Mr Krest drank three double bullshots - vodka in iced consomm‚ - before luncheon, and beer with the meal. The pale eyes darkened a little and acquired a watery glitter, but the sibilant voice remained soft and unemphatic as, with a complete monopoly of the conversation, he explained the object of the voyage. “Ya see, fellers, it's like this. In the States we have this Foundation system for the lucky guys that got plenty dough and don't happen to want to pay it into Uncle Sam's Treasury. You make a Foundation - like this one, the Krest Foundation - for charitable purposes - charitable to anyone, to kids, sick folk, the cause of science - you just give the money away to anyone or anything except yourself or your dependants and you escape tax on it. So I put a matter of ten million dollars into the Krest Foundation, and since I happen to like yachting and seeing the world I built this yacht with two million of the money and told the Smithsonian - that's our big natural history institution that I would go to any part of the world and collect specimens for them. So that makes me a scientific expedition, see? For three months of every year I have a fine holiday that costs me just sweet Fatty Arbuckle!” Mr Krest looked to his guests for applause. “Get me?”
Fidele Barbey shook his head doubtfully. “That sounds fine, Mr Krest. But these rare specimens. They are easy to find? The Smithsonian it wants a giant panda, a sea-shell. You can get hold of these things where they have failed?”
Mr Krest slowly shook his head. He said sorrowfully: “Feller, you sure were born yesterday. Money, that's all it takes. You want a panda? You buy it from some goddam zoo that can't afford central heating for its reptile house or wants to build a new block for its tigers or something. The sea-shell? You find a man that's got one and you offer him so much goddam money that even if he cries for a week he sells it to you. Sometimes you have a little trouble with Governments. Some goddam animal is protected or something. All right. Give you an example. I arrive at your island yesterday. I want a black parrot from Praslin Island. I want a giant tortoise from Aldabra. I want the complete range of your local cowries and I want this fish we're after. The first two are protected by law. Last evening I pay a call on your Governor after making certain inquiries in the town. Excellency, I says, I understand you want to build a public swimming-pool to teach the local kids to swim. Okay. The Krest Foundation will put up money. How much? Five thousand, ten thousand? Okay, so it's ten thousand. Here's my cheque. And I write it out there and then. Just one little thing, Excellency, I says, holding on to the cheque. It happens I want a specimen of this black parrot you have here and one of these Aldabra tortoises. I understand they're protected by law. Mind if I take one of each back to America for the Smithsonian? Well, there s a bit of a palaver, but seeing it's the Smithsonian and seeing I've still got hold of the cheque, in the end we shake hands on the deal and everyone's happy. Right? Well, on the way back I stop in the town to arrange with your nice Mr Abendana, the merchant feller, to have the parrot and tortoise collected and held for me, and I get talking about the cowries. Well, it so happens that this Mr Abendana has been collecting the dam' things since he was a child. He shows them to me. Beautifully kept - each one in its bit of cotton wool. Fine condition and several of those Isabella and Mappa ones I was asked particularly to watch out for. Sorry, he couldn't think of selling. They meant so much to him and so on. Crap! I just look at Mr Abendana and I say, how much? No no. He couldn't think of it. Crap again! I take out my chequebook and write a cheque for five thousand dollars and push it under his nose. He looks at it. Five thousand dollars! He can't stand it. He folds the cheque and puts it in his pocket and then the dam' sissy breaks down and weeps! Would you believe it?” Mr Krest opened his palms in disbelief. “Over a few goddam sea-shells. So I just tell him to take it easy, and I pick up the trays of sea-shells and get the hell out of there before the crazy so-and-so shoots himself from remorse.”
Mr Krest sat back, well pleased with himself. “Well, what'd you say to that, fellers? Twenty-four hours in the island and I've already knocked off three-quarters of my list. Pretty smart, eh, Jim?”
Bond said: “You'll probably get a medal when you get home. What about this fish?”
Mr Krest got up from the table and rummaged in a drawer of his desk. He brought back a typewritten sheet. “Here you are.” He read out: “'Hildebrand Rarity. Caught by Professor Hildebrand of the University of the Witwatersrand in a net off Chagrin Island in the Seychelles group, April 1925'.” Mr Krest looked up. “And then there's a lot of scientific crap. I got them to put it into plain English, and here's the translation.” He turned back to the paper. “'This appears to be a unique member of the squirrel-fish family. The only specimen known, named the ”Hildebrand Rarity“ after its discoverer, is six inches long. The colour is a bright pink with black transverse stripes. The anal, ventral and dorsal fins are pink. The tail fin is black. Eyes, large and dark blue. If found, care should be taken in handling this fish because all fins are even more sharply spiked than is usual with the rest of this family. Professor Hildebrand records that he found the specimen in three feet of water on the edge of the south-western reef'.” Mr Krest threw the paper down on the table. “Well, there you are, fellers. We're travelling about a thousand miles at a cost of several thousand dollars to try and find a goddam six-inch fish. And two years ago the Revenue people had the gall to suggest that my Foundation was a phoney!”
Liz Krest broke in eagerly: “But that's just it, Milt, isn't it? It's really rather important to bring back plenty of specimens and things this time. Weren't those horrible tax people talking about disallowing the yacht and the expenses and so on for the last five years if we didn't show an outstanding scientific achievement? Wasn't that the way they put it?”
