- Apr 23, 2014
Chapter 8: The Bull
Banbury Cross is not an antiquity, but was erected in the late 1850s to commemorate the marriage of the Princess Royal to the Crown Prince of Prussia. There was of course a much earlier cross – three to be exact – but the present Victorian Gothic monstrosity was placed where it is today because a local historian believed this to be the site of the ancient High Cross. Three miles to the north of Banbury, nestling by a wooded hill, lies the village of Nun’s Cross, and there is no cross on view there at all.
1859, to be exact.
Bond guided the Mulsanne Turbo through the narrow main street of Nun’s Cross, and into the yard of the coaching inn which rejoices in the name of The Bull at the Cross. Taking his overnight case from the boot, he considered the inn was probably the only going concern in the village. A beautiful Georgian building, lovingly kept, and neatly modernised, The Bull even offered ‘gourmet weekends for the discriminating’.
From the porter who took his case, Bond learned that, as far as the hotel was concerned, it was going to be a very quiet weekend, though they had been full the previous one.
At the time Bond visits, Banbury is still a very small town with little to note except for its position in that aforementioned nursery rhyme. In 1990, the M40 would open from London and make it much more accessible, allowing it to expand into a nice little market town for tourists.
The Bull is fictional, but there's an actual hotel from 1677 still in operation in the correct area, the Whately Hotel. Jonathan Swift reportedly wrote Gulliver's Travels while staying there, and King James II stayed in it in 1687.
Bond unpacked, changed into grey slacks, an open-necked shirt topped by a navy pullover and his most comfortable moccasins. He was not armed. The ASP 9mm lay comfortably clipped into its hidden compartment in the Bentley. Yet he remained alert as he went down, through the old coach yard and into the village street. His eyes were searching for a dark blue Jaguar XJ6 or a grey Mercedes- Benz saloon. The licence numbers had been committed to memory, for both cars had appeared in his mirror, exchanging places with monotonous regularity ever since he had taken to the road that morning.
He was under no illusion. For the first time since he had assumed the mantle of a disaffected former member of the Secret Service, he was being followed, almost blatantly, as though the tail wished to be seen.
The Jaguar XJ is one of the most famous British luxury car series, in continuous production from 1968 until 2019 (when a failed switch to an electric version sank it). "XJ6" indicates that the model is carrying Jaguar's inline 6-cylinder XK engine, which is competitive with but inferior to Bond's Mulsanne Turbo; 0 to 60 in 9.6 seconds in tests, with the gearing limiting it to 116 MPH.
This will not be the first time Bond faces off against a Jaguar, though...
It was too early for a lunchtime drink. Bond decided to look round this village which, if everything added up, harboured a sophisticated villain who was possibly also a traitor.
The Bull at the Cross lay almost on the crossroads at the centre of the old village, which contained a hodgepodge of mainly Georgian buildings, with a sprinkle of slightly older terraced houses that were now the village shops, leaning in on one another as though mutually dependant. Small rows of what must at one time have been labourers’ cottages now housed people who commuted into Banbury or Oxford, to labour in different fields.
Almost opposite the coach yard entrance stood the church. To the south, the main street meandered out into open country, scattered with copses and studded with larger houses, as though the more prosperous local gentry had landscaped the southern vista with their properties. Gateways and rhododendron-flanked drives gave glimpses of large, sedate Victorian mansions or glowing Hornton stone Georgian buildings.
Banbury is now a town of over 43,000 people. The business center alone is probably larger than the old village.
The third driveway past the church was walled, with heavy, high modern gates set into the original eighteenth-century stone. A small brass plate engraved with the words GUNFIRE SIMULATIONS LTD was sunk into the pillar to the right of the gates. In newer stone, carved and neatly blended with the original, was the one word, ENDOR.
A group of giant teddy bears are seen carrying a golden statue in the distance.
The drive, which turned abruptly, disappearing behind thick low trees and bushes, seemed to be neatly kept, and a strip of grey slate was only just visible some two hundred yards in the distance. Bond calculated the size of the grounds to be about a square mile. The high wall continued to his left, the boundary being a narrow dirt track neatly signposted THE SHRUBS.
