Octopussy & the Living Daylights (James Bond #14)

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19.05.2019

"Oh Pussy, my Pussy, this is the last meal you’ll get."

Major Smythe mouthed the refrain to himself as he crouched on all fours, found his mask, and struggled to force it over his face. Then he got hold of his spear, tipped with the still flapping fish, and clutching his stomach with his free hand, crawled and slithered down the sand and into the water.

It was fifty yards of shallow water to the lair of the octopus in the coral cranny, and Major Smythe, screaming all the while into his mask, crawling mostly on his knees, somehow made it. As he came to the last approach and the water became deeper, he had to get to his feet, and the pain made him jiggle to and fro, as if he were a puppet manipulated by strings. Then he was there, and with a supreme effort of will, he held himself steady as he dipped his head down to let some water into his mask and clear the mist of his screams from the glass. Then, blood pouring from his bitten lower lip, he bent carefully down to look into Octopussy’s house. Yes! The brown mass was still there. It was stirring excitedly. Why? Major Smythe saw the dark strings of his blood curling lazily down through the water. Of course! The darling was tasting his blood. A shaft of pain hit Major Smythe and sent him reeling. He heard himself babbling deliriously into his mask. Pull yourself together, Dexter, old boy! You’ve got to give Pussy her lunch! He steadied himself, and holding the spear well down the shaft, lowered the fish down toward the writhing hole.

Would Pussy take the bait? The poisonous bait that was killing Major Smythe but to which an octopus might be immune? If only Bengry could be here to watch! Three tentacles, weaving excitedly, came out of the hole and wavered around the scorpionfish. Now there was a gray mist in front of Major Smythe’s eyes. He recognized it as the edge of unconsciousness and feebly shook his head to clear it. And then the tentacles leaped! But not at the fish! At Major Smythe’s hand and arm. Major Smythe’s torn mouth stretched in a grimace of pleasure. Now he and Pussy had shaken hands! How exciting! How truly wonderful!

But then the octopus, quietly, relentlessly pulled downward, and terrible realization came to Major Smythe. He summoned his dregs of strength and plunged his spear down. The only effect was to push the scorpionfish into the mass of the octopus and offer more arm to the octopus. The tentacles snaked upward and pulled more relentlessly. Too late, Major Smythe scrabbled away his mask. One bottled scream burst out across the empty bay, then his head went under and down, and there was an explosion of bubbles to the surface. Then Major Smythe’s legs came up and the small waves washed his body to and fro while the octopus explored his right hand with its buccal orifice and took a first tentative bite at a finger with its beaklike jaws.

The body was found by two young Jamaicans spinning for needlefish from a canoe. They speared the octopus with Major Smythe’s spear, killed it in the traditional fashion by turning it inside out and biting its head off, and brought the three corpses home. They turned Major Smythe’s body over to the police, and had the scorpionfish and the seacat for supper.

The local correspondent of the Daily Gleaner reported that Major Smythe had been killed by an octopus, but the paper translated this into "found drowned" so as not to frighten away the tourists.

Later, in London, James Bond, privately assuming "suicide," wrote the same verdict of "found drowned," together with the date, on the last page and closed the bulky file.

It is only from the notes of Dr. Cahusac, who performed the autopsy, that it has been possible to construct some kind of a postscript to the bizarre and pathetic end of a once valuable officer of the Secret Service.

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS

James Bond lay in the five-hundred-yard firing point of the famous Century Range at Bisley. The white peg in the grass beside him said 44, and the same number was repeated high up on the distant butt above the single six-feet-square target that, to the human eye and in the late summer dusk, looked no larger than a postage stamp. But through Bond’s glass—an infrared sniperscope fixed above his rifle—the lens covered the whole canvas. He could even clearly distinguish the pale blue and beige colors in which the target was divided, and the six-inch semicircular bull’s-eye looked as big as the half-moon that was already beginning to show low down in the darkening sky above the distant crest of Chobham Ridges.

James Bond’s last shot had been an inner left. Not good enough. He took another glance at the yellow and blue wind flags. They were streaming across range from the east rather more stiffly than when he had begun his shoot half an hour before, and he set two clicks more to the right on the wind gauge and traversed the cross-wires on the sniperscope back to the point of aim. Then he settled himself, put his trigger finger gently inside the guard and onto the curve of the trigger, shallowed his breathing, and very, very softly squeezed.

The vicious crack of the shot boomed across the empty range. The target disappeared below ground, and at once the dummy came up in its place. Yes. The black panel was in the bottom right-hand corner this time, not in the bottom left. A bull’s-eye.

"Good," said the voice of the chief range officer from behind and above him. "Stay with it."

