“Well, seems that means 'and his wife.' And Mistress Brown, Mistress Agatha Brown, she was Church of England, but she just done gone to the Catholics. And it seems they don't hold with places like three and one-half, not even when they're decently run. And their church here, just up the street, seems that needs a new roof like here. So Mistress Brown figures to kill two birds with the same stone and she goes on at Mr. Brown to close the place down and sell it and with her portion she goin' fix the roof for the Catholics.”
“That's a shame. It seems a nice quiet place. What's going to happen to you?”
“Guess I'll move to Kingston. Live with one of my sisters and mebbe work in one of the big stores--Issa's mebbe, or Nathan's. Sav' La Mar is sort of quiet.” The brown eyes became introspective. “But I'll sure miss the place. Folks have fun here and Love Lane's a pretty street. We're all friends up and down the Lane. It's got sort of, sort of. . . .” “Atmosphere.”
“Right. That's what it's got. Like sort of old Jamaica. Like it must have been in the old days. Everyone's friends with each other. Help each other when they have trouble. You'd be surprised how often the girls do it for free if the man's a good feller, regular customer sort of, and he's short.” The brown eyes gazed inquiringly at Bond to see if he understood the strength of the evidence.
“That's nice of them. But it can't be good for business.” She laughed. “This ain't no business, Mister Mark. Not while I'm running it. This is a public service, like water and electricity and health and education and. . . .” She broke off and glanced over her shoulder at the clock which said 5:45. “Hell! You got me talking so much I've forgot Joe and May. It's their supper.” She went to the cafe window and wound it down. At once, from the direction of the lignum vitae tree, two large black birds, slightly smaller than ravens, whirled in, circled the interior of the cafe amidst a metallic clangour of song unlike the song of any other bird in the world, and untidily landed on the counter within reach of Bond's hand. They strutted up and down imperiously, eyeing Bond without fear from bold, golden eyes and went through a piercing repertoire of tinny whistles and trills, some of which required them to ruffle themselves up to almost twice their normal size.
Tiffy went back behind the bar, took two pennies out of her purse, rang them up on the register, and took two ginger cakes out of the flyblown display case. She broke off bits and fed the two birds, always the smaller of the two, the female, first, and they greedily seized the pieces from her fingers and, holding the scraps of the wooden counter with a claw, tore them into smaller fragments and devoured them. When it was all over, and Tiffy had chided them both for pecking her fingers, they made small, neat white messes on the counter and looked pleased with themselves. Tiffy took a cloth and cleaned up the messes. She said, “We call them kling-klings but learned folk call them Jamaican grackles. They're very friendly folk. The doctor-bird, the humming bird with the streamer tail, is the Jamaican national bird, but I like these best. They're not so beautiful, but they're the friendliest birds and they're funny besides. They seem to know it. They're like naughty black thieves.”
The kling-klings eyed the cake stand and complained stridently that their supper was over. James Bond produced twopence and handed it over. “They're wonderful. Like mechanical toys. Give them a second course from me.”
Tiffy rang up the money and took out two more cakes. “Now listen, Joe and May. This nice gemmun's been nice to Tiffy and he's now being nice to you. So don't you peck my fingers and make messes or mebbe he won't visit us again. ”She was halfway through feeding the birds when she cocked an ear. There was the noise of creaking boards somewhere overhead and then the sound of quiet footsteps treading stairs. All of a sudden Tiffy's animated face became quiet and tense. She whispered to Bond: “That's Lindy's man. Important man. He's a good customer here. But he don't like me because I won't go with him. So he can talk rough sometimes. And he don't like Joe and May because he reckons they make two much noise.” She shooed the birds in the direction of the open window, but they saw there was half their cake to come and they just fluttered into the air and then down to the counter again. Tiffy appealed to Bond, “Be a good friend and just sit quiet whatever he says. He likes to get people mad. And then. . . .” She stopped. “Will you have another Red Stripe, mister?”
Bead curtains swished in the shadowy back of the room.
Bond had been sitting with his chin propped on his right hand. He now dropped the hand to the counter and sat back. The Walther PPK inside the waistband of his trousers to the left of his flat stomach signalled its presence to his skin. The fingers of his right hand curled slightly, ready to receive its butt. He moved his left foot off the rail of the stool onto the floor. He said, “That'd be fine.” He unbuttoned his coat with his left hand and then, with the same hand, took out his handkerchief and wiped his face with it. “It always gets extra hot around six before the Undertaker's Wind has started to blow.”
“Mister, the undertaker's right here. You care to feel his wind?”
James Bond turned his head slowly. Dusk had crept into the big room and all he could see was a pale, tall outline. The man was carrying a suitcase. He put it down on the floor and came forward. He must have been wearing rubber-soled shoes for his feet made no sound. Tiffy moved nervously behind the counter and a switch clicked. Half a dozen low-voltage bulbs came to life in rusty brackets around the walls.
Bond said easily, “You made me jump.”
