3 / The Next Lead

Upon returning to London, Bond stopped at his flat and changed from his bloody suit into a clean one. His leg was still a little sore thanks to all the glass, but he showed absolutely no signs of injury.

Mitchell lived in an apartment building across the city from Bond's, and only a few blocks from Regeant's Park, and the building that no one knew was MI6 headquarters. The flat was well-furnished, giving only slight hints at the personality of the man who had lived inside. Bond stopped at a small table which held two photos: one of Mitchell and Bond during their time in the Royal Navy and one of Mitchell and M in her office. Neither photo even suggested that Mitchell was anything but the patriot he appeared to be until recently.

M stood on the covered balcony, holding a glass ashtray. Rain was pelting the building, a sudden storm having come from out of nowhere. When Bond approached, M started talking: "Mitchell worked for MI6 for eight years. Eight years. Five of them as my personal bodyguard." She held up the ashtray. "I found this, and three other bloody Christmas presents I've bought him, laying around the flat."

Bond could think of nothing more to say than: "I don't think he smoked."

M threw the ashtray down on the balcony floor, it shattered upon impact. "Eight years! And not so much as bloody hint that he was anything but the dedicated agent he told us he was! He passed a psychiatric evaluation every year." M turned and looked directly at Bond. "And you couldn't bring him in so that we could question him. You had to kill him, taking away any chance at finding out who hired him and why!"

Bond took a small packet out of his pocket. "He was carrying these. Cyanide. Different from the pills given to MI6."

M took the packet and studied them for a moment. "Who the hell is this organization, Bond? How can they be everywhere and we know nothing about them? When someone tells you they have people everywhere, you expect it to be hyperbole! Flourists use that expression! It doesn't mean they've got someone working for them in the bloody room!" She calmed down just a little. "I assume you found no trace of White."

"The man guarding the door to the garage was dead when you passed him on the stairs."

"I passed him on the stairs? Good Christ!"

"Mitchell must have killed him when he went down to check the perimeter." He said in a softer voice, "You're lucky to be alive."

M shook her head. She clearly didn't find herself lucky. A cell phone rang, and M produced hers from her pocket. "Yes?" After a few moments, she said, "We're on our way." Bond was already holding the door open for her.

111

Bond left his coat with the woman at the front desk once they entered MI6 headquarters. She assured him it would make it to his office. He and M met up with Bill Tanner on the third floor, where he gave them the little information they already had on Mitchell. "Craig Mitchell, 45 years old, member of the double oh section for five years. No family, no executors, gave generously to chairity."

M sighed. "Please tell me you have more than that."

Tanner shook his head. "Not really, sadly. Mitchell kept his private life well hidden, which was probably how he hid his connections to White's organization. We do have a man working on the bills Mitchell was caryying."

"How much did he have on him?"

"Less than a hundred pounds. And about the same in euros and dollars."

A thin man, with scruffy hair walked into the hallway with them, carrying a clipboard. "Excuse me, ma'am, follow me." He turned to Bond and a look of confusion swept his face. "I'm sorry, sir, have we met?"

Tanner took care of the introductions. "Sorry. Chief Whittingham, James Bond. Chief Whittingham is the head of Special Information, up on the sixth floor. He was the man investigating if Mitchell left a paper trail."

"What have you found, Whittingham?" M asked.

"That's what I need you to follow me for, ma'am."

Bond, M and Tanner followed Whittingham to his office on the sixth floor. A spartan room, dominated by a large table display computer. A similar display took up the wall opposite the door. Bond noticed the only other furnishing in the room was a security camera overlooking the whole thing. He wondered if White's organization had already stolen their camera records.

"As you know, ma'am," Whittingham started, "we introduced marked bills into Le Chiffre's money laundering scheme by intercepting illegal payoffs. Mitchell was carrying at least ten marked bills, possibly from his last payment by White's organization."

M sighed. "That's pretty thin. The way money changes hands nowadays, you could probably find a tenner in my wallet with a tag."

Tanner continued: "Yes, ma'am, a single bill could mean nothing, and we have absolutely no way of knowing if all of these bills came to Mitchell at the same time, but what about a whole stack of bills, from the same set as Mitchell's?" He tapped a few touch-screen buttons on the table, displaying Port-au-prince, Haiti. "These bills were just scanned at a bank in Port-au-Prince, and carry the same electronic signature as the bills in Mitchell's account. They were registered in the account of a Mr. Slate."

Bond asked, "What have you got?"

Tanner nodded. "Mr. Edmund Slate, an Englishman. He just traveled to Haiti from Heathrow last night. It fits the timeline, he could have been contacted by White after his escape."

M turned to Bond. "Get some things together. You're on the next flight to Port-au-Prince." Bond nodded, then turned to leave the room. M grabbed his arm just before he walked out the door. "And, Bond, do try to question him first."

111

Bond had never liked Port-au-Prince. It usually stank, it was always hot, and the place simply had the look and feel of a sewer above ground. Granted, that was fairly true of all of Haiti. The place would never be a tourist attraction. He could only hope that he wasn't there long.

