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FROM DEATH’S DOOR, I STAB AT THEE

 

Chapter One: Down Time

 

The music that evening had been tolerable, even for James Bond’s stoic tastes.

That may have had more to do with his company than the performance itself, though.  The dry, but pleasantly warm breezes of the Houston evening caught the four of them as they left the Bayou Palace in the Downtown Theater district.  Houston seemed to lack that particular ambience that most American towns wore like a cheap perfume.  The constant odors of an industrialized nation with an oily tang to the air, much like Liverpool or Dublin, permeating everything, the food, the buildings, the air, and even the people.  New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, even Miami now, had almost a perpetual greyness to them as if the life of the town had been squeezed out of the husks of the great American Meccas.  But Felix had been right, Houston was still blissfully free of the sickness.

He’d spent some leave time here years ago, visiting with Felix as he recovered from the vicious attack that had left his friend’s body and mind scarred, an attack that had been wrought by one of the human monsters that Bond had eventually slain.  At that time the town had been small by modern standards, a former cattle town that was feeling the growing pains of adapting to a modern economy, but now it was a fusion of towering metal and glass giants.  The air, however, had remained fine.

The traditional fortnight of Bond’s post assignment leave would be ending soon, two days to be precise.  Now, where in the old days, he would have been marking the time until he returned, serving his holiday as if it were penance, the thought of returning to that grey building in Regent’s Square filled him with boredom.  There were often months between missions; months that were filled with a sea of paperwork, spaced by range work and training.  He’d entertained the thought of requesting some time, that would certainly raise the eyebrows above those damnably clear greys of M’s.  Spend a few more weeks sharing Felix and Sara’s retirement and the company of their family friend, Samantha Maske.

The dry breeze ruffled the ladies’ dresses briefly, flipping the comma of black hair above Bond’s eyes from the left to the right.  Felix handed the keys of his Cadillac Allante to a waiting valet who went about his job with all the speed and gusto of modern youth, very little in other words.


“It’s a long ways from the old Studillac, James,” Felix had assured him a week ago when he’d picked up Bond at Bush International, fresh from a weeks stay at his vacation home in the Bahamas.

“Not bad, he’d replied with a rare, easy smile.  “But I would have expected you could have afforded a real car by now.”  The car debate had gone on between them since the inception of their friendship so long ago.  Felix sticking with his American roots, and Bond beating the path of tried and true European engineering.

Felix Leiter was one of the few people that Bond met professionally that he would consider a close friend.  There had been others over the years that had stayed close to him, such as his chief of staff, Bill Tanner, or the old man himself, but many more had passed on, victims of a lifestyle and a world that pushed people to extremes and then punished them for their servitude.

Sam clutched at Bond’s hand, he could feel the long, delicate fingers seek out his own and intertwine within; her natural, close-cropped nails, painted a deep, glossy bloodlike colour for the evening, ever so slightly scraping his palm and sending joyous spasms up his spine.  He turned to the woman and shared a brief smile.

            Sara and Felix also exchanged a quick glance that was meant to go unseen by the other couple, but Bond’s peripheral reflexes, never completely off guard, had caught the silent communication.  It had been Sara’s idea to bring the two of them together, against almost violent protest from Felix.

            “James is one of the best friends I have in this world, my dear,” he’d exclaimed at the time.  “But the man is a predator when it comes to the ladies.  Even when he’s truly enamored of someone, the damnedest things always seem to happen.”

            But Sara had persisted.

            “Felix, she’d been living with that abusive bastard for almost a decade and in the end, he was the one that threw her out.  Do you know what that does to a person’s self esteem?  A little wonton excitement, a few wonderful nights with a handsome, exotic stranger could be just what the doctor would prescribe.”

Felix had learned enough about women over the years to know that the fight had been lost before the battle had even been joined.  Besides, Sam was pretty enough to keep Bond distracted, and the poor guy had a serious action addiction.  If there wasn’t a gunfight or a pretty lady when he stepped off plane, he’d be bored within the hour.  

            Samantha Maske would not be James’ usual fare to begin with, Leiter knew.  She was a thirty-five year old grade school teacher whose idea of dangerous living was a room full of fifth graders five minutes before recess.  She had little trouble holding the attention of even the fifth grade boys, however.  Her dark black hair hung long and loose about shoulders taking a slight inturn a quarter the way down her back.  Sam was never sycophantic enough to stand there and constantly adjust her locks as some women are prone to; she was content to let it hang free, with her part always slightly askew.  The radiant mane framed a splendid face with watery blue eyes that seemed a little too far apart for Felix’s tastes, a small, but attractive, Anglo-Saxon nose, and a wide mouth with full lips, the bottom of which always seemed to be tucked into her mouth in a nervous, oral fixation.

            Her body was not as athletic as many modern women preferred.  Rather than the hard muscular arms and torso, Sam had a soft quality.  A classic femininity that may have been out of place for recent times, but was well appreciated by men of any age.  She had long, gazelle like legs that flowed in long strides beneath her and flawless breasts that called out for attention regardless of her apparel.

            Had Felix not been so devoted to Sara Needy, his physical therapist for the last ten years, and his soul mate for the last six months, Sam would have been a woman that could have held more than just his attention.

            The woman’s one flaw was her horrible taste in men.  Before Sara had finally surrendered to Felix’s persistent attentions and boyish charms, she would spend many of their three a day sessions retelling the horror stories of her friends’ personal lives, and Sam’s name was always a headliner.  As she would manipulate his ever tightening limbs, and what remained of his one leg and arm,  Felix would be distracted from the pain by stories of how this poor woman had been made to grovel and apologize for every sorry thing that had ever happened in her ex’s life.  As Sam grew older, the man had made a habit of visiting the local strip joints and cat houses, and then would return early each morning, smelling of booze and the women from the night before, berating her loudly for not living up to his latest conquest’s standards or skill level.

            Felix had always marveled at how quick some people were to criticize a womanizer such as Bond, or even himself in his older days, but they had always respected the women, loved the women on some level, even prostitutes were afforded the respect worthy of ladies.  Why she waited for the bum to bring a stripper home one night and told her to find a new bed, Felix would never understand.  He’d gone into her classroom a few months back as a favour to Sara, told the kids some of his old CIA/Pinkerton stories as part of a careers week.  The kids had eaten up the stuff, even though Felix had kept the talk of gunplay to a minimum, but what had made the deepest impression on the Texan was the intelligence and beauty of this teacher as she held the attention of and interacted so naturally with the children.  It was hard to equate this Ms. Maske with the sorry Sam that had filled Sara’s stories.  The only thing he could figure is that some women were just too conservative in their personal lives, so opposed to change for fear of leaving a secure world, that they were willing to put up with an idiot who would rather eat hamburgers on the road than enjoy the steak he had waiting for him at home.

           Felix had picked up James at George Bush International, finally talking him out of picking up a Jag out of one of the rental pools and sharing the Allante with him for the short ride to his new home in Fort Bend County.  As Bond had gone to throw his luggage in the boot, he was surprised to find Felix’s prosthetic hook tucked neatly into the trunk.

            “Why in God’s name are you still holding onto this thing for?” he’d quipped.

             Felix had laughed at this as they both got into the Cadillac, “I guess I’m like an ninety year old man with an erection, I might not need it that much anymore, but it makes me feel good just having it around.”

            The airport traffic was grueling and Felix had more than a few critiques of his fellow drivers to deliver.   

           “I was suspect of your driving when you had two feet, Felix,” Bond had quipped.  Felix had known better than to turn the conversation toward James’ last assignment, aside from his oaths of secrecy, Bond would have just turned in his final report and would be attempting to distance himself from the adrenaline of the mission.

“So Limey., what do you have in the plans for this visit?  I’m afraid I’m fresh out of stakeouts and raids this time round.”

Bond sat stiffly in a passenger seat that had been built for anything but.  He shared a grin with his old friend, but when Bond looked over, Felix could see the lag in his eyes.

“I need to relax, Felix.”

It took Felix a moment to adjust to the idea of James Bond, 007 of Her Majesty’s Service, needing to relax.

“What does the mighty James Bond do to relax these days, James?  I’m afraid that Houston runs a little short in the high stakes casino market and clubbing all night would be difficult these days even in New York.  You can stay out all night, but the clubs just aren’t worth spending the time in.  I suppose I could jack the ol’ Allante up to 100 per hour if that will help.”

Bond practically groaned in the seat next to him.  “God, no, Felix.  I just want to recharge my battery.  Share your domesticity for a while.  Sleep a few nights with both eyes shut for a change of pace.”

            Ah, so that was it, thought Felix.  It was the old burn that had infected his dear friend.  In his days with the CIA there had been times where Leiter would sleep for almost an entire day after a particularly grueling mission.  As James debarked from the aeroplane, Leiter had watched for any signs of physical distress in his friend, James often sacrificed his body, driving it to extremes on a mission, and Sara would want to know if she was going to be convalescing bullet holes, or burns, or broken limbs, but Bond had been physically fine.   However, sometimes the mental fatigue was worse than the physical.  He’d known more agents, and former agents, over the years that had ended their own lives, than those that had lost theirs in the line of fire.  The job just wears you down, and although Bond was certainly not near suicidal, Felix knew that his friend needed some “down” time.

            But down time was not exactly what Sara had been planning for.

            “There is one hair in your ointment, James.”  Felix had gone on to explain about Sara’s grand plan of introducing Sam that evening over dinner.  Bond had rolled his eyes and cracked another tired smile.

            “Is that what it’s come to after all these years, Felix.  Matchmaking?  I know that dear Montepenny’s estimations of my prowess have undermined me at the office, but I hardly think that being a gigolo is in my cards.”

