It’s not often we get this excited about a spy novel. But then, it’s not often that a new James Bond book troubles the printing press. Carte Blanche is the work of US author Jeffery Deaver. In this special taster, we meet 007 after an aborted mission in Serbia, where he was bested by a sinister Irishman…
After three and a half hours’ sleep James Bond was woken at seven a.m. in his Chelsea flat by the electronic tone of his mobile phone’s alarm clock. His eyes focused on the white ceiling of the small bedroom. He blinked twice and, ignoring the pain in his shoulder, head and knees, rolled out of the double bed, prodded by the urge to get on the trail of the Irishman and Noah.
His clothes from the mission to Novi Sad lay on the hardwood floor. He tossed the tactical outfit into a training kitbag, gathered up the rest of his clothes and dropped them into the laundry bin, a courtesy to May, his treasure of a Scottish housekeeper who came three times a week to sort out his domestic life. He would not think of having her pick up his clutter.
Naked, Bond walked into the bathroom, turned on the shower as hot as he could stand it and scrubbed himself hard with unscented soap. Then he turned the temperature down, stood under freezing water until he could tolerate that no longer, stepped out and dried himself. He examined his wounds from last night: two large aubergine-coloured bruises on his leg, some scrapes and the slice on his shoulder from the grenade shrapnel.
He shaved with a heavy, double-bladed safety razor, its handle of light buffalo horn. He used this fine accessory not because it was greener to the environment than the plastic disposables that most men employed but simply because it gave a better shave — and required some skill to wield; James Bond found comfort even in small challenges.
By seven fifteen he was dressed: a navy-blue Canali suit, a white sea island shirt and a burgundy Grenadine tie, the latter items from Turnbull & Asser. He donned black shoes, slip-ons; he never wore laces, except for combat footwear or when tradecraft required him to send silent messages to a fellow agent via prearranged loopings.
Onto his wrist he slipped his steel Rolex Oyster Perpetual, the 34mm model, the date window its only complication; Bond did not need to know the phases of the moon or the exact moment of high tide at Southampton. And he suspected very few people did.
Most days he had breakfast — his favourite meal of the day — at a small hotel nearby in Pont Street. Occasionally he cooked for himself one of the few things he was capable of whipping up in the kitchen: three eggs softly scrambled with Irish butter. The steaming curds were accompanied by bacon and crisp wholemeal toast, with more Irish butter and marmalade.
Today, though, the urgency of Incident Twenty was in full bloom so there was no time for food. Instead he brewed a cup of fiercely strong Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, which he drank from a china mug as he listened to Radio 4 to learn whether or not the train incident and subsequent deaths had made the international news. They had not.
His wallet and cash were in his pocket, his car key, too. He grabbed the plastic carrier bag of the items he had collected in Serbia and the locked steel box that contained his weapon and ammunition, which he could not carry legally within the UK.
He hurried down the stairs of his flat — formerly two spacious stables.
He unlocked the door and stepped into the garage. The cramped space was large enough, just, for the two cars that were inside, plus a few extra tyres and tools. He climbed into the newer of the vehicles, the latest model Bentley Continental GT, its exterior the company’s distinctive granite grey, with supple black hide inside.
The turbo W12 engine murmured to life. Tapping the downshift paddle into first gear, he eased into the road, leaving behind his other vehicle, less powerful and more temperamental but just as elegant: a 1960s E-type Jaguar, which had been his father’s.
Driving north, Bond manoeuvred through the traffic, with tens of thousands of others who were similarly making their way to offices throughout London at the start of yet another week — although, of course, in Bond’s case this mundane image belied the truth.
Exactly the same could be said for his employer itself.
Three years ago, James Bond had been sitting at a grey desk in the monolithic grey Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall, the sky outside not grey at all but the blue of a Highland loch on a bright summer’s day. After leaving the Royal Naval Reserve, he had had no desire for a job managing accounts at Saatchi & Saatchi or reviewing balance sheets for NatWest and had telephoned a former Fettes fencing teammate, who had suggested he try Defence Intelligence.
After a stint at DI, writing analyses that were described as both blunt and valuable, he had wondered to his supervisor if there might be a chance to see a little more action.
Not long after that conversation, he had received a mysterious missive, handwritten, not an email, requesting his presence for lunch in Pall Mall, at the Travellers Club.
On the day in question, Bond had been led into the dining room and seated in a corner opposite a solid man in his mid-sixties, identified only as the ‘Admiral’. He wore a grey suit that perfectly matched his eyes. His face was jowled and his head crowned with a sparse constellation of birthmarks, evident through the thinning, swept-back brown and grey hair. The Admiral had looked steadily at Bond without challenge or disdain or excessive analysis. Bond had no trouble in returning the gaze — a man who has killed in battle and nearly died himself is not cowed by anyone’s stare. He realised, however, that he had absolutely no idea what was going on in the man’s mind. They did not shake hands.
Menus descended. Bond ordered halibut on the bone, steamed, with Hollandaise, boiled potatoes and grilled asparagus. The Admiral selected the grilled kidney and bacon, then asked Bond, ‘Wine?’
‘Burgundy, I should think,’ Bond said. ‘Côte de Beaune? Or a Chablis?’
‘The Alex Gambal Puligny, perhaps?’ the waiter suggested.
The bottle arrived a moment later. The waiter smoothly displayed the label and poured a little into Bond’s glass. The wine was the colour of pale butter, earthy and excellent, and exactly the right temperature, not too chilled. Bond sipped, nodded his approval and the glasses were half filled.
When the waiter had departed, the older man said gruffly, ‘You’re a veteran and so am I. Neither of us has any interest in small-talk. I’ve asked you here to discuss a career opportunity.’
‘I thought as much, sir.’ Bond hadn’t intended to add the final word, but it had been impossible not to do so. ‘You may be familiar with the rule at the Travellers about not exposing business documents. Afraid we’ll have to break it.’ The older man withdrew from his breast pocket an envelope. He handed it over. ‘This is similar to the Official Secrets Act declaration.’
‘I’ve signed one—’
‘Of course you have — for Defence Intelligence,’ the man said briskly, revealing his impatience at stating the obvious. ‘This has a few more teeth. Read it.’
Bond did so. More teeth indeed, to put it mildly.
The Admiral said, ‘If you’re not interested in signing we’ll finish our lunch and discuss the recent election or trout fishing in the north or how those damn Kiwis beat us again last week and get back to our offices.’ He lifted a bushy eyebrow.
Bond hesitated only a moment, then scrawled his name across the line and handed it back. The document vanished.
A sip of wine. The Admiral asked, ‘Have you heard of the Special Operations Executive?’
Carte Blanche, the new James Bond novel by Jeffery Deaver, is published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton on 26 May, priced £19.99