James Bond - Seafire Part 20

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She clung to him as though saying goodbye for the last time. "Be careful, darling James. I want you around for the wedding, remember?"

"I'll be there, with a smile on my face and everything intact."

"I'm not so worried about the smile. Just make sure everything's in working order. I'd hate you to be enc.u.mbered with prosthetic body parts like Felix."

Minutes later he retrieved the car from El Convento's parking place and was heading out of San Juan, taking the most direct road across the island to Ponce.

Flicka pulled herself together once he had left the hotel. She even cursed herself. During the years she had spent with Swiss Intelligence and security services she had been known for her cool and decisive courage. Now that Bond was in her life she seemed to have lost some of that calm reserve, and she was not overjoyed by the lapse. She presumed that it had something to do with her body chemistry, for Fredericka von Grusse had to admit she had never, in her entire life, loved a man with this kind of intensity.

Well, she thought as she began to undress, he really only has until nine in the morning. Then I'll make such a fuss that London and the Americans will have to send an entire battle group if necessary.

She went into the bathroom, pulled a shower cap over her hair, and surrendered to the soothing warm water. When she eventually turned off the shower, she reached from behind the curtain and grabbed a towel before stepping out.

She screamed when she saw them, Maurice Goodwin and the black girl called Beth. They stood just inside the bathroom door, and Beth held the Beretta that Flicka had left with her clothes on the bed.

"Honey, you're all alone here. Thought we'd keep you company." Beth was eyeing her unpleasantly. "It's okay," she continued. "Maurice has to go out, but I can keep you company until your friend comes back."

Flicka took in a lungful of air. "He isn't coming back." She kept her voice level.

"A likely tale. If I was a man, there's no way I'd leave a sweet piece like you on your own."

"Please yourself. But he's not coming back and there's an end to it."

"So where's he gone?" Goodwin eyed her lecherously. "I need to know, Fraulein von Grusse, and I need to know fast. Beth here is clever at inflicting pain. She's made a kind of art form of it. So tell me now. Where's he gone?"

"Off the island. If you want to know, we've had what you might call a falling-out. He stormed out of the hotel and said he wouldn't be back."

"You tellin' the truth, honey?" Beth came toward her. Close up she was a little older than Flicka had thought. Late thirties. Her fingers were heavy with rings and her eyes looked red and sore, like someone with conjunctivitis, but they did not stop moving, flicking from side to side as though she had the extraordinary vision of a chameleon.

"You tellin' the truth, honey?" she repeated, and before Flicka had a chance to reply, Beth's right hand whipped back and slapped her full and hard on the cheek, the heavy rings sc.r.a.ping at her flesh and knocking her head sideways.

She fell against the wall, steadied herself, and tried not to show how much the blow had hurt her. "Talk to me, b.i.t.c.h." Beth's voice had a slightly slurred note, and it crossed Flicka's mind that the woman was on some kind of drug.

"I've told you -" Her words were cut off by another stinging, pain-drenched slap. This time harder, and followed by an even heavier backhander to her other cheek.

Taken by surprise, and stark naked from the shower, there was little she could do, but she had to fight back. Turning her body to present a smaller target, she launched herself toward the woman, one hand chopping at her a.s.sailant's neck. It was like hitting a solid punching bag and only seemed to enrage Beth even more, for out of nowhere a ringed hand caught her hard with two heavy blows to the b.r.e.a.s.t.s.

"Talk to me, b.i.t.c.h. Where's he gone?"

"I don't . . . Truly, I don't know."

"The truth, honey. The truth shall set you free, that's what's in the Good Book. Now, set yourself free." The hand rose again, and this time Flicka could hardly see from the pain that saturated her face. The backhander that followed almost made her black out, but she could still hear the voice, intimidating and relentless. "The truth, honey, just tell me the truth, then we can all have some real fun."

She heard her own voice from what seemed to be a long way off. "I've told you the truth. I don't -"

The pain again. Now it was as if she were living in her own private world of agony, though the voice of her conscience repeated to her again and again: Don't tell them anything. Keep James safe.

