'THE HEART OF THIS CLOCK HAS STOPPED TICKING,' they read. 'THE BEATS OF YOUR OWN HEART ARE NUMBERED, I KNOW THAT NUMBER AND I HAVE STARTED TO COUNT.'
The message was signed '1234567…?' They stood up.
'Hm,' said Bond. 'Bogeyman stuff.'
'But how the hell did he know you were here?' asked Dexter.
Bond told him of the black sedan on 55th Street. 'But the point is,' said Bond, 'how did he know what I was here for? Shows he's got Washington pretty well sewn up. Must be a leak the size of the Grand Canyon somewhere.'
'Why should it be Washington?' asked Dexter testily. 'Anyway,' he controlled himself with a forced laugh, 'Hell and damnation. Have to make a report to Headquarters on this. So long, Mr. Bond. Glad you came to no harm.'
'Thanks,' said Bond. 'It was just a visiting-card. I must return the compliment.'
THE BIG SWITCHBOARD
WHEN Dexter and his colleague had gone, taking the remains of the bomb with them, Bond took a damp towel and rubbed the smoke-mark off the wall. Then he rang for the waiter and, without explanation, told him to put the broken glass on his check and clear away the breakfast things. Then he took his hat and coat and went out on the street.
He spent the morning on Fifth Avenue and on Broadway, wandering aimlessly, gazing into the shop windows and watching the passing crowds. He gradually assimilated the casual gait and manners of a visitor from out of town, and when he tested himself out in a few shops and asked the way of several people he found that nobody looked at him twice.
He had a typical American meal at an eating house called 'Gloryfried Ham-N-Eggs' ('The Eggs We Serve Tomorrow Are Still in the Hens') on Lexington Avenue and then took a cab downtown to police headquarters, where he was due to meet Leiter and Dexter at 2.30.
A Lieutenant Binswanger of Homicide, a suspicious and crusty officer in his late forties, announced that Commissioner Monahan had said that they were to have complete co-operation from the Police Department. What could he do for them? They examined Mr. Big's police record, which more or less duplicated Dexter's information, and they were shown the records and photographs of most of his known associates.
They went over the reports of the US Coastguard Service on the comings and goings of the yacht Secatur and also the comments of the US Customs Service, who had kept a close watch on the boat each time she had docked at St. Petersburg.
These confirmed that the yacht had put in at irregular intervals over the previous six months and that she always tied up in the Port of St. Petersburg at the wharf of the 'Ourobouros Worm and Bait Shippers Inc.', an apparently innocent concern whose main business was to sell live bait to fishing clubs throughout Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and further afield. The company also had a profitable sideline in sea-shells and coral for interior decoration, and a further sideline in tropical aquarium fish—particularly rare poisonous species for the research departments of medical and chemical foundations.
According to the proprietor, a Greek sponge-fisher from the neighbouring Tarpon Springs, the Secatur did big business with his company, bringing in cargoes of queen conchs and other shells from Jamaica and also highly prized varieties of tropical fish. These were purchased by Ourobouros Inc., stored in their warehouse and sold in bulk to wholesalers and retailers up and down the coast. The name of the Greek was Papagos. No criminal record.
The FBI, with the help of Naval Intelligence, had tried listening in to the Secatur's wireless. But she kept off the air except for short messages before she sailed from Cuba or Jamaica and then transmitted en clair in a language which was unknown and completely indecipherable. The last notation on the file was to the effect that the operator was talking in 'Language', the secret Voodoo speech only used by initiates, and that every effort would be made to hire an expert from Haiti before the next sailing.
'More gold been turning up lately,' announced Lieutenant Binswanger as they walked back to his office from the Identification Bureau across the street. '
'Bout a hundred coins a week in Harlem and New York alone. Want us to do anything about it? If you're right and these are Commie funds, they must be pulling it in pretty fast while we sit on our asses doin' nothing.'
'Chief says to lay off,' said Dexter. 'Hope we'll see some action before long.'
'Well, the case is all yours,' said Binswanger grudgingly. 'But the Commissioner sure don't like having this bastard crappin' away on his own front doorstep while Mr. Hoover sits down in Washington well to leeward of the stink. Why don't we pull him in on tax evasion or misuse of the mails or parkin' in front of a hydrant or sumpn? Take him down to the Tombs and give'em the works? If the Feds won't do it, we'd be glad to oblige.'
'D'you want a race riot?' objected Dexter sourly. 'There's nothing against him and you know it, and we know it. If he wasn't sprung in half an hour by that black mouthpiece of his, those Voodoo drums would start beating from here to the Deep South. When they're full of that stuff we all know what happens. Remember '35 and '43? You'd have to call out the Militia. We didn't ask for the case. The President gave it us and we've got to stick with it.'
They were back in Binswanger's drab office. They picked up their coats and hats.
'Anyway, thanks for the help, Lootenant,' said Dexter with forced cordiality, as they made their farewells. 'Been most valuable.'
'You're welcome,' said Binswanger stonily. 'Elevator's to your right.' He closed the door firmly behind them.
Leiter winked at Bond behind Dexter's back. They rode down to the main entrance on Centre Street in silence.
On the sidewalk, Dexter turned to them.
'Had some instructions from Washington this morning,' he said unemotionally. 'Seems I'm to look after the Harlem end, and you two are to go down to St. Petersburg tomorrow. Leiter's to find out what he can there and then move right on to Jamaica with you, Mr. Bond. That is,' he added, 'if you'd care to have him along. It's your territory.'