            “No, no, nothing like that,” Felix had attempted to reassure him.  “I’ve known you well enough, and long enough to know that you don’t need help with the ladies, and I hardly believe that Sara wants you to bed her friend and then jet back to the UK with another notch in your gun, I just think that she wants the girl to have some fun.  And I’m sure once you’ve met her, having fun will be the first thing that enters your mind.”

            They drove on for a few miles while Bond digested the idea.

            “Felix,”

            “Yes, James,”

            “I haven’t met Sara yet, so I would never be so forward with someone you care about, but would you please relay a message for me.  Could you tell her to stick to PHYSICAL therapy.”

 

            Bond’s first night at Felix’s had consisted of him falling asleep in Felix’s den while Sara went on about Felix’s physical relapse, and his muscular atrophy.

            Somewhere during the story of how his new ultralight prosthetics were not just more functional than the old hook that had replaced his right forearm and the hollow shell where his leg had been.  “By flexing his biceps and triceps, Felix can grip and almost write without too much impairment, and he walks without even so much as a limp.  He can even run passably; faster than I can, anyway.”

            Between feeling like a lab rat as his anatomy, both flesh and bone and metal and plastic, Felix had become transfixed watching Bond slowly fade away.  Bond had positioned himself in a reclining position on a plush, deep blue Cleopatran couch that had been Leiter’s since his academy days.  His feet were propped up on a knit footstool.  He held a brandy snifter cradled by both hands in his lap, unconventionally filled with a small pool of what had been a health dose of a single malt whisky.  “One of the few things that Americans seem to do right on a consistent basis,” Bond had been known to quip.

            As Sara droned on, oblivious to the consciousness of her audience, James’s head began to dive ever so slightly forward.  You could almost see the tension leaving his body in waves as the baggage of nights of brief and fitful sleep, with days of intense concentration and physical abuse, came home to roost in the body of a mere man.  As Bond slipped into the arms of Morpehus the glass began to take a more precarious perch on the agent’s lap.

            Sara finally stopped talking with an audible, “Oh,” when Felix stood up and fetched the drink lightly from Bond’s failing grasp before it had the chance to spill, demonstrating the smoothness of his aforementioned new prosthetics.

            The woman whom Felix had come to think of so dearly positioned herself next to the couch, and with the help of fifteen year experience of physical therapy, plucked up Bond’s 180 pound frame as easily as he had snared the glass a few moments earlier.  She laid him back down on the couch and even removed his shoes, then she garnished him with a blanket to protect against the ever present chill of the air conditioning that was a necessary evil if one wants to live in Texas.

            Felix retired to the master bedroom that featured a beautiful bay window that looked out at the distant lights of the town.  Out in the country they were little more that candles in the distance.  Once again the hum of the air-conditioned sang to him, accompanied by the whirring of the ceiling fan above him.  Although he sometimes missed the life that James still lead, it was a nice feeling to know that he was just a normal man now.  He had his little ranch house, a pension from both the Feds and from Pinkerton’s, and a woman that filled his every need.

            As if on a mental cue, Sara came into the bedroom to find Felix perched on the end of the bed looking out at the distant lights.

            “He’s not at all like you led me to believe, you know,” she informed Felix.

            So, Felix thought, the Bond magic was working on her as well.

            “And how’s that, my dear?”

            “He seems more sad than hard.”

            Felix pondered the last for a few moments.

            “The part about being a knight that they never mention in the fairy tales, the part that is a true bitch, is that when you close your eyes you see the faces of all the dragons that you’ve slain, the gore and the blood of their bodies.  And the hard part about saving the world all the time is that you also remember the faces of all the people you didn’t save.”

            Sara shrugged at this.   “Well someone else is going to have to save the world tonight because he’s sleeping like a log.”

 

            They arose at seven the next morning to find that at some point during the evening Bond had awoken and dragged himself into the guestroom.  Sara took Felix through his morning stretches in their inground pool, a wonderful side benefit and tax write off for both her profession and his ailments.

            At ten o’clock, Bond had been asleep for more than twelve hours, and the two of them decided to head into town.

           

 

Chapter Two: The Arms of Morpheus

 


            After thirteen and a half-hours, Bond awoke.  He lay stirring for a few moments, listening to the air conditioning drone on, and taking a physical inventory of his body.  Starting with his toes and working his way up, Bond tensed his muscles and then slowly released them.  It was a relaxation technique he’d learned from his dear friend, Tiger Tanaka, on one of his many trips to Japan.

            He arose from the bed, and straightened the sheets and pillow with all the precision of an officer.  Bond then lowered himself to the floor and did his morning routine of agonizingly slow sit-ups until his abdominal muscles screamed for release.  Then he switched to the equally slow push-ups with his hands off to the sides, half again the width of his shoulders.  The scalding hot water of the personal shower adjoining the guest room was a welcome, old friend to Bond’s weathered face, and then the equal shock of the coldest possible spray chewed away the last of the weariness from his bones.

            Now, wide-awake, Bond strapped on his swimming trunks, and padded out into the kitchen area of the house.  Felix had left a note on the kitchen counter saying that he and Sara would be back before too long and to make himself at home.

            “Mighty hospitable of you, pardner,” Bond muttered to himself in a more than passable imitation of the local drawl.

            London, Bond knew, would be miserable right now.  It was November, and the chill would be unbearable, a damp living thing that engulfed you in its arms.  But as he stepped outside onto the deck that stretched from the back porch of the house (complete with the ever-present American barbecue grill), the boards were warm beneath his feet and the sun beat down upon his skin with all of its ferocity.

            James Bond took little time to dive beneath the waters, taking a huge breath of air as he stepped off the deck and into the pool.  He took four laps of the pool underwater, taking Olympic kick-turns with each new lap.  The water was refreshing against his body as he sliced through the warm pool.  There was a time when he could have swum for minutes without coming up for air.  Oh, how Kissy would laugh if she could see him now with his cigarette laden lungs barely able to hold his breath for a scant two minutes.  When he burst to the surface, it was a defiant gesture, almost surrender.   He thought about how well he’d felt after leaving Shrublands all those years ago.  Bond seemed to remember M mentioning that the place had closed, but certainly there were other clinics about; the Germans were mad about the things.  For the first time this leave, Bond began to contemplate an extension.  Purge his body and his mind, all that clap trap.

            “Care for some company?”

            Bond turned toward the feminine voice, wiping the chlorinated water from his eyes.

            “That depends on who might be asking?”

            The sun was behind the woman, highlighting her frame while at the same time disguising her features from Bond.  Her hair was dark and her form…. Felix had once commented that women from the Southern states in the U.S. were corn fed, and that this accounted for their generous proportions.  Bond had learned to appreciate women from all about the globe, of many shapes and curvaceous sizes, but there were still women of classic form that could take his breath away.           “My name is Samantha Maske, but I much prefer Sam.”  The woman was still disguised from the sun, but Bond could now make out the towel which she woman now shed.  He took in a tiny breath, thinking for a moment that she was nude beneath, but it was only a flesh coloured bathing suit he realized with relief.  He was hardly prudish, but he liked his women to be a little slower than the cars he drove.

            “And you would be Mr. Bond, Mr. James Bond.  The man whom Sara seems to think will sweep me off my feet and make me forget all my troubles.  Is that true, Mr. Bond?”

            “Guilty as charged, I’m afraid.”  Why wouldn’t the damn woman step out of the light?  Then he realized she was well aware of his dilemma, and that she was purposefully hiding herself from him, teasing him.  “She seems to think that you would be my cure as well.”

            The woman on shore gave a throaty laugh and cocked a hip to one side.

            “Well, I have to admit, the accent is adorable, and the goods look pretty fair from where I’m standing, but you’ve got more scars on your body than a porcupine in heat.”

            The frivolity of their conversation dulled for Bond.  Mentioning the wounds which covered his frame had made him feel exposed and reminded him of his true world, the one he was so desperately trying not to think of.

            Sam must have sensed the change in his attitude for she abandoned her game and dove into the pool.  A few graceful, gliding strokes beneath the waves and she broke the surface next to him.

            Felix had come far from doing her justice; she was exquisite, and once again the thoughts of his other life faded away.  He was on leave, a holiday, and it was about time he started acting like it, and not like some schoolboy who could get his feelings trampled at a whim.

            She slicked the long dark hair in back of her, framing herself for a moment next to him with her hands in the air.  Sam was watching his face again, he knew, making sure her appearance was having the proper effect on him, which it was.

            “If you’ll excuse a little Southern curiosity, it’s something of an extension of the infamous Southern hospitality.”  She stepped closer to him and reached out one close-cropped fingernail to trace the scar along his cheek.  “Well she said you would be dark and mysterious, that’s certainly the truth.”

            “We aims to please, Miss,” he drawled forth.  

            She carried on as if he hadn’t spoken, “I know that you’re a former colleague of Felix’s, some type of foreign national.”  She was circling him now, in the water, as if stalking prey.  The two of them had begun to migrate to the deeper end of the pool and she easily kept pace around him with graceful strides from her long muscular legs.  Bond couldn’t help but begin to wonder what those legs would feel like wrapped around him.

            “Something like that,” he replied.

            “A spy?” she was playing again.

            “Nothing so glamorous, I’m afraid.” He had found it easy over the years to lie about his profession.  It was so natural now.  “I work for a company in London called Universal Exports.  Felix and I did some work together years ago when my company hired the Pinkertons for an insurance investigation on a lost shipment.”

            She smiled again.

            “If you say so.”

            Sam suddenly reached out an arm and shoved down on the top of Bond’s head, they were deep enough now that he went under easily.  She drove him down now with both arms, but he recovered quickly from the momentary surprise.  While underwater, he planted his feet firmly on the bottom of the pool and cupped his hands beneath her feet.  When she tensed her leg muscles, he threw up his arms and hurled her from the water.

