There was silence in the little metal room. Bond thought of the girl a few yards away down the corridor. Yes. He had been near the truth. He had seen some of this tragic story in the calm desperation of the girl. She had indeed come to the end of the road!
Marc-Ange got slowly up from his chair and came round and poured out more whisky for himself and for Bond. He said, 'Forgive me. I am a poor host. But the telling of this story, which I have always kept locked up inside me, to another man, has been a great relief.' He put a hand on Bond's shoulder. 'You understand that?'
'Yes. I understand that. But she is a fine girl. She still has nearly all her life to live. Have you thought of psychoanalysis? Of her church? Is she a Catholic?'
'No. Her mother would not have it. She is Presbyterian. But wait while I finish the story.' He went back to his chair and sat down heavily. 'After the tragedy, she disappeared. She took her jewels and went off in that little car of hers, and I heard occasional news of her, selling the jewels and living furiously all over Europe, with her old set. Naturally I followed her, had her watched when I could, but she avoided all my attempts to meet her and talk to her. Then I heard from one of my agents that she had reserved a room here, at the Splendide, for last night, and I hurried down from Paris' -he waved a hand - 'in this, because I had a presentiment of tragedy. You see, this was where we had spent the summers in her childhood and she had always loved it. She is a wonderful swimmer and she was almost literally in love with the sea. And, when I got the news, I suddenly had a dreadful memory, the memory of a day when she had been naughty and had been locked in her room all afternoon instead of going bathing. That night she had said to her mother, quite calmly, “You made me very unhappy keeping me away from the sea. One day, if I get really unhappy I shall swim out into the sea, down the path of the moon or the sun, and go on swimming until I sink. So there!” Her mother told me the story and we laughed over it together, at the childish tantrum. But now I suddenly remembered again the occasion and it seemed to me that the childish fantasy might well have stayed with her, locked away deep down, and that now, wanting to put an end to herself, she had resurrected it and was going to act on it. And so, my dear friend, I had her closely watched from the moment she arrived. Your gentlemanly conduct in the casino, for which' - he looked across at Bond - 'I now deeply thank you, was reported to me, as of course were your later movements together.' He held up his hand as Bond shifted with embarrassment. 'There is nothing to be ashamed of, to apologize for, in what you did kst night. A man is a man and, who knows? - but I shall come to that later. What you did, the way you behaved in general, may have been the beginning of some kind of therapy.'
Bond remembered how, in the Bombard, she had yielded when he leaned against her. It had been a tiny reaction, but it had held more affection, more warmth, than all the physical ecstasies of the night. Now, suddenly he had an inkling of why he might be here, where the root of the mystery lay, and he gave an involuntary shudder, as if someone had walked over his grave.
Marc-Ange continued, 'So I put in my inquiry to my friend from the Deuxieme, at six o'clock this morning. At eight o'clock he went to his office and to the central files and by nine o'clock he had reported to me fully about you - by radio. I have a high-powered station in this vehicle.' He smiled. 'And that is another of my secrets that I deliver into your hands. The report, if I may say so, was entirely to your credit, both as an officer in your Service, and, more important, as a man - a man, that is, in the terms that I understand the word. So I reflected. I reflected all through this morning. And, in the end, I gave orders that you were both to be brought to me here.' He made a throw-away gesture with his right hand. 'I need not tell you the details of my instructions. You yourself saw them in operation. You have been inconvenienced. I apologize. You have perhaps thought yourself in danger. Forgive me. I only trust that my men behaved with correctness, with finesse.'
Bond smiled. 'I am very glad to have met you. If the introduction had to be effected at the point of two automatics, that will only make it all the more memorable. The whole affair was certainly executed with neatness and expedition.'
Marc-Ange's expression was rueful. 'Now you are being sarcastic. But believe me, my friend, drastic measures were necessary. I knew they were.' He reached to the top drawer of his desk, took out a sheet of writing-paper and passed it over to Bond. 'And now, if you read that, you will agree with me. That letter was handed in to the concierge of the Splendide at 4.30 this afternoon for posting to me in Marseilles, when Teresa went out and you followed her. You suspected something? You also feared for her? Read it, please.'
Bond took the letter. He said, 'Yes. I was worried about her. She is a girl worth worrying about.' He held up the letter. It contained only a few words, written clearly, with decision.
I am sorry, but I have had enough. It is only sad because tonight I met a man who might have changed my mind. He is an Englishman called James Bond. Please find him and pay him 20,000 New Francs which I owe him. And thank him from me.
This is nobody's fault but my own.
Goodbye and forgive me.
Bond didn't look at the man who had received this letter. He slid it back to him across the desk. He took a deep drink of the whisky and reached for the bottle. He said, 'Yes, I see.'
'She likes to call herself Tracy. She thinks Teresa sounds too grand.'
'Commander Bond.' There was now a terrible urgency in the man's voice - urgency, authority and appeal. 'My friend, you have heard the whole story and now you have seen the evidence. Will you help me? Will you help me save this girl? It is my only chance, that you will give her hope. That you will give her a reason to live. Will you?'
