And there was a photograph whose eyes also looked levelly at Bond.
The cab smelled of old cigar smoke and Bond pressed down the switch of the power-operated window. A furnace-blast of air made him close it again.
The driver half turned in his seat. “Don’t want to do that, Mister Bond,” he said in a friendly voice. “Cab’s conditioned. May not seem so, but it’s better’n outside.”
“Thanks,” said Bond, and then : “I believe you’re a friend of Felix Leiter.”
“Sure,” said the driver, over his shoulder. “Nice guy. Told me to watch out for ya. Be glad if I can do anything while ya’re here. Staying long?”
“I can’t say,” said Bond. “Few days anyway.”
“Tell ya what,” said the driver. “Don’t think I’m trying to gyp ya, but if we’re going to do some work together and ya got some dough, mebbe ya better hire the cab by the day. Fifty bucks, but I got to make a living. It’ll make sense to the front boys at the hotels and so on. Don’t see otherwise how I’m to keep close. Like that they’ll understand me hanging about waiting for ya half the day. They’re a suspicious lot of bastards on the Strip.”
“Couldn’t be better.” Bond had at once liked and trusted the man. “It’s a deal.”
“Okay.” The driver expanded a little. “Ya see, Mister Bond. The folks round here don’t like anything out of the ordinary. What I say. They’re suspicious. I mean. Ya look like anything ‘cept a tourist who’s come to lose his wad and they get a bad case of nose trouble. Take yaself. Anyone can see ya’re a Limey even before ya start talking. Clothes and so forth. Well, what’s a Limey doing here? And what sort of a Limey is this? He looks kind of a tough guy. So let’s just take a good look at him.” He half turned. “Did ya see a feller hangin’ around the terminal with a leather shaving kit under his arm?”
Bond remembered the man who had watched him at the Oxygen Bar. “Yes, I did,” he said, and it was then he realized that the oxygen had made him careless.
“Bet ya life he’s looking at ya pictures right now,” said the driver. “Sixteen-millimetre camera in that shaving kit. Just pull down the zip and press y’arm against it and off it goes. He’ll have taken fifty feet. Straight and profile. And that’ll be with Mug Identification at Headquarters this afternoon, with a list of what ya got in ya bag. Ya don’t look as if ya’re carryin’ a gun. Mebbe it’s a flat holster job. But if ya’re, there’ll be another man with a gun alongside all the time ya’re in the rooms. Word’ll be sent down the line by this evening. Better watch out for any fellow with a coat on. Nobody wears ‘em here save to house the artillery.”
“Well, thanks,” said Bond, annoyed with himself. “I can see I’ll have to keep a bit wider awake. Pretty good machine they seem to have here.”
The driver grunted affirmatively and drove on in silence.
They were just entering the famous ‘Strip’. The desert on both sides of the road, which had been empty except for occasional hoardings advertising the hotels, was beginning to sprout gas stations and motels. They passed a motel with a swimming pool which had built-up transparent glass sides. As they drove by, a girl dived into the bright green water and her body sliced through the tank in a cloud of bubbles. Then came a gas station with an elegant drive-in restaurant. GASETERIA, it said. FRESH-UP HERE! HOT DOGS! JUMBOBURGERS!! ATOMBURGERS!! ICE COOL DRINKS!!! DRIVE IN, and there were two or three cars being served by waitresses in high-heeled shoes and two-piece bathing suits.
The great six-lane highway stretched on through a forest of multi-coloured signs and frontages until it lost itself downtown in a dancing lake of heat waves. The day was as hot and sultry as a fire opal. The swollen sun burned straight down the middle of the frying concrete and there was no shade anywhere except under the few scattered palms in the forecourts of the motels. A glittering gunfire of light-splinters shot at Bond’s eyes from the windscreens of oncoming cars and from their blaze of chrome styling, and he felt his wet shirt clinging to his skin.
“Coming into the Strip now,” said the driver. “Otherwise known as the ‘Rue de la Pay’. Spelt p.a.y. Joke. See?”
“Got it,” said Bond.
“On ya right, The Flamingo,” said Ernie Cureo as they passed a low-lying modernistic hotel with a huge tower of neon, now dead, outside it. “Bugsy Siegel built that back in 1946. He came over to Vegas from the coast one day and took a looki round. Had a lot of hot money looking for investment. Vegas was goin’ great guns. Town wide open. Gambling. Legalized cat-shops. Nice set-up. It didn’t take long for Bugsy to catch on. He saw the possibilities.”
Bond laughed at the pregnant phrase.
“Yes, Sir,” continued the driver, “Bugsy saw the possibilities and moved right in. Stayed with it until 1947 when they blew some of his head off with so many bullets the cops never got around to finding them all. Then here’s The Sands. Plenty of hot money behind that one. Don’t rightly know whose. Built a couple of years ago. Front guy’s a nice feller name of Jack Intratter. Used to be at the Copa in New York. Mebbe you heard of him?”
“Afraid not,” said Bond.
