It was a biggish man. His face had the glistening, pasty appearance of a spat-out bullseye. Small, cold dark eyes were looking towards the auctioneer’s platform through motionless bifocals. All the man’s neck seemed to be at the back of his head.
Sweat matted the curly black algae of his hair and now he took off his glasses and picked up a napkin and wiped the sweat off with a circular motion that started with the left side of the face and swirled round to the back of his head where his right hand took over and completed the circuit as far as the dripping nose. “Two hundred and ten,” said someone. The big man’s chin wobbled and he opened his tight-buttoned mouth and said, “Two hundred and twenty” in a level American voice.
What was there about this man that struck a chord in Bond’s memory? He watched the big face, running his mind’s eye over the filing system of his brain, pulling out drawer after drawer, hunting for the clue. The face? The voice? England? America?
Bond gave up and turned his attention to the other man at the table. Again, the same urgent sense of recognition. The curiously delicate young features under the slicked-back white hair. The soft brown eyes under the long lashes. The general effect of prettiness, spoiled by the fleshy nose over the wide thin mouth, now open in a square empty smile like the grin of a letter-box.
“Two hundred and fifty,” said the big man mechanically.
Bond turned to Tiffany. “Ever see those two before?” he said and she noticed the line of worry between his eyes.
“Nope,” she said definitely. “Never did. Look like something from Brooklyn to me. Or a couple of cloak-and-suiters from the Garment District. Why? Do they mean anything to you?”
Bond gave them another glance. “No,” he said doubtfully. “No, I don’t think so.”
There was a burst of clapping in the room and the auctioneer beamed and rapped on the table. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said triumphantly. “This is really splendid. Three hundred pounds I am bid by the charming lady in the beautiful pink evening dress. (Heads turned and craned and Bond could see the mouths saying ‘who is she?’) And now, Sir,” he turned .towards the fat man’s table, “May I say £525?”
“Three hundred and fifty,” said the fat man.
“Four hundred,” squealed the pink woman.
“Five hundred.” The voice was toneless, indifferent.
The pink girl chattered angrily at her escort. The man suddenly looked bored. He caught the auctioneer’s eye and shook his head.
“Any increase on £500?” said the auctioneer. He now knew that he had squeezed all he would get out of the room. “Going once. Going twice.” Bang! “Sold to the gentleman over there, and I really think he deserves a clap.” He clapped his hands and the crowd dutifully followed suit although they would have preferred the pink girl to win.
The fat man lifted himself a few inches off his chair and then sat down again. There was no acknowledgment of the applause in his glistening face and he kept his eyes fixed on the auctioneer.
“And now we must go through the formality of asking this gentleman which Field he prefers. (Laughter.) Sir, do you choose the High Field or the Low Field?” The auctioneer’s voice was ironical. The question was a waste of time.
There was a moment of dead silence in the crowded Smoking Room. It was quickly followed by a buzz of comment. There had been no question. It was obvious that the man would take the High Field. The weather was perfect. The Queen must be doing at least thirty knots. Did he know something? Had he bribed someone on the bridge? Was a storm coming up? Was a bearing running hot?
The auctioneer rapped for silence. “I beg your pardon, Sir,” he said, “but did you say the Low Field?”
The auctioneer rapped again. “In that case, ladies and gentlemen, we will now proceed to auction the High Field. Madam,” he turned with a bow towards the girl in pink. “Would you care to open the bidding?”
Bond turned to Tiffany. “That was a queer business,” he said. “Extraordinary thing to do. Sea’s as calm as glass.” He shrugged his shoulders. “The only answer is that they know something.” The matter was of no interest, anyway. “Someone’s told them something.” He turned and looked carelessly at the two men and then let his eyes swing past and away from them. “They seem to be quite interested in us.”
Tiffany glanced past his shoulder. “They’re not looking at us now,” she said. “I figure they’re just a couple of dopes. The white-haired guy’s looking stupid and the fat man’s sucking his thumb. They’re screwy. Doubt if they know what they’ve bought. They just got their signals crossed.”
“Sucking his thumb?” said Bond. He ran his hand distractedly through his hair, a vague memory nagging at him.
Perhaps if she had left him to follow the train of thought he would have remembered. Instead she put her hand over his and leant towards him so that her hair brushed against his face. “Forget it, James,” she said. “And don’t think so hard about those stupid men.” Her eyes were suddenly ardent and demanding. “I’ve had enough of this place. Take me somewhere else.”
Without saying anything more, they got up and left the table and walked out of the noisy room to the staircase. As they went down the stairs to the deck below, Bond’s arm went round the girl’s waist and her head fell against his shoulder.
They came to the door of Tiffany’s cabin, but she pulled him away and on down the long, softly creaking corridor.
“I want it to be in your house, James,” she said.
Bond said nothing until he had kicked the door of his cabin shut behind them and they had twisted round and stood locked together in the middle of the wonderfully private, wonderfully anonymous little room. And then he just said, softly, “My darling,” and put one hand in her hair so that he could hold her mouth where he wanted it.
And after a while his other hand went to the zip fastener at the back of her dress and without moving away from him she stepped out of her dress and panted between their kisses. “I want it all, James. Everything you’ve ever done to a girl. Now. Quickly.”
And Bond bent down and put an arm round her thighs and picked her up and laid her gently on the floor.
