When he was settled, the Negro dug both hands into one of the buckets of fresh mud and proceeded to slap it all over Bond’s body.
The mud was a deep chocolate brown and it felt smooth and heavy and slimy. A smell of hot peat came up to Bond’s nostrils. He watched the shining, blubbery arms of the Negro working over the obscene black mound that had once been his body. Had Felix Leiter known what this was going to be like? Bond grinned savagely at the ceiling. If this was one of Felix’s jokes…
At last the Negro had finished and Bond was loaded with hot mud. Only his face and an area round his heart were still white. He felt stifled and the sweat began to pour down his forehead.
With a swift movement the Negro bent down and picked up the edges of the sheet and wrapped them tightly round Bond’s body and his arms. Then he reached up for the other half of the dirty shroud and bound this also round him. Bond could just move his fingers and his head, but otherwise he had less freedom of movement than in a strait jacket. Then the man closed the open side of the coffin, lowered the heavy wooden lid, and that was that.
The Negro took a slate down from the wall above Bond’s head and glanced at a clock high up on the,far wall and scribbled the time down. It was just six o’clock.
“Twenty minutes,” he said. “Feel good?”
Bond gave a neutral grunt.
The Negro moved away about his business and Bond stared dumbly up at the ceiling. He felt the sweat running down from his hair into his eyes. He cursed Felix Leiter.
At three minutes past six the door opened to admit the naked, scrawny figure of Tingaling Bell. He had a sharp weasely face and a miserable body on which each bone showed. He walked cockily into the middle of the room.
“Hi, Tingaling,” said the man with the cauliflower ear. “Heard you had some trouble today. Too bad.”
“Them stewards is a heap of obscenity,” said Tingaling sourly. “Why would I want to ride across Tommy Lucky? One of my best pals. And why would I need to? The race was sewn up. Hey, you black bastard,” he put out his foot to trip up the Negro, who was passing with a pail of mud, “you got to get six ounces off me. Just had me a plate of French fries. On top of that they’ve given me a heap of lead to carry in the Oakridge tomorrow.”
The Negro stepped over the outstretched foot and chuckled fatly. “Don’t worry, baby,” he said affectionately. “Ah kin always break yo’ arm off. Get yo’ weight down easy dat way. Be right with you.”
The door opened again and one of the card players put his head in.
“Hey, Boxer,” he said to the man with the cauliflower ear, “Mabel says she can’t get on to the delicatessen to order your chow. Phone’s busted. Line down or, sumpn.”
“Aw Cheesus,” said the other. “Tell Jack to bring it on his next ride.”
The door closed. A telephone breakdown in America is a rare thing, and this was the moment when a small danger signal might have shrilled in Bond’s mind. But it didn’t. Instead, he looked at the clock. Another ten minutes in the mud. The Negro sauntered across with the cold towels over his arm and wrapped one round Bond’s hair and forehead. It was a delicious relief, and Bond had a moment of thinking that perhaps the whole business was just supportable.
The seconds ticked by. The jockey, with a crackle of obscenities, lowered himself into the box directly in front of Bond, and Bond guessed that he was being given the mud at 130 degrees. He was wound up in the shroud and the lid was banged shut over him.
The Negro wrote 6.15 on the jockey’s slate.
Bond closed his eyes and wondered how he was going to slip the man his money. In the rest-room after the bath? There was presumably somewhere one went to lie down after all this. Or in the passage on the way out? Or in the bus? No. Better not in the bus. Better not be seen with him.
“All right. Nobody move now. Just take it easy and no one’ll get hurt.”
It was a hard, deadly voice that meant business.
Bond’s eyes snapped open and his body tingled at the reek of danger that had come into the room.
The door to the outside, the door through which the mud came, was standing open. A man stood in the opening and another man was advancing into the middle of the room. They both had guns in their hands and they both had black hoods over their heads with holes cut for the eyes and mouth.
There was silence in the room except for the sound of water falling in the shower cubicles. Each cubicle contained a naked man. They peered out into the room through the veil of water, their mouths gulping for air and the hair streaming into their eyes. The man with the cauliflower ear was a motionless pillar. His eyes shifted whitely and the hose in his hand poured water over his feet.
The moving man with the gun was now in the middle of the floor by the steaming pails of mud. He stopped in front of the Negro, who was standing with a full bucket in each hand. The Negro quivered slightly so that the handle on one of the buckets gave out a slight rattle.
While the man with the gun held the Negro’s eyes in his, Bond saw him turn the gun round in his hand so that he was holding it by the barrel. Suddenly, with a back-handed blow that had all his shoulder behind it, he lashed the butt of the revolver into the centre of the Negro’s huge belly.
There was only a sharp wet slap from the blow, but the buckets crashed to the floor as the Negro’s two hands leapt up and clutched at himself. He let out a soft moan and sagged forward on to his knees, his glistening shaven head bowing down almost to the man’s shoes so that he appeared to be worshipping him.
The man drew back a foot. “Where’s the jock?” he said menacingly. “Bell. Which box?”
The Negro’s right arm shot out.
