Monday 24 December 2012

"Forget it, Jake, it's Christmas."

picture courtesy of

"Chinatown" Screenplay by Robert Towne

That's the director, Roman Polanski, holding the switch-blade in Nicholson's nose. I've read that he used a real knife for this scene. Wouldn't surprise me.

I had very high hopes for the "Chinatown" sequel when I heard it was in production. This poster began appearing in film magazines such as Premiere late in '89. I couldn't wait.

picture courtesy of

Still, these days, I live in hope that there are more neo-noir films yet to be made. There's a slew of great hard-boiled noir fiction that would be ideal for the movies. One day, perhaps.

Thanks for reading!
Oh, and I hope your Whatever You Celebrate Today is treating you kindly!

***typecast on a circa 1937 Smith-Corona Standard***

Thursday 13 December 2012

Apocalypse Nah!

Not the most comfortable typing position, but the cool change had kicked in.

The world can't end on the 21st. I just got the car serviced.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Four Omega Wristwatches from the '50s & '60s.

Rather than do four individual write-ups, I thought I'd take the lazy way out and bundle these four watches together. They are all Omega wristwatches from the 1950s and '60s, the Golden Age of Watchmaking, as far as I'm concerned. They all share very similar case and dial designs, but to me, they're all completely different from each other.

"Dr No" (Dir: Terence Young, 1962) Picture courtesy of EON/Danjaq Productions.

Picture taken from "Bond On Set- Filming 'Casino Royale'" by Greg Williams
* Dear Miss Dench, thank-you for services rendered, Ma'am. Your involvement with the Bond films over the last seventeen years helped elevate the standard and your portrayal of M was a breath of fresh air.

Notice the domed plexiglas crystal? Easy to scratch, but easy to polish scratches out of.

And these old watches tended to have a low profile when on the wrist. Which in some ways actually makes it a little harder to accidentally knock it against a door frame as you walk along.

Richard Yates was a great writer. This book, "Eleven Kinds of Loneliness" contains a series of short stories about the despair and disillusionment among the upper middle-classes of America in the 1950s. Not one happy ending in any of them, but wonderfully written.

This one has seen better days, but it refuses to die.

The hands have no luminous tritium compound in them. This model had a thin black strip of onyx running through the hands.

Those strips are long gone, but I did buy a set of hands for this watch a few years ago and when the time comes to get this restored, those hands will get attached.

This one has been redialled. Notice the luminous dot markers on the cardinal points of the dial? Some of them look square while others are round. No biggie. I'll get the dots removed. And see the missing gold capping from the four o'clock lug? I'll get the rest of the gold capping removed. It'll look okay after that.

Some slight pitting on the dial, but such an exceptional timekeeper, this one.

I love the care and attention to detail that watch brands used to implement back then. The logo on the dials has been applied rather than painted, the date window-frame is bevelled, the entire dial is convex, with a gentle downward slope towards the edge.

Even the seahorse logo on the case-back was beatifully done.

Thanks for reading!

***typecast with a '56 Smith-Corona Silent Super and a '46 Royal Quiet De Luxe/ Pencast with a Pelikan M800 with Broad Bold nib, filled with Noodler's Red Rattler***

Friday 30 November 2012

Skyfall REVIEW- Third Time's A Charm, Mr Craig.


So, if you don't want to read any spoilers, just have a look at this picture for a few seconds and then get on with your day;

Right, now that that's out of the way...

I've seen "Skyfall" twice now. Usually, the first viewing is solely for the entertainment value (or lack thereof) and I normally require a couple of screenings before I begin picking a film apart to look for themes and breaking down its structure.

With "Skyfall", I found myself wanting to pay close attention. It's been four years since the last Bond movie, "Quantum of Solace" and that was a rather disappointing effort. Certainly, the opening car chase was very well done, as was the fight in Siena,  and the use of the air, water, Earth and fire elements was clever, but overall, the film was lacking, especially after the exceptional "Casino Royale" two years earlier.
And so, I had rather high hopes for Bond's next adventure. And then, of course, there's the Third Film Rule. It has often been said that the third Bond film, "Goldfinger" (1964) was where Sean Connery really hit his stride in the role. The same was said of Roger Moore when he did "The Spy Who Loved Me" in 1977. Even Pierce Brosnan seemed more comfortable in the part by the time he did his third film, "The World Is Not Enough" in 1999, although it was a little hard to tell, given the poor script. Admittedly, to some extent, the Brosnan Bonds still had some residue left behind by the Roger Moore-era films with their reliance on bad puns and outlandish gadgets that sometimes made Bond look silly.
Daniel Craig gave us a Bond for the New Milennium in "Casino Royale". A Bond who was slightly too self-assured and hot-tempered, a Bond who needed to be brought down a peg or two with a piece of knotted rope. There was an uproar amongst some fans when he was cast in the role. By the time the film premiered in late 2006, everybody shut their traps. And now, with "Skyfall", Bond's dinner jacket fits him like a glove. He has brought some depth to the character of James Bond that was only hinted at when the vastly under-rated Timothy Dalton played the role in "The Living Daylights" (1987) and "Licence To Kill" (1989).
About a year ago, it was announced that another Bond movie would soon be in the pipeline and by January of this year, filming on Bond 23 had commenced.
I was happy with the choice of Marc Forster as director of "Quantum of Solace", even though he delivered a somewhat lack-lustre effort. At least it showed that EON Productions (who make the Bond films) were looking to bring a little more realism and gravitas to the franchise by using a director who was adept at character development. If an action film director, such as, say, Renny Harlin or (God forbid) Michael Bay had been given the reigns, we Bond fans would have been in trouble. There's more to a Bond film than just blowing up expensive cars.
With the announcement that Sam Mendes would be directing this one, I knew it would be a great Bond. A very sure-footed job. You could tell that he allowed the actors time to find the characters. Yes, it is just a Bond film, but there were a few extra layers in the characterisations that you don't normally expect in a Bond film.
Regarding the screenplay (written by Neil Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan) , it's almost hard to believe that it was written by the same dudes who gave Bond an invisible Aston Martin ten years ago. I've got two theories-either Purvis and Wade were given a little more freedom with the script OR all the good bits in this story were provided by John Logan, the other writer on this film. I'm not sure, but in Purvis' and Wade's defence, I should mention that they did write a very well-received telemovie called "Let Him Have It" before they began writing Bond movies, so I have to give them credit. Anybody writing a Bond script (or novel) has very stringent guidelines to follow, so perhaps they were given a little more rope to write the Bond film that they've always wanted to write.
The story is just a good, old-fashioned revenge tale, but with a twist. It's not Bond out for revenge. It's the bad guy.

