You Only Live Twice (James Bond #12)

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04.03.2019

And so it was with the castle of Doctor Shatterhand – a small nail-studded door, arched and weather-beaten. Its hinges and lock were cracked and rusty, but a new padlock and chain had been stapled into the woodwork and the stone frame. No moonlight filtered down to this corner of what must once have been a moat, but was now grassed over. Bond felt carefully with his fingers. Yes! The chain and lock would yield to the file and jemmy in his conjurer’s pockets. Would there be bolts on the inner side? Probably not, or the padlock would not have been thought necessary. Bond softly retraced his steps across the gravel, stepping meticulously in his previous footmarks. That door would be his target for tomorrow!

Now, keeping right-handed, but still following the boundary wall, he crept off again on his survey. Once, something slithered away from his approaching feet and disappeared with a heavy rustle into the fallen leaves under a tree. What snakes were there that really went for a man? The king-cobra, black mamba, the saw-scaled viper, the rattlesnake and the fer de lance. What others? The remainder were inclined to make off if disturbed. Were snakes day or night hunters? Bond didn’t know. Among so many hazards, there weren’t even the odds of Russian Roulette. When all the chambers of the pistol were loaded, there was not even a one in six chance to bank on.

Bond was now on the castle side of the lake. He heard a noise and edged behind a tree. The distant crashing in the shrubbery sounded like a wounded animal, but then, down the path, came staggering a man, or what had once been a man. The brilliant moonlight showed a head swollen to the size of a football, and only small slits remained where the eyes and mouth had been. The man moaned softly as he zigzagged along, and Bond could see that his hands were up to his puffed face and that he was trying to prise apart the swollen skin round his eyes so that he could see out. Every now and then he stopped and let out one word in an agonizing howl to the moon. It was not a howl of fear or of pain, but of dreadful supplication. Suddenly he stopped. He seemed to see the lake for the first time. With a terrible cry, and holding out his arms as if to1 meet a loved one, he made a quick run to the edge and threw himself in. At once there came the swirl of movement Bond had noticed before, but this time it involved a great area of water and there was a wild boiling of the surface round the vaguely threshing body. A mass of small fish were struggling to get at the man, particularly at the naked hands and face, and their six-inch bodies glittered and flashed in the moonlight. Once the man raised his head and let out a single, terrible scream and Bond saw that his face was encrusted with pendent fish as if with silvery locks of hair. Then his head fell back into the lake and he rolled over and over as if trying to rid himself of his attackers. But slowly the black stain spread and spread around him and finally, perhaps because his jugular had been pierced, he lay still, face downwards in the water, and his head jigged slightly with the ceaseless momentum of the attack.

James Bond wiped the cold sweat off his face. Piranha! The South American fresh-water killer whose massive jaws and flat, razor-sharp teeth can strip a horse down to the bones in under an hour! And this man had been one of the suicides who had heard of this terrible death! He had come searching for the lake and had got his face poisoned by some pretty shrub. The Herr Doktor had certainly provided a feast for his victims. Unending dishes for their delectation! A true banquet of death!

James Bond shuddered and went on his way. All right, Blofeld, he thought, that’s one more notch on the sword that is already on its way to your neck. Brave words! Bond hugged the wall and kept going. Gunmetal was showing in the east.

But the Garden of Death hadn’t quite finished the display of its wares.

All over the park, a slight smell of sulphur hung in the air, and many times Bond had had to detour round steaming, cracks in the ground and the quaking mud of fumaroles, identified by a warning circle of white-painted stones. The Doctor was most careful lest anyone should fall into one of these liquid furnaces by mistake! But now Bond came to one the size of a circular tennis-court, and here there was a rough shrine in the grotto at the back of it and, dainty touch, a vase with flowers in it – chrysanthemums, because it was now officially winter and therefore the chrysanthemum season. They were arranged with some sprigs of dwarf maple, in a pattern which no doubt spelled out some fragrant message to the initiates of Japanese flower arrangement. And opposite the grotto, behind which Bond in his ghostly black uniform crouched in concealment, a Japanese gentleman stood in rapt contemplation of the bursting mud-boils that were erupting genteelly in the simmering soup of the pool. James Bond thought ‘gentleman’ because the man was dressed in the top hat, frock-coat, striped trousers, stiff collar and spats of a high government official – or of the father of the bride. And the gentleman held a carefully rolled umbrella between his clasped hands, and his head was bowed over its crook as if in penance. He was speaking, in a soft compulsive babble, like someone in a highly ritualistic church, but he made no gestures and just stood, humbly, quietly, either confessing or asking one of the gods for something.

Bond stood against a tree, black in the blackness. He felt he should intervene in what he knew to be the man’s purpose. But how to do so knowing no Japanese, having nothing but his ‘deaf and dumb’ card to show? And it was vital that he should remain a ‘ghost’ in the garden, not get involved in some daft argument with a man he didn’t know, about some ancient sin he could never understand. So Bond stood, while the trees threw long black arms across the scene, and waited, with a cold, closed, stone face, for death to walk on stage.

