Trafalgar Square shines: rain soaked pavements reflect the lights of street lamps and the constant flow of traffic, even this early. The city may not be insomniac as New York, vibrant as Istanbul, but London is all too aware of the pain in Ronni’s heart. Each stride is a way to think, arrange the evening in context. However, what might have happened if she’d stayed at Bond’s flat makes her ache, events a world away from the drama dropped in her lap. Doing the crossword when he returned with takeaway, naked except for his shirt. Legs tangled, early dawn embrace, first time they’d woken together. It will be some time before that part of her comfort is assuaged, time to lock everything dangerous and distracting away, hidden deep so it can’t cloud judgement. Bond’s own precarious position highlights the damage a misplaced emotional connection can make, not a mistake she’s either willing or prepared to repeat.
The city feels this pain and sings comfort beneath tired feet, each step pulling her closer to the point where professionalism becomes all-consuming, mission the primary goal.
She is not prepared however to walk into the Barracks at 3.30am and find it completely staffed. In fact, the number of people here further fuel the fire that’s now burning healthily in her mind: this is big, and Bond knew she was in trouble at the Opera without the need to explain. Thinking back on what he said, niggle remains that M should have been spoken to before James, and had she done so there was a good chance he’d have in turn prevented contact at all. Too many pieces of this puzzle have been kept from her, and there needs to be urgent understanding of why.
Q wouldn’t have allowed a visit if there had been a problem, so why is he approaching her at speed before she can make it to the control room where M will be waiting?
‘Ronni, we need to talk.’
‘You screwed up, didn’t you?’
The man’s features harden at the suggestion, and for a second she thinks Q will snap in response, as was often the case when people were either very stupid or thoughtless.
‘I could say… I didn’t think of consequence, but that would be erroneous. I didn’t lie, I was simply economical with the truth. For a moment, I put myself in Bond’s shoes.’
This isn’t the response expected, and she’s lost for an appropriate comeback. Q stares, defensive stance relaxing, before he puts a hand to her arm.
‘You two are a considerable force when combined, and you have been chronically wasted since your promotion. I know this, and so do you. That’s why this situation will now require something extraordinary in order to salvage anything. As you will soon discover, you are very much on your own, but I will do everything in my power to support you. If you want to blame anyone?’
‘I’ll blame James, because if he had trusted me to begin with, we could have fixed whatever this is far earlier. I also suspect I have the boss to thank for a warning I never received.’
Her hand wraps around Q’s, sudden closeness to a man who reminds her there’s still a sizeable mountain to climb with certain senior staff. Leaving him she’s determined to find M, and certainly isn’t expecting to encounter the African-American guy plus the very attractive Canadian blonde who are in the briefing area, coffee mugs in hands. When the older man sees her his eyes light up, rush to go and hug, long and hard, joy at reconnecting after absence. La Croix starts with a handshake but ends up in an embrace, which dissolves into laughter.
‘So the vending machine rumours were indeed correct; however, should I be concerned, Charlie that both you and Felix are here?’
‘Agent LaCroix signed his contract yesterday and was confirmed actively 00 at 17.00 hours, but won’t be required to take his predecessor’s name, simply the number. Mr Leiter is our recently promoted European Liaison for the joint FBI/CIA Taskforce set up after Spectre’s existence was confirmed.’
M’s appeared from the back of the room: impeccable in dark blue Burberry and in full exposition mode, there’s the sense he’s not relishing being awake this early, regardless of the situation. However, even he manages a smile as Felix shakes his hand, apparent the boss has not seen these two since they came in from Washington. Charlie’s enthusiasm is infectious, thrown around liberally and gratefully received before dawn.
‘I have to say, Sir, this was an offer I think both Felix and I would have been foolish to turn down.’
‘I’m also pleased to see that when called to action you responded with the promptness we’d expect, 009.’
This section of Whitehall had finally come out of the 1950’s, casting their net beyond the normal remit of applications. There had been rumours whilst Ronni was last undercover that basic procedures were being revised, in an attempt to prevent someone like Bond going off alone in the future and potentially jeopardising the long-term sanctity of the programme. She also knows Moneypenny’s desk job is vacant as of the same moment LaCroix became 009, being covered by a male agent from Acquisitions.
The woman’s outside, striding into the frame with Rachel in tow, dressed in a manner that makes 004 think that perhaps Charlie isn’t the only new top tier on the books. She’d been responsible for at least one of the three enemy fatalities after the initial attack on the Barracks: had Whitehall decided to count this as her second kill and finally award the designation? There is one way to find out, and to ask the question of her directly.
‘Good morning Moneypenny, I’m going to guess congratulations are in order?’
There’s no humour towards Ronni’s greeting, only quiet determination: all business in a clear attempt to not allow the moment to overtake.
‘My first task as 003 was to confirm your intended dinner guest for the evening was executed, 004, and is now lying in the Metropolitan Police’s morgue.’
Ronni takes the plastic bag she is presented, inside which is another business card. Turning it over, anger begins to rise that needs to be channelled and dissipated, and so focus is moved back to the matter in her hand.
‘So Q, I’m going to suggest that whoever it was I took to the ENO tonight was the man responsible for shooting the real Mr Richmond. Would I be correct?’
Q’s reappeared, quietly slipping into the empty terminal space in the open-plan briefing area, calling up details that illuminate on order above him as he talks.
‘I was able to lift a fingerprint off the wine glass, from your opera guest, and identified residue on the business card’s surface which suggests he’d handled a firearm in the last twelve hours. Who you thought was Christopher James Richmond can now be correctly identified as Christian Alexi Swann.’
A familiar image fills the screen that’s now acting as the focus for this impromptu briefing, and suddenly the resemblance between this man and Madeline is unmistakeable.
‘Same mother, different father?’
‘No, the other way around. It seems her father had an affair sometime before Madeline was born. Christian didn’t effectively exist either until his early 20’s. There’s no education records, pictures, he appears at the Sorbonne in 1994 almost by magic. The man has lived a charmed life ever since and I only have his fingerprints because they were voluntarily offered to the French Police two years ago, when his electronics company signed a contract with them to supply tagging and monitoring equipment. Bond’s codeword was your clue, comparing DNA…’
‘I am assuming Domino refers to Domino Vitali, who was involved in Operation Thunderball in 1965. Her brother was responsible for the hijack of two NATO-owned nuclear warheads, which the 007 at that time subsequently located and recovered. So knowing this I’m betting Madeline having a half brother isn’t news to Bond. Did I miss a briefing?’
There’s a moment of discomfort in the room: Ronni remembers a feeling, past making present awkward. It would be the same acute discomfort she’d experience when made the butt of a joke at school, or outside the privy of some piece of gossip or scandal. Of everyone that surrounds her, only M has the balls to make eye contact, and so 004 decides to start there.