Bond kept his eyes on the desk in front of him. He dared not look up and see the expression on this man's face. So he had been right, right to fear that he was going to become involved in all this private trouble! He cursed under his breath. The idea appalled him. He was no Good Samaritan. He was no doctor for wounded birds. What she needed, he said fiercely to himself, was the psychiatrist's couch. All right, so she had taken a passing fancy to him and he to her. Now he was going to be asked, he knew it, to pick her up and carry her perhaps for the rest of his life, haunted by the knowledge, the unspoken blackmail, that, if he dropped her, it would almost certainly be to kill her. He said glumly, 'I do not see that I can help. What is it you have in mind?' He picked up his glass and looked into it. He drank, to give him courage to look across the desk into Marc-Ange's face.
The man's soft brown eyes glittered with tension. The creased dark skin round the mouth had sunk into deeper folds. He said, holding Bond's eyes, 'I wish you to pay court to my daughter and marry her. On the day of the marriage, I will give you a personal dowry of one million pounds in gold.'
James Bond exploded angrily. 'What you ask is utterly impossible. The girl is sick. What she needs is a psychiatrist Not me. And I do not want to marry, not anyone. Nor do I want a million pounds. I have enough money for my needs. I have my profession.' (Is that true? What about that letter of resignation? Bond ignored the private voice.) 'You must understand all this.' Suddenly he could not bear the hurt in the man's face. He said, softly, 'She is a wonderful girl. I will do all I can for her. But only when she is well again. Then I would certainly like to see her again - very much. But, if she thinks so well of me, if you do, then she must first get well of her own accord. That is the only way. Any doctor would tell you so. She must go to some clinic, the best there is, in Switzerland probably, and bury her past. She must want to live again. Then, only then, would there be any point in our meeting again.' He pleaded with Marc-Ange. 'You do understand, don't you, Marc-Ange? I am a ruthless man. I admit it. And I have not got the patience to act as anyone's nurse, man or woman. Your idea of a cure might only drive her into deeper despair. You must see that I cannot take the responsibility, however much I am attracted by your daughter.' Bond ended lamely, 'Which I am.'
The man said resignedly, 'I understand you, my friend. And I will not importune you with further arguments. I will try and act in the way you suggest. But will you please do one further favour for me? It is now nine o'clock. Will you please take her out to dinner tonight? Talk to her as you please, but show her that she is wanted, that you have affection for her. Her car is here and her clothes. I have had them brought. If only you can persuade her that you would like to see her again, I think I may be able to do the rest. Will you do this forme?'
Bond thought, God, what an evening! But he smiled with all the warmth he could summon. 'But of course. I would love to do that. But I am booked on the first morning night from Le Touquet tomorrow morning. Will you be responsible for her from then?'
'Certainly, my friend. Of course I will do that.' Marc-Ange brusquely wiped a hand across his eyes. 'Forgive me. But you have given me hope at the end of a long night.' He straightened his shoulders and suddenly leaned across the desk and put his hands decisively down.' I will not thank you. I cannot, but tell me, my dear friend, is there anything in this world that I can do for you, now at this moment? I have great resources, great knowledge, great power. They are all yours. Is there nothing I can do for you?'
Bond had a flash of inspiration. He smiled broadly. 'There is a piece of information I want. There is a man called Blofeld, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. You will have heard of him. I wish to know if he is alive and where he is to be found.'
Marc-Ange's face underwent a remarkable change. Now the bandit, cold, cruel, avenging, looked out through the eyes that had suddenly gone as hard as brown opals. 'Aha!' he said thoughtfully: 'The Blofeld. Yes, he is certainly alive. Only recently he suborned three of my men, bribed them away from the Union. He has done this to me before. Three of the members of the old SPECTRE were taken from the Union. Come, let us find out what we can.'
There was a single black telephone on the desk. He picked up the receiver and at once Bond heard the soft crackle of the operator responding. 'Dammi u commandu.' Marc-Ange put the receiver back. 'I have asked for my local headquarters in Ajaccio. We will have them in five minutes. But I must speak fast. The police may know my frequency, though I change it every week. But the Corsican dialect helps.' The telephone burred. When Marc-Ange picked up the receiver, Bond could hear the zing and crackle he knew so well. Marc-Ange spoke, in a voice of rasping authority. 'Ecco u Capu. Avette nuttizie di Blofeld, Ernst Stavro? Duve sta?' A voice crackled thinly. 'Site sigura? Ma no ezzatu indirizzu?' More crackle. 'Buon. Sara tutto.'
Marc-Ange put back the receiver. He spread his hands apologetically. 'All we know is that he is in Switzerland. We have no exact address for him. Will that help? Surely your men there can find him - if the Swiss Securite will help. But they are difficult brutes when it comes to the privacy of a resident, particularly if he is rich.'
Bond's pulse had quickened with triumph. Got you, you bastard! He said enthusiastically, 'That's wonderful, Marc-Ange. The rest shouldn't be difficult. We have good friends in Switzerland.'
Marc-Ange smiled happily at Bond's reaction. He said seriously, 'But if things go wrong for you, on this case or in any other way, you will come at onqe to me. Yes?' He pulled open a drawer and handed a sheet of notepaper over to Bond. 'This is my open address. Telephone or cable to me, but put your request or your news in terms that would be used in connexion with electrical appliances. A consignment of radios is faulty. You will meet my representative at such and such a place, on such and such a date. Yes? You understand these tricks, and anyway' - he smiled slyly - 'I believe you are connected with an international export firm. “Universal Export”, isn't it?'
P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com