There is a blackbird sits on yon tree
Some says it is blind and it cannae see
And so is my true love tae me.
The war ended years ago, but Bond still fought. He rarely thought about the cruel circumstances that ensured he would never return to the life he had in Glencoe. The war was lost. He’d never have a family, or a place to call home. He could barely remember the stone walls warmed by fire in the hearth of his youth. The family gathered around the table for holidays, singing songs and eating clootie pudding while the Scottish wind howled across the highlands. The joy of love freely given. A home long forgotten and never to be experienced again. That war was over, but sometimes minor battles flared.
It irritated Bond when situations arose that brought his tragic childhood to the forefront of his mind. Distant memories sparked that couldn’t be blotted out. The fact that he couldn’t control the timing nor the strength of the memories, disturbed him most of all. On mission, he had no time for sentimentality or regret. He fought to make them disappear.
In the dimly lit embroidery shop, a front for Zoltan Saleem, the arms trafficker who funnelled funds to ISIS from British supporters, Bond gritted his teeth and went to work, concentrating on his assignment.
A child cried from the dark corner of the room.
Bond hadn’t noticed the sleeping boy when he strong-armed a confession from Saleem—the child’s father, Bond guessed. He wore the same wild eyes and expensive garb, a few cuts above that of his peers on the street outside his shop. An arms trafficker could afford such luxuries, even in this part of the world.
Bond patted his jacket pocket to feel for the tiny battery-operated screwdriver. He was calmed by its presence, a special project from Q-branch. His lips quirked into a smile when he remembered how Q had finally acquiesced and provided him with more than the Walther PPK and his radio. A useful gadget served as a fine reward for bringing back the Walther in one piece after his last assignment. Perhaps there was still hope that Q would pull together pieces of scrap that cluttered his desk to produce an exploding pen, although the head of Q-branch never seemed to have much downtime.
Bond gave the screwdriver one more pat and went to work.
The child with tear-stained cheeks toddled toward him. Bond winced when he realized the horrible truth that he had something in common with the orphaned tot.
Bond didn’t like to reminisce about his loss, especially after the recent SPECTRE incident with Blofeld’s re-emergence and subsequent capture. Whenever Bond’s childhood came to mind, he fought the intruding thoughts, willing them away with mental resolve as swift as the hands of a trained killer. Still they came, without warning, compelling Bond to crush them down. Weighty moments like these, when he scoured through the drawers and shelves that contained personal effects of another man, a father, made him nostalgic for the father and the family he didn’t have.
Bond straightened his tie and proceeded to search for the computer.
“Look for a room that’s set aside as an office. He keeps it somewhere out of sight,” Q’s voice came coolly through Bond’s earpiece. “It may have a hidden entrance.”
Bond imagined Q taking a sip of tea before making another simplistic suggestion. He knew Q had MI6’s best interests at heart, but without much field experience, Q sometimes sounded like a ten year-old playing a video game.
“I’ve got it, despite your suggestion, Captain Obvious,” Bond said, pushing open a door that at first glance appeared to be a wardrobe.
The blue light glowed from the power button of the old-school desktop computer. More signs of a life lived caught him off-guard. A stuffed gorilla, a set of building blocks, a half-deflated football cluttered the arms-trafficker’s desk. Bond shoved the litter aside. He refused to let the symbols of a normal home life interfere with his mission. He gave up any hope of living such a life when he became a double-oh agent.
“You’ll need to remove the drive,” Q said.
“I’m already there,” Bond said, screwdriver in hand.
He effortlessly used the device to twist each tiny silver screw until the cabinet of Saleem’s computer came apart. Unfortunately, the whirring screwdriver’s head, reminiscent of a dental drill, did not drown out the child’s cries.
Bond licked his lips, tasting lemon and honey moist on his tongue. He supposed he should have thanked his host for the tea, instead he put a bullet through his head. If he hadn’t lunged at Bond with a straight-razor, Bond may have been willing to give him a chance after he turned over the data MI6 needed—and that was before he knew about the child.
Bond cringed at the thought of becoming soft in his old age. A few moments later, the computer sat useless on the desk, a bullet through its CPU.
The scent of blood clogged Bond’s nostrils. With the hard drive stowed away in a Mylar bag, he strode back to the main room. Shafts of light filtered through the blinds revealing the coloured embroidery flosses that hung suspended on each of the walls, like webs of spider silk in every colour of the rainbow.
The little boy wailed. Blood from Saleem’s head crept slowly across the dirt floor.
“The hard drive is secure,” Bond said.
“The extraction team is on its way,” Q said, sounding no more relieved than stressed.
Bond looked sullenly at the child. He couldn’t be more than three years old. He had crawled to his father’s dead body and shook it as if he would wake to life again. When he got no response, he rubbed his tiny fists at his red eyes.
“There’s a child here,” Bond said, not knowing when he got so sentimental that he would share such information with the MI6 Quartermaster who directed communications for most of his missions.
“What?” asked Q. “Define—child.”
“A child. Two or three years old, maybe younger,” Bond said. “I need to get him away from the body.”
“Someone will find him—a relative, with any luck,” Q said. “You need to get out. Exit the shop and turn right at the first alleyway and travel to the marketplace. Aadila will meet you there.”
Bond looked at the child, and shrugged. Q didn’t say anything about not dragging the toddler from his father’s corpse. Bond tucked the child under one arm and stepped into the street.
Outside, the sun beat down on the dusty road. The scent of roasting lamb and grilled vegetables filled the air. Rare spices with names that Bond had never learned to pronounce wafted from the community fire-pits. A trickle of sweat pooled at Bond’s lower back. The child bounced on his hip.
He turned right onto the roadway and followed the stretch of low squat buildings that lined both sides of the narrow street. Merchants hawked their wares, eager to take advantage of the crowds who gathered just before the midday call to prayer.
Bond bumped his way through the shoppers, holding the child close. He slipped into the alleyway as Q instructed.
“I’m in the alley, what now?” Bond asked.
“Go a hundred feet to the end. You’ll emerge in a large marketplace. Wait there for Aadila, she’ll collect you on the corner,” Q said. “I’ve got a drone overhead. I should have a visual on you in just… one… moment.”