The plot itself is usually where I need to see the film a few times. It made enough sense. Sure there were some holes in it, but it's an action thriller. But what I loved were the notions of duty, patriotism, and the need for something like the Double-O Section in the modern world.
And the cinematography by Roger Deakins was astounding. The shots of Bond's DB5 driving through the Highlands looked like moving oil paintings. No MTV editing in this film, which was a good thing. This film was allowed to breathe. The lighting throughout was exquisite. There is a fight scene in Shanghai which is filmed in silhouette, punctuated by gunshots and Thomas Newman's low-key score. The music in this scene is great. If your heart-rate had a soundtrack, this would be it.
I don't know why the font is smaller in this section, but I suppose that's probably a good thing. Change your zoom level if you want to read it. My apologies. Must be a cut&paste thing.
The film begins with a chase sequence where Bond arrives at a safe-house in Istanbul only to find three operatives dead and the hard drive of a laptop computer missing. I have to say I do like being dropped right into the middle of the action. This was used to great effect at the beginning of “Quantum of Solace” where the camera skimmed across the surface of Lake Garda in Italy to zoom in on a tunnel of the lakeside road, with rapidly interspersed shots of the bonnet of Bond’s Aston Martin DBS and Daniel Craig’s eyes as he drives, all the while accompanied by a foreboding violin score that gets sharply interrupted by the roar of the Aston Martin and then a hail of machine-gun fire as a close-up of Bond's hand slams the gear-stick into fifth.
“Skyfall” has a quieter opening sequence to begin with, but it soon escalates into a shoot-out at a market-place, a motorbike chase along tiled rooftops, and a fight aboard the roof of a moving train before Bond is accidentally shot by his fellow MI6 operative, Eve.
As with “Casino Royale”, the credits sequence in this film helps to move the narrative along slightly. Bond has been wounded and falls from the train while it’s over a bridge and he lands in a fast-flowing river. Much has already been discussed as to how anyone could survive a fall from such a great height. May I remind those people that this is a MOVIE.  And, a James Bond movie at that.  The heightened reality that exists in film, in general, is a few rungs further up the ladder in a Bond film.
So the next question was how did he not drown? During the credits, as Adele sings the title song, we see Bond drifting to the bottom of the river before a female hand grabs his wrist. The next time we see Bond after the credits, he’s sitting in bed with a Heineken longneck with an unnamed woman lying next to him. I figure she’s the one who fished him out of the water. That’s my interpretation.
There are mirror motifs in these credits and the first act of this film is as much about Bond being a fragile reflection of his former self as he attempts to regain his skills and M’s trust. And this is what much of the Daniel Craig Bond films have been about. There’s been a constant thread of M lacking trust in Bond, or rather, she doesn’t trust that Bond will stay on-task without letting his anger or pride get in the way. This faith that she may or may not have in him is tested on more than one occasion in this film.
It’s not my intention to give away the entire plot of this film in this review. Basically, Bond began the movie attempting to retrieve the hard drive of the computer which contained the names of various MI6 agents embedded throughout terrorist cells around the world. We later learn that M was responsible for the loss of the hard drive to begin with and her leadership of MI6 is called into question. Meanwhile, an ex-MI6 agent is hell-bent on revenge against M for a perceived betrayal.
The Bond Villain
Aside from the actor who portrays 007, each film is only as good as the Bond Villain. Javier Bardem plays an ex-MI6 agent named Raoul Silva and I don’t know how much of his characterisation was in the script (not as much as he brought to the role, I suspect), but his portrayal is filled with little nuances and affectations that put him quite a few cuts above all Bond villains of the past fifteen years. The much-talked about scene where Bond is hand-cuffed to a chair and Silva undoes a couple of buttons of his shirt and strokes his chest has led to much speculation on Bond forums over whether the character is gay, straight or bi. Who cares? It did strike me as though Silva was doing this to unnerve Bond and you could see Bond’s veneer crack a little during this moment. As I said up above, Daniel Craig has hit his stride as 007 in "Skyfall" and it’s to his credit that he gives Bond moments of doubt here and there throughout this film.
The Bond Girl
Berenice Lim Marlohe plays Severine in this film. She is not in the film for very long, but I have to say she made an impression on me. Marlohe's performance was divine. The scene with Bond at the bar in Macau where she looks like she's about to burst into tears any second over the hopelessness of her situation, and then she gives Bond a tortured and brittle smile. It was a complex performance. Even her hand tremors slightly as she holds a cigarette and you can feel that she's painted herself into a tight corner and sees Bond as a means of escaping her situation. I hope Marlohe has a long and distinguished acting career and doesn't disappear into obscurity like so many other Bond Girls have in the past.
But then, the real Bond Girl in this film was M. More about that later.
The Humour
The humour was well-placed and not over-the-top or corny. No steel-toothed henchmen wrenching the steering wheels off speedboats before going over waterfalls, no sleazy gags about Christmas coming twice a year or 'attempting re-entry, sir'. Just some sarcastic lines here and there.
When we first see Bond's classic Aston Martin DB5 in his storage garage, the audience at my second viewing let out a collective "Aahh", followed by polite laughter. The same reaction that a favourite uncle would get when turning up after being absent for many years. Bond fans in the audience may have recognised a variation on two short notes from the "Goldfinger" score in that scene.
