|Doing the Double
Author: Guede Mazaka
MI6 hadn’t been planning a clean-up of Italy for a while, but they didn’t send one objection while he was scouring the region. He supposed that meant he was hiding the bodies well enough for them.
The trails ran dry after the sixth one. It only meant that he’d worked his way completely through one operational unit, but he couldn’t go further without more resources than he had, and anyway he was running out of clean suits. He went back to his hotel, and the first message he saw in his inbox was a recall order to London. They had been keeping tabs on him—he hadn’t expected any differently, hadn’t been looking for it because he’d already vaguely known it was there—and for a moment, he wondered what the new addition to his file might be, and whether it’d be in the psychological or the completed operations section.
Then he deleted the email and went to pack.
* * *
James stared through the thick glass. “Well, it was a botch all around, then.”
“The bullet lodged in his frontal lobe. It doesn’t seem to have affected his mathematical skills or any of his other…objective abilities, but he’s shown a decreased ability to assess rapid changes in situations. He also has an occasional tremor in his left side, but medicine can be used to control that,” murmured the white coat next to him. “He’s progressing rapidly. I believe he can be released into custody within the week.”
The straps bulking up beneath the sheets couldn’t be bandages, since blurry as James’ memory was, he still was sure it’d been a head-shot only. Le Chiffre’s hands were under the blankets, but the bed railings had clamps trailing chains on them. He’d never been particularly known for his physical prowess, but desperation made any man dangerous, and Le Chiffre already had the determination and the mind and the lack of morals.
“We’ve also dealt with his amphetamine addiction, though of course I suppose that that’s up to you boys.” The doctor’s pen clicked softly as he checked things off on his clip-board. He had a pale, narrow face with a reddish shadow that swung from one ear down across his jaw and back up, like the ghost of a previously-cut throat. He had blue eyes that seemed to pass light through them without absorbing any of it. “Do you want to go in?”
James had already been briefed, though as usual that had consisted of the barest possible outline. It was mutually convenient: he wasn’t particularly restricted in what forward planning he did do and they were free to disclaim virtually anything he did as ‘going beyond orders.’
Le Chiffre’s eyes were closed, his face slack with apparent unconsciousness. But a little bit of color pricked to life just beneath his left eye where the curve of it was deepest. Was he busy calculating the odds he was beating just by lying in that bed? Or trying to figure out what fraction of a blessing he’d been given by surviving?
Neither, James decided. He heard something and paused halfway in the door, then glanced over his shoulder at the doctor. “What?”
“I said, he’s not to have anybody in there now, but I can get my supervisor if—Mr. Bond. Mr. Bond!”
The man wasn’t going to go so far as to try and physically stop James; he wasn’t the type. He would, and did go running for the nearest person to whom he could shove off responsibility, and in the meantime, James stepped all the way through the door. He paused, noting the slight different in draft, and made sure to find the ventilation opening before he arrived at the bedside.
Le Chiffre slitted open one eye. His pupil tracked to James, then back and forth before returning again. “Where’s the girl?”
James felt the jaw in his muscle tic. He nearly clenched his teeth before he thought better of it, remembering that after all, he didn’t care. “She’s not coming.”
He lifted his finger and reached towards the other man’s eye. He paused when Le Chiffre flinched, then carefully collected the drop to rub between thumb and forefinger. It wasn’t only blood: the fluid was a bit thicker and had an uneven feel to it. After a moment, James touched it to his tongue and found that the taste was slightly wrong as well.
Le Chiffre had been watching it all with a slight trace of confusion beneath his poker-face. It reminded James by its contrast to another recent bedside scene—by how he imagined it’d appeared to Vesper, at least. His jaw muscle twitched again, and this time the tightening was transmitted to his throat as well. “No Mathis.”
“Clean…house.” It seemed like Le Chiffre was having some difficulty with speaking. A funny stop had parted his words.
“Your girl’s not coming either,” James said. The movement of air in the room was trailing a cool breeze over the back of his neck. He tipped his head, letting it roam farther up towards his hairline and take away the thread of heat that’d wormed about his neck. The muscles chilled and relaxed. “If you slip someone a dose of something, you really should do it yourself, I think.”
The other man’s mouth moved, then clamped tightly shut as something in his throat spasmed. His eyes were lit with enough malicious intelligence to carry his meaning across, though. He didn’t seem very alarmed even if he’d understood everything that James had said.
“Someone will be in to brief you later, I expect.” That wasn’t James’ job. He picked up a tissue from a box on a table and wiped his hand off on the way out.
* * *
“You’ll have to keep close tabs on him. We’re not sure how much of his operation is still intact and loyal to him.”
Colorful and glossy, the hotel advert was incongruous among the flat black-and-white typed sheets that made up the rest of the dossier. It showed a lavishly-appointed bedroom, a pool that’d apparently been dropped into the middle of a small jungle, white tablecloths and sparkling crystalware. It seemed like the upgrade in traveling style hadn’t been temporary. Another environment James would have to get used to, and quick: he still couldn’t help associating that sort of thing with vacations.
“His medical concerns are an issue as well. I’m told he’s been weaned off the benzadrine, but—”
James flipped up the flap of his coat-pocket, then drew out an inhaler. It wasn’t the fancy platinum model he’d seen before, but it would deliver the correct dosage. And if necessary, or if he somehow lost control over it, a dose of heavy tranquilizers as well. M knew that—she’d been hesitant enough about introducing him to the labs that supplied the double-o’s.
“We need him back, James.”
He looked up then. M was staring at him, her legs crossed and her hands clasped over the knee that was the highest. Her eyes were trying to bore something out of him.
“Of course you do,” James said, easily enough. “You’ve barely had any time to talk to him yet.”
“And I doubt you’re capable of simultaneously finishing his interrogation and taking care of this mission. Bring him back and make sure he’s still capable of speech,” M snapped.
She hadn’t specified, so he was probably looking at very small leeway in terms of healing time. He wondered what the cover story was and idly flipped through the file again, but like usual, it wasn’t there.
“I would have given him and this job to another double-o if I’d had any free, but your shenanigans in Italy have left the entire region scrambling to rebuild its power structure.” The irritation in M’s voice was creeping dangerously near downright alarm. She didn’t like unknowns and things she couldn’t calculate to within an inch of their lives; she probably appreciated Le Chiffre that way. “James. You’ve got to remember that we give you a gun and a passport because—”
“I wouldn’t worry so much. He wasn’t the one who killed her, after all,” James finally said, glancing up again. He felt his fingers start to close on the edges of the folder and turned the movement into a shuffling of the papers. It was a little easier than he’d expected. “I’ve got the mission objectives engraved on my heart. Cross it and hope to—”
M’s nostrils flared. Then she got up and walked around to stand behind her desk, already reaching for the call-buttons. “Don’t tempt me, 007.”
That, James presumed, was his cue to leave. He tucked the dossier beneath one arm and got up himself. These tailored jackets tended to ride up a bit around the chest with changes in posture, so he gave his a short yank to straighten it out again. He’d have to remember that. It’d change how he’d have to draw his gun.
“Bond?” Her pen clicked, once and hard, against the edge of her desk. “You already know what he’s capable of and who his allies are. There’ll be no surprises.”
After a moment, he reached for the door again. “I sincerely hope not. I’ve gone a little sour on those.”
* * *
It was an enormous suite, airy with lots of wide windows in nearly every room. James sighed and dragged Le Chiffre after him by the man’s manacle-chain till he’d found a heavy enough sofa positioned out of direct line of any of those windows. He secured him to the sofa-arm, then walked around checking that no electrical or phone outlets were nearby. The suite computer was across the room, and the laptop was still in the luggage.
“This will keep prying eyes from seeing, but I do wonder what you’re telling the cleaning staff,” Le Chiffre said.
His left leg was shaking a little, even though most of his weight was balanced on it. He shifted as James looked at him, stretching out lengthwise to put the rest of his weight on his left hip. A thin, watery ring of red circled both eyes just behind the lashes.
James ignored him and went to get the luggage. The clothes and weaponry he carried into the bedroom to be unpacked later, once the other man was asleep; James didn’t trust him not to track by hearing. The bag with the laptop and the files on the banks, he took into the room where Le Chiffre was. He methodically emptied it out, setting the laptop aside, and then picked up the case with the inhaler cartridges.
When Le Chiffre saw the inhaler, the thin line of red beneath his left eye noticeably thickened. “They said they’d purged you,” James clinically observed.
Le Chiffre shrugged. “I’m sure they tried.” His eyes flicked to the inhaler again. “I’m sure you believed them as well.”
Once James had loaded it, he put the inhaler in his coat-pocket. Then he took out the syringe case and measured out a dose of the anti-spasmodic drug they’d prescribed to Le Chiffre. He’d looked it up privately and it combined negatively with the benzadrine, so he presumed that that was M’s way of telling him her stance. Pity she hadn’t done it explicitly—he could get confused sometimes. His orders left so much leeway.
When he injected it, Le Chiffre didn’t so much as wince. The other man merely waited patiently till James put the laptop within reach, and then began running down the transfers they needed to have done today. Then he started to look interested again.
“What you can do on that computer is restricted,” James said, settling into one of the over-stuffed armchairs. He made an effort to relax to its shape, but the way it pressed around him, as if trying to take him into an embrace, was too claustrophobic. Instead he sat up and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.
Le Chiffre paused in his typing. “Is this what you’re supposed to do? Be my watchdog?”
“I can’t imagine that being under observation bothers you.” There were things James could be doing, and without even leaving the room. He could finish unpacking, or he could start setting up meetings with his local contacts. He could clean his guns.
But he didn’t feel a particular need to do anything much at the moment. The psychologists would have labeled this stage ‘denial’ or ‘depression,’ but James honestly didn’t feel a thing. He did realize that this might be a slip and made the effort to assess the room for possible weapon cache-points or places to periodically debug—of course it’d been swept prior to their arrival, but with Le Chiffre’s client list, that was hardly something he could count on to remain unchanged. Speaking of, James probably should review the people who were most likely to make it up here for an assassination.
“Are you still recovering as well?” The other man adjusted the set of his shoulders. He had to awkwardly stretch himself over the sofa-arm to reach the computer, but he still managed to recall the heavy swing of that knotted rope with the hitch of one hip.
James remembered the whole episode now as if it’d been a training reel he’d seen, though he knew at the time, and for a while afterward, it’d been much more vivid. Vicious enough to have given him some serious second thoughts about his job. It wasn’t as convincing now: that sort of thing happened, and had to be gotten over, and he was never leaving MI6 one way or the other. He’d always end up back in London.
“Bond?” Le Chiffre said, frowning.
