Sun Tzu said that no plan of battle survives contact with the enemy. This is never truer than in the world of covert operations. In small ways and large, plans always, always change. Sometimes the other guy is smarter, sometimes he's dumber, sometimes he's weaker or stronger. And sometimes, he's just plain crazier.
Covert professionals are like professional card players. They know the odds, and they play them with mathematical precision, and keep their cool when a wild card gets dealt into their hand.
“You see what I mean, Mike?” said Sam. “He shows up, and the bodies are flying everywhere!” He peeled a bloodsoaked piece of a napkin from a small wound on his neck. “This is a whole new ball game now!”
“Give me the numbers, Sam,” said Michael, evenly.
“Two dead,” said Sam. “Couple guys sitting right in front of the window. Twenty-eight in the hospital. Three of them are iffy.”
“I think we have to drop out,” added Fiona. “A car bombing in Miami? Now we're looking at an honest-to-God terrorist attack on American soil, the same thing that happens in Israel and Iraq every day. DHS will be flooding the zone. It's too hot.”
“Yeah,” said Sam, tearing the corner off another napkin and pressing it onto his neck. “Letting the cell think they got him would have given us breathing room to start getting names from Yusuf. Could have been enough to get him a deal. But now that there's a car-bomb in the picture, there's no way the spooks'll move. He goes straight to Guantanamo, whatever he tells them.”
“Well...” Michael was looking out the window. “No way our spooks will move. There are others.”
“It does seem awfully convenient, doesn't it?” mused Fiona. “Especially when one of the networks is the UK.”
“Of course,” Michael's voice was even, “he says he's retired.” His voice took on a Scots brogue. “On holiday.”
“True,” said Sam. “And we all know spies never, ever, ever lie about what they're doing. What could you have been thinking, Fi?”
Michael smiled. “Retired or not, he'll have contacts. And the British are a lot calmer about this stuff, even after 7/7.”
“More used to it,” said Fiona, in a tone that caused Michael's head to rise.
“Well, hell,” Sam began, but was interrupted by a pounding at the door.
Michael made his way over, and looked through the hidden peephole.
The exasperated face of James Bond was staring straight at him. “Westen,” he barked, “let me in for Christ's sake, before whoever's watching you notices!”
Spies all share certain things in common. Lots of training, for one thing. An awareness of the hidden structures and patterns that underlie day-to-day life. Where civilians go to the store and buy a loaf of bread, spies see infrastructures with vulnerabilities: Roads, sidewalks, food-supply-chains, banking systems.
And all spies have a desire not to be seen, not to be known. You want to make a spy squirm? Show up at his house. It will set him back on his heels, make him uncomfortable – downright twitchy, in fact. It will make him feel exposed, make him feel vulnerable, and make him feel like you're better at tradecraft than he is.
And sometimes, that will be true.
Michael stepped back quickly, pulling the door open, and almost tripped over his own shoes as he did so.
The old man strode past him, grey-blue eyes racing over the loft as if they knew what to expect before seeing it. He nodded with seeming satisfaction at Fiona and Sam, and looked back at Michael, who stood with his hand on the knob of the open door.
“Perhaps you should close that,” he told Michael dryly, and Michael shook his head and obeyed.
“What brings you here?” Michael asked as he followed in Bond's wake. He gestured around the apartment with a toss of his head. “Not exactly a holiday destination, after all.”
“Yes, well,” Bond's tone was dark. “That's a bit of a loss for the day already. The police at the bar said there's an Al Qaeda cell working in Miami.”
“You bugged the police?” asked Sam.
Bond's face was deadpan. “If you call a champagne glass against the kitchen door bugging, certainly.” He turned back to face Michael fully. “I called an old friend of mine. Vivienne Michele.”
“Publisher of the Sun,” supplied Sam.
“She's got quite a file on you. There are a lot of holes, of course, not enough to go to press, and Viv's not sure that publishing would be a good idea anyway. But from what she's got, it seems like since you've been, er, demobilized in the field, you've set up shop as a sort of neighborhood do-gooder here. Tradecraft for hire to the deserving underdog.” Bond smiled. “If Al Qaeda is blowing you up, well... You're in deeper, more dangerous waters.”
As if you didn't know, thought Michael. He drew a deep breath. “Well, Mr. Bond, what with getting blown up by Al Qaeda and all, I've got a fairly full week, so if you could--”
“Well, what with you getting me blown up by Al Qaeda, It seems to me that if I want to enjoy my holiday, I'll have to keep an eye on your mess.” Bond pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. When he spoke again, his tone was kinder. “Listen, you did very well, there.” He glanced around at Sam and Fiona. “All three of you did.” He turned back to Michael. “I think you could use my help. Am I wrong?”
Michael regarded him silently for a long, long moment. “No,” he finally said. “No, you're not. Just how 'retired' are you?”
The gaze Bond returned should have caused Michael to whither away. “Very.”
“But your word is still good with your Service? You can still make a call?”
Bond's shoulders seemed to slump a little. “If I must. But I decide, Westen. Tell me your story, and then we'll see.”
Put two nurses or two teachers or two hookers together in a room, and they talk shop, sinking into jargon that no outsider will understand. The same is true of other caring professions, like spying. It's fun, it's more secure, you get to sound mysterious... And it's quick. Talking to someone who understands your business, you can just hit the high points, and they'll know the rest.
“So,” said Bond, “you want me to call my people, and steal a legitimate American target from American territory, spirit him away to one of our safe houses, and milk him for intelligence, in violation of treaties, agreements, and years of traditional cooperation between my service and all of yours?”
Michael's eyes crinkled, just slightly, glancing over at Fi as he blandly nodded. “That works.”
Bond looked him in the eye. “Consider it done. I think we'll want to go through C, and minimize his travel. I'll call the head of station, and get her setting up the safe house.”
“How long?” asked Michael.
“Three days, maybe four. I'll let you know.” Bond paused. “The family?”
Michael shook his head. “No brothers or sisters. Father was killed when he was eight. Stepped into a bodega during a robbery.”
“I'll make sure there's room for the mother then,” said Bond. “Will you be picking her up?”
“Sam,” replied Michael.
“I will?” said Sam, his tone surprised.
Bond glanced at him. “I've heard you were once quite good, Axe. And probably still in the field, but for that sense of humour.”
Sam shrugged. “Well... And my feet. Worst foot odor you ever smelled, even the French could smell me coming.”
This startled an actual laugh from Bond, and he nodded at Sam. “Good. We'll keep a pair of your socks in reserve in case we need a devastator.”
He returned his gaze to Michael, sizing him up for another long moment. “I don't know what to make of you, Westen. Your record is, well...” Bond cleared his throat. “But your current status... Still, Viv tells me you're trustworthy, burn notice or no. You've bitten off quite a mouthful this time. I damned well hope you can chew it.”
He turned and was gone, the door closing quietly behind him.
“So do I,” Michael said to it. “So do I.”