NEVER SHAKEN, NEVER STIRRED
His name is Bond, James Bond, and he’s sitting alone in a hotel room in Mutianyu, China, drinking cheap gin straight from the bottle. The hotel bar was closed—no martinis tonight—so he walked three blocks through the drizzling night to a liquor store and asked for the most expensive gin in the house. The filmy-eyed and nearly bald old hen behind the counter had taken a stack of his crisp yuan and given him what was now clearly a bottle of bottom-shelf swill.
He’s here, 70 kilometers north of Beijing—in the middle of nowhere in the Middle Kingdom—to save the world. Intelligence from inside the country indicates that a band of rogue Chinese military officials are converting the Great Wall of China into the world’s longest and deadliest nuclear missile silo—and the only one visible from space.
The job will require infiltration of high-security facilities, cunning disguises, ruthless assassination, and clever wordplay. And he’s ready for it. His Mandarin is flawless, his PP7 loaded and silenced, safety off. His gadgets are laid out on the bedside table: a contact lens video camera; a packet of explosive Kleenex; an iPod that scrambles the electronic transmissions of the brain, reducing its user’s intellect to that of a toddler; a real iPod.
The last item was a life-saver on the airplane, a 12-hour flight from London to Beijing during which he’d had to ride coach. Her majesty isn’t as flush as she used to be, apparently, and there’d been talk that it would help him keep a low profile—a ridiculous notion given the fact that he tells everyone his name anyway, even practices it in front of his mirror before each mission.
He sits on the corner of the bed, takes a gulp of gin, and shudders at the thought of that flight. He’d sat next to a verbose, goateed American hippie heading to some rural Chinese village to teach English. Before they’d even left the runway, the man barraged him with thoughts on literacy in impoverished regions, opinions on Chinese human rights violations, and his dream of an egalitarian future. It took an exhausting amount of willpower not to force the man to listen to the special iPod.
Then three hours into the flight, his testicles went numb. He couldn’t remember that happening before. He’d squeezed past the hippie and tried to jostle life back into them in the lavatory, but they remained numb for several minutes. Extremely distressing. Does this mean he has testicular cancer? It seems unlikely, but he can’t rule out the possibility.
Regardless, it’s a bad sign, and he worries that it doesn’t bode well for the mission. He can’t afford to have something like that on his mind the next few days. He’ll need to be sharp, precise, every move calculated. No surprises, no moments of weakness. He swirls the liquor in the bottle and turns his thoughts to Mijin Zhao, his Chinese contact.
Mijin Zhao. He’s seen photos of her and knows her profile inside and out. Fluent in nine languages. Capable of killing a man with her bare hands in less than a second without making a sound. Operates on two hours of sleep per night. Smooth skin, small breasts, dark eyes.
He sets down the bottle and lies back on the bed. The ceiling spins above him. On the wall is a picture of a woman in a yellow dress against an orange background, her lower body dissolving into a river of red, purple, and blue butterflies.
When he makes love to Mijin Zhao, he will do so like a gentleman. He imagines she will be an untamed lover, hostile even, wrapping her legs around him and digging her heels into his back. She’ll bite his shoulder, claw him with her fingernails, but he will remain calm and focused.
He might have to close his eyes, as he is doing now, to block out the sight of all the ghosts circling the bed. They appear, sometimes, in darkened rooms in foreign lands: the spirits of all the men and women he’s killed—hundreds of them gaping hideously with empty eyes, oozing blood from bullet holes or shedding charred skin down onto his bed sheets. The first time it happened, he unloaded four clips of ammo into the walls of his Bosnian hotel room as the twenty-year-old daughter of a foreign minister cowered under the covers.
But now he’s grown used to their presence, even though their number increases with each mission. They are harmless. If they appear this time, he tells himself, he’ll simply push deeper into Mijin Zhao, press his face against her throat and concentrate on the sound of her quick breaths and the pain of her nails grating his chest.
He opens his eyes and looks up. The room is whirling—blurred butterflies seem to be spiraling away from the painting—but not a ghost in sight. He sits up and reaches for the bottle of gin, but knocks it over and sends it glugging across the wooden floor. He lets it be. It tasted like burnt pinecones anyway.
He lies back down and fumbles on his bedside table until he finds his iPod. He puts it in—the real one, of course; he’s a professional—and sets a Nancy Sinatra album on repeat. With the light still on, he tries to sleep.
When morning comes, he’ll be ready to save the world. Because he’s James motherfucking Bond, and the world—God knows—isn’t going to save itself.
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