Services Rendered- A James Bond Novella

I henceforth present my first valiant attempt to write some Bond fan-fiction. I will hopefully be posting a chapter every few days from now on. For the record, the novella is set in 1975 (roughly in between the Fleming and Gardner series). Any comments/reviews/constructive criticism welcome! Here goes the opening chapter:

Chapter One: The Eyes of a Killer

James Bond was tired of Barbados. To put it more accurately, he was exhausted, completely drained of passion, like a pale strand of blueish vein after a swarming frenzy of leeches have scoured every last drop of blood from the flesh. The island was slowly sinking its hooked claws into his body, its pretensions towards imperial grandeur a contradictory shambles of comforting nostalgia and gentle mockery. The low pastel rooftops, the afternoon roars of the cricket ground, even the statue of Lord Nelson that peered with haughty condescension at the jumbled smoky traffic; all served the purpose of convincing the visitor that he had discovered a miniature parody of homely English countryside. If not for the sweltering heat and the smatterings of garbled creole that hollered from every doorstep, Bond mused, he might as well have been spending a day in the rolling South Downs. But, of course, this was no mere jaunt away from the office. The angular bulk of the gun pressed tight against his shoulder under the worsted blue shirt reminded him of that constantly; and then there were M’s authoritative words as the old man’s slate-grey eyes passed over the manila operational file he was handing across the desk: “Shouldn’t be taxing, I imagine. This is a cut-and-dry run, understand? In on Friday, out on Sunday. Clear? Good luck out there.” Sitting by the harbour and watching a flotilla of fishing boats make for the far bank, Bond damned M’s luck with a succession of bitter curses. Much good it had done him so far. He took a long sip from a tall glass of the local mauby, a cool sweet infusion made from tree bark and aniseed, tempered with a medicinal lashing of rum. It was now early evening on the Saturday, the sky flushed a brilliant auburn, and there was nothing to indicate when or even if this supposed drug smuggler, Hargreaves, would be showing his face tonight. According to the borrowed CIA report which Bond had hastily skimmed over on the plane, this backwater was a haven for narcotics shipments. His task was to make contact with this Hargreaves fellow and then, in the euphemistic language favoured by the boys from Washington, “take all steps necessary to ensure target fails to participate further in such illegal activities.”

Bond briefly wondered whether it would be possible to take Hargreaves alive. After all, that would technically be fulfilling the instructions he had been given. Yet even as the thought flashed across his mind he dismissed it with a quick impatient snap of anger. London wanted this man dead. So that was how he was going to proceed. There was no alternative; if the Americans had wished to question Hargreaves they would have gone to the trouble of filing an extradition request. Barbados, for all its faults, was a friendly enough state and its government would have complied like an eager terrier. No, there was not the slightest doubt about the implications of his orders, no room for ambiguity. Like it or not, Bond was here to kill and that was the end of the matter. So why did he feel such crippling malaise, like a black cloud of depressed fury settled watchfully above in the fashion of a wheeling vulture? Get out of it, he told himself. Concentrate. Bond could not understand what was happening. He had been responsible for more deaths than he cared to admit, many more. Yet now he was experiencing pangs of unease at the notion of dispatching a drugs mule, someone responsible for the passage of tonnes of heroin into the Western nations, a constant flow of wretched poison into the hearts and minds of millions of young people. The man deserved punishment, though Bond couldn’t shake the feeling that this should come in the form of a prison cell instead of an assassin’s bullet, the same ammunition that nestled coldly by his own trembling arm. Then he banished the temptations with a final decisive draught of sugar-tinged rum. Was he going soft? Of course not. If he could no longer carry out the basic requirements the job demanded he wasn’t fit for intelligence work, let alone the double-0 section. Bond would prove the treacherous doubts wrong through vanquishing this foe, restoring the Manichean balance to his life that had been absent from months of dull paperwork in the Chelsea flat, rounded out by late nights gambling or conducting empty affairs. No, this evening James Bond had demons to slay. He was looking forward to the challenge.

The SS Kessel waited in six metres of sloping muddy-green water, a sleek white phantom that rose from its tomb of concrete dock and rattled its chains as if haunting the quayside. Markus Von Schlager stood at the prow of the yacht and peered through the dying sunlight at the man on the distant promenade. From afar, Von Schlager was the type of figure his country’s leaders might have glorified thirty years ago; bright blond hair and clear blue eyes sat above an arrogantly proud jaw thrusted obscenely forth, the vulgar sign of Habsburg ancestry marring the otherwise narrow symmetrical face. Von Schlager was dressed in the conventional mode of a tourist, with a garishly striped scarlet shirt and expensive sandals apparently purchased in a frantic bout of shopping from the finest boutiques in New York. The atmosphere of extreme wealth, though not taste, was accentuated by the state-of-the-art Pulsar digital watch that adorned Von Schlager’s right wrist. A casual observer would have earmarked Von Schlager as an American millionaire taking a well-earned vacation, as he himself might have drawled in thick Texan dialect to any Westerner who happened to fall into conversation with this eccentric tycoon.

In fact, Markus Von Schlager’s hatred for the United States burned more powerfully, and readily, than one of the fictional oil wells he often claimed to own. For Von Schlager had served for years in the pay of the Stasi, the East German security directorate run from a drab grey office block off Magdalenstrasse. In this role Von Schlager had been directly or indirectly responsible for hundreds of deaths, recorded by chalk tally marks running into the thousands that lurked behind his eyelids and seeped into his dreams. At the moment Von Schlager’s attention was focused entirely on the tall Englishman with the cruel mouth who was idly occupied drinking a large rum concoction, blissfully unaware of the plans stirring against his presence. How many, Von Schlager wondered idly, had this fellow killed? What will he feel when he finally joins them? Such things were ultimately of little consequence, however. Only the completion of the grand project mattered. Von Schlager rebuked his philosophical meandering and turned to the Estonian sailor who loitered by the stern smoking a cheap cigarette, the man’s gaze hardened by the pleasures of Baltic voyages in December. The deckhand gave a brisk military salute. “Comrade Captain.” Von Schlager nodded with curt appreciation. “Very good, Kaskerov. Fetch the crew. We’re going to arrange a surprise for our guest.” Kaskerov grunted softly and Von Schlager continued to stare out to sea. Across the bay, a chill wind was beginning to gather.


  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent
    Chapter Two: An Invitation

    The sun was drawing in when Bond abandoned the last dregs of rum and thought about striking back towards the Hotel Victoria. He didn’t know where Hargreaves was, though at this rate he didn’t much care. Bond set his heart on three simple ambitions for the moment: a dinner of grilled swordfish with sweet potato, a bottle of Mouton Rothschild ’68, and the key to the presidential suite, all silk sheets and French mirrors. He was just wondering whether to dash off a short telegram reporting his apparent failure when he became aware of a huge bullnecked man looming over the table. “Can I help you?” Bond said politely. “Ya’ Mistuh Bond?” the reply was coated in layers of impenetrable Brooklyn sneer, while the small black eyes darted with a start of recognition to the Beretta slung at Bond’s elbow. There was no mistake about it; here stood a professional gangster, probably a low-caste Mafioso hoodlum.
    “Who wants to know?” Bond tried to match the note of lazy indifference. “My boss, Missur Hargreaves, he tells me to get some Limey up to his house. Ya happen to be the guy?” Bond nodded. “Fine. Ya jes’ follow me, sir, that’s okay. I’m Giuliano, mesself.” Giuliano beckoned to a waiting car, a beaten-up old cream Ford. Bond got in and his new acquaintance started to plot a rickety course around the bustling docks. “Are you Hargreaves’ chauffeur?” said Bond. Giuliano shook his head, displaying valleys of swarthy fat around the stubbled chin. “Nossirree. Naw. I’m employed as a confidential secretary, of sorts. Jobsworth. Bodyguard, kinda.” Bond pondered the vague evasions, trying to guess the exact line of work a six-foot-four mountain of a New Yorker would be called upon to perform for an infamous purveyor of drugs. Nothing legal, he’d bet. That was when Bond first noticed the jeep, a surplus kharki vehicle that always seemed to be ballooning vastly in the rear-view mirror. “Must be a fascinating man to get to know.” Bond cleared his throat. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say we were being followed.” Giuliano laughed in a tough, hoarse staccato, the manner which detective novelists term a ‘guffaw’. “Oh, ya mean the toy soldiers? They’re from the local police, if ya ask me. Those schmucks have been trying to build a case against the chief for years. Doesn’t help that half the bunch are under Hargreaves’ thumb.” Bond filed this piece of intelligence away and sat back again, watching the skeletal forest of gunmetal cranes recede as the harbour itself shrank to a dark lump of coal on the horizon.

    Eventually Bond noticed that the jeep had vanished. The Ford was now struggling along an unkempt dirt track, mud churning and spitting from the tyres. Then the car rounded a sharp bend and Bond found himself visibly shocked. For Hargreaves was evidently rich-very rich. He was facing a grandly palatial eighteenth-century mansion, a relic of colonial rule framed against the broad swathes of moonlight under which the palm trees stooped and wavered like Atlas carrying the world. “We’ve arrived.” Giuliano said redundantly. The master of this mysterious domain had appeared and was striding forwards to shake Bond’s hand. Hargreaves was a seedy-looking Englishman with a weak, scattered film of moustache decorating his top lip, and watery brown eyes that shone with the controlled fervour of an alcoholic. Hargreaves wore a white shirt and beige trousers, while at his waist a Colt Special revolver drooped from a leather holster, lending a piratical air. Hargreaves did not muster an outstanding first impression, his handshake like grasping at wet towels. Bond could picture him as the sort of incompetent rogue who had failed to progress past the rank of major and left the forces to permanently haunt the gentlemen’s establishments and golf courses of Surrey, all public-school ties and entrenched contempt for foreign travel and jet aircraft. “Welcome to my humble abode, Mister…” Hargreaves began. “My name is Bond, James Bond. You know why I am here, I imagine?” Bond was all business. He had no desire to spend a night as this man’s guest.
    “Of course. You stipulated four kilos of finest black tar product, exact to the letter. But let us take supper first.” Hargreaves said with abrupt stiffness, and conducted Bond to a dining room laid for two. The expansive windows faced out onto the road, and beyond that wide strip of gravel lay a haze of perfect yellow sand, dividing land from water. After that was nothing save for the Caribbean, a dark cool shadow dappled by pools of white, like the belly of an orca whale. Hargreaves clicked his fingers and a bald-headed butler, dressed in the pale jacket and bow tie of a steward of the ancient Cuneo Line, brought plates of flying fish steaks, cooked to a searing medium-rare and garnished with buttered root of cassava in a spiced pepper sauce. To drink there was a choice of warm crimson hibiscus tea or Bollinger Grande Annee ’60, which was the option Bond selected. The conversation never left the same revolving topics of Hargreaves’ exploits, his career, his fantastic accumulation of profits, and his hobbies of choice, fishing and sailing. Only when the antique grandfather clock chimed eleven did Hargreaves put forth a dangerous question. He was standing by the open window with a fluted glass of champagne in one hand and a Havana cigar in the other. Thin mists of sour smoke coiled like a hangman’s noose in the air.

    “Are you a wealthy man, Mr. Bond?”
    “I suppose you could say that.” Bond said carefully. “The drugs trade in Britain has its advantages, for a skilled connoisseur of the market.” Bond tried to read the implacable features, searching for a spark of intellectual curiosity, jealousy, suspicion, an artfully concealed trap. But there was none. “Are you,” Hargreaves persisted, “a gentleman of high means?” Bond almost laughed at the old-fashioned codswallop, yet there had to be a deeper subtext to this strange interrogation. “Could you be a little more precise?” Hargreaves paused for a second, collecting his words. “Would you describe yourself as someone possessing in excess of…say, for example, ten million pounds?” His casual manner failed to hide the galloping pace of speech, the voice twisted to a higher octave by sheer exhilarated greed. Bond decided to play along. “You’ve a rather blunt way about you. But you are essentially right. I am, by all conventional measures, a millionaire.” At this the shallow eyes became truly animated for the first time, blazing with keen interest. “Mr. Bond, let us consider two important facts. You have money to spare, and you are familiar with participating at all levels in the structure and activities of a criminal organisation. Now let us move to a supposition. You are bored, that much I can guess. Taking all this into account, would you be interested in donating some of your time-and funds-to a great enterprise, the likes of which the world has never seen before?”

