Thunderball Page 7

On the day after James Bond had completed his nature cure and had left for London after, the night before, scoring a most satisfactory left and right of Spaghetti Bolognese and Chianti at Lucien's in Brighton and of Miss Patricia Fearing on the squab seats from her bubble car high up on the Downs, an emergency meeting of the trustees of FIRCO was called for seven o'clock in the evening. The men, for they were all men, came from all over Europe, by train or car or airplane, and they entered No. 136 bis singly or in pairs, some by the front door and some by the back, at intervals during the late afternoon and evening. Each man had his allotted time for arriving at these meetings---so many minutes, up to two hours, before zero hour---and each man alternated between the back and the front door from meeting to meeting. Now there were two “concierges'' for each door and other less obvious security measures---warning systems, closed-circuit television scanning of the two entrances, and complete sets of dummy FIRCO minutes, backed up one hundred per cent by the current business of the FIRCO organization on the ground floor. Thus, if necessary, the deliberations of the ”trustees'' could, in a matter only of seconds, be switched from clandestine to overt---as solidly overt as any meeting of principals in the Boulevard Haussmann could possibly be.

At seven o'clock precisely the twenty men who made up this organization strode, lounged, or sidled, each according to his character, into the workmanlike board room on the third floor. Their chairman was already in his seat. No greetings were exchanged. They were ruled by the chairman to be a waste of breath and, in an organization of this nature, hypocritical. The men filed round the table and took their places at their numbers, the numbers from one to twenty-one that were their only names and that, as a small security precaution, advanced round the rota by two digits at midnight on the first of every month. Nobody smoked---drinking was taboo and smoking frowned upon--- and nobody bothered to glance down at the bogus FIRCO agenda on the table in front of him. They sat very still and looked up the table at the chairman with expressions of the sharpest interest and what, in lesser men, would have been obsequious respect.

Any man seeing No. 2, for that was the chairman's number of the month, even for the first time would have looked at him with some degree of the same feelings, for he was one of those men---one meets perhaps only two or three in a lifetime---who seem almost to suck the eyes out of your head. These rare men are apt to possess three basic attributes---their physical appearance is extraordinary, they have a quality of relaxation, of inner certainty, and they exude a powerful animal magnetism. The herd has always recognized the other-worldliness of these phenomena, and in primitive tribes you will find that any man singled out by nature in this fashion will also have been chosen by the tribe to be their chief. Certain great men of history, perhaps Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, among the politicians, have had these qualities. Perhaps they even explain the hypnotic sway of an altogether more meager individual, the otherwise inexplicable Adolf Hitler, over eighty million of the most gifted nation in Europe. Certainly, No. 2 had these qualities and any man in the street would have recognized them---let alone these twenty chosen men. For them, despite the deep cynicism ingrained in their respective callings, despite their basic insensitivity toward the human race, he was, however reluctantly, their Supreme Commander---almost their god.