“How are things going? Can you keep up with the timetable?” James pulled over the half-emptied bag with his foot and took out the bunch of rubber-banded files he’d put back into it. After some teasing about, he managed to slip out the top one.
Le Chiffre paused, then put his head down to press one hand against it. He looked a little ill, the skin around his mouth taking on a greenish tinge. “My mind is making it hard to remember things properly, and I don’t think you want me to make an error, so I’m trying not to act before I’m sure.”
“Seems to be a selective issue as far as your mind goes.” The inhaler was a slight weight in James’ pocket. He knew its outline was visible to Le Chiffre when he turned to set the bag back down, and so he was listening for the catch in breath. “I’ll be checking on your progress every night. The longer it takes you, the longer you’ll be sitting out here in the open, depending on me to keep you alive.”
A dry rasping chuckle came from Le Chiffre. “You’re no conversationalist when there’s no women in the room. So am I a check on your progress? It seems like MI6 would want to double up—saves money.”
“I wouldn’t presume to say, since I’m not an accountant,” James said, scanning the first page of the file. Ukraine. Gun-runners. Brute-force types, nothing fancy, easy to spot but not always simple to deal with, given the agency’s harping on his excessive use of force.
“They don’t trust you with those anymore, Mr. Bond?” Le Chiffre strangled the third word a little, and it didn’t seem to be a voluntary gesture. He blinked rapidly and swallowed, the rate of his typing slowing down.
James felt his lips smile. Excerpts of the benzadrine information sheet flashed through his mind, overlaying the stats about kills and body-disposal modus operandi. “Hardly. They let me take you out.”
He noted the slight tremor in Le Chiffre’s left hand, its fingers stuttering over the keyboard before the other man got it under control. They stopped talking at that point.
* * *
Apparently Le Chiffre tired quickly; he made a point of saying so, and James made a point of observing him for a further half-hour before conceding said point. Once the other man had been run through the shower and secured to the bed, James went downstairs to get the lay of the land.
The concierge was fairly helpful—helpful enough for James to suspect that the man had been paid off by more than one person. He followed up on that when he got in touch with the local intelligence contact, who was slight and dark and humorless, and the contrast to Mathis had to be purposeful. When James got back, he’d have to rub that in M’s face: she certainly had been showing her colors lately.
He went to the hotel restaurant afterward and deliberately drew out his dinner. The food was fine. The waitress was more interesting, conversation-wise, and told him about the ins and outs of the place. Though when he signaled for the bill, it came with an extra piece of paper and for a moment, he wanted to break her neck.
Then he shrugged, gave her a smile and used her number to light a cigarette on the way back to his room. Le Chiffre was awake and still on the bed. “I can’t believe you just left me in here. Do you know how easy it’d be to get into the windows?”
“A little harder than you’d think.” James went over to the balcony and pulled apart the curtains so he could look into the courtyard behind the building. Some sort of party was going on below, with plenty of bright dresses swirling in between the dark-suited men.
A touch of acid came up into James’ mouth. He swallowed and pushed away, then paused as he noticed some marks on the outside surface of the glass. When he moved his head a little, they were no longer visible; the moonlight had to hit the glass at exactly the right angle for them to appear.
“I can’t do it all by computer,” Le Chiffre said. “I hope you realize that. If your government wants it all recovered, we’ll—”
“I ordered a car for tomorrow,” James lied. Obviously the car would be provided by MI6 as well, but he was mildly curious to see how damaged the man’s mind was. So far he hadn’t noticed anything unusual.
Le Chiffre looked at him with an unwavering, coolly knowing stare. The other man moved to sit up against the headboard, making visible efforts to keep his hands from hanging in the cuffs. They probably were sore by now. “Good.”
He watched James coldly and calculatingly, as if they were in another poker game. His eyes did follow James’ hand when James reached into his pocket, but their lack of expression didn’t change. James stood and waited, counting off, and when he reached thirty-four he was surprised to see a flicker of distraction go through Le Chiffre: the man blinked and twitched his left shoulder. Quickly, while that was still going on, James pulled out the inhaler.
Le Chiffre’s eyes refocused on it; they widened slightly and a thread of red surged up at the base of his left eye. He actually jerked back when James took a step towards him, as if he’d forgotten who was there. Then his composure returned and he gave James a thin smile. “Are you trying to stay within the Geneva Convention?”
“I’m afraid not.” Once upon a time, James would have just said ‘no.’ But he decided he liked the feel of the extra words. They distributed what little emotion was in his voice over more, so it was less obvious.
He held up the inhaler for Le Chiffre, who stared hard at it and then at James. “This is a lot of trouble for killing me.”
“I’m not killing you. My superiors want you back in custody after this,” James said. He waited another moment, then sighed and sat down on the bed. He had to temporarily lower the inhaler to scoot back to lean against the headboard, but after that he put it up for Le Chiffre again. “They’re not done interrogating you.”
“So is this truth serum?” Le Chiffre asked, one eyebrow raised. “Am I supposed to spill out all my dirty deeds to you?”
“Do I look like I give a damn about that?” Holding up his arm was starting to make its muscles cramp, so James shifted up a knee and rested his elbow on it. He let the headboard take all the weight of his upper body and looked at whatever happened to be in front of him. “I’ve read enough about you to not want or need to know any more, and I don’t care at all about whether this is good for you.”
