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Ian Fleming

From 'Bond Strikes Camp'

Shadows of fog were tailing him through the windows of his Chelsea flat; the blonde had left a broken rosette of lipstick on the best Civan's pillowcase - he would have to consult last night's book-matches to find out where he had grabbed her. It was one bitch of a morning. And, of course, it turned out to be the day! For there was always one breakfast in the month when a very simple operation, the boiling of an egg so that the yolk should remain properly soft and the white precisely hard, seemed to defeat his devoted housekeeper, May. As he decapitated the fifth abort on its Wedgwood launching-pad he was tempted to crown her with the sixteen-inch pepper mill. Three minutes and fifty-five seconds later by his stopwatch and the sixth egg came up with all systems go. As he was about to press the thin finger of wholemeal toast into the prepared cavity the telephone rang. It was probably the blonde: 'Don't tell me: it all comes back - you're the new hat-check from "The Moment of Truth",' he snarled into the receiver. But the voice which cut in was that of his secretary; Miss Ponsonby. 'He wants you now, smart pants, so step on the Pogo.'

Swearing pedantically, Bond pulled away from his uneaten egg and hurried from the flat to the wheel of his souped-up Pierce Arrow, a Thirty-one open tourer with two three-piece windscreens. A sulphurous black rain was falling and he nearly took the seat off a Beatnik as he swerved into Milner. It was that kind of a Christmas. Thirteen minutes later his lean body streaked from the tonneau-cover like a conger from its hole and he stood outside M.'s door with Lolita Ponsonby's great spaniel eyes gazing up at him in dog-like devotion.

'Sorry about the crossed line,' he told her. 'I'll sock you a lunch if they don't need you at Crufts.' Then the green lights showed and he entered.

'Sit down, 007.' That was Grade C welcome indicating the gale warning. There had been several lately. But M. did not continue. He surveyed Bond with a cold, glassy stare, cleared his throat and suddenly lowered his eyes. His pipe rested unlit beside the tobacco in the familiar shell-cap. If such a thing had been possible, Bond would have sworn he was embarrassed. When at length he spoke, the voice was dry and impersonal. 'There are many things I have asked you to do, Bond; they have not always been pleasant but they have been in the course of duty. Supposing I were to ask you to do something which I have no right to demand and which I can justify only by appealing to principles outside your service obligations. I refer to your patriotism. You are patriotic, Bond?'

'Don't know, sir, I never read the small print clauses.'

'Forgive the question, I'll put it another way. Do you think the end justifies the means?'

'I can attach no significance of any kind to such expressions.'

M. seemed to reflect. The mood of crisis deepened.

'Well, we must try again. If there were a particularly arduous task - a most distasteful task - and I called for a volunteer - who must have certain qualifications - and only one person had those qualifications - and I asked him to volunteer. What would you say?'

'I'd say stop beating about the bush, sir.'

'I'm afraid we haven't even started.'

'Sir?'

'Do you play chess, Bond?'

'My salary won't run to it.' 'But you are familiar with the game?'

'Tolerably.' As if aware that he was in the stronger position, Bond was edging towards insolence.

'It has, of course, been thoroughly modernised; all the adventure has been taken out of it; the opening gambits in which a piece used to be sacrificed for the sake of early development proved unsound and therefore abandoned. But it is so long since they have been tried that many players are unfamiliar with the pitfalls and it is sometimes possible to obtain an advantage by taking a risk. In our profession, if it be a profession, we keep a record of these forgotten traps. Ever heard of Mata Hari?'

'The beautiful spy?' Bond's voice held derision. The school prefect sulking before his housemaster.

'She was very successful. It was a long time ago.' M. still sounded meek and deprecating.

'I seem to remember reading the other day that a concealed microphone had replaced the femme fatale.'

'Precisely. So there is still a chance for the femme fatale.'

'I have yet to meet her.'

'You will. You are aware there is a Russian military mission visiting this country?'

Bond let that one go into the net.

'They have sent over among others an elderly general. He looks like a general, he may well have been a general, he is certainly a very high echelon in their K.G.B. Security is his speciality; rocketry, nerve gases, germ warfare - all the usual hobbies.' M. paused. 'And one rather unusual one.'