The slap of Bond’s shoes on the stones echoed in the alleyway. He hiked the child higher on his hip and checked over his shoulder to make sure he wasn’t being followed. It was only a matter of time before Saleem’s lackeys returned to the shop and found their boss dead. Bond stopped at the end of the alley where it spilled out onto a main arena. He scanned the marketplace, looking for an adult to care for the young boy. Perhaps he’d find a sympathetic female with smiling eyes—he knew the type he needed. At least the child had stopped crying.
“Oh, I see you now,” Q said. “You’ve finally learned to do as you’re told.”
“Perish the thought,” Bond said.
“I take that back,” Q said. “What are you doing with that child?”
“You can’t expect me to follow your instructions to a tee, Q,” Bond said.
“Aadila should be along,” Q said, his voice belying his irritation.
Bond set the child down.
The dark-haired toddler stood on the dirt walkway in his Nike sneakers. His hands clung to Bond’s leg.
“Excuse me,” Bond said to a passing pair of girls in brightly coloured headscarves.
“Bond, we’ve got an issue,” Q said.
Bond ignored Q’s voice in his ear. “Can you take this child to his mother?” Bond asked. He peeled the child’s sticky hand from his trouser leg. “I think he’s lost his mum… his omma—”
“Bond, my calculations indicate that there’s a suicide bomber in the marketplace,” Q said. “I’m tracking now, to be certain.”
Bond gave up trying to communicate with the girls. Instead, he listened more intently to Q.
“He’s coming your way,” Q said. “Aadila has been put on hold.”
Bond looked up and down the main market. Swarms of shoppers talked excitedly in language too fast and frantic for Bond to translate. He couldn’t pick the bomber out of the crowd. He had to trust Q and his tracking software and algorithmic programming that allowed him to see what was happening from the drone. There were certain behaviours, nearly imperceptible anomalies that Q had trained himself to observe. If Q thought someone decided to strap on a suicide vest to take lives in a crowd, then Bond could bet that it would happen.
The girl in the fuchsia headscarf had picked up the orphaned toddler and held him in her arms.
“I don’t like the look of this,” Q said. Bond could hear Q’s fingers typing frantically on his keyboard more than two thousand miles away.
Bond knew better than to ask if there was anything to do to stop the attack, but he asked anyway. “Give me the description?” he barked out.
“It’s a teenaged boy. American Army camouflage. FDNY cap. He’s wearing a Kanye T-shirt under a flak jacket,” Q said.
Bond mused about how terrorists loved to dress their suicide bombers in American clothing. It implied the notion that their sacrifice was nobler if it involved the symbolic destruction of their enemy.
“It’s too late,” Q said. “Take cover.”
Bond reacted automatically to Q’s words. He gathered the two girls and the toddler into his arms. With one swift movement, he swept them into the doorway of the nearest shop. Amid the chaos, Bond was vaguely aware of the aroma of coffee.
Before either girl could complain about Bond’s inappropriate behaviour, an explosion burst through the marketplace. A hail of shrapnel struck the window of the coffee shop. Glass rained down on top of Bond and the people he protected. For a moment, there was silence. The boy began to cry again while the injured on the street screamed in terror. The angry cries told of lives disrupted. Then the sirens came.
“Bond?” Q said, listening from the other end of his comm link.
“I’m fine,” Bond said, brushing himself off. “Just a bit dusty.”
“You can send MI6 your dry cleaning bill,” Q said with an uncharacteristic sigh of relief. “Aadila is waiting for you outside the shop.”
Bond nodded to the two girls and left them with the toddler amid the ruined coffee.
Outside, Aadila pushed open the Land Rover’s door.
“Sir?” she said.
“Thanks for the lift,” Bond said, the glass crunching beneath his soles.
“Double-oh Seven, on his way back to London,” Aadila said into the radio after Bond climbed into the passenger’s seat.
“We’ll see you when you get back for debriefing,” Q said. “M is looking forward to learning what’s on that hard drive. And do have a safe journey home, Double-oh Seven.”
Bond pulled the earpiece from his ear and sat back for the ride.
Home was a relative concept. In some ways, MI6 gave Bond the home he never had. If it meant that he was compelled to use people with impunity, or that he sometimes suffered because of the loss of the few he loved… Vesper… Mathis… M… well, it was a fitting home for an old dog like him.
He shoved the earpiece into his pocket and realized something was missing.
He didn’t have the heart to radio Q to tell him that he had left the screwdriver somewhere in the clutter on top of Saleem’s desk. He smiled, looking forward to paying Q-branch a personal visit as soon as he returned to MI6.
Bond’s debriefing was mercifully short. He relinquished the hard drive to Moneypenny and Mallory sent him to medical after a five minute update on what he missed at MI6 while he was away.
Mallory’s haste to get rid of Bond struck him as a bit unusual. Normally, Mallory was keen to detain Bond for long periods of time so he could remark about his advancing age and make vague threats about cutting back on the number of high-level missions Bond undertook. But today, Mallory was all business and seemed anxious to have Bond out of his hair.
When Bond left Mallory’s office, Moneypenny was preoccupied with a phone call, so Bond merely grabbed his briefcase and winked at her when he left. They could catch up on discussing Mallory’s behaviour later in the day. Perhaps he was simply anxious to get the contents off the drive so their forces could stem the flow of weapons into the region as quickly as possible. As the new head of MI6, Mallory had been on the job for less than a year, so any strides he made toward making the world a safer place were sure to earn him high marks from the PM’s office.
Taking care to avoid Sandhya from medical who threatened to chase him down with her tablet, Bond jogged to the lift that would take him deep into the bunker beneath MI6. He flashed Sandhya an apologetic smile and tapped on his watch to indicate he was in a hurry and would check in with her later. Fat chance, he thought, as the lift doors slid closed.
In the Q-branch bunker, Q’s minions were hard at work, busily typing away at their keyboards. Oversized monitors lined the brick walls like mirrors in a posh fitness club. But instead of cardio machines and treadmills, the bunker contained machines to exercise the mind. The various screens displayed the locations of each of MI6’s field agents. The flashing green lights indicated that all was well with MI6’s elite double-ohs.
