James Bond - Seafire Part 10

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"Wouldn't have happened in the old days. At least we weren't run by d.a.m.ned committees. By the time they've stopped arguing with one another, it's usually too late to do anything about anything." He was at the door. "Oh, Fredericka, could you contact M's nurse - Frobisher - and see how the Old Man's getting on?"

"Of course, but how are you going to handle The Committee?"

"In what way?"

"You going to lay the news on them about the n.a.z.i thing? This is for real, James. Every other night, here in Europe, we're warned on television about the far-right wing in Germany. The marches, drumbeats, acts of violence against foreigners: the whole grotesque display of the Neo-n.a.z.i movement."

"The n.a.z.i movement, Flicka. There's nothing neo about those fanatics. As for The Committee, I'll use my own judgment. It's possible that we should keep that piece of information in reserve. They might already know, of course. That could be the break in the Tarn business."

He left with a black cloud hanging over him, and anger too near the surface of his emotions.

At the Home Office only the core members of The Committee were present, plus Bill Tanner. Wimsey had a Chief Superintendent with him, while the Director General of the Security Service was represented by three people, a trio about whom Bond had deep reservations. The first of these was a rake-thin man with lank blond hair whose name, Thickness, was at odds with his appearance. With him were two female officers, Judy Jameson and Jane Smith, both known to have great influence with the Director General. Everyone looked edgy and concerned.

Bond reflected that he had crossed swords with them on relatively minor matters before this. Their presence only suggested a clash of wills over Tarn.

"At last." The Minister sounded more than a shade sarcastic. "The prodigal returns."

"Where in blazes have you been, Bond?" from Thickness.

"Trying to find Tarn, if you really want to know. I'd forgotten that The Committee owned me."

"In many ways we do own you, Bond. Things have changed. As for Tarn, that's the latest break. The man's back in this country. We have proof positive." The Minister signaled to Bill Tanner, who went over to a large-screen television with a built-in VCR and slipped a tape into the machine.

"The soft route, via Dublin, late yesterday afternoon," Jane Smith said by way of introduction. The tone of her voice suggested that Bond should actually have been present.

The screen cleared to show the long corridor up to the baggage-collection area in Terminal One at Heathrow. Some seventy people straggled past the immigration officer and the one man from the Security Service who always manned the desk at the entrance to the baggage carousels.

No chances are taken with flights coming in from Dublin. Normally a bus picks up the pa.s.sengers and brings them straight into the terminal, where they are herded through a one-way door. Like sheep, they are forced to pa.s.s this checkpoint. It is rare for anyone to be stopped. Security cameras double-check the pa.s.sengers, and arrests sometimes take place as they go through customs. In other cases, a "face" - which is Security Service language for a suspected criminal or terrorist - is quietly followed. The system is reckoned to be foolproof, though sometimes it is just proof of fools.

There, large as life and twice as natural, walking calmly into the baggage-collection area, came Max Tarn. In the distance the camera picked up Maurice Goodwin and Connie Spicer, followed by a muscular, fit-looking black girl in jeans, white s.h.i.+rt, and a fas.h.i.+onable vest. Without knowing exactly why, Bond suddenly realized that this was Beth, the girl who had met them in the dark at Hall's Manor - the girl whom Trish had called an a.s.sa.s.sin.

"Thinks he's b.l.o.o.d.y omnipotent." There was a growl in Jane Smith's voice. Bond could only think of Trish Nuzzi's remark about Tarn being a victim of folie de grandeur.

"So we've got them boxed in?" he asked.

There was a slight shuffling of feet and the odd cough.

"Unhappily, our people lost them." Thickness did not even look distressed. "They were picked up again, in London." The Security Service officer seemed to imagine they were all involved in some game.

Wimsey cleared his throat. "My officers, together with members of the Security Service, moved in, but I fear the whole bunch got away again."

"Whereabouts in London?"

"A flat behind Harrods. It's owned by Tarn; nothing but the best for him."

"And have you ID'd the black girl yet?"

"What black girl?" Judy Jameson from Security asked sharply.

He made them rerun the tape and pointed out the girl following Goodwin and Connie Spicer.

"We didn't even make her. Who do you think she is?" from Thickness, who seemed to have lost his casual att.i.tude toward the situation.

"The one called Beth who was at Hall's Manor."

"Ah. Better put her on the list, then."

"Talking of Hall's Manor, not everything's lost. . . ." The Minister tried to sound cheerful. "We have one other piece of interesting information. As you know, Bond, we were running a check on the Manor."

Bond nodded. His gut reaction to all this was not good. Something was badly wrong.

The Minister continued. "It appears that the last remaining member of the Hall family finally relented. The whole estate - a thousand acres and the house - was sold off in January: bought by a firm that calls itself Bulwark Real Estate."

"Don't tell me." Bond leaned back in his chair. "Bulwark is a subsidiary of Tarn International."