    Bond was starting to guess what was going on. Hargreaves had taken on the role of recruiting sergeant for an illegal gambling ring, or something similar. “If it’s the Salvation Army you want me to join,” said Bond, “I’m not interested.”
    “No, no, Mr. Bond.” Hargreaves kept his gaze fixed on the unbroken line of foliage, swaying in the tropical breeze. “You misunderstand. The scheme which I am inviting you to become a part of is a plan capable of changing history. It is masterminded by one of the most cunning and subtle men I have ever met. Above all, “ he finished, “it will deal a devasting blow to the prestige of one of the most brutal and tyrannical nations in the world.” Bond froze, uncertain of how to react. This conversation had certainly taken an intriguing turn. Hargreaves was just a heroin trafficker, yet he talked now as someone suffering from a serious case of megalomania. Bond remembered that he had been sent to kill his host, and he felt a firm resolve building in his nerves to get the deed over with as soon as he could. “I would definitely be interested in your proposal, Mr. Hargreaves.” Bond said, as if they were cheerfully discussing taking out a mortgage instead of what appeared to be some kind of terror plot. “ I am sure our leader will welcome your support. Before you make a final commitment towards our venture, you ought to meet him personally. This should provide all the details you need.” He gave Bond a sealed envelope, and he weighed the light contents before stuffing the package into his trouser pocket. Hargreaves was frowning now, gradually picking out the shrill motor of an approaching vehicle. “How many others are involved?” Bond said urgently. “Twelve.” The diesel whine was getting stronger. “You’re the thirteenth. One more thing to think about, and I do hope you aren’t a patriotic sort, is that the British government may well be impacted.” Bond was losing a battle to hear the words over the bellowing stutter of acceleration, which ricocheted very close. “What do you mean-“ That was as far as Bond got before he became aware that something had drastically changed in the room. The mechanical roaring reached a marching climax and a dull-brown jeep swept past. There was the steady pulverising clatter of rifle fire that always wrenched Bond back to crouching in a filthy dugout trench in Normandy forests, and then he heard a long, low babbling gurgle. Hargreaves took one step away from the shattered windows, his shirt a torn canvas on which a swollen pink crescent was painted. His eyes shrunk rapidly into marbles and he crumpled to the floor.
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent
    Chapter Three: Fight and Flight

    For a moment Bond stared into an empty void of numb shock before there was a guttural barking from somewhere nearby and he knew it was time to make a hasty retreat. With some effort, Bond upturned the heavy mahogany table and gathered the tall chairs around it in a cluster to construct a makeshift barricade which faced the doors. Then Bond searched the body, looking over the ruinous fount of human rubble that had just hours earlier been explaining patiently the difference between a marlinspike and a yardarm. Bond gingerly pulled the Colt revolver from its holster, wiped the trigger guard carefully, and tucked the weapon into his belt. Now, at least, he was in possession of twice as much firepower. What he really needed to know was what on earth Hargreaves and his ring of co-conspirators had been devising. It had sounded like some sort of military assault or perhaps a hijacking, though this speculation was fruitless for the time being. Bond needed to remove himself from the vicinity of whoever had murdered Hargreaves. He was the sole witness, and somehow Bond doubted these desperate men would let him leave the smuggler’s home alive.

    Bond’s thoughts were cut short by Giuliano bursting into sight, out of breath and frantic. The driver’s rotund neck glistened with fearful sweat, and that was the last detail Bond noticed about the man. A drumming parade of automatic bullets found their mark, propelling Giuliano into a sprawling heap on the carpet. A great bearded thug waving an ugly Soviet machine-pistol came to a halt in the doorway, hollering and brandishing the gun in the deep throes of an exhilarated primal stupor. Bond wasted no time in bringing his Beretta to a safe marksman’s hold in exactly two-point-eight seconds, as he had done thousands of times on the practice range, and firing a single clean shot through the centre of the skull. The force and power of the round was enough to send the frenzied silhouette slamming back into the wall, unleashing a layer of choking dust that mingled with the acrid powdery stench already dense in the confined space. There was a cold heavy silence, marred only by the Atlantic wind twisting and battering the palm trees outside.

    Bond had not killed in recent memory. He was prepared for the grim necessity of the mission, but this was different, an action prompted by self-preservation alone. Anyway, whoever these people were, they were quite ready and willing to indiscriminately murder everyone in the house to protect the fact that they were responsible for Hargreaves’ death. That edge of paranoid ruthlessness, of sheer barbarism, distinguished them from his own reluctant sense of professional duty. With renewed clarity of purpose, Bond stepped out into the hall, his senses finely attuned. As it was, the cracked leather boot that smashed into Bond’s knee and tore savagely at his aching gut was expected, with Bond deploying a swift though ungentlemanly counter in the form of a lunging kick between the stout legs. His assailant, who wore a high-cheeked Slavic face decorated with the characteristic scars of a Muscovite street gang, answered by grappling furiously at Bond’s throat with long, bruising fingers. This indelicate bout of repartee continued in a similar fashion for a while before the Moscow racketeer foolishly overbalanced, slipping on the polished tiles and allowing Bond to deliver the coup de grace through a hard-fast punch just below the chiselled jaw. The Russian hissed senselessly as the weak cartilage surrounding the upper thorax split, spurting a fine red rooster’s comb into being. The shrieking burbles began to subside as Bond moved onwards, dismissing the crude spectacle as if casting the dim vestiges of a waking nightmare from his thoughts.
    A low rumble penetrated the air as Bond ran outside. Too late, he saw the jeep whisk onto the main road and vanish in a churning spatter of mud. There was a distinct impression of an insolently protruding jaw and keen piercing gaze from the vaguely blurred profile in the passenger seat and then nothing.

    The rotting empty husk of failure descended bitterly towards Bond’s racing consciousness; his fingers still twitched blindly about the broad stock of the Beretta, searching for some sensation of closure in its comforting warmth. Slowly, with the realisation of someone finding a new and intriguing leisure pursuit, Bond noted that he would enjoy the trial of hunting down Hargreaves’ massed associates, with their hushed secrets and deranged plotting. Someone was going to bring them crashing back down to reality, and that person, the fates had decided, would be Bond. With the safety of that knowledge burning at the forefront of his mind, he set out on the five mile walk to civilisation.
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent
    Chapter Four: Firestarter

    Trafalgar Square on a Monday afternoon was a swamp of bustling sound and speed, jammed with cars in both directions and echoing with the tuneless symphony of percussive horns and feline purrs of engines. Pigeons circled the pathetic inferno in an ominous glide from the columns of the surrounding buildings down to the almost feminine arching curves that swept, beckoning, towards the bureaucratic mire of Whitehall in the south. To Bond’s eye it was a beautiful yet bewildering sight.

    “Dreadful business, 007.” M stuffed tobacco laconically into his worn pipe, his battleship-grey eyes taking in reams of neatly ordered files as he spoke. “Dreadful.” Bond, dressed in a navy-blue suit and knitted black tie, finished admiring the scenery and turned from the blinds, standing before his chair like a pupil struggling to remember the precise conjugation of Latin verbs. “I read your report pretty carefully. Then over the weekend I took the trouble to confer with the heads of Five, the Metropolitan Police, the Secretary of State for Defence and so on. All the usual people, some lively back-and-forth discussions. I’ve got a feel for how things stand at the top, so to speak, and the general consensus is clear. All the voices around the table which really mattered were in favour of swooping quickly, snatching as many of Hargreaves’ colleagues as we could and getting as much leverage over this organisation as possible. Of course, what clinched the decision in most cases was that envelope you stole from the chap’s manor.” Bond raised an eyebrow. “Not exactly ‘stolen’, sir. As I remember Hargreaves handed it over willingly, as part of his attempts to recruit me.” M puffed away thoughtfully for a moment. “Yes, and it’s a damn stroke of luck that he did. Our laboratories pored over that paper for days on end, finding nothing but a partial fingerprint of Hargreaves’. No, the item of real interest to us remains the actual contents inside. You haven’t read it, I suppose?” M glanced at Bond expectantly. “No, sir.” He confessed. “I decided it was urgent to keep the seal intact, in case it turned out we were handling toxic chemicals.” M looked satisfied. “Good man. This is what was concealed in that envelope."

    The admiral produced a slip of thick card, handsomely embossed with gold lettering. Bond was unable to entirely hide his surprise, letting out an incredulous snort. “You are hereby invited to the annual meeting of the Royal Berkshire Polo Club…” He read aloud, feeling more ridiculous with every passing syllable. “Sir, this has got to be a practical joke…” His superior’s worn features assumed an authoritative frown, sternly commanding. “I’m afraid this is quite serious, 007. Do you see the signature on that note?” Bond followed the looping elegant scrawl with confusion. “Markus Von Schlager. Can’t say I’ve heard the name, sir.”

    M fumbled for the microphone attached by a trailing stalk to the desk. Bond stood and appraised the portrait of a large stag that adorned the wood-panelled wall, a creature lost in the withering autumn highlands of Scotland. The great beast surrounded by faded glories, mused Bond, as M spoke into the cumbersome device. “Moneypenny,” he said, “fetch the Von Schlager dossier, will you? At the double.” There was a brief delay before Miss Moneypenny materialised, wearing a cream dress and carrying a stack of folders which she left by M’s side. “Thank you. That’ll be all.”

    M immediately pulled out a black-and-white photograph, a little hazy around the edges, in which a man sauntered down a shopping street, from the sun-bleached look of it in Spain or North Africa. The figure wore a light grey cotton suit without tie, and gave a broadly tanned smile. Bond realised eventually that he had seen those cold blue eyes and heavily oversized jaw somewhere; this was the face that had sneered from a racing jeep, which had been intimately involved in the planning and execution of Duberley’s murder. “Sir, this was the leader of the group that attacked the house.” Bond said.

    M considered the picture with fresh interest. “That would make sense. The individual with whom we are dealing is a certain Markus Von Schlager, born 1935 to German parents. Von Schlager was educated in Prussia, old-fashioned gentleman officer type, duellist, notorious romantic in his later youth. In 1967 he joined the East German Army and the following year transferred to the Stasi. Since that point he has been employed as an assassin as well as deep penetration agent using the cover of a wealthy scion of the last dying branches of the German nobility; in 1970, having inherited an industrialist’s fortune in the family aeronautical business, Von Schlager made a great public show of defecting to the West and continuing his air manufacturing line, now based in the Pyrenees.” Bond adopted a quizzical stare. “Interesting place to build planes, high up in the mountains.” He pointed out. “Indeed.” M added, fiddling with his pipe as wisps of smoke spluttered weakly. “That was one of the curious elements which led us to discover that Von Schlager is an active Stasi agent using his various legal enterprises to disguise the need to travel often, to employ a staff of bodyguards, to shy away from public works.” Bond nodded. “So why’s he inviting some of the world’s shadiest characters to play polo outside Windsor? Something’s not right about this set-up.”

    M tapped the pipe, letting chunks of tobacco fall into an ashtray. Then he produced a file stamped with the telltale scarlet bands- ‘TOP SECRET PERSONAL DO NOT COPY.’ Across its centre was emblazoned a single word ‘FIRESTARTER’. “Operation Firestarter, 007.” M’s amiable speculation was all business now, his eyes a firm steel glare. “Strictly for your eyes only, this job. You will travel to this match, find out the identities of Von Schlager’s fellow plotters and exactly what they are planning. Then- burn the whole sordid enterprise to the ground. How you do that’s your affair.” M said with the tough finality of someone who has taken a decision and demands total obedience. “Understood.” Bond rose to leave. M began to sort old documents, destining the first useless scraps for the mangler. Bond knew exactly how they felt. “Oh, and 007?” M looked up. “Sir?” “Almost forgot. The technical section have taken the liberty of placing a Fairbairn- Sykes dagger in the heel of your right shoe. Still, it pays to be careful. Von Schlager’s a dangerous, calculating fellow. Under normal circumstances there’d be an automatic shoot-on-sight order applied to him. Remember that as far as he’s concerned, you’re a drug salesman, nothing more. Just be careful.” With that M fell back to his endless stacks of papers. “I’ll try, sir.” Bond said, and headed out to make a start on the operational duties to which he had been assigned. The chase had begun.
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent
    Chapter Five: A Fair Challenge

    The vintage black Bentley S3 took the sharp turn at Clewer far too quickly, its 6.2 litre V8 engine shuddering as Bond steered onto another narrow long stretch that pointed the way forwards to a widening dual carriageway, slick with the scattered oil of slower cars that had met their match on this treacherous system of switchbacks and hairpins. With a familiar thrill Bond coasted the protesting saloon for a few miles of straight course, the speedometer wavering at seventy before he hurled the winged nose down an empty lane, flirting recklessly with the cavernous ditch that yawned lazily to the right. On the horizon, beyond acres of relatively flat open country, the summit of Windsor Castle hunched like an upturned bucket abandoned at the seaside. As a low sun picked out the silhouetted battlements Bond felt an unpredictable surge of nostalgic longing for the stiff tailcoats and freezing stone dormitories of Eton, the vaulted ceilings and cobbled courtyards. Then he dismissed the old place and guided the Bentley onto a sloping bypass that skirted the narrow city for a couple of kilometres to disappear into the forest where the polo club lay.

    The Bentley growled softly, a not unpleasant noise. Bond cast his mind back to when his beloved Mark II Continental had given up and had to be consigned to bricks, gutted by blowtorches and stripped of every last component by teams of men in overalls who left a shattered corpse in their wake. Bond mourned inconsolably for a few months until Bill Tanner had the forethought to tip him off about the brand-new S3 waiting in the showroom at Park Lane. “She’s all yours, James.” Tanner had said, “for a cut above six thousand pounds. If I had the money, I’d buy her straightaway.” Fortunately, Bond did, and promptly emptied his wallet to the beaming young proprietor who gladly sold him the thing that same day. It was a Continental model, of a pared-back Mulliner design adapted to offer four-speed automated transmission and powerful hundred-and-fifty-watt twin bulbs. Admiring the red leather façade that hid an oak dashboard under which sheltered larger American-style carburettors capable of pushing the top speed to one-hundred-and-fifteen miles per hour, Bond was hooked. He wondered idly, gunning the motor as the first ridge of trees became visible, why men were tempted to kill for wealth, for power, for the love of a beautiful girl; but not, it seemed, for a car like this one.

    Bond parked the Bentley in the shadow of a tall cluster of white wood-framed buildings that faced onto an expansive lush field already marked out with flags for the upcoming game. There was already a strong crowd flocking towards the stands that fanned in a concentric orb from the clubhouses. A short distance away sat a ring of nondescript brick sheds, which Bond guessed hid the stables. At the gates Bond presented his invitation to a man dressed in a navy double-breasted suit and regimental cufflinks. “You’re with the Von Schlager party? Up the stairs, first door on the right.”

