Prompt: Q walks into a bar and meets Rhonda Pearlman
Fandoms: James Bond (Skyfall)/The Wire.
Word count: 4185
Rating/Contents: PG13-Some rough language.
Warnings: No warnings apply.
Notes: Takes place prior Casino Royale (2006)- Written for A Ficathon Walks Into A Bar-Spring 2013
ETA-Now with Beta and Britcheck from mad_jaks.
Summary: Q's first mission abroad gets out of hand.
Also available at A03
Two men were waiting for him at Heathrow and not bothering to look the least bit unobtrusive. They had Security Service written all over them, from the dark glasses to the barely-concealed bulge of weaponry.
He briefly considered greeting them with a jaunty, “Hi fellows,” but their expressions suggested this wouldn’t be a particularly good choice, especially if he hoped to be granted a rather desperately-needed trip to the loo before being taken to Headquarters for the inevitable interrogation. The taller one smoothly relieved him of his suitcase. At least customs was taken care of.
The closer the car got to Vauxhall Cross, the more the reality of the situation started impinging on whatever optimism he might have had on the other side of the pond. The worst part was facing the head of Q Branch. He knew the old bugger would be wielding an expression of profound disappointment, second only to the one he used evoke in Sister Mary Margaret back at St. Sebastian’s School For Boys in Whitstable. Before this trip, he knew there’d been some talk of him being groomed for a place further up in the food chain, perhaps even ascending to the top position and assuming the prestigious single-letter designation as his own.
For now, his name around MI6 was mostly mud, but his real name was still Edward, called Eddie at home. His father had been determined to name his first child after a Prime Minister and it was only a lucky Y chromosome that saved him from being a Winnie or even a Maggie. Small favours, he thought, as he was being taken to a very small room deep in the bowels of MI6, someplace from which he wasn’t a hundred percent sure he was going to emerge.
There was one bright spot in his current situation, he thought, as Q indicated he should sit down and made him feel that he was perhaps all of ten years old and in very serious trouble with the headmaster. At least he wasn’t facing the withering gaze of M. She’d sent Bradshaw and he was doing his best to look intimidating, but nothing was more terrifying than a single raised eye-brow from the Dragon Lady herself.
Q and Bradshaw exchanged a glance and Q let out a mighty “Harrumph!” indicating the formal start of the ordeal.
“Young man, Mr……” Q looked momentarily at a loss. Edward was tempted to fill in the painful silence with his surname, but Q eventually found the mental drawer where he’d stored the information, saving them both from that particular embarrassment. “Mr. Tevis, when we sent to you to the United States to attend a symposium on the latest technological innovations from our sister intelligence agencies, did you think we intended for you to purloin a small explosive device and use it to blow up a bar in Baltimore, leading to multiple injuries, one death and nearly causing an international incident?”
Edward winced, more at the coughing spell that ensued, than the actual tirade. Q really shouldn’t be exerting himself that way.
“What the hell were you thinking, man?” Bradshaw roared to somewhat less effect.
“If I might be allowed to explain myself,” Edward managed to interject between the dual onslaughts of outrage.
“Explain yourself?” Bradshaw’s nostrils were in full flare and Edward had to restrain himself from recommending a grooming implement developed by the Slovenians, which doubled as an effective deterrent to certain undesirable habits. “You’re lucky you’re not explaining yourself to the Baltimore Police Department, the FBI, DHS, Special Branch, Mossad and possibly Vladimir Putin!”
Edward looked down, suitably chastened, or at least willing to appear so.
“All right,” Q said, in a placating tone. “Let’s hear the boy’s story. We’ll need it for the official report, in any case.”
“Fine,” Bradshaw agreed curtly, no doubt dying to let his inner Gene Hunt out on Edwards visage, but probably afraid of damaging a nail or a knuckle in the process.
“Well,” Q asked, “What exactly did happen?”
So many things, Edward thought. It would have been simple and accurate to say that he walked into a bar and met Rhonda Pearlman and nothing else mattered, but that wouldn’t help his case.
