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“Yes, isn't it.” Bond was thinking of his gun. He was wondering how well it would shoot after a bath in the river-how many dogs and men he could get if they were found. He felt a wave of disquiet. It had been a bad break coming across this girl. In combat, like it or not, a girl is your extra heart. The enemy has two targets against your one.

Bond remembered his thirst. He scooped up some water. It was brackish and tasted of earth. It was all right. He drank some more. The girl put out her hand and stopped him. “Don't drink too much. Wash your mouth out and spit. You could get fever.”

Bond looked at her quietly. He did as she told him.

Quarrel whistled from somewhere in the main stream. Bond answered and waded out towards him. They came back along the channel. Quarrel splashed the mangrove roots with water where their bodies might have brushed against them. “Kill da smell of us,” he explained briefly. He produced his handful of bamboo lengths and began whittling and cutting them. Bond looked to his gun and the spare ammunition. ; They stood still in the pool so as not to stir up more mud.

The sunlight dappled down through the thick roof of leaves. The shrimps nibbled softly at their feet. Tension built up in the hot, crouching silence.

It was almost a relief to hear the baying of the dogs.

X

DRAGON SPOOR

The search party was coming fast down the river. The two men in bathing trunks and tall waders were having to run to keep up with the dogs. They were big Chinese Negroes wearing shoulder holsters across their naked sweating chests. Occasionally they exchanged shouts that were mostly swearwords. Ahead of them the pack of big Dobermann Pinschers • swam and floundered through the water, baying excitedly. They had a scent and they quested frenziedly, the diamondshaped ears erect on the smooth, serpentine heads.

“May be a-ing crocodile,” yelled the leading man though the hubbub. He was carrying a short whip which he occasionally cracked like a whipper-in on the hunting field.

The other man converged towards him. He shouted excitedly, “For my money it's the-ing limey! Bet ya he's lying up in the mangrove. Mind he doesn't give us a-ing ambush.” The man took the gun out of its holster and put it under his armpit and kept his hand on the butt.

They were coming out of the open river into the mangrove tunnel. The first man had a whistle. It stuck out of his broad face like a cigar butt. He blew a shrill blast. When the dogs swapt on he laid about him with the whip. The dogs checked, whimpering as the slow current forced them to disobey orders. The two men took their guns and waded slowly downstream through the straggly legs of the mangroves.

The leading man came to the narrow break that Bond had found. He grasped a dog by the collar and swung it into the channel. The dog snorted eagerly and paddled forward. The man's eyes squinted at the mangrove roots on either side of the channel to see if they were scratched.

The dog and the man came into the small enclosed pool at the end of the channel. The man looked round disgustedly. He caught the dog by the collar and pulled him back. The dog was reluctant to leave the place. The man lashed down into the water with his whip.

The second man had been waiting at the entrance to the little channel. The first man came out. He shook his head and they went on downstream, the dogs, now less excited, streaming ahead.

Slowly the noise of the hunt grew less and vanished.

For another five minutes nothing moved in the mangrove pool, then, in one corner among the roots, a thin periscope of bamboo rose slowly out of the water. Bond's face emerged, the forehead streaked with wet hair, like the face of a surfacing corpse. In his right hand under the water the gun was ready. He listened intently. There was dead silence, not a sound. Or was there? What was that soft swish out in the main stream? Was someone wading very quietly along in the wake of the hunt? Bond reached out on either side of him and softly touched the other two bodies that lay among the roots on the edge of the pool. As the two faces surfaced he put his finger to his lips. It was too late. Quarrel had coughed and spat. Bond made a grimace and nodded urgently towards the main stream,. They all listened. There was dead silence. Then the soft swishing began again. Whoever it was was coming into the side-channel. The tubes of bamboo went back into the three mouths and the heads softly submerged again.

Underwater, Bond rested his head in the mud, pinched his nostrils with his left hand and pursed his lips round the tube. He knew the pool had been examined once already. He had felt the disturbance of the swimming dog. That time they had not been found. Would they get away with it again? This time there would have been less chance for the stirred mud to seep away out of the pool. If this searcher saw the darker brown stain, would he shoot into it or stab into it? What weapons would he have? Bond decided that he wouldn't take chances. At the first movement in the water near him he would get to his feet and shoot and hope for the best.

Bond lay and focused all his senses. What hell this controlled breathing was and how maddening the soft nibbling of the shrimps! It was lucky none of them had a sore on their bodies or the damned things would have eaten into it. But it had been a bright idea of the girl's. Without it the dogs would have got to them wherever they had hidden.

Suddenly Bond cringed. A rubber boot had stepped on his shin and slid off. Would the man think it was a branch? Bond couldn't chance it. With one surge of motion he hurled him self upwards, spitting out the length of bamboo.

Bond caught a quick impression of a huge body standing almost on top of him and of a swirling rifle butt. He lifted his' left arm to protect his head and felt the jarring blow on his forearm. At the same time his right hand lunged forward and as the muzzle of his gun touched the glistening right breast below the hairless aureole he pulled the trigger.

