There was a rustle among the trees, and he was beside me. He was wearing no shirt or coat, but there was some kind of harness across the sunburned, sweating chest that glistened in the light of the flames, and a heavy-looking automatic hung, butt down, below his left armpit. His eyes were bright with tension and excitement, and his smoke-streaked face and tousled hair made him look piratical and rather frightening.
He smiled grimly. He nodded in the direction of the flames. “That's the game. Burn the place down for the insurance. They're just fixing the flames to reach the lobby building, sprinkling thermite dust along the covered way. I couldn't care less. If I took them on now, I'd only be saving Mr. Sanguinetti's property for him. With us as witnesses, he won't even smell the insurance. And he'll be in jail. So we'll just wait a bit and let him have a total loss on his books.”
I suddenly thought of my precious belongings. I said humbly, “Can we save the Vespa?”
“It's all right. You've only lost those glad rags—if you left them in the bathroom. I got the gun when I got you, and I slung the saddlebags out. I've just been salvaging the Vespa. It looks in good shape. I've made a cache of everything in the trees. Those carports will be the last things to go. They've got masonry on both sides. They've used thermite bombs in each of the cabins. Better than petrol. Less bulky, and they leave no traces for the insurance sleuths.”
“But you might have got burned!”
His smile flashed white in the shadows. “That's why I took my coat off. I must look respectable in Washington.”
It didn't seem funny to me. “But what about your shirt?”
There was a crash and a great shower of sparks way down the line of cabins. James Bond said, “There goes my shirt. Roof falling in on top of it.” He paused and wiped his hand down his dirty, sweating face so that the black smudged even worse. “I had a feeling something like this was going to happen. Perhaps I should have been more ready for it than I was. I could have gone and changed the wheel on my car, for instance. If I'd done that we could get out now. We could work our way round the end of the cabins and make a dash for it. Get to Lake George or Glens Falls and send the cops along. But I thought that if I fixed the car our friends would have an excuse to tell me to get moving. I could have refused, of course, or said that I wouldn't go without you, but I thought that might lead to shooting. I'd be lucky to beat those two unless I shot first. And with me out of the picture, you'd have been back where we started. That would have been bad. You were a major part of their plan.”
“I felt I was all along. I didn't know why. I knew the way they were treating me meant that I didn't matter, that I was expendable. What did they want to use me for?”
“You were to have been the cause of the fire. The evidence for Sanguinetti would have been that the managers, this Phancey couple, and of course they're in it up to their necks”—I remembered the way their attitude to me had changed on the last day; the way they too had treated me with contempt, as rubbish, as something that was to be thrown away—“they would say that they had told you to turn off the electricity—perfectly reasonable as the place was closing down—and use an oil-lamp for the last night. The remains of the oil-lamp would have been found. You had gone to sleep with the light on and somehow upset it. The whole place blazed up, and that was that. The buildings had a lot of timber in them, and the wind did the rest. My turning up was a nuisance, but not more than that. My remains would have been found too—or at any rate my car and wrist watch and the metal from my bag. I don't know what they'd have done about my gun and the one under your pillow. Those might have got them into trouble. The police would have checked the car with Canada and then the numbers of the guns with England, and that would have identified me. So why was my other gun under your pillow? That might have made the police think. If we were, well, sort of lovers, why was I sleeping so far away from you? Perhaps we had both been very proper and slept as far apart as possible and I had insisted that you have one of my guns to protect a lonely girl in the night. I don't know how they would have worked it out. But my guess is that our friends, once I told them I was a policeman, may have thought about guns and other incriminating hardware that wouldn't be destroyed in the fire and might have waited a few hours and then gone in and raked about in the ashes to take care of that sort of trouble. They'd have been careful about their raking, and of their footprints in the cinders, of course. But then, these people are pros.” His mouth turned down. “By their standards, that is.”
“But why didn't they kill you?”
“They did, or rather they thought they had. When I left you and went along to my cabin, I reckoned that if anything was going to happen to you they would get rid of me first. So I rigged up a dummy in my bed. A good one. I've done it before, and I've got the trick. You mustn't only have something that looks like a body in the bed. You can do that with pillows and towels and bedding. You must also have something that looks like hair on the pillow. I did that with handfuls of pine needles, just enough to make a dark clump on the pillow with the sheets drawn up to it—very artistic. Then I hung my shirt over the back of a chair beside the bed— another useful prop that conveys the idea that the man belonging to the shirt is inside the bed—and I left the oil-lamp burning low, close to the bed to help their marksmanship—if any. I put amateurish wedges under the door and propped a chair-back under the door handle to show a natural sense of precaution. Then I took my bag round to the back and waited in the trees.” James Bond gave a sour laugh. “They gave me an hour and then they came so softly that I didn't hear a thing. Then there was the bang of the door being forced and a series of quick clonks—they were using a silencer—and then the whole interior of the cabin went bright with the thermite. I thought I had been very clever, but it turned out I very nearly wasn't clever enough. It took me almost five minutes to work my way up to your cabin through the trees. I wasn't worried. I thought it would take them all that to get into your cabin and I was ready to break out in the open if I heard your gun. But sometime this evening, probably when Sluggsy was making the cabin inspection you told me about, he had pickaxed a hole in the wall behind your clothes cupboard, leaving only the plaster-board lining to be cut through with a sharp knife. He may or may not have put the stone loosely back. I don't know. Anyway, he didn't need to. There was no occasion for either of us to go into the carport of Number 8, and no reason to. If you had been here alone, they would have seen to it that you kept away from there. Anyway, the first thing I knew was seeing the light of the thermite from your cabin. Then I ran like hell, dodging across the open backs of the carports as I heard them coming back down the line, opening the doors of the cabins and tossing bombs in and then carefully shutting the doors to make it look tidy.”
During all this while, James Bond had been glancing from time to time at the roof of the lobby building that we could just see over the tops of the flaming cabins. Now he said casually, “They've set it going. I'll have to get after them. How are you feeling, Viv? Any stuffing left? How's the head?”
I said impatiently, “Oh, I'm all right. But James, do you have to go after them? Let them get away. What do they matter? You might get hurt.”
He said firmly, “No, darling. They almost killed both of us. Any minute now they may come back and find the Vespa gone. Then we'll have lost the surprise factor. And I can't let them get away with it. These are killers. They'll be off killing someone else tomorrow.” He smiled cheerfully. “Besides, they ruined my shirt!”
“Well, then you must let me help.” I put my hand out to him. “And you will take care, won't you? I can't do without you. I don't want to be alone again.”
He ignored my hand. He said, almost coldly, “Now don't hang on my gun arm, there's a good girl. This is something I've got to do. It's just a job. Now”—he handed me the Smith and Wesson—“you move quietly up in the trees to the carport of Number 3. That's in the dark, and the wind's blowing the fire the other way. You can watch from there without being seen. If I need help, I'll know where to find you, so don't budge. If I call, come running fast. If anything happens to me, get moving along the shore of the lake and work your way as far as you can. After this fire, there'll be plenty of police along tomorrow, and you can smuggle yourself back and contact one of them. They'll believe you. If they argue, tell them to ring up C.I.A. in Washington, the Central Intelligence Agency, and you'll see plenty of action. Just say who I was. I've got a number in my outfit—sort of recognition number. It's 007. Try not to forget it.”
Thirteen: The Crash of Guns
“I was.” “Say who I was....”
Why did he have to say such a thing, put the idea into the mind of God, of Fate, of whoever was controlling tonight? One should never send out black thoughts. They live on, like sound-waves, and get into the stream of consciousness in which we all swim. If God, Fate, happened to be listening in, at that moment, on that particular wavelength, it might be made to happen. The hint of a death-thought might be misunderstood. It might be read as a request!
So I mustn't think these thoughts either, or I would be adding my weight to the dark waves of destiny! What nonsense! I had learned this sort of stuff from Kurt. He had always been full of “cosmic chain reactions,” “cryptograms of the life-force,” and other Germanic magical double-talk that I had avidly lapped up as if, as he had sometimes hinted, he himself had been the “Central Dynamic,” or at least part of it, who controlled all these things.
Of course James Bond had said that flippantly, in a cross-my-fingers way, like the skiers I had known in Europe who said “Hals und Beinbruch!” to their friends before they took off on the slalom or the downhill race. To wish them “Break your neck and your leg” before the off was to avert accidents, to invoke the opposite of the evil eye. James Bond was just being “British”—using a throwaway phrase to buck me up. Well, I wished he hadn't. The crash of guns, gangsters, attempted murders, were part of his job, his life. They weren't part of mine, and I blamed him for not being more sensitive, more human.
Where was he now? Working his way through the shadows, using the light of the flames as cover, pricking up his senses for danger? And what were the enemy doing? Were they waiting for him in ambush? Would there suddenly be a roar of gunfire? Then screams?
I got to the carport of Number 3 cabin and, brushing along the rough-cast stone wall, felt my way through the darkness. I cautiously inched the last few feet and looked round the corner toward the dancing flames and shadows of the other cabins and of the lobby block.
There was no one to be seen, no movement except the flames at which the wind tugged intermittently to keep the blaze alive. Now some of the bordering trees behind the cabins were almost catching and sparks were blowing from their drying branches away into the darkness. If it hadn't been for the storm, surely a forest fire would have been started and then the coshed girl with her broken lamp would indeed have left her mark on the United States of America! How far would it have gone with the wind to help it? Ten miles? Twenty? How many trees and birds and animals would the little dead girl from Quebec have destroyed?