his situation hit home. Bond punched him once, hard, on the temple and he was out.


“Hang on!” he called.


The girl was doing just that. Bond shuffled the unconscious pilot across the seat and took his place at the controls. He leveled the helicopter’s axis and then gently dipped to starboard. Two loose doors slammed shut. Bond glanced over his shoulder. She was creased with shock.


“Are you all right?”


“I don’t know,” she stammered, “I thought you died.”


“For a moment there, so did I.”


He swung the Swidnik out across the valley plains of Pindos.


“Put your seat belt on, Renata, I haven’t figured out a route home yet,” Bond said as he fiddled with the radio controls. He was searching for the open channel, the one he’d indicated in his email, the one he was certain Dominic Zorba would be listening to. As the helicopter eased away from the battle ground, Bond felt his stomach heave. Whatever was happening, however shocking for the world, however many thousands or millions might be at risk, his only concern was for one other life and she was trapped on that lonely spine of a mountain: Tiara. He’d lost her.







#22 chrisno1



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Posted 06 December 2013 - 04:11 PM

Chapter Twenty Two:



Bond sat smoking in the office Zorba had commandeered. It was a hastily arranged suite of rooms in a large airy warehouse close to Kalambaka. Bond had wanted to stay near the action so Zorba’s team had made their way up from Athens with emergency portable equipment. Renata had refused to stay in hospital and was currently resting in the back room. She’d been crying constantly. She’d been a brave girl, but shock had finally hit home. Bond smiled, lifted her chin and told her not to worry, but even now she was preoccupied with Tiara. In a short space of time the two women had discovered a girlfriend’s union. The poor girl had convinced herself it was her fault Tiara had been recaptured.


“And after everything she’s done for us, James,” she’d wailed in the helicopter, “I feel terrible.”


Bond’s reassurances hadn’t helped then and they didn’t now. He’d brought the SW4 down in a disused farm yard some thirty five miles from Metéora. Zorba had met them with a squad of police. The usually mischievous Greek had a troubled a look on his face.


“Courtesy of Captain Papadalarosos,” he said without cheer.  


The unconscious pilot had been swiftly taken to hospital to have his stomach opened and the phial removed. After offering his brief report, both Bond and Renata were also put under a local anaesthetic to have their capsules cut out. All three deadly tubes had been taken away to be analyzed by scientists. Bond’s pleas for urgency seemed to cut little. He’d turned to Zorba for assistance, but the Greek had little influence in this local community. Instead he contacted London for detailed information on the virus. The S.I.S. in turn contacted the N.I.S., Greece’s Intelligence Service, and agreed to fly out an expert to work with the well-meaning Professor who had arrived from Athens University.


The process seemed bogged down in red tape. Bond hated bureaucracy. It was one reason he enjoyed having an administrator. It prevented him having to deal with it. He read what he needed to, attended meetings when necessary, offered his opinions, stayed aloof to the drudgery. Now this godforsaken contagion was loose and all he could do was sit and listen while others played their tunes with sheets of paper and sung a different, diffident song. His ire grew as the images switched across the television screen.       


He was currently watching C.N.N. Twenty four hours had passed since his escape from Shangri-La. Exactly as Doctor Koúros had said, outbreaks of the mystery virus, termed Omega by the press, were occurring indiscriminately across the globe. There was no logic, no natural spread to the disease. The epicentres were numerous; twenty seven out breaks in total, almost thirteen thousand dead and rising. Bond’s face twitched as the cameras focused on the blistered bleeding bodies.


“Are those people protected?” he said, waving a hand at the screen, “Don’t they realize how bloody contagious this thing is?”


“James,” Zorba tried to reassure, “I can’t vouch for the media. All I know is the warnings are out, but Christ knows this is bad, really bad.”


“There’s no way of stopping it, Dominic, except to get the bloody stuff out of people,” Bond stressed, “Or to keep people away from the dead. It’s a bloody plague for god’s sake. We have to find out who’s been to Shangri-La and where they live.”


“I told you, James, M told you,” Zorba placed a big mug of coffee next to Bond’s elbow, “The U.N., Europe and worldwide services are onto it. Bulletins have been issued. We can only hope people get the message quickly.”


“What about Nimon?”


Zorba paused.


Bond picked up the coffee mug and sipped it. The Greek made good coffee, hot and strong. He didn’t make good faces. The Greek was hiding bad news.


“What is it?”


Zorba didn’t want to make things worse for his friend. He’d already messed up by not stopping the two anarchists when they arrived with Tiara. He’d got details of the assault on the safe-house and been remotely scouring the CCTV at the airport, certain the brutes were going to bring her in. When they did he made the mistake of contacting London. Perhaps if James had left instructions he might not have done so. He merely wanted clarification. The situation as he saw it was spiraling out of control. He’d not received an answer one-way-or-another. The result was he did nothing and now Golden Age had Tiara and Tulisa, although what they needed them for was uncertain. James didn’t understand either. Nimon, he explained, had passed it off as parricide.


Zorba shrugged and sat down opposite Bond, his big calloused hands in an open gesture of contrition, “What can I say, James? I am only a small cog in a big wheel. Decisions are made. Governments make decisions.”


“I don’t understand,” Bond angrily stubbed out the cigarette, “What are you saying?”


“They’re going to buy him off.”


“You are joking?”


Zorba shook his big head. It moved slowly, regretfully, “Clemency,” he murmured, “For the ringleaders if they identify the afflicted.”


“He’ll lie, Dominic,” charged Bond, “The man’s a fanatic. He’s a lunatic. He believes what he says. He wants to wipe out the world’s population. This damn P7E isn’t remotely activated, it can’t be. All he needs to do is keep lying. If what he says is true, if P7E spreads how he tells it, half his aim will be achieved before we’ve even located the carriers.”


