It was an advertisement for maternity clothes. 'STUTZ HEIMER & BLOCK,' it Said, 'IT'S NEW! OUR ANTICIPATION DEPARTMENT, AND AFTER! CLOTHES FOR CHIPS (1-4) AND TWIGS (4-8).'
Bond groaned. 'Let's get away from here,' he said. 'This is really beyond the call of duty.'
They came down to the waterfront and turned right until they came to the seaplane base and the coastguard station. The streets were free of oldsters and here there was the normal life of a harbour — wharves, warehouses, a ship's chandler, some up-turned boats, nets drying, the cry of seagulls, the. rather fetid smell coming in off the bay. After the teeming boneyard of the town the sign over the garage: 'Drive-ur-Self. Pat Grady. The Smiling Irishman. Used cars,' was a cheerful reminder of a livelier, bustling world.
'Better get out and walk,' said Leiter. 'The Robber's place is in the next block.'
They left the car beside the harbour and sauntered along past a timber warehouse and some oil-storage tanks. Then they turned left again towards the sea.
The side-road ended at a small weather-beaten wooden jetty that reached out twenty feet on barnacled piles into the bay. Right up against its open gate was a long low corrugated-iron warehouse. Over its wide double doors was painted, black on white, 'Ourobouros Inc. Live Worm and Bait Merchants. Coral, Shells, Tropical Fish. Wholesale only.' In one of the double doors there was a smaller door with a gleaming Yale lock. On the door was a sign: 'Private. Keep Out.'
Against this a man sat on a kitchen chair, its back tilted so that the door supported his weight. He was cleaning a rifle, a Remington 30 it looked like to Bond. He had a wooden toothpick sticking out of his mouth and a battered baseball cap on the back of his head. He was wearing a stained white singlet that revealed tufts of black hair under his arms, and slept-in white canvas trousers and rubber-soled sneakers. He was around forty and his face was as knotted and seamed as the mooring posts on the jetty. It was a thin, hatchet face, and the lips were thin too, and bloodless. His complexion was the colour of tobacco dust, a sort of yellowy-beige. He looked cruel and cold, like the bad man in a film about poker-players and gold mines.
Bond and Leiter walked past him and on to the pier. He didn't look up from his rifle as they went past but Bond sensed that his eyes were following them.
'If that isn't The Robber,' said Leiter, Ht's a blood relation.'
A pelican, grey with a pale yellow head, was hunched on one of the mooring posts at the end of the jetty. He let them get very close, then reluctantly gave a few heavy beats of his wings and planed down towards the water. The two men stood and watched him flying slowly along just above the surface of the harbour. Suddenly he crashed clumsily down, his long bill snaking out and down in front of him. It came up clutching a small fish which he moodily swallowed. Then the heavy bird got up again and went on fishing, flying mostly into the sun so that its big shadow would give no warning. When Bond and Leiter turned to walk back down the jetty it gave up fishing and glided back to its post. It settled with a clatter of wings and resumed its thoughtful consideration of the late afternoon.
The man was still bent over his gun, wiping the mechanism with an oily rag.
'Good afternoon,' said Leiter. 'You the manager of this wharf?'
'Yep,' said the man without looking up.
'Wondered if there was any chance of mooring my boat here. Basin's pretty crowded.'
Leiter took out his notecase. 'Would twenty talk?'
'Nope.' The man gave a rattling hawk in his throat and spat directly between Bond and Leiter.
'Hey,' said Leiter. 'You want to watch your manners.'
The man deliberated. He looked up at Leiter. He had small, close-set eyes as cruel as a painless dentist's. x 'What's a name of your boat?'
'The Sybil,' said Leiter.
'Ain't no sich boat in the Basin,' said the man. He clicked the breech shut on his rifle. It lay casually on his lap pointing down the approach to the warehouse, away from the sea.
'You're blind,' said Leiter. 'Been there a week. Sixty-foot twin-screw Diesel. White with a green awning. Rigged for fishing.'
The rifle started to move lazilv in a low arc. The man's left hand was at the trigger, his right just in front of the trigger-guard, pivoting the gun.
They stood still.
The man sat lazily looking down at the breech, his chair still tilted against the small door with the yellow Yale lock.
The gun slowly traversed Leiter's stomach, then Bond's. The two men stood like statues, not risking a move of the hand. The gun stopped pivoting. It was pointing down the wharf. The Robber looked briefly up, narrowed his eyes and pulled the trigger. The pelican gave a fault squawk and they heard its heavy body crash into the water. The echo of the shot boomed across the harbour.
'What the hell d'you do that for?' asked Bond furiously.
'Practice,' said the man, pumping another bullet into the breech.
'Guess there's a branch of the ASPCA in this town,' said Leiter. 'Let's get along there and report this guy.'
'Want to be prosecuted for trespass?' asked The Robber, getting slowly up and shifting the gun under his arm. 'This is private property. Now,' he spat the words out, 'git the hell out of here.' He turned and yanked the chair away from the door, opened the door with a key and turned with one foot on the threshold. 'You both got guns,' he said. 'I kin smell 'em. You come aroun' here again and you follow the boid 'n I plead self-defence. I've had a bellyful of you lousy dicks aroun' here lately breathin' down my neck. Sybil my ass!' He turned contemptuously through the door and slammed it so that the frame rattled.
They looked at each other. Leiter grinned ruefully and shrugged his shoulders.
'Round One to The Robber,' he said.
