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The co-driver, who seemed to be the senior man present, said, “Sure. Bit of gunfire. Lights gone. May be some holes in the tyres. Get the boys crackin'-full overhaul. I'll put these two through and go get myself some shuteye.” He turned to Bond. “Okay, git moving,” he gestured down the long hut.

Bond said, “Get moving yourself. Mind your manners. And tell those apes to take their guns off us. They might let one off by mistake. They look dumb enough.”

The man came closer. The other three closed up behind him. Hate shone redly in their eyes. The leading man lifted a clenched fist as big as a small ham and held it under Bond's nose. He was controlling himself with an effort. He said tensely, “Listen, mister. Sometimes us boys is allowed to join in the fun at the end. I'm just praying this'll be one of those times. Once we made it last a whole week. An, Jees, if I get you...” He broke off. His eyes were alight with cruelty. He looked past Bond at the girl. The eyes became mouths that licked their lips. He wiped his hands down the sides of his trousers. The tip of his tongue showed pinkly between the purple lips. He turned to the other three. “What say, fellers?”

The three men were also looking at the girl. They nodded dumbly, like children in front of a Christmas tree.

Bond longed to run berserk among them, laying into their faces with his manacled wrists, accepting their bloody revenge. But for the girl he would have done it. Now all he had achieved with his brave words was to get her frightened. He said, “All right, all right. You're four and we're two and we've got our hands tied. Come on. We won't hurt you. Just don't push us around too much. Doctor No might not be pleased.”

At the name, the men's faces changed. Three pairs of eyes looked whitely from Bond to the leader. For a minute the leader stared suspiciously at Bond, wondering, trying to fathom whether perhaps Bond had got some edge on their boss. His mouth opened to say something. He thought better of it. He said lamely, “Okay, okay. We was just kiddin'.” He turned to the men for confirmation. “Right?”

“Sure! Sure thing.” It was a ragged mumble. The men looked away.

The leader said gruffly, “This way, mister.” He walked off down the long hut.

Bond took the girl's wrist and followed. He was impressed with the weight of Doctor No's name. That was something to remember if they had any more dealings with the staff.

The man came to a rough wooden door at the end of the hut. There was a bellpush beside it. He rang twice and waited. There came a click and the door opened |o reveal ten yards of carpeted rock passage with another door, smarter and cream-painted, at the end.

The man stood aside. “Straight ahead, mister. Knock on the door. The receptionist'll take over.” There was no irony in his voice and his eyes were impassive.

Bond led the girl into the passage. He heard the door shut behind them. He stopped and looked down at her. He said, “Now what?”

She smiled tremulously. “It's nice to feel carpet under one's feet.”

Bond squeezed her wrist. He walked forward to the creampainted door and knocked.

The door opened. Bond went through with the girl at his heels. When he stopped dead in his tracks, he didn't feel the girl bump into him. He just stood and stared.

XIII

MINK-LINED PRISON

It was the sort of reception room the largest American corporations have on the President's floor in their New York skyscrapers. It was of pleasant proportions, about twenty feet square. The floor was close-carpeted in the thickest wine-red Wilton and the walls and ceiling were painted a soft dove grey. Colour lithograph reproductions of Degas ballet sketches were well hung in groups on the walls and the lighting was by tall modern standard lamps with dark green silk shades in a fashionable barrel design.

To Bond's right was a broad mahogany desk with a green leather top, handsome matching desk furniture and the most expensive type of intercom. Two tall antique chairs waited for visitors. On the other side of the room was a refectory-type table with shiny magazines and two more chairs. On both the desk and the table were tall vases of freshly cut hibiscus. The air was fresh and cool and held a slight, expensive fragrance.

There were two women in the room. Behind the desk, with pen poised over a printed form, sat an efficient-looking Chinese girl with horn-rimmed spectacles below a bang of black hair cut short. Her eyes and mouth wore the standard receptionist's smile of welcome-bright, helpful, inquisitive.

Holding the door through which they had come, and waiting for them to move farther into the room so that she could cloge it, stood an older, rather matronly woman of about forty-five. She also had Chinese blood. Her appearance, wholesome, bosomy, eager, was almost excessively gracious. Her square cut pince-nez gleamed with the hostess's desire to make them feel at home.

Both women were dressed in spotless white, with white stockings and white suede brogues, like assistants in the most expensive American beauty-parlours. There was something soft and colourless about their skins as if they rarely went out of doors.

While Bond took in the scene, the woman at the door twittered conventional phrases of welcome as if they had been caught in a storm and had arrived late at a party.

“You poor dears. We simply didn't know when to expect you. We kept on being told you were on your way. First it was teatime yesterday, then dinner, and it was only half an hour ago we heard you would only be here in time for breakfast. You must be famished. Come along now and help Sister Rose fill in your forms and then I'll pack you both straight off to bed. You must be tired out.”

