…gilded tombs do worms enfold.
The place Ian Fleming came to was peculiar. It had an Adam facade, yet it also was much larger than Boodles. It lay in the mid of woods stretching to the horizon, yet there also was a vast park with a golf course, and a beach reminding him of his own on Jamaica. And at times the place was situated at the side of a mountain range, peaks showing white against the blue skies. This recalled memories of one of his favourite books, though Fleming couldn’t tell exactly which one, or even whether he had written it himself or not. It occurred to him the question simply wasn’t important, and so he didn’t ponder it.
When he arrived Fleming felt very anxious at first. But soon he calmed down. Everything was very civilised here, there were proper meals – though Fleming wasn’t all that fussy about food – there were other people, some of which were friends and loved ones, others just amiable chaps he had interesting conversations with. Fleming played golf often, alone and in company. He took long walks through the endless woods or along the paths between the mountains. He swam often and read a lot. Drinks were a pleasure again, without each glass calling for another. Fleming’s sleep was deep and quiet; his dreams never left a troubling aftertaste when he woke the next morning. In fact he didn’t remember having any dreams at all. Ian Fleming was at peace with himself and enjoyed being here.
At times part of him did wonder what kind of place this was. But every time the question formed itself in his mind it just as soon lost all relevance. What did it matter? The days and nights went by, turned into a pleasant sequence of golden blurs, and Fleming admitted to himself he was much more at ease than he could remember having been for a long time.
One day the usher appeared with a man at his table.
‚Ian Fleming?‘ the man asked.
He seemed vaguely familiar and so Fleming rose.
‚I am. And you would be…? Please help me out, I have a feeling I should know you,‘ he said as they exchanged a firm handshake and his visitor accepted a seat at his table.
‚I am James Bond. I am your James Bond, the secret agent you invented. In a way you are my father.‘
Fleming was taken aback. His visitor was a handsome type, athletic and with the air of an actor or a photo model. But Fleming remembered James Bond somewhat different, taller perhaps, darker for sure. This man’s hair was dark blond with plenty of grey across the temples. Fleming had a nagging feeling he used to have a different idea of Bond’s looks.
But then he couldn’t be quite sure for he hadn’t thought of Bond in ages. This one at least looked like a tough customer under the polished veneer, so he could well be Bond. So, thought Fleming, this is my creation.
Of course he had not forgotten. He had written a number of smashing adventures about the man; but in this place here somehow all this was not so important. And yet Fleming was positive he had given Bond a small scar and a comma of black hair whereas his visitor showed neither mark, very odd indeed.
‚Now that is a surprise, I never thought I’d meet you here,‘ Fleming said and signalled the waiter. ‚Would you care to join me? The food is excellent,‘ he continued. ‚You are of course my guest…though come to think of it I cannot remember ever having to settle the bill here. Anyway, I can recommend the eggs, I always have them. What do you say?‘
Bond nodded his agreement.
‚Eggs Benedict for two it is then. And a carafe of the light Riesling?‘ Fleming recently had come to appreciate the white wines they served at this place and was curious of Bond’s verdict. He himself wasn’t all that much of a connoisseur and had no real interest in wines. Or in fancy food for that matter, he usually preferred simple meals that couldn’t be spoiled. In this place even the most basic food tasted delicious.
He remembered he had written Bond as an authority on sophisticated cuisine, now he was eager to learn what his creation would make of the local offerings. After all, how often do you have the chance to listen to an expert you invented yourself?
Fleming was quite unprepared for what happened next. Bond lifted his left arm, shook the wrist so the cuff – sporting decorated cufflinks in black enamel with some kind of emblem and a motto! – revealed a hideously large watch, in its dimensions closer to a Harrison chronometer than anything a man would wear around his wrist. The unlikely device, flashy and twinkling like a Christmas tree, was chained to Bond’s wrist with what looked to Fleming like the track of a miniature tank.
But what astonished him the most was Bond announcing ‚Too early for alcohol for me. Make that an Evian, please.’
‚Too early? It’s lunchtime, it can’t be too early. Besides, it is whatever time you prefer it is here, that’s one of the big advantages.‘
‚I’ll stick with the water, thank you.’
‘Have it your own way then. Now what keeps bugging me: how come you meet me here? I hope you didn’t…?’ Fleming said, letting the question hang in the air for he knew people were sometimes touchy about the matter.
‘Not to worry, I didn’t meet with my end. I’m merely a visitor.’
‘Ah, glad to hear it. I remember putting you through some hard times. But I always gave you the means to pull through, you know. Wouldn’t want you to bite the bullet.’
‘Since you mention it, there have been a couple of instances I would indeed like to have a word or two with you about,’ Bond said, fiddling with the strange bracelet of his incongruously big watch, a move that made Fleming frown nervously.
