It was then that Bond leant slightly forward.
'Suivi,' he said quietly.
There was an excited buzz round the table. The word ran through the Casino. People crowded in. Thirty-two million! For most of them it was more than they had earned all their lives. It was their savings and the savings of their families. It was, literally, a small fortune.
One of the Casino directors consulted with the chef de partie. The chef de partie turned apologetically to Bond.
'Excusez moi, monsieur. La mise?'
It was an indication that Bond really must show he had the money to cover the bet. They knew, of course, that he was a very wealthy man, but after all, thirty-two millions! And it sometimes happened that desperate people would bet without a sou in the world and cheerfully go to prison if they lost.
'Mes excuses, Monsieur Bond,' added the chef de partie obsequiously.
It was when Bond shovelled the great wad of notes out on to the table and the croupier busied himself with the task of counting the pinned sheaves of ten thousand franc notes, the largest denomination issued in France, that he caught a swift exchange of glances between Le Chiffre and the gunman standing directly behind Bond.
Immediately he felt something hard press into the base of his spine, right into the cleft between his two buttocks on the padded chair.
At the same time a thick voice speaking southern French said softly, urgently, just behind his right ear:
'This is a gun, monsieur. It is absolutely silent. It can blow the base of your spine off without a sound. You will appear to have fainted. I shall be gone. Withdraw your bet before I count ten. If you call for help I shall fire.'
The voice was confident. Bond believed it. These people had shown they would unhesitatingly go the limit. The thick walking-stick was explained. Bond knew the type of gun. The barrel a series of soft rubber baffles which absorbed the detonation, but allowed the passage of the bullet. They had been invented and used in the war for assassinations Bond had tested them himself.
'Un,' said the voice.
Bond turned his head. There was the man, leaning forward close behind him, smiling broadly under his black moustache as if he was wishing Bond luck, completely secure in the noise and the crowd.
The discoloured teeth came together. 'Deux,' said the grinning mouth.
Bond looked across. Le Chiffre was watching him. His eyes glittered back at Bond. His mouth was open and he was breathing fast. He was waiting, waiting for Bond's hand to gesture to the croupier, or else for Bond suddenly to slump backwards in his chair, his face grimacing with a scream.
Bond looked over at Vesper and Felix Leiter. They were smiling and talking to each other. The fools. Where was Mathis? Where were those famous men of his?
And the other spectators. This crowd of jabbering idiots. Couldn't someone see what was happening? The chef de partie, the croupier, the huissier?
The croupier was tidying up the pile of notes. The chef de partie bowed smilingly towards Bond. Directly the stake was in order he would announce: 'Le jeux est fait.' and the gun would fire whether the gunman had reached ten or not.
Bond decided. It was a chance. He carefully moved his hands to the edge of the table, gripped it, edged his buttocks right back, feeling the sharp gun-sight grind into his coccyx.
The chef de partie turned to Le Chiffre with his eyebrows lifted, waiting for the banker's nod that he was ready to play.
Suddenly Bond heaved backwards with all his strength. His momentum tipped the cross-bar of the chair-back down so quickly that it cracked across the malacca tube and wrenched it from the gunman's hand before he could pull the trigger.
Bond went head-over-heels on to the ground amongst the spectators' feet, his legs in the air. The back of the chair splintered with a sharp crack. There were cries of dismay. The spectators cringed away and then, reassured, clustered back. Hands helped him to his feet and brushed him down. The huissier bustled up with the chef de partie. At all costs a scandal must be avoided.
Bond held on to the brass rail. He looked confused and embarrassed. He brushed his hands across his forehead.
'A momentary faintness.' he said. 'It is nothing - the excitement, the heat.'
There were expressions of sympathy. Naturally, with this tremendous game. Would Monsieur prefer to withdraw, to lie down, to go home? Should a doctor be fetched?
Bond shook his head. He was perfectly all right now. His excuses to the table. To the banker also.
A new chair was brought and he sat down. He looked across at Le Chiffre. Through his relief at being alive, he felt a moment of triumph at what he saw - some fear in the fat, pale face.
There was a buzz of speculation round the table. Bond's neighbours on both sides of him bent forward and spoke solicitously about the heat and the lateness of the hour and the smoke and the lack of air.
Bond replied politely. He turned to examine the crowd behind him. There was no trace of the gunman, but the huissier was looking for someone to claim the malacca stick. It seemed undamaged. But it no longer carried a rubber tip. Bond beckoned to him.
'If you will give it to that gentleman over there,' he indicated Felix Leiter, 'he will return it. It belongs to an acquaintance of his.'
The hussier bowed.
Bond grimly reflected that a short examination would reveal to Leiter why he had made such an embarrassing public display of himself
He turned back to the table and tapped the green cloth in front of him to show that he was ready.
CHAPTER 13 - 'A WHISPER OF LOVE, A WHISPER OF HATE'
'La partie continue,' announced the chef impressively. 'Un banco de trente-deux millions.'
The spectators craned forward. Le Chiffre hit the shoe with a flat-handed slap that made it rattle. As an afterthought he took out his benzedrine inhaler and sucked the vapour up his nose.
'Filthy brute,' said Mrs Du Pont on Bond's left.