And in the final battle, the look on DC's face when the Aston Martin gets shot to pieces is priceless. Bond is a creature of vanity and he likes his expensive accoutrements, so this is particularly upsetting for him. Don't mess with Bond's car. 
There was also one quick bit where Bond jumps up off the back of a komodo dragon, which I thought was a little silly. If you know me by now, then you'll know that I take my Bonds seriously. However, my wife reminded me of a similar scene in "Live And Let Die" (1973), so it all made sense to me after that.
There were three things that really stood out for me in this film.
1- This film is a love letter to Bond fans. It's the kind of Bond film that "Die Another Day" should have been. "DAD" was the 20th Bond film (officially) and while they threw in a few references to past Bond films, they missed their opportunity to celebrate this fact. With "Skyfall", EON Productions have made up for their previous miss-step.
2- This film is a love letter to England, or rather, 'Englishness' and the values (that I imagine) Britain holds dear and how the country sees itself. It does give England more of an old-fashioned, Churchillian identity which I thought was a master-stroke, from the Turner reference in the museum to the porcelain British bulldog on M's desk. For, no matter what else he may be, Bond is a patriot. I had read that this film had a much smaller budget than previous Bond films, which is one main reason why most of it takes place in Britain. I thought it was perfect to have it set in one location. Spy back and think of England.
3- If Ian Fleming were a modern author writing Bond novels today, they would look something like this, once translated to the silver screen. Like I said above, "Skyfall" is a love letter to Bond fans, but I think it has a little more resonance with Bond fans who've read the Fleming books. I liked the fact that there were no real gadgets and it was Bond relying on his brute strength, his wits, and his patriotism.
Perhaps the strongest image I take away from this film occurs during an Enquiry into M's running of the Secret Service. The panel questions whether there is a need for something as antiquated as the Double-O Section in this modern world. Silva and his henchmen are on their way to kill M. Bond has just figured out Silva's end-game. And he starts running.
And if there was one image from the film that represents how I've always viewed Bond, it was the shot of him running down the street to save M. And it was just Bond. No stealing somebody's motorcycle, or jumping onto a truck to get there faster. Just a man in a suit relying on his own steam to do whatever is necessary to get the job done. During her defence, M recites part of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "Ulysses" and this is overlayed onto the soundtrack of this this scene, further strengthening the notion of a man out of his time being the right man for the job.
That scene alone shortened the bridge between literary Bond and cinematic Bond and was worth the price of admission. For me, anyway.
The theme of betrayal cuts right through this film. Both Bond and Silva feel betrayed by M for different reasons. Silva referes to M as "Mommy" on a number of occasions and one gets the sense of two brothers, one vying for a mother's approval and the other wanting to prove his worth again. Whereas Silva is blinded by rage and revenge against M for what she has done, Bond understands that she did what she did because she could see the bigger picture and operatives are indeed expendable. Again, the Britishness rises to the surface. I doubt it's a coincidence that the non-Englishman in this story fails to understand M's motivations. And, as I stated earlier, it is M who is the Bond Girl in this story. Judi Dench's portrayal of Bond's superior has done much to elevate the quality of these films since she first played the role in "Goldeneye" back in 1995. And I think it's great that the first person to utter the 'f' word in a Bond film is her.
The theme of old-school methods also runs through this film. Bond is seen earlier in the film shaving with a cut-throat razor, and Eve mentions to him; "Sometimes, the old ways are the best." When Bond meets Q, he is given nothing but a signature-gun, in the form of his Walther PPK, and a homing device. The notion of doing things the old-fashioned way further help to explain the necessity of the Double-O Section in the politically correct 21st Century. I've stayed away from Bond forums for over a year and avoided all spoilers about this film prior to seeing it and I was happy to see that I had incorporated a similar idea of 'old-school' in my last fan fiction.
The film is not without its faults. I'm a Bond fan, but I'm not a fan-boy. But its faults are minor. Plot holes here and there, a soundtrack that, while very, very good, doesn't utilise the Bond Theme to a huge extent. It's certainly there, just not used for any great length of time.                                       
The signature-gun was a little old-hat, in my opinion, and has been used enough times in other films since the 1960s, when the spy movie craze was at its highest. You just know that the gun will fall into the hands of someone who will point it at 007 won't fire.                                                                           
Some other storytelling cliches, but again, nothing major. In fact, I have seen similar stuff in films that purported to touch on grander themes and notions on the human condition.
And, the gun-barrel sequence was tacked on at the end. I hate that. All my life, I could be guaranteed that my pulse would rise sharply whenever those white dots danced across the screen. Every time I saw them, I knew exactly where I was.
"Skyfall" isn't Shakespeare. Don't expect the answers to the meaning of life. It's  just a James Bond movie.
But what a James Bond movie!                                                                                                  
It was a Bond movie for the fans. It was a Bond movie for England.  And it did what it set out to do.
Just like James Bond.
Thanks for reading.

