Bond’s not at the Lab when she returns from Millbank, and there is the briefest pang of disappointment, until Q appears at the Barracks entrance to congratulate on her performance with M. He looks at her with a different air, she decides: no longer his pet project and finally transformed into the woman he’d wanted for the job back in February.
‘I think your performance this afternoon shows you’ve finally grasped the 00 banter. You’d have got more marks for extra double-entendres with M, however, but there always has to be room for improvement.’
‘Were we on the books, Q?’
She has to ask, and the man blushes.
‘I went out for dinner last night myself, with an acquaintance who I hope in time may be as much of a friend as Bond is to you. Despite what you may think, I am not a voyeur in my spare time. That is very much reserved for office hours.’
‘You didn’t answer the question.’
‘I’d need a warrant to place security cameras in your Hotel room, Ronni. I know Bond entered at 5.25pm and left at 6.45am the following morning. That’s all that is required from the debriefing notes.’
‘Does M know -‘
‘He has Bond’s field report, written this morning. He arrived at the Lab in jeans and a totally inappropriate Radiohead t-shirt. I think you’ve done good things for everybody in your tenure. Now it’s time to ensure you’re as capable as I know you are.’
She goes to Q’s office, and sits in front of his sophisticated desk one last time: now everyone who matters has decided she can be a 00, it is time to prove it. She is to go back to the Hotel, continue undercover work, and wait. There will be no return to Millbank until two confirmed kills are under her belt: when Ronni asks how this is supposed to happen, Q simply waves the question aside. She will eventually possess everything required to make them happen. The rest is up to her.
Patience had never been a problem, but it is a decent guess there won’t be long to wait.
Ronni wakes the following morning to a message on her mobile.
Collect parcel for Room 426 from reception.
A plain brown box sits waiting for her thirty minutes later with instructions in Q’s impossibly feminine handwriting: there is small vial inside in which a tiny white tablet rattles, and a locker key tied to a parcel label marked with a west London postcode. She sits in her room and stares at the first murder weapon: they’d sent Bond to Prague, but she was to do her work on home territory. So be it. Dressing quietly, without ceremony, the vial slipped into her apron is forgotten as the room is tidied as has become routine. The locker key is tucked into her Mary Janes, the space she’d had Q make for her specially.
It was her half day, scheduled to work until lunchtime: the tablet would need to be dissolved in the Texan’s orange juice, making sure he’d drink it the same way as normal, like a shot of tequila. ‘The healthy stuff, then the fun,’ is what he’d say and she’d smile, nod and simply stand to allow a twenty pound to be sloppily pushed into her cleavage. It’s not hard to ensure she intercepts the tray to his table, playing the part of dutiful hostess: eggs over easy, hash browns and bacon, four sausages. The man smells even worse than usual, not enough cologne and too much sweat, and as she hands over the glass there isn’t a moment of regret. Whatever this man has done, British Intelligence have deemed it of sufficient danger to end his life. Bond knew what it was, and had tried to warn her, but she’d not taken the bait, because making the first kill anonymous allowed some distance from the reality.
I understand only too well that sometimes it’s just my job to do as I’m told.
There is no flicker of change in his demeanour, smile as large and greasy as always, and Ronni reciprocates as he decides the twenty pound note will be tucked into her garter instead, before handing back the glass. Closing her eyes, quietly noting that one should always take the attractive assignments whenever they arise, she leaves the dead man eating.
Ronni’s cutting toast twenty minutes later when there is a clatter of crockery and a scream, and wants to pretend she’s not heard, but takes the cues from Amy and Jake who are also on shift that day. Rushing out, the Texan is off his chair: sprawled on the carpet, a beached whale. They are shooed away back to the kitchen, where they stand and stare at the door as the Paramedics come and struggle to put the man on a stretcher but finally succeed, before wheeling him away.
Q watches the ambulance travelling through morning traffic on the Lab’s surveillance system, hand to ear allowing eavesdropping into the vehicle’s radio communications with the hospital. A second Earl Grey appears in his favourite Scrabble mug, milky coffee beside it, and there is the satisfaction of a new way of working from everyone in the Department. Ronni had altered many things, shaken up the schedule, and that was never going to be bad for anyone in the long run. Change was good, and should never be feared.
‘I like the feeling that my letter is worth over three times as much as yours, 007.’
Bond positively hated him when they first met, but knows now that judging on appearance will always be met with short shrift in this building whilst he’s in charge. There is a joint vested interest in the next six hours of Veronica’s life, blowing off the last official reception at Whitehall before they legitimately let the agent back to Active Duty. However, his time is best used currently serving overly perfumed beverages to receive absolutely no thanks for his efforts. Only Q could get away with demoting 007 to tea boy. If this all went well, he knows he’d extend that privilege to Ronni as well.
In fact, if Ashby succeeds, Q’s betting Bond will suggest they celebrate her promotion together. He’s pretty certain she’ll turn him down, but that won’t stop him trying his luck regardless.
The ambulance has stopped, half a mile from the Hospital, and Q is rapidly updating information on a screen to his left. The man is dead, massive chemically-induced heart attack, with time of demise being recorded as 10.22 am. They gave her an easy draw this time around, as her second target would take considerably more finesse. Shooting someone in broad daylight in Central London was pretty audacious even by Q’s standards, but she’d suggested it herself and the opportunity had arisen. Weaponry was absolutely Ronni’s forte, and if anyone could pull this off, it was her.
Q calls up Ashby’s file to update, pausing briefly to make sure a particular section is highlighted as he does.
‘Mary Sue’s range scores continue to be consistently better than yours, Bond. Doesn’t that make you feel inadequate?’
‘Her name is Veronica, and the game’s over. Show her the respect she deserves.’
‘Do I detect a defensive tone, 007?’
‘You care about her now as much as I do. Maybe it’s time we both stopped playing games and let her show how this is done properly.’
Q turns, and the look Bond gives is enough to confirm that she has fulfilled the brief for him even better than hoped. The screen quietly updates her progress:
‘Number of confirmed kills: 1’
The two men look at each other, knowing the real mission is about to begin.