After a last wary glance, Le Chiffre leaned forward. He paused, then abruptly took the inhaler’s mouthpiece into his mouth; his eyes closed when James pushed the top down for him. His nostrils flared at the click, then slowly tightened again to their normal size. The line of red beneath his left eye broadened.
“It’s funny…that you’d have it on hand if you don’t care. Or are they orders again?” Le Chiffre said, already sounding hazy. His lashes fluttered as he opened his eyes, each one to a different degree, then closed them nearly all the way again. A shudder ran through the left side of his body, then again, and hard enough so that James had to put out a hand to keep the other man from falling over. A look of alarm passed over his face and he tried to jerk away, only to succumb to another spasm. “What—did you--give--”
“Your usual. The medicine for your shakes hasn’t fully worked out of your system yet, and the two of them don’t mix too well.” James tugged and pulled till the other man was lying down again, then moved back to judge the degree of the reaction.
The tremors greatly decreased after about a minute, and shortly after that, Le Chiffre had regained enough strength to give James a bleary, sardonic look. “It’s not that bad.”
What James tended to say after every martini, he had to sourly acknowledge. “Did you want another?”
Le Chiffre’s eyes darkened with something James couldn’t quite read. Then his face pinched, the skin over it drawn taut with tension, and when he relaxed from the pain, he didn’t immediately pick up the conversation again. His eyes widened hungrily when James moved the inhaler into view.
“Another shot?” James asked.
The other man licked his lips and began to move forward, then abruptly stopped. He shot James a surprisingly angry look. “Are you trying to give me an overdose?”
“Well, never mind then.” James put the inhaler back into his pocket. He hesitated, then reached over and wiped away the blood that’d been dripping from Le Chiffre’s eye.
Le Chiffre went stiff beneath his fingers, and when James took his hand away to clean it with a tissue, the other man stared at him with the concentration of someone struggling with their memory. He wondered how hazy he looked to Le Chiffre, and how much the other man might be able to put together once the drugs had worn off.
Though that might be a while, given the restless, jerky way Le Chiffre was trying to work into a sitting position. He chewed at his lip, and his fingers absently twisted in the manacle chain. “Bond, can I have the laptop? If I’m here to work, I might as well work. You have that timetable to worry about, after all.”
The amphetamines were getting to him, giving him a false sense of alertness and confidence. The full-body shakes were gone, but the tremor in his hand seemed to have gotten much worse, and that was going to frustrate him very quickly.
James got up and retrieved the laptop without any hesitation.
* * *
“Damn it,” Le Chiffre swore, retyping. He cast an irritated glance James’ way. “You don’t understand a thing I’m doing, do you? How on earth are you going to check up on me?”
The light had shifted somehow, so James briefly got up from his chair beside the bed to adjust the bedside lamp. Then he sat down again and spread the newspaper back over his legs. He did look to see what was on the laptop screen, but after a cursory glance he went back to checking the local weather forecast.
“Do you honestly think that you can pump benzadrine into me and I’ll tell you everything I know about everyone I’ve ever worked with? If I couldn’t handle it, they would’ve shot me a long time again.” The other man’s voice rattled from sharp to slurred, its volume mostly at whisper-level but occasionally rising to near-shout. He jerked his hand back from the keyboard and slapped the back of it against his knee, then tried to type again. “Do you think you can keep me locked up forever? Sooner or later—”
“Somebody will figure out the first bullet didn’t do the trick and come round with a second,” James idly said. He folded up the newspaper and set it on the bedside table. Then he put one palm against the mattress to brace himself, and with his other hand, he hauled Le Chiffre away from the laptop.
Le Chiffre’s reflexes weren’t entirely gone: he made a quick enough snatch at James’ waistband, but his hands inexplicably paused once there and that gave James enough time to wrench them away from the gun. James seized the chain between the man’s wrist manacles and twisted it around his hand to gather up the slack. The links bit into his flesh, but the move paid off when Le Chiffre attempted to bulldoze James off the bed.
He shoved the other man back and got a knee over him, then reached over to push the laptop out of the way. Something snapped at the knee he had on the mattress and he gave Le Chiffre a shake before pinning the other man by the throat. He used the same hand that had the chain twisted around it, so Le Chiffre’s options narrowed to ineffectual kicking.
“Want another shot?” James asked, voice rough with the effort he needed to keep Le Chiffre down.
The other man’s eyes flared. “No.”
“Suppose this one did it for you.” James flicked his eyes to the round, raw red scar on Le Chiffre’s forehead, then leaned down and pressed his mouth to it, like the chaplain at school used to do to the younger boys.
Le Chiffre swore in guttural French and tried to jerk upward to bite at James’ throat; his teeth did graze at the skin. His struggling made the bed shake and rattled the lamp on the table so just beyond James’ vision, the shadows seemed to whirl and dance, leaping in a crazy heated dance all around them. He wrenched up Le Chiffre’s wrists by the chain as he hit the other man’s shoulder; Le Chiffre swore again and started up, but his movement was arrested by a sudden hard shake.
James ground the heel of his hand into Le Chiffre’s shoulder as he bent down. He heard the links in the manacle chain creak, then the rasp of air flowing over Le Chiffre’s teeth as he sucked at the man’s lower lip. Le Chiffre snapped his teeth together just as James jerked back, then muffled an outraged protest when James smashed his mouth back down, pressing on the other man’s lips hard enough so that another bite would catch him just as much as it would catch James.
