'I'm glad I did,' said Bond inadequately, his mind trying to grapple with the mystery of this woman. He dug in his pocket for his cigarettes and lighter. It was a new pack of Chesterfields and with his right hand he scrabbled at the cellophane wrapper.
She reached over and took the pack from him. She slit it with her thumb-nail, took out a cigarette, lit it and handed it to him. Bond took it from her and smiled into her eyes, tasting the hint of lipstick from her mouth.
'I smoke about three packs a day,' he said. 'You're going to be busy.'
'I'll just help with the new packs,' she said. 'Don't be afraid I'm going to fuss over you the whole way to St. Petersburg .'
Bond's eyes narrowed and the smile went out of them.
'You don't believe I thought we were only going as far as Washington ,' she said. 'You weren't very quick on the telephone this morning. And anyway, Mr. Big was certain you would make for Florida . I heard him warning his people down there about you. He spoke to a man called “The Robber”, long distance. Said to watch the airport at Tampa and the trains. Perhaps we ought to get off the train earlier, at Tarpon Springs or one of the small stations up the coast. Did they see you getting on the train?'
'Not that I know of,' said Bond. His eyes had relaxed again. 'How about you? Have any trouble getting away?'
'It was my day for a singing lesson. He's trying to make a torch singer out of me. Wants me to go on at The Bone-yard. One of his men took me to my teacher as usual and was due to pick me up again at midday. He wasn't surprised I was having a lesson so early. I often have breakfast with my teacher so as to get away from Mr. Big. He expects me to have all my meals with him.' She looked at her watch. He noted cynically that it was an expensive one - diamonds and platinum, Bond guessed. 'They'll be missing me in about an hour. I waited until the car had gone, then I walked straight out again and called you. Then I took a cab downtown. I bought a toothbrush and a few other things at a drugstore. Otherwise I've got nothing except my jewellery and the mad money I've always kept hidden from him. About five thousand dollars. So I won't be a financial burden.' She smiled. 'I thought I'd get my chance one day.' She gestured towards the window. 'You've given me a new life. I've been shut up with him and his nigger gangsters for nearly a year. This is heaven.'
The train was running through the unkempt barren plains and swamps between New York and Trenton. It wasn't an attractive prospect. It reminded Bond of some of the stretches on the pre-war Trans-Siberian Railway except for the huge lonely hoardings advertising the current Broadway shows and the occasional dumps of scrap-iron and old motor cars.
'I hope I can find you something better than that,' he said smiling. 'But don't thank me. We're quits now. You saved my life last night. That is,' he added looking at her curiously, 'if you really have got second sight.'
'Yes,' she said, 'I have. Or something very like it. I can often see what's going to happen, particularly to other people. Of course I embroider on it and when I was earning my living doing it in Haiti it was easy to turn it into a good cabaret act. They're riddled with Voodoo and superstitions there and they were quite certain I was a witch. But I promise that when I first saw you in that room I knew you had been sent to save me. I,' she blushed, 'I saw all sorts of things.'
'What sort of things?'
'Oh I don't know,' she said, her eyes dancing. 'Just things. Anyway, we'll see. But it's going to be difficult,' she added seriously, 'and dangerous. For both of us.' She paused. 'So will you please take good care of us?'
'I'll do my best,' said Bond. 'The first thing is for us both to get some sleep. Let's have a drink and some chicken sandwiches and then we'll get the porter to put our beds down. You mustn't be embarrassed,' he added, seeing her eyes recoil. 'We're in this together. We have to spend twenty-four hours in a double bedroom together, and it's no good being squeamish. Anyway, you're Mrs. Bryce,' he grinned, 'and you must just act like her. Up to a point anyway,' he added.
She laughed. Her eyes speculated. She said nothing but rang the bell below the window.
The conductor arrived at the same time as the Pullman attendant. Bond ordered Old Fashioneds, and stipulated 'Old Grandad' Bourbon, chicken sandwiches, and decaffeined 'Sanka' coffee so that their sleep would not be spoilt.
'I have to collect another fare from you, Mr. Bryce,' said the conductor.
'Of course,' said Bond. Solitaire made a movement towards her handbag. 'It's all right, darling,' said Bond, pulling out his notecase. 'You've forgotten you gave me your money to look after before we left the house.'
'Guess the lady'll need plenty for her summer frocks,' said the conductor. 'Shops is plenty expensive in St. Pete. Plenty hot down there too. You folks been to Florida before?”
'We always go at this time of year,' said Bond.
'Hope you have a pleasant trip,' said the conductor.
When the door shut behind him, Solitaire laughed delightedly.
'You can't embarrass me,' she said. 'I'll think up something really fierce if you're not careful. To begin with, I'm going in there,' she gestured towards the door behind Bond's head. 'I must look terrible.'
'Go ahead, darling,' laughed Bond as she disappeared.
Bond turned to the window and watched the pretty clapboard houses slip by as they approached Trenton. He loved trains and he looked forward with excitement to the rest of the journey.
The train was slowing down. They slid past sidings full of “empty freight cars bearing names from all over the States - 'Lackawanna', 'Chesapeake and Ohio', 'Lehigh Valley', 'Seaboard Fruit Express', and the lilting 'Acheson, Topeka and Santa Fe' — names that held all the romance of the American railroads.
