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'Quiet night?' M had got his pipe going. His hard, healthy eyes regarded Bond attentively.

'Pretty quiet, sir. Station H-'

M raised his left hand an inch or two. 'Never mind. I'll read all about it in the log. Here, I'll take it.'

Bond handed over the Top Secret folder. M put it to one side. He smiled one of his rare, rather sardonic, bitten-off smiles. 'Things change, 007. I'm taking you off night duty for the present.'

Bond's answering smile was taut. He felt the quickening of the pulse he had so often experienced in this room. M had got something for him. He said, 'I was just getting into it, sir.'

'Quite. Have plenty of opportunity later on. Something's come up. Odd business. Not really your line of country, except for one particular angle which' - M jerked his pipe sideways in a throwaway gesture - 'may not be an angle at all.'

Bond sat back. He said nothing, waiting.

'Had dinner with the Governor of the Bank last night. One's always hearing something new. At 'least, all this was new to me. Gold - the seamy side of the stuff. Smuggling, counterfeiting, all that. Hadn't occurred to me that the Bank of England knew so much about crooks. Suppose it's part of the Bank's job to protect our currency.' M jerked his eyebrows up. 'Know anything about gold?'

'No, sir.'

'Well, you will by this afternoon. You've got an appointment with a man called Colonel Smithers at the Bank at four o'clock. That give you enough time to get some sleep?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Good. Seems that this man Smithers is head of the Bank's research department. From what the Governor told me, that's nothing more or less than a spy system. First time I knew they had one. Just shows what watertight compartments we all work in. Anyway, Smithers and his chaps keep an eye out for anything fishy in the banking world - particularly any monkeying about with our currency and bullion reserves and what not. There was that business the other day of the Italians who were counterfeiting sovereigns. Making them out of real gold. Right carats and all that. But apparently a sovereign or a French napoleon is worth much more than its melted-down value in gold. Don't ask me why. Smithers can tell you that if you're interested. Anyway, the Bank went after these people with a whole battery of lawyers-it wasn't technically a criminal offence - and, after losing in the Italian courts, they finally nailed them in Switzerland. You probably read about it. Then there was that business of dollar balances in Beirut. Made quite a stir in the papers. Couldn't understand it myself. Some crack in the fence we put round our currency. The wide City boys had found it. Well, it's Smithers's job to smell out that kind of racket. The reason the Governor told me all this is because for years, almost since the war apparently, Smithers has had a bee in his bonnet about some big gold leak out of England. Mostly deduction, plus some kind of instinct. Smithers admits he's got damned little to go on, but he's impressed the Governor enough for him to get permission from the PM to call us in.' M broke off. He looked quizzically at Bond. 'Ever wondered who are the richest men in England?'

•No, sir.'

"Well, have a guess. Or rather, put it like this: Who are the richest Englishmen?'

Bond searched his mind. There were a lot of men who sounded rich or who were made to sound rich by the newspapers. But who really had it, liquid, in the bank? He had to say something. He said hesitatingly, 'Well, sir, there's Sas-soon. Then that shipping man who keeps to himself - er -Ellerman. They say Lord Cowdray is very rich. There are the bankers - Rothschilds, Barings, Hambros. There was Williamson, the diamond man. Oppenheimer in South Africa. Some of the dukes may still have a lot of money.' Bond's voice trailed away.

'Not bad. Not bad at all. But you've missed out the joker in the pack. Man I'd never thought of until the Governor brought up his name. He's the richest of the lot. Man called Goldfinger. Auric Goldfinger.'

Bond couldn't help himself. He laughed sharply.

'What's the matter?' M's voice was testy. What the hell is there to laugh about?'

'I'm sorry, sir.' Bond got hold of himself. 'The truth is, only last night I was building his face up on the Identicast.' He glanced at his watch. In a strangled voice he said, 'Be on its way to CID Records. Asked for a Trace on him.'

M was getting angry. 'What the hell's all this about? Stop behaving like a bloody schoolboy.'

Bond said soberly, 'Well, sir, it's like this...' Bond told the story, leaving nothing out.

M's face cleared. He listened with all his attention, leaning forward across the desk. When Bond had finished, M sat back in his chair. He said "Well, well... well' on a diminishing scale. He put his hands behind his head and gazed for minutes at the ceiling.

Bond could feel the laughter coming on again. How would the CID word the resounding snub he would get in the course of the day? He was brought sharply back to earth by M's next words. 'By the way, what happened to that ten thousand dollars?'

'Gave it to the girl, sir.'

'Really! Why not to the White Cross?'

The White Cross Fund was for the families of Secret Service men and women who were killed on duty.

'Sorry, sir.' Bond was not prepared to argue that one.

'Humpf.' M had never approved of Bond's womanizing. It was anathema to his Victorian soul. He decided to let it pass. He said, 'Well, that's all for now, 007. You'll be hearing all about it this afternoon. Funny about Goldfinger. Odd chap. Seen him once or twice at Blades. He plays bridge there when he's in England. He's the chap the Bank of England's after.' M paused. He looked mildly across the table at Bond. 'As from this moment, so are you.'

CHAPTER SIX

TALK OF GOLD

BOND WALKED up the steps and through the fine bronze portals and into the spacious, softly echoing entrance hall of the Bank of England and looked around him. Under his feet glittered the brilliant golden patterns of the Boris Anrep mosaics; beyond, through twenty-feet-high arched windows, green grass and geraniums blazed in the central courtyard. To right and left were spacious vistas of polished Hopton Wood stone. Over all hung the neutral smell of air-conditioned air and the heavy, grave atmosphere of immense riches.

