* * *
When, at around two-thirty that afternoon, James Bond had gone in through the double padded doors and had sat down opposite the turned-away profile on the other side of the big desk, he had sensed trouble. There was no greeting. M.'s head was sunk into his stiff turned-down collar in a Churchillian pose of gloomy reflection, and there was a droop of bitterness at the corner of his lips. He swiveled his chair around to face Bond, gave him an appraising glance as if, Bond thought, to see that his tie was straight and his hair properly brushed, and then began speaking, fast, biting off his sentences as if he wanted to be rid of what he was saying, and of Bond, as quickly as possible.
"Number 272. He's a good man. You won't have come across him. Simple reason that he's been holed up in Novaya Zemlya since the war. Now he's trying to get out—loaded with stuff. Atomic and rockets. And their plan for a whole new series of tests. For nineteen sixty-one. To put the heat on the West. Something to do with Berlin. Don't quite get the picture, but the FO says if it's true it's terrific. Makes nonsense of the Geneva Conference and all this blather about nuclear disarmament the Communist bloc is putting out. He's got as far as East Berlin. But he's got practically the whole of the KGB on his tail—and the East German security forces of course. He's holed up somewhere in East Berlin, and he got one message over to us. That he'd be coming across between six and seven P.M. on one of the next three nights—tomorrow, next day, or next day. He gave the crossing point. Trouble is"—the downward curve of M.'s lips became even more bitter—"the courier he used was a double. Station WB bowled him out yesterday. Quite by chance. Had a lucky break with one of the KGB codes. The courier'll be flown out for trial, of course. But that won't help. The KGB knows that 272 will be making a run for it. They know when. They know where. They know just as much as we do—and no more. Now, the code we cracked was a one-day-only setting on their machines. But we got the whole of that day's traffic, and that was good enough. They plan to shoot him on the run. At this street crossing between East and West Berlin he gave us in his message. They're mounting quite an operation—Operation Extase, they call it. Put their best sniper on the job. All we know about him is that his code name is the Russian for Trigger. Station WB guesses he's the same man they've used before for sniper work. Long-range stuff across the frontier. He's going to be guarding this crossing every night, and his job is to get 272. Of course they'd obviously prefer to do a smoother job with machine guns and what-have-you. But it's quiet in Berlin at the moment, and apparently the word is it's got to stay so. Anyway"—M. shrugged—"they've got confidence in this Trigger operator, and that's the way it's going to be!"
"Where do I come in, sir?" But James Bond had guessed the answer, guessed why M. was showing his dislike of the whole business. This was going to be dirty work, and Bond, because he belonged to the Double-O Section, had been chosen for it. Perversely, Bond wanted to force M. to put it in black and white. This was going to be bad news, dirty news, and he didn't want to hear it from one of the section officers, or even from the Chief of Staff. This was to be murder. All right. Let M. bloody well say so.
"Where do you come in, 007?" M. looked coldly across the desk. "You know where you come in. You've got to kill this sniper. And you've got to kill him before he gets 272. That's all. Is that understood?" The clear blue eyes remained cold as ice. But Bond knew that they remained so only with an effort of will. M. didn't like sending any man to a killing. But, when it had to be done, he always put on this fierce, cold act of command. Bond knew why. It was to take some of the pressure, some of the guilt, off the killer's shoulders.
So now Bond, who knew these things, decided to make it easy and quick for M. He got to his feet. "That's all right, sir. I suppose the Chief of Staff has got all the gen. I'd better go and put in some practice. It wouldn't do to miss." He walked to the door.
M. said quietly, "Sorry to have to hand this to you. Nasty job. But it's got to be done well."
"I'll do my best, sir." James Bond walked out and closed the door behind him. He didn't like the job, but on the whole he'd rather have it himself than have the responsibility of ordering someone else to go and do it.
The Chief of Staff had been only a shade more sympathetic. "Sorry you've bought this one, James," he had said. "But Tanqueray was definite that he hadn't got anyone good enough on his station, and this isn't the sort of job you can ask a regular soldier to do. Plenty of top marksmen in the B.A.O.R., but a live target needs another kind of nerve. Anyway, I've been on to Bisley and fixed a shoot for you tonight at eight-fifteen when the ranges will be closed. Visibility should be about the same as you'll be getting in Berlin around an hour earlier. The armorer's got the gun—a real target job—and he's sending it down with one of his men. You'll find your own way. Then you're booked on a midnight B.E.A. charter flight to Berlin. Take a taxi to this address." He handed Bond a piece of paper. "Go up to the fourth floor, and you'll find Tanqueray's Number Two waiting for you. Then I'm afraid you'll just have to sit it out for the next three days."
"How about the gun? Am I supposed to take it through the German customs in a golfbag or something?"
The Chief of Staff hadn't been amused. "It'll go over in the FO pouch. You'll have it by tomorrow midday." He had reached for a signal pad. "Well, you'd better get cracking. I'll just let Tanqueray know everything's fixed."
James Bond glanced down at the dim blue face of the dashboard clock. Ten-fifteen. With any luck, by this time tomorrow it would all be finished. After all, it was the life of this man Trigger against the life of 272. It wasn't exactly murder. Pretty near it, though. He gave a vicious blast on his triple wind horns at an inoffensive family saloon, took the roundabout in a quite unnecessary dry skid, wrenched the wheel harshly to correct it, and pointed the nose of the Bentley toward the distant glow that was London Airport.
