“I’m sure,” said M. There was no irony in his voice. “All right, then. Well, best of luck.” There was a pause. “Look after yourself. And,” the voice at the other end was suddenly gruff, “don’t think I’m not pleased with the way things have gone so far. Exceeded your brief, of course, but you seem to have stood up to these people very well. Goodbye, James.”
Bond looked up into the spangled sky and thought of M, and of Tiffany, and hoped that this would really be the end, and that it would be quick and easy, and that he would soon be home.
The smuggler from the mines stood and waited, holding the fourth torch in his hand. There it was. Coming right across the moon. Hell of a noise as usual. That was another risk he’d be glad to get away from.
Down it came, and now it was hovering twenty feet above his head. The hand came out and flashed A, and the man on the ground winked back the B and the C. Then the rotor blades flattened and softly the great iron insect sank to the ground.
The dust settled. The diamond smuggler took his hand away from his eyes and watched the pilot climb down his small ladder to the ground. He was wearing a flying helmet and goggles. Unusual. And he looked taller than the German. The man’s spine tingled. Who was this? He walked slowly to meet him.
“Got the stuff?” Two cold eyes under straight black brows looked sharply out from behind the goggles. They were hidden as the man’s head moved and the moon caught the glass. Now there we-re just two round blazing white circles in the middle of the shiny black leather helmet.
“Yes,” said the man from the mines nervously. “But where’s the German?”
“He won’t be coming again.” The two white circles stared blindly at the smuggler. “I am ABC. (I am closing down the pipeline.”
It was an American voice, hard and flat and final.
Automatically the smuggler’s hand went inside his shirt. He took out the moist packet and held it out as if it was some kind of a peace offering. Like the scorpion, a month earlier, he sensed the raised stone above him.
“Give me a hand with the gas.”
It was the voice of an overseer giving an order to a coolie, but the smuggler stepped quickly forward to obey.
They worked in silence. Then it was finished and they were on the ground again. The smuggler had been thinking desperately. He summoned up the voice of an equal partner, the voice of someone who knew the score and had an equal control.
He peered into the patch of indigo blackness where the pilot stood with his hand on the ladder.
“I’ve been thinking things over and I’m afraid…”
And then the voice stopped and the lips drew back from the teeth in the open mouth, and the mouth began to make a noise between a snarl and a scream.
The gun in the pilot’s hand stammered three times. The smuggler said “Oh” in an obsequious voice. He pitched backwards into the dust and gave one heave and lay still.
“Don’t move.” The clanging voice came over the plain with the screeching echo of the amplifier. “You’re covered.” There was the sound of an engine starting up.
The pilot didn’t wait to wonder about the voice. He leapt for the ladder. The door of the cockpit slammed and there was the whirr of the self-starter. The engine roared and the rotor blades swung and slowly gathered speed until they were two whirlpools of silver. Then there was a jerk and the helicopter was in the air and climbing vertically straight up into the sky.
Down among the low bush the truck stopped with a jerk and Bond leapt for the iron saddle of the Bofors.
“Up, Corporal,” he snapped to the man at the elevation lever. He bent his eyes to the grid-sight as the muzzle rose towards the moon. He reached to pull the firing selector lever off ‘Safe’ and put it on ‘Single Fire’. “And left ten.”
“I’ll keep feeding you tracer.” The officer beside Bond had two racks of five yellow-painted shells in his hands.
Bond’s feet settled into the trigger pedals and now he had the helicopter in the centre of the grid. “Steady,” he said quietly.
The spangled tracer swung lazily up into the sky just below the speed of sound.
Low and left.
The Corporal delicately twisted the two levers.
The tracer curved away high over the rising machine. Bond reached forward and pulled the selector lever to ‘Auto Fire’. The movement of his hand was reluctant. Now it would be certain death. He was going to have to do it again.
The red fire sprayed across the sky. Still the helicopter went on rising towards the moon, and now it was turning away to the north.
There was a flash of yellow light near the tail rotor and the distant bang of an explosion.
“Got him,” said the officer. He picked up a pair of night-glasses. “Tail rotor’s gone,” he said. And then, excitedly, “Gosh. It looks as if the whole cabin’s going round with the main rotor. Pilot must be getting hell.”
“Any more?” said Bond, holding the whirring machine in his sights.
