The wide doors at the far end of the room had opened and a stream of people were milling into the gambling room from the dinner revue. Soon they would be round the tables. This was his last play. After this he must get up from the table and leave her. She was looking at him impatiently. He picked up the two cards that she had given him. Twenty. And she also turned up two tens. Bond smiled at the refinement. She quickly dealt him two more cards just as three more players came up to the table and hitched themselves up on the stools. He had nineteen and she had sixteen.
And that was that. The pit-boss didn’t even bother to hand the girl the fourth plaque, but tossed it across the table to Bond with an expression on his face that was very like a sneer.
“Jee-sus,” said one of the new players, as Bond pocketed the plaque and stood up.
Bond looked across the table at the girl. “Thank you,” he said. “You deal beautifully.”
“I’ll say!” said the player who had spoken.
Tiffany Case looked hard at Bond. “You’re welcome,” she said. She held his eyes for a fraction of a second and then looked down at her cards, shuffled them thoroughly, and handed them to one of the new players for a cut.
Bond turned his back on the table and moved off round the room, thinking of her, and occasionally glancing across at the straight, imperious little figure in the exciting Western uniform. Others obviously found her as attractive as Bond did, for soon there were eight men sitting at her table and others standing watching her.
Bond felt a pang of jealousy. He walked over to the bar and ordered himself a Bourbon and branch-water to celebrate the five thousand dollars in his pocket.
The barman produced a corked bottle of water and put it beside Bond’s ‘Old Grandad’.
“Where does this come from?” asked Bond, remembering what Felix Leiter had said.
“Over by Boulder Dam,” said the barman seriously. “Comes in by truck every day. Don’t worry,” he added. “It’s the real stuff.”
Bond threw a silver dollar on the bar. “I’m sure it is,” he said with equal seriousness. “Keep the change.”
He stood with his back to the bar, and the glass in his hand, deciding his next move. So now he had been paid off, and Shady Tree had told him on no account to go back to the tables.
Bond finished his drink and walked straight across the room to the nearest roulette table. There was only a sprinkling of gamblers at it, playing small.
“What’s the maximum here?” he said to the stick-man, an elderly balding individual with dead eyes who was just picking the ivory ball out of the wheel.
“Five Grand,” said the man indifferently.
Bond took the four plaques and the ten 100-dollar notes out of his pocket and put them beside the croupier. “On Red.”
The croupier sat up straighter in his chair and squinted sideways at Bond. He tossed the four plaques one by one down on to the Red, catching them there with his stick. He counted out Bond’s notes, pushed them through a slot in the table, took a. fifth plaque from the rack of counters beside him and tossed this down to join the others. Bond saw his knee go up under the table. The pit-boss heard the buzzer and strolled over to the table just as the croupier spun the wheel.
Bond took out a cigarette and lit it. His hand was steady. He felt a wonderful sense of freedom at having at last taken the initiative from these people. He knew he was going to win. He hardly glanced at the wheel as it slowed down and the little ivory ball rattled into its slot.
“Thirty-six. Red. High and Even.”
The stick-man raked in a few losing counters and silver dollars and tossed some money down the table to the winners. Then he took a thin plaque as big as a prayer-book out of his rack and put it softly down beside Bond.
“Black,” said Bond. The man threw a single plaque for five thousand dollars down on to Black and raked in Bond’s stake from the Red.
There was a buzz of conversation round the table and several more people drifted up and stood watching. Bond felt the curious eyes on him, but he only looked across the table into the eyes of the pit-boss. They were as hostile as an adder’s, and yet somehow scared.
Bond smiled blandly at him as the wheel whirred and there was the whizz of the little ball as it set off on its journey.
“Seventeen. Black. Low and Odd,” said the stick-man. There was a sigh from the crowd and hungry eyes watched the big plaque being slipped out of. the rack and placed in front of Bond.
Once more, thought Bond. But not this turn.
“I’ll stay away,” he said to the croupier. The man glanced up at Bond and then reached out with his rake and pulled in Bond’s stake and handed it to him.
And then there was another man inside the pit, standing be
“side the pit-boss, and he was looking at Bond with bright, hard eyes like camera lenses, and the fat cigar exactly in the centre of his red lips was pointing straight at Bond like a gun. The big square body in the midnight-blue tuxedo was quite motionless and a sort of tense quietness exuded from it. It was a tiger watching the tethered donkey and yet sensing danger. The face was ivory pale, but there was a likeness to the brother in London in the very straight, angry black brows and the short cliff of wiry hair cut en brosse, and in the ruthless jut of the jaw.
The wheel whirred again and the two pairs of eyes bent to watch it.
It fell into one of the two green slots in the wheel and Bond’s heart lifted at the escape he had had.
“Double Zero,” said the stick-man, raking in all the money on the table.
Now for the last throw, thought Bond-and then out of here with twenty thousand dollars of the Spang money. He looked across at his employer. The two camera lenses and the cigar were still trained on him, but the pale face was expressionless.
