“New security measures,” Mallory had said a week ago, and tossed a file down on his new desk in his new office. “Living in a hotel is too insecure.”
“We have a list of approved properties,” Tanner had added, always helpful, and set down a much smaller stack of printouts. “Judging by the cost of your last flat — which you’ll be compensated for — the first is likely to be the most... amenable.”
To date, Bond had been living out of suitcases and his storage locker — and he was not going to think about the empty Aston Martin-shaped hole there, because it was one step from there to thinking about other losses. Now, he followed an estate agent around an open space.
“Of course, we can have a crew come in to make any changes you’d like,” she said, gesturing around with a steel pen. The flash of sunlight on metal made Bond think of a half dozen ways he could use the pen to kill her. “Walls, new flooring — but I like the open floorplan. Isn’t it lovely?” She turned the full force of her bright, too-white smile on Bond.
The flat was an entire half of the building, a structure suffering from a severe identity crisis. It wanted to be a warehouse, judging by the exposed concrete pillars and floor-to-ceiling windows, but had accidentally turned into a skyscraper in miniature. The floors were dyed, polished concrete done in rust brown like old blood. The rooms flowed one into another — well, what ‘rooms’ there were. The kitchen was marked by its granite countertops, island, and cupboards. The bathroom had proper walls and a door. Everything else, though, was open.
Bond idly thought about shoji screens to give the illusion of privacy. They crumbled so easily under the force of a body. Gunshots made neat little holes in the paper.
“I’m not sure lovely is a term I’d use,” he said somewhat idly, walking over to investigate the view. There was no direct line of sight from the neighbouring buildings’ windows, which was certainly a factor in the flat’s favour. In fact, it was a relatively unobstructed view of London rolling out from his position on the thirteenth floor. His heart tugged a little, and Bond wished he had a drink in his hand. London, England. Home.
He turned back to look at the kitchen, as if he actually gave a rat’s arse about it. But he’d already made up his mind. “It’s serviceable.” The unobstructed lines of the interior and the fact that it only shared the floor with one other flat were excellent considerations, but it was really the view that made up his mind. “Where would I park?” he asked, presuming that one day he’d actually get another car, when he forgot about the loss of the Aston Martin.
“There’s a carpark in the basement. I’d be happy to arrange a spot. I can include it the purchase price, if you’d like, just to keep the finances simple. One spot or two for your... Wife? Partner?” she hinted strongly.
“A second one won’t be necessary,” he said before turning to smile suggestively at the estate agent. Early forties, did yoga or Pilates or something boring like that. Probably looking for her next rich ex-husband so she could stop working. If she was an assassin, she was a good one.
“Well. Shall I just write you up, then?” she asked, tapping her iPad. “If you’d like to put in a down payment to hold the flat, we can start the paperwork straight away.”
Bond watched her for a moment, evaluating the bonus flexibility she’d probably have in bed versus the efficiency of getting settled into his new flat quickly. Of course, the current empty state of the flat presented a logistics problem, though the kitchen counter would be good enough if she were adventurous. But practicality won out; the idea of once again being able to set up his own security trumped an easy conquest, which wasn’t difficult to secure. As much as he enjoyed his five-star hotel’s amenities, there was something to be said for being in control of the comings and goings of strangers.
He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. “Excellent,” he said, handing over a black Barclaycard.
Money smoothed the way for almost anything. With no plans for living to retirement age, Bond paid hefty fees to expedite paperwork. Within a week, a vetted crew of moonlighting MI6 security guards emptied his secure storage unit and moved everything into his new flat, leaving Bond with a stack of packing crates, disassembled furniture, and bags in an otherwise empty space.
“Well. Love what you’ve done with it.”
Bond didn’t bother to turn, nor to ask precisely how his uninvited visitor had got hold of a key. He’d be changing the door locks, at any rate. “You’re just in time to help move furniture.”
“Good. Let’s start with the sofa. I need somewhere to stay,” Alec Trevelyan — 006 — said as he let himself in. He went right for the kitchen, and Bond heard bottles clink. “Have any glasses?”
