Moneypenny, the colectivo, and a stab in the dark



Mr Bond

I get the impression that Moneypenny thinks this is my first time - my virgin voyage. In the early days I introduced her to my maroon and cream Bentley Continental S2. She thinks that, and the radio taxi is all I know.

Since escaping the clutches of MI6, Raul has kept the Bentley hidden under dust covers beneath Palacio Haedo. There is also the little issue of my stipend. No sooner had I left London aboard the ‘Hanjin Buenos Aires’, than the ministry stopped my pay cheque.

The great thing about ‘el colectivo’ is the cost. When I first came to Buenos Aires I learned to say ‘ochenta’ as I boarded, receiving twenty centivos in change from my peso. Now I have one of those touch cards but with inflation am charged a resounding ten pesos.  

Moneypenny has already dashed to the back of the bus to claim two seats. It is approaching three in the morning, yet the atmosphere is carnival. Alongside, a group of revelers laugh and tease, ahead two lovers engage in a long kiss, whilst beyond grey clothed passengers, at the front sit two office cleaners and an eighty year old woman with her shopping trolley pulled into her side. What brings us here together on the colectivo?

We speed along Av San Juan towards San Telmo, shuttered shops and restaurants flashing past as we race the lights. Our bus driver has perfected the art - red-to-green as we approach without the slightest hint of braking, his progress only interrupted when forced to drop a passenger, after which he accelerates at break-neck speed to make up for lost time. At each stop we brace together to avoid sliding forward from shiny seats, and on departure bump our heads on the boarding behind.

Our colectivo swings left into Peru and heads down towards Independencia. The transition from bright San Juan to the dusky calles of San Telmo is stark. We alight between tall buildings that crowd both sides of the street. Recessed doorways lead to long passages, and further down to the hidden apartments of the bario. Two figures follow us, previously inconspicuously seated on opposite sides of the bus, unnoticed, but now walking quickly together.

I hear the sound of a blade, then of a snap. Before my hand can seize it, Moneypenny’s ‘Comme il Faut’ dance bag disappears into the darkness. “Oh my God”, she screams, but her voice is lost on the night air. We stand numbed in the moment. It was so sudden; so unexpected; we were so unprepared. 

“What was in the bag?”, I ask lamely, as if it could make a difference. “Just my shoes - fortunately not my best Katrinskis”, she adds. “But wait, I think my keys were there too”, she murmurs desperately checking her pockets. “They have gone”, she concludes, “and forty pesos which I saved from sharing your bottle of champagne”, she adds. 

“There is nothing to do now”, I reply peering forwards into a deserted street, “spend the night at Defensa - tomorrow is another day”, I continue, failing to account for the rising light in the east.

Moneypenny is pale, her normally lively face has become drawn. Without a word she reaches round to take my arm, snuggling close for comfort. Our footsteps tap in unison in empty streets as we walk in silence towards the lights.

Club Gricel - a fresh start, or the road to ruin?


Mr Bond

As soon as I uttered the words ‘Club Gricel’ to Moneypenny I regretted them. Sometime in the distant past presumably I had enjoyed an evening at Gricel, but now I struggle to recall when.

Club Gricel is at La Rioja 1180, way out through Constitucion along Humberto 1st over Av Jujuy. From the outside it is unauspicious, announced only by a couple of tangueras smoking by the pavement door. After paying the entry fee at the tiny desk, a curtain pulls to reveal the salon, beyond which is the bar that sports Gricel’s famous neon sign.

The problem with Gricel is the people. I hasten to add that I have nothing against the aged, but there are times when Gricel makes the former El Arranque look like a kindergarten. And then there are the tourists, dancing wildly with the old milongueros as they flirt with death. This is Gricel’s lethal cocktail.

A plump waitress escorts me to my table hidden away in the corner from which I may observe the pista. A couple of ancient milongueros nod in my direction but tonight I have not the will for the big showy embrace, so pass at speed.

