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Inside, Bond's torch shone everywhere into red eyes that glowed like rubies in the darkness, and there was a soft movement and scuttling. He sprayed the light up and down the fuselage. Every where there were octopuses, small ones, but perhaps a hundred of them, weaving on the tips of their tentacles, sliding softly away into protecting shadows, changing their camouflage nervously from brown to a pale phosphorescence that gleamed palely in the patches of darkness. The whole fuselage seemed to be crawling with them, evilly, horribly, and as Bond shone his torch on the roof the sight was even worse. There, bumping softly in the slight current, hung the corpse of a crew member. In decomposition, it had risen up from the floor, and octopuses, hanging from it like bats, now let go their hold and shot, jet-propelled, to and fro inside the plane-dreadful, glinting, red-eyed comets that slapped themselves into dark corners and stealthily squeezed themselves into cracks and under seats.

Bond closed his mind to the disgusting nightmare and, weaving his torch in front of him, proceeded with his search.

He found the red-striped cyanide canister and tucked it into his belt. He counted the corpses, noted the open hatch to the bomb bay, and verified that the bombs had gone. He looked in the open container under the pilot's seat and searched in alternative places for the vital fuses for the bombs. But they also had gone. Finally, having a dozen times had to slash away groping tentacles from his naked legs, he felt his nerve was quickly seeping away. There was much he should have taken with him, the identification disks of the crew, the pulp of the log book that showed nothing but routine flight details and no hint of emergency readings from the instrument panel, but he couldn't stand another second of the squirming, red-eyed catacomb. He slid out through the escape hatch and swam almost hysterically toward the thin line of light that was the edge of the tarpaulin. Desperately, he scrabbled his way under it, snagged the cylinder on his back in the folds, and had to back under again to free himself. And then he was out in the beautiful crystal water and soaring up to the surface. At twenty feet the pain in his ears reminded him to stop and decompress. Impatiently, staring up at the sweet hull of the seaplane above him, he waited until the pain had subsided. Then he was up and clinging to a float and tearing at his equipment to get rid of it and its contamination. He let it all go and watched it tumbling slowly down toward the sand. He rinsed his mouth out with the sweetness of pure salt water and swam to within reach of Letter's outstretched hand.

18.

How to Eat a Girl

As they approached Nassau on their way back, Bond asked Leiter to take a look at the Disco lying off Palmyra. She was there all right, just where she had been the day before. The only difference, which had little meaning, was that she had only her bow anchor out. There was no movement on board. Bond was thinking that she looked beautiful and quite harmless lying there reflecting her elegant lines in the mirror of the sea, when Leiter said excitedly, "Say, James, take a look at the beach place. The boathouse alongside the creek. See those double tracks leading up out of the water? Up to the door of the boathouse. They look odd to me. They're deep. What could have made them?''

Bond focused his glasses. The tracks ran parallel. Something, something heavy, had been hauled between the boathouse and the sea. But it couldn't be, surely it couldn't! He said tensely, “Let's get away quick, Felix.'' Then as they zoomed off overland: ”I'm damned if I can think of anything that could have made those. And dammit, if it was what it might have been, they'd have swept off those tracks pretty quick.''

Leiter said laconically, "People make mistakes. We'll have to give that place the going-over. Ought to have done it before. Nice-looking dump. I think I'll take Mr. Largo up on his invitation and get out there on behalf of my esteemed client, Mr. Rockefeller Bond.''

It was one o'clock by the time they got back to Windsor Field. For half an hour the control tower had been searching for them on the radio. Now they had to face the commandant of the field and, providentially as it happened, the Governor's A.D.C., who gave the Governor's blanket authorization for the string of their misdemeanors and then handed Bond a thick envelope which contained signals for both of them.

The contents began with the expected rockets for breaking communication and demands for further news ("That they'll get!'' commented Leiter as they raced toward Nassau in the comfortable back of the Governor's Humber Snipe saloon.) E.T.A. for the Manta was five o'clock that evening. Inquiries through Interpol and the

Italian police confirmed that Giuseppe Petacchi was in fact the brother of Dominetta Vitali, whose personal history as given to Bond stood up in all other respects. The same sources confirmed that Emilio Largo was a big-time adventurer and suspected crook though technically his dossier was clean. The source of his wealth was unknown but did not stem from funds held in Italy. The Disco had been paid for in Swiss francs. The constructors confirmed the existence of the underwater compartment. It contained an electric hoist and provision for launching small underwater craft and releasing skin divers. In Largo's specifications, this modification to the hull had been given as a requirement for underwater research. Further inquiry into the “shareholders'' had yielded no further facts---with the significant exception that most of their backgrounds and professions dated back no further than six years. This suggested the possibility that their identities might be of recent fabrication and, at any rate in theory, this would equate with possible membership of SPECTRE, if such a body did in fact exist. Kotze had left Switzerland for an unknown destination four weeks previously. Latest photographs of the man were on the midday Pan American plane. Nevertheless the Thunderball war room had to accept the solidity of Largo's cover unless further evidence came to hand, and the present intention was to continue the world-wide search while allotting priority to the Bahamas area. In view of this priority, and the extremely urgent time factor, Brigadier Fairchild, C.B., D.S.O., British Military Attache in Washington, with Rear Admiral Carlson, U.S.N. Ret., until recently Secretary to the U.S. Chiefs of Staff Committee, would be arriving at 1900 E.S.T. by the President's Boeing 707 ”Columbine'' to take joint command of further operations. The full cooperation of Messrs. Bond and Leiter was requested and, until the arrival of above-named officers, full reports every hour on the hour were to be radioed to London, copy to Washington, under joint signature.