* * *
The ugly six-story building at the corner of the Kochstrasse and the Wilhelmstrasse was the only one standing in a waste of empty bombed space. Bond paid off his taxi and got a brief impression of the neighborhood—waist-high weeds and half-tidied rubble walls stretching away to a big deserted crossroads lit by a central cluster of yellowish arc lamps—before he pushed the bell for the fourth floor and at once heard the click of the door opener. The door closed itself behind him, and he walked over the uncarpeted cement floor to the old-fashioned lift. The smell of cabbage, cheap cigar smoke, and stale sweat reminded him of other apartment houses in Germany and Central Europe. Even the sigh and faint squeal of the slow lift were part of a hundred assignments when he had been fired off by M., like a projectile, at some distant target where a problem waited for his coming, waited to be solved by him. At least this time the reception committee was on his side. This time there was nothing to fear at the top of the stairs.
Number Two of Secret Service Station WB was a lean, tense man in his early forties. He wore the uniform of his profession—well-cut, well-used, lightweight tweeds in a dark green herringbone, a soft white silk shirt, and an old school tie (in his case Wykehamist). At the sight of the tie, and while they exchanged conventional greetings in the small musty lobby of the apartment, Bond's spirits, already low, sank another degree. He knew the type—backbone of the civil service... overcrammed and underloved at Winchester... a good second in P.P.E. at Oxford... the war, staff jobs he would have done meticulously—perhaps an O.B.E.... Allied Control Commission in Germany where he had been recruited into the I Branch.... And thence—because he was the ideal staff man and A-one with Security, and because he thought he would find life, drama, romance—the things he had never had—into the Secret Service. A sober, careful man had been needed to chaperone Bond on this ugly business. Captain Paul Sender, late of the Welsh Guards, had been the obvious choice. He had bought it. Now, like a good Wykehamist, he concealed his distaste for the job beneath careful, trite conversation as he showed Bond the layout of the apartment and the arrangements that had been made for the executioner's preparedness and, to a modest extent, his comfort.
The flat consisted of a large double bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen containing tinned food, milk, butter, eggs, bread, and one bottle of Dimple Haig. The only odd feature in the bedroom was that one of the double beds was angled up against the curtains covering the single broad window and was piled high with three mattresses below the bedclothes.
Captain Sender said, "Care to have a look at the field of fire? Then I can explain what the other side has in mind."
Bond was tired. He didn't particularly want to go to sleep with the picture of the battlefield on his mind. But he said, "That'd be fine."
Captain Sender switched off the lights. Chinks from the streetlight at the intersection showed round the curtains. "Don't want to draw the curtains," said Captain Sender. "Unlikely, but they may be on the lookout for a covering party for 272. If you'd just lie on the bed and get your head under the curtains, I'll brief you about what you'll be looking at. Look to the left."
It was a sash window, and the bottom half was open. The mattresses, by design, gave only a little, and James Bond found himself more or less in the firing position he had been in on the Century Range. But now he was staring across broken, thickly weeded bombed ground toward the bright river of the Zirnmerstrasse—the border with East Berlin. It looked about a hundred and fifty yards away. Captain Sender's voice from above him and behind the curtain began reciting. It reminded Bond of a spiritualist séance.
"That's bombed ground in front of you. Plenty of cover. A hundred and thirty yards of it up to the frontier. Then the frontier—the street—and then a big stretch of more bombed ground on the enemy side. That's why 272 chose this route. It's one of the few places in the town which is broken land—thick weeds, ruined walls, cellars—on both sides of the frontier.... 272 will sneak through that mess on the other side, and make a dash across the Zirnmerstrasse for the mess on our side. Trouble is, he'll have thirty yards of brightly lit frontier to sprint across. That'll be the killing ground. Right?"
Bond said, "Yes." He said it softly. The scent of the enemy, the need to take care, already had him by the nerves.
"To your left, that big new ten-story block is the Haus der Ministerien, the chief brain center of East Berlin. You can see the lights are still on in most of the windows. Most of those will stay on all night. These chaps work hard—shifts all round the clock. You probably won't need to worry about the lighted ones. This Trigger chap will almost certainly fire from one of the dark windows. You'll see there's a block of four together on the corner above the intersection. They've stayed dark last night and tonight. They've got the best field of fire. From here, their range varies from three hundred to three hundred and ten yards. I've got all the figures and so on when you want them. You needn't worry about much else. That street stays empty during the night—only the motorized patrols about every half an hour. Light armored car with a couple of motorcycles as escort. Last night, which I suppose is typical, between six and seven when this thing's going to be done, there were a few people that came and went out of that side door. Civil-servant types. Before that nothing out of the ordinary—usual flow of people in and out of a busy government building, except, of all things, a whole damned woman's orchestra. Made a hell of a racket in some concert hall they've got in there. Part of the block is the Ministry of Culture. Otherwise nothing—certainly none of the KGB people we know, or any signs of preparation for a job like this. But there wouldn't be. They're careful chaps, the opposition. Anyway, have a good look. Don't forget it's darker than it will be tomorrow around six. But you can get the general picture."