James Bond sauntered into 00-Section at precisely 8 a.m. Monday morning, hung up his hat and flashed the pretty young Section secretary a winning grin. "Hello, Goodnight."
Mary Goodnight looked up from her receptionist's desk with weary amusement, tucking a stray strand of long blue-black hair behind one ear. "Your quips are as sharp as ever, James," she said. "Sharp as a scrambled egg."
"You wound me, dear," James said. "Itinerary..?"
"On your seat, sir," Goodnight said with an offhand gesture. She had already turned her attention back to her work. Bond lingered for a slow, appraising glance at the girl's nylon-covered legs, an indulgence he wouldn't normally allow, but his weekend had been full and happy, and his mood was uncharacteristically ebullient.
Bond stepped into his office, closed the door and retrieved the folder Goodnight had left on his chair. He sat down and scanned the itinerary first, setting aside the various briefings and correspondence - that could be attended to later.
An item midway down the list caught his eye. He frowned, gripped the itinerary in a fist suddenly taut with annoyance, and yanked open his office door, glaring at Goodnight.
"What's this at twelve? A damned birthday party? It doesn't even say whose birthday," Bond grumbled.
Goodnight shrugged. "That came straight from M's office, sir. You're to bring a gift suitable for a woman of a certain age, and dress casually, like a - "
"Yes, like a man of means on holiday. I can read the bloody note," Bond said, and shut his door again. So much for catching up on his paperwork.
Goodnight stared after him. "Then why ask me?" she wondered.
* * *
Bond slipped out at eleven drove his DB5 straight for the shops, where he purchased a brown Hercules leather bomber jacket with a furred collar, a pair of bluejeans and a pair of Sauvage snake-proof hunting boots. For the birthday gift he purchased a string of pearls, which the salesgirl wrapped up very neatly in a white box with a red ribbon.
You can't go wrong with jewellery, Bond thought, no matter what a woman's age. Ingénue or matron, Bond knew the gift would be well-received.
Bond brought his purchases home, changed, and drove straight to Blades, M's favourite club, as indicated on the itinerary. It was all damned peculiar. Not only was he improperly dressed for the club, Blades was restricted to men; to whom was he giving the pearls? As he pulled up to the kerb outside Blades, Bond mulled over the possibilities. M wasn't the joking sort. Something about the situation felt wrong, and Bond never ignored the instincts that had saved his life again and again.
His hand hovered over the car's ignition switch for a second, then snapped back down to the gearshift. He hammered it into first and slammed the gas pedal to the floorboards, the engine screaming, the hood lurching skyward. An instant later he was in second gear and roaring down the avenue - not quite quickly enough to outrun the shockwave as Blades exploded behind him, enveloping the car in a lethal cloud of flying glass, wood and concrete. The DB5 heeled over to the left as Bond fought to stay conscious, the concussive force of the blast ringing his ears.
Everything started to move in slow motion as the car overturned and Bond was flung headlong through the air, flying alongside the debris.
"Goodnight, Mary," Bond thought irrationally as he crashed into the sidewalk, and then everything went black.
* * *
Waking up in a hospital bed was nothing new to Bond, and not for the first time he wondered why he stayed in the business. He'd certainly given up enough for Queen and country - Vesper, Tracy, any semblance of a normal life. He carefully looked himself over, noting that at least there were no missing limbs, though he'd probably picked up a fresh scar or two.
I wonder how many died, Bond thought. Blades tended to attract quite a lunch crowd.
As if in response to a psychic call, M suddenly appeared, bursting in like a dervish, slamming the door shut behind him, his face red.
"Twenty-seven killed, 007, in my club," he thundered. "And a valuable asset nearly blown to kingdom come with them."
Bond sat upright in his hospital bed, though it pained him. "Sir, what's all this about? It seems absurd to ask 'why the cloak and dagger?', but the itinerary was painfully brief - dangerously so, as it turns out."
"I didn't add that item to your calendar, Bond," M said, his steely gaze smouldering. "Your secretary is out of her mind with guilt, thinking she should have caught it. But the duplication was perfect. Your itinerary was stamped with today's codes, on today's paper, delivered by an interoffice courier who's been with us for nearly fifteen years."
"So not an inside job," Bond said.
"No," M said flatly. "I've assigned 002 to follow up. You're to recuperate for the next seven weeks."
Bond chafed. "But sir - "
"No buts, Bond. You're on medical leave effective immediately until I release you. The doctors tell me you ruptured a couple of organs and cracked a few bones, and I won't have a man who's not at 100 percent getting to the root of this damned situation."
"Yes, sir," Bond said, deflated.
* * *
A week after Bond was released, an unmarked envelope showed up in his mailbox. After checking carefully for poison and letter bombs, Bond opened it.
The card was blood red, with delicate black script in a woman's sure hand:
Mr. Bond -
So sorry I missed you at the club. It's a shame we'll never meet face to face, though I'll be calling on you again someday. Perhaps on your birthday, perhaps on mine, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps ten years from now. Why? My dear Mr. Bond, a lady never tells. But if you think back on all the men and women you've put in early graves over the years, surely you can narrow the list of subjects down to a reasonable thousand or so.
Be seeing you.
Bond sighed and slipped the poison pen note back into its plain envelope. He'd take it to headquarters for analysis, but he doubted they'd find anything. He wondered if this new old enemy was sane or mad, a professional or merely playing at it. It hardly mattered; in his business, her kind were legion. This was nothing remarkable, though he was sad for the loss of nearly thirty innocent lives.
A lady never tells, Bond mused silently. But blood will tell eventually, he thought, and went back indoors, calling out to May to prepare a cup of tea.