Neither would blaming the whole thing on the Americans, and what passed for GPS in their rental cars, although none of this would have happened if Felix Leiter hadn’t swooped down on Edward the minute he showed his credentials at Langley, greeting him like some sort of long lost relative. Furthermore, instead of letting him network with programmers from the other security services, as he was actually there to do, Felix appeared determined to monopolise Edward’s time with stories of officers Edward had never met and Branch Heads who were years or even decades before his time.
Edward did have plenty of experience indulging old farts with Cold War nostalgia, so he nodded and smiled and tried not to yawn as Felix relived the vicarious thrills of observing the previous 007’s legendary romantic prowess.
Maybe he hadn’t hidden his boredom quite as well as he’d thought. There was a mind-numbing sameness to all the stories. They all seemed to end with Bond shagging some girl in a boat, leading Edward to ponder the perils of seasickness and sunburn in delicate locations. He was quite sure he hadn’t yawned, but perhaps he had let out a small sigh.
“Oh, hey, I’ve been taking up all your time, haven’t I?” Leiter said, the light finally dawning.
“Not at all,” Edward replied diplomatically. No point making enemies, especially if the ordeal was almost over. No such luck, but at least there was a consolation.
“Let me show you our R&D department. The real stuff, not the toys we’re putting out for this little slumber party.
Leiter led him to a lift which seemed to go farther down than it had any business doing, and then through lengthy and circuitous corridors until they reached the CIA’s Chamber of Secrets. That’s where he saw it. Barely the size of a toothbrush, albeit a black, shiny toothbrush with a microprocessor instead of bristles. According to Felix, it had the ability to induce any other chip-driven device to blow itself up. Years ahead of anything they had back in London, unless their friends at Thames House were holding out on them again.
“Pretty, isn’t it?” Leiter practically leered. This was something they could definitely agree on. “It took the Israelis and the Russians to come up with this bad boy. Unfortunately, the strange bedfellows are having marital difficulties, so Black Beauty is staying with us until Mommy and Daddy and can work out a custody agreement.”
“Yeah,” Leiter agreed, wholeheartedly.
“Can I see a schematic?”
“Sure. For all the good it’ll do you. Our guys can’t make heads or tails of it.”
Leiter pulled up the file on a nearby desk-top and Edward immediately saw the problem. The entire thing was bollocks. Not that he could blame Mossad or the SVR. If MI6 had something that could actually do that, they wouldn’t let the Americans see a single line of the real code. On the other hand, if Netanyahu and Putin were actually working together to put one over on the flat-footed idiot currently inhabiting the White House, that was brilliant. Either way, he had to know.
For a CIA officer, Leiter was disturbingly easy to distract.
“So you’re telling me Bond disguised himself as a Japanese man and got away with it?”
“Oh yeah, and you should have seen the hot little geisha girl they got him married to. Hey, I should really let you get back to the shindig.”
In the minute that Leiter’s back was turned to let them out of the room, Edward made the pick-up. Every minute, every step, every breath and every inch of the way back, he heard blood bounding in his ears and he expected lights to flash and alarms to go off. Nothing happened, except that Edward nearly had a heart attack and soaked his shirt and suit jacket through with sweat.
He was so relieved to have made it back to the main reception area that he numbly agreed to meet Leiter for dinner and yet more stories. Chesapeake crabs were apparently on the menu. Leiter actually smacked his lips and wrote down an address, ignoring the fact that Edward had his mobile out, ready to enter the information.
All Edward cared about was getting back to the hotel and examining his prize. Perhaps a shower and a Valium he thought, noticing both the slickness and shakiness of his hands on the steering wheel as he manoeuvred the Ford Focus through the twists and turns of suburban Virginia which eventually took him back to the Hyatt Regency in Reston.
Five hours later he was convinced the device did exactly what Leiter said it did and an hour after that he knew how it worked. To celebrate he treated himself to a lengthy shower and a good wank to go with it, thoughts of a potential knighthood flitting through his brain. Her Majesty would certainly owe him that much.
He came out of the bathroom, naked, relieved and refreshed to find his hotel room phone ringing and a light on his mobile showing several missed messages.
He picked up the phone.