“Well then, here’s The Desert Inn. Wilbur Clark’s place. But the money came from the old Cleveland-Cincinatti combination. And that dump with the flat-iron sign is The Sahara. Latest thing. Listed owners are a bunch of small-time gamblers from Oregon. Funny thing they lost $50,000 on their opening night. Would ya believe it! All the big shots come along with their pockets full of dough to make some courtesy play, make the fust night a success, y’unnerstand. It’s a custom here for the rival outfits to gather round at an opening. But boy, the cards just wouldn’t co-operate and the opposition guys walked off with fifty Grand! Town’s laffing about it still. Then,” he waved to the left where the neon was wrought into a twenty-foot covered wagon at full gallop, “Ya get The Last Frontier. That’s a dummy Western town on the left. Worth seein’. And over there’s The Thunderbird, and across the road’s The Tiara. Snazziest joint in Vegas. Guess ya know about Mister Spang and all that?” He slowed down and halted opposite the Spang hotel, which was topped by a ducal coronet of brilliant lights that winked on and off in a lost battle with the glaring sun and the reflections from the highway.
“Yes, I know the outlines,” said Bond. “But I’d be glad for you to fill them in some time. And now what?”
“Whatever ya say, Mister.”
Bond suddenly felt he had had enough of the ghastly glitter of The Strip. He only wanted to get indoors and out of the heat, have some lunch and perhaps a swim and take things easy until the night. He said so.
“Suits me,” said Cureo. “Guess ya shouldn’t get into much trouble ya first night. Take it easy though and act kmda natural. If ya got work to do in Vegas ya better wait till ya know ya way around. And watch the gambling, friend.” He chuckled. “Y’ever hear of those Silence Towers they have in India? They say it takes those vultures only twenty minutes to strip a guy to the bones. Guess they take a bit longer at The Tiara. Mebbe the Unions slow ‘em down.” The driver banged the gear lever into first. “All ‘a same,” he said, watching the traffic in his driving mirror, “there was one guy left Vegas with a hundred Grand.” He paused, waiting for a chance to cross the parkway. “Only thing, he had half a million when he started to play.”
The car swung across the traffic and under the pillared portico in front of the wide glass doors of the sprawling, pink stucco building. The bell captain, in a sky blue uniform, opened the cab door and reached in for Bond’s bag. Bond stepped out into the heat.
As he shouldered his way through the glass doors he heard Ernie Cureo say to the captain: “Some crazy Limey. Hired me for fifty bucks a day! Whaddya know about that?”
And then the door swung to behind him and the beautiful cold . air welcomed him with a chill kiss into the glittering palace of the man called Seraffimo Spang.
BOND had lunch in the air-conditioned ‘Sunburst Room’ beside the big kidney-shaped swimming pool (LIFESAVER: BOBBY BILBO-POOL SCOURED DAILY BY HYDRO JET, said a sign) and having decided that only about one per cent of the customers were fit to wear bathing suits, walked very slowly through the heat across the twenty yards of baked lawn that separated his building from the central establishment, took off his clothes and threw himself naked on his bed.
There were six buildings containing the bedrooms of The Tiara and they were named after jewels. Bond was on the ground floor of ‘The Turquoise’. Its motif was egg-shell blue with furnishing materials of dark blue and white. His room was extremely comfortable and equipped with expensive and well-designed modern furniture of a silvery wood that might have been birch. There was a radio beside his bed and a television set with a seventeen-inch screen beside the broad window. Outside the window there was a small enclosed breakfast patio. It was very quiet and there was no sound from the thermostat-controlled air-conditioning and Bond was almost instantly asleep.
He slept for four hours, and during this time the wire-recorder, concealed in the base of the bedside table, wasted several hundred feet of wire on dead silence.
When he awoke it was seven. The wire-recorder noted that he picked up the telephone and asked for Miss Tiffany Case and after a pause said, “Would you please tell her that Mr James Bond called” and put back the receiver. It then picked up the noise of Bond moving about the room, the hiss of the shower and, at 7.30, the click of his key in the lock as he went out and shut the door.
Half an hour later the recorder heard a knock on his door and then, after a pause, the noise of the door opening. A man dressed like a waiter, with a basket of fruit bearing a note saying, ‘With the Compliments of the Management’, came into the room and walked quickly over to the bedside table. He undid two screws, removed the reel o£ fine wire on the recorder’s turntable, replaced it with a fresh reel, put the basket of fruit on the dressing table and went out and closed the door.
And then for several hours the recorder whirred silently on, recording nothing.
Bond sat at the long bar of the Tiara and sipped a Vodka Martini and examined the great gambling room with a professional eye.
The first thing he noticed was that Las Vegas seemed to have invented a new school of functional architecture, ‘The Gilded
Mousetrap School’ he thought it might be called, whose main
purpose was to channel the customer-mouse into the central gambling trap whether he wanted the cheese or not.
There were only two entrances, one from the street outside, and one from the bedroom buildings and the swimming pool. Once you had come in through either of these, whether you wanted to buy a paper or cigarettes at the news stand, have a drink or a meal in one of the two restaurants, get your hair cut or have a. massage in the ‘Health Club’, or just visit the lavatories, there was no way of reaching your objective without passing between the banks of slot machines and gambling tables. And when you were trapped in the vortex of the whirring machines, amongst which there sounded always, from somewhere, the intoxicating silvery cascade of coins into a metal cup, or occasionally the golden cry of “Jackpot!” from one of the change-girls, you were lost. Beseiged by the excited back-chat from the three big crap tables, the seductive whirl of the two roulette wheels, and the clank of silver dollars across the green pools of the blackjack tables, it would be a mouse of steel who could get through without a tentative nibble at this delicious chunk of lucky cheese.