Excerpt

Colonel Sun

Kingsley Amis

The following is an exclusive excerpt from Colonel Sun, a James Bond novel written by Kingsley Amis and recently reissued by Pegasus Books. In the following passage, Bond fights against several mysterious assailants, interrupted in an attempt to drug and kidnap M.

In the course of his career, James Bond had been held up and threatened in this sort of way literally dozens of times—often, as now, by a total stranger. The first step towards effective counter-measures was to play for a little time and analyze what information was immediately available.

Bond set aside as profitless all speculation about the enemy’s objective and what might have happened to M and the Hammonds. He concentrated instead on the enemy’s gun. This was recognizable straight away as a 9-mm. Luger. The impact of a bullet of such caliber, weighing nearly half an ounce and travelling at the speed of sound, is tremendous. Bond knew that to be struck by one at the present range, even in a limb, would hurl him to the floor and probably shock him unconscious. If it hit anywhere near the knee, where the weapon was now aimed, he would almost certainly never walk again. All in all a professional’s armament.

The man himself had a thin, bony face and a narrow mouth. He was wearing a lightweight dark-blue suit and well-polished brogues. You might have taken him for a well promising junior executive in advertising or television, with a taste for women. What Bond chiefly noticed about his looks was that he was as tall as himself, but slighter in build. Perhaps vulnerable in a physical tussle, then, if one could be engineered. What made him disquieting was the economy and force of the words he had just used and the businesslike tone in which they had been uttered, devoid of vulgar menace or triumph, above all without the faintest hint of that affected nonchalance which would have marked him down as an amateur and therefore a potential bungler. This was the surest possible guarantee that he knew how to use his gun and would do so at once if he felt it to be advisable.

Rapid foot-steps now sounded on gravel and another man entered by the front door. He hardly bothered to glance at Bond, who had a fleeting impression of washed-out blue eyes.

All this passed through Bond’s mind in three seconds or so. Before they were quite up, he heard a car turn into the drive and felt a flicker of hope. But the man with the Luger did not even turn his head. The new arrival was clearly going to lengthen the odds, not shorten them. Rapid foot-steps now sounded on gravel and another man entered by the front door. He hardly bothered to glance at Bond, who had a fleeting impression of washed-out blue eyes. Smoothing his crop of black hair, the man drew what looked like an identical Luger from just behind his right hip; then, moving as if to some carefully worked-out and practiced drill, he passed outside and well clear of his companion to the foot of the stairs.

“Out here and up, slowly,” said the first man in the same tone as before.

However difficult it may be to escape from a ground-floor room in the presence of armed enemies, the problem becomes virtually hopeless when the scene is shifted upstairs and there is a guard on the landing or in the hall. Bond appreciated this at once, but simply did as he was told and moved forward. When he was three yards off, the thin-faced man backed away, preserving the distance between them. The second man, the one with black hair, was on the other half-landing, his Luger grasped firmly in front of his belly and pointed at Bond’s legs. These two were professionals all right.

Bond glanced around the incongruous normality of Quarterdeck’s hall—the gleaming pine panels, the 1/144 scale model of M’s last ship, the battle-cruiser Repulse, M’s own antiquated ulster thrown carelessly on to the old-fashioned hall-stand. This thing was bad and big. Bad on all counts, not least his lack of any weapon: British agents do not go armed off duty in their own country. Big in that to be prepared to maim, probably even kill, in such circumstances was unknown in peacetime—except for frequently high stakes. Not to know what these stakes might be was like an intolerable physical thirst.

James Bond’s feet mounted mechanically on the worn old olive-green Axminster stair-carpet. The two gunmen preceded and followed him at the same safe distance. Despite their total competence they were obvious employees, non commissioned material. The officer in charge of whatever this operation might be would no doubt be revealed in a moment.

“In.”

This time the black-haired man spoke. The other waited on the stairs. Bond crossed the threshold of M’s bedroom, that tall, airy room with the brocade curtains drawn back from the shut balcony windows, and came face to face with M himself.

A gasp of horror tore at Bond’s throat.

M sat in a high-backed Chippendale chair by his own bedside. His shoulders were hunched as if he had aged ten years, and his hands hung loosely between his knees. After a moment he looked up slowly and his eyes fastened on Bond. There was no recognition in them, no expression at all; their habitual frosty clarity was gone. From his open mouth came a curious wordless sound, perhaps of wonder, or of inquiry, or of warning, perhaps all three.

M sat in a high-backed Chippendale chair by his own bedside. His shoulders were hunched as if he had aged ten years, and his hands hung loosely between his knees.

