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  1. Got a Licence to Kill

    There’s a theory that James Bond’s hiatus between 1989 and 1995 was as a result of threatened litigation. To an extent, that’s true. To an extent…

    It is a Friday in November 1989. In the offices of Throckmorton, Felch and Badger, solicitors of Floral Street, Covent Garden, partner Ken Felch returns to his office after lunch and finds a note pinned to his leather topped desk with a Sykes-Fairburn commando dagger. Wearily, unsurprised, he withdraws the weapon, reads the note, and then buzzes through to his secretary.

    “Labia, it looks like I’m expecting Mr Bond in five minutes; could you fish out his general file?”

    “Is that the blue one?”

    “No, that’s the Havelock sex change fiasco. I think it’s red. Blood red. He chose the colour. By the way, did you see him in here a moment ago?”

    “No.”

    “Well, you wouldn’t. Bring it through when you have it.”

    Felch settles himself in his chair and stares absentmidedly out of the window. To himself, ruefully stroking the tear in the leather, Felch curses his most troublesome client for his perverted sense of the dramatic. Good golfer, though; albeit a terribly paranoid one. One good shot and then he thinks you’re cheating, then sets out to physically destroy you. Odd man. Something high up in the Government, very hush-hush.

    Except, of course, now…that note.

    Felch. Ken Felch.

    Need your help. Think I’ve done something stupid. May have to go into hiding. Things are about to turn nass tee.

    Bond. James Bond.

    Funny sort of reddish-brown ink, thinks Felch. Spilled quite a bit on the floor, too. Oh, what could it be now? Not another angry husband blaming him for a divorce. Another outraged chef, a humiliated tailor? Not another incident with a Labrador? Times past, he knew Bond would have laughed those off. But he’s changed quite recently, Felch remembers. Become far more intense. Sometime around that trouble with trying to start a war in Afghanistan or somewhere.

    Felch laughs at the memory. What an imagination the man had! Still, it’s a lucrative imagination and golf club membership doesn’t pay for itself.

    Labia Conception wanders into the room, carrying the thick file of paper. What treasures that holds, thinks Felch. File’s pretty promising too.

    “He’s arrived, Mr Felch. I gave him a cup of tea…”

    “Oh God.”

    “…and he’s sitting in the waiting room reading that three year old copy of Puzzler magazine.”

    “How does he look?”

    “I think he was stuck on a jumbo wordsearch.”

    “No, that’s not what I mean. Let me ask you this, it’s something that’s always bothered me about our Mr Bond, and all his little sexual escapades which officially you know nothing about; is he that handsome?”

    “He is very good-looking. He reminds me rather of Hoagy Carmichael…”

    “Who?”

    “Sorry, Mr Felch. I forgot, it’s 1989, isn’t it? OK, he reminds me rather of Andrew Ridgeley…”

    “Who?”

    “But there’s something slightly un-English about him…”

    “Well, that’s true, Labia. Currently he’s pretending to be Welsh. I always felt his Scottish impersonation was the most successful.” Felch starts daydreaming. “Curious incident few years back now when he pretended to be an Australian…..Anyway, best send him in.”

    As Labia wanders out, Felch starts flicking through the file. So much in here. The average client with a personal injury claim delivers medical records that describe a three month whiplash complaint and three years of malingering but here, though, are toxins and gunshot wounds and people flinging barracuda at him. And, of course, this file is not all; whole room of files devoted to his liaisons, half the wall taken up with that thorny little problem that ensued when Bond found out that Dr Goodhead was married and her husband threatened to “do him”.

    Anyway…another day, another non-contentious charge plus VAT and disbursements. Felch knows he has to work harder on that one-liner.

    Bond enters the room.

    Funny sort of hairdo, thinks Felch. “Good afternoon, Mr Bond. I’ve been expecting you.” Usually that’s their little joke; it raises a brief smile. Now, nothing. Blimey, thinks Felch; one would think someone’s just fed his best mate to a shark or something. Again. Better not to speculate about that.

    “You got my note?”

