Short Story: The Taste Of Betrayal

timdalton007timdalton007 North Alabama
The late January weather in Beirut wasn't too oppressive thankfully. Despite that fact, James Bond felt like shedding the jacket he was wearing and wondered why he hadn't packed something lighter to wear. He considered dropping it off somewhere, maybe hand it off to one of the street urchins that were swarming around him in search of pocket money. The group of eight or ten children danced around him like bees sensing sugar on a summer's afternoon. The chorus of their "Please Mister!" sounded less like the buzzing of bees and more like a pack of hyaenas laughing.




Bond finally decided to oblige them. Reaching into the left pocket of his light gray trousers, he extracted the change he had received from the hotel bartender in exchange for the whiskey he had drunk before he left the hotel. Instead of picking one child or maybe two, he tossed the money up into the air. For a moment, the children fell silent as their eyes caught the money as it reached apogee of its short flight. Then, as it must, the money fell to the ground.




With its impact, the chorus of voices changed their song. Bond didn't understand the language they spoke but assumed that they were fighting amongst themselves over who would get the money. He didn't care much about either the few coins sitting on the ground or which child from the group would get what portion of it. As he walked along unobstructed, he had other thoughts on his mind.




"Are you certain you're up to it?" M had asked him in London two days earlier. Even now, walking down the street in the late afternoon sun, Bond wasn't sure that he knew the answer to that question himself. At the time though, his answer had been more definite.




"Yes sir, I am." Bond knew it was what M had wanted to hear. More than that, it was what Bond himself wanted to believe.




M sighed. That was never a good sign. The Admiral put his elbows on the desk and leaned forward, speaking with as much understanding and compassion as Bond had ever heard him speak with.




"I'm serious James." Now there was a rare occurrence in itself. M was never known to be fond of using Christian names. Surnames yes from time to time, "007" in the majority of their conversations. Rarely did M speak with such familiarity towards an agent that he used their Christian name.




"I'm eager to get back to work sir."




Bond meant it. He had spent quite awhile on compassionate leave following Tracy's funeral and then had been given alternating desk and night duties for months after that. He was bored of that, bored of the sitting around waiting for a phone to ring or for a cable to come in from distant corner of a rapidly shrinking empire. Rarely did such things occur, leaving Bond sitting there night after night behind a desk with little to do but read report after report. So yes he was eager to get out of the office. He was an eager for an assignment.




This particular assignment though might have been a different matter entirely. Bond was certainly reconsidering his decision as he made his way up what seemed a long flight of steps towards the flat. Despite the urge he still felt, Bond had kept the jacket. Dispensing of the light gray jacket would have been a waste of the good money he'd spent on it for one thing. For another, it would have exposed for all to see that he was carrying his Walther PPK in its shoulder holster. For obvious reasons, that was something he simply couldn't afford to do.




Instead he climbed the steps and made his way across the landing to the door he'd been looking for. He gave the door a couple of quick knocks and then waited for a reply. He would give it maybe ten, twelve seconds. Then he would have to weigh his options about what to do next.




As he reached the ninth second of his count, the door opened. A tall woman appeared in the doorway.




"Yes?" Her voice was American, but an educated one. Bond quickly looked her over, making sure he was in the right place. She was in early middle-aged with dark hair and the kind of looks that, once upon a time, might have enticed Bond to make an advance. She wasn't why he was here though nor was he was interested in trying to bed her.




"I'm looking for Kim," Bond said. "I'm an old friend of his."




"What's the name?"




"Sommerset. David Sommerset." Bond picked a work name from an old mission, a cover decided upon in case he was forced to take action. It was easier if he couldn't be identified.




The woman paused for a moment. Bond knew he wasn't the only 'old friend' that had visited in recent days. That was why M had sent him here after all.




"He's out on the balcony," she said stepping to one side to allow Bond to enter. "I was about to go out with the children."




Hearing footseps, Bond saw a boy and a girl walking towards him from the end of a long hallway. The boy wasn't quite in his teens yet from the look of him while the girl certainly was. He could overhear them talking, making out the odd word or two as well as their accents. English accents, which Bond realized meant they weren't the woman's children from a previous marriage.




"That's fine," Bond said in reply. It would be easier with them gone. Especially if things went the way that both Bond and M figured they would.




