James Bond - Seafire Part 3

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"The young lovers?"

"Don't look old enough to be out on their own, and they stink to high heaven. Real lovers wouldn't spend so much time in the foyer, they'd be up in their room."

"Like us, darling."

"Exactly like us, and more of it wouldn't come amiss."

She disregarded his last comment by asking what he intended to do about Tarn.

"I'm anxious about the high-profile surveillance, but the frontal approach is really the only way. A little note, probably first thing in the morning. Then we play it by ear. If his own people have got the scent of the Security Service's highly visible lookouts, he should react favorably. On the other hand, I wouldn't put it past him to remain unruffled and just motor back to London as if nothing had happened. I've always thought that tipping him off contained the possibility of everything backfiring."

"So what'll The Committee do then, poor things?" All members of the Double-Oh Section tended to refer to MicroGlobe One as "The Committee."

"Nothing, if they're wise, though I don't set much store by their wisdom. Most likely they'll revert to their original plan and storm in, pull out the warrants, and end up looking like imbeciles. In fact, I think I'll call London and test the waters. They told me to keep in touch in the usual way."

"Whatever that means."

"It means I call the Minister's special number and pray that I get some aide with a modic.u.m of common sense." He eased himself off the bed.

"You going to call from here?"

He headed toward the bathroom. "Not on your life. The switchboard - even the automatic dialing - will be well tied up. As we speak, there's probably some d.a.m.ned great van full of electronics and a dozen tape machines monitoring everything in and out of the Tarns' suites and our own."

Twenty minutes later, he headed out of the main doors of the hotel, making his way onto the scrubby meadow of Parker's Piece, where there were three public telephones, two of them already occupied by gowned undergraduates talking loudly.

Taking the spare telephone and using a calling card, he dialed the contact number for MicroGlobe One. It was answered immediately with a "Yes?" from a calm female voice.

"Brother James." Bond rolled his eyes toward heaven. The Minister was responsible for the cryptos to be used in telephone contacts. They went through the ritual just for the sake of it. Even with the huge changes and reorganization, old habits died hard.

"Yes, Brother James, how's your sister?"

"As well as can be expected. I called to say that I'll be posting the letter in the morning. Probably near lunchtime. Wondered if the Reverend Father Superior had any further instructions."

"No, everything appears to be running smoothly."

"Good. Perhaps you'd better tell him that I believe they've located the music."

"You mean Mr. Watchman's found it?"

"Almost certainly. I think it was with the Amateur Operatic Society."

"Oh."

"If some of it can be toned down, it might help."

A long silence, ending with "Nothing else you need?"

"No, I'll report either late tomorrow or first thing on Monday."

"I think late tomorrow would be best."

"Whatever you think appropriate." He closed the line and headed back to the hotel just in time to see Sir Max and Lady Tarn, dressed to kill, being shepherded into the Rolls. Max was off to make his speech, no doubt, Bond thought. He hoped the dinner was terrible and that Tarn's speech contained many cliches like "The long winter of recession is turning into a spring which demands a courage of commitment by our financial inst.i.tutions."

They went down the road to a little Indian restaurant, where they gorged themselves on Onion Bhajjis, Lamb Korma with Bombay potatoes, chapatis, and relishes. "At least we'll only taste each other," Flicka said as they walked back to the hotel. From their room they called down to room service, where Bond ordered a large pot of coffee, specifying that he wanted it freshly brewed and piping hot, hinting that it would be sent back if it was not to his liking. Sat.u.r.day nights in provincial British hotels - even in a great university city - often brought out the worst in room service. This time it worked and the coffee was excellent. They drank it together as they sat at the one small desk and worked on the note for Tarn.

It took an hour before they were both satisfied with the wording and, even then, Flicka had her doubts about the last sentence.

Dear Sir Max, My name is James Busby, and my wife and I were traveling on your s.h.i.+p, Caribbean Prince, earlier this year when the so-called incident occurred. You may well have heard of us, as we were able to come to the other pa.s.sengers' a.s.sistance during the attempted holdup. We were both exceptionally impressed at the way your captain and crew acted when we were forced to abandon s.h.i.+p. They were very professional, putting the pa.s.sengers first, and we have nothing but admiration for them and, naturally, for your organization.

I am a civil servant, highly placed in both the Home and Foreign Offices, and I have some rather sensitive information which concerns you and your various business enterprises.

We are spending the weekend in the hotel, and I would be grateful if you could spare me a few minutes so that I can both thank you and pa.s.s on information which should be of great interest to you.

It was signed "J. Busby," and Flicka held that the final sentence sounded like a cloaked threat of blackmail.

"That's what I intended it to sound like." Bond did not smile.

"Put him on the defensive?"

"No. Remember, he thinks he's home and dry. We've already agreed that he imagines himself fireproof. The letter is kind of disingenuous if you read it carefully - slightly fawning, with the bit of veiled menace at the end. I want it to sound like something written by a middle-management type with just a hint that he thinks he's maybe on to fairy gold."