After half a mile or so he turned back along the village street and on towards the northern extremity, where the cluster of old houses bordered a scrubby, wooded hill. Here sharp speculators had been at work, and a modern housing estate encroached almost on the woodland itself.
It was gone twelve when Bond ambled slowly back to the inn. A dark blue Jaguar stood not far from the Bentley but no one except the staff appeared to be about. In the private bar he found only the barman and one other guest.
‘James, darling, what a surprise to find you here, out in the sticks!’ Freddie Fortune, neat in an emerald shirt and tight jeans sat in a window seat.
Yes, what a shock that this previously mentioned character would coincidentally be in a completely random inn in the middle of nowhere in Oxfordshire!
‘The surprise is mutual, Freddie. Drinking?’
‘Vodka and tonic, darling.’
He got the drinks from a friendly barman, and carried them over to Freddie, saying loudly, ‘What brings you here, then?’
‘Oh, I adore this place. I often come down to commune with nature – and friends. Not your sort of place though, James.’ Then quietly, ‘So glad you could make it.’
Bond said he was glad too. ‘On a bit of a downer. Sorry about the other night, Freddie. Must’ve bored the pants off you . . .’
Is that your secret?
‘Oh no, darling, I wouldn’t say that,’ she murmured. ‘It was frightfully touching, actually. I felt terribly sorry for you, poor lamb.’
‘Made an rear end of myself. Forget what I said, eh?’ Bond felt unutterably foolish, putting on the style of Freddie’s London friends.
‘Forgotten already, darling.’ She took a quick sip of her vodka and tonic. ‘So you wanted to get out of the hurly-burly, yah?’
‘Yah.’ Bond almost mimicked her affected accent.
Oh, I'm gonna hate this girl, aren't I?
‘Or did you come because I asked you?’
He gave a non-committal ‘Mmmm.’
‘Or, perhaps, the possibility of work?’
‘Little of all three, Freddie.’
‘Three’s a crowd.’ She snuggled up beside him. For a second, Bond felt, strangely, that Percy was there.
They lunched together from a menu that would not have put the Connaught to shame, then walked for five miles or so across the fields and through the woodland, getting back around three-thirty.
‘Just in time for a nice quiet siesta.’
Freddie gave him the come-to-bed look, and Bond, invigorated by the walk, was in no mood to disappoint. First, though, he made an excuse to go over to the Bentley, where he retrieved the ASP 9mm and two spare clips of ammunition, keeping them well hidden when he joined Freddie in the comfort of her room.
She was lying on the bed, wearing precious little. Smiling sweetly, she said, ‘Come and bore the pants off me, darling.’
I knew it!
‘Dinner?’ Bond asked later, as they sat over tea in the residents’ lounge. The hotel had filled up, and three Spanish waiters scurried about with silver teapots, small plates of sandwiches and fancy cakes. Like Brown’s on Sunday afternoon, but without the polish, Bond thought.
Oh. That was fast. Not even a line break.
‘Oh lord, darling.’ Freddie put on her ‘devastated’ face. ‘I have a dinner date.’ Then she smiled. ‘So have you, if we play our cards right. You see, I’ve got some old friends who live here.’ She suddenly became confidential. ‘Now listen, James, they could be a godsend. You were serious about going into computers? Programming and all that sort of thing? Micros?’
‘Super. Old Jason’ll be thrilled.’
‘My friend – well friends, really. Jason and Dazzle St John-Finnes.’
Freddie gave an impatient back-flip of her hand – ‘Oh, her name’s Davide or something. Everyone calls her Dazzle. Super people. Into computers in a really big way. They’re incredibly clever and invent frightfully complicated war games.’
M had already briefed him about the other members of Jay Autem Holy’s entourage: the ‘wife’, Dazzle; a young expert called Peter Amadeus (‘Austrian, I think,’ Freddie now added); and the even younger Cambridge graduate, Cindy Chalmer.
‘She’s an absolute hoot.’ Freddie became expansive. ‘The locals call her Sinful Cindy, and she’s jolly popular, particularly with the men. Black, you know.’
No, Bond said, he did not know. But he would like to find out. How did Sinful Cindy get on with Peter Amadeus?
