Live and Let Die / Page 28

Page 28



A few steps away from him, sinister and incongruous, the scarecrow effigy of Baron Samedi, erect on a rock, gaped at Bond from under its bowler hat.

Mr. Big took his hand off his chin, and his great golden eyes looked Bond over from top to toe.

'Good morning, Mister James Bond,' he said at last, throwing his flat voice against the dying crescendo of the drums. 'The fly has indeed been a long time coming to the spider, or perhaps I should say “the minnow to the whale”. You left a pretty wake of bubbles after the reef.'

He leant back in his chair and was silent. The drums softly thudded and boomed.

So it was the fight with the octopus that had betrayed him. Bond's mind automatically registered the fact as his eyes moved on past the man at the table.

He was in a rock chamber as big as a church. Half the floor was taken up with the clear white pool from which he had come and which verged into aquamarine and then blue near the black hole of the underwater entrance. Then there was the narrow strip of sand on which he was standing and the rest of the floor was smooth flat rock dotted with a few grey and white stalagmites.

Some way behind Mr. Big, steep steps mounted towards a vaulted ceiling from which short limestone stalactites hung down. From their white nipples water dripped intermittently into the pool or on to the points of the young stalagmites that rose towards them from the floor.

A dozen bright arc lights were fixed high up on the walls and reflected golden highlights from the naked chests of a group of negroes standing to his left on the stone floor rolling their eyes and watching Bond, their teeth showing in delighted cruel grins.

Round their black and pink feet, in a debris of broken timber and rusty iron hoops, mildewed strips of leather and disintegrating canvas, was a blazing sea of gold coin-yards, piles, cascades of round golden specie from which the black legs rose as if they had been halted in the middle of a walk through flame.

Beside them were piled row upon row of shallow wooden trays. There were some on the floor partly filled with gold coin, and at the bottom of the steps a single negro had stopped on his way up and he was holding one of the trays in his hands and it was full of gold coin, four cylindrical rows of it, held out as if for sale between his hands.

Further to the left, in a corner of the chamber, two negroes stood by a bellying iron cauldron suspended over three hissing blow-lamps, its base glowing red. They held iron skimmers in their hands and these were splashed with gold half way up the long handles. Beside them was a towering jumble of gold objects, plate, altar pieces, drinking vessels, crosses, and a stack of gold ingots of various sizes. Along the wall near them were ranged rows of metal cooling trays, their segmented surfaces gleaming yellow, and there was an empty tray on the floor near the cauldron and a long gold-spattered ladle, its handle bound with cloth.

Squatting on the floor not far from Mr. Big, a single negro had a knife in one hand and a jewelled goblet in the other. Beside him on a tin plate was a pile of gems that winked dully, red and blue and green, in the glare of the arcs.

It was warm and airless in the great rock chamber and yet Bond shivered as his eyes took in the whole splendid scene, the blazing violet-white lights, the shimmering bronze of the sweating bodies, the bright glare of the gold, the rainbow pool of jewels and the milk and aquamarine of the pool. He shivered at the beauty of it all, at this fabulous petrified ballet in the great treasure-house of Bloody Morgan.

His eyes came back to the square of green baize and the great zombie face and he looked at the face and into the wide yellow eyes with awe, almost with reverence.

'Stop the drums,' said The Big Man to no one in particular. They had died almost to a whisper, a lisping beat right on the pulse of the blood. One of the negroes took two softly clanging steps amongst the gold coin and bent down. There was a portable phonograph on the floor and a powerful amplifier leant beside it against the rock wall. There was a click and the drums stopped. The negro shut the lid of the machine and went back to his place.

'Get on with the work,' said Mr. Big, and at once all the figures started moving as if a penny had been put in a slot. The cauldron was stirred, the gold was picked up and clicked into the boxes, the man picked busily at his jewelled goblet and the negro with the tray of gold moved on up the stairs.

Bond stood and dripped sweat and blood.

The Big Man bent over the lists on his table and wrote one or two figures with his pen.

Bond stirred and felt the prick of a dagger over his kidneys.

The Big Man put down his pen and got slowly to his feet. He moved away from the table.

'Take over,' he said to one of Bond's guards and the naked man walked round the table and sat down in Mr. Big's chair and picked up the pen.

'Bring him up.' Mr. Big walked over to the steps in the rock and started to climb them slowly.

Bond felt a prick in his side. He stepped out of the debris of his black skin and followed the slowly climbing figure.

No one looked up from his work. No one would slacken when Mr. Big was out of sight. No one would put a jewel or a coin in his mouth.

Baron Samedi was left in charge.

Only his Zombie had gone from the cave.

CHAPTER XXI

'GOOD NIGHT TO YOU BOTH'

THEY climbed slowly up, past an open door near the ceiling, for about forty feet and then paused on a wide landing in the rock. Here a single negro with an acetylene light beside him was fitting trays full of gold coin into the centre of the fish-tanks, scores of which were stacked against the wall.

As they waited, two negroes came down the steps from the surface, picked up one of the prepared tanks and went back up the steps with it.

Bond guessed the tanks were stocked with sand and weed and fish somewhere up above and then passed to the human chain that stretched down the cliff face.

