In which Bond and Moneypenny return to Buenos Aires



Mr Bond

If you want to know about life on a transatlantic cargo ship, you will have to book a cabin and experience it for yourself - the solitary times when the hum of engines and the creaking of decks provide the only company, the monotony as a day slips towards evening, long views to a watery horizon, and the moment that a new dawn arrives in the east with the rising sun.

After leaving Dakar in Senegal, accompanied by Mireille’s lively French Canadian chatter, twenty days slipped past quicker than expected. We met for breakfast, joined by Simon the miniature schnauzer, and the occasional member of the Filipino crew. In the evening we would watch the sunset across the western horizon and dance tango to orchestras of the Golden Age on deck. On lazy afternoons schools of dolphins would gather alongside to race the ship whilst flying-fish tore ahead of the bow, and keen eyes could spot turtles, sea snakes and the illusive shark.

As we enter the busy shipping lane on our approach to Buenos Aires, I join Captain Nick Compton on the bridge, his greying beard matching that of his ageing schnauzer. His deep baritone voice booms instructions to the first mate. At the horizon the city shimmers in summer heat. Soon, we make out the tall towers of Puerto Madero just to the south of commercial dock Darsena D. None of the quiet, sleepy restraint of Tilbury - voices call out and figures dart amongst the moorings. Within moments the dock erupts with activity, overhead cranes grind out above our port side, ropes are thrown by the Filipino crew, whilst lines of huge Argentine transporter trucks await, their swarthy drivers leaning nonchalantly in the shade.  

Ahead of me, Compton addresses the migraciones officer in Castillano and nods in my direction. As I arrive at his desk he glances over half glasses momentarily before vigorously stamping my passport. “Bienvenido a Buenos Aires, Snr Bond. Tres meses”. Three months? Without the British government visa, it seems that I am now a tourist. It takes a moment to register. At first I sense a loss of status, ‘Cpt Bond’ it seems remaining somewhere on deck between London and Santos Itapoa. Then I realise what I have gained - the freedom to recover both life and identity from the department.

Mireille heads off to the leafy bario of Palermo, whilst my taxi takes me towards Recoleta for the last time, stopping in Santa Fe just short of the grace-and-favour MOD apartment on the roof of Palacio Haedo. Raul is waiting alongside a large trunk bound with a leather strap. “James, let me give you a hand with this”, he greets, ”I think that’s the lot”, adding, “mum’s the word, but you know what, I am going to miss you, old boy”.

Minutes later, a half-open boot tied down with rope, the taxi leaves Raul standing on the footway, his hand raised in a half-hearted wave; and heads out on 9 de Julio towards San Telmo, ten minutes later cutting down the cobbles of Estados Unidos to turn back north to Defensa and my new home in the city.

Eva, the housekeeper, is there to greet me. “Mr Bond, here are your keys - and a spare set just in case you have a visitor”, she announces. “The terrace is upstairs, and beyond, the roof has fine views. Enjoy your stay”. And with that, she descends the fifty two steps to the street and disappears into the crowds of Calle Defensa.

San Telmo is one of the oldest barios in the city. A fresh start. I hang my Panama hat on the brass hook and look around me. ‘Coffee, I think’, I say to myself as I start to open the trunk, but within moments the buzzer sounds and a light pitched voice calls over the intercom, “Bond, are you there yet?”.


Moneypenny

‘Bienvenidos a Buenos Aires’, the signs say although there is nothing welcoming about crossing customs in Ezeiza Airport, they seem to consider everyone guilty until proven innocent, maybe they’re right now that I think of it.  As I step out the customs checkpoint, passed all the Tienda Leon ticket sellers, I notice Sabrina in the distance, she has come to pick me up. I won’t even ask how she knew I was arriving today.

“Welcome back, I’m glad to see you” she mutters nervously.  “Yes, I am back and don’t worry. If anything this trip has convinced me of one thing, there is no right or wrong side, the only thing I am sure of is that I want to go back to why I came here in the first place, for tango,” I say knowing it will reassure her, and at the same time not 100% convinced myself this was the end of everything else. Just as those creeped into my head I notice Richard Hammond and Paul in the distance walking to a taxi.

“Have you heard from James?”, I ask Sabrina.  “Yes I have,” she responds in a way that I know I had better not push for more information.

“Come, you must be tired, let’s go home. I’ve taken the liberty of moving your things from your apartment into my guest room; I’ve decided that you should live with me for a while.  You may come and go as you chose, no questions asked, but you will live with me,” she says affirmatively. “Alright, then I guess there isn’t much I can say then is there?,” I respond.

Sabrina’s hired limousine takes us to the streets of San Telmo where I would once again, start a new life.  The smell of Sabrina’s place was familiar and I unconsciously sigh with relief, feeling that I could give up the reigns to take time to breathe.  I make my way up to my room, when I notice a note near the telephone ‘Defensa 893 3C’. ’What could this mean’, I ask myself, but resolve to save that for later, for now all I wanted was a warm bath and a glass of Malbec.

“Everything is upstairs, go rest and we can chat later,” Sabrina says, adding as she hands me a glass of wine, “and I’ve missed you”.  

I open the doors to my new room. It was always ‘a little’ mine actually but now, dressed with all my possessions, it feels more official. As I open the closet I notice the red dress I had worn at Richard Alvarez’ party - along with all the other clothes from the Sucre suite. How had this happened?  Was I really out of all this? Bond! I knew I had to see him and said to myself ‘I must do it right now’.

In which Bond finds that he has company


Mr Bond

From the bunk in my cabin aboard the Hanjin Buenos Aires cargo ship, I pick up ‘The Quest for the Embrace’. Flicking to the flyleaf I discover a plain envelope inside, the flap tucked in but not sealed. As it rests in my hand I smell a recognisable perfume.

Turning it over I see the words ‘Mr Bond’ in a neat hand. Immediately I recognise the writing. And suddenly the perfume makes sense - ‘Lolita Lenpicka’ - worn by Moneypenny at milongas in Buenos Aires.

