‘You’ll be losing one of your best men.’
‘Used to be. Isn’t any longer.’
Sir James Molony sat back. He looked out of the window and puffed thoughtfully at his cigar. He liked this man Bond. He had had him as his patient perhaps a dozen times before.
He had seen how the spirit, the reserves in the man, could pull him out of badly damaged conditions that would have broken the normal human being. He knew how a desperate situation would bring out those reserves again, how the will to live would spring up again in a real emergency. He remembered how countless neurotic patients had disappeared for ever from his consulting-rooms when the last war had broken out. The big worry had driven out the smaller ones, the greater fear the lesser. He made up his mind. He turned back to M. ‘Give him one more chance, M. If it’ll help, I’ll take the responsibility.’
‘What sort of chance are you thinking of?’
‘Well now, I don’t know much about your line of business, M. And I don’t want to. Got enough secrets in my own job to look after. But haven’t you got something really sticky, some apparently hopeless assignment you can give this man? I don’t mean necessarily dangerous, like assassination or stealing Russian ciphers or whatever. But something that’s desperately important but apparently impossible. By all means give him a kick in the pants at the same time if you want to, but what he needs most of all is a supreme call on his talents, something that’ll really make him sweat so that he’s simply forced to forget his personal troubles. He’s a patriotic sort of a chap. Give him something that really matters to his country. It would be easy enough if a war broke out. Nothing like death or glory to take a man out of himself. But can’t you dream up something that simply stinks of urgency? If you can, give him the job. It might get him right back on the rails. Anyway, give him the chance. Yes?’
The urgent thrill of the red telephone, that had been silent for so many weeks, shot Mary Goodnight out of her seat at the typewriter as if it had been fitted with a cartridge ejector. She dashed through into the next room, waited a second to get her breath back and picked up the receiver as if it had been a rattlesnake.
‘No, sir. It’s his secretary speaking.’ She looked down at her watch, knowing the worst.
‘It’s most unusual, sir. I don’t expect he’ll be more than a few minutes. Shall I ask him to call you, sir?’
‘Yes, sir.’ She put the receiver back on its cradle. She noticed that her hand was trembling. Damn the man! Where the hell was he? She said aloud, ‘Oh, James, please hurry.’ She walked disconsolately back and sat down again at her empty typewriter. She gazed at the grey keys with unseeing eyes and broadcast with all her telepathic strength, ‘James! James! M. wants you! M. wants you! M. wants you!’ Her heart dropped a beat. The Syncraphone. Perhaps just this once he hadn’t forgotten it. She hurried back into his room and tore open the right hand drawer. No! There it was, the little plastic receiver on which he could have been bleeped by the switchboard. The gadget that it was mandatory for all senior Headquarters staff to carry when they left the building. But for weeks he had been forgetting to carry it, or worse, not caring if he did or didn’t. She took it out and slammed it down in the centre of his blotter. ‘Oh, damn you! Damn you! Damn you!’ she said out loud, and walked back into her room with dragging feet.
The state of your health, the state of the weather, the wonders of nature – these are things that rarely occupy the average man’s mind until he reaches the middle thirties. It is only on the threshold of middle-age that you don’t take them all for granted, just part of an unremarkable background to more urgent, more interesting things.
Until this year, James Bond had been more or less oblivious to all of them. Apart from occasional hangovers, and the mending of physical damage that was merely, for him, the extension of a child falling down and cutting its knee, he had taken good health for granted. The weather? Just a question of whether or not he had to carry a raincoat or put the hood up on his Bentley Convertible. As for birds, bees and flowers, the wonders of nature, it only mattered whether or not they bit or stung, whether they smelled good or bad. But today, on the last day of August, just eight months, as he had reminded himself that morning, since Tracy had died, he sat in Queen Mary’s Rose Garden in Regent’s Park, and his mind was totally occupied with just these things.
First his health. He felt like hell and knew that he also looked it. For months, without telling anyone, he had tramped Harley Street, Wigmore Street and Wimpole Street looking for any kind of doctor who would make him feel better. He had appealed to specialists, GPs, quacks – even to a hypnotist. He had told them, ‘I feel like hell. I sleep badly. I eat practically nothing. I drink too much and my work has gone to blazes. I’m shot to pieces. Make me better.’ And each man had taken his blood pressure, a specimen of his urine, listened to his heart and chest, asked him questions he had answered truthfully, and had told him there was nothing basically wrong with him. Then he had paid his five guineas and gone off to John Bell and Croyden to have the new lot of prescriptions -for tranquillizers, sleeping pills, energizers – made up. And now he had just come from breaking off relations with the last resort – the hypnotist, whose basic message had been that he must go out and regain his manhood by having a woman. As if he hadn’t tried that! The ones who had told him to take it easy up the stairs. The ones who had asked him to take them to Paris. The ones who had inquired indifferently, ‘Feeling better now, dearie?’ The hypnotist hadn’t been a bad chap. Rather a bore about how he could take away warts and how he was persecuted by the BMA, but Bond had finally had enough of sitting in a chair and listening to the quietly droning voice while, as instructed, he relaxed and gazed at a naked electric light bulb. And now he had thrown up the fifty-guinea course after only half the treatment and had come to sit in this secluded garden before going back to his office ten minutes away across the park.
