Another cabin roof fell in, and there was the same great shower of orange sparks. And now the gimcrack timbered roof of the lobby block was going. It caved slowly inward and then collapsed like a badly cooked soufflé, and more showers of sparks went up gaily and burned themselves out as they briefly drifted away on the wind. The extra burst of flame showed up the two cars beside the road, the gray Thunderbird and the shining black sedan. But there was still no sign of the gangsters and none of James Bond.

I suddenly realized that I had forgotten all about time. I looked at my watch. It was two o'clock. So it was only five hours since all this had begun! It could have been weeks. My former life seemed almost years away. Even last evening, when I had sat and thought about that life, was difficult to remember. Everything had suddenly been erased. Fear and pain and danger had taken over. It was like being in a shipwreck, an airplane or a train crash, an earthquake or a hurricane. When these things happen to you, it must be just the same. The black wings of emergency blot out the sky, and there is no past and no future. You live through each minute, survive each second, as though it is your last. There is no other time, no other place but now and here.

And then I saw the men! They were coming up toward me on the grass, and each was carrying a big box in his hands. They were television sets. They must have salvaged them to sell and make themselves a little extra cash. They walked side by side, the thin man and the squat, and the light from the flaming cabins shone on their sweating faces. When they came to the charred arches of the covered way to the lobby block, they trotted quickly through, after glancing up at the still-burning roof to make sure it wouldn't fall on them. Where was James Bond? This was the perfect time to get them, with their hands full!

Now they were only twenty yards away from me, veering right toward their car. I cringed back into the dark cave of the carport. But where was James? Should I run out after them and take them on alone? Don't be idiotic! If I missed, and I certainly would, that would be the end of me. Now, if they turned round, would they see me? Would my white overalls show up in the darkness? I got farther back. Now they were framed in the square opening of my carport as they walked across the grass a few yards from the still-standing north wall of the lobby building from which the wind had so far kept most of the flames. They would soon vanish round the corner, and a wonderful chance would have gone!

And then they stopped, stock still, and there was James facing them, his gun arming dead steady between the two bodies! His voice cracked like a whip across the lawn. “All right! This is it! Turn round! The first man drops his television gets shot.”

They turned slowly round so that they faced toward my hideout. And now James called to me, “Come over, Viv! I need extra hands.”

I took the heavy revolver out of the waistband of my overalls and ran quickly across the grass. When I was about ten yards away from the men, James said, “Just stop there, Viv, and I'll tell you what to do.” I stopped. The two evil faces stared at me. The thin man's teeth were bared in a sort of fixed grin of surprise and tension. Sluggsy let off a string of curses. I pointed my gun at the television set that covered his stomach, “Shut your mouth or I'll shoot you dead.”

Sluggsy sneered. “You and who else? You'd be too frightened of the bang.”

James said, “Shut up, you, or you get a crack on that ugly head of yours. Now listen, Viv, we've got to get the guns off these men. Come round behind the one called Horror. Put your gun up against his spine and with your free hand feel under his armpits. Not a nice job, but it can't be helped. Tell me if you feel a gun there and I'll tell you what to do next. We'll go at this slowly. I'll cover the other, and if this Horror moves let him have it.”

I did as I was told. I went round behind the thin man and pressed the gun into his back. Then I reached up with my left hand and felt under his right arm. A nasty, dead kind of smell came from him, and I was suddenly disgusted at being so close to him and touching him so intimately.

I know that my hand trembled, and it must have been that that made him take the chance, for, suddenly, in one quick flow of motion, he had dropped the television, whirled like a snake, slapping the gun out of my hand with his open palm, and clutched me to him.

James Bond's gun roared, and I felt the wind of a bullet, and then I began to fight like a demon, kicking and scratching and clawing. But I might have been fighting with a stone statue. He just squeezed me more agonizingly to him, and I heard his dry voice say, “Okay, limey. Now what? Want the dame to get herself killed?”

I could feel one of his hands loosening itself from me to get to his gun, and I began struggling again.

James Bond said sharply, “Viv. Get your legs apart!”

I automatically did as I was told, and again his gun roared. The thin man let out a curse and set me free, but at the same time there came a splintering crash from behind me and I whirled round. At the same time as he had fired, Sluggsy had hurled the television set over his head at James Bond, and it had crashed into his face, knocking him off balance.

As Sluggsy shouted, “Scram, Horror!” I dived for my gun and, prone in the grass, clumsily fired it at Sluggsy. I would probably have missed him anyway, but he was already on the move, weaving across the lawn toward the cabins like a football player, with the thin man scrambling desperately after him. I fired again, but the gun kicked high, and then they were out of range and Sluggsy disappeared into Number 1 cabin away on the right.

