“Ha!” said Mr. Hendriks noncommittally. James Bond moved away from the door. He heard Scaramanga’s passkey in the lock. He looked up and yawned. Scaramanga and Mr. Hendriks looked down at him. Their expressions were vaguely interested and reflective. It was as if he were a bit of steak and they were wondering whether to have it done rare or medium rare.
13 – Hear the Train Blow!
At twelve o’clock they all assembled in the lobby. Scaramanga had added a broad-brimmed white Stetson to his immaculate tropical attire. He looked like the smartest plantation owner in the South. Mr. Hendriks wore his usual stuffy suit, now topped with a grey Homburg. Bond thought that he should have grey suede gloves and an umbrella. The four hoods were wearing calypso shirts outside their slacks. Bond was pleased. If they were carrying guns in their waistbands, the shirts would hinder the draw. Cars were drawn up outside, with Scaramanga’s Thunderbird in the lead. Scaramanga walked up to the desk. Nick Nicholson was standing washing his hands in invisible soap and looking helpful. “All set? Everything loaded on the train? Green Island been told? Okay, then. Where’s that sidekick of yours, that man Travis? Haven’t seen him around today.”
Nick Nicholson looked serious. “He got an abscess ia his tooth, sir. Real bad. Had to send him in to Sav’ La Mar to have it out. He’ll be okay by this afternoon.”
“Too bad. Dock him half a day’s pay. No room for sleepers on this outfit. We’re shorthanded as it is. Should have had his choppers attended to before he took the job on. Okay?”
“Very good, Mr. Scaramanga. I’ll tell him.”
Scaramanga turned to the waiting group. “Okay, fellows, here’s the picture. We drive a mile down the road to the station. We get aboard this little train. Quite an outfit, that. Fellow by the name of Lucius Beebe had it copied for the Thunderbird company from the engine and rolling stock on the little old Denver, South Park and Pacific line. Okay. So we steam along this old cane-field line about twenty miles to Green Island Harbour. Plenty birds, bush rats, crocs in the rivers. Maybe we get a little hunting. Have some fun with the hardware. All you guys got your guns with you? Fine, fine. Champagne lunch at Green Island and the girls and the music’ll be there to keep us happy. After lunch we get aboard the Thunder Bird big Chris-craft, and take a cruise along to Lucea, that’s a little township up the coast, and see if we can catch our dinner. Those that don’t want to fish can play stud. Right? Then back here for drinks. Okay? Everyone satisfied? Any suggestions? Then let’s go.”
Bond was told to get in the back of the car. They set off. Once again that offered neck! Crazy not to take him now! But it was open country with no cover and there were five guns riding behind. The odds simply weren’t good enough. What was the plan for his removal? During the “hunting” presumably. James Bond smiled grimly to himself. He was feeling happy. He wouldn’t have been able to explain the emotion. It was a feeling of being keyed up, wound taut. It was the moment, after twenty passes, when you got a hand you could bet on–not necessarily win, but bet on. He had been after this man for over six weeks. Today, this morning perhaps, was to come the payoff he had been ordered to bring about. It was win or lose. The odds? Foreknowledge was playing for him. He was more heavily forearmed than the enemy knew. But the enemy had the big battalions on their side. There were more of them. And, taking only Scaramanga, perhaps more talent. Weapons? Again leaving out the others, Scaramanga had the advantage. The long-barrelled Colt .45 would be a fraction slower on the draw, but its length of barrel would give it more accuracy than the Walther automatic. Rate of fire? The Walther should have the edge–and the first empty chamber of Scaramanga’s gun, if it hadn’t been discovered, would be an additional bonus. The steady hand? The cool brain? The sharpness of the lust to kill? How did they weigh up? Probably nothing to choose on the first two,. Bond might be a shade trigger-happy–of necessity. That he must watch. He must damp down the fire in his belly. Get ice-cold. In the lust to kill, perhaps he was the strongest. Of course. He was fighting for his life. The other man was just amusing himself–providing sport for his friends, displaying his potency, showing off. That was good! That might be decisive! Bond said to himself that he must increase the other man’s unawareness, his casual certitude, his lack of caution. He must be the P. G. Wodehouse Englishman, the limey of the cartoons. He must play easy to take. The adrenalin coursed into James Bond’s bloodstream. His pulse rate began to run a fraction high. He felt it on his wrist. He breathed deeply and slowly to bring it down. He found that he was sitting forward, tensed. He sat back and tried to relax. All of his body relaxed except his right hand. This was in the control of someone else. Resting on his right thigh, it still twitched slightly from time to time like the paw of a sleeping dog chasing rabbits.
He put it into his coat pocket and watched a turkey buzzard a thousand feet up, circling. He put himself into the mind of the John Crow, watching out for a squashed toad or a dead bush rat. The circling buzzard had found its offal. It came lower and lower. Bond wished it bon appetit. The predator in him wished the scavenger a good meal. He smiled at the comparison between them. They were both following a scent. The main difference was that the John Crow was a protected bird. No one would shoot back at it when it made its final dive. Amused by his thoughts, Bond’s right hand came out of his pocket and lit a cigarette for him, quietly and obediently. It had stopped going off chasing rabbits on its own.
The station was a brilliant mockup from the Colorado narrow-gauge era–a low building in faded clapboard ornamented with gingerbread along its eaves. Its name, Thunderbird Halt, was in old-style ornamental type, heavily seriffed. Advertisements proclaimed
FINE CUT WARRANTED
FINEST VIRGINIA LEAF,
TRAINS STOP FOR ALL MEALS,
NO CHECKS ACCEPTED.