It is after midnight and true to form, Moneypenny has not yet arrived. As the champagne appears, one of the grand dames of the milonga catches my eye with her skilled mirada. The orchestra is Fresedo, perfectly complimenting her invitation. We navigate the floor, avoiding the stumbling steps of the infirm and the lane-changing of the tourists. The freshness of arrival at Gricel has evaporated in a single tanda. Returning to my table I sip from my wine glass, feeling the consoling energy of bubbles against my nostrils.

Moneypenny’s arrival, when it comes, has the air of a car crash to the ¾ rhythm of a vals. Tonight she seems breathless, as if she has run from Av San Juan.

“Calm down old girl and put your shoes on”, I venture, noting her sharp reproaching stare as I speak. For what seems an age, Moneypenny fiddles with her shoe strap, giving up as the lights lift to announce a performance.

Professional tango dancers in Buenos Aires make their living from exhibitions. Within the entrance charge most milongas boast a midnight performance from aspiring dancers. Sometimes, by luck or judgment, you will catch famous dancers and may witness a seminal moment. But generally aspiring hopefuls struggle to create something new, or a new definition of something old. Perfection eludes them, and their performances end with polite applause. Tonight, I stifle a yawn and resist the temptation to check my Bremont.

With the performance complete Moneypenny still struggles with her shoes, so I rise to accept a Russian tanguera’s mirada. She combines Kseniya Sobchak’s beauty with Putin’s assassination skills - the perfect match for Gricel’s pista chaos.

Only later do I notice that Moneypenny is no longer at our table. I glance across the salon to see her in his embrace. Moneypenny is like a moth to a flame. ‘So much for her escape’, I whisper to myself, ‘It seems that Moneypenny is not through with espionage!’




Gricel continued




Moneypenny

“So you do exist!  I’ve been looking for you at every milonga in town, I was beginning to think I had imagined that night at La Viruta!” He says in a tone of reproach.

“Wow, your English has improved!” I exclaim back, to which he responds smiling: “My English has always been good, only last time you weren’t so interested in my linguistic skills, not my English ones that is”.  I could feel the blood rushing to my head; I was blushing; he was right, I had only wanted one thing from him that night and it had little to do with whether he spoke English or not.

“You shouldn’t have left like that”, he adds.  “What did you want, a thank you note?” I fire back. “No but at least the chance to let me make you coffee and establish some possibility of seeing you again” , he responds. “It just wasn’t the right moment for that. Let’s dance”, I ask him, to which he responds with a cabeceo.

He takes my hand and we walk onto the dance floor; the first tango of the tanda is ending, it’s a D’Arienzo tanda.  We stand in front of each other in silence; he’s not looking at me but rather at my body as he slowly wraps his hands around my waist and gently pulls me towards him; I can feel his longing for me and feeling it so surely, only intensifies mine for him. He then grips my back with one hand and slowly slides his other hand down my right arm all way down to my impatient hand.  We move together into a close embrace, it's perfect, like two pieces of a puzzle coming together.

The second tango starts, another D’Arienzo: ‘Hasta siempre amor’, I love this tango.  We don’t move quite yet; he shifts his weight from left to right, pressing his body against mine, and  then, with one long first step we start dancing. I’m nervous, I’m shaking but I try to control it.  I close my eyes and try to focus on his lead and on my breathing which is getting heavier with every step.  I feel as if everyone is watching us, as if they all know, know what we're both thinking, both wanting; I relish a little in the attention we're getting. 

The tango ends, a slight shiver goes through my body and I pull away from him so that he won’t notice the effect he’s had on me.  “Never pull away so quickly, always hold the last position”, he says to me.  “I’m sorry, I thought the exhibition part of the night was over”, I manage to say, trying to sound indifferent to him.  “It’s not about exhibiting, it’s about etiquette, tango etiquette.” he smirks back. 

As we wait for the next tango to start, he lightly caresses the back of my arms, running the tip of fingers in circles around my elbows and shoulders; all I can think of is kissing him and running my hands through his thick hair.  We had kissed in the middle of a tanda at La Viruta, right there in front of everyone, a clear break of all tango etiquette; but it was La Viruta, very late on a Sunday night and everyone there had their own secrets to worry about. 