            Bond surfaced quickly, in time to watch her re-enter the water not so gracefully.  She gave a playful yell and began to swim toward the shallow end again, he followed in quick pursuit.  As she reached the far end of the pool, he grasped her foot in mid stride and pulled her toward him.

            He realized that he was laughing as well as he pulled her struggling form into his arms.  His arms reached back around her well formed, broad shoulders and she stopped struggling, yielding to him.  They were now both on their knees in the shallows and as he drew her to him he brought his mouth down hard upon her wide, pouting lips.  There was playfulness and passion in their kiss as their tongues briefly encountered one another.

            Suddenly she put her hands to his chest and pushed him at an arm’s length away.

            “I’m sorry, you must think I’m terribly easy.  Really, I don’t normally act like this.”  She was being sincere, but there was still a glint in her eye, as if to say that, this once, she didn’t mind acting like “this.”

            “Miss Maske,” he assured her.  “We are only going to have this short time together.  Sara and Felix will be back soon, and in a week, I’ll be back on an aeroplane for London.  I’d believe I’d like to know you better, maybe for no better reason than I like the way you smile, but to do so, I’m afraid we’re going to have to make the time count.  As for being “easy,” you practically drowned me just now.”

            She smiled at this and pulled him in close once again.  “Then you must require some mouth to mouth resuscitation.”

            After a few minutes his hands found their way to her suit ties, and as his desperate fingers found purchase upon her firm, bare breast, he could feel her nipple already hardened beneath his fingers from the cool water of the pool.  Later, as she trembled in his arms, Bond realized that one axiom had held true; everything was bigger in Texas.

            By the time Sara and Felix returned from shopping, the couple had made the most of their time, indeed, neither of them realizing that they had been watched from the moment Bond had stepped outside.

 

            The singer had been blind, and Italian, and James Bond had the distinct feeling that the choice of venues that evening had been Sara’s.  He and Felix were both attired in dinner jackets, simple cuts that were not too distant cousins of the ones they’d both worn at Royale all those years ago.  Sara was elegantly adorned with a silver full-length skirt and a paisley top.  She was beautiful in Felix’s eyes, Bond knew, but Sara was far from his own type.  Her face was pinched, and from the musculature of her forearms she looked more like a practitioner of the hurting arts, than the healing ones.

            Sam, though, was astonishing.  Even with her simple taste in clothing, a strapped grey dress that went three quarters the way down her thighs, she shone brightly. 

            They’d only been a few rows back from the stage, and the performer’s powerful voice was close enough to lift the hairs on the back of Bond’s neck.  It was a mix of opera standards and contemporary songs, and although the occasional squeal of an electric guitar made Bond wince, it was a stunning performance.

            He and Felix sat next to one another, with the ladies playing the parts of bookends.  At one point, Felix leaned over to Bond and whispered in his ear, “He looks pretty good for a blind guy, I doubt seriously if all these women are here for just the music.

            Bond looked about, and it was true, the audience was filled with women of all ages with a few token men, most of whom looked as if they were along for the ride.  Sam and his hands were entwined upon the armrest they shared.  Although the music was more than tolerable, his enjoyment was heightened greatly by his company.  Sam would pause during points of the evening and look over at Bond in an appreciative manner.  Their time in the pool had only been a few days before, but the two of them had been nearly inseparable since then.  She’d told him of her life, a life that appealed to Bond in its mundaneness; her upbringing in suburban Houston, her college days in Waco, and her habitually bad taste in men.  He had told her of London, of his flat, of May, his watchdog of a maid that truly was his Scottish treasure, and of the places he’d traveled with Universal Export.

            The four of them had eaten at a restaurant called Maxim’s the evening before.  Bond had long believed that when in a foreign country, it was always best to eat the cuisine of that country.  Under this operating theory, Bond had ordered the jambalaya, a Cajun rice dish that was awash with every meat the kitchen had been able to throw in: mussels, crayfish, shrimp, chicken, and alligator sausage, all awash in a tomato-pepper sauce that left his lips scorched, but pleased.

            Sara had drug off Felix for a game of billiards, another guise to allow Bond and Sam some time alone, to much protest from Leiter.

            “Dammit, I want some quality time, too,” Felix had muttered just loud enough for the two of them to hear.

            “I’ll give you more than enough quality time when we get home, you old man,” Sara had told him.

            Sam had leaned over her apéritif as if she were about to share a secret.

            “In a few weeks, the schools will be out for Christmas break.  Chuck and I were going to fly out to Colorado for some skiing, but since he’s probably given my ticket to the bimbo of the week, I was thinking of spending the  fortnight  in Europe.”

            Until that time, Bond had been considering their relationship as having a fuse that was slowly dwindling away to powder.  Whether he was granted an extended leave or not, they would have to part ways eventually, there was no place in either of their worlds for the other one’s lifestyle.  But there was something whimsical to the idea that he liked.  The thought of showing Sam London appealed to him, they could even take the whirlwind tour of the continent.  He knew it would be more than thrilling for a woman who had admitted to never having been further from home than the Yucatan in Mexico.  The idea of watching May get territorial with his flat also brought a smile to his face; he remembered fondly how flustered she became when Tiffany Case had come to roost for a few months.

            He had rules about women, and one of the primary ones was that his flat was off limits, and this had always set well with May.  Those rules had been created long ago, though, and had always applied to the women he’d met on assignments.  It was hard enough dragging his luggage home with him after a particularly grueling mission, how could he be expected to tote women as well?  It was a matter of not wanting his professional life to invade his island of sanity.  But Sam was far apart from that professional life, and the thought of her curled up next to him in front of his fireplace brought a smile to his face, it would certainly help take the chill out of the London winter.

            “Does a smile mean you wouldn’t mind having company back home?” she queried.

            “A smile means that you should ask me again tomorrow after the concert.”  She smiled at this, knowing what his answer would be.  Bond reached across the table, and cradling her face in his hands, kissed her hard on that beautifully wide mouth.

            She never would get to ask him again.

 

            As the four of them stood at the curb of the Bayou Palace, the crowd dispersing about them as they awaited the return of the valet, Bond felt contentment.  For the first time in years, he felt relaxed and at ease.  As he breathed in the gentle breeze and reached into his breast pocket for the old gunmetal case where his special blend of cigarettes lay waiting, he knew that Felix had been right about down time.

            Felix’s Allante came jerking slowly along from the valet lot.  The poor boy behind the wheel, Bond thought, not only did he have to contend with Felix’s specially designed stick shift, but the floor pedals and clutch had been altered as well to suit Leiter’s use of only one leg while driving.

            James Bond released Samantha’s hand to turn and watch the car approach.  His Ronson liter found his hand and he cupped his fingers about the cigarette to deaden the wind.

            The shot was from a target rifle. The wind and the sounds of the crowd muffled the rapport well enough that Bond couldn’t identify the make or caliber.  Having been a target enough in his life, Bond’s initial response was powerfully quick; seek shelter his mind told him.

            He whirled to grasp Sam, to pull her back to the shelter of the theatre, but the look on Sam’s face was beyond surprise.  Her hands were framing a hole in the abdomen area of her dress, a hole that had a growing sea of red pooling across the grey cloth.

            Her eyes made contact with his one last time.  “James…?” she sputtered, now holding her blood stained hands palms up toward him as if asking him what had happened.

            The second shot rang out.  This one was the kill shot.  The crowd had now begun to realize that shots were being fired and had started to scatter and panic.  The second shot struck Sam in the forehead, slamming her to the pavement like a child’s discarded, broken toy doll.  The blood sprayed from the exit wound, splattering across Sara’s horrified face as she had been standing behind her friend, slightly to one side.

            By now, the instincts had completely taken over.  Leiter already had a Beretta 9mm in his good hand while his prosthetic arm pointed to a warehouse about fifty yards away.

            “James, third floor, second window from the left.”

            Bond hand reached for the well-worn holster under his arm, but the Walther was back at Felix’s, on holiday as well.

            Quickly recognizing his friend’s frustration, Leiter tossed James Bond his 9mm.

            “Watch them,” Bond yelled to Leiter over the din of the screaming concert goers, looking down momentarily at the lifeless form that had been Sam, and the bloodstained face of Sara who now cradled her friend’s limp head in her arms as she kneeled on the pavement.

“Get the bastard, James,” Felix spat.

 

Chapter Three: Exit Pursued by a Bear 

 

            For weeks now, Randy O ‘ Neil had been practicing his next moves.  As his hands mechanically went about their prearranged tasks of quickly breaking down the Heckler and Koch MSG3 rifle, stock, and stand, his eyes kept track of the approaching figure of the Brit.

            Bond had just cleared the traffic on the street that separated them as O ‘ Neil completed the dismantling of the H&K.  He was not to take the weapon with him, instead he threw the pieces of the rifle into its companion case whose lining was filled with a magnesium based compound.  After peeling off his target gloves and placing them next to the rifle, he pressed the delayed ignition button on the small wick he’d been given and tossed the matchbook sized device into the case as he’d been instructed.

            “God dammit,” he muttered to himself as he checked Bond’s position again.  The guy moved pretty well for someone his age, the newly minted assassin realized.  The Brit had removed his dinner jacket as he approached the twelve-foot barbed fence that surrounded the warehouse.  In what seemed to O ‘ Neil as one fluid movement, the on coming man slung his jacket over the circled barbed wire that topped the fence, climbed the barrier in two quick strides, rolled over his jacket at the top, and landed on his feet on the far side.

            “British diplomat my ass,” the boy spat, mocking the words of the woman who had given him this assignment.  He could not sit around and watch the man any further.  The target was closing on him quickly, and he had very specific instructions not to engage him, besides, he didn’t want to be anywhere near the gun case when the two-minute fuse ran down, the damn things burned as bright and as hot as a blast furnace.  He had three possible escape routes from the building from which he chose the easiest and most direct.