Clucking softly, she closed the door and ushered them forward to the desk. She got them seated in the chairs and rattled on. “Now I'm Sister Lily and this is Sister Rose. She just wants to ask you a few questions. Now, let me see, a cigarette?” She picked up a tooled leather box. She opened it and put it on the desk in front of them. It had three compartments. She pointed with a little finger. “Those are American, and those are Players, and those are Turkish.” She picked up an expensive desk-lighter and waited.

Bond reached out his manacled hands to take a Turkish cigarette.

Sister Lily gave a squeak of dismay. “Oh, but really.” She sounded genuinely embarrassed. “Sister Rose, the key, quickly. I've said again and again that patients are never to be brought in like that.” There was impatience and distaste in her voice. “Really, that outside staff! It's time they had a talking to.”

Sister Rose was just as much put out. Hastily, she scrabbled in a drawer and handed a key across to Sister Lily who, with much cooing and tut-tutting, unlocked the two pairs of handcuffs and walked behind the desk and dropped them as if they were dirty bandages into the wastepaper basket.

“Thank you.” Bond was unable to think of any way to handle the situation except to fall in with what was happening on the stage. He reached out and took a cigarette and lit it. He glanced at Honeychile Rider who sat looking dazed and nervously clutching the arms of her chair. Bond gave her a reassuring smile.

“Now, if you please.” Sister Rose bent over a long printed form on expensive paper. “I promise to be as quick as I can. Your name please Mister-er...”

“Bryce, John Bryce.”

She wrote busily. “Permanent address?”

“Care of the Royal Zoological Society, Regent's Park, London, England.”

“Profession.”

“Ornithologist.”

“Oh dear,” she'dimpled at him, “could you please spell that?”

Bond did so.

“Thank you so much. Now, let me see, Purpose of Visit?”

“Birds,” said Bond. “I am also a representative of the Audubon Society of New York. They have a lease of part of this island.”

“Oh, really.” Bond watched the pen writing down exactly what he had said. After the last word she put a neat query in brackets.

“And,” Sister Rose smiled politely in the direction of Honeychile, “your wife? Is'she also interested in birds?”

“Yes, indeed.”

“And her first name?”

“Honeychile.”

Sister Rose was delighted. “What a pretty name.” She wrote busily. “And now just your next of kin and then we're finished.”

Bond gave M's real name as next of kin for both of them. He described him as 'uncle' and gave his address as 'Managing Director, Universal Export, Regent's Park, London'.

Sister Rose finished writing and said, “There, that's done. Thank you so much, Mr Bryce, and I do hope you both enjoy your stay.”

“Thank you very much. I'm sure we will.” Bond got up. Honeychile Rider did the same, her face still expressionless.

Sister Lily said, “Now come along with me, you poor dears.” She walked to a door in the far wall. She stopped with her hand on the cut-glass doorknob. “Oh deary me, now I've gone and forgotten the number of their rooms! It's the Cream Suite, isn't it, Sister?”

“Yes, that's right. Fourteen and fifteen.”

. “Thank you, my dear. And now,” she opened the door, “if you'll just follow me. I'm afraid it's a terribly long walk.” She shut the door behind them and led the way. “The Doctor's often talked of putting in one of those moving stairway things, but you know how it is with a busy man,” she laughed gaily. “So many other things to think of.” - “Yes, I expect so,” said Bond politely.

Bond took the girl's hand and they followed the motherly bustling figure down a hundred yards of lofty corridor in the same style as the reception room but lit at frequent intervals by discreetly expensive wall-brackets.

Bond answered with polite monosyllables the occasional twittering comments Sister Lily threw over her shoulder. His whole mind was focused on the extraordinary circumstances of their reception. He was quite certain the two women had been genuine. Not a look or a word had been dropped that was out of place. It was obviously a front of some kind, but a solid one, meticulously supported by the decor and the cast. The lack of resonance in the room, and now in the corridor, suggested that they had stepped from the Quonset hut into the side of the mountain and that they were now walking through its base. At a guess they would be walking towards the west-towards the cliff-face with which the island ended. There was no moisture on the walls and the air was cool and pure with a strongish breeze coming towards them. A lot of money and good engineering had gone into the job. The pallor of the two women suggested that they spent all their time inside the mountain. From what Sister Lily had said it sounded as if they were part of an inside staff that had nothing to do with the strong-arm squad outside and perhaps didn't even understand what sort of men they were.

It was grotesque, concluded Bond as they came nearer to a door at the end of the corridor, dangerously grotesque, but it was no good wondering about it. He could only follow the lines of the gracious script. At least this was better than the back-Stage of the island outside.

At the door, Sister Lily rang. They had been expected. The door opened at once. An enchanting Chinese girl in a mauve and white flowered kimono stood smiling and bowing as Chinese girls are supposed to do. Again there was nothing but warmth and welcome in the pale, flowerlike face. Sister Lily cried, “Here they are at last, May! Mr and Mrs John Bryce. And I know they must be exhausted so we must take them straight to their rooms for some breakfast and a sleep.” She turned to Bond. “This is May. Such a dear girl. She will be looking after you both. Anything you want, just ring for May. She's a favourite with all our patients.”

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