'British Railways?' thought Bond. He sighed and turned his thoughts back to the present adventure.
For better or worse he had decided to accept Solitaire, or rather, in his cold way, to make the most of her. There were many questions to be answered but now was not the time to ask them. All that immediately concerned him was that another blow had been struck at Mr. Big — where it would hurt most, in his vanity.
As for the girl, as a girl, he reflected that it was going to be fun teasing her and being teased back and he was glad that they had already crossed the frontiers into comradeship and even intimacy.
Was it true what The Big Man had said, that she would have nothing to do with men? He doubted it. She seemed open to love and to desire. At any rate he knew she was not closed to him. He wanted her to come back and sit down opposite him again so that he could look at her and play with her and slowly discover her. Solitaire. It was an attractive name. No wonder they had christened her that in the sleazy nightclubs of Port au Prince. Even in her present promise of warmth towards him there was much that was withdrawn and mysterious. He sensed a lonely childhood on some great decaying plantation, an echoing 'Great House' slowly falling into disrepair and being encroached on by the luxuriance of the tropics. The parents dying, and the property being sold. The companionship of a servant or two and an equivocal life in lodgings in the capital. The beauty which was her only asset and the struggle against the shady propositions to be a 'governess', a 'companion', a'secretary', all of which meant respectable prostitution. Then the dubious, unknown steps into the world of entertainment. The evening stint at the nightclub with the mysterious act which, among people dominated by magic, must have kept many away from her and made her a person to be feared. And then, one evening, the huge man with the grey face sitting at a table by himself. The promise that he would put her on Broadway. The chance of a new life, of an escape from the heat and the dirt and the solitude.
Bond turned brusquely away from the window. A romantic picture, perhaps. But it must have been something like that.
He heard the door unlock. The girl came back and slid into the seat opposite him. She looked fresh and gay. She examined him carefully.
'You have been wondering about me,' she said. 'I felt it. Don't worry. There is nothing very bad to know. I will tell you all about it some day. When we have time. Now I want to forget about the past. I will just tell you my real name. It is Simone Latrelle, but you can call me what you like. I am twenty-five. And now I am happy. I like this little room. But I am hungry and sleepy. Which bed will you have?'
Bond smiled at the question. He reflected.
'It's not very gallant,' he said, 'but I think I'd better have the bottom one. I'd rather be close to the floor - just in case. Not that there's anything to worry about,' he added, seeing her frown, 'but Mr. Big seems to have a pretty long arm, particularly in the negro world. And that includes the railroads. Do you mind?'
'Of course not,' she said. 'I was going to suggest it. And you couldn't climb into the top one with your poor hand.'
Their lunch arrived, brought from the diner by a preoccupied negro waiter. He seemed anxious to be paid and get back to his work.
When they had finished and Bond rang for the Pullman porter, he also seemed distrait and avoided looking at Bond. He took his time getting the beds made up. He made much show of not having enough room to move around in.
Finally, he seemed to pluck up courage.
'Praps Mistress Bryce like set down nex' door while Ah git the room fixed,' he said, looking over Bond's head. 'Nex' room goin' to be empty all way to St. Pete.' He took out a key and unlocked the communicating door without waiting for Bond's reply.
At a gesture from Bond, Solitaire took the hint. He heard her lock the door into the corridor. The negro bumped the communicating door shut.
Bond waited for a moment. He remembered the negro's name.
'Got something on your mind, Baldwin?' he asked.
Relieved, the attendant turned and looked straight at him.
'Sho' have, Mister Bryce. Yassuh.' Once started, the words came in a torrent. 'Shouldn be tellin' yuh this, Mister Bryce, but dere's plenty trouble 'n this train this trip. Yuh gotten yoself a henemy 'n dis train, Mister Bryce. Yassuh. Ah hears tings which Ah don' like at all. Cain't say much. Get mahself 'n plenty trouble. But yuh all want to watch yo step plenty good. Yassuh. Certain party got da finger 'n yuh, Mister Bryce, 'n dat man is bad news. Better take dese hyah,' he reached in 'his pocket and brought out two wooden window wedges. 'Push dem under the doors,' he said. 'Ah cain't do nuthen else. Git mah throat cut. But Ah don' like any foolin' aroun' wid da customers 'n my cyar. Nossuh.'
Bond took the wedges from him. 'But…'
'Cain't help yuh no more, Sah,' said the negro with finality, his hand on the door. 'Ef yuh ring fo me dis evenin', Ah'll fetch yo dinner. Doan yuh go lettin' any person else in the room.'
His hand came out to take the twenty-dollar bill. He crumpled it into his pocket.
'Ah'll do all Ah can, Sah,' he said. 'But dey'll git me ef Ah don' watch it. Sho will.' He went out and quickly shut the door behind him.
Bond thought for a moment then he opened the communicating door. Solitaire was reading.
'He's fixed everything,' he said. 'Took a long time about it. Wanted to tell me all his life-story as well. I'll keep out of your way until you've climbed up to your nest. Call me when you're ready.'
He sat down next door in the seat she had left and watched the grim suburbs of Philadelphia showing their sores, like beggars, to the rich train.
No object in frightening her until it had to be. But the new threat had come sooner than he expected, and her danger if the watcher on the train discovered her identity would be as great as his.