Bond thought for a while, then he picked up the telephone and spoke briefly to a man at the Eastern Garden Aquarium at Miami and consulted him about buying a live shark to keep in an ornamental lagoon.
'Only place I ever heard of is right near you now, Mr. Bryce,' said the helpful voice. ' “Ourobouros Worm and Bait.” They got sharks. Big ones. Do business with foreign zoos and suchlike. White, Tiger, even Hammerheads. They'll be glad to help you. Costs a lot to feed 'em. You're welcome. Any time you're passing. 'Bye.'
Bond took out his gun and cleaned it, waiting for the night.
MIDNIGHT AMONG THE WORMS
ABOUND six Bond packed his bag and paid the check. Mrs. Stuyvesant was glad to see the last of him. The Everglades hadn't experienced such alarums since the last hurricane.
Leiter's car was back on the Boulevard and he drove it over to the town. He visited a hardware store and made various purchases. Then he had the biggest steak, rare, with French fried, he had ever seen. It was a small grill called Pete's, dark and friendly. He drank a quarter of a pint of Old Grandad with the steak and had two cups of very strong coffee. With all this under his belt he began to feel more sanguine.
He spun out the meal and the drinks until nine o'clock. Then he studied a map of the city and took the car and made a wide detour that brought him within a block of The Robber's wharf from the south. He ran the car down to the sea and got out.
It was a bright moonlit night and the buildings and warehouses threw great blocks of indigo shadow. The whole section seemed deserted and there was no sound except the quiet lapping of the small waves against the seawall and water gurgling under the empty wharves.
The top of the low sea-wall was about three feet wide. It was in shadow for the hundred yards or more that separated him from the long black outline of the Ourobouros warehouse.
Bond climbed on to it and walked carefully and silently along between the buildings and the sea. As he got nearer a steady, high-pitched whine became louder, and by the time he dropped down on the wide cement parking space at the back of the building it was a muted scream. Bond had expected something of the sort. The noise came from the air-pumps and heating systems which he knew would be necessary to keep the fish healthy through the chill of the night hours. He had also relied on the fact that most of the roof would certainly be of glass to admit sunlight during the day. Also that there would be good ventilation.
He was not disappointed. The whole of the south wall of the warehouse, from just above the level of his head, was of plate glass, and through it he could see the moon-light shining down through half an acre of glass roofing. High up above him, and well out of reach, broad windows were open to the night air. There was, as he and Leiter had expected, a small door low down, but it was locked and bolted and leaded wires near the hinges suggested some form of burglar-alarm.
Bond was not interested in the door. Following his hunch, he had come equipped for an entry through glass. He cast about for something that would raise him an extra two feet. In a land where litter and junk are so much a part of the landscape he soon found what he wanted. It was a discarded heavy gauge tyre. He rolled it to the wall of the warehouse away from the door and took off his shoes.
He put bricks against the bottom edges of the tyre to hold it steady and hoisted himself up. The steady scream of the pumps gave him protection and he at once set to work with a small glass-cutter which he had bought, together with a hunk of putty, on his way to dinner. When he had cut down the two vertical sides of one of the yard-square panes, he pressed the putty against the centre of the glass and worked it to a protruding knob. He then went to work on the lateral edges of the pane.
While he worked he gazed through into the moonlit vistas of the huge repository. The endless rows of tanks stood on wooden trestles with narrow passages between. Down the centre of the building there was a wider passage. Under the trestles Bond could see long tanks and trays let into the floor. Just below him, broad racks covered with regiments of sea-shells jutted out from the walls. Most of the tanks were dark but in some a tiny strip of electric light glimmered spectrally and glinted on little fountains of bubbles rising from the weeds and sand. There was a light metal runway suspended from the roof over each row of tanks and Bond guessed that any individual tank could be lifted out and brought to the exit for shipment or to extract sick fish for quarantine. It was a window into a queer world and into a queer business. It was odd to think of all the worms and eels and fish stirring quietly in the night, the thousands of gills sighing and the multitude of antennae waving and pointing and transmitting their tiny radar signals to the dozing nerve-centres.
After a quarter of an hour's meticulous work there was a slight cracking noise and the pane came away attached to the putty knob in his hand.
He climbed down and put the pane carefully on the ground away from the tyre. Then he stuffed his shoes inside his shirt. With only one good hand they might be vital weapons. He listened. There was no sound but the unfaltering whine of the pumps. He looked up to see if by chance there were any clouds about to cross the moon, but the sky was empty save for its canopy of brightly burning stars. He got back on top of the tyre and with an easy heave half of his body was through the wide hole he had made.
He turned and grasped the metal frame above his head and putting all his weight on his arms he jack-knifed his legs through and down so that they were hanging a few inches above the racks full of shells. He lowered himself until he could feel the backs of the shells with his stockinged toes, then he softly separated them with his toes until he had exposed a width of board. Then he let his whole weight subside softly on to the tray. It held, and in a moment he was down on the floor listening with all his senses for any noise behind the whine of the machinery.
But there was none. He took his steel-tipped shoes out of his shirt and left them on the cleared board, then he moved off on the concrete floor with a pencil flashlight in his hand.
He was in the aquarium-fish section, and as he examined the labels he caught flashes of coloured light from the deep tanks and occasionally a piece of living jewellery would materialize and briefly goggle at him before he moved on.
