Live and Let Die / Page 15

Page 15



He softly pulled the wedge away from under the communicating door and gently turned the lock. He took the Beretta out of its holster, thumbed back the safety-catch and gestured to her to pull open the door so that she was behind it. He gave the signal and she wrenched it quickly open. The empty compartment yawned sarcastically at them

Bond smiled at her and shrugged his shoulders.

'Call me when you're ready,' he said and went in and closed the door.

The door to the corridor was locked. The room was identical with theirs. Bond went over it very carefully for vulnerable points. There was only the air-conditioning vent in the ceiling and Bond, who was prepared to consider any possibility, dismissed the employment of gas in the system. It would slay all the other occupants of the car. There only remained the waste pipes in the small lavatory and while these certainly could be used to insert some death-dealing medium from the underbelly of the train, the operator would have to be a daring and skilled acrobat. There was no ventilating grill into the corridor.

Bond shrugged his shoulders. If anyone came, it would be through the doors. He would just have to stay awake.

Solitaire called for him. The room smelled of Balmain's 'Vent Vert'. She was leaning on her elbow and looking down at him from the upper berth.

I he bedclothes were pulled up round her shoulder. Bond guessed that she was naked. Her black hair fell away from her head in a dark cascade. With only the reading-lamp on behind her, her face was in shadow. Bond climbed up the little aluminium ladder and leant towards her. She reached towards him and suddenly the bedclothes fell away from her shoulders. x

'Damn you,' said Bond. 'You…'

She put her hand over his mouth.

'“Allumeuse” is the nice word for it,' she said. 'It is fun for me to be able to tease such a strong silent man. You burn with such an angry, flame. It is the only game I have to play with you and I shan't be able to play it for long. How many days until your hand is well again?'

Bond bit hard into the soft hand over his mouth. She gave a little scream.

'Not many,' said Bond. 'And then one day when you're playing your little game you'll suddenly find yourself pinned down like a butterfly.'

She put her arms round him and they kissed, long and passionately.

Finally she sank back among the pillows.

'Hurry up and get well,' she said. 'I'm tired of my game already.' ,

Bond climbed down to the floor and pulled her curtains across the berth.

'Try and get some sleep now,' he said. 'We've got a long day tomorrow.'

She murmured something and he heard her turn over. She switched off the light.

Bond verified that the wedges were in place under the doors. Then he took off his coat and tie and lay down on the bottom berth. He turned off his own light and lay thinking of Solitaire and listening to the steady gallop of the wheels beneath his head and the comfortable small noises in the room, the gentle rattles and squeaks and murmurs in the coachwork that bring sleep so quickly on a train at night-time.

It was eleven o'clock and the train was on the long stretch between Columbia and Savannah , Georgia . There were another six hours or so to Jacksonville, another six hours of darkness during which The Big Man would almost certainly have instructed his agent to make some move, while the whole train was asleep and while a man could use the corridors without interference.

The great train snaked on through the dark, pounding out the miles through the empty plains and mingy hamlets of Georgia , the ' Peach State', the angry moan of its four-toned wind-horn soughing over the wide savannah and the long shaft of its single searchlight ripping the black calico of the night.

Bond turned on his light again and read for a while, but his thoughts were too insistent and he soon gave up and switched the light off. Instead, he thought of Solitaire and of the future and of the more immediate prospects of Jacksonville and St. Petersburg and of seeing Leiter again.

Much later, around one o'clock in the morning, he was dozing and on the edge of sleep, when a soft metallic noise quite close to his head brought him wide awake with his hand on his gun.

There was someone at the passage door and the lock was being softly tried.

Bond was immediately on the floor and moving silently on his bare feet. He gently pulled the wedge away from under the door to the next compartment and as gently pulled the bolt and opened the door. He crossed the next compartment and softly began to open the door to the corridor.

There was a deafening click as the bolt came back. He tore the door open and threw himself into the corridor, only to see a flying figure already nearing the forward end of the car.

If his two hands had been free he could have shot the man, but to open the doors he had to tuck his gun into the waistband of his trousers. Bond knew that pursuit would be hopeless. There were too many empty compartments into which the man could dodge and quietly close the door. Bond had worked all this out beforehand. He knew his only chance would be surprise and either a quick shot or the man's surrender.

He walked a few steps to Compartment H. A tiny diamond of paper protruded into the corridor.

He went back and into their room, locking the doors behind him. He softly turned on his reading light. Solitaire was still asleep. The rest of the paper, a single sheet, lay on the carpet against the passage door. He picked it up and sat on the edge of his bed.

It was a sheet of cheap ruled notepaper. It was covered with irregular lines of writing in rough capitals, in red ink.

Bond handled it gingerly, without much hope that it would yield any prints. These people weren't like that.

Oh Witch

[he read] do not slay me, Spare me. His is the body.

The divine drummer declares that When he rises with the dawn He will sound his drums for YOU in the morning Very early, very early, very early, very early.

