Largo said softly, "And what is it you propose, No. 10?''
For the first time, No. 10 looked to his right. He could not see the expression in Largo's eye. He spoke at the great red and black mass of his face. The tone of his voice was obstinate. He said, "I am proposing that one member of each national group should stay on board to safeguard the interests of the other members of his national group. That would reduce the swimming party to ten. In this way those who are undertaking this dangerous work would go about it with more enthusiasm knowing that no such happening as I have mentioned could come about.''
Largo's voice was polite, unemotional. He said, "I have one very short and simple answer to your suggestion, No. 10.'' The light glittered redly on the metal thumb that protruded from the big hand. The three bullets pumped so quickly into the face of the Russian that the three explosions, the three bright flashes, were almost one. No. 10 put up two feeble hands, palms forward, as if to catch any further bullets, gave a jerk forward with his stomach at the edge of the table, and then crashed heavily backward, in a splinter of chair wood, onto the floor.
Largo put the muzzle of the gun up to his nose and delicately sniffed at it, moving it to and fro under the nostrils as if it was some delicious phial of perfume. In the silence, he looked slowly down one rank of faces and up the other. Finally he said softly, "The meeting is now at an end. Will all members please return to their cabins and look for a last time to their equipment. Food will be ready from now on in the galley. One drink of alcohol will also be available for those who want it. I will detail two crew members to look after the late No. 10. Thank you.''
When Largo was alone he got to his feet, stretched, and gave a great cavernous yawn. Then he turned to the sideboard, opened a drawer and took out a box of Corona cigars. He chose one and, with a gesture of distaste, lit it. He then took the closed red rubber container that held the ice cubes and walked out of the door and along to the cabin of Domino Vitali.
He closed the door and locked it. Here also, a red riding light hung from the ceiling. Under it, on the double bunk, the girl lay offered like a starfish, her ankles and wrists strapped to the four corners of the ironwork below the mattress. Largo put the icebox down on the chest of drawers and balanced the cigar carefully beside it so that the glowing tip would not spoil the varnish.
The girl watched him, her eyes glittering red points in the semi-darkness.
Largo said, “My dear, I have had great enjoyment out of your body, much pleasure. In return, unless you tell me who gave you that machine to bring on board, I shall be forced to cause you great pain. It will be caused with these two simple instruments,'' he held up the cigar and blew on the tip until it glowed brightly, ”this for heat, and these ice cubes for cold. Applied scientifically, as I shall apply them, they will have the inevitable effect of causing your voice, when it has stopped screaming, to speak, and speak the truth. Now then. Which is it to be?''
The girl's voice was deadly with hate. She said, "You killed my brother and you will now kill me. Go on and enjoy yourself. You are already a piece of death yourself. When the rest of it comes, very soon, I pray God you will suffer a million times more than both of us.''
Largo's laugh was a short, harsh bark. He walked over to the edge of the bunk. He said, "Very well, my dear. We must see what we can do with you, very softly and very, very slowly.''
He bent down and hooked his fingers in the neckline of her shirt and the join of the brassiere. Very slowly, but with great force, he tore downward, the whole length of her. Then he threw aside the torn halves of material and exposed the whole gleaming length of her body. He examined it carefully and reflectively and then went to the chest of drawers and took the cigar and the bowl of ice cubes and came back and made himself comfortable on the edge of the bunk.
Then he took a puff at the cigar, knocked the ash off onto the floor, and leaned forward.
In the attack center of the Manta it was very quiet. Commander Pedersen, standing behind the man at the echo-sounder, occasionally made a comment over his shoulder to Bond and Leiter, who had been given canvas-backed chairs well away from the depth and speed gauges, which had been hooded so that they could be read only by the navigating team. These three men sat side by side on red leather, foam-cushioned, aluminum seats, handling the rudder and the forward and aft diving planes as if they were pilots in an airliner. Now the captain left the echo-sounder and came over to Bond and Leiter. He smiled cheerfully. “Thirty fathoms and the nearest cay is a mile to westwards. Now we've got a clear course all the way to Grand Bahama. And we're making good speed. If we keep it up, we've got about four hours' sailing. Be off Grand Bahama about an hour before first light. How about some food and a bit of sleep? There won't be anything on the radar for an hour---these Berry Islands'11 fill the screen until we're clear of them. Then'11 come the big question. When we clear them, shall we see that one of the smallest of the cays has broken loose and is sailing fast northwards on a parallel course to ours? If we see that on the screen, it'll be the Disco. If she's there, we'll submerge. You'll hear the alarm bells. But you can just roll over and have a bit more sleep. Nothing can happen until it's certain that she's in the target area. Then we'll have to think again.'' The captain made for the stairway. ”Mind if I lead the way? Watch your head on the pipes. This is the one part of the ship where there isn't much clearance.''
