At six twenty-five he went down to the King Cole Bar and chose a table near the entrance and against the wall. A few minutes later Felix Leiter came in. Bond hardly recognized him. His mop of straw-coloured hair was now jet black and he wore a dazzling blue suit with a white shirt and a black-and-white polka-dot tie.
Leiter sat down with a broad grin.
'I suddenly decided to take these people seriously,' he explained. 'This stuff's only a rinse. It'll come off in the morning. I hope,' he added.
Leiter ordered medium-dry Martinis with a slice of lemon peel. He stipulated House of Lords gin and Martini Rossi. The American gin, a much higher proof than English gin, tasted harsh to Bond. He reflected that he would have to be careful what he drank that evening.
'We'll have to keep on our toes, where we're going,' said Felix Leiter, echoing his thoughts. ' Harlem 's a bit of a jungle these days. People don't go up there any more like they used to. Before the war, at the end of an evening, one used to go to Harlem just as one goes to Montmartre in Paris. They were glad to take one's money. One used to go to the Savoy Ballroom and watch the dancing. Perhaps pick up a high-yaller and risk the doctor's bills afterwards. Now that's all changed. Harlem doesn't like being stared at any more. Most of the places have closed and you go to the others strictly on sufferance. Often you get tossed out on your ear, simply because you're white. And you don't get any sympathy from the police either.'
Leiter extracted the lemon peel from his Martini and chewed it reflectively. The bar was filling up. It was warm and companionable — a far cry, Leiter reflected, from the inimical, electric climate of the negro pleasure-spots they would be drinking in later.
'Fortunately,' continued Leiter, 'I like the negroes and they know it somehow. I used to be a bit of an aficionado of Harlem . Wrote a few pieces on Dixieland Jazz for the Amsterdam News, one of the local papers. Did a series for the North American Newspaper Alliance on the negro theatre about the time Orson Welles put on his Macbeth with an all-negro cast at the Lafayette. So I know my way about up there. And I admire the way they're getting on in the world, though God knows I can't see the end of it.'
They finished their drinks and Leiter called for the check.
'Of course there are some bad ones,' he said. 'Some of the worst anywhere. Harlem 's the capital of the negro world. In any half a million people of any race you'll get plenty of stinkeroos. The trouble with our friend Mr. Big is that he's the hell of a good technician, thanks to his oss and Moscow training. And he must be pretty well organized up there.'
Leiter paid. He shrugged his shoulders.
'Let's go,' he said. 'We'll have ourselves some fun and try and get back in one piece. After all, this is what we're paid for. We'll take a bus on Fifth Avenue. You won't find many cabs that want to go up there after dark.'
They walked out of the warm hotel and took the few steps to the bus stop on the Avenue.
It was raining. Bond turned up the collar of his coat and gazed up the Avenue to his right, towards Central Park, towards the dark citadel that housed The Big Man.
Bond's nostrils flared slightly. He longed to get in there after him. He felt strong and compact and confident. The evening awaited him, to be opened and read, page by page, word by word.
In front of his eyes, the rain came down in swift, slanting strokes — italic script across the unopened black cover that hid the secret hours that lay ahead.
At the bus stop at the corner of Fifth and Cathedral Parkway three negroes stood quietly under the light of a street lamp. They looked wet and bored. They were. They had been watching the traffic on Fifth since the call went out at four-thirty.
'Yo next, Fatso,' said one of them as the bus came up out of the rain and stopped with a sigh from the great vacuum brakes.
'Ahm tahd,' said the thick-set man in the mackintosh. But he pulled his hat down over his eyes and climbed aboard, slotted his coins and moved down the bus, scanning the occupants. He blinked as he saw the two white men, walked on and took the seat directly behind them.
He examined the backs of their necks, their coats and hats and their profiles. Bond sat next to the window. The negro saw the reflection of his scar in the dark glass.
He got up and moved to the front of the bus without looking back. At the next stop he got off the bus and made straight for the nearest drugstore. He shut himself into the paybox.
Whisper questioned him urgently, then broke the connection.
He plugged in on the right of the board.
'Yes?' said the deep voice.
'Boss, one of them's just come in on Fifth. The Limey with the scar. Got a friend with him, but he don't seem to fit the dope on the other two.' Whisper passed on an accurate description of Leiter. 'Coming north, both of them,' he gave the number and probable timing of the bus.
There was a pause.
'Right,' said the quiet voice. 'Call off all Eyes on the other avenues. Warn the night spots that one of them's inside and get this to Tee-Hee Johnson, McThing, Blabbermouth Foley, Sam Miami and The Flannel…'
The voice spoke for five minutes.
'Got that? Repeat.'
'Yes, Sir, Boss,' said The Whisper. He glanced at his shorthand pad and whispered fluently and without a pause into the mouthpiece.
'Right.' The line went dead.
His eyes bright, The Whisper took up a fistful of plugs and started talking to the town.
From the moment that Bond and Leiter walked under the canopy of Sugar Ray's on Seventh Avenue at 12 3rd Street there was a team of men and women watching them or waiting to watch them, speaking softly to The Whisper at the big switchboard on the Riverside Exchange, handing them on towards the rendezvous. In a world where they were naturally the focus of attention, neither Bond nor Leiter felt the hidden machine nor sensed the tension around them.
In the famous night-spot the stools against the long bar were crowded, but one of the small booths against the wall was empty and Bond and Leiter slipped into the two seats with the narrow table between them.
They ordered Scotch-and-soda - Haig and Haig Pinch-bottle. Bond looked the crowd over. It was nearly all men.
There were two or three whites, boxing fans or reporters for the New York sports columns, Bond decided. The atmosphere was warmer, louder than downtown. The walls were covered with boxing photographs, mostly of Sugar Ray Robinson and of scenes from his great fights. It was a cheerful place, doing great business.