    Felch looks at the bandaged hand, then back at the initial note. Lord. Yes, thinks Felch…Andrew Ridgeley…Labia may have something. Apart from crabs and an inability to type his name without laughing. “Yes. How are you?”

    “Fine. Sorry I’m late; I had to stop off at the nursery…fourth birthday party for the triplets…well, you know.”

    Indeed I do, thinks Felch. Indeed I do… “Well, you’re here now, James. What’s the problem? Miss…Mr Havelock’s stitching hasn’t come undone again, has it?”

    “No, Bernard’s fine, last I heard. Happy in Rochdale, apparently. But, Ken,…I think…I think I may have lost my job. Accidentally.”

    Felch raises an eyebrow, and wonders whether Bond recognises in that his own affectation. Apparently not.

    “I see. Right, before you tell me, let me fish out your contract of employment… right…” Felch starts rifling through the red file. “No, that’s parking fines… for a submarine…turbocharged gyrocopter fines… C4 bills… disputed tailor’s invoice for bright yellow stealth skiing equipment…why is that there? Oh yes, unfit for purpose, s14(2) Sale of Goods Act 1979 – they’ve made an offer but we’ll discuss that another time… paternity suits… maternity suits… here we are. Right…” Felch extracts the contract, closes the file and flicks through the ten page document. “I haven’t seen this in a long time. Not since you had that argument with your boss about whether pinching bullion barons’ girlfriends was part of your job or not and we had to remind him of Schedule 4 Part I clause 3(b)(ii). Happy days, happy days…Now, what’s the problem?”

    “Well, it was a few months ago, July say. Went to a wedding in Key West.”

    “Mm, nice.”

    “Wasn’t. Things went wrong.”

    Why is that no surprise?, thinks Felch.

    “Just before the wedding, my friend and I captured this drugs baron…”

    “Was the drugs baron ripped from the headlines?”

    “Yes.”

    “Oh dear.” Even for this man, especially for this man, this sounds terribly unrealistic, muses Felch. “No…nothing; do carry on.”

    “So we captured this drugs baron ripped from the headlines but he escaped…”

    “Did he have a comedy gondola?”

    “No.”

    “Oh.”

    “And then he mutilated my friend and murdered his wife and I wanted to go after this drugs baron ripped from the headlines but mmm…my boss said I couldn’t so I ran off and…”

    “I see. This sounds serious.”

    “It was, consistently.”

    “Was there a comedy gondola involved at all?

    “No.”

    “Pity. I liked the comedy gondola. What happened then?”

    “I then went on a one man mission to destroy this drug baron ripped from the headlines and it all ended up with a lot of tankers being hurled about and some sort of big explosions.”

    “Sounds…different.”

    “Trouble is, I think that somewhere in the middle of all this I managed to lose my job…”

    Felch flicks through the contract.

    “James, I’m your lawyer, and your friend as long as you keep paying me, so it’s in both our interests to see if I can help you. Sounds like you had a falling out with your boss… by the way, I heard your boss is on his way out… going to be replaced by a lady.”

    “How did you hear that? How? Tell me.”

    Felch is surprised at Bond’s angry, suspicious response. “Umm…it was in yesterday’s Telegraph. Everyone knows. Apparently she’s going to insist all agents bathe in patchouli oil each evening…so the rumour goes, anyway…”

    Felch watches Bond do a funny bulgy twinkle thing with his eyes…

    “Back to business, James. You had a falling out with the boss, that’s happened a fair bit…”

    “This is the big one, Felch. I…resigned…”

    I see, thinks Felch. Right, this sounds tricky, and expensive. So far so good. He presses his intercom. “Miss Conception? Cancel my other engagements and could you bring in a pot of coffee. And some cups this time, there’s a love.”

    He refixes his gaze on Bond. “And how did this…resignation manifest itself?”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Did you say ‘stuff this job!’ Or ‘I can’t work here any longer, it’s intolerable!’ That sort of thing.”

    “I said it was a farewell to arms…”

    “Eh?”

    “Well, I had this meeting with the chief at the Hemingway House so…”

    Felch looks blank.