            The warehouse had worn many hats over the years.  It had stood since the 1940’s when it had entered the world as a factory for the production and storage of dried milk.  There was still a sour smell to the place, too, either that, or the boy’s imagination had been dwelling on the building for too many days.  Its most recent occupant had been a tool and dye shop that had gone under a few years ago.  The ground floor was a cavernous six and a half acres of open space with a few offices scattered about for the foremen.  Here and there were the scattered remains of the drill presses and boring mills that couldn’t be sold when bankruptcy had been declared.  The second floor, where Randy now fled the room where he’d committed his first and last murder, was all office space.  The second floor hallway circled the entire building and overlooked the work floor like a catwalk.  This way, he presumed, the management was never too far separated from the guts of the business, a constant reminder, as well as providing them with great oversight as to what was going on down on the floor. 

            “Know your surroundings,” Gibbons had told them in the deserts of Syria.  “It gives you a great edge when you become the stalkee instead of the stalker.  A sniper, once the shot is taken, is almost always outnumbered.  Have secondary weapons, and be ready to use them, but the keys to your survival will be maintaining as many edges as you can keep over your opposition.  The easiest of these, is to study and know your surroundings.”

            Randy O’ Neil education as a discriminate killer had begun just after his fifteenth birthday, when he’d been sent to Ireland under the auspices of his father, Gregory O’ Neil.  His father was a die hard Sein FPin man who had been very successful in raising hundreds of thousands of pounds in the United States to help support the party back in Ireland.  His father was a bit soft, however.  He believed that there could be non-aggressive solutions to the problems that confronted their homeland, even though there had been more than a hundred-year history of armed resistance now.  How that man thought that the Brits would just give away their jewel after all the blood that had been spilled, Randy would never understand.  Gregory had supported the cessation of armed resistance in August of 1994, and had been enthralled with the idea of his son travelling to a peaceful Ireland.  The party had paid for his flight, and also sponsored the youth hostel he’d stayed in while in Belfast.

            The Sein Fein men he’d met in Ireland, some of the higher-ups in the Republican Army, had a great influence on the already impressionable mind they’d found in the fifteen-year-old son of their great American ally.  He’d been in Ireland in September of 1995, and had been there in person to watch Gerry Adams reject the declaration of the British when they demanded that the IRA surrender their arms.

            Those brave men who were actually fighting the battle became his true heroes.  Tom Barry, who ran the hostel where young Randy spent his days, was the great, great grandson of one of the original guerrilla warriors that had raised street warfare to an art form.   He’d filled Randy with four generations worth of stories of the armed rebellion, and three days before Randy was to leave for the United States, he offered him the opportunity to become involved himself.

            “We need people to form a strong network of support,” he’d told the boy.

            “Like my father?” Randy had asked, not being too thrilled with the prospects of becoming a professional beggar like his old man.

            Barry had simply shaken his head.

            “Your father provides a valuable service to the cause, but although his heart is in the right place, his hands are not.  He’s second generation outside the homeland and does what he does out of patriotism.  An honourable goal, but one that is lacking when it comes to physically giving of yourself, to put your life and soul in danger.  Your father didn’t grow up on the streets of Belfast, getting kicked to pieces by Brit goon squads, hav’n his own pa come home one day white-faced because the English wanted to torture betraying words from his mouth.  You, my lad, you could be that type of man.”

            This was one of the first times in the boy’s life that he’d been referred to as a man, without the prefix of young having been applied.  The significance was not lost upon him.

            “What do you want me to do then?”  Barry smiled at this, the fish had been baited and hooked, just as he’d done with countless others at the “hostel”.

            “There comes times when there are missions (Barry stressed this word, taking glee in watching the adventure flare in Randy’s eyes) that need to be carried out overseas.  Our enemies are on guard in Ireland, and they’re none to at ease in London, but when they go abroad, they relax.   They become…. Vulnerable.”

            “An assassin…you want me to be a hit man?”

            “No,” here, Barry was stressful.  “We want you to be a soldier.  You would carry a rank, you would be trained in weaponry, and you would be a true patriot in every sense.  Hands on, real world stuff.”

            A brigadier of the IRA, the boy thought.  At a time when most of his friends back home were worried about scoring Pearl Jam tickets and making the varsity football team, he would be a troop in a century old war to free the Irish homeland for democratic rule.

            “How?” Simple and direct, his soul had been sold.

            “This time next year, the summer of your sixteenth birthday, you will once again be our guest.  Your father will receive such good reports of your stay that he will be honoured to have you visit again, he’ll see it as a chance to improve his standing within the party.  Hell, we’ll even send you home with an autographed picture of Gerry Adams and John Hume so he can hang it above the old mantle.  When you arrive, you’ll go through the equivalent of what your fellow Americans call boot camp.  You will become familiar with not just the tools of the trade, but with the history of the struggle itself.  You will work among heroes, and maybe even become one yourself.”

            In February of the next year, Gregory had already agreed to let Randy return to the homeland when the IRA announced that it would resume military action against Great Britain.  The picture hadn’t ended up above the non-existent mantle, but instead resided in his father’s study above the senior O’ Neil’s writing desk.

            That year had been filled with dreams of glory.  Randy let his friendships back home wither and die unattended, becoming an outcast at his school, a shadow who never spoke and just blended into the surroundings.  His school councilor at Sam Houston High attributed the change to a natural stage of social development, after all, the grades were still high, and the boy was absolutely dominating his history courses.  He spent his free hours working out at the school track or weight room and then onto the firing range with the Glock that he’d begged his father into giving him for his sixteenth birthday.

            When he was reunited with Tom the next summer he would only end up spending a few days in Ireland.  Barry wouldn’t even tell him where the training was going to take place, he only knew that it would be somewhere in the Middle East.

            The four weeks he spent in what he found out later to be Syria were painful but exhilarating memories.  There were five other boys that had been sneaked out of Ireland with him, and not one of them was an Irish national.  They were all referred to as Tom’s Boys, and had all been guests at the hostel at one time or another.  Two of them were Canadian, one English, one Australian, and one was Slavic, from some dot country in middle Europe that he couldn’t even pronounce.

            The course they were put through had been grueling and intense.  Their days began at five in the morning and ended as late as one or two the morning of the next day.  During this time they rested during meals and brief latrine breaks, but otherwise it was a steady diet of man-to-man combat, rifle training, strategy sessions, and tactical analysis of different possible situations.  During his time there he’d made several calls home to his father to assure him that he was having a wonderful time touring the homeland.  Tom routed the calls through Dublin, he’d even been provided with a few postcards to be filled out beforehand, and then posted from Ireland over the course of weeks.

            When he eventually returned home to Houston, his hands and heart had become deeply callused.   The distancing he’d felt from his peers the previous year had now become a canyon, he was a man amongst boys.  As he walked down the halls of his school his junior year of high school, he would analyze each person he passed, assessing weak points and possible take down manoeuvres.  Randy would even be banned from the intramural Tae kwan do sessions, due to his overtly aggressive behavior.  All he’d done was remove a schoolmate’s arm from its socket.  He scoffed at the weakness of the American youth about him and their lack of understanding when it came to real world politics and the levels to which people had to rise or sink to make mortal decisions.

            His new brothers in the IRA had told the six boys upon the completion of their training that they would be sent home as operatives and that if the opportunity arose for them to help achieve the goal of a free and democratic Ireland, that they would be contacted.     All the tools they would need would be provided, all the information that they would need would be made available to them.

            So it came to be that in the summer of his seventeenth birthday, Randy had received a telephone call from Tom, telling him that he wanted him to pick up a friend of his at the airport.  He was to tell his father the truth, that an acquaintance of the man who ran the hostel in Ireland was coming in to town, and that she would require a ride from the airport to her hotel in the town centre.  Gregory O’ Neil had of course wanted to accompany his son, it didn’t seem right that he would be escorting a young woman to a hotel room, but Randy had dissuaded him with an abrupt and forceful “No.”

            There was a time when Gregory would have chastised his son for having spoken that way with him, but that time had passed.  Randy was now a muscular, and in all honesty, frightening individual.

            The woman had been a flawless as she was nameless.  Her voice was deep and raspy, what Randy thought the actress Kathleen Turner might sound like with an Irish lilt, but her body was Demi Moore all the way.  She had the physique of a female bodybuilder, and was more than intimidating to a boy such as Randy.

            The ride from the airport in his father’s Oldsmobile had been spent in awkward silence.  Tom hadn’t gone into details over the phone, for obvious reasons, so the woman’s rank and mission were unknowns.  He couldn’t help letting his eyes wander to his passenger though.  She wore a long sleeved black silk blouse, and matching black slacks.  Along with her black shoes, nylons, hair, and sunglasses she was almost void of any colour whatsoever.  The one exception was her green necklace, which was dotted with small emerald shamrocks.   Her breasts were obviously unrestrained beneath the silk top, and Randy was amazed at how they defied gravity and remained afloat beneath the shimmering blouse, if he’d been a little older he may have been able to attribute this to breast enhancement surgery, but to his young eyes, they were a miracle of nature. 

            “Are ya done starin’,” she’d asked him about three blocks from the hotel.  The words hadn’t been sharp, but neither had they been an invitation.  He had the impression that she didn’t mind his appreciative glances, but that there was work to be done.

            “I… I’m sorry, Miss…” he’d sputtered.

            “Leave it,” she commanded, and he obeyed.  “This is important work afoot, Lad, and I’ll not have your mind wandering.”

            Once inside the nondescript room at the Hilton, she seemed to relax some.  She pulled forth from her luggage a black leather folder that one might associate with a businesswoman.