Inside, a sheaf of violet paper reads, “Bond, I hope this finds you well. I have escaped, in case you didn’t know. Your friends Hammond and Paul have arrived here in Bolivia. I said I will return to Argentina, but not with them, and not for MI6. I am too young for this game, and I sense you are too old. I will see you in Buenos Aires, old man. Let us dedicate our time to tango. Moneypenny”.

How on earth did Moneypenny know that I was here in a cargo ship heading towards the Atlantic ocean?

Moments later I hear an adjacent door slam and the rasp of a knock at my cabin. Opening the door my eyes focus on a silver key swinging from a tape with the sway of the ship. Mireille steps forward. “James, I fear that Paul’s pumpkin will have to take its chance...now, when do I get my first tango lesson?”

“Mireille, what on earth are you doing here?”, I stutter, “and how did you get this?”, I continue as I exchange the key for the envelope. “James, Moneypenny knew that I am the only person you really trust. The book is from me. You are not the only one who is not too old for an adventure, despite what Moneypenny may say”, she adds with her usual smile. “And with 20 more days at sea, I reckon I will become quite the tanguera under your tuition!”.

“Well, I wondered how I would survive on this dreadful ship”, I retort. “There is no time like the present. Your first tango lesson will be on deck at noon. Don’t be late”. With that, I usher Mireille from the cabin and sink into the brown leather chair.

‘So that’s three of us that have jumped ship - so to speak - me, Moneypenny and Mirelle’, I say to myself. I wonder who will be next?

Two hours later I climb the grey steel staircase leading to the aft deck. Mireille is already there, her blonde hair caught by a gentle breeze, her tango shoes glinting in the midday sunshine. Canaro’s ‘Poema’ drifts from the gramophone. “Shall we start with the embrace?”, I ask. “On that topic, your book has been really quite helpful”, I add as we start a tango walk towards the quarterdeck.



The journey home for Moneypenny



Moneypenny

We arrived in Sucre late afternoon, where Richard took me on a tour on his elegant while mansion in the middle of the city, a few blocks from the central square.

“This house belonged to my great grandfather, he was part of the Bolivian elite who wanted to be freed from Spain’s tyrannical rule.  Bolivar himself had dinner at that very table”, he said pointing to the large Louis XIV style dining table, inside an even more Louis XIV-style dining room.  His grandfather was most likely one of those people who got rich off the backs of the slaves and natives working (and drying) in the mines; the same workers he is now trying to ‘save’ from the English; humans are such contradictory creatures I thought to myself.

“Now come this way and I’ll show you to your room”, he added as the went up the large marble stairs. The room was bright and very cheerful; floral patterns ornated the walls; bouquets of white roses filled the room with the sweet scent of spring; the windows gave onto the interior French garden; it was a little nirvana right here in the middle of the city.  “This was my mother’s room, I hope you find it comfortable.  You will be served dinner here at 9PM, for tonight’s party is not a dinner party, and guests will start arriving at 11PM.  You will find everything you need in this room, should you require anything else, please let me know”, and with that he was gone and I was left alone with his in this room which was a shrine to his mother; her portrait was everywhere; her perfumes, half empty, laid out on the dressing table; her clothes still filled the drawers and closets; clearly he loved her dearly. In the dressing area, aside old 1920’s dresses, hung dozens of Chanel and Dior dresses each with matching Manolo Blahniks; all one size, my size.  It made me think of Sabrina, and her very extensive wardrobe; was Richard the one providing her with all these luxuries or the British government?  Or better yet both?

I couldn’t quite think straight and the only thing I really wanted was a glass of wine and a hot, lavender scented bath; luckily Richard’s mansion could easily provide both…. Maybe this life isn’t so bad afterall!

After a long rest and a gourmet dinner, the time was nearing 11PM and Richard’s guests started arriving.  “My dear you look absolutely wonderful”, Richard said to me.  “Yes, it’s incredible how you knew my exact dress and shoe size; it’s almost as if you had inside information on me”, I responded. He paused and smiled, and then finally added, “Let’s just say I have a good eye for these things.  Come let me introduce you to two members of MI6 who have just arrived, Richard Hammond and Paul Savident, two of her majesty’s most eccentric, and efficient agents”.

“You know who the agents are?  Doesn’t that defy the point?” I asked in surprise. “Oh my dear, MI6 and us have been running after each other for the past 40 years, I know some of the agents better than I did my own brother, which they killed by the way.  Come I’m sure it’s you they are after anyhow, so let’s indulge them.”

“Hammond, Paul, you are welcome, but I have to say I don’t remember extending the invitation list to all of Mr Bond’s associates” he said in irony and continued with, “This, as I’m sure you know is the lovely miss Moneypenny. Do take her for a spin on the dance floor when the first tanda begins, I guarantee you won’t regret it!”  And as if he had pushed play himself, the orchestra began playing Troilo.

“Good evening Miss Moneypenny, I’m Paul and I am delighted to meet you.  Now we must absolutely speak to you about your being here with Richard Alvarez , we are very concerned”, he began saying when Hammond interjected “Come man this is a party, give the poor girl a chance to find her sea legs, not to mention a drink in her lovely hands.  Always ruining a good moment Paul with your ‘concerns’, now go fetch Miss Moneypenny a glass of Perignon whilst I try to remember my tangero days.”  Before I could reply, he took my hand and walked me towards the dance floor.

“Do forgive Paul, he’s had a stick up his rear end since I met him, some 40 years ago.  We are however concerned about you, not to mention how preoccupied James is, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this way” he started telling me when I added “Why is everyone so concerned? Am I the long-lost heir to the British crown?  As far as I know, James, is a retired professional with too much time on his hands and too much imagination.  He doesn’t care about me, no one does, all they’re interested in is how they can use me and frankly I’m fed up, I didn’t ask for any of this!”

“I understand you perfectly my dear, but make no mistake, James does care about you and yes ‘we’ think you can be of great service to us” he responded.  “Well I’m not sure I want to be of service to anyone, for these past few months I've felt like everyone's puppet and quite frankly I'm done with it!  Now let’s dance” I said, a little harshly I admit. “I see what he sees in you now” he added with a smile.