She felt for the corner of the wall with her feet and tried to push herself toward Beth, hands bunched into fists, striking out for the woman's throat. Before her hands got anywhere near their target, another blow sent her sprawling back onto the floor.

"Talk to me, b.i.t.c.h."

"I really don't know. Stop. I don't . . ."

She prayed for the darkness of unconsciousness or even death, and knew that at least one of her cheekbones was almost certainly broken. The hands of this black horror, reinforced by the heavy rings, were like pieces of steel. The hurt filling her life.

Again: "The truth shall set you free, honey. Where's he gone?"

Then one more time, to the left cheek and then the right. She felt blood wet on her cheek and running down her nose, while Beth's voice sounded distorted. "Tell me the truth, b.i.t.c.h." Crack. A whole avalanche of torment. A numbness as she cannoned off the wall, and voices coming from miles away, from the end of a long dark tunnel.

"You've done it again, Beth. She's out."

Flicka could hardly make out the words.

"Then I guess she tellin' the truth. You've seen this before, Mo -"

"Don't call me Mo. The name's Maurice."

"She don't know where he is, that's for sure."

"Then we'd better get her out of here. Take her to Max's place. You can work on her quietly there, just in case you're wrong."

"I'm seldom wrong, baby. You know that. She tellin' the truth, so why don' I just set her free here and now?"

"No. Let's get her across the island. You've got the white coats in the car. Let's do it. Let's . . ."

The voices faded as Flicka slipped deeper into the comfort of oblivion. She could feel nothing, nor could she understand anything.

Bond drove fast, but with great concentration. His conscience was already p.r.i.c.king him, because of course he knew Flicka had been right. They should have called in. Pa.s.sed the whole business over to their superiors and got out, knowing that Tarn and his mad, obsessive plan would come to nothing with the deployment of the right forces.

Yet a part of him wanted to see it through. Was it a question of glory? A reluctance to give up the life of danger for a desk and the boredom of a.s.signing other people to this kind of work?

Then he switched his mind away from those questions. He glanced at the dashboard digital clock. Ten P.M.; he had eleven hours, and if n.o.body was guarding the submarine he could set his little jewels. For a couple of seconds he wondered what intuition had made him ask Ann Reilly for these particular items. Each consisted of two pounds of plastique explosive, a recently developed substance with three times the effect of Semtex. Two pounds of this stuff would do a lot of damage, especially if it were placed in the right spots. The heat it generated, for one thing, had the power of a thermal lance and it could blow through steel as though it were b.u.t.ter.

Pushed into the two-pound blocks of plastique was a fuse with the latest in electronic timing devices. Small, with tiny powerful batteries, the fuse could be set like the mechanism on a miniature alarm clock. The dial on each was no bigger than an American 25-cent piece, and could be activated, using a tiny screwdriver, over a twenty-four-hour period. Now, he had plans for these deadly devices, and once they were set, the military would not have to waste time trying to find the submarine. All he could do was hope and pray that the sub had been left unguarded that night.

He turned his thoughts to Q'ute's ingenuity. Not only had she got the explosive devices to him, but her note had been very specific concerning the other item - large and c.u.mbersome. It would have to be somewhere out in the open, and just where he needed it. She had been very definite about that, and considering the lack of hiding places and the number of people who - during the day - would be pa.s.sing near anywhere in San Juan, the task of dumping it for him really would have to be left until the last moment. How would Q'ute know when the last moment had arrived? He had missed something all the way, and now logic told him one new significant truth. The drop-off for this equipment led to the indisputable fact that there were other active Service people on the island, ready to move in should he need them.

What was it Q'ute had written? Some of our friends will see to it that you get the thing if you really need it.

With a sudden feeling of elation, he knew what this meant, and felt a fool for not envisaging it until now. Only one kind of operative was up to hiding and waiting for the right moment to leave the piece of equipment he had in mind. He cursed himself. Of course; and of course they should have called London. He would put money on there being members of both the SAS and the American elite Delta Force waiting it out, watching him, ready to move in as soon as they received signals. Flicka was right, he told himself. They could have left it to London and Was.h.i.+ngton. Everything was already in place, and if the elite forces had done their job properly, they would know by now that something was about to go down.

