'I didn't care for it myself,' said Bond. 'I felt it was bad news. Lucky we got off at Jacksonville . Poor Baldwin. We owe him a lot.'
He finished the story of the rest of their trip.
'Anyone spot you when you left the train?' asked Leiter.
'Shouldn't think so,' said Bond. 'But we'd better keep Solitaire under cover until we can get her out. Thought we ought to fly her over to Jamaica tomorrow. I can get her looked after there till we come on.'
'Sure,' agreed Leiter. 'We'll put her in a charter plane at Tampa . Get her down to Miami by tomorrow lunch-time and she can take one of the afternoon services - KLM or Panam. Get her in by dinner-time tomorrow. Too late to do anything this afternoon.'
'Is that all right, Solitaire?' Bond asked her.
The girl was staring out of the window. Her eyes had the faraway look that Bond had seen before.
Suddenly she shivered.
Her eyes came back to Bond. She put out a hand and touched his sleeve.
'Yes,' she said. She hesitated. 'Yes, I guess so.'
DEATH OF A PELICAN
SOLITAIRE Stood up.
'I must go and tidy myself,' she said. 'I expect you've both got plenty to talk about.'
'Of course,' said Leiter, jumping up. 'Crazy of me! You must be dead beat. Guess you'd better take James's room and he can bed down with me.”
Solitaire followed him out into the little hall and Bond heard Leiter explaining the arrangement of the rooms.
In a moment Leiter came back with a bottle of Haig and Haig and some ice.
'I'm forgetting my manners,' he said. 'We could both do with a drink. There's a small pantry next the bathroom and I've stocked it with all we're likely to need!'
He fetched some soda-water and they both took a long drink.
'Let's have the details,' said Bond, sitting back. 'Must have been the hell of a fine job.'
'Sure was,' agreed Leiter, 'except for the shortage of corpses.'
He put his feet on the table and lit a cigarette.
'Phantom left Jacksonville around five,' he began. 'Got to Waldo around six. Just after leaving Waldo - and here I'm guessing - Mr. Big's man comes along to your car, gets into the next compartment to yours and hangs a towel between the drawn blind and the window, meaning – and he must have done a good deal of telephoning at stations on the way down - meaning “the window to the right of this towel is it”.
'There's a long stretch of straight track between Waldo and Ocala ,' continued Leiter, 'running through forest and swamp land. State highway right alongside the track. About twenty minutes outside Waldo, Wham! goes a dynamite emergency signal under the leading Diesel. Driver comes down to forty. Wham! And another Wham! Three in line! Emergency! Halt at once! He halts the train wondering what the hell. Straight track. Last signal green over green. Nothing in sight. It's around quarter after six and just getting light. There's a sedan, clouted heap I expect [Bond raised an eyebrow. 'Stolen car,' explained Leiter], grey, thought to have been a Buick, no lights, engine running, waiting on the highway opposite the centre of the train. Three men get out. Coloured. Probably negro. They walk slowly in line abreast along the grass verge between the road and the track. Two on the outside carry rippers — tommy-guns. Man in the centre has something in his hand. Twenty yards and they stop outside Car 245. Men with the rippers give a double squirt at your window. Open it up for the pineapple. Centre man tosses in the pineapple and all three run back to the car. Two seconds fuse. As they reach the car, BOOM! Fricassee of Compartment H. Fricassee, presumably, of Mr. and Mrs. Bryce. In fact fricassee of your Baldwin who runs out and crouches in corridor directly he sees men approaching his car. No other casualties except multiple shock and hysterics throughout train. Car drives away very fast towards limbo where it still is and will probably remain. Silence, mingled with screams, falls. People run to and fro. Train limps gingerly into Ocala . Drops Car 245. Is allowed to proceed three hours later. Scene II. Leiter sits alone in cottage, hoping he has never said an unkind word to his friend James, and wondering how Mr. Hoover will have Mr. Leiter served for his dinner tonight. That's all, folks.'
Bond laughed. 'What an organization!' he said. 'I'm sure it's all beautifully covered up and alibied. What a man! He certainly seems to have the run of this country. Just shows how one can push a democracy around, what with habeas corpus and human rights and all the rest. Glad we haven't got him on our hands in England . Wooden truncheons wouldn't make much of a dent in him. Well,' he concluded,' that's three times I've managed to get away with it. The pace is beginning to get a bit hot.'
'Yes,' said Leiter thoughtfully. 'Before you arrived over here you could have counted the mistakes Mr. Big has ever made on one thumb. Now he's made three all in a row. He won't like that. We've got to put the heat on him while he's still groggy and then get out, quick. Tell you what I've got in mind. There's no doubt that gold gets into the States through this place. We've tracked the Secatur again and again and she just comes straight over from Jamaica to St. Petersburg and docks at that worm-and-bait factory - Rubberus or whatever it's called.'
'Ourobouros,' said Bond. 'The Great Worm of mythology. Good name for a worm-and-bait factory.' Suddenly a thought struck him. He hit the glass table-top with the flat of his hand. 'Felix! Of course. Ourobouros — “The Robber” — don't you see? Mr. Big's man down here. It must be the same.'
Leiter's face lit up. 'Christ Almighty,' he exclaimed.
'Of course it's the same. That Greek who's supposed to own it, the man in Tarpon Springs that figures in the reports that blockhead showed us in New York , Binswanger. He's probably just a figurehead. Probably doesn't even know there's anything phoney about it. It's his manager here we've got to get after. “The Robber.” Of course that's who it is.'