His embrace was stiff, but his dancing had a playfulness to it that I couldn’t help but enjoy.  Richard Alvarez was watching us like a hawk; I wonder if this is how it happened for Sabrina?  I spent the rest of the night dancing and listening to advice from all sides. I went to bed as the sun was rising, certain of only one thing: that all wanted was to return to Buenos Aires and return to tango.



In which Moneypenny gets more than she bargained for



Moneypenny

What did I have to lose really?   I had made no real plans, I just bought the ticket, threw a few things in my backpack and ran away...just as I always seem to do.

“Let Hugo here take your bag and we will board my plane shortly, Jay is already there waiting”, he said to me.  “Board your plane?  But I... I mean, where are we going?”, I managed to mutter.

“I’m taking you to Potosi, to visit the mines and then we can go to my house in Sucre, we have a party tomorrow night and your presence will be greatly appreciated, not to mention your tangera talents”, he responded and just like that we were off.

The next day, Richard took me into the famous Cerro Rico of Potosi, while Jay went to Sucre to prepare for the big event the following day.

I could see how serious Richard was about showing me the mines, something told me that he had more than just a friendly tour on his mind.  “Miss Moneypenny, I am honoured to have you here with me.  Let me ask you, what do you know about the history of Bolivia?” he started.  “I suppose what most people know, beautiful lands, many riches, the Incas and then, of course, the sad story of colonisation”, I responded.

“Yes sad indeed. Bolivia, along with Peru, was once the jewel of south america, with a mighty civilisation whose creations and technological discoveries were so advanced, that the neanderthals of Europe were too ignorant to even recognise, let alone understand.  The Incas thought the Spanish were sent by the Gods when they first arrived on their mighty horses waving their bibles in one hand and concealing their daggers in the other.  The biggest mistake the Incas made was trying to create relations with the foreign coloniser instead of attempting to destroy them from the very beginning. The spaniards brought disease and death; they reaped this land of every resource it had; enslaved, killed and brainwashed its people to the point where even today, the indigenous feel inferior to their white counterparts. Had those fools taken one minute to try to understand what the people here were capable of, had they invested in the land…. Well let’s just say it would be a different world today.  Potosi was once the richest city in the world, the envy of Paris and London and look at it today?  A waste land with a increasingly ill population” he began telling me.  “Yes Spanish colonisation was very violent, colonisation in general I guess but it’s time to move forward isn’t it?  Surely we can’t linger on a thing of the past forever?” I remarked, not knowing what else to say.

“A thing of the past?  Oh no my dear, colonisation is still very much happening today, it’s simply done under a different guise.  The Spanish were barbarian imbeciles indeed, bleeding this land dry, like a hungry vampire; and for what?  To invest in Spain?  To develop it’s motherland?  No, they did it in order to buy pretty things for Spain’s rich and famous; they didn’t put a penny back into their own country let alone their ‘backwards’ colony. Idiots, all of them,  but I’ll tell you who d did get rich from the colonies and from the stupidity of the Spanish, (and are still getting rich today);  those who understood that richness was not only to be found in gold and silver but in industry, in technology, in monopolies, in creating commodity goods that everyone wanted. Did you know that every slave in south america wore clothes fabricated in the UK? The ships which traded human flesh for precious metals, bore the emblem of the English crown.  Shipbuilding, heavy metal industry, universities, education, industry….. that’s how you make a country rich, and of course by keeping those who provide for you poor and ignorant not to mention imposing taxes and monopolies. You have to give it to the English, they knew what they were doing.  The English let the Spanish and Portuguese do the dirty work and the benefitted from their newfound riches. Gold, silver, diamonds, metals only transited through Spain and Portugal, it was in England that they found a home.  The English provided Spain and Portugal and their colonies with everything, down to bricks to make their sidewalks.  Have you ever heard of anything so absurd, bringing pavement from the UK to build the streets of Buenos Aires!  Bolivia is the world’s biggest metal exporter and we don’t have so much as one tin can fabricated here, and this has always been the case.  The English and their American cousins, buy our raw materials cheap and, after lobbying our spineless governments, sell us back their finished good with a    10 000% profit margin.  And our governments just sit by and watch from their 5 star hotels rooms, sipping Dom Pérignon, while our people starve or die a of slow asphyxiation.  Pigs, all of them!” he shouted.

“I’m very sorry this has happened to your country, I don’t know what else to say”  I said.  “Thank you my dear, but don’t worry, this will all change, they will all pay, and somehow you’re apart of this plan.  The English have their eye on you, they’re smart, I won’t take that away from them.  But come now, let us visit the mines so you can see for yourself” he added gently pushing me into the dark tunnels of the ‘rich mountain’.

The mines were dark and cold, a permanent haze of dust followed us and we made our way deep into the mountain.  He walked by workers, old and young alike, were buried deep in dirt hammering away, desperately hoping for a few grains of precious salvation.  They barely noticed our presence as Richard walked by and greeted everyone single one of them by his name.  We walked the tunnels for two hours. “How do you know your way around so well and all the miners?” I asked him.  “Because I use to work here, when I was young, I wanted to know what is was like, I wanted to understand” he answered as he guided me towards the way out.

I was silent, the sunlight blinded me, that’s a little how I felt deaf and blind, and somehow under everyone’s control; Sabrina in tango; Bond in whatever it was he was getting me into; and now Richard.  I can’t tell left from right in all this.

“Well my dear, let us make our way back to Sucre and we can talk about all of this later.  We should rest before the big night tomorrow”, he said as we started our 3 hour silent journey to Sucre.


Bond at sea



Mr Bond

I wake. A thin spear of light slopes to the corner of my bare cabin. The engines hum, but the sea is calm and the motion gentle. My eyes take time to adjust to daylight as I pull the curtains to reveal the line of containers. Standing aloft, a seagull gazes through my spray drenched window.

The ‘Instructions’ on my desk designated breakfast between 0800 and 0900 hrs. It is already 8.40 am. I skip the shave and walk the white steel corridor towards the galley dining room. A door to my right bangs in a 19 knot headwind.

The galley is deserted. Along one side the steward has arranged stainless steel trays over a huge bain-marie. I select two thin sausages and a spoonful of drying scrambled egg, thinking back to the missed brunch at Fortnum and Mason. As I slot two pieces of brown bread in the commercial toaster it springs to life.