‘Oh, darling, no woman has anything to fear – or hope for – from the Amadeus boy, if you see what I mean. Look, I’ll give Jason a bell.’ Freddie, like many of her kind, affected the London vernacular, particularly when out of town. Just to make certain they don’t mind me having you in tow.’
She disappeared for about five minutes, though Bond already knew what the answer would be. Freddie, he had to admit, was a nice little actress.
‘We’ve got a result, James,’ she said when she came back. ‘They’d absolutely adore to have you to dinner.’ Just as he knew they would, and she knew they would.
In spite of her affected accent, rather silly manner, and undeniable sexual availability, Freddie Fortune was a loyal friend, naive in her judgments, but, once committed, to cause or person, she became unshakeable. Almost certainly, in this instance, Freddie was being used, Bond thought. She probably did not even begin to understand the risks or dangers which could face him, and possibly herself.
So she's going to die, then?
Gently he questioned her in an attempt to discover how long ‘Old Jason and Dazzle’ had been such close friends. She hedged a little, but it finally transpired that she had known them for exactly two months.
They went in the Bentley.
‘I adore the smell of leather in a car. So positively sexual.’
Freddie curled up in the large armchair-sized front passenger seat. Bond was careful to ask for directions.
‘The gates will probably be closed, but turn in and wait. Jason’s a maniac about security. He has lots of incredible electronic devices.’
‘I’ll bet,’ Bond said under his breath, but obeyed instructions, turning left where she told him and pushing the Mulsanne’s snout to within an inch of the great high metal barriers. He would have put money on their being made of steel, worked to give the impression of ornamental wrought iron. There were three great locks – and the gate-hangings were shielded behind massive stone pillars.
There had to be some kind of closed-circuit television system, for the car sat waiting only a matter of seconds before the locks clicked audibly and the gates swung back.
As Bond had already divined, Endor was a large house with about twenty rooms: classical Georgian in golden Cotswold stone, with a pillared porch and symmetrically placed sash windows. The crunch of gravel under the Bentley’s wheels was a sound that brought back many memories to him – the older cars he had once owned, and, oddly, school days when he read the books of Dornford Yates, with their adventurers riding forth to do battle in Bentleys or Rolls-Royce cars, usually to protect gorgeous ladies with very small feet.
Cecil William Mercer was a best-selling author in the interwar period, under the pen name Dornford Yates. He wrote a great many thrillers and comedies, where he often showed a fetish for big gray eyes and small feet in his heroines. Like Fleming, he was a military veteran (in this case a commissioned Second Lieutenant on the Macedonian front of World War I) from a wealthy family, an actor from Oxford with a law degree and chateau in France. Rather than alcoholism, he suffered from muscular rheumatism (what we now call fibromyalgia). After World War II, he and his wife found the new post-war France a bit too egalitarian for their liking and he spent the rest of his life in one place a white man could always be in charge: Rhodesia.
Jason St John-Finnes – Bond had to think of him by that name – stood by the open door, light shafting on to the turning circle. He had made no attempt at disguise. The decade in which he had been ‘dead’ appeared to have taken no toll, for he looked exactly like the many photographs in his file at the Regent’s Park Headquarters. Tall and slim, he was obviously in good physical condition, for he moved with grace and purpose – an athlete’s walk. The famous green eyes were just as startling as everyone maintained. By turns warm or cold, they were almost hypnotic, lively and penetrating, as though they could look deeply into a person’s heart. The nose was indeed large and hooked, a great bill, so that the combination of bright searching eyes and the big sharp nose certainly gave the impression of a bird of prey. Bond shuddered inwardly. There was something exceptionally sinister about Dr Jay Autem Holy. Yet this unsettling fact vanished the moment he started to speak.
‘Freddie!’ He approached her with a kiss. ‘How splendid to see you, and I’m so glad to meet your friend.’ He stretched out a hand. ‘Bond, isn’t it?’
The voice was low, pleasant, and full of laughter, the accent mid-Atlantic, almost Bostonian, the handshake firm, strong, warm and very friendly. It was as though a wave of goodwill and welcome were transmitted when their palms touched.
‘Ah, here’s Dazzle. Darling, this is Mr Bond.’
‘James,’ he said, already in danger of being hypnotically charmed by the man. ‘James Bond.’
I ship it.