The engine, gleaming in black and yellow varnish and polished brass, was a gem. It stood, panting quietly in the sunshine, a wisp of black smoke curling up from the tall stack behind the big brass headlight. The engine’s name, The Belle, was on a proud brass plate on the gleaming black barrel, and its number, No. 1, on a similar plate below the headlight. There was one carriage, an open affair with padded foam-rubber seats and a surrey roof of daffodil-yellow fringed canvas to keep off the sun, and then the brake van, also in black and yellow, with a resplendent gilt-armed chair behind the conventional wheel of the brake. It was a wonderful toy, even down to the old-fashioned whistle which now gave a sharp admonitory blast.
Scaramanga was in ebullient form. “Hear the train blow, folks! All aboard!” There was an anticlimax. To Bond’s dismay he took out his golden pistol, pointed it at the sky, and pressed the trigger. He hesitated only momentarily and fired again. The deep boom echoed back from the wall of the station, and the stationmaster, resplendent in old-fashioned uniform, looked nervous. He pocketed the big silver turnip watch he had been holding and stood back obsequiously, the green flag now drooping at his side. Scaramanga checked his gun. He looked thoughtfully at Bond and said, “All right, my friend. Now then, you get up front with the driver.”
Bond smiled happily. “Thanks. I’ve always wanted to do that since I was a child. What fun!”
“You said it,” said Scaramanga. He turned to the others. “And you, Mr. Hendriks. In the first seat behind the coal-tender, please. Then Sam and Leroy. Then Hal and Louie. I’ll be up back in the brake van. Good place to watch out for game. Okay?”
Everybody took their seats. The stationmaster had recovered his nerve and went through his ploy with the watch and the flag. The engine gave a triumphant hoot and with a series of diminishing puffs got under way, and they bowled off along the three-foot gauge line that disappeared, as straight as an arrow, into a dancing shimmer of silver.
Bond read the speed gauge. It said twenty. For the first tune he paid attention to the driver. He was a villainous-looking Rastafari in dirty khaki overalls with a sweat rag round his forehead. A cigarette drooped from between the thin moustache and the straggling beard. He smelled quite horrible. Bond said, “My name’s Mark Hazard. What’s yours?”
“Rass, man! Ah doan talk wid buckra.”
The expression “rass” is Jamaican for “shove it.” “Buckra” is a tough colloquialism for “white man.”
Bond said equably, “I thought part of your religion was to love thy neighbour.”
The Rasta gave the whistle lanyard a long pull. When the shriek had died away, he simply said “Sheeit,” kicked the furnace door open, and began shovelling coal.
Bond looked surreptitiously round the cabin. Yes. There it was! The long Jamaican cutlass, this one filed to an inch blade with a deadly point. It was on a rack by the man’s hand. Was this the way he was supposed to go? Bond doubted it. Scaramanga would do the deed in a suitably dramatic fashion and one that could give him an alibi. Second executioner would be Hendriks. Bond looked back over the low coal-tender. Hendriks’ eyes, bland and indifferent, met his. Bond shouted above the iron clang of the engine, “Great fun, what?” Hendriks’ eyes looked away and back again. Bond stooped so that he could see under the surrey roof. All the other four men were sitting motionless, their eyes also fixed on Bond. Bond waved a cheerful hand. There was no response. So they had been told! Bond was a spy in their midst, and this was his last ride. In mobese, he was “going to be hit.” It was an uncomfortable feeling having those ten enemy eyes watching him like ten gun barrels. Bond straightened himself. Now the top half of his body, like the iron “man” in a pistol range, was above the roof of the surrey, and he was looking straight down the flat yellow surface to where Scaramanga sat on his solitary throne, perhaps twenty feet away, with all his body in full view. He also was looking down the little train at Bond–the last mourner in the funeral cortege behind the cadaver that was James Bond. Bond waved a cheery hand and turned back. He opened his coat and got a moment’s reassurance from the cool butt of his gun. He felt in his trouser pocket. Three spare magazines. Ah well! He’d take as many of them as he could with him. He flipped down the codriver’s seat and sat on it. No point in offering a target until he had to. The Rasta flicked his cigarette over the side and lit another. The engine was driving herself. He leant against the cabin wall and looked at nothing.
Bond had done his homework on the 1:50,000 Overseas Survey map that Mary had provided, and he knew exactly the route the little cane line took. First there would be five miles of the cane fields, between whose high green walls they were now travelling. Then came Middle River, followed by the vast expanse of swamplands, now being slowly reclaimed but still shown on the map as THE GREAT MORASS. Then would come Orange River leading into Orange Bay , and then more sugar and mixed forest and agricultural smallholdings until they came to the little hamlet of Green Island at the head of the excellent anchorage of Green Island Harbour .
A hundred yards ahead, a turkey buzzard rose from beside the line, and after a few heavy flaps, caught the inshore breeze and soared up and away. There came the boom of Scaramanga’s gun. A feather drifted down from the great right-hand wing of the big bird. The turkey buzzard swerved and soared higher. A second shot rang out. The bird gave a jerk and began to tumble untidily down out of the sky. It jerked again as a third bullet hit it before it crashed into the cane. There was applause from under the yellow roof. Bond leant out and called to Scaramanga, “That’ll cost you five pounds unless you’ve squared the Rasta. That’s the fine for killing a John Crow.”