They followed him down and along a passage to the mess hall, a well-lighted dining room finished in cream with pastel pink and green panels. They took their places at the head of one of the Formica-top tables away from the other officers and men, who looked curiously at the two civilians. The captain waved a hand at the walls of the room. “Bit of a change from the old battleship gray. You'd be surprised how many eggheads are involved in the design of these ships. Have to be, if you want to keep your crew happy when the ship's submerged for a month or more at a time. The trick-cyclists said We couldn't have just one color, must have contrast everywhere or the men's eyes get sort of depressed. This hall's used for movies, closed-circuit television, cribbage tournaments, bingo, God knows what---anything to keep the men off duty from getting bored. And you notice there's no smell of cooking or engine smells. Electrostatic precipitators all over the ship that filter them off.'' A steward came with menus. ”Now then, let's get down to it. I'm having the baked Virginia ham with red-eye gravy, apple pie with ice cream, and iced coffee. And steward, don't go too easy on that red-eye.'' He turned to Bond. "Getting out of harbor always gives me an appetite. You know, it isn't the sea the captain hates, it's the land.''
Bond ordered poached eggs with rye toast and coffee. He was grateful for the captain's cheerful talk, but he himself had no appetite. There was a gnawing tension inside him which would be released only when the Disco was picked up on the radar and there would be a prospect of action. And lurking behind his concern about the whole operation was worry about the girl. Had he been right to trust her with so much of the truth? Had she betrayed him? Had she been caught? Was she alive? He drank down a glass of iced water, and listened to the captain explaining how the ice cubes and the water were distilled from the sea.
Finally Bond became impatient with the cheerful, even tone of the conversation. He said, "Forgive me, Captain, but could I interrupt for a moment and clear my mind about what we're going to do if we're right about the Disco and if we come up with her off the Grand Bahama? I can't quite figure what the next step ought to be. I've got my own ideas, but were you thinking we'd try and go alongside and board her, or just blow her out of the water?''
The captain's gray eyes were quizzical. He said, “I was kind of leaving all that to you fellers. The Navy Department says that I'm under your orders. I'm just the chauffeur. Supposing you tell me what you have in mind and I'll be glad to go along with anything you suggest so long as it doesn't endanger my ship''---he smiled---”too much, that is. In the last resort, if the Navy Department means what it says, and from your account of this operation it does, the safety of the ship will also have to go by the board. As I told you aloft in the attack center, I got acknowledgment of our signal and full approval for our proposed course of action. That's all the clearance I need. Now then, you tell me.''
The food came. Bond pecked at his eggs and pushed them away. He lit a cigarette. He said, looking at Felix Leiter, “Well, I don't know what you've worked out, Felix, but this is how I see the picture we may find around four o'clock in the morning, on the assumption, that is, that the Disco has been sailing north in shoal water under cover of the Berry Islands and that she'll then make for the Grand Bahama shore somewhere off the site of the missile station. Well now, on that assumption, I've had a good look at the charts and it seems to me that, if she's going to lay that bomb as close to the target as she can, she'll heave to and anchor about a mile offshore in about ten fathoms and get the bomb another half-mile or so closer to the target, lay it in twelve feet of water or so, switch on the time mechanism, and get the hell away. That's how I'd go about it. She'd be away by first light and there's plenty of yacht traffic around West End from what I can gather from the pilot. She'd show up on the station radar, of course, but she'd be just another yacht. Assuming the bomb's set for the twelve hours Largo's got before the time limit expires, he could be back in Nassau or twice as far away if he wanted in the time he's got. For my money, he'll go back to Nassau with his treasure-hunting story and wait for the next lot of orders from SPECTRE.'' Bond paused. He avoided Leiter's eyes. ”That is, unless he's managed to get information out of the girl.''
Leiter said stanchly, "Hell, I don't believe that girl would talk. She's a tough cookie. And supposing she did? He's only got to drop her overboard with some lead round her neck and say her aqualung failed on the treasure hunt, or some spiel of that sort. He'd go back to Nassau all right. That man's cover's as solid as J. P. Morgan and Company.''
The captain interrupted. "Leaving all that aside, Commander Bond, and sticking to the operational angles, how do you suggest he's going to get that bomb out of the ship and right into the target area? I agree that according to the charts he can't get much closer in the yacht, and if he did he might be in trouble with the waterfront guard at the missile station. I see from my dope on the place that they've got some kind of a guard boat for chasing away fishermen and suchlike when they're going to do a practice shoot.''
Bond said decisively, "I'm sure that's the real purpose of the underwater compartment in the Disco . They've got one of those underwater sleds in there, and probably an electric torpedo to haul it. They'll load the bomb on the sled and take it in with a team of underwater swimmers, lay it, and come back to the ship. Otherwise, why have all that underwater gear?''
The captain said slowly, "You may be right, Commander. It makes sense. But so what do you want me to do about it?''
Bond looked the captain in the eye. "There's only one moment to nail these people. If we show our hand too soon, the Disco can get the hell away---only a few hundred yards maybe, and dump the bombs in a hundred fathoms. The only time to get them, and the bomb, the first bomb anyway, is when that team has left the ship and is on its way to the laying point. We've got to get their underwater team with our underwater team. The second bomb, if it's aboard, doesn't matter. We can sink the ship with the second bomb inside her.''