Adrenalin is produced by the adrenal glands, two small bodies situated on the upper surface of the kidneys. Because of the circumstances which cause its release into the circulation, and its effects on the body, it is sometimes known as the drug of fright, fight and flight. Now, at the sight of M, Bond’s adrenals fell to their primeval work, pumping their secretion into his bloodstream and thus quickening respiration to fill his blood with oxygen, speeding up the heart’s action to improve the blood-supply to the muscles, closing the smaller blood-vessels near the skin to minimize loss in case of wounding, even causing the hair on his scalp to lift minutely, in memory of the age when the man’s primitive ancestors had been made to look more terrible to their adversaries by the raising and spreading of their furry crests. And while Bond still stared appalled at M, there came to him from somewhere or other, perhaps from the adrenalin itself, a strange exultation. He knew instantly that he had not gone soft, that at need he was the same efficient fighting machine as ever.

A voice spoke. It was a neutral sort of voice with a neutral accent, and it used the same practical, colourless tone as the earlier voices had done. It said sharply, but without hurry, “You need not be distressed, Bond. Your chief has not been damaged in any way. He has merely been drugged in order to render him amenable. When the drug wears off he will be fully himself again. You are now about to receive an injection of the same drug. If you resist, my associate here has orders to shoot you through the kneecap. This, as you know, would render you utterly helpless at once. This injection is painless. Stand quite still and roll up your left sleeve.”

The speaker was a burly man in his forties, pale, hook-nosed, nearly bald, at first glance unremarkable as his subordinates. A second glance would have shown there to be something wrong about the eyes, or rather the eyelids, which seemed a size too large. Their owner was certainly conscious of them, for he continually raised and lowered them as he spoke. Instead of looking affected, the mannerism was oddly disturbing. If Bond’s mind had been open to such reflections, he might have been reminded of the Black Stone in Buchan’s Thirty-Nine Steps, the man who could hood his eyes like a hawk and who had haunted Bond’s daydreams as a boy. But Bond’s thoughts were racing all out in a more practical direction.

He had registered purely subconsciously the positions of all his adversaries: one gunman facing him, the other somewhere on landing or stairs covering the door, the man who was doing the talking stationed with his back to the windows that gave onto the balcony, a fourth man, a doctor of some sort, physically negligible, standing at the foot of the bed with a hypodermic needle in his hand. So much for that. What clamoured for solution were two problems, which Bond knew to be vital without understanding why. Why was the fallacy in what the man by the windows had just finished saying? And what was the tiny unimportant fact about those windows that none of these four would know and Bond did and could use—if only he could remember it?

“Move.”

The lids closed imperiously over the eyes and lifted again. The voice had not been raised in volume or pitch.

Bond waited.

“You will gain nothing by this. You have five seconds in which to begin carrying out my instructions. Should you not have done so, you will be disabled and then given the injection at out leisure.”

Bond did not waste any of his attention on the countdown. Before it was over he had the solution to the first of his two problems. He had found something contradictory in what was proposed. There is no point in giving an already helpless man and injection designed to render him helpless. Why not maim him immediately, which as things stood would be quick, certain and without risk, and forget about the injection, which was already turning out to be troublesome? So they wanted him not merely helpless, but helpless and undamaged. The chances were high that the gun threat was just bluff. If it were not, if there were some extra factor Bond had failed to spot, the penalty would be dreadful. But there was no alternative.

The voice had finished counting and Bond had not moved. In the silence M made another small inarticulate sound. Then—

“Take.”

Bond’s arm were seized from behind and jerked backwards—he had not heard the approach of the thin-faced gunman from outside the room. Before the nelson grip was complete Bond had lashed backwards with his heel and made contact. One arm came free. It was instantly seized by the black-haired gunman.

The struggle that followed, though two-to-one, was almost on equal terms, for Bond was full of the exultation of having his guess proved right and thus winning the first point, not to speak of his joyful recovery of confidence in his fighting abilities. And he could hurt them in ways they must not hurt him. But he was up against one man who was his equal in build and another who, though slighter, had a genius for throwing on the most painful available nerve-hold as soon as the one before it had been broken.

An elbow-jab that just missed the groin brought the top of Bond’s body forward. Before he could recover, ten fingers that felt like steel bolts had sunk into the ganglia at the base of his neck. The muscles of his upper arms seemed to turn into thin streams of cold mud. Again he tried to bring his heel back and up, but this time his legs were grabbed from the front and held. A wrench, a heave, and Bond hit the floor. He lay face down, one body across his shoulders, the other immobilizing his lower half, relaxed, not struggling uselessly, thinking, thinking about the windows, if he ever reached them, the windows…

“Jab.”