Scaramanga came up and leant against the counter. The description in Records was exact, but it had not caught the catlike menace of the big man, the extreme breadth of the shoulders, and the narrow waist, or the cold immobility of the eyes that now examined Bond with an expression of aloof disinterest. He was wearing a well-cut, single-breasted tan suit and co-respondent shoes in brown and white. Instead of a tie, he wore a high stock in white silk secured by a gold pin the shape of a miniature pistol. There should have been something theatrical about the getup but, perhaps because of the man's fine figure, there wasn't.
He said, “I sometimes make 'em dance. Then I shoot their feet off.” There was no trace of a foreign accent underneath the American.
Bond said, “That sounds rather drastic. What do you do it for?”
“The last time it was five thousand dollars. Seems like you don't know who I am. Didn't the cool cat tell you?” Bond glanced at Tiffy. She was standing very still, her hands by her sides. The knuckles were white.
Bond said, “Why should she? Why would I want to know?”
There was a quick flash of gold. The small black hole looked directly at Bond's navel. “Because of this. What are you doing here, stranger? Kind of a coincidence finding a city slicker at three and one-half. Or at Sav' La Mar for the matter of that. Not by any chance from the police? Or any of then- friends?”
“Kamerad!” Bond raised his hands in mock surrender. He lowered them and turned to Tiffy. “Who is this man? A one-man takeover bid for Jamaica ? Or a refugee from a circus? Ask him what he'd like to drink. Whoever he is, it was a good act.” James Bond knew that he had very nearly pulled the trigger of the gun. Hit a gunman in his vanity. ... He had a quick vision of himself writhing on the floor, his right hand without the power to reach for his own weapon. Tiffy's pretty face was no longer pretty. It was a taut skull. She stared at James Bond. Her mouth opened but no sound came from the gaping lips. She liked him and she knew he was dead. The kling-klings, Joe and May, smelled the same electricity. With a tremendous din of metallic squawks, they fled for the open window, like black thieves escaping into the night.
The explosions from the Colt .45 were deafening. The two birds disintegrated against the violet backdrop of the dusk, the scraps of feathers and pink flesh blasting out of the yellow light of the cafe into the limbo of the deserted street like shrapnel.
There was a moment of deafening silence. James Bond didn't move. He sat where he was, waiting for the tension of the deed to relax. It didn't. With an inarticulate scream, that was half a filthy word, Tiffy took James Bond's bottle of Red Stripe off the counter and clumsily flung it. There came a distant crash of glass from the back of the room. Then, having made her puny gesture, Tiffy fell to her knees behind the counter and went into sobbing hysterics.
James Bond drank down the rest of his beer and got slowly to his feet. He walked towards Scaramanga and was about to pass him when the man reached out a languid left arm and caught him at the biceps. He held the snout of his gun to his nose, sniffing delicately. The expression in the dead brown eyes was faraway. He said, “Mister, there's something quite extra about the smell of death. Care to try it?” He held out the glittering gun as if he was offering James Bond a rose.
Bond stood quite still. He said, “Mind your manners. Take your hand off me.”
Scaramanga raised his eyebrows. The flat, leaden gaze seemed to take in Bond for the first time.
He released his grip.
James Bond went on round the edge of the counter. When he came opposite the other man, he found the eyes were now looking at him with faint, scornful curiosity. Bond stopped. The sobbing of the girl was the crying of a small dog. Somewhere down the street a sound system--a loudspeaker record player--began braying calypso.
Bond looked the man in the eye. He said, “Thanks. I've tried it. I recommend the Berlin vintage Nineteen forty-five.” He smiled a friendly, only slightly ironical smile. “But I expect you were too young to be at that tasting.”
6 - The Easy Grand
Bond knelt down beside Tiffy and gave her a couple of sharp slaps on the right cheek. Then on the left. The wet eyes came back into focus. She put her hand up to her face and looked at Bond with surprise. Bond got to his feet. He took a cloth and wetted it at the tap, then leant down and put his arm round her and wiped the cloth gently over her face. Then he lifted her up and handed her her bag that was on a shelf behind the counter. He said, “Come on, Tiffy. Make up that pretty face again. Business'll be warming up soon. The leading lady's got to look her best.”
Tiffy took the bag and opened it. She looked past Bond and saw Scaramanga for the first time since the shooting. The pretty lips drew back in a snarl. She whispered fiercely so that only Bond could hear, “I'm goin' fix that man, but good. There's Mother Edna up Orange Hill way. She's an obeah top woman. I'll go up there tomorrow. Come a few days, he won't know what hit him.” She took out a mirror and began doing up her face. Bond reached into his hip pocket and counted out five one-pound notes. He stuffed them into her open bag.
“You forget all about it. This'll buy you a nice canary in a cage to keep you company. Anyway another pair of klings'll come along if you put some food out.” He patted her shoulder and moved away. When he came up with Scaramanga he stopped and said, “That may have been a good circus act”--he used the word again on purpose-- “but it was rough on the girl. Give her some money.”
Scaramanga said “Shove it” out of the corner of his mouth. He said suspiciously, “And what's all this yack about circuses?” He turned to face Bond. “Just stop where you are, mister, and answer a few questions. Like I said, are you from the police? You've sure got the smell of cops around you. If not, what are you doing hereabouts?”