Mr. Wain asked Bond to remove all his clothes except his shorts. When he saw the many scars he said politely, "Dear me, you do seem to have been in the wars, Mr. Bond.''

Bond said indifferently, "Near miss. During the war.''

"Really! War between peoples is a terrible thing. Now, just breathe in deeply, please.'' Mr. Wain listened at Bond's back and chest, took his blood pressure, weighed him and recorded his height, and then, after asking him to lie face down on a surgical couch, handled his joints and vertebrae with soft, probing fingers.

While Bond replaced his clothes, Mr. Wain wrote busily at his desk. Then he sat back. "Well, Mr. Bond, nothing much to worry about here, I think. Blood pressure a little high, slight osteopathic lesions in the upper vertebrae---they'll probably be causing your tension headaches, by the way---and some right sacroiliac strain with the right ilium slightly displaced backwards. Due to a bad fall some time, no doubt.'' Mr. Wain raised his eyebrows for confirmation.

Bond said, “Perhaps.'' Inwardly he reflected that the ”bad fall'' had probably been when he had had to jump from the Arlberg Express after Heinkel and his friends had caught up with him around the time of the Hungarian uprising in 1956.

“Well, now.'' Mr. Wain drew a printed form toward him and thoughtfully ticked off items on a list. ”Strict dieting for one week to eliminate the toxins in the blood stream. Massage to tone you up, irrigation, hot and cold sitz baths, osteopathic treatment, and a short course of traction to get rid of the lesions. That should put you right. And complete rest, of course. Just take it easy, Mr. Bond. You're a civil servant, I understand. Do you good to get away from all that worrying paper work for a while.'' Mr. Wain got up and handed the printed form to Bond. "Treatment rooms in half an hour, Mr. Bond. No harm in starting right away.''

“Thank you.'' Bond took the form and glanced at it. ”What's traction, by the way?''

“A mechanical device for stretching the spine. Very beneficial.'' Mr. Wain smiled indulgently. ”Don't be worried by what some of the other patients tell you about it. They call it `The Rack.' You know what wags some people are.''

"Yes.''

Bond walked out and along the white-painted corridor. People were sitting about, reading or talking in soft tones in the public rooms. They were all elderly, middle-class people, mostly women, many of whom wore unattractive quilted dressing gowns. The warm, close air and the frumpish women gave Bond claustrophobia. He walked through the hall to the main door and let himself out into the wonderful fresh air.

Bond walked thoughtfully down the trim narrow drive and smelled the musty smell of the laurels and the laburnums. Could he stand it? Was there any way out of this hell-hole short of resigning from the Service? Deep in thought, he almost collided with a girl in white who came hurrying round a sharp bend in the thickly hedged drive. At the same instant as she swerved out of his path and flashed him an amused smile, a mauve Bentley, taking the corner too fast, was on top of her. At one moment she was almost under its wheels, at the next, Bond, with one swift step, had gathered her up by the waist and, executing a passable Veronica, with a sharp swivel of his hips had picked her body literally off the hood of the car. He put the girl down as the Bentley dry-skidded to a stop in the gravel. His right hand held the memory of one beautiful breast. The girl said, “Oh!'' and looked up into his eyes with an expression of flurried astonishment. Then she took in what had happened and said breathlessly, ”Oh, thank you.'' She turned toward the car.

A man had climbed unhurriedly down from the driving seat. He said calmly, “I am so sorry. Are you all right?'' Recognition dawned on his face. He said silkily, ”Why, if it isn't my friend Patricia. How are you, Pat? All ready for me?''

The man was extremely handsome---a dark-bronzed woman-killer with a neat mustache above the sort of callous mouth women kiss in their dreams. He had regular features that suggested Spanish or South American blood and bold, hard brown eyes that turned up oddly, or, as a woman would put it, intriguingly, at the corners. He was an athletic-looking six foot, dressed in the sort of casually well-cut beige herring-bone tweed that suggests Anderson and Sheppard. He wore a white silk shirt and a dark red polka-dot tie, and the soft dark brown V-necked sweater looked like vicuna. Bond summed him up as a good-looking bastard who got all the women he wanted and probably lived on them---and lived well.

The girl had recovered her poise. She said severely, “You really ought to be more careful, Count Lippe. You know there are always patients and staff walking down this drive. If it hadn't been for this gentleman''---she smiled at Bond---”you'd have run me over. After all, there is a big sign asking drivers to take care.''

“I am so sorry, my dear. I was hurrying. I am late for my appointment with the good Mr. Wain. I am as usual in need of decarbonization---this time after two weeks in Paris.'' He turned to Bond. He said with a hint of condescension, ”Thank you, my dear sir. You have quick reactions. And now, if you will forgive me---'' He raised a hand, got back into the Bentley, and purred off up the drive.

The girl said, "Now I really must hurry. I'm terribly late.'' Together they turned and walked after the Bentley.

Bond said, examining her, "Do you work here?'' She said that she did. She had been at Shrublands for three years. She liked it. And how long was he staying? The small-talk continued.

She was an athletic-looking girl whom Bond would have casually associated with tennis, or skating, or show-jumping. She had the sort of firm, compact figure that always attracted him and a fresh open-air type of prettiness that would have been commonplace but for a wide, rather passionate mouth and a hint of authority that would be a challenge to men. She was dressed in a feminine version of the white smock worn by Mr. Wain, and it was clear from the undisguised curves of her breasts and hips that she had little on underneath it. Bond asked her if she didn't get bored. What did she do with her time off?