EDIT- additional text added 1/12/12

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Bond Fan Fiction No. 6

 Switzerland in the Caribbean

The Riva’s engine quickly settled into a low hum as the speedboat cruised along the calm, flat surface of the Caribbean Sea at a rate of around 40 knots. He would be there in under ten minutes. From this distance, James Bond could see the outline of the superyacht, but it was hard to gauge its size. He’d find out soon enough, he reasoned. The shore of Oracabessa faded as the wind whipped back his jet black hair and ruffled through the short sleeves of his butter-yellow Sea Island cotton shirt.
It had been some years since Bond had last been behind the wheel of an Aquarama and he derived a great pleasure from this classic craft. Braverman had certainly maintained it in original condition. The chrome brightwork fittings glistened and the varnish on the solid mahogany bodywork looked recently applied. The snow-white Italian leather seats provided a delicious contrast to the rich, deep hue of the timber. The number ‘73’ was painted on the dashboard in gold, leading Bond to surmise that it dated back to the mid 1960s and would fetch around two-hundred thousand pounds today on the open market. The 200-horsepower V8 engines were running smoothly as his thoughts drifted back to the events that had brought him to this spot off the Northern coast of Jamaica.
Thirty-six hours earlier, he stood in M’s office, calmly pleading his case. He’d received a cryptic postcard in the mail from Hemmings earlier that day. Elegantly scrawled in green fountain pen ink across the back of the card was a single sentence; “Your Russian girlfriend wants to serve you a Molotov Cocktail and a mutual friend of ours may know which bar she’ll be working.” Bond needed to fly out to see the retired Section Chief, but M was less than convinced of the validity of this enigmatic information. It was no secret that M held a particular dislike for Alan Hemmings, but it was a complete mystery as to why. Some had speculated that perhaps she and Hemmings had been involved at one point, but no one at Six had ever been able to find any proof of this. But then, Barbara Mawdsley didn’t rise to be Head of Double-O Section by being careless.
“At least give me seventy-two hours. I’ll have whatever information I need by then”, Bond had said, playing his final card.
There was a moment’s pause in the conversation.
“I’ll give you forty-eight, 007. Should be more than enough”, she had replied. “Unless you’re wanting to work on your suntan while you’re gone”, she added.
Bond left her office and waited while Miss Moneypenny booked his flight to Kingston. “Better hurry, ‘Penny, before Norma Bates changes her mind”, he muttered with a tint of anger as he glared at the red leather padded door to M’s office.
Twelve hours later, Bond left his room at the Kingston Hilton and took the 90 minute cab ride to Hemmings’ villa in Oracabessa.
‘Silvermoon’. It figured that Hemmings would give his home a name, and such a romanticised one, at that. He had retired to Jamaica a decade ago. England had changed, as far as he was concerned. He was a soldier of The Cold War and when it ended, the intelligence world of the New Millennium began to make him feel disenchanted with his role at MI6. And when Morland & Co, his tobacconist, had closed its doors on Grosvenor Street as the world began to butt out en masse, he knew it was time to leave.
“Your tobacconist went out of business? So you left?!”, one of the other British expats had asked him at the Ocho Rios Golf Club not long after he’d arrived in Jamaica.
“Yes, that’s right”, he responded with a grin as he placed an unfiltered Camel into the ebony cigarette holder that he’d purchased in 1982 while Head of Station in Madrid.
Bond thought about the information regarding Markov’s whereabouts that Hemmings had given him. The upcoming NATO Summit seemed the most logical assumption and all MI6 resources had been diverted to exploring this lead in recent weeks. It was indeed a possibility. What they still didn’t know was how Markov could possibly bypass the vast level of security that would be deployed before and during the Summit. The man aboard the superyacht would know more, Hemmings assured him.