“It’s our only hope, James.”


“No. There must be some sort of hypnotic device. I’ve seen his hypnotism in action. It’s powerful, instant and feeds off messages he’s implanted in that bloody white room. I know I was there and it nearly worked on me.”


Bond crossed to the blown up map of Metéora.


“He’s got satellite equipment on that mountain. He can call these people, tell them what to do. He’s been controlling Tiara for weeks,” Bond jabbed a finger over St Nicolas’ Mount, “From right there. It’s how his goons chased me half way across Europe. Surely, at the very least, we can cut off his satellite signal.”


“That would be seen as aggressive, James,” Zorba stated, “Don’t forget, they’re negotiating via the satellite.”


“But there must be an activation signal, a code word of some sort otherwise Golden Age would have fitted a time delay device into those phials.”


The Greek weighed up the thesis.


“I can talk to Q Branch. We can trace Shangri-La’s outgoing signals.”


“Do it.”


Zorba stood up, the chair scraping. He could see Bond’s gaze was dark.


“What else are you thinking?”


“I want to get to that mountain top.”


“And do what?”


“I want the girl,” Bond replied, “She isn’t part of this. And there are other patients too, innocent victims.”


“No, you want Loki.”


Bond didn’t deny it. He sat very still. After several seconds, he raised the mug to his lips. Zorba watched him with a father’s eye, the parent eyeing the troublesome child. His brothers had children; this one, he knew, was rebelling. He recognized the signs.


“It’s out of bounds,” he explained, “Isolated by the police, isolated by M. We’re not to touch it, James, not while they’re still negotiating.”


Bond sipped the coffee. The latest news flash came in: an outbreak on a plane from Athens to Sidney via Singapore. Dear god, it must be Cheryl. Poor bitch.


“When do they think negotiations will be concluded?”


“I have no idea,” Zorba said, “It’s difficult to communicate with someone who has to remain isolated.”


Bond checked the clock.


“It’s late, Dominic,” he said, “Very late. They won’t negotiate at night, surely.”


“They might.”


“Suppose we find out.”


“And do what?”


“You said your brother’s in the parachute regiment.”


“No, I said he was. He still has some friends who serve. What of it?”


“Do the Greeks use gryphons?”


“They might,” Zorba scratched his chin. Slowly a big grin passed across his face and he said, “If I said I don’t like where this is going, would you believe me?”


“I would,” replied Bond, “If I asked you to come with me, would you say ‘yes’?”


“For you, James?”


“For the world.”


“Is it worth saving?” Zorba considered the offer. It started as a sigh and then became a big chesty laugh, “For you, James, for this, for the world, just this once, I’d say yes.”


“Let me talk to Q Branch,” offered Bond, “That’ll give you time to arrange things with your brother.”


Zorba nodded. The drama at Sidney airport was playing out on the television.


“Persephone,” he said ruefully, “Buried for half a year, she only emerges when spring has woken.”




“P7E,” mulled Zorba, “Persephone, kidnapped by Hades she spends half her life in the underworld and half her life with the mortals, all for eating a pomegranate.”


Bond wondered, just for a moment, if he’d missed something. Mister Smith’s desert, the cheesecake, what had Josephine said? ‘Always pomegranates.’ Why pomegranates? He remembered when he came around after the treatment how he was thirsty, how he wanted to taste something sweet: pomegranate juice. Hadn’t he dreamt of them, in the white room, as he floated, hadn’t he dived and swooped in the air and pecked at the seeds as they lay scattered on the water. Pomegranates. What had the autopsy report read? That Zubaria Qadir had eaten pomegranates for breakfast. Subliminal messaging. They ate pomegranates. Some did it soon, quickly, because they liked the fruit, it was in their diet; others only after a long time, at special occasions, when the mood took them, or when the memory implant told them to. That was why the phials had no receiver chips. The fruit was the trigger mechanism. The carriers released the spores themselves, scratched or punched the phial in their own arm, but only after eating pomegranates. A long chain of messages, stored over days or weeks of treatment at Shangri-La, was destined like Hades, like Persephone, to bring hell to earth.   




#23 chrisno1



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Posted 13 December 2013 - 09:03 PM

Chapter Twenty Three:

Sky Riders


They cut through the air at a dizzying speed.


The Agusta AW109 had dropped the five man team from its undercarriage some one hundred miles from Metéroa. As each man had been dispatched from the jump off, he’d steadied his flight through the buffeting air, forced his arms and legs into the four pointed star, tucked his head down and stabilized his fall, dropping at almost one hundred and fifty miles an hour.


Bond had been the first to exit the helicopter. The wind rush tore at his face, cold, biting, sharp as hell. It was penetrating darkness, even with the night visor. The five o’clock dawn hadn’t yet struck the upper ether of the world. It was like falling through a void. Surely this, he thought, was what the scientists envisaged as a black hole. Nothing above, left, right or straight ahead. Only below did moonlight tiptoe on wispy clouds, interrupting the sprawling nothingness. Beneath even those, the world only just started to take shape, cobwebs of yellow light scattered over the black plain, roadways and townships, lives interconnected, lives lost.


Bond wore a thick gryphon jumpsuit. The gryphon was a military wing-pack allowing paratroopers carrying up to one hundred kilograms of kit to exit an aircraft at high altitude and fly unaccompanied to a designated landing zone. It was still experimental. The United States military had proved sceptical, wanting the Green Berets to travel upwards of two hundred miles under jet propulsion. Meanwhile the United Kingdom and other E.U. nations had continued to refine the current technology. Bond’s keenness to use gryphons was their silence, potential length of flight and, given the size of the suit, its inability to be detected by radar.


