At a treacherous Christmas time, M dispatches James Bond on the secret agent’s most dangerous assignment
M stopped pacing the carpet and looked out through his bullet-proof window. The bleak vista made the head of the Secret Intelligence Service even gloomier. A bitter drizzle was falling on the grey Thames. He buzzed his secretary. “Miss Moneypenny, any indication when 007 will finally deign to put in an appearance?”
Before she could reply, Bond was standing beside her desk. “James,” she gasped. “The old man is beside himself. Where have you been?”
007 smoothly responded: “Signal failure at Cockfosters.” He brushed at his crumpled jacket. “Christ, how can people stand the underground? Get on to Q would you? Ask him when the new Aston will be ready.”
“For you James, anything,” melted Moneypenny. “You’d better go straight in. There’s a big flap about something.”
Bond greeted this information with a laconic smile. “What is it this time? Cyber-terrorism? Nuclear blackmail? Biological warfare? Or just your run-of-the-mill megalomaniac with sharks in his swimming pool, an unfeasible space weapon and the same old dream of world domination?”
“Closer to home, from what I gather,” responded Moneypenny. “And much more serious.”
The head of SIS greeted his most valued agent with relief imperfectly disguised by sarcasm. “How good of you to join us at last, Commander.” “And a Merry Christmas to you too, sir,” quipped Bond. “I see nothing about this Christmas to merit the description ‘Merry’. The reverse, in fact,” declared M. “Sit down. I have a very grave matter to share with you.”
M began to explain: “For some time now, this department has become increasingly concerned that there is a conspiracy against Britain. Consider this last year. Almost every institution that the British once loved or respected has been held up to ridicule or contempt. The police. The church. The BBC. Parliament itself. The banks. I’d say the press as well, but no one ever loved or respected those reptiles. Even we in the intelligence services have been accused of the most foul conduct. It has been a terrible year.”
007 looked sceptical. “With respect, sir, I’m not sure I entirely agree. The jubilee was popular. Prince Philip was left out in the rain for a bit too long, but otherwise it passed off without incident. Then there was the Olympics – everyone agrees that was a great success.”
M regarded him coldly. “I’ve no doubt that you enjoyed the Olympics. Mr Daniel Boyle further inflated your already enormous ego by giving you a starring part in his opening ceremony with Her Majesty no less as your latest conquest. But for some of us, that charade was just a security nightmare.”
M sighed: “Frankly, I’m surprised by your naivety, 007. Bread and circuses, that’s all it was. Bread and circuses to distract the masses from what is happening to their country.
“Austerity into the indefinite future.Aircraft carriers with no planes. The Americans have practically given up on us.” M was warming to his theme. “Isolated in Europe. Berlin Station secured a transcript of Angela Merkel’s private remarks about Britain and it does not make for happy reading.”
The head of SIS reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a folder. In red letters, it was emblazoned with the script: “TOP SECRET: FOR YOUR EYES ONLY”.
“This dossier contains all the information that is currently known about the men we think are responsible.”
007 remained unconvinced. “Does it have a name, sir? This conspiracy?”
“As it happens, 007, yes it does,” snapped M. “They call themselves The Coalition.”
M pulled some papers out of the dossier. A photo of a dark-haired man in his 40s was clipped to the top sheet. “This is the head of the organisation. We’ve been monitoring him for some time.”
007 took one look at the picture and laughed. “It’s Dave Cameron! I know him, sir. We were at Oxford together. Remember him being reasonably able at tennis. A tricksy backhand. Didn’t seem up to much else. Are you saying he is at the head of a plot to destroy Britain?”
M exploded. “For God’s sake, 007. Take this seriously. He’s been prime minister for two and a half years. Have you really not been paying any attention at all?”
Bond shrugged. “Busy saving the world, sir. I don’t watch much news.”
M gave him a hard stare: “Well, now I need you to concentrate on saving Britain.” He stabbed a forefinger at the picture: “If this man is not responsible for the state of the country, who is?”
