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The last light of the day had gone. Below the indigo sky the flare paths twinkled green and yellow and threw tiny reflections off the oily skin of the tarmac. With a shattering roar a DC 7 hurtled down the main green lane. The windows in the transit lounge rattled softly. People got up to watch. Bond tried to read their expressions. Did they hope the plane would crash - give them something to watch, something to talk about, something to fill their empty lives? Or did they wish it well? Which way were they willing the sixty passengers? To live or to die?

Bond's lips turned down. Cut it out. Stop being so damned morbid. All this is just reaction from a dirty assignment. You're stale, tired of having to be tough. You want a change. You've seen too much death. You want a slice of life - easy, soft, high.

Bond was conscious of steps approaching. They stopped at his side. Bond looked up. It was a clean, rich-looking, middleaged man. His expression was embarrassed, deprecating.

'Pardon me, but surely it's Mr Bond... Mr - er - James Bond?'

CHAPTER TWO

LIVING IT UP

BOND LIKED anonymity. His 'Yes, it is' was discouraging.

'Well, that's a mighty rare coincidence.' The man held out his hand. Bond rose slowly, took the hand and released it. The hand was pulpy and unarticulated - like a hand-shaped mud pack, or an inflated rubber glove. 'My name is Du Pont. Junius Du Pont. I guess you won't remember me, but we've met before. Mind if I sit down?'

The face, the name? Yes, there was something familiar. Long ago. Not in America. Bond searched the files while he summed the man up. Mr Du Pont was about fifty - pink, clean-shaven and dressed in the conventional disguise with which Brooks Brothers cover the shame of American millionaires. He wore a single-breasted dark tan tropical suit and a white silk shirt with a shallow collar. The rolled ends of the collar were joined by a gold safety pin beneath the knot of a narrow dark red and blue striped tie that fractionally wasn't the Brigade of Guards'. The cuffs of the shirt protruded half an inch below the cuffs of the coat and showed cabochon crystal links containing miniature trout flies. The socks were charcoal-grey silk and the shoes were old and polished mahogany and hinted Peal. The man carried a dark, narrow-brimmed straw Homburg with a wide claret ribbon.

Mr Du Pont sat down opposite Bond and produced cigarettes and a plain gold Zippo lighter. Bond noticed that he was sweating slightly. He decided that Mr Du Pont was what he appeared to be, a very rich American, mildly embarrassed. He knew he had seen him before, but he had no idea where or when.

'Smoke?'

'Thank you.' It was a Parliament. Bond affected not to notice the offered lighter. He disliked held-out lighters. He picked up his own and lit the cigarette.

Trance, '51, Royale les Eaux.' Mr Du Pont looked eagerly at Bond. 'That Casino. Ethel, that's Mrs Du Pont, and me were next to you at the table the night you had the big game with the Frenchman.'

Bond's memory raced back. Yes, of course. The Du Ponts had been Nos 4 and 5 at the baccarat table. Bond had been 6. They had seemed harmless people. He had been glad to have such a solid bulwark on his left .on that fantastic night when he had broken Le Chiffre. Now Bond saw it all again - the bright pool of light on the green baize, the pink crab hands across the table scuttling out for the cards. He smelled the smoke and the harsh tang of his own sweat. That had been a night! Bond looked across at Mr Du Pont and smiled at the memory. 'Yes, of course I remember. Sorry I was slow. But that was quite a night. I wasn't thinking of much except my cards.'

Mr Du Pont grinned back, happy and relieved. 'Why, gosh, Mr Bond. Of course I understand. And I do hope you'll pardon me for butting in. You see...' He snapped his ringers for a waitress. 'But we must have a drink to celebrate. What'll you have?'

'Thanks. Bourbon on the rocks.'

'And dimple Haig and water.' The waitress went away.

Mr Du Pont leant forward, beaming. A whiff of soap or after-shave lotion came across the table. Lentheric? 'I knew it was you. As soon as I saw you sitting there. But I thought to myself, Junius, you don't often make an error over a face, but let's just go make sure. Well, I was flying Transamerican tonight and, when they announced the delay, I watched your expression and, if you'll pardon me, Mr Bond, it was pretty clear from the look on your face that you had been flying Transamerican too.' He waited for Bond to nod. He hurried on. 'So I ran down to the ticket counter and had me a look at the passenger list. Sure enough, there it was, “J. Bond”.'

Mr Du Pont sat back, pleased with his cleverness. The drinks came. He raised his glass. 'Your very good health, sir. This sure is my lucky day.'

Bond smiled non-committally and drank.

Mr Du Pont leant forward again. He looked round. There was nobody at the nearby tables. Nevertheless he lowered his voice. 'I guess you'll be saying to yourself, well, it's nice to see Junius Du Pont again, but what's the score? Why's he so particularly happy at seeing me on just this night?' Mr. Du Pont raised his eyebrows as if acting Bond's part for him. Bond put on a face of polite inquiry. Mr Du Pont leant still farther across the table. 'Now, I hope you'll forgive me, Mr Bond. It's not like me to pry into other people's secre... er - affairs. But, after that game at Royale, I did hear that you were not only a grand card player, but also that you were - er - how shall I put it? - that you were a sort of - er - investigator. You know, kind of intelligence operative.' Mr Du Font's indiscretion had made him go very red in the face. He sat back and took out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead. He looked anxiously at Bond.

Bond shrugged his shoulders. The grey-blue eyes that looked into Mr Du Font's eyes, which had turned hard and watchful despite his embarrassment, held a mixture of candour, irony and self-deprecation. 'I used to dabble in that kind of thing. Hangover from the.war. One still thought it was fun playing Red Indians. But there's no future in it in peacetime.'

