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Bond. James Bond

"Finders, Keepers" - A James Bond Fic from 2001 - Part 1

Posted on 2009.11.10 at 14:03
Tags:
Ian Fleming's

James Bond

in

Finders, Keepers

By

Jonathan Andrew Sheen




            When James Bond stepped off the 747 at Logan International Airport, Felix Leiter was there to meet him with a cheerful smirk and a wave of his plastic right hand.

            "Hullo, James. How's the Import-Export biz?"

            Bond shook his head at his old friend. Since retiring from the CIA, Felix had had great fun lampooning what he liked to call "the spy game." He was as willing as ever, of course, to jump in and help out -- but always with an arch sense of mockery. "Silly enough game," he'd told Bond more than once, "for grown men to be playing."

            Bond returned the smile and shook hands with his old friend. He looked down at their hands, the warmth of their clasp contrasting in Bond's mind with the cool plastic of Leiter's prosthetic hand.

            Leiter walked Bond back toward the security gate, and with a nod to the customs agent and a jerk of his head toward Bond, they were free of the desk and on their way into a back hallway to the baggage handling area.

            They were met there by a smiling, balding olive-skinned man, who spoke with a soft latin accent, Portuguese, perhaps, or maybe Brazilian. "Felix," he said, pointing at the scuffed brown suitcase that had been Bond's traveling companion for more years than he cared to count, "Is this the one you meant?"

            "Sure is, Gus," he said. "Gracias, amigo."

            Bond smiled and nodded, and stepped forward to take the suitcase, but Leiter angled him away from it. "Forget that, Jack," he said, a little sharply under his overtly bantering tone. "I'll worry about the bag. You worry about your briefcase. If you juggle 'em, you're likely to drop one, and set off the tear-gas!"

            He reached down with his artificial right hand, and grabbed the suitcase's handle. Bond was surprised by the ease and quickness with which he picked up the heavy bag. Leiter caught his raised eyebrow and grinned. "You'd be amazed at the advances in prosthetics, James. I'm almost the Six Million Dollar Man, these days!"

            He clapped Gus on the shoulder. "Seeya Later, Gus!"

            Gus smiled. "So long, Felix. Nice to meet you, Mr. Boldman."

            Bond nodded. "And you, Gus."

            They shook hands, and Felix led Bond onward, down another back hallway. Bond leaned toward him, and muttered, "I'm sure Gus enjoyed that joke about the tear-gas."

            Felix ran his flesh-and-blood left hand through his still-sandy blond hair. "I'm pretty sure Agent Flores isn't a security risk, Mister Nought-Nought-Seven, sir."

            "Agent Flores?"

            "Augusto Flores. DEA." They walked through an unpainted metal door into the late-afternoon sunshine of an employee car-park. "Working a smuggling case. Expect to see his boss on the news tomorrow, announcing a massive bust of airline baggage-handlers and flight-crews."

            "I take it you know him from your time with the DEA?"

            "Naw," Felix laughed. "Just met him a couple of hours ago. He was just one of the baggage handlers who helped me arrange to pull your stuff, but I recognized the `look,' if you know what I mean."

            Bond did indeed. There was a kind of hardness, an alertness around the eyes, that law enforcement people tended to develop. Bond hadn't seen it in Flores, but that did't mean Felix hadn't. For all his corn-pone Texan charm, Leiter was a sharp man, and as hard as anyone could need him to be.

            Felix led Bond to a cream-colored 1986 Cadillac Seville, a singularly unattractive car with a trunk that had been chopped-off in a vain attempt to recall the look of the rear end of a Rolls Royce. The slanting rays of the afternoon sun painted the driver's side with a vivid golden glow, but even that couldn't rescue the car from its aesthetic deficiencies. Bond raised an eyebrow at Felix.

