Stuck in the moment that Felix Leiter has created, Bond’s brain screams to stop Ronni at his own front door, forgetting briefly that circumstances are no longer his to control. Desperate to keep her safe, the best way for this to happen is having Ronni leave and not look back. It takes considerable willpower just to stand, watching the woman walking away, aching when she breaks into a run and vanishes into the night. This pain is horribly familiar: Vesper’s face, own hands desperately shaking closed lift gates in Venice, watching life ebb away in front of a body utterly unable to change fate, dictated by the number. Suddenly, damningly, everything has collapsed. There is nothing left but one constant that remained since the day the Section Chief in Prague had died.
All that is left to rely on is the job.
James undresses from instinct, numb and distant, knowing that the man he’d trusted to forewarn Ronni had chosen to keep her out of the loop, but it didn’t matter. M would have had his reasons for the move, and now it didn’t really matter, for the truth of this situation wouldn’t escape 004 for long. Now she was aware of disparity, understanding reality behind the decisions would soon be obvious. He wasn’t actually alone: she had become his salvation, not the woman who sleeps, kissed with a gentleness deliberate and staged. The rules have changed. Bond should have spent more time getting to know Madeline before committing himself to the relationship. There ought to have been considered reflection on what that actually meant for everybody: of all the people in the world, no-one would expect 007 to neglect the true understanding of mission goals.
Except this time he’d crucially overlooked the consequences of a single, damning action. Fortunately for Bond, fate had pulled him and Ronni back together, man she’d managed to escape from the same individual who would undoubtedly have attempted to kill him. He knows why 004 survived, that this meant he was no longer the only target in the frame. With more time there could be a warning, but that was something that they’d both run out of. Ready to play the part fate now dictates: he is pawn, not king on this board, where Flemmings’ game has already begun.
No longer the provocateur, Bond willingly succumbs as bait.
007 stares at the ceiling, before yielding to unconsciousness almost immediately: after all, sleep was always a priority when he was in the field.
Staring intently at his mobile phone Q wonders at what point his life became so inextricably linked with a designation: as it’s nearly 3am, sleeping is probably off the cards until a great deal later in the day. He’s alone in the Lab apart from the overnight skeleton staff of the Barracks, but Ronni’s latest text message means that won’t be the case for long. In fact, everybody else on the Primary Mission Team needs to be here, as a matter of priority, because of the two words now filling the tiny screen in his hand. 004 only grasps the significance of one, the other being sent by Flemmings makes life far more complicated than anyone in MI6 needed right now. However, when your enemy was everywhere?
You simply had to deal with everything at once.
As if to prove the point, the comms panel in his office flashes with a call already anticipated: Moneypenny has arrived at the location where Ronni’s real dinner date had been staying. The young man’s already predicting what she’ll find, and gut churns when the newly promoted senior agent shows him footage from the phone’s video camera: their potential business associate is dead, lying where he was shot, running away from his assailant.
‘There’s something you need to see, Q, left on his body.’
The business card is no surprise, knowing the logo he’s being shown hides a coda on its flipside. It remains abundantly obvious who Ronni ended up spending an evening with: his identity is unknown to her, but as soon as the fingerprint database has finished its search, there would be confirmation of what Q already knew. Without the need to ask, Moneypenny turns the card over in latex-covered hands. He doesn’t need a computer to match the handwriting he sees, and suddenly the last ten day’s worth of concern turns into a full blown departmental issue.
‘It was execution-style, despite the first shot. Back of the head, second to the heart. This guy isn’t screwing about.’
Q’s anger rises; emotion remains carefully controlled, focusing instead on the messages being sent to two other men. Neither of them would take kindly to being woken, but once the codeword sent was digested, both would understand the significance.
‘Are the Met Police there to deal with the body?’
‘Our coroner’s just removing the bullets, do you want me to go to the Morgue?’
‘No, I’ll send Grace over to expedite the body. You need to be back here as 004 is already inbound. I just woke up Felix and Charlie, who I suspect will not be best pleased as they’re still working on Eastern Standard Time. Would you possibly mind collecting M from his Westminster address, please, I’m instigating a Level Two Protocol.’
‘It will come as absolutely no surprise that he’s decided to bypass mission objectives and pull Ronni into the loop. Haste would be appreciated.’
‘Already on my way.’
Q is careful to omit that he began this chain of events, because what the situation doesn’t need is two agents berating him for choices already taken. As one call ends, another begins: Q switches effortlessly between frequencies and media, already in his element as Special Agent Charlie LaCroix’s face fills the screen. He looks surprisingly awake for four hours sleep, jet lag something the man will undoubtedly take in his stride. Q’s pleased that his assessment of this man following Bond’s association with him in Alaska was correct, that he’d be the first non English born individual to hold a 00 designation in his tenure, and certainly not the last.
‘You don’t do practical jokes, right? This isn’t some hazing stunt to welcome me to the party?’
‘You will be pleased to know Mr LaCroix that your contract is very clear on ethical and fair treatment of all employees, regardless of race, sex and ethnic background. Having welcomed you to the bosom of the British Secret Service, it would be unfair now to prank you before you’ve even got feet under the desk. Is Mr Leiter awake?’
‘Yeah and I won’t repeat what he called you when that happened. Am I allowed to talk on this frequency or do I need the scrambler?’
‘Under the circumstances I think I’ll leave any briefing until you’re somewhere whose security I can personally guarantee. No disrespect, you understand, but your presence here is a matter of priority.’
‘I get the British efficiency thing, we’ll be there in 15.’
No more conversation is needed, and that gives Q a chance to pick up Ronni on external CCTV, running from Bond’s flat close to Milbank through a damp and unsettled Central London. The call goes out to his best people: Walters, Frasier and Cartwright-Miller all answer within fifteen seconds and this alone fills a weary heart with joy. He brings in Lizzie Mayer too: she may only be in the Barracks on secondment, but this would be a perfect opportunity to see real field work first hand. He’d also take the young man from Comms, Emmanuel Curtis, as he’d been showing real flair in research and as Ronni was more than likely to be out in the field? A good extra pair of eyes would never go amiss.
His team is coming together, disparate parts of a puzzle that for years has been only about a dominant factor: heterosexual male success. There is the chance to make things so much more than they are, and Q’s influence and support in the organisation is growing after the failed merger with MI5. That institution remains the dinosaur, unable to evolve in the darkening winter of Spectre’s attack, whilst his department continues to not only flourish but strengthen.
Q is more than aware how much of that change rests not simply with the women in his department, most especially Veronica Flemmings. Everybody needs her to succeed, and not just for their own internal, political gains. She’s become the metaphor for progress in the Service, and the next step in that process is potentially a fraught one indeed.
Now the game’s afoot, a great deal of expectation rests with 004.