An hour later, Bond heard a brief shuffling of feet on the gravel path on the other side of the lake. He looked through the slit. The four guards had lined up and were standing rigidly to attention. Bond’s heart beat a little faster. This would be for some form of inspection. Might Blofeld be doing his rounds, getting his reports of the night’s bag?
Bond strained his eyes to the right, towards the castle, but his view was obstructed by an expanse of white oleanders, that innocent shrub with its attractive clusters of blossom that is used as a deadly fish poison in many parts of the tropics. Dear, pretty bush! Bond thought. I must remember to keep clear of you tonight.
And then, following the path on the other side of the lake, two strolling figures came into his line of vision and Bond clenched his fists with the thrill of seeing his prey.
Blofeld, in his gleaming chain armour and grotesquely spiked and winged helmet of steel, its visor closed, was something out of Wagner, or, because of the oriental style of his armour, a Japanese Kabuki play. His armoured right hand rested easily on a long naked samurai sword while his left was hooked into the arm of his companion, a stumpy woman with the body and stride of a wardress. Her face was totally obscured by a hideous bee-keeper’s hat of dark-green straw with a heavy pendent black veil reaching down over her shoulders. But there could be no doubt! Bond had seen that dumpy silhouette, now clothed in a plastic rainproof above tall rubber boots, too often in his dreams. That was her! That was Irma Bunt!
Bond held his breath. If they came round the lake to his side, one tremendous shove and the armoured man would be floundering in the water! But could the piranhas get at him through chinks in the armour? Unlikely! And how would he, Bond, get away? No, that wouldn’t be the answer.
The two figures had almost reached the line of four men, and at this moment the guards dropped to their knees in unison and bowed their foreheads down to the ground. Then they quickly jumped up and stood again at attention.
Blofeld raised his visor and addressed one of the men, who answered with deference. Bond noticed for the first time that this particular guard wore a belt round his waist with a bolstered automatic. Bond couldn’t hear the language they were speaking. It was impossible that Blofeld had learned Japanese. English or German? Probably the latter as a result of some wartime liaison job. The man laughed and pointed towards the lake, where a collapsed balloon of blue clothing was jigging softly with the activities of the horde of feasting piranhas within it. Blofeld nodded his approval and the men again went down on their knees. Blofeld raised a hand in brief acknowledgement, lowered his visor and the couple moved regally on.
Bond watched carefully to see if the file of guards, when they got to their feet, registered any private expressions of scorn or hilarity once The Master’s back was turned. But there was no hint of disrespect. The men broke ranks and hurried off about their tasks with disciplined seriousness, and Bond was reminded of Dikko Henderson’s illustration of the automatic, ant-like subservience to discipline and authority of the Japanese that had resulted in one of the great crimes of the century. If only dear Dikko were here now. What a tremendous boost his fists and his surging zest would add to this lunatic operation!
The crime had concerned, said Dikko, a modest suburban branch of the Imperial Bank. It had been a normal day of business, when a man wearing an official-looking armband had presented himself to the manager of the bank. He was from the Ministry of Health. An outbreak of typhus was feared and he would be obliged if the manager would line up his staff in the courtyard so that he could administer the official antidote. The manager bowed and complied, and, after everything had been locked up, the fourteen staff assembled and listened carefully to the short lecture on health delivered by the man with the armband. Then everyone had bowed in acknowledgement of the wisdom of the Ministry of Health, and the official had bent to his small suitcase and produced fifteen glasses into which he measured medicine from a bottle. He handed a glass to each person and advised them to swallow the mixture at one gulp as otherwise it might damage their teeth. ‘Now,’ he had said, according to Dikko’s version. ‘All together! One. Two. Three!’ And down went the honourable medicine and down fell the honourable local manager and staff of the Imperial Bank of Japan. The medicine had been neat cyanide.
The ‘Ministry of Health official’ had removed the keys from the trouser-pocket of the prone manager, had loaded up his car with two hundred and fifty million yen, and had driven cheerfully from the scene of what was to become known as the ‘Teigin case’ after the suburb in which it took place.
And here, Bond reflected, was the same total obedience to authority, but in this case the tacit approval and sympathy of the Black Dragon philosophy was operating. Blofeld told them to do such things as he had witnessed a couple of hours before. He was invested with power from certain depart ments of State. He had dressed for the part. His orders were obeyed. And there was honourable job to be done. Honourable job which resulted in much publicity in the newspapers. And this was a powerful gaijln who had powerful squeeze in high places and ‘a wide face’. And if people wanted to kill themselves, why worry? If the Castle of Death, with perhaps an occasional extra push, was not available, they would choose the railways or the trams. Here was a public service. Almost a sub-department of the Ministry of Health! So long as their maskos and nose-pieces protected them from the poisons in the garden, the main thing was to do their jobs conscientiously and perhaps, one day, they would get a Minister of SelfDestruction appointed in the Diet! Then the great days of the Black Dragon Koan would come again to save the Country of the Rising Sun from the creeping paralysis of demokorasu!
