Once started, the car moved easily and they only had to follow behind it and keep it rolling. They came to the points and Bond went on pushing until they were twenty yards past.
“What the hell?” panted Tiffany.
“Come on,” said Bond, half stumbling, half running back to where the rusty switch stuck up beside the rails. “We’re going to put The Cannoriball on to the branch line.”
“Oh, boy!” said Tiffany Case reverently. And then they were both at the switch and Bond’s bruised muscles were cracking as he heaved.
Slowly the rusty metal shifted in the bed where it had lain unmoved for fifty years, and millimetre by millimetre the rails showed a crack and then a widening gap as Bond strained and jerked at the lever.
And then it was done and Bond knelt on the ground with his head down, fighting the dizziness that threatened to drown him.
But then there was a glare of light on the ground and Tiffany tugged at him and he was on his feet again and stumbling back to the car and the whole air was full of thunder and the doleful clanging of the warning bell as the great flaming iron beast came roaring towards them.
“Get down and don’t move,” shouted Bond above the noise, and he thrust her to the ground behind the flimsy shelter of the handcar. Then he limped quickly to the side of the track and drew his gun and stood sideways on with his pistol arm up like a duellist and squinted back up the track into the great on-rushing eye below the volcano of swirling fire and smoke.
God, what a monster. Could it possibly take the curve? Wouldn’t it just hurtle on into them and smash them to pulp?
On it came.
‘Phut.’ Something whipped into the ground beside him and there was a pinpoint flash from the cabin.
‘B-o-i-n-g-g-g.’ There was another flash and the bullet hit the rail and whined off into the night.
‘Crack. Crack. Crack.’ Now he could hear the gun above the rear of the engine. Something sang sharply in his ear.
Bond held his fire. Only four bullets and he knew when they would go.
And then, twenty yards away, the flying engine thundered into the curve and took the siding with a lurch that sent logs hurtling towards Bond off the top of the tender.
There was a shrill scream o£ metal as the flanges on the six-feet-tall driving wheels ground into the bend, a swift impression of smoke and flame and pounding machinery, and then a glimpse into the cabin and of the black-and-silver figure of Spang, spreadeagled, clinging to the side of the cabin with one hand and with the other hand outflung to the long iron handle of the throttle lever.
Bond’s gun shouted its four words. There was a lightning impression of a white face jerked up towards the sky and then the great black-and-gold engine was past and hurtling towards the shadowy wall of the Spectre Mountains, the beam of its pilot-light scything at the darkness ahead and its automatic warning-bell clanging sadly on, ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong.
Bond slowly tucked the Beretta into his trousers and stood looking after the coffin of Mr Spang, and the trail of smoke drifted over his head and for a moment put out the moon.
Tiffany Case came running to him and they stood side by side and watched the flaming banner from the tall smoke-stack and listened to the mountains throw back the echo of the charging locomotive. The girl clutched his arm as the engine gave a sudden swerve and vanished behind a spur of rock. And now there was only a faraway drumming in the mountains and a red glow that flickered off the crags as The Cannonball tore on down the cutting into the belly of the rock.
And suddenly there was a great tongue of fire and a terrible iron crash as if a battleship had run on a reef. And then a muffled clanging that seemed to come from under their feet. And, finally, a deep distant boom from the bowels of the earth and a barrage of miscellaneous echoes.
And then, with the noise gone, a steady, singing silence.
Bond heaved a deep sigh as if he was just waking up. So that was the end of one of the Spangs, of one of the brutal, theatrical, overblown dead-end adults who made up the Spangled Mob. He had been a stage-gangster, surrounded with stage properties, but that didn’t alter the fact that he had intended to kill Bond.
“Let’s get away from here,” Tiffany Case said urgently. “I’ve had enough of this.”
Bond felt the pain creeping back into his body as his tension relaxed. “Yes,” he said shortly. He was glad to turn his back on the memory of the up-turned white face in the beautiful black, charging engine. He felt light-headed. He wondered if he would make it, “We’ll have to get to the road. It’ll be hard going. Come on.”
It took them an hour and a. half to cover the two miles and, by the time he collapsed in the dirt beside the cement highway, Bond was delirious. It was the girl who had got him there. But for her he would never have kept a straight course. He would have stumbled about amongst the cactus and rock and mica until his strength was exhausted and the broiling sun came to finish the job.
And now she was cradling his head against her and talking softly to him and wiping the sweat off his face with the corner of her shirt.
And every now and then she paused to look up and down the dead-straight concrete road whose horizons were already shimmering in the heat waves of early morning.
An hour later she jumped to her feet and tucked in her shirt and went and stood in the middle of the road. A low black car was coming out of the dancing haze which hid the distant valley of Las Vegas.
It rolled to a stop just in front of her and a hawk-like face under an untidy mop of straw-coloured hair stuck itself out of the window. Keen grey eyes briefly looked her over, They glanced at the prostrate figure of the man in the dust beside the road and came back to her.
Then, in a friendly Texan drawl, the driver said, “Felix Leiter, Mam. At your service. And what may I do for you on this beautiful morning?”
