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Bond picked up the top photostat. It showed the front and back of an addressed envelope, dusted for fingerprints, which were all over its surface.

M glanced sideways. "Smoke if you like.''

Bond said, "Thanks, sir. I'm trying to give it up.''

M said, "Humpf,'' put his pipe in his mouth, struck a match, and inhaled a deep lungful of smoke. He settled himself deeper in his chair. The gray sailor's eyes gazed through the window introspectively, seeing nothing.

The envelope, prefixed “PERSONAL AND MOST IMMEDIATE,'' was addressed to the Prime Minister, by name, at No. 10, Downing Street, Whitehall, London, sw1. Every detail of the address was correct down to the final ”P.C.'' to denote that the Prime Minister was a Privy Councillor. The punctuation was meticulous. The stamp was postmarked Brighton, 8:30 a.m. on June 3. It crossed Bond's mind that the letter might therefore have been posted under cover of night and that it would probably have been delivered some time in the early afternoon of the same day, yesterday. A typewriter with a bold, rather elegant type had been used. This fact, together with the generous 5-by-7 ½-inch envelope and the spacing and style of the address, gave a solid, businesslike impression. The back of the envelope showed nothing but fingerprints. There was no sealing wax.

The letter, equally correct and well laid out, ran as follows:

***

Mr Prime Minister,

You should be aware, or you will be if you communicate with the Chief of the Air Staff, that, since approximately 10 p.m. yesterday, 2nd June, a British aircraft carrying two atomic weapons is overdue on a training flight. The aircraft is Villiers Vindicator O/NBR from No. 5 R.A.F. Experimental Squadron based at Boscombe Down. The Ministry of Supply Identification Numbers on the atomic weapons are MOS/bd/654/Mk V. and MOS/ bd/655/Mk V. There are also U.S.A.F. Identification Numbers in such profusion and of such prolixity that I will not weary you with them.

This aircraft was on a NATO training flight with a crew or five and one observer. It carried sufficient fuel for ten hours' flying at 600 m.p.h. at a mean altitude of 40,000 feet.

This aircraft, together with the two atomic weapons, is now in the possession of this organization. The crew and the observer are deceased and you have our authority to inform the next-of-kin accordingly, thus assisting you in preserving, on the grounds that the aircraft has crashed, the degree of secrecy you will no doubt wish to maintain and which will be equally agreeable to ourselves. The whereabouts of this aircraft and of the two atomic weapons, rendering them possible of recovery, will be communicated to you in exchange for the equivalent of £100,000,000 in gold bullion, one thousand, or not less than nine hundred and ninety-nine, fine. Instructions for the delivery of the gold are contained in the attached memorandum. A further condition is that the recovery and disposal of the gold will not be hampered and that a free pardon, under your personal signature and that of the President of the United States, will be issued in the name of this organization and all its members.

Failure to accept these conditions within seven days from 5 p.m. G.M.T. on June 3rd, 1959---i.e. not later than 5 p.m. G.M.T. on June 10th, 1959---will have the following consequences. Immediately after that date a piece of property belonging to the Western Powers, valued at not less than the aforesaid £100,000,000, will be destroyed. There will be loss of life. If, within 48 hours after this warning, willingness to accept our terms is still not communicated, there will ensue, without further warning, the destruction of a major city situated in an undesignated country of the world. There will be very great loss of life. Moreover, between the two occurrences, this organization will reserve to itself the right to communicate to the world the 48-hour time limit. This measure, which will cause widespread panic in every major city, will be designed to hasten your hand.

This, Mr. Prime Minister, is a single and final communication. We shall await your reply, every hour on the hour G.M.T., on the 16-megacycle waveband.

Signed

S.P.E.C.T.R.E.

(The Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion)

***

James Bond read through the letter again and put it carefully down on the desk in front of him. He then turned to the second page, a detailed memorandum for the delivery of the gold. “Northwestern slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily . . . Decca Navigational Aid transmitting on ... Full moon period . . . between midnight and 0100 G.M.T . . . individual quarter-ton consignments packed in one-foot-thick foam rubber . . . minimum of three parachutes per consignment . . . nature of planes and flight schedule to be communicated on the 16-megacycle waveband not later than 24 hours before the operation . . . Any counter-measures initiated will be considered a breach of contract and will result in the detonation of Atomic Weapon No. 1 or No. 2 as the case may be.'' The typed signature was the same. Both pages had one last line: ”Copy to the President of the United States of America, by Registered Airmail, posted simultaneously.''

Bond laid the photostat quietly down on top of the others. He reached into his hip pocket for the gunmetal cigarette case that now contained only nine cigarettes, took one, and lit it, drawing the smoke deep down into his lungs and letting it out with a long, reflective hiss.

M swiveled his chair round so they were facing each other. "Well?''

Bond noticed that M's eyes, three weeks before so clear and vital, were now bloodshot and strained. No wonder! He said, "If this plane, and the weapons, really are missing, I think it stands up, sir. I think they mean it. I think it's a true bill.''

M said, “So does the War Cabinet. So do I.'' He paused. ”Yes, the plane with the bombs is missing. And the stock numbers on the bombs are correct.''

8.

"Big Fleas Have Little Fleas . . .''

Bond said, "What is there to go on, sir?''

