Bond remembered Mathis's pronouncement when the concierge hurried up to inquire whether he had recovered from his most unfortunate experience of the afternoon. Bond thought it well to say that he still felt a little shaky. He hoped that if the intelligence were relayed, Le Chiffre would at any rate start playing that evening with a basic misinterpretation of his adversary's strength. The concierge proffered glycerine hopes for Bond's recovery.
Leiter's room was on one of the upper floors and they parted company at the lift after arranging to see each other at the Casino at around half past ten or eleven, the usual hour for the high tables to begin play.
CHAPTER 8 - PINK LIGHTS AND CHAMPAGNE
Bond walked up to his room, which again showed no sign of trespass, threw off his clothes, took a long hot bath followed by an ice-cold shower and lay down on his bed. There remained an hour in which to rest and compose his thoughts before he met the girl in the Splendide bar, an hour to examine minutely the details of his plans for the game, and for after the game, in all the various circumstances of victory or defeat. He had to plan the attendant roles of Mathis, Leiter, and the girl and visualize the reactions of the enemy in various contingencies. He closed his eyes and his thoughts pursued his imagination through a series of carefully constructed scenes as if he was watching the tumbling chips of coloured glass in a kaleidoscope.
At twenty minutes to nine he had exhausted all the permutations which might result from his duel with Le Chiffre. He rose and dressed, dismissing the future completely from his mind.
As he tied his thin, double-ended, black satin tie, he paused for a moment and examined himself levelly in the mirror. His grey-blue eyes looked calmly back with a hint of ironical inquiry and the short lock of black hair which would never stay in place slowly subsided to form a thick comma above his right eyebrow. With the thin vertical scar down his right cheek the general effect was faintly piratical. Not much of Hoagy Carmichael there, thought Bond, as he filled a flat, light gunmetal box with fifty of the Morland cigarettes with the triple gold band. Mathis had told him of the girl's comment.
He slipped the case into his hip pocket and snapped his oxidized Ronson to see if it needed fuel. After pocketing the thin sheaf of ten-mille notes, he opened a drawer and took out a light chamois leather holster and slipped it over his left shoulder so that it hung about three inches below his arm-pit. He then took from under his shirts in another drawer a very flat .25 Beretta automatic with a skeleton grip, extracted the clip and the single round in the barrel and whipped the action to and fro several times, finally pulling the trigger on the empty chamber. He charged the weapon again, loaded it, put up the safety catch and dropped it into the shallow pouch of the shoulder-holster. He looked carefully round the room to see if anything had been forgotten and slipped his single-breasted dinner-jacket coat over his heavy silk evening shirt. He felt cool and comfortable. He verified in the mirror that there was absolutely no sign of the flat gun under his left arm, gave a final pull at his narrow tie and walked out of the door and locked it.
When he turned at the foot of the short stairs towards the bar he heard the lift-door open behind him and a cool voice call 'Good evening'.
It was the girl. She stood and waited for him to come up to her.
He had remembered her beauty exactly. He was not surprised to be thrilled by it again.
Her dress was of black velvet, simple and yet with the touch of splendour that only half a dozen couturiers in the world can achieve. There was a thin necklace of diamonds at her throat and a diamond clip in the low vee which just exposed the jutting swell of her breasts. She carried a plain black evening bag, a flat object which she now held, her arm akimbo, at her waist. Her jet black hair hung straight and simple to the final inward curl below the chin.
She looked quite superb and Bond's heart lifted.
'You look absolutely lovely. Business must be good in the radio world!'
She put her arm through his. 'Do you mind if we go straight into dinner?' she asked. 'I want to make a grand entrance and the truth is there's a horrible secret about black velvet. It marks when you sit down. And, by the way, if you hear me scream tonight, I shall have sat on a cane chair.'
Bond laughed. 'Of course, let's go straight in. We'll have a glass of vodka while we order our dinner.'
She gave him an amused glance and he corrected himself: 'Or a cocktail, of course, if you prefer it. The food here's the best in Royale.'
For an instant he felt nettled at the irony, the light shadow of a snub, with which she had met his decisiveness, and at the way he had risen to her quick glance.
But it was only an infinitesimal clink of foils and as the bowing maŒtre d'h“tel led them through the crowded room, it was forgotten as Bond in her wake watched the heads of the diners turn to look at her.
The fashionable part of the restaurant was beside the wide crescent of window built out like the broad stern of a ship over the hotel gardens, but Bond had chosen a table in one of the mirrored alcoves at the back of the great room. These had survived from the Edwardian days and they were secluded and gay in white and gilt, with the red silk-shaded table and wall lights of the late Empire.
As they deciphered the maze of purple ink which covered the double folio menu, Bond beckoned to the sommelier. He turned to his companion.
'Have you decided?'
'I would love a glass of vodka,' she said simply, and went back to her study of the menu.
'A small carafe of vodka, very cold,' ordered Bond. He said to her abruptly: 'I can't drink the health of your new frock without knowing your Christian name.'
'Vesper,' she said. 'Vesper Lynd.'
Bond gave her a look of inquiry.
'It's rather a bore always having to explain, but I was born in the evening, on a very stormy evening according to my parents. Apparently they wanted to remember it.' She smiled. 'Some people like it, others don't. I'm just used to it.'
