1

Topic: Trouble Comes Alone- A Short Story

Trouble Comes Alone


“What do you think of the London hotels, 007?”


“Wouldn’t know where to begin, sir. “ James Bond said, looking around M’s wood-panelled office with mounting confusion. The crisp aroma of pipe-smoke hung in the air, a habit Bond detested; he had never understood why the old man didn’t move with the times and take delivery of a cache of Morland Specials, the same fine luxury brand of cigarette 007 preferred. Perhaps it was a generational difference. Or, possibly, M retained his pipe as a way of subtly raising the hackles of his younger agents; I am not like you, the burning tip of the pipe seemed to say as it winked and crackled. I am not of your ilk. M took a long thoughtful draught, filling the room with a fresh grey cloud, before returning his attentions at last to the business at hand.


“Hmm.” M murmured vaguely, his battleship-grey eyes sharp with focus in that weather-beaten face. Bond was surprised by the question, to put it mildly. Was his chief thinking of selling out, cashing up, and ending his days as a hotelier in Piccadilly? Bond must have allowed a hint of mockery to twist his cruel mouth and soften his hardened gaze, for a moment later M gave a curt dismissive wave of the clenched fist and said gruffly, “Never mind, 007. Suppose you haven’t been in town much lately, so to speak, what with the El Salvador jaunt.” Bond remembered that trip well, the fresh recent memory of two weeks of slow boredom followed by a quick rushing death that had brought the whole ugly excursion to an end. “Can’t be expected to keep up with the press reviews and so forth. Fine dining critics, Establishment savants, that sort of thing.” M continued airily, attempting to portray the impression of gliding serenely above such earthly common pursuits as reading the newspapers. For Bond’s part he made a habit of taking the morning Times with the regular two scrambled eggs, though his recollections of that publication had of late become misted and sketchy, banished to the corners of his mind along with whatever other floating detritus might distract him from the filthy demands of work, the punishing nine-to-five exhaustion of Service hours.


M fiddled aimlessly with his pipe, making slight slanting gestures this way and that. It was a sign that he was building to an announcement, the knowledge of something big in the pipeline ahead. “Sir?” Bond interjected. “You’ve missed a lot in your absence. Have you heard, perhaps, of the existence of a man called Vyiakin?” M’s voice was soft, adding a touch of delicacy to the final word as if tiptoeing around a particularly large and angry tiger. The name meant nothing to Bond, who waited patiently until M had finished shaking a dull black canker into the ashtray. “No, sir.” He admitted. M looked up with a controlled glare. “Mikhail Vyiakin is just about the most dangerous man the K.G.B. have at the minute. An assassin, a murderer, and ruthless about his work- a thoroughly brutal fellow. We know that he was responsible for a hit job in Stockholm, another in Rome,  and one final appearance in Madrid, all in the space of a month. Now he’s come here- to London.” Bond recognised the dark furrowed brow as M reached for the stalk of the microphone built into his desk. It was warning of a particular toughness the old man only displayed on rare occasions, those times when the least pleasant of orders had to be issued. “Moneypenny,” M said, “Bring the triple-four file.” There was a pause and then Miss Moneypenny herself appeared, resplendent in a cream dress and carrying a manila envelope. “Thank you.” M took the folder. Moneypenny swept to the door, carefully avoiding Bond’s eye. Even she could tell the grim, almost funereal mood that now dominated proceedings in the room.


M drew out a photograph of a swarthy, red-cheeked man with a heavy beard. “This individual is known as Vyiakin. At three this afternoon he will meet with his paymasters here, in London, for his next set of orders. I have decided to test your resolve by setting you the objective of eliminating this dangerous figure. He must be dealt with, finished completely. That qualifier is paramount. Understand?” Bond nodded. “Vyiakin will be taking tea at the Ritz. You will shadow him there, and when the opportunity arises…” M raised his eyebrows. Bond appreciated the implication perfectly. “Good luck, 007. Remember that this is an excellent chance to demonstrate that your abilities on ‘home ground’ still count for something. One slip-up, and there’ll be hell to pay.” M’s voice was harsh. Bond said, “Of course, sir.” Then he retreated from the exalted inner sanctum. M was already buried in shredding old documents, hurling yellowed scraps into the remorseless grinding mangler. Bond knew just how they felt.



