Then we'll have to think what to do with Mister Blofeld.' He turned to Bond. 'Stay behind, would you?"

Goodbyes were said and M rang for Hammond to see the other two out. He then rang again. 'Tea, please, Hammond.' He turned to Bond. 'Or rather have a whisky and soda?'

'Whisky, please, sir,' said Bond with infinite relief.

'Rot-gut,' commented M. He walked over to the window and looked out at the darkness and rain.

Bond drew Franklin's map towards him and studied it. He reflected that he was learning quite a lot on this case -about other people's businesses, other people's secrets, from the innards of the College of Arms to the innards of Ag. and Fish. Odd how this gigantic, many-branched tree had grown from one tiny seed in September - a girl calling banco in a casino and not having the money to pay. And what about Bond's letter of resignation? That looked pretty silly now. He was up to his ears, as deeply as ever in his life before, in his old profession. And now a big mopping-up job would have to be done. And he would have to do it, or at any rate lead it, organize it. And Bond knew exactly what he was going to put to M when the tea and whisky came. Only he could do the cleaning up. It was written in his stars!

Hammond came in with the tray and withdrew. M came back to his desk, gruffly told Bond to pour himself a whisky, and himself took a vast cup, as big as a baby's chamber-pot, of black tea without sugar or milk, and put it in front of him.

At length he said moodily, 'This is a dirty business, James. But I'm afraid it makes sense. Better do something about it, I suppose.' He reached for the red telephone with scrambler attachment that stood beside the black one on his desk and picked up the receiver. It was a direct line to that very private switchboard in Whitehall to which perhaps fifty people in all Britain have access. 'Put me on to Sir Ronald Vallance, would you? Home number, I suppose.' He reached out and took a deep gulp at his cup of tea and put the cup back on its saucer. Then, 'That you, Vallance? M here. Sorry to disturb your afternoon nap.' There was an audible explosion at the other end of the line! M smiled. 'Reading a report on teen-age prostitution? I'm ashamed of you. On Christmas Day too. Well, scramble, would you?' M pressed down the large black button on the side of the cradle. 'Right? Now I'm afraid this is top priority. Remember Blofeld and the Thunderball case? Well, he's up to his tricks again. Too long to explain now. You'll get my side of the report in the morning. And Ag. and Fish, are mixed up in it. Yes, of all people. Man called Franklin is your contact. One of their top pest-control men. Only him and his Minister. So would your chaps report to him, copy to me? I'm only dealing with the foreign side. Your friend O07's got the ball. Yes, same chap. He can nil you in with any extra detail you may need on the foreign angles. Now, the point is this. Even though it's Christmas and all that, could your chaps try at once and lay their hands on a certain girl, Polly Tasker, aged about 25, who lives in East Anglia? Yes, I know it's a hell of a big area, but she'll probably come from a respectable lower-middle-class family connected with turkey farming. Certainly find the family in the telephone book. Can't give you any description, but she's just been spending several weeks in' Switzerland. Got back the last week in November. Don't be ridiculous! Of course you can manage it. And when you find her, take her into custody for importing Fowl Pest into the country. Yes, that's right.' M spelt it out. “The stuff that's been killing all our turkeys.' M muttered 'Thank God!' away from the receiver. 'No, I didn't say anything. Now, be kind to the girl. She didn't know what she was doing. And tell the parents it'll be all right. If you need a formal charge, you'll have to get one out of Franklin. Then tell Franklin when you've got her and he'll come down and ask her one or two simple questions. When he's got the answers, you can let her go. Right? But we've got to find that girl. You'll see why all right when you've read the report. Now then, next assignment. There are ten girls of much the same type as this Polly Tasker who'll probably be flying from Zurich to England and Eire any day from tomorrow on. Each one has got to be held by the Customs at the port or airport of entry. 007 has a list of their names and fairly good descriptions. My people ”in Zurich may or may not be able to give us warning of their arrival. Is that all right? Yes, 007 will bring the .list to Scotland Yard this evening. No, I can't tell you what it's all about. Too long a story. But have you ever heard of Biological Warfare? That's right. Anthrax and so on. Well, this is it. Yes. Blofeld again. I know. That's what I'm just going to talk to 007 about. Well now, Vallance, have you got all that? Fine.' M listened. He smiled grimly. 'And a Happy Christmas to you.'

He put the receiver back and the scrambler button automatically clicked to OFF. He looked across at Bond. He said, with a hint of weariness, 'Well, that's taken care of this end. Vallance said it was about time we had this fellow Blofeld in the bag. I agree. And that's our job. And I don't for a moment think we're going to get any help from the Swiss. Even if we were to, they'd trample all over the case with their big boots for weeks before we saw any action. By that time the man would be in Peking or somewhere, cooking up something else.1 M looked straight at Bond. 'Any ideas?'

It had come, as Bond knew it would. He took a deep pull at his whisky and put the glass carefully down. He began talking, urgently, persuasively. As he expounded his plan, M's face sank deeper and deeper in gloom, and, when Bond concluded with 'And that's the only way I can see, sir. All I need is two weeks' leave of absence. I could put in a letter of resignation if it would help,' M turned in his chair and gazed deep into the dying flames of the log fire.

Bond sat quietly, waiting for the verdict. He hoped it would be yes, but he also hoped it would be no. That damned mountain! He never wanted to see the bloody thing again!