The field agents who were engaged in the least dangerous parts of their missions didn’t need to be watched continuously by the keen eyes of their tech-savvy minders. The agents slept sometimes, and unless an agent was involved with a particularly steamy bedmate, they slept as boringly as everyone else. Those boffins with free time, and the motivation to use it, were tasked with completing a number of Q’s beloved pet projects, but only if their agents in the field didn’t require vigilant monitoring of their snoring slumber.
Bond straightened his tie and clasped the handle of his briefcase which contained his Walther PPK and radio. He had already replaced the MI6-issued weapon with his personal firearm in his shoulder holster, knowing that Q would want time to study the Walther after it had been used on the mission. Bond assumed Q would be pleased that he had returned with most of the equipment. It would only be a matter of time before one of the Q-Branch minions cracked the encryptions on the hard drive so the real work could begin. MI6 would take one step forward in stopping the flow of arms and making the world safe for all its citizens. Bond prided himself on a job well done.
Bond’s briefcase also contained a paper bag of rich kanafeh, sticky and sweet. Plying Q with decadent desserts was one way of thanking him for the excellent job he did on comms for the mission. Watching Q lick his lips as he savoured exotic delicacies was much more satisfying than the kick Bond would get out of something more mundane—like sending a postcard.
Any agent could send a postcard. But when it came to charming the right people, Bond liked to take things one step further. Thus, the kanafeh.
The soft glow of the monitors lit the grim brick-lined workroom with an eerie florescence. Bond supposed the minions were accustomed to their new environment after they had moved all of MI6 into the bunker late last year when Raoul Silva threatened to blow their Vauxhall headquarters to smithereens. After Blofeld finished the job, the bunkers became the permanent headquarters for MI6.
Several of the minions looked up from their keyboards when Bond entered. At the reception desk, Davis nearly drooled in anticipation of sweets as he eyed Bond’s briefcase.
Bond wandered through the sea of technology to the man who stood at the front of the cavernous room where he commanded the research and development branch of MI6. Amid the visual displays and mounds of circuitry covering his workstation, Q was engaged in an animated discussion with R.
Bond was just about to interrupt them when Bradley approached him from the direction of the breakroom. Q’s PA was as fit as any footballer. With bright blue eyes and artfully mussed hair the colour of spun gold, he looked like he stepped out of the pages of GQ instead of the MI6 secretarial pool.
“I hope you’ve got good news for the boss this time,” Bradley said with a crooked smile.
“Some good news and some bad,” Bond said.
Bradley held Q’s Scrabble mug, filled with steaming hot tea.
“How many lumps of sugar is he up to these days?” Bond asked.
“Just the usual three,” Bradley said, nodding in Q’s direction. “Although I wouldn’t be surprised if he requests more with the next cup. He’s having a bit of a rough one.”
Every day seemed to be rough for Q. He had been known to work tirelessly into the night, sometimes sleeping on the sofa in his office and simply changing his jumper and tie before heading back to his workstation the following morning. Some days, the dark circles under his eyes couldn’t be erased by a litre of caffeine. Bond wondered how the cats tolerated their separation from their master and provider of catnip.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Bond said, glad that he brought the kanafeh for Q. He pried the mug of tea from Bradley’s grasp. “Let’s see if I can make his day better for him.”
Bradley put his hands in the air and stepped back, letting Bond take over his tea duty.
Q looked up from the tablet where he had been pointing out something that was of great interest to R. Bond sensed that Q tried not smile when he noticed the double-oh agent with his tea in his subterranean domain. But alas, it was probably just wishful thinking on Bond’s part. Unless he was on comms, Q usually kept his distance from Bond as if he were avoiding a live grenade. And Bond wouldn’t have it any other way. He loved to keep the youthful Quartermaster on his toes.
R took her tablet from Q and brushed past Bond. She headed toward the lift, her Doc Martens striking the ground in time with the bobbing of her loose ponytail.
“Ah, Double-oh Seven,” Q said. “I’ve been expecting you. I trust that everything checked out in medical?”
Bond clenched his jaw and set the mug of tea on the corner of Q’s workstation.
“I’ll give you a score of two, out of a possible ten, at trying to push my buttons,” Bond said.
Not the least bit rattled, Q perfunctorily held out a plastic tray in which he expected Bond to deposit his equipment.
“You’ll have to push a little harder next time,” Bond said, opening the briefcase and removing the equipment he so thoughtfully returned to Q-branch.
“Enough with the innuendo, Bond,” Q said. “Let’s see what you’ve brought me.”
Bond dropped the case containing the gun and radio into the tray. He reached back into the briefcase.
“Indeed, I do think you’ll find that it’s almost like Christmas,” Bond said, shaking the bag containing the kanafeh.
“If that bag contains sweets, I’ll give you some credit for knowing how to best celebrate the successful completion of a mission,” Q said.
“It’s a good thing you’re dressed for a party,” Bond said, indicating Q’s bright red jumper with a wave of his hand.
One of the minions snorted, obviously eavesdropping on their conversation. Q glared in the direction of the offending minion.
“Yes, well, it looks as though you’ve already had time to drop off your dry cleaning, despite avoiding medical,” Q said, taking in Bond’s immaculate suit.
“Touché,” one of the minions whispered loudly enough for the room to hear. A few of the younger techies burst into giggles.
Bond fought the urge to scowl at them.
With one hand, Q tugged at his bird’s nest of thick wavy hair. He kept his smile hidden behind closed lips. His eyes sparkled in the lights from the tech that surrounded him, making him look ethereal in the blue glow.
“All right, let’s see what we have here,” Q said, bringing his hands together and rubbing them in delight.
Bond was surprised that Q didn’t immediately go for the sweets, especially if he was having a bad day like Bradley suggested. Instead, he opened the black leather case containing Bond’s weapon.
“Oh, yes, I remember assembling you at the last moment before Bond’s latest adventure,” Q spoke lovingly to the pistol, ignoring Bond as he watched over his workstation.
Bond stood by, hands in his pockets, brilliant blue eyes gleaming as the Quartermaster unpacked the case that Bond returned. Bond knew he was irresistible to women and men alike. Half of the women, and a good percentage of the men, in MI6 would willingly fall into bed with Bond. But not Q. He presented somewhat of a challenge—a challenge that Bond hoped to overcome with finesse one day. Until then, Bond took every opportunity to entice Q into capitulating to his charms. The sweets were certainly a good start.