Bond and Hemmings had discussed all of this over a simple lunch consisting of a rich and spicy Red Pea soup, followed by a delicious curry chicken, prepared by Shirley, Hemmings’ house-keeper. The liberal amounts of scotch bonnet pepper in these dishes quickly set fire to Bond’s palate and no amount of the unlabelled Chardonnay was able to fully quell the heat. They were seated at a round table along the rear verandah of Silvermoon, overlooking the ocean. Bond could see the superyacht out in the distance on the horizon. Hemmings had offered Bond the use of his boat, which was moored down at the jetty a hundred yards away from where they sat.
“It’s not got much grunt, and it’s overdue for servicing, but it’ll get you there”, Hemmings had assured him.
A cool breeze came off the water and the venetian blinds along this side of the villa swayed in and out like gills, giving the impression that the house was alive.  At the conclusion of the meal, Bond ate a few pieces of sliced cucumber in an effort to cool his tastebuds. He then took a final sip of the white wine before he spoke;
“This fellow on the yacht. How will I recognise him?”
“Don’t worry, James. He’ll recognise you”, was all Hemmings had said.
There was more that he wanted to tell Bond, but they were interrupted by the arrival of Alan’s neighbour, the British playwright, Neil Braverman, who owned the beachfront property a few kilometres away from Silvermoon. At Hemmings’ polite insistence, Braverman handed Bond the keys to the Aquarama with some reluctance. After all, he’d only just met the man. Hemmings, however, appealed to Braverman’s sense of patriotism. “National Security, and all that, old boy”, he added.
“Why didn’t you say so? For Queen and Country”, Braverman replied with a smile, then added; “My rig should get you there faster than Alan’s. But then, I daresay, a rubber dinghy would get you there faster than his boat.”
Touché, Neil”, replied Hemmings with good humour.
Before Bond left, Hemmings took a pen from his shirt pocket.
“Oh, give him this, will you?”, he said, handing it to Bond. It was a green-barrelled Pelikan M1000 fountain pen. “I, uh, ‘borrowed’ it from him back in ’03 and I’m sure he’ll be glad to have it back. Besides, he’ll know it was me who sent you.”
Bond was now half a kilometre away from the yacht. As he closed up the distance between the two boats, he recognised the outline. It was a GNxt100. Measuring a total length of one hundred metres from stem to stern, it was the latest version by noted marine designer Nicola Gianpiero. Bond had been aboard the smaller model GNx75 during the Al-Kashani extraction mission in the Gulf of Oman a year earlier. This model up ahead was a five-level vessel and to the rear of the uppermost deck was a helipad where a helicopter sat idle.
As his speedboat got closer, he saw movement on one of the lower wrap-around decks. A man appeared and waved him towards the rear-deck. He cruised towards the stern of the yacht and cut the engines. The Riva drifted like a block of ice on glass before slowing to a halt fifteen feet away from it and the sheer size of the vessel began to dawn on him. Bond saw the name “Gordana’s Boy” painted across the bow in cursive script. The name resonated slightly in his memory, but he couldn’t place the reference.
A man with close-cropped blonde hair stood on the open transom holding a Glock 22 pointed at him. He wore a pair of khaki chinos and a white t-shirt which strained against his chest and biceps. A nylon holster was strapped around his right thigh. Moving slowly and making sure he was in clear sight, Bond reached down and picked up the coiled mooring line near the bow of the Riva and tossed it gently towards the man, who caught it one-handed, the gun in his hand never wavering. He tied off the Riva and motioned for Bond to come aboard. Bond stepped off the speedboat and onto the superyacht. The blonde man motioned for Bond to head up the short staircase which led to an upper deck with a swimming pool. Two women sat on the edge of the pool with their legs dangling in the clear blue water. A couple of half-filled wine glasses sat between them. Bond noticed their matching Burberry bikinis and Chanel sunglasses as they threw him a casual glance. One of them smiled at him briefly. He smiled back as he took in the deck above with the helicopter sitting on the helipad. It was a Eurocopter Dauphin EC155. In the cockpit, he saw a holstered revolver hanging from the head-rest of the pilot’s seat. ‘Not a tour company helicopter’, he thought to himself.
“You know how this game works”, the blonde one said with a trace of a Russian accent.
Bond turned to face him.
Two more men had appeared and they were variations of the blonde man. One wore a dark blue t-shirt and the other wore black. They too held Glocks. The man in blue holstered his weapon and stepped forward.
Bond was already turning and clasping his hands behind his head as the man approached and patted him down expertly, relieving Bond of his PPK from his hip holster.
“Wow, that’s old-school”, snorted the blonde. His two associates smirked.
“Does the job”, Bond replied.
The man in blue took the Pelikan fountain pen from Bond’s shirt.
“That’s for your employer”, said Bond.
“Is it poison-tipped? Filled with Semtex?”, retorted the blonde sarcastically.
Now who’s old-school?”, replied Bond.
“Our employer has a few enemies”, retorted the blonde.
I’m not one of them. Now are we going to stand here and reignite The Cold War or can I see the fellow that pays your wages?”
The blonde glared at Bond another few seconds before giving his associate an almost imperceptible nod.
The man in blue walked off towards the open entrance-way to the yacht’s interior. With the pen. Minutes ticked by as Bond continued looking around the yacht from where he stood. He saw a lounge area inside where a couple conversed in deep leather armchairs. The man looked up at Bond for a moment before turning back to the woman next to him. Bond saw a few other people walk across his view of the ship’s interior. Some of the faces looked familiar to him, but he shrugged this off, thinking that the distance might be distorting their features. Still, the familiarity had as much to do with the way some of these people carried themselves as it did with their faces.
Beyond the starboard-side of the yacht, Bond saw a small cruiser and two other speedboats spaced apart and bobbing gently in the water about one hundred metres away.
