The ENO’s production values are beyond impeccable: Ronni can’t help but get sucked into the moment as the opera presents it. Ironic that this should be ‘Così fan tutte’ on offer: Ferrando and Guglielmo expressing their certainty that Dorabella and Fiordiligi will remain faithful when they depart for war, confident their relationships are intact. It’s all well and good until Don Alfonso arrives and bets them their fiancées can be seduced, then the men are all indulgence and disguises before fooling the other’s lover they’re somebody else. On reflection Ronni understands why this might not be Bond’s first choice of evening entertainment, considering their line of work. The last time he was here had been at one of the many Royal Galas the 00 section were obliged to protect as part of the department’s long-term remit: whichever of the agents were in London would be attached to the normal Palace security services to augment the numbers.
That night she’d worn a tuxedo that was subsequently banned from use for official duties, despite being Whitehall sanctioned and manufactured. The kevlar underbust corset was worn not for protection, but because Ronni knew how much of a reaction it would provoke. It did nothing to keep anything safe but everything to arouse, a point that several senior figures were keen to point out meant the entire ensemble became counter-productive. In the end she’d been in the air and back to Turkey before 007 got the chance to release body from underwear’s seductive embrace, and part of her is sad that the last memory of them together was undoubtedly the most emotional and passionate of their trysts. Ronni loves making Bond out as the villain when it suits, but is aware that not having him to flirt with was the least of her concerns. There are more serious demons to consider, quite apart from understanding tonight is already a potential flashpoint.
Richmond appears entranced, but soon bores of the libretto: Ronni’s grasp of events is decent enough, but that’s not really required to understand the subtleties of plot. He becomes far more interested in watching her which, after a while, becomes distressingly uncomfortable. At the end of Scene Four, clearly deciding to try and attract attention he reaches out, right hand slipping around hers. Finally, past connects with present; issue at their handshake all too apparent. There is oddness on the second finger, space where a ring once was for some time and has now been removed. Image sparks recall on cue; opera suddenly irrelevant as instincts bring the real threat front and centre.
Golden octopus, striking yet insidious.
It had been a briefing the week after the Westminster Bridge ‘incident.’ Every 00 recalled, awkward introductions in the Barracks’ large briefing area. 003’s huge hands, 009’s appalling music tastes, both men now off the books for good. The sense only she and James had anything in common; the rest of these men were from a time unknown, ingrained with attitudes that only considered her as an associate and not equal. M’s speech about a threat more seductive than anything the Centre for National Security had presented. The scar on the Austrian man’s unsettling face, understanding that he’d got very close and personal in the attempt to destroy 007…
Pictures flash across a screen, random connections in a brain now aware of truth. The first time she’d seen Blofeld. His golden band, secret society kudos, second finger of the right hand. This man, trying to seduce, was the same as C. Whitehall are simply replacing one form of deception for another, you must uncover the reason. Training provides response, as a reflex. Fingers lace through his: let him believe you’re taken with the moment, remain occupied so you have time to think through options. Use seduction as a weapon.
To convince this imposter he’s succeeded body shifts closer, while a whirring mind grasps that whoever he is works for Spectre, sent to intercept Bond. What happens next depends on her charge: grateful the Walther’s in her clutch bag, impetus is now firmly back with Richmond.
Ronni will allow this notion of control, but only on her terms.
Stopping the Jaguar outside his Kensington address, Ronni commits the location to memory. Richmond’s hand remains, light pressure on leg that is a reminder power is precariously placed. Her focus remains on action: passenger door opens, walk around the front of the vehicle to the driver’s side. He’d been an impeccable gentlemen thus far, but had become increasingly jittery and nervous as the evening continued. She’s wondering if this changes now they’re on home ground: squatting on the pavement, demeanour immediately relaxes.
‘Welcome to my modest location whilst I’m in London. It’s not much, but it’s home.’
‘This has been an extremely interesting evening but I’m not sure it would be wise -‘
‘No, you don’t 004. You’re coming inside with me.’
