But still The Big One had got away!

They got to the hotel at about three o'clock. There was a message for Tracy to call Marc-Ange at the Maison Rouge at Strasbourg. They went up to her room and got through. Tracy said, 'Here he is, Papa, and almost in one piece.' She handed the receiver to Bond.

Marc-Ange said, 'Did you get him?'

'No, damn it. He's in Italy now. At least I think he is. That was the way he went. How did vou get on? It looked fine from down below.'

'Satisfactory. All accounted for.'

'Gone?'

'Yes. Gone for good. There was no trace of your man from Zurich. I lost two. Our friend had left a surprise in his filing-cabinet. That accounted for Che-Che. Another one wasn't quick enough. That is all. The trip back was entertaining. I will give you the details tomorrow. I shall travel tonight in my sleeping-car. You know?'

'Yes. By the way, what about the girl friend, Irma?'

'There was no sign of her. Just as well. It would have been difficult to send her away like the others.'

'Yes. Well, thanks, Marc-Ange. And the news from England is also good. See you tomorrow.'

Bond put down the receiver. Tracy had discreetly retired to the bathroom and locked the door. She now called, 'Can I come out?'

'Two minutes, darling.' Bond got on to Station M. His call was expected. He arranged to visit the Head of Station, a man he knew slightly called Lieutenant-Commander Savage, in an hour's time. He released Tracy and they made plans for the evening, then he went along to his room.

His suitcase had been unpacked and there was a bowl of crocuses beside his bed. Bond smiled, picked up the bowl, and placed it firmly on the window-sill. Then he had a quick shower, complicated by having to keep his dressings dry, changed out of his stinking ski clothes into the warmer of the two dark-blue suits he had brought with him, sat down at the writing-desk, and jotted down the headings of what he would have to put on the teleprinter to M. Then he put on his dark-blue raincoat and went down into the street and along to the Odeons Platz.

(If he had not been thinking of other things, he might have noticed the woman on the other side of the street, a squat, toad-like figure in a frowsty dark-green Loden cloak, who gave a start of surprise when she saw him sauntering along, hustled across the street through the traffic, and got on his tail. She was expert at what she was doing, and, when he went into the newish apartment house on the Odeons Platz, she didn't go near the door to verify the address, but waited on the far side of the square until he came out. Then she tailed him back to the Vier Jahreszeiten, took a taxi back to her flat, and put in a long-distance call to the Metropole Hotel on Lake Como.)

Bond went up to his room. On the writing-desk an impressive array of dressings and medicaments had been laid out. He got on to Tracy and said, 'What the hell is this? Have you got a pass-key or something?'

She laughed. 'The maid on this floor has become a friend.

She understands people who are in love. Which is more than you do. What do you mean by moving those flowers?'

'They're lovely. I thought they looked prettier by the window and they will get some sun there. Now I'll make a deal. If you'll come along and change my dressings, I'll take you down and buy you a drink. Just one. And three for me. That's the right ratio between men and women. All right?'

'Wilco.' Her receiver went down.

It hurt like hell and Bond couldn't prevent the tears of pain from squeezing out of his eyes. She kissed them away. She looked pale at what she had seen. 'You're sure you oughtn't to see a doctor?"

'I'm just seeing one. You did it beautifully. What worries me is how we're going to make love. In the proper fashion, elbows are rather important for the man.'

'Then we'll do it in an improper fashion. But not tonight, or tomorrow. Only when we're married. Till then I am going to pretend I'm a virgin.' She looked at him seriously. 'I wish I was, James. I am in a way, you know. People can make love without loving.'

'Drinks,' said Bond firmly. 'We've got all the time in the world to talk about love.'

'You are a pig,' she said indignantly. 'We've got so much to talk about and all you think about is drink.'

Bond laughed. He put an arm gingerly round her neck and kissed her long and passionately. He broke away. 'There, that's just the beginning of my conversation. We'll go on with the duller bits in the bar. Then we'll have a wonderful dinner in Walterspiel's and talk about rings and whether we'll sleep in twin beds or one, and whether I've got enough sheets and pillows for two, and other exciting things to do with being married.'

And it was in that way that the evening passed and Bond's head reeled with all the practical feminine problems she raised, in high seriousness, but he was surprised to find that all this nest-building gave him a curious pleasure, a feeling that he had at last come to rest and that life would now be fuller, have more meaning, for having someone to share it with. Togetherness! What a curiously valid cliché it was!

* * *

The next day was occupied with hilarious meals with Marc-Ange, whose giant trailer had come during the night to take up most of the parking space behind the hotel, and with searching the antique shops for an engagement and a wedding ring. The latter was easy, the traditional plain gold band, but Tracy couldn't make up her mind about the engagement ring and finally dispatched Bond to find something he liked himself while she had her last fitting for her 'going-away' dress. Bond hired a taxi, and he and the taxi-man, who had been a Luftwaffe pilot during the war and was proud of it, tore round the town together until, at an antique shop near the Nymphenburg Palace, Bond found what he wanted - a baroque ring in white gold with two diamond hands clasped. It was graceful and simple and the taxi-man was also in favour, so the deal was done and the two men went off to celebrate at the Franziskaner Keller, where they ate mounds of Weisswurst and drank four steins of beer each and swore they wouldn't ever fight each other again. Then, happy with his last bachelor party, Bond returned tipsily to the hotel, avoided being embraced by the taxi-man, and went straight up to Tracy's room and put the ring on her finger.

