Living the life of James Bond

Living the life of James Bond

Living the life of James Bond, written by Michelle Li of Chinese University of Hong Kong, is the first finalist in Young Post's 2013 Summer Story competition, sponsored by Dymocks.

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Illustration: SCMP Graphic

"Meghan, you won't believe what I've just heard," I whispered into my phone as casually as possible, eyes firmly fixed on the men dressed in black leather jackets.

"Damien, it's 8am on Sunday and it's the school summer holidays. Let me sleep in peace. Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

"Meghan ...?" I protested with intensified urgency.

"I kid. Fire away. You served up on a silver platter an opportunity to use that quote. It would've been rude to refuse."

I wanted to mentally strangle her. It never ceases to baffle me how Meghan and I became such good friends. No two individuals could be more unlike each other. Meghan's idea of a good time is to subject herself to ice-cold cinema air conditioning and waste money on ridiculously overpriced popcorn. It's fine to subject yourself to that when it's for, say, a wicked Matrix flick. But no, Meghan insists on going for films starring any Tom, Dick or Harry.

As for me, I think that breaking a sweat at the gym is a good time.

She offered to join me once. I had a workout routine planned for her, but she ended up, in her words, "fashionably late" and told me she couldn't leave until her iPad was fully charged. Before I could ask how her iPad was even remotely significant, she pranced onto a treadmill, balanced it on the control panel and watched Gossip Girl as she ran. She claimed that plain old jogging was too boring and repetitive.

"Meghan, seriously, I've reason to believe there's about to be a terrorist attack at Harbour City. I need you to Google the term 'phosgene gas' and tell me what it means."

I hoped Meghan would detect the worry in my voice.

"What? I see duck duty is treating you well," she sniggered.

Duck duty. I hate it when she calls my job duck duty.

I got myself a summer job working as a security officer for Harbour City, expecting to seize shoplifters by the dozen. The mall has two million square feet of retail space, but I somehow managed to get stationed at the exit alongside the giant inflatable rubber duck display by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman. This effectively rendered me useful almost exclusively for taking photographs. Yes, my life is not unlike that of James Bond.

"Listen ... there are two incredibly shady-looking men loitering at the duck-viewing platform. By shady, I mean nasty tattoos, sunglasses and chains. I'm not sure exactly what they are discussing, but I'm confident that 'explosions', 'tomorrow' and 'phosgene gas' were mentioned. Please, just do me a favour and look up what that is. I'd do it, but I must keep my eyes on them."

I felt anxious and annoyed that time was ticking away at such a crucial moment.

"Damien, this is ludicrous," Meghan said. "You're jumping to an absurd conclusion based on nothing but a stereotype. I want nothing to do with this. This girl needs her beauty sleep."

"These men are clearly not the sentimental type," I said. "These types don't marvel at a giant duck and think back on the good old days. In the two weeks I've worked here, I've never seen duck-gazers come so early in the morning. They're blatantly here to work out the logistics of their operation. What else could it possibly be?"

Only when I didn't get a reply did I realise she'd already hung up. Abandoned by my Bond girl, I fished out my phone and frantically googled "phosgene". It turned out to be a poisonous gas, used as a chemical weapon, most notably in the first world war. Acute exposure causes severe respiratory effects - and death. Although colourless, it smells distinctly like grass.

I stared into mid-air, trying and failing to get my head around the conspiracy unfolding before my eyes. Poisonous gas, giant inflatable duck ...

Suddenly it dawned on me. They must have replaced the duck's air supply with phosgene when it was temporarily deflated for a scheduled body check-up two days ago. That meant they were probably plotting to burst the duck tomorrow, releasing toxic gas into the air and infecting anyone within lethal distance.

Armed with my newfound theory and ready to confront the men, I looked up to find that they had either morphed into pigeons or vanished.

The authorities were not convinced. My supervisor and a police officer both scoffed and told me they would "look into it" - a rough translation of "get lost".

I decided to take matters into my own hands - and plead with Meghan again.

I checked my watch for the umpteenth time since arriving at Star Ferry pier. It was 3.09am. Meghan was late, as usual, and waiting did nothing but intensify my nerves. I eagerly strained to see the slightest hint of a shadow drawing near, but there was only an all-consuming dark void. No one was around.

I patrolled this part of Tsim Sha Tsui daily and knew it better than the back of my hand, but at night the area had taken on a new look. Moonlight danced on my shoulders and I was greeted, on occasion, by the huff of a refreshing sea breeze. The water possessed a serene, almost timid quality - hushed as if in anticipation. The eerie beauty of it all was in stark contrast to the anxiety I felt.