Across the room a door opens and Cpt Compton enters followed by a miniature Schnauzer. His little dog trots over to where I am standing and Compton grins “look out for your sausages Bond, mi pero is rather fond of them”.

“So who’s driving the ship?”, I question, hoping that humour will conceal my fragility. “It mostly does not need driving, Bond, it knows it’s own way once we are out of the channel”, he replies with a guffaw. “Right now the galley steward is probably practicing his driving skills”, he continued, “Let’s hope he is better at steering than he is at cooking breakfast”. “Come, let’s sit together”.

Nick Compton has the appearance of a man who has been at sea for a lifetime and a half. Although far from old - somewhere in his early fifties, he has assumed the mantle of an aged sea dog, his forehead creased by sun and rain, his springy beard showing traces of grey. He is not merely master of his ship, but master of the seas, crossing and re-crossing the Atlantic on a route that will take us through the Straits of Gibralta to Barcelona for our next landing, then down the Spanish coast via Valencia, Algeciras to Tangiers - and across the Atlantic to Salvador de Bahia in Brazil. From there we are to travel south via Itaguai, Santos Itapoa and finally on to Buenos Aires.

It seems that Compton has been employed by the same ship owner for most of his sea-going life. He tells me that his Chief Engineer is Romanian, and the rest of the crew are wiry Filopinos. “They learn quickly”, he adds, “we Europeans are a dying breed on the ships. It won’t be long before we are history”.

“So, Bond, what brings you here?”, he says after a silence.”Madden tells me that you are on the run”.

“No, not quite, simply fleeing old blighty and the MI5 cabal”, I reply, “I don’t think the Ministry  wanted me to return to Argentina, but I have unfinished business there”.

“Nuff said”, he replies, giving me a quizzical smile and a nod. “Well, here you are safe, Bond. This ship’s cargo is full of secrets”. “Join me on the bridge when you are at a loose end”, he adds, “we might need you on our three officer rota”.

With that, Cpt Compton drops a sausage into the Schnauser’s open teeth, and rises to leave. The door bangs noisily behind him, leaving a silence that is interrupted only by the creaks and vibrations up from the engine room. I stack the plates and carry them to the servery. The coffee is bitter and stewed. Perhaps tomorrow, I should ensure I am down for 8.00 am on the dot.

Outside the sea is still calm, but a sharp wind blows spume up to the lower decks down below. I fasten my flying jacket tight and walk a full 278 metres of green painted top deck, cutting around stacks of containers arranged like lego bricks, the uppermost covered by tarpaulins, some buzzing with refrigeration fans, all lashed together by a lattice of steel ropes. At the stern, propellers weighing 98 tons drive the ship at 20 nots, powered by 42,000 horsepower midship engines that stand over three storeys and consume 90 tons of fuel per hour at normal speed. At the bow, the sea is torn into a ragged white tissue of small waves. Seabirds wheel, and in the distance other vessels progress like tiny snails.

It is going to be a long voyage. I turn and head back to my cabin. As I approach, I hear the door catch click. I need not struggle for my key for the door is ajar. Inside, the cabin is deserted, save for an object dropped onto the bottom bunk. ‘The Quest for the Embrace’ by Benzecry Saba - it reads. ‘Who on earth could have left this?’, I ask myself, ‘And why?’




In which Moneypenny can't seem to get away





Moneypenny

“Flight 627 to Buenos Aires is ready for boarding, all first class passengers may commence boarding” the speakers resonate as I start to make my way towards gate A37.

I board the plane and get comfortable in my front row seat, seat 1A, courtesy of my unexpected tour guide, whom I ‘accidentally’ bumped into when I arrived in La Paz almost three weeks ago. As the flight attendant serves me my glass of ‘champagne’ I gaze out the window and try to make sense of everything that’s happened in the past month.

I left Buenos Aires, desperate to get away from it all; from Sabrina’s watchful eyes; Bond’s overbearing advice; M evaluating me like I was some piece of real estate; I felt, I feel I should say, like everyone’s puppet. I had hoped that La Paz would give me the distance I needed to decide what to do, little did I know that I’d be leaving even more confused than when I arrived.I barely had enough time to pick up my over-sized backpack when I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder; I turned around and there he was: “How lovely to bump into to you here my dear”, he uttered, “Had I known you were coming to my homeland, I would have planned a proper welcoming party”, he continued.

“Richard! What are you doing here? I didn’t know you were Bolivian”, I blurted out, a little incredulously, to which he answered that his mother (to the great disappointment of his father’s aristocratic ‘white European’ family) was Bolivian and that he had spent many childhood summers in the altiplano of his motherland.

“Are you here, to visit family?” I continued. “No, I am here on business, in fact if you’re interested I would love to show you around my country. Let me show you what Bolivia is, the beauties of its land and of its people. Surely, Miss Moneypenny, you can’t refuse such a tempting offer”, he said very confidently.

What was he talking about? Travel with him? Had he followed me here? Why couldn’t I get a moment’s peace! At the same time, I was a little curious and I felt that Richard would not settle for a no, no matter what excuse I would come up with.

“A tempting offer by your own account, why should I be tempted to accept you?” I retorted with a smile.

“Fair enough, but you won’t know until you try, and besides from the looks of that backpack, you don’t have any fixed plans, so why not give me chance? A few days is all I ask, if you’re not pleased you can go, what do you have to lose?”


Welcome aboard Mr Bond


Mr Bond

“Stephen, well done for getting this sorted”, I say. Before me, a marked BMW 1200 RT at his side stands Madden with a collection of travel vouchers in his gloved hand. “Bond, are you sure about this?”, he replies, “it will just be a matter of hours before they realise you have gone”.

“But they won’t know how”, I add, feeling slightly smug. “The last thing they will suspect is a cargo ship. Shortly I will simply be lost at sea. The crew speak Filipino and internet is patchy. Checks at Ezeiza and Jorge Newbery airports will all draw a blank”.

“But they will guess that you are to return to Buenos Aires - for Moneypenny and for tango”, he adds, sounding rather ridiculous. “James, keep your head down, or mine too will be on the block”.

