The Chief of Staff slapped the file shut. He said, “Well, this is the story as we passed it to Strangways on January zoth. He acknowledged receipt, but after that we heard nothing from him.” The Chief of Staff sat back in his chair. He looked at Bond. "It seems there's a bird called a Roseate Spoonbill. There's a coloured photograph of it in here. Looks like a sort of pink stork with an ugly flat bill which it uses for digging for food in the mud. Not many years ago these birds were dying out. Just before the war there were only a few hundred left in the world, mostly in Florida and thereabouts. Then somebody reported a colony of them on an island called Crab Key between Jamaica and Cuba. It's British territory-a dependency of Jamaica. Used to be a guano island, but the quality of the guano was too low for the cost of digging it. When the birds were found there, it had been uninhabited for about fifty years. The Audubon people went there and ended up by leasing a corner as a sanctuary for these spoonbills. Put two
wardens in charge and persuaded the airlines to stop flying over the island and disturbing the birds. The birds flourished and at the last count there were about five thousand of them on the island. Then came the war. The price of guano went up and some bright chap had the idea of buying the island and starting to work it again. He negotiated with the Jamaican Government and bought the place for ten thousand pounds with the condition that he didn't disturb the lease of the sanctuary. That was in 1943. Well, this man imported plenty of cheap labour and soon had the place working at a profit and it's gone on making a profit until recently. Then the price of guano took a dip and it's thought that he must be having a hard time making both ends meet."
“Who is this man?”
“Chinaman, or rather half Chinese and half German. Got a daft name. Calls himself Doctor No-Doctor Julius No.”
“No? Spelt like Yes?”
“Any facts about him?”
“Nothing except that he keeps very much to himself. Hasn't been seen since he made his deal with the Jamaican Government. And there's no traffic with the island. It's his and he keeps it private. Says he doesn't want people disturbing the guanay birds who turn out his guano. Seems reasonable. Well, nothing happened until just before Christmas when one of the Audubon wardens, a Barbadian, good solid chap apparently, arrived on the north shore of Jamaica in a canoe. He was very sick. He was terribly burned-died in a few days. Before he died he told some crazy story about their camp having been attacked by a dragon with flames coming out of its mouth. This dragon had killed his pal and burned up the camp and gone roaring off into the bird sanctuary belching fire among the birds and scaring them off to God knows where. He had been badly burned but he'd escaped to the coast and stolen a canoe and sailed all one night to Jamaica. Poor chap was obviously off his rocker. And that was that, except that a routine report had to be sent off to the Audubon Society. And they weren't satisfied. Sent down two of their big brass in a Beechcraft from Miami to investigate. There's an airstrip on the island. This Chinaman's got a Grumman Amphibian for bringing in supplies...”
M interjected sourly. “All these people seem to have a hell of a lot of money to throw about on their damned birds.”
Bond and the Chief of Staff exchanged smiles. M had been trying for years to get the Treasury to give him an Auster for the Caribbean Station.
The Chief of Staff continued: “And the Beechcraft crashed on landing and killed the two Audubon men. Well, that aroused these bird people to a fury. They got a corvette from the US Training Squadron in the Caribbean to make a call on Doctor No. That's how powerful these people are. Seems they've got quite a lobby in Washington. The captain of the corvette reported that he was received very civilly by Doctor No but was kept well away from the guano workings. He was taken to the airstrip and examined the remains of the plane. Smashed to pieces, but nothing suspicious-came in to land too fast probably. The bodies of the two men and the pilot had been reverently embalmed and packed in handsome coffins which were handed over with quite a ceremony. The captain was very impressed by Doctor No's courtesy. He asked to see the wardens' camp and he was taken out there and shown the remains of it. Doctor No's theory was that the two men had gone mad because of the heat and the loneliness, or at any rate that one of them had gone mad and burned down the camp with the other inside it. This seemed possible to the captain when he'd seen what a godforsaken bit of marsh the men had been living in for ten years or more. There was nothing else to see and he was politely steered back to his ship and sailed away.” The Chief of Staff spread his hands. “And that's the lot except that the captain reported that he saw only a handful of roseate spoonbills. When his report got back to the Audubon Society it was apparently the loss of their blasted birds that infuriated these people most of all, and ever since then they've been nagging at us to have an inquiry into the whole business. Of course nobody at the Colonial Office or in Jamaica's in the least interested. So in the end the whole fairy story was dumped in our lap.” The Chief of Staff shrugged his shoulders with finality. “And that's how this pile of bumf,” he waved the file, "or at any rate the guts of it, got landed on Strangways.'
M looked morosely at Bond. “See what I mean, 007? Just the sort of mares' nest these old women's societies are always stirring up. People start preserving something-churches, old houses, decaying pictures, birds-and there's always a hullabaloo of some sort. The trouble is these sort of people get really worked up about their damned birds or whatever it is. They get the politicians involved. And somehow they all seem to have stacks of money. God knows where it comes from. Other old women, I suppose. And then there comes a point when someone has to do something to keep them quiet. Like this case. It gets shunted off on to me because the place is British territory. At the same time it's private land. Nobody wants to interfere officially. So I'm supposed to do what? Send a submarine to the island? For what? To find out what's happened to a covey of pink storks.” M snorted. “Anyway, you asked about Strangways's last case and that's it.” M leant forward belligerently. “Any questions? I've got a busy day ahead.”
Bond grinned. He couldn't help it. M's occasional outbursts of rage were so splendid. And nothing set him going so well as any attempt to waste the time and energies and slim funds of the Secret Service. Bond got to his feet. “Perhaps if I could have the file, sir,” he said placatingly. “It just strikes me that four people seem to have died more or less because of these birds. Perhaps two more did-Strangways and the True-blood girl. I agree it sounds ridiculous, but we've got nothing else to go on.”
“Take it, take it,” said M impatiently. “And hurry up and get your holiday over. You may not have noticed it, but the rest of the world happens to be in a bit of a mess.”
Bond reached across and picked up the file. He also made to pick up his Beretta and the holster. “No,” said M sharply. “Leave that. And mind you've got the hang of the other two guns by the time I see you again.”
Bond looked across into M's eyes. For the first time in his life he hated the man. He knew perfectly well why M was being tough and mean. It was deferred punishment for having nearly got killed on his last job. Plus getting away from this filthy weather into the sunshine. M couldn't bear his men to have an easy time. In a way Bond felt sure he was being sent on this cushy assignment to humiliate him. The old bastard.
With the anger balling up inside him like cats' fur, Bond said, “I'll see to it, sir,” and turned and walked out of the room.