Bond went back to the table. The croupier was marshalling the six packs into the oblong block that would soon be slipped into the waiting shoe. Since Bond was beside him, the croupier offered him the neutral, plain red card to cut the pack with. Bond rubbed the card between his fingers and, with amused deliberation, slipped it as nearly half-way down the block of cards as he could estimate. The croupier smiled at him and at his deliberation, went through the legerdemain that would in due course bring the red stop card into the tongue of the shoe and stop the game just seven cards before the end of the shoe, packed the long block of cards into the shoe, slid in the metal tongue that held them prisoner and announced, loud and clear: 'Messieurs [the 'mesdames' are traditionally not mentioned; since Victorian days it has been assumed that ladies do not gamble], les jeux sont fails. Numero six a la main.' The Chef de Jeu, on his throne behind the croupier, took up the cry, the huissiers shepherded distant stragglers back to their places, and the game began again.

James Bond confidently bancoed the Lille tycoon on his left, won, made up the cagnotte with a few small counters, and doubled the stake to two thousand New Francs - two hundred thousand of the old.

He won that, and the next. Now for the hurdle of the third coup and he was off to the races! He won it with a natural nine! Eight hundred thousand in the bank (as Bond reckoned it)! Again he won, with difficulty this time - his six against a five. Then he decided to play it safe and pile up some capital. Of the one million six, he asked for the six hundred to be put 'en garage', removed from the stake, leaving a bank of one million. Again he won. Now he put a million 'en garage'. Once more a bank of a million, and now he would have a fat cushion of one million six coming to him anyway! But it was getting difficult to make up his stake. The table was becoming wary of this dark Englishman who played so quietly, wary of the half-smile of certitude on his rather cruel mouth. Who was he? Where did he come from? What did he do? There was a murmur of excited speculation round the table. So far a run of six. Would the Englishman pocket his small fortune and pass the bank? Or would he continue to run it? Surely the cards must change! But James Bond's mind was made up. The cards have no memory in defeat. They also have no memory in victory. He ran the bank three more times, adding each time a million to his 'garage', and then the little old English lady, who had so far left the running to the others, stepped in and bancoed him at the tenth turn, and Bond smiled across at her, knowing that she was going to win. And she did, ignominiously, with a one against Bond's 'buche' - three kings, making zero.

There was a sigh of relief round the table. The spell had been broken! And a whisper of envy as the heavy, mother-of-pearl plaques piled nearly a foot high, four million, six hundred thousand francs' worth, well over three thousand pounds, were shunted across to Bond with the flat of the croupier's spatula. Bond tossed a plaque for a hundred New Francs to the croupier, received the traditional 'Merci, monsieur! Pour le personnel!' and the game went on.

James Bond lit a cigarette and paid little attention as the shoe went shunting round the table away from him. He had made a packet, dammit! A bloody packet! Now he must be careful. Sit on it. But not too careful, not sit on all of it! This was a glorious evening. It was barely past midnight. He didn't want to go home yet. So be it! He would run his bank when it came to him, but do no bancoing of the others -absolutely none. The cards had got hot. His run had shown that. There would be other runs now, and he could easily burn his fingers chasing them.

Bond was right. When the shoe got to Number Five, to one of the Lille tycoons two places to the left of Bond, an ill-mannered, loud-mouthed player who smoked a cigar out of an amber-and-gold holder and who tore at the cards with heavily manicured, sparulate fingers and slapped them down like a German tarot player, he quickly got through the third coup and was off. Bond, in accordance with his plan, left him severely alone and now, at the sixth coup, the bank stood at twenty thousand New Francs - twenty million of the old, and the table had got wary again. Everyone was sitting on his money.

The croupier and the Chef de Jeu made their loud calls, 'Un banco de vingt mille! Faites vos jeux, messieurs. II reste a completed Un banco de vingt mille!'

And then there she was! She had come from nowhere and was standing beside the croupier, and Bond had no time to take in more than golden arms, a beautiful golden face with brilliant blue eyes and shocking pink lips, some kind of a plain white dress, a bell of golden hair down to her shoulders, and then it came. 'Banco!'

Everyone looked at her and there was a moment's silence. And then 'Le banco est fait' from the croupier, and the monster from Lille (as Bond now saw him) was tearing the cards out of the shoe, and hers were on their way over to her on the croupier's spatula.

She bent down and there was a moment of discreet cleavage in the white V of her neckline.

'Une carte.'

Bond's heart sank. She certainly hadn't anything better than a five. The monster turned his up. Seven. And now he scrabbled out a card for her and flicked it contemptuously across. A simpering queen!

The croupier delicately faced her other two cards with the tip of his spatula. A four! She had lost!

Bond groaned inwardly and looked across to see how she had taken it.

What he saw was not reassuring. The girl was whispering urgently to the Chef de Jeu. He was shaking his head, sweat was beading on his cheeks. In the silence that had fallen round the table, the silence that licks its lips at the strong smell of scandal, which was now electric in the air, Bond heard the Chef de Jeu say firmly, 'Mais c'est impossible. Je regrette, madame. II faut vous arranger a la caisse.'

And now that most awful of all whispers in a casino was running among the watchers and the players like a slithering reptile: 'Le coup du deshonneur! C'est le coup du dfehon-neur! Quelle honte! Quelle honte!'

