Horror nodded. “Thought I smelled it. Who cares? We ain't done nuthin' wrong.”
“Yeh,” said Sluggsy eagerly, “that's right too.” He turned to this Mr. Bond. “Now don't you go listening to any crap from this little hustler. We're from the insurance, see. Assessors, sort of. Work for Mr. Sanguinetti. He's a big wheel in Troy. Owns this outfit. Well, there'd been complaints from the managers of some cash missing. Other things too. So we come up to make an investigation, sort of, and when we put the question to this little tramp she slams my friend with an ice-pick bang on the think-pot. See for yourself.” He waved in the direction of Horror. “Now how d'ya like that? So we was just restraining her, sort of, when you comes along.” He turned. “Ain't that right, Horror?”
“That's on the level. That's how it was.”
I said angrily, “You know that's a pack of lies.” I walked over to the back door and pointed at the bent frame and the splash of lead, “How did that bullet hole get there?”
Sluggsy laughed heartily. “Search me, sister.” He turned to Horror. “You seen any bullets flyin' around?”
“No, I ain't.” Horror's voice was bored. He waved a languid hand toward the floor round the eating counter. “But I seen plenty hardware being slung at my pal by the lady.” His eyes swiveled slowly to me. “That right, lady? An' there's a big carving knife down there somewhere. Good mind to book you for assault, come the morning.”
“You do that!” I said hotly. “Just see where it'll get you! You know perfectly well I was trying to defend myself. And as for that story about the money, that's the first I've heard of it. And you know it.”
The Englishman broke in quietly. “Well, it seems I came along at the right time to keep the peace. Now, where's that registry so that I can sign it?”
Sluggsy said curtly, “Register's with de boss. No purpose in signin' nuthin'. You ain't payin'. The place is closed. You can have your bed on the house.”
“Well, thanks. That's very kind of you.” James Bond turned to me. “Any chance of some eggs and bacon and coffee? All this talking's made me hungry. I can cook it myself if the stuff's there.”
“Oh, no.” I almost ran behind the counter. “I'd love to do it.”
“Thank you very much.” He turned his back on Sluggsy and sauntered over to the counter and hoisted himself onto a stool, putting his case on the next one.
Out of the corner of my eye I watched Sluggsy turn on his heel and walk quickly over to the thin man and sit down and begin talking urgently.
James Bond glanced over his shoulder at them and then got down off his stool and took off his raincoat and hat and put them on top of his case and climbed back. He silently watched the men in the long mirror at the back of the counter, while I busied myself with the cooking things and took him in with quick glances.
He was about six feet tall, slim and fit-looking. The eyes in the lean, slightly tanned face were a very clear gray-blue and as they observed the men they were cold and watchful. The narrowed watchful eyes gave his good looks the dangerous, almost cruel quality that had frightened me when I had first set eyes on him, but now that I knew how he could smile, I thought his face only exciting, in a way that no man's face had ever excited me before. He wore a soft-looking white silk shirt with a thin black knitted tie that hung down loosely without a pin, and his single-breasted suit was made of some dark blue lightweight material that may have been alpaca. The strong, rather good hands lay quietly on his crossed arms on the counter, and now he reached down to his hip pocket and took out a wide, thin gunmetal cigarette case and opened it.
“Have one? Senior Service. I suppose it'll have to be Chesterfields from now on.” His mouth turned slightly down as he smiled.
“No, thanks. Not now. After I've done the cooking.”
“By the way, what's your name? You're Canadian aren't you?”
“Yes, from Quebec. But I've been in England the last five years or so. I'm Vivienne Michel. My friends call me Viv.”
“How in God's name did you manage to get into this fix? Those are a couple of the toughest hoodlums I've seen in years. And Troy's a bad town—sort of a gangster suburb to Albany. The thin one's just finished a long stretch in jail, or I'll eat my hat. The other looks like the worst kind of psycho. How did it happen?”
I told him, in short bursts between the cooking, and cutting out all but the essentials. He listened quietly and without comment. Music was still coming from the radio, but the two gangsters were sitting silently watching us, so I kept my voice low. When I had finished, I said, “But is it true that you're a policeman?”
“Not quite. But I'm in that sort of business.”
“You mean a detective?”
“Well, sort of.”
“I knew it!”
He laughed. “How?”
“Oh, I don't know. But you look, kind of—kind of dangerous. And that was a gun you took out of your bag, and ammunition. Are you”—I was embarrassed, but I needed to know—“are you official? I mean from the Government?”
He smiled reassuringly. “Oh, yes. Don't worry about that. And they know me in Washington. If we get out of this all right, I'm going to go after those two.” His eyes were cold again. “I'm going to see they get roasted for what they did to you.”
“You do believe me?”
“Of course. Every word. But what I can't make out is what they're up to. They seem to have acted as if they knew they were safe to do anything they liked with you. And now they seem quite calm about me having got into the act. I don't like it. Have they had any drinks? Do they smoke?”
“No. Neither of them.”
