The girl leant sideways and peered at Bond's face. She sat up straight again and stared obstinately out to sea. “I can see you don't believe me,” she said in a furious, tense voice. “You're one of these city people. You don't believe anything. Ugh,” she shuddered with dislike of him.

Bond said reasonably, “Honey, there just aren't such things as dragons in the world. You saw something that looked very like a dragon. I'm just wondering what it was.”

“How do you know there aren't such things as dragons?” Now he had made her really angry. “Nobody lives on this end of the island. One could easily have survived here. Anyway, what do you think you know about animals and things? I've lived with snakes and things since I was a child. Alone. Have you ever seen a praying mantis eat her husband after they've made love? Have you ever seen the mongoose dance? Or an octopus dance? How long is a humming bird's tongue? Have you ever had a pet snake that wore a bell round its neck and rang it to wake you? Have you seen a scorpion get sunstroke and kill itself with its own sting? Have you seen the carpet of flowers under the sea at night? Do you know that a John Crow can smell a dead lizard a mile away...?” The girl had fired these questions like scornful jabs with a rapier. Now she stopped, out of breath. She said hopelessly, “Oh, you're just city folk like all the rest.” Bond said, “Honey, now look here. You know these things. I can't help it that I live in towns. I'd like to know about your things too. I just haven't had that sort of life. I know other things instead. Like...” Bond searched his mind. He couldn't think of anything as interesting as hers. He finished lamely, “Like for instance that this Chinaman is going to be more interested in your visit this time. This time he's going to try and stop you getting away.” He paused and added. “And me for the matter of that.”'

She turned and looked at him with interest. “Oh. Why? But then it doesn't really matter. One just hides during the day and gets away at night. He's sent dogs after me and even a plane. He hasn't got me yet.” She examined Bond with a new interest. “Is it you he's after?”

“Well, yes,” admitted Bond. “I'm afraid it is. You see we dropped the sail about two miles out so that their radar wouldn't pick us up. I think the Chinaman may have been expecting a visit from me. Your sail will have been reported and I'd bet anything he'll think your canoe was mine. I'd better go and wake my friend up and we'll talk it over. You'll like him. He's a Cayman Islander, name of Quarrel.”

The girl said, “Well, I'm sorry if...” the sentence trailed away. Apologies wouldn't come easy to someone so much on the defensive. “But after all I couldn't know, could I?” She searched his face.

Bond smiled into the questing blue eyes. He said reassuringly, “Of course you couldn't. It's just bad luck-bad luck for you too. I don't suppose he minds too much about a solitary girl who collects shells. You can be sure they've had a good look at your footprints and found clues like that”-he waved at the scattered shells on the beach. “But I'm afraid he'd take a different view of me. Now he'll try and hunt me down with everything he's got. I'm only afraid he may get you into the net in the process. Anyway,” Bond grinned reassuringly, “we'll see what Quarrel has to say..You stay here.”

Bond got to his feet. He walked along the promontory and cast about him. Quarrel had hidden himself well. It took Bond five minutes to find him. He was lying in a grassy depression between two big rocks, half covered by a board of grey driftwood. He was still fast asleep, the brown head, stern in sleep, cradled on his forearm. Bond whistled softly and smiled as the eyes sprang wide open like an animal's. Quarrel saw Bond and scrambled to his feet, almost guiltily. He rubbed his big hands over his face as if he was washing it.

“Mornin”, cap'n,“ he said. ”Guess Ah been down deep. Dat China girl come to me."

Bond smiled. “I got something different,” he said. They sat down and Bond told him about Honeychile Rider and her shells and the fix they were in. “And now it's eleven o'clock,” Bond added. “And we've got to make a new plan.”

Quarrel scratched his head. He looked sideways at Bond. “Yo don' plan we jess ditch dis girl?” he asked hopefully. “Ain't.nuttin to do wit we...” Suddenly he stopped. His head swivelled round and pointed like a dog's. He held up a hand for silence, listening intently.

Bond held his breath. In the distance, to the eastwards, •'there was a faint droning.

Quarrel jumped to his feet. “Quick, cap'n,” he said urgently. “Bey's a comin'.”



Ten minutes later the bay was empty and immaculate. Small waves curled lazily in across the mirrored water inside the reef and flopped exhausted on the dark sand where th'e mauve shells glittered like shed toenails. The heap of discarded shells had gone and there was no longer any trace of footprints. Quarrel -had cut branches of mangrove and had walked backwards sweeping carefully as he went. Where he had swept, the sand was of a different texture from the rest of the beach, but not too different as to be noticed from outside the reef. The girl's canoe had been pulled deeper among the rocks and covered with seaweed and driftwood.

Quarrel had gone back to the headland. Bond and the girl lay a few feet apart under the bush of sea-grape where Bond had slept; and gazed silently out across the water to the corner of the headland round which the boat would come.

The boat was perhaps a quarter of a mile away. From the slow pulse of the twin diesels Bond guessed that every cranny of the coastline was being searched for signs of them. It sounded a powerful boat. A big cabin cruiser, perhaps. What crew would it have? Who would be in command of the search? Doctor No? Unlikely. He would not trouble himself with this kind of police work.