It flashed through his mind that perhaps he should drive into Ponce and make a call from some public telephone booth, but he stubbornly dismissed the idea. He would try to set the explosives, get away, and call Flicka to put things in motion.

He turned off at Ponce, taking the road along the coast, eventually finding the narrow trail that led to the clump of trees from which they had observed the Tarn mansion.

Before leaving the car, he pulled on the wet suit and snapped the belt into place, checking the equipment in the pouches and clips. He then walked up into the trees and looked down on the Tarn compound. There was no sign of life below, save for one lighted window. The submarine crew were either sleeping until dawn or already down in the cave, readying the boat for sea.

Finally, he turned to set off back down the track and narrow road up which he had come. He paused on reaching the main road, his eyes fully adjusted to the night blackness. There was no sign of life, and no noise coming up from the rock face across the road but for the sound of the sea. He ran, crouching low, toward the warning notice and began to descend the steps, his ears hearing only the hush and crush of the surf. No voices, and still no human sounds as he reached the bottom of the steps.

As on the previous day, he inched along the rocks toward the netting that covered the entrance to the cave. Silence, and no lights from within the makes.h.i.+ft submarine pen. He lifted the edge of the netting and stepped inside, standing perfectly still, all his senses attuned like radar to pick up any hint of another human being.

Nothing.

Smiling to himself, he unclipped the flashlight and switched it on, allowing the beam to play along the whale-like metal structure as he moved forward. His first suspicion was that this was no Victor-cla.s.s Russian sub, as he had been led to believe. Its size and shape suggested something much older. Even a World War II German U-boat. As he got closer and was able to reveal more of the submarine in the light from the flashlight, the more certain he became of what this really was: a Type VII C U-boat.

He crossed the small makes.h.i.+ft gangway and climbed up the ladder to the top of the sail, realizing that when this boat first entered the water, it was not called the sail but the conning tower - the Kommandoturm. The hatch was up, and he played the beam of his light down into the bowels of the boat. Silence. Nothing there but the narrow s.p.a.ce of the tube that ran straight down into the control room. The interior smelted of a mixture of oil, polish, and human bodies. The crew of this boat had been working down here until quite recently. They would be back, at the latest, for a dawn departure, but he did not allow this to worry him. If he were to do the job properly, he had to take his time and make certain of the layout of the submarine.

He stayed for some time in the control room, looking at the periscope, the steering and dive controls, and the dials that went with them. Part of the mystery was now explained. All the controls and instruments were labeled with neat stick-on metal tags, stating their use in English, though these same essentials had been originally marked up in German. The German had been either partly sc.r.a.ped off or covered with notices in Russian, even inside the dials relating to pressure and depth. The gla.s.s fronts had been removed so that Russian labels could be stuck on to the clocklike instruments before the gla.s.s was replaced.

It was a former German U-boat, probably captured by the Russians and converted for their own use until they began building their giant nuclear, missile-carrying fleet.

Bond moved aft, along the narrow catwalks and corridors, wondering what it must have been like to serve in these extraordinarily cramped conditions for months at a time. He spotted several improvements that he presumed had been made by the Russians, including more-modern escape equipment - a state-of-the-art escape trunk, with a hatch hidden from the companionway below. He pulled himself up into the boxlike hatch and saw that a number of the latest Steinke hoods were lined up in a container that ran around three sides of the hatch. Above was the cylinder of the escape trunk, with its wheels to open and close the trunk.

Easing himself down onto the companionway, he traversed right to the stern of the boat, then back, moving forward through the control room again, and so for'ard toward the bows. He brushed the small curtained-off sections that served as crew and officer mess decks, and on toward the torpedo tubes in the bow, noting as he went that the Russians - or its present owner - had provided an escape trunk almost identical to the one aft.

