The barman's face had run through indignation, respect, and then the sullenness of guilt and fear. Reprieved, but clutching at his scraps of professional dignity, he snapped his fingers for the waiter to take away the glasses. "Okay, suh. Whatever you says. But we've pot plenty overheads here and the majority of customers they doan complain.''

Leiter said, "Well, here's one who's dry behind the ears. A good barman should learn to be able to recognize the serious drinker from the status-seeker who wants just to be seen in your fine bar.''

"Yassuh.'' The barman moved away with Negro dignity.

Bond said, "You got those figures right, Felix? I always knew one got clipped, but I thought only about a hundred per cent---not four or five.''

“Young man, since I graduated from Government Service to Pinkertons, the scales have dropped from my eyes. The cheating that goes on in hotels and restaurants is more sinful than all the rest of the sin in the world. Anyone in a tuxedo before seven in the evening is a crocodile, and if he couldn't take a good bite at your pocketbook he'd take a good bite at your ear. The same goes for the rest of the consumer business, even when it's not wearing a tuxedo. Sometimes it gets me real mad to have to eat and drink the muck you get and then see what you're charged for it. Look at our damned lunch today. Six, seven bucks with fifteen per cent added for what's called service. And then the waiter hangs about for another fifty cents for riding up in the elevator with the stuff. Hell''---Leiter ran an angry hand through his mop of straw hair---”just don't let's talk about it. I'm fit to bust a gut when I think about it.''

The drinks came. They were excellent. Leiter calmed down and ordered a second round. He said, “Now let's get angry about something else.'' He laughed curtly. ”Guess I'm just sore at being back in Government Service again watching all the taxpayers' money going down the drain on this wild goose chase. Mark you, James''---there was apology in Leiter's voice---“I'm not saying this whole operation isn't a true bill, hell of a ------ mess in fact, but what riles me is that we should be a couple of arse-end Charlies stuck down on this sand spit while the other guys have got the hot spots---you know, places where something really may be happening---or at least likely to happen. Tell you the truth, I felt like a damned fool gumshoeing around that feller's yacht this afternoon with my little Geiger toy.'' He looked keenly at Bond. ”You don't find you grow out of these things? I mean it's all right when there's a war on. But it seems kinda childish when Peace is bustin' out all over.''

Bond said doubtfully, “Of course I know what you mean, Felix. Perhaps it's just that in England we don't feel quite as secure as you do in America. The war just doesn't seem to have ended for us--- Berlin, Cyprus, Kenya, Suez, let alone these jobs with people like SMERSH that I used to get tangled up in. There always seems to be something boiling up somewhere. Now this damned business. Dare say I'm taking it all too seriously, but there's something fishy going on around here. I checked up on that fuel problem and Largo certainly told us a lie.'' Bond gave the details of what he had learned at police headquarters. ”I feel I've got to make sure tonight. You realize there's only about seventy hours to go? If I find anything, I suggest tomorrow we take a small plane and really run a search over as much of the area as we can. That plane's a big thing to hide even under water. You still got your license?''

“Sure, sure.'' Leiter shrugged his shoulders. ”I'll go along with you. Of course I will. If we find anything, perhaps the signal I got this evening won't look so damned silly after all.''

So this was what had put Leiter into such a vile temper! Bond said, "What was that?''

Leiter took a drink and gazed morosely into his glass. “Well, for my money it's just so much more attitudinizing by those power-struck fatcats at the Pentagon. But that sheaf of stuff I was waving about was a circular to all our men on this job to say that the Army and the Navy and the Air Force are holding themselves ready to give full support to C.I.A. if anything turns up. Think of that, dammit!'' Leiter looked angrily at Bond. ”Think of the waste of fuel and manpower that must be going on all over the world keeping all these units at readiness! Just to show you, know what I've been allocated as my striking force?'' Leiter gave a harsh, derisive laugh. “Half squadron of Super Sabre fighter bombers from Pensacola, and---'' Leiter stabbed at Bond's forearm with a hard finger---”and, my friend, the Manta! The ------ Manta! Our latest ------ atomic submarine!'' When Bond smiled at all this vehemence, Leiter continued more reasonably: "Mark you, it's not quite so idiotic as it sounds. These Sabres are on anti-submarine sweep duties anyway. Carrying depth charges. They have to be at readiness. And the Manta happens to be on some sort of a training cruise in the area, getting ready to go under the South Pole for a change I suppose, or some other damned promotion job to help along the Navy Estimates. But I ask you! Here's all these million dollars' worth of material on instant call from Ensign Leiter, commanding Room 201 in the Royal Bahamian Hotel! Not bad!''

Bond shrugged his shoulders. "Seems to me your President is taking all this a bit more seriously than his man in Nassau. I suppose our Chiefs of Staff have weighed in with our stuff on the other side of the Atlantic. Anyway, no harm in having the big battalions in the offing just in case Nassau Casino happens to be Target No. 1. By the way, what ideas have your people got about these targets? What have you got in this part of the world that fits in with SPECTRE'S letter? We've only got the joint rocket base at a place called Northwest Cay at the eastern end of the Grand Bahamas. That's about a hundred and fifty miles north of here. Apparently the gear and prototypes we and your people have got there would easily be worth £100,000,000.''

