Settings

Page 23


James Bond watched her expression. She was pleased. After a few minutes she read out:

“M PERSONAL FOR OHOHSEVEN EYES ONLY STOP YOUR REPORT AND DITTO FROM TOP FRIENDS [a euphemism for the C.I.A.] RECEIVED STOP YOU HAVE DONE WELL AND EXECUTED AYE DIFFICULT AND HAZARDOUS OPERATION TO MY ENTIRE REPEAT ENTIRE SATISFACTION STOP TRUST YOUR HEALTH UNIMPAIRED [Bond gave an angry snort] STOP WHEN WILL YOU BE REPORTING FOR FURTHER DUTY QUERY.”

Mary Goodnight smiled delightedly. “I've never seen him be so complimentary! Have you, James? That repeat of entire! It's tremendous!” She looked hopefully for a lifting of the black clouds from Bond's face.

In fact, Bond was secretly delighted. He knew what Mary couldn't know--that M. was telling him that he had won his spurs back. But he certainly wasn't going to show his pleasure to Mary Goodnight. Today she was one of the wardresses confining him, tying him down. He said grudgingly, “Not bad for the old man. But all he wants is to get me back to that bloody desk. Anyway, it's a lot of jazz so far. What comes next?” He turned the pages of his book, pretending as the little machine whirred and clicked not to be interested.

“Oh, James!” Mary Goodnight exploded with excitement. “Wait! I'm almost finished. It's tremendous!”

“I know,” commented Bond sourly. “Free luncheon vouchers every second Friday. Key to M.'s personal lavatory. New suit to replace the one that's somehow got full of holes.” But he kept his eyes fixed on the flitting fingers, infected by Mary Goodnight's excitement. What in hell was she getting so steamed up about? And all on his behalf! He examined her with approval. Perched there, immaculate in her white tussore shirt and tight beige skirt, one neat foot curled round the other in concentration, the golden face under the shortish fair hair incandescent with pleasure, she was, thought Bond, a girl to have around always. As a secretary? As what? Mary Goodnight turned, her eyes shining, and the question went, as it had gone for weeks, without an answer.

“Now, just listen to this, James.” She shook the notebook at him. “And for heaven's sake, stop looking so curmudgeonly.”

Bond smiled at the word. “All right, Mary. Go ahead. Empty the Christmas stocking on the floor. Hope it's not going to bust any stitches.” He put his book down on his lap.

Mary Goodnight's face became portentous. She said seriously, “Just listen to this!” She read very carefully:

“IN VIEW OF THE OUTSTANDING NATURE OF THE SERVICES REFERRED TO ABOVE AND THEIR ASSISTANCE TO THE ALLIED CAUSE COMMA WHICH IS PERHAPS MORE SIGNIFICANT THAN YOU IMAGINE COMMA THE PRIME MINISTER PROPOSES TO RECOMMEND TO HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH THE IMMEDIATE GRANT OF A KNIGHTHOOD STOP THIS TO TAKE THE FORM OF THE ADDITION OF A KATIE AS PREFIX TO YOUR CHARLIE MICHAEL GEORGE.”

James Bond uttered a defensive, embarrassed laugh.

“Good old cypherines. They wouldn't think of just putting K C M G --Much too easy! Go ahead, Mary. This is good!”

“IT IS COMMON PRACTICE TO INQUIRE OF PROPOSED RECIPIENT WHETHER HE ACCEPTS THIS HIGH HONOUR BEFORE HER MAJESTY PUTS HER SEAL UPON IT STOP WRITTEN LETTER SHOULD FOLLOW YOUR CABLED CONFIRMATION OF ACCEPTANCE PARAGRAPH THIS AWARD NATURALLY HAS MY SUPPORT AND ENTIRE APPROVAL AND EYE SEND YOU MY PERSONAL CONGRATULATIONS ENDIT MAILED-FIST.”

James Bond again hid himself behind the throwaway line. “Why in hell does he always have to sign himself Mailed-fist for M.? There's a perfectly good English word. Em . It's a measure used by printers. But of course it's not dashing enough for the Chief. He's a romantic at heart like all the silly bastards who get mixed up with the Service.”

Mary Goodnight lowered her eyelashes. She knew that Bond's reflex concealed his pleasure--a pleasure he wouldn't for the life of him have displayed. Who wouldn't be pleased, proud? She put on a businesslike expression. “Well, would you like me to draft something for you to send? I can be back with it at six, and I know they'll let me in. I can check up the right sort of formula with the High Commissioner's staff. I know it begins with 'I present my humble duty to Her Majesty” I've had to help with the Jamaica honours at New Year and her birthday. Everyone seems to want to know the form."