            The woman sat down on a corner of the bed with the folder and motioned for him to join her.  His brief well of excitement was quickly squashed, however.

            “It’s as close as yer ever gonna get to sharing one of these with me, Boy,” she spat.  Once again, he did as he was told.

            She opened the folder and the face of a man immediately leapt out at him from a photograph.  It wasn’t a studio shot, but it was a very well done profile shot, most likely taken with a zoom lens.  The shot had been taken outside of a grey building, which the gentleman appeared to be entering.  He was rather average in appearance, lacking in many of the facial markers that he’d been trained to recognize when remembering faces.  There was a very distinct scar running down his left cheek though, and his dark hair gave him a slightly dashing quality that certainly would make him popular with the ladies.

            The woman sat quietly while he digested the photograph in front of him.

            Was he the one that was to end this man’s life?

            “His name is James Bond.  He’s a Brit diplomat and we have very good reason to believe he will be frequenting this area soon.  He has acquaintances that live nearby, their names and addresses are included in the briefing,” she motioned her head toward the picture and the documents beneath.

            She was rushing, Randy realized.  He took in her black, leather folder with a quick glance and noted that there were at least 20 folders that appeared to be duplicates of the one that she’d given to him.

            “Is he the target?” Randy asked.  She recoiled at this, and quickly looked about the room.  When she spoke again, it was in a venomous whisper.

            “They told me your training was excellent, Boy, that you excelled in weaponry and that you were mentally sharp.  I assume that you have already checked this room for monitoring devices, but to speak openly like that is not wise.  Just read the file.”

            “If there are any confirmed bookings for this man, or any known aliases, at any local airports, train stations, or rental car agencies you will be informed immediately.  Other wise, keep a close eye on the man’s house that is noted in the briefing.  Upon confirmed siting, you will be given some tools.  This is an important man, Randy,” it was not lost upon him that this was the first time she’d spoken his name.  “He has committed high crimes against our people, and to aid in the slaying of such a monster would be an honourable and decorated service.”

            She reached out and took his hand in hers.  “Do not fail, do not let this man see you until you want him to.  Screw up, and we may kill you before he does.”

 

            The threats had not been necessary, but he understood why they’d been issued; they just wanted to convey the gravity of the situation.

            The cripple, Lieter, was the man whose house he had been assigned to monitor.  According to the briefing the man was a former colleague and friend of Bond’s.  It hadn’t been an unpleasant assignment, the guy’s girlfriend was a looker, and the two of them worked out in the pool, and often made love while doing so.  It sickened the boy to see the legless, armless, man manipulating the flesh of such a beautiful woman, but at the same time, the show was worth the price of admission.

            The file told him that Lieter used a Beretta 9mm and was a Pinkerton detective, as well as a former operative of the CIA, and was graded as a first class shot with his good arm.

            After two months of observing, the first E-mail came.  It was from Tom, and was quite simple and to the point, a flight number and the man’s assumed name, John Bryce.  There was also a query as to when his father would be away for at least several hours.  Randy laughed at this last bit, a better question would have been, when would his father be home for more than a couple of hours?

            “Good Luck, Boyo,” the message had ended.  “And happy hunting.”

            Randy replied, and the very next day, while his father was at yet another fundraiser, the H&K was delivered by a very nondescript man driving a white Chevy van with the number plates covered with butcher paper.   The gun and case were wrapped in the same paper, after hurriedly unwrapping them like an expectant child beneath the Christmas tree, he laid the case, gun, and ammunition upon his bed and just marveled at their beauty for several minutes.    

            The barrel had a note rolled about it.  Randy smiled as he began to read the brief.  The cripple’s woman, Needy, had purchased four tickets to a Bocelli concert.  The target was to be Bond’s companion, if that companion were female.  Randy knew this was inevitable after having read the man’s personality profile.  If the companion was not female, he was to take out Lieter.  Just as a reminder of the words of the woman in black, he was not to harm Bond, and was to attempt to avoid any confrontation with the man if possible.

           

            As Bond began to hammer at the door of the warehouse, giving the rusted doorframe a few test kicks to gauge its strength, Randy took a running leap off of the catwalk.

            The mattresses he’d placed below almost  a fortnight  earlier broke his fall efficiently, if not gracefully.  He’d taken eight practise jumps prior to this one, all in that first week, using the standard pole-vaulting flop.  His first attempt had been a disaster, the recoil from the mattresses and the twenty-five foot drop had flung him back in the air and onto the cold concrete.  During a later jump his right leg had become trapped beneath him and his ankle had been twisted.  These traumas had been worth his attention, however, as he completed the jump.  The mattresses now smelt of urine, and the bitter smell stuck with him as he rolled to the edge of his landing pad.

            As he regained his feet, he felt the athletic tape straining against his right ankle.  It was wrapped tightly and felt secure, he was sure he would have little difficulty in beating the Brit in a footrace if it were to come to that, but there would be no outrunning bullets.  Randy reached down to the front pocket of the loose black windbreaker he wore and felt the reassuring weight of his contingency plan just in case he came face to face with Mr. Diplomat.

            Placing a few boring mills between him and the sight line to the entrance that Bond was banging on, Randy scampered across the structure toward the far door.

 

            James Bond halted his attacks on the door for a moment and placed his ear against the steel postern.  Covering his other ear to block out the sound of the sirens of the approaching emergency vehicles, he could faintly hear the flight of fading footfalls.  Bond’s first thoughts of a lone assassin had been correct, and if he didn’t move quickly the bastard would be away before Sam’s body had even begun to grow cold.

            With the last on his mind, Bond reared back and unleashed a mighty kick at the already yielding frame.  He took a quick, shielded look inside the warehouse.  There was no gunfire, only the now distant footfalls of the assailant.  Bond bolted through the door and into the long shadows and dim light of the shop.

            Bond moved to his right trying to establish a line of fire.  The high, heavy-glassed windows that rimmed the structure provided the wan lighting and as Bond cleared one of the huge presses and was able to sight his target, the man was little more than a glint of shadow in the darkness.  The fleeing figure was almost to the far side of the building, where 007 was certain the attacker would have a vehicle waiting.

            The hundreds of hours logged at the Maidstone Police Station had honed his skills to automatic fineness.  The Beretta was raised in the right hand, the left cradling the weapon’s handle, the feet slightly staggered and shoulder length apart, he judged the distance and aimed appropriately high.  There was no dramatic Hollywood style pause, the action was immediate and instinctive as three quick bursts rose from the weapon, the latter two quickly adjusted for recoil and aim.  A handgun at such a distance, is never a preferred weapon, and with the dim lighting Bond could not be discriminating enough to attempt to just wound the assassin; he would rather piece together a corpse’s mystery than have him escape altogether.  He heard at least two of his shots ricochet against machinery, but thankfully the figure gave a yelp and then folded to the floor.

            Bond advanced cautiously, gun still raised.  The man on the floor now scampered on his haunches toward the nearby cover of some office cubicles.

            “Stop immediately,” Bond shouted, not really expecting a response.  “Lie on your stomach and place your arms away from you body, flat on the floor.”

            James Bond let loose a second volley of shots into the cubicles and was rewarded with the sound of breaking glass.  The shots were meant as a warning, but the man seemed not to care, he was now out of side behind the floor offices, about twenty feet from the door he’d been fleeing to.  As Bond drew closer, he could see that the door stood wide open to the night and he could well imagine the idling car that would surly be resting outside the opening.  Someone had thought things through very well, foreseeing what door pursuit would come through and clearing an exit.

            He was now passing the offices on his left, about ten yards from where the fleeing assailant had crawled from sight.  The offices were nothing more than drywall propped up by cheap standards; a bullet would pass through this thin skin like a bear through a spider’s web.  The man could be on the far side crouching, following Bond’s footfalls with his gun, but the agent had no intention of being the victim of some well timed probing shots.  He made the edge of the offices and quickly jerked his head around the corner to see how the ground lay and then yanked it back.  Although the light was dim he didn’t have to see far, the body lay crumpled on the floor in a pool of blood that appeared black in the faded gloom.

            James Bond rounded the corner with the gun still trained on the nearly lifeless figure.  He could still see the man’s chest rising and repeated his earlier instructions.

            “Lie on your stomach,” The man did not move, he was either unconscious or feigning it well.  “Place your arms….”

            This was when the whooshing noise came from behind him and the scene was suddenly lit with flames.  A bright fireball erupted through the second storey floor and came crashing down amongst the machinery.  Bond averted his head for only a few moments to observe the chaos, but when he turned back to the body a force in the chest struck him as if someone had slammed him with a hundred-pound medicine ball directly to the sternum.  He was driven to his knees, and then into unconsciousness.

 

            Randy had never been shot before.  Two of the boys he’d been with in Syria had been clipped during live drills.  Neither had been serious, and Randy had just assumed that their stays in “Mother Ireland” would be prolonged until scars could be explained away.

            He was not so lucky, however.  The bullet had deflected off something to his right and had torn into his buttocks as he fled.   When he made the cover of the offices, Randy had curled on the ground with his back to where Bond would eventually appear, clutching the device that was his insurance to his chest.  As he felt the blood running down his haunches, pumping from his body to pool about him, he concentrated on ignoring the pain and focusing a visual image in his mind of Bond’s approach.   He could sense the Brit as he rounded the corner and stood over his victim, gloating at his own marksmanship, while all the time Randy lay there, playing possum, so to speak, counting the seconds until the rifle’s case would melt down and send this damn building to a fiery grave. 

            When the explosion finally came, and Randy could feel Bond’s attention averted, he twisted his body to face the man, extended his right arm, and released 30,000 volts into Bond’s chest.

            The Taser had been his mother’s before her untimely death.  A present from his father to assure that his wife had the “safety she needed in such an unsafe world,” as the literature read.  Too bad the thing couldn’t fend off cancer, the boy bitterly mused to himself.

            The three coiled wires shot out and pronged into Bond’s chest.  The man’s back immediately arched as Randy watched the blue charge leap across the wires.  The “diplomat’s” mouth was agape and his eyes were wide, staring in shock at Randy, but he really wasn’t sure if they were seeing anything at all as the man collapsed to the ground and twitched a few times like a landed trout that had been dragged into the fisherman’s boat. 

            Randy O’ Neil didn’t stick around long enough to observe much more.  He’d been given instructions not to harm Bond, and he hadn’t.  Baring a heart condition, the man would be up in a few minutes time, and by then Randy would be safely deposited in the stolen Jeep’s driver’s seat miles away from the burning warehouse.  He paused for a moment, wondering if Bond would come to in time to get out of what was sure to become an inferno, but he was damned if he would drag this man outside while his butt bled like a stuck pig and the cops had time to figure out what the hell was going on.

            As best as he could, Randy ran for the door.  The night beckoned him from the door with a cool Houston breeze, but as he cleared the opening an arm swung out of the night, an arm with a hook where a hand should have been.

            The sharpened black prosthetic ripped into the boy’s shoulder as the forward momentum of his body swung his legs out from underneath him.  The owner of the hook took advantage of this awkward flight and slammed Randy’s body to the ground.  Randy could not remember such pain in his life; a bullet imbedded in his ass, and a cripple’s hook, which was still lodged underneath his right clavicle.

            “Just like haying back on Uncle Marty’s farm,” he heard Lieter mutter.  When Randy finally opened up his eyes against the pain he saw that Felix now stood above him with another 9 mm about three feet from the boy’s face and aimed therein.   The hook was still buried in his shoulder, the man had just unattached the thing and left it dangling there.

            Lieter saw the boy staring at the device, and offered up an explanation.  

            “Stuck,” he explained.  “Anchored underneath the collar bone.  You’re just damned lucky I didn’t aim higher.  That was a mighty fine lady you just killed,  S**thead.  I should have buried the thing in your eye socket and been done with it.  But this way…we get to know each other a little better.   By the way, where’s my friend?”

            Randy, still in shock, couldn’t answer with anymore than a whimper that was quickly going to turn into sobs, but just the turning of his eyes toward the door was good enough for Felix.

            “You in there, James?” he shouted into the blackness beyond the door that was slowly becoming a backdrop of smoke and flames.

            At first there came a groan, and then a string of epithets as 007 drug himself to his feet.

            By the time Bond had made it to the door Randy had regained some of his composure and was becoming consternate with Felix.

            “We need to get clear of here,” Bond muttered, rubbing a hand across his now aching skull.  “The boy must have lit the place after the shot.”

            Felix nodded as the boy began to babble.

            “I don’t know what the hell you two are talking about.  I was just hanging out in there, scoping out spots to bring my girl to.  I didn’t light any fire, and I sure as hell didn’t shoot anybody.  Where the f**k’s your evidence?  My dad’s an important man and he’s gonna be pissed”

            Bond looked at Felix and rolled his eyes, then motioned toward the idling Jeep, it would make an appropriate exit vehicle.

            The once straw-haired Texan, who now had a fair share of grey blossoming at the temples, looking down at the whining boy and smiled.  Not the smile of someone in good humour, but the grin      of someone who’d just lost a loved one, and was ready to unleash some suffering of his own!

            “Aw, you were doin’ so well, Kid,” he spat as reached down with his stub of an arm to help Bond drag the boy to his feet.  “The police won’t ever see your butt, and in case you haven’t read, the CIA doesn’t give a crap about evidence.  As far as your dad’s ever gonna know, you’re just another runaway.”

            This said, Randy began to panic, but before he could scream, Felix gave him a merciful butt with the hilt of the revolver just beneath his ear.

 

Chapter Four: The Blood of an Englishman

 

Moneypenny was silent this day, other than to inform Bond that, “He's waiting for you."

            The observant eyes of the highest-ranking personal assistant in M16 followed James's path across the room.  The woman he’d been with had been shot dead less than 36 hours earlier, and yet the hard, rugged features of his face betrayed nothing.

             James Bond nodded to her, almost as if saying, “thank you, for curtailing the sport, today," and went in through the door on her left.  The green light above the door went out and was replaced by its red neighbor and Moneypenny returned to her endless sea of secrecy.  Funny how much paperwork went in to keeping secrets, she mused.

            Certainly, she'd seen the man upset.  After his wife, Tracy, had been shot to death, he'd been so despondent, it had bordered on self‑pity, an emotion that she knew Bond despised.  It was as if true evil, in the form of Blofeld, had squared off with James in a ring.  In the end, he'd been left standing, but part of his mind and his heart had gone dead.

            The years of flirtation had worn away at the attraction she'd felt for the man, but that had given way to actual endearment.  Friends of hers, though, who had shared his company, and his bed, had left her little to guess at.  Mary Goodnight had dated him briefly after his return from the Orient.

            He's so cold, Penny," she'd told her all those years ago.  The kisses and love making were passionate enough, good Lord, they were more than enough, and I could feel that he cared..." Mary had paused here, running her hand absently over her knee which had still held the colour of the Jamaican sun.  But it was as if he expected me to die at any moment. Being held precious is one thing, but being held captive is another."

            M had requested 007's personal files earlier, and she had reminded him for the thousandth time that they were easily accessed from the networked station underneath his corner roll-top.

            Sir Miles had grumbled about the surging headaches that the glare from the monitor gave him, and admonished her for playing games with such a serious matter.

            When is it not a serious matter? she though to herself.  Bond's files now weighed more than 50 pounds in hard copy.  Oh well, she would have one of the younger male clerks bring it up from Records.  Moneypenny was not even sure why the old grump wanted the thing, he knew the senior member of the 00 section well enough that he could tell you the colour of the man's briefs on any given day.

             M's elbows resided on the red leather of his desktop, his ancient, weathered seaman's hands were steepled before him with his chin resting on his thumbs.  Bond could notice no movement as he entered the room, save the grey eyes tracking him as he crossed the carpet to one of the chairs before the desk where he remained standing.

            Sit down, 007.  I'm afraid this is nasty business." M’s attitude was surly, and his voice gruff.  James Bond had known his superior long enough to know what this demeanor meant.  There was going to be no sympathetic silence from Sir Miles.  Bond knew how much Sir Miles Messervy despised personal business entering into the service.  On a few occasions, M had asked Bond to take care of some personal requests, and during these times, Bond had been more than happy to help, but M had literally appeared as if he were going to shirk out of his own leathered skin he'd been so uncomfortable asking.  However, if the personal interference came from a lessor's indiscretion, the old man was even less tolerant, and Bond was a repeat offender.


            M made no secret of the fact that he considered that the agent's dalliances" with women during and after his assignments a breech of protocol, and not to mention, morally reprehensible.

            Bond sat quietly with his thoughts, waiting for Sir Miles to speak.  Even when angry about such matters, M would not bridge an uncomfortable, personal topic until someone else brought it up.  He was uneasy sermonizing beyond his tell tale expressions and an occasional Humph."

            How are you, 007?"  This was not M's way of voicing concern for Bond's well being, it was his way of asking if Bond was ready for more difficult times ahead.

            Bond shrugged.  There wasn't much time to grow attached, Sir.  She was a good person; she deserved a better lot.  How much progress has been made so far on the shooter?"

            The steepled hands now broke apart and laid flat on the red leather of the desk.  The old man's ensuing frown informed Bond that his change of topic had not furthered his cause much.  James had always found it ironic that men wore battle wounds like badges of honour, but emotional scars were something to be hidden away less one be deemed insecure or incapable.

“These are deep waters, 007,” the old man grumbled leaning forward to snare some tobacco from the slipper at the corner of his desk.

Are they deep enough to warrant this much melodrama? Bond wondered as the old sailor very deliberately packed his pipe slowly, and then took equal care in lighting it, and taking the first long drag.

 

            Donn, who had once been a small boy named Peter O’Sullivan, sat amongst the ruins of his parent’s house, letting his mind wander back over the past few decades.  They’d have the note now and some pompous, former military type would be briefing Bond on its contents.   The man would certainly run to ground, if not by his own compunction (Donn had studied the target carefully, and knew fully well that the confrontational man was not the type to turn tail and hide), then at the bequest of his supervisors.  It would be un-British of them to let a man stay active when he was a target.

            The house Donn had grown up in was no more than a cold, lifeless corpse now.  The smells and sounds of the night came in through the windows that had been blown out in the fire that had consumed the home not long after his father had died.  The IRA men that had taken him and raised him had explained that the Goon Squads had lit the place to let it serve as a monument.  The Gooneys, as Donn often referred to them, thought that Catholics only understood symbols, so they left them whenever they could.  Somewhat, they were right, Donn thought.  The Catholics and the IRA understood symbols very well.   Even now, twenty-five years later, there were still small bouquets of flowers scattered about, left by his former neighbors or those who knew of his story.  He bent over and picked up some sprigs of heather that had been fastened together by a pink thread; they were not exactly fresh, but they were not so old that they had turned to dust, either.  Yet another British “lesson” that had become a rallying cry.  There was no lantern to light his way, but still he could make out where “DONN” had been scrolled on the walls, sometimes in the crayon inspired scrawling of children, and in other places, bold spray-painted letters in an older, more purposeful hand.  His people knew; the Brits had wallowed around for a decade and a half just trying to learn his Christian name.  And now he had handed it to them, like a farmer doling out slop to the pigs.  With his mother dead, there was no fear of retribution on his family.  There were no siblings to threaten or torture; the tools of fear and intimidation were solely his now.