"He's been spending quite a bit of time out there lately. I can't quite see why myself but then there's some things about Kim I don't think I'll ever understand."




Bond smiled and nodded. The woman urged the children to hurry up and they passed Bond in the hallway, seemingly taking little notice of his presence. There was a quick exchange of goodbyes between Bond and the woman before they stepped out the door, leaving a silent flat in their wake.




Bond waited a couple of moments, making sure they hadn't forgotten something or would be coming back in a hurry. With time elapsed, Bond walked over to the door, taking the steps as quickly and quietly as he could. He slipped the lock into place on the door and put the chain in its place. At the very least, it might slow someone down.




Bond turned and made his way down the hallway. It seemed rather ill-lit, giving the feeling of one of those cheap film noirs he'd been forced to sit through during his infrequent visits to the cinema. Walking at a normal pace, he was aware of danger potentially being ready to come out of any doorway, a surprise that could mean life or death.




None came though. Bond ended up in the sitting room, comfortably decorated with an open doorway leading out onto the balcony the woman had mentioned. Bond, with the skill born of after years of practice and experience, drew the PPK from its holster. He felt the weight of it in his right hand while he reached into his left jack pocket, removing a hollow metal tube. His silencer, one he had used so many times. Once again he screwed it into the barrel, feeling as it twisted and turned, gradually sliding deeper and deeper into the Walther. Satisfied, he slipped it back into the holster and walked out onto the balcony.




The man didn't notice him at first. He seemed to be preoccupied with something out in the distance, somewhere within the city itself. Between that and the half-empty glass in his hand, Bond could see how that might be possible.




"Hello, Kim."




Kim Philby blinked and turned towards Bond, affording each man a better view of the other. Bond had last seen Philby before he'd left London eight years earlier when himself and Bill Tanner, acting as envoys from M, had seem him off. Philby had been deemed innocent then, though somehow the air of suspicion and distrust around him still lingered at some over at MI5 still had their doubts.




After the business with Burgess and Maclean, it was hard not to wonder about anyone being a Soviet agent. Bond understood that. He too had experience his own share of personal betrayal, though as he stood on the balcony of Philby's Beirut flat he tried to put those memories to one side.




"You look well, James. " Philby replied, raising his glass and smiling. Philby was a few years older than Bond remembered him being, looking worse for wear to be sure. He knew that Philby had taken to drinking more than he should, something which Bond could sympathize with. Beneath Philby's baggy short sleeved shirt, Bond could see that he'd put on quite a bit of weight around the waistline and was looking a bit puffy in the face. Yet Philby's well defined jaw was still evident as was the one feature that hadn't changed : those intelligent eyes.




"You look like you're enjoying semi-retirement, Kim." Bond said as Philby gestured for him to take the seat on his left, a table with a bottle of dark liquid sitting between them. The bottle was unmarked though from the color Bond guessed it was a bourbon of some kind.




Bond noticed that there were two more glasses on the table. One had been drunk out of, little drops of liquid lined the glass from top to bottom. The other glass, the one sitting closer to Bond, was clean and empty.




"Expecting someone?" Bond asked. Philby smiled and proceeded to top off his glass before filling up the glass closest to Bond.




"Eleanor might have told you I've had a couple of old friends visit me in the last few days." Philby spoke as he filled the glasses. "So, no, not you specifically but I expected someone was coming."




Bond looked at the glass for a moment before deciding to partake. He lifted the glass up and quickly swallowed the liquid inside. Definitely a bourbon of some kind he decided from the taste of it. Not a great one by any means though as it left a rather bitter and unpleasant aftertaste, causing Bond's face to contort as a result. Philby saw the reaction and laughed.




"You get used to it after awhile out here," he explained before taking a large swig himself. "Life out here has taught me to be less picky about some things."




"I thought that was a lesson you'd never learn," Bond said. He had chosen his words carefully but deployed them with a flippancy that hid that fact. He watched Philby's response over the rim of his glass as he took another daring swig of the foul bourbon.




"You mean that bloody man?" Philby shot back in disgust with rage in his eyes. Bond knew who he meant: Burgess. Guy Burgess, the old Cambridge friend who had once lived in Philby's basement when both had been serving in Washington. He'd been briefed that he wouldn't call Burgess by name and Bond couldn't blame him, especially knowing what he knew.