For a few seconds his heart raced as he gazed at the tall, slim ash-blonde woman who had come out of the house. Then he realised that it was a trick of the light; but at a distance, especially as now at dusk, Dazzle could easily be taken for Percy Proud: the same hair, figure and bone structure, even the same movements.
Dazzle was as warm and welcoming as her husband. The pair had a curious effect, as though together they were able to enfold you, pulling you into some circle of enchantment. As they left the car and walked into the spacious hallway, Bond had a ridiculous desire to throw all caution to the wind, sit down and face Jason immediately, asking him what really happened on that day so long ago when he had taken off on the ill-fated flight. What was the purpose of disappearing? What was he up to now? And how did Zwingli fit into the scheme of things?
"Who picked these loving names?"
That evening, Bond had to keep a strong hold on himself not to come out into the open. Between them Jason and the vivacious Dazzle proved to be a daunting couple. Within minutes of being in their company you became almost old friends. Jason, the story went, was Canadian by birth, while Dazzle was from New York, though you would have been hard put to it to place her accent, which had more of Knightsbridge than Fifth Avenue in it.
The one subject never discussed in detail during M’s briefings had been finance, but now, seeing the house with its discreetly elegant decor (‘That’s Dazzle,’ Jason said with a laugh, ‘she has what the designers call flair’) made one aware of great riches. In the large drawing room there was a clever blend of original Georgian and comfortable modern, the antique pieces complemented by a quiet, striped wallpaper, and not clashing with the more modern pictures or the deep, comfortable armchairs and sofas. Where, Bond wondered, did the money for all this come from? Could Gunfire Simulations finance so much?
While a Filipino houseboy served the drinks the talk was almost exclusively about what a wonderful refurbishing job they had done on the house, and the local amusing scandal.
Sorry, you have a Filipino houseboy?
‘It’s what I adore about life in a village.’ Jason gave a low chuckle. ‘My work doesn’t allow me to be what you might call socially active, but we still get all the gossip – because everybody does.’
‘Except the gossip about ourselves, darling,’ Dazzle said with a grin. Bond realised that her nose was similar to Percy’s before it had been bobbed. Here was an oddity. She really was like the true Percy. Did Jay Autem know, he wondered. Had he always known what the real Percy looked like? Had he seen her since the recent transformation?
Did he just loving clone her without her permission?
‘Oh, I get the gossip about us.’ Jason’s voice was deep with humour. ‘Cindy and I are having a passionate love affair, while you’re in bed most of the time with Felix . . .’
Sorry, you can't just reuse that name in this series.
‘Much good would it do me!’ Dazzle put a hand over her mouth, mockingly. ‘Where are they, anyway, dear? Peter and Cindy, I mean.’
‘Oh, they’ll be up in a minute. They decided to play one more round of The Revolution. We’ve still got a good deal of preliminary work to do.’ He turned to Bond. ‘We’re in the computer games business . . .’
‘So Freddie mentioned.’ At last he managed to break the spell, allowing a hint of superior disapproval into his tone.
Jason caught it at once. ‘Oh, but you’re a computer programmer as well, aren’t you? Freddie told me.’
‘A little. Not games though. Not really.’ The tiny stress on the word games was calculated to give the impression that using computers to play games was anathema to him.
‘Aha.’ Jason wagged a finger. ‘But there are games and games, Mr Bond. I’m talking about complex intellectual simulations, not the whizz-bang-shoot-’em-up arcade rubbish. For whom do you work?’
Oh no, he's a grognard.
Bond admitted he worked for nobody at the moment. ‘I had my training in programming when I worked for the Foreign Office.’ He tried to sound diffident.
‘You’re that Mr Bond!’ Dazzle sounded genuinely excited.
He nodded. ‘Yes, the notorious Mr Bond. Also, the innocent Mr Bond.’
‘Of course. I read about your case.’ For the first time there was a slightly dubious note in Jason’s voice.
‘Were you really a spy?’ Dazzle tended to become almost breathlessly excited by anything that interested her.
‘I . . .’ Bond began, then put on a show of floundering, so that Jason came to his rescue: ‘I don’t think that’s the kind of question you’re meant to ask, my dear.’ At that moment, Peter Amadeus and Cindy Chalmer came into the room.
