Octopussy & the Living Daylights (James Bond #14)

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20.05.2019

Take it easy, dammit! thought Bond. It’s me who’s supposed to have the nerves.

He strained his eyes, taking in the squat flash eliminator at the muzzle, the telescopic sight, and the thick downward chunk of magazine. Yes, that would be it! Absolutely for sure—and the best they had!

"Kalashnikov," he said curtly. "Submachinegun. Gas-operated. Thirty rounds in seven sixty-two millimeter. Favorite with the KGB. They’re going to do a saturation job after all. Perfect for range. We’ll have to get him pretty quick, or 272 will end up not just dead but strawberry jam. You keep an eye out for any movement over there in the rubble. I’ll have to stay married to that window and the gun. He’ll have to show himself to fire. Other chaps are probably spotting behind him—perhaps from all four windows. Much the sort of setup we expected, but I didn’t think they’d use a weapon that’s going to make all the racket this one will. Should have known they would. A running man will be hard to get in this light with a single-shot job."

Bond fiddled minutely with the traversing and elevating screws at his fingertips and got the fine lines of the scope exactly intersected, just behind where the butt of the enemy gun merged into the blackness behind. Get the chest—don’t bother about the head!

Inside the hood, Bond’s face began to sweat and his eye socket was slippery against the rubber of the eyepiece. That didn’t matter. It was only his hands, his trigger finger, that must stay bone dry. As the minutes ticked by, he frequently blinked his eyes to rest them, shifted his limbs to keep them supple, listened to the music to relax his mind.

The minutes slouched on leaden feet. How old would she be? Early twenties? Say twenty-three? With that poise and insouciance, the hint of authority in her long easy stride, she would come of good racy stock—one of the old Prussian families probably or from similar remnants in Poland or even Russia. Why in hell did she have to choose the cello? There was something almost indecent in the idea of this bulbous, ungainly instrument between her splayed thighs. Of course Suggia had managed to look elegant, and so did that girl Amaryllis somebody. But they should invent a way for women to play the damned thing sidesaddle.

From his side Captain Sender said, "Seven o’clock. Nothing’s stirred on the other side. Bit of movement on our side, near a cellar close to the frontier. That’ll be our reception committee—two good men from the Station. Better stay with it until they close down. Let me know when they take that gun in." – "All right."

It was seven-thirty when the KGB submachinegun was gently drawn back into the black interior. One by one the bottom sashes of the four windows were closed. The coldhearted game was over for the night. 272 was still holed up. Two more nights to go! – Bond softly drew the curtain over his shoulders and across the muzzle of the Winchester. He got up, pulled off his cowl, and went into the bathroom, where he stripped and had a shower. Then he had two large whiskeys-on-the-rocks in quick succession, while he waited, his ears pricked, for the now muffled sound of the orchestra to stop. At eight o’clock it did, with the expert comment from Sender—"Borodin’s Prince Igor, Choral Dance Number 17, I think."—who had been getting off his report in garbled language to the Head of Station.

"Just going to have another look. I’ve rather taken to that tall blonde with the cello," Bond said to Sender. "Didn’t notice her," said Sender, uninterested. He went into the kitchen. Tea, guessed Bond. Or perhaps Horlick’s. Bond donned his cowl, went back to his firing position, and depressed the sniperscope to the doorway of the Haus der Ministerien. Yes, there they went, not so gay and laughing now. Tired perhaps. And now here she came, less lively, but still with that beautiful careless stride. Bond watched the blown golden hair and the fawn raincoat until it had vanished into the indigo dusk up the Wilhelmstrasse. Where did she live? In some miserable flaked room in the suburbs? Or in one of the privileged apartments in the hideous lavatory-tiled Stalinallee?

Bond drew himself back. Somewhere, within easy reach, that girl lived. Was she married? Did she have a lover? Anyway, to hell with it! She was not for him.

The next day, and the next night watch, were duplicates, with small variations, of the first. James Bond had his two more brief rendezvous, by sniperscope, with the girl, and the rest was a killing of time and a tightening of the tension that, by the time the third and final day came, was like a fog in the small room.

James Bond crammed the third day with an almost lunatic program of museums, art galleries, the zoo, and a film, hardly perceiving anything he looked at, his mind’s eye divided between the girl and those four black squares and the black tube and the unknown man behind it—the man he was now certainly going to kill tonight.

Back punctually at five in the apartment, Bond narrowly averted a row with Captain Sender because, that evening, Bond took a stiff drink of the whiskey before he donned the hideous cowl that now stank of his sweat. Captain Sender had tried to prevent him, and when he failed, had threatened to call up Head of Station and report Bond for breaking training.

"Look, my friend," said Bond wearily, "I’ve got to commit a murder tonight. Not you. Me. So be a good chap and stuff it, would you? You can tell Tanqueray anything you like when it’s over. Think I like this job? Having a Double-O number and so on? I’d be quite happy for you to get me sacked from the Double-O Section. Then I could settle down and make a snug nest of papers as an ordinary staffer. Right?" Bond drank down his whiskey, reached for his thriller—now arriving at an appalling climax—and threw himself on the bed.