Wingsuit flying was a growing sport. Extra fabric was stretched between the diver’s legs and under his arms, adding to the surface area of the human body to enable significant lift, allowing a parachutist to sustain his flight for far longer than a normal vertical dive. Some people referred to them as bat suits after their resemblance to a certain ‘superhero’. Bond thought there were quite enough of them already and the gryphon seemed a more appropriate militaristic alternative. He checked his head up visor display, offering compass navigation. Metéora was NNE from their launch point. They had half an hour’s journey ahead. 


“We’re in position, James,” came Zorba’s crackle. Under the hood and the night-vision visors they each wore headsets, “Four of us, spread like a diamond, just as you said.”


Once a gryphon wingsuit is opened, it floats on currents, similar to a bird of prey, rising and falling on the heat and cool of the winds. While a sky diver will always sink, a gryphon has the opportunity to glide horizontally, catching the wind and controlling a descent. Rather than plummeting at a gut wrenching one hundred and forty, a good sky rider could reduce his drop to only twenty miles an hour, while his lateral distance could exceed well over one hundred miles.


“Deploy One!” ordered Bond and pulled at his ripcord.


The pack harnessed to his back split apart and the two jointed carbon fibre wings opened across his spine snapping solid like a mammoth kite. He kept his arms by his sides, under the wings of the suit, and kept his head straight, swooping at Glide Speed 5, allowing the cloud currents to carry him for a moment while he righted trajectory, adjusted the levels and settled into a rapid scythe, chasing the clouds that fragmented beneath him


“Deploy Two - Deploy Three -”     


The recognition calls came through on the com-link. Bond couldn’t move his head to inspect the progress of the team. He trusted them because Zorba trusted them. Markos, the big Greek’s brother had wanted to come, but his war wound ruled him out. Bond was also uncertain of the ethics. Markos, despite his military record was a civilian. Instead the garrulous brother touched base with a Lieutenant in the Special Paratroop Unit, a friend, a lover of the Greek Blues, a romantic, all the good things. He found two volunteers culled from the lower ranks of the E.T.A., as the unit was known in Greek.


The Lieutenant spoke some English, his colleagues none at all and they all regarded Bond with suspicion. The pilot they borrowed - a loose term - preferred to know nothing about anything and stayed inside his helicopter the whole time.


“Reactionaries and mad men,” Zorba told him.


“Like us,” said Bond.


They were certainly a tough looking trio, dressed already in the Greek Lizard camouflage and smoking copious amounts of rough tobacco. Despite the cold shoulders he sensed, Bond liked them instantly. He appreciated their no-nonsense attitude. Fools could not be tolerated. Death, to them, was an occupational hazard of the kind only appreciated in civilian life by F1 drivers: all the risks were accounted for and yet it still happened.   


Affirmative position signals started to break over his com-link. The wind rattled at the suit. The wings buffeted, seemed shaken. Bond locked his ankles together, trying to form a sleeker aerodynamic shape, trying to carve through the air, bouncing on the fumaroles. He checked their heading again. The compass point had shifted off axis. A southerly wind had knocked them slightly off course. He ducked the wings of the suit, twisting his body so the gryphon angled back in the correct northwesterly direction. He heard the response of his comrades, all following his lead, marked as he was by the luminous upper stanchion of his wings.


It had been a difficult few hours. Renata had not wanted him to go. She’d sat on the camp bed in stony silence as Bond explained the reasons for him to return to Shangri-La: that Nimon was a madman who must be eliminated, that he wanted to rescue the patients, that he had to uncover the names and whereabouts of all the other people who had gone before, who at any moment might trigger an infection.


Her lips had curled back.


“You must not make excuses, James,” she said bitterly, “I know why you wish to go. It is for the woman.”


Bond started to make those excuses, crouching by her, taking her hand, but it was a useless fight and she wouldn’t let him embarrass himself.


“You must go, James,” Renata whispered, “She is important to you. I can see that. I can see the love in your face.”


Bond frowned.


“I’m not -”


“Shh,” Renata shook his hand as if admonishing a child. She let it drop and returned her own palm into her lap, “Do not lie to me and do not lie to Tiara. It is love which saved her. And love must save her again.”


Bond stood up. She suddenly looked very young, not sophisticated or worldly at all, just very innocent, tired and alone. He thought she was holding back the tears until he left.


“And what about your love?” he asked, his hand resting on the door.


“My love can wait.”


He nodded and left quickly, silently, so she didn’t have time to say more.


They entered the cloud line, a thin strata of moisture, occasional wisps of grey, visibility suddenly zero and then one hundred metres, zero again and back. The wetness evaporated fast, hardly clung to the visors or the suits. Below Bond could just make out their target, the tall towers of stone eking into daylight. A few miles away Kalambaka, a hub of sparkling yellow light grew larger, its disjointed town plan becoming obvious to the naked eye. Bond could make out the roads now, the dark lanes that ran between the buildings and out into the countryside, spanning fields and rivers.


As they sank lower the wind caught them, blew them slightly south again. It rushed between the gaps in the Pindos Mountains. Bond felt it tear at the suit, pulling on the Scorpion machine gun strapped to his stomach like a baby. The Lieutenant had suggested the Czech Evo III because it was so light, folded so small and was, at short range, as good as deadly. But even an extra two kilos could throw your balance in the air. The strong mountain currents were difficult to predict. Bond allowed the first gusts to shake him, judging their intensity and direction. He angled into the next billow, letting the pall cut over rather than across him, using the wind rather than combatting it. It meant taking an elliptical route to the target, a long spiral as opposed to a short slide, but it would mean less airborne disruption.