The kick of the explosion, pent up against the man's body, almost broke Bond's wrist, but the man crashed back like a chopped tree into the water. Bond caught a glimpse of a huge rent in his side as he went under. The rubber waders thrashed once and the head, a Chinese Negroid head, broke the surface its eyes turned up and water pouring from its silently yelling mouth. Then the head went under again and there was nothing but muddy froth and a slowly widening red stain that began to seep away downstream.

Bond shook himself. He turned. Quarrel and the girl were standing behind him, water streaming from their bodies. Quarrel was grinning from ear to ear, but the girl's knuckles were at her mouth and her eyes were staring horror-struck at the reddened water.

Bond said curtly, “I'm sorry, Honey. It had to be done. He was right on top of us. Come on, let's get going.” He took her roughly by the arm and thrust her away from the place and out into the main stream, only stopping when they had reached the open river at the beginning of the mangrove tunnel.

The landscape was empty again. Bond glanced at his watch. It had stopped at three o'clock. He looked at the westering sun. It might be four o'clock now. How much farther had they to go? Bond suddenly felt tired. Now he'd torn it. Even if the shot hadn't been heard-and it would have been well muffled, by the man's body and by the mangroves-the man would be missed when the others rendezvoused, if Quarrel's guess was right, at the river mouth to be taken off to the launch. Would they come back up the river to look for the missing man? Probably not. It would be getting dark before they knew for certain that he was missing. They'd send out a search party in the morning. The dogs would soon get the body. Then what?

The girl tugged at his sleeve. She said angrily, “It's.time you told me what all this is about! Why's everybody trying to kill each other? And who are you? I don't believe all this story about birds. You don't take a revolver after birds.”

Bond looked down into the angry, wide-apart eyes. “I'm sorry, Honey. I'm afraid I've got you into a bit of a mess. I'll tell you all about it this evening when we get to the camp. It's just bad luck you being mixed up with me like this. I've got a bit of a war on with these people. They seem to want to kill me. Now I'm only interested in seeing us all off the island without anyone else getting hurt. I've got enough to go on now so that next time I can come back by the front door.”

“What do you mean? Are you some sort of a policeman? Are you trying to send this Chinaman to prison?”

“That's about it,” Bond smiled down at her. “At least you're on the side of the angels. And now you tell me something. How much farther to the camp?”

“Oh, about an hour.”

“Is it a good place to hide? Could they find us there easily?”

“They'd have to come across the lake or up the river. It'll be all right so long as they don't send their dragon after us. He can go through the water. I've seen him do it.”

“Oh well,” said Bond diplomatically, “let's hope he's got a sore tail or something.”

The girl snorted. “All right, Mr Know-all,” she said angrily. “Just you wait.”

Quarrel splashed out of the mangroves. He was carrying a rifle. He said apologetically. “No harm 'n havin' anudder gun, cap'n. Looks like us may need hit.”

Bond took it. It was a U.S. Army Remington Carbine, .300. These people certainly had the right equipment. He handed it back.

Quarrel echoed his thoughts. “Dese is sly folks, cap'n. Dat man mus' of come sneakin' down soffly behind de udders to ketch us comin' out after de dawgs had passed. He sho is a sly mongoose, dat Doctor feller.”

Bond said thoughtfully, “He must be quite a man.” He shrugged away his thoughts. “Now let's get going. Honey says there's another hour to the camp. Better keep to the left bank so'as to get what cover we can from the hill. For all we know they've got glasses trained on the river.” Bond handed his gun to Quarrel who sto.wed it in the sodden knapsack. They moved off again with Quarrel in the lead and Bond and the girl walking together.

They got some shade from the bamboo and bushes along the western bank, but now they had to face the full force of the scorching wind. They splashed water over their arms and faces to cool the burns. Bond's eyes were bloodshot with the glare and his arm ached intolerably where the gun butt had struck. And he was not looking forward to his dinner of soaking bread and cheese and salt pork. How long would they be able to sleep? He hadn't had much last night. It looked like the same ration again. And what about the girl? She had had none. He and Quarrel would have to keep watch and watch. And then tomorrow. Off into the mangrove again and work their way slowly back to the canoe across the eastern end of the island. It looked like that. And sail the following night. Bond thought of hacking a way for five miles through solid mangroves. What a prospect! Bond trudged on, thinking of M's 'holiday in the sunshine'. He'd certainly give something for M to be sharing it with him now.

The river grew narrower until it was only a stream between the bamboo clumps. Then it widened out into a flat marshy estuary beyond which the five square miles of shallow lake swept away to the other side of the island in a ruffled blue-grey mirror. Beyond, there was the shimmer of the airstrip and the glint of the sun on a single hangar. The girl told them to keep to the east and they worked their way slowly along inside the fringe of bushes.

Suddenly Quarrel stopped, his face pointing like a gun-dog's at the marshy ground in front of him. Two deep parallel grooves were cut into the mud, with a fainter groove in the centre. They were the tracks of something that had come down from the hill and gone across the marsh towards the lake.

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