The following tango starts, D’Arienzo, El nene del abasto this time.  We dance and the more we dance, the more I feel like myself turning into putty in his arms.  I open my eyes to try to regain some control over myself, I look for Bond; he is dancing with a slim blond; he’s enjoying it, but it doesn’t prevent him from keeping a close watch on me; he knows exactly what's happening, I hate how transparent everything about me seems to be to him.

The tango ends, I hold the final position, just like he told me to do. “Thank you, that was lovely, I almost didn’t want it to end”, I manage to say to him.  “So don’t let it end, let’s go and dance the night away somewhere, anywhere you like”, he replies. “I’d love to but I can’t tonight”, I respond and look towards Bond, who is already sitting at our table.  “I see, you’re not alone tonight”, he responds staring directly into my eyes. “It’s complicated, it’s just not the right moment now” I manage to say.  “It’s complicated, yes, you seem to have perfected that concept.  Go then and hopefully the next time, it will not be so complicated” he says while I lean in to kiss his cheek and take one last opportunity tp press my body against his.

“That looked very ‘intense’ old girl, you seem flushed.  Will you be alright?” He says smiling his little smile.  “I’m fine”, I respond and add “You also seemed like you were in good hands”. “Indeed I was”, he responds looking in the direction of his tantalizing blonde.

Bond and I dance a few tandas and order another bottle of champagne to finish off the night.  “Right old girl, I think perhaps eachother the best either of us can do tonight”, he says to me while pointing towards the door where I notice my Viruta man going home with the newly famous Ginger, the one who had seduced us all during the exhibition.  I can't blame him; given the chance I might have gone home with her myself. 

Her equally enticing partner, the Fred Astaire to her Ginger Rogers, seems to be himself captivated with a young blonde he has been dancing with the entire night and Bond’s own blonde is nowhere in sight.

“I think you might be right Mr Bond, we have been left of our own devices it would seem.  Shall we make our way back to the lonely streets of  our San Telmo?” I ask him. “Right, I’ll send for a car”, he replies, for a second I'm reminded of how I got here and picture my handsome driver wrapped in Sabrina's arms. “No, don’t, let’s take the bus, like the ‘normal’ people of this city.  You do know what a bus is Mr Bond, don't you?” I tease him.  “Not only do I know, Miss Moneypenny,  I'll have you know that I have a bus card!” He exclaims back. “It’s just one amazement after another isn’t it!” I retort with a hint of irony.  

And so, like two regular porteños, we took the bus back to the empty, almost nostalgic, streets of San Telmo we both so identified with.


Bond and Moneypenny dancing again.... in Gricel



Moneypenny

Part I

“You’re sure you don’t want to join me tonight?” I shout as I step out the front door.  “Bond will be there and I’m telling you he’s a new man!”

“I don’t go out on Sundays, and if I did it certainly would not be to Gricel!  And I have enough new men in my life, I don’t need an old-new man”,she replies with a chuckle. “Suit yourself!” I respond and hop into the limo she ordered for me; Sabrina has been insisting that this is how I have to move around now, or for now at least.

We drive off, down Carlos Calvo, passed 9 de Julio and down to Umberto Primo; “You can just leave me at the corner of La Rioja, no need to go around, por favor” I say to the driver, Damian.  “Perdon, pero no puedo, I have instructions”, he responds, as he gives me a little wink in the rear view mirror and detours around the corner. “Como quieras!” I respond.

As soon as the car stops, Damian gets out to open my door, extends his arm, and as I reach out for it, I can’t help but notice how incredibly fit and handsome he is (and incredibly yet another of Sabrina’s lovers, but she has a little weakness for this one I sense).  He has that typical Italian-Spanish-and something touch-look, dark hair, dark eyes, killer smile and just the right amount of English to seduce you; just the type of porteño you want to stay away from. 

“Message me when you want to leave, and I’ll come running back to you, any time…..any place….”, he says before rushing off to what I can only imagine is a night with Sabrina, no wonder she didn’t want to come to Gricel!

I stand on the sidewalk staring at the people walking into Gricel, the doors are wide open, I can hear the hum of the Milonga from across the street; it feels so nice to be back.  I walk in, take out my neatly prepared pesos to pay the entrance, when a man walks right up to me and says: “Bienvenida hermosa, I am Javier, the host of this milonga and you do not have to pay to join us.  It would be my pleasure to have you here". 