    “Y’know, Hemingway House, A Farewell to Arms…”

    “Nope. Run that one by me again.”

    “Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms…”

    “Right. Had you taken something? Anyway, that being a little obscure, what else did you do? Did you say anything sensible, for example?”

    “I kicked one of the guards away and vaulted the balcony.”

    “The direct approach. Hmm…”

    “Problem?”

    “If you want me to advise you whether you have any potential for a claim against your boss, maybe get some leverage with that to get back into your job…I’m having trouble seeing one. Y’see, most employment claims depend on there having been a dismissal, and unfortunately walking out…”

    “…jumping out…”

    “…jumping out is a resignation, not a dismissal. Basically, unless we can say you were dismissed, I’m afraid you’re a bit stuffed. So let’s go back a bit; before you hurled yourself off the balcony, did your boss do or say anything that we could argue at length and at much cost construes a dismissal?”

    “Well, I was frogmarched to meet him, and the DA was apparently screaming to know what had happened. Apparently…”

    “Hm…could be a breach of his duty of mutual trust and confidence to you; go on…”

    “…And, now I remember, there were some cats…”

    “Ah! Yes, of course. That’s somewhere in here, isn’t it?” Felch starts flicking through the contract. “Gun allowance…knife allowance…big floppy clown hat allowance…nuke defusing training exemptions…here we go…”

    Schedule 5, being the fifth hereinbeforetomentioned schedule.

    4. Being the inter alia hazardous substances and materials and creatures and persons to which the employer covenants never to expose the employee:

    (i) tea
    (ii) commercial brands of cigarettes
    (iii) inexpensive vehicles
    (iv) unattractive women
    (v) fat women
    (vi) unexploitable women
    (vii) polyester
    (viii) the Chinese, generally
    (ix) normal people
    (x) cats with the exception of one “Ms” Pussy Galore, gym mistress and head of disciplinary theory and tuppence manipulation, Rodean School for lissome girls.

    Felch smiles, encouraging. “An idea is forming, James. Let’s see…did he say or do anything that suggests you were actually dismissed; fired, unless that’s a bad pun.”

    “He said I had to go to Istanbul…”

    “Hmm…not sure we could argue that’s actually a dismissal…”

    “By the previous evening…”

    “Sounds like the old man was ripe for retirement. Anything else?”

    “Well, there was this man lurking around the lighthouse taking potshots at me…”

    Felch suddenly feels himself becoming excited and rich and excited at the thought of becoming rich.

    “Really? Was that before you started lashing out wildly?”

    “No; after.”

    Felch sees the daydream of Miss Conception running away to Bermuda with both him and the client account, disappear as quickly as it had appeared. Damn the man.

    “No matter,” says Felch, fighting back the tears. “We could still argue that you were constructively dismissed. He wanted to change your terms of employment; says here, Schedule 7 clause 6(b)(ii)(a) that you’re allowed one blood vendetta every ten years, so it would appear that trying to stop you was a repudiatory breach of your contract. Accordingly, and stop me if I’m boring you, you were entitled to resign within a reasonable time, seems to cover immediately hurling yourself off a balcony, and you were thereby wrongfully dismissed.” Felch stops for breath. That had taken a satisfyingly expensive amount of time to say.

    “Hm. What do I get for that?”

    “You get paid your notice period…what’s that? Here we are; ‘until death or becomes beyond credulity when soaping down girls young enough to be his sperm.’ Curious phraseology…anyway, quite a bit or money for you there, plus any contractual entitlements…let’s see… ‘company car, company hairpiece, company SM manual, pension, accrued holiday pay, full state burial with flypast of autogyros, one secretary to have your wicked way with, two kilos of gorgonzola, one corn, notably on the cob , and a bottle of Milton sterilising fluid’…very curious contract you signed here….”

    “Anything else?”

    “Well, sounds to me like you might also have a claim for unfair dismissal.”

    “Speak.”

    “Well, you appear to be within the age limits for eligibility…even though I remember reading once that you were born in 1920…”

    “Ignore that. I always do.”