This man's name was Ernst Stavro Blofeld and he was born in Gdynia of a Polish father and a Greek mother on May 28th, 1908. After matriculating in economics and political history at the University of Warsaw he studied engineering and radionics at the Warsaw Technical Institute and at the age of twenty-five obtained a modest post in the central administration of the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs. This would seem a curious choice for such a highly gifted youth, but Blofeld had come to an interesting conclusion about the future of the World. He had decided that fast and accurate communication lay, in a contracting world, at the very heart of power. Knowledge of the truth before the next man, in peace or war, lay, he thought, behind every correct decision in history and was the source of all great reputations. He was doing very well on this theory, watching the cables and radiograms that passed through his hands at the Central Post Office and buying or selling on margin on the Warsaw Bourse---only occasionally, when he was absolutely certain, but then very big---when the basic nature of the postal traffic changed. Now Poland was mobilizing for war and a spate of munition orders and diplomatic cables poured through his department. Blofeld changed his tactics. This was valuable stuff, worth nothing to him, but priceless to the enemy. Clumsily at first, and then more expertly, he contrived to take copies of cables, choosing, for the ciphers hid their contents from him, only those prefixed “MOST IMMEDIATE'' or ”MOST SECRET.'' Then, working carefully, he built up in his head a network of fictitious agents. These were real but small people in the various embassies and armament firms to whom most of the traffic was addressed---a junior cipher clerk in the British Embassy, a translator working for the French, private secretaries---real ones---in the big firms. These names were easily obtained from the diplomatic lists, by ringing up a firm and asking Inquiries for the name of the chairman's private secretary. He was speaking for the Red Cross. They wished to discuss the possibility of a donation from the chairman. And so on. When Blofeld had all his names right, he christened his network TARTAR and made a discreet approach to the German Military Attache with one or two specimens of its work. He was rapidly passed on to the representative of AMT IV of the Abwehr, and from then on things were easy. When this pot was bubbling merrily, and the money (he refused to accept payment except in American dollars) coming in (it came in fast; he explained that he had so many agents to pay off), he proceeded to widen his market. He considered the Russians but dismissed them, and the Czechs, as probable non-, or at any rate slow-, payers. Instead he chose the Americans and the Swedes, and money positively showered in on him. He soon realized, for he was a man of almost mimosaic sensibility in matters of security, that the pace could not possibly last. There would be a leak: perhaps between the Swedish and German secret services, who he knew (for through his contacts with their spies he was picking up the gossip of his new trade) were working closely together in some territories; or through Allied counter-espionage or their cryptographic services; or else one of his notional agents would die or be transferred without his knowledge while he continued to use the name as a source. Anyway, by now he had $200,000 and there was the added spur that the war was getting too close for comfort. It was time for him to be off into the wide world---into one of the safe bits of it. Blofeld carried out his withdrawal expertly. First he slowly petered off the service. Security, he explained, was being tightened up by the English and the French. Perhaps there had been a leak---he looked with mild reproof into the eyes of his contact---this secretary had had a change of heart, that one was asking too much money. Then he went to his friend on the Bourse and, after sealing his lips with a thousand dollars, had all his funds invested in Shell Bearer Bonds in Amsterdam and thence transferred to a Numbered Safe Deposit box with the Diskonto Bank in Zurich. Before the final step of telling his contacts that he was brulé and that the Polish Deuxième Bureau was sniffing at his heels, he paid a visit to Gdynia, called on the registrar and on the church where he had been baptized and, on the pretext of looking up details of an invented friend, neatly cut out the page recording his own name and birth. It remained only to locate the passport factory that operates in every big seaport and purchase a Canadian seaman's passport for $2,000. Then he was off to Sweden by the next boat. After a pause in Stockholm for a careful look round the world and some cool thinking about the probable course of the war, he flew to Turkey on his original Polish passport, transferred his money from Switzerland to the Ottoman Bank in Istanbul, and waited for Poland to fall. When, in due course, this happened, he claimed refuge in Turkey and spent a little money among the right officials in order to get his claim established. Then he settled down. Ankara Radio was glad to have his expert services and he set up RAHIR, another espionage service built on the lines of TARTAR, but rather more solidly. Blofeld wisely waited to ascertain the victor before selling his wares, and it was only when Rommel had been kicked out of Africa that he plumped for the Allies. He finished the war in a blaze of glory and prosperity and with decorations or citations from the British, Americans, and French. Then, with half a million dollars in Swiss banks and a Swedish passport in the name of Serge Angstrom, he slipped off to South America for a rest, some good food, and a fresh think.

And now Ernst Blofeld, the name to which he had decided it was perfectly safe to return, sat in the quiet room in the Boulevard Hauss-mann, gazed slowly round the faces of his twenty men, and looked for eyes that didn't squarely meet his. Blofeld's own eyes were deep black pools surrounded---totally surrounded, as Mussolini's were---by very clear whites. The doll-like effect of this unusual symmetry was enhanced by long silken black eyelashes that should have belonged to a woman. The gaze of these soft doll's eyes was totally relaxed and rarely held any expression stronger than a mild curiosity in the object of their focus. They conveyed a restful certitude in their owner and in their analysis of what they observed. To the innocent they exuded confidence, a wonderful cocoon of confidence in which the observed one could rest and relax, knowing that he was in comfortable, reliable hands. But they stripped the guilty or the false and made him feel transparent---as transparent as a fishbowl through whose sides Blofeld examined, with only the most casual curiosity, the few solid fish, the grains of truth, suspended in the void of deceit or attempted obscurity. Blofeld's gaze was a microscope, the window on the world of a superbly clear brain, with a focus that had been sharpened by thirty years of danger, and of keeping just one step ahead of it, and of an inner self-assurance built up on a lifetime of success in whatever he hadattempted.

The skin beneath the eyes that now slowly, mildly, surveyed his colleagues was unpouched. There was no sign of debauchery, illness, or old age on the large, white, bland face under the square, wiry black crew-cut. The jaw line, going to the appropriate middle-aged fat of authority, showed decision and independence. Only the mouth, under a heavy, squat nose, marred what might have been the face of a philosopher or a scientist. Proud and thin, like a badly healed wound, the compressed, dark lips, capable only of false, ugly smiles, suggested contempt, tyranny, and cruelty---but to an almost Shakespearian degree. Nothing about Blofeld was small.

Blofeld's body weighed about two hundred and eighty pounds. It had once been all muscle---he had been an amateur weight-lifter in his youth---but in the past ten years it had softened and he had a vast belly that he concealed behind roomy trousers and well-cut double-breasted suits, tailored, that evening, out of beige doeskin. Blofeld's hands and feet were long and pointed. They were quick-moving when they wanted to be, but normally, as now, they were still and reposed. For the rest, he didn't smoke or drink and he had never been known to sleep with a member of either sex. He didn't even eat very much. So far as vices or physical weaknesses were concerned, Blofeld had always been an enigma to everyone who had known him.

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