Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Reprieve - (the lost "James Bond" chapter)

This is a piece written for Issue 4 of Whisky Quarterly magazine. The theme was "James Bond" as the issue coincided with the release of "Spectre". The magazine will be available as a free download at some not too distant point. Let your imagination run free and try to fill in the gaps in terms of the possible whiskies that Bond got to try.

The lock gave way with barely a sound and Bond eased his body through the door, his focus was on his breathing and the gloomy interior. With his Walther PPK in the right, his left hand eased the door shut behind him; silence...both inside and outside. A dirty skylight offered some illumination and as his eyes accommodated, he recc'ied his surroundings. No ground floor windows, a desk with evidence of recent activity, two chairs and racks of ground to ceiling shelving units, some covered with dirty sheeting - a relatively small space, but it was cover......for now.

There was nothing soft in what had happened earlier that evening, it was textbook kill or be killed, and he had executed the plan almost to perfection; just the one slip, the pause that would, in many other circumstances, have left him lying in a heap at the scene. He'd taken a bullet but he'd got out, escaped, and hopefully found some temporary refuge. He tentatively reached for his cigarettes only to lay his hands on a few remnants of Balkan/Turkish tobacco trapped in the jaws of a mangled gunmetal case that was folded around a bullet meant for him - another escape. 

As his mind slowed, his pain quickened. He needed to regroup, to take stock, to plan his extraction but most of all he needed to sit down. He eased himself into the nearest chair, a worn but sturdy swivel back adjacent to one of the covered units; his back was to the wall, which just about summed up his present predicament. What was the time? His Rolex had been ripped off in the mêlée, he felt a tinge of loss, a fleeting moment before his mind moved on, purposeful, deliberate...what needed to happen? What cards did he have to play? He deliberately slowed his breathing, regaining control, shifting into textbook secret service. What resources did this dimly lit bolt-hole offer? His hand brushed the canvas draped over the nearest shelf to his left.

He slowly pulled off the dusty sheet being careful not to jar his bleeding shoulder...and forced a slight smile through his broken lips. Two or three coffee mugs, a bowl of sugar, a half opened packet of crostini ... and three bottles of scotch, only one of which had been opened! The Bond family motto came to mind, "Orbis non sufficit" (The world is not enough), well, at that moment, in that backstreet, back of nowhere shack, these bottles would do quite nicely. It was the medicinal sanctuary that, had he been a religious man, he would have prayed for. He'd had the vodka tonics, the Mouton Rothchild, the double kümmel, the martini's, the Hennessy's, the Rosé d'Anjou, the Löwenbrau, the Enzian, but he reserved a special place for whisky. It was a connection... to what, he wasn't sure, but it always felt like it held something of his past.... and here it was, in spades!

He grasped the open bottle, fumbled the screw top off and without pausing to sniff, took a slug, immediately regretting it. The liquid burned his lower lip as it passed over the cut mouth. What should have been an exquisite connection of blood and bourbon became something altogether less pleasant. Hot, sharp, brutal and unwelcoming, he swallowed a little and then spat out the remainder, an act that caused a spasm of pain to run through his body - IW Harper this certainly wasn't. Unpleasant memories violated his present, Fräulein Irma Bunt, heartless, humourless bitch, her viperous, blistered mouth mounted on its vindictive facade; then there was the stale, sweat laden Mexican capungo he'd grappled with and "left" in Mexico City; and finally, Rosa Klebb, the real deal, a compact coven of all things malign, the face of a reptilian pug that, at its most malevolent, would puncture itself with the sweetest of smiles (the mere thought of her exacerbated the bittersweet taste in his mouth). The only saving grace for this liquid was its fleeting nature, no sooner than it hit and seared the back of his eager throat, it was gone. 

Bond needed to rid himself of both the taste and his unwelcome guests. Things can't get any worse he thought as he reached for the second bottle. With a little more caution he nosed the liquid before tasting and despite the pain associated with any facial movements, he couldn't stop himself from smiling. This was more like it, this felt like ... promise! Sweet, soothing aromas emanated from the liquid, surrounding his head with some ethereal cushioning force. He took a small sip ... and it was as if he'd "fixed" himself; the sensation of calm and tranquility eased through his bruised body; the warmth of an open fire, smells redolent of ripe fruit and home baking, Christmas and chocolate cake, drew him out of the present, and he began to experience sensations that felt akin to some beneficent angelic ministration, as if they were sharing their love...he was pleasantly drifting, freewheeling with gay abandon into semi consciousness. Beautiful women from his past drifted in and out of focus. He remembered Pussy Galore's rebuttal of Jack Strap "....I wrote a song about you the other day....It's called "If I had to do it all over again, I'd do it all over you". He chuckled, and sprayed a little blood over hand and bottle. Then there was Ruby Windsor - he remembered how her hair smelled of new mown grass and her mouth of Pepsodent. Thoughts of Vesper Lynd, a woman he had truly loved and yet had dispatched to the remote recesses of his mind, entered his consciousness. He dwelled on their passion, their love making, their moments of solitude and finally on the "betrayal". Now Tracy entered his mind. He had actually married La Comtesse Teresa Di Vicenzo (Tracy) in what turned out to be another lie; another lie in a string of lies that acted as an ephemeral scaffold around which Bond had constructed his life. Who was he? Perhaps more importantly, what was he?

The pain had become a dull throbbing ache that only resurfaced when he shifted in the chair. He glanced over at the third bottle, curious, could it be anywhere near as good as the whisky he had in his hand? Thinking ahead, he had already determined to take the current one with him, but what was in the remaining bottle? He braved the stabbing shaft of pain, carefully placed the current bottle by his side and reached for the last of the three. The pain he endured in extracting the cork from bottle was more than compensated for by its contents. He could smell the sea, salt foam and oily harbour odours; there was a smokiness that brought to mind beach bonfires, he closed his eyes to take in sweet savoury scents. 

In anticipation, he put bottle to lips and once again he relocated to some distant past. He could hear the lap, chat and shush of Scottish waves, he could see the crabs scuttling away from probing fingers, he could feel the warmth of the virginal morning sun, he could smell lemons mingling with the smoke from his father’s cigarettes...his father! He had little or no memory of his father but, from somewhere, something stirred. Images of powerful hands, broad shoulders, laughter and stunning views across what seemed like vast stretches of water, aching childhood bones being scooped up in a terrifying but exciting and playful swoop, a moment of fear before the realisation that he was safe, held, safe and held. His pain was temporarily forgotten in the freedom and bliss of this glorious liquid.

His eyes were flickering, his breathing laboured, the bottle slipped from his fingers and smashed on the floor. He immediately snapped awake, alert, in pain once more, his hand automatically reaching for the PPK as his eyes looked to the door and his ears tuned in to the world outside the room. Had anyone heard? Had he been asleep? If so, for how long? The quality of the light in the room had altered and Bond noted that the full moon was now visible through the skylight, sending shafts of illumination into the now less murky room. If they came through the door he would have a good eye line on them, but nothing stirred, no one came, the noise of a lorry in the distance and the accelerated thrum of the cicadas were his only accompaniments. He relaxed a little, cursed himself for his slack behaviour, but was still both intrigued and slightly unnerved with regard to where his mind had wandered. By his reckoning he was about a mile from the hotel and safety. Saturday morning would bring a slew of people on to the streets providing him with the cover that he would need to blend in, to reach safe haven, to recover ...and then to return to finish the job.

(C) Dave Alcock 2015