Bond had not been able to help. He had seen nothing of the Volkswagen driver. The roof of the Volkswagen had been too low. There had only been a hand and the glitter of a gun.

The Secret Service asked for a copy of the police report and M instructed that this should be sent to the Thunderball war room. He saw Bond briefly again, rather impatiently, as if it had all been Bond's fault. Then he told Bond to forget about it---it was probably something to do with one of his past cases. A hangover of some kind. The police would get to the bottom of it in time. The main thing was operation Thunderball . Bond had better get a move on.

By the time Bond left the building for the second time, it had begun to rain. One of the mechanics from the car pool at the back of the building had done what he could, knocking out the remains of the Bentley's windscreen and cleaning the bits out of the car, but when he got home at lunch time Bond was soaked to the skin. He left the car in a nearby garage, telephoned Rolls and his insurance company (he had got too close to a lorry carrying steel lengths, for reinforced concrete presumably. No, he had not got the lorry's number. Sorry, but you know how it is when these things happen all of a sudden), and then went home and had a bath and changed into his dark blue tropical worsted. He packed carefully---one large suitcase and a hold-all for his underwater swimming gear---and went through to the kitchen.

May was looking rather contrite. It seemed as if she might make another speech. Bond held up his hand. "Don't tell me, May. You were right. I can't do my work on carrot juice. I've got to be off in an hour and I need some proper food. Be an angel and make me your kind of scrambled eggs---four eggs. Four rashers of that American hickory-smoked bacon if we've got any left, hot buttered toast---your kind, not whole-meal---and a big pot of coffee, double strength. And bring in the drink tray.''

May looked at him, relieved but aghast. "Whatever happened, Mr. James?''

Bond laughed at the expression on her face. "Nothing, May. It just occurred to me that life's too short. Plenty of time to watch the calories when one gets to heaven.''

Bond left May tut-tutting at this profanity, and went off to look to his armament.

9.

Multiple Requiem

So far as SPECTRE was concerned, Plan Omega had gone exactly as Blofeld had known it would and Phases I to III in their entirety had been completed on schedule and without a hitch.

Giuseppe Petacchi, the late Giuseppe Petacchi, had been well chosen. At the age of eighteen he had been co-pilot of a Fockewulf 200 from the Adriatic anti-submarine patrol, one of the few hand-picked Italian airmen who had been allowed to handle these German planes. The group was issued with the latest German pressure mines charged with the new Hexogen explosive just when the tide had turned in the Allied battle up the spine of Italy. Petacchi had known where his destiny lay and had gone into business for himself. On a routine patrol, he had shot the pilot and the navigator, very carefully, with one .38 bullet in the back of the head for each of them, and had brought the big plane skimming in, just above the waves to avoid the antiaircraft fire, to the harbor of Bari. Then he had hung his shirt out of the cockpit as a token of surrender and had waited for the R.A.F. launch. He had been decorated by the English and the Americans for this exploit and had been awarded £10,000 from special funds for his presentation to the Allies of the pressure mine. He had told a highly colored story to the Intelligence people of having been a one-man resistance ever since he had been old enough to join the Italian Air Force, and he emerged at the end of the war as one of Italy's most gallant resistance heroes. From then on life had been easy---pilot and later captain in Alitalia when it got going again, and then back into the new Italian Air Force as colonel. His secondment to NATO followed and then his appointment as one of the six Italians chosen for the Advance Striking Force. But he was now thirty-four, and it occurred to him that he had had just about enough of flying. He especially did not care for the idea of being part of the spearhead of NATO defenses. It was time for younger men to provide the heroics. And all his life he had had a passion for owning things---flashy, exciting, expensive things. He had most of what he desired---a couple of gold cigarette cases, a solid gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual Chronometer on a flexible gold bracelet, a white convertible Lancia Gran Turismo, plenty of sharp clothes, and all the girls he wanted (he had once been briefly married but it had not been a success). Now he desired, and what he desired he often got, a particular Ghia-bodied 3500 G.T. Maserati he had seen at the Milan motor show. He also wanted Out---out of the pale green corridors of NATO, out of the Air Force, and, therefore, off to new worlds with a new name. Rio de Janeiro sounded just right. But all this meant a new passport, plenty of money, and “organismo''---the vital ”organismo.''

The organismo turned up, and turned up bearing just those gifts that Petacchi lusted for. It came in the shape of an Italian named Fonda who was at that time No. 4 in SPECTRE and who had been casing the personnel of NATO, via Versailles and Paris night clubs and restaurants, for just such a man. It had taken one whole very careful month to prepare the bait and inch it forward toward the fish and, when it was finally presented, No. 4 had been almost put off by the greed with which it had been gobbled. There was delay while the possibility of a double-cross was probed by SPECTRE, but finally all the lights were green and the full proposition was laid out for inspection. Petacchi was to get on the Vindicator training course and highjack the plane. (There was no mention of atomic weapons. This was a Cuban revolutionary group who wanted to call attention to its existence and aims by a dramatic piece of self-advertisement. Petacchi closed his ears to this specious tale. He didn't mind in the least who wanted the plane so long as he was paid.) In exchange, Petacchi would receive $1,000,000, a new passport in any name and nationality he chose, and immediate onward passage from the point of delivery to Rio de Janeiro. Many details were discussed and perfected, and when, at eight o'clock in the evening of that June 2nd, the Vindicator screamed off down the runway and out over St. Alban's Head, Petacchi was tense but confident.