Oh, my God! thought Bond. She's done it! She hasn't got the money! And for some reason she can't get any credit at the caisse!

The monster from Lille was making the most of the situation. He knew that the casino would pay in the case of a default. He sat back with lowered eyes, puffing at his cigar, the injured party.

But Bond knew of the stigma the girl would carry for the rest of her life. The Casinos of France are a strong trade union. They have to be. Tomorrow the telegrams would go out: 'Madame la Contesse Teresa di Vicenzo, passport number X, is to be put on the black list.' That would be the end of her casino life in France, in Italy, probably also in Germany, Egypt and, today, England. It was like being declared a bad risk at Lloyd's or with the City security firm of Dun and Bradstreet. In American gambling circles, she might even have been liquidated. In Europe, for her, the fate would be almost as severe. In the circles in which, presumably, she moved, she would be bad news, unclean. The 'coup du ddshonneur' simply wasn't done. It was social ostracism.

Not caring about the social ostracism, thinking only about the wonderful girl who had outdriven him, shown him her tail, between Abbeville and Montreuil, James Bond leant slightly forward. He tossed two of the precious pearly plaques into the centre of the table. He said, with a slightly bored, slightly puzzled intonation, 'Forgive me. Madame has forgotten that we agreed to play in partnership this evening.' And, not looking at the girl, but speaking with authority to the Chef de Jeu,' I beg your pardon. My mind was elsewhere. Let the game continue.'

The tension round the table relaxed. Or rather it changed to another target, away from the girl. Was it true what this Englishman had said? But it must be! One does not pay twenty million francs for a girl. But previously there had been no relationship between them - so far as one could see. They had been at opposite sides of the table. No signs of complicity had been exchanged. And the girl? She had shown no emotion. She had looked at the man, once, with directness. Then she had quietly moved away from the table, towards the bar. There was certainly something odd here - something one did not understand. But the game was proceeding. The Chef de Jeu had surreptitiously wiped a handkerchief across his face. The croupier had raised his head, which, previously, had seemed to be bowed under some kind of emotional guillotine. And now the old pattern had re-established itself. 'La partie continue. Un banco de quarante mule!'

James Bond glanced down at the still formidable pile of counters between his curved, relaxed arms. It would be nice to get that twenty million francs back. It might be hours before a banco of equal size offered the chance. After all, he was playing with the casino's money! His profits represented 'found' money and, if he lost, he could still go away with a small profit - enough and to spare to pay for his night at Royale. And he had taken a dislike to the monster from Lille. It would be amusing to reverse the old fable - first to rescue the girl, then to slay the monster. And it was time for the man's run of luck to end. After all, the cards have no memory!

James Bond had not enough funds to take the whole banco, only half of it, what is known as 'avec la table', meaning that the other players could make up the remaining half if they wanted to. Bond, forgetting the conservative strategy he had sworn himself to only half an hour before, leant slightly forward and said, 'Avec la table,' and pushed twenty thousand New Francs over the line.

Money followed his on to the table. Was this not the Englishman with the green fingers? And Bond was pleased to note that the little old Agatha Christie Englishwoman supported him with ten thousand. That was a good omen! He looked at the banker, the man from Lille. His cigar had gone out in its holder and his lips, where they gripped the holder, were white. He was sweating profusely. He was debating whether to pass the hand and take his fat profits or have one more go. The sharp, pig-like eyes darted round the table, estimating if his four million was covered.

The croupier wanted to hurry the play. He said firmly, 'C'est plus que fait, monsieur.'

The man from Lille made up his mind. He gave the shoe a fat slap, wiped his hand on the baize and forced out a card. Then one for himself, another for Bond, the fourth for him, Bond did not reach across Number Six for the cards. He waited for them to be nudged towards him by the croupier. He raised them just off the table, slid them far enough apart between his hands to see the count, edged them together again and laid them softly face down again on the table. He had a five! That dubious jade on which one can either draw or not! The chances of improving your hand towards or away from a nine are equal. He said 'Non,' quietly, and looked across at the two anonymous pink backs of the cards in front of the banker. The man tore them up, disgustedly tossed them out on to the table. Two knaves. A 'buche'! Zero!

Now there were only four cards that could beat Bond and only one, the five, that could equal him. Bond's heart thumped. The man scrabbled at the shoe, snatched out the card, faced it. A nine, the nine of diamonds! The curse of Scotland! The best!

It was a mere formality to turn over and reveal Bond's miserable five. But there was a groan round the table.'ll fallait tirer,' said someone. But if he had, Bond would have drawn the nine and disimproved down to a four. It all depended on what the next card, its pink tongue now hiding its secret in the mouth of the shoe, might have been. Bond didn't wait to see. He smiled a thin, rueful smile round the table to apologize to his fellow losers, shovelled the rest of his chips into his coat pocket, tipped the huissier who had been so busy emptying his ash-tray over the hours of play, and slipped away from the table towards the bar, while the croupier triumphantly announced, 'Un banco de quatre-vingt mille francs! Faites vos jeux, messieurs! Un banco de quatre-vingt mille Nouveaux Francs.' To hell with it! thought Bond. Half an hour before he had had a small fortune in his pocket. Now, through a mixture of romantic quixotry and sheer folly he had lost it all. Well, he shrugged, he had asked for a night to remember. That was the first half of it. What would be the second?

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