'I think it's a fine name,' said Bond. An idea struck him. 'Can I borrow it?' He explained about the special martini he had invented and his search for a name for it. 'The Vesper,' he said. 'It sounds perfect and it's very appropriate to the violet hour when my cocktail will now be drunk all over the world. Can I have it?'
'So long as I can try one first,' she promised. 'It sounds a drink to be proud of.'
'We'll have one together when all this is finished,' said Bond. 'Win or lose. And now have you decided what you would like to have for dinner? Please be expensive,' he added as he sensed her hesitation, 'or you'll let down that beautiful frock.'
'I'd made two choices,' she laughed, 'and either would have been delicious, but behaving like a millionaire occasionally is a wonderful treat and if you're sure . . . well, I'd like to start with caviar and then have a plain grilled rognon de veau with pommes souffl‚s. And then I'd like to have fraises des bois with a lot of cream. Is it very shameless to be so certain and so expensive?' She smiled at him inquiringly.
'It's a virtue, and anyway it's only a good plain wholesome meal.' He turned to the maŒtre d'h“tel, 'and bring plenty of toast.'
'The trouble always is,' he explained to Vesper, 'not how to get enough caviar, but how to get enough toast with it.'
'Now,' he turned back to the menu, 'I myself will accompany Mademoiselle with the caviar, but then I would like a very small tournedos, underdone, with sauce B‚arnaise and a coeur d'artichaut. While Mademoiselle is enjoying the strawberries, I will have half an avocado pear with a little French dressing. Do you approve?'
The maŒtre d'h“tel bowed.
'My compliments, mademoiselle and monsieur. Monsieur George,' he turned to the sommelier and repeated the two dinners for his benefit.
'Parfait,' said the sommelier, proffering the leather-bound wine list.
'If you agree,' said Bond, 'I would prefer to drink champagne with you tonight. It is a cheerful wine and it suits the occasion - I hope' he added.
'Yes I would like champagne,' she said.
With his finger on the page, Bond turned to the sommelier: 'The Taittinger 45?'
'A fine wine, monsieur,' said the sommelier. But if Monsieur will permit,' he pointed with his pencil, 'the Blanc de Blanc Brut 1943 of The same marque is without equal.'
Bond smiled. 'So be it,' he said.
'That is not a well-known brand,' Bond explained to his companion, 'but it is probably the finest champagne in the world.' He grinned suddenly at the touch of pretension in his remark.
'You must forgive me,' he said. 'I take a ridiculous pleasure in what I eat and drink. It comes partly from being a bachelor, but mostly from a habit of taking a lot of trouble over details. It's very pernickety and old-maidish really, but then when I'm working I generally have to eat my meals alone and it makes them more interesting when one takes trouble.'
Vesper smiled at him.
'I like it,' she said. 'I like doing everything fully, getting the most out of everything one does. I think that's the way to live. But it sounds rather schoolgirlish when one says it,' she added apologetically.
The little carafe of vodka had arrived in its bowl of crushed ice and Bond filled their glasses.
'Well, I agree with you anyway,' he said, 'and now, here's luck for tonight, Vesper.'
'Yes,' said the girl quietly, as she held up her small glass and looked at him with a curious directness straight in the eyes. 'I hope all will go well tonight.'
She seemed to Bond to give a quick involuntary shrug of the shoulders as she spoke, but then she leant impulsively towards him.
'I have some news for you from Mathis. He was longing to tell you himself. It's about the bomb. It's a fantastic story.'
CHAPTER 9 - THE GAME IS BACCARAT
Bond looked round, but there was no possibility of being overheard, and the caviar would be waiting for the hot toast from the kitchens.
'Tell me.' His eyes glittered with interest.
'They got the third Bulgar, on the road to Paris. He was in a Citro‰n and he had picked up two English hikers as protective colouring. At the road-block his French was so bad that they asked for his papers and he brought out a gun and shot one of the motor-cycle patrol. But the other man got him, I don't know how, and managed to stop him committing suicide. Then they took him down to Rouen and extracted the story - in the usual French fashion, I suppose.
'Apparently they were part of a pool held in France for this sort of job - saboteurs, thugs, and so on - and Mathis's friends are already trying to round up the rest. They were to get two million francs for killing you and the agent who briefed them told them there was absolutely no chance of being caught if they followed his instructions exactly.'
She took a sip of vodka. 'But this is the interesting part.'
'The agent gave them the two camera-cases you saw. He said the bright colours would make it easier for them. He told them that the blue case contained a very powerful smoke-bomb. The red case was the explosive. As one of them threw the red case, the other was to press a switch on the blue case and they would escape under cover of the smoke. In fact, the smoke-bomb was a pure invention to make the Bulgars think they could get away. Both cases contained an identical high-explosive bomb. There was no difference between the blue and the red cases. The idea was to destroy you and the bomb-throwers without trace. Presumably there were other plans for dealing with the third man.'
'Go on,' said Bond, full of admiration for the ingenuity of the double-cross.
'Well, apparently the Bulgars thought this sounded very fine, but cannily they decided to take no chances. It would be better, they thought, to touch off the smoke-bomb first and, from inside the cloud of smoke, hurl the explosive bomb at you. What you saw was the assistant bomb-thrower pressing down the lever on the phoney smoke-bomb and, of course, they both went up together.