Bond noticed that some of the waiting tanks had gold ingots fitted in the centre, and others a gravel of jewels, and he revised his estimate of the treasure, quadrupling it to around four million sterling.

Mr. Big stood for a few moments with his eyes on the stone floor. His breathing was deep but controlled. Then they went on up.

Twenty steps higher there was another landing, smaller and with a door leading off it. The door had a new chain and padlock on it. The door itself was made of platted iron slats, brown and corroded with rust.

Mr. Big paused again and they stood side by side on the small platform of rock.

For a moment Bond thought of escape, but, as if reading his mind, the negro guard crowded him up against the stone wall away from The Big Man. And Bond knew his first duty was to stay alive and get to Solitaire and somehow keep her away from the doomed ship where the acid was slowly eating through the copper of the timefuse.

From above, a strong draught of cold air was coming down the shaft and Bond felt the sweat drying on him. He put his right hand up to the wound in his shoulder, undeterred by the prick of the guard's dagger in his side. The blood was dry and caked and most of the arm was numb. It ached viciously.

Mr. Big spoke.

'That wind, Mister Bond,' he pointed up the shaft, 'is known in Jamaica as “The Undertaker's Wind”.'

Bond shrugged his right shoulder and saved his breath.

Mr. Big turned to the iron door, took a key from his pocket and unlocked it. He went through and Bond and his guard followed.

It was a long, narrow passage of a room with rusty shackles low down in the walls at less than yard intervals.

At the far end, where a hurricane light hung from the stone roof, there was a motionless figure under a blanket on the floor. There was one more hurricane light over their heads near the door, otherwise nothing but a smell of damp rock, and ancient torture, and death.

'Solitaire,' said Mr. Big softly.

Bond's heart leapt and he started forward. At once a huge hand grasped him by the arm.

'Hold it, white man,' snapped his guard and twisted his wrist up between his shoulder-blades, hefting it higher until

Bond lashed out with his left heel. It hit the other man's shin, and hurt Bond more than the guard.

Mr. Big turned round. He had a small gun almost covered by his huge hand.

'Let him go,' he said, quietly. 'If you want an extra navel, Mister Bond, you can have one. I have six of them in this gun.'

Bond brushed past The Big Man. Solitaire was on her feet, coming towards him. When she saw his face she broke into a run, holding out her two hands.

'James,' she sobbed. 'James.'

She almost fell at his feet. Their hands clutched at each other.

'Get me some rope,' said Mr. Big in the doorway.

'It's all right, Solitaire,' said Bond, knowing that it wasn't. 'It's all right. I'm here now.'

He picked her up and held her at arm's length. It hurt his left arm. She was pale and dishevelled. There was a bruise on her forehead and black circles under her eyes. Her face was grimy and tears had made streaks down the pale skin. She had no make-up. She wore a dirty white linen suit and sandals. She looked thin.

'What's the bastard been doing to you?' said Bond. He suddenly held her tightly to him. She clung to him, her face buried in his neck.

Then she drew away and looked at her hand.

'But you're bleeding,' she said. 'What is it?'

She turned him half round and saw the black blood on his shoulder and down his arm.

'Oh my darling, what is it?'

She started to cry again, forlornly, hopelessly, realizing suddenly that they were both lost.

'Tie them up,' said The Big Man from the door. 'Here under the light. I have things to say to them.'

The negro came towards them and Bond turned. Was it worth a gamble? The negro had nothing but rope in his hands. But The Big Man had stepped sideways and was watching him, the gun held loosely, half pointing at the floor.

'No, Mister Bond,' he said simply.

Bond eyed the big negro and thought of Solitaire and his own wounded arm.

The negro came up and Bond allowed his arms to be tied behind his back. They were good knots. There was no play in them. They hurt.

Bond smiled at Solitaire. He half closed one eye. It was nothing but bravado, but he saw a hopeful awareness dawn through her tears.

The negro led him back to the doorway.

'There,' said The Big Man, pointing at one of the shackles.

The negro cut Bond's legs from under him with a sudden sweep of his shin. Bond fell on his wounded shoulder. The negro pulled him by the rope up to the shackle, tested it, and put the rope through and then down to Bond's ankles which he bound securely. He had stuck his dagger in a crevice in the rock. He pulled it out and cut the rope and went back to where Solitaire was standing.

Bond was left sitting on the stone floor, his legs straight out in front, his arms hoisted up and secured behind him. Blood dripped down from his freshly opened wound. Only the remains of the benzedrine in his system kept him from fainting.

Solitaire was bound and placed almost opposite him. There was a yard between their feet.

When it was done, The Big Man looked at his watch.

'Go,' he said to the guard. He closed the iron door behind the man and leant against it.

Bond and the girl looked at each other and The Big Man gazed down on both of them.

After one of his long silences he addressed Bond. Bond looked up at him. The great grey football of a head under the hurricane lamp looked like an elemental, a malignant spectre from the centre of the earth, as it hung in mid air, the golden eyes blazing steadily, the great body in shadow. Bond had to remind himself that he had heard its heart pumping in its chest, had heard it breathe, had seen sweat on the grey skin. It was only a man, of the same species as himself, a big man, with a brilliant brain, but still a man who walked and defecated, a mortal man with a diseased heart.


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