The Barracks hum on their return, breakfast laid out in the briefing area with thoroughness that suggested Q was making sure everyone on the primary mission team were properly rewarded. Charlie needs no encouragement to take two bacon sandwiches and a bucket of Brazilian Roast but Ronni’s appetite is less forthcoming. There needs to be food eventually, because with no certain idea how life will adapt or change, eating and drinking whenever freely available remains top priority. A wholemeal bacon sandwich and vanilla latte is taken, but away from the centre of activity. There needs to be somewhere to think, alone, chance to process what’s just transpired at her own pace.
Sitting in the changing area, Ronni can’t erase the image of Bond from her mind, lying on the concrete, certainty unwavering. Felix had his word, and that meant nobody stopped until Beam was located and his ‘package’ collected. However, right now there was absolutely no indicator as to where the Swanns were going, distinct lack of indicators towards intent. The tracker meant they had a fighting chance of an interception, but Q was not prepared to show their hand too early, and so this became cat and mouse time. Ronni hated not having an advantage, and they should. That’s what 007 had taught, admitted he failed at more often than not, remaining an area for personal improvement.
If Bond had known where they were going, he would have found some way to pass this on.
Only now does Ronni grasp she’s not alone.
The young black man stands, looking slightly uncomfortable, a second to put face to name. This is Emmanuel Curtis, recruit from the Army Fast Track scheme. He was a prodigious talent but needed work on both self confidence and communication. His tie’s also a little too tight and that shirt could use an iron across it, plus 004’s pretty certain he shouldn’t be here either as the area had been recently designated as women only.
You only broke the rules if it was important, to complete your mission…
‘I know I’m not supposed to be here ma’am but Q said that should we discover anything I’d need to find you as a matter of priority.’
‘Is this to do with 007?’
‘It is ma’am, I have something I think the senior team has overlooked.’
Almost dropping the tablet he’s holding and then his glasses in short order, Ronni can’t help but take pity on the man, bending down and reaching across to hand them back. The smile is genuine yet guarded, and only then does it occur to Ronni he might have a problem with her seniority. That would never do, and was easily fixed.
‘Tell you what, Emmanuel, let’s both sit down while you take a second to grasp that you’re holding all the cards.’
‘I … I am?’
‘You’re the one with the information. Without your input, I don’t have anything to work on.’
‘I’m sorry, You’re just -‘
‘100% human, just like you. There’s no difference between us, age and rank are irrelevant. If you’ve picked up something the senior team have overlooked? I’d like to hear about it. Take your time, there’s no rush, until we know where 007 is being taken – ‘
‘That’s the thing. There’s a message in your Inbox, on the internal phone exchange. It was sent at 04.45 am and as you’re now on priority it’s our job to check for anything unusual. There’s no message and as it sounds like a dead line the senior team overlooked it, but I know they missed something.’
Ronni’s heart soars: had Bond finally begun thinking ahead?
There is a confidence to this conviction that is immediately exciting, prompting the young man to present his case. Curtis plays the sound file from his tablet and Ronni listens, initially unaware of what she’s hearing. It is obvious why the tech team would overlook this, right until the moment it is apparent there is indeed something hidden in the static.
‘Start it again and turn up the treble, please.’
At the request the young man smiles because he knows she’s grasped the discovery. Embedded inside this noise is a message, dots and dashes that she begins to translate out loud. Morse code, lost and obsolete from communications except when you learnt your trade in the armed forces as James had.
‘Domino… break. Halfway… between… Germany… and… Portugal… break. Trusting… only… you… end.
‘Bond sent this knowing only you would understand the relevance, correct?’
‘Indeed he did, Mr Curtis.’
Q’s standing in the doorway as the young man almost jumps to attention. The Quartermaster has changed between early morning and now, tie and jumper over standard issue shirt and trousers. Considering the message, there is quiet contemplation before he speaks.
‘It’s okay Emmanuel, I’ll overlook the lapse in protocol, because now I’d like 004 to tell me where Bond is heading and as you don’t have the clearance as yet to be on the team who’ll now deal with this, I need you to go to wait for me in Ops so I can change that. Suddenly your skills have become indispensable, and I intend to make as full a use of them as it is possible during your shifts.’
When the young man is gone, Q comes to sit at Ronni’s side, clearly concerned with what he has heard.
‘My geography’s pretty sound, and I know where the Bonds wanted to go for their honeymoon. I assume that is what 007 is implying?’
‘They had a week arranged in Monte Carlo, Madeline had never been there. The safe house just outside the town had been put aside from Saturday on M’s orders -‘
‘I’m not going to ask how you know this especially when I turned down the request.’
‘I used Moneypenny’s login details, please don’t tell her. M authorised the request off the books, she confirmed the arrangements. It seems everybody has a soft spot for 007 except you.’
‘If I told you why I refused to arrange the safe house, you must promise not to tell anyone else. I objected to Bond’s choice. I thought he was being unfair.’
‘What, by using Government property without paying for it?’
‘No, I thought he was being unfair to you. That’s why I didn’t stay past the cheese board on Sunday. I decided his decision was misguided, and now I’ve been proved correct.’
Ronni stares at Q in amazement: he judged Bond. Of all the people in the building expected to do this, he was probably on the bottom of the list. There’d been gossip, of course, but it didn’t matter, all that concerned her was doing the job. To have him admit this with a straight face?
‘What Bond does in his time outside the office is nothing to do with me, Q.’
‘I know that, and so do you. I find it depressing and disappointing however how much protocol and procedure 007 ignores, normally for his own unspecified ends. This, at least for me, was a step too far. Fortunately for him, you seem to care sufficiently to have not only covered his arse but have inspired others to do the same. I doubt Emmanuel would have had the nerve to approach Bond under current circumstances: you do at least present an accommodating and charming front. I doubt he’d have been as thorough either, and so in that regard?’
‘Bond could end up owing me his life on multiple levels.’
‘Indeed. I need to arrange Curtis’ clearances, and you are looking tired. Go take thirty minutes in the temporary accommodation I’ve organised. I need to get Gregory down here to brief you on Madeline anyway, it will give time to organise myself.’
As he stands to leave, Ronni is compelled to reach for his hand, surprised at the need to acknowledge concern. She expects him to simply receive the gesture and isn’t ready for him not only grasp, but squeeze in reciprocation.
‘I know only too well what you’re capable of, and what you may now need to do in order to retrieve 007 from the Swanns. Go and rest, you’ll need it.’