The sky riders called in their positions.


They’d discussed tactics at length the night before. Bond’s objective was to enter the treatment blocks. To do so, and do so by stealth, he intended to eliminate the night watchman and steal his key card. This should allow him access to the treatment centre, to secure the remaining stocks of P7E and seek out Doctor Nimon and Doctor Koúros. Zorba had argued that was too big a task for one man. He of course knew about Tiara, the others did not. Bond knew what really worried the big Greek, that he’d be distracted searching for the girl and not be concerned with the task in hand. Bond dismissed the fear to himself. He was focused, clear about the mission. Feelings had to come second. There was no time for doubt or hesitancy on the battlefield. Bond needed Zorba to watch his back, to capture and hold the staff in their quarters until the main objective was obtained.


The three paratroopers exchanged wary looks. One of them asked if there were any civilians still at the clinic. Bond admitted there were.


“We can’t protect civilians as well,” the Lieutenant said, scratching his bearded face, “Can we make them stay inside?”


“Difficult,” Bond answered, “But not impossible. One or two of them are more responsible than the others. You’ll have to leave it with me, I’m afraid. I need you four to occupy the guards.”   


There was an unconvinced silence. Zorba snorted.


“You fret too much, Tselios,” he said, “Leave it to, James. He knows them, remember?” 


The subject was closed. It remained one of several flaws. The professional soldiers didn’t like to trust to luck. It wasn’t natural to them. They said so several times and discussed at length landing and disengagement times, uncertain they could be rid of the cumbersome gryphon before another rider touched down. They studied Bond’s plan of St Nicolas, brought the site up on Google Earth and inspected it, returned to the map, made a few arrow marks, highlighting the best ground cover and the most exposed, all of which Zorba interpreted for Bond’s benefit, but not his complete assurance.


The soldiers settled on the cloister as the best approach. It provided cover and was a long way from the main path. If an alarm was sounded, the guards could be cornered at the north end of the mountain, allowing Bond to sneak unnoticed to the treatment centres. It wasn’t the best of battle plans. It relied heavily on surprise and quick deployment. Not for the first time, Bond metaphorically crossed his fingers. Five men were all he had. He’d estimated fifteen guards occupied Shangri-La. Three had been killed during his escape which left a nice round dozen. But there were still the Doctors and the bald headed bastard to contend with, all three unknown quantities. Eventually, after running over the strategy a fourth and final time, the Lieutenant dug in his rucksack, produced a bottle of raki and barked that everyone should drink to their success.


The winged sky riders sunk lower, through the mountain air and onto the lower plain, the sandstone stacks seeming to grow as they approached. They swept across one tip, empty bar a huddle of trees and rocky scrub, swooped around the great monastery of Megálo, its red slate roof a silky ruby glow, square cell windows blinking, the bells peeling for dawn prayers. A monk, his long beard visible, heard the strange zipping sound, glanced up and saw the huge birds, ducking into the wind, descending fast and furious over the pinnacles. He rushed to the bastion, hands gripping the stonework, and watched the five giant black bats, diving all in a line, one after another, rush towards the mount of Shangri-La. 


Bond saw the steep walls sunk into the mountain top. He saw the rectangle of white light which was the reception lobby. It was a beacon, dragging him forward. He thought he saw someone moving inside. The helipad was a flat circle crisscrossed with white paint. Bond’s night visor saw it plainly. He adjusted his descent, flipped the wings down to bring him into a sharp decline. His body dropped like a stone and suddenly the peak hurtled towards him, the land seeming to rise faster than he descended. Bond raised the wings a few metres before crash down, just enough to slow his fall. Ten feet away, he thrust his feet out, running in midair. They touched solid cement and his feet kept running as he snapped the gryphon release. The harness whipped over his shoulders and the strut of silk and carbon fibre caught the wind, pulling the bat wings over the edge of the helipad, its weight dragging it down. As Bond stepped off the helipad he heard the thump of boots and the crack as another harness was sprung. Landing had commenced.


Bond didn’t bother unzipping his suit. He tore off the helmet and night visor, tossed it aside and made a move towards the reception area. He drew the Scorpion machine pistol from its chest holster.


There was no guard, only Rebecca. She was rising from the desk, seemingly unable to take in what she was witnessing.


Bond shoved the doors open, the weapon pointed.


“Have you raised an alarm?”


She shook her head.


“Good. Don’t. Sit down. Give me your key card.”


She obeyed instantly.


Bond slipped the card into his shirt pocket. The door slid back and Zorba entered, out of breath, exhilarated.


“Quite a trip,” he panted, “Now, what to do?”


The answer was one second coming.





#24 chrisno1



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Posted 20 December 2013 - 01:31 AM

Chapter Twenty Four:

A Whisper of Death


There wasn’t a klaxon, but someone had sounded an alarm. Figures were moving out of the staff quarters. The Lieutenant’s team was already fanning out from the helipad, taking up positions across the front of the patient block and onto the cloister, trying to use the natural cover.


Bond took a second look at Rebecca, realized what he’d forgotten and swore: the communication device. The little black box all these bastards carried. Unable to control his anger he struck out and the receptionist tipped over the back of her chair, out cold.


“Jesus, James!” exclaimed Zorba.


“Come on!” Bond didn’t want to be judged right now. That could come later if it had to. He fired at the ceiling, obliterating the bulbs, turning everything back to black.


Zorba burst out of the reception area, rolling and righting himself, the Scorpion already up for firing.