Bond's mind was clear again. By a miracle he had survived a devastating wound. He could feel his armpits still wet with the fear of it. But the success of his gambit with the chair had wiped out all memories of the dreadful valley of defeat through which he had just passed.
He had made a fool of himself. The game had been interrupted for at least ten minutes, a delay unheard of in a respectable casino, but now the cards were waiting for him in the shoe. They must not fail him. He felt his heart lift at the prospect of what was to come.
It was two o'clock in the morning. Apart from the thick crowd round the big game, play was still going on at three of the chemin-de-fer games and at the same number of roulette tables.
In the silence round his own table, Bond suddenly heard a distant croupier intone: 'Neuf. Le rouge gagne, impair et manque.'
Was this an omen for him or for Le Chiffre?
The two cards slithered towards him across the green sea.
Like an octopus under a rock, Le Chiffre watched him from the other side of the table.
Bond reached out a steady right hand and drew the cards towards him. Would it be the lift of the heart which a nine brings, or an eight brings?
He fanned the two cards under the curtain of his hand. The muscles of his jaw rippled as he clenched his teeth. His whole body stiffened in a reflex of self-defence.
He had two queens, two red queens.
They looked roguishly back at him from the shadows. They were the worst. They were nothing. Zero. Baccarat.
“A card,” said Bond fighting to keep hopelessness out of his voice. He felt Le Chiffre's eyes boring into his brain.
The banker slowly turned his own two cards face up.
He had a count of three - a king and a black three.
Bond softly exhaled a cloud of tobacco smoke. He still had a chance. Now he was really faced with the moment of truth. Le Chiffre slapped the shoe, slipped out a card, Bond's fate, and slowly turned it face up.
It was a nine, a wonderful nine of hearts, the card known in gipsy magic as 'a whisper of love, a whisper of hate', the card that meant almost certain victory for Bond.
The croupier slipped it delicately across. To Le Chiffre it meant nothing. Bond might have had a one, in which case he now had ten points, or nothing, or baccarat, as it is called. Or he might have had a two, three, four, or even five. In which case, with the nine, his maximum count would be four.
Holding a three and giving nine is one of the moot situations at the game. The odds are so nearly divided between to draw or not to draw. Bond let the banker sweat it out. Since his nine could only be equalled by the banker drawing a six, he would normally have shown his count if it had been a friendly game.
Bond's cards lay on the table before him, the two impersonal pale pink-patterned backs and the faced nine of hearts. To Le Chiffre the nine might be telling the truth or many variations of lies.
The whole secret lay in the reverse of the two pink backs where the pair of queens kissed the green cloth.
The sweat was running down either side of the banker's beaky nose. His thick tongue came out slyly and licked a drop out of the corner of his red gash of a mouth. He looked at Bond's cards, and then at his own, and then back at Bond's.
Then his whole body shrugged and he slipped out a card for himself from the lisping shoe.
He faced it. The table craned. It was a wonderful card, a five.
'Huit … la banque,' said the croupier.
As Bond sat silent, Le Chiffre suddenly grinned wolfishly. He must have won.
The croupier's spatula reached almost apologetically across the table. There was not a man at the table who did not believe Bond was defeated.
The spatula flicked the two pink cards over on their backs. The gay red queens smiled up at the lights.
'Et le neuf.'
A great gasp went up round the table, and then a hubbub of talk.
Bond's eyes were on Le Chiffre. The big man fell back in his chair as if slugged above the heart. His mouth opened and shut once or twice and his right hand felt at his throat. Then he rocked back. His lips were grey.
As the huge stack of plaques was shunted across the table to Bond the banker reached into an inner pocket of his jacket and threw a wad of notes on to the table.
The croupier riffled through them.
'Un banco de dix millions,' he announced. He slapped down their equivalent in ten plaques of a million each.
This is the kill, thought Bond. This man has reached the point of no return. This is the last of his capital. He has come to where I stood an hour ago and he is making the last gesture that I made. But if this man loses, there is no one to come to his aid, no miracle to help him.
Bond sat back and lit a cigarette. On a small table beside him half a bottle of Clicquot and a glass had materialized. Without asking who the benefactor was, Bond filled the glass to the brim and drank it down in two long draughts.
Then he leant back with his arms curled forward on the table in front of him like the arms of a wrestler seeking a hold at the opening of a bout of ju-jitsu.
The players on his left remained silent.
'Banco,' he said, speaking straight at Le Chiffre.
Once more the two cards were borne over to him and this time the croupier slipped them into the green lagoon between the outstretched arms.
Bond curled his right hand in, glanced briefly down and flipped the cards face up into the middle of the table.
'Le Neuf,' said the croupier.
Le Chiffre was gazing down at his own two black kings.
'Et le baccarat,' and the croupier eased across the table the fat tide of plaques.
Le Chiffre watched them go to join the serried millions in the shadow of Bond's left arm, then he stood up slowly and without a word he brushed past the players to the break in the rail. He unhooked the velvet-covered chain and let it fall. The spectators opened a way for him. They looked at him curiously and rather fearfully as if he carried the smell of death on him. Then he vanished from Bond's sight.