The lift opens and Ronni stands, staring with immediate alertness down the Hotel corridor.
The door to her room is open.
Since the two 00’s deaths, she’d begun carrying the Walther in her handbag and to Hell with the consequences. The corridor is silent, often the case at this time of day: night staff will still be sleeping, day workers won’t be back until seven. She’s only here because she’s swapped shifts with Amy at the last minute so the younger woman could go to her boyfriend’s for the weekend. This is Ronni being accommodating, and she’d hoped for some sleep, because the stress was beginning to tell.
Every nerve is instantly on edge, enough adrenaline in her body to last a lifetime. Being as quiet as she knows is possible, the gun emerges from her bag as the field agent creeps into her room. Standing in the doorway, suddenly scared of herself, until a noise confirms movement inside. The shift of material. Whoever it was remained hidden around the corner, out of sight of the door. In her mind is the count before pinning herself against the wall, and again as she swings into the room, ready to fire…
‘You could have at least knocked first.’
Bond sits, in one of the chairs by her table, staring with familiar languor. Ronni closes her eyes and swears internally across five different languages. He’s wearing the same Tom Ford from the Lab, and still smells amazing. In a heartbeat, her comeback is a reflex.
‘I really hoped I’d have to shoot you.’
‘You could try that and see if you pass, but you won’t.’
‘Oh don’t tempt me, Bond.’
If she didn’t know already, there it was. He is her final test. Ronni tries to calm herself but it won’t happen, still too much adrenaline to deal with, and so she just stands, trying to work out what to do now. It would be easier if it were absolutely anybody else, even Q, who at this point is a complete and utter bastard. This is what Bond meant, that he had her back. She should have shot him in the Lab, straight through the crotch, on the day of the Funeral. That’s when she let her guard down.
‘I’m sorry, that was uncalled for, Sir… I’m just… I assumed that it wouldn’t end up this personal.’
‘What exactly were you expecting?’
‘I don’t know, but I’d accepted it wouldn’t be nearly as pleasant.’
‘I suppose I could take that as a compliment, but I’m sure you can do better.’
‘Were you asked to do this for any other women who’d got this far?’
Bond leans forward, arms on knees, regarding her in uniform before considering a response.
‘Q Division always pick someone they are confident will be an antagonist for the final assessment. It’s someone the applicant knows personally, because of the issues that will inevitably cause. Believe it or not, this is the first time I’ve been utilised for quite this outcome. I wouldn’t do it for anyone else.’
‘Oh right, so you made an exception for me, that’s comforting.’
‘You are making this whole thing confrontational, why?’
‘Because M said I’m supposed to perform to a required standard, and I’m not sure this is anything I’d ever want to be judged on, especially by you.’
He doesn’t respond to her directness, but won’t break eye contact either, so she knows whatever does end up happening that night isn’t going to be a stretch. He could well be lying, and she wouldn’t put that past him, but her mind appeared to want to give the benefit of the doubt, because of all the times that have come before. Every time you’ve circled each other the distance has closed. It should not be a surprise that you’d eventually collide.
It is high time you reconciled that at least some of this job is prostitution under another name.
‘What was the last thing that Q told you when you saw him?’
She wonders if there is CCTV in this room, not for the first time, that Q could be sitting in his office right now and taking notes. Part of her wouldn’t put it past the sneaky bugger either. I bet he’s the type that likes to watch.
‘Everybody has demons to face. Mine happen to smell amazing and have a weakness for designer three piece suits. Q’s known this fact since day one and has now used it against me in the most effective manner possible. This is my own fault, I know. I’m just too naive sometimes for my own good.’
Bond rises suddenly and Ronni is scared, genuinely afraid of what at some point has to be done with someone else, not him. It’s the reason there’s a contraceptive stick in her arm, even though there is discomfort at the possible side effects. That’s why four condoms are concealed in her handbag, even though the consequences of STD’s have never been a concern. When all is said and done, this is why she’s not enjoyed the thought of intimacy since it became apparent it was an essential part of the field equipment.
And that’s why 007’s the perfect choice; because Bond wields this weapon better than anyone else, and if anybody is going to teach you how, James is the one who should do it.
‘Will you trust me, Ronni?’
‘That’s never been an issue. You were never the problem in all of this.’
‘When was the last time you ate?’
The question is a surprise and Ronni struggles, because she can’t remember if there was anything in the kitchen that morning after coming on shift. Lunch had to be skipped to make it to the Barracks and meet M; after that, her appetite had pretty much evaporated anyway.
‘I honestly have no idea.’
‘If I told you this will be easier on a full stomach and with some alcohol, will you believe me?’
Ronni nods, too numb from the possibilities to argue.