First off: her English is just fine.
A little bit of mystery plus the inability to communicate goes a long way, if you're attaching yourself to a con outfit that probably needs some time to get used to the idea of a third wheel: ignore someone's no, no fucking way, what do we need an explosives expert for? no, get lost for long enough and eventually they stop protesting.
And Stephen, Stephen Bloom, what a mind he has! What a weakness for character. Bang Bang keeps her mouth shut and her explosions coming, and soon enough he casts her in the role of Silent Japanese Woman with a side order of Deadly Ninja; boring and ugly roles on their own, but Bang Bang likes to think she makes the combination work. Stephen respects her abilities, which counts for a lot, but more than that: he respects a role.
Of course he knows she can speak. But where's the narrative hook in that?
They get drunk in Cairo, two jobs in, and Bloom disappears to brood with his whiskey in the comfort of his own hotel room. Stephen and Bang Bang do tequila shots for a while and then drop back to a bottle of shiraz. Bang Bang leans fuzzily against Stephen's arm and thinks about all the wonderful things she will buy with her cut of the money. She's got her eye on a pair of Pucci sunglasses or five.
"D'you know why I do it?" Stephen says into his third glass. "This thing that we do?"
Bang Bang rubs her fingers together meaningfully, playing along.
"Hah," Stephen says. "No. I'll tell you -- a story. A true one. When we were young -- Bloom wasn't even -- he was eleven, I think, yeah, and all we had was the knowledge that we could get things from people. If we tried. And we would sneak into the movie theatres sometimes and see these -- ridiculous stories, really ridiculous, jewel thefts and trains and standoffs with guns in the desert, villains and heroes, and romance like nobody had ever lived. And I decided..." He pauses, gazing at the dregs in his glass. "I decided I was going to give Bloom the best damn adventure story there ever was. His life was going to have everything: money, travel, great escapes, explosions --" he lifts the glass in Bang Bang's direction "-- and a happy ending."
She's already worked some of that out for herself, by now.
But it's nice of him to provide the exposition.
Fine, fine: she loves the combination of power and finesse. Bigger is better -- hence her adopted name -- but it's satisfying to apply just the right amount of force, so that only some things will explode while others are left intact; like pulling a tablecloth away and leaving the plates behind.
And there's a moment she lives for, once everything is set up and all she has left to do is press a button, the moment before it either works or it doesn't, and the anticipation of the blast runs deliciously over her skin in the silence.
That moment is perfect.
One time in New York she's horny and curious enough to pull Stephen into bed, just in case she's been missing out on a potential job perk all this time. It's not bad, she has a good time, but she also has the unnerving sense that Stephen -- although a generous and willing participant -- doesn't quite see the point of sex, given that he can't make elaborate plans around it, there's a limited capacity for plot twists, and his brother's happiness is not advanced in any way.
Either that or he's narrating the whole thing in his head.
A fun experiment, then, but not one to be repeated. Bang Bang smokes a cigarette in bed afterwards and tries to look satisfied but not encouraging. Stephen isn't one to miss a character hint; he gives her a long glance as he's rebuttoning his shirt.
"Are we gonna do this again?" he asks, making sure.
Bang Bang shakes her head. Then she slides out of the bed, stands up and blows smoke into his face, because she saw it in a movie once. She thinks he probably appreciates that.
Of course she doesn't give the Blooms her cell number, is she stupid?
No, she's got them trained: she disappears right after a job, and never leaves it too long before she appears again. They wait for her. And then Stephen shows her the latest set of storyboards and off they all go.
"Ying Ling," Bloom says. "What's with the toys? If you don't mind me asking."
He uses her real name -- her realler name, she certainly wasn't born Ying Ling even if she does own a passport that says she was -- about half the time, and she's never worked out if he's doing it because he thinks she'd prefer it, or if he just thinks Bang Bang is a faintly embarrassing name to be addressing anyone by. She doesn't care much either way.
Bang Bang tilts back the brim of her hat so she can look at him. They're in England somewhere, she doesn't know, all the place names here sound alike to her and there are far too many vowels per phoneme. They're waiting for the right moment to blow up the wall of an ancient (well, "ancient") stone castle so that their mark will buy into the conspiracy about MI-5 and real estate barons and possibly also the National Trust that Stephen has been carefully constructing in his mind, brick by paranoid brick.
It's cold here. It's supposed to be summer and she's wearing a coat and her warmest pair of leather gloves.
Bang Bang explains with her hands and a what-can-you-do quirk of her mouth that she's always blown up plastic toys, it's how she learned to do this in the first place, and now she holds onto it as a tribute to the man who taught her and the things she's taught herself along the way. Plus, she gets a kick out of turning them into chimaeras first. It's the closest thing she has to a hobby, aside from kareoke.
She holds herself with an implicit sarcasm. To the right person it might say none of this is true, or this is only half true, or even, this is mostly true but I'm still fucking with you.
But Bloom isn't nearly as good at interpreting her gestures as Stephen is, and she thinks he was probably just making conversation with no real hope of understanding the answer. Still, he nods as though he gets it and then peers through his binoculars again.
"Here they come," he says.
Bang Bang rubs her gloved hands together and reaches for the trigger.
She thinks she's put her finger on Bloom's attitude problem: he resents feeling like he exists for Stephen's pleasure and Stephen's purposes. The thing is, Stephen is still a fourteen-year-old boy playing God with the universe, and if it were at all possible Bang Bang suspects he'd just vanish into the fabric of the thing and pull the strings from there.
