Moonraker (James Bond #3)

Chapter 20

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“Everything seems to have been taken care of,” said Bond. “There doesn’t seem to be very much for me to do in the time that’s left.”

“Nothing that I can think of,” agreed Drax, “except our friend Krebs. This afternoon he will be in the television van taking notes, so he will be out of trouble. Why don’t you have a look at the beach and the bottom of the cliff while he’s out of action? That’s the only weak spot I can think of. I’ve often thought that if someone wanted to get into the site he would try the exhaust pit. Take Miss Brand with you. Two pairs of eyes, and so forth, and she won’t be able to use her office until tomorrow morning.”

“Good,” said Bond. “I’d certainly like to have a look at the seaward side after lunch, and if Miss Brand’s got nothing better to do…” He turned towards her with his eyebrows raised.

Gala Brand looked down her nose. “Certainly, if Sir Hugo wishes,” she said without enthusiasm.

Drax rubbed his hands together. “Then that’s settled,” he said. “And now I must get down to work. Miss Brand, would you ask Dr Walter to come along if he’s free. See you at lunch,” he said to Bond, on a note of dismissal.

Bond nodded. “I think I’ll walk over and have a look at the firing point,” he said, not quite knowing why he lied. He turned and followed Gala Brand out through the double doors into the base of the shaft.

A huge black snake of rubber piping meandered over the shining steel floor and Bond watched the girl pick her way among its coils to where Walter was standing alone. He was gazing up at the mouth of the fuel pipe being hoist to where a gantry, outstretched to the threshold of an access door halfway up the rocket, indicated the main fuel tanks.

She said something to Walter and then stood beside him looking upwards as the pipe was delicately manhandled through into the interior of the rocket.

Bond thought she looked very innocent standing there with her brown hair falling back from her head and the curve of her ivory throat sweeping down into the plain white shirt. With her hands clasped behind her back, gazing raptly upwards at the glittering fifty feet of the Moonraker, she might have been a schoolgirl looking up at a Christmas tree-except for the impudent pride of the jutting breasts, swept up by the thrown-back head and shoulders.

Bond smiled to himself as he walked to the foot of the iron stairway and started to climb. That innocent, desirable girl, he reminded himself, is an extremely efficient policewoman. She knows how to kick, and where; she can break my arm probably more easily and quickly than I can break hers, and at least half of her belongs to the Special Branch of Scotland Yard. Of course, he reflected, looking down just in time to see her follow Dr Walters into Drax’s office, there is always the other half.

Outside, the brilliant May sunshine seemed particularly golden after the blue-white of the arcs and Bond could feel it hot on his back as he walked purposefully across the concrete towards the house. The foghorn from the Goodwins was silent and the morning was so quiet that he could hear the rhythmic thump of a ship’s engines as a coaster negotiated the Inner Leads, between the Goodwins and the shore, on its way northwards.

He approached the house under cover of the wide blast-wall and then quickly crossed the few yards to the front door, the crepe rubber soles of his shoes making no noise. He eased open the door and left it ajar and walked softly into the hall and stood listening. There was the early summer noise of a bumble-bee fussing against the pane of one of the windows and a distant clatter from the barracks behind the house. Otherwise the silence was deep and warm and reassuring.

Bond walked carefully across the hall and up the stairs, placing his feet flat on the ground and using the extreme edges of the steps where the boards would be less likely to creak. There was no noise in the corridor but Bond saw that his door at the far end was open. He took his gun from under his armpit and walked swiftly down the carpeted passage.

Krebs had his back to him. He was kneeling forward in the middle of the floor with his elbows on the ground. His hands were at the wheels of the combination lock of Bond’s leather case. His whole attention was focused on the click of the tumblers in the lock.

The target was tempting and Bond didn’t hesitate. His teeth showed in a hard smile, he took two quick paces into the room and his foot lashed out.

All his force was behind the point of his shoe and his balance and timing were perfect.

The scream of a jay was driven out of Krebs as, like the caricature of a leaping frog, he hurtled over Bond’s case, across a yard or so of carpet, and into the front of the mahogany dressing-table. His head hit the middle of it so hard that the heavy piece of furniture rocked on its base. The scream was abruptly cut off and he crashed in an inert spreadeagle on the floor and lay still.

Bond stood looking at him and listening for the sound of hurrying footsteps, but there was still silence in the house. He walked over to the sprawling figure and bent down and heaved it over on its back. The face around the smudge of yellow moustache was pale and some blood had oozed down over the forehead from a cut in the top of the skull. The eyes were closed and the breathing was laboured.

Bond knelt down on one knee and went carefully through every pocket of Krebs’s neat grey pinstripe suit, laying the disappointingly meagre contents on the carpet beside the body. There was no pocketbook and no papers. The only objects of interest were a bunch of skeleton keys, a spring knife with a well-sharpened stiletto blade, and an obscene little truss-shaped black leather cosh. Bond pocketed these and then went to his bedside table and fetched the untouched bottle of Vichy water.

It took five minutes to revive Krebs and get him into a sitting position with his back to the dressing-table and another five for him to be capable of speaking. Gradually the colour came back to his face and the craftiness to his eyes.

“I answer no questions except to Sir Hugo,” he said as Bond started the interrogation. “You have no right to question me. I was doing my duty.” His voice was surly and assured.