“Absolutely. Of the finest shape to properly enjoy what had best be Macallan. But I’m holding their location ransom until you put in the effort necessary to earn their use.” Bond was fairly certain that the glasses were in the box under his coffee pot, but it wouldn’t hurt to ‘accidentally’ name the wrong one in order to expedite the unpacking process. He straightened and looked at the couch. It needed to face the windows.
“Christ, you’re a right bastard,” Alec accused. He took off his jacket, though, and tossed it over the counter. “So, where do we start?” he asked, rolling up his sleeves. “And why here? Since when do you like... What is this? Hipster-chic?”
“Clean lines, easy cleanup if someone bleeds out on the floor, high potential for advanced security.” Bond shot a half grin Alec’s way as he pushed boxes away from the centre of what he decided was going to be the living room. “Have you looked out the windows yet?”
He knew Alec would understand as soon as he saw the view. As much as they both appreciated crossing Xs on a map to mark their adventures, London was home.
Alec navigated around the boxes and went to the windows, walking left to right to take in the half-circle view. “Well,” he said thoughtfully, pushing open one of the windows. The panel of glass squares opened out at an angle, with hinges at the top. There was only a simple latch, as if the architect had thought the building secure enough not to need locks. Bond would change that.
The flat was shaped like an L, rather than a U, only because one arm was cut off for utilities, the emergency staircase, and a cargo lift. The smaller passenger lift pierced the centre of the building. The large double doors to the tiny foyer were sturdy metal and easily secured.
“I’m surprised, James. It’s not your style, but it’s nice. Very nice,” Alec approved. He grinned and went to the boxes. “Is the flat across the hall available? Could be useful if we pick up twins. I may have had an incident at my place.”
Bond thought about Alec’s levels of descriptions for his ‘incidents’. Alec had once called a street brawl in Morocco over an admittedly beautiful woman a ‘scuffle,’ so Bond wondered if this particular incident actually meant bloodshed of the more serious variety. “I haven’t met anyone yet, but the door lock is high tech and active, so I assume someone lives there. Shouldn’t be too much trouble to scare them away, though, if you like.” Bond smiled wickedly at Alec and walked back to the couch, waving at his friend to follow.
Alec grinned and picked up his end of the couch. The piece was a solid wood antique with the guts redone with proper springs and cushions; they had no difficulty at all manoeuvering it into place to Bond’s satisfaction. “Sounds perfect. And convenient,” Alec said, looking up at the high ceiling. “There are some elements of hipster chic that are practical, despite what the hipsters would like us to believe.” He nodded at the overhead sprinkler system, giving a clue as to the ‘incident’.
“Did any of your furniture survive, or do you need the number of my interior decorator?” Bond wondered briefly if Alec was even insurable anymore, or if he had to start from scratch out of his own bank account. Not that it would have hurt Alec’s bottom line too much — there were advantages to having 90% of your salary deemed ‘hazard pay.’ Bond picked up and handed his toolbox to Alec and started moving the pieces of his bed to the appropriate corner. He preferred having at least one solid wall to his back when sleeping.
Obligingly, Alec followed. “Some. The fire was actually limited to the bedroom. She rather thought the candles were romantic, until... well.” He shrugged and looked back. “This won’t do, James. You’ll need to move the bed or the sofa. God knows I don’t need to see your bed from mine.”
Bond chuckled. “I don’t like the view that much, Alec. I’ll get privacy screens.”
“You have a DVR, right? And decent speakers? I think we’ll have to use those two columns for the rear speakers, unless you have stands.” Distracted, Alec put down the tool box and wandered back to the living room. “Do you have a Wii? Call of Duty 5,” he hinted.
Bond shook his head, remembering what he now considered an awful moment of stupidity when he’d wandered into HMV to investigate video game systems at Alec’s last suggestion. He’d taken one look at an orange plastic ‘shotgun’ with its accompanying duck hunt game, and turned around to walk right back out the door. “That’s not my idea of downtime, Alec. What little time I spend here, I’d rather not spend pretending to be able to defy the laws of physics in a video game. Unrealistic expectations and all that. We can’t put up the television until I get a wall mount that works on brick, anyway.”
