Novel extract

The idea of Gary Cave

Anna and her friend Rachel are hosting a Bond-themed party at their vintage clothes shop in Stoke Newington. Neil, Rachel’s husband, is helping with the catering.

“Now listen carefully, Moneypenny,” said Neil, taking possession of the tray of retro canapés I’d been assembling in the stockroom. “These Ritz crackers are designed to explode on contact with human saliva.”

“Those aren’t ready yet,” I said, snatching back the tray. “And I’m not Moneypenny. Have you ever seen Moneypenny in an evening dress?”

“No,” conceded Neil, stuffing two Stilton-topped crackers into his mouth at once. “Who are you then?”

“And I’m sure I’ve never seen Q eat with his mouth open,” I said. “I’m Shirley Bassey. I thought you were meant to be coming as a piranha.”

“I was, but Rach got bored of sewing the scales on my costume. Do you need some help?”

“You could add some cubes of pineapple to the sticks with the Cheddar,” I said.

A cheer erupted in the shop, followed by applause and wolf whistles.

“Sounds like our first Bond girl’s arrived,” I said. As I’d predicted, most of our female guests had come as Moneypenny. In commercial terms, that wasn’t a bad thing; we’d shifted a record number of 70s’ day dresses during the past week.

Neil opened the door an inch and peered into the shop. “Not the first,” he objected. “Rachel’s Sylvia Trench. But this is the first in a bikini. It’s your famous customer.”

“Which one?”

“You know. That TV presenter. Going out with James Nace.”

Trust Neil to remember the footballer boyfriend but not the name of our best celebrity client.

“Ruby Bain,” I said. “What’s she wearing?”

“A white bikini. Wet hair. Carrying a large shell. I think she’s meant to be Ursula Andress.”

“Hurrah for Ruby!” I said.

“And Nace seems to be a matching Bond – rolled up white trousers and a polo shirt. Don’t call that much of a costume.”

“Unlike a tweed suit?” I asked. “At least he’s dressed for the weather.”

I pressed a final pineapple cube onto a cocktail stick. “Here, you can take these now. And ask Rach to bring me a glass of fizz. I’m beginning to feel like Cinderella back here.”

Neil took the tray and disappeared into the melee. I decided to make one final tray of nibbles before going to join the party. I starting cutting little cubes of Tallegio and halving black grapes. Tallegio wasn’t strictly speaking a retro cheese, but Rachel thought it made a good substitute for Dairylea. Then all I had to do was the Edam, paired with garish pink cocktail cherries.

“I wish you’d come and help with these,” I said, hearing the door open behind me. “And I hope you’ve brought me a drink. Oh—”

A pair of strong, male arms wrapped themselves around my waist. I turned to find Steve, looking soignée in a dinner jacket. He smiled at me. I thought what a nice smile he had and wondered why I hadn’t noticed it before. Maybe because he didn’t usually smile like that, without even a hint of amusement.

“Were you expecting someone else?” he asked.

“I was expecting Sylvia Trench,” I said. “Mr Bond, I presume?”

“James Bond. And you are?”

“Shirley Bassey.”

Steve’s eyes wandered slowly up and down my long, sequinned, sea green dress. “Well, Miss Bassey,” he said, pulling me close to him, “you’re a very fine woman.”