The Blunt Instrumental
James Bond was lying on the floor of his flat off the Kings Road in Chelsea, leaning back against the red leather lounge couch he'd rescued from the doctor's apartment across the way when the old sot had finally retired to the country. The Persian rug beneath him had been purchased under the scrutinising eye of an American girl, Tiffany Case, when she'd briefly shared his life, or lack thereof, a few years before.
In fact, very little of his home spoke of him; the furniture, the scant decorations and trimmings, even the earth tone colours of the walls had all been the choices, or property, of others that had just accumulated like so much emotional driftwood in his bland little flat.
The fire in the grate before him, something, he thought absently, that had been his creation, was the sole light at three in the AM. The coffee table in front of the settee held an ungodly ancient bottle of Bushmills whiskey, nearly half of which was currently making the rounds of his innards, and an empty glass.
Bond didn't want to close his eyes, because he didn't want to see the things that were lurking behind them, but the whiskey and the late hour were working their wiles upon him. He reached out and tumbled the last of the amber liquid into the glass. He held the glass, saluted the fire, and thought of York.
"You are obviously all familiar with the situation in Bamenda," the old grey battleship of a man had begun.
Bond had found it strange to be in the company of the two other men, that along with himself, comprised the "00" section of the service. It was rare that at least one of the three of them weren't off on assignment. Bond was the senior man, and M's eyes glanced to him first.
"Revolution overthrew the colonial government in the fall of last year. A military strongman named Jerome Kossi assumed control with some help from our friends in Moscow and has been making sounds about nationalising all foreign owned assets including British oil interests that run into hundreds of millions of pounds."
M grunted and then added, "Not to mention the razing of entire villages and the virtual genocide of any tribes that disagree with his agenda. The man has already killed tens of thousands of his own people. He is an ugly piece of work, Gentlemen, and very hard to get at. He never leaves his compound in Bebessi, and has a fiercely loyal tribal guard that will not allow any armed civilian within a hundred yards of Kossi."
The three agents were seated before M's expansive desk. Bond was in the middle with 008, Bill Fairbanks, to his left, and 0012, David York, on his right.
M had paused, and looked down to the empty blotter on his desk, as if searching for an answer to a difficult question there.
"The situation in Bamenda is still unstable, and if we are to act in Her Majesty's best interests, then we must do so quickly," he said. "Such an opportunity has presented itself."
"You are the best that we have, Gentlemen, and each of you has been asked to risk his life dozen's of times for the good of the service. But this time, this mission…the man that takes it will not be coming back."
Bond stared at the old bastard that he sometimes hated, sometimes loved, but always respected. As part of the Admiralty, he'd sent thousands of men to their deaths during the Second World War, but to do it up close like this, to make it personal with someone you worked with and exchanged pleasantries with on a daily basis, it took a whole new level of audacity.
He downed the last of the whiskey and tasted sweetness, and a smoky, almond like flavour that was fashioned a hundred years before he was born. It was amazingly smooth, and had a long, long finish.
Slowly, the warmth of the fire and the whiskey married with his mind, and like any good woman, took him where he didn't want to go. His eyes shut, and the thoughts rolled forth like a black wave.
Later that evening, the threesome had traded their seats for more comfortable accommodations at Scott's Oyster and Supper Rooms. The venue selection had naturally fallen upon Bond as the senior man, and he had chosen purposefully to contrast his mood. Scott's, along with the St. James Street Club, was one of the few places that he could retreat to when his work began to poison his soul. It also helped that they served the best seafood in Greater London.
They currently resided in a first floor oyster bar, sitting in high leather stools about a raised cocktail table. Beneath them, in the basement, were the wine bar and the lobster boiling rooms, adjacent to the oyster bar were the grilling rooms, from which amazing smells baptised the men as they took their seats. The three floors above were for the main dining rooms.
"I have a one-legged American friend who once explained the expression of 'Passing the buck' to me," Bond said, as the waitress arrived. "Three jiggers of Black Velvet for the round, Dear, and if you could scrounge up a few of those seafood cocktails, your efforts will be well rewarded."
The petit blonde, who couldn't have been more than twenty, smiled, gave a curt nod and a "Right away, Sir," and turned to fill their order. Bill crooked his neck to watch her go, following the neat black hem, and frilled lace, of her server's dress.