The man stopped talking. He raised his head and gazed up at the moon. He politely lifted his shining top hat. Then he replaced it, tucked his umbrella under one arm and sharply clapped his hands. Then walking, as if to a business appointment, calmly, purposefully, he took the few steps to the edge of the bubbling fumarole, stepped carefully over the warning stones and went on walking. He sank slowly in the glutinous grey slime and not a sound escaped his lips until, as the tremendous heat reached his groin, he uttered one rasping ‘Arrghh!’ and the gold in his teeth showed as his head arched back in the rictus of death. Then he was gone and only the top hat remained, tossing on a small fountain of mud that spat intermittently into the air. Then the hat slowly crumpled with the heat and disappeared, and a great belch was uttered from the belly of the fumarole and a horrible stench of cooking meat overcame the pervading stink of sulphur and reached Bond’s nostrils.

Bond controlled his rising gorge. Honourable salary-man had gone to honourable ancestors – his unknown sin expiated as his calcined bones sank slowly down into the stomach of the world. And one more statistic would be run up on Blofeld’s abacus of death. Why didn’t the Japanese Air Force come and bomb this place to eternity, set the castle and the poison garden ablaze with napalm? How could this man continue to have protection from a bunch of botanists and scientists? And now here was he, Bond, alone in this hell to try and do the job with almost no weapon but his bare hands. It was hopeless I He was scarcely being given a chance in a million. Tiger and his Prime Minister were certainly exacting their pound of flesh in exchange for their precious MAGIC 44 – one hundred and eighty-two pounds of it to be exact!

Cursing his fate, cursing Tiger, cursing the whole of Japan, Bond went on his way, while a small voice whispered in his ear, ‘But don’t you want to kill Blofeld? Don’t you want to avenge Tracy? Isn’t this a God-given chance? You have done well tonight. You have penetrated his defences and spied out the land. You have even found a way into his castle and probably up to his bedroom. Kill him in his sleep tomorrow I And kill her too, while you’re about it! And then back into Kissy’s arms and, in a week or two, back over the Pole to London and to the applause of your Chief. Come on 1 Somewhere in Japan, a Japanese is committing suicide every thirty minutes all through the year. Don’t be squeamish because you’ve just seen a couple of numbers ticked off on a sheet in the Ministry of Health, a couple of points added to a graph. Snap out of it! Get on with the job.’

And Bond listened to the whisper and went on round the last mile of wall and back to the gardeners’ hut.

He took a last look round before going in. He could see a neck of the lake about twenty yards away. It was now gun-metal in the approaching dawn. Some big insects were flitting and darting through the softly rising steam. They were pink dragonflies. Pink ones. Dancing and skimming. But of course! The haiku of Tiger’s dying agent! That was the last nightmarish touch to this obscenity of a place. Bond went into the hut, picked his way carefully between the machines and wheelbarrows, pulled some sacks over himself and fell into a shallow sleep full of ghosts, and demons and screams.

17

SOMETHING EVIL COMES THIS WAY

THE dreamed screams had merged into real ones when, four hours later, Bond awoke. There was silence in the hut. Bond got cautiously to his knees and put his eye to a wide crack in the rickety planking. A screaming man, from his ragged blue cotton uniform a Japanese peasant, was running across his line of vision along the edge of the lake. Four guards were after him, laughing and calling as if it were a game of hide-and-seek. They were carrying long staves, and now one of them paused and hurled his stave accurately after the man so that it caught in his legs and brought him crashing to the ground. He scrambled to his knees and held supplicating hands out towards his pursuers. Still laughing, they gathered round him, stocky men in high rubber boots, their faces made terrifying by black maskos over their mouths, black leather nose-pieces and the same ugly black leather soup-plate hats as the agent on the train had worn. They poked at the man with the ends of their staves, at the same time shouting harshly at him in voices that jeered. Then, as if at an order, they bent down and, each man seizing a leg or an arm, picked him off the ground, swung him once or twice and tossed him out into the lake. The ghastly ripple surged forward and the man, now screaming again, beat at his face with his hands and floundered as if trying to make for the shore, but the screams rapidly became weaker and finally ceased as the head went down and the red stain spread wider and wider.

Doubled up with laughter, the guards on the bank watched the show. Now, satisfied that the fun was over, they turned away and walked towards the hut, and Bond could see the tears of their pleasure glistening on their cheeks.

He got back under cover and heard their boisterous voices and laughter only yards away as they came into the hut and pulled out their rakes and barrows and dispersed to their jobs, and for some time Bond could hear them calling to each other across the park. Then, from the direction of the castle, came the deep tolling of a bell, and the men fell silent. Bond glanced at the cheap Japanese wristwatch Tiger had provided. It was nine o’clock. Was this the beginning of the official working day? Probably. The Japanese usually get to their work half an hour early and leave half an hour late in order to gain face with their employer and show keenness and gratitude for their jobs. Later, Bond guessed, there would be an hour’s luncheon break. Work would probably cease at six. So it would only be from six thirty on that he would have the grounds to himself. Meanwhile, he must listen and watch and find out more about the guards’ routines, of which he had presumably witnessed the first – the smelling out and final dispatch of suicides who had changed their minds or turned faint-hearted during the night. Bond softly unzipped his container and took a bite at one of his three slabs of pemmican and a short draught from his water-bottle. God, for a cigarette!