One of the athletic-looking, pink frock-coated commissionaires came up to him. 'Yes, sir?'

'Colonel Smithers?'

'Commander Bond, sir? This way please.' The commissionaire moved off to the right between the pillars. The bronze doors of a discreetly hidden lift stood open. The lift rose a few feet to the first floor. Now there was a long panelled corridor ending in a tall Adam window. The floor was close-carpeted in beige Wilton. The commissionaire knocked at the last of several finely carved oak doors that were just so much taller and more elegant than ordinary doors. A grey-haired woman was sitting at a desk. She looked as if she had once taken a double first. The walls of the room were lined with grey metal filing cabinets. The woman had been writing on a quarto pad of yellow memorandum paper. She smiled with a hint of conspiracy, picked up a telephone and dialled a number. 'Commander Bond is here.' She put the telephone back and stood up. 'Will you come this way?' She crossed the room to a door covered with green baize and held it open for Bond to go through.

Colonel Smithers had risen from his desk. He said gravely, 'Nice of you to have come. Won't you sit down?' Bond took the chair. 'Smoke?' Colonel Smithers pushed forward a silver box of Senior Service and himself sat down and began to fill a pipe. Bond took a cigarette and lit it.

Colonel Smithers looked exactly like someone who would be called Colonel Smithers. He had obviously been a colonel, probably on the staff, and he had the smooth, polished, basically serious mien that fitted his name. But for his hornrimmed glasses, he might have been an efficient, not very well-fed courtier in a royal household.

Bond felt boredom gathering in the corners of the room. He said encouragingly, 'It seems that you are to tell me all about gold."

'So I understand. I had a note from the Governor. I gather I need keep nothing from you. Of course you understand' -Colonel Smithers looked over Bond's right shoulder -'that most of what I shall have to say will be confidential.' The eyes swept quickly across Bond's face.

Bond's face was stony.

Colonel Smithers felt the silence that Bond had intended he should feel. He looked up, saw that he had put his foot in it, and tried to make amends. 'Obviously I needn't have mentioned the point. A man with your training...'

Bond said, 'We all think our own secrets are the only ones that matter. You're probably right to remind me. Other people's secrets are never quite as important as one's own. But you needn't worry. I shall discuss things with my chief but with no one else.'

'Quite, quite. Nice of you to take it that way. In the Bank one gets into the habit of being over-discreet. Now then,' Colonel Smithers scurried for cover into his subject. 'This business of gold. I take it it's not a matter you've thought about a great deal?'

'I know it when I see it.'

'Aha, yes - well now, the great thing to remember about gold is that it's the most valuable and most easily marketable commodity in the world. You can go to any town in the world, almost to any village, and hand over a piece of gold and get goods or services in exchange. Right?' Colonel Smithers's voice had taken on a new briskness. His eyes were alight. He had his lecture pat. Bond sat back. He was prepared to listen to anyone who was master of his subject, any subject. 'And the next thing to remember,' Colonel Smithers held up his pipe in warning, 'is that gold is virtually untrace-able. Sovereigns have no serial numbers. If gold bars have Mint marks stamped on them the marks can be shaved off or the bar can be melted down and made into a new bar. That makes it almost impossible to check on the whereabouts of gold, or its origins, or its movements round the world. In England, for instance, we at the Bank can only count the gold in our own vaults,'in the vaults of other banks and at the Mint, and make a rough guess at the amounts held by the jewellery trade and the pawnbroking fraternity.'

'Why are you so anxious to know how much gold there is in England?'

'Because gold and currencies backed by gold are the foundation of our international credit. We can only tell what the true strength of the pound is, and other countries can only tell it, by knowing the amount of valuta we have behind our currency. And my main job, Mr Bond' - Colonel Smithers's bland eyes had become unexpectedly sharp - 'is to watch for any leakage of gold out of England - out of anywhere in the sterling area. And when I spot a leakage, an escape of gold towards some country where it can be exchanged more profitably than at our official buying price, it is my job to put the CID Gold Squad on to the fugitive gold and try to get it back into our vaults, plug the leak and arrest the people responsible. And the trouble is, Mr Bond' -Colonel Smithers gave a forlorn shrug of the shoulders -'that gold attracts the biggest, the most ingenious criminals. They are very hard, very hard indeed, to catch.'

'Isn't all this only a temporary phase? Why should this shortage of gold go on? They seem to be digging it out of Africa fast enough. Isn't there enough to go round? Isn't it just like any other black market that disappears when the supplies are stepped up, like the penicillin traffic after the war?'

'I'm afraid not, Mr Bond. It isn't quite as easy as that. The population of the world is increasing at the rate of five thousand four hundred every hour of the day. A small percentage of those people become gold hoarders, people who are frightened of currencies, who like to bury some sovereigns in the garden or under the bed. Another percentage needs gold fillings for their teeth. Others need gold-rimmed spectacles, jewellery, engagement rings. All these new people will be taking tons of gold off the market every year. New industries need gold wire, gold plating, amalgams of gold. Gold has extraordinary properties which are being put to new uses every day. It is brilliant, malleable, ductile, almost unalterable and more dense than any of the common metals except platinum. There's no end to its uses. But it has two defects. It isn't hard enough. It wears out quickly, leaves itself on the linings of our pockets and in the sweat of our skins. Every year, the world's stock is invisibly reduced by friction. I said that gold has two defects.' Colonel Smithers looked sad. 'The other and by far the major defect is that it is the talisman of fear. Fear, Mr Bond, takes gold out of circulation and hoards it against the evil day. In a period of history when every tomorrow may be the evil day, it is fair enough to say that a fat proportion of the gold that is dug out of one corner of the earth is at once buried again in another corner.'

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