He said, ‘Kissy, tonight I have to swim to the castle and climb the wall and get inside.’
She nodded. ‘I know this. And then you are going to kill this man and perhaps his wife. You are the man who we believe was to come to Kuro from across the sea and do these things.’ She continued to gaze out to sea. She said dully, ‘But why have you been chosen? Why should it not be another, a Japanese?’
‘These people are gaijins. I am a gaijin. It will cause less trouble for the State if the whole matter is presented as being trouble between foreigners.’
‘Yes, I see. And has the kannushi-san given his approval?’
‘And if… And after. Will you come back and be my boatman again?’
‘For a time. But then I must go back to England.’
‘No. I believe that you will stay for a long time on Kuro.’
‘Why do you believe that?’
‘Because I prayed for it at the shrine. And I have never asked for such a big thing before. I am sure it will be granted.’ She paused. ‘And I shall be swimming with you tonight.’ She held up a hand. ‘You will need company in the dark and I know the currents. You would not get there without me.’
Bond took the small dry paw in his. He looked at the childish, broken nails. His voice was harsh. He said, ‘No. This is man’s work.’
She looked at him. The brown eyes were calm and serious. She said, and she used his first name, ‘Taro-san, your other name may mean thunder, but I am not frightened of thunder. I have made up my mind. And I shall come back every night, at midnight exactly, and wait among the rocks at the bottom of the wall. I shall wait for one hour in case you need my help in coming home. These people may harm you. Women are much stronger in the water than men. That is why it is the Ama girls who dive and not the Ama men. I know the waters round Kuro as a peasant knows the fields round his farm, and I have as little fear of them. Do not be stiff-necked in this matter. In any case, I shall hardly sleep until you come back. To feel that I am close to you for a time and that you may need me will give me some peace. Say yes, Taro-san.’
‘Oh, all right, Kissy,’ said Bond gruffly. ‘I was only going to ask you to row me to a starting point down there somewhere.’ He gestured to the left across the straits. ‘But if you insist on being an extra target for the sharks…’
‘The sharks never trouble us. The Six Guardians look after that. We never come to any harm. Years ago, ‘one of the Amas caught her rope in a rock underwater, and the people have talked of the accident ever since. The sharks just think we are big fish like themselves.’ She laughed happily. ‘Now it is all settled and we can have something to eat and then I
will take you down to see the Guardians. The tide will be low by then and they will want to inspect you.’
They followed another little path from the summit. It went over the shoulder of the peak and down to a small protected bay to the east of the village. The tide was far out and they could wade over the flat black pebbles and rocks and round the corner of the promontory. Here, on a stretch of flat stony beach, five people squatted on a square foundation of large rocks and gazed out towards the horizon. Except that they weren’t people. They were, as Kissy had described, stone pedestal bodies with large round boulders cemented to their tops. But rough white shirts were roped round them, and they looked terrifyingly human as they sat in immobile judgement and guardianship over the waters and what went on beneath them. Of the sixth, only the body remained. His head must have been destroyed by a storm.
They walked round in front of the five and looked up at the smooth blank faces and Bond, for the first time in his life, had a sensation of deep awe. So much belief, so much authority seemed to have been invested by the builders in these primitive, faceless idols, guardians of the blithe, naked Ama girls, that Bond had a ridiculous urge to kneel and ask for their blessing as the Crusaders had once done before their God. He brushed the impulse aside, but he did bow his head and briefly ask for good fortune to accompany his enterprise. And then he stood back and watched with a pull at his heartstrings while Kissy, her beautiful face strained and pleading, clapped to attract their attention and then made a long and impassioned speech in which his name recurred. At the end, when she again clapped her hands, did the round boulder-heads briefly nod? Of course not! But, when Bond took Kissy’s hand and they walked away, she said happily, ‘It is all right, Todoroki-san. You saw them nod their heads?’
‘No,’ said Bond firmly, ‘I did not.’
They crept round the eastern shore of Kuro and pulled the boat up into a deep cleft in the black rocks. It was just after eleven o’clock and the giant moon rode high and fast through wisps of mackerel cloud. They talked softly, although they were out of sight of the fortress and half a mile away from it. Kissy took off her brown kimono and folded it neatly and put it in the boat. Her body glowed in the moonlight. The black triangle between her legs beckoned, and the black string round her waist that held the piece of material was an invitation to untie it. She giggled provocatively. ‘Stop looking at my Black Cat!’
‘Why is it called that?’
Bond carefully pulled on his ninja suit of black cotton. It was comfortable enough and would give warmth in the water. He left the head-shroud hanging down his back and pushed the goggles that belonged to Kissy’s father up his forehead. The small floating pack he was to tow behind him rode jauntily in the waters of the creek, and he tied its string firmly to his right wrist so that he would always know it was there.
He smiled at Kissy and nodded.
She came up to him and threw her arms round his neck and kissed him full on the lips.
Before he could respond, she had pulled down her goggles and had dived into the quiet, mercury sea.