    Bond followed the instructions and found himself facing a tougher-looking obstacle, a man who resembled a hunting wolf, poised to leap on the neck of weaker and exhausted prey. His hair, which had once been a raven black, had mostly surrendered to streaks of monochromatic grey, the same tinge that ravaged the fleshy face with its grin of thick indolent pleasure like a fattened pig. Yet the figure beneath was well-built and athletic, at odds with the features which Bond would have placed at around fifty. The strangely mismatched apparition reached automatically for the hilt of a US army Browning, at the same time regarding Bond with eyes as black as a Caucasian oil reservoir. This was not someone to cross lightly. “You are Mister Bond?” He spoke with a rustic twang of Austrian blood. “That’s right.” Bond said coolly. “I am Helmuth. I am Herr Von Schlager’s personal head of security. You have been officially invited, I take it?” Bond continued to return the hostile glower with interest. “I can see nothing gets past you.” Helmuth shrugged indifferently and stepped aside.

    Bond walked into a room filled with people, almost all male, and almost all surrounding a table elaborately piled high with canapes. Around the edges of the gathering men in winter greatcoats and sunglasses stood guard quietly. Through a rectangular window Bond could see down into a paved space flecked with straw where magnificent horses trotted in various stages of preparation, their impatient neighing and whinnying blending with the low babble of the crowds. Bond plucked a cold magenta concoction from a passing waiter, which turned out to be a strawberry martini. Sipping this delicious offering, Bond took the opportunity to scan the sea of faces, trying to see who else was among the privileged few accorded the honour of Von Schlager’s company. He recognised a feared Japanese Yakuza gangmaster and an equally infamous Sicilian hoodlum, who was known in professional circles for severing the index fingers of his victims. All of these individuals were, in their native environments, murderers, rogues, pirates or thieves; so what had brought them to the very heart of England, mere miles from the ancestral throne of the royal family? It was like displacing a polar bear to the burning wastes of the Saharan desert.

    James Bond did not have to consider these mysteries for much longer. For a familiar face, his smile dominated by an obscenely swollen jawline, had appeared and was leaning forwards to shake Bond’s hand warmly. “Good afternoon. I am Herr Markus Von Schlager, and you are…”
    “Bond, James Bond.”

    Even with the benefit of M’s briefing, Bond remained shocked. There was no doubt about it at this range, even with the addition of expensive Savile Row tailoring and an amiable veneer. For this was certainly the gentleman he had last seen clinging to a speeding jeep, tearing hastily away from the scene of Hargreaves’ death. Bond was struck by the man’s relaxed demeanour, as if this elaborate world of high living and chivalrous sportsmanship was his natural habitat. Von Schlager was in his element, watching over the contests with the unmoved, natural superiority of a Roman emperor presiding over a gladiatorial arena, coldly detached from events and yet absolutely, fiercely alive. This was a man who wanted more than life could ever give, consumed by an unchecked and ravaging ambition. This was someone who played by his own rules and expected others to fall in behind, a singular parody of the superhuman Nietzchean ideal. Here was a formidable and, Bond guessed, a particularly ruthless opponent.

    “Welcome, Mister Bond. What brings you here?” The question was casual. Bond said, “Natural curiosity, I suppose. When I received the invitation, I couldn’t resist the temptation to set some time aside and see what a round of polo is really like. I’ve never dabbled in it before, so to speak, and today seemed like the perfect opportunity.” Von Schlager gave a satisfied smirk. “An enthusiastic amateur, Mister Bond? Very well. Tell me, what is your line of employment?” Bond thought for a moment. “I’m in import-export myself. Let’s say that I deal with some especially rare and sought-after substances. It’s a lucrative trade, but constantly under pressure from governments across the world. An unfortunate situation.” Von Schlager grinned, a hidden signal exchanged. “I understand your meaning perfectly. Now this is rather awkward-forgive me-however, I don’t remember inviting you.” The contrived show of awkward politeness masked a dangerous interlude in the conversation. If Bond didn’t respond in the correct manner, he had no doubt that his punishment would be rather more severe than a lifetime’s exclusion from the club premises. “You’re absolutely right, Herr Von Schlager. You never invited me. But your friend Mister Hargreaves was kind enough to.” Bond spoke confidently. Von Schlager’s blue eyes glittered, unfazed. “Interesting. I should have been more careful with the advertisements, perhaps. No!” He chuckled. “I jest, of course. The more the merrier, Mister Bond. And maybe now we shall see where your talents really lie.” Von Schlager laughed harshly a second time, before clapping his hands together briefly and raising his voice to the assembly. “Can I have your attention, please?”
    There was a murmur of talk, which swiftly faded. All the party was now fixated on Von Schlager with a reverent and total silence, a crackle of nervous tension making the hairs on Bond’s neck stand erect. Then he realised. These people not only respected Von Schlager. They were scared of him.

    Von Schlager cleared his throat and began to speak, his twisted mouth warping like putty in the grip of a destructive child. “As you are all aware, we have been brought here by a single purpose. A sole aim that unites and binds us. Together, we will succeed; I promise you that. But to divide, to splinter, to willingly betray this organisation by one word or gesture-then I can guarantee that you will discover the darkest depths of failure.” At this there was a collective shiver, and Bond thought he could imagine the German’s gaze rooting him to the spot. Von Schlager threw back his misshapen skull, drained his glass and continued. “Enough.” He said. “Let us cease this talk of business, and instead proceed to the real highlight- our little auction.” There was a cheer.

    “It is quite simple, ladies and gentlemen. Whoever pledges the most for our charitable fund gets to play against yours truly in a sporting game of polo. We’ll start the bidding at five hundred pounds. Any improvements on that sum?” At once there was a chorus of voices, which soon hushed to a duel between the Yakuza boss and the Sicilian.
    “Seven hundred pounds.”
    “Eight hundred.”
    “Nine hundred pounds.”
    There was a pause and the Italian appeared triumphant, Von Schlager ready to finish the bidding. On impulse, Bond leapt in. “Two thousand pounds.” There was riotous confusion for a moment before Von Schlager snapped out an order and there was quiet again. “It seems you have won, Mister Bond.” His hideous jaw trembled as Bond felt the accumulated displeasure of eleven of the globe’s most deadly criminals, radiating with electric menace throughout the room. “I think congratulations would be appropriate, Mister Bond.” Von Schlager tried to exude generosity with a shrivelled rictus grin, pouring Bond a large double brandy. “Shall we take to the field?”
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent
    Chapter Six: The Sport Of Kings

    “How are you with horses, Mister Bond?”
    “I’m a keen rider myself.” Bond was inspecting a large bay charger, while Von Schlager had selected a powerful chestnut mount. “Good. Why don’t you lead Eunice here onto the field of play, and I’ll join you in a moment?” Von Schlager said warmly, pressing another brandy into Bond’s hand before walking some distance away to confer with Helmuth. Helmuth murmured something too softly for Bond to hear, Von Schlager nodding decisively and pointing directly at Bond. Then Bond and his opponent stepped out onto the grass, preceding the approach of the two horses. The crowd cheered.

    Bond gulped the brandy and struggled to remember the standard rules of polo. The “line of the ball” is a hypothetical line that tracks the path of the ball, and reaches past the ball along its current trajectory. The line of the ball governs how players are permitted to move toward the ball. The player who hits the ball has an automatic right of passage along the line of the ball, and no other player can cut in front of them. As players near the ball, they ride on either side of the line of the ball. A player defending possession of the ball can steal the ball back from his opponent or force him away from the line. When a player forces another to move away from the line, this is referred to as a “ride-off” or “bump.” As a last resort, a player can defend by “hooking”, or using his mallet to entangle the mallet of the player in possession of the ball, although the “hooking” player cannot touch the opponent’s body, horse, or saddle. A foul involves endangering the player or their horse’s safety during a ride-off, or alternatively making contact with the opponent or their horse during an attempt to “hook”. A typical outdoor game can last for about one-and-a-half to two hours, and usually consists of four to eight seven-minute intervals of play known as chukkas; in this case Von Schlager had set the number of rounds to three. The overall object of the game is to score goals by hitting the ball between the white goal posts, which rested towards the north edge of the field.

    There are four positions; number one acts as the most offensive player, number two similarly focused on scoring goals, number three feeds balls through to number one and number two, and number four the most defensive player. Bond was assigned to number one, while Von Schlager took the role of number four on the opposing team. “Our team mates are Schlager Corporation workers. They’ll try not to show you up as best they can.” Von Schlager laughed, giving a signal for the umpire. Bond tensed, weighing his hardwood mallet and wondering how seriously to take this encounter. On the one hand, it would probably anger Von Schlager if Bond managed to win; on the other, it had cost two thousand pounds to secure his place here and he was going to try and make the best of the situation. “Good luck, Mister Bond.” Von Schlager’s eyes narrowed. The crowd quietened. The umpire blew a shrill note on his whistle and the match began.

    The ball beckoned from the centre of the pitch and Bond set his steed at a loping canter, ignoring the formations of his three colleagues. The small orb was close now, and Bond tracked it with one eye while preparing to take an experimental swing. He readied for the stiff clunk of wood on metal, and was met by a gaping rush of air as Von Schlager’s number two, a thickset barrel-chested man, made a fast intercept to send the ball roving towards the goal. Bond, startled, wheeled round; it was an aggressive though not illegal ploy. Bond traced the dividing line along the ground and set off again at speed, keeping dutifully to his own side as the enemy number two did the same. He was quick but Bond was better, and managed to deliver a smashing blow that despatched the ball hurtling with finesse into the goal. One-nil to Bond. His gaze lifted to catch Von Schlager’s face, reddened and seething, as the German spurred his horse into action. Bond gave chase, though Von Schlager had moved first and delicately tipped the ball from a corner to make the match equal.

    The ball shone in the sunlight, hidden under the legs of Von Schlager’s number three. Bond circled gingerly ,hoping to force his opponent to move, but Von Schlager knew his mind and dogged Bond’s heels as he shifted the mallet in a perfectly timed move that barely missed the number three thoroughbred’s ankles to sweep the ball in a wide turn across the grass, carrying the ‘hook’ with exacting finesse. Number three lurched out of the way as Bond fixed the angle of a light tap that would knock the ball sideways to secure a second goal, and as Bond swung Von Schlager’s horse lumbered directly into his path. Bond’s mallet just missed his host’s skull as Von Schlager’s mount threw him, and he fell in an awkward tangle of limbs. There was a gasp from the crowd, and the umpire gave a blast on his whistle. “Foul!” Bond had to admit, it was a foolish move to wander into the line of the ball so blatantly, resulting in an obvious infraction of the rules. What the hell was Von Schlager doing? There was a brief heated discussion between Von Schlager and the referee before the next announcement was made. “Penalty against Schlager team!” Served the idiot right, thought Bond. He timed the free shot carefully to carry out a long gliding manoeuvre that raised the score to two-one.

    There was a break between rounds. Bond saw Von Schlager and Helmuth speak again before Von Schlager offered Bond a third brandy. “Shaken, not stirred.” Bond mused. “You surprise me, Mister Bond. Rather to my chagrin it seems you have a habit of winning.” Von Schlager was polite, yet his voice had become distinctly colder. “I am sorry that polo is not more practiced in Germany, otherwise I might stand a greater chance.” A voice interrupted. “You played polo in Berlin last year, didn’t you, Markus?” Bond found himself facing a blonde-haired woman of about twenty-five wearing a blue summer dress, the same deep shade as her large periwinkle eyes, as intricate and labyrinthine as the patterns of the seashell. For a moment Bond was lost in her searching stare before he collected himself. “I don’t think we’ve been introduced, my name is Bond, James Bond.” He said cheerfully, shaking her hand. “This is Miss Penelope Chalmers, my personal secretary and assistant.” Von Schlager said. “Pleasure to meet you, Mister Bond. My friends call me Penny.” Bond gave an insolent smirk. “I’m sure they do. Mine call me James.” Penelope smiled pleasantly. “I’ve heard all about you from Mister Schlager. You’re in import-export, aren’t you?” Bond noticed Von Schlager’s twisted scowl. “That’s right. Pretty lucrative business.” Bond said.

    Von Schlager clapped his hands with an indifferent air, for women had never held much interest in his eyes. He was observing, assessing, evaluating; distant and yet domineering. “We must be returning to the field, Mister Bond. Time grows short.” Bond nodded. “Good afternoon, Miss Chalmers.” Penelope smiled again. “Goodbye, James. I hope we meet another time, someday.” Von Schlager hissed. “I doubt that will happen. Please, Mister Bond.” Bond allowed himself to be conducted back to the stables. There was one more round to go, and he wasn’t going to let this strange man get the better of him.

    When play resumed Bond made a dash for the ball, coaxing his horse to a near gallop, and took possession with a twisting spin of the mallet. It was a long route to the goal and Bond paced himself slowly. He had almost made it when Von Schlager bore down on him, trotting to a level speed alongside Bond’s right. Schlager made an inelegant flourish, nearly scraping Bond’s horse and missing the ball entirely. It was ten metres to the goalposts. Bond was winning again. At this point the mood of play changed. With military precision, Von Schlager clicked his fingers and his second rode up on Bond’s left, both opposition riders forming a sandwich that hemmed him in, trying to force him to pull back and miss the goal.

    At least, that was what the umpire would have assumed. In fact Von Schlager and his subordinate were marshalling dangerously close in a V shape, completely cutting off the path forwards. “What are you doing?” Bond shouted, but no one could hear over the crowd. Bond turned in the saddle and felt a jolt of surprise, for Schlager’s number two, he realised, had been replaced by Helmuth. On his other side, Schlager gave the mallet a wild coursing jerk, there was a swish like a plunging dagger and the great lump of wood and metal missed Bond’s leg by a hair’s-breadth. An inch more and Bond’s knee would have been crushed to a wrecked pulp. He dove his heels tight in the stirrups and hugged the beast’s mane as the German sent his makeshift club flying like a tomahawk over Bond’s head. Bond dared to look up to Schlager’s horrifying distorted glare, a surging primeval hate. The hollering throng was now the pummelling throb of Bond’s own heartbeat, an alarm warning of the stalking motions of death. Schlager gave an order and Helmuth, still keeping pace, reached down with a free hand and jabbed a small pistol towards Bond’s thigh. It was incredible. But it was deadly serious, and Bond had to react. If he were to be shot, nobody would hear a thing and Von Schlager could claim that he had fainted in the summer heat. Instead of leaning away from the muzzle Bond grabbed hold of Helmuth’s arm and dived towards the ground in an exaggerated crash. Bond heard the gun crack, very near, and then he struck the field and rolled. He saw Helmuth slam hard into the mud without a helmet to break his fall. Whatever else happened, the big Austrian would be in no fit state to use anyone as target practice for a long time.

