For Your Eyes Only Page 18

There was a buzz in the restaurant and a renewed clatter of knives and forks. Everyone was delighted with the scene. The maŒtre d'h“tel, looking solemn, held open the door. He said to Bond: “I apologize, Monsieur. And you are very kind to be of assistance.” A cruising taxi slowed. He beckoned it to the pavement and held open the door.

The girl got in. Bond firmly followed and closed the door. He said to Kristatos through the window: “I'll telephone you in the morning. All right?” Without waiting for the man's reply he sat back in the seat. The girl had drawn herself away into the farthest corner. Bond said: “Where shall I tell him?”

“Hotel Ambassadori.”

They drove a short way in silence. Bond said: “Would you like to go somewhere first for a drink?”

“No thank you.” She hesitated. “You are very kind but tonight I am tired.”

“Perhaps another night.”

“Perhaps, but I go to Venice tomorrow.”

“I shall also be there. Will you have dinner with me tomorrow night?”

The girl smiled. She said: “I thought Englishmen were supposed to be shy. You are English, aren't you? What is your name? What do you do?”

“Yes, I'm English - My name's Bond - James Bond. I write books - adventure stories. I'm writing one now about drug smuggling. It's set in Rome and Venice. The trouble is that I don't know enough about the trade. I am going round picking up stories about it. Do you know any?”

“So that is why you were having dinner with that Kristatos. I know of him. He has a bad reputation. No. I don't know any stories. I only know what everybody knows.”

Bond said enthusiastically: “But that's exactly what I want. When I said 'stories' I didn't mean fiction. I meant the sort of high-level gossip that's probably pretty near the truth. That sort of thing's worth diamonds to a writer.”

She laughed. “You mean that . . . diamonds?”

Bond said: “Well, I don't earn all that as a writer, but I've already sold an option on this story for a film, and if I can make it authentic enough I dare say they'll actually buy the film.” He reached out and put his hand over hers in her lap. She did not take her hand away. “Yes, diamonds. A diamond clip from Van Cleef. Is it a deal?”

Now she took her hand away. They were arriving at the Ambassadori. She picked up her bag from the seat beside her. She turned on the seat so that she faced him. The commissionaire opened the door and the light from the street turned her eyes into stars. She examined his face with a certain seriousness. She said: “All men are pigs, but some are lesser pigs than others. All right. I will meet you. But not for dinner. What I may tell you is not for public places. I bathe every afternoon at the Lido. But not at the fashionable plage. I bathe at the Bagni Alberoni, where the English poet Byron used to ride his horse. It is at the tip of the peninsula. The Vaporetto will take you there. You will find me there the day after tomorrow - at three in the afternoon. I shall be getting my last sunburn before the winter. Among the sand-dunes. You will see a pale yellow umbrella. Underneath it will be me.” She smiled. “Knock on the umbrella and ask for Fraulein Lisl Baum.”

She got out of the taxi. Bond followed. She held out her hand. “Thank you for coming to my rescue. Goodnight.”

Bond said: “Three o'clock then. I shall be there. Goodnight.”

She turned and walked up the curved steps of the hotel. Bond looked after her thoughtfully, and then turned and got back into the taxi and told the man to take him to the Nazionale. He sat back and watched the neon signs ribbon past the window. Things, including the taxi, were going almost too fast for comfort. The only one over which he had any control was the taxi. He leant forward and told the man to drive more slowly.

The best train from Rome to Venice is the Laguna express that leaves every day at midday. Bond, after a morning that was chiefly occupied with difficult talks with his London Headquarters on Station I's scrambler caught it by the skin of his teeth. The Laguna is a smart, streamlined affair that looks and sounds more luxurious than it is. The seats are made for small Italians and the restaurant car staff suffer from the disease that afflicts their brethren in the great trains all over the world - a genuine loathing for the modern traveller and particularly for the foreigner. Bond had a gangway seat over the axle in the rear aluminium coach. If the seven heavens had been flowing by outside the window he would not have cared. He kept his eyes inside the train, read a jerking book, spilled Chianti over the tablecloth and shifted his long, aching legs and cursed the Ferrovie Italiane dello Stato.

But at last there was Mestre and the dead straight finger of rail across the eighteenth century aquatint into Venice. Then came the unfailing shock of the beauty that never betrays and the soft swaying progress down the Grand Canal into a blood-red sunset, and the extreme pleasure - so it seemed - of the Gritti Palace that Bond should have ordered the best double room on the first floor.

That evening, scattering thousand-lira notes like leaves in Vallombrosa, James Bond sought, at Harry's Bar, at Florian's, and finally upstairs in the admirable Quadri, to establish to anyone who might be interested that he was what he had wished to appear to the girl - a prosperous writer who lived high and well. Then, in the temporary state of euphoria that a first night in Venice engenders, however high and serious the purpose of the visitor, James Bond walked back to the Gritti and had eight hours dreamless sleep.

