Largo laughed delightedly. "Well, let's just try once again. Put in what you have won and I will banco it in partnership with Mr. Snow on your right. Yes, Mr. Snow?''

Mr. Snow, a tough-looking European who, Bond remembered, was one of the shareholders, agreed. Bond put in the eight hundred and they each put in four against him. Bond won again, this time with a six against a five for the table---once more by one point.

Largo shook his head mournfully. "Now indeed we have seen the writing on the wall. Mr. Snow, you will have to continue alone. This Mr. Bond has green fingers against me, I surrender.''

Now Largo was smiling only with his mouth. Mr. Snow suivied and pushed forward sixteen hundred dollars to cover Bond's stake. Bond thought: I have made sixteen hundred dollars in two coups, over five hundred pounds. And it would be fun to pass the bank and for the bank to go down on the next hand. He withdrew his stake and said, “ La main passe .'' There was a buzz of comment. Largo said dramatically, ”Don't do it to me! Don't tell me the bank's going to go down on the next hand! If it does I shoot myself. Okay, okay, I will buy Mr. Bond's bank and we will see.'' He threw some plaques out on to the table---sixteen hundred dollars' worth.

And Bond heard his own voice say banco! He was bancoing his own bank---telling Largo that he had done it to him once, then twice, and now he was going to do it, inevitably, again!

Largo turned round to face Bond. Smiling with his mouth, he narrowed his eyes and looked carefully, with a new curiosity, at Bond's face. He said quietly, "But you are hunting me, my dear fellow. You are pursuing me. What is this? Vendetta?''

Bond thought: I will see if an association of words does something to him. He said, "When I came to the table I saw a spectre.'' He said the word casually, with no hint at double meaning.

The smile came off Largo's face as if he had been slapped. It was at once switched on again, but now the whole face was tense, strained, and the eyes had gone watchful and very hard. His tongue came out and touched his lips. "Really? What do you mean?''

Bond said lightly, “The spectre of defeat. I thought your luck was on the turn. Perhaps I was wrong.'' He gestured at the shoe. ”Let's see.''

The table had gone quiet. The players and spectators felt that a tension had come between these two men. Suddenly there was the smell of enmity where before there had been only jokes. A glove had been thrown down, by the Englishman. Was it about the girl? Probably. The crowd licked its lips.

Largo laughed sharply. He stitched gaiety and bravado back on his face. “Aha!'' His voice was boisterous again. ”My friend wishes to put the evil eye upon my cards. We have a way to deal with that where I come from.'' He lifted a hand, and with only the first and little fingers outstretched in a fork, he prodded once, like a snake striking toward Bond's face. To the crowd it was a playful piece of theater, but Bond, within the strong aura of the man's animal magnetism, felt the ill temper, the malevolence behind the old Mafia gesture.

Bond laughed good-naturedly. "That certainly put the hex on me. But what did it do to the cards? Come on, your spectre against my spectre!''

Again the look of doubt came over Largo's face. Why again the use of this word? He gave the shoe a hefty slap. "All right, my friend. We are wrestling the best of three falls. Here comes the third.''

Quickly his first two fingers licked out the four cards. The table had hushed. Bond faced his pair inside his hand. He had a total of five---a ten of clubs and a five of hearts. Five is a marginal number. One can either draw or not. Bond folded the cards face down on the table. He said, with the confident look of a man who has a six or a seven, "No card, thank you.''

Largo's eyes narrowed as he tried to read Bond's face. He turned up his cards, flicked them into the middle of the table with a gesture of disgust. He also had a count of five. Now what was he to do? Draw or not draw? He looked again at the quiet smile of confidence on Bond's face---and drew. It was a nine, the nine of spades. By drawing another card instead of standing on his five and equaling Bond, he had drawn and now had a four to Bond's five.

Impassively Bond turned up his cards. He said, "I'm afraid you should have killed the evil eye in the pack, not in me.''

There was a buzz of comment round the table. “But if the Italian had stood on his five . . .'' ”I always draw on a five.'' “I never do.'' ”It was bad luck.'' "No, it was bad play.''

Now it was an effort for Largo to keep the snarl off his face. But he managed it, the forced smile lost its twist, the balled fists relaxed. He took a deep breath and held out his hand to Bond. Bond took it, folding his thumb inside his palm just in case Largo might give him a bone-crusher with his vast machine tool of a hand. But it was a firm grasp and no more. Largo said, “Now I must wait for the shoe to come round again. You have taken all my winnings. I have a hard evening's work ahead of me just when I was going to take my niece for a drink and a dance.'' He turned to Domino. ”My dear, I don't think you know Mr. Bond, except on the telephone. I'm afraid he has upset my plans. You must find someone else to squire you.''

Bond said, "How do you do. Didn't we meet in the tobacconist's this morning?''

The girl screwed up her eyes. She said indifferently, "Yes? It is possible. I have such a bad memory for faces.''

Bond said, "Well, could I give you a drink? I can just afford even a Nassau drink now, thanks to the generosity of Mr. Largo. And I have finished here. This sort of thing can't last. I mustn't press my luck.''

The girl got up. She said ungraciously, “If you have nothing better to do.'' She turned to Largo: ”Emilio, perhaps if I take this Mr. Bond away, your luck will turn again. I will be in the supper room having caviar and champagne. We must try and get as much of your funds as we can back in the family.''

Largo laughed. His spirits had returned. He said, "You see, Mr. Bond, you are out of the frying pan into the fire. In Dominetta's hands you may not fare so well as in mine. See you later, my dear fellow. I must now get back to the salt mines where you have consigned me.''