Captain Sender, icily silent, went off into the kitchen to brew, from the sounds, his inevitable cuppa.

Bond felt the whiskey beginning to melt the coiled nerves in his stomach. Now then, Liselotte, how in hell are you going to get out of this fix?

It was exactly six-five when Sender, at his post, began talking excitedly. "Bond, there’s something moving way back over there. Now he’s stopped—wait, no, he’s on the move again, keeping low. There’s a bit of broken wall there. He’ll be out of sight of the opposition. But thick weeds, yards of them, ahead of him. Christ! He’s coming through the weeds. And they’re moving. Hope to God they think it’s only the wind. Now he’s through and gone to ground. Any reaction?"

"No," said Bond tensely. "Keep on telling me. How far to the frontier?"

"He’s only got about fifty yards to go," Captain Sender’s voice was harsh with excitement. "Broken stuff, but some of it’s open. Then a solid chunk of wall right up against the pavement. He’ll have to get over it. They can’t fail to spot him then. Now! Now he’s made ten yards, and another ten. Got him clearly then. Blackened his face and hands. Get ready! Any moment now he’ll make the last sprint."

James Bond felt the sweat pouring down his face and neck. He took a chance and quickly wiped his hands down his sides and then got them back to the rifle, his finger inside the guard, just lying along the curved trigger. "There’s something moving in the room behind the gun. They must have spotted him. Get that Opel working."

Bond heard the code word go into the microphone, heard the Opel in the street below start up, felt his pulse quicken as the engine leaped into life and a series of ear-splitting cracks came from the exhaust.

The movement in the black cave was now definite. A black arm with a black glove had reached out and under the stock.

"Now!" called out Captain Sender. "Now! He’s run for the wall! He’s up it! Just going to jump!"

And then, in the sniperscope, Bond saw the head of Trigger—the purity of the profile, the golden bell of hair—all laid out along the stock of the Kalashnikov! She was dead, a sitting duck! Bond’s fingers flashed down to the screws, inched them round, and as yellow flame fluttered at the snout of the submachinegun, squeezed the trigger.

The bullet, dead-on at three hundred and ten yards, must have hit where the stock ended up the barrel, might have got her in the left hand—but the effect was to tear the gun off its mountings, smash it against the side of the window frame, and then hurl it out of the window. It turned several times on its way down and crashed into the middle of the street.

"He’s over!" shouted Captain Sender. "He’s over! He’s done it! My God, he’s done it!"

"Get down!" said Bond sharply, and threw himself sideways off the bed as the big eye of a searchlight in one of the black windows blazed on, swerving up the street toward their block and their room. Then gunfire crashed, and the bullets howled into their window, ripping the curtains, smashing the woodwork, thudding into the walls.

Behind the roar and zing of the bullets, Bond heard the Opel race off down the street, and, behind that again, the fragmentary whisper of the orchestra. The combination of the two background noises clicked. Of course! The orchestra, that must have raised an infernal din throughout the offices and corridors of the Haus der Ministerien, was, as on their side the backfiring Opel, designed to provide some cover for the sharp burst of fire from Trigger. Had she carried her weapon to and fro every day in that cello case? Was the whole orchestra composed of KGB women? Had the other instrument cases contained only equipment—the big drum perhaps the searchlight—while the real instruments were available in the concert hall? Too elaborate? Too fantastic? Probably.

But there had been no doubt about the girl. In the sniperscope, Bond had even been able to see one wide, heavily lashed, aiming eye. Had he hurt her? Almost certainly her left arm. There would be no chance of seeing her, seeing how she was, if she left with the orchestra. Now he would never see her again. Bond’s window would be a death trap. To underline the fact, a stray bullet smashed into the mechanism of the Winchester, already overturned and damaged, and hot lead splashed down on Bond’s hand, burning the skin. On Bond’s emphatic oath, the firing stopped abruptly and silence sang in the room.

Captain Sender emerged from beside his bed, brushing glass out of his hair. Bond and Sender crunched across the floor and through the splintered door into the kitchen. Here, because the room faced away from the street, it was safe to switch on the light.

"Any damage?" asked Bond.

"No. You all right?" Captain Sender’s pale eyes were bright with the fever that comes in battle. They also, Bond noticed, held a sharp glint of accusation.

"Yes. Just get an Elastoplast for my hand. Caught a splash from one of the bullets." Bond went into the bathroom. When he came out, Captain Sender was sitting by the walkie-talkie he had fetched from the sitting room. He was speaking into it. Now he said into the microphone, "That’s all for now. Fine about 272. Hurry the armored car, if you would. Be glad to get out of here, and 007 will need to write his version of what happened. Okay? Then over and out."

Captain Sender turned to Bond. Half accusing, half embarrassed he said, "Afraid Head of Station needs your reasons in writing for not getting that chap. I had to tell him I’d seen you alter your aim at the last second. Gave Trigger time to get off a burst. Damned lucky for 272 he’d just begun his sprint. Blew chunks off the wall behind him. What was it all about?"

James Bond knew he could lie, knew he could fake a dozen reasons why. Instead he took a deep pull at the strong whiskey he had poured for himself, put the glass down, and looked Captain Sender straight in the eye.