“Treasure,” Mr Krest's voice was soft as velvet. “Just supposin' you keep that flippin' trap shut about my personal affairs. Yes?” The voice was amiable, nonchalant. “You know what you just done, treas? You just earned yourself a little meeting with the Corrector this evening. That's what you've gone and done.”
The girl's hand flew to her mouth. Her eyes were wide. She said in a whisper: “Oh no, Milt. Oh no, please.”
On the second day out, at dawn, they came up with Chagrin Island. It was first picked up by the radar - a small bump in the dead level line on the scanner and then a minute blur on the great curved horizon grew with infinite slowness into half a mile of green fringed with white. It was extraordinary to come upon land after two days in which the yacht had seemed to be the only moving, the only living thing in an empty world. Bond had never seen or even clearly imagined the doldrums before. Now he realized what a terrible hazard they must have been in the days of sail - the sea of glass under a brazen sun, the foul, heavy air, the trail of small clouds along the rim of the world that never came closer, never brought wind or blessed rain. How must centuries of mariners have blessed this tiny dot in the Indian Ocean as they bent to the oars that moved the heavy ship perhaps a mile a day! Bond stood in the bows and watched the flying-fish squirt from beneath the hull as the blue-black of the sea slowly mottled into the brown and white and green of deep shoal. How wonderful that he would soon be walking and swimming again instead of just sitting and lying down. How wonderful to have a few hours' solitude - a few hours away from Mr Milton Krest!
They anchored outside the reef in ten fathoms and Fidele Barbey took them through the opening in the speedboat. In every detail Chagrin was the prototype coral island. It was about twenty acres of sand and dead coral and low scrub surrounded, after fifty yards of shallow lagoon, by a necklace of reef on which the quiet, long swell broke with a soft hiss. Clouds of birds rose when they landed - terns, boobies, men-of-war, frigates - but quickly settled again. There was a strong ammoniac smell of guano, and the scrub was white with it. The only other living things were the land crabs that scuttled and scraped among the liane sans fin and the fiddler-crabs that lived in the sand.
The glare from the white sand was dazzling and there was no shade. Mr Krest ordered a tent to be erected and sat in it smoking a cigar while gear of various kinds was ferried ashore. Mrs Krest swam and picked up sea shells while Bond and Fidele Barbey put on masks and, swimming in opposite directions, began systematically to comb the reef all the way round the island.
When you are looking for one particular species underwater - shell or fish or seaweed or coral formation - you have to keep your brain and your eyes focused for that one individual pattern. The riot of colour and movement and the endless variety of light and shadow fight your concentration all the time. Bond trudged slowly along through the wonderland with only one picture in his mind - a six-inch pink fish with black stripes and big eyes - the second such fish man had ever seen. “If you see it,” Mr Krest had enjoined, “just you let out a yell and stay with it. I'll do the rest. I got a little something in the tent that's just the dandiest thing for catching fish you ever saw.”
Bond paused to rest his eyes. The water was so buoyant that he could lie face downwards on the surface without moving. Idly he broke up a sea-egg with the tip of his spear and watched the horde of glittering reef-fish darting for the shreds of yellow flesh among the needle-sharp black spine. How infernal that if he did find the Rarity it would benefit only Mr Krest! Should he say nothing if be found it? Rather childish, and anyway he was under contract, so to speak. Bond moved slowly on, his eyes automatically taking up the search again while his mind turned to considering the girl. She had spent the previous day in bed. Mr Krest had said it was a headache. Would she one day turn on him? Would she get herself a knife or a gun and one night, when he reached for that damnable whip, would she kill him? No. She was too soft, too malleable. Mr Krest had chosen well. She was the stuff of slaves. And the trappings of her 'fairytale' were too precious. Didn't she realize that a jury would certainly acquit her if the sting-ray whip was produced in court? She could have the trappings without this dreadful, damnable man. Should Bond tell her that? Don't be ridiculous! How could he put it? “Oh Liz, if you want to murder your husband, it'll be quite all right.” Bond smiled inside his mask. To hell with it! Don't interfere with other people's lives. She probably likes it - masochist. But Bond knew that that was too easy an answer. This was a girl who lived in fear. Perhaps she also lived in loathing. One couldn't read much in those soft blue eyes, but the windows had opened once or twice and a flash of something like a childish hate had shown through. Had it been hate? It had probably been indigestion. Bond put the Krests out of his mind and looked up to see how far round the island he had got.
Fidele Barbey's schnorkel was only a hundred yards away. They had nearly completed the circuit.
They came up with each other and swam to the shore and lay on the hot sand. Fidele Barbey said: “Nothing on my side of the property except every fish in the world bar one. But I've had a stroke of luck. Ran into a big colony of green snail. That's the pearl shell as big is a small football. Worth quite a lot of money. I'll send one of my boats after them one of these days. Saw a blue parrot-fish that must have been a good thirty pounds. Tame as a dog, like all the fish round here. Hadn't got the heart to kill it. And if I had, there might have been trouble. Saw two or three leopard sharks cruising around over the reef. Blood in the water might have brought them through. Now I'm ready for a drink and something to eat. After that we can swap sides and have another go.”
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