Thunderball Page 19

Bond had interrupted at this point. "Might I ask if the radar screen is manned round the clock? My impression is that the airport is very busy during the day, but that there is very little traffic at night. Would it be possible that the radar is not so closely watched at night?''

The Commissioner of Police, a pleasant, very military-looking man in his forties, the silver buttons and insignia on whose dark blue uniform glittered as they can only when spit and polish is a main activity and there are plenty of batmen around, said judiciously, "I think the Commander has a point there, sir. The airport commandant admits that things do slacken off a bit when there's nothing scheduled. He hasn't got all that amount of staff and of course most of them are locals, sir. Good men, but hardly up to London Airport standards. And the radar at the met. station is only a G.C.A. set with a low horizon and range---mostly used for shipping.''

“Quite, quite.'' The Deputy Governor didn't want to be dragged into a discussion about radar sets or the merits of Nassavian labor. ”There's certainly a point there. No doubt Commander Bond will be making his own inquiries. Now there was a request from the Secretary of State''---the title rolled sonorously forth---"for details and comments on recent arrivals in the island, suspicious characters, and so forth. Mr. Pitman?''

The Chief of Immigration and Customs was a sleek Nassavian with quick brown eyes and an ingratiating manner. He smiled pleasantly. Nothing out of the ordinary, sir. The usual mixture of tourists and businessmen and local people coming home. We were asked to have details for the past two weeks, sir.'' He touched the brief case on his lap. “I have all the immigration forms here, sir. Perhaps Commander Bond would care to go through them with me.'' The brown eyes flicked toward Bond and away. ”All the big hotels have house detectives. I could probably get him further details on any particular name. All Passports were checked in the normal manner. There were no irregularities and none of these people was on our Wanted List.''

Bond said, "Might I ask a question?''

The Deputy Governor nodded enthusiastically. "Of course. Of course. Anything you like. We're all here to help.''

"I'm looking for a group of men. Probably ten or more. They probably stick together a good deal. Might be as many as twenty or thirty. I guess they would be Europeans. They probably have a ship or a plane. They may have been here for months or only a few days. I gather you have plenty of conventions coming to Nassau---salesmen, tourist associations, religious groups, heaven knows what all. Apparently they take a block of rooms in some hotel and hold meetings and so forth for a week or so. Is there anything like that going on at the moment?''

"Mr. Pitman?''

“Well, of course we do have plenty of those sort of gatherings. Very welcome to the Tourist Board.'' The Chief of Immigration smiled conspiratorially at Bond as if he had just given away a closely guarded secret. ”But in the last two weeks we've only had a Moral Rearmament Group at the Emerald Wave and the Tiptop Biscuit people at the Royal Bahamian. They've gone now. Quite the usual convention pattern. All very respectable.''

"That's just it, Mr. Pitman. The people I'm looking for, the people who may have arranged to steal this plane, will certainly take pains to look respectable and behave in a respectable fashion. We're not looking for a bunch of flashy crooks. We think these must be very big people indeed. Now, is there anything like that on the island, a group of people like that?''

“Well''---the Chief of Immigration smiled broadly---”of course we've got our annual treasure hunt going on.''

The Deputy Governor barked a quick, deprecating laugh. "Now, steady on, Mr. Pitman. Surely we don't want them to get mixed up in all this, or heaven knows where we shall end. I can't believe Commander Bond wants to bother his head over a lot of rich beachcombers.''

The Commissioner of Police said doubtfully, "The only thing is, sir---they do have a yacht, and a small plane for the matter of that. And I did hear that a lot of shareholders in the swindle had come in lately. Those points do tally with what the Commander was asking about. I admit it's ridiculous, but this man Largo's respectable enough for Commander Bond's requirements and his men have never once given us trouble. Unusual to have not even one case of drunkenness in a ship's crew in nearly six months.''

And Bond had leaped at the flimsy thread and had pursued it for another two hours--- in the Customs building and in the Commissioner's office--- and, as a result, he had gone walking in the town to see if he could get a look at Largo or any of his party or pick up any other shreds of gossip. As a result he had got a good look at Domino Vitali.

And now?

The taxi had arrived at the airport. Bond told the driver to wait and walked into the long low entrance hall just as the arrival of Larkin's flight was being announced over the Tannoy. He knew there would be the usual delay for customs and immigration. He went to the souvenir shop and bought a copy of the New York Times . In its usual discreet headlines it was still leading with the loss of the Vindicator. Perhaps it knew also about the loss of the atom bombs, because Arthur Krock, on the editorial page, had a heavyweight column about the security aspects of the NATO alliance. Bond was halfway through this when a quiet voice in his ear said, "007? Meet No. 000.''

Bond swung round. It was! It was Felix Leiter!

Leiter, his C.I.A. companion on some of the most thrilling cases in Bond's career, grinned and thrust the steel hook that was his right hand under Bond's arm. "Take it easy, friend. Dick Tracy will tell all when we get out of here. Bags are out front. Let's go.''

Bond said, "Well God damn it! You old so-and-so! Did you know it was going to be me?''

