Mr. Big gazed with silent and deep concentration across the table at Bond.
After inspecting him carefully in return, Bond glanced round the room.
It was full of books, spacious and restful and very quiet, like the library of a millionaire.
There was one high window above Mr. Big's head but otherwise the walls were solid with bookshelves. Bond turned round in his chair. More bookshelves, packed with books. There was no sign of a door, but there might have been any number of doors faced with dummy books. The two negroes who had brought him to the room stood rather uneasily against the wall behind his chair. The whites of their eyes showed. They were not looking at Mr. Big, but at a curious effigy which stood on a table in an open space of floor to the right, and slightly behind Mr. Big.
Even with his slight knowledge of Voodoo, Bond recognized it at once from Leigh Fermor's description.
A five-foot white wooden cross stood on a raised white pedestal. The arms of the cross were thrust into the sleeves of a dusty black frock-coat whose tails hung down behind the table towards the floor. Above the neck of the coat a battered bowler hat gaped at him, its crown pierced by the vertical bar of the cross. A few inches below the rim, round the neck of the cross, resting on the cross-bar, was a deep starched clergyman's collar.
At the base of the white pedestal, on the table, lay an old pair of lemon-coloured gloves. A short malacca stick with a gold knob, its ferrule resting beside the gloves, rose against the left shoulder of the effigy. Also on the table was a battered black top hat.
This evil scarecrow gazed out across the room - God of the Cemeteries and Chief of the Legion of the Dead-Baron Samedi. Even to Bond it seemed to carry a dreadful gaping message.
Bond looked away, back to the great grey-black face across the desk.
Mr. Big spoke.
'I want you, Tee-Hee.' His eyes shifted. 'You can go, Miami .'
'Yes, Sir, Boss,' they both said together.
Bond heard a door open and close.
Silence fell again. At first, Mr. Big's eyes had been focused sharply on Bond. They had examined him minutely. Now, Bond noticed that though the eyes rested on him they had become slightly opaque. They gazed upon Bond without perception. Bond had the impression that the brain behind them was occupied elsewhere.
Bond was determined not to be disconcerted. Feeling had returned to his hands and he moved them towards his body to reach for his cigarettes and lighter.
Mr. Big spoke.
'You may smoke, Mister Bond. In case you have any other intentions you may care to lean forward and inspect the keyhole of the drawer in this desk facing your chair. I shall be ready for you in a moment.'
Bond leant forward. It was a large keyhole. In fact, Bond estimated, .45 centimetres in diameter. Fired, Bond supposed, by a foot-switch under the desk. What a bunch of tricks this man was. Puerile. Puerile? Perhaps, after all, not to be dismissed so easily. The tricks - the bomb, the disappearing table — had worked neatly, efficiently. They had not been just empty conceits, designed to impress. Again, there was nothing absurd about this gun. Rather painstaking, perhaps, but, he had to admit, technically sound.
He lit a cigarette and gratefully drew the smoke deep into his lungs. He did not feel particularly worried by his position. He refused to believe he would come to any harm. It would be a clumsy affair to have him disappear a couple of days after he arrived from England unless a very expert accident could be contrived. And Leiter would have to be disposed of at the same time. That would be altogether too much for their two Services and Mr. Big must know it. But he was worried about Leiter in the hands of those clumsy black apes.
The Big Man's lips rolled slowly back from his teeth.
'I have not seen a member of the Secret Service for many years, Mister Bond. Not since the war. Your Service did well in the war. You have some able men. I learn from my friends that you are high up in your Service. You have a double-o number, I believe — 007, if I remember right. The significance of that double-o number, they tell me, is that you have had to kill a man in the course of some assignment. There cannot be many double-o numbers in a Service which does not use assassination as a weapon. Whom have you been sent over to kill here, Mister Bond? Not me by any chance?'
The voice was soft and even, without expression. There was a slight mixture of accents, American and French, but the English was almost pedantically accurate, without a trace of slang.
Bond remained silent. He assumed that Moscow had signalled his description.
'It is necessary for you to reply, Mister Bond. The fate of both of you depends upon your doing so. I have confidence in the sources of my information. I know much more than I have said. I shall easily detect a lie.'
Bond believed him. He chose a story he could support and which would cover the facts.
'There are English gold coins circulating in America . Edward IV Rose Nobles,' he said. 'Some have been sold in Harlem . The American Treasury asked for assistance in tracing them since they must come from a British source. I came up to Harlem to see for myself, with a representative of the American Treasury, who I hope is now safely on his way back to his hotel.'
'Mr. Leiter is a representative of the Central Intelligence Agency, not of the Treasury,' said Mr. Big without emotion. 'His position at this moment is extremely precarious.'
He paused and seemed to reflect. He looked past Bond.
'Tie Mister Bond to his chair.'
Bond half rose to his feet.
'Don't move, Mister Bond,' said the voice softly. 'You have a bare chance of survival if you stay where you are.'