The bed groaned, the headboard beating against the wall like Le Chiffre probably wished he could do against James’ chest. His knees slammed uselessly against the sides of James’ leg, most of their energy diverted sideways. He wasn’t a typical bean-counting weakling, but the shake in his left side erratically cut short any kind of sustained effort he tried. And once or twice, he seemed to lose his train of thought and almost respond, and then his struggling would double in intensity.
Beneath all that knocking and flailing about, James’ ears caught the slight scrape of a shoe-sole against the floor. He whipped up and around, swinging Le Chiffre off the side of the bed as a kind of counterweight, and shot the man who’d just stepped through the balcony doors. The intruder’s bullet whistled by James’ right cheek, close enough to sting.
After the man went down, James eased off the bed with both hands on the gun, and the gun barrel slowly sweeping in front of him. Something moved against his ankle and he reflexively kicked out, then snorted when Le Chiffre cursed at him for it. James risked a glance down.
Le Chiffre stared balefully up at him. The man was leaning heavily on his left arm, though that didn’t do anything to hide the hard tremor running through it.
He said something, but James ignored him in favor of sidling up beside the balcony doors and checking the outside as much as he could. Nothing seemed to be stirring, and he could still hear the party in the courtyard going on, so he doubted more than one was coming.
James called it in to the locals and got someone on their way to dispose of the body, then walked back over to Le Chiffre and dragged him up onto the bed. The shaking was bad enough so that James judged it safe to leave the man put, and went into the next room for the syringe case. When he came back, he dropped it on the end-table—Le Chiffre’s eyes went to it and the man tried to say something, but garbled it because he was gritting his teeth—and knelt beside the body.
Chest shot was all James had had time for. He could be more careful now, but digging out a bullet from the wall would be too messy, so he opted for grabbing a hank of hair and giving the head a short, sharp jerk about the neck. The crack sounded satisfyingly wet enough, so James let go and got the syringe. He measured out a dose, then tried to straighten out Le Chiffre’s arm, but the other man had his hands pressed to his forehead and wouldn’t let James.
After a moment, James reached around and chopped his hand into the shoulder-joint: Le Chiffre gasped, his arm muscles slackening as they went numb. James yanked the arm straight and pushed up the sleeve. He found the vein with his finger, then used that as a guide to insert the needle.
The tremors didn’t lessen right away, but Le Chiffre recovered enough to be able to talk before the locals showed. “I’m beginning to think this is not about the money caches, and more about baiting the trap.”
“Really.” James noticed that the laptop was balanced precariously on the edge of the bed and moved it to the safety of the floor. Then he went to put back his gun and fingered an odd-shaped lump in his jacket in passing. He pulled it out and turned the inhaler mouthpiece over in his hand, then fished out the other half.
It wasn’t broken—just knocked apart by all the goings-on. He had it back together in no time, letting out a near-soundless snort when the halves clicked in place. His eyes drifted sideways, running into Le Chiffre’s strained, desperate face little more than a handspan away. Le Chiffre looked up, expression going defensive and then smooth, though he moved a little closer.
James pushed it towards Le Chiffre’s mouth and watched the pursed lips widen and part almost of their own accord. Then he pulled it back and pocketed it. “Mixing this and the anti-spasmodic would give you a heart attack. They aren’t very pleasant.”
“You’d know,” Le Chiffre said, losing his calm enough to nearly hiss it.
“Yes, I suppose I would.” At that point, someone knocked on the door. After securing Le Chiffre to the bed again, James went to answer it.
* * *
Le Chiffre wanted to visit one or two banks, claiming things had to be retrieved from their vaults. He didn’t necessarily have to go in person, but after weighing the delay of asking MI6 to pressure said banks into contravening their client protection rules, James assented. And took off the handcuffs once they’d arrived.
He stayed within grabbing distance of Le Chiffre all the way into the bank president’s private office; after a few half-hearted attempts, more for principle than anything else, Le Chiffre stopped trying to cut people in between them. The president served them Madeira in delicate little glasses, then left them to go retrieve something.
James wore one of his old suits, without tailoring or the extra small clear plastic buttons for tucking in things no one saw, but that might’ve been a mistake because he felt too loose in it. He was almost relieved when someone put a hand on his shoulder and pulled the fabric tight so it drew suffocatingly around his chest.
“Mr. Bond, if I could have a word in the hall,” said a deep, toneless, accented voice.
In the other chair, Le Chiffre got his bloody eye. His lips twitched and he drew his fingers in a languid circle on the top of the chair-arm. “Wait,” he said. “There’s something I want from him.”
He reached over and pulled the inhaler from James’ pocket while the third man was hauling James out of the seat. Then he smiled, and the doors closed on the smile.
James let the man take him nearly to the outside exit before he turned, using an expensive Turkey throw rug to his advantage. It was a bit of a rough fight, but the other man made an error and let James get one hand around the back of his neck and the other shoved against his chin. One hard shove, one broken neck, and then James was trotting back down the halls.
He wasn’t really timing it. Frankly, he was hoping…but no, he happened to see the bank president walking purposefully and instinct clicked in, and so James ended up crouching in a ventilation shaft as two men hauled a struggling, swearing, shocked-looking Le Chiffre towards a chrome-topped toilet in a marble-faced private bathroom.
They dunked Le Chiffre twice while James was busy getting the vent cover off; Le Chiffre’s feet had just stopped kicking at the floor when James dropped down. James did remember to hit the toilet-lever before he started in on it.