            "Ugly as sin, isn't it?" said Leiter with a smile. He reached into his pocket, and the doors unlocked with a solid "thunk!" but without the usual bleat of alarms. Bond approved; cars ought not to cry out for attention -- especially when the drivers were in his and Leiter's line of work. "Well," said Felix, as he opened the back door and tossed Bond's suitcase on the seat. "Its original engine was a big ol' V-8, and that rattled around under the hood like a pea in the Astrodome. It just didn't seem right, wasting all that space, so I took it out and put in a custom-built racing V-12. Off-the-rack these bad boys could do 120 easy. I've had this one at 165." He smiled as he opened the passenger door for Bond. "It's not an ejector seat, but it'll do."

            Bond handed his briefcase to Leiter, and climbed into the car, roomy and luxuriously appointed. The seats were real leather, in a tasteful light brown, and immaculately cared for.

            Leiter tossed the briefcase in back, on top of the suitcase, and Bond laughed. "Careful of the tear-gas, Felix!"

            Felix grinned as he rounded the car and climbed in behind the wheel, and Bond watched with a certain impressed regard as Leiter grabbed the gear-shift with his artificial hand. As always where the prosthesis was concerned, Leiter noticed his friend's look, and as usual, dismissed it with a grin.

            "I told you, James. These days, I'm practically bionic! Here, look at this." Leiter pushed up his sleeve past the seam that marked the top end of his prosthesis, and grabbed the wrist firmly in his left hand. A twist and a pull, and he had separated it from the stump of his forearm, and he gestured that stump toward Bond. There was a smooth, burnished steel knob protruding from his flesh, and a series of small wires leading from the false hand into what looked to be small cuts in the stump.

            "See those wires? They plug into little sockets under these flaps" -- Leiter casually opened one of the "cuts" with a thumb and forefinger, revealing a prosaic plug-and-socket affair that would have looked at home on a personal stereo. -- "and those sockets are actually wired into the nerves of my arm. Some of 'em carry commands to the prosthesis. Some of 'em actually carry feedback from sensor pads built into this thing." He waved the stump of the prosthetic hand. Bond found the gesture both amusing and disturbing. "I can actually feel now, after a fashion. And the knob plugs right into a receptacle in the prosthetic, for a good, strong connection. I can lift more with this one than the real one, and this one never gets tired."

            Felix plugged the steel knob protruding from his arm into the prosthetic, and twisted it into place.

            "The thing is a goddamned miracle, James." Leiter rolled his sleeve back down again, and calmly started the car. "Don't get me wrong," he said, shifting smoothly into reverse with the artificial hand, "I can't pull dimes out of my pocket with it, or anything as grandiose as that, but it's a goddamned miracle nonetheless."

            He shifted back into gear, and they were off.

            As they entered the sheltered darkness of the Sumner Tunnel, Bond turned to Felix. "So what's this all about, anyway? What's in Boston that I absolutely need to see?"

            "Well," said Felix, steering expertly amongst the cars, and gaining considerably on traffic as they came out of the tunnel, "There's the State House, there's Fanuel Hall, the Bunker Hill monument - all sorts of memorabilia connected to giving you limey bastards what for -- the New England Aquarium is quite nice-"

            "Felix!" cried Bond, and his friend relented. Bond, as it has been stated before, treasured his few men friends, and none more than Felix Leiter. It was not just common adventures shared down the years, but Leiter's indomitable spirit, his ability to hold his smiling head up, no matter what blows life dealt him.

            "All right, all right," said Felix. "It's not in Boston. We're headed west, into the middle of nowhere, Massachusetts." He paused for a moment, expertly merging into traffic on a fair-sized motorway advertised by signs as the "Mass Pike."

            Leiter swore cheerfully at a mini-van, swung around it, and into the left lane, and lowered his foot on the gas.

            "Remember about fifteen years ago," he said, "when we didn't win the Cold War?"

            Bond smiled sheepishly at the memory. "Well, we didn't lose it, either."

            "Not for lack of trying," said Felix. "The West may have won the Cold War, but no thanks to us. Not on that caper, anyway."

            Bond shook his head, and glanced involuntarily skyward. "I can't argue with you, Felix. We botched that job."

            Leiter grinned. "Listen, I want you to talk me through that case. As if you were reporting it to that old monster, M."

            "What's the point of that?" Bond snapped, as Leiter slowed down and pulled through a toll-booth without stopping. "You know what happened as well as I do!"