He looked at his watch. Just after three o’clock, and he was due back at two-thirty. What the hell! God, it was hot. He wiped a hand across his forehead and then down the side of his trousers. He used not to sweat like this. The weather must be changing. Atomic bomb, whatever the scientists might say to the contrary. It would be good to be down somewhere in the South of France. Somewhere to bathe whenever he wanted. But he had had his leave for the year. That ghastly month they had given him after Tracy. Then he had gone to Jamaica. And what hell that had been. No! Bathing wasn’t the answer. It was all right here, really. Lovely roses to look at. They smelled good and it was pleasant looking at them and listening to the faraway traffic. Nice hum of bees. The way they went around the flowers, doing their work for their queen. Must read that book about them by the Belgian chap, Metternich or something. Same man who wrote about the ants. Extraordinary purpose in life. They didn’t have troubles. Just lived and died. Did what they were supposed to do and then dropped dead. Why didn’t one see a lot of bees’ corpses around? Ants’ corpses? Thousands, millions of them must die every day. Perhaps the others ate them. Oh, well! Better go back to the office and get hell from Mary. She was a darling. She was right to nag at him as she did. She was his conscience. But she didn’t realize the troubles he had. What troubles? Oh well. Don’t let’s go into that! James Bond got to his feet and went over and read the lead labels of the roses he had been gazing at. They told him that the bright vermilion ones were ‘Super Star’ and the white ones ‘Iceberg’.
Then, with a jumble of his health, the heat, and the corpses of bees revolving lazily round his mind, James Bond strolled off in the direction of the tall grey building whose upper storeys showed themselves above the trees.
It was three thirty. Only two more hours to go before his next drink
The lift man, resting the stump of his right arm on the operating handle, said, ‘Your secretary’s in a bit of a flap, sir. Been asking everywhere for you.’
‘Thank you, Sergeant.’
He got the same message when he stepped out at the fifth floor and showed his pass to the security guard at the desk. He walked unhurriedly along the quiet corridor to the group of end rooms whose outer door bore the Double-O sign. He went through and along to the door marked 007. He closed it behind him. Mary Goodnight looked up at him and said calmly, ‘M. wants you. He rang down half an hour ago.’
Mary Goodnight jumped to her feet, her eyes flashing. ‘Oh for God’s sake, James, snap out of it! Here, your tie’s crooked.’ She-came up to him and he docilely allowed her to pull it straight. ‘And your hair’s all over the place. Here, use my comb.’ Bond took the comb and ran it absent-mindedly through his hair. He said, ‘You’re a good girl, Goodnight.’ He fingered his chin. ‘Suppose you haven’t got your razor handy? Must look my best on the scaffold.’
‘Please, James.’ Her eyes were bright. ‘Go and get on to him. He hasn’t talked to you for weeks. Perhaps it’s something important. Something exciting.’ She tried desperately to put encouragement into her voice.
‘It’s always exciting starting a new life. Anyway, who’s afraid of the Big Bad M.? Will you come and lend a hand on my chicken farm?’
She turned away and put her hands up to her face. He patted her casually on the shoulder and walked through into his office and went over and picked up the red telephone. ‘007 here, sir.’
‘I’m sorry, sir. Had to go to the dentist.’
‘I know, sir. I’m sorry. I left it in my desk.’
He put the receiver down slowly. He looked round his office as if saying goodbye to it, walked out and along the corridor and went up in the lift with the resignation of a man under sentence.
Miss Moneypenny looked up at him with ill-concealed hostility. ‘You can go in.’ •
Bond squared his shoulders and looked at the padded door behind which he had so often heard his fate pronounced. Almost as if it were going to give him an electric shock, he tentatively reached out for the door handle and walked through and closed the door behind him.
THE IMPOSSIBLE MISSION
M., HIS shoulders hunched inside the square-cut blue suit, was standing by the big window looking out across the park. Without looking round he said, ‘Sit down.’ No name, no number!
Bond took his usual place across the desk from M.’s tall-armed chair. He noticed that there was no file on the expanse of red leather in front of the chair. And the In and Out baskets were both empty. Suddenly he felt really bad about everything – about letting M. down, letting the Service down, letting himself down. This empty desk, the empty chair, were the final accusation. We have nothing for you, they seemed to say. You’re no use to us any more. Sorry. It’s been nice knowing you, but there it is.
M. came over and sat heavily down in the chair and looked across at Bond. There was nothing to read in the lined sailor’s face. It was as impassive as the polished blue leather of the empty chairback had been.
M. said, ‘You know why I’ve sent for you?’
‘I can guess, sir. You can have my resignation.’
M. said angrily, ‘What in hell are you talking about? It’s not your fault that the Double-O Section’s been idle for so long. It’s the way things go. You’ve had flat periods before now-months with nothing in your line.’
‘But I made a mess of the last two jobs. And I know my Medical’s been pretty poor these last few months.’
‘Nonsense. There’s nothing the matter with you. You’ve been through a bad time. You’ve had good reason to be a bit under the weather. As for the last two assignments, anyone can make mistakes. But I can’t have idle hands around the place, so I’m taking you out of the Double-O Section.’