M pulled out another photo and tossed it across the desk to Bond. “This is his wife.” 007 looked at the picture quizzically. “I don’t think it is, sir,” he said. “Even I’ve watched enough news to know that this is Rebekah Brooks, flame-haired former editor of the Sun, sharer of kitchen suppers, horses and other intimacies with Cameron. Now facing trial on multiple charges relating to the phone-hacking scandal.” M looked again. “You’re right. I’m afraid Miss Moneypenny is not as young as she once was. The filing is in a terrible muddle.”
M pulled out another sheaf of papers. Once again, to the top of the first sheet was attached a picture. It was another man in his 40s, but this time wearing not a blue tie but a yellow one. “Our sources say this is the number two in the organisation,” said M. “Half Dutch. Half Russian. As if that wasn’t suspicious enough, married to a Spaniard. Fluent in almost as many languages as you, Commander. All the trademarks of a double-agent.”
Bond appraised the photo. The man was smiling determinedly into the camera, but 007 could detect a deep sadness in his eyes. “He looks pretty harmless to me, sir.”
“Yes, yes,” responded M testily. “That’s the whole point. His yellow faction were supposed to be the moderating influence that kept the blue faction under control. But where’s the evidence for that?
“I assigned 006 to infiltrate Clegg’s outfit, but before he could report, he was murdered. Poor soul. Stood at a byelection for the Lib Dems. Didn’t stand a chance.”
M pulled out another photo.”This is said to be their top strategist and also the money man. Codename “the submarine” because he dives out of sight whenever the proverbial hits the fan. Real name Osborne. Keeps promising the country that things will get better and yet they’ve just got worse and worse. Classic disinformation tactic.”
Bond nodded. “Ah, yes, one of the Bullingdon boys. Declined their invitation myself. Didn’t see the appeal of dressing up like a footman and throwing bread rolls at each other. What’s the word for it? Plebeian.”
M pulled out another picture. It was of a man with unruly blonde hair stuck on a zip wire. “Who is that clown?” asked 007.
“Don’t be fooled by appearances,” responded M. “Clever man. Classical education. Can work a crowd. Throbs with ambition. Deadliest rival of Cameron. Could be a very useful asset for us. But he’s not your concern, 007. I have ordered our best female agent to get close to him. He has a weakness for the other gender almost as notorious as your own.”
M pressed his buzzer. “Miss Moneypenny, please ask the Quartermaster to join us.”
Q came in. “Now, pay attention, 007. This ordinary-looking pen is standard equipment for all our field agents.”
Bond took the pen, pointed it at the wall and clicked the end, eagerly expecting it to fire an armour-piercing nano-bullet or perhaps shoot a five-second poison dart. To his surprise, all that came out of the end was a dribble of ink.
“You’ve beaten me, Q. What is this for?”
“Writing your report, of course,” replied Q. “I suppose you were expecting it to be a deadly weapon disguised as a writing instrument. Wrong, 007. I called it an ordinary pen because it is an ordinary pen. Cuts to our budget have left us with no money for all the fancy gadgets you used to enjoy.”
“We’re all in this together,” murmured M. Bond looked disconsolate. “Please tell me that the Aston is ready.”
“More bad news, I’m afraid,” responded Q. “Gone are the days when Her Majesty’s government could afford to indulge its agents with a top-of-the-range, supercharged sports car replete with machine guns, ejector seat, heat-seeking missiles, leather upholstery and multiple cup holders. On your way out, Miss Moneypenny will show you how to renew your bus and tube pass.”
M broke in: “Now, listen carefully, 007. Your mission is to penetrate the coalition and discover their intentions. If you are caught, this department will deny all knowledge of your existence. If you are injured, don’t expect the disability benefit that was previously customary. Mr Duncan Smith has put an end to that.
“Don’t underestimate the enemy. They are not like the adversaries you are accustomed to; they are not like Blofeld or Dr No or Goldfinger who conveniently tell you their masterplan just in time for you to thwart it. Forget that.
“These people are politicians. Treachery is their business. Are they a ruthless conspiracy to ruin Britain? Or are they a bunch of blithering incompetents who have no idea what they are doing? That’s what we need to find out. And there isn’t much time. That’s all, 007. Good luck.”
Bond grimaced. “I think I’m going to need it, sir.”