    “And you’ve had more than a year’s continuous employment, and if that argument about dismissal comes off…well, they have to prove it was fair…”

    “Can they?”

    “Hmm…could argue organisational reasons, y’know, to try to keep the whole thing economic and a viable concern…”

    “Can we keep in character please?”

    “Sorry Timoth…James…but even if they do that, they have to show they handled it reasonably, in that taking into account the resources of your employer and the overall equity of the situation, that dismissing you was within a range of reasonable responses to the situation. They could have offered other options, I’m sure. A period of consultation, that sort of thing.”

    “And having a man shooting at one from a lighthouse isn’t consultation?”

    “Not generally recognised as such, no. Were you offered a training day?”

    “No.”

    “Well, that’s looking better and better…” Felch notices Bond shift uneasily in his seat. “Problem, James?”

    “Well, I don’t really want to cause trouble.” Which is a total lie, thinks Felch. You forget, I’ve met you. “You see, I like my job. It causes me torment of the soul but actually, I’m not sure I could do anything else.”

    Felch breathes deep. Well well well…

    Miss Conception wanders into the room and puts the coffee tray down on the desk. Felch watches Bond’s eyes watching Miss Conception.

    “Hello, I’m James. Thank you for the coffee, I’m sure it will be…exquisite…”

    Smoother than diaorreah off a doorknob, this bloke, thinks Felch.

    Felch notices Miss Conception blush in a manner he himself has yet to extract from her. He pours himself a cup of coffee and raises it to his lips as Miss Conception twitters on…

    “Oh, Mr Bond! Well, if I can call you James, you can call me Labia…”

    Suddenly, Felch feels the cup being grabbed from his lips. Bond has leapt from his chair and, in one swift move, has snatched Felch’s cup and hurled it against the wall. The girl runs from the room, screaming.

    “Umm…care to explain that one?”

    Bond scans the room, eyes shooting about all over the place. Man’s on drugs, thinks Felch. Apparently satisfied that Felch’s wallpaper presents him no threat, Bond retakes his seat.

    “That was a Russian name. She’ll have drugged that coffee, the bitch.”

    “From what I remember, she’s actually from Twickenham.” From what I remember, thinks Felch. Ha! The evenings he spends watching her house from his car, eating malteasers and crying into his cup-a-soup…

    “KGB are strong in Twickenham,” Bond mutters. “And Ipswich. Watch her,” he advises Felch, entirely unnecessarily in the circumstances.

    Felch sighs. “Anyway, back to the point. You don’t want to cause trouble, but to be frank, James, it doesn’t sound like the new regime of encounter groups, scented candles and psychological assessments and weirdo inward reflection gobbledegook crud your boss’s proposed replacement is going to introduce – and I quote the leader in the Daily Telegraph when I say that – is going to appeal to you. My advice is this; OK, you’ve made a bit of a boo-boo here, but you’ll be back. Might be time to change your persona again; maybe, if you are now going to be bossed around by women, be more cynically manipulative of their instincts; perhaps you should be talking feelings and betrayal and good hair products and all that sort of stuff. You might need some time to work on that.”

    Bond shifts uneasily in his seat. “Couldn’t I threaten them with bringing a claim?”

    “You could, and I think that’s exactly what you should do. Have that hanging over them.”

    “So….don’t fancy the idea of saying it was unfair; seems a bit childish and I’ve suddenly developed a tough new outlook. But this Wrongful Dismissal one; how long do I have before time runs out to claim it, before it’s no threat to them?”

    “As it’s basically breach of contract…six years.”

    “Six years, eh? That’ll take me to…November 1995. I guess the danger is that if I threaten them with a claim, they’ll put me on the inactive roster all that while…but it’s worth the gamble…”

    “Decided?”

    “Decided.”

    “Good. I’ll write them a stiff letter. No, please don’t unwrap your bandage – I’ve plenty of ink here. And now, as for my fee…”

    Felch thought he could hear the hairs on the back of Bond’s neck rising to stand on end, in fear.

    Jim @ 2004-06-24
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