    Bond dusted himself down as Von Schlager spoke to the umpire and a stretcher was brought on. The referee spoke. “In light of this accident, the rest of the tournament has been cancelled. The results stand at a two-one victory for Bond’s team.” There was a subdued ripple of cheers. Von Schlager met Bond at the gate with a strong handshake, his slender Germanic features a mask of supercilious disdain. A coruscating loathing raged under the surface with a shuddering bodily tremor, giving Von Schlager the appearance of a boxer about to lash out with all his might. “ A valiant effort, Mister Bond. I hope you will be joining our business excursion in the Pyrenees in a few days. You have demonstrated both financial acumen and a nose for trouble.” Bond said, “I’d be very grateful, Herr Von Schlager.” Schlager turned on his heel in brisk military fashion and swept away, his loping strides a promise of brute force, like the first gusts of an Atlantic hurricane. With that Bond left, guiding the old Bentley back towards London. There was work to be done. He had to find someone who was experienced in dealing with the French underworld, and he knew exactly where to look.
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent
    Chapter Seven: A Call to Arms

    Bond woke the next morning and took a refreshing two showers, one hot and one cold, before bidding his Scottish housekeeper May bring up a tray laden with the simple regular fare that always passed for breakfast in the Chelsea flat. A pot of sharp acrid coffee with a sneaking splash of bourbon accompanied a spread of two scrambled eggs cooked to absolute perfection, paired with a brace of grilled freshwater salmon topped with warm buttered toast, Hartley’s strawberry jam, Cooper’s fine cut orange marmalade and a lone baked oeuf en concotte. This ensemble was washed down with the aid of a few vodka and sodas and another jug of black coffee, finished off with one of the special cigarettes, bearing three gold bands, which Bond had specially made to order from the hallowed premises of Royal Morland at Grosvenor Street.

    Bond dressed in a light blue worsted shirt, slacks and dark knitted tie, taking care to sling the chamois leather Berns-Martin triple-draw holster firmly away from his trailing sleeve. He remembered with a ghoulish anxious edge how 005, a good-humoured colleague who once served at Monte Cassino, had accidentally shot himself through the shoulder while fiddling with the entangled and loaded holster, a nasty devil of an incident which had ended with an official suspension from duty for breaching weapons regulations. The instructor wasn’t too pleased about that at the time, Bond recalled, and with good reason. It was now almost nine in the morning.
    Bond picked up the telephone that served as a direct line to service headquarters.

    The dulcet tones of Loelia Ponsonby, Bond’s faithful secretary, dripped with honey. “James? Why aren’t you in the office?” Bond could hear the bleeping of Morse code in the background, heavy with static clicking. “On assignment, darling. You know how these rushed jobs come up.” Loelia laughed. “Where are you calling from, then? Rome, Istanbul, Beirut?” Bond looked around the flat with a smile. “Something like that. Now I need to make a connection with the Deuxieme Bureau in Paris. How about it?” Loelia said, “I’ll see what I can do. Shouldn’t you be checking with our own Station F first?” Bond snorted. “Station F? Christopher Axley-Warrington? He wouldn’t be able to see valuable intelligence if it danced like a Cossack on his in-tray.” Loelia giggled lightly. “That’s going in the field report for sure. Here’s the Deuxieme secretaries for you.”

    Bond muttered a quick thanks and within seconds was speaking to a cipher clerk across the Channel. “Rene Mathis for Bond, please.” He said, and waited patiently. The garrulous voice of Bond’s friend burst into life. “How’s life been treating you, James? No great love affairs, no impassioned ordeals of amour? No, mon ami, there is no need to answer that. Me? I have been promoted to chair of the directorate section on Indochina- not much use given Washington have just abandoned the godforsaken place. Yet another example of France leading the world, n’est-ce pas? But I concur. What threat to the realm forces you to contact me? Or is this a purely social call?” Patiently Bond explained how Von Schlager supposedly possessed business interests on French soil, and the revelation that a second meeting of his collaborators was about to take place in the Pyrenees. The voluble Frenchman gave a start. “Ah yes, we in Paris are well aware of the name of Von Schlager. His reputation precedes him where our security departments are concerned. Over the past few years Von Schlager has been expanding his operation in the southern mountainous regions, on the Franco-Spanish frontier. There is a factory complex there devoted to the design and construction of aeronautical parts and aircraft, and our German acquaintance has been busy digging a subterranean network of tunnels that intersects with a vast natural cave system at Pierre Saint-Martin. In particular he has dedicated millions of francs to draining several thousand gallons of water from the underground lake there. Curious, isn’t it?” Bond wrestled with this news, consigning the information to the growing mental warehouse of unanswered questions about Schlager that took up ever more space in his mind.

    “There’s nothing else to note? Nothing out of the ordinary?” Bond tried, and Mathis let out a rumbustious chuckle. Bond could picture his narrow moustache faintly tarnished with grey, the emerging double chins from which a smoking Gauloise always protruded. “Mon ami! James! Von Schlager is just about the biggest fraud alive, the greatest tax racketeer in the Fifth Republic. His financial affairs are as murky as a Louisiana bayou. It is estimated that he gets away with declaring less than half of his total earned fortune, which, I can assure you is a considerable sum. We have known of these irregularities for a very long time.” Bond said, “Why don’t you put the thumbscrews on him, in that case?” Mathis spoke with some exasperation. “Ah, such are the complexities of our legal system. If we were to arrest this German creature Von Schlager for improper fiscal conduct, we would also be obliged to pursue the Minister of Justice; the Minister of Economic Counsel; the chief of our national bank; and the entire population of Monaco, to name but a few. You see how the problem arises.”

    Bond said, “I do. That’s very helpful, Mathis, thank you.”
    “James-“ began Mathis with renewed urgency. “When you deal with this Von Schlager, be sure of one definite fact. He is an extreme and lethal opponent. There are files in the basement which testify to how he dealt with prisoners in the old days, and those reports make your skin crawl. I will tell you this, James. Do not underestimate him.”

    Bond said, “I’m not planning to.” He again thanked Mathis for the information and hung up. Then he treated himself to another cigarette, poured a crisp neat whisky and turned his attention to decoding Von Schlager’s intentions. The gathering of rich evil men, the furtive declarations of trust according to the hidden rulebook of the criminal classes, the sinister insect-like burrowing into the arteries of rock at Pierre Saint-Martin. None of this indicated anything less than the most complicated and ambitious of conspiracies. Hargreaves’ warning that this initiative would come to trouble Britain weighed on Bond’s reflections the most, a dark prophecy that it was his duty to ensure remained a bogus prediction on the lips of a murdered hoodlum. Bond was in the process of contemplating his next steps when the telephone rang.

    “007 here.” He said shortly. “Good morning, James. Now listen,” It was Bill Tanner, the Chief of Staff who served M’s caprices with the loyalty of a gundog. “You’ll be booked on tomorrow’s early British Airways Flight 349 to Tarbes-Lourdes from Heathrow. When you arrive, you will proceed to rendezvous with Von Schlager under the guise of a drug smuggler through which he already knows you. Once a guest at his base, your imperative remains the gaining of access to his inner circle and the ruin of whatever he is planning to achieve. O.K.?” Bond said, “Received and understood.” The Chief of Staff repeated the instructions and bade Bond a swift farewell.

    As the clipped orders faded an unsettling ambience took hold, a twisting wrench of dread that nagged at Bond’s conscience. He sensed the danger lurking ahead, waiting to spring its ambush that would surely come among the mountain peaks that pointed like so many cenotaphs towards eternity. Such was the life of a spy, the constant gut-feeling of imminent and total annihilation. The passage of time, Bond reflected, was a waking near-death experience, caught between two extremes. With this new insight Bond surrendered to the instinctual cravings and fetched a clean draught of whisky on the balcony. Grey puffy clouds, like cancerous lungs, were spreading their ragged poison across the charred embers of sky.
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent
    I think I'll take a short break from uploading the chapters now (there are 15 in total.)

    In the meantime, any thoughts/reviews/responses/constructive criticism would be welcome, whether its high praise or ripping the whole thing to shreds, if anyone's been following along so far. I plan to write some more fan-fiction in the near future and a proper critical eye would be a real help.

    The rest of the chapters will follow after a little pause. James Bond will return soon...
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent
    To reiterate somewhat:
    any opinions to be canvassed on this publication so far? As in my previous comment in this thread, I'd be interested to know what others think of this effort...

    Chapter 8 will be posted later...
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent

    Here goes some suitably Chopping-esque cover art...
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent
    Chapter Eight: Dinner and a Death

    The twin-jet engineered Douglas Dakota DC9 touched down with a thunderous boom, making for the colossal white terminal building like an ant scuttling to its nest. After the rigmarole of customs, where Bond handed his passport to a callow French youth who regarded him with studied boredom through tinted green spectacles, he found the car rental office and was soon speeding south towards the hills at the wheel of a brand new Citroen SM Cabriolet, all voluptuously curved arches and sleek ridges of turquoise paintwork. It took the best part of a day for the twinkling lights on the grassy swells to come into being, heralded by fleeting phantom patches of lettering indicating that Bond was entering the local administrative departement for the western reaches. A thick uneven sliver of land, the Pyrenees-Atlantiques was squeezed between the Bay of Biscay on one side and the Mediterranean on the other, a morass of sheltered villages, stark soaring peaks and crawling slopes on which cows grazed, their collared bells jangling peacefully in the dusk.

    Pierre-Saint Marin was little more than a slim pass beside a sheer rock cliff, a speck of asphalt on the great trade route connecting France to Spain that had once stretched all the way to the bitter dust of Morocco, romantic tales of camel trains led by repugnant sultans with flashing yellowed eyes and jewelled blades. It was the same savage land of high adventure that Bond remembered from his childhood, quaint stories read during rainy afternoons in Kent all those years ago. Bond gritted his teeth, cast the empty longing from his mind and focused on the sign that pointed up an arid path to a high walled compound with a guardhouse. At this barrier a wiry nervous man stood clutching a cheap Hungarian AMP-69 Fegyver rifle, a brash oily machine for those desperadoes who could not afford the superior Soviet Kalashnikov model. Bond felt his resolve grow. These men knew about guns and they knew how to use them. This was a completely professional venture.

    The guard let out a smattering of bad French dialect, bringing his weapon to bear. “I am here to see Herr Von Schlager.” Bond said. The overqualified doorman made a quick telephone call and waved him on, satisfied. Bond drove into a yard packed with reversing construction vehicles before a ramp dropped into an underground garage. He abandoned the Citroen and was about to go in search of refreshment when Von Schlager himself appeared from the concrete shadows, dressed in a cream blazer and black cotton shirt. “Ah, Mister Bond. I was beginning to think you hadn’t made it. Welcome to my residence.” There was a moment of apprehension as Bond peered around. “A car park? I would have expected Potsdam Palace for a man of your calibre, Von Schlager.” The German gave a pithy staccato laugh without humour, distending the massive slanting jaw, and pointed to a door set into the wall. “Believe me, Mister Bond,” His eyes shone with the flushed temper of someone not used to ridicule, “When the time comes I will make sure you are not disappointed. You will be- what is the charming American idiom-taken care of.” Bond met the challenge with a ready stare. Considering Von Schlager’s easy hospitality thus far, he moved warily towards the entrance.

    Von Schlager took Bond through a long winding tunnel, and Bond could hear a reverberating series of small explosions in the distance. “Mining equipment for the excavations, Mister Bond. I am currently engaged in a project to build an artificial dam that reduces the water levels in the flooded substrata caves, so that I can extend the complex here further beneath the earth. I envisage a huge well of aeroplane fuel sunk into the ground that can be drawn from at any time.” They came to a rocky crevice, as tall and as wide as a man, through which Bond glimpsed iron pit props and blinding halogen lamps. “This way takes you through part of the mining provisions until you eventually get to the core of the quarry, which was completed first. But I wouldn’t try and visit the central mining station if I were you, Mister Bond. It’s a swim through miles of freezing water in total darkness. Even if you were an Olympic athlete, your flesh would be cut to ribbons by the jagged stalagmites on the cave bed. So don’t think about it.” Von Schlager’s words were laden with naked threat. Bond continued to follow, as the corridor opened to a modernist lounge decorated with lurid abstract paintings. Several black leather chairs were clustered around a polished marble table, while scarlet lava lamps gave the place a warm yet also seedy atmosphere, with their red lights recalling illicit liasons in a thousand cities in Europe.

    “This is the conference chamber.” Von Schlager announced. “Here we are entirely isolated. Steel shutters defend against attack, while there is a separate oxygen supply fed through vents under the table. Every day my security garrison sweep this room for electronic bugs, and there is a constant armed patrol on watch at night.” Bond noticed that there were no windows. He also committed Von Schlager’s boasting to memory, paying particular attention to the comments about bug detection. “Later I shall have Helmuth show you to your quarters. I trust that they will be to your liking.” Bond effusively agreed. “How is Helmuth?” Von Schlager replied with poise, “He’s recovering. A grave misfortune, I’m sure. Happily there was no lasting damage.” Bond was puzzled. He knew-they both knew- that Von Schlager had wanted Bond dead at the polo match. It was unclear why his host was persisting with this charade, this courtly pretence of civilised behaviour. If Von Schlager wished to lure him to this spot to kill him, he could have simply had the guard at the gate open fire with the battered rifle. No, Bond reflected, this was something else. He would have to be careful.