York slapped his arm.
"Look at you," he quipped. "And what's the name of that pretty bird you have tucked away again?"
"Betty?" Bill answered. "She's a bit more than a bird, David. If I ever get out of this game alive, I'm going to marry her." A cloud passed over his face then, but he didn't have to lend voice to his thoughts. In two weeks time, one of them would be dead.
The look passed quickly, and Bill recovered.
"So, how is Felix, James?" he asked.
"He's fine, and someone has been peeking at Moneypenny's files, I gather," Bond replied. "Either way, he said the expression came from poker games on the American frontier. They would keep mark on the dealer by passing a buck knife around the table, and if someone chose not to deal, they would literally pass the buck to the next man."
"Well, I'd say the old man has planted this buck squarely between our shoulder blades," York concluded.
And with that, the drinks arrived.
James Bond plucked the thin straws from the drinks once the waitress had left to check on the rest of their order.
"For later," he said as he placed them neatly on the table before him. "But first, a toast."
He raised his glass and the other two men followed suit.
"To the blatant disregard of Code 8, Section A!"
"Senior officers are never to gather off duty for the purpose of discussing privileged information," they all repeated in unison before depositing their drinks.
"I don't care how you men come to your decision," Bill began in a more than fair imitation of the old man's gravely seaman's voice. "But I have to have an answer by o'eight hundred tomorrow morning."
Under normal circumstances, Bond would have never approved of such jabbing at M, but he realised the two younger agents had their own ways of dealing with the unique pressures of their shared occupation, so he shared in their laughter as well. Dying was something he never had to make peace with. He had fought the good fight for his country, both in the war, and after. In his decade as a "00" he'd known seventeen men from his section that had died in service, and three that had actually moved on to retire or take a different post. He knew the odds, and he didn't care.
"James," York said, his face fading to stone. "We should leave Bill out of this one…"
"Bollocks to that!" the third man erupted. "What kind of a nancy boy do you take me for? I was an RM for Christ's sake."
"And you have a girl…"
"And James has had more girls than bloody Father Christmas' lap."
"And you might actually have something to go home to, one day. Bond and I…this job will be the death of us."
Faster than the other two men's eyes could follow, Fairbanks flicked a knife from his belt, and buried the working end of it into the table top before him, shaking their empty glasses. The conversations of the other diners about them went silent as if a curtain had been drawn.
"I'll be the death of you both if you try to cut me out, and I ain't passing se!"
There were a few moments of silent tension in the room, but then all three men exploded with laughter.
David had to wipe his eyes with the soft linen napkin before him.
"Take a sodding Marine out to a nice place, and look how he carries on."
This brought on a new rash of laughter as their waitress arrived with a fresh round of whisky and huge plates heaped with grilled, peeled prawns, scallops, plump mussels, and sweet, white crab meat.
The men were prepared to attack the bounty before them, when they realised the waitress was still standing beside them, her blue eyes wide at the knife protruding from the table like an Arthurian sword.
"Don't let it trouble you, My Dear," David told her. "Think of it as your tip becoming larger."
There was more laughter as the men gorged themselves and drank into the evening, but at sometime during their feast, David managed to catch Bond's eye. Bond simply nodded, and both went back to the business of eating.
The night went on, and the drinks were unrelenting in their steadfast charge. The three were besotted by the time the other tables about them had emptied, the two events having not been mutually exclusive of one another.
James Bond had waited until nearly closing before reproducing the straws. The laughter had died down by this time. Bill's head was now resting on his crossed hands which themselves rested on the butter and beer-sodden tabletop. David still sat alert, a slight grin hung on his face like a grim joke. Both men's' eyes watched Bond as he made a show of prying the knife from the table and slicing one of the straws two thirds the way down the shaft.
With the only sound in the bar being the banging of pots and dishes from the kitchen beyond as the staff readied for close, 007 dropped his hands below the table, shuffled the straws about, and then produced the three nubs sticking forth from his clutched right fist.
"You're on the right, Bill, that gives you first go," he informed Fairbanks. The former marine did not hesitate; he reached forward and plucked the straw nearest Bond, revealing its full length.