The designation had never been mentioned, not once, and to know he is aware of it means the entire nature of this relationship changes. A determined hand takes right wrist with enough force that Ronni is aware the man could break her, and without thought the training kicks in. Neutralising is an option, but acquiescence is preferable: there might be something to be learned about motivation, allowing the belief he’s in charge. Almost pulling her out of the car and to the door of the flat, this could be also an attempt to dominate sexually, and if that were the case? Maybe this time she just let things travel to a certain point in their course. Ronni’s confident that she can disable if required, without the need for the Walther. There might be a gun inside, of course, but even then that’s not an issue.
Let the man play and pretend he’s in charge, at least for now.
As soon as they make it inside the sparsely-decorated hallway Richmond has her pushed against the wall; lean, toned body pinning and restricting. He’s either ridiculously well endowed or there’s a weapon shoved down his dress trousers, and Ronni is suddenly detaching from the moment to discover the truth. Her hand confirms equipment is long, wide and very hard and it’s difficult to separate herself from what’s being presented. You don’t expect the bad guys to be like this, they’re all supposed to be inadequate with tiny pricks and suddenly he’s kissing her with desire that temporarily blocks out reasoning. He is supremely good at it, lifting body with ease, pinning and arousing against the now closed front door as past and present disconcertingly overlap. She’s in Bond’s flat, having returned from the first assignment in Egypt. He stripped her against the wood, too desperate to make it to the bedroom, kissing every part of a willing body until he’d fixated on clitoris, pulling to the edge of orgasm before she begged to be filled. Then he’d disrobed with an efficiency that defied belief and, still in work shirt, lifted her before entering with a single, decisive stroke that made entire body shudder.
Richmond suddenly lets go, letting her fall to the ground. He’s standing back, confusion and guilt all too obvious. Ronni’s about to ask what’s going on, as hand reaches into his pocket and pulls out a battered, silver ring. The octopus is obvious, but Richmond shoves it in her face to make sure the connection is made.
‘I didn’t want it, but Number One insisted. I was named, the pressure was obvious. It’s all part of the plan, do you still not see HOW DID YOU NOT NOTICE THIS?’
The ring is hurled down the corridor with a sudden anger that puts Ronni on alert. This guy really is unstable and should be neutralised.
‘When did you work it out? At what point did 004 grasp my stupidity? It was when we shook hands, wasn’t it, you went to the bathroom and you led me on all fucking evening so you could get me to fuck you first, JUST LIKE HE WOULD. No, that’s now how this goes down. You don’t get your gratification.’
He holds up his hand, finger waved in front of her face with an immediate self consuming anger.
‘I should have known you’d see through this disguise, Flemmings, that you’d grasp I was sent to eliminate Bond and instead I got you. I think, on reflection, he’d kiss better than you do. I’ve found you a complete disappointment from start to finish.’
The man’s bouncing through emotional stages with breathtaking speed, but control is undoubtedly present. He’s also clearly attempting to upset or provoke a reaction: neither will be forthcoming from her as brain effectively shuts down.
‘In fact, I wonder what Bond actually sees in you. You’re no match for his fiancée, that’s for damn sure, and yet there is this clear misguided attachment. I’m betting you’re all sweat and need, no dominance, just acceptance. You’ll simply allow him what he wants and go along for the ride. Such a shame, you could be so much more were you not stuck inside his ego.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Your license to kill’s never been used since you dispatched Louis Kendrick. Removing him from the frame made sure we knew who you were, that you’d become a person of interest in short order. And yet you came here without a weapon. What does that say about you, 004?’
She stares at Richmond for a moment before punching to the face, as hard as possible, propelling him back into the closed hallway door at speed. He’s clearly not expecting this response and as head hits the floor there is blood plus a moment of disorientation before the man passes out. The temptation to go back to her car and stick a bullet in his head briefly is overwhelming before Ronni steps over the now unconscious body. Retrieving first house keys from jacket pocket, they’re used to pick up the Spectre ring, wrapped in her skirt to not contaminate evidence. After that, she’s leaving and locking the door, choosing not to look back. If she came back to kill him, consequences could be considerable, especially with no indicator as to who he really is. The blood on her hand will provide DNA: now he’s out cold there’s not only time to regroup, but to radio in for in reinforcements before he recovers.
Her first call arriving at the Jaguar is on instinct.