For a final second he listened, then he reached behind his back for the knife and went up the iron steps and into the cabin with the stealth and speed of a panther.
At the last moment there was need to hurry. Bond stood behind the man's back, smelling him. He had time to raise his knife hand almost to the roof of the cabin, time to summon every ounce of strength, before he swept the blade down and into the square inch of smooth, brownish-yellow skin.
The man's hands and legs splayed away from the controls. 'His face strained back towards Bond. It seemed to Bond that there was a flash of recognition in the bulging eyes before the whites rolled upwards. Then a strangled noise came from the open mouth and the big body rolled sideways off its iron seat and crashed to the floor.
Bond's eyes didn't even follow it ajs far as the ground. He was akeady in the seat and reaching for the pedals and levers. Everything was out of control. The engine was running in neutral, the wire hawser was tearing off the drum, the tip of the crane was bending slowly forwards like a giraffe's neck, the canvas mouth of the conveyor-belt had wilted and was now pouring its column of dust between the jetty and the ship. Doctor No was staring upwards. His mouth was open. Perhaps he was shouting something.
Coolly, Bond reined the machine in, slowly easing the levers and pedals back to the angles at which the driver had been holding them. The engine accelerated, the gears bit and began to work again. The hawser slowed on the spinning drum and reversed, bringing the canvas mouth up and over the ship. The tip of the crane lifted and stopped. The scene was as before. Now!
Bond reached forward for the iron wheel which the driver had been handling when Bond had caught his first glimpse of him. Which way to turn it? Bond tried to the left. The tip of the crane veered slightly to the right. So be it. Bond spun the wheel to the right. Yes, by God, it was answering, moving across the sky, carrying the mouth of the conveyor with it.
Bond's eyes flashed to the jetty. Doctor No had moved. He had moved a few paces to a stanchion that Bond had missed. He had a telephone in his hand. He was getting through to the other side of the mountain. Bond could see his hand frantically. jiggling the receiver arm, trying to attract attention.
Bond whirled the director wheel. Christ, wouldn't it turn any faster? In seconds Doctor No would get through and it would be too late. Slowly the tip of the crane arced across the sky. Now the mouth of the conveyor was spewing the dust column down over the side of the ship. Now the yellow mound was marching silently across the jetty. Five yards, four, three, two! Don't look round, you bastard! Arrh, got you! Stop the wheel! Now, you take it, Doctor No!
At the first brush of the stinking dust column, Doctor No had turned. Bond saw the long arms fling wide as if to embrace the thudding mass. One knee rose to run. The mouth opened and a thin scream came up to Bond above the noise of the engine. Then there was a brief glimpse of a kind of dancing snowman. And then only a mound of yellow bird dung that grew higher and higher.
“God!” Bond's voice gave back an iron echo from the walls of the cabin. He thought of the screaming lungs stuffing with the filthy dust, the body bending and then falling under the weight, the last impotent kick of the heels, the last flash of thought-rage, horror, defeat?-and then the silence of the stinking tomb.
Now the yellow mountain was twenty feet high. The stuff was spilling off the sides of the jetty into the sea. Bond glanced
. at the ship. As he did so, there came three blasts on its siren.
The noise crashed round the cliffs. There came a fourth blast which didn't stop. Bond could see the watch holding on to the lanyard as he craned out of the bridge window, looking down. Bond took his hands off the controls and let them rip. It was time to go.
He slipped off the iron seat and bent over the dead body. He took the revolver out of the holster and looked at it. He smiled grimly-Smith & Wesson .38, the regular model. He slipped it down inside his waistband. It was fine to feel the heavy cold metal against his skin. He went to the door of the cabin and dropped down to the ground.
An iron ladder ran up the cliif behind the crane to where the conveyor-housing jutted out. There was a small door in the corrugated iron wall of the housing. Bond scrambled up the ladder. The door opened easily, letting out a puff of guano dost, and he clambered through.
Inside, the clanking of the conveyor-belt over its rollers was deafening, but there were dim inspection lights in the stone ceiling of the tunnel and a narrow catwalk that stretched away into the mountain alongside the hurrying river of dust. Bond moved quickly along it, breathing shallowly against the fishy ammoniac smell. At all costs he must get to the end before the significance of the ship's siren and of the unanswered telephone overcame the fear of the guards.
Bond half ran and half stumbled through the echoing stinking tunnel. How far would it be? Two hundred yards? And then what? Nothing for it but to break out of the tunnel mouth and start shooting-cause a panic and hope for the best. He would get hold of one of the men and wring out of him where the girl was. Then what? When he got to the place on the mountainside, what would he find? What would be left of her?
Bond ran on faster, his head down, watching the narrow breadth of planking, wondering what would happen if he missed his footing and slipped into the rushing river of guano dust. Would he be able to get off the belt again or would he be whirled away and down until he was finally spewed out on to the burial mound of Doctor No?
When Bond's head hit into the soft stomach and he felt the hands at his throat, it was too late to think of his revolver. His only reaction was to throw himself down and forward at the legs. The legs gave against his shoulder and there was a shrill scream as the body crashed down on his back.