            Felix sighed. "Humor me, willya? Just on the off-chance I know what I'm doing."

            "Oh, all right," said Bond, and thought back to the Spring of 1986.


            "'Fraid our American cousins have let down the side again, 007," M told Bond, in the warm yellow light of his office. "Frightful mess. You know their President has been pushing this `Star Wars' program of his. Seems rather foolish, of course, but that's how it's meant to seem. The science behind it is quite serious stuff."

            "I understand they've developed a prototype particle-beam weapon," said Bond.

            "The Russians share your understanding. Poppycock, pure and simple. That sort of technology is decades off. But it keeps our Soviet friends busy enough, and that's a help.

            "No, what the Americans have really been developing is something called `Thor.'" M shuffled through the papers on his red leather desktop, selected one. "Simple enough thing, really, but quite devastating. It's essentially a swarm of crowbars, believe it or not. Long, tapered bars of molybdenum steel, released into orbit. They've got a simple guidance system, and a modest computer system aboard. Nothing much. Just enough senses and enough sense to recognize a target, and fall on it."

            "Seems an awful lot of trouble to go through to throw spears at tanks, sir," said Bond.

            "Y'think so, eh?" said M, peevishly. "The energy they gain on the way down is such that they strike like pocket nukes. More powerful than anything used on the modern battlefield. They arrive at a speed many times the speed of sound. The released energy is largely in the form of heat and gamma rays, but even the shock wave is greater than the one that accompanied the detonation of the Hiroshima bomb." M held a photograph out to Bond. "This is a Bradley Tank they hit with a test drop."

            The photograph showed an oddly-shaped hump of material with bits of metal -- gears and tread segments, part of what looked like a hatch -- protruding randomly from its lumpy surface. A long, curved pole protruded from near the top, arcing up and then down smoothly, to point toward the ground. Bond belatedly recognized it as the barrel of the tank's main gun.

            "Tidy," said Bond, deeply impressed.

            "Quite," M replied, showing his irritation at Bond's accustomed flippancy toward destruction. "It's cheap, it's easy, it's low-tech, and it's devastatingly effective. It could single-handedly turn the global balance of power forever."

            He opened a wooden canister on his desk, and began loading his pipe with fresh tobacco. "Bloody shame the Americans have let it get stolen."

            "Stolen!" Bond looked back up at M. "Surely if they've got working prototypes in Orbit-"

            "That's very much the problem, I'm afraid, 007. There were six in orbit, all successfully used in tests. The Bradley you see there, a missile silo in Montana, an unmanned jumbo jet over Area 51, a mocked-up radar installation with full ECM aimed at it, in Nevada, a railroad bridge over the Snake River Canyon, and the USS Airy Wave, which I gather was a decommissioned World War II destroyer. That must have been quite the sight to see. They say she folded up in the middle like so much clean laundry." M lit his pipe. In the dancing flames, his grey eyes showed a glint of red. "Then the Americans launched their second wave of prototypes." He puffed at his pipe for a moment. "Two hundred and fifty of them.

            "Well, it seems our cousins practiced heavy security by making sure that all the engineering data for this thing, and all the control codes as well -- massively encrypted stuff, that -- were stored on a portable, removable computer hard-drive. A vast thing, capable of storing what the computer folk call a Gigabyte -- that's a thousand Megabytes, or a million bytes -- of information, in no more space than a good-sized hardcover book." He slapped the dictionary on his desk.

            "That's extraordinary!" said Bond. He'd worked with some of the computers in the basement of the old grey building on Regent's Park, and knew that a Gigabyte was equal to nearly a thousand of the 8" computer disks he'd seen the technicians -- very few were actually "programmers," it turned out -- handling. Each of those held the equivalent amount of text to your average popular novel.

            "Indeed," huffed M. "The idea is that this hard drive is removed from the computer, and locked away in a safe.

            "Well, in this case, it was removed from the computer by the project's chief scientist, a fella named Novotny, and removed from the research complex in Utah. Novotny's disappeared with all the plans." He gestured skyward, contempt deepening the lines in his hardened sailor's face. "Now the Americans have no more means of controlling those bloody things than we do, and, unless we can stop Novotny, the Russians will."