"He ruined you career, Kim. Shame for a friend to do that to you."




Philby said nothing. He stared out into the distance, sipping on his cheap bourbon He was the portrait of a bitter ex-spy, retired before his time with his best days never to come. Bond looked at a man who could have been his older brother and wondered if he too would soon be sitting on some balcony, sipping cheap alcohol and waiting for an early grave.




Stop thinking that way James, Bond's mind snapped. You know why you're here. Stop pitying him.




"You know why I'm here, don't you?" Bond finally asked. This question elicited a response from of Philby. His glass near empty, he turned towards Bond. His eyes softened a bit, showing emotion but not a lack of intelligence. He sighed and sat the glass down before answering.




"I know why you're here."




"I'm sorry Kim," Bond said. He tried to sound sincere. In a way he was sorry. He'd known Philby, though the two had never been close friends. He knew and liked the man though, having met him during the business in New York that helped him to earn his 00 number right through to the time he and Bill had seen Philby off. Yet, despite that, something lingered in the lack of Bond's mind that made him question all of that.




"I'm afraid it's been confirmed James," M had said as a way of breaking the news to him in London. "A defector named Goltisyn went over to the Americans some time ago. While you were off following up Operation Bedlam, their man Angleton allowed us to question him. We've been following up the information since and know we known for certain. You can imagine how thrilled they were over at Five when we told them..."




Sitting on the balcony, Bond still couldn't quite believe it. Even after Philby's old friend and colleague Nicholas Elliot had come out here to get his confession and even after talking with Shaffer, the head of station here, Bond tried not to believe it. He wanted to think there was another explanation for things. Looking in Philby's eyes as the sun began to dip below the horizon, his doubts were silenced.




"Somehow I knew M would send you out here, James."




"Elliot offered you a deal, Kim. I'm just here to find out your answer."




"You mean confession in return for immunity from prosecution?" Philby shot back. He gave a dismissive chuckle and filled up his glass. Taking a large swig of bourbon, he gave a sound of satisfaction that stuck Bond has obnoxious. He slammed the glass down on the table with enough force that Bond was surprised that it hadn't shattered on impact.




"That would be one way of putting it," Bond replied. He watched Philby pick the glass back up and take a loud gulp. Bond took a swig from his own glass but still couldn't understand what Philby found so enjoyable in it. Then again, when one reaches the point of taking alcohol for comfort, anything would likely taste good.




"I suppose," Philby said after finishing off his glass, "that if I say 'no' to M's offer than you're hear to make sure I don't go over?"




Bond didn't answer. From the tone of Philby's voice he knew it wasn't so much a question as a statement. Perhaps fittingly, Philby had chosen to obstruct the fact by trying to make it sound like a question anyways. Those intelligent eyes stared across the table at Bond, despite the amounts of alcohol Philby had consumed.




"I should have expected no less," he said with a smile. "You know, I'm honored he sent you James."




Bond gave a dismissive shrug and finished off his own glass. Philby looked hurt by Bond's attitude, his facial expressions sinking a bit and a fire suddenly igniting in his eyes. Whatever else he might be, he clearly still had an ego that could be bruised.




"I'm serious," Philby explained. "I'm flattered M should send his favorite double-o to put me to bed. I assume you're still his favorite. Or is he just making sure you've still got a working trigger finger after the business with that woman?"




Whose turn is it to have a bruised ego? Bond asked himself. He could feel a tide of anger rising inside of him. He lent forward, setting the glass down on the small wooden table with a soft thud.




"You're one to talk. How many people have you killed?" Bond's words shot out angrily. He hoped the words would hit Philby with the emotional equivalent of the bullets in his PPK.




Philby was unmoved though. There was no anger in his eyes and his face remained still. Then his expression suddenly changed and a mischievous grin appeared across his face. There was something to Philby's look that made Bond think he was acting like a school bully who was goading his pray into fighting him.




"Says the man whose killed how many people in the name of Queen and Country?" Philby said dismissively. "Tell me James: What's it like being Her Majesty's thug?"




"How many people died in Albania because of you?" Bond said. "Was it you who tipped off SMERSH about Le Chiffre and the game at Royale? At least I'm actually willing to pill the trigger myself." Bond was angry. If Philby wanted to goad him, he was willing to rise to the bait.




"I was in Spain before the war, nearly got myself killed as you well know. Don't preach to me about death. I know about it as well as you do. The only difference between us being that I don't kill in cold blood."




With a swift movement, Bond's right hand slipped up to his jacket. Bond unbuttoned it, hoping Philby would see nothing more sinister than that. Bond sighed and leaned back in his chair, lifting the front two legs a short distance off the ground. It was then, with Philby's eyes watching this slight change in Bond's position, that Bond's right hand quickly made its way beneath the jacket and gripped the butt of the PPK.




Philby's eyes caught the movement of Bond's hand as the PPK became visible. Philby made no movement except with his eyes, watching as the pistol turned and was pointed towards his head. His eyes moved from the weapon to Bond's eyes.




Bond sat the front legs of the chair of the chair firmly back down and stood up. Keeping the PPK at the level of Philby's head, he took two steps. The first moved him closer to the railing on the balcony while the second positioned him marginally closer to Philby with his left foot being just in front of the table.




"It's going to look like a suicide I suppose?"




Bond nodded and took a quiet breath. He tightened his grip on the trigger. A bit more pressure and the PPK would do the rest.




"I'm sorry, Kim." It was all Bond could think to say. Killing, Bond knew, was never easy no matter how many lives one takes. Usually , it's a case of kill or be killed. This time was different not only because Philby was unarmed but because he had been a colleague, a friend even.




He's a traitor, Bond reminded himself. Just kill the bastard and get it over with. It's what he deserves.




Philby said nothing. He looked coldly at Bond, his eyes suddenly becoming unreadable. Maybe it was better that way, Bond decided. After all, he hadn't really known him in life and wouldn't know him in death.




There was a sudden movement in the corner of Bond's right eye. He turned and saw a bear of a man in a dark suit coming at him. The third glass should have alerted him sooner than someone else might be here. He didn't have time to consider that now as his right hand swung around to bring the PPK to bear.




Bond hadn't detected the movement soon enough. Despite the alcohol in his system, he felt the air exit his lungs and a pain in his stomach as the man's fist made contact. One can mentally prepare somewhat for such a blow if one knows its coming but Bond had no such moment. He could only gasp in pain before looking for an advantage.




Finding it, his left hand became a fist and flung into action. It made contact with some soft skin on the outside of the man's right thigh. The man cried out and was given a momentary pause as he cried out in pain.




Bond lifted his right hand, gripping the PPK firmly. Too close to aim it, he instead turned the pistol into a blunt object. He felt the impact as it the man on the left side somewhere around his rib cage. The man cried out again but it wasn't enough to stop him.




Bond felt a blow on his right shoulder. It was his turn to cry out, feeling the Walther slip from his hand. Bond tried to recover but his movements felt sluggish, his senses dulled by drink and injury. Then he felt another blow strike the back of his neck. His strength seemed to flood out of his body in an instant as his knees buckled.




He laid on his stomach there upon hard wooden floor of the balcony. He tried to look up but pain kept his eyes closed and he lacked the energy to try much movement. He cursed himself as he lay there groaning, half-hearing footsteps and voices around him.




Finally, Bond summoned up enough energy to open his eyes. Looking beyond the floor with its rough, well worn wood stinging his hands, he titled his head to afford a view of the doorway. Philby stood there in his blue shirt and khaki trousers in contrast with the ill-fitting dark suit of the man who had attacked him. The man spoke in Russian, confirming what Bond had suspected. Bond tried to form words as he watched Philby. In spite of being shorter and less well built, Philby had a commanding presence over the Russian thug.




"You bastard..." Bond coughed, still gasping for air. Philby and the Russian turned, looking down at him. The Russian wore a smirk on his face and his eyes burned with contempt for Bond.




Philby was different. The look on the man's face was a pained one. His features sagged, the eyes pitying and the shoulders drooped with the arms seeming to go limp. Philby looked as though he would say something but instead he looked away from Bond, towards the table with the bottle and glasses still upon it.




"I'm sorry James."




Philby's words were almost drowned out by Bond's breathing. Philby turned around, never looking at Bond. He looked at the Russian and gave a wordless nod. He walked through the doorway into the sitting room.