Leiter jumped up.
'G'mon. Let's get going. We'll go right along and look the place over. I was going to suggest it anyway, seeing the Secatur always docks at their wharf. She's in Cuba now, by the way,' he added, ' Havana . Cleared from here a week ago. They searched her good and proper when she came in and when she left. Didn't find a thing, of course. Thought she might have a false keel. Almost tore it off. She had to go into dock before she could sail again. Nix. Not a shadow of anything wrong. Let alone a stack of gold coins. Anyway, we'll go and smell around. See if we can get a look at our Robber friend. I'll just have to talk to Orlando and Washington. Tell 'em all we know. They must catch up quick with The Big Man's fellow on the train. Probably too late by now. You go and see how Solitaire's getting on. Tell her she's not to move till we get back. Lock her in. We'll take her out to dinner in Tampa . They've got the best restaurant on the whole coast, Cuban, “Los Novedades”. We'll stop at the airport on the way and fix her flight for tomorrow.'
Leiter reached for the telephone and asked for Long Distance. Bond left him to it.
Ten minutes later they were on their way.
Solitaire had not wanted to be left. She had clung to Bond. 'I want to get away from here,' she said, her eyes frightened. 'I have a feeling…' She didn't end the sentence. Bond kissed her.
'It's all right,' he said. 'We'll be back in an hour or so. Nothing can happen to you here. Then I shan't leave you until you're on the plane. We can even stay the night in Tampa and get you off at first light.'
'Yes, please,' said Solitaire anxiously. I'd rather do that. I'm frightened here. I feel in danger.' She put her arms round his neck. 'Don't think I'm being hysterical.' She kissed him. 'Now you can go. I just wanted to see you. Gome back quickly.'
Leiter had called and Bond had closed the door on her and locked it.
He followed Leiter to his car on the Parkway feeling vaguely troubled. He couldn't imagine that the girl could come to any harm in this peaceful, law-abiding place, or that The Big Man could conceivably have traced her to The Everglades, which was only one of a hundred similar beach establishments on
Treasure Island. But he respected the extraordinary power of her intuitions and her attack of nerves made him uneasy.
The sight of Leiter's car put these thoughts out of his mind.
Bond liked fast cars and he liked driving them. Most American cars bored him. They lacked personality and the patina of individual craftsmanship that European cars have. They were just Vehicles', similar in shape and in colour, and even in the tone of their horns. Designed to serve for a year and then be turned in in part exchange for the next year's model. All the fun of driving had been taken out of them with the abolition of a gear-change, with hydraulic-assisted steering and spongy suspension. All effort had been smoothed away and all of that close contact with the machine and the road that extracts skill and nerve from the European driver. To Bond, American cars were just beetle-shaped Dodgems in which you motored along with one hand on the wheel, the ladio full on, and the power-operated windows closed to keep out the draughts.
But Leiter had got hold of an old Cord, one of the few American cars with a personality, and it cheered Bond to climb into the low-hung saloon, to hear the solid bite of the gears and the masculine tone of the wide exhaust. Fifteen years old, he reflected, yet still one of the most modern-looking cars in the world.
They swung on to the causeway and across the wide expanse of unrippled water that separates the twenty miles of narrow island from the broad peninsula sprawling with St. Petersburg and its suburbs.
Already as they idled up Central Avenue on their way across the town to the Yacht Basin and the main harbour and the big hotels, Bond caught a whiff of the atmosphere that makes the town the 'Old Folks Home' of America . Everyone on the sidewalks had white hair, white or blue, and the famous Sidewalk Davenports that Solitaire had described were thick with oldsters sitting in rows like the starlings in
Trafalgar Square. Bond noted the small grudging mouths of the women, the sun gleaming on their pince-nez; the stringy, collapsed chests and arms of the men displayed to the sunshine in Truman shirts. The fluffy, sparse balls of hair on the women showing the pink scalp. The bony bald heads of the men. And, everywhere, a prattling camaraderie, a swapping of news and gossip, a making of folksy dates for the shuffle board and the bridge-table, a handing round of letters from children and grandchildren, a tut-tutting about prices in the shops and the motels.
You didn't have to be amongst them to hear it all. It was all in the nodding and twittering of the balls of blue fluff, the back-slapping and hawk-an-spitting of the little old baldheads.
'It makes you want to climb right into the tomb and pull the lid down,' said Leiter at Bond's exclamations of horror. 'You wait till we get out and walk. If they see your shadow coming up the sidewalk behind them they jump out of the way as if you were the Chief Cashier coming to look over their shoulders in the bank. It's ghastly. Makes me think of the bank clerk who went home unexpectedly at midday and found the President of the bank sleeping with his wife. He went back and told his pals in the ledger department and said, “Gosh, fellers, he nearly caught me!” '
'You can hear all the presentation gold watches ticking in their pockets,' said Leiter. 'Place is full of undertakers, and pawnshops stuffed with gold watches and masonic rings and bits of jet and lockets full of hair. Makes you shiver to think of it all. Wait till you go to “Aunt Milly's Place” and see them all in droves mumbling over their corn-beef hash and cheeseburgers, trying to keep alive till ninety. It'll frighten the life out of you. But they're not all old down here. Take a look at that ad over there.' He pointed towards a big hoarding on a deserted lot.