From the west a wedge of cormorants appeared, flying low over the sea beyond the reef. Bond watched them. They were the first evidence he had seen of the guanay colony at the other end of the island. These, according to Pleydell-Smith's description, would be scouts for the silver flash of the anchovy near the surface. Sure enough, as he watched, they began to back-pedal in the air and then go into shallow dives, hitting the water like shrapnel. Almost at once a fresh file appeared from the west, then another and another that merged into a long stream and then into a solid black river of birds. For minutes they darkened the skyline and then they were down on the water, covering several acres of it, screeching and fighting and plunging their heads below the surface, cropping at the solid field of anchovy like piranha fish feasting on a drowned horse.

Bond felt a gentle nudge from the girl. She gestured with her head. “The Chinaman's hens getting their corn.”

Bond examined the happy, beautiful face. She had seemed quite unconcerned by the arrival of the search party. To her it was only the game of hide-and-seek she had played before. Bond hoped she wasn't going to get a shock.

The iron thud of the diesels was getting louder. The boat must be just behind the headland. Bond took a last look round the peaceful bay and then fixed his eyes, through the leaves and grass, on the point of the headland inside the reef.

The knife of white bows appeared. It was followed by ten yards of empty polished deck, glass windshields, a low raked cabin with a siren and a blunt radio mast, the glimpse of a man inside at the wheel, then the long flat well of the stern and a drooping red ensign. Converted MTB, British Government surplus?

Bond's eyes went to the two men standing in the stern. They were pale-skinned Negroes. They wore neat khaki ducks and shirts, broad belts, and deep visored baseball caps of yellow straw. They were standing side by side, bracing themselves against the slow swell. One of them was holding a long black loud-hailer with a wire attached. The other was manning a machine gun on a tripod. It looked to Bond like a Spandau.

The man with the loud-hailer let it fall so that it swung on a strap round his neck. He picked up a pair of binoculars and began inching them along the beach. The low murmur of his comments just reached Bond above the glutinous flutter of the diesels.

Bond watched the eyes of the binoculars begin with the headland and then sweep the sand. The twin eyes paused among the rocks and moved on. They came back. The murmur of comment rose to a jabber. The man handed the glasses to the machine gunner who took a quick glance through them and gave them back. The scanner shouted something to the helmsman. The cabin cruiser stopped and backed up. Now she lay outside the reef exactly opposite Bond and the girl. The scanner again levelled the binoculars at the rocks where the girl's canoe lay hidden. Again the excited jabber came across the water. Again the glasses were passed to the machine gunner who glanced through. This time he nodded decisively.

Bond thought: now we've had it. These men know their job.

Bond watched the machine gunner pull the bolt back to load. The double click came to him over the bubbling of the diesels.

The scanner lifted his loud-hailer and switched it on. The twanging echo of the amplifier moaned and screeched across the water. The man brought it up to his lips. The voice roared across the bay.

“Okay, folks! Come on out and you won't get hurt.”

It was an educated voice. There was a trace of American accent.

“Now then, folks,” the voice thundered, “make it quick! We've seen where you came ashore. We've spotted the boat under the driftwood. We ain't fools an' we ain't fooling. Take it easy. Just walk out with your hands up. You'll be okay.”

Silence fell. The waves lapped softly on the beach. Bond could hear the girl breathing. The thin screeching of the cormorants eame to them muted across the mile of sea. The diesels bubbled unevenly as the swell covered the exhaust pipe and then opened it again.

Softly Bond reached over to the girl and tugged at her sleeve. “Come close,” he whispered. “Smaller target.” He felt her warmth nearer to him. Her cheek brushed against his forearm. He whispered, “Burrow into the sand. Wriggle. Every inch'll help.” He began to worm his body carefully deeper into the depression they had scooped out for themselves. He felt her do the same. He peered out. Now his eyes were only just above the skyline of the top of the beach.

The man was lifting his loud-hailer. The voice roared. “Okay, folks! Just so as you'll know this thing isn't for show.” He lifted his thumb. The machine gunner trained his gun into the tops of the mangroves behind the beach. There came the swift rattling roar Bond had last heard coming from the German lines in the Ardennes. The bullets made the same old sound of frightened pigeons whistling overhead. Then there was silence.

In the distance Bond watched the black cloud of cormorants take to the air and begin circling. His eyes went back to the boat. The machine gunner was feeling the barrel of his gun to see if it had warmed. The two men exchanged some words. The scanner picked up his loud-hailer.

“'Kay, folks,” he said harshly. “You've been warned. This is it.”

Bond watched the snout of the Spandau swing and depress. The man was going to start with the canoe among the rocks. Bond whispered to the girl, “All right, Honey. Stick it. Keep right down. It won't last long.” He felt her hand squeeze his arm. He thought: poor little bitch, she's in this because of me. He leant to the right to cover her head and pushed his face deep into the sand. Copyright 2016 - 2024