'Quite, quite.' Mr Du Pont made a throwaway gesture with the hand that held the cigarette. His eyes evaded Bond's as he put the next question, waited for the next lie. (Bond thought, there's a wolf in this Brooks Brothers clothing. This is a shrewd man.) 'And now you've settled down?' Mr Du Pont smiled paternally. 'What did you choose, if you'll pardon the question?'

'Import and Export. I'm with Universal. Perhaps you've come across them.'

Mr Du Pont continued to play the game. 'Hm. Universal. Let me see. Why, yes, sure I've heard of them. Can't say I've ever done business with them, but I guess it's never too late.' He chuckled fatly. 'I've got quite a heap of interests all over the place. Only stuff I can honestly say I'm not interested in is chemicals. Maybe it's my misfortune, Mr Bond, but I'm not one of the chemical Du Fonts.'

Bond decided that the man was quite satisfied with the particular brand of Du Pont he happened to be. He made no comment. He glanced at his watch to hurry Mr Du Font's play of the hand. He made a note to handle his own cards carefully. Mr Du Pont had a nice pink kindly baby-face with a puckered, rather feminine turn-down mouth. He looked as harmless as any of the middle-aged Americans with cameras who stand outside Buckingham Palace. But Bond sensed many tough, sharp qualities behind the fuddyduddy facade.

Mr Du Font's sensitive eye caught Bond's glance at his watch. He consulted his own. 'My, oh my! Seven o'clock and here I've been talking away without coming to the point. Now, see here, Mr Bond. I've got me a problem on which I'd greatly appreciate your guidance. If you can spare me the time and if you were counting on stopping over in Miami tonight I'd reckon it a real favour if you'd allow me to be your host.' Mr Du Pont held up his hand. 'Now, I think I can promise to make you comfortable. So happens I own a piece of the Floridiana. Maybe you heard we opened around Christmas time? Doing a great business I'm happy to say. Really pushing that little old Fountain Blue,' Mr Du Pont laughed indulgently. 'That's what we call the Fontainebleau down here. Now, what do you say, Mr Bond? You shall have the best suite - even if it. means putting some good paying customers out on the sidewalk. And you'd be doing me a real favour.' Mr Du Pont looked imploring.

Bond had already decided to accept - blind. Whatever Mr Du Font's problem - blackmail, gangsters, women - it would be some typical form of rich man's worry. Here was a slice of the easy life he had been asking for. Take it. Bond started to say something politely deprecating. Mr Du Pont interrupted. 'Please, please, Mr Bond. And believe me, I'm grateful, very grateful indeed.' He snapped his fingers for the waitress. When she came, he turned away from Bond and settled the bill out of Bond's sight. Like many very rich men he considered that showing his money, letting someone see how much he tipped, amounted to indecent exposure. He thrust his roll back into his trousers pocket (the hip pocket is not the place among the rich) and took Bond by the arm. He sensed Bond's resistance to the contact and removed his hand. They went down the stairs to the main hall.

'Now, let's just straighten out your reservation.' Mr Du Pont headed for the Transamerica ticket counter. In a few curt phrases Mr Du Pont showed his power and efficiency in his own, his American, realm.

'Yes, Mr Du Pont. Surely, Mr Du Pont. I'll take care of that, Mr Du Pont.'

Outside, a gleaming Chrysler Imperial sighed up to the kerb. A tough-looking chauffeur in a biscuit-coloured uniform hurried to open the door. Bond stepped in and settled down in the soft upholstery. The interior of the car was de-liciously cool, almost cold. The Transamerican representative bustled out with Bond's suitcase, handed it to the chauffeur and, with a half-bow, went back into the Terminal. 'Bill's on the Beach,' said Mr Du Pont to the chauffeur and the big car slid away through the crowded parking lots and out on to the parkway.

Mr Du Pont settled back. 'Hope you like stone crabs, Mr Bond. Ever tried them?'

Bond said he had, that he liked them very much.

Mr Du Pont talked about Bill's on the Beach and about the relative merits of stone and Alaska crab meat while the Chrysler Imperial sped through downtown Miami, along Biscayne Boulevard and across Biscayne Bay by the Douglas MacArthur Causeway. Bond made appropriate comments, letting himself be carried along on the gracious stream of speed and comfort and rich small-talk.

They drew up at a white-painted, mock-Regency frontage in clapboard and stucco. A scrawl of pink neon said: BILL'S ON THE BEACH. While Bond got out, Mr Du Pont gave his instructions to the chauffeur. Bond heard the words. 'The Aloha Suite,' and 'If there's any trouble, tell Mr Fairlie to call me here. Right?'

They went up the steps. Inside, the big room was decorated in white with pink muslin swags over the windows. There were pink lights on the tables. The restaurant was crowded with sunburned people in expensive tropical get-ups . - brilliant garish shirts, jangling gold bangles, dark glasses with jewelled rims, cute native straw hats. There was a confusion of scents. The wry smell of bodies that had been all day in the sun came through.

Bill, a pansified Italian, hurried towards them. 'Why, Mr Du Pont. Is a pleasure, sir. Little crowded tonight. Soon fix you up. Please this way please.' Holding a large leather-bound menu above his head the man weaved his way between the diners to the best table in the room, a corner table for six. He pulled out two chairs, snapped his ringers for the maitre d'hotel and the wine waiter, spread two menus in front of them, exchanged compliments with Mr Du Pont and left them.

Mr Du Pont slapped his menu shut. He said to Bond, 'Now, why don't you just leave this to me? If there's anything you don't like, send it back.' And to the head waiter, 'Stone crabs. Not frozen. Fresh. Melted butter. Thick toast. Right?'

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