Bond watched as Q’s deft fingers stroked the barrel of the gun. He smiled, partly because of Q’s attempt at stroking the weapon in the most suggestive manner possible, and part because of Q’s ensemble of clothing, which Bond found amusing. The red jumper did remind Bond of Christmas. It wouldn’t have looked nearly as odd, if not for the garish oversized pocket that was stitched to the left breast. Bond supposed Q’s days of needing a pocket protector were long over since the pocket was secured shut by an obtrusive snap that looked like it was made from mother-of-pearl. Beneath his hideous jumper, a blue gingham shirt and a navy blue tie secured in a haphazardly-tied Windsor knot did nothing for Q’s emerald-flecked eyes. He’d be better off sticking to hues of grey or mossy green to bring out his best features if it were up to Bond.
Unfortunately, Q never asked for his fashion advice.
“And everything seemed to be in order when you were in the field?” Q asked, emptying the cartridge from the Walther and dropping the bullets into the tray. “Did she give you any trouble?”
“I only had to fire it twice,” Bond said, stepping closer. He lowered his voice to a seductive whisper. “After the first shot, it didn’t take very long until I was ready to shoot again.”
Q paused from looking at the weapon and caught Bond’s eye.
“Once for the trafficker and the other for his CPU,” Bond reminded him, feigning innocence.
Bond observed that Q was more disapproving about the method in which he dispatched CPU than he was about Bond’s sultry assurance that his age wasn’t adversely affecting his libido.
“It’s reassuring to know that the weapon is useless in anyone else’s hands,” Bond said, remembering the many times that the green indicator lights put his mind at ease. He truly appreciated the care that Q put into devising useful weapons and tools for the MI6 agents. “I’m glad you think so highly of me that you devised such a safeguard.”
“It’s what I would do for any of my agents, whether I thought highly of them or not,” Q said, lifting the radio from its designated slot in the case. “No need for a distress call this time?”
Q pushed on the device and watched the miniature antenna rise from its casing.
“Not this time, although it was close with the self-destructing teenager,” Bond said.
Q hummed in agreement. “I suspect that impressionable young men make the best suicide bombers,” he said.
“I can’t remember ever being that impressionable,” Bond said, wondering if Q would respond with an admission from his own youth that would give Bond more insight into what made Q tick. After all, it couldn’t have been too many years ago that Q found himself an impressionable youth, enthralled with the prospect of new technology and the mark he would leave on the world—even if it wasn’t a self-induced explosion that sent his guts flying through a busy marketplace.
“Nor I,” Q said, refusing to take Bond’s bait.
“I didn’t forget the earpiece this time,” Bond said, pleased with himself. He pulled the tiny earpiece from his jacket pocket and dropped it into the tray.
Q looked at him suspiciously, an eyebrow raised beneath his wild hair.
“I’m just doing my best to please the staff at Q-branch,” Bond said.
“Well that’s a pleasant change,” Q said, inspecting the earpiece.
“I hear their Quartermaster is sensitive about the abuse of his equipment,” Bond said, his voice a low purr.
A flush crept up Q’s neck as he shook his head vigorously, as if to dissipate the effect of Bond’s comments.
“Three out of four pieces of equipment returned from a mission? This must be a new record for you,” Q said coolly.
“Well, they say nobody’s perfect,” Bond said. “Not even me. It will give me a goal to work toward in future missions.”
“Do try, Bond. Still, three out of the four pieces returned to Q-branch is amazing,” Q said. “This is a red-letter day.”
“It matches your jumper,” Bond said, his eyes roving over Q’s outfit.
Q side-eyed Bond. “I may notify HMQ.”
“I don’t think there’s a need to go that far, but it seems I must be deserving of a special reward of some sort,” Bond said.
“No,” Q said, shaking his head. “I don’t have favourites. I fear it would make the other agents jealous if they thought I was showing you favouritism—and the other agents usually bring back all of their equipment without fail, except in the very rarest of circumstances.”
Bond grinned at the thought Q having favourite agents. Although Q would never admit it, Bond was certain that his name was quite near the top of the list. “You could at least take me to lunch,” Bond said, “in light of my incredible accomplishment.”
Bond watched the thoughts turning in Q’s head.
“Rewarding good behaviour may ensure the safety of your precious equipment in the future,” Bond said, trying to tone down the seduction in his voice and well aware that sometimes he simply couldn’t help it.
“Now, there’s an idea I might get on-board with,” Q said, a hand going to his belly. “I was just getting hungry and M has been getting on me about keeping my energy level up.”
“Thai?” Bond asked, hiding his surprise that Q actually agreed with him. He knew of a small private place around the block from MI6 where the owner owed him a favour. He was sure he could get a table.
“Give me five minutes to get my workstation locked down before I change my mind. I’ll meet you on the main level,” Q said.
Bond smiled and stepped back from Q’s desk. “Five minutes then,” he said. Before he headed toward the lift, Q stopped him.
“Oh, and Bond,” Q said conspiratorially, “Lest you get your hopes up, this is not a date.”
An audible wave of disappointment rose from the minions.
Sira Thai was just around the corner from MI6. Bond silenced his mobile and restrained himself from taking Q’s arm as they walked among the Londoners who were on their way to business meetings or enjoying a lunch break.
A mist hung in the air, dampening the city streets, although no rain fell. The bright blooms that decorated the window-boxes Bond and Q passed on the way to the restaurant gave a feel of brightness to the day, despite the chill of early spring.
“Here we are,” Bond said, nodding to the unmarked doorway. He grasped the golden dragon that served as the door handle. “You’re in for a real treat.”
Bond pressed his palm against the small of Q’s back and ushered him inside.
They were immediately greeted by a bespectacled Asian man wearing black trousers and a grey caftan embroidered in gold.
“Mr. Bond, we’ve been expecting you,” the man said.
“Natthapong, this is my colleague,” Bond said. “He’s very fond of Thai food, so I convinced him to take me here for lunch.”
“A very good decision, Mr. Bond,” Natthapong said. “If you will come this way.”
Natthapong led the men to a room with dark wooden panelling. A table occupied each corner of the dining area. The scent of rich spices drifted through the air and Bond recognized cardamom and clove, coriander and mint. Pairs of diners sat at three of the tables, already enjoying the succulent foods and exotic teas. Although the room was small, the quiet ambiance offered enough space for conversation.
Natthapong showed them to the only empty table, holding Q’s chair out for him in respect for Bond’s friend.
“Can I get you gentlemen something to drink?” Natthapong asked as he placed a pair of menus on the table.
“Tea please,” Q said, pushing his glasses up on his nose.
“Of course,” Natthapong said with a bow of his head. “I’ll bring a pot to begin. Please enjoy yourselves and do not hesitate to ask if you have any questions about our menu.”
Bond nodded in thanks to Natthapong and opened a menu.
After a few moments, Bond said, “You’ll find that their tiger prawns with lemongrass are among the best you’ll ever have.”
“I’m sure they rival those found on the streets of Bangkok,” Q said, opening his own menu. “Where do you even find these places?”
“Years of careful research,” Bond said.
Q smiled and turned his eyes to his menu.
“The Green Curry sounds interesting,” Q said. “Coconut milk, aubergine, bamboo shoots, long beans and sweet basil leaves, char-grilled steak.”
“You say aubergine like a Parisian,” Bond said.
Q smiled without taking his eyes off the menu. “I lived there for a few years when I was a child,” he said.
“Paris?” Bond asked.
“Yes,” Q said. “I haven’t managed to rid myself of the posh accent, no matter how much time I spent at MIT.”
“Thank God for small favours,” Bond said. “Do you visit Paris often?”
“Sometimes for the holidays, not that it’s any of your business,” Q said. “My sister still lives there.”
“Older or younger?” Bond asked.
“Older,” Q said, looking up. “Emily… she’s a paediatrician.”
“So intelligence swims in your gene pool?” Bond said. In the dim light, he couldn’t be sure if Q was blushing, but he ventured to guess that he was.
Natthapong appeared at the table with a pot of tea. He gracefully turned each cup over from Bond and Q’s place settings so he could fill them from the steaming pot. He took their order—green curry for Q and the prawns for Bond.
“Emmett….” Bond said, without preamble after Natthapong left the table. He was vaguely disappointed when Q didn’t react.
“Emory,” Bond tried again.
“What are you on about?” asked Q.
“Emile….? Emsley…?” Bond continued.
“Good luck,” Q said with a grin. “I see what you’re doing there.”
“It didn’t take a genius,” Bond said.
“I’ll have you know, my name does not start with the same syllable as my sister’s,” Q said. “Besides, since you know I’m a genius, whatever would make you think I would tell you my sister’s real name?”
Bond smiled. “You might at least tell me if I guessed correctly,” Bond said. “It’s not like you can’t trust me.”
“Au contraire, monsieur,” Q said. “You’re too dangerous to trust.”
“But I trust you with my life,” Bond said.
“Just barely,” Q said. “And only when it’s absolutely necessary.”
They sipped their tea and before long, Natthapong brought their food to the table.
Bond and Q’s quiet conversation continued. Bond wanted to learn as much as he could about the Quartermaster in hopes that it would secure his position as the favourite agent at Q-branch. Perhaps if they became close enough, Q might consider developing the coveted exploding pen that Bond always pestered him about. At the very least, developing a genuine friendship with Q might quell Bond’s desire to bed him, although it seemed unlikely on both counts.
As Bond watched Q slice through the tender beef, he let his mind wander, imagining what it would be like to bed Q. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He wondered how Q would look, spread out naked on white Egyptian cotton sheets, his head thrown back in ecstasy as Bond brought him to the brink over and over again with his mouth, his hands, his lips. How Bond would make him writhe in pleasure as he came undone….
“Bond?” Q asked.
“Yes?” Bond asked, startled back to the present. “I was just savouring this prawn.”
“I asked about Skyfall,” Q said, slicing another piece of beef. “It must have been lonely growing up in such a remote location.”
Bond had rarely thought about Skyfall until it became his and M’s chosen destination as they tried to outwit Silva. The cold grey walls of Skyfall did nothing to warm his heart like the memory of a childhood home would for any other child. The years that followed his exile from the family estate found him a wanderer who moved from place to place, never truly fitting in no matter where he went.
Bond did his best to view his lack of a permanent home as something necessary for his soul. When he had no home, he made his home everywhere—his dorm room, his ship, every beachcomber’s pub from Bora Bora to the Maldives. These were the only homes he knew. He recounted them as if each setting was something to be endured and overcome before moving on to the next four walls that would contain him.
“Yes, well, it’s all reduced to rubble now,” Bond said. “I never felt the need to go back for a visit before the Silva situation, and certainly not after.”
“I can understand why,” Q said.
Bond stabbed another prawn. “What about your parents?” Bond asked. “Do they live in Paris, or perhaps London?”
Bond knew from the look on Q’s face that he had overstepped his bounds. Despite sharing information about his sister, Q always seemed to be the type of colleague who kept his professional life separate from his personal life.
Q set his fork down. “They were killed in an aviation accident,” he said.
Bond stopped breathing. “Q, I’m so sorry,” he said, truly meaning it.
Q shook his head. “My father liked to invent things. He had built an electricity-powered paramotor and brought my mum along for a test flight. The test failed,” Q said. “I was in my third year of uni.”
Bond thought about Q’s age. He wondered if the loss of his own parents would have been a bit less traumatic if he had matured into adulthood before they died.
“My sister and I were old enough to carry on without them. It’s not as if we went to be raised in an orphanage or anything like that,” Q said before taking a bite of eggplant.
Q’s fear of flying suddenly came to Bond’s mind. “So, that’s why….” he began.
“Flying?” Q asked. “At the risk of sounding daft, I avoid it whenever possible.”
“Understandably,” Bond said, “and not daft in the least.”
Q took a sip of tea.
Bond wiped his mouth on his napkin. “Look, I want to apologize if I’ve ever been crass about your aversion to flying,” he said.
“Don’t,” Q said with a wave of his hand. “You had no way of knowing about my parents.”
“It’s not in your file,” Bond said with a guilty gleam in his eye, his hand wrapped around his water glass.
Q nearly choked on his bite of food. “My file has been redacted. Any investigation you may have embarked upon would have been futile. MI6 manages its personnel that way for very good reasons.”