“I’m sorry, do I know you?” I ask intriguingly.

“You do not, but I hope to correct that as soon as possible”, he responds with a smile and adds “He is sitting at the far right corner; he’s been waiting for you”.  Of course, Bond, I should have known. “Gracias, please do join us for a drink when you have a minute”, I say and turn around to pay the entrance fee. 

“Very independent I see”, the host says “You’ll have to give me the opportunity to invite you some other night, a night of your choice”, he says and escorts me to Bond’s table.

With  it's velvet curtains ornating the entrance, a large wooden dance floor, dim lighting complemented with the red hue given off by the neon sign at the back of the dance floor; Gricel has a  rustic, almost brothel-like milonga feel to it.

Everyone is dressed up in formal tango wear: women in shockingly revealing-form fitted dresses, the men in suits with their hair gelled back, everything seems to be in place, except  for Bond who somehow always stands out despite all his efforts to the opposite; or maybe it's just that I can't help but notice him.

The tanda has just started, it’s a vals,  couples are twirling around the dance floor with skirts of every colour flying around, it almost looks like a proper Viennese waltz, only not so proper since this is tango.

Bond spots me immediately and starts to pour me a glass of bubbly.  “Right, I had almost given up on you old girl, you’re late!” he utters.  “Late?  How long have you been out of Buenos Aires, it’s barely midnight Mr Bond, things are just starting to get interesting.  But have no fear you will not have to finish that bottle all by your lonesome”, I retort.

“Be quiet and put your shoes on, so we can get one tanda before the exhibition starts”, he adds, just as the dance floor empties and the show is announced.  Bond gives me a look of reproach and hands me my glass.

It’s exhibition time!  The dancers walk onto the dance floor,. I’ve never heard of them before; V and J are their initials and are performing for the first time tonight, we are informed. They're both beautiful; her with her large brown eyes, dark hair and snow-white like complection has all the men gawking and the women red with envy; him with his assertive walk and penetrating eyes has all of us bewitched (and maybe a little in lust); together they are mesmerizing.

They dance to Pugliese, their dance is classic, no frills, no acrobatics, no excessive drama, just simple, genuine, divine dancing. His musicality is irreprochable; her feet complete his lead to perfection; it’s as if the music followed their dance and not the other way around.  The entire room is in silent awe, which, given the amount and level of tango in Buenos Aires is no easy feat. 

I stare over at Bond who seems transfixed by the dancing.  “She’s too young for you Bond”, I say teasingly.  “And he’s too young for you” he responds with a smirk.  “I am simply enjoying the tango’ I answer back to which he adds “As am I my dear, as am I”.

As they go into their final pose, everyone rises to their feet to give praise to this very promising couple, two stars are born tonight!  “And they’re not even sleeping together”, says the woman sitting at the table adjacent to ours.  I had forgotten what a small world tango is.  

As the night’s Fred and Ginger take their last bow, the young tangero and I cross glimpses, he gently smiles and gives me a little wink; I can’t help but smile back, he is afterall the celebrity of the night (and not to mention cute as hell).

I finally bend over to put on my shoes, the strap won’t quite hook on; Bond has lost patience and is already dancing with someone else.  When I at last get my shoes on, and reach out to take another sip of champagne, I notice him…. I had forgotten all about my last night in Buenos Aires at La Viruta and what I had done…..




In which Bond is back in San Telmo



Mr Bond

Dear reader, the two of us were standing together in the living room contemplating life in my rented apartment in Defensa, San Telmo, my Panama hat in its new home on an ancient brass hook, and about to unload my worldly possessions from my trunk; when the sound of the door buzzer breaks the spell.

“Bond, you are back”, a voice squeals. “And it seems, so are you Moneypenny”, I reply, pressing the intercom door release to street level.

After the ascent of fifty two stairs Moneypenny is a little out of breath. Since we last met so many weeks ago at Bar Laureles, Barracas, she has cropped her hair, it now forms a tiny golden halo around her head. She smiles.  “I understand that you have been a bad girl and disobeyed M, fleeing to Bolivia and meeting up with Richard Alvarez?”, I state with a grin.

