The combined French and Monaco fire services are struggling to keep events under control as Ronni slips down the sharp incline that forms the southern side of the estate where the safe house is located: it had been an impressive piece of early 1930’s art deco but is close now to being a shattered shell, yet the blaze inside continues to rage apace. According to Q’s intelligence the tracker’s nearly half a mile away from the house, in an area that’s marked as ‘secondary storage.’ In reality that meant the obligatory underground bunker that would have been retreated to if the area came under aerial assault, marked by an unassumingly anonymous low brick building with two large wooden doors.
Ronni slips into darkness, before putting on the glasses Q had provided as extra field equipment. Impressively bright LED’s automatically illuminate the space yet fail to blind, and suddenly a sophisticated heads up display in front of her eyes springs into life. The micro-earpiece crackles briefly: Q’s voice then is so clear that he could almost be at her shoulder.
‘I have Rachel as my second pair of eyes with Emmanuel and Lizzy on backup. We are all with you, 004, so I guarantee we’ll not miss anything. Please however proceed with caution. We have no idea what we may find.’
‘Q, that is normally my default state in situations like this. Who’s more nervous here, you or me?’
‘I think I win this first round hands down, Veronica. Your attentiveness has been a pleasant surprise from that of your predecessors. This outlook will also give everybody time to think: proceed please at your discretion.’
Anonymous concrete surrounds, stretches downwards, temperature control provided by an intact internal electrical system that meant she could find lights if needed, but would prefer to stay in darkness and not draw attention to their presence. There’s a ramp that leads down to another set of solid steel doors that should be shut yet are wedged open, and Ronni stops herself, distracted by a bright patch of red on the ground.
‘Before you ask, it’s blood.’
The inevitable question is pre-empted, as Ronni leans down, trying to imagine who’s body it was from. Could this be Bond, dragged helplessly in here to die, or better Christian’s, as 007 smashed an already damaged face into the concrete? There is a trail too, drips that lead into the first large storage area, and they are followed as breadcrumbs until almost running into a wall. Looking up, there is a moment of shocked amazement when it becomes apparent not only was her presence anticipated, but had been clearly planned for.
Across the entire expanse of concrete wall is a word, spelt out using the same size of photograph: WHORE. Every image is of Ronni: from undercover work to her running in London, images leaving and entering the Barracks, and out at the Colosseum in November. It’s meant to scare, intimidate a lesser mind into believing life had been defiled and violated for months without permission, but she knew better. This was part of the job description, after all, and unavoidable in the modern world. Ronni begins to take pictures of each ‘letter’ with her phone camera, to allow the analysts to better understand what had been used as potential torture. In her ear there is movement, a second body to Q’s left, and then Rachel’s voice talking away from his microphone.
‘We need to ID when and where every one of these pictures was taken, and ensure the integrity of any of our devices that may have been used as access. I want to know as much as you can find out in the next hour. GO.’
It is reassuring to listen to Rachel already two steps ahead, so that Q can continue to handle the situation with dispassionate attention. There is second word, scrawled across the collage in chalk: PERSEVERANCE, clearly added after the main work was complete.
‘Whilst Emmanuel is checking the integrity of our surveillance systems Lizzy will be making notes on anything we see. I think this word was added afterwards, and is not part of the original intent. Please check for anything even remotely unusual, 004.’
‘Looking at where I know these were taken, none of this stuff’s really sensational, I’d be concerned if they had anything from internal CCTV like Whitehall.’
‘Indeed but I’d like to be sure. I’m also concerned in the dark you may find yourself easily disorientated.’
‘I am aware what happened to Theseus: although I may not have string, I’m making sure I remember the way back.’
There are indeed other words as she moves down the access tunnel, and Lizzy’s diligence will recall them all for later. Reaching a second room, it takes a moment for the smart glasses to adjust to the darkness, but as they do there is an audible gasp from Mayer: from the ceiling hangs a dummy, clearly made up to look like Flemmings, with large metal spikes hammered through both breasts and the crotch. Above hangs a banner, red paint, the word SLUT in badly drawn capital letters. Ronni laughs, despite herself, because this isn’t making her frightened. She feels sorry at the simplicity of the effort: was this the best Christian and Maddy could concoct?
‘I’ve never really understood this form of abuse, it’s hardly very well done.’
