This was too damned much. Bond looked at his watch. One-thirty. If the snoring didn't stop in ten minutes, Bond would go down to Fidele Barbey's cabin and sleep on the floor, even if he did wake up stiff and frozen in the morning.
Bond watched the gleaming minute-hand slowly creep round the dial. Now! He had got to his feet and was gathering up his shirt and shorts when, from up on the boat-deck, there came a heavy crash. The crash was immediately followed by scrabbling sounds and a dreadful choking and gurgling. Had Mr Krest fallen out of his hammock? Reluctantly Bond dropped his things back on the deck and walked over and climbed the ladder. As his eyes came level with the boat-deck, the choking stopped. Instead there was another, a more dreadful sound - the quick drumming of heels. Bond knew that sound. He leapt up the last steps and ran towards the figure lying spreadeagled on its back in the bright moonlight. He stopped and knelt slowly down, aghast. The horror of the strangled face was bad enough, but it was not Mr Krest's tongue that protruded from his gaping mouth. It was the tail of a fish. The colours were pink and black. It was the Hildebrand Rarity!
The man was dead - horribly dead. When the fish had been crammed into his mouth, he must have reached up and desperately tried to tug it out. But the spines of the dorsal and anal fins had caught inside the cheeks and some of the spiny tips now protruded through the blood-flecked skin round the obscene mouth. Bond shuddered. Death must have come inside a minute. But what a minute!
Bond slowly got to his feet. He walked over to the racks of glass specimen jars and peered under the protective awning. The plastic cover of the end jar lay on the deck beside it. Bond wiped it carefully on the tarpaulin, and then, holding it by the tips of his fingernails, laid it loosely back over the mouth of the jar.
He went back and stood over the corpse. Which of the two had done this? There was a touch of fiendish spite in using the treasured prize as a weapon. That suggested the woman. She certainly had her reasons. But Fidele Barbey, with his creole blood, would have had the cruelty and at the same time the macabre humour. “Je lui ai foutu son sacr‚ poisson dans la geule”. Bond could hear him say the words. If, after Bond had left the saloon, Mr Krest had needled the Seychellois just a little bit further - particularly about his family or his beloved islands - Fidele Barbey would not have hit him then and there, or used a knife, he would have waited and plotted.
Bond looked round the deck. The snoring of the man could have been a signal for either of them. There were ladders to the boat-deck from both sides of the cabin-deck amidships. The man at the wheel in the pilot-house forrard would have heard nothing above the noise from the engine-room. To pick the small fish out of its formalin bath and slip it into Mr Krest's gaping mouth would have only needed seconds. Bond shrugged. Whichever had done it had not thought of the consequences - of the inevitable inquest, perhaps of a trial in which he, Bond, would be an additional Suspect. They were certainly all going to be in one hell of a mess unless he could tidy things up.
Bond glanced over the edge of the boat-deck. Below was the three-foot-wide strip of deck that ran the length of the ship. Between this and the sea there was a two-foot-high rail. Supposing the hammock had broken, and Mr Krest had fallen and rolled under the speed-boat and over the edge of the upper deck, could he have reached the sea? Hardly, in this dead calm, but that was what he was going to have done.
Bond got moving. With a table-knife, from the saloon, he carefully frayed and then broke one of the main cords of the hammock so that the hammock trailed realistically on the deck. Next, with a damp cloth, he cleaned up the specks of blood on the woodwork and the drops of formalin that led from the specimen jar. Then came the hardest part - handling the corpse. Carefully Bond pulled it to the very edge of the deck and himself went down the ladder and, bracing himself, reached up. The corpse came down on top of him in a heavy, drunken embrace. Bond staggered under it to the low rail and eased it over. There was a last hideous glimpse of the obscenely bulging face; a sickening fume of stale whisky, a heavy splash, and it was gone and rolling sluggishly away in the small waves of the wake. Bond flattened himself back against the saloon hatchway, ready to slip through if the helmsman came aft to investigate. But there was no movement forrard and the iron tramp of the diesels held steady.
Bond sighed deeply. It would be a very troublesome coroner who brought in anything but misadventure. He went back to the boat-deck, gave it a final look over, disposed of the knife and the wet cloth, and went down the ladder to his bed in the well. It was two-fifteen. Bond was asleep inside ten minutes.
By pushing the speed up to twelve knots they made North Point by six o'clock that evening. Behind them the sky was ablaze with red and gold streaked across aquamarine. The two men, with the woman between them, stood at the rail of the well-deck and watched the brilliant shore slip by across the mother-of-pearl mirror of the sea. Liz Krest was wearing a white linen frock with a black belt and a black and white handkerchief round her neck. The mourning colours went well with the golden skin. The three people stood stiffly and rather self-consciously, each one nursing his own piece of secret knowledge, each one anxious to convey to the other two that their particular secrets were safe with him.
That morning there had seemed to be a conspiracy among the three to sleep late. Even Bond had not been awakened by the sun until ten o'clock. He showered in the crew's quarters and chatted with the helmsman before going below to see what had happened to Fidele Barbey. He was still in bed. He said he had a hangover. Had he been very rude to Mr Krest? He couldn't remember much about it except that he seemed to recall Mr Krest being very rude to him. “You remember what I said about him from the beginning, James? A grand slam redoubled in bastards. Now do you agree with me? One of these days someone's going to shut that soft ugly mouth of his for ever.”