“Red.” He handed a 5000-dollar plaque to the croupier and watched it slither down the table.
Would the last coup be asking too much of the wheel? No, decided Bond with certitude. It would not.
“Five. Red. Low and Odd,” said the croupier obediently.
“I’ll take the stake,” said Bond. “And thanks for the ride.”
“Come again,” said the stick-man unemotionally.
Bond put his hand over the four fat plaques in his coat pocket and shouldered his way out of the crowd behind him and walked straight across the long room to the cashier’s desk. “Three bills of five thousand and five of ones,” he said to the man with the green eyeshade behind the bars. The man took Bond’s four plaques and counted out the bills and Bond put them in his pocket and walked over to the reception desk. “Air mail envelope, please,” he said. He moved to a writing-desk beside the wall and sat down and put the three big bills in the envelope and wrote on the front ‘Personal. The Managing Director, Universal Export, Regents Park, London, N.W.1 England.’ Then he bought stamps at the desk and slipped the envelope down the slot marked ‘US Mail’ and hoped that there, in the most sacrosanct repository in America, it would be safe.
Bond glanced at his watch. It said five minutes to midnight. He surveyed the big room for the last time, noted that a new dealer had taken over at Tiffany Case’s table, and that there was no sign of Mr Spang, and then he walked out through the glass door into the hot stuffy night and over the lawns to the Turquoise building and let himself into his room and locked the door behind him.
NIGHT FALLS IN THE PASSION PIT
“HOW d’ya make out?”
It was the next evening and Ernie Cureo’s cab was rolling slowly along the Strip towards downtown Las Vegas. Bond had got tired of waiting for something to happen, and he had called up the Pinkerton man and suggested they get together for a talk.
“Not bad,” said Bond. “Took some money off them at roulette, but I don’t suppose that’ll worry our friend. They tell me he’s got plenty to spare.”
Ernie Cureo snorted. “I’ll say,” he said. “That guy’s so loaded with the stuff he don’t need to wear spectacles when he’s out driving. Has the windshields of his Cadillacs ground to his eye-doctor’s prescription.”
Bond laughed. “What’s he spend it on besides that?” he asked.
“He’s daft,” said the driver. “He’s crazy about the Old West. Bought himself a whole ghost town way out on Highway 95. He’s shored the place up-wooden sidewalks, a fancy saloon, clapboard hotel where he rooms the boys, even the old railroad station. Way back in ‘05 or thereabouts, this dump-Spectreville it’s called seeing how it’s right alongside the Spectre range-was a rarin’ silver camp. For around three years they dug millions out of those mountains and a spur line took the stuff into Rhyolite, mebbe fifty miles away. That’s another famous ghost town.
Tourist centre now. Got a house made out of whisky bottles. Used to be the railhead where the stuff got shipped to the coast. Well, Spang bought himself one of the old locos, one of the old ‘Highland Lights’ if y’ever heard of the engine, and one of the first Pullman state coaches, and he keeps them there in the station at Spectreville and weekends he takes his pals for a run into Rhyolite and back. Drives the train himself. Champagne and caviar, orchestra, girls-the works. Must be something. But I never seen it. Ya can’t get near the place. Yessir,” the driver let down the side window and spat emphatically into the road, “that’s how Mister Spang spends his money. Daft, like I said.”
So that explained it, thought Bond. That was why he had heard nothing from Mr Spang or his friends all through the day. Friday, and they would all be out at the boss’s place playing trains, while he had swum and slept and hung about the Tiara all day waiting for something to happen. It was true that he had caught an occasional eye shifting away from his, and there had always been a servant of some sort, or one of the uniformed sheriffs, hanging about in his neighbourhood, rather elaborately doing nothing in particular, but otherwise Bond might have been just any one of the hotel guests.
He had caught a single glimpse of the big man, and the circumstances had given him a perverse pleasure.
At about ten o’clock in the morning, after a swim and breakfast, Bond had decided to get a haircut at the barber’s shop. There were still -very few people about, and the only other customer in the shop was a large figure in a purple terrycloth bathwrap whose face, as the man lay tilted back in the chair, was hidden beneath hot towels. His right hand, dangling down over the arm of the chair, was being attended to by a pretty manicurist. She had a pink and white doll’s face and a short mop of butter-coloured hair and she squatted beside him on a low stool with a bowl full of instruments balanced on the tips of her knees.
Bond, gazing into the mirror in front of his own, chair, had watched with interest as the head barber delicately lifted up first one corner of the hot towels and then the other and with infinite precaution snipped the hair out of the customer’s ears with small, thin scissors. Before he replaced the edge of the towel over the second ear, he bent down and said deferentially into it, “And the nostrils, Sir?”
There was an affirmative grunt from behind the hot towels and the barber proceeded to open a window through the towels in the neighbourhood of the man’s nose. Then he again went cautiously to work with the thin scissors.