Bond took the empty Vichy bottle by the neck. “Think again,” he said. “Or I’ll beat the daylight out of you until this breaks and then use the neck for some plastic surgery. Who told you to go over my room?”

“Leck mich am Arsch.” Krebs spat the obscene insult at him.

Bond bent down and cracked him sharply across the shins.

Krebs’s body cringed, but, as Bond raised his arm again, he suddenly shot up from the floor and dived under the descending bottle. The blow caught him hard on the shoulder, but it didn’t check his momentum and he was out of the door and halfway down the corridor before Bond started in pursuit.

Bond stopped outside the door and watched the flying figure swerve down the stairs and out of sight. Then, as he heard the scurrying squeak of the rubber-soled shoes as they fled down the stairs and across the hall, he laughed abruptly to himself and went back into his room and locked the door. Short of beating the man’s brains out it hadn’t looked as if he would get much out of Krebs. He had given him something to think about. Crafty little brute. His injuries couldn’t have been so bad after all. Well, it would be up to Drax to punish him. Unless, of course, Krebs had been carrying out Drax’s orders.

Bond cleaned up the mess in his room and sat down on his bed and gazed at the opposite wall with unseeing eyes. It had not been only instinct that had made him tell Drax he was going to the firing point instead of to the house. It had seriously crossed his mind that the snooping of Krebs was on Drax’s orders, and that Drax ran his own security system. And yet how did that tally with the deaths of Tallon and Bartsch? Or had the double killing been a coincidence unrelated to the marks on the chart and the fingerprints of Krebs?

As if summoned by his thoughts, there came a knock on the door and the butler came in. He was followed by a police sergeant in road patrol uniform who saluted and handed Bond a telegram. Bond took it over to the window. It was signed Baxter, which meant Vallance, and it read :

FIRSTLY CALL WAS FROM HOUSE SECONDLY FOG REQUIRED OPERATION OF FOGHORN SO SHIP HEARD COMMA OBSERVED NOTHING THIRDLY YOUR COMPASS RECKONING TOO NEAR SHORE THUS OUT OF SIGHT OF SAINT MARGARETS OR DEAL COASTGUARD ENDS.

“Thank you,” said Bond. “No answer.”

When the door was closed Bond put his lighter to the telegram and dropped it in the fireplace, scuffing the charred remains into powder with the sole of his shoe.

Nothing much there except that Tallon’s call to the Ministry might indeed have been heard by someone in the house, which might have resulted in the search of his room, which might have resulted in his death. But what about Bartsch? If all this was part of something much bigger how could it be linked up with an attempt to sabotage the rocket? Wasn’t it much simpler to conclude that Krebs was a natural snooper, or more likely that he was operating for Drax, who seemed to be meticulously security-conscious and who might want to be sure of the loyalty of his secretary, of Tallon, and certainly, after their encounter at Blades, of Bond? Wasn’t it just acting like the chief (and Bond had known many of them who would fit the picture) of some super-secret project during the war who had reinforced official security with his own private spy system?

If that theory was correct there only remained the double killing. Now that Bond had caught the magic and the tension of the Moonraker the facts of the hysterical shooting seemed more reasonable. As for the mark on the chart, that might have been made any day in the past year; the night-glasses were just night-glasses and the moustaches on the men were just a lot of moustaches.

Bond sat on in the silent room, shifting the pieces in the jigsaw so that two entirely different pictures alternated in his mind. In one the sun shone and all was clear and innocent as the day. The other was a dark confusion of guilty motives, obscure suspicions, and nightmare queries.

When the gong sounded for lunch he still did not know which picture to choose. To shelve a decision he cleared his mind of everything but the prospect of his afternoon alone with Gala Brand.

CHAPTER XVI

A GOLDEN DAY

IT WAS a wonderful afternoon of blue and green and gold. When they left the concrete apron through the guard-gate near the empty firing-point, now connected by a thick cable with the launching site, they stopped for a moment on the edge of the great chalk cliff and stood gazing over the whole corner of England where Caesar had first landed two thousand years before.

To their left the carpet of green turf, bright with small wildflowers, sloped gradually down to the long pebble beaches of Walmer and Deal, which curved off towards Sandwich and the Bay. Beyond, the cliffs of Margate, showing white through the distant haze that hid the North Foreland, guarded the grey scar of Manston aerodrome above which American Thunderjets wrote their white scribbles” in the sky. Then came the Isle of Thanet and, out of sight, the mouth of the Thames.

It was low tide and the Goodwins were golden and tender in the sparkling blue of the Straits with only the smattering of masts and spars that stretched along their length to tell the true story. The white lettering on the South Goodwins Lightship was easy to read and even the name of her sister ship to the north showed white against the red of her hull. Between the sands of the coast, along the twelve-fathom channel of the Inner Leads, there were half a dozen ships beating up through the Downs, the thud of their engines coming clearly off the quiet sea, and between the evil sands and the sharp outline of the French coast there were ships of all registries going about their business-liners, merchantmen, ungainly Dutch schuyts, and even a slim corvette hastening down south, perhaps to Portsmouth. As far as the eye could reach the Eastern Approaches of England were dotted with traffic plying towards near or distant horizons, towards a home port, or towards the other side of the world. It was a panorama full of colour and excitement and romance and the two people on the edge of the cliff were silent as they stood for a time and watched it all.

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