They were pouring from the far side of the garden. The Lieutenant had them pinned behind the lower steps, which led to the treatment rooms. Zorba couldn’t tell how many men were fighting. It was still as dark as night and the peeking sun hardly lit the kop. There were more shadows than light, more death than life. The muzzle flashes illuminated everything he saw. Somewhere someone screamed. Bullets scythed across the gardens. The fountainhead exploded with a bang. Water erupted in a spewing column, silver on ebony.


Zorba headed towards the cloister, ranging behind the bushes that surrounded the garden’s east side. The soldiers were carrying out orders to the letter, closing the cauldron, drawing fire from the lobby entrance and the south side of the mountain top.


Bond heard footfalls. He spun, the Scorpion raised.


Luis rushed into the reception, a terrified howl etched on his usually placid features. Bond gestured with the gun. The Mexican slithered to a halt. He immediately ducked beside the stricken receptionist, confusion and fear turning his face into a crazed effigy, alive, but dead.


“Get back inside, Luis,” ordered Bond, “Get everyone into the east facing rooms.”


“East facing rooms?” the man repeated, unable to take everything in.


“The rooms facing away from us,” shouted Bond, “It’ll be safer.”


The instruction didn’t seem to register. Any half brained wit would stay indoors under the circumstances, but Luis was scared out of all his wits. Bullets crackled against the masonry. One of the windows shattered and Luis gave another startled cry.


“My god! My god!”


“Luis!” Bond shouted, firm and sharp, “Do as I say now! Do it!”


Bond couldn’t wait to see if he obeyed. He headed out of the lobby, crouched low, vaguely aware of the Mexican retreating, hauling the unconscious Rebecca with him. That was as good as it was going to get for the patients. Now there were other worries. As he’d suspected, with the action concentrated to the cloister end of the mountain, Bond was able to sidle quickly and with some ease down the path towards the treatment rooms. He’d almost made it when a body seemed to rise from nowhere. Startled, Bond fired point blank into the torso. The stomach ripped open. Bond watched the man fall, heard the close rattle of gunfire and went into a border shift, his finger jabbing at the trigger, his aim way off. Now he was behind enemy lines. Another body came at him. Bond bundled it over, shoved the butt of the Scorpion onto the man’s face and kicked him down. He shot indiscriminately, all the time edging for Nimon’s quarters. He made it, uncertain if anyone was following.      


Bond swiped the key card and kicked open the door. He stood at the top of the stairs in semi darkness, the reactor lights slowly coming on. The big lounge was empty. One of the internal doors was ajar.


Two arms crashed over Bond’s head and he collapsed against the railing, trying to turn. The arms ripped down again, grabbing at the Scorpion. Bond’s trigger finger squeezed and a salvo punctured the air, the bullets smacking into the timber ceiling, splinters ricocheting. The two men rolled along the rail and toppled down the stair, the gun firing, the bannister and boards disintegrating as they cartwheeled to the floor and crashed into the enormous Greek amphora. It shattered into pieces as the two men exchanged desperate lunges.


Dazed, Bond struggled clear of his assailant, crabbing backwards, trying to reload. The guard kicked out, straight footed, a perfect hook. Bond’s grip was too soft. The gun spiraled away somewhere. Bond saw the heel coming, moved, took it on the chest, took another heel strike to the head. Bond caught the third with his fist, blocked it, trip kicked at the standing leg. The two men fell, wheeled, bounced up and faced each other, shadowing, dancing on the balls of tired feet. The man already had a bruise on his cheek. It was the same guard he’d tussled with outside, recovered and very angry. He was young, Bond saw, one of the waiters, he thought, reckless, he hoped.


The man lashed out, a dagger-shaped lunge. Bond blocked. Another, a cut, a jab, blocked, blocked. Bond went to reply, a thrust, a hook, a stab. No effect. Each cancelled the other with equal ferocity. The man moved inside, his elbows and forearms protecting him. His foot crashed down. Bond’s knee exploded with pain. He drove his shoulder low and hard into the man’s torso, his arms wrapping the legs. Momentum did the rest. The man’s body flipped over and landed with a crash on top of an elaborately carved coffee table.  


Bond spun, expecting victory, but the man was up with him, grabbing a broken corner of rough pine. He swung it. Bond swerved. The flailing shard whistled past his nose, came again. Bond thrust out an arm, punched low then high, felt the man’s head wobble as fist hit chin. A right cross hurled him backwards against the book shelves. Volumes tumbled, wood tore. The man staggered forward, the pine frame a half-hearted weapon. It almost seemed cruel. He swung it high. Bond knocked the arm away, sent his boot into the man’s stomach. As he doubled up, Bond’s two handed uppercut sent him flying backwards. He ploughed into the remains of the stairway and came to rest in a heap, his head lolling sideways. Achingly slowly, groaning, the carcass of the wooden structure collapsed and buried the guard in a pile of frazzled wood.


Gasping loudly, Bond almost didn’t hear the metallic tap. He turned on one heel.




Doctor Nimon was still dressed in white, still immaculately coiffured, still a centre of calm among chaos. The cane still tapped at his feet. As he stepped out of the passageway, his lips creased into a sickly, rabid smile.


Behind him: Tiara. Her hand held out, the fingers touching Nimon’s, her steps matched to his as if by some invisible force.


Bond made a move for the fallen machine pistol.


Too late.


Tulisa blocked his approach.


He hadn’t seen her come in. She was carrying something big, spherical and shiny. Instinct made him shove out with both hands. She dodged, swinging Choucair’s Water Lens. The damn thing cracked across Bond’s skull. Stunned, he pedaled backwards. She hefted it again. He felt the impact on his cheek. Blood flowed. He ducked. The final swipe crunched onto the back of his shoulder and her sharp-shoed foot smacked into his face. It was Bond’s turn to crash backwards and he fell onto the guard’s burial chamber.   