There were red tags wired to the wheels of the torpedo tubes with the words "Tube Full. Loaded" scrawled on them. Behind, to both port and starboard, were the racks that would normally hold other torpedoes. They were empty, and he remembered Tarn aboard Mare Nostrum saying they had only two torpedoes with which to do the job.

Bond began to take out the deadly little jewels of plastique from the pouches on his belt. He placed them in a neat row and removed the small screwdriver with which he would arm the fuses. Holding his flashlight under his chin, he picked up each device in turn and worked with the screwdriver until all five fuses were set for nineteen-fifty - ten minutes to eight on the following evening. He left the final arming, the moving of a small b.u.t.ton in the center of each dial, until last, then moved to the port torpedo tube, spinning the wheel that allowed the breech door to swing back.

Years ago he had spent some time being spirited onto the sh.o.r.e of another country in an old British submarine, and recalled the hours spent waiting. Some of that time had been pa.s.sed with an old submariner who had showed him the comparatively simple mechanism they had used on these World War II boats. In memory, the German U-boat was not much different. A lever on one side of the tube lifted a curved metal stretcher on which the torpedo could be slid into, or out of, the tube. The mechanism here was very similar, and had been well oiled and maintained. The long and deadly fish came sliding back on the stretcher until the tube was empty.

Carefully, he took the first of the plastique devices and unwrapped the actual explosive, which he molded, like a big lump of plasticine, as far forward as he could on the top side of the torpedo. The second bomb he stuck firmly around the center of the weapon; then he reversed the steps with the levers and stretcher, feeling an enormous pleasure as the torpedo went back into its tube and he turned the wheel, which would make the whole thing watertight.

Then he went through the whole business again on the starboard side. In all, the process took him the best part of two hours, and there was one plastique bomb left. He had kept this for another vulnerable spot, and began to make his way aft again, knowing that at ten minutes to eight on the following evening the plastique would explode, probably also igniting the two torpedoes. This alone, almost certainly, would blow off the entire bow section of the boat.

He reached the far end of the sub and searched for the main pipe, which carried diesel fuel to the engines when the boat was on the surface. While submerged the craft ran wholly on the huge batteries, which had to be recharged by running on the surface under me diesel. But submerged or not, there was always fuel in the pipeline, and he molded the last bomb around the pipe so that it was completely hidden from view - high up and out of sight among the other pipes and cables that traversed almost the entire length of the boat. When the time came, the bow would be blown away and, with any luck, a secondary explosion would ignite the diesel fuel and rip through the rest of the old craft.

Bond sighed with some relief as he finished the job, and making certain he had left no traces of his visit, he began to move forward. He had gone halfway toward the control room when he stopped, stock-still, listening. There was a clanking sound from above him and then the unmistakable noise of men climbing the ladder up the outside of the conning tower. He heard the first one come down inside the control room and a broad Scottish accent shouting, "Wall, there'll be nay turnin' back now, lads, so let's be having you down here."

He was trapped inside the old U-boat.

23 - Between the Devil and the Deep

For a second he seemed to be frozen to the deck below his feet. He was so close to the control room that he could smell the men coming down through the tower. Then he moved, softly backing up until he stood just under the aft escape trunk. As the voices became louder, he swung himself up into the hatch close to the trunk, pressing his body into the small s.p.a.ce that would hide him from the men moving about below.

Something crackled from just beneath him and the Scottish voice came clear through the PA system. "D'ye hear there! D'ye hear there! All hands close up for leaving harbor. All watertight doors closed." The captain, he knew from the mode of address, must be a former member of the Royal Navy. His blood boiled with anger at the thought of an officer of his own former service being in charge of Tarn's submarine, bent on causing death, destruction, and a possible ecological disaster the like of which the world had never yet seen. Bond was truly between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.

He was crammed into a fetal position within the hatch and moved an arm to get a glimpse of his wrist.w.a.tch. It was almost two-thirty in the morning. Had he really been that long in setting the plastique explosives? Well, he certainly had not hurried. Now the thought of being confined to this tiny s.p.a.ce for at the least seventeen hours was distinctly unappealing. Why were they leaving at this time, in the dead of night? He brushed the question aside, for the answer was obvious.