"Got it in one." The Minister sounded very pleased.

"So you're all banking on Tarn going up to that ruin?"

"I think it's a natural a.s.sumption."

"You do, sir? The place is falling down. It's also right out in the open. You had no idea that Tarn owned a flat in Knightsbridge, so, for all we know, he could have a dozen bolt holes here in London."

"I think not." Jane Smith sounded smug. "One of Commissioner Wimsey's units came back to us - a little late, I admit - with the information that a car traced to Tarn had been spotted on the M11."

"What exactly do you mean by 'a little late'?"

"It was a borderline speeding case. They took the reg, then recognized it when my people sent out the details," Wimsey bl.u.s.tered. "Called in straightaway."

"So let me rephrase my former question. You all know Tarn is going up to that ruin?"

"Indeed." The Minister spoke in the kind of voice used by schoolmasters who will brook no argument. The Pontius Pilate voice, as Bond called it - "What I have written, I have written."

"Well, I presume you have people surrounding Hall's Manor at the moment?"

"No. We have one man. Security brought him in from the SAS. He's very good, and they got him in and hidden by late last night. If Tarn shows up there, we'll know within seconds."

The Minister smiled benevolently, as though he had already trapped Max Tarn single-handed.

"Why would a man like Tarn risk coming back into the country with half his entourage, sir?" Bond asked quietly, knowing there could be no clear answer. "He came in clean, no attempt at hiding his ident.i.ty. Now, I believe that he's got something going which he reckons will be a boon to society, and he'll risk anything to see it through. I haven't a clue as to what it is. But I do know that politically he's slightly to the right of Adolf Hitler and Genghis Khan. People like that often truly think they're invincible. Only a fool or a zealot would walk into the country so brazenly. The question is, why did he come back?"

"Must be something important." The Minister coughed, then frowned when he realized that he had made an obvious statement.

"And you believe he's at Hall's Manor?"

"What else can I believe? The man can't run far."

"Can't he? I think he can probably run us all off our feet. To come into Heathrow as he did means that he knows the score: knows how we operate with suspects. He came in to lead us on some merry dance, sir. I'd put money on it."

"n.o.body's asking you to put money on it."

"No, but I would. He's here either to get something or deal with unfinished business, and he wants us to know about it. You think you lost him by chance? No, sir. This man's obsessive. He's been arming renegade armies, selling death to terrorists, providing arms and means to countries and organizations who will use the weapons - and not in any good cause, either. He's a world-cla.s.s political loose cannon, sir. He's also a man who rarely takes chances. I repeat, he wanted you to know he was here, so he'll also probably let you know when he's left."

"So you don't think he'll be heading for Hall's Manor?" It was a rhetorical question.

"He could well be going straight there, sir. But I don't think it wise to have only one man waiting for him. . . ."

"That was a conscious decision, Captain Bond. One that wasn't made lightly. We agreed that one trained member of the SAS would be able to give us radio information very quickly and without being detected."

"And you've got a whole troop of SAS people sitting a few miles away so that they can go in and get him?"

"We have armed police and security officers on standby. They can be there in a matter of thirty minutes."

"If that's where he's heading."

"Every policeman in the country, every security officer, every airport and seaport is on the alert for him. He's in, and it's up to us to be sure that he doesn't get out."

"Again, sir, why here? Why take this risk?"

The Minister was about to speak when the telephone purred on the table. He answered and, sounding very irritated, told Bond that it was Flicka wis.h.i.+ng to speak with him. "And I trust that it's business, Bond. Something concerning this case."

"I've no doubt that it's business." He took the instrument and spoke into it quietly. Everyone in the room realized mere was something wrong by the way his back stiffened, and his eyes traversed every face in the room. "Wait there. I'll be back soon, and thank you."

He replaced the handset and looked straight at the Minister as he repeated the address just pa.s.sed on to him by Flicka. It was a flat situated in an area just behind Harrods in Knightsbridge. "Is that where you thought you had him cornered, with his people?"

"Yes. How do you know? n.o.body else but The Committee and a select number of trustworthy police and security officers have that address."

"Because there was a telephone message on my private phone when I got back to my flat, sir. The caller ID gave the number of the place behind Harrods. Fraulein von Grusse has been checking it out for me."

"A telephone call?"

"That's what I just said, sir. I think Tarn's intent on leaving a message at Hall's Manor for us. A very unpleasant message."

"Bond, you're not talking sense."

"I'm talking a lot of sense, sir, and I want The Committee's permission for me to go up to Hall's Manor with Fraulein von Grusse immediately."

"I need to know why. Have to get in touch with our man on the ground there."

Quietly and quickly. Bond explained some of the facts of life - particularly those pertaining to Lady Tarn, and the control Sir Max had over Seville and San Juan in Puerto Rico. "I gather that, eventually, he's going to provide some spectacular event in Puerto Rico, and that's going to be sooner rather than later." He left out the fact that Max Tarn - and presumably many others - regarded himself as the n.a.z.i Messiah. "My fear is that your SAS man could be in serious trouble."