    “Excellent.” Von Schlager took his place at the head of the table and motioned for Bond to sit on his left. “We are all here.” He flicked a hidden switch and his fellow plotters, the fantastic assembly of individuals that had previously gathered at Windsor, trooped in and sat around the marble slab with a refined graceful silence. It was unnerving, Bond thought, the complete absence of small talk or greetings of any kind. A troupe of waiters, who Bond recognised as bearing the pugnacious faces and bloated meat-like hands of armed sentries forced into other forms of servitude, brought plates of maigret du canard with pine nuts, bowls of Provençale fish stew, a whole roast chicken with tarragon and red rice finished by Cavaillon melon tart. It was delectable. Bond ordered a couple of vodka martinis and a cold glass of Bollinger from one of the waiters, basking for a time in the sumptuous excess. For all his faults, Von Schlager certainly lived well. Bond had to wonder what all this was leading up to.

    At the end of the desserts Bond half expected coffee and cigars, but instead Von Schlager rose with an abrupt vigour. “I hope you enjoyed our little feast.” Nobody else spoke. “That, ladies and gentlemen, is a foretaste of the quality of service you will all be able to command once our escapade here has paid its financial dividends.” At this there were a few scattered mutterings. A raven-haired man in an ugly plaid suit, who Bond realised was the Sicilian gangster who had tried to bid for the polo game with Von Schlager, directed an accusing finger at the German. “Is that some kind of goddamn joke at our expense? You know how much we put into your coffers? A million dollars each. A million!” the Italian crashed a hand onto the table. Von Schlager retained his composure. “I am fully aware of that. Which reminds me, Mister Bond. You haven’t paid your fare yet. A million dollars, just as Mister Scalazzone says.” Bond froze in panic. All eyes swivelled onto him. Could he bluff his way through? He said with confidence, “That’s fine.” Then he tore out a page from his chequebook and scribbled the false bank used by the firm as a shell façade for those needing to withdraw sums without being traced. Praying that this would work, he added his own scribbled signature and passed the receipt to Von Schlager. “Thank you.” The German beamed, a devilishly fractured muddle of skin and teeth. “You sure are naïve, pal.” Scalazzone clapped Bond on the back in mock friendship, before resuming his hostile glower. Von Schlager spread his hands in a theatrical gesture; he had nothing to hide. Somehow Bond doubted very much that this was true.

    “Please calm yourself, Mister Scalazzone. You will get a more than reasonable rate of return on your investment, I assure you.” Von Schlager said. The gangster was apoplectic by this stage, his cheeks the colour of vintage claret. “Do you know the people I represent, Von Schlager? I’m thinking about telling them to pull the plug on this stupid two-bit waste of nickels. How about that?” At this point others, among them a Yakuza chief and a South American generalissimo, were babbling blithely, their speech rapid and flustered. A quietly-spoken,almost supernaturally pale Swiss who Bond recognised as one of the world’s most successful arms dealers cried: “You have betrayed us!” Von Schlager bawled: “Silence!” and he was obeyed instantly, across the room. “I understand your suspicions. However, please allow me to address your concerns. Mister Bernhardt,” He indicated the Swiss gentleman, “please refrain from such melodrama in future. I have not, as you so extravagantly put it, “betrayed” any of you. Rather, the issue which is at stake here is one of trust. That is what this extraordinary gamble is founded on. The simple trust from you all, which enables me to use my contacts to carry out the essential purchase without which this plan cannot succeed.” Bond’s ears pricked up. “In return, I trust you to be loyal, to recognise that it would take a particular level of idiocy on my part to attempt to embezzle the volunteered funds of the most ruthless criminals in existence. Why should I, in effect, sign my own death warrant?” Bond had to concede, Von Schlager’s performance was worthy of awards. It was even convincing the others, for there was a low hubbub of apologies from around the table.

    Bernhardt was not to be deterred. “Don’t give me that zany motivational claptrap. I want my million dollars.” Von Schlager said, “I am sorry. In the past few moments the final adjustments have been made, with the generous help of Mister Bond’s contribution. The overall payment of twelve million dollars has already been despatched, and the weapon shall in turn arrive here at midnight, ready for our use.” Bond smiled internally. He was learning more by the minute. “That’s not good enough. I want payback!” The Swiss gentleman’s wavering voice sunk to a hoarse bellow. “Then that’s exactly what you’ll get. ”agreed Von Schlager, and shot him. The gun was very compact, one of the smallest in regular manufacture, and from its hiding place in the lining of Schlager’s jacket it spat flame like a miniature dragon. Bernhardt’s chest disintegrated, a slick heap of brown mud slumping in a landslide, burying the vitality and life beneath in a hissing gasp of air.

    Von Schlager pressed a button and the chair, still carrying the gangster’s remains, retreated backwards into the wall, leaving the raw stench of decay to endure like a haunting poltergeist. Bond was always surprised by the shock that tended to envelop him at such moments; even after years of undercover work one never quite got used to the sight of murder. Bond drove the hideous vision away and tried to forget. “I think it would be advisable if you all got some rest,” Von Schlager looked around gravely. “We have a long day ahead tomorrow, and the crucial phase demands absolute concentration. Goodnight.”
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent
    Chapter Nine: Night Spy

    “Feeling better?” Bond said with concern. Helmuth, a bald patch of skull covered by a sinister steel plate like some robotic invention, mumbled unintelligibly and flung open the door to Bond’s suite. It was a plush space, taken up by a bed and a wardrobe with a palatial view of the mountain heights beyond. “This will be fine, concierge. I’ll call you if I need anything.” Bond gave an impudent grin and Helmuth prowled away.

    Bond immediately checked his Omega Flight-master watch, the gleaming cadmium dial displaying the current time as eleven-forty p.m. precisely. As the name suggested, the Flight-master was made specifically for long-haul pilots and as such it made use of a special mechanical chronometer exacting to the last second. It also glowed in the dark and was completely waterproof. Bond hung up his tailored dinner jacket and dressed in an all-black outfit perfected for the purpose of reducing visibility at nightfall to almost zero. This was supplemented by a pair of leather gloves designed to prevent fingerprints or grease from forming on sensitive surfaces. Bond dismantled, stripped and reassembled the Beretta, taking care to include the maximum complement of eight soft-nose bullets. A burning warm shot of brandy came last, for good measure. He glanced at the time. Eleven-forty-five. It would be a good idea to get moving. Bond felt around the door handle. As expected, it was locked from the outside.

    Bond crossed to the window, which was a head taller than he was. He pushed against the glass, sensing the sheet distort slightly under pressure, before realising that there was a thin curving door set into the frame, almost invisible at normal height. Bond stepped out and took in the cool breeze. He walked back into the room, stripping the bedsheets and tearing them into random lengths. Then he knotted them together to form a chain that was lashed to the door handle, throwing several metres of draped material over the balcony. It wasn’t as strong as rappelling cord but would do the trick. Bond climbed over the precipice and inched down slowly, keeping his knees bent together and placing one hand steadily below the other to pass the improvised rope through. It was a difficult, clumsy trial of dexterity, and Bond didn’t dare look down in case a guard was strolling past. Eventually, Bond heard his feet strike concrete and he crouched low to the ground.

    He was directly in front of an earthen ditch barring a wire fence, after which a flat section of airfield projected towards the indigo horizon. A group of men clad in camouflage uniforms acted to cordon off a tarmac apron on which a Fairchild C-123 Provider, a hulking American freight aircraft painted a dull surplus grey, was halted. Its double turbojets shook with a persistent squeal. Bond could see Von Schlager, arms folded, watching the teeming forest of activity from an obvious position of command. There was a clipped bark, and the ramp of the plane’s hold descended like a tongue from a gaping mouth. Bond saw a trailer loaded with what resembled a large silver oil drum, one end fashioned into a short streamlined cone, emerge into view with a buzzing clamour from the soldiers.

    A second trailer carried a more slender version of the same device, tipped with a black spire and three fins at the base. Bond felt a jolt of sick knowledge. This new arrival was a U.S. ballistic missile. The pilot of the aeroplane was speaking to Von Schlager, snatches of their conversation drifting to Bond on the wind: “Got to locate remote transmission…that’ll be suitable…completely untraceable…attach payload at point B…arming fuse codes…how much did you spend on that?” This last incredulous remark was from the pilot. “That is not your concern, Herr Danson. What you ought to think about is in here.” Von Schlager was handing over a briefcase, and from the pilot’s reaction it might have contained the formula for changing lead into gold.
    Bond saw Von Schlager and the pilot shake hands, and the collection of military vehicles, trucks and jeeps as well as the two trailers, begin to move off in a convoy. The Fairchild taxied towards the runway.

    Bond made the arduous ascent back to his room. He was just hiding the tattered sheets when there was a knock followed by the door being hurled roughly open. “What are you…” a muscular guard lingered in the corridor, frozen staring at Bond’s strange choice of attire and the gun thrown carelessly onto the bedclothes. Then he attacked, slamming Bond bodily into the wardrobe. Bond was stunned and bruised but not seriously injured, and he reacted by spinning away, wrenching a coat-hanger from above and holding it at shoulder height like a knife in a balanced defensive stance. He locked eyes with the guard, who charged as Bond brought the curving hook down, trying to rip it through into the abdomen. The coat-hanger stung like a live wire to the solar plexus, and the guard stumbled. Bond pressed home the advantage with a series of heavy boxer’s punches, striking with a closed fist and outer thumb as the manual of close-quarters combat suggested. The man rocked from left to right like a swaying drunk before Bond aimed a jab squarely at the vulnerable lower cartilage in the nose, felling him. Bond let out a few controlled breaths and surveyed the littered shards of wood and glass.

    Bond knew he had to get going again. He wandered into the conference chamber, listening to the dissonant stuttering of mining drills elsewhere. Distracted, the faintly amused voice came as an upset to the senses. “Having trouble sleeping, Mister Bond?” Von Schlager was robed in a silk blue dressing gown, and appeared to be unarmed. “The excavations kept me awake.” Bond said. “You?” Von Schlager said, “I like the night. It helps me think.” Bond was relieved. “Really? What about?” Von Schlager said vaguely, “Oh, any number of problems. In particular, I’m trying to explain why one of my guards reportedly saw you climbing up and down from your balcony at twelve in the morning. Can you help?” The German was already reaching for a lever inlaid in the marble table. Bond’s Beretta was in his hand and trained on the prow of Von Schlager’s gigantic jaw. “Step away from there. Get your hands up.” Bond said, yet Von Schlager looked serenely relaxed.

    “I know about the missile.” Bond said quickly, maintaining a steady bead on Schlager. If it came to a physical confrontation he would shoot to kill. “Do you? Here’s a little in return. I know that you are not, in fact, a drug smuggler. You are a British spy named James Bond, one of the elite Double-O-Section. A true rarity.” Von Schlager said, and Bond knew his cover was completely blown. “I know that because Helmuth was kind enough to tell me, that day on the polo field. You see, we worked together in the Stasi, and he was something of an information gatherer, a specialist in compromising material. An official blackmailer, actually. He came across your file many times while researching foreign agents, and committed your face to memory. I admit that in the match, I panicked, assuming you had been sent to assassinate me, and decided you had to be removed as soon as possible. It was a clumsy effort, and I failed. So I decided to invite you to the next stage of my project to try to confirm that it really was you investigating, and that dear Helmuth was not mistaken in his accusations. Now I have established that for certain, it remains to be seen what is to be done with you. I can’t imagine you do intend to kill me?” Bond tightened his grip on the Beretta. “Don’t be so sure.”

    He was stuck at the point of decision when the fat lead-lined cosh bounced off his neck with a rubber slurp. Bond slithered into a swirling black void.
    “Take him.” Von Schlager’s eyes smouldered, his yellowed teeth bared in a slanting arch of cruel anticipation. James Bond reeled back weakly and crumpled to the floor.
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent
    Chapter Ten: Crimson Shades

    “Wake up!” The guttural voice registered at nothing more than a faint echo yet its owner was very near. Helmuth loomed large, one arm raised to strike if Bond didn’t respond. “I’m…I’m listening…” Bond slurred. “Somebody wishes to speak with you.” The big Austrian wore a navy sweater and a silver pistol at his waist, while the two hard-eyed thugs who flanked him carried black-market Czech rifles. Bond tried to speak again, yet found his tongue crushed by the hundred-tonne anvil lodged in his brain. He was aware of a slightly sour aftertaste, as though of lemons.

    Bond struggled, and became conscious of the medieval manacles that bound his body against a chilled stone wall, a sinister atmosphere of barbarism sinking through as the metal cuffs bit like enraged rats, carrying repressed memories of sweat, terror and death. There was a vibrant palette of crimson shades staining the rough steel, the last relics of someone else’s suffering. The stone barricade faced onto a far more modern space, a vast hangar built from glinting aluminium. This surrounded a triumphal centrepiece, a huge black cargo aircraft larger than any design Bond had yet seen. It expanded to almost fill the room, yet was set low into the ground so that Bond’s eye level was with the bulbous cockpit and the two jutting turbines. a ridiculously oversized and at the same time still impressive feat of engineering.

    “Admiring my grand hobby, Mister Bond?” Von Schlager was dressed in a tan jacket and silk cravat, with leather gloves completing the look of a raffish European of the last century about to embark on a colonial safari. “This is the Veldtmaster 201, built under conditions of total secrecy. The result, believe it or not, is the fastest freight airliner in the world. I could make millions licensing this prototype to one of the American firms- although I have made several million dollars more by hiring her out to those customers who require fast, efficient and discreet cargo transportation- without any complicated legal questions. In this way I have humbly aided a number of the globe’s most feared and wanted men. The Gambino and Siciliano Mobs? The Palestinian Liberation forces? The Irish Republicans? Merely a sample of my esteemed base of clients, Mister Bond.” Von Schlager said with a proud sneer, his mouth tracing a series of bubbling welts deep in the skin.

    “Do you expect me to be impressed?” Bond said, locked in a brief and futile combat with the restraints binding him to the wall. “No, no, Mister Bond. You misunderstand entirely. The air freight business is nothing but a sideshow compared to the scheme which will shortly catapult my name into the pages of history, alongside Alexander the Great. Julius Caesar. Napoleon. All great men, who made an indelible mark on the world with the application of supreme and overwhelming armed force. Their troops swarmed like wasps, armies with the strength and resilience to destroy all in their path. My own plans will be different, although no less radical and destructive. For I do not require hundreds upon thousands of trained soldiers. All I need is one missile, an American Pershing model. That will be quite enough- for my purposes.” Schlager’s eyes glittered. “Now I wish to put a question to you, Mister Bond. Which country has most recently obtained the ability to build and launch nuclear weapons?” Bond thought for a moment. “That would be India.” The German continued, “Very good. Let me take you back to nineteen-forty-five, the year two nuclear bombs were detonated over Japanese cities. There is so much fear and anguish over the horrific prospect of a nuclear war. In reality, of course, the globe has already witnessed one. There are certain individuals, politicians and concerned citizens alike, who confidently predict another. Perhaps this scenario will occur within the next ten years. Soon, Mister Bond, the accursed doctrine of détente that currently prevails will end- and what then? In order to prevent the millions of casualties which would arise, my generous supporters and I have hatched an idea. We will demonstrate to the watching gaze of Washington that the right course to take is disarmament. I intend to spark a minor conflagration on the border between India and Pakistan. One missile, I repeat, shall be sufficient to achieve this. Do you know how many satellites have been launched during the last twenty years of the so-called ‘space race’, Mister Bond? Too many to count. It just happens that a U.S. space vehicle will be in low orbit high above a border crossing between India and Pakistan in the next few days. There are also at least six other abandoned satellites in the vicinity. I will conduct a single strike, completely destroying the craft. This will start a chain reaction, laying waste to the carpeting layer of ‘space junk’ in the region. Finally, hundreds of pieces of metallic debris will fall out of the sky, mimicking the opening phases of an aerial bombardment. The Indian early warning systems will detect the intrusion as a nuclear attack from Pakistan and retaliate, crushing the defenceless Pakistani government at one stroke. This, in turn, will generate a deadly toxic cloud that, owing to powerful wind conditions, will sweep eastwards across the Asian subcontinent. A large proportion of the Chinese population, many millions, will suffer from this wave of radiation poisoning. Pakistan will be reduced to rubble. There will be total chaos. It will end with China crippled, India humiliated, and disarmament movements worldwide significantly strengthened. This can only benefit my employers.” Von Schlager said, and here Bond came to a sudden realisation. “Your bosses? Moscow Central, I presume?”

    Von Schlager said, “Quite correct, Mister Bond. The forces of revolutionary zeal will trample your capitalist corruption. You shall be crushed before an unstoppable surge of bloodshed-“ Bond interjected. “Spare me the political lecture, Von Schlager. You can tell me- why did you kill Hargreaves?” Here Von Schlager paused, collecting his thoughts, before answering with careful delicacy. “He was…unreliable. Despite being more than willing to aid our venture, he had an unpleasant habit of attempting to recruit random strangers, such as yourself, to join our organisation. There were two unauthorised approaches before he met you, both to notorious underworld figures local to Barbados. In both cases time and money had to be wasted tracking down and eliminating these individuals, and Hargreaves was warned of the dangers of behaving so carelessly. He did not heed my warnings. When it was clear that you were going to meet with Hargreaves, my patience ran out. Hargreaves had to die.” He said simply.

    “You are a remarkable man, Mister Bond. It is a pity that you have chosen to make yourself an adversary. Perhaps in some way, we might reach an arrangement concerning your survival. Perhaps, one involving the identities of all British agents embedded in the Soviet diplomatic corps?” Bond informed Schlager of where exactly to take his proposal, and he sighed with fresh irritation. “I thought not. It is a rare coward who breaks before the first implements of torture have been revealed- yet very soon, you will beg with every sinew for Helmuth to take out his gun and finish your journey of misery.”

    “Just get it over with.” Bond said. Von Schlager gave a nod, and the huge aircraft began to lumber forwards, getting closer to the platform where Bond stood. The roar of the engines increased to a low rumble, gigantic propellers spinning in a hypnotic whirring pattern. Von Schlager retreated to a safe distance, and Bond had to crane his neck to see his expression of mockery.
    The aircraft turned in an arc, swinging the near propeller onto a collision course, and now Bond was facing an infinite silver vortex, a churning spiral of devastation that glittered like points of saliva on the fangs of a jaguar lost in a haze of jungle. The droning clattering was becoming intolerable. “Can you hear me, Mister Bond? Excellent. You are about to take a voyage to the outer limits of our collective experience. This path will push you to the brink of mortality. Do you understand?” Bond did not react. He wasn’t going to give any hint of discernible emotion to latch onto.

    Von Schlager said, “ It will not be long before you are permanently rendered deaf. A tremendous force will compel you inexorably towards the blades, which spin at around three hundred miles per hour. The manacles binding you will pull tighter until your wrists shatter. After this, you will begin to fall peacefully towards the propellers. At this stage, the blood vessels tend to burst, and the lungs may collapse. The skin turns white, and the retinas are badly scarred, resulting in blindness. If you have not already let go, the random gravitational drag could well crush your ribcage or your legs. Finally, you will float into the path of the turbine itself, every single blade acting in concert to shred through flesh in less time than it takes for you to sneeze. Unfortunately,” here Von Schlager lingered, “by that time you will not be able to sneeze, nor do much else. For at that point you will be nothing but a cloud of scattered acidic gases and protein molecules, making your way towards the skylight to be dispersed as raindrops during the gathering storm this evening.” Bond spat a foul curse. “Try to enjoy the next two minutes of life, Mister Bond. I know I will. Good day.” Von Schlager said, and vanished from Bond’s field of view.

    Bond knew he was finished. The propeller, a shining yet hideous behemoth, was still approaching, ten metres away, nine, eight. Already he could feel his shins wanting to buckle, his spine straining to rid itself of the forbidding restraints and leap into oblivion. His toes would be the first to go, his feet starting to lean into the chill breeze, the cold clarion call of death. The sound of the aircraft swelled to a long war cry, the furious screech from a harpy’s wings. The whirring silver surface was an antique coffin-plate, then an ancient gladiator’s shield, and now it was transforming into a mirror on which Schlager paraded, gloating, his warped skull a silhouette that heralded nemesis. Now M looked over his desk reproachfully, and now there was just the empty disc with its constant drilling whine, like a grotesquely enlarged mosquito. Bond was on the edge, his vision was fading, his eardrums no longer existed. His forearms were about to snap like matchsticks, a blaze of layered pain built on foundations of sheer dread. This was not how anyone wanted to die.

    Bond barely heard the sharp interjection. “Who are they?” He tried to talk, finding only the embrace of the endless knives digging in, tearing and uprooting, the stabbing sensation that was both past and future, everywhere and nowhere. A perfect equilibrium, a calculus which subtracted all except the grasping agony that stretched far beyond the room itself. “Give us the names. The British agents in the Soviet Union.” Bond was certain he was dead, trapped in a circle of hell in which people shouted questions to which he no longer had the strength to reply. No, that was wrong. He had the will- but he could not speak. Not about this subject. “Tell us.” Bond swore bitterly, a sudden animation of rage, and the propeller returned, snapping, punching, near and far. “Tell us and you will live.” There were five metres, four, an easy walk to annihilation. “Cooperate.” Bond sagged, the lure of sleep tempting as the great monster returned, its hot hissing breath on his throat, the creature’s thunderous howls clawing the air. “Do you know why I am torturing you, Mister Bond? Why I do not award you the luxury of a quick death? It is because of an Austrian proverb, Die Kirche in Dorf Lassen. Leave the church in the village. It advises caution, favours predictability, counsels against taking risks.” Bond heard white noise. “In a sense, this is exactly what I am doing. For if I were to have you killed, I would have no way of knowing if you had reported your findings, if a gang of armed men were on their way. However, if I act as I am now, I am being certain. I am eliminating risk. For under these conditions you will tell us every last scrap of information, and only then will you perish.”

    Bond was aware of coloured shapes, strings of gibberish. The propeller began its remorseless drive and Bond was shocked back to life, an essential instinct for self-preservation focusing his gaze again. Von Schlager was watching expectantly, standing very close. He frowned. Bond squinted, trying to concentrate. He was looking down without sympathy at his own pathetic suffering, severed utterly from the assortment of bones and muscle that writhed in terror, a jumbled portmanteau of humanity reduced to the basic awareness of its overwhelming, petrifying failure. Yawning valleys of time passed, a stupefied blur of indistinguishable blaring commotion, and there was quiet. A silent chasm opened beneath his feet, a primordial deity demanding sacrifice, the tainted offering of his will to live that drained like blood from a slaughtered calf. James Bond at last closed his eyes and tumbled headlong into the staggered grip of darkness.
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent
    Chapter Eleven: Escape

    A wooden bench pressed hard into Bond’s face as he returned to reality. Sunlight came through a high lattice of iron bars into a cramped brick space which Bond recognised with nauseous fluent familiarity as a cell. There was the plank on which he lay, a reinforced iron door and nothing else, the sparse meagre equality granted to hundreds of prisons exactly like it around the world. Bond felt for his watch; it was three-thirty and he could feel the opening salvos of an enchanting dawn breaking through the tall slit in the wall. Bond noticed that his infiltration suit had been confiscated, and someone had roughly dressed him in the formal Savile Row dinner jacket, bow tie and polished oxfords of the previous evening. The logic was impeccable, an attempt to divest Bond of any gadgetry concealed within his clothing, but they needn’t have bothered. Bond experienced a keen twinge of mourning at the loss of his Beretta, its comforting heft absent from the usual position under his arm.

    He could tell that there was no hope of picking the lock, nor of leaving via the small sealed window. Instead Bond crossed to the door and bent down, trying to see through the keyhole. There was the ambiguous imprint of a silhouette which became a man standing with his back to Bond and watching the trailing hall recede with interest. Bond rapped on the iron panel. The figure spun round. “Could you step in here a second? I think the pipes are leaking.” There was the sound of bolts being withdrawn. Bond could scarcely believe his luck. The man, whose slight build and thin moustache were redolent of Spanish extraction, delivered a torrent of fast guttural French as his gaze lifted to the ceiling. Bond started forth, realising too late that another guard was covering the doorway with a rifle, the big snout of the weapon pointed with firm determination at Bond’s stomach. Swiftly Bond acted. He threw himself at the first man, a flurry of whirling fists. There was a cacophonous bang and his opponent spasmed and twitched as if electrocuted, a flashing cascade of bullets, hot churning death. The second man had fired in anger, emptying the magazine straight into his colleague’s heaving torso. Bond elbowed the faltering shape aside and leapt for the shocked gunner, snatching the rifle. Its stock was a pummelling bludgeon driving solidly into the man’s forehead, leaving black bruises of funereal cloth. Bond surveyed the scene with a rushing spark of adrenalin. He took hold of the long-handled Colt revolver which lay strewn about, inches from splayed cooling fingers.

    Bond checked over the four-shot reserve and pocketed the Colt. He moved into the passage, adjusting to the low light. By memory alone he found his way back to the long corridor that linked the conference chamber with the garage. Rather than returning to where the Citroen was parked, however, Bond slipped through the narrow crevice of rock which Von Schlager had pointed out on his arrival. It was a tense claustrophobic minute of gasping for oxygen, the foetid pungent scent of clammy moss and the gentle trickling drip of water. As he cleared the unforgiving gap there was a shout. “He’s going for the cave!” An answering hail of automatic firepower scythed past Bond’s ear as he ran, a festering lagoon of olive green rising to meet him as he dived. If Von Schlager was right it was suicide. But there was no other choice.

    For a brief second Bond was frozen, entombed in a sarcophagus of ornately crisscrossed weeds, a barren mire of filth that poured over his eyes, his nose, his mouth. Bond swam, not knowing where to, his fingernails and hair cocooned in sludge, burning scraps of air in his lungs the only reminder that anything existed beyond this harsh realm of dim emerald. His hand brushed something and there was an instant aching pain as a stalagmite speared into the numb flesh, a milky soup of blood curdling in the dark. Bond scrabbled in panic, needles of worn stone scratching at his heel with a crippling prickle of sheer ferocity. They bore down on all sides, remorseless closing teeth, the giant bleached fangs of a foul demon swallowing him whole, erasing his very soul in a tumult of loud echoing splashes and shallow empty breaths. It was over. No! Bond broke the surface and hauled himself out onto a plateau of granite, drenched. He was about twenty metres from where he began, out of sight of the disembodied voices that resonated from the hazy fissure. Bond dragged himself into a sitting posture and listened. “We tried, sir. He vanished into the rocks…probably drowned. You said yourself, sir, nobody could live down there…” This was a guard, quavering and hesitant. “Perhaps I did.” This was Von Schlager. “As I say, sir, he’s probably dead.” The guard repeated. There was a silence, pregnant with inevitable menace. “I prefer to leave nothing to chance, commander.” There was a single gunshot and then the patter of retreating footsteps.

    Bond concentrated on the task ahead. A steel ladder was set into the ridged stone and he climbed up to a recessed hatch like those built into submarines. Grasping the uppermost rung with one hand Bond gave the spherical dome a hard kick, feeling the old padlock twist, before poking his Colt brusquely towards the inner mechanism and firing. There was a groan and the hatch ballooned with pressure, falling open at a touch. Bond kept going. The mining operation was very near, its discordant piercing screech increasing in volume with every move.