His cell phone rang about five minutes after he was off the plane. "Edmund Slate is currently occupying room three-two-five at the Hotel Dessalines," Tanner said, then hung up. Bill had never been one for talk, that was the only problem Bond truly had with the man. He was efficient, his wit was deadly and if you needed a desk-sitter at your side, he was a top killer. After they'd both left the service (Bond, the Royal Navy; Tanner, the British Air Force), Bond was surprised to find his old friend sitting behind a desk outside M's office.

The hotel looked just as good as every other building in the city, though its outside appearance hid a surprisingly clean and well-kept interior. Granted, full clothes lines were running across the stair well, and the room numbers were marked beside the doors with simple black chalk, but the place looked better inside than out.

Room 325 was locked when Bond arrived, possibly meaning that Slate off somewhere, conducting whatever business he was in. Using the standard kit, Bond picked the lock and quietly entered the room. The entrance was a simple hallway, which led into the main room. An armoire took up one corner, beside the sliding glass door which led to the balcony.

As he passed the open bathroom door, Bond heard a noise which sounded like slim metal being drawn. Just a second before the pocket knife appeared, Bond kicked the man inside and knocked him into the bathtub. He leapt out from the tub and threw his knife at Bond, who ducked just in time. The man rushed out of the bathroom and Bond grabbed him by the shirt and slammed him into the wall opposite the bathroom door. He kicked Bond in the stomach and then pushed him into a very dirty couch which sat in front of a television.

Bond kicked Slate—he could see now that it was Slate—and then grabbed a hold of his shirt again. This time, he pushed Slate into the sliding glass door, and followed him through. The glass cut through his left arm, but Slate had taken the brunt of the fall. Blood was spilling out of his neck, and Bond could tell that he wasn't long for this world. M's not gonna like this.

Bond walked inside and opened the armoire. He took out a shirt and ripped it into strips to use as bandages. After that, he took the room key from Slate's pocket, along with a generous helping of money, then slipped on one of the dead man's jackets, to hide the bandaged cuts on his arm.

He walked downstairs and, just before leaving, decided to walk over to the front desk instead. "Any messages for three-two-five?" he asked the woman working there.

"No, sir, just the one about the briefcase that arrived earlier. Would you like us to keep holding it for you?"

"No, I'll take that now." The woman reached under her desk and produced a silver, metal case. Bond took it, exchanged 'thank you's with the woman and promptly left.

Once outside, a small VW drove up beside him, and the shadowed woman inside said, "Get in."

"Excuse me?"

"I said, 'get in'."

Bond assumed it must have had something to do with the briefcase. He opened the passenger door and slipped inside. Once inside, he got a better look at the woman driving. A beautifully tan woman, with black hair down to her shoulders. At first glance he would have assumed her to be Bolivian, or possibly Cuban, but she had the same facial hardness that came from a Russian.

"You're late," she said, once they were on the road. A Bolivian accent mixed with a Russian accent. This woman was quite interesting.

"I got held up."

"Anyone I know?"

"A friend of Mr. White's."

She shot him a confused look. "I don't think I know him." Though still tense, Bond was slightly more at ease. If this woman wasn't affiliated with White or his organization, she wasn't much of a threat. "Is this guy a friend of yours?" she acknowledged a man on a dirt bike following them.

"I don't have any friends," Bond said, which seemed to be what she wanted to hear. She put her foot down on the pedal and pushed ahead, leaving the man on the bike in the dust.

"Did Dominic give you any trouble?"

"No."

She pulled them into an alleyway. "We didn't settle on a price."

"Make me an offer."

"Let me see the goods." Bond opened the briefcase and revealed several sheets of paper, what looked like geology reports, but that was it. He handed them over to her and continued to check the briefcase. Something didn't add up, the briefcase was too heavy to simply be papers. He slipped his fingers along the insides and discovered the false bottom, just as he thought. "What the hell is this?" she asked, looking over at him and seeing the .22-caliber handgun next to a photograph of her.

"I think someone wants to kill you."

With ample reflexes, even by Bond's standards, the woman grabbed the handgun from the briefcase and aimed it at Bond, who moved out of the way just as she fired a round. She dropped the gun back in the briefcase, then pushed Bond into the passenger door.

Bond sighed. That wasn't very nice. He took the picture of her he'd stolen from the briefcase and looked on the back. 'Camille Montes' was written there, in small letters. Nice to meet you, Camille. As if to interrupt his thoughts, the man on the dirt bike drove up and stopped beside him. "You were supposed to shoot her," he said, looking disappointed. The man obviously thought Bond was the assassin, Slate.

"Yeah, well, I missed," he said, just before he elbowed the man in the face, then kicked him in the neck. If he wasn't dead, he'd be unconscious for hours. Bond stood the motorcycle up and hopped on, speeding after Camille's small VW. Unlike the man he'd stolen the bike from, he kept back far enough not to be noticed.

His cell phone rang. "Bond, it's Tanner, M wants an update."

"I'm following a girl named Camille Montes, look her up, please."

"M wants to know about Edmund Slate."

"Tell her Slate was a dead end."

111

M and Tanner stopped just outside the doors to MI6 headquarters at Regeant's Park. "Ask him about Slate," M told Tanner.

"M wants to know about Edmund Slate," Tanner spoke into the phone, then waited for a response. "He says Slate was a dead end."

"Dammit! He killed him."