Yes, Bond is completely world-famous at this point....and still trying to work openly as an agent.
‘Ah, the amazing Doctor Amadeus.’ Jason rose.
‘And Sinful Cindy,’ said Dazzle with a laugh.
‘I’d be flattered if they called me Sinful Freddie,’ said Lady Freddie as she greeted the pair.
‘Sinful indeed!’ Cindy was not black, as Freddie had told Bond, but more of a creamy coffee shade. ‘The product of a West Indian father and a Jewish mother,’ she was later to confide in him, adding that there were a thousand racist jokes which could be made at her expense. Now she just repeated, ‘Sinful indeed; chance would be more than a fine thing.’
Ah, her skin tone is totally acceptable for romance. Carry on.
Dressed in a simple grey skirt, and white silk blouse, Cindy had the figure and legs of a dancer, and a face which reminded Bond of a very young Ella Fitzgerald.
Gardner really seems fond of just reusing celebrity appearances for his characters.
Peter was around thirty – a few years older than Cindy. Slightly built, immaculately dressed and prematurely balding, he had a precise pedantry and wit that gave a hint of his sexual predilection. Following Cindy’s remark, he helped himself to a drink, saying, ‘You’ve got plenty of chances here, Cindy. There are some great big farm boys in the village I’d fight you for . . .’
‘That’s enough, Peter!’ For the first time that night, Jason showed the steel fist.
Great job, Gardner. You've managed to shove as much outdated representation into one chapter as possible.
After the introductions (Bond wondered if he imagined it, but Cindy Chalmer appeared to give him a sharp, almost conspiratorial look when they shook hands), Dazzle suggested they go in to dinner. ‘Tomas will be furious if his cooking is spoiled.’ Tomas was the silent Filipino, who had learned to cook at the feet of Europe’s greatest chefs, by courtesy of Jason St John-Finnes.
The meal was almost a banquet: a Lombardy soup of hot consommé poured over raw eggs sprinkled with Parmesan and laid on lightly fried bread; smoked salmon mousse; venison marinated and roasted with juniper berries, wine, chopped ham and lemons: and a soufflé au Grand Marnier – ‘Specially for Lady Freddie.’
At least the food isn't weird here!
To begin with, the conversation mainly concerned the work Cindy and Peter had just been doing.
‘How did it go, then?’ Jason asked as they sat down, at a long refectory table set on bare polished boards in the dining room.
‘We’ve found two more random problems you can set into the early section. Raise the general and search strengths of the British patrols, and you get some very interesting results.’ Peter gave a lopsided smile.
‘And, to equalise, there’s a new random for the later stages,’ Cindy added. ‘We’ve put in a random card that gives the Colonial Militia more uncaptured cannon. If you draw that option the British don’t know the strength until they begin assaulting the hill.’
They're just playing Total War!
Freddie and Dazzle were chattering away about clothes, but Jason caught Bond’s interested eye. He turned to Peter and Cindy.
‘Mr Bond doesn’t approve of using such high-tech magic for mere games.’ He smiled, the comment bearing no malice.
‘Ah, come on, Mr Bond!’
‘It’s intellectual stimulation.’
Cindy and Peter leapt to Holy’s defence simultaneously. Peter continued, ‘Is chess a frivolous use of wood or ivory?’
‘I said nothing of the kind,’ said Bond, laughing. He knew that the testing time was getting close. ‘I was simply trained as a programmer in Cobol, databases and the use of graphics – for government purposes . . .’
‘Not military purposes, Mr Bond?’
‘Oh, the military use them, of course. When I was a naval officer we didn’t have the benefit of that kind of technology.’ He paused. ‘I would in fact be intrigued to hear about your work. These games – are they really games?’
‘They are games in one sense,’ Peter answered. ‘I suppose they’re also tutorials. A lot of serving military people order our products.’
‘They teach, yes.’ Jason leaned over towards Bond. ‘You cannot sit down and play one of our games unless you have some knowledge of strategy, tactics and military history. They can be taxing, and they do require intelligence. It’s a booming market, James.’ He paused, as though a thought had struck him.
‘What’s the most significant leap forward in the computer arts – in your opinion, of course?’
Bond did not hesitate. ‘Oh, without doubt the advances being made, almost by the month, in vastly increased storage of data using smaller and smaller space.'