May and October are the best months in Venice. The sun is soft and the nights are cool. The glittering scene is kinder to the eyes and there is a freshness in the air that helps one to hammer out those long miles of stone and terrazza and marble that are intolerable to the feet in summer. And there are fewer people. Although Venice is the one town in the world that can swallow up a hundred thousand tourists as easily as it can a thousand - hiding them down its side-streets, using them for crowd scenes on the piazzas, stuffing them into the vaporetti - it is still better to share Venice with the minimum number of packaged tours and Lederhosen.

Bond spent the next morning strolling the back-streets in the hope that he would be able to uncover a tail. He visited a couple of churches - not to admire their interiors but to discover if anyone came in after him through the main entrance before he left by the side door. No one was following him. Bond went to Florian's and had an Americano and listened to a couple of French culture-snobs discussing the imbalance of the containing facade of St Mark's Square. On an impulse, he bought a postcard and sent it off to his secretary who had once been with the Georgian Group to Italy and had never allowed Bond to forget it. He wrote: “Venice is wonderful. Have so far inspected the railway station and the Stock Exchange. Very aesthetically satisfying. To the Municipal Waterworks this afternoon and then an old Brigitte Bardot at the Scala Cinema. Do you know a wonderful tune called 'O Sole Mio?' It's v. romantic like everything here. JB.”

Pleased with his inspiration, Bond had an early luncheon and went back to his hotel. He locked the door of his room and took off his coat and ran over the Walther PPK. He put up the safe and practised one or two quick draws and put the gun back in the holster. It was time to go. He went along to the landing-stage and boarded the twelve-forty vaporetto to Alberoni, out of sight across the mirrored lagoons. Then he settled down in a seat in the bows and wondered what was going to happen to him.

From the jetty at Alberoni, on the Venice side of the Lido peninsula, there is a half mile dusty walk across the neck of land to the Bagni Alberoni facing the Adriatic. It is a curiously deserted world, this tip of the famous peninsula. A mile down the thin neck of land the luxury real estate development has petered out in a scattering of cracked stucco villas and bankrupt housing projects, and here there is nothing but the tiny fishing village of Alberoni, a sanatorium for students, a derelict experimental station belonging to the Italian Navy and some massive weed-choked gun emplacements from the last war. In the no man's land in the centre of this thin tongue of land is the Golf du Lido, whose brownish undulating fairways meander around the ruins of ancient fortifications. Not many people come to Venice to play golf, and the project is kept alive for its snob appeal by the grand hotels of the Lido. The golf course is surrounded by a high wire fence hung at intervals, as if it protected something of great value or secrecy, with threatening Vietatos and Prohibitos. Around this wired enclave, the scrub and sandhills have not even been cleared of mines, and amongst the rusting barbed wire are signs saying MINAS. PERICOLO DI MORTE beneath a roughly stencilled skull and crossbones. The whole area is strange and melancholy and in extraordinary contrast to the gay carnival world of Venice less than an hour away across the lagoons.

Bond was sweating slightly by the time he had walked the half mile across the peninsula to the plage, and he stood for a moment under the last of the acacia trees that had bordered the dusty road to cool off while he got his bearings. In front of him was a rickety wooden archway whose central span said BAGNI ALBERONI in faded blue paint. Beyond were the lines of equally dilapidated wooden cabins, and then a hundred yards of sand and then the quiet blue glass of the sea. There were no bathers and the place seemed to be closed, but when he walked through the archway he heard the tinny sound of a radio playing Neapolitan music. It came from a ramshackle hut that advertised Coca-Cola and various Italian soft drinks. Deck-chairs were stacked against its walls and there were two pedallos and a child's half inflated seahorse. The whole establishment looked so derelict that Bond could not imagine it doing business even at the height of the summer season. He stepped off the narrow duckboards into the soft, burned sand and moved round behind the huts to the beach. He walked down to the edge of the sea. To the left, until it disappeared in the autumn heat haze, the wide empty sand swept away in a slight curve towards the Lido proper. To the right was half a mile of beach terminating in the seawall at the tip of the peninsula. The seawall stretched like a finger out into the silent mirrored sea, and at intervals along its top were the flimsy derricks of the octopus fishermen. Behind the beach were the sandhills and a section of the wire fence surrounding the golf course. On the edge of the sandhills, perhaps five hundred yards away, there was a speck of bright yellow.

Bond set off towards it along the tide-line.

“Ahem.”

The hands flew to the top scrap of bikini and pulled it up. Bond walked into her line of vision and stood looking down. The bright shadow of the umbrella covered only her face. The rest of her - a burned cream body in a black bikini on a black and white striped bath-towel - lay offered to the sun.

She looked up at him through half closed eyelashes. You are five minutes early and I told you to knock."

Bond sat down close to her in the shade of the big umbrella. He took out a handkerchief and wiped his face. “You happen to own the only palm tree in the whole of this desert. I had to get underneath it as soon as I could. This is the hell of a place for a rendezvous.”

She laughed. “I am like Greta Garbo. I like to be alone.”

“Are we alone?”

She opened her eyes wide. “Why not? You think I have brought a chaperone?”

“Since you think all men are pigs . . .”

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