Thunderball Page 15

No. 1 went through the big stateroom and down into the hold. The four men of B team, their aqualungs beside them, were sitting around smoking. The wide underwater hatch just above the keel of the yacht was open. Moonlight, reflected off the white sand under the ship, shone up through the six feet of water in the hold. Stacked on the grating beside the men was the thick pile of tarpaulin painted a very pale café-au-lait with occasional irregular blotches of dark green and brown. No. 1 said, "All is going very well. The recovery team is at work. It should not be long now. How about the chariot and the sled?''

One of the men jerked his thumb downward. "They are down there. Outside on the sand. So it will be quicker.''

“Correct.'' No. 1 nodded toward a cranelike contraption fastened to a bulkhead above the hold. ”The derrick took the strain all right?''

"That chain could handle twice the weight.''

"The pumps?''

"In order. They will clear the hold in seven minutes.''

"Good. Well, take it easy. It will be a long night.'' No. 1 climbed the iron ladder out of the hold and went up on deck. He didn't need his night glasses. Two hundred yards away to starboard the sea was empty save for the jolly-boat riding at anchor above the golden submarine glow. The red marker light had been taken into the boat. The rattle of the little generator making current for the big searchlight was loud. It would carry far across a sea as still as this. But accumulators would have been too bulky and might have exhausted themselves before the work was finished. The generator was a calculated risk and a small one at that. The nearest island was five miles away and uninhabited unless someone was having a midnight picnic on it. The yacht had stopped and searched it on the way to the rendezvous. Everything had been done that could be done, every precaution taken. The wonderful machine was running silently and full out. There was nothing to worry about now except the next step. No. 1 went through the hatch into the enclosed bridge and bent over the lighted chart table.

Emilio Largo, No. 1, was a big, conspicuously handsome man of about forty. He was a Roman and he looked like a Roman, not from the Rome of today, but from the Rome of the ancient coins. The large, long face was sunburned a deep mahogany brown and the light glinted off the strong rather hooked nose and the clean-cut lantern jaw that had been meticulously shaved before he had started out late that afternoon. In contrast to the hard, slow-moving brown eyes, the mouth, with its thick, rather down-curled lips, belong to a satyr. Ears that, from dead in front, looked almost pointed, added to an animalness that would devastate women. The only weakness in the fine centurion face lay in the overlong sideburns and the too carefully waved black hair that glistened so brightly with pomade that it might almost have been painted onto the skull. There was no fat on the big-boned frame---Largo had fought for Italy in the Olympic foils, was almost an Olympic-class swimmer with the Australian crawl, and only a month before had won the senior class in the Nassau water-ski championships---and the muscles bulged under the exquisitely cut sharkskin jacket. An aid to his athletic prowess were his hands. They were almost twice the normal size, even for a man of his stature, and now, as they walked across the chart holding a ruler and a pair of dividers, they looked, extruding from the white sleeves that rested on the white chart, almost like large brown furry animals quite separate from their owner.

Largo was an adventurer, a predator on the herd. Two hundred years before he would have been a pirate---not one of the jolly ones of the story books, but a man like Blackbeard, a bloodstained cutthroat who scythed his way through people toward gold. But Blackbeard had been too much of a bully and a roughneck, and wherever he went in the world he left behind a tell-tale shambles. Largo was different. There was a cool brain and an exquisite finesse behind his actions that had always saved him from the herd's revenge---from his postwar debut as head of the black market in Naples, through five lucrative years smuggling from Tangier, five more master-minding the wave of big jewel robberies on the French Riviera, down to his last five with SPECTRE. Always he got away with it. Always he had seen the essential step ahead that would have been hidden from lesser men. He was the epitome of the gentleman crook---a man of the world, a great womanizer, a high liver with the entrée to café society in four continents, and the last survivor, conveniently enough, of a once famous Roman family whose fortune, so he said, he had inherited. He also benefited from having no wife, a spotless police record, nerves of steel, a heart of ice, and the ruthlessness of a Himmler. He was the perfect man for SPECTRE, and the perfect man, rich Nassau playboy and all, to be Supreme Commander of Plan Omega.

One of the crew knocked on the hatch and came in. "They have signaled. The chariot and sled are on the way.''

"Thank you.'' In the heat and excitement of any operation, Largo always created calm. However much was at stake, however great the dangers and however urgent the need for speed and quick decisions, he made a fetish of calm, of the pause, of an almost judo-like inertia. This was an act of will to which he had trained himself. He found it had an extraordinary effect on his accomplices. It tied them to him and invoked their obedience and loyalty more than any other factor in leadership. That he, a clever and cunning man, should show unconcern at particularly bad, or, as in this case, particularly good news, meant that he already knew that what had happened would happen. With Largo, consequences were foreseen. One could depend on him. He never lost balance. So now, at this splendid news, Largo deliberately picked up his dividers again and made a trace, an imaginary trace, on the chart for the sake of the crew member. He then put down the dividers and strolled out of the air-conditioning into the warm night.