“Ah, so it was a lie that you started to work for MI6 only two years ago and not only earned the respect of your supervisors but also influenced just the right people, so much so that M made you the youngest Quartermaster in MI6 history?” Bond asked.
“Someone’s done his homework,” Q said.
“It’s my job to be curious,” Bond said.
“Just the right people... you must miss the old M,” Q said. “The M who hired me.”
Q put down his fork.
“The M who died at Skyfall... in some ways she was like a mother to me,” Bond said, surprising himself that he shared such sentiments with Q.
“I wanted to quit MI6 after her death,” Q said. “I had a hard time dealing with it, even though I didn’t know her as well as you or the other double-oh agents did.”
“You felt responsible for her death?” Bond asked.
“I felt responsible that Silva escaped,” Q said.
“You couldn’t possibly have been more at fault than I for that whole ordeal,” Bond said. “She died in my arms, you know. There was nothing I could do to save her.”
“And yet you never considered leaving MI6 after her death?” Q asked.
“She wouldn’t have wanted that,” Bond said. “And she wouldn’t have wanted you to leave either. She trusted you. She had confidence in your abilities. We all do… myself included.”
When they finished eating their meals, Natthapong brought a bowl of sticky rice and mango to their table for them to share.
“I swear, Bond,” Q said, eyeing Natthapong, “he thinks we’re on a date.”
Bond grinned and stabbed a piece of mango with his fork.
“If you’ve somehow insinuated to him that we are on a date, you’ll live to regret it,” Q said, his voice a hushed whisper.
“What would you do to me?” Bond asked, licking the mango juice from his lips. “Destroy my after-action report, so I have to start typing it again?
“I’ll have you know, I’m not one to be trifled with,” Q said, narrowing his eyes.
“I don’t doubt it,” Bond said before spooning a heap of sticky rice into his mouth.
“I could hack into your accounts and ruin your credit. Or worse, I could wipe the contact information for your numerous paramours from your mobile,” Q said wiping his hands on his napkin.
“Jealous?” Bond asked.
“Insufferable twat,” Q said.
“So much for your dedication to the agents of MI6,” Bond said.
“You’ve finally found me out,” Q said, applauding lightly. “I’m really here to bring about the downfall of MI6.”
“Just as I suspected,” Bond said. “I can never trust the nerdy ones.”
“I’m not that nerdy,” Q said defensively.
“Of course not,” Bond said. “Outside of work, you do all sorts of non-nerdy things for fun.”
“I do!” Q insisted.
“Like what?” Bond asked, leaning toward Q with curiosity.
“I have hobbies. I have pets,” Q said.
Bond loved getting Q riled up. “Ahhh yes, lest I forget the snarling cats.”
“You remembered,” Q said. “I have two highly intelligent cats that rely on me as their carer.”
“See, even your cats are nerdy,” Bond said.
“They’re not nerdy cats,” Q said.
“No?” Bond asked. “What are their names?”
“Copernicus and Galileo. Why?” asked Q.
“I rest my case,” Bond said.
Q huffed out a breath and rested back into his chair.
Bond sipped his tea.
Natthapong stopped at the table and refilled their water glasses. “Can I get you gentlemen anything else?” he asked.
“I think we’re finished here,” Q said.
“Everything was perfect,” Bond said. “I’m sure my friend will be dining here often.”
“Very well Mr. Bond,” Natthapong said. “I will bring you your check.”
“I would eat here again,” Q said, after Natthapong was out of earshot. “I love Thai. I wonder if he does take-away?”
“I’m guessing that you live nearby,” Bond said.
“Don’t be so sure of that,” Q said.
“So, you like Thai food and you have a pair of cats. What else does a nerdy Quartermaster do for fun?” Bond asked.
“I invent things. I hold more than two dozen patents,” Q said. “Surely you know that from work, but I design things at home as well.
“Where?” Bond asked. “I don’t suppose we’re neighbours?”
“That’s classified information,” Q said. “If I told you where I lived, I’d have to kill you.”
“Nonsense,” Bond said. “You couldn’t harm a fly. Besides, I’m very good at keeping secrets.”
Q laughed. “Yes, like your obsession with your Quartermaster,” he said.
Natthapong soon brought the check to the table. Q laid his hand on the leather folder that held the bill.
“My treat,” Q said. “And truly, this has been far more enjoyable than I thought it would be when we left MI6.”
“But still not entertaining enough to be called a date?” Bond asked.
Q snorted a laugh. He swiftly took a credit card from his wallet and slid it into the pocket of the leather folder that contained their lunch bill.
“Thanks for lunch,” Bond said. “I hope we can do it again sometime.”
Natthapong slipped into the room and collected the leather folder.
Bond studied Q while he sipped his tea. The sated feeling in his belly and the delightful company made this a lunch to remember. He watched Q’s Adam’s apple slide up and down as he swallowed another gulp of water, his long elegant fingers tracing patterns in the condensation of his glass. He wondered if Q was sensitive there, at his Adam’s apple, or at the crease of his neck, as Bond had been when Silva taunted him on his island last year. Bond knew from experience that some physical reactions were unavoidable when the body’s erogenous zones were triggered by a touch.
He wondered if Q liked to be touched by a man. He hadn’t mentioned a girlfriend. No, he hadn’t even been on a date lately if Bond could believe the minions’ gossip in the breakroom.
Bond guessed that he could pry some information from Moneypenny if he truly wanted it. She and Q were as thick as thieves. He made a mental note to ask her about Q’s dating habits when they got back to MI6.
Q licked his lips, making them shiny and red, even in the dim light of the restaurant.
Bond imagined Q’s lips plump and swollen from the exertion of sucking his cock. What Bond wouldn’t give to see Q on his knees, begging for Bond’s cock to fuck his mouth. Bonds fingers buried deep in Q’s thick hair, Q’s glasses askew on his face… Bond wondered what Q would say if he dared to ask him right now, Do you like to suck cock, Q? If you do, there’s something I’d be willing to volunteer for.
It would almost be worth it to see his cheeks burn crimson as his flustered hands tugged at his hair.
Someday Bond would have his way. He’d take the Quartermaster apart and put him back together again, only so he could use him over and over. Until that day came, Bond would bide his time. Q seemed to be duly impressed that he had trained Bond to bring most of the equipment back from a mission. Perhaps if things were to continue in that vein, Bond would be successful at wooing Q into his bed.
Natthapong returned to the table. “I’m sorry sir,” he said, leaving the leather folder by Q’s right hand. “Your credit card has been declined.”
“That’s strange,” Q said. “I just used it this morning.” He nodded at Bond as if to confirm the truth of what he spoke.
“Probably just an oversight,” Bond said, reaching for his wallet. “We can use mine.”
“No, no,” Q said. “I think I have enough cash.”
“We’ll get it sorted out when we get back to MI6,” Bond said.
“It’s still bloody embarrassing,” Q said, digging twenty-pound notes out of his wallet. “If I find out that one of the minions tampered with the account—”
“Of course they didn’t,” Bond said, laying his hand flat on the table between them. “They know how much trouble they would have with you. They wouldn’t dare.”
“They’ve been known to be tricksters before,” Q said, “but if they had anything to do with this, they’ve gone too far.”
It was time to leave. Q slid out of his chair, leaving the money on the table. Bond followed him out the door.
When Bond and Q arrived at the pedestrian entrance to MI6, the building was in full lockdown. Bond hadn’t seen so many military vehicles guarding the streets since Silva blew out the top floors of the old MI6 building. Sirens sounded and the blue lights of police vehicles cast their glaring beams across the river and down the traffic-choked roads.
“What’s going on?” Bond asked Reggie, one of the regular guards who greeted Bond when he arrived at the office.
“Nothing to be concerned about,” Reggie said. “We’ve got orders to prevent anyone without their credentials from passing this checkpoint. Everyone needs to swipe here before they can get on the water shuttle. Swipe again at the lifts. The PM’s office has put out word that security would be compromised this afternoon.”
“That’s strange,” Q said. “They’ve got traffic shut down on the Thames. You’d think we would have heard something from M while we were at lunch.”
“I had my mobile turned off,” Bond said.
“Well, mine was turned on,” Q said, taking the mobile from his pocket. “But it didn’t vibrate.”
Normally the security guards recognized MI6 personnel and waved them through clearance. Today, Bond noticed that they were making everyone swipe their identification badges through the sensor before embarking on the water shuttle to the main pedestrian lifts.
“That’s odd,” Q said, looking at the display on his mobile. “It looks fine.” He pocketed his mobile and got in line behind Bond.
A dozen MI6 employees were returning from their lunch break. While he stood in line, Bond dug his identification from his wallet.
Q, who always wore his name badge affixed to his belt, simply readied the identification by loosening its lanyard.
When they arrived at the security gate, Bond swiped first. A green light illuminated on the device and the guard allowed him onto the waiting dock where a water shuttle loaded up a half-dozen passengers at a time.
Bond turned to wait for Q to make his way through the security protocol. He slipped his identification back into his wallet.
Q swiped his badge through the sensor. However, unlike Bond’s pass through the checkpoint, the lights on the sensor glowed red.
“You’ve had your turn,” Reggie said. “If you’re not permitted to enter, there’s nothing we can do. Step back and let the others through.”
“But I’m Q,” Q said. “I’m the department head of Q-branch. There’s no way I would be prohibited from entering MI6.”
“Step back, sir,” Reggie said. “You’re not permitted to enter.”
“Are you sure?” Bond asked. Nothing seemed as strange as Q being denied entry to MI6.
“You saw the light,” Reggie said, his M4A1 carbine at the ready.
Q reluctantly stepped aside and let the others move through the line.
“Someone is out to ruin your day,” Bond said meeting Q through a narrow opening further down the barrier of steel bars that separated those who were permitted to enter MI6 and those who were not.
“But I have so much work to do,” Q said. “This is insanity. I knew I shouldn’t have gone to lunch with you.”
“Calm yourself,” Bond said. “I’m sure it’s just an oversight of some sort.”
“I have an idea,” Q said. He moved along the barrier to a span of border where few people wandered.
“What are you thinking?’ Bond asked.
“I know of a back way into my office,” Q said. “There’s a hidden door in a maintenance building in St. James Park. It leads to a short tunnel. I use it sometimes when I stay late and I leave for home after the car service has stopped for the night. I programmed the entry codes to the door myself.”
“Do you think you can get inside from there?” Bond asked.
“I can try,” Q said. “I don’t think anyone knows about it enough to bother with it and I’ve never had any trouble getting in before.”
“It sounds like a good idea,” Bond said. “Go. In the meantime, I’ll visit M’s office and try to figure out what’s going on. I’m sure it’s nothing.”
“All right,” Q said. “I’ll see you later.”
“Unless you can’t get in,” Bond said.
“Bond?” Q asked with a grin. “What do you take me for?”
“You’re right,” Bond said. Of course Q would be able to get into his own office. To think that he couldn’t, would be preposterous. It was good to see Q smile again, after the stressful incident with the credit card incident in the restaurant. “I’ll catch up with you later.”
Bond stood at the barrier and watched Q leave the main entrance. It didn’t surprise him to learn that Q had a back entrance to his office. Bond only hoped that could get there unimpeded. He stepped onto the next available water shuttle and soon arrived at the lifts.
Inside the lobby, the employees of MI6 seemed tense. Bond pushed his way onto the first lift that stopped on the ground floor.
When he reached the floor with the executive offices, he strode directly toward M’s office. Moneypenny greeted him first.
“James, I’m so relieved to see you,” Moneypenny said, rising up from her chair to hug Bond.
Bond wrapped her in his arms, his hands sliding over the smooth silk of her blouse. She was shaking.
“Are you all right?” Bond asked.
“What on Earth is going on?” Moneypenny asked, stepping back from his embrace.
“I was going to ask you the same thing,” Bond said.
“Is Q with you?” Moneypenny asked.
“No, I had to leave him outside,” Bond said.
“I feared that might happen,” Moneypenny said.
“The guards wouldn’t let him in, so he’s gone to try another entrance to his office,” Bond said.
“I’m afraid that might be of no use,” Moneypenny said. She walked behind her desk and brought up the screen on her computer. “Take a look.”
Bond squeezed beside her and read the message on the screen.
