EX/WHI :: Part Nine

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It’s a second before Chris grasps who Ami is talking to, that her honesty and intelligence might count for something if they’re no longer trapped in such an enclosed space. Looking outside, there’s no doubt this won’t be London they’re walking into, but what happens after that would be far easier to cope with if they knew their captors were more friendly than evil. The same breeze that miraculously fixed the table brushes past his left cheek, then there’s a tingle in his fingers, before on the counter to his right a familiar set of sweats materialises, plus what he knows will be very comfortable Nike trainers. There’s a backpack too: not too heavy, inside which are canteens for water plus silver foil-wrapped squares that look an awful lot like protein bars…

Ami has her own rations, and what are undoubtedly army fatigues, plus Doc Martins. All she can do is stare at the pile, with what Chambers will guess is a mind finally accepting she’d pitched their situation just right. Someone, at this point, ought to be grateful too for their gifts, because that’s what they are, and he’s hardly contributed to this entire endeavour thus far.

‘Thank you. This is much appreciated. Give us time to get ready, and we’ll head outside.’

Chris can’t look upwards as he is suitably grateful, because mind’s marvelling at what just transpired. Ami didn’t ask directly for what was provided, and yet that was what their captors took as the request: change of clothes, food and water plus an indicator they were expected to leave, or why else would backpacks be provided? She’s already getting changed, without a word, and there’s a reason: everything they say and do is absolutely being monitored, so maybe it is time to choose conversation with care. He goes to fill his canteens from the bathroom sink, allowing her privacy to get changed, before coming back and removing his own suit. She then repeats the courtesy for him: returning with water, they’re both ready to venture outside.

The backpack has nothing sharp, anything that might act as a potential weapon. Perhaps it is time to assume they’ll be no need to fight and stop worrying about protection. However, it would be great to feel safe, and right now Chambers really doesn’t. Everything is potentially a test, for observers who might expect vastly different results than what is acceptable as human behaviour. He’s also concerned at the implications of one woman and one man abducted as a pair: if he’s been selected as breeding stock, they really picked the wrong guy.

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DEFAULT :: Part Nine

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Trafalgar Square shines: rain soaked pavements reflect the lights of street lamps and the constant flow of traffic, even this early. The city may not be insomniac as New York, vibrant as Istanbul, but London is all too aware of the pain in Ronni’s heart. Each stride is a way to think, arrange the evening in context. However, what might have happened if she’d stayed at Bond’s flat makes her ache, events a world away from the drama dropped in her lap. Doing the crossword when he returned with takeaway, naked except for his shirt. Legs tangled, early dawn embrace, first time they’d woken together. It will be some time before that part of her comfort is assuaged, time to lock everything dangerous and distracting away, hidden deep so it can’t cloud judgement. Bond’s own precarious position highlights the damage a misplaced emotional connection can make, not a mistake she’s either willing or prepared to repeat.

The city feels this pain and sings comfort beneath tired feet, each step pulling her closer to the point where professionalism becomes all-consuming, mission the primary goal.

She is not prepared however to walk into the Barracks at 3.30am and find it completely staffed. In fact, the number of people here further fuel the fire that’s now burning healthily in her mind: this is big, and Bond knew she was in trouble at the Opera without the need to explain. Thinking back on what he said, niggle remains that M should have been spoken to before James, and had she done so there was a good chance he’d have in turn prevented contact at all. Too many pieces of this puzzle have been kept from her, and there needs to be urgent understanding of why.

Q wouldn’t have allowed a visit if there had been a problem, so why is he approaching her at speed before she can make it to the control room where M will be waiting?

‘Ronni, we need to talk.’

‘You screwed up, didn’t you?’

The man’s features harden at the suggestion, and for a second she thinks Q will snap in response, as was often the case when people were either very stupid or thoughtless.

‘I could say… I didn’t think of consequence, but that would be erroneous. I didn’t lie, I was simply economical with the truth. For a moment, I put myself in Bond’s shoes.’

This isn’t the response expected, and she’s lost for an appropriate comeback. Q stares, defensive stance relaxing, before he puts a hand to her arm.

‘You two are a considerable force when combined, and you have been chronically wasted since your promotion. I know this, and so do you. That’s why this situation will now require something extraordinary in order to salvage anything. As you will soon discover, you are very much on your own, but I will do everything in my power to support you. If you want to blame anyone?’

‘I’ll blame James, because if he had trusted me to begin with, we could have fixed whatever this is far earlier. I also suspect I have the boss to thank for a warning I never received.’