THE LOVESOME SPOT
KISSY’S crawl was steady and relaxed and Bond had no difficulty in following the twinkling feet and the twin white mounds of her behind, divided excitingly by the black cord. But he was glad he had donned flippers because the tug of his floating container against the wrist was an irritating brake and, for the first half of the swim, they were heading diagonally against the easterly current through the straits. But then
Kissy slightly changed her direction and now they could paddle lazily in towards the soaring wall that soon became their whole horizon.
There were a few tumbled rocks at its base, but Kissy stayed in the water, clinging to a clump of seaweed, in case the moon might betray her gleaming body to a sentry or a chance patrol, though Bond guessed that the guards kept clear of the grounds during the night so that the suicides would have free entry. Bond pulled himself up on the rocks and unzipped the container and extracted the packet of iron pitons. Then he climbed up a few feet so that he could stow his flippers away in a crack between the granite blocks above high water mark, and he was ready to go. He blew a kiss to the girl. She replied with the sideways wave of the hand that is the Japanese sign of farewell and then was off across the sea again, a luminous white torpedo that merged quickly into the path of the moon.
Bond put her out of-his thoughts. He was getting chilled in his soaking black camouflage and it was time to get moving. He examined the fitting of the giant stone blocks and found that the cracks between them were spacious, as in the case of Tiger’s training castle, and would probably provide adequate toe-holds. Then he pulled down his black cowl, and, towing the black container behind him, began his climb.
It took him twenty minutes to cover the two hundred feet of the slightly inclined wall, but he only had to use his pitons twice when he came to cracks that were too narrow to give a hold to his aching toes. And then he was at one of the gun-ports, and he slithered quietly across its six feet of flat masonry and cautiously looked over the edge into the park. As he had expected, there were stone steps down from the gun-port, and he crept down these into the dark shadows at its base and stood up against the inside of the wall panting quietly. He waited for his breath to calm down and then slipped back his cowl and listened. Not a wisp of wind stirred in the trees, but from somewhere came the sound of softly running water and, in the background, a regular, glutinous burping and bubbling. The fumaroles! Bond, a black shadow among the rest, edged along the wall to his right. His first task was to find a hideout, a base camp where he could bivouac in emergency and where he could leave his container. He reconnoitred various groves and clumps of bushes, but they were all damnably well-kept and the undergrowth had been meticulously cleared from their roots. And many of them exuded a sickly-sweet, poisonous night-smell. Then, up against the wall, he came upon a lean-to shed, its rickety door ajar. He listened and then inched the door open. As he had expected, there was a shadowy jumble of gardeners’ tools, wheelbarrows and the like, and the musty smell of such places. Moving carefully, and helped by shafts of moonlight through the wide cracks in the planked walls, he got to the back of the hut where there was an untidy mound of used sacking. He reflected for a moment, and decided that though this place would be often visited, it had great promise. He untied the cord of the container from his wrist and proceeded methodically to move some of the sacks forward so as to provide a nest for himself behind them. When it was finished, and final touches of artistic disarray added, he parked his container behind the barrier and crept out again into the park to continue what he planned should be a first quick survey of the whole property.
Bond kept close to the boundary wall, flitting like a bat across the open spaces between clumps of bushes and trees. Although his hands were covered with the black material of the ninja suit, he avoided contact with the vegetation, which emitted a continually changing variety of strong odours and scents amongst which he recognized, as a result of ancient adventures in the Caribbean, only the sugary perfume of dogwood. He came to the lake, a wide silent shimmer of silver from which rose the thin cloud of steam he remembered from the aerial photograph. As he stood and watched it, a large leaf from one of the surrounding trees came wafting down and settled on the surface near him. At once a quick, purposeful ripple swept down on the leaf from the surrounding water and immediately subsided. There were some kind of fish in the lake and they would be carnivores. Only carnivores would be excited like that at the hint of a prey. Beyond the lake, Bond came on the first of the fumaroles, a sulphurous, bubbling pool of mud that constantly shuddered and spouted up little fountains. From yards away, Bond could feel its heat. Jets of stinking steam puffed out and disappeared, wraithlike, towards the sky. And now the jagged silhouette of the castle, with its winged turrets, showed above the tree-line, and Bond crept forward with the added caution, alert for the moment when he would come upon the treacherous gravel that surrounded it. Suddenly, through a belt of trees, he was facing it. He stopped in the shelter of the trees, his heart hammering under his ribcage.
Close to, the soaring black-and-gold pile reared monstrously over him, and the diminishing curved roofs of the storeys were like vast bat-wings against the stars. It was even bigger than Bond had imagined, and the supporting wall of black granite blocks more formidable. He reflected on the seemingly impossible problem of entry. Behind would be the main entrance, the lowish wall and the open countryside. But didn’t castles always have an alternative entrance low down for a rearward escape? Bond stole cautiously forward, laying his feet flat down so that the gravel barely stirred. The many eyes of the castle, glittering white in the moonlight, watched his approach with the indifference of total power. At any moment, he had expected the white shaft of a searchlight or the yellow-and-blue flutter of gunfire. But he reached the base of the wall without incident and followed it along to the left, remembering from ancient schooling that most castles had an exit at moat level beneath the drawbridge.