            Donn waded through the trash that had been his parent’s living room.  The place stunk of mold and mildew, tell tale signs of years of exposure to the elements.  The floor was a sea of wrappers and rotting pillows and blankets left by squatters who had made the place a temporary stay.  They were lucky to not be present upon his visit; to desecrate this place with their filthy presence would have been a capital crime whose sentence would have been quickly dispatched. 

            He rooted about in the trash on the floor, and through dilapidated, rat-infested cupboards searching for tidbits of the child or family that had once lived here.  Any such momentos were long since gone.  The carpet was still there; tattered and molded, but still accounted for.  What had once been a short, beige weave, was now a black-sooted fowl thing with huge gaping holes where the padding thrust through like intestines from a belly wound.  Once, there had been light curls of white twisting through the beige in a curly-q design.  A small boy known as Peter had played here, using the white twists as roads for his Matchbox cars, making engine noises as he swerved them about his carpeted countryside.  God, how he wished he could reach back to that eight-year-old and warn him.  Have him tell his father not to come home that day; tell him that at all costs to avoid becoming the man that he would become.

            It would have been easier to have come back during the day.  There would have been little chance that anyone would recognize him now, but there could have been uncomfortable questions posed.   The black, non-reflective clothing was comfortable and fit him well, as it should.  He had spent most of his life in black, sometimes hiding, but most often, stalking a target. 

His mother’s couch still resided in the living room.  It had been a brown vinyl three-seater that his father would lie down on when he took a nap every Sunday after Mass.  The cushions were gone now, and the frame had cracked in the middle so that the seat formed a shallow “V” that rested on the ground at its point.

            After brushing off some of the filth, Donn sat at one end of the couch.  He reached back and ran his splayed fingers through his long, black hair that he had worn free this evening, pulling it back away from his face.  He cupped his hands over his face briefly and rubbed his eyes.  Red-eyed and angry, he sat alone thinking of the first time he had seen Mr. James Bond.

 

“What do you recall about an Irish assassin called Donn?”

Bond paused a moment.  It was just one of thousands of files that ran across his desk on a regular basis, just as they did across the desks of the other two 00’s.

“IRA trained assassin, became active about eighteen years ago.  Name taken from the ancient Celtic god who would cart off the dead to some island south west of Ireland.  Believed to be responsible for hundreds of confirmed kills but never leaves calling cards; unlike most of his Irish brethren he doesn’t seem to like publicity much.  About ten years ago he began to expand his political targets to those of a very lucrative international hit man including murders in the US, Russia, and even a few African nations.  His name has been associated with several terrorist-training locations in Syria and Libya.  For about four years he wasn’t heard from, and many agencies wrote him off as dead or inactive, but he resumed action about a year ago.  Most of our information on him comes through reputation and informants.  He changes his appearance at will and there are no accurate details of height, weight, age, hair color, and eye colour.  There are no known photographs.”

M gave a “humph” and then took another drag on his pipe.  “Very good, 007.  It might also be mentioned that the man is something of a folk hero to IRA supporters.    His name is spray painted over half of Northern Ireland, people name their children after the bastard.”

“What does any of this have to do with Sam?”  Bond asked.  “The boy was far too young, and far too sloppy to be Donn.”

M’s bushy eyebrows bunched into a frown. 

“According to the CIA, the boy was just a mole.  He’d been sitting on Felix’s for months waiting for you.  He’s cracked wide open, but he doesn’t have much to tell.  The men who trained him in Ireland have vanished, and there is no flight record of the woman that had served as his contact in Texas.  It appears whoever planted him cut him free.”

“The girl, Samantha Maske, was the target, 007.  They meant to make you hurt, at least that’s what the boy was told.  That was confirmed by some recent information we received.”

“What information would that be?” Bond was beginning to feel uncomfortable.  It was as he feared, Sam had been killed because of him.  One way or another that was how it was going to work out.

“The cheeky monster sent us a letter, it arrived this morning.  Donn basically told us everything, right down to how he plans to kill you, 007.”                

            Eight-year-old Peter O’Sullivan played in the street outside of his parent’s house in Belfast.  Classes were over and Pete and a few of the neighbor boys were kicking about a soccer ball waiting for their mothers to call them in for dinner.  Pete liked being outside this time of night because he could see his father coming up the street on his way home from work.

            Pete’s father, Tim, was an electrical contractor.  This didn’t mean a whole lot to the boy, all that he knew was that his father helped to build houses and buildings, making sure the lights would go on and the televisions would work.  Every morning, six days a week, his father would ride a red bicycle the four and a half miles to work, and then back again at the end of the day.  Sometimes, his father worked “on site.”  Pete dreaded these times because it meant that his father could be away for days.  And although he always brought home gifts for Pete and his mother from wherever he’d been working, it was always the anticipation of seeing him coming up the street on his red bike that excited Pete the most.

            Being the only child, Pete had been doted on while growing up.  His father was his world, as it was with many boys his age.

            On this particular day, the skies were overcast and pregnant with the never-ending rain that fell in October.  The street was already spotted with puddles that the boys joyfully skirted about as they dribbled the ball.  The game within the game was to drench the other team’s players.

            As they boys played, Pete became aware that they had an audience.  Across the street, near a bus stop, stood two men, one of whom he recognized.  Billy Fincher stood with a well-dressed man who was obviously in odd company.   Fincher was the neighborhood’s mooch.  He had grown up on their block about fifteen years earlier, before his mother had died and his father had moved the family elsewhere.  Pete’s father had told him that Billy’s dad had grown tired of the twenty-year-old freeloading and had given him the boot.  Now Billy hung about the old neighborhood, mooching meals off the sympathies of the older women that had known and loved his mother.  Most of the men, however, could not tolerate the younger Fincher.  It was a predominantly Catholic neighborhood, and the man had the reputation of being an informant for the Brits.  If it were an hour later, and the husbands of the community were home, Billy would most likely have been beaten soundly, but at this hour a blight such as he could go unnoticed.

            Billy kept glancing over toward Pete’s house and then back again at the boys.  All the time his lips were moving, conveying unknown bits of wisdom to the taller, darker man who stood with him.  It made Pete uncomfortable the way the two men kept on looking at his home, and the boy made a mental note to tell his Pa when he got there.   The stranger looked too neat to be keeping company with the likes of Billy.  The other man was the type of person that was hard to describe, especially in the limited vocabulary of an eight-year-old.  With the exception of a scar on his cheek, and the almost grim, businesslike look on the man’s face, there was really nothing that made him stand out.  Black hair, grey eyes and clothing, about six feet tall, he looked like anyone else, everyone else.

            The stranger was sharp as well.  He noticed Pete’s attentions and bent down to query something of Billy.  Billy looked at Pete as well, and then nodded.  They were a more than a hundred and fifty feet away, and there was no way that Pete could pick up their conversation, but in his mind’s ear, he could hear Fincher say, “That’s the boy.”

            Pete shivered.  The tall stranger nodded at the reply, and then did something that would haunt the boy on through his childhood and into his present.  The stranger locked eyes with him, gave a curt nod, an then smiled, before turning away and heading up the rain soaked street with Billy at his side.

            Terrified, Billy ran to his own house, and bolted inside.  All young boys have a safe place they go when they feel threatened, and Pete was no exception.  His mother had a cherrywood end table next to the family couch in the living room that she covered with a huge lace doily that hung close to the ground.  This was Pete’s place.  There was just enough space for him to move about comfortably, and he was well disguised from others in the room.  Through the gaps in the lace, he could observe the rest of the room, even watch the television that was against the far wall, across from the couch.  The boy who would someday be responsible for more than a thousand deaths, several hundred with his own hands, curled up in a ball, resting his head on a throw pillow he kept wedged between the couch and wall along with some matchbox cars and a few books.  He would wait for his father, as always.  His mother would never understand; she always dismissed his fears as childish.  However, his father would listen.

            Pete awoke to the sound of voices.  It was darker now, nighttime.  Pete peered out through the lace, but the room was very dim and there were no lights on.

            “Children, Mark.  Thirty-two children.  Some of those kids were as young as my son… younger.” The voice was his father’s, but it was hard for Pete to recognize; it was deeper, and somehow pained.  The boy had never heard his father sob in despair, but did so now.        

            “Tim, they weren’t our fault.  There was no tellin’ when Smite was gonna turn the ignition.  It’s a tragedy, something we’ll have to learn by, but the target was achieved, and at least they didn’t die in vain.”  This voice was his Uncle Mark’s.  The man was not his real uncle, it was just something that he’d asked Pete to call him.  Mark worked with his Pa, though Pete did not know what his job was.  On Monday nights, his father and Mark and several other neighborhood men would meet up at the pub for darts.  There was something about the man that Pete had never really liked though, and from the way he acted, Pete had always thought his father felt the same way.

            “The hell they weren’t our fault.  We could have used a smaller charge; we could have used no charge at all.  Why not a bullet, why not let me rig it so he fried when he turned the ignition?”

            “We live, we learn, Boyo.   The next time, we use a…”

            “Damn it all, Mark.  There is no “next time” for me.  I have to live with this for the rest of my life.  I’ll give you my time, I’ll give you my money, but I’m out of operations.”

            Pete’s eyes were adjusting to the dark now; he could see a man, his Uncle Mark, pacing in front of the couch where he presumed his father sat.  Uncle Mark stopped his pacing and faced his father, hands on his hips.

            “Think about it a while, Tim.  Hold your son, think of what kind of Ireland you want him to grow up in.  Thirty-two are nothing compared to all the people we’ve lost, the children that our women have had to mourn.  You think about it, and then you call me.”