Bond felt the arrival of the third man, the doctor, above him, and gathered himself for a supreme effort. In the next minute he proved how difficult it is even for two strong, skillful and determined men to render a third equally powerful man completely helpless if they are not allowed to inflict anything really violent and ruthless upon him. Bond used that minute. As he strove and sweated, with no objective beyond not allowing any favourable area of his body to become available to the hypodermic, dimly aware that some sort of argument was going on between the man with the hooded eyes and the doctor, he remembered what he had to remember. The windows, though closed, could not be fastened. The catch was broken. Hammond had mentioned it the previous week and M, tetchy as ever, had said he would be dammed if he was going to let some carpenter johnny turn the room into shambles—it could wait a couple of weeks, until the time of M’s annual salmon-fishing holiday on the Test. So a sharp shove where the windows met would…

Perhaps the triumph of remembering this snatch of talk—to which Bond had not been consciously listening at all—made him relax for an instant. Perhaps one gunman or the other found an extra ounce of strength. Anyway, Bond’s wrist was caught and held and the next instant he felt the prick of the needle in his left forearm. He drove off a wave of despair and loathing, asked himself how long the stuff was supposed to take before it worked, experimentally let himself go limp, found the pressure on him relaxing slightly but significantly, and moved.

One hand on the low stone balustrade, over, down to a perfectly balanced four-point landing, up and away into the nearest trees.

In that one possible split second he was able to twist himself partly free. He arched his back and drove out with both feet. The thin-faced man screamed. Blood spurted from his nose. He fell heavily. The other man chopped at the back of Bond’s neck, but too late. Bond’s elbow took him almost exactly on the windpipe. The man with the hooded eyes swung a foot as Bond came up off the floor, but he was not in time either. All he did was lay open Bond’s path to the windows. The two halves flew apart with beautiful readiness as his shoulder struck them. One hand on the low stone balustrade, over, down to a perfectly balanced four-point landing, up and away into the nearest trees.

Those first scattered pines seemed to move past him only slowly, run as hard as he might. Now there were more of them. And brambles and wild rhododendrons. Making the going difficult. Very important not to fall. Not to slow down either. Keep up speed. Why? Get away from them. Who? Men. Man with eyes like a hawk’s. Man who has done terrible things to M. Must save M. Go back and save M? No. Go on. Save M by running away from him? Yes. Go on. Where? Far. Go on far. How far? Far…

Bond really was hardly more than a machine now. Soon he had forgotten everything but the necessity to take the next stride, and the next, and the next. When there was nothing left of his mind at all his body ran on, as fast as before but without a sense of direction, for perhaps another minute. After that it slowed and stopped. It stood where it was for a further minute, panting with slack mouth, the arms hanging loosely by the sides. The eyes were open, but they saw nothing. Then, impelled by some last flicker of intelligence or will, the body of James Bond took a dozen more steps, dropped, and lay full length in a patch of long coarse grass between two dwarf poplars, virtually invisible to anybody passing more than five yards away.

In fact, nobody came as close as that. The pursuit was hopeless from the start. The thin-faced man, bleeding thickly from a smashed nose, was over the balcony and round the corner of the house nearly—though not quite—in time to see Bond disappearing among the pines, but it was ten or twelve more seconds before he was joined by his fellow and by the man with the hooded eyes, who was not accustomed to jumping from balconies and had to descend by the stairs. If the thin-faced man had been working for an organization that encouraged initiative, he would have made without delay for the edge of the woods, listened, and been able to give effective chase. As it was, Bond was just out of earshot by the time the trio reached the first trees. They moved in the obvious, and indeed the right, direction for a time, but time was the very thing they short of. It was not very long before the leader looked at his watch and called a halt.

“Back.”

Before they turned away, the speaker unhooded his eyes and looked with peculiar intentness at the thin-faced man. That face lost some of its colour. Then the three moved off. By the final irony in a day of ironies, another sixty or seventy yards’ advance would have brought them straight to where Bond lay.

More time passed. The shadows in the wood lengthened, began to fade into the blur of dusk. The hum of insects fell to a murmur. Once a blackbird called. No other sound. If Bond had been able to strain his ears to their limit, he might just have heard a distant scream, abruptly cut off, and then, a little later, a car being started and driven away. But he heard nothing. He was nothing.

__________________________________

Excerpted from Colonel Sun: A James Bond Adventure by Kingsley Amis, in a new edition published by Pegasus Books. © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd 1968. “James Bond” and “007” are registered trademarks of Danjaq LLC, used under license by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.  Reprinted with permission.




More Story
In Tehran, Noir Is a
Political Act
Back in the day, so my mother tells me, on the rare occasions when my father took her along to one of the cabarets of old Tehran,...