The man in the blue t-shirt returned to the pool-side deck. “He’ll see you now”, he said with a thicker Russian accent than his counterpart, before turning and leading the way. Bond didn’t wait for the blonde man to motion theatrically with the Glock again and began following the man in blue.
Stepping into the yacht’s interior, Bond took another glance at the couple in the armchairs and his memory snapped back to a file he’d read on the man sitting down. Gunther von Baumann, former Vice President (Military Affairs) of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, as it was more commonly referred to by other agencies. Bond wondered what von Baumann was doing on board this boat besides staring at the plunging neckline of the dress his much younger companion was wearing. The small lounge section opened up into a vast area with what appeared to be a fully functioning casino. If not for the ocean visible through the large panoramic windows, Bond could be forgiven for thinking that he was in any one of Europe’s finest gambling houses. He saw a few Blackjack tables to the left with a roulette wheel positioned nearby. The card tables were doing a reasonable trade and two couples stood at the wheel and watched it spin. Across to the far right, he saw a row of banquettes where waiters attended to the whims of the diners. In total, Bond counted eighteen people in the room and again, he recognised more than a few faces among them.
Forty metres ahead was a black, marble-topped bar that ran the entire width of the room. Seated exactly at the middle was a man in a white uniform. Based on the peaked cap, white shorts and socks that he was wearing, Bond figured that he was the captain of this vessel. The man had his back to Bond, but his heavy build seemed familiar, and this further added to the odd assortment of passengers on board the Gordana’s Boy. Propped up against the bar next to the captain was a thin glossy black-lacquered cane with an ivory handle.
Gradually, pieces of an impossible puzzle began to fit together in Bond’s mind. In 1950, Nikolai Yevgeny, an accountant from Moscow, met a schoolteacher named Gordana Milonov. They fell in love and married.
After years of trying to bear children, Gordana was finally rewarded with a healthy twelve pound baby boy. She named him after her own father, Valentin Dmitrovich, and doted on him. Shortly after the boy’s twelfth birthday, his father Nikolai was arrested for embezzlement and given a fifteen year jail sentence, leaving Gordana to raise the boy on her own. Valentin grew up into a tall and thick-set young man. At nineteen, he joined the military, but it wasn’t long before he was spotted by recruiters from the Committee for State Security who easily convinced him to come and work for them. And so, young Valentin Dmitrovich began his life in the KGB and spent the next fifteen years working for the State. Working numerous surveillance operations on wealthy oligarchs in the New Russia gave him a glimpse of the finer things in life and he soon learned that the Russian underworld paid more than the KGB and was unencumbered by trivialities such as ideology and the greater good of Mother Russia.
However, he couldn’t just quit working for Soviet Intelligence without raising eyebrows, so he put a plan into effect whereby he began showing signs of stress on the job over a six month period. Towards the end of his charade, he feigned a complete mental breakdown. He was assessed and evaluated by internal physicians and psychologists who all recommended that he be discharged from the KGB. It appeared that Valentin’s use-by date had arrived and the general consensus was that he was no longer of use to the Committee for State Security. He was given a quiet discharge and provided with a low-paying job as a welder on the production line at GAZ, one of Russia’s oldest automobile manufacturers. He held this job for three years, but he also did some freelance strong-arm work for the Russian mafia. Over the next ten years, he rose through the ranks of the criminal hierarchy to become a major player. It was during this time that he assumed his grand-mother’s maiden name as his new surname.
Bond was now twenty feet away from the heavy-set man at the bar when that surname broke the surface of his memory: Zukovsky. Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky. Gordana Milonov’s son.
Gordana’s Boy.
‘Couldn’t be’, he thought to himself.
The man at the bar swivelled in his chair and turned to face Bond as he approached. His face creased into a smile.
“Bond James Bond!”, he cried, putting his drink down and getting up from the bar-stool to wrap his arms around Bond in a lung-crushing bear hug.
Bond was still too stunned to react. Zukovsky released him and took a step back.
“Ha! I think you need a drink. Come. Sit down”, he said good-naturedly as he took his seat back at the bar. The Pelikan fountain pen sat next to Zukovsky’s glass of vodka on ice. Bond sat at the stool next to him and came back down to Earth as Zukovsky made a motion to the barman.
“I saw you die in Istanbul”, Bond said with an edge to his voice.
“No, James, you saw me lose consciousness in Istanbul. Although, my heart did stop twice on the way to the hospital.”
Bond processed the information. It seemed possible, he thought, but he was still wary.
“And then what?”, he asked. “Our file on you shows no further updates.”
Zukovsky finished his drink before replying. “And then I returned to Moscow, liquidated all my a few enemies, and then bought this vessel.” He made a sweeping gesture with the glass in his hand.
 “I’m what you would call ‘semi-retired’ now”, he added before finishing his drink.
“Yes, what exactly is this vessel? If I didn’t know any better, I’d think your passenger list was a veritable Who’s Who of the intelligence community.”
“Exactly! A floating piece of neutral territory. If you saw your worst enemy on-board, you could do nothing about it. Everyone who comes aboard checks their weapons in at the door. My ship is designed to give you all a ‘time-out’ from your daily grind, as the Americans say”, Zukovsky explained as the barman appeared with two tumblers of vodka on ice and placed them down on coasters in front of the two men.
“A pause in The New Great Game”, Bond replied before picking up his vodka and drinking half of it.
“Yes, that's it”, replied Zukovsky.
“Even your bartender looks familiar”, Bond said as he rested his forearms on the cool marble of the bar.
Zukovsky glanced around at the barman. “Him? I don’t know why. He’s from a temp agency. Seven of my crew came down with food poisoning two days ago. It was a major headache finding replacement staff at such short notice. And the cost!