That's literally the most generic, obvious answer.
Jason nodded. ‘Yes. Increased memory in decreased space. Millions of accessible facts, stored for all time in something no larger than a postage stamp. And, as you say, it’s advancing by the month, even by the day. In a year or so, the little home micro will be able to store almost as much information as the large mainframe computers used by banks and government departments. There is also the breakthrough that marries the laser video disk recording with computer commands – movements, actions, scale, response. At Endor we have a very sophisticated set-up. You may like to look around after dinner.’
Laserdisc-based video games actually were the seeming cutting edge of video games at the time this was written. The above Astron Belt was first previewed at a tradeshow by Sega in 1982, overlaying graphics onto film footage. Everyone probably knows Dragon's Lair from 1983, which used the laserdisc to play a game in the form of a Don Bluth animated film, with the player using a joystick and buttons to perform quick-time events to progress.
Laserdisc games would continue their popularity into the 90s. American Laser Games released 9 light gun games using laserdisc footage of both professional stuntmen and unprofessional actors flinging themselves around the screen as you shoot at them. While their games would remain popular throughout the decade in American arcades, the expense, clunky setup, and restriction to pre-filmed footage resulted in the demise of laserdisc games at the same time as the format itself.
‘Put him on The Revolution and see if a novice player comes up with anything new,’ suggested Cindy.
‘Why not?’ The bright green eyes glittered, as though some challenge were in the offing.
‘You’ve made a computer game out of what? The Russian Revolution?’
Jason laughed. ‘Not quite, James. You see, our games are vast, in a way too large for the home computer. They’re all very detailed and need a big memory. We pride ourselves on their playability as well as their high level of intellectual stimulation. In fact, we don’t like calling them games. Simulations is a better word.
‘No, we haven’t yet got a simulation of any revolution. At the moment, we have only six on the market: Crécy, Blenheim, the Battle of the Pyramids – Napoleon’s Egyptian expedition – Austerlitz, Cambrai, which is very good, because the outcome could have been very different; and Stalingrad. We’re also very well advanced with one on the Blitzkrieg of 1940. And we are preparing an interesting one on the American Revolution – you know, the final stages prior to the War of Independence: Concord, Lexington, Bunker’s Hill. September 1774 to June 1775.’
Bond is the world's first gamer spy.
‘Freddie and I are going to look at the conservatory,’ Dazzle suddenly interrupted, rather sharply. ‘It’s shop all the time. Very boring. Hope to see you later, James. Lovely meeting you.’
Jason did not even apologise, merely smiling benignly and shrugging. Freddie gave Bond a broad wink as the two ladies left the room. As he turned back to the table, he caught Cindy looking at him again, in the same almost conspiratorial way, tinged this time with jealousy. Or did he imagine it?
Jason had hardly paused. ‘Naturally, you’re conversant with flowcharting a computer program, James?’
Bond nodded, recalling the hours spent in Monaco drawing the complex charts which showed exactly what you wanted the computer to do. Once more, with the memory came that odd sense of Percy’s presence. He dragged himself back, for Jason was still speaking.
‘Before we prepare a detailed flowchart, we have to find out what we want to chart. So we begin to plan the simulation by playing it on a large table. This acts as our graphics guide, and we have counters for units, troops, ships, cannon, plus cards for the random possibilities: weather cards, epidemics, unexpected gains or losses, hazards of war.’
This book is actually contemporary with the release of Axis & Allies!
Peter took over. ‘From this we learn the scope of the program task. So, when we’ve played the campaign . . .’
‘About a million times,’ Cindy added. ‘It seems like a million, anyway.’
Peter nodded ‘. . . We’re ready to begin flowcharting the various sections. You have to be dedicated in this job.’
‘Come down to the laboratory.’ Jason’s voice became commanding. ‘We’ll show James the board we’re working on now. Who knows, he may get interested and return to battle it out with me. If you do,’ he said, looking intently at Bond, ‘make sure you have plenty of time. Campaigns cannot be fought in five minutes.’
"Make sure to have your pasta points accounted for, Mr. Bond."
Behind these seemingly pleasant words there was a hint of obsession that Bond found disturbing.
