Largo went into the cockpit bridge. The captain was sitting at the wheel, a light aluminum affair consisting only of the bottom half of a circle. Largo said, "Okay. Let's go.'' The captain reached out his hand to the bank of buttons at his side and pressed the one that said Start Both .'' There came a low, hollow rumble from amidships.
A light blinked on the panel to show that both engines were firing properly. The captain pulled the electromagnetic gear shift to “ Slow Ahead Both '' and the yacht began to move. The captain made it ” Full Ahead Both '' and the yacht trembled and settled a little in the stern. The captain watched the revolution counter, his hand on a squat lever at his side. At twenty knots the counter showed 5000. The captain inched back the lever that depressed the great steel scoop below the hull. The revolutions remained the same, but the finger of the speedometer crawled on round the dial until it said forty knots. Now the yacht was half flying, half planing across the glittering sheet of still water, the hull supported four feet above the surface on the broad, slightly uptilted metal skid and with only a few feet of the stern and the two big screws submerged. It was a glorious sensation and Largo, as he always did, thrilled to it.
The motor yacht, Disco Volante , was a hydrofoil craft, built for Largo with SPECTRE funds by the Italian constructors Leopoldo Rodrigues of Messina, the only firm in the world to have successfully adapted the Shertel-Sachsenberg system to commercial use. With a hull of aluminum and magnesium alloy, two Daimler-Benz four-stroke Diesels supercharged by twin Brown-Boveri turbo superchargers, the Disco Volante could move her hundred tons at around fifty knots, with a cruising range at that speed of around four hundred miles. She had cost £200,000, but she had been the only craft in the world with the speed, cargo-, and passenger-space, and with the essential shallow draft for the job required of her in Bahamian waters.
The constructors claim of this type of craft that it has a particular refinement that SPECTRE had appreciated. Having high stability and a shallow draft, Aliscafos , as they are called in Italy, do not determine magnetic field variation, nor do they cause pressure waves---both desirable characteristics, in case the Disco Volante might wish, some time in her career, to escape detection.
Six months before, the Disco had been shipped out to the Florida Keys by the South Atlantic route. She had been a sensation in Florida waters and among the Bahamas, and had vastly helped to make Largo the most popular “millionaire'' in a corner of the world that crawls with millionaires who ”have everything.'' And the fast and mysterious voyages he made in the Disco , with all those underwater swimmers and occasionally with a two seater Lycoming-engined folding-wing amphibian mounted on the roof of the streamlined superstructure had aroused just the right amount of excited comment. Slowly, Largo had let the secret leak out---through his own indiscretions at dinners and cocktail parties, through carefully primed members of the crew in the Bay Street bars. This was a treasure hunt, an important one. There was a pirates' map, a sunken galleon thickly overgrown with coral. The wreck had been located. Largo was only waiting for the end of the winter tourist season and for the calms of early summer and then his shareholders would be coming out from Europe and work would begin in earnest. And two days before, the shareholders, nineteen of them, had duly come trickling in to Nassau by different routes---from Bermuda, from New York, from Miami. Rather dull-looking people to be sure, just the sort of hard-headed, hard-working businessmen who would be amused by a gamble like this, a pleasant sunshine gamble with a couple of weeks' holiday in Nassau to make up for it if the doubloons were after all not in the wreck. And that evening, with all the visitors on board, the engines of the Disco had begun to murmur, just when they should have, the harbor folk agreed, just when it was getting dark, and the beautiful dark blue and white yacht had slid out of harbor. Once in the open sea, the engines had started up their deep booming that had gradually diminished to the southeast, toward, the listeners agreed, an entirely appropriate hunting ground.
The southerly course was considered appropriate because it is among the Southern Bahamas that the great local treasure troves are expected to be found. It was through the southerly passages through these islands---the Crooked Island, the Mayaguana and the Caicos passages---that the Spanish treasure ships would try to dodge the pirates and the French and British fleets as they made for home. Here, it is believed, lie the remains of the Porto Pedro , sunk in 1668, with a million pounds of bullion on board. The Santa Cruz , lost in 1694, carried twice as much, and the El Capitan and San Pedro, Both sunk in 1719, carried a million, and half a million, pounds of treasure respectively.
Every year, treasure hunts for these and other ships are carried out among the Southern Bahamas. No one can guess how much, if anything, has been recovered, but everyone in Nassau knows of the 72-lb. silver bar recovered by two Nassau businessmen off Gorda Cay in 1950, and since presented to the Nassau Development Board, in whose offices it is permanently on view. So all Bahamians know that treasure is there for the finding, and when the harbor folk of Nassau heard the deep boom of the Disco's engines dying away to the south, they nodded wisely.
But once the Disco was well away and the moon had not yet risen, with all lights doused, she swung away in a wide circle toward the west and toward the rendezvous point she was now leaving. Now she was a hundred miles, two hours, away from Nassau. But it would be almost dawn when, after one more vital call, Nassau would again hear the boom of her engines coming in from the false southern trail.
Largo got up and bent over the chart table. They had covered the course many times and in all weathers. It was really no problem. But Phases I and II had gone so well that double care must be taken over Phase III. Yes, all was well. They were dead on course. Fifty miles. They would be there in an hour. He told the captain to keep the yacht as she was, and went below to the radio room. Eleven-fifteen was just coming up. It was call time.
The small island, Dog Island, was no bigger than two tennis courts. It was a hunk of dead coral with a smattering of seagrape and battered screw palm that grew on nothing but pockets of brackish rainwater and sand. It was the point where the Dog Shoal broke the surface, a well-known navigational hazard that even the fishing boats kept well away from. In daylight, Andros Island showed to eastward, but at night it was as safe as houses.
The Disco came up fast and then slowly lowered herself back into the water and slid up to within a cable's length of the rock. Her arrival brought small waves that lapped and sucked at the rock and then were still. The anchor slipped silently down forty feet and held. Down in the hold, Largo and the disposal team of four waited for the underwater hatch to be opened.
The five men wore aqualungs. Largo held nothing but a powerful underwater electric torch. The four others were divided into two pairs. They wore webbing slung between them and they sat on the edge of the iron grating with their frogman's feet dangling, waiting for the water to swirl in and give them buoyancy. On the webbing, between each pair, rested a six-foot-long tapering object in an obscene gray rubber envelope.
The water seeped, rushed, and then burst into the hold, submerging the five men. They slipped off their seats and trudged out through the hatchway, Largo in the lead and the two pairs behind him at precisely tested intervals.
Largo did not at first switch on his torch. It was not necessary and it would bring stupid, dazed fish that were a distraction. It might even bring shark or barracuda, and, though they would be no more than a nuisance, one of the team, despite Largo's assurances, might lose his nerve.
They swam on in the soft moonlit mist of the sea. At first there was nothing but a milky void below them, but then the coral shelf of the island showed up, climbing steeply toward the surface. Sea fans, like small shrouds in the moonlight, waved softly, beckoning, and the clumps and trees of coral were gray and enigmatic. It was because of these things, the harmless underwater mysteries that make the skin crawl on the inexperienced, that Largo had decided to lead the disposal teams himself. Out in the open, where the plane had foundered, the eye of the big searchlight made, with the known object of the plane itself, the underwater world into the semblance of a big room. But this was different. This gray-white world needed the contempt of a swimmer who had experienced these phantom dangers a thousand times before. That was the main reason why Largo led the teams. He also wanted to know exactly how the two gray sausages were stored away. It could happen, if things went wrong, that he would have to salvage them himself.
The underpart of the small island had been eroded by the waves so that, seen from below, it resembled a thick mushroom. Under the umbrella of coral there was a wide fissure, a dark wound in the side of the stem. Largo made for it and, when he was close, switched on his torch. Beneath the umbrella of coral it was dark. The yellow light of the torch showed up the minute life of an inshore coral community---the pale sea urchins and the fierce black spines of sea eggs, the shifting underbrush of seaweeds, the yellow and blue seeking antennae of a langouste, the butterfly and angel fish, fluttering like moths in the light, a coiled bêche de mer , a couple of meandering sea caterpillars and the black and green jelly of a sea hare.
Largo lowered the black fins on his feet, got his balance on a ledge, and looked round, shining his torch on the rock so that the two teams could get a foothold. Then he waved them on and into the smooth broad fissure that showed a glimmer of moonlight at its far end inside the center of the rock. The underwater cave was only about ten yards long. Largo led the teams one after the other through and into the small chamber that might once perhaps have been a wonderful repository for a different kind of treasure. From the chamber a narrow fissure led to the upper air, and this would certainly become a fine blow-hole in a storm, though it would be unlikely that fishermen would be close enough to the Dog Shoal in a storm to see the water fountaining out of the center of the island. Above the present water line in the chamber, Largo's men had hammered stanchions into the rock to form cradles for the two atomic weapons with leather straps to hold them secure against any weather. Now, one by one, the two teams lifted the rubber packages up onto the iron bars and made them secure. Largo examined the result and was satisfied. The weapons would be ready for him when he needed them. In the meantime such radiation as there was would be quarantined within this tiny rock a hundred miles from Nassau and his men and his ship would be clean and innocent as snow.
The five men trudged calmly back to the ship and into the hold through the hatch. To the boom of the engines the bows of the Disco lifted slowly out of the water and the beautiful ship, streamlined like the gondola of some machine of the air rather than of the sea, skimmed off on the homeward journey.
Largo stripped off his equipment and, with a towel round his slim waist, went forward to the radio cabin. He had missed the midnight call. It was now one-fifteen---seven-fifteen in the morning for Blofeld. Largo thought of this while contact was being made. Blofeld would be sitting there, haggard perhaps, probably unshaven. There would be coffee beside him, the last of an endless chain of cups. Largo could smell it. Now Blofeld would be able to take a taxi to the Turkish baths in the Rue Aubert, his resort when there were tensions to be dissipated. And there, at last, he would sleep. “Number 1 speaking.'' ”Number 2 listening.''
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