She acknowledged the gambit with a smile and a quick glance of appraisal. "I've got one of those bubble cars. I get about the country quite a lot. And there are wonderful walks. And one's always seeing new people here. Some of them are very interesting. That man in the car, Count Lippe. He comes here every year. He tells me fascinating things about the Far East---China and so on. He's got some sort of a business in a place called Macao. It's near Hong Kong, isn't it?''

"Yes, that's right.'' So those turned-up eyes were a dash of Chinaman. It would be interesting to know his background. Probably Portuguese blood if he came from Macao.

They had reached the entrance. Inside the warm hall the girl said, “Well, I must run. Thank you again.'' She gave him a smile that, for the benefit of the watching receptionist, was entirely neutral. ”I hope you enjoy your stay.'' She hurried off toward the treatment rooms. Bond followed, his eyes on the taut swell of her hips. He glanced at his watch and also went down the stairs and into a spotlessly white basement that smelled faintly of olive oil and an Aerosol disinfectant.

Beyond a door marked " Gentlemen's Treatment '' he was taken in hand by an indiarubbery masseur in trousers and singlet. Bond undressed and with a towel round his waist followed the man down a long room divided into compartments by plastic curtains. In the first compartment, side by side, two elderly men lay, the perspiration pouring down their strawberry faces, in electric blanket-baths. In the next were two massage tables. On one, the pale, dimpled body of a youngish but very fat man wobbled obscenely beneath the pummeling of his masseur. Bond, his mind recoiling from it all, took off his towel and lay down on his face and surrendered himself to the toughest deep massage he had ever experienced.

Vaguely, against the jangling of his nerves and the aching of muscles and tendons, he heard the fat man heave himself off his table and, moments later, another patient take his place. He heard the man's masseur say, “I'm afraid we'll have to have the wristwatch off, sir.'' The urbane, silky voice that Bond at once recognized said with authority, ”Nonsense, my dear fellow. I come here every year and I've been allowed to keep it on before. I'd rather keep it on, if you don't mind.''

“Sorry, sir.'' The masseur's voice was politely firm. ”You must have had someone else doing the treatment. It interferes with the flow of blood when I come to treat the arm and hand. If you don't mind, sir.''

There was a moment's silence. Bond could almost feel Count Lippe controlling his temper. The words, when they came, were spat out with what seemed to Bond ludicrous violence. “Take it off then.'' The ”Damn you'' didn't have to be uttered. It hung in the air at the end of the sentence.

"Thank you, sir.'' There was a brief pause and then the massage began.

The small incident seemed odd to Bond. Obviously one had to take off one's wristwatch for a massage. Why had the man wanted to keep it on? It seemed very childish.

"Turn over, please, sir.''

Bond obeyed. Now his face was free to move. He glanced casually to his right. Count Lippe's face was turned away from him. His left arm hung down toward the floor. Where the sunburn ended, there was a bracelet of almost white flesh at the wrist. In the middle of the circle where the watch had been there was a sign tattooed on the skin. It looked like a small zigzag crossed by two vertical strokes. So Count Lippe had not wanted this sign to be seen! It would be amusing to ring up Records and see if they had a line on what sort of people wore this little secret recognition sign under their wristwatches.

3.

The Rack

At the end of the hour's treatment Bond felt as if his body had been eviscerated and then run through a wringer. He put on his clothes and, cursing M, climbed weakly back up the stairs into what, by comparison with the world of nakedness and indignities in the basement, were civilized surroundings. At the entrance to the main lounge were two telephone booths. The switchboard put him through to the only Headquarters number he was allowed to call on an outside line. He knew that all such outside calls were monitored. As he asked for Records, he recognized the hollowness on the line that meant the line was bugged. He gave him number to Head of Records and put his question, adding that the subject was an Oriental probably of Portuguese extraction. After ten minutes Head of Records came back to him.

“It's a Tong sign.'' His voice sounded interested. ”The Red Lightning Tong. Unusual to find anyone but a full-blooded Chinaman being a member. It's not the usual semi-religious organization. This is entirely criminal. Station H had dealings with it once. They're represented in Hong Kong, but their headquarters are across the bay in Macao. Station H paid big money to get a courier service running into Peking. Worked like a dream, so they gave the line a trial with some heavy stuff. It bounced, badly. Lost a couple of H's top men. It was a double-cross. Turned out that Redland had some sort of a deal with these people. Hell of a mess. Since then they've cropped up from time to time in drugs, gold smuggling to India, and top-bracket white slavery. They're big people. We'd be interested if you've got any kind of a line.''

Bond said, "Thanks, Records. No, I've got nothing definite. First time I've heard of these Red Lightning people. Let you know if anything develops. So long.''

Bond thoughtfully put back the receiver. How interesting! Now what the hell could this man be doing at Shrublands? Bond walked out of the booth. A movement in the next booth caught his eye. Count Lippe, his back to Bond, had just picked up the receiver. How long had he been in there? Had he heard Bond's inquiry? Or his comment? Bond had the crawling sensation at the pit of his stomach he knew so well---the signal that he had probably made a dangerous and silly mistake. He glanced at his watch. It was seven-thirty. He walked through the lounge to the sun parlor where “dinner'' was being served. He gave his name to the elderly woman with a wardress face behind a long counter. She consulted a list and ladled hot vegetable soup into a plastic mug. Bond took the mug. He said anxiously, ”Is that all?''




Line : 35

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