‘I feel that perhaps you and Christian may be at odds. He appears to have some issues with your professionalism.’
‘Well, can you blame him? We didn’t exactly hit it off, did we?’
She deadpans the joke and knows Q will smile, that this is all that is required from the moment to reassure there’s no concern for her mental well-being. This room however should be full of arms and equipment but is empty, as Spectre has clearly stripped the place clean.
‘My greater concern past the amateur theatrics, Q -‘
‘Indeed. Our guests have been extremely thorough. Lizzy, I’ll need someone on the inventory for this location so we have an idea of what Spectre have liberated on their departure. Ronni, there’s a room to your left, access code Delta One. Can you check it for me please?’
Doing as instructed, recalling the code choice from her first briefing after taking the number, the area is empty apart from a pile of clothes. Suddenly conscious of her audience, Ronni briefly hesitates before reaching down and smelling the underarm of the shirt, dark spots on the surface she knows are blood. Bond’s blood, shirt he changed out of. There’s no need to rescue him, because unsurprisingly he did that for himself.
‘What was provisioned in here, Q?’
‘BMW S 1000 XR motorcycle, survival equipment and the clothes I assume Bond changed into?’
‘In the end, yet again, he saved himself. Can’t say I’m at all surprised.’
The relief is genuine reassurance since the first time her feet touched European soil, that knowing Bond’s already in theatre takes a surprising amount of pressure off her shoulders. Now, however, a whole slew of new questions suddenly rise to challenge: most notably, what lies beyond the main storage area.
‘Lock was operated about an hour ago, I can now check satellite footage to confirm it was him regardless. The DB10’s tracker’s still registering, 004, lets see if we can recover some stolen property while we’re here.’
‘No. This is where I stop.’
Ronni knows she’s done, suddenly unwilling to continue the objective, every nerve unsurprisingly on alert, and it takes a moment to work out why. Only now does brain register words read as she’d descended into the bunker, needing confirmation of what is suddenly compelling her to disobey a direct order. Explanation added after the fact, familiar handwriting. The letter he sent, telling her the wedding was off, reminder that these circumstances changed the game plan. Turning suddenly, consciousness connects with location to provide an answer. In chalk, on the wall of the small room are scrawled three words: TODAY WE ESCAPE.
‘Care to explain, 004?’
The first thing truly bonded over was music, back when 007 had liberated her iPod during training. This band would always come up somewhere in conversation, and so Ronni felt obliged to buy the albums and, despite herself, began to appreciate a new back catalogue. He knew every lyric by heart, because James was the bigger nerd, and that suited his persona just perfectly when all was said and done. They’d agreed the last night they’d slept together: codewords were easy to decrypt if you knew someone’s history. Lyrics were far more esoteric and mysterious. If they were ever compromised, needing to communicate on an intensely private level, she’d use The Divine Comedy, and he’d always pick Radiohead.
‘Private joke, 007 knew only I’d understand. He knew it would be me here, and planned ahead. I think this is where we use the drone, and I get ready to run if required.’
‘No, you will exit first, I can control the unit perfectly well from ground level. If Bond is telling you to go no further, I am the last person to ignore such sound advice.’
Once back outside the bunker, Ronni retrieves the tiny remote controlled device from her four wheel drive, effectively a camera with sensors and propellers, watching as Q takes the reins from Central London via her scrambled connection. He flies the unit up and away, back into darkness, with a skill that should not be a surprise. The heads up display on her glasses register as the tiny device zips back to their last point of interest, before ascending to just below ceiling level. Another ultra bright LED bank activates and shines down as the unit moves slowly forward, before an alarm sounds, then another, with the sickening realisation Bond knew full well the theatrics had only one aim, to draw her to an untimely demise. Ronni unconsciously begins to back away from the entrance, aware that the unit’s picked up multiple hazards, but that’s the least of their concerns.
As she runs, as fast as possible away from the bunker, there are shouts from up at the house as the fire crews also scatter, leaving the building to burn. Q has raised the alarm for them via the French authorities, video from beneath her feet revealing the ultimate, damning truth. Inside the final storage area sits the DB10, still immaculate, surrounded by enough explosive compound to blow a hole in the mountainside that would make the safe house’s destruction appear like lighting a match.