Dully, Bond shook his head. That was odd. He knew which girl was which. It was instinctive and not born from Tulisa’s attack. He’d recognized Tiara instantly. He couldn’t understand why, but he knew it was true. The human factor was prevalent. Love, or whatever it was, conquered all.


“Tiara!” he called.


Nimon and the girl walked on. Tulisa, dressed in a black fighting suit, a haversack by her hip, brandished the battered artwork, guarding the retreat.  They were making for another alcove, another door, another passageway. Gunshots were still echoing outside. And there was another sound. Louder, heavier, thudding, grinding. Rotor blades. Goddamn. The helicopter had landed. Cautiously he rose to one knee.




He seemed to get through. The girl paused, half turned to him.




“It’s me, Tiara.”


Bond stepped forward. Tulisa matched him. Uncertain, he called again, but Nimon was whispering in her ear, repeating his unholy mantra of obedience. The girl turned away, her face puzzled, and headed for the passage.


“Wait,” he said.


“No, Mister Bond,” Nimon replied firmly, “It is time for us to leave you.”


“You don’t need her, Nimon,” he grimaced, “Leave the girl. She’s all I want.”


“You expect me to believe that?” Nimon actually laughed, “Oh really, how delightful. Come, Tulisa, leave Mister Bond to his own destruction.”


Nimon’s free hand had gone to his side pocket. When it emerged, the fist was open. Sitting in it was a handful of golden phials. Bond started forward. Nimon tossed the tubes towards him and they rattled onto the floor.


Christ! Bond stopped short, his feet not moving, watching the deadly toxins as they rolled across the floor boards, clattered into furniture, his boots, the wall. There were almost a dozen. He sucked in a deep breath. No harm done.


Then the lights went out. In the sudden fade he saw Tulisa unfurl the hip sack and throw the contents towards him. He swore, felt some of the tubes collide with his face, his chest, his knees. There was tinkling ringing music as the miniature biological bombs bounced and skidded around him. The door shut. It was pitch black. Bond waved his arms dramatically, but the reaction sensors must have been cut. He couldn’t see the debris on the floor. The only light was an inanimate blue, slivers of which were cast through the stained glass window, a window which pointed away from the rising sun. Bond allowed his eyes to adjust to the blindness.


What did he know about P7E? It was injected directly into the blood stream. Did it have the same effect in the open air? It must have. The spores had spread in days and hours from corpse to the living. Doctor Koúros had been extremely worried when Bond had produced the stolen phial during his escape. He needed to be better than careful. Had any of the bastard things opened already?


There was just enough light to perceive the surroundings. Bond held an image in his head, but he didn’t want to risk moving any furniture and accidentally spilling the P7E. To his left was the big ottoman chair. He crouched, brushed his palms lightly across the floorboards. One of the deadly tubes rolled away from his fingers. He shuffled forward, pigeon toed, still brushing. It was an agonizing process, made worse by silence, an unremitting cloying air of desperation. Outside he could hear the sounds of continued battle. Occasionally a scream echoed. Had four men been enough to subdue the force? Don’t think of it. Zorba wasn’t your concern. Tiara was. Loki was. A single broken phial was. Please god, don’t let there be one, don’t let me be Loki’s doomsday weapon. He swept again, plastic caught between his index and fore fingers. He carefully released the tube behind him, a quarter of an inch from the floor, and shuffled on. He was next to the ottoman now. His hands ran over the embroidered cushions. Nothing. Cautiously, Bond stood up and stepped onto the seat. The cushion sank a few inches. He could make out the ironwork above his head, slightly off centre. The single circle chandelier hung from the ceiling on a thick chain, the electrics wrapped through the links, disguising the wires. Bond stretched up. It was out of reach by almost a metre. Bond edged along the chair. Would the big arm take his weight? He stepped on it, one foot only, reached up again. Still short, two foot. He grimaced. Something exploded outside. The room seemed to jump. Bond slipped. His knee buckled. His foot crashed onto the floor. He glanced down. A single phial was spinning under the impact of his heel. He’d caught the tip. It spun to a stop, winking amber in the near darkness. Bond held his breath. Nothing appeared to be leaking. He bent down, scooped up the offending article, and placed it from harm’s way. He noticed his palm was covered in sweat.


The chandelier still swayed. Carefully, Bond took up position again. He could see the three of them, lined up in a row, one after another, leading to the blue stained glass. He hoped it wasn’t antique. Bond returned to his position at the end of the sofa. Directly above was the rim of the second chandelier, the black circle touched by occasional blue. This time he bent his knees, his arms by his sides, ready to throw up. He breathed in, concentrating. There’d be no second chances. If he missed it could be curtains. If he weighed too much: the same. Bond suddenly regretted all that good food in the Black Forest. There was another loud explosion. Bond leapt.


His hands grabbed at the iron work. The chandelier pitched. Bond’s body moved with it. There was a crack as the holding thread complained. Dust smothered him. The damage was done, but the ironwork stayed fixed. The motion of the light pulled Bond towards the third chandelier. Not close enough. Bond jerked his body from the waist, throwing his hips, how a trapeze artist might, swinging harder, faster, higher. Bond released a hand, stretched out. His nails scraped the iron bar. He fell away, one handed, regained hold and swung again. The chain groaned. The ceiling screw was weakened. Bond felt it tear. The chandelier slewed across the space. Bond, one arm extended, almost yelled as his body flew upwards. He grasped the bar, let go the creaking apparatus and brought his other hand over. Sweaty palms slipped but held.


