Bond stood up. He took a hundred-mille plaque from the stacks beside him and slipped it across the table to the chef de partie. He cut short the effusive thanks and asked the croupier to have his winnings carried to the caisse. The other players were leaving their seats. With no bankers there could be no game, and by now it was half past two. He exchanged some pleasant words with his neighbours to right and left and then ducked under the rail to where Vesper and Felix Leiter were waiting for him.
Together they walked over to the caisse. Bond was invited to come into the private office of the Casino directors. On the desk lay his huge pile of chips. He added the contents of his pockets to it.
In all there was over seventy million francs.
Bond took Felix Leiter's money in notes and took a cheque to cash on the Credit Lyonnais for the remaining forty-odd million. He was congratulated warmly on his winnings. The directors hoped that he would be playing again that evening.
Bond gave an evasive reply. He walked over to the bar and handed Leiter's money to him. For a few minutes they discussed the game over a bottle of champagne. Leiter took a .45 bullet out of his pocket and placed it on the table.
'I gave the gun to Mathis,' he said. 'He's taken it away. He was as puzzled as we were by the spill you took. He was standing at the back of the crowd with one of his men when it happened. The gunman got away without difficulty. You can imagine how they kicked themselves when they saw the gun. Mathis gave me this bullet to show you what you escaped. The nose has been cut with a dumdum cross. You'd have been in a terrible mess. But they can't tie it on to Le Chiffre. The man came in alone. They've got the form he filled up to get his entrance card. Of course, it'll all be phony. He got permission to bring the stick in with him. He had a certificate for a war-wound pension. These people certainly get themselves well organized. They've got his prints and they're on the Belinograph to Paris, so we may hear more about him in the morning.' Felix Leiter tapped out another cigarette. 'Anyway, all's well that ends well. You certainly took Le Chiffre for a ride at the end, though we had some bad moments. I expect you did too.'
Bond smiled. 'That envelope was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me. I thought I was really finished. It wasn't at all a pleasant feeling. Talk about a friend in need. One day I'll try and return the compliment.'
He rose. 'I'll just go over to the hotel and put this away,' he said, tapping his pocket. 'I don't like wandering around with Le Chiffre's death-warrant on me. He might get ideas. Then I'd like to celebrate a bit. What do you think?'
He turned to Vesper. She had hardly said a word since the end of the game.
'Shall we have a glass of champagne in the night-club before we go to bed? It's called the Roi Galant. You get to it through the public rooms. It looks quite cheerful.'
'I think I'd love to,' said Vesper. 'I'll tidy up while you put your winnings away. I'll meet you in the entrance hall.'
'What about you, Felix?' Bond hoped he could be alone with Vesper.
Leiter looked at him and read his mind.
'I'd rather take a little rest before breakfast,' he said. 'It's been quite a day and I expect Paris will want me to do a bit of mopping-up tomorrow. There are several loose ends you won't have to worry about. I shall. I'll walk over to the hotel with you. Might as well convoy the treasure ship right into port.'
They strolled over through the shadows cast by the full moon. Both had their hands on their guns. It was three o'clock in the morning, but there were several people about and the courtyard of the Casino was still lined with motorcars.
The short walk was uneventful.
At the hotel, Leiter insisted on accompanying Bond to his room. It was as Bond had left it six hours before.
'No reception committee,' observed Leiter, 'but I wouldn't put it past them to try a last throw. Do you think I ought to stay up and keep you two company?'
'You get your sleep,' said Bond. 'Don't worry about us. They won't be interested in me without the money and I've got an idea for looking after that. Thanks for all you've done. I hope we get on a job again one day.'
'Suits me,' said Leiter, 'so long as you can draw a nine when it's needed - and bring Vesper along with you,' he added dryly. He went out and closed the door.
Bond turned back to the friendliness of his room.
After the crowded arena of the big table and the nervous strain of the three hours' play, he was glad to be alone for a moment and be welcomed by his pyjamas on the bed and his hairbrushes on the dressing-table. He went into the bathroom and dashed cold water over his face and gargled with a sharp mouthwash. He felt the bruises on the back of his head and on his right shoulder. He reflected cheerfully how narrowly he had twice that day escaped being murdered. Would he have to sit up all that night and wait for them to come again, or was Le Chiffre even now on his way to Le Havre or Bordeaux to pick up a boat for some corner of the world where he could escape the eyes and the guns of SMERSH?
Bond shrugged his shoulders. Sufficient unto that day had been its evil. He gazed for a moment into the mirror and wondered about Vesper's morals. He wanted her cold and arrogant body. He wanted to see tears and desire in her remote blue eyes and to take the ropes of her black hair in his hands and bend her long body back under his. Bond's eyes narrowed and his face in the mirror looked back at him with hunger.
He turned away and took out his pocket the cheque for forty million francs. He folded this very small. Then he opened the door and looked up and down the corridor. He left the door wide open and with his ears cocked for footsteps or the sound of the lift, he set to work with a small screwdriver.
