There were stairs and a corridor and a door. Kono stepped forward and knocked.
And then Bond was standing in the middle of a small, pleasant, library-type room and the second guard was laying out on the floor Bond’s ninja suit and the appallingly incriminating contents of his pockets. Blofeld, dressed in a magnificent black silk kimono across which a golden dragon sprawled, stood leaning against the mantelpiece beneath which a Japanese brazier smouldered. It was him all right. The bland, high forehead, the pursed purple wound of a mouth, now shadowed by a heavy grey-black moustache that drooped at the corners, on its way, perhaps, to achieving mandarin proportions, the mane of white hair he had grown for the part of Monsieur le Comte de Bleuville, the black bullet-holes of the eyes. And beside him, completing the picture of a homely couple at ease after dinner, sat Irma Bunt, in the full regalia of a high-class Japanese lady, the petit point of a single chrysanthemum lying in her lap waiting for those pudgy hands to take it up when the cause of this unseemly disturbance had been ascertained. The puffy, square face, the tight bun of mousy hair, the thin wardress mouth, the light-brown, almost yellow eyes! By God, thought Bond dully, here they are! Within easy reach! They would both be dead by now but for his single criminal error. Might there still be some way of turning the tables? If only the pain in his head would stop throbbing!
Blofeld’s tall sword stood against the wall. He picked it up and strode out into the room. He stood over the pile of Bond’s possessions and picked them over with the tip of the sword. He hooked up the black suit. He said in German, ‘And what is this, Kono?’
The head guard replied in the same language. His voice was uneasy and his eye-slits swivelled with a certain respect towards Bond and away again. ‘It is a ninja suit, Herr Doktor. These are people who practise the secret arts of ninjutsu. Their secrets are very ancient and I know little of them. They are the art of moving by stealth, of being invisible, of killing without weapons. These people used to be much feared in Japan. I was not aware that they still existed. This man has undoubtedly been sent to assassinate you, my lord. But for the magic of the passage, he might well have succeeded.’
‘And who is he?’ Blofeld looked keenly at Bond. ‘He is tall for a Japanese.’
‘The men from the mines are often tall men, my lord. He carries a paper saying that he is deaf and dumb. And other papers, which appear to be in order, stating that he is a miner from Fukuoka. I do not believe this. His hands have some broken nails, but they are not the hands of a miner.’
‘I do not believe it either. But we shall soon find out.’ Blofeld turned to the woman. ‘What do you think, my dear? You have a good nose for such problems – the instincts of a woman.’
Irma Bunt rose and came and stood beside him. She looked piercingly at Bond and then walked slowly round him, keeping her distance. When she came to the left profile she said softly, with awe, ‘Du lieber Gott!’ She went back to Blofeld. She said in a hoarse whisper, still staring, almost with horror, at Bond, ‘It cannot be! But it is! The scar down the right cheek! The profile! And the eyebrows have been shaved to give that upward tilt!’ She turned to Blofeld. She said decisively, ‘This is the English agent. This is the man Bond, James Bond, the man whose wife you killed. The man who went under the name of Sir Hilary Bray.’ She added fiercely, ‘I swear it! You have got to believe me, lieber Ernst!’
Blofeld’s eyes had narrowed. ‘I see a certain resemblance. But how has he got here? How has he found me? Who sent him?’
‘The Japanese Geheimdienst. They will certainly have relations with the British Secret Service.’
‘I cannot believe it! If that was so, they would have come with warrants to arrest me. There are too many unknown factors in this business. We must proceed with great circumspection and extract the whole truth from this man. We must at once find out if he is deaf and dumb. That is the first step. The Question Room should settle that. But first of all he must be softened up.’ He turned to Kono. ‘Tell Kazama to get to work.’
THE QUESTION ROOM
THERE were now ten guards in the room. They stood lined up against the wall behind Kono. They were all armed with their long staves. Kono fired an order at one of them. The man left his stave in an angle of the wall and came forward. He was a great, box-like man with a totally bald, shining head like a ripe fruit and hands like hams. He took up his position in front of Bond, his legs straddled for balance and his lips drawn back in a snarling smile of broken black teeth. Then he swung his right hand sideways at Bond’s head and slapped him with tremendous force exactly on the bruise of Bond’s fall. Bond’s head exploded with fire. Then the left hand came at him and Bond rocked sideways. Through a mist of blood he could see Blofeld and his woman. Blofeld was merely interested, as a scientist, but the woman’s lips were parted and wet. Bond took ten blows and knew that he must act while he still had the purpose and the strength. The straddled legs offered the perfect target. So long as the man had not practised the Sumo trick! Through a haze, Bond took aim and, as another giant blow was on its way, kicked upwards with every ounce of force left to him. His foot slammed home. The man gave an animal scream and crashed to the ground, clasping himself and rolling from side to side in agony. The guards made a concerted rush forward, their staves lifted, and Kono had his gun out. Bond leaped for the protection of a tall chair, picked it up and hurled it at the snarling pack of guards. One of the legs caught a man in the teeth and there was the sound of splintering bone. The man went down clutching his face.