Bloom's bossy older brother only went and named their whole outfit after him and he still hasn't noticed what kind of story he's living in.
Stephen is not the protagonist of their existence.
Stephen himself is making damn sure of that.
After the job in Berlin she takes her usual holiday, then finds Stephen. His latest storyboards are deeply complex, there's a creative fever in his eyes, and Bloom is nowhere to be seen.
"He quit," Stephen says, looking not at all concerned.
Bang Bang inquires as to whether she should start searching for him.
"Not just yet," Stephen says, taking a step back from one of his whiteboards. He gazes at it, leans in to scrub out an arrow between two circles with the cuff of his shirt, and then makes a note in his sketchbook. "We've got some things to set up first."
He gives Bang Bang a shopping list and spends a lot of time making cryptic phone calls. Then he unveils the centre of the plot: Penelope Stamp. Bang Bang shuffles through the impressive dossier he's collected on the woman while Stephen beams down at Penelope's photograph like a talent scout who's just discovered the next big thing.
"It took me a long time to find the right woman, but this one is perfect for Bloom," he says. "She's a nutter, she speaks a million languages, she's got tons of money and she's waiting for a story like he's waiting for love. She's absolutely perfect."
Bang Bang raises her eyebrows at him.
"Oh, what, you don't think I can do it?" Stephen pretends to lift a conductor's baton and wave it through a few bars. "I haven't steered his adventure all this way only to falter before the grand finale."
Bang Bang makes a gesture that means, and are we sure she will fall in love with him? The fact that Stephen understands her so easily is something that she'll miss about working with him, when their paths diverge.
"Come on," says Stephen. "It's Bloom. Of course she will."
She'd argue, but Stephen has never written a part for his brother that has failed to seduce a woman when the plan calls for it. And so Bloom himself has never failed.
Granted, the timeframe has never before been 'the rest of Bloom's life', but this is no ordinary con and no ordinary role. This is Stephen's masterpiece, yes, the grand finale.
Stephen was right: Penelope Stamp is perfect.
He was also right about Penelope's desperate desire for her very own adventure story; how neat of Stephen to fit her into Bloom's. In fact, Penelope takes so well to a life of crime that Bang Bang smells an opportunity for future collaboration -- and was this part of Stephen's plan too?
She can see what Bloom means sometimes about the line between a written and unwritten life.
But as long as you're enjoying yourself, Bang Bang thinks, who the hell cares?
"Show me again," Penelope says.
"Hold this," Bang Bang says, passing her a fuse. "Now, this part is delicate."
It feels so good to chat with someone again, to communicate simply and share an enthusiasm. Penelope doesn't need to be sold on anyone's enigma; she's saturated in it already, she's busy inventing her own. This is going to be great. It is, as someone said in a movie once, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Whatever role Bang Bang is going to have in the post-Stephen future, it's not going to be a silent one.
The job ends, again. Bang Bang goes on her holiday, again. And again she finds Stephen, who tells her that Bloom is in Montenegro. Again.
"You know there's a good chance I won't come out of this one alive," he says.
Bang Bang shrugs: I remember. The job hasn't really ended. They're maybe two-thirds of the way through.
Stephen looks down at his sketches.
"Choose your own adventure," he says quietly.
The car flips, honest to God does a full fucking circle, and Bang Bang glares at the spinning scenery and promises herself that Stephen Bloom will be in for a kicking if his wonderful plan lands her in hospital. This is fun, sure, but she draws the line at brain injury.
They land wheels-down with a jolt that surges up through the steering wheel and makes Bang Bang acutely and painfully aware of her skeleton; she swallows a sigh, shoves her foot down, and rattles them through the forest while trying to ignore the scared noises coming from the back seat.
She keeps her elbows locked when they slam into the tree. The force of the impact should be enough to trigger the explosives, but there's a backup trigger in the pocket of her coat.
The dashboard begins to spark, right on time.
"Out, get out," Stephen says.
Bang Bang runs in a straight line until she hears the blast, then loops back around. A glance over her shoulder shows her that neither Bloom nor Penelope is in much state to notice which way she's going.
She meets Stephen behind a tree, close to the road. The Russians, momentarily thrown by the explosion, are shouting irritably to one another and waving their guns.
"Right," he says. "This is it."
Bang Bang nods. Then she leans in and kisses his cheek; doesn't plan it, just does it.
Stephen gestures back in the direction of the burning car. "Keep an eye on them, afterwards," he says. "Make sure..."
"Happy ending," Bang Bang says.
After a long pause, Stephen smiles. "Yeah," he says. "Thanks."
It's starting to rain as she pulls her bag onto her shoulder and walks away.
Her phone rings and the screen says Pnlop, which confuses her until she remembers that the number 3 button tends to stick and they were a bit tipsy when they were exchanging numbers.
"Hello, Penlop," she says.
Penelope doesn't seem to notice. "Bang Bang! I have an idea. In fact, you might say, a plan."
Dimly Bang Bang hears Bloom's voice, raised -- "No, don't. Ying Ling, don't encourage her!" -- and then a scuffle underneath Penelope's thrill of laughter.
"Right," says a triumphant Penelope, after a little while. She's breathing more quickly now. "Where were we?"
Bang Bang grins into the phone and drags her suitcase out of the closet.
"Tell me about this plan," she says.