James Bond took a hard look at the two men on the other side of the room. They hadn't moved. They sat there and watched and waited. What for? James Bond turned back to me. “I'm not boring you?”
“Oh, no. Of course not. It's thrilling. These SPECTRE people. Haven't I read about them somewhere? In the papers?”
“I expect you have. Less than a year ago there was this business of the stolen atomic bombs. It was called Operation Thunderball. Remember?” His eyes went far away. “It was in the Bahamas.”
“Oh, yes. Of course I remember. It was in all the papers I could hardly believe it. It was like something out of a thriller. Why? Were you mixed up in it?”
James Bond smiled. “On the sidelines. But the point is that we never cleaned up SPECTRE. The top man got away. It was a kind of independent spy network—The Special Executive for Counterespionage, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion,' they call themselves. Well, they've got going again and, as I say, they came to hear that the Russians wanted Boris killed and somehow they found out where he was. Don't ask me how. These people are too damned well informed for comfort. So they put it to the top K.G.B. man in Paris, the local head of the Russian Secret Service, that they'd do the job for one hundred thousand pounds. Presumably Moscow agreed, because the next thing that happened was that Ottawa—the famous Mounties—got on to us. They have a Special Branch that we work with pretty closely on this sort of thing, and they reported that there was an ex-Gestapo man in Toronto, chap called Horst Uhlmann, making contact with the gangs there, and did we know anything about him? It seemed he wanted some unspecified foreigner bumped off and was prepared to pay fifty thousand dollars for the job. Well, two and two got put together, and some bright chap in our show had a hunch this might be an attempt on Boris by the Russians. So”—James Bond's mouth curled down—“I was sent out to look into the business.”
He smiled at me. “You wouldn't rather switch on the television?”
“Oh, no. Go on, please.”
"Well, you know they've been having a lot of trouble in Toronto. It's anyway a tough town, but now gang war has broken out in a big way, and you probably read that the Mounties even went so far as to call in two top C.I.D. sleuths from Scotland Yard to help them out. One of these C.I.D chaps had managed to plant a smart young Canadian in 'the Mechanics,' which is the name of the toughest Toronto gang, with affiliations over the border with Chicago and Detroit. And it was this young man who got wind of Uhlmann and what he wanted done. Well, I and my Mountie pals went to work and, to cut a long story short, we found out that it was Boris who was the target and that the Mechanics had agreed to do the job last Thursday—that's just about a week ago. Uhlmann had gone to ground, and we couldn't get a smell of him. All we could discover from our man with the Mechanics was that he had agreed to lead the murder squad that was to consist of three top gunmen from the mob. It was to be a frontal attack on the apartment where Boris lived. Nothing fancy. They were just going to blast their way through the front door with sub-machine-guns, shoot him to bits, and get away. It was to be at night, just before midnight, and the Mechanics would mount a permanent watch on the apartment house to see that Boris came home from his job and didn't go out again.
“Well, apart from protecting Boris, my main job was to get this Horst Uhlmann, because by now we were certain as could be that he was a SPECTRE man, and one of my jobs is to go after these people wherever they show up. Of course, we couldn't leave Boris in danger, but if we got him away to safety there would be no attempt on his life and so no Uhlmann. So I had to make a rather unpleasant suggestion.” James Bond smiled grimly. “Unpleasant for me, that is. From his photographs, I had noticed that there was a superficial resemblance between Boris and me—about my age, tall, dark, clean-shaven. So I took a look at him from a ghost car one day—that's an undercover prowl car—and watched how he walked and what he wore. Then I suggested that we get Boris away on the day before the murder job, and that I should take his place on the last walk back to his apartment.”
I couldn't help saying anxiously, “Oh, but you shouldn't have taken the risk. Supposing they'd changed the plan. Supposing they'd decided to do it as you walked down the street, or with a time bomb or something!”
He shrugged. “We thought of all that. It was a calculated risk, and it's those I'm paid for taking.” He smiled. "Anyway, here I am. But it wasn't nice walking down that street, and I was glad to get inside. The Mounties had taken over the flat opposite to Boris, and I knew I was all right and simply had to play the tethered goat while the sportsmen shot the wild game. I could have stayed out of the flat, hidden somewhere in the building until it was all over, but I had a hunch that the goat must be a real goat, and I was right, because at eleven o'clock the telephone rang and a man's voice said. 'Is that Mr. Boris?' giving his assumed name. I said, 'Yes. Who is dat?' trying to sound foreign, and the man said, 'Thank you. Telephone Directory here. We're just checking the subscribers in your district. Night.' I said good night and thanked my stars I had been there to take the bogus call that was to make sure Boris was at home.