"Why just you and Fraulein von Grusse? Why not send police and SAS in now?"

"You want a pitched battle in which we might be seen to have acted a little prematurely? I need your authority to get up to Hall's Manor, and I need it now."

"I don't think I can. . . ."

"You can, sir. If you don't then you get my resignation from the Two Zeros here and now. I'm privy to quite a lot of information about Tarn. I don't think you can really get him without my help. I'll wait outside until you've made up your minds." He rose and stalked out of the room.

Ten minutes later, Bill Tanner joined him. "They're not very happy." He did not look too jovial himself. "But they've agreed to your request within certain limits."

"Which are?"

"That if they've heard nothing by one in the morning, they'll issue their own orders, one of which will probably be your arrest, for precipitating matters."

Behind Tanner the door opened and a worried-looking Minister stood just inside the room. "It appears that we've already got another problem." His eyes showed uncertainty. "We can't raise the SAS man at the Manor. The line's open, but he's not answering any signals."

"Voice signals?" Bond asked.

"No, we've got a code with a series of clicks, so that Tarn's people can't pick him up on any scanners they might be carrying."

"So we can go?"

"Tanner's told you about the deadline?"

"Yes, sir. That's okay by me. If you don't hear anything from us by one A.M., we'll need you to take over, because we won't be operative if you don't get a report."

They wore black. Black jeans, black rollnecks, black leather gloves, and black sneakers, while their heads were covered with black balaclava helmets. They carried weapons and equipment on broad black belts: Bond with the ASP, a radio that would allow him to signal London, a standard field compa.s.s, and a high-powered flashlight. Flicka with her Beretta and a couple of flash-bang grenades. They had left the maps and other gear in the car, parked in a side road a mite away from Hall's Manor.

Now they approached the old house from the west, through a wood and scrubland, occasionally taking bearings with the compa.s.s. It was in the wood that they found the SAS sergeant's body, and there was no need to switch on the flashlight to know that the man was dead. The black stain running from his neck told of a severed throat.

It made Bond even more apprehensive, for if a man trained to the perfection of this sergeant had been taken by surprise, he and Flicka would be easy game.

They crouched on the edge of the scrub, the ground uneven, the silhouette of the big house stark against the sky. There were no sounds except for predatory night animals. No lights. No sign of life, but they both knew this was no guarantee that Tarn and his crew were not out there, waiting and watching in the dark.

The luminous dial of Bond's watch showed it to be sixteen minutes past midnight. They had, in fact, made incredibly good time, and now he wondered if they should just go charging in, or take it stealthily all the way. The deadline was running out.

"Gently," he whispered to Flicka, and together, crouching low, they moved forward. "Shoot first and then ask the questions," he breathed again as they reached the house. He saw her nod, then put a hand out to touch the stone.

They circled the entire building, pausing close to windows, their eyes fully adjusted to the darkness and the now-slanted moon.

The front door was open, almost as they had left it on their last visit, but they knew others had already been there before them that night; might still be there, silent and un-moving in the shadows. Taking a deep breath, he nodded to Flicka and took a step inside the door into the hall, switching on the flashlight held next to the automatic pistol, firm in his hand. The smell of must and decay hit them like an invisible wall, but mixed with it were other scents: the smell of women's perfume and other luxurious lotions. If the house was truly empty, it had only recently been vacated.

Together they began moving from room to room on the ground floor, sweeping each room and pa.s.sageway as they made slow progress, jumping at shadows, hearing the creaking of the old place, and standing, listening, waiting for another of Tarn's horrors to come leaping out at them.

The ground floor and the belowstairs area were clean, so, at last they began to make a steady progress up the stairs, which gave out loud cracks and little squeals under their feet.

The next floor was also clean, and they both felt the fringes of fear as they began to go on upward, toward the little room in which they had been held prisoner. As they moved along the short pa.s.sage that led to the door, half open, there was a distinct noise from within the room: the sound of something straining, followed by a subtle hint of movement.

Bond raised the flashlight, his finger tightening on the trigger of his pistol as he edged inside the room. Flicka gave a little scream as she saw it, then began to hyperventilate. The light beam traversed the room quickly and then went back to the thing that hung, swinging from a crossbeam in the ceiling, centering on the face.

The bruising was still visible, though in death the face seemed to have swollen into a caricature of itself, the mouth open and tongue half out. He thought immediately that Trish Nuzzi had probably been strangled before they had hoisted her up on the rope, her lovely long black hair falling to her shoulders on either side of the grotesque face. The feet were together, but her arms seemed to be spread away from her body, making her look like a huge terrible doll hung up by some evil child.

Then, from directly behind them, came the husky voice. "A horrible way for her to die, wasn't it?" said Cathy.

James Bond - Seafire Part 10

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James Bond - Seafire Part 10 summary

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