Killing by Numbers
‘So, 007 is dead.’
‘Yes, sir. I’m afraid so.’
M took a last, fleeting look at the photographs that lay scattered across his desk and that had been sent to him by General André Anatonin, his counterpart at the SDECE, or the Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage, in Paris. They had been taken from different angles but showed the same bleak image. A dead man, lying face down in dark, glistening water, his hands stretched out limply above his head as if in one last futile attempt at surrender. The flashbulbs from the cameras had reflected back, producing balls of brilliant light that seemed to float on the surface.
Eventually, the police had pulled him out and laid him on the quayside so that closer pictures could be taken of his face, his hands, the three holes in the breast of his jacket where the bullets had penetrated. He had dressed expensively. M remembered him sitting in this very office only a month ago, wearing the suit that had been made for him by the tailor he liked to visit just off Savile Row. The suit had kept its shape, M reflected. It was the man who was lying there, dripping wet and lifeless, who had lost his.
‘Are we sure it’s him, Chief of Staff?’ The evidence seemed inescapable but M asked the question anyway. The camera can lie. In his world, it often did.
‘I’m afraid so, sir. He was carrying no identity papers – no surprises there. And he didn’t have his gun. But the French have Belinographed his fingerprints and there’s no doubt. It’s 007 all right.’
‘And this was taken in Marseilles?’
‘Yes, sir. The basin of La Joliette.’
Bill Tanner was closer to M than anyone in the building, although the distance between them was incalculable. They had never eaten together, never enquired about each other’s private lives. M despised small talk anyway but it would not have occurred to either of them to discuss anything but current operations and the general work at hand. Even so, Tanner – previously a colonel in the Sappers until he had been sucked into the less formalised world of the Secret Intelligence Service – knew exactly what would be going on in the head of the older man. The death of an active agent was to be regretted and 007 had been effective on more than one occasion. More important was to find out what had happened and to take immediate, quite probably permanent, countermeasures. It wasn’t just a question of revenge. The service had to demonstrate that killing one of its operatives was nothing less than an act of war.
He had actually been with M, in this very room, when the idea of a Double-O Section had first been mooted, the cipher being as blank and anonymous as possible: it was literally nothing and nothing again. And yet it meant everything to the elite group of men who were going to carry it and who would at once be promoted to the front line of the country’s war against its many enemies. Tanner still remembered the reaction of Sir Charles Massinger, permanent secretary to the Minister of Defence, when the proposal had first been put to him. His lip had curled in evident distaste.
‘Are you serious? What you’re suggesting here is tantamount to a licence to kill.’
It was the same old-fashioned thinking that had hampered the efforts of the Special Operations Executive at the start of the war. At first, the RAF had refused even to provide planes to transport their agents, not wanting to dirty their hands with Churchill’s ‘ministry of ungentlemanly warfare’. And now, just five years after VE Day, how many of those same agents were to be found in the corridors and offices of the tall grey building next to Regent’s Park? Still ungentlemanly. Still, whatever the public might think, at war.
Tanner had listened as M quietly explained the point which the civil servant had missed. Although it might not appear so, hostilities had not come to an end in 1945. There were a great many people dedicating themselves to the complete destruction of Great Britain and everything it stood for. Counter-intelligence agencies like SMERSH in the Soviet Union and the Special Activities Committee of the People’s Liberation Army in China. Or rogue elements including Nazis who still refused to believe that their precious Third Reich hadn’t quite made its promised thousand years. You had to fight fire with fire, which meant that there was an urgent need for men – and women, for that matter – who would be prepared to kill, if only in self-defence. Death was part of the job. And like it or not, there would be times when the service would have to strike first, when a state-sponsored assassination would be the only answer to a particular threat. M could not have his hands tied. He was the one making the decisions and he had to know that he could act with impunity. The licence was as much for him as it was for the people he commanded.
The Double-O Section had been kept deliberately small. In fact, after this recent loss it was now down to just two men – 008 and 0011. M had always rejected the idea of there being a sequence, 001, 002, 003 and so on. Patterns, in any shape or form, are the enemy of counter-intelligence. Tanner wondered how quickly 007 would be replaced.
