|Published in:||The Ivory Hammer|
|Collected in:||Octopussy and The Living Daylights|
|"007 in New York"||"Octopussy"|
"The Property of a Lady" is a short story written by Ian Fleming featuring his fictional secret agent James Bond. It was included in the 1966 short story collection Octopussy and The Living Daylights from 1967 onwards.
"The Property of a Lady" was written in early 1963 after Fleming was commissioned by Sotheby's to use as a story in their annual journal, The Ivory Hammer. It later appeared in a serialized form in the January 1964 issue of Playboy magazine, months before Fleming's death.
On a hot, dull day at the office, James Bond is having a very uneventful day at the Ministry of Defense headquarters, when Bond is informed by Mary Goodnight that he has been called in to M's office. MI6 has found that a unique Faberge egg has been sent to Maria Freudenstein, apparently as an inheritance. Customs recently intercepted the parcel in the registered mail which contained a piece of Fabérgé jewelery with a declared value of £100,000. He introduces him to Dr. Fanshawe. M explains that Fanshawe is an expert on antique jewelery and also an advisor to H.M. Customs and the CID on this subject.
Dr. Fanshawe explains that a Home Office warrant was obtained and the package clandestinely opened. Inside was the famous Emerald Sphere by Fabérgé and papers, in Russian and French, stating the provenance of the piece. The parcel was addressed to Freudenstein, and according to the provenance, she has inherited the Sphere from her grandfather, who originally commissioned it in 1917 to put his money into something palpable after foreseeing the Bolshevik revolution.
Freudenstein is, however, revealed to be a double, and unwitting triple, agent, an MI6 clerk inserted by the Soviets, but with the full knowledge of MI6, who compartmentalized her with a job sending fake reports to the CIA. Now, MI6 suspects that the egg is her payment, and Bond agrees. He has the idea of watching the auction at which the egg will be sold to make her payday, expecting that her controller, the local KGB chief whom they've never identified, will be aware of the payment and will be bidding up the egg to make sure she gets the most money out of it. Upon identify him, they could declare him persona non grata and expelled from the country.
M agrees with the plan and lets Bond monitor the auction, and Bond gets an education from an expert, Kenneth Snowman, then attends the auction. In the drama of the auction it is hard to identify a bidder due to the prearranged signals agreed with the auctioneer that don't make it obvious as to who's bidding. Bond eventually spots the bidder, ID’s him as the Soviet embassy's agricultural attaché, follows him back to the consulate. Bond then leaves with the satisfaction that they'll soon be ejecting an enemy agent out of Britain as persona non grata.
Sotheby's real-life chairman at the time, Peter Wilson, is mentioned by name in the story. Fleming was so unhappy with the final piece he wrote to Wilson and refused payment for something he deemed to be so lacklustre.