Five minutes later he gave a last-minute survey to his handiwork, put some fresh cigarettes in his case, closed and locked the door and went off down the corridor and across the hall and out into the moonlight.
CHAPTER 14 - 'LA VIE EN ROSE?'
The entrance to the Roi Galant was a seven-foot golden picture-frame which had once, perhaps, enclosed the vast portrait of a noble European. It was in a discreet corner of the 'kitchen' - the public roulette and boule room, where several tables were still busy. As Bond took Vesper's arm and led her over the gilded step, he fought back a hankering to borrow some money from the caisse and plaster maximums over the nearest table. But he knew that this would be a brash and cheap gesture pour ‚pater la bourgeoisie. Whether he won or lost, it would be a kick in the teeth to the luck which had been given him.
The night-club was small and dark, lit only by candles in gilded candelabra whose warm light was repeated in wall mirrors set in more gold picture-frames. The walls were covered in dark red satin and the chairs and banquettes in matching red plush. In the far corner, a trio, consisting of a piano, an electric guitar and drums, was playing 'La Vie en Rose' with muted sweetness. Seduction dripped on the quietly throbbing air. It seemed to Bond that every couple must be touching with passion under the tables.
They were given a corner table near the door. Bond ordered a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and scrambled eggs and bacon.
They sat for a time listening to the music and then Bond turned to Vesper: 'It's wonderful sitting here with you and knowing the job's finished. It's a lovely end to the day - the prize-giving.'
He expected her to smile. She said: 'Yes, isn't it,' in a rather brittle voice. She seemed to be listening carefully to the music. One elbow rested on the table and her hand supported her chin, but on the back of her hand and not on the palm, and Bond noticed that her knuckles showed white as if her fist was tightly clenched.
Between the thumb and first two fingers of her right hand she held one of Bond's cigarettes, as an artist holds a crayon, and though she smoked with composure, she tapped the cigarette occasionally into an ash-try when the cigarette had no ash.
Bond noticed these small things because he felt intensely aware of her and because he wanted to draw her into his own feeling of warmth and relaxed sensuality. But he accepted her reserve. He thought it came from a desire to protect herself from him, or else it was her reaction to his coolness to her earlier in the evening, his deliberate coolness, which he knew had been taken as a rebuff.
He was patient. He drank champagne and talked a little about the happenings of the day and about the personalities of Mathis and Leiter and about the possible consequences for Le Chiffre. He was discreet and he only talked about the aspects of the case on which she must have been briefed by London.
She answered perfunctorily. She said that, of course, they had picked out the two gunmen, but had thought nothing of it when the man with the stick had gone to stand behind Bond's chair. They could not believe that anything would be attempted in the Casino itself. Directly Bond and Leiter had left to walk over to the hotel, she had telephoned Paris and told M's representative of the result of the game. She had had to speak guardedly and the agent had rung off without comment. She had been told to do this whatever the result. M had asked for the information to be passed on to him personally at any time of the day or night.
This was all she said. She sipped at her champagne and rarely glanced at Bond. She didn't smile. Bond felt frustrated. He drank a lot of champagne and ordered another bottle. The scrambled eggs came and they ate in silence.
At four o'clock Bond was about to call for the bill when the maŒtre d'h“tel appeared at their table and inquired for Miss Lynd. He handed her a note which she took and read hastily.
'Oh, it's only Mathis,' she said. 'He says would I come to the entrance hall. He's got a message for you. Perhaps he's not in evening clothes or something. I won't be a minute. Then perhaps we could go home.'
She gave him a strained smile. 'I'm afraid I don't feel very good company this evening. It's been rather a nerve-racking day. I'm so sorry.'
Bond made a perfunctory reply and rose, pushing back the table. 'I'll get the bill,' he said, and watched her take the few steps to the entrance.
He sat down and lit a cigarette. He felt flat. He suddenly realized that he was tired. The stuffiness of the room hit him as it had hit him in the Casino in the early hours of the previous day. He called for the bill and took a last mouthful of champagne. It tasted bitter, as the first glass too many always does. He would have liked to have seen Mathis's cheerful face and heard his news, perhaps even a word of congratulation.
Suddenly the note to Vesper seemed odd to him. It was not the way Mathis would do things. He would have asked them both to join him at the bar of the Casino or he would have joined them in the night-club, whatever his clothes. They would have laughed together and Mathis would have been excited. He had much to tell Bond, more than Bond had to tell him. The arrest of the Bulgarian, who had probably talked some more; the chase after the man with the stick; Le Chiffre's movements when he left the Casino.
Bond shook himself. He hastily paid the bill, not waiting for the change. He pushed back his table and walked quickly through the entrance without acknowledging the good-nights of the maŒtre d'h“tel and the doorman.
He hurried through the gaming-room and looked carefully up and down the long entrance hall. He cursed and quickened his step. There were only one or two officials and two or three men and women in evening clothes getting their things at the vestiaire.
No Vesper. No Mathis.
He was almost running. He got to the entrance and looked along the steps to left and right down and amongst the few remaining cars.