Madden, who without the gelco jacket would pass for an extra from a 1940’s Hollywood film, flashes his usual smile. “Have a good trip, Bond, and don’t fall overboard”, he adds jocularly, before thrusting the vouchers into my hand and pulling his helmet over his voluminous moustache.

Ahead of me is the departures booth. Inside a grey faced dock official with a Sudanese accent checks the booking and waves me through with a nod. Beyond, I walk the long trek towards the ‘Hanjin Buenos Aires’, weighing in at 35,595 tons, 225 metres in length and flying a Maltese flag.

Tillbury docks are designed for vehicular access. Nobody ever walks, save the Chief Officers and crew that descend from the bridge to direct large freight boarding a vessel. It seems like half a mile, made arduous by another flurry of rain that lashes the sides of docked ships as I pass. Eventually, I reach the Hanjin. Dusk is gathering, and the last of the evening’s cargo is being backed onto the lower decks. A bearded officer waves in my direction, and I head towards where he is standing. “NIck Compton, Chief Officer”, he says cheerily, “and who might you be?”, he enquires. “MIght you just be Major Bond - James Bond, one of our two passengers?”, he adds knowingly. “Step aboard. Dinner is at 8 pm. Join me at Captain’s table if I get back in time”, he continues. “Got to get these Range Rovers stacked. Oh, and Madden is my cousin - he has told me about you, but don’t worry, you are safe with us. Nobody ever checks the manifest”.

Tonight there is to be no piping aboard, just a glare from a galley steward carrying a box of provisions on the mid-deck. I search along the long white corridor for a door bearing the number 007 on my boarding voucher.




A fluorescent light staggers into life revealing a small cabin with two bunks. Opposite is a fixed desk leading to a wardrobe and functional, airless bathroom. I pull open a drawn curtain to reveal the view - a long line of red blue and green containers. Somewhere below, engines hum gently producing a constant low level vibration. I throw the Panama onto the bottom bunk and place my travel bag on the chair. ‘That’s me unpacked’, I say to myself, wondering whether this was my best idea.

On the desk a folder marked ‘PASSENGER INSTRUCTIONS’ bulges ominously. The first few sheets start ‘In the event of….’followed by a major catastrophe identified in capitals, with line drawings of stick-men jumping into lifeboats. The translation appears to have been undertaken by the Filipino chef, as is the sample menu which is decorated with lurid photos of Adobo and Dinuguan garnished with mint and green chillies. Fortunately there are some recognisable dishes, at least according to the text.

It has been the longest Sunday, and eyeing the pack of cheese and tomato sandwiches that Mireille had dropped into my jacket pocket before leaving, I decide that I will skip dinner. Somewhere in my bag I have a bottle of Talisker single malt. Now all I need is the plastic cup from the bathroom and ‘dinner is served’.


In which Bond goes on the run


Mr Bond

Ashley brings another perfect Martini, slides it across my table, and I realise that Hammond has signed the drinks to M’s tab as he left. I look down at the single key in my hand and my mind drifts off to bowls of strawberries, canes of raspberries and warm, ripe tomatoes.

My next image is of Richard Hammond and the mysterious Paul snaring Moneypenny as she races ahead through the Amazon jungle, or more likely in some seedy back street of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. I think to myself, ‘perhaps Hammond will write to me and I can share his adventure with you?’



The Martini is cool on my lips as I close my eyes to enjoy the moment.

Thirty minutes later I am again in Piccadilly, walking towards the Circus. It is now too late for breakfast and a tad too early for lunch. In any event, two Martinis have taken the edge off my appetite, and as I stroll I conjecture what lays ahead. After so long in Buenos Aires, London seems both tame, and remote. With no desk nor Moneypenny at the Ministry - not even a locker - I felt like an intruder. I sense that my connection with the capital is fading.

The panel was quite clear in their intention, “We are keeping you here in London for the next ten days whilst we run a few more checks”. Ten days...and then what? What if Hammond fails in his mission to locate Moneypenny? For how long will I be held here in Westminster? After only 24 hours, Ormond Yard is starting to feel like a prison. Another shower blows across as I reach Regent Street. ‘It is time to pack a bag’, I say to myself as I cut down Church Place and track back through Jermyn Street.

“Mireille, can you meet me at the apartment? Oh, and book the car out for routine maintenance - don’t for heaven’s sake mention my name”. Replacing the receiver I slip a few toiletries into my bag, a clean shirt and my flying jacket. I pick up the Panama, noticing the key hidden beneath the brim, and slip it into my pocket. I slam the apartment door and descend the stairs. ‘Like old times’, I mutter to myself and cross into the shade of the yard to await the car.

“James, what on earth are you up to now”, she greets, grabbing my leather bag and eyeing my Panama with suspicion. “Can you get me to Tilbury without hitting the radar?”, I ask, “I have a ship to catch”.

We head out towards Poplar and then onto the A13, turning south towards Chadwell St Mary, and then to the docks. “Alors, James, are you really up to this?”, questions Mireille, “you are not as young as you used to be. How long will it take you to get there?”. “If I reach Barcelona by Tuesday, it will be 22 nights, all being well”. “And if not, James?”.

I reach into my jacket pocket and pull out the key. “If not, Mireille, I’m afraid you will have to be on allotment duty instead of me. Don’t forget to water the pumpkin”. With that, I swing from the passenger seat, grabbing my bag from the footwell, and head out towards a tall figure wearing a fluorescent jacket at the check in booths.

In which Bond is told of Moneypenny’s defection


Mr Bond

Bright Sunday morning light streams through cream blinds at Ormond Yard, London WC1. BBC Radio 4 burbles from the bedroom. Across St James’s park, Westminster Abbey’s peal of ten bells rings for a Royal birthday.

Wearing my Lock & Co cream Montecristi Panama I take the back stairs to the yard and head out via Jermyn Street towards Piccadilly. It is now 11.30 am and one of Fortnum and Masons’ late breakfasts seems the perfect option. The street is freshly licked after a night time downpour.