"Please explain again why I'm here," demanded Meghan as she appeared out of nowhere.

"I'm going to pop the giant duck tonight so that the toxic gas inside will be released when no one is around, instead of it being let out tomorrow when the area will be full of tourists. You're here as back-up. We're also doing this because nobody else will."

"Has it ever occurred to you how insane this terrorist attack sounds? Who's to say you weren't simply hallucinating, or hearing things when you found out about it?" Meghan asked.

"Intuition tells me I'm right," I said.

"May I remind you of the events that unfolded the last two times you made decisions based on intuition? You puked your guts over my only pair of Louboutins because intuition told you some new funky-looking sashimi would taste explosive. You also booked a trip to Ibiza, only to arrive and find that the resort you reserved did not exist, because intuition told you the booking was just an exceptionally good deal and not an internet scam.

"Yes, I do realise these two incidents don't compare to the gravity of the situation you think we're in now, but they're pretty decent examples of how bad your intuition is. Damien, we're talking about a giant, floating, yellow rubber duckie that couldn't be anything but harmless."

Well, the girl had a point.

"But isn't that what the Trojans thought when they saw their giant wooden horse?" I said. "Ah, it's an offering, so exquisite ... Let's accept it - and dig our own graves!"

"No, the Trojans were thinking how outrageously attractive Brad Pitt was when he played Achilles," Meghan said. "I'm telling you, if the Trojans had had his arms during the Trojan War, they would have thrashed the Greeks."

I really don't understand how girls' minds function.

"Can we please get on with this?" I asked. "Yes, I could be wrong, but if there's even the slightest chance I could be right, shouldn't we pursue that possibility?"

After a long pause, Meghan finally gave me a reluctant nod.

"OK, I need you to tie this across your nose and mouth. It's a sock dipped in a mixture of water and baking powder. Apparently this is how first world war soldiers survived gas attacks." I put the masks on both of us before she could protest.

"Damien, we look stupid," she said. "I have a sock on my face and it's been 100 years since the first world war. Shouldn't technology have advanced by now?"

"I didn't know where I could get access to gas masks at short notice! Just bear with me," I said, as I pulled out some equipment from a bag. "OK, I've also invented and built a little contraption that's going to launch kitchen knives at the duck - and hopefully puncture it."

"Damien, you haven't invented anything. You're simply introducing the medieval crossbow to the 21st century," Meghan said cynically.

I ignored her remarks and aimed my contraption at the duck. I took a deep breath, glanced over at Meghan for reassurance, then pulled the trigger. The knife barely made it a metre before falling into the sea.

"You know what, let's just revert to good old-fashioned knife throwing," I muttered, mentally trying to ignore Meghan's laughter. I picked up another knife, and in one fluid motion, hurled it. This time it pierced one of the duck's eyes.

As the duck began to deflate, I couldn't help but squeal a little inside. I had just thwarted a terrorist attack on Hong Kong!

"If you smell something grassy, it's all part of the plan," I said. "It's just the odour of phosgene, nothing to worry about."

Actually, I didn't smell anything at all, which was a little unsettling. We waited in silence for minutes, frantically sniffing for the scent of grass.

The duck had deflated to half its original size and I flung a few more knives at it to speed up the process. Still no grass, which meant ... there wasn't any phosgene.

Had I got it horribly wrong again? I didn't know what to say. It wasn't an outcome I'd even contemplated.

"Congratulations," Meghan said. "You've managed to single-handedly slaughter not only Hong Kong's most loved creature of the moment, but countless and priceless childhood memories associated with it. And all for a futile attempt to foil a terrorist attack that probably doesn't even exist. There's also the tiny, insignificant detail that you could go to jail for vandalism."

"What happens now?" I had become a walking whirlpool of shame, confusion and bewilderment.

"Run."

And in seconds, we were gone with the wind.

It's been a while and no one has tracked us down. I guess we'll be OK.

And what happened to the duck?

Well frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

 

Stories from the other finalists

- WINNING STORY: You'll Never Guess What I Just Heard

- First runner-up: The Cursed Lives

- Second runner-up: The Voice Within

- The Master

- The Unicorn

- You won't believe what I just heard

- Imagining the peaceful forest

- Beauty isn't skin deep

 

... and also take a look at the finalists' stories from last year's competition

- WINNING STORY: Eyes of the departed

- It will be spring by the time you awake

- A prank goes out of control

- The sad tale of a drowned ghost

- A love to remain forever unspoken

- Dreams of fame turn to tragedy

- All's Fair in Life and War

- I Should Have Listened to My Friends

- Don't Mess with the Old

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