The man with the gun brought his foot down. He turned and walked across to where Bond was lying toe to head with Tinga-ling Bell.
He came up and looked first down at Bond’s face. He seemed to stiffen. Two glittering eyes looked down through the diamond slits in the black hood. Then the man moved to the left and stood over the jockey.
For a moment he stood motionless, then he took a quick jump and hoisted himself up so that he was sitting on the lid of Tinga ling’s box, looking down into his eyes.
“Well, well. Damifitaint Tingaling Bell.” There was a ghasdy friendliness in his voice.
“Whatsamatter?” The jockey’s voice was shrill and terrified.
“Why, Tingaling.” The man was reasonable. “What would be the matter? Got anything on your mind?”
The jockey gulped.
“Mebbe you never heard of a horse called Shy Smile, Tingaling? Mebbe you weren’t there when he was rode foul at around 2.30 this afternoon?” The voice ended on a hard edge.
The jockey started to cry softly. “Jeesus, Boss. That weren’t my fault. Happen to anybody.” It was the whimper of a child who is going to be punished. Bond winced.
“My friends figure it may have been a doublecross.” The man was leaning close over the jockey and his voice was gaining heat. “My friends figure a jock like you could only done something like that intentional. My friends looked over your room and found a Grand plugged away in a lamp socket. My friends wish me to inquire where that lettuce come from.”
The sharp slap and the shrill cry were simultaneous.
“Give, you bastard, or I’ll blow your brains out.” Bond heard the click of the hammer going back.
A stammering scream came out of the box. “My wad. All I got. Hid it away in the lamp. My wad. I swear it. Christ, you gotta believe me. You gotta.” The voice sobbed and implored.
The man gave a disgusted grunt and lifted his gun so that it came into Bond’s line of vision. A thumb with a big angry wart on the first joint eased the hammer back. The man slipped down off the box. He looked into the jockey’s face and his voice went slimy.
“You been riding too much lately, Tingaling,” he almost whispered. “You’re in bad shape. Need a rest. Plenty of quiet. Like in a sanitarium or sumpn.” The man slowly moved back across the floor. He went on talking quietly and solicitously. Now he was out of the jockey’s line of vision. Bond saw him reach down and pick up one of the steaming buckets of mud. The man came back, holding the bucket low, still talking, still reassuring.
He came up to the jockey’s box and looked down.
Bond stiffened and felt the mud stir heavily on his skin.
“Like I said, Tingaling. Plenty of quiet. Nothing to eat for a whiles. Nice shady room with the drapes drawn to keep out the light.”
The soft voice droned on in the dead silence. Slowly the arm came up. Higher, higher.
And then the jockey could see the bucket and he knew what was going to happen and he started moaning.
“No, no, no, no, no.”
Although it was hot in the room, the black stuff steamed as ‘ it poured sluggishly out of the bucket.
The man stepped swiftly aside and hurled the empty bucket at the man with the cauliflower ear, who stood still and let it hit him. Then he moved fast across the room to where the other man with the gun stood near the door.
He turned. “No funny business. No cops. Phone’s busted.” He gave a harsh laugh. “Better dig the guy out before his eyeballs fry.”
The door banged, and there was silence except for a bubbling sound and the noise of the water gushing in the shower.
“WE DON’T LIKE MISTAKES”
THEN what happened?”
Leiter was sitting in Bond’s chair in the motel and Bond was pacing up and down the room, stopping every now and then to take a drink from the glass of whisky and water by the bed.
“Bloody chaos,” said Bond. “Everybody yammering to be let out of his box and the man with the cauliflower ear hosing the stuff off Tingaling’s face and shouting for help to the two men in the next room. The Negro moaning on the floor and the naked guys from the showers teetering about like chickens with their heads cut off. The two card-playing men came busting in and they took the lid off Tingaling’s box and unwrapped him and carried him under the shower. I guess he was nearly gone. Half suffocated. Whole face puffed up with the burns. Ghastly sight. Then one of the naked men pulled himself together and went round opening the boxes and letting the people out and then there we were, twenty men covered with mud and only one shower to spare. It gradually got sorted out. One of the help went off to drive into town for an ambulance. Someone poured some water over the Negro, and he gradually came to life. Without seeming too interested, I tried to find out if anyone had any idea who the two gunmen were. No one had a clue. It was thought they were from an out-of-town mob. Nobody cared now that no one had got hurt except the jockey. All they wanted to do was get the mud off themselves and get the hell out of there.” Bond took another swallow of whisky and lit a cigarette.
“Was there anything that struck you about these two guys?” asked Leiter. “Height, clothes, anything else?”
“I couldn’t see much of the man by the door,” said Bond. “He was smaller than the other and thinner. Wearing dark trousers and a grey shirt with no tie. Gun looked like a .45. Might have been a Colt. The other man, the one who did the job, was a big, fattish guy. Quick moving but deliberate. Black trousers. Brown shirt with white stripes. No coat or tie. Black shoes, neat, expensive. .38 Police Positive. No wrist-watch. Oh, yes,” Bond suddenly remembered. “He had a wart on the top joint of his right thumb. Red-looking as if he had sucked it.”