The submarine would have to work its way quietly around the island from the Caribbean to the Atlantic side, then maneuver itself into position in order to catch Golden Bough as she came past the promontory on which El Morro stood, and cripple the supertanker just within the harbor basin. They dared not allow the submarine to be seen from the mainland cruising quietly along the coast, which meant that as soon as the sun began to rise it would be necessary to dive and continue on the journey submerged.

What about radar detection? It was unlikely, unless the search was still active for a submarine, that the signature of this relatively small boat would show as anything more than a small blip, which could be read as a school of large fish.

Someone hurried past, below him, feet thumping on the deck, and for a second his hand moved toward the pistol on his belt in case the crew member was there to check the tube of the escape trunk above him to make certain the locking wheel was tight and closed up.

The footsteps pa.s.sed directly below him, bent on some job aft. He relaxed again as he felt a quivering in the metal around and below him. The diesel engines were running, and he caught a faint whiff of air being drawn into the hull. Then: "D'ye hear there! D'ye hear there! Engines slow ahead. Cast off for'ard. Cast off aft."

Then he heard another voice, and his stomach turned over. "This is good. Very exciting," the voice said in slow and careful German. Kurt Rollen, the r.e.t.a.r.ded partner of Saal, Saal u. Rollen, was aboard.

He flinched, as the voice seemed to come from very close to him and he heard the thud of feet above him: presumably the two crew members up on the rounded exterior, releasing the boat from its restraining lines.

Seconds later there was movement. A wallowing motion as the submarine edged slowly forward out into the sea, and the distinct tremor that pa.s.sed through the metal hull, so that the entire boat seemed alive.

Again the voice of the captain. "D'ye hear there! D'ye hear there, all hands at dive stations, close up main hatch."

He thought he could hear the scramble of the two men who had been topside as they came down into the control room, and the squeal of the wheel lock that would seal everyone within the metal coffin, for it would be the final casket for the entire crew when the clock ticked around to seven-fifty that night.

Above him was his own means of escape, the trunk. He had no worries on that score, for only a few years ago he had been through the usual refresher courses that M had made him take regularly. Those courses brushed up his seamans.h.i.+p, allowed him to put a few more hours in his pilot's log and examine the most modern weapons and procedures - including submerged escape. As long as the submarine stayed within about one hundred and twenty meters - roughly four hundred feet - of the surface he would have no problem getting out. If she went deep, there would be severe difficulties.

To operate the escape trunk he would first have to put on the Steinke Hood, which goes over the head and is attached firmly around the upper part of the body. The top section is similar to the breathing apparatus worn by firemen to guard against smoke inhalation, while the lower part acts as a life jacket. This combination allows a crew member to leave the submarine by climbing up onto the trunk, securing the watertight hatch below and then flooding the entire cylinder apart from a small air s.p.a.ce. The escapee then charges the breathing apparatus from an air port set beside the s.p.a.ce. After the upper part of the hood is charged, the hatch above opens and the crew member is drawn up into the water, climbing rapidly to the surface. Flooding the trunk and making a successful escape takes only a minute. Any longer and there is a risk of being attacked by "the bends" - small bubbles of nitrogen gas can form in the blood, causing excruciating pain and the inability to operate properly as you shoot up to the surface.

The real danger comes only if this method is used at a depth lower than four hundred feet, as the pressure at these depths can be deadly.

He tried to think his escape through. Flicka had been serious about pa.s.sing on the information if he did not get back by nine in the morning, and he had no doubts that she would do exactly that. Would it be feasible to operate the trunk at around ten in the morning? At first he considered this as a definite possibility, even though the crew of the submarine would be immediately alerted to the fact that someone had used the escape trunk. Yet, after more thought, he concluded that this was not the best option.