For the training flights, a couple of ordinary civil aircraft seats had been fixed inside the roomy fuselage just back of the large cockpit, and Petacchi sat quietly for a whole hour and watched the five men at work at the crowded dials and instruments. When it came to his turn to fly the plane he was quite satisfied that he could dispense with all five of them. Once he had set George, there would be nothing to do but stay awake and make certain from time to time that he was keeping exactly at 32,000 feet, just above the transatlantic air channel. There would be a tricky moment when he turned off the east-west channel on to the North-South for the Bahamas, but this had all been worked out for him and every move he would have to make was written down in the notebook in his breast pocket. The landing was going to need very steady nerves, but for $1,000,000 the steady nerves would be summoned.

For the tenth time Petacchi consulted the Rolex. Now! He verified and tested the oxygen mask in the bulkhead beside him and laid it down ready. Next he took the little red-ringed cylinder out of his pocket and remembered exactly how many turns to give the release valve. Then he put it back in his pocket and went through into the cockpit.

"Hullo, Seppy. Enjoying the flight?'' The pilot liked the Italian. They had gone out together on one or two majestic thrashes in Bournemouth.

"Sure, sure.'' Petacchi asked some questions, verified the course set on George, checked the air speed and altitude. Now everyone in the cockpit was relaxed, almost drowsy. Five more hours to go. Rather a bind missing North by Northwest at the Odeon. But one would catch up with it at Southampton. Petacchi stood with his back to the metal map rack that held the log and the charts. His right hand went to his pocket, felt for the release valve, and gave it three complete turns. He eased the cylinder out of his pocket and slipped it behind him and down behind the books.

Petacchi stretched and yawned. "Is time for a zizz,'' he said amiably. He had got the slang phrase pat. It rolled easily off the tongue.

The navigator laughed. "What do they call it in Italian---Zizzo?''

Petacchi grinned cheerfully. He went through the open hatch, got back to his chair, clamped on his oxygen mask, and turned the control regulator to 100 per cent oxygen to cut out the air bleed. Then he made himself comfortable and watched.

They had said it would take under five minutes. Sure enough, in about two minutes, the man nearest to the map rack, the navigator, suddenly clutched his throat and fell forward, gargling horribly. The radio operator dropped his earphones and started forward, but with his second step he was down on his knees. He lurched sideways and collapsed. Now the three other men began to fight for air, briefly, terribly. The co-pilot and the flight engineer writhed off their stools together. They clawed vaguely at each other and then fell back, spread-eagled. The pilot groped up toward the microphone above his head, said something indistinctly, got half to his feet, turned slowly so that his bulging eyes, already dead, seemed to stare through the hatchway into Petacchi's, and then thudded down on top of the body of his co-pilot.

Petacchi glanced at his watch. Four minutes flat. Give them one more minute. When the minute was up, he took rubber gloves out of his pocket, put them on, and, pressing the oxygen mask tight against his face and trailing the flexible tube behind him, went forward, reached down into the map rack, and closed the valve on the cylinder of cyanide. He verified George and adjusted the cabin pressurization to help clear the poison gas. He then went back to his seat to wait for fifteen minutes.

They had said fifteen would be enough, but at the last moment he gave it another ten and then, still with his oxygen mask on, he went forward again and began slowly, for the oxygen made him rather breathless, to pull the bodies back into the fuselage. When the cockpit was clear, he took a small phial of crystals out of his trousers pocket, took out the cork, and sprinkled the cabin floor with them. He went down on his knees and watched the crystals. They kept their white color. He eased his oxygen mask away and took a small cautious sniff. There was no smell. But still, when he took over the controls and began easing the plane down to 32,000 and then slightly northwest-by-west to get into the traffic lane, he kept the mask on.

The giant plane whispered on into the night. The cockpit, bright with the yellow eyes of the dials, was quiet and warm. In the deafening silence in the cockpit of a big jet in flight there was only the faint buzz of an invector. As he verified the dials, the click of each switch seemed as loud as a small-caliber pistol shot.

Petacchi again checked George with the gyro and verified each fuel tank to see that they were all feeding evenly. One tank pump needed adjustment. The jet-pipe temperatures were not overheating.

Satisfied, Petacchi settled himself comfortably in the pilot's seat and swallowed a benezedrine tablet and thought about the future. One of the headphones scattered on the floor of the cockpit began to chirrup loudly. Petacchi glanced at his watch. Of course! Boscombe Air Traffic Control was trying to raise the Vindicator. He had missed the third of the half-hourly calls. How long would Air Control wait before alerting Air Sea Rescue, Bomber Command, and the Air Ministry? There Would first be checks and double-checks with the Southern Rescue Center. They would probably take another half hour, and by that time he would be well out over the Atlantic.




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