“James,” Alec sighed, shaking his head. “No proper glasses, can’t mount the telly, probably don’t even know where your speakers are... Let’s face it. I’ll need to move in across the hall. You’ll be lost without me.” He looked over at the two pieces of the bed — side rails — that Bond had carried into the appropriate space. “Are you sick of this yet? There’s a Chinese place not too far away that looked good. We can hire some of the techies from Technical Services Section to put all this together while we supervise.”
Bond straightened, narrowing his eyes at Alec. He didn’t like the idea of other people having their hands all over his possessions, but the idea of coming back to a perfectly put-together flat was damned tempting. “We can do that?”
“We shoot people for a living, James. We can do whatever the bloody fuck we want.” He took his wallet out of the back pocket of his jeans and opened it. “How much cash do you have? For a couple hundred quid and the chance to get in good with two Double O’s, we’ll have our own pack of minions.”
“Why didn’t I think of that years ago?” To hell with this. Life was too short to be spent putting together furniture for what might have been the eighth time in four years. He pulled his wallet out, handed it to Alec, and walked over the box with the glasses. “There is plenty of cash for an incentive to have them done by sunset, I think,” he said, carrying the box with the coffee pot on top over to the kitchen. He plugged the coffee pot in, then tore the tape off the box to get at the glasses.
“Brilliant. I’ll make some calls, we’ll let them in, and then we can get dinner while the minions build us a better world.” Alec grinned and retrieved the bottle of scotch from the shopping bag, along with two bottles of whisky and one of vodka. “Care to start over as supervillains?”
“I think I’d need a cat for that,” Bond said with false ponderousness. He carefully pulled out his glasses from the packing material and took them to the sink to rinse. “And you’d have to wear a cape.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. When’s the last time you shot anyone who was wearing a cape?” Alec opened the bottle, shoved it across the counter, and took his mobile out of its belt holster. “How many minions do we want? Think eight will do? They’re awfully scrawny, most of them. Unless I tell them to get some extras from the motor pool or security, just to help carry things.”
Bond set the glasses on the counter. Deciding a little water couldn’t hurt, he chose not to hunt for a flannel to dry them. “Eight to do the work, plus an extra to evaluate for security upgrades.” He poured them both a scotch to start. “And here I thought you’d be impressed with my pop culture references.”
“If it were 1980, I would be,” he said, taking his glass after he sent his text. “There. In three hours, we’ll have ourselves a nice little home. Perfect timing. I didn’t want to live at Claridge’s.”
“You’re blacklisted from Claridge’s.”
“There’s that, too.”
When the security camera video feed changed, Q actually noticed. He pulled off his headphones and stopped the treadmill, panting slightly as he let the belt drop him on the floor. He went around to the security monitors and watched as eight people — eight — exited the lift not thirty feet from where he stood.
His system would automatically identify faces and run them through facial recognition databases, starting first with local drivers before expanding to passports, military IDs, and Border Agency records. Standard security procedure, really, given the circumstances.
They all went across the hall, rather than coming to his door, and he felt a flicker of irritation. He’d just got set up in this new flat, and the last thing he needed was to pack away all of his gear and move because his neighbour threw parties or something. Not for the first time, he debated simply disappearing. He had a dozen identities and three times that many bank accounts that no one would ever trace.
Soon, he thought guiltily. Mum’s health was declining, and once she was gone, he’d be free. His brothers certainly didn’t need him here in London.
The security camera was motion-activated. Up until recently, the sole feed to that monitor had been a tap off the lobby security cameras — the default setting. Only when someone pressed the lift button for the thirteenth floor did the lift camera actually switch on. He had similar precautions for the emergency stairwell (motion sensor on twelve) and cargo lift.
He watched as facial recognition failed to turn up anything from the drivers’ database, which was... odd. Very odd.
Curious, he switched to the lobby camera and watched the automated process come to life. It took two minutes to identify the man standing by the reception desk — a local deliveryman of some kind with a commercial licence. So it wasn’t a problem with the search algorithm or his hack into the system.