    A low earthen tunnel stretched, more of a crawlspace in truth, lit by flickering oil lamps. This raised Bond’s hackles; why make use of such old-fashioned technology, powered by flammable liquids, in the presence of state-of-the-art machinery like that seen traversing the courtyard outside? Bond edged through, creeping towards the source of the noise. Once a cave spider, its skeletal body a pale translucent silver, hurried into clods of dirt and disappeared. Bond peered into a huge room carved into the rock, taken up by a great mechanical apparatus that clanked with jets of steam. It was antiquated, made partly of brass with a copper sheen, as out of place as a penny farthing or a troop of musket cavalry. Random stacks of crates littered the place, and it was behind one of these piles that Bond hid as Von Schlager swept into view from a modern sliding door. He was accompanied by a red-haired man with high Slavic cheekbones and a neat goatee beard. “It is all correct, as it should be.” Flecks of spittle flew when he spoke, giving him the form of a startled ape. “You are sure?” Von Schlager’s hands were clasped at his back with a contained frustration. “Positive, Herr Von Schlager.” The German was unconvinced. “I think this calls for a demonstration, Professor Lukanov.” The stranger set to work, sending the contraption grinding into life. He pressed at a pedal near a vent resembling an oven in which Bond could see heaped small rectangles of paper. There was a sound like the earlier cycles of drilling, only much stronger in pitch. “It is done, mein herr.” Lukanov stepped back and Bond realised that the rectangles of paper were transformed. They were now United States banknotes, as crisp and fresh as the Washington Treasury’s own depository.

    “What do you intend to use these pieces for?” Lukanov asked. “As a matter of fact I have already used this device once before, a test run you might say. That produced a very specific quantity of tender- twelve million American dollars to be exact. I have already employed that reserve supply in order to pay off a certain pilot seeking remuneration for the delivery of one U.S. Pershing missile complete with armed warhead. This avoids my having to resort to the additional twelve million dollars of fully legal currency which is waiting in a numbered account in Zurich courtesy of some of the world’s most lethal criminals.” Lukanov’s face obscured with confusion. “That makes you- a conman.” Von Schlager’s eyes glittered. “In a way, Professor. What I have done is persuaded several exceptionally wealthy individuals to part with their assets in order to join my scheme, which will of course go ahead as planned. But their separate contributions will be transferred directly to a KGB slush fund, there to be used in the assistance of further undermining and dividing the West. All except a token million, which will be entirely mine. A reward for my heroic efforts in the cause.” Lukanov snapped, “What about my payment? I was promised a hundred thousand for myself.” Von Schlager said, “That will be despatched in time, once our stratagem here has succeeded.”

    “Don’t count on it, Professor.” James Bond stepped forwards, the Colt thrusting squarely at Von Schlager’s heart. “What an unpleasant surprise.” The German said. “Not content with being a murderer, you’re a thief and a counterfeiter. How many years in federal prison are you going to serve with that charge?” Bond looked along the sights and lined up an opening shot.
    “None at all, Mister Bond.” Von Schlager groped for the pistol that had killed a luckless subordinate. “If that’s how you want it…” Bond said. There was a crackling tension and Bond let out a sigh as something cold tapped lightly against the small of his back. “Drop it.” Bond hesitated. “Do as I say or I will redecorate this chamber with your blood.” Bond cast the Colt aside. Von Schlager gave a cackle of mirthless amusement. “Thank you, Helmuth.” He walked around Bond as if examining a tiger in a cage. “You are an interesting challenge, Mister Bond. So far you have killed two of my men and sent another to the medical ward. You have resisted the most horrible methods of torture yet devised. You have broken free from both your guest quarters and a confined cell. What, I wonder, is to be done?” Von Schlager said. While he spoke Helmuth was busily placing handcuffs on Bond and conducting a search for weapons. “You could let me go.” Bond said. Von Schlager watched as several armed thugs rushed in and surrounded Bond in a brisk military phalanx. “An entertaining suggestion. But I think I will allow you a greater privilege, In honour of your strenuous efforts to destroy my plans. You will be the first to witness the dawn of a century of unchallenged Soviet might.” Bond said, “Not this codswallop again.” Von Schlager said, “Escort Mister Bond to departures. Make sure he is watched at all times. If he frees himself from your clutches a third time then I advise you to resign your commission and run. That includes you, Helmuth.” Helmuth merely grunted. James Bond fixed his harshest glare on Von Schlager as the German turned away and he was dragged fighting from the room.
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent
    Chapter Twelve: The Code of Vendetta

    After that things moved quickly. Bond was taken to a larger cell where he was joined by a familiar face. It was Penelope, Von Schlager’s secretary from the polo match. “What are you doing here?” said Bond. Penelope, whose black dress was streaked with sobbing, looked frightened. “I was working out here for weeks, now Von Schlager has me locked up in here. He said-he said-“ She halted, “he said that I was expendable.” Bond could sense a trust destroyed. This woman was helpless, dependent on the monstrous fiendish whims of Von Schlager. “We’ll get out of here, don’t worry.” Penelope was uncertain. “Are you like the rest of the guests?” Bond spoke calmly. “No. It’s true what I said at the polo game. My name is Bond, James Bond, and I work for the British Secret Service. I’ve been sent here to stop Von Schlager.” Gradually Bond told her all about the scheme, the missile, the hidden counterfeiting. At the end of his tale Penelope’s blue eyes were full of resolve. “I will help you, James. In any way I can.” Bond thought desperately. “Good. Now do you know anything, anything at all, about how to leave this complex?” Penelope said, “There’s a personal railway station near here. Schlager uses it to transport aeroplane parts to a design plant in Navarre.” Bond said, “That’ll do nicely. All we need-“

    At that moment the door opened and Helmuth appeared. “We are leaving.” Bond and Penelope were taken above ground to a wide curving platform at which rested a grimy silver diesel locomotive coupled to three wood-bodied carriages and a freight wagon. On the wagon sat the missile in its’ launch housing, and Bond had some notion of sprinting for it and breaking a vital component. Yet Von Schlager’s militia were everywhere, armed to the hilt. Von Schlager himself stood, admiring the great weapon in brief ignorance of the preparations happening around him.

    “Get our passengers aboard.” Von Schlager ordered, and guards lurched for Bond and Penelope. “Wait, Herr Von Schlager.” Helmuth held up a hand as a black Mercedes saloon raced to a halt on the platform. Mister Scazzalione, the Sicilian mobster, stepped out and marched towards their party with a hand proffered in greeting. Three gangsters in pinstriped suits, dressed in dark sunglasses and cradling various styles of automatic weapon, flanked him while a small bald man clad in the white coat and rumpled shirtsleeves of a scientist followed, evidently unnerved by the brutal armaments on display.

    “Mister Scazzalione. What can I do for you?” Von Schlager’s men were suddenly united, alert, combing the scene for any sign of threat to their master. The Italian spoke with an insincerely cordial lilt. “I decided to drop by and thank you for your labours. On behalf of the family I wish you every success in your plan. With our funds and your expertise, we will together deal a devasting blow to the communist menace in Red China, as well as opening up new pipelines for our businesses in a ravaged Pakistani state. It will be a fertile breeding ground for exploitation by the family. Weapons dealing, political manipulation, you only have to name the branch of the mafioso to see how the opportunities for expansion are limitless.” Von Schlager hissed with a barely concealed distaste. “A pleasure to meet such an esteemed representative of the Sicilian community, Mister Scazzalione.” The hoodlum was about to turn to the Mercedes when Bond added a few words. “He’s lying to you.” Bond passed a crumpled scrap of paper to Scazzalione, whose mid-grey eyes narrowed in suspicion. “What the hell kinda trick is this?” Bond said, “It’s no trick. That’s a counterfeit dollar note I took from a crate in the underground mine beneath the base. Von Schlager’s taken your money and stuffed it in a Swiss account. He used fake dollars to pay for the missile.” Von Schlager coughed politely. “Please, do not listen. This man is rambling.” But Scazzalione’s frown was widening. “Vito!” He clicked his fingers and the scientific type came forward. “Examine this banknote. Is it fraudulent?” Vito produced a magnifying glass and stared at the dollar bill from multiple angles, revolving it in the light. Finally, terribly, he gave a slow nod.

    “It is an easy mistake to make-“ began Von Schlager, as Scazzalione cut him off with a careless slashing wave. “Enough.” The hoodlum was reaching a decision. “It’s obvious, isn’t it? You know he’s double-crossed you.” Bond said. “Speak again and I will have Helmuth remove your tongue. ” Von Schlager snapped. The thugs again started towards Bond. “Nobody moves a damn muscle!” Scazzalione growled, and as he spoke more gangsters were swamping the platform, scurrying to join their fellows. All wielded Uzi submachine guns, compact chittering instruments of death. “You have incurred the family’s wrath. This involves the ancient lust for revenge, the code of the vendetta. An eye for an eye.” Scazzalione pointed at Penelope. “This woman, your secretary, will die first.” A firing squad of homburg hats and bristling steel strode forth in a line. Penelope wept, burying herself against Bond’s chest.
    “On my command.” Scazzalione was enjoying this. “One.” Bond faced the killers down with an impassive grimace. “Two.” All was silence save for Penelope’s tears. There was the uniform shunting click of safety catches thumbing back. “Three.” Von Schlager leaned heavily against the supporting bulk of the carriage and fired a lone shot into Scazzalione’s ribs. The mobster died on his feet, a stippled glint of blood shining at the corners of his mouth as if winking convivially, sharing a dead man’s secret. Then all hell broke loose. Gangsters were opening fire on Von Schlager’s men, who returned the attention with interest. “Get on the train!” shouted Von Schlager himself to nobody in particular. “Don’t move-“ The guard assigned to Bond managed two words before an enemy round tore through him. Bond snatched his captor’s rifle, one of the inexpensive Czech models, an imitation of a Soviet Makarov. Lightweight and easy to clean, it had been designed with one purpose in mind and Bond indulged its manufacturer’s specification by letting free with a rattling burst, cutting through one gangster attempting to outflank quietly from the far side of the platform. “Get down.” Bond said, and Penelope dived for the concrete, shielded behind a corpse.

    More Sicilian thugs were on the approach, their long leather coats bringing the phantom memory of the Gestapo fresh to Bond’s frenzied thoughts. He remembered the sweltering summer of nineteen-forty-four rarely, with a painful reluctance, and amid the incessant howl of rifle skirmishes and flaring percussive explosions Bond felt the old familiar certainties of that war return, when right was right and wrong was wrong. He lamented the shadowed marsh of cold war into which every nation had sunk in the past couple of decades, when good was sometimes claimed as evil and evil claimed as good. With the renewed convictions that deadly threat can bring, the soldier within the spy reigned. Bond quickly brought down a pair of mobsters working their way towards him, before plucking a grenade from the belt of a guard and hurling it towards the opposing line. The bomb sailed into the front seat of the Mercedes and exploded, sending boiling glass in all directions. Bond fell to one knee and shot one of Von Schlager’s men diving from cover, the gun recoiling as an invisible trampoline pitched the man in an almost comic somersault high into the air.

    “What’s happening?” Professor Lukanov had pushed past Bond and was climbing the carriage steps when a full quivering clip scoured his body. The brilliant counterfeiter, his mind capable of birthing such intricate devices, collapsed in a heap of gibbering wreckage. In retaliation Helmuth gave a powerful snarl and blasted Vito across the floor, a sprawling tangle of demolished limbs. Bond saw the general destruction unleashed by a single bullet, the countless men who had fled or lay dying. Truly, he reflected, this was the way of the vendetta.

    “Move!” Von Schlager cried and the train at last roared into life, pulling away from the platform with a straining wheeze. Vengeful hoodlums were still rushing onto the platform while, from Bond’s estimates, a sizeable majority of Von Schlager’s men were vanquished. “We have to leave.” He said to Penelope. “Find the local police, the army.” She nodded, her eyes full of shock. Bond spun round to see Helmuth brandishing a revolver while a contingent of henchmen crowded the pair. “You’re not going anywhere yet, Mister Bond.” Bond said quickly, “Get on the train.” Penelope ascended the steps first, with Bond following. Helmuth slammed the door in Bond’s face as the engine started to pick up speed. Soon the platform itself faded, as did the sounds of battle. “What do we do now, James?” said Penelope.

    “We find a route to the cab. Force the driver to stop and flag down a car.” Bond said, as the mountains loomed ahead. There was little noise now except the commotion of wheels on track. “What about Von Schlager? Helmuth?” Penelope asked. “We just have to hope that they were detained by Scazzalione’s men. Killed, even.” Bond said, becoming aware of Penelope’s urgent glance. “I am afraid you are about to be disappointed, Mister Bond.” With a hint of fear Bond turned to face Von Schlager, the plain blunt barrel of a gun waiting patiently for him in shrunken whitish hands.
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent
    Chapter Thirteen: Countdown to Revolution

    Penelope gave a terrified shriek as Von Schlager allowed the gun to brush, with a gentle caressing trace, against Bond’s jacket. “If you are going to kill me, do so.” Bond said, staring with open defiance into the German’s almost lazy squinting pupils. “No..” He said with a revolting hunger, “…perhaps not. Something-call it my better nature- is advising me to shoot you later rather than now.” With that the gun withdrew. “I’d hardly call it that, Von Schlager. If this is your better nature I’d prefer not to see your worse one.” Bond said, and Von Schlager fell into a consuming fit of rage. “You will not speak another word, or I swear I shall slaughter you on the spot. You have ruined my links with the Sicilian Mob, caused the death of half my men as well as the late lamented Professor Lukanov. But…” He smiled in triumph, “ my operation will proceed on schedule. I have enough mercenaries left to guard this train. The missile is onboard and ready for launch, which will take place very soon. We will travel through the Pyrenees to Spain, where I will charter a helicopter to Zurich and collect my millions. Then it will be on to South America and retirement, safe from the KGB, the New York families, the CIA, the SIS and anyone else who dares to trouble me.” Von Schlager finished. Bond suppressed the urge to laugh.