Hand over hand he crossed the axle. Now he hung closest to the window. It was lighter here. The blue shadow was almost like dusk, the dying moments of a day, not the rebirth when the sun shines golden. Outside it would be bright, blazing, mercurial. Inside the world remained like Persephone’s, a realm of darkness. He swung again, rotating his shoulders, raising his feet. His fingers screamed. He clung on. The edge bit into his joints, drew blood. It seeped down his fingers, dripped onto his face. He heaved, pushed his body up and out, the legs coming up, straight and fast, pointed like a spear, a missile, the boots stiff, heels flat, body corkscrewing like a gymnast. The boots hit home, low over the window sill and obliterated the glass and joinery at the base of the window. Bond felt dozens of jagged shards rasp across his suit, tear through it, rip his skin.


He was hanging, half in-half out, his hands clinging to the internal sill, his legs flailing over the abyss. The wind sawed across him, wanted to suck him to oblivion. Blue chunks of glass fell away from the frame, almost took away an arm. Bond scrabbled, tried to get his feet purchased on the rough stone. The sound of gunfire was louder now. The helicopter was still revving. They hadn’t disabled it. The tide must have turned against Zorba. Maybe he hadn’t been able to prevent the landing as planned. Bond’s body slipped, an arm gone, the hand exhausted. He found it. A lip of masonry. His foot stuck like glue. Breathing deeply, Bond’s weak arm straggled forward, took hold. Secure he managed to wiggle his way to safety, knees for leverage, boots jabbing at the stonework. Suddenly he was there, lying flat on one arm and looking out across the spires of Metéora, their summits coloured damson by the dawn haze.


Bond gasped.


One deep breath and he rose to a crouch. He was perched on a shelf of stone a foot deep. Inside, through the shattered glass, most of which had fallen outwards, he saw the two chandeliers still swaying. He hoped the few splinters which had fallen into the room hadn’t severed any of the deadly phials. It was a calculated risk. Free, but not assured, Bond put it to the back of his mind and inclined his head to inspect the roof. There was a gutter. It would have to do. Once again, Bond hoped his weight wasn’t disadvantageous. He could reach it, just. Leaning out a little, one hand grasping at the busted window, he stretched. His fingers tore at the gutter. It was a heavy traditional earthenware mould, chunky, solid, cemented into the wall, the roof tiles slanting into it. Bond’s tired right hand seized the lip. He brought his left up. He let go with his feet and was hanging over the same precipice he’d just fought to avoid. For a moment his muscles ached, complained, threatened to surrender. Bond wouldn’t let them. Using the wall as a ladder, he stepped up the blocks and in seconds he was mounting the roof, his chest heaving big sighs as it rested on red slate.             


Bond didn’t wait. He climbed the roof to its apex and took in the battlefield.


Zorba’s team still clung to the cloister. One of the posse was badly wounded, or dead. Bond could see him propping up a wall, his chest a mass of blood.


The bastards, both men and women fighting together, had dug in across the garden, where Tic was orchestrating a flat line defence which crisscrossed the escarpment, preventing any forward movement. Bond’s lone sortie had still been the only in-road. The place was a mess of smoke and fire and dust. Two big craters indicated grenades had been thrown. The busted fountain still spat a geyser of foaming water sixteen feet high. The patient’s block was riddled with bullet holes. Windows were blown out. The place was like a miniature siege. On the far side of the mountaintop the helicopter, its pilot probably scared out of his mind, was bidding for takeoff, the rotor arms spinning. There was no sign of Nimon and the girls. Below him Bond could see one of the orderlies, her hand flexed on a grenade, about to pull the pin.


Bond hurdled the batton, slid down the angled roof and hurtled off the tiles, feet extended for the man’s back. He cannoned into him, felt his landing spot go limp and saw the grenade spin out of hand, pin released. Bond dived, stopped it rolling and threw the bomb across the garden. The explosion tore another hole in the mountain and threw up a cloud of dust and flame. Bond grabbed the man’s machine pistol, one of those damned MP5s, and sent an arc of fire across the field of war. Someone dropped. Bond saw Tic’s arms thrown up, redirecting his force, a big revolver in his hand. Misled, he took a volley in the chest from someone. Bond unpinned two more grenades and launched them forward. The explosions rippled, he loosened another salvo then made for the helipad.


They were there already. Had he missed them? No, there was a hatchway, down on the far side, as close to the edge as you could get. Priest’s hole, a rat hole, black hole.


The girl was still in a daze, still being led forward by a resolute Nimon. Doctor Koúros was already waiting beside the Swidnik. How on earth Bond didn’t know, didn’t care. Tulisa was climbing out of the hatch. She was now holding a revolver, a Heckler and Koch. Still full of surprises, Bond reflected. He raised the MP5 and fired a short burst, warning shots. Nobody stopped except the girl.


Tiara held still, Nimon yanking at her arm, Koúros encouraging him, shouting. Tulisa crossed them both, wildly returning Bond’s fire. He ducked as the shots peeled past his shoulder. Luck or judgement? He raised his head over a hedge. More bullets. Too damn close. The girl was bloody lethal. Bond scrambled through the overgrowth. Behind him he was aware the battle had almost ceased. Gunshots seemed to have had died. Explosions had been replaced by the crackle of flame. Injured people wailed. 




Nimon was in the Swidnik now, Doctor Koúros mounting from the far side. Tulisa was with her sister pulling at her arms. It would have been comical. She didn’t want to go. Nimon was yelling, scared, panicked, all control at last deserted the evil man in angelic white.


The girl uttered one word.


Bond couldn’t detect it.


Her mouth, he thought, said: “James?”


“Tiara, get down!”