The dining room of the Ritz had never been the sort of place Bond patronised. Its French-American façade, squatting bullishly among the terraces emanated a strange air of mystery, alien and foreign to Bond’s mind.  In the heart of London, there was something distinctly otherworldly about this place, a magical realm where foreign visitors were invited to partake in the customary English rituals of scrambled eggs, smoked kippers and the grand ceremonial majesty of ‘tea at the Ritz’, a parade of luxury reduced to faddish commercial entertainment. Bond shuddered.  Amid the bronzed armchairs and amber trellis-work, he took up a corner table and waited. Bond decided to treat himself to a late lunch service. He promptly ordered a fine meal of salmon with crayfish mousse, followed by a rich sweet crème brulee and accompanied by a chilled bottle of Dom Perignon ’57 with two small vodka martinis to finish. It was here, as Bond was sending for the bill, that he first caught sight of his target.


Vyiakin was black-haired, with a bristling dark beard and sour wriggling lips. He ate buttered toast with a savage lack of delicacy, the remaining motions of the ancient moujik, the blunt classical airs of the Russian peasant which could never be purged. Bond almost snorted aloud at the utterly unsophisticated behaviour of his foe, imagining him living in a solid wooden hut in a field on the spar road stretching languorously out of Moscow towards the forested Chekhov provinces.  Eventually a man joined Vyiakin- and Bond gave a start. For where Vyiakin was tall, his companion was less than five feet in height, with glistening red hair and a fat distended stomach. His movements were precise, with none of Vyiakin’s careless haphazard brandishing. Both were speaking a low chattering dialect of Russian openly, ignorant of the curious flickering glances they received from other patrons. They drank tea with gentle brisk sips, Vyiakin accompanying this with a casual slurping as if mimicking the parasitic bloodlust of a mosquito.


Bond strained to hear what was being said. It was approaching ten past and he wondered how long his target would linger at this excruciating stage of pursuit. Eventually Bond saw that Vyiakin’s friend was making his way towards his table. Bond pretended to stare into space, emanating a studied neutral passivity, willing a deterrent effect. He was broken from this reverie by a stub of cold metal jabbing into the base of his back. “Don’t move, Mister Bond.” Bond obeyed the instruction, noticing that Vyiakin was moving to take a place opposite him. From behind one ear the hissing voice said, “I am going to step away. If you try to call for help my accomplice has an automatic levelled at your knee under the table. Get the picture?” Bond indicated his assent by the briefest of jerking nods and Vyiakin offered a leering smile. “Good afternoon.” He was still clutching a miniature cup of tea, the refreshment for which Bond had always felt a deep and instinctual hatred; his preference was always for a jug of strong black coffee, twice at breakfast and a few times more during the evening.


“What can I do for you two gentlemen?” Bond adopted a familiar mode of politeness, trying to put his visitors at ease. “I am afraid you misunderstand us.” Vyiakin laughed. “My colleague, my superior in fact, is known as Kolnerov. He feels I am a little primitive in my behaviour sometimes. It is of little consequence, for I am very good at my job. This employment, as I am sure you are aware, is in the specialist line of killing. Now I shall take the opportunity to kill you.” He gave a quick direct nod, and Kolnerov raised his gun, hardly bothering to hide the thrusting barrel. Bond braced himself for the searing impact as a percussive bang reverberated through the air, but to his shock it was Vyiakin who slumped back in his chair, a weak trickle of pink soaking through the thick distended lips. 
“What the hell’s going on?” Bond said.


Kolnerov gave a shrug. “We have known for several years that Vyiakin is unreliable. He has been passing secrets through a German intermediary to the American CIA. He was only summoned here for one purpose, to discover the true cost of betrayal.  There is a Russian proverb that trouble never comes alone. In Vyiakin’s case, he could not serve two nations- one was always certain to turn on him in the end. It was a maxim he would have done well to learn. That, I think, marks the end of this little charade.” Bond shook his head. “What about me?” Kolnerov slipped the pistol into a trouser holster with the effortless sweep of a Parisian waiter. “My instructions did not concern you. I have carried out my mission to the letter. As I say, that is all there is to this nasty little business. Dos Sverdanye, Mister Bond.” Kolnerov’s icy glare intensified for a moment and then faded as the Russian walked with a casual ambling gait from the dining room, as if a huge weight had been lifted from his bulky shoulders. For James Bond, there was only the crushing certainty of failure, shrouded by the stark knowledge that death was indeed an equal master. It could strike at any time. It could choose any one. It could not be followed or predicted, captured or eliminated. Bond reflected that death was the only true enemy, the only constant nemesis in this foetid numbing nightmare of a Cold War. Somewhere a clock chimed, drapes of funereal black. Bond closed his mind to the world and returned his attentions to the martini glass which sat alone on the table.