Thunderball Page 12

“That's about it,'' commented M. ”From every point of view, including politics, not that they matter all that much. But neither the P.M. nor the President would last five minutes if anything went wrong. But whether we pay or don't pay, the consequences will be endless---and all bad. That's why absolutely everything has got to be done to find these people and the plane and stop the thing in time. The P.M. and the President are entirely agreed. Every intelligence man all over the world who's on our side is being put on to this operation---Operation Thunderball they're calling it. Planes, ships, submarines---and of course money's no object. We can have everything, whenever we want it. The Cabinet have already set up a special staff and a war room. Every scrap of information will be fed into it. The Americans have done the same. Some kind of a leak can't be helped. It's being put about that all the panic, and it is panic, is because of the loss of the Vindicator---bombs included, whatever fuss that may cause politically. Only the letter will be absolutely secret. All the usual detective work---fingerprints, Brighton, writing paper---these'll be looked after by Scotland Yard with the F.B.I., Interpol, and all the NATO intelligence organizations, helping where they can. Only a segment of the paper and the typing will be used---a few innocent words. This will all be quite separate from the search for the plane. That'll be handled as a top espionage matter. No one should be able to connect the two investigations. M.I.5 will handle the background to all the crew members and the Italian observer. That will be a natural part of the search for the plane. As for the Service, we've teamed up with the C.I.A. to cover the world. Alien Dulles is putting every man he's got onto it and so am I. Just sent out a General Call. Now all we can do is sit back and wait.''

Bond lit another cigarette, his sinful third in one hour. He said, putting unconcern into his voice, "Where do I come in, sir?''

M looked vaguely at Bond, as if seeing him for the first time. Then he swiveled his chair and gazed again through the window at nothing. finally he said, in a conversational tone of voice, “I have committed a breach of faith with the P.M. in telling you all this, 007. I was under oath to tell no one what I have just told you. I decided to do what I have done because I have an idea, a hunch, and I wish this idea to be pursued by a''---he hesitated---”by a reliable man. It seemed to me that the only grain of possible evidence in this case was the DEW radar plot, a doubtful one I admit, of the plane that left the east-west air channel over the Atlantic and turned south towards Bermuda and the Bahamas. I decided to accept this evidence, although it has not aroused much interest elsewhere. I then spent some time studying a map and charts of the Western Atlantic and I endeavored to put myself in the minds of SPECTRE---or rather, for there is certainly a master mind behind all this, in the mind of the chief of SPECTRE : my opposite number, so to speak. And I came to certain conclusions. I decided that a favorable target for Bomb. No. 1, and for Bomb No. 2, if it comes to that, would be in America rather than in Europe. To begin with, the Americans are more bomb-conscious than we in Europe and therefore more susceptible to persuasion if it came to using Bomb No. 2. Installations worth more than £100,000,000, and thus targets for Bomb No. 1, are more numerous in America than in Europe, and finally, guessing that SPECTRE is a European organization, from the style of the letter and from the paper, which is Dutch by the way, and also from the ruthlessness of the plot, it seemed to me at least possible that an Amerrican rather than a European target might have been chosen. Anyway, going on these assumptions, and assuming that the plane could not nave landed in America itself or off American shores---the coastal radar network is too good---I looked for a neighboring area which might be suitable. And''---M glanced round at Bond and away again---"I decided on the Bahamas, the group of islands, many of them uninhabited, surrounded mostly by shoal water over sand and possessing only one simple radar station---and that one concerned only with civilian air traffic and manned by local civilian personnel. South, towards Cuba, Jamaica, and the Caribbean, offers no worthwhile targets. Anyway it is too far from the American coastline. Northwards towards Bermuda has the same disadvantages. But the nearest of the Bahama group is only two hundred miles---only six or seven hours in a fast motorboat or yacht---from the American coastline.''

Bond interrupted. "If you're right, sir, why didn't SPECTRE send their letter to the President instead of the P.M.?''

“For the sake of obscurity. To make us do what we are doing---hunting all round the world instead of only in one part of it. And for maximum impact. SPECTRE would realize that the arrival of the letter right on top of the loss of the bomber would hit us in the solar plexus. It might, they would reason, even shake the money out of us without any further effort. The next stage of their operation, attacking target No. 1, is going to be a nasty business for them. It's going to expose their whereabouts to a considerable extent. They'd like to collect the money and close the operation as quickly as possible. That's what we've got to gamble on. We've got to push them as close to the use of No. 1 bomb as we dare in the hope that something will betray them in the next six and three-quarter days. It's a slim chance. I'm pinning my hopes on my guess''---M swung his chair round to the desk---”and on you. Well?'' He looked hard at Bond. "Any comments? If not, you'd better get started. You're booked on all New York planes from now until midnight. Then on by B.O.A.C. I thought of. using an R.A.F. Canberra, but I don't want your arrival to make any noise. You're a rich young man looking for some property in the islands. That'll give you an excuse to do as much prospecting as you want. Well?''