"The only possible targets I've been given are Cape Canaveral, the naval base at Pensacola, and, if the party really is going to take place in this area, Miami for target No. 2, with Tampa as a possible runner-up. SPECTRE used the words `a piece of property belonging to the Western Powers.' That sounds like some kind of installation to me--- something like the uranium mines in the Congo, for instance. But a rocket base would fit all right. If we've got to take this thing seriously, I'd lay odds on Canaveral or this place on Grand Bahama. Only thing I can't understand, if they've got these bombs, how are they going to transport them to the target and set them off?''

“A submarine could do it--- just lay one of the bombs offshore through a torpedo tube. Or a sailing dinghy, for the matter of that. Apparently exploding these things is no problem so long as they recovered all the parts from the plane. Apparently you'd just have to insert some kind of fuse thing in the right place between the T.N.T. and the plutonium, and screw the impact fuse off the nose and fit a time fuse that would give you time to get a hundred miles away.'' Bond added casually, ”Have to have an expert who knows the drill of course, but the trip would be no problem for the Disco , for instance. She could lay the bomb off Grand Bahama at midnight and be back at anchor off Palmyra by breakfast time.'' He smiled. "See what I mean? It all adds up.''

“Nuts,'' said Leiter succinctly. ”You'll have to do better than that if you want my blood pressure to go up. Anyway, let's get the hell out of here and go have ourselves some eggs and bacon in one of those clip joints on Bay Street. It'll cost us twenty dollars plus tax, but the Manta probably burns that every time her screws turn full circle. Then we'll go along to the Casino and see if Mr. Fuchs or Signor Pontecorvo is sitting beside Largo at the blackjack table.''

15.

Cardboard Hero

The Nassau Casino is the only legal casino on British soil anywhere in the world. How this is justified under the laws of the Commonwealth no one can quite figure. It is leased each year to a Canadian gambling syndicate and their operating profits in the smart winter season are estimated to average around $100,000. The only games played are roulette, with two zeros instead of one, which increases the take to the house from the European 3.6 to a handsome 5.4; blackjack, or 21, on which the house makes between 6 and 7 per cent; and one table of chemin de fer , whose cagnotte yields a modest 5 per cent. The operation is run as a club in a handsome private house on West Bay Street and there is a pleasant dance and supper room with a three-piece combo that plays old favorites in strict time, and a lounge bar. It is a well-run, elegant place that deserves its profit.

The Governor's A.D.C. had presented Bond and Leiter with membership cards, and after they had had coffee and a stinger at the bar they separated and went to the tables.

Largo was playing chemin de fer . He had a fat pile of hundred-dollar plaques in front of him and half a dozen of the big yellow thousand-dollar biscuits. Domino Vitali sat behind him chain-smoking and watching the play. Bond observed the game from a distance. Largo was playing expansively, bancoing whenever he could and letting his own banks run. He was winning steadily, but with excellent manners, and by the way people joked with him and applauded his coups he was obviously a favorite in the Casino. Domino, in black with a square-cut neckline and with one large diamond on a thin chain at her throat, was looking morose and bored. The woman on Largo's right, having bancoed him three times and lost, got up and left the table. Bond went quickly across the room and slid into the empty place. It was a bank of eight hundred dollars---the round sum being due to Largo making up the cagnotte after each play.

It is good for the banker when he has got past the third banco. It often means the bank is going to run. Bond knew this perfectly well. He was also painfully aware that his total capital was only one thousand dollars. But the fact that everyone was so nervous of Largo's luck made him bold. And, after all, the table has no memory. Luck, he told himself, is strictly for the birds. He said, "Banco.''

“Ah, my good friend Mr. Bond.'' Largo held out a hand. ”Now we have the big money coming to the table. Perhaps I should pass the bank. The English know how to play at railway trains. But still''--- he smiled charmingly---"if I have to lose I would certainly like to lose to Mr. Bond.''

The big brown hand gave the shoe a soft slap. Largo eased out the pink tongue of playing card and moved it across the baize to Bond. He took one for himself and then pressed out one more for each of them. Bond picked up his first card and flicked it face up into the middle of the table. It was a nine, the nine of diamonds. Bond glanced sideways at Largo. He said, "That is always a good start---so good that I will also face my second card.'' He casually flicked it out to join the nine. It turned over in mid-air and fell besides the nine. It was a glorious ten, the ten of spades. Unless Largo's two cards also added up to nine or nineteen, Bond had won.

Largo laughed, but the laugh had a hard edge to it. “You certainly make me try,'' he said gaily. He threw his cards to follow Bond's. They were the eight of hearts and the king of clubs. Largo had lost by a pip---two naturals, but one just better than the other, the crudest way to lose. Largo laughed hugely. ”Somebody had to be second,'' he said to the table at large. "What did I say? The English can pull what they like out of the shoe.''

The croupier pushed the chips across to Bond. Bond made a small pile of them. He gestured at the heap in front of Largo: "So, it seems, can the Italians. I told you this afternoon we should go into partnership.''




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