            "You mean Novotny's loyalties were still to Russia?" Bond asked. "The mole running for home?"

            "Nothing of the sort, 007!" barked M. "Novotny's one-hundred-percent all-American. His loyalties are beyond question. He's loyal to the almighty dollar! We've intercepted a top-secret Kremlin cable. Novotny's selling the hard drive to the Kremlin for one million dollars."

            "Do we know where the buy is supposed to take place?"

            "Berlin," said M. "Right on the doorstep of Checkpoint Charlie, apparently. Exchanged via the usual Soviet `blind drop.' Nothing more specific than that, though.

            "The CIA are sending a man out. Seems they want to make sure it goes right, because they've called one of their old veterans out of retirement. Your old friend Leiter. When we expressed an interest in having one of our own join in on the hunt, he requested you. I didn't see the harm in it, so you're in."

            M puffed at his pipe for a moment. "If the Russians get their hands on Thor, James, the world will be a very different -- very ugly -- place. The Soviet's empire is crumbling underneath them. Thor might not be enough to prop that empire up but they've nothing to lose, either, and the thing's cheap enough that they are certain to use it. That can't be allowed to happen. You have to get Thor back."


            Felix looked measuringly at Bond as he pulled, without slowing, through another tollbooth, and moved swiftly along a curving ramp, leaving the turnpike behind for a highway called "Route 495." Bond had heard of it, in fact: Route 495 was a roughly semicircular highway allowing drivers on the main Artery of the American East Coast -- the infamous "I-95" which stretches from Maine to Florida -- to bypass the sprawl of Boston proper, at a distance of some 30 miles from the city itself. It was gaining fame as a high-tech highway, as the mass of software and internet firms that had made Boston's nearer bypass road, Route 128, a second Silicon Valley expanded westward. Bond was beginning to make a connection. Was there a connection to the Thor affair amongst those technological giants?

            "Didn't your boss want you to get Thor for Jolly Olde Englande?" Felix chuckled. "He always struck me as thinking that all the rest of us were foreigners."

            Bond only smiled.

            "Anyway," said Leiter, "You seemed a bit cagey when you were getting off the plane in Berlin."


            Well, that had been true enough. M had not, in fact, instructed Bond to try to get Thor for Queen and Country, but Bond had been left with the clear impression that the old man wanted just that. He'd mulled it over all the while aboard the British Airways Airbus that carried him from Gatwick. In the end, as the jet angled down to Tempelhof, with its oval road around the runways and distinctive, eagle-shaped terminal, he decided to wait and see what happened. There was no point in concerning himself with possibilities that were as yet outside his control. When Thor - or at least that damnable computer drive -- was in his hands, he could decide whether to hand it to Felix. Until then, the question was moot.

            He'd driven Leiter on that occasion, in a Rented Saab 900 Turbo not too different from his own, through the crowded, busy, cosmopolitan streets of West Berlin.

            "The Germans say their National Bird is the Crane," said Bond, gesturing out the window at one of the hundreds of construction sites in the city. A crane there swung a large metal ball at the still-standing remains of one wall of a factory. A single smokestack pointed like an accusing finger at the clouds, its top already crumbled into a ragged, torn fingernail. Across the way, another titanic crane was using a huge electromagnet to lift a steel beam to the rooftop of the partially-completed expansion of a broadcasting center. A metal spire reached skyward, encrusted with barnacles of microwave dishes. A large satellite dish looked skyward from the roof, partially obscured behind green illuminated letters that read "F.A.B."

            Bond swung the Saab through the traffic with practiced ease. Drive in Germany once, and you're ready to do it for the rest of your life. The Germans drove with a meticulous precision and enormous speed that spoke of perfect coordination with one another. The whole nation was like a vast machine, operating smoothly and synchronously, and its people were not so much citizens as components. Bond had wondered at it before, and had in the process become convinced that it was a key to the culture, a great strength of these people, but also, when a Hitler came on the scene, their downfall.

