I rarely post fiction here. I don’t write very much of it, and I am unlikely to continue, much less finish anything I start. But tonight, I could not bear to adhere to a thesis, nor did I want to write a chatty, emotional post about not much really. So here are 750ish words of me playing with James Bond (copyright held by Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd.) doing not much really. The title is completely meaningless.
Later, recalling the incident, Bond would be so uncertain he had heard anything that he wouldn’t mention it at all. But as the moment unfolded before him, predictable as a tick list he might make for target-disabling destruction and chaos, there was a certainty in his body that there had been an audible clue to the surprise ending, and he had heard it and failed to respond.
He might have thought it was an echo. Of the empty clip dropped and sloppily kicked in a shadowed cleft between two of the clay houses off to his left. But the bomb in the first floor of the house on the market street to his right went off, knocking him off his feet and sucking away the air he had intended to use to tell the journalist shadowing him as part of his cover to get to the jeep and get out.
Instead Bond’s compassion was rewarded with dust from the explosion searing his throat, and a sand-strobed view of the first bullet piercing the journo’s right hand, then his thigh, which dropped him. The second bullet underestimated the consequences of the first shot, and disappeared in the smoke of the bomb aftermath. The third penetrated the victim’s neck, twin streams of blood heaping up in the waiting sand. No more bullets came. Exact. Economical. Professional.
Bond scrambled toward the downed man, needing to strip him of the data they had collected, and a token if he had time, something to send to the man’s family. The growing whistle of anti-tank fire had his awareness, but not his attention, as he worked. This second blast forced him down over the man, like a shroud. And Bond looked up just in time to see a girl -seven or eight- running from the destruction, fall on her face to lie still.
Minutes later, crouched in the corner of a crowded safe house, a dirty cup of bitter tea clutched in a hand shaking from unspent adrenaline, Bond clumsily answered the questions yelled at him in broken, rudimentary Arabic. He did not know what neighborhood the girl came from, or if her parents were alive. He could not even find the memory of picking her up in his replay of the past thirty minutes.
When he had inhaled enough sand for his lungs to burn in constant agony, he stopped running; only because he did not want to stagger and drop the child. He knew then, really looking down at her for the first time, that she had breathed her last breath a long time ago. Perhaps even before he reached her. And yet he carried her. Could not bring himself to put her down. She was still warm, and floppy, like a child in their deepest sleep. But he knew she was not alive anymore. She had ceased to bleed.
A stranger had saved them, grabbing him by the collar and dragging them down an alley into a half destroyed home. ‘They will not break what is already broken’ the man had said confidently; or something like it, explaining that the house was safe. He was bearded and dirty, head-wrapped, fatigues, ballistic vest, multiple small weapons, and pride. This house was safe because he kept it safe.
Bond was prodded and pushed from that moment forward. The girl was taken from his arms and he was pushed away by the crowd that formed to help and identify her. Forced into a corner, a heavy hand on his shoulder to sit, the teacup wrapped in his hands; it occurred to him this was not only a barrier of language, but that he had ceased giving his own body commands. ‘Pull it together James.’ He told himself.
The concealed slim notebooks scratched him. He could feel the scant weight of the camera’s memory cards slightly deforming an inside pocket. Mission accomplished. There would be clean sheets for him tonight. His ride of out of this hell was probably already on its way. But blood from the shrapnel wound to the back of her head coated his left arm. One sleeve of his Gieves and Hawkes shirt was still tied, a useless tourniquet, around her right leg. Bond could not remember trying so hard for something so obviously futile. And he was half mad looking for the root of his failure. The four women in the group of rebels and refugees cradled the girl on the table rocking her with weeping and prayer.