As he swam up, carrying the mine between his hands, bottom upwards, he was aware of a commotion in the water behind him. A barracuda flashed by, its jaws half open, almost hitting him, its eyes fixed on something at his back. But Bond was intent only on the centre of the ship's keel and on a point about three feet above it.
The mine almost dragged him the last few feet, its huge magnets straining for the metallic kiss with the hull.
Bond had to pull hard against it to prevent the clang of contact. Then it was silently in place and with its weight removed Bond had to swim strongly to counter his new buoyancy and get down again and away from the surface.
It was as he turned to swim towards the twin propellers on his way to the shelter of the rocks that he suddenly saw the terrible things that had been going on behind him.
The great pack of barracudas seemed to have gone mad. They were whirling and snapping in the water like hysterical dogs. Three sharks that had joined them were charging through the water with a clumsier frenzy. The water was boiling with the dreadful fish and Bond was slammed in the face and buffeted again and again within a few yards. At any moment he knew his rubber skin would be torn with the flesh below it and then the pack would be on him.
'Extreme mob behaviour conditions.' The Navy Department's phrase flashed into his mind. This was just when he might have saved himself with the shark-repellent stuff. Without it he might only have a few more minutes to live.
In desperation he threshed through the water along the ship's keel, the safety-catch up on the harpoon gun that was now only a toy in the face of this drove of maddened cannibal fish.
He reached the two big copper screws and clung to one of them, panting, his lips drawn back from his teeth in a snarl of fear, his eyes distended as he faced the frenzy of the boiling sea around him.
He at once saw that the mouths of the hurtling, darting fish were half open and that they were plunging in and out of a brownish cloud, spreading downwards from the surface. Close to him a barracuda hung for an instant, something brown and glittering in its jaws. It gave a great swallow and then swirled back into the melee.
At the same time he noticed that it was getting darker. He looked up and saw with dawning comprehension that the quicksilver surface of the sea had turned red, a horrible glinting crimson.
Threads of the stuff drifted within his reach. He hooked some towards him with the end of his gun. Held the end close up against his glass mask.
There was no doubt about it.
Up above, someone was spraying the surface of the sea with blood and offal.
BLOODY MORGAN'S CAVE
IMMEDIATELY Bond understood why all these barracuda and shark were lurking round the island, how they were kept frenzied with bloodlust by this nightly banquet, why, against all reason, the three men had been washed up half-eaten by the fish.
Mr. Big had just harnessed the forces of the sea for his protection. It was a typical invention - imaginative, technically foolproof and very easy to operate.
Even as Bond's mind grasped it all, something hit him a terrific blow in the shoulder and a twenty-pound barracuda backed away, black rubber and flesh hanging from its jaws. Bond felt no pain as he let go of the bronze propeller and threshed wildly for the rocks, only a horrible sickness in the pit of his stomach at the thought of part of himself between those hundred razor-sharp teeth. Water started to ooze between the close-fitting rubber and his skin. It would not be long before it penetrated up his neck and into the mask.
He was just going to give up and shoot the twenty feet to the surface when he saw a wide fissure in the rocks in front of him. Beside it a great boulder lay on its side and somehow he got behind it. He turned from the partial shelter it gave just in time to see the same barracuda coming at him again, its upper jaw held at right angles to the lower for its infamous gaping strike.
Bond fired almost blind with the harpoon gun. The rubber thongs whammed down the barrel and the barbed harpoon caught the big fish in the centre of its raised upper jaw, pierced it and stuck with half the shaft and the line still free.
The barracuda stopped dead in its tracks, three feet from Bond's stomach. It tried to get its jaws together and then gave a mighty shake of its long reptile's head. Then it shot away, zigzagging madly, the gun and line, jerked from Bond's hand, streaming behind it. Bond knew that the other fish would be on to it, tearing it to bits, before it had gone a hundred yards.
Bond thanked God for the diversion. His shoulder was now surrounded by a cloud of blood. In a matter of seconds the other fish would catch the scent. He slipped round the boulder with the thought that he would scramble up under the shelter of the jetty and somehow hide himself above the level of the sea until he had made a fresh plan.
Then he saw the cave that the boulder had hidden.
It was really almost a door into the base of the island. If Bond had not been swimming for his life he could have walked in. As it was, he dived straight through the opening and only stopped when several yards separated him from the glimmering entrance.
Then he stood upright on the soft sand and switched on his torch. A shark might conceivably come in after him but in the confined space it would be almost impossible for it to bring its underslung mouth to bear on him. It would certainly not come in with a rush for even the shark is frightened of hazarding its tough skin among rocks, and he would have plenty of chance of going for its eyes with his dagger.
Bond shone his torch on the ceiling and sides of the cave. It had certainly been fashioned or finished by man. Bond guessed that it had been dug outwards from somewhere in the centre of the island.
