'Very good, Mr Du Pont.' The wine waiter, washing his hands, took the waiter's place.
'Two pints of pink champagne. The Pommery '50. Silver tankards. Right?'
'Vairry good, Mr Du Pont. A cocktail to start?'
Mr Du Pont turned to Bond. He smiled and raised his eyebrows.
Bond said, 'Vodka martini, please. With a slice of lemon peel.'
'Make it two,' said Mr Du Pont. 'Doubles.' The wine waiter hurried off. Mr Du Pont sat back and produced his cigarettes and lighter. He looked round the room, answered one or two waves with a smile and a lift of the hand and glanced at the neighbouring tables. He edged his chair nearer to Bond's. 'Can't help the noise, I'm afraid,' he said apologetically. 'Only come here for the crabs. They're out of this-world. Hope you're not allergic to them. Once brought a girl here and fed her crabs and her lips swelled up like cycle tyres.'
Bond was amused at the change in Mr Du Pont - this racy talk, the authority of manner once Mr Du Pont thought he had got Bond on the hook, on his payroll. He was a different man from the shy embarrassed suitor who had solicited Bond at the airport. What did Mr Du Pont want from Bond? It would be coming any minute now, the proposition. Bond said, 'I haven't got any allergies.'
There was a pause. Mr Du Pont snapped the lid of his lighter up and down several times. He realized he was making an irritating noise and pushed it away from him. He made up his mind. He said, speaking at his hands on the table in front of him, 'You ever play Canasta, Mr Bond?'
'Yes, it's a good game. I like it.'
'I have done. It's not so much fun. If you don't make a fool of yourself - if neither of you do - it tends to even out. Law of averages in the cards. No chance of making much difference in the play.'
Mr Du Pont nodded emphatically. 'Just so. That's what I've said to myself. Over a hundred games or so, two equal players will end up equal. Not such a good game as Gin or Oklahoma, but in a way that's just what I like about it. You pass the time, you handle plenty of cards, you have your ups and downs, no one gets hurt. Right?'
Bond nodded. The martinis came. Mr Du Pont said to the wine waiter, 'Bring two more in ten minutes.' They drank. Mr Du Pont turned and faced Bond. His face was petulant, crumpled. He said, 'What would you say, Mr Bond, if I told you I'd lost twenty-five thousand dollars in a week playing two-handed Canasta?' Bond was about to reply. Mr Du Pont held up his hand. 'And mark you, I'm a good card player. Member of the Regency Club. Play a lot with people like Charlie Goren, Johnny Crawford - at bridge that is. But what I mean, I know my way around at the card table.' Mr Du Pont probed Bond's eyes.
'If you've been playing with the same man all the time, you've been cheated.'
'Ex-actly.' Mr Du Pont slapped the table-cloth. He sat back. 'Ex-actly. That's what I said to myself after I'd lost -lost for four whole days. So I said to myself, this bastard is cheating me and by golly I'll find out how he does it and have him hounded out of Miami. So I doubled the stakes and then doubled them again. He was quite happy about it. And I watched every card he played, every movement. Nothing! Not a hint or a sign. Cards not marked. New pack whenever I wanted one. My own cards. Never looked at my hand -couldn't, as I always sat dead opposite him. No kibitzer to tip him off. And he just went on winning and winning. Won again this morning. And again this afternoon. Finally I got so mad at the game - I didn't show it, mind you' - Bond might think he had not been a sport - 'I paid up politely. But, without telling this guy, I just packed my bag and got me to the airport and booked on the first plane to New York. Think of that!' Mr Du Pont threw up his hands. 'Running away. But twenty-five grand is twenty-five grand. I could see it getting to fifty, a hundred. And I just couldn't stand another of these damned games and I couldn't stand not being able to catch this guy out. So I took off. What do you think of that? Me, Junius Du Pont, throwing in the towel because I couldn't take the licking any more!'
Bond grunted sympathetically. The second round of drinks came. Bond was mildly interested, he was always interested in anything to do with cards. He could see the scene, the two men playing and playing and the one man quietly shuffling and dealing away and marking up his score while the other was always throwing his cards into the middle of the table with a gesture of controlled disgust. Mr Du Pont was obviously being cheated. How? Bond said, 'Twenty-five thousand's a lot of money. What stakes were you playing?'
Mr Du Pont looked sheepish. 'Quarter a point, then fifty cents, then a dollar. Pretty high I guess with the games averaging around two thousand points. Even at a quarter, that makes five hundred dollars a game. At a dollar a point, if you go on losing, it's murder.'
'You must have won sometimes.'
'Oh sure, but somehow, just as I'd got the s.o.b. all set for a killing, he'd put down as many of his cards as he could meld. Got out of the bag. Sure, I won some small change, but only when he needed a hundred and twenty to go down and I'd got all the wild cards. But you know how it is with Canasta, you have to discard right. You lay traps to make the other guy hand you the pack. Well, darn it, he seemed to be psychic! Whenever I laid a trap, he'd dodge it, and almost every time he laid one for me I'd fall into it. As for giving me the pack - why, he'd choose the damnedest cards when he was pushed - discard singletons, aces, God knows what, and always get away with it. It was just as if he knew every card in my hand,'
'Any mirrors in the room?'
'Heck, no! We always played outdoors. He said he wanted to get himself a sunburn. Certainly did that. Red as lobster. He'd only play in the mornings and afternoons. Said if he played in the evening he couldn't get to sleep.'
'Who is this man, anyway? What's his name?'
'Auric. That means golden, doesn't it? He certainly is that. Got flaming red hair.'
'You won't believe it, but he's a Britisher. Domiciled in Nassau. You'd think he'd be a Jew from the name, but he doesn't look it. We're restricted at the Floridiana. Wouldn't have got in if he had been. Nassavian passport. Age forty-two. Unmarried. Profession, broker. Got all this from his passport. Had me a peek via the house detective when I started to play with him.'
'What sort of broker?'
Du Pont smiled grimly. 'I asked him. He said, “Oh, anything that comes along.” Evasive sort of fellow. Clams up if you ask him a direct question. Talks away quite pleasantly about nothing at all.'
'What's he worth?'
'Ha!' said Mr Du Pont explosively. 'That's the damnedest thing. He's loaded. But loaded! I got my bank to check with Nassau. He's lousy with it. Millionaires are a dime a dozen in Nassau, but he's rated either first or second among them. Seems he keeps his money in gold bars. Shifts them around the world a lot to get the benefit of changes in the gold price. Acts like a damn federal bank. Doesn't trust currencies. Can't say he's wrong in that, and seeing how he's one of the richest men in the world there must be something to his system.' But the point is, if he's as rich as that, what the hell does he want to take a lousy twenty-five grand off me for?*
A bustle of waiters round their table saved Bond having to think up a reply. With ceremony, a wide silver dish of crabs, big ones, their shells and claws broken, was placed in the middle of the table. A silver sauceboat brimming with melted butter and a long rack of toast was put beside each of their plates. The tankards of champagne frothed pink. Finally, with an oily smirk, the head waiter came behind their chairs and, in turn, tied round their necks long white silken bibs that reached down to the lap.
Bond was reminded of Charles Laughton playing Henry VIII, but neither Mr Du Pont nor the neighbouring diners seemed surprised at the hoggish display. Mr Du Pont, with a gleeful 'Every man for himself, raked several hunks of crab on to his plate, doused them liberally in melted butter and dug in. Bond followed suit and proceeded to eat, or rather devour, the most delicious meal he had had in his life.
The meat of the stone crabs was the tenderest, sweetest shellfish he had ever tasted. It was perfectly set off by the dry toast and slightly burned taste of the melted butter. The champagne seemed to have the faintest scent of strawberries. It was ice cold. After each helping of crab, the champagne cleaned the palate for the next. They ate steadily and with absorption and hardly exchanged a word until the dish was cleared.
With a slight belch, Mr Du Pont for the last time wiped butter off his chin with his silken bib and sat back. His face was flushed. He looked proudly at Bond. He said reverently, 'Mr Bond, I doubt if anywhere in the world a man has eaten as good a dinner as that tonight. What do you say?'
Bond thought, I asked for the easy life, the rich life. How do I like it? How do I like eating like a pig and hearing remarks like that? Suddenly the idea of ever having another meal like this, or indeed any other meal with Mr Du Pont, revolted him. He felt momentarily ashamed of his disgust. He had asked and it had been given. It was the puritan in him that couldn't take it. He had made his wish and the wish had not only been granted, it had been stuffed down his throat. Bond said, 'I don't know about that, but it was certainly very good.'
Mr Du Pont was satisfied. He called for coffee. Bond refused the offer of cigars or liqueurs. He lit a cigarette and waited with interest for the catch to be presented. He knew there would be one. It was obvious that all this was part of the come-on. Well, let it come.
Mr Du Pont cleared his throat. 'And now, Mr Bond, I have a proposition to put to you.' He stared at Bond, trying to gauge his reaction in advance.
'It surely was providential to meet you like that at the airport.' Mr Du Font's voice was grave, sincere. 'I've never forgotten our first meeting at Royale. I recall every detail of it - your coolness, your daring, your handling of the cards.' Bond looked down at the table-cloth. But Mr Du Pont had got tired of his peroration. He said hurriedly, 'Mr Bond, I will pay you ten thousand dollars to stay here as my guest until you have discovered how this man Goldfinger beats me at cards.'
Bond looked Mr Du Pont in the eye. He said, 'That's a handsome offer, Mr Du Pont. But I have to get back to
London. I must be in New York to catch my plane within forty-eight hours. If you will play your usual sessions tomorrow morning and afternoon I should have plenty of time to find out the answer. But I must leave tomorrow night, whether I can help you or not. Done?' 'Done,' said Mr Du Pont.
THE MAN WITH AGORAPHOBIA
THE FLAPPING of the curtains wakened Bond. He threw off the single sheet and walked across the thick pile carpet to the picture window that filled the whole of one wall. He drew back the curtains and went out on to the sun-filled balcony.
The black and white chequer-board tiles were warm, almost hot to the feet although it could not yet be eight o'clock. A brisk inshore breeze was blowing off the sea, straining the flags of all nations that flew along the pier of the private yacht basin. The breeze was humid and smelt strongly of the sea. Bond guessed it was the breeze that the visitors like, but the residents hate. It would rust the metal fittings in their homes, fox the pages of their books, rot their wallpaper and pictures, breed damp-rot in their clothes.
Twelve storeys down the formal gardens, dotted with palm trees and beds of bright croton and traced with neat gravel walks between avenues of bougainvillaea, were rich and dull. Gardeners were working, raking the paths and picking up leaves with the lethargic slow motion of coloured help. Two mowers were at work on the lawns and, where they had already been, sprinklers were gracefully flinging handfuls of spray.
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