'He was a wise guy, Sugar Ray,' said Leiter. 'Let's hope we both know when to stop when the time comes. He stashed plenty away and now he's adding to his pile on the music halls. His percentage of this place must be worth a packet and he owns a lot of real estate around here. He works hard still, but it's not the sort of work that sends you blind or gives you a haemorrhage of the brain. He quit while he was still alive.'
'He'll probably back a Broadway show and lose it all,' said Bond. 'If I quit now and went in for fruit-farming in Kent, I'd most likely hit the worst weather since the Thames froze over, and be cleaned out. One can't plan for everything.'
'One can try,' said Leiter. 'But I know what you mean -better the frying-pan you know than the fire you don't. It isn't a bad life when it consists of sitting in a comfortable bar drinking good whisky. How do you like this corner of the jungle?' He leant forward. 'Just listen in to the couple behind you. From what I've heard they're straight out of “Nigger Heaven”.'
Bond glanced carefully over his shoulder.
The booth behind him contained a handsome young negro in an expensive fawn suit with exaggerated shoulders. He was lolling back against the wall with one foot up on the bench beside him. He was paring the nails of his left hand with a small silver pocket-knife, occasionally glancing in bored fashion towards the animation at the bar. His head rested on the back of the booth just behind Bond and a whiff of expensive hair-straightener came from him. Bond took in the artificial parting traced with a razor across the left side of the scalp, through the almost straight hair which was a tribute to his mother's constant application of the hot comb since childhood. The plain black silk tie and the white shirt were in good taste.
Opposite him, leaning forward with concern on her pretty face, was a sexy little negress with a touch of white blood in her. Her jet-black hair, as sleek as the best permanent wave, framed a sweet almond-shaped face with rather slanting eyes under finely drawn eyebrows. The deep purple of her parted, sensual lips was thrilling against the bronze skin. All that Bond could see of her clothes was the bodice of a black satin evening dress, tight and revealing across the firm, small breasts. She wore a plain gold chain round her neck and a plain gold band round each thin wrist.
She was pleading anxiously and paid no heed to Bond's quick embracing glance.
'Listen and see if you can get the hang of it,' said Leiter. 'It's straight Harlem — Deep South with a lot of New York thrown in.'
Bond picked up the menu and leant back in the booth, studying the Special Fried Chicken Dinner at $3.75.
'Cmon, honey,' wheedled the girl. 'How come yuh-all's actin' so tahd tonight?'
'Guess ah jist nacherlly gits tahd listenin' at yuh,' said the man languidly. 'Why'nt yuh hush yo' mouff'n let me 'joy mahself 'n peace 'n qui-yet.'
'Is yuh wan' me tuh go 'way, honey?'
'Yuh kin suit yo sweet self.'
'Aw, honey,' pleaded the girl. 'Don' ack mad at me, honey. Ah was fixin' tuh treat yuh tonight. Take yuh tuh Smalls Par'dise, mebbe. See dem high-yallers shakin' 'n truckin'. Dat Birdie Johnson, da maitre d', he permis me a ringside whenebber Ah come nex'.'
The man's voice suddenly sharpened. 'Wha' dat Birdie he mean tuh yuh, hey?' he asked suspiciously. Terzackly,' he paused to let the big word sink in, 'perzackly wha' goes'tween yuh 'n dat lowdown ornery wuthless Nigguh? Yuh sleepin' wid him mebbe? Guess Ah gotta study 'bout dat little situayshun'tween yuh an' Birdie Johnson. Mebbe git mahself a betterer gal. Ah jist don' lak gals which runs off ever' which way when Ah jist happen be busticated tem-poraneously. Yesmam. Ah gotta study 'bout dat little situayshun.' He paused threateningly. 'Sure have,' he added.
'Aw, honey,' the girl was anxious. ' 'dey ain't no use tryin' tuh git mad at me. Ah done nuthen tuh give yuh recasion tuh ack dat way. Ah jist thunk you mebbe preshiate a ringside at da Par'disc 'nstead of settin' hyah countin' yo troubles. Why, honey, yuh all knows Ah wudden fall fo' dat richcrat ack' of Birdie Johnson. No sir. He don' mean nuthen tuh me. Him duh wusstes' man 'n Harlem , dawg bite me effn he ain't. All da same, he permis me da bestess seats 'nda house 'n Ah sez let's us go set 'n dem, 'n have us a beer 'n a good time. Gmon, honey. Let's git out of hyah. Yuh done look so swell 'n Ah jist wan' mah frens tuh see usn together.'
'Yuh done look okay yoself, honeychile,' said the man, mollified by the tribute to his elegance, 'an' dat's da troof. But Ah mus' spressify dat yuh stays close up tuh me an keeps yo eyes offn dat lowdown trash 'n his hot pants. 'N Ah may say,' he added threateningly,' dat ef Ah ketches yuh makin' up tuh dat dope Ah'll jist nachrally whup da hide off'n yo sweet ass.'
'Shoh ting, honey,' whispered the girl excitedly.
Bond heard the man's foot scrape off the seat to the ground.
'Cmon, baby, lessgo. Waiduh!'
Bond put down the menu. 'Got the gist of it,' he said. 'Seems they're interested in much the same things as everyone else - sex, having fun, and keeping up with the Jones's. Thank God they're not genteel about it.'
'Some of them are,' said Leiter. 'Tea-cups, aspidistras and tut-tutting all over the place. The Methodists are almost their strongest sect. Harlem 's riddled with social distinctions, the same as any other big city, but with all the colour variations added. Gome on,' he suggested, 'let's go and get ourselves something to eat.'