The wide rubbery mouth split open and the flat slightly everted lips drew back from the big white teeth.
'You are the best of those that have been sent against me,' said Mr. Big. His quiet flat voice was thoughtful, measured. 'And you have achieved the death of four of my assistants. My followers find this incredible. It was fully time that accounts should be squared. What happened to the American was not sufficient. The treachery of this girl,' he still looked at Bond, 'whom I found in the gutter and whom I was prepared to put on my right hand, has also brought my infallibility in question. I was wondering how she should die, when providence, or Baron Samedi as my followers will believe, brought you also to the altar with your head bowed ready for the axe.'
The mouth paused, with the lips parted. Bond saw the teeth come together to form the next word.
'So it is convenient that you should die together. That will happen, in an appropriate fashion,' The Big Man looked at his watch, 'in two and a half hours' time. At six o'clock, give or take,' he added, 'a few minutes.'
'Let's give those minutes,' said Bond. 'I enjoy my life.'
'In the history of negro emancipation,' Mr. Big continued in an easy conversational tone,' there have already appeared great athletes, great musicians, great writers, great doctors and scientists. In due course, as in the developing history of other races, there will appear negroes great and famous in every other walk of life.' He paused. 'It is unfortunate for you, Mister Bond, and for this girl, that you have encountered the first of the great negro criminals. I use a vulgar word, Mister Bond, because it is the one you, as a form of policeman, would yourself use. But I prefer to regard myself as one who has the ability and the mental and nervous equipment to make his own laws and act according to them rather than accept the laws that suit the lowest common denominator of the people. You have doubtless read Trotter's Instincts of the Herd in War and Peace, Mister Bond. Well, I am by nature and predilection a wolf and I live by a wolf's laws. Naturally the sheep describe such a person as a “criminal”.
'The fact, Mister Bond,' The Big Man continued after a pause,' that I survive and indeed enjoy limitless success, although I am alone against countless millions of sheep, is attributable to the modern techniques I described to you on the occasion of our last talk, and to an infinite capacity for taking pains. Not dull, plodding pains, but artistic, subtle pains. And I find, Mister Bond, that it is not difficult to outwit sheep, however many of them there may be, if one is dedicated to the task and if one is by nature an extremely well-equipped wolf.
'Let me illustrate to you, by an example, how my mind works. We will take the method I have decided upon by which you are both to die. It is a modern variation on the method used in the time of my kind patron, Sir Henry Morgan. In those days it was known as “keel-hauling”.'
'Pray continue,' said Bond, not looking at Solitaire.
'We have a paravane on board the yacht,' continued Mr. Big as if he was a surgeon describing a delicate operation to a body of students, 'which we use for trawling for shark and other big fish. This paravane, as you know, is a large buoyant torpedo-shaped device, which rides on the end of a cable, away from the side of a ship, and which can be used for sustaining the end of a net, and drawing it through the water when the ship is in motion, or if fitted with a cutting device, for severing the cables of moored mines in time of war.
'I intend,' said Mr. Big, in a matter-of-fact discursive tone of voice,' to bind you together to a line streamed from this paravane and to tow you through the sea until you are eaten by sharks.'
He paused, and his eyes looked from one to the other. Solitaire was gazing wide-eyed at Bond and Bond was thinking hard, his eyes blank and his mind boring into the future. He felt he ought to say something.
'You are a big man,' he said, 'and one day you will die a big, horrible death. If you kill us, that death will come soon. I have arranged for it. You are going mad very fast or you would see what our murder will bring down on you.'
Even as he spoke Bond's mind was working fast, counting hours and minutes, knowing that The Big Man's own death was creeping, with the acid in the fuse, round the minute hand towards his personal hour of final rendezvous. But would he and Solitaire be dead before that hour struck? There would not be more than minutes, perhaps seconds in it. The sweat poured off his face on to his chest. He smiled across at Solitaire. She looked back at him opaquely, her eyes not seeing him.
Suddenly she gave an agonized cry that made Bond's nerves jerk.
'I don't know,' she cried. 'I can't see. It's so near, so close. There is much death. But…'
'Solitaire,' shouted Bond, terrified that whatever strange things she saw in the future might give a warning to The Big Man. 'Pull yourself together.'
There was an angry bite in his voice.
Her eyes cleared. She looked dumbly at him, without comprehension.
The Big Man spoke again.
'I am not going mad, Mister Bond,' he said evenly, 'and nothing you have arranged will affect me. You will die beyond the reef and there will be no evidence. I shall tow the remains of your bodies until there is nothing left. That is part of the dexterity of my intentions. You may also know that shark and barracuda play a role in Voodooism. They will have their sacrifice and Baron Samedi will be appeased. That will satisfy my followers. I wish also to continue my experiments with carnivorous fish. I believe they only attack when there is blood in the water. So your bodies will be towed from the island. The paravane will take them over the reef. I believe you will not be harmed inside the reef. The blood and offal that is thrown into these waters every night will have dispersed or been consumed. But when your bodies have been dragged over the reef, then I'm afraid you will bleed, your bodies will be very raw. And then we will see if my theories are correct.'
