Outside the door of Chief of Staff Tanner’s office, agent James Bond put his hand in his pocket and drew out, of all things, a pistachio nut shell. His lips turned up slightly at this calling card from his friend, the Greek smuggler Milos Columbo. How in hell had it found its way here?
Feeling Miss Moneypenny’s eyes on him, he fumbled with the file folder containing his report, gave her growing smile a slight, humorous bow, then placed a hand on the knob and entered the dark, maple-lined room. Tanner was behind his desk, puffing on his pipe and looking at Bond expectantly.
Despite appearances, Bond often returned from a mission with a sense of uneasiness—missions were never really over—but this particular one bothered him enormously. He could not put a finger on what was causing his agitation, so uncharacteristic of him. No, rather, he could: that moment on the cliff, when he had tossed the dove pin into Locque’s car and the henchman had caught it, startled, and looked down at it uncomprehendingly in his hand, as if he had never seen it before.
Yes, that was it. That moment with Locque was eating at Bond. It did not make sense—seeing that pin should have told Locque his fate, but the killer had merely looked confused. Instead, the audible give of the rocks beneath the pinned car had made Locque look up with wide eyes, realizing. Bond had to admit that the toss of the pin had not given him the satisfaction of terrifying Locque; Locque’s reaction had perplexed Bond then and it perplexed him now. Enraged at this reaction to the pin, Bond had then kicked the car even as Locque was on his way over the cliff. Bond had gotten his revenge, but he had wanted more, a longer silent plea from Locque, more fear, more pain. Damn him, anyway!
“Good morning, 007.” Tanner took Bond’s report from him and tossed it aside without a glance, then leaned back in his chair. He was studying Bond in a way that the agent did not like; he wondered if Tanner had ordered a psychological review, and inwardly groaned.
This mission to recover the ATAC had changed him forever, Bond knew it. That kick at Locque’s car was not like him, and he wondered how London would react to his newly found viciousness. He was also not given to wishing his enemies alive again in order to kill them more slowly, with more trauma—or to wondering if Emile Leopold Locque had somehow escaped him, after all.
But it had definitely been Locque in that car! Bond had looked him in the eyes. Locque had been on Kristatos’ ship at the warehouse, taking inventory. Bond had seen Locque blow up the warehouse and drive away in that car, the same sedan that Bond had kicked over the cliff, sending Locque to his death on the rocks of the Aegean.
“Locque is also dead, by the way,” he said to jump-start the inevitable, “just like Kristatos.”
“We know,” Tanner replied. “And that is why you are going to Brussels, 007.”
Bond blinked—also uncharacteristic of him. “Brussels.”
“Someone has stepped into Locque’s place—very quickly and efficiently, I might add. We want you to roust this new man and take him alive. Alive, this time, if you can.” A bit of a sardonic glint showed in Tanner’s eyes, but otherwise, his manner was no different than before.
An audible sigh escaped from Bond before he could stop it. “But—sir, why can’t Interpol—”
“Bond.” Tanner stood up, taking the pipe from his mouth. “Milos Columbo is dead.”
There was a silent explosion between them, and then Tanner dipped his head and went on, “He was assassinated on his own ship, and not by one of his own men. Of that much we are certain. Our agents were still on board at the time, and even his men do not know the combination to his own cabin—and what reason would any of them have for planting that damned dove pin on his body? Oh yes, a dove pin, Bond. None of Columbo’s men ever sported any pin, only a dove applique on their uniforms. Columbo had a dove ring, and that was it for jewelry—no cloisonné pins, which by the way, can be purchased at a storefront in Brussels, but are not found anywhere in Corfu.” Tanner shook his head. “That red herring was chosen by Locque to throw you off the trail, and it was used this time by this new mystery man as a message specifically for you.” He stepped out from behind the desk.
“Melina!” broke in Bond. “And Bibi, and Brink…”
“Melina Havelock is safe. The Greek government has her in protective custody. She agreed to it for the safety of her crew. As for Miss Bibi Dahl and her coach, they have disappeared from Columbo’s ship. Perhaps they are in hiding. Or perhaps…” Tanner moved to look Bond directly in the eyes. “This is apparently not over, 007. It seems to have become…personal against you. I cannot imagine why, although you must also admit that more than any other enemy you have confronted, Locque got under your skin. Perhaps he had a close associate.”
Bond asked tersely, “If it is personal against me, what concern is it of the Secret Service? Why send me to Brussels?”
“Well, I cannot think of who would do this, what with Kristatos dead, Kriegler in custody, the ATAC destroyed, and the Kremlin preoccupied with conducting RYAN, their intelligence operation against the United States.” He arched an eyebrow.
“Preoccupied. Or so it would seem,” Bond mused aloud, feeling again in his pocket for that nut shell.
“Precisely. Moreover, we have found that Aris Kristatos was not Moscow’s only contact in that part of Greece. In fact, it was Locque and not Kristatos who was the KGB’s primary enforcer in that part of the world.” Tanner waved his pipe in irritation. “Locque was a bigger threat to us than we took him for. Clever that, don’t you think? making Kristatos think that Locque worked for him, when in fact Locque was there to maneuver Kristatos to follow Moscow’s true agenda? Had Columbo not killed Kristatos, Locque would have killed him before you could get to the ATAC. Locque’s orders were coming, we now know, directly from General Gogol himself.”
Bond smiled a thin smile. “And now, Locque’s replacement under General Gogol is ‘working’ for someone else! In Brussels.”
“What the Kremlin wants in Brussels is anyone’s guess. We have to know, Bond. I’m afraid that this time I don’t even have a file of information to give you—only the scraps that I have told you just now. For Your Ears Only, I suppose.”
Bond glanced at his useless report on Tanner’s desk and nodded. “I’ll leave this afternoon.”
As Bond made his way to the door, Tanner called after him, “It is a pity we did not get anything out of Locque. In light of what we now know, questioning him would have been…rather useful, wouldn’t you say?”
With his hand on the doorknob, Bond turned back to Tanner in anger. “And it’s a pity you did not see the condition of the body of that poor, sweet girl on the beach after Locque had once again, as you put it, made himself ‘useful.’”
“Hmmph.” Tanner nodded. “I understand, James.” Tanner never called him, “James.” It calmed Bond, somewhat. “But—be careful, 007. Be particularly on your guard this time. This replacement for Locque, whoever he is, enjoys killing as much as the last one, and is as good at it.”