‘But we’ll talk about this some other day,’ Bond added to Fleming’s relief. ‘Today I’m not here to discuss the past, my concern is the future. My future.’
‘Oh! Anything in particular I can help you with?’
‘Simply put, I want my life back.’
Fleming was baffled. What did Bond talk about?
‘Your life? How do you think I could help you with that? I haven’t got your life here, you know. It’s all out there, on the pages of my books. Don’t be ridiculous, Bond!’
‘That’s exactly the problem, you have no idea. My life has long since been taken from your books; nobody bothers much with them any more. The life of James Bond happens on the screen, not in your juvenile fantasy adventures. I’m branded, trademarked, copyrighted and franchised. I’m a commodity, an asset, a tax scheme and a management vanity, promoted and streamlined and standardised. Not even this body that represents me is my own.’
‘Oh, I see,’ Fleming said, although he really didn’t. At least this explained the changed appearance.
‘You haven’t heard half of it yet. I have become an industry of my own, albeit a seasonal one. Hundreds of people busy themselves with making up what once was my life, script writers, directors, producers, production assistants, actors, journalists, marketing experts, hedge fund managers, car salesmen, investment developers, bookies, fashion labels, solicitors. And you don’t even know about the manic fans who swarm about my every step and breath. On top of that, every few years somebody digs out a shard from my literary skeleton and grows it into a monstrous creature they call “continuation”. Enough!’
Bond had become ever more agitated with his speech; on the last word his left fist crashed onto the mahogany table and the vicious absurdity he wore on his wrist left a remarkable dent in the wooden surface.
At first Fleming had felt not a little flattered. Hundreds of people turning Bond into an industry? That didn’t sound too bad in his view; also the idea of continuations did have a certain charm. Solicitors? Now their mention made him reconsider, Fleming had had his own experiences with that kind. Bond’s violent outburst still caught him off guard.
‘Good gracious, calm down please, would you? No need to get so emotional about it. By the way, is this thing on your wrist supposed to be a watch? With…what is this, a 007-pattern? How…discrete.’
‘They make me wear it, it’s part of the “image” – like a voodoo effigy. The cufflinks too. Couldn’t you have thought of something more intelligent than “Orbis Non Suffict”? If you spend a moment to think about it it sounds like something a moron would put into less than 140 characters.’
‘Who puts a motto on a cufflink? I most certainly never described your cufflinks! Or did I…?’
‘That’s what I mean. You. Know. Nothing,’ Bond said. ‘It doesn’t matter what you wrote in the past, the only important thing is whether some item will sell now. And everything you see on me sells – and sells other stuff in turn. Including my entire existence. You put me into this place; now you must put a stop to it!’
‘My dear boy – forgive me for sounding like a villain in one of my books – I grant you, it all seems like a major nuisance. Still, what am I to do about it?’
‘Give me back my life! Give me a fast drive, a chase across winding roads after a woman in a fast car. Give me a swim at midnight in shark-infested waters. Let me break into an embassy in an exotic country – and don’t let it end with an explosion, for heavens sake! Let me go after hideously vile villains – and then let me take a few weeks off in a quiet little town by the sea, with a woman who enjoys the sun and the water and the warm summer nights. Cut me free from all this bling and brand trash and make me a human being again. I need not be deep or nuanced – I never was – I just don’t want to be a walking billboard any more.’
‘And how do you propose I work this miracle, giving you back your old life? You may have noticed I’m not exactly in any position to change your destiny. I never knew you would turn into…well, whatever it is you turned into.’
Bond bent forward, his intense eyes holding Fleming’s gaze now. ‘You must write me out of this corner. You must take the pen and break me free again!’
‘Writing,’ Fleming muttered to himself. ‘Writing again…’
What an idea. In all his time in this place it hadn’t occurred to him to write, how utterly strange.
‘Yes. It won’t matter what it is in particular, the thought will count. The spirit of it will do the work. Write. For my sake, write again!’
Fleming didn’t notice much of the following meal, did hardly notice his guest excusing himself on the grounds of a “tight shooting schedule”. He was sunken entirely in that strange – and strangely familiar – idea of picking up the pen again. When he left the dining room for the library his mind was exploring this unexpected thought. And most of what he read in the library didn’t reach much deeper than the back of his eyes, his mind occupied elsewhere.
Finally, as he went to his room – or was that a flat? A house even? – there was his old typewriter on his desk, gleaming in the golden afternoon sun. Fleming looked at it, not in the least surprised, sat down and inserted a sheet of paper.
Beside him, one window looked on a stormy mountain range. The other on a moonlit winding road, a pair of headlights approaching at speed.