As they left the room, he was conscious of Cindy brushing against him. He felt her hand touch his right hip lightly, just where the ASP 9mm was holstered. Had that been accidental, or was she carrying out a subtle search? Whatever the answer, Cindy Chalmer, at least, knew that he was armed.
They went through the main hall, where Jason produced a bunch of keys attached to a thin gold chain, unlocking a door which, he said, had once been the way down to the cellars.
‘We’ve made a few changes, naturally.’
‘Naturally,’ responded Bond, unprepared for the nature of the alterations. Below the house there were three large, well-equipped, computer rooms, with models of all the best-known micros sitting in front of their visual display units. In a fourth room, Jason’s office, Bond’s heart leapt as he spotted a machine that looked almost exactly like the Terror Twelve now safe outside in the Bentley’s boot.
From his office Jason led the way into a long chamber, lit from above by at least thirty spotlights. The walls were covered with charts and maps and in the centre was a large table. Almost entirely covering the table and overlaid with a thick plastic grid was a detailed map of the eastern seaboard of America, centred on Boston as it was in the 1770s. The main communicating roads and natural features were clearly marked in colour. In the centre of the grid stood a rectangular framework made of black plastic, the size and shape of a large television screen, while two small easels had been placed at the far end. Two trays, on opposite sides of the table, contained packs of white three-by-five cards. There was a chair in front of each tray and a desk top to each player’s right, well-stocked with paper, maps and printed forms.
Peter and Cindy began to explain the nature of the game, and how it was used to build up all the details of the simulation before anything was committed to a computer program. The black plastic frame moved both vertically and horizontally across the map.
‘That is the area a player will eventually see on his screen, when we have built the game,’ said Jason. His manner had become less warm, as though the professional had suddenly ousted the friendly side of his nature. He explained how they could slot close-ups of the terrain into the rectangle. ‘When we’ve got the game on computer, you’ll be able to scroll around this whole map, but see only one section at a time,’ he said. ‘However, there’s a zoom facility. You press the Z key, and the screen will give you a blow-up of the section you’ve moved to.’
Cindy explained that the two easels contained a calendar and the weather cards; each month’s cards were shuffled separately before play began. ‘Weather restricts or enhances movement.’ She demonstrated how the British patrols could move five spaces, on good days, but in heavy rain only three, and in snow, two.
Looking at the map, Bond tried to remember the history of that period, learned too long ago now in dusty schoolrooms. He thought of the frustration among officers of the Colonial Militia, of the British inability to protect the cities and towns, of the unrest, then rebellion and open hostility.
Then there was a general (was it General Gage?) caught between his situation on the ground and having to await orders from England. There were the patrols searching for the rebels’ arms caches, Paul Revere’s warning ride and the militia’s weapons being moved out of Concord; then the skirmishes around that town and Lexington. The British had withdrawn into Boston and fought at Bunker’s Hill, remembered as a kind of Dunkirk by the Americans, for the British garrison had won the battle, but with such terrible losses that they had to retreat by sea to Halifax.
Bond thought of these things as Jason, warming to his theme, explained the way the simulation was played, with the players taking turns to issue orders and move forces. Some of the moves could be secret, and had to be noted on paper. Later came challenging and, possibly, skirmishing.
‘The thing I find interesting is that you can alter history. I am, personally, very attached to the idea of changing history.’ Again, a hint of that obsession, verging on dangerous madness. ‘Perhaps I shall alter history,’ Jason went on in a menacing whisper. ‘A dream? Maybe, but dreams can turn into reality if one man with a brilliant mind is put to proper use. You think my spark of genius is put to proper use? No?’ He expected no answer, and his next words really concerned something far beyond the simulation. ‘Perhaps, James, we could look at this in more detail – even play a few rounds – say, tomorrow?’
Please stop being obviously evil for no reason.
Bond said he would like that, sensing more than an ordinary challenge. St John-Finnes continued to talk of revolution, change, and the complexity of war games. Cindy made an excuse to leave, nodding at Bond and remarking that she hoped they would meet again.
‘Oh, I’m certain you will.’ Jason appeared to be very sure of himself. ‘I’m inviting James to have another look. Shall we say six tomorrow evening?’
Bond accepted, noticing that Jason did not even smile.