Bond looked at The Big Man, at the golden, impassive eyes,
He lowered himself back into his chair. Immediately a broad strap was passed round his body and buckled tight. Two short straps went round his wrists and tied them to the leather and metal arms. Two more went round his ankles. He could hurl himself and the chair to the floor, but otherwise he was powerless.
Mr. Big pressed down a switch on the intercom.
'Send in Miss Solitaire,' he said and centred the switch again.
There was a moment's pause and then a section of the bookcase to the right of the desk swung open.
One of the most beautiful women Bond had ever seen came slowly in and closed the door behind her. She stood just inside the room and stood looking at Bond, taking him in slowly inch by inch, from his head to his feet. When she had completed her detailed inspection, she turned to Mr. Big.
'Yes?' she inquired flatly.
Mr. Big had not moved his head. He addressed Bond.
'This is an extraordinary woman, Mister Bond,' he said in the same quiet soft voice, 'and I am going to marry her because she is unique. I found her in a cabaret, in Haiti, where she was born. She was doing a telepathic act which I could not understand. I looked into it and I still could not understand. There was nothing to understand. It was telepathy.'
Mr. Big paused.
'I tell you this to warn you. She is my inquisitor. Torture is messy and inconclusive. People tell you what will ease the pain. With this girl it is not necessary to use clumsy methods. She can divine the truth in people. That is why she is to be my wife. She is too valuable to remain at liberty. And,' he continued blandly, 'it will be interesting to see our children.'
Mr. Big turned towards her and gazed at her impassively.
'For the time being she is difficult. She will have nothing to do with men. That is why, in Haiti, she was called “Solitaire”.'
'Draw up a chair,' he said quietly to her. 'Tell me if this man lies. Keep clear of the gun,' he added.
The girl said nothing but took a chair similar to Bond's from beside the wall and pushed it towards him. She sat down almost touching his right knee. She looked into his eyes.
Her face was pale, with the pallor of white families that have lived long in the tropics. But it contained no trace of the usual exhaustion which the tropics impart to the skin and hair. The eyes were blue, alight and disdainful, but, as they gazed into his with a touch of humour, he realized they contained some message for him personally. It quickly vanished as his own eyes answered. Her hair was blue-black and fell heavily to her shoulders. She had high cheekbones and a wide, sensual mouth which held a hint of cruelty. Her jawline was delicate and finely cut. It showed decision and an iron will which were repeated in the straight, pointed nose. Part of the beauty of the face lay in its lack of compromise. It was a face born to command. The face of the daughter of a French Colonial slave-owner.
She wore a long evening dress of heavy white matt silk whose classical line was broken by the deep folds which fell from her shoulders and revealed the upper half of her breasts. She wore diamond earrings, square-cut in broken bands, and a thin diamond bracelet on her left wrist. She wore no rings. Her nails were short and without enamel.
She watched his eyes on her and nonchalantly drew her forearms together in her lap so that the valley between her breasts deepened.
The message was unmistakable and an answering warmth must have showed on Bond's cold, drawn face, for suddenly The Big Man picked up the small ivory whip from the desk beside him and lashed across at her, the thong whistling through the air and landing with a cruel bite across her shoulders.
Bond winced even more than she did. Her eyes blazed for an instant and then went opaque.
'Sit up,' said The Big Man softly, 'you forget yourself.'
She sat slowly more upright. She had a pack of cards in her hands and she started to shuffle them. Then, out of bravado perhaps, she sent him yet another message - of complicity and of more than complicity.
Between her hands, she faced the knave of hearts. Then the queen of spades. She held the two halves of the pack in her lap so that the two court cards looked at each other. She brought the two halves of the pack together until they kissed. Then she riffled the cards and shuffled them again.
At no moment of this dumb show did she look at Bond and it was all over in an instant. But Bond felt a glow of excitement and a quickening of the pulse. He had a friend in the enemy's camp.
'Are you ready, Solitaire?' asked The Big Man.
'Yes, the cards are ready,' said the girl, in a low, cool voice.
'Mister Bond, look into the eyes of this girl and repeat the reason for your presence here which you gave me just now.'
Bond looked into her eyes. There was no message. They were not focused on his. They looked through him.
He repeated what he had said.
For a moment he felt an uncanny thrill. Could this girl tell? If she could tell, would she speak for him or against him?
For a moment there was dead silence in the room. Bond tried to look indifferent. He gazed up at the ceiling - then back at her.
Her eyes came back into focus. She turned away from him and looked at Mr. Big.
'He speaks the truth,' she said coldly.
MR. BIG reflected for a moment. He seemed to decide. He pressed a switch on the intercom.
'You're holding that American, Leiter.'
'Hurt him considerably. Ride him down to Bellevue Hospital and dump him nearby. Got that?'
'Don't be seen.'
Mr. Big centred the switch.
'God damn your bloody eyes,' said Bond viciously. 'The CIA won't let you get away with this!'
'You forget, Mister Bond. They have no jurisdiction in America . The American Secret Service has no power in America — only abroad. And the FBI are no friends of theirs. Tee-Hee, come here.'