'You understand our talk here?'

'Enough of it.'

'So!' There was a pause. Then Marius said, 'Alas, since Waterloo, one can never underestimate the English.'

Bond said, seriously, 'The same date applied to the French. It was a near thing.' This was getting too gallant. Bond said,

'Now tell me, is the bouillabaisse chez Guido always as good?'

'It is passable,' said Marius. 'But this is a dish that is dead, gone. There is no more true bouillabaisse, because there is no more fish in the Mediterranean. For the bouillabaisse, you must have the rascasse, the tender flesh of the scorpion fish. Today they just use hunks of morue. The saffron and the garlic, they are always the same. But you could eat pieces of a woman soaked in those and it would be good. Go to any of the little places down by the harbour. Eat the plat du jour and drink the vin du Cassis that they give you. It will fill your stomach as well as it fills the fishermen's. The toilette will be filthy. What does that matter? You are a man. You can walk up the Canebiere and do it at the Noailles for nothing after lunch.'

They were now weaving expertly through the traffic down the famous Canebiere and Marius needed all his breath to insult the other drivers. Bond could smell the sea. The accordions were playing in the cafes. He remembered old times in this most criminal and tough of all French towns. He reflected that it was rather fun, this time, being on the side of the devil.

At the bottom of the Canebiere, where it crosses the Rue de Rome, Marius turned right and then left into the Rue St Ferreol, only a long stone's throw from the Qua! des Beiges and the Vieux Port. The lights from the harbour's entrance briefly winked at them and then the taxi drew up at a hideous, but very new apartment house with a broad vitrine on the ground floor, which announced in furious neon 'Appareils Electriques Draco'. The well-lit interior of the store contained what you would expect - television sets, radios, gramophones, electric irons, fans, and so forth. Marius very quickly carried Bond's suitcase across the pavement and through the swing doors beside the vitrine. The close-carpeted hallway was more luxurious than Bond had expected. A man came out of the porter's lodge beside the lift and wordlessly took the suitcase. Marius turned to Bond, gave him a smile and a wink and a bone-crushing hand shake, said curtly, 'A la prochaine,' and hurried out. The porter stood beside the open door of the lift. Bond noticed the bulge under his right arm and, out of curiosity, brushed against the man as he entered the lift. Yes, and something big too, a real stopper. The man gave Bond a bored look, as much as to say, 'Clever? Eh?' and pressed the top button. The porter's twin, or very nearly his twin - dark, chunky, brown-eyed, fit - was waiting at the top floor. He took Bond's suitcase and led the way down a corridor, close-carpeted and with wall brackets in good taste. He opened a door. It was an extremely comfortable bedroom with a bathroom leading off. Bond imagined that the big picture window, now curtained, would have a superb view of the harbour. The man put down his suitcase and said, 'Monsieur Draco est immddiatement a votre disposition.'

Bond thought it time to make some show of independence. He said firmly, 'Un moment, je vous en prie,' and went into the bathroom and cleaned himself up - amused to notice that the soap was that most English of soaps, Pears Transparent, and that there was a bottle of Mr Trumper's 'Eucris' beside the very masculine brush and comb by Kent. Marc-Ange was indeed making his English guest feel at home!

Bond took his time, then went out and followed the man to the end door. The man opened it without knocking and closed it behind Bond. Marc-Ange, his creased walnut face split by his great golden-toothed smile, got up from his desk (Bond was getting tired of desks!), trotted across the broad room, threw his arms round Bond's neck and kissed him squarely on both cheeks. Bond suppressed his recoil and gave a reassuring pat to Marc-Ange's broad back. Marc-Ange stood away and laughed. 'All right! I swear never to do it again. It is once and for ever. Yes? But it had to come out - from the Latin temperament, isn't it? You forgive me? Good. Then come and take a drink' - he waved at a loaded sideboard - 'and sit down and tell me what I can do for you. I swear not to talk about Teresa until you have finished with your business. But tell me' - the brown eyes pleaded - 'it is all right between you? You have not changed your mind?'

Bond smiled. 'Of course not, Marc-Ange. And everything is arranged. We will be married within the week. At the Consulate in Munich. I have two weeks' leave. I thought we might spend the honeymoon in Kitzbühel. I love that place. So does she. You will come to the wedding?'

'Come to the wedding!' Marc-Ange exploded. 'You will have a time keeping me away from Kitzbuhel. Now then' -he waved at the sideboard -'take your drink while I compose myself. I must stop being happy and be clever instead. My two best men, my organizers if you like, are waiting. I wanted to have you for a moment to myself.'

Bond poured himself a stiff Jack Daniel's sourmash bourbon on the rocks and added some water. He walked over to the desk and took the right-hand of the three chairs that had been arranged in a semicircle facing the 'Capu'. 'I wanted that too, Marc-Ange. Because there are some things I must tell you which affect my country. I have been granted leave to tell them to you, but they must remain, as you put it, behind the Herkos Odonton - behind the hedge of your teeth. Is that all right?'

Marc-Ange lifted his right hand and crossed his heart, slowly, deliberately, with his forefinger. His face was now deadly serious, almost cruelly implacable. He leaned forward and rested his forearms on the desk. 'Continue.'