She burst into tears, sobbing that it was the most beautiful ring in the world, but when he took her in his arms she began to giggle. 'Oh, James, you are bad. You stink like a pig of beer and sausages. Where have you been?'

When Bond told her, she laughed at the picture he painted of his last fling and then paraded happily up and down the room, making exaggeratedly gracious gestures with her hand to show off the ring and for the diamonds to catch the light. Then the telephone rang and it was Marc-Ange saying that he wanted to talk to Bond in the bar, and would Tracy kindly keep out of the way for half an hour?

Bond went down and, after careful consideration, decided that schnapps would go with his beer and ordered a double Steinhlger. Marc-Ange's face was serious. 'Now listen, James. We have not had a proper talk. It is very wrong. I am about to become your father-in-law and I insist. Many months ago, I made you a serious offer. You declined it. But now you have accepted it. What is the name of your bank?'

Bond said angrily, 'Shut up, Marc-Ange. If you think I'll accept a million pounds from you or from anyone else you're mistaken. I don't want my life to be ruined. Too much money is the worst curse you can lay on anyone's head. I have enough. Tracy has enough. It will be fun saving up to buy something we want but can't quite afford. That is the only kind of money to have - not quite enough.'

Marc-Ange said furiously, 'You have been drinking. You are drunk. You don't understand what you are saying. What I am giving you is only a fifth of my fortune. You understand? It means nothing to me. Tracy is used to having whatever she wants. I wish it to remain so. She is my only child. You cannot possibly keep her on a Civil Servant's pay. You have got to accept!'

'If you give me any money, I swear I will pass it on to charity. You want to give your money away to a dogs' home? All right. Go ahead!'

'But James' - Marc-Ange was now pleading - 'what will you accept from me? Then a trust fund for any children you may have. Yes?'

'Even worse. If we have children, I will not have this noose hung round their heads. I didn't have any money and I haven't needed it. I've loved winning money gambling because that is found money, money that comes out of the air like a great surprise. If I'd inherited money, I'd have gone the way of all those playboy friends of Tracy's you complained about so much. No, Marc-Ange.' Bond drained his Steinhager decisively. 'It's no good.'

Marc-Ange looked as if he would burst into tears. Bond relented. He said, 'It's very kind of you, Marc-Ange, and I appreciate it from the heart. I'll tell you what. If I swear to come to you if either of us ever needs help, will that do?

There may be illnesses and things. Perhaps it would be nice if we had a cottage in the country somewhere. We may need help if we have children. Now. How about that? Is it a bargain?'

Marc-Ange turned doubtful, dogs' eyes on Bond. 'You promise? You would not cheat me of helping you, adding to your happiness when you allow me to?'

Bond reached over and took Marc-Ange's right hand and pressed it. 'My word on it. Now come on, pull yourself together. Here comes Tracy. She'll think we've been having a fight.'

'So we have,' said Marc-Ange gloomily. 'And it is the first fight I have ever lost.'

27

All the Time in the World

'I DO.'

James Bond said the words at ten-thirty in the morning of a crystal-clear New Year's Day in the British Consul General's drawing-room.

And he meant them.

The Consul General had proved himself, as British Consuls so often do, to be a man of efficiency and a man with a heart. It was a holiday for him and, as he confessed, he should have been recovering from a New Year's Eve hangover. And he had shaved many days off the formal period of notice, but that, he explained, he had occasionally, and improperly, risked in his career if there were exceptional circumstances such as the imminent death of either party. 'You both look healthy enough,' he had said when they first visited him together, 'but that's a nasty cut on your head, Commander Bond, and the Countess is perhaps looking a little pale. And I have taken the precaution of obtaining special dispensation from the Foreign Secretary, which I may say, to my surprise, was immediately forthcoming. So let's make it New Year's Day. And come to my home. My wife is hopelessly sentimental about these occasional jobs I have to do, and I know she'd love to meet you both.'

The papers were signed, and Head of Station M, who had agreed to act as Bond's best man and who was secretly longing to write a sensational note to the head of his London Section about all this, produced a handful of confetti and threw most of it over Marc-Ange, who had turned up in a 'cylindre' and a full suit of very French tails with, surprisingly, two rows of medals of which the last, to Bond's astonishment, was the Fling's Medal for foreign resistance-fighters.

'I will tell you all about it one day, my dear James,' he had said in answer to Bond's admiring inquiry. 'It was tremendous fun. I had myself what the Americans call “a ball”. And' - his voice sank to a whisper and he put one finger along his brown, sensitive nose - 'I confess that I profited by the occasion to lay my hands on the secret funds of a certain section of the Abwehr, But Herkos Odonton, my dear James! Herkos Odonton! Medals are so often just the badges of good luck. If I am a hero, it is for things for which no medals are awarded. And' - he drew lines with his fingers across his chest -'there is hardly room on the breast of this “frac”, which, by the way, is by courtesy of the excellent Galeries Barbes in Marseilles, for all that I am due under that heading.'

P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com

***