The machine gave a sideways lurch. The kiss ended. They had hit the first mangrove roots at the entrance to the river.
You're quite sure of all this?"
The Acting Governor's eyes were hunted, resentful. How could these things have been going on under his nose, in one of Jamaica's dependencies? What would the Colonial Office have to say about it? He already saw the long, pale blue envelope marked 'Personal. For Addressee Only', and the foolscap page with those very wide margins: 'The Secretary" of State for the Colonies has instructed me to express to you his surprise...'.
“Yes, sir. Quite sure.” Bond had no sympathy for the man. He hadn't liked the reception he had had on his last visit to King's House, nor the mean comments on Strangways and the girl. He liked the memory of them even less now that he knew his friend and the girl were at the bottom of the Mona Reservoir.
“Er-well we mustn't let any of this get out to the Press. You understand that? I'll send my report in to the Secretary of State by the next bag. I'm sure I can rely on your...”
“Excuse me, sir.” The Brigadier in command of the Caribbean Defence Force was a modern young soldier of thirty-five. His military record was good enough for him to be unimpressed by relics from the Edwardian era of Colonial Governors, whom he collectively referred to as 'feather-hatted fuddy-duddies'. “I think we can assume that Commander Bond is unlikely to communicate with anyone except his Department. And if I may say so, sir, I submit that we should take steps to clear up Crab Key without waiting for approval from London. I can provide a platoon ready to embark by this evening. HMS Narvik came in yesterday. If the programme of receptions and cocktail parties for her could possibly be deferred for forty-eight hours or so...” The Brigadier let his sarcasm hang in the air.
“I agree with the Brigadier, sir.” The voice of the Police Superintendent was edgy. Quick action might save him from a reprimand, but it would have to be quick. “And in any case I shall have to proceed immediately against the various Jamaicans who appear to be implicated. I'll have to get the divers working at Mona. If this case is to be cleaned up we can't afford to wait for London. As Mister-er-Commander Bond says, most of these Negro gangsters will probably be in Cuba by now. Have to get in touch with my opposite number in Havana and catch up with them before they take to the hills or go underground. I think we ought to move at once, sir.”
There was silence in the cool shadowy room where the meeting was being held. Qn the ceiling above the massive mahogany conference table there was an unexpected dapple of sunlight. Bond guessed that it shone up through the slats of the jalousies from a fountain or a lily pond in the garden outside the tall windows. Far away there was the sound of tennis balls being knocked about. Distantly a young girl's voice called, “Smooth. Your serve, Gladys.” The Governor's children? Secretaries? From one end of the room King George VI, from the other end the Queen, looked down the table with grace and good humour.
“What do you think, Colonial Secretary?” The Governor's voice was hustled.
Bond listened to the first few words. He gathered that Pleydell-Smith agreed with the other two. He stopped listening. His mind drifted into a world of tennis courts and lily ponds and kings and queens, of London, of people being photographed with pigeons on their heads in Trafalgar Square, of the forsythia that would soon be blazing on the bypass roundabouts, of May, the treasured housekeeper in his flat off the King's Road, getting up to brew herself a cup of tea (here it was eleven o'clock. It would be four o'clock in London), of the first tube trains beginning to run, shaking the ground beneath his cool, dark bedroom. Of the douce weather of England: the soft airs, the 'heat waves, the cold spells-'The only country where you can take a walk every day of the year'-Chesterfield's Letters? And then Bond thought of .Crab Key, of the hot ugly wind beginning to blow, of the stink of the marsh gas from the mangrove swamps, the jagged grey, dead coral in whose holes the black crabs were now squatting, the black and red eyes moving swiftly on their stalks as a shadow-a cloud, a bird-broke their small horizons. Down in the bird colony the brown and white and pink birds would be stalking in the shallows, or fighting or nesting, while up on the guanera the cormorants would be streaming back from their breakfast to deposit their milligramme of rent to the landlord who would no longer be collecting. And where would the landlord be? The men from the SS Blanche would have dug him out. The body would have been examined for signs of life and then put somewhere. Would they have washed the yellow dust off him and dressed him in his kimono while the Captain radioed Antwerp for instructions? And where had Doctor No's soul gone to? Had it been a bad soul or just a mad one? Bond thought of the burned twist down in the swamp that had been Quarrel. He remembered the soft ways of the big body, the innocence in the grey, horizon-seeking eyes, the simple lusts and desires, the reverence for superstitions and instincts, the childish faults, the loyalty and even love that Quarrel had given him-the warmth, there was only one word for it, of the man. Surely he hadn't, gone to the same place as Doctor No. Whatever happened to dead people, there was surely one place for the warm and another for the cold. And which, when the time came, would he, Bond, go to?
The Colonial Secretary was mentioning Bond's name. Bond pulled himself together.
“... survived is quite extraordinary. I do think, sir, that we should show our gratitude to Commander Bond and to his Service by accepting his recommendations. It does seem, sir, that he has done at least three-quarters of the job. Surely the least we can do is look after the other quarter.”