The target was already up again, and Bond put his cheek back to its warm patch on the chunky wooden stock and his eye to the rubber eyepiece of the scope. He wiped his gun hand down the side of his trousers and took the pistol grip that jutted sharply down below the trigger guard. He splayed his legs an inch more. Now there were to be five rounds rapid. It would be interesting to see if that would produce "fade." He guessed not. This extraordinary weapon the armorer had somehow got his hands on gave one the feeling that a standing man at a mile would be easy meat. It was mostly a .308-caliber International Experimental Target rifle built by Winchester to help American marksmen at World Championships, and it had the usual gadgets of superaccurate target weapons—a curled aluminum hand at the back of the butt that extended under the armpit and held the stock firmly into the shoulder, and an adjustable pinion below the rifle’s center of gravity to allow the stock to be nailed into its grooved wooden rest. The armorer had had the usual single-shot bolt action replaced by a five-shot magazine, and he had assured Bond that if he allowed as little as two seconds between shots to steady the weapon there would be no fade even at five hundred yards. For the job that Bond had to do, he guessed that two seconds might be a dangerous loss of time if he missed with his first shot. Anyway, M. had said that the range would be not more than three hundred yards. Bond would cut it down to one second—almost continuous fire.

"Ready?"

"Yes."

"I’ll give you a countdown from five. Now! Five, four, three, two, one. Fire!"

The ground shuddered slightly and the air sang as the five whirling scraps of cupronickel spat off into the dusk. The target went down and quickly rose again, decorated with four small white discs closely grouped on the bull’s-eye. There was no fifth disc—not even a black one to show an inner or an outer.

"The last round was low," said the range officer lowering his nightglasses. "Thanks for the contribution. We sift the sand on those butts at the end of every year. Never get less than fifteen tons of good lead and copper scrap out of them. Good money."

Bond had got to his feet. Corporal Menzies from the armorers’ section appeared from the pavilion of the Gun Club and knelt down to dismantle the Winchester and its rest. He looked up at Bond. He said with a hint of criticism, "You were taking it a bit fast, sir. Last round was bound to jump wide."

"I know, corporal. I wanted to see how fast I could take it. I’m not blaming the weapon. It’s a hell of a fine job. Please tell the armorer so from me. Now I’d better get moving. You’re finding your own way back to London, aren’t you?"

"Yes. Good night, sir."

The chief range officer handed Bond a record of his shoot—two sighting shots and then ten rounds at each hundred yards up to five hundred. "Damned good firing with this visibility. You ought to come back next year and have a bash at the Queen’s Prize. It’s open to all comers nowadays—British Commonwealth, that is."

"Thanks. Trouble is, I’m not all that much in England. And thanks for spotting for me." Bond glanced at the distant clock tower. On either side, the red danger flag and the red signal drum were coming down to show that firing had ceased. The hands stood at nine-fifteen. "I’d like to buy you a drink, but I’ve got an appointment in London. Can we hold it over until that Queen’s Prize you were talking about?"

The range officer nodded noncommittally. He had been looking forward to finding out more about this man who had appeared out of the blue after a flurry of signals from the Ministry of Defense and had then proceeded to score well over ninety percent at all distances. And that after the range was closed for the night and visibility was poor-to-bad. And why had he, who only officiated at the annual July meeting, been ordered to be present? And why had he been told to see that Bond had a six-inch bull’s-eye at five hundred instead of the regulation fifteen-inch? And why this flummery with the danger flag and signal drum that were only used on ceremonial occasions? To put pressure on the man? To give an edge of urgency to the shoot? Bond. Commander James Bond. The N.R.A. would surely have a record of anyone who could shoot like that. He’d remember to give them a call. Funny time to have an appointment in London. Probably a girl. The range officer’s undistinguished face assumed a disgruntled expression. Sort of fellow who got all the girls he wanted.

The two men walked through the handsome façade of Club Row behind the range to Bond’s car, which stood opposite the bullet-pitted iron reproduction of Landseer’s famous Running Deer.

"Nice-looking job," commented the range officer. "Never seen a body like that on a Continental. Have it made specially?"

"Yes. The Mark IV’s are anyway really only two-seaters. And damned little luggage space. So I got Mulliner’s to make it into a real two-seater with plenty of trunk space. Selfish car I’m afraid. Well, good night. And thanks again." The twin exhausts boomed healthily, and the back wheels briefly spat gravel.

The chief range officer watched the ruby lights vanish up King’s Avenue toward the London Road. He turned on his heel and went to find Corporal Menzies on a search for information that was to prove fruitless. The corporal remained as wooden as the big mahogany box he was in the process of loading into a khaki Land Rover without military symbols. The range officer was a major. He tried pulling his rank without success. The Land Rover hammered away in Bond’s wake. The major walked moodily off to the offices of the National Rifle Association to try and find out what he wanted in the library under "Bond, J."

James Bond’s appointment was not with a girl. It was with a B.E.A. flight to Hanover and Berlin. As he bit off the miles to London Airport, pushing the big car hard so as to have plenty of time for a drink, three drinks, before the takeoff, only part of his mind was on the road. The rest was re-examining, for the umpteenth time, the sequence that was now leading him to an appointment with an airplane. But only an interim appointment. His final rendezvous on one of the next three nights in Berlin was with a man. He had to see this man and he had to be sure to shoot him dead.