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'You express yourself most vividly.' Bond turned his head. The great brown and orange football of a head was bent slightly forward. The round moon-face was bland, indifferent. Casually, one hand reached out to the control panel and pressed down a switch. There came a slow metallic growl from the end of the table on which Bond lay. It curved quickly up to a harsh whine and then to a shrill high whistle that was barely audible. Bond turned his head wearily away. How soon could he manage to die? Was there any way he could hasten death? A friend of his had survived the Gestapo. He had described to Bond how he had tried to commit suicide by holding his breath. By superhuman will-power, after a few minutes without breathing, unconsciousness had come. But, with the blackout of the senses, will and intention had also left the body. At once reason was forgotten. The body's instinct to live manned the pumps and got breath back into the body again. But Bond could try it. There was nothing else to help him through the pain barrier before the blessing of death. For death was the only exit. He knew he could never squeal to Goldfinger and live with himself again - even in the unlikely event that Goldfinger could be bought off with the truth. No, he must stick to his thin story and hope that the others who would now follow him on Gold-finger's trail would have better luck. Who would M choose? Probably 008, the second killer in the small section of three. He was a good man, more careful than Bond. M would know that Goldfinger had killed Bond and he would give 008 licence to kill in return. 258 in Geneva would put him on to the scent that would end with Bond's inquiry about the Entre-prises Auric. Yes, fate would catch up with Goldfinger if Bond could only keep his mouth shut. If he gave the least clue away, Goldfinger would escape. That was unthinkable.

'Now then, Mr Bond,' Goldfinger's voice was brisk. 'Enough of these amiabilities. Sing, as my Chicago friends put it, and you will die quickly and painlessly. The girl also. Sing not, and your death will be one long scream. The girl I shall then give to Oddjob, as I did that cat, for supper. Which is it to be?'

Bond said, 'Don't be a fool, Goldfinger. I told my friends at Universal where I was going and why. The girl's parents know that she went with me. I made inquiries about this factory of yours before we came here. We shall be traced here very easily. Universal is powerful. You will have the police after you within days of our disappearance. I will make a deal with you. Let us go and nothing more will be heard of the matter. I will vouch for the girl. You are making a stupid mistake. We are two perfectly innocent people.'

Goldfinger said in a bored voice, 'I'm afraid you don't understand, Mr Bond. Whatever you have managed to find out about me, which I suspect is very little, can only be a grain of the truth. I am engaged upon gigantic enterprises. To take the gamble of letting either of you leave here alive would be quite ludicrous. It is out of the question. As for my being bothered by the police, I shall be delighted to receive them if they come. Those of my Koreans who can speak won't do so - nor will the mouths of my electric furnaces which will have vaporized you both and all your belongings at two thousand degrees Centigrade. No, Mr Bond, make your choice. Perhaps I can encourage you' - there came the noise of a lever moving across iron teeth. 'The saw is now approaching your body at about an inch every minute. Meanwhile,' he glanced at Odd job and held up one finger, 'a little massage from Oddjob. To begin with, only grade one. Grades two and three are still more persuasive.'

Bond closed his eyes. The sickly zoo-smell of Oddjob enveloped him. Big, rasping fingers set to work on him carefully, delicately. A pressure here, combined with a pressure there, a sudden squeeze, a pause, and then a quick, sharp blow. Always the hard hands were surgically accurate. Bond ground his teeth until he thought they would break. The sweat of pain began to form pools in the sockets of his closed eyes. The shrill whine of the saw was getting louder. It reminded Bond of the sawdust-scented sounds of long ago summer evenings at home in England. Home? This was his home, this cocoon of danger he had chosen to live in. And here he would be buried 'in some corner of a foreign blast furnace that is for ever two thousand degrees Centigrade'. God rest ye merry gentlemen of the Secret Service! What should he give himself as an epitaph? What should be his 'famous last words'? That you have no choice about your birth, but you can choose the way you die? Yes, it would look well on a tombstone - not Savoir vivre but Savoir mourir.

'Mr Bond.' Goldfinger's voice held an ounce of urgency. 'Is this really necessary? Just tell me the truth. Who are you? Who sent you here? What do you know? Then it will be so easy. You shall both have a pill. There will be no pain. It will be like taking a sleeping draught. Otherwise it will be so messy - so messy and distressing. And are you being fair to the girl? Is this the behaviour of an English gentleman?'

Oddjob's torment had stopped. Bond turned his head slowly towards the voice and opened his eyes. He said, 'Goldfinger, there is nothing more to tell because there is nothing. If you will not accept my first bargain I will make you another. The girl and I will work for you. How about that? We are capable people. You could put us to good use.'

'And get a knife, two knives in my back? Thank you no, Mr Bond.'

Bond decided it was time to stop talking. It was time to start winding up the mainspring of will-power that must not run down again until he was dead. Bond said politely, 'Then you can go and -- yourself.' He expelled all the breath from his lungs and closed his eyes.

'Even I am not capable of that, Mr Bond,' said Goldfinger with good humour. 'And now, since you have chosen the stony path instead of the smooth, I must extract what interest I can from your predicament by making the path as stony as possible. Oddjob, grade two.'