Leiter and Bond looked at each other in silence. Finally Leiter said, “James, I propose we disregard the last bit and take formal note of remainder. We've already missed four hours and I don't propose we spend the rest of the day sweating it out in our radio room. There's just too much to do. Tell you what. I'll do the stint of telling them the latest and then I'll say we're going off the air in view of the new emergency. I then propose to go and look over Palmyra on your behalf, sticking to our cover story. And I propose to have a damned good look at the boathouse and see what those tracks mean. Right? Then, at five, we'll rendezvous with the Manta and prepare to intercept the Disco if and when she sails. As for the Big Brass in the President's Special, well they can just play pinochle in Government House until tomorrow morning. Tonight's the night and we just can't waste it on the `After you Alphonse' routine. Okay?'' Bond reflected. They were coming into the outskirts of Nassau, through the shanty-town slums tucked away behind the millionaire façade along the waterfront. He had disobeyed many orders in his life, but this was to disobey the Prime Minister of England and the President of the United States---a mighty left and right. But things were moving a damned sight too fast. M had given him this territory and, right or wrong, M would back him up, as he always backed up his staff, even if it meant M's own head on a charger. Bond said, ”I agree, Felix. With the Manta we can manage this on our own. The vital thing is to find out when those bombs go on board the Disco. I've got an idea for that. May work, may not. It means giving the Vitali girl a rough time, but I'll try and handle that side. Drop me at the hotel and I'll get cracking. Meet you here again around four-thirty. I'll call up Harling and see if he's got anything new on the Disco and ask him to pass the word upstairs to you if anything's cooking. You've got all that straight about the plane? Okay. I'll hang on to Petacchi's identification disk for the time being. Be seeing you.''

Bond almost ran through the lobby of the hotel. When he picked up his key at the reception desk they gave him a telephone message. He read it going up in the lift. It was from Domino: "Please telephone quickly.''

In his room, Bond first ordered a club sandwich and a double bourbon on the rocks and then called the Police Commissioner. The Disco had moved to the oiling wharf at first light and had filled her tanks. Then she had moved back to her anchorage off Palmyra. Half an hour ago, at one-thirty precisely, the seaplane had been lowered over the side and, with Largo and one other on board, had taken off eastward. When the Commissioner had heard this on the walkie-talkie from his watchers he had got on to the control tower at Windsor Field and had asked for the plane to be radar-tracked. But she had flown low, at about three hundred feet, and they had lost her among the islands about fifty miles to the southeast. Nothing else had come up except that the harbor authorities had been alerted to expect an American submarine, the Manta , the nuclear-powered one, at around five in the evening. That was all. What did Bond know? Bond said carefully that it was too early to tell. It looked as if the operation was hotting up. Could the watchers be asked to rush the news back as soon as the seaplane was sighted coming back to the Disco ? This was vital. Would the Commissioner please pass on his news to Felix Leiter, who was on his way to the radio room at that moment? And could Bond be lent a car---anything---to drive himself? Yes, a Land Rover would be fine. Anything with four wheels.

Then Bond got on to Domino out at Palmyra. She sounded eager for his voice. “Where have you been all morning, James?'' It was the first time she had used his Christian name. ”I want you to come swimming this afternoon. I have been told to pack and come on board this evening. Emilio says they are going after the treasure tonight. Isn't it nice of him to take me? But it's a dead secret, so don't tell anyone, will you. But he is vague about when we will be back. He said something about Miami. I thought''---she hesitated--- "I thought you might have gone back to New York by the time we get back. I have seen so little of you. You left so suddenly last night. What was it?''

"I suddenly got a headache. Touch of the sun, I suppose. It had been quite a day. I didn't want to go. And I'd love to come for a swim. Where?''

She gave him careful directions. It was a beach a mile farther along the coast from Palmyra. There was a side road and a thatched hut. He couldn't miss it. The beach was sort of better than Palmyra's. The skin-diving was more fun. And of course there weren't so many people. It belonged to some Swedish millionaire who had gone away. When could he get there? Half an hour would be all right. They would have more time. On the reef, that is.

Bond's drink came and the sandwich. He sat and consumed them, looking at the wall, feeling excited about the girl, but knowing what he was going to do to her life that afternoon. It was going to be a bad business---when it could have been so good. He remembered her as he had first seen her, the ridiculous straw hat tilted down over the nose, the pale blue ribbons flying as she sped up Bay Street. Oh, well ...

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