“Yes,” he answered, tentatively.
“Where the hell are you, Tevis? We’re supposed to be knocking off a plate of Baltimore’s finest and instead I’ve got a waitress thinking I’m some loser who got stood up. Are you going to get your ass over here, or am I going to try for a pity fuck from Cindy or Candy or whatever her name is?”
Edward was sorely tempted to suggest that the latter option might provide a more satisfying evening for both of them. However, there was always the possibility that Leiter was onto him and failure to appear would result in a visit from the CIA under less pleasant circumstances than a crab dinner.
“Oh dear!” he exclaimed in his best over-the-top camp Englishman for the benefit of stupid Americans voice. “Felix, I am so very sorry. I was going over all my notes from the symposium and I lost track of time. Tell Candy to get the crustaceans prepared. I’ll be on my way in just a minute.”
It took longer than that, not due to needing to dress, which he did with alacrity, but rather because of some miscommunication with the valet before he could get back in the Ford Focus. Soon enough he was contending with the faulty GPS, darkness, the utter insanity of the local drivers and, of course, the whole bloody driving on the wrong side of the road thing.
“Why didn’t you take a cab?” Bradshaw asked, looking genuinely perplexed.
Edward had been telling the story as honestly as he could, while still omitting a few of the less crucial or more embarrassing details, such as the wank, but in all the time he’d had to mull over what had happened, including much railing at all things pertaining to American cars, American roads and American drivers, that particular question had never occurred to him. He had no answer.
“Ummm….I was in America and I had car. Why wouldn’t I drive?”
“Go on,” Q said, not unkindly. Perhaps he was impressed with Edwards’s curiosity and initiative.
Unfortunately, this was the part of the story where it was impossible to avoid looking like a twat. Not so much the getting hopelessly lost in one of the dingier corners of Baltimore, but his reaction to having done so, which was utter panic. The environs and the local populace he could see on the street brought up all his worst fears and stereotypes about American urban youth. He wasn’t proud of it and would have chosen to leave the terror and hyperventilation out of the story, but he had to mention the fear factor in order to explain what happened next.
Instead of locking the doors and calmly calling Felix Leiter or using his much-vaunted skills to reprogram the GPS to take him to the designated meeting place, he’d left the car and gone looking for bright lights and friendly faces, or at least not completely hostile ones.
The first likely looking safe haven he found was a bar called “Timo’s” and the first face he saw was that of a woman with red hair and a sad smile. He wasn’t sure he would have gone in without seeing her, but somehow he got the feeling this woman wouldn’t be in a place where something too terrible would happen. Considering what had transpired, this didn’t say much for his instincts.
Edward walked inside and ordered a beer from a reasonably friendly-looking bartender. He tried to call Leiter’s mobile, only to go directly to voice mail. Trying to keep the panic out of his voice, he gave his location and asked for assistance finding his way out. With that done there was nothing to do but drink and wait.
With the initial waves of fear subsiding, he was able to take in the sounds around him. A dull thumping bass line coming from what sounded like a rather antiquated speaker and a man and woman having a fight. The fight consisted primarily of single words, most of them comprising only one syllable. There was a lot of “Please” and “NO!” and “Why?” and “Jimmy!”
Jimmy, he realised was the man seated two barstools away on his right side. He was also clearly a drunk. The posture, the grip on the glass, and the self-pitying slur were all giveaways that this man was a full-blown alcoholic, not just a bloke who’d had one too many on a specific night. Edward knew the difference all too well, just as he knew the rhythm of a fight between a drunk and the woman who loves him even though she should know better, and he was saddened to discover that the woman in question was the redhead he’d seen on the way in. Her voice had the resignation he was so familiar with from fraught family dinners.
And remarkably, he did, muttering curses under his breath, and no doubt on his way to a well-deserved traffic accident.
Well done, you. Edward thought, mentally praising the woman for holding her ground. He watched the slump of her shoulders as she took Jimmy’s place at the bar. Her posture told him how difficult the situation was for her.