Passing Princes Arcade a motorcycle pulls against the kerb ahead of me. The rider turns, “James, I have been told to give you this”. Beneath the open helmet I recognise the face. “Stephen Madden”, I exclaim, “what on earth are you doing here - and where did you get the bike?”. “I’m supposed to be on Operation Rainbow- you know, gangs and CT, and all that - but they have lent me this from the Diplomatic Protection Group to track you down. Apparently, I am the last living officer who can recognise you, old thing”, he replies with a grin, his bushy moustache widening across his face. “Got to dash the bike back to Battersea, so can’t join you and your fancy hat at the Ritz, old boy”, he adds, and with that, roars away into the Piccadilly traffic towards Hyde Park Corner.

I glance down at the file. A large Post-it note is placed across the seal. ‘Meet Rivoli Bar, Ritz’, it says.

‘Work has a habit of getting in the way of breakfast’, I mutter to myself, reflecting on a vanishing image of perfectly served Fortnum & Mason venison sausages. ‘But Rivoli’s Martinis are the best in the world’, I add almost out loud, and quicken my pace down Piccadilly towards the Ritz.



From the colonnade I turn into the ordinary doorway leading to the Rivoli bar and reflect on its difference from the wide stairway to the Alvear in Buenos Aires. As I enter I instinctively glance about the foyer to look for Moneypenny, but here is but a passing group of American business women and a two Japanese tourists that appear to bowing for some reason. Beyond however, from the Rivoli bar, I hear a voice that I recognise. “Bond, Bond, over here”, he calls.

Hammond rises to his full height and beams a smile. “That didn’t take you long, James”, he adds. “And this is Paul. He is here to check up on us both!”, he exclaims with a laugh.

The contrast could not be greater. The man seated is dressed in a black polo shirt, casual trousers and is clean shaven. He nods a greeting but remains silent. Richard Hammond, however, is larger than life, charismatic and flamboyant, his unruly hair pulled back into a tight Argentine bob, a faint suggestion of mascara emphasising his long eyelashes.

“Well James, it seems that you have managed to upset everyone from here to Buenos Aires”, he continues. “Have you checked out the file?”.

Only then do I realise that I am in fact returning the file to its sender. “Madden has only just dropped it off with me outside Fortnum’s”, I rejoin, “what’s it about?”.

“It appears that your floozie is making waves. Bond, these women will always be your downfall; you really should change your proclivities”, he replies with a laugh and a nod towards Paul for support, “anyway, aren’t you too old for all of this tango nonsense?”, he adds.

“If you mean Moneypenny, she’s not a floozie - mine or anyone else’s”, I reply defensively. “What has happened now?”.

“Look in the file, James, look in the file”, Hammond replies. “But perhaps before you do, a glass of Campari?”. “Make that a dry Martini, shaken not stirred”, I reply, and settle back into the deep upholstery of the Rivoli Lounge with the file.

Unfastening the string from the circular seal, I peer inside. The first page is a photograph of Moneypenny at Ezeiza airport, beneath which is another showing her arrival at El Alto International airport in El Paz, Bolivia. In the third photograph, she is being greeted by Dr Richard Alvarez, with Jay at his side holding his favourite Chihuahua, ‘Chico’.

“Do I need to go further in this file?”, I ask with a heavy feeling. “Sorry, Bond, maybe not. It doesn’t get any better”.

“So that is what Moneypenny is up to”, I grunt. “Does M know about this?”.

“M has asked me and Paul to fly to El Alto this afternoon. We have been given an official invitation to his party tomorrow night, which by all accounts should be fun”. “And we have been instructed to fetch Moneypenny back before she can do any more damage”.

For the first time, Paul speaks. “James, has it occurred to you what a nuisance you are becoming? Here take this”, and hands me a key. “What on earth is it for?”, I question. He smiles, ‘Stay out of trouble, Bond. It’s for the gate to the allotment, and you are on tomato watering duty whilst we are cleaning up the mess you have made”, he retorts.

Hammond seizes the file from my grasp and flashes a smile. Paul nods as he rises to leave. “The drinks are on M’s tab, James”, he adds, “so if I were you, I would stay for another”.


In which Moneypenny takes a break



Moneypenny

I head towards 9 de Julio, jump into the first taxi I see and head to towards Palermo, where the night was still relatively young.  

We arrive in front of the Armenian cultural center, with my mind constantly wandering, taking me back in the events which occurred earlier this evening, I almost forget to pay the driver.  “Perdon” I tell him as I dash out.

I run down the stairs and accidentally collide with someone: “Perdon”, I blurt out a second time.

Standing before me is Adrianna. “You really must learn to be careful, you could have hurt one of us!”, she admonishes, “but I guess that’s not important to you is it, as long as you can get downstairs fast enough to get the best tandas!” she adds.  

I wish I had run into anyone else but her right now. She is accompanied by Lucia and this little mishap of mine will no doubt give them something to complain about for the rest of the evening.

“I am very sorry, it was reckless of me”, I say apologetically and then turn towards her and say: “Oh, Adrianna, I wanted to tell you, I saw Alvaro at De Querusa the other night” I stare over at Lucia and try to gauge a reaction from her, any sign of discomfort on her part, “and he couldn’t stop talking about you” I add.

“Really!” she responds excitedly in a high-pitched voice like a hyena.  “Yes, he’s quite fond of you…..says you’re very kind and elegant. He says you remind him of his mother, which, I’m sure is quite the compliment; you know how these porteños are, everything is about their mothers. Must be why they like breasts so much.  Wouldn’t you say Lucia?” I add with a smirk, they’re both going to hate me.

“Our table is ready, we will see you inside” Adrianna responds grabbing Lucia by the shoulder and rushing away from me.

I hadn’t expected them to be here tonight, especially not arriving at this hour. Was La Viruta some sort of secret meeting place for undercover agents?  Are Adrianna and Lucia involved in this somehow?  Or am I just becoming paranoid.

The smells of fresh coffee and medialunas fills the air; the dance floor is starting to empty out; dancers are slowly removing their shoes to give their aching feet a little break.  I sit in the far corner, where Bond usually sits, even in his absence I seem to gravitate towards him.  I lean over to put on my shoes and barely manage to tie my left strap when I feel a gently caress on my right shoulder: “Quieres bailar?” He asks, in that porteño accent I could never resist. “Si” I respond without hesitation; not only is he very handsome, but it’s a Troilo tanda.