James Bond wiped his forehead with his handkerchief. Of course he was pleased! But above all pleased with M.'s commendation. The rest, he knew, was not in his stars. He had never been a public figure, and he did not wish to become one. He had no prejudice against letters after one's name, or before it. But there was one thing above all he treasured. His privacy. His anonymity. To become a public person, a person, in the snobbish world of England , of any country, who would be called upon to open things, lay foundation stones, make after-dinner speeches, brought the sweat to his armpits. “James Bond!” No middle name. No hyphen. A quiet, dull, anonymous name. Certainly he was a Commander in the Special Branch of the R.N.V.R., but he rarely used the rank. His C.M.G. likewise. He wore it perhaps once a year, together with his two rows of lettuce, because there was a dinner for the Old Boys--the fraternity of ex-Secret Service men that went under the name of The Twin Snakes Club. A grisly reunion held in the banqueting hall at Blades, it gave enormous pleasure to a lot of people who had been brave and resourceful in their day but now had old men's and old women's diseases and talked about dusty triumphs and tragedies. Tales which, since they would never be recorded in the history books, must be told again that night, over the Cockburn '12, when “The Queen” had been drunk, to some next-door neighbour such as James Bond who was only interested in what was going to happen tomorrow. That was when he wore his lettuce and the C.M.G. below his black tie--to give pleasure and reassurance to the Old Children at their annual party. For the rest of the year, until May polished them up for the occasion, the medals gathered dust in some secret repository where May kept them.

So now James Bond said to Mary Goodnight, avoiding her eyes, "Mary, this is an order. Take down what follows and send it tonight. Right?

“Begins: quote MAILED-FIST EYES ONLY [Bond interjected, I might have said Promoneypenny. When did M. last touch a cypher machine?] STOP YOUR [Put in the number, Mary] ACKNOWLEDGED AND GREATLY APPRECIATED STOP AM INFORMED BY HOSPITAL AUTHORITIES THAT EYE SHALL BE RETURNED LONDONWARDS DUTIABLE IN ONE MONTH STOP REFERRING YOUR REFERENCE TO AYE HIGH HONOUR EYE BEG YOU PRESENT MY HUMBLE DUTY TO HER MAJESTY AND REQUEST THAT EYE MAY BE PERMITTED COMMA IN ALL HUMILITY COMMA TO DECLINE THE SIGNAL FAVOUR HER MAJESTY IS GRACIOUS ENOUGH TO PROPOSE TO CONFER UPON HER HUMBLE AND OBEDIENT SERVANT BRACKET TO MAILED-FIST PLEASE PUT THIS IN THE APPROPRIATE WORDS TO THE PRIME MINISTER STOP MY PRINCIPAL REASON IS THAT EYE DONT WANT TO PAY MORE AT HOTELS AND RESTAURANTS BRACKET.”

Mary Goodnight broke in, horrified. “James. The rest is your business, but you really can't say that last bit.”

Bond nodded. "I was only trying it on you, Mary. All right, let's start again at the last stop. Write:

“EYE AM A SCOTTISH PEASANT AND EYE WILL ALWAYS FEEL AT HOME BEING A SCOTTISH PEASANT AND EYE KNOW COMMA SIR COMMA THAT YOU WILL UNDERSTAND MY PREFERENCE AND THAT EYE CAN COUNT ON YOUR INDULGENCE BRACKET LETTER CONFIRMING FOLLOWS IMMEDIATELY ENDIT OHOH-SEVEN.”

Mary Goodnight closed her book with a snap. She shook her head. The golden hair danced angrily. “Well really, James! Are you sure you don't want to sleep on it? I knew you were in a bad mood today. You may have changed your mind by tomorrow. Don't you want to go to Buckingham Palace and see the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh and kneel and have your shoulder touched with a sword and the Queen to say 'Arise, Sir Knight' or whatever it is she does say?”

Bond smiled. “I'd like all those things. The romantic streak of the S.I.S.--and of the Scot, for the matter of that. I just refuse to call myself Sir James Bond. I'd laugh at myself every time I looked in the mirror to shave. It's just not my line, Mary. The thought makes me positively shudder. I know M.'ll understand. He thinks much the same way about these things as I do. Trouble was, he had to more or less inherit his K with the job. Anyway, there it is and I shan't change my mind, so you can buzz that off, and I'll write M. a letter of confirmation this evening. Any other business?”

“Well there is one thing, James.” Mary Goodnight looked down her pretty nose. “Matron says you can leave at the end of the week, but that there's got to be another three weeks' convalescence. Had you got any plans where to go? You have to be in reach of the hospital.”

“No ideas. What do you suggest?”

“Well, er, I've got this little villa up by Mona Dam, James.” Her voice hurried. “It's got quite a nice spare room looking out over Kingston Harbour . And it's cool up there. And if you don't mind sharing a bathroom.” She blushed. “I'm afraid there's no chaperone, but you know, in Jamaica , people don't mind that sort of thing.”

“What sort of thing?” said Bond, teasing her.

“Don't be silly, James. You know, unmarried couples sharing the same house and so on.”

“Oh that sort of thing! Sounds pretty dashing to me. By the way, is your bedroom decorated in pink, with white jalousies, and do you sleep under a mosquito net?”

She looked surprised. “Yes. How did you know?” When he didn't answer, she hurried on. “And James, it's not far from the Liguanea Club, and you can go there and play bridge, and golf when you get better. There'll be plenty of people for you to talk to. And then of course I can cook and sew buttons on for you and so on.”

Of all the doom-fraught graffiti a woman can write on the wall, those are the most insidious, the most deadly.

James Bond, in the full possession of his senses, with his eyes wide open, his feet flat on the linoleum floor, stuck his head blithely between the mink-lined jaws of the trap. He said, and meant it, “Goodnight. You're an angel.”

At the same time, he knew, deep down, that love from Mary Goodnight, or from any other woman, was not enough for him. It would be like taking “a room with a view.” For James Bond, the same view would always pall.

-THE END-

Copyright 2016 - 2020