Oh Witch that slays the children of men before they are fully matured Oh Witch that slays the children of men before they are fully matured The divine drummer declares that When he rises with the dawn He will sound his drums for YOU in the morning Very early, very early, very early, very early.

We are addressing YOU And YOU will understand.

Bond lay down on his bed and thought. Then he folded the paper and put it in his pocket-book. He lay on his back and looked at nothing, waiting for daybreak.

CHAPTER XII

THE EVERGLADES

IT was around five o'clock in the morning when they slipped off the train at Jacksonville. It was still dark and the naked platforms of the great Florida junction were sparsely lit. The entrance to the subway was only a few yards from Car 245 and there was no sign of life on the sleeping train as they dived down the steps. Bond had told the attendant to keep the door of their compartment locked after they had gone and the blinds drawn and he thought there was quite a chance they would not be missed until the train reached St. Petersburg .

They came out of the subway into the booking-hall. Bond verified that the next express for St. Petersburg would be the Silver Meteor, the sister train of the Phantom, due at about nine o'clock, and he booked two Pullman seats on it. Then he took Solitaire's arm and they walked out of the station into the warm dark street.

There were two or three all-night diners to choose from and they pushed through the door that announced 'Good Eats' in the brightest neon. It was the usual sleazy food-machine — two tired waitresses behind a zinc counter loaded with cigarettes and candy and paper-backs and comics. There was a big coffee percolator and a row of butane gas-rings. A door marked 'Restroom' concealed its dreadful secrets next to a door marked 'Private' which was probably the back entrance. A group of overalled men at one of the dozen stained crueted tables looked up briefly as they came in and then resumed their low conversation. Relief crews for the Diesels, Bond guessed.

There were four narrow booths on the right of the entrance and Bond and Solitaire slipped into one of them. They looked dully at the stained menu card.

After a time, one of the waitresses sauntered over and stood leaning against the partition, running her eyes over Solitaire's clothes.

'Orange juice, coffee, scrambled eggs, twice,' said Bond briefly.

'Kay,' said the girl. Her shoes lethargically scuffed the floor as she sauntered away.

'The scrambled eggs'll be cooked with milk,' said Bond. 'But one can't eat boiled eggs in America . They look so disgusting without their shells, mixed up in a tea-cup the way they do them here. God knows where they learned the trick. From Germany , I suppose. And bad American coffee's the worst in the world, worse even than in England . I suppose they can't do much harm to the orange juice. After all we are in Florida now.' He suddenly felt depressed by the thought of their four-hour wait in this unwashed, dog-eared atmosphere.

'Everybody's making easy money in America these days,' said Solitaire. 'That's always bad for the customer. All they want is to strip a quick dollar off you and toss you out. Wait till you get down to the coast. At this time of the year, Florida 's the biggest sucker-trap on earth. On the East Coast they fleece the millionaires. Where we're going they just take it off the little man. Serves him right, of course. He goes there to die. He can't take it with him.'

'For heaven's sake,' said Bond, 'what sort of a place are we going to?'

'Everybody's nearly dead in St. Petersburg ,' explained Solitaire. 'It's the Great American Graveyard. When the bank clerk or the post-office worker or the railroad conductor reaches sixty he collects his pension or his annuity and goes to St. Petersburg to get a few years' sunshine before he dies. It's called “The Sunshine City”. The weather's so good that the evening paper there, The Independent, is given away free any day the sun hasn't shone by edition time. It only happens three or four times a year and it's a fine advertisement. Everybody goes to bed around nine o'clock in the evening and during the day the old folks play shuffleboard and bridge, herds of them. There's a couple of baseball teams down there, the “Kids” and the “Kubs”, all over seventy-five! Then they play bowls, but most of the time they sit squashed together in droves on things called “Sidewalk Davenports”, rows of benches up and down the sidewalks of the main streets. They just sit in the sun and gossip and doze. It's a terrifying sight, all these old people with their spectacles and hearing-aids and clicking false-teeth.'

'Sounds pretty grim,' said Bond. 'Why the hell did Mr. Big choose this place to operate from?'

'It's perfect for him,' said Solitaire seriously. 'There's practically no crime, except cheating at bridge and Canasta. So there's a very small police force. There's quite a big Coastguard Station but it's mainly concerned with smuggling between Tampa and Cuba , and sponge-fishing out of season at Tarpon Springs. I don't really know what he does there except that he's got a big agent called “The Robber”. Something to do with Cuba , I expect,' she added thoughtfully. 'Probably mixed up with Communism. I believe Cuba conies under Harlem and runs red agents all through the

Caribbean. 'Anyway,' she went on, ' St. Petersburg is probably the most innocent town in America . Everything's very “folksy” and “gracious”. It's true there's a place called “The Res-torium”, a hospital for alcoholics. But very old ones, I suppose,' she laughed, 'and I expect they're past doing anyone any harm. You'll love it,' she smiled maliciously at Bond. 'You'll probably want to settle down there for life and be an “Oldster” too. That's the great word down there… “oldster”.'


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