Bond closed his eyes and put his face to the floor. His right hand, now a fist, pounded into it nearby. Bond opened his eyes again and looked up, considering his options. Before he could make a decision though, he felt a hard impact of leather against his face. Then the darkness claimed him.

###


"You know you're damn lucky to be alive! If Cartmel and I hadn't gotten there when we did, I wonder if you'd still be here."




Bond took Shaffer's words into account as he laid in a hospital bed two days later. Shaffer had spent much of his youth in Canada before coming to Britain and then being stationed out here, Bond knew. Yet Shaffer's voice still carried the hint of his birthplace.




"I'll be honest, Shaffer. I didn't think the Russian got me that bad." Bond's head ached with his abdomen sore and bruised, though he didn't think that either had been life threatening.




"Well the doctors here are still amazed he didn't do more damage then he did. Anyone else and you would have had a cracked skull and a ruptured spleen."




"What about him?" Bond asked trying to change the subject. He suspected that he already knew the answer but he didn't want to think about much worse his injuries might have been.




"Well, at least he called me to tell me to come," Shaffer said. "He said you'd be there to greet me. Didn't quite realize that was what he meant though."




"And then?"




"It looks like the competition got the package out," Shaffer said quietly. There was a sense of defeat in his voice. Bond understood why. In fact he understood all too well.




"I wonder how long the Russian had been there?" Shaffer asked. "I mean when we got there the door was closed and there wasn't anything out of place. Well, except you of course lying out on the balcony."




"He must have been there when I arrived. There was the third glass on the table. I saw it but didn't make the connection. I thought it was Eleanor's. Stupid really."




"It could have been for all you knew," Shaffer started to say. Bond cut him with a look that made the other man take a step back. Bond's voice boomed out and echoed off the walls.




"It was a bloody amateur mistake, Shaffer. A stupid mistake that could have killed me."




Shaffer said nothing. Bond sighed, feeling angry with himself. Angry not just for his mistake, but for taking his anger out on Shaffer.




"Has anyone questioned the wife?" Bond asked, once again changing the subject. Shaffer gave an understanding smile and took a step forward.




"I haven't but Tanner did."




"Bill Tanner?"




Shaffer nodded.




"He came down from London after I sent the cable about you. He says he'll be here to see you before long."




Probably coming to give me a right bollocking from M, Bond thought to himself.




"We think the package left on a freighter a few hours after he called me. Freighter left in such a hurry most of its cargo was still sitting on the dock. If they didn't get him out that way, then it was a most convincing cover."




"Even if he went over land," Bond said looking out a nearby window, "he's already into Redland by now."




"And well out of our reach," Shaffer agreed. He sighed and looked out the window at the city in the mid-day sun. He took a pair of sunglasses out of his pocket and put them on.




"Will you tell Tanner I'm ready to see him?" Bond asked. Shaffer turned back to Bond and nodded.




"Is there anything you want Cartmel to send to London for you? Tell the boss what happened?"




Bond shook his end in the negative. Shaffer turned and left without a word. Bond was left alone with his thoughts and the the distant chatter down the hospital corridors.




Damned Philby, Bond thought. He tried to put the defector from his mind as he adjusted his position on the uncomfortable hospital bed. He tried to go back to sleep, to shut the world out.




Yet what Bond wanted most was the one thing he couldn't get. Lying there, his eyes shut as he tried to turn his mind off, he wanted a decent drink. He wondered when he might be able to get one.

Comments

  • DariusDarius UK
    edited October 2015 Posts: 354
    @timdalton007

    This is a well-crafted and well-narrated story that hooked me from beginning to end. Aside from a few proofing errors here and there, the prose is polished in a way that only Fleming new how to do. It was good also to see Bond involved with a real life espionage figure, and one no less notorious that Kim Philby.

    Many years ago, I took an interest in the Philby, Burgess and MacLean affair and I think you have the character of Kim Philby nailed to a tee. I'm reminded of Frederick Forsyth's description of the man in The Fourth Protocol and the many eyewitness accounts I read of him.

    All in all, a very good read. Well done.
  • timdalton007timdalton007 North Alabama
    Posts: 65
    Thanks @Darius I have to admit I originally crafted the story for the Licence Expired anthology published last year in Canada due to the copyright fluke there. It sadly didn't make it into that volume but I am happy to see someone read it and enjoyed it.

    timdalton007
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