            Soon they were approaching the candy-striped barriers and low, off-white buildings of Checkpoint Charlie. To their right, the flat, windowless wall of a building announced, in faded letters, "Neue Zeit" -- "New Time." Bond wondered whether a new time would indeed come for this fractured nation and its crisp, efficient people. He wasn't sure whether it would, and wasn't sure whether he hoped it would.

            Bond pulled to a stop at the first barrier, and one of the checkpoint guards approached the car. He was a Marine corporal, a hulking black man with surprisingly gentle features, his left eyelid drooping sleepily over the eye.

            Leiter leaned over and held his I.D. out to the guard, who looked it over briefly and handed it back. "Good to see you, Mr. Leiter," he said, his deep voice as gentle as his face. "And you'd be Mr. Bond?" Bond nodded. The guard gestured to one side. "I'm Corporal Lansing. Just park over there, and I'll bring you to Mr. Perlin's office. He's expecting you."

            Bond parked where he was directed, and he and Leiter stepped back over to Lansing.

            "Right this way," said Lansing, and they were off. Lansing paused to pick up a discarded candy wrapper from the pavement between two cars. "People are such slobs," he told them, with a smile. "There's a trashcan right here by the door." He dropped the wrapper into the dustbin, and led them into one of the off-white huts that were the only buildings in the historic crossing point between freedom and the grey repression of the Soviet Bloc.

            The corporal led them through a door into a smallish supply-room, and pushed the side of a large metal Dumpster. It rolled smoothly on a recessed track, to reveal a clean, well-lit flight of stairs leading down below ground level. There they walked through a series of institutional-green corridors, lit by bright florescent lights, to an unremarkable paneled door, on which Lansing rapped twice.

            "Come!" called a gravelly voice, and Lansing opened the door and led them in.

            The office was roomy enough, given their underground location, with a desk at one end and a few chairs and a small table in the middle. Behind the desk was a smallish man in civilian attire. He was in his mid-to-late 50's, with dark, greying hair, and a face lined and weary, but a brightness and humor in his dark-grey eyes.

            "Felix, good to see you," he said, rounding the desk. "And I expect you're Commander Bond?" The dark-haired man shook both their hands. "I'm Bill Perlin, CIA station chief. Good to meet you." He clapped a hand on Lansing's shoulder. "Thanks, Dave, I think we're all set."

            The corporal nodded, and smiled again at Bond and Leiter. "A pleasure to meet you, Gentlemen," he said, and stepped back into the corridor, closing the door behind him.

            Perlin nodded toward the door. "Dave Lansing's a good man. I hope the U.S. Marines can keep him." He waved them to the chairs. "Here, have a seat, and let me know how we can help you."

            "Well, it's fairly straightforward," said Felix Leiter. "You've got the file?"

            Perlin nodded.

            "Well, any help you can give us in keeping an eye out for Novotny can only help. The Russians are going to be leaving the money for him somewhere nearby in a typical blind drop. Some random-looking rubbish-bag will contain a million dollars US, and Novotny will know where and when to go and pick it up. Then he'll plant the hard-drive in a similar manner for his Soviet contact to pick up and bring home to Mother Russia. The SIGINT we got didn't tell us where Novotny is or will be before or after the drop. Only that the cash drop was arranged based on coded co-ordinates centered on Checkpoint Charlie. Our cypher boys haven't successfully cracked the co-ordinates yet. They expect to sometime next week, though!"

            Perlin laughed at that. "Cheops' Law in action. No mistaking this for anything but a Government operation. We've distributed Novotny's picture to the guards with orders to detain on sight. They don't know why, of course. No need to share little details like that with the men. Probably think it's a drug operation."

            "That's fine with us," said Felix, and Bond nodded.

            "Should be easy enough to spot," said Perlin, gesturing at the photo of Novotny that was paper-clipped to the file. The photograph showed a man with long, dark hair, curling down around the sides of his face, and a rich, full beard. "That's a recent photo, and he still looks like a Jesus freak from 1969."