Edward knew himself well enough to understand how everything about her, from the hair, to the sweet, but world-weary expression and the dynamic he’d witnessed between her and “Jimmy” would appeal to him. At a guess, she was easily old enough to be his mother, and there was definitely a resemblance, right down to the way she wore her fringe.
He’d never be 007, or at least Leiter’s overheated imaginings of him. Bar chat oozing with innuendo was hardly Edward’s forte. There was still the urgent matter of contacting Leiter and unloading the device he’d lifted earlier in the day. Very important, indeed. Certainly more pressing than wanting to talk with the woman. It was highly doubtful that his schoolboy looks would appeal to her. Jimmy might be a drunkard, but from what Edward had glimpsed he was clearly a handsome fellow and very much a man. Still, she was sitting there, perhaps waiting for something. If he could work up the nerve to talk her…
“May I buy you a drink?”
She’d shocked Edward by beating him to the proverbial punch and flustered him because he clearly had a half finished beer in front of him on the bar.
“Uh, yes. Sure. Why not? A shot of whisky, then.”
He never drank whisky. Not since a rather unfortunate incident at Uni involving toast, an ironing board and two girls from Essex.
“You heard all that?” she asked bluntly.
“Most of it,” he admitted.
“He’s an asshole.”
Even a besotted Edward knew a trap when he heard one. Clearly she cared about this particular asshole, so agreeing too readily was the wrong move. He settled for what he hoped was an expressive shrug. Apparently that was the right answer, since it won him the shot of whisky and her name, which was Rhonda Pearlman, followed by a full-blown smile. The grin might have been her reaction to his face after the drink went down. He didn’t care. She was quite lovely and also slightly drunk herself. He didn’t care about that either.
Edward would have been content to sit with Rhonda until closing time, whenever that was in these parts, and then go home with her, assuming she invited him there, abandoning rental car and Felix Leiter altogether. Rhonda was good at talking, although everything she said seemed to have a missing punch line. She spoke a bit about her job in the State’s Attorney’s office and then trailed off just after she’d started mentioning specific figures with colourful names who were under various indictments.
From there she went into a meandering meditation on Jimmy, who was apparently not only an asshole (as Rhonda pronounced it) but also a bastard and a son of a bitch. In spite of these epithets, Edward couldn’t help hearing the wistfulness in her voice or spotting the mobile she had out on the bar. He suspected she was keeping her eye on it for a message from Jimmy. He pretended not to notice.
His own contribution to the conversation consisted of generic agreement and a lengthy description of a chance encounter with Madonna at Madame Tussaud’s, although there was always the possibility that he’d spent five minutes conversing with a waxwork dummy.
Edward was relishing Rhonda’s reaction to the punch line when he spotted a very unfriendly black face approaching. All of his fear and suspicion returned. He also immediately surmised that the thug had no interest in him, but was rather focused on Rhonda. State’s Attorney’s office, she she'd said. That had to be dangerous.
Edward hadn’t been able to do anything to Jimmy when he used that language and he wasn’t in much of a position to do anything to this miscreant either. Only now it felt worse, because he knew Rhonda. He also marvelled at the upward inflection used by what he now observed was a barely an adult. He could hardly have been old enough to drink in this establishment. Where was a burly bouncer when you needed one? “You the bitch got me sent up to Cumberland for a dime over some petty-ass bullshit cos you was trying leverage my homies?”
Rhonda turned slowly enough to maintain her dignity, looked the young thug over and shrugged.
“Hard to tell. Street punks all look alike after a while.”
Edward believed he would have had an erection in tribute to her bravado if he weren’t so terrified, especially when the hoodie was unzipped and the gun revealed. He was as paralysed as a civilian would be in that situation. Clearly he wasn’t cut out for field work, he thought. And then he remembered one of Q’s lectures about the importance of their work. The officers in the field needed them. Yes, they often relied on courage and unarmed combat, but what always saved them in the end was their equipment.
In a flash, he remembered a specific piece of equipment and a mobile phone that was sitting on the bar. The thing was…..he knew how the device worked, but not the parameters of the result. It could be anything from an arc in a microwave to well….Armageddon. He had one hand near his jacket pocket and an eye on the mobile and the desperate need to protect Rhonda Pearlman, whom he’d known for all of two hours, tops.