M turned back. The grey eyes were fierce. 'All right, 007. Go ahead. I can't go to the PM about it. He'd refuse. But for God's sake bring it off. I don't mind being sacked, but we don't want to get the Government mixed up in another U2 fiasco. Right?'

'I understand, sir. And I can have the two weeks 'leave?'

'Yes.'

23

Gauloises and Garlic

WITH THE Walther PPK in its leather holster warm against his stomach and his own name in his passport, James Bond looked out of the window at the English Channel sliding away beneath the belly of the Caravelle and felt more like his old, his pre-Sir Hilary Bray, self.

He glanced at the new Rolex on his wrist - the shops were still shut and he had had to blarney it out of Q Branch -and guessed they would be on time, 6 pm at Marseilles. It had been the hell of a rush to get off. He had worked until late in the night at HQ and all that morning, setting up the Identicast of Blofeld, checking details with Ronnie Vallance, fixing up the private, the Munich side of his life, chattering on the teleprinter to Station Z, even remembering to tell Mary Goodnight to get on to Sable Basilisk after the holiday and ask him to please do some kind of a job on the surnames of the ten girls and please to have the family tree of Ruby Windsor embellished with gold capitals.

At midnight he had called Tracy in Munich and heard her darling, excited voice. 'I've got the toothbrush, James,' she had said, 'and a pile of books. Tomorrow I'm going to go up the Zugspitze and sit in the sun so as to look pretty for you. Guess what I had for dinner tonight in my room! Rrebs-schwanze mit Dilltunke. That's crayfish tails with rice and a cream and dill sauce. And Rehrücken mit Sahne. That's saddle of roebuck with a smitane sauce. I bet it was better than what you had.'

'I had two ham sandwiches with stacks of mustard and half a pint of Harper's Bourbon on the rocks. The bourbon was better than the ham. Now listen, Tracy, and stop blowing down the telephone.'

'I was only sighing with love.'

'Well, you must have got a Force Five sigh. Now listen.

I'm posting my birth certificate to you tomorrow with a covering letter to the British Consul saying I want to get married to you as soon as possible. Look, you're going up to Force Ten! For God's sake pay attention. It'll take a few days, I'm afraid. They have to post the banns or something. He'll tell you all about it. Now, you must quickly get your birth certificate and give it to him, too. Oh, you have, have you?' Bond laughed.' So much the better. Then we're all set. I've got three days or so of work to do and I'm going down to see your father tomorrow and ask for your hand, both of them, and the feet and all the rest, in marriage. No, you're to stay where you are. This is men's talk. Will he be awake? I'm going to ring him up now. Good. Well, now you go off to sleep or you'll be too tired to say “ Yes ” when the time comes.'

They had not wanted to let go of each other's voices, but finally the last good-night, the last kiss, had been exchanged, and Bond called the Marseilles number of Appareils FJec-triques Draco, and Marc-Ange's voice, almost as excited as Tracy's, was on the line. Bond dampened down the raptures about the 'fiancailles' and said, 'Now listen, Marc-Ange. I want you to give me a wedding present.'

'Anything, my dear James. Anything I possess.' He laughed. 'And perhaps certain things of which I could take possession. What is it you would like?'

'I'll tell you tomorrow evening. I'm booked on the afternoon Air France to Marseilles. Will you have someone meet me? And it's business, I'm afraid. So could you have your other directors present for a little meeting? We shall need all our brains. It is about our sales organization in Switzerland. Something drastic needs to be done about it.'

'Aha!' There was full understanding in the voice. 'Yes, it is indeed a bad spot on our sales map. I will certainly have my colleagues available. And I assure you, my dear James, that anything that can be done will be done. And of course you will be met. I shall perhaps not be there in person - it is very cold out these winter evenings. But I shall see that you are properly looked after. Goodnight, my dear fellow. Goodnight.'

The line bad gone dead. The old fox! Had he thought Bond might commit an indiscretion, or had he got fitted to his telephone a 'bug-meter', the delicate instrument that measures the resonance on the line and warns of listening-in?

The winter sun spread a last orange glow over the thick overcast 10,000 feet below the softly whistling plane and switched itself off for the night.

Bond dozed, reflecting that he must somehow, and pretty soon, find a way of catching up on his sleep.

* * *

There was a stage-type Marseilles taxi-driver to meet Bond - the archetype of all Mariuses, with the face of a pirate and the razor-sharp badinage of the lower French music-halls. He was apparently known and enjoyed by everyone at the airport, and Bond was whisked through the formalities in a barrage of wisecracks about 'le milord anglais9, which made Marius, for his name turned out in fact to be Marius, the centre of attraction and Bond merely his butt, the dim-witted English tourist. But, once in the taxi, Marius made curt, friendly apologies over his shoulder. 'I ask your pardon for my bad manners.' His French had suddenly purified itself of all patois. It also smelt like acetylene gas.' I was told to extract you from the airport with the least possible limelight directed upon you. I know all those “flics” and douaniers. They all know me. If I had not been myself, the cab-driver they know as Marius, if I had shown deference, eyes, inquisitive eyes, would have been upon you, mon Commandant. I did what I thought best You forgive me?'

'Of course I do, Marius. But you shouldn't have been so funny. You nearly made me laugh. That would have been fatal.'

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