'At least another twenty yards to go, men,' Bloody Morgan must have said to the slave overseers. And then the picks would have burst suddenly through to the sea and a welter of arms and legs and screaming mouths, gagged for ever with water, would have hurtled back into the rock to join the bodies of other witnesses.
The great boulder at the entrance would have been put in position to seal the seaward exit. The Shark Bay fisherman who suddenly disappeared six months before must have one day found it rolled away by a storrn or by the tidal wave following a hurricane. Then he had found the treasure and had known he would need help to dispose of it. A white man would cheat him. Better go to the great negro gangster in Harlem and make the best terms he could. The gold belonged to the black men who had died to hide it. It should go back to the black men.
Standing there, swaying in the slight current hi the tunnel, Bond guessed that one more barrel of cement had splashed into the mud of the Harlem River.
It was then that he heard the drums.
Out amongst the big fish he had heard a soft thunder in the water that had grown as he entered the cave. But he had thought it was only the waves against the base of the island, and anyway he had had other things to think about.
But now he could distinguish a definite rhythm and the sound boomed and swelled around him in a muffled roar as if he himself was imprisoned inside a vast kettle-drum.
The water seemed to tremble with it. He guessed its double purpose. It was a great fish-call used, when intruders were about, to attract and excite the fish still further. Quarrel had told him how the fishermen at night beat the sides of their canoes with the paddle to wake and bring the fish. This must be the same idea. And at the same time it would be a sinister Voodoo warning to the people on shore, made doubly effective when the dead body was washed up on the following day.
Another of Mr. Big's refinements, thought Bond. Another spark thrown off by that extraordinary mind.
Well, at least he knew where he was now. The drums meant that he had been spotted. What would Strangways and Quarrel think as they heard them? They would just have to sit and sweat it out. Bond had guessed the drums were some sort of trick and he had made them promise not to interfere unless the Secalur got safely away. That would mean that all Bond's plans had failed. He had told Strangways where the gold was hidden and the ship would have to be intercepted on the high seas.
Now the enemy was alerted, but would not know who he was nor that he was still alive. He would have to go on if only to stop Solitaire at all costs from sailing in the doomed ship.
Bond looked at his watch. It was half an hour after midnight. So far as Bond was concerned, it might have been a week since he started his lonely voyage through the sea of dangers.
He felt the Beretta under his rubber skin and wondered if it was already ruined by the water that had got in through the rent made by the barracuda's teeth.
Then, the roar of the drums getting louder every moment, he moved on into the cave, his torch throwing a tiny pinpoint of light ahead of him.
He had gone about ten yards when a faint glimmer showed in the water ahead of him. He dowsed the torch and went cautiously towards it. The sandy floor of the cave started to move upwards and with every yard the light grew brighter. Now he could see dozens of small fish playing around him and ahead the water seemed full of them, attracted into the cave by the light. Grabs peered from the small crevices in the rocks and a baby octopus flattened itself into a phosphorescent star against the ceiling.
Then he could make out the end of the cave and a wide shining pool beyond it, the white sandy bottom as bright as day. The throb of the drums was very loud. He stopped in the shadow of the entrance and saw that the surface was only a few inches away and that lights were shining down into the pool.
Bond was in a quandary. Any further step and he would be in full view of anyone looking at the pool. As he stood, debating with himself, he was horrified to see a thin red cloud of blood spreading beyond the entrance from his shoulder. He had forgotten the wound, but now it began to throb, and when he moved his arm the pain shot through it. There was also the thin stream of bubbles from the cylinders, but he hoped these were just creeping up to burst unnoticed at the lip of the entrance.
Even as he drew back a few inches into his hole, his future was settled for him.
Above his head there was a single huge splash and two negroes, naked except for the glass masks over their faces, were on to him, long daggers held like lances in their left hands.
Before his hand reached the knife at his belt they had seized both his arms and were hauling him to the surface.
Hopelessly, helplessly, Bond let himself be man-handled out of the pool on to flat sand. He was pulled to his feet and the zips of his rubber suit were torn open. His helmet was snatched off his head and his holster from his shoulder and suddenly he was standing among the debris of his black skin, like a flayed snake, naked except for his brief swimming-trunks. Blood oozed down from the jagged hole in his left shoulder.
When his helmet came off Bond was almost deafened by the shattering boom and stutter of the drums. The noise was in him and all around him. The hastening syncopated rhythm galloped and throbbed in his blood. It seemed enough to wake all Jamaica. Bond grimaced and clenched his senses against the buffeting tempest of noise. Then his guards turned him round and he was faced with a scene so extraordinary that the sound of the drums receded and all his consciousness was focused through his eyes.
In the foreground, at a green baize card-table, littered with papers, in a folding chair, sat Mr. Big, a pen in his hand, looking incuriously at him. A Mr. Big in a well-cut fawn tropical suit, with a white shirt and black knitted silk tie. His broad chin rested on his left hand and he looked up at Bond as if he had been disturbed in his office by a member of the staff asking for a raise in salary. He looked polite but faintly bored.