The lever on the table moved across iron teeth. Now Bond could feel the wind of the saw between his knees. The hands came back.

Bond counted the slowly pounding pulse that utterly possessed his body. It was like the huge panting power plant in the other part of the factory but, in his case, it was slowly decelerating. If only it would slow down quicker. What was this ridiculous will to live that refused to listen to the brain? Who was making the engine run on although the tank was dry of fuel? But he must empty his mind of thought, as well as his body of oxygen. He must become a vacuum, a deep hole of unconsciousness.

Still the light burned red through his eyelids. Still he could feel the bursting pressure in his temples. Still the slow drum of life beat in his ears.

A scream tried to force its way through the clamped teeth.

Die damn you die die damn you die damn you die damn you die damn you die...

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

THE LAST AND THE BIGGEST

THE WINGS of a dove, the heavenly choir, Hark the Herald Angels Sing - what else ought he to remember about Paradise? It was all so exactly like what he had been told in the nursery - this sensation of flying, the darkness, the drone of the million harps. He really must try and remember the dope about the place. Let's see now, one got to the Pearly Gates...

A deep fatherly voice said, almost in his ear, 'This is your captain speaking.' (Well, well. Who was this. Saint Peter?) 'We are coming in to land now. Will you please fasten your seat belts and extinguish your cigarettes. Thank you.'

There must be a whole lot of them, going up together. Would Tilly be on the same trip? Bond squirmed with embarrassment. How would he introduce her to the others, to Vesper for instance? And when it came to the point, which would he like the best? But perhaps it would be a big place with countries and towns. There was probably no more reason why he should run into one of his former girl friends here than there had been on earth. But still there were a lot of people he'd better avoid until he got settled in and found out the form. Perhaps, with so much love about, these things wouldn't matter. Perhaps one just loved all the girls one met. Hm. Tricky business

With these unworthy thoughts in his mind, Bond relapsed into unconsciousness.

The next tiling he knew was a gentle sensation of swaying. He opened his eyes. The sun blinded them. He closed them again. A voice above and behind his head said, 'Watch it, bud. That ramp's steeper than it looks.' Almost immediately there was a heavy jolt. A surly voice in front said, 'Cheesus, you're telling me. Why in hell can't they put down rubber.'

Bond thought angrily, that's a fine way to talk up here. Just because I'm new and they think no one's listening.

There was the bang of a swing door. Something hit Bond sharply on a protruding elbow. He shouted 'Hey!' and tried to reach his elbow and rub it, but his hands wouldn't move.

'Whaddya know. Hey, Sam, better call the doc. This one's come round.'

'Sure! Here, put him alongside the other.' Bond felt himself being lowered. It was cooler now. He opened his eyes. A big round Brooklyn face was bent over his. The eyes met his and smiled. The metal supports of the stretcher touched the ground. The man said, 'How ya feelin', mister?'

'Where am I?' Now there was panic in Bond's voice. He tried to rise but couldn't. He felt the sweat break out on his body. God! Was this still part of the old life? At the thought of it, a wave of grief poured through his body. Tears burned his eyes and trickled down his cheeks.

'Hey, hey! Take it easy, mister. You're okay. This is Idlewild, New York. You're in America now. No more troubles, see.' The man straightened up. He thought Bond was a refugee from somewhere. 'Sam, get movin'. This guy's in shock.'

'Okay, okay.' The two voices receded, mumbling anxiously.

Bond found he could move his head. He looked round. He was in a white-painted ward - presumably something to do with the health department of the airport. There was a row of tidy beds. Sun poured down from high windows, but it was cool, air-conditioned. He was on a stretcher on the floor. There was another one next to it. He strained his head sideways. It was Tilly. She was unconscious. Her pale face, framed in black hair, pointed at the ceiling.

The door at the end of the ward sighed open. A doctor in a white coat stood and held it. Goldfinger, looking brisk, cheerful, walked swiftly down between the beds. He was followed by Oddjob. Bond wearily closed his eyes. Christ! So that was the score.

Feet gathered round his stretcher. Goldfinger said breezily, 'Well, they certainly look in good shape, eh, Doctor? That's one of the blessings of having enough money. When one's friends or one's staff are ill one can get them the very best medical attention. Nervous breakdowns, both of them. And in the same week! Would you believe it? But I blame myself for working them both too hard. Now it's my duty to get them back on their feet again. Dr Foch - he's the best man in Geneva, by the way - was quite definite. He said, “They need rest, Mr Goldfinger. Rest, rest and again rest.” He gave them sedatives and now they're on their way to the Harkness Pavilion at the Presbyterian.' Goldfinger chuckled fatly. 'Sow and you shall reap, eh, Doctor? When I gave the Harkness a million dollars' worth of X-ray equipment, I certainly never expected anything back. But now? I only had to put through a call and they've got two fine rooms waiting for them. Now then' - there was a rustle of notes -'thank you for all your help with Immigration. Fortunately they both had valid visas and I think Immigration was satisfied that Mr Auric Goldfinger was a sufficient guarantee that neither of them wants to overthrow the United States Government by force, what?'

'Yes indeed, and thank you Mr Goldfinger. Anything I can do... I understand you have a private ambulance waiting outside.'

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