“NOTHING PROPINKS LIKE PROPINQUITY”
“… and when I get into town I call my friend Ernie Cureo. James knows him. And his wife is having hysterics and Ernie’s in the hospital. So I go right along and he tells me the score and I figure that James may need some reinforcements. So I jump on my coal-black mare and gallop through the night and when I get near to Spectreville I see the light in the sky. Mr Spang’s having himself a barbecue, I figure. And the gate in the fence is open so I decide to join the feast. Well, believe me or believe me not, there’s not a soul in the place except a guy with a busted leg and multiple contusions, who’s crawling down the road trying to get away. And he looks to me mighty like a young hood called Frasso from Detroit Ernie Cureo tells me was one of the guys that took James. The fellow’s in no state to deny this and I more or less get the picture and I figure that Rhyolite’s my next stop. So I tell the kid he’ll soon be having plenty of company from the Fire Department and I take him to the gate and leave him there and then after a while there’s a girl standing in the middle of the desert looking as if she’s been fired out of a cannon and here we all are. And now you tell.”
So it’s not all part of a dream and I am lying in the back of the Studillac and this is Tiffany’s lap under my head and that is Felix and we are going hell for leather down the road to safety, a doctor, a bath, some food and drink and an endless amount of sleep. Bond moved and he felt Tiffany’s hand in his hair to tell it was all real and just like he hoped, and he lay still again and said nothing and held each moment to him and listened to their voices and the zip of the tyres on the road.
At the end of Tiffany’s story, Felix Leiter gave a reverent whistle. “Jeese, Mam,” he said. “The two of you sure seem to have busted a hole in the Spangled Mob. What in hell’s going to happen now? There are plenty of other hornets in the nest and just sittin’ around buzzin’ isn’t goin’ to be their way. They’ll want some action.”
“Check,” said Tiffany. “Spang was a member of the Syndicate at Vegas and these guys stick pretty much together. Then there’s Shady Tree and those two torpedoes, Wint and Kidd, whoever they may be. The sooner we cross the State-line the better. Then what?”
“We’re doin’ all right so far,” said Felix Leiter. “Be at Beatty in ten minutes, then we’ll get on to 58 and be over the line in half an hour. Then there’s a long ride through Death Valley and over the mountains down to Olancha where we hit No6. We could stop there and get James to a doc and do some eating and cleaning up. Then just stay on 6 until we get to LA. It’ll be a hell of a drive, but we should make LA by lunchtime. Then we can relax a bit and think again. My guess is that we oughta get you and James out of the country pretty quick. The boys’ll try and fix all kinds of phoney raps on you both, and once you’re located I wouldn’t give a nickel for either of you. Best chance would be to get you both on a plane to New York tonight and off to England tomorrow. James can take it from there.”
“I guess that makes sense,” said the girl. “But who is this Bond guy, anyway? What’s his racket? Is he an eye?”
“You better ask him yourself, Mam,” Bond heard Leiter say carefully. “But I wouldn’t let that worry you over much. He’ll take care of you.”
Bond smiled to himself and in the long silence that followed he dropped off into an uneasy sleep which lasted until they were half way across California and had pulled up outside a white wicket gate that said ‘Otis Fairplay, MD’.
And then, a mass of surgical tape and streaked with mercuro-chrome, washed and shaved and with a huge breakfast inside him, he was back in the car and back in the world and Tiffany Case had withdrawn into her old ironical and uncompromising manner and Bond was making himself useful by watching for speed cops as Leiter kept the car in the eighties down the endless dazzling road towards the distant cloudline that hid the High Sierras.
Then they were rolling easily along Sunset Boulevard between the palm trees and the emerald lawns, the dust-streaked Studillac looking incongruous among the glistening Corvettes and Jaguars, and finally, towards evening, they were sitting in the dark, cool bar of the Beverley Hills Hotel, and there were new suitcases in the lobby and brand new Hollywood clothes and even Bond’s battle-scarred face didn’t mean they hadn’t all just finished work at the studios.
There was a telephone on the table beside their Martinis. Felix Leiter finished talking to New York for the fourth time since their arrival.
“Well that’s fixed,” he said, putting back the receiver. “My pals at the office have got you on the Elizabeth. Been delayed by a strike at the docks. Sails tomorrow night at eight. They’ll meet you in the morning at La Guardia with the tickets and you’ll go on board any time in the afternoon. They picked up the rest of your things at the Astor, James. One small case and your famous golf clubs. And Washington’s obliged with a passport for Tiffany. There’ll be a man from the State Department at the airport. You’ll both have some forms to sign. Got one of my old pals at the CIA to work it. The middays have made a big splash with the story-’Ghost Town goes West’ and so on-but they don’t seem to have found our friend Spang yet and your names don’t figure. My boys say there’s no call out for you with the cops, but one of our undercover men says the gangs are looking for you and your description’s been circulated. Ten Grand attached. So it’s as well you’re skipping quick. Better go aboard separately. Cover up as much as you can and go down to your cabins and stay there. All hell’s going to bust loose when they get to the bottom of that old mine. That’ll make leastwise three corpses to nothing and they don’t like that kind of score.”