“All right, sir.'' Bond got to his feet. ”I'd rather have had somewhere more interesting---the Iron Curtain beat, for instance. I can't help feeling this is a bigger operation than a small unit could take on. For my money this looks more like a Russian job. They get the experimental plane and the bombs---they obviously want them---and throw dust in our eyes with all this SPECTRE ballyhoo. If SMERSH was still in business, I'd say they'd got a finger in it somewhere. Just their style. But the Eastern Stations may pick up something on that if there's anything in the idea. Anything else, sir? Who do I cooperate with in Nassau?''

"The Governor knows you're coming. They've got a well-trained police force. C.I.A. are sending down a good man, I gather. With a communications outfit. They've got more of that sort of machinery than we have. Take a cipher machine with the Triple X setting. I want to hear every single detail you turn up. Personal to me. Right?''

"Right, sir.'' Bond went to the door and let himself out. There was nothing more to be said. This looked like the biggest job the Service had ever been given, and in Bond's opinion, for he didn't give much for M's guess, he had been relegated to the back row of the chorus. So be it. He would get himself a good sunburn and watch the show from the wings.

When Bond walked out of the building, carrying the neat leather cipher case, an expensive movie camera perhaps, slung over his shoulder, the man in the beige Volkswagen stopped scratching the burn-scab under his shirt, loosened, for the tenth time, the long-barrelled .45 in the holster under his arm, started the car, and put it in gear. He was twenty yards behind Bond's parked Bentley. He had no idea what the big building was. He had simply obtained Bond's home address from the receptionist at Shrublands and, as soon as he got out of the Brighton hospital, he had carefully tailed Bond. The car was hired, under an assumed name. When he had done what had to be done he would go straight to London Airport and take the first plane out to any country on the Continent. Count Lippe was a sanguine individual. The job, the private score he had to settle, presented no problem to him. He was a ruthless, vengeful man and he had eliminated many obstreperous and perhaps dangerous people in his life. He reasoned that, if they every came to hear of this, SPECTRE would not object. The overheard telephone conversation on that first day at the clinic showed that his cover had been broached, however slightly, and it was just conceivable that he could be traced through his membership in the Red Lightning Tong, From there to SPECTRE was a long step, but Sub-operator G knew that once a cover began to run, it ran like an old sock. Apart from that, this man must be paid off. Count Lippe had to be quits with him.

Bond was getting into his car. He had slammed the door. Sub-operator G watched the blue smoke curl from the twin exhausts. He got moving.

On the other side of the road, and a hundred yards behind the Volkswagen SPECTRE No. 6 slipped his goggles down over his eyes, stamped the 500-c.c. Triumph into gear, and accelerated down the road. He swerved neatly through the traffic---he had been a test rider for D.K.W. at one time in his postwar career---and stationed himself ten yards behind the off rear wheel of the Volkswagen and just out of the driver's line of vision in the windscreen mirror. He had no idea why Sub-operator G was following the Bentley, nor whom the Bentley belonged to, His job was to kill the driver of the Volkswagen. He put his hand into the leather satchel he carried slung over his shoulder, took out the heavy grenade---it was twice the normal military size---and watched the traffic ahead for the right pattern to allow his getaway.

Sub-operator G was watching for a similar pattern. He also noted the spacing on the lampposts on the pavement in case he might be blocked and have to run off the road. Now the cars ahead were sparse. He stamped his foot into the floor and, driving with his left hand, drew out the Colt with his right. Now he was up with the Bentley's rear bumper. Now he was alongside. The dark profile was a sitting target. With a last quick glance ahead, he raised the gun.

It was the cheeky iron rattle of the Volkswagen's air-cooled engine that made Bond turn his head, and it was this minute reduction of the target area that saved his jaw. If he had then accelerated, the second bullet would have got him, but some blessed instinct made his foot stamp the brake at the same time as his head ducked so swiftly that his chin hit the horn button, nearly knocking him out. Almost simultaneously, instead of a third shot, there came the roar of an explosion and the remains of his windshield, already shattered, cascaded around him. The Bentley had stopped, the engine stalled. Brakes screamed. There were shouts and the panicky screams of horns. Bond shook his head and cautiously raised it. The Volkswagen, one wheel still spinning lay on its side in front and broadside to the Bentley. Most of the roof had been blown off. Inside, and half sprawling into the road, was a horrible, glinting mess. Flames were licking at the blistered paintwork. People were gathering. Bond pulled himself together and got quickly out of his car. He shouted, "Stand back. The petrol tank'll go.'' Almost as he said the words there came a dull boom and a cloud of black smoke. The flames spurted, In the distance, sirens sounded. Bond edged through the people and strode quickly back toward his headquarters, his thoughts racing.

The inquiry made Bond lose two planes to New York. By the time the police had put out the fire and had transported the bits of man and the bits of machinery and bomb casing to the morgue it was quite clear that they would have nothing to go on but the shoes, the number on the gun, some fibers and shreds of clothing, and the car. The car-hire people remembered nothing but a man with dark glasses, a driver's license in the name of Johnston, and a handful of fivers. The car had been hired three days before for one week. Plenty of people remembered the motorcyclist, but it seemed that he had no rear number plate. He had gone like a bat out of hell toward Baker Street. He wore goggles. Medium build. Nothing else.

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