“Everyone received this message simultaneously,” Moneypenny said. “Tanner was here having lunch at my desk and he got it on his mobile. Mallory’s been locked in his office ever since.”
Bond read the message.
Owing to actions against Her Majesty’s Government, this individual is no longer in the employ of MI6.
He is no longer permitted on MI6 grounds and his security clearance has been revoked.
“Q?” Bond asked. “What has he done?”
“No one knows. This has to be a mistake,” Moneypenny said. “Tanner rushed down to Q-Branch to see if he could learn anything more.”
“Q won’t be able to get into his office,” Bond said. Even if Q made it through his secret entrance, there were bound to be guards looking for him to try just such a thing in Q-branch. Bond feared that Q was going to get himself killed.
“You need to find him,” Moneypenny said. “Promise me you’ll take care of him. He must be so distressed over this.”
“I want to talk to Mallory,” Bond said.
“He’s not exactly answering my requests right now,” Moneypenny said, motioning toward Mallory’s closed door.
Bond needed to find Q. Someone had to warn him about his status. If he were caught sneaking into MI6, he could be shot. Bond ran toward the lifts.
“Where are you going?” Moneypenny asked.
“I need to get to Q-branch before Q does,” Bond said.
Bond tapped his foot impatiently as he descended in the lift to Q-branch. His mind raced, searching for any possible scenario in which Q may have been disloyal to MI6. He could find none.
If he had learned anything during his lengthy career as a double-oh agent, Bond knew he could rely on his instinct to suss out when an individual warranted suspicion. In Q, Bond found only intelligence, loyalty, and a willingness to bend a rule only when it served the greater good. That, and Q had the uncanny habit of flaunting his perfectly shaped arse wherever Bond might best notice it, just to annoy him. Perhaps it was unintentional, but Bond still found fault with the sheer cruelty of his teasing.
Aside from that, Q was a consummate professional and utterly devoted to his Queen and Country.
The lift doors opened into the subterranean offices of Q-branch. It may as well have been a morgue.
The minions barely took their eyes off their monitors. Someone sniffled at their desk. It was clear to Bond that Q hadn’t gained entry through his secret entrance. At the head of the room, an armed guard stood outside Q’s open office door. Tanner and R were seated at Q’s workstation. R’s eyes were rimmed with red as if she had been crying.
“Bond,” Tanner said, standing when he saw him. “Thank God you’re here.”
“I just heard,” Bond said.
“I had nothing to do with this, I swear,” R said, wiping her eyes.
“No, of course you didn’t,” Bond said. He almost offered her his handkerchief until he realized she still had a half box of tissues with her. The missing half was balled up in Q’s bin beneath his workstation.
“Thanks for believing me, Bond,” R said. “I’m not ready for this. I can’t take over for Q. They need to let him come back. Tell me this is all some horrible mistake?”
“I’m fairly sure of it,” Bond said.
Bond undid the button of his jacket and squatted beside R. In an effort to comfort her, he stroked her hair, his fingers catching in her ponytail.
“I’m scared,” R said. “What if something like this happens to me next? I can’t lose my job. I have a husband, a family.”
“You’ll be fine,” Bond said, his eyes scanning the projects on Q’s workstation. “Nothing will happen to you.”
There had to be some clue there that would help Bond figure out why this had happened, but nothing Q was working on looked out of place or even remotely suspicious.
“If Q were here, he would want you to carry on and try to do the best you can,” Bond said. “I’m sure he’d tell you the same thing if he were here to speak for himself.”
Bond eyed the open door to Q’s office, but only silence came from the room beyond. He rose from R’s side and nodded to the guard.
Buttoning his jacket, Bond pulled Tanner aside.
“Any idea what’s going on?” Bond asked.
“I’m just as shocked as you are,” Tanner said.
“You don’t believe Q did anything that would warrant this?” Bond asked.
“Of course not,” Tanner said. “Q is the most loyal, the most professional employee of all of MI6. It’s unthinkable that they’ve burned him like this.”
“You know, and I know, that there’s only one person who can get to the bottom of this,” Bond said.
“Q,” Tanner said with a nod.
“I’ll hazard a guess that he’ll need his laptop to do it,” Bond said. If there was any way that this situation was going to be resolved, Q needed to work with them. And to help them, Q would need his laptop with all of his customizations. Bond was sure of it. Even if the machine had been wiped clean of data, Q would find a way to make it useful.
“But the guard?” Tanner said.
“He’s on the lookout for Q to try to return to the branch,” Bond said. “He may not care if equipment goes missing.”
“Funny, the only one who cared about missing equipment was Q,” Tanner said. “Here, I have an idea.”
Tanner pulled his mobile from his pocket and tapped at the screen.
“Well, if it’s all right with Mallory, I guess you can bring it to him,” Tanner announced to Bond.
He walked to the guard and Bond followed. Waving his mobile at the guard, Tanner said, “M wants Double-oh Seven to bring Q’s laptop up to his office.”
Bond caught on to Tanner’s plan.
“MI6 wants to search it,” Bond said. He then whispered to the guard, “And they don’t want it to stay in the hands of Q-branch… you know, in case of sympathizers.”
From across the room, R sniffled, as if on cue.
“Fine with me, as long as M said he needed it,” the guard said, moving aside.
Stepping into Q’s office, Bond spotted the laptop lying dormant on Q’s desk. Surely Q would have arrived here by now if he had managed to sneak in through his secret entrance, but there was no sign of him.
Bond spied around the room, looking for where Q’s secret entrance might be. He suspected it was the steel door behind a shelving unit that was cluttered with the many books and unfinished projects Q had amassed in their new digs. In any case, Q hadn’t been there since the lockdown, as far as Bond could tell.
Not wanting to delay getting the laptop, Bond slipped it into the messenger hanging from the back of the chair. He noticed the untouched bag of kanafeh Q had left on his desk. Bond sighed and tossed it into the messenger bag alongside the laptop. It was a pity that Q hadn’t yet enjoyed his little gift. Bond let his fingers linger along the backrest to Q’s chair. He gave it a squeeze, hoping that the Quartermaster would soon be back at work.
Before he left Q’s office, Bond mouthed a thank you to Tanner for his cooperation and his brilliant idea. Shouldering the messenger bag, Bond set off to find Q.