They spent the remainder of the evening watching an edifying TV program on the migratory habits of whales. Normally it would have been interesting to both of them, but - with the fresh air of the day and the large meal - "Mr. and Mrs. James Busby" were soon sound asleep in each other's arms.

The sun was s.h.i.+ning over Cambridge the next morning, but they stayed in their room until almost eleven before going down for brunch. The hotel was two-thirds full and just about all the guests had the same idea, which led to a slight waiting time for the kipper and kedgeree. They had almost finished the meal when the Tarns came into the main dining room, looking very much the squire and his wife relaxing on a Sunday.

The two men they had seen coming into the hotel with the Tarns on Friday evening were with their employers. The tall, burly one wore a light-gray suit, the double-breasted jacket of which was so well tailored that you could hardly see the bulge under the left lapel. The shorter, stocky man was as casual as Max Tarn: gray slacks and a matching gray rollneck.

They could see now, in the light of day, that the latter man was not simply stocky, but paunchy, around his early fifties, balding fast but with a vaguely military bearing. He also had a pair of ice-blue glittering sharp eyes that took in everything at a glance. The younger man did the same thing, but with the style of a trained bodyguard, a slight turning of the head, followed by quick looks, like swift double-takes. Within seconds of entering the room, Bond guessed, this one would know exactly who was sitting where.

"I think it's time for me to deliver the glad tidings, if you'll excuse me a minute." He stood and headed for the door as a waiter approached with more coffee.

It took only a few minutes to hand in his note at Reception. He saw that the pair of lovers, supplied courtesy of the Security Service, were still in the main lounge, sipping coffee and watching the doors, just as they had been told to do - wrongly. A Boy Scout would have marked them as suspicious, let alone any of Tarn's trained private bullet-catchers.

He lingered in the dining room with Flicka for half an hour or so. The Tarn party appeared to be enjoying themselves, eating to the punctuation of bursts of laughter.

Back in their room, they had nothing to do but wait.

By three o'clock they were both getting edgy, but the telephone rang half an hour later.

"Mr. Busby?" The voice had a slight growl of authority to it. The kind of voice you heard from pa.s.sed-over officers in an army mess.

"Speaking."

"Good. This is Maurice Goodwin. I'm Sir Max Tarn's staff manager."

"Ah."

"He's received your kind note and would like to have a word with you, if you have the time."

"Certainly."

"You can come up now, if that's convenient. I know Sir Max is seriously embarra.s.sed about not getting in touch with you before this. After all, you were responsible for dealing with those clowns who tried to hold up the pa.s.sengers, as well as showing great courage after the explosion."

"Yes, I suppose we performed a small service. Tell me, where . . ."

"The Senate Suite. Top of the hotel. You go to the tenth floor and there's a private elevator up to the top. One of our people will be there to see you up. That all right?"

"Of course. May I bring my wife?"

There was a brief pause. "We'd rather you didn't, actually. Sir Max wanted a word with you alone. Privately. See you in a few minutes, then?"

He shrugged as he replaced the receiver. "Sounds as though he's going to present me with a medal for bravery. Also doesn't want my wife in on the conversation."

"Obviously not politically correct."

"Flicka, I think you'd better go downstairs. Signal - as gracefully and silently as you can - that I'm with him. Just a simple precaution."

"Oh, Christ, James, this isn't going to turn out to be one of those complete security c.o.c.k-ups, is it?"

"I don't know. The guy who called - Maurice Goodwin - is probably the paunchy, military type. Might just have his own reservations, or perhaps they feel I'll be more open if I see him alone. It might even be that Lady T doesn't want compet.i.tion."

"Me? Don't be an idiot, James."

"In my book you'd be compet.i.tion."

She leaned up and kissed him on the cheek. "Just you be careful out there," she said in her best TV-cop-show voice.

It was the tall bodyguard in the gray suit who was waiting at the tenth floor. He checked Bond's name by simply asking, "Mr. Busby?"

At Bond's nod he introduced himself. "Conrad." He gave a wry smile. "Sir Max calls me Connie, which is his idea of a little joke." He raised an arm toward the small elevator cage marked "Senate Suite." "I handle security for Sir Max and Lady Trish." He carefully shepherded Bond into the lift, and before he knew what was going on, Connie frisked him with a quick expertise. "Sorry about that, sir, but we have to be careful, you understand. Particularly with someone like yourself. We were all very impressed at how you and your wife handled the team who tried it on during the cruise - Caribbean Prince, I'm talking about."

"Yes. Yes, of course you are."

The elevator carried them to a large lobby that had a set of double doors with "Senate Suite" picked out in gold on a dark plate to the left. Connie opened the door and gestured for Bond to go in, following hard on his back and announcing, "Mr. Busby, Sir Max."