The Big Man put his hand behind him and pulled the door open.
'I will leave you now,' he said,' to reflect on the excellence of the method I have invented for your death together. Two necessary deaths are achieved. No evidence is left behind. Superstition is satisfied. My followers pleased. The bodies are used for scientific research.
'That is what I meant, Mister James Bond, by an infinite capacity for taking artistic pains.'
He stood in the doorway and looked at them.
'A short, but very good night to you both.'
TERROR BY SEA
IT was not yet light when their guards came for them. Their leg ropes were cut and with their arms still pinioned they were led up the remaining stone stairs to the surface.
They stood amongst the sparse trees and Bond sniffed the cool morning air. He gazed through the trees towards the east and saw that there the stars were paler and the horizon luminous with the breaking dawn. The night-song of the crickets was almost done and somewhere on the island a mocking bird bubbled its first notes.
He guessed that it was either side of half-past five.
They stood there for several minutes. Negroes brushed past them carrying bundles and jippa-jappa holdalls, talking in cheerful whispers. The doors of the handful of thatched huts among the trees had been left swinging open. The men filed to the edge of the cliff to the right of where Bond and Solitaire were standing and disappeared over the edge. They didn't come back. It was evacuation. The whole garrison of the island was decamping.
Bond rubbed his naked shoulder against Solitaire and she pressed against him. It was cold after the stuffy dungeon and Bond shivered. But it was better to be on the move than for the suspense down below to be prolonged.
They both knew what had to be done, the nature of the gamble.
When The Big Man had left them, Bond had wasted no time. In a whisper, he had told the girl of the limpet mine against the side of the ship timed to explode a few minutes after six o'clock and he had explained the factors that would decide who would die that morning.
First, he gambled on Mr. Big's mania for exactitude and efficiency. The Secatur must sail on the dot of six o'clock. Then there must be no cloud, or visibility hi the half-light of dawn would not be sufficient for the ship to make the passage through the reef and Mr. Big would postpone the sailing. If Bond and Solitaire were on the jetty alongside the ship, they would then be killed with Mi. Big.
Supposing the ship sailed dead on time, how far behind and to one side of her would their bodies be towed? It would have to be on the port side for the paravane to clear the island. Bond guessed the cable to the paravane would be fifty yards and that they would be towed twenty or thirty yards behind the paravane.
If he was right, they would be hauled over the outer reef about fifty yards after the Secatur had cleared the passage. She would probably approach the passage at about three knots and then put on speed to ten or even twenty. At first their bodies would be swept away from the island in a slow arc, twisting and turning at the end of the tow-rope. Then the paravane would straighten out and when the ship had got through the reef, they would still be approaching it. The paravane would then cross the reef when the ship was about forty yards outside it and they would follow.
Bond shuddered to think of the mauling their bodies would suffer being dragged at any speed over the razor-sharp ten yards of coral rocks and trees. The skin on their backs and legs would be flayed off.
Once over the reef they would be just a huge bleeding bait and it would be only a matter of minutes before the first shark or barracuda was on to them.
And Mr. Big would sit comfortably in the stern sheets, watching the bloody show, perhaps with glasses, and ticking off the seconds and minutes as the living bait got smaller and smaller and finally the fish snapped at the bloodstained rope.
Until there was nothing left.
Then the paravane would be hoisted inboard and the yacht would plough gracefully on towards the distant Florida Keys, Cape Sable and the sun-soaked wharf in St. Petersburg Harbour.
And if the mine exploded while they were still in the water, only fifty yards away from the ship? What would be the effect of the shock-waves on their bodies? It might not be deadly. The hull of the ship should absorb most of it. The reef might protect them.
Bond could only guess and hope.
Above all they must stay alive to the last possible second. They must keep breathing as they were hauled, a living bundle, through the sea. Much depended on how they would be bound together. Mr. Big would want them to stay alive. He would not be interested hi dead bait.
If they were still alive when the first shark's fin showed on the surface behind them Bond had coldly decided to drown Solitaire. Drown her by twisting her body under his and holding her there. Then he would try and drown himself by twisting her dead body back over his to keep him under.
There was nightmare at every turn of his thoughts, sickening horror in every grisly aspect of the monstrous torture and death this man had invented for them. But Bond knew he must remain cold and absolutely resolved to fight for their lives to the end. There was at least warmth in the knowledge that Mr. Big and most of his men would also die. And there was a glimmer of hope that he and Solitaire would survive. Unless the mine failed, there was no such hope for the enemy.
All this, and a hundred other details and plans went through Bond's mind in the last hour before they were brought up the shaft to the surface. He shared all his hopes with Solitaire. None of his fears.
She had lain opposite him, her tired blue eyes fixed on him, obedient, trusting, drinking in his face and his words, pliant, loving.