They moved off down the dusty sideroad. The sun was setting and the sea behind them was a pool of blood. When they got to the main road, Bond looked back. A big arc light had come on over the door and the approach to the warehouse was stripped of shadows.
'No good trying anything from the front,' said Bond. 'But there's never been a warehouse with only one entrance.'
'Just what I was thinking,' said Leiter. 'We'll save that for the next visit.'
They got into the car and drove slowly home across Central Avenue. On their way home Leiter asked a string of questions about Solitaire. Finally he said casually: 'By the way, hope I fixed the rooms like you want them.'
'Couldn't be better,' said Bond cheerfully.
'Fine,' said Leiter. 'Just occurred to me you two might be hyphenating.'
'You read too much Winchell,' said Bond.
'It's just a delicate way of putting it,' said Leiter. 'Don't forget the walls of those cottages are pretty thin. I use my ears for hearing with - not for collecting lip-stick.'
Bond grabbed for a handkerchief. 'You lousy, goddam sleuth,' he said furiously.
Leiter watched him scrubbing at himself out of the corner of his eye. 'What are you doing?' he asked innocently. 'I wasn't for a moment suggesting the colour of your ears was anything but a natural red. However…' He put a wealth of meaning into the word.
'If you find yourself dead in your bed tonight,' laughed Bond, 'you'll know who did it.'
They were still chaffing each other when they arrived at The Everglades and they were laughing when the grim Mrs. Stuyvesant greeted them on the lawn.
'Pardon me, Mr. Leiter,' she said. 'But I'm afraid we can't allow music here. I can't have the other guests disturbed at all hours.'
They looked at her in astonishment. 'I'm sorry, Mrs. Stuyvesant,' said Leiter. 'I don't quite get you.'
'That big radiogram you had sent round,' said Mrs. Stuyvesant. 'The men could hardly get the packing-case through the door.'
'HE DISAGREED WITH SOMETHING THAT ATE HIM'
THE girl had not put up much of a struggle. When Leiter and Bond, leaving the manageress gaping on the lawn, raced down to the end cottage, they found her room untouched and the bedclothes barely rumpled.
The lock of her room had been forced with one swift wrench of a jemmy and then the two men must have just stood there with guns in their hands.
'Get going, Lady. Get your clothes on. Try any tricks and we'll let the fresh air into you.'
Then they must have gagged her or knocked her out and doubled her into the packing-case and nailed it up. There were tyre-marks at the back of the cottage where the truck had stood. Almost blocking the entrance hall was a huge old-fashioned radiogram. Second-hand it must have cost them under fifty bucks.
Bond could see the expression of blind terror on Solitaire's face as if she was standing before him. He cursed himself bitterly for leaving her alone. He couldn't guess how she had been traced so quickly. It was just another example of The Big Man's machine.
Leiter was talking to the FBI headquarters at Tampa . 'Airports, railroad terminals and the highways,' he was saying. 'You'll get blanket orders from Washington just as soon as I've spoken to them. I guarantee they'll give this top priority. Thanks a lot. Much appreciated. I'll be around. Okay.'
He hung up. 'Thank God they're co-operating,' he said to Bond, who was standing gazing with hard blank eyes out to sea. 'Sending a couple of their men round right away and throwing as wide a net as they can. While I sew this up with Washington and New York , get what you can from that old battle-axe. Exact time, descriptions, etc. Better make out it was a burglary and that Solitaire has skipped with the men. She'll understand that. It'll keep the whole thing on the level of the usual hotel crimes. Say the police are on the way and that we don't blame The Everglades. She'll want to avoid a scandal. Say we feel the same way.'
Bond nodded. 'Skipped with the men?' That was possible too. But somehow he didn't think so. He went back to Solitaire's room and searched it minutely. It still smelled of her, of the 'Vent Vert' that reminded him of their journey together. Her hat and veil were in the cupboard and her few toilet articles on the shelf in the bathroom. He soon found her bag and knew that he was right to have trusted her. It was under the bed and he visualized her kicking it there as she got up with the guns trained on her. He emptied it out on the bed and felt the lining. Then he took out a small knife and carefully cut a few threads. He took out the five thousand dollars and slipped them into his pocket-book. They would be safe with him. If she was killed by Mr. Big, he would spend them on avenging her. He covered up the torn lining as best he could, replaced the other contents of the bag and kicked it back under the bed.
Then he went up to the office.
It was eight o'clock by the time the routine work was finished. They had a stiff drink together and then went to the central dining-room, where the handful of other guests were just finishing their dinner. Everyone looked curiously and rather fearfully at them. What were these two rather dangerous-looking young men doing in this place? Where was the woman who had come with them? Whose wife was she? What had all those goings on meant that evening? Poor Mrs. Stuyvesant running about looking quite distracted. And didn't they realize that dinner was at seven o'clock ? The kitchen staff would be just going home. Serve them right if their food was quite cold. People must have consideration for others. Mrs. Stuyvesant had said she thought they were government men, from Washington . Well, what did that mean?
The consensus of opinion was that they were bad news and no credit to the carefully restricted clientele of The Everglades.
Bond and Leiter were shown to a bad table near the service door. The set dinner was a string of inflated English and pidgin French. What it came down to was tomato juice, boiled fish with a white sauce, a strip of frozen turkey with a dab of cranberry, and a wedge of lemon curd surmounted by a whorl of stiff cream substitute. They munched it down gloomily while the dining-room emptied of its oldster couples and the table lights went out one by one. Fingerbowls, in which floated one hibiscus petal, was the final gracious touch to their meal.