“Damned little, practically speaking nothing. Nobody's ever heard of these SPECTRE people. We know there's some kind of independent unit working in Europe---we've bought some stuff from them, so have the Americans, and Mathis admits now that Goltz, that French heavy-water scientist who went over last year, was assassinated by them, for big money, as a result of an offer he got out of the blue. No names were mentioned. It was all done on the radio, the same 16 megacycles that's mentioned in the letter. To the Deuxième Communications section. Mathis accepted on the off-chance. They did a neat job. Mathis paid up---a suitcase full of money left at a Michelin road sign on N1. But no one can tie them in with these SPECTRE people. When we and the Americans dealt, there were endless cutouts, really professional ones, and anyway we were more interested in the end product than the people involved. We both paid a lot of money, but it was worth it. If it's the same group working this, they're a serious outfit and I've told the P.M. so. But that's not the point. The plane is missing and the two bombs, just as the letter says. All details exactly correct. The Vindicator was on a NATO training flight south of Ireland and out into the Atlantic.'' M reached for a bulky folder and turned over some pages. He found what he wanted. ”Yes, it was to be a six-hour flight leaving Boscombe Down at eight p.m. and due back at two a.m. There was an R.A.F. crew of five and a NATO observer, an Italian, man called Petacchi, Giuseppi Petacchi, squadron leader in the Italian Air Force, seconded to NATO. Fine flyer, apparently, but they're checking on his background now. He was sent over here on a normal tour of duty. The top pilots from NATO have been coming over for months to get used to the Vindicator and the bomb-release routines. This plane's apparently going to be used for the NATO long-range striking force. Anyway''---M turned over a page---“the plane was watched on the screen as usual and all went well until it was west of Ireland at about forty thousand feet. Then, contrary to the drill, it came down to around thirty thousand and got lost in the transatlantic air traffic. Bomber Command tried to get in touch, but the radio couldn't or wouldn't answer. The immediate reaction was that the Vindicator had hit one of the transatlantic planes and there was something of a panic. But none of the companies reported any trouble or even a sighting.'' M looked across at Bond. ”And that was the end of it. The plane just vanished.''

Bond said, "Did the American DEW line pick it up---their Defense Early Warning system?''

“There's a query on that. The only grain of evidence we've got. Ap'' parently about five hundred miles east of Boston there was some evidence that a plane had peeled off the inward route to Idlewild and turned south. But that's another big traffic lane---for the northern traffic from Montreal and Gander down to Bermuda and the Bahamas and South America. So these DEW operators just put it down as a B.O.A.C. or Trans-Canada plane.'' ”It certainly sounds as if they've got the whole thing worked out pretty well, hiding in these traffic lanes. Could the plane have turned northwards in the middle of the Atlantic and made for Russia?''

"Yes, or southwards. There's a big block of space about five hundred miles out from both shores that's out of radar range. Better still, it could have turned on its tracks and come back in to Europe on any of two or three air lanes. In fact it could be almost anywhere in the world by now. That's the point.''

"But it's a huge plane. It must need special runways and so on. It must have come down somewhere. You can't hide a plane of that size.''

"Just so. All these things are obvious. By midnight last night the R.A.F. had checked with every single airport, every one in the world that could have taken it. Negative. But the C.A.S. says of course it could be crash-landed in the Sahara, for instance, or on some other desert, or in the sea, in shallow water.''

"Wouldn't that explode the bombs?''

"No. They're absolutely safe until they're armed. Apparently even a direct drop, like that one from the B-47 over North Carolina in 1958, would only explode the T.N.T. trigger to the thing. Not the plutonium.''

"How are these SPECTRE people going to explode them, then?''

M spread his hands. "They explained all this at the War Cabinet meeting. I don't understand it all, but apparently an atomic bomb looks just like any other bomb. The way it works is that the nose is full of ordinary T.N.T. with the plutonium in the tail. Between the two there's a hole into which you screw some sort of a detonator, a kind of plug. When the bomb hits, the T.N.T. ignites the detonator and the detonator sets off the plutonium.''

"So these people would have to drop the bomb to set it off?'' Apparently not. They would need a man with good physics knowledge who understood the thing, but then all he'd have to do would be to unscrew the nose cone on the bomb---the ordinary detonator that sets off the T.N.T.---and fix on some kind of time fuse that would ignite the T.N.T. without it being dropped. That would set the thing off. And it's not a very bulky affair. You could get the whole thing into something only about twice the size of a big golf bag. Very heavy, of course. But you could put it into the back of a big car, for instance, and just run the car into a town and leave it parked with the time fuse switched on. Give yourself a couple of hours' start to get out of range---at least a hundred miles away---and that would be that.''

Bond reached in his pocket for another cigarette. It couldn't be, yet it was so. Just what his Service and all the other intelligence services in the world had been expecting to happen. The anonymous little man in the raincoat with a heavy suitcase---or golf bag, if you like. The left luggage office, the parked car, the clump of bushes in a park in the center of a big town. And there was no answer to it. In a few years' time, if the experts were right, there would be even less answer to it. Every tin-pot little nation would be making atomic bombs in their backyards, so to speak. Apparently there was no secret now about the things. It had only been the prototypes that had been difficult---like the first gunpowder weapons for instance, or machine guns or tanks. Today these were everybody's bows and arrows. Tomorrow, or the day after, the bows and arrows would be atomic bombs. And this was the first blackmail case. Unless SPECTRE was stopped, the word would get round and soon every criminal scientist with a chemical set and some scrap iron would be doing it. If they couldn't be stopped in time there would be nothing for it but to pay up. Bond said so.

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