            Bond shook his head with a half-smile. "The trouble with using hair and beards and the like as an identifier is that they come off relatively easily." He looked again at the photograph of Novotny, his gently-smiling lips and clever, sardonic eyes seeming to laugh at Bond. "Look instead at the shape of the nose -- see how long and fine it is? - and the mouth and -- to a lesser extent -- the eyes. Those are the harder to change."

            Perlin shrugged. "This isn't a trained operative, Commander Bond." he said. "In my experience, people outside the field don't change their whole appearance."

            "He's well-motivated," replied Bond.

            Perlin smiled."In any case, is there any more we here can do for you?"

            Leiter smiled. "All we can do is start wearing down our shoe-leather. You know how to get in touch with us if you get any updates, right?"

            "You bet," said Perlin. "You'll be hearing from us before the phone stops ringing."


            Berlin has long had a reputation as being one of the most sophisticated, cosmopolitan -- and decadent -- cities in the world. The streets around Checkpoint Charlie were filled with throngs representing all of what was right and wrong with modern urban culture: strutting, teenagers in full punk regalia, triumphing in every eyebrow they raised; staid, suited, briefcase-carrying businessmen and women marching from bank to brokerage; streetwalkers, tourists, soldiers, vendors, and amongst them, Bond and Leiter, seeming to wander at random, looking searchingly into the eyes and mouths of men on all sides.

            "Too much more of this," said Leiter with a wry half-smile, "And we're going to be invited to a nice gay bar."

            They'd been searching for two hours, with no results, staring at bald men and hairy men and men in suits and men in workmen's cover-alls and men with beards and men with mustaches and men with clean faces.

            Bond agreed. "We're getting nowhere. It's time to start using our brains instead of just our eyes."

            "What have you got in mind?"

            "Look. Until two days ago, he was living in Utah. Now he's here in Berlin. That's, what, 9 hours time difference? It's 3:30 here, but for Novotny, it's six-thirty in the morning."

            Leiter nodded. "I think I see where you're going with this."

            They looked at each other. "Breakfast," they said, in unison, and Bond continued, "Let's see how many middle-aged men can we find who are having breakfast."


            Leiter looked over at Bond as he pulled the Cadillac off of the Massachusetts highway onto a secondary road marked "Route 62" and headed west. "I still say it made more sense than trying to find him walking the strassen around Checkpoint Charlie," he told Bond.

            "Well," said Bond, "I don't know about your boss, but mine was interested in results. Those were pretty thin on the ground."

            "Can't argue with that," replied Felix Leiter.


            Middle-aged American tourists weren't particularly thin on the ground, however. As Bond and Leiter canvassed hotels and restaurants and cafés, studying plates and then faces, they saw eggs and bacon and pancakes -- "flapjacks," Leiter called them -- and waffles and cereals, hot and cold, being eaten by men and women and children... But none with the long, fine nose or humorous eyes that marked Novotny.

            By eight o'clock, they were re-thinking their strategy when Leiter's pocket-pager beeped plaintively for his attention. "Coming, Mother," he murmured, pulling it from his pocket and glancing at the readout. His face became serious. "Back to Perlin's office, James," he said. "Something's hit the fan."

            Lansing met them, looking particularly grim, and led them down again to Perlin's office. Perlin, closing the door swiftly behind the departing Lansing, wasted no time getting to the point. "We've pulled in some new SIGINT. There's been some sort of SNAFU. Accusations flying back and forth between Moscow and Novotny. He's claiming they didn't leave him the money. They're accusing him of trying to hold them up for more. The air's thick with signals. We're pulling 'em off of a Soviet bird. Can't locate the sources, I'm afraid."

            He turned, and looked at Bond. "Your boss asked that you call him."


            M demanded Bond's report without preamble, and interrupted it near the end. "What you're telling me, 007, is that, while your target was standing in front of Checkpoint Charlie, agitatedly checking rubbish-bags, you and Mr. Leiter were busy at the International House of Pancakes, watching aging Americans complain about the paucity of `real maple syrup!'"

            "Well, sir," Bond replied, "It seemed a reasonable-"

            "I'm sure that, when Redland is deploying Thor, 007, we'll all sleep better in our beds knowing you let it slip through our fingers because it seemed reasonable at the time!"


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