“The last hour was nervous work. There was going to be a lot of gunfire and probably a lot of death, and no one likes the prospect of those things, even if they don't expect to be hit. I had a couple of guns, heavy ones that really stop people, and at ten to twelve I took up my position to the right of the door in an angle of solid masonry and got ready just in case Uhlmann or one of the hoodlums managed to bust through the Mounties across the passage. To tell you the truth, as the minutes went by and I could imagine the killer car coming down the street and the men piling out and running softly up the stairs, I wished 1 had accepted the Mounties' offer that one of their men should share this vigil, as they called it, with me. But it would have been a five-hour tête-à-tête and, apart from not knowing what we would talk about during all that time, I've always had a preference for operating alone. It's just the way I'm made. Well, the minutes and the seconds ticked by, and then, bang on time, at five minutes to midnight, I heard a rush of rubber soles on the stairs and then all hell broke loose.”
James Bond paused. He rubbed a hand down over his face. It was a gesture that was either to clear his mind's eye or to try and wipe some memory away from it. Then he lit another cigarette and went on.
“I heard the lieutenant in charge of the Mountie party shout, 'It's the law! Get 'em up!' And then there was a mixture of single shots and bursts from the chopper”— he grinned—"sorry, sub-machine-gun, and, somebody screamed. Then the lieutenant shouted, 'Get that man!' and the next moment the lock blew off the door beside me and a man charged in. He held a smoking machine-gun tight against the hip, which is the way to use them, and he whirled from right to left in the bed-sitter, looking for Boris. I knew it was Uhlmann, the ex-Gestapo man. One's had to get to know the smell of a German, and of a Russian for the matter of that, in my line of work, and I had him in my sights. I shot at his gun and blasted it out of his hands. But he was quick. He jumped behind the open door. The door was only a thin bit of wood. I couldn't take a chance on him having another gun and firing first, so I sprayed a wide Z of bullets through the wood, bending my knees lower as I did so. Just as well I did this, because he fired a quick burst that nearly parted my hair when I was almost on my knees. But two of my bullets had got him, in the left shoulder and right hip as it turned out, and he crashed down behind the door and lay quiet.
“The rest of the battle outside had disappeared down the stairs after the gunmen, but a wounded Mountie suddenly appeared at the entrance to my room on hands and knees to help me. He said, 'Want a hand, feller?' and Uhlmann fired through the door at the voice and—and, well, he killed the man. But that gave me the height of Uhlmann's gun and I fired almost as he did, and then I ran out into the center of the room to give him some more if need be. But he didn't need any more. He was still alive, and when the remains of the Mounties came back up the stairs we took him down and into an ambulance and tried to get him to talk in hospital. But he wouldn't—a mixture of Gestapo and SPECTRE is a good one—and he died the next morning.”
James Bond looked me in the eyes, but his own didn't see me. He said, “We lost two of our side and another wounded. They lost the German, and one of theirs, and the other two won't last long. But the battlefield was a nasty sight and, well”—his face looked suddenly drawn and tired—“I've seen enough of this sort of thing. After the various post-mortems were over I wanted to get away. My headquarters, and the Mounties backed them up, wanted me to report the whole case to Washington, to our opposite numbers there, to get their help in cleaning up the American end of the Mechanics gang. The Mechanics had been given a nasty jolt, and the Mounties Special Branch thought it would be a good idea to follow up while they were still groggy. I said all right, but that I would like to drive down and not just dash off in an aeroplane or train. That was allowed so long as I didn't take more than three days, and I hired this car and started at dawn this morning. I was going all right, pretty fast, when I ran into the hell of a storm, the tail of yours I suppose. I got through it as far as Lake George, and I meant to stay the night there, but it looked such a hellish place that when I saw a sign up at a side road advertising this motel I took a chance.” He smiled at me, and now he looked quite cheerful again. “Perhaps something told me you were at the end of the road and that you were in trouble. Anyway, I had a puncture a mile from here, and here I am.” He smiled again, and reached out and put his hand on mine on the counter. “Funny the way things work out!”
“But you must be absolutely beat, driving all that way.”
“I've got something for that. Be a good girl and give me another cup of coffee.”
While I busied myself with the percolator, he opened his case and took out a small bottle of white pills. He took out two and when I gave him the coffee he swallowed them down. “Benzedrine. That'll keep me awake for tonight. I'll fit in some sleep tomorrow.” His eyes went to the mirror. “Hullo. Here they come.” He gave me a smile of encouragement. “Now just don't worry. Get some sleep. I'll be around to see there's no trouble.”
The music on the radio faded, and musical chimes sounded midnight.
Twelve: To Sleep—Perchance to Die!
WHILE Sluggsy made for the back door and went out into the night, the thin man came slowly over to us. He leaned against the edge of the counter. “Okay, folks. Break it up. It's midnight. We're turning off the electricity. My friend's getting emergency oil-lamps from the storehouse. No sense wasting juice. Mr. Sanguinetti's orders.” The words were friendly and reasonable. Had they decided to give up their plans, whatever they were, because of this man Bond? I doubted it. The thoughts that listening to James Bond's story had driven away came flooding back. I was going to have to sleep with these two men in the adjoining cabins on both sides of me. I must make my room impregnable. But they had the passkey! I must get this man Bond to help me.