Inconclusive. Bond had fixed himself some breakfast in the galley and was eating it there when Liz Krest had come in to do the same. She was dressed in a pale blue shantung kimono to her knees. There were dark rings under her eyes and she ate her breakfast standing. But she seemed perfectly calm and at ease. She whispered conspiratorially: “I do apologize about last night. I suppose I'd had a bit too much to drink too. But do forgive Milt. He's really awfully nice. It's only when he's had a bit too much that he gets sort of difficult. He's always sorry the next morning. You'll see.”
When eleven o'clock came and neither of the other two showed any signs of, so to speak, blowing the gaff, Bond decided to force the pace. He looked very hard at Liz Krest who was lying on her stomach in the well-deck reading a magazine. He said: “By the way, where's your husband? Still sleeping it off?”
She frowned. “I suppose so. He went up to his hammock on the boat-deck. I've no idea what time. I took a sleeping-pill and went straight off.”
Fidele Barbey had a line out for amberjack. Without looking round he said: “He's probably in the pilot-house.”
Bond said: “If he's still asleep on the boat-deck, he'll be getting the hell of a sunburn.”
Liz Krest said: “Oh, poor Milt! I hadn't thought of that. I'll go and see.”
She climbed the ladder. When her head was above the level of the boat-deck she stopped. She called down, anxiously: “Jim. He's not here. And the hammock's broken.”
Bond said: “Fidele's probably right. I'll have a look forrard.”
He went to the pilot-house. Fritz, the mate and the engineer were there. Bond said: “Anyone seen Mr Krest?”
Fritz looked puzzled. “No, sir. Why? Is anything wrong?”
Bond flooded his face with anxiety. “He's not aft. Here, come on! Look round everywhere. He was sleeping on the boat-deck. He's not there and his hammock's broken. He was rather the worse for wear last night. Come on! Get cracking!”
When the inevitable conclusion had been reached, Liz Krest had a short but credible fit of hysteria. Bond took her to her cabin and left her there in tears. “It's all right, Liz,” he said. You stay out of this. I'll look after everything. We'll have to radio Port Victoria and so on. I'll tell Fritz to put on speed. I'm afraid it's hopeless turning back to look. There've been six hours of daylight when he couldn't have fallen overboard without being heard or seen. It must have been in the night. I'm afraid anything like six hours in these seas is just not on."
She stared at him, her eyes wide. “You mean - you mean sharks and things?”
“Oh Milt! Poor darling Milt! Oh, why did this have to happen?”
Bond went out and softly shut the door.
The yacht rounded Cannon Point and reduced speed. Keeping well away from the broken reef, it slid quietly across the broad bay, now lemon and gunmetal in the last light, towards the anchorage. The small township beneath the mountains was already dark with indigo shadow in which a sprinkling of yellow lights showed. Bond saw the Customs and Immigration launch move off from Long Pier to meet them. The little community would already be buzzing with the news that would have quickly leaked from the radio station to the Seychelles Club and then, through the members' chauffeurs and staffs, into the town.
Liz Krest turned to him. “I'm beginning to get nervous. Will you help me through the rest of this - these awful formalities and things?”
Fidele Barbey said: “Don't worry too much. All these people are my friends. And the Chief Justice is my uncle. We shall all have to make a statement. They'll probably have the inquest tomorrow. You'll be able to leave the day after.”
“You really think so?” A dew of sweat had sprung below her eyes. “The trouble is, I don't really know where to leave for, or what to do next. I suppose,” she hesitated, not looking at Bond. “I suppose, James, you wouldn't like to come on to Mombasa? I mean, you're going there, anyway, and I'd be able to get you there a day earlier than this ship of yours, this Camp something.”
“Kampala.” Bond lit a cigarette to cover his hesitation. Four days in a beautiful yacht with this girl! But the tail of that fish, sticking out of the mouth! Had she done it? Or had Fidele, who would know that his uncles and cousins on Mahe would somehow see that he came to no harm? If only one of them would make a slip. Bond said easily: “That's terribly nice of you, Liz. Of course I'd love to come.”
Fidele Barbey chuckled. “Bravo, my friend. And I would love to be in your shoes, but for one thing. That damned fish. It is a great responsibility. I like to think of you both being deluged with cables from the Smithsonian about it. Don't forget that you are now both trustees of a scientific Koh-i-noor. And you know what these Americans are. They'll worry the life out of you until they've got their hands on it.”
Bond's eyes were hard as flint as he watched the girl. Surely that put the finger on her. Now he would make some excuse - get out of the trip. There had been some thing about that particular way of killing a man . . .
But the beautiful, candid eyes did not flicker. She looked up into Fidele Barbey's face and said, easily, charmingly: “That won't be a problem. I've decided to give it to the British Museum.”
James Bond noticed that the sweat dew had now gathered at her temples. But, after all, it was a desperately hot evening . . .
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