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“You gave me a bit of a shock. I thought you must be Doctor No's girl friend.”

“Thanks very much.”

“But when you've had the operation, what are you going to do then? You can't got on living alone in a cellar all your life.”

“I thought I'd be a call girl.” She said it as she might have said 'nurse' or 'secretary'.

“Oh, what do you mean by that?” Perhaps she had picked up the expression without understanding it.

“One of those girls who has a beautiful flat and lovely clothes. You know what I mean,” she said impatiently.“People ring them up and come and make love to them and pay them for it. They get a hundred dollars for each time in New York. That's where I thought I'd start. Of course,” she admitted, “I might have to do it for less to begin with. Until I learned to do it really well. How much do you pay the untrained ones?”

Bond laughed. “I really can't remember. It's quite a long time since I had one.”

She sighed. “Yes, I suppose you can have as many women as you want for nothing. I suppose it's only the ugly men that pay. But that can't be helped. Any kind of job in the big towns must be dreadful. At least you can earn much more being a call girl. Then I can come back to Jamaica and buy Beau Desert. I'd be rich enough to find a nice husband and have some children. Now that I've found these Venus shells I've worked out that I might be back in Jamaica by the time I'm thirty. Won't that be lovely?”

“I like the last part of the plan. But I'm not so sure of the first. Anyway, where did you find out about these call girls? Were they under G in the encyclopedia?”

“Of course not. Don't be silly. There was a big case about them in New York about two years ago. There was a rich playboy called Jelke. He had a whole string of girls. There was a lot about the case in the Gleaner. They gave all the prices and everything. And anyway, there are thousands of those sort of girls in Kingston, only of course not such good ones. They only get about five shillings and they have no where to go and do it except the bush. My Nanny told me about them. She said I mustn't grow up like them or I'd be very unhappy. I can see that for only five shillings. But for a hundred dollars...!”

Bond said, “You wouldn't be able to keep all of that. You'd have to have a sort of manager to get the men, and then you'd have to bribe the police to leave you alone. And you could easily go to prison if something went wrong. I really don't think you'd like the work. I'll tell you what, with all you know about animals and insects and so on you could get a wonderful job looking after them in one of the American zoos. Or what about the Jamaica Institute? I'm sure you'd like that better. You'd be just as likely to meet a nice husband. Anyway you mustn't think of being a call girl any more. You've got a beautiful body. You must keep it for the men you love.”

“That's what people say in books,” she said doubtfully. “The trouble is there aren't any men to love at Beau Desert.” She said shyly, “You're the first Englishman I've ever talked to. I liked you from the beginning. I don't mind telling you these things at all. I suppose there are plenty of other people I should like if I could get away.”

“Of course there are. Hundreds. And you're a wonderful girl. I thought so directly I saw you.”

“Saw my behind, you mean.” The voice was getting drowsy,' but it was full of pleasure*.

Bond laughed. “Well, it was a wonderful behind. And the other side was wonderful too.” Bond's body began to stir with the memory of how she had been. He said gruffly, “Now come on, Honey. It's time to go to sleep. There'll be plenty of time to talk when we get back to Jamaica.”

“Will there?” she said sleepily. “Promise?”

“Promise.”

He heard her stir in the sleeping-bag. He looked down. He could just make out the pale profile turned towards him. She gave the deep sigh of a child before it falls asleep.

There was silence in the clearing. It was getting cold. Bond put his head down on his hunched knees. He knew it was no good trying to get to sleep. His mind was full of the day and of this extraordinary Girl Tarzan who had come into his life. It was as if some beautiful animal had attached itself to him. There would be no dropping the leash until he had solved her problems for her. He knew it. Of course there would be no difficulty about most of them. He could fix the operation-even, with the help of friends, find a proper job and a home for her. He had the money. He would buy her dresses, have her hair done, get her started in the big world. It would be fun. But what about the other side? What about the physical desire he felt for her? One could not make love to a child. But was she a child? There was nothing childish about her body or her personality. She was fully grown and highly intelligent in her fashion, and far more capable of taking care of herself than any girl of twenty Bond had ever met.

Bond's thoughts were interrupted by a tug at his sleeve. The small voice said, “Why don't you go to sleep? Are you cold?”

“No, I'm fine.”

“It's nice and warm in the sleeping-bag. Would you like to come, in? There's plenty of room.”

“No thank you, Honey. I'll be all right.”

There was a pause, then, almost in a whisper, “If you're thinking... I mean-you don't have to make love to me... We could go to sleep back to front, you know, like spoons.”

“Honey, darling, you go to sleep. It'd be lovely to be like that, but not tonight. Anyway I'll have to take over from Quarrel soon.”

“Yes, I see.” The voice was grudging. “Perhaps when we get back to Jamaica.”

“Perhaps.”

“Promise. I won't go to sleep until you promise.”

Bond said desperately, “Of course I promise. Now go to sleep, Honeychile.”

The voice whispered triumphantly, “Now you owe me slave-time. You've promised. Good night, darling James.”

“Good night, darling Honey.”

XII

THE THING

The grip on Bond's shoulder was urgent. He was instantly on his feet.