"Speaking of your staff, ask that blonde security Alpha-boy to give me my gun back. I'm feeling a little naked without it."

"Ah,  Yuri. Yes, he spends a lot of time in the gym", replied Zukovsky.

"In front of the mirrors, no doubt", Bond answered.
Just then, Zukovsky’s cell-phone rang. “Excuse me one second, James”, he said as he turned away from Bond to take the call. Bond took another sip of his vodka and glanced at the barman. There was something about him that he couldn’t quite place. Bond reached into his trouser pocket and fished out his own cell-phone. A waiter approached the bar and Bond heard him place an order for two Old Fashioneds. Bond took a quick, surreptitious photo of the two staff with the phone’s camera. He checked the result and then sent a short, encrypted e-mail to MI6 headquarters back in London, with the photo attached. He typed a simple request in the subject line; ‘ID MAN/RIGHT OF FRAME//007’
Satisfied, he put the cell-phone down on the bar just as Zukovsky finished his call.
“Forgive me. Running a ship is sometimes harder than running the Russian mafia”, he said with an apologetic tone. “Your PPK will be here shortly. They're just getting it from the cloak-and-dagger room, ha, ha, ha! Now, about your friend who came to see me”, he added.
“Yes, what was she after?”, Bond asked.
Zukovsky shrugged. “She wanted a rifle made up. Medium range, high velocity, polymer frame”, he replied, all business-like.
“And nothing. I couldn’t help her. I know of only two people who could manufacture anything to her specifications. One of them is still in a US prison and the other had a stroke six months ago. Can barely talk, let alone hold a screwdriver. More importantly, I didn’t want to help her.”
“Why not?”
“She was a little too...’driven’ in her quest. And she has a particular jones for you, 007”, Zukovsky smiled at his use of the American slang.
“Yes, I realised that. Nothing else?”
“Nothing else. I don’t think she left in good humour.”
“Rest assured, I won’t be giving her much to laugh about when I catch up with her.”
“Ha! Sounds like a match made in Hell”, Zukovsky replied. He looked down at the fountain pen and picked it up.
“Here”, he said as he slotted the pen into Bond’s shirt pocket. “Our friend Hemmings changed the nib to an extra fine. Doesn’t suit my handwriting. He can keep it.”
Just then, the bartender approached Zukovsky. Bond took another look at him, still unable to determine where he’d seen the man before.  
“We’re out of Bitters, Boss. Just going to the kitchen”, the bartender said.
“That’s fine. Just leave us the vodka”, Zukovsky replied.
The bartender reached into his vest pocket and extracted a coaster which he placed down between the two men. He took a few steps along the bar, retrieved the bottle of Stolichnaya Elit and brought it over before placing it gently down on the exact centre of the coaster. He then headed off to the far right where the swing-doors to the kitchen were located.
“Would you like a vodka Martini, James? He appears to be a perfectionist”, Zukovsky quipped.
Bond’s cell-phone rang. “Excuse me, Valentin. My turn to be ill-mannered”, said Bond as he stood up and took a few steps from the bar, reaching for his phone. While they were a modern convenience, Bond detested how the overt use of personal cell-phones was slowly killing the art of simple etiquette.
He brought his phone up to his ear as he took a few paces. Bill Tanner, M’s Chief-of-Staff was on the line. “James, where’d you see this fellow?”, asked Tanner with an urgency in his tone.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, Bill”, replied Bond.
“This man is Ramon Velasquez”, said Tanner.
Velasquez was a former bomb-disposals expert in Castro’s Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces. After an altercation with one of his superiors, he was placed under arrest and locked in a storage room while the military police were called. They may as well have given him the key. He fashioned an improvised and highly corrosive acidic compound using ammonia and other cleaning chemicals, which dissolved the primitive lock on the door. He then killed the two soldiers stationed outside before heading for the coast where he island-hopped throughout The Bahamas and made his way to Miami before disappearing underground. After some time, he resurfaced and began offering his bomb-making services to the highest bidders.
A rash of facts and figures raced through Bond’s mind in a split-second. A ballpoint pen exploding in the shirt pocket of a French diplomat at an arms meeting in Geneva three years ago, shredding his heart in an instant. The rear-view mirror of a Swiss banker’s BMW shattering outward, spraying shards of glass into his eyes as he reaches a hairpin curve on a treacherous mountain road. The ten year-old daughter of a New York billionaire cutting a birthday cake, the knife blade acting as a circuit-breaker, setting off a device within the cake itself, killing her instantly and injuring her three best friends. Velasquez was the consummate master of turning innocent items into tools of carnage.
Bond was eighteen feet away from the bar as he turned to look at Zukovsky, who now reached for the bottle of Stolichnaya.
The coaster on which the bottle sat had a thin sheet of steel within its cardboard construction. The screw-cap of the bottle contained a small steel disc. These two pieces of metal acted as a circuit, relaying a constant pulsating signal to an electro-magnetic detonator under the bar, directly beneath the coaster. Attached to the detonator was a paperback-sized block of Composition 4 or RDX, more commonly referred to as C-4, plastic explosive.
Zukovsky wrapped his fingers around the neck of the bottle and lifted, effectively breaking the signal to the detonator.
“Valentin!”, Bond roared.
The blast was designed to project upwards at an angle of around thirty degrees. This would ensure that anybody sitting at the bar would take the full brunt of the explosion. Zukovsky was flung back off his stool and fell eight feet away from the bar, his upper body sustaining a barrage of marble shrapnel. The explosion tore through a five-foot section of the bar. Bond was thrown off his feet by the shock of the blast, his cell-phone bouncing onto the carpeted floor.
People began screaming and heading for the exits towards the stern of the vessel. Bond shook his head to clear it and hauled himself up. There was a ringing in his ears. He snatched up his phone from the floor and rushed over to where Zukovsky lay. The Russian’s white uniform was crimson-soaked on the right-hand side. Tiny shards of marble peppered the right side of his face. Bond knelt down beside the wounded man.
“Occupational hazard”, Zukovsky muttered in a clipped tone as a thin trickle of blood ran down from the side of his mouth.
Bond knew that Valentin wasn’t going to survive. Despite the Russian’s large size, this blast had done too much damage. Zukovsky knew it too.
“When you catch her, James...give her a bullet for me”, he said with effort.
At least one, Valentin”, Bond replied.
Zukovsky looked up at Bond and gave him a weak smile before his heart stopped beating and his body went limp.
Bond sighed. The large room had emptied and, as his hearing returned to normal, he could hear a muffled voice from the cell-phone in his hand. Tanner was still on the line as Bond switched the phone to speaker.
“James! Are you there? What’s happening!?”
“Bill, I need you to put a net around Jamaica. Get Station K to put an alert out for Neil Braverman, last seen at Hemmings’ villa”, Bond replied.
“What, the playwright?”, Bill asked.
“Yes! He knew I’d be out here. Even lent me his boat, dammit. Grab him and sweat him till he breaks. I need to find Velasquez”, Bond barked into the phone.
Suddenly, two bullets clipped the bar-stool where Bond had sat. He looked up to see the blonde security-man, Yuri,  standing near the gaming tables and aiming the Glock at him.
“Gotta run, Bill!”, Bond said and disconnected the call.
He was up and sprinting towards the kitchen doors near the bar as another shot rang out, shattering a bottle behind the bar. Bond ran through the vacant kitchen and headed through a small corridor at the rear that led out onto the outer deck. He glanced out at the water and saw the ship’s guests and crew-members swimming out to the three smaller boats that he’d seen earlier.  Bond figured that the layout of this vessel would be similar to that of the smaller GNx75 that he’d been aboard previously, so he made his way towards the bow of the ship. Up ahead was a staircase which would lead him to the lower decks below the waterline where the life-boats were stationed. Velasquez would surely be making his way there.
Ten feet in front of Bond, a cabin door burst open and Yuri with the Glock stepped out.
“Now’s not a good time”, Bond said as he lunged at Yuri’s gun-arm, throwing him off-balance. Yuri dropped to one knee and Bond pressed his left forearm against his throat, clamping his right hand around the Russian’s wrist to slam it against the railing on the right of the deck. Bond pulled the hand back and hammered it into the railing a second time to dislodge the Glock from his grip. The gun went off before slipping from Yuri’s grasp and dropping over the side.
Yuri twisted and brought up his left fist in a badly timed punch which hit Bond in the neck, making him relax his grip. It gave him enough time to deliver a better punch to Bond’s cheekbone.  Bond spun slightly, which allowed Yuri to deliver a quick kick to his left thigh, knocking him to the deck. Bond felt a graze across his left cheek as it hit the non-slip decking.

