Mr Krest came across the carpet and held out his hand. “You Bond? Glad to have you aboard, sir.”

Bond was expecting the bone-crushing grip and parried it with stiffened muscles.

“Free-diving or aqualung?”

“Free, and I don't go deep. It's only a hobby.”

“Whadya do the rest of the time?”

“Civil Servant.”

Mr Krest gave a short barking laugh. “Civility and Servitude. You English make the best goddam butlers and valets in the world. Civil Servant, you say? I reckon we're likely to get along fine. Civil Servants are just what I like to have around me.”

The click of the deck hatch sliding back saved Bond's temper. Mr Krest was swept from his mind as a naked sunburned girl came down the steps into the saloon. No, she wasn't quite naked after all, but the pale brown satin scraps of bikini were designed to make one think she was.

“'Lo, treasure. Where have you been hiding? Long time no see. Meet Mr Barbey and Mr Bond, the fellers who are coming along.” Mr Krest raised a hand in the direction of the girl. “Fellers, this is Mrs Krest. The fifth Mrs Krest. And just in case anybody should get any ideas, she loves Mr Krest. Don't you, treasure?”

“Oh don't be silly, Milt, you know I do.” Mrs Krest smiled prettily. “How do you do, Mr Barbey. And Mr Bond. It's nice to have you with us. What about a drink?”

“Now just a minute, treas. Suppose you let me fix things aboard my own ship, hein?” Mr Krest's voice was soft and pleasant.

The woman blushed. “Oh yes, Milt, of course.”

“Okay then, just so we know who's skipper aboard the good ship Wawekrest.” The amused smile embraced them all. “Now then, Mr Barbey. What's your first name, by the way? Fidele, eh? That's quite a name. Old Faithful,” Mr Krest chuckled bonhomously. “Well now, Fido, how's about you and me go upon the bridge and get this little old skiff moving, hein? Mebbe you better take her out into the open sea and then you can set a course and hand over to Fritz. I'm the captain. He's the mate, and there are two for the engine-room and pantry. All three Germans. Only darned sailors left in Europe. And Mr Bond. First name? James, eh? Well, Jim, what say you practise a bit of that civility and servitude on Mrs Krest. Call her Liz, by the way. Help her fix the canap‚s and so on for drinks before lunch. She was once a Limey too. You can swap yarns about Piccadilly Circus and the Dooks you both know. Okay? Move, Fido.” He sprang boyishly up the steps. “Let's get the hell outa here.”

When the hatch closed, Bond let out a deep breath. Mrs Krest said apologetically: “Please don't mind his jokes. It's just his sense of humour. And he's a bit contrary. He likes to see if he can rile people. It's very naughty of him. But it's really all in fun.”

Bond smiled reassuringly. How often did she have to make this speech to people, try and calm the tempers of the people Mr Krest had practised his 'sense of humour' on? He said: “I expect your husband needs a bit of knowing. Does he go on the same way back in America?”

She said without bitterness: “Only with me. He loves Americans. It's when he's abroad. You see, his father was a German, a Prussian really. He's got that silly German thing of thinking Europeans and so on are decadent, that they aren't any good any more. It's no use arguing with him. It's just a thing he's got.”

So that was it! The old Hun again. Always at your feet or at your throat. Sense of humour indeed! And what must this woman have to put up with, this beautiful girl he had got hold of to be his slave - his English slave? Bond said: “How long have you been married?”

“Two years. I was working as a receptionist in one of his hotels. He owns the Krest Group, you know. It was wonderful. Like a fairy story. I still have to pinch my self sometimes to make sure I'm not dreaming. This, for instance,” she waved a hand at the luxurious room, “and he's terribly good to me. Always giving me presents. He's a very important man in America, you know. It's fun being treated like royalty wherever you go.”

“It must be. He likes that sort of thing, I suppose?”

“Oh yes.” There was resignation in the laugh. “There's a lot of the sultan in him, He get's quite impatient if he doesn't get proper service. He says that when one's worked very hard to get to the top of the tree one has a right to the best fruit that grows there.” Mrs Krest found she was talking too freely. She said quickly: “But really, what am I saying? Anyone would think we had known each other for years.” She smiled shyly. “I suppose it's meeting someone from England. But I really must go and get some more clothes on. I was sunbathing on deck.” There came a deep rumble from below-deck amidships. “There. We're off. Why don't you watch us leave harbour from the afterdeck, and I'll come and join you in a minute. There's so much I want to hear about London. This way.” She moved past him and slid open a door. “As a matter of fact, if you're sensible, you'll stake a claim to this for the nights. There are plenty of cushions, and the cabins are apt to get a bit stuffy in spite of the air-conditioning.”

Bond thanked her, and walked out and shut the door behind him. It was a big well-deck with hemp flooring and a cream-coloured semicircular foam rubber settee in the stern. Rattan chairs were scattered about and there was a serving-bar in one corner. It crossed Bond's mind that Mr Krest might be a heavy drinker. Was it his imagination, or was Mrs Krest terrified of him? There was something painfully slavish in her attitude towards him. No doubt she had to pay heavily for her fairy story. Bond watched the green flanks of Mahe slowly slip away astern. He guessed that their speed was about ten knots. They would soon be at North Point and heading for the open sea. Bond listened to the glutinous bubble of the exhaust and idly thought about the beautiful Mrs Elizabeth Krest.