Quarrel whispered fiercely, “Somepn comin” across de water, cap'n! It de dragon fo sho!"

The girl woke up. She said anxiously, “What's happened?”

Bond said, “Stay here, Honey! Don't move. I'll be back.” He broke through the bushes on the side away from the mountain and ran along the sand with Quarrel at his elbow.

They came to the tip of the sandspit, twenty yards from the clearing. They stopped under cover of the final bushes. Bond parted them and looked through.

What was it? Half a mile away, coming across the lake, was a shapeless thing with two glaring orange eyes with black pupils. From between these, where the mouth might be, fluttered a yard of blue flame. The grey luminescence of the stars showed some kind of domed head above two short batlike wings. The thing was making a low moaning roar that overlaid another noise, a deep rhythmic thud. It was coming towards them at about ten miles an hour, throwing up a creamy wake.

Quarrel whispered, “Gawd, cap'n! What's dat fearful ting?”

Bond stood up. He said shortly, “Don't know exactly. Some sort of tractor affair dressed up to frighten. It's running on a . diesel engine, so you can forget about dragons. Now let's see.” Bond spoke half to himself, “No good running away. The thing's too fast for us and we know it can go over mangroves and swamps. Have to fight it here. What'll its weak spots be? The drivers. Of course they'll have protection. We don't know how much. Quarrel, you start firing at that dome on top when it gets to two hundred yards. Aim carefuHy and keep on firing. I'll go for its headlights when it gets to fifty yards. It's not running on tracks. Must have some kind of giant tyres, aeroplane tyres probably. I'll go for them too. Stay here. I'll go ten yards along. They may start firing back and we've got to keep the bullets away from the girl. Okay?” Bond reached out and squeezed the big shoulder. “And don't worry too much. Forget about dragons. It's just some gadget of Doctor No's. We'll kill the drivers and capture the damn thing and ride it down to the coast. Save us shoe-leather. Right?”

Quarrel laughed shortly. “Okay, cap'n. Since you says so. But Ah sho hopes de Almighty knows he's no dragon too!”

Bond ran down the sand. He broke through the bushes until he had a clear field of fire. He called softly, “Honey!”

“Yes, James.” There was relief .in the nearby voice.

“Make a hole in the sand like we did on the beach. Behind the thickest roots. Get into it and lie down. There may be some shooting. Don't worry about dragons. This is just a painted up motor car with some of Doctor No's men in it. Don't be frightened. I'm quite close.”

“All right, James. Be careful.” The voice was high with fright.

Bond knelt on one knee in the leaves and sand and peered out.

Now the thing was only about three hundred yards away and its yellow headlights were lighting up the sandspit. Blue flames were still fluttering from the mouth. They were coming from a long snout mocked-up with gaping jaws and gold paint to look like a dragon's mouth. Flame-thrower! That would explain the burned bushes and the warden's story. The blue flames would be coming from some kind of an after-burner. The apparatus was now in neutral. What would its range be when the compression was unleashed?

Bond had to admit that the thing was an awesome sight as it moaned forward through the shallow lake. It was obviously designed to terrify. It would have frightened him but for the earthy thud of the diesel. Against native intruders it would be devastating. But how vulnerable would it be to people with guns who didn't panic?

He was answered at once. There came the crack of Quarrel's Remington. A spark flew off the domed cabin and there was a dull clang. Quarrel fired another single shot and then a burst. The bullets hammered ineffectually against the cabin. There was not even a check in speed. The thing rolled on, swerving slightly to make for the source of the gunfire. Bond cradled the Smith & Wesson on his forearm and took careful aim. The deep cough of his gun sounded above the rattle of the Remington. One of the headlamps shattered and went out. He fired four shots at the other and got it with the fifth and last round in the cylinder. The thing didn't care. It rolled straight on towards Quarrel's hiding place. Bond reloaded and began firing at the huge bulge of the tyres under the bogus black and gold wings. The range was now only thirty yards and he could have sworn that he hit the nearest wheel again and again. No effect. Solid rubber? The first breath of fear stirred Bond's skin.

He reloaded. Was the damn thing vulnerable from the rear? Should he dash out into the lake and try and board it? He took a step forward through the bushes. Then he froze, incapable of movement.

Suddenly, from the dribbling snout, a yellow-tipped bolt of blue flame had howled out towards Quarrel's hiding place. There was a single puff of orange and red flame from the bushes to Bond's right and one unearthly scream, immediately choked. Satisfied, the searing tongue of fire licked back into the snout. The thing turned on its axis and stopped dead. Now the blue hole of its mouth aimed straight at Bond.

Bond stood and waited for his unspeakable end. He looked into the blue jaws of death and saw the glowing red filament of the firer deep inside the big tube. He thought of Quarrel's body-there was no time to think of Quarrel-and imagined the blackened, smoking figure lying in the melted sand. Soon he, too, would flame like a torch. The single scream would be wrung from him and his limbs would jerk into the dancing pose of burned bodies. Then it would be Honey's turn. Christ, what had he led them into! Why had he been so insane as to take on this man with his devastating armoury. Why hadn't he been warned by the long finger that had pointed at him in Jamaica? Bond set his teeth. Hurry up, you bastards. Get it over.

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