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7 - Un-real Estate

When he arrives at a place on a dark night, particularly in an alien land which he has never seen before--a strange house, perhaps, or an hotel--even the most alert man is assailed by the confused sensations of the meanest tourist. James Bond more or less knew the map of Jamaica. He knew that the sea had always been close to him on his left and, as he followed the twin red glares of the leading car through an impressive entrance gate of wrought iron and up an avenue of young royal palms, he heard the waves scrolling into a beach very close to his car. The fields of sugar cane would, he guessed from the approach, come close up against the new high wall that surrounded the Thunderbird property, and there was a slight smell of mangrove swamp coming down from below the high hills whose silhouette he had occasionally glimpsed under a scudding three-quarter moon on his right. But otherwise he had no clue to exactly where he was or what sort of a place he was now approaching and, particularly for him, the sensation was an uncomfortable one.

The first law for a secret agent is to get his geography right, his means of access and exit, and assure his communications with the outside world. James Bond was uncomfortably aware that for the past hour he had been driving into limbo, and that his nearest contact was a girl in a brothel thirty miles away. The situation was not reassuring.

Half a mile ahead, someone must have seen the approaching lights of the leading car and pressed switches, for there was a sudden blaze of brilliant yellow illumination through the trees and a final sweep of the drive revealed the hotel. With the theatrical lighting and the surrounding blackness to conceal any evidence of halted construction work, the place made a brave show. A vast pale-pink-and-white pillared portico gave the hotel an aristocratic frontage, and when Bond drew up behind the other car at the entrance, he could see through the tall Regency windows a vista of black-and-white marble flooring beneath blazing chandeliers. A bell captain and his Jamaican staff in red jackets and black trousers hurried down the steps, and after showing great deference to Scaramanga, took his suitcase and Bond's. Then the small cavalcade moved into the entrance hall, where Bond wrote Mark Hazard and the Kensington address of Transworld Consortium in the register.

Scaramanga had been talking to a man who appeared to be the manager, a young American with a neat face and a neat suit. He turned to Bond. “You're in Number twenty-four in the west wing. I'm close by in Number twenty. Order what you want from room service. See you about ten in the morning. The guys'll be coming in from Kingston around midday. Okay?” The cold eyes in the gaunt face didn't mind whether it was or not. Bond said it was. He followed one of the bellboys with his suitcase across the slippery marble floor and was led into a long white corridor with a close-fitted carpet in royal-blue Wilton . There was a smell of new paint and Jamaican cedar. The numbered doors and the light fittings were in good taste. Bond's room was almost at the end on the left. Number 20 was opposite. The bellhop unlocked Number 24 and held the door for Bond. Air-conditioned air gushed out. It was a pleasant modern double bedroom and bath in grey and white. When he was alone, Bond went to the air-conditioning control and turned it to zero. Then he drew back the curtains and wound down the two broad windows to let in real air. Outside, the sea whispered softly on an invisible beach and the moonlight splashed the black shadows of palms across trim lawns. To his left, where the yellow light of the entrance showed a corner of the gravel sweep, Bond heard his car being started up and driven away, presumably to a parking lot, which would, he guessed, be at the rear so as not to spoil the impact of the facade. He turned back into his room and inspected it minutely. The only objects of suspicion were a large picture on the wall above the two beds and the telephone. The picture was a Jamaican market scene painted locally. Bond lifted it off its nail, but the wall behind was innocent. He then took out a pocketknife, laid the telephone carefully, so as not to shift the receiver, upside down on a bed, and very quietly and carefully unscrewed the bottom plate. He smiled his satisfaction. Behind the plate was a small microphone joined by leads to the main cable inside the cradle. He screwed back the plate with the same care and put the telephone quietly back on the night table. He knew the gadget. It would be transistorized and of sufficient power to pick up a conversation in normal tones anywhere in the room. It crossed his mind to say very devout prayers out loud before he went to bed. That would be a fitting prologue for the central recording device!

James Bond unpacked his few belongings and called room service. A Jamaican voice answered. Bond ordered a bottle of Walker's deluxe bourbon, three glasses, ice, and, for nine o'clock, eggs Benedict. The voice said, “Sure, sir.” Bond then took off his clothes, put his gun and holster under a pillow, rang for the valet, and had his suit taken away to be pressed. By the time he had taken a hot shower followed by an ice-cold one and pulled on a fresh pair of sea island cotton underpants, the bourbon had arrived.

The best drink in the day is just before the first one (the Red Stripe didn't count). James Bond put ice in the glass and three fingers of the bourbon and swilled it round the glass to cool it and break it down with the ice. He pulled a chair up to the window, put a low table beside it, took Profiles in Courage by Jack Kennedy out of his suitcase, happened to open it at Edmund G. Ross (“I looked down into my open grave”), then went and sat down, letting the scented air, a compound of sea and trees, breathe over his body, naked save for the underpants. He drank the bourbon down in two long draughts and felt its friendly bite at the back of his throat and in his stomach. He filled up his glass again, this time with more ice to make it a weaker drink, and sat back and thought about Scaramanga.