Bond had started the heave that would hurl his attacker sideways and on to the conveyor-belt when the quality of the scream and something light and soft about the impact of the body froze his muscles.
It couldn't be!
As if in answer, sharp teeth bit deeply into the calf of his right leg and an elbow jabbed viciously, knowledgeably, backwards into his groin.
Bond yelled with the pain. He tried to squirm sideways to protect himself, but even as he shouted “Honey!” the elbow thudded into him again.
The breath whistled through Bond's teeth with the agony. There was only one way to stop her without throwing her on to the conveyor-belt. He took a firm grip of one ankle and heaved himself to his knees. He stood upright, holding her slung over his shoulder by one leg. The other foot banged against his head, but half-heartedly, as if she too realized that something was wrong.
“Stop it, Honey! It's me!”
Through the din of the conveyor-belt, Bond's shout got through to her. He heard her cry “James!” from somewhere near the floor. He felt her hands clutch at his legs. “James, James!”
Bond slowly let her down. He turned and knelt and reached for her. He put his arms round her and held her tightly to him. “Oh Honey, Honey. Are you all right?” Desperately, unbelieving, he strained her to him.
“Yes, James! Oh, yes!” He felt her hands at his back and his hair. “Oh, James, my darling!” she fell against him, sobbing.
“It's all right, Honey.” Bond smoo'thed her hair. “And Doctor No's dead. But now we've got to run for it. We've got to get out of here. Come on! How can we get out of the tunnel? How did you get here? We've got to hurry!”
As if in comment, the conveyor-belt stopped with a jerk.
Bond pulled the girl to her feet. She was wearing a dirty suit of workmen's blue dungarees. The sleeves and legs were; rolled up. The suit was far too big for her. She looked like a girl in a man's pyjamas. She was powdered white with the guano dust except where the tears had marked her cheeks. She said breathlessly, “Just up there! There's a side tunnel that leads to the machine shops and the garage. Will they come after us?”
There was no time to talk. Bond said urgently, “Follow me!” and started running. Behind him her feet padded softly in the hollow silence. They came to the fork where the side tunnel led off into the rock. Which way would the men come? Down the side tunnel or along the catwalk in the main tunnel? The sound of voices booming far up the side tunnel answered him. Bond drew the girl a few feet up the main tunnel. He brought her close to him and whispered, “I'm sorry. Honey. I'm afraid I'm going to have to kill them.”
“Of course.” The answering whisper was matter of fact. She pressed his hand and stood back to give him room. She put her hands up to her ears.
Bond eased the gun out of his waistband. Softly he broke the cylinder sideways and verified with his thumb that all six chambers were loaded. Bond knew he wasn't going to like this, killing again in cold blood, but these men would be the Chinese Negro gangsters, the strong-arm guards who did the dirty work. They would certainly be murderers many times over. Perhaps they were the ones who had killed Strangways and the girl. But there was no point in trying to ease his conscience. It was kill or be killed. He must just do it efficiently.
The voices were coming closer. There were three men. They were talking loudly, nervously. Perhaps it was many years since they had even thought of going through the tunnel. Bond wondered if they would look round as they came out into the main tunnel. Or would he have to shoot them in the back?
Now they were very close. He could hear their shoes scuffing the ground.
“That makes ten bucks you owe me, Sam.”
“Not after tonight it won't be. Roll them bones, boy. Roll them bones.”
“No dice for me tonight, feller. I'm goin' to cut maself a slice of de white girl.”
“Haw, haw, haw.”
The first man came out, then the second, then the third. They were carrying their revolvers loosely in their right hands.
Bond said sharply, “No, you won't.”
The three men whirled round. White teeth glinted in open mouths. Bond shot the rear man in the head and the second man in the stomach. The front man's gun was up. A bullet whistled past Bond and away up the main tunnel. Bond's gun crashed. The man clutched at his neck and spun slowly round and fell across the conveyor-belt. The echoes thundered slowly up and down the tunnel. A puff of fine dust rose in the air and settled. Two of the bodies lay still. The man with the stomach shot writhed and jerked.
Bond tucked his hot gun into the waistband of his trousers. He said roughly to the girl, “Come on.” He reached for her hand and pulled her after him into the mouth of the side tunnel. He said, “Sorry about that, Honey,” and started running, pulling her after him by the hand. She said, “Don't be stupid.” Then there was no sound but the thud of their naked feet on the stone floor.
The air was clean in the side tunnel and it was easier going but, after the tension of the shooting, pain began to crowd in again and take possession of Bond's body. He ran automatically. He hardly thought of the girl. His whole mind was focused on taking the pain and on the problems that waited at the end of the tunnel.
He couldn't tell if the shots had been heard and he had no idea what opposition was left. His only plan was to shoot anyone who got in his way and somehow get to the garage and the marsh buggy. That was their only hope of getting away from the mountain and down to the coast.
The dim yellow bulbs in the ceiling flickered by overhead. Still the tunnel stretched on. Behind him, Honey stumbled. Bond stopped, cursing himself for not having thought of her. She reached for him and for a moment she leaned against him panting. “I'm sorry, James. It's just that...”
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