Iron Wall, Silver Mountain

For one night
she’d be his wife.
For one night only.
His name: classified.
She couldn’t repeat it.
She’d seen it once,
just once,
in a file folder.
M’s office, Vauxhall Cross.

In the windowless inner office,
as Elizabeth sat prim and pale
in a red leather armchair,
trying to appear offhand,
M had explained the task
in his usual clipped way,
his yellowed teeth clenched all the time
on the trademark ivory cigarette holder —
a Dunhill burning in it —
gazing off into space
through the cloud of blue smoke.

As if she didn’t exist,
as if her father, Alwyn Storm,
has never lived
or died.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

It wasn’t, he said, a “wet” job.
Yet her training might,
just might be needed
if the thing went South, so to speak.
It was a simple hand off.
Robert Vaclos,
a Corsican drug kingpin,
was getting a briefcase
from this “David Blair” —
an undercover “00” man —
with a homing device in the leather.
The homing device was to track Vaclos,
so SAS commandoes might lift him
in a lightning ambush
somewhere on the roads
between his grand villa and San Remo.

The villa was too well defended,
and in San Remo he always rented a whole floor
of the Hotel Grand Regency.

-Vaclos’ bodyguards are ex-French Action Service,
all Corsicans. Hard men.
So it’s going to be a damnably hard operation as is.
But with the bug in place,
there’s a better chance of success.
We can pick the spot to take him
and thus minimize casualties to our people.
Get the picture?

Elizabeth cleared her throat slightly.
Bending forward, she licked her upper lip
with the point of her tongue,
and said clearly:
-Yes, Sir.

M glanced at her.
It wasn’t his habit to look at agents.
Instead, he usually just smoked, stared into space,
gave the clipped, tiresome exposition, and sent them off.
To live. To die. Who knew?
“Every field op represents a risk;
every secret foray can devolve into a life or death struggle.”

She felt the skin on her forehead prickle,
but she kept her face calm,
the lips smiling slightly.

M hadn’t glanced at her face.
He was a man, after all.
His gaze had gone to her chest.
She made an effort to keep still,
watching his lidded eyes
as he darted another hot glance at it.

Breasts, not face.
She is aware,
Elizabeth Alwyn Storm is,
that her bust is sublime.
She’s heard it described
as perfect,
even as majestic.

She’s a legend in the Service
not for killing people,
which she hasn’t yet —
none confirmed, anyway —
but for her icy beauty.
And for those proud breasts
she carries before her so brashly.

She is shy, Elizabeth —
prone to blushing easily,
the color rising to her ears in a rush.
This used to torment her.
She had to master it.
She did master it,
during her training at the Fort.

She’s careful about her reputation. She never sees male colleagues outside.
At HQ, she dresses conservatively,
baring only the thrilling arms and white neck.
She’s even considered getting glasses,
so the men here won’t dream of making passes.

No, she thinks.
They’d dream of it anyway.
Just as she’s dreaming about this “David Blair”
after seeing just one photograph of the devil.
Handsome? Unbearably.
Slick as the action on a Luger.
“oo4” with twenty confirmed kills in the field.
Known to enjoy the company of alluring women.
All in all, the closest thing SIS has to a “Bond.”


-Yes, Agent Storm.

-Why do we want this man,
if you don’t mind my asking?

M. sighs.
He takes the cigarette
in its ivory holder
from his lips,
crushes it out,
puts it down with a deliberate click
and sits back
in the leather chair.

He fixes Elizabeth Alwyn Storm’s ice-blue eyes with his own.
M.’s are, as always, black and fiery.
She doesn’t flinch,
but it’s an effort not to.

-Vaclos is dealing with a warlord
in Afghanistan,
who goes by the name Sukhmet.
Sukhmet supplies Vaclos raw opium
in exchange not for money
but for specialized types of arms,
which Sukhmet then peddles
to the Taliban. Among others.
We need to know exactly
who Robert Vaclos works with
on the armaments front.
It’s not just a drug issue now —
it’s a matter of national security.
“The rest is silence.” Top Secret.
Satisfied, Agent Storm?

Elizabeth bows her head slightly.
The beautiful lips part.
She says:

-Yes. Thank you, Sir.


Tin Soldiers

George Wetherby.
Down from Tunbrudge Wells.
Retired: “old soldier” for the Circus.
Handled Hong Kong for 15 years, ran the China networks.
Sent agents in and out of the People’s Republic. Lost some.
Had a few triumphs, too.
All in all, a “good run” for the old Cold Warhorse.

Now: plaid scarf and dull overcoat. Stooped shoulders. Gray hair.
Watery blue-gray eyes
bulging behind steel-rimmed spectacles.

Down to London, to a coffee shop.
Gazing out the rain-streaked window,
sipping his Oolong through a sugar cube.
Watching the Tube entrance, the exhaust-coughing buses.

Enter: an American. Tom Shlegel.
The usual brashness.
Prep school to Dartmouth College.
Asian Languages. Two years in Japan.
Seven years as a Senior Intelligence Analyst.
Now an up-and-comer in special ops.
A Langley man, fair haired, walks like a boxer.
Works out with a rope and free weights four times a week,
gets up a healthy sweat and sits in the sauna
“leeching the poisons right out of the old system.”

He shakes the water from his raincoat,
hangs it by the entrance,
smooths his hair back and heads to George,
raising one hand. George, self-deprecating as always,
draws his shoulders in and nods.
Tom drops into the seat across,
lays the big-knuckled hand on the table.
-Having a spot of tea?
He grins at his joke. Brits. Their cliched habits.
-Naturally, with a slice of lemon, George says.
They look at each other.
Tom is smiling widely.
George shows just a hint of amusement.

Pleasantries ensue. What else?
How’s the wife, offsprings’ recent accomplishments and so forth.

-So what’s the furor? Tom asks.
-It’s the assassin lady again, I’m afraid. Molly Vance.
-Killed some more hit men?
-Worse. Destroyed the whole Tokyo Section. Took down the Man in the Hat in Zurich. The Group is livid. Stirred up about the blue eyed apocaplyse.
-Shaking in their boots eh? Ha ha.
-They want her, stat. And we’re on the line. A working group’s forming. I’m to be control. They want you as my leftenant.
-What if I don’t want to get any dirtier hands than I’ve got already, old man?

George sips. Puts down his teacup. Thin china, it clinks on the blue-bordered saucer. Tom’s candid gaze is on him, seemingly unfocussed, taking it all in. Relaxed. The face expressionless but for a trace of appreciation at George’s wit. The old alertness always comes back.

-I’m afraid just as Whitehall has put the grip on me . . .
George shrugs. Pilate dunks his hands in the basin.
-Ah. You’ve heard it through the Atlantic grapevine, then. NIS is in the basket too. The old fogies are going to wind me up and make me stagger across the carpet.
-It’s Christmas morning. Once the wrapping’s torn off, Tom, the tin soldiers have to march. You know that.