Bond examined the Swiss watches in his shop window and then turned and sauntered on. After a few yards he stopped again. Still nothing. He went on and turned right into the Avenue of the Americas, stopping in the first doorway, the entrance to a women’s underwear store where a man in a tan suit with his back to him was examining the black lace pants on a particularly realistic dummy. Bond turned and leant against a pillar and gazed lazily but watchfully out into the street.
And then something gripped his pistol arm and a voice snarled: “All right, Limey. Take it easy unless you want lead for lunch,” and he felt something press into his back just above the kidneys.
What was there familiar about that voice? The Law? The Gang? Bond glanced down to see what was holding his right arm. It was a steel hook. Well, if the man had only one arm! Like lightning he swivelled, bending sideways and bringing his left fist round in a flailing blow, low down.
There was a smack as his fist was caught in the other man’s left hand, and, at the same time as the contact telegraphed to Bond’s mind that there could have been no gun, there came the well-remembered laugh and the lazy voice saying: “No good, James. The angels have got you.”
Bond straightened himself slowly and for a moment he could only gaze into the grinning hawk-like face of Felix Leiter with blank disbelief, his built-up tension slowly relaxing.
“So you were doing a front tail, you lousy bastard,” he finally said. He looked with delight at the friend he had last seen as a cocoon of dirty bandages on a bloodstained bed in a Florida hotel, the American secret agent with whom he had shared so many adventures. “What the hell are you doing here? And what the hell do you mean playing the bloody fool in this heat?” Bond took out a handkerchief and wiped it over his face. “For a moment you almost made me nervous.”
“Nervous!” Felix Leiter laughed scornfully. “You were saying your prayers. And your conscience is so bad you didn’t even know if you were going to get it from the cops or the gang. Right?”
Bond laughed and dodged the question. “Come on, you crooked spy,” he said. “You can buy me a drink and tell me all about it. I just don’t believe in odds as long as this. In fact, you can buy me lunch. You Texans are lousy with money.”
“Sure,” said Leiter. He slipped his steel hook into the right-hand pocket of his coat and took Bond’s arm with his left hand. They moved out on to the street and Bond noticed that Leiter walked with a heavy limp. “In Texas even the fleas are so rich they can hire themselves dogs. Let’s go. Sardi’s is just over the way.”
Leiter avoided the fashionable room at the famous actors’ and writers’ eating house and led Bond upstairs. His limp was more noticeable and he held on to the banisters. Bond made no comment, but when he left his friend at a corner table in the blessedly air-conditioned restaurant and went off to the wash-room to clean himself up, he added up his impressions. The right arm had gone, and the left leg, and there were imperceptible scars below the hairline above the right eye that suggested a good deal of grafting, but otherwise Leiter looked in good shape. The grey eyes were undefeated, the shock of straw-coloured hair had no hint of grey in it, and there was none of the bitterness of a cripple in Leiter’s face. But in their short walk there had been a hint of reticence in Leiter’s manner and Bond felt this had something to do with him, Bond, and perhaps with Leiter’s present activities. Certainly not, he thought as he walked across the room to join his friend, with Leiter’s injuries.
There was a medium dry Martini with a piece of lemon peel waiting for him. Bond smiled at Leiter’s memory and tasted it. It was excellent, but he didn’t recognize the Vermouth.
“Made with Cresta Blanca,” explained Leitef. “New domestic brand from California. Like it?”
“Best Vermouth I ever tasted.”
“And I’ve taken a chance and ordered you smoked salmon and Brizzola,” said Leiter. “They’ve got some of the finest meat in America here, and Brizzola’s the best cut of that. Beef, straight-cut across the bone. Roast and then broiled. Suit you?”
“Anything you say,” said Bond. “We’ve eaten enough meals together to know each other’s tastes.”
“I’ve told them not to hurry,” said Leiter. He rapped on the table with his hook. “We’ll have another Martini first and while you drink it you’d better come clean.” There was warmth in his smile, but his eyes were watching Bond. “Just tell me one thing. What business have you got with my old friend Shady Tree?” He gave his order to the waiter and sat forward in his chair and waited.
Bond finished his first Martini and lit a cigarette. He swivelled casually in his chair. The tables near them were empty. He turned back and faced the American.
“You tell me something first, Felix,” he said softly. “Who are you working for these days? Still the CIA?”
“Nix,” said Leiter. “With my gun hand gone they could only offer me desk work. Very nice about it and paid me off handsomely when I said I wanted an open-air life. So Pinkerton’s made me a good offer. You know, ‘The Eye that Never Sleeps’ people. So now I’m just a’door-basher’-private detective. Tut on some clothes and open up’ routine. But it’s good fun. They’re a nice crowd to work with, and one day I’ll be able to retire with a pension and a presentation gold watch that goes green in summer. As a matter of fact I’m in charge of their Race Gang squad-doping, crooked running, night-guards at the stables, all that sort of thing. Good job, and it takes you all over the country.”
“Sounds all right,” said Bond. “But I didn’t know you knew anything about horses.”
“Usen’t to be able to recognize a horse unless there was a milk-wagon tied on behind,” admitted Leiter. “But you soon pick it up, and it’s mostly the people you have to know about, not the horses. What about you?” He lowered his voice. “Still with the Old Firm?”