The Governor grunted. He squinted down the table at Bond. The chap didn't seem to be paying much attention. But one couldn't be sure with these Secret Service fellows. Dangerous chaps to have around, sniffing and snooping. And their damned Chief carried a lot of guns in Whitehall. Didn't do to get on the wrong side of him. Of course there was something to be said for sending the Narvik. News would leak, of course. All the Press of the world would be coming down on his head. But then suddenly the Governor saw the headlines: 'GOVERNOR TAKES SWIFT ACTION... ISLAND'S STRONG MAN INTERVENES... THE NAVY'S THERE!' Perhaps after all it would be better to do it that way. Even go down and see the troops off himself. Yes, that was it, by jove. Cargill, of the Gleaner, was coming to lunch. He'd drop a hint or two to the chap and make sure the story got proper coverage. Yes, that was it. That was the way to play the hand.
The Governor raised his hands and let them fall flat on the table in a gesture of submission. He embraced the conference with a wry smile of surrender.
“So I am overruled, gentlemen. Well, then,” the voice was avuncular, telling the children that just this once... “I accept your verdict. Colonial Secretary, will you please call upon the commanding officer of HMS Narvik and explain the position. In strict confidence, of course. Brigadier, I leave the military arrangements in your hands. Superintendent, you will know what to do.” The Governor rose. He inclined his head regally in the direction of Bond. “And it only remains to express my appreciation to Commander-er-Bond, for his part in this affair. I shall not fail to mention your assistance, Commander, to the Secretary of State.”
Outside the sun blazed down on the gravel sweep. The interior of the Hillman Minx was a Turkish bath. Bond's bruised hands cringed as they took the wheel.
Pleydell-Smith leant through the window. He said, “Ever heard the Jamaican expression 'rarse'?”
“'Rarse, man' is a vulgar expression meaning-er-'stuff it up'. If I may say so, it would have been appropriate for you to have used the expression just now. However,” Pleydell-Smith gave a wave of his hand which apologized for his Chief and dismissed him, “is there anything else I can do for you? You really think you ought to go back to Beau Desert? They were quite definite at the hospital that they want to have you for a week.”
“Thanks,” said Bond shortly, “but I've got to get back. See the girl's all right. Would you tell the hospital I'll be back tomorrow? You got off that signal to my Chief?”
“Well, then,” Bond pressed the self-starter, “I guess that's the lot. You'll see the Jamaica Institute people about the girl, won't you? She really knows the hell of a lot about the natural history side of the island. Not from books either. If they've got the right sort of job... Like to see her settled. I'll take her up to New York myself and see her through the operation. She'd be ready to start in a couple of weeks after that. Incidentally,” Bond looked embarrassed, “she's really the hell of a fine girl. When she comes back... if you and your wife... You know. Just so there's someone to keep an eye on her.”
Pleydell-Smith smiled. He thought he had the picture. He said, “Don't worry about that. I'll see to it. Betty's rather a hand at that sort of thing. She'll like taking the girl under her wing. Nothing else? See you later in the week, anyway. That hospital's the hell of a place in this heat. You might care to spend a night or two with us before you go ho-I mean to New York. Glad to have you-er-both.”
“Thanks. And thanks for everything else.” Bond put the car into gear and went off down the avenue of flaming tropical shrubbery. He went fast, scattering the gravel on the bends. He wanted to get the hell away from King's House, and the tennis, and the kings and queens. He even wanted to get the hell away from the .kindly Pleydell-Smith. Bond liked the man, but all he wanted now was to get back across the Junction Road to Beau Desert and away from the smooth world. He swung out past the sentry at the gates and on to the main road. He put his foot down.
The night voyage under the stars had been without incident. No one had come after them. The girl had done most of the sailing. Bond had not argued with her. He had lain in the bottom of the boat, totally collapsed, like a dead man. He had woken once or twice and listened to the slap of the sea against the hull and watched her quiet profile under the stars. Then the cradle of the soft swell had sent him back to sleep and to the nightmares that reached out after him from Crab Key. He didn't mind them. He didn't think he would ever mind a nightmare now. After what had happened the night before, it would have to be strong stuff that would ever frighten him again.
The crunch of a nigger-head against the hull had woken him. They were coming through the reef into Morgan's Harbour. The first quarter moon was up, and inside the reef the sea was a silver mirror. The girl had brought the canoe through under sail. They slid across the bay to the little fringe of sand and the bows under Bond's head sighed softly into it. She had had to help him out of the boat and across the velvet lawn and into the house. He had clung to her and cursed her softly as she had cut his clothes off him and taken him into the shower. She had said nothing when she had seen his battered body under the lights. She had turned the water full on and taken soap and washed him down as if he had been a horse. Then she led him out from under the water and dabbed him softly dry with towels that were soon streaked with blood. He had seen her reach for the bottle of Milton. He had groaned and taken hold of the washbasin and waited for it. Before she had begun to put it on him, she had come round and kissed him on the lips. She had said softly, “Hold tight, my darling. And cry. It's going to hurt,” and as she splashed the murderous stuff over his body the tears of pain had run out of his eyes and down his cheeks without shame.
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