Her hand wraps around Q’s, sudden closeness to a man who reminds her there’s still a sizeable mountain to climb with certain senior staff. Leaving him she’s determined to find M, and certainly isn’t expecting to encounter the African-American guy plus the very attractive Canadian blonde who are in the briefing area, coffee mugs in hands. When the older man sees her his eyes light up, rush to go and hug, long and hard, joy at reconnecting after absence. La Croix starts with a handshake but ends up in an embrace, which dissolves into laughter.

‘So the vending machine rumours were indeed correct; however, should I be concerned, Charlie that both you and Felix are here?’

‘Agent LaCroix signed his contract yesterday and was confirmed actively 00 at 17.00 hours, but won’t be required to take his predecessor’s name, simply the number. Mr Leiter is our recently promoted European Liaison for the joint FBI/CIA Taskforce set up after Spectre’s existence was confirmed.’

M’s appeared from the back of the room: impeccable in dark blue Burberry and in full exposition mode, there’s the sense he’s not relishing being awake this early, regardless of the situation. However, even he manages a smile as Felix shakes his hand, apparent the boss has not seen these two since they came in from Washington. Charlie’s enthusiasm is infectious, thrown around liberally and gratefully received before dawn.

‘I have to say, Sir, this was an offer I think both Felix and I would have been foolish to turn down.’

‘I’m also pleased to see that when called to action you responded with the promptness we’d expect, 009.’

This section of Whitehall had finally come out of the 1950’s, casting their net beyond the normal remit of applications. There had been rumours whilst Ronni was last undercover that basic procedures were being revised, in an attempt to prevent someone like Bond going off alone in the future and potentially jeopardising the long-term sanctity of the programme. She also knows Moneypenny’s desk job is vacant as of the same moment LaCroix became 009, being covered by a male agent from Acquisitions.

The woman’s outside, striding into the frame with Rachel in tow, dressed in a manner that makes 004 think that perhaps Charlie isn’t the only new top tier on the books. She’d been responsible for at least one of the three enemy fatalities after the initial attack on the Barracks: had Whitehall decided to count this as her second kill and finally award the designation? There is one way to find out, and to ask the question of her directly.

‘Good morning Moneypenny, I’m going to guess congratulations are in order?’

There’s no humour towards Ronni’s greeting, only quiet determination: all business in a clear attempt to not allow the moment to overtake.

‘My first task as 003 was to confirm your intended dinner guest for the evening was executed, 004, and is now lying in the Metropolitan Police’s morgue.’

Ronni takes the plastic bag she is presented, inside which is another business card. Turning it over, anger begins to rise that needs to be channelled and dissipated, and so focus is moved back to the matter in her hand.

‘So Q, I’m going to suggest that whoever it was I took to the ENO tonight was the man responsible for shooting the real Mr Richmond. Would I be correct?’

Q’s reappeared, quietly slipping into the empty terminal space in the open-plan briefing area, calling up details that illuminate on order above him as he talks.

‘I was able to lift a fingerprint off the wine glass, from your opera guest, and identified residue on the business card’s surface which suggests he’d handled a firearm in the last twelve hours. Who you thought was Christopher James Richmond can now be correctly identified as Christian Alexi Swann.’

A familiar image fills the screen that’s now acting as the focus for this impromptu briefing, and suddenly the resemblance between this man and Madeline is unmistakeable.

‘Same mother, different father?’

‘No, the other way around. It seems her father had an affair sometime before Madeline was born. Christian didn’t effectively exist either until his early 20’s. There’s no education records, pictures, he appears at the Sorbonne in 1994 almost by magic. The man has lived a charmed life ever since and I only have his fingerprints because they were voluntarily offered to the French Police two years ago, when his electronics company signed a contract with them to supply tagging and monitoring equipment. Bond’s codeword was your clue, comparing DNA…’

‘I am assuming Domino refers to Domino Vitali, who was involved in Operation Thunderball in 1965. Her brother was responsible for the hijack of two NATO-owned nuclear warheads, which the 007 at that time subsequently located and recovered. So knowing this I’m betting Madeline having a half brother isn’t news to Bond. Did I miss a briefing?’

There’s a moment of discomfort in the room: Ronni remembers a feeling, past making present awkward. It would be the same acute discomfort she’d experience when made the butt of a joke at school, or outside the privy of some piece of gossip or scandal. Of everyone that surrounds her, only M has the balls to make eye contact, and so 004 decides to start there.

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Everything related to James Bond (007) belongs to Eon Productions and Danjaq LLC, except the bits in here that are mine and I made up. I get how this works.

