Wint and Kidd. The torpedoes from Detroit.
The whole reel of jumbled pictures whirred through Bond’s mind in a flash of revelation and even while he was scanning them he was opening his small attaché case and extracting the squat silencer from its hidden pocket. Automatically, as he took the Beretta from amongst his shirts at the back of a drawer, checked the magazine and screwed the silencer into the muzzle, he was weighing the odds and planning his moves.
He hunted for the ship’s plan that had come with his ticket. Spread it out while he pulled on his socks. A49. Directly below him. Was there any chance of shooting the lock off the door and getting both of them before they got him? Practically none. And they would have bolted the door as well as locked it. Or take some of the staff with him, if he could persuade them of the danger to Tiffany? During the palaver and ‘Excuse me, Sirs’ they would get her out of the porthole and be innocently reading books or playing cards and ‘What’s all the fuss about?’
Bond shoved the gun into his waistband and wrenched one of his two portholes wide open. He thrust his shoulders through, relieved to find that there was at least an inch to spare. He craned down. Two dimly lit circles directly below him. How far? About eight feet. The night was still dead calm. No wind, and he was on the dark side of the ship. Would he be spotted from the flying bridge? Would one of their portholes be open?
Bond dropped back into his cabin and tore the sheets off his bed. The Blood Knot. That would be safest. But he would have to rip the sheets in half to get enough length. If he won, he would have to get some sheets from Aqg and leave their steward to puzzle out the loss. If he lost, nothing would matter.
Bond put all his strength on the rope. Should hold. As he tied one end round the hinge of the porthole he glanced at his watch. Only twelve minutes had been wasted since he had read the cable. Had it been too long? He set his teeth and threw the rope out down the side of the ship and climbed out head foremost.
Don’t think. Don’t look down. Don’t look up. Never mind the knots. Slowly, firmly, hand over hand.
The night wind tugged softly at him and swayed him against the black iron rivets, and from far down below sounded the deep boom and woosh of the sea. From somewhere above came the ‘ ropey twang of the wind of their speed in the rigging and, far above that, the stars would be swinging slowly round the twin masts.
Would the blasted, the beloved, sheets hold? Would vertigo get him? Could his arms stand the weight? Don’t think about it. Don’t think of the huge ship, the hungry sea, the great quadruple screws waiting to slice into his body. You are a boy climbing down an apple tree. It’s so easy and so safe there in the orchard with the grass to fall on.
Bond shut his mind and watched his hands and felt the roughness of the paint against his knuckles, and his feet were as sensitive as antennae as they groped below him for the first contact with the porthole.
There. The toes of his right foot had touched the protruding rim. He must stop. He MUST be patient and let his foot explore further-the wide-open porthole, held by its big brass latch; the feel of cloth against his sock : the curtains closed. Now he could go on. It was nearly over.
And then two more handholds and his face was level and he could get a hand to the metal rim of the frame and take some of the weight off the taut white rope and give one arm a blessed rest, and then the other, shifting the burden from the cracking muscles and gathering himself for the slow heave up and through and then the final dive with one hand clutching for his gun.
He listened, gazing at the circle of slowly swaying curtain, trying to forget that he was clinging like a fly half way down the side of the Queen Elizabeth, trying not to listen to the sea far below him, trying to still his own heavy breath and the hammering of his heart.
There was a mumble inside the little room. A few words in a masculine voice. And then a girl’s voice crying “No!”
There was a moment’s silence, and then a slap. It was as loud as a pistol shot and it jerked Bond’s body up and through the porthole as if he had been wrenched inwards by a rope.
Even as he somehow dived cleanly through the three-foot circle he was wondering what he would hit, and his left arm protected his head as his right went to his gun.
Crash on to a suitcase under the porthole, a ragged somersault that took him half across the room, and he was on his feet and backing, crouched low, towards the portholes, and the knuckles were white with tension on his gun hand and there was a thin white line round his clenched lips.
Through the slitted lids the ice-grey eyes flickered from side to side. The blunt, black gun stood at dead centre between the two men.
“All right,” said Bond, coming slowly to his full height.
It was a statement of fact. He had the control and the mouth of his gun had said he should have it.
“Who sent for you?” said the fat man. “You’re not in the act.”
There were hidden reserves in the voice. No panic. Not even enough surprise.
“Come to make a fourth at gin?”
He was sitting, in buttoned shirt sleeves, sideways-on to the dressing-table, and the small eyes glittered in the moist face. In front of him, with her back to Bond, Tiffany Case sat on an upholstered stool. She was naked except for brief flesh-coloured pants and her knees were gripped between the big man’s thighs. Her face, with red marks across its paleness, was turned towards Bond. Her eyes were wild, like a trapped animal’s, and her mouth was open with disbelief.
The white-haired man had been lying relaxed on one of the beds. Now he was up on one elbow and his other hand was at his shirt, half-way up to the gun in the black holster at his armpit. He looked incuriously at Bond and his mouth was square with the empty letter-box smile. From the middle of his smile a wooden toothpick protruded from between closed teeth like the tongue of a snake.
Bond’s gun held the neutral space between the two men. When he spoke his voice was low and taut.
“Tiffany,” he said slowly and distinctly. “Get down on your knees. Edge away from that man. Keep your head down. Get into the middle of the room.”
He didn’t watch her, and his eyes continued to flicker between the man on the chair and the man on the bed.
Now she was clear of the two targets.