"Sure. C.I.A. knows all.''

At the entrance Leiter had his luggage, which was considerable, put aboard Bond's taxi, and told the driver to take it to the Royal Bahamian. A man standing beside an undistinguished-looking black Ford Consul sedan left the car and came up. "Mr. Larkin? I'm from the Hertz company. This is the car you ordered. We hope she's what you want. You did specify something conventional.''

Leiter glanced casually at the car. "Looks all right. I just want a car that'll go. None of those ritzy jobs with only room for a small blonde with a sponge bag. I'm here to do property work--- not jazz it up.

"May I see your New York license, sir? Right. Then if you'll just sign here . . . and I'll make a note of the number of your Diner's Club card. When you go, leave the car anywhere you like and just notify us. We'll collect it. Have a good holiday, sir.''

They got into the car. Bond took the wheel. Leiter said that he'd have to practice a bit on what he called "this Limey southpaw routine'' of driving on the left, and anyway he'd be interested to see if Bond had improved his cornering since their last drive together.

When they were out of the airport Bond said, "Now go ahead and tell. Last time we met you were with Pinkertons. What's the score?''

"Drafted. Just damned well drafted. Hell, anyone would think there was a war on. You see, James, once you've worked for C.I.A., you're automatically put on the reserve of officers when you leave. Unless you've been cashiered for not eating the code book under fire or something. And apparently my old Chief, Alien Dulles that is, just didn't have the men to go round when the President sounded the fire alarm. So I and twenty or so other guys were just pulled in---drop everything, twenty-four hours to report. Hell! I thought the Russians had landed! And then they tell me the score and to pack my bathing trunks and my spade and bucket and come on down to Nassau. So of course I griped like hell. Asked them if I shouldn't brush up on my Canasta game and take some quick lessons in the cha-cha. So then they unbuttoned and told me I was to team up with you down here and I thought maybe if that old bastard of yours, N or M or whatever you call him, had sent you down here with your old equalizer, there might be something cooking in the pot after all. So I picked up the gear you'd asked for from Admin., packed the bow and arrows instead of the spade and bucket, and here I am. And that's that. Now you tell, you old sonofabitch. Hell, it's good to see you.''

Bond took Leiter through the whole story, point by point from the moment he had been summoned to M's office the morning before. When he came to the shooting outside his headquarters, Leiter stopped him.

"Now what do you make of that, James? In my book that's a pretty funny coincidence. Have you been fooling around with anybody's wife lately? Sounds more like around the Loop in Chicago than a mile or so from Piccadilly.''

Bond said seriously, “It makes no sense to me, and none to anyone else. The only man who might have had it in for me, recently that is, is a crazy bastard I met down at a sort of clinic place I had to go to on some blasted medical grounds.'' Bond, to Leiter's keen pleasure, rather sheepishly gave details of his ”cure'' at Shrublands. “I bowled this man out as a member of a Chinese Tong, one of their secret societies, the Red Lightning Tong. He must have heard me getting the gen on his outfit from Records---on an open line from a call box in the place. Next thing, he damned near managed to murder me. Just for a lark, and to get even, I did my best to roast him alive.'' Bond gave the details. ”Nice quiet place, Shrublands. You'd be surprised how carrot juice seems to affect people.'' "Where was this lunatic asylum?''

"Place called Washington. Modest little place compared with yours. Not far from Brighton.''

“And the letter was posted from Brighton.'' ”That's the hell of a long shot.''

"I'll try another. One of the points our chaps brought up was that if a plane was to be stolen at night and landed at night, a full moon would be the hell of an aid to the job. But the plane was taken five days after the full. Just supposing your roast chicken was the letter-sender. And supposing the roasting forced him to delay sending the letter while he recovered. His employers would be pretty angry. Yes?''

"I suppose so.''

"And supposing they gave orders for him to be rubbed for inefficiency. And supposing the killer got to him just as he got to you to settle his private account. From what you tell me he wouldn't have lain down under what you did to him. Well, now. Just supposing all that. It adds up, doesn't it?''

Bond laughed, partly in admiration. "You've been taking mescalin or something. It's a damned good sequence for a comic strip, but these things don't happen in real life.''

"Planes with atom bombs don't get stolen in real life. Except that they do. You're slowing down, James. How many people would believe the files on some of the cases you and I have got mixed up in? Don't give me that crap about real life. There ain't no such animal.''

Bond said seriously, "Well, look here, Felix. Tell you what I'll do. There's just enough sense in your story, so I'll put it on the machine to M tonight and see if the Yard can get anywhere with it. They could check with the clinic and the hospital in Brighton, if that's where he was taken, and they may be able to get on from there. Trouble is, wherever they get, there's nothing left of the man but his shoes, and I doubt if they'll catch up with the man on the motorbike. It looked a real pro job to me.''

"Why not? These highjackers sound like pros. It's a pro plan. It all fits all right. You go ahead and put it on the wire and don't be ashamed of saying it was my idea. My medal collection has got to looking a bit thin since I left the outfit.''

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