“I don't like that either. It's only pros that don't.”
I had finished cooking his supper and I put it up on the counter. He ate as if he was really hungry. I asked him if it was all right. He said it was wonderful, and I felt warm inside. What a fantastic bit of luck, this man, and just this man, coming so magically out of the blue! I felt humble about it. It was so much a miracle. I swore to myself to say my prayers that night, the first time for years. I hovered about him slavishly, offering him more coffee, some jam to finish his toast with. Finally he laughed tenderly at me. “You're spoiling me. Here, I'm sorry. I forgot all about it. It's time for your cigarette. You've earned the whole easeful.” He lit it with a Ronson, gunmetaled like his case. My hand touched his, and I felt a small shock pass down my body. I suddenly found I was trembling. I quickly took the dishes and began washing them. I said, “I haven't earned anything. It's so wonderful you're here. It's an absolute miracle.” My voice choked and I felt stupid tears coming. I brushed the back of my hand across my eyes. He must have seen, but he pretended not to have.
Instead he said cheerfully, “Yes. It was a stroke of luck. At least I hope so. Can't count the chickens yet. Tell you what. We've got to sit these two hoodlums out. Wait until they make a move, go to bed or something. Would you like to hear just how I came to turn up tonight? It'll all be in the papers in a day or two. The story. Only I won't be mentioned. So you must promise to forget my side of the thing. It's all nonsense, really. These regulations. But I have to work under them. All right? It might take your mind off your troubles. They seem to have been pretty powerful ones.”
I said gratefully, “Yes, please tell me. And I promise. Cross my heart.”
Eleven: Bedtime Story
I HOISTED myself up onto the drainboard of the sink just beside him so that he could talk to me quietly— and so that I could be near to him. I refused another cigarette, and he lit one and gazed for a long minute into the mirror, watching the two gangsters. I looked too. The two men just stared back with a passive, indifferent hostility that seeped steadily across the room like poison gas. I didn't much like their indifference and their watchfulness. It seemed so powerful, so implacable, as if the odds were on their side and they had all the time in the world. But this James Bond didn't seem worried. He just seemed to be weighing them up, like a chess player. There was a certitude of power, of superiority, in his eyes that worried me. He hadn't seen these men in action. He couldn't possibly know what they were capable of, how at any moment they might just blaze away with their guns, blowing our heads off like coconuts in a circus sideshow, and then toss our bodies in the lake with stones to keep them down. But then James Bond began talking, and I forgot my nightmares and just watched his face and listened.
“In England,” he said, “when a man, or occasionally a woman, comes over from the other side, from the Russian side, with important information, there's a fixed routine. Take Berlin, for instance, and that's the most usual come-over route. To begin with they get taken to intelligence headquarters and get treated at first with extra suspicion. That's to try and take care of double agents—people who pretend to come over and, once they've been cleared by security, begin spying on us from inside, so to speak, and pass their stuff back to the Russians. There are also triple agents—people who do what the doubles have done, but change their minds and, under our control, pass phony intelligence back to the Russians. Do you understand? It's nothing but a complicated game, really. But then so's International politics, diplomacy—all the trappings of nationalism and the power complex that goes on between countries. Nobody will stop playing the game. It's like the hunting instinct.”
“Yes, I see. It all seems idiotic to my generation. Like playing that old game 'Attaque,' really. We need some more Jack Kennedys. It's all these old people about. They ought to hand the world over to younger people who haven't got the idea of war stuck in their subconscious. As if it were the only solution. Like beating children. It's much the same thing. It's all out of date—Stone Age stuff.”
He smiled. “As a matter of fact I agree, but don't spread your ideas too widely or I'll find myself out of a job. Anyway, once the come-over has got through the strainer in Berlin, he's flown to England and the bargain gets made—you tell us all you know about the Russian rocket sites and in exchange we'll give you a new name, a British passport, and a hideout where the Russians will never find you. That's what they're most frightened of, of course, the Russians getting after them and killing them. And, if they play, they get the choice of Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Africa. So, when they've told all they know, they get flown out to the country they've chosen, and there a reception committee run by the local police, a very hush-hush affair, of course, takes them over and they're gradually eased into a job and into a community just as if they were a bona fide immigrant. It nearly always works all right. They get homesick to begin with, and have trouble settling down, but some member of the reception committee will always be at hand to give them any help they need.”
James Bond lit another cigarette. “I'm not telling you anything the Russians don't know. The only secret side of the business is the addresses of these people. There's a man I'll call Boris. He's been settled in Canada, in Toronto. He was a prize—twenty-four-carat. He was a top naval constructor in Kronstadt—high up in their nuclear submarine team. He got away to Finland and then to Stockholm. We picked him up and flew him to England. The Russians don't often say anything about their defectors—just curse and let them go. If they're important, they round up their families and ship them off to Siberia—to frighten other waverers. But it was different with Boris. They sent out a general call to their secret services to eliminate him. As luck would have it, an organization called SPECTRE somehow listened in.”