Bond told him the whole story, not even omitting his passage with Ruby. He had developed much love, and total respect, for this man. He couldn't say why. It was partly animal magnetism and partly that Marc-Ange had so opened his heart to Bond, so completely trusted him with his own innermost secrets.

Marc-Ange's face remained impassive throughout. Only his quick, animal eyes nickered continually across Bond's face. When Bond had finished, Marc-Ange sat back. He reached for a blue packet of Gauloises, fixed one in the corner of his mouth and talked through the blue clouds of smoke that puffed continuously out through his lips, as if somewhere inside him there was a small steam-engine. 'Yes, it is indeed a dirty business. It must be finished with, destroyed, and the man too. My dear James' - the voice was sombre - 'I am a criminal, a great criminal. I run houses, chains of prostitutes, I smuggle, I sell protection, whenever I can, I steal from the very rich. I break many laws and I have often had to kill in the process. Perhaps one day, perhaps very soon, I shall reform. But it is difficult to step down from being Capu of the Union. Without the protection of my men, my life would not be worth much. However, we shall see. But this Blofeld, he is too bad, too disgusting. You have come to ask the Union to make war on him, to destroy him. You need not answer. I know it is so. This is something that cannot be done officially. Your Chief is correct. You would get nowhere with the Swiss. You wish me and my men to do the job.' He smiled suddenly. 'That is the wedding present you talked of. Yes?'

'That's right, Marc-Ange. But I'll do my bit. I'll be there too. I want this man for myself.'

Marc-Ange looked at him thoughtfully. 'That I do not like. And you know why I do not like it.' He said mildly, 'You are a bloody fool, James. You are already lucky to be alive.' He shrugged. 'But I am wasting my breath. You started on a long road after this man. And you want to come to the end of it. Is that right?'

'That's right. I don't want someone else to shoot my fox.'

'OK, OK. We bring in the others, yes? They will not need to know the reason why. My orders are my orders. But we all need to know how we are to bring this about. I have some ideas. I think it can be done and swiftly done. But it must also be well done, cleanly done. There must be no untidiness about this thing.'

Marc-Ange picked up his telephone and spoke into it. A minute later the door opened and two men came in and, with hardly a glance at Bond, took the other two chairs.

Marc-Ange nodded at the one next to Bond, a great ox of a man with the splayed ears and broken nose of a boxer or wrestler. 'This is Che-Che - Che-Che le Persuadeur. And' - Marc-Ange smiled grimly - 'he is very adept at persuading.'

Bond got a glimpse of two hard yellow-brown eyes that looked at him quickly, reluctantly, and then went back to the Capu. 'Plaisir.'

'And this is Toussaint, otherwise known as “Le Pouff”. He is our expert with le plastique. We shall need plenty of plastique.'

'We shall indeed,' said Bond, 'with pretty quick time-pencils.'

Toussaint leaned forward to show himself. He was thin and grey-skinned, with an almost fine Phoenician profile pitted with smallpox. Bond guessed that he was on heroin, but not as a mainliner. He gave Bond a brief, conspiratorial smile. 'Plaisir.' He sat back.

'And this' - Marc-Ange gestured at Bond - 'is my friend. My absolute friend. He is simply “Le Commandant”. And now to business.' He had been speaking in French, but he now broke into rapid Corsican which, apart from a few Italian and French roots, was incomprehensible to Bond. At one period he drew a large-scale map of Switzerland out of a drawer of his desk, spread it out, searched with his finger, and pointed to a spot in the centre of the Engadine. The two men craned forward, examined the map carefully and then sat back. Che-Che said something which contained the word Strasbourg and Marc-Ange nodded enthusiastically. He turned to Bond and handed him a large sheet of paper and a pencil. 'Be a good chap and get to work on this, would you? A map of the Gloria buildings, with approximate sizes and distances from each other. Later we will do a complete maquette in plasticine so that there is no confusion. Every man will have his job to do' - he smiled - 'like the commandos in the war. Yes?'

Bond bent to his task while the others talked. The telephone rang. Marc-Ange picked it up. He jotted down a few words and rang off. He turned to Bond, his eyes momentarily suspicious. 'It is a telegram for me from London signed Universal. It says, “The birds have assembled in the town and all fly tomorrow.” What is this, my friend?'

Bond kicked himself for his forgetfulness. 'I'm sorry,

Marc-Ange. I meant to tell you you might get a signal like that. It means that the girls are in Zurich and are flying to England tomorrow. It is very good news. It was important to have them out of the way.'

'Ah, good! Very good indeed! That is fine news. And you were quite right not to have the telegram addressed to you. You are not supposed to be here or to know me at all. It is better so.' He fired some more Corsican at the two men. They nodded their understanding.

After that, the meeting soon broke up. Marc-Ange examined Bond's handiwork and passed it over to Toussaint. The man glanced at the sketch and folded it as if it were a valuable share-certificate. With short bows in Bond's direction, the two men left the room.

Marc-Ange sat back with a sigh of satisfaction. 'It goes well,' he said. 'The whole team will receive good danger money. And they love a good rough fight. And they are pleased that I am coming to lead them.' He laughed slyly. 'They are less certain of you, my dear James. They say you will get in the way. I had to tell them that you could out-shoot and outfight the lot of them. When I say something like that, they have to believe me. I have never let them down yet. I hope I am right?'

'Please don't try me,' said Bond. 'I've never taken on a Corsican and I don't want to start now.1

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