There were all kinds - Swordtails, Guppies, Platys, Terras, Neons, Cichlids, Labyrinth and Paradise fish, and every variety of exotic Goldfish. Underneath, sunk in the floor, and most of them covered with chicken wire, there were tray upon tray swarming and heaving with worms and baits: white worms, micro worms, Daphnia, shrimp, and thick slimy clam worms. From these ground tanks, forests of tiny eyes looked up at his torch.
There was the foetid smell of a mangrove swamp in the air and the temperature was in the high seventies. Soon Bond began to sweat slightly and to long for the clean night air.
He had moved to the central passage-way before he found the poison fish which were one of his objectives. When he had read about them in the files of the Police Headquarters in New York , he had made a mental note that he would like to know more about this sideline of the peculiar business of Ourobouros Inc.
Here the tanks were smaller and there was generally only one specimen in each. Here the eyes that looked sluggishly at Bond were cold and hooded and an occasional fang was bared at the torch or a spined backbone slowly swelled.
Each tank bore an ominous skull-and-crossbones in chalk and there were large labels that said VERY DANGEROUS and KEEP OFF.
There must have been at least a hundred tanks of various sizes, from the large ones to hold Torpedo Skates and the sinister Guitar Fish, to smaller ones for the Horse-killer Eel, Mud Fish from the Pacific, and the monstrous West Indian Scorpion Fish, each of whose spines has a poison sac as powerful as a rattlesnake's.
Bond's eyes narrowed as he noticed that in all the dangerous tanks the mud or sand on the bottom occupied nearly half the tank.
He chose a tank containing a six-inch Scorpion Fish. He knew something of the habits of this deadly species and in particular that they do not strike, but poison only on contact.
The top of the tank was on a level with his waist. He took out a strong pocket-knife he had purchased and opened the longest blade. Then he leant over the tank and with '.
sleeve rolled up he deliberately aimed his knife at the centre of the craggy head between the overhung grottoes of the eye-sockets. As his hand broke the surface of the water the white dinosaur spines stood threateningly erect and the mottled stripes of the fish turned to a uniform muddy brown. Its broad, wing-like pectorals rose slightly, poised for flight.
Bond lunged swiftly, correcting his aim for the refraction from the surface of the tank. He pinned the bulging head down as the tail threshed wildly and slowly drew the fish towards him and up the glass side of the tank. He stood aside and whipped it out on to the floor, where it continued flapping and jumping despite its shattered skull.
He leant over the tank and plunged his hand deep into the centre of the mud and sand.
Yes, they were there. His hunch about the poison fish had been right. His fingers felt the close rows of coin deep under the mud, like counters in a box. They were in a flat tray. He could feel the wooden partitions. He pulled out a coin, rinsing it and his hand in the cleaner surface water as he did so. He shone his torch on it. It was as big as a modern five-shilling piece and nearly as thick and it was gold. It bore the arms of Spain and the head of Philip II.
He looked at the tank, measuring it. There must be a thousand coins in this one tank that no customs officer would think of disturbing. Ten to twenty thousand dollars' worth, guarded by one poison-fanged Cerberus. These must be the cargo brought in by the Secatur on her last trip a week ago. A hundred tanks. Say one hundred and fifty thousand dollars' worth of gold per trip. Soon the trucks would be coming for the tanks and somewhere down the road men with rubber-coated tongs would extract the deadly fish and throw them back in the sea or burn them. The water and the mud would be emptied out and the gold coin washed and poured into bags. Then the bags would go to agents and the coins would trickle out on the market, each one strictly accounted for by Mr. Big's machine.
It was a scheme after Mr. Big's philosophy, effective, technically brilliant, almost foolproof.
Bond was full of admiration as he bent to the floor and speared the Scorpion Fish in the side. He dropped it back in the tank. There was no point in divulging his knowledge to the enemy.
It was as he turned away from the tank that all the lights in the warehouse suddenly blazed on and a voice of sharp authority said, 'Don't move an inch. Stick 'em up.'
As Bond took a rolling dive under the tank he caught a glimpse of the lank figure of The Robber squinting down the sights of his rifle about twenty yards away, up against the main entrance. As he dived he prayed that The Robber would miss, but also he prayed that the floor tank which was to take his dive would be one of the covered ones. It was. It was covered with chicken wire. Something snapped up at him as he hit the wire and sprawled clear in the next passage-way. As he dived, the rifle cracked and the Scorpion Fish tank above his head splintered sharply and water gushed down.
Bond sprinted fast between the tanks back towards his only means of retreat. Just as he turned the corner there was a shot and a tank of angel fish exploded like a bomb just beside his ear.
He was now at his end of the warehouse with The Robber at the other, fifty yards away. There was no possible chance of jumping for his window on the other side of the central passage-way. He stood for a moment gaining his breath and thinking. He realized that the lines of tanks would only protect him to the knees and that between the tanks he would be in full view down the narrow passages. Either way, he could not stand still. He was reminded of the fact as a shot whammed between his legs into a pile of conchs, sending splinters of their hard china buzzing round him like wasps. He ran to his right and another shot came at his legs. It hit the floor and zoomed into a huge carboy of clams that split in half and emptied a hundred shell-fish over the floor. Bond raced back, taking long quick strides. He had his Beretta out and loosed off two shots as he crossed the central passage-way. He saw The Robber jump for shelter as a tank shattered above his head.