By the end, he was soaked through and had discarded his jacket, which was little more than shreds anyway. His nerves were jangling, and blood was in his mouth from a punch he’d taken that had flattened his right cheek into his molars. He couldn’t help probing the wound there, feeling the spark of pain every time his tongue brushed over the gouges.
Le Chiffre had dragged his head out of the toilet and was lying on the ground, his spasming hand inches away from a knife somebody had dropped. James kicked it aside, kicked Le Chiffre in the belly when the other man looked at him, then stepped back as Le Chiffre started to vomit up water.
Once he was done, James pulled him up onto his feet and slung an arm around him. They got outside with relatively little trouble, and after he’d driven them a respectable distance away, he parked and reached for Le Chiffre’s arm.
The other man jerked back, then slumped against the door on his side, shivering unevenly. “Goddamn you.”
James paused, then snatched again, and this time he got his fingers around Le Chiffre’s biceps. He pulled at the man’s sleeve, then clawed at it when he found it too stuck to the skin with dampness. “You didn’t really think you could bargain your way back, did you? They already shot you once.”
A kind of stutter went through Le Chiffre, and it wasn’t like the ones he needed the medicine for. He blinked, opening his eyes wide afterward, then frowned.
A thought occurred to James. He left his hand holding up the folds of Le Chiffre’s sleeve and leaned further over to search the other man till he was certain they’d taken the inhaler away. And in the meantime, Le Chiffre sat stilly in place and stared at him, exhales coming in slow, rough streams against James’ face.
“I didn’t shoot you,” James said. He pulled Le Chiffre’s sleeve down.
“I think you wished you’d had the chance,” Le Chiffre replied after a moment. His lips twisted and he turned away, then pressed one hand to his forehead. The nervous trembling worsened so his heel beat an erratic tattoo against the floor. His fingers tightened around the bridge of his nose till the air whistled as it went through it.
James got out the bottle of pills he’d picked up with the inhaler cartridges. He shook one into his palm before putting the rest away: it was a small, white circle, so thin he almost thought the moisture of his palm would dissolve it.
He flicked it to between his forefinger and thumb, then held it up. Le Chiffre turned his head to see and a flash of recognition passed through his eyes. But then he looked past it to James, and his eyes blurred.
He did lean forward, strands of hair dropping heavily into his face so they splattered James’ hand with water droplets. At the last moment, he took the pill with his fingers and dry-swallowed it.
“You can’t take the anti-spasmodic for another six hours.” James glanced at Le Chiffre’s jittering leg as he started the engine again.
“Then if you want what’s in that bank, you’d better listen carefully,” Le Chiffre muttered, eyes half-closing. He cradled his shaky left arm in his right, occasionally lifting his hand to his mouth so he could cough. “There is something in there. Something your employers would be very happy to see returned.”
“Who do I work for again?” James asked. The words lilted oddly against the roof of his mouth. He didn’t terribly care, but unusually enough, it wasn’t a strain to make his expression and tone light.
Le Chiffre gave him a hard look and refused to answer the question. It wasn’t completely clear whether that was because the answer was so obvious, or because Le Chiffre couldn’t quite remember right now.
* * *
The little knot of tension in James’ stomach grew by another wrap. He slowly turned, careful not to disturb any of the wires trailing about them, to take Le Chiffre’s wrist off the ground and twist it hard. There wasn’t much light, but he could still sense when it became painful by the way the other man stiffened. “What do you mean, you can’t remember?”
“I—can’t—” Le Chiffre’s whisper was harsh and hurting and angry. He snarled beneath his breath and ground the heel of his free hand into his temple, then jerked it around to sink his teeth into his knuckles. “Did you time the doses right?”
He’d been off the benzadrine for plenty of time; James had dealt with all the hands-on matters, but he’d given Le Chiffre a shot of the anti-spasmodic just in case. He’d known beforehand about the one on the balcony, and had guessed about the one who’d had the secret meeting with Le Chiffre to lure him to the bank, but that was the extent of his foreknowledge. And there were more out there—he knew that; he didn’t need to guess.
“It’s got nothing to do with the drugs,” James said. “What the hell is the password?”
He gave Le Chiffre’s wrist another quarter-twist; Le Chiffre made a noise low in his throat and turned to relieve some of the strain. He had to put his other hand down on the floor to keep his balance. “Thirty percent chance it’s that…sixty percent it’s…”
“If you had to bet your life on it,” James snapped, “What would it be?”
Le Chiffre jerked up his head to look at James. The whites of his eyes nearly glowed in the dim light. After a moment, he rattled off a number.
It worked. When the vault door swung open, James glimpsed a flash of white teeth on the edge of his vision. He made doubly sure to have Le Chiffre enter and exit ahead of him after seeing it, but all was quiet till they were back into their hotel room. The object was a disk, and so Le Chiffre had it into the computer the moment he had a chance.
James cuffed one of Le Chiffre’s hands to the headboard, made sure nothing useful besides the computer was in reach, and went to go take another shower. He checked his voicemails while he was in the bathroom; there was something he’d have to look at later.
Le Chiffre had his back to James when James came out, still scrubbing at his damp hair with one hand. The other man was rapidly typing and didn’t stir even when James slid across the mattress to look over his shoulder. Nothing on the screen was particularly comprehensible to James: it was all strings of numbers, separated by the occasional meaningless abbreviation.
“You don’t have any idea what you’re looking at when you check my work every night, do you?” The shivering in Le Chiffre’s left side was fairly bad, but that was the hand cuffed to the bed and he seemed to do well enough with only one hand free. Then his fingers stuttered, and he jerked his hand over to the backspace key as if he was cutting out with a blade. “You let me make contact so you could find them and kill them.”
“It saves me the trouble of going and provoking them myself.” James pushed himself back across the bed and got the syringe case.
He had to come around and sit in front of Le Chiffre to get to the veins in the other man’s arms. Thin-lipped, Le Chiffre crooked his free arm to continue working around James; he did hiss slightly when the needle sank into his flesh. Then when James withdrew the needle, pressing hard on the spot with his thumb to hold the cotton pad in place, Le Chiffre suddenly turned about to put his mouth against the side of James’ face, just in front of James’ ear.
His lips rasped over the stubble there as he spoke, tone coy with a bite. “Why don’t you give me some of the benzadrine? Don’t I talk more when I’m on that than when I’m on this?”
“My job isn’t to interrogate you,” James said. He raised his elbow and quickly pushed the other man off, then got up from the bed. “I’m here to take you out and bring you back alive. Anything else is your doing.”
The muscle of Le Chiffre’s jaw spasmed hard enough for his teeth to rattle. He almost made a leap at James, but stopped before the manacle chain could yank him back. The skin around his mouth went white, nearly bloodless, but his left eye was rimmed in crimson.
“It is not my doing,” he said, spitting out every word as precisely as a diamond cutter’s etching.
“Oh? I don’t think you’re remembering everything right,” James casually replied on his way out. He went to order up the day’s newspaper, stood by the door till the staff brought it, and then went back to the bedroom.
By then Le Chiffre had composed himself again, but his gaze flicked to James every so often, almost as if the spasms had spread to there. James ignored him and caught up on the rest of the world. Delicate as the situation was, he couldn’t let it shut him off again.
* * *
It was just about time to change hotels, James was thinking. They were coming up the stairwell, back from a meeting he’d had to bring Le Chiffre to due to its length, and the shadows on the flight of stairs above them shifted. Something hair-thin flicked through the air.
James yanked Le Chiffre back and shoved him onto the landing behind them, then cursed as he felt something wrap around his arm. He ripped at his suit-jacket and got it off barely in time; the assassin had already started to pull on the wire, and it did slice through to slash around the back of his hand, but it didn’t trap his arm. He threw his jacket around the wire and pulled hard.
The cloth gave way and fell down the stairwell in shreds, but James had heard the misstep above him and was already running up towards it. He got out his gun and got off one shot, which missed, before he closed in too much and then it was a wrestling match. The gun dropped as they clattered back down the steps. A peculiar zipping noise sang out around him, and James barely realized it had to be the wire spooling out in time to duck the loop the man tried to throw around his neck.
The man was wearing thick gloves—enough to keep his hands from being hurt, but too thick for him to easily manipulate anything else. Le Chiffre had on a leather coat against the night chill.
It took a few more close calls, but James managed to have the assassin crash down against Le Chiffre, who hadn’t moved from the landing, and to land on top. Blood was dripping from cuts on his cheek and around his arm, but he got a loop of wire around the assassin’s neck and his hands wrapped in Le Chiffre’s coat, and he yanked.
His grip slipped a few times. The coat got jerked away, leaving his palms to get razored by the wire till he managed to get some protection wrapped around them again. He ended up cutting into the arteries before the other man choked or before he could break the man’s neck, and so it was disgustingly messy. Salty blood got into James’ mouth and started to stick his eyelashes together.
When he was done, he looked up and then he had the explanation for why Le Chiffre hadn’t made a break for it: the other man was half-curled beneath the corpse, violently shaking so his eyes had nearly rolled back into his head. He focused on James for a split second and his mouth moved, but then the spasms had him again.
James grunted, pulled himself to his feet, and hauled up the corpse. “I need you to walk.”
Le Chiffre got enough of a hold on himself to glare upwards. Then his head jerked back so far that for a moment, it almost seemed as if his spine had been broken.
After a moment of watching the man shudder, James dropped the corpse and knelt down by Le Chiffre. He started to wipe his hand on his trousers, but then snorted to himself and just seized the other man by the hair, smearing blood all in it.
His lips got caught by Le Chiffre’s chattering teeth, and then his tongue. He forced past that, pressing down till he’d made the other man’s mouth still. He pushed at Le Chiffre with his hand, pinning this limb and then that, and he knew he was using enough force to hurt. He could feel the pained grimaces working up through the nervous spasms. James pressed harder, making a point of his fingers and gouging into the soft flesh where thigh flowed into torso.
Le Chiffre’s tongue slapped wetly against the side of James’ mouth, its tip briefly forcing their lips apart. Then the other man dragged it back in to run across James’ teeth. He stopped there, his body going nearly slack, before a sudden, vicious tremble tore through him so he threw himself up against James.
James drove his fingers harder into Le Chiffre’s thighs, then moved them back and pressed till he could distinguish between Le Chiffre’s scrotum and cock. He ground the heel of his hand into both till the other man’s head knocked back against the floor and his eyes stared dazedly up past James. Air whistled in and out of Le Chiffre’s mouth as very slowly, he got the tremors under control.
Once the shakes seemed to be on the verge of a resurgence, but James slipped his fingers under Le Chiffre’s balls and then clenched them, and they went away. Le Chiffre groaned, eyes rolling around to stare at James. He was breathing heavily, and his nostrils flared when a little blood dripped off James’ face onto his. His eyes widened when James rubbed away the red welling from beneath his left eye.
“It would’ve been minor surgery to take care of that. Makes me think you wanted somebody to come at you with a big knotted rope,” James said. He put one hand on the ground, careful to adjust for the blood all over it, then pushed himself to his feet. Then he dragged up Le Chiffre.
“How much do you think your life’s worth? You insist on betting it for almost anyone,” Le Chiffre retorted. His eyes were bright and he still was shaking a little. Occasionally his pupils would unfocus, and then he’d jerk his head as if he were trying to calculate something but kept losing his train of thought. “The odds don’t make sense.”
James smiled with his mouth closed as he bent to get the body again. “You can’t break everything down into numbers.”
“What?” Le Chiffre stared hard at him. Then the other man hit the side of his head, but that didn’t seem to help—he staggered to the side and half-collapsed against the wall. “What did you say?”
“I’m making conversation, is all.” Something to keep the part of him that had to remember how to behave with people occupied while the rest of him figured out where the body could go, how the bloodstains were getting cleaned. “Go up. Up, now.”
The other man did as he was told, though he frequently looked back at James with confusion lurking in the backs of his eyes. But just as often, he started down again as if to give James a hand, and then was caught by a shake. He started when James gave him a hand during one of those, then slowly turned to keep his eyes on James as James dragged the body past him.
“The inhaler’s in the room,” James finally said. He wasn’t surprised to see the look in Le Chiffre’s eyes change. “Or did you want the syringe?”
Le Chiffre pressed his lips into a line, then looked down. He absently wiped at the left side of his face. “I don’t remember which one I had last. Do you?”
* * *
Body gone. Ruined clothes bagged and ready to destroy. The water coming out of the showerhead was warm because Le Chiffre had seen enough people die so that even if he’d forgotten about that, the apathy was still ingrained into him.
James fucked him while the blood spiraled down the drain. The stall was big enough for them to go at it while lying down, just like last time, but Le Chiffre hooked and clawed and bit at James instead of clinging to him. Broader hips, smooth flat chest, hair on the legs wrapping around James that scratched his skin. The lips felt almost the same, small and folded and shaking beneath his mouth, but the moans were more guttural, the left thigh had the harder shake to it, the ass was tighter and harder to hold onto.
The blood welled constantly beneath Le Chiffre’s eye, and James eventually put his mouth over it and just nursed it, sucked it off as it came. Le Chiffre groaned and clutched at James’ shoulders, eyes rolled to always look beyond James, but he moved the right ways and he arched and he screamed when he was supposed to.
* * *
“I think I tried to kill you. Didn’t I?” Le Chiffre thoughtfully said. He shifted so the sheets wrapped around them rustled, stretched more tautly over the outline of his body. His mouth touched the side of James’ jaw when James slid one hand over his back and down his buttock. “You never returned the favor. I’m not even sure if you tried.”
James closed his eyes, tracking where Le Chiffre’s mouth moved by touch. He stretched his arm up over his head, slipping it beneath the pillow, and listened to the silence in the room. Then he twisted his arm around, dropping it so his fingers just poked between the mattress and the bed-frame.
“Of course, you want me alive now…” Le Chiffre’s voice trailed off. He went tense for a split second against James, then abruptly dug his nails into James’ arm. “Wait! I can—”
That hadn’t been for James. But by then James’ fingers had grazed the knife he had shoved beneath the mattress. He rolled and whipped it towards the slight movement on the other side of the room.
This time, they’d tried shooting at him first so the bullet buried itself in the mattress. James made sure this one was dead, then got up to look at Le Chiffre.
The other man stared back. “I think you’ve gotten better since the last time I saw you. You knew I’d try again.”
James shrugged and went back to bed. He sat down on the edge and picked up his mobile phone to call it in, but after dialing, he picked up the inhaler off the end-table. While he was waiting for the call to go through, he swapped out the inhaler cartridge for a fresh one before handing it to Le Chiffre.
“Well, if they can’t get you, then that improves the statistics for…” Le Chiffre paused to put the inhaler in his mouth and give himself a dose, leaning over to rest his head on James’ shoulder “…for…what…”
He frowned, staring at his trembling hand, then tried to whip around to look at James. But his body was already failing him, and so he didn’t make it all the way around before his head hit the bed beside James.
“It’s my superiors that want you alive,” James muttered. He stroked Le Chiffre’s twitching shoulder till it stopped moving, then answered the voice crackling in his ear. “Yes, ready for pick-up.”
* * *
“I brought him back. Are you getting anything out of him?” James idly drew his fingertip around the rim of his coffee-mug.
He could feel M’s disapproving stare beaming at him from across the room, so he didn’t need to look up to confirm it. “He’s talking. He’s…Bond. Why are you interested?”
“Oh, I’m not. I couldn’t care at all what happens to the bastard,” James said. He picked up his mug and sipped at it. It was unexpectedly bitter and he grimaced, but after a moment’s thought, he tried again. This time it went down better.
M had watched all of that, and judging from her expression when he looked at her, she hadn’t missed a single thing. “Bond.”
“The second time always seems to be easier, doesn’t it?” He took another drink. “Do you have a third for me, or can I go ahead with my plans to try out the new car the labs have put out? It looks quite nifty.”
“‘Nifty’ is hardly a word I trust you to use,” M primly said. “But as it happens, a situation has come up in Panama…”