As they left, Jason walked on ahead, but Peter lingered to the rear with Bond, taking the opportunity to whisper, ‘If you do play with him, he likes to win. Bad loser, and plays according to history. He always thinks his opponent will reenact the actual events. The man’s a paradox.’ He gave Bond a wink, making it all too clear that Peter Amadeus was not particularly fond of his boss.
Wait, he wants to change history but always plays exactly to history and gets mad if his opponent doesn't?
Upstairs, Dazzle awaited them, having driven Freddie back to the Bull. ‘She seemed very tired. Said you had dragged her all round the countryside this afternoon, Mr Bond. You really shouldn’t subject her to so much physical exercise. She’s very much a town mouse, you know.’
Bond had his own thoughts about this. He too could do with a good night’s sleep, but accepted the offer of a nightcap from his host. Cindy had gone to bed and Peter and Dazzle made their excuses, leaving the two men alone.
After a short silence, Jason raised his glass. ‘Tomorrow,’ he said, the green eyes like glass. ‘Maybe we won’t play games, James. But, I would welcome the chance of taking you on. Who knows? Computers, yes . . .’ He was away again, in some world of his own with a different time, place and set of values. ‘Computers are either the greatest tool mankind has invented, the most magnificent magic, capable of the construction of a new age,’ he laughed, one sharp rising note, ‘or they’re the best toy God has provided.’ In a couple of seconds the more familiar, benign Jason seemed to return. ‘Can I share my thoughts about you, James? I think . . .’ Jason was not waiting for Bond’s reply or consent, ‘I think that you are a small fraud, Mr Bond. That you know very little about the art of computer programming. Some, but not as much as you pretend. Am I right?’
Bond is so bad at this.
‘No.’ Bond was firm. ‘No, you’re not right, I’ve taken the standard courses they give people like me. I reckon that I’m adequate. Not in your class, maybe, but who is?’
‘Plenty of people.’ Jason’s voice was quiet. ‘Young Cindy, and Peter, to name two. It’s a young people’s profession, and future, James. Yes, I have a lot of knowledge, and some flair for strategy. But young people who are brought up with the machines acquire flair very quickly. You know the age of the biggest, richest software tycoon in the United States?’
I'm going to guess he's referring to Steve Jobs, who really was 28 when this book was written. He was worth $250 million by the age of 25, one of the youngest people to get on Forbes' list of the wealthiest Americans and one of the only ones to not have inherited wealth to do it.
‘Right. Twenty-eight years old, and some of the really advanced programmers are younger. I know it all, but it’s up to people like Cindy or Peter, to translate my ideas into reality. Brilliance, genius, requires nurturing. Programmers like my two may not really understand that they feed my great conceptions. As for you, a man with minimal training – you cannot be of real use to me. You don’t stand a chance in this field.’
Bond shrugged. ‘Not against you,’ he said, not knowing whether this was some devious wordplay, some psychological ploy.
At the door, Jason told him he looked forward to the next meeting. ‘If you feel you can take me on – at a game I mean – I’ll be happy to oblige. But maybe we’ll find something more interesting than games, eh? Six tomorrow.’
Bond could not know that the game of life itself would have changed by the time he saw Jay Autem Holy again. Nor what was really at stake in the games this curiously changeable man liked to play. He did know that Holy was a man possessed. Beneath the bonhomie and charm lay the mind of one who would play God with the world, and he found this deeply disturbing.
But not dedicated enough to playing God to actually play strategy games creatively?
When he got back to the hotel, Bond retrieved his key from a dozing night porter and went up to his room. But, on putting the key in the lock, he found the door already open. Freddie, he thought, with some irritation, for he wanted very be alone, to have time to think.
Remaining cautious, he slipped the automatic pistol from its holster, and holding it just behind his right thigh, he turned the handle and gently kicked the door open.
‘Hallo, Mr Bond.’ Cindy Chalmer smiled up at him from one of the chairs, her long legs sprawled out in front of her, like an invitation.
Quietly, Bond closed the door.
‘I bring greetings from Percy.’ Cindy’s smile broadened into a bewitching grin.
Bond remembered the looks she had given him during the evening. ‘Who’s Percy?’ he asked evenly, holding her eyes in his, trying to detect either truth or deception.