DUET : Chapter Four, Part One

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She dreams of Scott, arms around waist on the Triumph Bonneville that had belonged to his father. It is the day they rode to London for the first time, just the two of them: sitting by the river, eating chips and planning their future. The calm inside Ronni is beautiful, whole body warm and safe, as he reaches over to embrace, two jeaned pairs of legs dangling over the Embankment. July is brilliant, bright and welcoming, calm within her brief yet glorious. Then the ache begins, somewhere below the breastbone, pain terrible and undiminished. She’s standing, looking at his gravestone, trying to understand why life was so fucking unfair. 

After that the black is all she craves, until memory of what has happened since wakes her.

Everything transpires for a reason, Scott had said, like that November day they’d met on Platform 4, when he’d shielded her in the rain. She remembers the night he asked what she’d wanted to be after exams were done: the only person trusted enough to share true heart’s desire. ‘I think you’d make a wonderful spy, no-one would know what you really were until it was all too late.’ Ronni supposed at first she had done this for him, because of the belief in her ability. After a while the understanding coalesced it wasn’t death that motivated, instead the notion of what she’d only ever felt comfortable talking about with him in the room, being able to make a difference in the most unexpected of fashions.

Finally consciousness wins its battle and Ronni is aware of being awake, that the world is moving oddly outside the darkness: perhaps it might be an idea if she worked out where this was. Only when opening eyes is there discomfort, and disorientation. The ceiling is high, immaculately plastered, moving strangely as she stares at it.

Ronni has absolutely no idea where here is.

Whatever they drugged her with has left brain odd and unfocussed: sitting up carefully, taking in the large Victorian-build surroundings sparsely furnished and deliberately anonymous. She appears to be restricted to what is a palatial bedroom by her standards and an en suite with the biggest cast iron bath she’s ever seen. Discovering a fridge tucked behind the bathroom door there’s no need to further test the bounds of captivity. Provided with a selection of drinks but no food, Ronni knows she won’t want to eat until whatever was placed in the bottle clears her system completely. That came from a scenario ‘played’ with Eve during what she assumes was the previous day: just how much else might have been prepared for without direct knowledge was yet to be determined.

She needs to drink until the taste of water makes her ill, then stay awake at all costs.

Ronni’s also learnt her first important lesson on this journey: you don’t trust anyone, regardless of who they are. Everyone is potentially the enemy. Next time someone offers you something when thirsty, think twice.

There’s no television to watch, but a very decently appointed bookshelf that runs across one wall. Choices stretch from Chaucer to Dan Brown, with pretty much ever major literary landmark in-between, so she decides on a Hemingway collection and tries to get brain to stop wandering. She’s aware of falling asleep a couple of times, before drinking: sharpness slowly returns on the fourth choice of focus and the same in bottled water, lucidity finally a constant. Looking up it is now dark outside, and Ronni wishes she had something to anchor her to a timeline. As if by magic there is a knock at the door and a small woman with cropped dark hair appears with a tray, leaving it at the foot of the bed before departing without a word.

Dinner is impressive, albeit small: chicken wrapped in bacon and stuffed with asparagus, steaming boiled potatoes with butter and spinach. Ronni doesn’t appreciate how hungry she is until it’s finished and left wanting more, but there is no other movement from the door or indeed anywhere else, and only then does she grasp being in the same clothes from the day before. An exploration into the large wardrobe at the far end of the room finds a selection of decent underwear and the same anonymous blue sweats she’d find when training, and it is time to test out the bath. There is even a bottle of unlabelled yet exotic salts: sinking into perfumed water five minutes later she allows herself to consider how the transition will work.

If this is Saturday, then my family will think I’m finally on the way to Mumbai. The plan is for her to take a small plane to the north of the country: that is when it will happen, some accident will be engineered and her life will be lost, probably in a fire so the body that is returned will be beyond physical recognition. There’s been no preparation for this either, no-one had spoken about what happens afterwards, assumption that is being covered somewhere along the line.

Ronni’s glad there is minimal baggage, that friends she had could be counted on one finger. Lissa was the closest thing she had to a confidante, but never got the faintest inkling of what Veronica was. Their relationship was very occasional spa trips and the odd Friday night and mostly stories about her life in PR and the new guy who she’d seemed increasingly interested in. Mark would show his true colours in the next few days: was he the man who’d nurse her through grief or buckle under the strain?

Fatigue hits Ronni almost as soon as she returns to bed: noting that dinner things have gone, books returned to their places, and there is no doubt that whatever she does from this point onwards will be closely monitored. She’s too tired however to care about clothing and slips naked into bed, last thoughts before unconsciousness about her youngest sister, missed far more than she’d previously considered.

It is too late: regret is a luxury she no longer can afford to indulge.

All she has now is herself.

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Everything related to James Bond (007) belongs to Eon Productions and Danjaq LLC, except the bits in here that are mine and I made up. I get how this works.
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