‘What exactly happened?’ M reached for his pipe, which rested next to the ashtray made out of a twelve-inch shell base that never left his desk.
‘We still don’t have all the details, sir,’ Tanner replied. ‘As you know, we sent 007 to the south of France a little over three weeks ago. He was investigating the activity of the Corsican underworld in the area. Or rather, the lack of activity. Someone had noticed a sharp drop in the supply of drugs coming out of Marseilles and the natural assumption was that they must be up to something else.
‘These Corsicans are loud and unpleasant, really nothing more than modern-day gangsters with fancy names and a proclivity for violence – Joseph Renucci, Jean-Paul Scipio, the Guerini brothers … to name just a few. Up until now, they’ve had none of the discipline of the Unione Siciliana or even the Unione Corse but that’s exactly the point. This silence is worrying. If they’ve managed to organise themselves, that could make them a danger not just to the immediate area but to the whole of Europe and – inevitably – us.’
‘Yes, yes, yes.’ M had all the information in the cavernous filing cabinet that was his mind and didn’t need it paraded in front of him now.
‘007 went in under cover. We gave him a new name, new passport and an address in Nice. He was an academic working out of University College, writing a history of organised labour. That allowed him to ask all the right questions without raising too many eyebrows. At least, that was the idea. Part of the trouble is that the police – and that includes the SDECE – are riddled with informers. We thought he’d have a better chance on his own.’
‘Did he come up with anything? Before he was killed?’
‘Yes, sir.’ The chief of staff cleared his throat. ‘It seems that there was a woman involved.’
‘There always is,’ M growled into the bowl of his pipe.
‘It’s not quite what you’re thinking, sir. 007 mentioned her in what would turn out to be his last radio transmission. He referred to her as Madame 16.’
‘Sixteen? The number?’
‘Yes, sir. It’s not her real name, of course. You’ll know her as Joanne Brochet – French father, English mother – started life in Paris before the first war and then moved to London where she grew up. She spent three years at Bletchley Park, working in the indexing hut, before she was selected by Special Operations, who trained her up and parachuted her into France under the code name Sixtine.’ Tanner spelled it out. ‘She was very highly regarded by both F Section and the Deuxième Bureau and there’s no doubt that she provided us with useful intelligence in the build-up to Operation Overlord. She was captured and tortured by the Germans and after that she disappeared. We assumed, of course, that she had been killed. But she turned up again a few years ago, working in Europe, and by then she’d managed to lose her entire history … age, name, nationality and all the rest of it. She called herself Sixtine or Madame 16 and she’d gone into business for herself.’
‘She was the woman who sold us the Kosovo file.’
Tanner nodded. Both men knew what he was talking about.
The Kosovo file was a feasibility study that had been put together by a low-grade civil servant with too much time on his hands and, worse still, a heightened imagination. It set out, in detail, the strategy to incite and support an armed uprising in Albania, which had become a communist state after the war. There was never any chance that the plan would be given a green light, but the file had gone into minute detail, identifying all the local operatives along with the royalists and the expatriates who might have lent themselves to the cause. The Kosovo file should have been shredded the moment its existence was known. Instead, it had been photostatted and circulated and then, unbelievably, a young man working as third secretary at the Prague embassy had left a briefcase with a copy under his seat one evening when he got off a tram.
‘We never found out how Sixtine got her hands on it,’ Tanner went on. ‘But it was hardly surprising. By now, she’d reinvented herself as an agent for hire, dealing in pretty much anything that would make her money. She had a good-sized organisation behind her and contacts all over Europe … on both sides of the Atlantic as a matter of fact. Exactly the sort of person to act as a go-between in a business such as this. Anyway, she contacted us and agreed to sell the papers back for £2,000.’
‘It was blackmail, pure and simple!’ M made no attempt to hide his annoyance. ‘We should never have agreed.’