Close up, Tarn looked as smooth as they came: well-shaved cheeks, almost pink over a good layer of tan. He was better looking than in his photographs. Calm deep-brown eyes, the nose a shade too long for symmetry, and the almost polished iron-gray hair swept back with slight wings over the small ears. His movements were controlled, and his manner charming in a way guaranteed to put anyone off his guard.

"Come in, Mr. Busby. Do come in. Thank you for your note. Most kind. I had planned to get in touch with you anyway. The least I could do was personally thank you for what you did during that earlier incident on Caribbean Prince." His handshake was like touching a snake: dry, smooth, and dangerous. The experience made the short hairs tingle on the back of Bond's neck.

"Now, how about a drink, or tea, or whatever you fancy. This, incidentally," he moved his right hand a fraction of an inch toward the paunchy short man who stood by the window, "this is Maurice Goodwin. He's the right side of my brain as far as travel and the staff go."

"We spoke, Mr. Busby." Goodwin did not attempt to cross the room for a handshake. He simply nodded, a shade aloof, while his boss clasped Bond's hand in a grip as tight as a hangman's noose.

"A little tea, if that's not -"

"Tea it is. Excellent choice. Connie, tea for Mr. Busby. You prefer what, China, Indian . . . ?"

"Just as it comes. Preferably Indian."

"Man after my own heart. My wife adores Lapsang Souchong, but I prefer a good old dish of Darjeeling myself." He had a tendency to draw words out. Sooooochong and Darjeeeeling.

"Now, sit down. Make yourself comfortable. You were very kind about my staff and the awful Caribbean Prince episode. Terrible business. Haven't got to the bottom of it yet, but we will."

"I'm sure you will, Sir Max."

"Doubtless you heard about what happened to the holdup merchants who were still alive after your bit of gunplay?"

"No."

"Ah, thought you would have heard by now. We very carefully got them off the s.h.i.+p after the explosion, then handed them over to the police in Miami. Unhappily, while they were in the holding cells, mixed up with some very unsavory prisoners, someone took a dislike to them. Used a makes.h.i.+ft knife. All killed during a disturbance. Police cannot determine who did them, but they were certainly done."

"I would say that was a happy ending." Bond again felt the nape of his neck tingle.

"Yes." He did not take his eyes from Bond's. For a second it was like being locked into a staring compet.i.tion. "Yes. Well. Yes, you have something to tell me? Your note hinted at . . . Well, I don't know what your note hinted at. Home Office. Foreign Office. Something about my affairs, which cover the entire globe, Mr. Busby. What was it about?" While outwardly Tarn seemed charming, Bond got the impression that the charm was less than skin deep. Beneath the surface lay something malignant: an undertow of bleak, unbalanced evil mixed with the undeniable charisma. This was the kind of man who could bring down countries, charm the worst elements of society, and make black appear to be white and vice versa. Deep down, Bond surmised that Sir Max Tarn could be a very dangerous enemy. His charisma was that of a rabble-rouser. If the man chose politics as a profession, he would be able to hold certain segments of society in the palm of his hand.

"I think it would be best if we talked in complete privacy, Sir Max."

"Oh, you do?" from Goodwin, still beside the window that looked out of the front of the hotel. "You prefer privacy, eh? Those b.l.o.o.d.y British Telecom people're still working down there. Have been since we arrived. You anything to do with them, Mr. Busby? Anything to do with people listening to other people's conversations on the old blower?"

Bond gave Tarn a quick quizzical look.

"It's quite safe to talk in front of Goodwin, Mr. Busby. Ah, here's Connie with the tea."

They did not speak while Conrad poured the tea, making it all a little civilized ceremony. When he had finished, Tarn pleasantly told him to wait outside, adding somewhat archly, "Mr. Busby prefers privacy. Don't be offended, Connie, I don't suppose it's personal."

When the bodyguard had withdrawn, it was Goodwin who spoke again. "Well, Mr. B., got an answer for me?"

"I didn't quite get the question . . . Mr. G."

"We are circled about with people who watch. People who follow every movement. People who'd like to listen in to our telephone conversations - though they can't because we tend to bypa.s.s the switchboard."

Bond opened his mouth, but Goodwin had not finished. "We've been quite interested in the little armies of fairy folk d.o.g.g.i.ng our footsteps. You anything to do with that, Mr. B?"

"I can tell you about it."

"Ah," from Max Tarn. "Then please, before you tell, why would you tell?" The last rays of charm left his voice, and the question held within it a vestige of something deeply repulsive.

Finally, Bond replied: "Because I wanted to do something to help. I've always admired you, sir, and doubly so since the Caribbean Prince business."

"Admiration. That all? Nothing in it for you? Doing it out of a sense of duty - whatever it is?"

"Something like that, Sir Max, yes. I'm not even supposed to know about it. Just saw some things in the office that I don't think I was supposed to see."

"So you came trotting down here to tell all."

James Bond - Seafire Part 3

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James Bond - Seafire Part 3 summary

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