James Bond yawned hugely. “Well, I'll certainly be glad of some sleep. Came a long way today, and I've got plenty more to cover tomorrow. And you must be ready for bed, too, with all your worries.”
“Come again, mister?” The thin man's eyes had sharpened.
“It's a pretty responsible job you've got.”
“What job's that?”
“Oh, being an insurance assessor. On a valuable property like this. Must be worth half a million dollars, I'd say. By the way, are either of you bonded?”
“No, we ain't. Mr. Sanguinetti don't need to bond no one what works for him.”
“That's a great compliment to his staff. Must have good men. Quite right to put a lot of trust in them. Incidentally, what's the name of his insurance company?”
“Metro Accident and Home.” The thin man still leaned, relaxed, against the counter, but the gray face was now tense. “Why? What's it to you, mister? Suppose you quit with the double-talk and say what's on your mind.”
Bond said carelessly, “Miss Michel here was telling me the motel hadn't been doing so well. I gather the place hasn't been accepted for membership in Quality Courts or Holiday Inns or Congress. Difficult to do much trade without one of those affiliations. And all this trouble to send up you fellows to count the spoons and turn off the electric light and so on.” James Bond looked sympathetic. “Just crossed my mind that the business might be on the rocks. Too bad if it is. Nice set-up here, and a fine site.”
The red fleck that I had seen once, terribly, before was now in the thin man's eyes. He said softly, “Just suppose you bag your lip, mister. I ain't standin' for no more limey cracks, get me? You suggestin' this ain't legit? Mebbe you think we set one up, huh?”
“Now don't burn yourself up, Mr. Horowitz. No need to sing the weeps.” James Bond smiled broadly. “You see, I know the lingo too.” His smile suddenly went. “And I also know where it comes from. Now, do you get me?”
I suppose he meant this was gangster, jailbird language. The thin man certainly thought so. He looked startled, but now he had conquered his anger and he just said, “Okay, wise guy. I've got the photo. You gumshoes are all the same—looking for dirt where there ain't none. Now, where in hell's that pal of mine? C'mon. Let's hit the sack.”
As we filed out through the back door, the lights went out. James Bond and I stopped, but the thin man went on along the covered way as if he could see in the dark. Sluggsy appeared round the corner of the building carrying two oil-lamps. He handed one to each of us. His naked face, yellow in the light, split into a grin. “Happy dreams, folks!”
James Bond followed me over to my cabin and came inside. He shut the door. “Damned if I know what they're up to, but the first thing to do is see that you're properly closed down for the night. Now then, let's see.” He prowled round the room, examining the window fastenings, inspecting the hinges on the door, estimating the size of the ventilator louvers. He seemed satisfied. He said. “There's only the door. You say they've got the master key. We'll wedge the door, and when I've gone, just move the desk over as an extra barricade.” He went into the bathroom, tore off strips of lavatory paper, moistened them, and made them into firm wedges. He rammed several under the door, turned the handle, and pulled. They held, but could have been shaken loose by ramming. He took the wedges out again and gave them to me. Then he put his hand to the belt of his trousers and took out a short, stumpy revolver. “Ever fired one of these things?”
I said I'd shot at rabbits with a long-barreled .22 target pistol when I was young.
“Well, this is a Smith and Wesson Police Positive. A real stopper. Remember to aim low. Hold your arm out straight like this.” He showed me. “And try to squeeze the trigger and not snatch at it. But it won't really matter. I'll hear it and I'll come running. Now remember. You've got absolute protection. The windows are good solid stuff, and there's no way of getting in between the glass slats, short of smashing them.” He smiled. “Trust these motel designers. They know all there is to know about break-ins. These hoodlums won't take a shot at you through them in the dark, but, just in case, leave your bed where it is and make up a camp bed with some cushions and bedding in that far corner on the floor. Put the gun under your pillow. Pull the desk in front of the door and balance the television set on the edge of it so that if anyone barges the door they knock it off. That'll wake you, and then you just fire a shot through the door, close to the handle, where the man will be standing, and listen for the squawk. Got it?”
I said yes, as happily as I could, and wished he would stay in the room with me. But I hadn't the guts to ask him, and anyway he seemed to have his own plans.
He came up to me and kissed me gently on the lips. I was so surprised I just stood there. He said lightly, “I'm sorry, Viv, but you're a beautiful girl. In those overalls you're the prettiest garage-hand I've ever seen. Now don't you worry. Get some sleep. I'll keep an eye on you.”
I threw my arms round his neck and kissed him back—hard, on the lips. I said, “You're the most wonderful man I've ever met in my life. Thank you for being here. And please, James. Be careful! You haven't seen them like I have. They're really tough. Please don't get hurt.”
He kissed me back, but only lightly, and I let go of him. He said, “Don't worry. I've seen this sort before. Now you do all I told you and get off to sleep. Night, Viv.”
And then he had gone.
I stood for a moment looking at the closed door, and then I went and brushed my teeth and got ready for bed. I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked like hell— washed out, no make-up, and deep circles under my eyes. What a day! And now this! I mustn't lose him! I mustn't let him go! But I knew in my heart that I had to. He would go on alone, and I would have to, too. No woman had ever held this man. None ever would. He was a solitary, a man who walked alone and kept his heart to himself. He would hate involvement. I sighed. All right. I would play it that way. I would let him go. I wouldn't cry when he did. Not even afterward. Wasn't I the girl who had decided to operate without a heart?
Silly idiot! Silly, infatuated goose! This was a fine time to maunder like a girl in a women's magazine! I shook my head angrily and went into the bedroom and got on with what I had to do.
It was still blowing hard, and the pine trees clashed fiercely outside my back window. The moon, filtering through high scudding clouds, lit up the two high squares of glass at each end of the room and shone eerily through the thin, red-patterned curtains. When the moon went behind the clouds, the blocks of blood-red photographer's light went dark and there was only the meager pool of yellow from the oil-lamp. Without the brightness of electricity, there was a nasty little movie-set feeling about the oblong room. The corners were dark, and the room seemed to be waiting for a director to call people out of the shadows and tell them what to do.
I tried not to be nervous. I put my ears to the connecting walls to right and left, but across the space of the carports I could hear nothing. Before I had set up my barricade I had softly opened the door and gone out and looked round. There had been a glimmer of light from Numbers 8 and 10 and from James Bond's Number 40 away down to the left. Everything had been peaceful, everything quiet. Now I stood in the middle of the room and had a last look round. I had done everything he had told me to do. I remembered the prayers I was going to say and I knelt down there and then on the carpet and said them. I thanked, but I also asked. Then I took two aspirin, turned down the light and blew across the glass chimney to put it out, and went over to my floor bed in the corner. After unzipping the front of my overalls and unlacing but not removing my shoes, I curled myself up in the blankets.
I never take aspirins or any other pills. These, after carefully reading the instructions, I had taken from the little first-aid kit my practical mind had told me to include in my scrap of luggage. I was anyway exhausted, beat to the wide, and the pills, to me as strong as morphia, soon sent me off into a delicious half-sleep in which there was no danger but only the dark, exciting face and the new-found knowledge that there really did exist such men. Soppier even than that, I remembered the first touch of his hand holding the lighter and thought carefully about each kiss separately, and then, but only after vaguely remembering the gun and slipping my hand under the pillow to make sure it was there, I went happily to sleep.
The next thing I knew I was wide awake. I lay for a moment remembering where I was. There was a lull in the wind, and it was very quiet. I found I was lying on my back. That was what had awakened me! I lay for a moment looking across the room at the square of red high up on the opposite wall. The moon was out again. How deathly quiet it was! The silence was warm and embracing after the hours of storm. I began to feel drowsy and I turned over on my side so that I lay facing into the room. I closed my eyes. But, as sleep held out her hands to me again, something nagged at my mind. My eyes, before I had closed them, had noticed something unusual in the room. Unwillingly, I opened them again. It took minutes to recognize again what I had seen. The faintest chinks of light were shining from between the door frames of the clothes cupboard up against the opposite wall.
How stupid! I hadn't closed the doors properly, and the automatic “courtesy” light inside hadn't switched itself off. Reluctantly I got out of bed. What a bore! And then, after I had taken only two steps across the room, I suddenly remembered. But there wouldn't be a light inside the cupboard! The electricity was switched off!
I stood for a moment, my hand up to my mouth, and then, as I turned to dive for the gun, the doors of the cupboard burst open and the crouching figure of Sluggsy darted out and, a flashlight in one hand and something swinging from the other, he was on top of me.
I think I gave a shrill scream, but perhaps it was only within me. The next moment something exploded against the side of my head and I felt myself crash to the floor. Then all was darkness.
* * *
My first sensations on coming round were of terrific heat and of being dragged along the ground. Then I smelled the burning and saw the flames and I tried to scream. I realized that nothing was coming out of my mouth but an animal whimpering, and I began to kick with my feet. But the hands held my ankles firmly, and then suddenly, with painful bumps that added to the frightful pain in my head, I found myself being dragged into wet grass and tree branches. Suddenly my feet were laid down and there was a man on his knees beside me and his firm hand was over my mouth. A voice close to my ear, James Bond's voice, whispered urgently, “Don't make a sound! Lie still! It's all right. It's me.”
I put a hand out to him and felt his shoulder. It was naked. I pressed it to reassure him, and the hand came away from my mouth. He whispered, “Wait there! Don't move! Be back in a second,” and he slipped noiselessly away.
Noiselessly? It wouldn't have mattered how much noise he made. There was a tremendous roar and crackle of flames behind me, and orange light flickered against the trees. I got carefully to my knees and painfully turned my head. A great wall of flame extended down to my right all along the row of cabins. God, what he had saved me from! I felt my body and put my hands up to ray hair. I was untouched. There was only the throbbing bruise at the back of my head. I found I could stand, and I got up and tried to think what had happened. But I could remember nothing after I had got hit. So they must have set fire to the place and James had somehow got to me in time and pulled me out into the trees at the back!