‘Halt!’ It was the Hitlerian scream Bond had heard before. The men stood stock still and lowered their staves. ‘Kono. Remove those men.’ Blofeld pointed down at the two casualties. ‘And punish Kazama for his incompetence. Get new teeth for the other one. And enough of this. The man will not speak with ordinary methods. If he can hear, he will not withstand the pressure of the Question Room. Take him there. The rest of the guards can wait in the audience chamber. Also!Marsch!’
Kono fired off orders to which the guards reacted at the double. Then Kono gestured to Bond with his gun, opened a small doorway beside the bookcase and pointed down a narrow stone passage. Now what? Bond licked the blood from the corners of his mouth. He was near the end of his tether. Pressure? He couldn’t stand much more of it. And what was this Question Room? He mentally shrugged. There might still be a chance to get at Blofeld’s throat. If only he could take that one with him! He went ahead down the passage, was deaf to the order from Kono to open the rough door at the end, had it opened for him by the guard while the pistol pressed into his spine, and walked forward into a bizarre room of roughly hewn stone that was very hot and stank disgustingly of sulphur.
Blofeld and the woman entered, the door was closed and they took their places in two wooden armchairs beneath an oil lamp and a large kitchen clock whose only unusual feature was that, at each quarter, the figures were underlined in red. The hands stood at just after eleven and now, with a loud iron tick, the minute hand dropped one span. Kono gestured for Bond to advance the twelve paces to the far end of the room where there was a raised stone pedestal-seat with arms. It dripped with drying grey mud and there was the same volcanic filth on the floor all round it. Above the stone seat, in the ceiling, there was a wide circular opening through which Bond could see a patch of dark sky and stars. Kono’s rubber boots squelched after him and Bond was gestured to sit down on the stone throne. In the centre of the seat there was a large round hole. Bond did as he was told, his skin flinching at the hot sticky surface of the mud. He rested his forearms wearily on the stone arms of the throne and waited, his belly crawling with the knowledge of what this was all about.
Blofeld spoke from the other end of the room. He spoke in English. He said, in a loud voice that boomed round the naked walls, ‘Commander Bond, or number 007 in the British Secret Service if you prefer it, this is the Question Room, a device of my invention that has the almost inevitable effect of making silent people talk. As you know, this property is highly volcanic. You are now sitting directly above a geyser that throws mud, at a heat of around one thousand degrees Centigrade, a distance of approximately one hundred feet into the air. Your body is now at an elevation of approximately fifty feet directly above its source. I had the whimsical notion to canalize this geyser up a stone funnel above which you now sit. This is what is known as a periodic geyser. This particular example is regulated to erupt volcanically on exactly each fifteenth minute in every hour.’ Blofeld looked behind him and turned back. ‘You will therefore observe that you have exactly eleven minutes before the next eruption. If you cannot hear me, or the translation that will follow, if you are a deaf and dumb Japanese as you maintain, you will not move from that chair and, at the fifteenth minute past eleven, you will suffer a most dreadful death by the incineration of your lower body. If, on the other hand, you leave the seat before the death moment, you will have demonstrated that you can hear and understand and you will then be put to further tortures which will inevitably make you answer my questions. These questions will seek to confirm your identity, how you come to be here, who sent you and with what purpose, and how many people are involved in the conspiracy. You understand? You would not prefer to give up this play-acting? Very well. On the off chance that your papers are perhaps partially correct, my chief guard will now briefly explain the purpose of this room in the Japanese language.’ He turned to the guard. ‘Kono sag’ ihm auf japanisch den Zweck dieses Zimmers.’
Kono had taken up his position by the door. He now harangued Bond in sharp Japanese sentences. Bond paid no attention. He concentrated on regaining his strength. He sat relaxed and gazed nonchalantly round the room. He had remembered the final ‘hell’ at Beppu and he was looking for something. Ah yes! There it was I A small wooden box in the corner to the right of his throne. There was no keyhole to it. Inside that box would undoubtedly be the regulating valve for the geyser. Could that bit of knowledge be put to some use? Bond tucked it away and racked his tired brain for some kind of a plan. If only the agonizing pulse in his head would stop. He rested his elbows on his knees and gently lowered his bruised face into his hands. At least that guard would now be in even worse agony than he!
Kono stopped talking. The clock uttered a deep iron tick.
It ticked nine times more. Bond looked up at the black-and-white clockwork face. It said 11.14. A deep, angry grumble sounded from deep down beneath him. It was followed by a hard buffet of very hot breath. Bond got to his feet and walked slowly away from the stinking stone vent until he reached the area of the floor that was not wet with mud. Then he turned and watched. The grumble had become a far-away roar. The roar became a deep howl that swelled up into the room like an express train coming out of a tunnel. Then there was a mighty explosion and a solid jet of grey mud shot like a gleaming grey piston out of the hole Bond had just left and exactly penetrated the wide aperture in the ceiling.
The jet continued, absolutely solid, for perhaps half a second, and searing heat filled the room so that Bond had to wipe the sweat from his forehead. Then the grey pillar collapsed back into the hole and mud pattered on to the roof of the place and splashed down into the room in great steaming gobbets. A deep bubbling and burping came up the pipe and the room steamed. The stench of sulphur was sickening. In the total silence that followed, the tick of the clock to 11.16 was as loud as a gong-stroke.