And now the two strolling figures were coming back into Bond’s line of vision, but this time from the left. They had rounded the end of the lake and were on their way back, perhaps to visit other groups of guards and get their reports. Tiger had said there were at least twenty guards and that the property covered five hundred acres. Five working parties of four guards each? Blofeld’s visor was up and he was talking to the woman. They were now only twenty yards away. They stopped at the edge of the lake and contemplated, with relaxed curiosity, the still turbulent mass of fish round the floating doll of blue cloth. They were talking German. Bond strained his ears.
Blofeld said, ‘The piranhas and the volcanic mud are useful housekeepers. They keep the place tidy.’
‘The sea and the sharks are also useful.’
‘But often the sharks do not complete the job. That spy we put through the Question Room. He was almost intact when his body was found down the coast. The lake would have been a better place for him. We don’t want that policeman from Fukuoka coming here too often. He may have means of learning from the peasants how many people are crossing the wall. That will be many more, nearly double the number the ambulance comes for. If our figures go on increasing at this rate, there is going to be trouble. I see from the cuttings Kono translates for me that there are already mutterings in the papers about a public inquiry.’
‘And what shall we do then, lieber Ernst?’
‘We shall obtain massive compensation and move on. The same pattern can be repeated in other countries. Everywhere there are people who want to kill themselves. We may have to vary the attractions of the opportunities we offer them. Other people have not the profound love of horror and violence of the Japanese. A really beautiful waterfall. A handy bridge. A vertiginous drop. These might be alternatives. Brazil, or somewhere else in South America, might provide such a site.’
‘But the figures would be much smaller.’
‘It is the concept that matters, liebe Irma. It is very difficult to invent something that is entirely new in the history of the world. I have done that. If my bridge, my waterfall, yields a crop of only perhaps ten people a year, it is simply a matter of statistics. The basic idea will be kept alive.’
‘That is so. You are indeed a genius, lieber Ernst. You have already established this place as a shrine to death for evermore. People read about such fantasies in the works of Poe, Lautreamont, de Sade, but no one has ever created such a fantasy in real life. It is as if one of the great fairy tales has come to life. A sort of Disneyland of Death. But of course,’ she hastened to add, ‘on an altogether grander, more poetic scale.’
‘In due course I shall write the whole story down. Then perhaps the world will acknowledge the type of man who has been living among them. A man not only unhonoured and unsung, but a man’-Blofeld’s voice rose almost to a scream -‘whom they hunt down and wish to shoot like a mad dog. A man who has to use all his wiles just to stay alive! Why, if I had not covered my tracks so well, there would be spies on their way even now to kill us both or to hand us over for official murder under their stupid laws! Ah well, liebe Irma,’ the voice was more rational, quieter, ‘we live in a’world of fools in which true greatness is a sin. Come! It is time to review the other detachments.’
They turned away and were about to continue along the lake when Blofeld suddenly stopped and pointed like a dog directly at Bond. ‘That hut among the bushes. The door is open! I have told the men a thousand times to keep such places locked. It is a perfect refuge for a spy or a fugitive. I will make sure.’
Bond shivered. He huddled down, dragging sacks from the top of his barrier to give extra protection. The clanking steps approached, entered the hut. Bond could feel the man, only yards away, could feel his questing eyes and nostrils. There came a clang of metal and the wall of sacks shook at great thrusts from Blofeld’s sword. Then the sword slashed down again and ‘again and Bond winced and bit his lip as a hammer-blow crashed across the centre of his back. But then Blofeld seemed to be satisfied and the iron steps clanged away. Bond let out his breath in a quiet hiss. He heard Blofeld’s voice say, ‘There is nothing, but remind me to reprimand Kono on our rounds tomorrow. The place must be cleared out and a proper lock fitted.’ Then the sound of the steps vanished in the direction of the oleander clump, and Bond gave a groan and felt his back. But, though many of the sacks above him had been sliced through, his protection had been just deep enough and the skin across his spine wasn’t broken.
Bond got to his knees and rearranged the hideout, massaging his aching back as he did so. Then he spat the dust from the sacking out of his mouth, took a swallow from the water-bottle, assured himself through his slit that there was no movement outside and lay down and let his mind wander back over every word that Blofeld had uttered.
Of course the man was mad. A year earlier, the usual quiet tones that Bond remembered so well would never have cracked into that lunatic, Hitler scream. And the coolness, the supreme confidence that had always lain behind his planning? Much of that seemed to have seeped away, perhaps, Bond hoped, partly because of the two great failures he, Bond, had done much to bring about in two of Blofeld’s most grandiose conspiracies. But one thing was clear – the hideout was blown. Tonight would have to be the night. Ah, well!
Once again Bond ran over the hazy outline of his plan. If he could gain access to the castle, he felt pretty confident of finding a means to kill Blofeld. But he was also fairly certain that he himself would die in the process. Dulce et decorum est… and all that jazz! But then he thought of Kissy, and he wasn’t so sure about not fearing for himself. She had brought a sweetness back into his life that he thought had gone for ever.