“No, Sir,” said the officer. “Like to get him alive if we can. But it looks as if… yes, he’s out of control now. Coming down in great swoops. Must be something wrong with the main rotor blades. There he goes.”
Bond raised his head from the grid sight and shaded his eyes against the blazing moon.
Yes. There he was. Only about a thousand feet up now, the engine roaring and the great blades whirring uselessly as the tangle of metal pitched and yawed down the sky in long drunken staggers.
Jack Spang. The man who had ordered Bond’s death. Who had ordered Tiffany’s death. The man Bond had only once seen for a few minutes in an overheated room in Covent Garden. Mr Rufus B. Saye. Of The House of Diamonds. Vice-President for Europe. The man who played golf at Sunningdale and visited Paris once a month. ‘Model citizen,’ M had called him.
Mr Spang of the Spangled Mob, who had just killed a man-the final one of how many others?
Bond could imagine the scene in the narrow cockpit, the big man holding on with one hand and wrenching at the controls with the other as he watched the needle of the altimeter dip down through the hundreds. And there would be the red glare of terror in the eyes, and the hundred thousand pound pocketful of diamonds would be just so much deadweight, and the gun which had been a strong right arm since boyhood would be no comfort.
“He’s coming right back to the bush,” shouted the Corporal above the clatter in the sky.
“He’s a goner now,” said the Captain, half to himself.
They watched the last bucketing lurches and then they held their breath as the aircraft, see-sawing wildly, gave a final tip to its nose and, as if the bush had been its enemy, made an angry dive through a twenty-yard curve and hurled itself and the threshing rotors into the stack of thorns.
Before the echoes of the crash had died, there came a hollow boom out of the heart of the bush followed by a jagged ball of flame that grew and billowed up into the air so that the moon was dimmed and the whole plain was bathed in an orange glare.
The Captain was the first to speak.
“Ouch!” he said with feeling. He slowly lowered his night-glasses and turned to Bond. “Well, Sir,” he said resignedly. “That’s just about that. ‘Fraid it’s going to be morning before we can get anywhere near that lot. And then it’s going to be hours more before we can start raking about in it. And this is going to bring the French frontier guards along at the gallop. Luckily we’re on pretty good terms with them, but the Governor’s going to have a fine time arguing the toss with Dakar.” The officer saw a vista of paper-work stretching ahead. The prospect made him tireder than he already was. He was matter-of-fact. He had had enough for one day. “Mind if we get a bit of shut-eye, Sir?”
“Go ahead,” said Bond. He looked at his watch. “Better get under the truck. Sun’ll be coming up in about four hours. Not feeling tired myself. I’ll keep an eye out in case the fire looks like spreading.”
The officer gave a curious glance at this quiet, enigmatic man who had suddenly arrived in the Protectorate amidst a flurry of ‘Absolute Priority’ signals. If ever a man needed sleep… But all this was nothing to do with Freetown. London stuff. “Thanks, Sir,” he said and jumped down from the truck.
Bond slowly took his feet off the trigger-pedals and sat back in the iron saddle. Automatically, with his eyes still on the leaping flames, his hands felt in the pockets of the faded khaki bush-shirt, borrowed from the Garrison CO, for his lighter and cigarettes, and he took out a cigarette and lit it and put the things back in his pockets.
So this was the end of the diamond pipeline. And the last page on the file. He took a deep lungful of smoke and let it out between his teeth in a long, quiet sigh. Six corpses to love. Game and set.
Bond put up a hand and wiped it across his dripping forehead. He pushed back the damp lock of hair above the right eyebrow and the red blaze lit up the hard lean face and flickered in the tired eyes.
So this great red full stop marked the end of the Spangled Mob and the end of their fabulous traffic in diamonds. But not the end of the diamonds that were baking at the heart of the fire. They would survive and move off again across the world, discoloured, perhaps, but indestructible, as permanent as death.
And Bond suddenly remembered the eyes of the corpse which had once had a Blood Group F. They had been wrong. Death is forever. But so are diamonds.
Bond dropped down off the truck and started walking slowly towards the leaping fire. He smiled grimly to himself. All this business about death and diamonds was too solemn. For Bond it was just the end of another adventure. Another adventure for which a wry phrase of Tiffany Case might be the epitaph. He could see the passionate, ironical mouth saying the words:
‘It reads better than it lives.’