'Of course,' said Bond. 'I was going to ask if he could come anyway.'
'Fine,' said Dexter. Then I'll tell Washington everything's fixed. Anything else I can do for you? All communications with FBI, Washington, of course. Leiter's got the names of our men in Florida , knows the Signals routine and so forth.'
'If Leiter's interested and if you don't mind,' said Bond, 'I'd like very much to get up to Harlem this evening and have a look round. Might help to have some idea of what it looks like in Mr. Big's back yard.'
'Okay,' he said finally. 'Probably no harm. But don't show yourselves too much. And don't get hurt,' lie added. 'There's no one to help you up there. And don't go stirring up a lot of trouble for us. This case isn't ripe yet. Until it is, our policy with Mr. Big is “live and let live”.'
Bond looked quizzically at Captain Dexter.
'In my job,' he said, 'when I come up against a man like this one, I have another motto. It's “live and let die”.'
Dexter shrugged his shoulders. 'Maybe,' he said, 'but you're under my orders here, Mr. Bond, and I'd be glad if you'd accept them.'
'Of course,' said Bond, 'and thanks for all your help. Hope you have luck with your end of the job.'
Dexter flagged a cab. They shook hands.
'Bye, fellers,' said Dexter briefly. 'Stay alive.' His cab pulled out into the uptown traffic.
Bond and Leiter smiled at each other.
'Able guy, I should say,' said Bond.
They're all that in his show,' said Leiter. 'Bit inclined to be stuffed shirts. Very touchy about their rights. Always bickering with us or with the police. But I guess you have much the same problem in England .'
'Oh of course,' said Bond. 'We're always rubbing MI 5 up the wrong way. And they're always stepping on the corns of the Special Branch. Scotland Yard,' he explained. 'Well, how about going up to Harlem tonight?'
'Suits me,' said Leiter. 'I'll drop you at the St. Regis and pick you up again about six-thirty. Meet you in the King Cole Bar, on the ground floor. Guess you want to take a look at Mr. Big,' he grinned. 'Well, so do I, but it wouldn't have done to tell Dexter so.' He flagged a Yellow Cab.
'St. Regis Hotel. Fifth at 55th.'
They climbed into the overheated tin box reeking of last week's cigar-smoke.
Leiter wound down a window.
'Whaddya want ter do?' asked the driver over his shoulder. 'Gimme pneumony?'
'Just that,' said Leiter, 'if it means saving us from this gas chamber.'
'Wise guy, hn?' said the driver, crashing tinnily through his gears. He took the chewed end of a cigar from behind his ear and held it up. 'Two bits for three,' he said in a hurt voice.
'Twenty-four cents too much,' said Leiter. The rest of the drive was passed in silence.
They parted at the hotel and Bond went up to his room. It was four o'clock. He asked the telephone operator to call him at six. For a while he looked out of the window of his bedroom. To his left, the sun was setting in a blaze of colour. In the skyscrapers the lights were coming on, turning the whole town into a golden honeycomb. Far below the streets were rivers of neon lighting, crimson, blue, green. The wind sighed sadly outside in the velvet dusk, lending his room still more warmth and security and luxury. He drew the curtains and turned on the soft lights over his bed. Then he took off his clothes and climbed between the fine percale sheets. He thought of the bitter weather in the London streets, the grudging warmth of the hissing gas-fire in his office at Headquarters, the chalked-up menu on the pub he had passed on his last day in London : 'Giant Toad & 2 Veg.'
He stretched luxuriously. Very soon he was asleep.
Up in Harlem , at the big switchboard, 'The Whisper' was dozing over his racing form. All his lines were quiet. Suddenly a light shone on the right of the board - an important light.
'Yes, Boss,' he said softly into his headphone. He couldn't have spoken any louder if he had wished to. He had been born on 'Lung Block', on Seventh Avenue , at 142nd Street, where death from TB is twice as high as anywhere in New York . Now, he only had part of one lung left.
'Tell all “Eyes”,' said a slow, deep voice,' to watch out from now on. Three men.' A brief description of Leiter, Bond and Dexter followed. 'May be coming in this evening or tomorrow. Tell them to watch particularly on First to Eight and the other Avenues. The night spots too, in case they're missed coming in. They're not to be molested. Call me when you get a sure fix. Got it?'
'Yes, Sir, Boss,' said The Whisper, breathing fast. The voice went quiet. The operator took the whole handful of plugs, and soon the big switchboard was alive with winking lights. Softly, urgently, he whispered on into the evening.
At six o'clock Bond was awakened by the soft burr of the telephone. He took a cold shower and dressed carefully. He put on a garishly striped tie and allowed a broad wedge of bandana to protrude from his breast pocket. He slipped the chamois leather holster over his shirt so that it hung three inches below his left armpit. He whipped at the mechanism of the Beretta until all eight bullets lay on the bed. Then he packed them back into the magazine, loaded the gun, put up the safety-catch and slipped it into the holster.
He picked up the pair of Moccasin casuals, felt their toes and weighed them in his hand. Then he reached under the bed and pulled out a pair of his own shoes he had carefully kept out of the suitcase full of his belongings the FBI had taken away from him that morning.
He put them on and felt better equipped to face the evening.
Under the leather, the toe-caps were lined with steel.