She turned and moved. Her face was pointing away from the helicopter, pointed straight at him and her lips were split into the most wonderful smile he’d ever witnessed, a smile that lit her face, from her heart, and for a moment, just a moment, James Bond knew Tiara Charteris was with him, totally, unreservedly, forever, but she hesitated.


The single gunshot penetrated the surrounding chaos. The girl was thrown forwards, blood spewing like a fountain from her chest.


For a second he couldn’t move. The image was frozen. He saw her falling. He saw the blood. He heard her startled strangled cry. He heard the roar of the motors. He saw the bitch sister and the smoking weapon. He saw the door slam shut. He yelled. Bond pulled the trigger too late, too bloody late. He saw the helicopter rise, sparks flying. He ran forward, buffeted by the wind, kept shooting, exhausted the clip, kept yelling, until his throat ran out of words and the shouts were lost in the tumult and all he could do was whisper, a whisper of love, a whisper of regret, a whisper of death.





#25 chrisno1



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Posted 22 December 2013 - 11:52 PM

Chapter Twenty Five:

This Time Forever


Bond watched the Swidnik SW4 rise higher and sweep wider, starting to make its way out across the last of the giant sandstone shoulders, into freedom.


He knelt next to the girl. There was no movement. Even her lips, those beautiful lips, that had once trembled when he kissed them, had frozen in one agonized cry. The eyes were seared open. They stared at him blank, useless.


Bond toyed with the necklace, the thing that had brought them together the very first time. It felt like poison, like the phial of death that sat in her arm waiting to be unleashed.


The sound of the retreating helicopter changed. The clipped whirr of rotors deepened, spluttered, picked up again, splattered, coughed and died. Bond gazed at the black beetle, dipping, diving, dumb wings strutted against the morning sky, a trail of smoke erupting from the engine. The pilot was fighting to control the machine, but he’d lost all power. He could only keep it upright, try to force a crash landing away from civilian life. He was heading for the lower escarpments, the foothills of Pindos where boulders entwined with trees and fields and trickling streams. The SW4 span once, twice, three times. Then the helicopter gained speed, the descent became a dead drop, severe, straight, terminal.


It crashed against the side of a low cliff, the tail boom breaking under the impact. The rotors buckled, snapped and spun away, and the SW4 slid down the scar coming to rest in a crumpled heap. For a moment nothing happened. Bond thought he saw bodies moving, a door opening, someone trying to escape the wreckage. The explosion engulfed the helicopter in a balloon of orange flame, dark, stagnant, oil fired. It burst twice. The flames licked up and out and continued to burn in and around the shattered metal frame.  


Loki, Nimon, Golden Age was gone.


Bond stretched out a hand. A beautiful dawn was reflected in Tiara’s ice blue eyes. Delicately he closed the lids. He couldn’t help her past. He couldn’t protect her future. She’d eluded him once more, this time forever.


Bond thought her lips trembled, but it must have been the wind.



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



“We’re still chasing medical records,” said M, reluctantly, “We can’t be sure.”


“Jesus Christ!”


The clean-up operation had taken several days. Bond had insisted on visiting the crash site. The authorities had got there too late. Even now Bond remembered the trail of blood. Whose it was, they never discovered, or they were not telling. The primary investigation was headed by the fat man, Captain Papadalarosos, until Zorba insisted he was removed. By then, it was a hopeless case. Bond’s features must have twisted with agony. They twisted now. M must have recognized the signs. He took a long second before he added:


“This one’s not for you, OO7. You’ve become too involved. The honey trap can work both ways.”


Bond ground his teeth.


“Sir -”


“There’s no buts, no ifs, no objections. She was part of the set-up, OO7. She was the spider. You were the fly and she dragged you into her web. She caught you.”


He paused, “You’re a valuable agent, OO7, but you’re no good to the Service in this state of mind. The quacks have recommended an extended holiday.”


“Where are you sending me this time?” Bond sighed, looking down at his hands, past them to his feet and the floor.


“Where ever you bloody well like, just stay away from S.I.S. for three months.”


He went to Slovakia, to Banska Bystrica, to Renata Kazanová. He thought the girl sounded nervous when he contacted her, a phone call from his hotel room. She agreed to meet him for lunch in the square. They ate simple food and drank coffee. Afterwards she walked him around the town and told him stories about her childhood which made him laugh and made him long for the ordinary world, out of the shadow of death.


Renata was still confident, assured, but the sparkling flapper girl, the exciting, slightly tense girl he remembered from before had vanished. It was as if she’d grown up, out of her own shadow, and was finally discovering how to live. The more he spoke to her, the more he liked what she had discovered.


They ended the walk on the crest of the town square and she bought a bag of cherries from a market stall, her face framed with obvious delight. The simple life, Bond saw, the simple pleasures. No desperate love, no extravagant expressions or demonstrations, no fast cars, caviar or fancy living. She had to hold onto it. Her sanity relied on it. She’d almost died helping him escape that morning. The violence and anarchy she’d witnessed was still etched on her face.  He saw it behind the poised exterior. It was another coffin to bury with all the others.


“I get proper help now, James,” she whispered.


That was what she needed. He thought of all the people who’d died in the pursuit of Loki: Zubaria Qadir, Maurice and Clara, Toni, the Greek girl Iria, Tulisa, dear darling Tiara, good people, bad people, faces he knew, faces he didn’t, faces he couldn’t help. The list was mounting. How many more faces did he have to send from the cradle to the grave?


Bond looked at her and promised he’d help her too, if she wanted. Slowly, a little pensive because they hadn’t touched each other all afternoon, not even a handshake or a welcome kiss, he took Renata’s hand.


He was certain, at least for now. Not this one. Not this time