Eight unidentified people? Christ, did he have human traffickers living next door? That would bring far too much attention from the Met.
He switched back to the upstairs feed in time to see two men emerge from the flat. One he vaguely recognised as presumably the tenant: slightly taller than average, blond hair, striking blue eyes, and the type of body that implied he spent a great deal of time lifting heavy things over his most-likely-empty head. The one with him looked equally big, dumb, and gorgeous. Partners, Q assumed, curiously going back through his security logs.
Both men had been noted in the system. This was the first time number two had shown up, but number one had first appeared a week ago with an estate agent. The system had no difficulty identifying her.
Both men, however, were listed as No Record Found.
Q understood the math behind what humans perceived as coincidences, random chance, and fortune. Throw a die enough times and you’d get a sequential string of one through six, in order. There was nothing magical about it; just math.
Ten people — ten — with No Record Found?
That wasn’t math. That was his bloody interfering brother.
“Red Queen, wake up,” he said, going back to the treadmill for his water bottle.
A female voice sounded from the speakers overhead. “Good afternoon, Q.”
“Red Queen, call my interfering arsehole of a brother.”
“Dialling Mycroft Holmes,” the computer answered.
“I have two minutes,” Mycroft answered calmly. “I suggest you be efficient with your complaints.”
“Why is there a flat full of non-persons across the hall from me?”
“Cats, crows, or mice? I suggest you take it up with your landlord, not me.” The faint clink of ice hitting the glass filtered through the phone, and Q frowned. Bad day, then. It meant a deeply uncooperative older sibling. Q scanned his memory of the day’s news for any headline which might give him a clue into Mycroft’s mood. Nothing tracked.
Still, he needed information, and unfortunately when computers failed Mycroft was often his sole resource. So he pressed: “Non-persons, Mycroft, not creatures. As in, am I dealing with a ring of human traffickers? Smugglers? Prostitutes?”
“I suppose they could be considered all that and more, when the occasion calls for it. MI6. No need to hack my databases for all ten of them — only one is actually moving in. Good taste in scotch, I hear.” The ice chinked again. “One minute left, dear brother.”
Anger crackled through Q, hot and fierce and sudden. “One of your spies,” he accused. “Damn you, Mycroft. Why can’t you leave me the hell alone?”
“What makes you think this has anything to do with you? James recently returned from the dead, so to speak, and needed a new place to live. Your building was the last on record to be thoroughly vetted by us, and thus the first shown to him. That he took it immediately simply means he wasn’t picky.” Mycroft sighed. “Do give me some credit.”
Q closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Fine. I want his complete dossier. Either you can give it to me, or I’ll fetch it myself.”
“Busily doing something other than sitting in front of your computer for a change, are we? If you check your email, you’ll see a secured digital copy awaiting your perusal. Fifteen seconds. Anything else?”
“No. Ring off,” he ordered.
Instead of Mycroft, the Red Queen answered, “Call terminated.”
Irritated, Q uncapped the water bottle to take a drink as he went to his computer. The secured copy meant he’d have to crack the file’s encryption — child’s play — before he could have the Red Queen read it to him, but he probably wouldn’t bother. He saved that option only for ebooks and only when he was exercising. Otherwise, he could read a page of text at a glance, and he always favoured efficiency over laziness.
He woke the computer, scanned in using the biometrics readers, and opened his email. The file naming convention was MI6 standard, though with a new designation appended to the end: 007. Three-digit code... That was new.
Wondering what it meant, he opened the file in a sandbox — he didn’t actually trust Mycroft, after all — and started to skim the contents. James Bond. Born in West Berlin, Germany, and educated in Switzerland and Germany. Orphaned, expelled from several schools for behaviour issues. Commander, Royal Navy. MI6 field agent. That was something. MI6 operated exclusively overseas, which meant he’d frequently be out of the country.
Q smiled, thinking that perhaps he’d have a cat and ask Q to look after it, giving him the perfect excuse to snoop and plant surveillance. That could be convenient. And worst case, if he did have wild parties, Q had methods of taking care of those.
Wasn’t it convenient that the building’s fire sprinklers were computer-controlled?