What was the man doing now? Talking long distance with Havana or the States? Organizing things for tomorrow? It would be interesting to see these fat, frightened stockholders! If Bond knew anything, they would be a choice bunch of hoods, the type that had owned the Havana hotels and casinos in the old Batista days, the men that held the stock in Las Vegas, that looked after the action in Miami. And whose money was Scaramanga representing? There was so much hot money drifting around the Caribbean that it might be any of the syndicates, any of the banana dictators from the islands or the mainland. And the man himself? It had been damned fine shooting that had killed the two birds swerving through the window of 3-1/2. How in hell was Bond going to take him? On an impulse, Bond went over to his bed and took the Walther from under the pillow. He slipped out the magazine and pumped the single round onto the counterpane. He tested the spring of the magazine and of the breech and drew a quick bead on various objects round the room. He found he was aiming an inch or so high. But that would be be-cause the gun was lighter without its loaded magazine. He snapped the magazine back and tried again. Yes, that was better. He pumped a round into the breech, put up the safety, and replaced the gun under the pillow. Then he went back to his drink and picked up the book and forgot his worries in the high endeavours of great men.

The eggs came and were good. The mousseline sauce might have been mixed at Maxim's. Bond had the tray removed, poured himself a last drink and prepared for bed. Scaramanga would certainly have a master key. Tomorrow, Bond would whittle himself a wedge to jam the door. For tonight, he upended his suitcase, just inside the door and balanced the three glasses on top of it. It was a simple booby trap, but it would give him all the warning he needed. Then he took off his shorts and got into bed and slept.

A nightmare woke him, sweating, around two in the morning. He had been defending a fort. There were other defenders with him, but they seemed to be wandering around aimlessly, ineffectively, and when Bond shouted to rally them, they seemed not to hear him. Out of the plain, Scaramanga sat ass-backwards on the cafe chair beside a huge golden cannon. Every now and then, he put his long cigar to the touchhole, and there came a tremendous flash of soundless flame. A black cannonball, as big as a football, lobbed up high in the air and crashed down into the fort with a shattering noise of breaking timber. Bond was armed with nothing but a longbow, but even this he could not fire because every time he tried to fit the notch of the arrow into the gut the arrow slipped out of his fingers to the ground. He cursed his clumsiness. Any moment now and a huge cannonball would land on the small open space where he was standing! Out on the plain, Scaramanga reached his cigar to the touchole. The black ball soared up. It was coming straight for Bond! It landed just in front of him and came rolling very slowly towards him, getting bigger and bigger, smoke and sparks coming from its shortening fuse. Bond threw up an arm to protect himself. Painfully, the arm crashed into the side of the night table, and Bond woke up.

Bond got out of bed, gave himself a cold shower, and drank a glass of water. By the time he was back in bed, he had forgotten the nightmare and he went quickly to sleep and slept dreamlessly until 7:30 in the morning. He put on swimming trunks, removed the barricade from in front of the door, and went out into the passage. To his left, a door into the garden was open and sun streamed in. He went out and was walking over the dewy grass towards the beach when he heard a curious thumping noise from among the palms to his right. He walked over. It was Scaramanga, in trunks, attended by a good-looking young Negro holding a flame-coloured terrycloth robe, doing exercises on a trampoline. Scaramanga's body gleamed with sweat in the sunshine as he hurled himself high in the air from the stretched canvas and bounded back, sometimes from his knees or his buttocks and sometimes even from his head. It was an impressive exercise in gymnastics. The prominent third nipple over the heart made an obvious target! Bond walked thoughtfully down to the beautiful crescent of white sand fringed with gently clashing palm trees. He dived in, and because of the other man's example, swam twice as far as he had intended.

James Bond had a quick and small breakfast in his room, dressed, reluctantly because of the heat, in his dark blue suit, armed himself, and went for a walk round the property. He quickly got the picture. The night, and the lighted facade, had covered up a half-project. The east wing on the other side of the lobby was still lath and plaster. The body of the hotel--the restaurant, nightclub, and living rooms that were the tail of the T-shaped structure-- were mockups, stages for a dress rehearsal, hastily assembled with the essential props, carpets, light fixtures, and a scattering of furniture, but stinking of fresh paint and wood shavings. Perhaps fifty men and women were at work, tacking up curtains, vacuuming carpets, fixing the electricity, but no one was employed on the essentials--the big cement mixers, the drills, the ironwork that lay about behind the hotel like the abandoned toys of a giant. At a guess, the place would need another year and another few million pounds to become what the plans had said it was to be. Bond saw Scaramanga's problem. Someone was going to complain about this. Others would want to get out. But then again, others would want to buy in, but cheaply, and use it as a tax loss to set against more profitable enterprises elsewhere. Better to have a capital asset, with the big tax concessions that Jamaica gave, than pay the money to Uncle Sam, Uncle Fidel, Uncle Leoni of Venezuela. So Scaramanga's job would be to blind his guests with pleasure, send them back half drunk to their syndicates. Would it work? Bond knew such people and he doubted it. They might go to bed drunk with a pretty coloured girl but they would awake sober. Or else they wouldn't have their jobs, they wouldn't be coming here with their discreet briefcases.

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