"Bloody Hell," he muttered, letting his head fall to the table once more.
Bond then offered the hand up to David, who was still wearing the odd, morose grin.
"A bit of gamesmanship, James?" he said, but Bond betrayed nothing with his face. "You know, I've read Mr. Potter's book as well."
With this, York stood up, none too steady, and walked over to Bond's side of the table. He looked down quickly and delivered a swift kick to Bond's right ankle. Reflexively, Bond's foot jerked, and with an astounding display of agility for one so drunk, David scooped up the severed straw that Bond had been concealing beneath his black moccasin.
"I think I'll take this one, and you, my friend, can take the tab."
The morning was merciless. The brandy and Phensic tablets he'd consoled his stomach with for breakfast had done little to curb the blurry rainbows that danced about the fluorescent lighting of Regent Park's bowels. Bill Fairbanks called off for the day, for which Bond had been thankful. York had done an efficient job of shaming him the evening before, and he was thankful for any reason's to avoid the other two agent's incriminating stares.
Each buzz and ring from Loelia Ponsonby's desk caused his head to resound like a campanile. For eight hours he drolled through the reports on his desk, listening to the cacophony of the office that he shared with the other two "00" agents, knowing that the only call of any real significance had been the one from M, answered by David, the first thing that morning. York had yet to return by the end of the day, when Bond finally dragged himself from his station, and made his way home defeated and deflated, the prospect of a long, assignment-less weekend stretching out before him.
People, in general, did not knock on his flat's door; May, his Scottish gem of a housekeeper, had her own key, and the proprietor had always been good about putting a shoulder behind his "No Solicitation" signage. Thus, it struck him as a surprise to hear a defined rapping on his front door, drawing him forth from wallowing he was making of his inactivity.
Dash-dash-dash, his mind followed absently, dot-dash-dash-dot.
"Clever Bastard," he muttered under his vodka-scented breath. He waited for the message to play out, and then he opened the door with a jerk and a smile.
"You really should watch your language, David," he told the younger agent. "The neighbour is retired RAF and he still keeps watch in case the Jerries come to roust him in the middle of the night."
York grinned at the jest, but it was an even darker version of the visage he'd been wearing at Scott's the evening before. He pushed his way in past James, a bottle in hand.
James shut the door and turned to his guest who'd planted himself on a chair in his sitting room, and his bottle on the coffee table before him.
"At it again?" Bond asked casually
"Hardly," the other man answered and he spun the label to face Bond.
After a brief examination, Bond gave a low whistle.
"Bushmill's didn't date them very well back in the day, but if my Grandfather was telling the truth, it's from the 1850's, before the new distillery was built, and it's been in our family just as long."
Bond joined him at the table.
"Then why is it here, and not collecting dust in your humble abode?"
"My parents are long dead, James, and you know my brother died at El Alamein. I have no children. I'll be dead by Sunday evening, and I'll be damned if I don't make this bottle win our race to the grave."
The man's sombre pronouncement of his own death gave Bond pause.
"You know, David," he started slowly, not really knowing the ground he was treading on. "M has sent me on a dozen "suicide" missions over the years, and I am still…"
"Shut the hell up, James, and get some damned cups."
James Bond did as he was told, but as he came back into the room from the kitchen, he found David with his head down, fighting back tears.
"There's no squeezing life from this one, Old Man," he said in a low mumble Bond could barely make out. "I don't even get to pull a trigger on the bastard, Kossi. They've made me a bloody Trojan Horse, James.
And so it was that James Bond found himself alone on the floor of his flat on Sunday evening with one last swallow of the oldest liquor he'd ever consumed. In Bebessi, Bamenda it would be two hours earlier, nearly seven-thirty, and the state dinner would have already commenced.
Bond closed his eyes and brought the bottle to his lips, having long since abandoned his butcher glass.
A world away, the men that injected David did so in the back of a limousine, wearing full haz-com suits, as they sped toward Jerome Kossi's compound. The bacteria would work their way into his system quickly. The Armourer had given him a brief overview of the synthesised bacteria. He explained that the problem with Clostridium botulinum as a toxic agent had always been delivery, but they'd found a rather unique solution to this dilemma. Within ten minutes of injection, his sweat glands would begin to exude lethal doses of the bacteria's toxic protein. Normally, the fatality rate would have been between 15 and 50 percent, but with this tailor-made strain, there would be no survivors after direct contact.