She could have been a model - probably had been before she became a hotel receptionist - that respectable female calling that yet has a whiff of the high demi-monde about it - and she still moved her beautiful body with the unselfconsciousness of someone who is used to going about with nothing, or practically nothing, on. But there was none of the chill of the model about her - it was a warm body and a friendly, confiding face. She might be thirty, certainly not more, and her prettiness, for it was not more than that, was still immature. Her best feature was the ash-blonde hair that hung heavily to the base of her neck, but she seemed pleasantly lacking in vanity about it. She didn't toss it about or fiddle with it, and it occurred to Bond that she didn't in fact show any signs of coquetry. She had stood quietly, almost docilely, with her large, dear blue eyes fixed almost the whole time on her husband. There was no lipstick on her mouth and no lacquer on her fingernails or toenails, and her eyebrows were natural. Did Mr Krest perhaps order that it should be so - that she should be a Germanic child of nature? Probably. Bond shrugged his shoulders. They were certainly a curiously assorted couple - the middle-aged Hemingway with the Bogart voice and the pretty, artless girl. And there was tension in the air - in the way she had cringed as he brought her to heel when she had offered them drinks, in the forced maleness of the man. Bond toyed idly with the notion that the man was impotent and that all the tough, rude act was nothing more than exaggerated virility-play. It certainly wasn't going to be easy to live with for four or five days. Bond watched the beautiful Silhouette Island slip away to starboard and made a vow not to lose his temper. What was that American expression? 'Eating crow'. It would be an interesting mental exercise for him. He would eat crow for five days and not let this damnable man interfere with what should be a good trip.

“Well, feller. Taking it easy?” Mr Krest was standing on the boat-deck looking down into the well. “What have you done with that woman I live with? Left her to do all the work, I guess. Well, and why not? That's what they're for, ain't it? Care to look over the ship? Fido's doin' a spell at the wheel and I've got time on my hands.” Without waiting for an answer, Mr Krest bent and lowered himself down into the well-deck, dropping the last four feet.

“Mrs Krest's putting on some clothes. Yes, I'd like to see over the ship.”

Mr Krest fixed Bond with his hard, disdainful stare. “'Kay. Well now, facts first. It's built by the Bronson Shipbuilding Corporation. I happen to own ninety per cent of the stock, so I got what I wanted. Designed by Rosenblatts - the top naval architects. Hundred feet long, twenty-one broad, and draws six. Two five-hundred-horsepower Superior diesels. Top speed, fourteen knots. Cruises two thousand five hundred miles at eight. Air-conditioned throughout. Carrier Corporation designed two special five-ton units. Carries enough frozen food and liquor for a month. All we need is fresh water for the baths and showers. Right? Now let's go up front and you can see the crew's quarters, and we'll work back. And one thing, Jim,” Mr Krest stamped on the deck. “This is the floor, see? And the head's the can. And if I want someone to stop doing whatever they're doing I don't shout 'belay' I shout 'hold it'. Get me, Jim?”

Bond nodded amiably. “I've got no objection. She's your ship.”

“It's my ship,” corrected Mr Krest. “That's another bit of damned nonsense, making a hunk of steel and wood a female. Anyway, let's go. You don't need to mind your head. Everything's a six-foot-two clearance.”

Bond followed Mr Krest down the narrow passage that ran the length of the ship, and for half an hour made appropriate comments on what was certainly the finest and most luxuriously designed yacht he had ever seen. In every detail the margin was for extra comfort. Even the crew's bath and shower was full size, and the stainless steel galley, or kitchen as Mr Krest called it, was as big as the Krest stateroom. Mr Krest opened the door of the latter without knocking. Liz Krest was at the dressing-table. “Why, treasure,” said Mr Krest in his soft voice, “I reckoned you'd be out there fixing the drink tray. You've sure been one heck of a time dressing up. Puttin' on a little extra Ritz for Jim, eh?”

“I'm sorry, Milt. I was just coming. A zip got stuck.” The girl hurriedly picked up a compact and made for the door. She gave them both a nervous half-smile and went out.

“Vermont birch panelling, Corning glass lamps, Mexican tuft rugs. That sailing-ship picture's a genuine Montague Dawson, by the way . . .” Mr Krest's catalogue ran smoothly on. But Bond was looking at some thing that hung down almost out of sight by the bedside table on what was obviously Mr Krest's side of the huge double bed. It was a thin whip about three feet long with a leather-thonged handle. It was the tail of a sting-ray.

Casually Bond walked over to the side of the bed and picked it up. He ran a finger down its spiny gristle. It hurt his finger even to do that. He said: “Where did you pick that up? I was hunting one of these animals this morning.”

“Bahrein. The Arabs use them on their wives.” Mr Krest chuckled easily. “Haven't had to use more than one stroke at a time on Liz so far. Wonderful results. We call it my 'Corrector'.”

Bond put the thing back. He looked hard at Mr Krest and said: “Is that so? In the Seychelles, where the creoles are pretty tough, it's illegal even to own one of those, let alone use it.”

Mr Krest moved towards the door. He said indifferently: “Feller, this ship happens to be United States territory. Let's go get ourselves something to drink.”