Bond waited, like an old pike watching the bait come down.

'Yes. He likes to go to night clubs, get drunk, throw his money about and bring people back to his hotel. All rather old-fashioned.'

'And not very unusual.'

'Ah.' M. looked embarrassed again. 'I'm just coming to that. We happen to know quite a bit about this chap, General Count Apraxin. His family were pretty well known under the old dispensation though his father was one of the first to join the party; we think he may be a bit of a throw- back. Not politically, of course. He's tough as they come. I needn't tell you Section A make a study of the kind of greens the big shots go in for. Sometimes we know more about what these people are like between the sheets than they do themselves; it's a dirty business. Well, the General is mad about drag.'

'Drag, sir?'

M. winced. 'I'm sorry about this part, Bond. He's "so" - "uno di quelli" - "one of those" - a sodomite.'

Bond detected a glint of distaste in the cold blue eyes.

'In my young days: M. went on, 'fellows like that shot themselves. Now their names are up for every club. Particularly in London. Do you know what sort of a reputation this city has abroad?' Bond waited. 'Well, it stinks. These foreigners come here, drop notes of assignation into sentries' top- boots, pin fivers on to guardsmen'S bearskins. The Tins are livid.'

'And General Apraxinr' Bond decided to cut short the Wolfenden.

'One of the worst. I told you he likes drag. That's - er - men dressed up as women.'

'Well, you tell me he's found the right place. But I don't quite see where we come in.'

M. cleared his throat. 'There's just a possibility, mind, it's only a possibility, that even a top K.G.B. might be taken off guard - if he found the company congenial - perhaps so congenial that it appealed to some secret wish of his imagination - and if he talked at all (mind you, he is generally absolutely silent), well then anything he said might be of the greatest value - anything - it might be a lead on what he's really here for. You will be drawing a bow at a venture. You will be working in the dark.'

'Me, sir?'

M. rapped out the words like a command. '007, I want you to do this thing. I want you to let our people rig you up as a moppet and send you to a special sort of club and I want you to allow yourself to be approached by General Apraxin and sit at his table and if he asks you back to his hotel I want you to accompany him and any suggestion he makes I request you to fall in with to the limit your conscience permits. And may your patriotism be your conscience, as it is mine.'

It was a very odd speech for M. Bond studied his finger-nails. 'And if the pace gets too hot?'

'Then you must pull out - but remember. T. E. Lawrence put up with the final indignity. I knew him well, but knowing even that, I never dared call him by his christian name.'

Bond reflected. It was clear that M. was deeply concerned. Besides, the General might never turn up. 'I'll try anything once, sir.'

'Good man.' M. seemed to grow visibly younger.

'As long as I'm not expected to shake a powder into his drink. and run away with his wallet.'

'Oh, I don't think it will come to that. If you don't like the look of things, just plead a headache; he'll be terrified of any publicity. It was all Section A could do to slip him a card for this club.'

'What's its name?'

M. pursed his lips. 'The Kitchener. In Lower Belgrave Mews. Be there about eleven 0' clock and just sit around. We've signed you in as "Gerda".'

'And my disguise?'

'We're sending you off to a specialist in that kind of thing - he thinks you want it for some Christmas "do". Here's the address.'

'One more question, sir. I have no wish to weary you with details of my private life but I can assure you I've never dressed up in "drag" as you call it since I played Katisha in "The Mikado" at my prep. school. I shan't look right, I shan't move right, I shan't talk right; I shall feel about as convincing arsing about as a night-club hostess as Randolph Churchill.'

M. gazed at him blankly and again Bond noticed his expression of weariness, even of repulsion. 'Yes, 007, you will do all of those things and I am afraid that is precisely what will get him.'

Bond turned angrily but M.'s face was already buried in his signals. This man who had sent so many to their deaths was still alive and now the dedicated bachelor who had never looked at a woman except to estimate her security risk was packing him off with the same cold indifference into a den of slimy creatures ...

Cyril Connolly




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