Bond had dealt with this type of fighter before. No technique, no real self-defence training. Just sheer brute force. Bond's training had encompassed various forms of martial arts and boxing. Major Hastings, one of his instructors, once said: "Now, these night-club bouncer types, they're just all muscle and no brains, but I'm sure their mothers love them. A flat palm, hard and fast, against the ear will get their attention, maybe even burst an eardrum, if done properly. And don't let anyone tell you that slapping is girly. There's nothing girly about survival, lads. Although I draw the line at biting. That's for children."
Yuri pounced on Bond, pressed a knee between his shoulder blades and fastened his hands around his neck from behind. And began squeezing. Bond tried to grab at his hands with his free left hand to no avail. His right hand was pinned underneath him across his chest and he felt something press hard against the backs of his fingers. The fountain pen was still in his pocket!
Bond shifted his weight slightly. It wasn’t much because he was pinned down so hard, but it was enough to allow his fingers to take hold of the pen. He then planted his left palm down by his shoulder and, as he felt his air intake dwindle sharply, pressed down hard and fast. He had one chance with this before the man choked the very life out of him.
The manoeuvre allowed Bond to twist his body around slightly. He felt a burn at his throat as Yuri’s grip caused friction against his neck, but at least now, the man's knee was off his back.
While the German fountain pen manufacturer, Pelikan, is renowned for making a superior writing instrument, the one basic short-coming of these pens lies in the threading of the cap. It takes a rotation of around 330 degrees to fully unscrew. This can sometimes result in the cap unscrewing whilst in a shirt pocket if not fully screwed shut. Bill Tanner owned a similar model to the one in Bond’s pocket and there was an instance once where Tanner stepped into his office lamenting the fact that the pen cap had unscrewed and stained his new Turnbull and Asser shirt.
“Wouldn’t have happened if you’d screwed the cap on properly, Bill”, Bond had remarked.
Bond now lay sideways, holding the pen by its barrel and, in one deft move, flicked the clip on its cap with his thumb. The cap spun swiftly and fell away from the barrel before Bond jammed the fine-point nib up and into the Russian man’s upper chest, embedding the pen at the junction between the Deltoid and Pectoralis Major muscles.
Yuri let out a yell and relaxed his grip on Bond’s throat instantly.
“How’s that for old-school?”, Bond said as he propped himself up on his elbows and caught his breath.
Surely, a blow to the throat would have been more fatal, but Bond’s aim was to injure, not kill. He wanted to incapacitate to ensure no further trouble from the man. Bond sat up as Yuri fell back against the deck and, shakily getting to his feet, continued to make his way towards the stairs near the bow end.
He scuttled down the steps two at a time and arrived at the lower deck. The engine room was located towards the stern. The middle area of this deck housed the crew’s quarters and the lifeboats were located directly below the bow section on the starboard side of the vessel. The tussle with the blonde man had taken up valuable minutes and Bond’s hopes of finding Velasquez still on board had all but faded.
Bond was proven wrong, however, when he heard the sound of the lifeboat winch thirty feet away.  Bond saw Velasquez step out of the alcove where the lifeboats were.
“Give it up, Ramon, or you won’t get off this boat alive”, Bond called out.
Velasquez looked around at Bond. Then he raised his right hand and smiled. He was holding a small keypad. He pressed a button and the ship was suddenly rocked with an Earth-shattering roar.
“That’s the bow section gone”, Velasquez said in a matter-of-fact tone. He pressed another button on the keypad.
There was a second blast, closer this time. Bond felt the floor shudder and his teeth vibrate as the ship slowly began listing to one side.
“That’s the mid-section.  Took me eight hours to lay those charges. All along the hull. Cuts this boat in two”, Velasquez said. There was a certain detached coldness in his voice and it was at that point that Bond realised he was dealing with a psychopath.
“We have something in common, Mr Bond”, he said.
“Oh, really? What’s that?”, Bond asked as the boat tilted further towards its port side.
Velasquez didn’t answer, but merely stepped back into the alcove. Bond took a few steps forward before another explosion erupted there, destroying the lifeboats and obliterating Ramon Velasquez from the face of the Earth. Bond stood there, slightly dumbfounded. Did Markov have so much power and influence that people were willing to die for her?
Seawater flooded across Bond’s feet as smoke and dust began to fill the air. He had to get top-side fast. He bolted up the staircase at an awkward angle as the ship continued to flood and reached the upper deck in seconds. He held onto the railing of the deck and watched the entire stern section of Gordana’s Boy disappear beneath the surface. The Riva was still tied to it and he waited for the mooring line to snap. No such luck. The line remained tautly tied to the shiny cleat and Bond saw the rear left of the Riva’s stern dip towards the waterline.
“Come on, damn you!”, he shouted, hoping for the line to give way. No. The stern lowered slightly, allowing seawater into the speedboat. The Riva filled up fast and Bond saw the boat go under.
He was almost ten kilometres out to sea. He had to get off this vessel and back to shore as soon as he could. The smaller boats that had picked up the passengers and crew were probably half-way back to shore. The lifeboats were destroyed. The Riva was gone.
He had no other alternatives. The superyacht was now tilted at a twenty-five degree angle. The rate at which it was sinking had slowed somewhat. This meant that there were certain areas below-deck that hadn’t begun to flood yet. Bond knew that it was now or never. He needed to get far enough away so as not to get caught in the undertow if the vessel started sinking faster.
Bond let go of the railing and slid rapidly down the deck towards the water. He kept his feet together and sliced through the surface of the water. As his momentum slowed, he began to kick with his legs. He slipped off his Tod’s leather loafers and made his way to the surface. He then swum hard in an effort to put as much distance between himself and the ship. In his head, he counted slowly to twenty before he stopped swimming.

He turned to look back at the superyacht which was now forty metres away from him. Watching it sink, he treaded water with his legs as he took his now useless cell-phone from his pocket and let it sink to the ocean floor. He then unbuttoned his shirt and trousers, removed them and let them drift away.  Finally, he peeled off his socks.
He was now ready for the arduous swim ahead. If he paced himself, he could just possibly make it to shore. One thing was certain. He’d have plenty of time to think about the events of the last few hours.

James Bond took a deep breath and began making for shore.


Based on characters created by Ian Fleming, Raymond Benson, Michael France, Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein.
EDIT 18/2/13- Still finding spelling errors. Should've proof-read it a little more thoroughly.
EDIT 23/2/13- Dammit! Changed the location of the pen wound to an area of the body that would be more plausible.