DEATH IS SO PERMANENT
THE last thing Bond remembered before the telephone rang was Tiffany bending over him in bed and kissing him and saying, “You shouldn’t sleep on the heart-side, my treasure. It’s bad for the heart. It might stop beating. Turn over.” And obediently he had turned and as the door clicked he was at once asleep again with her voice and the sigh of the Atlantic and the soft roll of the ship holding him in their arms.
And then the angry bell rang in the dark cabin and went on ringing and Bond cursed and reached for it and a voice said, “Sorry to disturb you, Sir. This is the wireless operator. There’s a cipher signal just come in for you and it’s got an en clair prefix of ‘Most Immediate’. Shall I call it out to you or send it down?”
“Send it down, would you?” said Bond. “And thanks.”
Now what the hell? All the beauty and heat and excitement of passionate love were pushed roughly away as he turned on the lights, slipped out of bed and, shaking his head to clear it, took the two steps into the shower.
For a full minute he let the water hit him, and then he rubbed himself down and picked up his trousers and shirt from the floor and climbed into them.
There was a knock on the door and he took the cable and sat down at the desk and lit a cigarette and set grimly to work. And, as the groups gradually dissolved into words, his eyes grew narrower and the skin slowly crawled on his body.
The cable was from the Chief of Staff. It said :
FIRSTLY CLANDESTINE SEARCH OF SAVES OFFICE REVEALED SIGNAL FROM QE ADDRESSED ABC SIGNED WINTER ADVISING OF YOUR AND CASES PRESENCE ABOARD REQUESTING INSTRUCTIONS STOP REPLY ADDRESSED WINTER SIGNED ABC ORDERS ELIMINATION OF CASE COMMA PRICE TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS STOP SECONDLY WE CONSIDER HUFUS B SAYE IS ABC WHICH IS PARTLY EQUIVALENT OF HIS INITIALS IN FRENCH THUS AH DASH BAY DASH SAVE STOP THIRDLY POSSIBLY ALERTED EY SIGNS OF SEARCH SAYE FLEW PARIS YESTERDAY AND NOW REPORTED BY INTERPOL BE IN DAKAR STOP THIS TENDS CONFIRM OUR SUSPICION THAT DIAMONDS ORIGINATE SIERRA LEONE MINES THENCE SMUGGLED OVER FRONTIER INTO FRENCH GUINEA STOP WE STRONGLY SUSPECT MEMBER OF SIERRA INTERNATIONALS DENTAL SURGERY STAFF WHO BEING WATCHED STOP FOURTHLY RAF CANBERRA AWAITS YOU BOSCOMBE DOWN FOR IMMEDIATE ONWARD FLIGHT TOMORROW NIGHT TO SIERRA LEONE SIGNED COS.
Bond sat for a moment frozen to his chair. Suddenly, there flashed unwanted into his mind that most sinister line in all poetry: ‘They reckon ill who leave me out. When me they fly, I am the wings.’
So somebody from the Spangled Mob was on board and travelling with them. Who? Where?
His hand snatched at the telephone.
“Miss Case, please.”
He could hear the telephone beside her bed click and then give its first ring. The second. The third. Just one more. He crashed the receiver back on to its cradle and ran out of his room and up the corridor to her cabin. Nothing. Empty. The bed unslept in. The lights burning. But her evening bag lay on the carpet by the door and its contents were scattered around it. She had come in. The man had been behind the door. Perhaps a cosh had fallen. And then what?
The portholes were closed. He looked into the bathroom. Nothing.
Bond stood in the middle of the cabin and his mind was as cold as ice. What would he, Bond, have done? Before he killed her he would have questioned her. Found out what she knew, what she had told, who this man Bond was. Got her to his cabin where he could work on her undisturbed. If somebody met him carrying her there, it would only have needed a wink and a shake of the head. “Bit too much champagne tonight. No thanks, I can manage.” But which cabin? How long had he got?
Bond looked at his watch as he ran back down the silent corridor. Three o’clock. She must have left him some time after two. Should he call the bridge? Give the alarm? A ghastly vista of explanation, suspicions, delays. “My dear Sir. That hardly seems possible.” Attempts to calm him. “Of course, Sir, we’ll do our best.” The polite eyes of the Sergeant-at-Arms who would be thinking in terms of drunkenness and crossing in love-even of someone trying to delay the ship so as to win the Low Field in the Ship’s Auction.
The Low Field! Man overboard! The ship delayed!
Bond slammed the door of his cabin and dived for the Passenger List. Of course. Winter. Here he was. Aqc). The deck below. And then suddenly Bond’s mind clicked like a comptometer. Winter. Wint and Kidd. The two torpedoes. The men in the hoods. Back to the passenger list. Kitteridge. In A49 too. The white-haired man and the fat man in the BOAC plane from London. ‘My blood group is F’. The secret escort for Tiffany. And Leiter’s description. “He’s called ‘Windy’ because he hates travelling.”
“One day that wart on his thumb will catch him out.” The red wart on the first joint holding back the hammer of the gun over Tingaling Bell. And Tiffany saying, “They’re screwy. The fat man’s sucking his thumb!” And the two men in the Smoking Room cashing in on the death that had been arranged. The woman overboard. The alarm given anonymously in case the stern watch missed her. The ship stopped, turning, searching. And three thousand pounds extra to the killers.