‘That may well be true, sir.’ Tanner drew a hand over his chin. It was always risky, answering M back. ‘But for what it’s worth, our man in the Treasury thought she struck a remarkably fair deal. The Russians would have paid five times as much and we’d have ended up looking like complete fools if the file had come out. It may be that she felt some loyalty towards us, left over from the war. It’s like I said: as an agent, Sixtine had been very useful.’
‘And 007 met her in Marseilles,’ M said.
‘We don’t know that, sir. But he was certainly interested in her. The very fact that she was in the south of France indicated that she was up to something. This is not the sort of woman who simply goes on holiday, and we know for certain that she’d been talking to the syndicates. In the last transmission he made, a week before his death, 007 said he had concrete evidence.’
‘What sort of evidence?’
‘Unfortunately, he didn’t say. If 007 had one fault, it was that he liked to keep his cards close to his chest. In that same transmission, he mentioned that he had arranged to meet someone who could tell him exactly what she was up to – but once again, he didn’t tell us who it was.’ Tanner sighed. ‘The meeting took place at the basin of La Joliette and that was where he was killed.’
‘He must have left notes – or something. Have we been to his house?’
‘He had an apartment in the Rue Foncet and the French police searched it from top to bottom. They found nothing.’
‘Perhaps the opposition got there first.’
‘It’s possible, sir.’
M tamped down his pipe with a thumb that had, over the years, become immune to the heat of the smouldering tobacco. ‘You know what surprises me in all this, Chief of Staff? How could 007 allow himself to be shot at close range in the middle of a crowded city? Seven o’clock in the evening, in the summer months … it wouldn’t even have been dark! And why wasn’t he carrying his weapon?’
‘I was puzzled by that,’ Tanner agreed. ‘I can only assume he must have been meeting someone he knew, a friend.’
‘Could he have actually met with Madame 16 herself? Or could she have found out about the meeting and intercepted it?’
‘Both those thoughts had occurred to me, sir. The CIA have people out there and we’ve been trying to talk to them. In fact the whole area is crawling with security services of one sort or another. But so far … nothing.’
The heavy, sweet smell of Capstan Navy Flake hung in the air. M used the pipe to punctuate his thoughts. The age-old ritual, the lighting and the relighting, gave him time to consider the decisions that had to be made.
‘We need someone to look into what happened,’ he went on. ‘This business with the Corsicans doesn’t sound particularly pressing. If there are fewer drugs coming out of France, that’s something to be grateful for. But I’m not having one of my best agents put down like a dog. I want to know who did this and why and I want that person removed from the field. And if it turns out that this woman, Sixtine, was responsible, that goes for her too.’
Tanner understood exactly what M was saying. He wanted an eye for an eye. Somebody had to be killed.
‘Who do you want me to send? I’m afraid 008 is still out of action.’
‘You’ve spoken to Sir James?’
‘Yes, sir.’ Sir James Molony was the senior neurologist at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington and one of the few men who knew M both socially and professionally. Over the years he had treated a number of agents for injuries, including stab wounds and bullet wounds, always with complete insouciance and discretion. ‘It’s going to be another few weeks.’
M laid down the pipe and stared at it tetchily. ‘Well, then we have no choice. We’re just going to bring forward this other chap you’ve been preparing. It’s been on my mind to expand the Double-O Section anyway. Their work is too important and right now we’ve got one injured, another one dead … we need to be prepared. How is he doing?’
‘Well, sir, he managed his first kill without any difficulty. It was that Kishida business. The Japanese cipher man.’
‘Yes, yes. I read the report. He’s certainly a good shot and he kept his nerve. At the same time, though, firing a bullet into the thirty-sixth floor of a New York skyscraper doesn’t necessarily prove anything. I’d like to see how he works at closer quarters.’
‘We may very well find out,’ Tanner replied. ‘He’s in Stockholm now. If all goes well, he’ll be reporting back in the next twenty-four hours. I already have his fitness report, his medical and psychological evaluations. He’s come through with flying colours and, for what it’s worth, I like him personally.’
‘If he gets your recommendation, that’s good enough for me, Chief of Staff.’ M frowned. ‘You didn’t tell me his name.’
‘It’s Bond, sir,’ the chief of staff replied. ‘James Bond.’