She was facing down the cretin, but there was still a gun and a lot of shouting and vulgar language. The blood was pounding in his head, sweat was popping on his neck and he had to do something. He pushed Rhonda off the barstool with more force than he ever used on any woman, and shouted “Go!” hoping she would understand.
He took the device out and lobbed it at the mobile, which he was pretty sure was NOT the chosen method of detonation and waited for five of the worst seconds of his life, during which he was terrified that nothing would happen.
On the count of six there was a hissing and by seven a loud whine and by ten, he was lying on the floor looking at a hole in what used to be a bar and seeing the loveliest fire he could imagine. He tried to scream “Rhonda!” but he had no voice and then he had no consciousness.
Later, much later, he supposed, there was the hazy face of Felix Leiter, either nodding or shaking his head; Edward couldn’t tell which.
“If you didn’t want to eat crabs, you could have told me.”
Leiter didn’t seem as upset as Edward would have supposed. There was an odd look of admiration on his face. Maybe this was what he expected of all MI6 members and Edward had finally won his approval, even if it was for something that was likely to cause urban mayhem and an international incident.
He realised he was in hospital, probably getting some serious pain-killers. He wasn’t sure whether he was officially in custody or not, but perhaps the State’s Attorney’s office could help out, since their representative was hovering in the doorway.
“Hello, Rhonda,” he said, struggling against the opiates to form the words. She had a dark smudge on cheek and a bruise on her forehead, but she was alive and smiling at him and that was what mattered. No wonder Leiter looked impressed.
That was pretty much the whole story, except for a bit of time after his release spent recuperating at Rhonda’s apartment, which was none of anyone’s business and a rather rude chewing out from one Major Rawls of the Baltimore Police Department. Edward had never been called such names, not even by his head boy, who had a rather extensive vocabulary, but lacked the passion that Major Rawls was able to put into his ranting. Luckily, there were no formal charges, although he didn’t know if it was Leiter or Rhonda or maybe someone at the Consulate who did the string pulling.
Avoiding consequences in the United States didn’t mean he was off the hook at home. Just delivering his statement had been gruelling and there was every possibility he was about to be summarily dismissed from the service and sent back to Whitstable to lead some horribly mundane life and no doubt become a carbon-copy of his father, a Jimmy as it were. If he thought begging for another chance would help, he might consider it.
The air in the interrogation room with was heavy with profound silence and the slight scent of a pasty that he didn’t remember seeing anyone eat.
“Can I go now, sir?” he asked, just to get some sense of where he stood.
Q let out a deep sigh and Bradshaw narrowed his already beady eyes as if to make himself look more menacing. It didn’t work.
“This is a very serious matter young man,” Q intoned, but Edward already had a sense that the pontificating was for show. If it were really all over, Q would be having enforcers confiscate his identification and possibly doing something to remove his memories. They did that at Torchwood. Or so he’d heard.
Q and Bradshaw did the meaningful look exchange again.
“Two weeks suspension without pay.”
“I trust you will never do anything like this again. However, I think it would be best if we limit your international exposure. Perhaps indefinitely.”
He didn’t mind. Not really. He’d never been big on holiday trips to Ibiza or anything and if he needed a fake passport, there were always people. Then he realised the crucial point, he was probably on a watch list that would keep him out of the United States and away from Rhonda.
His heart hurt a little, but he wasn’t really surprised and it might just be for the best. No way was she over Jimmy and Edward knew how that went. Mother had various admirers in the village; nothing ever came of it.
“Mr. Tevis,” Q interrupted his burgeoning bout of self-pity.
“That little gizmo you used in the altercation? You didn’t perhaps glean enough information to help us do a version of our own?”
The old sly-boots.
“If my suspension were to be suspended I could start on that right away.”
“Yes, I suppose you could.”
Bradshaw looked disgusted, but Edward knew the game was up. He was guilty as sin, free as a bird, and possibly on his way further up the ladder, maybe heading for the top of Q branch.
If he got there, he’d always have Rhonda Pearlman to thank.