They were bound to be several nautical miles from sh.o.r.e, and he might have great difficulty swimming that kind of distance, particularly as the captain - and Tarn's lieutenant, Maurice Goodwin - could well order an experienced diver to the surface to hunt him down in the sea.

No, there was only one course of action that he could take: sit tight, endure the discomfort of the cramped hatch, and make his escape at around seven forty-five, as the U-boat was preparing to maneuver itself into position for the torpedo attack on Golden Bough. It would be a long haul with plenty of risks, which he factored into the situation.

It was still quite possible that his presence would be detected by a crew member. If that happened, he would at least have some warning. There would be time to disable the man, kill him if necessary, then climb into the trunk and make his egress no matter where they happened to be.

Leaving things to the last moment was equally dangerous. Once Flicka had alerted London and Was.h.i.+ngton, there was no knowing what action would be taken. He realized, with some horror, that after nine in the morning there was the distinct possibility that helicopters would be quickly prowling around the coastline, dipping their sonars into the water, pinpointing the submarine, which they would promptly blow to pieces with depth charges.

The more he thought about his situation, the more Bond came to the conclusion that he was in a no-win state. He even considered the possibility of climbing down from his hiding place, roaming the boat, and killing off the crew one at a time, though this would seem just about impossible. There must be at least twenty men in the submarine, and some would certainly be armed. His chances of taking out the entire crew were minimal, to say the least. Sit tight and wait, he decided. Act only if anything dramatic occurred.

The captain's voice came crackling through the PA again. "D'ye hear there! We are making maximum speed on the surface, and will remain in this status until dawn, unless another s.h.i.+p appears. As soon as the sky changes we shall dive. In four minutes we will pa.s.s close to the Caja de Muertos lighthouse. This means we will be well into good diving water in around fifteen minutes. Once we go down we shall, as planned, run silent and deep until we approach San Juan Harbor tonight."

So that ruled out any chance of making an escape while they were en route to San Juan. He rested his head against the metal side of his hiding place, tried to stretch and ease his already aching muscles, and closed his eyes.

The throb of the engine and the wallowing rocking motion of the submarine began to have a hypnotic effect. Slowly, Bond slid away into the depths of sleep.

He was wakened by the captain's voice seeming to shout, "Dive! Dive! Dive!" The angle of his small metal prison tipped alarmingly, and he could feel the pressure in his ears as they began the descent. Looking at his watch, he saw that it was almost five-thirty. He had bad cramps in both legs and his back and arms ached as though he were recovering from long and sustained physical exercise. He sighed quietly. At least another fourteen hours of this. He genuinely wondered if he would be able to stand it.

The motion of the boat changed to a dipping and rolling forward movement as they swam far below the sea's surface. Even from where he lay, the regular ping-ping of the radar was audible. For a few minutes Bond again thought about taking on the entire crew. Once more he dismissed it as being impracticable, so he turned his thoughts back to the entire operation so far.

As often in these circ.u.mstances, he had requested items from Q Branch that he really did need. It was almost like second sight, he considered, knowing that the truth really lay in his long experience. What had told him to ask for the plastique explosives? The fact that he knew, long before leaving, that Tarn was planning something concerning the sea. Also, he had nearly always asked for some form of plastique while on a difficult operation. Once more, it was experience. Then he reflected about the other main item that he was now certain was being held for him by elite forces who had probably been watching his every move.

Would he really need the Powerchute? he wondered, for that was what he had asked for, and Q'ute had gone to great pains to get it onto the island. The Powerchute, which had been designed for recreational use, was being adapted and worked on by people like the SAS. In essence it consisted of a triangular structure made from a very light alloy. There was a padded seat for the pilot - no license was required to fly this machine - and behind him the small lawn-mower engine that drove a propeller, encased in a wide wire mesh drum like those put around household fans as protection. The entire framework was attached to an almost oblong, airfoil parachute. The pilot opened the throttle, and the propeller caused the machine to move forward, inflating the parachute and driving it into the air.

James Bond - Seafire Part 20

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James Bond - Seafire Part 20 summary

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