Bond said, "Well, thanks for the game. I will order champagne and caviar for three. My spectre also deserves his reward.'' Wondering again whether the shadow that flickered in Largo's eyes at the word had more significance than Italian superstition, he got up and followed the girl between the crowded tables to the supper room. Domino made for a shadowed table in the farthest corner of the room. Walking behind her, Bond had noticed for the first time she had the smallest trace of a limp. He found it endearing, a touch of childish sweetness beneath the authority and blatant sex appeal of a girl to whom he had been inclined to award that highest, but toughest, French title---a courtisane de marque .

When the Clicquot rosé and fifty dollars' worth of Beluga caviar came---anything less, he had commented to her, would be no more than a spoonful---he asked her about the limp. "Did you hurt yourself swimming today?''

She looked at him gravely. "No. I have one leg an inch shorter than the other. Does it displease you?''

“No. It's pretty. It makes you something of a child.'' ”Instead of a hard old kept woman. Yes?'' Her eyes challenged him.

"Is that how you see yourself?''

"It's rather obvious isn't it? Anyway, it's what everyone in Nassau thinks.'' She looked him squarely in the eyes, but with a touch of pleading.

"Nobody's told me that. Anyway, I make up my own mind about men and women. What's the good of other people's opinions? Animals don't consult each other about other animals. They look and sniff and feel. In love and hate, and everything in between, those are the only tests that matter. But people are unsure of their own instincts. They want reassurance. So they ask someone else whether they should like a particular person or not. And as the world loves bad news, they nearly always get a bad answer---or at least a qualified one. Would you like to know what I think of you?''

She smiled. "Every woman likes to hear about herself. Tell me, but make it sound true, otherwise I shall stop listening.''

“I think you're a young girl, younger than you pretend to be, younger than you dress. I think you were carefully brought up, in a red-carpet sort of way, and then the red carpet was suddenly jerked away from under your feet and you were thrown more or less into the street. So you picked yourself up and started to work your own way back to the red carpet you had got used to. You were probably fairly ruthless about it. You had to be. You only had a woman's weapons and you probably used them pretty coolly. I expect you used your body. It would be a wonderful asset. But in using it to get what you wanted, your sensibilities had to be put aside. I don't expect they're very far underground. They certainly haven't atrophied. They've just lost their voice because you wouldn't listen to them. You couldn't afford to listen to them if you were to get back on that red carpet and have the things you wanted. And now you've got the things.'' Bond touched the hand that lay on the banquette between them. ”And perhaps you've almost had enough of them.'' He laughed. “But I mustn't get too serious. Now about the smaller things. You know all about them, but just for the record, you're beautiful, sexy, provocative, independent, self-willed, quick-tempered, and cruel.'' She looked at him thoughtfully. ”There's nothing very clever about all that. I told you most of it. You know something about Italian women. But why do you say I'm cruel?''

"If I was gambling and I took a knock like Largo did and I had my woman, a woman, sitting near me watching, and she didn't give me one word of comfort or encouragement I would say she was being cruel. Men don't like failing in front of their women.''

She said impatiently, “I've had to sit there too often and watch him show off. I wanted you to win. I cannot pretend. You didn't mention my only virtue. It's honesty. I love to the hilt and I hate to the hilt. At the present time, with Emilio, I am halfway. Where we were lovers, we are now good friends who understand each other. When I told you he was my guardian, I was telling a white lie. I am his kept woman. I am a bird in a gilded cage. I am fed up with my cage and tired of my bargain.'' She looked at Bond defensively. ”Yes, it is cruel for Emilio. But it is also human. You can buy the outside of the body, but you cannot buy what is inside---what people call the heart and the soul. But Emilio knows that. He wants women for use. Not for love. He has had thousands in this way. He knows where we both stand. He is realistic. But it is becoming more difficult to keep to my bargain---to, to, let's call it sing for my supper.''

She stopped abruptly. She said, “Give me some more champagne. All this silly talking has made me thirsty. And I would like a packet of Players''---she laughed ”---Please, as they say in the advertisements. I am fed up with just smoking smoke. I need my Hero.'' Bond bought a packet from the cigarette girl. He said, "What's that about a hero?''

She had entirely changed. Her bitterness had gone, and the lines of strain on her face. She had softened. She was suddenly a girl out for the evening. “Ah, you don't know! My one true love! The man of my dreams. The sailor on the front of the packet of Players. You have never thought about him as I have.'' She came closer to him on the banquette and held the packet under his eyes. ”You don't understand the romance of this wonderful picture---one of the great masterpieces of the world. This man''---she pointed---“was the first man I ever sinned with. I took him into the woods, I loved him in the dormitory, I spent nearly all my pocket money on him. In exchange he introduced me to the great world outside the Cheltenham Ladies College. He grew me up. He put me at ease with boys of my own age. He kept me company when I was lonely or afraid of being young. He encouraged me, gave me assurance. Have you never thought of the romance behind this picture? You see nothing, yet the whole of England is there! Listen.'' She took his arm eagerly. ”This is the story of Hero, the name on his cap badge. At first he was a young man, a powder monkey or whatever they called it, in that sailing ship behind his right ear. It was a hard time for him. Weevils in the biscuits, hit with marlinspikes and ropes' ends and things, sent up aloft to the top of all that rigging where the flag flies. But he persevered. He began to grow a mustache. He was fair-haired and rather too pretty.'' She giggled. “He may even have had to fight for his virtue or whatever men call it, among all those hammocks. But you can see from his face---that line of concentration between his eyes---and from his fine head, that he was a man to get on.'' She paused and swallowed a glass of champagne. The dimples were now deep holes in her cheeks. ”Are you listening to me? You are not bored having to listen about my hero?''




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