“It’s really not for me, this cloak and dagger agent’s life”, she replies, “it’s far too stressful for I am never sure who is who, and on what side. I am done with it. From now on I propose to dedicate my time to tango. What about you, James? Sabrina said you were back, but then clammed up for some reason”.

“Well, if it is of any interest, I too have escaped the clutches of MI6 and just arrived under the radar on the cargo ship Hanjin”, I reply. “It seems that we are both fugitives”.

“Who, apart from Sabrina, and your friends Hammond and Paul knows we are in Buenos Aires?”, she inquires, frowning. “Only Nick Compton, captain of the Hanjin, and his little dog Simon”, I reply jovially.

With that, Moneypenny throws herself onto the sofa and stares at the ceiling. “James, are we safe here?”, she asks, “and what are you going to do now you are no longer working for the ministry?”

“Safe enough, I reckon. It is just a matter of time for them to recruit our replacements and then forget that we ever existed. It happens all the time. No-one is indispensable”, I add, regretting the words as soon as I said them. “Life is like a film; you’re in the action, then you’re on the cutting room floor”. “And I too am going to take this opportunity to dance Argentine tango”, I add. “Club Gricel tonight, do you reckon?”.

As I am crouching to unfasten the leather strap from the trunk that dominates the centre of the room, Moneypenny stretches out a long creamy leg and levers herself up from the sofa. Squatting alongside with her left hand across my shoulder, she whispers, “Dance with me now, James”.

We rise into a close embrace as she hums ‘La Cumparasita’. We dance. Sunlight glances through the open doors from the veranda. A light breeze disturbs the foliage of the lemon tree which taps rhythmically to her song. Her breath is warm and moist on my neck, and the fragrance of Lolita Lempicka drifts from her soft skin.

“So, James, are you pleased to be back?”, she questions. “Do you realise, Moneypenny - Buenos Aires is the only place in the world where you can dance proper tango and drink a decent cup of coffee?”, I retort, adding with a smile, “of course I am old girl, and it is great that we are together again as a tango team”.




Miss Moneypenny

I rush through Defensa, through the  Sunday Tam Tam players and the orange juice stands; through the shoes and bong sellers; pushing my way through the hoards of people who have made the pilgrimage to San Telmo’s market day; all the way to the corner of Independencia and stare up at the tall white building.

“Bond, it’s me!  I’m back! You’re back’, I utter into the buzzer.  “Yes I’m back and so are you it seems”, he replies with much less apparent enthusiasm; the British just don't do enthusiasm I remind myself.

Within the following 15 minutes, I find out Bond went back to London and has essentially left MI6, or so he says, and wants to devote himself completely to tango. “How ironic” I say to him.  “Ironic, why would you say that?” he asks me.  “Because I’ve decided that I’ve spent too much time stepping on cats in cemeteries and chasing after secret societies, while my tango shoes have been collecting dust” I reply.

“Yes we should get back on track with tango, plan a milonga soon” Bond answers back.  “Well there’s no time like the present, dance with me here!” I say.

With that, Bond puts a disk on gramophone, ‘La Cumparasita’, an odd choice for a living room tanda, I suspect he heard me humming it while I was stretched out on his sofa.  We embrace and sway left to right, it doesn’t feel like it did before; maybe we’re both a little rusty; or maybe we’re just not as comfortable with each other as we used to be.

Once the music dies down, I remove myself from his embrace, a little hastily perhaps, but I also remember that he is the reason I am in this mess in the first place.  He used tango before to get me to do what he wanted, how do I know it’s any different now?  Can anyone ever leave MI6?  What proof do I have except his word?

“Thank you for the tanda” I whisper in his ear as I lean in to kiss his cheek, “I’ll see you tonight.  I love Gricel” and make my way down the 52 stairs which had left Bond so out of breath on our way up.

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 225 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.

Moneypenny, the colectivo, and a stab in the dark

Mr Bond I get the impression that Moneypenny thinks this is my first time - my virgin voyage. In the early days I introduced her to my...