    “Do you really think, after nearly starting World War III, that you will be left in peace? What about the Mob? What will it be like to have a price on your head? How about your bosses in Moscow? Even if you buy out, you must know the adage: no one ever leaves the KGB.” Bond said. Von Schlager gave a shrug. “The organised gangsters are little more than scum. I can deal with them. I will retain a staff of bodyguards, and my employers will provide me with an entirely new identity to live under. As for the Western intelligence services…” He looked Bond up and down. “I have bested you, Mister Bond, and you’re supposed to be the finest London has to offer.” Von Schlager adopted a condescending sneer. “In summary, Mister Bond, I have the advantage. I intend to keep it. The missile will destroy the orbiting satellite in exactly ten minutes. Miss Penelope I shall use as a hostage in case events become unpredictable. Mister Bond, I shall leave you in the company of dear Helmuth. He has a score to settle with you.” Von Schlager gave a signal and guards wrestled Penelope away, the German leading the ramshackle group through the train. A door slid shut behind them.

    Bond was left alone in the baggage car with Helmuth. “I am going to kill you, Mister Bond. It will be fair retribution for the injury you inflicted on me.” Helmuth indicated the metal plate attached to his skull. Bond took up an aggressive stance, fists raised in defence, light on the balls of his feet. “Get on with it.” Bond said shortly. Helmuth lumbered slowly, wrapping his huge arms around Bond’s waist. There was a crushing sensation as Bond felt himself being lifted bodily into the air. Helmuth raised an arm to his neck and squeezed like a giant python. Bond felt his eyes popping, bulging in their sockets as he threw a series of flailing punches at the soft internal organs between the lower ribs and the thigh, trying to target the kidneys, the liver, the intestines. Nothing made contact. It was like dragging a net through water and finding it empty where there should be plenty of shoals, a sure technique according to the combat instructors yet failing miserably in the stresses of real life. That was the problem; martial arts instructors might bark but they did not want to see you dead, while in an actual fight your opponent most likely did.

    In the end Bond resorted to the simplest methods possible and bit savagely at Helmuth’s wrist, arched pale tendons flecked with lurid purple. The big Austrian screamed and Bond struck the floor, rolling out of the path of a sweeping kick. He got to his feet and immediately spat a string of curses at Helmuth, trying to make him livid, trying to get him to make a mistake. “Over here!” Bond sidestepped a wild jab, beckoning with one arm to his face, presenting a clearly defined target. Just as he wanted, Helmuth went for the easy choice of an uppercut to the chin, and Bond ducked beneath the loping movement and dug two fingers into the man’s flesh under the shoulder blade. There was a juddering scrape like rending metal in a car crash, a terrible cry, and Helmuth clutched at his chest. Bond had performed a highly painful move, both winding his opponent and convincing him that a lung had detached. Helmuth was slower, panting, showing his age at last.

    Bond picked up a suitcase, testing its considerable weight. He swung the leather luggage with all his might into Helmuth’s jaw, battering the Austrian again and again. When Helmuth tried to counter Bond used the bulky case as a shield and then reverted back to raining blows from every side. Helmuth’s legs gave out and he struck the deck with a crash, sluggish like a lizard in the sun.
    “Heavy traveller.” Bond muttered, and began to move towards the restaurant car.

    “Launch command set, mein herr.” Von Schlager clapped his fingers together. “Excellent.” He looked around the ornate furnishings and the chandelier, coming to rest at the control panel. His former secretary, Miss Penelope, was tied to a chair. She would be no difficulty. Bond, on the other hand, was proving a most resilient foe. He would have to go to the baggage car himself, perhaps after the crucial impact, and make sure that the man known in intelligence vaults across the continent as 007 was really dead. For now, though, Von Schlager contented himself with pressing the button that he had longed to hold for years. There was a shaking tremor, a blinding flash. “The countdown to revolution has begun.” Von Schlager declared. He had won. Hundreds of miles above the perfect azure surface of the Indian Ocean, there was the slightest of ripples. Flocks of birds scattered. There was a thick boom, as of thunder. The missile was on its way.

    In the restaurant car there was a quieter but no less ominous sound as the connecting door buckled and James Bond stood there, a pistol trained with studied accuracy on Von Schlager. Three guards were present in the well-decorated space, though all were covered by the range of Bond’s gun. “Disarm the mechanism or he dies.” Bond said with unruffled coldness, gesturing demonstratively at the German. Von Schlager said simply, “It cannot be done. There is no override system, no failsafe.” Bond’s finger tightened on the trigger. “You’re bluffing.” Von Schlager’s eyes flickered, an invisible directive. The three mercenaries unslung their guns at once and Von Schlager hurled himself to the carpet. Bond acted with lightning pace, shooting one dead before the other two changed their target to Penelope, immobile at the centre of proceedings. “Surrender or she will perish.” Von Schlager rose, confident of victory. Bond took a sharp breath. Then he turned and fired directly into the chandelier. There was a smashing noise and one of the thugs wailed. In the dark Bond leapt for the control panel, flicked the switch marked ‘MANUAL GUIDANCE’ and threw the big middle lever, praying that this was correct.

    On the outer limits of Earth’s atmosphere, the missile was closing in. Now it veered off course dramatically as if steered by a lunatic, a spiralling casket of explosives spinning towards the light of the moon. The American satellite continued a steady progression, in regular contact with Cape Canaveral and other monitoring stations across the world. All was well.

    James Bond fired, sending the last henchman into paroxysms of seeping breath. There was a pealing ricochet as Schlager sprayed an experimental round, the report diminishing to a steady tattered splutter from one of the men on the floor. Bond was a mouse in the sights of a hawk as Von Schlager lifted his gun a fraction of an inch, finding the few millimetres of crescent skull that presented an alluring focus. Bond darted sideways and pumped the trigger in a single decisive action, an unexpected force, yet the weapon seized up with a hollow click. Schlager sensed conquest, his revolver fixed once and for all on Bond’s chest.

    “Do you have anything left to say, Mister Bond?” The massive jaw split in an obnoxious snide leer, a scarlet canyon like an open wound. “I could certainly teach you a thing or two…” Bond said, standing to his full height. Schlager listened in bemused contempt. “…about the finer points.” Bond said, bringing out the Fairbairn-Sykes commando dagger from the little compartment in his shoe. He passed the knife to his right hand and threw it without delay into Schlager’s gun arm, eight inches of taut steel bite sinking through muscle. There was a high scream. Bond advanced slowly. “It’s finished, Von Schlager.” He said. The German was visibly weakening, his sickly skin a raft of grey sweat and his left wrist a snarled and bloodied mess. “James?” Penelope was still tied up. “It’s time I was going, Mister Bond.” Von Schlager broke into a hobbled run. Bond gave chase. He climbed up a ladder onto the roof, the metal scorching his palms.

    The train was travelling across a viaduct, and Bond felt a tinge of vertigo as he looked down into a desolate valley of arid scrub; they were clearly deep in the Spanish portion of the Pyrenees. The peaks still loomed, wreathed with cloud below a weak burnished tint of sun.

    Von Schlager stood upright, tethered to the lip of the roof by a rope around his ankle. He drew from his side a thin slanting sword, of the type used in fencing. “I may have lost,” He said bitterly, “but you shall go first. Auf Wiedersehen.” Bond was tired of the threats and as Schlager whipped the razor-sharp foil towards him he tugged at the slowing blade. The sword flew out of Von Schlager’s grip and plummeted into the ravine below. Von Schlager threw a punch with his good arm yet, taken by surprise, overbalanced and slipped over the edge as Bond grabbed his shirt. “Mister Bond, we want the same objective!” His eyes widened. “We are on the same level!” Bond held his adversary in an iron grip, Von Schlager’s feet dangling while his hands scrabbled uselessly. “Not anymore.” Bond said, and let go. Von Schlager fell for a few metres before the rope tightened and, with a jerk he swung like a human pendulum into the running gear of the train. There was a definite thump as Bond saw a vague oblong silhouette hurtle into the morning mists below.

    Bond sensed a presence and turned, expecting Penelope. Instead, Helmuth’s three eyes blinked, two brown and one the bare black promise of death. The muzzle came up. “Goodbye, Mister Bond.” There was nowhere to go. There was valley all around, a tunnel gaining- and Bond clung to the burning iron as the tunnel swept overhead. He caught a glimpse of Helmuth’s legs as the brickwork rushed above, devouring, an unpleasant crunch, and Bond was out in the open sky again. Helmuth was gone. It was all over.
    Bond climbed down the ladder. He freed Penelope, who asked what had taken him so long. “Just clearing things up.” Penelope asked who was driving the engine, to which Bond smiled. “Come along. We’ve got a train to catch.”
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent
    Chapter Fourteen: Services Rendered

    “Pretty sophisticated.” James Bond looked over the old counterfeiting press with a strangely poignant feeling, as if consigning a beautiful car or a priceless painting to destruction. Then he torched it, fire ripping into the sheafs of false dollar bills with gusto. The flamethrower gave a final hiccoughing spurt, covering the brass sculpts with soot.

    “An ingenious machine, but, alas, one we cannot allow to fall into the wrong hands.” Mathis concurred. The Frenchman had been working closely with the Surete and the SIS in order to seize all of Von Schlager’s remaining assets, and what was too dangerous to keep had to be dealt with by other means. That was why Bond and Mathis were here, two weeks after Von Schlager’s body had been repatriated to East Germany. They moved from room to room, systematically burning what could not be salvaged.

    “Tell me, how is Penelope?” Mathis asked and he felt Bond become cold. “She’s fine.” He said blankly. In reality, the young Englishwoman had soon tired of Bond’s refusal to think about retiring, the fact that it was impossible to pin him down, how he was always moving from one place to another. Ultimately she had left Bond’s flat with a handwritten note explaining her reasons, which Bond read at four in the morning while drowning his emotions in Taittinger. M had perceived that Bond needed a break and so despatched him to assist the French police with their investigations, but the remnants of Von Schlager’s home stirred only anger. “James, I know what you are not telling me. Perhaps you do not wish to. But do not dwell on the young lady for ever. That was the past. This is the future.” Bond raised a flask of scotch, summoning the camaraderie he always shared with Mathis. “I’ll drink to that.”
    At that second there was a bang and the top of the carafe shattered. “Get your hands up.” A voice said authoritatively. Bond looked about the rock chamber, yet saw nothing. “It is probably the Paris division having a little joke. Monsieur!” yelled Mathis, and in reply a second bullet whistled past with an earthen smack. “We’re surrendering. Identify yourself.” Bond said, and a tall Japanese man dressed in a beige suit emerged. “I am Yamaziko. I follow the extreme path, the gokodu.” He bowed politely. “That sounds honourable.” Mathis said amiably, reaching out a hand.

    A shiver ran down Bond’s spine. The extreme path was the calling by which members of the Yakuza, the wealthiest criminal syndicate in Japan, identified each other. There was more to this than just that greeting, too. This man had been the Yakuza emissary at the polo match and later at the dinner, he was sure of it. Swiftly Yamaziko flipped Mathis onto his back and levelled a squat gun at Bond.
    “Let go of the flame-caster.” Bond obeyed. “You were one of the investors in the German operation, were you not?” Yamaziko seemed more amused and curious than threatening. Bond decided to play along. “Maybe I was.” Yamaziko frowned; something was not right here. He took a step closer to Bond. “If Von Schlager betrayed us then he will also have betrayed you, as he crossed the Sicilian mafioso, as he crossed the Cuban generals. I knew that if I waited here, then like an anglerfish I would snare someone out for vengeance, searching for a dead man’s riches.” Bond remained silent. “Who do you serve?” Bond considered this question, noticing that Mathis had moved. “What if I were to tell you that I represented the British government?” Yamaziko answered back, “In that case I would have to shoot you. It would not be prudent to allow a lawman to walk away. I only came to entrap my fellow criminals. I have no use for you, Mister…”

    “Bond,” came the response, “James Bond.” The Yakuza chief allowed himself a moment of satisfaction before opening fire, focusing on the target’s pale features- and Mathis struck, bringing both arms down on the top of the neck in a single devastating motion. Yamaziko stumbled ungainly, swinging one clenched fist into the Frenchman’s brow. Bond sent his Beretta leaping into action, the pistol hurtling across the confined space to connect squarely with the summit of Yamaziko’s forehead.
    Bond saw the man go down like mortared rubble and Mathis diving with the handcuffs. “I am placing you under arrest on suspicion of threatening a police officer, attempted murder…”

    Bond peered through the crudely punctured holes recently made in the cave wall. A fine pink sunset was coming into view, grappling with the few clefts of cloud remaining. A band of maroon cut across the horizon, marking out the patches where a bright cobalt blue surged into life. Bond felt for the warm golden medallion in his pocket, received at M’s personal discretion a few days ago. Its finely cut inscription read: “in recognition of services rendered unto the United Kingdom, most conspicuous bravery in the presence of the enemy.’ He was utterly alone, and yet he had the world. It was a harsh and brutal place, and there was also beauty and vivacity. It was there in the autumn leaves of Chelsea, in the shadowed harbours of Barbados, in Penelope. The trick of it all, he thought, was to take the rough with the smooth. Bond lit a cigarette. His hardened eyes and cruel face, its permanent comma of black hair falling forwards towards the cool dark eyes, appraised the first specks of night. It was going to be a beautiful evening.
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent

    James Bond will Return
  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 4,374MI6 Agent
    Thanks for sharing! I will have a nice sit down and a good read of it :)
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent
    Thanks for reading this, much appreciated! What did you think of it? Any feedback welcome :007)
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