I gently lean into him as we start to synchronize our bodies  and  slowly move in-tune with the dos por quatro tango compas. I close my eyes and abandon myself completely to him and to our tanda;  I want to empty my mind of everything and just enjoy this moment; enjoy his subtle perfume, his firm support as we move around the dance floor, the feel of his hand almost caressing my back; I want to forget everything else that has happened tonight.  After the first tango, we simply stay in close embrace and sway from left to right without saying a word, waiting for the next tango to start.

“Gracias” he says after the tanda is over. “Gracias a vos” I respond, “I want to go I think” I say looking directly into his eyes.  “Ok let’s go then” he responds without hesitation.  So we leave La Viruta grabbing 2 medialunas on our way out.

-----------------------------------------

I slowly unlock the front door, I’m sure she’s out, it’s market day; she nevers sleeps in on Sundays.  I wonder if she noticed my absence this morning.  The house is empty, I quickly grab my things from the night before and drop off a note on her bed stand before making my way out.

I need time to think, I’m going to Bolivia to clear my mind. Don’t worry about me I’ll be fine, I’ll be back in 10 days. Don’t tell Bond.
Take care of you
Love
MP


In which Bond gets a telephone call and takes a trip



Mr Bond

Dawn over Recoleta. The sun barely catches the tops of the trees, gold fronds flickering on a morning breeze. Beneath in the gardens of San Martin the cartoneros wake from their benches and leaning against their trolleys await their timber-framed truck to carry away a haul of cardboard and plastic.

Here in my apartment the telephone rings. I stir and reach out for the receiver. “Mr Bond, you are needed in London”, says the voice, “there will be an envelope for you in the post room by first delivery”, the voice continues, and the phone goes dead.

I do not recognise the voice. It is certainly neither a familiar M nor Q. It is of a deeper timbre, British, with a military edge. Walking to the windows, I gaze out onto the square in time to see a small wheelchair disappear behind the statue of Jose Francisco de San Martin.


As the coffee pot comes to heat, Raul raps his distinctive knock on the apartment door. “This has just come for you, Mr Bond”, he proclaims as he enters closely followed by Cleo the cat, “it is marked urgent and confidential, so I thought I would bring it up straight away”.

The manila envelope is clearly MOD, and the typeface typical of the department. Slitting it open with my silver penknife, I find inside a single flight pass to RAF Northolt London, together with travel instructions to Whitehall. There are no further details. The message could not be clearer...or more obscure.


Flying the long route via the RAF station on Ascension Island, the military aircraft touches down in a grey north west London as early morning light struggles through a deep blanket of cold cloud. I wheel my small overnight case through the bare reception area and touch in to confirm my arrival. My designated car - no 67 driven by my favourite driver Mireille, who for over twenty years has collected me from airfields around Britain. “Bonjour, James”, she greets, her French Canadian accent still joyously vibrant. “So, Mireille, no gold watch, you haven’t retired yet?”, I reply, winking a bleary eye. “How dare you suggest that I might be so old”, she rejoins, “Get in the car and let’s quit this dump”. With that, probably to make a point, she seizes my case, throws it onto the back seat, shakes her blonde-grey hair and slips into the drivers side.

South Ruislip passes quickly as we join the A40 and on to the raised Westway. A morning London streams past like a silent film, overlayed only by passing small-talk. “How are the cats, MIreille? How are Richard and Paul doing with the allotment?”, I ask, stifling a yawn and thinking about coffee. “Will you be going back to Buenos Aires?”, she asks eventually. “It depends why I have been pulled out”, I reply, “You never know with the powers-that-be, they rarely tell you anything unless you need to know, and it seems, presently I don’t. I reckon they get off on their surprises”.

With road works and a diversion the 43 minute journey has taken nearly an hour. On the roofs of Whitehall the early light is still thin. A double kiss from Mirelle and she is gone. The corridors of MI5 await. “It’s going to be a long day’, I say to myself as I divert towards the canteen.

“Hey Bond”, comes a call, “what are you doing back? I thought you had gone for good. How’s the tango?”

Q smiles but looks faintly ridiculous. A container clipped to his belt sways as he simulates a tango gancho. “Ah, do you like it Bond? It’s my new design for a hands-free, non-spill cup. You see - no hands. And it tastes much better than the biodegradable cardboard ones they dish out here”, he adds.

“Have you any idea what’s going on, Q?”, I ask. One minute I am dancing tango in San Telmo; the next I am on that dreadful plane back to blighty”. “Not a clue, Bond, but why would they tell me unless they wanted something from me? And at the moment, old boy, it seems my time is filled with inventing cups”.

I am now waiting in the anteroom, the smell of fresh lilies and furniture polish competing with the receptionist’s cologne. “They will see you now”, says Tom, adding “you can leave the case here if you wish Mr Bond”. I recognise this as the voice on the phone from London as I walk towards the mahogany doors.

Behind the table sits a panel of three. “M is worried about you, Bond. It’s the usual problem”, the chair begins. “This girl - what’s her name - the one you seem to have been spending time with in Buenos Aires”.

The department always start this way. Disarmingly probing. Catching off-guard. Straight to a point - but not necessarily the point. “So, tell us about your new tango life and this...whatever-her-name is?”.

“Bond, we have her under surveillance, you know. According to M she seems to be close to retired agent S - that Sabrina woman who worked with you on ‘les desaparecidos’. “Didn’t you have a thing with her, Bond?”, a wing member questions.

“Well, we are concerned about Sabrina as it seems she has rekindled her friendship with Dr Richard Alvarez. Did you know about this, Bond?”. We have been following her to a regular meeting place - what is it now…”. My principal interrogator tails off as she shuffles through a file of papers. “Ah, yes, Peru 1824 in Constitucion”.

“I think you mean Peru 1826, Barracas”, don’t you?”, I reply. “That is where he and his Peruvian lover Jay spend their time”. “But I thought Sabrina was still on side from what M told me”, I added inquiringly.