A tiny worm of underwater light was creeping out toward the jolly-boat. It was a two-man underwater chariot identical with those used by the Italians during the war and bought, with improvements, from Ansaldo, the firm that had originally invented the one-man submarine. It was towing an underwater sled, a sharp prowed tray with negative buoyancy used for the recovery and transport of heavy objects under the sea. The worm of light merged with the luminescence from the searchlight and, minutes later, re-emerged on its way back to the ship. It would have been natural for Largo to have gone down to the hold to witness the arrival of the two atomic weapons. Typically, he did nothing of the sort. In due course the little headlight reappeared, going back over its previous course. Now the sled would be loaded with the huge tarpaulin, camouflaged to merge in with just this piece of underwater terrain, with its white sand and patches of coral outcrop, that would be spread so as to cover every inch of the wrecked plane and pegged all round with corkscrew iron stanchions that would not be shifted by the heaviest surface storm or groundswell. In his imagination, Largo saw every move of the eight men who would now be working far below the surface on the reality for which there had been so much training, so many dummy exercises. He marveled at the effort, the incredible ingenuity, that had gone into Plan Omega. Now all the months of preparation, of sweat and tears, were being repaid.

There came a bright blink of light on the surface of the water not far from the jolly-boat---then another and another. The men were surfacing. As they did so, the moon caught the glass of their masks. They swam to the boat---Largo verified that all eight were there---and clumsily heaved up the short ladder and over the side.

The mechanic and Branch, the German killer, helped them off with their gear, the underwater light was switched off and hauled inboard and, instead of the rattle of the generator, there came the muffled roar of the twin Johnstons. The boat sped back to the yacht and to the waiting arms of the derricks. The couplings were made firm and verified and, with a shrill electric whine, the boat, complete with passengers, was swung up and inboard.

The captain came and stood at Largo's side. He was a big, sullen, rawboned man who had been cashiered from the Canadian Navy for drunkenness and insubordination. He had been a slave to Largo ever since Largo had called him to the stateroom one day and broken a chair over his head on account of a questioned command. That was the kind of discipline he understood. Now he said, "The hold's clear. Okay to sail?''

"Are both the teams satisfied?''

"They say so. Not a hitch.''

"First see they all get one full jigger of whisky. Then tell them to rest. They will be going out again in just about an hour. Ask Kotze to have a word with me. Be ready to sail in five minutes.''


The eyes of the physicist, Kotze, were bright under the moon. Largo noticed that he was trembling slightly as if with fever. He tried to instill calm into the man. He said cheerfully, "Well, my friend. Are you pleased with your toys? The toy shop has sent you everything you want?''

Kotze's lips trembled. He was on the verge of excited tears. He said, his voice high, "It is tremendous! You have no idea. Weapons such as I had never dreamed of. And of a simplicity---a safety! Even a child could handle these things without danger.''

"The cradles were big enough for them? You have room to do your work?''

“Yes, yes.'' Kotze almost flapped his hands with enthusiasm. ”There are no problems, none at all. The fuses will be off in no time. It will be a simple matter to replace them with the time mechanism. Maslov is already at work correcting the threads. I am using lead screws. They are more easy to machine.''

"And the two plugs---these ignitors you were telling me about? They are safe? Where did the divers find them?''

"They were in a leaden box under the pilot's seat. I have verified them. Perfectly simple when the time comes. They will of course be kept apart in the hiding place. The rubber bags are splendid. Just what was needed. I have verified that they seal completely watertight.

"No danger from radiation?''

“Not now. Everything is in the leaden cases.'' Kotze shrugged. ”I may have picked up a little while I was working on the monsters but I wore the harness. I will watch for signs. I know what to do.''

"You are a brave man, Kotze. I won't go near the damned things until I have to. I value my sex life too much. So you are satisfied with everything? You have no problems? Nothing has been left on the plane?''

Kotze had got himself under control. He had been bursting with the news, with his relief that the technical problems were within his power. Now he felt empty, tired. He had voided himself of the tensions that had been with him for weeks. After all this planning, all these dangers, supposing his knowledge had not been enough! Supposing the bloody English had invented some new safety device, some secret control, of which he knew nothing! But when the time came, when he unwrapped the protective webbing and got to work with his jeweler's tools, then triumph and gratitude had flooded into him. No, now there were no problems. Everything was all right. Now there was only routine. Kotze said dully, "No. There are no problems. Everything is there. I will go and get the job finished.''

Largo watched the thin figure shamble off along the deck. Scientists were queer fish. They saw nothing but science. Kotze couldn't visualize the risks that still had to be run. For him the turning of a few screws was the end of the job. For the rest of the time he would be a useless supercargo. It would be easier to get rid of him. But that couldn't be done yet. He would have to be kept on just in case the weapons had to be used. But he was a depressing little man and a near hysteric. Largo didn't like such people near him. They lowered his spirits. They smelled of bad luck. Kotze would have to be found some job in the engine room where he would be kept busy and, above all, out of sight.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies