The light nudge at his ankle woke Bond. He didn't move. His senses came to life like an animal's.
Nothing had changed. There were the noises of the train–the soft iron stride, pounding out the kilometres, the quiet creak of the woodwork, a tinkle from the cupboard over the washbasin where a toothglass was loose in its holder.
What had woken him? The spectral eye of the nightlight cast its deep velvet sheen over the little room. No sound came from the upper bunk. By the window, Captain Nash sat in his place, his book open on his lap, a flicker of moonlight from the edge of the blind showing white on the double page.
He was looking fixedly at Bond. Bond registered the intentness of the violet eyes. The black lips parted. There was a glint of teeth.
`Sorry to disturb you, old man. I feel in the mood for a talk!'
What was there new in the voice? Bond put his feet softly down to the floor. He sat up straighter. Danger, like a third man, was standing in the room.
`Fine,' said Bond easily. What had there been in those few words that had set his spine tingling? Was it the note of authority in Nash's voice? The idea came to Bond that Nash might have gone mad. Perhaps it was madness in the room, and not danger, that Bond could smell. His instincts about this man had been right. It would be a question of somehow getting rid of him at the next station. Where had they got to? When would the frontier come?
Bond lifted his wrist to look at the time. The violet light defeated the phosphorus numerals. Bond tilted the face towards the strip of moonlight from the window.
From the direction of Nash there came a sharp click. Bond felt a violent blow on his wrist. Splinters of glass hit him in the face. His arm was flung back against the door. He wondered if his wrist had been broken. He let his arm hang and flexed his fingers. They all moved.
The book was still open on Nash's lap, but now a thin wisp of smoke was coming out of the hole at the top of its spine and there was a faint smell of fireworks in the room.
The saliva dried in Bond's mouth as if he had swallowed alum.
So there had been a trap all along. And the trap had closed. Captain Nash had been sent to him by Moscow. Not by M. And the M.G.B. agent in No. 9, the man with an American passport, was a myth. And Bond had given Nash his gun. He had even put wedges under the door so that Nash would feel more secure.
Bond shivered. Not with fear. With disgust.
Nash spoke. His. voice was no longer a whisper, no longer oily. It was loud and confident.
`That will save us a great deal of argument, old man. Just a little demonstration. They think I'm pretty good with this little bag of tricks. There are ten bullets in it–.25 dum-dum, fired by an electric battery. You must admit the Russians are wonderful chaps for dreaming these things up. Too bad that book of yours is only for reading, old man.'
`For God's sake stop calling me ``old man''.' When there was so much to know, so much to think about, this was Bond's first reaction to utter catastrophe. It was the reaction of someone in a burning house who picks up the most trivial object to save from the flames.
`Sorry, old man. It's got to be a habit. Part of trying to be a bloody gentleman. Like these clothes. All from the wardrobe department. They said I'd get by like this. And I did, didn't I, old man? But let's get down to business. I expect you'd like to know what this is all about. Be glad to tell you. We've got about half an hour before you're due to go. It'll give me an extra kick telling the famous Mister Bond of the Secret Service what a bloody fool he is. You see, old man, you're not so good as you think. You're just a stuffed dummy and I've been given the job of letting the sawdust out of you.' The voice was even and flat, the sentences trailing away on a dead note. It was as if Nash was bored by the act of speaking.
`Yes,' said Bond. `I'd like to know what it's all about. I can spare you half an hour.' Desperately he wondered: was there any way of putting this man off his stride? Upsetting his balance?
`Don't kid yourself, old man,' the voice was uninterested in Bond, or in the threat of Bond. Bond didn't exist except as a target. `You're going to die in half an hour. No mistake about it. I've never made a mistake or I wouldn't have my job.'
`What is your job?'
`Chief Executioner of SMERSH.' There was a hint of life in the voice, a hint of pride. The voice went flat again. `You know the name I believe, old man.'
SMERSH. So that was the answer–the worst answer of all. And this was their chief killer. Bond remembered the red glare that flickered in the opaque eyes. A killer. A psychopath–manic depressive, probably. A man who really enjoyed it. What a useful man for SMERSH to have found! Bond suddenly remembered what Vavra had said. He tried a long shot. `Does the moon have any effect on you, Nash?'
The black lips writhed. `Clever aren't you, Mister Secret Service. Think I'm barmy. Don't worry. I wouldn't be where I am if I was barmy.'
The angry sneer in the man's voice told Bond that he had touched a nerve. But what could he achieve by getting the man out of control? Better humour him and gain some time. Perhaps Tatiana. . . .
`Where does the girl come into all this?'
`Part of the bait,' the voice was bored again. `Don't worry. She won't butt in on our talk. Fed her a pinch of chloral hydrate when I poured her that glass of wine. She'll be out for the night. And then for every other night. She's to go with you.'
`Oh really.' Bond slowly lifted his aching hand on to his lap, flexing the ringers to get the blood moving. `Well, let's hear the story.'
`Careful, old man. No tricks. No Bulldog Drummond stufFll get you out of this one. If I don't like even the smell of a move, it'll be just one bullet through the heart. Nothing more. That's what you'll be getting in the end. One through the centre of the heart. If you move it'll come a bit quicker. And don't forget who I am. Remember your wrist watch? I don't miss. Not ever.'
`Good show,' said Bend carelessly. `But don't be frightened. You've got my gun. Remember? Get on with your story.'
`All right, old man, only don't scratch your ear while I'm talking. Or I'll shoot it off. See? Well, SMERSH decided to kill you–at least I gather it was decided even higher up, right at the top. Seems they want to take one good hard poke at the Secret Service–bring them down a peg or two. Follow me?'
`Why choose me?'
`Don't ask me, old man. But they say you've got quite a reputation in your outfit. The way you're going to be killed is going to bust up the whole show. It's been three months cooking, this plan, and it's a beaut. Got to be. SMERSH has made one or two mistakes lately. That Khoklov business for one. Remember the explosive cigarette case and all that? Gave the job to the wrong man. Should have given it to me. I wouldn't have gone over to the Yanks. However, to get back. You see, old man, we've got quite a planner in SMERSH. Man called Kronsteen. Great chess player. He said vanity would get you and greed and a bit of craziness in the plot. He said you'd all fall for the craziness in London. And you did, didn't you, old man?'
Had they? Bond remembered just how much the eccentric angles of the story had aroused their curiosity. And vanity? Yes, he had to admit that the idea of this Russian girl being in love with him had helped. And there had been the Spektor. That had decided the whole thing–plain greed for it. He said non-committally: `We were interested.'
`Then came the operation. Our Head of Operations is quite a character. I'd say she's killed more people than anyone in the world–or arranged for them to be killed. Yes, it's a woman. Name of Klebb–Rosa Klebb. Real swine of a woman. But she certainly knows all the tricks.'
Rosa Klebb. So at the top of SMERSH there was a woman! If he could somehow survive this and get after her! The fingers of Bond's right hand curled softly.
The flat voice in the corner went on: `Well, she found this Romanova girl. Trained her for the job. By the way, how was she in bed? Pretty good?'
No! Bond didn't believe it. That first night must have been staged. But afterwards? No. Afterwards had been real. He took the opportunity to shrug his shoulders. It was an exaggerated shrug. To get the man accustomed to movement.
`Oh, well. Not interested in that sort of thing myself. But they got some nice pictures of you two.' Nash tapped his coat pocket. `Whole reel of 16 millimetre. That's going into her handbag. It'll look fine in the papers.' Nash laughed–a harsh, metallic laugh. `They'll have to cut some of the juiciest bits, of course.'
The change of rooms at the hotel. The honeymoon suite. The big mirror behind the bed. How well it all fitted! Bond felt his hands wet with perspiration He wiped them down his trousers.
`Steady, old man. You nearly got it then. I told you not to move, remember?'
Bond put his hands back on the book in his lap. How much could he develop these small movements? How far could he go? `Get on with the story,' he said. `Did the girl know these pictures were being taken? Did she know SMERSH was involved in this?'
Nash snorted. `Of course she didn't know about the pictures. Rosa didn't trust her a yard. Too emotional. But I don't know much about that side. We all worked in compartments. I'd never seen her until today. I only know what I picked up. Yes, of course the girl knew she was working for SMERSH. She was told she had to get to London and do a bit of spying there.'
The silly idiot, thought Bond. Why the hell hadn't she told him that SMERSH was involved? She must have been frightened even to speak the name. Thought he would have her locked up or something. She had always said she would tell him everything when she got to England. That he must have faith and not be afraid. Faith! When she hadn't the foggiest idea herself what was going on. Oh, well. Poor child. She had been as fooled as he had been. But any hint would have been enough–would have saved the life of Kerim, for instance. And what about hers and his own?
`Then this Turk of yours had to be got rid of. I gather that took a bit of doing. Tough nut. I suppose it was his gang that blew up our Centre in Istanbul yesterday afternoon. That's going to create a bit of a panic.'
`Doesn't worry me, old man. My end of the job's going to be easy.' Nash took a quick glance at his wrist watch. `In about twenty minutes we go into the Simplon tunnel. That's where they want it done. More drama for the papers. One bullet for you. As we go into the tunnel. Just one in the heart. The noise of the tunnel will help in case you're a noisy dier–rattle and so forth. Then one in the back of the neck for her–with your gun–and out of the window she goes. Then one more for you with your gun. With your fingers wrapped round it, of course. Plenty of powder on your shirt. Suicide. That's what it'll look like at first. But there'll be two bullets in your heart. That'll come out later. More mystery! Search the Simplon again. Who was the man with the fair hair? They'll find the film in her bag, and in your pocket there'll be a long love letter from her to you–a bit threatening. It's a good one. SMERSH wrote it. It says that she'll give the film to the newspapers unless you marry her. That you promised to marry her if she stole the Spektor . . .' Nash paused and added in parentheses, `As a matter of fact, old man, the Spektor's booby-trapped. When your cipher experts start fiddling with it, it's going to blow them all to glory. Not a bad dividend on the side.' Nash chuckled dully. `And then the letter says that all she's got to offer you is the machine and her body–and all about her body and what you did with it. Hot stuff, that part! Right? So what's the story in the papers–the Left Wing ones that will be tipped off to meet the train? Old man, the story's got everything. Orient Express. Beautiful Russian spy murdered in Simplon tunnel. Filthy pictures. Secret cipher machine. Handsome British spy with career ruined murders her and commits suicide. Sex, spies, luxury train, Mr and Mrs Somerset . . .! Old man, it'll run for months! Talk of the Khoklov case! This'll knock spots off it. And what a poke in the eye for the famous Intelligence Service! Their best man, the famous James Bond. What a shambles. Then bang goe
s the cipher machine! What's your chief going to think of you? What's the public going to think? And the Government. And the Americans? Talk about security! No more atom secrets from the Yanks.' Nash paused to let it all sink in. With a touch of pride he said, `Old man, this is going to be the story of the century!'
Yes, thought Bond. Yes. He was certainly right about that. The French papers would give it such a send-off there'd be no stopping it. They wouldn't mind how far they went with the pictures or anything else. There wasn't a press in the world that wouldn't pick it up. And the Spektor! Would M's people or the Deuxième have the sense to guess it was booby-trapped? How many of the best cryptographers in the West would go up with it? God, he must get out of this jam! But how?
The top of Nash's War and Peace yawned at him. Let's see. There would be the roar as the train went into the tunnel. Then at once the muffled click and the bullet. Bond's eyes stared into the violet gloom, measuring the depth of the shadow in his corner under the roof of the top bunk, remembering exactly where his attaché case stood on the floor, guessing what Nash would do after he had fired.
Bond said: `You took a bit of a gamble on my letting you team up at Trieste. And how did you know the code of the month?'
Nash said patiently, `You don't seem to get the picture, old man. SMERSH is good–really good. There's nothing better. We know your code of the month for every year. If anyone in your show noticed these things, noticed the pattern of them, like my show does, you'd realize that every January you lose one of your small chaps somewhere–maybe Tokyo, maybe Timbuctoo. SMERSH just picks one and takes him. Then they screw the code for the year out of him. Anything else he knows, of course. But it's the code they're after. Then it's passed round to the Centres. Simple as falling off a log, old man.'
Bond dug his nails into the palms of his hands.
`As for picking you up at Trieste, old man, I didn't. Rode down with you–in the front of the train. Got out as we stopped and walked back up the platform. You see, old man, we were waiting for you in Belgrade. Knew you'd call your Chief–or the Embassy or someone. Been listening in on that Yugoslav's telephone for weeks. Pity we didn't understand the codeword he shot through to Istanbul. Might have stopped the firework display, or anyway saved our chaps. But the main target was you, old man, and we certainly had you sewn up all right. You were in the killing bottle from the minute you got off that plane in Turkey. It was only a question of when to stuff the cork in.' Nash took another quick glance at his watch. He looked up. His'grinning teeth glistened violet. `Pretty soon now, old man. It's just cork-hours minus fifteen.'
Bond thought: we knew SMERSH was good, but we never knew they were as good as this. The knowledge was vital. Somehow he must get it back. He MUST. Bond's mind raced round the details of his pitifully thin, pitifully desperate plan.
He said: `SMERSH seems to have thought things out pretty well. Must have taken a lot of trouble. There's only one thing . . .' Bond let his voice hang in the air.
`What's that, old man?' Nash, thinking of his report, was alert.
The train began to slow down. Domodossola. The Italian frontier. What about customs? But Bond remembered. There were no formalities for the through carriages until they got to France, to the frontier, Vallorbes. Even then not for the sleeping cars. These expresses cut straight across Switzerland. It was only people who got out at Brigue or Lausanne who had to go through customs in the stations.
`Well, come on, old man.' Nash sounded hooked.
`Not without a cigarette.'
`Okay. Go ahead. But if there's a move I don't like, you'll be dead.'
Bond slipped his right hand into his hip-pocket. He drew out his broad gunmetal cigarette case. Opened it. Took out a cigarette. Took his lighter out of his trouser pocket. Lit the cigarette and put the lighter back. He left the cigarette case on his lap beside the book. He put his left hand casually over the book and the cigarette case as if to prevent them slipping off his lap. He puffed away at his cigarette. If only it had been a trick one–magnesium flare, or anything he could throw in the man's face! If only his Service went in for those explosive toys! But at least he had achieved his objective and hadn't been shot in the process. That was a start.
`You see.' Bond described an airy circle with his cigarette to distract Nash's attention. His left hand slipped the flat cigarette case between the pages of his book. `You see, it looks all right, but what about you? What are you going to do after we come out of the Simplon? The conductor knows you're mixed up with us. They'll be after you in a flash.'
`Oh that,' Nash's voice was bored again. `You don't seem to have hoisted in that the Russians think these things out. I get off at Dijon and take a car to Paris. I get lost there. A bit of ``Third Man'' stuff won't do the story any harm. Anyway it'll come out later that they dig the second bullet out of you and can't find the second gun. They won't catch up with me. Matter of fact,
I've got a date at noon tomorrow–Room 204 at the Ritz Hotel, making my report to Rosa. She wants to get the kudos for this job. Then I turn into her chauffeur and we drive to Berlin. Come to think of it, old man,' the flat voice showed emotion, became greedy, `I think she may have the Order of Lenin for me in her bag. Lovely grub, as they say.'
The train began to move. Bond tensed. In a few minutes it would come. What a way to die, if he was going to die. Through his own stupidity–blind, lethal stupidity. And lethal for Tatiana. Christ! At any moment he could have done something to dodge this shambles. There had been no lack of opportunity. But conceit and curiosity and four days of love had sucked him along on the easy stream down which it had been planned that he should drift. That was the damnable part of the whole business–the triumph for SMERSH, the one enemy he had always sworn to defeat wherever he met it. We will do this, and he will do that. `Comrades, it is easy with a vain fool like this Bond. Watch him take the bait. You will see. I tell you he's a fool. All Englishmen are fools.' And Tatiana, the lure–the darling lure. Bond thought of their first night. The black stockings and the velvet ribbon. And all the time SMERSH had been watching, watching him go through his conceited paces, as it had been planned that he would, so that the smear could be built up–the smear on him, the smear on M who had sent him to Istanbul, the smear on the Service that lived on the myth of its name. God, what a mess! If only ... if only his tiny grain of a plan might work!
Ahead, the rumble of the train became a deep boom.
A few more seconds. A few more yards.
The oval mouth between the white pages seemed to gape wider. In a second the dark tunnel would switch out the moonlight on the pages and the blue tongue would lick out for him.
`Sweet dreams, you English bastard.'
The rumble became a great swift clanging roar.
The spine of the book bloomed flame.
The bullet, homing on Bond's heart, flashed over its two quiet yards.
Bond pitched forward on to the floor and lay sprawled under the funereal violet light.