I got up and ran to James Bond. He was kneeling down in the grass with one hand to his head. As I came up he took the hand away, looked at it, and swore. There was a big gash just below the hairline. I didn't say anything but ran to the nearest window of the lobby building and smashed it in with the butt of my gun. A burst of heat came out at me, but no flames, and, just below, almost within reach, was the table the gangsters had used, and on it, among some smoldering remains of the roof, the first-aid kit. James Bond shouted something, but I was already over the sill. I held my breath against the fumes, grabbed the box, and scrambled out again, my eyes stinging with the smoke.

I wiped the wound as clean as I could and got out Merthiolate and a big Band-Aid. The cut wasn't deep, but there would soon be a bad bruise. He said, “Sorry, Viv. I made rather a hash of that round.”

I thought he had too. I said, “Why didn't you just shoot them down? They were sitting ducks with those sets in their hands.”

He said curtly, “Never been able to in cold blood. But at least I ought to have been able to blast that man's foot off. Must have just nicked it, and now he's still in the game.”

I said severely, “It seems to me damned lucky you're in it too. Why didn't Sluggsy kill you?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. It looks as if they've got some kind of a headquarters over at Number 1. Perhaps he left his armament there while they did the job on the lobby. He may not have liked carrying live bullets around with him so near to the flames. Anyway, war's declared now, and we're going to have quite a job on our hands. Main thing is to keep an eye on their car. They'll be pretty desperate to get away. But they've somehow got to kill us first. They're in a nasty fix and they'll fight like hellcats.”

I finished fixing the cut. James Bond had been watching cabin Number 1. Now he said, “Better get under cover. They may have got something heavy in there, and they'll have finished fixing the Horror's foot.” He got to his feet. He suddenly yanked my arm and said, “Quick!” At the same time I heard the tinkle of glass away on the right and a deafening rattle that I supposed was some kind of machine-gun. On our heels, bullets whipped into the side of the lobby building.

James Bond smiled. “Sorry again, Viv! My reactions don't seem all that smart tonight. I'll do better.” He paused. “Now, let's just think for a minute.”

It was a long minute, and I was sweating with heat from the burning lobby. Now there was only the north wall and the bit we were sheltering behind as far as the front door. The rest was a mass of flames. But the wind was still blowing the fire southward, and it seemed to me that this last bit of masonry might stand up a long while yet. Most of the cabins were on their way to burning out and, on that side of the clearing, there was a lessening of the glare and sparks. It crossed my mind that the blaze must have been visible for miles, perhaps even as far as Lake George or Glens Falls, yet no one had turned up to help. Probably the highway patrols and the fire services had enough on their hands with the havoc caused by the storm. And, as for their beloved forests, they would reckon that no fire could spread through this soaking landscape.

James Bond said, “Now this is what we're going to do. First of all, I want you somewhere where you can help but where I don't have to worry about you. Otherwise, if I know these men, they'll concentrate on you and guess that I'll do anything, even let them get away rather than let you get hurt.”

“Is that true?”

“Don't be silly. So you get on over the road under cover of this bit of building and then work back, keeping well out of sight, until you're just about opposite their car. Stay quiet, and even if one or both of them gets to the car, hold your fire until I tell you to shoot. All right?”

“But where will you be?”

“We've got what are known as interior lines of defense—if we consider the cars as the objective. I'm going to stick around here and let them come at me. It's they who want to get us and get away. Let 'em try. Time's against them.” He looked at his watch. “It's nearly three. How long before first light around here?”

“About two hours. Around five. But there are two of them and only one of you! They'll do a sort of what they call 'pincers movement.' ”

“One of the crabs has lost a claw. Anyway that's the best I can do for a master plan. Now you get on across the road before they start something. I'll keep them occupied.”

He went to the corner of the building, edged round, and took two quick shots at the right-hand cabin. There was a distant crash of glass and then the vicious blast of the sub-machine gun. Bullets splatted into the masonry and whipped across the road into the trees. James Bond had pulled back. He smiled encouragingly. “Now!”

I ran to the right and across the road, keeping the lobby building between me and the end cabin, and scrambled in among the trees. Once again they tore and scratched at me, but now I had proper shoes on, and the material of the overalls was tough. I got well inside the wood and then began working along to the left. When I thought I had gone far enough I crept down toward the light from the flames. I ended up where I had wanted to, just inside the first line of trees with the black sedan about twenty yards away on the other side of the road and a fairly clear view of the flickering battlefield.

All this while, the moon had been dodging in and out through the scudding clouds—in turns lighting everything brightly and then switching itself off and leaving only the changing glare that came mostly from the blazing left half of the lobby block. Now the moon came fully out and showed me something that almost made me scream. The thin man, crawling on his stomach, was worming his way up the north side of the lobby block, and the moonlight glinted on the gun in his hand. Copyright 2016 - 2023