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Before you Begin: Set in a post-‘Skyfall’ Universe, this takes a couple of liberties with the 23rd addition to the canon. Let us assume for the porpoises of this exercise that the current 007 only takes the number and the Christian name from the last fella, and that he’s the sixth person to hold that title. Knowing that, you can carry on now.
‘But of all the dead volcanoes on Earth you just happened to retch
Veronica Ashby’s family had thrown a lot of money at this wedding, and it showed.
A quick glance at her watch told its own story: a whisper after midnight and both bar and dance floor were packed. Ronni was one of the few people not currently glued to either, neither drinking or grooving as if lives depended on conspicuous consumption. She’d imbibed plenty of champagne and thrown enough shapes to maintain the happiness for her younger sister and new husband, dismissing with increasing frequency the comments on her being the only one of three children without a ‘secure’ future. On the journey to happy endings, in her life, it had simply become easier not to dwell. After all, this was the most content she’d been for some time.
It no longer mattered what other people saw in her, not any more. She’d finally perfected the disguise.
This whole evening had turned from inconvenience to blessing: it should provide at least a year of clear air before her mother began the disapproving phone calls, that Ronni still wasn’t seeing anyone seriously, their eldest clearly not getting any younger. At least her father wasn’t likely to give her a hard time about her staunch refusal to accept any offers from anyone who looked remotely promising from the offspring of his financial services and international banking ‘acquaintances.’ Malcolm Ashby had not spoken a word to her all day, which was probably better than the number three bridesmaid could have hoped for. Maybe he’d finally got the message that whoever he tried to set up, Ronni simply wasn’t interested. After all, once you’d slept with one investment specialist, you’d pretty much fucked them all.
Her lifestyle was never going to be conducive to a normal existence anyway.
That wasn’t stopping Russell, however, who’d been doggedly determined to score for the entire evening with little sign of flagging. He appears to her left almost by magic, two flutes of Krug in worryingly unblemished hands, slipping a little too close for comfort. Ronni considers moving but remains confident enough that there won’t be groping, at least not yet. He’ll need to be more wasted and less aware of her body language, deliberate but subtle refusal to let him into her personal space for a damn good reason.
‘Can I interest you in another glass, Veronica?’
‘Have I told you that just my parents use the full name, and normally only when I’m in trouble?’
‘Sorry, I always forget – Ronni, would you -‘
‘That’s really kind, but I think I’ve probably had enough. After all, we’ve been at this since just after lunchtime.’
‘Tell me about it, this has to be the best food and drink I’ve ever had at a Wedding. All so beautifully presented… everything’s perfect. Your family celebrates with convincing style. I think this might even be better than Alice’s.’
That was a good night, Ronni remembers with a stab of nostalgia. Everyone had assumed that her happiness that day was because she’d met someone, blissfully unaware of the truth. Finally having made the most important of work transitions, significant shift from delivery girl to analyst, World opening to her at last. That realisation resonates within her tonight: if the fates allow she’s just one step away from never having to sit behind a desk ever again. Fuck the fates, this is her choice, fully intending to grasp the future with both hands and threaten to shoot it in the head if it didn’t hand over what was required.
At times like this, absolutely the last thing she needs to be doing is telling anyone the truth.
There’d been issue over being able to be genuine with family for a time, but only until the understanding stuck, even this would make her better at the job. She doesn’t care that they don’t know, because that is no longer a part of the equation anyway. Somewhere between Alice and Emily becoming wives, destiny had been settled and accepted, at least in part.
Russell’s still talking, lubricated and blithely unaware.
‘In all that time I’ve never seen you with anybody, not a single bloke. There was a rumour in the office for a while -‘
‘That I was a lesbian, perhaps?’
‘I didn’t believe it, not for one moment, because you’re clearly far smarter than that.’
If she didn’t know it already, Russell had more than adequately confirmed not only his staggering stupidity, but a narrow-mindedness she could quite easy push off the chair and onto the expensive Axminster. However, it’s just simpler to tune him out. Frankly she’d be better off going back to the hotel room and sleeping, not simply because of the week ahead. This conversation was no longer a sensible use of her time.
‘You think you’ll ever get married, Ronni?’
‘Maybe. Would have to be someone pretty spectacular who asked.’
For a moment Ronni turns to stare at the fool, playing the lie of making him believe she’s willing with a conviction that only comes when you can deceive yourself as easily as you can anyone else. This loser genuinely believes I work for an international exports company, that I spend time when not in London travelling the world making deals for the Government. The places I go, the difference this makes: to give that up, to marry anyone would take someone unbelievable indeed. Even more so because this entire persona is a beautifully constructed conceit and if you knew what I really did, you’d probably not believe me anyway.
Women just don’t play that game.
Veronica pushes a stray lock of auburn hair behind her ear: delivering her most dazzling, distracting smile, one that best accentuates both face and eyes. She knows, at least temporarily, that Russell is believing he’s going to score, but there will be disappointment instead because in twenty minutes she will vanish like smoke and he’ll be left with nothing. She needs to be checked out by 7 am and running by nine because she’s not going to fail her Physical Assessment for a second year in a row. There is a steadfast refusal to jeopardise what is possibly the last chance at a job promotion that could really change her career prospects forever. In that respect a clock was ticking: age an issue not for motherhood, but for physical fitness.
After all, it was not every day the chance for an Active Designation was presented.
She watches him in the darkness, face rapt and eyes wide, and for the first time in her thirty-five years on the planet genuinely understands this is exactly the right thing to do. It doesn’t matter that this entire life is a lie, because she is comfortable with what it has become.
Ronni Ashby is both proud and grateful to serve on Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
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