“It seems not. She may have been compromised”, the third member explains. “Which also means that we are worried about this girl. According to M she knows too much. We need to know that she is on side - or not”, he adds ominously.

“We are keeping you here in London for the next ten days whilst we run a few more checks. Then we will fly you back to Buenos Aires in time for your next tango lesson”, the lead continues. “You can go now, Bond. Enjoy your holiday”.

With that, I close the door behind me, pick up my case from Tom and head off towards my tiny apartment in Ormond Yard, St James. I cut across St James’ Park under a line of plane trees and reflect back on Sabrina’s responses and Moneypenny’s recent transformation. ‘Maybe they have a point’, I say to myself as I slip my key into the outdoor latch and climb the stairs to Flat B.



In which Moneypenny starts to think about her future


Mr Bond

Sabrina’s resolve not to travel with Raul at the wheel of the Bentley evaporated in the evening air, impelled no doubt by the prospect of locating a taxi at this time of night, and I suspect, a desire to reassure Moneypenny whose hand she held as they slid into the rear seat. Once underway through the darkened calles of Barracas I heard a sigh from Moneypenny, but otherwise our journey silent, but for the clinking of Raul’s bottle of Malbec as it rolled in the boot.

Back at my Recoleta apartment I found my mind turning over the evening’s events, and the need to sleep seemed secondary to the desire for a single malt and the chance to think. My old arm chair beckoned from the terrace, and that is where I found myself, with moonlight glinting through a bottle of Talisker, and Cleo the cat arching gently against my leg.

Recoleta, so busy and bustling during the day, settles into a state of suspended animation at night, only the tops of tall trees in Plaza San Martin showing signs of a breeze. In the distance, unseen and almost unheard, the sound of a taxi as it turns into Santa Fe, and nearer, the beat of wings from a startled dove as it settles in a Jacaranda tree below the terrace.

‘Moneypenny is certainly a strange fish’, I think to myself. She played M like a professional. With each question and at every turn of the conversation she seemed ahead of the game. There was clearly more to Moneypenny than first appeared. Maria Cristina must have logged her consummate performance. Was it too good to be true? With this plan, M was about to allow Moneypenny, a relative stranger, inside access to our plans and concerns regarding Dr Richard Alvarez and his dealings. This could amount to a very dangerous strategy.

Returning from the terrace to the study, I pull out my old Olympia typewriter and wind in a sheet of plain paper -

‘M, I have worries about Moneypenny. She seems to know precisely what we want before we do - it is as if she has been briefed - but not by me. I think we need to meet, and maybe do a few more checks (unless you have another plan)’.

Folding the sheet into a brown envelope, I leave it in the rack for Raul and, pouring myself another malt, retire to bed for the few hours that remain before morning.

It has been light for a couple of hours when I wake to the sound of Rosa the maid clattering  in the kitchen.

“It’s alright, Rosa, I am awake. How about coffee?”, I say, trying to smile and look vaguely refreshed. Raul has already collected the envelope and left a stack of morning papers on the table, just flown in from London. Down below, I hear the clack of lattice doors and the bump of a wheelchair as it negotiates its way out of the lift.

As I finish reading the last Times obituary, the telephone rings.
“Bond, are you up yet”, comes the voice. “You up for lunch? I’m starving. That shared milanesa last night was not enough to feed a mouse”.

“Moneypenny; good of you to ask how I am doing”, I reply facetiously. “So, what about Convento San Ramon Nonato in Calle Reconquista?”, I suggest, feeling the need for proper food. “You know where it is, I take it”, I inquire. “Isn’t it behind the Bank of Argentina or somewhere?”, she replies with a vagueness that is in stark contrast to last night. “Yes, I think I know it. Meet midday on the steps? Oh, and how are you today, Bond?”, she adds, “Have you recovered from the effects of all that Malbec?”

As I replace the receiver I hear the sound of a click on the line. It is faint, but clear. ‘We were not alone in that conversation’, I think to myself, and my mind returns to the turmoil of the previous night.




Moneypenny

“You did well tonight, just like I expected you to”, Sabrina utters while pouring me a cup of jasmine tea. “All I did was follow your advice”, I retort. “I just don’t want you to get sucked in the way I did, you need to watch out for yourself; make sure you have a safety net; because once they no longer need you, you’ll be left with nothing but a pair of fancy shoes and a lifetime of secrets”, she adds. “I’m still not really sure what all of this is, but are we doing the right thing?”, I attempt to ask, hoping she’ll give me something more concrete to go on.

“There is no right and wrong, no good or bad really, peace and safety are assured by one thing and one thing only, balance, no one can have absolute power, it would ruin us all, even if intentions are good, are they rarely are, it wouldn’t work. But that’s enough for now, have your tea and go sleep in the guest room”, she replies, not giving the information I was hoping for, but I know tonight, a cup of hot tea is the only favour she’ll grant me.

Sleep wasn’t on the agenda tonight it would seem, the events of the evening just kept playing over and over in my head, like a broken record; Richard…. Infiltrate….secrets... Alvaro….working together… working for what.. Balance of power...? For whom?  Once ‘M’ left, silence dominated our a table, not one superfluous word was spoken; Bond just smiled and twirled me about the very uncomfortable dance floor and Sabrina sat there in a deep ponder, sipping her Malbec.

If I were reading a novel, I wouldn’t be able to put it down at this stage, but now when everything seems to be materialising and playing out exactly according to plan; all I seem to want to do is run away…. My usual reaction.

I wonder what Alvaro must have thought when he woke up to find me missing, I shouldn’t have listened to Bond and I should have gone back like I had intended, what did it matter that Lucia went there?  Why did she matter in any of this anyway?

I look over to the dresser and notice the outside light hitting the side of my silver Comme il Faut’s, casting a beam of light onto my bed; my shoes are calling me and their call is much stronger than the call of sleep.
I get up, put on some jeans, grab my shoes and discreetly make my way out of the apartment, if hurry I can make it for the first batch of media lunas at La Viruta.

In which Bond and Moneypenny return to Buenos Aires

Mr Bond If you want to know about life on a transatlantic cargo ship, you will have to book a cabin and experience it for yourself -...