            The figure left, and Pete could hear the front door open and close.  He wasn’t sure what the two men had been talking about, who the “thirty-two children” were, but he knew that his father was upset.  Pete poked his head out from under the table and looked up at the couch next to him.

            There sat his father with his face buried in his hands, great, huge sobs wracking his body like convulsions.  It made Pete sick to see someone he cared about like this.  Perhaps now was not the best time to share his fears about the stranger.  He pulled his head back under the cover of the lace and tried to sleep again.  This time, however, his eyes remained wide open as he listened to his father cry for what seemed an eternity.

            Neither father nor son heard the front door open.

 

“Why kill me?” Bond asked.  “I’m not a very good political target, there are a lot more visible officers than me available.”

M shook his head.

“It’s not political, 007.  And it’s not some contract put on you by a jealous husband.  He says it’s personal.  Do you remember the Belgrade School Bus Bombing?”

James Bond shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“It’s not something I like to think of, Sir.”

“Tell me what you remember, I’ll fill you in on the rest.”

This was more than rote memory for him, this was tearing open an old wound.  Killing defenceless men was never a proud point for him, but it sometimes was a necessary part of his job.

“You assigned me the case about twenty years ago.  Sir Walter Smite was murdered with a car bomb in Belgrade outside his home.  The saboteurs had wired his ignition to enough dynamite to crack the windows of homes blocks away.  It appeared to be unintentional, but a state school bus just happened to be passing the car at the moment it exploded.  All thirty-two children, both Catholic and Protestant, on board the bus were instantly killed along with the driver.  There was quite a bit of television coverage of the bodies being removed and the public was outraged in both England and Ireland.  In response, the Prime Minister put us on the case.  My orders were simple, I was to make an example of the murderers.  I was to kill every person who had taken part in the planing and execution of the murders, and make no attempt to hide the bodies.  Not exactly our finest hour, Sir.”

M grunted again.

“Don’t get soft, 007.  I’m sure the parents of those children would not agree with you.”

Bond didn’t reply for a moment, he was lost in thought.  Twenty years ago, that was how they responded, with a hammer and a gun.  He prayed they would do things differently if it happened today.

“Do you remember a man named Timothy O’Sullivan?”

Bond nodded.  “He was the last target, an electrician that had rigged the bomb and had supplied the explosives.  He had a wife and son.  As I said, not our finest hour.  Why do you ask?”

“The son’s name was Peter O’Sullivan, but these days he calls himself Donn.  He claims that he was witness to his father’s murder and that you are directly responsible for the hundreds of Englishmen he’s killed over the years.”

Even a few years earlier, Bond may have shrugged these comments off, but maybe he was getting melancholy at his current age.  Had he murdered the child’s father in front of him?  Had he been that careless?

“That’s not all, 007.” M was trying to keep his attention.  “He says he’s going to make you suffer before he puts two bullets into the back of your head.”

 

            “Timothy O’Sullivan,” the voice was British, very calm and businesslike.

            The sobbing stopped immediately and was replaced with anger.

            “Who the hell…” his father began, but then stopped abruptly.  Pete looked out through the lace again.  The room was still in shadows, but he could make out the figure of a man in the middle of the room; a man who’s right arm was extended toward where his father sat.  There was something in the man’s hand.

            “Where is your wife?” the man’s voice was cold and modulated, as if he’d done this many times.

            “Look if this is a robbery, you can take whatever…” there was a pleading quality to his father’s voice, Pete now realized that the thing in the man’s hand must be a gun, he went from being scared to being terrified.  He was frozen in his fear, his skin prickling, and even his breath stopped.

            “I think you know what this is, Mr. O’Sullivan.  Now, where is your wife?”

            “She is at her sister’s house.” His father wanted to say more but the stranger cut him off. 

            “And your son?”

            “I wanted to send him with her, but he must be over at a friends.”  His father’s voice sounded resigned now, it had gotten lower and was almost a mumble.  “Please, there’s no reason to involve them.”  There was a sound as his father shifted on the couch.

            “Do not move unless I tell you to!” the stranger’s voice was harder now and his body visibly tensed. “Get on the floor, on your stomach.”

            His father did as he was told.  There were tears streaming down Pete’s face now, but he couldn’t even whisper.

            “Now, keep flat on the ground, keep your legs together and stretch you arms out away from your sides.”

            “For Christ’s sake, man.” His father was outright crying now, but still followed the man’s commands.  “I’ve got a family, please don’t do this.”  His father’s outstretched hand was only a few inches from the endtable where Pete hid.  Pete wanted so badly to reach out and hold one of his Pa’s fingers in his tiny hands.

            The stranger, who Pete now recognized as the man who had been on the street with Billy, kneeled down so that his right knee was in the middle of his father’s back.  He now placed the gun’s barrel at the back of the other man’s skull.

            “Listen very carefully.  Where did the explosives come from?”

            “I don’t know what you…”

            “Where did the explosives come from?  The ones that you and your friends used to murder Sir Walter Smite and all those children.”

            His father cried harder now.

            “It wasn’t supposed to be like that.  We’re soldiers, like you.”

            The gun was now pressed harder into the back of his head.

            “You mentioned your family,” the stranger now said.  “Now where did they come from?”

            “I got them from a site,” there was complete surrender now.  Pete had watched his father’s manhood taken away from him at gunpoint.

            “A construction site?  You provided the materials yourself?” the man sounded as if he already knew the answer to the question and was just confirming.

            “Yes,” his father replied, his voice so hushed now that it barely passed his lips.  

            The man had reached over to the couch with his free hand and grabbed a pillow as if he meant to fluff it up for a nap.  He quickly placed it at the back of his father’s skull and then shoved the gun into it. 

            There was a muffled roar in the room and Pete was now paralyzed, his eyes blank and staring.  This couldn’t be happening, some part of his mind had decided.  This couldn’t be happening, so were going to shut things down for a while.

            His father’s body twitched and tensed like a trout with a hook in its mouth.  The stranger put the pillow and gun to the head one more time and pulled the trigger again.  The twitching stopped.

            The man stood, quickly surveyed the room, put his gun away into a shoulder holster, and was gone.

            It would be three hours before his mother got home and started screaming.  It would be twenty more minutes before the ambulance got there.  A little more than an hour after that they would find the body of his Uncle Mark, also with two bullets to the back of the skull in an alley a few blocks away. 

            But it would be five hours before the police found Peter as they marked the crime scene.  Huddled beneath the table, his face tear-streaked his mouth open, and his eyes staring blankly.

 

“Needless to say, 007.  We’re not going to make an easy target of you.  You are going to be taken off of active duty, and you’re going to get out of the country until this matter is resolved.”

“Sir,” Bond protested.  “I hardly think…”

“I hardly think you have any say in the matter, 007.  A little vacation might do you some good.  I want you to disappear while we let 008 track this mad dog and put him down.  Right now you would just be a liability, an endangerment to anyone you were working with.  And I’m certainly not letting you come to the office everyday so that you can be an easy target.”

Bond was still not ready to give up the fight.

“008 is a fine and capable man, Sir.  But if I’m visible, the target will eventually come to me.  I could flush him out into the open.”

“And I could flush on of my best agents down the head.  I think not, 007.  This is the end of the discussion.  You are going to walk out that door, get Moneypenny to draw up your airline tickets under your Boldman alias, and then you are going to vanish once you land.  I want you to break with policy and not check in with any heads of stations wherever you are going.  I want you to check in directly to the Chief of Operations over a safe line.  Tanner will inform you when you are cleared to return to duty.  Do I make myself clear?”  There was always granite in the old man’s eyes, but now they were even harder than normal.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Now, do you have somewhere you can go where you’ll be able to stay low.  I dare say your lifestyle doesn’t always lend itself to obscurity.”

“Yes, Sir.  I have the perfect place in mind.”

When Bond exited the office, and the green light above the door lit once again, Moneypenny put on her best face for him.

“So, where to this time, James?” she chirped.

“How about the south of France, Moneypenny?  And let’s do try to avoid the major airports.”

 

            Seven men would be shot in Belgrade over a two-day period.  Some of them as his father had been, some appeared to have put up a fight, but they were all dead.

            Tom Barry and the other members of his new family in the IRA would eventually tell him the whole story about six years later.  They knew about Sir Smite, the bomb, and the children, but they couldn’t tell him the name of the assassin that the Brits had sent.

            “He killed them all,” Tom had said.  “Every man that had been in on the planning of that sloppy episode, every one involved.”

            By then Donn had been born, and he was more than capable of finding the stranger’s name.  All it had taken was a few hours alone with Billy Fincher in a cellar with a paring knife.  It was ceaselessly amazing to Donn how missing chunks of flesh strategically placed on a man’s anatomy can spur the memory.

            “Bond,” the bloody mess had croaked.  “James Bond.”

            Back in the present, Donn stood up from the weather beaten sofa.  The end table was no longer next to the couch, it had been wood and was probably either stolen or burned.  Bond had taught him valuable lessons for his career as a human butcher.  When he killed for the IRA, or for himself, as he had been doing since puberty, he always kept his demeanor calm and professional.  For more than ten years he had been amassing money and a reputation, both were going to come in useful now that he had begun his dance with Mr. Bond.  The man was going to suffer before he died, but no matter how good it felt, Donn would not betray his emotions.  The girl’s death was just the beginning.

            Donn paused before leaving the dilapidated house to look behind the couch in his old hiding place, his safe place.  His searching hand fell upon something flat and hard, and he withdrew it.  Faded and warped, a piece of his childhood stared up at him.  An edition of Jack and the Beanstalk that had been a boyhood favorite of his, before his boyhood had been stolen.

            Donn smiled.

            “Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum,” he whispered to himself before tossing the book aside and leaving into the night.

           

 

 

 

 





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