He had shared M's words with James.
"Infect as many of the bastards as you can. You want it to appear as an outbreak related to the dinner. Don't hesitate for a moment, remember, these monsters have killed thousands, and will kill thousands more given the opportunity."
Within half an hour, his respiratory system would fail, as would anyone's who'd come into contact with him.
He was left off at the gate of the compound with his credentials. He was a British national; a representative of BAC who was planning on selling twenty passenger aeroplanes to Bamenda's state-run airline.
As he left the air-conditioned environment of the limousine, the humid wall of heat that made Babessi such a hellhole engulfed him and he began to sweat heavily. The armed guards at the gate did not waste the opportunity to roughly search a Westerner's body for weapons, and in doing so, they secured their own deaths.
As he entered the main hall he heard his name of the moment announced to more than a hundred and fifty of Bamenda's upper class and foreign dignitaries that had sold their country folk and souls so they could feast like flies about the corpse that was Kossi's reign. What caught his eye however were not the glittering people or jewels, nor the top flight buffet with trimmed wait staff, dark skin contrasting against their white tuxedos, nor the string quartet that whittled away at their instruments on an open white-marbled veranda that was larger than his home back in Bexley. No, what danced before his eyes, were the children that streamed about the room, darting through the legs of the guests, laughing and playing in a world where the only monsters that mattered where the ones beneath your bed at night.
"You bastard, M," he muttered, drawing in a deep breath to keep himself from screaming.
Later, when he was presented to Kossi for formal introductions, he gripped the man's hand firmly as if he could weld the poison in his body like a sword.
"We look forward to doing business with your firm, Mr..." the butcher said in a deep baritone that resonated in crisp, accent free English.
"Dayton. Daniel Dayton, and the feelings are as mutual."
Kossi glanced down at their entwined hands, and the small tick of a frown formed at the corners of his mouth as the handshake lasted a few counts too long.
With a polite shake, Kossi broke the contact, looked about the room before him, and cleared his throat.
"Do you have children, Mr. Dayton?"
David was going to answer, but Kossi kept speaking as if it had never really been a question, or as if his answer had never mattered.
"I have thirty-two, from eight wives. They are my joys in this life. Most men in my position would keep them away from such events of this, sacrificing family for formality, but I find they add vivacity to the tedium of the starched collars. Children see with better eyes than we do, and they are excellent judges of men."
And excellent shields, David thought.
A little girl, no more than four years of age, wearing a princess gown, ran up and wrapped her arms about her father's uniformed leg.
Kossi laughed deeply and honestly, bending to scoop up the child in his arms like a doll.
"This is Alala, my little treasure. Alala, this is Mr. Dayton who has come all the way from England to sell us aeroplanes."
The child smiled at this, and when Kossi put her back down she extended her hand to him.
"You see, Mr. Dayton, there is civility to be found here in Africa."
The girl's eyes sparkled, her hand extended to David, as his body broke out in a cold sweat that he couldn't bring himself to believe was angst alone. Airborne, the bacteria would kill most of the party goers, but to touch, he might as well have been pulling a trigger.
Kossi eyes were watching him, pregnant with potential suspicion.
David bent to a knee, and took the proffered hand, the tiny fingers lacing about his palm, and lightly caressed it, much as he had the Queen's at Osborne House a lifetime ago, his heart and mind twin voids.
He leaned forward and whispered in the girl's ear.
"Nasikitika," he said.
Not too much later, David made his way out onto the veranda where the band trudged on. His head had begun to swim, and his steps were noticeably awkward, but with so many of the less than sober about, his fatigue was well camouflaged.
His breathing was heavier by the moment and he leaned back against a marble pillar, the stone cool even in the sweltering heat of the Bamendian evening. Cool as a dead girl's hand.
David York sunk to the ground and placed his head in his hands, welcoming death's release.
James Bond glanced at his Oyster Pertetual's laminated hands and saluted the empty room before him with the last of the Bushmill's.
"To absent friends," he said to no one as the fire died.